Friday, September 29, 2017

Merkel Wins, But a New Right Arises

German Chancellor Angela Merkel won a fourth term on Sunday, making her Europe’s longest surviving and premier leader. But the election saw the emergence of the far right anti-immigrant, nationalist party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), as a major parliamentary opposition party. It received 11 percent of the vote in Western Germany, but 23 percent in the East to be the region’s second largest party after Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU).

Merkel’s campaign slogan was “Die Mitte,” The Center. Unfortunately, the center parties, CDU and Social Democratic Party (SPD), part of the ruling coalition, suffered major losses in this election. They went from a combined 67 percent of the vote in 2005 to 54 percent today. The SPD, which lost 20 percent of its 2005 vote, now claims it will go into opposition and not be part of the ruling coalition.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses supporters
after election win, Sept. 24, 2017 | Reuters
The rise of the AfD on Merkel’s right is largely a product of her immigration policy. Most CDU voters who did not vote for the party told the exit poll it was because of Merkel’s refugee policy. But the new right didn’t just draw from Merkel’s CDU. In fact, it took nearly a third of the SPD lost votes (500,000) and 40 percent of CDU/CSU decline (1 million). AfD also attracted more than 1.2 million non-voters from the 2005 election.

While Merkel won, forming a new government will be difficult and the new coalition less stable. Her party is now weaker and the pro-EU, pro-refugee policies will be on the defensive.

Wall Street Journal: Rising right dents Merkel’s win
Wall Street Journal: Strong Showing by Nationalist Party Jolts German Politics
The Guardian: What the stunning success of AfD means for Germany and Europe

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Japan Calls Snap Election in Korean Crisis

Shinzo Abe, given good marks for handling the North Korean crisis and building a relationship with Donald Trump, has called a snap election one year earlier than required. Abe has been moving up in recent polls after a drop due to corruption scandals affecting him and his wife (79% of public say they are unhappy with government’s explanation of the scandal in new Kyodo News poll).

With his recent improvement in the polls, he wants to hold the election before new rivals and controversies erupt. The latest polls show his party (LDP) in the lead, but with many people undecided.

Abe was the first world leader to establish a relationship with President Trump at a high-profile visit to Mar-a-Lago in February. It has helped keep him in the limelight at subsequent meetings of world leaders. In office five years, Abe is hoping the North Korean missile threat and his quick actions with Trump will give him momentum to hold a majority for another term and refresh his mandate.

Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo
and President Donald Trump dine at Mar-a-Lago
A new political movement based around the popular governor of Tokyo may be Abe’s and the LDP’s main threat. Yuriko Koike could be the center pole in a new national party (Party of Hope). Like many mature democracies, old center parties are vulnerable.

A few other factors effecting the election:
  • The economy has improved after years of stagnation
  • The Emperor will abdicate soon, an important cultural event
  • Changing the constitution to modify the pacifist clause is still controversial without a clear mandate to change
  • There are 475 seats lower house (Diet) has power. LDP-Komeito bloc has 316 (66%). Election scheduled for October 22.
Read CNN: Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo calls snap election

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Republicans’ Dance Card Nearly Full

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton
Photo: Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette
With the entry of Walker Stapleton, the Republican line-up for governor appears complete. However, just to maintain a little suspense, two names continue to be mentioned. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has been coy about her intentions. She would be a formidable candidate from having been the highest Republican vote-getter in 2014 and after three years of sparing and periodically cooperating with Governor Hickenlooper.

Also back in his self-promoting mode is perennial insurgent Tom Tancredo. He would be mostly a spoiler, but his anti-immigration, anti-establishment position attracts reliable activists among the party’s faithful.

Stapleton must be considered a frontrunner for the nomination. His assets include serious fundraising depth with national Bush family contacts and a host of issues to run on – PERA reform, anti-tax positions (opposing single-payer/billion dollars for education initiatives) and term limits. But Stapleton is the epitome of the establishment in an era that seems to reward the outsider and the edgy insurgent.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Partisanship Defines the Era

Although people still like to deny party loyalty, party-line voting is on the rise. In fact, partisanship is so intense that 33 percent of Democratic parents do not want their children to marry a Republican and 49 percent of Republican parents would have their daughter avoid a Democrat, a tenfold increase of parents holding the view since 1960. Party prejudice is now stronger than race or religion.

It’s not surprising that the presidency, the peak of partisan identity, is highly polarized. Today, more than 80 percent of Republicans regularly tell pollsters they approve president’s job performance and barely 10 percent of Democrats do the same. That split, as the table below shows, is at record levels. Seventy-one percent of voters now have opposite positions on presidential performance, up from 35 percent in the 1960s and in the 50 percent range as recently as the Clinton and Reagan presidencies.

