Wednesday, March 30, 2016

2016 may be the year of the third party

Michael Vadon/Flickr
2016 has already proven to be the year in which the rules of previous election years were discarded. The putative outsider Donald Trump leads the delegate race for the Republican presidential nomination in spite of the fact that he isn’t a conservative, supports unconservative policies such as universal healthcare and breaks all the rules of decorum and civility associated with politics. From the left, Bernie Sanders, an avowed democratic socialist, has challenged the Clinton political machine for the Democratic nomination. From the center left, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has hinted at a possible run for president under a third party banner. Mainstream Republicans are calling for a third candidate to oppose Trump if he wins the nomination. In a normal year, a third party would do little more than siphon votes from one of the two major parties, but, in a year when all the rules are being broken, could a third party candidate win?

For now, Bloomberg has backed away from a presidential run, but may change if Hillary Clinton is indicted or loses the nomination to Bernie Sanders. Many Democrats like Sanders, but feel that an out-of-the-closet socialist is not electable. Hillary Clinton, although liked by few and trusted by fewer, is looked upon as the safe bet for Democrats. Nevertheless, if Clinton wins the nomination and is then indicted by the FBI or otherwise implodes, Bloomberg might run to give liberals and moderates a viable option.

There is a different scenario under which a third party candidate could actually become president. This scenario involves Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination. A significant portion of Republicans are rallying around the #NeverTrump Twitter hashtag and pledging to vote for the Democratic nominee or simply stay home if Mr. Trump wins the Republican nomination.

Under the second scenario, a third (or fourth) party conservative candidate would challenge Donald Trump from the right on behalf of aggrieved conservative voters who dislike Mr. Trump’s political positions and personality and who worry that his candidacy would damage the Republican brand for a generation. In February, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) became the first Republican to declare that he could not support Trump and called for a third option if Trump won the nomination. 

Under this scenario, the third party candidate would not have to win the election outright. The strategy would be to deny both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump an Electoral College majority. This could be accomplished by picking off strategic states from both the blue and red columns. For example, a conservative third candidate might win Texas where Ted Cruz bested Trump in the primary. Ohio, where John Kasich beat Trump might also be a possibility. Given the weakness and unpopularity of Hillary Clinton, some blue collar Democrat states might also go third party. Pennsylvania, Iowa, the Rust Belt state of Wisconsin would be possibilities.

Under the Constitution, if no candidate receives a majority in the Electoral College, each state’s delegation to the House of Representatives gets one vote to decide the election. In this situation, the Senate would choose the vice-president from the top two finishers. With Republicans in control of the lame duck Congress, the House would be unlikely to choose Hillary or Donald Trump if another option was available.

To have a prayer of success, a third party conservative would need several attributes. First, with little time between the Republican convention in July and the general election in November, the candidate would have to be well known to the American public at the beginning of the campaign. There would be no time for the “get acquainted” period enjoyed by Ross Perot during his semi-successful third party run in the 90s or the long runup to the nomination that allowed relative unknowns like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Bernie Sanders to be catapulted to national status. Good and popular conservatives such as Mike Lee (R-Utah) and former Florida congressman Allen West would be probably not work because they are not well known outside the conservative movement.

Second, the candidate would have to have the ability to unite the various anti-Trump factions of the Republican Party under his third party banner. With Trump winning 30-40 percent of the vote in Republican primaries, 60-70 percent of Republicans still oppose him, but they are fragmented into several factions. There is the establishment, the Tea Party, national security conservatives, economic conservatives, libertarians, and evangelicals to name a few. It must also be assumed that a number of anti-Trump Republicans will vote for him anyway simply because of the (R) after his name. Any candidate that represents only one faction, such as Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush, would be unlikely to unite the disparate factions of the GOP.

Many states also have sore loser laws that prevent a candidate from running as an independent after losing a partisan primary. The effectiveness and constitutionality of these laws is questionable, but an opponent could conceivably use them to keep a previous candidate off the ballot in the general election. For this reason, any conservative who was a candidate in the Republican primaries would not be a likely third party challenger. We can say “adios” to Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, John Kasich and Carly Fiorina.

The third party challenger would also need support from within the current Republican Party. Current Republican politicians would need to steer voters away from Donald Trump and toward the third party candidate. While some Republicans have endorsed Mr. Trump already, many Republicans will probably never get on board the Trump train.

