Political Mechanics

(Domestic) Prime Minister Pelosi

   Much of the democratic world employs a parliamentary system in which the majority party legislative leaders also act as the leaders of the executive branch. Our founders thought it wiser to separate the legislative and executive branches as a restraint on government overreach, and an effort to ensure individual liberty against Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan.  Perhaps more than ever, we now have a House Speaker who dominates both the legislative and executive branches on domestic matters. 

    Nancy Pelosi grew up in politics, with a father who was a member of the US House of Representatives before becoming mayor of Baltimore.  She moved to San Francisco with her financier husband Paul in 1968, became a member of the powerful Burton Machine which later spawned Kamala Harris and Gavin Newsom, was first elected to Congress in 1987, became Democratic leader in 2003, and has served as Speaker when the Democrats were in the majority from 2007 to 2011, and since 2019. She has excelled as a fundraiser, sprinkling the sugar around to needy colleagues campaigns, and as a machine politician, dispensing favors and retribution with a long memory. 

    Pelosi's most relevant rehearsal for the current avalanche of spending and government expansion policy bills was her central role in passing Obamacare in 2010 over the tactical objections of President Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel who would have settled for a more incremental approach to healthcare expansion. At the time the Democrats did not want to challenge the filibuster and needed 60 votes in the Senate, used reconciliation to repurpose an unrelated revenue bill, and let Harry Reid design the final bill in the Senate. Pelosi threaded the needle with a final  219 to 212 vote in the House.  

    Pelosi's greatest challenge in keeping her caucus in line came in 2018 with the arrival of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who had defeated James Crowley, the number four ranking House Democrat in a "safe" Bronx primary.  More worrisome to Pelosi was that AOC had been recruited to run by Saikat Chakrabarti who had the vision that secure inner city House districts should be represented by left wing activists rather than aging machine politicians who make up a significant portion of Pelosi's caucus.  While tension remains, an accomodation was reached in which Chakrabarti was fired as AOC's chief of staff, and Pelosi adopted large swaths of AOC's Green New Deal which was more about transforming the country than about environmental issues. 

    The coronavirus relief legislation was largely outsourced to Pelosi by Trump (who wasn't much concerned about deficits, but understood the political threat threat the virus posed), and by Biden. Starting in March 2020, Trump signed five coronavirus bills totalling over $3.5 trillion. originated by Pelosi's House with very little discussion. With Biden she added another $1.9 trillion.

    Other Pelosi bills designed to permanently tilt the country Democratic -  expansion of voting rights and District of Columbia statehood - which have been symbolically introduced every two years are now seriously in the queue.  Next $2 trillion for "infrastructure". Next $1.8 for "families".  Everything on her wish list, and the list which she adopted from AOC.  With financial bills originating in the House, and Chuck Schumer unable to originate anything in the Senate, nothing dealing with the great transformation of the nation gets to the President except by the will of the leader of the House. And all that stands in her way are the filibuster, Joe Manchin, and Kyrsten Sinema. 

    Trying to understand who controls foreign policy (or the border) is a different matter. But Pelosi can pop up when she sees political benefit.  

    Joe Biden's decision to diverge from the posture of all presidents since Ronald Reagan  by calling the Ottoman Turk treatment of the Armeinans in the waning days of World War I "genocide" represents an "Aha! moment". Did Biden see some geopolitical strategy relative to Iran or Russia?  Nope. Is this part of some complex negotiation with Erdogan, the Kurds, the European Union, and Israel.  Hardly. It is about domestic politics, and more particularly politics in California where the killing and displacement of over 1,000,000 Armenians in 1915-17 has been a rallying cry for the  vibrant, politically active California  Armenian community of over 200,000  for a century. A long time Angelino, Reagan understood. One can bet that Californian Pelosi helped President Joe understand that there were donors and votes to be had at no political cost by stating a truth. 

