The Brexit Tsunami

Union Jack

The day after Britain voted to leave the European Community, the Washington Post ran an article about large numbers of Brits googling to find out what the European Community is and what the impact on Britain. of terminating its membership might be. Talk about getting to the barn door too late.

All along we’ve known that the opposition was driven by some mix of fear and anger, much like Donald Trump’s supporters in this country. What we didn’t know was how strong that side would be. The vote was expected to be close, with a lot of speculation in the last few days that the “Remain” forces were gaining strength.

A broad spectrum of experts, including just about every economist willing to be quoted, argued that Britain’s exit would be bad for the country, bad for Europe, bad for the world economy and generally bad. The 52% who voted to leave either didn’t believe those predictions, didn’t care about them or weren’t even aware of them.

Even in the first day, it looks like those experts knew what they were talking about. Markets around the world are taking a beating. The British pound’s free fall may be good for tourists visiting Britain, may eventually help British exports, but sure looks bad in every other respect.  And in one of those “you can’t make this stuff up moment”, Donald Trump observed that it might be good for his golf courses in Scotland.

And that’s only the first day. What’s really most ominous about Britain’s decision is the extended period of uncertainty and instability that it will usher in. The legal structure of the European Community is incredibly complex and detailed. Negotiating Britain’s removal will be lengthy, contentious and a source of continued confusion. Some of the “Remove” proponents argued that the country on its own could cut a better deal with the European Community than it could as a member. That’s an example of wishful thinking that’s off the charts ridiculous.

But so much more could happen and just about every scenario you can imagine ends badly. Will other countries decide to hold their own referenda? Almost certainly. Will others exit as the result of that process? Pretty good chance.

For Britain, or perhaps more precisely England, there may well be an extreme irony. There is already talk north of the border that there will be another vote on Scottish independence. The Scots, it turns out, aren’t so keen on leaving the European Community. In fact, the “Remain” vote won decisively in the land of kilts. It’s not hard to imagine Scotland splitting from England and then turning around and applying for its own membership in the European Community. Try to picture Passport Control between those two countries. And how will they sort out where the British Open is played?

And if that weren’t strange enough, the “Remain” side won decisively in Northern Ireland, prompting some supporters to argue that the time had arrived for reunification of Ireland.

Moreover, for anyone still skeptical about the reality of a global economy, that gigantic thud you heard on Friday was the Dow Jones Average falling 611 points.  Are you still sure that Brexit has no relevance to you?  Since the Great Recession of 2007, this country has had a slow and steady, albeit not terribly robust, recovery.  Some economists were already speculating about when the next recession, pretty much inevitable in their view, would begin.  The large waves being stirred about by Brexit could lead relatively soon to the next economic downturn.

Besides the potential for economic turmoil, what are the other major consequences of Brexit?  For one, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced his resignation.  That’s actually too good for him.  Cameron, after all, decided to call for a referendum in the first place and then failed to rally his party to support the “Remain” side in sufficient numbers.  The key point is that Cameron did not have to call for a referendum.  He was feeling pressure from some Conservatives and, rather than show leadership and political courage, opted for the expedient of throwing the decision to the voters.  History will not be kind to David Cameron, which is only fitting.

Pollsters got another vote wrong.  You might want to cut them some slack since it was close but that’s being too generous.  In the last few days, all the polling stories suggested that the tide was moving in the direction of “Remain.”  The pollsters apparently underestimated the “Leave” vote, which was either a methodological problem or a lot of people deciding late.

That the first explanation could be right should make you worry about polling for the American election in the fall.  Trump certainly has a following that looks in many respects like the winning coalition in Britain.     Besides being angry, fearful, less educated and generally older, Trump voters are not very concerned with facts.  That the Brexit forces ignored sophisticated economic warnings about the consequences of leaving Europe makes them seem a lot like voters supporting Trump.

There’s one other point worth making that has been almost totally ignored in the public discourse about Brexit.  It might be tempting to cite yet again George Santayana’s admonition that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, but I think the problem is slightly different.  I’m pretty sure that most of the “Leave” supporters never recognized the original purpose of European unity.

The predecessor organizations in the early post-WW II period to what eventually became the European Community had a single overriding objective.  The goal was to tie the countries of Europe, and particularly Germany, so closely together that another war among them would be not only inconceivable but practically impossible.

The period in Europe since the end of World War II has stood in marked contrast to the half century that preceded it.   If Brexit foreshadows a general unraveling of European harmony, the economic problems that are already  evident will be the least of the consequences.

It’s hard to end this complex foreign relations challenge anywhere but on the 2016 Presidential Election.    That Donald Trump was visiting one of his golf courses in Scotland just as the vote was occurring sums up his understanding of foreign affairs just about perfectly.  At a time when impulsive, emotional responses are really dangerous, that’s all he brings to the table.

