On Arnold, Ronald And The Donald

Donald Trump: is he in the same league as Ronald Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger?

So I’ve managed to step in it . . .

Today’s Sacramento Bee has this column, authored by yours truly, on Donald Trump and his California connections.

Those connections:

  1. California legislative Democrats who’ve introduced a resolution condemning Trump (they don’t want to you business with the man or his brand).
  2. Trump comparing himself to Ronald Reagan as liberals-turned-conservatives.
  3. The media likening Trump’s rise in the polls to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s rise to power in California’s 2003 recall election.

My take — and this is where the trouble began:

  1. Reagan was an optimist. Trump, imo, is a scowling nativist.
  2. Reagan pleaded abandonment (“I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, it left me”), Trump was a registered Democrat as recently as 2009 — the same party still led by Obama, Pelosi and Reid.
  3. Unlike Trump, Schwarzenegger was serious about getting up to speed on public policy.
  4. Arnold was bipartisan; Trump’s only bipartisan moments are his dispensing of insults to both sides.
  5. Schwarzenegger was a generation ahead of his fellow Republicans on stem cell research and climate change. Trump threatens to push the party backward on immigration.

Since this column ran, I’ve received some no-so gentle feedback, most of which is NSFW However, I did receive this email from a reader. Some points mentioned, and I quote:

— Trump’s optimistic, he calls out the lack of a border fence and claims he can build it.

— Trump doesn’t know anything about government, like the head of the EPA not knowing what CO2 levels are in the atmosphere? Or Nancy Pelosi, you have to read the bill to know what is in it? Or Carolyn Kennedy running efforts in Japan for the US?

— Trump has touched a nerve of the population that are feed up with RINOs elected to stop the growth of government and the Press’ efforts to minimize him feeds the frustration that the public is so over the Main Stream Media Biases.

What this tells me . . .

It’s easy to crack down on Trump as a bully and poisonous for Republicans moving forward. But the border-fence resonates in some corners.

And consider the target-rich environment in which he’s operating.

All of which suggests that if and when Trump goes away, it won’t be because he ran out of ammunition.

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Posted in 2016, Arnold Schwarzenegger, California, Donald Trump, Republicans, Ronald Reagan | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama 2016 — Michelle, Not Barack

Not that she’d run, but is Michelle Obama the biggest Democratic threat to Hillary Clinton?

To the assumption that there’s but one Democrat in the White House who can ride to the party’s rescue and save it from the comedy/tragedy that is Hillary Clinton’s presidential effort — his name being Vice President Joe Biden — I’d like to suggest an alternative.

Mr. President, look not to the West Wing but to the East Wing.

For the better alternative to Hillary just may be . . . First Lady Michelle Obama.

Ok, stop rolling you eyes in disbelief and hear me out:

The pro-Biden arguments pretty much boil down to:

1)  As the Veep sits at the right hand of President Obama, he’s more likely and better suited to defend the administration’s record and 2008’s idea of “hope”

2)  Because he’s been a loyal soldier and has a partnership with the President that transcends politics, Biden can tap into Obama’s financial network seamlessly and quick enough to gather the resources necessary to carry out a prolonged campaign against the deep-pocketed Hillary Clinton

3) Even if nice guys finish last, Biden’s spirit and quirkiness would be a welcome relief to the Schumann-like dirge that is Hillary 2016.

All valid points. But here’s the problem: Biden’s a two-time presidential loser (flaming out in 1988 and 2008). Do Democrats think familiarity is their ticket in 2016? Or, would it help to go with a novelty?

In which case, we have the First Lady.

Here are my three arguments in favor of her doing this:

1)  Who better to defend her husband’s record? Vice Presidents who stand by their president’s side invariably face a question of political manhood. Blood’s thicker than political water — Mrs. Obama would likely get a free pass from the press.

2) Money wouldn’t be the least of her problems. Obama donors might find it easy to say “no” to Biden. But saying “no” to FLOTUS (and POTUS, assuming he’d also dial for dollars) comes with risks — remember, there’s still a year left in this administration and year and lame-duck appointments and seatings at White House dinners yet to be decided.

3)  The President thinks he’d win a third term if he were eligible to run (at least one poll suggests otherwise). Having the missus on the ballot is the best test of his brand strength, especially with the POTUS hitting the stump in America’s swing states,

There’s one other reason why a First Lady candidacy intrigues: were she to enter the race, she has to potential to unravel Hillary Clinton’s political safety net. Would Democratic women stand by Mrs. Clinton or “lean in” with Mrs. Obama? What of the party’s African-American voters, given a choice between the wife of America’s “first black president” and the wife of the real McCoy?