    Whatever happens in the Senate, and whenever the presidential reigns get turned over, the next elections most likely to stop this madness are for the House in 2022.  Team Pelosi currently has a 218 - 212 majority; Nate Silver's Democrat leaning 538 web site claimed in November  that "Republicans Are On Track To Take Back The House In 2022";  the decennial census has moved a handful of seats to the Republicans; and Republicans control the resistricting process in a majority of states.  The Domestic Prime Minister has clearly decided to strike while she can, giving Republicans a long list of target districts and Democrats a growing list of retirements.  

    Pray for Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. 

 

                                                                                                            -----

bill bowen - 5/6/2021 

    

   


Plumbing Kamala Harris

    The common assumption on the Right is that Kamala Harris will be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2024, either because Joe Biden will turn over the reigns early, or because he will step down after one term. Let's plumb that premise from the perspective of an engaged observer who was Secretary of the Republican Party in San Francisco during Harris' rise. 

A brief chronology: 

    - Harris was born on October 20, 1964, the daughter of Donald Harris, a Jamaican-American professor emeritus of economics at Stanford University, and Shyamala Gopalan Harris, an American biomedical scientist born in India.  Sister Maya, an activist Democratic lawyer, is two years younger.  In 2014 Harris, who has no children of her own, married  entertainment lawyer Doug Emhof who has two from a prior marriage. 

    - She graduated from Howard University and Hastings Law School (University of California). 

    - She began her  career in the Alameda County district Attorney's office in 1990, moved across the Bay to the San Francisco DA's office in 1998, and resigned under duress in 2000. She ran successfully for DA in 2002 with the support of patron Willie Brown and Senator Diane Feinstein, for  California DA against Los Angeles Republican Steve Cooley in 2010, and for a vacant US Senate seat in 2016 before being selected by Joe Biden to be his Vice President candidate in 2020. 

A few comments on California politics are in order. 

    - California is effectively a one party state. Party registration is 46% Democrat, 24% Republican, and 24% "Decline to State". All statewide offices are held by Democrats. State primaries propel the "top two" to the general election regardless of party. All significant decisions are made within the Democratic Party - there is no need to learn the art of compromise with Republicans; the key to success is alignment within the party. 

    - From the Gold Rush to the rise of Silicon Valley, California politics has been dominated by the San Francisco Bay Area. During the period of Harris' adulthood this has included Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer; Governors Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom; Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi; state Party Chair John Burton and the "Burton Machine";  and assembly leader and subsequently San Francisco mayor Willie Brown.  

    - As tends to be the case with long term one party rule, political corruption is rife. In the case of Kamala Harris, she entered politics in the mid-90's by having an affair with state assembly leader Willie Brown who was estranged from his wife and 31 years her senior. Brown gave her two lucrative appointments to state commissions (used in California to reward political allies and term-limited politicians ), and later, as San Francisco mayor, provided major support in her 2002 campaign for San Francisco District Attorney. 

    - Like in most states the District Attorney's office offers a good platform for ambitious politicians, with many photo ops for fining polluters, tax avoiders, Medicaid providers, for profit colleges, and all varieties of miscreants. Harris' highlight was in pulling California out of nationwide negotiations over mortgage penalties following the 2008 financial crisis - and achieving a $25 billion settlement  for California homeowners. 

    - Top political consultant Ace Smith had the role of guiding San Francisco's two young stars in the 'oughts - Gavin Newsome from mayor to Lieutenant Governor, to Governor; and Kamala Harris from San Francisco District Attorney, to State Attorney General, to the Senate.  With Team Biden banning Harris loyalists, Washington may be above the pay grade for Smith and sister Maya who managed Kamala's failed presidential campaign. 

    Four years is an eternity in national politics, and Harris would face significant obstacles if she has to wait for 2024.  There are reasons that Harris dropped out of the presidential race two months before the Iowa caucuses after seeing her suppport peak at 15%, and erode to about 3%.  Some can be rectified; others perhaps not: 

        - The "suburban housewife" voters who were critical to Biden's success may be no more supportive of a woman who began her political career by sleeping with her potential sponsor than they were of Donald Trump. 

