Elections

Parallel Press Conferences Posing as Debates

 What if the debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump was an actual debate where the candidates confronted each other rather than conducting parallel press conferences? Wouldn't that be nice. 

What if the debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump was an actual debate where the candidates confronted each other rather than conducting parallel press conferences? Wouldn't that be nice. 

Presidential debates command attention even if they are just parallel press conferences, not real debates.

Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas held a real debate 150 years ago. They posited, rebutted and pontificated. Modern-day debates just skip to the pontification. They don’t answer questions. Instead, they speak over questions to appease their political base.

When contemporary debates were introduced in the 1960 presidential race, the news media urged candidates Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy to question each other, like Lincoln and Douglas. They balked, insisting the questions come from the news media. And thus the softball question was born.

 John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon squared off in the first televised presidential debate in 1960 after insisting reporters ask the questions so they could avoid confronting each other in true debate style.

John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon squared off in the first televised presidential debate in 1960 after insisting reporters ask the questions so they could avoid confronting each other in true debate style.

Debate moderators can’t win. Their questions are questioned. When they challenge candidate deflections and dissembling, they are blasted as aggressive. When they throw darts at one candidate and marshmallows at the other, they are lambasted as unfair – or inept. Ask Matt Lauer – he just moderated a candidate forum that was supposed to be a parallel press conference.

Few people think presidential debates determine the outcome of the race. At best, a candidate can make a clever comment that defuses a potential issue. Like Ronald Reagan promising not to hold Walter Mondale’s youthfulness against him. Bingo. The Reagan age issue disappeared as fast as Mondale’s chances to win. Lloyd Bentsen cut Dan Quayle down to size by telling him he was “no John Kennedy.”

At worst, a candidate can make a fatal gaffe, like Gerald Ford insisting there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Luckily, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson wasn’t debating when he responded to a question on MSNBC's Morning Joe about how he would handle the conflict in Syria. His clueless answer: “What is Aleppo?"

Debates can underscore candidate tendencies, such as Chris Christie sounding like a prosecutor in a televised courtroom. Or Marco Rubio drinking water and sweating, Bernie Sanders waving his arms and Richard Nixon scowling. Nixon wanted the debate cameras to stay locked on whoever was speaking, not the other candidate’s reaction. He lost that debate and his scowling image became his campaign likeness.

The 2016 presidential candidates broke new ground. The 17-candidate GOP primary required a much larger stage and a lesser-card warm-up debate. The Democratic debate often crept into the policy weeds, requiring viewers to consult a political thesaurus to understand what in the world the candidates were talking about.

The tone of the debates this year has been decidedly uncivil. There was little love lost between Lincoln and Douglas, but they didn’t interrupt each other or hurl insults. That was reserved for the presidential primary debates. Policy discussions were a dreaded distraction. Viewership has never been higher as you pictured people leaning forward in their recliners waiting eagerly for another zinger. 

The bellicose theatrics of debates are egged on by social media. Millions of tweets are posted during debates that excoriate the candidates, the moderators and the crowd. The debates have become more like prize fights or celebrity survival races.

The first presidential debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump is less than two weeks away and anticipation is building, while expectations continue to drop. Clinton reportedly has been boning up for weeks. Trump is expected to wing it. Many assume the debate will feature Trump dodging substance and Clinton wallowing in it.

Harvard history professor Jill Lepore laments the fallen state of modern debates. In a recent article, Lepore quotes Walter Cronkite, “The debates are part of the unconscionable fraud our political campaigns have become” as candidates dictate terms that “defy meaningful discourse” and “sabotage the electoral process.”

Like presidential candidates before them, Clinton and Trump have circled each other to ensure the most favorable settings and least objectionable moderators. But Lepore has a plot with a historical precedent.

She suggests channeling Phil Donahue, who in the 1992 Democratic primary in New York introduced Bill Clinton and Jerry brown, then “sat back in his chair and never uttered another word. Under bright lights with no reputation-salvaging escape, Clinton and Brown were forced to address each other for an “unmoderated, uninterrupted” 90 minutes.

Can you imagine Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump asking each other questions and civilly talking about issues for 90 minutes? Interestingly enough, now Trump is also calling for a debate with no moderator. Maybe that's the format we should follow after all.

Another Government Shutdown Deadline Approaches

 Another federal government shutdown looms unless Congress can pass a spending bill before September 30 over the opposition of the 42-member House Freedom Caucus, which wants to make budget cuts before the November 8 general election.

Another federal government shutdown looms unless Congress can pass a spending bill before September 30 over the opposition of the 42-member House Freedom Caucus, which wants to make budget cuts before the November 8 general election.

If you think the presidential race seems repetitious, think about the prospect of another federal government shutdown. That might just happen on September 30 if Congress can’t pass legislation to fund continuing operations.

This potential shutdown has all the hallmarks of earlier ones – the right-wing faction of the House GOP caucus is balking at a short continuing resolution to push major budget decisions past the November 8 general election when a new president will be elected and Senate control could flip from Republicans to Democrats.

The 42-member Freedom Caucus wants to avoid an omnibus spending package in a lame-duck session of Congress. GOP House leaders, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have expressed support for approving a continuing resolution this month that would maintain existing spending levels until around Christmas.

If Freedom Caucus members hold firm, House Speaker Paul Ryan will be staring at the same dilemma that bedeviled and ultimately unseated his predecessor, John Boehner – turning to Democrats for the needed votes to approve a spending bill. Democrats have their own priorities and have stymied Republican proposals of late.

House Republicans are huddling to find a work-around after Congress returned earlier this week after a seven-week recess. Preventing a government shutdown is just one of many spending issues up in the air at this point.

Congress left town in July without approving a spending measure to combat the Zika virus, which has emerged as more of a threat in Miami and potentially other parts of the South than previously anticipated.

The presidential contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is tightening up as the candidates seek to distinguish themselves on a range of issues, including national security, which will be the subject of an NBC-sponsored commander-in-chief forum tonight. Before the event, Trump said he favors releasing the Pentagon budget from the spending constraints that apply across the board to all federal agencies.

Some conservatives in Congress have echoed Trump's view, but they face the problem of what to cut to compensate for higher defense spending. Democrats, including President Obama, oppose selectively excusing defense spending from overall spending constraints.

Congressional Democrats and Obama appear in policy lock-step in support of a short-term spending bill that will push bigger budget questions beyond election day. That position is buttressed by the serious prospect that Democrats could regain control of the Senate though the GOP majority in the Senate hasn’t warmed up to the idea of closing down the federal government.

There is little question the budget priorities of a President Clinton and a President Trump would differ substantially, which makes the looming stalemate over a stopgap continuing resolution even stickier. It also raises the question of whether an actual government shutdown would help or hurt Trump or Clinton.

Trump has positioned himself as a political outsider with the personal experience of knowing how the system works and what needs to change. Clinton has a hard time escaping the “insider” label, but can be expected to argue that now is not the time to threaten or shutter the federal government, given the precarious momentum of the economic recovery and a flurry of foreign threats.

The Freedom Caucus may be wary of Trump in the White House, but they worry more about a Clinton victory in November, combined with a Democratic takeover in the Senate. They may argue now is potentially the last time they have the leverage for major cuts in federal spending and a budget boost for the military. What will be interesting to watch in the next three weeks is whether the Freedom Caucus actually has the leverage it imagines.

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com

The Dog Days of Trustworthiness

 Of all people, the Clintons know there are no mulligans in the game of politics. So why didn’t they act sooner to address what appears like conflicts of interest involving the Clinton Foundation and their government roles and ambitions?

Of all people, the Clintons know there are no mulligans in the game of politics. So why didn’t they act sooner to address what appears like conflicts of interest involving the Clinton Foundation and their government roles and ambitions?

Questions of trustworthiness dog the Clintons, and they shouldn’t be surprised.

As the fall presidential election approaches with Hillary Clinton in the lead, the Clintons have begun to position themselves for returning to the White House. They have put someone in charge of the transition and begun to discuss separation from the Clinton Foundation.

The only problem is they are late to the party.

After questions arose about pay-for-play influence-peddling, the Clintons are talking about drastically shrinking the size of the Clinton Foundation if Clinton wins the election. Hillary, Bill and Chelsea would leave the foundation's board, and Bill Clinton says he will stop fundraising for the foundation.

