Three 2016 What-If’s

What does it say about America’s two major political parties when their two hottest summertime commodities (which I’d define as presidential candidates drawing unexpectedly large crowds or defying polling gravity) are:

1) A guy atop the GOP field who calls himself a Republican, but has held plenty of Democratic positions over the years (at the same time, giving to prominent Democrats);

2) A guy who’s polling better than expected on the Democratic side, but isn’t even a registered member of that party.

We can dwell on the causes contributing to the phenomena of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. That’d include a lot of voter resentment in the forms of anti-politician and anti-media sentiments — plus the complicated relationship that Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton have with their parties’ faithful.

And that got me to thinking three historical what-if’s that might have significantly changed 2016 — arguably, for the better.

My choices:

1) California Chooses A Shade Other Than Brown. Rather than Jerry Brown, at present the Golden State’s oldest and longest-serving governor, the winner instead in 2010 is Gavin Newsom, the state’s lieutenant governor and an announced candidate for Brown’s job in 2018.  Let’s assume that Newsom is re-elected, by a landslide, in 2014. He then does what California governors historically have fallen prey to: a presidential. Suddenly, Hillary Clinton is facing a youthful rival (there’s a 21-year age gap between the two) with at least one accomplishment that impresses core progressives: while mayor of San Francisco back in 2004, Newsom started the ball rolling on same-sex marriage; Clinton, on the other hand, didn’t publicly come out of marriage equality until 2013.

But that’s assuming Hillary isn’t already in the Oval Office, which might have happened had . . .

2) Hillary Divorces Bill A Decade-Or-So Ago. Without her husband looking over her shoulder and his legacy overshadowing and, at time, at odds with her aspirations (not to mention that nasty habit of the former president going off message and making a mess for his wife’s campaign), Hillary Clinton is free to achieve something that eludes her to this day – establishing herself as a more confident, independent political entity. The more-sure-of-herself, not-having-to-tote-her-huband’s-baggage Clinton thus fends off a challenge, in 2008, from a promising young senator from Illinois.

That is, if . . .

3) Jeb, Not George, Is Bush 43. Under this what-if scenario, both brothers win their governor’s races in 1994 (in the real world, Jeb Bush wasn’t elected until 1998). Supposedly more politically ambitious than his older brother, Bush runs for president in 2000 as a very successful second-term Florida governor. So much for dangling chads and “selected, not elected” (whatever did happen to Katherine Harris?). Now, the big question: Does this Bush 43 invade Iraq? If not, then there’s no anti-war breeze at Barack Obama’s back in 2008, and Clinton never casts that Senate vote that still dogs her.

And where does that leave us for 2016?

There’s no Clinton on the ballot for 2016 (though, legally, a 35-year-old Chelsea could do it). One doubts that George W. would be in the hunt — one doubts he would have have hung around Austin for as long as did Rick Perry.

And where does that leave voters?

On the Democratic side, that young Illinois senator denied his party’s nod in 2008 is at it again — promising to close Guantanamo and fight for universal health care for all (the kind of liberal bucket-list items that a cautious President Hillary Clinton maybe doesn’t pursue). Meanwhile, Newsom touts California’s economic revival and dogs Obama for being a late convert to same-sex marriage.

But on the Republican side, it may not be much of a different picture. Let’s presume Mitt Romney still runs and loses in both 2008 and 2012. Absent a strong second-place finisher in 2012, the GOP probably finds itself in the same predicament as now: a wide-open field with the wide-mouthed Trump as the center of its universe.

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Hillary’s Very Brady Problem

Tom Brady just got handed a four-game suspension for his role in “Deflategate”.

Poor fella. He now has to spend a month of Sundays cooped up at home, with Gisele.

If I were DirecTV’s braintrust, I’d try to convince Brady to do one of those Sunday package ads lickety-split.

On the heels of Brady’s punishment, I posted this item at Forbes.com.

My thoughts:

1) There’s an opening here for the Republican National Committee: change Reince Priebus’ job-title from chairman to commissioner. Then, wait for Trump to say or do something outrageous (that won’t take long). And once he does, suspend Trump for the first four primaries and caucuses of 2016.

More seriously . . .

2) There’s a lesson in Brady’s downfall for Hillary Clinton, beginning with the parallels between Deflategate and Servergate. That would include:

— Brady reportedly destroyed a cell phone; Hillary destroyed thousands of emails;

— Brady didn’t fully cooperate with investigators; Hillary may yet give Rep. Trey Gowdy an aneurism over her Benghazi dealings;

— Brady and the New England Patriots’ front office probably calculated that, in the end, the league would let him off easy. Hillary and her political handlers probably have calculated that, in the end, voters will care little for federal email policy.

