Thursday, May 24, 2018

Frozen Garlic and Donovan Smith on Local elections, K-town and Taipei

George and Mary's. It's for sale!

Long post ahead, so let's get Kaohsiung out of the way. Frozen Garlic has a superb post on it.
I don’t know if Han’s message will work. I suspect it will not. If it doesn’t, he doesn’t have the deep organizational networks to overcome the lack of a compelling message. It’s entirely possible that more conventional KMT city council candidates will panic and encourage a more standard politician to run an independent mayoral campaign, worrying that their voters will not want to turn out to vote for a mayoral candidate like Han. However, if Han somehow manages to break into the low 40s, KMT presidential and legislative candidates (in green districts) in 2020 might decide to copy his populist approach. It’s worth keeping an eye on.
It's a really thought provoking post. My own view is that Han's populist approach won't work very well because Taiwanese are not as dumb as Americans. I think he will appeal to disaffected over-50 types, and that's all. The young know perfectly well that the political economy of Taiwan is responsible for their problems, and their problems are structural. Han's alleged underworld connections mark him as an old school politician younger voters won't like....

On to Taipei after the READ MORE break.

Great conversations on Ko and Taipei taking place on Facebook. Last week I posted on the Taipei race after the DPP announced it would run a candidate in the race. Heavyweight former Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu ruled out a run in Taipei, and the Party this week said it would run either Pasuya Yao or Annette Lu for Taipei mayor. Either is fine with The View from Taiwan, which can look forward to months of blog fodder from all the inanities they will utter. But as a resident of the island and supporter of democracy and independence, it's going to be six months of face palming.

Nathan Batto wrote on the race last week, which inspired my man Donovan to write a Facebook note about the Taipei race: Frozen Garlic Drove Me Nuts Thinking About Ko P. All of it below...


Donovan: So, Nathan Batto posted on his excellent blog Frozen Garlic (like it, follow it, sell your firstborn into slavery to provide funding for it) the following stunning statement in this insightful post:
“I’ve consistently underestimated Ko Wen-je over the past five years. I may be doing so again, but this looks like the beginning of the end for him to me. I expect the DPP to start attacking him, and these attacks will take their toll on his popularity. Right now the DPP is in third place in the race, but if they can knock Ko down to third place, strategic voting will eviscerate him. Right now, my guess is that he will end up between 10% and 15%, far behind the KMT and DPP candidates.”
That’s a very bold statement, but when Batto speaks I pay very close attention. I’ve been slowly being driven nuts trying to figure out what drove him to that conclusion, but now I have some ideas how that could happen to the degree suggested in his piece--though I consider it far from certain.

As things stand, the race should still be Ko’s to lose. He’s ahead in almost every poll taken, with support in the very toughest of hypotheticals in the mid 30s, but mostly solid in the mid 40s. To drop to 10-15% would mean the crumbling of ⅔-¾ of his support between now and November. True, early polls are weak barometers. True, his opponents haven’t even really revved up their campaign machines yet. But that’s still a huge drop he’s suggesting. Either Batto knows something I don’t (entirely possible, he’s a smart, insightful and knowledgeable guy), or something like the following scenario has to play out. Problem is, there are several heroic assumptions required...unless Ko makes some huge mistakes, which he just might and there are indications he is already making them. In that case, Batto’s assessment becomes much more realistic without heroic assumptions (and maybe, or maybe not I figured out why he’s come to his conclusion). But let’s start with the heroic scenario.

The part that is harder to see happening at this stage is the DPP pushing him into third place (which if it did happen, indeed strategic voting could eviscerate him). This would likely require a heavyweight DPP candidate. As I noted somewhere, I thought Chen Chu was too old and tired to want to start all over in a new city, and yesterday she announced basically that--so she’s out. That leaves, as far as I can tell only William Lai. I don’t think they will run him, either. Tsai would have to sign off on it, and why would she? He’s still reasonably popular doing her dirty work where he is. The only scenario I see where she signs off on that is if she wants to cripple Lai ahead of the 2020 presidential election. A Taipei run would produce either a) Lai stuck in the job of Taipei mayor of b) the taint of defeat. But that doesn’t seem very convincing to me. The job of premier takes a toll as problems mount and unpopular decisions need to be made. Much of the sheen will be off by 2020 anyway, so tactically I don’t see any particular advantage to running Lai in Taipei for either Tsai or the party. That leaves the most likely candidate Pasuya Yao, a frequent past loser.

