Pence And Trump Teams Clash As Pence Tries To Assert Control Of Republican Politics

Quietly, Mike Pence is seeking to create his own power base inside the GOP even as the White House pushes back.

A trio of reports spread over three separate news agencies highlights what some are suggesting is something of a behind the scenes political battle between President Trump and Vice-President Pence, or at least between their staffs, that could have interesting implications for the future.

Up first is a report from Alexander Burns, Jonathan Martin, and Maggie Haberman at The New York Times about the Vice-President’s efforts to assert some control over Republican Party politics that at the very least is frustrating some of the President’s top aides:

While Mr. Trump remains an overpowering personality in Republican politics, he is mostly uninterested in the mechanics of managing a political party. His team of advisers is riven with personal divisions, and the White House has not yet crafted a strategy for the midterms. So Mr. Trump’s supremely disciplined running mate has stepped into the void.

Republican officials now see Mr. Pence as seeking to exercise expansive control over a political party ostensibly helmed by Mr. Trump, tending to his own allies and interests even when the president’s instincts lean in another direction. Even as he laces his public remarks with praise for the president, Mr. Pence and his influential chief of staff, Nick Ayers, are unsettling a group of Mr. Trump’s fierce loyalists who fear they are forging a separate power base.

In addition to addressing dozens of party events in recent months, Mr. Pence has effectively made himself the frontman for America First Policies, an outside group set up to back Mr. Trump’s agenda. He has keynoted more than a dozen of its events this year, traveling under its banner to states including Iowa and New Hampshire. And Mr. Pence has worked insistently to shape Mr. Trump’s endorsements, prodding him in the contests for governor of Florida and speaker of the House, among others.

Word of the internal tensions is getting out beyond the walls of the White House: one prominent lawmaker said the complaints of high-ranking Trump officials were starting to circulate on Capitol Hill.

“They’re looking for people to stay on the team, not break away from the team,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said of the Trump side of the West Wing.

The article goes on to note the extent to which Pence, and especially those working under him, has worked to carve out his own identity and power base within the GOP, and even several instances where the Vice-President’s staff and the West Wing clashed over hiring decisions that resulted in Pence snatching up key Republican advisers to work on the Pence team rather than the White House. Additionally, the report notes that, thanks in no small part to the fact that it is often forced to spend days acting or reacting to the latest tweet or campaign-style speech outburst from the President, the President’s staff finds itself outmatched by the Pence team when it comes to building up support within the ranks of the Republican Party.

There have also been several instances during which Pence has gotten out ahead of the White House that has rankled top advisers to the President. One of the most recent incidents occurred just weeks ago when Pence effusively praised former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is running for the Republican nomination to succeed Jeff Flake as Arizona’s junior Senator. Trump, of course, had a close relationship with Arpaio long before the campaign when the two of them were the most prominent voices in the so-called “birther” movement and pardoned Arpaio last year after he was convicted of contempt for ignoring the orders of a Federal Judge, his aides have reportedly held him back from intervening in the Arizona primary race at this time. In addition to being another example of the groveling that we’ve seen from Pence that led George Will to call him the worst person in Washington, Pence’s move was also widely seen as a potential problem for the President and the GOP since it is widely perceived that an Arpaio win in the primary would effectively concede the raise to the likely Democratic nominee, Congresswoman Krysten Sinema.

Lastly, as the report notes, at least part of the reason for Pence’s moves of late lies in the fact that the President seems rather uninterested in engaging in many of the party building efforts that we typically see a sitting President engaged in, especially in advance of midterm elections that will decide who controls Congress for the last two years of the President’s current term in office. With notable exceptions, the President’s primary political focus appears to be boosting his own political fortunes rather than those of people running for Congress or the Senate in key races. Perhaps the best example of that can be seen in the fact that, although Trump endorsed Roy Moore in last year’s Special Election in Alabama, he didn’t actually visit the state to campaign for him. Instead, he held a rally near Pensacola, Florida that Moore wasn’t even present for. While that campaign-style rally did reach into the broadcast area for much of eastern Alabama and key areas such as Mobile, it also drew many people from the Florida panhandle who had no stake in the Alabama race and could not vote for Moore in any case. The same has largely been true of the other Special Elections held since Trump became President. To this extent, Trump has arguably created a vacuum in Republican Party politics that Pence has stepped in to fill.

As Chris Cillizza notes at CNN Politics, none of this should be surprising:

  1. Pence, a former House member and governor, is very much a party guy – and as much as he might shy away from this title now – an establishment figure. Trump, who has been a Democrat, an independent and now a Republican, ran against and beat that establishment in 2016.
  2. Pence wants to be president when Trump is done, and that means he is spending at least part of his time as VP accruing chits from other pols for future use. Trump is already president. And he could care less about goodwill with other GOP politicians since most of those people backed someone other than him in 2016.
  3. Pence has surrounded himself with political/campaign people. Ayers managed former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 presidential campaign and also served as executive director of the Republican Governors Association. Pence’s communications director Jarrod Agen is another campaign veteran, having done work in California and Michigan — as well as serving as chief of staff to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Trump has no such political team in place, largely surrounding himself with longtime friends and a smattering of military generals. Kellyanne Conway, a senior counselor to Trump, is a veteran campaign hand — and also Pence’s former pollster.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the White House, of course, and Politico notes this morning that Trump has also moved to push Pence aside when it suits him:

President Donald Trump wasn’t planning to attend the recent National Rifle Association convention — that is, until he learned that Vice President Mike Pence would be giving the keynote address.

