Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Political Drama Act II, Scene 2

The curtain rises to reveal the stage split in two parts:  on the left, the fields and grain elevators of Iowa (under snow); on the right, woods and a church steeple (also snow) typical of New England: New Hampshire.  Both sides feature giant screens on which TV ads for the various candidates are projected continuously. 

Early Primary Preview
We can expect some genuine early drama out of the first two in the schedule, the Iowa caucuses on February 1 and the New Hampshire primary on February 9.   There is uncertainty on the outcome of both, and in both parties, and it is unlikely that uncertainty about any of the four will be resolved before the actual events.  There will be plenty of polls, and the polls will suggest outcomes that are likely or probable, but any number of polls (apart from the unreliability these days of these small-sample, single-state polls, which is a separate question) can not answer critical unknowns.  In Iowa, it is about the ability of candidates' organizations to generate the turnout and loyalty of supporters in the local caucus, supporters ready to spend a whole evening and advocate to others for their candidate. Then there's New Hampshire, which takes pride in the indpendence of its decisions from those in Iowa, and the track record that suggests voters there may consciously seek to go in a different direction.

In Iowa, current polls have Ted Cruz with a small lead over Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton with a somewhat larger lead over Bernie Sanders.  The question that is out there for Clinton is whether her strong support among the state's politicians will prove a stronger draw on the night than Sanders' enthusiastic backers will doubtlessly provide.  As for the Republican contest,  one might expect that Cruz' Iowa support, concentrated particularly among the evangelicals, would be solid, with a strong likelihood to turn out; however, much of his support seems to have come at the expense of Ben Carson in this campaign, and from past supporters of previous Iowa winners Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.  All three are still in the race, and Carson has funds, a newly-rebuilt campaign staff, and one should expect all three of them to go after those who (in polls) now support Cruz.  And as for Trump, who can know?  He has plenty of support, the profile of his supporters tends toward groups with low historical turnout, but it is possible that they were just waiting for the right candidate.

In New Hampshire, the uncertainties multiply. In addition to possible reaction to the as-yet-unknown Iowa results, the polls in the Democratic race are very close, and in the Republican race's polls, while Trump has a significant lead, there is something like a four-way tie for second place (Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and John Kasich),  Finally, we should not be suprised if onetime leader Jeb Bush's PAC supporters spend hugely in both states to try to salvage his faltering campaign's chances.

Then, before the broader canvass of March 1, with 13 states having primaries or caucuses, several of which from the Southeast, come #3 and #4, Nevada and South Carolina (though the Democratic and Republican soundings are not the same day there).  March 15 brings the first winner-take-all primaries, with the one in Florida shaping up as one which can make or break the candidacies of Florida residents Rubio, Bush, and which could define either Trump or Cruz as a clear front-runner.

With all of the minor news stories of the 24/7 coverage we should expect of the nomination races, we should keep in mind a few central questions which will be answered in the next 60 days:
1)  Will Trump's support materialize, in anything like his polled level, at the election booths and caucuses? 
2) Will any third candidate break through the current leadership of Trump and Cruz in any of the earliest four states?  If not, will it then be too late to consolidate the opposition to those two and block the race coming down to a choice between two candidates totally unacceptable to most of the Republican establishment?
3) On the Democratic side, can Clinton's major advantage be derailed by Sanders winning one or both of the first two contests?
Caution would suggest that, with so many unknowns, the wise pundit would eschew prediction at this point.  Clearly I am not one of those.  I will provide my answers to those three, as follows:  1) Yes; 2) Yes; 3) No.   My predictions for the first two primaries:  Cruz narrowly over Trump in IA, but Cruz finishing 4th in NH (behind Trump, Rubio, and Kasich); Clinton narrowly over Sanders in IA, Sanders with a narrow win in NH (that will not seriously disturb the Clinton campaign's path toward nomination).

Online Market Odds on 2016 Outcomes
I have to say, my predictions do not quite equate with my betting strategies in the online market.   In particular, because the odds have shifted so strongly toward Ted Cruz in Iowa (70% or so), I am taking the contrarian view, with a small amount in favor of Trump's chances (around 30%) and against Cruz'.  To be honest, I haven't a clue how New Hampshire would then break if Trump pulled the upset in Iowa, but I don't feel the reaction would favor Cruz.

The most interesting markets--with multiple options and dynamic odds--in the online market at in which I spend some time (much more than my investment dollar justifies) are:
  • second place in GOP for New Hampshire (I have positive positions on Rubio at 28%, Christie at 16%, Kasich at 6% and Jeb at 7%, negative on Trump--who I expect to win--at 76% and Cruz at 80%);  
  • a 50-50 proposition on whether Rubio will break 12% in the poll average (realclearpolitics) at the end of the month (right now, I'm tentatively on the No side); 
  • the Republican VP nominee pool (a recent strong move in favor of Nikki Haley; I'm positive on that notion, along with Cruz--in the scenario as running mate for Trump--Kasich, and Rubio:  there are no strong favorites, nor are there for the Democratic VP nod); 
  • and, on the international side, whether Brazil President Dilma Roussef will survive in the job through 2016 (I'm buying No, when the odds are favorable); and, of course
  • the name of the next Prime Minister of Spain (see previous discussion).  I'm going against the favorite, Rajoy, whose odds are bouncing up and down daily, and in favor of "None of the Above". The site has announced that new elections will not close the market--they will keep it open until a Prime Minister is confirmed. 
The odds on some of the bigger items, like who will get the Presidential nominations and who will be elected President, are more settled for the time being (though Cruz and Trump are rising slowly for the GOP nom, and Rubio sinking).  Hillary is holding at about 58% for the White House.  The market for individual Senate races and for control of Congress haven't heated up as yet.

