Friday, May 16, 2008

The GOP’s Credibility Crisis

A few years ago, I had the privilege of speaking to a gentleman who worked for the Gallup Organization. We had a substantive discussion about the business and standards of opinion polling, especially with regard to elections. The gentlemen and I differed on the question of party demographics. Polls weight the responses from people according to a number of demographics in an attempt to show poll results in a context proportional to the real population. This is controversial in terms of party identification, because different polls use different weights. The key question comes down to whether people are quick or reluctant to change their party identification. Also, party identification may or may not be salient to an election’s conduct. Ronald Reagan, for example, was undeniably a Conservative in his politics, yet he won support from many Democrats, Democrats who voted for Democrats in Congressional elections but voted for Reagan as President.

This phenomenon, that party identification may or may not be a factor in support for a candidate in a given election, depends on an often overlooked quality in voters; party identification is not necessarily the same thing as their values. To understand this, let’s look at what’s happened since 2005 to party identification. It’s reasonable, I think, to say that in the last three years a greater proportion of voters consider themselves Democrat, while a smaller proportion of voters consider themselves Republican. Imagine three pools of voters – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. At first they are all roughly the same size, but events cause this to change. First off, the Republican Party chased off its Conservative wing by breaking key promises and abandoning the values which gained it the majority in Congress. Ironically, when in subsequent elections the Republicans lost House and Senate seats, they blamed it on the Conservatives, rather than admit and correct their error. During that same time, the Republican Party began to steadily desert the President , even where his position matched the stated positions of Republican office-holders and candidates; Republicans fell prey to the lie that President Bush was wrong in his policies and appointments, and millions of Americans who supported the President were ostracized by his own party. Alienated by the Republican Party, Conservatives and Bush supporters in large part chose to sit out the 2006 midterm elections, and rather than heed the cost of their folly, the GOP in the main chose to tack hard to the Left, not quite to the point of supporting the madness of Pelosi and Reid, yet not opposing them in force either. Having banished millions of supporters of the President and Conservatives from its ranks, the GOP further emasculated itself in imitation of the Democrats. This clearly reduced public support for the Republicans.

As for the Democrats, their continued success in the media and in the elections held after 2004 have emboldened the party, and there is strong optimism in the DNC that in addition to increasing control of both houses of Congress, they will claim the White House in 2008 to complete the trifecta. Liberals are greatly enthused by the campaign of Barack Obama and other radicals, and the optimism of the party has energized public support. As a result, the situation is one where fewer and fewer voters are willing to publicly voice support for a Republican, and alignment with the Democrats is becoming once again the norm, indicating a return to pre-1994 levels of power and influence.

All is not as it may appear, however. Democrats enjoyed a resurgence in the spring of 2004, which fell as Kerry’s campaign proved to be something less than advertised. Also, the feuding between Obama and Clinton threatens party unity for the fall campaign. But the greatest threat of all lies in assuming that strong party identification for the Democrats will result in comparable gains in the election of the President. I noted the shift in party identification and public support of a political party, but people vote according to their value system, which changes slowly if at all. I mentioned Reagan earlier; Reagan won support from some Democrats because of his strong defense stance, and his common-sense support for American business. In the Presidential race, therefore, the door is open for a candidate to win support outside his party, or at least to consolidate support within his party, by clearly stating where he stands and what he will do.

That said, however, it is clear that at this point the Democrats have build a reasonable degree of unity, even with the fractious debate between Obama and Clinton supporters. The Republicans, on the other hand, have a crisis of credibility, not only with the American public but within their own ranks. There is tremendous opportunity for an amazing comeback, but at the present point in time there is little evidence that the GOP is willing to do what is needed to make that happen.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Bush Supporters Will Choose the next President

