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.

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.




Great uncertainty a month before Iowa

In one month, the Republican voters will finally have their say about their party’s presidential candidates. Today, no one can predict with certainty the outcome of that first election in Iowa on January 3.

Panic? Desperation? No. But there is uncertainty and anxiety in the Republican ranks, and dissatisfaction. With a president with and approval rating of only 43 percent, a deep economic crisis and an unemployment rate of 8.6 percent, according to today’s new numbers, Obama should be extremely vulnerable, and the Republicans should have good chances of winning next year.

But this week it is clear that no one knows anything, writes conservative columnist Peggy Noonan in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Charles Krauthammer, another leading conservative columnist, is not happy in today’s Washington Post. He would have wished stronger candidates than the current eight – such as Governor Mitch Daniels (Indiana) and Christchurch Christie (New Jersey) and Congressman Paul Ryan. Instead, the fight is between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, and Krauthammer concludes:

“You play the hand you’re dealt. This is a weak Republican field with two significantly flawed front-runners contesting an immensely important election. If Obama wins, he will take the country to a place from which it will not be able to return (which is precisely his own objective for a second term). Every conservative has thus to ask himself two questions: Who is more likely to prevent that second term? And who, if elected, is less likely to unpleasantly surprise?”

The fundamental question is if Newt Gingrich will last, or if his strong rise in the all the recent polls will prove to be just as temporary as Michele Bachmann’s, Rick Perry’s, and Herman Cain’s were. I still believe that Gingrich’s success is temporary. The vast majority of the Republican voters are still looking for their ideal candidate, a conservative, Christian, Tea party sympathizer. They clearly believe that Romney is not the ideal candidate, languishing, as he is, around 20 percent in the polls. The question is whether Gingrich is such a candidate – the Washington insider with dubious conservative credentials, three marriages and a series of damning flip-flops that may well compete with Romney’s.

The fact is that the Republican voters do not know what Romney and Gingrich really believe and what they really stand for.

Which of these two will have the biggest chance to defeat Obama? According to all opinion polls, Romney comes out on top here. But, asks the political analyst  Stuart Rothenberg in his newsletter, will the Republican voters follow their hearts or their brains?

“The question is whether there are enough true believers to nominate someone other than Romney, thereby putting up a weaker general election candidate against Obama. In other words, is this 1964, when Republicans listened to their heart over their head? That year, of course, President Lyndon Johnson looked unbeatable, so the Republican nomination didn’t have the value it is likely to have next year….Barry Goldwater’s famous 1964 campaign slogan was, ‘In your heart, you know he’s right.’ He went on to lose 44 states. Often, in politics, the head is a better guide than the heart.”

For Obama and the Democrats, that’s also an important question.

Obama strengthened by weak Republican field

The other evening, I walked over to the local high school in my little home town just outside Washington, DC for a big campaign event with the Democratic Party, which completely controls my home state of Maryland — the governor, both houses of the State Legislature, both Senators in the U.S. Congress, and six of the state’s eight members of the House of Representatives.

They were all there that evening, Governor Martin O’Malley, Senator Ben Cardin, and the whole range of local Democratic politicians. Democratic National Party Chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, showed up. Full house. Good atmosphere. Mobilization. “Four More Years.”

Suddenly, next year’s election felt near. Only a year to go, and only two months to the primary election campaign’s first battle, the Iowa caucuses on January 3.

Here in Maryland, the Democrats and President Obama have nothing to fear. Obama got 62 percent of the votes in 2008. There are many similar states where an Obama victory can safely be predicted already today – led by New York and California. But in many states, Obama’s victory is far from certain and certainty not in key states like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida, which are a particular concern for Obama and the Democrats.

In general, despite his foreign policy successes particularly in the fight against terrorism, it looks bleak for President Obama. His average approval rating in the series of Gallup polls is now down to 41 per cent, while 51 percent disapprove of him. That’s not enough, according election guru Charlie Cook, who writes that an approval rating of 48 to 50 percent is necessary to win.

That’s not impossible for Obama to achieve, but it will be difficult and a lot depends on how the U.S. economy develops, and if Obama, in the eyes of the voters, will be seen to help revitalize the economy and reduce unemployment. Today, discontent is wide spread. Occupy Wall Street has spread across the country , also here to Washington — DC Occupy — with two tent cities in downtown.

In the end, Obama will be pitted against one of the eight Republicans now running for president. It’s a weak field and their general weakness will benefit Obama. The field is today led by, remarkably, Herman Cain, businessman and political novice, who is now fighting for his political life after reports of sexual harassment in his past. Cain shares the lead with Mitt Romney, who few Republicans really seem to like. Romney, the “pretzel candidate” according to conservative columnist George Will, constantly changes his position and does not stand for anything. Has conservatism come this far to settle for this, asks Will.

Dissatisfaction with the existing eight candidates is the reason for the large swings in the opinion polls, up and down, repeatedly. It happened to Michele Bachmann, and it happened to Rick Perry. And now, it is likely Herman Cain’s turn. Regardless of the veracity of the sex allegations, the general verdict on how Cain has handled them has been scathingly negative.

The search for the “real” Republican presidential candidate continues – the one that is both a pure Conservative and has a real chance of beating Barack Obama. Does he or she exist? So far, the Republicans have not found their dream candidate and they mourn those who never ran, like Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie and Haley Barbour, and even those who quit, like Tim Pawlenty — he shouldn’t have done that.

After January 3 in Iowa, followed on January 10 by New Hampshire, the field of eight will be cut in half, maybe even more. Mitt Romney will not be among them. He will still be the man to beat.

Quotes about an intensive political week in America…

An intense political week for the Republicans is behind us, with the first battle in the long Republican primary election campaign, with the first victim of that campaign, and with a new Republican presidential candidate.

Here are some quotes from the press and blogosphere to reflect the debate. First about the controversial Ames Straw Poll in Iowa, where the outcome was exactly as Walter Shapiro wrote in The New Republic the other day:

“The Iowa Straw Poll is one of the most insidious events in politics. Even though the straw poll is about as scientific as sorcery, political reporters over-hype the results and pretend that they mean something. The upshot is that fringe candidates can get an unwarranted boost and serious candidates can be prematurely eliminated before most Iowa caucus-goers, let alone most Republicans elsewhere, have a chance to decide on their preferences.”

About the candidates’ debate last Thursday, wrote Charles M. Blow of the New York Times yesterday:

“I must confess that every time Representative Michele Bachmann uttered the phrase “as president of the United States” during Thursday’s Republican presidential debate I blacked out a little bit, so I’m sure that I missed some things. But one thing that I didn’t miss was the moment when all the candidates raised their hands, confirming that they felt so strongly about not raising taxes that they would all walk away from a hypothetical deficit-reduction deal that was as extreme as 10 parts spending cuts to one part tax increases. That moment should tell every voter in America everything about this current crop of Know-Nothings — no person who would take such a stance is fit to be president of the United States or any developed country.”

And Frank Bruni in the New York Times today:

“It was an intensely dispiriting spectacle, because it was an entirely familiar one: the same old same old at a moment of extraordinary global uncertainty and profound national anxiety. Americans are more frightened and pessimistic — and Washington is more dysfunctional — than they’ve been in a very long time. But the script in Iowa was unchanged.”… “It’s time for nobler, smarter, more substantive politics. It’s past time, actually. But that’s not what Iowa presented.”

About Tim Pawlenty, who finished third yesterday in Ames and who today announced that he is no longer a candidate, writes Chris Cillizza on his Washington Post blog The Fix:

“Pawlenty’s demeanor — he was the definition of “Minnesota Nice” — didn’t fit with an electorate who wanted confrontation with President Obama at all costs. Pawlenty watched as Rep. Michele Bachmann soared past him in the race — channeling the anger of voters who saw compromise in any form as capitulation.”

And, finally, here is Professor Juan Cole on his blog Informed Comments about the new candidate, Texas Governor Rick Perry:

“Rick Perry’s announcement of his presidential ambitions marks the triumph of fantasy over reality in American politics….Perry is in the American tradition of the huckster and the booster, the snake oil salesman who promises you a cure for what ails you that turns out to be one part pretty words and another part dream castle…Perry sees no problems that can’t be fixed by slashing taxes further on our 400 billionaires and then holding prayer meetings for the unemployed.”

