Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Brexit Breakdown and What It Means for the UK and the US

I'll be honest, prior to last Wednesday if someone had mentioned Brexit to me, I'd have thought they were talking about a new sandwich from Subway. I probably would've asked, What the fuck's a Brexit?

That's the problem with living across the pond, as they call it. It isolates you from the rest of the planet. By Thursday, I was reading up on it and still didn't think it was all that much of a big deal. No way in hell the Brits leave the EU, I said to myself. This is a non-issue meant to distract us from what's really important, like who Hillary will tap as he running mate and the ramifications of Trump firing his campaign manager. Indeed, the early exit polling on Thursday showed the Remain vote in the early lead. The Dow soared 200 points as markets reacted favorably to what most thought was a done deal.

Then Friday morning arrived and the shit hit the fan. The UK, by a 52-48 margin, voted to exit the European Union. The same Dow, that only 24 hours earlier had climbed 200 points, plummeted by more than 600; 400 in just the opening minutes. The Pound fell to a level not seen since 1985, and the British economy lost $172 billion overnight. Markets all over the globe were in a panic as investors were selling everything but the kitchen sink. If your 401k was heavily invested in stocks, you took one helluva hit. On the other hand, if you were holding US treasuries, it was a pretty good day for you.

So what happened? And more importantly what does this mean for the UK and the US? To answer the first question, it's important to face an important fact. This vote and the movement that spawned it did not spring up overnight. It has been slowly building up steam throughout much of Europe for about the last decade. We've only started to take notice of it here in America since last fall when both the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders campaigns began tapping a vein of discontent within the American electorate. That populist wave delivered Trump the Republican nomination and damn near delivered Sanders the Democratic one.

And make no mistake about it: what's happening in this country is eerily similar to what's going on in Europe. Anybody who doesn't see the parallel is blind. Those who voted to leave the EU cited the following reasons: fear of immigrants taking their jobs away, fear of losing their country, resentment over wage stagnation, fear of trade and globalization, loss of sovereignty.

Sound familiar? It should. With the exception of the sovereignty argument, every one of the above could just as easily come out of the mouth of a Trump supporter, perhaps even a Bernie supporter, sans the immigrant fear. Trump's Mexican-border wall and call to halt all Muslim immigration, as well as Sanders's railing against NAFTA and income inequality is the sort of populism that has come to define American politics these days, and regardless of what happens in November, it will have far-reaching implications in this country for years to come.

We still don't know how this will fully play out in the UK. Already there are calls - 3 million of them - for a second referendum, as more and more Britons begin to have buyer's remorse over their vote. Apparently it didn't dawn on them that severing ties with a market as large as the EU could have such negative consequences. No doubt predictions of a permeant loss of 2 percent of their GDP is scaring the bejesus out of the blokes. And now word is coming that Scotland, which recently voted to stay in the UK, might seek another referendum to exit it and stay in the EU. If Scotland leaves and, with it, Northern Ireland, you can kiss the United Kingdom goodbye. Merry old England will be a very small place, not only geographically, but geopolitically, as well. That's what happens when you leap before you look.

But what about the United States? I'm guessing that the fallout in Great Britain will have some impact here. There's nothing like watching your 401k lose 10 to 20 percent of its value to leave a bad taste in your mouth. But if I'm Hillary Clinton and the DNC, I wouldn't sit back and rest on my laurels. If anything, I would take this opportunity to go into reset mode. They need to take this movement seriously. It's virulent, irrational and defiant. And it runs counter to everything we know about political movements, which means it's very hard to predict, and thus very hard to poll accurately.

I suspect that's what happened in the UK. Only 24 hours before the Brexit vote, polls show Remain leading 52-48. The result was Leave 52-48. That's a 4 point deviation. That sort of error simply doesn't happen in modern politics, which should tell you that there's something profoundly wrong with how pollsters are getting their sampling data. It's also quite possible that many people are hesitant to reveal controversial views to pollsters for fear of how they'll sound.

If that is the case, and I think it is, Hillary's 6 point national lead could be as little as 2. And, even worse, her narrow lead in most swing states could well be a narrow Trump lead. I mentioned in an earlier piece that Trump was capable of pulling off a narrow electoral win this November. The election results in Britain confirm that this is a very real possibility. If the pollsters here are off by as much as the UK pollsters, Donald Trump could well be the next president of the United States.

Think about that for a moment. Since clinching the GOP nomination in May, Trump has had the worst six weeks of any presidential nominee ever. He has no campaign staff to speak of, he has approximately $1.3 million cash on hand, compared with Clinton's $42 million, and he's within the margin of error in some states. That Clinton isn't ahead by double digits should be a real concern for her supporters and the DNC.

Of course it's still way too early to panic. Four years ago, President Obama was only half a point ahead of Republican nominee Mitt Romney in June, yet won handily in November. But that was then, this is now. The political headwinds are blowing in the opposite direction in 2016. Out is in and in is out.

So what should Clinton and the Democrats do to deal with this movement? Well for starters, they need to realize that the usual rational arguments are not going to work. They certainly didn't work in Britain. There was a plethora of evidence suggesting that leaving the EU would lead to the very things we are now witnessing. That didn't stop a majority of voters from voting to exit anyway.

Similarly in America, Trump's critics pointing out his numerous outlandish and racist statements have not disqualified him, as they most assuredly would've with any other politician; rather, they seem to have increased his popularity among his supporters. He not only easily won his party's nomination, he is, as I alluded to above, very much alive in this presidential race.

