Archive

February 1st, 2016

An Iowa To-Do List

    Iowa Republicans have a lot of choices Monday, none of whom bear any resemblance to the second coming of Abraham Lincoln.

    They’re not going to pick a paragon. But maybe they could at least get rid of somebody awful. Ted Cruz? Please, Iowa, if you could do anything to knock Ted Cruz out of the race, the country would be grateful. I know he has supporters. But the intensity of loathing among the rest of the population is very strong.

    In Iowa, Cruz has been attempting to overcome his personality handicap by visiting every single one of the state’s 99 counties. That’s a sort of tradition, among candidates who don’t know how to prioritize. It didn’t even work on television for Alicia Florrick’s husband on “The Good Wife.” Who, admittedly, was under the handicap of having gone to jail for using public funds to hire prostitutes.

    Probably Cruz felt that since he had failed to endorse Iowa’s most beloved government subsidy — the ethanol program — the least he could do was make his way to the town of Fenton, population 279.

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Why Cheap Oil Isn't Bad for the Environment

    It stood to reason that collapsing prices for oil would make clean energy relatively more expensive. That would dampen the public's craving to install solar panels and build wind turbines.

    Well, let's try to reason again. A lot of opposing forces are shaking the old assumptions. In the jaws of bargain oil, the U.S. Department of Energy expects Americans to increase their use of renewable power this year by almost 10 percent. Why is this time different?

    Consider solar power. Over the past 18 months, the price of oil has fallen by 75 percent, yet the installation of solar panels proceeds apace. The advocacy group Solar Foundation reports that jobs in solar energy increased last year by more than 20 percent. Most of them were for installers.

    As for wind power, Denmark-based Vestas, one of the big three wind-turbine companies, says that business continues to boom in North America, Asia, Africa and Latin America. Its stock price doubled last year.

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Trump vs. Cruz: Armageddon, Iowa-style

    "Awaken the body of Christ that we might pull back from this abyss."

    When Sen. Ted Cruz closed his prayerful plea to a crowd of about 150 people here late Tuesday night, the "abyss" he had in mind was something larger than the prospect of a Donald Trump victory in Monday's caucuses. But the final days of the battle for Iowa have come to resemble political Armageddon.

    In fact, it involves two overlapping struggles, beginning with the one for the ideological souls of conservative white evangelical Christians. Are they still motivated, as Cruz hopes, by traditional issues such as abortion, gay marriage and religious liberty? Will solidarity push them toward a candidate who uses evangelical language and comfortably invokes Scripture?

    Or has Trump redefined social conservatism by returning to a harder form of backlash politics that shaped the late 1960s and early '70s? Trump draws in evangelicals on the basis of shared anger and resentment rather than shared faith.

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Don't rule out an Iowa caucuses surprise

    J. Ann Selzer, who has conducted polling on the Iowa caucuses since 1988, says the contests almost always yield surprises. With each election, it increasingly becomes more difficult to reliably predict the outcome, and this year is the toughest yet.

    Pollster.com lists 20 Iowa Republican caucus polls for January alone. Nate Silver's blog, FiveThirtyEight, bases its Iowa predictions on a weighted average of 19 polls. According to Selzer, who has done polls for Bloomberg and the Des Moines Register, the large number of surveys makes it more difficult to get reliable results: "With low incidence populations like the caucuses, I'm worried about polling fatigue."

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Jeb Bush's nerdy decency

    Jeb Bush has a cold. "I'm losing my voice, which is not a great sign, but we'll get through this," he tells the employees gathered in the cafeteria of Nationwide Insurance here.

     We'll get through this -- kind of a melancholy epigraph for the Bush 2016 campaign, don't you think? Bush on the campaign trail exudes a kind of nerdy decency, or maybe decent nerdiness -- whatever. It's appealing, but jarringly out of step with the angry, high-decibel atmosphere of this campaign season.

    Bush launches into his remarks, complimenting Iowans on having the least credit card debt per individual of any state, and then he really gets going.

     "All other issues pale in comparison if we don't deal with the structural deficits that we face," he says. Between coughs and sips from a water bottle, he touches on "historical run rates" and the prospect of debt service under rising interest rates. "Imagine if we got to 300 basis points more," he observes.

