Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Has Clinton Left Herself Open to Extortion?

"I know everything."

The news this week that hackers released a trove of DNC emails has the media world atwitter, but they're missing the big picture. Their focus has been on the specific content of this particular batch of emails, and that it reveals a primary-rigging party infrastructure, headed by the loathsome Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Okay, true enough. That's a legit story, particularly on the eve of the Democrat convention. 

Wasserman? Gone, although now comfortably ensconced in the big-money machinery of the Clinton campaign, her payday assured. But Wasserman's a sideshow.

The bigger picture here is who hacked these emails, and why? Democrats, having dismissed any concerns about state-sponsored hacking during Hillary's server scandal, are now pointing their fingers at the Russians. They think that Trump is coordinating the attack with Putin, which is flat-out comedy gold.

But, they may be half right. There's a decent chance the Russians are behind the hack. There is a huge hacker culture in Russia, and their government is known to employ it for their own ends. If that's the case, and they easily hacked the DNC, is there even the slightest chance they didn't hack a lone server in Hillary's basement? Let's face it, there's a decent probability the Russians have all those tens of thousands of emails that Hillary went to such great lengths to conceal.

We all know what's in those emails, too, even if we don't yet have access to the smoking gun. It ain't yoga. The Clintons put the State Department up for sale, exchanging favors for either large money transfers into the Clinton Foundation or bogus speaking fees. Bill and Hillary are two grifters whose ambitions took the con to heights never before seen.

So, if you're Vladmir Putin, what do you do with such a bounty? One option is do undermine Hillary's chances for election, preferring instead to deal with Trump, who would presumably be of more help in staving off the mutual threat of radical Islam. The first email dump might have been a shot across the bow.

But a second, perhaps more compelling, option exists: extortion. In this scenario, Putin holds back from here, hoping Hillary actually gets elected. After that, he makes it known to Hillary through surrogates exactly what he has, and how he can easily feed it all to that dependable lackey, Julian Assange. 

Given Hillary's highly developed instincts for self-preservation, there's no question that such a development could alter the world's geo-political map. Or maybe Russia plays it more subtly, instead opting for small wins, like snapping up the odd strategic mine here and there.

Either way, it's chilling.

I'm not big on conspiracy theories. Emphatically not. But let's review what we know:

  1. The DNC was successfully hacked by someone who is using the information for political advantage
  2. Many believe, including the DNC itself, that the Russians were behind the attack
  3. James Comey stated that it was "likely" that foreign governments tried to hack Hillary's personal server, although the FBI couldn't prove it
  4. The Russians (or Chinese) would certainly have hacked Hillary's server if possible
  5. Hillary's server had far fewer security safeguards, undoubtedly, than the DNC's
Right now my model says Hillary is likely to win. We may have the first president since JFK to leave themselves open to extortion. 

That's the real story.

Monday, July 25, 2016

It's That Time - Re-Introducing the Election Forecast Model

In 2004, I introduced a model I built to predict presidential elections. More specifically, it predicts the outcome of the electoral college, which is all that matters, after all. So far, the model has worked out pretty damn well: in 2004, it hit the electoral count on the nose, and in 2008 2012 it got the winner right, missing the actual count by only 21 votes both times, or roughly the value of an Arizona swinging from one candidate to the other.

The model is built on "prediction markets," where real-world betting happens on each state's outcome. Betting is continuous, and from it we may infer each state's real time probability. I then multiply this probability times the number of electoral votes available in that state for the probablity-weighted outcome. It is understood that one cannot win part of a delegation, it's all-or-none
(excepting Maine and Nebraska). Still, for predictive purposes, you don't want to hand 100% of, say, California's electoral votes to Hillary just because she has a 95% chance of winning those votes. You give her 95%. It's effectively a small hedge against something dramatically unexpected happening.

It's time to roll out the 2016 model. Right now, it has Hillary winning a somewhat tight election, 299 to 239. In 2012, Obama won 332 to 206.

