Ted Cruz

A Day for Frontrunners to Forget (Except UConn)

Except for the UConn women’s basketball team, it was a bad day for frontrunners as Donald Trump’s march to the GOP nomination got trickier and the cloud grew grimmer over Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as the Democratic nominee.

Except for the UConn women’s basketball team, it was a bad day for frontrunners as Donald Trump’s march to the GOP nomination got trickier and the cloud grew grimmer over Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as the Democratic nominee.

The only frontrunner to win Tuesday was the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team, which captured its historic fourth straight national championship. Meanwhile, the Republican and Democratic presidential frontrunners lost in Wisconsin, and not by buzzer beaters.

Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders each racked up more than 50 percent of the vote in the Wisconsin Republican and Democratic primaries, respectively. Their wins on Tuesday mean more intrigue in the nominating process, which already has had more twists and turns than whodunits.

The Cruz victory could be the turning point for the “stop Trump” movement. The delegates Cruz won in Wisconsin make it that much harder for Donald Trump to accumulate the required delegates to capture the GOP nomination before the national convention in Cleveland this summer.

The Sanders victory – his sixth straight triumph over frontrunner Hillary Clinton – may not derail the Clinton locomotive to the nomination, but it raises questions about how high her campaign can fly in the fall general election, especially if the young voters activated by Sanders skip voting.

The storylines in the two parties are comically different. The GOP presidential primary has careened from reality show to peep show. The Democratic primary has resembled a coronation disrupted by a grumpy janitor with an agenda.

However, in many ways the nomination process in both parties is eerily similar. “Outsiders” such as Trump, Cruz and Sanders have drawn more votes than anyone would have predicted before the Iowa caucuses in January. Yet, the unpredictability of the outsiders has added an element of suspense that has largely been absent in recent presidential primaries. 

Cruz may block Trump’s march to the nomination, but he may not be the beneficiary of his success. There is rampant talk of a white knight – AKA Speaker Paul Ryan – riding into a contested convention and leaving with the prize in his saddlebag. Even the conservatives who are bent on denying Trump the nomination don’t have much faith in Cruz as a viable national candidate. Lindsey Graham endorsed Cruz, after saying "if you killed Cruz on the floor of the Senate and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”

Sanders’ insurgency has a different effect on Clinton. His outsider campaign emphasizes her insider connections. His plainspoken criticisms of Wall Street, big business and drug companies has underlined her cozy relationships. His bluntness contrasts sharply with her finesse.

Sanders' at times wobbly command of details, as reflected in his interview with the New York Daily News, gives some of his supporters pause. Even though the policies Sanders advocates seem unachievable to most observers, he still comes across as more honest than Clinton. In fact, exit polling shows Clinton failing the honesty test for a hefty chunk of Democratic voters.

Despite the mathematical improbability of Sanders winning enough delegates to elbow aside Clinton at the convention, his string of victories poses more than an inconvenience for the Clinton camp. Sanders only netted a 10-delegate gain from his win in Wisconsin, but that isn’t the real significance of his victory – or victories to come in other states. Democrats have to wonder whether Clinton is too bruised to win in November.

The way the races are shaping up in both parties, Oregonians may be treated to an actual primary contest in May. Sanders has set up a campaign office in Portland and others are likely to follow. We may actually see the candidates and shake their hand while eating an ice cream cone instead of catching a glimpse as they limo in from the airport to a closed-door fundraiser.  

All this means the craziness of the 2016 campaign season will continue into the foreseeable future. There will be more Trump tweets and perhaps even more positions he adopts on the abortion issue. Cruz will step up his crusade against Trump, even as his pessimistic supporters push a “Lose with Cruz” meme. Clinton will have to keep answering questions about a slow-motion FBI investigation into her private email server while secretary of state. Sanders will have to keep explaining how he will turn America into Norway with Medicare and free college tuition for all.

It is a rollercoaster ride that just won’t stop.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Paul Ryan: Designated Relief Pitcher

A desperate GOP establishment has tried pinch hitters and pinch runners to prevent Donald Trump from winning the Republican presidential nomination and now may turn to its successful designated relief pitcher, Paul Ryan.

A desperate GOP establishment has tried pinch hitters and pinch runners to prevent Donald Trump from winning the Republican presidential nomination and now may turn to its successful designated relief pitcher, Paul Ryan.

A move is afoot to draft Paul Ryan as a GOP presidential candidate, which would confirm the Wisconsin Republican’s role as his party's designated relief pitcher.

Ryan, with seeming reluctance, saved the day by agreeing to serve as House Speaker after conservatives drove John Boehner out of the game and objected to other candidates. Ryan was cast as the only Republican that all factions could support.

