Day 3 Analysis: The 2020 GOP race begins

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Cruz in Cleveland: The 2020 campaign begins.

The 2020 Republican presidential race began on a fractious and flummoxing night in Cleveland, one day after a deeply and bitterly divided party formally selected its 2016 nominee.

Four of the most likely contenders for the party’s nomination in four years spoke to the delegates at Donald Trump’s convention and laid out their cases for the post-Trump Republican Party, even before the current nominee is scheduled to deliver his acceptance speech on Thursday.

The quartet — vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, presidential runner-up Ted Cruz, presidential flameout Scott Walker, and remote-control speaker Marco Rubio — all took different paths to the podium and aimed their remarks at different audiences.

Pence was the loyal lieutenant to Donald Trump. The Indiana governor once supported Ted Cruz, but he switched teams after Trump’s triumph and urged other Republicans to do it. His gracious, low-key approach will endear him to die-hard Trump loyalists and to congressional Republicans who are not (and never have been) enamored with Trump.

Walker urged the party to unite, but mostly repeated his pro-business, anti-Washington talk that has made him a hero in anti-union circles but didn’t resonate particularly well with the working-class white voters who this year seized control of the Republican Party. His praise for Trump was tepid. “A vote for anyone other than Donald Trump is a vote for Hillary,” he told the delegates.

Rubio, as has been his style during his single term in the Senate, tried to have it both ways. He didn’t attend the convention — giving him a bit of distance from Trump, in case the GOP nominee eventually self-immolates. But his brief video remarks included all the right touches to win applause from the Trump loyalists in Cleveland. “The time for fighting each other is over,” said Rubio, who famously described Trump as a small-handed “con artist” and “the most vulgar person ever to aspire to the presidency.” That was then, this is now: “It’s time to come together,” he told delegates.

That message didn’t reach Ted Cruz. The Texas senator, dubbed “Lyin’ Ted” by Trump, couldn’t bring himself to endorse the nominee. Cruz, whose father was linked to Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald by Trump, gave a Reagan-like conservative call to arms. He talked conservative principles. He didn’t talk Trump. He didn’t endorse Trump’s policies or his candidacy. He said to Americans, “Vote your conscience.” He was heckled during his speech. He was booed as he left the stage.

It was a calculated gamble with his national political future hanging in the balance. If Trump manages to win the election, Cruz is going to be a non-person in Donald Trump’s Washington. The Senate leadership, Republican and Democrat, despises him and the president would, too. If Trump loses, Cruz has already volunteered to lead the ragged Republican survivors.

In the meantime, he’s a non-person in Trump World. Even Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson disinvited Cruz to his convention suite, with associates telling CNN that he didn’t want to be an anti-Trump prop at this point.

The reaction from Republicans was varied, but it was almost all emotionally charged, positively and negatively.

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Representative Peter King of New York, an enthusiastic Cruz hater, piled on.

“To me, Ted Cruz showed America what he really is,” King told NBC in a post-speech rant. “He’s a fraud. He’s a liar. He’s self-centered. He disqualified himself from ever being considered for president of the United States.

“He took a pledge to support the nominee. Today the Ted Cruz that I’ve known — he cannot be trusted and he’s not a true Republican. He’s not a true conservative. I never saw as much outrage on the floor as I did tonight.”

King’s views are widely held among moderate Republicans and Trumpistas, but Cruz is confident there is a path to victory following a Trump defeat. Like Ronald Reagan following his 1976 loss to Gerald Ford, Cruz sent a clear signal that he will keep on running, even if it means challenging an incumbent President Trump in four years.

But not every Republican shares King’s contempt for Cruz. The Texas firebrand is hoping that people like David Frum will help him rebuild the Republican Party from the rubble of Trump — if it is indeed rubble come November.


For one day, at least, Ted Cruz got what he wants. We’re talking about him and not about Donald Trump. And we’re talking about him as the post-Trump voice of the GOP. That’s what most reporters are writing today. But remember the other three 2020 candidates who also auditioned for the next nomination on a crazy night in Cleveland.

Top ten U.S. political winners and losers of 2015

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Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, these were the GOP presidential frontrunners.

I promise that this list of 2015 American political winners and losers — one of dozens of such exercises being published this week — will not mention Donald Trump. (After that one.)

