Thursday, December 12, 2019

Walden slinks out.

Greg Walden could have been great. He chose to be a lobbyist instead.

Go along to get along.

Walden punted on impeachment.  “I think the American people would rather have us, sure, get to the facts, but also, basically, leave it in their hands to decide who the president is." 

He voted against the procedural vote to move toward impeachment the same week he announced he was not running for re-election. He could have voted the other way, and now be speaking out as a Congressional leader with a country and a branch of government to defend. 

He could have chosen greatness, saying that as a matter of simple fact and for avoiding a dangerous precedent, President Trump must not be allowed to ignore Congressional subpoenas nor should any President bully foreign countries to assist his own political campaign.

He need not do it in the name of abandoning his GOP nor as a turncoat. Instead, he could insist he was speaking out to save his great Party by demonstrating that it stands for principles and policies, not a person or tribe.

Walden's congressional success came because of service to the Party, including times when it stood for principles very different from the direction Trump has led it. He could speak as an insider and person of consequence. 

He would have been heard.

Click: KATU clip
He had paid his dues. He climbed the slippery pole of Congressional leadership and became the Chair of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, the committee that supervised health care, telecommunications, and energy policy, the center of great issues facing the country.

It was sweet. Drug companies, health providers, telecommunications companies, and every other special interest with issues before Congress lavished money on him. 

It was also bitter. As part of GOP leadership, he had to toe the Party line on issues. He could no longer represent his own conscience, nor could he represent Oregon's 2nd District, with a huge number of people who relied on the Medicaid expansion.

Then the Democrats won back the Congress and he did what this blog predicted long ago he would do, leave Congress. It had to be miserable for him to address someone else as "Mr. Chairman," I wrote, when that used to be him. 
Click: Walden is very, very good at raising money

Plus there are greener pastures. Walden is smooth, comfortable with wealthy people in suits, and he understands issues. 

No longer in leadership, Walden got his conscience back, if he wants it. 

He could speak out against tribalism. Walden would get a tongue lashing and nasty tweets from Trump. He could embrace them. After all, the work he has done for his adult lifetime was in devotion to a better America, as Walden saw it, not devotion to personality cult. Walden could signal he represented the Constitutional conscience of the Republican Party, the Party that will outlast Trump. 

It is a good option. Walden has seen how conscience transforms a person's reputation. Chris Wallace of Fox has been repositioned from just another Fox sycophant into something greater, now representing the integrity of journalism.

Walden is going the money route instead. Conscience and speaking out for Constitutional order would have cost him contracts and credibility as a lobbyist, someone welcome in the office of any GOP Senator or Member of Congress. A teammate.

It is a disappointment. He could have been better than this.

[Tomorrow: Knute Buehler steps up to replace Walden. It is a brand new Buehler.]

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Guest Post: How Democrats Win

The Democratic base: Churchgoing, Moderate, Patriotic.


     The dispossessed believe that “America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it... The old American virtues have already been eaten way by cosmopolitans and intellectuals."

     Sociologist Daniel Bell, 1959

Democrats could blow this election.  Or win it.

A Guest Post observation.

Economic populism is a winner for Democrats. Trump faces a problem that is real, measurable, and widely felt: the rich have, indeed, gotten richer, and the broad middle class has gotten poorer. Voters at the margin, persuadable ones, understand that the 2017 tax bill rewarded corporations and the richest. Democrats are the ones addressing the kitchen table issues of health care, wages, and college.

The problem for Democrats will be cultural populism. That is how Trump communicates he is on the side of struggling Americans.

Larry DiCara is an attorney and civic leader in Boston, Massachusetts and an astute observer and practitioner of politics. As a young man he was elected to the Boston City Council, having negotiated the ethnic political divides in a city where the immigrant melting pot melts slowly and incompletely. It is mostly an "Irish" city, making DiCara a minority, indeed doubly so since DiCara is also a fish-out-of-water Harvard educated liberal.

DiCara thrived politically for five decades because he understands and respects the cultural conservatism of his neighbors. The lesson for Democrats as they sort through the potential candidates: they need to demonstrate cultural respect and empathy. 

DiCara writes occasional newsletters to friends and college classmates (he is yet another) and these are observations he shared.

