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December 2020

An Election Post Mortem

    After Mitt Romney's loss of the 2012 presidential election, Reince Priebus' Republican National Committee  conducted  a post mortem designed to determine what worked. what did not, and to set  a way forward. With Donald Trump hovering over the Republican Party, such a post mortem is not possible. Let this suffice. 

    The big picture: As attorney general Bill Barr confirms, there is no evidence of election fraud adequate to overturn Biden's victory. Biden won the presidency by some 7 million votes which translates to a 306 to 232 electoral college win. Had Trump obtained 44,000 more votes in Georgia, Wisconsin, and Arizona the Electoral College would have been tied, and the presidency would have been decided by a majority of the House delegations. But if pigs could fly...,

     For a party analyzing the elections for future guidance, the down ballot results are far different. Instead of losing an expected 20 or so House seats, the Republicans flipped 9 Democratic seats while losing no incumbents to pull within four seats of a majority. Despite being hugely outspent and defending 21 Senate seats to the Democrats' 12, the Republicans had a net loss of one seat and a holding of at least 50 seats going into the January 5,  Georgia Senate elections. Republicans flipped Montana to increase governorships from 26 to 27.  Republicans gained control of the New Hampshire Assembly and Senate; increasing their control of state chambers from 59-39 to 61-37, and taking a pole position on redistricting which will follow the 2020 census. 

    And a couple of quick comments on mechanics: 

        -  President Trump was outspent in advertising by $652 million to $381 million; Democratic Senator candidates outspent Republicans $549 million to $319 million; House Democrat candidates outspent Republicans $663 million to $511 million.  Any thought of the Republicans being the party of the fat cats is belied by the facts, with billionaires and liberal super PACs spending millions in Florida, Texas, South Carolina and elsewhere.  

        -   The Democratic strategy of pushing mail voting and early in person voting frequently resulted in Republicans winning on election day, only to lose once the "early" votes were counted.  Whatever one thinks of the security of the voting system, the convenience of voting from home (during a pandemic) and on any day over a three week period is superior to to a single day at the polls. A note for 2022. 

    The big question - to be the subject of lots of conjecture, but knowable only in the 2022 elections - was the broad, strong national performance of Republicans because Trump led the ticket, or in spite of Trump leading the ticket?  This observer's premise:  the underlying philosophy and policy premises of Trumpism capture the national mood. The larger than life persona was necessary to take on the political establishment (Republican as well as Democrat) in the face of intense opposition from the beginning - Mueller; impeachment; the policical media; the tech billionairres.  The party is strong enough, the winning themes are clear enough, the constituency is broad enough, and the Democratic opposition is weak enough,  that  a period of ascendency is likely.  That may be more probable without Trump, although his performance over the next year or so will be very important. 

    The primary macro thought: the party that believes in America will prevail over the party of discontent. The New York Times and Academia may revel in the 1619 Project and the meme that America is fundamentally flawed by its history of slavery and its treatment of the Native Americans.  Over time, more voters will attach themselves to the premise that the Founding Fathers understood human nature and the nature of government, and designed a system that assured primacy of the individual; that generations of immigrants have come here seeking economic opportunity and individual liberty; and that this is the most successful, heterogeneous society in the history of the planet.   

    Several themes are in the wheelhouse of Trump Republicanism:

        1.  Socialism does not work. For those too young to have read Lord of the Flies or Animal Farm, the examples are plain to see: the Soviet Union of Lenin and Stalin; the China of Mao; the Cuba of Castro; the Venezuela of Chavez.  Descendents of Cuban refugees represent the core of Florida's Republican majority. Vietnam refugees represent a political opportunity in California. People want the result of their labor to redound to themselves and their families; the power of the state is inevitably self-serving.   

        2.  The first responsibility of government is to protect the American people. 

            --  A significant portion of the state and local Republican success comes from the "Defund the Police" movement of Black Lives Matter and AOC.  To state it positively, the public is smart enough to grasp that the incidence of abuse is relatively rare and correctible, while the reduction of policing in at-risk communities results in far worse outcomes. To state it cynically, Richard Nixon's call for "law and order" was a pillar of his 1968 victory over Hubert Humphrey, and Governor Michael Dukakis' release of murderer  Willie Horton  was a pivotal issue in the 1988 campaign.  

            --  We cannot protect everybody in the world. The 18 year campaign to build a western society in Afghanistan is not worth the cost in lives (Afghan and American) and treasure. There is no fundamental American interest in central Asia. 

        3.   Trump demonstrated in his first three years that it is possible to rebuild American manufacturing, create good jobs for virtually every American, and grow incomes in the bottom third of society faster than inflation and faster than the upper third - to the particular benefit of Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.   

