Darryl Paulson, Author at Florida Politics

Darryl Paulson

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg.

Darryl Paulson: Midterm elections boost Democratic chances

Democrats are looking forward to the 2018 midterm election with great hopes of regaining political control of the House and Senate. Democrats would need to pick up 24 House seats and three Senate seats to capture the majority.

Democrats hope to pick up anywhere between one and four seats in Florida with the seat of retiring Republic Ileana Ros-Lehtinen their top priority. Other Republican targets include Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Brian Mast. A three-seat switch would give Democrats majority control of the Florida delegation.

A big plus for Democrats is that the party controlling the White House has lost an average of 30 House seats and four Senate seats in the past 21 midterm elections. If the Democrats can achieve the average midterm gains, they will take control of both houses.

President Barack Obama and the Democrats lost 63 House seats in 2010, with most of the losses attributed to the passage of Obamacare. Obama and the Dems lost 13 more seats in the 2014 midterm. The loss of 76 seats in the two Obama midterms gave Republicans their current 241 to 194 advantage.

President George W. Bush gained 8 seats in the 2002 midterm, becoming only the second president in the past 21 midterms to gain seats. The gain was attributed to public support for the president in the aftermath of 911. In the 2006 midterm, Bush and the Republicans lost 30 seats.

President Bill Clinton lost 54 seats in 1994 due to a reaction to his failed attempt to pass health care. Four years later, Clinton became the only other president in the past 21 midterms to gain seats. Democrats picked up five seats in 1998, a reaction to the Republican overreach in their attempt to impeach the president.

The largest midterm loss in the past 21 midterms occurred in the 1922 midterm of President Warren Harding. The Republicans lost 77 seats.

Midterms clearly are bad news for the party controlling the White House, which means Republicans will confront a major obstacle in 2018. In addition, Trump’s low approval rate, 34 percent, is historically low for an incoming president.

Not only is President Donald Trump unpopular, but so is his major legislative priority, the American Health Care Act. The public has strongly opposed the Republican plan with 55 percent strongly opposing the plan in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

It is worth remembering that two of the largest midterm losses were related to health care. Clinton and the Democrats lost 54 seats when his health care plan failed, and Obama and the Democrats lost 63 seats when health care was approved. Will a similar fate confront Trump and the Republicans in 2018?

Republicans point to the fact that they are five-for-five in winning special congressional elections since Trump became president. But, special elections have been poor indicators of electoral success in midterm elections.

Democrats should not be over-optimistic even though almost all political factors favor them. Likewise, Republicans should not be optimistic because of their success in special elections.

If Democrats fail to win political control in the 2018 midterm elections, look for Democrats to thoroughly out their leaders, especially in the House, and replace them with younger, more articulate leaders for the party. The current House leaders have an average age in the mid-70’s.

It is past time for new faces and new leadership.

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Darryl Paulson is Professor Emeritus of Government at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.

Breaking down the results of the Georgia special election

The last month has been filled with media coverage of yesterday’s special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. One would think this was the most significant race in the history of Congress. Why has this race dominated the media, while another special election in neighboring South Carolina has received almost no attention?

Both the Georgia and South Carolina districts feature resignations by Republicans Congressmen who took positions in the Donald Trump administration. In Georgia, Tom Price resigned to become Secretary of Health and Human Services, while in South Carolina, Mick Mulvaney gave up his seat to become Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

One reason for the attention on the Georgia race may be that the seat was previously held by Newt Gingrich before Price took over, and it has been a Republican district since 1979. That hardly explains the attention on the Georgia district and the neglect of the South Carolina district.

Many viewed the election as a referendum on the Trump administration. Mitt Romney won the district by 23 percent in 2012; Trump won by only 1.5 percent in 2016. Many saw this as an opportunity for Democrats and a sign of Republican dissatisfaction with Trump as party leader.

The Democratic candidate in District 6 was Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old political activist who did not even live in the district. Although the Constitution does not require House candidates to live in the district where they run, not doing so is usually a fatal blow. Handel constantly reminded voters that Ossoff could not vote in the election because he did not reside there.

Ossoff raised over $25 million for his campaign, and his Republican opponent, Karen Handel, raised a similar amount making this the most expensive House race in congressional history. Conspicuously lacking was any discussion, especially by Democrats, of the corrupting influence of money in congressional campaigns.

The media focused great attention on Ossoff, but comparatively little focus on his Republican opponent Handel. We knew that Ossoff worked for a number of Democratic causes and candidates, and considered himself to be a progressive. Ossoff had the backing of the progressive establishment, including John Lewis, an icon in both congressional and civil rights history.

