Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Learnings from Iowa and New Hampshire

Yes the polls in New Hampshire only closed about 30 minutes ago but it appears there's enough insight to write a post now rather than tomorrow morning.  Here's a few things that I think we've learned and a few I think we haven't so far.

What we've learned

1.  Donald Trump has a passionate group of supporters who are with him as long as he's in it but he has a really hard time expanding that group.  Trump has lost the race among late deciders in both states and seems to be supported by a group of folks who are Trump or nothing.

2.  The split in the establishment lane helped Trump (and Cruz) enormously.  In a world where there were fewer of Kasich, Bush, Rubio, and Christie, Trump would still have won likely but it would have been close and Cruz would have gone from being "in the pack" to being far behind.  This is because neither Trump nor Cruz is a strong second choice.

3.  Trump and Cruz therefore would like as many people to stay in the race for as long as possible.

4.  Christie (probably) killed Rubio but he didn't help himself nearly enough.  His kamikaze attack was "successful" in the sense it did damage but he certainly looks like he's going down with his plane.

5.  A brokered convention, which I thought a bit of a long shot for a while, now looks pretty likely to me.  The Trump supporters aren't going anywhere.  Cruz has enough money, success, and pride to run all the way to the end and the winner of the establishment lane will have enough money as well.  In that scenario, I don't see a delegate majority coming for anyone.  Trump will consistently get 20 to 35 percent of the vote.  Cruz and the establishment candidate will split the rest in varying degrees.  There's simply no majority as long as all three are in it.

6.  Bernie isn't going anywhere any time soon.  He'll be in it to Super Tuesday at least and probably beyond.  His win probably does nothing more than preserve the status quo since it was neither big enough to change the narrative nor small enough to cast doubts among the faithful.  Look for the Hillary/Bernie race to get increasingly nasty.  Hillary's people really want him out and Bernie's people really increasingly don't like Hillary.

What we haven't learned

1.  No this win in NH doesn't make Trump the favorite to win the nomination.  Trump simply isn't likely to pull support as the field consolidates.  He is the most unlike the rest of the field, both in terms of policy and in terms of personality.  The chances of moving from establishment to Trump are nearly nil.  Maybe he picks up a few Fiorina supporters when she drops out but there aren't enough to matter and I think he won't get many.

2.  No, the New Hampshire results don't indicate that American wants national health care.  Trump voters are not voting for Trump because he wants national health care.  Bernie voters may well be but they are 50 percent of Democrats in two small and liberal states, hardly an electoral majority in a national election.

I may have more as things clarify themselves but that's my early read of it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Rorschach Evening

I was up fairly late last night watching a surprisingly interesting Iowa caucus outcome.  This morning, it appears to be pretty clear.  Hillary won (but barely), Cruz won (perhaps a bit unsurprisingly except to the pundits) and Rubio and Sanders did a lot better than people thought.

Today, each one of those candidates seems to be spinning pretty heavily that they won.  This truly is one where the outcome is heavily in the eye of the beholder.  I'm relatively neutral here in the sense that of all those running, I'd pick Kasich who has absolutely no chance of being the nominee.

So let me take it back to the three lanes I see in the race at the moment.

1.  The angry lane.  This is Trump on the Republican side and, to a degree, Sanders on the Democratic side.  Sanders to a degree because Sanders isn't nearly as angry as some of his supporters are.  He runs as more of a dedicated warrior than an angry one but his supporters are pretty clearly angry.  It wasn't a great night for the angry lane.  Trump dramatically underperformed despite very strong turnout.  Sanders overperformed but I don't think that was angry coming home to roost.

2.  The ideological lane.  This is Cruz on the Republican side and Sanders on the Democratic side.  Here, you'd have to say it was a pretty good night.  Cruz won and Sanders outperformed.  That said, I think Iowa is a bit of a different world than most of the country.  The winning play on the Republican side wasn't conservatism but faith.  Yes the two are linked but it's really the faith based conservatives who rule Iowa (Santorum and Huckabee anyone?).  That's pretty unique to Iowa.  On the Democratic side, the refrain (socialism) was the complete ideology but the electorate is particularly suited to the refrain.  Again, it doesn't seem likely that this resonates as well nationally as it did in Iowa.

3.  The traditional lane.  I'm going to shy away from the "E" word here.  This is Clinton and Rubio.  On the whole, it was a pretty mixed night for the traditional party types.  Yes Clinton won and Rubio beat expectations but the traditionalists Republicans and Democrats do seem weaker than most (including me) would have expected.  Across all the traditional candidates on the Republican side, you had a total vote count in the low to mid 30s.  And Clinton's showing of 50 percent is hardly anything to write home about given how far she has fallen in Iowa and the fact that she's almost sure to lose New Hampshire.

Ultimately, I still would bet on the traditionalists on both sides and suspect it's Rubio vs Clinton in the fall (barring crazy things happening).  The advantage traditionalist have is that they are acceptable to most people.  And in a 2 person race, which already has happened in the Dem race and should be a few weeks out in the Rep race, I think the traditionalist has to be the favorite.