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Sunday Political Brunch: The Top Political Stories of the Year - December 31, 2017

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DUBLIN, IRELAND – I had to go overseas to think about this. To clear my head, and view the United States from afar! It’s been a wild year on the political roller coaster. So, let’s “brunch” on the top political stories of the year, in no particular order.

“Trump Trumps Trump” – Love him, or loathe him – and there are plenty of both – but clearly the top political story of the year was Donald J. Trump taking the oath of office as the 45th President of the United States. It’s still surreal. I only know of a few political operatives in either party who truly believed Trump would win. But he defied conventional wisdom; he defied political odds; and, heck he just about defied gravity, but he won. The year has been combative and controversial, with you constantly wondering what he will do, or say next. As a journalist its fascinating, because if nothing else, he generates copy. I’ve never seen anything quite like this in my forty years in the news business.

“Land of the Tweets” – There were a lot of us in the media, as well as in the political party class, and in the political punditry field, that hoped that President Trump would act more “Presidential” and quit the daily, “Trump Tweetfest.” It hasn’t stopped, and I don’t think it will stop. This is a “new normal” for Presidential communications, and as much as people hate it, I bet it becomes an essential part of the new media landscape as the “fireside chat.” I don’t like it, but I can’t fight it.

“Scandal” – The top news story this year, and indeed Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, were the silence breakers. The people who came forward to report sexual abuse, misconduct, assault, harassment, or other forms of abuse. It seems like every day someone from the worlds of politics, entertainment, news media, music, culinary arts, industry, business, high-tech, and beyond are being named and shamed for sexual misconduct in the workplace. It’s remarkable and profound, and will probably change workplaces everywhere, for the better. In politics, it ended the careers of Senator Al Franken, (D) Minnesota; Representative John Conyers, (D) Michigan; Senate nominee Judge Roy Moore (R) Alabama; Representative Joe Barton, (R) Texas; Rep. Blake Farenthold (R) Texas, and more. Even a female Congressional candidate, Andrea Ramsey, Democrat of Kansas, had to withdraw over sexual harassment allegations. Where does it stop?

“Women’s March on Washington (and Elsewhere)” – Speaking of which, one of the people accused of, (and in some cases admitting sexual misbehavior), was candidate, and now President Donald Trump. The release of the “Access Hollywood” tapes a month before the election in 2016 was seen by many pundits (including me) as the end of the Trump campaign. It wasn’t; he won anyway. The outrage prompted a huge women’s march on Washington, DC, as well as in many cities across the nation. The backlash is still being felt. The ouster of Senator Al Franken (D) Minnesota, and his replacement by Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, (D) Minnesota, means the U.S. Senate will have 22 women Senators, the highest number in history. Coincidence? I think not.
“When the Rules Don’t Rule” – The battle for philosophical control of the U.S. Supreme Court has been going on for ages, and always will. A President may last only eight years, but a Supreme Court Justice can serve for decades. So, too, can other federal judges. For years, the Senate rules mandated you really needed 60 votes to approve a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. The rule was you needed 60 votes to invoke cloture, to cut off debate, and call the vote. But Senate Democrats who were in the majority for part of the Obama Administration, made it a simple majority for District Court and Appellate Court Judges. That infuriated Republicans, so much so, that when Justice Antonin Scalia died, they refused to hold hearings on President Obama’s pick to replace him. Donald Trump won the White House; Senate Republicans changed the rules; and, Neil Gorsuch was easily elevated to the US. Supreme Court. A classic Washington power-play.

“Conscience Over Party” – Ever since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, Republicans have vowed and voted several times to repeal it in both the House and the Senate, only to have President Obama veto the death of his legacy legislation. In 2017, you had the “perfect storm” with the GOP in charge at the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives. You’d think Obamacare repeal would be a snap. But maverick Senator John McCain, (R) Arizona torpedoed the repeal with his famous “thumbs down” no vote. McCain, who lost the 2008 Presidential campaign to Barack Obama, still thought repeal (as constructed) was a bad idea. Of course, McCain is no Trump fan either, so was it tit-for-tat?” Paybacks can he hell on Capitol Hill.

What are your top political stories of 2017? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political author analyst and reporter. He is currently Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar TV stations serving West Virginia.

© 2017 Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

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

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