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Presidential Elections 101, and why right wing conservatives should get over it

Florida Senator Marco Rubio jumped into the race for President yesterday, which, at first glance, is actually kind of surprising since former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is clearly already running. What advantage Rubio might have thought he had is arguably muted by Bush being in the race to compete for the favorite son status. It affects a lot of things in the nominating process – fundraising, innermost core of supporters, that sort of stuff.

On the other hand, the same could be said for Jeb Bush – what advantage he might have as Florida’s favorite son is imperiled by Rubio’s entrance. This may or may not matter in the nominating process – Florida doesn’t come up until March 15 (well after the early states somewhat winnow the field), and has moved to a winner-take-all delegate allocation system. So the prevailing theory is that Bush will survive the process until Florida because his name is Bush (candidates drop out when candidates run out of money, and Bushes don’t typically run out of money), but if Rubio can somehow hang on through Florida, it suddenly gets interesting.

The Tea Party wing of the GOP wants to control the nominating process in 2016, something they succeeded in doing in neither 2012 nor 2008. Republicans ended up nominating the candidate Tea Party voters considered “establishment,” and then those Tea Party voters promptly blamed the establishment for the Democrat’s wins in each election.

That same Tea Party wing despises all things Bush these days, and Rubio’s brief flirtation with actual fairness on the immigration debate seriously annoys them.

Republicans better take a second look at those two Florida boys. It has nothing to do with either Bush or Rubio. It has everything to do with basic electoral college math.

I will spare you the history, the background, and the pros and cons on how we got to this point in the Presidential election process. I’ve got an entire speech on the topic, and you can even hate math as much as I do and still enjoy it, so contact me if you’d like me to speak to your group. But trust me when I say that if you don’t understand electoral college politics and what that means for 2016, you’ll never understand why Presidential campaigns make the decisions they make. But whether you want to hear the deeper explanation or not, here’s the bottom line:

Of the 538 total electoral votes, it takes a majority, 270, to win. All the states except 2 award their electoral votes in a winner-take-all system, meaning that if a Party’s nominee gets 50-percent-plus-one, that nominee gets 100 percent of that state’s electoral votes.

The electoral votes of the states (plus D.C.) that have voted for the Democratic nominee for President from 1992 forward – the last six Presidential elections – totals 242. That’s only 28 electoral votes short of an election win. That list of states doesn’t include Florida, and Florida has 29 electoral votes. Florida alone puts the Democrat into the White House.

There are several other realistic combinations for the Democrat to win the Presidential election without winning Florida, but in a close November election in which reliable states do what they typically do, there is no likely mathematical way for the Republican to win without Florida.

It’s hard to imagine the Tea Party controlling the process – they’ve failed to do so twice already. It’s also impossible to ignore the Tea Party’s influence in the process – arguably no other lane of the current GOP electorate is wider. The Tea Party is openly antagonistic to Bush, and feels bruised by Rubio.

But unless the Tea Party wing wants to be at the wheel when the clown car drives off the cliff, Republicans cannot ignore the electoral math that places Florida as the most significant state in their mathematical equation.

A lot of political analysts are rolling their eyes at Rubio’s entrance into the race. Hillary Clinton announced Sunday, Rubio announced Monday, and the media just kept talking about Hillary into Tuesday. But I’m not rolling my eyes about Rubio, if only because of the math.

I can’t imagine the Tea Party wing supporting anybody named Bush. And I can’t imagine a propensity of a major political party’s primary voters ignoring the electability question – that they nominated two establishment guys in a row suggests that it has been part of their decision-making all along; there’s no reason to believe it won’t continue to be. But there can be no electability where there is no reasonable electoral vote math.

If Marco Rubio is smart enough to kiss and make up with Tea Party activists, without scaring the bejesus out of the rest of Republicanville, he might be in the hunt for the long haul. I don’t imagine there is a similar path available to Jeb Bush; Tea Party voters will probably never trust him. If Bush has a path to the nomination (and he well might), it is probably a different path.

