Primary and Caucus Bits & Pieces

By James A. Kidney

Some miscellany on the current news ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

The bottom line, especially if you are tired of the nominating campaigns before the first votes are cast, is that there is a very good chance the whole thing will be decided in eight weeks or less.  (You can find a more pessimistic view here.)  Here are some fact-based observations below.

Here is a calendar of the primaries and caucuses in spreadsheet format for your use.

Why is Iowa Important to Republicans?  It Shouldn’t Be

It is a quadrennial surprise that Republicans give so much attention to the Iowa caucus.  The winner hardly ever becomes the party’s nominee.  Recent winners are Rick Santorum (2012), Mike Huckabee (2008), George W. Bush (2000 – there was no 2004 caucus since Bush was unopposed), Bob Dole (1996 and 1988 – there was no 1992 caucus since George H.W. Bush ran unopposed) and 1980 (George H.W. Bush).  So out of six GOP caucuses since 1980, Iowa voted for the winner only twice.  That’s only .333 percent – a good baseball average, but not a great prediction average.

By Barry Blitt
By Barry Blitt

The caucus is a better predictor of the Democratic nominee.  Obama won the 2008 caucus, amazing the political establishment that year and giving his candidacy instant credibility. Eventual nominees John Kerry and Al Gore won in 2004 and 2000, respectively.  But Tom Harkin ran away with the 1992 caucus (Clinton was fourth) and Dick Gephardt in 1988 (Dukakis was third).  Incumbent Jimmy Carter won in 1980, beating out Ted Kennedy by 28 percentage points.  So the caucus predicted the nominee in four out of six races.  That’s twice as steady as on the Republican side.

Candidates of both parties are inspired by Carter’s out-of-nowhere near-victory in 1976 (“uncommitted” beat him 37.2 to 27.6 per cent, but he doubled number three Birch Bayh’s vote).


These results demonstrate how Iowa is an infectious disease for Republicans, often voting for candidates with no national following, but doing better byt Democrats.  The reason is easy to explain:  Republicans in Iowa are rock-ribbed, with many of them also fundamentalist right wing.  Santorum and Huckabee, and perhaps Ted Cruz in 2016, are quite appealing to this base.  Jimmy Carter won much of the religious support in 1976, when the strongly religious and Republicans were not so closely identified with each other as they are today.  Democrats in Iowa, though nearly all white, align more closely with Democrats across the country, especially those residing in the state’s larger cities and towns.

The clear differences in party constituencies make Iowa a perennial purple or swing state in November.

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Military Might: Who Will Pay For It? Who Will Serve?

By James A. Kidney

       Every GOP presidential candidate except Rand Paul and, possibly, John Kasich, claims he or she will order a more muscular U.S. military presence wherever there is a perceived threat anywhere in the world, as they boldly asserted during the third debate Tuesday night.  (The Bloviating Donald said he would stay out of Syria for now, but otherwise seems inclined to toughen our policies by yelling at everyone.)  If their propositions are to be taken seriously, then the military needs more money and more able bodies.  But the frivolousness of their stated positions is proved by the fact they will offer up neither cash for costs, which would require higher taxes or add to the deficit, or bodies, through conscription.

As the respected Washington Post columnist David Ignatius remarked in a recent piece, “President Obama’s foreign policy has been a regular punching bag for Republican presidential candidates, but many of their criticisms are facile.  The next president – from whichever party – will have to confront the same puzzle that Obama has faced about how to best use U.S. power in a world that resists military solutions.”

But, the candidates say, never mind the complexities.  “Bulk Up, America!”

The Cost of a More Muscular Military Is High

Conservatively, the cost of our wars since 2001 has been nearly $1.7 trillion.  This only includes the costs specifically assigned to those wars, not the many more trillions spent to support the war effort and national security throughout the government.  For example, separately, the costs for Homeland Security military2_bigare estimated at $653 billion.  The Pentagon budget and related national security spending for FY 2015 was $598 billion, or 54 percent of all federal discretionary spending.  The new spending bill signed by the President this week provides for a $607 billion Pentagon budget.  According to the National Priorities Project, which tracks federal budget expenditures, U.S. military expenditures are “roughly the size of the next seven largest military budgets around the world.”

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Meaningless “Debates” Over Nothing — Else the GOP’s Sponsors Would Be Exposed

By James A. Kidney

America is in serious trouble.  It is breaking apart at the seams.  There is no consensus between the progressives and the conservatives on nearly any issue.  Although the blue states contain more voters of a progressive or liberal bent than conservatives, and constitute a plurality of the population, the constitutional structure of the Senate insures that the red states, with an average of 80 people per square mile, will be able to block legislation favored by blue states, with five times the population per square mile and squarely different issues at stake.  But no one will debate these issues.

