jump to navigation

In a Clash of Styles, More Than Issues, Trump Exceeds Expectations in the First Debate (Forbes.com) September 27, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
comments closed

Who won the first presidential debate? Those who previously supported Hillary Clinton will say she won, those who favored Donald Trump will claim he was victorious. So in that sense, neither candidate clearly defeated the other in the debate.

But viewed from another perspective, Trump was the winner by exceeding expectations. Just as a young Senator John Kennedy received a boost by standing toe to toe against the more experienced Vice President Richard Nixon in the first televised presidential debate in 1960, Donald Trump, a businessman with no political experience, did stand on an equal footing with the experienced politician Hillary Clinton. While Clinton met expectations by giving detailed policy positions in her answers, Trump exceeded them by not being outrageous (an admittedly low bar, but one people were concerned about) and by pressing his view that a strong leader, who is not bogged down in failed politics and policies, can make America great again.

On the issues, the two candidates were like two trains passing in the night. In response to the moderator’s questions, Clinton rattled off her several detailed policy positions in various areas. Her constant refrain was “I’ve called for this” or “I’ve planned for that.” Again, those who like Clinton got just what they expected: articulate policy responses to every subject. But she had a tendency to engage in Washington-speak (“implicit bias” or “trickle-down economics”) and, if you’re not a policy wonk it became a bit tedious.

Trump continued to come at issues from another planet: if she was from Venus, he was clearly from Mars. Trump acknowledged that Clinton had a lot of experience, but called it out as “bad experience,” the “wrong kind of experience.” He repeatedly argued that it was “politicians like Secretary Clinton” who have let us down. Trump argued that politicians talk and talk, but then get in office and say I’ll see you again in four years (a point made well in E.J. Dionne’s classic book Why Americans Hate Politics).

The two candidates proceeded to argue from their two different planets throughout the evening. On ISIS, Clinton said “I have a plan to defeat ISIS.” Trump said, well you and President Obama helped create ISIS by leaving a vacuum in Iraq, so I don’t think so. On race in the cities, Clinton said there is “implicit bias” in the criminal justice system, whereas Trump argued that we needed to begin with “law and order” and restoring control in our violent cities. On jobs, Trump’s approach is to stop jobs from leaving the country and incentivize businesses to create jobs, whereas Clinton prefers policies to help the middle class more directly (calling Trump’s approach “Trumped up trickle down.”)

If you were waiting for Trump to do something crazy, it didn’t really happen. It may be the first time a presidential candidate cited a conversation with Howard Stern in a debate. Referring to his support from retired admirals and generals, Trump said he would take their endorsements over those from “political hacks” any day. He said that we’re a “third-world country” in our infrastructure. While those statements may not fit the classic presidential debate style, that’s pretty mild stuff for Trump.

It was actually a difficult debate to watch. Lester Holt, as the moderator, laid back a bit and allowed the candidates to talk directly with each other, but each candidate had a tendency to interrupt and talk over the other, especially Trump. And when the two candidates come from different planets in their approach to America and the presidency, there isn’t the kind of direct policy clash one might expect.

Still, in the end, these debates are very much about beating expectations. Clinton met expectations, but Trump exceeded his and, in that sense, this first debate helped Trump more than Clinton.

To read the column at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2016/09/26/in-a-clash-of-styles-more-than-issues-trump-exceeded-expectations-in-the-first-debate/#1ced8d1446fd

Finally, A Presidential Debate That May Be Interesting And Consequential (Forbes.com) September 20, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
comments closed

After more than 50 years of presidential debates, we all know the plot. Two candidates spend untold hours reading briefing books and engaging in mock debate practice sessions so that they can stand on the same stage for a couple of hours, seem knowledgeable and likeable, and most important, not make any big mistakes or gaffes. It’s a pitcher’s duel with a lot of defense or a football playoff game about field position and punting, but no airing out the long ball.

