Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Japan-U.S. Alliance and the 2020 Election

A panel with Professor Koji Murata of Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan, explored the Japan-U.S. alliance in the light of current American public opinion, especially with some of the changed policies of the Trump administration. On March 2, the professor was joined by Senior Researcher Dina Smeltz of the Chicago Council on Global Affair in a panel on the Japan-U.S. Alliance and the 2020 election. Also participating as discussants were: Ambassador Christopher Hill, professor of diplomacy, and Professor Suisheng (Sam) Zhao, director of Korbel’s China Center. I moderated the panel. Dean Fritz Mayer did the welcome.

Japan-U.S. Alliance and the 2020 Election 

Panel Discussion, March 2, 2020

Professor Koji Murata, Researcher Dina Smeltz, Professor Suisheng Zhao, Ambassador Christopher Hill, Dean Fritz Mayer (welcome), Professor Floyd Ciruli (moderator)

Professor Ciruli: This panel is to continue the dialogue to underscore the Japan-U.S. benefits to both parties and the relationship’s challenges and strengths.

Professor Murata: The current U.S.-Japan alliance is very strong and stable and the relationship between Abe and Trump is sound. Abe is among the very few friends of Trump on the international stage. 

There are some challenges. Last year at the G20 Summit, Trump said the U.S.-Japan alliance is unfair, claiming if Japan is attacked, the U.S. would have to protect Japan, but not vice versa; “they would just watch it on Sony TVs.” Of those who would attack the U.S. – North Korea, Russian or China – the first targets would be the U.S. bases in Japan, so we wouldn’t be watching it on TV.

The U.S.-Japan alliance is asymmetrical. If Japan is attacked, young people might die defending Japan, but Japan has provided the location of U.S. bases for more than 70 years, resulting in incidences of crime, pollution, etc., so Japan incurs ongoing impact as well.

Japan and the U.S. can do more than just maintain a military alliance – in science, cyber security, etc., they should cooperate. For example, in cyber security, more Pacific countries should be involved. Japan is involved in capacity building in this area. On the pandemic and other issues, we need global cooperation. Japan is trying to help China with the coronavirus, but Chinese ships still violate Japanese waters. These behaviors damage our mutual understanding.

The biggest challenge for the alliance is China. The U.S. has strategically located bases in the area. Some Chinese people claim that the coronavirus was spread by people from the U.S. Around 2025, Chinese GDP will exceed U.S. GDP. But also at this time, India’s GDP will surpass China’s GDP. By 2025, Chinese will lose a large part of its working population. Its population is shrinking.

Now everyone in Japan is talking about the U.S. presidential election. The coronavirus is causing postponement of Xi’s visit to Japan. Abe already has his pick for the next prime minister. Japan’s general election will follow the Tokyo Olympics. All these external issues are affecting Abe’s calculation for Japan’s next election.

Researcher Smeltz: The Chicago Council Survey started in 1974 when Dr. Henry Kissinger obtained funding from the Ford Foundation. The 2019 survey was conducted last June with 2,000 people nationwide. The context was a view that America was retreating from foreign policy and the international stage. 
What we found is that Americans have always supported (7 in 10 now – one of the highest levels) taking an active part in world affairs, such as engaging in trade, providing humanitarian aid, etc. These policies are the bedrock of American policy and have been since WWII.

Our Asian and European allies have borne the brunt of criticism from President Trump. Yet, the public believes these alliances are beneficial to U.S. Regarding Europe, across the board people want to maintain our alliances or even increase them. Regarding trade deals, 63 percent say both sides benefit from trade deals. Trade and the positives trade brings receive some of the highest support we’ve seen no matter the political party of the respondent.

Japan scores the highest in strengthening U.S. national security. Japan also is seen as a partner and ally, but with less influence than other countries. Americans have always supported bases in Japan and that support is especially high now. One reason for this could be the number of active duty military there. The majority of the public – the highest numbers in recent years –supports defending Japan from North Korea. Support is lower regarding China, especially over disputed islands. People have started paying more attention to these issues with the advent of Trump and his tweets.

Americans are tempered as to whether China is a threat – yes, it’s an economic threat, but not militarily. As to the graying of China, the sale of adult diapers exceeds baby diapers.

The rise of China has solidified the alliance with Japan and South Korea. Most Americans see that as important, while believing America should engage China rather than contain it. Tensions with China aren’t as evidenced among the general public as in elite dialogues.

Questions from Ambassador Hill and Professor Zhao

Ambassador Hill: I found the survey results reassuring. One of his great headaches as the Asst. Sec. of Asia was dealing with the issue of bases. It wasn’t just the occasional “incidents.” How do Japanese feel in the long run about American bases and, in particular (and this has come up in South Korea about paying the U.S.), what if there were no U.S. troops in Korea? Would Japan be okay being the only Asian country housing U.S. troops?

