Thursday, February 11, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Center In Mutiny

As a long-time champion of the preeminence of the political
center in U.S. presidential elections, I am wondering aloud
what is the mood of most voters in the 2016 cycle.

In the recent past, we have had the “radical” center, the
“moderate” center, the “silent” center, and even the “populist”
center. None of these epithets seems to fit in the current cycle,
although there are radical elements, moderate impulses,
silent voters and populist trends visible in the campaign so far.
These tendencies might exist, but they do not seem to be the
primary quality of the majoritarian center of the American
electorate today.

The term “angry” has already been applied to the more leftist
and rightist elements of both parties, but I think that the
so-called establishments of each major party have missed the
essential reality that it is primarily the center of the American
electorate which is most importantly “angry” about politics
“as usual.”

What’s so critical about this observation is that it is usually the
political center of the electorate, and of both parties, which
normally counterbalances the “anger” of the left and the right,
and eventually produces candidates with broader appeal than
just the party bases --- that is, candidates who have some appeal
to the growing number of so-called independent voters --- the
voters who usually decide who wins the presidency.

The crisis for each party is that their major candidates so far
do not seem to understand the true nature of voter “anger” in
2016. The Democratic establishment made the crucial mistake
of conspiring to have only one major candidate for president this
cycle. This arrogance deprived most Democratic voters of their
right to choose their own nominee. Not only that, the anointed
candidate was a figure from the past, embroiled in constant
controversies, unlikeable and not a skillful campaigner. No one
is entitled to a presidential nomination, much less the presidency,
without the consent of the voters, and the Democratic voters
were not consulted. It was a relatively few party leaders who
decided this. Virtually every credible poll indicates that most
voters no longer trust or like Hillary Clinton.

The Republican establishment made a similar mistake. Many of
them rallied behind a bright and competent former governor
who, once the campaign began, did not fit the expectations of
Republican voters. In the recent past, this establishment
support might have been enough, but it is becoming quite
apparent it is not enough in 2016. Unlike the Democrats, there
were a large number of Republican presidential candidates,
most of them with serious credentials and political experience.
But it is not resumes and past offices that the voters seem to
be seeking this year.

The nomination contests in both parties are not over, but their
cast of candidates has probably been finalized (unless Vice
President Biden makes a late entry). Conventional wisdom has
now asserted that Bernie Sanders cannot be nominated, and
Donald Trump cannot be stopped.

Perhaps.

But with a center in mutiny, an angry left and an angry right,
anything is possible --- even now.

Those leaders in the political center, both liberal and conservative,
Democrats and Republicans, need to take a very deep breath,
remain calm, and then make some useful sense out of what the
majority of voters want today.

If they do not, the two party system, at least for this cycle, will not
hold together. A mutinous political center, temporarily allied with
the right and the left, is poised to replace the captains and officers
of these two ships, and should this happen, no one knows what
their destinations will be.

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Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Now It Gets Really Interesting

The New Hampshire primary vote results are in, and they
provided some useful insights into the 2016 cycle in both
parties.

Bernie Sanders did not just defeat Hillary Clinton (as
expected), he demolished her Granite State effort by a bigger
margin than anyone expected. Sanders is the senator of a
neighboring state, but he is a Brooklyn-born 74 year-old socialist.
New Hampshire is not as left-liberal as Vermont is, and Mrs.
Clinton is well-known in the state, having campaigned there in
1992 and 1996 for her husband, and in 2008 for herself (when she
won the primary).

The Donald Trump “phenomenon” was thought to be partially
illusory when the Iowa caucus results came in, and the New
York businessman finished in second place. In New Hampshire,
however, he not only finished first, but he beat John Kasich (who
came in second) by more than a two-to-one margin.

Mr. Kasich had put all his resources  in New Hampshire, and his
runner-up result keeps his campaign alive. Ted Cruz and Jeb
Bush closely followed, and their campaigns are likely to go on to
future caucuses and primaries. Marco Rubio, whose most recent
debate performance clearly hurt him in New Hampshire, remains
a formidable candidate, and is expected to do well in South
Carolina and on Super Tuesday.

Both Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina did poorly in the first primary.
Prior to the voting, each of them vowed to continue, but it is
difficult to see how they might suddenly surge in later primaries.

The biggest question mark after New Hampshire is whether or not
Chris Christie will remain in the race. He came in sixth on Tuesday,
not that far behind Rubio, but it was not a positive result for
someone who had spent so much time and money in the state.
If Christie is excluded from the South Carolina televised debate,
that would be a very serious blow. Christie has excelled in all of
the previous debates. For all his political talent and
communication skills, Mr Christie has not had much “luck” in
this cycle, and it might turn out that this just wasn’t his moment
on the national stage.

