Category Archives: United States of America

US – Trump and Republicans In An Era of Nationalized Elections: Hanging Together, or Hanging Separately?

Late last month, Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake took to the Senate floor to confirm that he would not be seeking reelection in 2018. But most of his remarks, which earned a standing ovation from his Senate colleagues, were directed at President Donald Trump. Flake castigated Trump for “reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior” that was “dangerous to democracy,” and he called on his colleagues to “stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch is normal.” Only hours before Flake’s broadside against the President, his Republican Senate colleague Bob Corker, in an appearance on NBC’s Today show, expressed similar sentiments when he branded Trump “an utterly untruthful president.” It was but the latest in a series of criticisms of Trump by the Tennessee Republican dating back several months, including Corker’s characterization of Trump’s White House as “an adult daycare center.”

In the immediate aftermath journalists were quick to label Corker and Flake’s remarks a “watershed moment”, that signaled a Republican Party on the brink of “civil war”, and they speculated that the growing party fissure would jeopardize Trump’s legislative agenda. However, while Corker’s and Flake’s attacks on their own party’s president are perhaps unprecedented, and thus newsworthy, the bigger story is just how few of their fellow partisans in Congress have followed their lead. It is easy to understand their reluctance to do so. Although many in Congress likely share Flake and Corker’s outrage regarding Trump’s norm-breaking behavior, they also recognize that in an era of ideologically polarized congressional parties and nationalized elections, their political fates depend heavily on working with Trump to achieve legislative success.

By nationalized, I mean that the electoral fortunes of Representatives and Senators are increasingly linked to constituents’ willingness to credit or blame the political parties as a whole for the state of the nation, rather than simply voting on the basis of their individual legislator’s record. Put another way, the legendary House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s famous aphorism that “all politics is local” no longer holds true, at least not when it comes winning a seat in Congress. In fact, most electoral politics is now “national”. Just how nationalized have congressional elections become? One way to estimate the relative influence of national versus local forces is to regress the outcome of the House vote in any given election on the previous House vote and on the most recent presidential vote in that House district, while controlling for incumbency and district partisanship. The coefficients on the House variable serve as a proxy for local influences, and the one on the presidential variable captures national tides. Drawing on data gathered by a number of my research assistants over the years, I have been documenting the relative growth in the nationalization of House election dating back to 1954. As the chart below indicates, elections have become increasingly nationalized since the mid-1980’s, and in 2016 the House experienced the most nationalized elections yet measured for a presidential election year.

As the next chart shows, there is a similar trend in House midterm elections: an increase in nationalization dating back to the 1980’s, with 2014 showing the highest rate of nationalization to date.

Although detecting similar trends in Senate races is more difficult because there are fewer of them and because Senate cohorts are elected at different intervals, there is some evidence, such as the decline in states that split their Senate contingent between two parties, to suggest that Senate elections have become more nationalized as well. Consistent with this claim, in 2016, for the first time since the Senate was elected through a popular vote, every state that elected a Republican candidate for Senate also voted for the Republican presidential candidate, and every state that elected a Democratic Senate candidate voted for the Democratic presidential standard bearer. In short, there is no reason to believe that Senate races are any less susceptible to the forces driving nationalization.

What are those forces – why are U.S. elections increasingly nationalized? A full explanation requires a separate post, but there are likely a number of factors at play. To begin, changes in campaign finance regulations have accentuated the monetary influence of small donors who possess more ideologically-extreme views and, aided by the ease of contributing via the internet, they are increasingly willing to spend that money wherever it will have the greatest electoral impact. That often means challenging incumbents in primaries with more partisan candidates. It also appears that the marginal impact of casework and other constituency-related activities, which helped fuel the rise of the incumbency advantage during the 1960’s, may have diminished as it has become an expected part of congressional service.

However, perhaps the most important factor has been party sorting, in which party labels have become a more reliable indicator of a person’s ideological views. Among other effects, party sorting has led to a decline in split-ticket voting in national elections from its high point in the 1970’s, as indicated in the following table.

It is important to note that the decline in split-ticket voting is not proof that voters are increasingly polarized. Instead, as Morris Fiorina argues, these trends are more likely a function of the changing nature of the candidates and positions from which voters must choose. Candidates, and the issues they run on, may be better sorted ideologically by party label. If so, even if voters retain centrist views, they may increasingly sort themselves into a particular party and vote for a straight party ticket because of the more partisan-based choices in candidates and party platforms. As parties become better sorted ideologically, party labels become an increasingly useful cue for voters trying to decide how to vote in congressional elections, and members of Congress have a greater incentive to bolster their party brand.

Whatever the explanation for the trend toward nationalized elections, I see no evidence it will significantly reverse itself in the 2018 midterms. Indeed, it is no coincidence that Corker and Flake appeared to both suddenly take a principled stand against their own president: neither is running for reelection in 2018. (Corker made his decision not seek another term public in September.) Flake, as Trump was only to happy to point out, faced declining approval ratings and a difficult reelection fight. Before breaking publicly with President and announcing he would not seek reelection, Corker had been one of the first establishment Republicans to back Trump’s presidential candidacy, and reportedly had considered serving as Trump’s running mate. Similar political calculations likely influenced those other congressional Republicans, such as John McCain during the debate over repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, better known as Obamacare), who have recently broken publicly with Trump. McCain, of course, is suffering from brain cancer and is unlikely to seek reelection.

Most Republicans in Congress, however, have little incentive to challenge the head of their own party, no matter how outrageous they may view his behavior. This is particularly the case for those running for reelection in 2018. Midterm elections are always politically precarious for members of the president’s party. Since 1934 the president’s party has lost, on average, 27 House and almost four Senate seats during these elections. If those averages hold in 2018, it will be enough to cost Republicans their majorities in both chambers of Congress. Crucially, in an era of nationalized elections and ideologically well-sorted parties in which party labels serve as an increasingly important voting cue, it is not clear that individual members of Congress can easily insulate themselves from these growing national political tides. Instead, Republicans’ best option looking ahead may be to stick together and boost their party’s reputation by achieving some legislative successes. So far they have come up woefully short by this yardstick, most notably in their failure to repeal ACA. Their best remaining legislative hope before hitting the campaign trail may be tax reform – a version of which has already passed the House. As Republicans learned with the unsuccessful health care repeal effort, however, maintaining party unity in the Senate, where they possess a narrow 52-48 margin, is a more difficult task. Nonetheless, in an era of nationalized congressional elections, they have a strong electoral incentive to hang together. The alternative, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, another legendary American politician, is to find themselves hanging separately during the upcoming midterm elections.

Matthew Laing and Brendan McCaffrie – The Impossible Leadership Situation: Succeeding as a President of Disjunction

This is a guest post by Matthew Laing of Monash University and Brendan McCaffrie of the University of Canberra. It is based on their recent article in Presidential Studies Quarterly.

American Presidents are often ranked and compared, with a handful of Presidents regularly judged as “great” (eg George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and sometimes Ronald Reagan). However, a wealth of political scholarship now acknowledges that different US Presidents are granted different circumstances that both demand different actions, and grant different opportunities. While these presidents’ greatness does result from their successful actions, it also reflects their circumstances. This blog post, and the article it is based on [1], argues that it is more useful to examine presidents who share a similar political and historical context, and to examine their success in a way that is sensitive to the opportunities and constraints of that context. Furthermore, this allows us to avoid encouraging presidents to follow the expansive styles of these “great” presidents in situations where such actions may be detrimental [2].

This research uses the political time approach to the presidency, developed by Stephen Skowronek [3]. The political time approach defines four types of president, based on their political and historical context. In this research, we examine what success is for Skowronek’s most constrained category of president: the president of disjunction, whose situation Skowronek described as “the impossible leadership situation”. These presidents (John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Herbert Hoover, and Jimmy Carter) are typically beset by national problems for which the orthodox political and policy thinking has no solutions. Our research argues that while some aspects of success are not available to these presidents, they can succeed by fulfilling a normative need to experiment and find new approaches to solve these problems.

Political Time and Disjunction

Skowronek describes four types of president, defined by their distinct historical contexts and opportunities. Presidents of disjunction take office when the “regime” that has dominated American politics over previous decades is weak. The regime is composed of three main parts, (i) ideas that define political action over a number of decades, such as the ideas of Keynesian economics that defined post-New Deal America, (ii) a coalition of political and societal actors, particularly those in Congress, and interests that together represent a broad range of societal groups such as organised Labor, organisations, business groups, and other elements of civil society, and (iii) institutions of government that act to maintain the regime’s direction. For a president of disjunction, the regime’s weakness is evident in these three characteristics, but especially in the first two: the dominant ideas are failing to solve current problems, but they owe their election to the coalition of politicians and societal actors that have supported those ideas. That coalition is weakening and fracturing as new problems emerge that affect different elements of the coalition in different ways.

These presidents have limited authority to act, as the failure of orthodox ideas divides their coalition of supporters. Disjunctive presidents’ best efforts to solve the nation’s problems often depart from orthodox ideas, upsetting coalition members who have maintained faith in those ideas. Alternatively, these presidents maintain orthodox ideas, upsetting those who no longer believe that orthodox ideas can work in the present circumstances.

Presidents of disjunction usually are publicly perceived as failures, and are replaced by reconstructive presidents such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, who followed the disjunctive Hoover, and instituted the New Deal, and the Keynesian economics that dominated American politics for decades, and Reagan, who followed Jimmy Carter, and whose small government and pro-free market politics endured as Roosevelt’s politics had before. Despite perceptions of their failure, in many ways the presidents of disjunction play an important role within the course of political time, and if they play it effectively they can smooth the transition to the next regime.

