Tag Archives: Donald Trump

Special Elections — Kansas Edition

As I write this post, the results are coming in for the special election in the Fourth District of Kansas.  While the election has been close all night, it now appears that, by a very narrow majority, the Republicans will keep this seat.   This seat is the first of four special elections to fill vacancies in seats formally held by Republicans who are now serving in the Trump Administration.  (There is also a special election to fill a Democratic seat formerly held by the new Attorney General of California — who was appointed to that office after the previous A.G. won the U.S. Senate seat last fall.  The primary for that seat was held earlier and two Democrats advanced to the runoff.)

It is hard to tell whether this seat was close because of the unpopularity of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback — a stellar example of why the Freedom Caucus’s plan for government is a roadmap for a complete disaster — or the unpopularity of President Trump.  The Republican candidate is the current State Treasurer and as such is unable to avoid association with Governor Brownback’s reckless scheme to bankrupt Kansas.  And Donald Trump will probably claim that his assistance via a last minute robocall saved this seat.

The bigger question is what this close race means going forward.  In the last two elections, the Republicans won this seat by 30%.  This race looks like a final margin between 4-8%.  That type of swing if replicated across the country would lead to a Democratic majority in the next Congress.  In the shorter term, the question is whether this result can be replicated in next week’s special election in Georgia or the upcoming elections in May and June in South Carolina and Montana.  With the exception of the Georgia seat, even if a Democrat wins the special election, these seats are going to be difficult for a Democrat to hold in 2018.  Having a Democratic incumbent in these seats would, however, require the Republicans to devote a significant level of resources to get them back, making it easier for us to pick up seats elsewhere.  More importantly, if the Democrats can keep these races close and even win some, it is going to increase the jitters of Republicans in lean Republican seats.  During the Obama Administration, it was easy for Republicans to just say no and not have to accept responsibility for the gridlock in D.C.  The Republicans are now fully in charge and are responsible for getting things done.  The problem for Republicans in Congress is that the American people do not want what the Republican Party wants — even the voters in Republican seats do not want what the Republican Party wants.  That puts Republican Representatives on the hot seat.  They can either tell their Republican colleagues to slow down and take a second look at things or they can follow Speaker Ryan and President Trump like lemmings to their downfall in the 2018 election.  My hunch is that, like most politicians, the Republican members of Congress are tuned into their own survival.  The warning signs from the 4th district of Kansas this week and the 6th district of Georgia next week is going to make it very difficult for President Trump and Speaker Ryan to get their plans through Congress.

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The Week in Review

There is an old saying that a week is a lifetime in politics.  In most weeks, there is a lot happening either behind the scenes or at lower levels (e.g., committee hearings and markups on bills that nobody is watching).  It is the rare week, however, that so much is taking place front and center competing for the attention of the American public.

The big story of the week was the non-vote on and the collapse of the Republican effort at major health care reform — the so-called Affordable Health Care Act (a name that in itself was an attack on the bill that it was trying to “repeal and replace,” the Affordable Care Act.   There are several significant aspects to this non-event.

First, despite their efforts, Donald Trump and Paul Ryan could not get the sizable Republican majority in the House to pass a bill (forget the exact details of the last version of the bill, they could not get a majority behind any version) on one of the top Republican priorities of the past seven years.  While Trump may have been a great negotiator, it is very easy to reach a two-sided deal.  (Of course, it’s possible that Trump’s belief in his negotiating skill may be one of his great delusions.  He may have just been offering the right deal at the right time and actually have been taken to the cleaners in his business negotiations.)When you have three or more sides to a deal, however, it becomes very difficult to keep everybody on board.  This problem is particularly true in politics — when one faction thinks that a bill is too conservative and the other faction thinks that the bill is too liberal, there really isn’t any change that could make both sides happy.  At that point, it’s not really about negotiating but selling.

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The End

This year’s elections saw a lot of unusual, unexpected, and unprecedented developments.  So nobody should be shocked at any unexpected developments when the electoral college meets on Monday.  Having said that, Democratic activists have been barking up the wrong tree by emphasizing the national popular vote.  The reason why this strategy was guaranteed to backfire is the nature of the electoral college.

The electors are not randomly chosen people.  They are local politicians and activists who are nominated by their state party.  In short, they are not the people who are likely to surrender control of the White House to the other party.  By the rules that are currently in place, the Republicans have won the White House.  So while, the Constitution, theoretically, allows these electors to vote for Hillary, practically these electors will not vote for Hillary.

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The Republican Leaning Voter

VotingBoothImage_0In theory, this election should pose a significant dilemma for the Republican or the Republican-leaning voter.  A plurality of the Republican party has foisted on the voters of America someone who is unfit for any office.  If voters voted for the candidate who was closest to their position, Trump would be struggling to break 25% and would be potentially looking at losing every state.  Instead he is looking at getting around 75-80% of the vote from Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (those who identify as independents but vote Republican in most races).  There are multiple reasons for Trump’s ability to hold onto most Republican voters (which explain why the Republican Party is not yet at the point of splitting).

The first and most significant is party loyalty.  Especially among those who opt to vote in the primaries, there is an investment in the party and its future.  Participating in a primary is an implicit agreement with other members of your party that, as a group, you will put together a ticket — top to bottom — that will represent the party in the elections.  The exact platform that the party will pursue in office will depend on the mix of candidates.  If other factions do well in the primaries, that platform may not suit your faction’s wishes perfectly, but you will live with that and try to do better in the next cycle of primaries.  It takes a dramatic change in the types of candidates who get elected (and typically several cycles) for a person to came to the conclusion that their party is no longer the party that they originally joined and that, on the issues that matter most to them, their policy preferences have no place in that party.

