Thursday, August 3, 2017

Higher Education Facing Partisan Challenge

The public’s view on the positive contributions of higher education to the “way things are going in the country” has declined in the last seven years. Republicans in particular have turned negative on colleges’ and universities’ contributions to the country.

Decline of the Public’s Views
The public’s opinion of colleges’ and universities’ positive contributions has declined from 61 percent in 2010 to 55 percent this year. Much of the decline began in 2015. The public’s negative views increased 8 points during the last 2 years. The data was reported from a Pew Research poll released July 10, 2017. The poll was conducted with 2,504 adults from June 8-18, 2017.


Partisan Voices on Colleges and Universities
Partisanship is a major factor in the decrease in support for colleges and universities. There is a 36 percentage point difference between Democrat and Republican viewpoints on the positive contribution of colleges and universities to the country. Only 36 percent of Republicans have a positive view of colleges and universities, compared to a 72 percent positive view by Democrats. Few Democrats (19%) take a negative view, but a majority of Republicans (58%) do.


Republican Negative Trend
Partisan differences increased since 2015. Republicans’ positive viewpoints went into a steep decline starting in 2015, with support dropping 18 points in the last two years from 54 percent to 36 percent today.


News organizations have reported numerous stories with a negative slant toward higher education in recent years. The high cost of college, student debt loads and low graduation rates have been well covered. Recently, and of more interest to Republicans, have been stories frequently reported in conservative news sites of campus disruptions, takeovers of administrator’s offices, student protests of conservative speakers and an assertion of weak faculty and administrative responses. And, of course, conservative commentators often point out college communities’ consistent voting majorities for Democratic politicians.

Comparison of Colleges and Universities to Other Institutions
Although there has been a recent decline in the positive ratings of colleges’ and universities’ contributions to the country, Pew reports that at 55 percent positive ratings, colleges and universities are still above a host of other institutions tested.

Churches are slightly ahead at 59 percent, but labor unions (47%), banks (39%) and the news media (28%) are behind colleges and universities.


The reputation of colleges and universities is still high, but they face a host of challenging issues. The perception of higher education’s contribution to the country is important to its reputation and effectiveness, and although the recent decline is understandable, the key underlying issues need to be addressed.

Monday, July 31, 2017

DU and CU Are Highly Favored in Denver Metro Area

The metropolitan Denver public has a positive view of the University of Denver (DU) and the University of Colorado (CU) and they are closely matched in public opinion in the Denver area.

Overall Favorability
In a voter survey conducted by Ciruli Associates in 2016, DU received a 41 percent “very favorable” rating, followed closely by CU with a 37 percent “very favorable” rating. The total favorability ratings (combining “very” and “somewhat” favorable) were 74 percent and 73 percent, respectively. A few more people were unable to rate DU (22%) CU than (18%), and CU had a slightly higher negative rating (9%) than DU (5%).


County Ratings
One difference in perception of the two universities was their rating within individual counties in the seven-county metro area. Some of the variation is explained by differences in public awareness of the institutions and different negative ratings. DU had a 9-point negative rating in Adams and Denver counties. It was not well-known in Boulder (38%) and Douglas (32%) counties. CU had a high negative in Douglas County (19%) and was not well-known in Jefferson County (26%).


Partisan Ratings
Although there was a partisan difference, with Democrats more favorably disposed than Republicans, both institutions received high favorable ratings from each party.


Comparison with Other Organizations and Leaders
In comparison to other organizations and leaders in the metro area, the schools were in the high middle range of favorability. They were not as high as major cultural facilities, but higher than some sport teams and the Governor.


Both schools are well thought of during a time in which the public has generally low trust and confidence in most institutions.

The telephone survey was conducted by landline and cell phones with 600 voters in the seven-county Denver metro area in May 2016 by Ciruli Associates.

North Korea has Potential for War

North Korea may be the most likely place for the next war to break out. The American people are very concerned, and the Chinese military are ramping up activities along the 800-mile border to prepare for any crisis that might develop.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that 81 percent of Americans consider North Korea as a threat and nearly three-fourths (74%) believe there could be a full-scale war. (July 10-13, 2017)

Fox News reports that more than half (55%) of the public believes military force may be necessary to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. (July 16-18, 2017)

But actually going to war over North Korean weapons has only 51 percent public support and it is mostly through a partisan lens, with Republicans (73%) twice as likely to support war than Democrats (39%).


Partisanship also affected the public’s judgement as to President Trump’s ability to handle the crisis. Only 22 percent of the public said they had a “great deal” of trust in Trump handling the crisis, but 40 percent said they had “none at all.” Not surprising, there was major partisan differences, with only 4 percent of Democrats having a “great deal” of confidence in Trump handling a crisis, but 52 percent of Republicans were confident.

