The “new” Rick Perry

BuKXyzaCAAAu9Fy.jpg-largeNational Journal recently ran a cover story on “The New Rick Perry.” National Journal is not widely read outside of DC, but inside DC it is widely respected for the kind of in-depth analysis that most publications never seem to find room for.

The article on the “new” Rick Perry is a good example of why National Journal is widely read by people who think seriously about politics. Michelle Cottle has recognized that Perry is building a new image in an effort to jump-start a stalled presidential bid.

The “new” Perry label is especially meaningful to longtime political observes because it harkens back to the “new Nixon” that emerged from devastating back-to-back defeats in the presidential race in 1960 and the 1962 California gubernatorial election. Politically, Nixon was dead in the water. In fact, he had told the press after the election that “you don’t have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”

Perry has faced his defeats. His stumbles in the 2012 campaign have been documented. More recently, the results of the Texas Republican straw poll (“Ted Cruz wins presidential straw poll“) made clear that Rick Perry’s future was in jeopardy–unless he makes some changes.

Ted Cruz 43.4%
Ben Carson 12.2%
Rand Paul 12.1%
Rick Perry 11.7%
Jeb Bush 3.3%
Scott Walker 2.9%
Other 2.7%
Marco Rubio 2.6%
Paul Ryan 2.0%
Rick Santorum 1.9%
Bobby Jindal 1.7%
Chris Christie 1.3%
Undecided 1.1%
Mike Pence 0.6%
John Kasich 0.5%
Steve King 0.2%

The problem was not Perry simply finishing behind Ted Cruz . Cruz is a great match with the Republican base in Texas in 2014 and he would be tough to beat with the kinds of Republicans who filled the state convention this summer. Perry could easily say that the Texas GOP is different from the national party and that he would enjoy broader support in other states. However, finishing in fourth place suggests that his appeal has become very narrow. Finishing behind Ben Carson, a newcomer known primarily for his appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013, should warn Perry that Texas Republicans are looking hard for alternatives to Perry. Finishing behind the Rand Paul, the new face of the Libertarian wing of the party, should tell him a little about the future of the Republicans. The “Texas miracle” is not firing up voters in Texas. Why would it win hearts and minds in other states?

Finishing behind Cruz also tells us that Perry can no longer command the spotlight in Texas politics. Cruz is exhibiting more star power than Perry. And, unfortunately for Perry, star power is important for fundraising. Presidential candidates need the support of large donors to get their campaigns started. Perry needs Republicans to give him thousands of dollars and then get on the phone and convince their friends to contribute to Perry. Writing those checks and making those calls requires a lot of confidence in the candidate. Perry’s failed 2012 campaign gave Republican doubts about his breadth of his appeal and Texas straw poll renewed doubts about the depth of his appeal.

The Rick Perry we knew if not going to get elected president. His work so far has not resonated sufficiently with voters. Perry recognizes the need for some extensive rebranding to excite donors and win the hearts of Republican voters. The National Journal article could have used the language of comic books and movies and talked about a Perry “reboot.” That might have been familiar to more readers.  However, the fact that the “new” Nixon won the presidency in 1968 (and again in a landslide in 1972) after his defeats. The Nixon reference is an excellent remainder that anything is possible in politics. The Republican field is wide open and the new Rick Perry might prove much better than the old Perry. The National Journal story does a good job of previewing the new Rick Perry and anyone thinking about Perry’s presidential aspirations needs to give it a read..



Good or bad news for Dan Patrick?

According to the Quorum Report, Senator Dan Patrick it touting a new poll that shows David Dewhurst with 40% of the vote for Lt. Governor among likely Republican voters while 18% support Patrick. Patrick seems to feel that he is gaining on Dewhurst who had 43% in the previous poll. The Wickers Group, source of the poll, concludes that David Dewhurst’s  support  eroded over past summer and Dan Patrick “remains well-positioned to win this race.”

I guess you could say that.

On the other hand, most pollsters would immediately note that the shift is smaller than the margin of error of the poll (+/- 4.5%). In fact, I suspect that most pollsters would lead with that.

Further, it’s hard to believe that Dewhurst’s summer could have been much worse. First, he was portrayed as weak in his failure to shut down the filibuster and demonstrations that stalled the abortion bill during the special session. Then, he came across as weak as he tried to get a relative out of jail by trying to convince law enforcement that he was actually someone. It was too reminiscent of Will Farrell’s character trying to convince a woman he’s trying to impress that he was “kind of a big deal.”

My takeaway from the poll is that Dewhurst still has better than double the support of his nearest competitor and his rivals have a lot of work to do. The wind has been at Patrick’s back all summer and his gains have been statistically insignificant. Patrick has always had a strong base of support among conservative Republicans and it’s surprising that he hasn’t expanded beyond 18%.

