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Super Tuesday: A Political Perfect Storm

As I recall, the term “perfect storm” was coined in New England in October 1991, when several storm fronts merged to spectacularly clobber the coastline.

Now, the American political system this year has a confluence of factors that have made this election cycle the most volatile in recent memory.

For the sake of clarity, here are what I believe to be the main issues (or storm fronts) at play this year:

1. For the first time since 1952 no sitting president or vice president operates as a presumptive nominee.

2. We have the first viable female candidate in the race in Hillary Clinton, whose First Husband would be the indefatigable Bill Clinton, and the first viable black candidate in the race in Barak Obama, who represents a new generation entering politics.

3. We have a compressed primary process manufactured to minimize the impact of first-in-the-nation strongholds Iowa and New Hampshire, creating a semi-national primary last night of 22 of our 50 states holding primary elections at once.

4. As a nation we’re antsy, worrying about the economy, the Iraq War, and the general partisan bickering that has kept our national leaders in the gutter for the better part of sixteen years. In 1994, we booted out seventy three incumbent Democrats, bringing in a freshman class of Republicans called the “Gang of 73.” These people deluded themselves into believing the vote was in favor of “them” rather than a repudiation of the incumbents. Republicans did not get the message, and now we’re ticked off about it.

5. The Hispanic community, soon to become the largest minority, is seriously flexing its political muscle.

OK, so the facts are out on the table, but what the hell does all of this mean? And what happened just now, on Super Tuesday?

Republicans seem to be coalescing early around John McCain. This causing heart palpitations with true conservatives who do not like his “Maverick” image. Conservative talk radio show hosts have been crucifying the man, with Republican leaders pleading with them (Rush Limbaugh in particular) to tone it down.

Ann Coulter, the Paris Hilton wannabee of the punditocracy, has said she’ll campaign for Hillary Clinton if McCain gets the nomination. All that said, McCain getting the nomination would not be strange at all, because the Republicans are likely to hand the nomination to the prior election cycle’s runner-up. This seems to be a general rule with Republicans; the exception happens to be George W Bush, and look where he got the country!

The big story in the Republican camp now seems to be Mike Huckabee, who has eclipsed Mitt Romney as the second place finisher. He energizes the evangelical base and scares the hell out of secularists. McCain needs Huckabee’s support to keep the “true believers” content. Huckabee is also very affable, and after sixteen years of back-biting, we need affable.

Democrats are another story. They’re pulling out way more new voters into the primary voting process, but the race is not at all decided. Hillary Clinton is a lightning rod. You either love her or despise her. Her disapproval rating runs in the 40s based largely on engendering an animosity among Republicans that defies credulity. Clinton also plays well with lower-income voters and as, we just saw, with Hispanic voters. All of this is wreaking havoc with poll prognosticators who did not expect such a strong turn-out.

Obama plays to anti-Hillaries in the Democratic party: middle and upper income black voters, high income/high educated whites (derided by the right as “limousine liberals”), and young voters. Young voters in particular are a tough bet, as they historically do not get motivated enough to actually get off their behinds and vote.

In Super Tuesday, Hillary just cleaned up in traditional Democrat strong holds. She beat Obama there by about ten percentage points.

Obama cleaned up in the middle part of the country, which is historically dominated by Republicans. His margin of victory was also considerably higher. Does this therefore mean he is the more electable candidate? Well, he pulls in independents that McCain needs to offset his tepid support among staunch conservatives. The traditional Democrat areas won’t cross over to vote for McCain instead of Obama, so it does seem that Obama is more electable.

If Clinton gets the nomination, the campaign will likely be a nasty battle. Republicans would rally around a box of donuts to beat Clinton. We ought to remember that they will likely have 40% of the electorate right out of the starting gates, if she is the nominee.

But the Democrat nomination remains up for grabs for several reason. First, more Democratic primaries awarded delegates to the convention on a proportional basis. Win a district, and you get those delegates. This contest is, therefore, more complicated. By contrast, Republicans have more winner-take-all primaries, meaning if you get 51% of the vote, you get all of that state’s convention delegates.

