Angry American Voters Cannot Coalesce Around A Real National Leader

WASHINGTON – The American voters are angry and upset. They “feel” more than know that the country is losing ground. Many look at their own circumstances and see that they are not moving ahead in terms of disposable income and new opportunities. In fact, millions have been treading water, or lost ground.

The game is rigged

Right at this juncture, the same despondent and disgruntled Americans are told by aspiring national leaders that this is happening because a few clever scoundrels, domestic and foreign, rigged the game, (“Wall Street”, the 1%”, “large corporations”, “big oil”, “China”, “Japan”, you name it). The wealthy and powerful and our dishonest international competitors get all the financial gains squeezed out of a not so hot US economy, while the vast majority of the American people is left with nothing.

Confused people, confused politics 

All this –unhappy citizens and populist politicians promising quick and sweeping change– is coming together, (in a rather confused and disjointed way), in this election year.

The Republican Party, excluded from real power since it lost the White House in November 2008, decided that the best course of action was to tear itself apart.

There are some within the party who think that only a radical conservative revolution could save them, and the country. Motivated by this belief, they proceeded to attack all the “Establishment Republicans”, found guilty of having sold out. These are politicians willing to compromise with the other side, essentially traitors who need to be humiliated and defeated, so that the true orthodox principles can be restored.

But then there are many other Republicans who do not want to go back to first principles of pristine conservatism. They want something completely different. They want national leaders who are completely outside the existing parameters of professional politicians beholden to the “special interests’.

No more “Establishment Politicians” 

The net result of this confused political upheaval is that the (once respected) experienced candidates for the GOP nomination have been wiped out, simply because they are “same old”.

In his quest for the Republican party nomination, early favorite Jeb Bush, (twice Governor of Florida, and a recognized national leader in education reform), hardly registered anywhere. Despite enormous financial backing, and despite spending much of it on hundreds of expensive TV ads, he failed –miserably. So, he is gone. And so are all the others.

Who’s left standing? Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a right-wing populist, (ostensibly a
“true conservative”), and Donald Trump, a wealthy celebrity TV  personality, (he is the populist with no well-defined program, except for his promise to “change everything” in Washington in order to make “America Great”.)

Trump’s moment

The considerable (although not overwhelming) support Trump is getting represents the purest expression of a yearning for “something totally different”. Oddly enough, Trump’s main qualification for the highest office in the land, according to his supporters, is that he is a complete novice.

Indeed, the fact that he plainly admits that he does not know much about the complex policy implications of complicated issues is viewed by his supporters as refreshing. And they are not worried about electing to the highest office in the land someone who does not have governing experience. “Trump is rich. He is very successful. Therefore, he must be clever. Of course, he will figure out some common sense solution for this and that, once he is in the White House.”

This is where we are now 

That said, here is the odd (provisional, as we are months away from the actual nominations, and then the elections) outcome of the generic anger vented by the Republican base. The old guard (Walker, Bush, Christie, Jindal, and Rubio) has been attacked and discredited by the “revolutionaries” and wiped out. They all abandoned their quest for the Republican nomination. (Ohio Governor John Kasich survives as a contender. But his chances of getting anywhere are very, very low).

No national leader 

The yearning for total change promoted two potential candidates, Trump and Cruz. However, both of them have limited appeal beyond their grass-roots supporters.

In other words, this revolution produced  mostly internal disruption and feisty factional leaders. There is no new  Republican leader here with a good chance of getting real national support.

Disaster 

And here is why this odd season most likely will spell political disaster for the Republicans. Trump is the most likely Republican nominee. However, this is not due to his ability to attract broad-based support from a variety of Republican constituencies, hopefully extending it later on to millions of independents who will vote in the November general elections. No, this is due to the fact that he has a strong, but limited base of support among the “insurrectionists”, while the other more “traditional” candidates have been abandoned by the base.

Trump’s support at 40% looks a lot more impressive when the number two contender gets 18% and number three, four and five (when they were still in the race) were way behind, in single digits. Trump has won most Republican primaries. But usually with strong pluralities, hardly ever with clear majorities.

This is important. The fact is that Trump, although clearly on top, is not an exceptionally strong candidate. In reality he looks stronger that he is because very few primaries voters were supporting the other candidates. Again, getting 40% or even 45% of Republican primaries voters is impressive; but it is not good enough to win a national election in November.

High negatives 

But this is only half the story. The other half is that, while  40%  to 45% of Republican primaries voters are definitely for Trump, the rest of the country finds Trump an unappealing (or worse) choice. Trump has an incredibly high unfavorable score. According to the most recent polls, about 63% of all voters (this includes Republicans, Democrats and Independents) do not like him, while 30% like him. Many Republicans have stated that if Trump is the nominee they will not vote for him.

Trump will not get elected 

So, here is the thing. Trump in the end may get the GOP nomination because a large plurality of Republican primaries voters supports him, while nobody else has emerged who looks like a plausible alternative, not even number two Ted Cruz.

However, the support Trump is getting represents less than half of the GOP base, and 1/3 or less of the national electorate. If these polls do not change, nominating Trump spells defeat for the Republicans in November.