You can't reason with the unreasonable. So how do you win? By extolling the virtues of what it is you stand for. To badly paraphrase Wayne LaPierre, the only way to defeat a bad idea is with a good idea. The mistake that David Cameron and the Remain group made was to attempt to frighten Britishers into not voting to exit. The reason it didn't work was because Cameron never spelled out what the virtues of remaining were. Saying something bad will happen if you vote "X" doesn't explain why you should vote "Y".

When President Obama visited Britain back in April in an attempt to persuade them to remain in the EU, he basically said that if Britain left, they would be at the "back of the line" for trade deals. Here's a hint: if you're trying to make a persuasive argument to your audience, it's helpful not to insult them. Obama's comments became fodder for the Brexit supporters and, no doubt, played a role in the eventual outcome.

If I'm Hillary, I take heed of what happened in the UK and do just the opposite. I'd acknowledge the pain that people in this country are going through. Don't be condescending or dismissive; instead make an effort to connect with them. I know empathy is not her strong suit, nor for that matter is it Obama's, but she must try nonetheless. Whatever else you might say about Bernie Sanders: he was able to connect emotionally with his supporters in a way Hillary still hasn't learned to master.

With that in mind, her best course of action is to take away the one argument Trump has: that he knows how to fix the mess we're in. She needs to expose him as the snake oil salesman he is, without insulting his supporters or those that are on the fence. This will be tricky, but it can be done. To a large extent, Trump is already doing a good job of exposing himself. At times it seems as though he doesn't even want to win the presidency.

By laying out a clear vision for the country and by behaving the way a commander in chief should, Clinton can differentiate herself from Trump in the eyes of millions of voters. Of all the strengths Obama possess, none have proven more invaluable than his ability to be the adult in the room. It was that poise, I believe, that helped put him over the top in 2012, and it could do the same for Clinton in 2016. Above all else, voters want their presidential candidates to look presidential.

While it's true there are differences between the Brexit vote and this year's presidential vote, it still comes down to making the case for your side. The Clinton camp has two big advantages here: One, it knows what the Remain group did wrong and, therefore, it can avoid making the same mistakes; and two, unlike the vote in the UK, the 2016 election will not be about a single issue. The character of the candidates will likely be the deciding factor.

There can be little doubt that many voters in the UK are expressing regret over their vote. Hillary Clinton's job over the next four months will be to ensure that the American electorate doesn't have similar misgivings this November.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Hillary's Donor Dilemma

According to a piece in Politico, Wall Street is concerned that Hillary Clinton might pick Elizabeth Warren as her running mate. How concerned? If Warren gets the nod, the majority of Clinton's big donors would abandon her. And in an election that could well see as much as a billion dollars spent, such a defection of capital could spell the difference between winning or losing.

It also puts Clinton in the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, choosing Warren would energize the base and thwart any lingering Bernie burn out. On the other hand, Clinton's pivot to the center will be crucial to winning over moderates. It also makes her a more attractive choice for that part of the business community that normally would vote Republican, but which might find Clinton the less risky choice. There's no doubt Warren would chase away the latter and could potentially worry the former.

It comes down to this: which constituency does Clinton need more? The conventional wisdom is that you run to your left or right during the primary, but you run to the center in the general. The GOP's failure to grasp the second leg of that journey has been the principle reason why they've lost the last two presidential elections. Hillary's bonafides as a centrist are well established and should make her the ideal general election candidate.

But this is not your typical election year, and that's putting it mildly. This has been the year of the outsider and Clinton's problem is that she is most definitely NOT an outsider. In fact, she's the textbook definition of an insider. The campaigns of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump owe their successes to growing populist movements that are dramatically reshaping the political landscape of the country.

The concern is that what would normally work in a conventional election year - a center pivot - might backfire. The base already mistrusts Clinton; pandering to Wall Street donors would only reinforce the narrative that she is in their hip pocket. And if you think Sanders's supporters were on the fence about whether to vote for Hillary, this is the sort of thing that could push a large percentage of them right over the edge. I'm not suggesting they'd vote for Trump, but I could definitely see a lot of them staying home in November.

I confess there's no easy solution for Clinton here. It's clear she's going to need a ton of money. She can't count on Trump shooting himself in the foot forever. Sooner or later he's going to find enough financial backers. Shit, he's already got Sheldon Adelson's money. That alone should net him a cool quarter of a billion right there. And if Paul Manafort can actually set up a functioning campaign staff, this could turn into a horse race after all.

My gut tells me Clinton should screw the donors, pick Warren as her running mate and go populist. It'll help her in states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania where Trump will hit her hard on trade. But the practical side of me says every penny counts and, Bernie Sanders notwithstanding, twenty seven dollar donations alone cannot adequately fund a general election campaign, not in these post Citizens United days. Like it or not, big donors and the soft money they bring are an ugly fact of life.

Knowing Clinton the way I do, I'm guessing she already knows this, which is why I suspect Warren won't be her running mate. The likely choice will be someone who thinks like her, will appeal to moderate voters and be amenable to donors. Don't be surprised if she chooses Mark Warner. He hits all the right buttons. He's almost a carbon copy of her, someone she can count on to not upstage her; he's a white male, which means he might chip away some at Trump's huge advantage in that demographic; and he's a moderate senator from a swing state, so he won't further polarize an already deeply divided electorate. He also passes the all-essential commander-in-chief test that every running mate needs to pass. And did I mention the donors will be happy? Oh, yeah, I did.