But let’s grant heroic assumption number one, that William Lai or a transformed Pasuya Yao somehow magically becomes a highly electable guy--all in a city with much of the population with a serious DPP allergy problem. Even in the best case scenario here, any DPP candidate will have a solid uphill slog, Lai would have to get to know the city in a few short months and they him. Yao would have to, well, become actually popular. Neither of these is easy.

On to heroic assumption number two: “I expect the DPP to start attacking him, and these attacks will take their toll on his popularity.”. To a certain degree, of course once they start running attack ads, it will hit his popularity--so I think it is a true statement, but only to a point if he responds well (see below for why I think he might not). The DPP and pan-green media has been attacking him in the press. True, not full-blown attack ads, but they’ve been hitting him for awhile now. He’s still ahead in the polls. What do they have that is so powerful as an attack on him to be like kryptonite caused such a huge fall in popularity? Ko’s failings, problems and foot-in-mouth disease are all well-known at this point, so they’d need something new or a powerful way of re-framing what people already know in a new way that resonates. Not easy with a guy like him, for all his gaffes he also has a talent for skewering attacks on him by stating the obvious.

The third assumption is less heroic, that the KMT’s Ting will need to boost his popularity. Once the KMT mobilizes behind him and starts attacking Ko, it isn’t too hard to see him gaining some in the polls. After all, this is Taipei, a city where at least a third will vote KMT no matter who they run--they could run rabid ferret-badger wearing a Mao cap for all it matters. However, their problem is that Ting isn’t much better than a rabid ferret-badger as a candidate.

The last heroic assumption is that independents and the “pox on all their houses” voters, of whom anecdotally I keep running into and hearing a lot about (especially younger voters), will somehow be coaxed into voting for one of the big parties when they have an opportunity to spurn them--continuing the rejection of the KMT from the past two election cycles and rejecting the DPP because of disappointment in the Tsai government. While both parties have their die-hard supporters, a lot of voters for both parties only support them because they hate the other party more, in a “lesser of two evils” sort of way.

All that being said, perhaps the “secret sauce” in Batto’s bold prediction is Ko himself making some huge mistakes, which don’t require any heroic assumptions to see playing out....he’s already making some of them.

First, Ko could make the mistake of assuming that this election will be much like the last one. I recall seeing a report that he is not planning on doing much campaigning. On the one hand, his highly visible role as Taipei mayor covers that to a certain degree. However, if the DPP and KMT start campaigning well, with good ads and a good get-out-the-vote ground game, Ko could get caught flat-footed and out-maneuvered. He could end up realizing his mistake too late, and without a solid team of professionals already in place he could run out of time to rectify the mistake and he could get hit hard.

Second, Ko is often arrogant and stubborn. Combined with the mistake above, this could be fatal. By not campaigning much or very effectively, if he begins to slide in the polls he could lash out. It’s easier--like in the last campaign--to be upbeat and positive when you’re the insurgent on the way up than when you’re the incumbent on the defensive in a relentless tide of attacks from both the pan-blue and pan-green camps, getting hit from both sides. Ko seems pretty tough so far, but the real pressure isn’t on yet. It isn’t hard to imagine a scenario playing out where attack ads start to gain some traction and instead of responding professionally or flexibly, he digs in his heels, making something that would have been a bit damaging an outright disaster leading to a collapse in the polls. His apparent refusal so far to pull together a professional campaign team means he’ll be out on his own if that happens, compounding the problem.

I still think this election is Ko’s to lose, and if I had to pick a winner now I would still pick him--but aware of the risks above. Most people who would be turned off by his gaffes have already been, and he is regarded as independent and not corrupt by those supporters he retains. The KMT’s Ting is a chronic loser, and I suspect the DPP will also run one in Yao. The KMT is struggling, demoralized, unimaginative, without popular leadership and is now cash-poor. The Tsai administration’s unpopularity will hurt their candidate in the polls in a city they generally don’t do well in in the best of times, and there are many voters who are sick of both of the major parties and wouldn’t mind punishing them both or giving support to alternatives. Both major parties do have the advantage of professional teams and get-out-vote machines, but the mayor has the power of incumbency and near universal name recognition. On balance, things are in Ko’s favour.

...or he melts down to like Batto suggests, I think Ko’s real challenge is himself. If he loses, though, that might just teach him the lessons he needs to be all the more formidable for any future runs he might undertake. He’s still popular nationally...