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The Greatest Debate Ever?

fireworksOn Monday, Hofstra University will host the first of this year’s three presidential debates.  Since 1992, the Commission on Presidential Debates has held three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate.  It is unclear how much impact the debates actually have on the general election.  While candidates who do “better” in a debate tend to have a bounce in the polls, that bounce tends to be temporary.

In most election cycles, a large number of voters are not that familiar with the candidates (particularly those who are running for President for the first time).  For swing voters, the debates (and the post-debate coverage of the “highlights”) can either confirm the negatives or the positives associated with a  candidate.  This year, the two candidates are probably better known than in most cycles (or at least the names are more familiar).  As such, it seems likely that it will be much more difficult for either candidate to change how voters see them.  However, the candidates will still try.

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Strength in Leadership

332786783v3_225x225_FrontEarlier this week, Donald Trump — again — expressed his admiration for the strong leadership of Vladimir Putin as compared to the current leadership of the United States.  It is understandable why somebody who is the head of a closely-held family business would sympathize with the leadership style of Vladimir Putin.  There is a lot of similarity in the ability of such individuals to make decisions for their company or country between such a business and a police state.  The leader of a democracy, however, does not have the same ability.

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The Trump Conundrum

oopsDonald Trump is an unusual presidential candidate.  By the time a normal politician reaches the level of running for president, they have a history in government.  There are bills that they have sponsored, bills that they have voted for, and things that they have done.  This history allows the opponent to run ads based on this past history.  Some of these ads will contrast the history to the candidate’s current pledges (e.g., this candidate supported policy X; you can’t believe them when they say that they oppose policy X).  Others will use past decisions to say that the candidate has bad judgment or supports bad policies.  For Trump, his history is not one of policies but of business practices.  (We saw some of this in 2012 when Mitt Romney had a much longer business record than political record, but Trump takes it to the next level.)

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Putin-Trump 2016

No, I don’t think that Trump is actually running on a ticket with Vladimir Putin.  It’s just that sometimes, you just can’t tell for sure.  Throughout 2015,  the conventional wisdom was that, at some point, as the primaries approached, Republican voters would wake up from their flirtation with Donald Trump and realize that Trump is not a Republican, that he supports almost none of the traditional positions that the Republican Party has taken for the past fifty years.

Nowhere is Trump’s lack of respect for issues and principles clearer than when he stumbles into foreign policy.  The only discernable principle that Trump has demonstrated so far when it comes to foreign policy is some variation on mercantilism — that the only foreign policy interest that the U.S. has is what’s good for U.S. business, primarily what’s good for the Trump Organization.

The past week has seen several examples of this approach.  On NATO, forget the fact that the security guarantees that the U.S. has given eliminates any need for Germany, Poland, the Baltic states, Ukraine, etc., to develop their own nuclear weapons (and all could within months).  What matters is how much everyone is paying, as if the U.S. Army was 21st century mercenaries fighting on behalf of the highest bidder.

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Trump, Inc., for President

For all that is different about this year’s presidential race, the one that, for the most part, has been overlooked is that Trump is the head of a closely-held family business.  For lawyers, there is a big difference in how we look at publicly traded companies and those that are privately held.    If a company is publicly traded, it has to file SEC reports and answer to a diverse group of stockholders.  While officers and directors can engage in self-dealing, there is a clear separateness between them and the corporation.  When a company is owned by a single person or family, lawyers are more likely to take a very close look at whether the owners treat the corporation’s assets as their personal assets or if they maintain an appropriate degree of separation.   In other words, we look at whether the corporation and the person are truly separate or whether the owner treats the business as his alter ego.

Everything that we have seen in this race so far tends to indicate that Donald Trump is the Trump Organization and that the Trump Organization is Donald Trump.  Throughout the primary, Trump held a lot of events at Trump Organization properties (with Trump Organization products lavishly displayed),  This week at the convention, we saw this overlap in the news reports on Melania’s speech.  Aside from what the plagiarism says about Trump Organization business practices and what that say about how Trump would govern, the bigger concern is how the Trump Organization just delegated somebody to work on the speech.  (Given that Trump is the owner of the Trump Organization, the campaign laws issues is easily managed.  Trump just has the Organization give him a dividend which he contributes to the campaign and the campaign pays back to the Organization — a mere paper transaction that complies with the law.)

If, before the election, Trump sees the Organization as a tool to further his personal ambitions, what happens after the election?  Traditionally, a president (or other politician)with significant holdings puts them into a blind trust.  In theory, because the politician does not know what changes the trustee may make to the portfolio, this practice prevents them from making decisions to benefit their personal stock holdings (e.g., deciding to change weapons acquisitions from the army to the air force because they hold Boeing stock).  With Trump, there is simply no conceivable way that Trump could divest himself of his holdings in the Trump Organization.  More importantly, while Trump may step down from day-to-day management, the new CEO will be one of his children (and we have already seen the key role that his children play in advising him).  The first time that Trump tries to play hardball with another foreign leader, the logical response will be for that foreign leader to start talking about what that country could do to help or hurt the Trump Organization.    If Trump wants China to take a tougher stance on piracy of movies and software, China may offer a good site for a Trump Casino in Hong Kong.  Trump wants Mexico to do more on drug trafficking, Mexico may impose some new regulations that effect the Trump property in Baja.  When the Trump Organization’s interests diverge from the U.S. interests, whom will Trump favor?  The risk that Trump will sacrifice the U.S. to favor his company is simply to large for any reasonable person to take.

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The Republican Ticket

Given who was willing to accept a spot on the Republican ticket, Donald Trump (after much back and forth) did the somewhat mature thing and named Governor Mike Pence of Indiana as his running mate.  This pick pretty much ends the chance that Trump will face any type of substantial open rebellion at the convention as the Republicans decide to take whatever lumps they will get in the fall.  However, there are several significant problems with this ticket.

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