The Mid-West Presidential Primaries

The Mid-West Presidential Primaries

by

Howard Adelman

We are now in South Dakota in a little town called Chamberlain known for its trout fishing. We will do no fishing, but that seemed to be the main attraction for all the men in Charlys Restaurant & Lounge last evening where N’s chardonnay was terrible and her filet minion even worse. I remind myself that we should follow my personal guideline – never order a steak in cattle country because the best meat gets shipped to the high class restaurants in New York. (This conclusion is, of course, based on extensive empirical research.)   However, we very much look forward to visiting the Akta Lakota Museum this morning before we set off further west.

Yesterday morning in Des Moines, Iowa, we had an auspicious start. Instead of writing my blog, I got up early to move the top tarp on the packed trailer we are hauling to deliver a load of personal belongings to our son Daniel who has become a farmer in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. The tarp was luffing and one of the straps on top seemed to have gotten loose. eyes, problematic enough, but because of how I process visual information. I have difficulty recognizing faces, though nowhere as difficult as Oliver Sacks. I had enormous difficulties in medical school in recognizing what I was looking at through a microscope. A neighbour who had helped me finish covering the trailer and fastening the ratchet straps sent me a video with clear and simple instructions on how ratchets worked.

I watched it perhaps five times. It was short, direct and clear, but when I went to translate what I had seen into practice, I seemed to bugger it up every time. I did not tell N what an idiot I had been, but told her that everything was perfectly tied down. For, after two hours – most of the time admittedly not spent on the ratchets – I finally asked a truck driver in the parking lot for help. In less than a minute, he corrected my mistakes and had the straps properly tightened. I relearned what I have learned many times before. I have the visual intelligence of an idiot. I may be terrific with abstract thought and analysis, with absorbing reams of material, but my visual intelligence is sub-moronic. And to think that I was admitted to medical school! Can you imagine all the lives I saved by quitting medicine?

We then had to find and go to an auto shop, for our right brake and blinker light on the trailer were not working. The mechanic had to rewire the connection because the plug was in poor shape and one of the wires had been pinched. Then we stopped at an auto parts dealer to purchase and put on some universal reflector plates for the side of the rear lights on the trailer that had gone missing and that we had been advised to put in to prevent moisture getting into the rear trailer lights. Not to worry. In addition to all the driving, N did the job. Such are the joys of pulling a trailer.

Yesterday was the first day of spring. The temperature rose from 28 degrees Fahrenhei t in the morning – there was frost on the top of the tarp on the trailer – to 65 degrees F. It was a glorious day. However, we are lucky. If we had delayed our departure by two days, we would have run into rain later today and snow tomorrow in Sioux Falls and Sioux City. As it is, the temperature will drop today when we get to Billings, Montana to 42 F and we may get 1” of snow the next day on route to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, but no high winds or squalls, so we are almost in the clear weather-wise all the way to Oregon.

In the past two days we have travelled from Michigan through the north-west corner of Indiana through Illinois and stayed overnight in Des Moines, Iowa, actually a suburb called Urbandale. Yesterday we traversed the rest of Iowa, the north-east corner of Nebraska and ended up in South Dakota. So in two days we have traveled through six of the fifty American states, not a bad sample size, except het the states come from only a few geographical regions. I have already written about Michigan, but I will first reply to two of the responses for clarification. But first, one correction!

I think the number of electors in the electoral college for each state equals the number of that states number in congress: representatives plus senators.  For Michigan, I think it is 16.

Dead on! My apologies.

Response 1:

  1.  I would not norm around Michigan.  Ohio’s a better index for the Dems.  From here on in, Hillary should lock up most of the states and especially the big ones.  The question lingers: why she captures the votes but not the hearts.  It’s interesting to hear Jacob on this, because he captures an important, lingering sentiment.  It’s about trust.  People trust Sanders even though his policy program is unrealistic.  One is tempted to say this is the hangover from 2008 and Obama’s hope pitch.
  1.  Is Trump a winner or the GOP a loser?  I think it’s the latter; as the GOP coalition splinters, Trump benefits.  Their worst nightmare was Ohio.  Kasich will now stay in the race and continue to splinter the anti-Trump bloc.  His latest declaration that Merrick Garland should come up for a vote is part of his gambit to seem moderate.  This will only perpetuate the divide.  With Rubio gone, which really was the GOP establishment’s last, very flimsy, hope, the pathway to Trump is clearer than ever.  Neither Cruz nor Kasich can possibly win so long as the other stays in.  Once CA and NY vote, and it seems likely Trump will win both, there is no real alternative without shattering the party, which the brass may choose to do: smash it all in order to rescue it.  See below, nuclear options.

