Author Archives: Bob Burnett

Another Look at Trump Supporters

After reaching a low of 36 percent, Trump’s approval rating has gradually inched up to 40 percent (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/). On the Left Coast his (historic) low remains a source of amazement because we rarely hear anyone speak favorably of Trump. Nonetheless, after 15 months in office, and a series of epic blunders, Trump has held onto his base.  What explains this?

Until recently, my primary source for understanding Trump supporters was an excellent book by UC Berkeley Sociology professor Arlie Hochshild, “Strangers in Their Own Land.”  Hochschild conducted a five-year study of Louisiana Tea Party voters who eventually became Trump supporters.  Hochschild details their “deep story,” a narrative shared by her interviewees: “You are standing in a long line leading up a hill, as in a pilgrimage.  You are situated in the middle of this line, along with others who are also white, older, Christian, and predominantly male… Just over the brow of the hill is the American Dream, the goal of everyone waiting in line.  Most in the back of the line are people of color… Look!  You see people cutting in line ahead of you!  You’re following the rules.  They aren’t.  As they cut in, it feels like you are being moved back… Who are they?  Women, immigrants, refugees, public sector workers — where will it end?”

There’s a blues song with the title, “I’ve been down so long that down looks like up to me.”  It seems to me that the voters Hochschild interviewed have been screwed over for so long that they’re profoundly disoriented.  Grasping for a lifeline, they latched onto Trump.

Recently, academics have studied this phenomenon.  In their paper, “Make America Christian Again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election” (https://academic.oup.com/socrel/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/socrel/srx070/4825283? ) sociologists Andrew Whitehead,  Joseph Baker, and Samuel Perry conclude that for many Trump supporters, “voting for Trump was… a symbolic defense of the United States’ perceived Christian heritage.”

Whitehead, Baker, and Perry used data from the latest Baylor Religion Study (https://www.baylor.edu/baylorreligionsurvey/doc.php/292546.pdf ) to unearth the core beliefs of white evangelical Christians — 80 percent of whom voted for Trump.  After controlling for factors such as party affiliation and religiosity, the sociologists identified six questions as measures of Christian Nationalism: The first is “the federal government should enforce strict separation of church and state.”  Christian Nationalists reject this because they believe that the United States has a special relationship with the Christian God; there’s a covenant for a Christian nation.

While Christian Nationalists reject separation of church and state, they respond positively to these five notions:

  • “The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation.”
  • “The federal government should advocate Christian values.”
  • “The federal government should allow the display of religious symbols in public spaces.”
  • “The success of the United States is part of God’s plan.”
  • “The federal government should allow prayer in public schools.”

Christian Nationalists support Trump because they believe he supports these notions.  (In addition, the Whitehead, Baker, and Perry study found profound anti-Muslim attitudes among the Christian Nationalists; for example, agreement with the statement, “Muslims endanger the physical safety of people like me.”  Trump appears to harbor the same sentiments.)

That explains why Christian Nationalists have stuck with Trump through 15 tumultuous months in office.  In an interview with the Huffington Post ( https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/researchers-discover-common-thread-between-evangelicals-who-voted-for-trump_us_5abbd15ae4b04a59a313c5ea) one of the study researchers, Andrew Whitehead, noted that since his election Trump has given Christian Nationalists direct access to the White House and this has led them to forgive his conduct: “They believe God can use anyone, ‘even a thrice married, non-pious, self-proclaimed public playboy,’” to form a Christian nation]. “For Christian nationalists, the end goal is a society that favors Christianity in various aspects… How that project is achieved is of little consequence to them.”

While “Strangers in their own land” doesn’t directly address Christian Nationalism, many of Arlie Hochschild’s subjects participated in the evangelical Christianity that Whitehead, Baker, and Perry identify as the source of Christian Nationalism.  (And Hochschild’s subjects who don’t seem particularly religious appear to share the same worldview as their neighbors.)

Two of Hoschschild’s observations seem particularly relevant.  The first is that the Louisiana Trump supporters have no confidence in government to fix their problems.  The second is that they place their confidence in business.  Hochschild observed that her subjects “identify up with the 1 percent.”  They believe that big business, not big government will provide the solutions to their problems, whether they are meaningful employment, healthcare, or environmental pollution.  (This derives from the Calvinism that underlies white evangelical Christianity.)  They voted for Trump because they saw him as a successful businessman.

Vice President Mike Pence has an important role because he’s a Christian Nationalist (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/01/gods-plan-for-mike-pence/546569/ ).  Pence has been responsible for many of the initiatives that the Christian Nationalists held dear: the effort to flood the courts with conservative judges; the drive to restrict abortion rights and defund Planned Parenthood; the effort to provide Federal funding to church schools; the drive to restrict immigration; etcetera.

As long as Mike Pence stands by Donald Trump then Trump will have the support of the hard-core component of his base — Christian Nationalists.  And when Pence steps away, and Trump falls, Pence will become President.

What’s Wrong With Trump This Time?

During most of Easter Week, Donald Trump was uncharacteristically silent. Then, starting on Easter Sunday, Trump tweeted that he would end DACA, “stop” NAFTA, and move troops to the Southern Border. What spurred this crazy talk?

There are several theories about why Trump unleashed his immigration tweetstorm.  One theory is that it was because conservative Republicans have slammed him for signing the $1.3 trillion spending bill (March 23rd) without securing funds for his border wall.  Another was that for most of Easter Week, the White House staff had constrained him so that he wouldn’t tweet about Stormy Daniels or Karen McDougal; on Saturday and Sunday, freed from the restrictions imposed by White House Chief-of-Staff John Kelly, Trump vented his frustration on Twitter.  Another theory is that, on Sunday morning, Trump was watching Fox News and responded to one of their reports.  The Final theory is that Trump is coming apart because of pressure from his legal woes.  That’s the theory that seems most plausible.

Trump is facing legal action on three fronts: Interaction between his presidential campaign and Russia, lawsuits brought by aggrieved women, and lawsuits based on the “emoluments” clause of the Constitution.

Russia Probe:  On February 16th, the Justice Department unveiled the first of four pillars of the Mueller investigation into interference in the 2016 election: the indictment of 13 Russians for Internet-based meddling.

In the coming months we’re likely to see indictments clustered around the three additional pillars of the Mueller inquiry: hacking, collusion, and obstruction.  The hacking indictments should explain who hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

The collusion pillar would explore the illicit cooperation between Russian operatives, involved in election interference and hacking, and the Trump campaign. On March 29th, the Mueller inquiry alleged that while Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were working for the Trump campaign, they had contact with a Russian intelligence operative.

Finally, the fourth pillar of the Mueller investigation should focus on obstruction of justice: has the Trump Administration blocked DOJ efforts to understand interference in the 2016 election?

