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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Can Dems Beat Trump In The 2020 Battleground States?

The Daily Escape:

Buttermilk Falls, Ithaca, NY – October 2019 photo by mattmacphersonphoto

Some news was made by pollsters yesterday. The NYT and Siena College are out with a poll of 2020 battleground states that shows Trump is highly competitive in head-to-head matchups with the top Democratic candidates. Even though Trump is by far the most unpopular president in American history, these polls indicate that he could get re-elected.

Here are the top line results. Among registered voters, Biden narrowly leads Trump in four of them, Sanders in three, Warren in one:

These states were the key contests in 2016 between Hillary and Trump. Trump’s approval ratings have long been in the high 30s to low 40s, and he trails Biden by almost nine points in an average of national polls. But as the 2016 race showed, the story in the battleground states can be quite different. Mr. Trump won these six states even while losing the national vote by two percentage points.

In this poll, Trump trails Biden by an average of two points, but that result is within the margin of error in the individual states. And we know how erroneous the polls were in November 2016. You can look at the current poll’s cross-tabs here.

Hate to pour cold water on Democrats, but Trump could lose the 2020 popular vote by upwards of ten million, and still win in the Electoral College.

This is reality – it will come down to six states. This is why people get so disengaged from presidential politics. Then, by not voting in election years, the Congress, state houses, and state assemblies stay with the Republicans.

Ten years from now, the demographics will be different. Consider Texas, where Latinos will outnumber non-Hispanic whites by 2022. OTOH, we have a census next year, and some states are deploying multimillion-dollar efforts to ensure their population gets counted correctly. But in the South, only three states have allocated state funding for census outreach, with just eight months to go.

It may take time, but much of the South will again come back into play. Maybe people won’t feel like they’re overlooked if presidential campaigns actually required the votes of people in most states in order to win.

Just six states. That should infuriate everyone. We remain at the mercy of the Electoral College.

But there’s more. Nate Cohn says in the Times article:

“Nearly two-thirds of the Trump voters who said they voted for Democratic congressional candidates in 2018 say that they’ll back the president against all three named opponents.”

The crossover by Republicans to vote for a Democrat in 2018 was a factor in taking back the House. So, losing two-thirds of them sounds terrible for Dems, until you realize that it means 1/3 of Trump’s 2016 voters in those states say they’ll stay with the Dems in 2020. And Trump’s margin in PA, MI, and WI was just 80,000 in 2016

We’re at a point where the Democratic field is narrowing. Four candidates have moved clear of the field, Biden, Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg. Biden and Buttigieg represent middle-of-the-road liberalism, while Warren and Sanders represent a more liberal, anti-corporate philosophy. Only Buttigieg is under 70, but that doesn’t matter if the opponent is over 70 himself. The rest of the field barely polls at 2%.

It’s likely that the Dem nominee will be one of these four, but it’s way too early to be concerned about how they perform vs. Trump’s relative strength in the battleground states he won in 2016.

It’s smart for Democrats to fight as though every poll has them way behind. And the figures on advertising dollars spent per campaign show that Trump is currently spending as much money as all the Democrats combined.

A year from now, we’ll be entering a different world. But since we can’t know the future, it could be either wonderful news, or more of the brain-melting hell in which we currently reside.

To make sure it’s a new world, we have to do everything we can to ensure that someone new is elected, someone who will oppose with every vote, every fiber of their being, the policies and hate spewed by Trump and his GOP fellow-travelers.

This means we have to work to turn them out not only from the presidency, but from every other elected office, from county commissioner to the House and Senate.

How?  There are a lot of ways, from donating money, to donating time at the local Party office; to writing letters to the editor, or making your voice heard through whatever means you can.

The How is important, but the Why is what should energize every one of us.

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Wrongo’s Hot Take On The Debate

The Daily Escape:

Autumn at Lovers Leap, New Milford CT – 2017 photo by Mike Jacquemin

It’s kind of crazy that Bernie Sanders has a heart attack, and comes back looking stronger than ever. Sanders directly addressed the charged but pertinent question about his health. It was a nice touch by Sanders thanking everyone for their well wishes. It turned the tables on the negative connotation of the health question. Sure, Bernie had a heart attack, but he appeared to be on his game. He shouted less, he was coherent. It looked like all of his neurons were firing.

Not so for Joe Biden. He was better, but Wrongo thought he’s showing some cognitive deficits of aging. He misused words, having several lapses when the wrong word came out, like when he said “epedentially”, whatever that means. He occasionally lost the thread of his argument. And Sanders zinged him, saying the campaign was all about the future. Biden’s the only candidate who is older than Wrongo, and these slips suggest the normal effects of aging.

