The Hogan Shuffle

larry hogan

NOT LONG AFTER THIS BLOG WAS POSTED, LARRY HOGAN LET IT BE KNOWN THAT HE IS NOT PLANNING TO VOTE FOR DONALD TRUMP IN THE GENERAL ELECTION.  SINCE HE HAS NEVER PAID ATTENTION TO MY SUGGESTIONS IN THE PAST, I CAN’T CLAIM CREDIT FOR HIS CHANGE OF HEART.  STILL, IT’S GOOD TO SEE THE GOVERNOR MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION AND DISTINGUISH HIMSELF FROM MINDLESS SUPPORTERS LIKE PAUL RYAN.  AND I’M QUITE SURE THAT BRUCE POOLE WILL BE HAPPY TO SUPPLY HIM WITH A HILLARY CLINTON SIGN FOR HIS YARD.

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.

 

THE RULES OF POLITICS

 

VOTING BOOTH

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.

DONALD TRUMP AND THE NOMINATING PROCESS
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.

THE SANDERS CHALLENGE
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.

RULES AND ELECTIONS
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.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE SANDERS MOVEMENT?

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 TRUMP DILEMMA FOR REPUBLICANS

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.

THE IMPACT OF EMILY’S LIST

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.

The April 26 Democratic Presidential Primary

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Much to the surprise of almost everyone, this year’s April 26 Primary actually matters. Both parties structured their nominating processes in the hope that a candidate would be determined by no later than March. Not this year.

The Republicans seem to be barreling toward a convention in which the outcome won’t be decided until multiple ballots have been cast. It would be hard to call it a “brokered” convention, however, since there really are no brokers any more.

Assessing the horrors of having to choose between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz will have to wait for another day. Today’s blog is focused on the Democratic Party contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
There is widespread amazement that the Socialist from Vermont is drawing huge crowds, winning state contests and still actively contesting the nomination.

However, if you think about it, a similar dynamic occurred in 2008. Barack Obama jumped out to an early lead and did a good job of organizing and understanding the rules of the process, but didn’t wrap up the nomination until June. Some critics would like to attribute the protracted contest to Hillary Clinton’s flaws as a candidate, but there’s really much more going on than that.

To be clear, Clinton, like all the candidates seeking the presidency, is imperfect. That’s always been the reality of presidential elections. As much as we yearn for a savior, we never get flawless candidates.
Clinton has made some serious errors of judgment–including deciding to use a private email server while Secretary of State and accepting enormous speaking fees from Wall Street even knowing she was going to run for president. She also gets tarred by some of Bill Clinton’s transgressions.

At the same time, she has been the victim of numerous attacks that have no basis in reality. Just as many of the allegations made while Bill Clinton was president did not hold up under careful examination, the unending efforts of Congressional Republicans to find a scandal concerning Benghazi have tarnished them more than her. Among the only allegations that have not been thrown at her so far are that she was born in Kenya and is secretly a Muslim.

To argue, as Bernie Sanders has recently, that Clinton is not qualified to be president is utter and complete nonsense. She has one of the strongest sets of credentials of any candidates in modern electoral history. Clinton, with eight years as Senator from New York, four years as Secretary of State, and eight years as the nation’s First Lady, has more experience than any candidate since George H.W Bush.

Let’s also acknowledge that she faces the unprecedented challenge of seeking to be the first female president. No one else is critiqued about what they wear, what their hair style is, and how their voice sounds.
Part of her dilemma is that Clinton is the establishment candidate in a year in which there is incredible unrest and anger. She’s been on the national stage for more than two decades and is hardly in a position to run as an outsider.

And give Sanders a lot of credit for tapping into the anger so effectively. I absolutely understand what many people find appealing about him. Sanders is right about the growing inequality in this country that arises in significant measure from a system that disproportionately benefits those with the most financial resources. He is, in many ways, the logical successor to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Unfortunately, Sanders has the same fundamental problem that Occupy Wall Street did. He has lots to say about the flaws in the current system, but little to offer in terms of remedies.

Even before his disastrous interview with the New York Daily News, Sanders was always short on details and specifics. In that interview, he wasn’t able to offer any insights into how he would break up the big banks despite having that mantra as the core of his campaign from the very start.

Sanders, in promising Medicare for all and free college, may be addressing important public policy issues, but he totally disregards any political or fiscal realities. You don’t have to be a deficit hawk to be concerned with the gigantic impact his proposals would have on the federal deficit. Of course, that’s not really a worry since his agenda would be dead on arrival even if Democrats regain control of Congress after the November election.

Sanders has made a real contribution to the nominating process in raising important issues and forcing Hillary Clinton to respond to them. I think that was his original objective in running, but his unexpected success thus far has led him to move to more of an attack mode. There’s little chance that he can actually win the nomination and, frankly, even less chance that he could translate his campaign themes into effective governance.

That gets us back to Clinton. I would much rather have her making appointments to the Supreme Court, defending the Affordable Care Act, working to get sensible gun laws, trying to wake the country up to the dangers of climate change, and being a voice for diplomatic solutions as a first resort than any of the other candidates in the race.

