4 On The Floor For The Fourth

Run, Cal, run — which #30 will indeed do, Friday night at Nationals Park . . .

Quietly (which seems appropriate), it’s been a good year for Calvin Coolidge.

America’s 30th President is this year’s choice as the White House Historical Association’s annual Christmas ornament.

And on Friday night, he gets to take what may or may not be a victory lap when an oversized Coolidge mascot competes at the Washington Nationals’ “running of the presidents” — a fourth-inning dash around the ballpark also featuring the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft (if the mascots are done to scale, getting stuck behind Taft would seem like a ticket to defeat).

About Coolidge: he’s also the only American born on America’s birthday (in 1872, in Vermont’s Plymouth Notch).

Which prompted me to write this column for Forbes.com about four aspects of the 4th of July that pertain to Republican presidential hopefuls and and the coming election:

1) Coolidge. In this remarkably bunched-together field of Republicans, which candidate(s) comes closest to “Silent Cal” as an espouser of tax cuts snd de-regulation and limited government? Remember , it’s not just Reagan Reagan who championed conservative beliefs in a 20th Century White House. Here’s a Coolidge address to Congress, from December 1923 (his first year in office), to get you thinking . . .

2) Adams & Jefferson. They’re the two presidents who passed away on the 4th — coincidentally, on the 50th anniversary of the republic’s founding. They started their political careers as rivals and ended their lives as mutually-admiring correspondents. Which begs the question: which of the GOP candidates would you like to pair-off as pen pals? My choices: two former governors (Bush and Perry) and two current governors (Walker and Kasich) going at it on the GOP struggles with ideology and brand. Though a dialogue between Lindsey Graham and Mike Huckabee might have a southern-friend tastiness to it.

3) The Iron Horse. The 4th of July also belongs to Lou Gehrig, who gave his “farewell address” at Yankee Stadium on that day in 1939 (Jonathan Eig’s book on the man’s life and times is one of my favorite all-time reads). We remember the speech for its poignancy (“luckiest man on the face of the earth”). What we forget is that it was also abbreviated, as Gehrig was a reluctant participant in the ceremony — his remarks lasting for all of 278 words, which is just six more than Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Can the GOP field produce a candidate with Gehrig’s humility, to say nothing of his stamina (I won’t bother wishing for a president who’d limit his speeches to three minutes or less)?

4) Freedom To Choose. There’s no set routine as to how American presidents celebrate the 4th. During their respective first years on the job: Barack Obama hosted a White House picnic; George W. Bush attended a block party in Philadelphia; Bill Clinton was also in Philly, at the Liberty Bell; George H.W. Bush kicked back in Kennebunkport; Ronald Reagan was recovering from his gunshot wounds. Some presidents worked over the holiday (in 1933, FDR was dealing with the global economic conference in London); others played (Harding and Eisenhower took to the links). For the good of the nation, the hope would be the GOP field producing a candidate so certain of himself or herself that there’s no need for polling and focus-grouping their holiday plans.

Here’s wishing America a joyous 239th birthday.

And for old “Silent Cal”, who turns a spritely 143 the same day: good luck in the big race!

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Christie Almighty?

Now that he’s formally a candidate for president, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie enters the race to a decidedly mixed reception.

Some called in an ego run.

Others would have you believe he’s the king of the GOP long shots (talk about a backhand compliment.

Still others said Dr. Jekyll showed up to announce; how long before Mr. Hyde makes an appearance? Not a compliment whatsoever.

Here’s my take on Christie’s entry. Longer post short:

1) It’s a test of what I like to call the “George Costanza” theory of recent presidential elections — George deciding, in a Seinfeld episode, that doing the instinctual opposite was the only way to get women, get a job and get respect. Translated to elections: Bill Clinton was the opposite of George H.W. Bush (distinguished WW2 veteran versus Vietnam draft evader). George W. Bush offered a moral fiber that Clinton lacked. And Barack Obama’s rhetorical skills are a far cry from the younger Bush’s interpretation of the English language. The far opposite of Obama in this Republican field? Try a guy who’s abrasive, blunt, confrontational, probably can’t sing, and hasn’t fit in a 42-long suit in years.

2) Christie’s timing couldn’t be any worse. He peaked in November 2013, following his landslide reelection. But the past year’s been troublesome for New Jersey’s governor — most notably, that pesky bridge scandal. At present, Christie’s approval rating is at a record low. If I were starting a presidential run, I’m not sure I’d so on a day after the market tanked, a week after the Supreme Court broke conservatives’ heart, in a state where less than one in three voters like what I’m doing. I checked the web: United offers direct flights from Newark to Manchester, N.H., where Christie’s presidential run either finds life or dies in the winter snow.