Because a candidate launching a campaign just a few months before the election would have little time for fundraising, personal wealth would also be a plus. Like Bloomberg and Trump, who have the wherewithal to spend large sums of their personal fortunes on a presidential campaign, a conservative third candidate would clearly benefit from being rich. If the candidate did not have his own money, he would need quick access to conservative donors such as Sheldon Adelson or the Koch brothers.

There are precious few potential candidates who meet all or even most of these requirements. The most obvious potential candidate is Mitt Romney who came within a whisker of beating Barack Obama in 2012 and who looked even better to American voters in retrospect. In recent weeks, Romney has launched sharp criticism of Donald Trump over his refusal to release his tax returns and the Trump campaign’s connections to racist groups. Romney has also recorded anti-Trump robocalls for Ted Cruz.

It is unclear at this point whether Romney is positioning himself to run as a conservative alternative to The Donald or whether he is just trying blunt Trump’s lead over this year’s candidates. Romney may also be thinking forward to a contested convention. If the three frontrunners emerge from the primary fight without a majority of delegates and too bruised to win the general election, Republican delegates might look to Romney to be the party’s “white knight” as a consensus nominee.

Another interesting possibility is to send in the Marines. Specifically, there has been a recent groundswell of support for a movement to draft retired Marine General James Mattis. In the Daily Beast John Noonan compared Mattis to President Eisenhower and called him the “only hope” to “save us from Trump – and Clinton.” Noonan says that Mattis, a political outsider with a strong foreign policy and national security resume, would satisfy voter desires for “a strong leader, one who is upright, honest, and unstained by political blood sport.” On the downside, Mattis is not a household name.

Last week, Mattis, nicknamed the “Warrior Monk,” was asked about the “draft Mattis” movement. The Daily Caller reported that he answered, “I think it’s merely idle chatter,” an answer that effectively ducked the question.

A third possibility for a third candidate is Gary Johnson of the established perennial spoiler, the Libertarian Party. A recent Monmouth poll found the former Republican governor of New Mexico and 2012 Libertarian presidential candidate at 11 percent. While this is a distant third to Hillary and Trump who polled at 42 and 34 percent respectively, it is an order of magnitude higher than Johnson’s actual performance in 2012 when he won one percent of the vote and no electoral votes. Libertarian candidates are normally statistical blips. This year, the Libertarian Party has the advantage of having a developed network to get on the ballot in all 50 states.

A firm rule of American politics is that third parties never win. Most often, they hurt the party that they are more closely aligned with and throw the election to their ideological opponents. What we have seen so far, however, is that 2016 is a year like no other. This year anything can happen… or so it seems.

Read it on Conservative Firing Line and Freedom Daily

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Did Trump really win the Hispanic vote in Webb County, Texas?

A post-Super Tuesday article from the Laredo (Texas) Morning Times is making the rounds on the internet. According to those posting the article, Donald Trump’s primary election victory in Webb County Texas proves that Trump can win Hispanic voters in spite of his immigration policies, which include deportation of all illegal immigrants and a 40-foot tall wall along the Mexican border. Critics have argued that Trump’s proposals, along with rhetoric calling illegal immigrants “criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.” will drive Latino voters to the Democratic Party.

Webb County is a west Texas county that includes the border city of Laredo. The county is 95 percent Latino according to the US Census so when Donald Trump won the Republican primary there on March 1, many took it as a sign that warnings about Trump’s harsh immigration rhetoric were off base.

The headline of the Laredo Morning Times on March 2 asked the question, “How did Trump win Webb County?” The article went on to note that Webb County was one of only six in the State of Texas that were won by Trump. The British newspaper, The Guardian, picked up the story with the headline, “Trump dominates in Texas border town where proposed wall would be built.”

The vote in Webb County was close. According to the Morning Times, “Ted Cruz won 1,155 votes in Webb County and Marco Rubio won 1,163, an eight-vote difference ― a true split.” Trump edged out the two Hispanic senators with 1,427 votes leading Webb County Republican Party Chairman Randy Blair to speculate, “I really think the main reason he won in Webb is because the two [candidates] behind him split the Hispanic vote.”

While this theory may be true, the most important aspect of Trump’s victory in Webb County is missing from both the Morning Times and the Guardian. The obvious questions for inquiring minds are what percentage of Republican voters in Webb County were Hispanic and how did Donald Trump and his immigration proposals stack up against Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders?

The first question is unanswerable. Exit polls were not taken for Webb County. The closest we can come is to look at statewide exit polls for Texas from the New York Times. These show that, even though Latinos make up 40 percent of the population of Texas according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, only 10 percent of Republican primary voters were Hispanic. In contrast, 28 percent of voters in the Democratic primary were Hispanic.