State Electors Percentage Repub margin current betting weighted expected
of Electors 2016 market odds  electoral votes
Alabama 9 1.67% 23 100 9.00
Alaska 3 0.56% 15 100 3.00
Arizona 11 1.86% 9 70 7.70
Arkansas 6 1.12% 24 100 6.00
California 55 10.22% -33 6.5 3.58
Colorado 9 1.67% -7 21 1.89
Connecticut 7 1.30% -17 0 0.00
Delaware 3 0.56% -19 0 0.00
Dist. of Columbia 3 0.56% -87 0 0.00
Florida 29 5.02% -1 40 11.60
Georgia 16 2.79% 8 78 12.48
Hawaii 4 0.74% -43 0 0.00
Idaho 4 0.74% 21 100 4.00
Illinois 20 3.90% -17 7 1.40
Indiana 11 2.04% 10 85 9.35
Iowa 6 1.30% -6 43 2.58
Kansas 6 1.12% 20 100 6.00
Kentucky 8 1.49% 23 100 8.00
Louisiana 8 1.67% 17 100 8.00
Maine 4 0.74% -15 0 0.00
Maryland 10 1.86% -26 4.5 0.45
Massachusetts 11 2.23% -24 7 0.77
Michigan 16 3.16% -9 22.5 3.60
Minnesota 10 1.86% -8 17 1.70
Mississippi 6 1.12% 11 100 6.00
Missouri 10 2.04% 10 81 8.10
Montana 3 0.56% 13 100 3.00
Nebraska 5 0.93% 21 100 5.00
Nevada 6 0.93% -6 34 2.04
New Hampshire 4 0.74% -6 33 1.32
New Jersey 14 2.79% -17 9 1.26
New Mexico 5 0.93% -10 0 0.00
New York 29 5.76% -28 8.5 2.47
North Carolina 15 2.79% -2 51 7.65
North Dakota 3 0.56% 20 100 3.00
Ohio 18 3.72% -3 42 7.56
Oklahoma 7 1.30% 34 100 7.00
Oregon 7 1.30% -8 0 0.00
Pennsylvania 20 3.90% -6 34 6.80
Rhode Island 4 0.74% -28 0 0.00
South Carolina 9 1.49% 11 100 9.00
South Dakota 3 0.56% 18 100 3.00
Tennessee 11 2.04% 20 95.5 10.51
Texas 38 6.32% 16 91.5 34.77
Utah 6 0.93% 48 84.5 5.07
Vermont 3 0.56% -36 0 0.00
Virginia 13 2.42% -4 22.5 2.93
Washington 12 2.04% -15 8 0.96
West Virginia 5 0.93% 26 100 5.00
Wisconsin 10 1.86% -6 21 2.10
Wyoming 3 0.56% 40 100 3.00
Totals 538 100.00%      
red = swing state (odds between 30 and 70)

270 needed to win
Republican 238.6

Democrat 299.4

There are caveats.

First, since the election is four months out, the data is pretty thin (i.e. the state-by-state markets are very thinly traded right now - some haven't even traded at all, in which case I relied on the closing data from 2016).

Second, when I cited the model's accuracy, what I was really referring to was the last snapshot before each election. During the months-long run-up, there will be plenty of fluctuation, but it will still tend to be the best indicator at any point in time. Obviously, as circumstances change, so does the forecast.

Why does this work better than polls? Because it's real people betting real money, not people answering polls on the phone where their responses could be shaded for any number of reasons - particularly this year!

I will start to graph all this and post more frequent updates as the election draws nearer.

Naked Dollar readers with good memories will also remember I have another model that shows directional movement for both campaigns. I'll get to that shortly. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Democrats' Dilemma

Hello, operator? I'd like to make a collect call to Debbie Wasserman Schultz...

As Naked Dollar readers know, I am a big fan of prediction markets, where real people bet real money on political (and other) outcomes. They aren't fool proof, but they're better than polls, and they offer the best probabilistic look at the future based on the current fact set. And sometimes, they offer fascinating insights.

Take this one.

