Poll: Support for a third major party reaches new heights

By nearly a 2-1 margin, an unprecedented number of Americans believe the nation needs a third major political party, compared to those who are satisfied with the Democrats or Republicans.

A largely overlooked Gallup poll conducted a few weeks ago found that 61 percent of voters favor the creation of a legitimate third party. That is the highest level of support in Gallup polling history.

Barely a third of those questioned, 34 percent, said the duopoly of the Republican and Democratic parties suffices. That figure perhaps reflects the electorate’s anxiety in 2017 more than any other data point.

The new numbers indicate a trend of increasing third party support that accelerated in 2013. Much of the backing for this monumental change in American politics comes from independents and centrists, as the polarization and gridlock on Capitol Hill has prompted extraordinarily low approval ratings for Congress.

Polling by Gallup and Pew Research has consistently shown that independents represent the largest voting bloc in the U.S., much larger than either Democrats or Republicans, as their numbers have hovered around 40 percent since 2010.

The numbers also suggest that a solid majority of partisans view the party they support — or lean toward — as either not pure enough, or too dogmatic. As a result, backing for a third party is seeping into the ranks of Democrats and Republicans.

At the same time that the GOP controls the White House and Congress, Gallup found that 49 percent of Republicans think a third major party is needed, while 46 percent say the two-party system is adequate. The split is similar among Democrats: 52 percent like the idea of a third party, while 45 percent prefer the existing structure. However, a whopping 77 percent of independents favor having a third major party, while just 17 percent think the Democratic and Republican parties are sufficient.

Meanwhile, a new Pew study documents a massive split among die-hard Democrats and Republicans that has left a huge gap in the middle consisting of moderates and independents. Pew found that self-identified Republicans and Democrats have never been further away from each other in terms of their ideological views of the world.

At a rapid rate, both parties have become increasingly hyper-partisan and homogeneous in their beliefs, meaning that compromise and pragmatism are not on their agenda. (The graph at the bottom of this page, with independent voters’ views in gray, shows just how divided the nation is on basic issues.)

Consider this: As recently as 1994, more than one-third of Republicans were identified as more liberal than the average Democrat. That number is 5 percent today. Same with the Democratic Party, where 30 percent were more conservative than the average Republican in 1994 while just 3 percent are today.

Heterodoxy no longer exists on the left or the right and the result is that Congress’ approval rating stands at a lowly 16 percent, even among Republicans.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that some Republicans lining up early to run for Congress are operating on the theme that the GOP-controlled House and Senate is fully dysfunctional.

At the same time, partisanship now serves as the brightest line dividing the nation, far outshining the splits along demographics like race, religion or educational achievement. That wasn’t the case 20 years ago.

It should be noted that this polling does not indicate a wave of post-2016 support for minor parties nor for presidential candidates such as the Green Party’s Jill Stein or the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson, both of whom, in retrospect, served the role of clownish outsider candidates on the fringes.

Lydia Saad of Gallup offers a lay of the land:

At various points since 2007, a majority of Americans have contended that a third major political party is needed in the U.S., while the minority have believed the two major parties adequately represent the American people. That pattern continues today with an unprecedented five-year stretch when demand for a third major party has been 57 percent or higher, including 71 percent or higher among independents.

While this may seem promising for any group thinking about promoting such a party, it is one thing to say a third major party is needed and quite another to be willing to join or support it. Americans’ backing of the idea could fall under a mentality of “the more, the merrier,” in which they would be pleased to have more viable political choices even if they vote mainly for candidates from the two major parties. And that says nothing of the structural barriers third parties face in trying to get on the ballot.

With most Republicans and Democrats viewing their own party favorably, the real constituency for a third party is likely to be political independents, meaning the party would have to be politically centrist. Thus far, the Green and Libertarian parties have succeeded in running national presidential campaigns but not in attracting big numbers of registered members. But with record numbers of Americans frustrated with the way the nation is being governed, the country could be inching closer to having enough people who want an alternative to the status quo to make it a reality, at least with the right candidate at the helm.

One caution: Political observers tend to wrongly associate talk of a third party with future presidential campaigns. This giddiness was on full display this past summer when Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the most moderate candidate in the 2016 presidential election, announced that he would be working on key issues with a fellow pragmatist, Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. The Washington Beltway media immediately, and inaccurately, speculated that a Kasich-Hickenlooper presidential ticket was in the works for 2020.

Beyond the unfair barriers to ballot access, a popular independent party ticket would face the immovable force of the Electoral College. If the electoral votes were substantially split three ways, the House would decide the presidency, and independent outsiders would have no chance in that cliquish atmosphere.

The only way a third party could succeed is with a bottom-up approach, establishing state legislators, governors and members of Congress as part of an emerging independent/centrist party. The presidency will have to wait.

Could Trump-induced mess in Washington lead to a new independent political party?

It seems that some rock-ribbed Republicans, those who represent the GOP’s grown-ups, are experiencing a transformative phase that has prompted some to consider the creation of a moderate, independent third party to challenge the Republican/Democrat duopoly.

It also seems that the Donald Trump candidacy – and now the erratic Trump presidency – has shaken many GOP establishment folks to their core. They realize that in 2017 the core – the Trump die-hards that the president plays to on a daily basis – are people who are shredding an American democratic system of stability, pragmatism and problem-solving that relies on bipartisan compromise for governing.

Both parties are in denial as independents, including moderates and centrists, have become the largest voting bloc in America – beyond Republicans and Democrats. The Washington gridlock of the past eight years has created a wide swath of voters in the middle who see few redeeming qualities in either party. The extremists and fringe elements on both sides of the aisle are guilty of demanding purity even as their laundry-list agenda does not appeal to mainstream America.

A Gallup poll released earlier this month found that 45 percent of the nation’s voters identify as independents, compared to 28 percent for the Democrats and 25 percent for the Republicans. In a continuing trend, that survey marked the fifth consecutive year in which at least four in 10 American voters identified as independents.

What’s more, in September 2015, just as the presidential race was heating up, a Gallup poll found that 60 percent of Americans said a third major political party is needed because the Republican and Democratic parties “do such a poor job” of representing the American people.

Moderates who lean liberal on some issues and conservative on others, have no place to call home. In Washington, they are being squeezed out by both parties as their ranks in Congress amount to a mere fraction of where they stood a few decades ago.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts recently laid down the gauntlet, claiming that the left-wing now serves as the “heart and soul of the Democratic Party.” The leftward lurch among Democrats in response to the Trump presidency features litmus tests, such as the declaration by Sen. Bernie Sanders, a so-called independent, that those who do not favor a government-run health care system for all are should not be welcome in the party.

On the Republican side, staunch GOP standardbearers such as Bill Kristol, David Frum, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Peggy Noonan, Sen. John McCain and a whole host of writers and commentators at traditional conservative publications such as the Wall Street Journal, National Review and Weekly Standard have thoroughly abandoned the “Yea Team” approach. They openly proclaim that Trumpism is antithetical to traditional Republicanism.

On Capitol Hill, Trump treats members of Congress as his minions and attacks fellow Republicans – even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — on a remarkably vitriolic level. With Trump leading the charge, it appears that numerous House and Senate Republicans could face GOP primary election challenges next year. The same scenario is playing out among the Democratic left as some despise the party’s centrists with as much ferocity as the right-wing GOPers who blast their remaining moderates as Republicans In Name Only (RINOs).

Not surprisingly, those on the left and right fringes – always the loudest voices in the room – drown out the most rational voters in the middle.

This dogmatic hyper-partisanship on both sides, inspired by the elixir of gaining more power by winning more elections, is based on the delusional hope that the United States will one day be led by a monolithic federal government that fully imposes far-right or far-left ideologies. That belief, of course, foolishly belies the central premise that emerges in the voting process every two years: Independents in the middle decide elections.

As the gaping divide between loyal Republicans and Democrats grows, the chances of a new independent party filling that abyss grow day by day.

But the Centrist Project, a group pushing for more independents in Congress, points out that structural barriers foil independent candidates’ ability to compete on an even plain. Burdensome limits to independents gaining ballot access represent one set of hurdles, another is even more basic – state laws that prevent independent voters from participating in primary elections.

So, who initially created, and now protects, these restrictions built into the election system? In a rare show of unity, it is the Democrats and Republicans, of course.

Graphic by DonkeyHotey via Flickr

New level of political insanity: Choose Dr. based on partisan views

Recently a man from Michigan placed a simple post on Facebook: “My doctor wants Elizabeth Warren to be president of the United States.”

In response, his post generated hundreds of comments from Facebook users who expressed revulsion that the physician favored Warren, a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts.

Nearly all of the commentators advised that the man quickly find a new doctor, based on the physician’s political viewpoint, but many went much further. The doctor, they said, must be a Muslim or mentally ill or a “numb nut.” Others assumed the doctor was “stupid,” an incompetent “quack,” or “an educated idiot.”

A few made crude jokes about “Dr. Kevorkian” or the handling of prostate problems.

“A proctologist I’m guessing! They (liberals) have a thing for a–holes!” one man wrote.

The point is that the hyper-partisanship that’s taken hold across this country is now spreading to areas that approach an unhinged form of political thought. The tribalism that has reached a fever pitch creates strident acceptance of separations along party lines in all facets of life: who can teach our kids; who lives next door; and who checks our blood pressure and heart rate.

At its most insane, the newest form of expression is: Don’t like certain congressmen? Shoot to kill.

I have no doubt, by the way, that similar vitriol would be spewed by liberal Democrats in response to a Facebook post that referred to a doctor who supports President Trump.

Numerous anti-Warren comments on Facebook showed that dogmatic voters genuinely believe that a doctor’s political views reflect on his or her competence, skills and judgment on medical matters.

“A good doctor would not want any person remotely like Elizabeth Warren near the Oval Office,” commented one woman.

Another offered these disturbing words to live by in 2017: “Political ideologies are based on values and morals, as are medical decisions.”

graphic: shutterstock.com

Bipartisan research groups denounce Trump budget as unrealistic

President Trump’s budget unveiled today has received a storm of criticism as the administration proposes massive spending reductions while planning tax cuts that would most benefit the wealthy.

But a larger question has emerged: Could all of this fiscal pain fail miserably in its goal of ridding the U.S. of a federal budget deficit?

One aspect of this political/fiscal equation is the harsh condemnation displayed by bipartisan groups — deficit-hawks that hound Congress about the “difficult choices” needed to chop the federal deficit — who say the Trump budget proposal is unrealistic and cannot possibly achieve what is envisioned.

Despite all the proposed cuts in this “America First” document — $3.6 trillion over a 10-year timeframe — the budget deficit, as a percentage of the overall U.S. economy, the GDP, could actually grow to a level larger than it is now. Yet, Trump insists his path will produce a balanced budget.

The chief complaints among these serious-minded think tanks is that the budget plan relies upon a “rosy” projection of economic gains, assumes that all these cuts will be approved in full by the GOP Congress, and assumes that the nebulous tax cuts in the works will not decrease revenues at all.

Liberal Democrats and social service agencies point out that the unprecedented spending cuts would mostly affect the poor, the elderly and the disabled. They are hoping the president’s budget, following the well-worn path of so many White House spending plans over the past 30-plus years, is “Dead On Arrival” on Capitol Hill.

Many of the safety net programs targeted for extreme reductions already exist upon a path of long-term reductions compared to annual GDP growth. What’s more, the Congress in recent years has demonstrated no stomach for massive spending cuts.

According to some counts, the budget plan would eliminate 66 federal programs within the category of discretionary domestic spending – effecting everything from NASA and medical research to agriculture initiatives and the National Wildlife Refuge Fund.

Some bipartisan critics point out that the Trump plan would kill programs that work well in areas such as energy resources while leaving the military far short of funding goals Trump broadly outlined during the 2016 campaign.

Here is the detailed critique offered by the Concord Coalition:

President Trump’s first budget proposal … relies on improbable assertions of higher economic growth and unrealistic assumptions about future spending cuts to achieve its goal of balancing the budget in 10 years.

“The driving force of deficit reduction in this budget is the supposed super-charged economic growth effect of an unspecified tax cut,” said Concord Coalition Executive Director Robert L. Bixby. “That alone calls the credibility of the budget into question.”

The budget proposal purports to balance by 2027 and … it achieves that balance by assuming $3.6 trillion of spending cuts, and more than $2 trillion of feedback from economic growth. The growth assumptions are dramatically higher than both the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and private sector forecasts. They are not supported by demographic factors and labor force productivity trends upon which economic growth ultimately depend.


“While it is certainly possible to attain above-trend growth in any given year, it is not fiscally responsible to base a budget on the assumption that such growth can be maintained permanently,” Bixby said.

The claimed budget improvement from economic growth is made all the more problematic by the overall lack of specifics on tax reform. There are no new tax reform details beyond the one-page summary that was released a month ago. Under any independent analysis of those details, tax reform would reduce revenue, yet this budget assumes reform would be revenue-neutral …

The spending cuts in the budget come almost entirely from the domestic discretionary part of the budget and from the mandatory spending programs focused on low-income Americans. By proposing disproportionate cuts on a relatively small slice of the budget — a part of the budget already projected to shrink as a share of GDP — the proposed deficit reduction fails the test of broadly shared trade-offs and sacrifices.

The cuts to non-defense discretionary spending are simply unrealistic given recent history; the last three budget agreements have, on a bipartisan basis, increased spending on these programs relative to levels set in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (“sequester” caps). In this (Trump) budget, such spending is cut by 42 percent in dollar terms (by) 2027 …

Even defense spending shrinks to close to half the historical average as a percent of GDP by 2027 (4.4 percent of GDP average vs. 2.3 percent of GDP), contradicting the administration’s own claims of the need to boost military spending.

On health care, the budget assumes enactment of the House-passed version of health care reform (the American Health Care Act). However, in addition to the AHCA’s $840 billion in cuts to Medicaid, the budget proposes $610 billion in further cuts to Medicaid. Ultimately, Medicaid would face a nearly 50 percent cut (by) the year 2027 relative to current law. The magnitude and rapidity of this reduction are unrealistic given the current debate over the AHCA in the Senate.

While growing health care costs, particularly in Medicare, are a far larger threat to long-term budget sustainability, the president’s proposal leaves Medicare untouched and offers no substantive reforms to reduce health care costs. It also repeals Medicare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board, setting back the cause of health care cost control.

The budget also proposes $72 billion in cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance while forgoing any changes to Social Security’s (traditional) Old Age and Survivors Insurance program, which is both much larger and serves a wealthier population. This approach would neither fix Social Security’s long-term financial challenges nor protect the program for those beneficiaries who depend on it most.

A serious grappling with the long-term fiscal challenges is needed through a budget that brings down the debt and confronts the trade-offs required to do so. Unfortunately, this budget does not do that.

The Center for a Responsible Federal Budget emphasized the unrealistic economic growth assumptions in the Trump budget:

The Administration’s projections of 3 percent economic growth are far above those of outside forecasters and would require exceeding the economic performance of the 1990s. Under realistic economic assumptions from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), debt in the president’s budget would remain roughly at current levels rather than fall precipitously

… The unrealistic assumptions in the President’s budget help it to achieve substantial debt reduction and an ultimately balanced budget on paper but do nothing to assure a strong fiscal footing in reality. These growth numbers are not only unrealistically high … (they are) inconsistent with recent statements that economic growth would be used to help finance tax reform.

Rather than making unrealistic assumptions, the President must make the hard tax and spending choices needed to truly bring the national debt under control.

… The use of rosy growth assumptions sets a bad example for other budgets or major legislation that may be considered. Rosy growth assumptions may also open the door to dangerous deficit-increasing policies that may ultimately slow, rather than accelerate, economic growth.

Faster economic growth must be a central goal for policymakers, but it should not be a crutch used to avoid difficult choices.

Tracy Terry, director of energy research at the Bipartisan Policy Center, pointed out that the Department of Energy program known by the awkward Washington acronym Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, is slated for elimination by Trump. Yet, in the last Congress ARPA-E received additional funding through a bipartisan Senate amendment that passed by an 85-12 margin. The House offered a similar spending increase provision that breezed through on a voice vote.

Tracy said chopping key Department of Energy programs is counterproductive:

Countries like China are making enormous investments to develop new technologies that will dominate the market for years to come. Given how critical the moment is for American innovators, we are disappointed to see the president’s budget request suggests drastic cuts to programs with strong track records in job creation, economic growth and energy security that are critical to capturing future opportunities.

… These programs have a clear and distinguished track record as some of the best investments Congress has made.

Congressional support for energy research will be critical to creating jobs, ensuring low energy prices, and fostering energy security. We hope Congress will continue to appreciate the many benefits that investments in energy innovation provide the nation.”

Republicans, Democrats shamefully treat health care vote like a sporting contest

House Republicans and Democrats cast a potentially consequential vote on Thursday to overhaul the U.S. health care system, yet they reacted to the outcome like a pack of inebriated frat boys with no concern for the health of their livers.

