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Posts published in “First Take”

First take/Trump

Where we are post-Nevada GOP is this: Donald Trump has a clear and obvious glide path to the Republican presidential nomination. Stopping him, which still looked plausible as recently as the beginning of this month (with his second-place Iowa results), no longer does.

There is a tendency in the nomination process for voters to move toward candidates who do well: Once a candidate becomes a clear front runner on the basis of voters, a mentality toward joining with the probably winner starts to take over. Historically, this tendency has been visible in both major parties, and likely will recur this year in both.

And most dramatically on the Republican side. The significance of the Nevada result wasn't just Trump's win but the size of it - approaching half of the overall vote in a field of five contestants, three of them well-funded, highly-visible and strongly-supported. As many have said elsewhere, if the front runner were a conventional politician instead of Donald Trump, the contest would more or less be called over already. The infamous and garbagey Drudge Report (which has been in Trump's pocket for months) has "called" him the Republican nominee, and it has to be said in this case there's good reason for saying so.

Little time remains for anyone else to figure out a way to solve the Trump problem. Next Tuesday, March 1, is "super Tuesday," when not one but a whole mass of states - Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming - make their decisions. They will make those decisions in large part on the basis of national perceptions, and presumably for some of the same reasons the states voting so far have done so. Trump is by far best positioned to present himself as the nominee-in-waiting, will doubtless be regularly described as such between here and there, and he stands a good chance of sweeping nearly all those states. (The biggest exception could be Texas, but if Trump wins there, which seems plausible, he could destroy Ted Cruz' candidacy.) And if he does sweep those states, his delegate lead could become hard for anyone else to catch up to.

The Republican contest isn't quite yet a done deal, but this time a week from now, barring a case of late concerns or buyer remorsem it might be. - rs

First take/three

The many people who have wanted the Republican presidential campaign to boil down to a manageable number have got what they want - almost.

There's now three, nearly. Five, for the moment.

Because the catch is, John Kasich and Ben Carson are still in.

Neither of them will be the nominee, and probably they are well aware of that. But neither is inclined to leave. Both seem to be doing well enough in fundraising - and they occupy distinctive enough niches - that they can keep on offering messages for a while. (Kasich seems to want to stay in until his home state of Ohio votes.) In the process, they will keep on typing up blocks of votes. Small blocks, but possibly significant anyway.

As it stands, Donald Trump seems well positioned for the nomination. If as polling indicates he wins Nevada in tomorrow's caucuses, his track record will be three wins and (in the distant Iowa past) a second place, enough to position him as a clear frontrunner and create a bandwagon effect for the massive SEC primary on March 1, barely a week from now. If the national narrative going into that is that Trump is running well ahead of everyone else, he will become very hard to stop.

If anyone does stop him, that would have to be Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, who more or less share a second-place spot. But aside from a Cruz win in Texas and Rubio in Florida (and Trump could very well win both of those states anyway), it's getting ever harder to see where they break through and actually beat the Donald.

Time is getting short. - rs

Three revolts

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Ron Faucheux from RealClearPolitics says there is not one big populist voter revolt, but three.

The first revolt has been percolating for nearly a decade. It is an insurgency targeted against moral compromise and it is being waged within –– and, in some ways, against –– the Republican Party. Powered at the grass roots by the Tea Party and on Capitol Hill by the Freedom Caucus, this movement has pulled the Republican Party well to the right of where it was just a few years ago . . .

The second revolt is aimed at wealth inequality and corporate corruption. This revolt operates mostly within the Democratic Party, although many disaffected independents — especially younger voters –– find the cause appealing. . . .

The third revolt is one directed at the political system itself. . .

While both the left and right share a growing contempt for politics as usual, the impetus for this popular uprising comes mostly from center-right voters upset by government paralysis and incompetence. It is a movement built upon cynicism –– and anger at dodgy politicians, broken institutions and increasing demands for political correctness. No longer content to just tweak the system, they want to knock it down.

