Jul. 25th, 2015

maxomai: dog (dog)
Have we started doing cattle calls yet? If not, then I think it's high time. The Democratic field isn't so crowded, but the Republican field is, and with the primaries coming up fast, I think it's time we start sorting out how the candidates are really doing. Today, let's start with the Republicans. (I'll get to the Democrats tomorrow.)

The GOP Presidential candidate field, which has seventeen candidates right now, is looking like dinner time at the Duggar residence, with all the unfortunate mess that entails. Fortunately I think we can establish a formal pecking order rather quickly by looking at polls and other factors. For convenience sake, let's divide them in to tiers one through four:

FIRST TIER: Serious contenders
SECOND TIER: Also-rans
THIRD TIER: Side shows
FOURTH TIER: Small potatoes, can ignore.

So, let's break them down.

FIRST TIER: Jeb Bush, Donald Trump. They're the only ones consistently polling in double digits, and depending on the poll, they exchange leads. Jeb has a hell of a lot of PAC money ($100M or so), where Trump has his considerable personal fortune ($4B according to Fortune, $10B+ according to his campaign paperwork). Right now Trump temporarily has the lead in Pollster.com's aggregate polls of the GOP candidates, with 22% to Jeb's 14%.

Jeb has a huge advantage in that he looks and sounds Presidential, even when someone throws him a curve ball. He can also appeal to the Latino vote, probably as well as Rubio or Cruz could.

Trump has a huge advantage in that he appeals to the Republican base. While others try to appeal to the base with "dog whistle" language, he just comes right out and says what the base wants to hear, and the base loves it. The rest of America DOES NOT love it, and this is driving down opinions of the GOP to the point where the Democrats have temporarily regained the lead in public opinion. This also poses a serious problem for most of the rest of the candidates, who normally could gain temporary advantage by siphoning off some of the batshit crazier right voters of the base. Now that Trump is consolidating the batshit vote, the rest of the field is fighting for scraps.

In all honesty, Trump is a third tier candidate who's made it to the first tier by the power of spectacle. By all rights the GOP should be able to change the rules and cast him away. However, he has promised to use his enormous personal fortune and media presence to launch a third party run if they do this. Such a run would be a disaster for the GOP. So they're stuck with him, and so he remains in the first tier.

SECOND TIER: Scott Walker. Walker is the only other candidate to poll in double digits, and he's only managed to do so recently. His advantages are that he's charming, has a lot of Koch Brothers money, has proven that he can win tough elections in normally blue states, and has done a lot of things that the GOP base really likes (on abortion, taxes, guns, and most especially rolling back labor rights). The downside is that the Democratic base intensely hates him, the same way the Republican base intensely hates Hillary Clinton. His best advantage, however, is that in a field that's being starved out by Trump's demagoguing, Walker has managed to still carve a niche for himself. That's an impressive achievement that could serve him well when he runs again in 2020 or 2024.

THIRD TIER: The other Fox News debate participants. Normally one would have to divide candidates into tiers by how they "feel." Fortunately that is not the case this time. Fox News has given us an arbitrary but important demarkation: if the candidate doesn't place in the top ten in the national polls, they won't get invited to Fox News's first debate. That leaves the other fourteen candidates scrambling for places four through ten. Those who make the cut-off, we can call third tier. Those who don't, we can call fourth tier.

So far these candidates make the cut-off: Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and Rick Perry. All of these candidates poll in the 6.5% to 2% range....which means their position in the third tier is actually extremely precarious, and they can fall away into the fourth tier quickly.

It should be noted that if the field wasn't so crowded, and Donald Trump wasn't already absorbing so much of the adoration of the Republican base, many of these candidates would be first or second tier.

FOURTH TIER: The Fox News Debate Rejects. Many of these are fighting for scraps and could make if into the third tier with just the right boost. They are: John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, and Jim Gilmore.

WHAT WE CAN MAKE OF THIS. Absent Trump, the race would follow the same forms as 2012. The primaries would quickly filter out the other candidates except for one or two third-tier candidates who hang on until the convention, and the convention would be a coronation for Jeb Bush.

With Trump, this race is now a real fight between the Republican Party's base (who overwhelmingly support Trump) and the Republican Party's organization (who overwhelmingly support Jeb). I would still bet on Jeb because the organization can get out the vote, but now his candidacy isn't at all certain.

In the end, the most compelling argument for Jeb Bush is that he has a fighting chance against Hillary Clinton. A recent Quinnipiac poll, for example, shows Bush, Walker and Rubio beating Clinton in three swing states: Iowa, Colorado, and Virginia. Donald Trump, on the other hand, gets crushed by double digits. If I'm the Republican establishment, I'm really hoping that Donald Trump will find a way to crash and burn soon.

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