Recently there’s been an unravelling of the Trump legal team responding to the Mueller inquiry.  The lead lawyer, John Dowd, resigned and has yet to be replaced.   Meanwhile, there’s intense speculation about whether Trump will agree to an interview with the inquiry (many observers believe that because of Trump’s penchant for mendacity he should not testify).

(By the way: in parallel with the Mueller inquiry is the Cockrum vs. Trump lawsuit; where three private individuals — Ray Cockrum, Scott Comer and Eric Schoenberg — are suing Donald Trump and Roger Stone for violating their privacy and civil rights by participating in the hack of the DNC emails.)

Trump’s Women: There are three lawsuits of note.  The first involves actress Stormy Daniels (real name Elizabeth Clifford) who alleges that, in 2006, she had an affair with Trump and subsequently was paid $130,000 to keep quiet about it.  On April 2nd, Trump’s legal team asked that this dispute be settled in (private) arbitration.  Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, wants a (public) civil trial.  (There’s a separate allegation that the $130,000, paid in October 2016, violated campaign finance laws.)

The second lawsuit involves model Karen McDougal who alleges that she had an affair with Trump and, in 2016, was paid $150,000 by America Media Inc. (which publishes the National Enquirer) for the story.  McDougal claims that American Media actually paid her in order to kill the story.  (There’s a separate allegation, brought by Common Cause, that the $150,000 was an illegal campaign contribution.)

The third lawsuit involves Summer Zervos who alleges that Trump sexually harassed her in 2007.  She’s one of more than twenty women who came forward, during the 2016 political campaign, to charge Trump with harassment.  Before Trump took office he accused these women of lying; in response, Zervos filed a defamation suit.  It wended its way through the courts and, on March 20th, a New York Supreme Court judge ruled that the suite could go forward  citing court precedent from the Bill Clinton-Paula Jones case: “a sitting president is not immune from being sued in federal court for unofficial acts.”  (Trump’s attorneys have appealed this ruling.)

The Trump attorneys handling these cases are not those representing him in the Mueller investigation.

Emoluments:  Article I of the Constitution says, “No Person holding any Office… shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”  (An emolument is a profit of any kind.)  Since Trump took office there have been lawsuits that alleged that Trump businesses illegally  accept payments from foreign governments.  (That is, Trump is using his position as President to benefit his businesses,)

Several of these lawsuits have been dismissed on technical grounds.  However on March 28th, a Federal Judge in Maryland let an emolument lawsuit go forward.  This action, brought by the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland, focuses on the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC:  “The District of Columbia and Maryland said their local residents who compete with Trump’s businesses, such as Trump International Hotel… , are harmed by decreased patronage, wages and tips…”

In this instance, Trump is represented by the Justice Department, not his private attorneys.

Summary: Trump’s legal woes aren’t going away soon.  Each of the three threads is likely to persist for the duration of 2018.  (The Washington Post indicates that the Mueller probe is likely to issue a preliminary report in mid-Summer but that doesn’t mean the probe will end then.)  Many observers believe that the Summer Zervos lawsuit is on the fastest track and may cause Trump to be deposed by summer.

For the rest of the year, Trump will be under pressure from these lawsuits.  Expect Trump’s bizarre behavior to continue.

“Russian Roulette” Trump and Putin

Until Robert Mueller publishes the results of his investigation into Russian intrusion in the 2016 election, David Corn and Michael Isikoff’s new book, “Russian Roulette,” will be the preeminent source for information about what happened; what did Russia do and why did they do it.  There are four takeaways from this well-researched and disturbing book.

Russia has declared war on the United States:  During the October 22, 2012, presidential debate, Mitt Romney called Russia America’s “biggest geopolitical threat.”  At the time, many observers scoffed, but it turns out that Romney was right.  Corn and Isikoff’s book indicates that Russian Premier Vladimir Putin has declared cyberwar on the United States and its allies; the 2016 political campaign was the most evident manifestation of the new Kremlin offensive.

Russia cannot compete against the United States economically or militarily.  Because the US has, historically, opposed many Russian political initiatives — such as the annexation of Ukraine — Putin has decided to retaliate by undermining our democracy: he seeks to destabilize our political system and sow discontent.  In 2016 Russian operatives interfered in the U.S. political process by meddling in the voting process, selectively leaking hacked information, and spreading disinformation via social media.  The Russians did this to cripple Hillary Clinton’s campaign and to aid Donald Trump.

Russian Roulette makes it clear that Putin hated Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and, therefore, deliberately set out to hurt the Obama Administration, the Clinton campaign, and Democrats in general.  (The Russians not only interfered in the presidential election but also in Senate and Congressional races.)

Trump idolizes Putin.  Tellingly, Trump shares Putins’s hatred for Obama.  What jumps out from Russian Roulette is that there’s abundant evidence of Russian cyberattacks and Trump has steadfastly denied this.

Donald Trump threatens our national security:  Corn and Isikoff’s book doesn’t contain a “smoking gun;” there is no new information that proves that Trump personally colluded with Russian operatives.  Nonetheless, Russian Roulette reports that before November 8, 2016, the Kremlin had been trying to “cultivate” Trump for at least a decade.

The Russian effort to enlist Trump is said to take two forms: one is to provide him with funding for his various projects; the other is to threaten him with blackmail with evidence of sexual misbehavior.

Trump has repeatedly claimed that he has no business interests in Russia.  However, Russian Roulette reports that during the campaign Trump’s representatives tried to arrange for a Trump tower to be constructed in Moscow.  In addition, there’s abundant evidence that Trump has done business with Russian oligarchs — on projects located outside Russia.  During the nineties, Trump was in deep financial trouble and there’s information that Russian money bailed him out.

Russian Roulette discusses the possibility that Trump was sexually “compromised” during his visit to Moscow for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant.  There’s plenty of innuendo but, so far, no proof.

At the conclusion of Russian Roulette we’re left wondering if Trump is a dupe or a doofus; is he denying that the Russians interfered in the election because he’s following Putin’s lead or because he’s too vacuous?  For whatever reason Trump is ignoring two existential threats to the United States: Russian cyber warfare and global climate change.

Even though the US intelligence community believes that the Russian interfered with the 2016 election, Trump discounts this.  He continues to lobby for “normalization” of our relationship with Russia.  (As this was being written, Trump fired Secretary of State Tillerson and National Security Adviser McMaster; both had advocated a hard line with Russia.)

Trump’s associates met with Russians: Corn and Isikoff’s new book provides ample evidence that members of the Trump campaign — Carter Page, George Papadpoulos, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner, among others — met with Russian operatives during the campaign.  It appears that the Trump campaign was aware that the Russians had hacked the DNC and John Podesta’s emails.  Nonetheless, there’s no evidence that the Trump campaign and the Russians planned joint operations; for example, that the Trump campaign asked the Russian operatives to disrupt voter turnout in Wisconsin.  (There’s nothing about the Trump campaign that’s comparable to the purported link between the Russians and the NRA:  the FBI is investigating allegations that Alexander Torshin, an official at the Central Bank of the Russia and life member of the NRA, funneled money through the gun lobby group to the Trump campaign.)