However, worry about a war was non-partisan.

Western States are Trump’s Strongest

A new Gallup poll of Donald Trump’s state-by-state job approval offers a few surprises. In spite of the wild ride of the first six months and the general decline in Trump’s approval rating to 40 percent and lower, a host of states have residents that give him approvals above 50 percent. Many of the 17 states that offer more than 50 percent approval are in the High Plains and Mountain West. In fact, more are in the west than the south.


Also, Trump gets better than his average (40%) grades in the states key to his victory: Michigan (42%), Pennsylvania (43%), Wisconsin (43%), plus Florida (42%), Iowa (43%) and Ohio (47%). Hence, Democrats still have a “Blue Wall” problem in spite of Trump’s controversies.

New England and the coasts dominate the states providing Trump’s lowest approval rating. Vermont is the home of Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts is the only state to vote for George McGovern.


Colorado with a 38 percent is one of the 17 states offering the lowest level of approval.


Can Coffman Be Beat?

Democrats clearly are planning on another major campaign against Mike Coffman in 2018. Four of them (now three) have already indicated they are running.

Why? Coffman’s track record in crushing well-thought-of and well-funded Democrats is beyond debate. In the 2014 off-year election, he defeated Andrew Romanoff by 25,000 votes and last November, as Hillary Clinton was winning his district, Coffman slammed local legislator Morgan Carroll by 30,000 votes.

But Jason Crow, the designated establishment candidate, is leading the field and appears to have the national party’s backing. He is dealing with carpetbagger issues, but likely will be able to manage it with a move into the district.

In an interview with the Aurora Sentinel’s Ramsey Scott:

Political analyst Floyd Ciruli said it’s hard to determine if a lack of residency in a district produces a drag on a candidate’s chances of winning an election given all the factors that go into an election. In cases like Ossoff and Andrew Romanoff, who moved into the 6th Congressional District to unsuccessfully challenge Coffman in 2014, the main result is it puts Coffman’s credibility as an Aurora resident front and center.

“(The issue) highlights Coffman’s strengths. Coffman is the district,” Ciruli said. “He has really established his bonafides as an Auroran in that district, and so consequently if you do live outside the district, it is a tremendous contrast between the two candidates.”

Trump Makes the Difference for Democrats

But Democrats are motivated by what appears to be the unprecedented low approval ratings of President Trump. The general rule is that approval ratings at or below 40 percent produce very significant swings in congressional races.

Gallup reports that Trump has 50 percent or higher ratings in 17 states and he is below 40 percent in an equal number of states.

Several states with the highest Trump ratings surround Colorado: Utah (50%), Wyoming (56%), Idaho (53%), Montana (56%), Nebraska (52%) and Kansas (53%). But Colorado at 38 percent is a part of Trump’s worst 17 states, with western states Oregon (38%), Washington (36%) and New Mexico (37%).

National Democrats believe if there is at least a 24-seat wave in their favor (they need 24 to win the majority) that Mike Coffman’s seat is likely to be one of them. Their calculation demonstrates the power of national thinking on congressional strategy because by Coffman’s local performance, he looks nearly impossible to beat.

Monday, July 17, 2017

WorldDenver Welcomes Young Leaders From Europe

Floyd Ciruli led a discussion with fifteen young leaders from Europe sponsored by the U.S. Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program. WorldDenver hosted the event and approximately 40 of its members joined the discussion.

After two weeks of visits with U.S. officials and issue experts, the leaders’ questions still focused on President Trump, his foreign policy moves, and the future of the Democratic and Republican parties. The general assumption was that America will be in a hiatus of international leadership for the near future. The group offered the following observations:
  • Merkel was in a very strong position for re-election
  • Merkel and Macron are likely to take lead on host of EU issues
  • Macron was a phenomenon, much like Trump, in his sudden rise and dominance of the French system
  • May now has a fragile majority, but is in charge of the start-up of Brexit negotiations
  • Greens are a larger political group in many countries than far right
  • The Ukraine is still a major challenge for Europe and U.S. leaders
  • The EU has had a respite from overt attack, but faces major challenges and turmoil. Nationalist and populist sentiments remain strong.



British Leave Hong Kong in 1997 – Independence on Way Out 20 Years Later

One of the reigning theories of Western foreign policy since the Nixon era opening to China (1971) was that commerce and contacts would foster a Chinese evolution from authoritarianism to a more pluralistic society. Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997 was wrapped in a “One Country, Two Systems” rhetoric that made it the model of what the evolution could produce – namely, independent courts, an efficient civil service and a free, competitive press.