Right now, there is a an 86% chance that Hillary will win the nomination, meaning there's a 14% chance that she won't. (Interesting, given that she's already declared herself the winner.) But there's also a 34% chance that she will be indicted before the end of the year. That means, math fans, that there's a 29% chance (.86 x .34) that the Democrats will nominate someone who will then fall under indictment, or they will knowingly nominate someone who's already under indictment.

When they say there's never been a cycle like this one, they aren't kidding.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Solving Harvard's Club Problem

Sometimes, it's amusing to watch when the insane logic of today's liberalism trips up on itself, which is often. This Dixon Diaz cartoon offers a nice example:

Sometimes, a simple cartoon says as much as any 1,000 word editorial, doesn't it?

And now we have the progressive fiasco at Harvard, where President Drew Faust has decided that sexual assault is a huge problem. 

(Never mind that the rise in campus assault is directly correlated to the broadening of the definition of the word itself to include things like "unwanted staring.")

Her culprit? The final clubs, which tend to be all male. 

(Never mind that 75% of the "assaults" happened in dorms.)

Her solution? As much as she'd like to just ban the clubs, they are not officially part of Harvard, and they are not on college property. So, she has banned any member of said clubs from holding a leadership position on campus and will deny members recommendations for prestigious scholarships like the Rhodes. 

(Never mind that the clubs don't publish their member lists, so the school will have to rely on snitches. Holy Stasi, Batman! Modern liberalism requires a lot of never-minding, doesn't it?)

So, my Harvard friends, many of whom were in these evil clubs (along with two of my brothers), I have the solution. Actually, this comes from an old friend, who also attended:

Each club should have one member volunteer to identify as a woman.

This is bullet proof. Liberalism has decreed that you are what you feel, especially when it comes to gender. Just watch this video to see just how far this notion has spread on the typical college campus:

So, if a member of, say, the Porcellian Club says they're a chick, it can't be questioned. Presto, the whole club is off the hook.



Thursday, May 5, 2016

Republican Sophisticates: Time to Get Over Yourselves

"I could never vote for Trump."

I hear this a lot. I'm not talking about Democrats here, but Republicans, particularly of the educated, northeastern, country club variety. The sort that like Kasich. For this genus, voting for Trump is declasse, a lowbrow act. And they would rather see Hillary Clinton be the next President of the United States than have their sophistication be questioned.

I have one thing to say to these people, many of whom are my friends: get over yourselves.

Let me say first that at no point in the primary process did I support Trump. In fact, he wasn't even in my top ten. I am also well familiar with all the issues surrounding him. He's ideologically vacant. He cheats at golf. He's said a lot of awful things about women. He's a bombastic cartoon character. I know these things. But sometimes elections are the lesser of evils, and the alternative is far, far worse:

Here's what your pride will get you, my snobby friends:

  • the Supreme Court, lost for a generation
  • Obamacare, with us for good, with "fixes" that will cost even more
  • Obama's executive orders, untouched
  • higher and ever more complicated taxes
  • a continued growing of the state

I could go on, but do I need to? The first bullet point alone should stop you in your tracks. Hillary has suggested these two people would make just excellent Supreme Court justices:

But what will Trump do? Interestingly, he has provided more clarity than most give him credit for...

Taxes.  His tax plan is pretty damn good. Four brackets, maxing out at 25%. No Alternative Minimum Tax or marriage penalty. 15% business taxes. No more death tax. If Trump did nothing other than institute this plan, his presidency would be a success. Will he make it a priority? Hell if I know.

Obama's Egregious Executive Orders.  He's promised to rescind them.

Immigration.  We all know this one, but Trump's right, something needs to be done. My local school is being inundated with illegal children who don't speak English, and I live in the New York suburbs, not El Paso. I don't know of a single Republican who opposes robust legal immigration, but we're all tired of being called racists for opposing the illegal variety. Will a wall work? I don't know, maybe not, but it's for damn sure the entire issue will be addressed.

Obamacare.  He says he'll repeal it. Hopefully, he means it. Hillary will only double down as the scope of the disaster becomes clear.

