Danger Abounds for 2020 Democratic Presidential Contenders

© 2019 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.


Conventional wisdom posits that in the presidential primary season, the contenders focus most of their attention and efforts on the more extreme wing of their party, the thought being that these rabid partisans—be they extreme-left or extreme-right—dominate the primary voting turnout and thus play a decisive role in determining their party’s eventual nominee.

On the Democratic side, the first set of putative nominees (typified by Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Julian Castro and the presumptive entry of Bernie Sanders) has obviously been influenced by the strain of über-liberal AOC-like thought, as they engage in a race to out-liberal each other, with their proposed Government giveaways reaching new heights. Astonishingly enough, Ocasio-Cortez’ undeservedly-hyped, bereft-of-specifics Green New Deal (along with Sanders’ 2016 tenets) has served as the blueprint for every Democratic contender’s platform. For them, no amount of Government-provided largess is too much or too unrealistic. Indeed, they present the notions of taxpayer-funded healthcare, free tuition, student loan forgiveness, guaranteed employment and income, guaranteed affordable housing, and unrestricted immigration as if they are perfectly normal, to-be-expected obligations of American government.

The liberal media—eager for political-presidential news of any kind and especially stories of the ‘we really, really hate Trump’ variety—is inclined to give these early declarees an unprecedented amount of coverage, since covering them and their hyperbolic anti-Trump rants gives the liberal networks the opportunity to present an almost unlimited amount of over-the-top anti-Trump stories under the guise of legitimate news: “We’re simply covering what Corey Booker said.” That Corey Booker’s opinion of President Trump is in ironclad lockstep agreement with CNN’s editorial stance is merely a happy coincidence.

The risk that all these early announcers face is overexposure and too-soon critical evaluation of their proposals. The danger for these early-announced Democratic contenders is threefold:

  1. Sameness and lack of individual identity and uniqueness. What is the difference between Harris, Warren, Sanders and Booker and their wildly anti-capitalist, pro-Socialist, ‘free everything for everyone” proposals? How is Harriscare different and better than Berniecare or Elizabethcare?
  2. Damaging early policy evaluation. Trump beat Hillary in large part by winning the votes of previously Democratic blue-collar voters in PA, OH, MI, FL and WI. The middle of the Democratic voting bloc doesn’t agree with all the radical positions espoused by this first wave of contenders. The longer these positions are exposed to the harsh sunlight of analysis, the more likely that a greater number of “ordinary” Democratic voters will reject them. Maybe the rabid extreme Progressive primary voters won’t, but the casual rank-and-file Democrat—the “Trump” Democrat—likely will. Polls will sour. Publicity will turn negative. That new shine will lose some of its luster.
  3. For a politician, being in the public eye for too long can be hazardous. “Familiarity breeds contempt,” as the old saying goes. Perhaps Warren’s caustic, screechy voice will wear thin after several months on center stage. Perhaps Bernie’s advanced age will suddenly become frighteningly apparent and unacceptable to Millennial Progressives, and he goes from “cool old guy” to “Who are you kidding, Grandpa?” in the blink of an eye. Perhaps some embarrassing and undeniable blemish from Harris’ or Booker’s past emerges and there’s no explaining it away. The longer the at-bat, the greater the chance of a swinging strike three.

All this leaves an opening for the Second Wave, a slightly more moderate brand of presidential contender. Seth Molton, Joe Biden, Terry McAuliffe, John Hickenlooper or someone else. Possibly more palatable to a wider swath of voters. While they are just as capable of spouting anti-Trump do-goodism, give-stuff-away-free policies as the Early Contenders, they’d have an ability to speak to the Ohio/PA/MI blue-collar Democratic voter that went for Trump in 2016—and make a convincing case—in a way that the pro-Green New Deal Harris, Booker and Warren never could. Can any of the Second Wave do it? While it’s probably easier and more convincing in a general election campaign for a relatively moderate centrist Democrat to spout ultra-left positions than it is for a super-progressive to attempt to convince the middle of the voting populace of their moderate positions, this Second Wave would suffer from being behind the curve in terms of fundraising, name recognition (except for Biden), organization/logistics and they all run the risk of appearing opportunistic and insincere.