Meanwhile, millions of Americans wonder if their household will no longer afford health insurance because a family member suffers from a chronic health condition – or a potentially fatally illness – and they would now be considered an expensive burden on the national health care system. Those with pre-existing conditions are genuinely frightened that, under the American Health Care Act (AHCA) narrowly approved by the House on a partisan line vote, they could no longer pay the price for health insurance.

At the same time, millions of other Americans contemplated whether the high deductibles and premiums they’re paying for faltering Obamacare insurance policies will be alleviated under the AHCA. For families living paycheck to paycheck without employer-provided health benefits, the question is: Will the proposed GOP reforms actually produce lower costs and better care?

Amid this nationwide anxiety, lawmakers living in their respective partisan bubbles within the Washington Beltway treated Thursday’s House vote like a sporting event. The goal was to win the vote, to obtain bragging rights going forward. Us vs. Them. This should surprise no one.

Just prior to the House session, Republican lawmakers gathered for a bizarre final pep talk in the Capitol, with the “Rocky” movie theme song playing at high volume and a ridiculous backdrop portraying World War II Gen. George Patton providing additional inspiration.

After the vote, this juvenile approach to life-and-death issues was followed by a GOP pep rally in the White House Rose Garden with President Trump and Republican lawmakers celebrating their “win” with wild applause and fists thrust into the air.

House Democrats did not come across much better. As the final 217-213 vote in favor of the AHCA ticked down on the House floor, liberal Democrats declared a moral victory. What was on their mind was how the GOP-majority vote could be used to win elections in 2018 and regain Dem control of the House. They began singing “Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey, hey, hey – goodbye.” And they sounded like a bunch of drunken college students at a home football game taunting their opponent as the clock approaches zero.

But this was not a harmless pigskin game – this was a monumental policy decision that could affect more than 100 million Americans who have true skin in the game.

“After yet another party-line vote in Congress on health care yesterday, we continue to imagine how Washington could be transformed with leaders who represent ‘We, the people’ rather than their own political party,” said Nick Troiano, director of The Centrist Project.

The project’s goal is to elect a small bloc of independent candidates to the House and Senate, giving them enough leverage to force diehard Republicans and Democrats to behave as adults and focus on problem solving.

If Obamacare has not developed as advocates expected, why not search, in a bipartisan, pragmatic manner, for ways to fix the faltering system?

Well, from the standpoint of a typical lawmaker, all issues — even issues that determine whether the seriously disabled or diseased receive proper medical care – presents an opportunity to gain votes in the next election.

How a member of Congress votes depends on their particular political religion, their party loyalty. Rather than engage in an earnest, fix-it process, they depend on faith that their ideology is righteous, and that the opposition’s views are all wrong. Of course, self-preservation, winning re-election, influences every moment of every decision.

As for health care reform, the partisan debate centers on tax subsidies vs. tax credits, health savings accounts, government assistance based on age vs. income, and Medicaid expansion. Objective data on what works and what doesn’t play nearly no role.

Largely missing in the 7-year congressional debate over health care reform is that Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion has unexpectedly produced the biggest impact on helping the uninsured. While Medicaid health care benefits are limited and the access to doctors is constrained, one poll found that nearly 90 percent of new Medicaid enrollees were essentially satisfied with their coverage. That was substantially above the confidence rate of those who gained coverage by shopping on the Obamacare marketplace.

Yet, the AHCA passed on Thursday would halt future expanded coverage of Medicaid and would slash the overall program by more than $800 billion.

As has happened like clockwork in our last several presidential election campaigns, the hot-topic issues that dominate during election season prove to be rather inconsequential once the winner takes (or resumes) the Oval Office.

Unfortunately, the minimal number of Republican moderates who still exist in Congress have been portrayed in the past 24 hours as the group that aggressively finagled the health care bill just enough so that a few extra, essential votes could be secured for passage of the legislation, regardless of the fact that the bill could have dire circumstances for those who face – or will unknowingly face – extraordinarily debilitating medical conditions in the years to come.

At FiveThirtyEight.com, their staff offers a bit of a nuanced look at how the few moderates are affecting this portentous debate as it moves to the Senate:
:

… Thursday’s vote also reflected the power of a different group: moderate Republicans. Earlier this week, the revised bill looked doomed, mostly because in acceding to the demands of conservatives, GOP leaders had made the bill unacceptable to moderates. (Democrats were almost certain to vote unanimously against any plausible version of the bill, as they did on Thursday.) Winning back enough moderate Republicans to get the bill through the House required another set of concessions (including $8 billion in new funding to support coverage for people with pre-existing conditions). And the House vote was just a preview for the coming battle in the Senate, where moderates wield far more influence.

It would be tough to describe the AHCA as a victory for moderates, or even moderate Republicans. (“Moderate” is a relative term in the GOP, of course. Today’s moderates, especially in the House, are very conservative by historical standards.) Even with that $8 billion, the new bill will significantly erode protections for people with pre-existing conditions, according to most analyses; it will also probably leave millions more Americans without health insurance. But moderates provided the key votes to getting the bill over the finish line, and while the concessions they exacted were modest — the final bill is still significantly more conservative than the previous version — they were a signal that no health care reform will become law without their support. In the Senate (and perhaps also in the eventual conference vote in the House), that could require shaving off some of the legislation’s sharpest edges.

This is the way hyper-partisan politics is played on Capitol Hill. If it requires legitimate negotiations and compromise, a reasonable health care outcome is possible. Still, I find it hard to believe that voters of the independent/centrist/moderate persuasion – the largest electoral bloc in our nation – believe that a “moderate” stand consists of passing a bill that puts the sickest among us out of reach of life-saving health care coverage.

Photo: ABC News screenshot

Reagan’s chief of staff nails the dysfunction of our current politics

Reams of data and analysis in recent years have shown how America’s political system is broken, how hyper-partisanship has ruined good-government policy initiatives and put Capitol Hill in constant gridlock.

A tribal, “Yea Team” mentality among voters on the left and right has created a political polarization that is so stark that members of Congress overall are about as respected as used car salesmen who hawk life insurance on the side. Somehow along the path of the past two decades, doctrinaire political thinking – a devotion to party that resembles religious faith – tempted voters into thinking that it has always been this way, give or take.

On the far left, zealots seem to believe that Bernie Sanders is the logical successor of JFK, LBJ or even Jimmy Carter.

On the far right, ultraconservatives hoist Ronald Reagan on high as the ultimate rock-ribbed conservative who stuck to his guns. Ken Duberstein, Reagan’s chief of staff for several years, appeared on CBS’ “Face The Nation” recently and destroyed that notion. In fact, Duberstein related that Reagan was always open to compromise with Democrats and frequently belittled the true believers on the left and right.

According to Duberstein, Reagan’s approach to the give-and-take of negotiating with House Democrats was this: “’I’ll take 80% every time … that’s what governing is all about.’ Reagan understood that the far left and the far right, as he used to remind us, are ‘professional bitchers.’

“They don’t want to be satisfied. That’s how they get their members. That’s how they get their money. So, get what you can, get that 80%. Figure out how to build a (congressional) coalition that gets you that, and then keep moving. And don’t worry about the far left or far right.”

Duberstein’s recollections fit nicely with a recent piece about our current state of dysfunctional politics written for Forbes magazine by a former corporate CEO, Katherine Gehl, and a professor at Harvard Business School, Michael Porter.

Gehl and Porter make the case that the U.S. has betrayed our Constitution as the governing process increasingly is dominated by a political-industrial complex, a closed system, a duopoly tightly controlled by the Democratic and Republican parties. The parties, in turn, are controlled by special interests, lobbyists, pollsters, consultants, think tanks, super PACs, and the media — largely centered on particular partisan-based TV shows, talk-radio, websites and blogs.

“Over the last several decades,” they wrote, “the American political system has been slowly reconfigured to serve not the public interest, but rather the interest of private, gain-seeking organizations: our major political parties and their industry allies.”

The goal on each side is absolute power. The two political parties exist almost exclusively to win elections, not to accomplish any pragmatic improvements for the country. As a result, the preferences of the average voter, sucked in by cheerleading for their chosen team, have “a near-zero impact on public policy.”

At a time when our largest and fastest-growing bloc of voters are independents – those who refuse to kow-tow to either party – Democrats and Republicans each are obsessed with demonizing the opposition.

What’s more, Gehl and Porter argue that the us vs. them partisan politics of the 21st Century has led our system of governance far astray from its origins:

It wasn’t always that way. America’s political system was long the envy of the world. The system advanced the public interest and gave rise to a grand history of policy innovations. Today, however, it serves as only a barrier to solving nearly every important challenge our nation needs to address.

The Harvard Business School’s project on U.S. competitiveness found that Washington has made virtually no progress on any of the essential policy steps needed to restore prosperity and growth. A broken political system has suddenly become the greatest threat to our nation’s future.

So how did we get here? In part, by stealth. Over the last several decades, the … (political) players have put in place a set of rules and practices that, while largely unnoticed by the average citizen, have enhanced their power and diminished our democracy.

Indeed, America’s current political system would be unrecognizable to our Founders. Many of its day-to-day components have no basis whatsoever in the Constitution — which offers no mention of political parties, party primaries, caucuses, ballot access rules, segregated congressional cloakrooms, party-determined committee assignments, filibuster rules, and countless other practices that drive today’s dysfunction. John Adams, our second president and one of the most astute thinkers among America’s founders, even warned the upstart nation against slipping into a duopoly, saying, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.”

Photo: White House photo; Duberstein, right, chats with Reagan and Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker

Don’t like the politics in your neighborhood? Move a few blocks away

A frustrated, seething liberal author, Kevin Baker, recently wrote an essay for The New Republic in which he engaged in an elaborate political fantasy in which Blue States in the Trump era would withdraw from the federal system as much as possible to create their own separate American states.

Baker called it a “virtual secession,” or a “Bluexit,” a play on words relating to Britain’s Brexit – its withdrawal from the European Union.

Baker acknowledged that many liberal Democrats living in Red States would be left behind but his advice was blunt: “Pack your bags.”

Meanwhile, The Cook Report released an analysis of the 2016 election results (enhanced by Five Thirty Eight) that demonstrated the up-for-grabs purple areas of the nation have nearly disappeared since the 1990s.

Today, the political landscape consists of mostly blue cities, mostly red rural areas, and a real hodge-podge of partisan leanings in suburbia. America has become a blue and red stew that never mixes into a purple hue but instead remains separated – like oil and water.

Yet, the Electoral College map and even the maps demonstrating county-by-county voting patterns in 2016 offer a skewed view of the U.S. electorate.

Dig deeper and the partisan divisions in America are found all the way down to the voting precinct level. In turn, local government decisions follow suit on issues ranging from zoning restrictions to minimum wage ordinances, sometimes in surprising ways. City Lab recently reported that Deep Red Texas has laws allowing for far more local control – meaning parochial interests – than the Deep Blue state of Connecticut.

The story remains the same all over the nation, and it now comes into focus due to new cartographic creations that use interactive technology to view the 2016 election results on a precinct-by-precinct basis.

According to City Lab, the unprecedented maps are the creation of amateur cartographer Ryne Rhola, a Ph.D. student in economics at Washington State University.

The deeper the color red, such as in the Plains States, or the color blue, as seen along the California coast, the larger the margin in November for Trump or Hillary Clinton, respectively.

This granular look at the voting process is also available in Michigan, where Democrats still struggle to come to terms with Donald Trump’s razor-thin win over Hillary Clinton, and Republicans are conversely delighted by the outcome, the first time the GOP has carried the state in 28 years. Clearly, the Great Lakes State played a “yuge” factor in Trump’s win.

Mike Wilkinson of Bridge Magazine has created a precinct map of Michigan for the 2016 election results that clearly shows people live in “political bubbles” across the state. The latest assumptions are that all of Michigan north of Bay City is solid red and that all of the Rustbelt areas to the south are hardcore blue.

But the voting patterns from neighborhood to neighborhood are quite telling. Within a stretch of a couple miles, the political views often are nearly polar opposites.

In Macomb County, which continues to receive national media attention as the ultimate example of a Midwest community that won Trump the presidency, the precinct results reveal a far more nuanced picture. Trump won by 40,000 votes in Macomb, which certainly played a leading role in his 10,000-vote margin statewide.

Curious national and international journalists for the past three decades have labeled Macomb as the homogenous, blue collar home of the “Reagan Democrats.” Yet, the working class southern area of the county is solidly Democratic while the white-collar north end is loyally Republican. The middle area is a mix.

The Bridge precinct map shows that bubbles of pro-Trump and pro-Clinton areas emerged in November in rather tight spaces. For example, in Eastpointe’s Precinct 12, located along the I-94 freeway, Clinton trounced Trump with 75 percent of the vote. In the adjacent neighborhood located diagonally to the northeast, Trump comfortably captured Precinct 10 in St. Clair Shores with 54 percent.

Sometimes, the stunningly divergent support for two very different candidates sat side-by-side: In Saginaw County, the residents of Buena Vista Township, a majority African-American community, gave Clinton 81 percent of the vote. In the bordering township to the east, voters in almost-all-white Blumfield Township gave Trump 80 percent of their support.

System will collapse if health insurance treated as a purchased product

This is a column I wrote in April 2012, days after the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments about the constitutionality of Obamacare’s individual mandate. Some of the same arguments are being re-litigated in Washington as congressional Republicans push for a replacement to the Affordable Care Act.

For all those who were disappointed in the tenor of the Supreme Court oral arguments last week – and the tact taken by some of the attorneys arguing the health care case – it surely seems that the highest court in the land, handling one of the biggest cases in recent history, should have raised the level of intellectual inquiry.

At one point, the court justices pondered the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate within the context of the broccoli argument – which had already become a cliché among non-lawyers. That approach boils down a complex issue to this: If the federal government can force you to buy health insurance, can they then force you to buy a certain product, like broccoli?

Here’s the discussion I would have liked to have heard:

The market for health insurance is far different from buying products and, in fact, all insurance policies present much different dynamics than simply buying a vegetable. Everyone will use health care at some point; some will pay for it, some will force the rest of us to pay for it.
Have the justices considered that a healthy 30-year-old man doesn’t buy health insurance because he needs it now. He buys it because he knows that he will need it someday. That’s the obvious concept behind all insurance protections.

And, of course, a health care insurance “pool” that includes all the healthy young people in the nation keeps rates low by spreading the cost-savings to everyone.

That’s the reasoning behind state-mandated auto insurance. Without insurance, an auto owner, no matter how safe their driving habits, could be hit with huge repair bills at any moment. People do not buy extensive auto body repairs. They hope to avoid them. But they buy insurance to protect against that moment when extensive repairs are needed.

Has the high court considered that we are forced by banks and mortgage companies to purchase homeowner’s insurance. Is that unconstitutional? Or illogical? A person who buys homeowner’s insurance is not paying for elaborate home repairs. They hope to never suffer from a house fire or a tornado. But they are required to have insurance because they need to be responsible and to prepare.

When people buy life insurance they are, first of all, buying into the greatest Orwellian sales pitch ever devised by American companies. This is not life insurance, it is death insurance. So, who is happy about buying a product that provides nothing until you die? Are people who buy these policies wishing to die?

Insurance is for whatever may come – it’s not a product that you hold in your hand or use on a regular basis.

I wish an attorney who appeared before the court had presented this scenario:

Suppose a woman who has health insurance shops at the grocery store and buys a few items – but decides to avoid the broccoli. She goes through the checkout, leaves the store and decides not to head down the street to buy a gym membership.

As she heads to her car and steps off the sidewalk, she is hit by a bus and suffers serious injuries. When she stepped off the curb, did she, at that moment, make a decision to purchase health care? Of course not.

But she will receive medical care because of her insurance coverage. She previously demonstrated personal responsibility and planned ahead, creating a safety net for whatever may come.

She prepared for that bus accident, though she certainly did not wish for it. She did not happily buy emergency medical treatment provided in an ambulance. She did not pay for multiple operations. She did not purchase the high-tech machinery that helps the emergency room surgeons piece her back together.

A woman in that identical situation who lacks insurance will get all the expensive, quality care that the woman in the example above does. Except we all pay for the uninsured woman’s expenses — which would likely approach $100,000 — through taxes and higher insurance rates. This “uncompensated care” costs the nation’s families more than $1,000 a year through a so-called hidden tax.

That is the Feeloader Factor.

The individual health care mandate, which offers a financial penalty as an alternative, is based on the reality that one-fifth of the U.S. population is uninsured but hospitals are required to care for anyone who shows up at their ER door.

All of us, from our first breath, become part of our national health care system. It is not a free market system and never will be. We don’t make decisions on which hospital to use while we’re bleeding in the back of an ambulance. Our employers decide what insurance coverage most of us receive. And, in many cases, our doctors decide when we will use that coverage and to what extent.

