Posts Tagged candidate

Winners and Losers


One of the many quirks of our political system is that each year there are winners and losers among politicians whose names are not actually on the ballot.  This year is no exception.  Neither Governor Tom Wolf nor State Senator Scott Wagner was up for election this year, but results of the balloting sent their career paths in opposite directions.

Governor Wolf has had a tough first two years in office dealing with a Republican-controlled legislature. His efforts to dramatically expand government spending, and to implement the historic tax hikes needed to pay for that agenda resulted in the longest budget stalemate in state history.  Legislative Republicans won.

Tuesday voters rewarded the GOP with even larger legislative majorities. Democrats in the state senate are now on life support.  Two Democratic incumbents were defeated by challengers; a third Democrat seat went Republican after the incumbent gave up several months ago and resigned from the ballot.  Combined, the three seats give Republicans a 34-16 edge and something rarely if ever seen in state government: a veto proof majority.

Meanwhile, across the rotunda in the House of Representatives Republicans saw their already historically high majority expand by three seats as four incumbent Democrats and one incumbent Republican lost.  The Republican pick-ups came in southwestern Pennsylvania which has been trending toward the GOP for several election cycles.  In fact, the most endangered species in Penn’s Woods might well be the non-urban legislative Democrat, with only a handful of Democratic lawmakers representing districts outside of the state’s urban cores.

All of this matters because next year’s state budget battle is shaping up to be even tougher than the first.  Republicans caved into Governor Wolf’s spending demands this year, but failed to fully fund the budget.  That coupled with revenue sources that either never materialized or have failed to meet projections presages a major fiscal fight next year.

Not only have Republicans added to their numbers, but this year’s legislative elections moved both chambers further to the Right.  Moderate state senators like Cumberland County’s Pat Vance and Lancaster’s Lloyd Smucker have been replaced by far more conservative legislators.  The continued drift of the House GOP caucus from moderate southeastern dominance to conservative central and western Pennsylvania influence means tougher sailing for those wanting to raise either taxes or spending.

Governor Wolf also saw his agenda rejected in another race; that the battle for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat.  The Democratic nominee, Katie McGinty, was Governor Wolf’s first chief of staff and architect of the tax and spend plan that triggered the epic budget battle.  Incumbent U.S. Senator Pat Toomey made hay of that effectively painting McGinty as out of touch with the financial needs of average Pennsylvanians. He won, she lost.

How then do the fortunes of one state senator rise on all of this? Senator Scott Wagner was an establishment pariah when he ran for an open seat in York County in 2014.  Shunned by his own party Wagner accomplished an historic first in Pennsylvania: He won a special election on a write-in defeating both party nominees.

The upstart senator has quickly gained clout and was tapped by his colleagues to lead the Senate Republican Campaign Committee.  The SRCC as it is known is tasked with recruiting, funding and electing Republicans to the state senate.  After playing a major role in helping to win several seats two years ago, Wagner effectively recruited candidates like Senator-elect John DiSanto of Dauphin County who upended Democratic incumbents last week.  Much of the credit for the senate’s now veto-proof majority goes to Wagner.

This is important because Scott Wagner has made no secret of his desire to run for governor in 2018 and is widely expected to announce his candidacy within weeks.  Having built a strong senate majority gives him a leg up both on the Republican nomination and on a grassroots organization for the battle against Tom Wolf who is expected to seek re-election.

Thus the 2016 election has set the stage for the beginning of the next big electoral battle in Pennsylvania. Political fortunes have risen and fallen. And the never ending cycle of campaigns has already begun anew offering no respite for weary voters.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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What’s My Line?


There is an old television game show entitled “What’s My Line?” The game featured celebrity panelists questioning contestants to determine their occupations.  Let’s play a Pennsylvania version of the show: Who are Otto Voit, Joe Torsella, John Brown, John Rafferty and Josh Shapiro?  The answer is they are all currently running for statewide office in Pennsylvania.

Next question: Can you correctly identify the office for which they are running?  The answers are Voit and Torsella are running for state treasurer; Rafferty and Shapiro for attorney general; and John Brown, along with incumbent Eugene DePasquale are running for auditor general.

When it comes to statewide offices in Pennsylvania it is either feast or famine.  This year’s ballot will feature a veritable buffet for voters from President of the United States to U.S. Senate to the already mentioned three statewide constitutional offices. But next year statewide politics goes on a strict diet with only appellate court seats on the menu.

