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Hillary Is Potentially In Real Trouble

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So…are the polls really showing a Trump surge? Are we ready to see the Truman/Dewey moment of the 21st century?

Here is what all the hubbub is about:

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Yes. The story is real.

There is no question the polls have been narrowing ever since the end of the Democrat Party convention.  Trump received no bump from his convention; Hillary got a significant one from hers. But clearly, that was not sustainable, as the polls have slowly drifted toward a closer equilibrium point.

What we are now seeing is the inherent weakness of Hillary Clinton as a Presidential candidate. This polling trend is less about Trump than about how the public feels about Hillary.

Hillary Clinton has always been an awful political candidate. In 2008, Hillary supporter former Sen. Dale Bumpers was asked how she was losing to a nobody name Obama:“I’ve known Hillary for many years, ever since she came to Arkansas; She’ll find a way to screw it up. She always does.”

That defines who Ms. Clinton is more than anything else you will ever hear.

Furthermore, Hillary has a quarter century of history that defines her…and the public has defined her, all right.  In a Quinnipiac poll from 9/15/16, the pollsters asked if they thought Hillary Clinton was honest. She was underwater by 33 points, 32% Yes/65% No. That was even worse numbers than Donald Trump has (and he virtually lies about everything).

These issues have caused a huge enthusiasm gap…which another reason why Trump, for all of his negatives, remains still in this race.  A CNN/ORC poll indicated that more than 1 in 5 five would-be Clinton voters were “not at all enthusiastic” about backing her. The poll found 58 percent of Trump supporters saying they felt either “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic about their choice, while only 46 percent in the Clinton camp feeling the same.

Even worse, that enthusiasm gap is largest where it hurts her the most: among minorities. There was always going to be a drop off of enthusiasm among the African American community from Obama to Hillary…but it appears to be far greater than they ever expected. A CBS News poll showed 31 percent of North Carolina’s black voters are supporting Clinton because they don’t like Trump. And the same percentage said they were “satisfied but not enthusiastic” about their choice, compared to 53 percent who were enthusiastic. That is approximately 40 points lower in enthusiasm than Barack Obama had in 2008, when he won the state of North Carolina.

This enthusiasm gap extends to Hispanics as well. The Clinton campaign early on presumed that Trump’s anti-Hispanic rhetoric would magically turn out the Hispanic vote for Clinton. That does not appear the case. Their campaign is now trying to woo Hispanic voters with TV and radio ads by Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine…who is white, but fluent in Spanish.

Democrats have criticized their entire strategy. The Obama campaign in 2012 put in early, sustained efforts to drive out the Hispanic vote…and largely succeeded. One veteran strategist of Obama’s 2012 campaign questioned the wisdom of waiting to engage in Spanish until the end in a recent Washington Post article: “The question I would ask is what message does that send to the Spanish-dominant Hispanic voters?” Amandi asked. “That they’re not as important as the English-language Hispanic voters by waiting this late in the cycle to engage with them?”

These are not clear winning strategies for any candidate.

When people like Nate Silver are sending up the warning flares, you better start listening:

When a candidate has a rough stretch like this in the polls, you’ll sometimes see his or her supporters pass through the various stages of grief before accepting the results, beginning with a heavy dose of “unskewing” or cherry-picking of various polls. In this case, however, the shift in the race is apparent in a large number of high-quality surveys, and doesn’t depend much on the methodology one chooses. FiveThirtyEight, Real Clear Politicsand Huffington Post Pollster all show similar results in their national polling averages, for example, with Clinton leading by only 1 to 3 percentage points over Trump.

All of this is tricky, though, because we still don’t have a great sense for where the long-term equilibrium of the race is, or even whether there’s an equilibrium at all — and we probably never will because of the unusual nature of Trump’s candidacy. Perhaps Trump isn’t that different from a “generic Republican” after all. Or perhaps (more plausibly in my view) he is a very poor candidate who costs the Republicans substantially, but thatClinton is nearly as bad a candidate and mostly offsets this effect. Still, I’d advise waiting a week or so to see whether Clinton’s current dip in the polls sticks as the news moves on from her “bad weekend” to other subjects.

The problem for Ms. Clinton is that these stories keep coming up. And they are largely unforced errors created by her or her campaign, instead of Trump successfully laying a blow on her.  The sequence of events on 9/11 when she stumbled and almost collapsed is mind boggling: instead of admitting she had an episode; they tried to sneak out so the media didn’t see, then they tried to hide it as long as possible; then tried to spin it; and finally took almost 8 hours to admit what really happened, clearly after discussing how they would confront this with a long internal discussion among their political hacks. At that point, they already had sowed distrust through out the public on whatever they eventually said.

This doesn’t mean by any means that Hillary Clinton is losing (or Trump is winning). Despite all this ‘fear mongering’ from people like myself, Hillary likely still leads Trump by a point or two.

The problem is history shows you how tenuous such leads are. In late October 2000, George W. Bush led Gore by 1-2 points in the polls. Then, the weekend before the election, the news story broke about Bush having a drunk driving arrest as a young man. Even though the story was largely irrelevant, there are several surveys and studies in retrospect that show that story may have cost Bush the popular vote, by suppressing his base in some sectors from turning out. Whether this is true or not can never absolutely be proven, but again…Bush led for the vast majority of that campaign, and that 1-2 point lead didn’t hold up in the end.

The second hurdle for Trump is the electoral college:

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Yeah. The structural advantages in the electoral college are tremendous for Trump. He has to not only sweep the toss-up states (50 EV), but also steal at least one of the Democrat-leaning states like New Hampshire or Virginia.