Fine, but why didn’t these declarations come much earlier? Why didn’t they exist when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state? Instead, they came after big-headline stories about possible favors and special access for Clinton Foundation donors. There may very well be an explanation for the favors and access, but there is hardly an excuse for not anticipating this would be an issue in the 2016 presidential election. Worse, the allegations fit to a larger narrative of the Clintons as political insiders who play loose with the rules.

The Foundation flap overlaps Hillary’s Clinton's painfully chronic email fiasco. The latest twist involves former Secretary of State Colin Powell denying that he encouraged Clinton to use a private email server. He says he gave advice on managing private email after she already had set up hers. It’s not an indictment, just another off-center, not-quite-true explanation that inflames Hillary haters and creates a media feeding frenzy.

If Clinton was facing anyone but the unpredictable and inexplicable Donald Trump, she may find herself in a political free-fall. Trump has picked up the issue and could make it his comeback cause. Even if Clinton wins the presidency, these apparent ethical lapses and tone-deaf media responses could deny her a solid mandate and weaken her ability to govern.

James Carville, the hominy grits political guru who guided Bill Clinton, tried to explain the Clinton predicament in an interview on the Today show with little success. You have the feeling that in private, Carville scolded the Clintons for failing to vet their vulnerabilities a long time ago as opposed to allowing these stories to become the equivalent of slow-drip campaign chemotherapy.

The Clinton Foundation has indisputably done much good. As a former president, Bill Clinton has used his status and clout to good effect and worthy ends. Yet, Hillary Clinton’s ambition to become president, strongly supported by her husband and daughter, should have aroused the usually keen political instincts of this very political family. They should have looked forward to contemplate Hillary’s historical presidential quest and proactively recognized and removed obstacles and provided clear, accurate explanations for behavior that raises eyebrows, even among supporters.

Yes, right-wing critics have dished out disinformation – or at least information without any supporting data – about Hillary Clinton, most recently about her health. But all the more reason to have your guard up, not in hibernation. In the game of politics, the Clintons, of all people, know you can’t declare a mulligan.

Now Hillary Clinton is left with pulling a heavy ball and chain of suspicion through the final 75 days of what seems like an indeterminable presidential campaign. It didn’t have to be like this. And it would be a shame if the Clinton Foundation wound up paying the price.

The Slow Suffocation of U.S. Market Competition

 Elizabeth Warren says competition is dying a slow death in the American marketplace, hurting consumers, small businesses, innovation and workers.

Elizabeth Warren says competition is dying a slow death in the American marketplace, hurting consumers, small businesses, innovation and workers.

While Donald Trump’s poll numbers slump and Hillary Clinton continues to stumble in explaining her use of a private email server for official State Department business, Elizabeth Warren has plopped a major public policy option on the table. She has called for stronger antitrust action to restore competition to U.S. markets, from banks to cable operators to technology companies and health insurers.

In an election punctuated by insults and insinuations, Warren said, “Today in America, competition is dying. Consolidation and concentration are on the rise in sector after sector. Concentration threatens our markets, threatens our economy and threatens our democracy.” It’s only surprising that the presidential candidates haven’t raised the topic.

Warren gave the keynote speech at New America’s Open Markets program the day after she appeared alongside Clinton to endorse her. Her premise was that “reigniting competition” in a broad range of increasingly monopolized markets will benefit consumers, small businesses and workers.

“The first problem is that less competition means less consumer choice,” the Massachusetts senator said. “When consumers can purchase similar products from multiple competitors, they force market players to constantly seek out new ways to reduce prices and increase the quality of goods and services to get their business.”

Lack of competition “can lock out smaller guys and newer guys,” she said. “Google, Apple and Amazon have created disruptive technologies that changed the world, and every day they deliver enormously valuable products. They deserve to be highly profitable and successful. But the opportunity to compete must remain open for new entrants and smaller competitors that want their chance to change the world again.”

Revenue of Top 200 U.S. Corporations as Percentage of Total Business Revenue, U.S. Economy, 1950–2008

  Source : Data for the top 200 corporations (see notes) were extracted from COMPUSTAT, “Fundamentals Annual: North America” (accessed February 15, 2011). Total revenue was taken from “Corporate Income Tax Returns” (line item “total receipts”) Statistics of Income (Washington, DC: Internal Revenue Service, 1950–2008).

Source: Data for the top 200 corporations (see notes) were extracted from COMPUSTAT, “Fundamentals Annual: North America” (accessed February 15, 2011). Total revenue was taken from “Corporate Income Tax Returns” (line item “total receipts”) Statistics of Income (Washington, DC: Internal Revenue Service, 1950–2008).

When competition declines, small businesses can be wiped out. Warren cited the “Walmart effect” created by a single company delivering more than 30 percent of the products Americans consume and controlling critical supply chains.

Key Facts From Warren's Speech:

  • The number of major U.S. airlines has dropped from nine to four in the last 10 years, due to consolidations. Last year, those four airlines brought in a record profit of $22 billion.
  • Five companies control more than 83 percent of national health insurance market.
  • CVS, Wallgreens and Rite Aid own more than 99 percent of the drug stores in the U.S.
  • Four companies own about 85 percent of the U.S. beef market, and three control nearly half of all chicken in the U.S.
  • More than half of all cable and internet subscribers in America have service through Comcast, which has consolidated by buying up rival companies.

Concentrated markets tend to lead to concentrated political power, Warren asserted. “This is a big one, and it should terrify every conservative who hates government intervention.... Concentrated markets dominated by a handful of powerful players, on the other hand, don’t produce the consumer benefits that flow from robust competition. Instead, benefits are sucked up by a handful of executives and large investors.” Their lobbying, in turn, focuses on protecting their market advantage and resisting restoration of competition.

The ultimate victim of market concentration, Warren said, is America’s middle class. People at the top get richer, she claimed, while others struggle. “Concentration is not the only reason for rising economic insecurity, but it is one of them. Concentrated industries result in concentrated profits. It’s the ultimate price squeeze."

Her solution is to hold the line on what she called anti-competitive mergers, give close scrutiny to so-called vertical mergers and require all federal agencies to promote market competition. Warren also believes that businesses can’t be allowed to become “too big to fail.”

“For much of our history, Americans organized and protested against the forces of consolidation,” Warren concluded. "As a people, we understood that concentrated power anywhere was a threat to liberty everywhere. It was one of the basic founding principles of our nation. And it threatens us now.”

The market threat Warren points to is easily of greater consequence to average Americans than Mexican immigration or careless handling of sensitive emails. In the 90 days between now and Election Day, perhaps it will be mentioned on a presidential stage.

The Trade Lesson the Wine Industry Taught

 Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm gave an impassioned speech on economic togetherness at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. It was a lesson she may have learned from the wine industry, which challenged legislation that gave her wineries a home field advantage.

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm gave an impassioned speech on economic togetherness at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. It was a lesson she may have learned from the wine industry, which challenged legislation that gave her wineries a home field advantage.

Before last week's Democratic National Convention, Jennifer Granholm, the former governor of Michigan, was best known for defending the auto industry and trying to give her in-state wineries an online edge.

At the convention, Granholm gave one of the most under-reported speeches of the week in which she identified herself with the frustration of dislocated manufacturing workers, but said they need a champion with plans, not promises.

Critics panned the part of her speech where she re-imagined lyrics from music legend Carly Simon with, "You're so vain, you probably think this speech is about you." But that missed the heart of the speech, which touched the national nerve about how to address the many people left behind by economic progress.

"I'm a fierce Democrat. But I know there are Democrats and Republicans across the country who want to create jobs in America. Liberals and conservatives. Public sector and private industry. Because we're not in this alone – we're all in this together."

Granholm recalled how Michiganders like her resented how globalization shifted good-paying manufacturing jobs to low-paying nations overseas. Her response: Quit bitching and start pursuing advanced manufacturing opportunities.

Then the Great Recession hit and the U.S. automobile industry went into a death spiral. "In 2008, we elected a Democratic President for us to work with," Granholm said. "And you know what he did? He saved the American auto industry. And then that renewed auto industry paid America back in full. And that's what we can do when we work together."

In simple terms, the former governor of Michigan spelled out the plan to address the impact of global trade, international financial flows and technological innovation. Stop complaining. Don't yield to fear-mongering. Trust people with real plans and the guts to implement them.

