Establishment Republicans Fight One Another – Trump Marches On

WASHINGTON – After the New Hampshire primary it is clear that Donald Trump, the clear winner, is not going away any time soon. It is also clear that there are just too many responsible Republican candidates fighting against him.

Ideal for Trump

For Trump this is an ideal situation. His 35% of the  votes in New Hampshire –a victory; but hardly a landslide– looks a lot more impressive simply because no one came even near him. The best placed “Establishment Candidate”, Ohio Governor John Kasich, with 16% of the votes is a distant (and truly unimpressive) second.

What do you do with 16%? 

Indeed, if 35% is not overwhelming, 16% is pitiful. And do keep in mind that for the Kasich campaign New Hampshire was a “must win” state. The candidate had spent an inordinate amount of time in the state, visiting with people in practically every county. And what did all this effort give him? 16%.

Can this meager 16% boost Kasich’s profile on the national stage? Is he going to get all the money he would need (donations come to winners) to launch a credible national campaign? Probably not.

Rubio imploded 

And what happened to Marco Rubio, the Iowa surprise? Well, he was sunk by just one well placed torpedo sent to him by Governor Chris Christie. In a polite but firm way Christie pointed out during the latest TV debate hosted by ABC News that Rubio lacks any executive experience. If elected President, Rubio would come into the White House without knowing how to run anything, let alone the largest industrial democracy in the world.

You would have thought that young Senator Marco Rubio, after his good showing in Iowa, had come to the debate well prepared to fend off such an obvious attack. Well no, he was not prepared. Not only he did not see it coming, he had a really stupid non sequitur as a reply. (He kept talking about President Obama). And to make it much worse, he kept on repeating the same nonsense, like a somewhat insane person. Rubio looked really lost. It was a pitiful performance.

So, there you have it. When it comes to Rubio, there is really “no there, there”. He does not have the credentials to be the strongest Republican standard-bearer. He just does not. (Sure, next time he may come with a better reply. But the point about his lack of any executive experience has been made; and it will not be erased by more artful words).

Pick a winner 

That said, now that Christie has left the race, (his direct attack sank Rubio; but it did not help him much), it is high time for all the others to get into a room and decide in a fair and intelligent way who should stay, so that all the others would withdraw from the race and throw their support behind one man.

Look, if you put together all the votes that went to Kasich, Bush, Rubio, Christie, and Carly Fiorina (she is not a politician; but I would think that her supporters could be enlisted) you have more than the 35% that Trump got. (Ted Cruz is not part of this crowd).

A real choice 

So, here is the thing. Moderate, responsible Republicans have to be given a real choice. “Mr. and Mrs. Republican, do you want to jump on Trump’s bandwagon only because he is ahead, or would you rather have a seasoned, battle tested Chief Executive in the White House? Well, if you do, here is the Champion that can beat Trump now, and later on beat Hillary Clinton in November. You do have a real, credible choice”. 

Bush-Kasich Ticket 

In a sane world, these gentlemen (and lady, if we include Fiorina) would get into a room and come out with the decision to have Jeb Bush as their candidate. (I know that Bush right now looks like a very, very long shot. But remember my premise: “In a sane world”).

After the Convention, Bush, having secured the GOP nomination with the support of all the others, would select John Kasich as his running mate. Why this ticket? Very simple. First of all, both men have good credentials. In addition, in a sane world, the Republicans would know that they need to win both Florida and Ohio in order to get to the White House.

Therefore, a ticket made out of two experienced and reliable men, one the former Governor of Florida, (Bush) the other the current Governor of Ohio, (Kasich) would seem almost ideal.

No sane world 

As I said, this is what would happen “in a sane world”. In this insane world, the “Establishment Candidates” keep fighting one another, this way looking weak and confusing the primaries voters, while Donald Trump and his united army of angry and disaffected followers keep marching forward.

Most Americans Call Themselves Centrists – They Dislike Both Parties

WASHINGTON – The accepted narrative regarding US politics is that the country today is far more polarized than it used to be. Based on polls and on the beliefs of candidates running for President, it would appear that the Democrats have become much more leftist, (so much so that “socialist” Bernie Sanders is doing better than expected in early political contests), while the Republicans definitely do not like moderate “Establishment” candidates. No, they want flame-throwing conservatives like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, or populists like businessman Donald Trump.

A different story

Well, apparently this is not the real story. Or at least it is not the full story. Professional pollster Douglas Schoen, now working for former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a potential third party presidential candidate, (Why Mike Bloomberg Can Win, WSJ, February 4, 2016), citing Gallup data, tells quite a different story.

