Sunday, January 24, 2016

Political Snow Job

If nothing else, the big blizzard that hit the East Coast is sparing us from some of the oh-so-trite coverage of the presidential election, which actually only gets underway eight days hence.

Governor Christie did make it back to New Jersey for the storm, even though he had originally said that the Lieutenant Governor, Kim Guadagno, could manage the preparations and aftermath well enough. And she probably could, but New Jerseyans elected Christie and we want him to fulfill at least some of his duties before he slinks back here in the spring to either finish out his term or pull a Palin and resign to do his own cable TV insult show. Besides, his brief run up the polls in New Hampshire seems to have stalled and he's now behind the other so-called moderate or establishment candidates, and far behind Donald Trump in the February 9 primary.

In fact, it's the other governor, Ohio's John Kasich, who seems to have caught a bit of a tailwind in the weeks leading up to the first votes. Some of those polls will likely be outliers because they show him with 15 and 20 percent of the vote, but the trend is positive, and that's what every candidate wants just before the election.  Meanwhile, it's Marco Rubio who got the De Moines Register's coveted (by those who work for newspapers) endorsement, but that only shows that the Register can be just as wrong as the Manchester, NH Union-Leader, who endorsed Christie before the holidays.

And on your left, that's Bernie Sanders holding an aggregate lead over Hillary Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire on the strength of the youth vote, which can be treacherous for any candidate to rely on. These results might hold until February, but in the end I don't believe that Bernie will be the nominee, and that goes for Trump or Cruz too. There's a president in both fields, but they don't have a clear lead in the early states.

Which of course brings us to the next topic, which is what any of these candidates will, or could, do if they are elected. And that's where things get complicated. When asked about the limits of what they could do as president, only Rand Paul answered questions about executive powers.  Every other candidate--every one--declined to give an answer. Not only is that dangerous, it likely shows quite a bit of ignorance about how our constitutional system works.

First of all, should a Democrat be elected, and that's the scenario I see, the Republicans will control the House of Representatives, and the Senate will either have a small Democratic or Republican majority, but likely not the 60 vote threshold the parties need to stop a filibuster. That will mean that any of the far left policies that Sanders or Clinton advocate will not see the light of day. Public option health care? Nope. Free public college tuition? Nope. Carbon tax? Nope. Immigration reform with a legal status option? Probably nope. Any Democrat will have to compromise and try, incrementally, to move the system to the left.

But wouldn't a Sanders win be the result of a massive electoral shift to the left? Yes, absolutely. Which is why he won't be elected. Such a shift is at least two cycles away.

On the Republican side, if Trump or Cruz wins the election, that would mean that the electorate will have moved decisively to the right, which it hasn't. So they won't.

A more moderate GOP candidate would have a friendly House and possibly a small Senate majority. This is a recipe for some serious legislation, but the Democrats would likely filibuster the worst ideas away. It would also mean more tax cuts for the wealthy and a rollback, via the same executive orders the Republicans decry from Obama, of the EPA rules that govern everything from automobile standards to coal plant closings to public land management, fewer limits on Wall Street banks (Hillary might do some of this too), and more limits on women's health care. Of course, the most ominous event would be the rollback of the ACA, which is a very real possibility.

In such a polarized environment, and I don't see a decisive shift either way in November, much of what the candidates are saying will not come to pass. Throwing 11 million people out of the country would signal the United States as throwing out its historical legacy and I discount it out-of-hand. The same is true of having the Mexicans building a wall on our border. And none of the far right's agenda concerning marriage equality, banning and criminalizing abortion and bombing ISIS targets will become law. The Sanders agenda, even if some of it is carried by Hillary, is also unlikely.

My faith in the judgement of the American people leads me to believe that the nominees will not be any of the far right or far left varieties. If it looks like one of them might come out of Iowa and New Hampshire with momentum, I can see a backlash by more moderate voters in the later voting states. It won't mean that the polls now are wrong, but it will mean that they will shift in what is usually a fluid political environment. The money will flow to the establishment candidates, for good and for ill, and by the time this is over the country will have experienced a messy, rocky, changeable, infuriating, frustrating, unsatisfying, but ultimately liberating process.

In short, democracy.

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