The Obama Administration was too soft with Russia:  Russian Roulette makes it clear that the Obama Administration was informed that the Russians were interfering with the 2016 election.  In hindsight it’s clear that the Obama Administration was way too soft with the Russians.  (At the last minute, when they wanted to go public with what they knew about the Russian interference with the election, the Obama Administration was thwarted by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.)

Summary: For the moment, David Corn and Michael Isikoff’s new book, “Russian Roulette,” is the preeminent source for information about how Russia interfered in the 2016 election.  Bottom line: we’re at war with Russia and Donald Trump isn’t doing anything about it.

Facebook, Trump, and Russia

As the Mueller probe continues, there’s new evidence about the interaction between the Trump campaign, a sinister British political consulting firm — Cambridge Analytica, and Facebook.  They collaborated to steal the 2016 election.   By the way, there’s a Russia connection.

To understand the role of Facebook we recall the period after the 2016 candidate debates.  The last debate occurred in Las Vegas, on October 19th; Hillary Clinton won that debate, as she had the previous two debates.  At the time, most Americans thought Clinton would win the presidential election as polls showed ahead and it was widely believed that the Democrats had a superior “ground game;” that is, Dems were assumed to have a much more muscular ability to get-out-the-vote on November 8th.

The influential website, 538, believes that a single event cost Clinton the election: the October 28, 2016, letter that FBI Director James Comey wrote to Congress (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-comey-letter-probably-cost-clinton-the-election/ ) reopening the investigation into the Clinton emails.  It’s probably more accurate to say that Clinton lost for multiple reasons.  One was a massive shift towards Trump on election day; the Trump campaign managed to get out their vote.

Clinton won the popular vote by 2.8 million votes.  Nonetheless, she lost the presidency because she lost the electoral college; specifically, she lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by a combined total of 79,646 votes.  That’s where the influence of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook (and Russia) mattered.  The Trump campaign developed their own electronic get-out-the-vote effort, targeted to swing states.

In the traditional people-powered get-out-the-vote effort, volunteers go door to door to first register voters and then, later, to encourage registered voters to vote for specific candidates.  The volunteers are aided by current precinct lists that show the residences of interest — for example, where Democrats live, who the residents are, and their recent voting behavior; that is, did they vote in the most recent election (the lists don’t show how they voted in the latest election because that information is confidential).  In more sophisticated voter outreach, basic information is amplified by relevant consumer data; for example does a specific voter belong to the Sierra Club or is there someone in the house that does not speak English.

The more sophisticated the voter data base, the more effective the get-out-the-vote effort is.  In 2016 the Trump campaign, with the help of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, developed a remarkable swing-state voter data base.  They did not hand data base printouts to volunteers to guide their door-to-door interaction; instead the data base information drove electronic interaction using social media, such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

Unlike previous get-out-the-vote efforts, the Trump campaign strove to both get out Trump voters and inhibit possible Clinton voters.

Typically, in the last few days of the election cycle, the get-out-the-vote efforts focuses on “persuadable” voters.  That is, no special effort is spent on reliable voters, those who have voted in the last few elections.  The volunteers focus on intermittent Democratic voters and Independent voters who they believe might vote for their candidate.  The volunteers repeatedly knock on doors with the intent of convincing persuadable voters to vote on election day.

In 2016, the Trump campaign bypassed the traditional door-to-door get-out-the-vote approach and, instead, contacted persuadable voters electronically.  For a voter deemed likely to vote for Trump, the campaign sent them email, twitter, or Facebook messages.  In addition they sent them news briefs — primarily via Facebook — that would likely convince the persuadable voter to vote for Trump.

The genius of the Trump-Cambridge Analytica-Facebook approach is that it, to a degree never seen before, personalized the messages to persuadable voters.  They used the Facebook data to develop a voter profile and then sent voters messages based upon this profile.  (This worked both to motivate voters to vote for Trump and to dissuade potential Clinton voters for voting for her.)

Writing in The New Yorker, Sue Halpern (https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/cambridge-analytica-facebook-and-the-revelations-of-open-secrets ) observed: “Cambridge Analytica contractors worked with Trump’s digital team, headed by Brad Parscale and Jared Kushner. Alongside all of them were Facebook employees who were embedded with the Trump campaign to help them use Facebook’s various tools most effectively—including the so-called “dark posts,” used to dissuade African-Americans from showing up to vote.”

The most informative investigative journalism is in The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/23/leaked-cambridge-analyticas-blueprint-for-trump-victory ): “The blueprint for how Cambridge Analytica claimed to have won the White House for Donald Trump by using Google, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is revealed for the first time in an internal company document obtained by the Guardian… it details the techniques used by the Trump campaign to micro-target US voters with carefully tailored messages about the Republican nominee across digital channels.  Intensive survey research, data modeling and performance-optimizing algorithms were used to target 10,000 different ads to different audiences in the months leading up to the election.”

And the Russians were involved.  Writing in Slate (https://slate.com/technology/2018/03/did-cambridge-analytica-leverage-russian-disinformation-for-trump.html ), Justin Hendrix reported “Cambridge Analytica also enlisted Russian-American academic Aleksandr Kogan to mine the private Facebook user data that is the subject of the ongoing scandal. While an associate professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia, Kogan received grants from the Russian government to research ‘stress, health and psychological wellbeing in social networks.'”

The Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica, and Facebook collaborated to steal the 2016 election. With help from the Russians.

Forecasting the Midterm Elections in the Midwest

The 2018 midterm elections will occur on November 6th. Democrats need to win 23 seats to take back the house and 2 seats to gain control of the Senate.  This week we look at 12 midwestern states where there are a handful of opportunities for the Democrats.

A February 4th ABC News/Washington Post poll ( http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/strength-party-strongholds-key-midterm-outcomes-poll/story?) suggests why Democrats look forward to November 6th: “Democrats lead by 14 points among likely voters… But that reflects a vast 38-point Democratic lead in districts already held by Democratic members of Congress. In districts the [GOP] holds, by contrast, it’s a tight 45-51 percent Democratic vs. Republican contest.”  Democrats also lead in enthusiasm: “They lead very widely among those who say it’s especially important to vote this year.”

A “blue wave” is predicted because experts believe that Democrats are more motivated to vote than are Republicans.  Because most Democrats deplore Trump and his Republican Party, Dems are eager to curtail Trump by taking back the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate.

Intensity of feeling should play a critical role in the November 6th elections.   In the latest Quinnipiac Poll (http://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail? ) 57 percent of respondents disapproved of the job Trump is doing (38 percent approved).  49 percent of the poll respondents disapproved strongly (29 percent approved strongly).