That led to a change of plans in the West Wing, according to two people familiar with the arrangement, and nearly a week after the NRA announced Pence would speak, the president was added to the schedule to speak moments after Pence.

It wasn’t the first time Trump has changed his plans to one-up the veep. It was originally Pence, not Trump, who planned to travel to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But upon seeing who else would be attending, Trump decided to make the trip himself instead, bumping Pence off the schedule, according to a person familiar with the matter. A White House official said that neither scheduling decision was based on the vice president’s plans.

And Trump is elbowing Pence out in other, smaller, ways: on Tuesday, the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List announced Trump would be headlining its annual Washington gala this year, after Pence gave the keynote address last year. An official said that plan was weeks in the making.

It should be said up front that none of this means that Pence is even thinking about taking a radical step like challenging Trump for the Republican nomination in 2020. That is something that has not happened in the modern history of the United States, and it appears that the only time it happened seriously was in the Election of 1800 when Thomas Jefferson, who had become Vice-President when he came in second behind John Adams in the Election of 1796 and the two served together for four years even as they drifted apart politically and personally. Shortly after that, of course, the 12th Amendment was added to the Constitution and the President and Vice-President were turned from rivals in the Presidential race into a more or less united ticket. While there have been clashes between Presidents and Vice-Presidents in the past, and even more commonly between the men and women who work for them, we have not seen an outright political rivalry and we’re not likely to see that here. Indeed, as Will noted in his column, and as I wrote at the time, Pence has been obsequious in his praise for the President even when he is engaged in the worst possible behavior for any human being never mind the President of the United States.

Some have suggested that one reason for Pence’s moves have been because he and his advisers sense that Trump may ultimately decide not to run for reelection in 2020. While that’s a possibility that cannot be dismissed entirely, it seems entirely unlikely for a variety of reasons, as I explained last month:

Trump himself is certainly moving forward like someone who intends on running for re-election in two years. He set up a re-election campaign only a year after entering office, an unusual move for a first-term President but one that allows him to conduct the campaign-style rallies that he clearly loves to do. He’s hired a campaign manager who has taken the lead in being one of the leading cheerleaders for the President outside the White House, and he’s acting for all the world like someone who plans on running for re-election. He could end up pulling the plug on all of this and following in Lyndon Johnson’s footsteps. Such a move wouldn’t be typical for Trump, though. Say what you will about him, but he doesn’t strike me as someone who would just give up and walk away. Many people have said that he entered the race in 2015 never thinking that he’d win the GOP nomination, never mind the Presidency itself. Now that he has, though, I don’t see him giving it up without a fight unless something changes drastically in the next two years. As things stand right now though, my thought is that contra Scarborough’s supposition, Trump will stand for re-election and that he will, at least initially, be favored to win.

Instead, it seems as though Pence is attempting to set himself apart from the President, and to distance himself from things such as the Russia investigation, the President’s incendiary tweets and rhetoric, and the chaos emanating from the West Wing, in the hope that doing so will help him become the natural successor to the President in 2024 after what would, Pence and his team obviously hope, would be a generally successful eight years in office. The problem for Pence in this strategy is that all this careful planning could all be for nothing if the President ends up losing a bid for re-election for 2020 or if he runs into even deeper scandal due to the Russia investigation or other matters. In that case, Pence would be facing uphill odds in an effort to make a comeback in a post-Trump America regardless of what happens to the Republican Party in the meantime.

 

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    I always had the feeling that Pence accepted the v.p. gig because he was betting that Trump would get bored, overwhelmed, or, possibly, driven from office after a year or eighteen months, and then he could step into the Oval Office.

    It’s possible, I suppose, that Pence might know something we don’t. He seems willing to risk alienating Trump–and that’s very easy to do.

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  2. Kathy says:

    Assuming Trump goes out after one term, could Pence surpass Walter Mondale in 2024 and win no states (nor D.C.)?

    If history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, then we have the farce for the repetition of Watergate going on right now. We may as well get the other one out of the way soon.

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  3. Neil Hudelson says:

    Of the 47 Vice Presidents we have had since 1789, fourteen (14) have become President. Of those 14, four were duly elected as President while serving as VP (Nixon, of course, lost the election while sitting as VP, but won it in ’68).

    The Vice Presidency is actually not a great avenue to become President, unless you are banking on an assassin to help you out.

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  4. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Kathy:

    Nah, no matter how low the GOP goes, the Kansases and Alabamas of the world will still back the GOP presidential nominee, because of the fetuses.

