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The 2018 U.S. Midterms: Unstable Majorities Continue

The results of the Nov. 6 midterm elections extend a level of political instability in the United States not seen since the post-Civil War era more than a century ago. Democrats won at least 34 seats to regain control of the House of Representatives by 228-199 over the Republicans, with winners not yet declared in seven additional races. However, Republicans increased their narrow Senate majority with a net gain of two seats, bringing their majority there to 52-47 over the Democrats. (Republicans will likely hold a 53rd seat when Mississippi concludes its runoff race on November 27.) This means that, when the 116th Congress is sworn in next January, a divided legislature will share control at the national level with a Republican president. As this table demonstrates, the power-sharing arrangement will be the seventh of the eight possible configurations of institutional control of the Presidency, House and Senate the U.S. has experienced since 2001.

What explains this recurring pattern of instability? It is the culmination of a long-term process of partisan sorting and polarization, in which the two major political parties have shed their more ideologically moderate members. The result is a Congress composed of two internally homogeneous parties whose respective ideological centers of gravity are moving apart. In addition to being deeply polarized, the parties are electorally quite evenly matched. This means that when either controls the Senate or House, they see little reason to compromise, and instead seek to take advantage of their brief window as the majority to pass as much of their partisan legislative agenda as possible. Witness the Republican effort, with President Trump’s active support, to roll back Obamacare, including its politically popular coverage of pre-existing illnesses during Trump’s first two years as president. Such legislative overreach elicits the predictable response by the more moderate public: it votes the offending party out of majority control. And so the cycle perpetuates.

In addition to continuing this pattern of instability, the recent midterms also perpetuated the midterm loss phenomenon. Since 1938, the president’s party has lost seats in every House midterm election save two: 1998, when Bill Clinton was fighting an unpopular impeachment effort by Republicans, and 2002, the first midterm after the 9-11 terrorist attack, in which Americans rallied to support the Republican administration. Including these exceptions, the average House loss for the president’s party across all midterms during this period is 29 seats. A similar pattern affects the Senate – on average since 1938, the President’s party has lost four seats during the midterm.

What explains the midterm loss phenomenon? Political scientists have developed three related explanations. The first is the “surge and decline” theory, which posits that, compared to a presidential election year, the midterm turnout is smaller and less likely to contain the same proportion of voters who supported the President and his party two years earlier. A related explanation suggests that midterms often serve as a referendum on the president’s accomplishments to date. From this perspective, as the newly-elected president’s “honeymoon” with the voters inevitably erodes, his approval drops and midterm voters react by voting against his party. The third explanation is that the midterm provides Americans with an opportunity to “balance” control of the major governing institutions, by giving the non-presidential party greater representation in Congress. Of these explanations, the balancing hypothesis probably carries the most weight in an era of deeply-polarized and ideologically well-sorted parties, but there is evidence that all three factors were in play during the latest midterm. At an estimated 49% of eligible voters, turnout was the highest seen in a midterm in more than a century, and much of that was driven by increases in Democratic-leaning voters, including Latinos and younger voters. Trump’s approval rating, meanwhile, which is mired in the low 40’s, also likely contributed to Republicans’ seat loss. Moreover, it is likely that the largely moderate, centrist public sought to balance Republican extremism by handing control of the House over to Democrats.

After the tempestuous 2016 election and first two years of the Trump presidency, with many pundits and even political scientists expressing alarm at Trump’s apparent willingness to break norms of presidential behavior, it is perhaps reassuring that, at least when it comes to the midterm, the conventional electoral dynamics seem still to govern outcomes. As with presidential elections, political scientists have developed forecast models that – although simple in construction – are effective at predicting aggregate House and Senate midterm seat changes. Typically, these models focus on “fundamentals” – how long the president’s party has held on to the White House, how many seats the president’s party has exposed, the president’s approval rating and some measure, such as the change in disposable income, of how voters are doing economically. Note that the most of these variables are in place long before the events that cable news pundits proclaim as “game changers”, such as the controversial nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, or the media focus on the “caravan” of immigrants heading toward the United States’ southern border. Despite slight differences in the variables utilized, all the political science models correctly predicted the Democrat House takeover, with the median forecast predicting a 30-seat gain, and the average of the forecasts at 36 seats. These were quite close to the mark. The same models forecast the Republicans making modest 1-2 seat gains in the Senate, however, primarily because of a historical quirk that found Democrats defending 26 Senate seats, including 10 that voted for Trump in 2016. This was the most Senate seats ever defended by the “out” party since direct popular election of the Senate began in 1914, and it was enough to offset the normal seat loss experienced by the president’s party.