Notably, Trump is losing the support of women.  The most recent Washington Post poll indicates that 65 percent of women disapprove of the job Trump is doing.

What is clear from the polls is that there is a big difference in how Trump is viewed in Red and Blue congressional districts.  Red district voters support Trump: they feel he is doing a good job, ignore his lies, and believe the investigation into possible collusion with Russia is a hoax.  Blue district voters have radically different feelings.  This suggests that the 2018 outcome is going to be decided by swing districts.   The balance of this article examines the swing districts in the Midwest.

Illinois: The Republican Governor, Bruce Rauner, is up for reelection; the Cook Report rates this as a Toss Up.  (The Democratic candidate has yet to be selected.)  There are 4 House races of interest:
IL 6 Roskam (R) Toss up
IL 12 Bost (R) Leans Republican
IL 13 Davis (R) Likely Republican
IL 14 Hultgren (R) Likely Republican

Indiana: One of the Republican primary targets is Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly; the Cook Report rates this race as a toss up.

Iowa: There are 3 House races of interest:
IA 1 Blum (R) toss up
IA 2 Loebsack (D) likely Democrat
IA 3 Young (R) leans Republican

Kansas: The Republican Governor, Colyer, is running for reelection; Cook rates this as likely Republican.  There are 2 House races of interest:
KS 2 open (R) Leans Republican
KS 3 Yoder (R) leans Republican

Kentucky: There is 1 House seat of interest; KY 6 Barr (R) is rated as lean Republican.

Michigan: The Republican Governor, Snyder, is term-limited out; Cook rates this race as a toss up.  Democratic Senator Stabenow is up for reelection; Cook rates this as likely Democrat.  There are 2 house seats of interest:
MI 8 Bishop (R) lean Republican
MI 11 Open (R) toss up

Minnesota: The Democratic Governor, Dayton, is term-limited out; Cook rates this race as a toss up.  A recently appointed Democratic Senator, Tina Smith, is up for reelection; Cook rates this as a toss up. There are 4 House races of interest:
MN 1 open (D) toss up
MN 2 open (R) toss up
MN 3 Paulsen (R) lean Republican
MN 8 Nolan (D) toss up

Missouri: Democratic Senator Clair McCaskill is high on the Republican’s hit list; Cook rates this contest as a toss up.

North Dakota: Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp is also a big Republican target; Cook rates this as lean Democrat.

Ohio: The Governor’s seat is open as Republican John Kasich is term-limited-out; Cook rates this a lean Republican.  Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown is up for reelection; Cook rates this as lean Democrat.

Wisconsin: Conservative Republican Governor Scott Walker is up for reelection; Cook rates this as lean Republican.  Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin is up for reelection; Cook rates this as likely Democrat.  There is 1 House race of interest: WI 6 Grothman (R); likely Republican.

In summary, in the midwest Democrats have a good shot at picking up at least 2 governorships and 3 house seats.

The Women’s Wave

There’s continuing talk of a “wave” election in November; an election where Democrats across the nation vote in larger numbers than Republicans and take back control of Congress and many state legislatures. While a blue wave is likely, it won’t be the result of superior organization by the Democratic Party. Instead it will be the result of a grassroots mobilization led by women.

A November blue wave is predicted because most political experts believe that Democrats, and Independents, are more motivated to vote than are Republicans.  A recent USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/03/01/voters-vow-elect-congress-stands-up-trump-poll-shows/376578002/ ) reported that voters are unhappy with the country’s direction and dissatisfied with President Trump.  “58%-32% [of] those surveyed say they want to elect a Congress that mostly stands up to the president, not one that mostly cooperates with him.”

Notably, Trump is losing the support of women.  The most recent Washington Post poll indicates 65 percent of women disapprove of the job Trump is doing.  (Notably, a majority of white women disapprove of Trump.)

Outside Washington, women are driving the resistance to Trump.  This fact has three implications: the first is that women are leading the movement and, in many cases, running in opposition to incumbent Republican men.  The second implication is that women are directing the construction of grass-roots voter mobilization efforts; in many instances these are separate from the Democratic Party.  The third implication is that women are building campaigns based upon issues that resonate with their home base.

Female Candidates: Multiple news sources have commented on the record number of women — overwhelmingly Democratic women — running in 2018.  At the end of January, NBC News (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/first-read/huge-2018-story-more-500-women-are-running-major-office-n841916 ) observed that “More than 500 women are running for major office.”

A significant percentage of the female Democratic candidates are women of color.  Notable is Stacey Abrams ( https://staceyabrams.com/) who is running for Governor of Georgia.  If I only told you that Stacey was an unmarried black woman, you’d think she had no chance in this race.  But if I introduced you to Stacey — a graduate of Yale Law School, who is the Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives — you’d come away believing that she is the most qualified candidate.

Stacey Abrams is the founder of The New Georgia Project which, for the last four years, has been working to register voters, primarily people of color.  (In 2008, Barack Obama lost Georgia by 200,00 votes and there were 700,000 unregistered black voters.)  Like Stacey, many of the 2018 female candidates are linked to grassroots organizations — most of which have a get-out-the-vote component.

Independent from the Democratic Party:  The Stacey Abrams campaign is independent of the Democratic Party; this is true for many progressive female candidates.

A prime example of an independent organizing effort, led by women, is the Restaurant Opportunities Center (http://rocunited.org/ ).   ROC is running campaigns for the benefit of America’s 14 million restaurant workers — the majority of whom are women.  (BTW: two-thirds of these women report being sexually harassed on the job.)  In 2018, ROC is focussing on Michigan where state law permits restaurants to pay workers as little as $3.52 per hour.  ROC is organizing 134,000 restaurant workers to put a “fair wage” initiative on the ballot and to vote in 2018.  (In 2016, Trump won Michigan by 12,000 votes.)

New Southern Strategy: The national Democratic Party has been focussed primarily on the Democratic bastions (California, New York) and the historic swing states (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin).  Meanwhile the resistance is funding strong efforts in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Texas.

Recently, there was a funding conference for the new southern strategy (https://waytowin.us/about/ ).  Their funding strategies contrasted with those of the national Democratic Party.  Way to Win begins locally with a “focus on field organizing and… targeted digital strategies.”  It’s collaborative with an emphasis on “building independent political power… [and] long-term relationship[s].”

Empowering the Base: The key element that distinguishes the new grassroots mobilization is that it starts at the local level not in Washington.  The Way to Win charter states: “We believe that we can win by focusing on our base — a multiracial coalition of people of color, young people, and progressive white people — and offering an agenda that will try impact people’s lives.”  Way to Win has five goals:
1. Reflective Democracy — candidates that reflect their communities
2. Local racial and economic justice accomplishments
3. Barrier removal — particularly barriers to voting
4. Base turnout increase
5. Shift political giving to the base — rather than the Washington political infrastructure.

