The era of Trump is set to begin

For all the hype and hope that somehow the Trump Train would be derailed over the last year-plus, that engine has reached its destination with the Electoral College formally making Donald Trump the President-elect. Indeed, the guy who many of us thought would have his poll lead evaporate once the field was narrowed down and figured in no way could defeat Hillary Clinton served us a heaping helping of crow. (And it wasn’t the best-tasting stuff, either.)

Perhaps what was most hilarious about the Electoral College vote was that Hillary Clinton had more defections than Donald Trump did. From the state of Washington, four of the twelve electoral votes she was supposed to receive went to others: former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell received three while Sioux tribal activist Faith Spotted Eagle received one from a fellow Native American. (I would imagine she may be the first Native American to receive a Presidential electoral vote.) Also, one of Hawaii’s four electoral votes that were supposed to go to Clinton went to Sen. Bernie Sanders. There were other Democrats who attempted to vote for others in protest but they either changed to Clinton or were replaced by another substitute elector.

Coming off the Trump ledger were two Texas votes: one for Ohio governor John Kasich and the other for former Congressman and three-time Presidential candidate Ron Paul, who finally got an electoral vote in a year he did not run (although his son Rand did.) So if you count the nominal Republican Powell as a member of the GOP, the Republicans got 309 of the 538 votes. (The GOP also picked up an extra vote for the vice-presidency, where Maine Sen. Susan Collins received one of Washington state’s four faithless votes along with fellow Senators Maria Cantwell and Elizabeth Warren. Native American activist and two-time Ralph Nader Green Party running mate Winona LaDuke received the other. No Republican defected from Vice-President-elect Mike Pence.)

So we have much of Donald Trump’s cabinet in place (pending confirmation, of course) and the transition is well underway. But it’s still less than clear to me just what we can expect from a Trump presidency. I will say that, after an initial steep drop, the Dow Jones and NASDAQ have looked favorably upon it and anecdotally I’m hearing the real estate industry is expecting a banner year (although interest rates have finally edged up after a long period of stability.) If perception is reality, perhaps we can get to the 4% GDP growth Trump promised – and the post-election euphoria may help Barack Obama enough to avoid going 0-for-8 on 3% or better growth, as the election happened early enough in the fourth quarter to possibly have a significant impact.

On the other hand, holiday sales results are mixed, as shoppers still have discounts in mind. The turning away from brick-and-mortar stores may lead to some significant closings in 2017, which will be blamed on Donald Trump rather than the continuing trend of shoppers to go online to buy their gifts.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump will certainly be tested on a leadership level, with today’s murder of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey leading some conspiracists to believe it’s the first shot of World War 3. That incident managed to temper the newsworthiness of another truck-based terror attack, this time in Berlin. And don’t forget the president-elect has already spoken out about the drone incident with China over the weekend.

In many respects, the speculation on what Trump’s effect will be has already written the bulk of an annual piece I’ve done, looking ahead at the next year. It’s not quite as short or sweet as last year’s but I suspect the era of Trump sets the tone for 2017 to such an extent that I’m just going to skip that look forward for the year and assume this will suffice.

Assuming no act of God to the contrary, all this will begin in earnest at noon on January 20 when Donald Trump becomes our 45th (and perhaps most accidental and unlikely) President.

Thoughts on Ted Cruz and his endorsement of Donald Trump

September 25, 2016 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

Let’s start off with my initial emotions on this announcement: disappointment, then resignation. I think this adequately captures both sides of the equation going forward, so allow me to elaborate.

I consider myself a limited-government conservative, or perhaps better described as a conservative with libertarian tendencies in a number of respects and areas. I often write about the idea of “rightsizing” the federal government down to a point where it does the minimum required of it in the Constitution, and this worldview affected my perception of the 2016 Presidential field. Ted Cruz was not my overall first choice out of the group, but of those remaining when Maryland’s day in the sun came back in late April he was – by miles - the best remaining choice in terms of my stated desire to reform the federal government in a Constitutional manner.

On the other hand, I had already heard and seen enough from Donald Trump to know that he wasn’t going to significantly improve the situation inside the Beltway. He had already backtracked and capitulated on enough campaign issues for me to see that he wasn’t going to be trustworthy enough to be the GOP standard-bearer. Although we went for a period of about 2 1/2 months before the Republican National Convention with the idea that there still were chances to derail the Trump train, the national Republican party (and Trump zealots) did their best to make sure that the “victory” Trump won (dubious at best, thanks to the number of open primaries) with just a plurality of the Republican vote would stand. In the end, many supporters of Ted Cruz as well as John Kasich were browbeaten into acceptance – the rest became the significant number of #NeverTrump folks out there, of which I was one. I would not accept Trump as the nominee, and my conscience would not allow me to work within an organization that promoted someone of dubious value to the conservative movement.

So when Ted Cruz stood at the podium of the convention and exhorted everyone to vote their conscience, I considered it a highlight of an otherwise pathetic coronation of The Donald as Republican nominee. My confidence in Trump upholding the planks of the GOP platform was about the same as the confidence that he could go a week without being on the media for saying something asinine – in both cases, about zero. The fact that the Trump people booed Ted Cruz off the stage was proof that they weren’t principled enough to stand before conservatives to defend their candidate when his bona fides were questioned.

Obviously I was not thrilled to see Cruz fall off the #NeverTrump wagon after all that transpired between Trump and “lyin’ Ted” during the primaries. (Of course, that assumes he was really ever on it.) But as Christians we pray to have our trespasses forgiven as we would those who trespass against us, and from the tenor of Cruz’s comments in his statement I think he has forgiven Donald Trump for what he said during the campaign as simple competitive rhetoric.