The Democrats have their own problems 

Yes, this would definitely be the case, if the Democrats would nominate a strong candidate. But guess what, they will not. In the Democratic Party we also see an insurrection against the establishment. But it played out differently.

The Republicans essentially “killed” the Establishment candidates and promoted populists like Trump and Cruz. The Democrats are still going with Hillary Clinton, their anointed “Establishment Candidate”; but many are having buyers remorse. Hence the rise of ultra-leftist Senator Bernie Sanders.

The surprising resilience of this most improbable challenger may be due to the fact that Clinton also has high negatives. She started with 40% and now she is at 54%. Not as bad as Trump. But not very promising either, for a national politician with a long CV, (former Senator and former Secretary of State), who wants to be President.

In what is now a two candidates race, Clinton is definitely ahead and likely to finish ahead. But it is astonishing that Senator Bernie Sanders, until yesterday a complete nobody who promotes idiotic ideas about wealth redistribution and “free everything” for the masses, has become a real challenger, with a massive national following and unsuspected fund-raising abilities.

Voting for a lunatic

Many Democrats go for Sanders as their way to show that they do not want Clinton, that is business as usual. They want someone entirely different. And, boy, is Sanders “different”. That he is.

However, the very notion that mature voters would vote for a left-wing lunatic who would destroy the American economy just to show that they are fed up with the Establishment represented by “Clinton Inc.” gives you pause.

Again, let me stress that Sanders’ chances of getting the Democratic Party nomination are really slim. Still, on a national basis, Democrat Sanders is getting millions of votes, while Republican Jeb Bush, an accomplished Governor with a real record, got almost nothing. But who is Sanders? What has he done? What following and national recognition did he have prior to these primaries? Notwithstanding years in national politics, practically zero.

Populists and lunatics

So, here is the thing. These days, populists (Trump) and lunatics (Sanders) are in. Experienced politicians, (granted some of them shopworn and fatigued), are out.

Just like what is happening in Europe, here in America voters are also upset and angry. They want immediate positive change (impossible in any democracy); and they are willing to vote for the clever (or unhinged) new aspiring leaders who promise it.

Dangerous immaturity 

Whatever the outcome of this confused political year, one thing is certain. The American society is not becoming more mature. Picking untested populists and “socialists” as the best people to run the most important country on earth is not a sign of maturity.

On the contrary, as these strange (frankly dangerous) political choices reveal, we are regressing into infantile temper tantrums, (“kick everybody out”), mitigated by foolish dreams of complete fixes magically carried out by super smart outsiders.

If this is the approach that most Americans these days have towards the political process, let me just say that emotions and childish dreams are a pretty lousy foundation for a functioning modern republic.




Americans Dream Of A Savior Who Will Fix All Problems

WASHINGTON – We Americans would like to think of ourselves as reasonably rational people who make choices on the basis of what makes sense. Well, may be so in some areas. But when it comes to the political process we are quite willing to enter a Fantasyland where normal categories and values do not apply.

The year of the Savior 

For mysterious reasons, this is the year of the Savior. By luck or by design, a large chunk of “the people” have decided that Donald Trump is just that: “The Savior”. He will make everything right. And how can he do it? Because he is smart. Because he is successful. Because he is rich.

None of this has anything to do with the rational evaluation of anything. This is about Faith. Not in a religious sense. But his followers really believe that Trump has something akin to magic powers that will allow him to fix everything.

The Constitution does not allow a strong President 

Never mind that the American Constitution is designed to prevent any President from fixing anything all by himself. We have a system founded on the principle of separation of powers. A President, even a popular President, cannot force Congress to pass laws, even when the Congress is led by his own party. In fact the powers of the US President are rather limited. (In contrast, the British Prime Minister is the unchallenged national leader of the party that won the elections, and the head of the executive. And he can count on the loyalty of a parliamentary majority which in almost all circumstances will obey his orders, and pass all the legislation he proposes).

He will fix everything 

But none of this –the constitutional constraints on presidential freedom of action– matters. Trump is smart. And he is after all a “Great Negotiator”. Therefore, he has unlimited “Powers of Persuasion”. He knows how to get people to agree. As he put it, he will get all the relevant players in a room and he will get them to agree on what he wants done. And all will be well. Isn’t it wonderful?

What inconsistencies? 

And what about major inconsistencies in his policies? What about his plan to cut taxes without cutting entitlement spending? No problem, argues an enchanted supporter on TV. This lady, a major national leader of the tea party movement, stated with a straight face that it is quite possible to cut federal taxes with no corresponding deep cuts in federal entitlements. For some reason this folly (far less revenue, same or higher spending) will have no negative effect on deficits and on our growing national debt.  There will be no deepening of our fiscal crisis.

Of course, this is absolute nonsense. As scores of experts have pointed out, Trump’s numbers simply do not add up. But, hey, the lady on TV is happy. And she added that, of course, Trump will get top-notch subordinates and collaborators who will take care of all the details. After all he is so smart that he will figure out how to deal with the national debt without cutting benefits. Yes, this is the Trump version of “the free lunch”. Except that this will a free banquet, every day.

Fantasies and more fantasies 

indeed. But this is only a dangerous a fantasy. Most government spending in all Western countries these days goes to retirees and to pay for health care. The only way to have a major tax cut without causing a fiscal catastrophe is to convince millions of voters that we should drastically overhaul –and this means reduce– this massive social spending.

