Archive for March, 2016

Cruz and Kasich need each other in race to beat Trump

The Unablogger

The Unablogger

Conventional wisdom dictates that Republican presidential front runner Donald J. Trump can be beaten one-on-one, and that lower polling challenger Gov. John Kasich should drop out so that non-Trump support can coalesce around top challenger Sen. Ted Cruz. In every contest to date (including Trump’s big win yesterday in Arizona), more primary voters voted against Trump than for him, but Trump still won most of them. Analysis of future primaries, though, suggests that Cruz could actually benefit by Kasich staying in the race, if Cruz and Kasich play it smart. The best strategy varies depending on the state (and sometimes the congressional district).

Winner take all primaries (statewide). In purely winner-take-all primaries, such as Pennsylvania (17 statewide delegates only) and Delaware (April 26), Nebraska (May 10) and finally Montana, South Dakota and delegate-rich New Jersey (June 7), conventional wisdom is correct. But while it makes sense for there to be only one competitor to Trump, you still have to decide who that single competitor should be. This depends on two factors: (1) whether Cruz or Kasich polls best in that state and (2) for whom would the other candidate’s supporters vote if their candidate dropped out. There is very little polling on either question in the later-voting states, especially on the second question. In most states, we expect the strongest alternative to be Cruz, but not always (e.g., Ohio). One would expect Kasich to do better than Cruz in regions where Kasich has already done so, such as New England, but polling in Rhode Island and Connecticut is out of date. Cruz and Kasich could both stay in the race but campaign selectively only in the states where they have the best chance of winning and avoid playing the spoiler in the other states (like they both did to Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida). This option isn’t available if Kasich drops out. Keeping Trump from winning a state is now more important than winning the state.

Winner take all primaries (district). In states that award delegates by congressional district on a winner-take-all basis, the same strategy applies on a district level, and the strongest challenger may vary by district. Cruz and Kasich should campaign just in the districts where they are strongest. These states include Wisconsin (April 5), Maryland (April 26), Connecticut (April 26), Indiana (May 3), and finally California (June 7), the biggest delegate prize. With 83 different districts (53 in California alone), Cruz and Kasich should both have plenty of different opportunities to win, as long as they don’t work against each other in the same districts.

Cruz should concentrate on districts where evangelical Christians dominate. Michael Barone suggests that Dutch-American voters in Wisconsin’s Outgamie and Sheboygan Counties and Jasper County in Indiana might also be Cruz country. Cruz should also consider often overlooked black majority districts. In St. Louis last week, black Republicans voted heavily for Cruz (similar to Mike Huckabee’s success with evangelical appeal in those wards in 2008), but white working class voters in nearby areas voted just as strongly for Trump. Consequently, Trump edged Cruz in Missouri’s black plurality 1st District, 37.0% to 35.3%, to win its 5 delegates. Kasich should concentrate on particular suburbs and urban neighborhoods resembling those he won in St. Louis (e.g., Central West End, the Grove and Mid-Town), as well as academic communities and suburban areas where moderate candidates have succeeded and where evangelical Christians are sparse. Decisions about whom to back need to be made with the entire district in mind, precisely and cold-heartedly, since Cruz and Kasich may each have strong areas in the same district. Otherwise, a divided effort paves the way for a Trump win. In Missouri, for example, pockets of significant support for Kasich and Rubio diverted anti-Trump votes away from Cruz, allowing Trump to win both St. Louis area districts narrowly, with less than 40% of the vote.

Majority threshold. Conventional wisdom (i.e., a two-man race) is the wrong strategy in a state where the winner takes all only if he tops 50%. It’s harder for any one to reach 50% when there are more candidates in the race, but the winner of a two-candidate contest is virtually assured of topping 50%. In a strong Trump state, voters should vote for their favorite, even if that candidate (if still on the ballot) has withdrawn. Maximizing all the non-Trump votes increase the chances of depriving Trump of most of the state’s delegates. New York state and Washington state are in this category (see below).

Minimum threshold. Some states and districts require a candidate to win a certain share in order to win any delegates. New Mexico (June 7) has a 15% threshold. Strategic voting is important here. If Trump has a big lead and only one challenger has a realistic chance of meeting the threshold, the trailing candidate needs to stand down and urge his supporters to vote for the stronger challenger. Otherwise, delegate allocation among just the qualifiers gives both of those candidates (including Trump) more delegates than their proportionate share. For example, Rubio’s failure to meet the minimum thresholds in Texas and Michigan gave extra delegates to Trump.

