26 October 2010

2012 odds: Part 2

We're continuing the rundown of BetVega.com's odds for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

We discussed the supposed frontrunners -- Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal -- here.

Now, the supposed longshots:

Tim Pawlenty: 10-1

Of the possible choices to lay money down on, Pawlenty at 10-1 is clearly the best bet. I see he, Romney and -- if he runs -- Mitch Daniels, eventually rising to the top of the heap. To prepare for his run, Pawlenty has (i) announced he won't seek a third term as Minnesota's governor; (ii) shelled out favors (money, appearances) on the campaign trail; (iii) made appearances everywhere from the Daily Show to Fox News, and (iv) most critically, wooed the big-dollar donors that are imperative to a successful presidential run. Pawlenty also will play well in his neighbor to the south, Iowa. He's a wonderful story -- the first person in his family to graduate from college -- and projects the kind of common-sense conservatism that Republicans desperately need to to take down Barack Obama. And unlike his principal rival, Romney, Pawlenty is a heckuva likable guy.

Mark Sanford: 12-1
Charlie Crist: 12-1

Yeah, right. Sanford was a rising star in the Republican Party until a bizarre episode involving an Argentinian mistress torpedoed his career. If Eliot Spitzer can make a comeback, perhaps Sanford can too -- but definitely not in 2012. Crist, likewise, is doing his best to destroy his carefully manicured career in the Republican Party by mounting a third-party challenge to the wildly popular Marco Rubio's Senate campaign. While the Democrat involved, Kendrick Meek, doesn't stand a chance despite Crist and Rubio bludgeoning each other, Crist has managed to turn every conservative in the country against him, including me -- and I'd probably vote for him if I lived in Florida. We explained here why Crist's decision will backfire on him.

Rudy Guiliani: 15-1

After deciding not to challenge Kristen Gillibrand for the New York Senate seat, Rudy's career is probably finished. He ran an abysmal campaign in 2008 and, even if he had competed seriously before Florida, it's not clear voters would have cared much for a guy who, as Joe Biden pointed out, made sure every sentence included "a noun, a verb and 9/11."

Newt Gingrich: 15-1

This is the most intriguing name of the lot. I still haven't decided whether Gingrich -- tossing out terms like "secular socialist" and "Kenyan anti-colonialist" -- is actually running for president or just trying to sell books. The pros? He's probably the smartest man in Washington and is an absolute idea factory. He has serious conservative credentials and formidable intellectual gravitas. The cons? While he was impeaching President Clinton, Gingrich was busy cheating on his second wife. He was thrown out of Washington in disgrace. His enemies list is a mile long -- and it includes a lot of Republicans. His bombastic rhetoric is completely unpresidential. There are a lot of skeletons in this closet, and Newt would be best served to keep the door closed.

David Petraeus: 15-1

Minimal analysis necessary here. With economic issues likely to remain paramount in 2012, a career military man won't have a shot. Petraeus could be an outstanding choice for Secretary of Defense, however.

John McCain: 20-1

As much as we still admire the Senior Senator, he will have no interest in taking a third shot at the presidency at age 75.

Jeb Bush: 20-1

If his last name was "Smith," the popular former governor might be at the head of the 2012 field. Perhaps in 2016, Bush could be a formidable contender, but voters will remain spooked by his surname. It's impossible to overstate how badly George W. Bush damaged the Republican brand, and his brother is paying the price.

Ron Paul: 20-1

The libertarian stalwart will most likely run, make noise and fight to the bitter end. On the one hand, Paul has been a prophet of doom on the growth of government -- criticizing the Bush administration long before it was the hip thing to do -- Iraq, civil liberties and bailouts. On the other, his haphazard answers make him seem erratic, and some of his policy prescriptions -- such as his insistence that America return to the gold standard -- are simply nutty. Despite his strong showing in the CPAC straw poll last year, Paul has neither the resources nor establishment support to make a serious run for the presidency. But he's still good for the party.

25 October 2010

2012 odds: Part 1

This morning, I ran across a site that, just days ago, posted the purported odds for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

According to this site, BetVega.com, these are the favorites:

Sarah Palin: 3.5-1

No way. We've taken this up here before. Palin won't win the nomination for a number of reasons, including but not limited to: (1) serious inexperience; (2) intellectual vapidity; (3) a lack of high-dollar donors; (4) high unfavorables, even among Republicans; and (5) Republicans' propensity to make the safe play (e.g., Dole in 1996, Bush in 2000, McCain in 2008). Furthermore, why would Palin want to leave the cushy Fox News/scripted rally/book-signing circuit? She's made millions since quitting the Alaska governorship in July 2009 and can pick and choose the interviews she gives. She won't have any such luxury if she seeks the presidency.