What will the next two years of divided government bring? Already many newly-elected Democrats, reacting to pressure from their more progressive base, are threatening to launch multiple investigations of the president and his administration. This is a potentially risky strategy. With some notable exceptions, progressive Democrats did not do well in the midterms, with most of the Democrats’ gains coming by electing relatively moderate candidates, and some Democrats believe the party would be better positioned to regain the presidency and Senate if it showed it could pass a more centrist legislative agenda, perhaps by working with Republicans in areas like immigration reform and reining in health care costs. Unfortunately, recent history suggests it is more likely that the next two years will bring more partisan bickering, legislative gridlock, and deep dissatisfaction among voters. And if Democrats win the presidency in 2020, while retaining control of the House, and Republicans hold on to the Senate, the country will have cycled through every possible permutation of government control in only two decades. Contrary to the constant claim that Americans are hopelessly divided, it seems instead that a significant number share a deep conviction that both major parties are out of step with the public’s more moderate ideological and policy preferences, and that these centrist voters trust neither party enough to let them govern for very long.

Race, Economics and Identity: Explaining Donald Trump’s 2016 Victory

Why did Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election? In the 20 months since his surprise victory, scholars have taken a deep dive into election-related data seeking answers. Although a full consensus has yet to emerge, they have zeroed in on two likely explanations: race and economics. (While not necessarily mutually exclusive, they are often presented as such.) The case for race is typically based in part on surveys showing that Trump voters score high on measures of “racial resentment,” an index based on responses to a series of questions regarding respondents’ views toward school desegregation, the fair treatment of blacks in employment, the federal government’s role in assisting blacks, and affirmative action in employment and education. The goal of these and similar surveyed-based indices is to identify underlying racial biases that respondents might otherwise be reluctant to reveal. According to scholars utilizing these measures, the higher racial resentment scores among Trump’s supporters is evidence that his victory reflected his ability to stoke latent racial animus among white voters, particularly those in the lower socioeconomic strata.

Not all scholars buy the race-based explanation for Trump’s victory. Morris Fiorina, in his analysis of race, class and identity in the 2016 elections, points out that white support for the Democratic presidential candidate declined from 2012 and 2016. This, he says, raises the perplexing question of “how racism would lead millions of whites who voted for and approved a black president to desert a white Democrat.” One answer is that the “racial resentment” index is not actually identifying racial bias, but instead is tapping into a strain of conservative ideology that opposes race-based policies. In an innovative attempt to discern what racial resentment scores are actually measuring, Riley Carney and Ryan Enos substitute groups other than African-Americans into the racial resentment questions. They find that conservatives’ responses to these questions do not appreciably change when other groups are referenced. Based on these findings, they suggest that, at least for conservatives, racial resentment scores are not measuring racial bias against any particular group so much as a more general belief in a “just world” in which, ideally, one is rewarded for working hard and playing by the rules.

Survey questions, and the racial indices constructed from them, are useful methods of gauging underlying sentiments that respondents might otherwise be reluctant to express. But, in addition to the questions of interpretation cited above, these surveys limit respondents to answering a specific set of questions that may not fully capture the range of sentiments behind their voting behavior. To get around these limits, I conducted a series of open-ended conversations with several dozen Trump supporters at four of his campaign rallies during the 2016 presidential campaign. Their responses provide additional insight into the motivation of Trump voters.
A recurring theme in these conversations was a belief among Trump supporters that, through no fault of their own, they were living in a world in which working hard was no longer a guarantee of success. Citing issues like trade and immigration, they told me that the rules of the game by which they were raised no longer insured a level playing field. These responses are consistent with the “just world” thesis advanced by Carney and Enos in their experimental studies.