It’s been a long, long year in U.S. politics. It seems like decades ago that John Boehner was House Speaker, Jeb Bush was GOP-nominee-presumptive, Ted Cruz was a marginalized junior senator, Joe Biden was a GOP campaign trail laugh line and Barack Obama was a terrorist-loving, Kenyan-born, Muslim jihadist. (Well, four out of five ain’t bad.)

The list of political losers this year is loooooooooong. The list of political winners is short and subject to change without notice in 2016. (Will the honeymoon end, Speaker Ryan, or will we be talking about President-elect Paul Ryan one leap year from today?)

For what it’s worth, here’s my take, starting with losers:

Scott Walker

Nobody went from rising national star to minor-league dud faster than the in-over-his-head Wisconsin governor. He gave one good campaign speech in Iowa and was hailed as the GOP presidential frontrunner by the out-of-touch political media elite. His campaign was a free-spending disaster that was destroyed by one simple thing — a terrible candidate.

Rick Perry

Rick Perry, the Scott Walker of 2011, was the Harold Stassen of 2015. Nobody took the former Texas governor seriously as a presidential candidate. He couldn’t get traction, even though he gave the best speech of the Republican campaign — on the sensitive subject of race — at the National Press Club and articulately warned the GOP electorate about the candidate who shall not be named.

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A tearful final act for House Speaker John Boehner

John Boehner

In his view: The inmates took over the asylum on Capitol Hill, and the keeper of the keys decided to flee the funny farm. A slightly more jaundiced view: The veteran House speaker and former fire-breathing Republican revolutionary was burned out and unable to reconcile the new generation of irreconcilable nihilists and the establishment majority in his very conservative caucus. After praying with Pope Francis, he chose a quiet glass of chardonnay on the balcony instead of a brass-knuckles brawl in the men’s room.

Jeb Bush

Remember when Walter Mondale decided not to run for president back in the 1970s because he doubted he had the fire in his belly for a presidential candidate. (You don’t? Well, trust me.) I get the feeling that Jeb Bush is the Walter Mondale of 2016. He acts like he really didn’t want to run for president, but everybody — except his mother — told him it was his duty (to the nation, to the party, to the Bush family) to run. So he ran. Badly, thus far. How bad is it? The incomparable Will Ferrell returned to Saturday Night Live to reprise his famous role as George W. Bush. His big laugh line: Bet you didn’t know I was the smart son.

The Republican political establishment

The GOP establishment — that amorphous, pan-ideological political group that shares a wariness of outsiders — is accustomed to getting its way. Over the past seven decades, only two insurgents (Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan) have defeated the candidate favored by a majority of GOP “wise men” and Daddy Warbuckses. Indeed, from 1976 through 2008, there was always someone named Bush or Dole on the Republican ticket. This year, the so-called establishment candidates (Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Lindsey Graham, Scott Walker, Rick Perry) received less combined support than the first-term firebrand from Texas, Ted Cruz, is polling now. The purported savior of the Republican establishment may end up being Marco Rubio, a Tea Party champion who vanquished the GOP establishment in 2010 when he seized the Florida Senate nomination from a sitting Republican governor. Or Chris Christie, a.k.a. He Who Hugged Obama in 2012.

The Republican party

The GOP now has a presidential frontrunner who cannot win in the general election and could hand the House and Senate back to the Democrats in a Goldwater-style replay. (Goodbye, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire Senate seats.) The GOP now has a second-running candidate who would be a very tough sell to general election swing voters. The “establishment” candidates who are running ahead of Hillary Clinton in general election match-ups seem to be long shots and getting longer by the week. (One of them, Marco Rubio, has been in a  holiday slump and has compensated for his declining poll numbers by taking more time off of the campaign trail.)

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The hits keep on coming: CNBC’s panel was roundly criticized by Republicans after a contentious presidential debate … and by some non-Republicans, too.

The establishment media

The Pundit Elite told you that a certain billionaire real estate and gambling tycoon was not a serious candidate for president. The Huffington Post relegated him to the entertainment section. They said he would fade when he questioned John McCain’s patriotism. They said he would fade when he said Mexico was sending rapists across the border to violate American … sovereignty. They said he would fade when he announced a plan to prohibit Muslim visitors from entering the United States. The big “they” have been wrong, wrong, wrong. They were wrong about Rick Perry. Time Magazine once asked. “Can Anyone Stop Rick Perry in 2016?” Duh, yes. They were wrong about Scott Walker. US News declared, “Walker Launches 2016 Campaign as GOP Frontrunner.” Chris Matthews was wrong when he declared that Rand Paul would be the 2016 nominee. (“You watch. This is what I do for a living.”) And the pundits were most definitely wrong about Jeb Bush, the one-time “Mister Inevitable” of the 2016 campaign. So what were they right about? The inevitable Hillary Clinton victory? OK, that seems likely, although the first vote has still not been counted. Here’s my final warning about pundit predictions: Beware all pundits who predict the general election with absolute certainty before Labor Day 2016.