Mitt Romney: 4-1

A much safer bet than Palin, Romney will no doubt be a serious contender in 2012. He is everything Palin is not: Experienced, smart, a favorite of the high-dollar guys, and excruciatingly boring. I still don't think Romney will wind up with the nomination, however, simply based on the fact that John McCain -- reviled among many quarters of the right -- trounced him in 2008 despite Romney's bottomless finances. Romney simply doesn't get voters excited, and there is something fundamentally inauthentic about him that simply bleeds through the TV. Even when Romney was the allegedly clear conservative choice in the race and had the backing of the entire talk-radio circuit -- Limbaugh, Hannity, Levin, et al. -- he still finished a distant third behind McCain and Mike Huckabee. When Romney faces a true-blue conservative -- and there will be several of them in 2012 -- he might get lost in the shuffle. And that doesn't even take into account the problems he will face when health care reform comes up.

Mike Huckabee: 5-1

Huckabee ran a marvelous campaign in 2008 to finish second behind McCain. But this also is a bad play for several reasons. First, as was pointed out in 2008, Huckabee was not a particularly conservative governor during his tenure in Arkansas. Second, if Sarah Palin runs, a chunk of his 2008 social conservative base will fall in line behind her instead. Third, like Palin, Huckabee has a cushy gig on Fox News and unlike the uber-wealthy Romney, Huckabee doesn't have a sizable personal fortune to run on. Fourth, Maurice Clemmons.

Bobby Jindal: 6-1

By demonstrating stoic, forceful leadership during the Gulf oil spill, Jindal made most people forget about his abysmal response to President Obama's State of the Union address in January 2009. I'm bullish on Jindal for 2016, but think 2012 might be a bit too early. He's super smart and an excellent governor, but I'm afraid he'll get swallowed up in the upcoming field. Even if a Republican topples Obama in 2012 and Jindal has to wait until 2020, that's plenty of time -- he'll only be 49 on election day.

The rest will be taken up in part 2 ...

19 October 2010

The dangers of entitlements

The French are lazy -- leaving work to riot over a proposed hike in the retirement age from 60 -- SIXTY! -- to 62.

France's nationalized pension system is on the verge of bankruptcy. Along with excessively long vacation allowances, a fully socialized healthcare system and laws that make it extremely difficult for employers to fire their workers, France is the model for what American conservatives abhor about liberalism in its purest form. The uproar in France demonstrates the danger of cradle-to-the-grave dependence on government programs and how parasitic humans can be.

Unfortunately, this poisonous mindset has pervaded the American left on entitlement issues. Most critically, President Obama's unbecoming demagoguery over the looming Social Security crisis has its roots in the very socialism that to which the French rioters subscribe -- the president would rather engage in a fear campaign and levy outlandishly unfair charges about his political opponents, instead of trying to reform a system that is so obviously broken.

An entitlement crisis is sweeping the country at the state level, as among others, Illinois is facing a massive budget shortfall as a result of outlandishly generous promises made to teachers, police officers and state bureaucrats. The New York Times examined this phenomenon here.

If congressional Democrats continue to follow their president's lead, and if Republicans are too squishy to stand up to such antics, the crisis in France will be at our doorstep soon.

07 October 2010

Iowa = Palin's kryptonite

We've written here recently that we don't consider Sarah Palin to be a serious contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

As Rudy Guiliani can attest, being competitive in either Iowa or New Hampshire is absolutely critical to one's ultimate success in a presidential campaign. In 2000, George W. Bush and Al Gore each won Iowa. In 2004, John Kerry -- at the time, considered a mid-tier contender -- finished a close second in Iowa in a crowded field and won in New Hampshire. In 2008, John McCain won big in New Hampshire, giving him a head of steam to cruise to victories in South Carolina and Florida. Barack Obama also won big in Iowa, and Hillary Clinton never quite seemed to fully recover after finishing a severely disappointing third in the caucuses. (The only reason a loss in Iowa didn't hurt McCain was because the Senior Senator -- an avowed opponent of ethanol subsidies and thus, an enemy of virtually the entire Iowa agricultural industry -- didn't even bother campaigning there.)

The bottom line is that there is no recent precedent for a candidate not winning in one of the first two states and going on to win a major party's nomination.