3) However, Christie does have one card to play: plenty of governors who owe him large for his successful turn as head of the Republican Governors Association in last year’s election. Christie was dealt a bad hand — nine Republican guvs running for reelection in states Obama twice carried. Christie lost only one of those races: Pennsylvania. In theory, Christie should be calling in chits (not to mention hitting up all those donors he met along the trail last year). The problem is: if you’re a sitting Republican governor, this particular field offers a lot of sound choices. That includes governors present (Christie, Kasich, Jindal and Walker) and past (Bush). So why endorse now — especially, a guy not in the front tier.

Next up for Christie: trying to make the a-list at that Aug. 6 candidate debate in Cleveland.

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Meanwhile, Over At Forbes . . .

The good folks over at Forbes.com have asked me to start writing for their site — doing what I’ve been doing here at “A Day At The Races”, blogging on politics.

Which is what I’m now doing — this being my inaugural post.

The subject: Donald Trump’s position within the GOP field (he’s out of a job at NBCUniversal, but in second place in New Hampshire according to at least one poll).

I thought it was worth looking at where The Donald is today versus where Pat Buchanan was back in 1992.


1) Because both gentlemen’s campaigns, at their core, tapped into voter frustration with overseas powers and the political ruling class.

2) And because both candidates caused/are causing trouble for the Bush family — Buchanan messing up George H.W.’s reelection chances; Trump taking pot-shots at Jeb Bush in the current race.

My question: will we see Jeb turn the tables on Trump . . . as soon as the August debate in Cleveland? It must be tempting given that it’s a political three-fer for Bush: a) would put him on the offensive in what otherwise might be a defensive evening; b) would bolster hid standing among Latinos; 3c) and this is my hunch: the press would give him high marks for calling out The Donald.

I’ll still be posting on this site, but hope you’ll find the time to stop by Forbes. Lots of smart writers and good content on all sorts of matters.

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Did Hillary Flunk A History Lesson?

So Hillary Clinton has formally (choose your favorite verb) launched/rebooted/re-packaged/re-introduced her presidential campaign in a Saturday speech on New York City’s Roosevelt Island.

My question going into the event: which Roosevelt would she channel in making her case to be America’s 45th president?

Choice A: Eleanor Roosevelt, for whom Mrs. Clinton has long expressed an affinity as a fellow First Lady (some reporters speculated that Hillary’s “Scooby” ride through Iowa was inspired in part by Eleanor’s famous jaunt in a Buick Roadster).

Choice B: Theodore Roosevelt and his rough-riding progressivism of 110 years ago – spirited anti-corporate rhetoric (Hillary’s even shown a willingness to appropriate one of T.R.’s more famous phrases (“in the arena”)).

Where she landed, of course, was the obvious choice all along: Franklin Roosevelt.

As with FDR in his two Depression-era presidential campaigns, Hillary used the event to demonstrate empathy and her desire to unleash unrealized potential on the domestic front, as the New Deal promised in the 1930s.

Here’s video of the event:

But a word of caution about emulating FDR – or any Roosevelt, for that matter.

The temptation is to cut-and-paste the Roosevelts’ words, applying them to modern-day problems. Indeed, Hillary Clinton fell into this trap.

Here’s how:

The exact venue for her kickoff was Four Freedoms Park, on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island (a good place to keep outsiders from crashing an event). The park commemorates one of FDR’s more storied speeches, his address to Congress on Jan. 6, 1941.

The “four essential human freedoms” that Roosevelt listed that day:

1) “freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world”

2) “freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world”

3) “freedom from want . . . economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime lifetime for its inhabitants . . .”

4) “freedom from fear . . . a worldwide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor . . .”

In her speech, Mrs. Clinton listed not “four freedoms” but “four fights” (as she has been, for some time on the campaign trail) – strengthening the economy, strengthening families, increasing opportunities, and renewing democracies. And she talked about America’s “unfinished business”, which she led the audience to believe was also at the heart of FDR “four freedoms”.

Which is all fine and swell, but not exactly what Franklin Roosevelt had in mind in January 1941.

Coming off an election in which he promised not to send American boys into foreign wars, FDR used the appearance before Congress to make a pivot. Almost eleven months to the day before Pearl Harbor, he was now hard-selling reluctant members on the need for a rapid military buildup, while slow-walking the nation into the concept of America’s intervention in global affairs as a moral imperative.

Yes, there was a domestic component to the speech. But if you read it carefully, you’ll see that FDR’s greater focus was the moral argument in favor of foreign entanglements (just as Roosevelt’s relationship with Winston Churchill was fraught with religious overtones).

“Freedom from fear”, vintage 1941, was a reference to fascism on the march, not escaping student-loan debt.

“Freedom of speech and expression” referred to Nazi persecution, not Caitlyn Jenner’s sex change.

