Let’s talk about 2016! (Republican primary, Part 1)

Yesterday, I reviewed the upcoming 2016 Democratic primary fight. Generously speaking, the contest is Hillary Clinton versus a series of progressively less interesting pretenders to the throne. It’s not a fair fight, more like US v. Grenada lopsidedness. The fight for the Republican nomination, on the other hand, is quite another story.

While an old adage is that Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line, the reality is somewhat more complex. Democrats have surely had their share of idealistic primaries (2008, for one), with three of the last five being utter snooze fests. Either a President ran for re-election (1996 and 2012) or a Vice-President ascended to the nomination gracefully (2000). Republicans, on the other hand, have only had one such contest in the last five Presidential cycles (2004). While the original frontrunner often ends up winning (2008 and 2012), the fights are regularly nasty and brutish. 2016 looks to be another such ugly brawl.

I have split up the prospective Republican candidates into four main categories: Establishment Conservative, Establishment Tea Party, Fringe Tea Party and Outcast. In making these distinctions, I admittedly use the term Establishment freer than most others would. Instead of what many others do, which is to say make a distinction between business interests and grass roots evangelism, I use the term to simply denote one who has climbed up the ladder in national politics. Tonight, I will delineate the first category.

ESTABLISHMENT CONSERVATIVES

1. Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida
The son of President George Bush, the brother President George W. Bush and the father of Texas Land Commissioner Republican nominee George P. Bush, this Bush is comparably open minded on a wide array of issues. He made headlines a few months ago when he noted that many undocumented immigrants crossed the border in what he considered an “act of love.” But that’s not all! Bush has also gone on record advocating for the Federal Government to stay out of the gay marriage debate (in a huge departure from his brother’s administration).

All this makes Bush a formidable foe against any of the Democratic contenders (read: Clinton), if he somehow were going to emerge from a Republican primary. Personally, I have some major doubts.

2. Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey
Christie, much like Bush, is an openly pragmatic Republican. He is willing to compromise, and has some centrist positions on issues. He freely acquiesced to a State Court order legalizing gay marriage in his State. He has even become a modest proponent of Medical Marijuana.

However, Christie has largely been seen as damaged goods. Since the beginning of the year, his Presidential prospects –no, his entire political career– have been put in jeopardy because of the scandal called “Bridgegate.” In its simplest explanation, the scandal revolves around some of Christie’s closest aides –who have now all resigned or been fired– scheming to artificially augment traffic in a town whose Mayor did not endorse Christie’s re-election efforts last year. Progressives were overjoyed by this revelation, and relished in the opportunity to call Christie an evil, vindictive, nefarious, Nixonian monster.

For his part, Christie has been inconsistent on whether or not Bridegate affected his willingness to run for President. In May, Christie said that he was “thinking” about running for President. Just the other day, however,  Christie was far more dismissive about the whole thing.

3. Rick Perry, Governor of Texas
Wait, Rick Perry is not among the Tea Party crowd? I was skeptical of such an assessment for many years as well, but I think that Paul Burka’s recent article in Texas Monthly finally convinced me otherwise. Perry is a creature of the times, but he is not a Tea Party rabblerouser. His path into State Government was honorable. Furthermore, in a contrast of Perry to Greg Abbott (the Republican gubernatorial nominee), I have always said that Perry, for all his faults, is a straightforward guy. His political views are not as malleable as the sands in the wind, much like Abbott’s are.

This has been shown remarkably well in the last year, as Perry has seemingly become the voice of reason on many issues. Perry’s big pot reveal is probably the best example.

Perry, for his part, is doing everything he can to not only stake out his own ground in the middle, but preserve his conservative bona fides. Definitely sounds like a Presidential candidate to me.

4. Mike Pence, Governor of Indiana
Pence is best known as a pragmatic Midwestern Governor. The Washington Post reports that many in the party are “wooing” him and that he is “listening.” He has a bipartisan mindset, and his administration chose to expand Medicaid through Obamacare. Not good for a primary campaign.

5. Jon Huntsman, former Ambassador to China
Huntsman has been super open about his interest in another campaign. In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, Huntsman was warmly interested in the idea. For his part, he has began to make trips around the country, including a keynote appearance at the 2014 Texas Tribune festival later this year.

A former Governor of Utah, Huntsman likely permanently disenfranchised himself from Republicanism when he accepted a job to serve as Obama’s Ambassador to China, a position he held from 2009 to 2011.

PART 2 TOMORROW!

Let’s talk about 2016! (Democratic primary)

I know, I know, the 2014 candidates are still in full swing, and then the 2015 municipal campaign (including a very exciting open Mayor’s race) will follow. But the 2016 election will soon be all-consuming in the world of politics, and I think a little crash-course in the candidates would be worthwhile, so one could simply jump right in the middle of the it all when the campaign inevitably becomes a tad less ambiguous.

