Shattered-freude

Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign has become predictably popular inside the Beltway. But in a piece over at Medium, I argue that it isn’t for the right reasons.

Campaign 2016 taught plenty of lessons to those who were willing to listen. The major news media could have learned that their reporting was rightfully distrusted. Democrats could have learned that talking about opponents in caustic, derogatory terms assigned more passion to politics than most people feel. Republicans could have learned that playing to the base means more than simply checking ideological boxes.

The Medium piece picks on Republicans with a shallow treatment of Shattered – at least, those reading it to relive the upset of election night, watching Hillary Clinton play Charlie Brown as America yanks the football away. They aren’t the only ones who watched a historic upset but failed to learn anything.

Obama doesn’t have to go to Nancy Reagan’s funeral, but I wish he would

Vice Presidents are supposed to be U.S. Government’s designated funeral attendee. There’s no reason President Obama should feel obligated spend his time there. The demands that he drop everything to pay respects to Nancy Reagan, and before that Justice Antonin Scalia, are shrill and senseless. They delegitimize the numerous valid criticisms of the President.

With all that said, don’t you wish he had gone?

After winning the 2008 campaign with soaring rhetoric of ushering in a new era of cooperation in Washington, Obama promptly reminded Congressional Republicans, “I won” when they expressed concern over his policies. His reelection was far from a rousing national endorsement; his campaign’s groundbreaking GOTV efforts squeezed every ounce of support from an electorate with mixed feelings.

This is the current President, but it could just as easily have been our former President. The left despised George W. Bush just as the right despises Obama, and W similarly squeaked through a close reelection relying on base voters. The man who claimed he was “a uniter, not a divider” saw a more fractured Washington in his rear view mirror when he left office than the one he had found eight years prior.

It adds up to 16 years of acidic national politics, and the choices for 2016 don’t appear likely to end the cycle.

With his days in the White House slipping into history, a warm gesture by the President to the other side would offer some glimpse of the idealistic young Senator we got to know in 2008 – and, perhaps, bandage some of the wounds. Scalia was beloved by thinking conservatives; Reagan was the First Lady to the man who, as more time passes, may prove to be the last pinnacle of post-World War II Republican Party success. Showing up at these funerals would have symbolized more than condolences; it would clearly tell the other side, “Hey, nothing personal and no hard feelings.” President Obama probably didn’t understand the significance of these two figures to his opponents across the aisle; otherwise he might have rethought his schedule.

(From a calculating, partisan perspective, it would also give the digital cheerleaders and opinion leaders within his base some motivation. “Look how magnanimous our Dear Leader is,” they could crow on Twitter.)

With eight years of sins on his record and almost two decades of political acrimony as a backdrop, surely these overtures would be rejected by some and ignored by still more. That doesn’t make them any less right. Eight years later, it would be nice for the President to go the extra mile and stand up for real change – especially because he doesn’t have to.

Running independent? Better start now.

Donald Trump heads into March like a lion, leading polls and looking to emerge with a delegate count that may put the Republican nomination away. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are taking their whacks at him more aggressively than before – and even if they can’t nudge Trump out of the race, they can extend the nominating contest until it falls under the arcane rules of the party convention.

All these turning gears have the more speculative wondering about whether a serious third option could appear on the November ballot for the first time in 20 years. Trump supporters want their guy to have a spot if they feel the GOP finds some kind of black magic to nominate someone else; Republicans fear the Trumpocalypse and don’t want to have to write in Mickey Mouse against Hillary Clinton. These are both significant audiences, so an independent candidate seems like it could make some waves. Michael Bloomberg has been the biggest name to consider an independent run so far.

So could it happen?

The major problem is logistics, as Ballotpedia’s page on Presidential ballot access makes clear. While the major political parties pretty much have a free spot on each state ballot, running an independent bid means petitioning 50 separate state election authorities. Signature requirements range from 1,000 in Idaho to nearly 180,000 in California. (Thresholds for getting on primary ballots tend to be easier, and petition signatures can be supplanted by filing fees.)

Getting on all 50 ballots means collecting over 900,000 signatures. But wait, there’s more: As anyone who has handled ballot access can attest, fake and invalid signatures are a major problem. People who sign petitions may not be registered to vote, or they may use a fake name, or they may violate some other arcane rule (such as Nebraska, where a signatory must not have voted in either party’s primary). Campaigns generally try to capture at least twice as many signatures as needed for just this reason, so the real magic number is about 1.8 million signatures.

