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  March 2-14
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News from the Votemaster

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Republicans Get Down to Business in South Carolina
      •  Republicans Love Cruz, Carson, and Rubio the Most
      •  Trump Way Ahead Nationally in New Poll
      •  Cruz and Trump Backers in Iowa Differ on Some Issues

Republicans Get Down to Business in South Carolina

For the sixth GOP candidates' debate, host Fox Business Network (FBN) dispensed with opening statements. So, the top seven candidates (sorry, Rand Paul) rolled up their sleeves and got to work quickly on Thursday night. Here are the big story lines:

Who Hates the Democrats Most? If you had 53 seconds in your office pool as the amount of time it would take one of the candidates to mention the U.S. sailors in Iran, then congratulations, you're a winner. FBN's Maria Bartiromo tried to ask a question about jobs, which Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) promptly highjacked in order to lambaste the President's handling of the matter, as well as his failure to make mention of it in his State of the Union address. From then, it was open season on the President, Hillary Clinton, and—in a pretty good sign of his increasing viability—Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The candidates on stage engaged in a sort of verbal arms race, trying to see who could find the most damning words to condemn the President and the two Democratic frontrunners. At various points, one or another of the trio was described as "disgraceful," "stupid," "weak," a "national security disaster," a "mess," "rash," "arrogant," a "liar," a "do-nothing," and "evil."

There is no doubt that such strong words are juicy red meat for the base, and the heavily Republican crowd ate it up. But much of the rhetoric is so thoroughly divorced from reality, it is hard to imagine anyone but the true believers could take it seriously. For example, Cruz declared that:

[T]he Obama-Clinton economy has left behind the working men and women of this country. The reason all of us are here is we believe we should be fighting for the working men and women of this country.

In what capacity—Senator? First Lady? Secretary of State?—did Hillary Clinton ever assume primary responsibility for the functioning of the U.S. economy? (And, for that matter, when did Ted Cruz embrace Bernie Sanders' stump speech?) To take another example, Jeb Bush was asked about gun control and said that, "The president's first impulse is do this by executive order," while wondering why Obama did not work in a "bipartisan way." Does anyone—heck, even Republicans—really believe that executive orders were his first choice? Or that he would not be delighted to sign literally any gun control measure that the Republican-controlled Congress might send to him?

As we, and others, have noted before and below, it's going to take some non-Republican votes to win this thing. This kind of verbiage makes it hard to see how those votes are going to be had.

Trump v. Cruz: Everybody expected the two top dogs to begin sparring in earnest, and they did not disappoint. The verbal fisticuffs began with a discussion of Ted Cruz's citizenship, a subject that was—interestingly enough—first raised by the moderators. Cruz was ready, of course, and worked hard to obfuscate the issue. The first phase of his counter-assault was his standard "the liberal media hates me" chestnut. The meat of his argument, however, was the equivalency he drew between the questions about his own citizenship (which are being raised by many legitimate legal scholars) and the theory that anyone who was not born in the U.S. to two parents who were also born in the U.S. is not a natural born citizen (an idea that no serious legal scholar embraces). Having blurred two very different legal questions, Cruz then suggested that he was no different than Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, and Donald Trump, all of them children of one non-U.S. born parent. He neglected to mention that all the others were born on U.S. soil. Making this argument with a straight face took quite a bit of chutzpah, and Trump tried to object, but was largely shut down. There is no question that some—perhaps many—viewers will walk away believing that doubts about Ted Cruz's citizenship are no more legitimate than doubts about Donald Trump's citizenship.

There were more salvos fired over the course of the night from both directions. The most notable was a new and novel line of attack from Cruz, in which he suggested that anyone from New York is essentially a closet liberal, and doesn't really understand Republican values. This is a pretty audacious way to go, especially given that New York has 95 Republican delegates, more than all but three states. Trump tried to counter by pointing out that William F. Buckley, Jr. was from New York, but the crowd certainly sided with Cruz on this one. And on the whole, Cruz came out ahead of Trump on the evening, though New York Republicans may keep his remarks in mind.

A Bunch of Jokers: For people who all claim to be channeling the spirit of Ronald Reagan, the GOP candidates largely seemed to have forgotten in the previous debates that one of the Gipper's most potent weapons was his sense of humor. They did not forget tonight, as nearly all of the candidates scored with a joke or two. The best of the night may have come from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who halted the argument over Ted Cruz's citizenship by interjecting, "I hate to interrupt this episode of Court TV." The line got a big laugh, and Rubio's staff had emailed out a compilation of complimentary tweets about the joke within 15 minutes of it being made.

Paging Dr. Carson: Pop quiz: What was the subject of the question posed to Ben Carson that resulted in this response?

You know, you look at what's going on, you see all the divisiveness and the hatred that goes on in our society. You know, we have a war on virtual everything—race wars, gender wars, income wars, religious wars, age wars. Every war you can imagine, we have people at each other's throat and our strength is actually in our unity.