The lack of focus on Handel may be due to the fact Ossoff received 48 percent of the vote in the blanket primary, compared to only 20 percent for Handel. It should be remembered that Republican candidates collectively received 51 percent of the primary vote.

We also know that the Ossoff campaign had 12,000 volunteers, a number seldom reached by statewide candidates. He was clearly a political juggernaut, as his $25 million dollars in campaign funds demonstrated.

During the campaign, one of the candidates posted on their website that the country needs to “cut the wasteful spending. Reduce the deficit so the economy can keep growing.” The site also suggested that the minimum wage be adjusted “at a pace that allows employers to adapt their business plans.”

The above policy pronouncements sound like something from Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan or Handel. They were actually from Ossoff. Hardly progressive sentiments. Did Ossoff’s attempt to moderate his progressive views actually “turn off”  progressive voters?

Republican strategy was to tie Ossoff to Nancy Pelosi, a common strategy, but one that many felt was no longer effective.  One ad asked voters to “Say ‘No’ to Pelosi’s ‘Yes Man.’” Another ad called Ossoff a “rubber stamp for Pelosi’s failed agenda.”

Ossoff lead by as much as 7 points only a month ago and never trailed Handel until the day before the election when she led by a single point.  The polls indicated that Ossoff’s support came from voters from 18 to 64, where he lead by 8 to 15 points; Handel led among voters over 65 by a margin of 62 to 36.

Males supported Handel 52.6 to 45.7 percent while women supported Ossoff by almost exactly the same margin. White voters preferred Handel 55.8 to 43.2 percent while African-Americans favored Ossoff 88.7 to 9.4 percent for Handel.

Why did Handel win and what does it mean? There are several reasons why Handel won and Ossoff lost. Perhaps most damaging was the outsider label, which effectively damaged the Ossoff campaign. Not being able to vote for yourself in such an important campaign put Ossoff in a difficult position. Carpetbaggers in politics have seldom fared well.

Another part of the outsider problem was self-imposed by Ossoff. In an attempt to negate the outsider charge, Ossoff said he lived “a few blocks outside District 6. In fact, it was found that he lived 3.2 miles outside the district.

A final part of the outsider charge related to campaign contributions. Although Ossoff raised over $25 million, most of the contributions came from outside the district. He received fewer than 1,000 donations from District 6 residents, but got over 7,200 contributions from California residents.

It is too early to know for sure, but I am guessing senior voters turned out at very high rates, while younger voters supported Ossoff, but turned out at a far lower rate. We cannot forget that this was a Republican district and the results reflected typical voting patterns.

Democrats are clearly going to be demoralized after expecting to win this seat almost from the beginning. Ossoff did lead almost the entire campaign, but momentum is everything in politics.

A seven-point Ossoff advantage a month out from the election completely vanished by election day.

Neither party should read too much into the election results. A Handel victory is no more an endorsement of Trump than an Ossoff victory would have meant that Trump and the Republicans were doomed.

Darryl Paulson: Will Donald Trump be dumped? Part III — Impeachment

The first article in this series looked at the possibility of removing Donald Trump through the 25th Amendment and it concluded there was virtually no chance of that happening. The next article looked at the Constitutional Convention and the debate over whether or not impeachment should be part of the constitution. It also looked at the process that Congress created, as well as the three attempts to impeach and remove presidents.

This article examines whether or not there is a likelihood that President Trump will be impeached. If so, what would be the grounds for impeachment and what is the likelihood of impeaching and removing the president?

If President Trump is impeached, the most likely grounds for impeachment would be obstruction of justice, which was the primary ground for impeaching President Richard Nixon. The charge was that Nixon “obstructed and impeded the administration of justice.”

Just as Nixon fired Special Watergate Prosecutor Archibald Cox, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Comey and the FBI were investigating the ties of fired National Security Adviser to the Russians, as well as Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

During private conversations between the president and Comey, Trump asked Comey if he could drop the investigation of Flynn. Is this impeachable? It depends on whether Trump was politely asking Comey to drop the investigation, or was he ordering him to drop the investigation. A polite request is not impeachable; a command may well be impeachable.

A second major allegation against Trump is that he has used his office to financially benefit his businesses. After becoming president, membership fees at the Mar-a-Lago resort were doubled to $200,000. Trump was spent many weekends at the resort. Are the increased fees an attempt to profit from his position as president?

Rates at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, just several blocks from the White House, have increased substantially since Trump won the election. The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution prohibits the president from profiting from his position as president.