        - While the New York Times' allowed Biden to overtly base his VP selection on race and gender while decrying racism and misogyny, sanity may return to the electorate. Harris comes from a comfortable middle class background in the liberal bastion of Berkeley, California. . Her father's family owned plantations (and perhaps slaves) in Jamaica.  This is not the stuff to appeal to Black Lives Matter. 

        - In her short time in the Senate,  Harris  had the most liberal voting record  in the body with 100% scores from Americans for Democratic Action in 2017 and 2018, and a ranking of "the most politically left" by YouGov in 2019.  Left of Elizabeth Warren. Left of Ed Markey. Left of Bernie Sanders. The country doesn't need to return to its "center right" history to have her not fit. 

        -  For those seeking a return to bipartisanship and decorum (an alleged Biden theme) , Harris is the antichrist, reveling in her disrespectful  hearing room partisan attacks on Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos, Neil Gorsuch, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, Bret Kavanaugh, and William Barr. 

        - She may have learned from her first campaign outside of California which was beset by organization, strategy, and fundraising issues. 

       Harris has some large holes in her resume: no experience with state or federal budgets (likely a major issue in 2024); no coalition building outside of California; no international experience.  Biden has given her a chance to broaden her credentials with the immigration crisis. The resignations of Biden's acting Director of  Immigration and Customs Enforcement after two weeks in office and his "border czar" two months later confirm the wisdom of Harris' efforts to exclude the humanitarian crisis at the border from her responsibility and to delay engagement in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua until the Biden administration can figure out how to get the corrupt leaders of those countries to limit migration while at the same time creating a porous border with overcrowded detention facilities. Defending sanctuary cities in California was easy; this assignment is likely to be a fatal albatross.  

    And one more "tell" on whether the presumptive "president in waiting" can make the transition from vocal critic to responsible owner of workable solutions - police reform. Who better to oversee the national effort than the former district attorney with the vice president pulpit? But that would take vision and political courage. 

                                                                                                                -----

bill bowen - 4/22/2021 

    

    

 


Setting Republican Party Priorities

    With the transition from a Republican president who sucked all of the air out of the room to a Democratic president who gets propped up and wheeled out by his handlers, it is worth looking beyond the putative party leaders to examine the party establishments on both sides.  Let's do this the way that McKinsey would. 

    First, who is the client?  Each party has a few hundred national movers and shakers who determine the direction and make things happen.  They are politicians, celebrities, donors, thought leaders, and bureaucrats. Some like to be in the public glare; many do not. There is an undercurrent of ideology, and a lot of occasional hoopla, but success comes from effective organizing and managing the people  and institutions  competing for power.  

    1. Party leadership. For at least a decade, Nancy Pelosi has been the most impactful politician in America.  She owned President Obama's signature achievement of Obamacare.  She long outlasted John Boehner and Paul Ryan. Faced with a revolt from the left, she was able to explain to AOC that running primary candidates against sitting House Democrats was not acceptable, and that Pelosi would deliver most of AOC's agenda.  She controlled the impeachment process - twice.  She drafted the Coronavirus responses, even when the Senate and presidency were Republican. 

        The Republicans have no counterpart, except perhaps Donald Trump who brings a strong personal following, but no demonstrated success or apparent interest in managing a legislative agenda or protecting vulnerable members of his party.  Mitch McConnell is a master of Senate procedures, but his success has been largely limited to getting federal judges approved; he has had less success enforcing party discipline than has Chuck Schumer who is getting much of Pelosi's agenda through the 50/50 Senate. 

       Among the professional party staff, Trump loyalist Ronna McDaniel was reelected party chair without opposition at the January convention, avoiding conflict while the former president assesses his future, and negating breathless media calls for a party fracture.  As a thank-you to Congressman James Clyburn who brought his presidential campaign back from near death in March, President Biden tapped failed Senate candidate from South Carolina Jaime Harrison  to lead the Democratic party structure.  

    Advantage Democrats. 

    2. Fundraising.  According to Open Secrets, Democrats raised and spent $8.4 billion in 2020, compared to the Republicans' $5.3 billion, with the total more than doubling 2016.   Part of the advantage is due to Act Blue, a web site which allows small donors to contribute to candidates nationally raising $1.5 billion, more than twice the Republican counterpart, Win Red.  Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer led the Democratic billionaires; the leading Republican contributor, Sheldon Adelson, died in January. 