Both the majority threshold and minimum threshold are in play in a big way in New York (95 delegates) on April 19. Trump has a huge lead there in his home state (64% in one recent poll), but quirky delegate allocation rules give Cruz and Kasich a chance to take about a third of the delegates away from Trump without actually beating him, so long as they can hold him below 50%. The statewide vote (for 14 delegates) and each congressional district (3 delegates each) are 28 separate contests. In each of them, a candidate who tops 50% wins all of that particular contest’s delegates. In contests where no one tops 50%, statewide and district rules are different. The 14 statewide delegates are divided proportionally, with a 20% minimum threshold. Congressional districts where no one tops 50% award two delegates to the winner and one delegate to whoever finishes second. There may be some districts where either Cruz or Kasich can beat Trump and win two delegates. In stronger Trump districts, vying against each other for a district’s second-place delegate improve Cruz and Kasich’s chances of keeping Trump from winning 50%. Since upstate areas usually vote differently from the New York City area, regional polling should dictate where best to expend resources. New York has four black-majority congressional districts where Cruz could do well. Michael Barone suggests that Dutch-American voters in Wayne and Schoharie Counties might be Cruz country. The Hudson River Valley and rural counties bordering Canada could be Kasich country.

The same strategy also applies to Washington state on May 24, where the same 50% and 20% thresholds are also in effect (congressional districts only, with slightly different rules).

Proportional allotment. In states where delegates are allotted purely in proportion to candidates’ votes, there is no need to unite behind the strongest challenger. But most of those states have already voted. The remaining proportional states are Rhode Island (April 26), Oregon (May 17), Washington state (May 24, statewide delegates only) and New Mexico (June 7, subject to 15% minimum threshold).

Advice for voters who don’t want Trump to be the Republican nominee: Use the guidelines outlined above and vote strategically! Except as noted above, casting your ballot for the candidate most likely to beat Trump (especially in winner-take-all jurisdictions) is more important to your goal than voting for the candidate you like best. Pay attention to public polls specifically devoted to your area, so you can make an intelligent voting decision. I documented my own decision to vote for Cruz in the Missouri primary even though I liked Rubio (who was still then an active candidate) the best. Many other Rubio backers did the same, but we fell short by less than one fifth of one percent statewide and by just 643 votes in my congressional district. Voters in later states need to wise up before it’s too late.

Advice for the Cruz and Kasich campaigns: Dividing the vote to conquer Trump requires tacit, if not overt, cooperation between Cruz and Kasich. Some winner-take-all states and districts will require one to stand down and give the other a realistic chance to beat Trump, like Rubio did for Kasich in Ohio. Where 50% is needed to give a candidate all the delegates in a state where Trump is ahead, maximize all the non-Trump votes, even die-hard supporters of withdrawn candidates. If your candidate is unlikely to meet a minimum threshold, support the other viable non-Trump candidate. Refrain from harming the other campaign when that campaign is undermining Trump, because denying delegates to Trump is now more important than winning delegates for yourself. Both campaigns need to make objective judgments about when the other campaign has a more realistic shot at topping Trump. Doing so requires more sophisticated polling, including on a district (or at least regional) basis, to enable informed decisions on strategy. Some of the millions being wasted on ineffective media advertising would be better diverted to obtain timely and reliable proprietary polling information.

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Anti-Trump protests reminiscent of 2009 tactics

The Unablogger

The Unablogger

Left-wing protesters succeeded in shutting down a Donald Trump rally in Chicago last week. Protest leaders admitted that their goal had been to shut down the event, not just protest it, and claimed victory. In fact, their admitted plans were to storm the stage when Trump appeared and overwhelm security by their numbers. Violence.

Democrats and the mainstream media (I know, that’s redundant) are hyperventilating. They are charging Republicans in general, and Trump in particular, with encouraging mob action at Trump rallies. Democrat front runner Hillary Clinton accused Trump of “political arson.” A Washington Post columnist blamed Trump for the “anger his divisive rhetoric has generated among the demonstrators,” accusing him of “reaping a whirlwind of his own creation.” Ezra Klein regaled in Trump’s alleged “ideology of violence.”

But, remember when the shoe was on the other foot, when Democrats in general, and the Obama Administration in particular, really did inspire actual violence against their political opponents? Let me refresh your memory.