Trade.  I don't like Trump on trade, not one bit. Nobody wins in a trade war. A few years ago, I would have taken Hillary on this one, but like on so many things, she's shifted positions, and now she's about where Trump is...No winning on this one.

Entitlements.  Here's another one where I think Trump is nuts. He says he won't touch Medicare or Social Security. Well, someone will have to, because they're going to be insolvent. Problem is, Hillary will be even worse on this one.

Foreign Policy.  Trump seems to be following Cruz's lead here: intervene only when there is a critical national interest at stake. No more nation building. Seems fairly sensible. Hillary, on the other hand, will likely follow left's instincts of late, which is to intervene only when there isn't a national interest at stake.

The trick here is figuring out what Trump will make a priority, other than immigration. I'm not sure even he knows. But, on balance, there's some good stuff. He could - could - make a good president. What are the odds? Certainly less than 50%, but Hillary is 100% guaranteed to be a disaster, and not simply on policy grounds. There's the sheer weight of her corruption, the personal and professional conflicts, the shrillness, the...oh, you know, Clintonness

She said this a couple of days ago to an out-of-work coal minor, who brought up her promise to eviscerate the coal mining industry and the jobs that go with it:

"What I said was totally out of context from what I meant."

Only a Clinton could dream up a phrase like that. What does it even mean? Taking something out-of-context is something other people do to you; you don't do it to yourself! The sheer national exhaustion that will ensue as the months roll by of a Hillary administration is depressing to contemplate.

I don't know how we got here, either. This was supposed to be the year that conservatives won their party back. Instead, nationalism trumped conservatism. (See what I did there?) Part of me is pleased to see that it's possible in modern America for a non-politician - in particular, a businessman - to become president. But did it have to be this particular guy?

No matter, this is the choice we have, and sorry, there's no sitting it out because that's half a vote for Hillary. So, my erudite friends, suck it up and pull the lever. 

You can tell us all you held your nose.

UPDATE: Trump just said he want to raise taxes and raise the minimum wage, reversing earlier statements and undermining the tax plan that's actually on his website. Not promising, but, again, Hillary will do both those things too. Also note that a GOP Congress will never agree.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Coming Wonkasm

I'm a spreadsheet guy, and I just went through a little exercise. I wanted to see how close Trump may come to nailing down the nomination on the first ballot. I went through the remaining states and tried my best, using a combination of polls and educated guesses, to allocate the remaining delegates. This also involved sifting through the primary rules for each state, which are complicated to say the least.

Here's where I came out: Trump wins 1227 delegates, 10 short of the number he needs. 

Holy crap.

Mind you, the Trump campaign has blundered lately, and I didn't fade his numbers accordingly, so I'm guessing my projection is slightly optimistic for Trump.

So here comes a contested convention. Here comes the Wonkasm.

Sober voices said it could never happen. Hah! This is the day for which political wonks and pundits have pined like teenage boy for Miss April.

It's understandable, of course. Conventions have become such dull affairs, at least since 1976. The media wants something to do other than search for good bars in Cleveland. 

They want something fun to write about while they search for good bars in Cleveland. 

Then, there's the fact they want the GOP to crash and burn. A crazy-ass convention increases the odds. Their dream scenario is an tumultuous battle royal, punctuated with some old fashioned violence perpetrated by paid agitants from the left (shh!).

They will likely get their way. Here's what likely happens at a contested convention: 
  1. Trump falls slightly short on the first ballot
  2. all hell breaks loose inside the convention hall
  3. liberals break things outside the convention hall
  4. Cruz wins
  5. Trump loses
That last part deserves some explanation. 

There are those that still have this fantasy that Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney will descend, all deus ex machina, to save the day. Or maybe what's-his-name...help me out here...oh, yeah, Kasich. A lot of people are buying this. In fact, there's actually a one-in-three chance in the betting markets that one of these three guys will be the nominee.

Not going to happen. Rule 40, passed in 2012, says you can't be the nominee unless you win the majority of delegates in at least eight states. Does anyone think this year's delegates will revoke this rule to anoint a guy who didn't run in a single primary or participate in a single debate? Not a chance. (Irony alert: it was Mitt and his people that actually jammed this rule through in the first place.)