I believe he misses the mark on what he describes as the third revolt. First, he errs when he believes there is a two dimensional measure in politics. While our two party election system does force voters to select between the leftward coalition – called the Democrats, and the rightward coalition, called the Republicans, individual voters think in more dimensions. What he calls a third revolt is not a revolt, but an independent voter movement by less partisan voters who are angry over our failing Democracy. Crony capitalism, money buying politics, anti democratic election laws are the enemy, and the current Republican and Democratic party operatives, insiders, electeds and donor bases are the perceived culprits. From both parties.

It may seem like a right of center movement to Mr. Faucheux because nationally Trump is the only candidate who speaks to the movement for voters who are on “the right”. But On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders also speaks to the independent movement as well as Mr. Faucheux’s second revolt. (Which is why Sanders will do better than the professionals expect among independent movement voters).

However, Oregon’s version of the independent movement could express itself not by a Democratic or Republican outsider such as Trump or Sanders, but by candidates who can actually run as an Indpendent Party (IPO) member. Since the IPO now has major party status, it will be acting as a platform for community leaders running for office, representing this broad based movement. The best will be able to express the independent movement’s extreme displeasure with how the Democratic and Republican operatives, electeds and donor bases have failed to care for our Democracy, and our common good.

If one or more IPO candidates are able to break through the Democratic/Republican hegemony over politics, it would put Oregon on the map as the spear tip of the independent movement.

First take/deciders

The upcoming contests in the next few days - South Carolina for Republicans, Nevada for Democrats - may do a lot to shape the contest to come.

How close will be the Hillary Clinton/Bernie Sanders contest? Nevada may tell us.

And, how difficult will it be to block Donald Trump from the Republican Presidential nomination? South Carolina, where polling has varied but mostly has given Trump a big lead, may tell us.

Public Policy Polling released a South Carolina poll yesterday showing Trump at "35% to 18% each for Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, 10% for John Kasich, and 7% each for Jeb Bush and Ben Carson."

So who are these deciders in South Carolina?

Trump's support in South Carolina is built on a base of voters among whom religious and racial intolerance pervades. Among the beliefs of his supporters:

-70% think the Confederate flag should still be flying over the State Capital, to only 20% who agree with it being taken down. In fact 38% of Trump voters say they wish the South had won the Civil War to only 24% glad the North won and 38% who aren't sure. Overall just 36% of Republican primary voters in the state are glad the North emerged victorious to 30% for the South, but Trump's the only one whose supporters actually wish the South had won.

-By an 80/9 spread, Trump voters support his proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States. In fact 31% would support a ban on homosexuals entering the United States as well, something no more than 17% of anyone else's voters think is a good idea. There's also 62/23 support among Trump voters for creating a national database of Muslims and 40/36 support for shutting down all the mosques in the United States, something no one else's voters back. Only 44% of Trump voters think the practice of Islam should even be legal at all in the United States, to 33% who think it should be illegal. To put all the views toward Muslims in context though, 32% of Trump voters continue to believe the policy of Japanese internment during World War II was a good one, compared to only 33% who oppose it and 35% who have no opinion one way or another.

There's your deciders.

First take/roads

It's been most of three years since I last rode the streets of Idaho Falls and Pocatello. However kind the interim has been to me, it's been hell on the roads.

I haven't noticed it so much in southwestern Idaho - the roads around Boise wear down too, but in a normal way - but the eastern sector roads were coming apart. Yes, this is pothole season, with relatively warm weather following a significant amount of snow and ice, remnants of which are still visible in the eastern cities. But those roads are in a bad way.

The sheer number and ugliness of road holes, and rugged, coming-apart surfaces, are striking, at present the worst I would point to around the Northwest. Not the only bad roads, but the worst overall.

Not sure what accounts for this. But let's hope the highway planners get ambitious about this are this year. - rs

Travel plans: I'm in Twin Falls as this is written. I'll be on the morning talk show at KLIX around 8:15, and at noon at the new Twin Falls visitor center to sign books.

First take/Scalia

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia came to Idaho in August 2014, and nether made major headlines nor left any controversy in his wake. He was in Boise to deliver a keynote address at a ceremony honoring the successful conclusion (or near-conclusion, at least) of the Snake River Basin Adjudication. He considered it a tremendous success, as did just about everyone in the audience, and most people in the Snake River Basin.

