Unpacking the North Carolina 9th District special election

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Tuesday, September 10th saw a special election taking place in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. A vacancy existed in this district after the 2018 election was declared void; an investigation into voting irregularities by the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Reform resulted in the board refusing to certify the results of the November election. Therefore, this election was essentially a re-run of the November 2018 election.

So to give a bit of background: North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District was seen as a highly marginal House seat ahead of the 2018 midterm elections in a year where the Democrats’ key prize would be winning control of the House of Representatives from the Republicans. And in the end, the district was indeed highly marginal: Republican candidate Mark Harris bested Democrat Dan McCready by just 905 votes.

However, allegations emerged of ballot tampering in the election, especially with regards to absentee ballots. McCready, who was entitled to a recount under North Carolina election law, called for the North Carolina Board of Elections to investigate the allegations, and the board approved a new election after Harris himself called for one, saying that the confidence of the district’s voters had been undermined in the previous election. Harris then declined to run again as the Republican candidate.

So, on Tuesday – ten months after the void election – voters once again went to the polls, with Dan McCready facing off against Republican State Senator Dan Bishop. The district includes some suburban areas around Charlotte, the state’s biggest city, and includes parts of Mecklenburg County, which backed Hillary Clinton by nearly 30 points over Donald Trump in 2016.

Once all the votes were counted on Tuesday night, Republican candidate Dan Bishop, held on to the district taking 96,081 votes – or 50.7% of the vote – to Democrat Dan McCready’s 92,144 votes (48.7%). A two-point Republican victory certainly appears narrow, especially considering that former Congressman Robert Pittenger won by over 16 points here in 2016, and President Donald Trump carried this district himself by 12 points in that same year.

However, Bishop’s 3,937 vote lead in Tuesday’s election over McCready is still several times the 905 votes that separated Harris from McCready in November 2018. Considering the possible legal issues surrounding the ballot-tampering issue and the subsequent attention which was generated for the race, as well as the personal approval of President Donald Trump and his hopes for re-election next year, the GOP will no doubt be pleased with this outcome.

But what does the result really mean for Democrats and Republicans, both nationally and within the district? As a result of recent issues in the state surrounding redistricting, there is not a long history of election results from this district that we can consider without digging deep into the county and precinct results (and there is not enough space in this entry to do that). But here is what we can look at from the election results since 2016, when the current Congressional District boundaries date from:

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The above table shows the results for each county in North Carolina’s 9th District in the three elections since 2016. As we can see, the district has seen huge shifts within its boundaries, and largely towards the Democrats: the portion of Mecklenburg County within the District – home to the south-western suburbs of Charlotte – has seen a 14 point swing from the Republicans to the Democrats since 2016, while Union County, which itself is part of the Charlotte-Concord metro area, has seen an almost 8-point swing in the same period. While Union County remains a fairly reliable Republican county, it demonstrates that the Republicans – likely influenced by Donald Trump – continue to have a suburban problem.

Ultimately though, the result of the special election represents a slight unwind overall for the Democrats from 2018. Districts such as North Carolina’s 9th – with its mix of urban and rural voters – could be seen as bellwether districts, especially considering the importance of suburban voters. A good result for the Democrats in this special election, given all the attention this race has had, would perhaps indicate that they are heading for a solid series of results against Donald Trump and the Republicans in 2020. However, that indication is not present in this race.

What this result does show for the Democrats, however, is a continued strength in formerly GOP-leaning suburban seats: as the urban/rural divide continues to be one of the most important schisms in voting behaviour, so we can see how the divide plays out in seats such as this which have both large rural and suburban voter bases. Trump continues to have difficulty among suburban voters who would have happily backed John McCain or Mitt Romney, but have shifted allegiance away from the President. However, the fact is that the Republicans held their own in this District, despite the baggage that this re-run election came with. When placed in the context of the urban-suburban-rural divides in American voting today, despite the close-run result, this election actually indicates a decent Republican performance.

So let’s look ahead to 2020: North Carolina is likely to be an important state at every level in 2020, with a huge slew of key elections taking place; aside from the President, the Tar Heel state will also elect a Senator and Governor in what are likely to be highly marginal contests. The state also contains a handful of highly competitive House districts. Democratic Governor Roy Cooper is up for re-election, having won in 2016 by just 0.2 points, while Republican Senator Richard Burr – who won by just over 5 points in 2014 – will be seeing to hold of a challenge from the Democrats who will be looking to scrape together as many Senate seats as they can in what will likely be an uphill battle.

However, it’s only now 14 months until the next election in North Carolina’s 9th District – as well as all the other elections taking place. If you like exciting election results, you won’t want to look away from the Tar Heel State in that time.

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Robert Mueller has spoken publicly about his findings. What happens now?

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On Wednesday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller made a public statement regarding his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election. This was Mueller’s first public comment on the investigation in the two years which it has been running for, when it was triggered by President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey; Comey had been investigating suggestions that the Trump Campaign had possible connections to Russian officials who were attempting to undermine the election.

Mueller’s statement was essentially to state that his investigation was now closed and that, his job done, he would be resigning as special counsel and returning to private practice. Mueller reiterated the content of his investigation, which took the form of two parts: the first being an investigation into the extent that Russian actors interfered in the election. The second part was the extent to which the President had obstructed justice.