— Their loyal followers will play the conspiracy card — Bradyites saying NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wanted to target a high-profile white player; Clintonistas saying it’s only rabid right-wingers who care about Mrs. Clinton’s e-correspondence.

Here’s the big takeaway from Deflategate that the Clinton camp will overlook: it wasn’t so much Brady’s role in taking air out of footballs that landed the quarterback a big punishment as it was his reportedly jerking around the league’s investigators.

Put another way: it wasn’t the crime so much as it was the cover-up.

Which is pretty much how and why Servergate is chipping away at Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions.

Even if everything she’s done with regard to her State Department emails is legally on the up-and-up, there’s still the uneasy feeling that the candidate hasn’t been completely upfront about her actions.

Again, it’s not the crime, but the cover-up — in this case, the nagging thought that, even if she hasn’t done anything wrong, what’s Hillary Clinton hiding?

Which, in turn, leads to the decades-old perception problem of both Clinton’s as anything but honest and forthcoming – the kind of discomfort that could weigh on voters’ minds.

Here, I’ll defer to The National Journal’s Ron Fournier — a reporter, pundit and, in this election cycle, a self-appointed “Clintonologist”.

Here’s what Fournier’s surmised about Servergate: the candidate’s explanations are “legalistic at best, deceptive at worst . . .”

He adds:

“Clinton has put herself in a box. She can either hand the server over to an independent third party, who would protect her private email and our government’s working email. Or she can stonewall.

The latter course gives every voter the right—and every self-respecting journalist the responsibility—to ask, “What were you hiding, Hillary?”

What are you hiding?”

We may never find out what Tom Brady had hiding in that missing cell phone.

Just as we may never find out what-all’s on Mrs. Clinton’s stashed server.

Unlike Tom Brady, Hillary Clinton won’t be sidelined for playing fast and loose with her explanations.

But if Hillary Clinton continues to be legalistic and tricky: she’ll find her White House aspirations fast-fading.

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GOP Bracketology — A July Version

Now that Scott Walker’s in the race, with John Kasich on tap for next week, the GOP’s 2016 field soon will total 16 presidential candidates.

We can rank them, 1-16.

Or, go by tiers.

Or, pick names out of a hat.

My choice: divide the field into four brackets, four candidates apiece, which I’ve done in this column over at Forbes.com.

Bracket One — The Non-Conformists

1. Donald Trump

2. Ted Cruz

3. Carly Fiorina

4. Ben Carson

My rationale: (1) Trump gets the top seed because, for better or worse, it’s been the summer of Donald (sorry, George Constanza); (2) Cruz is coming off a second-quarter money haul that was pretty impressive; (3) Carly’s wowing them on the trail, but she needs to build the brand beyond Hillary smackdowns (that, and step up the fundraising); (4) Carson is holding steady in most polls, but the non-politician space is a lot more crowded than it was this spring, when he announced.

Bracket Two — Count (On Us) to 270

1. Jeb Bush

2. Marco Rubio

3. John Kasich

4. Chris Christie

I rank this group (committed to the proposition of life, liberty and the pursuit of swing states) in this order because: (1) Money can’t buy Jeb love, but it gives him quite the machine; (2) Rubio shines given the chance to tell his family’s life story and flash his policy chops; (3) If Bush or Rubio falter, Kasich would seem the logical beneficiary; (4) as a candidate going for broke (and maybe going broke) in New Hampshire, Christie’s running in a tough terrain.

Bracket Three — The Right Stuff

1. Scott Walker

2. Rick Perry

3. Lindsey Graham

4. Rick Santorum

Ok, ok, I know Graham drives some conservative nuts, but he’s attempting to brand himself as the biggest hawk in the field. National security is one pillar of conservatism, as are individual rights and curbing government (Walker’s shtick); deregulation/economic growth (Perry’d); and faith and values (Santorum’s).

As for the order of this bracket: (1) I believe Walker is the one candidate in the GOP field best positioned to win early and often; (2) I consider Perry something of an undervalued stock; (3) Graham’s stuck in the back of the pack, but each week he gets a hanging curveball (ISIS, the Iran deal, etc.); (4) Santorum, Iowa’s winner in 2012 and perhaps one of the odd-men-out for the Fox News debate, wants to more than a pro-life candidate.

Bracket Four — Trying To Make The Cut

1. Mike Huckabee

2. Rand Paul

3. Bobby Jindal

4. George Pataki

These would be the victims in the numbers game — too many candidates, too little space. They’re seeded this way because: (1) Huckabee no longer is a novel act — though still a force in Iowa, repeating 2008’s magic will be difficult; (2) Paul, despite the family name and libertarian base, has a foreign-policy record that may be too big of an albatross; (3) Jindal struggles to find a niche with seven other governors a-runnin'; (4) Pataki is the GOP’s plover, feeding off Trump (for example, daring The Donald to an immigration debate in New Hampshire).