The 2016 frontrunners begin and end with Hillary Clinton. Honestly, I am not really quite sure how I should describe her title anymore, given that she has had so many important ones. Clinton served as the First Lady of Arkansas from both 1979 to 1981 and 1983 to 1992, while her husband Bill Clinton served as Governor. She then followed him to the White House, and served as First Lady of the United States from 1993 to 2001. 17 days before the end of her husband’s Presidency, she began serving as a member of the US Senate, a position she held until 2009. At that point, she became the Secretary of State for four years, all of President Obama’s first term. Oh yeah, and she ran for President in 2008, coming astoundingly close to besting Obama in the Democratic primary that year. In fact, Clinton garnered more than 250,000 more votes than Obama.

Clinton has not officially announced anything pertaining to her Presidential ambitions, though she has said that she will likely make a decision by the end of the year. That being said, most insider-sources have agreed that she will run. A well-organized PAC, “Ready for Hillary,” has already been created, laying the groundwork for the expected run. However, the PAC is not merely run by overzealous supporters. Some of the Clinton family’s biggest political supporters, including James Carville and Harold Ickes, have signed on at the ground-level of this organization. George Soros, arguably the most prolific Democratic benefactor, has also donated heavily to the group. Closer to home, Amber and Steve Mostyn, possibly the biggest Democratic donors in Texas, have also underwritten the group. But the enthusiasm is not merely confined to activists and donors. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has preemptively endorsed Clinton for 2016, as has former Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA). Tauscher is also noteworthy because she was one of Clinton’s top deputies in the State Department, serving as the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, as well as the Special Envoy for Strategic Stability and Missile Defense.

I am confident that Clinton will run inherently because of the establishment support that has already surrounded her. As many will recall from last autumn, as the “Will Wendy Davis run for Governor?” question rung louder and louder, I was sold on her candidacy the instant that Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa began openly advocating for it. Politicians such as McCaskill would not preemptively endorse if there was actually a chance Clinton would not run. Politics does not work on wishful thinking like that.

Accordingly, it just makes for fatuous conversation at this point to debate whether or not Clinton will run. She’s in, and the polls show her squarely in the lead. For the Democratic primary in particular, polling shows Clinton simply eviscerating the competition. It’s not even a contest, more like the United States vs. Grenada. But, to be fair, none of the other candidates have gotten off the ground yet, or even really announced for that matter.

Chief among the other opponents (pretenders to the throne?) is Joe Biden, the Vice-President since 2009 and previously a six term Senator. Biden, who ran for President but performed disappointingly in 2008, still wants to be President. For his part, though, Biden has been significantly less successful in attracting donors and institutional support. Biden’s ace-in-the-hole, however, is that he has the ear of President Obama, who for his part praised Biden recently, though stopped far short of a full-blown endorsement.

A third likely candidate is Martin O’Malley, the Governor of Maryland. An outspoken liberal, he recently made headlines by criticizing the President for being too heartless on the unaccompanied minors at the border issue. Many will remember that O’Malley was the keynote speaker at the 2013 Johnson-Richards-Rayburn dinner in Houston, which I attended.

A fourth possible candidate is Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York. Cuomo is a social liberal but its quite centrist/pragmatic on fiscal affairs. This has caused him to draw the ire of the left, though Cuomo has unequivocally stated that he would not run against Clinton. Thus, I consider him an unlikely candidate.

So who would run against Clinton? Besides Biden, mostly ideologues on the left (such as O’Malley) or in the center.

Among the liberals would be Howard Dean, the former Governor of Vermont and Chairman of the DNC. The name may strike some as a shock, but Dean has openly flirted with the idea. “Never say never,” he recently said of the idea.

A far more skillful candidate than Dean that would appeal to the same base, however, is Elizabeth Warren, a Senator from Massachusetts. Warren has plainly said that she won’t run, but plenty of liberal figures have rallied to her side nonetheless. The New Republic called her “Clinton’s worst nightmare.” The New York Post even ran a barnbusting story about Obama secretly backing Warren over Clinton; it’s legitimacy is dubious at best. Still, this didn’t stop slightly-more reputable sources such as Fox News from repeating the allegations.

Far more likely, however, is a challenge from a pseudo-socialist such as Bernie Sanders, a Senator from Vermont. Sanders, who isn’t even technically a Democrat but an “Independent Socialist” who merely caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate, would be quite the longshot to win (primary or general) but could have the effect of pulling the party to the left. The New Republic and The Nation, respectively, make that point quite well. Sanders, for his part, told Salon that he was truly interested in running for President but stopped short of any particulars.

