From left, Bill Kristol, Jeff Bell, and Spencer Abraham at the Hoover Institution/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Progressives have "a sense of inevitability," said Jeff Bell at "Political Parties in America: Trends and Truths in the Trump Era," a half-day event last Monday at the Hoover Institution,
The day before the special election in Georgia (won by the Republican Karen Handel who surprised most with a larger-than-expected victory over Democrat Jon Ossoff, 51.9% v. 48.1%), politicos gathered for discussion, moderated by Bill Kristol, the editor-at-large of the Weekly Standard.
From left, Jeff Bell, and Spencer Abraham at the Hoover Institution/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Overall, the tone throughout the afternoon was moderate; President Trump's name was not mentioned as much as anticipated in a session filled with much presidential election history.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the afternoon came from Morris Fiorina, a Stanford University political science professor who addressed the audience as one of three participants on "Party and Faction, In Principle and Practice" with Harvey Mansfield, Harvard University professor of government, and James Ceaser, University of Virginia professor of politics, all Hoover senior fellows.
From left, Doug Sosnik and Neera Tanden at the Hoover Institution/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Fiorina presented charts and documentation on past presidential elections, information he gleaned from The Economist, he said. (His presentation would make a great program for political groups.)
Trump and Hillary Clinton were badly flawed, highly unpopular candidates, and Fiorina presented graphs to support his statements. The only female voting segment Hillary Clinton won were women with post-graduate degrees.
"Part of Trump's appeal was nobody knew where he was," Fiorina said. "He talked out of both sides of his mouth."
Professor Harvey Mansfield at the Hoover Institution/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The "situation is very dicey for each party" said Jeff Bell, former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan and New Jersey Republican senatorial candidate, speaking on an earlier panel "The Republican Party Today" where he was joined by Spencer Abraham, the last Republican U.S. Senator from Michigan (1995-2001) and former Secretary of Energy under President George W. Bush.
Professor Morris Fiorina at the Hoover Institution/Photo by Patricia Leslie
With the exception of Fiorina's remarks, Bell's and Abraham's discussion was the most riveting of the afternoon, and being first on the program helped.
Bell said there is "mutual suspicion between the [Republican] base and party elites," description heard throughout the day.
Parties now are basically "data collection centers," which have become "a library of sorts," he said. "Elected officials are not all that happy with the brand. The base is unhappy with the failure [of party leaders] to fight hard."
Professor James Ceaser at the Hoover Institution/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Abraham said that people "were much more vocally supportive of their president" when he was George H. (?) Bush and Bill Clinton.
On the other hand, "when the going gets tough," said Bell, "Republicans bail out." When Bush was "savaged," especially in his second term, the president's response was to ignore the attacks, unlike Trump who "is going in the opposite extreme defending himself" on everything.
From left, James Ceaser, Morris Fiorina, Bill Kristol, and Harvey Mansfield at the Hoover Institution/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Bell said that the last Gallup poll before the 2016 election revealed Trump's positive rating at 34% and, negative, 62% (not too different from the CBS poll released June 20, 2017: 36% positive, 57%, negative).
Bell thinks Republican "Ed Gillespie has a pretty good chance" to win the Virginia governor's race in November, and if the Democrats make Trump's impeachment an issue, "it's not all bad for Trump," an opinion Kristol shares.
Now there's a much greater chance other parties will emerge outside the mainstream, Bell said.
He mentioned last month's French vote as an example (?). Abraham said Republicans feared Trump would run as an independent. Bernie Sanders was the insurgent candidate versus the establishment on the Democratic side, and "Sanders's wing" is gaining momentum.
"The white working class," he said, has a "sense of hopelessness about themselves, their children and their futures" which the people in Washington "not only don't get," but "they don't take it seriously."
On the second panel were Neera Tanden, the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress (often called a "left-leaning think tank") and Doug Sosnik, former counselor to President Bill Clinton who has also worked for Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), John Kerry when he ran for president in 2004, and Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT).
Kristol said that Trump should ignore diversions, but he does not.
Sosnik: "I thought [Trump] would become 'normalized'" once he took office, but "he's not." ("I used to worry about it; now, I don't.") Trump is 71 and is not going to reinvent himself, Sosnik said.
About 50 attended. A reception followed with the best broiled, spiced shrimp ever to fire up voters.