Furthermore, the problem for Donald Trump is he is utterly incapable of taking advantage of all these Hillary deficiencies, unlike Gore or other past examples.  Hillary has a credibility problem, and the public thinks she is a liar; is Trump going to take the mantle of being the honest truth teller America needs?  Good luck with that. Hillary has shown multiple episodes of gross incompetence; who here believes Trump is knowledgeable enough to show greater competence?  Not many unaligned voters at this point. Trump is singularly incapable of taking advantage where other Republicans would be trouncing Clinton.

Clinton is largely undermining her own campaign because of who she is: she is a dishonest woman who repeatedly avoids transparency at all costs, even in the face of media attention and obvious self benefit; she is a woman with little or no natural political acumen, who engenders almost no enthusiasm from a bulk of her own party, and has a campaign staff that is either too cowardly or too incompetent to speak to her honestly about her own mistakes.

That is always a recipe for disaster in a political campaign.  Hillary Clinton is currently toying with losing the most winnable race in the last half century…an amazing accomplishment, when you think about it.

In short, Hillary was a very weak candidate to begin with, with little credibility or trust among the general population. Compound that with her inability to be transparent, outright lying to the public, and her team’s own gross incompetence…and we are where we are: a race where she is likely to win, should win…but Trump still lives.

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Why Trump’s Convention Bounce Matters

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Even after the often messy, consistently off message Republican National Convention last week, Donald Trump has obtained a significant bounce in the polls.

The size of the bounce likely won’t really be understood until well after the fact. There are too many confounding factors, especially the ongoing Democrat National Convention, to really understand what the full impact was.

But as surprising as it may be, Trump did improve his standing with the American people. Even the polls that showed no statistical evidence of a bounce demonstrated this.

The reason why this is so important is history. No candidate in the modern era has failed to get a bounce, and more over, failed to take the lead after their convention, and then gone on to win the Presidency.  The worst examples of this are John Kerry in 2004 and Mitt Romney in 2012, both of whom actually achieved ‘dead cat bounces’ after their conventions, and received no boost whatsoever.

Trump, by achieving both a post-convention bounce and a (albeit likely short-lived) national lead in the polls, at least is still in the game.  This is quite nicely illustrated in Nate Silver’s election forecast, which for the time being gives Trump the upper hand:

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Ultimately, no matter the size and long-term impact of the conventions, this tells us a few things about the electorate.

First, Trump is a unique candidate in the hallowed history of American politics. Predictions rarely are accurate in the short-term where he is concerned. He moves the electorate in a way we are not accustomed to.

Second, Hillary Clinton is a horribly flawed candidate who is unliked by the American people.  She may be slightly more liked than Trump himself, but this is not something to necessarily be proud of, all things considered. She has utterly failed in changing the national perception that she is a classic politician who will lie about anything for personal benefit.

That said, is the election as close as it currently appears? For data, ask me again in one month.  The Democrats will likely be successful in achieving their own bounce post-convention, which more than likely will wipe away any benefits Trump has achieved. Both parties will then unify as much as they are likely to for the rest of this cycle. Then we will know if Donald Trump is really in this game…or it is all an illusion.

 

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Star Trek: Beyond: Movie Review

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I’ll have to admit that as trailer after trailer of the third installment of Star Trek of the Abrams universe came out…I was underwhelmed.

The question for me with new Star Trek movies is, what are they going to show me that I haven’t already seen before? How many times can the Enterprise be destroyed; the Federation come under existential threat; that Kirk and Spock and McCoy be put into hopeless situations and figure some hair brained scheme to save humanity?

See…I think I actually got the entire question backward.

This movie succeeds specifically because it does all those things all over again.

I recently watched the other Abrams Star Trek movies, and I have to say upon my first viewing…Beyond is the most purely enjoyable and satisfying of the three.

This isn’t to say the story is a game changer, that it shows you something you haven’t seen before. Every narrative and plot device in this movie is something we’ve not only seen before, but something we’ve seen in the Star Trek movies or TV universe. I could go point by point telling you which movie or episode had each plot point in the movie, scene for scene.

But where the last movie, Into Darkness, failed, this movie succeeds. The last move misuses the greatest villain in the Star Trek universe, Khan, and makes it into a rote action movie. This movie uses no villain that you will remember a day after watching the movie, makes it into a rote action movie…and you walk out of the movie happy.  In short…this movie simply is a lot of fun to watch.

Part of this is the fact of a new director, Justin Lin (who famously made the last several Fast and the Furious movies). Lin brings far more entertaining and fast paced actions scenes than the prior movies do.

The story often brings the threat of change to the crew. A disenchanted James T. Kirk, questioning his role in the universe, in a midlife crisis of sorts. Commander Spock, facing his own mortality with the death of Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy’s alternate timeline character; the nod to his passing his short, but profound). Others in the crew, in small ways, appear to be pushing against the stagnancy that develops after several years in a small ship with not much to do than fly from planet after planet, struggling to find something worthy to take up their time.

The villain is an enemy named Krall (Idris Elba, in heavy makeup). He is, for all practical purposes, not a very deep villain. He hates the Federation, wants to destroy him, etc, etc. His weapons are quite fascinating, as they are of a type that Starfleet is clearly unprepared for. But other than that, this will not be a role Elba is ever remembered for.

In short, if you are looking for deeper philosophical meaning, looking for an ideological and ethical debate on the policies of the Federation, etc…you are in the wrong theater. This movie provides almost none of that. What it does to is harken back to the days of fun, with the original Star Trek crew, and even later with New Generation. This is clearly episodic in nature, for better or worse. As a fun summer movie, it does its job admirably.

My only question is where this franchise goes from here. Moviegoers happily will pay for this type of installment once, or maybe even twice. But there will have to be something deeper for this series to stay vibrant.

But as for  now, a worthy next installment in the hallowed franchise.

