Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Eli Stokols and Chris Hill in the LA Times

As we appear to slip toward violence in Iran (see blog: Trump’s Going to Need a Bigger Boat), former Denver TV reporter Eli Stokols quotes DU’s Ambassador Christopher Hill in a front page Los Angeles Times story on Trump’s off and on strategy (order retaliation/cancel).

Trump’s “weapon of choice is this economic cudgel,” said Christopher R. Hill, a former U.S. ambassador to four countries. “That’s how he wants to look tough, and it’s been popular with his base. He’s not interested at all in war. He’s interested in economic warfare.”

After Denver, Stokols did a stint with Politico and the Wall Street Journal in D.C. You often see him and Hill on MSNBC. The LA Times has been building up its national and international political coverage.

TABOR Override in Trouble

Colorado’s controversial tax limitation initiative is on the defensive. The Democratic Party and elements of the business community and local government have been long opposed to the TABOR Amendment passed in 1992, during an era of Republican ascendance and strong anti-tax sentiment. Several restrictions included in it have been limited by courts, and now the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled the entire multi-topic amendment can be overturned by one counter amendment if its opponents want to take it on.

But, before there is a full-blown TABOR challenge, the newly installed Democratic legislature, with the forbearance of the new governor, propose a permanent time out of the tax revenue give back requirements, or what’s commonly called and often approved by voters at the local level as a TABOR override. Unfortunately for proponents, they have run into considerable opposition from a newly engaged Republican establishment, with former Governor Bill Owens, former Senator Hank Brown and many current officeholders, such as Arapahoe District Attorney George Brauchler, opposing the time out, especially its permanent aspects. As the 2018 election highlighted, Colorado voters tend to be sympathetic to many local tax proposals, including TABOR overrides from schools, counties, municipalities and others, but are very skeptical of state tax increases. A statewide permanent time out is likely to suffer from the same voter distrust of state government. In a confusing editorial, even the Denver Post, no friend of TABOR, did not endorse a frontal assault on TABOR or a permanent time out. It pointed out how hard it will be to organize for retaining tax dollars when the state is awash in tax revenue.

Recently conducted focus groups in Adams County heard voters’ lack of understanding of the TABOR issue:

When asked about a TABOR override, while there was a lack of understanding on what exactly this ballot question would do, no one in the group supported such an effort: “Coloradans are tired of change;” we are going too far too fast;” “[Colorado] is turning into California.”

Will Governor Polis support the proposition? He tends to be risk adverse related to statewide ballot issues, and this is shaping up to be a battle

Bruce Benson Leaves on Top

As CU President, Bruce regularly tells graduates at commencement to be prepared to take opportunities that come your way in spite of life plans or expectations. The CU presidency turned out to be a surprising, but perfect fit for his skill set and his indefatigable work ethic. His long passion for education (Metro Board, now MSU Denver, and Denver Public Schools Foundation) was melded into his passion for CU and his sense that it provided him an invaluable life foundation. He, with his life partner, became extraordinary advocates for the institution, enriching it in many ways, including adding billions to its buildings and programs.

Bruce’s and Marcy’s friends celebrated his CU run and retirement last week in Denver. I asked him what’s next, and Marcy interjected that some rest was in order. But, he pointed out there was still some transition work and that he has a few ideas for what’s next. It’s unlikely to be a quiet retirement, and Denver and Colorado are likely to benefit.

Great job Bruce and Marcy.

CU President Bruce and Marcy Benson receive the 2016 Outstanding
Philanthropist Award | Photo: Elizabeth Collins/University of Colorado

Warren on the Move; Harris in Trouble

The latest national and key in-state polls show Elizabeth Warren and her “plan a day” strategy is gathering strength in the still much divided Democratic presidential primary field. In the two latest national polls reported (Economist/YouGov and Monmouth University) in RealClearPolitics, Warren is now ahead of Bernie Sanders by a combined 5 points. Even more impressive, she’s beginning to close in on Sanders in Iowa and California. Bernie Sanders’ status as the frontrunner of the left wing of the Democratic Party appears over.

