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I Was Wrong: The Far Right Throws a Hail Mary

February 14th, 2012 1 comment
Rick Santorum official photo

Rick Santorum, hoping no gays are looking at his beautiful face.

Well, it was bound to happen: I got one wrong. Last week, Rick Santorum blew the lid off the polls, my predictions, and the GOP primary race in general by winning all three contests held last Tuesday. I thought that Rick would slowly fade away after disappointing performances in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, left with only campaign debt and distant dreams of corn-fed Iowan crowds. I thought that the rest of this primary would just be Mitt Romney staggering to the finish line with Gingrich clawing at his ankles.

But no! It appears the far right has thrown a Hail Mary and put all their chips in on Santorum (how’s that for mixed metaphors?). Before, the gay-bashing, Muslim-fearing, Obama’s birth-questioning, hardcore conservatives that made up a majority in many Republican primary battles were split between numerous candidates. They had to choose between Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry for who they thought was most qualified to drop-kick an undocumented worker through a Planned Parenthood. Romney was left to scoop up the Rockefeller, patrician, business wing of the GOP and the lukewarm supporters that just wanted the most electable candidate to run against Obama. With the Gingrich campaign falling apart (again), the far right seems to have finally found an Anti-Romney to coalesce around. Coming off last weeks wins, Rick Santorum has shot to the top of the national polls, and I’m sad that I may have to start taking him seriously. Jokes with his last name don’t even seem as funny anymore.

This should feel even sadder to Mitt Romney, though, who must be experiencing some depressing déjà vu right now. Take a look at these results compiled by RealClearPolitics.com from Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008:

Line graph of polls from 2008 Iowa Caucus

Line graph of polls from 2008 New Hampshire Primary

It might be a little hard to read, but basically you can see that Mitt Romney is the yellow line, with a sizable lead in both states until the last few weeks when first Mike Huckabee (black line) and then John McCain (brown line) came out of respective nowheres to just edge him out.

This time, Santorum may be the one streaking a brown line from the bottom. (Ok, the jokes are still kind of funny).

Anyway, the point is that Mitt Romney is in trouble. He made it this far by having the far right vote split, but polls have shown that he would lose in a head to head battle with either Gingrich or Santorum if one of them dropped out. So expect a lot more negative ads from the Romney camp. My money’s still on Mitt, since he still has major strengths and potentially better organization if this comes to a long, drawn-out state by state fight for delegates. Regardless, this thing likely will not wrap up as quickly as everyone had thought.

However, Romney still has one last wild card in the game: Newt Gingrich, the man no one can get to just f-ing go away. If he somehow makes (another) completely improbable resurgence, Mitt will be tipping his hat to the Newt in his convention acceptance speech. Even if Gingrich can just leave enough proverbial claw marks in Santorum’s back to slow him down, it might be enough for Romney to stay ahead. My bet is that Gingrich fades pretty quickly at this point, but as long as he stays in the race, he will be sapping voters that would probably prefer Santorum over Romney if they had to choose.

So have Republicans really decided to make Rick Santorum their Valentine this year? Stay tuned.

Primary Adversaries Wary of Prairie Perry

October 4th, 2011 2 comments
Rick Perry

Rick Perry's entrance into the GOP presidential race has screwed up a lot of candidates plans, including Rick Perry's.

Since I haven’t written in a while, I wanted to comment on the continuing craziness that is the GOP nomination horserace. So far, Rick Perry entering the race has really shaken things up, and provided a much more interesting dynamic. When I first heard his name being floated over the summer, I did some snapshot research on him and believed he could easily be a serious contender, and what has unfolded so far has not surprised me at all.

First of all, Perry entering the arena was bad news for just about every other candidate. As I’ve mentioned before, governors have a major leg up in primary battles, and before Perry, Romney was the only governor with any name recognition in the race. Perry’s blunt folksiness and religiosity also has the potential to play really well in Iowa, which immediately had other candidates sweating. In fact, Tim Pawlenty, who had bet his entire campaign on Iowa, threw in the towel right after Perry announced his candidacy. I predicted in an earlier post that a flashy, socially conservative populist could really take off in Iowa, and sure enough, Michele “Crazy Eyes” Bachmann did just that, but only to see her support evaporate when Perry entered the race. Bachmann fell from 2nd place in polls to the back of the pack.

