Tentative Primary and Caucus Schedule
  March 1 (Super Tues)
  March 2-14
L blue   March 15-31
Delegates needed for nomination:
GOP: 1236,   Dem: 2242
Map explained
New polls:  
Dem pickups:  
GOP pickups:  

News from the Votemaster

Pope Making Republicans Squirm

For years, American Catholic politicians have been citing the Vatican on social issues like abortion and homosexuality as a reason for their opposition to them. Now they have a problem. On issues like the destructiveness of capitalism, war, and being good stewards of the earth, they suddenly find themselves in profound disagreement with Pope Francis. The pope will address Congress today, but his remarks at the White House yesterday gave Republicans little comfort and much to fear. While the pope did mention the innocent victims of abortion, he also mentioned the innocent victims of war, children who die of hunger, immigrants who drown looking for a better life, and an environment ravaged by man's predatory relationship with nature. He spent more time on the environment than on any other topic, at one point saying: "Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution." This is not the message Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), a Catholic, was hoping for when he invited the pontiff to address Congress. The pope clearly understands that he is firmly grasping enough third rails to power the entire New York subway system and is not shying away from controversy in the slightest.

This new situation is causing conservative Republicans discomfort and they are reacting in a variety of ways.

Six of the Republican presidential candidates are Catholic: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Marco Rubio, and Rick Santorum. All but Pataki are fiercely conservative and are being tied in knots by a pope they are supposed to respect but clearly dislike. They are using various strategies to honor those papal positions that agree with the Republican ideology and reject those that don't. Whatever the excuse, this makes them cafeteria Catholics, picking and choosing the moral principles that support their existing political views. Here are some of the strategies they use.

  • Silence and hope the controversy blows over
  • The pope is saying liberal things to reach out to non-Catholics
  • The pope is not a scientist
  • The pope is not infallible on political matters
  • The pope is entitled to his personal opinion but it is not church policy
  • Trust the Vatican but not the pope
  • I disagree with the pope's interpretation of being a "good steward"
  • The pope is missing the big picture
  • The pope's message is for other countries
  • The pope threatens American interests

This is just another example of being careful what you wish for. Boehner no doubt expected the pope to be Antonin Scalia. Instead he got Bernie Sanders.

Dissecting Walker in a Postmortem

NPR has a good list of some of the major mistakes that derailed Scott Walker's presidential campaign.

Several items on the list speak to Walker's flip-flopping, or his trying to be on both sides of an issue. For example, he lambasted radical Islam, while at the same time hamfistedly trying to acknowledge the "handful of reasonable, moderate followers of Islam." As John Kerry learned with abortion, there are some issues where you simply cannot have it both ways. Voters who hate Islam are going to be upset by the suggestion that some Muslims are reasonable, and voters who do not hate Islam are going to be upset by the suggestion that most Muslims are dangerous radicals. As such, everyone is going to be unhappy—not a good way to attract votes.

Walker was also in the habit of putting his foot in his mouth, perhaps most notably when he advocated building a fence along the Canadian border (to accompany the one he would build along the Mexican border). The ostensible purpose of such a wall would be to keep terrorists from sneaking bombs and the like across the world's largest unsecured border. However, absent a clear explanation, the declaration makes it seem like Walker wants to protect Americans from Molson-drinking, maple syrup-eating, hockey-playing Canadians. Which is a fairly ridiculous image, eh.

Ultimately, the conclusion that emerges is that Scott Walker was not ready for prime time. Could he rise phoenix-like from the ashes, and return to run a viable campaign in 2020? It's not impossible, but it's also not likely. Walker is currently at the pinnacle of his fame (such as it is), and the memory of his battles with Wisconsin's public unions is never going to be fresher in the minds of Republican voters than it is right now. While he will remain governor until 2018 (or longer, if he is re-elected), there are limited opportunities for him to increase his national profile. He might step down from the governorship in 2018 and run against Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) then. However, his hopes of being the Republican vice presidential candidate are very slim, since the party just learned in 2012 how little value they will get out of a right-winger from the Badger State. If he wants to run again, Walker will need to spend the next four years hustling for money and connections, a la Richard Nixon from 1964 to 1968 or Mitt Romney from 2008 to 2012. Odds are he decides that is too much work for too small a chance at glory.