And Cruz has a number of political calculations he has to account for, too. After November the election season turns to the 2018 cycle, and Cruz is part of it as the junior Senator from Texas. Certainly there are already people in Texas politics smarting from the very fact that Cruz upset the establishment choice of former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the GOP primary there four years ago, but former Gov. Rick Perry is one of those rumored to be considering a 2018 run for Cruz’s seat. Opponents cite the alienation of Trump voters as just another factor against Cruz, since there’s also the perceived blame for the 2013 government slowdown and the reputation for being a boat-rocking troublemaker that Cruz carries. (It should be noted that all that baggage was supposed to sink Cruz’s presidential campaign early on, but he outlasted most of the rest of the field that was supposedly more palatable to the electorate.)

For all his issues, it’s clear that for Ted Cruz to have a political future he had to modify his stance on Trump, and that was made more convenient by the unqualified Democratic candidate and the pledge he took to support the Republican. Over the next four years he is more useful in the Senate than martyred by his own rhetoric.

So let’s say Trump loses, Cruz retains his Senate seat, and the Clinton/Kaine team continues the damage done by Obama/Biden. The question is whether people will be as passionate about Cruz in 2020 or if they will consider him damaged goods? Assuming Trump loses and doesn’t wish to try again at the age of 73, the early favorite in 2020 has to be Mike Pence – just as the first rights of refusal went to Sarah Palin in 2012 and Paul Ryan this year. But there will certainly be a crop of those who didn’t grasp the brass ring this year looking to seize the nomination: I would strongly suspect that group includes Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, and Bobby Jindal. All of them (except Kasich, who briefly ran in 2000) were first-time candidates – the political world seems to be that of just two strikes and being out, which eliminates guys like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee as old news. All but Kasich also seek the votes of strong conservatives, with Kasich being more of a moderate.

At this point I would still like to see Bobby Jindal make a 2020 run, as there’s little chance one of the 2016 crop knocks him off as the king of my hill. But someone new could strike my fancy or there could be a significant moderation in Jindal’s political views. Still, I would welcome Ted Cruz to the fray with open arms, knowing he had to do those things he may not have liked in order to keep his position of leadership in the conservative movement.

As for me, I remain #NeverTrump whether it’s politically damaging or not. Since politics is not my job I have little to lose but a lot to gain as I work to convince people of the benefits of limited government and support those inside politics who advocate it with actions, not words.

The end of the GOP campaign

Imagine, if you will, a gathering of one lady and 15 distinguished gentlemen. Nine of them had served as the governor of their state, most for multiple terms. Another five have served the nation in its highest legislative body, while one was a world-renowned neurosurgeon and the lady worked her up to CEO of a large hi-tech corporation.

Now, if you’ve ever watched the movie Caddyshack, imagine the character Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield’s character) – loud, bawdy, and obnoxious. Our version of Al, bullying his way into this genteel affair, was Donald Trump. Yet he emerged victorious, in part due to that brash personality but also thanks to a heaping helping of populist rhetoric that sounded so good 40 percent of the Republicans voted for him. (That’s assuming, of course, our side hasn’t been hoodwinked by a massive version of Operation Chaos – and given the number of people who switched their registration from Democrat to Republican or voted in open primaries, I wouldn’t put it past them.) I say “sounded good” because, by and large, his rhetoric had the depth of a cookie sheet.

One upshot of this in Maryland is that the state Republican Party was poised to exceed one million members for (I believe) the first time ever. (As of the end of March, the MDGOP had 997,211 voters, which was an increase of about 16,000 from February – so the trend may have put them over the top.) But that success will be short-lived with Trump, who has disgusted so many erstwhile Republicans that a decrease of 50,000 Maryland Republicans in the next couple months isn’t out of the question.

So now I am hearing the old complaint that not voting for Trump will be a vote for Hillary. No, for conservatives, not voting for Trump will be a repudiation of the direction the Republican Party has taken since Barack Obama took office, and arguably since Ronald Reagan left.

You see, if Congress had shown any stones whatsoever, rank-and-file Republicans would not have felt the need to shake things up by electing an outsider as President. Perhaps Ted Cruz would not have felt the need to run for President in the first place, and the Republican nomination may well be coming down to a contest between two or three of those governors, or perhaps another Senator or the CEO with business experience.

Instead we get Trump, who basically ignores one leg of the conservative stool by praising Planned Parenthood and giving short shrift to religious liberty. Limited government doesn’t seem to be his bag either, since he’s pledged to let Social Security and Medicare go without reforming them and pandered to Iowa farmers by promising to keep ethanol subsidies going. Where most GOP candidates run right in the primary and tack to the center for the general election, Trump is already in the middle so he will likely soften some of his more conservative positions as part of the flexibility in getting the deal done. It’s getting to the point where Trump and Clinton are not all that distinguishable from each other.

And about getting those deals done. Conservatives have wanted a border fence for more than a decade; in fact, the authorizing legislation was passed under President Bush. So why do I think that The Donald will get his fence once he promises to Democrats he will create a bigger, more beautiful door for it? Since he’s the de facto head of the Republican Party now, when is he going to negotiate with Congressional Republicans and work in a more conservative direction? Perhaps the twelfth of never? We will get the “touchback” amnesty, but then the Democrats will just say “forget the touchback part.”