Is he boring? Who cares? Maybe boring is good. Compared to Lizzie Borden and whomever he manages to hoodwink into riding shotgun with him, it could be the dream ticket. Harriet and Ozzie up against Abbott and Costello. I like it.

More to the point the general electorate should like it, perhaps even enough to parlay into a big win this November.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

It's the Assault Rifles, Stupid

Let's get real here. A ban on Muslim immigration would not have prevented the Orlando mass shooting, nor would it have prevented the San Bernardino or Fort Hood mass shootings. All three assailants in those heinous acts, while Muslim, were born in the United States and thus would've been unaffected by any ban. Oh and by the way, the mass shootings in Sandy Hook and Aurora, neither of which were committed by Muslims, would still have happened.

There is only one common denominator in all these mass shootings - indeed in virtually all the mass shootings that occur in this country on a regular basis: they were committed by people who were able to legally obtain assault rifles in less time than it takes to get a learner's permit to drive a motor vehicle.

And that is not only unconscionable; it's criminal.

Since the Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004, mass shootings in the United States have risen significantly. Worse, the number of people killed in these shootings has skyrocketed. According to a piece in Time, between 1994 and 2004, when the ban was in effect, only twice did the number of fatalities reach the double digit mark: in 1998 (13) and in 1999 (44). The average number of fatalities during those years was 9.5. If you subtract from the totals the '99 deaths - that was year of the Columbine massacre  - the average drops to 5.6.

In the 12 years since the ban expired, the number of fatalities has reached the double digit mark 11 times. That's 11 out of 12 years! The average number of fatalities during that span is 32. And keep in mind we're only halfway through 2016 and already 58 people have been gunned down, 49 of them in the most recent shooting in Orlando. It is entirely possible we could be looking at more than a hundred mass shooting fatalities in one year for the first time since the founding of the country.

Now to be fair, not all of these shootings involved an assault rifle. But most of them did. Furthermore, the dramatic increase in the frequency of mass shootings and the number of deaths that have resulted from them can be directly attributed to the ease at which these weapons can be obtained by virtually anybody. The Orlando shooter, despite being on an FBI watch list, was able to legally purchase the assault rifle used in the attack at the Pulse nightclub.

The sad fact is that there are virtually no impediments to obtaining an assault rifle in this country. Anyone, anywhere can walk into a gun store and, within a few minutes, walk out with a weapon capable of killing dozens of people in a matter of seconds. And law enforcement is powerless to stop them. Astonishingly, you can be on a no-fly list, but you can still legally buy a gun. If that isn't the textbook definition of insanity I don't know what is.

There is absolutely no reason for anybody to own an assault rifle in this country. They are totally useless as a means of protecting one's home, and if you need one to shoot a deer, you're a lousy hunter. The fact is unless you're a member of a SWAT team or have been recently deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, you have no reason to be anywhere near one of these weapons. Indeed the military doesn't even allow its soldiers to take these weapons back to the barracks, such is the respect they have for how deadly they can be.  And if the greatest and most powerful military in the history of the world sees fit to impose such strict gun regulations on soldiers who have been properly trained to use them, how in the world is it possible for an ordinary citizen with virtually no training to get his hands on one?

That was a rhetorical question. We all know the answer. It's the same one mountain climbers give when asked why they climb mountains. Because they're there. Throughout most of its history, America has had a love affair with guns; you could say an obsession. They are part of our collective DNA, for better or worse.  And ever since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Heller, which drastically changed how the Second Amendment was interpreted, organizations like the NRA have held a vice grip over the Republican Party.

Not only is it all but impossible to pass meaningful gun legislation in Congress, even if by some miracle the assault weapons ban was reinstated, the fact is there are already almost 4 million of these weapons in private circulation. In order for the ban to have any meaningful impact, the government would have to institute a buy-back program similar to the one Australia carried out in 1996. Such a program could well cost billions of dollars. In other words, it would never get off the ground.

So, once more, the nation morns the loss of innocent people whose lives were cut short needlessly. Once more, we toy with the notion that this time it'll be different. This time, our leaders will summon the will and the courage to actually do something to prevent the next slaughter. The Democratic filibuster, led by Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, was certainly a breath of fresh air. And for their efforts they managed to force a vote on bills aimed at strengthening universal background checks by closing the so-called gun-show loophole, and banning people on terror-watch lists from buying a gun. Sensible and common sense measures to be sure, but because they will not have the requisite votes to pass the 60 vote threshold, they will likely fail. And even if they were to somehow get the votes, they would never pass the Republican-controlled House.

We've seen this nightmare unfold far too often in America. We have seen how a badly worded and poorly understood Amendment has become a political lightning rod for gun advocates and a death sentence for hundreds of innocent souls. They've paid the ultimate price for the cowardice and complicity of this nation's leaders. And their blood is on all of our hands.

If history is indeed the final judge of our actions then it will most certainly find us wanting. The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. here are hauntingly salient: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Madam Vice President?

If you needed any further evidence that Elizabeth Warren should be Hillary Clinton's running mate, all you had to do was watch her speak at the ACS Convention. Usually I don't pay much attention to speeches from politicians. Most of them are boring and predictable as dirt. We're great, they suck, yada, yada, yada. Frankly, I'd rather watch paint dry. But Warren is different. She's the EF Hutton of politicians. When she speaks, people listen.