That’s the thinking behind the Draft Speaker Ryan movement. The Republican Party is in disarray. Donald Trump is leading the presidential pack, but a faceless GOP establishment cabal is desperately trying to block him from winning the nomination. The party’s 2012 standard bearer has called out Trump as a con man and a phony. Marco Rubio has said Trump wet his pants and has tiny hands.

Beyond a distrust and dislike for Trump, Republican establishment figures worry that another Democrat will succeed President Obama. Some have concluded the only viable alternative to defeat this fall is Ryan.

Ted Cruz has made inroads on Trump’s march to the nomination, winning in Kansas and Maine over the weekend and inching closer to Trump’s delegate total. But Cruz could be the only GOP figure detested more than Trump.

Earle Mack, a former ambassador to Finland under President George W. Bush, spearheaded a $1 million Super PAC to draft Ryan. As he did to importuning to become House Speaker, Ryan has dismissed the draft movement and disavowed the SuperPac in a letter to the Federal Election Commission.

It is hard for Ryan to deny an interest in the nation’s top job. He was Romney’s running mate in 2012 and in the eyes of many political observers outshone the top guy on the ballot. Ryan has injected himself into the presidential primary by deploring Trump's racially charged statements.

As Speaker, Ryan has quieted the conservative rebellion, even as he pushed through controversial budget bills. Conservative members said they still disagree with compromising and relying on Democratic votes, but they support Ryan because he has reached out to them and listened.

Ryan has pushed the conservative agenda, but also promised more than just red meat, including a comprehensive health care plan to replace Obamacare.

The 2016 presidential election has been anything but normal, with insults dominating policy discussions, a billionaire activating citizens who feel economically disenfranchised and a socialist seriously challenging the inevitability of Hillary Clinton’s nomination.

A brokered GOP presidential convention could be the perfect setting for a relief pitcher to trot in from the bullpen. Nobody has stronger credentials to become the party’s closer than Paul Ryan.

Rubio Courts Suburban Voters to Dethrone Trump

Marco Rubio is banking on suburban voters to give him the political momentum to derail Donald Trump en route to the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Marco Rubio is banking on suburban voters to give him the political momentum to derail Donald Trump en route to the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Donald Trump is appealing to fed-up voters. Ted Cruz is wooing religious conservatives. Jeb Bush tried to appeal to establishment Republicans. Now Marco Rubio is pursuing a strategy to court suburban voters.

As time is running out in the GOP presidential primary to derail a Trump nomination, Rubio hopes to coalesce all Republican primary voters who haven’t or don’t want to vote for the New York billionaire. So far in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Rubio’s best headline has been that he is “surging.” Pretty quickly, he will have to surge into first place somewhere. 

In a contest seemingly dominated by political segmentation, Rubio and his campaign advisers have chosen to chase suburbanites. Instead of seeking out enclaves of self-identified evangelical voters, Rubio is on the hunt for support in places like Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. He also is campaigning in suburban areas of Denver, Atlanta, Boston, Birmingham and Nashville in the lead-up to major primaries.

According to The Washington Post, Rubio’s “Ankeny Strategy” – Ankeny is a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa – is aimed at voters who relate to the Florida senator. “They can identify with his modest background, his young children and the student loans he had to pay off,” the Post reports. “There are Ankenys all over the country,” says Rich Beeson, Rubio’s deputy campaign manager.

Rubio's campaign points to the candidate’s strong showing in South Carolina’s two most populous counties, which delivered Rubio a narrow second-place finish over Cruz, thanks to successful outreach to suburban voters.

Rubio isn’t the first politician to see the value of suburban voters. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who endorsed Rubio this week, followed that strategy to win the statehouse in a typically blue state.

The underlying Rubio message is that Trump’s appeal is limited, topping out at perhaps 35 to 40 percent of the GOP base. Rubio argues he has conservative credentials to win over Trump and Cruz partisans, while still appealing to swing voters in the suburbs.

Not that long ago, suburban areas such as Beaverton and Hillsboro were reliable Republican strongholds. But the political ground has shifted, making it harder for Republicans to hold on to legislative and congressional seats. Rubio eyes these potential swing areas as the real battleground for the White House this fall.

The Rubio suburban strategy appears to have more political leg than Bush’s failed approach of appealing to the so-called Republican establishment. This strategy also hints at why Rubio has been reluctant to joust publicly with Trump – he believes he can overtake Trump and weld together a broad coalition that includes his backers, many of whom have returned to the political conversation because of Trump.