Also, regarding the constitution that MacArthur put together limiting Japanese defense spending to 1 percent of GDP: PM Abe has considered changing that, but it had little political support. Where does that stand?

And, you talked about the Chinese population: Can you talk about the Japanese population of 126 million?

Also – How is Abe doing in his current term in office?

Professor Zhao: Regarding the U.S.-Japan alliance, what is the more difficult aspect with Trump? What is the significance of the U.S. economic relationship and how far can the TPP go without the U.S.? If the U.S. reconsidered TPP, what recommendations would you have?

Professor Murata: The U.S. presence in Korea and Japan are not separated. They are integrated. If Trump tried to withdraw from South Korea, certainly Japan would be strongly opposed. U.S. presence on the Korean peninsula is a single purpose – how to prevent an invasion. But the U.S. presence in Japan is much wider. In order to influence Trump [on withdrawal], Japan can improve its relationship with South Korean. When Japan normalized relations with South Korea, Japan was much richer (1965), now South Korea is catching up, but there is an attitude that Japan still looks down on South Korea. We also have to strengthen Japanese security.

In 30 years, Japan will lose 26 million in population. Our budgetary situation is getting more and more difficult. The population is aging. Even though Japanese population is decreasing, we can utilize new science and technology. AI is a vital science; we need to accumulate big data. China and Russia have a strong advantage in doing that over democracies. They don’t have to worry about privacy concerns.

Abe has changed. He is much less nationalistic and more pragmatic.  

With regard to the TPP, I am not sure. Even among Democratic candidates, there is not much support for TPP. If we can modify the framework and save face within the U.S. government, U.S. involvement is more than welcome.

The Japanese defense budget – based on NATO calculations – should increase, but because of our population decrease, we have budget constraints.

Ambassador Hill and Professor Zhao: What do the Japanese think of Trump and the threat of North Korea? Would Japan like to be more involved in policy toward North Korea? Since Abe came to office, what has been the status of Article 9? Could it become a big issue again?

Professor Murata: Article 9 says Japan cannot conduct a war. Abe would like to revise Article 9 to allow self-defense forces. He would need two-thirds majorities in both houses, and I don’t think he can do it. He might want his successor to address this.

Japan is very concerned about North Korean developments. Last year, the U.S. finally abandoned the IMF treaty with Russia, so one possibility is U.S. deployment to perhaps Guam. Japan could join in that. It must be a deterrent to China, Russian and North Korea.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Gardner vs. Hickenlooper – A Two-Point Race?

The new political environment has mostly secured John Hickenlooper’s Democratic senate nomination (see Democratic Primary: Is it Over? 3-26-20), but it has also enhanced incumbent Senator Cory Gardner’s position. The general rule is that a national crisis helps incumbents. After 9/11, President Bush’s approval rating skyrocketed (90%, an all-time record). But, it also helped local politicians, such as Bill Owens and Wayne Allard, whose popularity surged, leading to re-elections in 2002. President Trump’s average approval rating (47%) is reaching the top of the ravine it’s been on during his entire term in office (35% to 45%) (See Trump’s Winning Support as Nation Rallies in Crisis, 3-27-20). In recent elections, Colorado has tended to mirror national voter results. Today, national polling between Trump and Joe Biden, his likely Democratic opponent, is now down to 3 percent, or margin of error.

The Colorado Senate race in 2014 was within 2 points for much of the year, with Mark Udall ahead before Labor Day, but the lead changed in the fall. Is the Colorado race destined to be close? Although polls six months ago showed John Hickenlooper winning by 10 points, the new political environment suggests that the partisan polarization may be muted by Trump’s stronger position and the emphasis on national unity. That provides a better platform for Gardner to argue that incumbency benefits Colorado, with less drag from Trump, who has been highly unpopular, especially among Colorado’s burgeoning unaffiliated voters.

President Donald Trump campaigns with Senator Cory Gardner
in Colorado Springs, CO, Feb. 20, 2020 | CBS Denver

Friday, March 27, 2020

Trump’s Winning Support as Nation Rallies in Crisis

Although President Trump has received considerable criticism for his lack of urgency in January and February when the coronavirus was raging in China and getting a foothold in America, his approval rating was unmoved and has now begun to climb. Specific measures of his performance on the virus have been mostly divided by party, but several have offered him considerable support and his approval average is now at the top of the range he’s been in for nearly four years.

Trump’s public opinion success is a product of the country tending to ‘rally around the flag” in a crisis, his improved commander-in-chief performance after the disastrous Oval Office speech on March 11, and his own communication system on Twitter, Fox News and a host of online and radio supporters.