Staking out such a far-Left position may help the Democrats in the primaries but may well prove to be a handicap in the general election. Remember, the Democrats have moved much farther Left than the Republicans have moved Right. A very strong case can be made that Republicans have not moved Right at all since 1960, but compared to a 1960 JFK Democrat, today’s Progressives are unrecognizable. Points of fact:

  1. The words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” from Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural speech seem laughable, utterly impossible, by today’s Democratic standards.
  2. Today’s Democrats no longer propose great national scientific or military initiatives like the Moon Landing or closing the Missile Gap, undertaken under a Democratic Administration strictly for the country’s benefit as a whole. In contrast, modern Democrats craft their policy proposals in response to the needs of special interest groups (women, minorities, immigrants, LGTB, etc.), for the purpose of buying that group’s votes with a taxpayer-funded program. As predictable as day turns into night, if there’s a perceived issue affecting a demographic group, the automatic current-day Democratic response is to invent a new Government program to “cure” it and raise taxes to pay for it.
  3. Republican positions of limited taxation, necessary-but-reasonable business and environmental regulations, a strong military, support for law and order, favoring the philosophy of giving all groups equal opportunities vs. trying to artificially fabricate equal outcomes—these are unchanged from 60 years ago. It is the Democrats who’ve moved so far Left they’ve had to change their name to Progressive. Republican governing ideals are essentially unchanged.

Pointing this out infuriates today’s Democrats, but it’s a matter of easily-observable fact, not opinion. The 2020 Democratic GND platform may appeal to effete coastal elitists who live in their unsullied theoretical world, but Joe and Jane registered Democrat factory worker/shelf stocker/middle manager isn’t going to buy into it. If Booker-Harris-Warren don’t float their boat, is Biden too old? McAuliffe too used-car-salesmanish? Molten too opportunistic? Hickenlooper too strange?

The economy is doing very well, and peoples’ kids are getting good jobs and supporting themselves. Stocks are way up vs. the Obama years, recent volatility notwithstanding. Europe has finally been told to ante up for its NATO defense. We’re producing a lot of oil and natural gas and everyone is really happy about it (whether they admit it out loud or not). The liberal media have finally met their match, and again, an awful lot of people like it. It is very easy and defensible to say that President Trump’s “official” approval numbers are understated by 5-10%, at least, by all those liberal-leaning polls with their liberal-leaning methods and overly-liberal sample compositions. Every poll that has President Trump at 45% is likely 55% in the privacy of the voting booth.

That is how and why President Trump beat HRC so handily in 2016 and why the polls were so wrong. Democrats may think that President Trump is easy pickings in 2020 and all they have to do is promise a lot of free stuff and repeat the words “Fair share!” over and over again.

In fact, Democrats are in for one very difficult uphill slog in 2020, and baring some unforeseen random outside factor, they probably will not reach the top.

While Kelly Ayotte is helping Neil Gorsuch to walk the halls of Congress and meet and greet senators, Susan Collins is suddenly becoming a royal pain in the backside for this administration. The moderate Maine GOP senator has been on the no side for 2 Cabinet choices. Her no vote did not manage to prevent Betsy DeVos from being successfully nominated to Secretary of Education.

But she was also part of the GOP four (along with Alaska’s Murkowski who also opposed DeVos, South Carolina’s Tim Scott, and Georgia’s Johnny Isakson) that have effectively forced Andy Puzder to withdraw his nomination for Secretary of Labor. The optics on Puzder weren’t worth going to battle over for the administration, even though it adds up to a rough couple of days for the administration.

Now Senator Collins is indicating that she will also give a thumbs down on EPA nominee Scott Pruitt. Do the current storms battering the White House mean she is suddenly emboldened? Or would she have voted this way, regardless? And is she as bound to labor unions in general as she clearly is to the teacher’s unions?

She may be, but her opposition on Puzder is perhaps a little more understandable than her no vote on DeVos. Especially from the perspective of the White House. That’s because under-employed and unemployed, and not-even-looking-anymore, white males with high school or less were and are a key part of Trump’s supporters. And in a world that fetishizes disruption and ignores marginalized workers, any doubts about a potential Secretary of Labor resonate a lot more strongly than they might have in the mid-90’s, for example.