Partisanship has also spurred down ticket voting, with 90 plus percent of partisans voting through a ballot of federal officials, starting with the president and staying with one party through senators and congresspersons. But partisanship affects voters’ views not just of candidates, but on a host of issues, including the state of the economy. The supporters of the party in control of this White House tend to be more positive about the economy today and its direction than the out party. Of course, media audiences are highly skewed by partisanship, with Republicans watching Fox and online with Breitbart and Democrats watching MSNBC and linking to Huffington Post.

And now, who do you want your daughter to marry?

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Trump Presidency: “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly”

Two hundred and fifty participants of the OLLI educational program began the 2017-18 school year with a presentation on the Trump presidency after seven months. The title, “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly,” provided a framework for a view of what has gone right, gone wrong and what the politics is producing, which in America today tends to be ugly.

The 1966 Spaghetti Western, which was initially mostly criticized as too vulgar and too violent, is now recognized as bringing a new and much copied style into the American Western film genre. The film offers an instructive framework for the political era we are in. Today, anti-heroes rule, the language is caustic, the demonstrations and the talk shows are more violent, and everyone is against the establishment. In the Sergio Leone film, the anti-heroes fought law enforcement, the army and each other, and today, it is anything from Washington.

The nature of the presidency and how historians judge it began the presentation, followed by a review of the:

Watch tribute video of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly here

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Record Crowd – Hill and Ciruli Speaking to Denver Eclectics

Former Ambassador and Dean of the Korbel School of International Studies, Christopher Hill, and Floyd Ciruli, director of the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research, will present a talk on November 10 to a record crowd of 330 members of the Denver Eclectics.

The following describes the program.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Afghanistan: A Decision That Both the Public and the Base Dislikes

The Afghanistan decision may have been President Trump’s most difficult. He did not want to raise the ante in what looks like a losing proposition. He has railed frequently on how poorly it’s been handled and how we should just get out. But after weeks of wrangling with the Pentagon and the generals in his administration, he went with their recommendation for more time and troops.

He only made it only after a long meeting at Camp David with his full national security team.

While he gave a speech as to why he went against his preference, he was vague as to what exactly was committed. But Trump’s instinct on ending America’s participation in the Afghanistan war is in alignment with a plurality of public opinion and his most ardent supporters of the Steve Bannon wing of the base. In fact, Bannon’s exit from the White House was expedited by his resistance to the military’s recommendations on Afghanistan.

Although Republicans supported Trump’s decision, with 66 percent among whites with no college degree (4-year), only 48 percent agreed with nearly two-fifths opposed (39%).

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Bannon Goes to War Against GOP Establishment

Charlie Rose interviews Steve Bannon on
"60 Minutes," Sept. 10, 2017 | CBS News
A bigger problem for the GOP than what Trump working with Democrats could do to the Republican senate and congressional races in 2018 is what Steve Bannon announced on 60 Minutes that he’s going to do outside the White House. Even before Bannon’s interview, speculation was rife that Trump has fatally damaged incumbent Republican Senators Flake’s (AZ) and Heller’s (NV) reelections. He praised and cajoled Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp for a tax cut/reform vote at his North Dakota rally, while Republicans had made her one of their top targets. In addition, between Trump and the ridged ideologists in the Republican House, two swing district incumbents in Pennsylvania and Washington State announced retirement.

But, Bannon and his alt-right media outlets, like Breitbart, intend direct action to fight Republican incumbents that don’t tow the Trump line. They are setting in motion a local dynamic where Trump acolytes and more general supporters are blaming Republican congresspersons and senators for Trump’s many problems (lack of progress on health care, Russian investigations, Charlottesville press conference, etc.). In the interview, Bannon made clear he and these voters are either encouraging primaries or are suggesting they simply won’t vote for various incumbents in 2018. And, of course, it’s state and swing district incumbents who are most likely to express some reservations about Trump concerning his character or the legislative agenda.

Bannon’s and Trump’s strategy of internecine conflict is making it much easier for “Nancy” and “Chuck” to achieve their November 2018 majorities.

President Donald Trump and former White House Chief
Strategist Steve Bannon | Getty Images

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Trump Approval Should Pop Up

Donald Trump is having an overdue good week. Presidents and governors who handle weather crises benefit; they even get extra benefit when the damage is less than expected.

The public loves bipartisanship and is desperate for some action in Washington. His “Chuck and Nancy” moment has been well-received, especially by legacy media, which at the moment, he doesn’t believe is fake.

Hope for a tax cut increased slightly this week, along with the market and investor optimism. Trump appears to be staying focused on it.

