Sunday, August 30, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Has O'Malley Found A Voice?

Former  Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has labored
without success to catch the attention of 2016 Democratic
Party voters to date, but he might have at last found an
opening to launch his candidacy for real.

At the 2015 Democratic National Committee summer meeting,
in Minneapolis at which all the announced major Democratic
presidential candidates spoke, it was Mr. O’Malley and not
frontrunner Hillary Clinton or so-far principal challenger
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who made the headlines.

Mr. O’Malley did this by asserting that the DNC is trying to
rig the 2016 race by scheduling very few debates before the
beginning of the primary elections. He contends that this not
only is prejudicial against him and the three other challengers
to Mrs. Clinton, but also gives a big advantage to Republicans
who have scheduled more debates, the first of which drew an
historically large TV audience. He is obviously correct in his

As a former mayor of Baltimore and former governor of
Maryland, not to mention a past warm endorsement from Bill
Clinton, Mr. O’Malley, a traditional liberal, might be characterized
as a member of the Democratic Party establishment. His
campaign for president so far might be described as an
establishment effort. Needless to say, he has gotten nowhere.
Now openly critical of his party establishment, including party
chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, he has rediscovered the old
truism about the squeaky wheel (currently epitomized in the other
party by Donald Trump).

With fellow rival Bernie Sanders getting most of the headlines,
Mrs. Clinton continuing to sink in most polls, Joe Biden’s
entrance in the race now dubious, Martin O’Malley has seen an
opening. Now we’ll find out how much he wants to be president.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 28, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The "Furious Majority" Or Factum Non Verbum

In 1968, it was said there was a “silent majority” of voters.
In 1994, there were news stories describing an “angry majority”
of voters. In 2015, the voters are not just angry, they are “furious.”

No more proof than the early success of the presidential
campaigns of Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie
Sanders should be needed, but there’s more evidence. In at least
one major poll, conservative physician Ben Carson is in second
place. Neither Trump nor Carson have ever been elected to
office. And there’s more. Businesswoman Carly Fiorina is doing
well, and Vice President Joe Biden, hitherto not taken seriously
as a 2016 presidential candidate, is being widely urged to run.
Although she has said she won’t run, Senator Elizabeth Warren
clearly has very significant support in the liberal grass roots.

Only Biden in this group would be classified as “establishment,”
and he probably won’t run because the Democratic Party elites
still prefer the “sinking” Hillary Clinton and are pushing him out
of the way.  Jeb Bush, the early GOP frontrunner, and clearly the
establishment candidate, is fading in the polls despite his name
recognition and huge amounts of money raised for his campaign.

Why is this all happening?

American voters are perennially unhappy with politicians, so why
is the current “fury” to be taken more seriously than the “silence”
or the “anger” in previous presidential elections?

The answer is the result of a number of circumstances, but most
notably the chronic failure of current government to restore
general economic well-being and confidence, the apparent
“dishonesty” of most political rhetoric, the persistent and
increasing lack oftransparency in the conduct and management
of government bureaucracy, and voters’ growing insecurity about
the nation’s role in the world. These are taking place with elected
and appointed officials of both parties, and there is very little
evidence that much is being done about it.

It is being exacerbated by the Obama administration’s cavalier
attitude to problems arising from undocumented immigration,
its unilateral withdrawal from the U.S. role of leadership in the
world, and by the uneven domestic economic recovery.

This has given Republicans a temporary advantage, but should
they win in 2016 and fail to produce visible gains, the advantage
will shift right back to the Democrats.

Not only are the left and the right “furious” with Washington, DC,
so is the unheralded but vital political center, the key element in
deciding who wins the White House in 2016. (Historically, populists
in the U.S. came from the far right or the far left, but recently,
“centrist populist” such as Jesse Ventura and Ross Perot have arisen
to disrupt American elections.)

The establishments of both parties would like the Trump, Carson,
Sanders and the Fiorina to go away, and almost certainly they will
try to make this happen only by discrediting the candidates. I think
this is a huge political miscalculation. I think it will infuriate voters
even more.

The resolution of the political “disruption” can only happen if the
“establishment” candidates begin paying attention to what is truly
upsetting voters.