Guest Post by Larry DiCara

"How Democrats Win"

Winning the Presidency, and the Congress, and State Legislatures in 2020 requires that Democratic candidates be responsive not only to the noises emanating from the loudest cymbals on the political fringes, but also to the great majority of Americans. 

There are certain hot buttons that Democrats should push at their peril--terrorists should be allowed to vote; private health insurance should be discontinued; reparations for slavery; Colin Kaepernick is always right. These are topics which are likely to drive the common man, who may consider himself “dispossessed” as Bell and others referred to him, to vote for Donald Trump, notwithstanding that they consider him an ignorant bully. 

Trump has already begun his campaign by suggesting that Democrats are nothing but a bunch of warmed-over Godless Socialists. The American people never elected Eugene Debs or Norman Thomas, and they will not elect Bernie Sanders or anyone who agrees with his socialist platform. 

We must be careful to protect our base and expand it, rather than to drive good and decent people into the other camp. I agree with Governor Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island that “We cannot become the party of the checklist” but that “we should focus on economic security for all Americans.” 

We cannot succumb to what Matthew Yglesias has termed The Great Awokening. We must resist what Natalia Dashan has discussed in Palladium as 'a new ideological orthodoxy that is trickling down from elite colleges into the rest of society and is resulting in a nation which is becoming more polarized.' We must embrace patriotism, which means not pandering to one interest group or another over the good of the nation.

I would argue that Democrats cannot dismiss people who go to church, drink Budweiser, and eat red meat. Many of them should be on our team. Economic issues are far more important than the culture wars. The common man was the loser in the recent tax bill; their sons and daughters are the ones sent to fight wars without reason, not the sons and daughters of the rich. 

The great majority of the American people are not “deplorables” even if they may not frequent Starbucks, or Whole Foods, or hot yoga ('Bikram,' as I’m told it is called). Democrats cannot demonize their fellow citizens because they celebrate ethnic holidays. Democrats cannot permit themselves to be labeled as a party which is Godless and un-American. We have been losing that battle for a long time. Professor Theda Skocpol from Harvard has advised all of us: 'The road to national power does not run primarily through California, Massachusetts, or the TV studios of MSNBC in New York City. It runs through middle-American suburbs, cities, and rural counties. To win in 2020 and beyond, Democrats have to organize everywhere and project a national message that resonates widely.”'

Getting elected is about winning. I play to win, on behalf of my clients, my family, at squash, or at softball, but certainly in politics."

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Weak legislatures mean strong executives.

Impeachment gridlock strengthens Trump. 

     "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    Upton Sinclair:  I, Upton Sinclair, Candidate for Governor: And How I got Licked.

Impeachment is the big story.  Democrats are trying to show that they can walk and chew gum at the same time by advancing a trade deal and taking credit for it. See! We are more than just impeachment. We function!

It won't matter.  Impeachment dominates the news.

Democrats say it is obvious that Trump illegally strong-armed Ukraine to get them to intervene in our election on his behalf. Moreover he openly and proudly obstructed justice by ignoring subpoenas, denying Congress the power and obligation of oversight. This is wrong and impeachable, open and shut. Democrats have their story.

Republicans say it is obvious that this is an utterly illegitimate impeachment investigation from the get-go, and it is all about Democrats trying to reverse the 2016 election outcome. Trump says everything was perfect. Republicans defend their guy.

Kevin McCarthy, Republican Minority Leader, is on CNN as I write: "Democrats would lie, just because they hate the president." 

The un-engaged voter--the people who tell pollsters they are undecided about Trump and impeachment--likely have a takeaway that where there is smoke there is fire, and Trump did something, but what to make of it is unclear. Impeachment viewers cannot miss the fact that Republicans use delay tactics. The un-said message of these points of order and roll call votes is that Republicans are trying to gum up the works. That looks guilty. 

Presumably that helps make the Democratic case. But the bigger takeaway is the opposite. 

The fact that Trump is both guilty-looking and unbowed and unapologetic, and the sight of Democrats flummoxed by their inability to get Republicans to acknowledge evidence right before their eyes, and that they are hobbled by parliamentary process even as they argue in favor of Constitutional process, all go to demonstrate the weakness of the legislative branch, and especially Democratic weakness. Compare the divided Congress to Trump, the decisive unitary bully saying he doesn't care about process, backed by an AG and a party speaking in unison.