Regardless of the merits of Rubio’s suburban strategy, he still has to win a primary somewhere, certainly in Florida, his home state, but somewhere else, too. It would seem, based on suburban demographics, his best chances are in Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Colorado and Minnesota. Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia hold their primaries March 1, as part of the so-called SEC Primary. Colorado and Minnesota hold caucuses the same day. If Rubio doesn’t snag a win in one or more of those states, his suburban strategy may have hit a fatal roadblock on Trump’s road to the nomination.

Staying the Course May Be Off Course

Hillary Clinton may be the most experienced and well-versed candidate in the presidential field, but she faces the unpredictable headwinds of an electorate that has given up on the status quo and gone in search of political outsiders.

Hillary Clinton may be the most experienced and well-versed candidate in the presidential field, but she faces the unpredictable headwinds of an electorate that has given up on the status quo and gone in search of political outsiders.

Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton painted herself in the last Democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses as the candidate who would defend President Obama’s legacy. That message faces stiff headwinds in this election cycle where voters on the political right and left have lost patience with the status quo.

The evidence is in the strength in the GOP presidential primary of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who thumb their noses at anyone in the political mainstream, including members of their own party. The surge of support for Bernie Sanders, who calls for a political revolution and makes unvarnished attacks on big banks, big drug companies and big campaign donors, suggests voter unrest resides in both major parties.

In the space of a week, anyone paying attention was treated to three pictures of America, which could easily be described as three alternate realities.

Obama’s final State of the Union address to Congress touted his administration’s achievements in health care, the economy and diplomacy. The Republican presidential debate was coated with an apocalyptic tone that depicted American leadership as feeble, feckless and failing. The Democratic presidential debate walked through a host of specific issues, leaving an impression that progress had occurred, but nearly enough, especially on health care reform, breaking up big banks and curbing the power of billionaire political donors.

Allowing for typical political hyperbole in an election season, the chasms between the three visions were stark and startling.

It fell to Hillary Clinton to add perspective, noting that the largest abyss is between the Democrats and Republicans running for President. She characterized her candidacy as one of building on Obama’s achievements, not tearing them down and starting over, especially the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial reforms.

However, defending the status quo may make Clinton vulnerable in an election year where reality and facts matter less than fiction and fear.

By almost any measure, Clinton is the most experienced and well-versed presidential candidate in either party. When asked about the big issues, she gives the most specific answers, often laced with personal involvement in the issue as a former First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State. Though appealing in most elections, that kind of knowledge runs counter to the current mood.

Vox published a piece last week titled, “The GOP debate described a terrifying world that doesn’t actually exist.” Examples it points to included the Cruz plug for “13 Hours,” the new movie that depicts the 2012 Benghazi attacks based on a debunked conspiracy theory, exaggerated descriptions of ISIS and the threat of domestic terrorism.

“For perspective: The number of Americans killed per year by terrorism is the same as the number crushed to death by their own furniture,” noted Vox reporter Zach Beauchamp. That contrasts, he added, with 33,000 deaths caused by firearms, which GOP candidates failed to mention in their zeal to defend the 2nd Amendment.

Sanders’ call for a political revolution centers on reversing the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, which paved the way for Super PACs and large individual and corporate campaign donations. While many Democrats agree with him, old political hands don’t see that happening soon – or at all.

Breaking up big banks, which Sanders says control a huge proportion of the U.S. gross domestic product, has been discussed and, according to Clinton, is possible under existing provisions of Dodd-Frank. Moving to a single-payer universal health care system, as Sanders advocates, has been debated, too. Neither idea passed when Democrats held the presidency while maintaining control of the House and Senate. They are less likely to get anywhere under the split government control of today.

Manufactured threats or overblown ambitions haven’t dissuaded voters. They flock to rallies for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Trump’s supporters tend to be angry white people who see their security slipping away, while Sanders appeals to restless young people who worry about inheriting an uncertain future.

Political convulsions, while painful to watch and experience, can produce momentous change. That appears to be what many Americans from across the political spectrum want. And even though Hillary Clinton might be the best prepared to navigate major change, she may be viewed as too wedded to the past to be given the chance.

The Shadow of Government Shutdowns

Political conservatives, egged on by GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, want to shut down the federal government in an effort to defund Planned Parenthood. The last shutdown Cruz helped engineer reduced U.S. economic output by $24 billion.

Political conservatives, egged on by GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, want to shut down the federal government in an effort to defund Planned Parenthood. The last shutdown Cruz helped engineer reduced U.S. economic output by $24 billion.

GOP presidential candidates, led by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, are batting around the idea of a federal government shutdown as a means to defund Planned Parenthood. If they succeed, it would be the 19th partial closure of federal agencies since 1976.

