Thursday, May 26, 2016

Is Cash King? A short discussion about money in this campaign.

For years, reformers have decried the growing amount, and nefarious source of money in campaign. While Citizens United is the focus of most anger, it really was the Buckley Valeo (1976) case that protected campaign spending (so long as it was not tied to quid pro quo corruption) as free speech.

But this campaign is openly challenging the commonly accepted assumption that money talks.  The Republican nominee (not yet but typing presumptive each time is just silly at this point) has spent far less money in the primary to gain  the nomination and many of long-vanquished foes.  Hillary has spent freely, but Bernie has been able (at least until recently) compete with her without the use of PACS and bundlers.  His small, but numerous contributions, belie the concerns about millionaires buying  elections.

Democrats expect to spend over $1 billion in the fall election. Let me gently remind you that until 2008, the general elections were limited by the acceptance of the Presidential checkoff funds. It was candidate Obama, who reneged on his pledge to limit funds, once he realized that he had a chance to win nomination, but not without spending very large amounts of money.  No serious candidate today would handicap their campaign by accepting those funds with those limits.

But will this campaign turn those truisms on their head? Will the celebrity of Trump, which earns him literally hundreds of millions of dollars in free coverage, overwhelm the PAC spending? Is there a diminishing return on spending on negative campaigns?  At some point, does reliance on the Koch brothers or Tom Steyer become a disadvantage?

If there is such a year, this might be it. With the exception of spending to Get Out The Vote, gas for drivers, calls, and on the ground knock on the door work of volunteers, is traditional advertising transforming into a very different kind of fungible good, overwhelmed by non-traditional sources of media impact?

Which leads to the real question, for 2014 and beyond.  When will the ticket of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie appear on the ballots of Americans?

I just witnessed the AP announce that Trump had secured the delegates sufficient to become the Republican nominee. And Hillary, once again exposed by the State Department IG report to have repeatedly lied about her private server and email practices, is facing a very strong challenge by Bernie in California.  You all are actually relevant again.  Miracles do happen.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Knowing the known unknown.

Apologies to Donald Rumsfeld (does that make us even), but this campaign, certainly the coverage of  it, has now turned on its head for the umpteenth time.  A short  few weeks ago, when Cruz was riding high, the narrative was that the Republicans faced a convention fight that  would make Chicago 1968 look like a Girl Scout meeting. But Trump swept and Cruz faded and then the most remarkable thing began to happen.  Republicans, who for the better part of a year were repulsed by Trump began to come around. Voters who had favored one of the 18 or so former candidates begin to assert that, well, Trump might be a dolt but he could be the one to win the election. The most recent polling showed that over 80% of Republicans would support Trump in a general election. That is higher than those who said they would support Romney at the same time four years ago.

So, what is going on? Well, let's remember that polls are but snapshots of a general feeling at the time the questions are asked.  So, as far as being predictive, do not put too much faith in them at this point. What is probably happening is that voters in general are facing a binary choice.  Trump or Hillary (you can use Bernie if you want, the choice for Republicans is still binary). And they dont want either Hillary or Bernie.  So, the majority has moved on to Trump.

What happens over  the next few months is what matters.  And it is hard to see any issues that might move a large enough collection of voters from one candidate to another that is not already in the equation.  What that means is that the campaign may not be about traditonal issues, and may be more volatile, more subject to effect by events, than past campaigns.  Economic upheaval, terror attacks, events that we cannot yet imagine, and how the candidates respond to them will be vitally important. Will the voters like the shoot from the hip Trump, or the careful, calibrated Hillary?  

And the electorate is not happy.  There is both palpable anger, and an undercurrent of unease. And the majority of voters are not yet  engaged, though there is indication that they are paying more attention than in prior elections at this stage.

Will money used in the traditional way, to undercut, define down and disparage the opponent work?  With the negatives of both leading candidates so high, how much worse can we voters think of them? And if individual issues are not key, what good will issue ads do? If this is a campaign based on who we trust more, well, that might be no better than  a coin flip.

The primary season grinds closer to finality, but this general election portends to be a very interesting one.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Turning to the general

Good morning class,
 Please allow me a short moment of personal reflection.  I was thinking the other day (yes that does still happen) about how this journey of mine which brought me back to the farm in Nebraska has opened my eyes up to a broader perspective of what Americans face each day.  I get  up, as I always did, very early and make my coffee, and read the news on my phone.  I read the NY Times, the regional news, the two major papers in Nebraska, and various political sites.  But now, when I read the times, I envision myself back in LA, recalling the places I saw, the roads I traveled, the people I met.

That has meant that I can never think of LA, or anyplace, for that matter, without putting it in the context of the people that live there.  As Americans, we all have some similar interests, but we also have local interests, views and problems that are distinct and different from other citizens elsewhere.  The last two weeks here have been rainy, and this weekend we approached a late frost. And the neighbors worried about the damage to the crops that had already emerged.  Agriculture is king here, and weather is its master.  We dont sweat traffic and mass transit much.

