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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pre-Ossoff at Hoover Institution

 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.

Senator Abraham may no longer be in the Senate, but he stays close to Michigan voters. 

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

Abraham said Trump's condescension towards the establishment is obvious. 

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).

Kristol noted the "huge gap" in turnout of Democrats versus Republicans in the June 13 Virginia gubernatorial primary.   

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.
Abraham said there were really four parties represented in last year's election: Two each for the Democrats and Republicans.  

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.

Bell said: "The conservative movement didn't keep its finger on the electorate  very well.  Right now it's more about the progressive movement," while "the conservatives can't figure out what to do with themselves."

Abraham noted last year Trump carried 65% of the vote in many of Michigan's "old industrial cities" (Battle Creek, Port Huron, Monroe were some he named). 

"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." 

Answering a question from a member of the audience, Bell described a "disconnect between people who run the parties and the electorate."

For another questioner, Abraham thinks" a more confrontational Republican party is likely to emerge here," which will make Republicans uncomfortable, being averse to conflict.

With the exception of pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, Trump's strength is his foreign policy, Bell said.

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). 
Tanden said the Democrats are " incredibly unified...extremely united with no leader in sight."  (Later, she named Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri as rising Democratic stars.  Someone during the day mentioned New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Sosnik said since 1972 the Democrats have moved further left, will move further left for next year's congressional races and will move even further left for the 2020 presidential campaign.

Political activism is the "greatest" Tanden has seen "in my lifetime." Leaders are not leading, they are following. Sosnik agreed he has never seen "this energy" either. The anti-Trump effect is having a positive benefit for the Democrats, but Democrats have to be convinced to show their "level of anger" by voting next year, said Sosnik.

The "president's problems impact his ability to govern," Sosnik said, and said opponents came out "like rabid dogs" to attack Bill Clinton when he was impeached in 1999. (Senator Abraham voted to convict him.)  

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.

After President Richard Nixon resigned and President Gerald Ford pardoned him, Kristol said it didn't take long for the matter to fade, and Ford "almost won" the 1976 election. (Jimmy Carter won with 50.08% of the votes and 297 electoral votes, and Ford drew 48.02% and 240 electoral votes.) Sosnik said with the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson knew it would be the end of the Democratic Party as it was known then.

Tanden predicted nontraditional candidates will be running the U.S. 15 to 20 years from now, "not the suits in Washington."

Sosnik said that Bernie Sanders and Trump had more in common than perceived.

Sosnik said that Trump has "squandered" the most valuable time of his presidency, the first six months.  "He had no purpose to govern.  He had no theory, no organizing principle. He ran to win."

Tanden said  governing is harder work than running a race, and at the end of the day, the question remains:  Does Trump improve the lives of Americans?

About 50 attended.  A reception followed with the best broiled, spiced shrimp ever to fire up voters. 

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