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The Party of Trump…and the Conservative Movement-In-Exile

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Donald Trump, billionaire extraordinaire, has in 12 months done what progressives dreamed about for the past three decades: destroy the Reagan coalition once and for all.

The party that stood for (but didn’t always fight for) fiscal and social conservatism, limited government, and a strong but rational foreign policy is no more.

And may be that is the way it should be.

I weep for the demise of the party that I fought for so long. But, on the other hand, we have clearly lost our way.

Little by little, both with the assistance of Democrats as well as the undermining of core values by Republicans, the party dissolved under the weight of its own hypocrisy and in-fighting. Donald Trump was apparently the chosen form of our Destructor…but the party was dying long before he arrived.

And so, we are now left with a party that is broken, battered, and frankly, no longer stands for anything other than the whims of a progressive billionaire. The fissure lines of the party were apparent throughout the Cleveland convention, despite the efforts of the Trump campaign to cover them up.

However, give Trump credit. He has pulled off possibly the most remarkable political story in modern American times. A dark horse with no political background whatsoever (other than his extensive connections to lobbyist and donations to both political parties, in any case).  He then used his universal name recognition, and surprisingly little money, to take over one of the two major political parties in America.  It is a remarkable achievement.

Donald Trump finally accepted (humbly) the nomination of the Republican Party last night. In the process, he gave one of (if not the) longest convention speech in modern history.  Parts of the speech were quite effective. Trump was his usual overbearing self, seeing dangerous from every aspect of American life, to which the only solution was a larger Federal government-run by Trump himself.

He painted a dark, dismal picture of the American landscape. Trump, in little over an hour, promised to rid the country of worsening crime, even though crime has been steadily decreasing since 1980. He promised to bring back the steel and coal industries, using some Federally governed magic wand. He said he would quickly and at no cost to the American people destroy ISIS and Islamic terrorism, without providing any roadmap on how he would do that. He then, remarkably, argued for government-funded stimulus to fix the country’s infrastructure, and promised that such a plan would bring millions of jobs and stimulate the economy; if you feel like you’ve heard that one before, go back and listen to Barack Obama talk about his stimulus plan in 2009.

This is now a party led by Trump; wholly owned by Trump; and a party base whose faith does not rely on conservative ideology, but simply on their belief that Trump can solve the problems of the country, unilaterally and without any plan or policy in place. It is ‘Trust me” government at its worst.

Newt Gingrich compared Trump’s speech to Ronald Reagan’s acceptance speech in 1980.  Reagan, ironically enough, warned the nation of exactly this type of mistaken faith in one man to solve their problems:

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This, in short, leaves the conservative movement as a movement in exile. The various branches of traditional conservativism, whether it be Paul Ryan’s wing in Congress; the Reformicons led by various intellectual elites; or the hard-core conservative wing led by the likes of Ted Cruz and Mike Lee; all these groups are left wondering where they failed so miserably, and went so wrong. They are left with a marginalized elitist movement without a party to speak for them.

Where we go from here is beyond me. Trump is incompetent at many things, but he is utterly, wholly competent as a nationalist, populist demagogue who can rally particular portions of the Republican base at a moment’s notice. That demographic of the Republican Party is not going away any time soon, no matter how much conservatives try to wish it away.

So the Conservative Movement in Exile is left wandering the political wastelands, hoping that Trump’s incompetence will lead to a loss in November, at which point his base will wake up from this dream. Leaders like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan are making the wager that if Trump loses in November, the fever will break and the base will realize its mistakes. I find that scenario less than likely. More likely, they will wake up one Wednesday in November, realize they have lost, and then blame those very conservatives for their own failures. When has Trump and his followers every believed they are at fault for their own errors in judgment?

More over, why do we believe Trump will fade quietly into the night? I could envision Trump running again in 2020. Or, how about a Trump funded campaign backing his daughter Ivanka? (Notably, Ivanka was likely the one true new star to arise from this Convention. possibly along with son Donald, Jr.). I do not believe, for a second, that Trumpism is going away any time soon, either with victory or defeat.

The most likely plan for a conservative revival to succeed is also the most arduous and difficult to carry out, and the most unlikely to occur: to start a third party that focuses on fiscal conservatism.  It doesn’t appear that those leaders who could potentially drive such an effort are ready to abandon the Republican Party. Even Ted Cruz and Ben Sasse seem very reluctant to do anything of the sort at this point.

So where we go from here, other than a generation of dominance by liberals and progressives, is beyond me.

 

 

 

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Why I Am Leaving The Republican Party

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I can actually remember the moment I joined the Republican Party.

It was the Monday after July 4th in 1991. I had just turned 18 the week before. And, there were a few momentous things that I had to get done: register to vote, signing up for selective service, and….joining the Republican Party.

In all respects, I was a Republican before that moment. My father was a reformed Carter Democrat, who became a beloved Reagan Republican. I was a ‘Reagan Baby’…Reagan defined my early childhood, and in many ways, my political philosophy.

I guess now, I can also mark the calendar on the day I left the Republican Party…May 3, 2016.

Many others are going through the same conflict and dismay I have gone through. The number of people who have messaged me after my various social media proclamations about leaving the GOP are now too numerous to count. Friends, family, online acquaintances, and complete strangers have responded with the entire spectrum of reactions, from “How dare you abandon your party now?” to “You are right; it is the only way.”

Donald Trump supporters take this the most personally however. The vitriol and outrage of defecting from their dear Leader enrages them to no end.

That is only a small side benefit of this decision though.

In truth, the process of philosophically abandoning the GOP (or, case in point, the GOP philosophically abandoning we conservatives) has been a long time coming. More than a decade, in truth. It largely started with the George W. Bush administration, with their ill-conceived foreign policy, and has continued to this day, as Donald Trump’s ignorant populism has won the party over. So I don’t really blame Trump, per se, for this; this was a long time in coming. Trump is more a symptom than cause of the disease.