And let’s face it, what do you remember about presidential debates of the past? Mostly the gaffes: Richard Nixon sweating in his light-colored suit, Gerald Ford saying Poland is a free state, Michael Dukakis giving a mechanical policy answer to a question about his wife being raped and murdered, or Al Gore sighing and invading George W. Bush’s personal space. All the preparation is about being conservative, taking no risks and making no mistakes. A candidate rarely wins a debate but a gaffe can mean that a candidate loses one. Think of Gary Johnson unable to say what “Aleppo” is or Rick Perry failing to remember which cabinet departments he wanted to eliminate—but all on a much bigger stage.

But throw out the script for 2016 because, thanks to Donald Trump, we may have the first unpredictable, interesting and consequential presidential debate ever. With the first debate this Monday night, Trump has yet to engage in practice debates and may not do so. Instead, he prefers a series of luncheons and conversations with his kitchen cabinet—people like Rudy Giuliani and Roger Ailes—in which talking points and lines of attack are discussed. Donald Trump is the closest we’ve seen to an unscripted candidate. With lots of reality television experience, he embraces the medium and his ability to go on the fly. He talks in sound bites, attacks with jabs, and generally enjoys creating a bit of chaos wherever he goes.

Of course Trump’s higher risk approach can more easily lead to gaffes or mistakes but somehow they don’t seem to hurt him, they just become part of the chaos in which he operates so comfortably. He calls opponents “lyin’ Ted” or “little Marco,” he complains of taco trucks on every corner, or says John McCain was not a war hero because he was captured. But somehow he shrugs these things off and moves forward. He’s not exactly made of Teflon, but he keeps throwing enough against the wall that nothing really sticks, since he’s on to the next insult or jab.

Trump’s biggest challenge will be whether he can fill the time with anything positive about his own policies. A 1.5 hour debate with just two candidates is very different than the stage full of fellow Republicans he has debated before. Now a sound bite will not be enough, a jab is over too quickly, a bumper sticker campaign platform will not fill the time. But he and advisor Roger Ailes surely know this and I would expect him to be ready with the some new details and ideas. Trump is even going out to his supporters to help him figure out what to say, crowd-sourcing his debate prep.

Meanwhile Hillary Clinton is preparing with the standard briefing books and practice sessions. She will be the most rehearsed and prepared candidate in history, while Trump will be the least. She is a careful lawyer, while Trump is more of a bar room brawler. Don’t expect a knockout, but someone might actually win this one on points. At the very least, like everything else about campaign 2016, it will break the mold.

To read the column at Forbes.com:

New Book Released With David Davenport/Amity Shlaes Chapter on Hoover/Coolidge and Conservatism September 15, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

Talmage Boston, a Dallas attorney, has published a new book: Cross-Examining History: A Lawyer Gets Answers from the Experts about our Presidents.

Boston interviewed presidential biographers and historians about our presidents, asking the “hard questions.” In New York last fall, he did an interview of Amity Shlaes and me, based on her book on Coolidge and my co-authored book on Hoover, about Presidents Coolidge and Hoover and who was the real father of modern American conservatism.

Amity and I enjoyed the friendly point-counterpoint, and the edited transcript of our exchange is a chapter in this book.

A description is available on Amazon.com where, of course, you can also purchase a copy:


Oh yes, a few others like David McCullough and Ken Burns are also in the book!

“Beware Election Reforms,” National Radio Commentary, Salem/Townhall September 13, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Politics, Radio Commentaries.
comments closed

This is David Davenport of the Hoover Institution for Townhall.com.

A few years ago we reformed primary voting in California. Now we have open primaries, meaning you can vote for candidates of either party, and top two primaries, where the top two vote getters run in the fall general election, regardless of party. It was supposed to reduce partisanship and elect more centrist candidates.

Early research suggests it hasn’t accomplished either of its major goals but it has reduced voter choice. This fall in the race for the U.S. Senate, I can vote for Democrat A or Democrat B. No Republican survived the top two primary to run in the fall. I call my choice “Left and Lefter” because, really, it is no choice at all. A recent poll shows that half of Republicans don’t even plan to vote in the Senate race.