You have to love the irony of the anti-country clubbers voting for the man who builds country clubs.  Literally.  What has surprised many observers, though is that the breaks don’t go the anti-Trump way — that’s to say, when a rival drops out, his backers (or in the case of Carla F, her backers) they don’t go to the runner up to Trump; they break in his favor more than many expected.

Hillary could lose to Trump is the right conjugation.  But it is implausible.  The only demographic he has a chance at winning is white men.  That’s a small fraction of the US population now.  About 35%.  So, even if he takes 55% of that vote, he’ll get swamped by the tide going the other way.  This is the reason why the GOP brass are in a total panic; for the long term health of the party, it’s a disaster.  Have a look at this report:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/20/us/politics/donald-trump-republican-party.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

Of course, I am mindful of the fact that we should presume the triumph of reason.  It’s happened before that demagoguery — of the hard and soft kinds — have prevailed.

Response 2:

If Trump runs for president as the GOP candidate and loses, will he then self-describe as a loser?  If Trump wins, it is guaranteed more Americans will leave for points south and north.  Will that not make him a loser of citizens?   If Trump wins as an expression of the ugly, stupid and AND angry American, what can he possibly do to make that contingent happy and calm?  Won’t they quickly become disaffected and, once again, he is a loser?  Bottom line: if Trump wins, isn’t that just a loss by another name?

My Reply:

  1. I did not offer Michigan as a norm but as an outlier given the results the following week, but there are lessons to be learned from outliers. You are correct that Ohio is a better indicator for the Democrats, but why did Sanders win Michigan, why were the polls so wrong, and is there any implication for the presidential election even as Hillary clinches the nomination?
  2. Re Jacob’s leaning towards Sanders, Gabriel too has for a long time been a strong Sander’s supporter’ So are his friends who think about politics, but he admits most are uninterested.
  3. In my examination, it is better to keep Kasich in the race since, if he dropped out, many of his supporters would not go to Cruz, who is at least as unrealistic as Trump and much further to the right. Some would go to Trump because he is relatively more appealing to Reagan democrats and working class Republican voters than Cruz. The only way to keep Trump from winning is to make sure he cannot win on the first ballot and then fight for the votes released, particularly from the winner take all states. Given the broader base of Trump supporters, Trump would be a riskier opponent for the Democrats than Cruz.
  4. Is Trump the winner and the GOP the loser?  Other than replying that everyone is a loser if Trump wins, including Trump, the real issue the Republicans face is whether they want a very different party or whether they are better off trying to put together the shattered pieces of what is left, especially since, for many Republicans, Trump is believed to be a disaster for America as well as the Republican Party. Though neither Cruz nor Kasich can possibly win as long as the other stays in, it is also true that neither can win if the other drops out. The only way Trump can lose is in a brokered convention, admittedly a nuclear disaster for the Republican Party. Who will blink? Definitely not Trump.

Back to the primaries.

Tonight we will have the results from Arizona which, in the Republican primary, has 75 delegates in a winner-take-all state where Trump is expected to win big. Cruz may win both Idaho (23 delegates) and Utah (33 delegates), but those states are divided proportionately, so Trump is once again expected to be the big winner. As of today, he has 680 delegated to 424 for Cruz and 123 for Kasich, more than the other two put together. Because of carryovers from other delegates in the race and his expected performance in the remaining primaries (South Dakota’s is not until 7 June), he is not likely to get the 1237 required, but is expected to come close and to easily beat both his rivals by considerable numbers. So the issue has now become whether the party will observe the will of the largest plurality of voters or behave in accordance with the rules and let the delegates decide on the second and possibly subsequent ballots. I suspect they will not give in to Trump’s bluff and bullying and will let the delegates choose, even though Trump is still expected to win even then.

Passing through Iowa the day before yesterday and yesterday, helps recall the state which was a turning point in the primary race. Last night on CNN in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, Trump was boasting he was likely to win a majority of delegates in the primaries and, in any case, would come so close that, given the distribution of delegates among the 17 candidates who started in the race, he would deserve to be crowned as the winner. He also insisted that he had the momentum, winning 4 of 5 states last week and losing to Kasich in his home state of Ohio by only a very small margin. True to Trump’s pattern of constructing reality out of his imagination rather than actuality, the vote in Ohio was 956,762 (46.8%) for Kasich to 727,585 (35.6%) for Trump (Cruz received 267,592 votes – 13.1%). When Trump wins by 10%, for him his victory is “huge, really huge,” but when Kasich beat him by more than that margin, Trump contends he came “close, really close” and only lost by a small margin. Trump is almost impossible to fact check simply because the number of facts he gets wrong and distorts is so enormous. But mostly he obfuscates and evades.