But China’s evolution under Xi Jinping is toward more centralization and authoritarianism with liberalization seen as a threat. Unfortunately, democracy in Hong Kong in recent years has not performed well in providing for critical municipal improvements for transportation, housing and land development, and education. Rather, political energy has been focused on procedural voting issues for the city’s chief executive. But China has made clear that neither the process nor the city’s policy will become more democratic or independent. Hong Kong’s local political gridlock has allowed Beijing to argue that democracy is a flawed and failing system.

During Xi’s first Hong Kong visit to the swearing-in of the new Beijing-favored chief executive, he made clear that the future of Hong Kong was an internal matter related to China’s sovereignty and security.

Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects Hong Kong garrison of the
People’s Liberation Army in Hong Kong, June 30, 2017 | Kim Cheung/AP

The future of Hong Kong’s democratic features and favored status will be greatly influenced by the test local democracy is facing. Can it reconcile its resistance elements to the more Beijing-leaning governing class and address basic problems or is decline of effective governance and quality of life its future?

Trump is the 40 Percent President

Seventy days after celebrating his first 100 days in office, Donald Trump still holds at about 40 percent approval rating. In spite of the Russian investigation, a lack of progress on health care legislation and dozens of grudge tweets, his overall approval has changed little since the April 31 measure, which was 43 percent.


But, a solid majority of Americans still believe he is only marginally fit for office. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, Americans were asked about Trump’s leadership qualities. His rating on honesty and trustworthiness, knowledge and experience, and temperament range from more than two-to-one to five-to-one “very poor” over “very good.” More than half (52%) of the public do not believe he has the right temperament for the job.


However, Trump has not lost his core Republican supporters. They believe he is mostly producing change and helping the economy. He is already running for re-election with a laser-like focus on jobs in the Midwest. And the Democrats have not had a successful 70 days with the Russian investigation out of the news and losing a series of replacement House elections.

Foreign Policy Disruption Has Costs

Donald Trump’s foreign policy is disruptive. There have been bouts of isolationism, protectionism, nationalism, and shifting allies and alliances in America’s history, but the breadth and depth of change in the administration’s first 165 days has been astounding. Disruption may have benefits, but it definitely has costs, and Trump witnessing some of the blowback at the G20 Summit in Hamburg.

Not surprising, Trump is especially unpopular in Europe. In fact, attacking Trump is an essential election strategy in Germany and appreciated by voters in much of the continent. Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are organizing a European position at the summit on global issues of importance to them, such as climate change, trade and the rule of international law, each in contradiction with Trump’s position and perceived preferences.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron
in Berlin, June 29, 2017 Markus Schreiber/DPA/Zuma Press
The latest Pew Research Worldwide survey shows Trump’s weakness with European public opinion as he goes to Hamburg.

A massive shift of 51 percent in “no confidence” in Donald Trump from the end of Barack Obama’s term in just the first five months of his presidency in a 37-nation survey just published. In G20 allied countries, Trump has especially negative ratings.

Allies Germany, France, United Kingdom, Japan and South Korea have 50 to 80 point drops in confidence from Obama to Trump. Neighbors Canada and Mexico also don’t have confidence. Mexico wasn’t that high on Obama either. Only in Israel and Russia of the 37 countries tested did Trump receive more public confidence than Obama.

Trump will find that his G7 lectures in June are less welcomed and his policy views on the defense in Hamburg.

The Pew poll also showed America First and the policies it represents are not particularly popular (leaving climate accord – 71% against, withdraw from trade agreements – 72% against, build a wall with Mexico – 76% against). Trump himself is seen as arrogant (75%), intolerant (65%) and dangerous (62%). But, he also is seen as a strong leader (55%) and charismatic (39%),

Trump and Vladimir Putin are close in their confidence rating at the low end, with Putin at 27 percent and Trump at 22 percent.

Although negative public opinion will not necessarily disrupt long-term relationships, allies support and international solidarity will be much harder for the U.S. and President Trump to achieve.

The Boundaries of Recreational Marijuana

A panel of polling experts convened at the national conference of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and reviewed the shifts in public opinion and successes and failures of marijuana legalization. National and California pollsters were represented. I provided a description of Colorado’s five-year experiment with recreational marijuana legalization and some of the emerging boundaries of public acceptance.

Presentation description:
Colorado is one of the oldest marijuana adopting states. But, acceptance of recreational marijuana is neither uniform nor universal. More than half the cities and counties do not allow retail sales and most of the public does not want expansion of sales.

