Friday Talking Points [377] -- Toss Of A Coin

[ Posted Friday, February 5th, 2016 – 17:06 PST ]

Appropriately, for the week which will also contain the Super Bowl, the first state to weigh in on the presidential election was decided (for Democrats) by a coin-toss. Or, to be accurate, seven of them. With tied caucuses in seven precincts, tossing a coin determined the winner between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Clinton won six coin-tosses, Sanders only one. Because of this, Clinton claimed a razor-edge victory in the whole state. To put it plainly, she got lucky. If the coin tosses had been a little less lopsided, Bernie would have had the opportunity to claim victory. Such is life, and such is the political process in Iowa.

Iowa officially kicked off (to continue our football metaphor) the 2016 primary season this week. New Hampshire is next in line, followed by Nevada and South Carolina (for Democrats), or South Carolina and Nevada (for Republicans). Then at the beginning of next month we move from retail politics to the wholesale frenzy of Super Tuesday. Game on, folks!

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GOP Tickets Out Of New Hampshire

[ Posted Thursday, February 4th, 2016 – 18:08 PST ]

The Republican field is (finally!) now officially down to single digits. With the post-Iowa exodus of Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, and Rick Santorum, only nine GOP candidates remain. Of course, this still includes more than one who will never be the nominee, but at least the winnowing has begun in earnest. The question on everyone's mind now is how many of them will be viable after New Hampshire votes. This election cycle, most pundits speak of the Republican race in terms of "lanes." There is an "outsider lane" and an "establishment lane," and so forth. I personally don't favor this metaphor, as I'm more inclined to use what might be called the traditional "Willy Wonka golden ticket" metaphor. In other words, there are a limited number of "tickets" out of New Hampshire, and anyone who doesn't hold one after the voting is over might as well just pack up their campaign.

So who will hold one of these tickets next Tuesday night? Right now, it's actually even tough to identify how many of these tickets will even exist. The people using lanes to describe the race have generally agreed that there will be only three lanes heading into South Carolina, and that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz already occupy two of them. By this logic, there are four candidates fighting hard for the establishment lane, and only one will emerge.

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Obama Poll Watch -- January, 2016

[ Posted Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016 – 17:10 PST ]

Obama Bounces Back

President Obama just had a very good month in the polls. Not spectacular, mind you, but still better than any month since January of 2015. Essentially, Obama regained the job approval polling ground he lost over the previous two or three months, and he is now positioned to continue improving in February as well. For the first time in a year, this movement is so noticeable it is easily visible on the big chart.

Obama Approval -- January 2016

[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]

January, 2016

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Why Not Just Allow Primary Votes To Be Bought?

[ Posted Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016 – 17:46 PST ]

Maybe I'm just loopy from staying up late to watch the Iowa returns trickle in, but this morning I had a pretty radical idea, after reading a statistic that several pundits pointed out in their post-caucus articles. Jeb Bush apparently spent $14 million in Iowa to receive a little over 5,200 votes. According to many pundits today, that works out to roughly $2,800 spent per actual vote (it's actually under $2,700 when you run the numbers, but whatever). Which caused my epiphany -- why not just hand that cash over to the voters themselves, and eliminate all the middlemen?

Hey, I warned you it was a pretty radical idea. Vote-buying is, of course, highly illegal under current election law. But I think there's a case to be made for changing these laws.

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My Iowa Predictions

[ Posted Monday, February 1st, 2016 – 17:08 PST ]

The primary season officially gets underway tonight, as Iowa voters brave the winter weather and head to the caucuses. This will give political wonks some actual hard data to discuss, instead of just opinion polling and sheer speculation, so it's a big day on the political calendar for us. Because it's such an auspicious day, I'm going to make an honest attempt to pick the winners and almost-winners for both parties.

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Friday Talking Points [376] -- One No Trump

[ Posted Friday, January 29th, 2016 – 17:59 PST ]

That headline is a joke only bridge players will get, so our apologies to everyone else. It refers, of course, to last night's Republican presidential debate, which Donald Trump refused to participate in. But even with no Trump on the stage last night, he seems to have (once again) proved that political gravity simply doesn't apply to him. In fact, we have serious doubts that we'll see Trump at any future debates -- after all, if he can blow them off with impunity, why would he subject himself to them in the first place?

Or maybe he'll just stage his own debates instead, and invite the other candidates to appear in front of his hand-picked panel of sycophants. That'd certainly be amusing! Who wouldn't tune in to see the likes of Gary Busey questioning Ted Cruz?