Jimmy Stewart had nothing on Warren. She wasn't just passionate; she was mesmerizing. Me? I still have goosebumps. The way she tore into Donald Trump was a thing of beauty. I didn't know whether to laugh, applaud or cry. Tell you the truth, I did all three, sometimes at the same time. Later that night, on the Rachel Maddow show, she not only endorsed Clinton, but when Maddow asked her if she thought she was qualified to be president, she said, "Yes I do."

Well, let me second that. Warren's qualified. In fact, she's probably more qualified than most people in Washington, with the exception of her party's current nominee, and if Hillary knows what's good for her, she'll pick her as her number two. Frankly, I can't think of any one else who'd be better, and here's why.

The Base would love it: Look, there's no guarantee that Bernie Sanders will be able to reign in his supporters and deliver them for Hillary. While most will come around, there's a growing concern within the Democratic Party that enough of them might sit this one out, and if that happens, Trump wins the election.

Warren is deeply respected by the base and her presence on the ticket would solidify the party. It could also prevent Trump from stealing some of Bernie's supporters. And in an election that could potentially be decided by less than a million votes, it is vital that the Democrats get every voter they can out to the polls.

Warren drives Trump up the wall: For the last couple of weeks, Warren has gone after Trump in a series of tweets. It's clear that she's getting under his skin. It's well established that Trump has a HUGE problem with strong-willed women and always has. During the GOP debates, the only candidate that was able to put Trump in his place was Carly Florina. Both Clinton and Warren are twice the woman Fiorina is and they will prove to be a formidable tag team against Trump in the general.

Trump may have won the Republican nomination by making racist, misogynist comments, but a presidential election is another story. The general electorate isn't the GOP electorate. It's a lot more diverse and far less tolerant of inappropriate behavior. Already he's being called out for his comments on a Mexican judge. Running against two dominant women, Trump's thin skin will show itself. Calling Warren Pocahontas proves she's already getting to him. Imagine what he'll be like in another four and a half months.

The Senate's not a slam dunk. No, it's not. In fact, according to Larry Sabato, as of now the Democrats have 47 seats that are either safe, likely or lean and the Republicans have 48 that are the same. That leaves 5 tossups, among them Nevada, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Assuming the Dems hold onto Harry Reid's seat in Nevada, which would give them 48, that leaves 4 states from which to net 3 seats. The problem is they are trailing in one (Pennsylvania), leading slightly in another (Florida) and tied in the other two.

It's entirely possible they could go 0-fer, which means losing Warren's seat would be meaningless. With that in mind, the bigger priority has to be holding onto the White House. If Trump were to win, you can kiss the ACA goodbye along with a myriad of regulations from Dodd / Frank to the EPA. And the Supreme Court? That's gone too, along with 50 years of jurisprudence. Warren gives the Democrats a much better chance of keeping the GOP at bay as Hillary's vice president than as a member of a Senate minority.

Besides, Harry Reid may have come up with a plan that could potentially save Warren's seat in the event that it is needed to regain the majority. Massachusetts requires a special election to be held within 145 days of a vacancy. It is conceivable that Warren could file notice to vacate prior to the inauguration, thus limiting Republican governor Charlie Baker's ability to fill the seat. If Warren gives notice far enough in advance, she could conceivably force the special election to be held in time for the inauguration. Of course, should Clinton not win, it would be a double whammy. Not only would Democrats lose the White House, they would lose one of their best firebrands in Warren.

It's the Rust Belt states stupid. Trade, for better or worse, has taken center stage in this election. Both Trump and Sanders made it a cornerstone of their campaigns. Hillary's support for the TPP does not sit well in the midwest, particularly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. In fact, Bernie beat her in Michigan, if only by a small margin. Trump would like nothing more than to turn the Keystone state red and flip Ohio. If he does, he can make this election a nail biter. In fact, typically when Republicans win the White House, they do so with Ohio. That's how George Bush barely defeated John Kerry in '04.

Warren can neutralize any advantage Trump might have in these states by pointing out how his policies would actually hurt blue-collar workers rather than help them. No matter what Hillary says, or does she doesn't have the weight or authority that Warren has with this voter group. Face it, the Clintons may be loved in a lot of places in the country; the industrial midwest is not one of them.

Don't worry about the Center. The fear among some in the party that Warren might drive away moderate or centrist voters is unfounded. First off, many of Warren's positions are shared by a good many voters. Poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans favor regulating Wall Street, higher taxes on the rich, raising the minimum wage, immigration reform and equal pay. Warren, far from driving away these voters, would attract more of them to Hillary and, more importantly, deprive Trump of one of his core arguments: that the Democrats don't care about them. And, while we're at it, you can dismiss all the "Republicans for Hillary" drivel. I'll believe this when pigs fly.

Looking at the other potential running mates, Tim Kaine does nothing for Clinton; if anything, he's a carbon copy of her: centrist, middle of the road. He neither expands her electoral map, nor shrinks it. Yes, he does no harm, but apart from that, I'm not feeling it. And while there's no doubt Julian Castro is the future of the Party, he does not have the name recognition nor the experience needed for what will be a grueling general election campaign.

No matter how many ways you slice it, Warren's name keeps coming up as the best choice. Yes, I know she's a woman and so is Clinton. I get it, two women on the same ticket. Sounds ridiculous, right? Yeah, just as ridiculous as the first 44 presidents and vice presidents all being men. I don't recall hearing a peep from anybody over their gender. And, yes, there's always the danger that Warren could upstage Clinton. But, given the stakes in this election, the risk is well worth it.