Perhaps Roosevelt would see eye to eye with Mrs. Clinton’s domestic vision. But in 1941, he was looking a world melting down, even if the violence was reaching America’s shores, and trying to swim against the political current. The nagging sense, after listening to the Hillary 2016 kickoff, is she isn’t looking at the inevitability of future war and entanglement (or maybe she can’t publicly say so, given that it raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions about her role in Obama foreign policy).

In fairness, Hillary Clinton isn’t the only presidential candidate going down the historical rabbit hole in this election. Earlier this month, in a campaign appearance in Andover, Mass., Texas Sen. Ted Cruz claimed that John F. Kennedy “would be a Republican today” as there’s no home in the modern Democratic Party for a pro-growth tax-cutting presidency.

However, it’s Mrs. Clinton’s use of FDR’s legacy that’s more bothersome, as it gets to the heart of the Democrats’ challenge in the 2016 election – in trying to succeed an anti-interventionist president whose foreign policy is in a state of free-fall, what will be the Clinton standard for overseas engagement? Red line, blurred lines, or no lines at all?

Once her New York event was over, Mrs. Clinton immediately hit the campaign trail, presumably without a cigarette holder dangling from her lips or a Scottish Terrier by her side. But that won’t stop her from invoking FDR if it better connects her to fellow Democrats.

Which suggests that, in 2016, the only thing we have to fear is . . . a candidate who selectively edits Franklin Roosevelt.

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Wednesday Candidates Quiz

As we’re at the midpoint of the work-week, it’s a good time to ask which of these stories of the past 72 hours mean the most to the Republican presidential field.

These would be both short-term and long-term considerations. In the short term: the Aug. 6 Fox News candidates’ debate in Cleveland. In the long term: strategies for coming back to Cleveland next summer and accepting the party’s nomination.

1) Bush Money. The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that Jeb Bush’s Right To Rise super PAC is unlikely to reach its $100 million target by the month’s end. Team Bush could still reach that figure, but to do so might require some accounting gimmicks such as factoring in the accumulated sums of Right To Rise, a separate Bush leadership PAC, plus whatever money’s in the actual campaign that becomes formal next week. Then again, maybe it’s an elaborate head-fake and Bush will beat the street estimates. Regardless, word of a potential financial underperformance spread like crazy over the Internet. Why such interest? Because money is at the heart of the Bush campaign — its strategy, its media validation. So, if true, is this a big deal, little deal, or no deal at all.

2) Rubio Rubbish.On Monday, The New York Times ran this headline: “Marco Rubio’s Career Bedeviled By Financial Struggles”. It chronicled how the Florida senator caught a break by getting an $800,000 advance to write a book about growing up as an immigrants’ son. It claimed that Rubio squandered $80,000 on a “luxury speedboat”. It turns out the S.S. Rubio is a modest offshore fishing boat — in the manufacturer’s words: a craft meant for “safety-minded family boaters and avid anglers”.

So much for the Times leading us to believe that Rubio is the GOP’s Sonny Crockett . . .

It’s the Grey Lady’s second piece on Rubio in the last week — the other “exposing” how Rubio’s received four traffic tickets in the last 17 years. Could this be the break Rubio was looking for — a way for his candidacy to benefit (financially and from conservative talk radio) from the perception of media bias?

3) Santorum No-Shows. On Monday, all of one Iowan showed up for a Rick Santorum campaign event in the small town of Hamlin, Iowa (there must be a Pied Piper joke somewhere in this). By the time Santorum was done, the audience had swelled to four. According to the RCP Average of Iowa polls, Santorum is running ninth among GOP presidential hopefuls — he’s the middle of a Christie/Trump sandwich. Over the weekend, Santorum got into an exchange with Fox News’ Chris Wallace over not having a spot in a nationally televised debate if the cutoff is 10 candidates. Wallace’s advice: (quit your whining and) improve your numbers. Which would seem true in terms of both polls snd earned-media.

4) Aye, Carly? The former H-P chair is in New Hampshire this week, working the Granite State after announcing endorsements from more than a dozen state legislators. “This is a place where it doesn’t mean you have to be the most well-known candidate, or the best financed candidate. I’m neither. I’m not as well-known as many, and I don’t have as much money as many, so this is an important place for me,” Fiorina told reporters. Still, she has to find a way to become better-known if she’s going to crack that elusive debate top-10. Here’s Fiorina’s challenge for the next six weeks, based on numbers from this Fox News poll released a week ago. The GOP field breaks down as follows:

(1) Bush/Walker 12%

(3) Carson 11%

(4) Paul 9%

(5) Cruz  8%

(6) Rubio 7%

(7) Huckabee 6%

(8) Christie 5%

(9) Perry/Trump 4%

(11) Fiorina/Graham/Kasich/Pataki/Santorum 2%

(16) Jindal

So how does Fiorina, in this scenario, crack the top-10 (granted, this is just one Fox poll and not a blend of several national polls which will be the debate’s standard)? She stands to gain if Trump doesn’t run. Maybe she also catches break should Christie have a change of heart (he’s expected to cannonball-in around late June/early July).  The bad news for her: Kasich and Jindal could get poll bumps if and when they announce (Jindal will make his intentions known on June 24; look for Kasich to say something in July).