It creates an image of Trump, the Big Guy, surrounded by a midgets in the form of a weak Congress and a multitude of bickering aspirants for his job, people he dismisses with contempt.  The Constitutional setup assumed that Republican officeholders would push back against this, and demand their Article One powers. They are not.

There is a reason for this. Those officeholders realize the public does not demand we have a working legislature so long as the economy is pretty good and not too many Americans are being killed in wars. 

This is on us.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Hero, Knave, and Fool

Democrats are impeaching Trump because they say he is crooked, a knave

Click: Laughing at Trump

Biden's ad, showing foreign leaders laughing, calls Trump an embarrassing fool.

A one-two punch.

Political scientist Sandford Borins offers a framework for understanding the complex, policy-filled messages of political candidates. 

He writes that political messages boil down to simple judgements about the character and competence of political actors: hero, knave, fool. Some readers of this blog will feel the characterization insultingly over-simple. Those readers make a careful analysis of policy specifics and make rational choices to distinguish between candidates. I do not doubt that this is true. But all citizens--even those--make moral and value judgements about those policies, perhaps considering them signs of courageous truth telling--heroic--or perhaps considering them disqualifyingly foolish positions or evidence of dangerously corrupt intent.

We see Trump doing this branding right now. Biden, he says, is a fool, "Sleepy Joe." Warren, he says, is a fraudulent knave, "Pocahontas."

From the American point of view, the one-two punch can come across as muddled. Countries don't laugh at menacing knaves. They fear them. They laugh at incompetent fools. The Biden ad presented the Trump-as-foolMeanwhile, the Democratic House, this Monday morning as I write, is presenting a picture of Trump-as-knave, a dangerous man abusing his power to subvert the 2020 election by withholding appropriated funds to coerce Ukraine to assist his re-election. 

Fools and knaves are dangerous for different reasons. Currently Democrats are presenting both.

Sandford Borins is Canadian and he teaches at the University of Toronto. He is yet another college classmate. He received a Masters degree in Public Policy from the Harvard JFK School of Government and then a Ph.D. from Harvard. Like this blog, he writes about observed political narratives, but from a scholar's perspective, and a Canadian's. 

From the Canadian point of view, it would be best to lie low and not to star in any ad at all. Borins notes that Canada is one tenth the size of the US in both population and GDP. Canada exports 20% of its GDP to the US while the US exports 2% of its to Canada. The relationship is asymmetrical, Borins notes. Best not to poke the bear. Staying on good terms with the US is a central requirement of Canadian government. It made Trudeau look foolish, at least to Canadian eyes.

Guest Post by Sandford Borins

Sandford Borins
"In analyzing election ads, I have developed three archetypal stories, hero, knave, and fool. 

The heroic is the story a campaign tells about its own candidate, focusing on how the candidate has overcome personal adversity and/or had major achievements and how this is an indicator the candidate will help the electorate by enacting wise policies. 

Campaigns tell two stories about their opponents. The knave seeks office to enjoy the prestige and line his/her own pockets, while doing nothing to help the electorate (what the Democrats have long been saying about Trump). The fool is well-meaning but due to his inexperience or ignorance, also does nothing to help the electorate.

The Canadian Conservatives initially used the fool story against Justin Trudeau, as evidenced by the punning slogans, "just in over his head" and "just not ready." In the 2015 election, however, Trudeau campaigned energetically and debated effectively, and ultimately won. In the last four years, he has committed some gaffes that have brought the 2015 attacks back to mind. These included a visit to India in which he and has family cringe-worthily decked themselves out in ethnic garb and the viral pictures of blackface and brownface he wore in his youth. Seen in this context, gossiping in front of an open mic about President Trump reinforces the fool story. 

He will have to wear this long after US voters forget about Biden's ad."

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Don't worry about Biden's ad. Voters are locked in.

Republicans are going to vote for Trump.
Most Democrats will vote for the Democratic alternative.

It isn't about the message.

     "I don't disagree with your view that hardcore Trump supporters will interpret this ad the way you describe. I just don't think it matters."
          Peter Lemieux, Politics by the Numbers

Peter Lemieux is a political scientist from Cambridge, Massachusetts who has a firmly quantitative understanding of political science. He looked at this blog's analysis of the Biden ad that showed European leaders snickering over Trump, an ad that I wrote will feed the sense of resentment of people in flyover swing states. It was a bad ad, I wrote yesterday and the day before.