Each year for a decade, pro-marijuana legalization advocates rallied on April 20 in downtown Denver for a public smoke-in. But as the mayor of Denver and the Denver Post recently said, the party may be over. Their main point is that the drug is legal and a protest rally is irrelevant and counter-productive. The gathering itself, besides requiring strong police presence and park cleanup, reminds a lot of Coloradans what they don’t like about the legalization. Public smoking shows contempt for the law and dramatizes the constant effort to advance more usage. And, of course, the backdrop is that the new Trump administration is hostile to legalization and considering how to step up enforcement. The following editorial appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette, June 11, 2017, and reflects the AAPOR presentation.


Colorado Springs Gazette
Limitations of state’s legalized marijuana
By Guest Columnist
Sunday, June 11, 2017
By Floyd Ciruli

Colorado is often cited as the bellwether of America becoming a marijuana nation. With our legalization of medical marijuana in 2000, and of recreational marijuana in 2012, we helped open the floodgates to what has become a national movement. Continue

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Another British Surprise Election

Conservative British Prime Ministers should stop calling elections. The Brexit referendum cost Prime Minister Cameron his position and this latest snap parliamentary election has ended Theresa May’s political clout, although she may remain in office for now.

Once again, the British polls missed the full late surge of Labour, although they captured the race closing. In my blog of June 7, British ElectionDraws Closer, I cited what most British pundits now agree were the major causes of the upset:
  •  May’s poor campaign performance, Corbyn’s new style and anti-austerity proposals
  •  Conservative election platform problems, Conservatives lost control of the narrative
  •   A still divided electorate and anti-establishment attitudes
Post-election polling data and results refine those general observations with the following:
  •  The youth vote, which failed to show up in the Brexit vote, came out in strength for Labour. They were mostly anti-Brexit and Labour offered a soft Brexit position (keep as many ties as possible, less harsh on immigration). May offered a hard exit from the EU. They also liked Labour’s anti-austerity positions.
  •  The Brexit fight may be over in terms of leaving the EU, but the disagreements on how to do it are just beginning.




Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Three Reasons Trump had Two Different Trips

Both the optics and the reaction to President Donald Trump’s nine-day trip to the Middle East and Europe highlight that there was, in fact, two very distinct outings. Even Trump made clear how much he enjoyed the Riyadh and Jerusalem visits and was bored and uncomfortable in Brussels and Taormina.

The trip’s dissimilarities corresponded to Trump’s different values, preferences and approaches.

Un-Obama and Obama 
World leaders at the G-7 summit | Reuters
As described in a previous blog, Staging the First 100 Days from The White House, much of what Trump does is to reverse Barack Obama’s policies, rhetoric and actions. The Middle East was the perfect platform to be the “un-Obama.” Obama’s policies toward Iran, Syria and Israel were not liked by most of the major players in the region. Trump reversed them. In Europe, Obama was mostly appreciated, at least west of the Danube. Germany, France, Italy and Brussels shared Obama’s global and high-minded values and mostly supported his restrained policies. Trump’s hostility to the climate change agreement inverted Obama’s position and it won him no admiration.

Bilateral and Multilateral
Trump is a bilateral negotiator. He doesn’t do groups. NATO and the EU are complex and collaborative. He likes the simple single-party deal. The Saudis and Israelis were generous hosts, and he brought arms to the Saudis and anti-Iranian rhetoric and much symbolism from sword dances to wailing walls. In Europe, he was only one of many following in a golf cart.

Autocrats and Democrats
Trump is more comfortable with kings, dictators and leaders with very secure majorities who operate autocratically. The politicians of Europe often depend on coalitions to govern and regularly attend to democratic politics. Trump prefers the royals.

President Trump holds a sword and says with traditional dancers during
 welcome ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 20, 2017 | Evan Vucci/AP
As a nationalist, Trump has some support in Eastern Europe, but little in the West. His emphasis on sovereignty and lack of interest in human rights fits well with the Middle Eastern states’ preferences, but his hostility to established alliances and regional governance was an anathema in Brussels.

Like a royal, Trump dislikes press conferences. It’s harder and more obvious to avoid the press among peer presidents, chancellors and prime ministers than it is among kings and autocrats. This was nine days with the press at bay and an unprecedented trip without a conference.