A summary of some recent polling data:
  • Awareness of the crisis and concern for personal and family health is high
  • Trust in the Federal government is weak and highly partisan. Trust in state and local government is high.
  • Public optimism about the economy is declining rapidly
  • People are divided about duration being weeks and months
  • Public health officials are highly respected. Their views will likely dominate
  • Media is poorly rated. Many believe it exaggerates the crisis.
President Donald Trump speaks during daily briefing on the novel coronavirus
 at the White House, March 20, 2020 | Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Democratic Primary: Is it Over?

John Hickenlooper | Photo: Getty
The coronavirus emergency has shut down the public aspects of American politics at the moment it was reaching its peak activity. Just as the presidential primary campaigns have become dormant, the Colorado primary race for senate is now frozen in place with virtual county assemblies and state conventions. All to the benefit of frontrunner John Hickenlooper, who is already on the ballot by petition and just announced he would not participate in the party process. He already has avoided candidate forums as much as possible. Any remaining events before the June primary will likely be virtual and mostly devoid of a real clash. Rivals are now denied a live audience and the dynamics needed to show grassroots support.

Cory Gardner
Along with freezing the primary process just as rivals needed visibility from rallies and party activities, the issues have shifted from the Democrats’ left-center divide to competence. Hickenlooper, who had been on the defense with the party’s far left, is the winner on the issue of executive experience and competence. One of his most salient images in his eight-year term as governor was dealing with crises from fires, floods and horrendous shootings.

It’s hard to imagine Hickenlooper’s final three months until the June primary on more favorable territory.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Japan-U.S. Alliance. The Critical Architecture for Security and Prosperity in the Asia Pacific.

The strategic challenge for the United States and Japan in Asia is to engage a rising China, while maintaining a favorable balance of power for the United States, Japan and its allies. A robust U.S.-Japan alliance is critical to the effort and necessitates sustained dialogue on how the alliance can shape the regional order. Achieving that objective will require the United States and Japan to articulate strategy to maintain the balance in the Asia Pacific and understand the benefit that both bring to the strategy. The Korbel School, working with the Japanese Consulate in Denver, prepared a program to bring Japanese strategic thinkers to join with their Denver colleagues at the Korbel School at the University of Denver.

The Korbel School hosted Japanese scholars and government officials in February and March of this year in a program coordinated by the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research. The following is a description of the first panel held with Noriyuki Shikata, who was Deputy Chief of Mission, the Japanese Embassy in Beijing. He is currently studying at Harvard where he has received a Master’s in Public Policy. The panel was sponsored by the Crossley Center, the Center for China-U.S. Cooperation and the Office of Global Engagement.

Japan-China-U.S. and Japan’s Vision for the Indo-Pacific

Panel participants were:
Minister Noriyuki Shikata, Professor Suisheng Zhao, Dean Fritz Mayer (introduction and discussant), Professor Floyd Ciruli (moderator)

It is an extraordinary time in global politics and markets. A critical area is in the Indo-Pacific where challenges posed by China to the United States and Japan and a movement of nationalism in the U.S. and other areas around the globe are shaping the future.

Former Minister Noriyuki Shikata observed that the Indo-Pacific is becoming more and more the center of global economy. By 2030, the Chinese economy will surpass the U.S. in GDP. He highlighted that populations in the area are growing and there are already problems resulting from the development of mega cities. In that also lies opportunity for collaboration with the U.S. and U.S. companies. For instance, addressing the issue of pollution will call for more clean energy, as well as how to make cities operate more efficiently.

Japanese relations with China have had tense periods historically and there is recognition that even small conflicts could become quite dangerous. Since 2012, Prime Minister Shinz┼Ź Abe has been working to improve relations. A crisis communication mechanism was established between Japan/China ministers to avoid any miscommunication. The relationship-building started before Donald Trump became president, but the progress has likely been accelerated because of it.

The concept of the Indo-Pacific region has evolved over the years from Asian, to Asian-Pacific, to Western-Pacific. While it is rightly used as a geographic concept, Prof. Zhao argued that it is more of a political concept. During the Obama administration, Indo-Pacific was used to describe a national security strategy. Another concept is a “free and open” Indo-Pacific, but China objects to this as a U.S. containment strategy.

While Japan and China have had alliances over time, they have been pragmatic, and only where certain interests overlapped.

Minister Shikata offered that, while there are different interpretations of a free and open Indo-Pacific, the Japanese do attach certain issues to the alliance, such as human rights as well as freedom of navigation. He added that outside powers, such as the UK and France, also have an interest in this concept since they have overseas territories that fall in the region. He stressed that Japan’s response is not about containing China, but that when certain conditions are met, there can be collaboration and don’t want to see an escalation of tension in the South China Seas.

The Japanese and Chinese have always learned from each other’s cultures, stretching back thousands of years. Today, more Chinese are coming to Japan with the relaxation of visas, and there is hope this will help improve communications across borders.

