Mark Curtis's blog

Sunday Political Brunch Tax Reform: To Infinity and Beyond -- December 24, 2017

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CHARLESTON, WV – Republicans passed major tax reforms by Christmas, as promised. This has implications for all our pocketbooks, and it has political implications for everyone running in the 2018 midterm elections. It’s a multi-faceted issue. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Rich Man; Poor Man” – The political debate in this country has not changed in my lifetime, and I doubt it ever will. “The Republican are the party of the rich; the Democrats are the party of the ‘people,’ the middle class and the poor,” many say. But is that true? If it is, then why have the Republicans (and conservatism) been the top political philosophy since Ronald Reagan won in 1980? If you make the argument that the GOP only represents “the top one-percent” of income earners (a fallacy), then how do they get the votes to control Congress, and most statehouses in the nation? The math doesn’t work. It’s faulty political analysis. The electorate is more complex.

“Corporate Cuts” – Forget the personal income tax for a moment, (because most Americans will benefit from that, at least in the short term). The big deal may be the cuts in the corporate income tax rates from 35 to 21 percent. That’s the train to watch. If cutting corporate taxes makes us more competitive internationally, and more economically viable within our borders, who will benefit? This will pour billions into U.S businesses, but will they pay workers more? Or will they give most of the benefits to stockholders and board members? Will they invest in research and development of new products, that grow their industry sectors? And even if worker pay raises don’t happen, will they cover a greater share of benefits such as health care? Stay tuned.

“Election Fallout” – This will be the only major legislative victory of the Trump Administration and the Republican-led Congress in 2017, as we head into the critical 2018 midterm elections. As I’ve often said politics is a,” What have you done for me lately?” business. But economics drives politics. When Ronald Reagans asked in 1980, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Most people said, “No!” Many see incremental benefits from the tax cuts beginning in early in 2018. It may be just 10 to 20 bucks a paycheck. Is that enough to sway an election?

“The Trump Factor” – Unlike the nine special elections we’ve had in 2017 (which were not referendums on President Trump), the collective 2018 elections - with the entire 435-member House of Representatives up for grabs, plus 33 seats in the Senate - is most certainly a referendum on the Trump Presidency and agenda.

“National Debt Argument” – One of the weird turn-of-events this week was basically a party role reversal. Republicans have always claimed to be the deficit hawks, trying to reign in the national debt. They often blamed President Obama for doubling the national debt from 10 to 20 trillion dollars. (In fairness, the national debt accelerated under most recent Presidents simply due to the staggering interest payments adding to the debt). Still, it was fascinating this week watching Republicans advocating for tax reforms that add another 1.5 billion dollars in debt; while Democrats argued against the debt hike. What a turnabout.

“Momentum” – In the short run, Republicans gained momentum this week. Tax reform is the GOP’s first major legislative victory of the year. If voters like seeing more money in their paychecks in 2018, it could be a momentum booster. On the other hand, the GOP has won five special elections this year; the Democrats won four. What that likely indicates is a very competitive campaign trail in 2018. I predict GOP gains in the U.S. Senate; but big gains by Democrats in the U.S. House. It could also mean some state legislatures and governor’s offices switching parties, too. 2018 looks to be a volatile political year.

“Prosperity and Peace” – On both of Hillary Clinton’s White House bids, former President Bill Clinton often viewed it as a referendum on his own two terms. “What didn’t you like, the peace or the prosperity?” Mr. Clinton often said on the campaign trail in 2008. Whether you like him or not, he has among the best political instincts I’ve ever seen on either side of the aisle. His point is well-taken. If the nation is at peace, and the economy is accelerating, you’ll make a lot of fans. The last two big economic booms happened in the Reagan and Clinton years. And yes, while there were terrorist attacks and military strikes, the U.S. maintained an upper hand internationally. Could Trump gain the same stroke of luck and popularity surge? Watch!

“Reagan 1982” - A lot of people want to compare President Trump with President Reagan - which I think is a stretch - but there are some items worth noting. President Reagan had a rough first year with the economy worsening (not to mention the assassination attempt). He, like Trump, struggled to get any major legislation passed even though the GOP controlled the Senate and had at least a philosophical majority with conservative Democrats in the House. But it wasn’t until Regan got major tax cuts passed in 1982, that the economy really got cooking, and Wall Street soared as it is doing now. We’ll see if history repeats itself.

“Virginia” – The most fascinating political fight in the country right now is battle for control of the Virginia House of Delegates. Republicans had a huge majority, but lost many seats on election night. They held a one-seat lead, with one race in a recount. This week that recount gave a Democratic challenger a one-vote lead, only to have a Court of Appeals reinstate one Republican vote, making it a tie. If that holds, Republicans may control the House. If it doesn’t they’ll be in a 50-50 seat tie with Democrats and must find a power-sharing agreement. Political movements are built from the ground up, not from the top down. If Democrats are really on the rise again in this country, watch your state legislatures as an early indicator!