Tuesday night’s Republican debate will contain no real surprises of substance, only the possibility of a second gop debate cartoongaffe here or there which probably will be treated by the GOP “base” as a one-finger salute to the political leadership.  It doesn’t really matter if each WSJ/Fox News panelist is a model of Edward R. Murrow or Chris Rock (there have been both in the past).  Good questioners grounded in facts will still lack the tools of corporal punishment required to make the candidates actually answer good questions.  There oughta’ be a law at least permitting a cream pie in the face to candidates who just run to their prepared text or “answer” by attacking the questioner.  Still, one hopes for better questions, so that at least those not part of the brainwashed base can more easily defend them in the inevitable finger-pointing aftermath of Wednesday morning.

In any event, the Big Lie is the foundation of the Republican Party philosophy, whether expressed by outliers such as Ted Cruz or Establishment figures such as Jeb Bush.  That lie is that Business, including or especially Big Business, will be the nation’s savior if only Government would get out of the way and taxes were cut for everyone, but especially the wealthy.  It is imperative to the GOP that the Lie not be exposed or even recognized as such.

Let’s see how just the events of the last couple of weeks have tended to show what happens when we rely on businessmen to be responsible for the future of the Republic.

  • Pfizer Pharmaceutical, best known for the drugs Lipitor, Viagra and Zoloft, and non-prescription products Advil, Centrum and ChapStick, is trying for a third time to merge with a nominally “foreign” corporation, Allergan, to take advantage of Ireland’s corporate tax breaks. News of the proposed acquisition of Allergen for this purpose came on the heels of Pfizer’s announcement that third quarter 2015 revenues increased 4 percent on a standalone basis and totaled $12.1 billion, including a recent acquisition.  Net income was $2.1 billion, or 17 percent of revenue.  R&D expenses for the quarter were $1.7 billion, or 14 percent of total revenue. In other words, Pfizer is hugely profitable but still spends less on R&D than it receives in net revenue. But Pfizer is a leader in crying how unfairly it is taxed.  The company estimated that its effective tax rate on adjusted income for 2015 would be “approximately 25%.”  This is well under the top corporate tax rate of 35 percent in the U.S., but far less than the 12 percent Pfizer would pay in Ireland.  According to Americans for Tax Fairness, Pfizer paid no U.S. income taxes from 2010 to 2012 while earning $43 billion worldwide.  Instead, it received $2.2 billion in federal tax refunds. For some reason, Pfizer believes federal tax treatment is still unfair.

Read more of this post . . .Meaningless “Debates” Over Nothing — Else the GOP’s Sponsors Would Be Exposed

To Quote the Congressman, “You Lie!”

By James A. Kidney The mendacity of the Republicans at last night’s debate was unbelievable. And I am not talking about just Donald Trump. The other 14 candidates at the two debates also misstated or ignored key fact after key fact. CNN, which purports to be a news organization, acted only as wrestling referee and did not call out the candidates on a single misrepresentation. Here are just three: FIRST.  All the candidates act as if they have the solution to the Middle East and that Obama is a scaredy-cat who just goes out on his own without consultation. They all ignored that President Obama solicited Congress less than a year ago, after the mid-term elections, for new authority to proceed with military actions in the Middle East. Congress – controlled by Republicans in both houses – could have imposed whatever limits or requirements it wished in freshening the war powers … Read more of this post . . .

Why Modern Politicians Are Like Tomatoes

By James A. Kidney

          Pundits and political consultants are bemoaning the (temporary) rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump as a sign that “the center cannot hold.” Post columnist E.J. Dionne even quotes Yeats tomato-with-teethtwice as his political guru for the proposition. But his column and others make me think that today’s politicians are like grocery store tomatoes.

Those of my generation (kinda’ old), can vaguely recall when grocery store tomatoes were tasty, like those grown on the vine in the backyard of our 1950s suburbs. It was not unusual to just eat one like an apple, perhaps with a salt shaker handy. But over the years, as corporate growers and middle-men replaced the farm-to-table small business neighborhood markets, tomatoes were developed for corporate purposes – longer lasting, less easily bruised, brighter reds – and less for consumer approval. Keeping the taste was not a business worry. I think that something of the same has happened to retail politics, with the consequence that our candidates are focused on the things that satisfy their corporate consultants. What is TV-tested? What is poll-tested? How can a candidate seem “genuine” without actually having to BE genuine. Pundits are part of this process. Most rely on campaign consultants for information, ideas, horse-race tallies, and predictions of candidate success.

Read more of this post . . .Why Modern Politicians Are Like Tomatoes

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