Presidential Success and Context

Normative Success

For presidents, success comes in three main forms – normative success, personal success, and partisan regime success. The contention that presidents of disjunction have an important role to play implies that there is a normative aspect to success for presidents, that is, there is a best role for them to play in order to advance the nation. We contend that the most important aspect of the normative role for presidents of disjunction is policy experimentation. When orthodox ideas and policies no longer work, as with the economic situation Hoover faced in the Great Depression, or the stagflation crisis Carter contended with, these presidents face great uncertainty, and need to work pragmatically to discover new policy avenues. Normative success also encompasses the need to maintain the constitution and uphold the ethical requirements of the office.

To differing degrees, both Carter and Hoover experimented with new economic approaches designed to reverse the crises that they faced. Hoover’s creation of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) in 1932 was a clear example of how experimentation during disjunction can help the subsequent reconstruction. The RFC made major loans to states, municipalities, and corporations and provided an injection of much needed funds to the failing economy. Hoover attempted a middle-of-the-road approach between orthodoxy and innovation of the type Roosevelt would later pursue. He limited the RFC’s operations, for example, insisting that its funds be for self-liquidating projects. As a result, in 1932 the RFC was not as effective as it might have been as an institution for stimulating the economy. But, Hoover expanded its authority in his last days in office in January 1933 and in its early years it provided much-needed capital to troubled economic sectors. Roosevelt further expanded the RFC, giving it greater funding and a wider scope to issue loans, and it became a key institution of the New Deal. Similar patterns could be observed in Hoover’s creation of, and Roosevelt’s extension of, a range of other measures aimed at defeating the Great Depression. For example, the Relief and Construction Act, Federal Farm Board, and Agricultural Marketing Act all became pillars of the New Deal’s approach to agriculture.

Similarly, Carter displayed greater awareness of the danger of inflation than most Democrats in Congress. In his last two years, he clearly prioritized inflation over unemployment. He felt he was acting pragmatically, and publicly admitted that his administration was trying several anti-inflation measures with no certainty that any would work. Carter’s anti-inflation program emphasized wage restraint to aggressively tackle inflationary pressures, but was hindered by a lack of support from organized labor. Unable to authoritatively suppress wage inflation without further fracturing its coalition, the Carter administration pursued an accord with unions over wages. Although novel, its measures were regularly subverted or ineffective. This situation underscores the conflict between the normative requirement to experiment and its tendency to hasten the demise of the coalition.

Perhaps Carter’s boldest experiment was the appointment of Paul Volcker as chair of the Federal Reserve in 1979. Carter pursued the appointment despite counsel from close advisors that Volcker’s doctrinaire anti-inflation plan would undoubtedly cause a rise in unemployment and seriously jeopardize Carter’s chances of re-election. Volcker’s actions began to ease the stagflation crisis and began the reform and strengthening of the Federal Reserve’s role in the U.S. economy, advancing the monetarist policy agenda without requiring legislative backing. However, this anti-inflationary shift did accelerate Carter’s political demise.

Personal Success

Conversely, presidents of disjunction will likely not receive credit for their successes during their terms. With a divided coalition and an increasingly emboldened opposition, they face a major contest to have each of their actions judged as personally successful by media and the public. Presidents of disjunction are also presented with a trade-off. Actions that fulfil the normative requirement that they experiment with new policy directions are also likely to exacerbate the divisions within the coalition, and end the dominance of the ideas that the coalition has supported.

Furthermore, given the uncertainty of the outcomes of experimental policies, these may fail. Those that do succeed are often seized upon and expanded by a reconstructive successor, who typically receives the popular credit for the new approach. As such disjunctive presidents are rarely credited with great personal success, even though they may have extensive legislative achievements. In fact, both Hoover and Carter compiled impressive lists of legislative achievements, far out-stripping perceptions of their effectiveness. Hoover especially found himself unfairly criticised for adhering to laissez-faire economic practices in the face of the Great Depression, despite many major departures from orthodox economic policy.

Partisan Regime Success

Partisan regime success refers to how presidents interact with the regime, either strengthening or weakening it to situate their parties and ideological coalitions for future achievement. Such success is harder to observe than personal success, but can be more enduring. It usually leads to future success for the president’s party, but as presidents’ actions influence the strength and longevity of the regime, it also has a considerable effect beyond the party and on the nation’s future. Depending on their agreement with, or opposition to, the regime, presidents must advance and update, or attack and discredit regime ideas and institutions, as well as strengthening or weakening the coalition that supports them.

This form of success is very limited for presidents of disjunction. The regime is collapsing during their tenure and this creates societal disruption. As leaders affiliated with the regime, they often have an ideological preference to see it endure, but cannot ensure its survival. However, presidential action is not meaningless within this arena, and the way presidents respond to the crisis of their partisan regime can affect the timeline of the affiliated party’s decline and recovery.

Partisan regime success offers an internal contradiction for presidents of disjunction. By defending the regime, and retaining orthodox approaches to national problems, disjunctive presidents may maintain party authority in the short term. However, they risk marginalizing their party even further as regime ideas are sidelined, exacerbating the severity of electoral defeat and the length of recovery. More experimental presidents are better placed to prepare their partisan coalition for change and prepare the nation for the process of reconstruction, but risk their own authority in the process as regime adherents revolt. The better strategy may in part be dictated by the strength of competing factions and groupings within the coalition. However, there is also an opportunity for presidents to persuade their coalitions of different approaches, acclimatize their coalitions to new ideas, and better position them to adopt a role within the future regime, rather than leaving them entirely outside that regime.

The Three Forms of Success

These three forms are interrelated, but the way they interact varies for the different types of president. For a reconstructive president, each can be mutually reinforcing. These presidents take power at a time when there is general consensus that major change is required, as a result, reconstructive presidents can press for sweeping reforms that act to bolster perceptions of their personal success, while satisfying their newly formed coalitions, and fulfilling a normative need for action. For presidents of disjunction, choosing to pursue either personal or partisan regime success may lead to normative failure; but normative success can also hasten the demise of the regime, and diminish presidents’ personal authority, making personal success less available. We argue that the normative need to experiment offers the opportunity for most success, but that the chances of a disjunctive president receiving personal credit for their achievements are small.

Conclusion

Understanding presidential success differently in different contexts is important not only for analytical purposes. All presidents wish to be considered successful, so public expectations can influence presidential actions. If we judge all presidents by standards appropriate to reconstructive presidents, we encourage them to act in a way that will frequently contribute to their failure and, in doing so, contribute to the popular conception of a heroic presidency, which is near impossible for most presidents to meet. Presidents of disjunction are part of the essential fabric of political time, and in better understanding the ways in which they can succeed, we are engaging in a project that is essential to our understanding of presidents’ capacity to further the public good. Among the greatest challenges this understanding of the presidency presents is the need for presidents to discern their place in political time, and accept that in certain situations they must follow a more constrained path, and limit the scope of their ambitions.

Notes

[1] Matthew Laing and Brendan McCaffrie (2017) ‘The Impossible Leadership Situation? Analyzing Success for Disjunctive Presidents’, Presidential Studies Quarterly, 47 (2): 255-276.

[2] David A. Crockett (2002) The Opposition Presidency, College Station: Texas A&M University Press.

[3] Stephen Skowronek (1997) The Politics Presidents Make, Cambridge Mass: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Jon Johansson – From Triumph to Tragedy: The Leadership Paradox of Lyndon Baines Johnson

This is a guest post Jon Johansson, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the Victorial University of Wellington, New Zealand. In this blog post, he summarises his chapter ‘From Triumph to Tragedy: The Leadership Paradox of Lyndon Baines Johnson’ in the new volume ‘The Leadership Capital Index: A New Perspective on Political Leadership‘ (edited by Mark Bennister, Ben Worthy, and Paul ‘t Hart, Oxford University Press 2017).

When asked to contribute a chapter in The Leadership Capital Index: A New Perspective, I leapt at the opportunity. Woodrow Wilson’s challenge to presidents, issued in his 1908 treatise on American Government, to be as big a man as they can be, made Lyndon Johnson’s presidency a natural choice to apply the Leadership Capital Index (LCI). The giant from the Texas Hill Country rose to stunning heights after assuming the presidency in the worst possible circumstances: the violent murder of President John F. Kennedy. As well as leading a masterful transition, Johnson exploited the tragedy to mastermind the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the single most important piece of legislation passed since reconstruction. This act also reflected LBJ’s initial pledge to ‘continue’ the work begun by Kennedy.

The following year Johnson once again used the bully pulpit of the presidency to transform scenes of racial violence in Selma, Alabama into the Voting Rights Act 1965. Alongside his ‘Great Society’ programs, twin civil rights triumphs saw Johnson reaching his own personal mountaintop. Just over three years later, however, after Robert Kennedy announced his intention to run for president against him, Johnson chose to not seek re-election. He told his biographer Doris Kearns he felt ‘left alone in the middle of the plain, chased by stampedes on every side’.[1] Johnson was so consumed by the quagmire in Vietnam, unavoidable after the Tet Offensive in late January 1968 had laid bare his previously optimistic reports to Americans on the war’s progress. Amid increasingly violent protest at home he withdrew from the electoral arena to restore his self-image as a consensus seeking leader trying to end the war in Vietnam. What was also stunning about Johnson’s ‘Americanization’ of the Vietnam War was just how bad his judgments were, especially as they were made against his own previously sound instincts (and advice to JFK) to ‘keep American boys’ out of South-East Asia.

It was this basic duality that made Johnson such a fascinating subject and his paradoxical leadership begged the following question: how could a president with unique leadership capital, accompanied by the motivation and skills to exploit it, see his political resources collapse so quickly and with such intensity? I found the ‘Leadership Capital Index’ (LCI) a rich prism from which to analyse this question, although it did require some minor adaptation to accommodate the idiosyncratic particulars of the American political system. For instance, three of the LCI’s core constructs – a president’s longevity (diminishing vs. increasing capital); the likelihood of their facing a credible challenger (constitutionally mandated intervals vs. more frequent opportunity in Westminster systems), and parliamentary effectiveness (versus legislative effectiveness in the U.S. system of separated branches sharing power) – required clarification to acknowledge institutional differences between presidential and Westminster systems.