So, it's Trump or Cruz. And I can tell you that while Trump is out there playing the media game, the Cruz ground game specialists are working the inside game hard, specifically the actual delegates. Many of Trump's, when released, will switch to Cruz. It's hard to imagine many at all going the other way. 

Plus, Rubio will likely throw his 149 delegates to Cruz. (Probably Kasich, too, although who knows what goes on in his head.) Plus, the establishment now seems to have settled for Cruz. They hate him, and they certainly tried to rationalize Trump (he knows how to make deals!), but Trump's unpredictability, particularly of late, makes him untenable. They can at least understand Cruz.

So look for all forces to be aligned against Trump.

While the punditry will be writing about this for years, it's hard to argue that any of this is good for the GOP. Cruz may very well make a fine candidate, but that doesn't change the fact that Trump's voters will be pissed. Best case, lots of them sit out the general. Worst case, they go vote for Trump as an independent. 

But just when you think all is lost, there's this...

EDIT: Cruz just won 36 of Wisconsin's 42 delegates, which is exactly what I had in my spreadsheet. More importantly, though, he won by an astonishing 13 points. This gives Cruz considerable momentum, making a contested convention even more of a sure thing.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The GOP Race: Making Sense of It All

Holy crap, did I just hear that right? Did Donald Trump actually talk about the size of his penis? With his kids in the audience?

Yes. Yes, I did, and yes he did.

Decades from now, they will write books about this campaign, and study it in school. We just don't know how the story ends. One thing is clear, though: Trump has lowered the bar on accepted discourse, much as shows like The Jersey Shore lowered the bar on our culture. Can we ever go back? Is this a pendulum, or an endless trend line? Judging from the perspective of my lifetime, it seems the latter. My daughter is working on a paper for school on Calvin Coolidge, and one can only imagine the horror with which Silent Cal, a man for whom reticence was an essential virtue, would have have reacted to all this.

Still, here's where I come out on Trump. Despite his bombast, ego-centrism, puerility, and, well, hair, I think there's a slight chance he might make a good president. I'm told he surrounds himself with good people and much of this is for show. Maybe. His tax plan is actually quite good, but who knows, really, if he'd make it a priority, or even remember what it was. But if he did, that alone might make a Trump presidency worthwhile. Let's put the odds of his being a good president at 25%.

There's an equal chance he would be a complete disaster. I don't think I need to expound on all the ways it could go wrong. 

Then there's a third scenario, the one no one talks about because it's less interesting, which is that he's an inconsequential celeb-president, a la Arnold or Jesse Ventura. Lots of talk, little action. I give this a 50% chance. Feel free to fiddle with my numbers.

So here's the thing. If I'm right, it means there's a better than even chance Trump won't be a disaster, at least from the perspective of a conservative. Hillary, on the other hand, is a sure-fire lock, a 100% chance of being a horror show of corruption, mindless progessivism, and just Clintonism

Trump appalls me, but Hillary does the same and more. A thousand times more. Like a super nova of awfulness next to a red dwarf. We may face the worst choice of candidates in my lifetime, eclipsing some other bad vintages like Nixon/McGovern and McCain/Obama, but a vote for Trump is an easy decision.

Which brings me to Romney. Some of what he said was on-the-money, and some was way over the top. Either way, he had no business saying any of it, certainly not this late in the process. We need to beat Hillary (or, God help us, the angry Marxist from Burlington). We need to beat her with whomever the base nominates. I don't need to tell you all the reasons why. Obamacare, the Supreme Court, tax policy, etc. Romney just made one long commercial for Hillary's campaign. Hell, she can call off the oppo research, because our own guys are doing it for her!

It's interesting how in years where the GOP establishment gave us dogs like Dole, McCain, and Romney, we were told to suck it up and get in line. Now, tables turned, the mandarins have no interest in returning the favor. They scream at the base, but the base is screaming back a thousand times louder. The death throes of the elite are not pretty to watch, and it appears they would rather burn down the whole house rather than let Trump have a shot of beating Hillary. Screw them.