It won't change votes, he wrote me. "Trump's core voters will cast ballots for him no matter what. Trump's supporters are unmovable. His opponents are as well."

Peter Lemieux writes a website, He was a college classmate who then went on to get a Ph.D. from MIT. He taught there and at the University of Rochester. His site is free of pretty graphics and photos and  references to character archetypes and intended and unintended messages. It is a place of graphs, charts, and numbers, built on hard data about polls and ultimate voter behavior.

This blog presumes that people are attracted by some things and not others, that on the margin--especially with people who are lightly informed and mostly unengaged with politics--message matters. Maybe that is the wrong way to look a politics. Peter Lemieux says that swing voters won't see the ad, and they wouldn't care about it if they did.

Guest Post by Peter Lemieux

Peter Lemieux
"We are no longer living in a world, if we ever did, where substantial numbers of voters can be persuaded to switch parties and candidates. Trump's approval and disapproval rates are largely impervious to events. Since the end of the government shutdown, his approval rating has stayed at 42% and his disapproval rating at 53%. Click: fivethirtyeight

The shutdown had serious economic consequences for many Americans including government employees and those whose jobs depend on them. Impeachment won't have the same effect.

There is a group of polling respondents who eschew the "strongly" approve or disapprove answers and might be persuadable.  In a recent Morning Consult/Politico poll, for instance, we have 23% "strongly approve;" 17% "somewhat approve;" 12% "somewhat disapprove;" and a whopping 44% who choose "strongly disapprove." Click: politico

Perhaps that 29% who give "somewhat" responses might be persuadable, but I think many of them are just uncomfortable committing to the "strongly" moniker.

To me, the electorate breaks down as:

30-35% will definitely vote for Trump
45-50% will definitely not vote for Trump
15-25% might or might not vote for Trump

I would argue that few of the people in that 15-25% are the sort who will react to the Biden ad in the ways Peter Sage describes. Nearly all of those people are in the 30-35% definitely Trumpist category. In fact, given that independents and uncertain voters pay less attention to politics, most of them will never see this ad."

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Biden's ad "Laughing", which mocks Trump


"I believe the only winning ad strategy is to signal empathy for non-college whites in swing states who remain on the fence. . . . "Laughing' is a huge error on Biden's part."

         Tony Farrell, Brand Strategist

It's showtime. 

No Malarkey
This is make or break for Biden in the Democratic primary. Can he convince Democrats he is up to the job of taking on Donald Trump?

Biden is in Iowa, on a "No Malarkey" Bus Tour. He is showing himself to be aggressive and feisty, telling one voter "You are a damn liar!" and challenging him to a push up contest.  Biden said that Buttigieg "stole" Biden's health plan. He is telling reporters that the real Democratic party is more moderate than Sanders and Warren and especially AOC.

It is now Fighting Joe.

Biden put up an in-Trump's-face ad, showing world leaders chuckling over Trump's behavior. He is talking to Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire. You don't like Trump, I don't like Trump, and look at how I mock him. It might serve that purpose. 

Longer run, I wrote yesterday, it backfires, because the people doing the mocking are European and Canadian leaders who represent and demonstrate elitist smug condescension, precisely the people and behavior swing voters resent. 

Click here
I asked the advice of a brand strategist expert, Tony Farrell. He was a classmate at college, and a graduate of the Harvard Business School. Farrell has contributed to this blog in the past, sharing the insights from his long career as a brand strategist at The Gap, Sharper Image, The Nature Company. He handled the marketing for Trump Steaks. He finished his career in the toughest of big leagues in marketing, the direct to consumer space, i.e. infomercials. 

Guest Post by Tony Farrell

Joe Biden’s advertising team, in no time, put together “The World Is Laughing (at Trump)” and it’s a quick-cut 60-second assemblage of news videos with a concluding voiceover by the candidate, urging viewers to replace Trump with “a leader the world respects.” 

Ads like this make it easy to forget that the general election is a year away, because “Laughing” seems designed for the presidential election, not the Democratic primaries. Aimed at primary voters, its intention must be to show how Biden will take on Trump—attacking the president’s fragile ego with mockery, and using his own words ("laughing at us") against him. If you don’t like Trump, it’s fun to watch.