The problem is that reducing social spending is so difficult that nobody has done it. Ronald Reagan, the US president who embraced free market capitalism like a religion and whose campaign slogan was “get the government off the backs of the people”, could not reform entitlement spending. In fact, with lower taxes and higher defense spending, he started the era of fiscal irresponsibility that resulted in perennial budget deficits that got progressively larger year after year, under different administrations. (There was only a brief counter trend under Bill Clinton. But it was way too short).

Of course you can have your cake and eat it too

But Trump declared that he can cut taxes while keeping current levels of social spending; and this will have no impact on our fiscal deficit. This is absolutely crazy.

Yes, except that for his supporters none of this matters. When politics becomes the secular equivalent of religion, choices are based on emotions and beliefs. The candidate says things that do not make any sense? Well, we just erase them, or rationalize them. “For sure, when he gets to be President, Trump will think of a great solution for this”.

No rational evaluation 

And so millions of Americans have checked any sensible rationality at the door. Right now they just want to be mesmerized. They want to be and stay in love. They want to believe that finally there is a Savior who will take care of all problems: lack of national pride, lack of jobs, negative balance of trade, terrorism, dangerous Muslims.

Self-Government is predicated on sensible citizens 

Yes, this a dream. And a dangerous one. Effective Self-Government –this is what a strong Republic is founded on — is predicated on rational citizens who can be counted on to make reasonable choices most of the time. When we allow our very consequential political choices, like electing a President, to be based on dreams and fantasies, we are no longer rational people capable of managing self-government in a reasonably effective way.

We become a confused mob desperately seeking a leader. And this is not what a Republic is about.

 

 




The Moral Case For Capitalism

WASHINGTON – Would Hillary Clinton make a moral case for American capitalism? I am not so sure. First of all, let’s point out that Hillary Clinton will not be Bill Clinton 2.0. Remember that Bill Clinton came along in 1992 as a “sobered up” new centrist Democrat who proclaimed the end of the era of Big Government and actually as President passed welfare reform, notwithstanding the fierce resistance of the left of the party. (More on this later).

But that was then. Today, strongly challenged from the left by a vociferous Bernie Sanders openly advocating wealth redistribution, Hillary Clinton’s message is about expanding benefits, subsidies, tax breaks to the poor, the disadvantaged and the minorities. Her presidency will be about more of the neo-Keynesian deficit-spending stuff that failed over and over again, and yet seems to be the only medication in the cabinet of most Western left of center political forces.

More failed neo-Keynesian remedies 

Therefore, should Clinton become President, this will be America’s death by a thousand cuts. More public programs, more welfare, more aid and assistance to this or that needy constituency. More unproductive publicly funded jobs. More stupid and counter productive regulations; and, of course, higher taxes needed to finance all this ill-advised social engineering. The combination of ad instincts and bad policies will stifle innovation, enterprise and private sector jobs creation.

Nobody makes the case for capitalism 

Here is the real tragedy of American politics. In this critical election year, no one has been able to articulate in a simple, clear and cogent manner the moral case for free market capitalism. (In fact those who tried, mostly Jeb Bush and John Kasich, did not do it well, and got no attention)

By this I mean the ability to convince people, especially the poor and disadvantaged, that capitalism and free enterprise are good for everybody, including those who are currently at the bottom of the pile. And by that I do not mean that people should be convinced that on balance capitalism delivers better results than social democracy. This is true in principle. But this truth does not resonate with people who are and feel helpless because they believe that they do have any open path forward.

By “morally superior” I mean the ability to explain how capitalism empowers people, and therefore makes them better human beings.

Here is the simple truth. Even if well-intentioned, welfare programs make recipients perpetually dependent and listless. Whereas a system that fosters personal responsibility encourages people to take charge of their own lives. And this makes them more self-confident, more optimistic.

Bill Clinton’s welfare reform worked 

Let’s go back to Bill Clinton’s partial welfare reforms. That was about public aid to single mothers. These were mostly uneducated, poor African American young women with small children, trapped in an endless cycle of dependence on public subsidies.

Being poor, they were entitled to get enough money to survive. But the programs as designed provided no incentives so that recipients had to do something in order to get out of poverty. The reform passed by Clinton was about sun setting benefits, while giving the women tools, so that they could find work.

“It will not work” 

The critics cried that this would never work. This bad reform was about taking the life jackets away from shipwrecked, defenseless women, thereby drowning them.

Well, the reformers argued instead  that the goal was to teach these women how to swim before taking their life jackets away.

And, on balance, it worked. With assistance, women found jobs. There were lots of testimonials by women who had received training, and found work, so that they could care of themselves and their children. As a result, they felt more optimistic and more confident.

The “moral case” for capitalism

This is what I mean when I talk about “the moral case for capitalism”. An economic system that encourages people to become self-reliant and independent is morally superior.

If we recognize this basic premise, then the purpose of enlightened public policy should be to make sure that all citizens “learn how to swim”, so that they do not need the perpetual life jacket of public assistance.

In today’s ultra competitive world, this means that all children should have access to quality public education. And meaningful adult education and/or training should be made available to all adults who did not have a chance to get an education as children.

