Assessing the Presidential Candidates

A number of people have encouraged me to comment on the crop of Presidential candidates for the 2016 Presidential election. When there were nearly 2 dozen of them I didn’t want to waste my time analyzing lots of hopefuls that would never make the final cut. Now that we are down to the “best” five I hardly know what to say!!! Nevertheless I will make some observations about each for my followers to criticize.

John Kasich

Kasich is probably the most rational acting candidate on the Republican side. He seems to understand that the political parties need to work together and compromise for the good of the country. He is taking a lot of credit though for turning things around in Ohio that he had nothing to do with.

He touts job and economic growth on his watch. He is also bragging about reducing the budget as one of his accomplishments. For the most part he had no part in the improving job front or the associated economic turnaround. They just happened to begin developing shale oil and gas in Ohio in a big way. That really made the difference in Ohio’s fortunes.

His budget dance is a bit like a shell game. He loves to quote the numbers associated with Ohio’s budget. He takes credit for Ohio’s State budget being smaller than when he took office. It has indeed gone down during his tenure. However that is because federal payments to Ohio have gone down which Kasich had no control over. If one strips the federal payments from the Ohio budget the part left is what Kasich has influence over. That part has actually increased on his watch.

The one good thing I can say about Kasich is that he did accept federal funds to expand Medicaid. More children and poor people have health care  as a result. Of course that is the one thing that his Republican “friends” like to criticize most about him.

I think a Kasich Presidency would be quiet and lackluster with little active control over most institutions of the federal government. He is probably a nice guy but has challenges right here in Ohio with the General Assembly. I think the Tea Party would skewer him like they have tried to Obama, but with more success.

None of the above matters though. His chances of being the Republican nominee is most likely only a pipe dream in his own mind. And if he were to actually get the nomination the Party will be so fractured that it probably can’t even hold on to the Senate, much less win the Presidency!

Bernie Sanders

Bernie is probably the most, maybe the only, honest candidate in the 2016 race. No politician pandering for votes would ever freely admit that he expects to introduce socialist sounding policies like single payor health insurance. And he would never admit publicly that he intends to push to raise taxes. That is just not how the game is played, well maybe until this election season. He has to be honest to say such things!!

Bernie is an idealist. His vision is of a much more humane society than we have today. He wants to make individual American citizens regardless of their individual economic power far more equal. His views will probably be mainstream in US political thinking in 50 or 70 years, if our democracy survives that long. Today though they are not endorsed by the establishment in either party and are too frightening to the American electorate to be taken seriously by old or middle aged voters.

Regardless, Bernie is leading a movement. People are tired of letting the wealthy dictate the economic terms of life for average Americans who aren’t necessarily well connected to political power. Lots of people, especially the younger ones, are ready to endorse a new style of American democracy and to many of them Bernie has the answer. He is doing pretty well with his message, much better than anyone would have predicted. No one thought people would listen to him much less contribute to his campaign at the rate they are.

Like it or not we need to take him seriously and pay attention to what he and his followers are saying. They are the young people ready to define the future. They will be running things in the not too distant future.

I don’t think Bernie can win the Democratic nomination. And if he were to win it he couldn’t win the Presidency. He is just too far ahead of his time. But as the color of America darkens and the old white guard passes his ideas will become mainstream.

Hillary Clinton

If experience and training count for anything in Presidential politics Clinton is certainly the most qualified candidate to immediately assume the power of the Presidency. As Secretary of State she was an active key figure in a Presidential Administration. As first lady for a previous president she was exposed to the details of the Presidency every single day (through good and bad) for 8 years. She is personally acquainted with the world’s major leaders. She understands better than any other candidate the geopolitical play and the complex relationships the US has with its partners, competitors, and adversaries around the world. Historically though qualifications have not meant much in the last 35 years, with the possible exception of George H. W. Bush.

Unfortunately Hillary Clinton brings a lot of baggage to her candidacy. There is the Benghazi story, the email server controversy, the exorbitant fees paid by Wall Street for speeches. She even has challenges left over from her behavior during her husband’s Presidency. The bottom line is that people just don’t believe she is trustworthy. What is really sad though is that most of the image and suspicion of her is self induced injury. She and her husband have both been much too secretive when it was not necessary. That just breeds mistrust.