A key question now is what happens to his donors. It was alleged that the Koch brothers saw real potential in him and might have put big money behind him. Now that is behind them. Who's left? The obvious candidate is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), but he is young and inexperienced and could easily make a serious mistake. On the other hand, being young and inexperienced makes him easy to push around. Gov. John. Kasich (R-OH) is probably too moderate for them as is Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ). That leaves Jeb Bush. But Bush is quite capable of raising enough money on his own and may not want the Koch Brothers' money if it comes with strings attached, which it surely does. Earlier this year Sheldon Adelson, another billionaire looking to drop some serious money on some grateful politician, told Bush to get rid of James Baker as an advisor. Bush refused. Adelson was miffed. Bush has a deep and powerful network and doesn't really need Adelson's money. If the Koch brothers discover that Bush will take their money but not their conditions, they may be forced to work with Rubio, who has fewer options and is more malleable.

Republicans Begin to Go After Trump

It was inevitable. With Donald Trump still leading the polls well into September, current and former leaders of the Republican Party are beginning to go after him. He campaigned in South Carolina yesterday, a state that has the first ever popularly elected black Republican senator from the South, an Indian-American governor, and a Republican-controlled state legislature that just voted to remove the Confederate flag from the state house grounds. His constant remarks on race have rankled many Republicans and they are starting to hit back. The problem is bigger than Trump, who is unlikely to win the nomination. It tarnishes the entire Republican brand. That's what other Republicans are worried about.

Dark Money is Up Fivefold Compared to 2012

Spending by political super PACs on the 2016 races has reached $25 million, which is five times what it was in 2012 at this point. Most of the spending has been done by groups that are supporting a single candidate in a single race, rather than supporting one of the parties. Of the 20 biggest spenders, only one favors the Democrats. Surprisingly, the biggest spender so far is the one supporting Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ). He probably needs it right now if he is to become viable, a longshot at best. Jeb Bush's super PAC raised more money than any other, but it is only gearing up to start spending. It is expected to dump $24 million into TV ads in Iowa and New Hampshire in the coming weeks.

Democrats Debate Debates

The Democratic candidates, and the party's officials, are squabbling about the schedule for the Democratic debates. At the moment, they are supposed to take place on October 13, November 14, December 19, January 17, and two dates TBA in February or March.

Hillary Clinton, for her part, would prefer to have as few debates as possible. If there was a number lower than zero, she would take it. Prepping is undoubtedly arduous, and more importantly, there is little upside for her. Everyone knows who she is and what her positions on the issues are. As such, anything Hillary might say is either going to have no impact, or is going to hurt her. At the same time, her opponents will benefit from the publicity that comes with appearing on national television, and on the same stage as the frontrunner.

Of course, Bernie Sanders, Lincoln Chafee, Martin O'Malley, and Jim Webb know these things, too. They would love to debate as often as is possible. The campaigns were able to settle on six as a fair compromise between the four debates that Hillary offered and the way more than four that the other candidates wanted. It wasn't until the DNC announced the schedule for the six meetings that the squabbling began. Of the four dates that have been set, three (the ones in November, December, and January) are scheduled for a weekend, when ratings tend to be much lower. Also a cause for complaint is the fact that only the last three debates will take place during the primaries.

Martin O'Malley has gone so far as to suggest that the DNC is deliberately rigging the schedule to protect Hillary Clinton, and the other challengers' campaigns are not disagreeing. This is probably not true, though we will never know for sure. In any event, the underdogs now want more debates to be added in the early months of 2016. Some party officials agree with this position, fearing that—regardless of whom the candidate is—the schedule is conceding too much of the voters' attention to the Republicans (who have nine more debates scheduled, including six during primary season). The Clinton campaign has largely been silent so far; Hillary neither wants more debates, nor does she want to appear "afraid to debate." At this point, it is not at all clear how this will ultimately unfold.

Rubio Passes Bush in Florida

With two well-known candidates from Florida in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, the Florida primary on March 15 could mean curtains for one of them. If by March the main contenders are Rubio and Bush, the Florida primary could be decisive. A new poll of Florida Republicans from Florida Atlantic University puts Trump on top, followed by Rubio and Bush. Here are the top five Republicans.

Rank Candidate Pct
1 Donald Trump 32%
2 Marco Rubio 19%
3 Jeb Bush 11%
4 Ben Carson 10%
5 Carly Fiorina 8%

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has a staggering lead with 60% of the vote, followed by Joe Biden at 16% and Bernie Sanders at 15%.

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---The Votemaster
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