It was 2009, the first year of the Obama Administration and the birth and rapid emergence of the Tea Party movement. Conservatives attended congressional town hall meetings in droves to question and challenge Democrat representatives over their support for Obamacare, “cap and trade,” and other left-wing initiatives. Protesters were vocal, but peaceful. They attended events they were entitled to attend, as members of the public. Embarrassed Democrats tried to rig the audiences by filling the seats with their own stooges before opening the doors to the public. In August of that year, the regime went on a counteroffensive, coordinating verbal attacks designed to demonize citizen dissent. The Democratic National Committee aired a television ad depicting town hall audiences as “angry mobs.” Democrat House leaders Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer wrote an op ed piece in USA Today (which has since been scrubbed from the newspaper’s web site), condemning the protesters and calling them “unAmerican.” Former Sen. Jean Carnahan penned a piece in the left-wing site Fired Up! Missouri in which she characterized Obamacare protesters as “hordes that take up pitchforks,” accusing them of “mob hysteria” and “remarks that border on treason.” Treason! And then things got physical. Channeling then-candidate Obama’s remark the year before , “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” the President’s deputy chief of staff Jim Messina encouraged supporters to “punch back twice as hard” against critics. Less than 24 hours later in south St. Louis County, SEIU members did just that, savagely beating Kenneth Gladney, an independent vendor of patriotic flags and anti-Obamacare buttons, outside a packed town hall meeting of Congressman Russ Carnahan. Another person there assaulted Kelly Owens, a woman with a video camera who was documenting the crimes, breaking the camera when smashing it against Ms. Owens’ face.

Whether or not Trump is the Republican nominee, expect things to get rougher as the campaign proceeds. When Democrats’ control is threatened, they get desperate. And violent.

Time to vote strategically, unite behind Cruz

The Unablogger

The Unablogger

I have favored Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for President ever since Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker dropped out. I still think Rubio would make an outstanding president. I still recommend Rubio to voters in Florida, where he is the strongest opponent to flawed front runner Donald J. Trump, and perhaps in North Carolina as well, where delegates will be awarded proportionally.

But here in Missouri and neighboring Illinois, Rubio lacks the support necessary to win either winner-take-all primary, or even a congressional district (whose winner also gets delegates). Rubio himself recently stated that he was concentrating his efforts on winning Florida, and not to expect favorable results in Tuesday’s other primaries. In other words, he was writing off the other four states (including Missouri and Illinois).

If you think (as I do) that it is important to keep the Republican nomination away from Trump, it’s time to vote strategically. It’s time to unite behind Ted Cruz.

Strategic voting requires solid polling information, and unfortunately, that is sorely lacking as we struggle to decide. For lots of reasons, polling in 2016 has been spotty at best, and polling for Missouri and Illinois is even worse. The only Missouri poll taken any time in the past six months is one by the Docking Institute at Fort Hays State University in western Kansas (hardly in the league of the Survey Research Center in Michigan, or even Quinnipiac or Marist). The poll was based on a tiny sample size of just 208 Republican voters, with a high 7% margin of error. The poll’s gender mix was an unrealistic 54%-46% male. But it’s all we have. The poll was commissioned jointly by several Missouri newspapers, including the St. Louis Post Dispatch. I give it some credence, though, because the results are about what I would expect. It shows Trump and Cruz well ahead of the others, with Trump leading Cruz, 36% to 29% (i.e., within the margin of error), with Rubio and Kasich in high single digits and 17% undecided. Also, the polls gender mix may overstate the Trump vote, because Trump generally polls better with men than women.

Four Illinois polls taken this month also show Trump ahead and Cruz in second, with margins varying from 13 points to just 4 points. Unlike Missouri, Kasich and Rubio polled in significant double digits. A We Ask America poll on March 7 polled over a thousand likely voters (margin of error 3.1%), a Chicago Tribune poll, March 2-6, polled 600 likely Republican voters (margin of error 4.1%), a CBS/YouGov poll, March 9-11, polled 656 likely Republican voters (margin of error 3.5%), and an NBC/Marist poll questioned 421 likely Republican voters (margin of error 4.8%). The Illinois polls are probably more reliable for that state, and two provide some area breakdown. The We Ask America and Chicago Tribune polls showed Trump ahead across the state, with Cruz most competitive downstate (including the St. Louis Metro East). The polls had contradictory results as to who is the strongest alternative to Trump in and around Chicago.

Unfortunately, the Missouri poll does not break down the results by district, or even by general areas of the state. In the early states, Rubio had been more successful in urban and suburban areas. The Illinois polls suggest that Kasich has recently leapfrogged Rubio in those areas. Rubio’s support nationally has plummeted as Kasich’s has risen over the past week or so. But Cruz has also consolidated support and leads both of the others. The polls that the Post Dispatch formerly commissioned with Survey USA gave separate results by areas of the state, like the two Illinois polls. That information would have been extremely helpful for strategic voters in contests awarded by district.

