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We’re Bullish On Fiorina And (Still) Bearish On Trump After The Debate

We had so much fun live-blogging the second Republican debates last night that we woke up this morning still yammering about them. Editor-in-chief Nate Silver, senior political writer Harry Enten and two editors, Micah Cohen and Simone Landon, jumped into a Slack chat room to discuss where Carly Fiorina goes from here and whether last night changed anything for the other candidates. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

micah: OK, for this post-debate chat, we’re going to play a game of buy/sell. The stocks: the current odds each candidate has of winning the GOP nomination, according to betting markets. So these are gamblers buying and selling stocks in each candidate, and the probabilities implied by those prices. Here they are:


natesilver: i.e., more or less the conventional wisdom.

micah: We’ll go one by one, and let’s start with the consensus winner of last night’s debate: Carly Fiorina. She’s sitting with an 8 percent chance of becoming the Republican nominee — would you buy or sell her stock?

hjenten-heynawl: I’d sell. Let me be the old curmudgeon in this group; I continue to believe that a traditional candidate will emerge as the ultimate nominee. I believe her record at HP will eventually bring her down, among other things. That said, I wouldn’t put her chance near 0. Perhaps closer to 3-5 percent. Better than Trump.

natesilver: Yay, an actual disagreement! I’d at least hold Fiorina’s stock at 8 percent, and maybe buy.

micah: “Hold” is not an option.

natesilver: Dude, hold is totally an option. This is FiveThirtyEight. Not “First Take.”

micah: Coward.

hjenten-heynawl: Hold is an option in baseball. A useless stat imho, but a stat nonetheless.

simone: We are mixing a lot of metaphors here!

natesilver: Anyway, the thing about Fiorina is that it seems a little off to classify her as an insurgent/outsider. If you’re the CEO of a major company like HP, you’re a part of the establishment. Unless you’re a real weirdo. And if you run for Senate as a Republican in 2010, and run as a surrogate for a bunch of Republican candidates, you’re part of the ​*political*​ establishment too.

simone: Does being a woman count as being an outsider or a weirdo, in this context? Part of why I think she “won” the debate was that easy, visible differentiation.

hjenten-heynawl: Let me point out a few things: 1. I think we need to realize that this is still September. Other more establishment candidates did very well last night. 2. Fiorina self-funded somewhat in 2010. Not exactly someone who relied on the traditional infrastructure.

As to Simone’s question, I think being a woman helps her be more of an outsider. After all, this country has an awful history of electing women candidates.

natesilver: Obviously, differentiation is the name of the game at this point.

simone: But I see the point that if that’s the only way she’s different, it’s not enough.

natesilver: I guess what I’m saying is that she’s different enough to get noticed, but maybe also a safe enough choice that the establishment could support her, or at least not actively fight her.

micah: The media is certainly treating the fact that Fiorina has never held elected office as an outsider credential.

natesilver: Right, and even though I think that’s sort of a bullshit narrative, it’s one that could help her.

hjenten-heynawl: In some sense that’s true @natesilver, a lot of the Acela types in my Twitter timeline are big fans of hers.

micah: If nothing else, she taught the GOP field that the way to deal with Donald Trump is calm, cold, mocking disgust.

natesilver: If you asked 100 Acela Republicans whether they’d take Fiorina as their nominee if it guaranteed there was no chance of Trump, what would they say?

micah: All 100 would take that deal.

hjenten-heynawl: Depends. Do they understand history or not? If they don’t, 100 percent. If they do, they’d say it’s early.

natesilver: Also, Republicans have spent so much time talking about how executive experience is important, and she has plenty of it, albeit with a mixed record at HP.

hjenten-heynawl: Gonna be real here: if that record is mixed, then I have a mixed record of supporting the Yankees.

natesilver: “Mixed” is my favorite euphemism to use in a poor performance review.

micah: Shouldn’t we get some evidence on this question soon? With two strong debate performances, shouldn’t Fiorina start picking up some endorsements? (If she actually is acceptable to the establishment, that is.)

natesilver: Yeah, we’ll want to look for signs of whether the establishment will support her. The thing is, the pace of endorsements has slowed to a trickle, so there are a lot of them still there for the taking. Rubio and Walker only have a couple of endorsements each, for example.