A third possible charge might be that Trump did not “faithfully execute” his duties as president. Trump’s giving Russian officials intelligence information in the Oval Office put the lives of intelligence agents in jeopardy according to many defense department and intelligence officials.

Another possible charge is the intimidation of potential witnesses. After asking Director Comey to halt the investigation of Michael Flynn in a private conversation in the Oval Office, Trump then threatened Comey by saying, “He better hope there are no tapes of that meeting.”

Others have raised concerns about Trump’s attacks on the judiciary, violating the establishment of religion clause by his Muslim travel ban, and his attacks on the press for being the “enemy of the people.”

If Trump is impeached, his supporters would contend that it was nothing more than a Democratic Party attempt to subvert the will of the people as expressed in the 2016 election results. The idea of a “constitutional coup” overturning the election results is a powerful argument.

The likelihood of impeachment depends on many factors. The more serious the offense, the more likely the president will be impeached. Anything considered to be a “high crime or misdemeanor” raises the chance for impeachment.

A second factor is the president’s popularity. A popular president is far less likely to be impeached. This is a problem area for Trump. He assumed office with historically low approval ratings and they have continued to plummet. His current approval rate is only 36 percent.

A third factor is the president’s relationship with Congress. Trump has won few Democratic friends, but he has also alienated many Republicans. Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank, contends that only 50 to 100 House Republicans are true Trump supporters. “The balance sees him as somewhere between a deep and dangerous embarrassment and a threat to the Constitution.”

A final factor impacting impeachment is the party control of Congress. Republicans control both the House and Senate. Even if the House votes to impeach, which is not likely at this point, it would still require two-thirds of the Senate to remove Trump. This means that 19 of the 52 Republican senators would have to join all 48 Democrats in order to get the necessary two-thirds vote.

How likely is it that 19 Republicans will vote to remove the president? Based on prior history, the chance is zero. How many senators of the president’s party have voted to remove their president? None!

If Democrats win control of the House in 2018, the odds for impeachment dramatically change. It would then be surprising if Trump is not impeached.

In the end, what is most likely is that Republicans will denounce Trump’s behavior, much like Sen. Joe Lieberman denounced Bill Clinton‘s disgusting conduct in the Monica Lewinsky affair?

While denouncing Trump’s conduct, most Republicans will likely justify his behavior by saying he is a newcomer to politics and is unaware of the rules of the game.

At best, Trump critics can hope that Trump will follow the Nixon option. After constant criticism of his character and behavior, Trump will resign rather than face four years of humiliation and frustration.

Then again, Trump has said he has never prayed for forgiveness of his mistakes, so don’t hold your breath waiting for him to see the light.

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

Darryl Paulson: Will Donald Trump be dumped? Part II — The Constitutional debate

In my recent op-ed, I examined the possibility of removing President Donald Trump through the 25th Amendment. That amendment allows for the president to be removed if the vice president and a majority of the cabinet find the president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

This option is highly unlikely to succeed.

Impeachment is the more likely problem confronting Trump, although the chances of success are minimal at this time.

Impeachment and the Constitutional Convention.

On July 20, 1787, delegates at the Constitutional Convention raised the issue of impeachment of a sitting president. The debate was heated.

Charles Pinckney of South Carolina moved to strike impeachment from the Constitution. Pinckney contended that elections would hold the president accountable.

George Mason of Virginia asked, “Shall any man be above Justice?” Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania moved that the impeachable offenses be enumerated and defined.

James Madison of Virginia listed possible impeachable offenses. “He might lose his capacity after his appointment. He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers.” Many Trump critics see him guilty of the last charge.

Pinckney and Rufus King of Massachusetts worried that impeachment would jeopardize the independence of the president. Eldridge Gerry of Massachusetts countered that “A good magistrate will not fear them (Congress). A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them.”

The delegates at the Constitutional Convention gave the House the authority to bring articles of impeachment by majority vote. Impeachment, in contrast to the public perception, does not mean removal from office. It only means a majority of the House believes there are grounds for the Senate to hold hearings on whether or not to remove the president from office. General offenses included treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors.

Presidential Impeachments.

Andrew Johnson, a Democrat who assumed the presidency after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, was bitterly distrusted by the Radical Republicans who dominated Congress. Johnson, a Tennessean, was viewed as too sympathetic to the South.

Johnson’s problems escalated after Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act in 1867, which required the president to get Senate approval before firing a cabinet officer. Johnson fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton without seeking Senate approval.