Reihan Salam, Executive Editor of the National Review (and someone I greatly admire) made the case of why people should remain in the Republican Party, despite Trump’s nomination:

My case for sticking with the Republican Party is not a sentimental one. The rise of Trump has convinced many of my conservative comrades that the GOP is a cesspool. I have to ask: Did you believe that the GOP was the home of heroes and legends before he came on the scene? I’ve been in and around the conservative movement for my entire adult life, and I’ve seen more than my fair share of self-described conservative true believers doing the bidding of hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, Hollywood conglomerates, and unsavory foreign governments. I’ve also seen people of great integrity work tirelessly for little pay and even less recognition to make this country a freer, fairer, and more decent place. The Republican Party may well be a party of charlatans and cranks. But it is also the party of millions of middle-class Americans who believe that the role of government is to empower people, not to render them powerless and dependent. I stand with those in my party who share my ideals and to work with them to defeat those who do not. To be clear, this is not always fun. It just happens to be necessary.

The irony with Reihan’s piece is…it echoes many of my own arguments for the past decade. While advocating for John McCain and Mitt Romney, I often reverted to these very same discussions. I argued that the GOP was the only vehicle conservatives had to promote our philosophy. I argued that the Republican Party was broken, but fixing it was our best path forward. I vehemently spoke out in favor of blindly voting for the GOP, even though they continued to betray our beliefs time and again.

I just don’t see how this can be supported any more.

If true conservatives, who believe in individual rights, the power of the free market, a small Federal government and more federalism, and the overall necessity of America’s military power in sustaining the world order cannot draw a line in the sand against Donald Trump…what exactly do we stand for?

And that is the core problem here. There is no philosophical core guiding the Republican Party any more. Are we the party of small government? Trump, who said education and health care (after defense) were the most important jobs of the Federal government today, clearly doesn’t believe in small government. Are we the party of individual rights, or more state power?  Trump, the poster boy for private use of eminent domain, isn’t one to talk. And even on military power and foreign policy, Trump’s policies of a weaker NATO and a rollback of our force structure worldwide is in contrast to what conservatives have believed for a generation.

So, is a party that doesn’t even agree on its core beliefs a party in any sense of the word?

Reihan goes on to argue that we may be witnessing a major restructuring of the political landscape, something I alluded to in my piece earlier in the week:

By 2020 or 2024, both of our major parties may well look radically different. The GOP is less a single, solid thing than a never-ending rumble, in which different factions duke it out over which one of them will temporarily control the party’s brand and its infrastructure. Leaving the Republican Party now would mean, essentially, ceding control of its considerable resources to your factional rivals. Such a decision might be logical if you’ve decided that you’re all in for a $15 minimum wage or if increasing less-skilled immigration is the issue that matters to you most. In that case, then you should probably join the Democratic Party. But for a conservative like me, it still makes sense to stake out territory under the GOP tent.

I agree with the first part of this assertion. On both sides of the political aisle, we are seeing major fracture lines develop. The Republicans simply have suffered from those fractures more acutely, as the era of Reagan is brought to an end by the coming of Trumpism.   But on the Left, the socialist progressive wing of the party, which was always there but largely silent for the past few decades, now demands that their voice be heard, while the establishment wing of the Democrat Party fights to maintain its control.  How that shapes out may define American politics for the next generation, far more than Trump’s victory will.

The question for reform conservatives then becomes, what is the best method to survive this political upheaval, and still have a functioning conservative movement when it is all said and done?

Reihan argues that only by being within the GOP apparatus that we can achieve this. But again…where is the evidence that this is the case? The Tea Party, among other conservative movements, have tried that method since 2009, with only limited results. Establishment Republicans largely halted the efforts of the Tea Party, culminating in the defeat of both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in this year’s primary. On the other end of the spectrum, the specter of the populist wing of the party, now led by Trump but voiced by the likes of Pat Buchanan for decades, is now triumphant.

I would argue the opposite. Only by fundamentally weakening the underpinnings of the GOP as is can we reform it. The entire party is rampant cesspool of incompetence, incoherence and corruption. Tacitly approving of their methods by remaining within their sphere of power seems counterproductive to me, at this point. The GOP may not be destroyed to be fixed, but its current iteration must be severely damaged before those in power are willing to accept the painful reforms necesssary to be a true national party again.

If we were to liberate enough conservatives from the Republican Party into an independent voice, we could force the party to actively try to court us when elections come. Right now, they take the vote of reform conservatives for granted. But if we were independent of the party structure, now candidates would be forced to confront our ideas, point by point. And if they continued to ignore our calls for reform, we have the most powerful tool of all…our lack of support on voting day.

I will hold nothing against people who stay within the Republican Party. In fact, even those that are arguing that we should vote for Trump, for the sake of ‘party unity’ still hold my respect. But I for one no longer see no added value to the illusion.

I have for many years said I am a conservative first, and Republican second. I now hold true to that oath. I will fight for the conservative values I hold near and dear, from outside the party apparatus…in hopes that one day, the party will reopen the door for me and other conservatives once again. Then, and only again, will I return to the party that I once loved.

[Note: Please note a small correction: Reihan Salam is the Executive Editor of the National Review; the Editor is Rich Lowry. I have made the correction above.]

 

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The GOP Is Dead; Long Live Trumpism

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_I regret to inform you of the passing of the Grand Old Party…_

With Donald Trump’s victory in the Indiana primary, his securing of the GOP nomination is all but guaranteed. And as such, the death of the modern Republican Party is upon us.