Yet, watching the Brexit vote unfold, it would be naive to argue that he has no chance to be elected president.  Brexit reminds us that he actually could win.  It should also remind us that elections have consequences and those consequences can be both dangerous and destabilizing.  Brexit should be a wake-up call for everyone on this side of the pond.

Notes from a Topsy Turvey World


UK remain

As the days start to get shorter and the blue paint starts to wear off, it’s a good time to reflect on some of the recent developments in this particularly strange year.

You may not have paid much attention, but on Thursday citizens in Britain will vote on whether or not to stay in the European Community. You might well shrug and say that Brexit, as it has come to be known, “will have no effect on me and what’s the big deal anyway.” In an increasingly interdependent world, you really don’t have the luxury of that position. Already world economic markets are reacting negatively to the mere possibility of Britain disengaging from Europe and what that might mean for the future stability of the Continent.

If the British voters decide to leave Europe, there will be an extended period of instability as the complex details are negotiated and as other countries reconsider their own future in Europe. Unless the vote is extremely close, you’re likely to know the outcome by late Thursday as the impact starts to wash up on our shores.

There’s another piece to the Brexit story worth considering. Those most in favor of leaving Europe bear a striking resemblance in age, education level and political outlook to Donald Trump’s supporters. Both groups want to return to a past that never was, to a perceived golden age where everyone looked and sounded exactly like they do, when the economy was robust and immigrants were nowhere to be seen. In other words, these groups want to pull the covers over their heads and whistle a happy tune.

In the United States, meanwhile, guns are back in the news.  In the aftermath of the massacre in Orlando, the debate over how to respond to mass murders has been temporarily reignited.  What broke out first was a discussion about the intentions of the shooter.  To the question of whether he was motivated by terrorist goals or by homophobia, the answer is probably yes.  Not long before his inevitable death, Omar Mateen pledged allegiance to ISIS.  However, the target that he picked was a gay nightclub that was well-known to him.  Whether his own sexual orientation was an issue has also been raised.

We’ll probably never sort out motive to everyone’s satisfaction.  There is only one thing we know for certain.  Matinee was able to slaughter 49 innocent victims only because he had a military-style killing machine that was designed exactly for that purpose.

To those who argue that access to guns isn’t the real issue, there is a moral obligation to suggest other ways in which tragedies like Orlando can be avoided.  No one is arguing for perfect solutions, only for lessened risk.  Could the FBI have stopped Mateen?  Agents didn’t think they had enough evidence, a judgment call which will always apply.  Would better mental health treatment in this country help?  Perhaps, although legislators certainly haven’t been very willing to provide the funds needed.  Would keeping all Muslims out of the country, as Donald Trump has suggested, be the magic solution?  Mateen was born in this country.  Beside, there is no evidence that Muslims in this country are any less patriotic than any other group.  To say otherwise is racism, of which there is a good bit around right now.

Meanwhile, despite strong public support for common sense gun regulations, our political system is unwilling to respond.  As usual, the United States Senate did its part by rejecting four rather modest proposals that only received a vote in the first place because of a filibuster by Connecticut Senate Chris Murphy.

When hopes are pinned on a measure so limited as restricting people on the “terrorist watch list” from getting guns, the bar really has been set incredibly low.  Yet, even that measure was much too high for 53 senators who saw the greater threat to this country in the possibility that some people might have been put on that list incorrectly.

Interestingly, in the same week, the United States Supreme Court refused to overturn a lower court ruling that Connecticut’s far reaching gun law is indeed constitutional.  Yet, for the NRA and its rented and purchased members of Congress, an absolutist interpretation of the Second Amendment seems to be the only civil right that matters.  Actually, no other provision in the Bill of Rights has been treated as an absolute, but that doesn’t stop supporters from making ridiculous claims.

At this point, nothing will change with the present composition of Congress.  The best hope is a Donald Trump-led electoral disaster for Republicans in the fall that results in a dramatic shift in membership in the House and the Senate.  Hillary Clinton’s strong support for gun regulations with a Democratically-controlled Congress should be powerful incentive for those who are appalled by the ongoing violence to get out and vote and support candidates with similar views.

Finally, I want to note a dilemma that Donald Trump has created for himself.  The New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton at present has $42 million in her campaign war chest while Trump has $1.3 million.  Both, as anyone with an email account realizes, are actively fundraising, but he has not been doing very well.

When Trump supporters are asked why they back him, a frequent response is that he is not beholden to anyone for money since he is so rich.  It’s an assertion that he made over and over again during the nomination process.   Does he run the risk of becoming just another politician asking for special interest money?  Or does he open up a fortune that he claims is $10 billion and actually finance his own campaign?