Besides, let’s try to imagine how the Clinton attack machine, which is already warming up in anticipation of a Crazy Uncle Joe candidacy, would go after the First Lady?

  • By suggesting that, despite the various causes and use of her office’s bully pulpit, she’s not ready to hold political office?
  • That it’s bad practice to gift elections to political spouses (see “Senate race, New York, 2000”)?
  • That the First Lady’s spent too much time flying around the world on the taxpayers’ dime?
  • That America’s had it with political dynasties?

Bottom line: The Clintons have had it pretty good in past presidential contests, with Bill matching up against older, crankier white males (Jerry Brown and Bush 41 in 1992; Bob Dole in 1996). Novelty though he may seem right now, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is more of the same. The one time Team Clinton faced a younger, vibrant minority foe (that would be Michelle Obama’s spouse), things didn’t work out all too well.

This is all pie-in-the-sky thinking, mind you. And it comes roughly 10 months since a story making the rounds at the time had the First Lady lighting out to California to replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who’s up in 2018. And that was only a few months after more groundless buzz that a 2016 Illinois Senate run was a possibility.

Other than continuing her work with military families, Michelle Obama hasn’t tipped her hand as to her future plans. But she has alluded to enjoying a post-White House “freedom,” which sounds like the opposite of life in office.

Still, it’s fun to think what a disruptive force the First Lady could be were she to parachute into the Democratic field.

Or maybe it’s already crossed the minds of some allegedly smart people in the West Wing?

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Amtrak Democrats

Candidates running from D.C. to Vermont: Is this the route to a Democratic win in 2016?

I just wrote this column for Real Clear Politics on what I call the five “Amtrak Democrats” seeking the presidency in 2016.

Why the term? Simple: because running for the Democratic nomination is pretty much the equivalent of hopping aboard Amtrak’s “Vermonter”, which runs from the nation’s capital to St. Albans in the northwestern corner of the Green Mountain State.

Your passengers: former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, getting on board at D.C.’s Union Station. Forty-five minutes later, it’s former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, getting on in Baltimore. Assuming Vice President Joe Biden isn’t waiting his turn in Wilmington, Del., the Vermonter heads past Philadelphia, the scene of next year’s Democratic National Convention, and on to Manhattan’s Penn Station for a rendezvous with Hillary Clinton.

From here, the train takes a northeastern tack toward Rhode Island – i.e. “the land of Lincoln” (Chafee) – but turns north before reaching the state line. It cuts through Massachusetts, but goes nowhere near Boston, home to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Secretary of John Kerry and former Gov. Deval Patrick. From this point, it barrels due north into Vermont – stopping at Essex Junction, an access point for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

That’s four candidates and one 13-hour train ride (three hours longer than it’d take to drive) across some of the bluest states in America.

So why should this concern Democrats, winners of the popular vote in five of the last presidential elections — not to mention merry gloaters as the GOP wallows in Trump-induced drama?

Three reasons:

1)  Not since 1976 and Jimmy Carter has America elected a president whose voting address fell in the Eastern time zone.

2)  Except for Webb, whose home state of Virginia could decide next year’s outcome, none of the Democratic hopefuls comes from a pivotal swing state (which I’m defining as Colorado, Florida, Iowa and Ohio).

3)  Even if the Democrats wanted a non-Eastern, non-Hillary alternative, that creature apparently doesn’t exist. The biggest names that might challenge Mrs. Clinton all are “Amtrak Democrats” — albeit a new line that extends to Benton.

This isn’t the first time that Democrats have found themselves looking at an all-Amtrak menu. In 2000, the choices were ex-New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley and then-Vice President Al Gore. Gore was a Tennessean by birth, but an Amtraker by virtue of his D.C. upbringing and Arlington, Va., residence with Tipper. If Gore had been more attached to Tennessee, maybe he doesn’t lose his home state – and the election – to George W. Bush.

But what’s changed over the past 16 years: In 2000, three Central time zone Democrats at least bothered to flirt with the idea of running – Missourian Richard Gephardt, Nebraskan Bob Kerrey and the late Paul Wellstone from Minnesota.

In 2016, by contrast, the cupboard’s bare. Small wonder: Only seven of the nation’s 18 Democratic governors and less than half of the 44 Democratic U.S. senators come from land west of the Mississippi River.