Elections should not just be contests between two people but between sets of ideas. Beware election reforms such as the “top two” primary that eliminate choices.

I’m David Davenport.

To listen to the audio: http://www.townhallreview.com

Why Isn’t Anyone Talking about the National Debt? (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) September 6, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Politics, Radio Commentaries.
comments closed

In a presidential campaign, it’s amazing that no one is talking about the national debt. Well, actually someone is: the Congressional Budget Office issued a report this summer and we should be shocked.

Here are the top 2 things the nonpartisan CBO concluded:

1) Deficits are growing because spending—primarily on Social Security, health care and interest on the debt—is growing faster than revenue.

2) The ratio of debt to Gross National Product has nearly doubled during the Obama administration to 75% today, and it is projected to grow to 141% in 2046.

But don’t worry, because the Democrats have a plan: spend more and tax the rich. And Donald Trump says when we go bankrupt he will renegotiate our debt.

Is anyone besides me worried about this? Are we numb to the rapidly escalating debt? Debt is not only a question of fiscal responsibility, it is a problem of national security.

To listen to the audio at Townhall:

Left and Lefter: Beware Election Reforms that Eliminate Voter Choice (Forbes.com) September 2, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
comments closed

This fall voters in California face a choice in the race for U.S. Senate that is effectively no choice at all. They can vote for the liberal Democrat Loretta Sanchez or the liberal Democrat Kamala Harris. There is no Republican candidate. It’s left or lefter, that’s the choice. As a consequence, a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California shows half of Republican voters will not even cast a ballot in that race. So much for the two-party system in California.

How did this happen? In 2010, reformers advocated and California voters passed an amendment to the state constitution that created a single primary in which all voters of any party could cast ballots and the top two winners would proceed to the fall election. The Republicans ran several candidates, none of whom mustered enough votes to finish in the top two, and voila: we have two Democrats running for the U.S. Senate, one of whom, Loretta Sanchez, isn’t even running much of a campaign.

These reforms are sometimes referred to as an open primary and a top two primary. The case was they would force parties to run more centrist and less extreme candidates, leading to more moderate officeholders who would be inclined to break the gridlock and move the state forward. Then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger claimed the new system would “change the political landscape in California, finally giving the voters the power to hold politicians truly accountable.” People would be so excited it would increase voter turnout too. Sliced bread anyone?

It turns out that the reformers were wrong and wronger. Early research indicates that there has not really been much change at all in favor of more moderate officeholders in California since the new primary system was implemented. A recent study published in the California Journal of Politics and Policy at U.C. Berkeley reviewed several papers on the subject and concluded that the desired outcomes of more competitive contests and more ideologically moderate elected officials “have mostly not taken place.” Another study, published in Legislative Studies Quarterly in the spring, concluded that voters know how to choose ideologically between Democrats and Republicans, but “appear to know so little about the candidates’ positions that, even if they wanted to, they could not intentionally cast a ballot for…moderate candidates.” In other words, maybe this idea works in the head of a scholar or reformer, but not in real elections.

One outcome of the top two primary in California seems clear, however: it reduces, and even eliminates, voter choice. About one in six state legislative and congressional races have pitted two candidates of the same party against each other. This fall, in addition to the U.S. senate election, 7 California congressional races, 5 state senate races, and 13 state assembly races pit two candidates from the same party against one another. Another reduction in choice comes from the inability of candidates from smaller parties to qualify for the election, leaving candidates from the Green, Libertarian and other independent parties to undertake the expensive process of collecting signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Former president Jimmy Carter once said, “Whatever starts in California unfortunately has an inclination to spread.” With national concern about gridlock and polarization in government, the top two primary could well gain momentum. But it would be wise to look at the unintended (or maybe intended) consequences of reducing voter choice. When Herbert Hoover ran against Franklin Roosevelt for president in 1932, he said, that it was not just a choice between two candidates, but “a contest between two philosophies of government.” Those kinds of choices are disappearing in California with its primary reforms. And after all, isn’t that really the point of elections, to let voters choose?

