Friday, February 26, 2016

"Gary Gary Gary Gary Anderson..."

Well then.  A few thoughts:

1. Premier League Darts is worth doing.  Well worth doing.  It started with Adrian Lewis checking out on 142, and then finishing a win from 3-5 down on double 1, after Wade missed the same.  Michael Van Gerwin set a record average for television, the Power was brilliant under serious pressure, and the reigning Scottish world champion triumphant.  If you have tickets, let me know, I can give you some advice on how to make the most of it.  Leave it to the darts folks to figure out the best way to sell people four pints at a time and carry them away with plastic...

2. Trump's closing: "The politicians will never get it done.  I will get it done."  So funny, but his message is clarion clear.  His pouting is extraordinary.  "I have dealt with much tougher," he says as soon as he is off the stage.  "The problem with Marco is that he is a choke artist.  He looked like he came out of a swimming pool, he was soaking wet with sweat."

3. It took awhile for the Aberdeen folks to catch on to the Trump hat, but near the end it was pretty fun.  The dress-up is solid, although by far the best atmosphere was on the public bus back to the city centre.  One of these days Scotland will qualify for a major football tournament and that will be an experience worth joining.

4.  So tired.

5.  The Granite City.  Suffering as the self-proclaimed oil capital of the world, although like Newcastle you would never guess it from a night out.  The Grill may be the best Scotch bar in the world, and the Talisker 18 beyond compare.

6.  How will Trump's bullying play out?  Impossible to predict.  I just don't see how you can ride that tactic all the way to the White House, but at least the battle is finally fully engaged.  No real insights, other than to say how funny it is to see the reactions when I pull out my phone and show some photos from New Hampshire.  I expect I'll be dining out on that for awhile.

7.  I should add for posterity that Arsenal lost Tuesday and it was disappointing.  We actually had them on the run, a poorer side without Xavi.  Need to be more cynical and less naive.  Play the kids at Camp Nou and try and win the double so that we can immortalize that Joel Campbell chant.  Realistically that's what I'll need as incentive to return to these shores pre-Euros.  No reason it can't be done.

8.  Ok, enough randomness for this leap month, and then some.  Carry me home.  Still for my money the best video there is.  Oh...  Gary Gary!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Five Years Have Past;

...five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear...
One of Wordsworth's finest comes to mind this morning, as it is just about that length of days since that most famous of Arshavin goals put Messi and co. to the sword at the Emirates.  And we were there to see it.  That game, and the memorable celebrations in the aftermath at the Gunners pub, surely one of the early reasons why I have grown so attached to this football club over the years since.  After the surprising win at Olympiakos in December, it felt inevitable that Barca would be drawn again, and when they were there was nothing to be done but ensure that I would make my way back over and inside the stadium for it once again.

It is the hope that inspires and the hope that kills.  Back in February '11, the match preview from Goonerholic called it the game the planet wants to watch, and the 'holic pound was wagered on a straight Arsenal win at 3/1.  This year the bet is the same, although the odds on the win are up to 4/1.  That sounds about right.  A difficult and mountainous task, but... whisper it... "it's not impossible." 

As I head out for the always enjoyable pre-match rituals, there are a host of things on my mind, but one in particular paramount above the others.  Here's hoping for some moments that will live as long in the memory as the last time we welcomed the best team in the world to North London.  You really cannot ask for anything more in the world than that.  It is truly special when you can honestly say that there is no other place in the world you would rather be at a specific point in time than exactly where you are.  That's when you know you are living your life right, as a friend once famously remarked over St. Patrick's Day pints of Guinness in Dublin.

C'mon you rip-roaring Gunners.  Let's do this.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Making Oxford Great Again

Never got around to recording those South Carolina predictions on the site here, but much discussion on the state of US affairs over pre-match pints and the Oxford Tube to/from the old stomping grounds on Saturday, as the race came in mostly as expected.

Fairly intense feelings of nostalgia on the brief tour - wandering Cornmarket, past the old chip-wagons, to the back room at the Eagle and Child for Fish and Chips, Rachmaninoff's second symphony at St. Peter's Chapel (with its glorious, heart-breaking adagio), getting lost and found en route to the Turf courtyard (hint: turn into the hole-in-the-wall under the Bridge of Sighs) before a final walk past various clubs with kids in line outside in tails and white bowties getting id'ed, and the favoured weeping willows before the late night bus back out.   Seems so strange to imagine it as a place where I spent ten months as a student more than ten years ago...

I wonder what my reaction would have been, if you had found me coming out of the Examination Schools in June 2005 and told me that I would be back in February 2016, now a Partner at McInnes Cooper and over in the UK for an ocean energy conference in Edinburgh, wearing a red "Make America Great Again" Trump hat as a bit of an ironic joke / conversation starter?  I no doubt would have laughed, and no doubt have been satisfied at hearing the chronology of travels around the world to come in the ensuing years, and no doubt been quite excited about my three nephews and now one niece that have recently arrived into the world to be spoiled and corrupted by their uncle.  It would have made for quite a laugh and story-telling over many pints, I am sure.

The wearing of the Trump hat in Oxford on the night of the South Carolina primary certainly did not fail in its intention to provoke.  Lots of confounded looks, double-takes, and angry mutterings.  I particularly enjoyed the guy who came over during the symphony's intermission to ask if I was wearing what he thought I was wearing, and who then called me a hero for wearing such a hat to such an event.  Also the three international guys sat in front of us, who just could not accept that I was serious, especially after my half-hearted attempts to stay in character floundered at the absurdity of repeating Trump's own words in response to their questions.  And finally the British girl at the Turf, who came over to sit down with us at last call to find out on behalf of herself and her friends, what the story was - to determine, in her words, whether or not I was an asshole.  The clear implication being, of course, that serious support of the Donald would qualify me as such.  Trump is still very much a joke abroad, a reinforcement of all the worst stereotypes that Europeans hold in thinking of America.  His nomination, if it comes, and the campaign to follow will be even more impossible to explain.