"Some people are worried. Some people are angry. I get that," Granholm said. "But the answer isn't to tear our country down, it's to build our country up. Not to build walls that keep the rest of the world out but to keep building the industries and universities that the rest of the world wishes they could get into."

Hillary Clinton has stumbled in her attempts to deliver the message that Granholm capsulized in a paragraph. It was perhaps the best testimonial Clinton could have received.

Granholm learned about economic togetherness the hard way. During her governorship, Michigan enacted legislation to allow Michigan wineries to ship wine directly to Michigan residents, but it also prohibited out-of-state wineries from the same privilege. Wineries challenged the law, and one like it in New York, which eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court and was ruled unconstitutional.

Attorneys representing Michigan and New York argued in Granholm v. Heald that states had carte blanche authority to regulate liquor sales and distribution. A majority of the Supreme Court disagreed and said the dormant Commerce Clause prevents unfair restraint of trade between states.

The chastened former governor who appeared on the DNC stage in Philadelphia bore the scars of trying to give the home team an even greater home field advantage. "Our great country spans a continent," she said, "but we're all connected to each other, no matter where we live. When a miner in Virginia has the dignity of a new job in the advanced steel industry, we all have dignity.... When the autoworker in Detroit builds the electric vehicle, that drives all of us forward.”

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Michelle Obama’s Breakthrough Speech

 (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Tom Williams) First Lady Michelle Obama gave a breakthrough speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention that was beautifully crafted, delivered with polish and resonated far beyond the political battlefield for the presidency.

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Tom Williams) First Lady Michelle Obama gave a breakthrough speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention that was beautifully crafted, delivered with polish and resonated far beyond the political battlefield for the presidency.

Presidential nominating conventions are runways for politicos to show off their stories and styles. Occasionally, there are breakthrough speeches that launch political careers or send them to new heights.

Ronald Reagan went from revered actor to governor of California and serious presidential timber with his speech to the GOP National Convention in 1964. Barack Obama emerged from the relative obscurity of an Illinois state senator in 2004 to become a U.S. senator and a serious presidential contender in 2008.

Michelle Obama may have scored a breakthrough moment Monday at this year’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Some commentators rank her remarks as among the best convention speeches in decades. While Hillary Clinton’s nomination broke through the penultimate glass ceiling in America, Michelle Obama’s speech broke through to reach the hearts of millions of Americans.

Poynter broke down the First Lady’s speech and credited its strong appeal to Obama’s use of the first person, touching anecdotes and a narrative built around “kids.” These qualities gave her speech universality and made it much more than a stump speech in support of Hillary Clinton.

“That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” she said. “And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”

Obama set the tone in her first paragraph: "You know, it's hard to believe that it has been eight years since I first came to this convention to talk with you about why I thought my husband should be President. Remember how I told you about his character and conviction, his decency and his grace — the traits that we've seen every day that he's served our country in the White House."

She kept her central narrative personal. "I also told you about our daughters — how they are the heart of our hearts, the center of our world. And during our time in the White House, we've had the joy of watching them grow from bubbly little girls into poised young women — a journey that started soon after we arrived in Washington, when they set off for their first day at their new school."

And about the first morning the Obamas were in the White House, she recalled, “I will never forget that winter morning as I watch our girls, just 7 and 10 years old, pile into those black SUVs with all those big men with guns."

"I will never forget that winter morning as I watched our girls, just 7 and 10 years old, pile into those black SUVs with all those big men with guns."

Perhaps her most memorable line was, “Our motto is, when they go low, we go high” and the most touching anecdote was about the young black boy who wondered whether President Obama’s hair felt like his, prompting the President to bend over and let him find out for himself.

Apart from the technical skill, beautiful writing and polished delivery, Michelle Obama’s speech transported listeners far beyond the current political battlefield into what it means to lead a nation and the stakes of presidential decision-making.

"What I admire most about Hillary is that she never buckles under pressure. She never takes the easy way out. And Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life. And when I think about the kind of President that I want for my girls and all our children, that's what I want. I want someone with the proven strength to persevere." 

Whether Michelle Obama elects to pursue a political career of her own after the Obamas leave the White House, her speech turned fertile groundwork. She will be known for planting a vegetable garden, pushing for school lunch nutrition and supporting the families of military veterans, but perhaps she will be best known for the speech she gave on a platform in Philadelphia in 2016 that wrapped up to its conclusion with:

"So don't let anyone ever tell you that this country isn't great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this, right now, is the greatest country on earth."

Donald Trump and Political Realignment

 The prosperity of Pittsburgh contrasts sharply with the poverty in Western Pennsylvania towns such as Hazleton, creating an economic schism that is driving a a right-left populist movement and political realignment throughout America. (Photo credit: Steve Klaver/AP)

The prosperity of Pittsburgh contrasts sharply with the poverty in Western Pennsylvania towns such as Hazleton, creating an economic schism that is driving a a right-left populist movement and political realignment throughout America. (Photo credit: Steve Klaver/AP)

The 2016 presidential election will set records for outrageous remarks and insulting tweets. It also may realign the American political structure.

New York Times columnist David Brooks credits the campaign of Donald Trump with teeing up political realignment, less to satisfy ideologues and more as a desperate attempt to win the White House.

In a traditional right versus left alignment, Brooks says odds are against Trump winning over Democrat Hillary Clinton. But in a realigned political landscape, where Trump embraces a mish-mash of right wing and populist causes, Brooks speculates the New York billionaire may have a narrow path to victory.

“His only hope,” Brooks writes, “is to cast his opponents as right-left establishment that supports open borders, free trade, cosmopolitan culture and global intervention” while “standing as a right-left populist who supports closed borders, trade barriers, local and nationalistic culture and an America-first foreign policy.”

The notion that this is fantasy was shattered when Britons voted to exit the European Union based on arguments not that different than the ones Trump intones at his American political rallies.

The chaos and economic certainty resulting from the prospective pullout from the EU may give people pause, but chances are that views have already hardened among those who feel left behind or betrayed by 21st Century America.

Brooks openly wonders whether Trump is the leader with the capability and discipline to achieve the political alignment his presidential campaign has lurched toward. “I personally doubt that Trump will be able to pull off a right-left populist coalition,” he says. “His views on women and minorities are unacceptable to nearly everybody on the left. There’s no evidence that he’s winning over many Sanders voters or down-scale progressives.”

“But where Trump fails, somebody else will succeed. And that’s where he is substantively revolutionary,” Brooks concludes. Trump has liberated Republicans from an obsequious reverence to smaller government and put them on a track to support a different kind of government that is more inward-looking. Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” could be translated as “Put America First.”

It is hard to know whether Trump is a political savant who conjured this political line on his own or borrowed it from Europe’s cast of right-wing nationalist parties. Maybe it just came to him as the equivalent of a business opportunity to be exploited.

Whatever the source, Trump’s emergence has confused political pundits and confounded political elites because it doesn’t color within the lines; it creates new lines with bolder, shocking colors.

Brooks predicts the rubber will hit the road on the issue of trade. People in the upper layers of the U.S. economy see trade as good, creating consumer benefits, market efficiencies and new-age jobs in fields such as logistics. People in lower layers of the economy blame trade and immigrants for job displacement, loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs and regional dislocation.

Brooks said this isn’t an abstract difference, but a tangible one, which can be seen by traveling from Pittsburgh, which is flourishing in the new economy, to Western Pennsylvania where small town storefronts are boarded up. This world reality isn’t newly exploded, but it now has been irrevocably stamped onto the political culture of America.

Clinton may win this fall because of her wider appeal and voter disgust over some of Trump’s egregious views and comments. But she and the Congress, whether still in control of Republicans or not, will face the challenge of governing outside the old political lines and within a realigned political structure.

The Brexit Message for America

 Britain’s vote to exit the European Union generated a huge drop in the British pound and shock waves for global stock markets. It should jolt American policymakers to discuss how to cope with the side effects of globalization, not flee from them.

Britain’s vote to exit the European Union generated a huge drop in the British pound and shock waves for global stock markets. It should jolt American policymakers to discuss how to cope with the side effects of globalization, not flee from them.