The poor showing of Ag Commissioner Todd Staples  (4%) and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson (4%) may be the biggest news out of the poll. They’ll be battling to escape last place. They could surge if the fight between Dewhurst and Patrick turns nasty enough  to chase voters away from the frontrunners in large numbers. Short of that, it’s hard to see how they get into the race.

The Lt. Governor’s race is just starting and there is a lot of campaigning ahead. However, any suggestion that Patrick is doing better than expected is little more than wishful thinking.

A redistricting surprise?

Matt Mackowiak at Must Read Texas has raised an interesting sidelight that results from the fact that Texas state senators are elected to “staggered” four-year terms with about half being elected every two years. This means that in 2014 about half of our state senators should be up for reelection while the other half will not be up for reelection until 2016.

Because we redrew the maps for the senate and other offices back in 2011, all of these senators were elected to districts that were officially new since they were created in 2011. These districts may look largely like the old districts, but redistricting mean that these districts were born again and new and every senate seat was up for election in 2012.

So, how do we get to staggered senate elections with about half every two years? Back in January, Texas senators drew lots to determine whether their new term would be two or four years (“Senators Draw Lots to Determine Terms“). Sixteen senators won the right to serve the deluxe 4-year term with the rest got a two-year term and reelection in 2014.

This is important to senators for a couple of reasons.

First, elected officials prefer running for office as infrequently as possible. If you’re already in office an election is just a chance to get knocked out of office. Also, campaigns are very expensive and time-consuming. If you have won the privilege of serving a four-year term you’re not going to be very interested in drawing lots again and having to run for reelection in two years. On the other hand, those senators currently set to serve only two years this term are ready to toss the dice again.

There’s a second issue: seeking statewide office. In Texas you can not be on the ballot for two different offices (a special law was passed to allow LBJ to run for vice president and US Senator–but that’s a different level of the game). That means that any senator up for reelection in 2014 has to choose between running for statewide office or seeking reelection to their senate seat.  Senators who drew four-year terms back in January can run for statewide office in 2014 with the knowledge that they can keep their seat in the Senate while they campaign for another office. Currently, two Republican senators (Glenn Hegar, Katy and Tommy Williams, The Woodlands) are thinking about runs for statewide office. Those statewide campaigns might look very different for Hegar and Williams if Senate were to have to draw lots again and they drew two-year terms.

Of course, there’s the possibility that the Senate could exempt themselves from this process. Sixteen senators did “win” the right to a four-year term, but 15 “lost” that lottery and were left with the consolation prize of an initial two-year term. It adds an interesting dimension to the redistricting session.

Revenge of the nerds

We learned several things about political consultants on election day. Neither bodes well for Karl Rove and his generation of consultants.

First, the statistical math nerds beat the old-school consultants. Viciously.

Nate Silver, Sam Wang, Drew Linzer, and a new generation of analysts took to the Internet with election forecasts based on polling and other data. When their predictions showed Obama winning the electoral college with over 300 electors they faced a storm of attacks from old school political talking heads. MSNBC on-air personality Joe Scarborough insisted the race was too close to call and proclaimed: “Anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters … because they’re jokes.”  Former Clinton pollster Dick Morris predicted a landslide in favor of Romney and Senate Republicans. Peggy Noonan made a similar prediction. Election night as vote totals were matching the predictions of Silver and company, Rove was melting down on live television as he tried to get Fox News to reverse their call of Ohio for Obama.Sam Wang even offered to eat a bug if his prediction was wrong. We’ll see if the people who were proven wrong offer anything similar.

The game has changed. Today there is a huge array of data that can be put to work it you know how to corral it. The consultants who tried to pick the race on their “gut” instincts were left looking foolish. As Jeff Greenfield conceded, “the ability of the Obama campaign to target supporters and lure them to the polls and the ability of analysts like the New York Times’ Nate Silver to predict the outcome of a race with near precision, means that those of us who got into politics because we were told there’d be no math have got to get a clue.”

Real political experts will need to understand politics and probability. And, students need to understand that this new world of “big data” will apply to politics, business, and a host of other endeavors. The tools needed to understand the modern world will include knowing how to pull together and analyze the data available. Arm yourself with those skills now or resign yourself to serving in a supporting role.

You can see some of the bad predictions become the laughing stock in this highlight reel of election night humor.


Getting what we pay for

Here’s another excellent strip from Darrin Bell’s Candorville strip:

Candorville 9-13-2012

Why do we get so much unnecessary drama in elections? The same reason we get so much drama in reality television. Drama pays.