It is the California poll that should most concern Kamala Harris. Her campaign failed to take off after the impressive announcement and she has languished in fourth and fifth places, tied most recently with Pete Buttigieg. But, to have any shot at the nomination, she must dominate her home state of California. Unfortunately for her credibility in the race, the latest poll by the LA Times conducted by veteran pollster, Mark DiCamillo, at Berkeley, she is in fourth, behind Joe Biden, Warren and Sanders, with Buttigieg a close fifth.

Harris still has much potential. She needs to bring her talent in the congressional hearing setting to her performance in the debates. Also, a week before Super Tuesday, the South Carolina primary gives her a powerful constituency of African American women who could put her on the top of the field. And, even a fourth or fifth position should keep someone in the race through Super Tuesday. Nonetheless, not dominating California is a disappointment.

Trump Launches Campaign in Blizzard of Bad Polls

A series of recent polls reported Donald Trump in deep trouble as he launched his re-election campaign in Orlando, Florida. At the four-year anniversary of his famous Trump Tower escalator start in June 2015, polls showed him losing to most of the Democratic frontrunners in what has to be an anybody but Trump reaction to his pending re-election.

His campaign knows the polls have been bad news. It fired three of its Republican pollsters for alleged media leaks of in-house bad polling numbers. Trump hates bad news, and tends to deny it exists. But, it will frame the coverage surrounding his campaign start-up.

Polling roundups:

Four years ago, Trump had the element of surprise and used his shockingly incorrect announcement to capture the center spot in the first debate (Megyn Kelly debate), with the support of 25 percent of Republicans.

  • Escalator Announcement – June 15, 2015
  • Megyn Kelly First Debate – August 7, 2015

But now, Trump is commanding the Republican Party and has a worldwide audience of his announcement in front of 20,000 admiring fans and for most of his international activities and high drama domestic political actions. Hence, it is especially disconcerting to Trump to be behind in key states and tied in some must-wins.

For many of his campaign advisors and much of the Republican establishment, the weak polls are not surprising. Trump is committed to a scorched earth, base reinforcing campaign. Many in the Trump campaign would like to expand the base, and also believe the President’s strategy is responsible for the current polling malaise. It attracted 63 million votes in 2016, located in just the right states, but it will be short of what’s needed in the higher turnout 2020 election.

Trump’s Going to Need a Bigger Boat

President Trump and his Mideast team – Mike Pompeo, John Bolton and Jared Kushner – should be careful starting a war with Iran. Not only is the country’s forces formidable (they are not Iraq in 2003), but American allies in this cause will be thin. In fact, except for Israel, which isn’t near the battlefield, the help is mostly unimpressive American dependencies. Europe, the UN, China, Russia, India, Turkey and others are more likely to oppose than support any action. And, of course, impact on the world economy will be immediate and significant.

Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln | Eric Power/US Navy

The Iranian confrontation is especially dangerous due to a host of special conditions beyond our isolation on the issue:
  • The enmity is deep and long-term. The chant, “Death to America” (and the 1979 hostage crisis), are manifestations of deep hostility that is part of the core legitimacy of the regime. Opposing the U.S. throughout the Mideast is the top propaganda point for their external relations.
  • The Persian Gulf has massive armaments in very close proximity.
  • Iran has proxies and allies in the Middle East with agendas and resources that can cause incidents, like rockets in the Green Zone and commercial shipping attacks, that the two powers must then manage.
  • Regular communication helps avoid missteps and miscues, but we have none with their diplomats or military.
President Trump’s usual strategy of maximum pressure and over-the-top threats will have difficulty working with Iran. It does not constitute negotiation, and regime survival will require the U.S. to appear to back down and lower the demands and threats – actions not really available in the Trump playbook.