Finally, to borrow a phrase from another movie, I find Donald Trump to be like a box of chocolates, because you never know which one you’ll get. He’s not exactly the poster child for consistency so a Trump administration would be a constant guessing game.

I suppose my advice to voters in those remaining primary states is to show up and vote your conscience if you’re not a Donald Trump supporter. Don’t change parties yet, and get out and vote for Ted Cruz, John Kasich, or anyone else but Trump. Keeping him under 50% of the overall national vote would be a good way to send a message that we’re not sold on Trump as the nominee.

You have to give Donald Trump credit for one thing: he was smart enough to run in a dysfunctional political year. In that case, he has been the perfect candidate – too bad voters like me were looking for order after the disarray of the last eight years. And I will say: had I written this last night, the word “campaign” would not have been in the title. But the Grand Old Party may want to prepare for some stormy days ahead.

Is it really “Trump Republicans” that made the difference?

Yesterday Richard Falknor, who I gather is a Trump supporter, splashed a story onto his Blue Ridge Forum blog that asked whether the state Republican Party will welcome the 200,000 new voters that voted in 2016 compared to 2012. His conclusion to this?

Sending mostly non-Trump delegates-at-large to Cleveland will send a message that the Trump-inspired portion of the 195,000-plus new or returning 2016 Republican presidential primary voters are unwelcome in the Maryland Republican Club.

On the other hand, if some Maryland GOP nominees for the House and Senate endorse Trump now, they will be telling these new or returning voters they have gotten their message and should help with their campaigns.

I like Richard, but his comparison wasn’t a very precise one for a number of reasons. If you recall, the 2012 primary here in Maryland was conducted at a point where Mitt Romney had pretty much sewn up the nomination, so naturally turnout was less. In 2008, Mitt Romney was the last realistic contender standing against John McCain; he dropped out days before the Maryland primary. By percentage, in 2012 voting for the Presidential race involved about 26.6% of Republicans, while in 2008 that figure was 36.1%.

I would draw a closer parallel to the 2000 election, which occurred relatively early in the process. The Republican primary had 376,024 voters out of 769,329 registered Republicans, but I believe there was a caveat that year because the 2000 Republican primary was open. So it’s not the best comparison.

All in all, the increase from 2008 (the last fully open-seat election) to 2012 was about 9 percentage points – but how much of that was having a race that actually mattered as opposed to one which was anti-climactic? You really can’t argue that the Trump candidacy brought a lot of people to the GOP, either – from January to March the GOP numbers only increased from 974,602 to 997,211. That’s a nice bump, but Democrats added nearly 46,000 to their ranks and unaffiliated voters declined by a little over 19,000.

So here’s the thing. Indeed, Donald Trump won the state, probably in part because he campaigned here the most. But I’m not sold on the argument that he either drove new voters to the GOP or motivated them as much as the simple fact that Maryland mattered – all three of the top candidates were in the state at least once. In addition, some fraction of the GOP increase was likely from an “anyone but Trump” movement that probably benefitted John Kasich more.

Moreover, I’m getting more and more convinced that Donald Trump is electoral poison. Call me establishment, but I have this quaint, old-fashioned notion that the Republican candidate should be at least a little conservative, and there are millions of Republicans around the country who agree. The hard part of a Trump nomination will be containing the bleeding down the ticket, which is why so few of the GOP leaders and candidates in Maryland are embracing him. Governor Hogan, who most Republicans respect, is not on the Trump train. In my estimation Trump may be the most divisive GOP presidential nominee ever, even counting Abraham Lincoln.

Even if all 200,000 additional Republican votes came out just to support Donald Trump, it’s worth mentioning that Trump was over 300,000 votes shy of Hillary Clinton here in Maryland - and nearly 50,000 behind Bernie Sanders. Assuming all the unaffiliated voters who couldn’t vote in the primary came out, Trump would have to win at least 75 percent of them to catch Hillary and that’s not going to happen.

If there’s a choice to be made, let’s pray it’s one of bold colors vs. pale pastels, not Tweedledum vs. Tweedledee.

The Primary 2016 postmortem, part 1

I knew Maryland wasn’t a typical conservative state, but I didn’t think that many Republicans would be fooled by Donald Trump’s act.

Late last night I wrote down some “gut instinct” predictions for the state, Congressional district, and county:

Pre-primary wild guesses:

Maryland for President: Trump 42.7, Kasich 27.4, Cruz 24.6, others 5.3 (mostly protests for Carson and Rubio.)

Wicomico for President: Trump 51.2, Cruz 30.7, Kasich 16.3, others (mostly Carson) 1.8.

Trump wins all 8 districts, although 1 or 2 are less than 5 points over Kasich.

For Senate overall: Szeliga 32.3, Kefalas 22.7, Douglas 19.3, Wallace 11.2, Hooe 8.7, the field 5.8.

Wicomico for Senate: Szeliga 41, Douglas 23.3, Wallace 14.7, Kefalas 12.6, Hooe 4.2, field 4.2.

First District overall: Harris 51.3, Smigiel 35.2, Jackson 6.8, Goff 6.7.

Wicomico First District: Harris 41.9, Smigiel 40.7, Goff 9, Jackson 8.4.

So let’s see how I did.

Well, first and foremost I underestimated Trump’s support. Looks like those rallies paid off in news coverage and creating the illusion he really cared about Maryland. John Kasich did some half-hearted stops here as well, and Ted Cruz made just one early on.