My high school motto (McDowell High School in Erie, PA) was
Factum Non Verbum” (“The Deed Not The Word”). I did not forget it.
When a Latin phrase endures for so long, it would be only a matter
of time when it made lots of sense one more time.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Is John Kasich First Tier?

Governor John Kasich of Ohio is certainly a first tier
presidential candidate in terms of his experience, his
intelligence and the strategic electoral importance of his
home state. The question yet to be answered:  Is he is a
first tier campaigner?

I think we are about to receive that answer from some new
polls in early and key primary states. Governor Kasich was
the last major Republican contender to formally enter the
contest, but he performed well in the first debate in Cleveland,
and many observers even called him the biggest winner of this
initial confrontation of the large number of GOP hopefuls.

At that debate, of course, much of the attention was on
businessman Donald Trump whose neo-nationalism populist
message has dominated the polls since, and drawn large crowds
wherever the New York billionaire has appeared.

Republican strategists have simultaneously been searching for
an ideal “anti-Trump” GOP candidate to stem this phenomenon,
and give the conservative party a more likely successful ticket in
November when the key electorate will be the huge number of
independent-centrist voters who do not affiliate with either major

The candidacy of early frontrunner, former Florida Governor Jeb
Bush, has been floundering since the debates in which he did not
stand out. His caution and inability to project a sympathetic
personality has left his campaign, at least temporarily, in the
doldrums despite his high name recognition and the huge amount
of campaign funds he has raised.

Likewise in at least temporary decline is Governor Scott Walker
of Wisconsin who after emerging as a first tier candidate in Iowa
earlier this year, has stalled in the polls and failed so far to project
his personality into his campaign. Governor Walker needs to win
the Iowa caucus where he has been leading to remain in the first

Some have thought that Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey,
with his obvious communication skills and charisma, would be the
“anti-Trump” figure to take the billionaire on, and re-emerge as a
first tier candidate, but so far this has not happened. Senator Marco
Rubio of Florida is another potential first tier candidate who might
successfully replace Mr. Trump at the top of the polls. Young and
charismatic, his campaign has yet to catch on. Business executive
Carly Fiorina impressed many with her performance at the “second
tier” debate in Cleveland, and with her impressive speaking style.
Her poll numbers have risen, but so far she has been more the
“anti-Hillary” candidate, and has yet to notably confront Mr. Trump.

All of this leaves Governor Kasich with an extraordinary opportunity.
He not only served in the U.S. house for several terms, but rose to
become one of its top experts on economic policy, leading his caucus
to significant achievements in balancing the budget, curbing spending
and raising fiscal responsibility. After his congressional career, he
returned to Ohio to become its governor where he became one of the
GOP statehouse leaders of reform during the Washington miasma
of the past Obama administration years. In 2014, despite Ohio being
considered a contested battleground state, he won a landslide victory
in his re-election as governor. With Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Iowa,
Pennsylvania and Wisconsin being among the key states in the 2016
presidential election, Kasich’s Buckeye State could deliver some
much needed electoral votes to the GOP ticket.

Unlike his rivals, Governor Bush and Governor Walker, Governor
Kasich has shown the skill to project his personality into the campaign,
including a certain informed candor that might measure well against
the bull-in-the-china-shop demeanor of Mr. Trump.

The next several weeks, leading up to and including the next televised
GOP debate, could be significant in the race for the Republican
nomination. John Kasich could be on the verge of breaking out into
the open to become a man to beat.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Most Underestimated Man In Washington, DC?

The most underestimated man in Washington, DC has a
very powerful position, and in an era of political stalemate
in the nation’s capital, he has accomplished a relatively
great deal. Nevertheless, his political opponents try to
dismiss him, many of his supposed political allies try to
belittle him, and most in the media just ignore him.

He is the speaker of the U.S. house of representatives, third
in line for the presidency, and perhaps the most adult figure
now in a city where grown-ups routinely act as children.

He even has a notable life story to tell, but since he is not
running for president, nor ever expressed an interest in doing
so, it is treated as just another bio and not enlarged into a
mythic tale.