Because of the emphasis on local issues, the new grassroots’ mobilization focuses on different issues from community to community and state to state.  One example is the push in Michigan for a “fair wage” for restaurant workers.  In Florida, Way to Win is supporting the “Restoration of Rights Coalition” which has sponsored a ballot initiative “to restore voting rights for more than 1.6 million formerly incarcerated people.”

By being community-centered, rather than candidate-centered, the new grassroots’ mobilization aims to last for more than one election cycle.  The political support aims to build a true progressive infrastructure not merely the election of a particular candidate.

There’s a wave coming.  It’s being led by progressive women, outside Washington, and it’s likely to dramatically change the political landscape.

Forecasting the Midterm Elections in the South

 

The 2018 midterm elections will occur on November 6th. Democrats need to win 24 seats to take back the house and 2 seats to gain control of the Senate.  This week we look at the 11 southern states where there are a handful of opportunities for the Democrats.

A February 4th ABC News/Washington Post poll ( http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/strength-party-strongholds-key-midterm-outcomes-poll/story?) suggests why Democrats look forward to November 6th: “Democrats lead by 14 points among likely voters… But that reflects a vast 38-point Democratic lead in districts already held by Democratic members of Congress. In districts the [GOP] holds, by contrast, it’s a tight 45-51 percent Democratic vs. Republican contest.”  Democrats also lead in enthusiasm: “They lead very widely among those who say it’s especially important to vote this year.”

A “blue wave” is predicted because experts believe that Democrats are more motivated to vote than are Republicans.  Because most Democrats deplore Trump and his Republican Party, Dems are eager to curtail Trump by taking back the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate.

Intensity of feeling should play a critical role in the November 6th elections.   In the latest Quinnipiac Poll (http://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail? ) 57 percent of respondents disapproved of the job Trump is doing (38 percent approved).  49 percent of the poll respondents disapproved strongly (29 percent approved strongly).

Notably, Trump is losing the support of women.  The most recent Washington Post poll indicates that 65 percent of women disapprove of the job Trump is doing.

What is clear from the polls is that there is a big difference in how Trump is viewed in Red and Blue congressional districts.  Red district voters support Trump: they feel he is doing a good job, ignore his lies, and believe the investigation into possible collusion with Russia is a hoax.  Blue district voters have radically different feelings.  This suggests that the 2018 outcome is going to be decided by swing districts.   The balance of this article examines the swing districts in the South — ignoring states like Arkansas where there do not appear to be Democratic opportunities.

Florida: The Senate race pits the incumbent, Bill Nelson (D), against a yet-to-be-determined Republican; the Cook Report rates this as “Lean Democrat.”  There’s also an open Governor slot as the incumbent, Scott (R) is leaving because of term limits; Cook rates this as a “toss up.”  There are 5 House seats of interest:

FL 7 Murphy (D) — lean Democrat
FL 13 Crist (D) — likely Democrat
Fl 18 Most (R) — likely Republican
FL 26 Curbelo (R) — toss up
FL 27 Ros-Lehtinen (R) — lean Democrat; as Ros-Lehtinen is retiring

Georgia: The Republican Governor (Deal) is term-limited out.  Cook rates this as a safe Republican seat but Dems are very high on their leading candidate, Stacey Abrams.  There are two House seats of interest:

GA 6 Handel (R) — lean Republican
GA 7 Woodall (R) — likely Republican

Kentucky:  There is one House seat of interest: KY 6 Barr (R) — lean Republican.

North Carolina:  There are three House seats of interest:
NC 2 Holding (R) — likely Republican
NC 9 Pittenger (R) — likely Republican
NC 13 Budd (R) — likely Republican

Tennessee: This Senate seat is in play because the incumbent, Corker (R), is retiring; Cook rates this as a tossup because the Democrats are running a strong candidate, former governor Phil Bredesen.  The Republican Governor (Haslam) is term-limited out; Cook rates this a likely Republian.

Texas: Every election, Democrats claim that, because of demographic shifts, big changes are coming in Texas.  We’ll see.  Republican Senator Ted Cruz is up for reelection; Cook rates this as likely Republican.  There are 3 House seat in play:
TX 7 Culberson (R) — toss up
TX 23 Hurd (R) — lean Republican
TX 32 Sessions (R) — lean Republican

In summary, in the South Democrats have the opportunity to pick up at least one Senate seat, a Governorship, and five House seats.

Mueller Inquiry Status

On February 16th, the Justice Department unveiled the first of four pillars of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into interference in the 2016 election: the indictment of 13 Russians for Internet-based meddling.  Since then the Mueller investigation has been quiet but there’s new evidence that they are moving forward with the other three pillars of their inquiry: collusion, obstruction and hacking.

On April 30, the New York Times   (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/30/us/politics/questions-mueller-wants-to-ask-trump-russia.html ) published the roughly fifty questions that the Mueller probe wants to ask Donald Trump, under oath.  These questions are primarily about campaign coordination with Russia — collusion — and about possible obstruction of justice.

The collusion aspect of the Mueller probe explore the possibility of illicit cooperation between Russian operatives, involved in election interference and hacking, and the Trump campaign.

A key Mueller question for Trump focuses on the notorious June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting where a Russian operative offered to give key members of the Trump campaign political dirt on Hillary Clinton.  Mueller also wants to know about communication between (Trump associate) Roger Stone and Wikileaks — conversations about hacked DNC and Clinton Campaign emails.  More generally, Mueller wants to find out what Trump knew “about Russian hacking, use of social media, or other acts aimed at the [Clinton] campaign.”

Mueller’s most provocative question is “What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?”  (Paul Manafort is the former manager of the Trump presidential campaign; he has since been indicted by the Mueller probe for his Ukraine consulting work and other undisclosed actions.)  Manafort was present at the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting; the question suggests that the investigators know of other attempts to secure Russian assistance.

In the context of the 2016 election, collusion can mean “a long-term criminal conspiracy.”  One would hope that the coming Mueller indictments would address the concern that Donald Trump has subterranean ties to Putin, and Russian oligarchs, and this relationship subverted the US electoral process.  Several Mueller questions relate to this.  Notably: “What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?”  (There are rumors that the Mueller team has excavated the financial links between Trump and Russian oligarchs.)

Although Trump continues to deny collusion, there seems to be ample evidence that there were, to say the least, unusual interactions between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.  (The latest revelation is that a Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, gave $500,000 to Trump associate Michael D. Cohen.)  The key question is: can any of these interactions be tied to Trump?

Another pillar of the Mueller investigation focuses on obstruction of justice: has the Trump Administration blocked DOJ efforts to understand interference in the 2016 election?  There are three sets of Mueller questions relating to obstruction.