Trump is running about 12 points better than I thought statewide. Five of those points came out of my Kasich totals and six from Cruz. The rest come out of the “other” category that Carson (who was the only other candidate over 1%) and Rubio indeed led.

Here in Wicomico County, Trump outpaced me by fourteen points, and I blame the Berlin rally. I was actually not far off on Kasich (16.3 vs. 15.1 actual) but I am deeply disappointed with my fellow Wicomico voters for not supporting the real conservative left in the race, underperforming my expectation on Ted Cruz by almost 14 points – about the same as Trump overperformed. Ben Carson led the stragglers that exceeded my expectations by half again with 2.7%. And let me find a Volkswagen to house the three Santorum voters here in Wicomico.

While Trump won all eight Congressional districts by double-digit margins, it’s worth pointing out that Montgomery County (which is split among several Congressional districts) indeed only gave Trump a five-point win over John Kasich.

Yet if you thought I was shocked by the Trump margin, imagine the surprise when I saw how easily Kathy Szeliga decimated the U.S. Senate field. Getting on TV obviously made all the difference because the polling suggested a much closer race. And Chris Chaffee, who came in second, wasn’t even polled! But I was only about three points off on her.

I think what happened was the inevitability factor - Kathy had a lot more money and (dare I say) tacit MDGOP support. And it may have been a weakness in polling that the 40 to 50 percent undecided were really supporting someone who wasn’t named in the poll. If you look at the three or four who were polled (Szeliga, Kefalas, Douglas, Hooe) combined they only pulled 55% of the total vote statewide. Perhaps those “undecided” were really decided, with the various party factions splitting several ways. Obviously everyone except Szeliga horribly underperformed my expectations – well, except the “field.” Yet Kathy did worse than I expected here in Wicomico.

Now for Congress. There is so much complaining I hear about Andy Harris, but apparently this is a very loud, tiny minority I should have ignored. 10.8% overall for Mike Smigiel and just two votes more for him than Jonathan Goff in Wicomico? Get real. It turns out that the 22% who didn’t like Harris in the 2014 primary didn’t like him this time either, but split their vote three ways.

So my gut instinct wasn’t as good as it should have been – then again, the pollsters didn’t do very well here either and people pay them.

I also speculated Donna Edwards might pull off the upset over Chris Van Hollen, so it will be interesting to see what the minority turnout was for a primary that didn’t have a lot of suspense at the top. Apparently the coalition of Millennials who I thought would help Kefalas a little on the GOP side didn’t show up for Bernie Sanders or the more progressive Edwards, either.

Guess it might be time to clean off my radar since it seems to be broken. Lord knows my little endorsements didn’t help, either, but someone has to hold up the tattered and torn conservative banner in this state – may as well be me.

The one piece of good news I got tonight was that a great friend of monoblogue won her primary in Cecil County. Jackie Gregory took 55% of the vote in winning the District 5 primary, and unless there’s a write-in or independent campaign she will win in a walkover come November (no Democrat ran for the seat.) So congratulations to her!

Looks like our time is up

With the days before the primary dwindling down to a precious few, it appears the 2016 Presidential road show will be going elsewhere. A check of the five remaining candidates finds that only three will be in our two states, as Republicans John Kasich and Donald Trump have Maryland events (in Rockville and Hagerstown, respectively), while Hillary Clinton will be in Wilmington, Delaware.

It’s been nice to see that the Eastern Shore and slower lower Delaware matter to the Trump campaign, despite the fact his message wasn’t appreciably different than any of the last five dozen stump stops he’s made. I listened to a part of his Harrington speech today on the radio and found that he rambles on tremendously. But someone may be righting the ship in Trump’s campaign a little bit because he is focusing on the rural areas which are the backbone of his support; meanwhile, Kasich and Clinton are in the urban strongholds you might expect them to inhabit. This doesn’t seem like fertile territory for Bernie Sanders, but I am disappointed Ted Cruz hasn’t made it over to this end of Maryland. (One caveat: he has no events on his page beyond tomorrow so perhaps we may see a last-minute visit from the Senator.)

Closer to home, it’s worth pointing out that U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Szeliga is in Salisbury for two events tomorrow at Devage’s and the Brick Room. It figures: I can walk to Devage’s but I will be in Easton at the #ProtestPP rally while she’s here. It’s keeping up my record of not meeting the Delegate, who is the only one of the four most prominent contenders I haven’t met recently. She’ll spend the last Saturday of the campaign on the Eastern Shore before moving across the bridge for the duration. No word on whether the motorcycle is coming.

Honestly, I’m glad the primary is almost over since it seems like at least on a national level this campaign really started the day after the 2014 election. It’s actually somewhat amazing that Maryland will be in the late thirties when it comes to order of primary yet is enough of a player to garner attention from all five remaining candidates. This still doesn’t mean I don’t think the primary process shouldn’t be streamlined into six weeks where eight states apiece vote, beginning after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary kick off the proceedings in late spring, but in this case it’s worked out to be an exciting and maddening race.

So on Wednesday or thereabouts I can clean the sidebar and add in the Libertarian, Green Party, and unaffiliated candidates for various offices. Culling is actually great fun.

So get out and vote on Tuesday. After I cover the #ProtestPP tomorrow I will write up my Congressional endorsement for Sunday. That should be interesting.

Maryland’s presidential campaign intensifies

With less than two weeks to go, a gathering that was described as ”modest” but yet “pretty full the whole time I was there” opened up the local Donald Trump campaign office this evening. (I wasn’t among that number.) Those who support The Donald were likely cheered by the news that a Monmouth University Poll conducted over the last three days showed Trump opening up a 20-point lead in the state, with 47% support over John Kasich at 27% – Kasich’s most recent showing has placed him in second place in the newly refigured RCP average ahead of Ted Cruz.