This alliance among Asians is likely to continue as the Indo-Pacific region develops into the center of the global economy and U.S. business continues its interest in the region. In the 1980s, Japan was seen to be the economic threat to the U.S. Today, it is China.
Watch video of event here

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Jim Cannon – Ward Lake Loses a Steward

I most often saw Jim Cannon at Ward Lake, next to his family home in Lakewood, one of the metro area’s most beautiful natural jewels. He was a fun-loving and creative (a playwright) family man who spent much of his growing up in and near the lake. Jim organized games next to it as a young adult, never tired of taking his children and others water skiing on it, and wanted to protect it for the future.

He was also a businessman who was proud of his family’s contribution to Denver for more than 100 years. In 2015, several of the family’s leaders, especially his Uncle Brown Cannon and his dad George, were inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame. Jim, who was a student of Toastmasters, briefed the area’s more recent business leaders into the family’s history. It was an impressive effort.

We just lost Jim this March and his many friends will miss him boating on the lake he loved.

See obituary here

Monday, March 23, 2020

Market Loses the Entire Trump Gain

The Dow is about to give back the entire gain since Donald Trump was elected November 8, 2016. At the time, the conventional wisdom was that Trump’s surprise victory would upset a market reconciled to an extension of the Obama/Biden economic policies. Trump was an unknown, a disrupter, but almost immediately the shock of his victory turned to investor elation anticipating tax cuts and deregulations.

The market was at 18332 on Election Day, and in two weeks, closed above 19000 on November 22, 2016. By the inauguration (January 20, 2017), it was near 20000, and hit it 5 days later. Although there have been some dips and slow crawls until mid-February 2020, the market mostly grew, adding 10000 points in just over 3 years.

President Obama had a good track record with recovering from the great recession, producing an up market and lower unemployment. The Dow was 7949 on his inauguration day in January 2009 and unemployment at 10 percent. As he left office, unemployment was down to 4.7 percent and the Dow had more than doubled as it gained 10383 points.

Although President Trump may not be blamed for the coronavirus recession, he had planned to run on the buoyant market and low unemployment to make up for deficiencies in his personality and presidential temperament. Trump’s campaign, realizing the danger in the changed circumstances, are now casting him as the leader in a great patriotic effort to rally the country and direct the virus war effort. They are also arguing that only he has the experience and track record to rapidly bring the economy back to life. It may be the only strategy available given the circumstances, but running an incumbent president’s reelection in a recession with stress on local government budgets and high unemployment is a nightmare.

Read The Buzz:
Dow Fires Past 29000, Yet Trump Struggles
Crashes of 1987 and 2020 – Two Black Mondays

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Biden Moving Toward Delegate Majority. Does Sanders Stay in?

Joe Biden’s triple state win Tuesday night has him at 1,147 delegates toward the 1.991 majority he needs for the nomination (57%). There have been three significant Tuesday primary events starting with Super Tuesday, which Biden won over Bernie Sanders by 10 states to 4. Next, March 10, when Biden won 6-to1 vs. Sanders, and now, March 17 where Biden swept all three states in play. Florida was the big win. Ohio delayed its event due to coronavirus.

Tuesday’s results confirm what has been evident since March 3, Super Tuesday: Sanders will not be the Democratic Party’s nominee. He’s running far weaker than four years ago and his core support group – under 45 years olds – are not turning out in numbers to make a difference. Now the question for Democrats is how to get him out of the race with minimal damage and some upscale benefit.
  • Sanders lost at first due to Democrats’ desire to win in November and the belief he was more of a liability than an asset. Also, many were not enamored with many of his most extreme positions, stubbornly and loudly proclaimed, such as Medicare for All (single government payer) and Green New Deal.
  • His latest losses are now a product of Democrats and voters in general shifting their focus to competence and experience to handle a crisis. Specifically, rejecting more disruption provided by Sanders’s revolution. Biden is winning the competence and experience race.
  • Not only is there no reasonable way for Sanders to win now, but the virus has mostly eliminated physically campaigning. He must weigh the cost to himself and his issue positions from continuing to attack Biden and defying the clear decision of the party to shift to taking on Trump and Republicans.
Can Sanders find an exit strategy that leaves him a player and not a party wrecker?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Crashes of 1987 and 2020 – Two Black Mondays

Like the stock market crash of 1987 labeled Black Monday, the drop in the Dow on Thursday, March 12, 2020 was a record breaker. In fact, when the circuit breaker (trading curbs) went off as it dropped past 7 percent, it harkened back to Black Monday as the curbs were reforms instituted after the October 19, 1987 crash. The 508 points, or 22.61 percent, drop was and remains the historic record. The Dow was only 2246 when the bottom fell.

Last Monday’s drop is now second place in percentage loss. However, it is the new historic point loss in a string of huge recent losses that have the market down 32 percent, or more than 9000 points off its February 12 high of 29551.