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  5. MarkedMan says:

    Pence is not the sharpest pencil in the pack by a long stretch. Of course, this is actually a plus to the billionaire boys club that currently runs Republican recruiting efforts, but it means it unlikely that Pence can navigate the snake pit that running in the age of Trump entails. Trump will resent any attention paid to what he no doubt considers to be a laughable loser, one he openly mocks. Anyone remember the speech he gave to “introduce” Mike Pence? I don’t think he completed a single sentence on Pence before pivoting to how great Trump himself was. Over and over again.

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  6. Kathy says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    Almost definitely.

    But there’s always the minuscule possibility of a candidate who can make them so apathetic, they forget to even vote.

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  7. michael reynolds says:

    @CSK:
    My thought as well. I don’t think Pence is thinking 2024, he may not even be thinking 2020. He may well be thinking of 2018.

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  8. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    So here’s a crazy hypothetical. What if Mueller proves conspiracy? If Dennison broke the law to win the Presidency…then Pence has no claim to it, as VP, correct?

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  9. MarkedMan says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: Although it sounds wonderful, it seems a stretch. On the other hand, Pence really is a first class moron and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he had gotten himself entangled in the mess, resulting in a “step down or go to jail” route. I don’t think he would be involved in the collusion itself, but he seems to be exactly the type of immoral half wit that would tell lies if Trump asked him too, just to ingratiate himself.

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  10. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    There’s a reason why Pence is doing this now, and it isn’t just to amuse himself. He was in the house of representatives, and he has a lot of contacts there. Who knows what they’re telling him? And, again, he knows how thin-skinned–how paranoid–Trump is about people he perceives as disloyal to him. Pence may not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but he’s not a complete idiot, and he should be aware that what he’s doing could amount to a palace coup in Trump’s eyes. That’s a big risk for Pence to take without some reasonable assurance of a pay-off.

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  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: I think you’re giving too much credit to Pence as to understanding what he read when he read Machiavelli (assuming that he has, which I would put as a stretch).

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  12. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Perhaps, but, as I say, there’s a reason he’s doing this now. It’s a dangerous move for Pence to make. He woudn’t make it without some reason to believe he could succeed.

    Machiavelli? Pence could have some familiarity with him. Pence reminds me more of Uriah Heep.

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  13. CSK says:

    Oh, and, by the way, Kim Jong Un has suspended his talks with South Korea, and is now threatening to cancel the “summit” with Trump.

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  14. Kathy says:

    I know the VP can resign (anyone can resign, really), and he can be impeached, but can the president, or in this case Trump, fire him?

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  15. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    Oh, and, by the way, Kim Jong Un has suspended his talks with South Korea, and is now threatening to cancel the “summit” with Trump.

    Well, there’s a big surprise.

    I seriously thought it would be the tin-pot dictator who’d wreck things.

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  16. CSK says:

    @Kathy:

    Apparently, the vice president is the only person Trump can’t fire. I’m sure Pence knows this.

    Good times.

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  17. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    Apparently, the vice president is the only person Trump can’t fire. I’m sure Pence knows this.

    Doubleplusgood!

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  18. MarkedMan says:

    @CSK:

    Pence reminds me more of Uriah Heep.

    Perfect

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  19. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy:

    Assuming Trump goes out after one term, could Pence surpass Walter Mondale in 2024 and win no states (nor D.C.)?

    Not. A. Chance.

    I don’t really get why people say stuff like that. First of all, we’re in a time of Peak Partisan–and that isn’t because of Trump. Probably the single biggest myth about 2016 is that Republicans voted for Trump because of some particular affection they had toward him. In fact the #1 reason they voted for him was simply the R after his name. That’s it. Before the election I kept hearing talk about how he was going to lose in a Goldwater-level blowout (which I always thought was absurd). But after he managed to eke out his narrow win (while losing the popular vote and getting a lower overall share of the vote than Romney four years earlier and barely more than even McCain), the conventional wisdom rapidly shifted to the idea that Trump was the strongest candidate the Republicans could have fielded. It didn’t seem to occur to most people that Trump might have won in spite of his particular qualities as a candidate, and that the real reason he won was simply because he was a Republican running in an environment that was favorable to the party.

    You could call the 2016 election an experiment to see whether Republican voters would vote for anyone with an R after his name. And the results showed quite clearly that that’s exactly what Republican voters did.

    If Trump were to be removed from office (and I again emphasize that I’m extremely skeptical that will ever happen) and Pence were to take over, any number of things might happen. Pence might benefit politically by being viewed as the cool head weathering the controversy. Or he might be fatally weakened by the fiasco, distrusted by swing voters and hated by Trumpists for taking down their god. But even in the worst case scenario for him, there’s no reason to think it would break through the tribal partisanship and suddenly start turning states like Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, or Wyoming (among others) blue. This type of thinking is not only unrealistic, it’s counterproductive.

    If anything, Republicans to some extent have an advantage when it comes to states–they’ve got all these low-population states like Idaho and Wyoming (which gave Trump his largest winning margin in the country) squarely in their pockets. Even in the two recent elections where Republicans won the presidency while losing the popular vote, they still gobbled up 30 states each time, more than Obama got even in 2008.