The shutdowns don't typically last long – the longest was 21 days in a stand-off between President Bill Clinton and a GOP-led Congress over a budget.

The most recent shutdown, which lasted 16 days, occurred in 2013, resulting in furloughs of 800,000 non-essential federal workers and the closure of national parks and memorials. Cruz was the ringleader of an effort to prevent passage of a spending resolution as leverage to defund parts of Obamacare.

Cruz has equated shutting down the federal government with carrying through on campaign promises to repeal Obamacare. He has blamed "establishment Republicans," including GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for undermining efforts to win conservative ideological victories.

Campaigning for President, Cruz has a new target – Planned Parenthood. The leverage this time is a resolution to raise the debt limit, which the Treasury Department says is needed sometime early this fall, perhaps as soon as a couple of weeks from now.

McConnell and GOP House Speaker John Boehner have repeatedly said the nation's credit shouldn't be put at risk over political battles. Boehner's stance contributes to festering disaffection in the right wing of his House Republican conference and could even lead to a challenge to his Speakership.

The build-up to the debt ceiling vote has been muted in part because of media attraction to the more raucous debate over the Iran nuclear deal. Just before the congressional deadline to act last week, the air went out of that debate when enough Democratic senators refused to end a filibuster. The House took votes, but they were most symbolic and largely overlooked.

General political wisdom indicates that forcing a government shutdown, regardless of the principle involved, isn't a winning electoral strategy. A new report issued this week shows why.

"Government Disservice,"produced by the Partnership for Public Service, suggests that shutting down the federal government – and threatening to shut it down – have become a way of life in Washington, DC.

"The negative effect on the ability of the agencies to fulfill their missions has often seemed to be of little concern to many lawmakers, some of whom are focused on the appropriations process to win specific policy battles or to control spending or reduce the federal budget deficit," the report concludes.

In addition to disrupting actual governmental services, shutdowns or threatened shutdowns demoralize federal employees, especially ones who live paycheck to paycheck and face financial stress when they aren't working. Some employees say they have become pawns in political chess games that waste taxpayer money planning for, carrying out and recovering from shutdowns.

The report's findings says congressional oversight of federal agencies is more focused on headlines, than improvements. The report calls for a biennial budget to "reduce the disruption that stems from dysfunctional budget and appropriations processes." On a more practical level, the report suggests members from both side of the political aisle get to know each other and spend time learning what federal agencies do and how the legislative process works.

Shutting government down over issues related to abortion is not new either. There was a 12-day shutdown in the fall of 1977 related to Medicaid abortion coverage, followed by a pair of 8-day shutdowns later in the same year dubbed Abortion Shutdown II and Abortion Shutdown III. There was an 11-day shutdown in the fall of 1979 that included a dispute over abortion funding.

More recent shutdowns have tended to center on spending priorities and deficit reduction. However in 1984, after a 2-day shutdown over quarrels involving crime fighting, civil rights and water projects, there was a 1-day continuation of the shutdown because the temporary measure Congress passed to end the shutdown didn't do the trick.

Related Link: The looming shutdown is ‘government disservice’ to U.S. taxpayers and employees

Winnowing Presidential Wannabes

Candidates are spending more time talking about airing their dirty laundry than issues.

Candidates are spending more time talking about airing their dirty laundry than issues.

This is the time in the election cycle when presidential candidates spend less time talking to voters than to donors, as well as less time talking about issues than skeletons in their closets.

Viability is determined by how much money you can bank and whether you can withstand blowback from past indiscretions, missteps or wayward relatives.

Take Hillary Clinton, for example. She is weathering attacks about donations from foreign interests to the Clinton Foundation, her use of private email as secretary of state and influence peddling by her younger brother. Mixed in there is the weirdly timed revival of Monica Lewinsky's involvement with Bill Clinton. All this baggage has taken a toll in Hillary Clinton's confidence level, but not her electability. She still leads the field by solid margins.

Clinton isn't alone in vetting political laundry, though in some cases, the vetting doesn't appear intentional. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee flubbed Sunday news show questioning about his endorsement of a diabetes drug that health professionals claim has no proven value. Huckabee, who entered the GOP presidential race last week, also faced questions about his ethics as governor when he purportedly asked friends to shower him with gifts.

Senator Marco Rubio is under the microscope because of his relationship to a political super daddy in Florida. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has received scrutiny for some of his business associations. Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina has been criticized for her performance as the top dog at the high tech giant, for running a bungling campaign for the U.S. Senate and not ever holding elected office.

Then there is retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson who has won right-wing disciples, but raised the eyebrows or just about everyone else for some of his political comments, such as one that coupled homosexuality with pedophilia and bestiality. He also called Obamacare the "worst thing to happen" since slavery.