Eight years ago this nation took a leap of faith and elected its first black president. This year it could take an even greater leap of faith by electing not only its first woman president, but its first woman vice president.

Just imagine when they enter a room together: Madam President AND Madam Vice President. Now that would be a sight to behold. I can just picture the bumper sticker:

"Clinton - Warren 2016. Because It's About Damn Time."

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

So Much for Enchiladas

In the end, it wasn't even close. California, the state Bernie Sanders was pinning all his hopes on - the whole enchilada, as he called it - ended up being the final nail in his coffin. He didn't just lose, he got crushed. Ironically, the Golden State was a microcosm of his whole campaign: an early, insurmountable deficit that could never be made up. From the moment the polls closed, Sanders was trailing. With 30 percent of the vote in, Hillary Clinton was ahead by almost 400 thousand votes. For the rest of the night the two candidates ostensibly traded baskets, to use a basketball euphemism. When the final results were tallied, Clinton had 1,940,580 votes to Sanders' 1,502,043.

Combined with a staggering loss in New Jersey and two close but no cigar defeats in New Mexico and South Dakota, Bernie had a very rough night. Far from ending his campaign with enough momentum to make his case to the Super Delegates that he should be the Party's nominee, it was Clinton who finished strong. His two wins were states with a predominately white populace, Montana and North Dakota, the latter being a caucus. Fitting if bittersweet.

So now what? Well, for starters, Sanders will meet with President Obama at the White House on Thursday. I'm guessing Obama will try to get him to concede before he officially endorses Hillary. I'd love to be a fly on that wall. To add insult to injury, Reuters is reporting that Elizabeth Warren will endorse Clinton, perhaps as soon as next week. Whether he wants to admit it or not, this race is over. He not only has no path to the nomination, if he chooses to go to Philadelphia and force a contested convention, he will do so without any of his surrogates and with the full weight of the Democratic Party against him. He'll also have the dubious distinction of being the next Ralph Nader.

If I were a betting man, I'd say he cries uncle right after the D.C. primary next Tuesday. That'll allow him to say he gave all his voters the chance to have their votes count, which is fair. Hillary waited till the last primary before she hung it up in '08. Another week won't kill anybody. It'll also give him enough time to force more concessions from the DNC, as if getting five seats on the platform committee wasn't good enough.

So, what went wrong for the Vermont senator? Well, first off, let's dispense with this notion that his supporters keep repeating. Nobody stole the nomination from him. Hillary simply got more votes and won more states. As strange as it might seem for them to hear, that's how elections are won. And, from mid-March on, this contest wasn't even close. Hillary was in the driver's seat pretty much after that first Super Tuesday. She not only won more states, she won the states with the largest and most diverse populations. After D.C. votes next Tuesday, she'll finish with 3.7 million more votes and 370 more pledged delegates than Sanders. Those aren't primary election numbers; they're general election numbers.

As I see it, there were basically two big mistakes the Sanders campaign made that led directly to their demise. The first was poor strategy. Sanders concentrated way too much on securing votes from states with demographics that were already sympathetic to him, while not paying nearly enough attention to the states that more closely resembled the actual party he was running in. This further widened the gap between him and African Americans and Hispanics. And when they did visit states like South Carolina and Georgia, they never developed a message that resonated with those voters. More often than not they came across as condescending. It also didn't help matters any that Sanders hailed from one of the whitest states in the nation.

Then there was the issue of where to spend their resources. One of the pitfalls of having a lot of contributors to your campaign is that it gives you the impression you can spread the graft around everywhere - a sort of 50-state strategy, if you will. But that's actually not how primaries are won. In 2008, the Obama campaign knew there were states they were not going to be competitive in, like New York. So they never campaigned there. The Sanders campaign never figured that out and it proved costly.

A case in point came after Sanders' very impressive victory in Wisconsin. He had won eight states in a row and was on a roll. He was close to making the primary season a real contest. That was when his campaign made a critical error. They headed straight to New York and ran ads in a very expensive TV market trying to win the state. But realistically speaking, Sanders never had a chance at beating Hillary in her home state, where she had twice been elected to the Senate. And, worse, everyone knew it.

What they should've done is gone straight to Pennsylvania, a state that, sans Philadelphia, has an electorate that was more in tune with the message he was spreading. Had I been his manager, I would've shuttled back and forth between Scranton and Pittsburgh, with a rally or two at Penn State. I also would've paid a few visits to northwestern Maryland. So Hillary would've won New York by a couple points more. Who cares? Staying in Pa., would've netted them more delegates out of the Keystone state, maybe even in Maryland. They still would've lost both, but the margins would've been a lot smaller.

The Sanders team never understood that it was about the number of delegates they picked up, not the number of states they won. Obama got his clocked cleaned by Hillary in many states, but he won the most delegates because his team knew how to manage their resources better.

But the biggest mistake the Sanders campaign made was the platform they were running on. Basically, Sanders was one-trick pony. His whole campaign theme came down to this: the system is rigged and corrupt, and only I can fix it. It was a message that resonated, not surprisingly, with younger voters, but fell on deaf ears with many older ones. While his rallies were overflowing with passionate young people, many of those young people proved to be very unreliable at the polls.

