Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Trump Decides Immigration is a Winner for the Midterms

President Donald Trump has decided that hard-right rhetoric with no compromise on immigration will be a winner in the midterm elections. It is a bold and risky strategy, but it is in alignment with Trump’s views and his political strategy from the day he announced in June 2015.

Mexican immigrants and a wall launched his drive for the Republican nomination and it immediately gave him 15 percent of the vote – a strong spot in the early running. It was his call to ban Muslims that catapulted him to the front of the field in December just as the primaries started. Immigration has also produced the administration’s greatest controversies, from the travel ban the second weekend in office, to the family separation policy after 520 days in office. But, he has never wavered in harsh language and tough politics.

Trump: “I think I got elected on that border.” Democrats are 
for “weak, weak borders.” (Speech on November 6, 2018)

Steve Bannon, jettisoned from the White House but always happy to gather some attention for his ethno nationalist theories, points to the growing impact of immigration on western democracies (today, it’s leading to a crisis in Germany) and its contribution to the rise of populism and nationalism in Poland, Hungary and Italy.

Steve Miller, Trump’s domestic policy enforcer on immigration, argues there is much upside on the hardline position and little downside. The zero-tolerance stance is red meat for the base and supported by super majorities of Republicans, and it cuts off the potential critics like Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh and Breitbart.

Specifically, Trump’s adoption of hard-right policies has the midterm advantage of exploiting the two facts that have most empowered Trump in the age of polarization: hostility to the “other” and attacks on the “messenger.” Trump expertly keeps what aggravates his base front and center: Democrats, immigrants, Hillary Clinton and Maxine Waters. In today’s political climate, people are not attracted to vote for positive reasons, such as tax cuts or deregulation, but negative reasons – to fight the other side, the other people and the unknown. The media is at the bottom of the pyramid of respect for institutions. Its focus on the sympathetic aspects of the border crisis makes it a useful foil for the President and his allies.

Will his strategy hold the House and win some seats in the Senate? Trump calls it the “Red Wave.” It’s going to be a long and ugly campaign.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Millennials Are Coming

Millennial voters are flooding into the electorate and will after 2020 be a greater voting bloc than the all-powerful Baby Boomers who have so long dominated. They are more liberal and their full cohort of 75 million will be voting age if they choose to vote. One reason there is doubt as to the Democrats’ blue wave this November is because the young Millennials may sit out 2018 to wait for a more interesting or inspiring presidential election.

But, Millennials are already having impact. A new wave of under 40-year-old leaders in democracies and dictatorships are shaking up the system.

Blue Wave or Just a Ripple?

The recent primaries and national dashboard are sending mixed messages on the blue wave. The presumption, based on history, has been that Democrats should be able to pick up at least the 24 seats they need to retake the House and get the Speaker’s gavel back.

And although President Trump’s approval rating remains historically low, it has improved from last fall when it was at 38 percent (negative 18%).

In addition, the generic congressional spread, which was double-digits in favor for the Democrats last fall, is now 8 points and has been as low as 3 in the last thirty days.

The general sense is that the political environment that so favored the Democrats the last year has shifted to a more neutral position, still favoring the Democrats, but offering them less comfort.

Possibly the best recent poll was conducted by Anthony Salvanto and his team at CBS who are polling in 64 competitive or likely competitive congressional districts. Their latest survey showed the Democrats winning 219 seats, one more than needed to win the House (of course, there is a margin of error). Republicans liked the economy and disliked immigration. Democrats worried about health care and disliked Trump.

The most recent primaries also offered ambiguous signs for Democrats. Although Democrats avoid a lockout in several California congressional districts, in 5 out of 7 they received less than 50 percent of the primary vote, increasing a likely tough race in the November general election.

The conclusion of this analysis is that, as of June 1, Democrats have some modest advantage based on the historical precedence of voters wanting to reign in a new presidency and a highly polarizing chief executive, but the battle for the House will mostly be waged seat by seat.