However, this does not preclude a racial component to Trump’s support. Even if his voters were not motivated by racial animus, they may still have harbored a shared racial identity rooted in the belief that, as a group, they were adversely affected by what they saw as a rigged political and economic system. It is true that Trump voters were not economically any worse off than were supporters of other candidates. However, in the interviews I conducted, I was struck by how often his supporters talked not about their own economic status, but instead about their fears for their children’s futures. As one Trump supporter in New Hampshire explained to me, “These people still believe in the American Dream about getting ahead, but they think it is slipping away from us.” Similarly, many respondents described their support for Trump as a response to the economic downturn they saw in their communities, rather than in their own home.

These comments are consistent with studies showing a correlation between Trump’s support and the impact of trade on jobs, disparities in health across communities and, particularly in the Midwest where Trump made surprising gains, an unstable housing market. Even though Trump’s supporters might be comparatively well off, they often lived in places where they observed economic hardship that disproportionately affected those on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

For his part, Trump proved very effective at validating this perspective. After hearing journalists and political elites routinely describe them as xenophobic, misogynistic and racist, his supporters seemed gratified that Trump recognized their views as a valid response to decades of stagnant wages, lost jobs, and declining hope for the future against the backdrop of a political system that seemed to ignore their concerns. At last, his supporters told me, someone is actually listening to what we are saying, rather than trying to castigate our hidden motives. In short, Trump gave voice to a significant portion of the electorate that felt their concerns were not being addressed by the political establishment.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton ran a campaign that by historical standards, was unusually focused on attacking her opponent’s fitness for office, as opposed to addressing the socioeconomic conditions that concerned many of Trump’s supporters. Even without her ill-fated description of half of Trump’s supporters as belonging in a “basket of deplorables” characterized by “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic” views, one can understand why her campaign strategy may have cued a different voting calculus among some white voters than did Obama’s more economically-focused 2012 campaign against Mitt Romney.

Why did Trump defy predictions to win the 2016 presidential campaign? Analysts continue to sift through the data and, while it is likely they will not fully agree on a single answer, the evidence to date is consistent with the idea that Trump’s message resonated with the concerns of lower- and middle-income white voters in key states who viewed the political system as increasingly unresponsive to their interests. While there was undoubtedly a racial component to Trump’s support, it appears predicated less on racial animus against other groups and more on a shared sense that on key issues, the rules of the game were increasingly stacked against them. By attacking the characteristics of the candidate who spoke to their interests, to say nothing of their motives for supporting him, Clinton may have inadvertently contributed to that group solidarity, thus fueling an erosion of support among many white voters who backed Obama in 2012.

Trump’s White House Merry-Go-Round: Is Kelly The Next To Go?

Is White House Chief of Staff John Kelly about to be fired? Last week President Donald Trump removed his national security adviser H.R. McMaster, replacing him with former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton. McMaster’s firing is the latest in a series of changes to Trump’s inner circle, and it immediately prompted speculation that Kelly is the next to go. Rumors regarding Trump’s dissatisfaction with Kelly have circulated for months, with the president reportedly openly speculating about his replacement. However, the difficulties Kelly has faced as chief of staff are not solely a function of Trump’s mercurial temperament. They also reflect a more fundamental tension that inheres in his particular role running the White House on the president’s behalf. Most chiefs see their primary purpose as conserving the most precious asset a president possesses – his time. To do so, chiefs try to centralize managerial authority in their own hands. But this assertion of power can create a backlash. Under powerful chiefs, presidents frequently chafe at what they see as their increasing isolation, a lack of exposure to differing viewpoints, and a sense that the chief is usurping their prerogatives. Reportedly, Trump has repeatedly expressed exactly these sentiments.

The irony is that Kelly is doing exactly what Trump hired him to do last July in response to a series of policy fiascos, including a controversial travel ban mired in legal disputes, the failed Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare, reports of White House staff infighting, historically low approval ratings, and an overall sense that his presidency was failing. In the ensuing eight months, Kelly has asserted his administrative control through a major overhaul of White House staff people and processes. One result is the unprecedented rate of turnover among Trump’s White House aides, much of it purportedly with Kelly’s blessing. According to media reports, McMaster is but the latest victim of Kelly’s purge.

