After New Hampshire

The results of the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary are in, and although we’re still not entirely sure how the Iowa caucuses turned out the race for the nomination is already starting to take shape. Only two of the 48 states and none of the territories have thus far weighed in, so there’s a long season of politics and plenty of plot twists ahead, but the New Hampshire results are nonetheless interesting.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won a narrow victory over South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, flipping the results of the inconclusive Iowa caucuses, and we don’t think that’s good news for the Democrats. Sanders is a self-described socialist, Buttigieg is a sensible centrist by Democratic standards but also openly homosexual, and although things are now very different from when we were young there’s still a huge chunk of the popular vote that would rather vote for the likes of President Donald Trump.
The better news for the Democrats, we think, was in the rest of the balloting. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a sensible centrist by Democratic standards and a married mother of a daughter to boot, came in five points behind for a  respectable third, which enhances her name recognition and helps her fundraising and gets her media coverage and makes her a viable contender in the upcoming races. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was well behind in fourth place, and former Vice President Joe Biden came in at a desultory fifth place finish. Things can change over a long political season, but for now Warren can’t compete with Sanders for the crazy-left vote, and despite his putative front-runner status Biden is thus far struggling to win over the sane and sensibly centrist by Democratic standards vote.
The race now shifts to Nevada and then South Carolina, which could well provide very different results. Minorities are the majority of Democratic voters in each state, quite unlike both Iowa and New Hampshire, and although we don’t mind Sanders’ jewishness nor Buttigieg’s homosexuality nor Warren’s sex, and as much as we appreciate the cultural traditions of Latino and black voters, we’ll come right out and say that some Democrats aren’t so open-minded as we are. It’s early in the season, but we’ll cautiously prognosticate that Sanders ends up winning the crazy-left vote over Warren, and that Klobuchar soon emerges as the sane and sensibly centrist by Democratic standards alternative.
Which is probably best for the Democrats. Biden is a sensible centrist by the Democratic standards, and is associated with a President Barack Obama administration that saw more jobs created in its last three years than during than during the first three years of the Obama administration, but he’s a horrible campaigner and his son got inexplicably rich in Ukraine, even if he has a very complicated explanation for it all. Trump was acquitted by the Senate for his own Ukrainian dealings, and will have a field day with it.
Even Trump wouldn’t dare say anything about Buttigieg’s sexuality, at least not overtly, but his followers surely wlll, which makes Klobuchar the most appealing sane and sensible by Democratic standards for now. She’s never lost an election in the Republican areas of Minnesota where she’s run for various offices, she’s neither a self-described socialist nor an open homosexual, speaks in complete sentences, and seems to have no ties to Russia or Ukraine, so we figure she’d be a formidable opponent against Trump. Klobuchar is a woman, but is so more than half of the electorate, and last time around the worst woman in the world won three million more votes than Trump.
Some Republicans are hoping the Democrats will go crazy leftt, figuring that bolsters Trump’s reelection chances, but they should be careful what they wish for. Even the craziest left Democrat has a chance of beating Trump, and better it should be some sane and centrist by Democratic standards nominee who does the deed.