Why the presidential race is close

Charlie Cook has put together a pretty good analysis (“It Shouldn’t Be Close – Charlie Cook“) for National Journal about why the race remains close despite a disappointing economy. National Journal is widely ready the important player in the DC and Cook’s analysis is a good example why. Cook is one of the few political analysts I consider worth reading. Most political analysts realize that they will make more money when they parrot partisan rhetoric or make outlandish predictions.

Cook’s explanation for Romney underperforming results from: (1) Romney not being a natural candidate, (2) campaign ad that seem to “studiously avoid trying to establish any bond, any connection, or any level of trust between him and American voters,” and (3)  Romney’s inability to find a middle ground for the Republican Party on the Dream Act.

Cook’s analysis is good. However, I think he’s a little off the mark.

Some of the problem that Romney is basically running on the Bush economic plan He does not seem to be able to distinguish himself from George W. Bush and the economic problems Bush has been blamed for. Further, Romney looks the part of the stereotype of the GOP tax plan (fair or unfair). People expect Republicans to cut taxes for the wealthy and Romney is definitely a wealthy guy. It’s hard to find a guy who is richer and Romney’s car elevator, horses, and other stories have helped keep that image alive.

Romney could have escaped this had he more aggressively defined himself and his policies. Unfortunately, he decided to let his message be crowd-sourced and if there’s something worse than a philosophy written by a committee it’s a philosophy written by a mob. His reluctant to provide leadership has proven costly as weird Republicans talk about legitimate rape, civil war, birth certificates, secret Muslims, etc. Romney has found himself drowned out  by the cacophony of voices that make up his party. The media environment today makes leadership possible and Romney has yet to find a way to provide a message clear and compelling enough to cut through all the noise around him.

Obama is also benefitting from lower expectations. The economy is not doing well but voters are comparing 2012 to the situation in 2008 and that makes it look better. It’s similar to one of the problems that Al Gore had in 2000. The economy was going okay in 2000 but voters expected better after years of very strong economic growth.

A recent poll found that about 6 in 10 Americans doubt that the presidential election will have an impact on the economy. That result makes a lot of sense given the financial troubles in Europe and the slowdown in the Chinese economy. The economic troubles are coming from a lot of different directions and Americans might finally be realizing that all the answers will not be found in presidential politics. The guys at Freakonomics made their case for a limited presidential impact back in March. However, many citizens and reporters prefer to obsess about the presidency. Expecting the president to solve all our problems represents a fundamental misunderstanding of those pesky checks and balances and maybe Americans have stumbled onto the real limits of presidential power that the founders dreamt up centuries ago.

How Dewhurst got burned

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst has found some reasons why his defeat wasn’t his fault. It turns out it was Washington’s fault (Dewhurst: Texans’ anger at Washington misdirected at Texas Capitol). So, the Lt. Governor believes that Washington politics is much worse than the Austin politics that he presides and that Republican primary voters are just too stupid to tell the difference. Dewhurst is like a child who plays with matches and gets burned. Now he’s looking around frantically for someone else to blame”

There are a lot of Texans who are so mad and angry at Washington — and I’m mad and angry at Washington, too — (they) have a hard time understanding how any other form of government, such as state government, could actually cut taxes, which we did, and cut spending, which we did.

Consider this: “Washington” has actually cut taxes. The stimulus program included a lots of tax cuts and those helped bring the tax rate down to a level we hadn’t seen in about 50 years. So, David Dewhurst worked very hard to put Congress in a bad light. That seems like Washington politics as usual. The fact that he now feels victimized by someone putting what he did in the worst possible light is ironic and the fact that he feels primary voters can’t distinguish between his record and those of the Washington politicians tells us more about him than the voters.

There are other ways in which the politics of Austin are just the politics in Washington. The state has spending programs that are very similar to federal programs. The state has pumped millions of dollars into funds to create jobs in Texas just like the federal “stimulus” program that Dewhurst derided. Obama prefers “green jobs” while Perry and Dewhurst preferred “emerging technology.” No so much difference there.

Up a tree

Perry and Dewhurst have decided to follow the base of their party rather than lead them. They refuse to take risks or attempt to persuade voters to do anything except assume the worst about people they don’t like.

Dewhurst lost in part because he didn’t consistently make the case for what he had done. You can’t spend over a decade constructing coalitions and brokering compromises and then run as a purist. That kind of record can never match the rhetoric of the base. If GOP voters weren’t tuned into reality it’s because Dewhurst kept pointing them elsewhere. Dewhurst had a decent record. He should have run on it rather than run away from it. Even if he would have lost he would have left the stage having defended his record and fought the good fight.

Washington has become a universal scapegoat for any candidate not able to run on their record. Too many candidates banked their campaign on the anger they stirred up rather than their vision for the state. In the end, some of them played with fire and got burned.