Monday, November 05, 2018

Lining up for battle in the not so United States

The US has never seen a mid-term election quite like this — but, then again, it has never had a president quite like Donald Trump.

With only days to go before Americans vote on Wednesday (Tuesday US time), polls show an unprecedented level of interest and engagement by voters, suggesting they will turn out in force to cast judgment on the first two years of the Trump presidency.

Love him or hate him, it seems everyone has an opinion on Don­ald J. Trump.

In true Trump style, the President is having it both ways. He says the mid-terms are a referendum on himself, but at the same time if things go badly he says it will be the fault of the Republicans in congress.

Either way, these elections will play a crucial role in shaping the future of the Trump presidency. If Republicans lose control of the House of Representatives or the Senate, then the Democrats will spend the final two years of Trump’s first term trying to tear him down.

They would block his legislative agenda, cruelling his hopes of taking a second shot at repealing Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, raising funds for a border wall, infrastructure reform and other key election promises.

What’s more, Democrats would have the numbers to launch a dizzying series of investigations into Trump himself, ­including his family finances, his tax records and an extension of the Russia probes.

“I don’t want to see him lose the house or the Senate because they will fight everything the man does,” Margie Martindale says as she feeds chickens on her farm south of Allentown, Pennsylvania — a Republican district that the Democrats hope to retake.

“I work in a car yard removing chips and scratches from cars and I have worked all my life, nobody gave me anything. Trump is for us workers and I’m very pleased with what he’s done.

“The economy is booming and he is trying to close our borders ­because we have an invasion coming of 7000 people (in a migrant caravan) ready to come through our borders. If the Democrats come in they will just block and destroy because that’s what they do.”

But history is on the side of the Democrats. Since World War II the president’s party typically loses an average of 26 seats in the mid-terms and often much more when a president’s approval rating is below 50 per cent, as Trump’s is.

Bill Clinton and Obama’s Democrats each lost more than 50 seats and control of the house in their first mid-terms in 1994 and 2010.

To win the house, the Democrats need to win only 23 seats, and while Republicans still see a possible way of stemming a Democrat “blue tide”, pollsters concede they would have to win an almost perfect alignment of toss-up seats across the country.

The Senate is a different story because although the Republicans have a slim 51-49 majority, the Democrats find themselves defending 10 seats in states that were won by Trump.

Polls suggest the Democrats have probably already lost North Dakota to Republicans, meaning they would need to pick up the very few vulnerable Republican seats in Arizona, Nevada and possibly Tennessee to forge a narrow majority. But, if anything, the Republicans are tipped to hold on or even slightly extend their majority in the Senate.

Polls suggest the likeliest outcome is that the Democrats will take the house and the Republicans will keep control of the Senate. This would clear the way for the Democrats potentially to launch impeachment proceedings against the President in the house.

However, this would be little more than a political statement by the Democrats because it almost certainly would be blocked in the Senate, in the same way Clinton’s house-voted impeachment was.

Trump has worked hard to swing the late momentum towards Republicans, blitzing the country with rock star-style rallies to try to energise his Republican base and motivate them to vote.

Polls show the Republicans recently have closed the gap with Democrats in dozens of vulnerable seats, casting doubt on the early assumptions of many Democrats that there would be a giant blue wave of protest votes against Trump delivering them both houses of congress.

Some Republicans even are daring to dream that they may keep the house after polls this month showed Trump’s approval ratings had jumped from the low-40s to the mid-40s.

But the President’s approval rating fell this week in the unsettled aftermath of the twin shocks of pro-Trump mail bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc — who has been charged with sending at least 14 bombs to Democrat politicians and prominent Trump critics — and the mass shooting of 11 Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

The horrific nature of both crimes has stirred debate in the US about the divisive nature of political rhetoric. Although the Democrats also have been guilty of deeply partisan rhetoric, the issue has greater potential to hurt Trump, whose pugnacious and ­aggressive rhetoric is a hallmark of his leadership style.

“I just want to see an end to the hostility and anger between the Democrats and the Republicans,” Janice Paget says as she walks her dog, Chai, in Quakertown, north of Philadelphia.

“With Trump’s remarks and him attacking everybody, there doesn’t seem to be any unity anymore. All these massacres, this violence. I’ve never seen anything going on like this in my lifetime in America,” says Paget, a retired medical worker who says she will “probably” vote Democrat.

Bob Moran, who has retired after a lifetime working for Sears department stores, says he believes Trump has soured and divided Americans and that is why he is going to cast his first vote in more than 20 years for Democrats.

