Monday, April 22, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Potholes 2020

The so-called “road to the White House” is strewn with potholes this
cycle, and no one is getting there at full speed with their gas pedal
down all the way.

Both parties have road crews out this spring trying to repair the road,
but so far it’s difficult to stay ahead of new potholes appearing to
disrupt the political traffic.

Since the Republican nomination is so far firmly held by incumbent
President Donald Trump --- and his assumption of vindication
following the issue and publication of the redacted Mueller report,
and since he already occupies the White House, the road’s potholes
are primarily an obstacle for the historically very large field of
Democratic challengers. (But Mr. Trump has his own set of
potholes ahead.)

Early assumptions made in late 2018 and early 2019 have mostly
been upended already, and the Democratic Party itself seems to
have decided the potholed road isn’t worth the trouble --- and
seem ready to take a detour to the house on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Their problem is that there is no known map to guide them on
such a detour, and they risk ending up in a political cul-de-sac with
no timely exit.

The surprise election of Donald Trump in 2016 has seemed to usher
in a suspension of many political rules and cliches both in the U.S.
and across the world.

A Jewish TV sitcom comedian (with no political experience) has
just been elected president by a landslide in historically anti-semitic
Ukraine. Upsets from the left and right have recently taken place in
Brazil, Italy, Austria, Mexico and elsewhere in Europe and South
America. Hitherto popular leaders in France, Canada, Spain,
Germany and Turkey are seeing grass roots uprisings challenging
their power. Citizen everywhere seem to be upset, impatient and
politically impertinent.

I think it is time to recognize that the U.S. presidential political
rule book will be of little use this cycle. A new strain of political
microbes seem on the move globally, and there is not yet a way for
political establishments to thwart them.

Even the re-election of Israeli Prime Minster Bibi Netanyahu’s
government recently reflects voter agitation with conventional
political wisdom. Accused of wrongdoing, challenged by a united
group of respected generals in a new party, considered by many
older voters to have been in office too long, Netanyahu was written
off by hostile U.S. and Israeli media as a sure loser. And indeed,
many older Israeli voters who had supported him in the past did not
vote for him. But unexpectedly, young voters did vote for him, and
his party not only gained seats, but won more than any other party
--- which was unpredicted.

The first U.S. presidential TV debates, less than two months away,
will clarify some voter attitudes toward the large number of
Democratic candidates, but even that won’t stop the surprises.

The 2020 political road is likely to be bumpy all the way.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 12, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What's Already Different About 2020

The 2020 presidential election cycle has recently begun in earnest,
and already there are visible differences between this unfolding
campaign cycle and 2016, as well as earlier cycles.

Some of these differences are obvious. Except for Donald Trump
and Bernie  Sanders, the other major candidates did not run in
2016 --- although some of the Democratic hopefuls had
considered running, or did run, in earlier cycles.

In 2016, the largest field was on the Republican side which initially
included 17 major candidates. In 2020, it is the Democrats who have
the large field --- in fact, it already has 18 formally-announced major
candidates, with 3-5 more expected to enter,

In recent decades, primaries and caucus have become increasingly
important, replacing smoke-filled rooms, favorite sons, and political
deals. Even the winner-take-all of a state’s delegates is no more.

In those recent decades, a tradition of Iowa being the first caucus,
and New Hampshire holding the first primary was observed by both
parties. This appears to be continued in 2020, but moving up of large
state primaries, most notably California, from later in the cycle,
might de facto replace them as some individual campaigns ignore
Iowa and New Hampshire for the larger treasure of delegates to be
won in California and Texas which will vote soon after.

State presidential caucuses have smaller voter participation, often
dramatically and undemocratically so, and for the 2020 cycle, two
states, Minnesota and Washington, have already abandoned their
caucuses for primaries. This trend might well continue.

Absentee balloting for cause has long been practiced, but many
states have adopted early or mail-in voting, or absentee voting
without cause. Same-day voting registration is taking place in more
states. These changes are causing election night results, as many
were in 2018, to be inconclusive until the following day. A reprise
of Bush vs. Gore 2000 could happen again.

The 2020 cycle could be one where third party candidates might
affect the outcome. There will be Green, Libertarian and Socialist
candidates as usual next year, but at least one notable independent
candidate, business executive Howard Schultz, has said he will run.
If many voters are unsatisfied with both major party nominees,
third party and non-voter totals could be significant.