The richness of my study came from the LCI results (scored out of 50, with the higher the score meaning the greater the level of leadership capital). They confirmed the unique qualities behind Johnson’s stratospheric leadership capital scores during the early phase of his presidency, followed by the collapse of both his relational and reputational capital during his final phase as president. Four time intervals were selected to measure the direction of Johnson’s leadership capital. The first date selected was January 8, 1964, when Johnson declared a ‘War on Poverty’ in his State of the Union Address, only 47 days after Kennedy’s assassination. He also asked Congress to pass Kennedy’s tax bill as well the civil rights bill. Johnson’s approval rating sat at 77 percent, which revealed that Americans perceived him as having risen to his post-assassination challenge. His LCI score of 41 reflected his frenetic activity to both achieve a legacy for his predecessor, one which he hoped would forever link him with the dead Kennedy.

The second date selected to measure LBJ’s LCI coincided with his Inaugural Address in January 1965, when he’d reached his apex, with his LCI score a stratospheric 46. The ‘King of the Hill’ led the passage of Kennedy’s civil rights bill into law, finally ending segregation. He’d out-maneuvered the Republican presidential candidate, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, over Vietnam after Congress emphatically passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, going on to win the November election with a record 61.05 percent of the popular vote. The Democrats rode LBJ’s coattails to pad their already strong Senate and House majorities.

The third time interval charts Johnson’s sharp reversal to now exhibit sharply declining leadership capital (LCI = 31). It had all turned sour over Vietnam and economic insecurity. Delivering his State of the Union speech in January 1967 he asked Congress for a tax hike to pay for the war on poverty at home and the one against the Communists abroad. His promise to keep American boys out of Vietnam had given way to 500,000 combat troops on the ground. His ‘Great Society’ programs suffered myriad implementation problems. Even the historic passage of the Voting Rights Act 1965 did not prevent a summer of rioting across American cities, exhausting support for civil rights. A credibility gap emerged between Johnson’s optimistic portrayal of progress in Vietnam and the reality of ever-increasing body counts and the economic costs of the military stalemate.

The final time interval is at the end of March 1968, when Johnson surprised his television audience by ending a lengthy speech tracing American involvement in Vietnam with the bombshell news that he was withdrawing from the presidential race to focus solely on ending the war. His presidency had fatally collapsed over Vietnam (his final LCI score plummeted to 19). Americans no longer believed their president and so they rejected him outright. Johnson’s final capitulation was an acknowledgement that the office had defeated him. He was alone, isolated.

All in all, the LCI was an excellent instrument for revealing the exceptional leadership capital Johnson created through a superior diagnosis of his initial context, and then by perfectly matching means to ends to incrementally expand the welfare state, be seen to contain communism, while managing America’s economic growth. It reflected equally well the disjunctive phase of his presidency when that basic consensus collapsed. Johnson’s character limitations continue to provide the best explanation for both his legislative and political triumphs as well as the ultimate tragedy his presidency proved.

Based on President Lyndon Johnson’s leadership capital, his ability to exploit his political resources for all they were worth, to turn Kennedy’s legacy into something meaningful, was more than good enough for an individual as flawed as Johnson proved to be. His tragic legacy, which became his country’s, was the fatal shattering of trust by Americans in their government and its institutions. Others contributed to that, too, notably Richard Nixon, but in 2016, it took a new grotesque form, providing another stark reminder of the link between presidential leadership and character.

[1] Kearns-Goodwin, D. (1976). Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. New York: New American Library. 343.

Karrin Vasby Anderson – The Female Presidentiality Paradox

This is a guest post by Karrin Vasby Anderson, Professor of Communication Studies at Colorado State University

When Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, he presided over what some have termed the biggest political upset in U.S. history. With the advantage of hindsight, pundits and experts proffered myriad reasons for Clinton’s failure: economic insecurity, white backlash against the first black president, a generalized distrust in government, the dubious, eleventh-hour resurrection of the Clinton email story by the director of the FBI, and, of course, alleged failures of the Clinton campaign. Those who regarded the outcome as a strategic (rather than systemic) failure were quick to point out Clinton’s ostensible liabilities: a long, public career peppered by real and manufactured scandals, her contentious relationship with the press, her underwhelming presence on the stump, and—perhaps most damaging—her status as the quintessential political insider in a year of change.

Cognizant of the electoral mood in September of 2015, Clinton attempted to convince John Dickerson, host of the CBS News program Face the Nation, that her gender made her the outsider, saying, “I cannot imagine anyone being more of an outsider than the first woman president.” Dickerson demurred, and his response is emblematic of a broader reluctance to acknowledge the ways in which women presidential candidates are unique—and uniquely challenged—in presidential campaign culture. Shortly after Clinton’s defeat, lists of Democratic presidential prospects for 2020 named women such as Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris as early favorites, indicating the widespread belief that gender doesn’t really hamper anyone’s bid for the U.S. presidency.

As a citizen and voter, I’d like to believe that, but as a scholar, I’ve come to another conclusion—not that Clinton was the wrong woman for the presidency in 2016, but that every woman is the wrong woman, and will be until cultural understanding of the presidency changes. Clinton was constrained by what I call the “female presidentiality paradox,” in which any electable woman presidential candidate is simultaneously unelectable in a “change” campaign. The effect is intensified when the change endorsed by electors is a reactionary, rather than a progressive, change. Consequently, although scholars and strategists seek to uncover the rhetorical formula which finally will propel a woman into the office of the U.S. presidency, the more urgent work is targeting the beliefs and behaviors of citizens rather than the strategies of candidates.

Clinton’s loss to Trump was a startling political defeat, but it wasn’t her first. After being the first woman to be the frontrunner for a major-party nomination in 2008, Clinton lost the Democratic presidential nomination to relative political newcomer Barack Obama. She responded by serving as his Secretary of State, a move that bolstered her foreign policy credentials and positioned her for a second presidential run in 2016. Although Clinton corrected many of the shortcomings of her 2008 primary campaign, raised a formidable campaign war chest, secured the support of the Democratic party elite, and was hailed by President Obama as the most qualified candidate ever to run for the office, she nearly came up short again, this time to Bernie Sanders—a dynamic but relatively ineffectual U.S. Senator who was not even a member of the Democratic party. Her victory in the primaries was short-lived, however, vanquished by a candidate who claimed the role of outsider despite his normative race, gender, sexual orientation, and personal wealth. In all three cases, Clinton was positioned as the elite political insider running against agents of change. Her defeats were read by many pundits and journalists not as repudiations of her gender but as a rejection of “politics as usual.”

What that narrative ignores is the paradox facing all female presidential candidates. In an examination of the 2016 Democratic primary, forthcoming in the journal Rhetoric & Public Affairs, I theorized the “first-timer/frontrunner double bind,” in which male presidential “first-timers” (such as Trump, Sanders, and Obama) can be viewed as both outsiders and credible leaders. Conversely, female “first-timers” historically have been viewed as pioneers with symbolic appeal rather than political strength. To be taken seriously as presidential candidates, women politicians must amass significant political experience, party support, and campaign funds. Once they do that, their political strength is portrayed as anti-democratic entitlement and their presidential aspirations as a manic desire for power.

The double bind that was a challenge for Clinton to overcome in the 2016 primary became a full-blown paradox during the general election, one that begins to explain why, according to Time, Clinton’s “campaign organization, the data, the polling, all the analytics—none of it worked on Election Day.” I contend that the factors that cast Clinton as a credible presidential candidate simultaneously disqualified her in a “change” campaign. Her electability made her unelectable.

At first glance, this does not seem like a particularly gendered phenomenon, but in the realm of U.S. presidentiality the dynamic is unique to women candidates. Although over ninety percent of U.S. voters report willingness to vote for a (hypothetical) qualified female presidential candidate, only Hillary Clinton has been able to garner a major party nomination, a feat she accomplished only after amassing an unprecedented breadth of political experience. Clinton’s two primary campaigns and one general election defeat illustrate the female presidentiality paradox quite plainly. To demonstrate your electability, you must become that which ultimately will make you unelectable in a “change” campaign: a well-connected political insider with decades of political experience.

In 2016, the effects of the female presidentiality paradox were exacerbated by the type of political change endorsed by the Trump voters. Although Trump’s victory was regarded by many pundits as evidence of the country’s anti-government mood, Trump also functioned as a personification of the reactionary backlash against the nation’s first black president and first female presidential frontrunner. The “change” sought by his supporters was a reinstatement of white, male hegemonic presidentiality rather than further challenge to that centuries-old standard. In that climate, the more credible a woman is as a presidential candidate, the more threatening she is.

Because the female presidentiality paradox will continue to be a feature of campaign culture whenever women launch significant bids for major-party nominations, scholars and strategists should acknowledge its existence and seek to understand its rhetorical dynamics. Clinton’s experiences in two campaign cycles suggest that this paradox is a constraint that cannot be overcome by candidate competence alone, since, for women, electability appears to breed contemp. When asked, as a political communication scholar, what women candidates can do to be received more favorably, I am increasingly convinced that the answer to that question is “Nothing. There is literally nothing that women have not tried in their 100+ year quest for the Oval Office.” The problem lies with the culture rather than with the candidates.

Karrin Vasby Anderson, PhD (@KVAnderson) is Professor of Communication Studies at Colorado State University and co-author of the book Woman President: Confronting Postfeminist Political Culture. This post contains excerpts from “Every Woman is the Wrong Woman: The Female Presidentiality Paradox,” published in Women’s Studies in Communication and “Presidential Pioneer or Campaign Queen?: Hillary Clinton and the First-Timer/Frontrunner Double Bind,” forthcoming in Rhetoric & Public Affairs.