Warren spoke the longest, about 6.5 minutes longer than Biden. That seemed to be a byproduct of the many attacks she faced. She didn’t escape unscathed, but the sheer number of punches she took underscores the fact that she’s now viewed by her opponents as a frontrunner. With an opportunity to expand on policy details, Warren was explicitly pressed for the 4th straight debate on whether Medicare for All (M4A) would result in higher taxes for the middle class, and she didn’t answer it directly. She should answer that taxes will go up while total health care costs will be lower by enough to make up the lost tax expense. Sanders freely admitted that it will require taxes to go up on everybody, including the middle class. Here’s CNN’s chart on talk time:

It was fun to watch Beto, version 2.0 (that would be Mayor Pete Buttigieg) fight it out with the original Beto on the question of how to get semi-automatic weapons off the streets. Mayor Pete also came out swinging against Sanders and Warren regarding Medicare for All. Wrongo is kind of with Mayor Pete on Medicare for All, where he says it should be for all who want it, and that people who already have insurance can stay on their plans.

The sad part of this Democratic food fight on universal health care is that it’s achievable through the back door of a public option. America doesn’t have to eat the apple in a single bite. So many Democrats turn up their noses to anything less than total victory over the insurance companies. Medicare is a good example of how M4A could work. There is no doubt the government’s administration will expand to meet the need, but that may take a little time.

Several of the middle-tier candidates, like Buttigieg, Booker, Castro and Yang had some very good moments, but the field must be cut to five by November. Harris, who started out the year looking like the most formidable candidate, is floundering. Beto, Steyer, Tulsi, Klobachar, and the rest, should retire from the competition.

Warren looks like the class of the field to Wrongo, followed by Mayor Pete. Bernie showed that he still has zest for the fight, and is a worthy opponent. Biden alternated between longing for the old days and getting hot under the collar, pounding his fist on the lectern. Wrongo only heard “get off my lawn”.

But one thing’s for sure, no one on that Ohio stage looked to Wrongo like a sure winner against Trump.

Is it possible that someone who isn’t part of the field will emerge and scoop the nomination?

Maybe, but Hillary isn’t the answer for Democrats.

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Is The Trump/Ukraine Story A Trap for Dems?

The Daily Escape:

Hopkinton NH — September 2019 photo by Karen Randall

Wrongo has been skeptical of the House Democrats’ ability to investigate an administration that has zero interest in playing by the old rules.

He was skeptical of the effort to make Russian interference in the 2016 elections a means of impeachment of Trump. He was skeptical of Robert Mueller as the potential savior of the Democratic Party in 2018.

Now, we’ve stepped back into the waters of impeachment because of the Ukraine president’s convo with Trump. Are Democrats once again placing false hope in impeachment? Trump is corrupt in a completely ham-fisted way that makes his efforts at self-dealing blatantly obvious. Here’s Trump, talking to the Ukraine’s president Zelensky:

“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great….Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”

That fired up Democrats, since it appears that Trump was trying to pressure Zelensky by withholding US military aid unless Zelensky agreed to investigate both Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

Here’s Wrongo’s take. For the past few months, Americans were finally concentrating on subjects like healthcare and college debt forgiveness. These ideas were getting both air time and traction, via the debates. The battalion of Democratic candidates were telling us their positions on these ideas, and others, like a wealth tax.

But the Democrats have now introduced impeachment 2.0, focused on the Trump/Ukraine story. By doing that, they have also rehabilitated a debunked Biden/Ukraine story, something that has been high on the GOP’s radar for years.

What’s the Hunter Biden/Joe Biden/Ukraine story? It begins with the 2014 appointment of Hunter Biden to the board of Burisma Holdings, a small Ukrainian energy company. In late 2015, VP Joe Biden traveled to Ukraine, in part to send a message to the Ukrainian government that it needed to crack down on corruption.

That message was somewhat undermined by Hunter’s work with Burisma Holdings, and with its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky. Zlochevsky had been Ukraine’s ecology minister under former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Hunter had joined the board of Burisma the same month that Britain’s Serious Fraud Office, an independent government agency, was conducting a money-laundering investigation into Zlochevsky and Burisma. But the British investigation ended after Ukrainian prosecutors refused to cooperate. They wouldn’t turn over documents needed in the British investigation, and without that evidence, a British court ordered the assets unfrozen.

