Place Your Bets: Handicapping 2016

Lambert_to_the_Slaughter[Updated]. From the number of pieces I’ve read recently, handicapping the 2016 presidential race has become a click-bait hobby for plenty of allegedly reputable people. So let’s see how it works with a disreputable, unabashed, socialize-all-medicine, raise the tax and fix the damn roads, free community college for all, screw the F-35 and legalize pot liberal.

With Hillary Clinton a given for the Democrats — although god help them if she’s hit by a bus or caught in a love nest with Vladimir Putin, because there is no “Plan B” — I’ll assign a percentage value to the Republican field poised against her. 0% being the most serious candidate, someone likely to beat her, and 100% being a laugher, the equivalent of another Michele Bachmann delusion.

Jeb Bush: 5%. The Republican ruling class actually did a very good job sweeping the worst of the nut cases off their candidate slate last year. (Yes, Joni Ernst won in Iowa.) But there were no witches, no “legitimate rapes” and very little open Tea Bag pandering, at least compared with 2010. This suggests authority –spreading money to local Tea Party captains — is capable of getting Jeb through the primaries without forcing him to wear a tri-corner hat, leggings and ‘rassle snakes at prayer breakfasts. If that’s true, he’s bona fide serious opposition. He certainly more serious and intellectually engaged than his feckless brother. (I seriously doubt we’d have gone to Iraq with Jeb instead of W*, if only because he wouldn’t have laid the “detail stuff” off on Dick Cheney). But I still don’t think he could beat Her Regency. The Democrats have a profound electoral map advantage, the horror of another Bush is just too much for millions of active voters and while Hillary Clinton is hardly anyone’s idea of a “transformational candidate”, the stage is set and lit, with roses in place for a woman.

Scott Walker: 15%. In most ways a textbook example of the ideal Movement Conservative. He’s got that Tim Pawlenty careerist talent of rarely sounding like the pathological narcissist/cynic he is. Despite a Pawlenty-like mismanagement of his state’s economy, laying on massive multi-billion dollar deficit while Minnesota tries to decide what top do with giant surplus, his “go-big” brawl with public unions is all it takes to be hero to … the rubes who aren’t in unions and his industrialist, union-hating benefactors, most notably the Koch brothers. He’s no serious threat top defeat Hillary in a general election, but there’s no question he has the duplicitous wiles to survive a GOP primary campaign.

Rand Paul: 25%. He’s sort of this year’s version of Newt Gingrich. “What dumb people think a smart guy sounds like.” There are college-age wonkers who love his contrarian poses and think tankers who see a guy who’d go out play with their most batshit Ayn Randian theories. But he’s also a little like Joe Biden, in that he’s not big on filters. Over the course of the grind he’ll say at least 20 nutty things that will serve to remind fence-sitters that Hillary at least is a predictable commodity.

Mitt Romney: 40%. Face it. He’s the only Republican with the exception of Jeb, who doesn’t have bury his face in the laps of the Koch Brothers or Sheldon Adelson. He could pay for the race out of his mad money jar. Moreover, he might have learned something about pandering to the loonies in 2012. But, come on. Everywhere outside of a Palm Beach investment bankers luncheon Mitt is still the clueless rich guy, a cartoon who gives no indication that even he knows what he really believes.

Ted Cruz: 60%. Now this guy can do some damage. Not to Hillary. It’d be a landslide in her favor if he ever went mano a mano. But he’s the sort of wholly self-absorbed, unapologetic douche bag who’ll blow off any notion of collegiality and force the Jebs and Mitts to explain why they’re not sending in the Marines to block Obamacare. Frankly, I’m amazed that someone hasn’t dug up a juicy scandal on the Tedster. If ever someone looked like they’re hiding a closet full of perversions, its Cruz.

Marco Rubio: 75%. By now his reputation is locked in concrete. An empty suit. A cutey-pie shill for old money interests without the Clintonesque imagination to make a serviceable case for either pole of the same argument.

Rick Perry: 80%. An even emptier suit than Rubio, even with his new “I must read something because I’m now wearing glasses” look. Worse, for him, Jeb, though associated lately with Florida, is closer to the big, safe-bet Texas money. Still, in terms of pure entertainment, Perry was good stuff on the campaign trail, we’d all love to see him back

Rick Santorum. 90%. Say what you will, Santorum was the hardest working guy in a sweater vest Iowa and the Deep South primaries have ever seen. Lacking Bush and Romney-style money, he has no choice but to pander to the most medieval of the crazies, while reminding everyone else of the guy in high school who no other guy wanted to hang out with. He’s the Republicans’ Harold Stassen, unless Romney wants to fight him for it.