Donovan summoned Nathan from his demense in academia and Nathan responded on Facebook:
Nathan Batto It's all about reason #2. On policies, Ko has a mixed record (Taipei dome: bad; lack of corruption: good; North Gate: great; everything else: no impression at all).

But on China, the DPP will start making two variants of the same arguments in earnest. 1. Ko is not one of us. He is not green. He believes Taiwanese and Chinese belong to the same family, and we cannot accept that. 2. Ko is willing (eager?) to try to play the I-can-be-a-bridge role, and he will make any concession necessary to do this. His willingness to say what China wants to hear proves that he is not really on our side. And he knows that in setting himself up in this role, he is undermining Tsai and the national government by making it easier for the PRC to bypass her. His actions are precisely the same thing that the DPP has complained about in regard to the CCP-KMT Forum for several years. Ko is a political speculator, and it is imperative to cut ties with him.

These arguments are aimed at party sympathizers who still think that Ko is fundamentally still a green politician or a Taiwanese nationalist. (Kinda where Michael Turton placed himself the other day.) We've been seeing this campaign build over the last four months inside the DPP in an effort to convince party decision makers to nominate their own candidate. It has been effective. Now they will take it to the broader electorate and try to reshape how green sympathizers think about Ko. Up until now, since the DPP had not made a decision about whether to cooperate with Ko, you were hearing mixed messages. Now that they have crossed the Rubicon and split with him, you will hear a much more consistent message about how Ko is "not one of us." As DPP candidates and thought leaders draw a sharper line, I expect it to affect Ko's popularity. Maybe a half or more (just a wild guess, no data) of his voters are people who like him because he was allied with the DPP and have never had to make a choice. The two big parties have deep, deep roots in society, and many a popular politician has discovered that without party backing, he or she isn't actually that popular after all.

Nathan Batto: If the race is currently Ting 40, Ko 40, and Yao 15, I don't think it will be very difficult for Yao to erode another 10 points away from Ko over the next few months. That puts them nearly in a tie. All Yao has to do is push Ko into third place, and Ko is cooked.

I agree with you that Yao is about as popular as mold, but he is a solidly mainstream DPP politician. There isn't much reason for DPP sympathizers to strongly dislike him. The DPP has historically been able to rally around a party nominee. There are almost no examples of a non-DPP candidate running against a DPP candidate and taking over a half of the normal DPP vote. Some examples: 2001 Taichung mayor, DPP does not renominate incumbent, and she manages to take about one fifth of the DPP vote. In 1996, LTH probably took about a third of the DPP vote. In Kaohsiung in 2010, Yang Chiu-hsing didn't manage to steal many DPP votes at all; he ended up mostly poaching KMT votes. Maybe the best parallel is the 1997 Tainan mayor race, where 許添財 initially seemed to be much more popular than DPP nominee 張燦鍙. If you remember, the DPP mobilized all its efforts to tell voters that Chang, not Hsu, was the person to support. CSB specifically went down and endorsed Chang, even though Hsu was from his own faction. Chang eventually got about twice as many votes as Hsu. These are the most notable exceptions, and Ko will have to do even better than these people at stealing DPP support. Historically speaking, the DPP has almost always been able to pull most of its voters back into the fold.
All of this discussion has to be contextualized: the DPP said today it would run either Annette Lu or Pasuya Yao. This means there won't be a heavyweight to pull in DPP votes in Taipei. Further, the PFP has pledged to support Ko P in the mayoral election.

Lets look at three way races in Taipei from Wiki. The 1994 race:

DPP Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) 615,090 43.67%
NP Jaw Shaw-kong (趙少康) 424,905 30.17%
KMT Huang Ta-chou (黃大洲) 364,618 25.89%

Chen Shui-bian got in because the Blue vote split between the New Party and the KMT (which still, together, got 55% of the vote).

In 1998...

KMT Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) 766,377 51.13%
DPP Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) 688,072 45.91%
NP Wang Chien-shien (王建煊) 44,452 2.97% this election the Blues banded together for the famous 'dump-save' -- dumping Wang to save Ma. Note that the blue total is 54%.

In 2002 there was no third candidate and Ma handily crushed Lee Ying-yuan. In 2006...

KMT Hau Lung-pin (郝龍斌) 692,085 53.81%
DPP Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) 525,869 40.89%
PFP James Soong (宋楚瑜) 53,281 4.14%

Note that the Blues got nearly 58% of the vote, but in this election, the third candidate once again came in under 5% of the vote. In 2010 Hau Lung-pin easily beat Su Tseng-chang of the DPP and the minor candidates were collectively less than 1% of the vote. In 2014 Ko P beat Sean Lien and the minor candidates together were less than 2% of the vote.

