Some thoughts I have on Trumpcare

I don’t quite think I have to reintroduce myself to all of you, but it truly has been a long time since I sat down and wrote a piece for the consumption of my readers. (Editing Cathy’s last piece and writing two articles for the Patriot Post doesn’t really count for that purpose, nor does updating my Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame page to add a couple player moves.) Unfortunately, things won’t improve on that front for some time, but the opportunity which presented itself to take my writing time was one I could not pass up.

But in this interregnum, we were given the bill to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, and since we are told President Trump has threatened to find primary opponents for any Republican who opposes it, I think I’m safe in calling this package Trumpcare. It’s still a government entitlement because there was a replace added with the repeal, and that already put a strike against it in my book.

The document I am going to base my initial impressions on will be the “talking point” document put out by the House GOP. To be honest, I really don’t have time at this point to read the original 123-page bill in depth, although I downloaded it for future reference and glanced through it to help with this piece. I look at this website as what the House Republicans are using as their chief selling points to the bill, so presumably this is their vision for federally-sponsored health care going forward. We have lived under Obamacare for about three years (as I recall, the major provisions did not all take effect before 2014, although some were in place shortly after the bill passed in 2010) so we know its effects: sizable increases in insurance premiums, a massive expansion of Medicaid (paid for in large part by Uncle Sam) to ratchet up the number of people with health insurance, subsidies for those who have less than a certain income yet are forced onto or choose to partake in the individual insurance market, the reduction in the number of competing insurance companies in many areas of the nation (some have just one insurer available to them), and the virtual elimination of catastrophic health insurance plans as insufficient for the needs of those insured. There were also a number of regulations and restrictions on insurers put in place, key among them the requirement of children being covered under a parent’s policy through the age of 26 and the elimination of discrimination based on pre-existing conditions.

With this massive incursion into private industry, for the first time the federal government required purchase of a product under penalty of law – those who chose not to buy health insurance were subject to a “shared responsibility payment” collected by the Internal Revenue Service. Imagine if you had to buy a car every four years whether you were happy with the one you had or not, and you may have the idea of how people felt about this. Obviously the economics of it were to make everyone pay a little something, but that’s not the way a free country is supposed to work for something that’s not essential to core functions of government.

Here are some of the provisions within the American Health Care Act (AHCA):

  • It “dismantles” the Obamacare taxes on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, health insurance premiums, and medical devices.

Okay, so far so good, although I suppose the definition of “dismantle” is in the eye of the beholder. I glanced through that section of the bill and it looks like this would not take effect immediately but at the end of this year. As a whole, individuals may see a little bit of savings but it won’t be something they will notice.

  • It eliminates the individual and employer mandate penalties.

This is perhaps the best news of all, but there is one huge catch to this: instead of paying this as a tax provision, you would have to pay a penalty to the insurance company in the form of a surcharge on premiums if you start up insurance again after not having it for a period of time. And that catch basically negates the whole benefit of removing the IRS from the equation, although I suppose an insurer could use the waiver of this surcharge as an incentive to bring people in.

  • It maintains the prohibition on charging more or denying insurance based on pre-existing conditions.

I have a big problem with this – not that it wouldn’t necessarily benefit me because I have asthma but because the idea for an insurance company is to make a profit by balancing the risks shared by the vast pool of policyholders with the expenses incurred by reimbursing those insured for loss. If someone is very likely to be a net loss to the insurer because they have a pre-existing condition, it should be the right of the insurer to refuse service. After all, banks don’t lend money at the prime interest rate to people who have poor credit records or no verifiable means of income because that would put their capital at too much risk for the return, so they either refuse the customer outright or charge an interest rate commensurate with the risk. That should be the right of a private insurer, too.

I was reading on social media that Maryland once had a high-risk pool for such patients, which was bankrolled by the state. While it’s not the use of taxpayer money that would be my most favorite, it is a state’s right to do so if they chose and there was nothing wrong with that system because it wasn’t directly competing with the private sector.

  • It keeps the provision of dependents being on their parents’ plan until they are 26.

This is another bad feature of Obamacare that should be buried with the rest of it. If you are 26 you should be able to stand on your own two feet and either be working for someone who offers insurance or be able to afford a plan on your own. (Or choose not to have insurance, which would be your right – although not necessarily recommended.)

  • AHCA also establishes what it calls a Patient and State Stability Fund.

Over the next nine years, the federal government will give out $100 billion to the states to assist them with their goals of insuring every citizen. I read quickly through this section and there are some provisions that give me heartburn: there are strings attached to the expenditure of the money and the states are required to come up with a larger and larger portion of matching funds for whatever they use the money for, up to 50 percent by the end of the program in 2026 – assuming, of course, this doesn’t become a more perpetual giveaway (which I’m convinced it will.) There is $15 billion allocated to this over the next two years and $10 billion per year after that, and I’m sure states will say this isn’t enough because they like that financial crack of Uncle Sugar’s money.

  • Modernize and strengthen Medicare by transitioning to a “per-capita allotment.”

The legalese on this one is beyond my scope of comprehension, but to me the idea of modernizing Medicare would be that of sunsetting it, not strengthening it.

  • Enhance and expand Health Savings Accounts.

One of the better features, although it would be even better with the free transfer of money between HSAs and other entities such as an IRA or 401 (k). If you needed more money in a particular year you should be able to move it without penalty.

  • A monthly tax credit for those who can’t afford insurance, up to $14,000 per year.