John Boehner was the second of 12 children from a small
midwestern town in Ohio, the son of a bartender/bar owner,
and the first in his family to attend college. That was Xavier
University. After graduating, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, but
was soon sent home with a bad back. He worked for a small
business, got himself elected to the Ohio state legislature,
and finally challenged a controversial incumbent congressman
of his own party, and won. He has won ten elections since then
either by landslides or with no opposition.

An ally of then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, he won a
surprise election to the house leadership, then became majority
leader. After the GOP lost their majority in 2006, he was
elected minority leader again until 2010 when a Republican
landslide brought his party back to power in the house and put
Boehner into the speakership.

Lacking a majority in the U.S. senate, and with a Democrat in the
White House, Boehner began his speakership cautiously. His
GOP majority in the house, furthermore, was divided and unruly.
His colleagues, over his advice, shut down the government in 2013
when the senate and President Obama would not compromise on
their differences, and the result was a public relations disaster.
Various factions erupted in the house caucus, and the new speaker
was often criticized for not doing more.

In 2014, with the mid-term elections imminent, Mr. Boehner
steered the house from another shutdown. The GOP then
increased its majority in the house and won back control of the
senate. Now controlling both houses of Congress, many
conservatives had hopes of quickly repealing Obamacare,
drastically cutting government domestic spending, dramatically
reducing entitlements and lowering taxes. Lacking large enough
majorities to overturn President Obama’s certain vetoes of these
measures, stalemate in Washington, DC has remained. Both
Speaker Boehner and new Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell have been criticized by some conservatives and some
GOP governors for not doing enough with their majorities to pass
the Republican agenda.

As he has every August for years, Speaker Boehner makes a
month-long bus tour through the country to raise funds for his
PAC (that funds close house races), recruit challengers to
Democratic incumbents, support his GOP colleagues, and to
rally Republicans in his role as the most powerful elected
Republican in Washington, DC.

This year, Boehner has a much more aggressive and positive
message than usual. Conceding the power of Republicans to
change many Obama administration policies is limited, Mr.
Boehner has nevertheless claimed many accomplishments for
the GOP. Some of them are notable, although the liberal media
has done little reporting of them, including limiting tax increases;
supported giving law enforcement new tools to fight human
trafficking; enacted reforms in job training, student loan programs,
Veterans Administration and Medicare; stopped the transfer of
terrorist detainees into the U.S.; improved U.S. foreign intelligence
capabilities; passed the most pro-life legislation in history;
approved new resources to improve veterans’ health care; banned
earmarks; enabled the U.S. to become the world’s largest energy
producer; and cut governments spending by $2.1 trillion. Two
GOP initiatives were of larger impact. First, the GOP Congress led
efforts to enact more than $2.9 trillion in entitlement reform, and
in rare cooperation with President Obama, passed trade agreements
and gave the president trade authority, The latter was opposed by
most Democrats, but was passed mostly with GOP votes and sent
to the president for his signature.

Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell assert that they have led a
do-something Congress, but underscoring the speaker’s message
on his bus tour this year is the central point that major change and
reform cannot occur without a Republican president.

Recently, Mr. Boehner led bipartisan congressional tours to the
Middle East and Central Europe to reassure our friends and allies
that the U.S. stands behind them. While not directly criticizing
current U.S. foreign policy (which Mr. Boehner clearly feels is not
very reassuring to those friends and allies), the speaker (who is not
known for previous foreign policy acumen) proved to be a skillful
spokesman and diplomat. His trips were largely ignored by the
U.S. media on both the right and the left, but were clearly
well-received abroad. Earlier in the year, Speaker Boehner took the
initiative of inviting Israeli Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu
to address the Congress, a move bitterly opposed by President
Obama who attempted to stop it. Mr. Boehner prevailed, however,
and Mr. Netanyahu’s appearance was a political triumph.

Not much of a public orator, Mr. Boehner remained on the public
sidelines in his first years as speaker, making few appearances on
talk shows and failed to develop an effective communications
effort from his office. Individuals and small groups in his own
caucus frequently criticized and challenged him, but only recently
has he insisted on more loyalty and support from his colleagues,
removing some members from chairmanships who refused to be
part of his leadership team. He has beefed up his communications
efforts, increasing appeared on talk shows, and been an outspoken
critic of Democrats, including especially Mrs. Clinton.

