“Purity” in politics and how it plays into the 2018 elections

Conor Lamb’s apparent special election victory in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district is stunning. A district that has regularly sent Republicans to Congress; a district that gave Donald Trump a 20 point victory 16 months ago; a slam-dunk district that the Republicans spent more than $10 million trying to hold on to – falls to a Democratic first-time candidate. The blue wave moves on.

Following on the Doug Jones victory in the Alabama Senate special election, a big win in the race for governor of Virginia, and nearly 40 other special elections that saw state legislative seats throughout the country flip from Republican to Democrat, there is something very serious going on. Trump went all in with the Republican candidate, Rick Saccone – two personal visits plus Pence, Conway and the Trump children. The Republican effort for their candidate eventually abandoned a strategy of bragging about tax cuts, retreating instead to their old stand-by, basic Nancy Pelosi bashing. It didn’t work.

So we now resume our regularly scheduled electioneering. The Texas primaries were last week, but there is a whole lot more to come.

There are a record number of Democratic candidates declared for Congress and other offices and they are doing quite well raising money. Incumbent Republican members of Congress, including many in leadership positions, are dropping out in record numbers.

As the election year moves along a real concern for anyone who is interested in where this country is headed is the polarization of the electorate, sometimes encouraged and sometimes led by politicos on the far wings of the parties, helped along by talk radio, cable news and the internet. Alternative facts or just no facts at all are the rule of the day, and with the Russians playing their games you sometimes don’t know what you can believe or trust. Every now and then I get a reader of the blog from Russia who wants to be friendly, and that sort of makes me nervous. Watch the original film version of The Manchurian Candidate someday and you might realize how really creepy things are now, as life imitates art.

The matter of “purity” in politics is a very disturbing problem, something I would define as a commitment or an obsession with a particular point of view, allowing for no alternatives or variations. Purity is basically believing that I’m right, you’re wrong; or it’s my way or the highway. But, as the Buffalo Springfield sing it, “nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”

Both parties have their purity wings. A party that holds the executive office and majorities in the legislative branch might for a while be able to pacify their purity wing with token executive or legislative actions, or even for a period of time by just continuing to lie their way into convincing the purity folks that they are really, really with them, and if only they can increase their majority they will take care of all the far-out promises. For reference, see particularly House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has BSed his way through a lot of sticky situations. Eventually, though, that tends to catch up with people when the purity wings don’t actually get what they want.

As 2018 moves along it is likely that we will see Republican candidates try to hunker down with the base, be pushed even more by the extreme purists like the House Freedom Caucus, and abandon much hope of finding support among what is actually left of the political center in this country at the moment.

Democrats also have a problem going forward this year. Because of the strong interest among both party leaders and the rank-and-file, there are some situations developing among various elements of the party that could lead to serious divisions. The purity end of the Democratic Party is feeling its oats too, and they aren’t being shy about expressing their opinions.

Donald Trump has done more to energize the Democratic Party than any one Democrat could ever hope to do. But how that energy might best be used is a question yet to be answered.

As a Democrat who is seriously interested in slowing down and stopping the craziness of the Trump administration, it concerns me that people will lose sight of the target while promoting an exclusive set of policy positions. Compromise is not a dirty word, and politicians who advocate for such an approach should be supported. How that works out in 2018 remains to be seen.

Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders recently informed members of the California Democratic Party that he would not support Democrat Diane Finestein for re-election to the Senate. Bernie seems to think that Diane is not progressive enough.

The way that the California election for United States senator is developing this year it appears that only Democrats will be challenging one another for the office. In the so-called “jungle primary” that the state uses, the ultimate winner of the Senate election is pretty much guaranteed to be a Democrat. But that, for me, is beside the point. With literally the fate of the country at stake in the 2018 elections, trying to pick candidates who are “progressives,” or “practical progressives,” or whatever, takes the eye off the target.

Bernie Sanders is entitled to his own view of things but I couldn’t care less about him supporting or not supporting a candidate. Bernie operates under his own personal view of what an acceptable “progressive” is. I’m more interested in seeing the biggest tent of Democrats that can be possibly assembled in the next Congress to challenge Donald Trump. We can sort other things out in 2019.