For the last three presidential elections we've heard a lot about the youth vote. I still remember the Kerry campaign boasting how they were going to defeat Bush in '04 with it. John Kerry is still waiting for them to show up.  Now Bernie Sanders can add his name to the list of candidates jilted at the alter.

But it would be unfair to chalk up Sanders' defeat to a lack of follow through of 18 to 29 year olds. The fact is the Democratic Party is not the Republican Party. There simply wasn't the appetite among Democrats for a populist movement that there was among Republicans. Donald Trump ran away with the GOP nomination; the best Bernie Sanders could do was a distant second place finish.

Maybe that will change. No doubt the seeds Sanders has planted will begin to take root. Who knows, maybe by 2024, someone will pick up where Sanders left off and progressives will finally have their revolution. But it won't come in 2016.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

California Matters To Hillary But Not For the Reason You Think

For the last two weeks the Sanders campaign has been insisting that the California primary is make or break for them. Sorry, guys, not true. Regardless of what happens in the Golden State, Hillary Clinton is winning the Democratic nomination. Sanders whole strategy comes down to eking out a narrow win in California and then convincing most (err, all) of the Super Delegates to switch over to him. Fat chance that happening. There's no way in hell that the Super Delegates are going to give the middle finger to millions of voters, many of whom are Hispanic, African American and women. Good luck starting a revolution, much less winning a general election, without those voters, Bernie.

Frankly I just don't get this. Hillary Clinton is leading Bernie Sanders by approximately three million votes and, depending on the results from Puerto Rico, almost 300 pledged delegates. And she stands an excellent chance of increasing both those margins this Tuesday when six states go to the polls. By comparison, Clinton trailed Barack Obama in 2008 by 62 pledged delegates AND, thanks to two states going out of turn, actually received more votes. Yet, when all the shouting was over, she did the right thing and conceded. Yes, losing California would be a blow, but a blow to her pride only. Remember, Barack Obama lost the state in '08 primary, yet carried it by 24 points in the general.

But there is one reason why California matters to Hillary and it could prove to be crucial to her chances of defeating Donald Trump in November. The Latino vote turnout. Put succinctly, if she doesn't get the majority of the Latino vote - and by majority I'm not talking 51-49 - that would be an ominous sign for her in the fall.

It is quite clear from all the exit polling this primary season that Clinton will be able to count on a vast majority of the African American vote, but Latinos are not a monolithic voting bloc. While a majority of them are liberal when it comes to economic issues, they tend to be more conservative on social issues. Most of that is due to their upbringing and the strong ties many of them have to their faith. The Catholic Church has a lot of influence throughout Latin America and most of the population there is pro-life. Even Catholics in the United States tend to split down the middle politically. The fact that George Bush was able to get 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in '04 proves that this group is not a slam dunk for Hillary and Dems in 2016.

The fact of the matter is that Democrats have been the beneficiaries of two consecutive dreadful GOP presidential nominees who basically gift-wrapped the Latino vote for them. Remember Mitt Romney's self deportation stance in 2012? That was the definition of political malpractice. Looking at 2016, it's quite probable that Trump will follow in Romney's footsteps. Indeed his "Mexicans are rapists and drug smugglers" comment at his press conference last year may well have sunk his chances. But if I were the DNC, I wouldn't go counting those chickens before they're hatched just yet.

Already, Trump and his surrogates are attempting to reframe this issue to make it look like he is the victim. When Trump was called on the carpet for his racist accusation that Gonzalo Curiel, the judge presiding over a lawsuit regarding his defunct university, had a conflict of interest because he's a Mexican - he was actually born in Indiana, by the way - they struck back by calling Curiel an activist judge. It's called the art of deflection and if enough Latinos buy into it, Hillary could be toast.

This needs to be stated in the strongest of terms. There is no doubt Donald Trump will look to run up the score with white males. It's the method to his madness. What Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party cannot afford to let happen is for him to make any inroads with their core constituencies.

California should act as a barometer of sorts. If Hillary wins the lion's share of the Latino vote, she should be ok; if she doesn't, hold onto your hats, kids; this could be a long summer, and perhaps even a longer fall.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Clinton Campaign Stealing A Page From LBJ Playbook

In 1964, one of the tactics Lyndon Johnson's campaign used, and quite effectively, was to paint Barry Goldwater as unfit and unstable. The now famous "Daisy" ad in which a little girl is seen picking a daisy against the backdrop of a nuclear bomb going off, proved to be devastating to the GOP nominee. Throughout most of the campaign, Goldwater had made numerous, outlandish statements which called into question his preparedness for the office of the presidency. As a result, Johnson ended up winning in a landslide that November.

While no one is suggesting that the 2016 election will be quite so lopsided, it's quite clear that the Clinton campaign is stealing a page out of the LBJ playbook and plans on running with it. Hillary Clinton gave a blistering speech on Donald Trump Thursday that was the first of what will likely be many salvos thrown in his direction. It was one of the best speeches Clinton has ever delivered and it hit Trump right where he lived.

It's clear the Clinton campaign has no intention of repeating the same mistake the GOP made. Throughout all of 2015, Republicans dismissed Trump as a passing fad, some even comparing him to Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain. By the time they figured out he was for real, he was already unstoppable. Then, to make matters worse, when they decided to take him on, their attacks played right into his hands. The exchanges he had with "Little Marco" Rubio underscored how inept the GOP was.