The House voted to impeach Johnson. After a three-month trial in the Senate, the Senate fell one vote short of the necessary two-thirds needed to remove the president. The vote was 35 to 19 in favor of removing Johnson, and seven Republicans voted to acquit.

Over a century later, President Richard Nixon, who won a landslide victory over Democrat George McGovern in 1972, fell victim to the Watergate scandal. The scandal involved the effort of members of the president’s re-election team to break into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate complex.

Although Nixon denied any knowledge of the break-in, it later became known that the president had tapes of all the conversations in the Oval Office. The House brought articles of impeachment against the president and the primary charge was obstructing justice.

During hearings by the Senate Watergate Committee, a number of Nixon aides gave damning testimony about the president’s involvement. After nine months, President Nixon became the first president to resign rather than face removal by the Senate. On Aug. 9, 1974, Nixon wrote that “I hereby resign the office of President of the United States.”

During the Bill Clinton administration, an investigation into Arkansas land dealings by the Clintons while he was governor, ultimately led to his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

During the Senate hearings on whether to remove the president, his attorneys argued that Clinton was the victim of a partisan attempt to remove him from office for having consensual sex with Lewinsky. However abhorrent his personal conduct, the issue was not an impeachable offense.

The public agreed and attacked Republicans for wasting time and money on trying to remove the president. Clinton is the only president to face impeachment and see his personal popularity rise. His approval rating climbed to over 70 percent, and the Senate fell far short of the two-thirds vote necessary to remove him from office.

Part III Forthcoming:  Will Trump be Dumped? Impeachment

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg specializing in Florida Politics and elections.

Darryl Paulson: Will Donald Trump be dumped? – The 25th Amendment

Each day seems to bring more trouble for President Donald Trump. He fired his National Security Adviser Michael Flynn after just three weeks in his position. Then came the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Numerous other individuals in his administration are supposedly on the chopping block, ranging from Press Secretary Sean Spicer to Chief-of-Staff Reince Priebus to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The FBI investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 election discovered that at least five members of the Trump administration or campaign team had met with Russian officials. Many had failed to disclose these meetings as was required.

Before firing Comey, Trump asked the FBI Director on several occasions to pledge his loyalty to the president. Comey promised his “honesty,” but failed to pledge his loyalty. Trump also asked Comey to drop his investigation of Flynn because he is a “good guy.”

When Trump fired Comey, he called him a “nut job,” and threatened Comey that he better “hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversation.” Trump also stated that Comey was a bad administrator of the FBI and had lost the support of his colleagues. Finally, Trump said the firing of Comey was done to relieve pressure on the Russian investigation which Trump called “a made-up story.”

There is a growing national discussion of removing Trump as president either through the provisions of the 25th Amendment or through impeachment. Neither approach would be easy.

Both the 25th Amendment and impeachment raise the specter of a “constitutional coup.” After only six months in office, how will the American public react to what looks like an attempt to nullify the results of the recent presidential election?

The 25th Amendment was added to the Constitution in February 1967 and was the result of the assassination of President Kennedy. The Constitution did not provide a means to replace the vice president when he assumed office on the death of the president. There was also no mechanism to remove the president due to disability temporarily or permanently.

The vice president and a majority of the cabinet could remove the president if they found him “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” It could also occur if a congressionally appointed body of experts concluded the president was no longer capable of performing his duties.

If the president opposes his removal, Congress has three weeks to debate and decide the issue. It requires a two-thirds vote of both houses to remove the president and there is no appeal.

The 25th Amendment has been invoked six times since its ratification. On Oct. 12, 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned and was replaced by Gerald Ford. Ford was confirmed 92-3 by the Senate and 387-35 by the House.

The following year, President Richard Nixon resigned the office of president due to Watergate. Ford assumed the presidency on the same day that Nixon resigned, Aug. 9, 1974. Ford became the only person to be both vice president and president without being elected to the positions.

On Sept. 20, 1974, President Ford selected Nelson Rockefeller as his vice president. Rockefeller was confirmed 90-7 by the Senate and 287-128 by the House.

Three incidents involve the 25th Amendment and presidential disability. On July 12, 1985, President Reagan underwent a colonoscopy and transferred power to Vice President George H.W. Bush for several hours.

In 2002 and 2007, President George W. Bush transferred power to Vice President Dick Cheney during two colonoscopies.

The presidential disability provisions were considered twice during the Reagan administration but were rejected. On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot by a deranged assassin. Reagan was incapable of turning over powers to his vice president, and vice president Bush decided not to invoke the powers even though Reagan was not capable of governing for several days.