— Bud Norman

On the Day After Opening Day

For such avid fans of the blood sport of American politics as ourselves, the quadrennial Iowa presidential caucuses are like the opening day of a once-every-four-years baseball season. Some youthful enthusiasm left within us wants to extrapolate the rest of the reason from the season from the first day’s statistically insignificant scores, some more sober sensibility acquired over the years reminds us that are plenty of games left to be played in what is always an up-and-down season, and we always wind up indulging in the obligatory speculation.
Over on the Democrats’ senior-in-more-ways-than-one circuit we note that former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and long-presumed Next President of the United States Hillary Clinton is still going into extra innings as we write this against self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, which bolsters our pre-season suspicion that it’s going to be a long and hard-fought contest. In a far more crowded field the upstart Republicans’ winner was controversial right-fielder Texas Sen. Cruz, who had a plurality of 28 percent, with real-estate-and-gambling-and-reality-show-and-professional-wrestling mogul Donald J. Trump coming in from way out in the metaphorical left field to take an unaccustomed second place with 24 percent, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, now cast as the party’s steady center-fielder, just behind with an intriguing 23 percent, which at least provides hope for another long and hard-fought race.
Of course, one needs to keep in mind the peculiar ground rules that govern Iowa’s opening games. The Democrats require caucus-goers to spend all night standing with their fellow rooters in the corners of various frigid high school gymnasiums and senior centers spread across the state, staring one another down to attract the rooters from the candidates disqualified in the first rounds, which should have given her opponent’s more youthful and fired-up supporters an edge, so even a slight win will still count as a win even by pliable rules of politics. The next game will be played according to more traditional primary rules in New Hampshire, but that’s right next door to Vermont and Sanders has held a comfortable lead in the polls there for some time, so a win in Iowa means at least Clinton won’t get off to that 0-for-2 start so many formerly front-running candidates have never recovered from. Still, those bettors who put their chips on Clinton a full four years ago are likely in for a nervous season. Veteran political sports fans will recall that a similarly spirited far-left candidacy by Sen. Eugene McCarthy knocked sitting President Lyndon Johnson out of the race with a win in New Hampshire way back in the memorable ’68 season, and although those with more reliable memories will more accurately recall that Johnson eked out a victory it was close enough it was still enough to convince Johnson that he wouldn’t make it to the general election finish line, which makes it a potentially worthwhile analogy.
Cruz only won eight delegates to Trump’s and Rubio’s seven, and long-shot retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson got three, with even longer shots libertarian Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and erstwhile starting center fielder Jeb! Bush of the erstwhile Bush dynasty getting one apiece for finishing fifth and sixth, respectively, so with 1,114 delegates needed to clinch the pennant there’s still plenty of race of left. It’s still a crucial tally in the win column for Cruz, however, and although he’s starting from behind in New Hampshire the Iowa winner has traditionally picked up a few points in other contests. Veteran political sports fans will also recall how little-known Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter got a sudden amount of name-recognition-generating publicity from an upset win in Iowa and rode it to the Democratic nomination back in that sub-.300 year of ’76, and although those with more reliable memories will recall that Carter actually finished second to “undecided,” which ultimately proved poetically appropriate enough, the point still obtains. For someone running against a reality-star with almost unlimited free publicity and near-universal name recognition, it’s an especially important point.
In an ordinary season an ordinary candidate could claim more than seven delegates from a second-place finish in Iowa, but Trump is no ordinary candidate. The most likely explanation for the front-running Trump’s second-place finish is that Iowa’s Republican caucus is largely dominated by evangelical Christians who prefer a Baptist minister’s son such as Cruz to a thrice-married gambling mogul who publicly boasts of the billions he made by buying off politicians and all the married babes he’s bagged along the way, but we don’t think even Trump will attempt that spin and we don’t think New Hampshire voters would buy it even if they are next door to Vermont. Much of Trump’s appeal is based on his argument that he always wins, and that Americans might even get bored with all the winning he’s going to do for America, making it hard for him to spin an actual vote where he not only came in second but a full 76 percent of the voters went for someone else. He wisely declared himself “honored” by a second-place finish, noting only obliquely how many observers had thought Iowa an unfriendly field, and he’s still got the lead in New Hampshire before getting back on evangelical turf in South Carolina, but to mix the sports analogies somewhat at least he won’t be getting that early-round knock-out.
Rubio’s close third-place finish, on the other hand, should be worth more than just seven delegates over the coming weeks. It represents a significant bump in his previous poll standings, will merit enough mention to up his name recognition a few notches, and will likely even knock out some of the other players vying for the centerfield position. When the fourth-place Carson sooner or later bows out we suspect most of his support will flow to Cruz, so Rubio will need all the meager votes scattered about the rest of the soon-to-drop-out candidates, and when Bush makes his inevitable exit Rubio will at least be spared the millions of dollars of negative advertising that have been aimed him, so in this game opening day does matter more than in baseball.
Both leagues might wind up battering themselves into a sorry state for the eventual general election World Series, but that’s way too far away to speculate about now.

— Bud Norman

The Bain of Politics

Mitt Romney’s rather easy victory in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary wasn’t unexpected, as he was once governor of a neighboring state and had been campaigning there for the past five years, but we were surprised by the strange line of attack his rivals attempted.

A solid background in business has been Romney’s main selling point to conservatives who are wary of such deviations from conservative orthodoxy, especially the Obamacare-like reforms Romney enacted as governor of Massachusetts, so his challengers attempted to use his successful years with the Bain Capital investment firm against him. The company made a great deal of money by buying failing businesses and making them profitable, a process that sometimes involved axing extraneous workers, and Romney’s challengers somehow found that offensive.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich started it off by accusing Romney of “bankrupting companies and laying off employees.” Rick Perry, Texas’ adroit but tongue-tied governor, piled on by comparing Bain Capital to “vultures.” Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who fought Romney to a virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses, went so far as to take Romney’s comment that “I like being able to fire people” when choosing health care insurance plans and edited it down for an advertisement to “I like being able to fire people.”

Such tactics are to be expected from the Democrats, who are so constitutionally opposed to firing anyone for any reason that Nancy Pelosi remains their leader in the House of Representatives, but it seems a strange thing to do in a Republican primary, where most of the voters have a favorable opinion of capitalism and understand that it sometimes entails laying off workers. The argument might have even increased Romney’s appeal by reminding voters that he has experience taking over organizations awash in red ink and paring them down to an economically functioning size, which is exactly what the next president will need to do with the federal government, and it can’t help his rivals to be sounding like some bleeding-heart Occupy camper.

We expect to hear a lot more about Bain Capital and its ruthless ways if Romney wins the nomination, which looks all the more likely after Tuesday’s win, but we’re not convinced it will work much better with the general electorate. Romney will have ample opportunity to explain that if some workers hadn’t been laid off their companies would have gone out of business, leaving everyone out of work, and that Bain Capital’s efforts have resulted in a net increase in jobs. A large number of people are so resentful of anyone with the power to fire, and so fearful of being fired, that they will be susceptible to the anti-Bain arguments, but we expect that most Americans will be able to see the bigger picture, and that everyone likes being able to “fire” people by taking their business elsewhere.

Americans have been known to “fire” their presidents, after all.

— Bud Norman