In addition to the staff housecleaning, Kelly has tried to impose greater discipline over White House decisionmaking and messaging. On this score, however, he has been less successful, in part because Trump seems unwilling, or incapable, of sticking to organizational routines or exercising self-discipline. Indeed, the President bristles at any perception that Kelly is “managing” him. The result is a recurring pattern of high profile disputes between the President and his chief of staff: Trump tweets or states a controversial position or belief, Kelly walks backs or clarifies Trump’s statement, and the President responds by implicitly or publicly rebuking his chief of staff. Two months ago, for example, Kelly reportedly told legislators on Capitol Hill that Trump’s campaign statements on immigration were “uninformed,” and described the President’s views on building a border wall as “evolving.” The next morning Trump responded by tweeting “The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it.” The exchange fueled rumors that Trump would replace Kelly. However, Trump then publicly reaffirmed his support for his chief of staff.

To be sure, some of Kelly’s wounds are self-inflicted, evidence that his years in the military left him ill-prepared to address the political dimension of his job. Examples abound, such as when he accused undocumented immigrants of being too lazy to sign up for protections afforded by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and appeared to back Staff Secretary Rob Porter after accusations of abuse by Porter’s two ex-wives. As former Clinton Chief of Staff Leon Panetta remarked: “John is a great Marine . . . but he is not a politician, and one thing he lacks is the ability to look at the big political picture and understand what you should and shouldn’t say as chief of staff.”

However, the combustible relationship between Trump and Kelly is not simply a function of their personal idiosyncrasies. Barack Obama’s buttoned-down approach to the presidency was the antithesis of Trump’s in terms of impulse control and adherence to organizational routine. And yet Obama went through five chiefs during his two terms as president, including three during his first four years in office. George W. Bush is perhaps an exception to this pattern – his first chief, Andrew Card, served for six years before leaving of his own accord, and Card’s successor finished out Bush’s second term. But Bush’s predecessor Bill Clinton also had high turnover, with four chiefs across his eight years as president. Both George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan White House experienced similar rates of change.

In part this frequent turnover reflects a mismatched skill set. As Kathryn Dunn Tenpas and I show, presidents often initially choose their White House aides, including chief of staffs, from individuals who have proven their mettle on the campaign trail. However, the skills that prove so useful during campaigns tend not to translate well into the process of governing. Steve Bannon, the Trump campaign strategist who briefly reprised that function in Trump’s White House, exemplifies this tendency. After being appointed to the White House to insure that Trump’s campaign promises were fulfilled, Bannon was fired shortly after Kelly’s appointment as chief of staff. Bannon later conceded that “In many ways, I think I can be more effective fighting from the outside for the agenda President Trump ran on. ”

But while the mismatch in functions may explain White House staff turnover more generally, there is a more fundamental reason for the instability in the chief of staff’s position. As my Middlebury College colleague Amy Yuen and I demonstrate formally in our ongoing research program [gated], it is very difficult for a chief to organize the White House staff to simultaneously maximize efficiency and insure that the range of information and advice necessary for effective decisionmaking reaches the President’s desk. In the modern era, White House staffs have expanded in size and internal complexity, prompting chiefs to centralize power in order to achieve administrative efficiency. Carried too far, however, such efforts can isolate presidents from much needed input and advice. Moreover, presidents may worry that their decisionmaking authority is being usurped by their chief White House aide. This clash in expectations is what contributes to the high turnover among chiefs.

How might Kelly avoid the fate that so frequently ensnared his predecessors? It depends first and foremost on Trump properly understanding his organizational needs. The large size and internal complexity of the modern White House make it imperative to designate one individual to coordinate the flow of paper and people in and out of the Oval Office. However, this does not mean Trump should grant that individual primus inter pares status within the White House organization. Instead, as Yuen and I show, presidents gain informational advantages by allowing multiple White House power centers, and giving each equal access to the president. Ideally, this entails distributing White House staff authority across two or more political and policy advisers, and pitting them against each other in a competitive advising process, rather than placing specialists in distinct functional silos reporting separately to a dominant chief of staff. A competitive advising structure, we argue, forces policy and political disputes to the president, where they should be resolved, rather than allowing them to be settled by a chief of staff or worse, by lower-level aides.