Jody C. Baumgartner – Public Opinion About The US Vice President: Still Flying Under The Radar

This is a guest post by Jody C. Baumgartner, Professor of Political Science at East Carolina University. It is based on his forthcoming article in Presidential Studies Quarterly

Since its inception the American vice presidency and vice presidents have been the subject of ridicule and scorn. Late night television talk show king Johnny Carson once quipped that “democracy means that anyone can grow up to be president, and anyone who doesn’t grow up can be vice president”. Many vice presidents took a dim view of the office as well. For example, Thomas Marshall, Woodrow Wilson’s vice president, told the joke of “two brothers. One ran away to sea; the other was elected vice president of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again.” This negative view of the office and its inhabitants was perhaps inevitable given that the institution was created largely as the by-product of the Electoral College system of selecting presidents. Moreover, throughout history many vice presidents seemed worthy of derision.

But scholars and observers of the U.S. presidency agree that this is no longer the case. The vice presidency has come of age, and vice presidents are important players in a president’s administration (see Baumgartner 2015; Goldstein 2016). While Vice President Pence may prove to be the exception, vice presidents are increasingly called on to perform any number of important ceremonial, political and policy-related tasks for their presidents. To call modern vice presidents “assistant presidents” may overstate their importance, it is nonetheless true that the institution a significant part of twenty-first century American government.

Does this reality match how the American public sees the office and its occupants? My own recent research, while not providing a definitive answer, suggests that in some respects it does not. In particular, analyses of both favorability and job approval ratings for the past four presidents and vice presidents suggest that citizens do not form their opinions of vice presidents independent of their opinions of presidents. In other words, “vice presidential favorability and job approval ratings are overwhelmingly influenced by opinion of the president” (Baumgartner 2017: 1).

ABOUT THE STUDY

Although presidential favorability and job approval has been regularly measured since at least the Truman administration, it has only been a couple of decades that the same can be said about ratings for vice presidents. This research take advantage of this, relying on both presidential and vice presidential favorability and job approval polling numbers for the George H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations. I attempted to gather data for each question (favorability and job approval) for each president and  vice president, from both public (e.g., pollingreport.com) and subscription-based (Roper Center for Public Opinion Research) sources, for every month in office. Missing data (17.3% of the total number of months for each question, for president or vice president) points were interpolated using James Stimson’s “W-Calc,” which also allowed me to collapse the various questions used by different organizations to measure these concepts into a single measure (Stimson 1991).

The final dataset included favorability and job approval ratings for the following presidents and vice presidents:

Favorability (Months) Job Approval (Months)
Quayle/Bush n=38 n=38
Gore/Clinton n=94 n=44
Cheney/Bush n=95 n=148
Biden/Obama n=76 n=53

The first step in my analysis was to check bivariate relationships between both types of presidential and vice presidential ratings. At first blush, with the exception of Bush-Quayle, there appears to be a fair degree of congruence between presidential and vice presidential ratings. This can be seen in Figures 1-3, which simply charts rating scores by month, for each administration.

Next I constructed time-series models, with presidential ratings as the dependent variable, to test these relationships. Vice presidential ratings served as the primary independent variable in each, but I also included measures for term in office, whether the president’s party had a majority in either or both houses of Congress, public favorability toward the president’s party, and the percentage of negative news about the vice president. Results suggest that presidential favorability had a significant effect on vice presidential favorability in the cases of both Quayle (p < .001) and Gore (p < .01). Presidential job approval had a significant effect on vice presidential job approval for Gore (p < .01), Cheney (p < .001) and Biden (p < .05). When all four administrations were combined into a single model, presidential ratings for both favorability and job approval were significantly associated with vice presidential ratings (both random and fixed effects models, p < .001).

The understanding that the vice presidency has grown in importance over the recent past ought to be tempered by the reality that most people seem unaware of this change. Vice presidents still live in the shadow of their presidents. Of course it might be easy to dismiss these findings, asking why we should care about public opinion about the vice president. However it is important to remember that vice presidents are one of only two nationally elected public officials. The lack of independent public opinion associated with their tenures suggests that they may be less than fully accountable in a democratic sense.

SOURCES

Baumgartner, Jody C. 2015. The Vice Presidency: From the Shadow to the Spotlight. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Baumgartner, Jody C. 2017. “Under the Radar: Public Support for Vice Presidents.” Presidential Studies Quarterly (DOI: 10.1111/psq.12381).

Goldstein, Joel K. 2016. The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden. Lawrence KS: University Press of Kansas.

Stimson, James A. 1991. Public Opinion in America: Moods, Cycles, and Swings. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Jody C Baumgartner, Professor of Political Science
East Carolina University
Greenville NC 27834
e: jodyb@jodyb.net
p: 252-328-2843

William Crotty – Donald Trump’s Presidency: Stage One

This is a guest post by William Crotty, editor of Winning the Presidency 2016 (Routledge, 2017)

Introduction: The first 100 days of a new presidency is considered a marking point. In this post, the recently inaugurated president is evaluated in relation to:

  • his (in this case) approach to governing; the quality, background and experience of his appointees to federal office;
  • his substantive initiatives and accomplishments in domestic and international affairs (trade, military actions and relations with other nations);
  • the operational efficiency and professionalism of his administration and its decision-making.

Comparisons are then made with previous administrations and in particular with that of his predecessor.

Donald Trump responded to his 100-day anniversary with one of his many unpredictable outbursts, calling it a false standard of no significance. Then he did his best to provide the media and voters with a sense of a hyper-active presidency, on the move and transformative.

It largely failed. The Trump presidency was criticized on a number of levels from his chaotic White House to his being an uninformed and even ignorant leader, leading an administration with no clear direction or substantive achievements of merit. Nonetheless, Trump, by accident or self-interest, was correct in scoffing at the first 100 days of a presidency as a marking point; it is one that shows little predictive power in determining the final perception of an administration. Still, accepting the conventional standard serves the purpose of providing an early assessment of an administrative ability to adapt to the demands of the world’s most powerful office.

Taken in this context, the evaluations have not been kind. Trump was seen as unprepared for the presidency; ignorant of its working of government; unfamiliar with the history of the country or its relation with other nations; favoring billionaires, military personnel, conspiracy theorists and nationalists in running his administration; an unpredictable and vengeful leader; and autocratic in style and thinking. Government appeared not to interest him and his issue concerns focused mainly on rewarding those of wealth and, through his family, continuing his business interests. As he would say, he never expected the presidency to be as complicated as it was. He considered Washington a “swamp,” as he said in the campaign, and did his best to spend time in Florida golfing and entertaining at his Mar-a-Lago estate, club and golf course. He had even used his property to conduct business fully in the public eye (his meeting with the prime minister of Japan and their reacting to a North Koran threat being one of the more dramatic instances).

The pattern and style of his decision-making and the values and priorities forming these are clear extensions of those found in the campaign. Basically the administration is run exactly like the campaign – it is a one-man operation – and the promises made in the election provide the blueprint for the administration.

A final point before looking at what has and has not been achieved. However Trump may be judged by the media and outsiders, his core supporters continue to back him. Unlike Barack Obama, he has made it a priority to continue the rallies that marked the campaign, which he enjoys, to give his followers his version of events. In two national polls (taken before the firing of the director of the FBI), 97 to 98 percent of Trump voters continue to support him and believe he is doing what he promised to do. However one assesses his actions, the political landscape has been in turmoil since his assuming the office of president.

Appointments: Trump has appointed Wall Street executives to his major economic positions in the administration, all with no government experience. He has appointed high-ranking military officers to defense and national security positions. Beyond these, he has chosen people to lead Cabinet and other agencies who are committed to ending them (Gov. Rick Perry of Texas in the energy department) or want to end their mission (Betsy DeVos heading the education department and wanting to stop funding for public schools, and Scott Pruitt, who has repeatedly sued the EPA, the agency he now heads) and/or who have no knowledge of the department’s mission (Dr. Ben Carson in housing). He has fired but is yet to replace federal prosecutors nationwide. Additionally, hundreds of other government positions have been left open.

Sources of Information: Given his lack of knowledge or experience in understanding government operations, Trump depends heavily on outside sources to keep him informed and up-to-date. He does not trust government agencies and he particularly distrusts the national security agencies and the CIA. Consequently, and given his predilection for conspiracy theories and nationalist commitments in policy matters, he relies on Fox News, a conservative network (he spends a considerable amount of time watching TV), and hard-core nationalist radio programs. Stephen K. Bannon, one of his closest advisors, is a product of such an environment.

Trump relies primarily on himself and his instincts, does not prepare himself for situations and comes across as disorganized, temperamental and unpredictable, qualities he appears to value. Add to this his family, and especially his daughter Ivanka who has an office in the White House, who are called on for advice and to run his business affairs. He also has a large if informal number of corporate executives who meet with him personally or on a semi-regular basis.

Trump’s major issues in the campaign were repealing the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”); revising (“reforming”) the tax code to cut rates and further reward the wealthiest; and stopping immigration and deporting undocumented aliens and anyone who has entered the country illegally, regardless of length of residence.

The record:

  • Trump’s major preoccupation during his campaign as well as a major agenda item of the Republican party since it was passed by the Congress was the repeal of Obamacare. He promised a better, more efficient and less expensive replacement that would continue to be inclusive.

It turned out that neither Trump or the Republicans had a plan in mind. House Speaker Paul Ryan along with a handful of House colleagues did put together a bill that would largely end Obamacare, change the tax code to help the wealthy and cripple Medicaid which serves many of the medical needs of the poorest Americans. Trump signed on and promised a “bloodbath” if all Republicans did not vote for it. It fell short of 11 supporters to gain a majority and so was not brought to the House floor. The outcome was considered a disaster for the administration and Democrats claimed that Obamacare was now safe. They were wrong.