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First Best Second Choice

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush formally enters the presidential race next week in Miami.

It’s hot today in Palo Alto.

Well, mid-to-upper 80’s with little in the way of a breeze, which may sound laughable depending where you’re reading this. But it feels downright Dante-esque here in Northern California given that most of our May seemed overcast and unseasonably cool.

I won’t take the coward’s way out and blame the heat for this evergreen story — vice-presidential speculation. What got me thinking about it was this story on Jeb Bush’s presidential staffing hires — specifically, the surprise choice of Danny Diaz as campaign manager.

About Diaz: he was a senior advisor on Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign and, four years before, a deputy communications director on John McCain’s campaign.

But here’s what got my attention: Diaz has also worked for New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (here is he tweeting about her back in 2014).

And if you want to play the veepstakes guessing game, Martinez is worth a wager for at least three reasons:

1) Outreach. Jeb Bush is bilingual; he won’t back down on immigration reform. His kick-off speech next Monday will be at the Kendall campus of Miami Dade College, thus highlighting a theme of minority aspiration (last fall, 71% of credit-seeking students at Miami Dade were Hispanic and 17% were black). Should Bush receive his party’s nomination, Martinez and her compelling biography (nation’s first female Latina governor, former prosecutor, daughter of a Texas deputy sheriff) would seem a natural fit.

2) Gender. Let’s call it the “The Carly Fiorina Theory” — the idea being that the best way to attack a female presidential nominee . . . is by having a woman swing the hatchet (you’ll note that Iowa Sen Jodi Ernst also could serve this role).

3) Geography. For all the talk of the GOP winning back Florida, Ohio and Virginia in 2016, those states alone won’t swing the electoral balance — all the states being the same as in 2012, the Democrats would still have enjoy a 272-266 advantage. Where else to shop for electoral votes? Iowa, yes (6 electoral votes). But also Martinez’s backyard of “New West” (also known as the “Southwest”) and two states in particular: Colorado and Nevada (a combined 15 electoral votes). Win those two and the election goes from 272-266 Democratic to 281-257 Republican. Think of Colorado as the other Republican linchpin, in addition to Ohio: the last successful GOP presidential nominee who failed to carry the Centennial State was William Howard Taft, back in 1908.

There’ll be plenty of hot days ahead that will allow for more idle Republican veep speculation. Off the top of my head, here are a few possibilities:

1) Scott Walker . . . Marco Rubio?

2) Marco Rubio . . . John Kasich?

3) Donald Trump . . . think there’ll be human cloning by the summer of 2016?

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Game of Inches

Mess with the metric system if you will, but hands off Al Pacino’s best speeches . . .

Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee entered the Democratic side of the presidential sweepstakes earlier today.

About his candidacy:

Chafee’s also a former U.S. Senator and a former Republican. The niche he hopes the occupy: voting against Iraqi war authorization back in his days in Washington (at the time, the only Republican to do so), which Hillary Clinton obviously did not.

Many of Chafee’s positions are boiler-plate Democratic: he’s pro-choice, signed bills legalizing same-sex marriage and addressing climate change while he was the Ocean State’s governor, and he’s in favor of a higher minimum wage and minimal tinkering with Obamacare.

But there is one position where Chafee breaks with political orthodoxy: he wants to convert America to the metric system. In 1975, the federal government adopted metric as the nation’s “preferred measurement system” – at the time, establishing the United States Metric Board to manage the transition.

However, the movement metered, er petered out not long afterwards. To quote the fictional Dr. Sheldon Cooper: “Blame President James “Jimmy” Carter. He started America on a path to the metric system but then just gave up. He wonders why he was a one-term president.”

Today, the U.S., Liberia and Myanmar are the lone holdouts against the metric system. But not so, if Chafee shocks the world by winning the Democratic nomination and the presidency, and then shocks football fans everywhere by what to call “first in 10″ and “fastest time in the 40″.

Speaking of football, there’s other casualty awaiting should Chafee be given the chance to take new measure of the nation. And that would be this “inch by inch” pregame speech from 1999’s Any Given Sunday:

All of which suggests the possibility of a new third rail of presidential politics (let’s call it a Godfather/Dog Day Afternoon/Scent of a Woman crossover demographic: scenery-chewing Al Pacino soliloquies.

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