Those who argue for a more individual, free-market approach have found that it is nearly impossible to “shop” for an MRI or a mastectomy. The person who purchases insurance is not buying a colonoscopy or an X-ray. They are paying for a financial management system that takes care of all the policyholder’s medical bills.
The uninsured also are interconnected within that system. They simply decide not to contribute financially. Many of those who choose “inactivity,” as the Supreme Court justices call it, are young people who seem healthy but are also the demographic group that most most frequently suffers serious injuries from accidents involving cars, motorcycles, bikes, Wave Runners or ORVs.

The conservatives at the Heritage Foundation who first devised the individual mandate many years ago saw it as complimentary to an “implicit contract” that all Americans accept. Someone who suddenly suffers a heart attack on the street and has spent their money over the years on various consumer products rather than insurance still receives medical care.

That’s the societal compact that binds us together and makes the claim of individual choice of insurance “inactivity” something that our Supreme Court should instinctively reject.

The alternative is an ideological system that deals with the uninsured in a simple manner: “Let ‘em die.”
Of course, the person who has no health insurance under that scenario probably also does not have death insurance. So, one individual’s irresponsibility, demonstrated at two levels, leaves one person dead and his family potentially destitute.

That doesn’t sound like the kind of American freedom that we expect our court to protect.

Trump ready to sign bill protecting contractors that cheat workers

After receiving approval by a 49-48 vote in the Senate on Monday, legislation headed for President Trump’s signature will discard an Obama administration rule that punishes federal contractors who have cheated their workers on overtime pay and the minimum wage.

The bill would repeal an executive order that also targeted companies cited for unsafe workplaces or discriminatory practices.

A Senate Democratic report released Monday found that, of the federal government’s 100 largest contractors, 66 have been caught breaking federal labor laws. Those top 100 received nearly $240 billion in tax dollars in 2015. The largest contractor, Lockheed Martin, had nearly 3,000 violation and has agreed back pay for workers of $3.5 million.

The study also revealed that, of the 100 largest penalties imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) since Jan. 1, 2015, more than a third were issued to companies that have held federal contracts within the last decade.

The new rule, which has been tied up in the courts, would grant preferential treatment to bidders on federal contracts that have not engaged in anti-labor activities. The executive order, signed by President Obama in August, required employers bidding on federal contracts to disclose violations and alleged violations of 14 federal labor laws, and similar state labor laws, over the past three years.

That list included violations of minimum wage and overtime, health and safety, collective bargaining and civil rights.

The GovExec website reports that business groups cried foul, labeling it the “blacklisting” rule, and filed lawsuits to block it.

Trump is expected to sign the bill based on previous statements and two of the president’s choices for his Cabinet: Treasury Secretary Elaine Chao and Andy Puzder, who later withdrew as the Labor Secretary nominee. Both have an extensive history of failing to enforce, or comply with, federal labor laws.

The House approved the bill protecting contractors last month by a 236-187 margin.

Senate Republicans on Monday latched onto the corporate argument that the Obama rule doesn’t allow for due process.

But a record of violations wouldn’t necessarily mean that a company can’t secure a federal contract. Only actual violations would enter into agency decisions on awarding a contract and procurement officers would work with the companies to come into compliance with the law.

According to the Labor Department, the rule would apply to roughly 14,000 contractors each year but only a small percentage of those are likely to have “serious, repeated, willful, or pervasive violations to report.”

In a blog written for The Huffington Post by two former officials at Obama’s Labor Department, they urged Republicans not to kill the rule. Hold contractors to higher standards than in the past, argued Sharon Block and Chris Lu, just as Trump pressured Carrier not to lay off Indiana workers partly because the air conditioning manufacturer benefits from federal money.

“Trump implicitly threatened Carrier’s future as a government contractor because of corporate behavior that he perceived to be contrary to the best interests of its employees — namely, by moving their jobs out of the country,” they wrote. “We challenge the new president to show us that he is committed to standing up to federal contractors to deliver lasting wins for American workers — and not just looking for press-friendly sound bites.”

Photo: Wikicommons

Poll: Trump voters say ‘Bowling Green Massacre’ shows need for travel ban

A new poll finds the disturbing degree of blind faith placed in the Trump administration by Trump voters.

A survey by Public Policy Polling released over the weekend found that those who voted for the president support his proposed travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries and, by a 51-23% margin, they say a reason for greater protection against immigrants is the so-called “Bowling Green Massacre.”

Of course, the massacre never happened. Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, used those words twice in interviews with the media. But what actually happened in Bowling Green, Ky., in 2011 was that two Iraqi immigrants were arrested and convicted for planting IED explosives aimed at U.S. troops several years earlier during the Iraq War.

Beyond the frightening degree of ignorance displayed, the PPP poll found that Trump voters’ support for the administration’s actions during the president’s first three weeks in office stands in sharp contrast to the majority of Americans.

For example, 66% of voters consider the United States to be a safe country, compared to only 23% who consider it unsafe. The survey found opposition to Trump’s executive order on immigration and in particular disapproval of any attempt to establish a Muslim ban. They’re against a wall with Mexico and a tax on imports to pay for it.

From there, the poll only gets worse for Trump. A majority said they didn’t like the way Trump handled the EO, and they’re definitely not fond of his picks for the Cabinet and his White House staff, including Conway, Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. Only 27% of survey respondents have a positive opinion of Michigan’s Betsy DeVos, the president’s pick for education secretary, while 49% view her negatively.

Race issues also present a sharp disconnect between Trump voters and the rest of America.

PPP noted that it was unclear earlier this month whether Trump knew who 19th Century civil rights pioneer Frederick Douglass was, and that puts him in pretty good alignment with his political base. Only 47% of Trump voters know that Douglass is dead, compared to 78% of Clinton voters who know that.

Even though they could definitely benefit from it, PPP added, Trump voters aren’t enthused about February serving as Black History Month. Some 45% of them have a favorable opinion of it, to 35% with a negative view. By contrast it’s 81-9% for Clinton voters. And in a measure of the race-based economic anxiety gripping Trump supporters, 46% think there should be a White History Month, while 36% oppose that concept.

Bipartisan groups urge Congress to take care when reforming Obamacare

Two of the leading bipartisan groups that focus on fiscal responsibility have issued warnings to President-elect Donald Trump and the new Republican Congress that upcoming budget matters, and especially Obamacare reforms, must be handled in a way that does not increase the projected federal debt or damage Medicare.

The nation’s accumulated debt is expected to hit $20 trillion within days but The Concord Coalition fears that Capitol Hill politics will overshadow a clear-thinking process:

(Creating a 2018 budget) is also where critical trade-offs must be made to ensure that tax and spending proposals fit within a responsible framework. This can serve as a needed reality check on random campaign promises that were made primarily for their vote-getting appeal.

In recent years, budget resolutions have become more about political messaging and less about actual fiscal guidance. The delayed fiscal year 2017 budget resolution now under consideration is a good example. Its purpose is not to set in place a blueprint for the fiscal year, which is one-third over, but to establish a fast-track mechanism for repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The numbers are merely incidental and bear no relationship to Republican policy proposals.

The coalition urged Congress to raise the debt limit in a timely manner to avoid problems with the U.S. credit rating and to ensure that a repeal of the Affordable Care Act simultaneously includes a replacement.

At the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, they put out a report last week that said repeal of Obamacare without a replacement would leave 23 million Americans uninsured while it would actually cost the federal government $350 billion over a decade. That amount drops to $150 billion if the always-controversial dynamic scoring method is used. That approach attempts to estimate increased economic activity over the next 10 years due to changes in taxes and spending.

Maya MacGuineas, president of CRFB, wrote an opinion piece earlier this week that said a more likely outcome in the House and Senate is some kind of staggered approach involving immediately repealing the ACA mandates and taxes (essentially gutting the program) while delaying the repeal of the other coverage provisions as a replacement package is crafted. That approach would potentially save from $550 billion (for two years) to $300 billion (for four years.)

The CFRB has warned that full repeal of the ACA would spell big trouble for the Medicare program. Under current law, CBO projects Medicare’s Part A trust fund for hospitalization will exhaust its reserve by 2026. But full repeal of Obamacare would hasten that insolvency date to 2021 and more than triple the program’s 10-year deficit.

Photo: WCBY-TV, Bristol, Va., screenshot

Obscure company reaps $27 million from Trump email campaign

John Yob, the controversial wheeler-dealer of Michigan Republican Party politics, scooped up millions of dollars through a contract with the Republican National Committee that benefited the Donald Trump campaign, so much so that Yob now lives in an ocean front mansion in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Washington Post has a fascinating story today about a tangled web of GOP connections that led to a small Michigan-based company, with Yob as a key player, making an estimated $27 million by selling huge email lists of potential GOP donors to the RNC.

Relying on Federal Election Commission reports, the Post found that Yob had tapped into the highly lucrative business of selling and renting email lists through the firm Conservative Connector. The company had started out slowly in 2012 but hit the jackpot through a clique of GOP insiders.

In particular, Yob latched onto Ethan Elion, who began providing consulting services to the RNC for email fundraising in mid-2015.

Last December, the lucrative cashing-in that took place became obvious as Yob and Elion relocated to the Virgin Islands in a very big way. According to the Post, Yob used a limited liability corporation (LLC) to purchase a $4 million villa on the island of St. John.

The luxury estate features an indoor and outdoor pool, a waterfall and sunset views of the St. Thomas and Cruz Bay harbors.

Yob and Elion and their wives used their new digs to pull off a political coup, winning a strange, high-profile power struggle last spring to become delegates – and exert control over the Virgin Islands delegation – to the Republican National Convention.

The email list business that John Yob seems to have perfected cultivates some of its unsuspecting targets from conservative website registrations.

The email list business that John Yob seems to have perfected cultivates some of its unsuspecting targets from conservative website registrations.


Yob, formerly of Grand Rapids, is the son of Chuck Yob, a longtime GOP kingmaker and a former Michigan representative on the RNC. It remains to be seen how the younger Yob might want to influence state GOP politics from afar.

If, as expected, MIGOP chair Ronna Romney McDaniel is chosen as the new RNC leader in the coming weeks, one potential candidate to take her state party seat is Ron Weiser. In 2009-11 Weiser served as state party chair in one of a long line of high-ranking positions within the GOP. Weiser is a multi-millionaire and previous RNC official who enjoys a close political alliance with party patriarch Dick DeVos and his wife Betsy, Trump’s choice for Education Secretary.

Weiser, who won a seat on the University of Michigan board in November (on a second try), also served on the national Trump fundraising cabal created by the RNC known as the Make America Great Again Committee.
It seems fairly obvious that the committee worked with Yob’s Conservative Connector company, so the speculative question is: Does Weiser have a financial interest in one of Yob’s LLCs?

The question is fair because the Post found that Conservative Connector’s cast of characters is hard to pin down. On corporate disclosure forms, Conservative Connector apparently lists the same Grand Rapids address as several companies run by Yob and Elion.

When contacted by the Post, Elion referred the newspaper’s questions about the email fundraising business to the RNC but it eventually fell upon Yob to respond.

“We are proud of the hundreds of millions of dollars we have helped raise for Republicans across the country in recent years, including the RNC and president-elect,” Yob said in a statement.

Yob’s resume as a campaign consultant extends to deputy political director of John McCain’s presidential bid in 2008, manager of Gov. Rick Snyder’s runs in 2010 and 2014, and national political director for Sen. Rand Paul in the 2016 presidential primaries.

With those connections, Yob tapped the enormous profits that lie waiting for those with a knack for creating email lists without the fundraising targets’ knowledge.

The Post found that in a space of just two days in late October, Yob’s list-broker company collected $6.6 million from Trump’s Make America Great Again Committee, and another payment for $4.7 million came Nov. 10, two days after the election.

Meanwhile, the compiled list of 10 million email addresses continues to pay dividends. Responding to online solicitations, post-election donors gave millions of dollars to the Trump campaign and the RNC in exchange for the receipt of an official “Trump Presidential Cap” or a “Make America Great Again” Christmas tree ornament (at $149 each.)

Photo: Fox News screenshots

Michigan Dems, GOP assembling armies of recount monitors

In light of a federal judge’s ruling shortly after midnight today ordering the Michigan recount to begin by noon, county clerks are scrambling to put election workers into place for a second count of the 4.8 million votes cast in the presidential election.

Both political parties are gearing up for a contentious process that will play out in counties across the state.

In email messages to supporters sent on Wednesday and again on Sunday, the Hillary Clinton campaign put out the call for volunteers to serve as recount monitors at counting centers in 19 counties.

“In the weeks since the heartbreak of Election Day, our campaign has taken a number of steps to verify the accuracy of the vote tally in a few critical battleground states — and to this point, we’ve found no evidence that would change the outcome,” Katie Kelly of the Clinton campaign wrote in one email. “But as you might have heard, now that others have asked for a recount of the vote here in Michigan, we will participate to make sure everyone who voted for Hillary in this state has their interests represented.”

The Michigan Republican Party sent a memo to party members on Friday outlining a training schedule for all those who want to serve as GOP monitors at recount sites. Seven online training sessions for Republicans were scheduled through today and more will be added. The GOP didn’t indicate if it was targeting certain counties.

“To participate as a recount volunteer, it is mandatory to participate in a webinar training session hosted by MIGOP,” the emailed memo said. “… Again, participating in a webinar training is MANDATORY to act as a recount volunteer and it is critical to protecting our win through this recount.”

The nation has not seen something like this, with Democratic and Republican observers arguing over individual paper ballots, since the infamous recount of 2000 in Florida.

In Wisconsin, where the presidential vote recount has already begun (pictured above), news reports indicate that monitors from both parties have crowded into recount rooms established by county clerks.

In Michigan, the Board of Canvassers deadlocked on how to proceed after lawyers for President-elect Donald Trump and state Attorney General Bill Schuette filed suit to halt the recount process.

Green Party candidate Jill Stein filed her recount request Wednesday, along with a check for $973,250 to cover the mandated fees to recount ballots in the state’s 6,300 precincts. Stein said she is not claiming that she was denied a consequential number of votes, but she has raised the issue of a significant “undervote.”

The undervote on 85,000 ballots indicates that no choice for president was marked on those ballots. Stein and her chief legal counsel in Michigan, former state Democratic Party chairman Mark Brewer, argue that the ovals on those ballots may have been sufficiently filled in by voters the but the optical scan counting machines may have failed to detect it.

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said Wednesday the recount will cost more than $5 million, most of it to be borne by Michigan taxpayers. Johnson’s elections chief, Chris Thomas, said he doubts the recount can be finished by the Dec. 13 deadline.

Photo: WBAY-TV Wisconsin screenshot

Top Trump campaign aide guilty on 10 counts of election fraud

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Brandon Hall, the controversial west Michigan blogger who served as a key figure in the Donald Trump campaign’s organizing efforts across the state, was found guilty today on 10 felony counts of election fraud.

In Ottawa County Circuit Court, a jury took less than an hour to find Hall guilty of forging signatures on nominating petitions for a circuit judge candidate who was a Hall political ally. In 2012, Hall, now 27, admitted to signing fake signatures on the petition of Chris Houghtaling as they traveled to the state capital of Lansing to beat the candidate filing deadline. Hall used different pens and both hands to make the signatures look distinct.

Though he hopes to appeal the verdict, Hall now faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced on Dec. 27.

While Hall was not a part of the national Trump campaign apparatus, he emerged early in the primary election season as an ardent supporter of the New York billionaire and later played a key role as a leader of the Trump camp’s grassroots efforts in the state.

Hall and a group of young GOP activists emerged as the team that would provide field work and organizing efforts. The state communications director for Trump praised Hall’s campaign role in a post-election commentary on Facebook:

“Beyond just helping me, he wore about 10 different hats for the campaign and came through for everyone time and time again, even when he knew he would not be receiving the credit,” said Tim Lineberger. “I am proud to call Brandon one of my best friends and look forward to seeing what he does next. No doubt it will be HUGE!”

It’s unclear if the national Trump campaign team was aware of Hall’s track record of law-breaking when they put him in a significant campaign position.

According to MLive, Hall in 2008 was elected to the Grand Haven school board at age 18, then resigned two years later after being convicted of stealing $750 from an American Cancer Society fundraiser. In 2012, Hall emerged as a candidate for the 89th state House seat, dropping out before the primary election when he was jailed for violating probation by testing positive for marijuana. He ran unsuccessfully in a 2014 comeback attempt as a write-in candidate for the school board.

In 2015, the Michigan Secretary of State ruled that Hall violated campaign finance law during a Grand Haven City Council election by omitting required disclaimers from a postcard mailing.

While his election fraud charges relating to the 2012 nominating forgeries were pending, Hall’s blog, West MI Politics, occasionally posted eyebrow-raising right-wing claims without offering facts.

Yet, Hall brashly mounted a campaign for a state House seat in this year’s August GOP primary in Ottawa County but received just 8 percent of the vote.

At the fraud trial in Ottawa County, one of Hall’s friends, Zachary Savage, testified against him in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Hall did not take the stand and his attorney offered no defense witnesses.

Poll: GOP must now heed working class voters, not business

A poll conducted on Election Night finds that working class voters — whites without a college degree — are now as staunchly part of the Republican base as blacks and Hispanics are lopsidedly Democratic.