Educated citizens do not need welfare 

I am not suggesting that this is easy. It is not. But deep down this is the case for a rules based competitive system in which all participants have a fair shot at doing something and making a decent living without help, because they are empowered by a good education that gives them the tool to become active participants.

Of course, there are special circumstances in which public assistance is warranted. But these should be the exceptions, not the rule. Temporary relief should not morph into a permanent subsidy.

Making a case

What both Democrats and Republicans have failed to do is to make a moral case for free market economics and the role of public policy in enabling and fostering it. Indeed, if we are convinced that free market capitalism on balance works, then public policy should be about making sure that everybody can and will participate.

Public policy is about giving everybody a good chance 

Good public policy is not about more subsidies or about creating fake jobs. It should be about making sure that all citizens get into adulthood “knowing how to swim”. And this means that everybody –all Americans– should be reasonably healthy and educated.

It is obvious that education is the functional equivalent of knowing how to swim. Without good to superior public education, the poor do not have a chance to get out of poverty. They really do not. Again, if we want capitalism to be fair, then all people should have good tools, so that they will be able to participate.

Until know we have tried to deal with poverty attacking the symptoms. While well-intentioned, this approach has done nothing to eliminate it, or substantially reduce it.

Capitalism works well if all citizens are active participants 

The “moral case” for capitalism is about reaffirming the superiority of a free market economy, because it empowers people; making them self-reliant and self-confident, therefore better human beings.

At the same time, the goal of public policy, (this is the job of elected officials), must be to enable everybody to participate. Sound public policy will focus on health and education, so that all Americans can do their best, without the burden of feeling perennially disadvantaged.

It is going to be difficult

I realize that transforming our value systems and the content of public policy so that it will focus on these objectives is very difficult. But this is a worthwhile cause. Perhaps the most critical one we can think of.

In the end, a successful moral case for capitalism is about more prosperity, and about self-confident citizens who know that they have the ability to take care of themselves.

 




Trump Leads a Large Movement – But It Is Not A National Wave

WASHINGTON – After Super Tuesday, we can say that Donald Trump is still very much in the lead among the Republican contenders for the presidential nomination. However, he certainly did not exceed expectations.

Solid, but not overwhelming victories 

Trump won several states in different parts of the country; but only with about 35% of the votes cast. He is ahead; but he has not obliterated his opponents. Ted Cruz won big in his own state of Texas. Then he added Oklahoma and Alaska. This gives him enough reasons to stay in the race as a credible contender. (Rubio instead turned out to be a “light weight”, just as Trump described him. He won the Minnesota caucus, and that’s his only victory to date).

Still, be that as it may, if Trump keeps winning with good but not overwhelming margins, it will take him quite a while to get the majority of delegates that will secure his nomination at the Republican Convention. If his percentage of the vote shrinks a bit in future contests, he may not get a majority by the time of the Convention. (Of course, if Trump ends up ahead, even by small margins, in “winner take all states” this will change the dynamics of the race. He can jump ahead in the delegates count, even having gained only a plurality of the votes in some key states).

Bad news

Here is the thing. Steady but slow progress is bad news for the self-proclaimed leader of a national movement that is supposedly revolutionizing American politics.

Indeed, part of the Trump mystique is his inevitability. A large component of his appeal is that he is the historic political tsunami that is sweeping the country, turning millions of disillusioned voters into a vast army of enthusiastic supporters.

Well, now that we are counting votes, we see that the Trump supporters are there, but their numbers are a quite bit less impressive than we thought. 35% is good. But not that good.

Will Trump be the nominee? 

My point is that If Trump keeps advancing, but not at lightning speed, this will give many voters the chance to think again about what they want to do. Will they think twice before jumping on the Trump band wagon?

And keep in mind that many non-Trump Republican voters have declared in several polls that they will never vote for him –under any circumstances.

Still, even if we discount all this, and assume that Trump will pick up speed and quickly secure the Republican nomination, then what?

Strong but narrow support 

Well, as things stand now, his chances of getting elected President do not look so good. Even leaving aside opinion polls that see Hillary Clinton beating him by a decent margin in November, (polls so early in the race do not mean that much), any dispassionate analysis reveals that Trump’s base of support, while solid, is too narrow to win a national election. And his chances of expanding it are not that good. His “negatives” as noted above are really strong.

Best case scenario, Trump will be able to get the nomination and the support of a vast majority of Republicans, come November. But nationally Republicans are not the majority.

Therefore this achievement will not easily translate into a majority of American voters, if he is unable to sway millions of independents. Besides, it is clear that there are many moderate Republicans who will not vote for him. In fact they may end up voting for Clinton, or not voting at all.

Clinton likely to win 

As the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton will be able to count on the votes of most White union members, women, young people, Blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities. And if you add to her natural constituencies many moderate Republicans and millions of independents who may vote for her, because they are seriously worried about the possibility of a Trump presidency, this easily adds to a Clinton national majority.

The Trump phenomenon 

So, what do we make of the Trump phenomenon? Based on what we know so far, even in the light of Trump’s Super Tuesday victories, we can say that Trump convinced a substantial percentage of Republicans, and may be many independents and a few disgruntled Democrats, that he is the Man of the Future. The New Leader who will take over and (magically?) transform Washington.

