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November 2018

Thanksgiving: A Reprise

    Well, that was hard. Like most sentient beings, this student of life knew enough to avoid political discussions at a relative's Thanksgiving weekend get together. No upside - no minds to change; no interested people who hadn't thought about the big issues; little understanding of relatives and guests leanings and hot buttons. As long as everybody understood the groundrules there were enough ballgames to carry the day.

    But there is always one, fortunately not a relative, and fortunately a short conversation with a limited audience. California Democrats approach political discussions knowing that they are right and assuming that everyone that they would be associating with agrees with them. We San Francisco Republicans are inured against the misplaced confidence, and recognize the futility of real engagement. Trump makes any potential discussion even more fraught - support his policies, and you share his real and imagined personality defects.  Thus, the battle was not joined. 

    Question 1: Were you disappointed with the election? 

        - The polite response: Yes. 

        - The real answer: In San Francisco, where compassion always trumps prudent management, the Board of Supervisors moved to a progressive majority and we voted to double the $300 million budget for homeless services. California was a disaster, well beyond expectations. The moderating hopes for the "top two" primary system - quality women Republican candidates; qualified "decline to state" candidates like Steve Poizner for Insurance Commissioner; and qualified non-machine Democrats like Marshall Tuck for the Department of Education - all lost to the Democratic machine. Nationally it was a somewhat negative mixed bag, given the norms for the mid-term elections after a president's first election. Progressive members of the House will try to create all nature of problems for the President; likely speaker Pelosi might try to legislate by finding common ground on a few items like prison reform and infrastructure spending, but mostly it will be a tune up of people and themes for the 2020 presidential election. The expanded Senate majority will facilitate judicial appointments and block any real stupid stuff coming from the House. 

    Question/Assertion 2: How could anyone support Trump, given that he is morally reprehensible, devoid of empathy, and mentally ill? 

        - The polite response: I supported Romney, Rubio, and Kasich, and did not like Trump.  But I have grown in my understanding that the political establishment of both parties has not governed in the interests of the working class. (Pause for the interruption that it is "the white working class", as if that makes Hillary's "deplorables" morally inferior or politically irrevelant.) 

        - The real answer: This is like the school playground where the "cool" kids have been bullying the kids from the other side of the tracks forever. Suddenly a bigger, tougher kid takes the side of those who have been the victim of the bullying - by the media, by Hollywood, by the universities, by the Democratic party. The "flyover states" realize that they should have more Senators than the cool coastal states. Norman Rockwell and the Boy Scout Oath are OK again. We have a president who unapologetically puts the interests of American citizens above the globalists who have governed for decades while the American manufacturing base has eroded, our borders have been badly compromised, our trade policies have helped China and others at our expense, and we have been engaged in foreign wars without end or strategic purpose. Trump's attraction really isn't about any specific policy; the globalist direction has gone too far and the pendulum has swung back. As for analyzing Trump - mammoth books will be written about Trump Derangement Syndrome and the total inability of his enemies to understand or accept what has happened. 

    Question/Assertion 3: You have to agree that Barack Obama was a great president.  

    - The polite response: He was a gentleman and a great orator. He represented American progress, being the first African-American president.  

    - The real answer:

        - From a partisan Republican perspective he was great. During his time in office the Republicans captured two-thirds of the state legislatures, three quarters of the governorships, a majority in the House, a majority in the Senate, and ultimately the presidency and a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Seeing Obama's vision and ineffective leadership, the country turned to the right. 

        - There are two policy perspectives:

            -- He was a globalist, noting that American exceptionalism was no different than the perspectives of other countries. The son of a Kenyan father, an Indonesian stepfather, an expatriate mother, and a communist tutor in Hawaii, he grew up with little understanding of or appreciation for Americana.  To understand who he is, one need only read his autobiography, "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance." 