    As we enter 2021 with a Democratic president, we should understand the breadth and depth of Republican alignment with mainstream America.  This too shall pass. Keep the faith in a better 2021. 

                                                                                                                            -----

 

           And a thought from an active liberal feminist to help explain those Republicans who have been supporting Trump based on his policies: 

     "A vote is not a valentine. You aren't confessing your love for the candidate. It's a chess move for the world you want to live in."  - Rebecca Solnit 


Mail-in Voting: A Proposal

    Let's face it. Mail-in voting was growing before the pandemic; its explosion in 2020 probably cost Donald Trump his re-election; and expansion is a major strategy for Pelosi's Democratic party. While there is a litany of issues and challenges surrounding the presidential election, most are reminiscent of past alleged misdeeds; the big change, and the major challenge for future reliable elections, is the shift from in person voting (with voter identification in most states), to  mail-in voting where the validity and chain of custody of the ballots is questionable.  If the public is going to believe in the results of elections , it is essential that "best practices" be established.  Since a majority of mail in ballots are Democratic, it is essential for Republicans that only legitimate ballots be counted.  

    A brief history:

            -  From 1996 to 2016, the portion of voters using mail-in ballots in presidential elections  increased from  about 8% to about 21%,  with participation ranging from states using exclusively mail in ballots (Colorado; Oregon; Washington),  to 29 states allowing anyone who wishes to vote by mail, to 18 states requiring a reason such as travel, military service, or physical disability.  Some 70 % of the public believes that such voting should be easily allowed, so there is no going back.   

            -  In the 2020 presidential election  almost half voted by mail with the rest split evenly between voting on election day and voting in person early. Utah and Hawaii joined the exclusive mail states,  many states expanded their approval criteria, and only five (all Trump states) made no special accomodation.  Other than Utah, Biden carried the all-mail states. 

            -  According to Pew Resarch, 33% of Trump voters voted by mail, while 58% of the Biden voters did. ( 37 per cent of  Trump voters voted at the polls on election day; only 17 per cent of Biden voters did. Early on-site voting was similar.)  Some of the disparity is due to large Democratic states like California, but a substantial portion of the mail vote is Democratic across the board and correlates with age.  

            -  Upon assuming the House speakership in 2019, Nancy Pelosi's first priority was House Resolution 1, election reform, which would highlight mail voting, restrict scrubbing of voter rolls, and  expand the California system which automatically enrolls drivers license registrants, sends ballots to all registered voters, and allows "ballot harvesting".  Similar provisions were included in unsuccessful coronavirus relief packages. Her expectation: a shift of the electorate to the Left by several percentage points.  

    A proper bill to restore confidence in the American voting system should contain the following provisions:

            Definite:

                1. Bipartisan commissions to oversee state Secretary of State efforts to clean up the voter rolls, eliminating those who have moved or died, felons, and non-citizens. (At one point the California rolls held tens of thousands of illegal immigrants with drivers licenses.)   

               2. Ballots provided on request only. Reasons required - if any - to be determined by the state.  

               3. Submission by US Mail or drop-off by individual, family member, or other designated care giver. Criminal offense to gather ballots from groups of others. Partisan  ballot harvesting as sponsored by Tom Steyer in California in 2018 to be prohibited. 

              4. Signature on envelope compared to that on voter rolls prior to ballot being separated from the envolope. Machine scanning preferred.

              5.  Ballots to be received by elections office by Close of Business on election day. 

             6.  Ballot requests by mail or internet. Outbound postage government responsibility; inbound postage voter responsibility.

             7.  Sharing of voter files across locality and state lines. Prosecution for people voting in more than one jusisdiction. 

    The range of allegations following the 2020 elections - illegal extension of the allowable voting period; defective voting machines; inner city machine control of polling stations; duplicate votes - have some validity, and should be pursued, but the election post mortems should focus on the big risk factor which can and must be fixed.   

    Let's get this right before the movement for internet voting emerges from the shadows. 

bill bowen - 12/23/20


Shaking the Foundations

    Back in 1989 an earthquake hit the Bay Area just before a World Series game between the Giants and the Oakland A's. After a brief moment of shaking the foundation of Candlestick Park, a collective shout of "Play Ball" filled the damaged stadium.  After four years of shaking foundations, we are at as similar point as a country.  Pessimists and Democrats see the Trump administration as an accelerant to the decline of the country; optimists and Republicans see decades of defects exposed, and a call to action to extend America's greatness. 

