Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington
If you’re still confounded by Donald Trump’s staying power atop the GOP field — partly because you’ve spent any time observing him, and partly because very few if any of the people you know who’re inclined to vote in the Republican primary count themselves as Trump supporters — then a poll that CNN released Friday might help clear things up. The national survey found Trump’s backing reaching 36%, an all-time high in that poll that places the bombastic billionaire a whopping 20 points ahead of his nearest rival (per the poll, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz now places second, displacing a downwardly mobile Ben Carson).
The key to understanding those results lies under the poll’s hood. Among those without a college degree, Trump extends his lead to 46% of likely voters; but he registers just 18% among those with a college degree, good for fourth place. It’s easy enough to identify what’s driving the disparity. Beyond the general appeal of Trump’s rage-fueled pitch to a dispossessed conservative base, his militance toward illegal immigrants has won him the allegiance of voters who know the party’s elite is anxious to provide them a path to citizenship. On the issue, the balance of the Republican rank-and-file side with Trump: the CNN poll finds 53% of GOP voters want illegals deported, even if only 27% believe that’s possible.
Data crunchers pooh-pooh the poll’s top lines, noting in part that national surveys hold limited predictive power over a selection process that hopscotches from state to state. But with 57 days until the Iowa caucuses, Trump still claims a 7-point edge there, according the RealClearPolitics polling average — and a 15-point edge in follow-up New Hampshire. An increasingly frantic establishment is chambering Nerf bullets to try to take him down.
Correction: Yesterday’s note included a bad link for the look from our new issue into how Vinod Khosla’s marquis bet on a biofuels startup unraveled. We’re happy for the opportunity to promote it here, because while it’s essentially a business story (and a great read besides), there’s also a deeply political dimension. The company — KiOR, which promised to give oil giants a run for their money by producing fuel from pine chips — relied on a $75 million loan from Mississippi to get its first commercial facility up and running. Its bankruptcy has left the state on the hook, offering a cautionary tale about the perils of elected leaders chasing ribbon cuttings.
Yet where the U.S. is faltering in bringing homegrown clean-energy technologies along, China is picking up the slack. For a fuller picture of the pipeline siphoning American innovation across the Pacific, read Jeffrey Ball’s latest feature, examining how the Chinese are pouring money into Silicon Valley’s brightest-green prospects to meet their country’s rapidly growing need for renewable energy.
• A sinking Bush campaign is scrambling to keep its donors aboard
Considering the early hype behind Jeb Bush’s presidential bid, his donors could be forgiven for panicking over the former Florida governor’s disappearing act in the polls. But his backers appear to be keeping their heads on, for now. That owes both to the loyalty the candidate engenders and also a sales job from his campaign that’s sought to convince those invested in him that there’s still time for the former frontrunner to make up the ground he’s lost over a brutal summer and fall. They’re pointing to the ground game he’s assembled in New Hampshire and South Carolina as salvations. Plus, his vaunted super PAC still has roughly $75 million in the bank — money its chief strategist is now contemplating plowing into a carpet-bombing campaign against rival establishment pols, the aim being to narrow the field to a two-way race between Bush and Trump. It would amount to a Hail Mary.
• Rubio’s brief stint as a consultant draws new scrutiny
By any reasonable standard, Marco Rubio has been a career politician. But in his brief stint in the private sector, the Florida senator and Republican presidential candidate traded on the relationships he cultivated in his home state’s power structure. A consulting business that Rubio built in a two-year stretch before running for an open U.S. Senate seat in 2010 pulled in a half-million dollars from clients who needed connections he’d established as state house speaker. Florida ethics officials investigated his business dealings and found no evidence Rubio had landed clients in return for having supported their legislative interests. One arrangement, with a hospital, nevertheless appears to have treaded close to the line.
• A controversial program for foreign investors earns a reprieve
Lawmakers are circling a plan to overhaul and extend a controversial cash-for-visas program that has enabled billions in foreign investment in real estate mega-projects, Fortune has learned. The emerging deal would make it more expensive for foreign investors and subject their projects to more rigorous checks by the Department of Homeland Security, in order to guard against fraud. It’s got bipartisan support but could engender opposition from powerful real estate interests. The program expires Dec. 11 — the same date that funding runs out to keep the government open — so the debate over its extension will play out in the context of a broader spending package.
• Weapons suppliers are straining to meet the new anti-ISIS demand
Here’s one indication that the international campaign to destroy ISIS is picking up: Weapons suppliers are straining to meet the increased demand for munitions. The stepped-up offensive against the terrorist state is prompting talk among arms makers of building new plants to keep up. American retaliation alone has so far cost around $5.2 billion, resulting in 8,605 strikes, as of the beginning of this month.
Around the Water Cooler
• How the business lobby revived the Ex-Im bank
Bringing the Export Import Bank back from the dead required a herculean lift from corporate lobbyists. Free-market conservatives had seized on the once-sleepy export finance agency as a symbol of crony capitalism and forced the expiration of its charter over the summer. So the business interests angling for its renewal employed a kitchen-sink strategy, eventually recruiting 250 companies and associations to help press the point. An oddball circumstance provided the breakthrough opportunity: When hardliners forced the resignation of then-Speaker John Boehner, pro-bank forces leapt at the leadership vacuum to force a vote through a rarely-used procedural maneuver. It worked. A renewal of the bank’s charter is now headed to the president’s desk.
• Christie crams for his foreign affairs final
New Jersey Chris Christie has scrapped his way to a second look in the Republican presidential race by rising into contention in the New Hampshire polls. The blunt-talking former prosecutor owes his resurgence at least partly to a renewed focus on national security following the terrorist attacks in Paris. But he’s also been cramming on foreign policy, a subject he’s never had to master, to make the most of the moment. Christie offers a revealing look into his thinking about the challenges facing the U.S. around the globe in a sit-down with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg.