Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The GOP Establishment's Dilemma

Well the GOP establishment has finally got its wish. After topping all national and state polls for over 100 days, Donald Trump is trailing Ben Carson in Iowa and in the latest CBS News/New York Times national poll.

Although Carson is not the establishment's dream candidate by any stretch of the imagination, Republican strategists believe that he is a much easier target to tear down than The Donald. Besides, there are real doubts as to whether Carson is seriously seeking the presidency. He is currently on a book tour and his campaign seems more focused on fundraising than anything else. 

But before popping champagne corks, the establishment needs to take a closer look at the CBS poll numbers. When the support for Jeb, Rubio and Kasich is added together it only accounts for about 20% of the GOP primary electorate. The “outsiders” – i.e. Trump, Carson and Fiorina – together have 55% of the electorate.  Actually, I would include Ted Cruz with the “outsiders” – can anyone think of a more hated man in DC? – for a grand total of 60% share of the electorate. 

So, dear GOP establishment, the option of nominating one of your own just isn’t in the cards this time. Republican voters – after being lied to repeatedly for decades – are no longer going to believe the old lines.

Don't forget that it was only a year and a half ago that Mitch McConnell took the stage at CPAC and promised, "If I am given the opportunity to lead the U.S. Senate next year, I won't let you down."  And then proceeded to let Republican voters down. 

The line of "he is the only one who can win in the November", is old, worn out and will not work this time. Especially, not with the current crop of establishment candidates.

What more can be said about Jeb Bush's disastrous campaign? When a candidate tells voters he has "cooler things" to do than being president of the sole superpower, it can only mean that he has mentally checked out of the race. Another lackluster debate performance and Jeb may just call it quits.

That leaves Marco Rubio. He started out as the GOP Savior. Decided to take on immigration reform, ran into a brick wall and started backtracking ever since. The immigration issue was supposed make Rubio's mark on D.C.Instead, it ended up slashing his political career. Rubio may think that - having accomplished nothing in the Senate - he is entitled to a promotion but I doubt voters would agree. 

There is John Kasich. He looks great on paper. Kasich is currently a popular governor of the electorally key state of Ohio. He is the only candidate who can claim to have balanced the federal budget. After an initial splash, he has been fading in the New Hampshire polls. There is still time but with each passing day, Kasich is looking more and more like another Jon Huntsman as many predicted he would.

As the Iowa Caucus gets closer and closer, the establishment would be better served to face reality and either back one of the "outsiders" or lose the general election.  The establishment loves to lectures the GOP base about being "realistic". Time for the Republican grand poobahs to follow their own advice. Be practical and take a look at your real choices: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz.

Trump is the only candidate that has shown the potential of reaching beyond the traditional Republican voters. His stance on foreign policy may irritate The Weekly Standard but, in what would be a role reversal, the Iraq War will be a weapon against the Democratic nominee instead of the Republican candidate.  The Wall Street Journal doesn't like Trump's stance on trade but it will appeal to many working class, union Democrats and put in play Mid-Western states.

None of the other candidates will attract new voters. Cruz is a boutique candidate with a very narrow appeal. He was elected to the Senate because his opponent ran one of the worst campaigns in Texas' recent memory. As noted by others, Carly will simply be the female version of Romney. Buying corporate jets while laying off employees makes great ads for the Democrats. Do Republicans really need to learn that lesson again? Ben Carson's recent surge is being fueled by consolidating the white evangelical vote. Does anyone think the GOP has problems getting the white evangelical vote?

For several years Republican leaders have been making lots of noise about having to expand the tent. This election cycle we will find out whether they were serious or it was just a talking point used to force feed the base the Jebs, the Mitts and the McCains. In 2016, we will know whether the GOP establishment prefers losing to Hillary over winning with Trump.