Bernie soldiers on now, no longer as the surprise real contender but as the leader of a movement rather than a force seeking to be the Democratic candidate. Of course, Ohio was really the end of the road for Bernie, because he could not carry over his victory in Michigan to Ohio and received only 42.7% (513,549) to Hillary’s 679,266 votes (56.5%), so the real excitement remains the Republican race. And it ends in Ohio in the convention in Cleveland. One interesting observation in Ohio: Kaslich captured the eastern and southern third (geographically) of the state, while Trump won in the western third. In contrast, in the democratic race, Bernie won a smattering of counties in the south-east, the south-west, the north-west, the centre, but only one county in the north-east.

In contrast to the Ohio primary, where it was hoped that Bernie would come close to or even beat Hillary, Illinois was a virtual tie, with Hillary eking out a very slight psychological victory with only 50.46% of the vote, but only the same number of 78 pledged delegates as Bernie. But Hillary is expected to get 100% of the 22 unpledged or super-delegates. In Illinois where Trump won his “huge, really huge” victory, he received only 38.8% of the vote (exactly as the average of the poll projections) to Cruz’s 30.3% and Kasich’s 8.7%. Together, his two opponents beat him and both came in slightly higher than poll expectations. However, Trump must get a majority of the delegates. Even more interesting, Trump boasts that he brings out huge numbers of new voters, but his total vote in Illinois was only 556,916. In contrast, Hillary garnered over a million votes.

In Iowa, Ted Cruz was the big winner with 51,666 votes to Trump’s 45,427 in a clear two-way race in the Iowa caucus, even though in the polling prior to the vote, Cruz had been trailing by roughly 5%. As we listened to talk radio in Iowa yesterday, the radio host on the phone-in show was a clear Trump supporter. One of his callers was a woman who had just been in a verbal political argument at her chiropractor’s office. She had emerged totally frustrated. The media were all against Trump playing one video clip over and over again showing a supporter hitting a protester. (Last night, Trump insisted that they were not protesters but professional agitators.) For the female Trump supporter, Trump was for peace as he said and she ignored the statements (as did Trump) that Wolf Blitzer in his interview cited of his encouraging violence. After all, as Trump said, he opposed any violence at the Cleveland Convention, but if the establishment denied him a victory, the voters were very angry and, he was just saying, you can expect riots. The female call-in supporter said she just would not vote if the Republican Party denied her candidate the right to be on the ballot in accordance with the will of the people.

Nebraska, though it only has a small number of delegates, is interesting because, in a Republican state, in the Democratic primary, Bernie won 57.1% to Hilary’s 42.9%. In South Dakota, all the men up early with me in the motel breakfast room were far more interested in discussing fishing than watching or analyzing the replays of Clinton and Trump addressing the AIPAC meeting yesterday. (I did not see any replays of Cruz or Kaisich – perhaps they speak today, and Bernie rejected AIPAC’s invitation to address them.) The men at breakfast all seemed to be Republican voters, but rather than enthusiastic for one candidate or another, politics as conducted just seemed to turn them off. Perhaps not one of them would actually vote.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Nomination Time in the U.S.A. 1. Michigan

Nomination Time in the U.S.A.   1. Michigan

by

Howard Adelman

There is no magic or appropriate rationale for beginning this exploration of the current electoral mood in the United States except that Michigan is my first stop in my American tour. I begin writing, not in order to predict what will happen in the rest of the presidential nomination process in the U.S., but to understand the process and the factors that have pushed it one way or another and to anticipate possible rather than likely outcomes. The direction of the Southern States is now clear, but not the Northern tier or the Western cluster; Bernie Sanders stands virtually no chance of winning the nomination as the Democratic candidate. Yet without Bernie Sanders, if Michigan is an indication, in a faceoff between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Hilary could be the loser. That is a provocative assertion, but after I clear the underbrush, I will explain my thinking. But before you get all worked up with anxiety about the future of the leadership of the Western world, keep in mind that I wrote, “if Michigan is an indication.”

Given the data, there is an obvious puzzle over why Hillary Clinton, who was projected to win Michigan by a substantial margin according to virtually all polls, lost by a narrow margin. Since the polls for Republican voters were reasonably accurate, what happened? Further, the polls in the subsequent elections in Illinois and Ohio were reasonably accurate, so what happened on 8 March in Michigan, the 24th state to vote
in this year’s American primaries? And what is the relevance for the Presidential election in which Michigan holds 242 votes in the electoral college that will select the President?