For the first part, Mueller stated unequivocally that there were “numerous efforts emanating from Russia to influence the election” in 2016. Those efforts involved hacking into computers used by the Hillary Clinton campaign, and the stealing and releasing of private information through Wikileaks. Mueller also stated that Russian citizens would pose as US citizens on social media in order to try to influence voters. This section of the report also considers the Trump Campaign’s response to this activity, but found that there was “insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy”. The second part of the report concerned the investigation into whether there had been any obstruction of justice by the President. Finally, Mueller ended his statement by re-iterating that “multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election” had taken place.

As you may be aware, the Mueller Report was not able to lay any cause for indictment on the President. However, neither did the report clear him of any wrongdoing. Mueller said “If we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the President did commit a crime”.

What this means, of course, is that while the President has not been convicted, possibly due to a lack of evidence, he has not been completely exonerated, either. For some opponents of the President, this still leaves the door open to charges which can be brought against the President. However, the report agrees with Department of Justice policy that a President cannot be charged with a federal crime while in office, as this would be unconstitutional. There had previously been some discussion – and disagreement – over whether Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh shared this view, as some commentators thought that Kavanaugh, once appointed, would simply use this vote to that end to try and protect the President should he be indicted. However, it seems that Robert Mueller and the Department of Justice share the view that a sitting President cannot be indicted in criminal cases.

However, investigation of a sitting President is permitted according to the report – and carrying out such investigations is “important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents available”, Mueller said, and that any evidence turned up by an investigation can also be used against co-conspirators, if not the President himself. One interpretation I offered of Kavanaugh’s view in a previous episode of my American politics podcast, The Spin Off, was that perhaps a President would need to be impeached and removed from office before any charges could be brought.

Which brings us to impeachment: the Mueller report clearly states that Congress reserves the right to begin impeachment proceedings against the President. In fact, page 8 of the report states that “The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President ‘s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.” Congressman Jerry Nadler, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee – which has the power to initiate impeachment proceedings – stated that Congress will now “respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump”. Nadler did not state, however, whether that response would include any kind of impeachment process.

However, just because Mueller’s report said that Congress can impeach Trump, he did not say and it does not mean that they should.  But that has not stopped key Democratic figures such as 2020 Presidential candidates Kamala Harris  and Elizabeth Warren from referring to Mueller’s report as an “impeachment referral”, and numerous others from calling for impeachment proceedings to begin. Of course, it goes without saying that Congress would need to obtain evidence beyond that given in the Mueller Report that President Trump had committed an impeachable offense. While the Mueller Report was not able to definitively rule that Trump has not committed any obstruction of justice, the fact that it was not able to do so is not automatically proof of guilt, or that there is necessarily more truth to be uncovered. “It would be unfair to potentially accuse someone of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge”, Mueller states; this is no different whether that someone is the President or a private citizen. Beyond that, there has been question over whether Robert Mueller would testify in front of Congress, should they conduct their own investigations (as they would be within their right to); however, Mueller has stated that the report is his testimony, and that he would have nothing further to add should he be asked to speak to Congress.

So what does this statement from Robert Mueller change, both for the Trump Presidency and for Congress? The answer, in reality, is probably very little. Throughout the investigation, the President has claimed that the investigation has been a witch hunt and that there is no evidence of collusion or obstruction; since its publishing, he states he is exonerated and the case is closed. The President has also continually decried and demeaned Mueller and his investigation; if nothing else, it is not a good look for someone who wanted to be shown as innocent. As for the Democrats, I imagine there are few outcomes the report could have had which did not result in key party figures calling for the President’s impeachment.

In any case, the House Democrats would do well to think carefully before pressing on with impeachment, which no doubt many of them would like to do. Impeachment, while having the potential to remove Trump from office, would be a very risky decision to make: aside from the fact that impeachment would almost certainly not clear the Republican-controlled Senate, it would likely be an unpopular move with voters. According to a Morning Consult poll from April, just 34% of voters support impeachment of the President, compared to 48% who oppose it. This figure includes 59% of Democrats and 31% of independents. However, 44% of independents are opposed to impeachment, as well as a majority of voters in the Midwest, the region which sealed Trump’s election in 2016. It is too early to say if Mueller’s statement or the release of the report will change any of these figures – I imagine not – but the Democrats can ill-afford to alienate these groups just a year before a Presidential election.

So where do we go from here? The key detail to look out for is how big a deal the Democrats make of impeachment – and for how long. Donald Trump could spin this to his advantage with voters if he can show he is continuing to run a business-as-usual government while the Democrats obsess over impeachment. So to Democratic 2020 Presidential candidates who are calling for impeachment proceedings to begin in light of the report, I would make the following three points of advice: firstly, I hope that they have real evidence of any kind of obstruction or wrongdoing by the President. Secondly, they will more than likely not have the votes for impeachment to succeed. Thirdly, I hope they consider how this move might be received by voters, especially if it fails.

All of the above aside, Mueller closed his statement by saying that the fact that there was external interference in the 2016 Presidential Election deserves “the attention of every American”. A free and fair Democratic system is hat separates free countries from authoritarian regimes. Investigations such as the Mueller Report are worth holding in order to protect and uphold such systems, and if any public figure actively sought to profit from such interference, then of course they must be investigated. But this must be done purely on evidence and not out of dislike for that figure.

So by all means, the Democrats can push for impeachment of President Trump if they so feel there is a case to be made, but they will do so at their own risk.

You can read the Mueller Report here, and watch Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s statement in full here. All quotes unless otherwise sourced are from the report or the statement.