The Brexit vote sent shock waves throughout the world and raised questions about whether simmering anger over the effects of globalization could lead to Donald Trump winning the White House this fall.

The plummeting British pound and sagging worldwide stock markets provided an immediate warning sign of the portentous moment caused by the vote to leave the European Union. Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to step down and allow someone else from his Conservative Party to navigate the departure confirmed the vote has clear political consequences.

But the anxieties reflected in Britain don’t exactly equate to those in the United States. While older, white Britons voted to leave, younger Brits voted to remain in the EU. Trump has won the hearts of older, white Americans, younger voters gravitated to Democrat Bernie Sanders.

A weekend editorial in the New York Times offered an explanation. Economically stressed working class voters blame their plight on trade deals that have profited corporations and banks, but cost them good-paying jobs and economic security. Younger voters feel the same stress and anger over income inequality resulting from a global capitalism, but see value in “economic integration, mobility and diversity.” They favor political action to fix, not flee from, economic dislocation.

There are material differences in the makeup and diversity of British and American voters that make analogies to the Brexit vote and the 2016 presidential election tricky at best. But the real lesson from Brexit may be the sharp distinction between how older alienated voters and younger anxious voters want to face the future. “Leave” voters in Briton yearned to a return when they fared better. “Remain” voters acknowledged problems, but seek forward-looking solutions.

Trump, who praised the Brexit victory while in Scotland to promote his golf course, is clearly pointing back in time to when “America was great.” The question is how Hillary Clinton can carve her message to resonate with those who want change, but not reversion to the past. The litmus test of her success will be how well she wins over the young voters who flocked to Sanders’ candidacy.

“The lesson for American voters,” the New York Times editorialized, “is to see their economic problems clearly, lest they be manipulated into voting against their own and their nation’s interests.”

Who wins the presidential race in November could come down to, as it has so often, a handful of swing states, several of which are in the Rust Belt, which have borne the brunt of the effects of globalization combined with technological changes and moves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Trump and Sanders have blasted previous trade agreements and strongly opposed the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiated by the Obama administration. Clinton, whose presidential husband steered through NAFTA, initially favored the TPP, but during the campaign dropped her support.

Opposing trade deals may appease older, alienated voters, but it may not be enough for younger, anxious voters. Opposing the TPP won’t stop trade, any more than Britain departing the EU will halt trade, even if new tariff barriers are erected. So the forward-looking question may be how to take into account and address the inevitable dislocations from globalization.

This question will be of consuming interest to voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but it should be a top priority for the entire country because economic dislocation knows no boundary. In Oregon, many rural communities remain in economic distress because of changing policies on timberland management.

The nation would benefit from a robust, candid conversation about how to cope with the side effects of globalization, not hide from them.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

The 2016 Political Season Just Gets Whackier

 A Virginia man who supports Donald Trump for president swears he saw his candidate’s face on a bathroom floor while sitting on his toilet. It wasn’t the weirdest thing in the whacky world of politics.

A Virginia man who supports Donald Trump for president swears he saw his candidate’s face on a bathroom floor while sitting on his toilet. It wasn’t the weirdest thing in the whacky world of politics.

Just when you thought the political season couldn’t get weirder, it did. House Democrats staged a sit-in over gun legislation, an Iowa congressman implied replacing Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill was racist and a Donald Trump supporter said he saw his candidate’s face on his bathroom floor tile.

Somehow, that last story may be the least bizarre of these three.

Sit-ins were ubiquitous in the 1960s and 1970s as a preferred form of non-violent protest. In an ironic revival, House Democrats, led by Congressman John Lewis -- a veteran of sit-ins of yore -- employed the technique to protest congressional inaction in the face of continuing gun violence. Some 40 participating congressional protesters chanted, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

The sit-in followed late-night votes in the Senate on four separate gun bills, all of which failed to get enough votes, even though two of them involved denying access to guns for people on terrorist watch lists.

Congressman Steve King blamed President Obama for a “divisive” proposal to place a black woman, who is one of America’s most famous abolitionists, on U.S. Currency. He said it would be “unifying” to leave the $20 bill alone. The House GOP leadership dismissed King’s idea.

A Virginia man sitting on his toilet swears he saw his man Trump’s face on his bathroom floor. Trump images apparently are everywhere. According to The Huffington Post, a Google engineer vacationing in California saw Trump in the image of a deep-fried churro with yellow frosting. And a series of pictures of droop-mouthed pooches sporting Trump gear are circulating on social media. They're called "Dogald Trumps." 

Ultimately, the sit-in, King’s proposal to scratch Harriet Tubman and The Donald floor tile are mostly sideshows to even weirder stuff. Such as the paltry $1.3 million the Trump presidential campaign has in the bank after a full month as the presumptive GOP nominee. Or spending records that show Trump has paid 10 percent or more of his campaign cash to his own companies. The records also reveal Trump’s campaign bought up $208,000 worth of hats in May, while spending just $48,000 on data management and $115,000 on online advertising.

Weirder still, after withering media coverage that Trump’s businesses have stiffed contractors, sent manufacturing jobs overseas, used bankruptcies to turn losses into gains and profited from huge debt, more Americans trust Trump to run the U.S. economy than Hillary Clinton.

An online group polled 1,000 adult Americans and discovered a majority of men and women wouldn’t sleep with Trump for $1 million. In Trump’s case, the average it would take to convince a woman to have sex with him was $1.35 million. Men only wanted close to $1.1 million. The numbers were a little better for Clinton but not much. Her average price for sex with women was $1.26 million and $1.16 million with men. Bernie Sanders didn’t have a lot of takers either for a mere $1 million.

The weirdest thing of all is that this all occurred outside of a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch. SNL definitely will have to up its game.

Street Brawl Heads for Even Darker Alley

  The mass shooting in Orlando at a gay night club may have re-ignited a culture war that will turn an election already resembling a street brawl into an even darker alley.

The mass shooting in Orlando at a gay night club may have re-ignited a culture war that will turn an election already resembling a street brawl into an even darker alley.

A hail of gunfire in Orlando may have transformed the 2016 presidential campaign into a full-fledged culture war.

What some see as a hate crime or an act of terrorism, others see as retribution for sin. However you look at it, what unfolded in Orlando turned out to be the deadliest mass shooting in American history. While some are renewing calls for sensible gun control and bans on assault rifles, others are calling for more vigilance against "radical Islamic terrorism."

 Presumptive presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton displayed markedly different reactions to Sunday's mass shooting at a gay night club in Orlando.

Presumptive presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton displayed markedly different reactions to Sunday's mass shooting at a gay night club in Orlando.

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump took credit for predicting more violence and said President Obama should step down for refusing to utter the words “radical Islamic terrorism.” Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton deplored more gun violence and told the LBGT community she stood with them.

Before the gunman killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others in a well known gay bar in Orlando early Sunday morning, The Wall Street Journal published a piece about what led so many people to support Trump. The bottom line: “people want their country back.”

It was hard to miss the irony that the Orlando shooter, according to his father, was galvanized to buy weapons and undertake his serial killing after watching in apparent disgust two men kiss in public.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick tweeted after the shooting that “God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Florida Governor Rick Scott had trouble acknowledging the victims were homosexuals. Perhaps sensing an opportunity to regain momentum after a rough patch in his campaign, Trump scheduled a major speech Monday devoted to terrorism.

The culture war seething through this year’s election runs deeper than disagreements over gay rights. The WSJ piece about “Trumpkins” suggested the election may turn on entrepreneurship versus entitlement, a not-so-coy allusion to “workers” and “slackers.”

Trump has appealed to displaced and often alienated white workers who lost jobs in traditional industries. Trump gets nods at his political rallies when he blames bad international trade deals, government red tape and ill-conceived efforts to combat climate change. He wraps up his platform in the phrase, “Make American Great Again.”

Meanwhile, major news outlets from USA Today to The New York Times have lacerated Trump’s business reputation, claiming he stiffs contractors, workers and even his own lawyers, and profits in his own failures.

Clinton is airing an attack ad calling Trump University a massive fraud. Senator Elizabeth Warren has delivered scathing criticism of Trump, calling him a greedy money-grubber and race-baiter. Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has raised questions about Trump’s moral character. House Speaker Paul Ryan called Trump’s rant against the judge hearing his Trump University case a “textbook case of racism.”

