Archive for category 2016 Election
It is unfair. It’s a mix of a GOP witch hunt, as evidenced by statements recently from Rep. Mike McCarthy and a staff member of the committee investigating Benghazi, and modern technology – not yet quite knowing the best way to handle cyber communication. It is the result of an unwarranted and ugly politicization of the tragedy of the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, but politics is often unfair. Machiavellian and ruthless, the GOP has weakened the Democratic front runner, Hillary Clinton. Now the question is whether that damage is manageable, or if the Democrats would be better off with someone else.
This leaves democrats in a quandry. The Democrats have lots of young dynamic talent, but remembering the rise of Obama in 2008 the Clinton team quietly worked to convince them their long term future was better off not challenging the front runner. This isn’t 2008; at that time the public was angry at an outgoing President and wanted change. While Republicans are convinced Obama is the worst thing since cholera, most consider him as having had an effective stint in the oval office.
The young guns that wowed the Democratic National Convention in 2012 thus pulled back to let Hillary glide to the nomination, leaving only an aging leftist Bernie Sanders to launch a plausible alternative campaign, with pragmatists Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb withering in the single digits.
Yet Hillary is not a strong candidate. Her weaknesses helped enable Obama’s rise in 2008, and she’s never shown herself an effective campaigner. Indeed, her focus seems to be on infrastructure and organization rather than actually campaigning. If her husband hadn’t been President, she wouldn’t be where she is today – a glaring weakness in that notion that it’s time to elect a “self-made” woman. Add to that the e-mail scandal – a minor controversy played up by the media and the GOP – and the public finds itself distrusting Clinton, perhaps a bit tired of a family story that’s been in the public eye for almost a quarter of a century.
Consider the talk of 74 year old VP Joe Biden entering the race. Biden has really nothing going for him – and I say that as someone who truly likes Biden and thinks he’d be an excellent President (he’s been especially prescient on foreign policy). He’s not a good campaigner, has never done well when he’s been in the ring, and given his age and lack of distinguishing characteristics has no charismatic appeal. Yet many Democrats (and probably more Republicans) hope he’ll throw his hat in the ring.
Simply, Hillary may be too weak a candidate for the Democrats in 2016, yet the way the campaign has been positioned it’s hard to stop her. Only a maverick like Bernie Sanders had the audacity to mount a front on challenge – and while the 74 year old former Socialist has whipped up the Democratic base, it’s unclear if he could gain broad public support.
Sanders supporters point to polls that show a lot of public sympathy, and his age may help him overcome the claim that his past socialism makes him too extreme. First of all, “socialism” as a label has lost some of its Cold War era sting – and he’s redefining himself in a way that fits within the US mainstream. It’s possible that a populist wave could bring Bernie into the White House. Indeed, his age might exude a wisdom that overcomes his past radicalism. Still, it’s a long shot. Though if he were to face a right wing ideologue like Ted Cruz, the smart money would be on Bernie.
If Hillary is wounded, Biden weak and Sanders a bit too much on the fringe, what hope do the Democrats have? Might O’Malley, or perhaps other candidates like Lincoln Chafee or Jim Webb have a chance? Might one of the younger voices from the 2012 like Julian Castro suddenly emerge? Or has Hillary kept them out too long for them to jump in at this time?
Tonight’s debate is big for Hillary Clinton. If she does not come out clearly on top – or worse, if she appears wounded and defensive – she should rethink whether or not it makes sense to continue this campaign. To be sure, the Democrats have real advantages heading into the fall campaign, and if she can weather this storm she has a good chance to be the next President. That hope alone will probably keep her in the race. But is it enough?
At one point Donald Trump seemed a relic of the past. A celeb in the 80s, ridiculed by Bloom County and known for conspicuous consumption, it seemed bankruptcies and time made him irrelevant. Later I heard he had a reality show and the catch phrase “you’re fired,” but I never watched or thought about that much.
So how do we get to a point where he’s the leading candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination? And can he win?
The answer to the first question says a lot about Trump and what propelled him to his current position. He became politically relevant when he embraced the “birther” cause, claiming he had special investigators who determined that it was almost certain that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Typical Trump – the birther cause was one that most Republicans either shied away from or treated ambiguously (‘I think he was born in Hawaii, but I understand the concern.’)
Not Trump. He went all in, with grandiose claims of his own investigation and proof. Soon he was the darling of the birther crowd (probably his core constituency to this day – they bonded with him). But then it appeared Trump was humiliated and put in his place at the 2011 White House Correspondents dinner. That was the day Obama published his real birth certificate and then ridiculed Trump, who was in the audience showing no humor.
And while the birther controversy died down, Trump never surrendered. Most people thought he had been politically destroyed. There was talk of him running for President in 2012, but it never materialized.