Bachmann wins in Ames but Perry is the story

Today’s most important political development within the Republican party was not Michele Bachmann’s victory in the Ames Straw Poll, or Ron Paul’s second place, or the fact that Tim Pawlenty came in a distant third and might have to throw in the towel, but that Texas governor Rick Perry announced that he is running.

The announcement came just hours before the poll in Ames. Its immediate effect was 718 write-in votes for Perry, more than the race’s favorite up to now, Mitt Romney.

Perry’s announcement at a conservative bloggers’ conference in Charleston, South Carolina, was almost as if George W. Bush — Perry’s predecessor as governor — had made a comeback, except that Perry is more Texas, more conservative, more God and country. He’s not my cup of tea, for sure.

Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky sees the Republican field as wide open and Perry as an instant front runner. His nomination could lead to a big battle between Obama and Perry in the culture war about the two Americas.

Perry’s start today must have been encouraging, and the weak field of Republican candidates speaks in Perry’s favor. But the race is long.

Here is how the 17,000 voted in Ames today:

Michele Bachmann 4,823 votes; Ron Paul 4,671; Tim Pawlenty 2,293; Rick Santorum 1,657; Herbert Cain 1,456; Rick Perry 718; Mitt Romney 567; Newt Gingrich 385; Jon Huntsman 69; and Thad McCotter 35.

Michele Bachmann’s victory in Ames did not come as a surprise. Neither did Ron Paul’s second place. Enthusiastic and motivated followers and a good organization can do wonders for a candidate this early in the campaign. And both have that. Still, their appeal is too narrow and too extreme right for neither tea party favorite Bachmann nor libertarian Paul to win the Republican nomination.

The Ames Straw Poll has in previous years provided some guidance as to who will ultimately capture the Republican nomination. But not this year. Or maybe Rick Perry’s 718 votes point the way?

And they are off in the big race…

The presidential election campaign starts in earnest this week, and what happens in the coming days will decide much about the coming race.

Obama, with an approval rating under 50 percent in many crucial states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, which he won in 2008, is heading out to make his case before the voters. He is wounded, no doubt about it, and many people including myself, ask themselves, “What Happened to Obama?” as Emory University professor Drew Westen does in his fascinating article in yesterday’s New York Times. We do not seem to know what Obama believes, Westen writes, he has not told his story.

The President still has some time to clarify this, but not much. The pace in the presidential campaign is now picking up markedly, as the Republicans are gathering in Iowa for a debate on Thursday and the Ames Straw Poll on Saturday. The Ames poll is a strange political event which is seen as the first indication of who are the candidates in the lead but has not always predicted the winner of the Iowa caucuses early next year.

Some of the Republican candidates are wounded, too, from how they handled last week’s momentous events. All of them, except Jon Huntsman, but including Mitt Romney — “the cowardly candidate,” as Michael Tomasky called him on the Daily Beast, criticized the debt ceiling deal. Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, and Thad McCotter voted against it in the House, all willing to take a default rather than a deal. Bachmann then blamed Obama for the downgrade of U.S. credit, echoed by Rich Santorum and Mitt Romney. They clearly see an opening here.

Have they shown themselves to be “presidential” last week? The answer is no. Still, the frontrunner, Mitt Romney, gives Obama a run for his money in recent polls in several States, but there is no enthusiasm for him among Republican voters. That’s why there is still so much speculation that Sarah Palin and/or Texas governor Rick Perry might still make a run for it. Both do well in the latest Gallup poll in spite of not formally being candidates, at least not yet.

The odds are for Perry to run. But is the country ready for another conservative republican governor from Texas? I doubt it, and I don’t think the prayer rally in Houston this weekend did him any good. He probably scared a lot of voters, who believe in the separation of church and state. And to beat Obama, you need a much broader base than the Christian right and the Tea Party.

So, it comes down to Mitt Romney as the man to beat, if he can survive the primaries…