    1. The national security establishment: The last few years of the Obama administration saw a deep politization of the national security establishment. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper explicitly lied to Congress about the Flynn investigation and a program to gather information about US citizens;  FBI Director James Comey first exceeded his authority in deciding not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for her illegal e-mail system, then tanked her presidential campaign by surfacing new evidence just before the 2016 election.  Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe oversaw a campaign to illegally spy on the Trump campaign, and to leak damaging false evidence.  Former Director of the CIA John Brennan became a vocal member of the Trump resistance. The resultant Mueller investigation of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign came up empty. Whether the ongoing Durham investigation eventually holds offenders to account or not, the Trump administration's intelligence leaders have stayed out of partisan "dirty tricks" politics and the shaking has stopped - at least temporarily.   

    2. The impeachment: President Trump asked the president of the Ukraine for help in an investigation of  corruption involving Ukrainian energy company Burisma and former Vice President Biden's son Hunter.  Nancy Pelosi saw an opportunity for impeachment, which eventually failed on totally partisan lines.  The Chinese saw a vice president willing to intervene to protect his son's shady dealings, and an opportunity to invest a few million dollars in Hunter as a conduit to a potential future American president.  The media piled on to the effort to overturn the results of the 2016 election, and a few years later quietly accepted the corruption of the Biden family. If the Republicans hold the Senate, Ron Johnson will ensure exposure, but there is no way that Pelosi's House will find any hint of impeachable offense. The shaking has changed impeachment from a tool to remedy corruption or gross incompetence to being a totally partisan political tool to reverse elections.   

    3. The pandemic: Some 300,000 lives and counting have been lost in the United States (1,600,000 globally);  Trump's remarkable economy, which had delivered record low unemployment and growing real wages was stopped in its tracks;  the lower and middle class workers who populate the hospitality and retail industries are being particularly decimated; the stock market plunged 30% in three March weeks, only to recover to record highs before year end; and China - relatively unscathed by the virus - has accelerated its efforts to overtake the United States as the world's strongest economy. Operation Warp Speed has brought safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics to the public in record time, and the smart Wall Street money projects a solid recovery in 2021. But the shaking has taken a huge toll beyond the deaths: a generation of children have missed educational and social development; income inequality, which had been narrowing, has dramatically increased; main street retail has suffered probable long term losses to Amazon. We will recover, but we will be different.  

    4. The election: Massive expansion of mail-in ballots from 21 % in 2016  (mostly in the West)  to 46 % in 2020 , played a major role in Biden winning the election  - not so much because of  any widespread fraud, but because the extended voting period and the ease of voting from home brought out marginal voters who tend to vote Democrat.  Fortunately the election did not turn on machine politics in major cities or partisan harvesting of mail in votes; it did validate the role of the Electoral College as able to sort through all of the legal and political challenges and provide a definitive answer. Enough for Bill Barr and Mitch McConnell.  Ongoing claims of massive fraud and Trump's refusal to admit defeat shake the foundations of our democracy.  

    5. The American essence myth: Perhaps as part of an effort to delegitimize Trump and his supporters, the New York Times launched the 1619 Project which stoked the "woke" story line that the United States has been an irredemably morally flawed society since its inception - the Civil War to abolish slavery, major civil rights gains in the past century, and the election of a Black president notwithstanding.  Combined with the frustration of the coronavirus lockdowns, and with the political benefit of energizing Democratic voters,  that story line and the prominent deaths in abusive police custody of several Black men has led to a year of demonstrations, riots, and a "defund the police; Green New Deal" lurch to the Left in our educational system and our politics.  The underlying truth is, of course, that America remains the land of liberty and opportunity which attracts millions of immigrants, and that it is the most successful multi-ethnic society on the face of the planet. The woke goal is to shake and collapse the foundation. 

    The subtle promise of the Biden campaign was that the shaking of the foundation would be stopped if he were elected president.  Perhaps the administration will be more predictable and the media will be supportive, but there are many millions of people who appreciated Trump's record economy of 2019, his ending of senseless wars in the Middle East, Operation Warp Speed, his control of illegal immigration, and his taking on China. The shaking has probably stopped, and the new game will soon begin. 

    Play Ball. 

bill bowen - 12/17/20 


Georgia On My Mind

    The January 5,  Georgia Senate elections are critically important -  for the nation; for the fortunes of several politicians; and for the profits of the well oiled fundraising/advertising industry.  Polling is totally discredited and used only to inspire donors.  The early conventional wisdom that these were safe Republican seats has badly eroded along with Trump's loss of the state by some 12,000 votes out of nearly 5,000,000 cast.  Let's look for clues where we can. 

    The setting:

        David Purdue v Jon Ossoff:  This is a replay of  November when first-term Republican Purdue won 49.7 % to 47.9% with Libertarian Shane Hazel drawing 2.3% to deny Purdue the necessary 50%.           