That episode says a lot about Trump – he knows how to grab center stage, will say anything to get attention (whether true or not) and never backs down, even if all the smart people say it’s time to apologize and move on. He’s in constant fight mode, any sign of regret or retreat is seen as weakness, and when the vultures are circling, he doubles down. To those sick of scripted boring candidates who say what is expected (but never follow through), Trump is a welcome relief.
Take his reaction to how Bernie Sanders handled “Black Lives Matter.” After they disrupted one of his events, Sanders met with the group and actually integrated them into his message and program. Trump’s reaction: Sanders is weak and disgusting, caving into pressure. Trump’s people would physically remove the protesters. That’s Trump – strength is a virtue, and backing down, compromising, or just not trying to win is not only weak, but disgusting. That’s how Trump lives his life.
So can he win? Of course. But it is very unlikely.
The Republican field has 16 or so candidates. At this point, the plurality in the polls is around 20%. One person in five. Looked at that way, Trump is not exactly being embraced by the Republican faithful! So what does he need to do to win?
- Gain support as the field narrows. Soon Republicans with little support will realize they lack the resources and capacity to compete in this marathon. Trump has to gain a chunk of their supporters if he’s to have a chance. It’s very unlikely that people who don’t now support Trump would turn to him. If Rand drops out, his supporters may find Rubio or Walker a much better choice than Trump, for example.
- Marginalize Walker and Christie. If anyone is looking for a “Trump lite,” those two qualify. (I suspect it’s rare that Christie is considered ‘lite’.) Christie is the no-nonsense tell it like it is candidate who actually is smart and understands the policy issues. He is more measured in how he fights, always keeping a door open for compromise. Walker is resting on his “I took on the unions and got the liberals really pissed and won” record to gain support. Walker, like Trump, doesn’t back down and considers that a strength. Unlike Trump, he saves his venom for true political foes, not reporters like Meghan Kelley.
- Start a winning streak in the early caucuses/primaries, and start to be seen as Presidential enough. In other words, at some point being Trump will get him a chunk of support, but also set a ceiling. To break through that ceiling, he has to at some point stop the bombast and appear reasonable. I don’t think Trump can do it – his strength and weakness is that he can’t help but be himself.
The politics behind President Obama’s executive order on immigration are fascinating, so I’ll quickly dispense with the policy stuff. Yes, what he did is legal. It probably should have been earlier, and it comes after he tried to work with Congress for six years to get a legislative solution. No, this doesn’t go as far as comprehensive immigration reform – we’ll still need Congress to do that (and I suspect they will – but only in 2017) – but it definitely gives the US a more humane, compassionate and reasonable approach to immigration.
And the politics, well…as Spock would say, fascinating.
One theory is Obama is purposefully “trolling the Republican party.” Not so much by the policy – Obama was going to do this anyway – but by not waiting until a bill was passed in December to continue government spending. The logic goes like this: the Republicans do not benefit politically when they try to shut down the government. Most Republicans do not want a government shut down. Already 2016 looks difficult for them, wounding themselves politically is something they want to avoid.
Moreover, the GOP remains divided. They want to create the impression they are united and can be responsible, but the divisions are intense. If those divisions can be brought into the open and be shown to bring chaos into Republican ranks, then the Democrats not only have a better shot to perhaps win back both houses in 2016, but Obama will benefit politically, giving him more leeway. Already talk radio hosts, tea party activists and many in the House and Senate are calling for a government shut down.
This would, however, be a major shift of tone from a President who has been criticized for being too nice with Republicans, too unwilling to take unilateral action. He is by nature a consensus builder and he has tried to use pressure and persuasion with Republican leaders who make ultimatums and refuse to compromise. It’s not that they don’t want to compromise, but they don’t have their House caucus under control. To make significant compromises would be to face a rebellion, and Speaker Boehner would prefer to lead a “do-nothing” Congress with at least the illusion of party unity than one gets things done, but further divides and weakens the GOP.
So the White House may believe: a) there is nothing to gain by trying to work with this Congress – it’ll be no different than the last one; b) it’s now or never, we have two years to continue our agenda; and c) if we act now and inspire anger in the GOP base, then the party will be divided, play with the fire of a government shut down, and ultimately be weakened going into 2016.
On top of that, Latinos will be thankful, will see and get angry at the rhetoric coming from the right, and turn out in record numbers to vote in Democrats in 2016. The Republicans will claim the Democrats are “bribing Hispanics,” but that will be even more insulting. The result: a weakened GOP and a revived Democratic party, already recovering from the 2014 election and realizing that overall the direction of the country still favors the Democrats.
To be sure, Obama wouldn’t have done this if he thought it was bad policy. This could be another aspect of his legacy that one day shines brightly, despite the controversy now. It could also make it easier for the GOP to actually decide to pass a bi-partisan immigration policy that has more of what they want, realizing they get nothing if they just complain. If the Republicans did that, they might find it easier to win over Latino voters in the future.