EU Elections: how I feel about Brexit, and why I will still be voting Conservative on Thursday

AdobeStock_94576008On Thursday, an event will take place in the UK which many had thought would not come about: the UK will be going to the polls for the European Parliament elections. Why? Because, despite being almost three years since voting to leave the European Union, the UK is still a member. I’ve written some of my thoughts here on the Brexit process, and also how I will be using my vote on Thursday (provided the title hasn’t been too much of a giveaway).

I will begin by saying that I am not a fan of the European Union; I am not going to pretend that this has ever not been the case. This is partly because I am not enthusiastic about the project it has been trying to be, partly because of some of the legislation it has passed, partly because of its best-thing-since-sliced-bread view it holds of itself, partly because I simply do not share some of the views on which it has founded and expanded. Also, I have never particularly considered myself “European”, at least not in the contemporary sense; while the DNA of virtually all British people from the South of England is very similar to those in northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands and parts of Germany (I am happy to embrace that sense of Europeanism), the modern notion of being “European” seems increasingly tied to affinity for the European Union as a political body. These feelings were much the same three years ago when I voted to remain in the EU as they are today.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the EU, I voted Remain back in 2016 as I simply did not see that the Vote Leave campaign had a viable plan or a clear vision for the UK outside the EU. Nobody seemed to be able to tell us what would happen after Brexit, rather, we were painted a vision of a wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if future: one where we could spend £350m a week on the NHS, one where we could introduce our own points-based immigration system, one where we could strike up new and better trade deals with the Commonwealth, one where EU member states could come crawling to us begging for trade deals (“they need us more than we need them” is a line I often heard). I could go on. Yet there was nothing to indicate whether any of this would happen, and if it did, how. On the other hand, there were grim economic and interest rate forecasts being produced in the event of a vote to leave, and multinational companies based in the UK were game planning their exodus from the UK in the event of a vote to leave. I could not in good conscience vote for something, firstly, which had no clear plan for how it was going to work, and secondly, which flew in the face of the expert opinion at the time. I stand by the decision I made about how to vote in 2016. And yet, as it turns out, I was on the losing side.

The 17,410,742 people voted for Brexit did so for a whole host of reasons: some felt that the vision set out by the Vote Leave campaign could work; some didn’t care whether or not it could work, and that it was worth the gamble going badly to get the UK out of the EU; some didn’t have much of a view on the matter, but felt a change was as good as a rest; some people were so disaffected by politics and felt that the EU was the club held dear by all the political leaders who had failed them before, and one that you never questioned for fear of being called a racist. Many voters did not want to join (or stay in) the Common Market in the first place, while many simply felt that they had been let down too many times by leaders in both Westminster and Brussels. Everyone who voted leave had their own reasons for doing so, but the undeniable fact is that, together, they outnumbered the Remain voters, including me.

But yet, here we are, almost three years on from the referendum, and virtually no progress has been made. The UK is still a member of the EU, there is currently no plan for Brexit which is likely to receive enough support to win the approval of Parliament, and the deadline by which the UK was set to leave the EU has been pushed back multiple times. Brexit voters are getting increasingly frustrated, and with good reason: after all, if you vote for something and are told that the government will implement your decision, you can probably reasonably expect the decision to be implemented within a three-year window, without the deadline for doing so needing to be pushed back repeatedly. On the other hand, I can appreciate the argument that, seeing as we are seemingly no closer to finding a conclusion to the Brexit problem, holding fire on the proceedings might be sensible. As such, I often feel as if I occupy a very unhappy medium between two increasingly loud and equally stubborn Brexit camps. The debate has become so polarised, and it seems that there is no place for those such as myself who may have misgivings about Brexit, but do not consider themselves necessarily as

As you can tell from the title of this post, I will be voting Conservative in Thursday’s European Parliament elections. As a lifelong (at least, for the 11 years I have been eligible to vote for) Conservative voter, some of you who know me may be surprised to hear that I actually had to think hard about it this time. I shall go into some of my reasons for giving it some serious thought below.

One thing that the Conservative Party did under David Cameron which I did not agree with was to change the European Parliament group that the party was aligned with, from the moderate, centre-right European People’s Party to the more right-wing, eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists. One of my MEPs, Richard Ashworth, left the Conservatives in 2017 to return to the European People’s Party as an independent. I was wondering if Richard would stand again, and I had been thinking of casting my vote for him; after all, it would be great to have an MEP in my preferred European Parliament group. However, Richard since joined Change UK; a party which seemed in the first instance as if it could be a viable centrist alternative for disaffected Conservative and Labour voters, but – rather disappointingly – seems to have branded itself as a single-issue second referendum party. 

I do not support a second referendum for a few reasons: firstly, unlike what seems like a sizeable number of Remain voters, I can accept the fact that I was on the losing side of the argument. I ultimately feel that democracy should be given a higher value than membership of a 26-year-old political union. Secondly, holding a second referendum sets a dangerous precedent: it will make it much easier for enough loud voices to call a halt to any vote, election or change simply because they personally did not want it. I feel it would be the start of a slippery slope towards a chaotic quasi-democracy of endless voting and re-voting. Thirdly, I feel that the campaign for a people’s vote is driven primarily by a desire to overturn the result of the referendum, rather than a wish to promote democracy by letting people have the final say. The Liberal Democrats, for example, are openly campaigning on a platform of stopping Brexit; one could feasibly conclude from their position that they merely see a people’s vote as being the easiest way to achieve that.