If you were looking for a classic example of someone being hoisted on his own petard, this would be it.  Trump is having all sorts of other problems with his campaign right now, but not being able to compete with Clinton in spending on media, staff and organization may prove to be the final straw.  Moreover, after months of relatively uncritical and incredibly extensive coverage by the media, the press is starting to examine and reveal much more about Trump’s claims as well as his qualifications and temperament.  He may be sailing into a perfect storm and it couldn’t happen to a more deserving person.

The Hogan Shuffle

larry hogan


There’s no question that Governor Larry Hogan is extremely uncomfortable with the Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump.  (Unless you are still deluding yourself that there will be a successful revolt at the convention in Cleveland, it’s pointless to keep referring to him as the “presumptive” nominee.”)

He’s been asked by the press on numerous occasions whether he is supporting Trump and has twisted himself into incredible contortions to avoiding responding.  Hogan even pretended the other day that he was unaware of the most recent obnoxious comments made by Trump in response to the mass murder in Orlando.

What’s odd about Hogan’s handling of the Trump problem is that he has consistently demonstrated real political skill, first by winning election in 2014 and then in navigating his first year and a half in office.  While there’s no guarantee that his public opinion approval will stay as high as it is now, it’s none the less very impressive.  His evasions on Trump make him look amateurish, which he certainly is not.

To be fair to Hogan, the dilemma that he is struggling with has been tripping up a lot of other Republican office holders.  The best example may be Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.  The Wisconsin Representative has badly tarnished his image and any claim to the high moral ground by his contradictory and shifting positions on Trump.  Can you really be greatly troubled by Trump’s racism and know-nothing appeal and still hold fast to your endorsement of him?

Paul Ryan, Larry Hogan and anyone not driven by hyper-partisanship knows that Donald Trump is not qualified to be president, that his temperament is eerily reminiscent of 20th Century fascists in Europe, and that he is blatantly appealing to the worst in Americans.  Surely this is a moment in which the best interests of the country and its future should be more important than whether your party’s standard-bearer is elected.

I’m confident that Larry Hogan has no intention of voting for Trump or supporting him in any tangible way.  Yet, he continues to do his version of the Ali shuffle, and he’s not doing it very well.  Maybe he is feeling pressure from his pal, Chris Christie, not to openly attack Trump.  If that’s the case, he might consider the damage that Christie’s image has suffered since he become Trump’s leading cheerleader and errand boy.

Hogan has the opportunity to rise above the slime that Trump is spreading across the political landscape.  Both reporters and Democrats will continue to hound him about his failure to speak out against Trump.  He could put all of that behind him and raise his stature among thoughtful voters by simply calling out Trump for the destructive force that he is.

The ugliness is only going to get worse between now and November.  There’s no new Trump who is going to make Republicans like Hogan feel good about their candidate.  The governor should cut his losses and reconcile himself, as Kathleen Parker suggested, to lose this election with dignity.

Brian Frosh: Principled and Courageous

In a time in which so many elected officials demonstrate neither principle nor courage, Brian Frosh reminds us that we don’t have to lower our standards. I’ve been a long-time fan of the Attorney General, yet he continues to amaze and impress me with his commitment to doing the right thing regardless of political opposition.

The latest example might have been imagined by George Orwell. A group of House Republicans,  members of that body’s “Science” Committee, wrote a letter to certain Attorneys General around the country in an effort to intimidate them. The AGs’ transgression: investigating deceptive practices and statements by the fossil fuel industry.  Specifically, their inquiry is focused on whether energy companies crossed the line into criminal behavior in their attempts to knowingly sabotage scientific evidence of man-made climate change.

In a letter signed by most, but not all, of the Committee’s Republican members and by none of the Democrats, Chairman Lamar Smith requested documents and communications from the investigation and suggested that the actions by the AGs “may even amount to abuse of prosecutorial discretion.”

Have you ever wondered why no Congressional Republican is on record as acknowledging climate change despite overwhelming scientific evidence? It’s not that they are stupid; rather, they are craven cowards.  The few Republicans who voiced support for climate change were promptly challenged and defeated in primaries.  The flip side of that coin is that much of the “dark money” that we have been reading about comes from the energy industry and strongly supports candidates who toe the coal and oil line.

What Smith and his colleagues were trying to demonstrate to their supporters was how enthusiastic they are about energy sources that cause pollution.  Their heavy-handed effort to scare opponents has run into strong resistance, none more colorful or unrelenting than that from Frosh.  If you read his letter back to Smith, rejecting their request and raising serious questions about their motives and their authority, you’ll quickly realize that the response was not composed by a committee or tested out with a focus group.  The letter is pure Brian Frosh, a fearless advocate for the environment and for truth.

The anti-scientists on the Science Committee suggest in their letter that there must be some sinister conspiracy involving Attorneys General communicating with environmentalists.   It does make you wonder whether the committee and its staff had communications with representatives of the fossil fuel industry as they prepared their missive.  Neither is prohibited, but the attempt to use the force of Congress to suppress the work of an independent level of government should send a shiver up the spine of anyone who actually cares about liberty.

