Thursday, October 29, 2015

And Then There Were Two

Last night's debates in Boulder, Colorado, did a lot of things.  First off, they showed us that CNBC is the CNN we never knew we had (can you imagine what Jon Stewart would have done with that performance?!?).  Secondly, we found out that Chris Christie is in fact still running for president (no word yet on whether Rand Paul was there for the debate).  And third, I think we finally got our finalists for the Republican nomination.  After last night, most pundits have found it's time to start writing off the gargantuan field of Republicans and focus in on 1-2, which is precisely what they're doing now.  Let's take a look as to why, shall we?

The reality is that no one needed a win more last night and no one got more of a loss than Jeb Bush.  It was painful to watch Marco Rubio's takedown of his former mentor, the man who in many ways allowed him to get to where he is today, but a lot of what I said Monday was reliant on Bush being able to put away Rubio.  That didn't happen, and it's hard to imagine the Koch Brothers watching last night's debate and not handing the junior senator from Florida their $750 million.  Bush is in a position now where he'll probably stay in for a couple more weeks and see what he can play at, but he would need to be ruthless and, quite frankly, pray for a scandal in Rubio's court in order to get back into the game, and considering the race he's run he doesn't have that in him.  For all intents and purposes, Bush is now done with politics, and one wonders if the Bush Dynasty is done on that level.  Even the most impressive of presidential dynasties (the Kennedys, the Adamses, the Tafts) can't sustain forever and third generations have shown that they have a difficult task in keeping the tradition alive, so George Prescott Bush should probably start honing his debating skills now if he wants to keep the family tradition afloat.

The outsider candidates lost a bit of steam last night, much to the happiness of Reince Priebus and most of the Republican Party (at least the ones who keep the lights on at the RNC).  Donald Trump is not someone who handles losing well, and it's shown.  Quite frankly just compare Trump to Hillary Clinton and the way they both handled faltering in an early state.  Clinton, a political vet who knows the value of the long game better than anyone else in the Capitol, didn't sweat for a moment when she slipped behind Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire, knowing A) she had huge leads in other early primary states that could compensate and B) polls are barely worth the paper they're written on this far back from the elections.  Trump, meanwhile got whiny (and don't believe for a second that that tweet went out without his go-ahead disparaging Iowa)-Clinton would have known that people would move beyond Carson, whose support is built on sand, but Trump and Clinton are separated by multiple things, but most critical is their approach to drive.  Trump wants to win big, for everyone to like him and for everyone to come around to him and worship him; Clinton, on the other hand, just wants to win-the margin makes no difference.  Clinton's wanted to be president her entire life, Trump thought it would be good just to prove he could do it, and cannot handle the fact that he might not win every state.  Putting it bluntly, Hillary Clinton is far tougher than Donald Trump.  And that's going to become more apparent as other people start to gain in the polls.

Ben Carson's strange in my opinion in his appeal.  Trump and Fiorina I've been able to understand, even Ted Cruz, but Carson's Novocaine approach to the campaign trail is shocking in that it caught on, especially considering he's never done anything really impressive politically except for one prayer breakfast a few years back.  However, this lead and the underlying numbers behind it make me think that he's just a passing fad similar to Santorum and Cain in 2012 rather than someone with staying power like Trump-that debate performance was bleak, and his radical comments can't handle the scrutiny of the race outside of Iowa.  Fiorina I have admitted before has done way better than expected, but her track record in her career is not one of success, and that hurts compared to Trump and Carson who were clearly successful in their career, even if it wasn't politics.  Fiorina seems like a strong option for Secretary of Commerce or a high-profile ambassadorship or even RNC Chair, and in that regard she's far better off now than she was before the presidential race (she's got that up on Jeb Bush), but her moment in the sun has passed.

Chris Christie, Rand Paul, and Mike Huckabee were all strong-on-paper, weak in practice candidates.  Huckabee hasn't realized that his time has passed, as evangelical Christians and social conservatives don't have the strength anymore to win outside of select pockets of the map, and he's too old news (he should have run in 2012).  Rand Paul's Libertarian views better-matched with the Tea Party movement that has lost its steam, resulting in him becoming an after-thought and considering Adam Edelen's poll numbers, one wonders if he might be forced to drop out before a single ballot is cast (he should have run in 2012).  And Chris Christie, whose performance has definitely improved in recent weeks, got a fatal jab too early in the race with Bridgegate, a scandal that was impossible to overcome nationwide even if he could survive in New Jersey (he should have run in 2012).  John Kasich is also on the bench, of course, but he's running for Vice President right now, probably as the running mate of Marco Rubio, and I am guessing he'll make a high-profile dropout/endorsement (which I don't think anyone's done yet-we've just had dropouts) of the senator in the coming months.  He knows he's still a valuable asset as a statesman and brings along grand approval ratings in a critical battleground state (the Republicans can't win the White House without Ohio), so he's fine, and perhaps no one outside of Carly Fiorina will gain more by losing the presidential race.

That leaves us with the two contenders: Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.  They won't appear that way in the polls for a few weeks or maybe 1-2 months, but that's where we're headed.  Rubio has the clear advantage.  The Republican nominee has needed the establishment's support every year since 1964, and Cruz ain't getting that considering his position with Mitch McConnell.  Marco's narrative, his ability to win Florida, his potential appeal amongst Hispanic voters, and the youth/future-leaning narrative of his campaign juxtaposes the best against Hillary Clinton.  Ted Cruz, on the other hand, is arguably the best debater in the contest, and knows that while Trump/Carson may be passing fads, their support is not-70% of the race in some polls has gone with the anti-establishment candidates, and Cruz if he gets a hold on the race early enough could use that to propel himself to a grand position.  His fundraising, poll numbers, and ability on both the big stage and little is impressive, and should not be underestimated (he's arguably the smartest candidate, something liberals would be loathe to forget).  Who emerges ahead is still a question mark (anyone calling the race uniformly for Rubio right now is an idiot-this is not a Clinton v. Sanders lopsided race), but we now have this three-ring circus down to a duel.

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