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Analysis: Libertarians get dream ticket, but will voters take them seriously?

Johnson and Weld will need to overcome some of their party’s more colorful positions

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

southern states sm(CFP) –The Libertarian Party met over Memorial Day weekend in Orlando, deciding to invest its fortunes with two former Republican governors, Gary Johnson of New Mexico and William Weld of Massachusetts.CFP Facebook Mugshot

For a third party in America, that’s an unusually high-powered pedigree. And given the deep unpopularity of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the Libertarians left Florida with high hopes of a breakthrough in 2016, particularly if their ticket can get into the fall debates.

But the height of the hurdle that Johnson and Weld face became apparent during the party’s presidential debate, when the candidates were asked if states should be able to issue driver’s licenses.

One after another, the candidates emphatically said no—except Johnson, who pointed out that it might not be such a bad idea for the government to make sure that people roaming around on the roadways have been vetted for basic competency.

Johnson was booed.

Here are some other statements made during the debate: Crystal meth should be as legal as tomatoes. Public education should be abolished. The Pentagon should be funded with bake sales. The second-place finisher in the presidential race, Austin Peterson, even opined that in the future, he hoped that gay people will not only be able to marry but to defend their marijuana fields with assault rifles.

And the vice presidential votes were being tabulated, a candidate for the party chairmanship took the stage, turned on some music and stripped down to his skivvies. That’s probably something we won’t see this summer in Philadelphia or Cleveland.

It was all rather entertaining, and, unlike in the Democratic and Republican contests, there was a marked absence of personal attacks between the candidates. Good for them. The question, however, is whether these positions can advance a run for the White House. Or is rigid ideological consistency the hobgoblin of electoral success?

The key to victory for any political party is to cobble together enough broad constituency groups to reach critical mass. But the Libertarians’ mishmash of unusual positions is likely to subtract from their coalition, not add to it.

For instance, religious conservatives, particularly in the South, aren’t going to cotton to their support for legalizing drugs or the fact that Johnson quit his job as head of a cannabis company to run for president. National security conservatives are going to find it difficult to get behind a militantly non-interventionist foreign policy and a drastically downsized military.

Likewise, Bernie Sanders supporters turned off by Clinton will be wary of a party that wants to eliminate virtually all social programs, turning instead to voluntary charity to take care of the old, the sick and the poor. They’re also going to have problems with a party that is as zealous in defending gun rights as the NRA.

Johnson and Weld, with their political pedigrees, may be able to transcend some of this baggage. Indeed, during the debate, Johnson often seemed to be the voice of reason, as when he said he would have signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (for which he was also booed.)

Certainly, Johnson can’t be held responsible for all the wild things Libertarians say, just as Republicans can’t all be held responsible for some of Trump’s more incendiary utterances. But if he and Weld distance themselves from some of the more outlandish positions of their party, they are going to draw ire from their own partisans, who proved in Orlando that they take a rather dim view of apostasy.

The Libertarians’ fondest hope is that Johnson can get to 15 percent in the polls, getting him into the debates. Then, the American public will see him as a viable alternative to Trump and Clinton, and he will catch fire, propelling Libertarians, if not to the White House, then at least to major party status.

But this presupposes that voters’ dislike of the major party nominees will be strong enough to overshadow what it is that the Libertarian Party actually believes. And Johnson has another hurdle—convincing voters he can run the country without a single member of his party in Congress. He would be forced to make an unending series of compromises with Republicans and Democrats, and compromise is something to which his party seems particularly allergic.

Of course, we have come to expect the unexpected during this topsy-turvy 2016 campaign, in which a socialist and a reality TV star are two of the last three major party candidates standing. So maybe, just maybe, Johnson and Weld can pull of the miracle. But if they do, it will be in spite of the Libertarians’ colorful positions, rather than because of them.

Analysis: Trump, Clinton’s Southern primary wins expose weaknesses for the fall

Trump needs to run the table in the South. Can Clinton stop him?

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

southern-states-lg(CFP) — The primary and caucus season across the South has largely come and gone (Republicans have voted everywhere except West Virginia; Democrats, Kentucky and West Virginia), leaving behind some clear trends and evidence about how things might play out in the fall.

CFP Facebook MugshotFirst the trends: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton cut through the region like Sherman on steroids. She won every state save Oklahoma, most by whopping margins; he took everything except Texas and Oklahoma, which he lost to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.

