Tentative Primary and Caucus Schedule
  March 1 (Super Tues)
  March 2-14
L blue   March 15-31
Delegates needed for nomination:
GOP: 1237,   Dem: 2242
Map explained
New polls:  
Dem pickups:  
GOP pickups:  

News from the Votemaster

Conservatives and Moderates Fight over Immigration in Debate

With a Democrat in the White House, it falls to the Republicans to point out why—as Donald Trump said on Tuesday—the United States is "a country that's going to hell." After all, if nothing is wrong, why make a change? The eight candidates who took the stage for the fourth GOP debate were more than happy to tackle the job. The list of problems, roughly in order of number of mentions: taxes, Washington, the Democrats, big government, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Dodd-Frank, illegal immigrants, Obamacare, Muslim terrorists, the tax code, China, and Vladimir Putin. The primary solutions: Lower taxes, military force, and less regulation. In short, largely more of the same, at least in terms of the content of the discussion.

More than the previous debates, this one highlighted fault lines within the Republican Party. Is the solution to losing the popular vote in five of the past six elections becoming a big tent party, appealing to Latinos and other minorities or is it becoming a pure conservative party and banishing all heresies? The fault line appeared very clearly when the subject of immigration came up. Donald Trump defended his plan to locate, arrest, and ship 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the country. In addition he is still in favor of building a wall along the Mexican border and getting Mexico to pay for it, citing Israel's (much shorter) wall as an example. Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) responded that this plan is not practical and couldn't be carried out. Jeb Bush added: "They're doing high-fives in the Clinton campaign right now when they hear this." Sure enough, Brian Fallon, a Clinton campaign spokesman immediately tweeted: "We actually are doing high-fives right now." Trump may or may not realize that those 11 million people have friends and relatives who are U.S. citizens and when faced with the real possibility of their brother or aunt being deported, are going to make sure they vote—and it won't be for the Republicans. Kasich and Bush understand this very well, but Trump's standing in poll after poll seems to indicate that the Republican base is very angry and hasn't thought through the very real possibility that their anger will put Hillary Clinton in the White House. Republican strategists nationwide are probably pulling their hair out now.

After CNBC's moderators were roundly derided for their performance last time, the three journalists managing the debate for Fox Business Channel—Maria Bartiromo, Neil Cavuto, and the Wall Street Journal's Gerard Baker—promised to be the anti-CNBC. That meant staying out of the way of the debaters, and not "becoming the story." The trio was as good as their word, but with a price. There were fewer "gotcha!" questions, but also some real softballs. For example, to Donald Trump: "The effect that illegal immigrants are having on our economy, what will you do about it?" To Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL): "How do you reassure American workers that their jobs are not being steadily replaced by machines?" To Carly Fiorina: "How do we get rid of regulations choking our businesses?" Those questions might as well have been planted by the campaigns, since in all three cases they amounted to, "Please take 90 seconds to tell us about your platform." The greatest sin committed by the moderators, however, was their total unwillingness to challenge the candidates when they dodged questions or offered fantastic answers. If the choice is between Becky Quick pressing Rubio on the math behind his tax plan, and Neil Cavuto saying nothing at all, then Quick is the better option, even with the problems from the last debate. Perhaps it is not for the best when all three moderators' paychecks are signed by Rupert Murdoch.

On another note, the time has come for debate hosts on both sides to stop seeding the audience with partisans. If there is to be a meaningful discussion of issues, as opposed to just a two-hour commercial, it cannot be the case that deviations from the party line are greeted with snickers, catcalls, and choruses of boos.

A rundown of the candidates' performances, in order of their on-stage "ranking":

  • Trump: Trump was back on the offensive, after a fairly quiet third debate, directing barbs at Jeb Bush, Rubio, Fiorina, and Gov. John Kasich (R-OH). He also affirmed his disdain for Hillary Clinton, illegal immigrants, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), arguing that the latter will allow the nefarious Chinese government to make further inroads into American society. When Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) observed that China is not actually a part of the TPP, the Donald was rendered momentarily speechless, which is something of an accomplishment. He also showed a shaky grasp of history on several occasions, most obviously when he talked about President Dwight D. Eisenhower's "successful" policy for deporting illegal immigrants. Trump might want to recall that both Google and Wikipedia exist, and that it is not difficult for viewers to investigate and learn that what he is referring to is the offensively-named Operation Wetback. The problem for Trump is that the plan (1) didn't work, (2) heightened tensions between the American and Mexican governments, and (3) is the obvious counter-argument to the Donald's plans to build a fence along the Mexican border.