According to an Intercept piece on May 10th, Biden, during a visit to Kiev in late 2015, did threaten to withhold $1 billion in US loan guarantees unless the then- prosecutor was dismissed. But the Intercept argues that Biden did Ukraine a favor by hastening the prosecutor’s departure, because he had failed to properly investigate corrupt officials, including Zlochevsky.

By getting the prosecutor fired, Joe Biden made it more, rather than less likely, that Mykola Zlochevsky, the oligarch who Hunter worked for, would be subject to prosecution for corruption. Yet, it never happened.

There is no evidence that Joe Biden did anything to shield Hunter or Burisma Holdings from scrutiny, as claimed by Trump and Giuliani. But it is true that Hunter continued to work to repair Burisma’s reputation. That isn’t a praiseworthy activity for a presidential wanna-be’s son.

And Hunter’s no saint. In 2014, he was discharged from the Navy Reserve after testing positive for cocaine. Later, he was involved in a hedge fund with his uncle, James Biden, Joe Biden’s brother, that went belly up.

This story isn’t going to die. As long as the impeachment inquiry against Trump lasts, the Biden story will be linked to it for many Americans. Even if impeachment happens, the Republicans will use this against Joe Biden if he’s the nominee. Joe has said that he never discussed Hunter’s business interests in Ukraine with him, but maybe he should have.

A question that Democrats should be asking is whether this is the hill that they are prepared to die on: Is Trump’s Ukraine effort sufficient for an impeachment? Is it anything more than a “he said, she said” debate?

Are the Dems prepared for another investigative loss, much like in Russiagate and the Mueller Report?

Presidents know that they have few constraints on their activities. GW Bush (or perhaps Cheney) realized that, and went on to exploit presidential power in ways that radically changed America. And when the Dems came into power, Obama and Pelosi ruled out pursuing Bush and Cheney.

Trump is on a much more dangerous path than Bush and Cheney.

Would taking Trump down restore the balance of power in our politics?

Is that worth the downside risk to the Democrats?

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Detroit Debate Wrap-up

The Daily Escape:

Mt. St. Helens, WA – 2019 photo by 12_woman. The big eruption that devastated 230 sq. miles was in May, 1980. Hard to believe that’s almost 40 years ago.

The two days of Detroit Fight Nights are over, and the bloviating about who won or lost is rocketing around the internet, so Wrongo will add his few cents to the till.

First, CNN worked really, really hard to gin up fights between the candidates. They had some success by giving also-rans (John Delaney and Mike Bennet) a chance to go at the front-runners on both nights. The CNN idea was to make it a contest between progressive Dems and moderate Dems, and the debaters happily complied.

This is being talked about as a fight for the soul of the Party. It isn’t; that will happen at the convention when no candidate wins on the first ballot.

Second, it’s clear that these 20 people include 10-12 who should be on the JV team for some other openings in Democratic politics. The NYT reports that just seven candidates have qualified for the next Democratic debate: Those seven are Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, O’Rourke, Sanders, and Warren, while Castro, Klobuchar, and Yang are close:

“The Democratic National Committee has set stricter criteria for the third set of debates, which will be held on Sept. 12 and Sept. 13 in Houston. If 10 or fewer candidates qualify, the debate will take place on only one night. Candidates will need to have 130,000 unique donors and register at least 2 percent support in four polls. They have until Aug. 28 to reach those benchmarks. These criteria could easily halve the field.”

Castro and Yang each have more than 130,000 donations and each have three of the four qualifying polls they need, while Senator Klobuchar has met the polling threshold, and has about 120,000 donors, so a one-night 10-candidate show is likely in September.

Regarding Detroit’s winners and losers, Wrongo’s view is that Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg won on the first night. On night two, Biden won by not losing. But night two had more interest. Castro did better than expected, as did Booker and Yang. Harris slipped a bit, while Gillibrand, Gabbard and Bennet had moments, all are in Brownian motion. The rest of the less-than-one-percenters should save their pennies.

We’re not going to get a real sense of how this campaign will unfold until Sanders, Warren, Harris and Biden are on the same stage. They will be joined by Buttigieg, Booker and O’Rourke, and possibly three others.

The tests we should be keeping in the back of our minds are:

First, can I envision this candidate giving a speech to the nation from the Oval Office while demonstrating leadership and being completely credible?

Second, can this candidate stand up to Trump on the trail, and if it should be necessary, beat him in a face-to-face debate?

Even with downsizing the group to 10 candidates, very few can meet both eye tests to Wrongo’s way of thinking.

How do you see the candidates?