Give Clinton this much: she's no Rubio. Her attacks on Trump were biting but thoroughly professional. She didn't stoop to his level by engaging in name calling. She stuck to what will undoubtedly be the central theme of this campaign: Trump's erratic and unpredictable behavior. It's clear that calling him out on the racist comments that come out of his mouth and the way in which he vilifies the press have had no effect on him so far; but in a general election, the thought of a mad man with the nuclear launch codes will give a lot of voters pause. While the Trump campaign wants to make this election about "Crooked Hillary," the Clinton campaign wants to make it about "Crazy Donald." Right now it's Crazy Donald by a nose.

It's still way too early to see if this line of attack has any legs. But one thing that we know from past experience: Trump has a thin skin and he can't handle strong-willed women. The only candidate that was able to put him in his place during the Republican primaries was Carly Florina. When she went after Trump on the debate stage he had no comeback for her. Remember what happened when Megyn Kelly challenged him on his misogynist views? He went off on her for weeks.

Imagine a ticket of Clinton and Warren double teaming Trump on his bullshit day in and day out. I mean the man's head might explode. We can only hope, right?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

If A Trump Falls in the Forest and No One Is There Does It Still Make A Sound?

Former CNN anchor, Campbell Brown, back in April wrote a piece in Politico blaming the media for the rise of Donald Trump.
I really would like to blame Trump. But everything he is doing is with TV news' full acquiescence. Trump doesn't force the networks to show his rallies live rather than do real reporting. Nor does he force anyone to accept his phone calls rather than demand that he do a face-to-face interview that would be a greater risk for him. TV news has largely given Trump editorial control. It is driven by a hunger for ratings - and the people who run the networks and the news channels are only too happy to make that Faustian bargain.
It is not the first time Campbell has held her former colleagues' feet to the fire. Last December she implored the industry to try going just one week without mentioning even his name.
As many have already said, no presidential candidate in history has gotten this much free airtime. Let's stop being complicit in promoting his hateful and harmful demagoguery. Just for one week.
Of course her plea went unheeded. Why? For the very reason Brown cited in the April piece. Trump, however repulsive he has been and continues to be, is good for the corporate bottom line. CBS Chairman Les Moonves said as much back in February. "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS."

To which CBS is Moonves referring? The CBS of legends like Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow? If he is, I think those two men would beg to differ with him. To them, and countless others, journalism was about a scared trust to inform the public and hold those people being interviewed accountable.

It was Murrow who, on March 9, 1954, in a broadcast seen on the very same network Moonves now runs, blasted then Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy in a scathing editorial. McCarthy at the time was using his power in the Senate to conduct a witch hunt to "expose" any and all Communists within the government and entertainment industry. Below is part of the transcript of that broadcast.
This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home. 
The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it -- and rather successfully. Cassius was right. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

Where are the Murrows of today concerning Donald Trump? 60 years ago a journalist with the courage of his convictions took on one of the most powerful men in the country and defeated not only him, but the forces of complacency and capitulation that were gnawing at the feet of his industry.  Just as now, the networks did not want to pick a fight, especially with someone so powerful. I'm sure considerable pressure was placed on Murrow to, if not cancel the broadcast altogether, then at the very least, curtail some of his more stinging remarks. He resisted all attempts at censorship and proceeded with the broadcast in its entirety.

Were he alive today, I wonder what Murrow would have to say about Donald Trump. I also wonder what he would have to say about his beloved profession and the way in which it has descended into mediocrity. The influx of money has no doubt played an extremely large role in the decay of broadcast journalism, but it alone is not fully responsible. The truth is most journalists are just too damn lazy to do their jobs. Many of them take the road of least resistance and are more concerned with looking partisan than standing their ground.

This rot did not materialize over night. It took many years for us to get to this precarious place where the main-stream media are no better than the tabloid journalists Trump often cites at his rallies. I suspect not even the brow beating he gave them over his failure to disclose when and how much he allegedly donated to various veterans groups will provide the impetus for them to say "enough." That's the trouble with lap dogs; they're dumb, loyal to a fault and have a short memory.

But getting back to Murrow. I've thought at great length about how he would react to a Donald Trump candidacy. Like Joseph McCarthy, I believe he would've bided his time until Trump had amassed enough power before speaking out, hoping against hope that cooler and better minds than he might've prevailed. But, at the right moment, he would've said his peace. That was what made him so unique. His words were measured and always on target. And because of that, they had the authority to do what other, lesser men had failed to do. And, for that, we are forever grateful.

So, if I may, I'd like to channel my inner Murrow and have a crack at Mr. Trump. No doubt I will fall far short of his brilliance, but hopefully what I lack in skill I will more than make up for in my zeal. Here it goes.