I begin with the GOP. The Republican race in Michigan was a primary with a minimum threshold of 15% to even win any delegates, a key factor for Marco Rubio. At the half-way mark, with the contenders reduced to four, Michigan was supposed to offer a good indication of the eventual results. Note that although any candidate whose vote exceeds 50% wins all at-large delegates (as distinct from congressional district delegates) from the state, no candidate did.

Understanding the following basic data is important in Michigan where the total number of delegates at stake in the Republican primary was 59 to be distributed proportionally among the candidates receiving at least 15% of the vote.

Ave. Poll

Candidate          %      Projections      Votes        Delegates   Targets

Donald Trump   36.5     39                  483,751           25             345,000

Ted Cruz            24.9     24                 330,015           17             345,000

John Kasich        24.3    23                  321,655           17             ?

Marco Rubio        9.3    14                  121,672             0             ?

A key indicator was whether Ted Cruz could bring on board white voters without any college experience who, in large proportions did not normally vote. Could his formidable ground force of evangelical/Tea Party supporters, using old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning to bring out the vote, achieve their target of 345,000 votes? They came reasonably close. At the same time, could Donald Trump continue his streak of bringing on board large numbers of previous non-Republican voters and non-voters, especially again among white voters, again without college experience. He succeeded beyond his expectations. John Kasich hoped his track record of creating jobs in neighbouring Ohio could stand in good stead in Michigan where underemployment and unemployment were major issues. He did about as well as expected.

The big loser was, of course, Marco Rubio. As the election approached, Marco Rubio was panicking over polls in his home state of Florida and he shifted to concentrate his efforts there. But his decline in the number of expected delegates and failing to achieve the minimal 15% left him branded as a loser that multiplied his troubles in Florida. The shift in resources and surrender in Michigan proved to be a big mistake, compounded by his stooping into the gutter to engage in dissing with a master of the art, Donald Trump. Elections are not simply or even mostly about policies and programs, especially this year’s Republican primary. They are about stamina and the communication that the candidate in question is a winner. Rubio made a major mistake and lost the Florida primary to an even larger extent in Michigan.

Mitt Romney, a prince among Republicans, had called Donald Trump a phony and a fraud among a large number of epithets thrown at the candidate leading the Republican pack. Mitt Romney was a former governor of Michigan. Although the combination of unaffiliated PAC ads and candidate-affiliated super PAC ads as a percentage of all GOP ads that were anti-Trump grew from 9% in February to 47% in the first week of March, and given that the pro-Marco Rubio Conservative Solutions PAC accounted for five times as many anti-Trump ads as the next-highest group, the ads were, nevertheless, counter-productive and reinforced the anger against the country club establishment in the Republican Party. Donald Trump benefited more from the Rubio loss of votes than either Ted Cruz or John Kaslich.

Look at the results of the exit polls:

  • Trump won 44% of male Republicans, 28% from women.
  • Kasich posted a strong and early lead in the country club counties such as Oakland as expected.
  • Cruz did well considering that Republican congressional representatives tend to be moderate in a state ranked as very liberal generally; Cruz is at the extreme right in the Party, but so are Bill Huizenga and Justin Amash from Michigan.
  • The Trump vote increased by 3.5% over projections.

All of the above are critical to understanding the path of the Republican primary vote, but in the last half dozen presidential races, Michigan voters have supported the Democratic Party’s candidate. So the primary results may help choose the Republican candidate but probably not the winner in the presidential election where the Democrats are expected to take the 242 Michigan electoral college votes.

That is why the Democratic race with 130 Michigan delegates at stake (340 overall that day) is so crucial to determining the eventual results. Clinton entered the Michigan primary with 677 pledged delegates (59%) to Sanders’s 478 (41 %) making her, by far, the most likely candidate to win even if Bernie Sanders took Michigan. Bernie was a long shot, but emerged as a long shot winner, nowhere sufficient to ever catch up to Clinton, but an important psychological victory nevertheless. The primary vote indicated that the younger the voters, the lower the minority population as a percentage of the total and the greater the percentage of educated as well as working-class, the better Sander’s chances are.

According to the weighted (based on record of accuracy) average of a large number of polls, Hillary Clinton was projected to win 59.2% of the delegates (range of 52%-66%) to Bernie Sanders 38.3% (33%-47% range). Only one poll came close to the margin of error in predicting Bernie’s win, the Mitchell Research and Communications Poll, with52% for Hillary Clinton and 47% for Bernie Sanders. Given the surprise for both candidates at the actual results, it seems that internal campaign polls did not differ from the various external ones. On the other hand, the number of targeted delegates by each candidate indicated that the results were not totally surprising since the Clinton campaign’s target was 63 delegates while that of Sanders was 67 delegates. The targets and the actual results were congruent.

