Monthly Archives: November 2017

Democrats Need New Leaders

On November 11, Saturday Night Live ran a parody advertisement ( ) that claimed the leadership of the Democratic Party is old and out of touch.  The skit made public what many Democratic stalwarts have been whispering since the disastrous 2016 presidential election: It’s time for a new generation of Democratic leaders to step forward. This stance is based upon a simple assertion: to win at the national level, Democrats have to attract younger voters and their septuagenarian leaders aren’t capable of doing this.

It’s no secret that the current Democratic leadership is old.  SNL actors portrayed Nancy Pelosi (77), Chuck Schumer (66), Diane Feinstein (84), Hillary Clinton (70), Tim Kaine (59), and Bernie Sanders (76).  (By the way, this past week rumors circulated that former vice-president, Joe Biden, is preparing to launch his bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination.)  But it’s overly simplistic to state that Democrats will solve all their problems by deposing their “elders.”

It’s understandable that, in the wake of the 2016 debacle, Democrats would want to “clean house,” to replace the leaders that seem to have contributed to the Trump/Republican victory.  But it’s useful to remember the famous “life cycle of a big project”: stage one is “unwarranted enthusiasm;” stage two “unmitigated disaster;” stage three “hunt for the guilty;” stage four “punishment of the innocent;” and stage five ” promotion of the uninvolved.”  Obviously, Democrats are now in stage three, “hunt for the guilty.”

Who exactly was responsible for the 2016 debacle?  We can start with Bill and Hillary Clinton.  And add the head of the Democratic National Committee, at the time Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.  To this we might add the senior folks in the Clinton Campaign such as campaign manager Robbie Mook and campaign chairman John Podesta.

If we move to stage four, “punishment of the innocent,” there are several obvious names from the Democratic opposition:  Bernie Sanders, his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, and his small group of political supporters: Senator Jeff Merkley and nine representatives (Ellison, Gabbard, Grayson, Grijalva, Kapture, Lipinski, Peterson, and Nolan).  Next comes the congressional leadership: should Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer be punished because Clinton lost?  If disgruntled Democrats go down the “punish the innocent” road then there is a long list of prominent Dems that could be blamed: Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Tim Kaine, Elizabeth Warren, and so forth.  Anyone who endorsed Clinton over Sanders could be put on the list.  But is that wise?

Rather than clean house of the septuagenarians or purge everyone who supported Hillary Clinton, Democrats should take a more pragmatic course: which leaders do we absolutely need going forward?  Which leaders, regardless of their age, do the Democrats need to triumph in 2018?

Before answering this question, it’s useful to consider the results of the November 7th election in Virginia.  Democrats did better than expected; Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam beat his GOP opponent by nine percentage points — when some had called the race a tossup.  In addition, Democrats picked up at least 15 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates and, depending upon recounts, possibly a majority.

There are two reasons why Democrats did so well in the Virginia election.  They ran up huge numbers in suburban and exurban districts; more than offsetting large numbers of Trump voters (white, non-college-educated) in rural districts.  And they ran many appealing female candidates — 11 of the 15 House pickups saw Democratic women replace Republican men.

On November 6, 2018, Democrats should prevail if they remember what worked in Virginia: build on the enthusiasm gap in suburban and exurban districts and run appealing female candidates.  Application of these rules should determine the Democratic leadership going forward.

If Democrats are going to feature female candidates in 2018, it doesn’t make any sense to purge the leadership of high-profile women such as Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren.  (Pelosi may be 77 but she’s far from over the hill.)  It does make sense to de-emphasize white male leaders such as Chuck Schumer and Tim Kaine.

For any particular Senate or Congressional district race, the standard ought to be: “which candidate or national advocate can generate enthusiasm?”  The answer will depend upon the particular race.  In 2018, 84-year-old California Senator Dianne Feinstein is running for reelection against 50-year-old State Senate leader Kevin de León — another Democrat.  The latest Los Angeles Times poll shows Feinstein with a 58 percent to 31 percent lead over de León primarily based upon name recognition — 80 percent of voters did not know enough about de León to form an opinion of him.  (Nonetheless, the very-well-known Feinstein is viewed favorably by only 34 percent of the prospective California voters.)  The Virginia results suggest that if de León increases his name recognition he’ll have a good shot against Feinstein because his voters will be much more enthusiastic than her voters.

Of course the Democratic Party needs new leadership.  Some leaders such as Barack Obama are going to fade away.  Others, mostly older white men, have lost their relevance.

Going forward it’s obvious that the face of the Democratic Party has to change in a way that reflects the actual demographics of the United States — where white non-hispanic males are only 32 percent of the population.  That suggest emphasizing women, in general, and other under-represented minorities.