Good evening, 
Over the last twelve months, we have witnessed the rise of a most virulent and disturbing movement in this country. It is by no means a new movement. In many ways, it has always existed in some form or another, indeed since the very beginning of the Republic itself. One of the nation's bloodiest wars was fought over it. 
At times it has flared up and reared its ugly head, only to go thankfully back to sleep. Now it has awakened anew with a vengeance and an energy not seen since the days of the Reconstruction. And what is the catalyst of this latest insurgency. None other than Donald J. Trump, the media mogul who last summer announced he was seeking the Republican nomination for president. 
Those who know Mr. Trump well are no doubt quite familiar with his antics and his uncanny ability to manipulate the media to suit his ends. It has been the hallmark of his storied and quite checkered past. A past which has seen him declare bankruptcy four times and have several business ventures go belly up on him. 
Mr. Trump's campaign slogan is "Make America Great," no doubt a reference to the impression he conveys to his supporters that the country is anything but. He has gone out of his way to paint a dismal picture not only of the nation's economy but of its culture, which is growing ever more diverse and threatening to the white majority. Mr. Trump has played on the fears of these people shamelessly and whipped them up into such a frenzy that some of them have engaged in violent displays at his rallies. 
He has referred to Mexicans as rapists, called for a ban of all Muslims from entering the country, proposed building a giant wall along the U.S. / Mexican border, threatened various members of the press and behaved in a most unprofessional manner. And when confronted, rather than atone for his deplorable conduct, he instead doubles down on it, like a spoiled child who needs a timeout. 
It is nothing short of astonishing that this man was somehow able to win the GOP nomination and even more frightening that he is but a few short months away from possibly being elected this country's next president. At this very moment, most of the national polls show a very close race between Mr. Trump and his likely Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. 
In all the years this country has existed, it has never come this close to electing a candidate so thoroughly lacking in qualifications as Mr. Trump. Not even the 1964 election between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater can compare. It is not just his demeanor that makes him unfit for the office, nor even how his racist, xenophobic stances have deeply polarized the country. No, his greatest shortcoming is his complete lack of intellectual curiosity in all matters. From foreign policy to domestic policy, Mr. Trump has no serious or detailed policy positions; worse, the places he gets most of his opinions about such policies are dubious to say the least. He lacks even the minutest amount of impulse control necessary to be the leader of the free world. 
How did we get to this point? A fair question, to be sure, and one which demands a rigorous and honest answer. It would quite easy - and convenient, I suppose - to lay all the blame at the feet of Donald Trump. But that would be as intellectually dishonest as most of his policy proposals and stances. The simple fact is that Mr. Trump took advantage of a political system that has deteriorated to such a degree, it has become the laughing stock of most of the civilized world. So fractured is the Republican Party that many pundits have been predicting that this very thing was inevitable. All that Mr. Trump has really done is to seize upon the opportunity presented to him by the ineptitude and chaos within his own party. 
The rise of the Tea Party, and the nativist elements within it, provided a fertile ground from which the seeds of discontent were sown. And that discontent is now the driving force behind Trump's candidacy. And while he certainly stoked that discontent to a fever pitch, he is hardly its architect. He is, if anything, its beneficiary. Like any astute business man, Donald Trump saw an opening and took it. The movement he now controls is nothing more or less than the love child of seven years of fear and loathing that has now come to define much of the Republican base. 
I would be remiss, though, if I were to exclude from this conversation a stinging rebuke for the other major political party in this country. The Democratic Party may not have had a direct hand in the rise of extremism that is now threatening the very fabric of our society, but it can hardly be considered an innocent bystander. The party that once touted the principles of Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and Bobby Kennedy has all but abandoned its core values and formed an unholy alliance with interests that were principally responsible for the Great Recession of 2008. Its presumptive nominee is under investigation by the FBI and could well become the first party nominee in modern history to be indicted. And even if it turns out that no laws were broken, as many feel is the likely case, the cloud that hangs over her candidacy, indeed over the entire party, will cast a veil over this general election that will have lasting implications for years to come. This could be the first time since the founding of the Republic where voters will go to the polls, see two names on the ballot and look for the choice that says "None of the above."
But now we come to the protagonist in this tragedy: the media. Much has been written about the decline of broadcast journalism in this country and much of it, sadly, has been true. Where legends once stood as moral guardians over the truth, today the news rooms are filled with tabloid journalists who have been given one overriding directive: protect the bottom line at all costs. If it is true that Donald Trump was the catalyst that lit the fires of discontent in this country, then the media provided the accelerant.
In my time, there had always been an unwritten rule that governed the industry: we were loss leaders to the networks. They expected but one thing from us: to inform the public on the pressing matters of the day. That has not been the case for quite some time now. Profits are all that matter to the executives of these networks. Cable news is an oxymoron. It's real name should be cable entertainment, for that is the more fitting definition. Important issues are tossed aside so that the banal and the mundane can take center stage. And a once vaunted and proud industry atrophies right before our very eyes. My dear friend Walter Cronkite must be spinning in his grave. 
How can we hold Donald Trump accountable for his actions, when our own actions are beneath contempt? It was Abraham Lincoln who, in his Gettysburg Address, said the following: "We are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure." I submit that the civil war we are engaged in today has little to do with hand to hand combat on the battlefield; rather, it is about our collective duty to fulfill that destiny for which we have been called. Who will protect the country from the falsehoods of demigods when those left in charge have abdicated their responsibilities? 
To those who would call such admonishment alarmist and over the top, I would remind them that many thought the same way in Germany in 1929. A foolish-sounding, narcissistic buffoon, who nobody took seriously, rose to power and plunged an entire planet into war. To say this could not happen here is the ultimate in hubris and conceit. 
We are fast approaching a point of no return. It is not too late for good men and women to stand up and make their stand. The truth has been there all along right under our noses. All it takes is the willingness to sniff it out. And while it maybe true, as it says in scripture, that the spirit is willing, but the flesh weak, we must never use that as an excuse for inaction. For in the final analysis we shall certainly be judged not for what we said we'd do but for what we actually did. 
Good night and good luck.

If you're listening, Mr. Murrow, I hope I did your legacy justice.