As stated above, the results were psychological more than political, boosting morale in the Sanders camp and initiating a recalibration in the Clinton camp, but with no deep concern that Clinton would not eventually win the nomination, though the prospect of a dark horse candidate had now become real even though implausible. Even more significant, according to exit polls, was Sanders increase in support among Black voters – up from 10 or so percent in the South to 30% in Michigan. He was projected to win 21% of Black voters in Michigan, but won 30%. The oddest result was that Sanders, a Jew and a self-declared socialist, did very well among Arab Americans, especially in Dearborn where Sanders won over Clinton by a huge 2:1 ratio (64:36).

  1. Was Sander’s increase in the Black vote in part due to his appeal to blue-collar workers because he was so opposed to the free-trade deals which did not provide a net for workers earning good wages and now requiring retraining?
  2. Since self-identified independents also seem to vote for Sanders, does this bode ill for Clinton indicating that these voters might switch to Trump rather than Clinton since Trump also has been very critical of those trade deals?
  3. Further, since Sanders has benefited from much higher turn out of voters, and this is the same phenomenon that has buoyed the Trump campaign, will Trump benefit from a good proportion of these voters?

Aside from the fact that I am in the most liberal part of the state, in Ann Arbor, my personal “extensive” polling last evening and this morning of people exiting, not the polling booth, but the motel, indicates that the largely unexpected results in the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in Michigan may have been due to a number of factors:

  • The polls were inaccurate because younger voters get their news and information from the new social media and it is very difficult to access their opinions using traditional methods so that, when it comes to determining the preferences of younger voters, polls may not be reliable.
  • There seems to be some overlap between the voters to whom Trump appeals to those flocking to Bernie Sanders, not among the young educated voters, but among the disaffected working class in Michigan that have turned voters against any establishment, Republican or Democratic.
  • In the primary vote, it was safe to vote for Bernie because he was unlikely to be the presidential candidate and, even if he was, polls showed him beating Trump by an even larger margin than Hillary Clinton, evidently because Sanders was a more formidable competitor for the disaffected vote than Donald Trump.
  • Local conditions, especially considering the subsequent vote in Ohio, seem to have had a powerful influence on the disposition of the voters in the primary in Michigan.

Let me expand on those local conditions. Perhaps the most important factor has been the reams of stories about the lead poisoning of the water supply in Flint, Michigan, and, even more importantly, the apparent indifference and insensitivity of the previously well-esteemed Republican governor to the plight of the citizens of Flint, Michigan. First of all, it was learned that Michigan authorities adopted cost-saving changes in the city’s water supply that caused mass lead poisoning. The governor, Rick Snyder, as a Republican accounting technocrat determined to cut costs. He had set the tone for such policy decisions. In 2013, an official appointed by the Governor decided to save money by changing the water supply for Flint Michigan. Though the problem of lead poisoning quickly became evident in tests of the water supply, it was not until 2015 that the old source of water was reinstated. Contrary to the efforts of Republicans in Washington to blame the Obama administration, states are in charge of enforcing drinking-water standards, not Washington. In fact, the Republican- controlled Congress has hamstrung the federal government and even eliminated the power of the EPA to intervene.

Donald Trump has promised to eliminate the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, as have other Republicans. For voters influenced by issues rather than by assertions of a faith in the strength of the leader, by voters who have come to understand that government, rather than being the source of the problem, is, in reality, the sine qua non of adequate services and the foundation, economic as well as social, for the well-being of a society, “socialism” in the U.S. has subsequently been retired among many as an epithet of abuse, Bernie became the preferred option in the fight over the good versus claimed evil of governance and government.

Another powerful and continuing scandal resulted from the enormous $18 billion municipal bankruptcy of Detroit. In the bankruptcy resolution, just as in the bailout of the automobile industry, the big institutions were protected, but not the salaries or pensions, even of the 12,000 existing retirees.. Not only did pension cheques shrink by 6.7%, but large numbers of pensioners were required to pay back “overpayments” of tens of thousands of dollars, not even spread out over time, but in a lump sum. If the pensioner opted to pay over time, the account was subject to a 6.75% interest charge. To make matters worse, the settlement was initiated in the beginning of March for the repayment for what former Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr said was excess interest paid out in special payments on top of the regular pensions.

