One of the reasons why I like politics is because nothing remains the same. It is always changing and you never know where the narrative is going. It is like living in an episode of The West Wing or House of Cards.
I have decided to start a new feature called “What Have We Learned So Far?” for this election. It just came to me one day. What was true about this election might not be true tomorrow. I am also sensing something about this election that it is not like any other cycles our country has seen in recent history.
For instance: I regularly follow FiveThirtyEight. One of the things that their writers track is the endorsement primary. A candidate gets points based on what endorsement that candidate receives: 1 point for a US Representative, 5 points for a US Senator, and 10 points for a governor. The basis of this scoring system is that there are nearly 5 times as many US reps as there are US Senators (ok, 4.35 to be exact, rounding makes the math easier) and twice as many senators as there are governors.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton almost has the endorsement of almost every Democratic member of the House & Senate, and governor for a total of 466 points. Senator Bernie Sanders (VT, I) only has 2 points: Representatives Keith Ellison (MN-5) and Raúl Grijalva (AZ-3). According to the most recent Real Clear Politics aggregate polling, Clinton leads her rival Senator Bernie Sanders (I, VT) nationally by 13.3 points.
Meanwhile on the Republican side, the top five leaders in the endorsement primary are: Florida Senator Marco Rubio (65 points), former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (51), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (36), Ohio Governor John Kasich (20), and Texas Senator Ted Cruz (19). Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was part of the top five, but he announced at the Iowa Caucus that he was ending his presidential bid. When looking at the Real Clear Politics aggregate polling on the Republican side, the top five are: businessman Donald Trump, Cruz, Rubio, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and Bush. Trump and Carson have a combined zero endorsement points. The top three are in double digits while Carson and Bush are in single digits.
Something is going on in both parties.
I will explain the Democratic Party process later, but first I will attempt to explain the Republican Party process from my political perspective.
A week ago the first nominating contest took place in Iowa and Senator Ted Cruz (TX, R) emerged as the winner of the state’s Republican caucus.
Nearly four years earlier Cruz was a political nobody who was a name on the ballot for the Republican Primary for US Senate in Texas. Whoever emerged as the winner of that election was most likely to replace the retiring Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Among those running in that primary was then-Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, and former SMU running back Craig James. Polling conducted by Baselice & Associates in October 2011, showed Dewhurst at 50% followed by undecided at 35% and Cruz in last place at 6%.
Lieutenant Governor or “Lite Gov” in Texas is a prominent position. As leader of the Texas Senate, the lite gov gets to assign who is chair of certain committees. In Texas, the lite gov is elected on a separate ballot than the governor so it is likely that the two could be from opposite parties.
But something happened and this is why David Dewhurst is not a senator.
Every ten years a census takes place and that impacts each state’s US House delegation. After the 2010 Census, Texas received four new congressional districts bumping it up to the current number of 36. That meant that the state had to redraw its congressional districts, 31 state senate districts, and 150 state house districts. That fell on the state legislature which had an overwhelming Republican majority in both chambers in the Texas Legislature.
The state redrew the boundaries to the effect that it protected several Republican incumbents and endangered Democrats such as then-State Senator Wendy Davis in her Fort Worth district. This process is known as gerrymandering. However, the new maps were struck down as a violation of the Voting Rights Act and then came the ensuing legal battle between Texas and the federal government.
This long, drawn out process eventually had an effect on when Texas held its primary election. Traditionally, Texas holds its primary contest in March. In presidential cycles, it is part of Super Tuesday when several states hold their nominating process on the same day as a way to balance the impact of the early contests of Iowa and New Hampshire and for the major political parties to show their party’s frontrunner.
Because of the battle over redistricting, a three-judge panel in San Antonio ruled the primary would be pushed back from March and to late May with the runoff happening in late July.
This gave Ted Cruz, the former Texas solicitor general, one key ingredient to his campaign: time.
It was time that allowed him to go to the various Republican and conservative groups across Texas and stump for their votes. In the 7 polls conducted after the Baselice poll, Dewhurst dropped below 50% while Cruz’s stock rose. In the final poll conducted prior to the election, done by Public Policy Polling, Dewhurst led 46-29. On primary night, Dewhurst captured 44.6% of the vote while Cruz earned 34.2%.
In Texas, like a lot of southern states, if no candidate receives 50% of the vote in a primary, then a runoff occurs. I am sure the Cruz camp did the math that since Dewhurst got 44.6% of the vote that meant 55.4% DIDN’T vote for Dewhurst. Sure enough, Cruz won the runoff 57-43 and then went on to crush token Democratic opposition 57-41.