A subsidy under a different name. Basically they are replacing one tax scheme with another, still targeted to particular people.

All in all, I think the repeal should take place without the replace. It seems to me that we had a whole political movement and a bumper crop of angst spring up over the last eight years because people did not want any part of the government interference in their health care that Obamacare brought to us. Over that time, we lived with the disappointment of Republican excuses: “we’re only one half of one third of government,” “we have the House and Senate but the President won’t sign this,” “we can’t defund because there would be a government shutdown,” and so forth. After 2016, there was a Congress and President who campaigned on repeal, and yet you give us this?!?

A better alternative may be the plan presented by Senator Rand Paul, although it’s not perfect either. But it’s better than the GOP alternative, which is a great letdown for those of us who waited for the moment to eliminate the (not so) Affordable Care Act.

Thoughts on Ted Cruz and his endorsement of Donald Trump

September 25, 2016 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Thoughts on Ted Cruz and his endorsement of Donald Trump 

Let’s start off with my initial emotions on this announcement: disappointment, then resignation. I think this adequately captures both sides of the equation going forward, so allow me to elaborate.

I consider myself a limited-government conservative, or perhaps better described as a conservative with libertarian tendencies in a number of respects and areas. I often write about the idea of “rightsizing” the federal government down to a point where it does the minimum required of it in the Constitution, and this worldview affected my perception of the 2016 Presidential field. Ted Cruz was not my overall first choice out of the group, but of those remaining when Maryland’s day in the sun came back in late April he was – by miles – the best remaining choice in terms of my stated desire to reform the federal government in a Constitutional manner.

On the other hand, I had already heard and seen enough from Donald Trump to know that he wasn’t going to significantly improve the situation inside the Beltway. He had already backtracked and capitulated on enough campaign issues for me to see that he wasn’t going to be trustworthy enough to be the GOP standard-bearer. Although we went for a period of about 2 1/2 months before the Republican National Convention with the idea that there still were chances to derail the Trump train, the national Republican party (and Trump zealots) did their best to make sure that the “victory” Trump won (dubious at best, thanks to the number of open primaries) with just a plurality of the Republican vote would stand. In the end, many supporters of Ted Cruz as well as John Kasich were browbeaten into acceptance – the rest became the significant number of #NeverTrump folks out there, of which I was one. I would not accept Trump as the nominee, and my conscience would not allow me to work within an organization that promoted someone of dubious value to the conservative movement.

So when Ted Cruz stood at the podium of the convention and exhorted everyone to vote their conscience, I considered it a highlight of an otherwise pathetic coronation of The Donald as Republican nominee. My confidence in Trump upholding the planks of the GOP platform was about the same as the confidence that he could go a week without being on the media for saying something asinine – in both cases, about zero. The fact that the Trump people booed Ted Cruz off the stage was proof that they weren’t principled enough to stand before conservatives to defend their candidate when his bona fides were questioned.

Obviously I was not thrilled to see Cruz fall off the #NeverTrump wagon after all that transpired between Trump and “lyin’ Ted” during the primaries. (Of course, that assumes he was really ever on it.) But as Christians we pray to have our trespasses forgiven as we would those who trespass against us, and from the tenor of Cruz’s comments in his statement I think he has forgiven Donald Trump for what he said during the campaign as simple competitive rhetoric.

And Cruz has a number of political calculations he has to account for, too. After November the election season turns to the 2018 cycle, and Cruz is part of it as the junior Senator from Texas. Certainly there are already people in Texas politics smarting from the very fact that Cruz upset the establishment choice of former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the GOP primary there four years ago, but former Gov. Rick Perry is one of those rumored to be considering a 2018 run for Cruz’s seat. Opponents cite the alienation of Trump voters as just another factor against Cruz, since there’s also the perceived blame for the 2013 government slowdown and the reputation for being a boat-rocking troublemaker that Cruz carries. (It should be noted that all that baggage was supposed to sink Cruz’s presidential campaign early on, but he outlasted most of the rest of the field that was supposedly more palatable to the electorate.)

For all his issues, it’s clear that for Ted Cruz to have a political future he had to modify his stance on Trump, and that was made more convenient by the unqualified Democratic candidate and the pledge he took to support the Republican. Over the next four years he is more useful in the Senate than martyred by his own rhetoric.

So let’s say Trump loses, Cruz retains his Senate seat, and the Clinton/Kaine team continues the damage done by Obama/Biden. The question is whether people will be as passionate about Cruz in 2020 or if they will consider him damaged goods? Assuming Trump loses and doesn’t wish to try again at the age of 73, the early favorite in 2020 has to be Mike Pence – just as the first rights of refusal went to Sarah Palin in 2012 and Paul Ryan this year. But there will certainly be a crop of those who didn’t grasp the brass ring this year looking to seize the nomination: I would strongly suspect that group includes Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, and Bobby Jindal. All of them (except Kasich, who briefly ran in 2000) were first-time candidates – the political world seems to be that of just two strikes and being out, which eliminates guys like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee as old news. All but Kasich also seek the votes of strong conservatives, with Kasich being more of a moderate.

At this point I would still like to see Bobby Jindal make a 2020 run, as there’s little chance one of the 2016 crop knocks him off as the king of my hill. But someone new could strike my fancy or there could be a significant moderation in Jindal’s political views. Still, I would welcome Ted Cruz to the fray with open arms, knowing he had to do those things he may not have liked in order to keep his position of leadership in the conservative movement.