Recently however, the big news has been the epic fail of Rick Perry’s debate skills and the toll it took on his campaign. See, on paper Rick Perry was the perfect GOP candidate – cocky, conservative, and Christian – but he had never campaigned on the national stage before or had himself put under the microscope. As his campaign team should have predicted, all the other candidates, suddenly threatened by this Texan’s presence, attacked him relentlessly in the debates and he simply did not hold his own.

Now, I still believe that Mitt Romney will be the eventual candidate, based on the formula I explained in my Mitt is it post back in May 2010. However, I also believe that Rick Perry isn’t out yet, and there are very good reasons why he may continue to be one of Romney’s most formidable foes. I summarized them in this Venn diagram:

Republicans are searching for a candidate that hits that sweet spot in the middle, but so far Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are as good as it gets.

Insider support is extremely important in the GOP, and a relative newbie who hasn’t waited his or her turn (like Barack Obama) would almost never make it in a GOP presidential nomination race. Therefore, the perfect candidate for the GOP would be one that has insider support, but is also a governor (because of the bias I’ve pointed out), a good debater, and crazy.

Crazy is important, because that’s about where the GOP base is right now. For simplicity’s sake, I assessed craziness as the likelihood of a candidate trying to make a connection between homosexuality and illegal immigration and/or Al Qaeda.

As you can see from the diagram, Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum don’t have much chance of getting nominated because they only fall in one circle. Tim Pawlenty, for the record, would have gone under Governors and Insider Support, but that’s it.

So Rick Perry and Mitt Romney really are as good as it gets right now. And since NJ Gov. Chris Christie just announced today that he wouldn’t run, I don’t think very much is going to change. But that brings me to my next point…

Herman Cain

After Perry's breakdown in the polls, Herman Cain has surged to top tier status nationally, despite low name recognition. Still, the radio talk-show host & former CEO of Godfather Pizza has a lot to prove. (Photo: Courtesy of Gage Skidmore).

Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain – as you can see, they make it into two circles, which makes them the next most interesting. And as if to vindicate my evaluation, guess where Rick Perry’s support went when he fizzled in the polls… That’s right: Herman Cain, the pizza guy, who just shot into second place in polls as of yesterday and today. He also won first place in the Florida straw poll last week. Like many, I’m still skeptical that Cain can make it over some major hurdles. He’s a great campaigner and debater, but his race and lack of experience will prove awkward at best.

I expect a lot more volatility before this baby’s over. That’s for two simple reasons: the GOP is not fully satisfied with any candidate (no one in the center of the Venn diagram), and the media enjoys unpredictable twists and turns.

So that’s my last point: don’t underestimate the influence of the media. Ron Paul really ought to have been considered a serious contender at different times based on polling, fundraising, and intensity of support. However, the media has made a much bigger fuss over spikes in the numbers for Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain than they have for Paul in the past. This could change, as the media looks for more interesting narratives to keep attention.

Through it all, though, I expect Mitt Romney and Rick Perry to be the only real candidates contending for the top spot.

Anyone feel differently?

Peru: Choosing Between AIDS and Cancer

April 18th, 2011 4 comments
Map of Peruvian election results by department

First round of Peru's presidential election. Green=Toledo, Orange=Fujimori, Pink=Kuczynski, Red=Humala.

Just over a week ago, Peru held round one of its 2011 presidential election, which snuck up on me without there really being any coverage here in the states. I have been extremely interested in this election not just because of my interests and connections to Peru, but also because of the unpredictability of past Peruvian elections, the giant clash of personalities involved this round, and the stark choice of directions the country could opt to take.

The BBC posted a good summary of the main candidates here, but I will give you a quick primer.

Basically, there were five candidates worth noting: three centrists, one rightist, and one leftist. I should mention that Peruvian presidents are limited to a five-year term, but can run again if they wait five years. Also, Peru has a history of unlikely comebacks when it comes to these contests.

Of the centrists, there were Alejandro Toledo (former president 2001-2006), Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (former finance minister under Toledo), and Luis Castañeda (former mayor of Lima). In my opinion, any one of these fellows would have made a reasonable, if perhaps not amazing, president of Peru. However, can you think of any potential negatives that could result from having so many reasonably decent centrists splitting the vote?

I’ll introduce you to them:
Also in the race was Ollanta Humala (a left-wing nationalist supported by Hugo Chávez in the 2006 election) and Keiko Fujimori (the right-wing populist daughter of Alberto Fujimori, a former president currently serving 25 years in prison for corruption and brutal use of death squads).