            - David Purdue  - whose prior somewhat dodgy business career spanned a number of struggling companies  - has been a solid conservative vote and Trump supporter, but not much more. His greatest political weakness is that he remains an active stock market participant, including  a significant number of trades following a private Senate briefing about the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. 

             - Jon Ossoff - a 33 year old investigative journalist who ran a strong, but losing special election campaign for the House in a Republican-leaning suburban Atlanta district in 2017 - was an early Bernie Sanders supporter and is a favorite of unsuccessful 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.   Somewhat like Beto O'rourke in Texas,  he is a darling of the media Left, and a major beneficiary of national Democratic fundraising organizations - spending twice as much on the election as did Purdue. 

        Kelly Loeffler v Raphael Warnock: In November Democrat Warnock led with 32.9 % of the vote in the primary to fill the remaining two years of the seat of Republican Senator Johnny Isakson who resigned for health reasons. Incumbent Loeffler had 25.9 % , Republican Congressman Doug Collins had 20.0%,  and Democrat Deborah Jackson had 6.6% with the remaining  14.6 % split among 16 other candidates. (Combined, the Republicans got 49.3% and Democrats got 48.4%.) 

                Kelly Loeffler - the wife of the owner of a large financial services company and herself the co-owner of a Women's NBA franchise - was appointed in 2019 by Governor Brian Kemp against the wishes of Trump who had advocated for Representative Doug Collins. (The thought was that she would play better in the Atlanta suburbs - and is a big donor. Collins was a major player in the impeachment hearings.) She has since claimed a "100 per cent Trump" voting record, and followed the Trump line in criticizing the management of the November election by the Republican Secretary of State.   

                Raphael Wornock  - the most controversial of the candidates - has been pastor at Reverend Martin Luther King Junior's 's Ebenezer Baptist Church since 2005.  He brings quite a bit of baggage - recently acrimoniously divorced;  early work at a church in New York which welcomed Fidel Castro; sermons supporting Obama pastor Jeremiah Wright's  of "God Damn America" fame; a claim that one cannot serve God and be in the military.   

    And the clues: 

        History: Republicans have held the Georgia governorship and both legislative chambers since 2005. The last Democratic senators were Max Cleland who was defeated in 2003, and Zell Miller who retired in 2005. Activist Atlanta lawyer Stacey Abrams lost the governorship by 55,000 votes in 2018, refused to concede, and has spent much energy registering  new Democratic voters who were partly responsible for the Democrats' surprisingly good performance in November. 

        Money: Purdue and Loeffler were outspent on the November election - in line with the national $716 million to $435 million Democratic Senate campaign advantage. The runoff has the four campaigns spending over $330 million, over 90 % of it from out of state. This time it is about equally distributed, and way past the point of diminishing returns. 

        The election:  Early voting begins on December 14; over 1 million mail-in ballots have already been requested.  This will be the most closely supervised election in the nation's history. Contrary to Trump team claims, the rate of rejection of mail in ballots in the November election for bad signatures was about .15% - similar to past years.   Proving that useless idiots can sometimes find a moment in the sun,  Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood have called for a boycott unless a secure election can be guaranteed. 

        - Advocates:  Every national politician who has any following is taking their moment on the stage.  Two that may have an impact:  New Yorker Chuck Schumer whose boast that the Democrats could take Georgia and change the country was a gift in Dixie; and long time Trump friend / former Georgia running back and Heisman Trophy winner Hershell Walker,  whose emergence reminds us that this is Southeast Conference football territory where former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville was just elected to the Senate in neighboring Alabama.  

        - The debates: The Atlanta Press Club hosted two debates on December 6, one between Loeffler and Wornock, and the other between Ossoff and an empty podium after Purdue declined to participate.  Loeffler dodged her position on whether the November election had been fairly run; Wornock dodged on whether he would vote to pack the Supreme Court and what his version of the Green New Deal would cost. 

    So, a supposition: 

        - Georgia will continue to be a bit like Texas - a bright shiny object for Democrats, worth spending money and efforts and for Republicans, a great instigator for campaign donations. For good reason the early presidential and senate maps did not have Georgia as a Democratic pick-up.  Without Trump on the ballot, a few hundred million campaign dollars to villify the socialist Democrats, and an army of poll watchers and lawyers, the dominant Georgia Republican machine should survive the challenge, with the Loeffler / Wornock race providing the clearer case of a Democratic candidate who is outside of the state's sensibilities.   