Of course, Democrats also have Super Delegates. These are elected democratic officials who get a vote alongside the votes provided by hoi polloi voters. For the party allegedly representing the little people against fat cat business moguls and crazed religious whackos, it’s an oddly elitist process the irony of which is lost on practically everyone.

Super Delegates do not have to reveal for whom they intend to vote. They can make the decision at the convention. Super Delegates number 840 and comprise about 20% of the number of delegates at the Democratic convention. So much for “letting the people decide,” huh?

Right now, Obama and Clinton are tied in convention delegates. Obama has about 1,078 and Clinton has 1,140 and they need about 2,100 to win the nomination. You can see how this battle is far from over.

This amateur political junkie thinks Michigan and Florida will play a huge role in all of this. Michigan and Florida moved their primary dates up before so-called Super Tuesday. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) punished these two states for voting early, by saying their delegates would not be recognized at the convention. But they did it anyway. The Democratic presidential candidates agreed to abide by the DNC’s rules and not campaign in those two states.

Clinton won both states and went so far as to touch down in Florida shortly after the polls closed (to comply with the DNC edict not to campaign there) to declare victory. She also pledged to fight to have those delegates recognized at the convention.

We could be repeating November 2000 in Florida all over again, only it won’t be a bipartisan fight. The Democrats will be forming a circular firing squad, turning on each other. Clinton will be saying that every vote should count, reminiscent of Al Gore in 2000. Obama will be arguing that rules are the rules, reminiscent of George Bush in 2000.

And they’ll tear hell out of one another.

As a Republican, I remain conflicted. Hillary is easier to run against, but she will engender a level of animosity that just is not good for the country. Obama will present a stark contrast to McCain who is old enough to be his father. And the differences on the Iraq War are far greater between Obama and McCain than between Clinton and McCain.

McCain is seventy one and has already outlived his father and grandfather (although his mother is in her 90s and still going strong). Obama has precious little political experience, with all of four years in the US Senate and some years as a state senator in Illinois. If McCain were ten years younger, if Obama had ten years more experience, they’d be far better candidates.

The volatility of the electorate so far suggests there are many more surprises to come. The lack of clarity keeps generating interest and pulling more and more citizens into the process. Provided that race doesn’t denigrate into the nastiness that seems to follow the Clintons around like the dust cloud around Pig Pen from Peanuts, then it cannot help but benefit the country.

Perfect Storms are fascinating to watch provided you do not get washed away in them.

11 thoughts on “Super Tuesday: A Political Perfect Storm

  1. “As a Republican, I remain conflicted”

    How odd.

    It is a commonplace observation, that self-professed repugnants who have an income under $250,000 are, what in a different time, we would term the lumpen proletariat.

    (that is to say, they are working class people who are too deluded to understand their real interests.)

    Strange that Natalia should have attracted the interest, (or vice versa) of someone either:

    1. so rich

    2. so lacking in understanding.

    Lest I be guilty of mere ad hominem attack, I believe that your analysis of McCain is (mis)informed by a failure to detect the true nut hidden under the cloak of reason.

  2. Natalia recruited Geoff.

    This magazine strives to be politically neutral,

    First things first: We do not toe any particular ideological line. Whether you are conservative or liberal, or neither, or in-between, really doesn’t matter to us.

    And yes, that was ad hominem.

  3. “yes, that was ad hominem.”

    Hey, HE was the one who *confessed.

    *As the esteemed and wise Georgi Ivanovich would have it, to evolve one must cultivate a sense of “organic shame”.

  4. I figured it was fair to state my own personal bias in the column. Too often folks get criticized for professing objectivity in their assessments when the readers accuse them of bias.

    Terms such as “repugs, rethugs, liebrals, dimocrats” and the like take away from any sense of reasonable discussion, I think, but to each his own on that score.

    Sadly neither party seems to have cornered the market on that kind of discourse.

    But, hey, keep those cards and letters coming.

  5. “fair to state my own personal bias”

    Indeed.

    Withal, some attitudes, insofar as they filter the information passed along for processing by the person possessing them, belie a self-involvement and self-centeredness the voluntary acknowledgement of which, while manifesting a laudable candor, nonetheless makes the witness cringe a trifle.

    I do not offer this observation merely to discourage the public display of Republicanism, however civic minded such discouragement would be.

