Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Denver Post – Hickenlooper Looks for Presidential Run Support

Governor John Hickenlooper has been shifting his political attention to Washington D.C. since 2016 when he competed to become Hillary Clinton’s vice president. As he closes out the last six months of his 13-year Colorado political career, the 2020 presidential election is his focus. Can he find some support among current and former fellow governors, the D.C. and New York media establishment, some of the belt way PACs and money handlers? The Democratic Party may have a need for an outlier with a strong economic track record, but is there any room in the candidate and issue space that appears dominated by the left-leaning resistance?

In a Denver Post column, I review his political strengths and weaknesses as he pursues his national ambition.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

“Diplotainment” in Helsinki – A Chorus of Boos

President Trump believes Helsinki was a great show: vintage Trump, celebrity actors, a world stage and nuclear holocaust at stake. But by the time he got Airforce One off the ground, the reviews came in and they weren’t good. They said he looked weak, he blamed his own country first, and he repeatedly praised the autocrat and sided with him against his own team.

Trump was surprised at the sweeping, speedy chorus of boos. “Diplotainment” had worked so well in Singapore. The script was to approach the event in a nonchalant fashion, hype the significance, then stage the handshake, the secret meeting, the press conference and rush to the airport to bask in the reviews. Unfortunately, after a few weeks, it became clear nothing significant will happen, without much arduous negotiation in a multitude of meetings, the end point and result undetermined.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea leader
Kim Jong-un at summit in Singapore, June 12, 2018 | Evan Vucci/AP
In Singapore, Kim Jong-un got his recognition as a world actor, he appeared reasonable, he gave up nothing discernable (the weak joint statement seemed to codify that), he improved his position with China and Russia, and he weakened the urgency of the sanctions regime.

The next Russian summit, which was just wisely cancelled, was launched in the same pattern – no preparation and no coordination within the U.S. government. The difference between Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin is that Putin, wily tactician, is working every day to weaken and divide the democratic West. What the West needs is a negotiator who is worried less about reviews and more about the results.

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold press conference
after their one-on-one meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018 | Photo RanttMedia

Read The Buzz: “Diplotainment” crashes in Korea

Trump Loses a Fifth of Republicans in Handling Helsinki

The latest CBS national poll shows only 32 percent of Americans approved of President Trump’s handling of the Helsinki summit. That is an exceptionally poor rating for a major foreign policy performance (Washington Post poll – 33%). An even bigger problem for Trump is that only 68 percent of Republicans approved his performance (66% in Washington Post poll). The history of Trump’s controversies suggests his approval rating won’t be affected, but the worldwide media coverage was significant and the broad judgement that his performance was weak may produce a longer-term effect.

Trump’s overall approval depends on about 85 percent of Republicans (87% in Washington Post poll), so Helsinki’s 68 percent is a loss of about 20 points of support, or about a fifth of self-identified Republican partisans. This drop-off highlights two facts. First, there are Republicans who can be persuaded to withdrawal approval of Trump’s behavior. Second, the Republican label is held by a variety of partisan groupings, including evangelicals, Tea Party, old-line establishment, forever Trump and never Trump to just name a few. For some, affection for Trump is primarily a policy preference (tax cuts, Supreme Court appointments) and an aversion to the alternative (Hillary Clinton most recently).

As the Helsinki approval table below (from Washington Post data) shows, Republicans only represent about a quarter of the electorate and Trump can ill-afford to lose any.


Other polls that show lower percentages of independents and more Republicans still require super majorities of Republicans approving Trump to maintain his anemic approval rating of 42 to 45 percent.

A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll graphically shows the Republicans’ vulnerability to Trump’s periodic missteps. Out of the 82 percent Republican support, they record 50 percent “strong” approval, but 32 percent “somewhat” approve (note: another 3% “lean toward” approval). Nearly two-fifths of the party is weakly attached to Trump. Those are the voters who could stay home or walk away from the party.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Political Fault Lines: Age, Gender, Race and Party

Colorado’s politics in 2018 are little different from the country. Voters are divided dramatically along great fault lines of gender, age, race and party.

A recent PPP poll of President Donald Trump’s Colorado approval rating highlights those gaps in public opinion. In the end of June poll, Trump had a 44 percent approval and 52 percent disapproval. As the table below shows, it is polarized along the fault lines of age, gender, race and party.


All of these gaps have been long documented in American politics, but each has become more pronounced, especially in the Trump era.

Party with a 68 percent difference is the most profound, with few partisans in the other party (Democrats) offering approval (12%). Republicans continue to approve of Trump at very high levels (80%). Although, an 18 percent disapproval among Republicans should be worrisome for the party.

The race/ethnic gap has been a fixture of U.S. politics since the 1960s, but the Hispanic/Latino community has only in more recent years become hyper-polarized. Trump, of course, has made ethnicity a repeated campaign issue from the day he announced to his most recent border policies. Only 15 percent of Hispanics/Latinos approve of Trump versus 50 percent of Whites. The sample did not have sufficient African Americans to make an observation, but national polls show their profound polarization.