The Far Right Freedom/Tea Party Caucus opposition had sunk the bill. They then came up with a more restrictive bill that eliminated more services, cut Medicaid by $800 billion and changed the tax code to move the same amount to the wealthiest of Americans. The bill would deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, a particularly sensitive issue.  Trump and Ryan signed on. It passed by 4 votes. The bill passed a Republican-controlled House in a matter of days and without Congressional Budget Office review of the cost, making a mockery of the legislative process. The Republican Senate indicated it may write its own bill.

The second attempt at repeal (The American Health Care Act) makes changes to the subsidies for those who buy their own healthcare insurance. It includes a provision that states can opt out of some or all of the act’s provisions. Most of the state governments are now in the hands of the Republicans who have argued for the ability to opt-out from the beginning. It has a particular appeal to them and should the final bill keep this option, most states will enforce it, using this as the opportunity to limit or totally deny benefits to their residents.

Trump sent a one-page revision of the tax code to Congress. It would redraw the tax laws, again transferring wealth to the best-off, ending estate and other taxes that affected the richest and lowering the maximum tax a corporation or individual could pay to 15 percent (down from a standard of 35%). It offered minor changes to advantage the working and middle classes. The Congressional Budget Office has yet to calculate the losses in revenue for the government from the tax proposal or for the health care repeal bill passed by the House.

Trump increased arrests and efforts to deport undocumented aliens (a total of 22,000 from January to March, 2017) and attempted to shut down immigration from five Muslim countries. The administration has encountered court efforts to review or halt such actions. Trump responded to the courts’ questioning of his plans by saying he would restructure the federal court system to eliminate such delays in the execution of his orders.

These were Trump’s major initiatives.

In addition:

  • Trump is reviewing and cancelling as promised all Executive Orders issued by his predecessor Barack Obama. These include environmental restrictions on oil, gas and coal production and other (health-related) provisions; efforts to control climate change; limits on pipeline expansion throughout the country including approval of the Dakota Access pipeline and allowing the Keystone XL pipeline to proceed; set-asides of public lands for national parks and recreation; safety guidelines; the Dodd-Frank bill limits on Wall Street; government support for the arts and PBS; and so on. He is attempting to reverse the Clean Power Plan and international agreements on air and water pollution, open national parks and protected waterways to oil drilling, reverse efforts to prohibit oil and coal companies from dumping toxic waste into waterways; and end any restrictions on corporate earnings. Further in this context, he proposes to cut the EPA’s budget by 31 percent, along with related cuts in the budgets of other federal agencies concerned with domestic programs.
  • Trump’s off-hand remarks appeared to reverse the two states objectives for Israel-Palestine and reinstate the two nations approach for China and Taiwan.
  • He imposed tariffs on goods coming into the U.S. such as lumber and dairy products while threatening to withdraw from NATO and canceling the Trans-Pacific Partnership Obama attempted to have passed in his final days in office.
  • Trump appointed and had confirmed in close Senate vote hard-right conservative Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
  • Trump ordered 59 cruise missiles fired into Syria in response, the White House said, to the Syrian government’s use of poison gas on its population.
  • With or without his direct approval, the military dropped the “mother of all bombs” second in impact only to a nuclear bomb and never before used on a reputed ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan.
  • He signed order for constructing a wall along the Mexican border but funding has been left uncertain.

The actions taken have been frantic and mostly unpredictable, a style that Trump likes and one that suits his temperament. In broad terms, the effort is to reduce domestic programs to a minimum; remove all restrictions in the public interest on economic activity; end environmental safeguards; stop immigration; and introduce a contentious and challenging foreign policy to international affairs, a phase that is just developing.

An issue that would not go away is Russia‘s role in the election in promoting Trump’s candidacy and in the number of advisors to Trump’s campaign and nominees for federal office with contacts of various kinds to the Russians. Most of these have been denied. They include the senator (Jeff Sessions of Alabama) chosen as Attorney General who lied on his ties to the Russians in his confirmation hearing and the national security director, former general Michael T. Flynn, who had lied to the Vice President and others about his Russian associations. He was fired by Trump. There have also been such alleged associations between other members of the administration and advisors to Trump’s campaign.

The White House refused to investigate the charges as to date has the Congress and the Justice Department which also has refused to appoint a Special Prosecutor to look into the matter. The FBI says it is investigating such ties but will not give out any information. Critics argue this is what the FBI should have been doing during the campaign.

Shortly after appearing before the Congress and indicating the Russian connections to the Trump campaign and White House appointments and advisors was under investigation, Trump fired the FBI director, James T. Comey. The firing caused a sensation and drew comparisons to Richard Nixon and Watergate.

Presidential historian Richard North Patterson: “… this latest spasm of self-absorbed self-preservation carries the anomalous stamp of Trump’s disordered psyche.

… what is so distinctive and disturbing here is Trump’s naked desire to attack the legal system itself, reducing his presidency to a cage match between our institutions of justice and a man who does not even pretend to represent them.”  (Richard North Patterson, “A President Is Acting Guilty and Unhinged,” Boston Globe, May 11, 2017, p. A14).

Trump’s reaction was to meet with Russian government officials, including that county’s ambassador to the United States, a principal in the controversy, and to prohibit the American press from covering the meeting. The photo of the event to appear in the media was supplied by the Russians. Trump has also said he may stop daily press briefings for the media and limit these to one every two weeks which he himself may lead, rather than his communications staff.

One thing is clear: Trump loves strongmen. He has praised Vladimir Putin of Russia repeatedly. He personally called President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, charged with the mass killings of drug dealers, praised him and invited him to the White House. After having his Secretary of State threaten North Korea with the possibility of military action, he completely changed direction, praising North Korean dictator Kim Jung-Un and while warning that “nobody is safe” from North Korea nuclear weapons said he would be “honored” to meet with him. Besides Putin and Duterte, Trump has congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, a former army officer who instigated a ruthless purge of dissidents and Islamists. “. … Trump seems to have a genuine affinity for men of action who brook little dissent.” (Ishaan Tharoor, Today’s Worldview: “Trump’s Invitation to Duterte Is a Sign of the Times,” Washington Post, May 1, 2017.

Donald Trump had begun his post–100 day presidency by:

  • Saying the Civil War (1861-1865) in which 600,000 Americans died was unnecessary. Abraham Lincoln was responsible for it. If Trump’s new hero, populist President Andrew Jackson, was in charge the war would not have taken place. Jackson was a slave holder. The two sides (North and South) should have made a deal, according to the president.
  • Said visitors logs to the White House will no longer be publicly available.
  • Changed May 1st, normally a day to celebrate labor unions, into “loyalty day” intended to honor nationalism, small government and his presidency
  • Announced an increase in military actions in Afghanistan
  • Said the United States government needed “a good shutdown” in the fall to force a partisan confrontation over federal spending
  • Waived all rules on the conflict of interests

There of course is much more but this should give an idea of the administration, how it operates and what it believes important.

Democratic Party Opposition: As for the Democrats, potential presidential candidates for the party’s 2020 nomination are beginning to stir. These include the familiar – Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and possibly Hillary Clinton – and the not-so-well-known- members of Congress, mayors of major cities and governors. Meanwhile, while the congressional House and Senate parties have vigorously contested the Trump presidency, the 2018 congressional elections are coming up, for which the Democratic party has not prepared.

The party was devastated under Barack Obama. He had no interest in it, did little campaigning for candidates, ignored party-building and basically controlled the national party to ensure it offered no opposition to his presidency. In the process, he left the field to the Republicans. The results were the Democrats lost 69 House seats and 13 Senate seats and lost their majority in both houses of the Congress. They also lost just under 1,000 state legislative seats. The party is in its worse shape since 1922 and Democratic governors at their lowest ebb since 1865. To date, it has yet to begin recruiting candidates for the 2018 off-year congressional and state races.

The DNC during Obama’s presidency and under his control was a part-time operation. The then-chair’s one preoccupation was in advancing Hillary Clinton’s pursuit of the presidency. In the words of the Democratic leader of the Senate, the national committee was “useless.” And the neglect took its toll.

Given this, the battle for control of the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee in early 2017 assumed unusual importance. It pitted a progressive Congressman committed to rebuilding the party against a member of the Obama administration, a centrist with no electoral experience, strongly backed by Obama in his last days in the White House. Obama’s candidate was supported by, in addition to Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. His opponent was supported by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, the major labor unions and grassroots Democrats hoping to mobilize those taking part in anti-Trump rallies nationwide. Obama’s candidate won a close race and the national committee has continued to remain essentially dormant while Obama has announced a $400,000 fee for a Wall Street talk. Such talks and his commitment to writing a book on his presidency are his present concerns (book contracts with Barack and Michelle Obama in the range of $60 million have been reported by The Guardian. The biggest problem for the National Democratic Party is not opposing Trump, although it has done little along these lines, but getting out from under Barack Obama’s control.

Conclusion: The 100-day reckoning may be a false standard as claimed. Still a number of things about Trump and his presidency have become clear. First, he is not prepared for the job of president. Second, while he enjoys exercising power he does not like the demands of the presidency, the public and media scrutiny and the criticisms of his behavior and he hates “the swamp,” Washington. Third, he with his family’s assistance will keep their main focus on making money and extending the Trump brand. Fourth, he is determined to destroy what is left of a soft social welfare state in the United States. Fifth, he is committed to increasing the already extensive polarization of wealth in the country, further enriching those at the top of the income pyramid (himself included), making a situation already the worst among advanced democracies that much worse. Sixth, he wants an aggressive, contentious and militaristic defense and foreign policy, the outlines of which are just becoming clear. And finally he is an autocrat determined to do whatever is needed to increase his personal power, testing the limits imposed by a democratic society.

Finally, Thomas L. Friedman in the New York Times (May 3, 2017, p. A27) writes: “Has the first 100 days of the presidency made Donald Trump nuts? … You read all of Trump’s 100-day interviews and they are just bizarre.” It is an administration “… bound not by a shared vision but by a shared willingness to overlook Trump’s core ignorance, instability and indecency.”*

The question left is where do we go from here and the answer is likely more of the same.