The Beer Hall Awakening

Angela Merkel has finally had enough of Donald Trump and “America First.” After two generally hostile meetings with Trump and especially his worst behavior at Brussels and Taormina, she told her party stalwarts at a Munich beer hall rally that:
“Recent days have shown me that the times when we could rely completely on others are over to a certain extent,” Merkel said. “We also know that we Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands. . . . It became clear at the G7, when there was no agreement with the USA, how long and rocky this path would be. I think it was good not to gloss over the differences,” she added.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer
sit in a beer tent, May 28, 2017 | Sven Hoppe/AFP via Getty Images
Most of her colleagues west of the Danube would agree. In fact, new French President Emmanuel Macron practically armed wrestled the always aggressive Trump and later declared:
"Donald Trump, the Turkish president or the Russian president see relationships in terms of balance of power. That doesn't bother me. I don't believe in diplomacy by public abuse, but in my bilateral dialogues. I won't let anything pass.
He said that a leader must show that they will not ‘make small concessions, even symbolic ones’ or over publicize their achievements."
President Donald Trump shakes hands with French President Emmanuel
 Macron during a meeting in Brussels, May 25, 2017 | Evan Vucci/AP
Chancellor Merkel is campaigning. Trump is highly disliked by the German public and its elites. Her opponent, a social democrat, makes attacking Trump one of his main campaign strategies. Trump is seen as somewhere between dangerous or a buffoon in the capitals of Europe. Of course, like in America, there are blocs of nationalist leaders and publics that identify with his views. But, they are not dominant in the West.

The upshot of this awakening is that American foreign policy objectives that even slightly misalign with European interests could come in for condemnation, including in the U.N. Security Council. Also, expect Europe, especially Germany, as Merkel articulated, to start thinking seriously about an independent defense – indeed Trump is helping make NATO obsolete.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Korbel School Sponsors Second Session on Trump Presidency – The First 100 Days

Dean Christopher Hill and Crossley Center Director, Floyd Ciruli, teamed up to present an assessment and discussion on the First 100 Days of the Trump administration. A record crowd of 280 filled Maglione Hall on May 1 for the two hour session.


The talk was the second sponsored by the Korbel School since the extraordinary election of Donald Trump. On November 9, the day after the election, Hill and Ciruli presented an early deconstructed what happened and offered some initial predictions.

In this latest talk, the high and low points of Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office were assessed, especially as related to foreign policy.

Several blogs on the main topics discussed have been posted on the Crossley Center site:

Election Dashboard, 6-1
How About the French Transition, 5-24
The EU Get a Boost. Next Up: England, Germany and Italy, 5-24
French Nationalism Now the Main European Opposition to Globalism, 5-24
Lavrov and Trump Meeting as Comey Fired, 5-15
Four Reasons Trump Fired Comey, 5-15
French Nationalism Hits a Wall: Not Good News for Putin and Trump, 5-15
Obamacare Repeal Passes, But Fight Over Replacement Just Begins, 5-9
Flip-Flop or Flexible? Trump First 100 Days, 5-15
Staging the First 100 Days From the White House, 5-12
Pre-100-Day Polls in on Trump: Not Good, 5-12

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Election Dashboard

Although it is more than a year and a half until the next congressional elections, Washington, D.C. is watching the calendar early, mostly due to the chaos of Trump administration’s start-up. House Republicans are worried about holding their majority and Democrats are busy recruiting candidates.

Democrats need 24 House seats and 3 in the Senate. Both goals appeared unlikely after the November elections, but the beginning of Donald Trump’s second 100 days brings early speculation that Democrat could take both houses.

We will begin regularly publishing the 2018 political Dashboard to quantify and comment on the status of the congressional races, which are likely to be the most watched and analyzed in recent history. Control of Congress, especially the House, will not just decide the Trump and Republican legislative agenda, it may decide Trump’s survival as president. Bills of impeachment are in drafting, with many of the particular charges already identified. It is no doubt premature, but it reflects the President’s vulnerability and the Democrats’ passion.

The elements of the Dashboard are: presidential approval, congressional approval, the generic congressional ballot test, direction of the country, and the number of seats Democrats and Republicans need or enjoy respectively for a majority.


The President’s approval is at a record-low for this early in a term. There are more than 500 days until the November 2018 elections, but now is the time for recruitment and fundraising. Democrats have been benefiting from post-election activism and Obamacare rage. Now, of course, the White House and Trump’s performance are energizing them.

The RealClearPolitics presidential average rating is 40 percent approval and 54 percent disapproval, a 14-percent negative spread. And, the polls of the last few days have uniformly been below 40 percent.


The campaign for the House has already begun with heated town hall meetings for Republican incumbents and Democratic support organizations buying ads in 23 House Republican districts where Hillary Clinton won last year, including Colorado’s Mike Coffman’s 6th district. He won in November by 7 points, while Clinton was carrying the district by 9 points. Coffman voted against the Republican AHCA repeal and replacement legislation.