Frosh’s stand raises a larger point as well.  Too many people in positions of responsibility are failing to speak out as demagogues, science and truth deniers and just plain liars roam the face of the political landscape.

The most recent example was the total capitulation to partisan politics by House Speaker Paul Ryan.  By endorsing Donald Trump in the face of Trump’s continuing outrageous statements, Ryan squandered his considerable reputation and public standing.  Ironically, he also made more likely what he was trying to avoid, Democrats recapturing the House of Representatives.  He and his fellow House Republicans are now tied firmly and unequivocally to whatever dishonest and coarse things their party’s presidential nominee says and does.

Over the years, I’ve often seen and had the opportunity to write about public officials who squander the potential of their office and are mostly concerned with their own self-image.  Some of them are shameless grandstanders; some of them take positions that buy cheap popularity in the short-term, but result in terrible public policy; some of them bully and berate people who are powerless to resist.  Those of you who fit any of these categories know who you are.

By contrast, Frosh, as Attorney General and before that as Chair of the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, has consistently stood up for causes that he believed were right regardless of whether they were politically popular.  He’s still leading the charge for sensible gun laws, is a vigorous advocate for consumer rights, and, as this example demonstrates, is relentless in his support of the environment.

It’s easy to get discouraged by this country’s national politics and by a presidential campaign that veers into the surreal at times.  In the craziest moments, it’s good to remember that there are public servants like Brian Frosh.


Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Party

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, who won a Vermont Senate seat running as a Socialist, is now trying to win the Democratic Presidential nomination. He has far exceeded initial expectations, continues to draw large crowds, and has a message about income inequality in this country that is clearly resonating with many voters.

Yet, he trails Hillary Clinton in the race for the nomination in every category including, most significantly, number of pledged delegates. As the process winds towards its conclusion and the Convention in Philadelphia in late July, Sanders has increasingly made complaints about the Party’s nominating rules a staple of his campaign rhetoric.

Does Sanders have a legitimate case or is he just turning into a sore loser?
It’s worth starting with the fact that, until this campaign, Sanders was not a member of the Democratic Party. While he does caucus with the Party in the Senate, he has not been a participant in any of the others ways in which Democrats engage in the work of their party organization.

That reality really does undercut Sanders’ standing to complain. When he decided to run for president, he did so knowing that there was an existing set of rules. No one forced him to run as a Democrat.  Moreover, you didn’t hear those complaints early in the process. They have arisen only as it has become evident that Sanders has only a very slight chance to prevail against Clinton.

Sanders has generally railed against a system that he describes as rigged. His observations about income inequality and about the perverse impact of money on the political system ring true for a lot of Americans, including many who support Clinton. In fact, those are themes that Sanders has been espousing for all his time as an elected official, but now he has a national audience for his message. The salience of his positions helps explain his outsized popularity among younger voters.

However, when he applies his “rigged system” complaint to the Democratic nominating process, he is on much weaker ground. He has focused his ire on two aspects of that process, the inclusion of so-called Super Delegates as automatic participants at the Convention and the closed primary rule that exists in many states.

Both arguments have been made without regard to the history that led to those two rules and to the context in which they exist. Sanders doesn’t like the impact on his candidacy but he has not been able to make a cogent case for why those two provisions are fundamentally unfair.

Primaries became the principal way in which candidates competed for delegates after the 1968 Election in which Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic nomination without running in a single primary. His selection at the Chicago convention that year was engineered by the power of the Party’s political bosses. That fact plus his loss to Richard Nixon in the General Election led Democrats to begin a complex process to reform how their nominee would be picked.

Over time, two party commissions, one chaired by South Dakota Senator George McGovern and the other by Maryland’s Barbara Mikulski, rewrote the rules. In addition to emphasizing the role of primaries in selecting delegates, Democrats gave more weight to gender and racial diversity in the composition of those who attended their convention.

The immediate result of this dramatic opening up of the process was the disastrous defeat of George McGovern in the 1972 election. McGovern, the choice of a very liberal convention, was too far out of the country’s political mainstream. It became clear that while political bosses completely dominating the process created a distorted outcome, their total absence had a different kind of negative result. Eventually, the effort to find a more balanced process led to the creation of Super Delegates, elected officials and others who have a stake in the political viability of the party’s candidate.

Is the current balance the correct one? That’s a reasonable point to debate, but not in the middle of a nominating process. Sanders knew, or should have known, what he was getting into and made plans accordingly.

Parties changes their rules all the time, usually in response to whatever happened in the prior election. Republicans, for example, front loaded their primary schedule after 2012 when it took a long time for Mitt Romney to wrap up the nomination. In a great illustration of the rule of unanticipated consequences, that accelerated schedule helped Donald Trump to run up a series of victories before he came under close scrutiny by either the press or his opponents.