So can he win?  I think the concensus of the writers here is that the nomination seems very much his at this point, as hard as that is to believe.  Even with the tide coalescing around Rubio, it is far from clear whether and when Marco can even win a state, as Trump continues to hold massive leads among the actual voters.  Cruz is far too disliked at this stage to be considered a serious challenger either, and unless all his support ends up flowing to Rubio (which seems very unlikely) then it is really hard to see what trips Trump up.

The other wrinkle we have been discussing is that Trump may have a straightforward chance to begin to assuage the GOP elites and avoid the looming possibility of a divisive convention by simply choosing Rubio as his Vice-President.  Rubio is not running for re-election to the Senate, so it seems a no-lose proposition for him.  He helps in the swing state of Florida and would clearly relish the role of Hillary attack dog.  Most importantly, it positions him - win or lose - as the presumptive nominee for the Republicans in 2020 against Hillary's second term assuming she wins, or (gods help us) 2024, after the second term of President Trump.

Ha.  Now there are words I certainly would not have imagined writing a few months ago, let alone back in 2005.  What an election year this is.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Let's Try This Again...

The vaguaries of fate indeed.  Apparently the flight delay was down to a mechanical issue, and they brought in another plane to take us over at 3AM.  Which promptly suffered its own mechanical issue (who needs emergency lighting?) and led to an outright cancellation announcement around 4AM.  I was asleep at the time, so was quite confused when I woke up in a daze shortly after to see the long queues at customer service.

So much for the first two items on the itinerary then!  But all is not lost, especially compared to others making their rearrangements onward to Bangalore and Cairo.  Free cab vouchers got me back to the city for a much needed early morning nap, an opportunity to pick up dry-cleaning that I had forgotten, and even stand in line to book some family tickets to see James Taylor in May.  Spent the afternoon in a coma with the blinds drawn, changed into the Ramsey jersey and scarf combo, and now back at Stanfield where I sit in hope.

Love travelling internationally wearing the Arsenal colours - random guy initiating some chants as he wanders by toward the gate while I type.  I left the Dartmouth condo at 7:10PM, or 11:10PM GMT.  Estimated commute time direct to Piebury Corner is about 10 hours.  Walking down to the seats in Block 5 in a few hours will feel that extra bit sweeter after this unexpected interruption.  Nothing to do but roll with it.  And COYG!

Random Thoughts from Stanfield Int'l

Quite busy this past week, hence the absence in these parts.  Mostly tied up in preparation for an epic little span of days ahead over in the mother country, if this midnight plane ever shows up... a nicely ridiculous agenda that may become more apparent here as time ticks over.  Want a cryptic summary?  All right then: Founders Arms (or so I thought before this delay - an ominous sign?), Chekov, Hull Tigers, Rachmaninoff, the Turf, High Street, a Roast, Row 1 at the Shed End, tidal power conferencing from castle-view hotel rooms, Barca, and even the Power in Aberdeen to cap it off.  Back enjoying the art of coarse travel and how to properly maximize a set allotment of time that was set in motion by an unlikely treble in Athens and an all-too predictable December Champions League draw and...

But enough of that, what news from our American friends?  I watched the Republican debate with cigars and scotch in an inspired setting last weekend, and it certainly lived up to the billing.  And how.  What a spectacle.  Trump's continued presence at the top as mystifying as ever, but the longer he stays, the crasser the tone seems to get and the more difficult it is to see how the RNC stops him.  Oh what chaos that would bring.  Now even the Pope has decided to weigh in.  You almost have to love it, just for the pure randomness and absurdity!

Has a candidate ever won the nomination over such blatant objections by the party brass?  As the governors and senators begin a slow but steady flocking back to their last great Rubio hope, I have to admit that my stark antipathy for some of Trump's xenophobic ramblings begins to wane.  If forced to pick between those two unpalatable options, maybe Trump should be preferred from my perspective after all, as originally thought?  At least it would anger and frustrate the GOP to no end, and could have long term negative impacts for that party that would be welcome.  The depressing predictability of a Rubio presidency really ought to be avoided at all costs, and he does look the likely winner of it all if he gets past Trump.  But then I think of Ann Coulther celebrating Trump sealing the deal.  Ugh.  At least watching and trying to predict how we get from here to there has been far more entertaining than it has any right to be, while remaining mostly harmless (except perhaps to Jeb!'s self-esteem).  To date, anyway...

The next really interesting question in this increasingly chaotic and fractious campaign is whether Bush will face reality and pull the plug right after SC.  Is he ready to choose sides and fully back Rubio?  I am convinced that Kasich will hold on in order to win Ohio - he's enjoying the retail campaigning too much to quit now.  Which works in the long run for the anti-Trump forces anyway, since it stops Trump from winning all the delegates from that massively important state, and there's no way Kasich backs Trump at a contested convention.  Is there?  Meanwhile Cruz seems to have carved out his own little niche within this field, but surely his ceiling within the party is even more limited than Trump, or so it seems as the stories out of South Carolina kick on?  Tim and I will no doubt weigh in with some firmer predictions pre-vote come the weekend, as we look to crash a primary party in Oxford after some FA Cup antics. 

Meanwhile, the Democrats continue their quixotic exploration of the Sanders candidacy.  I would like to believe he could win, I would, but have seen nothing to convince me that he would not nose-dive dramatically once exposed to some good ol' fashioned negative campaigning.  Eight years ago you would have had quite the time convincing me that I would be firmly in Hillary's camp come 2016.  She has some very important days ahead.  As usual, Talking Points Memo has some excellent commentary and reader input on the debate happening within the party.  And Mr. Silver seems to be ahead of the curve again with this definitive primer on how to track whether Sanders has a real shot at the nomination based on the trajectory he would need to hit as they work through the various states.