That was an easy one. Many of the other statements Scalia, who died in his sleep last weekend, made over the years were far more heatedly challenged. Depending on where you sit on the ideological scale, Scalia probably was either the justice you most liked or most loathed. Some of his decisions, probably most often in the area of freedom of speech, crossed lines, but many fit neatly into our red and blue framework.

Which will make the next little while an interesting period in American judicial history.

Scalia's involvement in any decisions which were not released publicly before his death will be considered void, so a string of 5-4 decisions on the court could now become 4-4 - with no final Supreme Court ruling at all issuing. Decisions made until a new justice is confirmed will have to cross ideological lines. Some will (by no means are all decisions 5-4; many get a stronger majority and some are unanimous) but many of the most controversial will hang fire. That technically means a decision made by a circuit court of appeals will stand - but only within that circuit, so the country could a legal patchwork of "final" court decisions on hot topics.

That's part of the practical effect of a failure to fill Scalia's court seat, as seems probable. The idea of holding off a Supreme Court appointment simply because a president is in the later part of his term seems like an odd approach. You wonder what that originalist Scalia would have thought of it. - rs

First take/questions

The first question asked of the two Democratic presidential contenders, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, was one they probably haven't heard much, and didn't handle well. They ought to think about it and deliver a more meaningful answer later on. Doing that could serve not only themselves but both parties a useful service.

And the same ought to go to Republicans at their next debate.

That first question on Thursday night, asked by the moderators from PBS, was about a subject Republicans often discuss: How big should government be? Is it too big? If it is, what steps should be taken to reduce its size?

That's not a top-level question for all Americans, but it long has been central for a large number, including many Republicans. The idea that government is way too big, to the point of crisis levels, has been an article of faith among many Republicans for decades; listen to any of the Republican presidential debates and you won't wait long to hear it referenced in some manner. But there's a disconnect here. Democrats aren't arguing that government should be bigger; they simply don't address the subject at all. Which leaves them open and politically vulnerable on a subject they could readily address.

How might they do so? If I were Clinton or Sanders, I might say something to the effect: Government is very big, yes, and where we can find waste or efficiencies we should eliminate unneeded spending. (Sanders did say that much, and Clinton alluded to it.) But they also could say that the central question, one Republicans dislike addressing, is: What should government do? Government should be big enough to do what we want it to do, and no larger, and no smaller, either. The debate ought to be over what government should, or should not, do.

The effect of that would be to join the argument of the two parties. Republicans would have a response to that sort of response, and that's fine. At least then the two parties would be talking with, not past, each other. We'd be having the same conversation. - rs

First take/the Bundies

And now, the consequences are catching up.

Most of the leaders of the Malheur refuge standoff, arrested a couple of weeks ago, sit in jail and seem likely to stay there for a while.

The four-person remnant of the standoff said they were planning to surrender themselves this morning, as soon as the preacher Franklin Graham arrives to escort them.

And now, reports from Portland that Cliven Bundy, the ringleader of the ranchlands standoff in Nevada from two years ago, has been arrested in Portland and charged with crimes - growing out of that earlier standoff - similar to those facing his sons. The fact that he owes federal agencies (which, again, means that he owes us) about $1 million in fees and penalties. Now that he's behind bars, the effort to collect may finally be picking up.

This has been a slow process. A lot of people have been critical of the lack of Bundy crackdown after the Nevada standoff in 2014. But it's coming now.

And this has more significance than just this one case. A failure to act now would have encouraged more seizures and standoffs like this.

People thinking about doing something like this now, are more likely to think twice. - rs

First take/New Hampshire

The establishment of both political parties had a very bad night and must be having a rugged morning after.

On the Democratic side, the New Hampshire primary win by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was certainly no surprise; most polls there have for several months shown him leading former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The size of the win was something else, though - that was beyond what nearly any poll had predicted. Sanders wound up with a true landslide, a 60% win, beating Clinton not just substantially but by more than 20 percentage points. He was advantaged in being a next-door neighbor, of course, and demographically as well, two reasons why a win was predicted. But a win on this scale has to involve other factors as well, including connecting with the tenor of the times in a way Clinton has not.