In a world where Elon Musk – at a World Government Summit in Dubai no less – pronounces that we must Borg ourselves or be incinerated. In a world where if you drive a truck or taxi, you are probably old and need to die anyway to make room for progress. Where anyone with an IQ less than 120 – never mind 100 – needs to get an implant. In this type of world, it matters what type of signals you send to working men and women, and to those who would like to work, and especially to those who have given up trying to obtain work.

But that does not mean continuing to feed the welfare monster that might write checks to the marginalized, but has not been truly successful at helping them regain a productive and satisfying life. Arthur C. Brooks has just published a wonderful article on not just what to do to help those who are in poverty and marginalized, but why we do it. The what is a fairly pragmatic but rather inclusive list of conservative common sense proposals: from welfare reform, to lowering taxes to encourage job creation, to giving parents options when seeking schooling for their children.

But the overarching theme has to be one of giving people back purpose. As Brooks so clearly points out:

The most compelling reason for tax reform and further welfare reform is to create more opportunities for people at the periphery of society.

A conservative reform agenda needs to be proclaimed and seen as inclusive and positive, and not punitive, because the media will paint any reform of the welfare state as punitive. Before the facts are even allowed to roll in – like in charter schools in Detroit. And that means that by giving businesses a reason to hire, and people a sense of purpose flowing from the improved possibilities they face, even a Susan Collins would have to admit that the encouragement of responsibility and independence – core American values if there ever were – are a noble end game to pursue.

And it would also mean that Elon Musk and his dystopian sci-fi pronouncements would stay within the confines of confabs for the elites, and well away from the daily lives of working men and women in America.

The White house wants a lot more money for financial services regulators, as in the SEC and especially the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, or CFTC. The latter would have its budget boosted by 29% to $322 million, while the SEC’s budget would increase by 15% to $1.7 billion. Yes, billion. Why all the extra cash? Essentially, it’s a give back to Wall Street done in December’s cromnibus bill, where some derivatives trading would no longer be pushed out to separate entities that are not covered by the FDIC. In other words, your bank deposit insurance would continue to cover complex high-risk derivatives transactions undertaken by large financial entities. And that means regulators like the CFTC as well as the SEC screaming for more cash to do all that overseeing. The CFTC’s mission statement heroically proclaims that the Commission’s job is “to foster open, transparent, competitive, and financially sound markets, to avoid systemic risk and to protect the market users and their funds, consumers and the public from fraud, manipulation, and abusive practices, related to derivatives and other products that are subject to the Commodity Exchange Act.”

A piece of cake really and that $322 million budget should help. Especially considering, as they themselves state, that the notional value of the swaps market over which the CFTC has oversight is about $400 trillion. But wait, the notional value is not what you need to worry about. You take a tiny percentage of that, say 15% which represents the maximum change in the notional value in response to a big move. In other words, the amount of money you could lose in a worst case scenario. Heck, lower that to 10% and you wind up with a mere $40 trillion risk from swaps alone. We’ll assume that’s worldwide of course, but most swaps are done in US dollars and are thus the purview of the CRTC. So that merely adds up to the combined economies of the USA, China, Japan, Germany, France and the UK. Piece of cake really. You can now sleep easy knowing those extra $72 million that boosted the CFTC’s budget from around $250 million up to $322 million will take care of the problem.

Of course there’s a much much larger pot of money that’s really at stake. It’s called your current and future tax dollars and what Wall Street has done by reversing the push-out of some derivatives to separate entities, is to ensure that should another meltdown around swaps and other derivatives occur, the US government will once again rescue them with as much taxpayer funded bailouts as necessary. There is no question that moral hazard – the lack of consequences for risky behavior and the subsequent increase in risky behavior in response to the lack of consequences – in the financial industry is a huge problem and one that must be solved without taking down everyone’s savings in the process. So Elizabeth Warren was right to protest back in December and it’s not surprise that Obama is asking for more cash for the SEC and the CRTC.