Monmouth also broke down its results by Congressional district to some extent, finding that a combination of the First District and Fifth District has over 50% Trump support with 54% for Trump, 24% for Kasich, and just 11% for Cruz. And here I thought I lived in a conservative Congressional district.

So if current results hold up, Donald Trump will probably win 100% of Maryland’s 38 delegates with around 45 to 50 percent of the vote. Somehow I don’t think Trump will complain about the rules here, but I really think you won’t catch Ted Cruz whining – not just because he’s above all that drama (unlike a certain candidate who didn’t contest Colorado so he got what he put into it) but also since he may have an ace in the hole.

For Ted Cruz, the idea going forward is to perform well enough to stop Donald Trump from getting 1,237 first-ballot delegates at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. If the convention goes to a second ballot, all bets will be off because some delegates will no longer be bound to their candidates and can vote their conscience. Maryland’s delegates have to wait until a third ballot to get in on the action, but it’s worth remembering that back at our Fall Convention we had a straw poll and Ted Cruz won it. (Marco Rubio was second, Trump third, and John Kasich eighth.)

After April 26 we will know who the 24 elected Congressional district delegates and alternates will be; presumably all of them will be for Trump (although there may be a couple vacancies here and there because I don’t think Trump filled every slot statewide.) So the scene will shift to the state party convention May 14, and here’s where it can get interesting.

I have been through two Delegate/Alternate Delegate elections (2008 and 2012) but by the time we had our convention the race was long since decided so the idea was one of a “unity slate.” However, this time I could see two and perhaps three competing slates with backers of Trump, Cruz, and maybe Kasich playing the odds that the national convention will go multiple ballots. It’s almost certain that these Presidential campaigns will be wining and dining voters at the convention, something unheard of at our confabs – and who knows, perhaps one of these candidates will stop by to campaign in person. (The only primary the following Tuesday is in Oregon.)

Perhaps the #NeverTrump strain is not as deep in Maryland as it is elsewhere, but if there’s a healthy dose of it at the state convention we may see some good come out of this after all.

Checking the southern front

Today I went Somerset County way to check out two events, one I had planned for awhile and one I had not until yesterday morning.

So at 9:00 this morning I found myself in a restaurant called Peaky’s eating breakfast with a man who wants to be Maryland’s next Senator.

Richard Douglas alerted me to his visit a couple days ago as we have kept in occasional touch since his last run in 2012; a primary that he lost to Dan Bongino. (Douglas still believes Bongino “ran a terrific race,” but Douglas won eleven counties as well.)

In fact, in his remarks Douglas revealed that his second try for the Senate came out of “watching this Iran trainwreck,” an agreement he called “on par with the Munich Agreement” between Hitler and Neville Chamberlain in 1938. Douglas remarked that Iran wasn’t the Westernized nation they try to portray but instead their people ”want to kill Americans and British.” A Senate that approves an agreement with such a nation will tolerate anything, Richard added, noting the Senate is “such (that) it will not heal itself.”

With a significant part of his career being spent in the Senate, Douglas had knowledge of how the game worked, often picking up the volume which contains the Senate rules to make a point. He categorized his era in the Senate as being one with Republicans who had more backbone, such as his old boss Senator Jesse Helms. Regarding his time there, Douglas termed that the one of the “best moments” in the Senate was the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed in 2002. Passed as a bipartisan measure, Douglas wistfully noted that the Democrats were “back on the attack” a year later. Douglas also played up his experience with the Justice Department under President Bush as well as his service in the Navy during the Cold War.

Another of Richard’s passionate subjects is Cuba, as he predicted the island nation will open up – just not under the Castro regime. He also predicted that Barack Obama would make some lame duck pardons of several American criminals seeking refuge in Cuba, particularly cop-killer Joanne Chesimard. But opening up Cuba now in the way Obama has is already costing Americans their jobs, as Douglas cited an Alabama company which will move some operations there. “The Senate let it happen,” said Douglas.

In Richard’s opinion, a good Senator needed three things: discernment, a knowledge of procedure, and backbone. “If you’re missing backbone, the other two don’t matter,” said Richard. He continued the point by saying he was willing to deny unanimous consent if he judged a bill or amendment would be bad for Maryland or for the nation at large. “Alarm bells go off” when that happens, said Douglas, and leadership doesn’t like it. Senators “hate to vote,” said Douglas, because they’re put on the record.

Unfortunately, the Senate he’s trying to enter is one that enacted the Obama agenda instead of stopping it as promised. “They’re afraid of looking obstructionist,” said Douglas, “Instead, they look weak.” He would “take issues hostage” because it only takes one Senator to stop the train and start the bargaining.

Most of what Douglas said in his remarks dealt with procedure and foreign policy, but he made sure to mention that there are thousands of voters who don’t care about that because they are struggling economically. It’s “a problem on par with national security,” said Richard, and he stressed that he wanted to work with Governor Hogan to create an economic environment more like that of South Carolina, Georgia, or Texas. In visiting minority neighborhoods, Douglas revealed that “lots of African-American voters” were ready to vote Republican, in part due to Donald Trump. But Douglas called both Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards “eminently beatable.”