Fox News

Having lit the match of the Tea Party revolution in 2009, Fox News saw the wildfire scorch the Republican Party in 2015. Populism trumped past favorite “isms” of Fox News: compassionate conservatism, neo-conservatism, Bush-Cheney-ism and O’Reilly-ism. A former Democrat who gave money to oodles of Democrats and praised both Clintons to the high heavens is now the favorite of the populist right. Rupert Murdoch despises the candidate who shall not be named. He’s shared his opinion with the world — repeatedly — through social media. But there’s seemingly nothing he or his TV network can do about it.

Dick “Darth Vader” Cheney

“I think this whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in. I mean, religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from. A lot of people, my ancestors got here, because they were Puritans.” This was not some lefty civil libertarian talking. This was Mister Waterboarding himself, Richard Cheney, talking to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. The former vice president, who embraces his “Darth Vader” image with Dickensian good cheer, thinks that the candidate who shall not be named has gone beyond the bounds of decency. But that certain candidate doesn’t care what Dick Cheney or George W. Bush or any of their neocon friends think. He says they screwed up Iraq and Afghanistan and the entirety of Southwest Asia with ill-considered invasions. When he talks like that, the billionaire tycoon sounds a lot like Bernie Sanders.

Aaron Schock

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Schock and Awful

With all the big losers in 2015, I’d like to end my list with the year’s most insignificant loser. Aaron Schock. Once the youngest member of Congress, he showed off his “six-pack abs” on the cover of Men’s Health magazine. Turns out that the emperor had no clothes at all. The fourth-term congressman was snared in a series of scandals involving his accumulation of personal wealth through the aid of political donors and his alleged use of taxpayer money to fund a celebrity lifestyle. “Politics shouldn’t be a ticket to a celebrity lifestyle on the public’s dime,” Charles C.W. Cooke wrote in National Review. “For a man who has enjoyed such a short and undistinguished career, Illinois’s Representative Aaron Schock (R) has sure packed in a lot of corruption.” With no friends and no sympathy, the era of Shock and Awe ended abruptly on March 17 when he quit his day job.

And now the winners …

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Total victory at the Supreme Court

Marriage equality

In 2004, when George W. Bush made same-sex marriage one of the key wedge issues in his re-election bid against Democrat John Kerry, 60 percent of Americans opposed gay marriage and just 31 percent supported it. The past decade has seem a seismic shift in public opinion. Not only did the U.S. Supreme Court legalize what is now known as “marriage equality” this year, but the public overwhelmingly supports it, 55 percent to 39 percent, according to the most recent Pew Research Center survey.

As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his landmark majority opinion:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”


There have been 353 documented mass shootings in the United States this year, almost one per day. Gun and ammo sales have spiked with each of the largest mass murders. In Washington, all attempts to pass gun-control measures have been resoundingly rejected on Capitol Hill. Score two for the National Rifle Association.

Big Oil

Yes, I know, gasoline pump prices are down. That makes American consumers a winner but Big Oil companies a loser. But Big Oil is still having a very Merry Christmas after getting a very nice holiday gift from Congress and President Obama: an end to the four-decade-old domestic oil export ban. As recounted by my former colleague Jennifer Dlouhy, now with Bloomberg News:

Sensing they had momentum, oil industry lobbyists stepped up a social media campaign targeting possible supporters by placing ads on Facebook and elsewhere. Companies printed anti-ban messages on royalty checks. And in the end, supporters of retaining the ban were outmatched on the Hill, where at least 34 groups and companies were lobbying to allow exports compared to seven lobbying against.

“It moved quickly,” ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance told Jennifer. “A lot quicker than industry thought it would.”

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Tough questions

Megyn Kelly and Hugh Hewitt

Two conservative media personalities gained wide respect across the political spectrum by their tough but fair questioning of presidential candidates in nationally televised debates. For her professionalism, Kelly has faced sexist and misogynistic barbs from the candidate who shall not be named. Hewitt, one of the American media’s leading experts on foreign policy, asks specific and significant questions that cannot be dismissed as liberal propaganda.