The moderates’ best messenger, I’ve always thought, is Brian Schweitzer, the former Governor of Montana. Schweitzer is a strange mix of politician. As Ezra Klein noted (back when he was still at the Post) at the start of this year, he is the Democratic anti-Obama, castigating the President at every turn. However, many of his criticism are not really from the right/center. MSNBC fills in some of the details: while he is broadly pro-gas and pro-gun, he has libertarian viewpoints on programs such as the NSA and the Patriot Act. Furthermore, he is not shy about how much he hates Obamacare, but not for the reasons you think. Much like myself, he believes in a single-payer system. However, Time Magazine notes that Schweitzer may have sunk his chances by making some off-color comments recently. I’d say he sunk his chances when he dared to criticize Obama, President of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the 50 States and Protector of the Realm (this is a Game of Thrones joke).

Among more-usual moderates, Joe Manchin‘s –a Senator from West Virginia– name pops up. The National Journal has the full story on that, noting that a spokesperson simply told a hometown paper that “Senator Manchin is leaving all his options open for 2016, and will continue to look for the best way to bring common sense to Washington.” Manchin opposes both Obamcare and single-payer, and he famously put a bullet through a printed copy of Obama’s cap-and-trade proposal in a campaign video.

Last, but certainly not least, is Jim Webb, a former Senator from Virginia. Politico first reported that one. When asked point-blank on if he wished to run in 2016, he retorted with a laconic “I’m not going to say one way or another.” Webb, more than being a garden variety moderate, is a centre-left liberal who is a super-hawk on the deficit and the national debt.

Personally, I will probably support Clinton, but I truly wish for a vivid and competitive primary fight to ensue. This is not a knock on Clinton, merely a point that I do not think anyone should have a free pass. Furthermore, I think it actually strengthens candidates if they go through a primary fight, because it exposes their weaknesses and allows them to improve on their weaknesses. Take State Senator John Whitmire (D-Harris County) as an example. Many will recall that when his primary opponent, Damian LaCroix, first announced his candidacy, I applauded the contested primary. And yet, I (as well as the entire Texpatriate Editorial Board) strongly supported Whitmire in his re-election. Similarly, I think that Clinton could only become a better candidate by facing opposition from both her left and her right.

Among the other candidates, the only one I am truly enamored with is Schweitzer. Yes, he has a bit of an unpredictable mouth on him, but I admire a politician who says what he thinks, even if I disagree or am offended by something that is said once every blue moon. I consider it far superior to a guarded robot who never says anything of consequence.

Castro confirmed by the US Senate

The San Antonio Express-News reports that Julian Castro, the Mayor of San Antonio, has been confirmed by the US Senate to serve as the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The Senate vote was overwhelming, 71-26, and Castro will take office upon his resignation from the Mayorship, which he has held since 2009. I wrote extensively on this topic back in May when President Barack Obama first nominated Castro for the post, and suffice it to say I was not really a fan of the move. But more on this later.

First things first, the obvious question is who will be the next Mayor of San Antonio? The City Charter holds that the Mayor Pro Tem, currently Councilmember Cris Medina, would immediately become Acting Mayor in the case of the Mayor’s death, resignation or removal from office. However, in San Antonio, the Council would then choose a new permanent Mayor from amongst its ranks until the next regularly scheduled election, which is in May 2015. A number of Councilmembers have expressed interest in the appointment, and a couple outside actors –namely State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-Bexar County)– have also announced their tentative candidacies. I am not very well-versed in any of the inside politics of San Antonio, so I cannot offer any truly educated predictions about what will happen. Just expect fireworks.

Click here to read more!

Terrible, terrible poll

The Texas Tribune has released its newest poll, and the results continue to paint a bleak picture for the campaign of State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor. The poll has her down 12 points to Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate. The poll also examined Statewide races up and down the ticket and found that Democrats were doing miserably bad in all of them. Most all of these polls included Libertarian and Green candidates, for what it is worth. Additionally, undecideds boasted pretty good showings in all of these races, and the number only got bigger the further down the ballot one traveled.

As many will remember, the Tribune commissioned an extensive poll in February that was not worth the non-existent paper that is was not printed upon. Among the many terrible predictions it made was that Kesha Rogers and Debra Medina led the plurality in their respective primaries. Rogers barely squeaked into a runoff and Medina came in a distant last place in a race where one candidate (Hegar) won outright. I went after the Tribune with a wrench in the Daily Texan a couple days after the preliminary primary completely discredited their polling, noting that we should not waste our breath analyzing something so unreliable anymore.  As my friend Charles Kuffner noted yesterday, the Tribune polls should be “in time-out,” meaning that we have to very look at what they have to say quite critically.