The survey by pollster Stan Greenberg shows that President-elect Donald Trump’s largest bloc of support in the election came from white non-college men, by a 72-23 percent margin over Hillary Clinton. The GOP candidate’s second strongest base of support consisted of white non-college class women, by a 61-35 percent margin.

That approaches the devotion on the Democratic side by black voters, with an 88-8 percent edge for Clinton, and Hispanics, at 65-29 percent.

This new coalition led by Trump, the poll found, has a decidedly unfriendly view of the wealthy and corporate elites, which could spawn a sea change in the Republican-controlled House and Senate on economic issues. Imagine for a moment the prospect of Sen. Bernie Sanders siding with his GOP colleagues on populist legislation dealing with an issue such as tax reform.

Trump’s narrow Electoral College victory, and Republican hopes for a repeat in 2020, center on the GOP’s ability to keep that group of economically challenged voters happy.

“More than anything, people are angry that the game appears to be rigged by corporate special interests,” said Greenberg, who coined the label “Reagan Democrats” after studying Macomb County, Mich., voters in 1985.
Trump’s defining issue, anti-trade and outsourcing, could further create a wedge between the new Trump GOP and corporate America.

The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research firm, which works with Democratic candidates, posed a couple of questions to voters that were particularly revealing. They sought respondents’ views on trickle-down economics and CEOs of large companies.

They asked voters to express their feelings using a hypothetical thermometer, with a temperature of 100 as very warm and favorable and zero as very cold and unfavorable. A temp of 50, obviously, would be right in the middle, or neutral.

So, the reaction among white non-college men to trickle-down policies was chilly – 36 percent expressing unfavorable views compared to 27 percent favorable. Among white non-college women, the numbers were more lopsided, 38 percent cold, and just 11 percent warm.

As for corporate CEOs, they received a frosty reaction in the poll. Non-college men were at 47-19 percent unfavorable; non-college women were nearly identical in their thinking, 46-16 percent. What’s more, in both demographic categories 34 percent registered as very cool — zero to 25 — in their assessment of the corporate elite. That matched the response from Clinton voters overall.

Those aren’t Sanders-style statistics, but they are certainly a long way from the Romney coalition of 2012. As the Vermont senator has lamented, the working class favored Trump’s populist message by huge margins.

Nate Cohn, elections analyst for the New York Times blog, “The Upshot,” adds another wrinkle to the shifting pieces of the pie within the American electorate. Cohn said that last week’s exit polls dramatically demonstrated that, in the suburbs, many well-educated, white-collar white voters are now solidly in the Democratic camp. At the same time, blue-collar suburbanites, including many who voted for President Obama in 2012, have shifted to Trump and the Republicans.

Here’s how Cohn explained it:

Clinton made huge gains in the enclaves of the liberal elite, places like Boston, Seattle, Washington, D.C., where there’s a large professional class of lawyers or scientists or professors. But she just did not make similar gains in middle-class suburbs, like Long Island or around Tampa, Fla.

I think that people are broadly aware of the split between the white middle class and the professional class/wealthier suburbs. Say, the difference between Philadelphia’s Main Line and Levittown in Bucks County. Or between Westchester County and Staten Island. Or Oakland County/Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and Macomb County, Mich.

But this gap was a lot more salient in this presidential election than in a lot of recent contests.

It’s been trending this way for a while, but this was a pretty stark split. And that’s a big part of why Clinton’s gains among well-educated whites didn’t pay off as much in the battleground states, even as she ran up the score in coastal states like Washington State, California and Massachusetts.

Graph: Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research

Could plan to circumvent Electoral College gain steam?

A movement to undermine the Electoral College, which has largely lied dormant for several years, may be gaining steam after Hillary Clinton’s win in the popular vote while losing the election to Donald Trump in the Electoral College.

The outcome marks the second time in the past five elections for the White House that the winner of the popular vote (Al Gore in 2000) has lost the Electoral College tally.

The National Popular Vote plan would make the raw national vote totals the determining factor in choosing the presidency, without seeking a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College.

The way it would work is that states that reach a presidential election majority, 270 electoral votes, would sign a compact pledging that their electors will vote for whichever candidate wins the popular vote. That would be the promise made, by law, regardless of the election outcome within each of these particular states. The constitution allows states full autonomy in the method of choosing their electors.

Skeptics should note that the effort, which began more than a decade ago, has already secured the backing of 10 states and the District of Columbia, totaling 165 electoral votes. The plan has been introduced in 50 state legislatures and, in addition to the states in support, the plan has passed in one legislative chamber in 12 more states that add up to 96 electoral votes.

The partial success in those states, if completed, would put the National Popular Vote compact at 261 electoral votes, just nine short of making it a reality.

10 states on board so far

The states so far that have passed the measure are only traditionally Democratic-leaning states and none is a battleground: California, Illinois, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington state.

Since it became clear that Clinton had won the popular vote by about 400,000 votes, or a margin of 0.3 percent, disappointed Clinton supporters are chatting about eliminating the Electoral College on social media and petitions are circulating online in support of getting rid of it.

But pursuing a constitutional amendment, which is required to dump the Electoral College, is a rather foolish approach. The researchers at Five Thirty Eight report that 700 constitutional amendments have been introduced in Congress to change or eliminate the Electoral College over the past 200 years and none have come close to passing. The complaints about the winner-take-all approach for each state began shortly after the republic was created.

The reason why the National Popular Vote movement is so, well, popular in big states like California and New York is because those are noncompetitive, solidly Blue States that receive nearly no attention from the presidential candidates.

On Monday, N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation reaffirming his state’s support for the proposed agreement. Officials on hand pointed out that candidates concentrate more than two-thirds of their advertising budget and two-thirds of their campaign stops in just five states. Almost 100 percent of their message is seen in approximately 16 battleground states. New York has 19.5 million people, but it’s routinely ignored by campaigns.

Just three states got majority of candidates’ attention

The concentration on just a few battleground states, prompted by the growing partisan polarization in the electorate, gained focus in the 2016 campaign season. Most of the country stood by as mere spectators throughout the heated contest.

Clinton and running mate Tim Kaine, after the Democratic convention in July, held almost 60 percent of their campaign events in just three states — Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. If Ohio is added as a fourth destination, the myopic approach reached three-quarters of all Democratic events in just four states.

Looking at it from another vantage point, the Clinton-Kaine ticket only held three post-convention campaign events outside of the 11 states that were marked as battlegrounds based on the 2012 election.

Trump followed a more unconventional path to the presidency, varying his travel schedule more so than the Dems. But Trump’s list of winning states – many of them in the rural regions of the Plains and the Mountain West — raises another key argument against the Electoral College and in favor of a direct election.

Because we have a state-by-state process in which small states enjoy a disproportionate share of clout, it is less than truly democratic. For example, the rural state of Wyoming, which has a population below the other 49 states and D.C. — and even dozens of metropolitan areas — receives the minimum three electoral votes, based on its two U.S. senators and one House member.

So, Wyoming receives one electoral vote for every 192,000 people. Texas, for example, receives one electoral vote for every 685,000 people. As people in California point out, a vote in Wyoming for president is essentially worth four times as much as a vote by a Californian.

National agenda becomes urban agenda?

However, experts say the downside to a presidential election based on the popular vote is that the candidates, rather than spending all their time in a few key states, would spend most of their time in the nation’s largest cities and suburbs. The national agenda could be tilted toward a decidedly urban flavor.

That potential ideological overhaul could manifest a typically 21st Century dogfight, with Republicans engaging in an all-out effort to destroy the compact. Election results in 2012 and again in 2016 show the GOP as the party of rural voters — in the least populous sections of the country and in the Upper Midwest. Yet, a pre-election survey by the Rasmussen polling firm, which leans right, found that 58 percent of Republican voters approved, either enthusiastically or with some reservations, the elimination of the Electoral College.

At the same time, under a system based on the popular vote, minorities could be brushed aside in an election where the Electoral College is moot. Currently, courting the Hispanic vote is a key means of winning a big, important state like Florida. But the Hispanic vote takes on far less importance in a national vote where they represent just 17 percent of the total.

Before 2000, only twice before, since the beginning of the two-party system, has the winner of the popular vote lost the presidency — and the other two occurred in the 19th century. Gore’s popular vote win 16 years ago was thoroughly overshadowed by the ensuing five weeks of recount battles in Florida.

The hundreds of anti-Electoral College proposals that have emerged in the past failed because it is so difficult to amend the constitution. A proposed amendment must be approved by two-thirds of both the House and Senate and then ratified by at least 38 out of 50 states. The closest Congress has come to amending it since 1804 was in 1969 when the House passed a resolution that proposed the direct election of a president and vice president, but it failed in the Senate.

The futility of the amendment route remains a key selling point for the National Popular Vote project.

“I feel very bullish about the popular vote proposal,” said Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, which supports the plan, in a recent interview. “I think that there’s every reason to expect that it will pass if not by 2020, by 2024. I think it actually has a real shot for 2020.”

In Michigan GOP, opposing Trump is worse than committing a crime

UPDATE: Wendy Day was removed from her GOP position Monday night by party Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel.

Did you hear about Wendy Day? She is a GOP official under fire within the Michigan Republican Party, especially from critics who want her booted out of the party.

What did she do? Well, she didn’t claim that Donald Trump sexually assaulted her in the past. She didn’t assert that Trump is unfit for the presidency. And she didn’t say that the bombastic billionaire is an all-around embarrassing nominee for the GOP.

What she did was declare publicly that she cannot vote for Trump.

The amazing aspect of this story is that this is the same state party which has failed to take any action in the past three years when faced with the fact that certain GOP officials have glaring criminal records or have engaged in outright hostility toward the MIGOP from within, even issuing a call for top officials to be forced out.

Day, of Howell, served as a leader of the Ted Cruz campaign in Michigan throughout the 2016 presidential primaries and has made it clear in Facebook posts that she does not support Trump.

But, unlike Cruz, she is sticking to her principles and continues to say she cannot endorse the nominee. For that bit of disloyalty to the party — the same kind of dissent that’s become rampant in GOP circles across the nation – a move is afoot to humiliate Day and oust her from her position as the GOP grassroots vice chair.

In a letter to MIGOP Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel sent over the weekend, Republican activist Matt Hall made the case that Day must go: “We have a duty, as party officers, to support the nominees the voters have chosen. If at any time we are unable to support the nominees within our party, one can choose to resign and forego this important role in party leadership.”

As of now, Romney McDaniel is taking no action. That fits the pattern, but in a disturbing manner.

Ex-cons are welcome

Let’s consider Darwin Jiles. At the age of 29, political newcomer Jiles was elected GOP vice chair for minority outreach. That show of support came in February 2015 at the Republican state convention though Jiles has two violent gun crimes on his record.

In the first case, Jiles faced four charges, including two felonies for attempted murder. He copped a plea and served 2 ½ years in juvenile detention facilities. In the second incident, Jiles shot and seriously injured a man. He again faced felony charges but they were lowered to a misdemeanor and he received one year of probation.

Some of this information came out before the convention vote; some after. One of the party elders, the late Paul Welday of Oakland County, was stunned by the election of Jiles: “Disgraceful and shocking,” Welday tweeted. “May be the most inappropriate candidate ever.”

Yet, the party loyalists remained mum.

If party loyalty, not criminal activity, is the overriding issue in 2016, Jiles is also guilty on that account. In September 2015, just several months after winning the vice chair post, Jiles, of Oakland Township, let loose with a vicious attack on Romney McDaniel, comparing her to Hillary Clinton and calling her the most “incompetent, unethical, immoral and special interest-backed” chair the state party has ever known.
He added that Romney McDaniel, a niece of the 2012 presidential candidate, was leading “an evil agenda of power” that was designed to create a “Romney family political cartel” that will cater strictly to the “political and wealthy elite.”
The response? Nothing.

The biggest crook

Of course, Jiles is far from the biggest crook to be exposed in the very recent history of the MIGOP.

William Rauwerdink of West Bloomfield Township was a GOP State Committee member seeking re-election at that same February 2015 convention when Jiles emerged. Rauwerdink quietly bowed out from seeking another term when it was revealed that, after facing a 16-count federal criminal indictment for cooking the books at Troy-based Lason Inc., Rauwerdink pleaded guilty in 2007 to several felony fraud charges, served nearly four years in prison, and was ordered to pay $285 million in restitution to a long list of victims.

Again it was Welday, the grown-up in the party, who said he and other GOP veterans were “shell-shocked” by Rauwerink’s secret white-collar criminal past and were ashamed that he ever played a role in the party.

The MIGOP leaders in Lansing tacitly let the scandal slide, hoping it would fade away.

Yet, after Rauwerdink quietly surrendered his bid for a continued State Committee seat he quickly latched onto the 14th Congressional District GOP in his home territory. He now holds five positions in the party at the district and Oakland County level. But he’s a big Trump supporter, so I guess he gets a pass.

Other GOP bad boys who escaped party enforcement in the past three years have included the infamous former Republican National Committee representative from Michigan, Dave Agema, who engaged in bigoted tirades on Facebook that go beyond anything Trump has said or implied.

Then there was Doug Sedenquist, a former State Committee member and Delta County GOP vice chair in the U.P., a Tea Partier who gleefully offered crude criticisms of the party establishment. That was until he was found guilty of terrorizing his ex-wife after holding Wisconsin police at bay while armed with a rifle. After initially facing four felony charges he is serving three years in prison.

Judge says: ‘lack of good moral character’

Finally, we have “Trucker Randy” Bishop, one of Sedenquist’s best buddies, who remains as the Antrim County GOP chair (and an ex-officio State Committee member) despite being exposed as a
two-time felon during his days in Macomb County.

In Macomb, Bishop declared bankruptcy, lost his builder’s license, was accused of not paying his federal and state taxes and, after fraudulently claiming in writing that he had never been convicted of a felony, lost his real estate broker’s license in 2001.

A judge declared that Trucker Randy’s fraudulent behavior “illustrates his inability to serve the
public in an open and honest manner — and his lack of good moral character.”

Yet, party big-wigs never made a move to sanction him, even after he declared war on the MIGOP in August 2013 and said on his northern Michigan radio show that it was time for Michigan “patriots” to seize control of the state party.

So, after all this, Day must be shaking her head in dismay – or disgust, or disbelief.

In a letter to Romney McDaniel sent Monday afternoon, Day outlined her history of support for the MIGOP and she added this:

“This year, however, I am unable to endorse our Republican presidential candidate. I certainly cannot support Hillary Clinton either. This simply is a matter of conscience. While some may say that I am not supporting the party, that is simply not true. In fact, in looking long term, I am doing my best to try to protect what the party has stood for.”

What happens next is impossible to predict in this topsy-turvy election year. But those who want to punish all Republican activists who shun Trump should know that polls show only about 75% of GOP voters express allegiance to the nominee, a dangerously low level for Trump this close to Election Day.

Some Trump loyalists may want to raise up pitchforks and torches and invade the Michigan countryside rounding up those 25% in opposition. That would certainly amount to the Trumpian way of doing things.

But I suspect most mature, even-keeled Michigan Republicans would be well beyond shell-shocked at such an anti-democratic, anti-Republican move.

Will Trump have his Col. Jessup moment in tonight’s debate?

I was convinced many months ago that, at some point, Donald Trump would have his “Damn right I ordered the Code Red” moment. Maybe that moment will come Monday night.

We all know the scene, from the 1992 courtroom drama “A Few Good Men,” when Col. Jessup, the egomaniacal military commander played by Jack Nicholson, his blood boiling, begins to realize that his series of lies are coming unraveled under questioning. He blurts out that he gave the orders that led to the death of a Marine, not grasping the consequences of his sudden collision with the truth.

Trump is past overdue for such an implosion.

Maybe he would reveal the details of his many business failures. Maybe he would provide graphic proof that he has virtually no knowledge of, or interest in, foreign policy. Perhaps he might expose why he’s keeping his tax returns under wraps.

At that moment, Trump would look in wonderment at the stunned, silent audience around him as they comprehend the enormity of the verbal stumble he had suffered.

Hillary Clinton certainly has her share of baggage but it’s nearly impossible to imagine the former secretary of state, if cornered by the moderator on Monday, exploding in fury as Nicholson/Jessup did in that iconic scene (written by the incomparable Aaron Sorkin).

But Trump, wound tight with all his narcissism and bravado, is a Jessup-like character to the core.

We await the drama on stage at Hoffstra University to see how it plays out.

Illustration: Donkey-hote

Would Biden be heading for a landslide win right about now?

After Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination and Hillary Clinton made peace with most of the Bernie Sanders supporters, some Democrats eagerly envisioned a blowout for Clinton in the November election.

When Trump suffered a series of miscues (larger blunders than the usual fare), Clinton started to pull away in early August and the prospect of an Electoral College landslide seemed to emerge.

Since then, Clinton’s coasting and the endless punditry about her unsecured private emails have taken a toll.