simone: Who’s Walker? Was he even there last night?

hjenten-heynawl: Walker was a ghost @simone. A ghost. But I stress that it’s very early. As long as the candidates have money (not just super PACs), then they can stick around.

simone: So when should I start paying attention?

natesilver: For now, what I think you should be paying attention to is how GOP elites react to candidates as they rise and fall in the polls.

simone: And endorsements are the best measure of elite reaction? Or do I have to start riding the Acela?

natesilver: They’re the most tangible measure, in most cases. But, yeah, the sort of sentiment you see on Twitter from Acelapublicans is important too. And whether she’s bringing in much money, which has been a weakness of hers to date.

micah: OK, so Nate was a weak “buy” on Fiorina, and Harry was a “sell.” Let’s do Walker next …

natesilver: Hold on, I have one more clever point to make about Fiorina.

micah: :drumroll:

natesilver: The point is that it’s not that far-fetched to imagine that she was a U.S. senator. What if she’d crossed the border to run in Nevada rather than California in 2010, for instance? She’d probably have won. Or she might have been elected if she’d run in Texas, where she’s from.

micah: But in that scenario, wouldn’t she be part of the hated establishment?

natesilver: The point is just that she has stealth establishment credentials. Which could either be the best of both worlds, or the worst of both worlds, and maybe in the wacky world of the GOP nomination process circa 2016, it’s closer to the best than the worst.

micah: That was somewhat clever. Scott Walker: buy/sell/hold?

hjenten-heynawl: Buy. At 4 percent? I’d buy.

natesilver: Yeah, it’s a buy at 4 percent.

micah: Because he had a good debate? Or for other reasons?

hjenten-heynawl: His debate performance was a ball of meh, but he’s the governor of a fairly large bluish-tint state. He won election three times in four years. He’s conservative.

natesilver: And his favorability ratings are pretty good and he has “enough” money to survive for a while.

micah: But a lot of people are concerned about the many balls of meh he’s rolled out so far … people were talking about the debate as do or die for him.

natesilver: “Doubts were raised.” I’m not saying that his stock hasn’t diminished. But I think there’s been an overreaction. A 25-to-1 shot? Sure. I’ll take a few of those tickets.

hjenten-heynawl: Agree entirely. Next candidate plz.

simone: Cruz, Huckabee and Kasich are all the same odds. Does that mean you buy for them, too?

hjenten-heynawl: Kasich is a buy at 4 percent. I’d buy Kasich up to 8 percent. The other two are holds or minor sells.

natesilver: I’d buy too, although probably sell against the price you’d be quoted on the Acela,, which would be much higher than 4 percent. Kasich is simultaneously underrated and overrated, in other words.

micah: Explain that?

natesilver: First of all, people keep saying he’s “surging,” and he isn’t really. He bought a bunch of ads in NH and those lifted his standing there, but his polling has been steady, not surging. Secondly, the media missed pretty badly on declaring him a winner of the first debate. In fact, his numbers barely moved afterward. Which normally isn’t something I’d worry about all that much — predicting polling movement after debates is hard — but Kasich is a candidate who might do better with the media and the donor class than the rank and file.

hjenten-heynawl: Kasich is a Huntsman of 2016. Media loves him as a different type of Republican. Now he has endorsements. A lot more than Huntsman did. But if you’re sounding to the left of Bush, oh boy. Don’t think that’s a good thing.

micah: So that brings us to the front-runner according to the betting markets … Jeb Bush at 39 percent: buy/sell/hold?

hjenten-heynawl: Selling that like I’d sell Micah if the right person came along. Yes, 39 percent is way too high.

micah: I’m hurt, Harry.

natesilver: Yeah, sell. I don’t really get why he’s at 39 percent.

micah: Where should he be? And why?

natesilver: I dunno — 25 percent? 30 percent?

hjenten-heynawl: Yeah, somewhere between 20-30 percent. His super PAC still has a ton of money. He leads the endorsement race (if barely). He’s ahead of most of the other traditional candidates in the polls (for whatever that is worth). And I don’t think he is too moderate for the party at this point.

natesilver: And he showed a little bit of life in last night’s debate. With a couple of big misfires — HE COULDN’T NAME A SINGLE AMERICAN WOMAN? But he showed he can be responsive to criticism, and the criticism had been that his performance in debates wasn’t feisty enough.