The next several days in the 2016 presidential campaign will be ones
of reassessment in both major parties. After New Hampshire, a
third party campaign by former New York City Mayor Michael
Bloomberg, still not probable, is nevertheless more likely than before.

So far, this cycle has been dominated by the unease on the left in
the Democratic Party, and on the right in the Republican Party.
The centers of each party have been largely “silent.” Lacking
standout center-left and center-right candidates to this point has
also drawn many independent voters to Sanders, Trump and
Cruz.

The 2016 nomination contests, however, are far from over. The
initial four caucuses/primaries will have provided an overture, but
several acts of serious drama lie ahead.

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Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Will New Hampshire Say?

Now that the final pre-New Hampshire debates are over, and
the last credible pre-primary polls have been taken, there is
an aura of mystery about what judgments New Hampshire
voters will make on Tuesday, February 8.

Neither Iowa nor New Hampshire infallibly predicts the
presidential nominees; in fact, Iowa rarely does.

Iowa did provide some unpredicted insights, however.
First, it showed that the national polls indicating Donald Trump
with a big lead can be very misleading. It also demonstrated once
again how desperate the Democratic Party establishment is to
protect Hillary Clinton from bad news. A confusing and
complicated Iowa Democratic caucus voting system resulted in
a virtual mathematical tie between Bernie Sanders and Hillary
Clinton, but hid the almost certain fact that Sanders had outpolled
Clinton in the popular vote. Iowa also demonstrated that
Republicans are more energized this cycles than Democrats, but
that young liberal voters are energized, too, and overwhelmingly
prefer Sanders to Clinton.

Conventional wisdom has Sanders and Trump winning in New
Hampshire, but with uncertain margins. Until the debate, Marco
Rubio had been surging into second place in the Granite State.
The mainstream media then judged that Rubio had been the
biggest loser in the pre-New Hampshire debate, and that Chris
Christie, John Kasich and Jeb Bush had been the biggest winners.
But will New Hampshire voters see it that way?

Conventional wisdom has Sanders winning in the first primary
by at least ten points, but then sees little positive opportunities
for him in South Carolina, Super Tuesday and beyond. If the
Iowa precedent of high youth turnout is repeated, however, what
will happen in the rest of the states, each of which have numerous
college and university campuses? Why are there now renewed
calls and efforts being made to bring Vice President Joe Biden
back into the race month after he decided not to run?

Can Rubio recover? Might Christie finally break out? Does Jeb
Bush still have a chance? Is it too early to write Ted Cruz off?
Will Kasich show staying power?

All these question are now up in the air. New Hampshire voters
are likely to pull a few surprises of their own in answering some
of these questions, and raising new ones.

It’s beginning to look more and more like a very long political
season.

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Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Did Bernie Sanders Win The Iowa Caucus?

It could well be that Bernie Sanders won the Iowa Caucus
popular vote, and not Hillary Clinton, as originally reported.
The difficulty in determining this is the result of the Iowa
Democratic Party refusal so far to disclose the popular
Democratic vote at the February 1 caucus. Instead, the party
reported the totals of who won the individual precincts across
the state. (The Republican Party reports the popular vote in
their caucus.) This produces a situation similar to the
electoral college in the November elections. The person who
is elected president then, according to the U.S. constitution,
must win a majority of electoral votes cast by the states in
December. Several times, most recently in 2000, the person
receiving the most votes did not win the election (cf. Bush vs.
Gore).

In effect, the individual Democratic precincts in Iowa act as
electors. But the precincts do vary considerably in size. Thus,
a small rural precinct with 20 voters count as one vote as does
an urban precincts which had a turnout of 500 voters. In fact,
Bernie Sanders carried young Iowa voters by a large margin
over Hillary Clinton, and turnout was reported as very heavy
in Ames (Iowa State University) and Iowa City (University of
Iowa), not to mention the many other college and university
campuses throughout the state.

The only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the
Democratic Party’s refusal to disclose the popular vote, in
light of the very close vote (a virtual tie) counting only precincts,
is that Mr. Sanders did indeed carry Iowa on February 1.

The state’s largest and most important daily newspaper, the
Des Moines Register, has now called on the Democratic Party to
conduct a recount. (There were also 6 precincts that were
reportedly tied.)