Flood of Initiatives Trying to Get to Colorado Ballot

Colorado in recent years has been attempting to limit the volume of initiatives going to ballot, especially changes in the state constitution. In 2016, voters passed Amendment 71, which requires a super majority for constitutional amendments (55%) and signatures to be collected throughout the state. The latter requirement was ruled unconstitutional. But, Amendment 71 has not slowed a mass of initiatives from being filed or heading to signature efforts (98,492 required in 2018).

More than 150 initiatives were filed in 2018, and as of June 1, the legislature put six constitutional amendments on the ballot and at least six more, including several constitutional amendments, are seeking signatures.

Most of the initiatives in circulation are statutory to avoid the new constitutional rule of super majority. Proponents assume future legislatures that might have majorities opposed to the initiative will be reluctant to repeal or modify it due to voter majorities have passed it. Only two of the legislative initiatives are important and have significant support. They will create commissions to design new congressional and state legislative seats post the U.S. Census (Amendments Y and Z).

None of these proposals may collect sufficient signatures. Items of important and early observations:

  • Reapportionment legislative referrals good chance of passage. Well financed, broad support. Parties seem quiet (Amendments Y and Z constitutional).
  • Bonds for transportation, sales tax increases. Denver Chamber leads a civic consortium, but already has significant opposition in El Paso County (Initiative 158 statutory). Competing measure to use existing revenue for roads (Caldera’s Fix Our Damn Roads, Initiative 167 statutory).
  • Complex income/property tax charge for more K-12 money. Early opposition due to complexity. Similar measure lost huge three years ago (Amendment 93 constitutional).
  • Limits on growth. Very controversial, major opposition (not in circulation as of June 1). Proponents quiet as opposition money is assembled.
  • Severance tax for various causes (not in circulation yet) and minimum distance for drilling (Initiative 97 statutory). Major opposition from gas and oil. Minimum support from Democrats.
  • Taking of property for public use (Initiative 108 constitutional). Opposed by most local government and economic interests.
  • Anti-sanctuary laws for immigration (Initiative 169 constitutional). Very controversial topic in governor’s election.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

University of Denver Campus Framework

In 2014, when the University of Denver (DU) selected Rebecca Chopp as its first female chancellor, she inherited a school with good bones, but lacking an updated vision. Now with its Campus Framework, it has a sense of direction, and the good news for Denver is that it includes an extensive neighborhood plan.

The new framework includes linkage with Denver’s mass transit, softening the edges of the campus for neighborhood connections, enhancing housing (students stay in campus housing longer today), and making DU more commercially vibrant with stores and dining found in Denver’s most robust retail centers.

The plan sees DU and its 125-acre campus as a college town in the heart of the city.

Conceptual design for northeast side of campus | Photo: DU

Friday, June 8, 2018

“Diplotainment” Crashes in Korea

President Trump’s top of mind acceptance of the North Korean invitation for a summit mostly reflected his view of foreign policy as a form of public relations with substance as an afterthought. His two recent photo ops with European allies demonstrate the media relations strategy.


The two presidents staged a host of buddy pictures, but on trade and Iran, there was no convergence of differences.

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and President Donald Trump
at joint news conference at White House, April 24, 2018 | Reuters


Although the warmth with Merkel was lacking, Trump managed to stage several public relations events. Again, no substance on significant issues.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) shakes hands with  President Donald
Trump at joint press conference at White House, April 27, 2018 | Mandel Ngan/AFP

The impression Trump’s “diplotainment” conveys is his talent at publicity moments and his sway with world media. Unfortunately, the real position between the U.S. and our main European allies is at or near a 70-year low.

The concern for the North Korean negotiations was that the President would declare victory for the photoshoot and a Nobel nomination. The North Korean shift to focus on the substance of nuclear disarmament a couple of weeks ago was a wake-up call for the happy talk that had dominated much of the administration’s early discussions.

North Korea got de facto recognition as a nuclear state and Kim Jong Un created a narrative as a reasonable negotiating partner. Negotiations with a cagey adversary are work. They take careful planning and strategic positioning, not just blustery threats and syrupy praise.

The U.S. has already lost some positioning on sanctions. Time for a reset before the correlations of forces that have favored the U.S. position begin to dissipate even more.