Some pundits will try to argue that the GOP can survive a Trump nomination and his enormous eventual defeat in November. They make arguments of the long history of the Republicans in persevering and eventually recovering from momentous political disasters.

I believe this time is somewhat different.

I could be wrong, but to me, this appears far more like a massive restructuring of the political underpinnings we have come to accept since Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980.

Since Reagan’s Presidency, the GOP was defined as the party of strong defense, smaller federal government and lower taxes and spending. All successors to the Reagan legacy accepted this as the basic three-legged stool of modern conservatism.

Donald Trump decisively brings an end to that.

Trump is in many ways more of a progressive than Hillary Clinton is. He has spent decades advocating for more government power and spending. He has at various times supported more taxation, more spending, more federal power in welfare, health care, and education; he has been pro-choice for most of his life, and I sincerely believe he has even recently donated to causes like Planned Parenthood. In short, he is the very definition of a statist, a man who craves centralizing power in Washington, D.C. under the hand of a powerful executive, all the while supporting largely liberal causes that drives the Democrat Party, not the GOP.

Furthermore, those stating that after Trump loses in November the GOP will get back to ‘business as usual’? Who are they fooling, other than themselves?

Trump has shown that there is 40% of the GOP, at a minimum, that could care less if the GOP ever wins any elections. These people are largely driven by anger, not policy. And how then does the GOP move past this, when a Trump loss is like to increase, not decrease, their anger level?

Furthermore, this Trump coalition clearly no longer believes in Reaganism; we are now, affirmatively, in a post-Reagan era; is this new era to be defined by ‘Trumpism’, whatever that may be?

No, Trump losing in November is the end of the beginning of the great modern Republican Party Civil War; it is not the beginning of the end of it.

In short, we could have to suffer through years of fighting over what is the likely dead corpse of the modern Republican Party. Various fights, at the state and national level, are likely to break out, with moderates, conservatives, and Trumpists (who are neither moderates or conservatives, in fact) fighting each other in election after election, likely leading to more and more Democrat victories. No outcome from this November’s elections leads to a unification of the broken remnants of this Republican coalition.

The current Republican party lacks all the components that create a cohesive, political movement. It lacks leaders with moral fortitude and strength of will. It lacks an infrastructure that allows for diversity, but still holds true to a few basic principles. And it lacks a coherent party organization that fosters growth of conservative principles into real world policy.

In short, is there any practical reason for the existence of this modern Republican party?  I guess it is a vehicle for Donald Trump to espouse whatever crazy, tinfoil hat wearing wackadoodle conspiracy he thinks of every morning, but other than that, it is a party that no longer has any viable national voice. It is not a conservative party; it is not a party of strong military and foreign policy; it is certainly not a party based on federalism, the limited power of the Federal government, and the constitution restriction of the powers of the Executive.

In short, it is a party without any central tenets and beliefs.

And a political movement without any core beliefs is no movement at all.

 

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Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice: Move Review

BATMAN-SUPERMANAny Superman movie is going to receive a tremendous amount of criticism. Superman is the iconic superhero in America…nothing, nobody, defines what it means to be a hero in American fiction in the modern era better than Superman, after all.

Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel had mixed reviews as well, with numerous hard-core fans criticizing a variety of plot choices, from the structure of the narrative, to the wanton destruction of Metropolis, to ultimate killing (murder?) of Zod at the hands of Superman…an event purposefully avoided in all his comic book lore.

As such, critics were just waiting to pounce, as Snyder was given the unenviable task of not only making a sequel of the Superman movies…but also making a prequel of the upcoming Justice League movies at the same time.

Simply put: there was no way to achieve everyone’s perception of what this movie should be.

Should it focus on Superman’s story arc? Should it be, like The Empire Strikes Back, or The Dark Knight, the zenith of the arc of this saga?

Or is it just supposed to be a set up for the eventual grand introduction to the Justice League, that DC comic fans have dreaming about?

Lets start with the missteps.

First, Lex Luthor…or to be more correct, Alexander Luthor. Yes, this is not the original Lex Luthor at all, but his son, who confusingly goes by the same name. His father, the founder of Lexcorp, is either dead or gone…the film only alludes to the former, but never states so outright. In any case, played by Jesse Eisenberg, this Luthor is either going to be loved or loathed. Eisenberg pulls no stops…he is over the top in virtually every scene he is in. I like the character as written, per se, but not the acting at all. It didn’t work for me. In some ways, this character has far more depth than the previous iterations of ‘Luthor’, but Eisenberg’s portrayal again makes him far more cartoonish, and not with enough of the threatening, genius, maniacal dread that I think Luthor actually should convey.

Second major problem: Doomsday. Dear Lord, I think Snyder got this character terribly wrong.  Doomsday is one of those epic villains that Superman is actually terrified of. Here, I feel like our heroes don’t know how to defeat them, but I am not sure they feel all that worried about actually losing to him either. Not to mention, did Snyder just basically steal a troll from The Lord of the Rings? 

If this was just a random monster, it wouldn’t have been so bad; as Doomsday, it just seems to miss the point of that character. For those that know the character, Braniac is a huge part of who Doomsday is; but no Brainiac in this movie at all.  Furthermore, with core story being Frank Miller’s Batman/Superman fight…why introduce the Doomsday/Death of Superman plot to the story? Seems like Snyder just wasn’t happy enough with one story that he had to plug a second on just for the heck of it.

My final problem is a problem that Snyder was forced to deal with, not an editorial decision: that this is a prequel for the Justice League. By forcing him to re-introduce Batman, introduce Wonder Woman, and then squeeze in the Superman story in between…it was really a hopeless endeavor. I think he did a fine job, given the task presented to him. But ideally, DC could have followed Marvel’s strategy of slowly building up to the Justice League. Of course, in the end, I presume that was a business decision, and not an artistic one.