There were a number of questions laid out for Douglas, with one being just how far he would take the withholding of unanimous consent when it could cost the state on another bill. That aspect was “part of the calculus,” said Richard, but he vowed to “help when I can and resist when I must.”

Regarding illegal immigration, Douglas said the current laws were fine, just not being enforced. One area of concern for Richard was work permits, and he vowed to “put American workers first again,” trying to tilt the playing field back in our favor. Related to that was the refugee issue, on which Douglas pointed out America was once the “loudest voice” for refugees until Obama destroyed our credibility.

One thing that Douglas noted with regard to the Second Amendment was that Maryland has a “gap” in their state constitution. (He was referring to Article 28: “That a well regulated Militia is the proper and natural defence of a free Government.” It does not give Marylanders the right to bear arms.) But he thought firearms should be in the hands of law-abiding citizens and they shouldn’t face hurdles such as the fee prescribed by the state to secure a handgun permit.

To sum up, while Douglas believes “a weak Senate is bad for America” and has insider knowledge, he does not consider himself an insider. His insider knowledge would be used “for the good of the state.”

I should also note that the Somerset County Republicans have a monthly straw poll and this month Ted Cruz emerged the big winner with 14 votes of 22 cast. John Kasich received 6 and Donald Trump just 2. (More on him in a few paragraphs.) If I read their chart correctly, Cruz and Trump were tied last month but now fortunes have shifted dramatically. (As a caveat, the sample fluctuates each month, I’m sure. For example, they had me as an “extra” Cruz vote this month.)

As a housekeeping note and favor to those who may wish to enjoy breakfast with the Somerset County club (it was quite good), they voted to not have their meeting May 14 because it conflicts with the state GOP convention and several Central Committee members would be absent.

Those absent people must have also planned to show up at the event I was set on attending in the first place. Not a single Somerset County voter came out to Congressional challenger Michael Smigiel’s townhall meeting held at the library in Princess Anne. As a concerned voter who honestly hasn’t made up my mind in the race, it was great to have a 40-minute or so conversation with Mike, but as a blogger it was not very good because carrying on a conversation keeps you from taking notes and I didn’t bring a recorder. So I won’t be chock full of quotes here, and you can take the lack of attendance as you will – of all the counties in the First District, Somerset has the second-smallest number of Republicans. (Kent County, the second leg of Smigiel’s town hall tour today and the last of Smigiel’s planned twelve county stops overall, is the smallest by about 300 voters – both are shy of 5,000. But Smigiel comes from neighboring Cecil County.)

I was given two new pieces of literature today. While both make their good points about Smigiel, the message on the palm card is that “Harris Sold Us Out,” with the flyer adding “Harris Promised All The Right Things And Did All The Wrong Things.” Obviously those with long memories may recall that Harris ran a similar campaign against Wayne Gilchrest to secure the GOP Congressional nomination in 2008, and Smigiel uses some of that literature on his flyer. When I asked him whether he was basing his campaign on one vote Harris took (the CRomnibus bill of 2014) he replied it was more like eight.

A couple other contentions I made regarded Harris’s role in building the party as well as his seniority in Congress. It’s no secret that several local candidates were recipients of Harris money – you can call it buying support, but I would argue that the Congressman was out to build a conservative farm team in this part of the state. Smigiel countered that Harris was also the recipient of money from Exelon, which led to a Harris vote allowing the federal government the authority to override Maryland’s demand for a water quality permit for the Conowingo Dam. Mike also intoned that Somerset residents were unhappy with Harris for a vote against Hurricane Sandy cleanup funds, which is the linchpin for Jim Ireton’s Democratic campaign.

And I didn’t even bring up the Harris votes for Speaker with the former Delegate.

Overall, I felt bad for Mike that no one else showed up. Compare this with his stop in Salisbury that Cathy Keim covered for me while I was away, which had a fair number of people.

The question for all of us regarding this race is simple: Andy Harris is not a perfect Congressman, but then it’s possible no one would be. Is Mike Smigiel running a campaign to convince voters he would be a better alternative? I really didn’t get an answer to that question within our conversation, but it will come as a judgment call for me based on something Richard Douglas said: who has the better backbone to stand up for the people and do what’s right, not just for the First District, but America as a whole?

Someone who’s not convinced me he will do what’s right for America has nevertheless secured a headquarters here.

Yes, the Trump headquarters is at 229 East Main Street here in Salisbury, the former location of a print shop. They’ll be here for less than a month, as I’m told they have the space for a 30-day period. So the question is just what they will be doing in the building and how many people will stop by (it’s not on the beaten path and downtown parking can be a challenge during the day, when you have to feed a meter.) I suspect there may be some volunteers making phone calls from there and perhaps staging a later appearance from The Donald himself locally. That would be a hoot.

But I’ll stick with the choice of the Somerset County Republicans – #TrusTED Cruz.

The road forward

Well, we are on from Wisconsin and Ted Cruz’s smashing victory over John Kasich and some other guy, you know, the orange-toned one with the bad hair and little hands.

Yet those who back Donald Trump point to states like New York and Pennsylvania as just the tonic to make Trump the comeback kid. You may have to take them with a grain of salt two to three weeks out, but polls suggest Trump should win his home state handily, perhaps finally cracking the elusive 50% barrier. They are obviously hoping New York gives them momentum to spring into the Northeast primary the next week, in which Maryland and Delaware are included. (The other states: Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Pennsylvania is currently polling with Trump ahead, but by a smaller margin than New York.)