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that only Republican presidents (and only incumbents at that) ever came close to a full-state sweep, while the closest Dems got was LBJ’s 44/50 in 1964. There are just too many voters out there who’d sooner swallow arsenic than pull the lever for a Democrat–and that’s truer now than ever.

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  20. CSK says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Thanks heeps!

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  21. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    I don’t really get why people say stuff like that.

    Because these are dark times and one can get easily depressed, so some of us look for the lighter side to ameliorate the rest. I like to think the Trojans joked about the Acheans during the long siege.

    I don’t disagree with your assessment. Further, I’d posit that if a future GOP candidate died days before the election, he’d still win a lot of states.

    Trump won over the base and a few others, ergo he got the nomination. But I think against a candidate the bulk of the GOP didn’t hate, as was the case with Clinton, he would have lost badly, though perhaps winning a ton of states. Therefore I have some hope for 2020, especially if the GOP suffers a bad midterm loss.

    Better :)?

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  22. george says:

    @Kathy:

    I don’t disagree with your assessment. Further, I’d posit that if a future GOP candidate died days before the election, he’d still win a lot of states.

    I suspect they’d get at the minimum 90% as many votes as they’d get if still alive. As I’ve said many times (yeah, I know I’m getting to be boringly repetitive – I just can’t help myself), most people (as in 90% by polls) vote for the same party in every election through-out their life. So long as that dead candidate was wrapped in a team GOP shroud they’d still get those 90%, because those votes aren’t for the candidate or what the candidate campaigned on or believes, the votes are for the team. Sports team fans are extremely loyal, but I think political party fans outdo them.

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  23. Kathy says:

    @george:

    in one of his novels, Tom Clancy proposed that 40% of people will vote GOP and 40% would vote Democratic, even if they put Hitler or Stalin on the ballot. And that the remaining 20% decides the election mostly based on character.

    Heinlein counseled voting in every election, even if there was no candidate worth voting for. he claimed there would always be a candidate worth voting against.

    I think more people overall voted against Trump, but not enough voted for Clinton in a few crucial states.

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  24. Hal_10000 says:

    @Kylopod:

    Agree with most of that analysis, although it should be noted that things have shifted a lot. The South used to be entirely Democrat. The West used to be a Republican stronghold, including California. When I was growing up in Georgia, many people had only voted for one Republican in their lives — Nixon in ’72. The concern for the GOP has to be less about 2020 than about 2024 or 2028, when the young generation now — most of whom, even conservatives, despise Trump — come of political age. Then you could see a Democrat win in a landslide.

    One thing to note about Trump’s victory: he almost blew one of the most winnable elections ever. Dan McLaughlin pointed out that in post-incumbency elections (i.e., an election after one party had held the Presidency for two terms), the challenging party usually gains 5-10 points in the polls. So Reagan wins in a landslide, Bush wins comfortably. Clinton wins comfortably, Gore loses. Bush wins modestly, McCain loses, etc. Trump’s performance in 2016 was the worst post-incumbency challenge in history. He is the only post-incumbency challenger in American history to *lose* votes compared to his predecessor. That’s not even taking into account who he was running against. I keep saying this: a mainstream Republican like Rubio or Kasich would have won that election by 10 points or more.

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  25. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy:

    Because these are dark times and one can get easily depressed, so some of us look for the lighter side to ameliorate the rest.

    I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade. I’m just not sure how descending into comforting fantasies is helpful. I think it was part of how Trump got elected in the first place; Dems and others kept thinking “Trump is so obviously awful no one in their right mind would vote for him!” and that assumption led to complacency.

    P.S. I realized after writing my last comment that I made a slight error. I said 1964 was the closest Dems ever got to a full-state sweep. I forgot about 1936, when FDR won 46 of the 48 states.

    Of course we can’t know with any certainty what sorts of elections might happen many decades down the line. Maybe there will one day be a presidential election in which a Democrat carries every state. But I think anyone who truly understands contemporary American politics knows that nothing like that’ll happen anytime soon. Today, our model of a good, solid victory is Obama 2008, even though by historical standards it was rather modest. There is something to the fact that the last time Dems enjoyed a true landslide–1964–they still lost the five states of the Deep South, all of which voted for Goldwater by substantial and sometimes overwhelming margins (helped of course by massive disenfranchisement of blacks; in Alabama LBJ wasn’t even on the ballot, courtesy of Gov. Wallace’s efforts). In its own way I think that election presaged a lot of the dynamics of modern politics, where the states that go Republican go really Republican, and race still has a lot to do with it.

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  26. Kylopod says:

    @Hal_10000:

    Agree with most of that analysis, although it should be noted that things have shifted a lot.

    I know. See my latest response to Kathy for a more detailed response.

    One thing to note about Trump’s victory: he almost blew one of the most winnable elections ever.

    I agree, and I’ve been saying as much for a while.

    Trump’s performance in 2016 was the worst post-incumbency challenge in history.

    Excellent point.