O.K., so enough about what was sub par. What did Snyder get right?

I think he nailed Bruce Wayne/Batman, the older years. I was a huge critic of hiring Ben Affleck, but Affleck plays the role beautifully. That said, Batman has only one emotional speed: dark and brooding. Thankfully, Affleck does dark and brooding quite well.

But it is more than that. In some ways, Snyder nails Batman in ways that The Dark Night series didn’t. It makes him more of a genius investigator, a P.I. who is searching for small clues, and has a fantastic ability to put puzzle pieces again. I think that the penultimate fight scene with Batman also nails my perfect vision of Batman fight scene. Not to mention…I think this version of the Batsuit, Batwing, and Batmobile are probably the best we’ve seen.

The long-awaited fight scene between Superman and Batman to me was also very close to the mark; it wasn’t perfect (far too short, and still seemed to me that Superman should have and could have ended the fight earlier), but overall hits all the right chords.

Some people didn’t like the political fighting about Superman’s place in modern America. I for one thoroughly enjoyed it. How would the government, who tries to be in control of all facets of national security, deal with a wild card as uncontrollable as Superman? Of course they would try to destroy him in the media, undermine his credibility, and then make him out to be villain. The fact that it literally blows up in their face simply is because they don’t realize there are far larger threats that they are blind to.

Bruce Wayne is used quite well as a foil for the worries of humanity in the face of this new ‘God’.  How would humanity react, when a major city is destroyed at the hands of two alien visitors?  Half of humanity views him as a villain; the other half views him as a savior, with the obviously Christ-like comparisons to boot.

The final fight scene with Doomsday (even with my above caveats about the Doomsday character itself) I thought does a nice job of introducing Wonder Woman to the general audience. We see here she is every bit the warrior as Batman, and virtually as indestructible as Superman. And unlike either of those two men…she seems to savor the fight. There is one quick scene, where Doomsday pummels her and throws her into a wall; afterward, you see a small smirk on her face, as she turns back to the fight. That is Wonder Woman.

The teamwork that you immediately see from Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman is a prelude, hopefully, to what we see in the next Justice League installment. The question then becomes, what Big Bad Space Baddie will they face? And will they be able to roll Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman and others into the storyline seamlessly?

My overall take away from this movie?  I think what many reviewers really missed, or may be ignorant of, is in many ways this is Frank Miller’s original vision of this story. I’m sure Miller would have done things differently, but the artistic echoes are quite apparent. Furthermore, that dark vision is precisely why many reviewers didn’t like the movie; this is no Marvel movie, after all. DC is knowingly taking a different path for their series. I presume that is going to turn off many viewers, and may actually be less successful among general viewing audiences. That doesn’t make it a less interesting story arc; just a different one.

In the end, I enjoyed this far more than I thought I would. No, it isn’t as good as the first Marvel’s The Avengers movie. Yes, it could have been far more concise story wise, and would have been easier to follow for the non-comic book viewing audience.

That said, I have been heavily critical of many decisions they made over the past year, but seeing the final product, I really can’t complain too much. It is far from a perfect movie; however, it does a reasonable job setting up the Justice League stories, and hopefully gives us enough room for a nice future Superman arc to boot.

I, for one, can’t complain too much about that.

 

1

Only A Fool’s Hope…

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The end is near…in more ways than one.

As I said before Super Tuesday, Donald Trump is very likely to win the nomination outright.  I still believe this; the numbers, and momentum, all point to him reaching 1237 delegates, and avoiding a floor fight at the Convention in Cleveland.

That said, it is not an absolute certainty.

The anti-Trump forces for the better part of a year have been confused, disunited, and remain so to this day, even at this late hour. Even when leading voices like Mitt Romney stand up and take a stand, the remnants of the conservative movement can’t decide if they want to follow.  The Trump opposition has been worse than herding cats.  If there are any hopes of derailing the Trump train, a few things must happen, and quickly.

First and foremost, Cruz must help Rubio with an exit strategy.

I know. Many Cruz fans feel that Rubio should do this of his own accord; and I don’t necessarily disagree.

But this entire process of uniting anti-Trump forces demands that someone elevate above the field at large, and lead the movement. To lead, you must show the ability to bring people together, be magnanimous, and sometimes go out of your way to show gratitude, even if your opponents don’t necessarily deserve it.

In short…Ted Cruz needs to grow as a person, and become the leader we pray he can be.

Cruz has many great attributes. He is brilliant, as well learned as anyone in America, a true intellectual and a hard-core conservative. But even with all these great personal attributes, his lack of close personal connections is quite clearly one of his weaknesses. This, however, is his moment to show he can grow beyond the man he already is. Cruz could be the bridge for Rubio to join a common alliance to work against Trump.  The way to do that is to form an emotional and personal attachment with Rubio, no matter how difficult that process may be.

I believe Rubio should leave the race, regardless of what Cruz does. His path has now evaporated. Chances of him winning Florida are well within the ‘Hail Mary’ region of expectations. Any momentum that he had after Iowa has all but disappeared. Finishing fourth in states like Michigan and Mississippi to Kasich, of all people, shows that this campaign is on life support.

But Cruz wants to be the leader of the conservative movement, and the nominee of the Republican Party. Intelligence and superior policy initiatives alone doesn’t achieve that. Ultimately, you must show that you are the person that conservatives want to fight for, because you are a leader that rises above the fray, and can ignore the political infighting in order to elevate the movement.

This is Cruz’s moment.

Secondly, Cruz and his anti-Trump movement must coalesce behind a common strategy to fight Trump on all fronts. Sean Davis and Erick Erickson have both laid out the strategy in one form or another. Here from Erickson:

So let me paint a picture for you.