And meanwhile, if Republican primary voters and caucus-goers ignore the electoral math equation and give no consideration to Florida’s special electoral math status, they’re already cooked and don’t even realize it.


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Geographically-impaired Tea Party member’s brain explodes

If the birthers’ old, tired narrative had been accurate – that Obama was born in Kenya to a mother from Kansas – that would have put Obama’s eligibility to be President exactly where it currently stands with Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who was born in Canada to a mother from the U.S.

Because of the birther narrative, Tea Party members howled during the Presidential election that Obama wasn’t eligible to be President, but there’s no evidence that the Cruz situation is so much as raising their eyebrows.

But never fear: a Tea Party member has an explanation for why they’re not upset about the Cruz situation:

Canada is not really foreign soil.”

You just can’t make this stuff up.

The Tea Party member was unavailable for further comment, as she quickly mounted her dinosaur and rushed off to a meeting of the “Global Warming Is A Lie” lecture, which she was just briefing stopping by, to avoid being late to that night’s book burning.

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I just KNEW there was a logical explanation for Todd Akin

This explains everything.


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How to destroy your campaign in 30 seconds or less: violate the “dog whistle” code

Meet Todd Akin of Missouri, the Republican Senate nominee. He’s the guy other Republicans across the country were depending on to give Republicans the majority in the U.S. Senate. Until he said this:

The scariest part isn’t that Akin was making up his own science, although that’s scary enough. The scariest part isn’t that he inadvertently demonstrated the extent to which Tea Party Republicans have nothing but disdain for women, their health, and their fundamental rights, although that, too, is utterly terrifying.

The scariest part is that Akin did not in any way misunderstand the question. He understood the question perfectly, and he answered very sincerely and articulately, with an answer he clearly believes. He answered it with made-up facts that don’t exist, demonstrating a very sincerely-held attitude that shouldn’t exist, which lays bare an attitude about women which should not stand.

Republicans across the country spent the rest of the news cycle yesterday disavowing Akin (particularly difficult for Paul Ryan, who has — oopsie! —  praised him in the past). But they’re not disavowing Akin because he violated a fundamental value Republicans hold. It’s because he articulated one – but got caught doing it.

There’s a very good reason that “Republican dog whistle” is a political term of art. The term is used when Republican candidates say things specifically calculated to signal to Republican activists, in a way deniable to everybody else, that the candidate is with ’em on issues that they can’t get caught admitting to in public. Akin’s unforgivable sin, in the minds of his fellow Republican leadership, is that he didn’t use the dog whistle – the command only the dogs can hear – to call the dogs. Instead, he shouted the command where everybody could hear it.

The war on women is alive and well in America, stoked by Tea Party fires. But it’s not just a war on women. If you listen closely, the dog whistles are everywhere. When Rick Perry toys around with “secession” talk without taking a particular position, and talks endlessly of “states rights,” it’s a dog whistle, intended to remind his voters that he shares their values, in the context of That Other Time when Southern governors openly discussed secession and states rights.

When Tea Party activists persist in their accusations that Barack Obama was really born in Kenya…or is really a secret Muslim, that’s a dog whistle, meant to signal to their fellow travelers that the President of the United States should be defined by his race, which you may have noticed is not White.

They have dog whistles for women. They have dog whistles for minorities. They have dog whistles for gays. They have dog whistles for the poor, and the elderly, and the undereducated. And all those dog whistles together are meant to create for their voters a clear picture that everybody who isn’t just like you is a threat, and they merit your fear, your anger, and your opposition.

Todd Akin went over the line – he laid it bare yesterday – and he will be punished for it by his fellow Republicans. Which fellow Republicans will punish him? Why, it’s the funders – a group that has its own dog whistle term-of-art: “the job creators.” They get their own especially-complimentary dog whistle, as well they should. They’ve been paying for the research and development of all the other dog whistles. And not by coincidence, their own special dog whistle creates for themselves the rare exception to the above rule: “no, we’re not like you, but we are not to be feared and loathed like the others – we are to be admired…we are your beloved benevolent dictators.