In states that allow open primaries, where registered voters can choose which party primary to participate in, there is a real possibility that the outcome will be determined by individuals who are not members of the party. Crossover and independent voters have multiple objectives that often ignore what is best for the party in whose primary they are participating.

Primaries are not previews of the General Election. They are mechanisms for selecting delegates. If we are going to continue to have political parties as the main structures for organizing our elections, there is a much stronger case to be made for closed rather than open primaries.

And, as with Sanders’ other objections, the primary system was in place before he announced his candidacy. Unless you are incredibly naive, you realize that rules matter in politics and that you don’t get to change them when things are unlikely to go your way.

To some supporters, Sanders refusal to compromise and, indeed, his anger are appealing traits. In recent days and weeks, those characteristics have increasingly dominated his campaign. Neither portends success in governing, but that’s a different matter. While I fully agree that Sanders has every right to continue to campaign aggressively for the nomination, it’s beginning to look like he doesn’t care whether his efforts damage the ability of the party whose nomination he is seeking to win in November against Donald Trump.

That approach again reminds us that Bernie Sanders is not really a Democrat. For some voters, that’s part of his attraction. For others, it’s a clear demonstration that it’s time to close out the process and enable Hillary Clinton to devote her full attention and resources to preventing a Trump presidency with all its implications.

Off the Political Grid


Francisco FrancoDonald Trump

During a recent trip to Spain, I managed largely to ignore the political news that had been such an obsession before I left. To be sure, an occasional headline broke through or an email from a friend pointed out some particularly outrageous development. For the most part, however, I stopped reading newspapers, Politico news summaries and all the sage commentary.

Upon my return, I discovered that relatively little had changed. It turned out having immediate access to a breaking report or to the latest mudslinging was for the most part irrelevant. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

That conclusion is far from a statement that politics doesn’t matter or that we don’t need to make every effort to be well-informed about it. What it does mean, at least to me, is that we often get consumed with the details and miss the big picture. In an era where real-time communications seem so important — witness all the people you’ve seen walking along the sidewalk, head down, reading or writing on their smartphones — relatively little “breaking news” is actually crucial. News organizations that rush to get the story first often get it wrong.

My observations, at first glance, seem to conflict with the basic storyline that this is the year in which everything has changed.  We have the spectacle of two outsiders with no loyalty to the political parties whose nominations they are attempting to capture.  The two frontrunners have unprecedentedly high unfavorable ratings.   The political establishments of both parties are in disarray and increasingly ignored.   In addition, one candidate, with no experience in government, is appealing to the worst in human nature, blatantly disregarding the truth, and reminding many of the fascist dictators of the 20th Century.

None of these developments, however, happened overnight.  All of them can be traced to prior history.  One of the many ways in which the media has performed badly in this election is failing to examine the factors that have led to the political mess in which we find ourselves today.  Everything is about the next news cycle, the scoop, the latest incendiary attack.

What’s more, we still have ahead of us more than five months of what will likely turn out to be the ugliest presidential campaign in history.  Given the patterns of our recent politics, that shouldn’t come as a surprise either.

How do we come through this election with our democracy as well as our personal sanity intact ?  My hiatus in Spain suggests a couple of strategies.  First, it is really critical that we pay attention to the campaigns and what they tell us about the candidates.  That’s different from reacting, or overreacting, to every pronouncement, every accusation, every bit of spin. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump present vastly different backgrounds, policy positions, approaches to the office and appeals to voters.  It’s been a long time since the electorate was offered such a stark choice.

Secondly, if you believe the outcome of the election matters, then active involvement is essential.  The first thing my wife and I did after returning from our trip was to write checks to two campaigns that we think are important.  The biggest political mistake that some people of my generation made was to convince themselves in 1968, after a tumultuous Democratic nominating campaign, that there was no difference between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon.

This is the point at which my trip to Spain raised an important historical example.  After the Spanish Civil War in which the army under General Francisco Franco overthrew a democratically elected government, Franco ruled Spain as an absolute dictator for the next 36 years.  Critics frequently compare Trump to Adolph Hitler or Benito Mussolini, but I think the comparison to Franco is at least as troubling.

The Trump campaign is certainly not a military coup, but it has many of the same appeals that Franco offered to Spanish conservatives.  Moreover, while a Trump presidency would not last 36 years, it certainly could bring about fundamental changes in what we now think of as American democracy.

I don’t plan to go back off the political grid and I will do my best to keep political news in perspective.  If reasonable people stay engaged, don’t allow themselves to get distracted or discouraged by the pseudo-drama of the campaigns and remember that there is no such thing as a perfect, flawless candidate, there will not be a Trump presidency to worry about.  That bit of optimism, tempered by the necessity of working to make it happen, is the best that I can offer.



