Mike Huckabee tweeted “We are months away from actual votes being cast and neither the pundits nor the press will decide this election, the people will.” This after he was unceremoniously dumped from the main 9pm stage in the Fox Business News debate to be held Nov. 10 in Milwaukee.
I like Huckabee. I’ve met him a couple of times, and found him to be genuine, humble, and compassionate. These are great qualities for a former pastor-turned-politician. But the former governor is mistaken about a great many things, his tweet being one of them.
If he was alive, Steve Jobs would also disagree with Huckabee’s take on politics, like he did with practically everything Apple ever made: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” And the movie “Steve Jobs,” so glorified by critics, was thrown into the Dumpster by the public.
This campaign is down to 4 candidates, and will end up between Sen. Ted Cruz and [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ], just like the pundits say.
Selecting a candidate is like holding an iPhone for the first time, or deciding to see a movie from the trailers. It’s a feel-thing. Either you “get it” or you don’t. I remember reading one Mel Brooks movie review in the Boston Globe years ago that went something like “I hate Mel Brooks and everything he’s ever made. F.” This is how CBS, NBC and ABC (along with Maureen Dowd and the rest of the New York Times editorial writers) see every Republican candidate.
Counting on the mainstream media to choose a Republican candidate will yield the worst dog possible—or Mitt Romney. Pundits are better than the media at predicting, but there’s pundits and there’s puppets. Anyone in the vast orbit of Karl Rove is going to push for the Windows Phone of candidates in an iPhone race like Jeb Bush or Chris Christie. And forget about Ann Coulter, who—if she were ever married—would leave her husband to become Donald Trump’s concubine.
But there’s a class of pundit, and a few honest press brokers who see the world like “normal people” and they get it. The race for the nomination is truly narrowing, with a gaggle of ghost candidates waiting for Cole Sear to release them from this world, and a few others on life-support until the money’s gone.
This election is essentially down to four candidates, and if you don’t know that, you’re probably whistling past the graveyard or wearing rubber bullets in your ears. That doesn’t mean Carly Fiorina, or Bobby Jindal, or Jefferson Sherman aren’t good people. It just means they won’t be the nominee this year. They’re past the event horizon of the black hole of politics. They’re demised, passed on, no more, expired and gone: they’re ex-candidates.
In the view of the majority of useful pundits who get it, the final four are: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Rubio, and Cruz. We can’t ignore the fact that Carson and Trump are in a virtual tie for frontrunner, with Trump beginning a long slide, and the left focusing its big guns on exposing every piece of dirt they can find on Carson. Cruz has held steady at around 9 percent for a while, with a war chest of $13.5 million at the last FEC reporting milestone. More importantly, Cruz has a well-oiled campaign machine with serious horsepower.
“People are swayed by his intellect,” said Mica Mosbacher, a Houston fundraiser helping organize events for Cruz across the country. “He always says, ‘Ask me all the hard questions.’ And he is very polite and humble. I think the firebrand you see [in public] is his passion getting ahead of him. Those who are supporting him admire that he will stand up for what’s right.”
A Republican strategist well connected to the donor world added: “When he’s with major donors, they expect the guy they see with all the red meat, but they instead see an intelligent, buttoned-down lawyer with real bona fides. He will say things like, basically, ‘This is politics — you’ve got go out there and sell and perform.’ ”
Cruz has the gravitas and intellect of a Jeb Bush, without the wishy-washy, kowtowing to money problems Bush carries. And of course, he doesn’t have the Bush name bolted to him like like a boat anchor. Cruz is also popular with evangelicals, being the real thing, and with hold-the-line conservatives, being the real thing. Evangelical author and radio host Dr. Michael Brown recently endorsed Cruz, writing,
But in looking for the leader who most strongly fits my criteria – being unshakably pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-Israel; having a good handle on economic issues, immigration, and national security; and not being part of the political establishment – [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] comes out on top, and I genuinely believe he has a real possibility of making it all the way.
Rubio is moving up fast in the polls recently, bolstered by a stellar debate performance sealing Bush’s has-been status. However, he lacks the organization and fundraising capacity of the other three candidates. Carson raised more than three times Rubio’s haul in the third quarter this year, which will hurt him when actual voting starts in a few months. Rubio communicates effectively with the electorate, and his financial prospects could improve should he have another great debate performance.
Both Cruz and Rubio are running marathons, while Carson and Trump are sprinting. Like Herman Cain in 2012, who in 2014 said “I believed that I could win, and damn near did!” someone like Carson, appearing to be an unstoppable force, may not make it past Iowa. People like and “vote” in phone polls for Carson because they believe him, and all it takes is one true piece of dirt to erode that trust—just like Cain.
Trump’s skeletons, on the other hand, are all out for public display. There’s nothing anyone could say about Trump’s past that likely hasn’t been said or played on cable 500 times. It’s Trump’s ability to sell himself on policy that may—the pundits say inevitably will—do him in. It’s possible that CNBC’s John Harwood did more damage to Trump than it seems when he began the last debate asking if Trump’s policies make him a cartoon character.
Asked about being a cartoon, Trump becomes a cartoon character. #CNBCGOPDebate GOP debate
— Eric Culp (@rewritersblock) October 29, 2015
The question was troll bait, but it had more than a tinge of truth to it. Does Trump really believe that he can solve the border crisis, the trade imbalance, the national debt crisis, our foreign policy malaise, and bloated federal government by just sinking his posterior into the Oval Office’s overstuffed chair? Will the “great people” he hires be able to get his plans through Congress? Do we really believe it? When voters start asking themselves those questions, as much as we may believe that Trump believes he can do all this, nobody should get a pass to be so light on details and heavy on their own ego.
Trump the man on stage—the persona—is such a familiar role to him, who by all accounts is a nice guy in person, that it will likely be his undoing. In order to assuage concerns that he really is the narcissistic jerk he portrays, Trump has toned things down a bit, assuming what I think may be closer to his own personality versus his public persona. But it’s the persona that got all the media attention, and befuddled the pundits while rocketing him to the top of the polls.
Now that Trump is sharing top-billing, and even a bit behind Carson, he can’t claim victory merely because he’s the victor in polls.
Just how well Trump’s triumphant shtick will work when delivered from anything other than the pole position is unclear. There is a good reason that both he and his supporters have elected to rest their case upon a tautology — “He’s winning because he’s winning!” — and that is that, in a culture that celebrates champions, standing in first place is quite the aphrodisiac. Unsure about the Donald’s positions on matters of state? Worry not: He’ll make America great again because he is great; he’ll choose the best people because he is the best people; and have you noticed how rich he is?
In the end, the pundits are right. It’s going to be down to Cruz and Rubio.
There’s a reason why dark-horse first-time politicians lose. There’s a reason why red-hot social media campaigns fizzle. I have seen it personally. I’ve worked a local race where the dark horse (on his second try, after barely missing the first time) won the social media “likes,” raised the most money, offered the most detailed policy proposals, and had some of the best name recognition. And he lost—badly. The political consultant we hired to advise us told us how to win, and the candidate thought he knew better.
The pundits know some things, and in the 2016 GOP race, we better listen if we want to take the White House.
(crossposted from sgberman.com)