And it is in this context that Republicans are currently accusing Democrats of dividing the country. The field of psychology calls this “projection,” a condition in which one projects one’s own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings onto someone else.

Projection is why Republican candidates lodge complaints about Democrats’ “angry rhetoric.” Let that sink in: Republicans are complaining about Democrats’ angry rhetoric. The people who question the President’s very birth and his citizenship, question almost everybody’s patriotism, question war heroes’ combat records, and throw around the words “socialism” and “un-American” and “Godless” and who wage wars against the rights of women, minorities, and LGBT Americans, and who characterize as lies things which have been proven by science – THOSE are the people who are complaining that the Democrats are playing too rough.

Dog whistles indeed.

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About that Dewhurst-Cruz thing

As there always is after an electoral loss which the heavy bettors were on the wrong side, there has been, and continues to be, endless backroom blather on what happened. The (usually) unspoken axiom in the Texas Capitol after all such events is “blame must be placed, and we simply cannot move on until it is.”

“Why Dewhurst lost” is always a question to which the askers are usually seeking one simple answer, mainly so they can repeat it to their clients in efforts to weasel out of being wrong (me among them – and I currently owe one client $100 on a lost bet because of the race…which she is not allowing me to pay off until she gathers the maximum number of witnesses). The truth to it, and most political outcomes, is almost always a combination of many things, some of which the accuracy of which would require a telling so detailed that it would far exceed the length of any interesting bar story.

Several factors seem to be repeated more often than others. The first is that Ted Cruz was the beneficiary of a way-way-way-extended primary election schedule (because of redistricting litigation) allowing him to chip away at Dewhurst’s seemingly-insurmountable early lead. This theory strikes me as the one closest to the truth. I repeatedly said back in the Spring (in general, not specific to this race) that all underdogs want more time, and all incumbents and frontrunners want less of it, for that very reason.

The other pervasive Monday morning quarterbacking I keep hearing is that Dewhurst’s handlers handled things exactly wrong. His campaign’s “rose garden strategy,” the story goes, backfired on The Dew. Ted Cruz, they say, was racking up brownie points by going to every Tea Party event under the sun, pointing to the empty chair Dewhurst would have occupied, defining Dewhurst’s record un-challenged. It’s a tempting conclusion to draw, but I don’t buy it.

Here’s why: let’s imagine if Dewhurst’s campaign had executed the opposite strategy. What if Dewhurst had attended all those Tea Party rallies, and all those debates, and all those editorial board meetings. What if the Lt. Governor had stayed on the road and had met with every Republican Party activist he could get his hands on? Would they have walked away from those experiences thinking Dewhurst is a great guy, and the Senate candidate of their dreams? I doubt it. Dewhurst is stiff. He is not a man who oozes warmth and personality. And he was, in effect, the incumbent in the race, faced with defending a record in public office. If incumbent-ish candidates explaining their public records to Tea Party activists haven’t fared well anywhere else in the country, why would we think Mr. Dewhurst would have fared better? And as for ed board endorsements, do they really motivate or persuade Republican primary run-off voters? Certainly not.

Another pervasive theoretical factor is that the half-ton of cash Dewhurst’s campaign put on TV attacking Cruz early and often served only to increase Cruz’ name ID, without substantially increasing Cruz’ negatives. This has some truth to it, but really only in hindsight. Many of the political professionals parroting this theory (some of them undoubtedly in efforts to increase their political market share, at the expense of the Dewhurst consultants) probably would have done the same thing. I don’t remember any of those consultants saying at the time that the Dewhurst camp was making a big mistake. It’s just something the campaign did that didn’t work very well, which is just the way it goes sometimes. Again, would the opposite strategy change the ultimate result? It would not have.

Was the Dewhurst campaign as terrible as people are now saying? Well yes, in a way, because in a campaign, the outcome means everything. But let’s face it, folks: sometimes, the better candidate really does win, and Cruz was the better candidate. And the only reason anybody ever called David Dewhurst the formidable frontrunner in every campaign he has ever waged is because he was, by far, the richest guy in the room.