Sarah Palin will not be competitive in New Hampshire, period. New Hampshire voted for John McCain twice -- in 2000 and 2008 -- and the candidate who closest approximated Palin's place in the party in 2008 -- Mike Huckabee -- barely campaigned there, instead spending most of his time in the much more socially conservative South Carolina. New Hampshire voters are famously independent, a sort of pseduo-Tory mix of center-left social views and center-right economic views. They are revolted by tired, partisan cliches and instead demand face-to-face engagement. If there's a conservative Republican who can win in New Hampshire, it will likely be Tim Pawlenty or Mitch Daniels (should the latter choose to run). Of course, Mitt Romney will be competitive there, but calling him a "conservative Republican" is a stretch. Palin would be better-served following Huckabee's model by avoiding New Hampshire entirely and focusing on her much stronger chances in South Carolina.

So what about Iowa? Some have suggested that Palin's folksy shtick might play well there. Here's why they're wrong:

1. Like New Hampshire voters, Iowa voters demand engagement. In 2008, Barack Obama was a force on the ground, shoring up his already strong ground game with the powerful force of his personality. Palin, to the contrary, only is visible at highly scripted rallies, doesn't do interviews that aren't on Fox News and doesn't have a sufficient breadth of knowledge to engage with voters who have legitimate concerns. There is no precedent for someone of Palin's ilk to win in Iowa.

2. As we've noted before, Barack Obama was so successful in Iowa in large part due to his phenomenal ground game, a well-funded and excellently organized grassroots network of students, labor leaders, retirees and everyone in-between. While Romney and Pawlenty have quietly built apparatuses based on the Obama model, Palin has done nothing of the sort. The people who make comparisons between Obama in 2006-2008 and Palin at the present time miss the critical fact that Obama was able to gain such a massive head of steam not because he was some sort of cult hero, but rather because his GOTV operation was so sophisticated.

3. As a corollary to point #2, Palin is approaching her presidential run in a rather cavalier way. Instead of doing the hard work of lining up the traditional GOP heavy hitters and organizational gurus (as Romney and Pawlenty have done), Palin has instead spent her time touring the country and endorsing candidates like Joe Miller in Alaska, Carly Fiorina in California and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware. Her hope, of course, is that these individuals will reciprocate her support in kind in the 2012 primaries. Not only is she banking on these candidates to get elected, but she's also banking on their endorsements of her to be so massively popular that public opinion will swing in her favor. However, this is an idiotic way to build a presidential campaign, for no other reason than there is absolutely no evidence that, for instance, anyone in Iowa cares who Joe Miller is, or what he thinks.

4. Iowa voters already like Tim Pawlenty. Voters in the northern part of the state are especially familiar with the reasonable, salt-of-the-earth Sam's Club Republican governor of their neighbor to the north.

5. If candidates drop out before Iowa or shortly thereafter, there isn't a single Republican candidate who will endorse her. Palin will be an island in the campaign, much as Romney was in 2008. Unless and until Palin is the clear-cut frontrunner, there isn't a single other contender who will offer his support. Romney, Pawlenty, Daniels and Mike Pence will fall in line behind one of each other. Huckabee and Thune, likewise. Gingrich is admittedly a wild card, but he understands that his position as the intellectual poobah of the party will be shredded if he endorses Palin over, say, the uber-cerebral Pawlenty. And if Ron Paul is around, he'll keep swinging 'til the bitter end.

6. She's going to say something stupid. She always does.

06 October 2010

The battle for the Senate

Thanks to the voters of Delaware bringing the crazy and nominating a candidate who has never held elected office, it will be a tall order for the GOP to re-take control of the U.S. Senate. Additionally, given the transformation of the filibuster from a sparingly used procedural mechanism into a full-fledged legislative club, the Democrats' agenda has been thwarted since Scott Brown's election to the Senate in January. Because of this, the determination of who actually controls the Senate will be rather anticlimactic. Regardless, there are a few races we're interested in:

In Missouri, Roy Blunt appears to have established a reasonably safe lead outside the margin of error in nearly all of the latest polls. Secretary of State Robin Carnahan seemed to be making headway with her ads tying Blunt to the TARP bailout and Jack Abramoff and painting him -- accurately -- as the consummate Washington insider. Carnahan's problem in this race is twofold: First, she's a Democrat, and running in what is clearly shaping up to be a "wave" election. Second, she's no outsider herself, coming from a family that boasts a former governor, a former Senator, a congressman and a brother who is a gazillionaire wind-farm investor. Unlike in places like Nevada, Wisconsin or Florida, Missouri voters are quite familiar with everyone on the ballot here. You can read here why I refuse to vote for Blunt, who as House Republican whip was one of the Bush administration's key enablers. I doubt I'm done blasting him either.