In 1987, outgoing Chief Donald Regan warned incoming Chief-of-Staff Howard Baker to be ready to invoke the 25th Amendment. Regan and other staff members were concerned that the president was disengaged from his duties and spent much of his time watching movies.

Baker summoned close aides to the president and they all agreed to carefully monitor the president at a luncheon meeting the following day. The president was alert and funny and Baker considered the debate over. “This president is fully capable of doing his job.”

One of the concerns over the 25th Amendment is its potential for misuse. In 1964, three years prior to the adoption of the 25th Amendment, 1,000 psychologists said Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater was not psychologically fit to be president. Goldwater sued and won. In 1973, the American Psychological Association adopted the “Goldwater Rule,” barring members from making a diagnosis without doing an in-person exam.

The Goldwater Rule did not stop 50,000 mental health professionals from signing a petition stating that Trump is “too seriously mentally ill to perform the duties of president and should be removed under the 25th Amendment.” I suspect these “liberals” let their politics get in the way of science, much like Republicans do with climate change.

Responding to a letter to The New York Times from a retired Duke psychology professor that Trump was a “malignant narcissist,” an Emeritus professor at Duke Medical School responded that Trump “may be a world-class narcissist, but that doesn’t make him mentally ill. … The antidote is political, not psychological.”

Finally, Jeff Greenfield of CNN, commented that attempts to remove Trump under the 25th Amendment for mental health reasons are a “liberal fantasy.”

Part II:  Will Trump be dumped? Impeachment.

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

Darryl Paulson: In defense of politics

Some readers may be incapable of getting beyond the title of this article. How in the world can anyone defend politicians and politics? It’s easy and, I would argue, necessary.

One recent study found that Americans rank politicians lower than cockroaches. I hope Americans are expressing their frustration with politicians, but not their actual sentiments. Would you really prefer a houseful of cockroaches to a few politicians?

For 35 years I would introduce my students to politics by claiming politics came from the Greek word “poly” meaning “many many,” and “tics” meaning “ugly bloodsucking parasites.” It was always good for a laugh, and no one ever disagreed.

Americans probably hold politicians and politics in lower esteem than at any point in American history, but it was not always that way. Politics was once a noble endeavor and held in high esteem.

One of President John F. Kennedy‘s favorite books was “Pilgrims Way” by John Buchan. Buchan, a member of Parliament, wrote that “Public life is regarded as the crown of a career, and to young men, it is the worthiest ambition. Politics is still the greatest and most honorable adventure.”

How did politics fall from “the greatest and most honorable adventure,” to ranking below cockroaches? Polarization, hypocrisy and corruption are three primary factors associated with the decline of politics.

Where politicians used to work together to solve the nation’s most pressing problems, the growing polarization means that compromise has been discarded as a political principle. Compromise is seen as weakness and an evil. Anyone willing to work with the other party is viewed as a traitor and will face opposition within his own party in the next election.

For over a half-century, the Gallup Poll has conducted a Partisan Polarization Index to measure the degree of polarization. From the Eisenhower to Carter administration, the index averaged 34 points. That meant that Republicans and Democrats rated their party’s president 34 points higher than the president of the other party.

From the Reagan to the George W. Bush Administration, the polarization index climbed to 55 points. More Republicans and Democrats saw their party’s president as better than that of the other party.

During the Obama administration, the Index skyrocketed to 82 points. Almost all Democrats viewed Obama positively and almost all Republicans viewed Obama negatively. The Gallup Poll has not had sufficient time to release an index for President Trump, but I think no one expects that the polarization index will decline.

Hypocrisy is a second factor in the declining view of politics. Every Republican in the House and all but three Republicans in the Senate opposed Obama‘s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but over 100 Republicans sought funds from that stimulus program.

President Obama and the Democrats attacked the George W. Bush administration for its secrecy and they promised the most transparent administration in history. According to Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, the Obama administration was “the most secretive White House” she had covered.

A third factor in the declining view of politics is corruption. While corruption and politics often go hand in hand, it seems to many that corruption has completely dominated contemporary politics. Most Americans see corruption as the standard operating procedure of politics.

It is easy to blame everything on politicians, but the American public most share the blame. It is the public who has elected and re-elected these polarizing, hypocritical and corrupt politicians to office.

For over a quarter of a century, Florida voters have elected Alcee Hastings as their member of Congress despite the fact that he was impeached and removed from his position as a U.S. District Court judge for accepting bribes and committing perjury. We reap what we sow.

Politics has made important contributions to our nation. In fact, our nation would not exist if it was not for the political efforts of those who opposed the tyranny of the Crown.