 

 

*For Trump’s assessment of the first 100 days, see his speech to a rally of supporters in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on April 29, 2017.

(Note: As of May 12, 2017, the WhiteHouse.gov website has the link above “being updated,”
although video of the rally is available from various web sources.)

Patrick S. Roberts and Robert P. Saldin – Why Presidents Ignore Intelligence Information

This is a guest post by Patrick S. Roberts, associate professor in the Center for Public Administration and Policy in the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech, and Robert P. Saldin, associate professor of political science at the University of Montana. Roberts is the author of Disasters and the American State and Saldin is the author of Why Bad Policy Makes Good Politics. This post is based on their article “Why Presidents Sometimes Do Not Use Intelligence Information” in Political Science Quarterly.

President Donald Trump’s feud with intelligence agencies has drawn headlines, but he is not the first president to ignore intelligence information or seek advice elsewhere.

The spectacle of back and forth jabs on Twitter is new to presidential politics in the United States, as is the president’s early and public criticism of the intelligence agencies. Trump took the unusual step of seeking a political ally from the world of finance to lead a review of the intelligence community, a group of 16 military and civilian agencies in the US government. The review was announced even before the Director of National Intelligence nominee, Dan Coats, was confirmed.

President Trump’s tempestuous relationship with the intelligence community has obscured the fact that the president’s nonuse of intelligence information is more a feature of the presidency than a bug. Presidents have always had reasons to ignore intelligence information that gets in the way of their goals.

There are four principle reasons why presidents and their advisers may not act, even when the situation seems to call for it. First, advisors may withhold information that they know will not please the president or reinforce his preferred policies. The most infamous example is the Vietnam War, when President Richard Nixon’s advisers withheld assessments of the Vietcong’s strength and wildly overestimated American superiority. Second, the president may receive intelligence information, but not acknowledge it publicly. If President Barack Obama had received information about Syria crossing one of his “red lines” with the use of chemical weapons, he may not have wished to acknowledge the violation if doing so would upset progress on a peace agreement.

Third, presidents may seek plausible deniability. The CIA never told President George W. Bush the locations of its black site prisons, and the president had no reason to want to know the specific details because remaining in the dark provided protection. The logic of the Iran-Contra Affair was also that the president could not be seen to be in the loop.

Fourth, presidents may pursue opacity rather than clarity in cases in which certainty about some event would upset the global strategic balance or harm a president’s foreign policy interests. The novel feature of opacity occurs when presidents take steps to move from relative certainty to relative uncertainty about an event by, for example, expanding the scope of the problem or introducing new information, or establishing a commission to study an issue. We illustrate the pursuit of opacity using the example of the alleged secret Israeli–South African nuclear test in 1979, known as the “flash” over the South Atlantic. Leonard Weiss has also written about the test recently.

What can we, the public and concerned public officials, do about situations where the president doesn’t want intelligence information and would prefer to proceed on a need not to know basis?

First, putting the executive and legislative branches on equal footing with regards to the intelligence community could help. Recent decades have seen the relationship with Congress relegated to second-tier status, and enhanced committee staff and oversight could boost Congress’ role relative to the president’s.

Second, agencies that put dissenting information on the record could help push the information into the policy process over the long term. Prior to the Iraq war, the State Department’s Bureau of I&R and the International Atomic Energy Agency poured cold water on the idea that Iraq had an active WMD program. The president didn’t listen, but putting dissenting voices on record ensured that the Bush administration and Congress’ decision to go to war wasn’t seen as inevitable, and it constrained future administration pronouncements.

These strategies will not ensure that the president will use intelligence findings, but they do make it more likely that the intelligence community’s work will see the light of day.

Archie Brown – Donald Trump and the strong leader illusion

This is a guest post by Archie Brown, Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford. It is based on his book The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age, Vintage, 2015)

We don’t need to fall back on anecdotal evidence to be aware that among the factors contributing to Donald Trump’s electoral success was the high value voters attached to electing a strong leader and to the perception that Trump looked the part. Survey data, based on Morning Consult/Politico exit polls, suggested that the significance of the presidential candidate appearing to meet that yardstick was twice as salient a factor in the 2016 election as in 2012. Of those questioned in the exit poll last November, 36 per cent, as against 18 per cent four years earlier, said that what they wanted, above all, was a strong leader. The ‘strong leader’ criterion was valued more than twice as highly as wanting someone who ‘cares about people like me’ or someone who ‘shares my values’.[1]

We should, of course, never forget that but for the vagaries of an electoral system in which the candidate who won almost three million more votes than the forty-fifth president was deemed to be the loser, Trump would not be in the White House. For the second time this century, the electoral college provided startling evidence of the ‘majority-constraining’ features of the American political system, eloquently analyzed by Alfred Stepan and the late Juan Linz – indeed, a majority-defying result.[2] In any other democracy the candidate constitutionally decreed to be the loser in 2016 would, as in 2000, have been the clear winner. The result brings back to mind one of Robert Dahl’s last books, How Democratic is the American Constitution? His answer, if it can be summarised in two words, was: Not very.[3]

Nevertheless, Trump in 2016 had substantial support, and it included backing from people in social groups who might have been expected to look to the Democrats for succour rather than to a billionaire property-developer. The image Trump projected of nationalist strongman, reiterated in his inaugural speech, resonated with many of those who had been left behind by globalization. That particular aspect of Trump’s candidacy counted for less with those who had been beneficiaries of vastly increased inequality but, in the interests of becoming still richer, they voted for lower taxation.

My focus here, however, is on the ‘strong leader’ aspect of Trump’s success. I have argued elsewhere that the cult of the strong leader which, most obviously, thrives in dictatorships, has its echoes in contemporary democracies, with a craving for the strong hand of a powerful individual not confined to the brainwashed or cowed subjects of an authoritarian or totalitarian ruler.[4] The presence of Donald Trump in the White House has brought to the forefront of political discussion issues of leadership style and the big question of the extent to which one individual can or should dominate the political process in a democracy.

In this brief essay, I address three questions: First, what does it mean to call someone a strong leader? Second, having established the criteria, is Trump really a strong leader in that sense? Third, is strength the quality we should especially value in a political leader or are there other attributes we should esteem more highly and which contribute more to good leadership in a democracy?

The notion of a strong leader is open to a range of interpretations, but when we compare various presidents and prime ministers, we generally, and perfectly reasonably, describe as a strong leader one who maximises his (or her) personal power, dominates his government, political party and a wide swath of public policy, and asserts his right to take most of the big decisions.

Donald Trump has, indeed, shown every sign that he intends to be a strong leader in that sense. He has not hesitated to criticize the Republican Party establishment and has made policy pronouncements on the hoof, without regard either to predominant opinion within his own party (on Russia, for example, including praise for Vladimir Putin as a strong leader) or even to long-standing  bipartisan foreign policy positions in Washington (as on China and Taiwan). His Cabinet appointments have been idiosyncratic, with a number of appointees lacking any obvious qualifications for the job, other than apparently enjoying the trust of president.

Deliberately projecting himself as a strong leader, Trump has verged on the messianic. In his acceptance speech at the Republican convention he told his audience there and in the country that “I am your voice”. Brushing aside his lack of political experience, he said that he knew the system better than anyone else which was why “I alone can fix it”. In his hyberbolic presidential inauguration speech, he promised to determine not only the course of America but also of the world “for many, many years to come”, and claimed that his supporters had “become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before”.  The fact that turnout at his own inaugural ceremony fell far below that which welcomed Barack Obama in 2009, and that the world has seen many larger movements that have escaped his attention, was not allowed to get in the way of the rhetoric.

I have no difficulty in accepting that Trump meets the criteria set out above for designating someone as a “strong leader”. (The Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was among those who lost no time in describing him as such in the congratulatory message he sent following the presidential election.) The bigger question is whether we should value the strength of a domineering individual above other leadership attributes and whether strong leadership is the same as effective leadership.

The self-consciously strong leader is, in a democracy, rarely as strong as he thinks he is. In a parliamentary system an overweening leader often loses office before the government’s term of office has run its course as a result of a revolt by enough members of his or her own party in the legislature. It happened to the three British prime ministers in the last ninety years who attempted to concentrate the most power in their own hands and who acquired an extravagant belief in the superiority of their own judgement over that of their colleagues: Neville Chamberlain, forced to resign in 1940; Margaret Thatcher, ousted in 1990; and Tony Blair, who was obliged to yield the premiership to his colleague and rival, Gordon Brown, in 2007.

In some ways, it is easier to justify power-maximization by an American president than by a prime minister in a parliamentary democracy because the president has been directly elected, has a larger personal mandate than anyone else in the country (especially when he has, as Trump has not, won the popular vote), and because of the large number of veto-players in the American system with its constitutional checks and balances and powerful organized interests. All these make it difficult for a president to dominate the domestic agenda (he has more room for manoeuvre in foreign policy) and so can be justifications for an incumbent augmenting the powers of the office in whatever way he constitutionally can.

Yet, we should reject the temptation to believe that the more power one individual leader wields, the more we should be impressed by that leader. Strong leadership, in the sense of concentrating maximal power in the hands of one person, is far from being identical with good leadership. There are only twenty-four hours in the day of even the strongest leader. The more that person tries to do individually, the less time he or she has to weigh the evidence and gain an understanding of the complexity and nuances of each issue. The self-consciously strong leader is often tempted to demonstrate strength by coming to quick decisions. Even in a crisis, however, it is often possible to take time, and to listen to the widest range of opinion, before reaching a conclusion. Doing so can be a life-or-death matter.

