Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Cruising the Web

With the possibility of a contested convention looming, we're learning all sorts of details about how the convention and delegate selection rules work in the Republican Party. There is a whole lot going on behind the scenes that goes beyond just who wins on the day of a primary or caucus. And it seems that the Cruz campaign is much smarter and active in finding ways to squeeze out a few more delegates or seeding state delegations with their supporters. Sasha Issenberg, the author of the fascinating book Victory Lab which explained how analytics are changing elections, writes at Bloomberg explains what is going on.
In many states, primaries and caucuses are just the most public face-off in a multi-step process to select the individual delegates who will choose the party’s nominee. Only a small share of the 2,472 total convention delegates are free to pick the candidate of their choice, regardless of the election’s outcome, on the first ballot, while about three-quarters of them are gradually freed to do so on subsequent votes. That means there is a small pool of so-called unbound delegates who are pure free agents, but a much larger number who can be recruited throughout the spring as double agents—delegates who arrive in Cleveland pledged to Trump, all the while working in cahoots with one of his opponents and confessing their true allegiances once it is safe to do so....

At Cruz’s Houston headquarters, a six-person team overseen by political operatives, lawyers, and data analysts is effectively re-enacting the primary calendar, often with the aim of placing double agents in Trump slates. The ability to pick up new adherents during the state-convention phase invites Trump’s rivals to look anew at the map of his victories, based on the rules governing individual states. The 36 delegates Trump won in Alabama will be bound to him throughout the nominating process, but the 40 he won in Georgia are free to vote for whomever they choose after the first ballot. Georgia holds its county conventions on Saturday to select delegates for district conventions a month later—the week’s most important stop on the shadow-campaign trail.
The Trump campaign hasn't been all that notable for its ability to organize the nitty gritty of campaign organizing on the ground. The Cruz people will be working the Georgia conventions hard. I wonder how involved the Trump campaign is at such a level.

Then there is the clout that Republican governors often have over the selection of the slate of delegates to the convention. While those delegates have to vote as the state voted on the first ballot, they are, in many instances, going to be free to vote their own choice after that. And that is when it will become key to see who chose those delegates. For example, Trump won South Carolina, but Nikki Haley, a Rubio supporter, will control the choice of delegates.
Party bosses stand ready to gut some of Trump’s greatest primary-season successes. He won every one of South Carolina’s 50 delegates, by finishing first statewide and in each congressional district, but Trump is powerless to fill that slate with his own people. To serve as a national delegate from South Carolina, one has to have been a delegate to the 2015 state convention—held more than a month before Trump announced his candidacy—and the approximately 1,000 eligible voters come from the same pool. Campaigns for the delegate slots are already underway. Some candidates have begun e-mailing voters, and often they spend small sums of money on campaign materials, like stickers. They all get the chance to address the local conventions before the ballot, and would probably be better off saying they will follow the lead of anti-Trumpers Nikki Haley and Lindsey Graham than the primary voters. “Whoever is chosen for national delegate will have allegiance to the party establishment, and the party establishment is never going to be fond of Donald Trump,” says a South Carolina Republican insider.
And there is no law against a candidate or Super PAC from giving delegates some financial incentive for voting for their guy. They can offer jobs in a future administration as has been done since the nation's beginning. Or they can just offer to pick up the expenses for a delegate to travel to Cleveland. So far Donald Trump has been able to run his campaign without spending all that much of his personal fortune. He might have to open his wallet at this stage to demonstrate that he truly knows how to make deals.

The party will also be ruling on challenges to delegates. Usually, this is all done behind the scenes and no one really is aware of what is going on. If Trump doesn't hit that magical 1237, expect there to be challenges galore.
Trump opponents will be aided by the fog of chaos that has surrounded his candidacy. Investigators deployed by an opponent’s campaign or super-PAC can seek out cases of “disorganization and confusion”—as Romney lawyers described it when they successfully challenged the results of a 2012 Maine convention taken over by Paul supporters—to knock out Trump slates nationwide.

Reports of caucus-site irregularities in Nevada—ballot shortages, unreliable check-in procedures, supposedly neutral election officials wearing Trump garb in violation of party rules—were quickly forgotten when Trump carried the state by a convincing margin of more than 20 points. But anti-Trump forces may now be eager to revisit them. Successfully demonstrating that the process violated Nevada Republican Party rules would not only jeopardize the 14 delegates that the winner was awarded but put all 30 of the state’s delegates back into play. A challenge would have to begin at the state party convention in May, and be brought before the RNC by mid-June. Investigators would have to begin collecting affidavits well before that.
And there will be challenges to the rules that will have to be decided at the convention. I don't envy Paul Ryan being in the position of having to rule on all those challenges.