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  27. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy:

    Heinlein counseled voting in every election

    Sidenote: I recently re-read a Heinlein teen novel and it held up much better than I expected. Yes, he wrote with all the unearned assurance of the typical engineer, but since I’m a typical engineer that didn’t bother me at all…

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  28. MarkedMan says:

    @Kylopod:

    I think it was part of how Trump got elected in the first place; Dems and others kept thinking “Trump is so obviously awful no one in their right mind would vote for him!” and that assumption led to complacency.

    This. Exactly this. In my first election ever I voted for John Anderson because I didn’t want Jimmy Carter to have a mandate and I was certain the American electorate could not possibly be stupid enough to elect a clown like Ronald Reagan. I’ve never made that mistake again and it is why I often felt like I was the lone voice on this blog decrying the general complacency that Hillary would win and everyone had to show they were no fan of hers, dagnabbit. She never polled 50%, much less higher, and to me that meant the few undecideds were going to break for the candidate they didn’t want to admit voting for.

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  29. Kylopod says:

    @MarkedMan:

    In my first election ever I voted for John Anderson because I didn’t want Jimmy Carter to have a mandate and I was certain the American electorate could not possibly be stupid enough to elect a clown like Ronald Reagan.

    My parents, who were born in the early 1950s, have told me that Anderson was the only non-Democrat they’ve ever voted for in a presidential election. But they were under no illusions that Carter was going to win a second term. They felt he was a failed president but they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Reagan, so Anderson, whom they liked, gave them a way out. And since Anderson’s share of the vote (about 6%) was significantly smaller than the margin separating Reagan from Carter, there ultimately is nothing for Anderson voters to feel guilty about.

    She never polled 50%, much less higher, and to me that meant the few undecideds were going to break for the candidate they didn’t want to admit voting for.

    That was my theory as well. I expressed it here in mid-Oct. 2016 in response to a poll supposedly showing Trump just barely ahead of Clinton in Texas. I noticed there was a whopping 16% undecided in the poll, and I wrote:

    I hate to throw cold water on this poll, but I suspect the undecided group is comprised primarily of Republicans who are unhappy with their party’s nominee, and if so, then it’s probable (though far from certain) that they’ll break for Trump in the end.

    Actually, it’s this factor that has worried me the most for several months–that a lot of the undecideds in the polls consist of Republican-leaning voters who are reluctant to support Trump but who probably will in the end.

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  30. Rick Zhang says:

    @Kylopod:
    I don’t think it’s quite that simplistic. Having lived in Utah and now Texas while a good friend of mine lived in Tennessee, I can safely say that the culture of “redness” in each state is quite different.

    Each side owns let’s say 1/3 of the voting public as its base. Now this group can be of different sizes depending on the state. That’s demographics. The centrist voters, who are generally pro-compromise, pro-business, good governance, live and let live types not terribly into fire breathing partisanship, can lean either way. In California, where I grew up, this type of voter reliably registered and voted D for as long as I can remember (I see Jerry Brown as the archetype). In UT and TX, voters with largely the same belief system as me are R. In TN, there are just too many evangelical Christians such that the R base is large. There is a small group of pro-business Republicans (Bob Corker) who I think are the Jerry Browns of their state. Kansas – split between moderates R and conservative R. Washington Ds – split between socialist leftist (Bernie voters) and educated techies/businesspeople (moderate Clintonites).

    Moderates everywhere largely have the same personal beliefs; I’m just surprised they register for and vote for different parties. This has implications for the national stage, where they’ll grumble about things come election time but in the end vote for their team.

    I’ve wondered why that is. The best I can come up with is history and inertia. With each state as its own silo, when thing start rolling one way towards one party dominance, moderate politicians, who are both pragmatic and self-serving, generally join the party that’s easier to get elected.

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  31. Rick Zhang says:

    @Hal_10000:
    Disagree. I’m on record as saying that I feared Trump more than Cruz (#2 at the time) in the GOP primary. This is because he’s the only one who can “rewrite” the electoral map by appealing to the Midwest. Romney had a chance, but Obama characterized him as the same old pro-business elitist who will outsource jobs that most GOP candidates fall into (save Reagan). I can’t see Kasich, Rubio, or Cruz being competitive in those areas. Trump by virtue of being so different and so populist, was able to appeal to the white working class in a way that no one else could.

    If Trumpism persists long after Trump leaves, it will be evidence of his political genius (or dumb luck) to campaign in a way that would radically realign American politics.

    This is also why I feel Ds should naturally move to the center and take over the ground vacated by Trump’s party. Claim the pro-business moderates and duty/honour Republicans like Bush, Kasich, and the authors on this site, all of whom value compromise, integrity, values, and ideas more than blatant partisanship. This will allow them to win TX, NC, GA, and possibly UT – all reasonably educated states that turned heavily against Trump as compared to say Bush Jr.

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  32. Rick Zhang says:

    @MarkedMan:
    The ironic thing is that McConnell and Ryan campaigned for Congress with the message “Vote us in to check President Clinton.”

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  33. Kylopod says:

    @Rick Zhang:

    This is because he’s the only one who can “rewrite” the electoral map by appealing to the Midwest. Romney had a chance, but Obama characterized him as the same old pro-business elitist who will outsource jobs that most GOP candidates fall into (save Reagan). I can’t see Kasich, Rubio, or Cruz being competitive in those areas.