Super-delegates, especially in the Democratic Party, played a very
significant role in 2016, but a new rule bars these delegates from
voting on the first ballot at the national convention, They will be
able to vote on the second and subsequent ballots. It is unclear
how his reform will play out.

In an attempt to force President Trump to release his tax returns,
a few states are trying to require candidates to make their tax
returns public in order to be on the November ballot. This
controversial move will almost certainly go before the U.S. supreme
court before taking effect.

At the outset of 2015, Jeb Bush was  an early favorite, and Chris
Christie the candidate with lots of charisma.  Neither got very far
once the debates and voting began. This cycle, Joe Biden (not yet
formally announced) leads in most polls, and Beto O’Rourke was
pegged as the charisma candidate. Already, Bernie Sanders is
challenging Biden in the early polls, and Pete Buttigieg is proving
so far to be a challenge to O’Rourke’s appeal. Once the debates
begin, other candidates could catch on.

Campaign funds, as always, play a role early in presidential
campaigns, but the ease with which most of the Democratic
candidates have initially raised $5 million or more, and the large
number of candidates, might diminish the psychological impact of
fundraising. In 2016, Donald Trump had the personal resources to
self-fund, and won. 2020 candidates who can do the same also can
lessen the impact of early fundraising of those candidates who
don’t have big personal resources.

Both parties face defections from their traditional voter bases in
2020. A preview of this occurred in 2018 when many suburban
women voted Democratic and many Hispanics voted Republican.
Next year could see further GOP erosion in the suburbs, and further
switching of Hispanic, Jewish and black voters to the GOP.

In the 2020 cycle, there is much incentive to garner media attention
early, especially in 2019. This is likely to tempt presidential
campaigns to take chances and make bold moves and statements.
Some will be successful, and some will backfire. All of them increase
the element of surprise and unpredictability into the campaign cycle.

So far, President Trump does not have even a remotely serious
challenger to his nomination. Barring the unforeseen, he will be on
the ballot in November, 2020. His proven ability to provoke, anger,
shock or please various groups of voters is perhaps the primary
carryover from the last presidential election.

Otherwise, 2020 goes into much new political territory.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 5, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Our Era Of Unrelenting Contempt

In the name of tolerance, a great deal of intolerance is being dished
out to the American public, most of it via media venues which profit
in various ways by its relentless agitation and incessant noisy racket.

Nowhere perhaps is this phenomenon more audible and visible than
its presence in the 2020 presidential campaign cycle already well
underway. At first, it might have been supposed that the verbal,
physical and legal confrontational rancor would be mostly between
the two major political parities and their nominees --- with a
continuing emphasis on attacking the incumbent president.

An apparently record number of nominally serious candidates for the
challenging party’s presidential nomination, however, has quickly
produced efforts to attack certain candidates and push them, or keep
them, out of contention --- from forces within that party itself.

A lament, has subsequently been heard about about the lack of civility,
fairness and clarity in the rhetoric and tactics of the political combat
now taking place.

The truth is, it is time to say, that politics in America has just in fact
returned to its bare knuckle origins. We tend to forget that at the very
beginning of the republic the discourse of U.S. politics was personal,
defamatory, often slanderous, and usually contemptuous.  No one was
spared --- not even George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Abraham
Lincoln. As the nation grew in size, population, and economic and
military power  in the 19th and early 20th centuries, its political
discourse became only slightly less contemptuous --- that is, until
mass communications in radio and television began to moderate its
tone when identified speakers voices and faces were seen and heard.

With the sudden advent of the internet and social media, anonymity
returned and so did the contempt. As with other forms of public
violence, mass attention could also be obtained by many of those
who eschewed anonymity for public displays of revenge, ugly
put-downs and sensational ex post facto political allegations.

The laments about this state of public affairs do not hinder it in
any way --- and so it not only continues, but grows louder, more
vicious, and more uncivil. Furthermore, it now appears to know few
if any allegiances, alliances or restraints.

It is not going away any time soon. In fact, it will now grow louder,
especially as the 2020 political cycle now underway. proceeds toward
election day eighteen months ahead. Even when that election
determines winners and losers, it will not fade away, as the precedent
of the 2016 aftermath has established.

One profound consequence of all of this is, and will continue to be,
that some of the most qualified and talented men and women in our
nation will simply and understandably avoid or pass on contributing
to public life, elected or appointed.

Nothing, of course, is permanent in human affairs, but the politics of
contempt will not go away until it so exhausts voters that public opinion
finally reasserts itself and declares, like a parent to a spoiled child, a
firm and unchallengeable “NO!”

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.