The problem is Warren would have the financial industry so bound up in regulations that it would risk sucking the life and innovation out of the credit markets. How much risk, how much pain Wall Street should endure in order to ensure it does not risk the world financial system again is a tough question to answer. But the trade-off is clear: if you have a freer world where people can bet on swaps and other derivative purely for speculative purposes rather than for hedging future production, then you have to allow the speculators to go down when their bets go wrong. If you have a controlled world where any derivative has to be based on an actual good or service that is to be sold or bought, then you give up some of that freedom and hand it over to the CRTC, the SEC, the IRS, and countless other agencies. Where to balance between these 2 poles is almost impossible to answer, but we have no choice but to try. And to do it in a far more transparent way then the fast one pulled by Congress in December.

Alfonso Aguilar, ex Chief of US Office of Citizenship under George W. Bush, has criticized President Obama’s unwillingness to explain his deportation numbers, which are robustly high according to the Administration, That is, when Obama is speaking to a more conservative audience. What the President doesn’t do is explain the deportations to a Democratic, read Hispanic, audience. Aguilar is executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, launched in 2010 by the American Principles Project and focused on developing conservative grass roots movements in the Hispanic community. They have a five part immigration strategy: strengthening border security, a guest worker program that is generous, the promotion of patriotic assimilation, giving priority to criminal cases in domestic enforcement, and legalizing illegal immigrants but with a penalty attached rather than out and out amnesty. That’s an impressive agenda, and it throws up some interesting ideas but one of the main problems is where do you start? Which one comes first or do you try all 5 at once?

This is no easy matter, nor should it be. The aim of their reform has to be stemming the flow of illegals across the border and it makes sense to have a multi-pronged attack that makes it tougher to sneak across the border and lowers incentives to do so illegally. Tighter border security is obvious but how to spend an increased budget to get that done is key. A guest worker program depends on what business needs and wants but it also should depend on what registered voters want. How generous should it be while still claiming to be conservative? Patriotic assimilation seems tautological; shouldn’t all assimilation produce patriots who love the country they have chosen to move to? Whatever their creed or ideology? Well no, but that unfortunately is for another topic. Giving police the resources, legal as well as material, to pursue criminals who cross the border seems painfully obvious, but again necessary to state explicitly in these times. Legalizing with a penalty seems a tricky balance to achieve in practice but is far better than outright amnesty.

So Aguilar’s group has a plan that may help but implementing it will be difficult and most difficult of all, just like the difficulties the President is avoiding, will be convincing conservatives and Hispanics that it is a worthwhile solution in the quest for immigration reform. Let’s hope that the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles continues to make the hard choices when speaking to their own community.

The investigation into the IRS’s illegal activities continued on Capitol Hill this week. The result was not only a better understanding of the depth of the tax agency’s investigation into conservative and Republican groups, but also just how disconnected some of the leaders of this country are from the American people.

Representative Jim McDermott (D) asserted in a hearing with members of IRS targeted groups that they were partially to blame for the investigation into their behaviors. He argued that the reason that they were the interest of the IRS was because they had chosen to pursue a nonprofit tax exempt status from the federal government. Referencing past behavior of the Bush Administration, McDermott took a page in passing the buck. The Federal Government is not the problem. The IRS is not the problem. It is the people’s fault.

McDermott was not without his critics. Amidst cheers from the crowd, former Vice Presidential candidate and current Representative Paul Ryan spoke up. Seemingly astonished by the (insane) and insensitive statement of the elder statesman. He reiterated perfectly to the panel of conservative targets the insanity that the room had just heard mumbled from the mouth of McDermott.

Of course, the exchange between Ryan and McDermott may not have been predicted in its entirety, but this is a narrative that has been building in the halls of congress and the White House for years. The usurpation of power and the sheer audacity, taken to new heights by the Obama Administration, to curtail civil liberties and declare unnecessary political enemies is astounding. Those elected or chosen to run the will of the people and bring it to fruition are instead attacking those who provide them with their ultimate power. When the people of the United States wake up and begin realizing that the IRS scandal (and cover-up) is a true threat to liberty, the country will begin to better its path. Representative Ryan assessed the situation best with his sheer astonishment at the blame shifting. When will the American people begin to show that same disgust?