The first set concerns Michael Flynn who was a key adviser to Trump during the campaign and, briefly, his national security adviser.  (Flynn has agreed to cooperate with the Mueller probe and has pled guilty to lying to an FBI agent.)  Mueller is interested in whether Trump was aware that Flynn had reached out to Russian officials before the inauguration.  Another question asks if Trump has contacted Flynn about a possible pardon.

The second set of obstruction-related questions concerns Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  These questions concern Sessions decision to recuse himself from the Mueller inquiry and Trump’s (alleged) pressure on Sessions to end the Russia investigation.

The third set of questions relate to former FBI director James Comey.  Mueller wants to ask Trump about the circumstances that led to Comey’s dismissal.  Specifically, Mueller would ask Trump: “What did you mean when you told Russian diplomats on May 10, 2017, that firing Mr. Comey had taken the pressure off?”

There’s abundant evidence that Trump is displeased with the Mueller investigation.  (Almost daily, he Tweets to this effect.)  What remains to be seen is whether there is concrete evidence that Trump has obstructed the investigation; for example, by promising to pardon those who have been targeted by the Mueller probe.

Finally, the third pillar of the Mueller investigation regards hacking.  This inquiry would explain who hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.  As noted above, Mueller wants to find out what Trump knew “about Russian hacking, use of social media, or other acts aimed at the [Clinton] campaign.”

Summary:  May 17th marks the anniversary of the day that the Mueller probe began.  It’s accomplished a lot in a remarkably rumor-free inquiry.

There seems to be abundant evidence that Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 presidential election and that there was contact between the Trump campaign and Russians.  Of course, as the presidential candidate, Trump bears some responsibility for this.  What remains to be seen is whether there’s direct evidence that Trump committed an unlawful act.  Trump acts like he’s guilty but, so far, there’s no smoking gun.

Forecasting the Midterm Elections in the West

The 2018 midterm elections will occur on November 6th. Democrats have been predicting a “blue wave,” but recently there’s been an uptick of support for President Trump and, as a result, Democrats are nervous. Nonetheless, the eleven western states look positive for Dems.

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll ( http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/strength-party-strongholds-key-midterm-outcomes-poll/story?) suggests why Democrats look forward to November 6th: “Democrats lead by 14 points among likely voters… But that reflects a vast 38-point Democratic lead in districts already held by Democratic members of Congress. In districts the [GOP] holds, by contrast, it’s a tight 45-51 percent Democratic vs. Republican contest.”  Democrats also lead in enthusiasm: “They lead very widely among those who say it’s especially important to vote this year.”

A “blue wave” is predicted because experts believe that Democrats are more motivated to vote than are Republicans.  Because most Democrats deplore Trump and his Republican Party, Dems are eager to curtail Trump by taking back the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate.

Intensity of feeling should play a critical role in the November 6th elections.   In the latest Quinnipiac Poll (http://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail? ) 57 percent of respondents disapproved of the job Trump is doing (38 percent approved).  49 percent of the poll respondents disapproved strongly (29 percent approved strongly).

Notably, Trump is losing the support of women.  The most recent Washington Post poll indicates that 65 percent of women disapprove of the job Trump is doing.

What is clear from the polls is that there is a big difference in how Trump is viewed in Red and Blue congressional districts.  Red district voters support Trump: they feel he is doing a good job, ignore his lies, and believe the investigation into possible collusion with Russia is a hoax.  Blue district voters have radically different feelings.  This suggests that the 2018 outcome is going to be decided by swing districts.   The balance of this article examines the swing districts in the west.

California: Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein is running for reelection and is likely to win her sixth term in office.  The real excitement is in the House races where, according to the Cook Report, at least 10 races are competitive.

CA 4 McClintock (R) — Likely Republican.
CA 7 Bera (D) — Leans Democrat. (The one Democrat seat in jeopardy.)
CA 10 Denham (R) — Toss up.
CA 21 Valadao (R) — Likely Republican but Dems outnumber Republicans.
CA 25 Knight (R) — Toss up.
CA 39 Royce (R) — Leans Democrat; Royce is retiring.
CA 45 Walters (R) — Leans Republican.
CA 48 Rohrabacher (R) — Toss up.
CA 49 Issa (R) — Leans Democrat; Issa is retiring.
CA 50 Hunter (R) — Likely Republican.
(There’s a lot of interest in Republican Devin Nunes seat (CA 22); the Cook Report rates it as Solid Republican.)

Because of California’s “top-two” primary system, it’s likely that on November 6th, California voters will chose between two Democratic candidates for Governor and two Democratic candidates for Senator; this should depress the Republican vote.

Nevada: Republican Senator Dean Heller is up for reelection and the Cook Report rates the race as a tossup.  (Heller’s likely opponent is Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen.)  There’s an open Governor’s slot because the existing Republican governor is term-limited out; Cook rates this Governor’s race as a tossup.  There are two House races of interest, both currently occupied by Democrats:
NV 3 Rosen (D) — tossup; Rosen is retiring to run for Senator.
NV 4 Kihuen (D) — Leans Democrat; Kihuen is retiring.

Arizona: Republican Senator Jeff Flake is retiring and the Cook Report rates this race as a tossup.  (The likely Democratic candidate is congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema.)  The Republican Governor, Doug Ducey, is running for reelection; Cook rates this race as likely Republican.  There are three house races of interest:
AZ 1 O’Halleran (D) — Leans Democrat
AZ 2 O’Salley (R) — Leans Democrat; O’Salley is retiring to run for Senator
AZ 9 Sinema (D) — Likely Democrat; Sinema is retiring to run for Senator.

New Mexico: Republican Governor Martinez is term-limited out.  Cook Report shows race this as leaning Democrat.  There are two open house seats of interest (both incumbents are retiring.)
NM 1 Lujan-Grisham (D) — Leans Democrat
NM 2 Pearce (R) — Likely Republican.

Colorado: Democratic Governor Hickenlooper is term-limited out.  Cook Report shows this race as leaning Democrat.  There is one congressional seat up:
CO 6 Coffman (R) — Toss up.

Montana: Democratic Senator John Tester is up for reelection.  Cook shows this as likely Democrat.  There is one house seat, Gianforte (R), which Cook shows as likely Republican.

Washington: There is one house seat of interest: WA 8 Reichert (R); he is retiring.  Cook rates this a toss up.

Oregon: The Democratic incumbent Governor, Kate Brown, is up for re-election; Cook shows this a likely Democrat.  OR 5 Schrader (D) rates as likely Democrat.

Thus in the west there’s an opportunity for Democrats to pick up 2 Senate seats, at least 8 House seats, and 3 governorships.

Pelosi’s Marathon

I like Nancy Pelosi. She’s a smart, hard-working, progressive leader. But she’s getting old, so there have been calls for her to step aside.
That’s why her February 7th, 8 hour 10 minute filibuster is worthy of mention. When it counts, Pelosi still has what it takes.