As for me, I remain #NeverTrump whether it’s politically damaging or not. Since politics is not my job I have little to lose but a lot to gain as I work to convince people of the benefits of limited government and support those inside politics who advocate it with actions, not words.

So who will be the “none at all?”

February 3, 2016 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Personal stuff, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on So who will be the “none at all?” 

To be quite honest I didn’t see the withdrawal of Rand Paul to be quite this soon, but the other day I noted in passing that Paul was among the bottom-feeders in both New Hampshire and South Carolina so once he performed poorly in Iowa there was really no need to move forward. His idea of trying to get 10,000 Iowa college students to caucus for him failed to the extent that he had a total of just 8,481 votes, drawing just 4.5% of the vote for a fifth-place finish (and one delegate.) And considering New Hampshire is the ground zero for the Free State Project – a group of libertarians who have vowed to move there to further their political activity in the state they determined was most conducive to their interests – you would have thought Paul, the most libertarian-leaning of the GOP candidates, would poll better than the measly 2 to 5 percent he was receiving in New Hampshire.  But he wasn’t, and his high-water mark there last summer was only in the 6% range.

(By the way, speaking of the Free State Project, they announced this morning that they have met their goal of 20,000 who pledge to move to the state, triggering a five-year clock for those who pledged to relocate. We’ll see how that does in the next half-decade.)

Meanwhile, Paul has a Democratic challenger for his Senate seat so he was surely getting pressure to abandon what was seeming to be a more and more futile quest for the Oval Office to protect a Republican Senate seat. (In the hopes his Presidential campaign would catch fire, Paul also managed to get Kentucky to have a Republican caucus in order to avoid having an issue with being on the ballot for two different offices, which is against state law.) His situation was different than the other Senators who are running (or have run): Ted Cruz isn’t up until 2018, Lindsey Graham was safe until 2020, and Marco Rubio declined re-election to the Senate to pursue his Presidential bid. (Among the names mentioned to replace Rubio was former Marylander Dan Bongino, who now lives in Florida.)

Yet there is a small but sufficient portion of the GOP that had as its motto, “Paul or none at all.” There was no other candidate they liked, so it remains to be seen how many will hold their nose and vote for the eventual GOP nominee, how many will migrate to the Libertarian candidate (odds are it will be former Republican aspirant Gary Johnson, who dropped out of the 2012 GOP field and became the Libertarian nominee later that year), and how many will just stay home. If the latter two numbers are too great, it obviously affects the Republicans’ hopes of getting back in the White House, but if the last number is high that could make Republican prospects of holding the Senate more unlikely as well.

Truth be told, I really liked Rand Paul as a candidate although I had a few reservations about his foreign policy. (On the domestic front he was nearly unbeatable.) Perhaps this is a good time for a reminder of my own level of support for these guys and how the field has shaken out since the process started last summer. Back at the end of September when I made my initial endorsement, the 17-person field had already lost Rick Perry and Scott Walker. Based on my level of support, this is how the race has elapsed:

  • Bottom tier: George Pataki, Donald Trump
  • Fourth tier: Chris Christie, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina
  • Third tier: Rick Santorum, Jim Gilmore, Ben Carson
  • Second tier: Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Lindsey Graham
  • Top tier (and these guys were miles ahead of the rest): Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal

Walker was being a disappointment and was trending toward the third or fourth tier, on the other hand Perry may have landed in my top five.

As you can see, I’m perilously close to holding my nose because the only one of my top five remaining is Ted Cruz. Yet those who support Paul don’t tend to like Cruz because they’re occasionally been rivals in the Senate and Cruz also has ties (both through his wife and financially) to Goldman Sachs – a bank libertarians love to hate. There are also those who question the whole “natural born citizen” aspect of Cruz’s (and Marco Rubio’s) candidacy, although that charge has been led mostly by supporters of Donald Trump.

Sadly, I suspect there really is a great number of Rand Paul supporters who will be the “none at all” contingent when it comes to November. When you have to pin your hopes on the equal disillusionment of Bernie Sanders supporters (who are bound to be hosed by the Clinton machine) it is worth wondering about the direction of this republic.

Update: As I was writing this, word came out that Rick Santorum is also suspending his campaign. Scratch another off the list.

The box we could be stuck in

After re-reading last night’s post, I think the time has come to explore a couple “what-if” scenarios. But first let’s consider the scene that is being set over the next couple weeks.

First, the prospect of severe winter weather may dampen turnout at the Iowa caucuses. The conventional wisdom is that this will hurt the Trump campaign the most and help Ted Cruz pad his margin of victory. Yet this assumption is based on the theories that Trump doesn’t have a significant “ground game” in Iowa; moreover, many of his supporters would be first-time caucus goers who could be intimidated by the lengthy process. The most recent samples of likely voters keep Trump in the 30-33% range (with Ted Cruz second at 23-27%) but if Trump turnout is soft Cruz can pull off the win.

However, if the polls stay valid in Iowa then Trump can win the first three contests as he holds 31% of the New Hampshire vote and 36% in South Carolina. It’s a demolition derby among the rest, but presumably half of the field will be gone by the time voters finish with South Carolina. The bottom five in Iowa are Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, and John Kasich, but in New Hampshire it’s Santorum, Huckabee, Rand Paul, Fiorina, and Ben Carson. Bottom-feeders in South Carolina are Santorum, Fiorina, Paul, Kasich, and Huckabee. Yet deducting just the three common names in the bottom five (Santorum, Huckabee, and Fiorina) only frees up 5.6% in Iowa, 4.9% in New Hampshire, and 4% in South Carolina, leading us into Super Tuesday (also known as the “SEC primary” since it’s mainly Southern states) on March 1. All these primaries are proportional, but come the middle of March we will begin to see the “winner-take-all” states come into play.