In Ann Arbor this past weekend, there is a large swim meet with high school students participating from all over the state. The meet has been plagued evidently by poor air quality and consequent skin irritation and rashes for the students caused by the chlorine in the pool mixing with the oil on the skin of the swimmers, exacerbated by large numbers and the desire of the swimmers to compete with dry bathing suits and, therefore, avoiding washing off before they plunge into the pool. However, the problem is evidently easily relieved by a good up-to-date ventilation system, but the school infrastructure is old and has long been in need correction, just one relatively minor item in a very long list of capital improvement deficits that plague states and municipalities given the last three decades of assaults on taxation and governments.

It was not clear to me than any of those whom I questioned who came from the nether reaches of the State of Michigan made any connection between political ideology and current practices and the capital deficits, unemployment and condition of rust-belt America. They tended to blame  the problem on the kids for not showering, though they acknowledged that, given the importance of small advantages in competitive swimming, it was understandable why students did not shower properly.

In the process of the discussion, I believe I acquired a greater understanding of why, even if Bernie Sander’s campaign to become the Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party may be hopeless, the movement and its long term effects on American society and attitudes is probably more important than even Bernie winning. That is why I believe he is staying in the race.

I write this as more reports on altercations at Trump rallies are being broadcast on CNN this morning. Will these unaffiliated voters be drawn towards a posture of strength in a leader or towards someone campaigning against the critics, not of bad government or of corrupt government, but at government in general? Given Clinton’s shifts in her rhetoric recently, perhaps she can win most of those voters to the Democratic camp.

 

Republican Candidates for President

Republican Candidates for President

by

Howard Adelman

Yesterday evening, I listened to the fifth Republican debate focused on foreign affairs. I first heard the four fourth tier candidates for the Republican nomination for the United States presidency. (A sixth and final debate will be held in mid-January.) I then divided the top tier of candidates appearing in the main card into three groupings, those above 10%, the two candidates between 3 and 5%, and then the three trailers below 3% according to an average of seven top polls in the United States conducted during December. I tended to focus most on the top four candidates.                                                            Seven  Fifteen

Polls      Polls

                                                                                              15 day average

First Tier                                                                          %            %

Donald Trump         Billionaire real estate mogul    33.0     35.30

Ted Cruz                     Texas Senator                                16.1     13.38

Marco Rubio               Florida Senator                             12.6     12.00

Ben Carson                 Retired neurosurgeon                  12.0     11.76

Second Tier

 Jeb Bush                      Former Florida Governor              4.0       5.48

Chris Christie              Former New Jersey Governor      2.9       3.08

Third Tier

John Kasich                   Ohio Governor                                  2.3       2.21

Carly Fiorina                 Former High Tech CEO                  2.3       2.01

Rand Paul                        Kentucky Senator                           2.1       2.42

Fourth Tier

Mike Huckabee               Former Arkansas Governor         2.0       2.16

Lindsey Graham             South Carolina Senator                 0.3       1.04

George Pataki                  Former New York Governor         0.2       1.03

Rick Santorum                ex-Pennsylvania Senator              0.2       0.87

In one sense, the polls do not count. The Republican presidential primaries do, for the state caucuses choose their respective delegates for the national convention of over 2,200 delegates in accordance with different state rules – elected at local conventions, selected from candidate’s slates, by committees or directly elected in caucuses and primaries. In another sense, the polls do count for they indicate to delegates which candidate might be a winning one, while at the same time, popularity might – and I say might – provide some indication of the divisions within a state caucus. We will have a better idea in the primaries, especially the one on the first Tuesday in March, March 1st, when ten states select their delegates. The polls are a slice of popularity in a moment in time. Senator Ted Cruz is now leading Donald Trump by a full ten points (31% to 21%) in the all-important Iowa caucus scheduled as the first in early February. The New Hampshire primary takes place later in February, but before Super Tuesday.

In this election, there is a third reason that the polls count. Donald Trump holds the threat of bolting the Republican Party, taking with him most of his supporters, if he feels he is being treated unfairly by the Republican Party establishment, an action which, if taken, is almost certain to doom the Republican chances of winning back the presidency. Last night, Trump seemed to withdraw that threat, insisting that he was “totally committed to the Republican Party.”

In the foreign affairs debate, three themes dominated. On all three, Donald Trump had proposed the most radical proposals:

  1. Temporarily stopping all Muslim entry into the United States;
  2. Increasing the intelligence services access to private and community bodies – especially mosques with suspected radical Imams;
  3. Focusing primarily, and even exclusively, on destroying ISIS or ISIL or Da’esh.

Donald Trump had also made three radical proposals on immigration that could be considered, to some degree, foreign policy issues:

  1. Build a fence along the southern border for which Mexico would be forced to pay;
  2. Deport all illegal immigrants in the United States;
  3. Refuse to take Syrian refugees of any religious stripe.