Voters respond accordingly.  Turn-out for the 2012 election topped 58% in Pennsylvania.  The following year, 2013 sported only one statewide race – a seat on the state superior court – and voter turn-out plummeted to less than 17%.  As a side note, that 2013 judicial race was won by Victor Stabile who has the distinction of being the only Republican to win a statewide election in the past four years.

In 2012, President Barack Obama powered a sweep of statewide offices as Democrats were elected state treasurer, auditor general and attorney general. It was the first time since attorney general was made an elected position back in 1980 a Democrat won that office. Four years later, however, former Attorney General Kathleen Kane and former state Treasurer Rob McCord have been convicted of high crimes and await sentencing.  Auditor General DePasquale, it should be noted, has served scandal free.

Corruption in these statewide constitutional or “row” offices is unfortunately not uncommon in Pennsylvania.  Former state Treasurer Barbara Hafer was recently indicted for alleged improprieties dating to her time in office.  Going back a bit further, former Auditor General Al Benedict and former state Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer were convicted of crimes. Benedict admitted his guilt, Budd Dwyer died proclaiming his innocence.

Of course it is impossible to know whether or not a candidate will be honest in advance, but it is clear the currently system has not provided voters with the opportunity to learn enough about the candidates.  While tens of millions will be spent on this year’s U.S. Senate race between Pat Toomey and Katie McGinty, candidates for the row offices will likely be lucky to have a couple of million to present their credentials to voters.

It is unreasonable to expect voters to pay attention to who will be state treasurer, auditor general or attorney general in a year when a presidential campaign dominates the news.  You aren’t going to see Otto Voit and Joe Torsella on the front page of the paper every day – in fact they’ll be lucky to be in the paper at all.  And no television station is going to go live and lead from an appearance by these candidates.  Many voters will go to the polls not even knowing their names, much less with a full understanding of their credentials and plans for the offices they seek.

This will continue to be the case for however long these offices are filled in a presidential election year.  So here is a thought: move the election of these three offices to the year following the presidential election.  In the four year cycle of elections the “off year” following presidential balloting is the lowest profile year.  Only statewide appellate court seats are on the ballot, and – except for home rule counties – there aren’t even county commissioner races to capture voter interest.

By moving the election of the treasurer, auditor general and attorney general to the off year they would become the marque races.  The news media could devote more attention to the candidates.  Fundraising would be easier.  Party activists could devote more time to their campaigns. Voters would be able to focus.  They would go from being a side salad in the electoral buffet to the main course.

With a brighter spotlight on these offices we would hopefully end up with more voters at the polls, and fewer of the officials elected in jail.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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Veepstakes: Trump & Clinton Weigh Options


Now that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have effectively secured their respective party’s presidential nominations, attention has turned to whom they might select as vice presidential running mates.  This is an important decision in that eight times in American history a president has died in office elevating the vice president to the presidency.  Another six times a vice president ran for and was elected president.

The U.S. Constitution proscribes few official duties to the vice president, with being president of the U.S. Senate – and thus able to cast tie-breaking votes – the most important.  The impact of vice presidents has varied greatly.  John Nance Gardner, one of Franklin Roosevelt’s vice presidents, famously said the office was “not worth a bucket of warm . . . ,” well he made his point.  Conversely, Vice President Dick Cheney was a political heavyweight in the administration of George W. Bush.  In short, the office is what the president and vice president make of it.

Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, so there has to be something about which to speculate.  Over the next four weeks that speculation will focus on the selection of vice presidential running mates.  As their first major decision, who the nominees pick will say a lot about how they intend to run their prospective administrations.  The choice, of course, also depends on the immediate political situation.

For example, as one who has never held elective office Donald Trump might want to pick someone with government experience.  His statements to date tend to point in that direction.  As a result, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Ohio Governor John Kasich make the list.  However, Trump is possessed of an out-sized personality and might want to pick a bland running mate who will fade into the background, placing U.S. Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Sessions of Alabama on the list.

If Trump believes it necessary for his vice presidential pick to help him politically, he could follow the example of Ronald Reagan, who picked primary opponent George H.W. Bush to help him unify the party.  Senators Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio would fit that bill.  With Democrats running a woman at the top of the ticket Mr. Trump could seek to add diversity by picking a prominent GOP woman.  That is why former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appears on many lists. Sarah Palin, who was tapped by John McCain as his running mate in 2008, also figures prominently in speculation.  Palin would also help solidify the party’s conservative base, as would former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has fewer options.  Republicans have decimated Democrats at the congressional and state levels over the past eight years yielding a shallow bench from which to select national candidates.  Here again, the first question Mrs. Clinton must answer is will her pick be a governing partner, or one who shores up her political standing.