Bottom line: the longer some of these bottom-tier candidates hang on, the better chance we may see a candidate get the entire delegation with only 30 or 40 percent of the vote. It’s a scenario that favors a polarizing candidate like Donald Trump.

And if Trump gets the nomination, the Republicans will have quite the dilemma. Now I realize a number of people reading this are going to say the GOP deserves what they are getting, and to a great extent they are right. A little courage and leadership among more of our elected officials in Washington would have gone a long way in not upsetting the base voters who now support The Donald because they see him as a man of action, particularly on immigration and trade. These were both subjects the GOP chose to punt on, not wanting to risk alienating their most important constituency: the ruling class in Washington, D.C. So Donald Trump is a Frankenstein of the Republicans’ creation, they argue.

However, millions of Republicans may argue that Donald Trump would be the guy whose principles (or lack thereof) do not reflect the party’s brand to such an extent that they may decide to stay home from voting. And even if they begrudgingly hold their nose and select Trump, their dearth of enthusiasm will show up in a lack of willingness to take a yard sign, make phone calls, or otherwise do the little things that help a campaign win. While this situation is not good for the top of the ticket, it could spell the end of the GOP-controlled Senate we worked hard to gain in 2010 and 2014 – the former TEA Party wave is coming up for re-election in a Presidential year where turnout is higher. Despite their failings as a Senate, losing GOP control of it would be an unmitigated disaster for those who support liberty and limited government.

In 1992 I made the mistake of getting so mad at a Republican president for not sticking to his word that I voted for Ross Perot. Surely many of the millions who breathed life into the Reform Party for a time regretted it when Bill Clinton enacted his liberal agenda. (As proof: that coalition came back with a vengeance two years later in 1994 when Republicans took the House for the first time in four decades.)

But I may have a different reason for not voting for the GOP nominee in 2016. I have always deferred to the voters as far as their wisdom goes, and hopefully many thousands come to their senses before April 26 in Maryland. However, if they don’t, I have to admit that Trump is not the automatic selection that Dole, Bush 43, McCain, and Romney were despite the fact I supported none of them when I had a choice in the primary.

This may sound a little like hyperbole but I think a conservative direction beginning with this election is the only shot we have for survival as a nation – otherwise, we just tumble into the abyss Europe seems to be tottering into, just a decade or so behind them. I don’t like being a pessimist, but in doing this read option I see opposing defenders closing in all around me if I can’t make it to the daylight and open field of conservative governance. (A clunky football metaphor, but appropriate.)

Those who can’t stomach the thought of President Trump now hope against hope the game may soon be up; this elaborate ruse to attract attention eventually turns out to be reality TV fodder. But these people have said for the better part of a year that the bloom would soon be off the rose, yet we sit here days away from the Iowa caucuses and this political chameleon Donald J. Trump is leading the field both in the initial primary states and nationwide.

Perhaps the scariest thought to me, though, is that I’m used to Presidential candidates running right in the primary and tacking toward the center for the general election. Since Donald Trump is already left-of-center on a number of issues, do you seriously think he will move rightward after the convention? We will be stuck with the same situation we faced with President Bush: for his more liberal “compassionate conservative” ideas, Republicans had to bite the bullet and support them anyway because who crosses the titular head of the party?

It may come down to where President Trump = President Hillary = President Sanders. The philosophies may be closer than you think.

The problem with The Donald

Most of the news cycle of the last three days or so has been about the Iowa Republican debate, but the conversation centered about who was not there. I don’t recall nearly as much ink about Rand Paul missing the previous debate because he finished just outside the cutoff for the prime-time affair and refused to be an opening act. Last night, those opening act players were Carly Fiorina, Jim Gilmore, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum – the latter two then went to Donald Trump’s event set up to compete with the Fox news debate. (At least Gilmore was promoted to actually making a debate, so that’s progress for him.)

But this piece isn’t about the debate, but about something my friend Rick Manning wrote at NetRightDaily. In some respects it makes the same case I have been making about Trump all along.

A dealmaker by definition cuts deals, and Trump has by his own admission cut deals that used the government to serve his interests quite profitably. A dealmaker doesn’t stand on principle; instead, a dealmaker looks for common ground.

If the past seven years have taught me anything, it is that the Democrats are unrelenting in their pursuit of bigger, more expansive government, and the GOP consistently looks for common ground that is only partially disastrous, calling that a bipartisan win.

When Trump says he would repeal ObamaCare and replace it with a government-paid healthcare system, I believe him, and that makes me very uneasy.

Not because of the policy difference, but rather because what the policy difference reveals. It reveals a man who accepts big government and would expand it if the right deal were on the table. It reveals that a Trump presidency may be completely unmoored from the constitutional, limited government perspective that has traditionally driven Republican candidates.