What already was a street brawl election campaign may have turned yet another corner into an even darker alley.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

A Proposal for Managed Change in Coal Sector

 Instead of waging a battle in Congress or courts over the future of the U.S. coal industry, one man suggests a federal buyout that could provide a well-financed 10-year transition to new businesses and new jobs in coal country.

Instead of waging a battle in Congress or courts over the future of the U.S. coal industry, one man suggests a federal buyout that could provide a well-financed 10-year transition to new businesses and new jobs in coal country.

The politics of climate change and the market forces turning away from coal-fired electricity will play an outsized role in the 2016 presidential election. But one man says there is a smart compromise that could put everybody on the same side.

In an op-ed published by The Washington Post, Stephen Kass says the issue of what to do about coal could lose its grimy political messiness if the federal government stepped in to buy out the industry and retrain workers for new jobs.

 Stephen Kass, a New York lawyer and professor, says the federal government should buy out the coal industry and retrain coal workers for other jobs. 

Stephen Kass, a New York lawyer and professor, says the federal government should buy out the coal industry and retrain coal workers for other jobs. 

Sound far-fetched or socialistic? Kass, who heads a New York Bar Association task force on climate adaptation, says it is neither. Coal companies, he says, are barely hanging because of competition from lower-priced natural gas and the growing viability of wind and solar power. Coal industry workers may find themselves out of work and willing to accept help finding new skills and new job opportunities.

This strategy, Kass argues, offers more upside than a prolonged battle to sidetrack President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which is now stymied in court, but even if implemented would fall short of meeting climate goals agreed to by 195 nations, including the United States, in Paris.

The Kass plan would close down the coal industry over a 10-year period, providing a gentler glide path than sudden plant closures, and giving workers and communities a fixed date for pursuing a new path.

In his op-ed. Kass didn’t explicitly make the point, but could have that a 10-year transition could be a perfect pivot for manufacturers to swoop in to take advantage of a skilled, but soon-to-be unemployed work force with federal money to give them the training for new jobs.

Kass says his plan eclipses liberal and conservative ideology. “Coal plant operators and institutional investors, as well as their lenders, are locked into deteriorating (and most fully depreciated) assets that are losing the competition against natural gas and renewable energy – and facing increased regulation of pollutants independent of climate change initiatives,” he wrote. “These parties might welcome a graceful exit.”

“Even unions, faced with declining jobs and wages in the coal sector, might support a well-financed and carefully designed program to enable workers to pay off mortgages, car loans and medical or college bills and prepare for a more productive future in other energy-sector jobs." 

Agreeing to such an approach would require a level of bipartisanship in Washington that seems unattainable at the moment. But Kass implies a proactive government stance on inevitable change – which can have devastating effects on a significant swath of America – is a worthy ambition that can satisfy liberal and conservative policy appetites. Liberals would see the coal industry shut down without dumping coal workers in the slag heap. Conservatives would respect that business owners received fair compensation for their assets and red-leaning states wouldn’t be left high and dry.

The federal government would score a win by keeping its pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide a replicable example of how a government can manage a market to achieve an environmental objective without imperiling corporate, regional of personal economies.

This is an idea unlikely to pop up on the campaign stump this summer and fall, but it could be a policy option dropped on the table for a new President and the next Congress.

Electorate Sour on Candidates, Primary Process

 American voters are definitely interested in the 2016 presidential election, but many feel disaffected with the front-running candidates, the primary process and the electorate’s own “political wisdom.” 

American voters are definitely interested in the 2016 presidential election, but many feel disaffected with the front-running candidates, the primary process and the electorate’s own “political wisdom.” 

Voter turnout this year rivals the record-setting 2008 presidential election, but it has produced two candidates with historically high negative ratings and a sour taste about the primary process.

When Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders complain that the primary process is rigged, a majority of voters apparently agree with them. According to the Pew Research Center, only 35 percent of registered voters think the primary process produces the best qualified nominees. For Democrats, it’s a meager 30 percent.

Trump supporters are the most glowing in appreciation of the nominating process at 60 percent. Clinton’s backers have more positive views than Sanders’ supporters by a 37 percent to 25 percent margin.

But discontentment with the process and the front-running candidates hasn’t doused interest. Pew says 89 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats have given the 2016 election a “great deal of thought.” Those percentages exceed voter interest in the 2008 open presidential race.

Another interesting finding is that a majority of voters are frustrated, not angry, about government. Pew found 59 percent of voters express frustration, while only 22 percent admit to being angry. Seventeen percent claim to be basically content. 

Of those who are angry, 25 percent are fed up with politicians for failing to keep their promises or acting in a self-serving way, 18 percent are disgusted with political gridlock and 15 percent think politicians are out of touch and not working on their behalf. Four percent are angry because of President Obama, 3 percent because of Wall Street and big business influence and 3 percent because of taxes.

As might be expected, Republicans are more likely to be angry with a Democrat in the White House. Democrats were angrier during the George W. Bush White House years.

A discouraging perspective that emerges from the research is a pervasive view that life in America today is worse than it was 50 years ago and that it will be even worse for the net generation of Americans. Research indicates 46 percent of all voters – and 54 percent of white voters – think things in America are worse for “people like them.” That contrasts with only 17 percent of African-American and 37 percent of Hispanic voters who share the same view. There is more agreement across racial lines that things will be worse for the next generation.

It is reassuring that 68 percent of registered voters believe personal insults are “never fair game” in politics. Democrats hold that view more strongly than Republicans, but even Trump supporters agree by a 51 percent to 47 percent margin. Clinton and Sanders supporters are equal in their distaste for personal insults.

Voters by a 75 percent majority believe news outlets have given Trump too much coverage. That is less true, as you might imagine, with Trump supporters, who by a 55 percent majority think his coverage is “about right.” Supporters of Trump’s GOP rivals felt their candidates drew too little earned media coverage. Ohio Governor John Kasich’s backers were the most displeased, with 82 percent saying their candidate got less coverage than he deserved. Overall, 53 percent of GOP voters agreed. Even 42 percent of Trump supporters thought Kasich was shorted.

The study also shows Americans’ confidence in the “political wisdom” of the electorate sharply eroding through the 21st century. As recently as 1997, 69 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans expressed confidence in the political wisdom of the American public. Now only 35 percent of Republicans and 32 percent of Democrats have a great deal or good deal of confidence in the public’s political wisdom.

Political Independents Likely to Elect Next President

 The surge in 2016 presidential primary voting can be attributed to campaigning that has activated political independent voters. It is very likely the next president will be elected because he or she wins the most independent votes.

The surge in 2016 presidential primary voting can be attributed to campaigning that has activated political independent voters. It is very likely the next president will be elected because he or she wins the most independent votes.

Independent voters may replace battleground states as the key indicator to watch in this year’s presidential election.

Voters who weren't registered as either Republicans or Democrats have contributed to the surge in presidential primary voting. In closed primary states, such as Oregon, they have switched registration so they could vote for a presidential candidate.

Non-establishment candidates, such as Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders, have benefited most from this tide of independent voters, which is the largest voting bloc in the U.S. electorate. According to the Pew Research Center, independents make up 39 percent of total voter registration, compared to 32 percent as Democrats and 23 percent as Republicans.

Gallup has conducted extensive research on who makes up this group of non-affiliated voters and found that a common strain is disaffection with both major political parties in America. Within the independent bloc are voters who lean Democratic or Republican. The rest are true swing voters.

As Trump has shown after he became the presumptive GOP presidential nominee following the Indiana primary, a political party’s base tends to unify. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton – who appears mathematically certain to win her party’s nomination – is still competing in primaries with Sanders, with the next big test coming June 7 in California. Chances are good that Democrats who support Sanders will swivel to support Clinton in the general election when she is the nominee. 

That leaves open the question of who will appeal the most to independents. Trump has demonstrated his appeal to independents, especially white working class males. Sanders’ surprising political viability is the result of melding votes from the Democratic Party’s progressive left wing with strong support from independents, especially young people.

Pew Research shows nearly half of 18 to 33-year-olds are registered as independents. Sanders has ushered a lot of Millennials into Democratic voter registration this year and it will be Clinton’s political task to keep them there and win over their support by November.