If President John F. Kennedy had come to a quick decision when the Cuban missile crisis broke in 1962, the world would almost surely have been engulfed in catastrophic nuclear war. From the outset the Joint Chiefs of Staff advocated a comprehensive military strike on Cuba.[5] Wiser counsels eventually prevailed.  It was only decades later that the United States discovered what the likely consequences would have been of accepting the military advice. They learned that already there were tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba for use against the US in the event of an invasion and, moreover, that Soviet ships approaching Cuba had submarine escorts with commanders empowered to fire nuclear torpedoes at American targets without awaiting authorization from Moscow.[6]

It is important that any American administration – indeed, any government in a democracy – should contain people of independent political standing, and, preferably, of great and varied experience. Within the government they should not engage in self-censorship, adjusting their advice to the perceived predilections of the top leader, even if that person is the President of the United States. They should be prepared to subject his conclusions to serious scrutiny and to provide counter-arguments. No president or prime minister in a democracy was ever selected because he or she was believed to have a monopoly of wisdom. A democracy worthy of the name has many leaders, not one.

A leader – in a democracy as well as an authoritarian regime – who tries to monopolize power will generally do more harm than good. Far more valuable qualities of a head of government than ‘strength’, as I have defined it, include integrity, intelligence, collegiality, a questioning mind, willingness to seek disparate views, ability to absorb information, good memory, flexibility, courage, and (if we are lucky) vision. The last-mentioned of these qualities means, at a minimum, an ability to distinguish what is in the long-term interests of the country from what may play well in the traditional and social media today.

While governments collectively are not immune from making foolish and damaging decisions, the likelihood of calamitously bad decision-making is substantially greater under unconstrained, or only weakly constrained, personal rule. A head of government should feel the need to persuade colleagues rather than foreclose the discussion by pulling rank. To pine for one-person dominance and to believe in the efficacy of such leadership is worship of a false god. Rather than succumb to the fanciful allure of the strong leader, we would do well to relearn the advantages of a more collegial, collective and dispersed leadership.

Notes

[1] ‘Early exit polls: Voters say they want a “strong leader”’, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/exit-polls-what-do-voters-want-23095.

[2] Alfred Stepan and Juan J. Linz, ‘Comparative Perspectives on Inequality and the Quality of Democracy in the United States’, Perspectives on Politics, Vol.. 9, No. 4, 2011, pp. 841-856. See also Nannerl Keohane, ‘Leadership, Equality and Democracy’, Daedalus, Vol.. 145, No. 3, 2016, pp. 8-20.

[3] Robert A. Dahl, How Democratic is the American Constitution? (2nd ed., Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2003).

[4] Archie Brown, The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age (Bodley Head, London, and Basic Books, New York, 2014; Vintage paperback, 2015); Brown, ‘Questioning the Mythology of the Strong Leader’, Leadership, Vol. 11, No. 3, 2015; DOI: 10.1177/174271501559066; and Brown, ‘Against the Führerprinzip: For Collective Leadership’, Daedalus, Vol. 145, No. 3, 2016, pp. 109-123. See also one of the last articles of the late Anthony King in the same issue of Daedalus, ‘In Favor of “Leader-Proofing”’, pp. 124-137; and S. Alexander Haslam,, Stephen D. Reicher and Michael J. Platow, The New Psychology of Leadership: Identity, Influence and Power (Psychology Press, Hove and New York, 2011).

[5] Lawrence Freedman, Kennedy’s Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam (Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 2000), pp. 180-181.

[6] William J. Perry, My Journey at the Nuclear Brink (Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2015), p. 4.

US – Donald Trump’s Inaugural Address: Closed Fist or Open Hand?

This is a guest post by Craig Allen Smith, Professor Emeritus, North Carolina State University

Until November I considered the notion of “President Donald J. Trump’s Inaugural Address” a fantasy; perhaps he did, too.  Most polls then predicted his defeat and he won just 45.94% of the vote. But American presidential elections are a tournament of state elections for electoral votes, and Trump won 304 electoral votes and the 2017 inaugural moment.  Presidential inaugurals are planned responses to a recurrent rhetorical situation. Forty-four presidents have addressed that challenge, and their addresses  shape our expectations.

The definitive study of presidential inaugural addresses (Campbell & Jamieson 1985) suggests five guidelines for President Trump’s address. First, the speech should “unify the audiences by reconstituting it as ‘the people’ who witness and ratify the ceremony. Second, the speech should “rehearse shared values drawn from the past” to anchor the new president in the permanent culture of America. Third, the speech should “enunciate the political principles that will guide the new administration” by providing tactical watchwords for the new administration.  Fourth, the speech should “demonstrate that the President appreciates the requirements and limitations of Executive power”. Finally, the speech should pursue its four ends “through means appropriate to epideictic discourse”:  by “Urging contemplation not action”,  by “Focusing on the present while incorporating past and future”,  and by “Praising the institution of the Presidency and the form of government of which it is a part” (Campbell & Jamieson 1985).

Ultimately, every presidents’ rhetorical challenge is to adapt his message to the genre while adjusting that genre to his message.  Let us then consider how President Trump adjusted his message and the inaugural expectations.  All quotations are from the official text (Trump 2017).

Generic inaugurals unify audiences by reconstituting the people as witnesses and ratifiers of the transfer of power (Campbell and Jamieson 1985).  President Trump did so immediately by invoking “We, the citizens of America” — an unusual construction, especially given his focus on legal citizenship in the United States of America.  He then characterized his oath to God to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution as “an oath of allegiance to all Americans.”  Both statements functioned as parts of a strategic reconstituting of the country:  “the people” were mentioned nineteen times compared to three mentions of “government” and no mention of the Constitution, Congress, or the judiciary.

“What truly matters is not which party controls our government,” said the President, “but whether our government is controlled by the people.” His position was clear: “For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.” He pounded the wedge between people and government: “Washington flourished – but the people did not share in its wealth.  Politicians prospered – but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s Capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.”

Thus, said the President, “today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.” Indeed, “January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.” Their embodiment — President Donald J. Trump — delivered that message from the steps of the Capitol while flanked by former Presidents Carter, Clinton, Bush, and Obama as well as members of Congress and the Supreme Court. In short, President Trump defined himself less as President of the United States and its government than as president of the American people.

Like his predecessors since Theodore Roosevelt, President Trump employed a “Plebiscitary Model” for his address to “envision and articulate a strong connection between the presidency and the public” (Korzi 2004). This is fully consistent with Trump’s defeat of the Republican establishment in the primaries, his defeat of the Democratic establishment in the general election, and with the populist rhetoric of his campaign.

But none of his predecessors went this far in disconnecting the people from their government even though they took office with more than Trump’s 46% of the popular vote and pre-inauguration approval ratings greater than his 37%. (Calfas 2017).  Which people, then, did President Trump mean to empower? President Trump’s “people” were “everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America.  This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country.”   “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now. You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.” Implicitly, this moment did not belong to those avoiding the ceremony or to those not responsible for electing him, nor did it belong to those who have not perceived themselves as forgotten. Implicit omissions are unavoidable, but an inaugural is an appropriate site for an olive branch or two, and these are largely absent.

Trump’s olive branch was a bit curious. “We are one nation,” he said, “and their pain is our pain.  Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success.  We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.” But who are “they”? If the forgotten people are now his empowered “we” then who is left as the “they” outside his people, his America, and his nation that exists to serve them?

The second generic characteristic of presidential inaugurals is the invocation of “shared values drawn from the past” (Campbell & Jamieson 1985). Trump’s inaugural is light on the American core values of morality, patriotism, effort and optimism, and progress and change (Smith and Smith 1985).  He invokes the Bible (“The Bible tells us, ‘how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity’”), God (“we are protected by God”), and the Creator (“And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.”) but that seems a bit thin in comparison to the genre. We heard two references to patriotism (“When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” and “It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag”).

The values heard in this inaugural are of the terminal variety — outcomes to be valued. These include strength, wealth, pride, safety, and greatness — “Together, We Will Make America Strong Again. We Will Make America Wealthy Again. We Will Make America Proud Again. We Will Make America Safe Again. And, Yes, Together, We Will Make America Great Again.” These are not altruistic goals, but imply a morality of self-interest.

Indeed, the President explicitly indicts America’s history of altruism:  “For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry;  Subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; We’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; And spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.  We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.”

The third generic characteristic of presidential inaugurals is that they “enunciate the political principles that will guide the new administration” (Campbell and Jamieson 1985). It is here that President Trump was most explicit, replacing altruism with self-interest:

“We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.  Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body – and I will never, ever let you down. America will start winning again, winning like never before.”

Here again his explicit statement invites an examination of his implicit message. Does “America first” mean the United States or his reconstituted “America” of his people? Does he mean our country first as opposed to other countries, or our people as opposed to their Constitutional government? Surely his ardent supporters will dismiss those questions, but the other 60% of Americans and others around the world will surely wonder.

Fourth, the speech should “demonstrate that the President appreciates the requirements and limitations of Executive power” (Campbell and Jamieson 1985).  Trump’s inaugural is squarely within Korzi’s (2004) “Plebiscitary Model” in which the president “is central and dominant in the political system, with other political actors, such as Congress and political parties, largely absent. Moreover, the Constitution and limits on presidential power are eschewed. Most importantly, these addresses envision and articulate a strong connection between the presidency and the public” (Korzi 2004). Yet Trump never refers to the presidency and mentions no other political actors. Instead “Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for years to come.”  Not he but “we” will rebuild America:

“We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders.  We will bring back our wealth.  And we will bring back our dreams. We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work – rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor. We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American. We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow. We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones – and unite the civilized world against Radical Islamic Terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.”

Which we? You, sir, and who else? The government that has failed in the past? The 46% who voted for you and the 37% who approve of you? The forgotten people now empowered? This remains unexplained. Except that, “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.” But is that allegiance to the American people, to the disdained government, or to the unmentioned Constitution?