“I don’t like Trump, I don’t like anything about what’s going on in this country,” he says. “It’s just ­unsettled, too much trouble from everywhere, I am just uncomfortable with it. If I could put a sign out for the Republican Party, it would say they better do something about their own man.”

Trump’s colossal presence in US politics has largely overshadowed the focus on local candidates in these mid-terms.

When Inquirer travelled this week through southeastern Pennsylvania — a key battleground for the mid-terms — many voters cited Trump rather than local candidates as their motivation to vote.

Candidates are tailoring their campaigns to distance themselves from Trump or embrace him, depending on the mood in their electorate. For example, in Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District in Bucks County just outside Philadelphia, Republican candidate Brian Fitzpatrick is cam­paigning as anti-Trump as he tries to win over those voters, especially women in outer-suburban Philadelphia who do not like the President but have conservative leanings. Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent, has opposed attempts to repeal Obamacare, supports a carbon tax and even has criticised Trump for attacking the FBI.

By contrast, in West Virginia Democrat senator Joe Manchin has aligned himself almost entirely with the Republican President to keep his seat in a deep-red state where 63 per cent of people voted for Trump in 2016 and where his approval ratings ­remain above 60 per cent.

Manchin was the only Democrat to break party ranks and vote in favour of the confirmation of conservative Supreme Court judge Brett Kavanaugh.

The fallout from the bruising confirmation fight over Kavanaugh also is an issue that has energised Republicans and Democrats, with both believing it will work in their favour.

Doris Huntzinger, a former primary school teacher from Hartsville, Pennsylvania, says she is pro-life and is likely to vote Republican because she was appalled by the attacks on Kavanaugh after he was accused by Christine Blasey Ford of sexual assault at a high school party more than three decades earlier.

“The treatment of Brett Kavanaugh was terrible,” she says. “I am a woman, don’t tell me we are not supposed to think because I am a woman. People lie and women lie, but in that whole thing it was like whatever that woman said, that was the truth. I don’t get it. I have a husband, sons and a grandson. Are they going to grow up in a world where women are just going to say something and there is no evidence, no proof? It made me so angry.”

But the Democrat candidate in Huntzinger’s seat, Scott Wallace, says he believes the issue will work in his favour.

“On the independent and Democratic side, and of course moderate Republicans, there is a sense of anger about how Dr Ford was treated,” Wallace says. “My observation is that anger is a stronger motivator than gratitude. So I think by election day you will see the Kavanaugh effect will produce more energy on our side.”

Polls show the most important factors influencing American voters at these mid-terms are the Supreme Court, the economy and jobs, healthcare, immigration and Trump.

The robust and growing US economy is Trump’s biggest selling point with the electorate. Although he was lucky to inherit an economy on the uptick, his pro-business, anti-regulation rhetoric has helped fuel confidence. Unemployment sits at 3.7 per cent — the lowest since 1969 — along with strong job gains and a forecast economic growth of 3.1 per cent this year. If the Republicans can save congress, the buoyant economy will be a central factor.

In Pennsylvania’s 1st District, many voters tell Inquirer they believe Trump is largely ­responsible for this outcome.

“The economy has got a lot better, including around here,” real estate agent Cherry Blumgren says as she loads her grandson Easton, 5, into her car near the town of Dublin. “People are back at work, their confidence is back.”

Blumgren says her decision to vote Republican in the mid-terms is a case of weighing the strong economy against her reservations about Trump’s style. “I know Trump can be a bit opinionated and he can say things that are shocking, but we will put up with it,” she says.

Trump’s efforts to energise his base have been greatly helped by the emergence last week of the 7000-strong migrant caravan slowly winding its way through Mexico towards the US border.

Trump has exploited this opportunity to remind voters of the contrast between his border security polices and those of the Democrats, knowing the issue plays well to his base. He has tweeted about the caravan repeatedly, claiming that it contains criminals and gang members. This week he pointedly ordered up to 15,000 troops to the border as a statement of his intent to prevent them crossing into the US. “This is an invasion of our country and our military is waiting for you,” Trump tweeted, even though the US military is forbidden by law from detaining and ­deporting migrants.

Sandra Ligowski, a former bookkeeper at the local prison near Quakersville, says she will vote Republican because she is worried about illegal immigration.

“I like the idea of building the wall and I like the idea that those people have to have papers to come into the US,” she says. “They think they can just walk into this country and that’s not right, it’s a drain on our economy.”

Floating over all of these issues is the question of Trump’s unique and confrontational style.