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Last Night’s Debate and Medicare For All

The Daily Escape:

Dix Pond from the Dix Mountain trail, Adirondacks, NY – July 2019 photo by Shelley VK

A few thoughts about last night’s Democratic debate. Tom Sullivan captured Wrongo’s thinking:

“Watching Part One of the second Democratic debate was an endurance contest. CNN’s 30-second response format was a disaster, barely giving candidates time to formulate a sentence before being cut off. Questions from CNN moderators seemed designed not to probe policy issues, but to get candidates to snipe at each other.”

And snipe they did. The fringe and vanity candidates tried very hard to tell us which policies wouldn’t work. They were enabled by CNN’s question-askers, who mostly asked gotcha questions designed to provide sound bites for Republican attack ads down the road.

Elizabeth Warren won the night by responding to a poor-mouthed critique from Republican-lite John Delaney about health care:

“I genuinely do not understand why anyone would go to all the trouble of running for president just to get up on this stage and talk about what’s not possible. #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/cOCz5TS3AF”

— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) July 31, 2019

But, let’s take a moment to talk about the topic that took about most of the first hour of the debate: Medicare for All (M4A). Wrongo wants to remind everyone about an Upshot article on Monday in the NYT by Austin Frakt and Elsa Pearson. It asks, “What Would Medicare for All Cover? From the article:

You can divide current Medicare coverage into two layers.

The first is relatively transparent. Traditional Medicare does not cover certain classes of care, including eyeglasses, hearing aids, dental or long-term care. When the classes of things it covers changes, or is under debate, there’s a big, bruising fight with a lot of public comment. The most recent battle added prescription drug coverage through legislation that passed in 2003.

So the authors say that a Medicare for all program that excluded all private insurance coverage, and that resembled today’s traditional Medicare would leave Americans with significant coverage gaps. And therefore, we should have a debate about what M4A would cover.

The writers go on:

…there is a second layer of coverage that receives less attention. Which specific treatments does Medicare pay for within its classes of coverage? For instance, Medicare covers hospital and doctor visits associated with cancer care — but which specific cancer treatments?

The devil is always in the details.

Although Medicare is a national program, most coverage determinations are local. Private contractors that are authorized to process Medicare claims decide what treatments to reimburse in each of 16 regions of the country:

What people are covered for in, say, Miami can be different from what people are covered for in Seattle. Many treatments and services are covered automatically because they already have standard billing codes that Medicare recognizes and accepts. For treatments lacking such codes, Medicare makes coverage determinations in one of two ways: nationally or locally…..There are more than 2,000 local coverage determinations….National coverage decisions, which apply to the entire country, are rarer, with only about 300 on the books.

Wrongo wasn’t aware of these differences in coverage, and that is something to talk about if/when M4A is seriously discussed in Congress.

It seems that what should be covered by any health insurance program is an evolving target, informed by changes in treatments and their reported efficacy.  The issue isn’t unique to Medicare. Wrongo prefers the decision to include or exclude a treatment not be made by an insurance company that can make more profit based on what forms of healthcare are offered.

For example, in many private plans, cataract surgery isn’t covered, while Medicare does provide coverage for a basic lens replacement.

And we shouldn’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. In this country, tens of millions of people have no coverage, and tens of millions more are either under-insured, or face very high deductible plans. By contrast, throughout all other developed countries, every person is covered for all medical needs.

A few things to think about between here and the 2020 election.

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Marist Poll Points Towards Winning Democratic Policies

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Castle Reef, Montana – July 2019 photo by xzzy. Not to be confused with Capitol Reef NP, in Utah.

Yesterday, Wrongo showed an analysis of possible voter turnout by gender and age, and the implications for 2020. Overnight, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll shows how it may be possible to craft policies that appeal to those groups, among others.

The poll was conducted from July 15 to 17, after the president’s tweets about the four Democratic congresswomen. It surveyed 1,336 adults largely (68%) by mobile phone, and has a margin of error of ±3.5%.

Some of the top line results: By a 53%-to-39% margin, Americans said they would definitely vote against Trump. That compares with the 54% of American voters who actually didn’t vote for Trump in 2016, an insufficient number to win the Electoral College. Trump did better among independents. A third of which said they would definitely vote for him, while 54% say they definitely won’t.

But, let’s focus on a few topics that had majority female support. Overall, 59% of women disapproved of the job that Trump is doing, compared to 52% of all respondents. And 62% of women said they would “definitely not vote for him”, substantially higher than the poll’s average.