One of the pluses she should have is that she is a woman. For those of us who believe a democracy gets better government with women in senior positions one would think that would be a strong endorsement. Also since she would be the first woman President it would seem that at least some significant minority of women would support her for that reason alone. But again she does not seem trustworthy.

Donald Trump

In some ways Donald Trump is an enigma! What drives him? What made him decide to get into politics?  But in other ways he is a perfectly understandable “open book”.  He is driven by ego and excitement! He is a businessman who loves a challenge and loves even more to win! He certainly has turned the 2016 Republican primary election season on its ear!

The Republican leadership “created” a Donald Trump. They were so eager to take back the White House they focused almost exclusively on obstruction of anything Obama touched, even if it were in their own interest to endorse it. Now they are watching their whole party collapse around them, and trying to deal with a guy who makes his own rules! From a purely personal perspective I think the Republican Party is about two generations behind where the American people are. It is actually encouraging to see the chaos they have created for themselves in trying to drag the country back to the late nineteenth century. Future generations may well credit Trump with bringing political sanity back to the GOP!

Right now Trump is playing a role. He has identified a sizable minority of the electorate who is angry and may be just short of riotous at the gridlock in Washington. They want a candidate who will exercise strong power and make things happen. Right now he is feeding and playing to that anger! He knows a lot of Americans blame the Party establishment and he is playing the tune they want to hear. He is not the originator of the issues he exaggerates or the extreme positions he takes. He is just smart and knows how to deliver the message the crowd wants, manipulate the media, and frustrate the professional politicians to achieve his objective – to win!!

I am sure Trump’s calculus is that winning primaries requires staking out extreme territory. I think he is right about that. A candidate has to appeal to the party base. In the last 35 years the Republican party has made such a sharp right turn that its base is now far right of most democracy loving citizens in either party. Even Ronald Reagan would not recognize it today.

Trump is fond of bragging about being really smart and rich. Initially Republicans discounted him as a buffoon who was just after the attention but would not last. Problem was, he really is very smart and very rich, he appears to have read the Republican mood correctly, and his “extreme” strategy has already captured much of that their base. His approach may well succeed in securing the Republican nomination even though most Republicans would probably not choose him.

Once nominated, if that happens, Trump will change roles to win the general election. He will take on a completely different persona. His angry side will be gone and his Presidential side will be front and center. Politically, he will move dramatically toward the center. He knows that an extremist is required to appeal to the Republican base but can never be elected President. I think in the general election campaign Trump will put his angry suit in the closet and bring out his Presidential clothes. He will be the consummate professional, strong and aggressive but a perfect gentleman.

I don’t fear a President Trump the way others do. I know he is not going to do any of the wild extreme things he is now saying he will. He is too smart for that. He has successfully conducted business around the world, including the Middle-East. One cannot be successful there with the behavior he exhibits in the primary contests here in the States. He does understand how the world works. And he is the ultimate pragmatist. He will compromise, cooperate, deal, and do whatever it takes to advance the national and international interests of the US, if for no other reason than his own ego and legacy!

Ted Cruz

Cruz is by far the most dangerous, and probably the most dishonest, candidate running for the Presidency in 2016. He is the ultimate ideologue. Though compromise is a cornerstone of any healthy democracy Cruz sees compromise as weakness. He is so ideological that he is shunned by the vast majority of Senators in both parties. Above all we need politicians who are willing to put the country first, respect sincere differences of opinion, find or create common political ground, and solve some life threatening challenges to our nation and federal government.

Besides his attitude toward compromise Ted Cruz has no demonstrated leadership qualities. Similarly he seems to have no actual executive experience that would reasonably be transferable to the Presidency. Even if he were elected President it is hard to see how he could effectively govern and deal with the large and growing issues that need attention. He can’t even get along with his Senate colleagues. How could he forge consensus on any single national issue?

His demonstrated political behavior though is what makes him so dangerous and/or dishonest. In 2013 Cruz led an effort, pretty much single handedly, to defund the ACA (Obamacare). He tried to force the defunding by shutting down the government for 16 days. It did not work but it showed the extent to which he would go to get his own way. It is sad that the rest of the Republican Senators would go along when it had no chance of success. But enough did to shut down the government.