Without politics, we would not have our constitution, over which they were great divisions. We would not have ended slavery and kept the nation united without politics. We would not have triumphed over the horrors of fascism in World War II or communism in the Cold War without a united political effort.

Those who denigrate politics and politicians do so at their own peril. There are still many problems that need to be overcome, and all of them will require political solutions.

As Bernard Crick wrote in his book over 50 years ago, “politics does not claim to solve every problem or to make every sad heart be glad,” but where politics is strong, ” it can prevent the vast cruelties and deceits of ideological rule.”

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

Darryl Paulson: Will 2018 bring no change or a political tsunami?

Sometimes political change comes slowly, one drop at a time. That was the 2016 Florida congressional election where Democrats gained a single seat, although the opportunities were everywhere.

Sometimes elections result in a political tsunami, where the political landscape is fundamentally altered, and one party replaces the other party as the dominant political force.

The 2010 and 2014 midterm elections created a tsunami where Republicans wiped out a substantial Democratic majority and won political control of the House.

What will 2018 bring?

Republican gains in 2010 and 2014 were due to Democrat Barack Obama in the White House and the negative public reaction to Obamacare. Now, with a Republican in the White House who has far lower approval ratings than Obama and with the Republican House voting to repeal and replace Obamacare with something that has little public support, will it be the Republicans who get washed away?

Charlie Cook just released his Partisan Voting Index (PVI) which found that only 72 of the 435 congressional districts were really competitive, with a PVI of less than +5 Democrat or Republican. In other words, most districts are safe.

Larry Sabato estimates that 141 congressional districts are safe for Republicans, and 135 are safe for Democrats. That means that 276 of the 435 districts, or 63 percent, are safe. Only 159 districts are competitive, and Republicans hold 100 of those seats and Democrats hold 59.

The following is a quick rundown of Democratic opportunities in Florida in 2018. The seat offers retiring Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is the top priority for Democrats. The seat has a +5 Democratic advantage, and Clinton defeated Trump by 19 percent. The district has trended Democrat by 6.2 percent over the past four years, the sixth greatest swing nationally.

Quite frankly, the seat is a Democratic seat held by Republicans.

The next target is Carlos Curbelo in neighboring Congressional District 26. Curbelo represents a district which has a +6 Democratic PVI and one that Clinton carried by 15 percent. Curbelo’ district has trended Democrat by 4.5 percent over the past four years.

Fellow Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart in Florida’s 25th Congressional District does have a narrow Republican PVI of +4, but it has trended Democrat by 5.6 percent over the past four years, the 10th greatest swing in the nation.

Other Republicans on the Democratic target list include Republican newcomer Brian Mast in District 18, who won the seat previously held by Democrat Patrick Murphy. Murphy gave up the seat in his unsuccessful bid to win the U.S. Senate seat held by Marco Rubio. The district has a +5 Republican PVI.

Republican Ron DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District is another Democratic target. The district has a PVI of +7 Republican, but DeSantis narrowly won in 2016.

Finally, Democrats have made Republican Vern Buchanan in Florida’s 16th Congressional District as their second highest priority on the hit list. Buchanan has had only one serious challenge, and that was in his first race against Christine Jennings. Buchanan won by 369 votes.

Sarasota Republican Party Chair Joe Gruters claims that “the Democrats have zero chance of winning this seat.” Keith Fitzgerald, a former challenger of Buchanan, argues that the Democratic Party wants “qualified candidates in place in advance of a wave election.”

Will 2018 bring a tidal wave to the Florida political landscape, or will it be another status quo election?  Stay tuned.

Darryl Paulson: The Founders were right — democracy is flawed

I expect the title of this op-ed will generate enough hate mail to keep me busy for a month. How can anyone oppose democracy?  If the Founders hated democracy, who am I to disagree?

The Founders recognized the inherent dangers of democratic government. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, called democracy “one of the greatest evils.”

Alexander Hamilton, better known for being a Broadway phenomena that one of the most significant individuals in the establishment of the United States of America, wrote that ancient democracies “never possessed one feature of good Government. Their very character was tyranny.”

James Madison, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, along with Hamilton, argued that there was nothing in a democracy “to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual.” Over 200 years ago, Madison envisioned a future leader like Donald Trump.

Madison, in Federalist # 10, wrote that democracies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short-lived as they have been violent in their deaths.”

Madison and most of the Founders believed republics were preferable to democracies because they protected against the tyranny of the majority. They created a system of indirect election of the president and checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

Most Americans know that we pledge allegiance “to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands,” and not to the “democracy for which it stands.”