Many Republican voters have been concerned that Cruz, though more principled, would be just as weak a general election candidate as Trump. While early national polls supported that skepticism, Cruz has dramatically improved in more recent tests. The Missouri poll showed Cruz beating both Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders handily in this state, and better than Rubio (who also beat both Democrats) and Trump (who beat Clinton but lost to Sanders). The poll did not test Kasich against the Democrats. While the poll’s male bias may skew these results in favor of Republicans, its suggestion that Cruz would be the strongest Republican is probably not affected by that bias.

Finally, bottom line, I believe Cruz would make an excellent president. Of utmost importance, Cruz will appoint solid Supreme Court justices, and would be much more reliable than Trump. Cruz is just as tough as Trump on illegal immigration, but without Trump’s in-your-face bluster that turns off a majority of general election voters. A superb debater, Cruz will perform excellently against either Clinton or Sanders. While Rubio also scores well on those points (albeit a bit weak on immigration), he won’t be in a position to do that if he doesn’t get the Republican nomination. Frankly, the polls and the math are against Rubio now.

Trump has been winning with large pluralities, but not majorities, but pluralities are enough to win, even in winner-take-all primaries. Trump will ride 30% victories all the way to the convention if the other 70% remains splintered. It’s time to unite behind the strongest alternative to Trump. It’s time to united behind Ted Cruz.

When did Al Gore take over Republican thinking?

The Unablogger

The Unablogger

In the tumultuous months following the 2000 presidential election, in which George W. Bush narrowly won the electoral vote, supporters of Al Gore lamented (and still do, for that matter) that he should have been awarded the presidency because he won the popular vote. The electoral vote is so outdated and technical and thwarts the so-called “will of the people.” The usual leftist whine, “It’s not fair!”, filled the airwaves of the mainstream media.

Of course, supporters of George W. Bush noted that the rules in place provided that the president be elected by a majority of electoral votes, not the national popular vote. Bush himself explained correctly that he campaigned to win the Electoral College, and that he would have campaigned differently (e.g., campaigned more in areas, like Texas, where he was safely ahead, in order to increase turnout there) if the popular vote determined the outcome. We play by the rules.

Fast forward to today. Republicans have the most fractured presidential field since before World War II, and there is a distinct possibility that no candidate will win the necessary majority of all delegates prior to the national convention. The rules require that a majority of all convention delegates vote for a candidate in order to make that candidate the party’s nominee. Not just who has the most delegates (i.e., a mere plurality), but a majority (i.e., more than 50%). This has been the established rule in both major parties for well over a century.

Opponents of Donald J. Trump are holding out hope that, if Trump falls short of the 1,237 delegates needed for the majority, convention delegates can coalesce around a different, more electable candidate. This would require a second or subsequent ballot, at which time most delegates are no longer bound to support the candidate who won them in their state’s primary or caucus.They act as delegates, i.e., people to whom party members have delegated the task of choosing the party nominee.

Trump supporters (as well as hostile media seeking to discredit Republicans at every opportunity) refer to that time-honored process pejoratively as a “brokered” convention. Even as reputable a conservative as former RedStater Erick Ericksen, who actually started the #NeverTrump movement, laments, ” If Donald Trump has the delegate lead headed into the convention, even if it is short of 1,237, the GOP would destroy itself if they did not make Trump the Presidential nominee [emphasis part of quoted text].” Erickson concludes, ” I am very much opposed to Donald Trump . . . , but if he heads to the convention with the most delegates and the GOP does not make him the nominee, I’d call foul on them as well.”

Huh? Really? Following long-established rules would, in Erickson’s words, “steal from [Trump] the nomination when he gets the most votes”? As best I can figure out, voters are thought to have an expectation that the candidate with the most delegates, even if it’s just a plurality, should get the nomination; and if their inaccurate expectation is not met, they will pout and not vote any more.

When did the “It’s not fair” mentality of Al Gore’s sore losers morph into an “It’s not fair” movement to change retroactively the rules of nominating a candidate? This seems a lot like campus movements to create “safe spaces” to “protect” vulnerable, hypersensitive students from arguments or theories they are not already predisposed to believe.

Unfortunately, in today’s world where feelings always trump fact (pun not intended, but acquiesced), Erickson may be right. Voters have every right to pout and cut off their collective noses to spite their many faces, and elections are decided exclusively by voters who actually vote. While the apparent extortion by Trump supporters actually or implicitly threatening to bolt if they don’t get their way is an extreme form of bullying, totally consistent with their candidate’s personality and tactics, the rules of the general election give them every right to do so.

I write this not as an advocate of a “brokered” convention, but simply to lament to what our society has dumbed down. It’s sad.

But I do agree with Erickson on one point. “The way to beat Trump is to beat him in the primaries and caucuses.” The time to coalesce behind one Trump alternative is now.