The President’s supporters love his combative nature and praise him for his self-declared war on those he dislikes, from the Democrats and the liberal media to special counsel Robert Mueller and America’s trading partners.

“I like that he is stern with some of the other countries and he stands up for the United States,” Patricia Funk says as she takes her morning walk north of Philadelphia. “He doesn’t take any other country’s crap and that’s what we were looking for,” says Funk, who ran her own cleaning business and voted for Obama in 2008.

“I don’t like Trump’s stand on women but I picked him on how he runs the country, not how he runs his personal affairs.”

But Daryle Dobos, a grocery store worker from the small town of Chalfont, says Trump is a bully and he can’t understand why he continues to be popular with many voters.

“He is bombastic, he is loud, he is rude, he is ignorant and it’s effective,” says Dobos, who will vote Democrat. “That’s the mind-boggling thing — it has worked well enough to get him into office.”

Republican strategists are concerned about how Trump’s tariffs trade war with China, Europe, Mexico and Canada will play out in rural midwest states, which have been the President’s strongest supporters but which now have been hit by retaliatory tariffs from those countries. Trump has responded by announcing a $US12 billion ($16.6bn) aid package to US farmers in the hope they will stay loyal to him despite their hip-pocket pain.

“I’m a Republican but we don’t like the tariffs,” says Missy Gannon, a Hartsville mother of three sons who have all enlisted in the military. “My husband is in the (steel) fastener business and the things he sells now get taxed so he is not getting paid as much as he was.” But Gannon says she and her husband will vote Republican.

Trump needs to keep voters such as Gannon, who have been caught in the crossfire of his trade wars, on side if Republicans are going to perform strongly across the crucial farming and rust belt regions of the midwest.

But it is in the suburbs of towns, rather than the countryside, where the mid-terms are likely to be ­decided. This is the heartland of those who voted for Trump but are disillusioned by his style and who pose the greatest risk of abandoning the Republicans.

As Karl Rove, former Republican adviser to George W. Bush, puts it: “To win in many contests, Republican candidates must not only hold the crowd that likes everything about the President but also corral most of the half-happy voters who are pleased with Trump’s results but not how he handles himself.”

The biggest challenge is Trump’s growing disconnect with female voters. Among registered voters, women favour Democrat candidates in the house by a hefty 59 per cent to 37 per cent, while men have a narrow 48 per cent to 46 per cent preference for Republican candidates.

The key battlegrounds in the nation’s suburbs are filled with conservative-leaning, educated women who polls show have had a more adverse reaction to Trump than any other Republican group. A study by the Wall Street Journal this week found that the gap in political views by education and gender has widened in the US as women with college degrees have grown more negative about Trump, while men without degrees have grown warmer towards him since his inauguration.

Former schoolteacher Huntzinger is one of Rove’s “half-happy” voters but she still will vote Republican on Wednesday. “While I like Trump’s policies, I am not particularly fond of the man,” she says. “But he seems to be getting things done, which we haven’t seen for awhile. If I had my choice, I would rather a guy who is going to do something than a guy who is nice and sweet and pleasant to everybody but gets nothing done.”



Al Sharpton Has Complete Meltdown After Seeing Black Crowd Full of MAGA Hats

BizPac Review reported that Trump graciously allowed Turning Points USA to hold this year’s Young Black Leadership Summit at the White House. But, according to Sharpton on MSNBC, “It’s one of the lowest things he could ever do.”

“To go in the East Room, which is sacred, have a staged rally. Notice that all of those youngsters had caps on. It was almost like we’re going to dress you for the photo. And to call it a young black leader summit ….”

His ignorant commentary about Trump and the black youth who participated in the summit was not missed by social media. Twitter users had a field day calling him out over it. First up, the “dress you for the photo” comment, which also implies the hats, etc were bought and paid for by Trump, not the attendees.



Experienced inequality and preferences for redistribution

If you have been poor and risen above it, you tend to see welfare payments as unfair


We examine whether individuals' experienced levels of income inequality affect their preferences for redistribution. We use several large nationally representative datasets to show that people who have experienced higher inequality during their lives are less in favor of redistribution, after controlling for income, demographics, unemployment experiences and current macroeconomic conditions. They are also less likely to support left-wing parties and to consider the prevailing distribution of incomes to be unfair. We provide evidence that these findings do not operate through extrapolation from own circumstances, perceived relative income or trust in the political system, but seem to operate through the respondents' fairness views.

Journal of Public Economics Volume 167, November 2018, Pages 251-262


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