The Democratic presidential primary proved to be more hotly contested and divisive than expected at the outset.  Senator Bernie Sanders tapped into a large vein of discontent within the party and Secretary Clinton’s first goal must be party unity.  Her recent meeting with ultra-liberal Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren resulted in rampant speculation there could be an all-female Democratic ticket.

Or, Democrats may wish to try and cement their standing in the rapidly growing Hispanic community.  Julian Castro, the former Mayor of San Antonio and current U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development is a rising star within the party and would fit the bill.  She too could go the route of choosing a governing partner, perhaps tapping former rival Martin O’Mally, or Virginia Senator Mark Warner.

Warner would have the added benefit of bringing a strong base of support in a battleground state, which is another route either candidate could go in making their selection.  There was a time when the vice presidential candidate was expected to help win a key state, one of the reasons why John F. Kennedy picked Lyndon Johnson of Texas in 1960.  That has been less the case in recent years.

In fact, vice presidential candidates rarely make a significant impact on the outcome of a presidential election.  The single most important factor is that the pick does no harm.  The Thomas Eagleton disaster in 1972 and the disruption caused when George H.W. Bush selected Dan Quayle in 1988 come to mind.  As Trump and Clinton make their decisions, that factor must weigh heavily.

All these questions will be answered next month. Until then, the guessing game will continue.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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It’s the Delegates, Stupid


As the lengthy presidential primary and caucus season moves into its end stages the electorate is beginning to realize that winning delegates is more important than winning states.  The value of delegates is rising in both the Democratic and Republican contests as Bernie Sanders’ victories fail to translate into delegates and the GOP race has become so fragmented a contested convention is now a very real possibility.

Not since 1976 have Americans witnessed a contested convention.  When the GOP met in Kansas City that year incumbent President Gerald R. Ford entered the convention just short of having a majority of delegates.  He ended up beating Ronald Reagan for the nomination before losing the General Election to Jimmy Carter.

In recent decades presidential nominating conventions have been little more than three or four day infomercials.  The primary and caucus system determined nominees well in advance of the conventions which then were heavily scripted to establish campaign themes and play to a television audience.  As a result voters have lost sight of the fact that primaries and caucuses do not pick the nominee – delegates do.

That is not to say voting in a primary or a caucus doesn’t matter.  It does as many delegates are bound – at least on the first ballot – to the outcome of a primary or caucus win.  Most, but not all, will be so encumbered.  But, should it take more than one ballot many of those delegates become unbound and are then free to vote for whomever they choose. There are also “super delegates” on the Democratic side: party officials who are not bound to any specific candidate, and uncommitted delegates on the Republican side who are similarly unfettered.

The race for the Republican presidential nomination began with 17 candidates competing creating an environment which raised the potential for a contested convention.  Looking at the math it will be difficult for any candidate to secure a majority of committed delegates prior to the convention, but Donald Trump and Ted Cruz still remain mathematically viable.  Ohio Governor John Kasich has been mathematically eliminated, but is pinning his hopes on winning over delegates in a contested convention.

As if this were not confusing enough for the average voter, Pennsylvania Republicans will face a challenge when they step into the voting booth on April 26th.  The first step is simple enough: voters can cast their ballot for the presidential candidate of their choice.  The winner of the statewide presidential primary will then get 17 at-large delegates committed to him on the first ballot in Cleveland.  If the convention takes more than one ballot to arrive at a nominee, those 17 may then vote as they see fit.

Now for the complicated part: Three delegates will be elected from each of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts.  The names of the delegate candidates will appear on the ballot, but the word “uncommitted” will appear under each.  This means the voters will not be able to tell by looking at the ballot for whom each delegate candidate is committed – or if they are committed at all.  Thus, to make your vote really matter you must go into the polls knowing not only which presidential candidate you will vote for, but you must also know which delegate candidates are supportive of your presidential candidate.

Some delegate candidates say they will vote for whichever presidential candidate wins their congressional district.  You therefore have no way of knowing whether or not that delegate candidate will support your choice for president until after all of the votes are counted.

Presidential campaigns will be working to elect their delegates, but this year’s primary requires voters themselves to do a bit of homework before going to the polls.  To effectively support a presidential candidate the voter must vote not only for that candidate, but also for three delegates pledged to him.  And they must know who those delegate candidates are before going into the polling place, otherwise their delegate votes are a shot in the dark.