Paul Ryan

Après Boehner, le déluge? Pas de tout.

Paul Ryan, the 2012 GOP VP nominee, maneuvered flawlessly into the position that Republicans from center, right and far right were all begging him to accept the job that Boehner suddenly vacated. The bizarre courtship process has given Ryan a lot of political capital, and he has used it wisely, cutting a conservative deal to keep the U.S. government operating that won the approval of a majority of Republicans and Democrats alike. It’s always hard to predict when the honeymoon might end, but Paul Ryan has led a charmed political life in 2015.

Ted Cruz

John McCain dismissed him as one of the wacko birds. His Texas colleague, John Cornyn, called him out after he accused Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of telling a “flat-out lie.” His Senate colleagues have ridiculed and repudiated him repeatedly. To most officeholders, this would be a political kiss of death. But to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, it is a kiss of life. Running for president as the sworn enemy of the “Washington Cartel,” Cruz has risen from low single digits in early polling to challenging for first place in national polls. He is a darling of right-wing radio, and he has rolled out dozens of endorsements from famous names in the conservative movement. His presidential campaign has been as disciplined as it has been cold-blooded in his attacks on President Obama and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. The Texas Tornado capped off the year by releasing a light-hearted Christmas video poking fun at himself and people who take themselves too seriously.

Mitch McConnell

Well, Mitch McConnell isn’t happy that Ted Cruz might become his party’s presidential nominee. But that’s 2016. In 2015, he pretty much outmaneuvered both the Cruz wing of the Senate GOP and Harry Reid’s Democratic minority. While the Senate Majority Leader is not a particularly big fan of Barack Obama, he has proven time and again that he can work with him to cut a deal. Cruz calls him a card-carrying “cartel” member. In the olden days, he would have been called a “legislator.”

Joe Biden

Through his grief at the loss of his son Beau, Joe Biden’s humanity shined. He embodied a word that has almost ceased to exist in American politics: “authentic.” As 2015 dawned, Republican presidential candidates regularly made Biden the butt of jokes. As the year is coming to a close, those jokes have been discarded.


If Joe Biden showed grace under pressure, most of the political world showed that America has lots to fear from fear itself. A fear of Muslim terrorists and Latino immigrants has convinced a majority of Republicans that it’s time to seal America’s borders. Presidential candidates have called for internet censorship and routine government surveillance power to peruse our private emails in search of potential terrorists. Ratings-challenged cable news networks have nurtured the nation’s paranoia with sensationalistic coverage.


Experimenting with data visualization: Here are some interactive graphics I have developed

Teaching Data Journalism at Tsinghua. (Photo by Zhang Sihan)

Teaching Data Journalism at Tsinghua. (Photo by Zhang Sihan)

Data journalism has become an indispensable part of the news world. Every journalist who hopes to have a job in five or ten years will be required to have at least a basic understanding of spread sheets, data scraping, data cleaning, data visualization and coding.

As part of the new Data Journalism course I have created for the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University, I am experimenting with data visualization platforms. Here are a few examples. (If my WordPress blog platform will not allow you to open the embedded graphics, you can click on the links to take you to the pages where you can view them.)

I’d love to get your feedback … and some suggestions on platforms that could be useful for data viz projects.



Data from


Data from



66 questions about the future of 16 potential 2016 presidential candidates

The midterms are over. As Maurice Sendak wrote so eloquently, “Let the wild rumpus begin.”

The 2016 presidential race could well be a wild thing. More than a dozen White House wannabes have been campaigning across the country this year, ostensibly for local candidates for state and federal offices. Hillary Clinton is tanned, rested and ready, and Jeb Bush is being pressured to undertake a second restoration of the Bush Dynasty. There are future dark horses, wild cards and future comedians’ punchlines who tonight are dreaming big dreams.

So many candidates. So many questions. Here are 66 questions for 16 of the potential contenders.

We won’t know all the answers until November 2016.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz:

  • Is Ted Cruz the Phil Gramm of this election cycle?
  • Is Ted Cruz the Barry Goldwater of this election cycle?
  • Is Ted Cruz the B-1 Bob Dornan of this election cycle?
  • Is Ted Cruz the Pat Buchanan of this election cycle?
  • Is Ted Cruz the Ronald Reagan (1980 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Ted Cruz the Barack Obama (2008 vintage) of this election cycle?