It is rare for a candidate in Peru to get over 50% of the vote, so Peruvians are used to run-off voting. That is to say, there’s normally a second round where the top two candidates have to duke it out. As you might have guessed by this point, it was Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori that achieved that honor. Half of Peruvians say they would never vote for either of them. The awful choice that this represents for the country led the Nobel Prize-winning Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa to quip that the next round will be like “choosing between AIDS and cancer.”

Graph of Peruvian presidential election polling

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski ("PPK") surged in the last two months, but so did Ollanta Humala, who ended up in the lead. Toledo's decline deprived Peru of a centrist option for the run-off.

So that is the choice facing Peruvians. Personally, I was hoping Toledo would get a second chance, since the majority of the criticism he received was in regards to rumors about his personal life, rather than policy. His prudent actions stabilized the nation in 2001 when Alberto Fujimori was ousted for corruption and the opposition coalesced behind Toledo. He opted to keep most of Fujimori’s successful economic reforms while repudiating the corruption. Alas, Toledo’s early lead melted away.

So Peruvians are left to choose between AIDS and Cancer. Let’s look this over. On the one hand, there’s Keiko Fujimori (not to be confused with Keiko the orca). Her father is perhaps the most controversial leader in Peruvian history. He managed to bring Peru out of chaos, fighting both hyperinflation and the Maoist terrorist group called Sendero Luminoso or “Shining Path.” In the process, he oversaw human rights violations, massive bribery, and a maneuver suspending Congress and the constitution.

Keiko Fujimori

Keiko Fujimori is running on her father's record as much as her own.

While Keiko supporters indignantly point out that it is wrong to judge a daughter by the crimes of her father, they fail to realize that by explicitly invoking her father in the campaign and pledging to build on his success, Keiko is more than tacitly approving of her father’s decisions. It’s not far-fetched to say she’s running on a “Wasn’t my dad great?” platform. When Keiko’s mom ran against her father for president (yes, this actually happened), prompting a divorce, Alberto made his daughter the new First Lady. So it’s not like their relationship was distant. Indeed, the biggest concern is that Keiko is almost certain to pardon her father and get him out of prison.

To her credit, supporters point out that she vocally opposed Vladimiro Montesinos, her father’s right-hand man and mastermind behind bribing members of Congress. Having been First Lady at age 19 and a member of Congress since 2006, she does have political experience, but she’s still awfully young at 35.

Ollanta Humala

Humala has shed his red shirt in favor of suits and ties, but Peruvians aren't sure about his newfound centrism.

On the other hand, there’s Ollanta Humala. This former army colonel, who led a failed rebellion against Alberto Fujimori, almost won the last Peruvian election – pledging to nationalize vast swaths of Peru’s natural resource industries and spread the wealth à la Hugo Chávez or Evo Morales. Aged 47, he is also quite young and has no real political experience. He represents a type of leftist populism that plays well among poorer communities and those of indigenous background, but has foreign investors and free market supporters feeling jittery.

However, Humala has softened his rhetoric this time and hired advisors from Brazil’s center-left Worker’s Party. He says he will not undo the free-market agreements of his predecessor or go crazy with nationalizations, but he does seek a larger role for the state in reducing inequality, and he does want to raise taxes on foreign mining companies. His statement to the world seems to be, “I will not be a Chávez! I will be a Lula!” (referring to Brazil’s recent popular center-left president).

So, two populists. Two polarizing figures. Two ends of the political spectrum. Neither seems entirely trustworthy. Which will it be, Peru, AIDS or cancer?

Mario Vargas Llosa did not wait long to choose cancer, deciding that cancer is at least sometimes curable. By that I mean he has decided to support Ollanta Humala and pray to God that Humala’s move to the center is genuine. I am tempted to do the same, at least in spirit, since I fear that Keiko Fujimori is driven more by family honor than by interest in Peru. Toledo and Kuczynski are both meeting with Fujimori and Humala to extract promises for their potential support: a pledge by Humala to uphold the free market and a pledge by Fujimori to uphold human rights.

As these two battle for the voters of the vast political center between them, Peruvians will have to make their own decision. Will it be Fujimori AIDS or Humala cancer that they decide to unleash on the body politic? Personally, my bet’s on cancer.