The first deadline for access is in Texas, where a candidate needs about 80,000 signatures by May 9. That’s significant, because an independent offshoot of the Republican primary would surely look to Texas as an opportunity to pull support. And though a smart operation might cherry pick friendly states to focus efforts there, such a plan requires much advance data work. Either way you slice it, a third party effort has to start almost immediately.

The candidate would almost have to be a self funder, or have access to a very generous fundraising network; they would also have to have a good amount of political savvy to build the organization necessary for the task. Most of the current candidates couldn’t pull off the optics of positioning for a third party run while also running for the nomination, but Trump could probably get away with it. If Trump is the nominee, Mitt Romney, Carly Fiorina, and Jeb Bush are in the sweet spot of the money/strategy Venn diagram, though it’s tough to imagine they would do more than split votes and toss some close states to Clinton (or Sanders).

Rick Perry has floated the idea that he’s open to a second crack at the nomination at a contested Republican convention, but he offers a compelling case as an independent candidate as well. Winning Texas and maybe a handful of southern, western, and midwestern states could disrupt Electoral College totals enough to push the race to the House of Representatives. Another, center-left independent (like Bloomberg or Jim Webb) would make that outcome even more likely.

It makes sense why the prospect of a candidate beyond the two major parties holds considerable sway this cycle. Yet, the election laws in place greatly discourage it. Beyond smaller third parties and failing an indictment, Americans are likely stuck choosing between the two candidates who emerge from the party conventions this summer.

The coming endorsement from Jeb! Bush

The Republican presidential field will start to slim down after tonight’s Iowa caucuses and next week’s New Hampshire primary. Over the next two weeks, the would-be contenders will start dropping out and throwing their support behind a former opponent.

How’s that going to work when it’s Jeb Bush’s turn?

Fundraising troubles combined with his respect for the office mean that, barring a stunning New Hampshire comeback, the former nominal frontrunner will be out sooner rather than later. It’s a stunning fall based on the national media coverage of his campaign, but unsurprising to observers who saw no natural path to the nomination for Bush in what was a deep, accomplished, and grassroots-friendly Republican field.

And it means there’s an endorsement coming up. Who wants it?

Other candidates have to be cringing. As they climb over each other to shed the dreaded “establishment” label, what could be worse than having to share the stage with – and get glowing compliments from – an inside-the-beltway brand name like Bush?

Fellow Floridian Marco Rubio is the most likely recipient of Bush’s blessing. After weeks of Bush-aligned super PAC attacks on Rubio, won’t that press conference be awkward? One question his attacks on Rubio’s Senate attendance or immigration stance, Bush would descend into several minutes of stammering, uncomfortable double-speak about “leadership” and “accomplishment.”

What will it be like if Bush opts for Ted Cruz? One can only imagine Cruz forcing an uneasy smile and awkward handshake, all the while worrying about his grassroots support as the poster child for policitcal inside baseball extolled Cruz’s Senate experience in Washington, D.C. But at least Cruz would feign grace; should Bush choose Rand Paul he might find himself getting into an arcane policy debate with the Kentucky Senator during the endorsement announcement. Neither one of those guys seem like they’re okay losing an argument.

Naturally, Donald Trump will take any endorsement, so he’d have no problem sharing the stage with Bush. Bush, on the other hand, might look like a hostage telling a video cameras through clenched teeth that his captors are treating him very very well. Naturally, Trump would praise Bush, speak reverently about the Bush family, and avow his respect for their service.

Then, for old time’s sake, he’d give Jeb a good noogie.

Super PACs and RFRA

Over at Communities Digital News, I look at how super PACs and other outside groups can spend a little bit smarter for 2016 than they have in past election cycles by using state policy issue campaigns to identify voters and crystallize messages. This business in Indiana is a good example. People are talking about the Hoosier state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, one way or another, and that means it’s an organizing opportunity.

For the sake of illustration, let’s oversimply the sides in this. Broadly, we can divide the sides into three camps:

  1. The Anti-RFRA Left: We’ve heard plenty from these folks.
  2. The Pro-RFRA Right: People who, whether or not they dig gay marriage, think its ok to let people make their own choices.
  3. Those who are uncomfortable with RFRA: This is the audience in the middle – the ones made uneasy by the comparisons to pre-1960s segregation laws.

All three of these groups are important to identify. Group 2 offers activists, campaign volunteers, potential donors, and highly probable voters. But messages to Group 3 are important. If this group is uncomfortable with RFRA now, they will be similarly uncomfortable when Democrat allies smear the eventual Republican nominee as anti-gay in 18 months. Republicans and conservative outside groups need to start talking to this group now.