Famed political consultant Jim Carville once put a sign on the wall of Bill Clinton’s campaign headquarters that read: “It’s the economy, stupid.”  That was to keep the focus on the campaign’s central message to voters.  This year the presidential primary in Penn’s Woods will actually matter.  We can update the old Carville saying to: It’s the delegates, stupid.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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Governor Wolf Posts 82% Disapproval Rating


Malaise: Business Owners Turn Deeply Negative

Governor Wolf posts 82% disapproval rating

Governor Tom Wolf, who owned and operated a mid-sized business before running for office, has become enormously unpopular with his former peers posting the second highest negative rating for a governor in the 20-year history of the Keystone Business Climate Survey.  The September poll of business owners and chief executive officers found 82% hold a negative view of the governor’s job performance while 12% say he is doing a good job.

The governor’s budget proposals lie at the heart of the business community’s disapproval. Eight-one percent say the Wolf tax and spending plans would harm Pennsylvania’s business climate, 64% say they would do significant harm.  Further, Wolf gets the lion’s share of the blame for the budget impasse.  Fifty-eight percent say the budget stalemate is the governor’s fault, just 6% blame legislative Republicans.  Another 32% say both the governor and the legislature are to blame for the lack of a state budget.

Business Climate

One year ago, for the first time since the Fall of 2004, more of the business owners/CEOs participating in the survey said that business conditions in Pennsylvania had gotten better (20%) during the preceding six months that felt it had gotten worse (19%).  By last Spring those number had slipped significantly into negative territory with 13% saying business conditions had improved and 33% saying the state’s business climate had gotten worse.  In the current (September 2015) survey, 42% say the business climate in Penn’s Woods got worse over the past six months, 6% say it has improved.

Optimism for improvement of the state’s business climate in the coming six months has faded since last Spring.  Only 6% expect business conditions to improve headed into the new year, down from the 12% who expressed optimism last Spring.  Those who expect the business climate to get worse rose from 44% in March to 49% in the September survey.

Employment levels are also slipping.  Fifteen percent of the owners/CEOs said they have increased the number of employees in their business over the past six months, 21% said they now employ fewer people.  Looking ahead, 14% plan to add employees in the coming six months, 16% expect to have fewer employees.

Sales are also down.  Twenty-eight percent of the businesses participating in the survey say their sales have decreased over the past six months, 27% say sales are up.  There is a bit of optimism for the future, however, as 25% project an increase in sale over the upcoming six months while 18% are bracing for a decrease.

State Issues

The ongoing state budget impasse remains a top issue. Governor Wolf has put the biggest proposed tax hike in the nation on the table, the Republican-controlled legislature refuses to go along. Owners/CEOs participating in the Fall 2015 Keystone Business Climate Survey are not willing to see a resolution of the budget stalemate at any cost. Ninety percent said they do not want a new state budget if it will result in a significant increase in their taxes.  Nine percent say they are willing to pay significantly higher taxes if it would result in an immediate budget resolution.

Education spending is one of the sticking points in the budget.  Governor Wolf is demanding significantly higher spending.  But the poll found business owners disagree with the need to spend more on K-12 public education.  Forty-four percent say the state already spends too much on public education and another 30% feel current spending levels are about right.  Twenty-two percent agree with the governor that too little money is spent on education.

There is strong agreement with the Republican legislative position that the public education pension system must be reformed before any increase in spending is approved. Eighty-seven percent see pension reform as a prerequisite to spending more on education, 10% disagree.

Looking at the budget generally, 69% agree that any resolution to the state budget impasse must include a plan to privatize Pennsylvania’s state-run liquor store system.  Twenty-two percent do not link liquor privatization to a budget resolution.

Asked which statement most closely describes Governor Tom Wolf’s budget proposal 45% said it is a significant increase in spending, 21% identified it as the biggest spending increase in state history and 15% correctly identified it as a tax and spending increase greater than that proposed by all 49 other states combined.  Two percent termed the budget a “modest increase” in state spending.

By some estimates Pennsylvania spends about $700 million a year on individual grants or tax breaks to certain companies or industries. Such grants are viewed by some as “economic development,” by others as “corporate welfare.”  Thirty-two percent of the business owners/CEOs said such grants should be eliminated entirely and taxes reduced on all businesses.  Eleven percent favor the elimination of such grants with the savings used to balance the state budget.  Forty percent would reduce, but not eliminate economic development grants, and 4% think more money should be spent on such projects.