For Democrats, such is the mixed blessing that’s been POTUS44. The good news: after two decisive Obama wins, the next Democratic nominee enjoys a 332-206 working advantage in the Electoral College (that’s using 2012’s results as a baseline for 2016).

The bad news: During Obama’s tenure, Democrats have lost 16 Senate seats, 48 House seats and 11 governorships, placing the party at lows unseen since the 1920s. And then there’s this question: If there’s no Clinton45 presidency, who runs in 2020?

Perhaps the train keeps chugging along and Mrs. Clinton, despite her current troubles (but thanks to both that electoral cushion and Republican infighting), rides the rails all the way to the Oval Office.

But should she or some other Democratic standard-bearer come up short?

Then it’s time for some serious intraparty soul-searching – beginning with the realization that there are better ways than Amtrak to make inroads into America’s heartland.

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Five 2016 Candidates Who Could Change the GOP

The lineup at the Cleveland debate. Is there a “starting five” in this crowded field of Republicans? 

I posted this piece to my Forbes.com blog.

The premise: once your start narrowing the field of 17 Republican presidential candidates, there are arguably five candidates with the potential to move the party in a different direction — in doing so, easing the GOP into a post-Reagan identity that’s eluded Republicans since the end of the Cold War.

I deliberately left the three three non-officeholder candidates – Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina – out of this conversation. Each has had a good summer, but face questions as to whether their let’s respective surges can last.

My five choices:

  • Jeb Bush. How would a Bush 45 presidency alter the GOP? Obviously, there’s the emphasis on Latino outreach, but don’t overlook Bush’s willingness to move a wee bit on items like climate change. As such, he’s a continuation of what the liberal historian Sean Willientz calls “modern Republicanism” – in the tradition of Thomas Dewey and the previous two Bushes, trying to soften the party’s conservative edges.
  • Scott Walker. Where Walker breaks with the field: the ability, for the son of a small-town Baptist minister, to be “pastoral” much in the same way that Reagan was able to channel faith into a larger conservation about values and principles (remember, it worked for Mike Huckabee in Iowa in 2008).
  • John Kasich. Ohio’s governor immodestly told The New York Times: “Hopefully, in the course of all this, I’ll be able to change some of the thinking about what it means to be a conservative.” Kasich would seem an updated version of Bush 43’s “compassionate” message – as Kasich likes to put it, “people in the shadows
  • Marco Rubio. The Florida senator would be all of 45 at the time of next year’s national convention, should he secure his party’s nomination. Not that Rubio would bring a complete set of Gen-X sensibilities to the race (the media will note this ad nauseam), but he would be able to speak peer-to-peer to the non-AARP sector of the electorate on matters like child-rearing, college-savings and caring for aging parents – something new for a GOP accustomed to 60- and 70-something nominees.
  • Ted Cruz. The Texas senator is a quiet third in the latest Fox News poll (one point ahead of Bush, two points behind Ben Carson), and of late doing something even quieter: mounting a clever but stealthy campaign across the Deep South (20 stops, 2,000 miles across “Cruz Country – i.e., states participating in next March’s “SEC Primary”). Cruz has raised the most hard money in this campaign; his may be the one candidacy hardest-set on realizing the Tea Party’s dream of ending the culture of big government and over-spending.

There’s my “starting five”. Your thought as to which, if any, goes the distance?

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Three 2016 What-If’s

What does it say about America’s two major political parties when their two hottest summertime commodities (which I’d define as presidential candidates drawing unexpectedly large crowds or defying polling gravity) are:

1) A guy atop the GOP field who calls himself a Republican, but has held plenty of Democratic positions over the years (at the same time, giving to prominent Democrats);

2) A guy who’s polling better than expected on the Democratic side, but isn’t even a registered member of that party.

We can dwell on the causes contributing to the phenomena of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. That’d include a lot of voter resentment in the forms of anti-politician and anti-media sentiments — plus the complicated relationship that Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton have with their parties’ faithful.

And that got me to thinking three historical what-if’s that might have significantly changed 2016 — arguably, for the better.

My choices:

1) California Chooses A Shade Other Than Brown. Rather than Jerry Brown, at present the Golden State’s oldest and longest-serving governor, the winner instead in 2010 is Gavin Newsom, the state’s lieutenant governor and an announced candidate for Brown’s job in 2018.  Let’s assume that Newsom is re-elected, by a landslide, in 2014. He then does what California governors historically have fallen prey to: a presidential. Suddenly, Hillary Clinton is facing a youthful rival (there’s a 21-year age gap between the two) with at least one accomplishment that impresses core progressives: while mayor of San Francisco back in 2004, Newsom started the ball rolling on same-sex marriage; Clinton, on the other hand, didn’t publicly come out of marriage equality until 2013.