    I think you are looking too narrowly at the candidates’ abilities to “rewrite” the map. You also are making it sound like a candidate will intrinsically perform the same regardless of the election year. For example, just because Romney wasn’t able to unseat a popular incumbent doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have done well in 2016.

    The elephant in the room is that Trump was the most unpopular presidential nominee in history. According to CNN’s exit polls, just 38% of voters registered a positive opinion of him, 60% unfavorable. The only reason a candidate that toxic was able to win was because his opponent Hillary Clinton was nearly as unpopular (43/55), so they both sort of canceled each other out on that front.

    Now imagine if the Republican nominee had been a more standard GOP candidate like Rubio or Kasich. They wouldn’t have had the staggering unpopularity problem, but Clinton still would have. Her ratings were already in the tank by Nov. 2015 and they would only get worse from there, largely without the help of Trump (who was mostly ignoring her at that point, focusing on his Republican rivals–I say this to forestall the claim I often hear that it was Trump’s vicious bullying attacks against Clinton that made her unpopular; there is simply no evidence for that). She’d still have faced the email controversy. She’d still have fainted from pneumonia. A Rubio or Kasich would probably have adopted the Bush “Swift Boat” strategy of acting above the fray while their goons would go out and do the dirty work–which, truth be told, is probably more effective than Trump’s habit of launching schoolyard taunts on Twitter. They’d also likely have run a much more disciplined campaign, with none of the infighting and meltdowns that characterized Trump’s campaign. I think any of those candidates would have acquired a lead over Clinton soon after emerging from the primaries, and it would only have widened from there.

    But what about the electoral map, you say? How is a Rubio or Kasich supposed to win over all those Rust Belt voters?

    First of all, there is a point where none of that might matter. If a candidate is leading by 3 or more points in the popular vote, they’re almost certainly also winning the electoral college. The states aren’t that independent of what’s going on nationally.

    Second, while Trump did do better among white working-class voters than previous Republicans, that’s a demographic that has been steadily moving away from Democrats since the 1990s. Romney didn’t do as well as Trump among this group, but he did better among them than McCain or Bush, winning them by 26 points.

    Third, Trump won Ohio by 8 points and Iowa by 10 points. That’s a big shift from 2012, but it’s too wide a margin to explain by WWC voters alone. Even if Trump had done no better than Romney among the WWC, he still would have won those states. Heck, he could have done somewhat worse than Romney among the WWC and he still would have won those states. The real reason for the shift was probably due more broadly to a Republican swing in those states after two Democratic terms.

    I will concede, though, that given the narrowness of Trump’s victories in PA, WI, and MI, it makes sense to think a different GOP candidate might not have achieved those victories. But there are several other states where a different GOP candidate would have probably done better than Trump. Trump massively underperformed in the Southwest compared to other recent Republican nominees. Remember, Bush in 2004 won Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado. I think all those states would have been in play under a GOP candidate who was less toxic among Hispanics, such as Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush. Furthermore, I think another Republican than Trump might well have won New Hampshire, which has long been the most Republican state in New England. I also think it is not at all certain that a Republican who didn’t push away so many suburban voters (one of the few demographics on which Clinton improved on Obama’s totals was among college-educated whites) would have lost Virginia, even with Kaine on the Democratic ticket.

    Ever since I’ve been having this discussion, I keep encountering Dems who say stuff like “Bull! Weenie-weak-ass candidates like Rubio or Jeb winning Virginia or NH or Nevada? Clinton would have crushed them!” Frankly, I think that’s just another version of the same denial Dems had about Trump. Clinton was always a lot weaker than most Dems were willing to admit (and let me emphasize that I’m not claiming this was fair or warranted), and it was reflected in their refusal to consider Trump’s possible paths to victory, but it is equally reflected in their refusal to consider the paths that other GOP candidates might have taken against a Democrat who would, without Trump in the race, been the most unpopular candidate in history, without an opponent who could cancel out that disadvantage.

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  34. Franklin says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    The Vice Presidency is actually not a great avenue to become President, unless you are banking on an assassin to help you out.

    Surely Pence has a better path to become President now than he did as an undistinguished governor whose claim to fame was allegedly promoting gay conversion therapy.

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  35. gVOR08 says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Pence is not the sharpest pencil in the pack by a long stretch. Of course, this is actually a plus to the billionaire boys club that currently runs Republican recruiting efforts

    From what I’ve read, Pence is, to steal a line from Charlie Pierce, even more a wholly owned subsidiary of the Koch Bros than Scott Walker. Whatever Pence is doing, presumably his Koch handlers have approved and are supporting it.

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  36. Pete S says:

    @CSK: I also believe that Pence figured if Trump won the election he (Pence) would become president within a year or so. That is looking like a bad bet.

    But there is another possibility too. Pence at the time was an unpopular governor in a somewhat red state. Did someone in the Republican Party have the strategic sense to convince him to join the Trump campaign? This had two benefits for the party – it brought them back the governorship of Indiana, and avoided sacrificing one of the people they would have seen as viable future presidential candidates (Haley?) in what at the time the leadership assumed was a lost cause of a presidential campaign. Perhaps the idea that Trump would win then get bored and quit was the bait that was used to get Pence to move.