Job Approval Ratings

Eighty-two percent disapprove of the job being done by Governor Wolf, up from the 70% who held a negative view of the governor in the March 2015 poll.  That number is the second highest disapproval rating for a governor in the 20-year history of the Keystone Business Climate Survey surpassed only by the 86% negative rating received by Governor Ed Rendell in September of 2009. The only elected official with a lower job approval rating that Governor Wolf is President Barack Obama. Eighty-eight percent of those participating have a negative view of the President’s job performance, 10% view him in a positive light.  U.S. Senator Pat Toomey received a 47% positive job approval against a 28% negative rating.  U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. didn’t fare as well, 64% disapprove of the job the senior senator from Pennsylvania is doing, 15% approve.  The business leaders are also not pleased with the job being done by federal fiscal officials.  Forty-four percent disapprove of the job being done by Federal Reserve Board Chairman Janet Yellen, 21% approve.  U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is viewed negatively by 42%, while 11% approve of his job performance.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is under indictment for allegedly leaking secret grand jury information.  Sixty-eight percent disapprove of her performance in office, 8% approve.  However, 43% say she should not resign from office and is innocent until proven guilty.  Forty percent think she should resign and 10% want her to be impeached.

Legislative chambers continue to be viewed negatively by the business owners/CEOs.  Only ten percent have a positive opinion of the job being done by the United States Senate, 15% approve of the job being done by the U.S. House of Representatives.  The state legislature fared better: 31% approve of the job being done by the Pennsylvania Senate, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives earned a 34% job approval rating.

Presidential Race

Business community support for presidential candidates closely mirrored current nationwide polls. Donald Trump leads the pack at 26% followed by Dr. Ben Carson at 23%.  Carly Fiorina registered 7% followed by Ted Cruz at 7% and Scott Walker (who has since exited the race) at 6%.  The rest of the field, including all of the Democratic candidates, scored at 5% or less.

Methodology

The Fall 2015 Keystone Business Climate Survey was conducted electronically between September 14, 2015 and September 21, 2015.  A total of 324 business leaders responded.  Of those 80% are the owner of a business; 14% are the CEO/COO/CFO; 2% a local manager and 1% a state manager.   Twenty-nine percent of the respondents have businesses based in southeastern Pennsylvania, 21% in southcentral Pennsylvania, 17% in southwestern Pennsylvania, 9% in northwestern Pennsylvania, 7% in northeastern Pennsylvania, 5% in the Lehigh Valley, and 5% each in north central Pennsylvania and the Johnstown/Altoona area.  Complete numeric results of the poll are available at www.lincolninstitute.org.

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A New Way Forward


There is an old saying that battle plans are effective until the fighting starts.  That is true in politics. Once the campaign actually begins anything can – and usually does – happen.  This explains why establishment favorite Jeb Bush is being over-run by Donald Trump and a socialist senator from a small state is giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money.

At this stage of the presidential race in 2008 conventional wisdom held that the General Election match-up would be a contest between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Guliani.  Four years ago, Herman Cain held a commanding lead in the polls to take on incumbent Barack Obama.  Clinton, Guliani and Cain all failed to win their party’s nomination.

Trump and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders would appear at first glance to have absolutely nothing in common.  Trump is the embodiment of free enterprise having made billions in real estate and other ventures; Sanders is an avowed socialist. But there is a common thread: each has tapped into the deep tide of discontent with the malaise that has engulfed both our domestic economy and foreign policy.  To be sure Trump and Sanders prescribe diametrically opposite solutions, but the feelings of discontent run strong on both the Left and the Right.

The challenge for Republicans, and especially for conservatives, is to present a path forward that will be both realistic, yet appeal to the nation’s desire – as Trump puts it – to make America great again.  The only certainty is that the old approach has failed.  Milquetoast nominees like Mitt Romney and John McCain spouting establishment rhetoric inspired nobody and resulted in the ideologically driven presidency of Barack Obama.

Conservatives are viewed by many voters as heartless money grubbers willing only to cut spending and kick the “lesser of these” to the streets.  But a new approach is emerging, with a presidential candidate and a think tank president leading the way.  In their own way, they have laid the ideological groundwork for a message that more accurately reflects the conservative heart.

The Conservative Heart is a new book by Arthur C. Brooks who is President of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.  The stated purpose of the book is to challenge “the liberal monopoly on fairness and compassion.”   And Brooks does just that by explaining how free enterprise and conservative solutions have lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system known to man.