    I sincerely entreat you to examine the real world consequences of the sort of selfishness and exceptionalism that you sign onto by proclaiming yourself a Republican.

    That said, I don’t think I ever heard the “liebral” or “dimocrat” things.

    Herewith my own shamefaced confession:

    I thought I originated “repugnants”…oh well.

  6. “I thought I originated “repugnants”…oh well.”

    Not by a long shot. My intent in the article was to try to offer as unbiased assessment of what I thought it all meant, while also offering to the reader an idea of where I was coming from without making the article about me, as I am JUST not that interesting.

    I’m not liked much by the powers that be in my own party, either. I’m more a deficit hawk than a tax cut advocate, although I do like to have a discussion of what things are going to cost when beating the drum for a new government benefit. On social issues I line up with democrats for the most part, being a gay marriage supporter, among other things.

    The current gang running the republican party do not thrill me, either, prompting me to utter to my liberal wife that I might just have to vote for a democrat this time around.

    Each party has its excesses, and the tone in Washington seems to be to seek the high ground of the fringe and lob bombs at one another. It doesn’t get anything done.

    So from those on the right I am used to be ripped as a RINO — or Republican in Name Only — as I could care less who sleeps with whom as long as they are consenting adults. As Orson Bean said in the 1960s, if two guys and a chicken want to get together and the chicken signs a consent form, then who cares?

    Those on the left simply project republican excesses on me to turn me into a straw man at times.

    The simple fact of the matter is that both Obama and McCain appeal to independents and energize that segment of the population that has tuned out politics based on the extreme rhetoric that gets thrown around. It’s the manifestation of a new national election strategy profiled in the Economist Magazine about two or three years ago I remember reading on a plan.

    The old strategy, made famous by that old Democratic bogey man Dick Nixon was to essentially stay right (or left) enough to get through the primary as primary voters are generally stauncher partisans and then race like hell to co-opt the center. (Dick Morriss/Bill Clinton called this triangulation, and Bill got shot at from the left for not being a true democrat as a result, with welfare reform generally hung on him as proof of this.)

    The “Rove” strategy was simply concede each side had about 40 % of the vote out of the box, so the strategy was to energize your base while mollifying the other side. So get gay marriage bans on the state election ballots to rile up the bible thumpers and throw a few sops to the other side, such as illegal amnesty to placate the hispanic voting bloc.

    And, in the process, discuss the middle so much they stay home.

    It works, but it divides the hell out of the country. The Clinton machine is equally as comfortable with these kind of tactics. Lee Atwater, a republican operative, gets credit for being the father of this current cycle of this approach. James Carville turned it into an art form, and Rove is no slouch with the tactic either.

    The national repudiation of this from the South Carolina mud fest between Obama and Clinton supporters that put Bill back on a short leash in the aftermath is good news for those of us seeking to see a more civil tone to our political discourse. Democratic power brokers publicly and privately admonishing the Clinton camp to cool it is heartening as well.

    On the right we’re seeing this through several things, too. Rommey spent millions doing “comparison ads” hammering McCain and Huckabee, thereby engendering animosity and jealosy from those two. Animosity at the distortions, and jealousy at the fact he had tons of private cash to dump in to buy the attack ads.

    The underfunded candidates have to put their finger prints on the rebuttals by waiting for debates to personally ax handle the oppoment as they can’t afford the air time to do so. The other great tactic is to send out surrogates to do the dirty work provided the press will cover them. And, among the spouses, who’s gonna get the coverage? An ex president, or spouses we don’t know anything about?

    Rommey’s dropped out. Bill Clinton has been admonished, but the press eagerly awaits his next misstep in that regard to pounce.

    On the right the McCain smears are still going on within Talk Radio, but the Republican leaders have also sought to publicly get that tin foil helmet class of harpies to throttle back on the rhetoric as well. Bob Dole wrote a letter to Rush Limbaugh to back off, and Newt Gingrich came out telling them to knock it off as well.

    Obama’s been trying to maintain an upbeat message all along. McCain has been victim of the smears before, with South Carolina 2000 one of the more brutal attacks in recent memory. I distinctly recall a snippet from McCain riding around on his “Straight Talk Express” back then after upsetting Bush in New Hampshire. He uttered in dismay something that went like, “I gave this guy a pass on the Air National Guard in New Hampshire and this is how he repays me?”