  • Ben Carson: Ben Carson did not act like someone who is worried that his every statement is being scrutinized, since his very first remark out of the gate—asserting that an increase in minimum wage always results in a loss of jobs—is not accurate. As has been the case at these debates, Carson was largely happy to sit back and watch, only speaking up when asked a direct question by the moderators. He was queried by the moderators, as gently as possible, about the various discrepancies in his autobiographies. His explanation was that, unlike Hillary Clinton, he is not a liar, he's just been misinterpreted.

  • Rubio: The Florida Senator showed that, once again, he's great when he's on-script and not so good when he's forced to improvise. He added a new talking point to his repertoire, expressing disdain on several occasions for America's secondary education system, and getting some applause when he observed that, "Welders make more money than philosophers." However, he was also put on the defensive by Rand Paul, who asked how Rubio's plan to give $1 trillion in tax credits to families could be considered "conservative." Rubio was taken aback by the critique, which he clearly did not anticipate, and his response was fairly anemic. Jeb Bush might want to take some notes. In any event, it was Rubio's weakest debate performance thus far.

  • Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX): Cruz continues to plug along, treading water and repeating his usual sound bites about the economy, taxes, jobs, the American Dream, Jesus, and so forth. While he did not do badly on Tuesday, it wasn't a breakout moment, either. Echoing Rick Perry, Cruz attempted to list the five federal departments he would shut down, and only managed to name four (though this was due to a duplication, rather than outright forgetting.) Also, his closing statement, which began with "Fifty-eight years ago, my father fled Cuba. As he stood on the deck of that ferryboat with the wind and salt air blowing..."—was melodramatic and forced. One wonders if Cruz regrets the fact that his dad did not leave Cuba on "a dark and stormy night."

  • Fiorina: Fiorina impressed in the first pair of debates, but since then she has underwhelmed. She almost always speaks forcefully, regardless of what she is saying, and she got a good response with her hawkish pronouncements about Vladimir Putin and Russia. But more often, her assertive remarks seemed poorly thought-out and inconsistent. For example, she said that it was time to end "crony capitalism" in health care, and to try a true "free-market" system without all the regulation. A system where the government "ensure[s] that... every healthcare provider ought to publish its costs, its prices, its outcomes." In short, her ideal system seems to be one that requires an awful lot of...regulation.

  • Bush: If we are going to pick a "loser" from Tuesday night, it is Bush. He made a few sensible remarks during the debate that would be apropos to the general election, but won't score points in the primaries. Meanwhile, he let himself be silenced, at various times, by both Trump and Kasich—which does not jive well with the notion that this is a newer, tougher Bush. His joke lines largely did not land, unless you count "thud" as a landing. And for a former banker, his understanding of the banking industry seemed rather shaky. This is a candidate trying desperately to right the ship, and once again an opportunity to do so passed through his hands.

  • Paul: Rand Paul had his best debate performance by a longshot. He continues to stick to his guns on being dovish (no pun intended) and on his disdain for the Federal Reserve. However, as noted, he landed a blow on Marco Rubio while asserting himself as a champion of fiscal conservatism. And, he landed one on Trump while affirming his understanding of foreign policy (or, at least, trade policy). However, the performance is unlikely to help Paul much in the polls because libertarianism clearly does not sell with today's Republican base.

  • Kasich: Kasich approached the debate like a candidate whose time is running out, as well he should. He was exceedingly assertive, and seized control of the debate more than once in the early going. However, he eventually seemed to run out of steam (or out of pre-scripted remarks). His answers in the second part of the debate were meandering and unfocused. Like Jeb Bush, he showed a curiously poor grasp of banking for a former banker. And he made what was almost certainly the biggest mistake of the evening when he suggested that the biggest problem with banks going under is that shareholders might lose their money (as opposed to depositors losing their money). This got some of the loudest boos of the night.