This approach undoubtedly has costs. Most notably it requires a president who is comfortable dealing with dissent among his advisers, and who can tolerate the unavoidable negative media coverage that staff disagreements will produce, particularly when aides use the press to take on rivals and to pressure their boss to choose their side. For their part, chiefs must be willing to manage this open competition, rather than stifle it, even at the risk of creating the perception that they are not fully in charge of the White House structure. Eight months into his tenure, it is an open question whether Kelly is willing and able to manage this type of competitive advising structure. It is even less clear that his President will let him. But the fate of Trump’s presidency rests in large part on whether he, and Kelly, grasp the impact of organization on presidential success. If they cannot, Kelly’s days as chief of staff are likely numbered, and Trump will almost certainly experience a recurrence of the organizational dysfunction that has afflicted his presidency for much of his first year in office.

Aidan Smith – The Bully and the Backlash: Donald Trump’s Effective Use of Masculinity Politics

This is a guest post by Aidan Smith. It is based on her book, Gender, Heteronormativity, and the American Presidency, that will soon be published by Routledge.

As a scholar of gender and American presidential politics, the most recent election cycle brought increased attention to my work. Mostly in passing in the early days of 2016, friends and colleagues would ask me if  Donald Trump,  celebrity blowhard and beauty pageant entrepreneur, actually had a chance at the Oval Office. When I told them that I expected that he would win,  I was met with incredulous looks and sometimes outright disdain. How could such an obvious racist and misogynist defeat a qualified woman candidate with high name recognition? Most dismissed my prediction as a symptom of long-entrenched feminist cynicism, a set of politics that could not imagine a happy ending to Hillary Clinton’s narrative of hard-earned opportunity.  But my skepticism was borne out. When faced with the choice between an experienced female candidate with developed policy positions or a political novice  with a history of bankruptcy and explicit racist and misogynist behavior, the nation chose as its leader the person with the most unassailable normative masculine performance.

Trump’s rise, and the concurrent visibility of white nationalist rhetoric, seems a direct response to the policy decisions of the Obama administration. During the eight years of the first black president’s tenure, women, gays and lesbians, and others from marginalized communities saw their status as full citizens become more established. Each of these changes threatened the heteronormative masculine privilege so long entrenched in domestic policy. Beginning with the first piece of legislation that Obama passed, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the administration did not shy away from pushing an agenda that challenged traditional gender norms. This laundry list of policy change included the Office of Civil Rights’ work to make visible the epidemic of sexual assault on campus, the legalization of same-sex marriage, the end of the exclusion of transgender people from military service,  and the mandate that public bathrooms and other facilities be made accessible to individuals of all gender identities. Further, the Obama administration did more than challenge gender norms; it also secured greater opportunity and visibility for people of color.  Moves like support of the DREAM Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for those who immigrated illegally as children, Obama’s comments on the Trayvon Martin case and the Black Lives Matter movement, and the decision to deny permits for the Dakota Access pipeline, which supported the indigenous protestors at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, allowed the voices of marginalized communities to became part of the fabric of the administration’s domestic policy decisions.

In 2016, Trump created a campaign that laid the groundwork for gender and racial politics long before the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape or his remarks about Megyn Kelly’s menstruation.  Trump weaponized  masculinity not just as a tool to bludgeon his general election opponent, he also deployed it against his rivals in the primaries.  The campaign began in earnest in March 2015, when Senator Ted Cruz of Texas announced his candidacy. Seventeen candidates emerged, making it the largest field for a political party in American history.  In June of that year, Trump announced his candidacy on a promise to prevent Mexican rapists from entering the country. [i]

Looking back, it’s not hard to see a rhetoric of competitive masculinity. From comparisons of whose wife was most attractive, to accusations of lagging “stamina”, candidates suffered blows intended to feminize them or make them subordinate to Trump. An exchange between Trump and Senator Marco Rubio prompted the almost unbelievable headline on CNN.com: “Donald Trump Defends Size of His Penis”[ii] How was a reality-television star billionaire from New York City able to convince working class voters from the heartland that he was the solution to their social and economic ills? By leveraging familiar tropes of masculine supremacy.