Not one of the competitors for higher office for the Republican Party thought that climate change was an important foreign policy issue, and some went out of their way to insist that proper foreign policy built on the foundation of keeping Americans safe had been sacrificed on the altar of a misguided concern with global warming. Last night, they did not debate the important international agreement on trade policy. What they concentrated on was Americans’ fears, on the perception that America was failing as a leader in the world, particularly a military leader, that the American government had over-indulged human rights protections and provided great scope for terrorists to exploit these openings and spread terror.

Climate change was not the only issue of foreign policy that was avoided. So was China as an increasing threat. So was Turkey as, under Erdoğan, it has increasingly tried to exercise its admittedly relatively weak muscles. Further, every one of the candidates seemed to agree with strengthening America’s armed forces, already larger than the rest of the armed forces in the world combined. More specifically, Senator Marco Rubio took on Senator Ted Cruz, the two real rivals for second place in the polls behind Donald Trump.

Rubio insisted that Ted Cruz had supported reductions for the American air force. Without capacity, Cruz argued, you cannot advocate increasing air strikes against ISIL or Da’esh. Rubio insisted that, “as a result of budget cuts… we are going to be left with the oldest and the smallest air force we have ever had.” Now it is true that the USAF has been gradually reducing its air capacity to the smallest since WWII, and long before Obama. But the United States can still put into the air over 5,000 aircraft. It has almost 320,000 servicemen in the USAF with another almost 8,000 reservists. The USA has 40 squadrons of fighter aircraft, though it is scheduled to have only 26. As policy, the USAF decided long ago to emphasize quality over quantity, capability over capacity, particularly given the shift to unmanned aircraft, but America has no shortage of capacity and quantity in launching as many strikes as it wants against ISIL or Da’esh.

All the candidates seemed to be running against a parody of President Obama’s and, by extension, Hilary Clinton’s foreign policy, particularly his program of destroying ISIL. That consisted of four planks:

  1. Hunting down and destroying ISIL militant training camps in Iraq and Syria;
  2. Training and equipping Iraqi and Syrian oppositional forces to combat both Assad and ISIL, but no American boots on the ground to engage the enemy in direct battles;
  3. Disrupt ISIL’s source of financing and ability to engage in recruitment and propaganda;
  4. Use diplomacy to get allies, particularly Muslim countries, on side.

Some of the candidates supported specific aspects of these four policy planks. For example, Jeb Bush insisted that Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from America would undercut America’s ability to line up the 32 Muslim states organized as an alliance by Saudi Arabia. Jeb Bush dubbed Trump the “chaos candidate.” (In the undercard debate earlier, George Pataki compared Donald Trump as the 21st century candidate for the Know-Nothing Party of the 1840s.) Bush to Trump. “You’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency.”

But Trump may very well insult his way to secure the Republican nomination. Jeb Bush running on a program of judgment to complement strength seemed to have chosen a losing path given the Republican party members’ widespread absence of good judgment. In fact, a major difference seemed to be over whether America was to be the leader of the free world – loosely so-called – or whether America was to take on extremist bullies as if the U.S. was a lone gunslinger at the Old Corral. But the major difference was whether American troops should be on the ground engaged in the fight.

The other enemy that was still casting a long shadow was Iran, with many candidates attacking any discussions let alone cooperation or, God forbid, an agreement with Iran. And what did Trump answer in reply to the issue at the centre of the Iran debate. “Nuclear, the power, the devastation, is very important to me.” That comment alone should have ruled him out as a candidate. But remember, he is running to be the candidate of the Republican Party when he calls the Iran deal “horrible, disgusting, absolutely incompetent,” handing Iran $150 billion to sign. It proved that The Donald had

not lost his ability at invention and hyperbole. For a realistic estimate is that $50 billion in frozen assets will be released to Iran; it is likely that only a small portion of that will be available to Iran to foster and support its terrorist proxies. The Donald’s last line of the evening was his best and most hilarious: “Our country doesn’t win anymore…Nothing works in our country. If I’m elected president we will win again and we’re going to have a great great country, greater than ever before.”

If you listen to the Republican debate, except perhaps for Lindsey Graham in the undercard, you would not know that there are 3,500 Muslims in the American armed forces. You would not know that U.S. General Austin was leading special forces operations on the ground in Iraq. You would not know, as President Obama announced, that the U.S. had ramped up the fight against ISIL, increasing the pace of airstrikes and using precision takeouts to kill ISIL commanders – Abu Sayyaf, Haji Mutazz, ISIL’s second-in command; Junaid Hussain, a top online recruiter; Mohamed Emwazi, the well-publicized murderer of foreigners, finance chief Abu Saleh; senior extortionist Abu Maryam; weapons trafficker Abu Rahman al-Tunisi. Listening to the Republican debate, you would come away believing that America had withdrawn from the fight and that America has been led by a feckless and cowardly president. What happened to the idea of a bipartisan American foreign policy?