Rick Santorum, the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania and 2012 GOP Presidential runner-up is known primarily for his outspoken positions on social issues.  But, it is on economic issues where Santorum actually may have the most impact.  He too has written a book, Blue Collar Conservatives, in which he argues that conservatives must talk about the “blue-jeaned” worker as well as the CEO.  Santorum argues: “Conservatives give the impression they are unconcerned about the millions of hurting and vulnerable Americans” and concludes “Our country needs opportunities for all not just the financiers on the East Coast or the high-tech tycoons on the West.”

All of this, according to Brooks means we must change the focus from the Left on equalizing the “finish line” to placing emphasis on “making the starting line more equal for the vulnerable by improving education, expanding the opportunity to work, and increasing access to entrepreneurship.”  And for him, that includes fighting “cronyism that favors powerful interests and keeps the little guy down.”

Powerful interests, of course, abound in both political parties.  But they are small in number compared to the “blue collar conservatives” to which both Santorum and Brooks argue the GOP must appeal.  It would be a bold new approach and a departure from the past.  But having lost the last two presidential elections, for conservatives and for Republicans a departure from the past would be a good thing.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is permitted if author and affiliation are cited.

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Trump Card


It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a summer romance turns into a permanent relationship.  That may be the case with Donald Trump whose summer surge has propelled him to the front of the herd seeking the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination.

Conventional wisdom (which is often wrong) for weeks has put Trump in the same category as Herman Cain, Michelle Bachman, Newt Gingrich and others who four years ago took turns rocketing to the top of the polls only to fall and be replaced by the next candidate who caught the voters’ fancy.  But that race also featured the formidable campaign operation of Mitt Romney who played an electoral version of wack-a-mole to pick off anyone who gained traction against him.  This year no one – yet – appears capable of taking down Trump.

At first Donald Trump appeared to be just another passing fad.  He is a commanding presence and used his celebrity to launch his campaign feeding the narrative that this was just another PR ploy.  But there is an old adage among public speakers that to get people to hear your message you must first get their attention.  Nobody is better than Trump at getting attention, and now he is delivering his message.

The Republican Party establishment, mainstream news media and even the conservative punditry all initially wrote Trump off as a side show.  As Trump whipped off a series of decidedly not politically correct broadsides against illegal aliens, John McCain, and Meghan Kelly, the tongues wagged that he had gone too far and was set to implode.

The implosion never happened.  Instead, Trump has risen in the polls the most recent of which show him suddenly competitive in the General Election against the once-invincible candidate who is imploding, Hillary Clinton.  Trump, it seems, can – and does – say whatever he wants and voters flock to him.  He has almost literally pushed the other 16 candidates off the stage.  On a recent night both Trump and Jeb Bush hosted town hall meetings in New Hampshire.  Trump spoke before a raucous crowd of over 2,000; Bush talked with a couple hundred people many of whom appeared to be borderline comatose.

Trump has succeeded in becoming the dominant figure in the 2016 Presidential race because he has refused to play by the rules.  And that is a good thing because the rulebook has been written by the Left and by design puts Republicans in general and conservatives in particular on the defensive.  Trump refuses to be defensive – he is always on the attack.

Accuse Trump of flip-flopping on issues?  No problem, the rules don’t apply.  Accuse Trump of insulting women?  No problem, the rules don’t apply.  Accuse Trump of insulting illegal aliens?  No problem, the rules don’t apply.  The political class says he is a passing fad? No problem, the rules don’t apply.

It has become crystal clear Americans of all political stripes feel the nation is off track and someone has to, as Trump would put it “make America great again.”  That is the nature of Bernie Sanders’ appeal to the Left, and Trump’s appeal to GOP voters. The difference is Sanders’ policy solutions won’t play with a broader swath of the electorate.  But with Trump voters see an ultra-successful businessman who has gotten things done and they believe he can make good on his promise to lead the nation back to greatness.

So Trump has again succeeded where all others have failed.  He has the attention of the voters, and is putting forth solid – if controversial – policy solutions.  But winning a presidential nomination requires an extensive organization that collects a majority of the delegates who will assemble in Cleveland the summer next.  That is Trump’s challenge: converting popularity into delegates.  He also must overcome the fact that while he leads the race, more voters have a negative opinion of him than those who have a positive one, making it difficult to build upon his base of support.

Trump, of course, is accustomed to building things.  His current project is a mammoth hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. midway between the Capitol and the White House.  If he can capitalize on his current front-runner status, Donald Trump may acquire some additional real estate a few blocks down the street.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.   His e-mail address islhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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