   Modest advantage Democrats. 

    3. Key staff maintenance.  The number of key Biden administration officials returning from the Obama administration highlights the fact that these folks get sequestered somewhere when their party loses the White House. The Right has the Heritage Foundation, the Koch Brothers' Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institute and many others; the Left has the Brookings Institution, the Center for American Progress, the Council on Foreign Relations,  George Soros' Open Society Foundations, the Earth Institute, J Street, and an extended list similar to the Right's.  The Trump administration relied on outsiders, particularly generals, but both parties have plenty of interested talent available.

   Toss-up. 

    4. Media relations. Republicans are in decline with the deaths of Fox News' Roger Ailes and talk radio king Rush Limbaugh, and the emergence of liberal social media moguls - Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook;  Jack Dorsey of Twitter - as the arbiters of  what is acceptable for private citizens to discuss, to the extent of censoring the president.  Add Jeff Bezos' Washington Post which will fabricate stories of illegal phone calls by President Trump and the New York Times which fired an editor for printing an oped by a sitting United States senator,  and there is a growing Democratic advantage. 

    Advantage Democrats. 

    5. Data management. Barack Obama's 2008 campaign pulled ahead in harnessing "big data" for political purposes, but Reince Priebus' GOP made this a priority, and had superior donor and voter information to hand off to candidate Trump in 2016.  Now both know from GPS phone tracking whether a voter goes to a mosque on Friday, a synagugue on Saturday, or a Christian church on Sunday and from grocery bills whether they like dogs or cats.   

    Toss-up.  

    6. Candidate recruitment.  Unlike AOC, Nancy Pelosi and Republican management understand that the candidate must fit the district.  Despite President Trump's loss and defending 35 open seats,  the House Republicans gained 15  seats in 2020, with 15 first-time women winners in what Nate Silver projects to be a prelude to capture of the House in 2022.   In the Senate, the Republicans who must defend 20 seats to the Democrats 14, have had five announced retirements to none for the Democrats, but favorable geography to challenge for the necessary gain of a single seat. With a majority of state houses and legislatures, the Republican pool is deep. 

  Advantage Republicans. 

    7. Campaign management.  Success at the state level demonstrates that there are plenty of good campaign managers in the Republican Party; albeit Trump had difficulty in 2016 and again in 2020 maintaining the necessary relationship. Team Biden's decisions to reach for a lifeline from James Clyburn and subsequently to hide in the basement were apparently correct.  

   Toss-up. 

    So, with that list of relative strengths and weaknesses, what should be the priorities for Ms McDaniel,  Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, Charles Koch, Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo, and the other Republican Party leaders? 

    1. Coach Donald Trump into retirement. Perhaps give him a task of developing a conservative replacement for Twitter and Facebook. 

    2. Maintain election integrity. 

    3. Tweak fundraising - increase awareness of WinRed; cultivate replacements for Sheldon Adelson; make sure that Charles Koch carries on without his brother David who died in 2019.

    4. Smooth the path for strong candidates in a dozen Senate races and two dozen House races. Coach secondary candidates out; provide money. 

   5. Trust that post-Covid and post-Trump the American people will get tired of the cancel culture and the drumbeat of victimization, and turn to the party which sees America as the land of opportunity, and the people as basically fair.  

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bill bowen - 3/18/21

    


Team Biden's Effective Start

        By this time in Donald Trump's presidency Michael Flynn had resigned as National Security Advisor,  Sean Spicer was struggling to control messaging as a short-lived Press Secretary, and a dozen insiders such as Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Senior Advisor Steve Bannon were within a few months of being ousted. The Biden administration is the polar opposite, run by a cadre of generally boring veterans who would have formed the core of a Hillary presidency four years ago. How are they doing? 