But that does not mean that we should think that those who do worry about how to get to work, about the cost of building faster and more convenient and sustainable ways to move  people in huge urban areas are wasting our time.  What I am seeing more and more is that while we are a big country, we have very different issues that effect us in very different ways.

What we need to understand is this: we have a very large, and very diverse country. It spans a continent, and is unique in its political complexity because it provides a means to address those broad and narrow issues. There are times for a national solution and there are times for local ones, and that has been, and remains, the essential value and conundrum of federalism.  Take, for example, the current controversy over transgender bathrooms.  We have national values intended to promote fairness and end discrimination for all our citizens; but we also worry and wonder about protecting the privacy of citizens in public places.  The battle (for the most part, despite what the media has depicted) is not about Caitlyn Jenner; it is about which solution we choose for our students at Emoryville Elementary in rural Kansas.

Onto the election:
Is is not yet over, but the Republican establishment (anyone holding elective office for more than 12 months or anyone who thinks Trump ought to hold more conservative views) has swallowed hard and decided, well, maybe we can work with Trump if Hillary is the other choice.  Hillary is still facing Bernie, and he is still winning primaries, which does not really hurt her chances because she still is winning super delegates.

But the fact that she is losing elections, after nearly everyone knows she will be the nominee (absent a criminal referral or indictment on her mishandling of secret government documents), is troubling. Many Republicans think Trump ill-suited to be President, but it  seems that just as many Democrats prefer someone other than Hillary.  This looks like an election which may turn on getting people who have never voted or people who couldn't care less about character to vote.

What might be different now is that Hillary is living in 1999, where she thinks Former President Clinton is an asset.  For those who like him, it is likely that they already like Hillary.  Yesterday, she used him by indicating he will be THE jobs engine in the election. She believes that Bill is that because of his record in the 1990s, (remember the boom... ignore the bust), but how many of the voters looking at Bill on the stump are reminded of that?  And can her campaign accuse Trump of his ill-treatment of women with Bill on the stump,

And is Trump really Teflon?  The real questions are this: which of the two will win more of their bases, and which of the two will attract more new voters?  Romney and Obama each won a very high percentage of their party's voters, but Romney failed to bring in many new voters.  Trump is having a hard time right now with his base (and Hillary faces issues with Bernie supporters), but it is Trump that brings more new voters to the table.  This may be THE election where an intelligent VP pick actually helps with one of those two issues.

Well, enough for today. The first purple iris of the season is blooming (my Mom's favorite) and I have work to do.
Stay faithful my friends, to the ideals Americans affirm, and fight for the solutions that make them real.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Will this election break all the rules?

As each party approaches the final, full and complete nomination of their respective candidates, the discussion turns to the general election.  You have seen the electoral maps- mostly blue and some red, and a few states still in play.  But those maps are based on history, on the way voters in past elections have voted and are expected to vote this fall.

Why do the pundits, who have missed the story this election cycle, continue to focus on the past?  What are seeing is the problem with history. We never conclude it is changing in the middle of that change.  In other words, Bernie Sanders tapped into a feeling that the media missed because the media had its blinders on. The media dismissed Trump because they considered him a fool a clown, a character, instead of a serious challenger to both the Republican status quo.  They are not capable of thinking outside of the box  because the box is all they have known and they are essentially cowards to history.  They risk being dismissed themselves as unserious journalists if they write about events that do not fit a template of the past.

But this election may be different.  Did anyone truly think that the 1856 election signaled the end of the Whig Party, and the rise of the Republican that would dominate American politics for until 1932?
Did the nomination of Reagan foretell a new ethos of limited government, of the kind of ethos that Goldwater, dismissed as a kook, espoused in 1964?

Beware of the media tropes.  They are usually behind the curve.  Trump is being told to run a traditional campaign- to follow the traditions.  To get in line.  He is not likely to do that.  He knows by now that he has been able to bring many new voters to his cause.  Despite the wide opposition to him inside the Republican Party, and 16 opponents, he has earned more votes than any previous nominee in history.  That must mean that there are either an awful lot of Republicans who weren't voting for traditional candidates before, or that he has wide cross-over appeal.

Hillary and Bill (we should join them for this election, since they will be working as a team) also kow what works.  Hillary will talk policy, gin up her base, try to look and sound presidential, and have her multitude of surrogates and PACs do her dirty work.  This is how the Clinton's have run every election they won; this is how they will run this one.

The problem for Hillary is that this may be one of those cycles where, like the media, the experts and advisers miss the changes occurring before their eyes. Why didn't any of Trumps "gaffes" in the primary doom him? Why can a candidate with historical negatives remain competitive in almost every current poll. Is it just possible that voters may indeed not care if they like the candidate, that they have grown tired of electing candidates they like that do not accomplish anything?  Is is possible that their dislike of Trump, for example, is not about policy but is about personality, and that this cycle, personality doesnt much matter because the voters have seen that personality doesn't win arguments or put more money in their paychecks?

