Sunday, June 11, 2017

Moderate Republicans: Extinct or Rising?

Donald Trump is now the necessary political enemy of any global politician running in an election in any major democracy in the world with the possible exception of that other “isolated” nation: Israel. After Theresa May’s blowback “snap election,” intended to grow her conservative hold prior to the Brexit negotiations, produced a significantly weakened Tory Coalition with a much smaller Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Ian Paisley, DUP leader, is both a climate change-denier and an opponent of LGBT rights.
But the merciless British press was not shy in attributing at least part of May’s debacle to her seeming support of and closeness to Donald Trump. The virulent anti-Trump message that is now a vital part of mainstay European politics, French President Emmanuel Macron’s remarkable union with German Chancellor’s Angela Merkel in anti-Trump solidarity, seems to be a fact of life to any U.K. politician… including Theresa May. Donald Trump, a noted in the June 10th Los Angeles Times, is now “toxic” in the British Isles, seemingly a global pariah.
Is Donald Trump facing the same fate here? California’s Jerry Brown has stepped over Donald Trump and reached official climate change commitments with both China and Germany. Blue states are distancing themselves every day from Trump policies, standing tall on sanctuary platforms and trying to figure out local healthcare alternatives to the GOP sabotage of Obamacare. With Trump’s approval ratings sinking to their lowest levels, you’d think that the United States is joining in this anti-Trump campaign.
Has the GOP painted itself into a Tea Party corner through gerrymandering and other voter restrictions (moving voting centers away from minority communities and repeatedly passing for ID requirements)? With a hope and a prayer, including intentionally underfunding the Census to limit their reach into anti-GOP minority neighborhoods, the Republican Party still expects bad news from the 2020 Census statistics.
The resulting Census numbers, used for everything from establishing voting districts to allocating federal money, are very likely to reflect that America is hardly the amalgamation of rural-values-traditionalists that has allowed the GOP to dominate both Houses of Congress, the presidency, most governorships and state legislatures.
We are primarily a nation of cities encumbered by Constitutional requirements that limit that urban vote. With a few scattered and immediate replacement elections for local and congressional races getting more attention than they perhaps deserve – vying for tons and tons of outside money distorting the results – it’s easy miss the macro-trends.
First, most savvy political analysts know that without Donald Trump’s immutable base – not remotely part of his fall disapproval statistics – they cannot aspire to national office. Worse, an impeachment of Donald Trump, exposing him to a trial in the Senate, could even trigger violent rebellion from those Trump advocates. They are grateful for the incredible and unresolved schism between traditional liberal Democrats and the rising progressive faction, a battle that still has failed to produce a unified platform of what the Democrats stand for.
Wall Street, still drooling at reduced regulation and the pledge of lower taxes, doesn’t believe Trump is likely to be removed from office. The proof is their vision of the future, reflected in the stock market. Stacy Johnson, writing for the June 9thMoneyTalksNews, explains:
“The stock market is made up of thousands of very smart people from all over the world, many wagering very large sums of money. While it is not a perfect predictor — nothing can claim that title — it reflects the collective best guess of these highly informed individuals, who are highly motivated by the high stakes. Whatever information there is, they've got it.
“If you're a Trump fan, you may be telling yourself that since the market reacted favorably to Comey's testimony, that's proof that our president is a great guy. If you're a Trump hater, you're probably convinced that the market is irrelevant and our president is surely about to go down in flames.
“Well, here's the simple truth: The stock market doesn't give a rodent's rear end who's right, who's wrong or who's in the White House…. The market only cares about one thing: money… Trump's very clear agenda is to roll back regulations, including those designed to protect consumers, and to slash corporate income taxes. Both of these policy goals translate into more corporate profits, which show up as higher stock prices.
“If Trump was in danger of impeachment and his agenda was likewise endangered, stocks would go down. Since they're going up, the smart money is saying loud and clear that his agenda is intact… As I write this [6/9], former FBI Director James Comey just completed his much-anticipated congressional testimony and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 53 points. That tells me that despite what Comey said or didn't say, Trump is not in trouble. I don't have to listen to hours of breathless, and often biased, reporting from the mainstream media.” There are, you will pardon the expression, lots of tea leaves to read everywhere.
With an upcoming gubernatorial election in Virginia, local voters have been so distracted by the goings-on in Washington that, according to the June 11th Washington Post, only 2 out of every ten voters in that state are remotely focused on that election. Pitting Democrat-leaning Northern Virginia against Trump-oriented voters in the lower part of the state? Not exactly.
There is a clear change in the candidates on the GOP side. No longer a knee-jerk, Tea Party Republican Party, Virginia includes a moderate frontrunner in the primary race: “Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, is playing it straight down the middle — a little wary of Trump but promising tax cuts and a conservative agenda. Gillespie has a significant lead for the nomination in both poll numbers and cash on hand.” Washington Post, June 1st.