The Great Conservative Myth

Goldwater book

Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections. Invariably, soon after each defeat, some members of the party would allege that the outcome would have been different if only they had nominated a “true conservative.” Given that Ted Cruz, who is the most conservative national candidate since at least Barry Goldwater, offered himself as the savior of the right-wing of the party and got thoroughly rejected for the nomination, that’s going to be a hard argument to make from now on.

As many observers have noted about the rise of the Tea Party as well as the dismal showing of establishment candidates this year, conservative Republicans in office have not delivered on the many promises they  made to their base supporters. That fact alone does not fully explain Cruz’s failure.

In reality this country is not nearly as ideologically conservative as the zealots would like to believe. To be sure, there are portions of the country that consistently vote for true conservatives. That characterization applies mostly to the south although you can find other examples. In addition, there is strong support for what is often described as the conservative position on a number of specific issues. You can find social issue conservatives, fiscal conservatives, foreign policy neocons, but all those groups do not add up to a national majority. In fact, these various factions don’t even agree on what issues matter most.

Whatever else you say about Donald Trump, you can’t really call him a true conservative. Interestingly, Cruz kept making that argument and it did him no good. Republican voters weren’t looking for a reincarnation of Barry Goldwater.  They opted for someone who appealed to their fears and  prejudices.

What implications the defeat of Ted Cruz and the rise of Donald Trump have for the Republican Party and its candidates in this year’s General Election remain to be seen. Will “true conservatives” sit out the election? Will vulnerable Senate and House candidates distance themselves from the man at the top of the ticket? Will Republicans follow the advise of columnist Kathleen Parker and reconcile themselves to “lose the election with dignity”?

The Cruz Crash

Why didn’t Ted Cruz succeed in answering the prayers of all those true conservatives? One answer is that he ran into an electoral phenomenon in Donald Trump. However, that’s too easy a response and fails to take into account Cruz’s own responsibility for his loss.

Cruz entered the race as a much hated senator. John Boehner’s characterization of him this week as “Lucifer in the flesh” may be a clever turn of phrase but is a view  apparently shared by many of Cruz’s colleagues in Congress. His failure to get support from other elected officials was a glaring problem for his campaign.

He also made a huge error in not taking on Trump earlier in the campaign. Cruz praised Trump in the early going and acted like they were friends. That stance allowed Trump to develop momentum and gain early victories while other candidates dropped out. By the time Cruz got around to attacking Trump, it was too late and lacked credibility. Was it a failure of strategy or of nerve?

As the nominating process moved along, Cruz begin to look desperate. His choice of Carly Florina as his “running mate” had to be one of the most embarrassing moments in modern electoral history. Rather than leading to a bump in the polls, the decision became  fodder for every late night host’s opening monologue. As an aside, you do have to wonder if Florina will include her very brief stint as a veep candidate on her revised resume.

One of the ironies of Cruz’s loss is that Trump adopted the same scorched earth tactics that Cruz has employed in the senate. When the shoe was on the other foot, the Texas Senator didn’t know how to respond.

By the time Cruz withdrew from the race, his sterling conservative credentials proved to be no match for a opponent with no serious credentials and few if any clear beliefs or policies.  There’s plenty of room in the American political system for conservative views but little support for extreme conservative ideology.





Rules matter. They may or may not be fair, but they always have an impact. Moreover, understanding the rules can be an important political tool while not paying adequate attention to them can cause all sorts of problems.

There’s been a lot of talk recently–much of it complaining–about the rules governing the nominating processes in both the Democratic and Republican Parties. In quite different ways, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have argued that the system is rigged and the rules are unfair.

In Trump’s case, he has actually benefitted from a couple of rule changes that the Republican National Committee instituted after the 2012 election. It’s instructive to consider those changes because they are, as is so often the case, rules intended to correct what was perceived as a problem in the past.

The RNC hoped to get a nominee selected relatively early and without the circus atmosphere that characterized the 2012 nominating process. In pursuit of that goal, the party reduced the number of authorized debates and front-loaded the primary schedule.

As a result, Trump won several primaries before he had been seriously scrutinized by the press and before his opponents challenged his candidacy.  The absence of challenges came from lack of political courage by the other candidates, but the calendar made the problem worse. What the RNC didn’t anticipate when it reduced the number of debates was how crowded the stage would be.

Trump’s complaints about the delegate selection process on the other hand reflect a lack of organization within his campaign. Those rules were knowable to all prior to the start of the nominating season. Trump’s inattention to those rules may not end up costing him the nomination, but it has certainly extended the drama of the race.

Sanders, meanwhile, has argued that the existence of super delegates makes the nominating process unfair. Again, he knew about super delegates before he started his campaign, or should have, and more recently has shifted his stance and is actively trying to woo them.
The reason for their existence, whatever you think of it, has a rational basis as far as the Democratic Party is concerned.

The history here is a little longer. After the 1968 election, in which Hubert Humphrey won the nomination without entering a single primary, Democrats radically overhauled their process. New rules led to most delegates being selected in state primaries and to requirements about the diversity of those delegates. The new highly democratized rules led to the nomination of George McGovern in 1972 and his debacle in that year’s General Election.