What Hillary Needs to Do
I am not yet ready to endorse Hillary Clinton's bid for the Presidency, though I expect I may do so before long.  What she needs to do to ensure my support is simply to establish herself as the candidate who will win a decisive victory this November.  Namely, convince those who are not beyond convincing (e.g., Democrats supporting Sanders, independents not irrevocably opposed to Democrats) that she is not some sort of lying, corrupted, evil, power-mad b-word.  This is not just a matter of seeming nice, speaking pleasantly, smiling, talking with average people--I think she's really doing fine with all that, though she needs to continue.

It's more about establishing trust with a broader segment of the population--not the haters, who are beyond reason.  There are a number of people who suspect her motives, about things like her emails as Secretary of State or her accepting contributions from the fat cats.  These are my suggestions:

Come clean on the emails.  My guess is that she used the private server because she wanted to have some privacy in her dialogues with colleagues and friends.  For a globe-trotting emissary, that can be hard to arrange on secure communications devices issued by a big institution.  At the end of the day, she failed to achieve that objective very well.  It's really not a big deal, in the national security sense: no harm, no foul.

Do more than pay lip service to overturning Citizens United.  As I recall, the original C.U. case was brought by supporters of her candidacy in 2008 during the long battle against Sen. Obama for the nomination.   If this is affecting her position, she should discard that, as it's not about the original group, it is about the unlimited spending on campaigns going on and its deleterious effects.  Obama opposed the decision but never did anything about it, and he rejected public financing for his general election campaign, with the argument that he should not financially disarm unilaterally.  Clinton should not use this argument.  Its validity is unchanged, but she will not need or want the big money for the general election.  On this issue, she needs to emulate more the positions of Bernie Sanders--yes, and Donald Trump.  Besides, her PAC, over which "she has no control" will still be out there with tons of money if needed.

Make clearer what she is about in running for President.  This she can do over some months--there is no need to reveal her hand in detail before the convention.  I still recommend that she couch her policy proposals--the ones now, and the ones she will gradually bring out--all as things that can be achieved in the first term, with a sufficiently smashing defeat of the Republicans in the national election.  If she is going to raise a boatload of cash, she should do it supporting the DNC, the DCCC, and, if they aren't backing too many Blue Dogs, the DSCC.  The theme:  "Vision 20/20"!  Of course, if things get too sticky and she can't accomplish her objectives, she can change her mind and run for re-election, but frankly, if she does it right, there should not be the need.  She should choose a VP nominee that will be someone who can take over leadership of the party and the nation in four years.+
Soften the hawkish tone, when the opportunity presents itself.  The two biggest reservations good Democrats have to her candidacy are her Iraq vote to authorize force for the Bushite administration (regretted now many times) and her Wall Street connections.  Leftists tend to conflate the two, and focus on the campaign finance deficiency.  If she takes care of that, and if she clearly points out she will not write checks for unlimited military adventure (anymore), she can unify the party behind her. And this she must do.

+This goes against my betting in the on the VP nominee--I'm going for a longshot choice, former Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana.  Popular centrist, and a white male--that's where she needs to make up ground, and making Indiana competitive, as Obama did, helps stretch the Republicans and weaken them.  There will also be a Senate race, and a governor race there, and picking up one or both would be very big.  There are plenty of other ways to go, and plenty of time to focus group-test names.  I'm sure she will. 


Chin Shih Tang said...

I should say that the one scenario in which Bernie might be preferred over a (relatively undamaged) Hillary is if Trump wins the nomination. Then, his appeal to the disaffected, his renunciation of big money contributions, and the fact that Trump's nomination would clarify that this is a freakish change election, would tend to argue for him. The problem is that, though the Democratic convention is later than the Republicans', both of these things are going to be decided in the same time range: March-April. Still, if Trump sweeps the early 4 primaries, that might be a signal that the unthinkable must be thought.

Chin Shih Tang said...

Feb. 1--Finally some real voter behavior tonight: the pre-game warmups are over and the competition begins.
I am struck by the lack of movement of those markets I highlighted 26 days ago--they haven't really been so dynamic. What has been moving has been steady growth in the bettors' support for Trump and for Sanders (and away from Rubio, Cruz, and Clinton). My positions have suffered a bit for that, except in Iowa, where I have stuck with my cheap shares on Trump winning, Cruz second (though I also have Rubio and Trump shares for second), and on Clinton winning in Iowa. That last is my chief vulnerability tonight; if Clinton takes Iowa, even narrowly, I should make money on that market and a lot of other ones.

Chin Shih Tang said...

I was wrong about Hillary and Citizens United--it was a group that wanted to do ads attacking her. So, as she sometimes points out, she was against them from the beginning. Still, she should do something more tangible to show her intention to end the campaign finance regime under which we suffer now.

She has made progress on making clear why she's running. I think she has decided not to bring up the damn emails anymore, and take her chances (which are good) that it will not end in any indictments.