Given that Clinton runs best among African-American voters, and Trump’s strongest support is among white working-class voters, this was no surprise. Both of those demographic groups dominate the Democratic and Republican vote, respectively, across the South.

The irony for Clinton, however, is that she is running extraordinarily well in a region where, as conventional wisdom would have it, she doesn’t have a prayer of winning in the fall. And the weak appeal she has exhibited among white voters turned up in Oklahoma, one of the South’s whiter states, where U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders beat her.

That bears repeating: An avowed socialist beat Clinton in Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, the thrice-married, frequently profane rich guy from Long Island rolled from Paragould to Pascagoula to Pensacola, with gobs of religious conservatives apparently willing to overlook his colorful biography in order to make America great again. More impressively, he beat Cruz in a region where the Texan should have done much better.

However, the primary results showed that there could be challenges ahead for Trump in his quest to keep the solid Republican South solid in the fall should he be the nominee.

And a Southern sweep is vital to his hopes of winning the White House. The last four times the Republican candidate carried the region, he won; the last four times he didn’t, he lost. (Bill Clinton carried four Southern states; Obama, three.)

For all of his victories, Trump did not crack 50 percent anywhere in the South, although he came close in Mississippi. That means that even in a region where his brand of populism seems to have struck a chord, more Republicans were opposed to voting for him than voted for him. In six states, he didn’t even crack 40 percent.

And it is also instructive to look at some of the places where Trump didn’t win.

He lost Atlanta and two of its suburban counties; Richmond and its suburbs; Little Rock; Oklahoma City; Columbia and Charleston, S.C.; Miami-Dade County (although that was to hometown U.S. Senator Marco Rubio); and the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. In Tennessee, he barely carried Nashville and Memphis, winning only about 30 percent of the vote. He lost all of the major cities in Texas to Cruz, who, admittedly, had the home court advantage.

These results show that Trump’s political act may not be wearing as well with urban and suburban Southern Republicans as it is in small towns and rural areas. That probably won’t matter in the fall in places such as Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina. But if he can’t win those reluctant-for-Trump voters over to his side by November, it could matter in other places.

We already know that Virginia, North Carolina and Florida will be battleground states because Obama carried all three. And he did so running against Republicans that had, more or less, the united backing of their party. Trump doesn’t have that now, and it’s unclear if he will.

And then there’s Georgia, which has a large and politically active African-American population that will crawl across broken glass to vote for Clinton. If Trump continues to show weakness in Atlanta and its suburbs, the Peach State could also be in play.

Tennessee and Arkansas are probably longer shots, primarily because Clinton will have fewer African-American voters on which she can rely. However, there is still a residual strain of affection for Clinton in some quarters in Arkansas, where she spent 10 years as first lady.

Of course, Clinton’s weakness among white voters shows why she may be the Democrat least equipped to carry anything south of the Mason-Dixon line. After all, if even white Democrats aren’t voting for her, how is she going to fare when white people who aren’t Democrats are voting against her? That hurdle could be too high to jump, even with extraordinary support among black voters.

Remember, though, that Clinton doesn’t have to win everything in the South; just two or three states could make Trump’s ascension to the White House darn near impossible. He either needs to run the table or find states elsewhere to make up the difference.

Can he do it? Well, Trump has proven that he has a knack for defying the odds, so a wise pundit doesn’t bet against him. But the primary results show it may prove a more difficult feat than the Donald expects.

Analysis: Road to the 2016 GOP nomination frontloaded in the South

13 of the 14 Southern states have primaries or caucuses before March 15

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

southern states sm(CFP) — For the gaggle of candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination, success or failure is likely to hinge on how well they can perform in a primary calendar that is frontloaded with Southern contests.

Between February 20, when South Carolina holds its primary, and March 15, when Florida and North Carolina vote, 13 of the 14 Southern states will hold either primaries or caucuses.

CFP Facebook MugshotIn that three-week stretch, a whopping 824 delegates will be up for grabs in the South, about two-thirds of the 1,237 delegates needed to cinch the nomination. And 471 delegates will be decided on a single day, March 1, when seven Southern states will vote in what is being dubbed the SEC Primary (albeit with a bit of ACC and Big 12 mixed in.)

Having almost all of the Southern states vote early (save West Virginia) is a new wrinkle in this year’s primary calendar that will no doubt add to the region’s clout in the nominating process. So it is perhaps not surprising that nine Southern Republicans decided to run in 2016, with six still in the race (as of this writing.)