Not a majority 

But this core base of Trump supporters is not a majority of Americans –not even close. In fact, as the Super Tuesday numbers revealed, this is not even close to a clear majority of Republican primaries voters.

And I do not see how Trump will be able to expand his base, considerable as it is, so that it will become a solid national majority.

Undoubtedly many Republican primaries voters like him, a lot. But many more do not like him. And among them, there are many who absolutely loath him.

And this is just within the Republican Party.

Not a national revolution 

No doubt, Trump created a political revolution. But it is a revolution affecting the Republican Party, whose final outcome, by the way, is not yet clear.

One thing however is clear. Whatever Trump provoked, it is not a national revolution.  A large majority of Americans are not on board, and are unlikely to jump on board.

If Trump wins the internal battle and becomes the Republican Party nominee, Hillary Clinton will be America’s next President.




President Trump?

WASHINGTON – Donald Trump most likely will be the Republican nominee for president. This is not on account of his considerable national appeal. It is mostly because of the inability of the moderate Republican candidates to get out of the race and coalesce early on and convincingly around just one of them.

Fragmented front will not win

While everything is possible in politics, it is just not possible for a fragmented front to create a credible alternative to Trump. Look, we all know that Trump is not getting huge majorities. He is getting significant pluralities, (more than 30% on average , with a high above 40% in the most recent Nevada caucuses). However, these pluralities look a lot bigger because the non-Trump vote is scattered. None of the other candidates get even close to Trump’s numbers. And yes, you can get the GOP nomination with a consistent string of strong pluralities.

Kasich will not withdraw 

What makes Trump’s victory almost inevitable is that this fragmentation of the moderates is not going away. Most recently Ohio Governor John Kasich with a straight face declared that he has a great plan that will lead him to the Republican nomination. Really? Kasich gets 5% or 6% in most polls. He may or may not win his own state of Ohio; but this is not enough.

In New Hampshire, a state where he spent an inordinate amount of time and resources, Kasich managed to be a distant second to Trump, with 16% of the votes. How on earth does Kasich think he will get the nomination?

Same thing for Doctor Ben Carson. He may have a core group of supporters. But they are at about 4% to 5%.

35% to 40% is enough 

As I said, Donald Trump is not leading by enormous margins. But he is leading essentially everywhere. And in some primaries states the rule is “winner takes all”. Which is to say that with his 35 or 40% Trump will get all the delegates at stake. Who is going to stop him after that?

Rubio had  a chance 

I theorized that Marco Rubio could have a chance, if all the others withdrew early, and openly and enthusiastically decided to endorse him. But I also said that the window of time was disappearing soon.

Well, it may have disappeared. With Kasich and Carson still in the race, the best that Rubio can hope to achieve is to get to second place in many races, a little bit ahead of Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Second place not good enough 

I am sure that the Rubio people must know that finishing second, even assuming he does so everywhere, is just not good enough, especially in “winner takes all” states.

President Trump? 

That said, if Trump gets the Republican nomination, can he be elected President? Hard to believe this, unless he cleverly reinvents himself just in time for the general election, becoming all of a sudden soft-spoken, inclusive and congenial.

Assuming he does that, and this is really a big assumption, will the average American believe him? Based on the level of applause that empty promises get in this campaign, I would not rule it out.

Running against Clinton 

Most likely Trump would run against Hillary Clinton, a strong but hardly formidable Democratic candidate. In this strange environment in which a surprising number of voters are yearning for a “Mr. Tough Guy” in the White House this may even be possible.

Look, if most Americans were sane, the very idea of a President Trump would look preposterous. But until a few months ago the idea of Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee also looked preposterous.

In a sane world, Jeb Bush or John Kasich –both experienced policy-makers with a solid record– would be in the lead among Republicans, and not Donald Trump.

Well, Bush is out, and Kasich is in single digits.




Angry Americans Love Donald Trump

WASHINGTON – How do you explain the “Trump Phenomenon”? It is easier than you think. Traditional democratic capitalism is short of breath, ideas and leaders. If this is true in Europe and in Japan, it is also true in America.

Discontent everywhere 

The Japanese for the moment trust Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, an old school politician with a new varnish. But he is failing. He could not deliver on his promises to boldly transform the country. We shall see how Japanese society will react to the obvious decline of what until the 1980s used to be a self-assured world power.

In Europe it is a mixed bag. Some traditional political forces are doing alright. But there is also a brand new universe of anti-system parties, from the National Front in France, to Podemos in Spain, or 5 Stelle in Italy. These are the new, rebellious parties that emerged in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2008. (The French National Front is older. But it gained strength after the global recession).

Their policies capture the anger, resentment and fear about an uncertain economic future felt by millions in Europe. Until now, these new parties have been disturbances rather than real political insurgencies. But it may get worse.

We got Trump 

And in the US we got Donald Trump. (We also got Bernie Sanders on the far left. But his impact on the system is likely to be much more limited. Hillary Clinton, although taken aback by Sanders’ aggressive campaign, will regain momentum. She is a shopworn old school politician. But the Democrats in the end will pick her. And America may very well follow suit, if the Republicans pick Trump as their nominee).