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  37. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade. I’m just not sure how descending into comforting fantasies is helpful.

    Comforting jokes, not fantasies. I don’t believe them any more than any other kind of joke.

    I’m not sure whether many pro-Clinton voters abstained, or whether it was anti-Trump voters. Clearly Clinton had more support in the heavily blue states, which mattered little as far as electoral votes go.

    I was worried through 2016 that Trump could win, but only after he won the GOP nomination. Even then, I thought the few policies he made clear were not very Republican (well, now we know the root Republican policy is white supremacy).

    From the beginning, I thought him the silly season candidate. The infuriating thing is he is just the silly season candidate, nothing more. He gets people excited, for some reason (I find him revolting), and that’s all he can do.

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  38. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I haven’t read all of Heinlein. My favorites are “The Door Into Summer,” and “Friday.”

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  39. CSK says:

    @Pete S:

    Yes, I did menion the possibility that Trump would quit out of boredom. People with the kind of severely limited attention span that he has can’t function in a job that requires attention to and mastery of so much detail. He’s not equipped for the position either temperamentally or intellectually.

    And it’s very possible the party convinced Pence with that sort of lure.

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  40. grumpy realist says:

    @Kathy: The joke among SF geeks is that Heinlein used to write his manuscripts, then take out all the sex, resulting in brilliant novels. Unfortunately, in the later part of his life, he stopped taking out the sex….

    Basically, I’ve found anything after (and including) “Time Enough For Love” pretty awful. So I stick to Heinlein’s juveniles and earlier stuff.

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  41. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    During the lead up to the GOP convention, I read Kasich had been approached by one of Trump’s spawn and offered the VP position. According to this report, Kasich would get to actually run the country while Trump was “making America great again.”

    At the time I thought it rang true to Trump. Hire someone to do the actual work, while he could engage in rallies, speeches, Tweets, and otherwise be acclaimed by the base, leaving ample time for golf, cheeseburgers and “the shows.”

    But that’s clearly not what has happened.

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  42. CSK says:

    @Kathy:

    Yeah, that was Donny Junior. He told one of Kasich’s aides that Trump would put Kasich in charge of all foreign and domestic policy whilst Trump was out MAGAing.

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  43. george says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I’ve only read two of Heinlein’s – “Stranger in a Strange Land” I thought was good. Couldn’t finish “Time Enough for Love.” I’m guessing the divide you talked about happened between them?

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  44. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy: I was a huge Heinlein fan and had bought his teen novel “Starman Jones” for my son when he was 11 or 12, thinking he might like him too. Alas, telling my son “I really like this, you may too” turned out to be a sure route to that book going to the bottom of the pile, never to resurface again. He’s 18 now and when we were moving some stuff, the book popped out and I reluctantly decided to give it a read. “Reluctantly”partly because a lot of my re-discoveries have revealed some of my youthful enthusiasms as truly awful (“Highlander”. Couldn’t make it past the first ten minutes and both of my kids looked at me in horror that I had ever like it. Chef Boy-ar-dee Spaghetti and Meatballs in a can. From a recipe that was once based on food.) But also reluctantly because Heinlein in his later years definitely suffered from “Old Science Fiction Writers Disease”: wherein aging writers who spend too much time being adored at Cons end up bringing back all their old characters, putting them together via time travel, magic, alternate universes or some such dodge, and then have them screw.

    But in the event, I was impressed. Definitely a book written when a much larger percentage of the population were familiar with both rural life and the realities of the then recent Great Depression, and definitely written before teen novels had became basically a torture fest for their protagonists. But the first page or so where he sets up his main character, Max, is done in a true tradesman-like fashion, with an economy that uses just a few well chosen descriptions and no interior dialog in making you understand what kind of teen Max is, where he fits in his world, and what kind of story this is going to be. And in contrast to today’s works he doesn’t use allegories or extremes to outline the political and social problems but rather posits some trends continuing and stitches both the good and bad seamlessly into the overall narrative.

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  45. MarkedMan says:

    @grumpy realist: That sums it up pretty well. “Time Enough for Love”, if I remember correctly, was the turning point for me too. I remember thinking it had some good stuff intermingled with a lot of unnecessary exposition and truly embarrassing sex. The later stuff progressively changed that ratio for the worse.

    I should add that he also suffered from a related disease, the general “Successful Writer’s Disease” wherein a writer sells so well they don’t feel the need to listen to their editor any more, and that editor can’t threaten them with rejection. Long, long novels filled with self-aggrandizing drivel ensues…

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  46. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Rick Zhang:

    I’m just surprised they register for and vote for different parties.

    I don’t see the mystery at all. It’s a reflection of where the “edges” of the ideology are. In a state like Washington, the weighty fringe is leftist and pushes the center rightward (although not very far, Washington–particularly Seattle Metro–is pretty center left and Seattle Metro accounts for 40% or so of the total state electorate). In Oregon, Republicans are as loony as the Seattle leftists I grew up with and that weigh pushes the center toward Democrats. I suspect that it works pretty much that way most places with rightward institutional bias accounting for the remainder. The centerists who are undecided may be voting against rather than for most of the time, which can account for the same mind set pulling R or D depending on the political climate of the place.