While the early states might weed some of them out, the Southern frontloading of the calendar might provide temptation for the also-rans to hang on until they get to more hospitable territory, as there is barely more than a month between New Hampshire and Florida.

However, the last two GOP primary battles argue against the idea that Southerners might be particularly hospitable to Southern candidates. In 2008 and 2010,  candidates from outside the South won twice as many Southern contests (16) as candidates from the South (8).

And if the field remains crowded, the rules under which delegates are allocated could leave Southern delegations fractured as the process heads north and west.

Here is how the process generally works: Each state gets a number of delegates who are selected statewide, and it also gets three delegates for each congressional district. The delegates are allocated based on how well a candidate performs across the state and in each congressional district, and the state’s three members of the Republican National Committee are automatically delegates.

In most of the states, there is a threshold percentage that a candidate has to meet before being eligible for statewide or district delegates, ranging from 5 to 20 percent. In a heavily split field, that means that candidates who don’t finish near the top may not get any delegates, but the delegations could be sliced and diced if multiple candidates cross the threshold.

In five states, candidates who win more than 50 percent of the vote statewide or in a district take all of the delegates; in Tennessee, that threshold is 66 percent. But if the field still remains fractured in mid-March, it is unlikely that any candidate will be able to win an outright majority to sweep most, if not all, of a state’s delegates.

Also, two of the larger states–North Carolina, with 72 delegates, and Virginia, with 49–have no threshold, with all delegates allocated proportionally based on the statewide vote. So no one is likely to sweep either of those states.

The two outliers in this process are South Carolina, which votes Feb. 20, and Florida, which votes March 15. In South Carolina, with 50 total delegates, the statewide winner gets all of the statewide delegates, and the winner of each congressional district receives all three. In Florida, with 99 total delegates, the statewide winner takes everything.

So, for instance, if one of Florida’s two favorite sons in the race–U.S. Senator Marco Rubio or former Governor Jeb Bush–lands in first place by even a single vote, he gets all 99 delegates and the other gets nothing. And if neither of them places first, they will have no Sunshine State support at the convention in Cleveland.

The two biggest prizes in the Southern primary calendar are Florida and Texas, where 155 delegates will be up for grabs on March 1.

While Bush and Rubio will be competing in their home state, only one candidate still in the face hails from Texas–U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. And Texas is one of the states where, if a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the statewide or district vote, he or she gets all of the delegates.

So if Cruz, a favorite son with statewide political roots, could win a majority in Texas, he would need to win a majority in just 19 of the state’s 36 congressional districts in order to match the delegate haul that Rubio or Bush might take out of Florida–an uphill climb in a fractured race, but doable.

The biggest wildcard heading into the Southern primaries is what the region’s all-important block of religious conservatives will do. In 2008, when they coalesced around Mike Huckabee, he won six Southern states; in 2012, when they got behind Rick Santorum, he won four. The South was the best region for both, although it did not work for either of them in the end.


Analysis: South’s changing demography erodes attachment to the Lost Cause

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

southern-states-lgThe newfound drive to retire the Confederate battle flag from the public arena may have been fueled by the visceral emotional reaction to the racist massacre at a church in Charleston, the Confederacy’s very birthplace. But the seeming ease with which Confederate artifacts are being swept away across the South can also be explained by another factor — shifts in the region’s demography that are eroding the regional insularity underpinning romantic attachment to the Lost Cause.

CFP Facebook MugshotIn the last 30 years, there has been a sea change in the Southern electorate. The percentage of white people born in the South — the people most inclined to want to retain vestiges of their Confederate past — is shrinking, while the percentages of African-Americans and whites born outside the region are expanding.

So even though the South may be as politically conservative as it has ever been, the constituency for public maintenance of Confederate heritage is becoming less potent, which is giving Southern politicos more freedom to maneuver across these contentious waters.

For example, in 1960 — around the time that many Southern state governments began embracing Confederate symbols in a show of defiance against the Civil Rights movement — more than 90 percent of the population of eight of the 11 former Confederate states was Southern born, according to U.S. Census figures.

The only exceptions were Florida, Virginia and Texas, but even in the most Yankee-fied of those states — Florida — 60 percent of the population was still born in the South.

1960 was also at the tail end of the Great Migration, in which 6 million African-Americans left the South for cities in the North and West, which dramatically reduced the black populations across the region In 1900, 90 percent of African-Americans lived in the South; by 1970, that figure had fallen to just 53 percent.