NPR reported earlier this year that independents are among the most upset voters in America. They recoil from what they see as political dysfunction in Washington and want to see fundamental change. Older independents are upset at international trade deals, which they believe cost them their good-paying jobs. Younger independents are frustrated by the high cost of college and rising student debt.

When activated, independent voters make a difference. NPR points to the 2012 presidential election in Colorado in which GOP nominee Mitt Romney received more Republican votes than Barack Obama received Democratic votes. Obama carried the state because of heavy voting by independents, especially Millennials.

National polls indicate Trump and Clinton are in a virtual dead heat. Electoral wizards can illustrate how the 2016 presidential election will boil down to a few battleground states, such as Ohio, Florida and Virginia. However, the impact of independents on the race is likely to expand the battleground to more states, including some improbable ones. 

Republican strategists believe usual Democratic stalwarts in presidential elections – such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota – could be in play. Democrats think there is a chance for their candidate in unlikely places like Georgia and Arizona. Independent voters already have shown they can tilt an election outcome in states like Colorado, North Carolina, New Mexico and Iowa. In the end, even more states could be up for grabs, depending on who can nail down the votes of political independents.

The 2016 election cycle – which has already ground on for a long time and still has almost six months to go – has been anything but typical. Trump vanquished 16 political rivals and buffaloed the GOP establishment by running an earned media campaign. He said outlandish things and tweeted insults that, in the words for a Ted Cruz campaign aide, “won the day.” Sanders has adopted the role as pied piper of a political revolution, drawing huge crowds to hear him rail against a rigged economy and political system.

The Trump and Sanders campaign styles, combined with some common policy positions on trade and foreign involvement, have aroused political independents. That’s why some Sanders supporters claim he is better positioned to battle Trump than Clinton, who emphasizes her experience and detailed policy positions.

Confusing things even more, Trump and Clinton have historically high negative ratings. They are even likely to go down as Trump and Clinton have already begun trading blows and posting attack ads. Clinton points out Trump’s business failures and brands him a bully. Trump dredges up past sexual scandals involving Bill Clinton and accuses Hillary of being an “enabler.”

For some independent voters, Trump’s brash braggadocio is his brand, and he’s the kind of disruptive force who could make real change. For others, his race baiting and loose talk about nuclear weapons are too alarming to allow his finger anywhere near the red button.

Many independents agree with Republicans that Hillary Clinton is untrustworthy. But others may be repelled by Trump’s controversial references to women and attracted to Clinton’s potential to crack the highest glass ceiling in the world.

Establishment and moderate Republicans will press Trump to tone down his rhetoric on tearing up trade deals and banning Muslims. Sanders and Democratic progressives will push Clinton to be more vocal about confronting Wall Street and embracing ways to make college more affordable.

The red and blue political bases will get behind their respective party standard-bearers. How independents split their votes will determine who becomes the next president.

The Unsettled Presidential Election

 Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have their respective party presidential nominations sewn up, but their general election campaigns face a lot of uncertainty and unfamiliar political terrain.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have their respective party presidential nominations sewn up, but their general election campaigns face a lot of uncertainty and unfamiliar political terrain.

By default or delegate count, the 2016 Republican and Democratic presidential nominations appear set. However, the campaigns and party unification processes are anything but settled.

Presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump faces high-profile defections from prominent Republican leaders and Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton keeps losing primary elections to Bernie Sanders.

Trump meets this week with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has withheld his support from Trump. For Trump’s part, he claims he is ushering in a new-look Republican Party that may make party unity efforts a nice, but not necessary sidelight. That new look also may not include conservatives who say they won’t vote for Trump or Clinton.

Clinton has turned her political guns on a general election showdown with Trump, despite a still vigorous challenge by Sanders. However, just when it appeared Clinton would trounce Trump in a landslide, a poll by highly regarded Quinnipiac shows Clinton is in a dead heat or losing to Trump in the key swing states of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. Sanders’ double-digit win in West Virginia this week added further doubt to whether Clinton can attract votes from disaffected white voters and political independents.

Trump and Clinton have the shared distinction of being the two most disliked presidential candidates in recent history. As such, both are having trouble appealing to their respective party bases.  Trump has shaky support on the conservative right and Clinton on the progressive left.

The Trump-Clinton race may come to a battle of identity politics. Trump scores with male voters, while Clinton does well with women and minority voters. Trump does poorly with establishment Republicans. Clinton flunks with younger Democratic voters.

In previous presidential elections, the candidates' experience and what they stood for counted most. In 2016, not so much. Trump touts his lack of political experience and has lurched around on issues like a bumper car driver. Clinton has been criticized for her experience and her wonkish policy views.

After Ted Cruz and John Kasich bowed out following Trump’s decisive primary win in Indiana, Trump told NBC News he looked forward to a principled general election campaign centered on policy. The next day, Trump returned to form and resumed his “Crooked Hillary” refrain. He hasn’t let up since.

Clinton immediately put up attack ads pointing out Trump’s outlandish statements and dubious policies, only to be warned by supportive political observers that getting into a gutter fight with Trump was a losing strategy. Strategists said Trump methodically disposed of GOP opponents who attacked him,  who famously noted that he could shoot someone on New York’s Fifth Avenue and it wouldn’t cost him a vote.

Perhaps a more troubling concern in the Clinton camp is the political viability of “outsider” messaging, especially when it comes to international trade and “rigged” systems. A West Virginia voter told a reporter after he voted in his state’s primary that he cast his ballot for Sanders because he “spoke the people.” The only other person running for president he would vote for is Trump.

One Democratic pollster said the problem boils down to a good “origin story.” Trump and Sanders pinpoint what and who is to blame. Clinton tells a more complex and conflicted story. Trump has mastered sloganeering. Sanders has powerful sound bites. Clinton has nuanced, detailed policy papers.

Presidential nominating conventions are more than a month away and there are still a few primaries left, including contests in Oregon and Washington. The eventual nominees are clear. How their campaigns will unfold and the odds on either’s ultimate success remain as unsettled as ever.

Taking the Political Bite Out of Trade

 Opposition to international trade deals has welled up in both presidential primaries, but few realistic proposals have surfaced to address worker security in the face of unstoppable globalization and technological change.

Opposition to international trade deals has welled up in both presidential primaries, but few realistic proposals have surfaced to address worker security in the face of unstoppable globalization and technological change.

International trade deals have been trashed by presidential candidates in both parties, but realistic alternatives that would do more good than harm have been scarce.

Economists admit globalization of manufacturing and distribution, huge cross-border capital flows and accelerating technology changes have taken their toll on jobs and job security. However, they warn scrapping trade deals and trying to erect trade barriers will create worse economic problems without protecting workers they seek to shield.

A better approach, according to economists, is to increase support, especially in terms of job training for workers who lose their jobs because of globalization or trade deals that favor some sectors at the expense of others.

The Trade Adjustment Assistance program exists to provide that support, but is woefully funded compared to dislocated worker programs in other industrialized nations. It also isn’t very practical. The program pays for job training, but unemployed workers still need to earn money to pay a mortgage and put food on their family table.

Increasing funding for Trade Adjustment Assistance hasn’t been a political priority, but the deep discontent that has welled up by working class families all across the nation, as reflected by their votes for “outsider” presidential candidates strongly opposing trade deals, may change that.

Another idea kicking around in economist circles is called wage insurance. This involves wage subsidies to workers who lose their jobs so they can afford to take lower-paying jobs while obtaining job training. President Obama mentioned wage insurance in his final State of the Union address earlier this year.

Bolstering the Trade Adjustment Assistance program or enacting some type of wage subsidy doesn’t have the same raw appeal on the political stump as GOP frontrunner Donald Trump saying he will cut better trade deals with China, Japan and others. But his promise, based largely on his negotiating skill as a hotel developer, may not be worth the risk of a costly trade war that triggers a global recession.

Democratic contender Bernie Sanders has criticized former President Bill Clinton for pushing through the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has resulted in the transfer of U.S. manufacturing jobs to Mexico. Both he and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton have expressed opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a key Obama priority. But neither Sanders nor Clinton have articulated a clear alternative to the TPP, which Obama defends as a roadmap for economic development in the Pacific Rim written by the United States, not China.

Free trade policies have been problematic for labor-backed Democrats and now appear to be a challenge for big business friendly Republicans, too. Protectionism also faces headwinds because American consumers are savvy enough to know that would mean higher prices for goods. Businesses, farmers and workers in states like Oregon and Washington that have export-dependent economies realize protectionism would hurt them.