It is safe to say that the 2008 Presidential election is a mess. The media’s favorite, Senator Barack Obama, is simultaneously on course to clinch the Democrats’ nomination for the party’s top spot, and seeing his political posture erode through a series of gaffes and undesirable revelations about his associates and character. The candidate once dubbed the ‘inevitable’ next President, Senator Hillary Clinton, has gained some significant primary victories in recent weeks, most notably the 41-point rout of Senator Obama in West Virginia, but the mathematical position of the race makes it very difficult for Senator Clinton to realistically win the nomination. On the Republican side, these self-imposed difficulties for Obama and Clinton should provide good cheer for Senator John McCain, the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party, but McCain has deliberately burned bridges with the GOP’s Conservative wing, and has reinforced his disrespect for the work done by President George W. Bush, in the apparent belief that such conduct is politically advantageous. Yet the numbers show that the voters who still support President Bush may well decide the election for the White House this fall.

Let’s look at the polls. Job Approval for the President has not been strong for the past two years and more, but for all the bad press there is a foundation of stone which supports President Bush at all times. That number has been as low at 29% in national polls, but recently is a point or two above that. A good example would be the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. It’s important to note that neither ABC News nor the Washington Post is particularly even-handed on this question, and so there is a certain amount of spin applied to attack any Republican President. The ABC poll accordingly shows President Bush at 31% support, but grudgingly concedes that 69 percent of Republicans approve of President Bush. The poll goes on to note that 39 percent of Republicans “strongly approve” of the President’s job. Working the numbers backwards, the ABC poll weighted 64% of responses from the Left, against only 36 percent from the Right. The reader should decide for themselves whether that weighting accurately reflects the voters’ polarity.

Let’s now look at 2004 again. President Bush claimed over 62 million votes in that election, and while that was admittedly against a clearly weak Democrat opponent, it demonstrates a strong base. Obviously, Bush has lost some of that support in his second term, not least because he is not running again, but if 39 percent of Republicans still support him “strongly”, that works out to more than 24 million voters who would not mind seeing someone like George W. Bush in this fall’s election, but who would not like anyone who attacked and demeaned him. Stating it bluntly, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton as the Democrats’ nominee would lose a certain number of votes this fall as a result of the fierce infighting during the Primaries and residual damage which would resurface during the General campaign, but probably no more than 10% of the numbers from 2004, resulting in no less than 53 million votes for the Democratic Party nominee. If John McCain can rebuild support from Conservative and Bush-approving Republicans, even the attrition from party blunders would leave McCain with effectively 88% of the Republican support Bush enjoyed in 2004, or 54 million votes. McCain’s appeal to independents would probably raise his numbers by another 5 or 6 million votes. However, under no circumstances should McCain expect significant Democrat support, or to win the majority of Independent voters, meaning that he will be most dependant on a solid core of GOP support. McCain’s stance will probably cause between 5 to 6 million Conservatives to stay home this fall, washing out most of the gains he hopes to make from Independents. That means, when everything is said and done, that the 24 milllion Bush-approving Republicans will be essential to a McCain victory. If McCain collects less than 85% support among Republicans who approve of the job done by President Bush, he will lose the fall election to the Democrat. It remains to be seen if Senator McCain grasps this critical fact, and if so, what he will do to convince Bush voters that he deserves their vote.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Job

In my present position, I am often called upon not only to review the performance of my staff and to hire new employees, both contract and permenant, but also to describe job positions. This happens because as my company grows and evolves, the positions needed to perform even core competencies also change, and we have to make sure people are brought on board who are qualified for the work and clear about expectations. The job description provides a template for determining who makes the cut for later interviews. It seems to me that it would be worthwhile to consider the job description for the President of the United States.

The United States of America is a well-established global concern, mature yet also still enjoying growth. USA Operations are directed by its Constitution, which established three legitimate arms of control, none of them supreme and none of them inferior. Laws are created and passed by the Congress, pursuant to approval through signature from the President, who is accorded limited veto power. The federal courts may also rule a federal law to be unconstitutional, requiring modification or destroying the law. The President holds the power to begin wars and to a large degree control their conduct, although funding for all wars depends on Congressional approval, and therefore Congress can end any military venture it deems should be ended. Congress can create Congressional amendments by which (if ratified by the states) the Courts must abide. The federal judiciary is appointed by the President, pursuant to approval by the Senate. As a body the Congress holds the most power, as a group the Supreme Court is the most independent (facing no elections or term limits), but as an individual the President of the United States is arguably the most powerful and influential human being on the planet.