All isn’t roses for the Democrats with women. When asked “do you think the ideas being offered by the Democratic candidates running for president would generally move the country in the right/wrong direction?” Women only gave the Democrats a 52% “right direction” tilt. Overall, Americans split 46%-to-43% on whether Democrats would take the country in the right or wrong direction, within the margin of error in the poll. Much of that may be due to unpopular policies offered by the current crop of candidates.

Here’s a list of the most popular policy proposals by Democrats:

  • 89% say requiring background checks for gun purchases or private sales is a good idea
  • 70% support offering Medicare for all as an option alongside private health insurance
  • 67% are in favor of regulating prescription drug prices
  • 64% are for a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the US illegally
  • 63% support legalizing marijuana
  • 62% favor Increasing taxes on those making more than $1 million
  • 57% are for banning assault-style weapons
  • 56% support raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour

There are a few issues that are very unpopular, even with Democrats:

  • 26% are for a guaranteed universal basic income of $1,000 per month
  • 27% favor providing reparations for slavery
  • 27% support decriminalizing illegal border crossings
  • 33% support offering health insurance to illegal immigrants
  • 41% are in favor of doing away completely with private health insurance

People are split on giving free college tuition at public colleges and universities (53% said it’s a good idea, 43% said it’s a bad idea.

Overall, independents said they were not impressed with the direction either President Trump or Democrats want to take the country at this point. Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College, said:

“They’re not willing to grant President Trump reelection, and yet they’re not persuaded by Democrats at this point.”

Showing that Democrats are not truly happy with their choices for president, 82% of Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents say they have not yet made up their mind on who to support in the Democratic primary. A majority (54%) say they want a nominee who can beat Trump, rather than one who shares their position on most issues (42%). That’s up 13 points from last month when 47% said they wanted someone who shared their position on most issues versus 46% who said they wanted someone who has the best chance of beating Trump.

Turning to the other side, Trump’s primary support comes from white males, Gen X (ages 39-54) and evangelicals. When asked if they would definitely vote for Trump in 2020, 66% of evangelicals, 51% of Gen X and 47% of white males said yes. That’s quite the weird coalition.

BTW, just 23% of Gen Z/Millennials (ages 18-38) said they are definitely voting for Trump.

As we said yesterday, Democrats have a chance to present a set of policies that will appeal to women and the youngest voters, in addition to their base. The field of 20+ has certainly reviewed the NPR/Marist Poll results at this point. Maybe a few are rethinking their stance on eliminating private insurance, or offering insurance to illegal immigrants.

It’s still early, and this poll is just another snapshot. The true picture will emerge in a few months.

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Dems Should Talk Foreign Policy

The Daily Escape:

Lumen Museum of Mountain Photography, Italy – 2018 photo by Marco Zanta. The glass-enclosed extension is a restaurant.

Every Democratic candidate for the 2020 nomination is discussing domestic policy: Medicare for All, Free College, and all of the other jump shifts in policy, but what about global politics?

Biden isn’t unique among candidates in saying the 2020 election is about a return to the way things were before Trump, the Economist reports:

“’This too shall pass,’ Joe Biden told America’s allies at the Munich Security Conference in February. ‘We will be back.’ The applause he received reflects a longing to return to a world order that existed before President Donald Trump started swinging his wrecking ball.”

It is problematic to rely on the ideas of a Clinton operative, but the Economist quotes Jake Sullivan, a 2016 Hillary advisor who says that the thrust of the Democrats’ foreign policy approach is simple: reverse much of what Trump has done. Sullivan talks of a “back to basics” approach: Value alliances, stress diplomacy:

“Compared with domestic policy….there is less focus on new ideas.”

All of the Democratic candidates would rejoin the Paris climate agreement. They would rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, possibly with new pre-conditions for lifting sanctions. All would reassure NATO allies of their full commitment to the alliance.

Most Dems agree with Trump’s more confrontational approach to China. However, they would ask America’s allies to work with us on the outcomes.

Biden has a long foreign policy track record. He proposed cutting Iraq into three states for the Sunni, Shia and Kurds. He wanted to arm the Ukrainians against Russia. He opposed the surge in Afghanistan, and the intervention in Libya.

The other candidates have said less, and have no distinctive foreign policy positions.

It would be great if we actually talked about foreign policy in the 2020 primaries. Let’s take a step back and remember 1991. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the world’s other nuclear-armed superpower, we became the sole superpower. Until then, our strategy had been to contain the Soviet Union, but afterwards, lacking a global competitor, neither Party put forth a coherent global strategy.

We blundered into the Middle East with the Gulf War in 1991. After 9/11, we attacked Afghanistan and Iraq. We then hatched the war on terror, and subsequently expanded our globalized military across the world. And when the ledger finally closes on our expenditures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the cost will approach $4 trillion.