As Nathan observed, Ko P has no party apparatus of his own, and it remains to be seen how much the PFP can contribute. The young might vote for him, but they aren't going to stump for him.

Moreover, the DPP knows how to run a campaign, and how to get out the vote. Unfortunately, it has an unpopular candidate and this is an election year in which KMT voters will be fired up.

Look above. In every election the Blue candidates get over 50% of the vote, except for the hapless Sean Lien. But even Lien managed to get 40.8% of the vote though he had no political experience and was given the position as a present because of his father's influence. All things considered, the tribal KMT vote in Taipei is like 40% of the electorate.

That means that Ting, before he even utters a word, has 40% of the electorate locked up. It will be very difficult for him to fall below that number.

But if Ting runs an even half decent campaign, he can easily breach 50%. Remember, he has been in the trenches in Taipei since forever, is the son of an old soldier, not a princeling like Sean Lien, and many people in the city of both major parties feel he deserves it. He will probably collect all the KMT vote.

So whatever happens, Ko and the DPP candidate will split the DPP vote which at its best is 45% of the electorate. Note that when the hapless Lee Ying-yuan ran, he got 35% of the vote, which suggests that the tribal DPP vote in Taipei is 35% of the electorate.

The means that Ko P and the DPP will be splitting the remaining 15-25% willing to vote, plus siphoning off a few percentage points from each of the party's less tribal voters. Most of the light greens and blues will return to their respective parties, leaving little for Ko. Will he even reach 10% gleaning the leftovers?

Or voters could vote strategically the other way. Ko might get over 40% if he can siphon votes from Ting, who is not a compelling candidate ("he deserves it" is not a convincing voter appeal) and then collect most of the DPP vote. But can DPP voters in Taipei be smart enough to dump the DPP candidate in favor of a candidate the DPP officially does not like? What if that is the DPP strategy -- to announce a dump-save in favor of Ko when Yao proves himself incapable of winning the city? (dont' really see that as a possibility, but still...) Will Ko carry enough disaffected KMT votes? And if Ko starts to falter, will he still hold on to that vote?

Yet, those polls I posted last month have Ko ahead of both Yao and Ting, and Yao siphoning votes from Ting.

Yeah but, those votes Yao gets from Ting are protest votes against Ko -- there are DPP voters so profoundly mixed up they were will to vote for the pro-China party instead of a politician who merely made nice to Beijing for the sake of an athletic exhibition.

I'd say it is looking like an uphill battle for Ko even with this initial gigantic lead, because I don't see how Ting can get less than 40%. And if Ko loses in Taipei, what happens to his potential presidential run many have talked about? Especially without DPP support. Indeed, running a candidate against Ko now insures that the DPP can rationally maintain he would not make a good president in case he shows up in 2020 or 2024 -- they will not need to explain why they supported him twice for mayor.  Especially if in 2020 he shows up allied to the PFP and fronted by mainlander James Soong and a bevy of local politicians with fingers in unsavory pies.

But recall too that Taiwanese voters like to give politicians a second chance.

Bear in mind also that no non-KMT candidate has won twice in a row in Taipei since democratization began.

Taiwan Brain Trust poll on what politicians have public approval. Ko at present is very high.

Of course, maybe running Yao or Lu isn't about strategy at all. Maybe its just DPP central revenging itself on the city councilors who forced it to run a candidate. "You want a candidate? Fine! Eat this sucky one."

On a completely unrelated note, the DOD sent this around, disinviting China to the 2018 RIMPAC:
"The United States is committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific. China's continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serve to raise tensions and destabilize the region. As an initial response to China's continued militarization of the South China Sea we have disinvited the PLA Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise. China's behavior is inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the RIMPAC exercise."

"We have strong evidence that China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, and electronic jammers to contested features in the Spratly Islands region of the South China Sea. China's landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island has also raised tensions."

"While China has maintained that the construction of the islands is to ensure safety at sea, navigation assistance, search and rescue, fisheries protection, and other non-military functions the placement of these weapon systems is only for military use."

"We have called on China to remove the military systems immediately and to reverse course on the militarization of disputed South China Sea features."

"We believe these recent deployments and the continued militarization of these features is a violation of the promise that President Xi made to the United States and the World not to militarize the Spratly Islands."
Hey... that's how you handle China. Tit for tat concrete punishments. Somebody gets it. Now if only the punishments actually cost China something...
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