To add to that, it is not clear what supporters of a second referendum actually hope to achieve from it, beyond stopping Brexit. In the event that the UK were to hold a second referendum, I am yet to hear a people’s vote supporter explain to me what would happen, or what they expect would happen, should the UK vote to either continue to leave or remain in the EU. If the result was to continue to leave, would the People’s Vote supporters finally accept it, as the people had had the final say, as it were? And if the result was to revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU, would that be the end of the matter? Would the people have had their say at that point? And how would they expect the Leave-voting majority to feel about this? (Feel free to get in touch if you have any responses of your own to these questions).

So having given it some thought, and much as I would like to vote for Richard, I do not wish for my vote to be used to give any weight to the argument that the UK should hold a second referendum. So Change UK, the Lib Dems and the Greens are out. On the other hand, much as I respect the referendum result, neither do I wish to give my vote to a party which solely exists to promote Brexit – and most likely a No Deal or WTO Brexit at that. We can take UKIP and The Brexit Party off the table in that case.

Having effectively ruled out any overly pro- or anti-Brexit parties, viable options for people who do not feel comfortable in either camp remain slim. However, I still feel that there remain some factions within the Conservatives who represent – or at least try to represent – what little remains of a tenable middle ground between No Deal and No Brexit: for all the flak she is getting as Prime Minister, Theresa May has at least been trying to find a solution that delivers the referendum result. She tried to find a compromise with the Labour Party – much to the anger of some wings of the party – and also I didn’t feel as if her Brexit deal – known as the Chequers Agreement – was actually that bad.

After all, it is not as if a hard Brexit or No Deal Brexit is the only option available to us. Let’s revisit the referendum question from June 23rd, 2016: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”. As we know, the result was to leave the European Union. And that was it. The referendum was not about what sort of relationship or deal the UK would or should have with the EU. Therefore, any outcome under which the UK is no longer a member of the EU – be it a No Deal, a hard Brexit, Theresa May’s deal, a customs union, a Norway or Canada-style agreement, resuming membership of EFTA or any other countless number of scenarios existing or yet to exist – fulfils the result of the referendum, and none of them constitutes a betrayal of democracy or Brexit, no matter what Leave Means Leave might say.

So as someone who isn’t really enthusiastic about the EU and isn’t really enthusiastic about Brexit, but just wants to try and find a way to make it work, my vote in the European Parliament elections will be staying with the Conservatives on Thursday. I am still expecting that the party will take a serious routing in all corners of the UK when the results are announced on Sunday, but I suppose I shall have to be on the losing side again.

So I hope that has provided many of you with the explanation into my feelings that you never asked for. However, my biggest misgivings – indeed, concerns and fears – regarding Brexit is not how to vote on Thursday or what kind of deal, if any, the UK should seek to make; it will be how to repair a country and re-unite a people who have become so deeply fractured. As an engaged, observing, voting British individual, I have never seen such deep divisions before in my country. And it is thoroughly, thoroughly sad.

From a policy debate standpoint, it seems that Brexit may as well be the only thing happening right now in the UK: it is almost as if there are no schools or hospitals to run, no ageing and growing population in dire need of increasing levels of care, no foreign affairs that need attending to, no role to play in international development, no ambitious and exciting infrastructure projects to attend to, no work to be done on developing a solid energy base for the UK, both renewable and nuclear. Brexit feels like life itself; we live and breathe it every day. It has consumed us. That’s not to mention the damage it has done to our regular political discourse: how it has ripped families and friends apart, or how people will all-too-happily judge or exclude you based on whether you voted Leave or Remain, whether you support a People’s Vote or No Deal. As someone who has been very active politically in the past, it also seems like it is impossible for young people to become active in politics for whichever party, unless they are passionate one way or another on Brexit.

Despite the best efforts of anyone involved in trying to find a solution to or obstruct Brexit, I unfortunately do not believe there is a solution to Brexit. Rule number one of politics is that you can’t please everyone, and whatever the Brexit deal ends up being, I don’t believe there is a solution which will provide the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Even if Brexit were resolved instantaneously overnight, the wounds of anger and division which we – all of us – have allowed to be sewn into our everyday dialogue will not heal so quickly. This is something which we should all regret.

That said, I imagine that this post has likely invoked some ire from both sides of the Brexit divide by this point, either for pointing out why I don’t support a People’s Vote or for saying that a Customs Union 2.0 would be a satisfactory Brexit deal. I don’t expect much will change as a result of Thursday’s elections, whatever that may be: the most ardent Brexiteers will renew their call for their perfect vision of a flawless Brexit, while the most idealistic Europhiles will continue to settle for nothing short of a second referendum which results in a Remain vote both sides will no doubt use the result to reinforce the calls for their preferred aim. All I am left to do at this point is wonder how much longer it will go on for.

Who is Pete Buttigieg?

Pete Buttigieg announced last weekend that he is officially running for President of the United States in 2020, almost three months after forming an exploratory committee.

So as we get stuck in to the prospect of a Pete Buttigieg Democratic ticket, let’s get to know the South Bend, Indiana mayor: “Mayor Pete”, as he is affectionately known, is 37 years old and a former US Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan. He studied at both Harvard and Oxford universities. He and his husband Chasten have been married since 2018 and, he is an Episcopalian, worshipping in South Bend. If elected President, Buttigieg would become the youngest serving President, as well as both the first openly gay President and the first to be in a same-sex marriage.