Recent studies have cited gender polarization at all-time highs, and the 21 percent difference in Colorado is high. Only a third of women approve of Trump’s job performance, but more than half of men do (55%).

Finally, the age polarization between Millennials and seniors is dramatic. Trump draws support from older voters (50% approval), but has little from voters 29 years old and younger (only 31% approval), a 19 percent gap.

Polis Begins Campaign in Strong Position

Jared Polis | Photo: AP
Although as Julie Turkewitz reported in the New York Times shortly before the primary, the question is “just how far left this frontier state wants to go,” Jared Polis, the perceived “far left” Democratic nominee, begins his campaign in a good position. He is running in a state that has moved left the last decade, in a year Democratic enthusiasm is high and against a Republican nominee burdened with an unpopular president.

Polis’ campaign proposals are expensive and his 10 years in Congress will provide a wealth of
information for opposition research. So, a tough, in the trenches campaign can be expected, but as reported in this blogsite, The Buzz, the voter registration, party enthusiasm and presidential approval favor the Democrats.


Polis has never had a competitive general election where his reputation, political record and platform are truly tested. In spite of the Democrats’ 2018 advantage, Colorado remains a state with persuadable voters. Can the Republicans mount a campaign that makes the governor’s race competitive?

Monday, July 30, 2018

Benson Goes Out on Top

When asked, Bruce Benson thought he was probably the oldest college president working today. When he started his job ten years ago, he was among less than 5 percent of college presidents 70 years of age. Now, he’s among 11 percent. The job is tough, and colleges try to keep their successful presidents. Benson also represented the trend of non-academic college leaders skilled in state politics and fundraising.

Benson decided after 10 successful years to retire. CU has had an astonishing run under his decade of leadership. New buildings flood the four campuses. The Anschutz Center has become the tech center (bio) of north Aurora.

University of Colorado President Bruce Benson (R) and
Financial Chief Todd Saliman at CU Systems Services office,
Denver, Feb. 27, 2017 | Mark Leffingwell/Boulder Daily Camera
In a blog posted in January, I noted he had hit his second five-year mark and hadn’t slowed down. From 300,000 Twitter followers, to prodigious fundraising (a Benson specialty), he kept up the pace.

Benson’s CU activities have been just one of his life projects. As president of the Denver Zoological Foundation, he led the master plan build-out and his leadership of the Denver Public Schools Foundation was one of the key elements in initiating the District’s reforms and improvements. After his first 5 years, Benson was asked as he considered a second 5-year term as president: When would it be time to retire? With his usual uncompromising candor, he said:

“…seven, maybe it’s four,” he said. “You get older, you start sliding – am I as coherent as I was 10 years ago? No. Do you forget names more easily? Yes. But if I start slipping, I’m going to be the first one to notice it, and I’ll say, ‘Hey, guys, I’ll give you a year – you’d better find somebody else.’”

Benson’s energy calls to mind another hardworking Coloradan. His old political rival Roy Romer. Romer was 70 when he took over Los Angeles Unified School District, a seemingly impossible job, which after six years, he also received wide acclaim. The two of them made 70 look like the new 50.

Benson mentioned his wife, Marcy, in his retirement letter. She has been his partner and handles a host of causes herself. Colorado and CU has been very fortunate to have the energy of the Bensons.

Good luck on your next project, Bruce.

Read The Buzz:
Bruce Benson for governor?
Bruce Benson hits ten-year mark at CU

Webb, Big Smile, Is Still Optimistic About the Human Condition

Wellington Webb, 77, described his life and philosophy in a long Colorado Politics profile by Ernest Luning.

Webb, a tall, thin kid from Northeast Denver, always played above expectations. In his two toughest elections against Norm Early for mayor (1991) and Mary DeGroot for re-election (1995), he came from behind and beat the odds. One of his best assets was a great smile with an even public temperament. Webb puts people at ease, even while he’s promoting his loyal Democratic agenda and progressive politics.
Wellington Webb

Denver has been gifted with a long run of progressive, but pragmatic mayors, who, starting with Federico Peña in 1983, have used Denver’s landlocked but considerable assets to overcome white flight, old infrastructure and weak economies that have damaged so many core cities.

Webb inherited a new airport that he finished and opened. He managed the planning of Lowry and Stapleton, and most importantly, he vigorously promoted the Central Platte redevelopment with residential, commercial, recreation and just relaxing open space. These are major legacy projects.

Webb’s 12-year term from the early 1990s to the early 2000s was among Denver’s most productive. I said in the article “that disputes surrounding Webb’s administration have faded over the years.”

“The reason Denver isn’t a Cleveland or St. Louis or Detroit — a city that absolutely struggles — is we had a series of mayors who exceeded expectations and moved the city along,” Ciruli said. “Webb definitely pushed this city along to where it is today — one of the fastest-growing, strongest economies in the country. I put him in that pantheon of really great mayors this city has had.”