Charlottesville produced the worst numbers of his presidency, 57 percent negative to only 37 percent positive on the RealClearPolitics average (August 13, 2017). He spent most of August below 40 percent. Today, his average has improved to 56 percent negative and 40 percent positive. Expect Trump to finally get back above 40 percent positive. His recent high was 44 percent positive on May 2 right after his first 100 days. It’s been a slog since then.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Studio 1600

Donald Trump rearranged the politics of Washington on Wednesday, September 6 with his decision to go with “Chuck’s” and “Nancy’s” three-month debt limit. He did it in his Studio 1600, where with the Resolute Desk and the Oval Office couches he stages most of his political theater (see blogs: Trump Backs the Democrats’ Debt Limit and Kelly Needs to be a Theater Director).
President Donald Trump meets with bipartisan group of
congressional leaders and members of his economic team in
Oval Office, Sept. 6, 2017 |
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
The political impact was felt most abruptly on the Hill where Republican leadership and its legislative strategy were upended. A round of media and pundit speculation was launched concerning the impact on Paul Ryan and his seldom happy or unified caucus and on Mitch McConnell being able to align the Senate with the administration on the legislative agenda.
The broader political effect is also beginning to register. Trump, the independent, was one story in the New York Times suggesting he could run as an independent in 2020, but suggesting for now, the Republicans may need to assume Ross Perot was elected in 2016 and negotiate accordingly.
Expect Studio 1600 to be the staging ground for a major challenge to the establishment Republican Party, its leadership and its power.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Donna Lynne Enters Crowded Democratic Primary – KOA Interview With April Zesbaugh and Ed Green

In the first Democratic primary for governor in two decades, Lt. Governor Donna Lynne jumps into the crowded five-person race. The last primary also featured a woman lieutenant governor. Lt. Governor Gail Schoettler won the Democratic primary in 1998 and went on to closely lose the general election to Republican Bill Owens.

Donna Lynne is an accomplished executive, but has minimal political experience. With a crowded, competitive field, Governor Hickenlooper can help behind the scenes, but this will be a fight she must win. Success will depend on her speaking and debating ability and talent at cajoling volunteers and donors. Endorsements, money and media savvy will be early indicators if Ms. Lynne can move quickly to the front the field.

As a political moderate with much executive experience, she would likely be a strong candidate in the general election. But, it is not clear Democrats want a manager or a fighter as their nominee in 2018. The party’s mood hardly seems moderate. Candidates and activists are negotiating positions on single-payer health care, sanctuary cities, 100 percent renewables and hostility to President Trump.

Health care, which is Ms. Lynne’s expertise, is both an asset and a liability. Premiums are going up, Obamacare, which she has been managing, is in trouble and many Democrats want Bernie Sanders’s single-payer system.

What the Lynne effort may mostly indicate is that the Hickenlooper wing of the party and many professionals see the Democrats losing the governor’s race if the party doesn’t steer in a more centrist direction. Besides being highly qualified, Hickenlooper hopes she can defend the administration’s style and relationships that has been successful with the state’s moderate voters and political donors.

Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne and Governor John Hickenlooper at the
 Colorado State Capitol in Denver, Mar. 23, 2016 | Cyrus McCrimmon/Denver Post

Friday, September 8, 2017

Trump Backs the Democrats’ Debt Limit

In what had to be Mitch McConnell’s and Paul Ryan’s worst Trump experience – and there have been numerous low points – they had to sit and listen as President Trump, after some discussion, decided to support Chuck Schumer’s and Nancy Pelosi’s three-month debt ceiling extension with hurricane funding and a continuing resolution.

Republicans felt blindsided by a bad deal, but Trump was joyous over having struck a deal and effusive in his praise of the two Democrats without mentioning the Republican leadership.

President Donald Trump speaks to (L to R) Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell, Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority
Leader Nancy Pelosi in the Oval Office, Sept. 6, 2017 | Evan Vucci/AP
It demonstrates:
  • Trump is desperate for some legislative action that will be judged as progress.
  • He has no rapport with the Republican Hill leadership. In fact, tweaking them is pleasant and fires up the base
  • Republicans’ internal fights over entitlements, debt and deficits are of little interest to him. He wanted health care as an accomplishment and really believes tax cuts will be a legacy item, but the fiscal issues are inside baseball.
  • The optics was perfect for Trump. He’s in the Oval Office (his studio), the parties are asking for his decision and he pulls a surprise. Top ratings.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (L) and President Donald
 Trump in the Oval Office, Sept. 6, 2017 | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Expect more effort to strike bargains with Democrats if Republicans can’t settle their differences and unite behind a position.

