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.

 

 

 

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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!

Obama won the last debate but will it matter?

And so the last of the four TV-debates in the presidential election campaign is over and in only two weeks, America will choose a new president.

The debates have played an important role in this campaign, more important, perhaps, than in many a year, maybe since John F Kennedy met Richard Nixon in the very first debate in 1960 and upset the favorite, the sitting vice president.

In the first debate in this year’s campaign, the challenger Mitt Romney knocked the socks off a sleepy Barack Obama and became a serious challenger to the president. Obama’s listless performance let Romney into the race, a race that the president at that time led comfortably. And then, Romney held his ground pretty well, although the judgment is that Obama won the two following debates –last night’s by 48 percent to 40, according to CNN’s first quick poll, and by 53 percent to 23 according to CBS News.

Still, it was a fairly even debate where neither candidate committed any major mistakes. In fact, you could argue that there was no real debate, for Romney had decided to hold back, lie low, be cautious, and be presidential, or something. All his earlier criticism of Obama’s foreign policy was gone, replaced by broad consensus between the two about America’s role in the world and president Obama’s foreign policy.

On Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, the war on terror including the drone attacks against terrorists in various countries, and, yes, even on Libya, Romney took positions very close to Obama’s. By refraining from attacking Obama, Romney had clearly made a decision not to seem like a war hawk, not to seem belligerent and someone seeking new conflicts and new wars for America in the Middle East. By doing so, he moved towards the political center, towards a more moderate policy – he became a “man of peace,” as someone said, probably jokingly, afterwards.

Romney’s transition seemed to startle Obama a bit, although the president kept up his attacks, calling Romney’s foreign policy “all over the map” and charging him for trying to “air brush history.” And while expressing his satisfaction that Romney now supported the administration’s diplomatic efforts in that volatile region, Obama could not refrain from sticking it to Romney when possible. Romney’s charge that the U.S. navy now has fewer ships since 1916 was met by, maybe, the “zinger” of the evening – Obama saying that the military now also had fewer bayonets and horses than in 1916…

Why the subdued, cautious Romney? Was he playing it safe in a race that now seemed more even than ever? Maybe. But as a result, he came to stand in stark contrast to a firm, straight talking, decisive president, who said he had done what he promised to do when he became president, and that he was the best one to lead America in the next four years.

Will what happened in this final debate matter? We don’t know yet. The two previous debates between Obama and Romney had each been watched by almost 70 million people. Last night’s debate most likely had fewer viewers. Foreign policy is not the main theme of this campaign. And most voters seem to have made up their minds by now. The number of undecided are very few and the remaining two weeks of the campaign will be more about getting out the vote — turnout can decide this election, which is so crucial for America and this country’s future.

Lower unemployment brings consolation to criticized Obama

Unemployment in the United States has fallen below 8 percent for the first time since Barack Obama became president in January 2009. The new figures suggest that unemployment in September fell 8.1 to 7.8 percent.

Jubilation in the Obama campaign? Hardly, but, surely, relief, and, definitely, consolation for the president after all the brutal criticism of his performance during the Denver debate last Wednesday.

“Never has such a strong political hand been so needlessly, carelessly, calamitously thrown away,” wrote historian and Columbia University professor Simon Schama on the Daily Beast.

On the Republican side, joy is mixed with relief and new hope. Columnists like George Will, David Brooks, and Charles Krauthammer lined up in their praise for Mitt Romney’s effort. The Romney campaign has undoubtedly new wind in its sails. But will it last? And is there enough time in campaign for Romney to reinvent itself in the eyes of voters?

Obama campaign will of course make every effort to prevent this from happening. Counterattacks are already underway zeroing in on the question: who is really Mitt Romney — the candidate who moved steadily to the right during the Republican primary election campaign, or the new, “moderate Mitt”, the Massachusetts Governor who worked with Democrats and passed Romneycare?

The Democrats have plenty of ammunition. Just look at Jonathan Cohn’s blog at The New Republic!

In the remaining three debates, on 11 October between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan and on 16 and 23 October between Obama and Romney, we will certainly see a very different president than Wednesday. He, with the help of Biden, must now go on the offensive, because we have a new race.

How will Romney’s victory affect the remaining campaign?

Today, the day after the big Romney victory in the first of three TV-debates with president Obama, the question is if it will have a lasting effect on the rest of the election campaign. We won’t know until new polls are published in the coming days.

The first quick polls by CNN and CBS confirm what all of the 50 million could see and experience, an energetic and aggressive Romney won, and won handily, the TV debate against a dull and listless Barack Obama.

The question is how many of the 50 million could follow the often detailed, wonkish, discussion, full of numbers and facts. And how many got tired or bored, and tuned out before the end? We don’t know, which makes it more difficult to predict whether Romney’s uptick in the first opinion polls will continue, and, thus, whether his debate victory will have a lasting impact on the remaining election campaign. A great majority, both on the left and on the right, agrees that Romney won, but how much does this really means for the voters’ verdict on November 6?