If this holds true for Webb County, it would mean that Hispanic voters were drastically underrepresented in the county’s vote for Donald Trump. It would also explode the myth that Webb County Hispanics were rallying behind Donald Trump and his wall.

The answer to the second question can help to answer the first. The Morning Times also published full primary election results for both parties. Comparing Democratic and Republican primary results can help determine how excited Webb County Hispanics are about both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

The Republican primary results were [results for candidates who have withdrawn are not shown]:
Donald Trump
1,427 votes
34.90 percent
Marco Rubio
1,163 votes
28.44 percent
Ted Cruz
1,155 votes
28.25 percent
John Kasich
61 votes
1.49 percent

Looking to the Democratic primary, the results were:
Hillary Clinton
18,559 votes
71.86 percent
Bernie Sanders
6,177 votes
23.92 percent

When the two primary elections are compared, Trump’s miraculous victory among Hispanics evaporates quickly. There were 4,063 Republican votes compared to 25,826 votes for Democrats. To put that into perspective, the Democratic runner-up received more votes than the top three Republican candidates combined. This is not an encouraging sign for Republicans.

Looking at the numbers a little more deeply, we can see that Trump’s share of the total vote was roughly equivalent to the white share of Webb County’s total population. His Webb County victory required Trump to win few, if any, Hispanic votes.

Where some Trump supporters are lauding the Webb County results, they actually show a major weakness that could prevent both Trump and Cruz from beating Hillary Clinton in November. Previous polling has indicated that most Americans favor a pathway to citizenship and oppose deportation of all illegal immigrants. These numbers are even stronger in the Hispanic community. In many of the must-win swing states, Hispanic voters may be the deciding factor. Based on the results so far, it appears that Hispanic swing voters would break heavily for the Democratic candidate.

The Webb County results should not surprising. The southwest corner of Texas is the most Democratic part of the state. Historic election results from 2008 and 2012 show that Webb County voted for Barack Obama in both elections. In fact, the 13 percent of votes garnered by all Republicans is markedly worse than the 22 percent won by Mitt Romney in 2012.

Exit polls were not conducted in Texas in 2012, but Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote nationally. Republicans must improve on this number if they want to win the White House.

While primary voters are not an accurate representation of the general electorate, these numbers should be alarming to Republicans. Hispanic primary voters in a deeply red state have roundly rejected both Republican frontrunners in favor of Hillary Clinton. This should be a wakeup call to the Trump and Cruz campaigns that they need to tone down their anti-immigrant and anti-Mexico rhetoric.

Interestingly, the presence of Marco Rubio, an immigration reform proponent, also did not bring Hispanic voters over to the GOP. There are several possible reasons for this. First, Texas Hispanics are primarily of Mexican descent, where both Cruz and Rubio are of Cuban descent. The two Hispanic Republicans might fare better in other states where the Hispanic population is more diverse. Second, there is the fact that Hispanic primary voters are skewed more to the Democratic Party and its track record of immigration amnesty. In any case, all three Republican candidates have work to do in reaching out to the Hispanic community.

To win the presidency, the Republican candidate must flip the states of Florida, Iowa, Ohio, and Virginia that were won by Obama twice. Many swing voters in these states are Hispanic or naturalized Americans. The Webb County results show that these voters are unlikely to abandon Hillary Clinton and the Democrats for Donald Trump and his wall.

Read it on Conservative Firing Line and Freedom Daily

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Should Marco Rubio drop out?

After his underwhelming showing Super Tuesday, many Republicans are calling on Marco Rubio to drop out of the presidential race in order to unify conservatives behind Ted Cruz. Increasingly, many conservative Republicans see Cruz as the only viable alternative the candidacy of Donald Trump. Cruz himself called on Rubio to drop out just before Rubio won the Minnesota caucuses on Super Tuesday.

The next round of primaries in on March 5-6 with votes in Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine and Puerto Rico. A few days later on March 8, Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan and Mississippi go to the polls. On March 12, the District of Columbia and Guam hold their primaries.

Of all these elections, only Kentucky and Michigan have recent polls according to Real Clear Politics. In a Kentucky poll from before the Houston debate where Rubio unloaded on Donald 
Trump, Rubio trails Trump by 13 points. Cruz is seven points behind Rubio. In Michigan, the most recent polling shows Rubio and Cruz in a dead heat with both of them 15 points behind Donald Trump. Again this poll, was prior to the Houston debate.

