Iowa and New Hampshire solved nothing — and that’s good!

Two down but no end in sight. Iowa and New Hampshire solved nothing.

That’s the only conclusion to draw after the first two contests in the American presidential election campaign.

And maybe that’s a good thing. Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative of today’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic America. How can they be when 95 percent of New Hampshire’s population are white and when two thirds of the Republican voters in Iowa are evangelical? That’s not today’s America.

At least, the candidates in both parties are fewer than before. Among the Democrats, it’s now a real race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Who would have thought just a short time ago that Bernie Sanders, who sounds like a good Swedish social democrat like Olof Palme, would capture such enthusiasm and support among American voters? As someone who has grown up in that northern European political culture, much of what Sanders says sounds right: basic fairness, health care for all, income equality, free education. But is it a sign of something new in American politics? Is it a sign that a “democratic socialist’’ all of a sudden is acceptable, maybe even mainstream? Or is it more an indication of the country’s voters so desperately seeking something new, and fresh, that even a 74-year old Senator can symbolize this?

Still, in today’s America, his vision is politically completely unrealistic, and, I believe, will only carry him so far. In the end, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. But the fact that Sanders won 83 percent of the voters between 18 and 29 years of age while Clinton only won among those over 65 and failed to win the women’s vote must be most worrisome. Is America ready for a woman president, or is Hillary Clinton the wrong female candidate?

That depends, largely, on who the Republican nominee is. Right now, it could be Donald Trump or Ted Cruz or one the so-called establishment candidates, if one of them catches fire. If not, the Republican Party will be led by either the chief clown, Trump, or the chief spokesman of evangelical America, Cruz, the most conservative nominee since Barry Goldwater in 1964. We know how that ended. And that’s what worries the establishment in the Republican Party, but can they do anything about it? So far, no.

Both Sanders and Trump are outsiders, and, ironically, both have no chance in realizing their vision of America. Trump plays the strong man with an enormous ego who thinks he can solve all the problems. His message is fool’s gold and he should not be taken seriously. It’s sad to see so many do, that two thirds of the Republican primary voters in New Hampshire agreed with his proposal to bar Muslims from entering America, or that Trump, a man with zero foreign policy experience, is the best man to handle an international crisis. Unfortunately, the Republican voters, at least so far, seem to listen to what David Brooks calls the “pornography of pessimism” among the Republican candidates about of the state of affairs in America. Will that last? We don’t know.

Uncertainty before Iowa, no matter what the polls say

Whatever the polls might say, the outcome of the Iowa caucuses next Monday is far from certain among both Republicans and Democrats.

In the Republican so-called establishment the nervousness is growing as a Trump victory or a Cruz victory seems ever more likely. But it’s too late to do anything about it now or even before the New Hampshire primary on February 9. The Republican Party is reaping what they have sown. Later, possibly, as the primary campaign goes on to bigger and ethnically more diverse states, the Republican voters might come to their senses as they realize that the course the party is taking is a suicide mission. Or at least, that is what many establishment Republicans are wishing, for a Republican Party with Trump or Cruz as its presidential nominee cannot win the general election in November.

On the Democratic side, the race is even, surprisingly so. A Town Hall last night from Iowa with the three candidates, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley and broadcast on CNN, was forceful, energetic, positive, and informative. The issues of America were discussed seriously and the negative attacks on the opponents were largely absent.

A confident, relaxed, articulate Hillary Clinton made a strong case for herself as the most knowledgeable and experienced of the three, yes, of all the candidates, including the Republicans. Her knowledge of foreign policy, in particular, impressed, and should impress the voters, in these times of upheaval and uncertainty around the world. I think this is the Hillary Clinton that the voters want, and should, see, and staying positive and upbeat. She needs to make sure the voters know of and understand what she stands for. Attacking Bernie Sanders is not what she should be doing. Sanders is running his race and he is doing it well, talking about the serious issues facing America. It might pay off handsomely in Iowa and New Hampshire. But…beyond that? He is no threat.

Sanders, the senator from Vermont and the self-proclaimed democratic socialist, whose campaign has developed into a popular movement that no one predicted, including Sanders himself. He, also, did well, as he continued to hammer forcefully on his main themes of economic inequality, healthcare for all Americans, and reigning in Wall Street’s excesses. As a progressive, born and raised in Europe, I agree with much of what he says. The political revolution that Sanders urges might be a revolution for America, but not in my old home country of Sweden, or in Europe as a whole. It is far out to the left for America, and although Sanders certainly has many Americans supporting him, they are not enough for him to win in November. America is not ready for a political revolution.

Martin O’Malley, finally, the former governor of my home state of Maryland, has strong progressive credentials, and in another year, without Sanders, he might have had a chance. Not this year.

In all, the Democrats are in better shape than the Republicans, keeping the big picture in mind — the general election in November — regardless of what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton will be the nominee, and whoever the Republicans choose, they will have a formidable opponent.