           -- With the skills and experience of a community organizer, he was unprepared for the role of president. Domestically, he inherited a financial mess, threw $1 trillion "Stimulus Plan" at it, continued President Bush's budget deficits, oversaw an unusually slow recovery, and allowed the FBI to get involved in the politics of the 2016 presidential election. His healthcare reform - for better or worse - actually belongs to Nancy Pelosi.  Internationally, he was a pushover, empowering ISIS, allowing Putin to seize the Crimean peninsula, dithering over Syria while a humanitarian crisis unfolded, and doing nothing about North Korea or the global trade deficit. 

    Silence is golden. The healing process has begun. The easy answers were provided.  It is unlikely that the longer answers would change any California Democratic minds,  but they encapsulate a lot of thought for a centrist Republican.   

                                                                                                    -----   

    This week's bonus is the real highlight of the Thanksgiving weekend - highlights of #3 Gonzaga's victory over #1 Duke. 

bill bowen - 11/30/18 

      


Contemplating the California Republican Party

    The thousands of Republican Party activists in California have a dilemna. When the party convenes in February, the delegates will replace Chairman Jim Brulte who has long planned to retire. After years of declining fortunes and last week's blowout all manner of opinions are being bandied about, but there are no good answers. (See national committeeman Shawn Steel's assessment if you need to be depressed by the results.)  Let's take a look at the key questions.

    1. Should there be a new party to get away from the problematic brand? 

    Prominent moderates who have largely left the party - former Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger; former Congressman Tom Campbell; former Assembly leader Kristin Olsen - favor a fresh start, perhaps focusing at first on a Congressional district or two where they could advance in a primary election under California's unique "Top Two" system. The premise is that there are now more registered "Decline to State" voters than registered Republicans, and they will ultimately be repelled by a Democratic Party which promises to lurch further to the left with presidential aspirant Gavin Newsom and supermajorities in the state Senate and Assembly. 

    The problems are obvious: much money is needed from a state and national fundraising network; the party provides a stucture for mobilizing activists as volunteers; election laws favor the established parties; it would be confusing to individuals to be part of one party nationally and another locally. Besides, the party does help to elect about half of the local candidates in the state running in nominally nonpartisan elections. 

    The problem is partly the weakness of the Republican party as demographics have changed, business interests have shifted to supporting the dominant party in power, and hundreds of thousands of Republican-leaning voters have left the state.  But the bigger problem is the overwhelming strength of the Democratic Party which enjoys a tailwind from demographics, finances fueled by Hollywood and tech industry billionaires, and public employee unions (teachers; nurses; the SEIU). Process factors are equally troubling - California has the the nation's most relaxed voting standards - no voter ID; same day registration; heavy vote by mail; automatic DMV voter registration - all of which contributed to the tsunami of late Democratic votes. It is hard to see how a nascent new party could compete at all. 

    2. Should the party leadership concentrate on mechanics or ideology? 

    Brulte has taken the "safe" position that it is the job of the party to manage the mechanics - fundraising; recruiting candidates; training; supporting the county comittees; ensuring proper treatment by state and local agencies - and the role of the candidates themselves to to stake out policy positions. This has avoided major confrontations between the (largely Bay area) liberals, and the conservatives, but it has prevented a consistent strong statement about what the party does stand for. In that absence, and without strong charismatic state-wide candidates, the Democrats have been able to paint all Republicans as being out of step with the central beliefs of Californians. By default, the party leader must provide that bullhorn. 

    3. What policy positions should a Republican leader support or oppose? 

    Some are easy and appeal to all shades of Republicans as well as a majority of Californians: fiscal constraint as Governor Newsom and the state legislature spend billions on new initiatives; a focus on common sense policies for water, housing, and roads. Some policy positions appeal to strong Republican groups, but alienate a majority of voters if allowed dominate the conversation: gun control; right to life. Some require the development of a strong, but nuanced position: immigration; healthcare; the environment. 

    The elephant in the room is President Trump whose 39% approval rating in California doesn't adequately capture the energy behind the disapproval number, and who inspired national Democrats like Michael Bloomberg to spend millions against Republican congressional candidates. The trick for a California Republican leader is to establish an independent identity without offending the base, focusing on state issues and occasionally highlighting the benefit of having a president in your party.   