Had we spent that amount on domestic priorities, we could have shored up Social Security and Medicare for a generation. We could have paid for the repair of our crumbling infrastructure. Instead, we’ve emerged from our Middle East blunder with two global competitors, China and Russia, along with a huge fiscal deficit. Neither had to happen.

America has failed to see the connections between our global strategy and domestic strategy. Providing incentives to our multinational corporations that enabled them to make goods abroad has marooned large swaths of our domestic workers.

A reasonable question to discuss is whether we can continue supporting globalization while building good jobs in the heartland of America.

And there should be a real debate regarding Trump’s foreign policy. He has sided more closely with Israel. He’s walked out of the Iran nuclear deal. He’s threatened Venezuela with possible “military options” that are being seriously discussed at the Pentagon.

Over the weekend, the Israelis told Bolton and Pompeo that the Iranians are preparing to attack the approximately 5000 US military personnel in Iraq. That may or may not be true, but it led to Pompeo visiting Baghdad.

Do American voters want another war in the Middle East? Trump is daring Iran to fully withdraw from the Nuclear Deal. Who will become the fall guy if there is an Iranian closing of the Straits of Hormuz? Trump, or Iran?

Trade talks with China seem stalled. North Korea’s recent missile tests press Trump’s bet on a deal with NK. Surely Kim is carefully watching Trump’s moves in the Middle East.

Then there is Russia. The Dems overreached with Russiagate, but the Russians are working with Syria to eliminate one of the last places in Syria (Idlib) where terrorists still hold sway. Neither Israel nor Bolton seem to want a stable Syria. Will they try to force Trump to obstruct this important operation?

Debate by Democrats may focus on military spending, with some wanting to cut it, and the mainstreamers being more cautious. A new policy towards the Middle East, and Israel in particular, should be discussed.

Regardless, Trump will surely attack Dems as “soft” on national defense.

But Democrats should thoughtfully challenge the Right-wing assumption that America must have a military-first strategy, rather than a diplomacy-first strategy.

We’re stretched thin trying to have a military presence everywhere in the world. It’s worth a real debate.

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Financial Industry Buys Politicians

The Daily Escape:

Tulip time, Skagit Valley, WA – 2019 photo by Karen Randall

Yesterday, we talked about how the Democrats might ultimately need Wall Street money for the 2020 presidential election. Now, we learn from Americans for Financial Reform (AFR), a consumer interest group, that Wall Street spent at least $1.9 billion on political campaigns and lobbying during the 2018 mid-term elections:

“The figure, which includes contributions to campaign committees and leadership PACs ($922 million) and lobbying expenditures ($957 million), reflects a massive rush of pro-industry nominees and legislation over the last two years, at a time when the biggest banks made $100 billion in profits for the first time.”

That was the largest-ever amount for a non-presidential year, outstripping the total of $1.4 billion, in the 2013-14 election cycle, by 36%.

The 63-page report, “Wall Street Money in Washington”, uses a special data set compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics on behalf of AFR in order to provide a more precise look at financial services industry spending. The data excludes spending by health insurers, who work to influence a different group of issues than do US banks.

The data also doesn’t include “dark money” that goes mostly unreported, so the actual sums of Wall Street spending are likely to be much higher.

The report breaks its findings down by Campaign Contribution and Lobbying:

Campaign Contributions:  Individuals and entities in the financial sector reported making $921.8 million in contributions to federal candidates for office during the 2017-18 election cycle.

Of the $519.6 million in party-coded contributions by individuals and PACs associated with finance, 53% went to Republicans and 47% went to Democrats. About $402.2 million in additional cash flowed from financial sector contributors to candidates through outside groups.

Lobbying: The financial industry reported spending a total of $956.8 million on lobbying in calendar years 2017 and 2018. This spending only got the financial sector to third place. The “Health” sector was second, spending $1.12 billion, and “Miscellaneous Business” which comprises companies and trade associations, was first, spending $1. 02 billion. “Miscellaneous Business” includes the US Chamber of Commerce, which spent $189.4 million.

And which politicians got the money?

In the House, Republicans did very well, with Former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) leading the way. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), now the House minority leader, and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), now the ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee, both benefited from Wall Street largesse.

The freshman class in the House, including first-term Democrats, had substantially less reliance on money from Wall Street than those Democratic incumbents who won re-election. Another report that AFR co-authored on small-dollar contributions found that 17% of money contributed to the Democratic freshman came from small donors, compared to 9.4% for incumbent members.