Let’s face it, Republicans are just better at the buzzwords and bullet points and bloviating that keeps certain stories going and going long beyond their usual shelf life.

Yet, a Democratic candidate without all of Clinton’s baggage – and her disastrous disapproval rating in the mid-50s among voters – probably ensures that this will be a close election. It’s painfully obvious for the party that a large bloc of voters is determined to vote against Clinton, even if that means plunking down a vote for one of the mediocre third-party candidates in the running.

But I wonder: What if the Dems had nominated a much stronger, likeable candidate? Perhaps Joe Biden.

The vice president is a much better campaigner than Clinton and he’s far more popular, with a favorable/unfavorable rating of 48-36 percent in the latest Gallup poll, a solid 12-point spread that he has maintained for quite some time.

I suspect the anti-Biden voters would amount to a tiny fraction of the current anti-Clinton crowd – and they would be far less vociferous. No emails, no Clinton Foundation, no Benghazi.

The fact is that a solid Democratic candidate would probably be leading Trump on a state-by-state basis by a huge margin, given the incredibly inept campaign the GOP nominee has mounted.

Trump has failed miserably in picking people to run his campaign and in the basics of raising funds, running TV ads, using email and social media, and setting up numerous campaign offices in key states. He has never gone a week without making an insulting or misleading remark, and his unfavorable ratings (even higher than Clinton’s numbers) bear that out. He still hasn’t united the party around him and it appears he never will. One aspect of the campaign that’s abundantly clear is that Trump will lose by a landslide among several demographic groups within the electorate.

Any steady Democratic candidate would have beaten this guy. And Biden is much more than just steady.

Biden’s one undeniable political weakness in the past has been his penchant for gaffes. But Trump has turned 2016 into a gaffe-proof election. And Libertarian Gary Johnson is about to offer further proof of that phenomenon, as his embarrassing “What is Aleppo?” remark – a gaffe of disqualifying proportions in any presidential election over the past many decades – is about to fade into obscurity.

I can envision Biden thriving in this atmosphere, playfully picking apart Trump’s lack of substance and temperament to great effect. And doing it all with that trademark smile, not with a Hillary glare.

More importantly, Biden gets along famously with members of Congress, especially in the Senate, and a President Biden would have a far better chance of governing successfully than what we face with the surefire partisan ugliness that will greet a President Trump or a President Clinton for the next four years.

beau-and-joe-biden
Joe and Beau Biden
Free of distractions, the vice president could have focused on a big agenda, on policies, on priorities. He might have even emerged with a mandate.

But Biden ended all speculation about making a presidential run after the tragic death of his son, Beau, who succumbed to brain cancer. Just more grief for a man whose soul already had been shredded by heartrending bereavement.

Maybe it’s melodramatic to say so, but perhaps our one chance to have a substantive 2016 election — not a crash-and-burn insult-fest — died when Beau Biden’s death sent his father into a tailspin.

Photo: Flickr

Would Biden be heading toward a landslide win right about now?

After Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination and Hillary Clinton made peace with most of the Bernie Sanders supporters, some Democrats eagerly envisioned a blowout for Clinton in the November election.

When Trump suffered a series of miscues (larger blunders than the usual fare), Clinton started to pull away in early August and the prospect of an Electoral College landslide seemed to emerge.

Since then, Clinton’s coasting and the endless punditry about her unsecured private emails have taken a toll.

Let’s face it, Republicans are just better at the buzzwords and bullet points and bloviating that keeps certain stories going and going long beyond their usual shelf life.

Yet, a Democratic candidate without all of Clinton’s baggage – and her disastrous disapproval rating in the mid-50s among voters – probably ensures that this will be a close election. It’s painfully obvious for the party that a large bloc of voters is determined to vote against Clinton, even if that means plunking down a vote for one of the mediocre third-party candidates in the running.

But I wonder: What if the Dems had nominated a much stronger, likeable candidate? Perhaps Joe Biden.

The vice president is a much better campaigner than Clinton and he’s far more popular, with a favorable/unfavorable rating of 48-36 percent in the latest Gallup poll, a solid 12-point spread that he has maintained for quite some time.

I suspect the anti-Biden voters would amount to a tiny fraction of the current anti-Clinton crowd – and they would be far less vociferous. No emails, no Clinton Foundation, no Benghazi.

The fact is that a solid Democratic candidate would probably be leading Trump on a state-by-state basis by a huge margin, given the incredibly inept campaign the GOP nominee has mounted.

Trump has failed miserably in picking people to run his campaign and in the basics of raising funds, running TV ads, using email and social media, and setting up numerous campaign offices in key states. He has never gone a week without making an insulting or misleading remark, and his unfavorable ratings (even higher than Clinton’s numbers) bear that out. He still hasn’t united the party around him and it appears he never will. One aspect of the campaign that’s abundantly clear is that Trump will lose by a landslide among several demographic groups within the electorate.

Any steady Democratic candidate would have beaten this guy. And Biden is much more than just steady.

Biden’s one undeniable political weakness in the past has been his penchant for gaffes. But Trump has turned 2016 into a gaffe-proof election. And Libertarian Gary Johnson is about to offer further proof of that phenomenon, as his embarrassing “What is Aleppo?” remark – a gaffe of disqualifying proportions in any presidential election over the past many decades – is about to fade into obscurity.

I can envision Biden thriving in this atmosphere, playfully picking apart Trump’s lack of substance and temperament to great effect. And doing it all with that trademark smile, not with a Hillary glare.

More importantly, the former Delaware senator gets along famously with members of Congress, especially in the Senate, and a President Biden would have a far better chance of governing successfully than what we face with the surefire partisan ugliness that will greet a President Trump or a President Clinton for the next four years.

Free of distractions, the vice president could have focused on a big agenda, on policies, on priorities. He might have even emerged with a mandate.

But Biden ended all speculation about making a presidential run after the tragic death of his son, Beau, who succumbed to brain cancer in May 2015. Just more grief for a man whose soul already had been shredded by heartrending bereavement.

Maybe it’s melodramatic to say so, but perhaps our one chance to have a substantive 2016 election — not a crash-and-burn insult-fest — died when Beau Biden’s death sent his father into a tailspin.

Photo: Flickr

Labor Day 2016: more work, less pay, less family time

Labor Day 2016 marks another year when the average U.S. worker is putting in more time on the job for less pay, and spending less leisure time with the family.

White collar employees often work a 9 to7 job, for the same paycheck they received over the past several years, while also paying more out of pocket for health insurance. Blue collar and retail workers are stuck with erratic schedules and a lack of basic benefits.

Across the spectrum of the American workforce, many workers are now doing two jobs for the same pay they received in the past. It’s called “hyper-efficiency.” A company cuts back and cuts back to the point where the remaining employees are covering the duties of two or three jobs. Quality suffers. Quantity may slip a bit. But the company keeps revenues even, reduces expenses dramatically, and boosts profits in a way that previously was deemed unacceptable.

One survey found that more than half of all workers said their jobs had expanded, usually without a raise or bonus.

The tipping point in this sea change was the Great Recession of 2009-10, according news reports by the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News and Mother Jones about the state of the American worker.

What follows is a random summary – snippets, if you will – of what these reports found.

Productivity up, jobs down

The statistics show that the recession was actually a prosperous development for many companies that discovered the benefits of hyper-efficiency:

US productivity increased twice as fast in 2009 as it had in 2008, and twice as fast again in 2010: workforce down, output up, and voilá! No wonder corporate profits are up 22 percent since 2007, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute. To repeat: Up. Twenty-two. Percent.

New buzzwords for a new economy

Downsizing is a buzzword of the 21st Century but it was barely part of the American lexicon as recently as the 1980s, when layoffs were almost always temporary and concessions were a place at the ballpark where people bought a beer and a hot dog.

In the current economy, we have a number of new buzzwords that explain the sad state of working America.

Offloading – This is the process practiced by countless companies of dumping workers by the thousands, even when revenues are steady, to increase the bottom line. Some data indicates that offloading caused more U.S. job losses in recent years than offshoring, the practice of shifting work overseas.

Digital overtime – This refers to the new expectations of white collar workers — sometimes even office assistants and secretaries – to keep in touch with their bosses at all times via texts and emails. One survey of workers found: one-fourth are expected to respond to work email when they’re not at work; half check work email on the weekends and on sick days; and one-third check work email while on vacation.

Multitasking – This is the typical office practice of working on your computer while discussing on the phone and eating a sandwich. Research shows that multitasking usually results in all the tasks involved being done poorly. The three-hands approach is especially prevalent among single moms who may be taking care of business at work while communicating with their child care center or veterinarian. This also includes staring at your phone, instead of watching the on-field activities, at your son’s soccer game. Or texting with that co-worker who is part of your project team while also helping your daughter with homework.

New era not good for workers

As for the low jobforce participation rates of recent years, one economist points out that in the past businesses would hold on to workers in downturns even when there wasn’t enough for them to do – some manufacturers would even put them to work painting the factory — because companies did not want to see their skilled, experienced workers drift away and then have to go through the expense and loss of training new ones. That era is over. These days firms take advantage of downturns to squeeze the most out of a shrunken workforce and increase labor productivity. The workers are told that this is all necessary to keep a healthy bottom line.

When business picks up, the number of workers remains fairly stagnant – while pay and benefits lag – and the company’s profits rise quickly.

U.S. lags behind rest of the world

Mother Jones, relying on an array of data, has put together maps and charts and graphs to demonstrate the plight of the American worker. Some of these are rather shocking, especially maps that show workers across the world, even in Africa, receive time-off benefits that don’t exist in the U.S.

Just counting work that’s on the books (never mind those 11 p.m. emails), Americans now put in an average of 122 more hours per year than Brits, and 378 hours (nearly 10 weeks!) more than Germans. The differential isn’t solely accounted for by longer hours, of course—worldwide, almost everyone except us has, at least on paper, a right to weekends off, paid vacation time (PDF), and paid maternity leave. The only other countries that don’t mandate paid time off for new moms are Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Samoa, and Swaziland.

Dog-eat-dog world

In the American workplace of 2016, a master chef, desperate to keep up with the competition, puts in extra hours replacing the tile floor in his restaurant kitchen. A college professor – a once idyllic profession focused on teaching a few classes on a quaint campus while spending time writing or researching a favorite topic – now often faces a dog-eat-dog world among the faculty.

One professor who is struggling to make a living as he is now labeled “part time” describes the atmosphere on his campus:

My employer uses and abuses full-time employees even more so than those of us that are hourly (part time). My supervisor, for example, runs a large department. He was just promoted to a new, even more demanding position, but his position running the department will not be filled. He will now be doing what is a 60-to-70-hour job ‘on the side.’ I can’t complain of overwork, because everyone is competing to get enough classes to pay the bills. If you lose a class, you lose a chunk of your paycheck. If we can’t handle it, the class can always be given to another teacher who will be desperate for the work or money.

Tough times – time for a new countertop

Some economists say that the surest way to determine the strength of the consumer economy is to keep tabs on stores like Home Depot and Lowes. When homeowners are ready to spend on everything from backyard patios to landscaping to a revamped kitchen, they have a stable outlook about the economy.

Stable, in this case, often means that a worker’s stagnant paycheck is stretched in order to go further into debt. It’s like buying yourself a gift that you know you can’t afford.

The irony here, of course, is that people are spending less and less time at home while pouring money into home improvements. Usually these additions or renovations are paid for with a credit card.

Sure, I’m working crazy hours and our pension fund is history, but check out my granite countertop!

No stable work schedule

The number of families living paycheck-to-paycheck is on the rise. Many people who lost well-paying jobs during the recession have found work, but for less money, doing hourly retail and food services jobs. Many of these positions, including low-level factory work, do not offer steady hours or predictable work schedules.

A study done at the University of California-Davis found that this is a new trend, according to co-author and assistant professor Ryan Finnigan:

These new hourly workers not only make less money, but they have much less predictable schedules than hourly workers had before the recession, according to a new study from the University of California, Davis. “The jobs replacing the ones that were lost after the recession ended were a lot of low-wage hourly jobs with really variable schedules,” said Ryan Finnigan, an assistant professor at U.C. Davis and one of the researchers who worked on the study.

Workers in these new economy jobs might work 38 hours one week and 15 the next. “Even though unemployment has sunk down, the quality of the jobs that replaced the ones that were lost were not quite the same,” Finnigan added.

Time to push the kids harder

One more aspect of this 2016 world in which people feel constantly squeezed for time centers on the vast changes in the culture of extra-curricular activities for K-12 students. Parents, coaches and instructors are pushing kids harder and harder, for many hours at a time, to excel in their chosen field of sports or music or theater. The result is that parents and students have far less leisure time than their predecessors of decades ago.

Thirty-plus years ago the phrase “hockey moms” was born as a tribute to those parents who drove their kids from rink to rink – and stuck around – for hockey practices and games. This devotion often lasted for many years and kids who played in “travel leagues” would crisscross the state each weekend.

Now, we have hockey moms, soccer moms, gymnastics moms, etc. The time devoted to prep sports is extraordinary. Little League baseball practice now starts for some kids in February inside a dome. The move toward year-round practice extends to everything from marching band to karate to swimming.

Whether this game of great expectations, this endless drive for improvement, foisted on our kids is healthy remains questionable. But the next generation of corporations and employers will gladly take advantage of it when these kids enter the workforce.

Photo illustration: Wikimedia

UPDATE: Mich. GOP ready to give $285 million con man place in U.S. history

UPDATE: Some 18 months after Michigan Republican Party leaders expressed shock at learning that a GOP official had served nearly four years in prison for a notorious $285 million fraud, the leadership has looked away as that same swindler has racked up five political positions awarded to him by the party.

As I reported last week for Deadline Detroit (below), William Rauwerdink gave up his spot on the GOP State Committee last year when his secret was exposed. But he quietly won election to the Republican’s 14th Congressional District Executive Committee. He then became the communications director for the 14th District and the editor of the district’s newsletter.

Less than 48 hours after the Deadline Detroit story was posted, the Oakland County Republican Party appointed Rauwerdink to a fourth spot – a seat on the county party’s Rules Committee.

Then, on Friday night at their state convention in Grand Rapids, the GOP did something extraordinary. Brushing aside the history of this infamous felon, the party named him one of the Electors to cast a vote in the Electoral College for Donald Trump, should the real estate mogul win the November election.

William Rauwerdink, a West Bloomfield Township businessman, previously known best in financial circles from Metro Detroit to Wall Street, could play a constitutional role as an Elector in a presidential election. If that happens, Rauwerdink’s name will be enshrined in the National Archives for all to see, in perpetuity.

*****

This is an excerpt of a column I wrote for Deadline Detroit.

As Republicans head to their state convention this weekend, they quietly have a notorious felon in their midst.

By Chad Selweski

William Rauwerdink is not your average guy with a secret to hide. His disgrace was so big that it embarrassed the entire Michigan Republican Party when it all unraveled.

GOP officials learned last year that Rauwerdink — at the time a member of the party’s State Committee – had served nearly four years in prison and was ordered to pay $285 million in restitution after pleading guilty in an infamous financial fraud case well known in Wall Street circles.

Yet, the West Bloomfield Township businessman continues to quietly play a role in the state GOP even after revelations of his sordid past “shell-shocked” the party leadership just 18 months ago.

At the February 2015 state convention, Rauwerdink tacitly decided not to seek re-election to the State Committee after his shady history was exposed. At that point, it seemed he was fading from the political scene.

But that wasn’t the case. Rauwerdink has been actively involved ever since with the Republican leadership group in the 14th Congressional District, a political territory that covers a wide swath of Detroit and Oakland County.

He landed his new role with the Michigan Republicans despite widespread media coverage of his criminal background after Deadline Detroit broke the story just days before the 2015 convention.

At the time, Paul Welday, a prominent former Oakland County party chairman and a fellow 14th District GOP delegate, summed up the party’s reaction to Rauwerdink’s secrets in remarks to the Detroit Free Press. “I’m a little shell-shocked, like everybody else,” said Welday, who died last April. “I guarantee you, nobody knew anything about this.”

But once everybody knew all about Rauwerdink, he still won election at that February 2015 state convention to the 14th District Executive Committee.

As the Republican elite prepare to gather for another state convention this weekend in Grand Rapids, it’s assumed Rauwerdink, 66, will be in attendance. Delegates will choose two party nominees for the Michigan Supreme Court, the State Board of Education and the boards of Michigan State University, Wayne State University and the University of Michigan.

He continues to show interest in being an active part of the party. According to an online message in July, Rauwerdink wrote that he went to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, though not as a voting delegate. And on Tuesday night, the Oakland County GOP Executive Committee elected him to the party’s Rules Committee, further proof that this guy just keeps getting a pass.

Sarah Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Republican Party, steered Deadline Detroit inquiries about Rauwerdink to the 14th District Committee. 14th District Chair Janine Kateff, also of West Bloomfield, could not be reached for comment. An attempt to reach Rauwerdink for comment through email was unsuccessful.