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Where’s the bold business leadership in Texas?

Whatever happened to bold business leadership?

Here’s what the politically active folks in Texas business believe:

They believe that Texas is a Republican state. Fair enough.

They believe that their business interests are best served when they involve themselves in the political process, usually in a big way. Undeniably true.

They believe that if they hitched their wagons to Republican candidates, those candidates would have a better chance of winning elections, and as a result, those business people have a better opportunity to be heard in policy-making, since the candidates they support tend to win. So far, so good.

They believe that the stick works as well as the carrot: that when an officeholder fails to heed their advice on what is best for business, they can pour money into the campaign of their opponent, and the course can be corrected. Yup…standard operating procedure for a decade or more.

All fair enough, so far; it’s a system. And if you’re a politically active business person in Texas, you probably think it’s worked pretty well for you more times than not.

Except, oops. What are they going to do when Ted Cruz’s of the world defeat the David Dewhursts? How will they react when they wake up in early August and find out that everybody knows the emperor has no clothes?

How much clout do they believe they’ll have next January, when they walk into the Capitol building and begin talking with all those new members of the Texas legislature, who all got there because they defeated their business-backed Republican opponents in this year’s Republican primary elections? And how much respect will those new legislators have for business interests, knowing that despite all the money that Texas business poured into so many legislative campaigns, their candidates were easily defeated by the Tea Party inmates who took over the asylum?

So much has been written about the inability of Texas Democrats to be more effective in elections, and not without merit. But hardly anything has been written about the extent to which Texas business interests are losing their grip on the political party it birthed, nursed, educated, and raised as their own.

Elections don’t exist for the sake of political parties, nor do they exist for the sake of business’ ability to do business. They exist for the more well-rounded purpose of representing people. For too long, Texas businesses which have chosen to organize and participate in politics have ignored every aspect of the political process, except for the Republican primary process. They’ve assumed that what’s good for people is bad for their tax rate. They’ve paid little attention to long-term planning for success, too obsessed with the next fiscal quarterly report to the SEC. They’ve ignored their own business strategy of diversification, and have failed to diversify in the political process, instead betting it all on one team. And the likelihood that their interests are increasingly being pummeled by the ideologues elected on that team should be of grave concern to them.

Ideology aside, as the heart of things, what is good for business can be very good for people. It’s just common sense that the best economic development program for any family is a job. It has always been true that a trained and educated workforce is good for the economy. It is undeniable that a strong middle class is one which has plenty of cash to spend in the marketplace. It is common sense that an unhealthy workforce is an unproductive workforce.

So how did it come to pass that Texas business remains solidly behind the people who have devastated education funding, denied Texans affordable health care, and failed to fund a state infrastructure, both human and physical, which would best support its needs? How is it possible that Texas business continues to cower in fear at a governor who, purely for political and ideological reasons, stands in the way of literally billions and billions of health care dollars flowing into the state, to be spent and re-spent in the economy, and to make the state’s workforce significantly healthier?

If I were a 900 pound gorilla in the business community, I would quietly call a private summit of my peers. Once gathered, I would announce that anybody who arrived with their ideological baggage on their sleeve can immediately leave, with no hard feelings. And then I’d spend the rest of the weekend among the grown-ups, discussing how it could possibly be, when we’ve funded the lion’s share of political spending by those who have won most of the elections around here, that the things of highest priority to us are deemed unimportant by those in the political party that we built in the first place. We would discuss the fact that the things that best build an indestructible powerhouse economic future have somehow been thrown in the back seat with last week’s empty fast food wrappers, while we, along with the rest of Texans, are inflicted with never-ending babble about distractions having little or nothing to do with building a state or a country, and more to do with last Sunday’s church sermon.

And after that business summit, perhaps those titans of business would remember how to lead, instead of gamely following behind the ideologues who can’t even get a fact straight, much less lead a state with one of the largest economies on the planet.

Like I said, whatever happened to bold business leadership around here?

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