Fifth and finally, an inaugural should pursue its four ends “through means appropriate to epideictic discourse” (Campbell & Jamieson 1985). Whereas we expect epideictic to urge contemplation over action this speech does the opposite: “The time for empty talk is over.  Now arrives the hour of action.” Whereas we expect epideictic to focus on the present while incorporating past and future this speech focuses on the future: “But that is the past. And now we are looking only to the future. We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.” And where we expect an inaugural as epideictic to praise the institution of the Presidency and the form of government of which it is a part, this speech does not mention the presidency and renders government as the villain. The President’s message could have been cast so as to fulfill these generic expectations but it seems more likely that the President wanted to defy those rhetorical expectations just as well as he had defied the political expectations.

Conclusion

President Donald J. Trump delivered an inaugural address that was sufficiently generic to be a recognizable inaugural. Like his predecessors he reconstituted the people, he invoked values, and he articulated principles guiding his administration. But unlike his predecessors he divided his people from his government, he rejected the traditional value of altruism in favor of self-interest, he offered no praise for the presidency or the Constitutional system, and he flaunted the requirements of good epideictic address.

An inaugural address is a point of interface between the politics, rhetoric, and the individual. This address was mostly Trump. A political inaugural would have sought to build bridges, but he worked to burn them. A rhetorical inaugural would have urged contemplation about the present and paid homage to the presidency and the constitutional system, but he spurned contemplation, focused on the future, and said nothing good about the office or the system. Instead a self-confident businessman attacked government. He disdained a tradition of altruism and pledged his administration to “America First”. At his investiture he vested power in “the people”, however clumsily, pitting them against the government of which he is the new CEO. A candidate who won with a divide and conquer strategy exhorted us to be unified and loyal to one another.

President Trump’s inaugural address ended with a raised fist reminiscent of Edward P. J. Corbett’s (1969) essay about the rhetoric of the open hand and the closed fist.  “The open hand might be said to characterize the kind of persuasive discourse that seeks to carry its point by reasoned, sustained, conciliatory discussion of the issues,” wrote Corbett (1969). “The closed fist might signify the kind of persuasive activity that seeks to carry its point by non-rationale, non-sequential, often non-verbal, frequently provocative means.” That seems a fitting description of the Trump we have come to know, although Corbett’s focus was on the raised fist of Black Power and anti-war protesters on the Left.  Corbett argued that the key element of rhetoric is choice and concluded that, “If rhetoric is, as Aristotle defined it, ‘a discovery of all the available means of persuasion,’ let us be prepared to open and close that hand as the occasion demands” (Corbett 1969).

Following Corbett we can be prepared to open and close that hand as appropriate, but the inaugural genre has until now been an open-hand moment.  President Trump’s inaugural address was a close-fisted repudiation of government, altruism, and contemplation.  His calls for unity and togetherness came as commands for unity and allegiance. He offered no assurances to females or non-whites or those aspiring to citizenship unless of course they hear themselves among the Presidents “they” who look at the sky, dream, and bleed.  Surely, President Trump’s inaugural address will have excited his supporters and worried his adversaries…and that should trouble him.

The American constitutional system was designed to complicate change. Rhetorically adept presidents with strong public support who built bridges to their critics still met with mixed success.  Now President Trump begins with a combative closed-fist anchored not in the Constitution but in the popular support of a public that already disapproves of his leadership.  He pits those people against the government he leads.  He offers little to those who fear and/or oppose him. Renounces our record of helping other nations and tells them it will be America First.  His address was more populist and combative than its predecessors; one could even term it “revolutionary”. His path forward will be challenging as he seeks ways to use the open hand and closed fist to forge the allegiance, unity, and togetherness he deems essential to “make America great again”. What could possibly go wrong?

References

Calfas, J. (2017, January 20). Poll: Trump approval rating hits new low hours before inauguration. The Hill. Retrieved 1/20/2017 from http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/315223-poll-trump-approval-rating-hits-new-low-hours-before.

Campbell, K. K.& Jamieson, K. H. (1985). Inaugurating the Presidency. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 15, 395-411. Retrieved 1/19/2017 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/27550215.

Corbett, E. P. J. (1969). The Rhetoric of the open hand and the rhetoric of the closed fist. College Composition and Communication, 20, 288-296. Retrieved 1/20/2017 from http://www.jstor.org.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/stable/pdf/355032.pdf.

Korzi, M. J. (2004). The president and the public: Inaugural addresses in American history. Congress & the Presidency, 31(1), 21-52. Retrieved from http://proxying.lib.ncsu.edu/index.php?url=http://search.proquest.com.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/docview/205929590?accountid=12725

Smith, C. A. & Smith, K. B. (1985). Presidential values and public priorities: Recurrent patterns in addresses to the nation, 1963-1984. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 15(4), 743-753. Retrieved 1/19/2017 from http://www.jstor.org.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/stable/27550274

Trump, D. J. (2017, January 20). The Inaugural Address: Remarks of President Donald J. Trump J. – As prepared for delivery. The White House: Briefing Room. Retrieved 1/20/2017 from https://www.whitehouse.gov/inaugural-address.

Dennis Jett – President Trump and US Ambassadorial Appointments

This is a guest post by Dennis Jett, Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of American Ambassadors: The Past, Present and Future of America’s Diplomats, published by Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

As was discussed in yesterday’s post and in a recent article, a significant number of American ambassadorial appointments are the result of a thinly veiled system of corruption that is as much a part of Washington politics as flag lapel pins. Ambassadors to the wealthiest countries are almost always large contributors to political campaigns. Furthermore, the greater the gross domestic product per capita of the country, the more the ambassador to it contributed. The same applies to the number of tourists a country receives. In other words, as an ambassadorial posting, London costs more than Lisbon.

This pay-to-play system is not new. In 1971, President Nixon’s personal lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach, offered Ruth Farkas, the wife of the owner of a chain of department stores, the ambassadorship to Costa Rice in exchange for a campaign contribution of $250,000. Mrs. Farkas famously replied to that proposal by saying “Isn’t $250,000 an awful lot of money for Costa Rica.” Mr. Kalmbach went to jail for that and other crimes, and Mrs. Farkas went to Luxembourg as ambassador. Following the announcement of her nomination for the post she began to make contributions to Nixon’s campaign, which added up to $300,000, demonstrating that Europe costs more than Central America.

The corruption of the Nixon administration prompted a number of ethics reforms, including the Foreign Service Act of 1980. It states, in part, that ambassadorial appointments should normally go to career diplomats and that campaign contributions should play no part in determining when a noncareer person is nominated as ambassador.

The Act had only a very small impact in reducing the number of political appointee ambassadors, however, and they continue to number about 30 percent of the total. The exception was under President Reagan, where an aggressive White House personnel office, a weak secretary of state and a president disinterested in the details of governing, caused the percent to go up to 38 percent. This was accomplished by sending political appointees as ambassadors to obscure places like Rwanda and Malawi where normal only a career officer would be sent. The Reagan appointees were arguable some of the worst examples of public servants. The embassy in Rwanda, for instance, received an instruction ordering it to refuse cashing the ambassador’s checks because so many had bounced.

While in the earlier blog post there was discussion of theories that might help understand such appointments to high government positions, those theories are of no use when trying to speculate about what the incoming administration might do. The Foreign Service Act notwithstanding, a president has wide latitude about who he appoints as his ambassadors. The 30/70 ratio is more tradition than anything else and, as the Reagan administration demonstrated, can easily be ignored. Perhaps the only real limitation is that there are only so many countries to which political appointees aspire to be ambassador. Those nations where the diplomats earn hardship or danger pay do not attract noncareer ambassadors.

What might therefore be expected from the person that takes office of president on January 20th? If it had been Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state, the 30/70 precedent set by previous presidents would undoubtedly have continued.

What will President Trump do? There is no way to judge. He has already broken with traditional practice by insisting that all the political appointee ambassadors currently in place must depart on January 20th. Normally, many of them would have been allowed to stay on until their successors arrived in order to smooth the transition.

One could argue that with few mega-donors, he might make fewer political appointments. The problem is, as with his potential conflicts of interest and ties to Russia, there is no transparency. The most common form of winning favor with a presidential candidate is for a person to bundle the contributions of his or her friends and colleagues and present it to the campaign. There is no legal requirement to reveal who is trying to buy influence in this fashion however.

In the last two presidential elections, the Democratic nominees have released the names of their bundlers, while the Republicans have not. Clinton and Obama put the names of hundreds of their bundlers on their websites. But as with their tax returns, the information on the bundlers for Trump and Romney remains a secret hidden from the voters.

In addition to the lack of transparency there is also the fact that Trump was the first candidate of a major political party in American history to have no experience in either government or the military. Trump, the anti-insider candidate, might appoint only outsiders as ambassadors. Think of the possibilities for a new reality TV show called Ambassador Apprentice.

His announcements for his ambassadorial appointments thus far have been governors for China and the United Nations, a businessman for Japan and his bankruptcy lawyer for Israel. One thing they all have in common is no experience in the federal government and a level of international experience that can at best be described as limited.

The nominee for Israel, David Friedman, is especially important to a president elect since he has declared bankruptcy six times. Friedman could charitably described as a little short on diplomatic ability, however, as he has said American Jews who support the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine are as worse than the Jews who assisted the Nazis in concentration camps. A majority of the American Jewish community would fall under that description.

One might think that lacking any background in foreign affairs beyond real estate deals, Trump might make a greater percentage of his nominations from the career ranks. As anyone in the intelligence community has discovered, however, Trump thinks nothing of denigrating career civil servants if he decides it in his best interest.

So, as Yogi Berra once said “it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”  A theory about presidential appointments won’t help and the world will have to await more Tweets from Trump Tower.

One thing about which there is no doubt is that whoever gets to serve as ambassador for the next administration will have a foreign policy that will be a challenge to defend. If one wanted to make American embassies and ambassadors bigger targets for terrorism, it would be harder to think of a more effective way to do that than the rhetoric like banning all Muslims from entering the United States, torturing terrorist suspects and murdering their families.