A month from now, there's a real possibility this point in the process may be a distant memory; the upcoming states will not represent such favorable ground for Sanders. But he has shown some real strength for his brand of progressive politics. He has tapped into something, and Clinton will ignore that at her peril. She is said to be spending time the next day or two recalibrating her campaign. If that involves such things as staff shakeups, you'll know that the interest is more in scapegoating than in problem solving; her chief problems do not appear to include staff weaknesses. But if you see changes in campaign style, tactics, and messages, you may get a sense they're actually adapting to conditions as they are on the ground.

On the Republican side - well, principally it was a night for businessman Donald Trump to prove that the polls weren't lying, and that any establishment attempt to take on him and Texas Senator Ted Cruz remains hopelessly incoherent, and will for at least a while longer.

The Iowa results were less conclusive in this respect. There, in the difficult caucus environment, Trump underperformed, the well-organized Cruz did about as well as expected (or maybe a little better), and the established appeared to found its guy in the form of Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Now this scenario has been completely upended. This time, Trump matched his polling, or maybe did even a little better, ending the hope that his poll-reflected support wasn't real. It's real, all right, even if it may be reflected to various degrees in different kinds of states. Cruz fell to third place this time, though he probably wasn't feeling too bad about that; he had a first-place win (in Iowa) in his back pocket, and third place in a state as non-amenable to his form of evangelical and militia activist organization wasn't awful. Like Trump, he emerged well positioned to go on.

The real punch-out, strategically, was to the "establishment candidates" - Rubio, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Ohio Governor John Kasich. The mainstream of the national Republican organization badly needs one of them to emerge as its champion to slay Trump and Cruz, but the odds of that happening aren't promising right now.

Christie, finishing in sixth place, had invested heavily in New Hampshire and just couldn't gain traction, and now is nearly out of money; he probably drops from the race today. Bush, who saw an uptick in New Hampshire in the final days, did just well enough to justify continuing on, and can since he still has money and organization - even though there's no evidence of any enthusiastic support, or reason to think he'll be competitive with the top two. Rubio, the former organization champion, emerged badly bloodied after his "Marcobot" fiasco, and will have to rebuild enthusiasm for his campaign from the ground up - with hardly any time left to accomplish that. And Kasich, the one of the group who really did do well in New Hampshire, a state that was about as amenable to him as any in the country, spent practically every resource he had - time, money, personnel, energy - for months specifically in that state, and has little to nothing left over to pour into any other place. He has to be hoping his second place win Tuesday will translate to more money and support, and he may get some, but he remains a very long shot.

In all, the Republican race looks very much as it did a month ago. The clearest paths to the nomination are those pursued by Trump and Cruz; their nearest competitor, whoever that turns out to be (and that identity is far from clear right now) will have to clear out a lot of brush along the way. - rs

First take/flip

Watching the two presidential debates last week, the Democratic on Thursday and the Republican two nights later, the idea of a question reversal returned . . . with a variation.

Start with Fox media commenter Howard Kurtz, who tweeted after the Thursday MSNBC debate about the source of some of the questions: "Rachel Maddow's smart & did a good job last night. But why did MSNBC put a liberal commentator on that debate stage?"

Hmm. Probably for the same reasons that Fox and other Republican debate media several times used as hosts conservatives Hugh Hewitt, Neil Cavuto and Mary Katherine Ham. On each side, the campaigns probably preferred it that way, which will make for an interesting set of negotiations come time for debates in the fall.

Before going further, I should say that both sets of moderators, across most of the debates, have not embarrassed themselves by throwing softballs. The questions typically have been at least reasonably challenging.

But there is this: The parties are talking about different things. The Republicans are talking much more about foreign policy and national security, and Democrats much more about domestic policy. They're on different planes. What would happen if you actually forced them to interact?

So let's put this idea out there: For at least one of the remaining debates, flip the moderators: Hewitt & company for the Democrats, Maddow & company for the Republicans.

That might bump the ratings a bit. - rs