    Anyway, a little more amateur assessment. We’ve done a good job demonizing each side over the past sixteen years, but the center left and center right that comprise a big part of the electorate neither fit nor deserve the association.

    I mean, I can fire off a decent insult with the best of them, but rarely see the point to it. Our election process is one of the greatest forms of citizen empowerment in the world, and I really dislike it when those so influential in the process denigrate it with downright nastiness.

  7. “Republican in Name Only”

    The best kind.

    BTW, Bill C was not only a Republican at heart, he was a REAGAN Republican.

    Dick Nixon, he of the black heart, black handed legacy, would have cut that black hand off before signing a bill eviscerating habeas corpus as did that loathsome, backstabbing, inconstant, etc, etc, (but don’t let me get started on Clinton.)

    It is true without peradventure that there is only one party in this country:A Republican Party with two wings-one for and one against forced pregnancy.

    That said, inasmuch as you distance yourself from the “forced pregnancy wing” of the Republican party on the salient issue of bedroom invasion, what exactly is it in the Republican program that attracts you enough to risk (sophomoric) slurs from such as I?

    I would submit to you that the meme of sturdy yeomanry that is paraded quadrennially to fool the boobocracy is merely a mask for short sighted venality, with, (to refer back) real world consequences that will end with all of us in “deep water” (figuratively AND literally)

    Specifically, (to look for instance at Collins and Snowe), when the shit hits the fan the RINOs in the Senate fall in line behind McConnell to the grave detriment of the general weal.

    So I say to you: Save yourself, my brother–no longer must you profess adherence to “winner take all” tooth and claw capitalism to hold off the encroachment of the black helicopters–Indeed, the helicopters have landed, and they are Marine One.

  8. Well, as editor, I need to strive to keep my professional distance and… Actually, screw that.

    So,

    Personally, I don’t have party affiliations, because, as I’ve written before, I believe the two-party system to be irrevocably broken. Who am I going to vote for this year? Am I going to do it at all, on account of my pessimism? I don’t know. I think voting is important, but the process has greatly trivialized said importance.

    I have enjoyed Geoff’s writing, though, because he has a long memory. Most people don’t.

    Having a sense of humour doesn’t hurt either.

  9. “I have enjoyed Geoff’s writing”

    Me too.

    And I don’t really quarrel with his analysis (my crack about McCain notwithstanding).

    Anent the present “organized” (Pace, Will Rogers…) parties, it is admittedly hard to distinguish on a multitude of critical points.

    That said, I cannot shake a conviction that the puerile, chest thumping, self congratulatory rituals which mark American exceptionalism and its attendant insouciant international outlawry are a trifle more congenial to the Right than the Left.

    Patriotism has gone from the last refuge of the scoundrel to the most dangerous impulse abroad in the world today.

    How can it be that we are willing, (nay, proud) to proclaim the greater worth of our babies over babies born by chance outside our borders?

    I mean, for cryin’ out loud, BABIES!

  10. >>I have enjoyed Geoff’s writing, though, because he has a long memory. Most people don’t.

    Having a sense of humour doesn’t hurt either.<<

    A shot at my age? Et tu, Natalia?

    What can I say? I’ve been a political junkie all my life. My grandfather was small city mayor for ten years and ran for congress long before I was born. I sat riveted by the television watching the watergate hearings that summer while normal kids played outside. I worked as an advance man on a national campaign, a field coordinator on a congressional race, a fund raiser for said congresscritter after he got in to retire the debt, and have been involved in small town politics to boot.

    I turned down the opportunity to head to DC as a staffer 27 years ago based on being smitten by an inveterate liberal.

    What can I say?

    Little Brain Thinking: The bane of men’s existence since Adam ignored the bitten apple to get a peak at what was under Eve’s fig leaf ….

  11. “shot at my age”

    Here in San Francisco, where race, gender and orientation are a matter of self definition (eg, “she is a pre-op transman who identifies as female”) you can be 60 years old and identify as 19,

    In Ashby, Mass, “eh, not so much..”

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