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.

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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.

 

 

 

Mitt Romney with new momentum after New Hampshire

It will now have to take something special and unexpected to prevent Mitt Romney from becoming the Republican Party’s presidential candidate.

Mitt Romney’s victory in New Hampshire’s primary election today was expected, but it was the first time a Republican presidential candidate has won in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He won because the voters saw him as having the best chance to beat president Obama in November.

The victory was big, although not overwhelming, and it gives Romney fresh momentum for the next battle in South Carolina on January 21. The victory was also revenge for his loss in the New Hampshire primary in 2008 to John McCain, who received 37 percent of the vote to Romney’s 31 percent.

Today, Romney got 38 percent of the vote against 24 percent for runner-up Ron Paul and 17 percent for the third-place Jon Huntsman. The other three, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry, came far behind with 10, 10 and 1 percent of the vote.

For the libertarian Ron Paul, his second place was a clear success, and his neoliberal/isolationist message will be heard loud and clear for a long while still in the Republican primary campaign.

New Hampshire was also a success for the third-place Jon Huntsman, but not enough of a success. He needed to come in second. He will go on to South Carolina, but it’s difficult to see him do well in that conservative, Tea Party-friendly state in the deep South. New Hampshire will likely be the high point of Huntsman’s presidential campaign.

And for the remaining three, Gingrich, Santorum and Perry, New Hampshire was no fun. They tried but could not shake Romney. So three personal disappointments but also a great disappointment for the conservatives in the Republican Party, who still view Mitt Romney with great suspicion. But what can they do? There is not enough time to stop Romney.

Republican “brawl” — can Romney be stopped?

Whatever you might think about the length of the American presidential election campaign and about Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s ridiculously out-sized roles in choosing the presidential candidates for America’s voters, the Republican primary campaign is becoming down right exciting.

“There’s no denying the Republicans are in a brawl, and it is becoming ferocious,” writes Peggy Noonan today in the Wall Street Journal.

Let’s see how that all plays out tonight in the big debate in New Hampshire!

The excitement lies in which of the Republican Party’s three equally powerful factions wins in the end:

— the moderate/conservative headed by Mitt Romney;

— the libertarian with Ron Paul, or;

— the social conservative with, yes, right now three candidates to choose from: Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry.

The moderate/conservative faction includes Jon Huntsman, who has invested everything in New Hampshire, but apparently without much success. If he does not succeed on Tuesday, he is finished.

Ron Paul reigns supreme among libertarians and can look forward to between 15 and 20 percent of the vote in the upcoming primaries. But no more. He has hit his ceiling and he has no chance to final victory. However, Republicans worry that if Paul decides to run for president as a third party candidate, he could seriously hurt Republican chances to beat Obama in November.

Among the social conservatives, there is right now a lot of confusion. Who to support? The intellectual conservative media elite, such as George Will, Charles Krauthammer and Michael Gerson, who in their columns have been brutal to Gingrich, now seem to have finally found their man in Rick Santorum.

Krauthammer:

“After every other conservative alternative to Mitt Romney crashed and burned (libertarian Ron Paul is in a category of his own), from the rubble emerges Rick Santorum. But he isn’t just the last man standing. He is the first challenger to be plausibly presidential: knowledgeable, articulate, experienced, of stable character and authentic ideology.”

Prior to New Hampshire on Tuesday the questions are: by how much will Romney win, who will win the battle between Santorum and Gingrich, and will Huntsman survive?

Rick Perry is a non-factor after Iowa. He should have quit but is still hoping for some kind of redemption in South Carolina on January 21. His fate will be decided that day, as will possibly the Republican presidential campaign. Another win for Romney there and the race is over.

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.