Rauwerdink’s prison sentence stemmed from a 2003 federal indictment on 16 counts of fraud while he served as chief financial officer of Lason Inc. of Troy, a digital imaging company that did business with several major corporations, including the Detroit Three automakers.

Continue reading here.

Photo: Deadline Detroit

Trump supporters are from Mars, Clinton backers from Venus

For voters, 2016 is about more than a personality clash between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

New research shows that the gaping divide in the presidential race derives from much more than voters’ distaste for one candidate or the other. Supporters of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump see America in very different ways. This pertains to what their concerns are, plus America’s standing compared to a half-century ago.

These two groups of political combatants can’t even agree on what the persistent problems are that face the United States as the Obama presidency comes to a close.

A Pew Research Center poll found that 66% of Trump backers say immigration is a “very big problem” while just 17 percent of Clinton voters felt the same. On terrorism, the numbers showed 65 percent of Trump folks labeled it a very big concern, while just 36 percent of Clinton backers agreed.

What about the gap between the rich and poor? The divide was 71-30% with Clinton’s supporters. Protecting the environment splits along a 43-16% difference, again with Clinton backers out front on the issue. Take a look at the Pew chart below to get a fuller picture.

The differences of opinion may not be surprising, but the margins are astounding.

Even the possibility of a historic election, with our first woman president, can’t bring these two groups together. Most registered voters, regardless of their feelings toward the Democratic nominee, say the election of a woman president would be very (39%) or somewhat (22%) important historically. But while an overwhelming share of Clinton supporters (85%) sees this milestone as historically important, Pew found that just 33% of Trump supporters agree. Among Trump backers, women and men have similar opinions on the matter.

The issue where Clinton and Trump supporters poll closest is on racial tensions, a curious outcome for the survey though the Black Lives Matter movement may be largely responsible for those numbers – in very divergent ways.

In terms of where America stands overall, reaction to the increasing diversity within the electorate shows up starkly in this poll.

The wide array of residents along racial, religious and ethnic lines makes the nation a “better place” to live among Hillary’s folks by a 72-26% margin. The Trump voters favor a “no difference” answer by a 40-43% edge, with a substantial 16% saying that the nation is worse off.

The lower the education attainment level, the more likely those surveyed are opposed to diversity. In addition, 54% of senior citizens say the evolution of American demographics has made the U.S. a better place to live, while 32% say it has made no difference and 12% say things are worse.

To be fair, some of this data might be attributed to partisan blockages of arteries to the brain. The nostalgia that drives Trump’s campaign is on full display, though irrational comparisons with the United States of 50 years ago also show up in the Clinton numbers.

Pew found that, when asked if life in America is better for “people like you” compared to a half-century ago, Clinton voters said it was better, 59-19%. Trump backers said it was worse, 81-11%.

Of course, any answer that suggests the relatively comfortable lifestyle of Americans today, compared to the mid-1960s, is worse — given all the advances in technology, innovations, medicine, national security and civil rights – suggests that the nation is suffering from an interminable bout of crankiness.

4_2c

Photos: CNN screen shots

Trump loses another major voting bloc — the Millennials

Donald Trump’s sinking presidential campaign has long lost key constituencies – women, blacks, Hispanics, college grads and so-called soccer moms – but now he is apparently turning off the highly motivated political group of young voters known as Millennials.

In recent days, the online message boards of Reddit, once a haven for pro-Trump tendencies, have become filled with comments from young voters – often in snarky tones – explaining why they have turned away from the bombastic billionaire.
More importantly, a new USA Today/Rock The Vote poll suggests that Trump may have permanently lost his bid to appeal to young voters and Millennial Bernie Sanders supporters.

The new poll found that among voters 18-34 years old, Clinton trounces Trump by 36 percentage points nationally (56%-20). Past Sanders supporters in that age category now back Clinton over Trump by a whopping 72%-11% gap.

In addition, it should be noted that Millennials have a disproportionate effect in swing states. The Trump campaign once had high hopes for Michigan, a big Rustbelt state which he won in the March GOP primary. But his appeal among 18-34 year olds is now a distant memory in the Great Lakes State.

In a July 30-Aug. 4 poll by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA, Trump was losing in a two-way race with Clinton among Millennials by a 2-1 margin, 50%-25%, with one-fourth undecided. That compares to a March survey showdown between the two that gave Clinton a 47%-37% edge among young voters. In the latest EPIC-MRA poll, a four-way race in Michigan puts Clinton at 44%, Trump at 20%, and Johnson, Stein and undecideds all at 12% among young voters. In the overall electorate, the Democratic nominee was a comfortable 10 points ahead of the GOP candidate.

While the highly trumpeted divisions within the Democratic Party between Clinton and Sanders supporters are fading, with Trump struggling to capture 80 percent of the GOP electorate it now appears that disunity within the Republican Party is a bigger factor that Dem dysfunction heading into the general election.

The USA Today poll found that third party candidates who are making some noise are a benefit to Clinton among young adults. In a nation four-way ballot test, Clinton is at 50%, Trump at 18%, Johnson at 11% and Stein at 4%.

While Clinton’s bid to become the first female president is widely portrayed as a minimal voting factor for many Millennial women, the poll found that 70% of young voters say sexism plays some role in public hostility towards Clinton, and 39% say it is a major reason. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this issue is that 72% of young men — and 50% of young Republicans – say sexism is a factor.
In an increasingly brutal campaign environment, USA Today reports this:

… Majorities of Clinton and Trump supporters are driven by a desire to keep the other candidate out of the Oval Office. Of the quarter of Millennials who say they would not vote or do not know who they would vote for, almost two-thirds (62%) say it is because they do not like any of the candidates.

The new poll results also indicate that Millennials are highly invested in key policy issues. Those surveyed generally prioritized the economy, jobs, the minimum wage and paid leave; foreign policy, terrorism and homeland security; education, college affordability and student debt; and civil rights, mass incarceration and criminal justice reform as the most important issues for the next President of the United States. Majorities also agreed that police violence against African Americans (72%) is a key problem that the nation is currently facing.

All in all, these survey results strongly suggest that Trump will head into November with only one solid voting bloc on his side, working class white males without a college education.


Photos: CNN

NRA rebukes Marine Gen., congressional candidate, for this?

Northern Michigan’s 1st Congressional District campaign slipped into the silly season today just hours before Tuesday’s state primary election as a retired Marine Corps general running for the open seat was reportedly slapped down by the NRA for taking a reasonable approach to background checks for guns sales.

According to a campaign opponent, the NRA apparently decided to take a closer look at their “A” rating of Republican candidate Jack Bergman based on a video that surfaced on YouTube. In the video, Berman suggested that a waiting period for firearms sales is acceptable and that gun dealers should bear some responsibility if they recklessly sell to those who suffer from mental health problems.

One of Bergman’s GOP primary opponents, former state senator Jason Allen, pounced on the news.

Jack BergmanAllen issued a press release with a double-deck headline that said, “NRA revaluates (sic) Bergman’s rating due to liberal 2nd Amendment policies; Bergman calls for mandatory waiting period, universal background checks, and calls for liability on gun dealers similar to Obama anti-gun agenda.”

Of course, calling Bergman a liberal with ideas that mesh with President Obama is merely a last-minute campaign tactic. Then again, Allen is the candidate running as the conservative outsider who will change Washington, even though he has 25 years of experience in government.

So, what prompted this 11th-hour dust-up in Michigan’s most hotly contested congressional race?

It was Bergman’s comments at a League of Women Voters forum in Alpena back on July 12. Within the context of numerous mass shootings in the U.S. by unstable individuals, here’s what he said:

There is no such thing as an emergency gun purchase. So anybody who is in a hurry, the chances are the intent may not be what it should be. So the only point is we need to know not only who the person is that has requested to purchase a handgun, but also a little bit more about them and what their mental state might be.

Let’s face it, everyone has a stake in this. If you are the seller you have a responsibility, just like you do when you are selling alcohol. You need to “card” people, you need to make certain that person is eligible, if you will, to purchase that product. Anybody who violates that is putting others in danger. It’s one thing if you want to put yourself in danger, but don’t put others in danger. We don’t need to have the dialogue going on, and on, and on, because we didn’t do something as a country. There’s a saying … “If you see something, say something.” I would suggest to you that really if you sense something, do something. Don’t wait, call it out and make sure that that individual is the “right” individual (to buy a gun).

Nothing out of the mainstream there.

Jason Allen2Yet, perhaps at the urging of Allen, a longtime NRA member, the National Rifle Association is apparently reconsidering their “A” rating for Bergman, which was based on his responses to the gun lobby group’s candidate questionnaire.

“We don’t know a lot about Jack Bergman but his statements on expanding background checks, disallowing emergency gun purchases, calling on more liability for gun store owners … makes Bergman a risky choice for Congress,” Allen said.

State Sen. Tom Casperson, the Republican moderate in the race, has apparently not commented on the video of Bergman.

It’s important to note that this congressional campaign is being waged in the 1st District, comprised of rural northern Michigan and all of the U.P. – an area where street crime and home invasions are relatively nonexistent.

We will see on Tuesday whether voters in the 1st District believe that Bergman’s proposed approach to gun purchases will make residents unsafe.

Photos: Bergman and Allen campaigns

10 reasons why VP pick Tim Kaine may be the anti-Trump

Liberal Democrats who can’t shake the Bernie-or-bust mentality have already let loose with their collective groan over Hillary Clinton’s selection of Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia as her VP pick.

Those on the left complain that he is the typical moderate Democrat, supportive of free-trade deals, cautious about new spending programs, somewhat hawkish on foreign policy, a backer of certain abortion restrictions such as ban on “partial-birth” abortions and, worst of all, a drab, fiftysomething white guy.

Yet, all those can be nice additions to a presidential ticket if you’re interested in securing votes from independents and mainstream America.

Some pundits say Kaine is incapable of playing the traditional role of running mates as the attack dog biting at the opposition’s heels. But in this most unusual election year dominated by the Republicans’ political pit bull, Donald Trump, Kaine fits the bill nicely. The senator may play a different role — the kind of all-American nice guy who, in another vein, prompts parents to say to their rebellious/obnoxious son, “Why can’t you be more like Tim?”

If one assumes that Trump will relegate his vice presidential pick, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, to a minor role in the upcoming general election, Kaine, the former governor of Virginia, a swing state, may serve as the Democrats anti-Trump at each stop along the campaign trail. Lead by example and you expose the enemy for who he is.

Here are 10 reasons why Kaine may give Trump fits from now until Election Day:

1. Kaine is known for his modesty, quick with a smile or a laugh, and he has shown an affable, pragmatic manner while reaching out to Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Trump demonstrates a narcissistic, bullying persona that resulted in juvenile attacks on his Republican primary opponents and the dark demonization of his Democratic foe, Clinton.

2. Kaine is a devout Catholic, Jesuit-educated, from the Midwest (Minnesota) who took time out from Harvard Law School to do Christian missionary work in Honduras. Trump struggles to portray himself as a religious man and he spent his early years as a rich New York City playboy whose goal was to buy up large chunks of expensive Manhattan real estate.

3. Kaine is fluent in Spanish, shifting between the two languages on the stump with little effort and demonstrating an affinity with the Hispanic community. Trump has crassly targeted Hispanics with harsh, xenophobic views, to the point of receiving public shaming from top Republicans.

4. In addition to serving as senator and governor, Kaine was a civil rights attorney specializing in housing discrimination cases and he was elected the first white mayor of Richmond in a quarter century. In a recent C-SPAN interview, Kaine said that his time as a city councilman and mayor in Richmond was his most valuable experience because local government service forces officials to deal with people’s specific problems one-on-one and to practice retail politics. Trump’s experience consists of building hotels, casinos and golf courses. He has shown little interest in retail politics, instead playing an emperor-like role in front of raucous crowds where his minions shout slogans such as, “Build a wall.”

5. Kaine is a low-key workhorse; Trump is the ultimate showhorse.

6. The father of a Marine, Kaine serves on the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees where he pushed for congressional authorization of military force against ISIS and has supported anti-terror measures. Sen.Angus King, an Independent from Maine, said last week that Kaine is “thoughtful and knowledgeable in foreign policy and has engaged with the leaders of the world’s most troublesome places.” Trump has no foreign policy experience and he said months ago that his solution to terrorism would be to “bomb the sh—“out of ISIS. His views on the role of NATO expressed last week were so far out of the mainstream that they emerged as somewhat of an international incident and sparked widespread condemnation from Republican officials.

7. As a former Democratic National Committee chairman, Kaine understands the inner workings of party politics and the need for a unified team approach. Trump has battled with Republican National Committee leaders from the day he announced his candidacy in June 2015.

8. Kaine’s political talents were recognized early on, as he was on Barack Obama’s short list of potential VP picks in 2008. As recently as four years ago, Trump’s status with the GOP was so weak that presidential candidates successfully boycotted a debate that was planned with Trump as the moderator.

9. Kaine’s wife, the nation’s potential Second Lady, Anne Holton, is a former judge who serves as the state education secretary in Virginia. Trump’s wife, Melania Trump, became entangled in an imbroglio at last week’s GOP convention for giving a speech with passages that plagiarized Michelle Obama. That dust-up led to accusations that she has falsely claimed to hold a college degree.

10. Kaine has readily acknowledged his lack of charisma, even pushing back against speculation about his future previously by saying that he is too boring to win a spot on the Democratic ticket. Trump’s bloviating manner assures that he will never be accused of being boring. But Kaine, who has never lost an election, may be just the kind of regular guy to give Trump just enough rope to hang himself.

Photo: Clinton campaign

Could it be — a Trump convention that’s boring?

Donald Trump recently complained that the 2012 Republican convention was “the most boring convention I’ve ever seen” and he has hinted ever since that his convention would feature celebrities and sports stars and offer a bit of “show business.”

But the Republican National Convention lineup for July 18-21 announced this morning falls far short of that goal.

Instead of high-profile athletes and coaches, Trump’s confab in Cleveland will feature Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White, pro golfer Natalie Gulbis and former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow

Rather than A-list celebrities, the podium at the Quicken Loans Arena will be occupied by the likes of people such as Antonio Sabàto, Jr., a former underwear model for Calvin Klein who previously appeared on the soap opera General Hospital.

According to the Associated Press, others slated to speak include Trump’s wife and four children, a Las Vegas casino mogul, the manager of Trump’s vineyard, and several preachers, including Jerry Falwell, Jr.

While Trump trumpets that the convention lineup is “totally overbooked,” the cloud hanging over Cleveland will be those key Republicans who are boycotting the event, including former Presidents Bush 41 and 43, high-ranking members of Congress and prominent governors, and former presidential nominees Mitt Romney and John McCain.

At the same time, the promises of a convention unlike any other, with outsider appeal, will not materialize. In fact, Trump is relying, to a surprising degree, on the party establishment to fill the many speaking slots.

Those who will take the stage beginning on Monday include six current and former governors, six members of Congress, plus six senators.

The Trump camp has also taken the unusual step of inviting to speak two lawmakers who have not endorsed him, former rival Sen. Ted Cruz and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The r-day event will be chaired by House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has endorsed Trump while also criticizing him.

Perhaps concerned that the lineup would appear too establishmentarian for the pro-Trump crowd watching at home, the candidate is taking a bit of a risk by showcasing two controversial figures who have harshly criticized the Black Lives Matter movement – former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and Wisconsin Sheriff David Clarke.

In the arena, this will certainly not be a diverse crowd designed to showcase a “big tent” GOP. One Republican strategist who is no fan of Trump, Rick Wilson, told The Washington Post, in particularly inflammatory language, that he contrasts the coming convention with a longtime comic book theme:

On “Earth 2,” you’d be showing the Republican Party isn’t this stupid white boys’ club. But Donald Trump has rejected everybody who’s not in the stupid white boys’ club. At this point, we might as well have a giant cross burning out front.

Photo: Fox News

With a push from Bernie, Hillary lurches to the left of Obama

In a presidential election year unlike any other, featuring two controversial candidates who present strong personalities and evoke strong opinions from the public, we may see yet another remarkable deviation from traditional campaign politics.

Party platforms typically have no impact on campaign trends once the party conventions are over. But this is 2016 and we have learned that this year anything is possible.

As is the case every four years, the media currently is focused intently on potential vice presidential picks by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But in an election where voters are judging the Republican and Democratic party nominees almost entirely on personal traits, it seems unimaginable that the running mates will be much more than a sideshow in 2016.

Instead, in a volatile race where policy proposals barely scratch the surface, particularly on the Republican side with Trump offering minimal details, the two parties’ platforms may play a major role in the campaign to come. The platforms could offer the only substance on which to mount a comparative liberal vs. conservative race for the White House.

Trump lectern - CNNThe GOP platform committee, with apparently little input from the Trump camp, is crafting a document that many would label ultraconservative. But the momentous developments in the quadrennial pre-convention machinations are occurring on the Democratic side, where their platform represents a rather dramatic swing to the left.