To Boehner and McConnell, they have to somehow satisfy their right wing (Boehner calling Obama ‘the most lawless President in history’ shows at least he’ll use their rhetoric) but chart a path that shows the country that the Republicans aren’t a bunch of angry whackos who can’t be trusted with the steering wheel. This is a real test of whether or not the GOP can actually use their new majority effectively.
Clearly Obama is still very relevant and willing to use his power. Senator McConnell said the President is ignoring the will of the voters (the relatively small number of voters who voted in the midterm), but the Majority Leader should be reminded that Obama won elections with significant majorities twice. That means he has been entrusted to follow his best judgment.
It’s also interesting how fickle politics can be. Just over two weeks ago Republicans were overjoyed and Democrats demoralized by the 2014 Midterm elections. Between the defeat of the Keystone pipeline, the China-US climate deal and now bold leadership from the President on immigration, it’s the Republicans feeling angry and upset, and liberals light on their feet. But that could change just as quickly.
Today the United States and China reached a landmark agreement on battling climate change. This is a major breakthrough and reflects in part the fact China’s scientists are alarmed about global warming and what it could do to China’s coastal cities.
China and the US are the top two polluters in the world. Together they produce almost 50% of the world’s carbon dioxide. With the EU having met the Kyoto targets (without harming their economy in the process – quite the contrary!), the battle against climate change depends on these two states being able to cooperate. Until now it’s appeared almost impossible.
Unfortunately, the onus will be on the US to resist political opposition. Global warming deniers are disappearing as the science becomes overwhelming. In fact, outside the US it’s accepted as settled that climate change is happening, with CO2 emissions the driving force. Only in the US, where a well funded lobby churns out disinformation and uses ideological fervor to distort the science, is there powerful opposition. The good news is young people overwhelmingly agree something needs to be done (it’s their future after all) and climate change deniers will die out. The bad news is that we don’t have the luxury to wait that long.
China now sees itself as a major economic power, a force behind the emerging global economic system. As such, it recognizes that its citizens deserve clean air and water, and decent wages. China’s leaders can no longer justify ignoring the potential devastating impact on China that climate change could have.
The deal says that the US will emit 26-28% less carbon in 2025 than it did in 2005. China will peak at about 2030. China has a much more difficult time altering its economy, which is growing much faster than the US. The key point in this agreement is a signal to the world that a new Climate change treaty is do-able in 2015.
The US Senate will not ratify it at first. But if in 2016 the Democrats take back the Senate (likely, given that the GOP will be defending 24 seats and the Democrats only 10) and a Democrat is elected President, I would bet that such a treaty including China could be ratified. Many GOP moderates only tolerate the deniers in their party, most of them realize the science is overwhelming.
This is also another reason why I’m convinced Obama will be remembered as a great President – one that oversaw a recovery from the horrific recession he inherited and who managed to end two wars. Now it looks like his plan to weaken ISIS is working better than most expected, without using US combat troops and instead increasing local cooperation.
If this US-Chinese agreement can jump start climate change negotiations and lead to global unity to address the greatest threat facing the world — far more dangerous than ISIS or Ebola — it might be the most important act of Obama’s presidency. It also shows that the stories of his political irrelevancy are premature.
McConnell and Boehner will lead the Senate and House in the next Congress
Although I held out hope, the result of the election was not a surprise. The Republicans had a good night – the map was on their side, it’s the six year curse on the President’s party, and the Democrats ran a strategically bad campaign. Rather than arguing for policy and supporting the President, they ran scared. The result? Moderates figured they didn’t stand for anything, and the base was repulsed. Especially Black and Latino voters stayed home. Even then so many states stayed very close until the end, it clearly wasn’t a massive GOP wave.
Yet to hear people on the left talk, the election was a disaster. The Republicans hold the House and Senate! Scott, Walker and LePage were re-elected as tea party governors! The country is going the wrong way, people are ignorant, big money is warping our system, and the media is shilling for the right, etc.
My response to that? Chill people! The sky isn’t falling, and there are a lot of reasons for optimism. Don’t make yesterday’s Republican victory out to be more than it is. Here’s why:
1. The House has always led Republican obstructionism, with Senate Republicans able to say that they can’t do more because the Democrats were in control. Now the Senate has no excuse – if they are willing to compromise, real progress can be made.
2. Obama has no incentive to capitulate. He’s not running again. Especially the first year, look for him to be aggressive with the use of executive orders and other unilateral actions. Obama may do more to make liberals happy this coming year than the last six put together – in part because if he doesn’t do it now, he’ll never have the chance, and in part to pressure the GOP: If you don’t compromise, I’ll act!