“Please don’t go quietly into the night”

Today, on the same day, two of America’s leading Republican columnists, New York Times’ David Brooks and Washington Post’s Michael Gerson, plead for their party to take a different route, away from Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

In his rally cry, Brooks writes that it’s time to get together and for a new coalition of the forces of the “hopeful, practical, programmatic Republicans.” “Please,” he ends, “don’t go quietly and pathetically into the night.” For Gerson, the only good outcome for the Republicans of Trump vs. Cruz is “for both to lose.” And he ends, that “for the future of the party as the carrier of a humane, inclusive conservatism now depends on some viable choice beyond them.”

Neither Brooks nor Gerson recognize their party today. Gerson describes it under Trump and Cruz as a party that undermines religious liberty and encourages an ethnic basis for American identity that, in turn, strengthens prejudice. And for Brooks, alienating every person of color in the 21st Century is “borderline insane.”

As the showdown in Iowa and New Hampshire quickly approaches, Brooks and Gerson have grown visibly more frustrated and nervous. They fear not only for the future of their party but also for the outcome in the November elections. It’s a nervousness and fear they share with many in the Republican Party establishment, or governing Republicans, as Brooks calls them. The reality is that they are facing a new party, a party full of anger, as David Leonhardt writes in today’s New York Times. This unhappiness among Republican Party members and voters is unprecedented in the last two decades. Its reasons are both economic and cultural, and, in addition, racial.

We’ll soon know if the Republicans primary voters will diverge from the polls and turn their backs on the demagogic messages of Trump and Cruz.

The sad state of affairs of the Republican primary campaign

”The best advice may be to deal with him (Donald Trump) the same way we’re told to deal with bees, small children throwing tantrums and Internet trolls: Just ignore him.”

That’s Boston College professor Emily Thorson in yesterday’s Washington Post, and that’s what I have been trying to do all of last year, staying away, on this blog, in disgust and frustration over a Republican primary election campaign that not only has been ridiculously long but also utterly depressing.

Now, the year of the elections has arrived but the Republican primary campaign, “that (has) disqualified the qualified,” as the headline reads in Robert Draper’s recent article in the New York Times Magazine, is even more depressing, if that’s possible. It’s become a campaign of two factions, the outsiders without political experience – amateurs, in plain speak — vs. the establishment. I have never been in favor of amateur politicians, like Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. What makes them think, other than their enormous egos, that they can lead the United States, even in the best of times, and these are not the best of times, just because they can earn billions on real estate like Trump, operate on brains like Carson, or sink Hewlett Packard like Fiorina. Politics is a more complicated than that and should get more respect than that.

So why is this kind of presidential candidates taken seriously? Why don’t we all just ignore them? The media, seemingly, won’t let that happen and it’s not the first time this happens. We just have to go back one election cycle, to 2012, to remember the pizza man, Herman Cain, who was treated far too long as a serious candidate, although he was sorely lacking in both knowledge and political experience. Such candidates are not the answer to who should lead this country.

Still, Republican polls show substantial support for not only Trump but also for Carson, and only a few weeks before the voters have their first say, Trump victories in Iowa or New Hampshire do not seem implausible. David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnist, wrote in early December that Trump won’t win the Republican nomination, and he cited a “mental shift” among voters taking place as the actual caucuses and primaries get closer. The voting booth focuses the mind, Brooks wrote, and, he added, “I doubt Republican voters will take a flyer on their party’s future – or their country’s future.”

Today, a few weeks before Iowa, those words seem to be wishful thinking. Nothing, at least not yet, point to that the Republican voters are less angry now or have come to their senses, whatever that means. Most of them still want Trump — the “chief birther,” the man responsible for one the saddest and most humiliating chapters in recent American politics, who is now trying to lie and demagogue his way into the White House — to lead them.

Doyle McManus, columnist at the Los Angeles Times, also in early December, wanted us to make sure to remember that polls at least until about a month before the Iowa caucuses are largely meaningless. Well, Iowa is only a couple of weeks away now and Trump is far ahead in New Hampshire and a close second in Iowa. His support is strongest among those Republicans who are less affluent, less educated and less likely to vote. Will they continue to back him at the voting booths? We will see.

I believe in the political process in the sense that those in the party who have been tested in that process have also earned a chance to seek the highest office in the land. That’s what political parties are for. Otherwise, we will have the circus, the chaos, just like we now have.

Now, I am sure many will argue that the so-called establishment candidates, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich, or for that matter Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, are not much better. That’s not the point. Although a President Ted Cruz, for example, is truly a frightening thought, he and the others are men of the party, battle-tested and they have been elected, and so they have earned a place at the table, or as the campaign now unfolds, a spot on the debate panels. Trump, Carson and Fiorina have not.

And I am sure many will argue that the three Democratic candidates are not much better. Although I don’t agree, it is a sign of weakness that the party cannot come up with more candidates, and, most of all, younger candidates, than a tainted Hillary Clinton, an angry, old socialist like Bernie Sanders, or a former governor, who could not get his successor elected.