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has not been able to escape the scrutiny of potential scandals on Capitol Hill. The Obama appointed Secretary has found her way into a less publicized scandal that has some Republican Congressional leaders on Capitol Hill angry and frustrated. Sebelius is accused of securing funds from private entities to be used in ObamaCare related efforts. Though the question of illegality remains, it is the ethics of her decision to solicit money that is an ever growing issue for many on the right.

The issue with Sebelius’ request for money is not that she is seeking donations per say. Her office has asserted that seeking monies for private enterprises and agencies is not unheard of and not illegal. The problem comes from the obvious conflict of interest in the acquisition of funds and what they are to be used for. Sebelius is alleged to have, and so far has not denied, that money was sought from private organizations and given to groups that were given the task of signing up individuals to be part of the new ObamaCare plan.

Republicans are highlighting the conflict of interest and encouraging the Department to start an independent investigation into the depth of the relationships and whether or not financial laws were broken. Further, Republican leaders are also encouraging this independent investigatory team to look into the ethical implications as well. Is it right for an agency, whether or not they are able to do so or not, to promote and ask for donations for a program that they helped create, implement, and are trying to gain support for? Republicans want to know and they want to know now.

This scandal or potential scandal is a quieter one, behind Benghazi, the IRS, and wire-tapping. It’s implications for Sebelius’ future seem less threatening at this point. The quiet nature of the issue may be just what she needs to keep it this way.

The United States Department of Justice is responsible for enforcement of the laws of the United States. With roots dating back to the Judiciary Act of 1780, the advisory and enforcement capabilities of the DOJ have been an evolving part of the U.S. Government. Today, Attorney General Eric Holder and his team at the Department, are now using their abilities of law enforcement for wiretapping media outlets and investigating the actions of Fox News anchors. Well played DOJ. Well played.

What is so disconcerting about the actions of Eric Holder, is the way in which the whole issue is being handled. Rather than facing his actions and answering on the record, what was so disgustingly done without prior knowledge, Eric Holder is asking to be able to explain, off the record. Republicans and Democrats alike are angered by the insulting and cavalier nature of the actions. Sure, I’ll talk. But I will only talk behind closed doors and in backrooms where you are sworn to keep the information quiet. Well done, Mr. Holder. In attempting to cover your behind you are only serving to make yourself appear shadier. The only meeting you should be holding in the coming weeks is with an employment agency as you seek a new job.

Many media outlets are not unbiased. They lean politically in one direction or the next with (opinion alert!) the
majority of the main news outlets seeming to carry the water for the President’s agenda. This blatant disregard for centuries of privileges that recognize the value of the media is threatening the seemingly tight relationship between the Obama Administration and those in the news. It may be that this unity and bipartisan anger will fade into the night and the Obama Administration and Eric Holder can continue their trampling of civil liberties. Or, the President may just learn the ever important lesson that you never bite the hand that feeds you.

Do you think that Eric Holder is handling this situation appropriately? Are his days at the DOJ numbered? Will this impact the Obama Administration’s relationship with the media?

From the boys over at PowerLine. File this one under “Things that make you go ‘Hmmmmmmm’….”

The headline above is the headline of an Obama Administration press release distributed only a few minutes.

I do not care what the issue is, the attitude and actions of legislating by executive order rather than by the process established by the Constitution is wrong. The President of the United States dictating laws from his desk are the actions of just that–a dictator.

Watch this exchange with a reporter during one his daily briefings and tell PD what single word comes to mind to describe the White House Press Secretary:

Barack Obama promised the most transparent administration in history. In his Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, he commits to “creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.” The full document on openness in government can be read at WhiteHouse.gov.

I guess that only applied back when Obama still believed everyone loved him. And it certainly doesn’t apply when one of Obama’s core base groups is protesting him! Didn’t they get the memo?

Americablog posted the below video of capital police closing Lafayette Park (next to the White House) to prevent reporters from covering a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” protest.

So, when do we get to the transparent part?