Gillespie faces another moderate – “State Sen. Frank Wagner (Virginia Beach) is a 25-year veteran of the General Assembly who plays up experience and pragmatism with a plan to raise taxes to fund transportation projects”– and a Trumpist – “Prince William County Supervisor Corey A. Stewart is trying to out-Trump Trump, gaining social media play with provocative statements and a campaign built on preserving Confederate monuments.” (The Post)
So what? Virginia is rapidly becoming blue with all those liberal, high tech, government-directed companies bordering “the Swamp.” What about the heartland, the home of the Tea Party? What about the very state where the infamous Koch brothers are headquartered? What about Kansas? Indeed, in 2012, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback instituted a tax reform policy that very much mirrors the Trump “incent the job creators with tax cuts” proposals – also known a supply-side, trickle-down economics. Tea Party and corporate interests cheered.
But while this effort culled millions of dollars from local corporations and Kansas’ wealthiest taxpayers state income tax bills, the tons of new jobs that Brownback promised would occur – thus generating a tax base to replace the lost tax revenues from the reform package – just plain did not. Right wing tax advocates stated that the economics of the “Laffer Curve” (pictured above) – the theory that “supports” supply-side policies – were too small in a single state to make a difference. But clearly, Brownback’s strategy of cutting taxes, cutting the size of government, and “the state will thrive” was an utter failure.
What did happen was a massive budgetary shortfall, imposing crushing cutbacks on public services and, most of all, decimating the state public schools. Layoffs, increasing class size, the elimination of special programs, paring even the custodial staff dragged Kansas public schools down… very hard. The second week of June produced a second attempt by the GOP-dominated state legislature to override Brownback’s veto of an attempt to restore a higher tax scheme.
Fed up with gaping budget shortfalls, inadequate education funding and insufficient revenue, the Republican-controlled [Kansas] Legislature capped months of turmoil by overriding the governor’s veto of a bill that would undo some of his tax cuts and raise $1.2 billion over two years.
“The move amounted to a shocking rejection of the tax-cutting experiment Mr. Brownback had held up as the centerpiece of his conservative governing. But economic growth and revenues lagged, and even his allies began to publicly criticize the tax cuts.” New York Times, June 7th. With Koch support and clearly a Tea Party favorite, Brownback actually was a precursor to Donald Trump. His simplistic, populist “solutions” – equally destined to fail – looked a whole lot like Mr. Trump’s platform.
But as shocking as a GOP-legislature increasing taxes in a Trump era might be, the real story is the slow realization of local voters that the extremist Tea Party platform was actually unworkable. The complexion of the Kansas legislature was already changing even before Donald Trump carried that very conservative state. “The results were a warning of the risks for other Republican-controlled states that have tested similar approaches, and a dizzying descent for Mr. Brownback’s legacy and any future political aspirations…
“Last fall, as the policy faltered, the moderate wing of the party roared back, ousting legislators from the far right…  The outcome in Kansas was likely to send a signal to other red states pursuing similar tax philosophies about the risks and limits of the approach. Republicans control 24 other state capitals, and some have likewise pressed for tax reductions and limits on spending, though few have taken steps as bold or sustained as in Kansas.
“Even before this week, Democrats in states like Nebraska and Iowa have held out the Kansas model as a cautionary tale for their own Republican-run states. ‘It is something that Iowans talk about, that they don’t want to find themselves in a situation like Kansas,’ said State Senator Janet Petersen, a Democrat in Iowa, where business property taxes were reduced in 2013 and where Republicans took control of state government this year.
“First elected governor of Kansas seven years ago by a wide margin, Mr. Brownback wasted no time steering the Republican Party on a hard-right turn. In his first term, he helped push out moderate Republicans from the Legislature. Under his leadership, Kansas loosened restrictions on guns, made it harder for women to get abortions and passed some of the strictest voting laws in the country.
“Most famously, he instituted the largest income tax cuts in Kansas history, a move that he promised would act ‘like a shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy.’” NY Times.
While Donald Trump may tout the opening of a new coal mine – a specialized mine supplying an essential ingredient for steel manufacturing (versus coal for power stations) – one that created no more than 100 jobs… as two other old-line coal mines shuttered, we are seeing in Trump the same kinds of going-forward, likely-to-fail policies that are moderating Kansas Republicans. Is this a signal for what lies ahead for the GOP? Is there any other way to embrace the X and Y generations, 59% of whom have or will have some college education? Time will tell.
I’m Peter Dekom, and we are living in a world where a majority-GOP Congress is taking advantage of the Comey-Trump distraction to try and get as many Brownback-like bills (including his Brownback-mirrored tax proposals and the repeal of Obamacare with a Trumpcare alternative that will decimate millions) passed and on to the President’s desk.

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