Fast forward to 2010. Only two former Confederate states — Louisiana and Mississippi — still had 90 percent of their populations born inside the region. Alabama was at 86 percent. But across the rest of the South, more than 20 percent of the state populations weren’t born in the South. In Florida, only 45 percent of the population was Southern born.

And those figures don’t take into account two salient factors: First, African-Americans born in the South, who would not support display of Confederate symbols, are included. And second, people born in the South whose parents weren’t born in the South are also included — another group not likely to salute the Confederate battle flag.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a conservative Republican who has been leading the charge to remove the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse in Columbia, is a case in point. She was born in South Carolina — but to Sikh parents from India with no ancestral attachment to the Confederacy.

And even in Mississippi, the only Southern state that still incorporates the Confederate battle emblem into its state flag, 9 percent of the population in 2010 was born outside the South and 37 percent was African-American — a potentially formidable coalition against public Confederate nostalgia.

In South Carolina, the non-Southern population is 25 percent, and the black population is 28 percent. Although those two groups overlap, those numbers indicate that the section of the electorate that has no attachment to Confederate heritage may be approaching a majority in the place where the Confederacy began.

At the same time as the non-Southern born population in the South was rising, so too was the African-American population. As segregation faded away and the South’s economy boomed, blacks began moving back to the region, in essence reversing the Great Migration.

For example, between 2000 and 2010, six of the seven U.S. metropolitan areas with the largest influx of African-Americans were in the South — Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Charlotte and Orlando. The seventh, Washington, D.C., is partially in Virginia.

Topping that list was Atlanta, which is why it is not that surprising that after the Charleston massacre, Georgia’s Republican governor, Nathan Deal, ordered a redesign of a Sons of Confederate Veterans’ specialty license plate festooned with the battle emblem.

That was a far cry from the fight over removing that same emblem from the Georgia state flag, a controversy that raged for more than 10 years and led to the introduction of three state flags in two years before the current design was adopted in 2003.

Whether public exhibition of Confederate symbols is a display of heritage or a display of hate is, of course, a debate that will probably continue as long as people watch “Gone With The Wind” and drink mint juleps. But if demography is any guide, public use of those symbols is headed into the quaint mists of Southern memory.

Analysis: Hillary Clinton faces steep generational climb on the road to the White House

The younger nominee usually wins, and the age gap between Clinton and a number of her GOP opponents is bigger than what Reagan overcame

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

southern states sm

If Hillary Clinton wins the White House in 2016, at age 69, she will be the second oldest person ever elected to the presidency, just behind Ronald Reagan and just ahead of the ill-fated William Henry Harrison, who perished after just a month in office back in 1841.

shumate_mugAnd if she wins, Clinton will have overcome a fundamental feature in modern American presidential politics — namely, that the younger presidential nominee is usually victorious.

In the thirteen presidential elections since 1960, the younger candidate has won seven times. However, in two other elections — Johnson vs. Goldwater in 1964 and George W. Bush vs. Al Gore in 2000 — the candidates were roughly the same age. (Johnson had just a year on Goldwater; Bush had two on Gore.)

So, in only four of the 13 elections did the candidate who was appreciably older pull off a victory. Two of those were won by Reagan, and, in all four, the age gap was substantially less than what Clinton may face in 2016. (The other two were George H.W. Bush in 1988 and Richard Nixon in 1972.)

Now 67, Clinton is more than 20 years older than four of the likely Republican prospects — U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and Governors Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal. Indeed, Rubio and Jindal are both 43 — a whopping 24 years younger than Clinton.

To put it another way, Clinton was already studying law at Yale when Rubio and Jindal were still in diapers.

Reagan was the oldest man ever elected to the presidency when he beat Jimmy Carter in 1980, but he was just 13 years older. In contrast, the average age of the 10 leading Republican prospects in 2016 is 52 — 15 years younger than Clinton.

In fact, only two of the likely candidates — former Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush – even share the same decade as Clinton. Perry is 65; Bush, 62.

So, if history is prologue here, Republicans might do themselves some good by nominating someone who can present a generational contrast with Clinton. Bush would seem to be the candidate least able to do this, given his age and pedigree as the son and brother of presidents. But Rubio and Walker are both well positioned to make such a generational case.

Of course, it should be noted that Democrats tried, and failed, to make Reagan’s age a salient issue in both the 1980 and 1984 campaigns. Clearly, history can be defied. But if Democrats decide to nominate the oldest candidate in the field, save for longshot Democrat Bernie Sanders, they will be taking a generational and historical gamble.

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