Ben Ginsberg, the GOP lawyer who has been involved in several election fights, explains how a loss for Trump in either Ohio or Florida, we'll be likely to see just the sort of mess that Sasha Issenberg was predicting.
Trump suggested in Thursday night’s debate that the leading candidate, even one shy of a majority, should automatically receive the nomination. But to allow a candidate to be declared the nominee with only a plurality of delegates would require the unprecedented amendment of the existing rules, a feat of rules wizardry as transformative as denying a candidate with a majority the nomination.

Rather than a wholesale rewriting of the rules, the more likely scenario is that if Trump goes into the convention without a majority, he will need to convince enough of the few unbound delegates there to support him. (The unbound delegates consists of those from five states that decided not to hold statewide votes, as well as 54 from Pennsylvania who were directly elected without declaring a presidential preference.) That approach is consistent with the existing rules—but it won’t be easy. In fact, it could lead to convention mayhem.

President Gerald Ford, who went into the 1976 convention without a majority, had to do this to defeat Ronald Reagan. But Trump would be in a tougher spot: In the first presidential roll call vote at the convention, a rule in effect for the first time in 2016 automatically binds more than 90 percent of delegates to specific candidates based on those delegates’ statewide votes. That leaves only a very small pool of delegates that Trump could win over in order to reach a majority on the first ballot: 166 delegates who are already unbound, plus an unknown number whose state laws will unbind them if their candidate drops out by the time of the convention. (There are currently 12 of these delegates, but, importantly, that number will increase if one of the current candidates drops out. For example, should Marco Rubio drop out without winning any additional delegates, 152 delegates would be added to the unbound pool, nearly doubling the number available to Trump’s powers of persuasion to gain a first-ballot majority.)

As things stand now, however, Trump would need to win over a dauntingly high portion of the 166 unbound delegates—nearly 90 percent—in order to get the 149 delegates he would need to reach an overall majority. And many of these unbound delegates are likely to be supporters of candidates Trump has defeated, and could have a less-than-kind view of him.
That is why we shouldn't expect Rubio to drop out, even if he loses today. He'll stay in or suspend his campaign so his delegates won't be freed up to be tempted by Trumpian largesse. If Trump fails on the first ballot, the delegates become increasingly unbound and then can vote their choice. That is why the processes that Issenberg was outlining for having influence on how the delegates are chosen in each state will suddenly be so crucial.
The painful reality for the candidates is that they actually have very little say in this process, which varies greatly from state to state. Just over a quarter of the total delegates are picked directly by the candidates who win specific states. But under the fierce federalism practiced by the Republican Party, about 73 percent of the delegates—those in 44 of the 56 states and territories—will be chosen by state conventions or executive committees consisting of local activists, volunteers and elected officials. State conventions or committees may or may not select as delegates people who personally support the candidate they are bound to vote for on the first ballot.

In 2012, the convention rules committee considered an amendment to give the candidates more say in picking individual delegates. That amendment (which I supported as a member of the committee) was soundly defeated. State GOP officials made clear they wanted to be able to pick the people who worked hardest for, or gave the most money to, the state parties. They feared candidates would reward their supporters at the expense of party regulars.

Delegate selection also matters for more than just who the nominee is. Even delegates who are bound to specific candidates on the presidential roll call vote are not required to follow those candidates’ wishes for votes on party rules, challenges over which individuals from a state should be seated as its delegates, the party platform or any procedural matter to come before the convention, including the choice of a vice president or who should be the chair of the convention.
Organization will be key. Which campaign can have organizers in the 44 states where conventions and committees pick the delegates? And which campaign can keep track of all those delegates at the convention to make sure they vote the way the campaign wants.
With so many delegates becoming unbound after the first ballot, campaigns will need both data and human interaction of unprecedented sophistication in order to know each delegate’s true loyalties, whom they might listen to as they vote and what positions on what issues most motivate them.

Don’t think for a moment that the rules were designed to create any of these scenarios. But stuff happens, and a new codicil for the Law of Unintended Consequences is more likely than ever. What’s clear is that if the front-runner doesn’t have a majority by July 18, convention goers should check if they can extend their hotel reservations in Cleveland.
Ah, such fun.