Next month, Nancy Pelosi will turn 78. She’s been in the House of Representatives since 1987 (representing San Francisco) and the House Democratic leader since 2003. Since 2010, Republicans have focussed their wrath on her and turned her — and Barack Obama — into their hate objects.  Whenever there’s a competitive house race, Republicans routinely paint the Democratic candidate as a “Pelosi liberal,” someone who will “enact the Pelosi agenda.”

For many Republicans, Nancy Pelosi has become the face of the Democratic Party.  On the February 2nd PBS New Hour, conservative columnist David Brooks quipped, “And we get a false view of politics based on what Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi are screaming each other.”  (Liberal columnist Mark Shields came to Pelosi’s defense, “Let me just establish first at the outset there is no moral parity between Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump.”)

Republicans like to attack Pelosi because she’s a San Francisco liberal — not a bad thing, in my opinion — and because she’s a woman.  (If we ever doubted that misogyny lies at the heart of Republican politics, we only have to study the behavior of Donald Trump — it’s hard to imagine a more sexist U.S. politician.)

Recently some Democrats have turned on Pelosi because of her age.  They’ve suggested that she should step aside in favor of some younger Democrat.  Not suprisingly, all the Dems suggested for Pelosi’s position are white men.

At the moment, Democrats are scrambling around trying to find leadership that can stand up to the Trump news juggernaut.  It’s a daunting task because Trump has the dual advantage of being able to use the White House propaganda machine and — as a reality TV star — being extremely media savvy.  Many have suggested that Nancy Pelosi and the Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, aren’t the ideal politicians to represent the Dems.  But there’s no unity on which Democrat should represent the Party.  (For their State-of-the-Union response, Democrats actually had five different responses; the official response was by Congressman Joe Kennedy — who did a good job.)

Early 2018 finds the Democratic Party in an unusual condition: the base is highly motivated — at least here in California — and the national leadership seems to be in disarray.  That’s why Pelosi’s marathon was important.

On February 7th, Pelosi spoke in defense of the Dreamers.  The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2018/02/07/a-house-filibuster-like-the-one-nancy-pelosi-gave-hasnt-happened-in-more-than-a-century/? ) observed that Pelosi’s filibuster was the longest ever in the House of Representatives — the previous record was 5 hours 15 minutes set in 1909.  “According to our Washington Post team who was watching Pelosi, she barely took time to unwrap a mint several hours in and was not interrupted once.”  The Post also noted that during the entire 8 hours and 10 minutes, Pelosi wore “four-inch heels.”  (So much for the concern that Pelosi no longer has the energy to be an effective Democratic leader.)

All this would be notable, and amusing, if it was not for the fact that Pelosi was defending the Dreamers, the 690,000 young people who are legally adrift since September 5th, when Donald Trump terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.  On January 9th, Trump promised that he would soon sign a “clean” DACA bill.  However, on January 12th, when presented with a bipartisan compromise, Trump reneged on his promise.  Since then the Dreamers status has been precarious.

On January 22nd, when Senate Democrats ended 2018’s first government shutdown, they forged an agreement with Republican Senate leadership that within a couple of weeks there would be a Senate debate on the resolution of the DACA issue.  Unfortunately, House Democrats were unable to get the Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, to agree to a similar plan.  At the moment, Ryan has not agreed to let the House debate DACA or immigration in general.  (Many feel this is because if Ryan lets the full house vote on DACA, and immigration, the result is likely to be something that the White House does not agree with.)

On February 7th, Pelosi said she supports the substance of the pending Senate budget agreement — to avert a government shutdown — but wants to extract an an explicit promise from  Paul Ryan that he’ll bring a Dreamer bill to the floor soon.  (According to the New York Times, during her 8 hour 10 minute filibuster, “Pelosi read heart-rending testimonies from Dreamers who had written their representatives about their lives. There was Andrea Seabra, who is serving in the Air Force, and whose father was a member of the Peruvian Air Force. There was Carlos Gonzalez, who once worked as an aide to former Representative Michael M. Honda, Democrat of California. And there was Al Okere, whose father was killed by the Nigerian police after articles he wrote criticizing the Nigerian government appeared in a newspaper.”)

Some Democrats have issues with Nancy Pelosi.  Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine any other Democrat doing what she did on February 7th.  Pelosi is a leader.  Hopefully she can lead Washington Democrats to a satisfactory resolution of the DACA crisis.

The Great Imposters: Reagan and Trump

Donald Trump likes to compare himself to Ronald Reagan.  Trump and Reagan do have a lot in common, both in terms of ideology and their approach to the office of the President.  They’re imposters.  Reagan was an actor playing the role of President; so is Trump.

Ideology: Reagan and Trump were influenced by Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism: “unfettered self-interest is good and altruism is destructive.”  This produced the “trickle-down” economic theory that cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy would eventually benefit all members of society.  In the 80’s this produced “Reganomics” and, in 2017, led to the massive GOP tax-code revision.  Trump doesn’t believe in governing for all Americans, only for those he perceives as winners.

Reagan and Trump supported the doctrine of white supremacy.  Reagan’s approach was less overt: he advocated “States’ rights” and deplored “welfare bums” and “welfare queens.”  Trump has a long history of racism and, since Charlottesville, has made public his support for white supremacists.  (Trump’s immigration objective is to block the immigration of everyone who is not of white-European origin.)

Reagan and Trump campaigned with an “America first” perspective.  In 1980 Regan said, “Let’s make America great again.” In 2016, Trump’s campaign slogan was “Make America great again.”

Personality: Reagan and Trump marketed themselves as outsiders who would come to Washington and shake up the establishment.  Reagan promised to reduce the power of the Government and noted, “Government is the problem.”  Trump promised to “drain the swamp.”  (Both Reagan and Trump forgot their promises after entering the White House.)

Reagan and Trump were raised as mainstream Christians; at the end of their lives they both identified as Presbyterian.  As they began to campaign for the Republican presidential nomination they adopted a conservative Christian agenda.  Reagan’s signature “values” issue was prayer in the schools.  Trump’s signature issue is abortion.  Both Reagan and Trump began their adult lives as pro-choice and then switched to being “pro-life.”

Reagan and Trump both had an unsavory aspect of their personal history that they labored to conceal.  During the 40’s Regan was an FBI informant who provided the bureau with names of motion-picture luminaries that he believed were communist sympathizers.  Reagan continued his relationship with the FBI into the 70’s.

In the 90’s Donald Trump several times filed for bankruptcy because of problems with his hotel and casino businesses.  It’s alleged that he recovered from a ruinous financial situation by laundering money for the Mafia.  (Allegedly, Trump’s Russia connection started with the Mafia.)

Mental Health: Reagan left the presidency in January of 1989 and five years later was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Writing in the Virginia Quarterly Review (http://www.vqronline.org/essay/reagan-retrospect ) Robert Erwin notes that during his time in Washington, Reagan was regarded as an “amiable dunce;” someone who did not understand business essentials or the governmental process but who, in public gatherings, exuded confidence and spoke effectively.