    4. Who should the Chairman be? 

    Above all, the California Republican Party cannot succeed if seen as the party of the "Rich Old White Guys". In a way that should be easy - the rich white guys are mostly Democrats in 2018 California. But in politics perception is reality, and the selection of the new party leader should take this existing perception into account - along with the role of the party chair as a visable spokesperson. That said, support by a billionaire or two willing to fund party operations would be a game changer. This delegate will favor youth, gender, and ethnicity. 

    At least three credible candidates have stepped forward to date: David Hadley, a "NeverTrumper" who was anointed in July by the CRP board as the heir apparent; Travis Allen, the youngish, conservative, energetic former Orange County assembly member who failed in his bid for the party's governor endorsement and lost in the primary; Steve Frank, who writes for the California Political Review and advocates for a "back to basics" approach with a focus on the County organizations. Others will surface in the next month or two - perhaps a displaced Congressperson. (At this point there is at lst one vote for Allen.)  

    From the perspective of the California party activists, the challenge is to retain the "political ebb and flow" mantra rather than accepting the "long arc of history" claim. If the latter prevails, one can leave the field, find a specific person or cause to champion, or join the exodus from the tarnished Golden State. 

                                                                                                        -----

   This week's video is President Trump's pardon of two Thanksgiving turkeys, containing only a few political shots and somehow accomplished without the help of CNN's Jim Acosta. 

bill bowen - 11/22/2018

    


Republican Bomb Damage Assessment

    Let's be honest, the mid-term elections were worse than expected - perhaps a "pink wave" as women activists and voters came out in force in response to President Trump.  Prospects zigged and zagged in the last month: general revulsion of the Democrats for their treatment of Brett Kavanaugh; general revulsion about the pipe bomber who targeted Democratic leaders; concern about the caravans of illegal immigrants making their way through Mexico; targeted enthusiasm from Trump's mass rallies; perhaps just too much Trump fatigue; and a drip-drip counting process that results in another Republican loss or two each day a week after the election. How to think about this as a Republican who was not a Trump supporter three years ago? 

    Reince Priebus was a little acknowledged, and subsequently mistreated, hero of the Republican renaissance in Wisconsin a decade ago, and in the fortification of the national Republican Party following the defeat of Mitt Romney in 2012. He understood that electoral success is a result of a complicated set of factors. He was able to lead a successful autopsy in 2013 to identify strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats and devise an action plan which included candidate recruitment, establishment of a database (later used by the Trump campaign) to rival that previously assembled by the Obama campaign, and coordination of major donors. It is probably not possible to do that now, with Donald Trump in charge of the party, Rona Romney McDaniel as the party chair, and the political landscape so dramatically changed from 2016. But it should be done. 

    Did the Democrats win on the merits of policy? Republicans had a robust economy which positively impacted any number of political polling indicators. The Democrats had health care - and particularly "preexisting conditions" - for which the Republicans inexplicably had no coherent message. Credit to Nancy Pelosi and shame on the Republican party leadership. While there was a move to the left, the public was not rallying around Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  

    Did the Democrats win on the merits of better candidates? They did a good job of matching candidates to their districts - Ocasio-Cortez in New York; Connor Lamb in suburban Pittsburg; no requirement to pledge fealty to Nancy Pelosi - in fact dozens pledged not to.  But the Republicans had qualified incumbents who fit their districts and had the advantage of years of familiarity with their issues and influence leaders. Somehow a Krysten Sinema could beat a female fighter pilot in Arizona, and an unabashed Irish liberal could give Ted Cruz a race in Texas. The Democrats did recruit a slew of women in a year of #MeToo, bringing the total number of women in Congress to over 100, predominantly Democrats. This message that gender matters is obvious, even once the #MeToo furor recedes. 