Over time, the Party instituted buffers to regain a bit of influence in the nominating process. Political bosses did not come back, but super delegates–key party leaders in each state–became a significant part of the process. Super delegates enable the party establishment to tip the balance if there is no clear winner and reduce the chances of a candidate from way outside the mainstream getting the nomination.

In 2008, Barack Obama understood the nominating process much better than Hillary Clinton did and ended up winning a long, contested race by doing better in caucus states, picking up delegates where the rules were fluid, and, as his momentum grew, appealing successfully to super delegates. Hillary Clinton seems to have learned those lessons and has applied them successfully to her 2016 campaign.

Is this a rigged system? It certainly is structured to make it difficult for an outsider, an insurgent, to win. Bernie Sanders is discovering that; although given that he never called himself a Democrat before this election cycle, he shouldn’t be surprised. Yet, Donald Trump, who in many respects is at least as much an outsider as Sanders, is poised to win the Republican nomination.

And, as much attention as the rules of the nominating process have received this year, there are arguably several other rules that are actually much more significant in terms of the legitimacy of the election. One involves the efforts of a number of states to disenfranchise some voters through voter ID laws. Don’t kid yourself; anyone arguing that there is widespread voter fraud has a partisan political agenda and is trying to use the rules to influence the outcome. There should be an overwhelming presumption that everyone is entitled to vote unless a clear and decisive case can be made about specific abuses.

The rules about money in elections, altered dramatically by the Supreme Court in its Citizens United decision, have had a significant distorting impact on the electoral process. Presidential candidates of all parties have figured out how to raise obscene amounts of money and, to some extent, balance each other out. The really perverse impact has been in state and local elections where dark money can really tilt the playing field.

Another misguided Supreme Court decision that changed the rules for the worse was its nullification of key sections of the Voting Rights Act. The results have already been evident in places like Arizona, where state officials reduced the number of polling places by two-thirds and left voters to stand in line for hours. Unfortunately, that’s not the only example.

Rules are not neutral.  The Supreme Court’s intervention in the General Election of 2000 may be the most disturbing example of all. A 5-4 majority of the Court overrode a popular majority for Al Gore as well as local election procedures in Florida.

In 2016, the ultimate outcome of the General Election is unlikely to be determined by unfair rules or manipulation of them. However, the debate about the rules may well be important in turning public attention to the many imperfections in our electoral system. There will undoubtedly be efforts by both parties after this year to make corrections, but those changes are also likely to have as many unintended as intended consequences.

Carly Fiorina? Really?


fiorna and cruz

Ted Cruz’ latest desperate move suggests that he isn’t nearly smart as he keeps telling us he is. After going zero for five in the April 26 primaries, Cruz clearly does not have a coherent plan for staying relevant in the hunt for the Republican Presidential nomination. The Fat Lady is singing and Cruz’s gigantic ego is preventing him from hearing her aria.
In a crazy effort to get media attention, Cruz has announced that Carly Fiorina, a badly failed candidate in the Republican sweepstakes, will be his vice presidential running mate. Putting aside for a minute the fact that he can’t actually have a running mate unless he wins the Republican nomination, this may be the worst bit of strategy since Custer selected the site for his last stand.
What Fiorina bring to Cruz’s fantasy ticket is a doubling down on mean-spirited and nasty. However, he already had that constituency locked down. She is nothing but a female version of the Texas Senator.
Moreover, her political resume is thinner than thin. Fiorina’s only other venture into electoral politics was a loss in a California election for the U.S. Senate. She spent some  time during her presidential bid on the undercard, the so-called kid’s table, because of her consistently low standing in public opinion polls.  In fact, she brings no discernible strengths to this imaginary role.

As a presidential candidate, she will be remembered for two things, neither one of which will help the Cruz campaign.  Most famously, she kept indignantly referring to a totally discredited video about Planned Parenthood.  Evidence that it was a doctored fabrication didn’t faze Fiorina, but it certainly undercut what little credibility she had.

In addition, she was in the early going the most enthusiastic critic, again not constrained by any facts, of Hillary Clinton.  While the vice presidential nominee traditionally plays the role of attack dog in a General Election, this particular expertise of Fiorina’s is irrelevant since this team will not make it to the finals.
If the claim is that she brings business experience to the ticket, she and Cruz will have to deal with the many questions that have surrounded her tenure at HP. And you can count on Donald Trump to lead that charge just as he did when she was a candidate for the top position.
Actually, that point may provide a better clue as to Cruz’s thinking. Maybe he is hoping that the frontrunner, and all but certain nominee, will shift his focus from “Lying Ted” to his new running mate. That would at least be a rational motivation for selecting Fiorina. Other than that, the move looks like the desperate last gasp of a campaign that’s about to disappear from public view.