In my study of the issues there are a number of areas, such as entitlements, ethanol, and even his tax plan, where Trump is far from a limited-government conservative. I will grant that my idea of limiting government in the case of entitlements and ethanol would be to sunset the programs and subsidies entirely over time, but part of that is not recalling just where in the Constitution it specified that the federal government had a role in retirement, supplying medical care, or propping up the fortunes of grain farmers. As far as the tax plan goes, whenever I see the idea of cutting rates at the low end and “paying” for it with reducing deductions for the top earners I know that the trust fund babies will find new loopholes in short order, leaving the government short and those business people who see accounting as a necessary evil (after all, they have a business to run and not beans to count) getting the shaft. You all know I would prefer a consumption-based system.

So when it comes to the “art of the deal” who do you think Trump will compromise with? Certainly the Republicans have nothing of interest to him since he is “representing” that party in the White House, so his dealing and compromise will be with the Democrats who we already know will bite the arm off anyone reaching across the aisle. The middle ground between the left-of-center (on most domestic issues except for immigration) Trump and the foaming-at-the-mouth statist Democrats promises to be right about where Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would govern anyway. In the case of Trump Republicanism, there truly is not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties.

A look ahead: 2016 on the national front

December 31, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Personal stuff, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on A look ahead: 2016 on the national front 

Well, kids, how shall I say this?

Rather than type out my grievances about what we won’t see that I’ve had over the last two years, suffice to say that we have an election coming up where everyone will promise to do something about it. The sad thing is that, with a few exceptions, they’ve been in a position to do something and failed to act – so why should we believe them now?

Granted, I think there would be a far better chance at resolution with a Rand Paul or Ted Cruz in charge than a Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, but at this early date we have no idea who will win. I don’t either, but it is fair to say that, for an open election, the people who lead in December rarely are the ones taking office thirteen months later.

With that said, I’m not going to take up a lot of time or effort. Have a Happy New Year, don’t wipe out our company on their way to/from our house, and I’ll see you on the other side.

There you have it – short, sweet, and to the point in 200 words or less.

The end of Graham’s road

December 21, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on The end of Graham’s road 

It was a campaign that experts didn’t give much of a chance and in the end they were proven correct. But on the last day he could withdraw from his home state Presidential ballot, Lindsey Graham decided to throw in the towel on his Presidential bid. Graham could never get over 2% in the polls or off the 6:00 debate, so the impact on the race won’t be much for the remaining candidates.

But out of a group that occupied the middle of my personal pack, Graham was actually on top for a couple reasons: a well-thought out foreign policy and some good ideas when it came to trade and job creation. Yet the fact he would probably be embarrassed with his showing in his home state, coupled with the likelihood his money was running out, probably were the factors that led Graham to withdraw.

Granted, 1% (if that) isn’t much in the race. But the question still remains about where Graham’s supporters may turn and I suspect the answer is Marco Rubio – a guy who could use a little shot in the arm. Rubio seems to be fading to the back of the top four contenders – a group that includes Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson with Rubio. Rubio seems to be holding his position on the ladder as Ben Carson slides down the polling chute, but support isn’t growing at the pace that Cruz and Trump are enjoying. Nor can Rubio get out of third in any state except New Hampshire, and there his hold on his distant second behind Trump is more and more tenuous.

So Graham can go back to being a full-time Senator, while the other two who are under 1 percent in the polls – Rick Santorum and George Pataki – will be on the South Carolina ballot. Each of them, though, really has a one-state strategy, with Santorum trying to reclaim his magic in Iowa and Pataki circling New Hampshire. They probably don’t have the money to compete for another month, though.

Counting Jim Gilmore, we are now down to 13 contenders from the original 17, although Graham is the first of the four sitting United States Senators to bow out. Among that quartet, decision time looms for Rand Paul, who is up for re-election to his Senate seat, while Marco Rubio has already announced he will not return and Ted Cruz isn’t up until 2018. (The same goes for Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side.)

I suspect by the time the next debate occurs we may only have nine or ten remaining on the GOP side. There’s just not enough money to support more candidates.

Debating the need

December 16, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Debating the need 

Apparently they had a debate last night.

I think I watched the first main event (since I didn’t get back home in time for the now-infamous “kiddie table” debate) but since then I have chosen to spend my time on other, more useful pursuits like doing my website. Unfortunately, until you get down to a manageable number of people (about five to six at the most) it’s not worth the effort. (Granted, the more recent warmup debates should have been quite good with only four people participating.)

But I wonder how the race would have gone had they used my original idea of randomly selecting six participants per debate and doing three in one evening. It’s probable that the general order may have stayed fairly close, but when you are depending on a poll to determine debate placement that has a margin of error larger than the amount of support some in the bottom tier were getting, there could have been people taken off the main stage who may have deserved a place. Who knows: if the Donald would have had the bad luck of the draw to be outside prime time in the first couple of debates he may be closer to the pack or even out of the race. Just food for thought.

It seems to me that the debates are now sort of like an NFL Sunday. In the 1:00 games you have the teams without a great fanbase or that are doing so-so…sort of like the early debate. It’s the 4:25 national game and the 8:15 primetime game that people care about – in fact, NBC gets to pick the game it wants in the last few weeks of the season, with some exceptions. So the prime-time game the other night would have been the Cruz Cowboys taking on the Trump Generals. (Yes, I had to borrow from the old USFL but Trump owned the New Jersey Generals so it fit. In fact, the ill-fated idea to move the USFL to a fall schedule was his.) Anyway, supporters of every candidate watch and keep score like a fantasy football game, and everyone is confident of victory. My social media was filled with commentary.