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This is an excellent example of how signing onto the Trump traveling show has transformed all that used to make Chris Christie admirable.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie skipped the funeral Monday of a state trooper killed in his home state to hit the campaign trail with Donald Trump.
Really? The man who excoriated Marco Rubio for missing votes and not doing his job is going to campaign events with Trump instead of attending a funeral for a state trooper. The old Chris Christie would never have made that choice. The Daily News writes,
One week ago, we decried failed presidential candidate Chris Christie — who’d just returned to his big job vowing to get “back to work” — jetting off for an anniversary getaway even as the Garden State faced a potentially crippling transit strike.

This week, it’s clear that the AWOL governor (taxpayer-funded salary: $175,000) isn’t through insulting Jerseyites.

Rather than pay his respects Monday at the funeral of State Trooper Sean Cullen — who died in the line of duty in a fatal accident — Christie flew to North Carolina and Florida to play sidekick, again, to short-tempered vulgarian Donald Trump. This after vowing he would not be a “full-time surrogate” for the bloviator’s campaign.

There were the two men, who regularly recite paeans to police officers, on stage in comfy chairs, while hundreds in Christie’s home state mourned an actual police officer lost in the line of duty.

Christie has called law enforcement officers “the most mistreated people” in the country. He has complained about “a chill wind blowing through law enforcement in this country.”
Now this is a resounding reason to take Ben Carson's advice to vote for Trump.
Ben Carson said on Monday that even if Donald Trump turned out to be a lousy president, he’ll only be in office for four years.
"Even if Donald Trump turns out not to be such a great president, which I don't think is the case, I think he's going to surround himself with really good people, but even if he didn't, we're only looking at four years as opposed to multiple generations and perhaps the loss of the American dream forever," Carson told Newsmax's Steve Malzberg.

Trump tells us that he will be able to accomplish great things because he will hire the best people. And then whenever his business failures are pointed out, he blames someone else. And now he has had to fire his Illinois campaign director for being unable to organize the state and the get out the vote operation. Reading stories like this makes me wonder if Trump will be able to organize the sort of operation necessary to influence delegates to the convention that Sasha Issenberg and Ben Ginsberg were explaining above.

The WSJ sees how Donald Trump is the Melissa Click of politics. Trump's supporters might enjoy how he confronts the politically correct pieties of the left, but he's not above borrowing their tactics in imposing their own censorship on those with whom they disagree.
What’s as disturbing, however, is Mr. Trump’s apparent instinct to respond to the protesters in kind. This includes his denunciations of free political speech. A few weeks ago he said he would rewrite the libel laws to sue the press to muzzle his critics. He has threatened this newspaper with a defamation suit merely because we noted his evident lack of knowledge about the Pacific trade deal. In Kansas City on Saturday he assailed “lying, thieving reporters.”

Worse, his reckless language can seem to condone violence from his supporters. Last month he responded to one protester by saying that “the guards are very gentle with him. He’s walking out, like, big high-fives, smiling, laughing.” Then he added, to loud cheers, “I’d like to punch him in the face, I tell ya.”

Like the left-wing professor at the University of Missouri who called last year for “muscle” to evict conservatives, Mr. Trump said in Kansas City he would have responded to a protester “boom, boom, boom” as he made a fist. He also said his campaign may pay the legal fees of one of his supporters who sucker-punched a protester in the face as he was being led out of a rally this week.

Mr. Trump has shown no desire to tone any of this down, and perhaps he figures it will mobilize supporters to vote in Tuesday’s important primaries. He may be right in that short-term political calculation, but the cost could be very high if he wins the nomination. Americans want a President they can respect, not one who is a constant source of turmoil.

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Garry Kasparov, chess champion and Russian dissident, resents being lectured by Bernie Sanders about socialism because he's actually lived under such a regime and knows what it means.
The problem is with the proposed solutions. A society that relies too heavily on redistributing wealth eventually runs out of wealth to redistribute. The historical record is clear. It’s capitalism that brought billions of people out of poverty in the 20th century. It’s socialism that enslaved them and impoverished them. Of course Senator Sanders does not want to turn America into a totalitarian state like the one I grew up in. But it’s a valuable example of the inevitable failure of a state-run economy and distribution system. (Check in on Venezuela for a more recent example.) Once you give power to the government it is nearly impossible to get it back, and it will be used in ways you cannot expect.