Mass media pounced on Trump’s sexist degradation of his opponents during the election season, positioning his candidacy as a threat to the body politic. Some used a term usually unheard outside of the gender studies classroom: a New York Times think piece considered “Donald Trump’s Toxic Masculinity”[iii] while The New Republic urged readers “Don’t Let Trump’s Toxic Masculinity Overshadow Hillary’s Historic Achievement.”[iv]  Yet this alleged toxicity did not poison Trump’s candidacy; instead, it served to fortify it, giving voice to an underclass that attributed its failures to the rise of others previously kept in their place by systems designed to uphold the status quo of white male supremacy. The presence of a female frontrunner set the stage for the victory of a candidate that stoked the anger of a self-perceived underclass and embodied the backlash of a portion of the electorate that felt marginalized by the rise of a set of progressive feminist policies enacted by the first African American president.

Trump’s response to the “Access Hollywood “ maelstrom reflected the long held approach to male entitlement: the remarks were merely “locker room talk,” protected and appropriate within a homosocial space away from the contaminating presence of women who would respond negatively to their objectification and potential sexual assault. This “boys will be boys” approach dovetails with long-held conservative critiques of political correctness: remarks that articulate a worldview entrenched in white male supremacy are curtailed to avoid criticism, but are generally thought to be held by everyone. Trump’s defense posits that men just don’t share these thoughts and feelings because they wish to avoid negative reactions.  He not only dismisses the remarks as trivial because they were made among men, but rejects them as peripheral to a decision about whether or not he should serve as president. “Let’s be honest, we’re living in the real world. This is nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we’re facing today,” Trump said in his videotaped apology. [v] This direct appeal implicates the audience as holding the same views about the consideration of women’s role: a voter in the “real world” (which excludes women who don’t affirm normative gender roles, or at the least marginalizes their role as full citizens) being “honest” knows that the marginalization of women is not a “real issue.” In the “real world”, women understand their natural place in the gendered hierarchy of importance, and socially constructed “political correctness” disrupts this natural hierarchy.

The Trump campaign successfully leveraged tropes of dominant masculinity to secure an electoral victory that relied on support from both male and female voters invested in traditional masculinist rhetoric anchored in white supremacy. Importantly, 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump. His victory seemingly symbolizes an American desire from both white men and women to retrieve explicitly masculine superiority over women and ethnic and gender minorities. And nothing about Trump’s style has changed. School yard taunts that surfaced in the campaign carried through to the administration, as seen in  his jibes at North Korea’s dictator (whom he called Little Rocket Man at the  U.N. General Assembly), asking “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me “old,” when I would NEVER call him “short and fat?” or through allusions to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s provision of sexual favors for campaign contributions. [vi]

Backlash to this toxic masculinity has taken over the culture wars, from the widespread condemnation across industries of serial sexual harassers to an increase in women candidates for local and national office.  Some say that these shifts are a direct reaction to Trump’s gender politics. However, Trump is simply a symptom of the illness, not the disease itself.   The president secured almost 63 million votes, from both men and women who did not find his gendered bullying disqualifying. In fact, for many it harkened back to that mythical America of yore when the nation was great, when roles were clearly defined, and women and minorities knew their place. It will take more than the cover of Time Magazine or the resignations of powerful leaders to erase the reality that Trump’s message resonated with many voters, and it’s difficult to imagine a shift in this narrative trajectory as we head into the next election cycle.

Notes

[i] “Here’s Donald Trump’s Presidential Announcement Speech,” TIME, June 16, 2015.

[ii] Gregory Krieg, “Donald Trump Defends Size of His Penis,” CNN, March 4, 2016, http://edition.cnn. com/2016/03/03/politics/donald- trump-small-hands-marco-rubio/.

[iii] Jared Yates Sexton, “Donald Trump’s Toxic Masculinity,” The New York Times, October 13, 2016.

[iv] Jeet Heer, Jeet, Don’t Let Trump’s Toxic Masculinity Overshadow Hillary’s Historic Achievement,” New Republic, October 14, 2016.

[v] “Transcript of Donald Trump’s Videotaped Apology,” The New York Times, October 8, 2016.

[vi] Twitter, @realdonaldtrump, Novcmber 11, 2017, https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/929511061954297857; Twitter: @realdonaldtrump, December 12, 2017, https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/940567812053053441

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.)