Although another government shutdown is looming, it is doubtful
Mr. Boehner and his colleague Mr. McConnell will let that happen.
It was avoided in 2013, and voters rewarded that in 2014. With the
all-important 2016 presidential and congressional elections only a
year away, the GOP leadership seems to know better than to
appear responsible for shutting the government down again.

When it became clear that John Boehner was going to become
speaker in 2010, I remember sitting with Newt Gingrich, and
asking him if he thought Boehner was ready to assume that office.
“No,” the former speaker said, adding quickly “But neither was I.”

The speakership could be one of the most under-appreciated high
offices in government, and it is certainly one of the most difficult
to perform well in, having constantly to keep often-disagreeing
members together to vote on policies that serves the larger needs
of the nation. It requires patience, strategic skill and a strong
commitment to the national interest. This is especially true when a
member of another party sits in the White House. Unlike during the
last part of Newt Gingrich’s speakership, the Democratic president
in 2015 is unwilling very often to negotiate and compromise, and
the result is prolonged and frustrating stalemate.

Considering all of this, whether or not one agrees or disagrees with
his politics, John Boehner has risen from his small town roots, to
become one of the most effective and statesmanlike house speakers
in modern times. It appears that it was a very good thing that he grew
up with eleven other brothers and sisters.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Are Voters Really Prepared To Do In 2016?

All the polls and all the signs indicate that American voters
are not only upset about the direction of the nation, but are
profoundly skeptical of virtually all elected politicians and
bureaucrats, especially those in Washington, DC.

In recent years, this negative feeling has been more or less
consistent. Some are suggesting that now in 2015 the cynicism
of voters is greater than usual. My friend Newt Gingrich has
just published an op ed in The Washington Times that cites
polls indicating that 75% of Americans think that corruption
is widespread in Washington, DC. From that, he suggests that
voters are prepared to break the political establishment rules
in both major parties and seriously consider candidates such
as Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina
and Ted Cruz to be nominated for president.

I agree there is widespread disillusionment, and observing
the disarray in the early stages of the 2016 presidential
campaign, the question immediately arises about what the
voters will do when the actual campaign begins circa early
January, 2016.

I am covering now my 12th presidential election as a journalist,
and while my readers know I have not been shy about making
provocative and contrarian predictions about national
campaigns (more than a few of these predictions have come
true), I remain skeptical about the nomination and election of
a true outsider to be president of the U.S. in 2016.

That is because the decisive vote in a presidential election
always comes from the political center. Michael Barone recently
wrote persuasively about the decline of the center left in the
Democratic Party. A case perhaps might be written about the
decline of the center right in the Republican Party. For the
moment, I would agree, both party bases are polarized to the
left and right respectively. But almost a third of the voters are
independents, centrists or non-affiliated, and I see no evidence
in polls or anywhere else that these voters are inclined to be
swept up in hard left and hard right movements, or in extreme
measures to resolve our national problems.

On the other hand, I would agree that the political environment
is unusually volatile, and that voters are no longer willing to
listen to political rhetoric as usual. So far, none of the
“establishment” presidential candidates in both parties have
seemed to figure this out, and they continue to do so at their
political peril.

I have written that political surprises lie ahead. It could be that
Mr. Gingrich is more prescient than now seems possible. There
are vacuums in both parties, and if history tells us anything,
someone will credibly figure out how to fill them.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Trump And Sanders; Jesse Ventura And Ross Perot

At this time in 2019, perhaps a bit earlier, perhaps a bit later,
there will be at least one unlikely  and relatively outrageous
candidate for president who will rise amazingly in the polls
and defy their party’s political establishment or create a
third party movement.

No one knows now, four years before, who that might be.
Unlike 2015, this will occur probably only in the opposition
party because one of the nominees in 2016 will then be the
incumbent president, and running for re-election.

Since the 19th century, sensationalistic and often demagogic
third party and other candidates have appeared in most
presidential cycles. Occasionally, they alter the outcome.
Peter Cooper in 1876 and Ralph Nader in 2000 very likely
changed the final result, although they themselves received
relatively few votes. Everyone thought the candidacies of
Strom Thurmond on the Democratic right and Henry Wallace
on the Democratic left would cost Harry Truman the 1948
election, but they did not. George Wallace in 1968, and Ross
Perot in 1992 perhaps changed the results in those years.

