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The Race Card

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No, not that race card. But some candidate will play it before the election. Promise.

I mean the horse race card. I’m abandoning the Survivor metaphor for this time out, in honor of the first Triple Crown winner in nearly four decades. We’ll come back to castaways on the beach next time.

For now, it’s horse sweat and jockeying for position…and trying to fit fifteen-plus racehorses into ten gate positions. By the count of the New York Times, there are twenty likely candidates. Fifteen are Republicans, a dozen declared. There aren’t enough gates on the track to fit all the Republicans, which makes for an ugly game of musical chairs played out in the press.

Fox News planned to limit the first debate to the top ten candidates in the polls, and the rest of the candidates be hanged. That is, until the Manchester Union Leader heard them brag about “winnowing the field before New Hampshire.” And so begins the first toe-to-toe donnybrook of the season.

Jeb Bush had not yet declared as I wrote this, but he will have by the time you read these words. Bush has been pulling a legal sleight-of-hand with his money, soliciting donors for money without limit. Once he declares, those pesky campaign laws kick in, and contributions to the war chest have limits. No wonder Republicans keep working toward repealing the laws whose basic concept is to prevent elections from being bought.

Let’s count the horses in this race, annotated with the requisite snark…

Republicans in order of declaring:

Ted Cruz: Dropped off the radar shortly after declaring, perhaps looking for a campaign sugar daddy. Maybe he should look for a new strategy too? His latest tactic is a whiny letter to citizen donors, complaining about how hard and unpleasant a sacrifice it is to run, so why don’t YOU sacrifice money to help me suffer some more?

Rand Paul: Made a name for himself blocking renewal of the Patriot Act. Suicidal or brilliant — how about both?

Marco Rubio: Has a campaign sugar daddy, appears to need one at home as well. Plus, he should…

…drink some water before he goes on camera.

Ben Carson: This season’s quote-of-the-week machine. He seems fixated on channeling Herman Cain’s bombast,

beginning with his “prison makes you gay” equivocation. Plus, his new career as public speaker became lucrative quickly, according to the financial disclosures that he has filed.

Carly Fiorina: Golden parachutes for CEOs, golden showers for employees. Damn, she DOES know how the world works!

Mike Huckabee: From infomercials to the fried chicken circuit. He also has the same Duggar problem as several rivals: they all appeared publicly with Josh Duggar.

Rick Santorum: Belongs in the 19th century, where there is no Google.

I have a dream. If I could draw, I’d do a cartoon. I watch Rick Santorum take the stage at a debate. A camera follows him as he finds his spot in the growing Rockette-like line of GOP candidates, not knowing that someone has stuck a sign to his back. It’s like the old high school party prank, except that the paper does not read “Kick me”—it reads “Google me.”

I will give Sanatorium credit for saying what he’s actually thinking. At least we know what he is. But in that same vein, I have to wonder: why do we always hear the “man on dog” argument against gay marriage? And only from Santorum?

Santorum declared, “If ISIS wants to bring back a seventh-century version of Islam, then we need to load up our bombers and bomb them back into the seventh century, where they belong.”

I won’t deny feeling that way myself, every time I read about a beheading video. But ISIS conquered Ramadi with superior weaponry, not numbers. They are a small minority of all the human beings in Ramadi—and everywhere they’ve conquered. So I need to hear how we selectively bomb only the ISIS fighters.

Living in a black-and-white world would be sooo much easier. And doubtless, more exciting.

George Pataki: His main story is: who is this guy? Oh yeah, a former New York governor. Beyond that, we may not find out for a while. Pataki suspended his campaign barely two weeks after announcing; after his 30-year old son-in-law suffered a stroke.

Lindsey Graham: Running on fear of invasionof invasion, only fifteen years late.

Still, since 2013, more Republican voters have come to share Graham’s worldview: According to recent polling, 57 percent believe that U.S. anti-terrorism policies do not go far enough in protecting the country, up from 38 percent two years ago.

But my oh my, Graham took a surprisingly ballsy step into the future, setting himself distinctly apart from all the others by standing up to Sean Hannity!

Rick Perry: Oops, he’s running again. This time with smart glasses and an indictment.

Jeb Bush: The hazard of being the expected front runner comes when you aren’t the front runner.

Donald Trump: Trademarked a Reagan campaign phrase. He’s such a fake that the New York Times won’t even list him as a potential candidate, despite his declaration.

It gets worse. He bragged about a secret fool-proof plan to defeat ISIS is something anyone needs to be a fool to believe. I don’t understand how even FOX gives this guy air time. It’s not as if they are lacking for colorful candidates. Trump promises unbelievable results because they are exactly that. This is the guy who managed to bankrupt a casino.

And of course Trump’s not telling how he’d defeat ISIS until we elect him. Sorry Don, you’re no Draper. I’ve heard that one LONG ago, from Richard Nixon. If he really does have an idea, my guess is it’s an unachievable plan to prevent ISIS from selling any of the oil they now “own” by the rule of possession. Ideas like that are easy to say, much harder to execute.

