Thursday, November 12, 2015


Pundits have generally stopped arguing that the Donald Trump campaign is a nine days' wonder that will fade just the way Herman Cain's did in 2011 -- mostly because Trump has stayed at or near the top of the polls for several months and seems impervious to scandal (and has now been joined in the first tier by the perhaps even less qualified Ben Carson). But Bill Sher still believes that the GOP race can unfold the way we were told it would -- as a triumph for the Establishment's first choice, Jeb Bush. Sher argues at Politico Magazine that the model for this isn't Mitt Romney in 2012 -- it's John Kerry in 2004.
It wasn’t that long ago when the current Secretary of State was wandering aimlessly in the Iowa cornfields, getting nowhere in the Democratic presidential primary and watching his political obituary being written before his eyes. You think it’s sad that Jeb Bush is at 4 percent? Kerry was at 4 percent in a national CBS poll 27 days before the Iowa caucuses. Which he won.

The lesson: You can be an uninspiring establishment candidate and still win the nomination. How? By being the last candidate left standing.
I can't dismiss this outright. There are certainly parallels:
Like Jeb Bush, John Kerry began the race in early 2003 in the top tier but without gangbuster numbers, low 10s in national polls and often trailing the 2000 vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joe Lieberman. Kerry’s support was tepid but stable as Howard Dean began to rise in the summer.

Then Kerry began to fade in September when Wesley Clark, running as the anti-Iraq War general, barreled into the race and briefly seized the lead. By November 2003 -- the point in the race where we are today -- Kerry sunk into single digits.
But here's where Sher's argument starts to fall apart:
Recall that Democratic voters in 2003 were similarly disgusted with their party’s leadership, and their presidential candidates in Congress at the time, for rolling over on the Iraq War resolution.
Yes, but:
Granted, the Democratic anger was not so unbridled that it led to the ousters of congressional leaders, as Republican anger has done.
No -- and that's a huge difference. Democratic voters in 2003 and 2004 wanted their party to be forthright in opposition to the war. Republican voters now want to burn their party to the ground. They're angry because gay marriage is legal and Planned Parenthood is still funded and Obamacare still exists and the president hasn't been subjected to a drumhead trial on treason charges. They want all their leaders overthrown and they want every law passed since January 2009 repealed. They'd rather shut the government down than pay the country's debts. They're prepared to turn the country into a police state to evict every undocumented immigrant -- but they'll wave an AR-15 in your face if you dare to make them pay grazing fees on public land or want them to go through a background check at a gun show.

Democrats just wanted to stop a war.

Yes, relative to Kerry, Howard Dean and Wesley Clark were outsiders. But on paper, at least, they were plausible presidents -- before running, Dean had been a governor longer than Jimmy Carter before his run, and approximately as long as Bill Clinton before his. Dean was articulate and knowledgeable; he knew enough about national politics to be a successful chairman of the Democratic National Committee after his presidential run. And while Clark wasn't quite Dwight Eisenhower, he had an impressive C.V.:
During his 34 years of service in the United States Army, Clark rose to the rank of 4-star General and NATO Supreme Allied Commander....

In 1994, Clark was named director for strategic plans and policy of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with responsibilities for worldwide U.S. military strategic planning. It was there that General Clark insisted that the Pentagon develop an exit strategy for the 1994 invasion of Haiti. In 1995, General Clark traveled to the Balkans as the military negotiator in a U.S. effort to end the war in Bosnia, playing a vital role in the Dayton peace talks. As Supreme Allied Commander and Commander in Chief of the United States European Command, Clark commanded Operation Allied Force, NATO's first major combat action, which saved 1.5 million Albanians from ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
On a regular basis this year, we've been told that Bernie Sanders -- a seasoned, knowledgeable politician -- is the same sort of outsider as the clownish, ignorant favorites in the Republican race, Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Sher is making a similar mistake by comparing Dean and Clark to the Republican front-runners.

Democratic voters in 2003 and 2004 really didn't want to make an extreme break with conventional Democratic politics -- so it's not surprising that they were willing to turn to Kerry when Dean and Clark faltered. Republicans now seem genuinely determined to vote for a candidate who lacks basic knowledge about the American government and domestic and global politics. Sher says Dean and Clark fell victim to vetting. Trump and Carson are being vetted right now, and are being exposed as unfit to serve -- and GOP voters don't care.

And Kerry was willing to build his campaign around forthright opposition to the war -- the issue his party's voters were most passionate about. Jeb is stubbornly unwilling to do the same this year on any of the issues his party's voters care most about. And Kerry had history on his side: He'd made his name as an opponent of a previous foreign policy quagmire. Jeb? He's the brother of a guy who fought for immigration reform and the husband of an immigrant.

So no, the races aren't really comparable. Jeb is toast.


Never Ben Better said...

Now, now, Steve -- BothSidesDoIt is the law of Pundit Land, and must be strictly obeyed in every aspect of political analysis. Any difference that might look bad for the GOP must be ruthlessly dismissed.

Unknown said...

"Republican voters now want to burn their party to the ground"

Just like in 1964 with Goldwater. The massive beating they took then left the party apparatus including in particular its presidential nomination process easy pickings for the single most ruthless, relentless, money-backed, calculating sociopath the GOP ever had. So, I'm thinking that running a Re-Enactment of that Gettsburg this cycle is very likely to end up in something like the same spot, with again the most ruthless, relentelss, money-backed calculating sociopath they've got & indeed have ever had spends the next 4 years biding his time until he can play the "It's My Turn" card in 2020 - should the state of the economy or something else that big suit his timing - or in 2024, when the nation as a whole will be looking to elect its first ever hispanic president.

Professor Chaos said...

Another example of the "both-sides" disease that has infected our media.

Paul Chadwick said...

Hey, commenters, Sher's hardly a Villager R apologist. His liberal cred is gold standard -- google him, for pity's sake. This isn't a "both sides do it" argument, it's about electoral dynamics, a picking apart of the "Ds fall in love, R's fall in line" truism.

That said, No More's post is the best argument I've seen against Sher's well-reasoned hypothesis. Maybe this year all bets are off. Not sure who's right. Time will tell.

What a year! What a campaign! Genuine suspense; this campaign is like watching a line of people ford a piranha-infested stream. You can't look away.

Unknown said...

PC, the piranhas they expect those; it's the moat-bottom zombie vipers I'd be watching for. Looks to me that contestant Carson's already been bitten multiple times, but he at least he seems to have gone into this ordeal having built up an immunity against the worse of the toxins, like rationality, logic, consistency, accuracy, credibility.

I personally belief that, should surgeon physician Carson that doctor, in fording the hazard-invested moatell without any more self-inflicted wounds, is able to do so everywhere like, such as, foreign policy, that, mixing up the Isisules leaders with the president of Syriaq or using the name of the new Saudi Iranian insultinate in vain, he's got a shot.