In the late 19th century elections, a number of populist and
strange-sounding third parties appeared, often with eccentric
and demagogic presidential candidates. In 1912, the third party
candidate was himself a former major party president
(Bull Moose nominee Theodore Roosevelt), and he clearly
cost his successor Republican President William Howard Taft
re-election as Democrat Woodrow Wilson won with a weak
plurality. (Roosevelt actually received more popular and
electoral votes than Taft; the only time in modern history
that a third party candidate outpolled a major party nominee.)

Each era produces its own variety of odd political characters.
In 1998, a professional wrestler named Jesse Ventura won a
last-minute upset victory as governor of Minnesota. He
defeated two well-known major party opponents by running
as an independent centrist populist. He then became an instant
international political celebrity, oversaw a very respectable
one-term administration, and some thought he would run for
president (which he did not).

A few years earlier in 1992, Texas businessman Ross Perot
emerged as an independent party candidate, and for a while, even
led the two major party candidates, Republican President George
H.W. Bush and Democratic Governor Bill Clinton in the polls.
Both Ventura and Perot were centrist populists, unlike the right
and left wing populist figures of the 19th century and the left wing
populists of the early 20th century. As such, they appealed to
many independent and non-affiliated voters in the emergent and
all-important political center.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in 2015 represent a return to
the polarized model. Sanders on the left is not unlike the late
Senator Paul Wellstone who ran briefly for president in 2000, and
Trump on the right is not unlike Pat Buchanan who ran in 1992
and 1996. (By the way, what did happen in 1992, 1996 and 2000?
Answer hint: the late Mr. Wellstone, Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Nader
are not former presidents.)

My point is that, although the dates, names and personalities are
different, we have seen this phenomenon many times before.
Figures from big business like Lee Iaccooca, Perot, Carly Fiorina,
George Romney and Wendell Willkie; from sports like Bill Bradley,
from show business like Ronald Reagan are thrust suddenly into
the presidential political arena. Most do not succeed, although
Willkie won the the Republican nomination in 1940, and Reagan,
the exception who confirms the rule, went on the become a
successful two-term president. But usually, in these cases, the ego
has been larger than the opportunity. (Both Bradley and Reagan, it
should be noted, had considerable political experience and
electoral success prior to running for president; Bradley as a
U.S. senator and Reagan as governor of California.)

The meteoric appearances of a Donald Trump and a Bernie
Sanders are commonplace scenarios in the American presidential 
election cycle, especially in that period just prior to when actual
primary and caucus campaigns begin, They depend on a thirsty
media and a not-yet engaged public as they fill news and
entertainment vacuums.

Unlike comets in the sky which reappear periodically to sight in
timeless orbits, these meteors consume themselves as they
approach the earth.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Is Hillary History?

I don’t claim to be the first to have asserted that Hillary
Clinton might not be the Democratic presidential
nominee in 2016, but I was among the earliest to do so.
I have no personal animus to her; in fact, in 2008 I preferred
her to Barack Obama, and I still believe the nation would
be in better shape today if she had won her party’s
nomination and then (as was inevitable that year) the
presidency. She has a unique resume for the presidency,
beginning with her experience as a staff attorney for the
Nixon impeachment committee, her years as first lady of
Arkansas, two terms as first lady of the U.S. (both as the
spouse of Bill Clinton), her term as U.S. senator from New
York, and most recently, as U.S. secretary of state in the
Obama administration.

My assessment of her prospects in 2016 is based on her
poor performance as secretary of state and on her ability
as a political campaigner. My judgment of the former is
admittedly subjective and political --- I feel her behavior in
regard to various international crises and events, particularly
in South America (Honduras and Argentina), Asia and the
Middle East was lackluster and sometimes wrong-headed.
Of course, she was conducting the foreign policy of another,
President Obama, but she might have helped him steer
different courses. A secretary of state is arguably the most
powerful cabinet position.