We know in the stand alone races, Cruz beats Trump. We know that according to Rule 40 of the Republican Party, any person to stand for nomination for President has to have won the majority of delegates in eight states. Cruz has won three with that criteria and would have won more but for Rubio in the race. If Rubio could even win Florida, he would still struggle. Same with Kasich.

So instead, Rubio drops out and Cruz publicly declares Rubio is his running mate. They barnstorm the nation today with Rubio throwing the punches at Trump and Cruz talking about their vision for the future. They crisscross Florida raising voter awareness that voters need to vote for Cruz. They go to Missouri, North Carolina, etc.

Once they get through March 15th barnstorming the country together, they divide up the states with Rubio going as Cruz’s surrogate. Rubio hits New England. Cruz goes elsewhere. They have some joint events together.

Doing so shifts the conversation. Doing so forces voters to pay attention to the changed dynamic. And they head to Cleveland with either 1237 delegates for Cruz or at least more than Trump. It gives them a head start on having a general election ticket, which gives them an advantage over the Democrats.

In the process they unite the party. In the process they beat Trump. In the process they unite the party. In the process they start making the case against Hillary.

I don’t know if Rubio necessarily has to be named VP or not. But I do know that Cruz must make use of Rubio. Cruz alone cannot defeat Trump; that has become quite clear. Cruz has great difficulty in expanding the base, not only because of his record, but because of his personality. Many Cruz fans have a hard time accepting that Cruz’s demeanor, speaking style, and substance turn off many moderate Republicans in places like the Midwest, the East, and California.

Enter Rubio. Rubio has not been able to connect to base conservative voters for many reasons. But he can, and has, successfully connected with these suburban moderate Republicans. In many respects, Cruz and Rubio put together are the ideal Republican candidate. Can a tag-team achieve the results that neither alone could achieve?

A one-two punch of Rubio and Cruz barnstorming the country puts Trump on the defensive; they can cover more ground, they can target different demographics, and if smart, can target different states all together. And maybe more importantly, it instantly changes the narrative. The media will have to transition from “Trump the inevitable’ to ‘The Conservatives Unite”.

Finally, the obvious: Cruz needs a bridge to the establishment, and Rubio likely is that bridge. Cruz’s hope, time and again, is that groups that he wants to support him would magically coalesce behind him at some point. He believed that with the conservative base, the evangelicals, and now the establishment. At each turn, this has failed as a strategy. He must alter his tactical thinking if he wants to win this campaign.

Cruz has the opportunity here to make a peace-offering to the establishment. It costs Cruz nothing; if he loses, what has he lost? If he wins, and Rubio is his running mate…well, honestly, Cruz could do a lot worse.

That said…all of this is a long shot. I still believe Trump will be the nominee. But if the conservative base, and the establishment, truly believe in #NeverTrump, this is the moment of our choosing. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

It is time to unite. It is a time for choosing.

0

Super Tuesday Quick Takes

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So, just some brief observations going into Super Tuesday:

1.  Donald Trump will win most, if not all, states.

I think this is a forgone conclusion. I believe Cruz will win Texas, his home state. The question there is his margin of victory, and whether Rubio clears 20% (more on this later).  But other than that, where is a possible upset possible?

Cruz really has no other possibilities. Rubio has the outside chance of competing in Minnesota and Virginia, and less likely in Alaska and Georgia. Victories in any of those states would bolster Rubio, but seem unlikely at this point. I personally do not believe he wins any of the above.

Nate Silver has an excellent state-by-state breakdown that can be read here.

2. Ted Cruz must win Texas by a large margin.

This is essential. If Cruz somehow manages to lose Texas, his campaign is over; I don’t expect this to happen. But I am unsure if a close victory is a good thing for anyone.

A close victory with Trump would give Trump a fair amount of delegates, but still give Cruz a reason to stay in the race (he would have, after all, won two more states than Rubio, and the second largest in the nation). Ironically, this would actually be the best case scenario for Trump. In this scenario, Cruz stays in the race, divides the non-Trump vote, and Trump dominates a divided primary all the way to Cleveland.

Cruz does have a path to the nomination, but it requires him winning states like Arkansas, Tennessee and Oklahoma…all of which are states where he is currently trailing. Furthermore, the battlefield gets worse for Cruz as the primary carries on. Let us recall, Cruz’s plan was to get an early delegate lead by March 1st, and sail through; that is no longer an option.

3. Marco Rubio has to thread the needle.

As I referred to above, Rubio has a chance to pick off a state or two (MN and VA being most likely) but even those I would bet against at this juncture.

The alternate path Rubio has is the ‘No Win’ Scenario (or loving called Rubio’s Kobayashi Maru).

The scenario goes like this: Trump wins all the states on Super Tuesday, but Rubio and Cruz amass a large amount of delegates by polling above 20% in states. This will give them proportional number of delegates, thus undercutting Trump’s potential lead.

What then happens? From Nate Cohn:

Imagine, for a moment, that the candidates fare about as well on Super Tuesday as they have through the first four contests. Given the types of states in play on Super Tuesday, perhaps that yields something like a 34-25-25 percent split between Mr. Trump, Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz.

In this scenario, Mr. Trump claims a clear edge in delegate accumulation but not a majority. He gets 279 delegates, or just 44 percent of the delegates at stake, while Mr. Rubio receives 164 delegates.

In short, Trump does build a lead…but is slowed by Rubio and Cruz stealing delegates on both sides of him.

The problem? Then March 15th is for all the marbles. If Trump is able to win the winner-take-all states of Florida and Ohio, it is game over. As long as Cruz and Kasich are in the race, there is no chance of Rubio winning Ohio, and even winning his home state of Florida will be a stretch.