In 2012, in the Republican Iowa caucus, it was initially reported
that Mitt Romney won the election, but a recount revealed that
Rick Santorum had actually won it. This recount was finished
too late to help Mr. Santorum’s campaign.

The Democratic Party and its voters were understandably
upset in 2000 when their presidential candidate received more
than half a million votes more than the Republican nominee,
and lost the election. In light of Mr. Sanders request for
disclosure of the popular vote, and the Register’s call for a
recount, the integrity of the Democratic Iowa caucus is at stake.
A recount and disclosure of the popular vote is the only way now
to resolve the doubt.

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Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.



Tuesday, February 2, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Showhorse, And Not A Workhorse?

Iowa’s first-in-the-nation votes in the presidential
nomination contests are now in.

The biggest stories of the night were about those those
candidates who failed to meet expectations, Hillary Clinton
(who seems to have barely won over Bernie Sanders by the
narrowest of margins) and Donald Trump (who came in
second to Ted Cruz, but only slightly ahead of a surging
Marco Rubio). The winners, as sometimes happens, were
those who did not have the most votes, but exceeded
expectations. In this case, it was Bernie Sanders who
actually turned out young voters, and Marco Rubio whose
surge was perhaps the first step in rallying mainstream
Republican voters to his side.

Nonetheless, both Mr. Sanders and Mr. Rubio face serious
challenges ahead. Vermont Senator Sanders will now
probably win New Hampshire easily, but faces tough odds
in states beyond that. Florida Senator Rubio faces an
immediate test in New Hampshire where rivals Chris
Christie, John Kasich and Jeb Bush will compete with him
for the mainstream mantle.

The biggest story of the pre-primary/caucus stage of the
2016 cycle was the headline domination of businessman
Donald Trump, and of his subsequent huge lead in most
national polls. Mr. Trump’s political inexperience, however,
led him to compete in Iowa without a real political
organization. Iowa voters live in a farm state, and when it
came to actual voters, they seem to have preferred the
workhorses over the showhorse. If there was a fear in the
Republican mainstream of Mr. Trump’s inevitability prior
to Iowa, that has been significantly dampened. Should
Donald Trump now fail to win New Hampshire, his
campaign could be in trouble.

Candidates Christie, Kasich, Bush, Fiorina, Carson and
Paul will now presumably go on to New Hampshire, but each
of them will need to do better than expected there, or in the
states immediately following, to remain viable. Already, Mike
Huckabee has withdrawn; Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gilmore
are likely to follow soon after.

With the first votes now in, much of the ballyhoo of Stage 1
evaporates, including the foam that came from less-than-
instructive national polling. Campaigns will need funds and
organizations in place if they are survive the grueling process
which will now take place.

The advantage of winning all or some of the first four
primary and caucus states is almost purely psychological.
None of these contests are winner-take-all, nor do any of
them have a large number of total delegates to the national
convention where the presidential nomination is formally
decided.

In fact, it will not be until the March 1 Super Tuesday when
13 states, most of them in the South, choose a substantial
number of delegates, again proportional to the vote. Then,
on successive weeks, one by one, the rest of the states,
including big ones such as New York, Florida,  Pennsylvania,
New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois and  California will hold their
elections. Many of these will be winner-take-all, others will
be proportional, and others such as Pennsylvania will be by
congressional district.

In addition, each party has created a large number of at-large
(or super-) delegates which are not chosen by the voters, but
by the party organization. These include ex-officio delegates,
many of whom hold federal or state office, and most of
whom are expected to vote with their party establishments.
They act as a partial firewall to protect Hillary Clinton on the
Democratic side, and anyone-but-Trump-or-Cruz on the
Republican side.

Even when all the delegates are known, state rules vary as to
whether they must vote for whomever won that state, and if
they must, for how many ballots they must do so. It’s a very
uneven, often clumsy, usually messy arrangement ---
something which has endured principally because in most
prior cycles, the nominee was determined relatively early in
the primary/caucus process.

Then at the national conventions, the party’s rules will
dominate, possibly further complicating the outcome.

Iowa was always intended only to be a beginning, albeit one
often with interesting surprises. In 2016, that has been the
case once again. But the most intense competition lies ahead.

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Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Voters Interrupt This Program.....

We have all been witnessing a serial entertainment known
as Stage 1 of the 2016 presidential election. Making sure we
were not overwhelmed by rhetorical lassitude and the chronic
tedium of observing public personalities who would induce
us to premature somnabulism, we have had the entertainments
of at least one electoral vaudevillian in each party, Donald
Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders on the left.