    Did the Democrats win on the basis of fundraising? According to Open Secrets, 89% of the House elections and 84% of the Senate elections were won by the larger spender, and overall, and total Democrat spending by candidates, political parties, Political Action Committees, and outside groups was about $2.5 billion to Republican $2.2 billion. This is some 20% over prior records, and the first time in a decade that Democrats outspent Republicans in total. The success of Trump's relatively cheap campaign in 2016 may have obscured the fact that coastal elites and energized suburbanites can outraise a working class Republican base. 

    Did the Democrats win on the basis of better campaign mechanics?  First, they got more money to the individual campaigns - where it can be spent on professional managers, training of volunteers, phone banks, precinct walkers, media, and literature - through Act Blue, a web site which enabled small contributors nationally to direct contributions to where they would do the most good.  Technology was equally available to both parties to support precinct walkers with phone apps which identify key factors (party registration; voting propensity; interests) for each address; remote phone banks were available to allow Democrats in San Francisco to make calls for Beto O'Rourke in Texas, or for Republicans in Ohio to make calls on behalf of Scott Walker in Wisconsin.  What was needed was the enthusiasm of volunteers and the money for training. In many cases the Democrats had more of both. 

    Specific to California, Republican National Committeeman Shawn Steele lays out a clear case that the wipeout (including at least six of the 14 Republican House seats and all state-wide offices) had little to do with ideology or candidates, but rather was the result of over $1 billion in campaign spending, supporting youth voter registration, voter analytics, social media, and opposition research as well as traditional media. While Trump didn't help, the outmigration of over 1,000,000 citizens since 2007 was a larger factor. The next few months will witness a battle to replace retiring California GOP Chair Jim Brulte with the typical moderate / conservative division, and an effort to establish a third party to compete without the taint of the Republican brand. The fact that the highly qualified independent Democrat Marshall Tuck (with the endorsement of President Obama's Secretary of Education) lost the Superintendent of Education race to political hack Tony Thurmond suggests that the problem lies not in the candidates, the ideology, the money, or even the Republican brand, but in the overwhelming strength of the Democratic machine.  

    In the age of Trump it is unlikely that the Republican Party will engage in a meaningful autopsy like that in 2013, but if it does not, the last decade's gains in the the states and in the Congress will quickly erode. Trump can bring focused enthusiasm, but much more is needed. 

                                                                                                        -----

   This week's bonus is an early report on Palm Beach's voting problems. The report that they found an extra 5,000 Al Gore votes is apparently false. 

bill bowen - 11/16/18 


The Election: Turning the Page

       In this year of the angry woman - Elizabeth Warren; Maxine Waters; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; Stacey Abrams; suburban housewives - one has to be impressed with the strength and breadth of American democracy. The macro election result has been "about normal" for the first midterms with a new president, with the Democrats picking up some 35 seats in the House, and recovering a bit from the wipe out that they suffered at the state level during the Obama years. Nancy Pelosi is about right in noting the energy of women beginning with the Women's March in Washington after the 2016 election, the recruitment and election of 30 new Congresswomen, and the resonance of healthcare as a successful issue. But the sun came up on Wednesday, college basketball has begun, Veterans Day is Sunday, and the mailman can switch from political flyers to Christmas catalogues. 

     The Bad:

        - The Democrats will have a narrow majority of 30 or so seats in the House. The Republicans had largely exhausted their agenda; the Freedom Caucus had thwarted efforts to replace Obamacare or fix immigration. Former Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan oversaw the institutionalization of trillon dollar deficits, even in the best of times. Maybe (see below) this doesn't belong in the Bad category. 

        - Scott Walker lost in Wisconsin. A decade ago Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan built the Republican Party in Wisconsin, taking the state Assembly and Senate; electing Senator Ron Johnson to replace Russ Feingold; gaining a majority of the state's Congressional delegaton; and winning three gubanatorial elections. Republican victories followed in Iowa, Illinois and Michigan. One hopes that the wave hasn't crested. 