While I am less than comfortable with some of her foreign policy positions, which strike me as perilously close to those of Republican neocons, all of the Republicans are much scarier and prone to impulsive, even irrational, actions. Sanders, meanwhile, seems totally over his head in foreign affairs and really isn’t prepared to be Commander-in-Chief.

Electing Clinton just because she would be the first women president is not enough of a reason, but, given how much better she is than all of the others who are running, it’s definitely a bonus.

Having a voice in a process that’s usually over by now is a great opportunity to impact an election that really may be the most important any of us can remember.

Filling Barbara Mikulski’s Shoes

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Following a legend is always a tall order. Barbara Mikulski has served in elected office since 1971 and in Congress since 1977. She has been in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate longer than any other woman and is the first female senator from Maryland. After 30 years in that job, she is stepping down after this year.

Those statistics, however, barely begin to describe Mikulski’s impact and the long shadow she has cast over Maryland politics. While still a member of the Baltimore City Council, she helped rewrite the rules for the Democratic Presidential nominating process. She’s been a national figure as a result of both her considerable political skills and her dynamic personality.

In Congress, Mikulski has been a leader on women’s issues, on policies regarding cities and poverty, and was one of only a handful of senators to vote against the Iraq War authorization.

Even before she become the first Senator from Maryland to chair the Appropriations Committee, she was an effective and resourceful advocate for programs and funding that benefitted the State. As charismatic a speaker as Mikulski is, her impact has come much more from actions than from words.

While it would be asking too much of the Democrats vying to succeed her to expect them have a similar impact any time soon, her approach to the office does provide a template for assessing their candidacies.  Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen, both members of the U.S. House of Representatives, are presenting fundamentally different arguments in support of their campaigns for office.

Edwards, with the significant financial backing of Emily’s List, has been emphasizing the fact that she would be the first African-American senator elected from the State of Maryland. She is also stressing her desire to keep the seat in the hands of a woman, an argument that clearly carried great weight with Emily’s List.

The 4th District Congresswoman is generally described as a passionate advocate for progressive causes. On the other hand, she is almost never, other than in her own campaign materials, portrayed as an effective advocate for those causes.  Additionally, she is not known as a representative who has worked closely with other members of Congress. As a result, her candidacy relies more on identity politics than on a record of actual accomplishments.

Van Hollen is in many respect the opposite of Edwards. He rose remarkably quickly to acquire influence and respect within the leadership of the House of Representatives. The 8th District Congressman led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is the ranking member of the Budget Committee, and has been deeply involved in efforts, including on the budget, to forge bipartisan agreements.

While skepticism about the significance of endorsements is certainly justified, the pattern of endorsements for Edwards and Van Hollen is worth examination. Van Hollen has received most of the high-profile endorsements, including from two African-American County Executives in Maryland, Rushern Baker in Edwards’ backyard of Prince George’s County and Ike Leggett in neighboring Montgomery County.

Edwards, predictably, is dismissive of endorsements even while she lists a number of local Prince George’s officials on her website. Perhaps of greatest significance is the absence of an endorsement for her from the Congressional Black Caucus. Newspaper reports suggest a combination of Baker’s support for Van Hollen and the difficulty some other caucus members have had in working with Edwards as the explanation.

One other endorsement that has received a lot of attention came from 2014 gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur. In an op/ed, Mizeur blasted Edwards for poor and unresponsive constituent services and contrasted that record to Van Hollen’s efforts.

The April 26 Primary is likely to be close. Women constitute roughly 60% of the turnout in a Democratic primary in Maryland while African-Americans make up 40% of the vote. Polls have shown a tight contest, but the next two weeks will be crucial.

Their respective bases may be the key. Will Van Hollen come out of Montgomery County with a large lead? His worry has to be the embarrassingly low turnout in that jurisdiction in recent primaries. Additionally, can Van Hollen do well enough in Baltimore County, which has been the pivotal area in so many Maryland elections?

Similarly, can Edwards run up a large majority in the county–Prince George’s– with the most Democratic voters? She also has to hope that a contested mayoral race in Baltimore City will result in higher than normal turnout, working to her advantage.

Between now and election day, there will be many ads, some of which will be misleading or totally inaccurate, such as Edwards’ discredited claim that Van Hollen supported cuts in social security. There may well be additional endorsements, although Mikulski has vowed to remain neutral. There will be get-out-the-vote efforts which will be more or less effective.

If you judge by record, experience and potential to be a worth successor to Mikulski, Chris Van Hollen is the clear choice. He has already demonstrated that he has the skills, temperament and drive to do the job. Emily’s List, in overlooking his unwavering support for issues that are paramount to their agenda, undercut its own credibility.  Edwards has to hope that voters will focus on symbolism over substance and ignore her thin record.

In an election where Democrats have a good chance to regain control of the Senate, nominating a candidate who can win in November and then be an effective member of a new majority is vitally important.  That candidate is Chris Van Hollen.