My judgment about the latter, her ability to campaign, I think
is more or less indisputable. I know there are inevitable
comparisons made with her husband, one of the most gifted
natural campaigners we have seen in decades, and I agree it
is unfair to make a judgment based on those comparisons
alone, but the fact remains she has little gift in relating to and
communicating with voters “on the stump” She is hostile to,
and avoids, the media --- even though there is a clear bias of
most in the conventional media to her party and her views on
most issues.

Whether it is inherent to her personality, or the result of so
many years being in the political limelight, she not only is hostile
to the media, but is instinctively secretive about her public
conduct and life.

She has one overriding political asset in the 2016 campaign, i.e.,
she would be the first woman president if elected. It is older
liberal women who form her primary truly passionate base of
support, but this base is considerable in her party and made her,
combined with her resume, the overwhelming frontrunner
for her party’s nomination early in the 2016 campaign.

It has been downhill for her campaign from the beginning. She
has been mired in issues from her political past, most recently
and notably her use of e-mails during her term as secretary of
state. In spite of the fact that she has no truly serious announced
opponent for her party’s nomination, her polls have been in such
steady decline that she now trails likely Republican opponents
in polls in key battleground states. She has just fallen behind
Senator Bernie Sanders, one of her party rivals, in at least one
state. Senator Sanders is an avowed socialist, is not even truly a
Democrat, and is given virtually no chance to be nominated.

She is a mediocre public speaker at best, and the controversy of
her marriage continues as an issue, abetted by her husband.

Mrs. Clinton is also very smart, and like her husband, a skillful
issue opportunist. Her most recent issue plan is calling for a
10-year $350 billion college affordability program to be paid for
by removing certain tax deductions for high-income taxpayers.
Her Democratic rivals had already proposed college affordability
plans. While her plan is criticized by Republicans, it will have
appeal among many voters who seek or approve additional
government entitlement programs. From the point of view of
her campaign strategy, Mrs. Clinton can be expected to continue
to put forward popular and appealing liberal programs.

The issues thrust of her campaign, however, is not her problem
After two terms of a controversial Democratic president, there is
considerable “Obama fatigue” among voters (just as there was
considerable “Bush fatigue” in 2008 after two terms of a
controversial Republican president). If Vice President Joe Biden
enters the presidential race (as now seems more and more likely),
she will have a rival who not only can match her resume, but will
almost certainly have more personal support from President
Obama (public or private). Mr. Biden also enjoys a general
positive sympathy among voters, and this has been heightened
by the recent tragic death of his son. Should Mr. Biden enter
the race, it could easily precipitate the entry of other serious
Democratic candidates.

Just as the relentless campaign against Mitt Romney in 2011 on
such issues as driving with his dog on his car roof and his
personal wealth created (fairly or unfairly) an accumulated
negative image of the eventual Republican nominee in 2012,
the constant controversies surrounding Mrs. Clinton, the Clinton
Foundation, her e-mails, her role in Benghazi, and accusations
about her staff, have produced (fairly or unfairly) a very high
unfavorability rating for her in public polls.

Her partisans, staff and defenders are always quick to pooh-pooh
her problems, and always assert the public is not paying attention
to them. Perhaps this is so, but recent political history suggests
her political problems are not temporary and will not go away.

That is because the main problem is Hillary Clinton herself.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 10, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Carly, John And Chris

As I have been suggesting for some time, the first Republican
debate has begun the more serious stage of the 2016 GOP
presidential race. Donald Trump has provided a mixture of
entertainment and self-indulgence prior to the curtain going
up, but now that Carly (Fiorina), John (Kasich) and Chris
(Christie) have shown their faces before the audience, we will
have a different theater of political operations.

Mr. Trump, incidentally, will continue to obtain high poll
numbers and media attention, and the Republican
establishment should welcome that. An early departure by
Trump from the race while his numbers are high could enable
him to run more credibly as a third party candidate and do
some damage to the GOP. When he fades, as he will in the
coming months, his interest in an independent candidacy will
also fade as it becomes obvious such a run would likely hurt
no one except perhaps the Democratic nominee (from whom
he would likely draw more votes, especially if that nominee is
Hillary Clinton, in November, 2016).