Keep your eye on the shifting media, as they get results they do not think possible and try to explain them.  It is not racism, it is not xenophobia, it is not gender bias that motivates MOST voters. The media focus on these issues hides the single  most important issue in nearly every election (absent a major foreign policy event)., and that is the economy.  Who do the voters think more capable of improving jobs, of improving wages, of making more families better off, and which approach to they think works best? That is the issue on which the election will be fought, and it will be fought, not on a national, but on a state by state (and partially regional) level.  The candidate who wins that argument wins the election. Hillary has lost West Virginia, probably Kentucky and hurt herself in Southern Ohio due to her honest (but improvident) comments about killing coal jobs.

Pay attention and read local papers online- the NY Times, LA Times and USA Today are not the only papers that do good reporting


Sunday, May 08, 2016

on a personal note

This weekend, May 7 would have been my Mom's 95th birthday.. I got up and did the kind of work she loved, mowing, planting 500 trees and shrubs along the Missouri River. I had the wonderful experience, thanks to the kindness of a member of the campaign class, of planting several packets of California poppies in the evergreen thicket at the end of the yards as heavy thunder clashed above me in the clouds.

For those of you who wonder about those things,I  am fine, getting much done and missing my classes and my students.  Keep the faith that all things may come around again someday, but until then, read on, and continue to engage with your friends and neighbors about the important issues we all face.


Things that we know, we know, and so on

What nearly everyone thought impossible has come true. Donald Trunp will be the Republican nominee for President.   Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are still fighting, but absent some DOJ action, she will be the Democratic nominee.

And the primary election quickly turns to the general election, which is very different than the season we are in.  The uncertainty of this season is adding anxiety to the respective campaigns.  Paul  Ryan, Speaker of the House and former VP candidate, tells us he is not yet ready to support Trump, likely because Ryan believes in certain budgetary principles that Trump has so far not adopted.  Former Presidents Bush I and II refuse to get involved. Yet, those same establishment Republicans tells Trump it is his duty to bring the party together.

What we may see this fall is a broadening, rearranging and realignment of the political table unlike any in modern history.  Trump may be able to pick up Sanders supporters, and Clinton may pick up establishment Republicans unable to support Trump. What's more, there may be millions of voters voting for the first time, or swapping party allegiances.

So, right now,  what we will see is each side using a blitz of ads to define the opposing candidate even before the convention.  Trump likely will have to shift from self-funding to the use of PACS and Hillary will excoriate him for that, despite the fact that she has collected more money from them than any candidate in history.

What will the issues be is far from certain.  But it is safe to say that events as much as issues will determine the outcome of the election. Watch as they unfold and consider how  the candidates respond to them, to unexpeccted crises and events, and if in so doing they can claim this experience is what the voters want.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

What will this week tell us?

Good Sunday afternoon Class,

What will this week tell us?  With the Indiana primary Tuesday, Cruz is banking on a strong showing (meaning that he must finish ahead of Trump), in order to stave off his winning the delegates before the convention to claim the nomination.  If Trump wins Indiana, there is really almost no chance, barring a major upset in California (where Cruz is not positioned to do all that well), of anyone stopping Trump.  So, almost six weeks since our last class, so much has changed, but even more has stayed the same.

Bernie Sanders just will not go away, but the wins he does achieve do not amount to enough to win him the nomination. Hillary Clinton has shifted her rhetoric to the general election, but it remains to be seen what  will happen to the Sanders' supporters if she does. 

Behind the scenes and now in open view, the Republican party trends closer and closer to a crack up. Despite the genial rhetoric about coming together, it is hard to see how either the Trump or Cruz forces team up.  The establishment Republicans are themselves divided, uncertain whether a Trump win over  Clinton would, in the long run, be good for them or the party. 

A little history matters, and we can reflect on the 1968 Democratic convention and the 1976 Republican convention to see what might happen to each party, not so much in the short term, but long term.

In 1968, of course, LBJ left the race open to any number of nominees. The assassination of RFK made the choice even  more problematic.  We should remember that in many respects, with the exception of the Vietnam problem, LBJ and HHH were still popular among the establishment. Their challengers were from outside the inner circle.  In the end, the party crashed at Chicago and only when HHH rejected his own role in the  Vietnam policy did the party come together behind him.

In 1976, Reagan was the outsider, challenging Pres Ford, another insider for the nomination. He lost in a bitter struggle, and was considered anathema by many ,blamed for Ford's loss. But in a short four years after each of these fights, the parties had changed dramatically, and had to a large degree adopted the views and reforms of the outsiders.  (With dramatically different results).

One might argue that in the nature of most change, it happens slowly, especially when the forces of change face entrenched power.  This year, will Sanders get what he wants (once he decides what that is)? Will Trump become of besmirch the establishment? Is Cruz conservatism the future of the Rep party or but the ethers of a dying past? 

While this election is important in its own right, one wonders if the most significant effect might not be yet visible on the horizon.  This is one of the values of looking at history from a longer term viewpoint.   Keep your eye on not only the returns, but on how the losers take their respective defeats.