This program of dismantling assorted shibboleths from the past
has been unnerving to certain political establishments in both
the public policy community and in the media. Whatever their
political destiny, Mr. Trump upended political correctness,
and Mr. Sanders brought a naked socialism where no serious
candidate had ever tread before.

These two gentlemen from New York City, with their such
different backgrounds and ideologies, enabled a suspension
of the old rules and customs of the campaign cycle, and in
confrontations with their less colorful rivals, they in turn
entertained, provoked, outraged, delighted and confused us.

I am not dismissing their efforts. They have each managed to
do more than amuse or infuriate us.  I am also not suggesting
that their performances rise to the level of Shakespearean
comedy. Their outcomes, and the presentations of their
competitors will now be measured by the audience. This
measurement is not quite like the ratings which underpin the
broadcast industry. Instead, this extended theatrical
presentation will be now necessarily interrupted by some
important judgments from audience members through some
programs of their own called primaries and caucuses.

For many of us, it couldn’t come too soon. Unlike a television
program, there was no “off” button for Stage 1.

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Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 29, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Hard Thinking

It is hard thinking time for Democratic and Republican voters
across America. The ballyhoo of Stage 1 of the presidential
campaign, including the early debates, the media domination
the news, and the getting-to-know-you period of the various
candidates is now concluded. In a matter of hours, voters in
Iowa will attend evening caucuses to register their choices,
and a week later, voters in New Hampshire will go to the polls
over a full day to make their choices.

Do I need to say aloud that much is at stake in this election
for every American?

Do I need to say aloud that the office of president of the
United States is a uniquely important office?

The Super Bowl, World Series, Final Four, all-star games are
sports events most of us follow vicariously. The Academy
Awards are observed as rites for celebrities in the movie
business. Professional athletes and movie-TV actors are paid
enormous sums of money to entertain us. They are followed
in magazines, and on radio and TV. Our relationships with
them are almost entirely vicarious. There is nothing wrong
with this; it is part of the contemporary cultural experience
of most Americans. Other Americans derive vicarious
pleasures from reading books, including mystery novels and
literary works; or from listening to music, popular and
classical, and playing records by favorite artists. Some
Americans watch ballet or opera. There are many pastimes in
21st century culture which are part of our lives. And again. in
many cases, large sums of money are paid to those who
provide them.

The “political” part of our lives, however, are not truly
vicarious.

The United States began as an experiment in self-government
226 years ago under its present constitution. With several
amendments and numerous social adjustments it has survived,
grown and flourished to the present day. It has been tempered by
a profound civil war, two world wars, many regional wars and
a “cold war.” In most wars, the nation was victorious; in some
wars, not victorious. Millions of Americans have worn the
uniform of their country, bravely fought for it, and in some cases,
died for it.

At the outset, only some Americans could vote. Today, all
Americans can vote. But throughout the 226 years, and into any
future that can reasonably be foreseen, the government of the
United States has derived its legitimacy, functioned, and
presumably was directed by “the consent of the governed.”

That consent is always an indirect one. There are national
elections every two years, and presidential elections every four
years. Elected officials can be replaced or returned to office.
The programs of the major political parties can likewise be
affirmed or rejected.

In recent years, the rise of media and other communications
technology has come to dominate or overshadow the preliminary
stages of the election process. This is not entirely a new
phenomenon. Beginning with the 1860 election of Abraham
Lincoln, the latter half of 19th century elections were dominated
the use of the media technologies available in those turbulent
Civil War and post-Civil War times.

The 2016 presidential election cycle is turning out to be another
transformational moment in this nation’s unique history. The
precedents and “rules” of recent cycles appear to be suspended
or even overtaken by something new. Of course, until actual
votes are counted, we won’t know just how much this is so, or
even if the early indications are true, but I think every American
voter needs to be prepared for something new.

As recent very close elections have powerfully demonstrated,
every single vote does count. And I always point out, even if a
person chooses not to vote, that represents a de facto vote for the
eventual winners. A vote, turning the cynics among us aside,
is the one true power every adult citizen holds in his or her own
hands.

Everyone has their own reasons for the vote they cast, or for
not voting. It is not for any of us to judge those myriad of
motivations. But in each case, especially in a time such as this
one, a vote comes after some hard thinking.

I do not fear being called simple-minded when I say once again
that when most Americans choose a president, they ultimately
choose not only a person they agree with, but someone they feel
they want to see and hear every day for the next four years.

On that proposition rests the world’s oldest and, to date, most
significant republic. Long may it survive and prosper!

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Copyright (c) by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.