Otherwise, wait we must.  For minor flight delays flights, and vagaries of fate, and the big reveal, and more.  Until the whirlgig of time unveils what is to be, and brings in its revenges.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Looking Forward - Democratic Edition

I watched most of the Democratic debate tonight while typing this out.  Bernie's full-throated calls for universal healthcare and free tuition are bold and clear, but just how much do you have to suspend your disbelief to think those goals are possible in the current United States of America, especially with all the oxygen being consumed on the Republican side demanding the repeal of Obamacare?

Hillary just sounds so much more realistic in pursuit of similar end goals.  The fact that Democratic party voters (at least to date) have rallied so significantly to Bernie's side shows a real frustration among Democrats at the status quo - and Obama's record in particular - that was not obvious to me prior to these first results coming in from Iowa and New Hampshire.

I'll admit it is tempting to look to Bernie as a real opportunity to shake up the American status quo on campaign finance and on inequality.  In that regard, the raw numbers in New Hampshire are pretty astonishing really.  Bernie got 151,584 votes (out of about 250,000) while Trump and Kasich got less combined - 145,315 votes (out of about 280,000).  If you combined the votes (which is not altogether crazy since New Hampshire runs an open primary), you get something like this:

Sanders - 151,584 - 28.6%
Trump - 100,406 - 18.9%
Clinton - 95,252 - 18.0%
Kasich - 44,909 - 8.5%
Cruz - 33,189 - 6.3%
Bush - 31,310 - 6.0%
Rubio - 30,032 - 5.7%

Not sure what that means, but it does put the extent of the support for Sanders in some context.  He is running a classic underdog campaign where the focus is less on specifics, and he has instant credibility as a completely incorruptible, dyed-in-the-wool true believer in an election where that is a (the?) prime asset.      

Still, I continue to have a hard time seeing Bernie's appeal beyond the Democratic party.  The most striking thing listening to the debate is how disconnected it is from the arguments dominating the Republican race.  That alone puts a lot of the aspirational dreams in Bernie's talking points in stark relief.  That gives him an advantage in the debates on domestic policy, where his positions are straightforward and conducive to 90 second answers.  But his struggles on foreign policy are real, and all the more so given it is a true comfort zone for Hillary. 

The exchange where Bernie raised Kissinger to attack Hillary was notable.  Surprised she didn't run further away from him, though she did manage to use it to get in a dig back about how no one knows who Bernie takes his foreign policy advice from.  (I'm sure Hitchens turned in his grave to see Bernie fail to nail Hillary more than he did when she said it is useful to rely on Kissinger's knowledge on China as informing her views in a Democratic debate.)

I expect the debate will be rememembered for the way that Hillary turned the question about leadership into an attack on Sanders for failing to fully support Obama.  Watching Bernie in the split screen showed she clearly struck a major nerve there.  Perfectly timed too, right at the end.  Game on.  It would be surprising to me if Hillary doesn't start to pull away by March. 

But in this election cycle?  Who knows.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Looking Forward - Republican Edition

Back home again.  Always quite the trip when it results in your picture making the pages of the New York Times.  Hard to imagine much funnier.  Long live the first in the nation primary.

I was planning on writing a lengthier post on Donald Trump and why he should no longer be treated as a joke, but fortunately Ezra Klein has done my work for me.  Agree with every word.  The hours spent among the Trump supporters, and witnessing the extent of some fairly abhorrent and repugnant ideas given large cheers in huge crowds of people, was unlike any other political experience I can recall.  It left me feeling... concerned, for lack of a better word.  I saw a massive billboard driving past Concord on the interstate that said simply: "Donald Trump is unhinged.  - Jeb Bush" and that says quite a lot in itself.

So how might he be stopped?  An exceedingly tough question.  It is rather funny that last week I was hoping Rubio would falter post-Iowa, since a strong second there really would have set him on his way, and I was worried about him as the strongest general election candidate.  But now I am far more scared of Trump as a real possibility, and less so Rubio since his debating collapse.  Robotico looks to be toast now though, so the question is whether there are other alternatives that will stand in Trump's way to the nomination, seemingly against the will of the party.

The delegate math is fairly complicated, and therefore all the more fun to dive into.  538 has an excellent primer here.  The bottom line is that the initial states tend to be more favourable to Trump and Cruz, but the winner-take-all nature of Florida and Ohio make subsequent primaries from March 15 onward fairly critical.  The real question becomes whether big early wins for a candidate like Trump will translate into bandwagon support that allows him to run the table, or if there will be time for the so-called "establishment' to train their guns on Trump in a more sustained way.

To date, Trump seems to have managed a teflon campaign beautifully, but you have to think at some point he will have to withstand the type of attacks that Republicans are so adept at waging.  South Carolina is certainly a state known for its share of dirty politicking, and I am looking forward to seeing Saturday's debate and the new ads to come to see if any other candidate can make any inroads.  The early efforts are far, far from promising, but hope springs and all that.  Plus I am not the target audience anyway.

I expect Trump to emerge with the victory from South Carolina, with maybe only Cruz (and possibly Bush?) doing well.  Based on the delegate math, it looks to me like the pressure for the "establishment" (i.e. non-Trump/Cruz) candidates to coalesce will only really be felt post-Super Tuesday.  Trump is likely to have a good night then, with seemingly only Cruz in a decent position at this stage to challenge him head on in those early states.  So we are going to be stuck with him for awhile.

The question is whether Trump starts to look inevitable, or whether he has taken some hits to that point that put doubts into the minds of voters in the states to come.  Either way, the longer the race goes on, you have to think the advantage is to anyone but Trump.  The dream possibility of a split convention where no candidate has a majority of delegates is still in the cards, and may be the only way that Trump ends up losing the nomination at this point, and which would be must-see television for sure and a fitting end to this truly amazing race. 