Buttigieg is also unusual in being Mayor of a small city with a population of 102,000, rather than holding a statewide or national office; however, since the election of Donald Trump as president, we know there is no previous electoral experience needed to become President, and Buttigieg certainly has more electoral experience than the President had.

And yet, Buttigieg is currently doing well in polls of Democratic candidates for 2020: an Emerson College poll from last week showed Buttigieg polling at 9%, ahead of big-name Democrats such as Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, although this is still languishing behind the polling figures of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

So why might the Mayor of a small city be doing well on a national scale? Politically, Buttigieg has adopted positions from different points of the political spectrum on different issues. His positions on many issues align him well with much of the Democratic Party: he is a supporter of single-payer healthcare and firming up of LGBT rights. He has also expressed some support for the Green New Deal and supports the abolition of the Electoral College, which are hot issues within the Democratic Party at the moment. He also has made his own proposals for Supreme Court reform: expanding the court to include 15 Justices: five conservatives, five liberals, and the remaining five elected by the other ten (as opposed to packing the court by adding new justices).

However, he has not been afraid to step out of line and hold differing views from the Democratic Party on issues: he is pro-Israel and a defender of American military intervention in Afghanistan and Syria. He opposes free college education, as he cannot support taxpayers who did not go to college paying for others to go. Economically, he describes himself as a “democratic capitalist”, and has called for all Americans – including Rust Belt and manufacturing workers – to be included in the new global economy, at a time when many Democrats prefer to leave them behind in favour of new technology elsewhere in the country; as the mayor of a Midwestern city, this is likely to be an issue close to Buttigieg’s heart.

Buttigieg’s platform, approach and ability to think for himself hasn’t endeared him to all wings of the Democratic Party, however. Back in January, Buttigieg gave an interview with the Washington Post in which he stated that the Clinton campaign did not do enough to effectively communicate with voters, and was ineffective at connecting with voters in Rust Belt areas who were not feeling the effects of economic growth.

In response to what would probably be considered a light criticism, former Clinton adviser and spokesperson, Nick Merrill, described Buttigieg’s criticism as “indefensible”. “[Clinton] ran on a belief in this country & the most progressive platform in modern political history”, Merrill wrote on Twitter. However, as we know from the results of the 2016 election, Clinton’s campaign clearly wasn’t successful.

Buttigieg also seems prepared to do something that few other big-name Democrats are prepared to do: empathise with Trump voters. In an interview on San Francisco Public Radio, Buttigieg stated that, when dealing with the national Democratic Party, he sometimes feels like “an emissary from the middle of the country”, and that the party, dominated by “well-heeled people, sometimes on the coasts”, not only fails to connect with middle-America voters, but often actively looks down on them.

So aside from being perhaps the youngest major candidate for the Democratic Party, and fighting to be the US’s first openly gay president, Buttigieg’s campaign gives us perhaps a deeper insight into the inner thinking of the Democratic Party machine than perhaps the party would like it to, particularly in the responses he has received to his criticisms. In highlighting the increased concentration of the party’s supporters in coastal states and affluent cities and suburbs, it seems that Buttigieg is fostering an outlook towards his election campaign which is becoming less and less common in today’s Democratic Party: one of inclusion of all voters across the country.

So Buttigieg might be a different kind of Democratic candidate in 2020. But what are his chances of success really like? With Joe Biden reportedly set to announce his entry into the Democratic race as early as next week, Buttigieg certainly has his share of stumbling blocks to overcome. In terms of his current standings in the polls, he is in what would often be considered a fairly middling position, still a fair distance behind Biden and Sanders. We are likely to have more major Democratic candidates in the 2020 race than ever before, and the field is likely to be even wider than the Republican field in 2016. I am not sure of a situation in which a candidate has come from fifth or sixth in the polls overall to winning the nomination. However, Buttigieg’s ascent from small city Mayor to an American political household name, as well as spokesperson for the Democratic Party of middle America, surely proves that anything is possible.

Until such a time as we know more, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at least provides a refreshing and interesting vision into what the 2020 election could bring us.

 

Is trust-busting Elizabeth Warren the new Teddy Roosevelt? The answer is no

You may have noticed last week that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren penned a campaign letter, published on Medium, announcing that her administration would break up big tech giants including Amazon, Facebook and Google. Warren, who is running for the Democratic nomination for President in 2020, wrote that big technology companies have “too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy.” Warren further extended her attack on tech giants, saying that they have “bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation”. Warren’s plans to break up tech giants include breaking Apple apart from its App Store and separating Amazon from its Marketplace, undoing Facebook’s purchases of WhatsApp and Instagram and Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, and separating Google’s search facility from the rest of the company.

This may appear to us to be an extreme anti-business move. However, by suggesting a break-up of tech giants by enforcing anti-monopoly laws, Warren may have sought to align herself with 26th President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican who later founded the Progressive – or “Bull Moose” – Party and who was known for taking on the huge monopolies of his day. Paul Krugman in the New York Times had already likened Warren to Roosevelt with regards to her proposal for a wealth tax. In fact, when asked who she would choose as her ideal running mate, Warren named Roosevelt as the ideal candidate, citing his courage in taking on the monopolies. According to the Washington Examiner, Warren said of Roosevelt that “It was that [the monopolies] had too much political power…that caused Teddy Roosevelt to say I’m going to be a trust buster. Man, I’d like to have that guy at my side.”