Which brings me to Cruz, the only other viable candidate at this point. There was an interesting development Romney's screed when he said he would support Rubio, Kasich, or...Cruz. Not a lot of people took notice, but this is the first acknowledgement by the establishment that they could support Cruz, albeit if Trump was the only alternative. The feckless Lindsey Graham also conceded, grudgingly, that he would choose Cruz over Trump. This is a change.

Cruz campaign, are you listening? Now is the time to mend bridges with the establishment. Your man's anti-establishment cred is well earned and will not be tarnished for a little outreach. Embrace me, you will say, for I am the guy you hate less.

The race is far from over. Trump has 391 delegates to Cruz's 303. 1237 are needed to win, so we're only in the second or third inning. Cruz slightly outperformed on Super Tuesday and significantly outperformed on Saturday, even picking up Maine, about the last place one would expect. Momentum is on his side.

Still, if Trump wins the winner-take-all states of Florida and Ohio, he will be difficult to stop. Let's hope he doesn't.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Myth of the Underpaid Teacher

This is a letter I sent to my local paper yesterday that I thought I would share:

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to Mr. Monchinski’s letter asserting that Bedford Central teachers are not overpaid. A couple of years ago, I did something I wouldn’t wish on anyone: I read through the entire 115-page teachers union contract. I wanted to understand why my property taxes were so extraordinarily high relative to the rest of the country. I found out.

Allow me to lay out the facts, and then you can decide for yourself. For starters, it’s not difficult to make six figures a year – simply hanging around will get you the necessary raises, which come every six months, regardless of performance. Teachers are also only contractually required to work only 181 days a year, versus about 240 for the rest of us. But they also get 15 sick days, four personal days, and five bereavement days. Unused sick days go into a “bank” which pays out on retirement.

There is extra pay for everything imaginable. Coaching sports, monitoring recess, helping with plays, etc. (all the things private school teachers are expected to do as a normal part of their jobs). My personal favorite: $1,339 for monitoring the juggling club.

The big enchilada, though, is retirement.  Teachers get 70% of their peak base for life, which typically works out to about $85,000 a year (not taxed by the state, incidentally). Retirees also get excellent family health benefits, worth at least another 16k a year. To get all this, they are only required to cover 15% of their health.

Live another 25 years, and that’s a cool $2.5 million. They have an excellent chance of living that long, too, because they get to retire at age 57, Discounted at 4%, the package is worth a cool $1.6 million. It’s the same as being handed a $1.6 million fully-funded IRA on the day you retire, courtesy of the taxpayers.

These are the facts. They are purposefully buried in a complicated contract that few ever read. Mr. Monchinski’s primary argument seems to be that there are teachers in other New York District paid even more than here. Notice he says nothing of, say, nearby Connecticut where teachers – and taxes – are significantly lower.

We were trained for decades to think that teachers were underpaid, largely because they were. That time has passed.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The SCOTUS Vacancy Will Become the Defining Issue of this Cycle

To say that politics is inherently unpredictable is an understatement, but it's never more so than this cycle, where we may actually be staring into the face of a Sanders/Trump election. And just when we thought that national security would be the cycle's defining issue, it isn't. The unfortunate death of legal giant Antonin Scalia leaves us with an open Supreme Court seat, and the battle over this will be huge. 

And it won't favor Republicans.

If the vacancy had been, say, Ruth Bader Ginsberg's seat, this would all play out differently. There has been a tendency in recent years to view certain seats as "owned" by one side or the other, and by tendency, I mean that Republicans totally roll over when the vacancy is owned by the other side.

But this is the seat vacated by a giant of Constitutional conservatism. The left can hardly contain its excitement. And make no mistake, Obama will nominate someone of the Sotomayor/Kagan ilk. Those suggesting he might pick a moderate for the sake of an easy nomination process have surely been asleep for the last seven years.

