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November 2020

Of Election Defeats, Transitions, and Lame Ducks

  President Trump should graciously acknowledge defeat, release funding for a Biden/Harris transition, and invite the Biden team into planning for the coronavirus response and foreign affairs. Why wouldn't he do that in the interest of American democracy?  Well, a few considerations:

    1. The transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration was among the ugliest in the nation's history. The FBI and the national security establishment, with the knowledge of the Obama White House, illegally monitored the Trump campaign, leading to two years of fruitless Mueller investigations. House Democrats gleefully boycotted the innauguration. The Washington Post called for impeachment on Day 1. Later the House pursued a sham impeachment, and the Speaker tore up Trump's 2020 State of the Union speech on the House dias. Those calling for civility have a small credibility problem. 

   2. Trump has a few agenda item to complete: reduction of prescription drug pricing; withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq; appointment of a few more federal judges; normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia; perhaps privatization of mortgage managers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; perhaps issuance of the Durham report on FBI malfeasance in the 2016 election; perhaps drilling on Alaska's north slope. The duck will be a little more lame after the President admits defeat.   

    Most importantly, Trump wants control of Operation Wharp Speed which has delivered therapeutics and at least three vaccines in breathtaking time despite mountains of skepticism from Biden's Democrats, the liberal media, and some in the federal medical bureaucracy. The basics of the distribution plan are in place, but Biden's coronavirus team wants a hand on the helm - to share the credit, and perhaps to direct scarce dosages to their political constituencies. For those who remember the Obama administration's roll out of the Obamacare web site, this does not instill confidence.  In the fullness of time, Trump's triumph of science over the disease is likely to be among his greatest legacies. 

    Biden hands are also eager to take hold of foreign relations where they seek to reverse Trump's "America First" posture. In a below the radar episode, Biden called Boris Johnson to emphasize that a post-Brexit trade deal with the United States would be conditioned upon resolving contentious negotiations between the UK, the European Union, and Ireland in a way that Biden approved. (One remembers that Michael Flynn was sentenced for talking to the Russian ambassador during the Obama-Trump transition, and that Vice President Biden claimed that he had violated the Logan Act.) 

   3. The election itself should not just be filed in the dusty archives. (Spoiler Alert: Trump lost

    Our robust and credible democracy has a set of challenge and certification steps designed to ensure that all legitimate votes are counted, that illegitimate votes are not, and that a set of responsible people are in place to resolve disagreements and make final, timely decisions.  The system is decentralized and legally defined, minimizing the risk of manipulation. Oversight is bipartisan. Certitude takes time and legal fees. (That said, the theatrics of Rudy Giuliani and others detract from the serious work that needs to be done.) 

    This presidential election highlights two "improvement opportunities", one demanding success, the other likely to fail. 

        - With the coronavirus, many states loosened their requirements for mail-in voting, and Nancy Pelosi has made legal expansion of "the California system" a central goal of her term as Speaker,  and of her proposed virus relief legislation. At the extreme, this involves mailing ballots to everybody on the (poorly maintained) voter rolls, gathering completed ballots by campaign operatives, and limited efforts to verify voter signatures on the ballots. Over 100 million of the 154 million votes cast were done early, largely by mail. A thorough understanding of the risks and "best practices" is required despite the Left's screams of "voter suppression". 

        - The big city Democratic machines - Chicago; Philadelphia; Detroit - present a major challenge in that there are few trained Republican monitors to oversee the process which frequently yields 90%+ Democratic majorities, carrying key states. Some of the lawsuits will add flavor, but solutions are not likely. 

      The Georgia recount provides a dry run for the critical runoff Senate elections on January 5. There can be no more missing vote boxes and unverified signatures. 

    4. Trump has reason to be concerned with legal retributon, with the New York Attorney General combing through his tax records, media voices on the Left  calling for retribution, and some members of Congress  threatening prosecution for illegally enriching himself, violating innumerable laws, and  endangering national security. It would be helpful for Biden and his chosen Attorney General to strike a path forward.   Biden seems to be so inclined, perhaps in exchange for  dropping any legal actions related to Comey's FBI or Hunter Biden. 

     This Thursday we can be thankful that this presidential election did not come down to a few votes in a few key states.  From a statistical perspective, this election was good enough for government work.  Done; move on. 