Meanwhile, the political vacuum he has filled recently is now
being filled by bigger electoral personalities, including Mrs.
Fiorina, Governor Kasich and Governor Christie, as well as
Senator Marco Rubio. Two other formidable figures, who so
far have not projected strong personalities, but have notable
bases of support, are former Governor Jeb Bush and Governor
Scott Walker.

The biggest draw at the next debate (in September) will not be
Trump, but Carly Fiorina. Mrs. Fiorina triumphed in Cleveland
at the “also-ran” second debate, and has created a sensation
of her own. Governors Kasich and Christie did well in the
“main event” debate, as did Senator Rubio. Mr. Trump’s comedy
act was, after all, a set-up to the main show.

This is not to take away from “The Donald’s” performance.
Not unlike Ross Perot in 1992 and John Anderson in 1980, Mr.
Trump has provided colorful and temporary distraction from the
real contest. It should also be noted that Strom Thurmond
and Henry Wallace did the same in 1948; George Wallace did it
in 1968; and Ralph Nader did the same in 2000. It is a very
long-standing U.S. election tradition that third party candidates
stir up a temporary fuss.

On the Democratic side, their Donald Trump is Senator Bernie
Sanders. The liberal party’s vacuum has been created by their
frontrunner and once putative nominee, Hillary Clinton, so far a
a very weak campaigner. Until and unless at least one major
Democratic candidate (Joe Biden? Andrew Cuomo? Elizabeth
Warren? Amy Klobuchar?) gets in the race, Mr. Sanders will
continue to rise as Mrs. Clinton continues to decline. The
Democrats have a serious problem, and it is not Mr. Sanders.

Much of the preliminary commentary about the 2016 presidential
election has been wrong because pundits and “experts” did not
adequately take the voters into their accounts. There was a
preoccupation with past results, pure demographics, and a lot of
presumption. The media became  obsessed with political cliches
about dynasties and political correctness. Sensation,  faux
controversy and celebrity have thus dominated the political
conversation until the first debate.

Now it is the voters turn to assert their rightful place in the
discussion. There are big surprises ahead.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 7, 2015


The 2016 presidential campaign, at least the Republican one,
has now begun in earnest with the first presidential debate
held in Cleveland, Ohio.

The natural inclination is to pick winners and losers from this
debate, but I think the real impact of Cleveland was to enhance
significantly the Republican prospects to win the presidency.
That is because the ten debaters in Cleveland gave both
personality and stature to the Republican argument and cause
for 2016. (Lest it be said I am being partisan on this, I will state
now that if and when the Democrats hold their presidential
debates, and their candidates do as well as the GOP contestants
just did, I will give full and equal credit to the Democrats.)

There was one person who did not appear in that debate,
however, who should have been there. That was Carly Fiorina
who did appear in the “consolation” debate held by Fox News
earlier in the day. Fox News did have the good sense to run a
clip of Mrs. Fiorina during the main debate, and there was
widespread agreement that she outshone all others in the
“consolation” debate. There is already plenty of  ethnic
“diversity” in the GOP field of candidates, including one black
and two and one-half Latinos, but the GOP does have a serious
woman candidate, and they should put her front and center
as soon as possible.

Governor John Kasich of Ohio announced his candidacy late,
but he quickly emerged as a potentially first-tier figure in the
debate. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, once the
frontrunner, re-emerged in the debate as a formidable
contender. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz also did well.
Jeb Bush was thoughtful and articulate, but as yet has not
been able to project his personality in a field of contestants
which exudes personality. Ben Carson enhanced his campaign
with articulate answers, as did Governor Scott Walker of
Wisconsin (although Walker, like Jeb Bush, has not yet
fully solidified his public personality). If there was one
candidate who stood most in contrast to his rivals, it was
Rand Paul, who ardently defended a somewhat different
foreign policy view than the others in the debate. Always
charming, but seemingly not quite in step with the times,
Mike Huckabee was the only veteran of a previous
presidential campaign in the debate.

