John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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My Current Thoughts on the State of the Race

Posted on March 9, 2016
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By Marc Nozell - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46942232



I gave a little talk to some folks up in Boston yesterday and I thought I would share my notes with you.

First, let me say for the record that past performance is no guarantee of future results.

And my past performance in this current Presidential race has been a little disappointing.

Let me start with the Republicans.

We are entering March Madness and we have the final four left standing.

In my original brackets, I didn’t have Donald Trump as the number one seed.

From an emotional perspective, I also didn’t have Ted Cruz as the number two seed, because frankly, I dislike him intensely.

I thought Jeb Bush was the favorite going into this tournament, but in hindsight his campaign was overrated.

He had all the money, all the organization, and a family name that bespoke American royalty.

But we are in a revolutionary moment in Republican politics, an off with their heads moment. The Republican base, uncharacteristically, hates the royalty. And despite Bush’s overwhelming advantages, his campaign just never caught on.

His money mostly didn’t help him. Indeed, it became further evidence that rich people were trying to buy this election.

Unlike most people, who saw an establishment lane vs. an outsider lane, I looked at the GOP as three different brackets.

First, you had the outsider bracket, people who had no government experience.   Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina filled that land, and obviously, Trump has won that one.

Second, the Senators bracket. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are the final two. Anybody remember Lindsay Graham? He too was in that lane.

Third was the Governors bracket. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Jim Gilmore, George Patacki. It was the most crowded lane. Kasich has outlasted them all, which might seem improbable. But the Ohio governor had a clever strategy of pushing all his chips on New Hampshire, and he has used that success to keep himself in the game.

It used to be that being a governor was the surest path to the White House. Voters liked the executive experience. They typically weren’t caught up explaining endless Senate votes. They knew how to govern. Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush all had executive experience.

When Barack Obama took on John McCain in 2008, it guaranteed that for the first time since 1960, a Senator would get to the White House. It was also the first time in modern history that two Senators went head to head in a Presidential race.

It is not improbable that the Republicans could nominate a Senator in the image of Mr. Obama this year. It requires Donald Trump to fall flat in the next several elections.

I have three theories as to why Senators are doing better in Presidential contests. First, the media landscape has changed, with the rise of the cable news networks, with a bigger focus on Washington.

Second, the parties have become more ideologically homogeneous. The Democrats are much more liberal while the Republicans are much more conservative.   The parties are not picking the most accomplished necessarily but the most faithful to the ideological cause.

Third, there is much less deference to the leadership in both parties. Barack Obama stunned people when he announced he was running for President because he had no record to speak of.

When Rubio and Cruz announced that they were running, they stunned nobody because they had about the same amount of experience as Obama.

The lack of experience is both a plus and a minus. On the plus side, they can say with all seriousness that they are not part of the establishment that people hate. On the negative side, they have no idea what they are doing.

This lack of experience is not in any way seen as disqualifying by a large number of voters.

That explains Donald Trump.

How to explain Donald Trump.

It’s complicated.

First, he is a celebrity. People feel like they know him. They like his business acumen. They like the fact that he makes politics fun.

Second, he cleverly is telling voters, especially the white working class that makes up a big portion of the Republican GOP base, exactly what they want to hear.

They hate and feel stifled by political correctness. He attacks political correctness.

They hate globalization and the insecurity that comes from global competition. He denounces it.

They fear immigrants and immigration. He says he will build a wall with Mexico and make the Mexicans pay for it.

They are worried about terrorism and have no great love of Muslims. He says we should ban them from coming into the country.

Trump has done this all by effectively using social media, especially Twitter, to carry his message on earned media outlets.

He has monster rallies in places that usually value small, intimate get togethers, like New Hampshire and Iowa. He has these rallies to show his overwhelming popularity.

His rallies have the feel of a World Wrestling event. He has villains, usually protesters. He doesn’t have prepared remarks. He usually just wings it.

His rallies almost always make news. The crowd feels like they are part of something big. There’s a sense of excitement. He gains energy from the crowds and they gain energy from him.

His language is unbelievably simple. He doesn’t use big words. He speaks at about a third grade level. His knowledge of issues is slightly more advanced than the average 3rd grader, but not much more.

He doesn’t speak down to his audience. He has a dialogue with them.

It has completely changed the political equation in a way that only a non-politician can change the game.

He is also omnipresent on every cable show. You can hear him on the phone on Meet the Press and on some obscure Fox Business News show.

He doesn’t run many ads. And the ads that he does run could be run on Saturday Night Live. I can’t tell if this all a big joke or not.

But it is no laughing matter.

The establishment didn’t take him seriously at first (and that includes me). And now it might be too late to stop him.

Trump is the king of the misinformed voter.

The misinformed voter is not uninformed.

An uninformed voter acknowledges that he or she doesn’t know the facts and doesn’t express a strong opinion one way or another.

The misinformed voter has the facts wrong, and when faced with contradictory evidence, doubles down on his or her own opinion.

Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler, political scientists at Dartmouth University, did a study of conservative voters in 2010, which showed that there was a “backfire” effect when the voters they studied were confronted with facts that disproved their own understanding of events.

And the problem with the Trump voter is that when they are confronted with facts that disagree with their conclusions, they double down in their support for their leader.

Mitt Romney attacked Trump in a speech last week, and as far as I can tell, it energized Trump voters to vote for Trump.

All studies show that the Trump voters are the most likely to vote early. They are early deciders.

Now not all Republicans are Trump voters. But anybody who can win convincingly in both Alabama and in Massachusetts has some real momentum.

Can Trump be stopped?

I don’t know.

If Trump wins both Ohio and Florida, this thing is over.   He is also currently leading in Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina, all of which happen on March 15.

Now things change. And if John Kasich can make it close in Michigan, it might change the narrative a bit.

And there is some evidence that the Trump momentum is slowing down. But will it slow down enough?

There is some hope that we can get to a second ballot at the Republican convention.

But let’s say that Republicans do have a brokered convention. How do they take it away from Trump if he has by far the most delegates?

And who do they give it to if not Trump? Ted Cruz? No thank you.

If they do try to take it away from Trump, there is no doubt in my mind that he will run as an independent and that will split the Republican Party giving Hillary Clinton the White House.

Turning to the Democrats, who are far less interesting, let me just say that Bernie Sanders will not be the nominee.

The Democrats, who have a thing called Superdelegates, will not allow a Socialist to win their nomination.

Sanders might win a primary and caucus here and there, but the fact is that unless Hillary gets indicted, she will be the nominee.

Mike Bloomberg, by announcing that he is not running for President, made it clear that he wants Hillary to be the one who beats Trump.

Can Trump beat Hillary?

Demographics are destiny.

Republicans have to win about 65 percent of the white vote to overcome Trump’s horrific numbers with Hispanic voters.

Mitt Romney got 59 percent of the white vote and still lost pretty easily.

The big question is will black voters turn out for Hillary in the numbers that they turned out for President Obama.

There hasn’t been three Democratic terms in a row since FDR, so it is by no means an easy task.

President Obama’s approval rating is just barely above 50 percent, which is a huge advantage for Hillary. Unemployment is at 4.9 percent a fact that goes unmentioned on the campaign trail.

So, we will see.