Bill Bowen - 11/23/20

 


The Trump Era

     In the broadest perspective, Trump represents a transition of the Republican Party from being the party of Wall Street and the Establishment, to being the party of the middle and lower middle working class, including about one-third of Latinos. He was resisted from the beginning “by all means necessary” by the Democrats and remnants of the Republican Establishment. He is a seriously flawed person, but whether anyone else could have led the change is questionable, as is his role in defining whether the realignment survives him.

The Good:

  1. Pre-Covid Trump drove a record strong economy through deregulation (energy independence; labor rules), tariffs (manufacturing growth), restricted immigration (good for low end workers), and tax cuts. The result was record low unemployment for Blacks, Latinos, and Asians, and wage growth for the low end exceeding inflation for the first time in decades.
  2. He established new parameters for the relationship with China: tariffs to reduce trade deficit; protection of intellectual property; strengthened military/political/economic alliance with Japan, India, and Australia. (Support for the broader Trans Pacific Partnership was a missed opportunity.)
  3. He managed realignment in the broad Middle East: obliterated ISIS; withdrew most US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, while avoiding entanglement in Libya and Syria; contained Iran; fostered recognition of Israel by several traditional enemies.
  4. He adjusted international relations to the benefit of the US: greater financial contribution by NATO countries, Japan, and South Korea; paused North Korean nuclear missile program; updated USMCA for trade with Mexico and Canada; reached agreements with Mexico and Central American countries to reduce illegal immigration.
  5. He remade the federal court system with judges who apply the Constitution and laws as written, and see the legislature as the appropriate branch for developing public policy.
  6. There were lots of little things: fixing the Veterans Administration; helping Blacks by driving criminal justice reform, supporting charter schools and Historically Black Colleges, and expanding Enterprise Zones; fostering strong minority home ownership gains.

The Bad:

  1. Even pre-Covid, he continued and expanded the financial irresponsibility of recent presidents (and Congresses), adding trillions to the debt of our grandchildren. The Covid-related trillions of debt will eventually weaken the country.
  2. He performed below what was needed on Covid. Some was Good - China embargo; pressure to develop therapies and vaccines; logistics on Personal Protective Equipment and ventilators; positive attitude; concern for the economy and social damage. Much was Bad – example on masks and distancing; arguments with media; inadequate testing and tracing; withdrawal from World Health Organization. Some Bad was not his fault - initially New York forced sick people into nursing homes, the CDC botched testing for three weeks; the experts advised against wearing masks.  Strategy never focused on isolating sick carriers. 
  3. He frequently ruled by Executive Order rather than legislation – a growing trend of recent administrations and legislatures. This avoids the hard work of making concessions and developing common ground and commitment which will last beyond the current administration.
  4. He was terrible at staff selection, hiring people like Bannon, Scaramucci, Manafort, and Giuliani while losing superior leaders like Generals Kelly and Mattis. This contributed to a chaotic White House and national security structure.

The Ugly:

  1. Trump has been a divisive narcissist from his criticism of POW John McCain to his potential refusal to accept the result of the 2020 election. For many, he is right on policy, very wrong on style.
  2. As the Washington Post headline said on inauguration day: “Impeachment begins”. From the saga of false Russian collusion (Mueller Report); to the FBI’s active effort to undermine the campaign and the early presidency; to impeachment for a phone call; to the House speaker tearing up the State of the Union speech on the House podium, this was not a peaceful handing off of power by President Obama and the Democrats following a legitimate election. In Trump’s defense, “Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that people aren’t out to get you.”
  3. There has been no pretense of objectivity on all issues Trump by much of the press; there has been extensive bullying by the Left’s “cancel culture” against support for the President and conservatives in general; and traditional American values are under siege in the rewriting of American history to deny social progress that has been made and the nation’s greatness.

Epilogue:

  1. Republicans should take heart from the 2020 elections: despite being led by a very negatively polarizing presidential candidate, enduring a very biased press, being greatly outspent, disadvantaged by the broad use of mail-in ballots, and the coronavirus, they almost won the presidency; probably held the Senate despite defending twice as many seats; gained House seats; and expanded their leadership in governorships and state legislatures.  The country remains center right.
  2. Speaker Pelosi’s objective is to permanently change the game in the favor of Democrats: expand minority citizenship; add Senators from Puerto Rico and Washington DC; change voting procedures to the California model with extensive (unmaintained) voting rolls, mail ballots for everyone, and the practice of ballot harvesting. Much depends on maintaining a Republican Senate.