The USSR collapsed because it couldn’t compete over time, despite its massive resources and devout ideology. The Soviets put a man in space before America but couldn’t keep up the pace against an innovating, free-market competitor. My Facebook post went around the world on technology created in America. The networks, the satellites, the software, nearly every ingredient in every mobile device and desktop computer, was invented in the USA. It is not a coincidence that the most capitalist country in the world created all these things. Innovation requires freedom of thought, freedom of capital, and people who believe in changing the world.

Yes, the free market can be cruel and it is by definition unequal. It has winners and losers. It also sparks the spirit of creativity that humanity desperately needs to flourish in our ever-increasing billions. Failure is an essential part of innovation and the free market. Of every 10 new companies, perhaps nine will fail in brutal Darwinian competition. A centrally-planned economy cannot imitate this engine of creative destruction because you cannot plan for failure. You cannot predestine which two college dropouts in a garage will produce the next Apple.

A popular rebuttal is to invoke the socialist leanings of several European countries with high living standards, especially in Scandinavia. Why can’t America be more like happy Denmark, with its high taxes and giant public sector, or at least more like France? Even the more pro-free-market United Kingdom has national health care, after all. First off, comparing relatively small, homogeneous populations to the churning, ocean-spanning American giant is rarely useful. And even the most socialist of the European countries only became wealthy enough to embrace redistribution after free-market success made them rich. Still, why cannot America follow this path if that is what the people want? What is the problem if American voters are willing to accept higher taxes in exchange for greater security in the embrace of the government?

The answer takes us back to all those inventions America has produced decade after decade. As long as Europe had America taking risks, investing ambitiously, attracting the world’s dreamers and entrepreneurs, and yes, being unequal, it could benefit from the results without making the same sacrifices. Add to that the incalculable windfall of not having to spend on national defense thanks to America’s massive investment in a global security umbrella. America doesn’t have the same luxury of coasting on the ambition and sacrifice of another country.
Bravo! But I don't expect a guy who honeymooned in the Soviet Union and seems to have learned little since then to understand.

William McGurn reminds us that, with all the discussion of Trump as an aspiring authoritarian, both Obama and Hillary have embraced the "soft despotism" of the administrative state as described in Philip Hamburgers important work, Is Administrative Law Unlawful? We've been seeing the increasing use of administrative agencies being given legislative, executive, and judicial powers to impose regulations and then judge and impose penalties on those thought to have violated those regulations.
Now, it’s certainly possible that a President Trump would seed the federal agencies with men and women who would abuse their powers for Trumpian outcomes. In real life, however, the compulsion to decree to one’s neighbor what’s best for him (and use the federal government to enforce it) is an affliction of modern American liberalism. In other words, the kind of people Hillary Clinton, if elected, would rely on to fill the federal bureaucracies, every last one of them eager and willing to impose rules on the American people that would never fly in Congress.
Obama has been bragging about doing this ever since the GOP retook Congress. If Hillary is elected, she promises to continue this soft despotism.

If Trump does secure the nomination to run against Hillary, expect some version of this ad that the anti-Trump Our Principles PAC to run over and over. And it will have a much bigger impact than the whole War on Women nonsense run against Romney in 2012.
It might not hurt him now among all those people voting for Trump because he expresses their anger against political correctness. But it will have an impact in November.

Of course, Hillary is such a bad politician that she will do her best to allow Trump to giver her a run for the money. Here is her most recent gaffe.
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton committed her second gaffe in as many days on the campaign trail Monday night, claiming that the U.S. "didn't lose a single person" in Libya during her time as secretary of state.

Clinton made the comment defending her push for regime change in the war-torn North African nation at an Illinois town hall hosted by MSNBC.

"Now, is Libya perfect? It isn't," Clinton said. After contrasting her approach toward Libya with the ongoing bloodshed in Syria's civil war, Clinton said "Libya was a different kind of calculation and we didn't lose a single person ... We didn’t have a problem in supporting our European and Arab allies in working with NATO."

Clinton made no mention of the Sept. 11, 2012 terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans: U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, information officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALS Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
What sort of blind spot must she have to say something like that?