If you got the correct answer—the question was about Bill Clinton's extramarital affairs—then you're either clairvoyant or you cheated. There were several candidates on stage who had less-than-stellar evenings on Thursday: Bush, Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), and maybe even Rubio. But any pundit who picks the "loser(s)" of the debate, and does not select Ben Carson, clearly did not watch. During most of the debates, Carson seems like he consumed half a bottle of codeine before going on stage. Tonight, it must have been a full bottle. His answers were even more meandering and unfocused than usual, and tonight is just going to hasten his downward spiral in the polls.

The First Casualty: The good people at politifact and factcheck will be earning overtime pay this week, because the candidates—perhaps nervous about the looming caucuses—really amped up the distortions and outright falsehoods. Cruz got the ball rolling, just past the one minute mark, with his declaration that "we have the lowest percentage of Americans working today of any year since 1977." This is true, but incredibly misleading. Cruz undoubtedly wanted to give the impression that unemployment is out of control, but a very big part of the reason for the non-workers is that people are living longer (thus, longer retirements) and the massive Baby Boom generation is reaching retirement age. Due to these two factors, the percentage of Americans working will continue to drop for the next 10 years, regardless of who is in the White House or how robust the economy is.

Cruz's spin was just the appetizer, of course. Truth would take quite a few more body blows over the course of the evening, from Trump claiming that nearly all Syrian refugees are men (they're mostly women and children), to Rubio implying that Barack Obama cut money from the military's budget so he could send it to Planned Parenthood (it doesn't work like that), to Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) insisting he never supported the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court (he did, albeit grudgingly).

Bring Your Buckets: If there are any doubts that Fox/FBN are toting the water of the Republican Party, well, Thursday night certainly didn't do anything to dispel them. Although the moderators—Bartiromo and Neil Cavuto—promised to be "aggressive," they really should have brought their bats and gloves, because they were pitching softballs nearly all night. Consider, for example, this question, which might as well have been written by the RNC:

So what does it say about our country that a candidate who is a self-avowed socialist and who doesn't think a 90 percent tax rate is too high could be the Democratic nominee?

Bartiromo and Cavuto also allowed the candidates, over and over, to take questions and run with them in any direction they wanted, regardless of how off-topic the response was. But the moderators' greatest sin, far and away, was their lack of meaningful follow-ups. Candidates regularly made statements that were misleading, incorrect, incomplete, or so vague as to be meaningless. For example, Bartiromo asked Christie under what circumstances he would use military force, and he answered:

Military action, Maria, would be used when it was absolutely necessary to protect American lives and protect American interests around the world. We are not the world's policeman, but we need to stand up and be ready.

This response reveals nothing—nobody supports unnecessary use of troops; the question is how the individual defines "necessary." But there was no follow-up. Similarly, they allowed Ted Cruz to give his explanation for forgetting to disclose personal loans during his campaign, allowing him to create the impression that he corrected the mistake as soon as was possible. What went unmentioned and unchallenged was the fact that Cruz's correction only came after he was elected, meaning that voters never had an opportunity to be aware of the conflict of interest. The other shaky or false assertions noted above—Cruz's birther response, Christie on Sotomayor, the "Obama-Clinton economy"—all passed without comment. Nobody is expecting the moderators to argue with the candidates all night long, but a bit more aggression would have been welcome.

In any event, the Republicans will have one more go-round before the first caucuses— January 28 in Des Moines, with Fox News hosting. Fox has given no indication as to its criteria for qualifying, but it seems likely to be the same as Thursday's debate, so we will probably see this same group then (perhaps with Rand Paul readmitted). (Z)

Republicans Love Cruz, Carson, and Rubio the Most

Gallup ran a long-running poll from Dec. 1, 2015 until Jan. 11, 2016 asking voters if they had a favorable or unfavorable view of each of the Republican candidates. The differences between Republicans, Independents, and Democrats are startling. Here are the numbers.

Candidate Republicans Independents Democrats
Ted Cruz +51% -3% -37%
Ben Carson +47% +5% -26%
Marco Rubio +46% +4% -28%
Mike Huckabee +40% -6% -34%
Carly Fiorina +30% +1% -20%
Donald Trump +27% -27% -70%
Chris Christie +23% -3% -24%
Jeb Bush +13% +13% -30%
John Kasich +7% -1% -4%

Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio are the most liked among Republican voters. However, the polls don't put them close together at all. Carson, especially, while popular, is not likely to get many votes. Maybe people mean they would like to have dinner with Carson; they just don't want him to be President.