The unity event between Clinton and her primary foe, Sen. Bernie Sanders, that took place Tuesday was made possible by the presumptive Democratic nominee’s willingness to adopt much of Sanders’ left-wing agenda. The Clinton team was so pliable, so eager to get the party’s Sanders supporters on board before the Philadelphia convention, that they were shoved leftward in a way that could not have been imagined when the Vermont senator began his presidential bid.

The stunning stances on issues in the Democratic National Committee platform produced this weekend in Orlando include carbon taxes, police reform, new forms of abortion rights, the minimum wage and the war on drugs. And the changes that came out of this so-called platform fight barely drew any opposition. A $15 minimum wage, free college tuition, a “pathway” to marijuana legalization, the first steps toward universal health care – these are declarations that would have had no chance of approval as recently as 2004, when the Democrats had their sights set on defeating Republican President George W. Bush.

“We have produced by far the most progressive platform that this party has seen in multiple generations,” said Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, DNC platform committee co-chair.

A key Sanders strategist, praising the senator’s refusal to quickly fold his tent in June, offered this conclusion: “… the political revolution is alive and kicking.”

Well-organized Sanders backers inflamed with anti-Clinton sentiments used their leverage to steer the committee in their democratic socialist direction, knowing that middle-of-the-road Democrats would play no role.

At this point, the Democratic Party, based on its platform, has veered decidedly to the left of President Obama. Even on issues where dreams of congressional approval is the stuff of unicorns and fairy dust, the Dems have so ardently pursued such ultraliberal positions as to put the party noticeably outside of the mainstream.

Obama gesturing - CNNObama wrote in an Op-Ed column this week that the next president should push for the addition of a public option to Obamacare. The president abandoned this government-funded option early in the political fight over Obamacare in 2009 and he now concedes that such a move could never win approval in the Republican Congress. But he said it should be a consideration in the future for those areas of the country where private-insurance options in the Affordable Care Act marketplace are limited.

In contrast, the Democratic platform, while setting aside Sanders’ call for a single payer, government-run health care system for all, embraces an Obamacare public option for all and Medicare for those 55 and over. Clinton had already been nudged into that position on the campaign trail by Sanders’ full-throated support for an end to private insurance.

It’s become obvious in recent months and days that a different Democratic nominee, one without Clinton’s baggage and her lack-of-trust issues, could be winning this race against Trump by a very big margin. Yet, the highly ideological Dem platform shuns caution and provides the GOP another breath of life as it gives moderates and independents a distinct reason to give Trump a second look.

Imagine if the Dems instead nominated a candidate that emphasized a realistic, feasible political agenda and “the importance of pragmatism in both legislation and implementation.”

What if the party had a standardbearer who rejected fringe elements on the right and left and, for example, on health care reform said something like this:

“Simpler approaches to addressing our health care problems exist at both ends of the political spectrum: the single-payer model vs. government vouchers for all. Yet the nation typically reaches its greatest heights when we find common ground between the public and private good and adjust along the way.”

Well, the man who said those things is Obama, and he is ineligible to run again. Though if he could and did seek another term, I suspect the Sanders crusaders would remain in their same obstinate mode. And they would probably be labeling a president beloved by most Democrats a “sellout.”

Photos: CNN

Is Trump trying to lose this election?

With about two weeks to go before the Republican convention in Cleveland, Donald Trump’s continuing inability to mount a serious, nationwide presidential campaign effort makes one wonder if he never expected to get this far.

The reasons why nervous GOP leaders wonder if Trump never planned ahead are fairly basic: Lack of funding, lack of staff, lack of organization and a lack of institutional support as the underlying distaste for Trump among elected Republican officials begins to surface.

The question becomes: Why doesn’t Democratic standard-bearer Hillary Clinton have a much larger lead?

One of the most embarrassing realities to surface during Trump’s disastrous month of June was that nearly no one of substance wants to speak at the July 18-21 GOP convention. Politico contacted more than 50 prominent governors, senators and House members to gauge their interest in speaking. “Only a few said they were open to it, and everyone else said they weren’t planning on it, didn’t want to or weren’t going to Cleveland at all — or simply didn’t respond,” Politico reported.

Trump’s response is a rather bizarre plan to fill up a considerable amount of TV time with the candidate’s friends in the sports world. People familiar with the planning of the convention told Bloomberg Politics that campaign aides were lining up several retired athletes, coaches and other sports leaders to appear at the convention. Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka was asked to speak and declined.

Former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and NASCAR CEO Brian France, two of those on the list, both announced they would not attend (Trump later tweeted that an invite was never extended to Tyson). The list also includes Bobby Knight, the former Indiana University basketball coach, who is famous for his temper tantrums and tossing chairs onto the court in anger. All the presumptive nominee needs to do is add a few of his pro wrestling buddies from his days of associating with the WWE and we may have a convention that mirrors the Jerry Springer show.

Another way to fill time in Cleveland is a Trump plan to have his children play a key role. Daughter Ivanka and sons Donald Jr. and Eric reportedly will speak, likely on topics such as the Second Amendment, Benghazi and national security. Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr., will also be playing key roles off the convention stage. That’s not exactly must-see TV.

Here is a round-up from various news sources about the Trump campaign’s failures, many of them inexplicable political mistakes, over the past six weeks:

In June, not a single Trump campaign advertisement appeared in the nation’s top 60 media markets. The bombastic billionaire is being massively outspent on television airwaves: Between June 28 and Election Day, Trump has reserved zero dollars in television advertising time, compared to $117 million from Hillary Clinton and her allies, according to data from the ad tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG. Compared to Team Clinton’s spending, the buys from pro-Trump groups are a drop in the bucket – about $700,000.

Because of the incompetent email operation within the Trump camp, some digital advertising experts openly scoffed at the campaign’s claim that their solicitation snagged $6.7 million in two days. Those numbers would be astounding even for a highly effective email effort, according to Advertising Age. “It’s just not plausible for Trump to have raised what he claims online from one email,” said Julia Rosen, director of marketing for ActBlue, a progressive firm. “The Trump campaign has failed to do the basic digital organizing work, like collecting email addresses at every available opportunity. That’s meant he has an exponentially smaller list, and because he hasn’t been running a modern engagement program with the few people that are on the list, it’s likely the average list member is not very responsive to the rare asks Trump makes of them.” Return Path’s data found that Ted Cruz, who dropped out of the presidential race two months ago, still maintains an email donor list that is 3.7 times larger than Trump’s donor list is today. Another marketing firm, eDataSource, estimated at the beginning of June that Trump’s list size was 1.1 million, compared to 9.4 million for Clinton and 5.3 million for Bernie Sanders.

Because of a basic mistake – a switch in Trump’s email address domain – a major campaign solicitation for funds earlier this month turned into a colossal disaster. Due to spam filters snagging the Trump emails, an incredible 60 percent of Trump’s appeals never even made it to individual in-boxes, according to data collected by a digital marketing firm called Return Path. Of those emails that made it through to in-boxes, just 12 percent were opened.

At the same time, Trump is barely making an effort in large industrial states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, though both are labeled as key to a Republican winning strategy in November. In Pennsylvania counties where Trump posted huge victory margins in the GOP primary, party officials say they have had no direct contact with the presidential campaign. In Michigan, Democratic officials admit privately that they are concerned about private polling by some Michigan unions which shows up to half of their membership preferring Trump. In the spring, members of the state’s congressional delegation reportedly chastised top Clinton campaign officials, telling them they feared Michigan might be slipping into the Trump column. Yet, if other statewide polls show anything close to the 17-point gap in this week’s Ballotpedia poll, it’s probably too late for the Trump campaign – an opportunity lost.

Trump infamously began June with just $1.3 million in cash on hand, a figure more typical for a campaign for a House congressional seat than the Oval Office. Campaign finance reports showed that he trailed Hillary Clinton by more than $41 million and his failure in the money category led to reports that he has a staff of around 70 people, compared with nearly 700 for Clinton.

According to Ballotpedia’s battleground poll in key states, Clinton leads Trump: 50% to 33% in Michigan; 51-37 in Florida; 45-41 in Iowa; 48-38 in North Carolina; 46-37 in Ohio; 49-35 in Pennsylvania; and 45-38 in Virginia.

The newest ABC News/Washington Post poll which put Clinton 12 points ahead of Trump (51-39%) stands in contrast to other polls with the Democratic candidate leading in single digits. Trump’s response was to claim that the ABC/Post poll was poorly conducted and “very dishonest.” But the underlying numbers in the poll show that two-thirds of voters see Trump as biased against women and minorities, and two-thirds think his comments about the judge in the Trump University case were racist. Sixty-four percent see him as unqualified for the presidency, and 70 percent say the idea of Trump as president gives them anxiety. With numbers like that, Clinton surely should be leading by an even bigger margin. Trump has dug himself quite a whole with independent voters and with a significant percentage of fellow Republicans. According to ABC News, nearly one-third of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say Trump is unqualified for office, and 18 percent say he does not represent their beliefs, exposing fissures in the GOP base.

While Trump tries to fill in the blanks, hiring top aides for the general election campaign, one of those aides resigned Friday, leaving his post less than three weeks after being hired. Kevin Kellems, Trump’s director of surrogates, said in his resignation letter shared with colleagues that it had been an “interesting experience.” Trump surrogates had made numerous eye-popping allegations, usually on national TV, in the weeks leading up to Kellems hiring in mid-June. One person speaking for the campaign compared the liberal group MoveOn.org to the KKK. Another said that the media practice of fact-checking candidates was “elitist (and) outdated.” A third spokesman called President Obama a racist. And Ben Carson, Trump’s former primary rival, has been a one-man gaffe machine as a campaign surrogate, according to Politico. Carson acknowledged that the man he endorsed “has some defects” and he mused, “Are there better people? Probably.”

While many GOP officials assured the pundits that Trump would pivot to general election mode and tame his hyperbolic nature, that has not happened. The Washington Post’s “The Fix” blog points out the many Trump controversies since he essentially clinched the nomination: 1.)Tweeted a widely panned picture of himself eating a taco bowl on Cinco de Mayo with the words “I love Hispanics!”2.) Kept up his criticism of the Indiana judge overseeing the Trump University lawsuit for his “Mexican heritage,” comments even Trump’s colleagues in the Republican Party called “racist” 3.) Appeared to tie President Obama to the Orlando club massacre 4.) Doubled down on his proposals to ban Muslims from the U.S. and enact racial profiling 5.) Promoted his own golf course in Scotland in the wake of the “Brexit” vote in the UK (though he had recently admitted he didn’t know what Brexit is) and falsely claimed that the Scots favored the move 6.) Repeated his vow to reintroduce torture as one of the nation’s anti-terrorism tactics.

Despite all of this, the Post poll found that there is a reservoir of support that Trump has barely tapped – Americans who plan to vote for him despite their disapproval of the candidate. For example, 18 percent of people who found Trump’s comments about Judge Cariel racist, 15 percent of those who think his comments generally are biased against women, minorities or Muslims, and 11 percent of those who think he is unqualified say that they support Trump over Clinton. Trump enjoys a big lead with those who want a new direction for the country, 64 percent to Clinton’s 26 percent. And here’s where the polls get a little weird: After eight years of Obama and the president’s approval rating above 50 percent, a majority of Americans (56 percent) say they want to elect a president who can set the nation in a new direction. A whopping 47 percent say they feel so strongly.

Photo: Fox News

Trump is the new Reagan? The debate rages on

Among political pundits, strategists and Republican insiders, a debate has emerged over similarities between Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan.

Those who idolize the deceased president scoff at such comparisons. But others have noted numerous connections between the two, particularly their rise to the pedestal of GOP presidential nominee.

Like the presumptive nominee of 2016, Reagan was a former Democrat who moved to the right over time. He became embroiled in presidential politics late in life, thrived as a controversial national figure, and used his show-business sensibilities to his advantage on the campaign trail. Both stumbled over basic policy matters.

Unlike Trump, Reagan previously served two terms as governor of California, the country’s most populous state, and ran twice for the White House (in 1968 briefly and in 1976) before securing the 1980 nomination.

Those who champion the Reagan legacy note that he was nothing like the caustic Trump in terms of style. Rather than seethe with anger and resentment, the Gipper projected a sunny optimism. He followed a strict ideology that embraced America’s role as an international leader with projections of military power in every corner of the globe.

Several examples have emerged in recent weeks when the Reagan White House shunned Trump, sometimes in dismissive ways. It became apparent that Trump, though a major Democratic campaign donor, sought to latch onto Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s popularity. In one internal memo, a top Reagan aide warned that the real estate mogul has “a large ego,” with the word large underlined. In retrospect, the word “huge” probably would have been a better choice.

Michael Reagan, the former president’s staunchly conservative son, weighed in recently, insisting that his father would not have supported or voted for Trump as the GOP nominee in the fall.

Not so fast

Yet, the comparisons cannot be dismissed so easily.

Frank Rich is about as liberal as it gets among the columnists of the mainstream media. So, when he wrote a piece earlier this month for New York magazine comparing Trump to Reagan, it appears that many political observers dismissed it as a hit piece. In fact, it is a lengthy, lucid review of many forgotten historical moments in politics, big and small.

This is not a snarky Trump-bashing piece by any means, even if Rich’s contempt for the bombastic billionaire is barely concealed, from time to time. Since his commentary was published, a website as far right as Newsmax found 15 similarities between Reagan and Trump.

In making the case that Trump represents a third wave of conservative populism (with Barry Goldwater leading the first charge and Reagan succeeding as the standardbearer of the second movement), Rich takes the reader on a journey that leads to numerous connections between Reagan and Trump which explain the real estate tycoon’s improbable campaign success, as he now stands one step away from the presidency.

The piece reminds us of just how disliked and feared Reagan was among the Republican Party establishment in his long lead-up to the 1980 election. In fact, the GOP leadership was far closer to unanimous opposition to Reagan than the rag-tag resistance Trump has faced from inside the party.

Perhaps the strongest case that Rich makes in portraying the Reagan-Trump similarities revolves around campaign memos and strategic advice supplied to the former president during his runs for the president in 1968 (briefly), 1976, 1980 and 1984.

In one, Reagan pollster Richard Wirthlin correctly predicted the path toward victory in 1980. Voters wanted to “follow some authority figure,” he advised, a “leader who can take charge with authority; return a sense of discipline to our government; and, manifest the willpower needed to get this country back on track.” Rich points out that Reagan and Trump similarly campaigned as a prospective leader from outside Washington who projected a no-nonsense image (“You’re fired!”), whether they each had the ability to deliver on it or not.

While Trump sharply criticized Reagan during his presidency, Rich asserts that “the Reagan model has proved quite adaptable both to Trump and to our different times.” The columnist compares Trump’s tenure as an NBC reality-show host to Reagan’s stint hosting the highly rated General Electric Theater for CBS during the Ed Sullivan era. Trump’s embarrassing turn as a supporting player in a 1990 Bo Derek movie (Ghosts Can’t Do It), under Rich’s thesis, is no more egregious than Reagan starring opposite a chimp in Hollywood’s Bedtime for Bonzo of 1951.

Underestimated by the media

More substantively, Trump in 2016 has dodged criticism about his two divorces and three wives far more skillfully than we can imagine any other presidential candidate could have accomplished. And in the 1960s, as governor of California, and in the 1970s, as an emerging presidential contender, Reagan easily brushed aside criticism of his prior marriage breakup and smashed a cultural barrier by becoming the first White House occupant to have divorced and remarried. Neither candidate paid a price with the Evangelical right for deviations from the family-values norm, as they respectively snared the endorsements of Jerry Falwell and Jerry Falwell Jr.

Here are more of the connections Rich presents between these two seemingly different politicians who each demonstrated surprising political popularity:

Much of the (1980) press was slow to catch up, too. A typical liberal-establishment take on Reagan could be found in Harper’s, which called him Ronald Duck, “the Candidate from Disneyland.” That he had come to be deemed “a serious candidate for president,” the magazine intoned, was “a shame and embarrassment for the country.” But some reporters who tracked Reagan on the campaign trail sensed that (big crowds of) voters didn’t care if he came from Hollywood, if his policies didn’t add up, if his facts were bogus, or if he was condescended to by Republican leaders or pundits. As Elizabeth Drew of The New Yorker observed in 1976, his appeal “has to do not with competence at governing but with the emotion he evokes.” As she put it, “Reagan lets people get out their anger and frustration, their feeling of being misunderstood and mishandled by those who have run our government, their impatience with taxes and with the poor and the weak, their impulse to deal with the world’s troublemakers by employing the stratagem of a punch in the nose.”

… But Reagan’s and Trump’s opposing styles belie their similarities of substance. Both have marketed the same brand of outrage to the same angry segments of the electorate, faced the same jeering press, attracted some of the same battlefront allies (Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Phyllis Schlafly), offended the same elites (including two generations of Bushes), outmaneuvered similar political adversaries, and espoused the same conservative populism built broadly on the pillars of jingoistic nationalism, nostalgia, contempt for Washington, and racial resentment. They’ve even endured the same wisecracks about their unnatural coiffures. “Governor Reagan does not dye his hair,” said Gerald Ford at a Gridiron Dinner in 1974. “He is just turning prematurely orange.” Though Reagan’s 1980 campaign slogan (“Let’s Make America Great Again”) is one word longer than Trump’s, that word reflects a contrast in their personalities — the avuncular versus the autocratic — but not in message. Reagan’s apocalyptic theme, “The Empire is in decline,” is interchangeable with Trump’s, even if the Gipper delivered it with a smile.