Relatively new computer-driven trading programs got the blame for the sell-offs in 1987, along with a disorderly market overwhelmed by the volume. The Federal Reserve moved quickly to calm the market, new regulations on trading were enacted and a bear market was not signaled. But today’s crisis is far more ominous.
  • A massive economic slowdown is beginning and will likely continue for several months. Unemployment will soar and it will affect all aspects of the public and private sector revenue.
  • The market run-up since 2017 has been based on super low interest rates, massive stimulus (tax cuts and spending) and huge debt. It has significant vulnerabilities.
  • The bull market began in March 2009 and is now one of the longest in history. A typical bull market lasts 8.5 years. This was near 11 years (132 months).
  • The nationalist policies promoted by the Trump administration and other countries are damaging trading relationships and international trade volumes have been declining for months. 
  • The leading economies of the world – the U.S., China and the EU – have been slowing since last year.
Hence, there will likely be more sell-offs until a bottom is reached. We have entered a bear market and a recession. The Dow may give up all its gains since Trump’s election. The novel coronavirus is an unprecedented shock and will test the economic fundamentals of the U.S.

Read The Buzz: Coronavirus Crash

Peak China – Xi Defense

In 2017, Xi Jinping was labeled China’s paramount leader with no specific limit on his term of office. Since then, he has implemented an aggressive plan to position China as the preeminent Asian power with global aspirations. However, a number of recent events point to Xi’s strategy as having hit a peak.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has made his first visit to
Wuhan since the coronavirus outbreak began more
than two months ago | Photo via CNN
The picture of Xi in Wuhan, his mouth and nose covered with a virus mask, is part of a massive propaganda effort to shore up his and the Communist Party’s highly damaged image of competence and candor. But, it can’t distract from a host of problems the third year of Xi’s leadership has run into.

The country’s authoritarian excesses are being exposed and criticized around the world. Xi’s and China’s reputation have suffered blow after blow from his aggressive policies ruthlessly implemented. After Hong Kong, to Taiwan, to Uighurs, to new COVID-19, China hit a peak and it is now playing defense.

Read The Buzz
Xi: “Paramount” and “Permanent” Leader
The New Chinese Politburo

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Ciruli Family

In late February and March of 1960, two beloved members of the Ciruli family died. Floyd and Harry Ciruli. They are missed.

News Flash (March 13, 2020): CNN Projects Bernie Sanders Wins California

CNN must be short of news. It was expected since Election Night that Bernie Sanders beat Joe Biden and the field on March 3rd Super Tuesday’s primary. California’s convoluted voting system, which allowed people to “mail” ballots through Election Day, produced the 10-day delay.

The percentages didn’t change over the long count (34.0% reported on Election Night to 34.3% Friday, March 13 for Sanders, 27.2% to 27.7% for Biden). So goes California, so goes little else. Recall, California gave Hillary Clinton a 4 million vote advantage. But Super Tuesday had a major impact on the national standing of the candidates in the Democratic presidential race.

On March 2, as the shift from the South Carolina primary and the Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar endorsements sent in; Biden, who had been behind Sanders by more than 10 points, ties him; then Biden jumps to the lead on March 3. He now dominates by more than 20 points.

See The Buzz: Super Tuesday: Two-Person Race, Biden in Lead

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Resurrection of Joe Biden. What Happened?

In less than two weeks, Joe Biden went from near political death to a resurrection that put him on an apparently secure track for the Democratic nomination. What caused that extraordinary recovery and momentum?

A correlation of forces that defined the Democratic electorate in 2020 received a series of jolts from February 19 to March 3 that launched a change that was unprecedented in modern presidential nomination history. Repeated polls showed a majority of Democrats wanted to beat President Trump, not start a revolution or class war. They were looking for a unifier more than a disrupter, an experienced, reassuring professional, not an outsider. The events that moved the Party:

Nevada Debate
The Nevada debate started the political shift when Elizabeth Warrant eviscerated Michael Bloomberg and ended his viability as a substitute for Biden.

Nevada Primary
Next, the Nevada primary’s 30-point win for Sanders panicked the Democratic Party establishment, who believed Bernie Sanders would be a disaster in a general election. Candidates and establishment figures began attacking Sanders, starting with Pete Buttigieg, and even including Sanders’s mostly supportive colleague, Elizabeth Warren.

South Carolina and Clyburn Endorsement
Representative Jim Clyburn’s endorsement of Biden calmed and focused the South Carolina electorate and was the catalyst for Biden’s huge 30 percent run at the finish. Biden’s sweeping win (a reversal of Nevada) puts in place the resurrection narrative that Democratic voters and its establishment were waiting for.

Buttigieg and Klobuchar Endorsements
Amy Klobuchar’s and Pete Buttigieg’s pre-Election Day endorsements added more velocity to Biden’s momentum.