In the Senate, the data underscores how money moved to members who supported the industry’s legislative goals. Overall, spending favored Republicans. But the industry gave significant amounts to Democratic Senators who helped get S. 2155 passed, which was a significant rollback of the Dodd-Frank regulations.

Wall Street gave heavily to the Democratic senators who supported the bill and were up for reelection in 2018, mostly from states that Trump won in 2016. One Dem who won in 2018, was Jon Tester (D-MT); others, including Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) did not win.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) won after she supported the legislation as a House member.

But, not all top Senate Democratic recipients of Wall Street money did the industry’s bidding. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) opposed S. 2155.  He was the only Democrat in Ohio to win statewide office in 2018.

Who spent the most? The top five donor companies and trade associations in the financial sector were:

  • National Association of Realtors — $144,716,676
  • Bloomberg LP — $96,481,469
  • American Bankers Association — $25,769,494
  • Paloma Partners — $25,575,800
  • Citadel LLC — $20,596,381

You can see a list of the top 20 donors here. It is easy to see that turning down Wall Street funding could put a big dent in the Democratic nominee’s spending plans for 2020.

It also seems clear from yesterday’s reporting that Wall Street Democrats might bolt to Trump if the 2020 nominee is Sanders or Warren. A decision to reject Wall Street funding could hand Trump a very large gift.

The money spent by the financial services industry won’t be any lower in 2020 than in 2018. We’ll just have to wait and see if the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee rejects their support.

OTOH, this money helps Wall Street rig the system in its favor, largely by buying the support of politicians who will help insulate them from accountability.

Does any Democrat have the guts to reform capitalism?

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Will Dems Develop a Winning Message?

The Daily Escape:

Lady Liberty from the water – June, 2015 photo by Wrongo

Joe Biden kicked off his run yesterday by saying that he’s for the middle class, and against Trump. CNN is reporting that Biden now leads the field with 39% of voters supporting him. Sanders is second with 15%. Warren is third with 8%, and Buttigieg fourth with 7%.

It’s good to remember that there are still 551 days to go before the 2020 election. Here are a few other past poll leaders with 551 days to go: Hillary Clinton led the Democratic primary by 9.1% in 2008. In the 2008 GOP primary, Giuliani led by 12.4 points. In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton once led by 56.6 points. In the 2016 GOP primaries, Jeb! Bush led by 1.2 points. All of them lost.

The biggest issue for Democrats right now is squaring the circle on their message. The leading Dems don’t divide neatly by labels. Some are Republican lite, some are very progressive. All have to articulate policy and show charisma, while working to garner enough delegates to win the nomination.

Let’s discuss two issues: First, are they really going to run against Wall Street? Are they going to take campaign funding from the financial services industry? As Wrongo said last week, there is an inherent tension in the current funding strategy of the Dem candidates. They all are targeting small donors in order to demonstrate substantial grass-roots support. But, the nominee will need to raise more than $1 billion for the general election, and it’s doubtful that individual donors have such deep pockets.

That means they will eventually have to turn to PACs and corporations in order to win.

But Sanders and Warren have pushed the party to the left on Wall Street and capitalism. NY Mag had a piece describing a meeting among Wall Street Democrats, who are unhappy with the field. They dislike Sanders and Warren, and when they strategize, the financiers’ primary goal is to find a Democrat who can both deny either of them the nomination, and also beat Trump:

By evening’s end, multiple donors walked away planning to write checks to three or four or five candidates — hoping they stay relatively moderate — rather than going all in on any one. Among the committed Democrats on Wall Street, this wait-and-see, as-long-as-it’s-not-Bernie-or-Elizabeth posture has become the norm.

Can the Democrats win without Wall Street’s money? Will the current crop of candidates walk away from their promise to take on the financiers, in order to beat Trump?

Asking for a friend.

Second, what will their message be on the economy? Trump is presiding over a late-stage economic boom. By November, 2020, Trump will be able to claim credit for the longest period of uninterrupted growth in American history. How will Democrats counter a Republican argument to stay the course?

The best possible message may be: That big corporations aren’t paying their fair share (as opposed to more taxing of the rich). That too much of the prosperity that working people create stays with the corporations. That the cost of both health care and education are too damn high.

Just this week, the WaPo asked voters, “Do you think the economic system in this country mainly works to benefit all people, or mainly works to benefit those in power?”