Of course, there are some parallels which can be drawn between Warren’s plans and Roosevelt’s approach: Roosevelt also sought to regulate big monopolies in the public interest, which it could be argued is Warren’s aim. Warren, for her part, also authored the Accountable Capitalism Act, which she introduced to the Senate in August 2018. Among other things, the Act stated that “American corporations with more than $1 billion in annual revenue must obtain a federal charter” which “obligates company directors to consider the interests of all corporate stakeholders – including employees, customers, shareholders, and the communities in which the company operates”. Similarly, Roosevelt supported federal incorporation of big businesses (at a time where charters were issued by individual states), and expressed similar views in a 1910 speech entitled “The New Nationalism”.

However, despite these parallels, it’s important to remember that Warren and Roosevelt are two different people from different times, facing different challenges and with different aims. When Roosevelt came to office upon the assassination of William McKinley in 1901, various Presidents had been taking the fight to government corruption, crony capitalism was still rife, business was conducted opaquely, and corporate law and labour relations in the United States were simply not of the standard they are today. Furthermore, Roosevelt’s reputation as a trust-buster is somewhat misplaced to begin with: Roosevelt was more of a trust regulator than a trust buster, seeking more transparency in business practice rather than seeking to simply limit the size of corporations and to break up trusts if they got too large.

Consider, for example, the case of the Northern Securities Company, a railroad monopoly from Roosevelt’s time. In Theodore Rex, the second volume in Edmund Morris’s excellent three-part biography of Theodore Roosevelt, Morris describes the formation of the company through a merger of James J. Hill’s Great Northern, E. H. Harriman’s Union Pacific and J. P. Morgan’s Northern Pacific Railroad Company. Morris describes how meetings, conducted in secret and often late at night, were held between the three men to create a trust which would have effective control over and ownership of the US’s rail network and, through the men’s other business connections, other parts of the world. The issue with the Northern Securities Company was that the “settlement” – as the men tried to pass it off as – was not only conducted in secret, but the announcement of the Trust’s formation was delayed in order that the New York Stock Exchange wouldn’t notice.[1]

Hill, Harriman and Morgan’s conspiracy was in violation of the Sherman Act, introduced during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison in 1890 which prohibited this kind of conspiracy in the formation of trusts.  The Act stated that “Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal”, and so gave the Supreme Court cause to rule against the Northern Securities Company. Roosevelt also viewed that no private corporation should be more powerful than the Presidency (Roosevelt was also known for increasing the power of the Executive branch), and sought to remind big businesses that they could not themselves engage in any dealings which would not be acceptable from governments. Beyond this, however, Roosevelt was a supporter of free markets and believed big business was an integral part of twentieth-century America, and allowed it to operate freely provided is did not impede on the public welfare. He did not actively seek to control the way the companies conducted their business, provided business was being conducted fairly, and did not generally seek to influence the boardrooms of companies.

Roosevelt took on the monopolies in order to free the market and to provide a greater ground for more competition, and Warren would likely say that this is her aim, too. However, there is, I think, key difference between Warren and Roosevelt, and it almost seems like an ideological difference: Theodore Roosevelt went after monopolies which were bad or illegal. Elizabeth Warren is going after monopolies which she deems as too powerful. Roosevelt was looking for transparency within big business, rather than simply breaking it up for its own sake: “We must have complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs, so that people may know beyond peradventure whether the corporations obey the law and whether their management entitles them to the confidence of the public”, Roosevelt said in his New Nationalism speech.

We have considered the activity of the Northern Securities Company. By comparison, despite the size of today’s tech giants, their operations today are very different to the operating of the bad trusts of Roosevelt’s day. As far as I am aware, Facebook did not purchase Instagram or WhatsApp secretly or illegally. Amazon is not engaging in cronyism by operating a marketplace for private sellers. It does not amount to an unfair quashing of competition when Google promotes its own services ahead of others; after all, that is what companies do with their own products. Without getting into too much of a discussion on the pros and cons of how the tech giants operate, these companies, despite the size of their platforms, are not actively seeking to stifle competition as J. P. Morgan et al were. If Amazon, Google and Facebook all conspired secretly to take over control of the internet itself, then that would be a different matter. But as it is, Warren is fighting a different battle today to the one Roosevelt fought over a century ago.

Ultimately, whether or not you agree with Elizabeth Warren’s aims to break up tech giants or her aims to bring private companies under more democratic control, or whether or not you think Theodore Roosevelt went too far or not far enough in his anti-trust efforts, or indeed whatever your general view of government interference in private business is, the fact remains that Warren and Roosevelt are two different people operating in different times and with different circumstances. Their approaches might appear similar on the surface, but in reality the battlefields they fought on were different, and I feel it would be premature to suggest that Warren and Roosevelt essentially share the same mission.

There is not enough room to compare all the aspects of Roosevelt’s political style to Warren’s; after all, one area of similarity does not amount to a reflection of that figure. I am not certain, for example, how much Warren would reflect Roosevelt in areas such as foreign policy and promoting American Imperialism. I feel that, with deeper comparison between the two figures, particularly in these areas, we might see even greater differences. Warren may have taken inspiration from Roosevelt – and I would be pleased that she is; he is also one of my favourite Presidents – but to suggest that she is the new Teddy Roosevelt simply on the basis of her “trust-busting” proposal is simply too much of a generalisation.

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[1] Morris, Edmund, Theodore Rex, 2001 (paperback edition 2010), New York: Random House, p59-61

My first 2020 Presidential Election projection: Rep 205, Dem 228

Projection March 2019

Having taken a look at Sabato’s Crystal Ball’s first 2020 Electoral College ratings in the most recent episode of my US Politics podcast, The Spin Off, I am now bringing you my own personal ratings for the Presidential Election.