The interesting factor in all of these races is John Kasich. The Ohio governor soldiers on with his 20 to 25 percent of the vote in the polls, but based on current RNC rules and delegate math has no shot whatsoever to win the nomination. His one-in-a-million shot is a hopelessly deadlocked convention much like the 1924 Democratic Convention that went to 103 ballots before selecting John W. Davis, who would go on to be routed by President Calvin Coolidge.

So the question for Kasich supporters becomes one of picking your poison. Although Kasich polls reasonably well in many of the remaining states, in no state does he have the lead. Those Kasich supporters who can stomach Donald Trump as the nominee will likely stick with their guy, since the general effect of a Kasich vote is to assist Trump and his normal 35 to 45 percent plurality. On the other hand, Kasich backers who are #NeverTrump would be much better off shifting their allegiance to Ted Cruz – in fact, Kasich underperformed his polling in Wisconsin by about five points, leading me to believe that about 1/4 to 1/3 of Kasich backers saw the writing on the wall and many shifted to Cruz, who outperformed as he often has. (Meanwhile, Trump was right there at 35 percent, which is around his average throughout the primary season.)

It’s been about a month since Maryland was polled on their preference, so long in fact that Marco Rubio was still in the race and polling fourth. Back then Donald Trump was at his usual 35% share (actually 34%) with Ted Cruz at 25% and John Kasich at 18%. It bears pointing out that at roughly the same juncture before the Wisconsin election a statewide poll had Trump leading by 10 over Rubio, 30-20, with Cruz a point back at 19 and Kasich at 8 with Ben Carson. In about 5 1/2 weeks after that, Carson and Rubio withdrew, Cruz gained 30 points while Kasich gained just 6 percentage points and Trump only 5. I wouldn’t expect the same results in Maryland, frankly, but I don’t think the state will be a runaway for Trump, either.

Yet while the state of Maryland divvies out its delegates mainly by whoever wins the Congressional district, making eight different races very important, the final 14 delegates go to the statewide winner. If you get a 4-4 split in Congressional districts – very possible in a close race – it’s the difference between winning the delegate count 26-12 or losing it by the same.

Thus, it may be a long night come April 26.

WaPo poll: one big leader in GOP race

Most of the attention from a Washington Post article and poll released this morning regarding Maryland’s U.S. Senate race went to a pitched battle between two current members of Congress: Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen are fighting it out for the Democratic nomination, which the Post treats as the de facto election.

But the WaPo poll, conducted in conjunction with the University of Maryland, asked Republican respondents about their Senatorial preferences and the big winner – well over the staggering 7.5 point margin of error for the likely voters - was good old Mr. Undecided with 46 (!) percent. Yes, nearly half the voters are still hazy about their choice less than a month before the primary election.

In case you were wondering, these are the results from those who had made up their mind among likely voters:

  1. Kathy Szeliga – 15%
  2. Chrys Kefalas – 11%
  3. Richard Douglas – 9%
  4. Joe Hooe – 3%

I’m a little surprised that Dave Wallace or Greg Holmes were not included in the poll, as they both ran Congressional campaigns in 2014 and should have had a little name ID among Republicans. There were 1% who volunteered another name, which translates to 3 out of a sample of 283 likely voters. In that universe, Szeliga should have about 42.

However, among the 407 registered voters (margin of error 6%):

  1. Kathy Szeliga – 15%
  2. Chrys Kefalas – 10%
  3. Richard Douglas – 8%
  4. Joe Hooe – 5%

It’s obvious the Presidential race on the GOP side has sucked a lot of the oxygen out of the Senatorial race. You may be devoted to Cruz, Kasich, or Trump but not particular about any of these candidates because you haven’t heard of them. To change that on her part, according to social media, Szeliga is getting out a television ad in the next few days:

My granddaughter, Avery, definitely stole the spotlight while we were filming the first television ad for my US Senate campaign yesterday.

But I wonder about the runner-up’s math.

Perhaps within the margin of error is the new “tied.” Richard Douglas can say the same thing, and in theory I could too – I could have as much as 7.5% and Kathy Szeliga could have 7.5% among likely voters based on the MOE.

With such a huge pool of undecided voters this close to the election, I would be surprised if any of the candidates came to the Eastern Shore from here on out, at least more than once. Our local campaign will be waged on the airwaves and through volunteers because, quite frankly, the 115,635 Republicans scattered around the Eastern Shore are less suitable for retail politics via candidate appearance than those Republicans in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, or Montgomery counties – any of which have more GOP voters within their boundaries than the whole of the Eastern Shore. Pick any pair between Carroll, Frederick, Harford, and Howard counties and you will find the same. (All bets are off, of course, if we somehow get a local Presidential candidate appearance.)

So if a couple nice people come knocking on your door looking for your support, chances are it will be local volunteers for one of these downballot races. Name recognition will be the big push over the last three weeks.

Some Maryland GOP inside baseball that could lead to an interesting race

We’re still six weeks away from the Maryland Republican Party Spring Convention, to be held May 14 in Annapolis, and much of the interest in the event will be driven by the selection of eleven at-large Delegates and Alternate Delegates to the national convention in Cleveland. Since Maryland’s primary will be completed, not only will we know which aspirants advanced from each of the state’s eight Congressional districts, but we will also have a clearer picture of whether a first-ballot victory is still mathematically possible for Ted Cruz or Donald Trump. By then, just 375 delegates will remain to be determined (from primaries in Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota) with the lion’s share awarded by the June 7 primaries.