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Iowans give Clinton their (polite) applause

    The challenge facing Hillary Clinton's well-oiled presidential campaign was on display on Wednesday at the Fun and Family Bowling Alley in Adel, Iowa: enthusiasm or, more precisely, the lack of it.

    The leading Democratic candidate gave a polished 45-minute speech, focusing on her economic policies and ripping into Republicans before a capacity audience of over 200. It was well received, particularly when she blasted companies like Johnson Controls, an auto supply company based in Wisconsin, for planning to relocate overseas for tax purposes.

    But interviews with a dozen Iowa voters in attendance underscored her campaign's chief concern: a lack of passion among her supporters. Polls show she is locked in a tight race with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Iowa, which has its first-in-the-nation contest on Monday. He has generated lots of enthusiasm.

    Dana Brown, a graphic arts designer who came out to see Clinton, said she supported the former secretary of state for "practical" reasons. But Brown said she's "not sure" she'll attend a caucus to cast a vote on Monday night.

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Donald Trump's myths about Donald Trump

    All politicians like to brag about their abilities and achievements. But rarely has a presidential hopeful emerged like Donald Trump, who consistently touts his resume and plans for the nation in sweeping and over-the-top terms.

    Trump is particularly unique in how he talks about himself. Plenty of would-be presidents make dubious claims about what they have accomplished in elected office (created millions of jobs! slashed spending!). Few make such claims about their personal attributes. Trump has no such hesitation. Just before the Iowa caucuses, here are five of the biggest myths Donald Trump tells about himself.

 

    1. "I'm, like, a really smart person."

    Trump is not shy about his intellectual prowess. As he tweeted in 2013: "Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest -and you all know it! Please don't feel so stupid or insecure, it's not your fault."

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January 28th

John Kasich: 2016's happiest warrior

    In the year of the angry candidate and the even angrier voter, John Kasich stands out as the self-proclaimed "prince of light and hope."

    As Kasich instructed voters at a town hall meeting here -- his second in this town, population 1,444 -- "If you want to just yell and scream at the other side, you should not vote for me. ... Don't vote for me."

    Little about Kasich's message is standard political operating procedure. He is more apt to mention God on the campaign trail than he is his Democratic opponents, much less his Republican ones.

    "This is not a political speech -- this is a life talk," Kasich told workers at a warehouse in the town of Bow, observing that "the Lord has put his hand on me for some reason. But he's got his hand on everybody in this room if you let him." Then he wondered, "What do you think? Am I out of my mind here telling you this stuff?"

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Trump 'n' Palin, an alliance for the angry

    Can this presidential election year get any more weird?

    Reality seems to have run off the rails. Let me count the ways:

    In the "How Can We Miss You If You Won't Go Away" Department: Sarah Palin is back, much to the delight of comedy writers everywhere. (I'm talking about you, Tina Fey.) And she's stumping for -- who else? -- Republican frontrunner and fellow former reality TV star Donald Trump.

    Yes, this is the Grand Old Party's former vice presidential candidate who endorsed Trump's closest opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz, in 2012 in his run-off as a tea party-backed insurgent against establishment-backed Texas Lt. Gov. Dave Dewhurst.

    Now Palin was treating Cruz in much the same way that she treated Alaska in 2009 when she walked away from the governorship after serving three years of her four-year term.

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The Hate-Cruz, Tolerate-Trump Republicans

    The biggest fuss in Republican presidential politics now seems to be why, or perhaps whether, some party actors have concluded that even though billionaire Donald Trump would be a bad nominee, he's still better than Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

    The group we're talking about here is a subset of the Republican Party. Of the politicians, campaign and governing professionals, donors and activists, formal party officials and staff, and party-aligned media and interest groups that make up the party, this subset appears to some combination of those who have long opposed Tea Party and other insurgent candidates, and of Washington-based influencers.

    Here are some theories about what they are up to and what it means.

    Perhaps it's personal. Republican party actors -- his fellow senators in particular -- just really hate Cruz, and can't see past that.

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