    Living in Cowlitz county–70% or so GOP–I’m less likely to vote for a Republican than I was in Seattle–where I actually never voted for a Democrat all the time I lived there. Now in my case, it’s because I’m also contrarian, but, to paraphrase Dorothy, I’m not in Seattle anymore and things look different here, too.

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  47. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I should add that he also suffered from a related disease, the general “Successful Writer’s Disease” wherein a writer sells so well they don’t feel the need to listen to their editor any more, and that editor can’t threaten them with rejection.

    According to Asimov, Heinlein “suffered” from that disease since he first put pen to paper. Or at least he liked to pretend that he did.

    Asimov tells an anecdote in the 30s or 40s where he explained to Heinlein how he revised a draft. Heinlein replied with “Why don’t you get it right the first time?”

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  48. Rick Zhang says:

    @Kylopod:

    Good points. I will concede that other R candidates may have been more popular with the broader electorate, but probably in a way that replicates that 2004-2012 coalitions. That is, stronger in the south, SW and weaker in the Midwest as compared to Trump. However, with the advantage of hindsight, we see that Trump was not so weak that he lost AZ, FL, GA, TX, and NC but just strong enough to win MI, WI, PA. I think OH like MO and IA would have been lost to the Ds regardless of opponent, due to attitude shifts in the WWC (accelerated by Trump).

    The other point is that I don’t think the WWC which contributed to his narrow margins in the Midwest could have been as excited by a Cruz, Kasich, or Rubio. They would be seen as another pro-business run of the mill R. Trump was enough of a wild card who actively portrayed himself as a populist (opposing party orthodoxy) and campaigning with white grievance to win their vote. These voters, faced with Kasich vs Clinton, may well decide to stay home. The bigger question is that as pro-business as Hillary was and as unstable as Trump was, why didn’t more educated suburban Republicans and business types vote against Trump? Was it due to partisanship and historic partisan affiliation?

    Of course, this is my reading of exit polls and sense of the overall situation with the advantage of hindsight. But as they say, it’s all conjecture at this point. It’s entirely possible that that Kasich overperforms in the popular vote and loses the electoral vote, as much as it is possible that he gets tarred as “just another politician” by Hillary and, not being able to excite his base to turn out, loses even worse than Trump. Trump’s disapprovals were high, but we don’t know what Cruz, Rubio, Kasich would have had after being subject to negative ads. Also, by being “above the fray”, maybe Kasich et al would not have been as effective in tarring Hillary.

    I’m probably just coloured by my biases. I loved Hillary – more than Bernie, Obama, etc and could never understand why everyone else disliked her.

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  49. Rick Zhang says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    You’re probably right. Our reflexive instinct is to see the excesses of whoever is in power and vote against them. This means voting moderate R for local and state elections in CA, OR, WA, voting moderate D for the same in TX and UT, while generally voting D on the national level. The only exception is Jerry Brown. Despite one party dominance, I love the guy!

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  50. Kylopod says:

    @Rick Zhang:

    The other point is that I don’t think the WWC which contributed to his narrow margins in the Midwest could have been as excited by a Cruz, Kasich, or Rubio.

    But I think they (at least Rubio and Kasich–Cruz is more of a wild card)–would have made up for that loss in other states that Trump failed to win–New Hampshire, Virginia, Nevada, quite possibly Colorado and New Mexico. Any 2-3 of those states would have led to an EC majority, even without WI, MI, and PA.

    It’s entirely possible that that Kasich overperforms in the popular vote and loses the electoral vote

    Anything is possible, but I don’t think an EC/popular split is something we should ever expect by default; it’s only happened 4 times in US history, and it’s always fluky. If, say, Rubio or Kasich is winning 51% of the popular vote, it’s a virtual certainty they’re also winning the electoral vote. I mean, in theory I suppose it’s mathematically possible for a candidate to win a 60-40 landslide in the popular vote and still fail to win an EC majority, but in practical reality that’s never going to happen. The states are just not that independent of what’s going on nationally. That’s why it’s reductive and simplistic to talk about particular states as being defined by a particular demographic–WWC, suburban, Hispanic, etc. Every state contains multitudes of people–black, white, male, female, professional, working-class, and so on. And even within any demographic group, individuals have all sorts of motivations for voting; not every WWC voter in the Rust Belt is most concerned about manufacturing jobs and not every Hispanic voter in Arizona is most concerned about immigration. There are Hispanic Trumpists and WWC who love Hillary and everything in between. The bottom line: If a candidate loses, say 1 percent in the popular vote, it’s likely he’s also losing a comparable amount in most of the states.

    This is actually pretty obvious. I mean, imagine if Rubio or Kasich got 55% of the popular vote. Would you still be saying, “Well, they still might lose the EC because they can’t win in all those Midwestern states”? C’mon.

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