        First the easy stuff: 

            1. Press Secretary Jen Psaki has perhaps the easiest job. The audience is friendly, and the president doesn't take questions when he does speak. The highlight of the first weeks was the kibuki impeachment of Citizen Trump.  Fortunately for Team Biden, Governor Cuomo provides a distraction for reporters and news consumers seeking a scandal.  When the Director of National Intelligence determined that the Saudi Crown Prince was directly responsible for the murder of  US resident Jamal Khashoggi,  presidential candidate  Biden's earlier promise of accountability was forgotten, and the press largely didn't notice.  

            2. The Biden administration inherited a rapidly accelerating vaccination program - one of the greatest accomplishments of the Trump administration - and Biden understandably takes the credit. Merck gave up on their vaccine development in January and went looking for ways to participate in combating Covid 19 in the United States or globally.  Team Biden took money available from a 2020 appropriation and supported Merck (the world's second largest vaccine manufacturer) in their efforts to partner with Johnson and Johnson, adding about a quarter to the monthly vaccine supply. Operation Warp Speed could have done this, but, to their credit, Team Biden did. 

            3. Unlike Democratic senators during the Trump administration, Republican senators give broad deference to administration appointees (who require 50 affirmative votes), uniformly rejecting only a divisive nominee for Budget Director, and likely forcing the Vice President to cast the deciding vote in favor of  the unqualified California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for Health and Human Services Secretary.  

            4. As long promised to liberal supporters, there have been executive actions to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords, cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline, rejoin the World Health Organization, extend student loan payment deferrals and eviction/foreclosure bans, increase bargaining power of federal workers, expand legal immigration, and to expand protections for the LGBTQ community.  The order to pause drilling on federal land serves as a major bargaining chip with Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski who is up for election in 2022, whose state is highly dependent upon revenue from federal oil and gas leases, and whose vote may be needed in an evenly divided Senate were Joe Manchin to defect.   

        Some a bit more difficult:

            1.  Team Biden has parried military testing probes from China in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Straits, and from Iranian proxies in Iraq.  Almost Trumpian. 

            2.  Strategies are being developed relative to China, Russian hacking, and the Iranian nuclear program. Each deserves its own discussion. 

            3.  Parents want their kids to be in school; teachers want to be at the head of the vaccine line. Biden tried to thread the needle by waffling on the definition of having a school open, and by recommending that teachers be given priority by the states.  In political terms, there are more parents looking to follow the science than teachers who prefer the status quo.  

        And there have been a few fumbles:

            1. By stopping construction of the wall on the southern border, halting deportations, and reinstituting the Obama-era "catch and release" program for asylum seekers, Biden has doubled the number of illegal crossings in January, and amped up the number of unaccompanied children to a projected 117,000 for 2021 - well beyond current holding capacity.  Even some of the Democrat friendly press has taken to call it a crisis. 

            2. Kamalla Harris has been largely kept out of sight, but two appearances have shown her to be less astute than her peers: first she did television interviews in West Virginia and Arizona intended to put pressure on Democratic senators who will provide critical votes on the next round of stimulus legislation, drawing White House apologies when they complained; then she stepped on Biden's virus credit line by making the embarassingly false claim that the Biden administration was "starting from scratch" with a vaccine distribution plan when nearly 1,000,000 doses per day were being administered. 

            3. Biden's call for bipartisan cooperation was shown to be empty rhetoric as 10 moderate Republicans made the trek to the White House to discuss amendments to the Democrats' looming $1.9 trillion "virus relief bill" monstrosity, and were given a nice cup of tea, but no consideration.  Biden was lucky that the Senate parlimentarian divined that the $15 minimum wage provision could not be included under Senate procedures, thus preventing Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema from fulfilling their promises to vote against it. As to the moderate Republicans, fool me once .... With the Democratic establishment uninterested in finding middle ground, Team Biden will be totally dependent upon their slimmest of majorities. 

    How much of a better world this would be for our kids and our grandkids if just one of those Georgia Senate seats had stayed Republican.

                                                                                                            ----- 

    As a special bonus this week we have a brief compilation of Sean Spicer's artistically challenged  post-White House career on Dancing with the Stars

bill bowen - 3/4/2021  

               


Surveying the Battlefield

      As Nancy Pelosi, the New York Times editorial board, and the legions of anti-Trump pundits roam the battlefield looking for wounded survivors to butcher, a moment of reflection and a few forecasts are in order. 