hjenten-heynawl: No one will remember that Thatcher answer in two days.

simone: But he’s not chill enough about weeeeeeeeed.

natesilver: I thought it was kind of amazing how the Republicans started to one-up one another on how chill they are about weed.

micah: Was Thatcher chill about weed? Moving on. THE DONALD: 13 percent. Buy/sell/hold?

hjenten-heynawl: Sell. Do I need to say why?

micah: In one sentence.

hjenten-heynawl: His name is Donald Trump.

natesilver: He’s not a Republican.

micah: Did the debate hurt him?

natesilver: Everyone’s gotten really gun-shy about trying to predict what happens to Trump’s polls. Which I understand, in a way. Predicting short-term movement in the polls really isn’t the point. But I thought, first of all, that he comes across like a bully on stage, in a way that isn’t as true when he’s fighting the media or some imaginary foe in a speech.

micah: Yeah, I’m an editor, so I have nothing to lose, but my prediction: Trump drops at least a little in the polls.

simone: But the bully thing is why people like him in the first place. Or, why the people who like him like him.

natesilver: What’s tricky is that I think there are three or four groups of people supporting Trump in the polls. Not all of his 30 percent support are bandwagon jumpers. There are plenty of Republicans who are conservative on immigration but moderate on fiscal policy, although they might not be the sort of Republican who votes regularly. But some of it is voters who are going along for the ride, or who think he’s a YUUUUGGEEE WINNER. And that group could diminish if, say, Fiorina and Carson get more of the attention for a couple of weeks.

And what happens if Fiorina or Carson start to beat him in a few national polls? His ego is SO invested in how he’s performing in the polls that he could go totally nuts. Nuts even by Trump standards.

micah: And maybe it’s also the difference between “tough guy who gets shit done” and “insecure bully in 4th grade.” Trump drifted toward the latter last night.

natesilver: You saw a little bit of that in the diminishment of Christie’s standing. It took a long time, but eventually the perception on Christie went from “straight talker” to “loose cannon.”

hjenten-heynawl: The line against Fiorina about the face was exactly the sign of someone who knew he f-ed up. And Trump came off awful in that exchange.

simone: But did he with Megyn Kelly? I feel like he won that one. Trump going after women, or poorly apologizing, doesn’t seem like much of a factor to me, tbh.

micah: We’ll have to see …

simone: What share of GOP primary voters are women?

natesilver: 43 percent in Iowa in 2012. 46 percent in New Hampshire.


Support among Republican women

Trump was already underperforming among women, but not by a ton.

simone: Wait, so are we all sell on The Donald?

micah: Everyone sold.

simone: You’re all making some fantastic deals.

micah: All right, Marco Rubio at 17 percent: Buy/sell/hold?

hjenten-heynawl: I’m buying. Not by a ton, but I’m buying. Talk about candidates who articulated clear and crisp policy positions last night. Marco Rubio was one. And unlike Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio won his Senate race in 2010.

natesilver: I’m with Harry. I’d buy Rubio stock, but he’s gained a little bit in the prediction markets in the past few days, so he’s not as underpriced as he was before.

micah: Nate, you think he did well last night?

natesilver: I thought he won the donor class division of the debate. I don’t know. TBH, half the time I’m like “RUBIO IS OBVIOUSLY THE BEST CANDIDATE WHY AREN’T THEY NOMINATING HIM.”

simone: I get the strong feeling he is biding his time.

micah: Which would be a smart strategy?

natesilver: Yeah, if he’s deliberately not trying to peak too soon, that’s pretty smart. What’s interesting is that he’s got a couple of ex-Pawlenty people on his team, and maybe they learned the lesson in 2012 that you don’t want to force the issue too early. And yet … he has more potential than reality at this point. Why isn’t his support among the donor class translating into more endorsements?

micah: Well, there haven’t been many endorsements, period.

hjenten-heynawl: He has money. Historically speaking, the party isn’t anywhere close to deciding. His favorable ratings continue to be very strong.


natesilver: You can maybe argue that Rubio has problems in that his support is so evenly spread throughout the GOP that he’s not particularly strong in any of the early states. So that could make it hard for him to get momentum. But that strikes me as a high-class problem. He’s got a lot going for him.