        - Gavin Newsom was elected governor of California. Much will be written about his ambitions and anti-Trump agenda; of major importance is the fact that the Democrats won over two-thirds of the seats in the state Assembly and Senate, allowing tax increases and state constitutional amendments without going to referenda. With the state's environmental agenda already in place, some form of Newsom's promised state-run universal healthcare is the major threat.  

        - San Francisco lurched further to the left. The voters agreed to tax large companies domiciled in the City to double the $300 million budget of the homeless-industrial complex, without a plan or any necessary policy changes. The Board of Supervisors moved from a balance between liberal Democrats and crazy left Democrats to a 7-4 or 8-3 crazy left dominance. (Eight could override any veto by the liberal Democratic mayor.)  

        -  The process contained several non-Trump embarassments. When Fox's Sean Hannity and Judge Jeanine Pirro got on the stage with Donald Trump in Cape Girardeau, they totally obliterated the line between reporting, entertainment, and political advocacy. When Georgia's Brian Kemp refused to recuse himself as Secretary of State during his contentious run for governor against Stacy Abrams, he provided a bullhorn for the Democrats to complain about voter fraud and suppression. 

       - The Democrats enjoyed a massive fundrasing advantage - twice the Republicans in the third quarter - with the Act Blue website which facilitates national small donations, billionaire Tom Steyer's $10 million effort to register young liberal voters, and Nancy Pelosi's usual prodigious impact with the Democratic House Campaign Committee. The better funded House candidate won 91% of the time. With 40 Republican House retirements clearing the field, incumbents in either party won 93% of their races. Some of this is one time, but Republican reliance on poorer voters in poorer states does not bode well. (Wonks or masochists can visit OpenSecrets.org.)  

    The Good:

        - With 53 or 54 Republican senators - several of whom owe their election to Donald Trump - Mitch McConnell doesn't need to worry about a Rand Paul, Barbara Murkowski, or Susan Collins defection as he proceeds to approve the replacement for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the 70 pending federal judge appointments, and another anticipated 50.  (He has already appointed 84 of the 870 total federal judges.) With most of the 22 Republican senators up for election in 2020 coming from safe states, the likelihood of enjoying a majority until at least 2022 is good. 

        - Assuming that obligatory recounts stand up, the governorship of the perennial critical swing state of Florida stays in Republican hands, and the Senate seat moves to the Republicans despite the infusion of 150,000 Puerto Ricans following Hurricane Maria in September 2017. For many, a loss by Governor Rick Scott in his Senate campaign would have been demoralizing after he gained 2 million jobs in his eight years, handled several hurricanes masterfully, and reached out to support the incoming Puerto Ricans.  

        - In the half full/half empty world of politics, there were plenty of other feel goods - Mimi Walters, David Valadeo, Young Kim, Devin Nunes and Jeff Denham holding contested seats in California; Charlie Baker winning reelection as governor in Massachusetts with 67% of the vote; Beto O'Rourke losing in Texas despite spending $70,000,000.   

      The Future:

        - The ball is in the Democrats' court. Trump is willing to deal with Kim Jong Un or Xi Jinping; Nancy Pelosi is no worse. (There will be a little huffing and puffing by Red State Democrats who promised not to vote for her, but there is no alternative, and that was then.) There are subjects where the changed dynamic in the House could lead to compromise - Pelosi will want healthcare; Trump will want immigration; both will want a large infrastructure bill; neither will want significant fiscal constraint. 

        - Plan B is equally likely. Jeff Sessions was not fired because of the Mueller probe. Trump does not play defense. The White House counsel is defense; the Department of Justice and the FBI can be offense with the right leader. Pelosi and her committee chairs can investigate Trump's taxes and business dealings, but if they do, they can expect investigations of Hillary's e-mails and Uranium One, the illegal involvement of Comey's FBI surrounding the 2016 election, and the circumstances by which politicians such as Diane Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, and Maxine Waters have amassed personal wealth while in public office.

        - As to the Democrats in the Senate - it's all preening for 2020 presidential runs.    