Half a year ago or something, I said that I thought the fight for the White House was going to come down to Hillary Clinton vs. Jeb Bush. Now, with Bush sinking like stone in the polls, such a race seems much more unlikely. Will he sink to the bottom in Iowa and New Hampshire? If so, his dream of becoming a third Bush in the White House is dead and his place could be taken by Donald Trump. Is that really what the Republican Party wants? It is certainly not what America needs.

 

 

 

It’s more than uncertainty, it’s chaos

Actually, the list of possible Republican presidential candidates is even longer than I indicated previously. The total number is eighteen — 18!  But the ones I left out are even more of “come-on, why are you running?”

So, why waste our time?  Still, here they are, for the record:

Former New York governor George Pataki — out of the blue; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson — no political experience; former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee — Fox News host too long; former business executive Carly Fiorina — forced out at Hewlett Packard; real estate developer Donald Trump — mad man; former senator Rick Santorum — already ran and lost; former UN ambassador John Bolton — foreign policy hardliner; former Texas governor Rick Perry — already ran and failed spectacularly; and, finally, Senator Marco Rubio, Florida, squeezed out by Jeb Bush, also from Florida.

This is more than Republican “uncertainty,” it’s actually chaos.

Democratic inevitability vs. Republican uncertainty

Inevitability on one side, uncertainty on the other.

I am talking about the American presidential election campaign and about the Democrats, on the one side, and the Republicans, on the other, jockeying for positions as that race, which in America never really ends, is heating up.

I had hoped to avoid this topic, at least for a while longer and maybe until the beginning of next year, while glancing longingly at other democracies in West Europe and Canada with their three-week or even month-long election campaigns, but…here we go!

The inevitability among the Democrats and the likelihood of Hillary Clinton running was underscored today in a Politico article by Mike Allen. She really is preparing and will likely announce her candidacy in April.  Does she have any opponents? Vermont’s grumpy, but charming, independent, democratic socialist U.S. senator, Bernie Sanders, Maryland’s former governor Martin  O’Malley, who could not even get his own lieutenant governor elected last year,  or Virginia’s quirky former US senator Jim Webb are all sort of — come on!

So the Hillary Clinton juggernaut keeps rolling on, and, unless something extraordinary happens, the only interesting discussion is who will be her running mate?

And as to the Republicans, there are a lot of names and a lot of — come ons! Who do these people think they are? First of all, Mitt Romney. Enough said. And then Sarah Palin, who said the other day that she was seriously interested in running.  And then the Canadian-born Texan Ted Cruz, the libertarian Rand Paul, the South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham. And then there are the governors: Chris Christie from New Jersey, Scott Walker from Wisconsin , and John Kasich from Ohio, plus one former governor, Jeb Bush from Florida.

To learn more about Jeb Bush,  I recommend the recent article by Alec MacGillis in The New Yorker called “Testing Time.”  It’s not a flattering profile, on the contrary, some of the things he stands for a pretty scary, but I believe he has a real chance to capture the Republican party’s nomination.

And so, as much as I hate to admit it, it looks like a battle next November between two dynasties, the Clintons and the Bushes, two legendary juggernauts fighting for their place in history. It’s a sad verdict on American politics that there really are no new and exciting names at this time who have a real chance to win, but that is the way it is.

So enjoy, or despair!

The “historic vacuum” for the Republicans makes the guessing game for 2016 even harder

My Swedish journalist colleague Staffan Heimerson wrote in his column in Aftonbladet the other day about Swedish predictions regarding the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Who will be the two parties’ candidates? On the Republican side, the Swedes most often mentioned  Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, but also Rand Paul, while Hillary Clinton was pretty much a given as the Democratic candidate.

My American journalist colleague Carl Cannon, Washington bureau chief of RealClearPolitics, explained this confusion very nicely in his column yesterday. He writes about a “historic vacuum” for the Republicans, which  “has prompted stirrings among a veritable roster of colorful, ambitious—and unlikely—White House aspirants,” and continues:

“The cast of characters includes a popular conservative neurosurgeon with the habit of making outlandish political pronouncements; a New Jersey governor whose main personality trait is in-your-face aggression; a freshman senator from Texas loathed by his peers and whose idea of high jinks is shutting down the government; a Kentucky libertarian who barely tolerates the idea of a standing army; a Baptist preacher and Fox News host better known for his weight-loss book than his stint as governor of Arkansas; and a former a Florida governor who hasn’t held office in eight years and would (a) be forgotten by now or (b) have been president already—if he wasn’t the son and younger brother of two previous presidents.”

Nicely put about Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Jeb Bush, although he excluded Marco Rubio. But then he added an even “less likely” name, “almost as unlikely as Ben Carson,” Mitt Romney, the man who ran from the wrong state. He needs to remedy this mistake, if he wants to run again — “Mitt Romney for Mayor.”

If he does, it would certainly add to the Republican confusion.