Trump’s rise 

But so, what about Trump’s rise? Well, it is mostly about American voters who (just like their European counterparts) are at the same time worried, scared, angry, and deeply disappointed in the ability of traditional parties to improve their conditions.

Let’s start with disappointed. Many Trump supporters feel in their gut that America has lost its sheen. We do barely OK. We do not excel anymore. We are no longer number one. (As Trump says: “We are not winning anymore”). Our economy is limping along. We do not lead in most sectors. Most of our consumer products are made in China. Many old fashioned “good jobs”, mostly in manufacturing, are gone –for good it seems.

Bad wars 

In foreign policy, nobody can see any victories. in 2001 we went to war in Afghanistan, and it went badly. In 2003 we started another war in Iraq, and it ended up horribly. Thousands of American soldiers dead. Tens of thousands came back without arms or legs. And nothing, really nothing to show for this huge effort that cost American tax payers trillion of dollars. Afghanistan is still fighting against the Taliban. Iraq is a horrible mess, while Iran has extended its influence there.

We are not safe 

In the meantime, thanks to irresponsible saturation media coverage, Islamic terrorism is portrayed as a looming threat. We are told that we are under daily attack. Tomorrow it may be our turn to be targeted by a crazy jihadist. Yes, this perception is wrong. And yet many believe this to be factually correct.

And who can fix any of this? Who can make us once again prosperous, safe and proud? Not the Washington, DC GOP crowd. And not even experienced, battle tested, Republican Governors who after all can point to a record as chiefs executives. They are all yesterdays’ people.

A huge opening 

So, none of the above.

And so here is a huge opening for Donald Trump.

He jumped on the national scene as the new “No-Nonsense”, “I’ll tell it like it is” brand of leader. And this is his message. “I am rich, because I am successful. And I am successful because I am smart. If you elect me, I’ll put all my talent to work, and I’ll fix America, in no time; trust me. The traditional politicians are in the pockets of the special interests who fund their campaigns. And these people are not just corrupt, they are also unimaginative, weak and stupid. I am the best”

Attitude, not policies 

Well, this is about it. Yes, there may be Trump policy positions papers on this and that. But I bet that very few Trump supporters could name any.

They simply like “the Man”. They like the fact that he is self-assured and unscripted. And yes, they like that he is blunt, indeed at times vulgar and openly offensive when attacking his opponents. Who cares anyway? Those Washington professional politicians do not deserve any respect.

Well, now we understand how a deep “disappointment”, created a space for Trump. And it follows that when disappointed voters no longer believe their leaders, they are likely to be also angry, and worried about their future. Hence the craving for someone entirely different.

Immature reaction 

That said, this is incredibly immature. I understand disappointment. To a degree. The problem is that many voters do not understand that broader issues, such as “lack of innovation” that leads to “lack of new jobs”, may not have quick political solutions. Certainly no short term fixes. You may elect whomever you want, but the issues will still be there. Because they are rooted in systemic weaknesses that cannot be resolved in a short time.

Angry voters 

Furthermore, being angry is not a good argument for blind faith in a populist with zero public policy experience. Electing a President entails a lot more than savoring the thought that he will kick the old guard out.

This is show business 

Finally, the Trump phenomenon demonstrates how politics is now deeply blended with entertainment. Nobody cares about well-crafted policy positions. Nobody cares about a good resume. People care about how the candidates look on TV.

They want to see who wins the verbal duels. They wait for the clever punch line. In other words, this is the triumph of appearance versus substance. This is why outrageous statements get an applause. This is show business. And in show business the unusual entertainer quite often has an edge.

Trump’s support 

Now, let’s look at Trump’s large support. In the early primaries he has done very well. However, is the 32% to 34% he is getting Trump’s floor, the base on which he will build an even wider support? Or is it his ceiling?

I tend to believe that this is a ceiling. Many polls indicate that Trump has very high unfavorable numbers. In other words, while 30% of Republican primaries voters really love him, most of the others really dislike him. Besides, in other polls, Trump is no one’s second choice. In other words, at the moment the chances of extending the considerable Trump base do not look that good.

This of course may change. If he keeps winning, even with only 30 or 35% of all votes cast, (remember that there will a number of “winner takes all” primaries), the rest of the party faithful may agree that he is not so bad after all. People want to back a winner.

Fragmented Establishment 

At the moment Trump’s victories look a lot bigger because the “Establishment” has come to this crucial political battle quite disunited. In a word: just too many candidates that caused a fragmentation of the “non Trump” votes.

Which is to say that being number one with 35% looks positively great when number two is way behind, at 22%, while number 4 or 5 are in single digits. Well, now Chris Christie is gone and, after his South Carolina debacle, Jeb Bush also left the scene. This creates an opportunity for consolidation of the Moderate/Establishment votes around one candidate, most likely Marco Rubio.

But this is not happening fast enough. Ohio Governor John Kasich is still hanging on, (God knows for what reasons). And this makes it a lot more difficult for Marco Rubio, the best placed among the more palatable candidates, to become the rallying point of the traditional Republicans who rightfully see Trump as a calamity and a guarantee of a major defeat in November.

The Establishment Republicans may still have a chance to coalesce around Rubio, this way making him a much stronger candidate. But this window of time will close very soon.