In the race to fill President Obama's old seat, congressman Mark Kirk is vying to knock off state treasurer Alexi Giannilazskjzmlbfs. As of today, Real Clear Politics rates this one a toss-up. Both men have had their share of issues -- Kirk was inexplicably caught lying about his military service in Iraq, and Giasdkalsfdapdfpaz has had myriad questions to answer about the abrupt collapse of his family bank. Kirk is a moderate Republican from the Chicago suburbs who was an early and key backer of John McCain's candidacy during 2007-2008, and precisely the type of candidate Republicans need to cultivate in traditionally blue states. We're pulling hard for him.

Finally, in Wisconsin, Russ Feingold looks to be in deep trouble. We've written before about our affinity for the civil liberties crusader. Local businessman Ron Johnson -- virtually unknown before winning the Republican primary -- has begun to consistently poll above 50%, and his RCP advantage is 9 points. This isn't insurmountable, but Feingold is fighting an immensely difficult uphill battle -- (i) he's an incumbent seeking a fourth term; (ii) he's considerably more liberal than the majority of his state on virtually every economic issue of import; and (iii) he's a Democrat. Voters know what they're getting with Feingold, and although he's made noise during his time in the Senate as a deficit hawk and an outspoken opponent of earmarks and pork-barrel spending, he is fairly classified as a tax-and-spend liberal. Again, we'd like to see Feingold return to the Senate, simply because the number of Senators who seem legitimately concerned with civil liberties is quite thin.

01 October 2010

Why Obama isn't Clinton

Peter Beinart offers this excellent piece on Bill Clinton's move toward the center after the 1994 midterms, and why Barack Obama is quite unlikely to follow Clinton's lead.

Beinart notes that during his time as governor of Arkansas, Clinton was aligned with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, which had been at war with the party's liberal base for years. Clinton not only governed as a centrist in Arkansas, but he campaigned as a deficit hawk, promised middle-class tax cuts -- at the time, a heresy for a Democrat -- and vowed to end "welfare as we know it." It was only when he swung left -- pushing health care reform and Don't Ask, Don't Tell during the first half of his first term -- that he set the table for the GOP to sweep back into power. After his party's 1994 defeats, Clinton turned the eyes inward, and seemed to understand that his defeats came about because he deviated from what had gotten him elected in the first place. He then set into motion a series of policies, including welfare reform, the Al Gore-led National Performance Review and most critically, his crusade for a balanced budget, that led to the longest peacetime boom in American history.

While Clinton and Obama both campaigned as centrists in 1992 and 2008, respectively, there is one critical difference between the two: Clinton actually was one, while Obama simply used trans-partisan vagueries to get elected. Anyone who knew anything about Barack Obama knew this image as a bipartisan healer was a fraud. This was a man who managed to rack up the most liberal voting record in the Senate in 2007 and wrote more autobiographies (one) than serious pieces of legislation during his utterly inconsequential Senate career.

If you were shocked that Obama swung to the left upon taking office, seemed completely unable to stomach bipartisan compromise and engaged in comically hyper-partisan demagoguery, you simply weren't paying attention to what he's been his whole political career.

Now, Obama will be faced with a nearly identical situation that Clinton encountered in January 1995: A Congress controlled by Republicans. And it's up to Obama as to how he will govern. Will he reach out to the GOP and find common ground on deficit reduction, green energy issues and entitlement reform? Or will he continue to dispatch surrogates to blast the GOP for being obstructionists? The president is the one who sets the tone. It's up to him.

These days, after a big-government Republican and an old-time liberal Democrat have spiraled us deep into debt and governed ineffectually, I've begun to long for the days of Clinton, the last legitimately decent chief executive. To say Clinton was a great president is missing his obvious flaws -- he pushed for an even more sweeping health care reform package than did Obama; his foreign policy during 1993-94 was disjointed and misguided; and, obviously, he betrayed his country's trust in the Lewinsky scandal. But in terms of his efficacy as a chief executive, Clinton was everything Obama was not. Clinton was willing to listen to Dick Morris and examine the flaws of his first two years in office. Obama still seems to be in love with his own celebrity, has built a team of yes-men who apparently don't disagree about anything, and genuinely believes the country is just as liberal as he is. In short, he is laughably out of touch, while Clinton was anything but.

That's why "triangulation" isn't coming back, and why the Clinton coalition that Obama so masterfully rallied in 2008 is irreparably broken.