“Who is appealing to the center? Most Americans, the new silent majority, do not share the aims of the activist caucusgoers. The share of voters who identify as independents hit 43% last year, a new record according to Gallup. Only 26% were Republicans and 30% Democrats. Moreover, 60% of Americans told Gallup in September that the Republicans and Democrats “do such a poor job” representing them that they want to see a third major party emerge. That’s up from 40% when the question was first asked in 2003.”  [bold added]

Most people want an alternative

Yes, the established political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, are definitely much more polarized. However, fewer and fewer Americans like them. Indeed, assuming that this data is accurate, up to 60% of all Americans do not like the parties. That’s a majority!

According to Schoen, many more Americans than ever before call themselves “centrists”, and therefore have a hard time supporting the more ideological candidates in either party. Most Americans would like to vote for genuine problem solvers and consensus builders. But candidates with these credentials do not exist. The political atmosphere is highly partisan and very ideological.

A real centrist

So, if the Democrats and the Republicans fail to meet expectations, where can the centrists go? The obvious answer is that they could pick someone like Michael Bloomberg, a real centrist. Just like Donald Trump, Bloomberg is a successful businessman. But, unlike Trump, he is a genuine moderate. His did very well as Mayor of NYC. He can appeal to the “political middle” looking for sensible solutions as opposed to slogans.

Of course, Mr. Schoen has every interest in pointing out this shift. After all he is working for Bloomberg. And Bloomberg would have an opening and possibly a path to victory as third party candidate only if he could count on very substantial support from the uncommitted and (frustrated) middle. Schoen tells us that this middle exists, and that it is far larger than we thought.

If indeed up to 60% of all Americans are dissatisfied with the existing parties, there are enough votes there to get Bloomberg all the way to the White House.

More complicated

Yes, may be so. But, in practice it is a lot more complicated than this. In order to vote for a third party candidate, the average American would have to feel quite disgusted with the available choices and would also have to believe that Mr. Bloomberg has a real chance.

Look, if at the end of the primaries season the choice were between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, then Bloomberg would have a real chance. But if the choice will be between Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio, then the desire to vote for an independent may not be as strong.

A warning to the parties

Be that as it may, the Gallup polls results that Schoen cites in his WSJ op-ed piece are very important. Most Americans do not like the professional politicians seeking elective office. And most Americans are centrists who would like to vote for genuine problem solvers and consensus builders.

The heat of an unfolding national political campaign does not provide the relaxed atmosphere that induces reflection. But both Democrats and Republicans should think about all this. With their behavior they have created frustration and disaffection. They should regain their common sense.

If they do not, they should understand that they have opened a huge door for political changes outside their control.

Forget About Assad – America Should Focus on Fighting ISIL

WASHINGTON – What are Obama’s options regarding an American “Syria Policy” aimed at supporting the emergence of a democratic state over there?  None. Simply stated, we cannot fight and win against ISIL, (entrenched both in Syria and Iraq), while also trying to get rid of President Assad, as he is protected by Russia, Iran, and Iran-funded Hezbollah.

Focus on ISIL 

As we should really focus on ISIL, the broader threat, we should let go of any plans aimed at replacing Assad.

As we remember, when the Arab Spring reformist winds reached Syria, President Bashar al-Assad responded with characteristic brutality. Street demonstrators were met with force. Many were killed.

At the very beginning of what (years later) turned out to be a human tragedy of monumental proportions, the Obama administration postured. It issued strong statements, proclamations. “Assad has got to go“, Obama stated.

Yes, except that there was no appetite to do anything that would actually make him go. At that time, may be there was still a chance to support the moderate, reasonably pro-western Syrian opposition. But that opportunity, assuming that it was viable, came and went.

ISIL firmly entrenched 

What happened instead is that the group that became known later on as ISIL managed to exploit the unfolding civil strife within the country to gain control of a huge part of Eastern Syria. From there, the jihadists subsequently managed to quickly invade North Western Iraq, encountering no opposition, because they were viewed as “liberators” by the Sunni majority who live there.

After this territorial conquest, they proclaimed the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in the territories they control. And it is clear that they believe to be engaged in a global battle whose final objective is Islam’s victory against the rest of the world.

As the situation on the ground rapidly deteriorated, the US administration looked surprised. The impression is that they did not see any of this coming. Since then, not much has happened, except for the mounting destruction within Syria caused by Assad’s forces, various insurgents, ISIL, and now Russian bombs.

America’s air war 

True, after much hesitation, President Obama finally declared that America would fight ISIL in order to finally defeat it. Yes, except that the military effort (a limited air war) is so minimal that many people wonder if America means this or not.

But let’s look at where we are now. With America largely absent, Iran and its proxies, plus Russia entered the fray in Syria. (Iran is also supporting the Shia Government in Iraq in its own fight against ISIL).