Trump’s Slippage Continues

The Orange County Register resident conservative/libertarian public intellectual Joel Kotkin just called for the removal of Donald Trump in spite of his usefulness in bringing disruption to a deadlock and progressively dominated D.C. establishment. Or as Kotkin put it:
“The great disrupter is rapidly becoming a great disaster – for the country, his party and even his own political base. In order to save anything from his landmark 2016 victory, President Donald Trump must go – the sooner, the better.” (Sept. 3, 2017)
Trump is increasingly losing his party and the American people based on his ill-disciplined behavior and venomous attacks – his general lack of character. Kotkin may be ahead of the Republicans that have been Trump’s hardcore base due to preferring his policies, but they appear to be moving in his direction.

August was a devastating month for President Trump. The latest Fox News poll has 56 percent of the public believing he is “tearing the country apart.” And a new Pew Research poll shows Trump losing nearly two-thirds of Republican (64% “don’t like” or “mixed feelings”) support due to his character.

Trump is now beyond six months into his presidency. The start-up excuses are waning. Winter is coming.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Charlottesville Changed the Trump Presidency – 9News, Kim Christensen

Tragedy often changes a president’s policies and politics. President Bush became a war president after 9/11 and never entirely recovered from the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina and its blow to New Orleans. President Trump is currently dealing with Hurricane Harvey and the Texas coast, but the August 12 violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and his subsequent press conference are still affecting his public image, his relationship with fellow Republicans and the corporate leadership he had recruited to serve on various White House councils.

In a 9KUSA interview on Wednesday, August 16, with Kim Christensen at the 4:00 pm news, what a teacher would tell high school or college students was discussed. Some points made were:
  • Although we’ve had a black president for eight years, anti-Semitic, KKK and neo-Nazi views are not new and appear repeatedly in American politics.
  • America has been undergoing rapid change, there is a lack of trust in institutions, and deep divisions based on party and political beliefs.
  • That the American political creed requires respect for unpopular views so it’s important to have skills at non-violent debates with people who a person disagrees with.
  • Many students are not familiar with the basic tenets of American democracy that allows majority rule, but protects minority rights.
  • American people overwhelmingly reject neo-Nazi and White Supremacist views (83% unacceptable).
Polls subsequent to the Charlottesville event and Trump’s handling of it.

In a PBS NewsHour, NPR/Marist poll of August 14-15, 2017, 52 percent of respondents think Trump didn’t issue a “strong enough” statement on the violence in Charlottesville. An early Washington Post-ABC News poll (Aug. 16-20, 2017) agreed and showed disapproval of President Trump by two-to-one (56% to 28%). But in the earlier NPR poll, 62 percent believed statues of confederate leaders should “remain as historical symbols” vs. “removed as offensive” (27%). Also, many Republicans tend to believe there is “a lot of discrimination against” white people (42%) and Christians (48%).

This became a moment when Americans and citizens around the world would expect the U.S. president to act as the sovereign, the symbolic head of state, and condemn evil and call for unity and healing.

Trump tried, but mostly his reaction was as the head of Trump Nation, something between offering color commentary of the events and a defender of what he believed were “good people”; i.e., protectors of confederate statues. It was a poor choice of roles and disastrous timing. He paid dearly. In a Pew Research poll at the end after event of August 15, Donald Trump was judged harshly for his conduct as president, even by Republicans who have been faithfully approving of his presidency, especially on issues. More than half of the public (58%) don’t like his conduct and almost two-thirds of Republicans (65%) now have either mixed feelings or don’t like his conduct.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Hickenlooper and Kasich Offer Bipartisan Health Care Plan – Susan Witkin, KOA

“Goddammit, I’d piss on a spark plug if I thought it’d do any good!”
(General Beringer, WarGames, 1983)
The American people are so desperate for breaking the gridlock in Washington and making some progress on health care that they will welcome the improbable plan of Governors Hickenlooper and Kasich. In a Friday, September 1 interview with KOA’s Susan Witkin, we discussed the politics of the initiative.

The Hickenlooper/Kasich (with six other governors) got very strong coverage over Labor Day weekend. They sent a letter to Congress and will testify before the Senate Health Care Committee on September 7. Of course, as can be expected with any bipartisan effort, the right and left immediately attacked it as too little or too much (not repeal - right, not single-payer – left). But the governors labeled it as a pragmatic first step presented by the executives who will be held most responsible by voters if the current system simply collapses next year.

Can bipartisanship actually gain some traction? There are at least a handful of senators that would support a stop-gap measure and more than 40 House members of the Problem Solvers Caucus who had their own bipartisan plan issued last July. But legislative leadership is differential to the extremes in their respective camps and the congressional process is cumbersome and can be derailed.

Both Kasich and Hickenlooper are ambitious and want to be part of the national conversation on how to break the gridlock (and possibly move on to a new job). It remains difficult to see how either one of them can affect their respective parties, but there is clearly a vacuum, which they are enjoying trying to fill.

See The Buzz: Country ready for an independent?