My own personal projections will be slightly different to Sabato’s, of course, but much of my projection matches Crystal Ball managing editor Kyle Kondik’s analysis. The states deemed as safe are the same; however, not much movement is expected in any of these states. In just over two years as President, Donald Trump has avoided doing anything to cause his approval ratings to collapse and to turn his core voters away from him. Similarly, it is unlikely that there will be a Democratic nominee step forward who is so inspiring that they are able to wow Republicans in safe states away from Trump, and Trump himself is unlikely to do anything to win over the hardest of Democrats. Until anything like that happens, we’re not likely to see any of the safe states come into play.

However, my projection includes more toss-up states: Sabato’s listed Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire as toss-ups, while I have added Michigan, North Carolina and Florida to the list, meaning that 105 Electoral College votes will come from toss-up states.

The Midwest, as it was in 2016, is likely to be the region where the Presidential Election is won or lost in 2020. The Democrats enjoyed some successes in the Midwest in last year’s midterm elections, winning governorships in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. However, these victories were against unpopular Republican incumbents: Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Michigan’s Rick Snyder and Illinois’s Bruce Rauner all ranked among the ten least popular governors in America at the end of their terms, and all held negative net approval ratings, from -10 for Walker and -16 for Snyder, down to -35 for Rauner. We all know that midterm elections aren’t necessarily accurate indicators for how Presidential Elections will go, but I think that it’s too early to say that Trump will be on the backslide in the Rust Belt on the basis of the midterms.

Personally, of the three “Blue Wall” states which Trump flipped in 2016 (Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania), I think Pennsylvania would be the most likely to flip back to the Democrats in 2020: the urban-rural divide in Pennsylvania between Philadelphia and its suburbs in the South East of the state and the agricultural centre and blue-collar western Pennsylvania may gave the Democrats the slight advantage moving forward. Arguably – as Kyle Kondik writes – we could see a similar trend in Michigan, but my instinct at this point is that Pennsylvania represents the Democrats’ best chances for a pickup right now. In any case, I’m keeping Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania as toss-ups for now. However, if Trump can carry every state and district which he won in 2016, then he will only need to win one of the three Blue Wall states in order to hit the 270 Electoral College votes he needs to win a second term. Despite some backsliding in 2018, I expect Trump will hold on to Iowa in 2020, whilst Ohio will continue its Republican trend and will possibly leapfrog Texas in terms of Republican Presidential vote share.

I’m keeping Florida and North Carolina as toss-ups as well in this projection, even though I feel the Republicans are favoured in both. If we think of Florida as a bellwether (assuming that the notion of a “bellwether state” is useful), then we can expect the state to be won by the eventual winner. At this point I think Trump and the Republicans hold the edge here on the grounds of their successes in November’s gubernatorial and Senate elections, as well as topping the statewide vote totals for the House of Representatives. Whilst – as we know – midterm elections aren’t always a good indicator of how Presidential elections go, the fact that the state swung slightly towards the Republicans, this might suggest they’re on course to keep Florida in 2020.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are enjoying growing strength in Colorado, which I have as likely Democrat, and Nevada, which is leaning Democrat; Nevada I still feel has the potential to be flipped back to the Republicans. Minnesota is also leaning Democrat in this map although the state itself is turning much more purple; I still feel it is plausible that the state could be moved to a toss-up, but it will really depend on whether or not Trump doubles down on his campaign in the Midwest. Similarly, the Democrats could bring Georgia, which is Lean Republican, and Texas, which is Likely Republican, into play, especially if the Democrats decide to run a campaign targeted on these states at the expense of Ohio or Florida.

Finally, a mention of Arizona, which I have as a toss-up right now. Whilst the Democrats flipped Jeff Flake’s old Senate Seat here in 2018, as well as topped the statewide poll in the House of Representatives election, the state is fairly culturally and socially conservative, compared to some of its neighbouring states. Whilst a fairly moderate or conservative Arizona Democrat such as Kyrsten Sinema would be able to win the state, it seems unlikely that a more progressive Democrat from elsewhere in the country would have the same appeal. For that reason, Arizona is a toss-up, but I feel it’s still got a Republican tilt to it.

So on the surface, it seems as it’s advantage Trump in the 2020 Electoral College. There’s not much to go on at this point as the Democratic field is still wide open, and it’s likely we’re going to see a few more big names joining the race in the coming weeks. From where we stand now, and based on little more than looking at things as they are today, my current opinion is that Donald Trump will likely win re-election in 2020. However, it’s still very early in the 2020 campaign – as I said, this is both the Crystal Ball’s and my first 2020 rating – and we probably won’t see meaningful amounts of Presidential polling for another few months, so a lot can change here. It’s going to be a long road over the next 20 months, and I shall be updating this map as we progress through the campaign.

Six takeaways from Donald Trump’s State of the Union address

Image result for trump state of the union

Late on Tuesday evening, President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union address in Congress; his second of his presidency so far. The speech comes against a difficult backdrop for the President: firstly, this address follows the Republicans’ loss of the control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats, which weakens the President’s power in Congress and is still fresh in the minds of both parties in Washington. Secondly, the US Government has only just emerged from a lengthy and painful government shutdown – the longest in US history – which delayed the address; there still remains the risk of another shutdown in the weeks to come if spending agreements cannot be reached. However, here are the six key points we can take from Tuesday’s State of the Union address, and what it tells us about the state of American politics as well as the Donald Trump Presidency.