All of that is to say you can at least see the logic behind the Bush attacks that are designed to get Rubio out of the race as early as possible, and certainly before March 15.  Recently Bush has started to hit Trump as well - worse than Obama is quite the charge in that party (on a side note, you can just make out my red Arsenal jersey behind Bush in the stock photo for that article, hilariously).  But seems that in the next week, the key head-to-head fights are more likely to be Cruz v. Trump, and Rubio/Bush/Kasich amongst each other.  No matter what happens, Trump is going to dominate coverage for at least the next few months.  It does not appear that there will be any way to stop him for some time to come, and the time for the Republican party to decide, and decide against him, is running out.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Some Final Thoughts from "the Ground"

Heading home from Portsmouth after this whirlwind weekend trip of 6 candidate events across the state.  Should give me time to get to Moncton in time to watch the results roll in tonight.  A few quick impressions for now, with more to follow later in the week:

1. The two big local issues in New Hampshire (on both sides) seem to be heroin abuse and college tuition.  Both come up regularly in questions and get prominent mentions in the stump speeches.  Seems shocking to me that the issue of heroin abuse is so rampant in New Hampshire, but it is so bad it is being described as a pandemic and apocalypse

2. The college tuition issue has helped Bernie - his solution of free tuition is simpler than Hillary's incremental and more nuanced plan.  He has a much clearer and direct message across the board, and it is surprising to me that so many Democrats in this primary just do not seem to care about whether it is realistic or achievable.  I wonder how much of that comes down to being the incumbent party in the White House, and how much of it is an anti-Hillary vote. 

3. Or is it a broader anti-establishment vote?  Hillary has the current Governor and Democratic Senator on her side, but those endorsements do not seem to be helping much.  Maybe they will in the get-out-the-vote efforts.  Certainly the Wall Street line of attack is killing her, and you can see the sense of entitlement seeping out occasionally among her supporters - for example, the comments from Steinem and Albright are just brutal and no doubt harmful to her campaign.

4. I have to say I was impressed by her though.  I was firmly for Obama in 2008, but Clinton would get my support in 2016.  No candidate is perfect (which you hear often enough in NH as the reason why the fickle voters here keep changing their mind) and she certainly is not.  But she's an incredibly accomplished individual and easily the better chance to keep the Republicans from winning the White House.  The fact that she is referred to simply as "evil" by supporters at Trump and Cruz rallies, whereas Bernie is just dismissed as an unthreatening crazy old socialist, is a further mark in her favour.  

5. As to the Republican side: Cruz is pure tea party - lots of biblical and constitutional quotations interspersed with constant references to the idol of Reagan, etc.  He is less threatening only in that we have seen these kinds of candidates before, and very hard to see how he could win a general election.  Rubio, on the other hand, is engaging and immediately personable.  His stump speech is peppered with jokes that are modern and funny.  Where Cruz name-drops Milton Friedman and Arthur Laffer, Rubio riffs about disco music and Ace Ventura.  It didn't seem like Rubio had much of a local New Hampshire team though, and it would not surprise me if he drops due to that debate performance.  His message is all electability.  Bush was surprisingly good in the town hall setting.  He has a lot of the establishment party support and you can easily see why.  He also has a ton of money remaining, with tons of lawn signs and full glossy brochures on hand.  He is running as the grown-up in the race, and you can sense the underlying animosity at Rubio for jumping the queue before he has actually done any real governing.  There was a lot of buzz last night that polls were shifting his way and Jeb! was the first Republican I saw to really go directly after Trump, a central part of his stump speech now.  How ironic it would be, in this year of anti-establishment fervor, if the race ended up being a Bush versus a Clinton.   

6. As for Trump, I want to reflect a bit more on that rally before putting my thoughts to keyboard.  But his celebrity-fueled candidacy really is fundamentally different than all the others, and there is an even more palpable sense of that in attendance.  The incivility, the fascistic appeal of a leader who will restore nationalist pride and solve problems by the sheer force of personality is unnerving.  The speaker that introduced Trump was Al Baldasaro, who quoted the Immigration Act as providing the authority to ban groups from entering the United States that are intent on overthrowing the government, and so justifies Trump's plan to ban all Muslims.  Which was said to great cheers, of course.  As were Trump's calls to reinstitute waterboarding and "far worse".  I have stopped thinking of Trump as a joke, and will be relieved when he eventually loses (hopefully!). 

7. Predictions?  Clinton will be happy to keep the deficit under 20%, and would be thrilled if it were in single digits.  I will say Sanders +13%.  Nevada and South Carolina become key for her to stop his momentum.  The remaining states are far less white and liberal, so barring any surprises she is still the overwhelming favourite for the nomination.  On the Republican side, Trump to win by about 10%and a virtual four-way tie for 2nd (I will go for a Kasich-Cruz-Bush-Rubio order of finish) that leaves all 5 candidates in the race until at least Super Tuesday.  And even more interesting times ahead.        

Monday, February 08, 2016

"I Believe That She...."

Something of a live blog, as it is currently 20 after 11AM EST here at the Manchester Community College (great free wifi) and I'm front row for the Clinton family rally that is set to kickoff in 40 minutes.  What a difference in atmosphere from Trump yesterday, from the music to the general optimism and civility.  I will need to take a few days to get back before summing up the thoughts and impressions from yesterday.

Scarier to see it and experience it in person in full colour.  I am looking forward to Hillary and particularly Bill put me back in the right mood.  Looks like the general election is shaping up to be hugely important (no Trump pun intended) and feels all the more real (for lack of a better word) having spent the last few days amidst the cast of characters. Will be good to wish these two well.