To view the column at Forbes.com (with hyperlinks to the studies and polls referenced):


Obama Pursues Nuclear Danger for his Legacy (National Radio Commentary, Salem/Townhall) August 19, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

It’s the 4th quarter and President Obama wants to put points on his legacy scoreboard. So, reports say he is considering executive actions that would significantly alter America’s nuclear posture.

The first is an end-run around the Congress: The word is he wants to go directly to the United Nations with a call to ban all nuclear testing. The Senate refused to ratify a nuclear test ban treaty 20 years ago, and certainly wouldn’t pass it now, so the president wants to use his voting power in the U.N. to change America’s nuclear strategy.

There are also reports he will promise that America will not strike first with nuclear weapons, again a bold stretch of executive power and a continuation of his misguided policy of announcing in advance our military strategies. Even our allies are reported to be nervous about this one.

How disappointing that the president would act unilaterally to bolster his legacy at the risk of Congress’s proper role and the nation’s security.

To listen to the commentary: http://www.townhallreview.com

Reefer Madness: Both the Feds and the States are Wrong about Marijuana Policy (Forbes.com) August 12, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
comments closed

Marijuana is very much in the news. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced this week that, for the fourth time, it is denying a petition to reduce federal restrictions on the use of marijuana. And two more states, Arizona and North Dakota, added ballot initiatives concerning marijuana to this fall’s elections, bringing the total to eight states that will be voting on whether to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes or medical uses. With the sixth largest economy in the world, California’s vote alone could have significant national repercussions.

The states and the federal government are on a collision course over marijuana with the states steadily increasing permissible uses while the feds are still in a “just say no” regulatory mode. But, in fact, they are both wrong. The feds are wrong on process—as a matter of federalism this should be a decision for the states to make. But the states are wrong on the substance: marijuana should not, as a matter of good public policy, be legalized, at least without more study and knowledge about its personal and societal effects.

There are three key federalism questions that should be asked before government acts: (1) Is this a matter on which the government should act at all, or should it be left to individuals to decide? (2) If yes, which level of government should act: federal, state or local? (3) If yes, which branch of government: executive, legislative or judicial? The key question for marijuana is number two and it is difficult to find a case for federal action. To draw a comparison with alcohol, for example, the states make the key decisions about legalizing, age limits, and so on, with the federal government basically limited to decisions about imports and taxes. It’s difficult to see why every state needs to be the same on questions like this. Why can’t Kansas decide one thing and Oregon another?

But I think the states are also mistaken in their headlong rush toward legalizing marijuana. For one thing, there is still much we do not know about marijuana and its effects. What we do know is not encouraging. Today’s marijuana is at least four times stronger than 20 years ago—it is not your father’s marijuana from college days—and it is more addictive. A recent Gallup poll also delivered the shocking news that marijuana use has nearly doubled in three years. The Gallup poll said that 13% of adults smoke marijuana, up from 7% in 2013, and 43% have tried it, up from 38% just three years ago. The evidence for marijuana’s so-called medicinal uses is not well established.

And what do we learn from the experience of states that have already legalized marijuana: Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and D.C.? First, it’s not quite the economic boon that the states expected, with people buying on black markets or avoiding the taxes in other ways. Second, and more important, a Colorado report shows increases in marijuana-related traffic deaths, hospital visits, school suspensions, and other legal problems. It is too early to know the true costs of all this to society and the state. Finally, legalization sometimes causes prices to fall, thereby increasing use and related disorders.

All this suggests this is not merely a question of lifestyle or personal choice, as it is sometimes advertised, but that serious social and policy questions are presented by the legalization of marijuana. It’s no wonder, then, that the California measure is opposed by law enforcement, prison officials and health groups. At the very least, the conflict between federal and state approaches to the matter has created confusion that needs to be addressed.