You would never know that ISIL or Da’esh had been suffering defeat after defeat – in Kirkuk, at Sinjar, at Baiji, at Kabani, at Tal Abyad – losing 40% of the territory it controlled at its peak. You would not know that John Kerry had spent the day in discussions with Putin and Russia’s foreign ministry to coordinate the attacks against Da’esh. In fact, if you came away from the debate believing that Obama was the real traitor and a secret partner of Da’esh, I would not be surprised. John Kasich (or was it George Pataki?) even said that he would punch Putin in the nose.

But the greatest focus of the debate over foreign policy, spurred clearly by the San Bernadino terrorist attack, was over the alleged policy of restricting surveillance of Americans. I lost track of the number of candidates who thought the American security apparatus had its hands tied and was not legally allowed to follow the two San Bernadino terrorists on the internet. (One was born and raised in the U.S.) Even Ted Cruz, a leading candidate, complained that the U.S., in the name of political correctness, had not monitored the Facebook account of the female San Bernadino terrorist who had called for a jihad on her Facebook page.

This is such nonsense, and the Republican candidates have to know it. The issue has not, and never has been, restricting the American security apparatus, but the efficacy of monitoring the Facebook accounts of everyone when it is so easy to disguise the person posting on Facebook and when encryption is so widely and easily available. The issue is efficacy, not legally hand tying the security apparatus. Even former Hewlett Packard C.E.O., Carly Fiorina, who should certainly have known this when she appealed for a partnership between government and the private sector in conducting surveillance, made the same accusations. For the issue is not known terrorists, but unknown ones. The problem has never been restrictions on invading someone’s privacy. But if you expect leading candidates for the Presidential office from the Republican Party to have a high regard for truth, think again. Look at Donald Trump’s absolutely mad proposal that the U.S. should shut down “our internet” in ISIS controlled areas of Iraq and Syria, as if America owned the servers and relay towers there. America could jam satellite feeds, But America would be the most to suffer.

The good news for Trump is that his support held fairly steady throughout the debate, dipping only significantly, but still only slightly, three times over the evening in spite of, or perhaps because of his insistence that America should repossess the international internet as if it was in mortgage default, and to do so to prevent extremist Islamicists using “our internet.” In spite of such silly musings, he had played it relatively safe and sane as he does periodically. And, after all, he has Conrad Black’s support, for Black is honoured to be Trump’s friend.  But Conrad would have been better off supporting Ben Carson since Ben wants the National Guard to be deployed along the Canadian border.

Ted Cruz was far more uneven than Rubio, reaching above Trump at only one point when Trump dipped. Rubio took an even wilder ride, but in the latter half of the debate more than held his own.  Rubio and Cruz seemed to be concentrating on each other as each of these Cuban-American candidates largely focused on one another to secure second place rather than directly take on Donald Trump. In fact, Cruz continued his campaign of buttering up to Trump and would, as one pundit said it, have agreed, or at least refused to disagree, if Trump pronounced that 2+2 = 5. Cruz attacked Rubio’s support for immigration reform and suggested that he was even a secret backer of the Obama/Clinton foreign policy. Rubio attacked Cruz for supporting limits on intelligence surveillance.

Ben Carson seemed to finally bury his candidacy as his meandering and foreign policy weaknesses showed glaringly when the debate focused on that topic. He really did say, “I do a lot of doing.” Trump, recognizing that Carson was dead in the water, now pronounced him a fine man as in a funeral service oratory after first knifing him in the back like a mafia operator and declaring that he had died of a “pathological disease.” Carly Fiorina piled the last shovel of dirt on her campaign when she accused Obama of forcefully retiring General Jack Keane early because he disagreed with Obama’s Middle east policy when Jack Keane had been retired early in 2003 by George W. Bush.

So what was I left with? Was I exhilarated by the misguided and misdirected attacks on Obama’s foreign and security policies? No, I was appalled. I prefer a more intelligent debate among those aspiring to be leaders of the most powerful country in the world today. And I am not talking about Chris Christie’s slip up in calling King Abdullah King Hussein. He knew the difference; he had been a guest of King Abdullah. Such minor slips are irrelevant. However, candidates most dedicated to truth seemed to be continually slipping in the polls as the politics of fear suffocated intelligence in the Republican Party.

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