Finally, there was Donald Trump. As he has much of the
campaign so far, Mr. Trump dominated the stage of
candidates in Cleveland, even though he received the
toughest questions. Most of these he parried with his
self-confident style, but one he flubbed fundamentally.
That was the question asked of all the candidates at the
outset of the debate, to wit, “Do you commit to supporting
the eventual winner of the GOP nomination for president in
2016.” Nine of the candidates said they would. Trump said
he would not.

Trump’s answer is the wrong political answer. It is
considered by most Americans that when there is a
contest, fairly and openly competed, the winner is to be
congratulated and supported. This is true for sports as well
as politics. It is a fundamental element of the American
principle of fair play. Americans regard it as childish and
selfish for competitors not to honor the winner in a
contest they participate in.

First polls, of course, show Mr. Trump the winner of the
first debate, and his outspoken personality will likely
continue to draw positive attention in the media. It remains
to be seen, however, that if he loses the nomination and
then decides to run as a third party candidate, he would
draw more votes from the Republicans than the Democrats
in November, 2016. “Spoilers” with vague political images
don’t historically alter election outcomes in the U.S.

Democrats might now, more than ever, hope that Vice
President Biden enters the Democratic nomination contest.
He, more than any of the announced candidates (including
Hillary Clinton) has the political personality to shine in a
presidential debate. As the Democratic field now stands, it is
understandable why the Democratic Party leaders are putting
off debates of their own.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Will Count Most At The First Debate

The first debate of the 2016 presidential campaign is about
to take place in Cleveland, Ohio where ten of the leading
candidates for the Republican nomination (as measured by
an amalgam of the latest public opinion polls) will take the
stage at a local arena, and appear before the national TV

The seven announced candidates who don’t make the cut
have been invited to appear in a second debate prior to the
main one. Some have objected to this as arbitrary and unfair,
but it is I think the fairest solution to the difficulty of
having so many candidates on the stage. As it is, ten figures
debating are “too many’ for a real debate, but those are the
circumstances of the 2016 campaign.

The 2016 campaign so far has been almost a completely
media-centered process, with various presidential hopefuls
taking turns to try and get favorable media coverage. With
so-called “front-running” candidates understandably acting
and speaking cautiously (so as not to jeopardize their lead),
this has provided opportunity for lower-tier candidates to
grab some attention in both parties’ contests.

This is exactly what happened. Senator Bernie Sanders of
Vermont has captured some momentum in the Democratic
race, and businessman Donald Trump has done the same in
the GOP race.

With the beginning of the debates (on the GOP side only for
now), voters across the nation will, for the first time, see the
candidates side by side. It won’t be a “true” debate, of course,
but it will enable many voters to form their first impressions
of the candidates in the context of the other candidates.

As in the media process, the goal for each candidate is to get
noticed, but the strategies being put forward by some
political observers and consultants might not be the most
important. Those strategies include being flamboyant and

This nomination process in both parties is going to be a long
process. First impressions are important, but resilience,
stature, coolness under fire, and communication skills will
be observed over many months before voters make their
final decisions.

The media will make the most of any quips, retorts and
other “gotcha” moments in the debate, but I suggest that the
most successful debaters will be those who communicate
that they are in command of their subjects when they answer
questions, and who are in command of the stage when they
are speaking. This will do their cause, in the long run, more
than any contender who simply seeks ‘sensational” moments.
Flubs, of course, don’t help (as Governor Rick Perry learned
in 2012), but too much caution can easily turn off viewers
who are looking for the candidates to engage with each other.

In the end, voters are looking to observe the “character” of
the contestants, but this notion of character is in a context of
how someone would perform as the chief executive of the
nation. Moreover, voters will be deciding over the course of the
debates and the whole campaign which of the candidates is
someone they want to see and hear every day for the next four

The best course for anyone in the debates is therefore foremost
to be themselves and to reveal their personal strengths. Most of
the media, especially the broadcast media, will focus on the
surface of the debate and its most sensational moments. They
will be less interested in “character,” and more interested in
the debate performance. That performance is, of course, of
interest, but I suggest that voters will, consciously or not, be
looking beyond any debate techniques, and “gotcha” moments.
They will be looking for their next president, and considering the
challenges and problems that will face that next president, that
search is as important as it has ever been in the lifetime of
anyone reading this.

Let the debates begin!

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.