One thing I know for sure - running for President is a massive, massive undertaking that is hard to overstate.  There was a bit of a joke about Obama, that his greatest accomplishment before becoming President would be... Winning the Presidential nomination and then the election. It's actually not wrong.  Wish I could have been here in 2008...

The girl beside me is a massive Stoke fan and a guy on stage is leading the "I Believe" US men's national soccer team chant.  Ah, so hilarious.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Who Will Trump Trump?

So I finally figured out how to access my old Blogger account - whether I get back in the blogging game for an extended period of time is still in question, but while this presidential race is so fascinating (and seeing as I've got a few bets on the outcome), I can't see how I can keep from posting a thought from time to time. Funnily, upon logging in, the site summarily informed me that I have to notify visitors of cookies under EU law. So to the masses: consider this your notification!

Anyway, this is an email I sent to MacDuff earlier today so not exactly written in blog format, but it's my quasi-response to his earlier missive from The Granite State.

Jealous! Read the blog and agree on what an amazing race this is. Can't think of another like it, where even after IA and NH there could still conceivably be a min of three and as many as six viable candidates still in the running (or at least, candidates who regard themselves as viable). If Bush performs well and Rubio falters then Jeb will be very reluctant to pull out, which is a key dynamic given that he's got such a ridiculous war chest for such a poor candidate, and particularly if he gets the endorsement of Christie etc. Rubio looked very weak and unpresidential last night at a time that he really needed to make an impact, though to be fair, the debates can be over-rated as game changers.

Another random thought on Jeb and Rubio - as of mid-Jan they were miles behind Trump and underperforming Cruz in the Florida Republican primary. They'll be taking votes off each other too on the day. In fact, Florida is one of Trump's highest polling states. Can those guys lay claim to being able to win Florida in the general if they're so far behind an outsider? Maybe it'll change after Super Tuesday (FL's is two weeks later on March 15), and you don't always have to win your 'home state' to win the nomination, but looks bad. On that note, Texas is the biggest prize on Super Tuesday, and Cruz will win, but he's not blowing Trump out of the water.

The other big prizes on Super Tuesday are Massachusetts (Trump up 25%), Georgia (Trump up 17%), Tennessee (Trump up 16%), and Colorado, Minnesota and Virginia (not a lot of polling data but I suspect Trump is ahead or close to it). A lot of blue-collar white voters in the bunch, and Trump will win that demographic with at least 40% of the vote. His strategy has to be, win New Hampshire convincingly to show he can win a state, hope the field stays divided through South Carolina and Nevada to early March, and hope to absolutely clean up on Super Tuesday, or at least as much as one can given that it's not winner-take-all on delegates. It is at that point that the field probably breaks up, but what if Bush outperforms and Rubio is not a runaway second, and Cruz has a load of delegates from Texas? Well, if he can sustain momentum at that point, I can see Trump winning or coming close in Michigan on March 8 and the next four biggest primaries on March 15 - Florida, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio. If so he will have won several swing states and will have a lot of delegates. A lot of ifs and wherefores but I think the time to stop him is before the 15th. If it's still divided at that point then he could sleepwalk to a win before the opposition 

I know I keep banging the drum for Trump but it still seems amazing that he is still given only 7% odds of the presidency and 20% of the nomination, despite the fact that he's ahead in virtually all primary states this late in the game, and I think Hillary is more vulnerable than most expect. Where's the enthusiasm to vote for her? Combine that with a potential economic downturn and you've got the recipe for a Republican win. Interesting reaction to her stump speech - she's apparently trying out a new one so perhaps you were one of the first to hear it.

For good measure I've put some money on Kasich for the nomination at 200-1, as well as some on Bush for the presidency at 33-1. Not that I expect those outcomes ultimately, but I can cash in if / when the odds drop following relative performances in NH.

The Bern Your Enthusiasm episode was amazing...just watched. That is one of the most uncanny political impressions of our time. One to think about for the Sanders campaign: somebody suggested in 1992 that Ross Perot should campaign west of the Mississippi while Dana Carvey does the East.

I'm playing along via the betting markets and the large bet on Trump in NH is looking good. My thinking was that the rest of the field is too divided, and that the only candidates really spending resources and time there were the establishment candidates that never really had a chance of breaking out of the pack. Plus his polling lead is formidable of course. Market now pricing in 80% chance of a win for the Donald on Tuesday and that sounds about right. Re Trump's odds on a one-on-one situation, I think you're right, but the divided field makes it interesting. Even if his ceiling is 40%, his floor appears to be 25%, and he has no reason to drop out so long as the rest of the field is slaughtering each other. He loses a brokered convention though in many plausible scenarios, particularly against Republican insiders who will want to leave him in the cold, which I think is a big explanation for his low odds. 

This Fascinating Republican Race

I came back to the hotel from Hillary's rally around 9PM, and the Republican debate was already an hour old.  I watched the second half, with growing concern at what seemed to be another impressive Rubio performance, with his silky smooth answers on what it means to be a conservative, some depth and detail on foreign policy, and rhetoric attacking Democrats on abortion that I assume will play strongly to Republican audiences.  This was his moment to shine, consolidate his momentum out of Iowa as the Trump alternative with a strong 2nd place finish, and leave the others in his wake.  It looked to me like he might have taken it.

Except, turns out that first hour of the debate that I missed had a few rather important moments!  Immediately after it ended, all the pundits tried to outdo each other in bashing Rubio's performance.  As they should, given Christie's brutal evisceration of him as the scripted candidate that Rubio leapt right into with his absurd repetition, as close to a knock-out blow (albeit mostly self-inflicted) as you are likely to see. 

Rubio might have well lost his best chance at the nomination in that short span.  The moment to prove his detractors wrong came, and he absolutely blew it, reinforcing all the critiques (and maybe showing Democrats - and me - that he wouldn't be as strong against them as he might seem).  That sound is the door swinging open again for the also-rans to take advantage.  (Assuming of course that voters agree with the pundits and don't see the debate the way I saw the last hour or so, which is always possible.)