One thing that the debates were supposed to provide, though, was some winnowing of the field – so far it hasn’t changed a whole lot. With several governors in the race originally but the general political mood being that of seeking an outsider, 2016 wasn’t the year for Rick Perry in his second try or Scott Walker or Bobby Jindal in their first. Notably, Walker was the only main-stage debater to withdraw, although had he not he would likely have been relegated to the second-tier thanks to his polling support evaporating rapidly. Perry just missed the cut for the first debate to John Kasich and never really recovered, while Jindal never caught on (unfortunately.) On the other hand, people seem to hate how John Kasich and Jeb Bush perform in debates but they continue to qualify – meanwhile, the rules were bent a little bit to put Carly Fiorina in the second debate and Rand Paul in the most recent one.

But if you go back to the first of October (and I’m looking at the RCP universe of polls) you’ll find the following movement:

  • Trump +11 (27 to 38, with a range 22-41)
  • Cruz +8 (7 to 15, with a range 4-22)
  • Rubio -1 (13 to 12, with a range 8-17)
  • Carson -5 (17 to 12, with a range 9-29)
  • Bush -5 (10 to 5, with a range 3-10)
  • Christie +2 (2 to 4, with a range 1-4)
  • Kasich -2 (4 to 2, with a range 1-4)
  • Fiorina -5 (6 to 1, with a range 1-7)
  • Paul 0 (2 to 2, with a range 1-5)
  • Huckabee -3 (4 to 1, with a range 1-5)
  • Graham 0 (1 to 1, with a range 0-2)
  • Pataki -1 (1 to 0, with that being his range)
  • Santorum -2 (2 to 0, with that being his range)
  • They don’t poll for Jim Gilmore. I think he’s still in it.

We actually have 3% more undecided than we did before. But you can see that after the top four, picking the next tier can be tricky because several are polling under the margin or error. Even with these debates, the sheer amount of headlines Donald Trump creates have done more to pad his lead than the formal gatherings.

I imagine the bottom-feeders are putting their eggs into one basket at this point. Jeb Bush still has quite a bit of money, while Chris Christie, John Kasich, and George Pataki are playing to do well in New Hampshire. On the other hand, candidates with evangelical or populist appeal like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum are counting on Iowa. I guess Carly Fiorina is basing her appeal on her gender, Rand Paul is trying to light a fire under his dad’s supporters in the libertarian part of the GOP, and Lindsay Graham is likely hoping to use his home state as a springboard.

But even with Bobby Jindal withdrawing – granted, he was only getting 1 to 2 percent – the only gainers since October are Trump and Cruz. Ben Carson’s meteoric rise is now a free fall; however, he’s still in the top four that command nearly 3 out of 4 GOP voters. The other 10 are fighting over that last quarter.

We will know by year’s end who will go on, as the fundraising totals have to be in. I suspect there may be fewer chairs needed for that debate.

Grassroots appeal?

October 27, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2016 - President, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Grassroots appeal? 

Lost in all the bluster of the Donald Trump phenomenon is the fact he doesn’t really have much of a grassroots organization, at least until now. But in my e-mailbox is the first indication that’s about to change.

The Trump movement that swept the nation and changed Republican politics forever has finally arrived in Maryland. Supporters of Donald J. Trump announced today a grassroots campaign to organize neighborhood outreach and meetings in every Congressional District in Maryland.

Marking their calendar for the CNBC-hosted Republican debate scheduled for October 28 (8 pm), the Maryland For Trump campaign is asking Trump supporters to join debate-watch parties across the state and rally for their candidate.

Pointing to a recent statement by Breitbart, Maryland political activist Ruth Melson noted: “The most important reason that Donald Trump should be the Republican nominee is that America needs a course correction!

Ms. Melson further noted: “Maryland is of little consequence in Republican politics.  We are now rallying for Trump because he can win Maryland in November 2016.  Trump is the only Republican who can win the General Election.”  (Emphasis in original.)

That’s interesting because Trump trails both Hillary and Bernie Sanders in the RCP average – on the other hand, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson lead Clinton in hypothetical matchups, albeit some of the polling is three months old. Nationally, though, Carson has edged ahead of Trump among GOP voters.

Both Carson and Trump have wide swaths of somewhat disorganized supporters who seem to exist in their own vacuums for the most part. Because they have won elected office, others like Rand Paul or Ted Cruz have their own support organizations left over from previous runs – in their cases, the votes were cast in one state but the campaigns were nationwide. Most of the others in the race have similar networks, some cultivated from previous presidential runs.

Yet aside from his immigration stance and his slogan, supporters might be hard-pressed to come up with what Donald Trump stands for. Certainly he’s the most polarizing figure in the race, with a significant percentage stating they wouldn’t vote for Trump under any circumstances. That grassroots is arguably just as devoted as the Trumpets are.

I know it’s anecdotal evidence, but in dealing with over 300 people who came to our booth during the recent festivals I found a good number of Trump supporters but also a batch who would have filled an “anyone but Trump” jar. This was either because they thought he was an a–hole or because they regarded the whole thing as a sideshow.

With just a few months left before the primary, the Trump campaign may be getting the hint they have to cater to actual voters on the ground. Celebrity can get a lot of people to a rally, but those with a casual interest want to know what is in it for them. Trump dishes out what he thinks is red meat, but to me it’s all sizzle and no steak with no ground game.

Impressions

October 11, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2016 - President, Delmarva items, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Impressions 

You’ll see more on my usual pictorial post tomorrow, but this evening I want to give my thoughts on where the political scene is among Delmarva beer drinkers.

Given that we were in the same situation as we were four years ago, in the early stages of a presidential campaign with multiple candidates, it was a no-brainer to do a poll of those attending. We chose to do a corn poll, where participants took a kernel and tossed it in the Mason jar of their candidate’s choice. And while the winner turned out to be Ben Carson, who eked out a narrow four-point victory, the general topic of conversation was one Donald J. Trump.

There were many who liked him, but for two different reasons. Most fell into the “he’s an outsider and we need to shake things up” camp, but there were a few who simply liked the ongoing circus. Many in that group considered Trump an “a–hole.” (It seemed women were more apt to use that term, too.) On the other hand, those who preferred Carson were more quiet about it.

It’s somewhat instructive, though, to recall that Herman Cain looked like a shoo-in for the 2012 GOP nomination at this stage in the race while eight years ago the polling was tight between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. The point is a lot can change, and if we go to the “next in line” as 2012 seemed to work, your nominee would be Rick Santorum, who is outside the top 10 in polling.

Yet I have to admit that those who believe Trump’s campaign will falter have been writing the same stories since the summer, if only to say they predicted it would happen. Driving out of the event on Saturday, though, I was behind a truck with a brand new Trump sticker on it, to go with a number of other stickers for candidates of both parties.

“The Donald” was definitely the leading cause of conversation in our little corner of the Good Beer Festival. At this point, the next question is whether he can win the old-fashioned way with retail politics. Sure, having large rallies is nice but how many are doing the field work. Our side thought Mitt Romney would win big based on his crowd turnout, but that’s not the way it went.

If you don’t like Donald Trump, you may be better off not dropping by our space next week unless you want your blood pressure to spike, I think he’ll be the hot topic once again.

One other quick observation. Rand Paul did tremendously better on Saturday than he did on Sunday. The reason? College students tend to come to the event on Saturday, while the crowd is significantly older on Sunday. It made a big difference on Paul’s support.

We’ll see how wine drinkers compare next week.

2016 dossier: Intangibles and the endorsement

When I started this process back in June, the field of Republican presidential hopefuls was still expanding. Now that October is almost here, the roster is shrinking as Rick Perry and Scott Walker have already left and, aside from Carly Fiorina who was promoted to the main event, the half-dozen or so who didn’t make the initial Fox News debate almost two months ago now are on the endangered list. (Perry was one of the also-rans then; based on the most recent polling data Scott Walker was bound to slide out of the top ten or eleven before the next debate.)

But I’m ignoring the polling data in order to wrap up my personal process. My polling data will have 100% support for whoever comes out on top, and the five remaining points I award for intangibles finishes the 100-point scale, which began with education, the Second Amendment, and energy, then continued with social issues, trade and job creation, and taxation before concluding with immigration, foreign policy, entitlements, and the role of government.

I have decided that those candidates who have served as governors will get one point for that, so the first point accrues to Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Jim Gilmore, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, and George Pataki. After eight years where we lacked executive political experience in the White House, I think we need it back.

Up to two more points will be awarded (or deducted) for the candidate’s website. Admittedly this is a little picayune; however, the presentation and willingness to be concise and persuasive on issues reflects to me on how they will act accordingly as President.

So there are two candidates who get both points: Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. Both are well-organized and have an abundance of information about where they stand.

Just behind them with very good, one-point websites are Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina (whose Answers segment is rather unique), Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, and John Kasich.

On the other hand, I was disappointed with other websites for lack of clarity, poor layout, or a general lack of attention to detail. Ted Cruz falls into that category of one-point deductions, as does George Pataki and Donald Trump.

Rick Santorum loses two points, simply because he has promised an economic plan “in a few short weeks” since June. It’s almost like he’s going through the motions of having a website.

Finally, there are other issues people bring up which may not fit into one of my categories.

Jeb Bush has an interesting take on cyber security, which will add a point to his score.

Total score for Bush – 3.0 of 5 points.

Ben Carson gets kudos for this piece as only he can, being the one black Republican in the race.

Total score for Carson – 1.0 of 5 points.

Chris Christie fills up his tree by discussing criminal justice reform and having the belief that veterans should be able to use any available medical facility, not just VA hospitals and clinics.

Total score for Christie – 4.0 of 5 points.

Although I could have added this to the role of government, Ted Cruz‘s actions in defending the Constutution are worth mentioning..

Total score for Cruz – 1.0 of 5 points.

Carly Fiorina answers at least 80 valid questions on her site, and I agree with her on many not brought up previously.

Total score for Fiorina – 3.0 of 5 points.

I checked to see if I alluded to Jim Gimore‘s stance on climate change when I discussed energy and I had not. He’s a skeptic of anthropogenic climate change, which is a point in my book. Otherwise, I’ve covered his issues.

Total score for Gilmore – 2.0 of 5 points.

I didn’t gain anything from Lindsey Graham insofar as issues went, so he just gets the one point for the site.

Total score for Graham – 1.0 of 5 points.

One thing I like about Mike Huckabee‘s site is the record as governor. Certainly it glosses over some items but it’s a helpful reminder he wasn’t just a face on TV.

Total score for Huckabee – 3.0 of 5 points.

Something Bobby Jindal addresses on his site, which I haven’t seen much of otherwise, is radical Islam. It’s worth a point.

Total score for Jindal – 3.0 of 5 points.