As a result politicians on both sides of the aisle may be forced to pursue policies that produce tangible improvements for middle-class workers who have been and likely will remain vulnerable to new economic realities.

It is one thing to rail about trade policy on the campaign stump (Obama certainly did in his 2008 campaign), but it is another to stare at the hard realities. The United States remains the dominant world economy, but it no longer commands a position where it can call all the shots. The global economy is more intertwined so a hiccup on the Chinese stock market or refugee flows into Europe can impact the U.S. economy.

Just about everyone has a stake in figuring out trade policy. It may be the most fundamental middle-class American issue. It matters to young people who must navigate careers that don’t have life-time job guarantees. Those at the top of the economic heap may face growing unrest and a sharper shift to the political left if more isn’t done to provide greater job security to a growing group of Americans.

Activist labor programs could be the best defense against worker frustration, the least statist policy and the most popular political talking point. There is a general election coming up this fall to try out this approach.

A Day for Frontrunners to Forget (Except UConn)

 Except for the UConn women’s basketball team, it was a bad day for frontrunners as Donald Trump’s march to the GOP nomination got trickier and the cloud grew grimmer over Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as the Democratic nominee.

Except for the UConn women’s basketball team, it was a bad day for frontrunners as Donald Trump’s march to the GOP nomination got trickier and the cloud grew grimmer over Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as the Democratic nominee.

The only frontrunner to win Tuesday was the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team, which captured its historic fourth straight national championship. Meanwhile, the Republican and Democratic presidential frontrunners lost in Wisconsin, and not by buzzer beaters.

Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders each racked up more than 50 percent of the vote in the Wisconsin Republican and Democratic primaries, respectively. Their wins on Tuesday mean more intrigue in the nominating process, which already has had more twists and turns than whodunits.

The Cruz victory could be the turning point for the “stop Trump” movement. The delegates Cruz won in Wisconsin make it that much harder for Donald Trump to accumulate the required delegates to capture the GOP nomination before the national convention in Cleveland this summer.

The Sanders victory – his sixth straight triumph over frontrunner Hillary Clinton – may not derail the Clinton locomotive to the nomination, but it raises questions about how high her campaign can fly in the fall general election, especially if the young voters activated by Sanders skip voting.

The storylines in the two parties are comically different. The GOP presidential primary has careened from reality show to peep show. The Democratic primary has resembled a coronation disrupted by a grumpy janitor with an agenda.

However, in many ways the nomination process in both parties is eerily similar. “Outsiders” such as Trump, Cruz and Sanders have drawn more votes than anyone would have predicted before the Iowa caucuses in January. Yet, the unpredictability of the outsiders has added an element of suspense that has largely been absent in recent presidential primaries. 

Cruz may block Trump’s march to the nomination, but he may not be the beneficiary of his success. There is rampant talk of a white knight – AKA Speaker Paul Ryan – riding into a contested convention and leaving with the prize in his saddlebag. Even the conservatives who are bent on denying Trump the nomination don’t have much faith in Cruz as a viable national candidate. Lindsey Graham endorsed Cruz, after saying "if you killed Cruz on the floor of the Senate and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”

Sanders’ insurgency has a different effect on Clinton. His outsider campaign emphasizes her insider connections. His plainspoken criticisms of Wall Street, big business and drug companies has underlined her cozy relationships. His bluntness contrasts sharply with her finesse.

Sanders' at times wobbly command of details, as reflected in his interview with the New York Daily News, gives some of his supporters pause. Even though the policies Sanders advocates seem unachievable to most observers, he still comes across as more honest than Clinton. In fact, exit polling shows Clinton failing the honesty test for a hefty chunk of Democratic voters.

Despite the mathematical improbability of Sanders winning enough delegates to elbow aside Clinton at the convention, his string of victories poses more than an inconvenience for the Clinton camp. Sanders only netted a 10-delegate gain from his win in Wisconsin, but that isn’t the real significance of his victory – or victories to come in other states. Democrats have to wonder whether Clinton is too bruised to win in November.

The way the races are shaping up in both parties, Oregonians may be treated to an actual primary contest in May. Sanders has set up a campaign office in Portland and others are likely to follow. We may actually see the candidates and shake their hand while eating an ice cream cone instead of catching a glimpse as they limo in from the airport to a closed-door fundraiser.  

All this means the craziness of the 2016 campaign season will continue into the foreseeable future. There will be more Trump tweets and perhaps even more positions he adopts on the abortion issue. Cruz will step up his crusade against Trump, even as his pessimistic supporters push a “Lose with Cruz” meme. Clinton will have to keep answering questions about a slow-motion FBI investigation into her private email server while secretary of state. Sanders will have to keep explaining how he will turn America into Norway with Medicare and free college tuition for all.

It is a rollercoaster ride that just won’t stop.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Paul Ryan: Designated Relief Pitcher

 A desperate GOP establishment has tried pinch hitters and pinch runners to prevent Donald Trump from winning the Republican presidential nomination and now may turn to its successful designated relief pitcher, Paul Ryan.

A desperate GOP establishment has tried pinch hitters and pinch runners to prevent Donald Trump from winning the Republican presidential nomination and now may turn to its successful designated relief pitcher, Paul Ryan.

A move is afoot to draft Paul Ryan as a GOP presidential candidate, which would confirm the Wisconsin Republican’s role as his party's designated relief pitcher.

Ryan, with seeming reluctance, saved the day by agreeing to serve as House Speaker after conservatives drove John Boehner out of the game and objected to other candidates. Ryan was cast as the only Republican that all factions could support.

That’s the thinking behind the Draft Speaker Ryan movement. The Republican Party is in disarray. Donald Trump is leading the presidential pack, but a faceless GOP establishment cabal is desperately trying to block him from winning the nomination. The party’s 2012 standard bearer has called out Trump as a con man and a phony. Marco Rubio has said Trump wet his pants and has tiny hands.

Beyond a distrust and dislike for Trump, Republican establishment figures worry that another Democrat will succeed President Obama. Some have concluded the only viable alternative to defeat this fall is Ryan.

Ted Cruz has made inroads on Trump’s march to the nomination, winning in Kansas and Maine over the weekend and inching closer to Trump’s delegate total. But Cruz could be the only GOP figure detested more than Trump.

Earle Mack, a former ambassador to Finland under President George W. Bush, spearheaded a $1 million Super PAC to draft Ryan. As he did to importuning to become House Speaker, Ryan has dismissed the draft movement and disavowed the SuperPac in a letter to the Federal Election Commission.

It is hard for Ryan to deny an interest in the nation’s top job. He was Romney’s running mate in 2012 and in the eyes of many political observers outshone the top guy on the ballot. Ryan has injected himself into the presidential primary by deploring Trump's racially charged statements.

As Speaker, Ryan has quieted the conservative rebellion, even as he pushed through controversial budget bills. Conservative members said they still disagree with compromising and relying on Democratic votes, but they support Ryan because he has reached out to them and listened.

Ryan has pushed the conservative agenda, but also promised more than just red meat, including a comprehensive health care plan to replace Obamacare.

The 2016 presidential election has been anything but normal, with insults dominating policy discussions, a billionaire activating citizens who feel economically disenfranchised and a socialist seriously challenging the inevitability of Hillary Clinton’s nomination.

A brokered GOP presidential convention could be the perfect setting for a relief pitcher to trot in from the bullpen. Nobody has stronger credentials to become the party’s closer than Paul Ryan.

The Unraveling of Politics

 Belligerence and brute force are supplanting politics as the way America addresses issues and Americans address each other.

Belligerence and brute force are supplanting politics as the way America addresses issues and Americans address each other.

The “cancer of our time” is the unraveling of politics and the emergence of belligerence and brute force as political principles, says New York Times columnist David Brooks.

"We live in a big, diverse society,” Brooks writes. " There are essentially two ways to maintain order and get things done in such a society – politics or some form of dictatorship. Either through compromise or brute force. Our founding fathers chose politics.”

Brooks cited Bernard Crick’s line from his book In Defence of Politics, "Politics is a way of ruling divided societies without undue violence.”