This is going to get really, really ugly, and every presidential candidate will be drawn in. There has never been a presidential election with an open seat on the line, and this seats holds the balance of the court. Cruz has already said he will filibuster any nominee. It will come down to the GOP Senate, a ship captained by Mitch McConnell, someone who has shown no appetite for conflict with the White House. For now, he says he will block a vote. We'll see how he holds up when the left turns up the volume, and Obama uses the bully pulpit to gin up outrage. Unions will do their part also, as there's a huge case pending that affects their power to collect dues for political advocacy (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association).

McConnell will be under massive pressure from all quarters, which doesn't bode well for those who want the next president to choose Scalia's successor.

How does this affect the presidential race? In my view, it's a slight advantage for Democrats. Most people think of the Supreme Court in terms of social issues, and sure enough there are pending cases on things like abortion and affirmative action. Look for the Dems to key off these issues, particularly abortion. The abortion case pending (Whole Women's Health v. Cole) rules on a fairly technical issue, but that won't matter. Look for Dems to turn the vacant seat into a social issues referendum. This is bad for Republicans, who would much rather see this cycle be about national security and the economy.

This is just getting started.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Emerging, Populist, Cruz Narrative

One of the more remarkable, and under-reported, political developments this campaign season is that Ted Cruz is actively opposing ethanol subsidies. Philosophically, of course, Republican should oppose subsidizing any industry. Subsidies mean your playing favorites in the marketplace, something no Republican, at least no conservative, should ever do.

And yet, almost all do, because they like to buy votes. To be fair, the GOP isn't a party entirely based on vote-buying, like the Democrats, but that doesn't mean they are guilt free. In particular, Republicans with presidential aspirations have always shown enthusiastic support for ethanol, a circumstance rising from the fact that ethanol comes from corn, and Iowa grows lots of corn.

No one can ever win Iowa without sucking up to the farmers, the conventional wisdom goes. So, every four years, a parade of GOP hopefuls sell their free market souls on the cheap to a single industry in a small Mid-Western state. If they're willing to do that, what other conservative principles are they willing to sell out once they get in office? Lots, if recent GOP history is a guide.

No wonder the base is as angry as a hornet's nest at its own party. The Karl Roves and Jeb Bushes are still getting their arms around this.

Enter Ted Cruz. He is visiting every county in Iowa, and he is actively opposing the very issue Iowans are said to hold most dear. And he's winning. A van full of protesters, paid for by the ethanol lobby, harasses Cruz at every campaign stop, but no matter. Previous presidential hopefuls were unwilling to trust that Iowa Republicans value a principled position more than another four years of the government teat. It appears they are. How wonderful is that?

Should Cruz win Iowa, he will have a powerful case that he won't sacrifice principle for political expediency. He will further say that he opposes oil & gas subsidies, something that hurts him in his home state, sugar subsidies, something Marco Rubio supports because he takes money from the sugar barons, and all the stupid, market-distorting green subsidies favored by Obama. In fact, no subsidies of any kind. The government shouldn't play favorites.

All this ties into a bigger narrative: anti-cronyism. When the government plays favorites in the marketplace, the winners of federal largess turn out to be - hold on to your hats - big campaign contributors. Ending subsidies will do away with all that. Want to succeed? Produce something that people want.

Let's take it a step further. Cruz wants to eliminate our current tax code. As I've written about before, the tax code is our nation's single biggest source of corruption. In short, companies donate money to politicians and get favorable tax treatment in return, always buried deeply somewhere in the code's 75,000 pages. (This is called crony capitalism, but I hate that term, because playing favorites has nothing to do with capitalism, which is all about a level playing field. It should be called crony federalism.)

Do you see where this goes? Cruz can then unite his tax policy and his anti-subsidies policy under one theme, one that favors the little guy over fat cats and special interests. It's very populist, and it's one that should appeal to the Occupy types as much as the supply-siders. Yes, I know, it's a theme that almost sounds trite because just about every politician tries to sound this way.

But here's the thing: none of those politicians went to Iowa and opposed ethanol subsidies. You have to walk the walk.