But that’s assuming Hillary isn’t already in the Oval Office, which might have happened had . . .

2) Hillary Divorces Bill A Decade-Or-So Ago. Without her husband looking over her shoulder and his legacy overshadowing and, at time, at odds with her aspirations (not to mention that nasty habit of the former president going off message and making a mess for his wife’s campaign), Hillary Clinton is free to achieve something that eludes her to this day – establishing herself as a more confident, independent political entity. The more-sure-of-herself, not-having-to-tote-her-huband’s-baggage Clinton thus fends off a challenge, in 2008, from a promising young senator from Illinois.

That is, if . . .

3) Jeb, Not George, Is Bush 43. Under this what-if scenario, both brothers win their governor’s races in 1994 (in the real world, Jeb Bush wasn’t elected until 1998). Supposedly more politically ambitious than his older brother, Bush runs for president in 2000 as a very successful second-term Florida governor. So much for dangling chads and “selected, not elected” (whatever did happen to Katherine Harris?). Now, the big question: Does this Bush 43 invade Iraq? If not, then there’s no anti-war breeze at Barack Obama’s back in 2008, and Clinton never casts that Senate vote that still dogs her.

And where does that leave us for 2016?

There’s no Clinton on the ballot for 2016 (though, legally, a 35-year-old Chelsea could do it). One doubts that George W. would be in the hunt — one doubts he would have have hung around Austin for as long as did Rick Perry.

And where does that leave voters?

On the Democratic side, that young Illinois senator denied his party’s nod in 2008 is at it again — promising to close Guantanamo and fight for universal health care for all (the kind of liberal bucket-list items that a cautious President Hillary Clinton maybe doesn’t pursue). Meanwhile, Newsom touts California’s economic revival and dogs Obama for being a late convert to same-sex marriage.

But on the Republican side, it may not be much of a different picture. Let’s presume Mitt Romney still runs and loses in both 2008 and 2012. Absent a strong second-place finisher in 2012, the GOP probably finds itself in the same predicament as now: a wide-open field with the wide-mouthed Trump as the center of its universe.

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Hillary’s Very Brady Problem

Tom Brady just got handed a four-game suspension for his role in “Deflategate”.

Poor fella. He now has to spend a month of Sundays cooped up at home, with Gisele.

If I were DirecTV’s braintrust, I’d try to convince Brady to do one of those Sunday package ads lickety-split.

On the heels of Brady’s punishment, I posted this item at Forbes.com.

My thoughts:

1) There’s an opening here for the Republican National Committee: change Reince Priebus’ job-title from chairman to commissioner. Then, wait for Trump to say or do something outrageous (that won’t take long). And once he does, suspend Trump for the first four primaries and caucuses of 2016.

More seriously . . .

2) There’s a lesson in Brady’s downfall for Hillary Clinton, beginning with the parallels between Deflategate and Servergate. That would include:

— Brady reportedly destroyed a cell phone; Hillary destroyed thousands of emails;

— Brady didn’t fully cooperate with investigators; Hillary may yet give Rep. Trey Gowdy an aneurism over her Benghazi dealings;

— Brady and the New England Patriots’ front office probably calculated that, in the end, the league would let him off easy. Hillary and her political handlers probably have calculated that, in the end, voters will care little for federal email policy.

— Their loyal followers will play the conspiracy card — Bradyites saying NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wanted to target a high-profile white player; Clintonistas saying it’s only rabid right-wingers who care about Mrs. Clinton’s e-correspondence.

Here’s the big takeaway from Deflategate that the Clinton camp will overlook: it wasn’t so much Brady’s role in taking air out of footballs that landed the quarterback a big punishment as it was his reportedly jerking around the league’s investigators.

Put another way: it wasn’t the crime so much as it was the cover-up.

Which is pretty much how and why Servergate is chipping away at Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions.

Even if everything she’s done with regard to her State Department emails is legally on the up-and-up, there’s still the uneasy feeling that the candidate hasn’t been completely upfront about her actions.

Again, it’s not the crime, but the cover-up — in this case, the nagging thought that, even if she hasn’t done anything wrong, what’s Hillary Clinton hiding?