Will Trump mania fade? 

Who knows, may be the “Trump mania”, based on Trump’s behavior rather than his policies, may fade. It is true that in this celebrity saturated American culture, the shelf life of at least some celebrities is not that long.

Still, this may not be an issue for Trump. He does not have to campaign for another year. He needs to keeps his momentum going for just a few more months. After that, he may have secured enough delegates to win the GOP nomination.

And that would be an extraordinary achievement for a complete outsider.

Winning the White House 

But at that point the real fight begins. At that point the battle will be about convincing, not just a majority of the Republican base, but more than half the Nation that he is the best leader for all Americans.

And that is a very high bar. His hard-core base of 35% or even 40% angry Republicans, as loyal as it can be, will not be enough to get Trump into the White House.




In 1992 Ross Perot Was The Billionaire Ready To Fix Everything In No Time – Just Like Trump

WASHINGTON – This is an excerpt from a funny imaginary vignette (Notebook, by Robert Shrimsley, Republicans seek reasons to be cheerful about Donald Trump, The Financial Times, February 11, 2016). Establishment Republicans want to get adjusted to the idea of Donald Trump becoming the GOP nominee:

“Hell, yes. [Trump] is gonna make America great again. And at least he’s not Ted Cruz.

There is that.

And remember he’s already going to fix the problems of our society.

And make America great again?

Exactly.

How?

He’s going to bring in the smartest people around, and they are going to fix our problems.

Damn — why didn’t we think of that?

Because we are part of the Washington elite. Donald thinks outside the box.

That’s how he’ll make America great again.

Absolutely.

Has he said which people he’ll bring in?

Smart ones.

That’s good.”

Well, this imaginary exchange exposes Donald Trump’s complete intellectual void. He’s got a Great Plan, but we do not know what it is. We only know that he will pick the best people to shape it, and implement it. Amazing to see that so many Americans are buying this.

We have seen this before 

But the interesting thing is that this is not the first time that someone is selling this CEO approach to public policy-making. Look at this:

“I want people who are smart, tough, self-reliant, have a history of success since childhood, a history of being the best at what they’ve done, people who love to win. And if you run out of people who love to win, look for people who hate to lose.”

Do you know who said that? It was Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who also run for President in 1992, purely on the basis that he was a super successful businessman, and a smart problem solver. Well, he did not make it. But his third party candidacy weakened the Republican incumbent George H. W. Bush, and contributed in some measure to Bill Clinton’s victory. (Ross Perot received almost 20 million votes, about 19% of the total.)

Be that as it may, regardless of elections outcomes, the point is that we have seen this movie before. Ross Perot was another megalomaniac populist, with an outsize ego. And yet millions loved him, and voted for him, because he sold himself as “Mr. Fix It”. Yes, he would have also brought the best people to Washington and put them in charge, so that they would fix things in America, one by one. As easy as that.

The smart people 

And now Donald Trump comes along telling us exactly the same thing. He will fix everything because he is the best mind in America and he will get all the smart people in a room, so that together they will figure out how to re-engineer the Nation. Don’t forget that these are all hand-picked geniuses, expertly led by super genius Donald Trump.

Damn — why didn’t we think of that?

Because it is a really bad idea. In a democracy it does not work this way. Yes, the traditional political/policy-making process is cumbersome, wasteful, and pretty horrible. And yes, many people who are put in charge of important policies are not that smart.

No accountability, no freedom 

But the only way in which you give the smart people the latitude to use their superior intelligence, so that they can go ahead and fix everything, is by abolishing or at least suspending our system of checks and balances, and giving up our freedom. In order to be able to quickly implement the brilliant ideas of his smart collaborators, President Trump would have to bypass Congress, the Judiciary and more. And what if the Great Policies turn out to be not so Great after all?

Anyway, all this is crazy, infantile, and really dangerous. And yet there are armies of loyal Trump supporters who think that this is indeed the best approach, and the best way forward.

I am asking them to reconsider.

 

 




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.

 




Is Donald Trump Really Unstoppable?

WASHINGTON – Regarding the Republican primaries, much can and will change in the next few week, after at least some voters will have had a chance to cast their ballots. Still, we know that Donald Trump is way ahead, mostly because he was famous before entering politics, and because a plurality of Republicans really like his confrontational, blunt language.

Image above all 

But, is there more about Trump that makes him so compelling? No. That’s about it. Trump came into the race with the huge plus of national name recognition, thanks to a long-running, popular TV show he hosted. This proved to be a huge asset.

Add to this significant advantage Trump’s uncanny talent for taking outrageous positions on controversial issues, (foreign trade, immigration, Muslims in America, terrorism), and we have the whole package: the no-nonsense, anti-establishment, self-made man (being a billionaire does not hurt) who is going to change the course and the destiny of America.

No substance 

Never mind that there is almost no substance behind all this. Never mind that Trump’s policy positions are a mix of populism, bravado, and hot air. In this climate, vagueness and superficiality are no hindrances. They simply do not matter.

How Trump looks on TV, combined with his wealthy businessman credentials and his outrageous language, seems to be a good enough qualification to be the next President of the United States.