The Democrats' views of these candidates ought to give the Republicans pause. The two leaders in the polling, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz rate at -70 and -37, respectively among Democrats. There are slightly more Democrats in the country than Republicans, so it will be hard, if not impossible, for any candidate to win with only Republican votes. Independent and Democratic votes are needed as well, and Cruz and Trump don't look like the candidates who can pull that off. (V)

Trump Way Ahead Nationally in New Poll

A new NBC/WSJ national poll of Republicans gives Donald Trump a double-digit lead over #2, Ted Cruz. here are the numbers.

Rank Candidate Pct
1 Donald Trump 33%
2 Ted Cruz 20%
3 Marco Rubio 13%
4 Ben Carson 12%
5 Chris Christie 5%
5 Jeb Bush 5%
7 Carly Fiorina 3%
7 John Kasich 3%
7 Rand Paul 3%
10 Mike Huckabee 1%
  Rick Santorum <1%
  Jim Gilmore <1%

For months, the Republican leadership has been waiting for the cavalry to come riding to the rescue, but so far there a no hoofbeats to be heard. Of course, the voting hasn't started yet, but it is beginning to look like Trump could come in first or second in Iowa, first in New Hampshire, and first in South Carolina. At that point, the Republican elite may have to start seriously considering the possibility that he wins the nomination. But with a -70% net favorable/unfavorable margin among Democrats, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and maybe even Martin O'Malley would crush him. (V)

Cruz and Trump Backers in Iowa Differ on Some Issues

Ann Selzer's poll of Iowa voters released this week has turned up some differences between the people who support Donald Trump and those who support Ted Cruz. 60% of Cruz's fans say social issues are extremely important to them. Among Trump's fans, it is 40%. Trump's backers are extremely concerned with the economy, taxes, and gun rights. Not so for Cruz's backers. Interestingly Trump wins with people who make more than $100,000 or less than $50,000. Cruz is stronger with people in the middle. People who caucused for Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich in 2012 are more likely to support Cruz. Trump's strength is with people who didn't caucus in 2012. He has to hope they caucus now. (V)

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---The Votemaster
Jan14 Republicans Square Off in South Carolina Tonight
Jan14 Is Paul Ryan Really Headed for Big Things?
Jan14 New Iowa Poll: Cruz by a Nose
Jan14 Republican Donors Complaining about Lack of Return on Investment
Jan14 Republicans Tell Bush to Lay off Rubio
Jan14 Clinton Worried about Sanders
Jan14 The GOP Veepstakes Have Started
Jan13 State of the Union a Big Success
Jan13 Sanders Catching Up to Clinton in Iowa
Jan13 MoveOn Endorses Sanders
Jan13 Another Betting Market Says It's Hillary in 2016
Jan13 Young Women Support Sanders over Clinton
Jan13 Constitutional Law Professor: Cruz is Not a Natural-Born Citizen
Jan13 Repubicans Won't Approve Any New Obama Nominees
Jan12 Trump with Slight Lead in Iowa
Jan12 Obama's Final State of the Union is Tonight
Jan12 Why Have Recent Polls Been So Wrong?
Jan12 Clinton Calls for Surtax on the Rich
Jan12 Rubio Walking a Narrow Path in Iowa
Jan12 Thanks, Obama: Domestic Edition
Jan12 Rand Paul Goes Full Birther
Jan12 Paul's Presidential Campaign is Fading Fast
Jan12 More Carson Staffers Leave
Jan12 Koch Brothers' Father Built Key Nazi Oil Refinery
Jan11 Cruz is Leading in Iowa, Trump in New Hampshire
Jan11 Supreme Court Could Decide the Presidency
Jan11 Trump Promises to Tax Wall Street
Jan11 Advice for Republican Candidates
Jan11 No Primary Endorsement for Obama
Jan11 Cruz: A Spectacular Liar
Jan11 Adelson Stymied by Family Dispute
Jan11 Thanks, Obama: North Korea Edition
Jan10 Could the Republican Party Split?
Jan10 Three Theories of Trump
Jan10 Another Theory of Trump: Ignorance
Jan10 Why Hate Jeb?
Jan10 Bush: Clinton Would Beat Trump Like a Drum
Jan10 Marco Rubio's Footwear Becomes a Campaign Issue
Jan10 Fiorina Weighs in on Bill Clinton's Infidelities
Jan10 Lena Dunham Campaigning for Clinton in Iowa
Jan09 Economy Adds Another 292,000 Jobs in December
Jan09 Is Donald Trump the New George Wallace?
Jan09 Poll: 20% of Democrats Would Vote for Trump
Jan09 Trump Is Not Living in Iowa or New Hampshire
Jan09 The Conventional Wisdom Is Often Wrong
Jan09 Democratic Candidates Get Testy
Jan09 Rubio, Abbott Call for Constitutional Convention
Jan09 Democrats Press Obama on Deportations
Jan08 Planned Parenthood to Endorse Hillary Clinton
Jan08 Chairman of Congressional Black Caucus Endorses Clinton