This race is now fascinatingly poised, precisely because the end game is so hard to see.  I have a hard time imagining how Trump wins a true head-to-head matchup against any of the other main candidates, except maybe Cruz.  But if the field doesn't narrow until late, then Trump could keep winning with a plurality of votes and take this by default. 

Cruz had a poor performance tonight and has been hurt badly by the Carson shenanigans (and his overall smarmy personality.)  If Rubio drops in New Hampshire as well, as now could happen, my money is on Kasich to surge into second here on Tuesday.  He was the first to be interviewed on the local channel on the local news, and he is falling over himself to brag about his 100 town halls and the mutual (he claims) love affair with New Hampshire.  He has nicely pitched his moderate, positive message.  Meanwhile, Rubio is the focus of attacks from the other two Governors.  The most prevalent attack ads here during the debate and on the local news coverage after were Jeb's PAC hitting Rubio on his lack of accomplishments.  With Hillary running left and presumably (in some voters' minds at least) not in danger of losing to Sanders, one or both of Kasich and Jeb could easily sway enough voters in the final days to leap frog Cruz and/or Rubio. 

Kasich coming 2nd and Bush doing well is probably a best case scenario for Trump, as is the recent antagonism between Cruz and Carson, who before may have been potential allies.  How does the field coallesce in those scenarios?   Can Rubio or Cruz rebound strongly enough later?  Can Kasich (or even low-energy Jeb?) catch on quickly enough in later states to force out the other candidates and take on Trump directly?  And what is the actual ceiling on Trump's potential vote with fewer candidates in the field, on Super Tuesday and beyond? 

Damned if I know.  Easy now to see how this could go all the way to the floor of the convention.  Having seen Hillary tonight, one thing is for sure.  Clinton v. Trump would be box office gold.  If it happened... those debates... oh boy.  As C.J. Cregg might say, it would be a sight to see.  I mean a sight to see.    

Saturday, February 06, 2016

The Secretary

By the time I left Moncton, it was 10:15AM or so.  Driving began a bit slow due to traffic and early morning road conditions, but made great time from Fredericton on, stopping only for gas and at the border as noted.  Pulled into Portsmouth at just after 4:30PM and got a bit lost looking for the hotel, before deciding to just go straight to the Great Bay Community Center.  A fortunate choice, as a long line-up had already started to form outside.  Hundreds of people were ahead of me when I took my place at 5PM.  The doors opened just after 5:45PM, although I did not get inside until just after 7PM due to the Secret Service's airport-style security that everyone had to go through.  Got into the gymnasium just before the scheduled 7:15AM start, which was fantastic as many others were not so lucky.

A few random points from the time spent standing in the cold for about 2 hours outside my first 2016 New Hampshire primary event:
- had fun eavesdropping on a few of the couples in line in front of me, emblematic of the discussions happening all over New Hampshire.  For example, the mom of three,  democrat and leaning Hillary, but concerned about her judgment on the email scandal.  Especially since the mom is always telling her children "to be careful what they put on facebook, so you think Hillary would know better than to use her own servers."  She also tried to go to Trump's event in Exeter but didn't get in, and said she was worried about going because she didn't want people to see her there and think she was a Trump supporter.  Her husband, an independent who is out of town Tuesday and has already voted for Kasich, is similarly a bit horrified at Trump's popularity.  This may not be surprising since he watches PBS and told a long story about a recent show on the admittedly incredible and perhaps relevant history of Andrew Garfield's selection as the Republican nominee in 1880.)    
- the guy behind me seemed convinced that Christie has already made the decision to drop out of New Hampshire and endorse Jeb and kept talking to different people on his phone about it.  
- young campaign staffers with clipboards worked the line in a non-confrontational way asking if there were any undecided voters.  Overheard one conversation in which a middle-aged woman said she liked Bernie Sanders, but did worry if he could implement his ideas.  The staffer (who turned out to be from Georgia) asked what she liked in particular about Bernie, which prompted a long conversation about the candidates' respective plans for tuition.  Somehow I do not think I will see that in line for Trump.  
- also met a contingent of senior "Arkansas Travelers for Hillary" who worked the line, including one guy I talked to who said Hillary was the lawyer who helped him with the legal adoption of his children before she was First Lady.  They did not like the cold.
Inside, Senators Franken and Shaheen and New Hampshire's Governor Maggie Hassan introduced the Secretary.  Lots of emphasis by Franken on her "progressive" credentials (name-dropping Paul Wellstone and a great quote of his: "We all do better when we all do better.") 

But Secretary Clinton was the highlight.  I was quite impressed by the live delivery of her stump speech - substantive and really engaging.  She certainly comes across as formidable, and a consummate politician.  And seeing her in the room among all the "Women for Hillary" signs held by grandmothers, mothers, and daughters - that puts it in quite the context, historically.  I can only wonder how many selfies she has taken this year.

If she does win in November, and I am becoming more and more convinced that she will, with everything that has happened over the past 25 years, that will be some accomplishment.

Proceed to Secondary...

Crossed the border at Houlton.  Made the decision during the drive that I would be up front about my intentions for the weekend with the customs agents, given that I had some of the planned event information printed out, and out of curiosity for their reaction.
"So why are you going to these primary events?" - I am just interested in politics, I guess. 
"Are you doing any volunteering?" - I am not sure, I hadn't really planned to. 
 "Sir, please pull your car over and proceed to secondary inspection." - No problem...
I park the car, hand over the keys and passport inside the building to an officer who is a dead ringer for Herc from the Wire.  Can I use the bathroom?  "Not yet, sir."  After a brief wait, Herc brings me into a smaller room and I'm asked to sit on a bench across from a make-shift desk.  Apparently he wanted me to make it very clear that I was just going to observe the primaries up close out of interest, and that I was absolutely not going to volunteer in any way, "...because that would constitute interference in a US election by a foreign national, which is a violation of US law."