                                                                                                         -----

    This week's video is a Veterans Day testiment by President Reagan - appropriate as this Sunday is the 100th anniversary of the holiday. 

bill bowen - 10/9/18


The Nationalist President - Season Two

    Season One of The Nationalist President is about to end. The allusion is less to Trump's Apprentice than to dramas such as House of Cards, The Goodwife, or Game of Thrones where the central characters grow more powerful from season to season amidst an evolving cast of supporting characters and crises. The degree of cynicism can be left to the reader, but the merger of politics and entertainment is clear, as is Trump's desire to shape his supporting cast. 

    Season One was electifying, playing to exceptional ratings if not universal acclaim. The protagonist burst on the stage defying all odds. The Mueller investigation has served as a backstory, itself having innumerable twists and turns - including the irony that the only proven collaboration with the Russians was in the form of the Clinton campaign's financing of the Steele dossier. Trump quickly dispatched his predecesor's Junior Varsity ISIS opposition which had terrorized the Middle East and flooded Europe with refugees. He confronted friend and foe alike in an effort to rebalance the kingdom's financial in's and out's, finding common ground with our closest partners in the USMCA (nee NAFTA), leaving others to Season Two.  He inflicted a severe wound on the fearful dragon of Obamacare, removing the individual mandate and making cheaper, less extensive plans available. He slew regulations left and right - environmental, financial, and labor. He turned the federal courts away from acting like a legislative body. And despite prosperity returning to the fair chosen land, his enemies remained steadfast. 

    Several sub-plots carry over to Season Two. Chief Investigator Mueller promises to continue his work, extending in whatever direction suggests an opportunity to damage the protagonist. We will see whether the cunning North Korean dictator has changed his ways, and chooses peace and prosperity over isolation and military confrontation. Early in the season we will find whether the evil Saudi prince survives, and whether he is forced to end the humanitarian disaster in Yemen and the isolation of Qatar. Latino caravans will dissipate shortly after the beginning of Season Two, but supporters of our hero and his antagonists will find ways to keep the broader sub-plot alive. Several episodes will relate to wrangling with China which, it becomes clear, is the major threat to Trump's nation; expect more on trade, intellectual property, territorial claims, and growing awareness that one million Muslims in western China are being held in forced indoctrination camps. 

    No good series is sustainable if there is not something new in each season, and The Nationalist President has experienced, creative writers. We are nine years into economic expansion, and a recession is likely before the end of Season Two; that will bring a whole new line of discussion as the auditions begin for Season Three. After a decade of worrying about the Middle East, China, and Central America, Europe will emerge with episodes featuring Brexit and political instability in Germany as Chancellor Merkel leaves the stage, built around the general theme of the shape of the continent and what it means for us. There will be an episode or two on privacy in the age of the Internet, optical surveillance, artificial intelligence, and big data - perhaps with a libertarian hero. 

    Keeping the series fresh also requires some drama around the supporting cast. Mainstays will remain - Mueller; Sean Hannity and CNN; Mitch McConnell; the protagonist's family. Some close supporters will be replaced - Nikki Haley at the United Nations; perhaps Jeff Sessions at Justice; undoubtedly a few unexpected surprises. While there are many domestic sycophants, our protagonist is still looking for a personal foreign ally. 

    The big surprise at the beginning of Season Two will be whether Nancy Pelosi or Kevin McCarthy replaces Paul Ryan. On the one hand Ryan hasn't been able to do much - constrained by the Freedom Caucus, he has not been able to advance legislation on healthcare or immigration, and he is leaving a legacy of trillion dollar budget deficits. With an enlarged Freedom Caucus, it looks as if McCarthy would do no better. On the other hand, Pelosi promises a season of investigations, obstruction, and socialist legislation which will go nowhere. But maybe, just maybe, the Nationalist President writers would be able to provide a plot twist with some common ground on immigration. The next few episodes will tell. 

    In this great drama the audience has an opportunity to participate. Vote. 

                                                                                                        ----- 

    This week's video with Andrew Klavan provides a much-needed moment of levity in the waning moments of Season One. 

bill bowen - 11/2/18