3. In 2016 the Democrats will have the map on their side, unlike this year. In many ways, the surprise of the election was that the Democrats were able to keep so many states so close. Of the 34 Senate seats up in 2016, 24 will be Republican, only 10 Democratic. Of the ten Democratic seats, only Nevada and Colorado are likely to be in danger, and those are both states that voted for Obama in 2012. Of the Republican seats, nine are in states won by Obama in 2012, and many others could be in play. In other words, 2016 might be a mirror image of 2014. Remember: Democrats do much better in Presidential election years.
4. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Democrats could retake the House in 2014. They’d need to win forty seats, something difficult to do – but if the GOP doesn’t compromise and gets seen as obstructionist, it’ll be possible.
5. The President has veto power. He’s a firewall against a Republican agenda. With the Republicans in control – the onus is on them to prove they can provide a productive legislative branch. If they don’t, they’ll be that much more likely to have a devastating year in 2016.
6. The Republicans are moving away from the tea party. If you look at the candidates they choose, the effort to control the message, and the anger about, say Thad Cochran, it looks like the GOP recognizes that the tea party has no staying power. I don’t think the GOP is there yet, but they’re in the process of moving away from ideological dogma towards true conservatism.
7. The country’s culture and demographics still point to a progressive future. It was virtually a non-story yesterday that a Federal Judge ruled Missouri’s ban on same sex marriages illegal. The culture has changed that much. In the grand scheme of things, the trajectory of the country has not changed.
Try this: there is nothing you can do to change the election result anyway! Unless you invent a time machine and can go back and tell Democrats that their timid strategy of ignoring Obama rather than embracing him hurt more than helped, what’s done is done. Why waste energy by feeling depressed and angry? It not only doesn’t help, but that energy could better be directed in a positive way. Practice pragmatism: Accept what you can’t change, change what you can. And there is a lot we can do!
The buzz is out there. Mitt Romney is reportedly signaling to the GOP donor base that if he doesn’t face a difficult primary season and is, in a sense, anointed, he would consider running for President again in 2016. Publicly he claims there is no way he would run, and I would be very surprised if he did. Yet, is it possible?
A Romney run could only happen if Republican party (read: the main power brokers and donors) agree that they see Mitt as the best chance to unite the party and beat presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. There is a logic to that. The Republicans will have a better shot if there is no bloody primary battle for the nomination. Not only will there be more money in the campaign coffers for the fall, but a united party should fare better than a divided one.
Of course, the biggest argument against Mitt is that he’s a proven loser in the Presidential sweepstakes. It’s a rare Presidential candidate that goes from being a loser to a winner. Richard Nixon did it in 1968, but that was eight years after his loss. Of course, Romney’s likely opponent, Hillary Clinton, lost a high stakes primary battle. But that’s not the same – and that was in 2008.
Would conservatives accept Romney? He was always seen by some as too northeastern or moderate. If he were the candidate, they would – but I’d expect them not to forego having a true conservative run in the primaries. While people like Cruz, Rubio, and Walker are probably un-electable, the tea party believes that somehow there is a secret conservative majority in the US that would come out and vote them into office. Of course, they also believe Obama should be impeached (eyes rolling).
One way Romney could deflect conservative opposition is agree early to a tea party friendly VP candidate. That would scare a lot of people (heartbeat away from the Presidency), but historically the VP choice has not been a game changer. Only John McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin seemed to actually hurt his chances, but that was less due to her views than the fact she proved herself not ready for prime time.
Romney would need to find someone who he could respect and trust – not a Cruz, perhaps Rubio (who has been a bit more careful about being too extreme) or maybe Nikki Haley, Paul Ryan (an interesting repeat performance), or Susanna Martinez. Choosing a woman would be helpful to his cause, especially if he runs against Hillary. There doesn’t seem to be an obvious black running mate in the GOP ready for the role, though neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson got a lot of conservative attention when he spoke at the 2013 prayer breakfast in proximity to President Obama.
Carson was not over the top extreme, but some of his comments (e.g., seeming to compare bestiality with homosexuality) could come back to haunt him. More damaging is his lack of political experience – would he have the discipline and ambition to run a national campaign? Yet he is intelligent, black, and conservative – the right would love to embrace someone who is brilliant but does not believe in evolution. Most arguments against evolution are inane and batty – but that’s mainly because of the people making those arguments. Dr. Carson can make a cogent and intelligent argument for conservative positions usually seen as anti-rational.
Still, he’s a long shot, as is a Mitt reboot. The only reason the possibility can be considered is that the GOP is fearful of a neophyte tea party type hijacking the primary process, yet worried about turning off conservatives already irked by Thad Cochran’s victory. Mitt developed support among the right in the 2012 campaign and he might be the Republican’s best shot to have a chance in 2016. Not likely, but….