One of the overlooked points from the Super Tuesday primaries is that, in spite of winning, Donald Trump underperformed compared to the polling. In Oklahoma, Trump was favored to win by 11 points, but lost to Cruz by six. In Virginia, Trump was up by 13 points, but only beat Rubio three points.
In other states such as Georgia, Tennessee and Texas, Trump also performed worse than expected. In contrast, in Minnesota, the only state that Rubio won outright, he won 13 points over the most recent polling from January.

The election results seem to indicate that Marco Rubio’s strategy of playing Trump’s game of personal attacks and ridicule had an impact. Had Rubio started his attacks a few days or a week earlier, the results might have been dramatically different.

At this point, it looks premature for Rubio to drop out of the race. There is another debate tomorrow where Rubio can continue his sharp attacks on Trump’s credibility and business experience. The revelations about Trump’s involvement with the now defunct Trump University and the ongoing fraud trial involving the school lend credence to Rubio’s charge that Trump is a “con man.” Trump’s refusal to disavow racist endorsements and supporters such as the Ku Klux Klan have come to light in recent days and will likely damage his reputation among many voters as well.

The big prize that looms ahead is the March 15 Super Tuesday. On that day, the primaries of Florida, Illinois, Ohio and the Northern Marianas are winner-take-all. If a candidate earns above 50 percent in Missouri, that primary is winner-take-all as well. North Carolina also has a primary that day where delegates are distributed proportionally. Trump leads in all these states.

In Florida, Trump leads in a pre-debate poll that shows Rubio gaining ground, but still trailing by 16 points. Cruz is a distant third. More pre-debate polling in Illinois shows Rubio trailing Trump by 17 points. Cruz trails Rubio by another five points. In Ohio, Kasich trails Trump by five in his home state. Cruz trails Kasich by five and Rubio is a distant fourth. In North Carolina, a poll showed Cruz trailing Trump by nine and leading Rubio by three in the middle of February.

After the second Super Tuesday, Utah and Arizona are the next states of any size. Current polling shows both of these favoring Marco Rubio. Rubio led outright in Utah in early February. The last Arizona poll from October showed the state going for Carson, who was followed by Trump. Rubio placed third ahead of Jeb Bush and Cruz who were both in single digits.

In short, upcoming states look more favorable to Marco Rubio than to Ted Cruz. March 1 was supposed to be Ted Cruz’s big day. His strongest supporters were supposed to be the evangelicals of the South. Instead, Trump has performed stronger among Christians and swept most of the South except for Cruz’s home state. The only demographic that Cruz has won reliably is “very conservative” voters. Very conservative voters will be in short supply in the upcoming states of Florida, Illinois and Ohio.

If Rubio were to drop out prior to March 15, it is likely that Kasich, not Cruz would be the primary beneficiary of Rubio voters and that Trump would still win.

Finally, winning the nomination is only half the battle. The winner of the Republican nomination will then go forth to battle the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. Rubio is generally viewed as the best choice to defeat Hillary. Trump is viewed as the most likely loser.

Ted Cruz is polling in within the margin of error in national polls against Hillary, but would also likely lose the crucial swing states that will decide the election. Cruz’s hard line on immigration would cost him the votes of Hispanics and other immigrant Americans who will cast the deciding votes in Florida, Ohio and Colorado. If Cruz did defeat Trump, he would probably lose to Hillary.

While it isn’t yet time for Rubio to suspend his campaign, that time may come soon. If Rubio performs poorly in the upcoming small state primaries, that will be a sign that his new strategy isn’t working. There will be more polling from the March 15 states that should show if the Rubio surge is continuing. If Cruz surges based on his Super Tuesday victories while Rubio declines then the Rubio campaign will have a hard choice to make.

If Trump steamrolls the winner-take-all states, it will make him the prohibitive favorite to win the nomination. The only hope for anti-Trump Republicans at that point will be a contested convention. In that case, anything can happen and the possibility that Mr. Trump would emerge from the fracas with the nomination anyway should not be discounted. If the nomination is denied to Mr. Trump at the convention, it would likely leave the party so divided that Hillary would win anyway.

If Marco Rubio’s surge ended on Super Tuesday, his ultimate choice may depend on whether he believes it is more likely that Ted Cruz could best Donald Trump in a head-to-head matchup or whether he believes that a contested convention is the best option to prevent the Republican Party from being coopted by a con man.