One Year Later: Ten Things We’ve Learned

On election day in 2016, Donald Trump surprised most of us by defeating Hillary Clinton (although he garnered only 46.1 percent of the popular vote).  One year later, what have we learned?

1. Trump is not a joke.  There were some of us who dismissed Trump, gave him no chance to win.  A terrible mistake.

After the election, some observers hoped that Donald would “grow into” the presidency, begin acting presidential.  Sadly, Trump shows no sign of doing this.  He’s continued the same erratic, self-centered behavior.

As a result, Trump is “a clear and present danger” to the U.S.  A recent CNN poll  ( indicated that 71 percent of respondents believe that “politics has reached a dangerous low point.”

2. Trump’s base has stuck with him.  Just before the election, the Huffington Post “Poll of Polls” showed Clinton with a five point lead — 47.3 percent to 42 percent.  Last-minute voters broke mostly for Trump.  A recent Center for American Progress study ( suggests that these were primarily white non-college-educated voters.

Twelve months later, Trump averages 38 percent approval.

Many of his adherent refuse to believe the negative reports on Trump’s behavior; they dismiss it as “fake news.”  Others are focussed on a particular issue and, as long as Trump supports that issue, they stand with him.  Based upon the results of the recent Pew Research poll of political typology, Trump’s supporters are those who share one or more of these opinions: Washington politics are fatally flawed and need to be “blown up;”  Taxes are too high;  Immigrants burden the U.S.;  and Washington has taken away “religious liberty.”

3. Trump’s base is driven by a level of desperation that most Democrats don’t understand.  Running up to the presidential election there was persistent polling indicating Americans were dissatisfied with the direction the country has been taking and felt the country wasn’t working for them.

Arlie Hochschild’s book, “Stranger in Their Own Land,” describes the viewpoint of Tea-Party / Trump voters.  They feel that they have been unfairly denied their shot at the American dream.  These voters don’t trust government to do the right thing.  They turned to Trump because they saw him as someone outside the government who could shake things up; “Make America Great Again.”

4. On election day, there was an enthusiasm gap.  It was a very close election and there are many reasons why Hillary Clinton lost: bad campaign decisions; the Comey announcement; Russian subterfuge; Republican efforts to disenfranchise voters; disgruntled Bernie voters; among others.  Nonetheless, the very few voters I know who voted for Trump tell a similar story, “I didn’t like Trump but I couldn’t stand Clinton.”

On election day, undecided voters broke for Trump; they saw him as the lesser of two evils.  Trump’s supporters felt more positively about him than Clinton supporters felt about her.  In the latest Pew Research report this shows up: Trump is viewed favorably by 90 percent of his core supporters; Clinton is viewed favorably by 70 percent of her base.

5. Obama was an effective President but a crummy leader of the Democratic Party.  On the November 3rd PBS News Hour, commenting on recent revelations about the relationship between the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign,  Mark Shields observed, “It’s proof… of how little Barack Obama cared about the Democratic Party or about politics. He was great at getting elected… He was leaving the party $24 million in debt, therefore, vulnerable to Hillary Clinton’s coterie of big givers.”

One of the many reasons that Clinton lost was that the national Democratic Party was weak.  The blame for this has to laid at the feet of the leader of Democratic Party, Barack Obama,

6. Bernie Sanders probably has an important role going forward but it’s not clear what it is.  There’s a lot of mainstream media attention given to divisions in the Democratic Party, primarily Bernie supporters versus Hillary supporters.  I don’t see this here (Berkeley).  In 2018, there’s so much work to do that Bernie, and his supporters, will be an asset to the resistance.

7. Russia impacted the election but it probably wasn’t the determining factor.  There’s little doubt that Russia intervened in the election: by hacking the DNC emails, by running malicious social media ads, and other activities. Nonetheless, I believe that, in 2016, if Obama had been running against Trump, Barack would have won.

8. Trump has been a disaster for the environment.  Trump is so terrible across the board that it’s difficult to focus on particulars but here are two.  Trump, by his statements and his political appointments, has set out to reverse everything the Obama Administration did to protect the environment.  As one consequence, the U.S. stands alone in opposition to the Paris Climate Agreement.

9. Trump has encouraged bigotry.  Before the election, we believed that Trump was prejudiced; everything he’s done as President has convinced me that he’s worse than we imagined — a white supremacist.  Across the nation this has had a devastating ripple effect; Trump has encouraged hate.

10. Democrats still don’t have a message.  Fortunately, in 2018, that won’t matter.  The November 7th results suggest that the midterm election will be about change, throwing Republican white guys out of house.  Trump has given the resistance enough ammunition that it doesn’t need one focussed message.