Rubio’s only hope is Cruz does badly on Super Tuesday, pulls out, Kasich beats Trump in Ohio and Rubio is able to take Florida.

Again..this is why it is called the ‘No Win Scenario/Kobayashi Maru’. It is virtually impossible.

4. What I expect:

I expect Trump to win all states tomorrow other than Texas; I expect Cruz to win Texas fairly comfortably. I think Rubio comes close and fails in Virginia and Minnesota.

In short, I pretty much see Trump’s ideal scenario.

As of right now, unless something crazy happens (like Cruz dropping out) I see no reason to believe Trump will not be the GOP nominee. I do believe Rubio has a slim window, and there is reason to continue fighting, but if you were a betting man you would bet on Trump.

0

For Conservatives..Its A New Day

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Its likes the song Feeling Good…”It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day…”…

The Iowa Caucus, in a few short hours, turned the political conventional wisdom that has building for the better part of a year on its head.  Literally every poll in the last few weeks showed Donald Trump leading the Iowa caucus by an ever-growing margin, extending up to an average of 5-7 points by election day yesterday, with Senator Ted Cruz following in second, and Marco Rubio trailing badly for third.

None of those things were true. And Iowa Caucus voters showed again why commentators know nothing…and voters are paramount.

So who won and lost on Tuesday?

1. Ted Cruz was the biggest winner of all. 

You can spin the expectations game and the perception battle all you want. Of any of the candidates on either side of the aisle, Cruz was the only that, you know…actually won something.

Cruz started this campaign a year ago with a simple premise: he was going to unite the social right, pull enough establishment conservatives to drain the mainstream candidate, and win Iowa to catapult him into the heart of the nomination race. He spent millions of dollars and countless amount of time to build the best Republican infrastructure and Evangelical turnout machine that could be constructed.

And he succeeded on all counts.

There is an obvious open question now if Cruz can repeat this success anywhere else, because obviously Iowa is unique among primary states. No candidate will have the time or manpower to move their voters the way Cruz did in Iowa. From now on, the candidates will have to depend far more on their power of persuasion.

2. Senator Marco Rubio is for real.

There is literally no honest Rubio supporter (including yours truly) that thought Rubio would finish within 5% of the leader, 1% of Trump, or an overall percentile of 23%.  Rubio came within 2,300 votes of passing Trump on Tuesday night; to put that into perspective, that is equivalent of half of Jeb Bush’s entire vote, or slightly more than Rick Santorum’s vote. It was that razor-thin.

Rubio compounded his victory by giving the most uplifting victory speech of the night. And, to the ire of Cruz fans, that is exactly what it was:  a victory speech.  Stealing a page from Bill Clinton in 1992, Rubio claimed victory on a night that he actually lost.

But it worked. He went out and spoke first, likely garnering the largest TV audience of the night. His fans were ecstatic, and most felt that they won…even though they finished third.

Rubio’s challenge going forward is slightly different from Cruz’s. Rubio must convince the other establishment candidates to leave the race.  Exit polls (which are dubious in Caucus elections, but it is the only data we have) say that Rubio was the favorite second choice of voters who cast ballots for Bush, Kasich, Santorum, and Christie, and for a large percentage of Ben Carson and Ron Paul voters.  Those votes must consolidate for Rubio to win the nomination.

3. Donald Trump was the biggest loser.

There is no debating this. Trump spent a year telling the nation he was leading in the polls. He would, quite literally, read poll numbers to his crowds, saying how fantastic they were.

And then Iowa voters crushed Trump with the burden of reality.

To his credit, a second place finish for a moderate/liberal from New York City with no political infrastructure or experience is quite an accomplishment in its own right.  Seen on its own, Trump’s performance in Iowa was quite impressive; more than Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani could accomplish, after all.

But politics isn’t won or lost that way. Politics is rarely about reality, and always about perception. And the perception is the King of the Hill has been displaced.

Trump set himself as the ultimate winner, unbeatable…and he lost.

Going forward, Trump has the same problem he always had: he is an outsider with no base to really call upon, and must expand his tent beyond the Populist movement he himself created. And he now faces a hard ceiling. Can he get about 25-30% of the vote anywhere? And if the establishment unifies behind one, or even two, candidates, can he beat either of them running the campaign he is currently running?

4. Hillary Clinton lost, but did Bernie Sanders win?

The Clintons spent 8 years trying to fix their catastrophic 2008 performance in Iowa. They spent millions of dollars building a machine that could not be beat.

And…they were almost beat by a Socialist 70-year-old Northeastern Senator who is, to add insult to injury, not really even a member of the Democrat Party.

With some caucus results missing…the truth is more voters may have gone out to caucus for Sanders on Tuesday night than did for Hillary.

Ms. Clinton now faces losing in New Hampshire by double digits, and then depending on her firewall of Southern African-American voters. This is going to be a long, hard slog.

5. The GOP must unify. 

It is a new dawn and a new day for the GOP. They have run an incompetent primary season so far. Many good candidates, such as Rick Perry and Scott Walker, were washed away by the chaos.

But voters have the power to bring the political establishment to its knees and face reality. And that is what Iowa voters did last night.

All but the top three candidates for the Republican nomination should be called to pull out now. Carson finished fourth, but is going home to take a week off instead of campaigning in New Hampshire; I say good for him. Huckabee has said he will drop out, and Santorum will like follow suit.

For Governors Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie, as well as Senator Ron Paul…there is no path to the nomination. The Mike Murphys of the world can delude themselves all they wish that enough money and enough spin can make their much vaunted candidates viable, but that simply is not the case.

For the good of the party, it is time for all of them to go. And then, let Cruz, Rubio and Trump fight it out for the mantle of the party’s leader.

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