Carson's jaw-dropping comments have poached on political space normally occupied by Senator Ted Cruz, who once compared Obamacare to Nazism, but now has enrolled in the national health insurance exchange, and former Senator Rick Santorum, who proudly told the National Rifle Association he gave ammo to his wife for her birthday.

For voters straining to find out what presidential wannabes plan to do about issues such as fighting Islamic State jihadists here and abroad, negotiating international trade deals or reducing income inequality, they will have to wait. This isn't the time to promise what you will do; it is time to air out what you have done. And raise money, piles of money.

This is the American way of winnowing the field of hopefuls. Air dirty laundry early while asking big donors for millions in donations. The candidates who can land on their feet and bag the most campaign cash will be the ones we ultimately get to vote on, whether we like it or not.

Bumper Crop of Candidates for Satire

Hillary Clinton wheeling around Iowa in her Scooby van is just the tip of the satirical iceberg for the latest bumper crop of presidential wannabes.

Hillary Clinton wheeling around Iowa in her Scooby van is just the tip of the satirical iceberg for the latest bumper crop of presidential wannabes.

People choose political candidates for lots of reasons, including how well they can be parodied on shows like Saturday Night Live. This year's presidential field looks like a bummer crop of candidates who will provide the ridiculous comments and embarrassing moments that brighten up late-night TV.

Hillary Clinton's official entrance into the presidential sweepstakes over the weekend touched off a wave of negative blasts from political conservatives. But the writers at SNL were licking their chops as the former First Lady headed to Iowa to campaign in a van named "Scooby." You can see the skit take shape.

Clinton faces no serious Democratic challenger so far, so may have to run a shadow-boxing campaign against make-believe opponents. That will be funny to watch on Saturday nights.

Rand Paul entered the race last week and immediately engaged in a series of testy media interviews. This may be a ploy by Paul and his team to "expose" the liberal news media, even though some fellow Republicans thought it "exposed" Paul as an angry candidate. SNL couldn't be happier. It hasn't had a candidate this petulant to parody since Ross Perot.

Ted Cruz was the first candidate to dive officially into the presidential waters. Shunning his home state of Texas as a backdrop, Cruz made his announcement at Liberty University, where, as he often does, Cruz took liberties with facts. His candidacy will excite both SNL and its satirical sister, Fox News.

The latest to join the fray is Marco Rubio, who chose a historic setting in Miami to emphasize his roots from Cuban immigrants. Rubio was one of the key Senate brokers on an immigration reform bill that is anathema to a large chunk of the GOP voters he must now try to woo. The skit almost writes itself of Rubio speaking Spanish to a clump of Iowa farmers.

Soon Jeb Bush is expected to declare his candidacy, unless he plans to turn his sizable campaign warchest into a private hedge fund. The prospect of a Bush III versus Clinton II campaign next fall will inspire all sorts of satire from just about every segment of the political spectrum.

Lindsey Graham, the just re-elected senator from South Carolina who often appears like an aide-de-camp of former GOP presidential nominee John McCain, is exploring a presidential run. It will be too tempting, if he does run, not to spoof him as the grizzled McCain's youthful protege – think Dick Cheney and George W. Bush.

And these are just the big rollers. There are dark horses roaming around the countryside that could add even more comic fizz to the mix. Voters may rue that the presidential election has started, but people who love comedy can wait for the satire to start.

Senator Cruz Does Custer

You know something must be wrong when a U.S. senator threatens to filibuster the bill he supports to win. That's exactly what Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, proposes to do to block implementation of Obamacare.

Cruz has been barnstorming the country to put the fear of God in his fellow Republicans to make one last stand to block the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's signature first-term achievement, before it goes fully into effect.

The vehicle for this derailment of a three-year-old law, which has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, is something called a Continuing Resolution, essentially a catch-all funding bill that will allow the federal government to continue to operate when its new fiscal year begins October 1.

Last week, the GOP-controlled House muscled through a Continuing Resolution that would defund Obamacare. Senate Democrats, who control the upper chamber, scoffed at the idea and plan simply to amend the House-passed Continuing Resolution by deleting the Obamacare defunding provision. No problem, you say, since Democrats hold 54 seats and the amendment only requires 51 votes to pass.

Here is where Senate procedures come into play. Senators reserve the right to filibuster. A filibuster can be halted by a cloture vote, which requires 60 votes. Cruz is gambling he can round up 41 of the 45 Senate Republicans to join him in blocking cloture. He believes Senate Democrats will have little choice but to yield and ultimately agree to the House-passed Continuing Resolution.