Critics of democracy claim that it is unstable and subject to frequent change. As a result, in 2017, 159 of the 206 sovereign states use “republic” as part of their name.

20th-century Italian political thinkers Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca viewed democracies as an illusion. According to Pareto and Mosca, democracies portray themselves to be dominated by the rule of the people when, in reality, they are dominated by political elites due to the apathy of the masses.

As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote a century ago, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

The 2016 election illustrates the limits of democracy. The normally sedate masses can be aroused by a leader who offers simple solutions to complex problems. Trump convinced enough voters that unless he was elected, America was at its end as a world power.

Trump was also able to convince enough voters that he was the leader to transform America from its downward spiral and that he would “Make America Great Again.” As America’s political savior, Trump promised his political supporters that “I alone can fix it. I alone am your voice.”

Many Americans are convinced that Trump is a new kind of leader who will restore America to greatness. I am more inclined to believe we have selected a false prophet who will lead America down a path of danger and destruction.

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

Darryl Paulson: President ‘Pants on Fire’

Although a Republican and a conservative, I was never able to support Donald Trump for president for three reasons. First, he has seldom been a Republican in his lifetime. Second, he is a pragmatist and populist, but not a conservative.

Finally, he has difficulty telling the truth.

So, what was so appealing about Trump that he won 30 of the 50 states and a majority of the electoral vote? His greatest appeal was being a non-politician in an era where Americans demanded political change.

Politics is the only occupation where experience is a negative. The next time you or a loved one needs major surgery, will you pick an experienced doctor or one who is doing his first operation? Only in politics do we prefer someone with no experience. We are now reaping what we have sowed.

How can you tell if Donald Trump is not lying? See if his lips are closed. Trump has changed virtually every major political position he has held. He then denies doing so, or says that changing positions is a sign of his flexibility. There is nothing wrong with a politician who changes their position, but it is not unfair to expect that person to remain true to their core values.

As New York Times columnist David Brooks has written, Trump is the “most dishonest person to run for high office in our lifetime.” Trump “is oblivious to accuracy.”

During the presidential campaign, Trump lied about President Barack Obama not being born in the United States; he lied about his own position on the Iraq War; he lied about NATO; he lied about Ted Cruz’s father being involved in the assassination of President Kennedy; he lied about the unemployment and crime rate; he lied about voter fraud in elections, and he lied about his groping of women. The list is far more extensive than this.

Once assuming the presidency, President Trump lied about President Obama tapping his phones; he lied about his winning the Electoral College vote by historic margins; he lied about his inaugural crowds being larger than Obama’s, and he even lied about the provisions of his American Health Care Act.

Trump’s constant inability to tell the truth led PolitiFact to call Trump’s misstatements during the 2016 presidential campaign to be the “lie of the year.” PolitiFact concluded that 76 percent of Trump’s statements were False, Mostly False or Pants on Fire.

Lest one concludes that PolitiFact is merely another liberal hatchet job by the left-leaning media, PolitiFact labeled President Obama’s statements that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep your plan,” and “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” to be the “lie of the year” after passage of Obamacare.

Trump’s latest lie is that he fired FBI Director James Comey because he mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Comey was in the third year of a ten-year term as FBI Director when fired by the president. The long-term was designed to protect the FBI Director from political interference from the White House and Congress.

During the last few weeks of the presidential campaign, Trump praised Comey for reopening the investigation into Clinton’s emails against strong protests from the Democrats. Trump said, “it took a lot of guts” for Comey to reopen the investigation and, in doing so, Comey had “brought back his reputation.”

Comey was currently investigating potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russian influence in the presidential election. Five members of the Trump campaign have been found to have contact with Russian officials during the presidential race. The list includes former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, consultant Roger Stone, foreign policy adviser Carter Page, national security adviser Michael Flynn and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Corey’s dismissal puts the Trump-Russian investigation in jeopardy. Democrats are suspicious of the timing of Comey’s firing, but their position is weakened by their repeated called for Comey’s ouster.

Perhaps the most consistent aspect of the Trump campaign and presidency is Trump’s lies. As bad as those lies may be, what is worse is that Trump is attempting to place himself above the law.

Americans would not tolerate that behavior during Watergate, when both Republicans and Democrats joined forces to find out the truth. As Howard Baker said during the Watergate hearings, “what did the president know and when did he know it?”

That question is just as relevant as it was over 40 years ago.

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

Darryl Paulson: Should the Florida GOP feel blue?