Tony Farrell
Polarize. Aimed at 2020 voters in swing states, the “Laughing” ad is likely to cement each polarized side in place. I believe all such “go low” mockery will simply invigorate Trump’s base’s fervent support of their leader; moreover, “Laughing” might even bring over to Trump some fence-sitters, in sympathy for its general unfairness, snide tone and lack of balance. 

In the presidential election next November, I believe that radical progressiveness is the greatest threat to a Democratic win, embodied in the far-left stances of Warren and Sanders. But with any Democratic candidate this November, I believe the only winning ad strategy is to signal empathy for non-college whites in swing states who remain on the fence; who feel invisible (but not to Trump); who’ve been fed a shit-sandwich for the last two decades of unequal economic growth; and who fear being lost in continued polarization. 

Backfire. Most voters agree on most things, and the vast majority of voters long for a return to civility, cooperation and bi-partisanship to achieve worthy goals. There are strong media forces fighting that sentiment (as the battles are great for ratings) but a calming, fair-minded leader (think Roosevelt 1932) who appears able to connect with both sides of an apparent divide can win all of those swing states. Of course, advertising is just one piece of a campaign strategy, and it’s hard to know the impact. (The infamous “Willie Horton” ad ran in paid media only once; all other exposure came from news stories about it!) 

In any event, for these reasons, I believe “Laughing” is a huge error on Biden’s part; good only for entertainment and reinforcement of prejudices against Trump. And it lowers Biden’s stature as a conciliating force for the good of the whole country.

[Tomorrow, a different view, a guest post from Peter Lemieux, who presents polling data showing there are few swing voters and an ad like this one resonates with Democrats--the people Biden needs to convince.]

Friday, December 6, 2019

Trump the laughingstock.


"The world is laughing at President Trump. They see him for what he really is: dangerously incompetent and incapable of world leadership. We cannot give him four more years as commander in chief."

Joe Biden tweet to accompany the video

The Biden video shows Trump to be a blowhard and self important bully. 
Click: 60 second ad

His base likes that about Trump. 

There is a good ad to be done, but not this one.

There is a meme going around that Trump is a fool and people in Europe are laughing at him. Biden's video is an example. 

Biden's video does not hurt Trump or expand the Democratic vote into the swing states.

 Biden's video may even help Trump.

Trump ran for office making the claim that the rest of the world was taking advantage of us, robbing us blind. Ha ha.

The underlying premise was that we were led by weak fools, especially the cultured, educated, tan suit wearing Obama. The underlying premise of Trump's attack was that American coastal elites--and foreign elites-- liked people like Obama and Hillary, but sneered at regular folks in heartland flyover country. But, don't worry, world, Hillary would win. 

Trump presented himself as the blunt, plain talking, anti-politically-correct, normal American who didn't apologize for thinking and saying that Muslims were enemies, Mexicans were rapists, women were fun to grope, and that it was smart to get really rich and not pay taxes. He represented the people Hillary--and foreign elites--deplored.

Hillary win? Ha! Trump and flyover country showed them!

Turn the tables and laughing at Trump. Biden put up an ad that shows something that is true and documented, foreign leaders chuckling over Trump's behavior. 

There is a problem. He has the wrong people chuckling. 

Justin Trudeau, Angela Merkel, and Emanuel Macron are examples of the people of culture and rule-based multilateralism that Trump has condemned. They represent countries he said were sponging off us. 

Trump wants to be scorned by them and their American elite equivalents. That is his point.
A better meme for Democrats

In the Trump view, those cultured leaders, with their good table manners and agreeable dispositions are examples of the people--foreign and domestic diplomats, elites, college professors, snobs, PBS and NY Times people, and Hillary supporters--that his base dislikes.

They have contempt?  He shows them contempt right back. His base loves that.

There is an ad that would work for Biden and Democrats. Just not this one. 

The ad that would work is Putin chuckling about Trump. Picture Putin with a subtle smile, watching his pup jump through hoops. We don't want to think of our president--our country--being manipulated by Putin or by other dangerous people. 

That meme is also out there. Trump behaves strangely as regards Putin. Maybe Trump is under the thumb of Putin in ways we don't know. That meme hurts Trump. That meme shows Trump as weak and needy.

But if wine-drinking, fancy cheese eating, bi-lingual, UN-supporting, cultured elites from Europe and Canada presume to laugh at us, well screw 'em. 
Click: ABC News. Weak Trump.

We showed them who was boss in World War Two.