                                                                                                                            ----- 

     As a bonus this week we have great Georgia songs by great artists: Georgia on My Mind by Ray Charles, and Midnight Train to Georgia by Gladys Knight. Enjoy. 


Biden's Establishment Team

      When Donald Trump entered American politics he blew up the Republican Establishment. One implication was that he wound up with a lot of third rate people briefly on his team - Paul Manafort; Steve Bannon; and Anthony Scaramucci to name a few.  Rience Priebus did bring the national Republican Party to the campaign and was briefly rewarded as Chief of Straff, and there were several qualified former generals who temporarily stepped up - John Kelly; James Mattis; HR McMaster -  but by and large this was deliberately not an administratiion for the Establishment. 

    Joe Biden is the polar opposite. After 47 years in Washington, and eight near the pinnacle of the last Democratic administration which ended just four years ago (is that even possible?), he is the ultimate candidate of the Democratic Establishment, pulled out of the dust bin when it looked like Bernie Sanders might sink them all. His personnel selections go to the Establishment - for better when it means that most are qualified and experienced; for worse when it means that they may well be prisoners of past failed policies or just adept at currying bureaucratic favor. 

    First, the domestic crew, where like it or not, they will do their best to implement the policies which they believe got them (oops, him) elected: expansion of public medical coverage; phasing out carbon based energy; somehow stimulating the economy; making it easier for illegal immigrants;  restricting charter schools; protecting abortion; not being Donald Trump. For most of these things, the department head doesn't much matter. The Congress may provide a check - assuming a Republican Senate - but the executive branch will march to the Left. 

    Some thoughts on key players who might make a difference: 

        - Janet Yellen: As Treasury Secretary, perhaps a lateral transfer or demotion from her time as Federal Reserve Chair.  She is well qualified in terms of both technical knowledge, and experience working in the politics of Washington.  One concern: she has a long history of wanting low interest rates to help the economy in the short term. With 27 trillion of debt and ongoing trillion dollar deficits, we will be entering a period where fiscal prudence is demanded. Federal Reserve Chair Powell is committed to low interest rates for years. The Senate can only do so much. 

    - Prospective Chief of Staff Ron Klain has been  with Biden since the 80's, most recently as Vice President Biden's Chief of Staff, with a focus on the 2009 Recovery Act (among the slowest in history), and the administration's Ebola czar. While the Obama administration's Ebola response was not impressive, Klain knows all of the domestic and international agencies and should be helpful in the next phase of the coronavirus response. 

    - The announced candidate for head of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, whose role involves negotiating the many trade-offs that have to be made, was a Hillary confidant, helped write the Affordable Care Act, and most recently has headed the uber-liberal Center for American Progress. She tweets more than Trump and has recently gone out of her way to insult Trump, his supporters, and Lindsey Graham. (And that's the Washington Post biography.) Senate confirmation is uncertain.   

     Second, the international crew, where Biden has more latitude to act, and where he is committed to reverse Trump's emphasis on what is best for America. 

    - John Kerry is a "twofer": 

        As President Biden's Special Envoy for Climate, he will be empowered to bring the United States back into the Paris Climate Agreement which he helped to create as President Obama's Secretary of State, and which President Trump left in 2017. He will be asked to implement Biden's commitment to spend 2 trillion dollars to transform the transportation and power sectors of the economy. For what it is worth, the stark change of policy with each administration change shows the folly of making major changes by executive order rather than by treaty, which would require building national consensus, as was most recently done on the North American free trade agreement.    

    Most troubling about Kerry, Biden has placed the climate czar on the National Security Council with  the Secretaries of State, Defense, and Treasury and the Director of National Intelligence.  It is hard to believe that Kerry will stay in his lane amid discussions about the Iran nuclear deal, which he also negotiated.  That he (illegally, but openly)  had discussion with Iranian and European leaders in the early years of the Trump administration suggests Biden may not be in charge of this most important risk.  

   - The rest of the national security team  include some with experience on VP Biden's staff (Anthony Blinken as Secretary of State and Jake Sullivan as National Security Advisor); some with significant Obama Administration experience (Alejandro Mayorkas -who led DACA implementation - as Homeland Security Secretary); and some careerists (Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as UN Ambassador.)  The Secretary of Defense position remains open, with Michele Flourney the most qualified  to make the difficiult financial prioritizations which are to come - but while she would check the female box, she would continue Biden's failure to appoint Blacks to senior positions.  Like Biden, the group has a history of being wrong on Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Syria, and ISIS, and none posesses significant experience with China, which outgoing Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe emphatically calls the greatest threat  to democracy and freedom since World War II. 

    Don't look for any carry-overs.  Searching for middle ground is a good campaign slogan.  

 

bill bowen - 12/4/20