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Trump Just Fulfilling The GOP's Grand Debate Design

[ Posted Thursday, January 28th, 2016 – 16:56 PST ]

Donald Trump, whether he wins the Republican nomination or not (or the White House, for that matter), has certainly turned the world of American politics on its head this election cycle. Trump is the undisputed king of Teflon -- because absolutely nothing he says or does ever sticks to him. His campaign has been pronounced "dead" or "toast" so many times now (by the inside-the-Beltway set) that it's impossible to keep count. Each time, his poll numbers actually rise rather than suffer the predicted collapse. This time around, after the dust settles in the fracas over tonight's debate, Trump will likely once again emerge stronger. Which is exactly what the Republican Party hoped would happen (albeit to someone other than Trump, but even so...) during debate season.

What many seem to be missing in the battle of egos now raging between Fox News and Donald Trump is that Trump isn't doing anything the Republican Party should be in any way shocked by, because he's just following through on their own playbook. For all the pearl-clutching over "journalistic integrity" and "politicians not making demands of the media," Trump is doing nothing more than following the Republican National Committee's own lead on the issue. They have no one to blame but themselves for outrageously self-serving demands which must be met before debates are allowed to happen.

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Guest Author -- Brandon Grant On Political Corruption

[ Posted Wednesday, January 27th, 2016 – 17:22 PST ]

Program Note: Towards the end of last year, I agreed to offer this column space as a prize in an essay contest for high school students. The contest was run by the Museum of Political Corruption project, a non-profit organization currently raising funds to build a museum dedicated to the history of political corruption in Albany, New York. I've always supported such a noble idea, so it was natural for me to offer up the column space. So today, I'm proud to present the first-ever winner of the "What is political corruption and why should we care?" essay contest.

The winning entry was from Brandon Grant, a high school senior from Oswego High School in Oswego, New York. He heard about the contest from a former criminal justice teacher of his, and decided it would be worth entering. His essay is presented below. Brandon is thinking about pursuing education as a career, and he had this to say about the subject of political corruption: " I feel it's a great subject to discuss and will try to educate more people in the future about it. The more people informed the better."

Although it was not specifically part of the prize, I am pleased to announce that Brandon's essay will also run on the Huffington Post, which should look pretty good on a college application. I offer my congratulations to Brandon Grant, and would encourage all interested high school students to enter next year's contest, as well.

-- Chris Weigant


What Is Political Corruption And Why Should We Care?

People are suffering and need your help! You're a United States legislator and you have just been presented with an up-and-coming bill. If this bill passes, people will receive aid and live better lives. However, special interests (that contribute handsomely to your re-election) don't approve of the bill. So who will you listen to? The people or the special interest groups? Why, the special interest groups, of course! After all, how does helping the people benefit you? That, right there, is an example of political corruption. More and more in modern society those elected to office to serve the interests of the people are being bought off by special interests to make sure any new legislation put into place benefits their businesses and their ideals; thus silencing any who might go against them.

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Palin-Trump Link Vindicated

[ Posted Tuesday, January 26th, 2016 – 18:12 PST ]

Every so often, I feel moved to write a column that is no more, really, than spiking a metaphorical football in the endzone. To put it a different way, sometimes I write my opinion about something political only to then be almost immediately vindicated by someone much further in-the-know than I ever could be. Today is one of those days, so if you're not interested in me indulging in a little gratuitous back-patting, then I'd suggest you stop reading this now.

The reason for the most recent of these "See? I told you so!" moments was an extraordinary column just written by Nicolle Wallace, who was (in her own words) "a senior adviser to the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008." This New York Times opinion piece absolutely agrees with what I wrote last week in my "Blame John McCain For Donald Trump" article. Again, this vindication comes from a Republican senior advisor to McCain's campaign, and not from some random Lefty agreeing with me.

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The Iowa Homestretch

[ Posted Monday, January 25th, 2016 – 18:06 PST ]

One week from today, the preliminary phase of the presidential campaign will finally be over and "primary season" will officially begin, as Iowans brave the cold weather to caucus for the candidates of their choice. For the remainder of February, the other three early-voting states will hold their contests, meaning next month will see the race sharpen for both Republicans and Democrats. As things stand, both parties have two clear frontrunners: Donald Trump and Ted Cruz for the GOP; Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side. At this point, both races are so close in Iowa that nobody really knows what will happen next Monday night. Will the polls turn out to be correct? Nobody knows. Will enthusiasm trump (pun intended) longtime voter turnout? It could happen on either side, and then again it might not.

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