What the Democrats need now is a slogan that suits the situation. I suppose the late owner of the Oakland Raiders, Al Davis, had the slogan copyrighted, but in my view the Dems should go into battle this year shouting “just win, baby!”

This all circles back to what just happened in the 18th Congressional District of Pennsylvania this week. Conor Lamb is an extremely talented fellow whose electoral success has been defined by tailoring his campaign to the district he sought to represent. He’s a former federal prosecutor, a Marine, a hunter and someone who supports the views of the steelworkers of his district. It produced a win and got the party a little closer to their goal.

He doesn’t seem like the kind of “progressive” whom Bernie Sanders might support. Well, too bad. Getting a Congress that can take on Trump and all the stuff that goes with that requires getting as many Democrats, on all points in the political spectrum, engaged and elected in 2018. That’s the only way to make this work.

If Giambra follows through with a Reform party candidacy he could rearrange the ballot in New York State; some observations on Trump and Salvatore

As elections go, the 2018 campaign for governor of New York is not off to what you might call a rip roaring start. Governor Andrew Cuomo has seen a drop in his poll ratings, and some are attributing that to the corruption trial of Joseph Percoco and others that has for the past several weeks put the seamier side of government and politics in Albany on display. Whether a trial with no conclusion will do additional political damage to Cuomo remains to be seen.

While acknowledging the down side of the trial on Cuomo’s standing, it may just be that Albany political scandals have been so commonplace that much of the general public may be sort of numb to such things. It may be that the Percoco issue might be already baked into the 2018 election, without much more of an effect on things.

Cuomo, of course, has substantial political advantages including the powers of the purse controlled by an incumbent, the ability to make news at will, a party organization that is mostly supportive of him, and a campaign treasury of more than $30 million that no rival could hope to come close to. There has been talk about a left wing attack on Cuomo in a Democratic primary, with several names mentioned, but so far it’s mostly talk. Cuomo has in the past three years moved to the left on a variety of issues, making a challenge even more formidable.

The problem for Republicans looking to develop a statewide ticket is that potential candidates who might have some real creditability have passed on the election, leaving the challenge to lesser lights. By process of elimination, up until last week, State Senator John DeFrancisco of Syracuse seemed headed for the nomination. But then a white knight appeared at a gathering of the Republican State Committee, Marcus Molinaro.

State Senator DeFrancisco, 71, has been an elected official for the past 36 years, the past 25 of which having been in the State Senate. Molinaro has only been in public office for the past 23 years, but then again he is only 42, and has been an elected politician since he was 18 years old. Molinaro’s elective career includes several years as a member of the State Assembly as well as time as village trustee and mayor, county legislator and county executive.

So the choice for the party gubernatorial nomination will come down to whether the party wants someone who has spent a little more than half his life in political office (DeFrancisco) versus someone who has also been an elected official more than half his life (Molinaro).

Former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra served a total of 26 years in elective office, including stints as member of the Buffalo Common Council, Buffalo comptroller and county executive. He recently dropped his bid for the Republican nomination for governor in the face of much opposition.

Giambra is now focused on becoming the Reform Party candidate for governor. The Reform group was born in the 2014 election for governor as the Stop Common Core Party, a creation of the then candidate for governor, Rob Astorino. The leaders of the party, such as they were, changed the name of the party to Reform on the assumption that “Reform” has more marketability. Many Republicans have had the Reform Party line in elections since 2015.

Currently the Reform Party has a statewide enrollment of 1,628. There are 93 affiliated Reform voters in Erie County. Nonetheless the party is entitled by law to automatically enter a candidate for governor on the 2018 ballot.

The party is led at the moment by Curtis Sliwa, a community activist who in the 1980’s founded the “Guardian Angels,” a self-styled vigilante group that tried to combat crime. More recently Sliwa has been a talk show host in New York City.

While a Giambra candidacy on the Reform Party line offers limited possibilities of success in the race for governor, his race for governor, played right (for him), might generate enough interest to continue the existence of the Party for the next four years while pushing the party up on the ballot line. They currently appear as the eighth in a list of eight parties that have the automatic right to field candidates.

The political scuttlebutt about Giambra Is that his campaign might be promoted by folks interested in legalizing marijuana as a recreational drug in New York. Maybe a slogan for the campaign could be, “the state is not too damned high.” Where is Jimmy McMillan when you need him?