 

The President painted a positive view of America

Donald Trump used his address to highlight positive movements in terms of economic growth, job creation and energy production among other things that have been accomplished under his administration. The President said that an amazing quality of life for all Americans is within reach, and even said that Congress had priorities to lower drug prices and to protect patients with pre-existing conditions, which gained almost instant approval from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. There was even a nice moment where the President paid tribute to all the women serving in Congress, 100 years after women were given the right to vote. There was a visible core of women Representatives in the chamber who were dressed in white to mark the occasion, and this mention was a cause for great cheer from them. In spite of anything else that may have happened, it was quite a touching moment in the address. This marked a welcome departure from what some commentators were expecting from his address, which they felt could be an aggressive anti-Democrat speech.

 

The President struck an early bipartisan tone…

One of the President’s most notable tones at the start of his address were his calls for bipartisanship, including calls for Congress to choose greatness over gridlock, and for America to “reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution”. Trump stated that “victory is not winning for our party. Victory is winning for our country”, continuing on from the vision he set that continued American greatness can be achieved if both parties come together. With the loss of the House of Representatives to the Democrats, Trump himself is going to need to rely on bipartisanship to avoid gridlock over the next two years, as well as – crucially – another shutdown.

 

…But it didn’t last long

Before too long, however, Trump turned his attack on the Mueller investigation in all but name, which he referred to as “partisan investigations”. Trump told Congress that, if they want peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation, and that the investigations should be brought to an end. Essentially, Trump’s argument is that America can’t pursue economic growth if they’re busy investigating him, his campaign, his taxes and his company among other things. Some commentators have likened this to Richard Nixon’s 1974 State of the Union address, in which he called for an end to the Watergate investigations, saying “One year of Watergate is enough.” Calls for bipartisanship are one thing, but we can be fairly sure Trump will blame the Democrats for obstructing him as the investigations continue.

Furthermore, there was quite possibly another shot at the Democrats during the President’s calls for bipartisanship when he called for an end to the politics of “revenge, resistance and retribution”; the word “resistance” has been used to refer to those groups who vehemently oppose Trump; perhaps this was a nudge to those groups? CNN immediately followed that statement with a shot of an angry-looking Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, so perhaps that was how it was meant. There was also criticism aimed at Democrats for not voting through his plans for the Southern Border Wall.

 

Trump stuck to his guns and his base

On the subject of the Wall, any need for compromise or no, Trump is not going to be letting this one go. The President quickly turned to matters of the southern border and national security, of caravans and cartels and illegal immigration. He made sure to give time to discussion of the wall (or the fence made of vertical steel slats as it may end up being), how Democrats had previously voted on it but never delivered it, and that he was prepared to finish the job, saying “I will get it built”. It sounded at this point like the President was addressing his supporters, rather than congress, as he turned to illegal immigration and how he intended his Wall to help in the fight against it. Even issues like school choice were good rallying cries for grassroots Republicans.

Trump even hit on some uncomfortable points, including attacking new abortion legislation in New York and Virginia, further talks with North Korea, and the US’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) with Russia. But it’s all red meat to his supporters who don’t want to see him going soft in the face of Democratic opposition. Donald Trump is willing to compromise, just not too much.

 

A lot of Democrats have still not been won over…

Some Democrats are still vehemently opposed to Donald Trump, and probably will be for as long as he’s around. This was visible in some of the reactions to the address in the faces of some of the seated Democrats. Chuck Schumer was often seen with looks of pained and sometimes amused endurance, and there was shots of eye-rolling from Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Kamala Harris (CA). Mention has already been made here of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.

Others cheered him, with Democratic Senators including Joe Manchin (WV) and Jon Tester (MT) drumming up some degrees of enthusiasm, although they will still hold an awareness of Trump’s popularity within their respective states, and so will need to be seen as on-side with the President occasionally. For other Democrats however, the partisan divide is still clearly visible, and Tuesday’s address will probably not have been enough.

 

…But 2020 presidential challengers are weighing him up

Depending on whose coverage of the address you were watching (I was watching CNN), it was almost guaranteed that there would be multiple shots of Trump’s possible Democratic challengers in 2020: Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren and even Bernie Sanders were all shown not just as present in the chamber for the address, but in quiet observation of the President. They will be looking for his weaknesses and to see where there are gaps, and where he is failing to deliver. The 2020 election is still just under two years and another State of the Union address away, but the road to the election is well underway, and potential candidates have a lot of constituency-building to do. Can they push a better line than the President on infrastructure, the economy and jobs, particularly in blue-collar states neglected by Democrats in recent years? It is highly likely that, in the chamber last night, Donald Trump was being stared down by his 2020 opponent.

 

Overall, Donald Trump is a complicated man with a complicated presidency. His State of the Union address called in part for compromise and bipartisanship, but at other times an unwillingness to deviate from his own personal agenda. Tuesday’s State of the Union address was a lot like what we’ve come to see from Donald Trump in his major public speeches as President, so really there weren’t many surprises. However, positive or not his view of what America can achieve if people come together, it is highly possible that we just go straight back to a partisan stalemate following the address: the threat of a new shutdown is still looming, and if Trump is as rigid as he was throughout December and January, then there will be little from the address or his personal agenda which can be accomplished. As it stands we may have between two and six years of the Trump Presidency left, and it’s unlikely this address will ultimately go any way towards making those years productive.