Mike Huckabee: 95%. He’s one of those sweaty, grasping characters who just refuses to go away, clinging to the belief, like Jim Carrey in “Dumber and Dumber”, that “there’s still a chance”. There isn’t. There never has been. Besides there’s more money in slinging stale meat to rubes from FoxNews.

Sarah Palin: 1000%. There’s nothing, short of a long weekend with Sofia Vergara, (sorry, dear), that would delight me more than a Hillary v. Sarah face-off. Michele Bachmann was an opportunistic nut-case sucking up $20 checks from embittered revivalists living on Social Security checks, but Palin is the gold standard for naked pandering, startling stupidity, rank incompetence and non-stop public buffoonery. We are already looking back on her as an icon of the age of celebrity worship. “Does she look good in a form fitting suit? Well then she can be president.” I think John McCain said that.

Learning To Lose With MnSure

Bunyan_woodpeckerIn case you haven’t heard, Republicans hate health insurance exchanges like MnSure. While the conservative Heritage Foundation developed the approach, conservative leaders like Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich and Orrin Hatch endorsed it, and conservative standard bearer Mitt Romney pioneered it, contemporary conservatives have come to despise it since it was adopted by President Obama.

Conservatives now prefer to allow insurance companies to compete across state lines governed by federal regulations, instead of the current system of state-by-state regulation of insurance products.  But there isn’t sufficient political support to enact the conservatives’ preferred interstate competition approach.

I feel my conservative friends’ pain, because my preferred approach also doesn’t have enough political support to become law, and I also don’t love insurance exchanges like MnSure.  I’d much rather have a single payer system — the system that delivers the best care and value in other industrialized nations — than this competitive private sector exchange model.  However, since there wasn’t sufficient political support for my first choice, my fallback preference was to authorize a “public option”—a Medicare-for-All — competing against private options to test which model is more efficient and effective.

But alas, after a long, fair and considered congressional debate, I lost on both my first and second choices.  Now I and all Americans have to accept the private competitive exchange model that prevailed in the democratic arena.

Memo to my Republican friends:  That’s how losing works in a democracy.  You have to accept the outcome of the democratic process, and move on like an adult.

While insurance exchanges like MnSure were far from my preferred option, there are things I like about them.  For the first time, they require products to be directly comparable, so that a lightly informed consumer like me can actually do apples-to-apples shopping, or silver plan-to-silver plan shopping.

That represents a significant improvement that will reshape the marketplace in a somewhat more consumer-friendly way. With private and non-profit insurers required to create directly comparable products, insurers now know that many consumers are going to buy the more affordable apple over the comparatively expensive apple.  That puts consumer demand pressure on insurers to offer the most affordable apple possible, just as airlines have constant demand pressure to offer the most affordable ticket to New York City via online marketplaces like Kayak, Orbitz and Travelocity.

Whether we’re talking about Kayak or MnSure, the widespread availability and use of the Internet makes this kind of comparison shopping possible.  Social media and advertising guru Simon Mainwaring is among those those who have written about how the Internet changes modern marketplaces:

“More than ever before, consumers have the ability to unify their voices and coalesce their buying power to influence corporate behaviors.”

So far, this type of “coalesced buying power” is showing promise.  In Minnesota’s competitive exchange, we are seeing among the lowest premium prices in the nation.  That’s a tribute to Minnesota’s non-profit health insurance companies, the state health care model that Republican Governor Arne Carlson significantly shaped and the exchange model that Republicans developed, supported and pioneered.

In life and in policy making, sometimes we don’t get our first choice, or even our second choice.   Liberals like me certainly didn’t get our first or second choice in the 2010 federal health reform debate.  But that doesn’t mean that some good can’t come from the third choice, if we’re adult enough to give it a chance, instead of working overtime to sabotage it.

So my conservative friends, on the launch day for MnSure, join me in belting out those healing Stephen Stills lyrics:  “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.”

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured in Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs.

Romney is Correct About Americans Being Government-Dependent

I hate to admit when Governor Mitt Romney is correct.  But when he said 47% of Americans are dependent on government, I have to face the facts.   Romney had it right.

He just understated the claim by 53%.