Super Tuesday
Joe Biden at his Super Tuesday night rally in
Los Angeles, Calif., March 3, 2020 | Mike Blake/Reuters
Biden’s sweep of Super Tuesday – winning 10 out of 14 states – included places he hadn’t campaigned and had no resources.

The astonishment of it may have been best described by David Brooks as a cultural phenomenon where a community of people are anxiously waiting for an event or person to send a signal and they react in unison.

“In my years of covering politics I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like what happened in the 48 hours after South Carolina — millions of Democrats from all around the country, from many different demographics, turning as one and arriving at a common decision.

It was like watching a flock of geese or a school of fish, seemingly leaderless, sensing some shift in conditions, sensing each other’s intuitions, and smoothly shifting direction en masse.” (David Brooks, NY Times, March 8, 2010

Friday, March 13, 2020

More Than Half of the Democratic Primary Vote was After South Carolina

Early voting was a problem for Joe Biden and voters in the Democratic primary. There were 435,582 early Democratic voters who missed the South Carolina results and Biden’s support from the party establishment and the endorsements of rivals Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar.

The over 613,000 unaffiliated who had turned out voted three-to-one in the Democratic primary (401,393 Democrat to 140,598 Republican).

Romney’s Image Enhanced by Admiring Democrats

When Mitt Romney got a standing ovation at a University of Denver presentation (Feb. 28, 2020), it was clear his vote on impeachment was popular with a large, well-educated university audience. And indeed, a new Gallup poll shows his popularity is now greater among Democrats than Republicans.

In general, Gallup reports public opinion of Republicans and its leaders improved after impeachment and Democrats declined. Since the impeachment, the generic rating of Republicans improved 6 percentage points and Democrats down 3 points.

More specifically, Mitch McConnell’s favorability rating is up 6 points since October 2019 and Nancy Pelosi’s unfavorable rating is up 5 points.

Romney’s 39 percent favorability rating is the same as it was in October 2019, but it is much higher among Democrats (55%) than Republicans (21%), with a 69 percent unfavorability rating. It represents a significant shift between the parties since Romney’s February 5 impeachment vote.

(L to R) Dean Fritz Mayer, former Denmark PM Anders Rasmussen
and Senator Mitt Romney | Photo: Korbel.comms

Thursday, March 12, 2020

In Eleven Days, Democratic Primary Voters Picked Their Nominee – Biden

From the 28th of February (South Carolina primary), through March 3rd (Super Tuesday), to March 11th (Michigan et al. primary), Democratic voters made Joe Biden the presumptive nominee. He was left for dead after the Nevada primary (30-point loss to Bernie Sanders), and now the only discussion is how and when does Bernie Sanders exit the race – not easy for a lifelong professional politician who is unlikely to mount another run at 83.

But, the numbers are foreboding for Sanders – Biden now has a 17-point national polling lead. He has been endorsed by six of his leading rivals to one for Sanders (Williamson) and he has a 150-delegate advantage, or over 40 percent of the 1,991 votes he needs for a first round nomination. And, the next round of events are no better than the most recent. Sanders is behind in polls by double digits in Florida, Illinois and Ohio.

Sanders’s colleagues – the party’s elected officials, most of whom he has spent his life ignoring or denigrating – are now going to begin to call for him to stop the attacks and join the effort to defeat Donald Trump.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Coronavirus Crash

The timing of the coronavirus crash couldn’t be worse for President Trump’s re-election. Just as the Dow, which he reports on regularly, approached 30000, the coronavirus hit our major trading partner, China, and then spread worldwide, including America. The Dow, with its 1000- to 2000-point swings, has been as low as 23851, or near a bear market (off 20%).

Trump was benefiting from the market and robust economy as Republicans began to feel confident on his re-election. His approval was up, foreign policy seemed calm and Democrats were in an internecine war.

The market’s immediate problem is the broad slowdown in economic activity as social distancing; i.e., lockdowns, quarantines and isolations, and simple reluctance to travel or be in group settings will damage the tourism, hospitality and entertainment industry.

But beyond several months of a likely virus-related slowdown is a view that nationalism is now dampening international trade, volume and relationships. A worldwide recession is suddenly more likely as private and public financial institutions lower their 2020-21 growth estimates.

Trump’s particular problem with this crisis is that his personality and political tactics are ill-suited for crisis management. The chaos and conflict that have carried the administration for more than three years now appears a burden. In fact, his talent for his credit-taking, blame shifting, distraction and bullying are counterproductive. Even his favorite stage is endangered – the MAGA rallies may be banned as unhealthy.

Unfortunately for Trump, even with a roaring economy, his approval rating remains below 50 percent, mostly a reflection of broad public disapproval of his non-presidential tone and deportment. Trump and the economy are likely to recover enough to make the 2020 election a close fight, but this market shock hits voters’ economic confidence hard and damaged the administration’s image of being in charge.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Two-Person Senate Race

The incredibly poorly attended Democratic Party caucuses on Saturday, March 7, produced a two-candidate race for U.S. Senate – Andrew Romanoff and John Hickenlooper.