Yogi Berra, Emily’s List and Tuesday’s Primaries

If Yogi were still alive, he would be the first person to point out that the Fat Lady is singing. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, by scoring overwhelming victories in Tuesday’s primaries, have made clear to even the most skeptical observers that they will be the nominees of their parties in the 2016 Presidential Election.
That doesn’t mean that other candidates are likely to drop out immediately or that there aren’t any important questions yet to be settled.


In terms of the Fall election, there are two issues of paramount importance that come directly out of the nominating process beyond who the candidates are. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has a major decision to make. He has run an impressive campaign that has drawn lots of new voters into the process. He has raised significant amounts of money in a largely unprecedented manner. And most importantly, Sanders has made his issue, income inequality and a rigged financial and political system, central to the debate.
What do his supporters and all the energy they have brought to the process do next? The other day, Sanders argued that it was up to Clinton to show that she is worthy of their support. Even if there is some truth in that statement, it is ultimately an incredibly short-sighted perspective for him to take. At this point, Sanders has had his moment in the sun. Whether his movement has more than a transient life depends at least as much on him as on Clinton.
If he works hards for her election in November, as Clinton did for Obama in 2008, and urges his supporters to vote for her, he has a real opportunity to influence her agenda once in office. However, if he decides that the purity of his positions is more important than being involved in the ongoing political process, he will be a small footnote in American history.
It shouldn’t be a hard decision. The prospect of Donald Trump as president should make Sanders and his supporters enthusiastic backers of the former Secretary of State. It may take a little while to get to a comfort level with that position, but it’s hard to see an alternative that makes any sense at all.


The Republicans, staring in the face of a Trump nomination, have quite a different kind of dilemma. While this political season has vividly demonstrated that anything can happen, the party is looking at the very real possibility of Trump dragging down candidates running for other offices, most particularly in Senate and House races.

There have already been reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to figure out how to put distance between their campaigns and those of the presidential ticket. That won’t be easy to do since you can count on Democrats reminding voters constantly about Trump’s candidacy.


One of the biggest stories in Tuesday’s primaries was the major effort of Emily’s List to impact Senate nominating contests in Maryland and Pennsylvania. In its attempt to get more women into Congress, Emily’s List won in Pennsylvania and lost in Maryland, but the outcomes show how difficult it is to assign credit or blame for election results.
In the Maryland Senate Primary, Emily’s List spent $2.5 million in support of Congresswomen Donna Edwards’ attempt to win the nomination. She lost decisively to Congressman Chris Van Hollen but Emily’s List involvement was only one of many factors. Van Hollen had the support of most other elected officials in the state as well as a number of congressional leaders. He raised lots of money and ran a campaign that focused on his ability to get things done in Congress.
On the other hand, Edwards’ campaign was focused almost entirely on her identity as a black women hoping to succeed Barbara Mikulski and be the first African-American elected to the Senate from Maryland.
On its face, Edwards had a lot going for her in terms of the demographics of Maryland primary voters, but the results demonstrated that her effort to win on the basis of identity politics was unsuccessful. While she won her home county of Prince George’s by about 46,000 votes or almost two to one, he won his base in Montgomery County by 90,000 votes or four to one. Given that there have been more primary voters in Prince George’s than Montgomery in recent elections, that’s a stunning outcome.
Similarly, in Baltimore City, Van Hollen picked up nearly 40% of the vote, hardly the landslide that she needed to offset his advantage in other parts of the state. Moreover, her margin in the City was totally balanced out by the size of his victory in neighboring Baltimore County.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, Katie McGinty, also a beneficiary of Emily’s List support, won a decisive victory over former Congressman and 2010 nominee Joe Sestak. By contrast to Maryland, however, almost all of the Democratic establishment backed McGinty, a candidate who has never won an election before this.

Sestak had really annoyed party leaders in 2010 by refusing to step aside when Republican Senator Arlen Spector decided to change parties rather than risk losing a primary fight against Pat Toomey.  Sestak stayed in the race and beat Spector but then lost to Toomey in the General Election.  The other complaint against Sestak, similar to comments made about Edwards, is that he was difficult to get along with and wasn’t a team player.
Are there lessons for Emily’s List? A lot of Marylanders were very unhappy with the organization’s support for Edwards over Van Hollen given his strong record on women’s issue and overall effectiveness as a member of the House. In their laudable effort to back women for higher office, Emily’s List seems to have used gender as their only criterion. Their financial support for Edwards certainly made her more competitive, but at the end of the day, Emily’s List wasted resources that could have been put into other races and harmed its brand in Maryland.
In Pennsylvania, its backing of McGinty helped tip the balance in a contest that was much closer and in which she had broad support from the start. Additionally, most observers see Van Hollen and McGinty as much stronger candidates for the fall General Election than either Edwards or Sestak would have been.