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

  • Is Hillary Clinton the Bill Clinton of this election cycle?
  • Is Hillary Clinton the Hillary Clinton of this election cycle?
  • Is Hillary Clinton the George H.W. Bush of this election cycle?
  • Is Hillary Clinton the Al Gore of this election cycle?

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie:

  • Is Chris Christie the Rudy Giuliani of this election cycle?
  • Is Chris Christie the Rick Perry of this election cycle?
  • Is Chris Christie the Pete Wilson of this election cycle?
  • Is Chris Christie the Ronald Reagan of this election cycle?

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul:

  • Is Rand Paul the Ron Paul of this election cycle?
  • Is Rand Paul the Barry Goldwater of this election cycle?
  • Is Rand Paul the Bob Taft (1952 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Rand Paul the Warren Harding (1920 vintage) of this election cycle?

Texas Gov. Rick Perry:

  • Is Rick Perry the Rick Perry of this election cycle?
  • Is Rick Perry the John McCain (2008 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Rick Perry the Mitt Romney (2012 vintage)of this election cycle?
  • Is Rick Perry the Richard Nixon (1968 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Rick Perry the Pat Paulsen of this election cycle?

>Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney:

  • Is Mitt Romney the Mitt Romney of this election cycle?
  • Is Mitt Romney the Adlai Stevenson (1960 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Mitt Romney the William Jennings Bryan (1908 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Mitt Romney the Dwight Eisenhower of this election cycle?

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush:

  • Is Jeb Bush the George W. Bush (2000 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Jeb Bush the Bill Clinton of this election cycle?
  • Is Jeb Bush the Bill Bradley of this election cycle?
  • Is Jeb Bush the Bill Scranton (1964 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Jeb Bush the Nelson Rockefeller of this election cycle?
  • Is Jeb Bush the Mario Cuomo of this election cycle?

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum:

  • Is Rick Santorum the Gary Bauer of this election cycle?
  • Is Rick Santorum the Alan Keyes of this election cycle?
  • Is Rick Santorum the Harold Stassen of this election cycle?

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren:

  • Is Elizabeth Warren the Barack Obama of this election cycle?
  • Is Elizabeth Warren the George McGovern of this election cycle?
  • Is Elizabeth Warren the Gene McCarthy of this election cycle?
  • Is Elizabeth Warren the Dennis Kucinich of this election cycle?

>Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley:

  • Is Martin O’Malley the Tom Vilsack of this election cycle?
  • Is Martin O’Malley the Bruce Babbitt of this election cycle?
  • Is Martin O’Malley the Adlai Stevenson of this election cycle?
  • Is Martin O’Malley the Rutherford B. Hayes of this election cycle?

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio:

  • Is Marco Rubio the John F. Kennedy of this election cycle?
  • Is Marco Rubio the Ted Kennedy of this election cycle?
  • Is Marco Rubio the Colin Powell of this election cycle?

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee:

  • Is Mike Huckabee the Mitt Romney (2012 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Mike Huckabee the Pat Robertson of this election cycle?
  • Is Mike Huckabee the Bill Clinton (the man from Hope) of this election cycle?
  • Is Mike Huckabee the Huey Long of this election cycle?

>Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker:

  • Is Scott Walker the Mike Dukakis of this election cycle?
  • Is Scott Walker the Phil Crane (1980 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • Is Scott Walker the Phil Gramm of this election cycle?
  • Is Scott Walker the Calvin Coolidge (1924 vintage) of this election cycle?
  • </ul>Dr. Ben Carson:

    • Is Dr. Ben Carson the Dr. Spock of this election cycle?
    • Is Dr. Ben Carson the Mr. Spock of this election cycle?
    • Is Dr. Ben Carson the Herman Cain of this election cycle?
    • Is Dr. Ben Carson the Wendell Willkie of this election cycle?
    • </ul>Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb:

      • Is Jim Webb the Gary Hart of this election cycle?
      • Is Jim Webb the Pat Buchanan of this election cycle?
      • Is Jim Webb the John McCain (2000 vintage) of this election cycle?
      • </ul>Vice President Joe Biden:

        • Is Joe Biden the Alben Barkley (1952 vintage) of this election cycle?
        • Is Joe Biden the John Nance Garner (1940 vintage) of this election cycle?
        • Is Joe Biden the Hubert Humphrey (1968 vintage) of this election cycle?
        • Is Joe Biden the George H.W. Bush (1988 vintage) of this election cycle?