Many Republican Senators believe that even Ted Cruz knew there was no chance of success but he designed the shutdown plan to make a name for himself and gain national attention regardless of the impact on the country. I can believe that given that two years later he decided to run for President. Interestingly he never mentions that shutdown effort on the campaign trail!

Cruz also has expressed other dangerous ideas as well. Like Trump he claims that he will deport all 11 million illegal immigrants from the US. Unlike Trump though he claims they will never be allowed to re-enter the US even legally. He also plans to do away with the IRS and implement a 10% flat tax (regressive tax against poor and middle class Americans) for individuals, and a 16% value added tax (VAT) on businesses. Virtually all credible economists who have studied his plan say it will further explode the national debt.

Another of his plans is to immediately tear up the Iran nuclear deal after they have already gotten most of their assets unfrozen worldwide. Now I know that will be popular for Iran’s leadership. They won’t have to put up with nuclear inspectors watching them. And they can immediately begin building toward a bomb. It makes one wonder who Ted is really working for!

None of these plans or ideas would really make Ted Cruz dangerous if they were just election year rhetoric. But I don’t think they are rhetoric. He is fond of saying that the difference between him and other candidates is that he will really do what he says. So far in his brief national political show he has tried to do exactly what he said he would do. He already demonstrated he was willing to shutdown the government to get his way. He showed no willingness to compromise in any way. He is so autocratic I fear that if elected President he would be willing to actually do anything and everything to achieve his objectives. That might have catastrophic political, economic, and military consequences for the nation!!

What do I predict?

I think there is not much doubt that Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination. The real question in my mind is how damaged she will be from the contest. Bernie Sanders has proven to be a formable competitor, fund raiser, and movement leader. It appears he will have the financial capacity to stay in the race all the way to the convention. I don’t think he has any hope of actually getting the nomination. If he does not already know he will probably realize that before the convention. When he does I think he will continue with an unspoken goal of getting major concessions on the policy priorities of the Democratic Party to accommodate some of the goals he and his supporter believe in. That inevitably will drag Hillary to the left!

Who will win the Republican nomination is a bit harder to predict. I do think that the next couple of weeks will give us a clearer view. At this point I still think that Kasich is just a spoiler. He has no hope of winning the nomination unless through a backroom deal that will alienate everyone else.

Similarly I think Ted Cruz cannot win the nomination. His only hope will be in a deal at the convention. I believe in their saner moments the Republican leadership will conclude that a Cruz is altogether too ideological and his nomination would guarantee a Clinton victory in the fall.

I am not yet convinced that Trump can get to the magic 1237 number before the convention either. If he wins NY and maybe PA I think he is more likely to achieve that. If not but he is close I think perhaps the Republican party will implode at the convention.

That is when the backroom dealing will begin and I think all bets are off. In that scenario choosing Kasich, Cruz or anyone else will create a firestorm. Trump will certainly not play by any Republican establishment rules. I could see him and his supporters splitting from the Party and running a third party campaign more against the Republican establishment than Hillary Clinton.

On the other hand if Trump does win the nomination then the Tea Party may split the Republican Party. Trump is smart enough to know that he can’t win the general election with the extreme right wing positions required in the primaries. I expect him to turn sharply left in the general election! When he does that I would think the Tea Party will try some kind of power play that may destroy whatever is left of the Party.

In the end I think Democrat Hillary Clinton will face “Republican” Donald Trump in the general election. I am not predicting it but maybe Bernie’s supporter and/or the Tea Party may also put up an independent candidate. Regardless of what happens it may be the most exciting and interesting election of my lifetime!

A final Note

In the beginning of this election season Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were the two outliers in the field of candidates. Nobody paid much attention! We need to think about what they are saying and what is making them mainstream.

In some ways Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are like two sides of the same coin. Bernie Sanders is a visionary candidate leading a movement of idyllic young people pushing for a more just and equal America. Trump is a rational and pragmatic businessman who recognizes the anger in the American electorate and is offering to fix it.

The political forces in both their campaigns are addressing the same problem. Though the rhetoric and tone is different sometimes in the two camps the message is the same:  The American political system is no longer accountable to the people. That is a serious issue that the two parties must address together if we intend to preserve our democracy.

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