Russia and Iran protecting Assad

It is clear that Russia and Iran want to save Assad, even though the Syrian President’s position has deteriorated. Meanwhile, both America and Iran seem to share an interest in dislodging ISIL from its strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

Given all this, it is clear that America cannot even remotely aspire to obtain its old objective of supporting the emergence of a free, democratic Syria. Syria is now a semi-destroyed, hopeless country. Assad is protected by two major powers. And we have no influence there.

Destroy ISIL 

What we can and should do is to destroy ISIL, because its very existence fans the flames of a global, if disorganized, jihadist ideology and groups that support it through violent means, (witness the acts of terrorism in France and elsewhere).

I believe that ISIL’s ability to convince thousands of young Muslims to engage in “home-made” jihad is vastly over stated. Still, ISIL is a dangerous cancer now firmly planted in the heart of the Middle East. It has to be eradicated.

Forget about Syria

As for Syria, let’s look at it realistically. Did Assad ever launch any messianic, anti-western movement? No, he did not. Was he behind terror attacks against the US Homeland? No, he was not. He was yet another Middle Eastern nasty autocrat. Unpleasant, yes. But no direct threat to the security of the United States. Bottom line: we can live with him.

No deal with ISIL 

But we cannot “do a deal” with ISIL. ISIL needs to be eradicated. Is it possible for Washington to work with Russia and may be even Iran on this? Who knows.

Still, whatever the chances of a serious anti-ISIL coalition, Russia and Iran will continue to support Assad.

As we have no way to convince them otherwise, we better admit this reality, forget about Assad, and focus on ISIL.




After Iowa – Can Rubio Become President?

WASHINGTON – As expected, the Iowa Republicans gave most of their votes to Texas Senator Ted Cruz and billionaire Donald Trump, the acknowledged “outsiders”. (The unexpected is that Trump did not win, after all).

Rubio strong third 

But Marco Rubio finished in a strong third place, just 1% behind super (national and Iowa) favorite Donald Trump. And, in this political season dominated by anti-establishment sentiments, Rubio has the disadvantage of being just one among many “Establishment Candidates”.

This means that all those Republican caucus voters who did not want to vote for Trump or Cruz, (the “insurgents”), could choose among many “traditional candidates”: Rubio, Bush, Kasich, Christie, (may be Fiorina as well). In other words, their votes have been fragmented, with many going to real losers.

If the others withdrew

Given this, allow me some (a bit arbitrary) calculations. Let’s assume for a moment that all those who supported the other “Establishment Candidates” would gladly support Rubio if their pick had withdrawn from the race. Well, just looking at the final results in Iowa, in such a hypothetical scenario, Rubio, would have won.

Remember, Rubio came in a close third with 23% of the votes. If you add the 2% to 3% each of the other centrists got, we come to and additional 9% or 10%. Well, Rubio came in third at 23%. With that additional 9% or 10%, Rubio would have been the Iowa winner.

Look, I know that in real life it does not work this way. Who knows exactly where Bush’s votes would go to, if he withdrew from the race today. Still, the fact is that in this peculiar campaign, dominated at this stage by noisy populists, there is really no room for more than one “non-insurgent” candidate. And Rubio, at least for now, seems to be the man.

Pick a winner 

If the others (Kasich, Bush, Christie, Fiorina) care to have someone better than Trump or Cruz to run against Hillary Clinton in November, (despite his remarkable success in Iowa, Bernie Sanders still looks a most improbable nominee), they should withdraw from the race and throw their enthusiastic support behind Rubio, the only one among them who seems to get real traction.

Of course, all this would entail political courage, vision and, yes, patriotism. By staying in the race without any chances whatsoever of winning, the other centrists who did so poorly in Iowa are only fragmenting precious moderate votes.

Give moderate Republicans a real candidate 

By withdrawing in a coordinated manner, and signaling their full support for Rubio, they would give the Florida Senator a real chance. This needs to be done, and fast.

Rubio’s third place finish in Iowa is almost like a victory, since he was not at all a favorite. But, in order to get the GOP nomination, you need to be number one at the end of the primaries. Finishing number three or even number two may get you an honorable mention, but it does not get you into the White House.

If Kasich, Bush and the others do not want to have Cruz or Trump as the next President, then they better support Rubio. By now, they should know that they do not have a chance to win the Republican nomination. All this can change.

Still, whether it is Rubio or someone else within this group, one thing is clear. There is room for only one of them. The “Establishment Candidates” should have the courage and the humility to accept this simple fact. United behind one candidate, hopefully the best among them, they stand a chance.

By staying all in the race, they fragment precious votes and they do not create a strong alternative to Trump.