Politico, which loves lists of takeaways, has five of them today:

  1. GOP rediscovers Reagan's 11th commandment
  2. GOP rediscovers Reagan's foreign policy
  3. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz cruise
  4. Jeb Bush was halfway decent—finally
  5. The taming of the Trump

By the time of the third debate, the polls had reached something of an equilibrium, with the result that the contest had relatively little impact. The same is likely to be true of this debate, though if it does have an impact, it may be to take a bit of the bloom off Trump's rose, or to drive Jeb Bush to even greater acts of desperation, or to convince Rand Paul to keep on keepin' on for a bit longer. In any event, the next GOP debate is on December 15, so there's plenty of time for whatever movement might take place. (Z & V)

Court of Appeals Hands Obama a Defeat on Immigration

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ruled 2 to 1 that the administration's executive orders not to deport "dreamers" overstepped the President's authority. The decision was written by Judge Jerry Smith, a Texas native appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan. He was supported by Judge Jennifer Elrod, another Texas native who was appointed to the court by George W. Bush. The dissenting member of the court was Judge Carolyn King. She was born in New York and was appointed to the court by Jimmy Carter.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals currently has 22 judges and senior judges and two vacancies. Of the sitting judges and senior judges, 14 were appointed by Republican Presidents and 8 were appointed by Democratic Presidents, so statistically, any three-judge panel chosen at random to hear a case is likely to have more Republicans than Democrats on it. Obama would like to appoint judges to fill the two vacancies, but they would have no chance of being confirmed by the Senate.

The case will certainly be appealed to the Supreme Court, where the appellate court's verdict is likely to be sustained by a 5 to 4 vote with the same partisan breakdown. Anyone who thinks the courts are not political hasn't been paying very close attention.

Needless to say, this decision and the role of the courts is about to become a political football, with Republicans claiming that the courts were right to rein in an out-of-control President and the Democrats calling this an outrageous act of judicial activism. At the very least it ought to (but probably won't) make voters aware that one of the President's greatest powers is making lifetime appointments to the federal bench. Heck, there are still Gerald Ford appointees on the bench, and he left office 38 years ago. (V)

Americans Fear Guns More than They Fear Terrorists

A new Marist poll shows that 63% of registered voters are more afraid of gun violence than a terrorist attack, while 29% are more afraid of a terrorist attack than gun violence. The partisan breakdown of the Marist poll is as expected. Democrats fear guns over terrorism by a 77-15 margin whereas among Republicans 50% are more afraid of terrorists and 45% are more afraid of guns. Independents are much closer to Democrats, 64 to 28, with more fearing guns.

For anyone interested in the actual statistics, in all of 2014, a total of 8 Americans killed by terrorists worldwide whereas 12,567 were shot and killed by guns (including over 3,000 children and teenagers). That includes suicides, homicides, accidents, etc. (V)

Polling Is in Trouble Worldwide

Pollsters have been way off the mark in Britain, Poland, and Israel this year. Postmortems are underway in all these countries but no one really expects a clear answer. There may not even be a consistent thread running through all the failures. In Poland and Israel, where multiple parties were on the ballot, the leading right-wing party ultimately pulled votes away from other right-wing parties. That failure mode is not really applicable to general elections in the U.S., but it could certainly apply to the Republican primaries, where some of the candidates are ideologically indistinguishable.

Another area where problems arose is estimating turnout. In the British elections, Labour supporters didn't vote in large numbers, leading to a Conservative rout. In the U.S., Democrats didn't bother to vote in 2010 and 2014, leading to large Republican victories. Also, a problem everywhere is the growing use of cell phones. It used to be that calls were received at home and people would often be willing to spend 10 minutes talking to a pollster. Now the call is likely to come in when the callee is driving or in a meeting or shopping and not willing to talk, so response rates have gone down, often to 10% or lower. This leads to smaller samples and more variance in the results.

Some pollsters are starting to seriously look at Internet polling. While it is not random, it is possible to get very large samples and then correct for demographics. For example, if twice as many men take part in an Internet poll as women, each female participant can be counted twice to get the right mix. However, making corrections for race, income, religion, geographic distribution, partisanship, and other factors requires having an accurate idea of who is actually going to cast a vote on Election Day. One thing that Internet polls can do fairly well, though, is detect trends. If you ask a group of 20,000 people some questions and then ask the same group the same questions a month later and see a markedly different result, that is real information, even if the group is not a valid cross-section of the entire population. While far from ideal, pollsters are going to have to do something as the current model is not working well. (V)

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---The Votemaster
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Nov08 Trump's Saturday Night Was Lively, But Not Too Lively
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Nov08 DSCC To Support Conner Eldridge in Arkansas Senate Race
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