micah: So Rubio’s a unanimous buy. Ben Carson at 6 percent: Buy/sell/hold?

hjenten-heynawl: Sell.

simone: Sell. And I don’t even really know what we’re talking about.

natesilver: I’d probably sell, but I don’t feel so emphatically about it.

micah: I’d hold, fwiw.

hjenten-heynawl: That’s nice @micah.

micah: 6 percent isn’t that high! He’s second in the polls, which I know are meaningless, but still …

natesilver: The thing is, it’s not clear he wants to be president.

micah: What does he want?

natesilver: Also, it seems like a lot of his support is coming from evangelicals — which might explain the utter lack of support for Santorum and Huckabee. And we tend to know how that script goes. Maybe you win Iowa, but it’s high floor, low ceiling.

micah: So Carson is a factional candidate?

hjenten-heynawl: Yes, I wrote in December 2014, and it still holds, that Carson has a good shot in Iowa. Beyond that? No.

natesilver: I think Carson’s having fun and likes pontificating on stuff and that’s cool. He just passed on a couple of opportunities to stick the knife in last night in a way that made me wonder whether he’s in it to win it. Like, he could have given the most epic answer ever on calling Trump out on his vaccine bullshit, and he played it very softly instead.

simone: We had a question from a reader last night that we didn’t answer about veep.

micah: Good Q: Does Carson want to be VP?

hjenten-heynawl: No idea whether Carson wants veep. He likely won’t be chosen, though. After McCain, I think the tendency is toward safer picks. Carson is too unpredictable.



micah: Ted Cruz 4 percent: Buy/sell/hold?

hjenten-heynawl: Holding.

natesilver: Hold.

micah: Buy.

natesilver: I could make an argument why you’d buy, but I wonder about Cruz’s demeanor. Maybe it’s the ex-policy-debater in me, but I find his mannerisms incredibly annoying. And I don’t know if rank-and-file Republicans will see him as that relatable.

micah: Mike Huckabee 4 percent: Buy/sell/hold?

hjenten-heynawl: I’m holding.

natesilver: I’d probably sell. Wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he could surge in Iowa, but he doesn’t seem to be the flavor that Republicans are looking for this year.

hjenten-heynawl: What are you selling to? 2 percent?

natesilver: Sure. 2 percent.

micah: Chris Christie 1 percent: Buy/sell/hold?

hjenten-heynawl: I’d buy to 2 percent.

natesilver: Buy. We’ve been bearish on Christie for a LONG time, but 1 percent is really cheap. I think Christie should be adopting a much more high-risk strategy, though, and start being really brash and going after some of Trump’s voters.

micah: Rand Paul 1 percent: Buy/sell/hold?

natesilver: Hold, I guess. You got the sense watching him last night that he’s thinking about dropping out. Going through the motions a bit.

micah: I thought the same thing.

hjenten-heynawl: Yeah, Rand Paul just doesn’t have the position alignment with the GOP as a whole to win.

natesilver: And if he continues to piss off Republicans, he could be at some risk of inviting a primary challenge in Kentucky.

micah: I’d buy Paul on “most likely to follow my beloved Rick Perry out the door.” Finally, here’s the bargain bin: Graham, Jindal, Santorum and Pataki at 0 percent: Buy/sell/hold?

natesilver: FREE MONEY

micah: Graham was deemed the winner of the JV debate!

simone: I’d take Jindal for free.

natesilver: I’ll take infinity Jindal stock at $0.

hjenten-heynawl: I mean by statistics I should be buying … but! … In all seriousness, let me make an important point about Jindal. We keep talking about a Christian Conservative emerging from Iowa. Friends of Jindal have been spending there. His favorable ratings climbed in the latest Des Moines Register poll. Don’t be shocked by a Jindal surge. Graham and Pataki have no choice. Santorum is a bag of whatever.

micah: And we’ll end on this note: Jim Gilmore, the former governor of Virginia (a crucial swing state), isn’t even listed, not even at 0 percent.

hjenten-heynawl: I’d be selling at 0 percent.

micah: Readers, give us your buy/sell/hold orders in the comments below. Thanks, everyone!

Read more: What Went Down In The Second GOP Debate