I think that is one of the factors that happened in Iowa on Tuesday night. Cruz used the same strategy that worked in Texas four years ago, and it paid off with a victory in the Iowa caucuses.
Looking at the map, Cruz won the most counties in Iowa while Rubio won 5 counties, mainly in suburban areas such as Des Moines and surrounding counties, Davenport, and Johnson County located south of Cedar Rapids and home to the University of Iowa.
I am curious about how this strategy will play out for Cruz as the nominating process continues on. After Iowa, Cruz was campaigning in New Hampshire and South Carolina – the next two states in the Republican nominating process.
Trump was poised to win Iowa. In the last Des Moines Register poll conducted prior to the caucus, Trump was leading Cruz by 5 with Rubio in third. So the press fawning over Rubio’s third place showing is a bit of an overreaction. Rubio was in third place in Iowa polling since mid-December 2015 and sure enough Rubio came in third.
Why did Trump not win? Probably it had to do with that Trump skipped the final Republican debate prior to the caucus or that there was no Trump campaign organization on the ground. I am leaning towards the latter on this one. NBC News’ Chuck Todd on Tuesday’s The Rachel Maddow Show presented a theory that the reason Trump ended up in second with the analogy that Trump was like the student cramming for the final exam. Trump probably thought that he could spend as little money as possible, use the constant media coverage that he is getting to boost his poll numbers, and trot out the irrelevant Sarah Palin to win the caucuses.
Those things are not enough. The caucuses – any election – are about who can get their supporters out to the polls and even though Trump got enough of his supporters out, it wasn’t enough to overcome the Cruz campaign efforts.
So I suppose this makes Donald Trump a… loser?
So… what have we learned so far?
After one nominating contest with some hard numbers in tow, there are three candidates running for the Republican nomination representing three distinct wings of the party.
Marco Rubio is representing the moderate wing which is a surprise because he was elected as part of the Tea Party wave in 2010. Rubio defeated then-Governor Charlie Crist in the primary who then ran as an independent, was an Obama surrogate in 2012, and tried to reclaim his former seat as a Democrat in 2014. Rubio is no moderate given his positions on same-sex marriage, abortion in cases of rape or incest, and scuttling his own immigration proposal. However, due to Bush’s polling collapse and Christie’s looming scandals, he is the moderate wing’s best hope at nominating a candidate who could at least give them a chance in the general election.
To no surprise, Ted Cruz represents the conservative wing. This wing of the Republican Party feels betrayed because despite their successes in down ballot elections and all the promises made by various candidates over the last 40 years have not come to fruition. They perpetuate the myth that the only reason why Republicans have lost presidential elections was because they did not run the most conservative candidate. It had nothing to do with their candidate was recycling the failed ideas from the last Republican administration and the electoral demographics have changed in the last 25+ years; or that their frontrunner picked a vice-presidential candidate with little to no vetting, combined with a president whose approval ratings were sinking, a disastrous foreign policy, and an economic system on the verge of collapse; or a president who was viewed out of touch during a tough economic period (oh and that happened in 1992 also).
And then there is Donald Trump who represents… Donald Trump. He really does not represent anything except his brand. I am thinking this is some experiment of sorts that Trump is working and he will publish his findings in some journal months from now. My other theory is that when he clinches the nomination, he will reveal his true form as Andy Kaufman and begin to lip synch “Mighty Mouse” as his victory speech.
Cruz won the Republican Iowa Caucus but historically Iowa has not had a great track record when picking presidents on the Republican side.
The party better decide which wing they want to take on Trump and fast because the next two contests are taking place within 17 days from now. First is the New Hampshire Primary where according to FiveThirtyEight, Trump has a 58% chance of winning the primary. South Carolina occurs on 20 February where Trump has a polling average of 35.8% as well as a 55% chance of winning.
15 March is not just the Ides of March or the anniversary date of me checking in onboard the Carl Vinson, but it is the date of the Florida Primary. 1 March is the SEC Primary where many southern states will hold nominating contests, but 15 March is when states can start awarding delegates by winner-take-all. Florida which will award 99 delegates along with Ohio (66) are winner-take-all. As of now, Trump has a 63% chance of winning all the delegates from Marco Rubio’s state and has been consistently leading in polling since September.
The thing we have learned so far is that the Republican nominating process has only just begun.