Since Trump became president there has been continuous speculation about his mental health.  Like Reagan, Trump does not appear to understand business essentials or the governmental process.  Trump functions best when he reads from a script.

Management: Robert Erwin writes, “Future historians will have no trouble understanding [the Reagan presidency] as an American example of the ancient practice of political puppetry… put a videogenic executive impersonator out front who would not interfere with trade associations, lawyers, lobbyists, and others doing the important work.”

The Trump presidency follows the Reagan “puppet” model..  Trump is the “videogenic executive impersonator,” while in the background Republican oligarchs organize to get their objectives accomplished.

We can see this model at work in the recent Republican legislative initiatives.

1.2017 Tax Reform: Trump signed the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” on December 22nd.  It passed the House and Senate with no Democratic support.  (Most legislation needs a minimum of 60 votes to pass the Senate; the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by a 51-49 margin because Republicans were able to use a convoluted “budget reconciliation” process: they had to “ensure” that the tax bill only increased the deficit by $1.5 trillion in the first 10 years.)  The GOP tax plan, which greatly benefits the Oligarchs supporting Trump, was shepherded through Congress by Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin (formerly CEO of OneWest Bank) and WH chief economic advisor Gary Cohn (former COO of Goldman Sachs)

2. Immigration: On September 5th, Trump precipitated an immigration crisis by ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and not providing a way for the Democrats to negotiate safe status for the 690,000 DACA young people.  On January 9th, Trump promised that he would soon sign a “clean” DACA bill.  However, on January 12th, when presented with a bipartisan compromise, Trump reneged on his promise.  Democrats briefly shut down the government and then backed off, on January 22.

It’s become clear that Democrats are not negotiating immigration with Trump –whose positions change hourly — but his chief-of-staff, John Kelly, and senior policy advisor, Stephen Miller.

The White House staff keeps Trump in the background and lets Republican operatives do the real work of crafting the legislation.

Caveat: Although Reagan and Trump are strikingly similar, Reagan was a fervent anti-communist.  On the other hand, Trump never misses an opportunity to suck up to Russia.

Five Shutdown Lessons

On January 19th the federal government shut down.  Two days later, Democratic leaders blinked and called off the shutdown.  Even though Dems didn’t get what they wanted, there were important lessons learned.

The brief shutdown accomplished two things.  First, Democrats finally secured an extension to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that benefits 9 million children in low-income families.  Second, the Senate effort to resolve the shutdown was led by a bipartisan group of 24 Senators; this suggests that, when the Senate votes on immigration, there may be enough moderate Republicans to ensure that the resulting bill is reasonable.

Nonetheless, on January 22nd Senate Democrats didn’t get what they wanted and lost the first major DACA battle.  There are five lessons to be earned from this experience.

1. It’s not sufficient to be right.  Democrats were right to shut down the government in defense of the 690,000 DACA recipients.

On September 5th, Trump precipitated the crisis by ending the DACA program and not providing a way for the Democrats to negotiate safe status for the existing DACA recipients.  On January 9th, Trump promised that he would soon sign a “clean” DACA bill.  However, on January 12th, when presented with a bipartisan compromise, Trump reneged on his promise.

Given this background, Democrats thought they had no choice but to shut down the government.   in response, Republicans effectively framed the shutdown as a national security threat: “Democrats are  holding American troops and Customs and Border Patrol agents hostage to benefit illegal immigrants.”  Trump’s base, and uninformed independents, swallowed the GOP message.  That reality could have had consequences in the midterm elections.  (The Washington Post reported that in critical swing states such as Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, voters “were getting Republican robo-calls saying Democrats had prioritized illegal immigrants over American citizens.”)

Democrats were right to defend DACA recipients but lost the messaging battle and, therefore, had to retreat.  (Nonetheless, an NBC news poll indicated that 56 percent blamed the shutdown on Trump or Republicans.)

2. Democrats have to control the message.  Trump has a communication advantage because he occupies the White House and, therefore, has ready access to the media.  The White House framed the shutdown as a national security issue: “Democrats are  holding American troops and Customs and Border Patrol agents hostage to benefit illegal immigrants.”  Democrats responded with “It’s Trump’s fault.”.

Democrats should have framed the shutdown as “protecting defenseless children… Republicans want to abandon children who were promised citizenship.”  This fits into a larger frame of abandonment: “Republicans want to abandon America’s women and children by… cutting off their healthcare, polluting their water, etcetera.”

3. Democrats have to determine who their messenger is.  During the actual shutdown, Republicans managed to keep Trump “under wraps” — except for a few tweets — and let Senate Majority leader McConnell and House Speaker Ryan represent the Party.

Congressional Democrats were led by Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader, and Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader.  They didn’t do a good job during the shutdown.

Schumer alternated TV appearances with several white male Senators: Dick Durbin (assistant Democratic Leader, Chris Van Hollen (Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee), and Bernie Sanders (former presidential candidate and an Independent).  Given that, at the moment, there is a resurgent women’s movement, it seems like a good idea to have a female Democratic Senator represent the party on the DACA issue.  A logical candidate is Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto, whose father was of Mexican descent.

The Democratic messaging should have been delivered by Cortez-Masto surrounded by actual DACA recipients.

4. Trump’s base is willing to overlook his failings.   In conflict situations, such as the shutdown, Democrats act as if it is sufficient to blame Donald Trump.  It isn’t.

Trump voters have long since developed the capacity to look past Trump’s personal failings — most can’t stand his Tweets — and focus on his accomplishments.  Trump supporters tout the health of the economy (the booming stock market) and national security.  They’ve compartmentalized so they can ignore his lying, racism, and general incompetence.

5. Democrats must go on the offensive. A recent poll indicated that while an overwhelming majority of Americans support the DACA recipients, they don’t want to see the crisis resolved by a governmental shutdown. Furthermore, the lesson of the last 10 shutdowns is that shutting down the government is not an effective way to accomplish policy objectives that have not been achieved through the normal legislative process.

A better tactic than a shutdown would be a swap for something that Trump wants.  Senator Schumer tried this by offering Trump funding for his wall in return for his support for DACA recipient amnesty. (While Trump initially rejected this offer, he now says he will provide DACA amnesty in return for $25 billion to build the southern wall and many additional restrictions on immigration (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/us/politics/trump-immigration-plan-white-house.html?).)

Some Democrats have suggested swapping defense and domestic expenditures in exchange for DACA amnesty.  (Sequestration spending cuts are scheduled to kick in in March.)  Other see tying DACA to the $81 billion in disaster funding passed by the House but pending in the Senate.

Even though Dems didn’t get what they wanted from the shutdown, there were important lessons learned.  The next shutdown may occur on February 8th; perhaps by then Democrats will have learned how to negotiate with the Republicans.