    On the positive side: 

        - We remain a center-right country. A strong majority oppose "defunding the police".  A strong majority oppose late term abortion.  A strong majority see budget constraints  as a larger problem than climate change, racism, or terrorism, at least conceptually. A strong majority understand the success of capitalism and the failures of socialism. 

        - Despite losing the White House, the House, and the Senate, Republicans gained House seats, lost only a net 3 of the 23 Senate seats that they defended, and remain dominant in governorships and state legislatures.  Prospects look good for 2022. 

        - The federal courts have been populated with three Supreme Court justices and 226 federal  judges who see it as their job to apply the constitution and laws as written.  

    On the negative side:

    - For a time it will be fashionable to extend the guilt for Trump's behavior since the election to his supporters in government and to the 74 million who voted for him.  Liberals are circulating lists of celebrities, businesses, and politicians who have supported the president and are thus to be banned from polite society. The divide in the country has been magnified - with sanctimonious glee. 

    - The people who got us into the mess in the Middle East and thought that appeasement would bring "peace in our time" with Iran are back in a position to repeat their errors. 

    - Federal budget deficits are escalating by trillions of dollars; it will eventually take a trauma of inflation for our grandchildren to recover from the profligacy of the Baby Boomers and Generation X. 

     And the forecasts:

    1. The twin crises of the pandemic and Trump's attempts to subvert the election will be used to change the playing field for future elections. At present, Republicans have several structural advantages - a tilt in the Electoral College; two Senators from each state; the exclusion of the 600,000 permanent residents of Washington DC and the 3.8 million residents of Puerto Rico and other territories from the federal electorate - with the partial offset that the Census, which allocates House seats among the states, includes illegal immigrants, thus giving extra seats to California and others. The DC Statehood Bill ,which passed the House and died in the Senate in 2019, will be a priority for Biden's core constituency, giving the Democrats 2 Senate and 1 House seats.  Puerto Rico may follow.   

    2. Election reform will be a cause for both sides - for Pelosi, to institutionalize mail-in voting with mass mailings and vote harvesting; and for Republicans, to establish proper safeguards. Both will favor a larger federal government role in federal elections. 

    3. There will be a crisis in "law and order" within the next few years, as the "defund the police" movement plays out, shifting resources away from "community policing", and toward social services agencies. Perhaps more important, and less publicized, is the George Soros funded effort over the past five years to elect uber-liberal major city district attorneys who oppose holding poor criminals for bail, oppose capital punishment, and will not enforce drug and "quality of life" laws such as urinating in public. Los Angeles; San Francisco; Seattle; Portland; Denver; Chicago; Baltimore; Philadelphia; Houston; Fairfax County, Virginia. The approach of the Biden administration, presumably with a significant role for Vice President and former California Attorney General Kamala Harris,  will soon be evidenced as the 94 regional Federal Prosecutors, as is  custom, tender their resignations to be replaced by properly oriented and Senate approved successors. 

    4. The political context of social media will be transformed. Some disparate data points for thinking about the future - the decision by Amazon, Google, and Apple to destroy conservative competitor Parler is a stark notice that a few liberal tech billionaires control much of the national conversation; Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has called the banning of Trump's account necessary, but "a dangerous precedent"; a walkie-talkie type platform called Zello used by right wing militias was used by some for coordinating the Capitol assault; the tilt of big tech toward Biden and the Democrats will soften the pending anti-trust legislation. 

    In the meantime, for Trump voters the best advice is to keep your head down in conversations with family and friends.  We are due for a few more weeks of the media being consumed by impeachment, erasing the history of the administration's accomplishments, potential legal liabilities for the Trump family, conjecture about his future role in the Republican Party, and conjecture about him starting a competitor to Twitter.   Before baseball sesason we will be able to see how many in the media have the skills and inclination to return to objective reporting.    

 

bill bowen - 1.14.21 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

       

 


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


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. 


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.