Which, in turn, leads to the decades-old perception problem of both Clinton’s as anything but honest and forthcoming – the kind of discomfort that could weigh on voters’ minds.

Here, I’ll defer to The National Journal’s Ron Fournier — a reporter, pundit and, in this election cycle, a self-appointed “Clintonologist”.

Here’s what Fournier’s surmised about Servergate: the candidate’s explanations are “legalistic at best, deceptive at worst . . .”

He adds:

“Clinton has put herself in a box. She can either hand the server over to an independent third party, who would protect her private email and our government’s working email. Or she can stonewall.

The latter course gives every voter the right—and every self-respecting journalist the responsibility—to ask, “What were you hiding, Hillary?”

What are you hiding?”

We may never find out what Tom Brady had hiding in that missing cell phone.

Just as we may never find out what-all’s on Mrs. Clinton’s stashed server.

Unlike Tom Brady, Hillary Clinton won’t be sidelined for playing fast and loose with her explanations.

But if Hillary Clinton continues to be legalistic and tricky: she’ll find her White House aspirations fast-fading.

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GOP Bracketology — A July Version

Now that Scott Walker’s in the race, with John Kasich on tap for next week, the GOP’s 2016 field soon will total 16 presidential candidates.

We can rank them, 1-16.

Or, go by tiers.

Or, pick names out of a hat.

My choice: divide the field into four brackets, four candidates apiece, which I’ve done in this column over at Forbes.com.

Bracket One — The Non-Conformists

1. Donald Trump

2. Ted Cruz

3. Carly Fiorina

4. Ben Carson

My rationale: (1) Trump gets the top seed because, for better or worse, it’s been the summer of Donald (sorry, George Constanza); (2) Cruz is coming off a second-quarter money haul that was pretty impressive; (3) Carly’s wowing them on the trail, but she needs to build the brand beyond Hillary smackdowns (that, and step up the fundraising); (4) Carson is holding steady in most polls, but the non-politician space is a lot more crowded than it was this spring, when he announced.

Bracket Two — Count (On Us) to 270

1. Jeb Bush

2. Marco Rubio

3. John Kasich

4. Chris Christie

I rank this group (committed to the proposition of life, liberty and the pursuit of swing states) in this order because: (1) Money can’t buy Jeb love, but it gives him quite the machine; (2) Rubio shines given the chance to tell his family’s life story and flash his policy chops; (3) If Bush or Rubio falter, Kasich would seem the logical beneficiary; (4) as a candidate going for broke (and maybe going broke) in New Hampshire, Christie’s running in a tough terrain.

Bracket Three — The Right Stuff

1. Scott Walker

2. Rick Perry

3. Lindsey Graham

4. Rick Santorum

Ok, ok, I know Graham drives some conservative nuts, but he’s attempting to brand himself as the biggest hawk in the field. National security is one pillar of conservatism, as are individual rights and curbing government (Walker’s shtick); deregulation/economic growth (Perry’d); and faith and values (Santorum’s).

As for the order of this bracket: (1) I believe Walker is the one candidate in the GOP field best positioned to win early and often; (2) I consider Perry something of an undervalued stock; (3) Graham’s stuck in the back of the pack, but each week he gets a hanging curveball (ISIS, the Iran deal, etc.); (4) Santorum, Iowa’s winner in 2012 and perhaps one of the odd-men-out for the Fox News debate, wants to more than a pro-life candidate.

Bracket Four — Trying To Make The Cut

1. Mike Huckabee

2. Rand Paul

3. Bobby Jindal

4. George Pataki

These would be the victims in the numbers game — too many candidates, too little space. They’re seeded this way because: (1) Huckabee no longer is a novel act — though still a force in Iowa, repeating 2008’s magic will be difficult; (2) Paul, despite the family name and libertarian base, has a foreign-policy record that may be too big of an albatross; (3) Jindal struggles to find a niche with seven other governors a-runnin’; (4) Pataki is the GOP’s plover, feeding off Trump (for example, daring The Donald to an immigration debate in New Hampshire).

This bracket isn’t scientific, nor it set in cement. You could place Walker in the 270 bracket, as part of his appeal is strength in the Upper Midwest. Carson, Huckabee and Santorum all talk about their personal faith. Add Perry, vintage 2008, and there’s a new four-man bracket. Just as Huckabee, Paul, Perry and Santorum could go into a “carry-over” bracket of past candidates (the younger Paul standing in for his father).

Stay tuned for when the field swells to 32 and we have another four brackets to fill.

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