The President of the United States must be 35 years of age at his inauguration or older, and he (or she) must be a ‘natural’ citizen of the United States, which is to say born to American citizens and by law a citizen at birth. There are no additional formal requirements to become President, except that the person who would become President must be elected to that office, or else be the sitting Vice-President or next-in-succession at such time as the sitting President resigns, is removed from office, or becomes unable to preform the duties of the office as defined in the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. There are no requirements regarding education, military service, race, gender, employment, or vocation. Depending on the mood at the time of election, various types of experience and background have helped or hurt various candidates throughout the years.

Because the President has authority to deploy troops anywhere around the world, and to initiate military actions at his decision, a candidate’s military service is often a key qualification in electoral practice. However, in recent years the requisite quality more often desired is judgment, the ability to gauge the effect of a decision in advance of the action. Accordingly, a candidate who second-guesses a decision without a clear and productive alternative is weak, as is one who holds a position without explaining his reasoning. A candidate who can respect actions taken by a predecessor, yet offer an effective new direction for future strategy, however, is far more formidable a candidate.

Because the President has authority to nominate federal judges and Supreme Court justices, a candidate’s political bias and environment is crucial to voters’ perception of his likely nominations. While judicial appointments are often cast as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’, better descriptors might be ‘activist’ and ‘constructionist’ judges, on the basis of whether the President would appoint judges inclined to believe that the Constitution is incomplete or sufficient to define and address the conditions on which those judges will decide the constitutionality of a lower court action.

The President has no formal authority to influence the Economy, beyond presenting a proposed federal budget each year to the Congress, in practice a President often enjoys a unique position to influence public opinion, and in such position to sway a close Congressional vote on a key action, especially one involving taxes. The President enjoys a traditional annual forum to speak to the nation’s key issues, called the State of the Nation address.

That’s it, essentially. The President appoints judges, signs or vetoes legislation, proposes budgets, sends the military on missions, and influences the national course through persuasion. He does not and cannot stop hurricanes, foretell the future, control the affairs of foreign governments, or command the economy to lower prices, increase wages, or otherwise make life wonderful through sheer will. He can work to persuade business leaders to make sound decisions, he can stay out of the way of people who know what they are doing, and he can do his best to appoint people to federal positions who can make a difference, but he is not Superman, despite the election hype.

There you have it, a job description of what the President should be and do. One final mention, the references to ‘he’ does not mean that only a male would make a good President; in English grammar the non-specific gender reference for any unknown human entity would be male. Thus, when a person’s gender is not know, by default that person would be referred to as ‘he’ or ‘him’.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It’s Not About Nice

The talk these days is about how Obama leads the ‘Nice’ race, and is therefore that much more formidable. Or to put it another way, now that we know he has no resume, no tools for foreign policy decisions or economic infrastructure, we are now told Obama will win anyway, because he’s just so lovable. Yeah, right, sure. Look, I believe Barack Obama is a nice enough guy, but we have not seen his temper very much, his people and the media working overtime to keep him from ever having to answer any really tough questions. There were flashes though, when his canned answers for why he stayed close to a country-hating racist of a pastor for twenty–plus years got challenged, albeit briefly. Obama is not as nice and fluffy as he pretends, and I can’t help but wonder if he won’t show a little ire along the way to November.

But aside from that, the old fable that the ‘nice’ candidate wins the White House is suspect at best. Sure, Eisenhower and Reagan and Jimmy Carter were all well known for their charm and high-watt smiles, but who can seriously claim the same for Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon? Was Bill Clinton really a nicer guy than George H.W. Bush? And what about the election in 2000? Clearly, George W. Bush was a nicer guy than Al Gore, even Mr. Gore admitted the same, but Gore actually received more votes in the Popular tally than did Bush. The theory just doesn’t hold up.