After all, 100% of us are dependent on government, and it’s been that way for the entire history of the nation.  One hundred percent of us are dependent on publicly funded national defense, roads, highways, bridges,  police, fire, water, sewage, environment and health protections and education.   We can’t compete and succeed without those things.  We are dependent. Continue reading

Pawlenty and Romney Both Benefit from Third Party-Related Luck

In Minnesota, we know a little bit about the power of a third party to swing an election, even when the third party doesn’t reach double digits in electoral support.

After all, Tim Pawlenty never would have been a two-term Governor, and subsequently on the verge of being nominated to be a heartbeat away from being the leader of the free world, without a lot of help from third parties.

In 2002, prominent DFL career politician Tim Penny won 16% of the electorate and Green Party Ken Pentel took another 2%.  That may be why Pawlenty was able to defeat DFLer Roger Moe 44% to 36%.   I’m not completely convinced about that, because Penny had more Republican appeal than a typical Democrat, but a former Democratic and Green candidate siphoning off 18% of the vote did look to be a net positive for Pawlenty.

In 2006, however, I’m convinced.  Third parties clearly prevented Pawlenty from being swept out of office.  Independence Party candidate Peter Hutchinson, who had served for years in prominent roles in DFL administrations, and Green Party candidate Ken Pentel combined to win 7% of the vote.  With DFLer Mike Hatch only losing to Pawlenty by 1%, 46% to 45%, Pawlenty clearly would have lost the 2006 race without Hutchinson and Pentel on the ballot.

University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs concurs with this conclusion in a recent Nation article:

“Both elections featured Independent candidates, which exit polls showed drew more votes from Democrats in close races,” says Jacobs. “I looked closely at the data and there’s no doubt that Independence Party candidates accounted for Pawlenty’s margin, particularly in his re-election (in 2006).”

All of which leads me to one of the most significant, and underreported, political developments of 2012, the quiet demise of the potentially game-changing third party Americans Elect.

Americans Elect was the national third party movement that was to choose its nominee via an Internet-based “convention” this June and place them on the ballot nationally.  It burst onto the political scene with fanfare, and the reform halo the news media tends to bestow upon third party movements.  As New York Times columnist and bestselling author Thomas Friedman breathlessly described Americans Elect:

              Make Way for the Radical Center

“What did to books, what the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music, what did to pharmacies, Americans Elect plans to do to the two-party duopoly that has dominated American political life — remove the barriers to real competition, flatten the incumbents and let the people in.”

Such hyperbole aside, the Americans Elect movement was gaining momentum.  It was on the ballot in 28 states, including several swing states, such as Florida, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada and Ohio.  The party-hating party was starting to look like a serious force in American presidential politics.

But the Americans Elect revolution crumbled before it formally began.  Under Americans Elect rules, to win the nomination candidates had to first prove their viability by winning a minimum number of preliminary votes of support via a complex Internet voting system.  As it turned out, no candidate met the viability threshold.  So on May 15th, Americans Elect unceremoniously folded its e-tent, and will not have a nominee on any ballots after all.

Meaning, May 15th may turn out to be the luckiest day of Mitt Romney’s political life.

Here is why:  The candidates who were leading contenders to get the Americans Elect nomination were Republican Congressman Ron Paul and Republican Governor Buddy Roemer.  As I understand it, both Paul and Roemer supporters were fairly close to achieving the Americans Elect qualification requirements.  (The Roemer campaign maintains that website irregularities held him back.)

If either of those Republicans had gotten on the ballots as Americans Elect candidates in key swing states, it’s not hard to imagine that they could have impacted the outcome of the General Election in President Obama’s favor, even if the Americans Elect nominee’s level of support stalled in the single digits.

Both because Roemer and Paul are Republicans, and because the polls show that Republican Romney is not generating as much enthusiasm among his supporters as President Obama is, it would have been very bad news for Romney if Paul or Roemer had gotten their names on 28 state ballots.  Unenthusiastic Romney supporters would be tempted by a Republican-leaning third party alternative right now, and it wouldn’t take very many defectors to impact what is expected to be a razor thin race.

Because third parties are rarely a threat to win elections outright, it’s easy for pundits and political reporters to cavalierly dismiss their relevance.  But if you want to understand what a difference a third party winning “only 7%” of the vote can make, and what a huge bullet Mitt Romney dodged on May 15th, Minnesota’s Mike Hatch could explain it to you.


Note:  This post also was featured as a “best of the best” on MinnPost’s Blog Cabin feature.