The prominent political analyst, University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato, on his “Sabato’s Crystal Ball”:

“Just because Romney won handily – and the press will report it that way – that does not mean voter preferences will necessarily change all that much. Often, voters can judge one candidate to have won a Debate, but not change their ballot choice as a consequence….History cautions us not to over-state the importance of any debate, if this one really does move the numbers in a significant way for Romney, it will be more exception than rule in the relatively short history of televised American presidential debates.”

In anticipation of new polls, the discussion today centered on what happened to Obama. Why did he not attack Romney harder? Why did he let so much of what Romney said stand unchallenged? Why did he let himself be interrupted by Romney? Why did he not say anything about Romney’s “47 percent? Disappointed liberal commentators had many questions and some urged Obama to change tactics.

Charles Blow on the blog “Campaign Stops” in the New York Times:

“This is the closing argument of a campaign. The jury has heard all the evidence that it’s going to hear. The candidates needed to deliver a strong, moving summation. We all know that Obama is capable of stirring oratory, but in the first debate he failed to deliver. The guy with the weaker case made the stronger statement, falsehoods and all, and that is a dangerous thing to allow so close to Election Day.”

Others, like Michael Tomasky at the Daily Beast, saw the debate as evidence that Mitt Romney, so known for his flip-flops, had changed his persona yet again and now returned to being a moderate Massachusetts Republican – a “Rockefeller Republican” – and that Obama had no response to this “new” Romney. Obama was “terrible,” Tomasky wrote:

“There’s no use pretending this doesn’t shake up the race. It surely does. How much, none of us knows. The Democratic spinners need to get busy on the fact-checking front. But this is mostly about Obama. Romney caught him totally flatfooted with the Rockefeller Republican move, and Obama didn’t know how to respond. If this is the new Romney, he’d better figure out how.”

This “new” Romney will have much to answer for in the coming weeks. The image of a candidate that voters do not really know where he stands has been strengthened. How credible is it that Romney now wants to appear as Medicare’s great defender, that he no longer wishes to acknowledge his big tax cut plan totaling 5 trillion dollars, that he has suddenly become the defender of the middle class, the same 47 percent he had previously said that he does not care about? We shall see. But surely this is what the Obama campaign will zero in on during the remaining election campaign.

Democrats come out ahead after Charlotte convention

The two political conventions are over and the question is: who won?

We will know in a week or so. The Republicans, with a bland speech by Mitt Romney, a speech by Paul Ryan that drove the fact-checkers crazy, and with Clint Eastwood…, they did not have a strong convention. It seems that they received only the smallest of bounces in the polls, but the verdict is not in yet, for either party.

I would be surprised, though, if the Democrats do not come out ahead, thanks to the cumulative effect of the past three days in Charlotte. It had the better speeches and the greater enthusiasm. It had the unforgettable testimony by Michelle Obama and the equally unforgettable, masterly lecture by Bill Clinton. And, of course, last night it had Barack Obama himself, whose speech left the delegates enthusiastic and strengthened in their resolve to win in November, although he did not deliver another glorious, mesmerizing speech that we have almost been spoiled with. It was a good speech, more than ok, solid, and, at times, eloquent, but there was also somehow something missing.

Joe Klein on his blog in Time Magazine was disappointed. He wrote that the president did not close the deal and it left Klein him wondering what Obama will do in his second term, if he is re-elected. And John Cassidy in The New Yorker wrote that the president was playing it safe, short on new ideas and policy proposals, knowing he was head in the polls and not wanting to give the Republicans new ammunition.

I don’t know, maybe our expectations were set too high, maybe we failed to take into account the fact that, this time, it was the President speaking, not a young State Senator like in 2004, or a presidential candidate like in 2008. Here was a battle-hardened leader of the country, who had been dealt an awful hand, and who realized that things were not improving as fast as he, or the country, would like. Yet, he said that the country was better off today than four years ago and that the choice in November was one between going forward and turning back to the failed policies of the Bush years, policies that got us in this fix in the first place.

“All they have to offer is the same prescription they’ve had for the last thirty years: “Have a surplus? Try a tax cut.” “Deficit too high? Try another.” “Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning!”

And, he asked for more time:

“I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy. I never have. You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth. And the truth is it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades.”

Today, on Friday morning, the hard reality struck when the latest job figures were published, pointing to a continued slow recovery. Only 96,000 new jobs were created in August, although unemployment decreased from 8.3 to 8.1 percent, but mostly because so many had stopped looking for a job.

Will such numbers decide the election or will the American people let Obama continue his unfinished work? That’s the big question.