Trump’s Tax Cut Challenge

After 9 plus months in office, Donald Trump has accomplished little. He’s very unpopular and has failed to fulfill his major campaign promises,  Major Republican donors are withdrawing  funding.  In response, Trump has embarked on a desperate campaign to cut taxes. Even though Republicans control Congress, tax reform faces an uphill battle.

According to the political website 538 ( Trump’s popularity has remained stable for five months; it’s currently at 56.4 percent disapprove and 38 percent approve.  Nonetheless, Trump’s base is sticking with him; the latest Gallup Poll indicates that 78 percent of Republicans approve of Trump.

Trump’s poor performance has affected the Republican Party.  In the aftermath of the GOP’s latest failure to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, GOP fundraising has tanked (

In a desperate effort to assuage the biggest Republican donors, Trump and the GOP congressional leadership have embarked on a tax-reform initiative that promises big tax cuts for corporations and billionaires.  (Senator Elizabeth Warren says that, over ten years, Trump’s plan will add $2 trillion to the deficit.)  Given the composition of the Republican base, it’s not a sure thing that the GOP tax-reform initiative will succeed.

Recently Pew Research ( updated their landmark study of American political behavior.  Pew Research divides Republican voters into four segments: Core Conservatives, Country First Conservatives , Market Skeptics, and New Era Enterprisers; for a total of 42 percent of the electorate.  To push tax reform through Congress, Trump needs to unite these four segments.

Trump’s problem is that he has made different promises to each group.  Core Conservatives (13 percent ) are deeply skeptical of the social safety net and favor lower tax rates on corporations and high-income individuals. This is the most politically active of the four Republican groups and is primarily composed of non-Hispanic white men.

The key Core Conservative issue is tax reform.  Representative GOP Core Conservative politicians are Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Most of the support for Trump’s tax reform initiative will come from Core Conservatives.

Country First Conservatives (6 percent) are older and less educated than other Republican-leaning typology groups.  They are predominantly white non-Hispanic and and, of the four groups, the staunchest supporters of President Trump.

Pew Research says the key Country-First Conservative issue is immigration.  Pew notes that no (zero) Country-First Conservatives agreed with this poll statement: “Immigrants today strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents.”  “Nearly two-thirds of Country First Conservatives… say that ‘if America is too open to people from all over the world, we risk losing our identity as a nation.'”

Country-First Conservatives have vastly different attitudes about corporate taxes than do Core Conservatives; only 35 percent of Country-First Conservatives want to see business taxes lowered.   (Representative Country-First Conservatives are Iowa Congressman Steve King and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.)

Pew Research doesn’t assign a distinct category to Conservative Evangelical Christians.  Members of this group — which overwhelmingly supports Trump — are split between Core Conservatives and Country-First Conservatives.  According to Pew Research, “68% of Country First Conservatives… say that it’s necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values.”  44 percent of Core Conservative share this sentiment.

Identification as a conservative evangelical is an important consideration because the most important issue for this group is not tax reform but rather the set of issues that evangelicals lump under “religious liberty.”  (When conservative evangelicals talk of “religious liberty” they usually mean the freedom to discriminate against a particular group — gays, blacks, immigrants, whomever — on the basis of a fervent religious belief.)

Market Skeptics (12 percent) stand out from other Republican-oriented groups in their negative views of the economic system: “An overwhelming majority say it ‘unfairly favors powerful interests.’ Most also say businesses make too much profit, and they are the most likely Republican-leaning group to want to raise taxes on corporations (55%).” This is the Republican group least inclined to support tax cuts for corporations and billionaires.

The key issue for Market Skeptics is reduction in the size of government.  Many would call them Libertarians; Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is a representative member of this group.

New Era Enterprisers (11 percent) are a catchall GOP category.   They are younger and less socially conservative than the other groups.  “While they are not affluent, a large majority (72%) say they are generally satisfied with their financial situation.”  Interestingly, this is Republican group least approving of Trump’s conduct in office: 39 percent view it negatively and 38 percent have mixed feelings.

After Core Conservatives, New Era Enterprisers are most likely to support tax reform.  They believe the economic system is fair and have a positive view of corporations.

Summary: To push tax reform through Congress, Trump needs to unite the four segments of the Republican Party.  Given the Pew Research data, that appears to be a difficult task.  A key element of the tax-reform proposals are substantial cuts for billionaires and corporations.

It appears that only two-thirds of Republican voters approve of the proposed tax-reform plan (Core Conservatives and New Era Enterprisers).  Given that Republicans will get no Democratic support for their tax-reform initiative, it’s reasonable to assume that Trump and the GOP leaders don’t have the votes they need.