This bracket isn’t scientific, nor it set in cement. You could place Walker in the 270 bracket, as part of his appeal is strength in the Upper Midwest. Carson, Huckabee and Santorum all talk about their personal faith. Add Perry, vintage 2008, and there’s a new four-man bracket. Just as Huckabee, Paul, Perry and Santorum could go into a “carry-over” bracket of past candidates (the younger Paul standing in for his father).

Stay tuned for when the field swells to 32 and we have another four brackets to fill.

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Will The Sixties Live On . . . In 2016?

Some of what’s been in the news lately shows that the turbulent decade that was the 1960’s still has an effect on us — and may yet impact the 2016 election.

Which prompted me to post this column over at Forbes.com.

Here’s what got my attention;

1) The reported death of Burt Shavitz. You may not know the man, buy you’re probably familiar with his product: Burt’s Bees. Mr. Shavitz was a lot of things to a lot of people — former photojournalist in the 1960s, a guy who found a way to convert bee’s wax into personal-care products (lip balm, soap, deodorant, etc.). The best word to describe him just might be — ok, I’m going to say it: a hippie. As the company he co-founded posted on its website: “We remember him as a bearded, free-spirited Maine man, a beekeeper, a wisecracker, a lover of golden retrievers and his land. Above all, he taught us to never lose sight of our relationship with nature.” Right on!

2) The Grateful Dead playing its last show in Chicago this past weekend — a “long, strange trip” that began in San Francisco some 50 years ago and earned the band international acclaim and a cult-like following of “Deadheads”. As The Chicago Sun-Times duly noted: “A whiff of sadness mingled with the odors of marijuana, patchouli and sweat Friday, as thousands of “Deadheads” — many without tickets — gathered for the “Fare Thee Well” tour.” Far out!

3) Speaking of Truckin’, what to make of the Bernie Sanders’ juggernaut (ok, it’s not exactly an 18-wheel express, but the man is gaining traction)? The self-styled “Democratic Socialist” from Vermont was in Portland, Maine, for a Monday night town-hall meeting, playing to a larger-than-expected audience. Just as he drew 10,000 fans of class-warfare and wealth-resentment in Madison, Wisconsin last week and standing-room crowd of 2,500 in Council Bluffs, Iowa this past weekend.

It’s the story, in 2015, of a sitting senator and candidate for the Democrat nomination lashing out against authority — and a government he accuses of having misplaced priorities.

Which sounds a lot like Eugene McCarthy back in 1968, right?

Well, not exactly.

Yes, Hillary Clinton gets to play the role of establishment heavy similar to that of LBJ and Hubert Humphrey. However, Humphrey didn’t get into the race until after the surprise outcome in New Hampshire and LBJ’s reading of the tea leaves.

Moreover, Humphrey didn’t bother to compete in 1968’s limited slate of primaries (only 14 that year), focusing instead on delegates available in non-primary states. Obviously, that’s the polar opposite of Mrs. Clinton’s strategy of slogging her way through Iowa and New Hampshire and beyond.

The second non-parallel: McCarthy focused on Kennedy, not Humphrey, after RFK got into the race, the two battling for the anti-war vote. This would be akin to Sanders spending his time on an outlier like Martin O’Malley rather than the more target-rich record that is Mrs. Clinton’s (as he’s started to do).

Finally, there’s the test of words converting to action.

In 1968, McCarthy so motivated young voters that they not only tuned in, but also washed up, shaved and made themselves more presentable so as to be more effective grassroots activists in New Hampshire (“Clean For Gene”). While Sanders is drawing large crowds, getting media play, time will tell if the 2016 youth vote bothers to get off social media and go door-to-door in Iowa and the Granite State.

Final note: McCarthy wasn’t a one-and-done presidential candidate. He ran again (as a Democrat) in 1972, then tried it as an independent in 1976. He’d make another run in 1988 — this time as a third-party gadfly — before returning to the Democratic fold in 1992.

So, if Bernie Sanders is indeed the “new McCarthy”, we can look forward to the Vermont senator going at it again in 2020, 2024, 2036 and 2040.

Just in time to get in the middle of the duel between George P. Bush and Chelsea Clinton.

Unless he decides to go home to Vermont and, like the late Burt Shavitz, mind his own bee’s wax . . .

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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.

Why?

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.

To receive emailed updates from “A Day at the Races”, go to the ”Sign Up” space on the upper right-hand side of this page. You can also follow me on Twitter: @hooverwhalen.

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