To that point, I had only mentioned the first Clinton rally in Portsmouth (to which Herc responded that she would not be his choice, in a rather humourous exchange).  When I replied that I really had no intention of volunteering for any candidate, and was also going to head to the Trump rally the following day, my story finally seemed to click for him.  (And Herc also made it clear he was not a fan of the Donald either.)

We went back to the main area, where I was rather bizarrely told to please keep my hands out of my pockets.  Herc confirmed everything was good with his supervisor while I looked up and smiled at the framed photo of President Obama on the wall.  Moments later I was on my way, with assurances again that I would not be assisting any of the campaigns during my short stay.  Incidentally, Herc is technically wrong on the law, although in fairness I was asked early on for my occupation, so he might have been thrown off by the fact that I said I was a lawyer.

In all, another memorable border crossing, and some lessons learned about the consequences of full disclosure?  At least none of it felt too intimidating as it played out, except for the general dread of being at the whim of arbitrary decision making (and when I noticed there were handcuffs attached to that bench...) 

Friday, February 05, 2016

"Not only are we going to New Hampshire, Tom Harkin..."

Still snowing in Moncton, but managed to get here early this afternoon, before the storm that kept Trump's plane from NH arrived here in full force.  Nice to have the first few hours of the drive safely in the books.  Nicer still that there are clear blue skies forecast all the way to Portsmouth tomorrow and the first of the events with Hillary, who (all current noise aside) is still the likely President come November.

How things change with the passing of years...  And how strange the fragmented memories that come rushing back at times. 

This return to the first-in-the-nation primary has me thinking of the past.  In November 2002, I was over in London, and saw Michael Moore live - part comedic performance, part politics.  Someone asked him near the end why the Democrats were so unwilling to stand up to President Bush, and if there were any outsiders who might be in the wings that would more forcefully challenge his reelection.  I am pretty sure that was the first time I heard Howard Dean's name.  

A few months later, I saw some clips from Dean's March 2013 speech to the California Democratic Party, with its fantastically confrontational opening line: "What I want to know, is what in the world so many Democrats are doing supporting the President's unilateral intervention in Iraq."  So, in the midst of a growing frustration with US politics (and so with global affairs), here was something unique, to inspire.  "I don't want to listen to the fundamentalist preachers anymore!"  Ah, amen to that.

And so I gradually found myself getting more interested, and then involved, in the campaign.  And so in the end, I took a week off from law school in January 2004 and drove to Concord, where I was billeted at the home of another local volunteer, and went door-to-door to canvass for him with people who had come in from all over America.  I met Rob Reiner in the campaign HQ and, in a particularly surreal moment, made my way up to the small town of Bartlett to see Martin Sheen do an event for Dean at the Josiah Bartlett Elementary School (West Wing was in season 5).  

12 years is not that long ago, and yet... Pre-Facebook (founded February 2004), pre-YouTube (founded February 2005), pre-smart phones (I took a disposable camera on this trip ffs).  
3 days after Iowa and the infamous scream (more on that in a moment) Dean and his wife did an interview with Diane Sawyer.  It was done on the Thursday before the Tuesday vote, and by Saturday afternoon we were dropping copies of VHS tapes with the interview in the mailboxes of registered voters who were undecided between Dean and Kerry, according to the detailed phone banking compiled over months.  At the time I remember being blown away by the logistics of pulling off that massive undertaking at the last minute.  Now all I can think is - VHS tapes!

None of that actual campaigning mattered, as Kerry won the NH primary as well and coasted to victory.  As this excellent video from 538 points out, it wasn't really the "scream" that lost it for Dean (although having to explain it certainly didn't help the NH efforts!)

But, as others have also pointed out, Dean's 50 state approach, Internet-based campaign innovations, and the focus on turning out new, young, enthusiastic voters were each adopted and improved 4 years later, in support of a superior candidate in Barack Hussein Obama.  And now today Hillary is in a primary battle in which her main focus is in emphasizing the extent of her credentials as a progressive.

All of which is to say, this trip to New Hampshire feels different, in a good way.  There is still a lot that is terrible and a lot to bemoan, of course.  There will always be that.  But there is also progress to remember.  Dean's key campaign slogan was: "Take our country back."  I will take some pleasure this time around in hearing Republican pretenders saying that they now want and need to do the same. 

Thursday, February 04, 2016

A Rough Schedule of Sorts

(or, how to meet 6 to 8 Presidential candidates, and catch the Super Bowl in a long weekend)

Saturday the 6th: Leave early morning from Moncton to Portsmouth, New Hampshire for a Hillary Clinton GOTV event at the Great Bay Community College.  Doors open at 5:45PM.  Senators Franken and Shaheen confirmed, here's hoping Bill shows up too.  Republican debate that night afterward on television, and overnight at America's Best Inn in Portsmouth.

Sunday the 7th: Pancake breakfast with Marco Rubio from 8:30-10:30AM at Londonderry High School.  Drive north to Plymouth in time for the 11AM opening of the doors for the Trump Rally at Plymouth State University.  After Trump concludes, drive back down to Concord, stopping off at a John Kasich Town Hall at the Concord High School Cafeteria until about 4:30PM or so.  Then we are free to find a Super Bowl party in Manchester or Nashua for the 6:30PM EST kickoff.  Rubio is hosting one at a posh golf club, but would rather find Bern (who has not released any events for the weekend yet) or even Bill or the Donald?  Overnight is at Motel 6 in Nashua.