Politics has become increasingly unpopular. Voters disdain “politics as usual.” “Establishment politicians” are derided. Anger has become a campaign rallying cry.

Those who preach anti-politics, Brooks says, have turned to political outsiders, delegitimized compromise and trampled customs. “They want total victories for themselves and their doctrine,” he says. 

Politics at its best is messy, Brooks explains. "Politics is a muddled activity in which people have to recognize restraints and settle for less than they want. Disappointment is normal.”

What anti-politicians serve up are "soaring promises" that "raise ridiculous expectations.” Inexperienced anti-politicians thwart the political process, making government appear even more dysfunctional and generating ever-deepening voter cynicism. That disgust, in turn, leads to stronger demands for outsiders who are even more unbendable and politically reckless.

That downward spiral of politics breeds a pandemic that infects officeholders open to deal-making and compromise. They fear looking open to a deal will be a sign they have become part of the political establishment.

"We’re now at a point where the Senate says it won’t even hold hearings on a presidential Supreme Court nominee, in clear defiance of custom and the Constitution,” Brooks observes. "We’re now at a point in which politicians live in fear if they try to compromise and legislate. We’re now at a point in which normal political conversation has broken down. People feel unheard, which makes them shout even louder, which further destroys conversation.”

"And in walks Donald Trump. People say that Trump is an unconventional candidate and that he represents a break from politics as usual. That’s not true. Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means."

Brooks says, "Trump represents the path the founders rejected. There is a hint of violence undergirding his campaign. There is always a whiff, and sometimes more than a whiff, of 'I’d like to punch him in the face.’”

Politics is in retreat around the world and authoritarianism is on the rise, Brooks contends. For America, "The answer to Trump is politics. It’s acknowledging other people exist. It’s taking pleasure in that difference and hammering out workable arrangements.”

Politics works, he says, when people "recognize the simultaneous existence of different groups, interests and opinions. You try to find some way to balance or reconcile or compromise those interests, or at least a majority of them. You follow a set of rules, enshrined in a constitution or in custom, to help you reach these compromises in a way everybody considers legitimate.”

That’s the beauty of politics, Brooks argues. "It involves an endless conversation in which we learn about other people and see things from their vantage point and try to balance their needs against our own. Plus, it’s better than the alternative: rule by some authoritarian tyrant who tries to govern by clobbering everyone in his way.” 

Rubio Courts Suburban Voters to Dethrone Trump

 Marco Rubio is banking on suburban voters to give him the political momentum to derail Donald Trump en route to the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Marco Rubio is banking on suburban voters to give him the political momentum to derail Donald Trump en route to the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Donald Trump is appealing to fed-up voters. Ted Cruz is wooing religious conservatives. Jeb Bush tried to appeal to establishment Republicans. Now Marco Rubio is pursuing a strategy to court suburban voters.

As time is running out in the GOP presidential primary to derail a Trump nomination, Rubio hopes to coalesce all Republican primary voters who haven’t or don’t want to vote for the New York billionaire. So far in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Rubio’s best headline has been that he is “surging.” Pretty quickly, he will have to surge into first place somewhere. 

In a contest seemingly dominated by political segmentation, Rubio and his campaign advisers have chosen to chase suburbanites. Instead of seeking out enclaves of self-identified evangelical voters, Rubio is on the hunt for support in places like Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. He also is campaigning in suburban areas of Denver, Atlanta, Boston, Birmingham and Nashville in the lead-up to major primaries.

According to The Washington Post, Rubio’s “Ankeny Strategy” – Ankeny is a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa – is aimed at voters who relate to the Florida senator. “They can identify with his modest background, his young children and the student loans he had to pay off,” the Post reports. “There are Ankenys all over the country,” says Rich Beeson, Rubio’s deputy campaign manager.

Rubio's campaign points to the candidate’s strong showing in South Carolina’s two most populous counties, which delivered Rubio a narrow second-place finish over Cruz, thanks to successful outreach to suburban voters.

Rubio isn’t the first politician to see the value of suburban voters. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who endorsed Rubio this week, followed that strategy to win the statehouse in a typically blue state.

The underlying Rubio message is that Trump’s appeal is limited, topping out at perhaps 35 to 40 percent of the GOP base. Rubio argues he has conservative credentials to win over Trump and Cruz partisans, while still appealing to swing voters in the suburbs.

Not that long ago, suburban areas such as Beaverton and Hillsboro were reliable Republican strongholds. But the political ground has shifted, making it harder for Republicans to hold on to legislative and congressional seats. Rubio eyes these potential swing areas as the real battleground for the White House this fall.

The Rubio suburban strategy appears to have more political leg than Bush’s failed approach of appealing to the so-called Republican establishment. This strategy also hints at why Rubio has been reluctant to joust publicly with Trump – he believes he can overtake Trump and weld together a broad coalition that includes his backers, many of whom have returned to the political conversation because of Trump.

Regardless of the merits of Rubio’s suburban strategy, he still has to win a primary somewhere, certainly in Florida, his home state, but somewhere else, too. It would seem, based on suburban demographics, his best chances are in Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Colorado and Minnesota. Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia hold their primaries March 1, as part of the so-called SEC Primary. Colorado and Minnesota hold caucuses the same day. If Rubio doesn’t snag a win in one or more of those states, his suburban strategy may have hit a fatal roadblock on Trump’s road to the nomination.

The Curious and Contentious Constitutional Debate

 It didn’t take long for the untimely death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to erupt into a partisan battle and curious, contentious debate over the constitution.

It didn’t take long for the untimely death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to erupt into a partisan battle and curious, contentious debate over the constitution.

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has triggered a curious and contentious constitutional debate about his replacement.

Before Scalia’s corpse had turned cold, Senate Republicans served notice to President Obama not to bother sending up a nomination. They want to wait so the next President, who won’t be sworn in until early next year, can make the selection. Obama fired back that he plans to nominate a qualified replacement, and he expects the Senate to hold confirmation hearings and a vote. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cited an 80-year-old precedent for presidents to demur on filling Supreme Court vacancies in the final year of their term in office. A media fact checker disputed such a precedent, noting that President Reagan’s nominee, Anthony Kennedy, was confirmed in 1988, a presidential election year, on a unanimous vote by a Democratically controlled Senate. Kennedy was confirmed after the Senate rejected the earlier nomination of Robert Bork. 

Obama, who taught constitutional law at Columbia University earlier in his career, said it was his duty to nominate someone to fill a Supreme Court vacancy and the Senate’s duty to consider and vote on the nominee. He said there were no exceptions or limitations noted in the Constitution that apply to the final year of a presidential term.

The irony in this debate is that whoever succeeds Scalia will be the swing vote on a divided court that will decide whether Obama exceeded his constitutional authority in issuing executive orders.

The net effect of the tussle over whether there will be a vote or not has been to add another rancorous layer of politics to an already inflamed political environment. Some Obama haters went so far as to speculate on social media that Obama was responsible for murdering Scalia. Medical reports indicate Scalia died of a heart attack while at a remote hunting lodge in Texas.

No question that stakes are high on who will ultimately replace Scalia, who was a towering figure among conservatives who liked his legal reasoning and his colorful writing style. For now, the court has four liberal-leaning justices and four conservative-leaning justices with no ability to break a tie. In case of ties, the Supreme Court issues in effect no ruling, which would let stand lower court decisions, even if they conflict.

One legal scholar said Scalia’s untimely death will affect cases that already have been argued before the court. Scalia’s vote on those cases, the scholar said, can’t be counted if he isn’t still on the high court bench.

The issue of a lame-duck year Supreme Court nomination instantly became fodder on the presidential campaign trail, with all Republicans except Jeb Bush, urging no Senate vote and Democrats calling a GOP-imposed delay a constitutional affront.

There was an unexpected, though perhaps unsurprising, trickle down effect of the argument on races for the Senate this year. Twenty-four Republicans face re-election this year, and they may be uneasy pledging to stonewall a presidential Supreme Court nomination before finding out who is actually nominated. Supreme Court watchers have identified at least two potential nominees who were vetted in recent Senate confirmation hearings and voted in as federal judges on unanimous Senate votes.

One of the most curious pieces of speculation that bubbled up in the rough-and-tumble follow-up to Scalia’s death was that a delay in replacing the former Justice could paradoxically lead to Obama getting the nomination if a Democrat is elected President.