I think John Kasich has beefed up his website over the course of this process, turning a negative into a positive.

Total score for Kasich – 2.0 of 5 points.

George Pataki has a poor website that lacks an issue page.

Total score for Pataki – 0.0 of 5 points.

I love the diversity of Rand Paul and his issues, which includes civil liberties and auditing the Fed.

Total score for Paul – 4.0 of 5 points.

Splashed on the front of the Marco Rubio website was a proposal for paid leave, which is a problem. But he is taking the fight to Hillary, which is a plus. It’s one of a plethora of items he’s placed on his site.

Total score for Rubio – 4.0 of 5 points.

Rick Santorum doesn’t tread any new ground with his issues, so he stands where he was.

Total score for Santorum – (-2.0) of 5 points.

Donald Trump has a slightly better website, but still not up to snuff.

Total score for Trump – (-1.0) of 5 points.

It’s time to determine who should be our next President – the one who will have a raging mess to clean up.

From the bottom up we go:

  • George Pataki – 20.3 points
  • Donald Trump – 29 points
  • Chris Christie – 39.1 points
  • John Kasich – 40.5 points
  • Jeb Bush – 41.1 points
  • Carly Fiorina – 42.6 points
  • Rick Santorum – 44.5 points
  • Jim Gilmore – 45.5 points
  • Ben Carson – 46.2 points
  • Marco Rubio – 49.6 points
  • Mike Huckabee – 52.5 points
  • Lindsey Graham – 52.8 points

I’m going to stop right there because my top three were head and shoulders above the rest of the field – a nearly 20-point spread. So I’m going to recommend two and endorse the winner.

Ted Cruz finished with 71.1 points. There was a point where he was leading but he slipped in a couple categories.

But where I could see him as an excellent President is his willingness to fight for principle. He hasn’t had a lot of success up to now because he’s saddled with a body of 99 others who mainly seem unable or unwilling to follow his lead as he tries to restore the pre-eminence of the Constitution.

Rand Paul was second-best with 74.4 points. The overall breadth of his platform is excellent, and while I may not be on board with his foreign policy I think he has learned from the extreme positions of his father. Both Cruz and Paul are champions of limited government, and a nation with a President Paul would rally back to its proper place in the world.

Unfortunately, neither of those two have significant executive experience while the man who has won the monoblogue endorsement does. Governor Bobby Jindal combines that leadership quality with some of those most well-thought out policy positions in the field. He scored 79.3 points, which meant he pretty much won this before the intangibles.

Now I’m aware of the report which was based on “experts” predicting Jindal would be next out. That would be a complete shame because out of all the candidates I can see Jindal being a modern-day Calvin Coolidge – reducing the budget in real terms (as he did in Louisiana), getting government out of the way, and bringing true prosperity back to the nation by allowing us to be an energy superpower.

It’s my job to begin reversing those polls and putting a thumb in the eye of those “experts.” Bobby Jindal wins my endorsement for President of the United States.

2016 Dossier: Role of government

September 24, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on 2016 Dossier: Role of government 

In my final category, I have reviewed my previous work to get an idea of just what impact I believe these candidates will have in two distinct directions: right-sizing government in terms of power and in reducing spending to take less money out of everyone’s pocket. (Because we don’t mandate a balanced budget, this is a little different than strict taxation, although taxation played a role in this effort.)

There are two other factors I think are important here. I believe Rand Paul is the only one on record to eliminate entire Cabinet departments now that Rick Perry is out. Paul will also end the Patriot Act, which should be allowed to expire.

On the fiscal side, Bobby Jindal is a governor who has actually cut spending since taking office. And we’re not talking the phantom Martin O’Malley-style “cuts” but actually less money, to the tune of nearly $3 billion from his predecessor in his first budget. Spending has only increased modestly in the years since. (Compare this to Larry Hogan, who was hailed as a budget cutter for only increasing spending a percentage point or two from his predecessor.)

For this understanding of the role of government, they get an extra two points apiece over and above what I would give them.

Ted Cruz gets extra points for this. We need a fighter.

Jeb Bush, of all people, has some idea of how to approach the issue, too. So I gave him an extra point and a half.

I liked what Ben Carson had to say about the size of government so he got an extra point for this. the same goes for Carly Fiorina’s critique.

On the other hand, this critique of Mike Huckabee enhances his reputation as a big-government populist, just like John Kasich has his critics. Marco Rubio also has a reputation as a “reformocon” embracing expanding government.

Populism such as that of Rick Santorum can also lead to bigger government.

Since this is a fourteen-point category, I started everyone off with seven points. Things I saw to reduce the size and scope of government got a + on my ledger and things which made government bigger got a (-). I added each + to 7, subtracted each minus, and gave the bonus points to come out with these numbers:

  • Rand Paul, 14 points
  • Ted Cruz, 13 points
  • Bobby Jindal, 13 points
  • Carly Fiorina, 9 points
  • Lindsey Graham, 9 points
  • Ben Carson, 7 points
  • Mike Huckabee, 7 points
  • Jim Gilmore, 6 points
  • Rick Santorum, 6 points
  • Donald Trump, 6 points
  • Chris Christie, 5 points
  • John Kasich, 5 points
  • Marco Rubio, 5 points
  • Jeb Bush, 3.5 points
  • George Pataki, 3 points

So I have come down to a handful of intangibles and a final decision. That will be in my final Dossier post early next week – hopefully the field will stay at 15 long enough to let me write it.

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