Monday the 8th: Town Hall with Chris Christie at the Gilchrist Metal Company in Hudson from 8-10:30AM.  Another gap in the schedule to maybe squeeze in one more candidate or procure last minute souvenirs in Manchester, before lunch and a meet and greet in Raymond with Ted Cruz at the appropriately-named Tuckaway Tavern and Buchery (seriously!) from 1-3PM.  From there the afternoon/evening drive home to Moncton for the night, and then Halifax Tuesday morning.

Not too shabby all told, with a line up that covers all the bases.  And still some room for flexibility as/when further announcements get made (I'm looking at you, Bill and Bernie!!)


Going through the schedule got me thinking - what questions should I ask if an opportunity presents itself?  Some initial ideas:

Hillary - I can't really think of anything that hasn't already been asked in some form a thousand different times and ways, so how about: "What server are you going to use for your emails if you become President?"  (Which could allow for the follow-up of: "What the @%$# were you thinking?")

Rubio - I love Havana, so...  "You have rejected Obama's policy on Cuba.  What is your plan to help young Cubans growing up in that country who want the freedom to use the internet and open businesses in Cuba?  And what is your favourite Cuban cigar?"

Trump - His rallies are too big, so the chances are remote in the extreme.  Maybe just: "What is your favourite book that is not written by either God or Donald J. Trump?"

Kasich - I'm stumped here.  The guy seems to have been a politician his entire life, so could just ask: "What career would you choose if you couldn't be involved in politics?"  ("And does it bother you as a supposed champion of small government that you have taken a government salary your entire life?")

Christie - This one's easy, and the only question that I really want to ask and get an answer to: "Last year, you visited London.  I was hoping you could share some thoughts on the relationship the US would have with Europe under a Christie administration, but first and more importantly, are you still an Arsenal fan, and do you think we can win the league this year?"  (Bonus follow-up: "Wenger-in or Wenger-out?")

Cruz - "As President, what can you do to convince more people in the world to convert to Christianity?"  It will be tough, but I will try to keep a straight face in the asking of that one!

Reflections tomorrow on the relative chances of some of the various candidates, what they need out of New Hampshire, and on my last drive to New Hampshire 12 years ago.

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Ridiculous Importance of Iowa (sometimes)

Hey.  How are you?  Been awhile.  Here we find ourselves again.  Older?  Sure.  Wiser?  Meh... aybe.  More cynical?  Definitely.  But content as ever, all things considered, and with an appetite for wonder that has yet to be quenched, despite some seriously wondrous sights and experiences since the last gatherings here.  Life, as they say, has been good over the past decade or so.  (That long? My how we grow old...)

An overdue welcome (back) as we wait now for the caucus results to come in, and I suppose I have left it that touch too long to go on record with my instinct for awhile now that it will be Rubio, and not Trump, that emerges from this slog.  The early results are pointing to a strong 3rd place showing for him, and a fading Trump, that could set Rubio on course as the non-Trump/Cruz alternative, and thus the most electable conservative candidate. That's how that crew usually decide.  As wild as the Trump experiment has been, it never - or has not yet at least - seemed, well, real.  And at some point, when the field narrows and second preferences begin to count, Rubio will start to pull away, Trump will show his true colours, and Rubio will be all the more loved among the other side for saving the party from itself.

That's my fear, anyway.  Clinton will win the Democratic nod, as we have known since she accepted the job at State after losing to Obama, and Sanders will be thanked for his courtesy and all the young new enthusiasm.  He succeeded in getting his ideas heard, and driving the conversation for awhile, and the Clintonites disregard him at their peril.  Such a squeaker in Iowa, and if the 51/49 numbers hold [update: 0.2%!], there will be a lot of wondering about what might have been if a few more voters had switched.  The ridiculousness of democracy's small margins.  I'm torn because the Bern's campaign would make for great idealistic theatre through the summer, but stomaching the media treatment of his approach and the likelihood of a loss in the general might be too tough to take.  A stronger candidate might well have won against her, but no one has shown up over the past few years (O'Malley's numbers are hilarious, frankly) so that's what the left will have to run with... Ah, Bernie, in my younger days...

If it is Rubio, I think Hillary could be in trouble.  He is such a contrast to her in age and approach and (lack of) baggage.  He is exactly that inch-deep candidate that American voters might be interested in having a beer with, who seems to have a real line of religious/ideological extremism well hidden behind a non-threatening persona.  Exactly the kind of candidate who would happily rely heavily on the old Republican neo-con hacks who can't wait to get back in.  The full catastrophe, as Zorba might add in another context.

If it is, improbably, Trump at the end, with Ann Coulter and Palin and the rest at his side - Hillary and co. will figure out a way to run against him that works.  If it is Cruz, it could be a landslide in her favour, "God's Glory" notwithstanding.  Iowa is not a decider, but its role in winnowing down the field, while not necessarily picking the nominee, before any other states have had the chance to weigh in, does seem a bit perverse.  Especially the focus on the magnitude of smallish 5-10% swings that are emphasized all out of proportion.  At least until New Hampshire weighs in..

Ah, New Hampshire.  Fond memories of that state 12 years on, and some quixotic campaigning for Dr. Dean.  More on that anon, surely.  The news for now is that I think that the stars are aligned for a quick return to NH in the coming days, for another random weekend and front row seat at history in the making (this time perhaps with a few more obvious selfie options to seek out!)

It's the idea of that trip (as well as the surprising recollection of this site over some sombre Friday drinks recently - you know who you are) that have conspired to spur on the possibility of this blog's reawakening.  Let's hope for mild weekend weather and so an unlikely drive to pancake breakfasts and so forth in small towns outside Nashua and Manchester.  And the loss of any Marcomentum that may emerge from tonight.

You know, I think the trek to the rallies and the meet-and-greets and the town halls (and a Carly Fiorina pre-Super Bowl party?) are going to happen.  Pourquoi pas, as the saying goes.  However brief it lasts, it is and will feel good to be back.