What are your political predictions for the 2018 elections? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations in West Virginia.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

Sunday Political Brunch: The Roy Moore Fallout -- December 17, 2017

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CHARLESTON, WV – Democrat Doug Jones will be the new U.S. Senator from Alabama. That is certain. What is not certain, is all the fallout from the contentious Senate race. Yes, there are some positive signs for the Democratic Party, yet the Republican Party still holds a big advantage. 2018 will be fascinating, so let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“The Shelby Factor” – I was a reporter in Alabama in the late 80s and early 90s, and covered Senator Richard Shelby (R) Alabama, when he was still a Democrat. And, I was there in Washington, DC to cover him switching to the Republican Party in 1994. His most interesting twist came right after the 1994 midterm elections where Republicans took control of both chambers of Congress. He switched parties- in part – after a slight in 1993 when Shelby received only one ticket to a White House event honoring his University of Alabama football team for winning the national championship. He and President Clinton became bitter enemies. Ouch!

“The Polling” – As I was after the 2016 Presidential campaign, I am again deeply concerned about the political polling taking place in America. I use polling as an instructive tool whereas I feel a lot of my competitors in the media use polling as a crutch. It’s important to put it in perspective: it’s at best a “guestimate” - a lone snap-shot in time. It’s not a predictor of anything; it’s more reflective. The disparities are stark and concerning. On Monday, a Fox News poll had Doug Jones leading by 10 points; while an Emerson College poll had Roy Moore up by nine points; and a Monmouth University polls had the race dead-even at 46 percent apiece (a pretty good reflection of the outcome). So, why were the polls “all over the map?”

“Bad Optics” – I’ve been covering state, local, and national politics for forty years now. When I see a bad image, I call it out. No one will ever forget 1988 Presidential nominee, Gov. Michael Dukakis, driving an Army tank and looking like Snoopy at the helm. It was a disaster. This past week – on the eve of a critical Senate election – Roy Moore (who despises the mainstream media) chose instead to be interviewed by a 12-year-old child-reporter by the name of Millie March. Who thought this was a good idea? Moore was already facing accusations of sexual improprieties with 14 and 16 years old young ladies – and I grant that those accusations go back forty years -- and were not proven. But what campaign manager would think seating the candidate with a 12-year-old girl was good optics? It was maybe the worst political strategy I’ve seen in my 40 years. Wow!

“NOT a Precursor of 2018” – Ever since Donald Trump was elected President, there have been nine special elections across the United States. By many in the media, the races were billed (wrongly) as a referendum on the Trump presidency. Remember legendary House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s rule, “All politics is local.” These were not national races in most regards, but local. So far Republicans have won five House seats they previously held, and Democrats won one House seat they already held. Democrats won two Governorships (one had been Republican) for a net gain of one. Democrats have also won a U.S. Senate seat for a net gain for one. The count so far is Republicans 5; Democrats 4. Despite the enthusiasm in Alabama Tuesday, Democrats face a tough road ahead.

“Why Doug Jones Won?” – First, he was a good, credible candidate for the Democrats in the Deep South – an area where they’ve struggled to field quality candidates for three decades. He’s a former U.S. Attorney with some high-profile prosecutions in major cases. Three other U.S. Attorneys I know, have parlayed that kind of resume into higher office: Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions, and Rudy Giuliani, to name a few. Jones had the chops. Plus, he was facing a very polarizing Republican, who’d twice been elected to the Alabama Supreme Court, only to be twice-removed. In this race, Moore was his own worst enemy. I say that because this was a race unique to Alabama. The oddity of circumstances is in no way is a predictor of what happens nationwide in 2018. That said, the Democratic Party - and in particular, the NAACP - ran a very effective "get out the vote" campaign that could be adopted elsewhere.

“The ‘Trump Factor’ or, Non-Factor?” – President Trump backed appointed Senator Luther Strange, (R) Alabama in the race, in the primary. Strange lost. Trump then – at the 11th hour this past week – endorsed Roy Moore - who ultimately lost. This is a President with the highest negative ratings we’ve ever seen. He may volunteer to campaign for lot of House and Senate candidates in 2018, only to be given a polite, “No thanks!” He is the Republican lightning rod in 2018, and a lot of incumbent GOP lawmakers may not want to be standing anywhere near him.

“The Immediate Impact” –Senator Luther Strange (R) Alabama will remain in place until Doug Jones is sworn in, early in 2018. Senator Al Franken (D) Minnesota will also remain in place until he officially resigns. That keeps the Republican Senate majority at 52-48 for next week’s anticipated final vote on the tax reform bill. Yes, Democrats want the vote delayed until Jones in sworn in, (giving them better odds at winning), but that won’t happen.

“Why All of This Matters” – As mentioned in previous weeks Democrats are defending 23 U.S. Senate seats this year; Republicans only eight. Republicans hold 34 Governors seats; Democrats 15; and independents 1. Republicans control 32 state legislatures; Democrats 14; with four states in divided government. I think you know where I am going here. 2018 is a real uphill fight for Democrats. Yes, they may chip away at the margins, but any notions of overtaking these GOP advantages in any significant way is daunting. The real test may come in 2020, with a Presidential ticket leading the charges.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political reporter, author and analyst based in West Virginia.

What are your thoughts? Just click the comment button at: www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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