As expected, Romanoff won the top position in the preference poll with 55 percent, carrying the metro area handily. Hickenlooper, who hit (31%) the threshold (15% for successful petitioners) to win a ballot position, carried a few non-metro areas, such as Mesa and Montrose on the Western Slope and Prowers on the Arkansas Valley.

Romanoff tried to characterize it as a rejection of the establishment (the “D.C. machine”) and a victory for his “progressive values.” Reporting from caucuses seem to indicate that many Democrats, who are desperate to win the race against Cory Gardner and Mitch McConnell, are mostly concerned about Hickenlooper’s commitment to the race.

It should be noted that the estimated 14,000 caucus attendees is one percent of the party, or 1.5 percent of even the Democrats that voted on Tuesday, March 3 in the presidential primary. A majority of these participants tend to be liberal activists and represent the party’s interest groups.

Hickenlooper’s advantage with most Democrats is the same as Joe Biden’s – the assumption he has the best chance of winning in November. But, the Democratic State Convention in April and the June 30 primary will be a test of his candidacy and stamina for punishment.

Read The Buzz:
Will Bernie Sanders Defeat John Hickenlooper?

Friday, March 6, 2020

Colorado Primary: Dems and Unaffiliated Go Left

Colorado joined California and a small select list of Bernie Sanders states on Super Tuesday. It confirms Colorado’s image of the state becoming more California-like. In fact, a quick look at the results of the top four candidates would place Colorado more liberal than California. Of course, in Colorado, unaffiliated voters can vote – and more than 350,000 did for Democrats. (Ballots are still being counted in both states.)

Combining the California and Colorado Sanders-Warren votes show 46 percent of California Democrats on the left whereas in Colorado, the number is 55 percent on the left. Colorado had a few more moderate Democrats who voted for Bloomberg and Biden than California (Colorado 44% to California 39%).

It suggests a couple of political observations:
  • Much of the party and its unaffiliated allies are further to the left than the party establishment (officeholders and funders) and probably the Colorado electorate overall.
  • John Hickenlooper will have trouble with a liberal party from caucus to state convention, and even into the June 30 primary. (Primary Democrats voted 55% to 44% to the left.)
  • The unaffiliated voters broke three-to-one for the Democrats. Unless Democrats pick weak nominees for president and senate and/or run poor campaigns (both entirely possible), the incumbent Republican is at a major disadvantage.

The Buzz Predicted Record 1.5 Million Primary Voters. Colorado Secretary of State Reports 1.8 Million.

The Colorado Secretary of State reported a total 1.8 million voted in the presidential primary, with more than 100,000 ballots still to be processed. The vote for Democratic candidates was 1,082,788 and Republican 674,217, or nearly 400,000 more Democrats and unaffiliated voting in the Democratic primary. Based on an Election Day report on turnout, 613,485 unaffiliated voted nearly three-to-one Democratic (401,943 Democrat to 140,598 Republican).

The 2020 primary turnout exceeded our expectations.


The highest Republican presidential primary turnout high was in the 1996 contest among five candidates, including Bob Dole, Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes, when 246,339 voted. The Democratic high turnout was in the first event in 1992 when 234,287 voters made Jerry Brown the top candidate with 29 percent against Bill Clinton (27%) and Paul Tsongas (26%).

Significance of the 2020 Vote
  • First presidential primary in 20 years
  • Early date in competitive year for Democrats
  • All mail-back ballots
  • More than 1.61 million unaffiliated voters sent ballots and encouraged to vote by campaigns
  • 17-year-olds allowed to vote (if reach 18 years old by Nov. 3, 2020)

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Super Tuesday: Two-Person Race, Biden in Lead

Beating Donald Trump won out over revolution. Joe Biden and the Democratic Party’s elected officials and establishment want to take on Trump without the distraction of controversial and untested hyper-expensive proposals. They also fear the reputational baggage Bernie Sanders carries for the entire Democratic ticket, especially new House members and aspiring Senate candidates.

The battle is not over, but Biden is now the frontrunner. The Democratic effort to unify will have to deal with some major problems: Bernie Sanders’s irascible, anti-establishment temperament, his many extreme supporters and several upcoming states on the schedule that look like California and Colorado.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Democrats Voting Late. More than 1.5 Million Expected.

In The Buzz (2-27-20) and on KOA Monday, I predicted 1.2 to 1.5 million voters on Super Tuesday, and most of the late votes would be from Democrats and independents voting in the Democratic primary. As of Tuesday morning, 1.3 million returned ballots – 250,000 Democrats to 113,000 Republicans since Friday.