  • 60% of all respondents said it benefits those in power
  • 66% of independents said the same thing
  • 81% of Democrats agreed as well

Regardless of how strong the economy is for the next 19 months, Americans are sure to remain discontented with the economic dominance of the powerful. The NY Mag Intelligencer says the Dems should focus on Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania: (brackets by Wrongo)

We know that this tiny subpopulation leans left on economic issues and tends to resent the rich. We also know it leans right on immigration and tends to resent “illegals.” When Barack Obama and Mitt Romney [made] the 2012 election a referendum on whether rich business owners earned every penny they have, a critical mass of Midwestern swing voters broke for the Democrats. When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump agreed to make 2016 about whether rapid demographic change was making America “Stronger Together” — or less great than it used to be — they broke right.

In 2012, Barack Obama told an “us versus them” story about class conflict. Sanders, Warren and Biden are doing that right now. A message that says “the rich have rigged our economic and political systems to their advantage” is an immensely popular message.

If Democrats don’t run on it in 2020, it won’t be out of concern for alienating voters, it will be out of concern for alienating Wall Street.

Let’s close with a tune in honor of May Day. Here’s Sierra Boggess singing “The Lusty Month of May” from Camelot, performed at BBC Proms 2012.

Your May mileage may vary:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Plenty of Fallout From Mueller’s (Non) Findings

The Daily Escape:

Monument Valley – photo by Nathan Fitzgerald

How comfortable will Americans be with Trump in the White House, now that they have learned that he did nothing prosecutable while he was trying to get the job?

Larry Sabato at University of Virginia, says that the fate of the Trump administration is now in the hands of the voters in November 2020:

“Democrats only control who they nominate and what they emphasize in the campaign….On policy, Democrats have a wide variety of subjects that could allow them to make a favorable contrast with Trump: climate change, health care, and economic fairness, just to mention three. The message and the messenger will be critical.”

Sabato points out that the Democrats did not run on the Mueller probe in the 2018 mid-terms, and that for the most part, the announced 2020 candidates haven’t really been doing much of that either.

The biggest fallout from the Mueller investigation is that Trump gets to say he’s an undeserving victim for the next two years. No matter what negative things may come out in the next two years, Trump has been inoculated against real political harm. He can always say it’s the same people who were wrong about him during the Russia investigation. He’s certain to keep saying the media’s coverage of him is “Fake News”.

One victim of Mueller’s non-findings is the main stream media. They were largely anti-Trump and anti-Russia throughout the Russia investigation. Now, they look biased in exactly the manner that Trump has been saying they were for the last two years.

Matt Taibbi has an article, “It’s official: Russiagate is this generation’s WMD” in which he says:

“Nobody wants to hear this, but news that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is headed home without issuing new charges is a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media.”

He means most of the mainstream media. It’s a long read in which Taibbi highlights several media outlets including the NYT. He starts with Monday’s Times editorial: “We don’t need to read the Mueller report”. Taibbi says they make that point because: (brackets by Wrongo)

“We [the NYT] know Trump is guilty, Baker at least [NYT’s Peter Baker] began the work of preparing Times readers for a hard question: “Have journalists connected too many dots that do not really add up?”

He compares the media’s coverage of Russiagate to their coverage of whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) when we were making the decision to invade during GW Bush’s administration. In hindsight, the media was badly compromised then when they dutifully reported what the administration wanted them to report.

Finally, the Democrats have to deal with their own fallout. They can continue investigating Trump, looking for some fire behind all the smoke. Or they can move forward, and focus on building a winning campaign for 2020. It’s possible that the ongoing House investigations of Trump may bear fruit, and provide some campaign fodder.

Journalism in 2019 appears to have returned to the way it was in America’s early history. It’s become another partisan element in our politics. And, as the process of journalism has decayed, somehow, people’s ability to contextualize facts seems to have decayed right along with our journalists.

The reputation of the American media as free, independent and truth-seeking was always a myth. Think about our unjustified Spanish-American war (“Remember the Maine”) was more than 100 years ago and it was promoted by the press (Hearst papers).

Then there was that pesky Vietnam War, which the US press supported for years. Back then, we had music, like Country Joe’s “(1, 2, 3, 4) What are We Fighting For”, Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” and Neil Young’s “Four Dead in Ohio” as our alternative news media.

We do know that Russia conducted a sophisticated information operation to influence the 2016 election. Mueller’s investigation firmly established this. But Wrongo still doesn’t see anything to say their efforts upended the 2016 electoral results.

The various Congressional and DOJ investigations will continue, just as sure as the sun will rise in the east. What is uncovered is likely to be more of the same, and not advance the ball towards the goal line.

Hopefully soon, we’ll see a press conference by AG Barr and Mueller. That will be must-see TV.

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