Yet those who become Delegate at the state primary will be bound to vote for the statewide winner. Polling has been scarce in Maryland for the GOP, as the last major poll came out a month ago and included Marco Rubio and his 14% of the vote. At that point, Trump led Cruz 34-25, with Kasich at 18. Following the trend, Maryland may be a state where Trump wins with only about 40% of the vote but Cruz picks off a Congressional district or two to gain a few delegates. But The Donald will get the lion’s share as it stands now, meaning some of the alternate delegates could come into play. (If I’m a Cruz backer I’m refusing to vote for Trump.)

So a lot of the interest will come from that demolition derby of a race, which normally draws 20 to 25 names for each. (In 2008, I was one of about 23 who ran and I was second or third from the bottom. Name recognition goes a long, long way in the race.)

But at the Spring Convention we will also be selecting our next National Committeeman and National Committeewoman, who will take office after the November election and help to select the next RNC Chair in January 2017. As a Central Committee member, I have already received a handful of appeals on the races where both incumbents, Louis Pope for the men and Nicolee Ambrose for the women, are running again. Several weeks ago I got the letter from Nicolee that she was running, and I’m unaware of any challengers. Aside from her letter announcing her bid for re-election, my mailboxes have been empty on the race – and that may be a good thing, since Nicolee has been out front with her party-building efforts. Here in Salisbury I’m sure Muir Boda would be in agreement that she deserves support for another term.

On the other hand, today I got my third letter from one of the party’s old guard beseeching me to vote for Louis Pope, who has also sent me a letter asking for support. Apparently he will have an opponent come May 14 so I suspect my mailbox will be full of these appeals from names I know.

Back in 2012 we had that same kind of race for National Committeewoman, with the exception that it was an open seat as incumbent NCW Joyce Terhes decided to retire. The party leadership and “establishment” was backing Audrey Scott, who had ridden in to “rescue” a bankrupt Maryland GOP as Chair in 2009 after former Chair Jim Pelura resigned. Ambrose appealed to a different sector of the party, and the clash between the two came down to a close, emotional vote at the Spring 2012 convention. (Worth noting: Pope was re-elected handily at that same convention over Anne Arundel County Republican Scott Shaffer.) Incumbency seems to have its advantages, but I haven’t received the same outpouring of support from party regulars for Ambrose.

Our representatives on the RNC are just a small part of a 168-member body (three from each state and certain territories) but they also represent us in regional matters as well. Over the last term, Ambrose has taken charge of grassroots organization and GOTV efforts while Pope has portrayed himself as a fundraising expert. Granted, the state GOP (which includes Chair Diana Waterman) has been successful insofar as electing Governor Hogan and increasing the number of Republican elected officials, but perhaps not so much on moving the needle on key issues. (Just as an aside, Waterman’s term will come to an end this fall, meaning we will have a Chair election then. A few years ago we adopted two-year terms for the Chair to match the national Republican Party.) With the national mood registering against establishment candidates of all parties, one has to ask how far the “throw the bums out” mentality will go when it comes to state party affairs.

It should be a fun convention; that is, if fun is defined by being on pins and needles the whole time like I was four years ago when I strongly backed Ambrose. We’ll see what the next few weeks brings.

Some thoughts on tomorrow’s election

For Maryland’s election six weeks hence to have any national significance, it’s very likely that Donald Trump would have to lose Ohio and at least one other state. We’re now getting to the point where more delegates have been awarded than remain at stake, with the RCP count now showing we’ve just passed the halfway point. Tomorrow a total of 367 delegates are at stake in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and the Northern Mariana Islands, with all but North Carolina “winner-take-all” states. With four candidates in the running, it’s possible over 300 delegates can be attained by getting just 30% of the vote (if all five WTA states fell the same way with slim victories for the winner.) Donald Trump is doing a little better than 30% in four of the five states, with John Kasich leading in his home state of Ohio.

After this week the race will get something of a breather. Next week the remaining contenders will do battle for Arizona, Utah, and American Samoa, then we skip to Wisconsin on April 5. New York will have its week on April 19, and then its our turn on April 26 (along with Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island.) At this point, even if Trump won everything he could not clinch the requisite number of delegates before Maryland votes. (Let’s hope he doesn’t ever get to that point.)

It’s been sort of lost in the maelstrom surrounding the cancellation of Trump’s Chicago rally, but there were two other endorsements in the race recently. I can’t say I was surprised by Ben Carson’s selection of Donald Trump since the bridge between him and Ted Cruz was burned back in Iowa, but I was surprised by Carly Fiorina backing Cruz. She never impressed me as that conservative when I was doing my dossiers.

Now I can update the tier map. I suspect after tomorrow it will be down to three and possibly two remaining.

  • Bottom tier: George Pataki (Marco Rubio), Donald Trump
  • Fourth tier: Chris Christie (Donald Trump), John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina (Ted Cruz)
  • Third tier: Rick Santorum (Rubio), Jim Gilmore, Ben Carson (Donald Trump)
  • Second tier: Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Lindsey Graham (Jeb Bush)
  • Top tier: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal (Rubio)

The endorsement poll stands at Marco Rubio 3, Ted Cruz 2, and Donald Trump 2. John Kasich has none.

I should take a few moments to update you on where I stand with my Senatorial questions. So far I have heard back from five of the fourteen, with three responses (Richard Douglas, Mark McNicholas, and Dave Wallace.) Each of the three has put together thoughtful responses.

But I also have just a few weeks to decide, so I am going to look at other sources as well. These won’t get the dossier treatment, but it’s likely that someone who responds will get my vote and endorsement, just so you know.

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