The over 410,000 unaffiliated who have turned out, voted more than two-to-one Democratic (231,128 Democrat to 103,240 Republican), likely good news for Bernie Sanders, the leader in the state’s polling.

But, many of the final 600,000 or so votes cast after Friday knew about the Joe Biden blowout in South Carolina. Those making decisions the last two days will know about the dropping out and endorsements by Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, which may also help Biden.

Second in the polls has been Elizabeth Warren. Will she reach the 15 percent threshold to win delegates?

Political Coverage on KOA – The 2020 Election

April Zesbaugh and Marty Lenz lead the political coverage in KOA’s top rate morning drive time. I regularly provide analyses and commentary. Monday morning, we previewed Colorado’s first presidential primary in 20 years.
  • Colorado has 67 delegates out of 1,357 in 14 states to be decided Super Tuesday, or a third (34%) of the total delegates (3,982).
  • Record turnout – more than 900,000 already voted and counted last Friday. I expect 1.2 million, up to 1.5 million. Democrats are holding onto ballots to see the final field. Big turnout reflects that the primary is early in the schedule and the race is still competitive.
  • Unaffiliated voters – More than 250,000 have already voted.
  • Bernie Sanders ahead according to polls, but massive “stop Bernie” campaigns launched by his rival candidates and the Democratic Party establishment. Even Elizabeth Warren has finally started to criticize him. They are concerned about winning in November and down-ballot races, such as the Colorado Senate.
  • Joe Biden’s strong showing in South Carolina (48%) should provide some bounce in attention, in support with many Super Tuesday voters casting ballots on the last two days and an increase in funds. But, polls have Biden behind in several major states, such as California, Texas and Virginia. In Colorado, he’s back in the field, behind Sanders and Warren.
  • But many late polls have been volatile and close. Only the weekend polls could catch Biden’s bounce, if any. Ground campaign in Colorado by Warren. Massive advertising ($6 million spent) by Mike Bloomberg. Super Tuesday will be his debut on the ballot.
  • The big question will be who is still in the race on Wednesday, March 4. Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar are out. Difficult decisions for campaigns that only have a handful of delegates, if any, and little money for a national campaign for the remaining two-thirds of delegates.
  • As long as a group of Democratic moderates stay in the race, Sanders will remain the frontrunner. But, he may not find a majority.

“Stop Bernie” Campaign Gains Traction

Nevada finally woke up Bernie Sanders’s rivals and put the party establishment in a full panic mode.

Until the Nevada blowout, Sanders performed as expected or slightly below. He only tied in Iowa and his New Hampshire win was modest compared to four years ago. But, the Nevada caucus result (47%) and Sanders’s interpretation of his near sweep of Democratic constituencies, including labor and Hispanics, against Joe Biden and the field convinced everyone he could win the nomination and do it quickly.

Pete Buttigieg barely waited for the results to claim Sanders would be a disaster in November for Democratic candidate running for Congress and the Senate and criticized his so-called “revolution” as an inflexible ideology.

Quickly, Mike Bloomberg weighed in with a poll of congressional swing districts, which purported to show Sanders would be a burden.

Even his progressive soulmate, Elizabeth Warren, who has been unwilling to criticize, opened up a full blown attack on the vulnerability of his socialist label, her concern for other Democrats on the ticket, implying he’s isn’t interested in anyone but himself, and his ineffectual legislative strategy citing their differences in keeping the filibuster rule (she’s against it, he’s for it).

Given his weak performance in South Carolina, will the Sanders steamroll take a hit on March 3.

Nevada and South Carolina: End of Pre-season

South Carolina and Nevada were not only the end of the pre-season before the main event starts March 3, but they were mirror images in results. Bernie Sanders swept Nevada and got a major bump in attention and money (also started the “stop Bernie” movement). Will Joe Biden get a similar bump from his South Carolina win?

Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail | DW

Joe Biden on the campaign trail | Gerry Broome/AF

Colorado Politics and Denver Post Cite Ciruli Blog, The Buzz, on Sanders’s Damages to Democratic Ticket

In a blog posted on Feb. 20, I speculated on the impact on John Hickenlooper’s run for senate. It was quoted in a story on Colorado Politics by Joey Bunch (Feb. 25) and in the Denver Post by Justin Wingerter on Feb. 28.

“Floyd Ciruli, a longtime Colorado pollster and political consultant, wrote last week that if Sanders is successful, the Democratic challenger to Gardner will ‘have to run with the most vulnerable Democratic nominee since George McGovern in 1972,’ to Gardner’s benefit.”

Later, Jesse Paul in the Colorado Sun on Feb. 28 quoted Senator Michael Bennet talking about his presidential race as:

“I think it makes it much more challenging in purple states for Democrats who are running if Sanders is at the top of the ticket,” Bennet said.

Read The Buzz:
Will Bernie Sanders Defeat John Hickenlooper?
Is Bernie Sanders the George McGovern of 2020?