Florida’s Republican Party has governed Florida for less than a third of the past 150 years. After the Civil War, a coalition of newly enfranchised blacks, a small number of native white Republicans and northern carpetbaggers dominated Florida politics from 1865 to around 1885.

After the blacks were stripped of their voting rights at the end of Reconstruction, the Republican Party ceased to be a political force. By 1900, more than 90 percent of black voters were dropped from the voter rolls due to barriers to black voters adopted by the state Legislature and through constitutional amendments. As a result of the removal of black voters, not a single black or Republican was left in the legislature.

Republican Party fortunes were so bad that when the party failed to run a candidate for governor in 1918, the Florida Supreme Court declared that “The law does not know such a political party as the Republican Party.

From the 1880s to the 1950s, Democrats completely controlled the political process in Florida. Only once in that 70-year period did a Republican presidential candidate carry the state of Florida. Almost 57 percent of Floridians voted for Republican Herbert Hoover in 1928 over Democrat Al Smith. Smith was the first Catholic candidate for the presidency, and Protestant voters in Florida were not ready to support a Catholic candidate.

Partisan change in Florida and the rest of the South was triggered by events at the 1948 Democratic National Convention. The convention adopted a strong civil rights plank which led to a walkout of most southern delegates and the formation of the States Rights or Dixiecrat Party headed by Governor Storm Thurmond of South Carolina.

The Southern states had agreed to support the national Democratic Party as long as the party did not interfere with racial policies and states’ rights. The bond was now broken. Beginning in 1952, the Republican Party won the electoral votes of three Southern states, including Florida. “Presidential Republicanism” was the wedge that began to open the door for the Republican Party in the South.

Republican strength in presidential elections would be followed by increasing Republican victories in Congressional elections. This would be followed by growing Republican numbers in the state legislatures and then in local elections.

From 1952 to 1992, Republicans won nine of the 11 Florida presidential elections. The only GOP losses were Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Jimmy Carter in 1976. The Lyndon Johnson campaign successfully convinced voters that Goldwater would lead the country into a nuclear war, and Florida voters were concerned about Goldwater’s proposal to privatize Social Security. Carter was helped by coming from neighboring Georgia. Republican President Gerald Ford assumed the vice presidency when Spiro Agnew was forced to resign and then became president due to Nixon‘s Watergate resignation scandal. Scandal and a bad economy contributed to Ford’s narrow loss to Carter.

Republican dominance in Florida presidential elections changed beginning with the 1996 election. Bill Clinton, who narrowly lost Florida to George H. W. Bush in 1992, defeated Republican Bob Dole by 6 percent in 1996. Republicans would win only three of the six Florida presidential elections from 1996 to 2016, and one of their losses was by 537 votes to George W. Bush in 2000.

Going into the 2016 election, almost all political observers predicted a Hillary Clinton victory in Florida and nationally. Although getting 3 million more votes than Donald Trump, Trump carried 30 states and won 304 electoral votes, including Florida’s.

In state elections, Marco Rubio retained his U. S. Senate seat and Republicans only lost one U. S. House seat despite the redrawing of districts which many believed benefited the Democrats. Republicans also retained large majorities in both houses of the legislature.

Looking toward the future, Democrats have several things working in their favor. First, the election of Trump has been a great motivating factor for Democrats. Massive turnouts at congressional town halls attest to the fact that Democrats appear to be more motivated than Republicans.

A second advantage for Democrats is that Republicans are in disarray. Republicans in the Florida House are battling their Republican counterparts in the Senate, and Republicans in both chambers are fighting Republican Governor Rick Scott. Growing factionalism within the party creates opportunities for the Democrats.

Third, the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), once viewed as one of the premier party organizations in the country, has fallen on hard times. When Governor Scott’s hand-picked choice to lead the party, Leslie Dougher, was defeated by state legislator Blaise Ingoglia, Scott abandoned his role as party leader.

Scott urged donors not to give to the RPOF, but to contribute to his “Let’s Get to Work” political action committee. The RPOF now has about half of the revenues it had four years ago.

For Democrats, they face the same problem they have faced for the past 25 years:  disorganization. Numerous party leaders have come and gone, and the results from been dismal. Democrats have just elected a new party chair, Steven Bittel, and hired a new executive director, Sally Boynton Brown. Will they do any better than their predecessors?

2018 is an off-year election, and the party occupying the White House usually suffers large losses. 2018 will provide a good look at whether Florida Democrats have got their act together and will achieve better results than they have achieved in the past.

It is hard to imagine Democrats doing any worse.

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

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