Democrats also need to defend 12 seats that Trump won, but with Trump’s low approval and the Republicans’ AHCA legislation having only a 25 percent public approval, it’s Republicans who are the most concerned.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How About the French Transition?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R)
greets visiting French President
Emmanuel Macron in Berlin 
on May 15, 2017 | Xinhua/Shan Yuqi
The first round of the French presidential election was April 23, the second round 14 days later on May 7 and the transition completed on Sunday, May 14. It was a simple ceremony at the Élysée Palace, a speech by the new president and the brief ride down Avenue des Champs-Élysées in a military vehicle. A wreath was laid and President Macron went to work.

One day later, he was in Berlin building an essential relationship with German Chancellor Merkel. Nice transition – less money spent and time wasted and no arguments about crowd size.

New French President Emmanuel Macron waves from a military vehicle as 
he rides on Avenue des Champs-Élysées towards the Arc de Triomphe
in Paris, France, May 14, 2017 | AP Photo/Michel Euler, POOL

The EU Gets a Boost. Next Up: England, Germany and Italy.

With the victory of Emmanuel Macron, the EU gets a moment to reconfigure its future. It would be wise not to waste time. European electorates are in considerable stress with far-right and far-left movements adopting nationalist, anti-EU positions to compete with old center parties.

The next European elections are as important as Brexit, Trump and Macron. Prime Minister Theresa May wants to strengthen a governing majority in Great Britain for EU negotiations. Chancellor Angela Merkel must renew her five-year mandate. She represents the dean of world globalists, and with the new French president, the essential partner in preserving the EU. And finally, the most troubled Mediterranean EU member, Italy, will likely have an election in 2018. It could put an anti-EU populist party in control. Italy’s parliamentary election isn’t set yet. It’s likely to be in mid-2018 and the Eurosceptic Five Star Movement could be the largest party.


Nationalists and Eurosceptics continue to have clout. They control the Polish government and are a force in Britain, France, Austria and various parts of Eastern Europe. In fact, a snap election has been called in Austria due to the instability of old governing coalitions and politicians.

Although Ms. Merkel’s party appears well-positioned to be the dominant player in the September 24 election, this will continue a government that has lasted 12 years, a very long run in current European politics. Her challenge comes from the center-left more than the far-right.

French Nationalism Now the Main European Opposition to Globalism

Although the National Front, the main French party representing anti-immigrant, anti-EU sentiments, lost the presidential run-off; the anti-global position in France continues to grow. Marine Le Pen received 21% of the vote in April’s French first round election, but the total of right and left anti-global parties equaled nearly half the total vote (49%).

She increased her vote share 13 percent in the second round run-off to 34 percent. Hence, a third of the French electorate supports an extreme nationalist party, a steady increase from 2002 when the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, received just 18 percent.


The party (which may be renamed) is also now the leading opposition to Emmanuel Macron’s globalist position. Will nationalist elements of weakened left and right parties join it or can the Republican, Socialist and Communist parties reconstitute into viable alternatives?

The National Front post-election strategy is likely to affect the next steps in development of French
Marine Le Pen | Michel Euler/AP
nationalism. But, the new government will also shape the party’s development. If Macron fails to build a working parliamentary majority or if his solutions disappoint, the National Front and its allies will likely benefit.

Even in losing, the National Front has repositioned French politics from a left-right continuum to a nationalist-globalist framework, although ideologues are more flexible than fixed today. As the second largest party in the second most populated country and largest economy in Western Europe after Germany, the National Front is now the vanguard of the continent’s nationalistic movement.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Lavrov and Trump Meeting as Comey Fired

Just as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak conferenced with the President at the White House, the Russian cyber-attack investigation was dominating the airwaves with the FBI Director Comey firing.

Good news for the Russians in short term. The President reaffirms his commitment to build a relationship with Russia in spite of the Russian hacking investigation of the U.S. election. In longer-term, the firing will keep the issue in the news and in political turmoil. Vladimir Putin’s strategy here and in France is producing considerable blowback. It’s empowering political enemies and making it difficult for friends.

Putin personally requested a photo shoot between Trump and the Russian team. In fact, it was only covered by Russian media, which Trump allowed as he kept U.S. media at bay. In other words, in spite of Putin’s hostile intervention in the U.S. election, he managed to self-extol on Russian TV. What a master strategist he is!