To read the column at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2016/08/11/reefer-madness-both-the-feds-and-the-states-are-wrong-about-marijuana-policy/#1dc98baef921

Why the Economy Is Not Growing (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) August 3, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
comments closed

A recent report concluded that the federal government added 43 major new regulations last year, increasing regulatory costs by more than $22 billion.
This brings the Obama regulatory record to a stunning 299 major new regulations at a cost greater than $100 billion per year. And expect another surge in President Obama’s final year in office.

If you wonder why the economy is not growing, this is one primary culprit. If it takes several years and thousands of dollars to get permits to start new projects or hire new people, growth is killed. The tax code, environmental regulations, labor protections—these are mostly there to protect things as they are, or used to be. What we need is a dramatic cleaning out of the clogged up tax code and regulatory system in Washington, not adding more.

Our economy is growing at almost precisely half the rate it grew from 1950-2000. We need regulatory reform, not more regulatory growth.

To listen to the audio: http://www.townhallreview.com

Parties Refuse to Learn the Painful Lesson of Trump: More Super Delegates (Forbes.com) August 1, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
comments closed

A primary reason that Donald Trump was able to hijack the Republican party and win its nomination is that Republicans had let down their defenses, essentially eliminating super delegates. So what are the parties doing now going forward? Reducing super delegates even further, leaving their parties more vulnerable to hostile takeovers.

As a starting point, we should recognize that parties need not follow the rules of democracy. The purpose of parties is to win elections and they are free to set their own rules. A heavy element of democracy—winning delegates through primaries—is not a bad idea, since ultimately the nominee will need to campaign and win states. But an even better idea, and one promoted by the founders of our democracy, is to construct a blended system, with some role for the people but also a key role for the established institutions in order to make certain that a vocal or well-funded faction cannot come in and disrupt the process–a la Donald Trump.

If the present convention rules allow for too much democracy, there was a day when the balance of power tipped too far the other way. There were no presidential primaries early in the last century, with political bosses controlling brokered conventions in smoke-filled rooms. It was not until the 1970s that party primaries really began to have the major say in presidential selection. But once parties learned the painful lesson that an extreme candidate could garner a lot of support in the heat of a particular moment—think George McGovern during the Vietnam War in 1972 who carried one state and the District of Columbia—the idea of balancing delegates chosen by primary votes with other delegates committed to the institutions of the party became more important.

In 2016, the Democrats allocated 15% of the convention votes to super delegates, who were not generally bound by primary results and could vote for whomever they wanted. But these were not secret people working in the shadows—they were members of Congress, former presidents, and the like. If all of them banded together and voted for the same candidate, they might control up to 30% of the votes — not enough to win, but enough to prevent the convention from doing something crazy. Bernie Sanders criticized the super delegate process for being undemocratic and it is. But let’s call it insurance, or a reasonable defense, against a hostile takeover. Corporations construct such defenses. Even the founders made sure the republic had them—the more deliberate U.S. Senate or the Electoral College for example.

Amazingly, the Republicans did not have true super delegates in 2016. There were some party officials chosen as delegates—3 from each state’s national committee, comprising 7% of the delegates—but they were bound to vote as their state’s primary had voted. These were hardly “super” delegates since they had no power other than what ordinary delegates had. In that sense, the Republican party was defenseless against Trump mania and unable to stop his takeover. Imagine how different the Cleveland convention might have been with Trump bringing only 40% of the delegates (the percentage he won overall) to the dance, and having to persuade officeholders and party regulars?

So what are the parties doing now? Unbelievably, in light of the Trump takeover, the Democrats are likely reducing the role of super delegates. They are forming a commission to review reforms to the super delegate process, the kind of reform that reduced the number and influence of super delegates in 2008 and probably will again. There is considerable pressure from Bernie Sanders and his enthusiastic supporters to eliminate super delegates altogether. Meanwhile, Republicans have their heads in the sand, wondering what just happened, rather than reviewing and strengthening the role of super delegates.

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as too much democracy, especially in political parties whose purpose is to win. If nothing else, the Trump takeover of the Republican Party should have taught that painful lesson.

To view the column at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2016/08/01/parties-refuse-to-learn-the-painful-lesson-of-trump-more-super-delegates/#22e5d9912ae0