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Bret Stephens has read Obama's interview with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, The Obama Doctrine. Stephens is appalled at Obama's fatuity.
Still, it’s a deep dive into a shallow mind. Mr. Obama’s recipe for Sunni-Shiite harmony in the Middle East? The two sides, says Mr. Obama, “need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood,” sounding like Mr. Rogers. The explanation for the “sh— show” (the president’s words) in Libya? “I had more faith in the Europeans,” he says, sounding like my 12-year-old blaming her 6-year-old sister for chores not done. The recipe for better global governance? “If only everyone could be like the Scandinavians, this would all be easy,” he says, sounding like—Barack Obama.

Then there’s Mr. Obama the political theorist. “Real power means you can get what you want without having to exert violence,” the president says in connection to Vladimir Putin’s gambles in Ukraine and Syria. That’s true, in a Yoda sort of way. But isn’t seizing foreign territory without anyone doing much to stop you also a form of “real power”? Is dictatorial power fake because it depends on the threat of force?

Elsewhere, Mr. Obama airily dismisses the concept of “credibility” in U.S. foreign policy, noting that Ronald Reagan’s decision to pull U.S. troops from Lebanon after the 1983 Marine barracks bombing didn’t affect U.S. credibility with China or Russia. That’s debatable. But the withdrawal affected our credibility with Iran, which was behind the bombing, and with a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden.

“Where was this false courage of yours when the explosion in Beirut took place in 1983?” bin Laden asked in his 1996 declaration of war on the U.S., which also cited Bill Clinton’s abrupt withdrawal from Somalia after the 1993 Black Hawk Down incident. “You left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you.”

As for current threats, Mr. Goldberg asks Mr. Obama what he would do if Mr. Putin made a move against Moldova, “another vulnerable post-Soviet state.” Mr. Obama’s answer—“if it’s really important to somebody, and it’s not that important to us, they know that, and we know that”—is of the April Glaspie school of diplomacy. So long, Moldova.

Mr. Goldberg also discloses that Mr. Kerry has begged the president to launch cruise missile strikes against the Assad regime in Syria, for the sake of a little leverage in negotiations. Mr. Obama has brushed the requests away. Mr. Assad can at last rest easy, if he isn’t already....

Summing up the president’s worldview, Mr. Goldberg describes him as a “Hobbesian optimist”—which philosophically must be the equivalent of a Jew for Jesus. But Mr. Obama has shown that he lacks Hobbes’s understanding that Leviathan must fill the vacuums that will otherwise be filled by an ISIS or a Putin, or an optimist’s belief that American power can shape the world for the better.

The French diplomat Charles de Talleyrand once said of the (restored) Bourbon dynasty that “they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing.” Given the mix of score-settling and delusion on display in this interview, that may well be the president’s foreign-policy epitaph, too.

If you haven't had enough of abstruse election rules and laws, Todd Zywicki explains why a contested Republican convention is unlikely to lead to a third-party challenge from either Trump or the anti-Trump folks.
The problem is one of state ballot access laws, which provide different filing deadlines and signature thresholds from one state to another. The Republican convention is in Cleveland from July 18 to July 21. Yet according to this list on Ballotpedia (I assume it is accurate), 12 states have deadlines for ballot access on or before July 21 (including several large states such as Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Texas). Another 14 states have deadlines that fall between the end of the convention and Aug. 2, during which a candidate would be required to assemble a team to acquire thousands or in some cases tens of thousands of signatures (in general, however, most of these states seem to have relatively low signature thresholds). Twenty-five state deadlines fall after Aug. 2, but many are still in early August.

Whatever happens in Cleveland, one thing thus seems almost certain — it will not produce a spontaneous third-party candidacy for president. If one of the Republican field is thinking of running as a third-party candidate, they would need to decide to do so before the Cleveland convention, which would also almost certainly doom their prospects of being the Republican nominee in the interim. In some cases they would be required to do so well before the convention and before the primaries even end. There are some news reports that some Republicans are considering doing that, which would require deciding well before the Republican candidate is finally identified.

This doesn’t rule out a write-in candidacy, of course (which would be much more difficult). Nor does it rule out that possibility that those who supported a defeated candidate might simply choose not to vote or might vote for the Democratic nominee. This analysis leaves aside so-called “sore loser” laws (which Ballotpedia claims are rarely invoked in presidential elections). But the timing simply doesn’t work for a third-party challenge.

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Andrew Klavan nails the ridiculousness of all those people supporting Trump because they're so very, very angry.

My favorite story this week is that CBS's greedy effort to extend the March Madness selection show to a tedious two hours was damaged by someone leaking the bracket early. I hope the ridicule and anger directed at CBS will teach them a good lesson. I like this idea.