Click here to read more!

Secretary Castro?

The New York Times reports that Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, one of the Democrats’ biggest rising hopes for the future of the State, is President Barack Obama’s pick as the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The incumbent Secretary, Shaun Donovan, looks to be the next Budget director (the incumbent budget director, meanwhile, has been tapped as the new Secretary of Health and Human Services). The reshuffling is important because Castro is not term limited out of office, as Mayor of San Antonio for another three years. Additionally, he reportedly declined an offer to become Secretary of Transportation.

Castro received the obsequious adulation one would expect from liberal lemmings upon hearing this news. I, of course, wish the best for Castro and honestly believe that he would make a very good HUD Secretary, but I lament the long term implications of such a change. However, first things first, San Antonio will have to choose a new Mayor. The Rivard Report notes that the San Antonio City Council must choose themselves who Castro’s successor will be. Likely a member of the City Council her or himself, but plausibly someone else as well. This successor will serve out of the remainder of Castro’s term, about a year.

Click here to read my take on this move by Castro!

Let’s talk about 2016

The transition from Boston to Austin has brought about a few interesting quandaries, most notably related to my columns in each school  newspaper, be that The Justice at Brandeis or The Daily Texan here at UT. When I was in Boston, the higher-ups at the paper frowned upon me using hyper local political action coming out of the Lone Star State as column topics, for obvious reasons. Accordingly, my Tuesday morning column focused nearly exclusively upon national political issues. Sometimes they were related to ongoing issues, be that Supreme Court cases on Affirmative Action (serendipitously, a case revolving around UT itself) to comments following the Boston Marathon bombing. However, sometimes I made a stink about an issue exclusively for the hell of it, with little to show in newsworthy connections. Those took the form of an infamous rant on why I hate euphemisms to ripping into the infallible cult that has been created by Obama fans. Either way, just about anyone in the country with an eye to politics could read my thoughts and know what is going on, not to mention care for it.

For better or for worse, the same cannot be said of most of my Daily Texan columns this year. The general policy is to connect the subject-matters back to UT, which typically means that it is a local policy issue I write on. Don’t get me wrong, I lovelocal politics, that is the entire reason I founded this blog over 18 months ago (WOW! Time flies). That being said, I do miss infusing my opinions on national matters, as much as I readily admit that I likely do little more than add to the noise when my opinions are heard among countless others.

Click here to read what I have decided to do!

Wendy and Julian

The Austin American-Statesman reports that Wendy Davis, who just announced on Monday she would only run for re-election or Governor, will be making an announcement on the Governor’s election “in a couple of week.”

The phrasing of this announcement is somewhat peculiar, and it gives me the strongest inkling yet that Davis will end up running for Governor. Nobody gives a speech to announce they’re not going to do something. For example, among the many candidates who were rumored to be considering a run for Comptroller was Christi Craddick, a Railroad Commissioner and former Speaker Tom Craddick’s daughter. When she recently noted she would not be running for that position, there was no speech, no announced, absolutely no pomp and circumstance. Instead, she simply disclosed the detail on Facebook.

This is why I am now convinced, more than ever, that Davis will run for Governor. There is no way that, with the amount she has been frankly speaking on the topic, that Davis still hasn’t made up her mind. I take it she has made up her mind, meaning that if she had made the decision to not run for re-election, she would have already let that leak to the press. But perhaps we are just overanalyzing this.

In other news, the San Antonio Express-News reports that Julian Castro, the Mayor of San Antonio, will be going to IOWA. Specifically, he will be headline a “Steak Fry” put on by Senator Tom Harkin, Iowa’s Democratic Senator. In 2006, the event was headlined by an individual who had also keynoted at the most recent Democratic National Convention: Barack Obama. As the Express-News explains:

In 2006, then-Sen. Barack Obama headlined the event. He told the New York Times at the event that he wasn’t running for president, a seat he would secure two years later. Two years before, Obama was catapulted into the national conscience when he presented the 2004 keynote address at the DNC.

I, for one, think there is about a 0% chance of Julian Castro running for President in 2016–maybe Hillary Clinton’s running mate. That being said, there are some significant other reasons Castro would be going to the Hawkeye State. I was going to delineate them, but but Cal Jillson of SMU, speaking in the Express-News article beat me to the point:

“When you get Cruz going to South Carolina, New Hampshire and also Iowa, that is an indication that he’s at least laying the groundwork for a presidential run if circumstances seem favorable in 2016,” Jillson said. “That’s not what Castro’s doing. What he’s doing is going to a highly visible event in one of the early states in the presidential selection process but not for the purpose of touting himself.”

It is important, however, to note that the DNC was not a one-time deal for Julian Castro and the national spotlight.