Just ask Obama about his plan to close Guantanamo.

Still in the wings but likely to run:

Scott Walker: Union and tenure killer, but shot his own foot comparing protesters to ISIS. Yet his repeated electoral wins in Wisconsin seem like some sort of bellwether for Conservatism. Busted unions—and the silenced voices that it represents—is that what Americans really want? It’s not that Walker is young and fresh or a staunch conservative in any measuable way. It’s that he’s a winner.

Chris Christie: May have missed his moment in 2012; now beleaguered by Bridgegate and now a related Appointeegate. Christie does have a record of governing, and it shows him flunking two important measures: hiring subordinates with integrity and fiscal caution. You already know what his subordinates did—and it fit well into Christie’s attack culture of anger. Fiscally? New Jersey’s credit rating has been downgraded three times during his tenure—and he’s not done yet.

Bobby Jindal: The Lousiana governor is an unabashed hawk—looking to play defense in the War on Christianity that you keep hearing about. He has a different but certainly related Science problem. But that pretty much describes his Republican base, if you can say he has one at all.

Jindal drew national notice for the first time by spookily delivering the Republican response to Obama’s first State of the Union address. Jindal and the RNC chairman selected that year, Michael Steele, were poster children for the pathetic “We’ve got them too” strategy that Republicans used to respond to Obama’s blackness.

John Kasich: Same problem as Pataki. He may be running as the Republican version of Bernie Sanders, not so much to win as to redefine his party’s priorities.

The Democrats, in order of declaring:

Hillary Clinton: Baggage? Oh yes. Hard to find an ambitious politician without it. Ego? That’s a requirement to run.

The real pity of modern politics is this: the skill set that it takes to win the presidency has way too little to do with the skills that it takes to govern. Formidable—and twice victorious—campaigner Barack Obama never imagined he’d run into a Congress that was willing to make history in order to thwart his agenda. I don’t doubt that Hillary Clinton can run this country. My question is whether she can win the office. And that’s a pity because too many officeholders, and not just presidents, know how to win elections but not how to govern.

She’s also got a toughness that I think anyone going up against the Party of No must possess. That’s real, not someone’s perception, but consider this silliness: in 2008, Tucker Carlson joked that he crossed his legs out of fear every time Hillary appeared on TV. I’ll confess that I have another dream: Carlson cracks the joke on TV, again, and she shows up to confront him with a sushi knife.

Bernie Sanders: And Independent, not a Democrat, although he caucuses with them. He’s the one real Socialist in the race; he does a believable job of defending it in an interview. Sanders opined that the debates ought to include both sides, an intriguing idea, but that freak show would look more like an highly uneven tug of war. Sanders appear to be one of the rare candidates not running on ego.

Martin O’Malley: The only candidate ever who sourced a TV series character (the mayor of Baltimore on The Wire). He holds demonstrably liberal positions on most issues, but like all the other Democrats, he really has no chance against Team Hillary.

Lincoln Chaffee: A former Republican who couldn’t find any air in his party for his liberal views. He was often identified as the least conservative Republican senator during his time there representing Rhode Island. Then he confounded everyone when he pitched the metric system during his campaign announcement.

Likely to run:

Jim Webb: A former Reagan Democrat who served in Vietnam and appears to have learned something from it. He’s had an active and exemplary life and could make a decent president, but has the same chance of getting the nomination as his fellow Democrats: none.

A Poll Worth Browsing: A May 28 Quinnipiac University National Poll has some arresting numbers:

Donald Trump has a 69% Unfavorable rating; and that’s an average: he’s; over 50% negative even with Republicans. If he doesn’t quit of his own accord, like last time, I will treasure the multiple moments that the voters tell him: “You’re fired.”

Democrats O’Malley, Chafee and Webb each have a “Don’t know anything about him” rating in the 70s and 80s, with Sanders not far behind. Clinton? Her highest in that category is 6%.

Hillary’s Unfavorable rating defines the party lines almost perfectly: 85% of Democrats like her, 84% of Republicans don’t. So the Karl Rove strategy of concentrating on your base, supplemented by the newer strategy of refusing voters who aren’t your base, is the only way she can be beaten. It’s clear that the Republicans know this; witness the swift action that deep south states took, to limit voting, after the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

There are lots more interesting numbers in that poll, depending on how wonky you want to get.

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Written by

Steve Schlich writes fiction about software: “easy to use,” “does what you want”—lies like that—for the mortgage money. For his soul, he writes fiction and music. Hobbies include webmaster for www.RodSerling.com. In 2004, he created www.NakedWashington.com, a website chronicling the naughty public art in Washington, D.C. He lives happily with his wife and cats, north of San Francisco, where he’s been a technical writer of in-house software manuals since 1982.

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