Photo: Trump campaign

Christie links to Trump send him over the cliff on terrorism

Once upon a time, about three years ago, I declared that Chris Christie was my favorite Republican.

At that time, the highly popular New Jersey governor exuded a moderate, no-nonsense, policy-oriented persona and he spoke the blue-collar language in blunt terms, even if he offended those who adhered to the GOP playbook.

But the gruff governor’s rapid decline in the realm of national political respect may be one for the ages.

His hoped-for image in the presidential race as the straight-talking candidate of 2016 took a few hits along the way. But when Christie’s candidacy tanked and he hypocritically endorsed Donald Trump, the media effortlessly pointed out his previous scathing comments toward the GOP frontrunner.

At one point during the presidential primaries, Christie called Trump one of the “carnival barkers of today.”

“Showtime is over. We are not electing an entertainer-in-chief. Showmanship is fun, but it is not the kind of leadership that will truly change America,” Christie said of Trump in New Hampshire.

With the Trump endorsement, Christie’s reputation suffered such a self-inflicted wound that perhaps only a gun to the head could have invoked more damage. The governor’s deer-in-the-the headlights facial expression at the press conference where Trump announced the Christie endorsement said it all.

Since then, the Jersey governor’s hopes for a VP slot on the ticket with Trump – if that was the motivation for his flip-flopping support for the presumptive nominee – seem to have vanished. Instead, a recent news report found that Christie’s newest assignment within the Trump camp consists of a hapless sycophant whose job is to fetch the candidate’s Big Macs from McDonald’s.

When he entered the presidential race last year, it appeared that Christie could be tainted by Bridgegate, the controversy over vindictively closing lanes to the main bridge from Manhattan to New Jersey for political reasons. Now, it appears that his lasting legacy may be his brown-nosing role within the Trump campaign, which could be labeled Tailgate.

Yet, it gets worse. Christie, a former federal prosecutor with a tough-guy approach toward terrorism, seems to have taken a leap toward the irrational Trump position that says, “bomb the sh—out of ISIS.”

On a New Jersey radio show, Christie crassly declared that the U.S. response to the massacre in Orlando should be to engage in a military bombing campaign in the Middle East.

To summarize: The shooter in Orlando was not dispatched to the U.S. by ISIS to inflict carnage in the name of the caliphate. In fact, Omar Mateen was born in Queens, New York – a heritage that should be abundantly familiar to Christie – before his family moved to Florida. His parents reportedly fled Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation more than 30 years ago.

More importantly, the FBI has concluded that Mateen was a self-radicalized “lone wolf” who did not receive instructions from extremists overseas. What’s more, this evolving story includes stunning evidence that suggests Mateen may have been a closeted homosexual who lashed out in an irrational, violent way toward his unacceptable lifestyle as a practicing Muslim.

In any event, there’s not much there among the details coming forward to justify bombing unspecified Arab countries as a macho American response. It should also be noted that Christie engaged in this hyperbole while serving as the guest host of a 4-hour sports-talk radio show.

According to the New Jersey newspaper, the Bergen Record, Christie made his radio remarks while also pandering to the LGBT community:

“…It is our responsibility, in my opinion, to eradicate this hate in the world.”

“You’ve got to get over there and make them pay where they live,” Christie said, arguing that the nation must show there is a price to pay for killing people based on their sexual orientation.

Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Dems should dump Bernie’s Social Security bonanza

As the Democratic nominating process approaches the phase where Bernie Sanders tries to practice the art of the deal, taking a hard-nosed approach toward negotiating party platform language, the Dems would be wise to steer clear of the senator’s Social Security proposals.

Sanders’ insistence on an expansion of Social Security, with more taxes for workers and bigger checks for retirees, would prove counterproductive. According to independent analysis of the plan, the greatest beneficiaries would be the wealthy, while the $1.2 trillion cost of the proposal over 10 years could be better spent elsewhere.

The Democratic leaders who desperately want to get Sanders supporters on board with the Hillary Clinton candidacy would be reminded that pandering to seniors may be good politics, but in this case it’s bad policy.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) took a close look and concluded that for the price of $1.2 trillion the federal government could: fully repeal the non-defense sequester cuts, make college debt-free, double National Institutes of Health research funding, make community college free, establish universal pre-K education, and fully finance the Highway Trust Fund.

That would be quite a list of accomplishments, progressive accomplishments.

Benefits for billionaires

But what would be accomplished by adopting Sanders plan for Social Security? Not what Sanders’ supporters envision.

Because of its standard, across-the-board approach toward the retirement system, the Vermont senator’s plan would spend $42 billion a year more for the wealthiest 20 percent of earners, but only $8 billion for the lowest 20 percent, according to the centrist group Third Way. Wealthy seniors would get $5 in new benefits for every dollar poor seniors get.

What’s more, the Sanders approach, popularized by another liberal Democratic senator, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, seems like a solution in search of a problem.

Currently, about 8 percent of Social Security beneficiaries age 62 or older live in poverty, while many of our inner cities have 30 percent or 40 percent of families living below the poverty line. The CRFB found that average retirement income in the United States is among the highest of the world’s most developed countries – higher than all the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries other than Luxembourg and Norway.

Children get shortchanged

Here’ more from the CRFB on disparities in federal spending priorities:

Given that Social Security benefits are already growing rapidly (due to demographics) – so much so that revenue will cover only about three-quarters of costs – it is reasonable to question whether further expanding benefits for middle- and higher-earners is really a wise use of resources.

… Increases in Social Security would actually exacerbate the trend away from spending on investments and on children. According to the Urban Institute’s Kids’ Share report, the federal government spent six times as much on seniors as children (in 2011), and that trend will surely grow under current law with three-fifths of total spending growth over the next decade coming from adults and seniors on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid but only two percent from programs for children. Broadly expanding Social Security benefits would give seniors first claim on additional tax revenues and therefore worsen this disparity.

The first sign that the Clinton team may be willing to cave on this fiscally irresponsible approach and embrace an unwise plan for retirees came last week when the nation’s top Democrat, President Obama, said in a speech in Indiana that, “It’s time we finally made Social Security more generous, and increased its benefits so that today’s retirees and future generations get the dignified retirement that they’ve earned. And we could start paying for it by asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute a little bit more. They can afford it. I can afford it.”

Increasing the cap on personal income subject to the Social Security tax – currently stuck at $118,000 – is certainly overdue. But policy analysts have found that a more effective means of helping low-income seniors could be accomplished by creating a new minimum benefit, making the benefit formula more progressive, or expanding benefits for widows and widowers.

We shall see in the coming weeks how this plays out, how willing are the Democrats are to cave on ill-conceived liberal policies in order to achieve party unity.

Photo image: Flickr/DonkeyHotey

First time in 130 years: young adults living with parents now the norm

If you hear of a young adult living with parents and picture a twentysomething “slacker” lounging in his pajamas in mom’s basement, well, get with it.

The new reality is that, for the first time in more than 130 years, residing with parents is now the most common living arrangement for young adults.
Adults ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own households, according to a new Pew Research Center study.

Pew’s analysis of census data through 2014 found that 31.6% of young adults were living with a spouse or partner in their own household, while 32.1% were living in the home of their parent(s). Some 14% were heading up a household in which they lived alone, were a single parent, or lived with one or more roommates. The remaining 22% lived in the home of another family member (such as a grandparent, in-law or sibling), a non-relative, or in group quarters (such as college dormitories).

The change in living arrangements over the past 50 years is stark: In 1960, nearly two-thirds of the nation’s 18- to 34-year-olds were living with a spouse or partner in their own household, and only one-in-five were living with their parents.

While the economy is certainly a major factor in this 21st Century phenomenon, the growing tendency of delaying or avoiding marriage among young people is also key. Young adults without a college degree are more likely to live with parents than their grad counterparts. And the number of young black adults living with a family member rather than a spouse or “significant other” is through the roof.

Here are some highlights of the Pew study:

* In 2014, 28% of young men were living with a spouse or partner in their own home, while 35% were living in the home of their parents. Young women are still more likely to be living with a spouse or romantic partner (35%) than they are to be living with their parents (29%).
* By 2014, 36% of 18- to 34-year-olds who had not completed a bachelor’s degree were living with their parents, compared with only 19% among college graduates.
* Record-high shares of black and Hispanic young adults (36% for each group) lived in the home of their parents in 2014, compared with 30% of white young adults. Only 17% of blacks between 18 and 34 were living with a spouse or romantic partner in 2014.

Photo: PublicDomainPictures.net

Maybe Trump Democrats are not a factor after all

Donald Trump boasts that he has created an army of new voters – “millions and millions” – in the Republican primaries while numerous high-ranking GOP officials have swallowed that argument as they swallow their principles and endorse the bombastic billionaire.

Countless pundits have declared that, much like the Reagan Democrats of the 1980s and ‘90s, “Trump Democrats” will emerge in big numbers this fall.

The overwhelming narrative indicates that Trump is a transformative figure whose ability to attract “new voters” is due, in large part, to the white working class, especially men in the 50-plus age group. In Michigan and especially in Macomb County, Trump’s big win in the March primary is attributed in large part to the emergence of Trump Democrats.

Yet, an analysis of primary voting data in several states conducted by Politico finds that this wave of new Trump voters is mostly a media myth.

With the help of a far-flung group of experts, Politico determined that Trump has attracted people to the notoriously low-turnout primaries, but most of these people are not new to the process of voting in a general election, and they are not dissidents or newly minted Trump Democrats.

Based on voting data from Ohio, New Hampshire, Iowa, Florida and South Carolina, the number of newbies and cross-overs drawn in by Trump may be substantially exaggerated. The record GOP turnouts in many states are not due to “lapsed” or disgruntled voters who had given up on politics and elections until Trump emerged.

For example, according to Republican Party figures, 80 percent of those who were part of a record-shattering turnout in February for the Iowa GOP caucuses had previously voted in at least three of the last four presidential elections. So, the new caucusgoers who boosted participation by nearly half compared to 2012 consisted mostly of those who are likely to vote in November anyway.

Little evidence of a Trump wave

In Ohio (the most important state for the GOP in November), the idea that blue-collar voters flocked to the polls because of Trump is not accurate. The numbers show 60,000 new voters in the Ohio Republican primary in March, but there were also about 58,000 new voters in the Democratic primary. No advantage gained there.

In addition, many of the 155,000 party switchers in the Buckeye State – those who voted in a Democratic primary in the past and on the GOP side this time – may have been enticed not by Trump but by John Kasich, the popular Ohio governor who easily won the state’s Republican primary election.

Overall, with an unprecedented 17 candidates running, and with a bombastic, polarizing candidate leading the way, record participation should not be the basis for a contrarian story line that says 2016 might be shaping up as a Republican/Trump year. Especially when recent history shows little correlation between primary turnout and which party wins in November. The 187,000 GOP caucusgoers in Iowa, it should be noted, represented about 8.9 percent of the state’s voters.

In fact, with so many GOP candidates competing, more than 10 million votes were cast against Trump. While the “Stop Trump” movement failed, it certainly contributed to higher-than-normal turnout.

Were Reagan Democrats exaggerated?

As Trump shuns campaign norms and assumes that his candidacy will attract large numbers of white, low-education voters, some political analysts insist that Trump Democrats will not emerge as a major factor at all in the fall. Neal Gabler, a liberal author, takes that assertion a step further by arguing that Reagan Democrats were never more than a brief phenomenon, not a movement.

In a recent guest column on The Moderate Voice, Gabler cited a study that took a long-term view of voting patterns from 1952-2004:

Nearly all the Democratic decline among low-income white voters without college degrees came in the South: 10.3 percent. Outside the South, the Democratic percentages actually increased (11.2 percent) for an overall national increase of 4.5 percent. Again, that is just among whites. The inescapable conclusion: All those blue-collar workers who are supposed to have left the Democratic Party for Reagan and then stayed in the GOP, or who might soon be leaving for Trump, didn’t in the first case, and aren’t likely to do so in the second.

As for the polls, they present a mixed bag about the potential Trump coalition. Numerous state exit polls taken during primary election season show Trump suffers from unfavorable ratings among white Democrats approaching 80 percent. On the flip side, a recent national poll found that about 20 percent of likely Democratic voters say they would buck the party and vote for Trump in November.

Clearly, the large number of voters casting ballots and watching televised debates indicate that the Republicans probably enjoy an enthusiasm gap that’s to their advantage over the divided Democrats. The widespread GOP disdain for Hillary Clinton obviously could affect turnout in the general election.

But elected Republican officials sheepishly stepping up to “support the nominee,” and others struggling with the reality of a pending Trump nomination – even House Speaker Paul Ryan – have been sucked in by Trump’s claims that he’s the GOP Pied Piper bringing in a flock of new voters.

Trump speech - Ind. - Fox
Consider another battleground state, Florida, where new voters are not news. The fast-growing Sunshine State has experienced about 1 million new voters just since 2012. According to Politico, Republican primary turnout in the state jumped by 40 percent from 2012 to 2016. But only 6 percent of those who voted in the 2016 Republican primary did not vote in either of the 2012 or 2014 general elections.

What’s more, high turnout in a Florida race featuring the always-entertaining Trump plus a standoff between the state’s former governor, Jeb Bush, and a sitting U.S. senator, Marco Rubio, should not be a surprise.

Elsewhere, clear-headed GOP strategists might heed the fact that Democrats lost their support among white working-class men long ago, as evidenced by the past four presidential cycles plus Clinton’s limited success at targeting this group in the 2008 primaries. If Trump wins by big margins over Clinton in the South’s Red States, those landslides would accomplish nothing in terms of altering the Electoral College map in November.

Daniel Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida who analyzed his state’s primary voting patterns for Politico, suggested Republican Party leaders would be wise to look skeptically at the Trump braggadocio which paints him as the next big thing.

“I think the glass is half full,” Smith said, looking at the numbers from Trump’s perspective. “But it’s a small glass — maybe a shot glass.”

Image: Democrats for Donald Trump

Photo: Fox News screenshot

Defeated, not deterred: Cruz blasts GOP in solicitation for campaign cash

Though Ted Cruz doesn’t face re-election in the Senate for another 30 months, he’s already soliciting campaign cash from his supporters.

Less than two weeks after abandoning his presidential campaign, Cruz has already declared he will seek another six-year term in 2018. And he’s back to playing the role of the underdog, the savior of liberty and religious freedom.

In an email message sent this afternoon to supporters, the Texas senator seeks individual contributions of up to $2,700.

Far from licking his wounds after losing the GOP presidential nomination, Cruz, considered by some to be the most hated man on Capitol Hill, has returned to his usual bluster. While he tried to rally the Republican establishment behind him in the final days of his presidential candidacy, he’s back to playing the maverick.

The message asking for money says that he is fighting the “Washington cartel,” but his main foil is former House speaker John Boehner, who famously referred to the senator as “Lucifer” a few weeks ago.

After suspending his White House bid earlier this month, Cruz just days later hinted that he would re-enter the race if he performed well in Nebraska’s “beauty contest” vote last Tuesday. When he got stomped in Nebraska by Donald Trump, he quickly shifted again and announced that he will run for re-election to the Senate.

Here’s the full text of his email message:

Friend,

That didn’t take long.

Less than 24 hours after I announced my intentions to continue fighting for our shared conservative values from the Senate, former Speaker of the House John Boehner was at it again.

Remember when he called me “Lucifer in the flesh?” Well, he didn’t think that was far enough. Now the ringleader of the Washington Cartel is celebrating our defeat by saying, “thank God that guy from Texas didn’t win.”

This is just another sign that the establishment in Washington has learned nothing over the past year. The truth of the matter is they won’t stop attacking me, because they know I won’t stop fighting for you.

And I am worried these attacks will just continue.

Friend, I can’t take them on alone. Will you make an immediate contribution of $5, $10, $35, $50 or whatever you can afford at this time?

You were so important to our efforts over the last year and I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. But our movement now faces a new front.

This is bigger than any one office. This is about changing the culture in Washington and saving our country.

That’s why I am asking you to help me continue the fight with an immediate contribution.

I am using all my energy and resources to keep fighting and I hope you can help.

Instant Donate >>> $5

Instant Donate >>> $10

Instant Donate >>> $35

Instant Donate >>> $50

Instant Donate >>> $100

Instant Donate >>> $250

Instant Donate >>> OTHER AMOUNT

Together we have come so far, but I am concerned that without your help, John Boehner and the rest of his Cartel in D.C. will succeed in stopping our progress.

I’m counting on you, Friend.

For liberty,

Ted Cruz

Photo: CNN screenshot