So, what we have now, at least for a robust plurality of potential Republican voters, (30% or more), is a deep fascination with the new and different, (and Trump is both), in an otherwise unexciting environment dominated by shopworn professional politicians.

“I am ahead, therefore I am the best” 

The perverse thing in all this is that being popular is now a considered a solid argument for attracting more followers. Indeed, in his public appearances, Trump talks mostly about his standing in the polls. “I am ahead. And this is irrefutable evidence that I am the best candidate. So, don’t be stupid. Be smart and jump on board”. 

So, here is the thing. Trump, with the significant support of various conservative media outlets has created this new truth. “Being popular equals being right”. “If a candidate is ahead in the polls, in fact outdistancing all the others, this means he must be the best choice”. “He is a winner, the others are losers”. “The people say so. And the people by definition are right”.

Majorities can be wrong 

The argument is of course deeply flawed. Large majorities can be and have been very wrong. And Trump, at least for now, is far from having large national majorities behind him. He is significantly ahead in a contest that involves a relatively small, (even though decisive when it comes to picking a GOP nominee), number of Republican voters.

Rally around one candidate 

That said, the only way to change this dynamic is to produce a more plausible but equally interesting alternative to Trump. For the moment this has not happened.

The now despised “Republican Establishment” has a few possible candidates. But because there are many, (Christie, Kasich, Bush and Rubio), they fragment the favors of moderate Republicans. Besides, by wasting energy fighting one another, none of them projects the aura of inevitability that Trump so skillfully managed to create around himself. With Trump at 30% or more, there is nothing hot about Rubio who is at 11%.

Sure, it can argued that if all the fragmented support going a bit to Chris Christie, some to Marco Rubio, another bit to John Kasich, and a few drops to Jeb Bush would coalesce behind just one of them, while all the others would exit the race promising to support whoever is chosen as the strongest candidate, much would change.

Yes, there could be a new momentum and new excitement behind Marco Rubio, (for instance), if he became “the” standard-bearer of the new and improved, yet still reliable, traditional Republicans.

Don’t wait 

At some point this will happen. At some point the number of candidates will have to shrink. But the longer they all stay in the race, bickering with one another, this way fragmenting the votes of moderate supporters, the more difficult it will be later on for whoever survives to rally the troops. By that time, Trump may have become truly inevitable, on account of previous victories in the early primaries, and the momentum that comes with them.

Look, predicting outcomes in this strange environment is extremely difficult. However, it would be both smart and patriotic for the moderate Republicans to decide, now rather than a month from now, who among them has the best chance to win the nomination.

Change the dynamics of the race, now 

Having decided that, all the others would exit the race throwing their sincere and enthusiastic support behind the one remaining. This could generate new interest and momentum.

Whereas, to the extent that Christie, Kasich, Rubio and Bush still insist in fighting one another, while fighting against Trump at the same time, the chances of any of them prevailing are very slim.




Bernie Sanders For President?

WASHINGTON – It is truly bizarre that a significant percentage (more than 30%) of potential Democratic voters are considering Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders a serious candidate for the White House. So serious that, according to the polls, he might even win in the early Iowa and New Hampshire contests.

Ultra-liberal 

But how is this possible? Senator Bernie Sanders is an unreconstructed, old-fashioned ultra-liberal (in fact he calls himself a socialist) who proposes silly leftist reforms, wealth redistribution via dramatic tax changes, and other pie in the sky egalitarian policies. This stuff is junk.

He does not look real

And yet Sanders is considered a legitimate contender. Nobody is laughing when his candidacy is mentioned. But they should. Indeed, if you watch Sanders on TV and listen to him, he looks like a very credible Saturday Night Live comedian impersonating the stereotype of the crazy old liberal politician ranting about injustice and the rights of the downtrodden masses.

But Sanders is not a caricature. He is real. So real that he shares the podium with Hillary Clinton, the anointed establishment candidate. And he is making life a little difficult for her. If he wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, as he may, this would embarrass Clinton.

Sanders will not win the Democratic Party nomination. I see no path to victory. But the fact is that this elderly gentleman who really looks like the crazy uncle in some old comedy show is actually taken seriously by the public and by the media covering the campaign.

Republicans have a much bigger problem

I do recognize that the Republicans have a much bigger problem when it comes to “strange” candidates. Donald Trump is not just a “curiosity”, a thorn in the side of an establishment candidate. He is actually leading among all Republicans, by wide margins. And the runner-up, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, while slightly more polished, is yet another unreliable populist.

Populists with no credible programs 

So, here is the issue. A majority of the Republican and a sizable minority of the Democratic voters seem to have lost their minds. They now believe that populists with fiery oratory (this is what passes for “authenticity” these days) but no credible programs would make good presidents.

Of course, it is still very early. Nobody voted yet. Today’s high poll numbers may vanish later on. However, when so many adult Americans express full confidence in would be leaders who peddle fantasies, there is reason for concern.

The system does not work anymore

It is obvious that the established political process is not working anymore. Too many Americans feel alienated. Well, unless we really want to see bizarre outsiders in charge, the traditional political forces should do something –and quickly– to restore genuine confidence in our institutions by putting forward fresh and sound ideas that address real problems, while resonating with the millions of Americans who now feel left out.