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, President Donald Trump and
Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak meet in the
Oval Office, May 10, 2017 | Alexander Shcherbak/TASS via Getty

Four Reasons Trump Fired Comey

Four reasons stand out for President Trump’s May 9 firing of FBI Director James Comey. These are based on Trump’s words, previous behavior and the logic of the timing.
  1. Trump was angry Comey didn’t exonerate him of his ties to the Russians related to the 2016 campaign. In fact, Comey refused to answer the questions and cited an ongoing investigation. Trump believes the ongoing investigation is a hoax and waste of resources. Tellingly in the firing letter, Trump claims he was told on three occasions there was no connection between him and the Russian investigation. If true, probably a violation of FBI procedures, but at least confirming evidence Trump is most concerned about the investigation.
  2. Trump was angry that Comey didn’t back up his claim that the Obama administration wire tapped him. Trump would have accepted most any vague statement as validation, but Comey was definitive that there was no spying on Trump by Barack Obama.
  3. Comey failed to focus sufficient attention on what Trump believes is the greatest threat to the nation – leaks. Trump made clear leaks should be the FBI’s priority, not Russia.
  4. Comey was high-profile and on the Hill much too high. As Steve Bannon can attest, don’t get more famous than the boss. Comey’s position was excessively useful for ambitious Senate and Hill members that wanted good hearing news coverage. Better to bring in someone with less history or knowledge of the Russian issue.
 Notice Hillary Clinton is not a reason.

President Trump shakes hands with former FBI Director James Comey | Getty
 

French Nationalism Hits a Wall: Not Good News for Putin and Trump.

Emmanuel Macron’s two-to-one victory over Marine Le Pen (66.1% vs. 33.9%) is a major defeat for Le Pen’s international supporters.

She and her party, the National Front, have long- and well-established ties with Vladimir Putin. They have received loans from Russian banks, she opposed Russian sanctions and she was pictured with Putin in a highly public visit in February. Macron repeatedly claimed Russia’s propaganda and anti-democratic machine was trying to damage his campaign. They are suspected to be responsible for the final hack of Macron’s campaign communications.
 
 
Ms. Le Pen at a conference in January in Germany joined her fellow nationalists to celebrate Donald Trump’s victory and his Steve Bannon-inspired Inaugural address. Most recently, she expressed reservations about Trump’s policies in Syria (interventionist, anti-Russia), but Trump was clear in his preference with his unsolicited tweets.
 

Behind the scenes, Bannon has been a fan of Le Pen and strongly supports the nationalism movement across the continent. Trump has been strongly pro-Brexit, predicted more withdrawals from the EU and hails as his good friend Nigel Farage, the Brexit leader, in Great Britain.

Ironically, Trump’s poor international image and “America First” pronouncement and policy are damaging his goal to help nationalist allies. In fact, Trump’s “America First” and generally anti-EU, anti-NATO rhetoric and behavior, which is as heavily reported on in the continent as here, contributed to the consolidation and support for center left, pro-EU candidates.

Russian elites, at some point, may conclude Putin’s strategy of cyber and propaganda warfare with the West is counterproductive.

Is Maduro Near the End?

Hunger is widespread, children are suffering from starvation, and hundreds have died in street protests. Statutes of Hugo Chávez are being torn down. Music icon, Gustavo Dudamel, says “enough is enough.” The urban and rural poor finally joined the protests.

The Bolivarian Revolution is collapsing and the army will soon have to decide: Does it continue to defend President Nicolás Maduro and fight the population or is change near – a coup or otherwise. The recent Latin American history of military officers escaping prosecution for crimes against their own population is not good.

The likelihood Maduro will die peacefully in the Presidential Palace or relaxing at a Venezuelan coastal resort seems remote.

Options for leaders who are about to leave office under duress:
Exile – Escape into exile with friends in Cuba or Nicaragua, sort of a reverse Batista and Somoza.
Arrest – Arrest like Slobodan Milošević or Hosni Mubarak.
Death – The streets can be dangerous as Muammar Gaddafi can attest. Nicolae Ceauşescu and Benito Mussolini were attempting escapes, but didn’t make it.

Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro dances with first lady Cilia Flores
during a rally to support the closing of the Colombian border, in
Caracas, Venezuela,  Friday, Aug. 28, 2015 | Ariana Cubillos/AP

Flip-Flop or Flexible; Trump First 100 Days

President Trump has run into checks and balances, not just the constitutional restraints built into the system, but the full-range of limitations on executive actions that are part of the American political culture. From the Judiciary (9th Circuit), to Congress (Freedom Caucus), to his cabinet contradicting with him and the permanent bureaucracy leaking, to our foreign allies disagreeing him, the media’s intense coverage and even polls.

Donald Trump appears to realize how much more difficult the political system is compared to what he’s used to when he told Reuters last week, “I thought it would be easier.” And the AP, “I didn’t realize how big it was…every decision is made harder than you normally make.” Not quite the same as commercial real estate.

The President has come to see how complicated many policies are. He has referenced the complexity of health care and the Korean stalemate after listening to President Xi’s description of China’s relationship and history with North Korea.

One typical reaction of most politicians is to blame the rules. And Trump has called congressional rules “archaic,” and in his view, the filibuster needs to go. The White House is floating breaking up the 9th Circuit and changing liable laws.