Giambra will also highlight some issues that, while not sellable to a majority of New York voters, could nonetheless be hot issues for certain blocks of voters.

Party rankings on the ballot are determined by the number of votes a party candidate receives when running for governor, provided they collect at least 50,000 votes. The current lineup, based on the 2014 election, is as follows:

  • Democrat
  • Republican
  • Conservative
  • Green
  • Working Families
  • Independence
  • Women’s Equality
  • Reform

The Conservatives generally align themselves with the Republicans in statewide elections. Party leaders don’t seem very impressed by Senator DeFrancisco. Marcus Molinaro is the flavor of the month, but would he, on the Conservative line, help them hold on to the third spot on the ballot if a Giambra candidacy, unburdened by party loyalties and stances on issues, got a toehold on being the “anti” candidate in New York State in 2018? Signing on with the Republicans for Molinaro, it seems, provides some risk to the Conservative’s standing.

On the other hand, if the Conservatives ran their own candidate for governor, while the Republicans ran Molinaro and the Reform Party backs Giambra, would that offer the Conservatives the possibility of actually moving into the number two party position from 2019 through 2022, with all the political perks that being number two would offer them?

The race for governor appears to be Cuomo’s to lose, like his father’s campaign for a third term in 1990, when the Republicans and Conservatives went their own ways and Conservative Herbert London nearly took the second line on the ballot. An added feature in 2018 will be the Democratic wave and the Republican-Trump depression, both of which will have a big impact on voter turnout.

If the race for governor turns out to be the dud that many expect it to be, then the only intrigue will involve watching the Reps and the minor parties fight it out for ballot spots.

Donald Trump and Russell Salvatore

A short vacation in South Florida got me thinking about some comparisons between Donald Trump and our local restauranteur, Russell Salvatore.

Consider the fact that they both own steak houses – but Russell probably wouldn’t be caught dead serving a steak with ketchup.

Both like the limelight and public acclaim.

They are both wealthy, one more so than the other. But Salvatore has been incredibly generous in his charitable donations, while Trump only likes giving away other people’s money.

Both have sons involved in the family business.

But there is something I noticed on my trip to Florida that shows a distinction. It involves proper respect for the American flag.

Anyone who pays attention to proper protocol (and that clearly excludes Trump) knows that when displaying an American flag that is flown at night, the flag must be illuminated. Here is the standard, per the American Legion:

The Flag Code states it is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flag staffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness. The American Legion interprets “proper illumination” as a light specifically placed to illuminate the flag (preferred) or having a light source sufficient to illuminate the flag so it is recognizable as such by the casual observer.

Anyone who has driven past Russell Salvatore’s “Russell’s Steaks, Chops & More” on Transit Road in Clarence knows that his large flag is flown at all times, but at night it is “properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.”

If you drive by Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Resort on South Ocean Blvd. in Palm Beach at night, however, you will see a large flag on the property, but without proper illumination. I guess rules are only for some people.

Someone concerned about American greatness might start with proper respect for the flag.

Don’t rain on my parade

“Nobody, no, nobody is gonna rain on my parade!” (Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl)

So Donald J. Trump wants a parade. He went to Paris last July to see the Bastille Day parade and decided that America needs a big ceremony like that. Trump the showman.

When you think about large military displays you might think autocratic; dictatorial; crazed military leader. Such events have been big in Europe. Hitler used to stage them regularly. So do the Russians, the Chinese and the North Koreans. That’s not too great as far as role models are concerned. Continue reading

Issues to chew on for 2018

A post on this blog last week received comments disagreeing with me. I’m fine with that. The blog is intended to inform (lots of the posts are full of facts), and to encourage thought and discussion. I’ve never been shy about self-identification as a Democrat, but I’m always open to what others are thinking. Heck, I even tune in for small doses of Fox News just to see how they are spinning things. Continue reading

Connecting the Donald’s Dots

The following limerick was penned by my blog editor and longtime friend, Paul Fisk. The opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of the publisher of the blog (but the publisher agrees with 99.8 percent of them). Ken Kruly

Connecting the Donald’s dots

By Paul Fisk

Once mocked by Prez forty-four

Trump now does things we abhor

If Obama once did it

Of the world he must rid it

He’s trying to settle a score Continue reading