But another reaction is to adjust. And so NATO is no longer obsolete; China is not a currency manipulator. Janet Yellen is beloved and respected and NAFTA should be negotiated not terminated.


We do not know the back story of many of these shifts. Some may just be reversals of Trump’s penchant for not well-thought-out declarations. But many reflect advice and experiences that show a White House and President dealing with very complex problems in a not always friendly world. His critics call them flip-flops, he calls it flexibility.

Most of the shifts are good news.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Staging the First 100 Days from the White House

Donald Trump staged the first 100 days from the White House, except for a few trips to his winter retreat at Mar-a-Lago and campaign style forays. After 100 days, the Trump White House operates much as it did in its earliest days. Some describe it as a family-run commercial real estate firm. The distinctive features of the first weeks are captured in an early picture of the President signing the Executive Order to proceed on the XL and Dakota Access pipelines. The days were filled with drama, much of it around the Resolute Desk and, although there was a variety of participants in the room, there was always a cameraman, and initially the early photos were dominated by the campaign team hovering in the background.


The major features of early White House decision-making highlighted by the Resolute Desk stage:

Flat decision process. There is no chain of command. Trump is the star, he decides. Chief of Staff Preibus has some staff, but clearly he doesn’t control access or the agenda.

Centers of conflict. There are numerous power centers defending turf and viewpoints. Competition between nationalist Steve Bannon vs. globalist Jared Kushner is the highest profile conflict, but Preibus has his turf, Kellyanne Conway has hers.

Stay close to the desk. Trump is a mercurial man who tends toward the provocative and the impulsive. If you want to defend a position, an initiative or a space, stay close to his desk. The last person who talks to him often has the most influence.

Keeping the promises. Keeping campaign promises is an obsession with the Trump team. Bannon is in charge and has the list on his wall; he checks off accomplishments, or at least some action. That means that some of the most divisive and least popular campaign promises are high on the White House agenda, such as the wall and travel ban. But, it also means the campaign, with all its bad attitude and mean rhetoric, has moved to the White House.

In addition, the campaign for 2020 has started. The Pennsylvania rally had placards that said “Promises Made, Promises Kept” and TV advertising extolling the 100 days is starting.

‘Un’Obama. Finally, much White House activity is driven by being the ‘un’Obama. From the Inaugural argument over crowd size, to staging a picture of the national security team watching the Tomahawk Missile strike on Syria outdoing Barack Obama’s Bin Laden picture, this White House spends considerable time contrasting itself to Obama. But it also means that Obama is blamed for the need for or the failure of every action. “Obamacare is a disaster; look at the mess I inherited; this is the worst deal in history.” From Syria, to Iran, to the travel ban, to General Flynn’s security clearance, Obama was at fault.

Of course, all presidents do it to some extent. Herbert Hoover was a Democratic punching bag for four decades. Obama mentioned George W. Bush repeatedly as he reversed various foreign policy initiatives, but the volume and repetitiveness of it was minor compared to the barrage of criticism today.

The first 100 days have had some success, but it has mostly been characterized by a lack of preparation, acting precipitously and disorder. Will the second 100 days be the same as the first? Clearly the White House is improving its operations. The leaks are down and there appears more calm, but Donald Trump is the star and the decider, so it’s very much going to be based on his personality and preferences. We shall see.

Pre-100-Day Polls in on Trump: Not Good

President Donald Trump | Getty
ABC/Washington Post, NBC/Wall Street Journal and Gallup released polls over the weekend that showed President Trump has failed to improve his poor approval rating during the first 100 days. In fact, his ratings declined after a weak start and remain in the cellar.

Although Trump cherry picked a couple of positive numbers, he declared, in general, they were “fake news.”

Unfortunately for the poll sensitive President heading into his 100-day report card, more than half the public disapproves of his performance, and his approval at slightly more than 40 percent is below even the weak general election vote he received (46%). Of the biggest concern among national Republican leaders is the flat trend line, even with a White House receiving saturation coverage and a few popular items being accomplished, including the Neil Gorsuch confirmation and the missile strike against President Assad in Syria.



Although Trump holds his core base of voters, they are less than a third of the total electorate. His other advantage at this point is the Democrats are even less popular than Trump and Republicans.


Nonetheless, he is still described by the public as seriously lacking the judgement (41% yes has judgement, 56% no), and personality and temperament to be president (38% yes has temperament, 59% no) (ABC/WP). In terms of the first 100 days, most people say Trump was “off to a poor start (45%) or a “fair start” (19%). Only one-third of the public (35%) said he was “off to a “good or great start” (NBC/WSJ).

See:
Politico: Trump blasts recent approval rating polls as “fake news”