CRF Blog

Clearing Out My Files

by Bill Hayes

Below are several old Bloomberg Businessweek stories relevant to the election.

Peter Coy looks at Why Big Business Is Brushing Off Campaign Trail Rage.

This is a different kind of election year, full of contempt for Big Business. Billionaire flamethrower Donald Trump, who leads the Republican field, has gone after Ford Motor, Kraft Foods, and Apple, among others, for making things outside of the U.S. Ted Cruz presents himself as the nemesis of corporate welfare and crony capitalism. And democratic socialist Bernie Sanders has built an entire campaign around the refrain that Wall Street is guilty of “greed, fraud, dishonesty, and arrogance.”

You might have expected business to mount a vigorous defense. But corporate America has responded to the charges with murmurs. In this gladiators’ match, one side simply hasn’t shown up. Many chief executive officers believe that after the election is over and the noise of the campaign dies down, it will be business as usual for business. For now, they are turning the other cheek. When Trump ripped Ford for its plans to build a big factory in Mexico, the company’s CEO, Mark Fields, wrote Trump a pleasant note explaining that the carmaker was also adding jobs in the U.S. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who’s known for flashes of anger, calmly told CNNMoney in November that he thinks he could talk Bernie Sanders out of breaking up the big banks. “I don’t think Bernie’s going to win,” he said. “I’m not that worried.” [more]

A feature story, How to Get Trump Elected When He’s Wrecking Everything You Built, profiles Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

When Donald Trump wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination on May 3 by winning Indiana and forcing Ted Cruz from the race, it fell to Reince Priebus to formally surrender on behalf of a shellshocked party Establishment. This being 2016 and the Age of Trump, Priebus, the long-serving chairman of the Republican National Committee, did so in a tweet: “@realDonaldTrump will be presumtive [sic] @GOP nominee, we all need to unite and focus on defeating @HillaryClinton #NeverClinton.” Depending on your point of view, the misspelling was either an homage to Trump’s haphazard Twitter style or the latest example of a Republican Party that can’t seem to get anything right.

Three days later, Priebus climbed onto a stage in a hotel ballroom on Capitol Hill to sit for a public interview with Politico’s Mike Allen. “This is off the record, right?” he joked, looking a bit nauseous. To Republicans still not resigned to Trump, Priebus was already a symbol of capitulation. John Kasich had just dropped out and criticized Priebus’s anointment of Trump as “completely inappropriate.” Trump, on the other hand, who had once threatened party leaders when it looked as if they might block him at a “rigged” convention, now cast himself as the magnanimous liege, bestowing forgiveness and nicknames. “I call Reince Mr. Switzerland,” he told me during a May 17 interview at his 26th-floor Trump Tower office. “He’s doing a great job as peacemaker.”

In the weeks before Trump prevailed, the political media made a sport of trying to get Priebus to concede that his party was falling to pieces, while Priebus insisted against all evidence that things were going great. Commentators on both the left and right likened him to “Baghdad Bob,” the Saddam Hussein spokesman who maintained during the U.S. invasion of Iraq that victory was imminent, even as U.S. bombs rained down around him. An April 20 interview on CNN perfectly captured Priebus’s anguish. “People assume, oh, you must be miserable. You’ve got a horrible job. But I don’t see it that way,” he offered. “I’m not pouring Baileys in my cereal.” His disavowal mainly suggested that he had contemplated pouring liquor into his cereal bowl. When he sat down onstage, Allen, noting Trump’s victory, presented him with a large bottle of Baileys. “Oh, excellent,” said Priebus. “Now, where’s the Lucky Charms?”

Priebus’s mission at the RNC has been to manufacture some luck: to rebuild a party that lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections and lost power completely with Barack Obama’s 2008 victory. While Republicans traded recriminations after Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012, Priebus announced that the RNC would conduct a rigorous postmortem of all that had gone wrong and figure out how to refashion the party for the 21st century. “It wasn’t the RNC’s fault that things didn’t work out in 2012,” says Sally Bradshaw, a senior Jeb Bush adviser and a co-author of the resulting report. “But Priebus was willing to say, ‘There’s no other entity that can do this, that can take this on.’?” The key to revival, the authors concluded, was to put a kinder, gentler gloss on the old stalwart Republican ideals (free trade, small government) while reforming immigration laws to entice nonwhite voters who were tuning the party out.

This was a comforting notion, but it hasn’t panned out. “The Jeb Bush guys wrote the autopsy,” says a frustrated Republican strategist who works with the RNC. “Then Jeb Bush ran the worst campaign in presidential history.” By obliterating Jeb, Trump redefined the Republican Party’s identity off the top of his head. And his vision of the GOP’s future is in many ways the diametrical opposite of what Priebus and the party Establishment had imagined. Many politicians, Trump told me, had privately confessed to being amazed that his policies, and his lacerating criticism of party leaders, had proved such potent electoral medicine. Trump says this was obvious, but craven Republicans wouldn’t acknowledge it. So he called bulls—. “It’s funny,” he told me, delighted by the swift triumph of his influence. “It’s like the paper clip: a very simple thing. But one guy got rich, and everyone else said, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’?”

The story Priebus would like to tell, if everyone would just shut up about Trump for a moment, is a tale of perseverance and triumph over long odds — not Trump’s tale, but his own. [more]

In The Great GOP Realignment, Joshua Green looks at the revolt against the Republican establishment and whether the 2016 election will be a realigning election.

American historians generally see five or six elections as realigning: 1800, when Thomas Jefferson’s victory crippled the Federalist Party and shifted power from the North to the South; 1828, when Andrew Jackson’s win gave rise to the two-party system and two decades of Democratic control; 1860, when Abraham Lincoln’s election marked the ascendancy of the Republican Party and the secessionist forces that led to the Civil War; 1896, when William McKinley and a new urban political order were swept into power by a depression and industrialization; and 1932, during the Great Depression, when Franklin Roosevelt’s triumph marked the beginning of three decades of Democratic dominance. Some historians argue that Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory, primed by the stagflation of the 1970s, was also realigning.

Political scientists don’t all subscribe to this theory. It’s more of a conceptual scheme, anyway, since it offers little in the way of predictive power. But it’s a useful way to analyze political change across elections. Academics generally say two major preconditions must be present for a realigning election to occur. First, as the political scientist Paul Allen Beck has written, party loyalty must be sufficiently weak that the electorate is “ripe for realignment.” Second, there must be a triggering event — a “societal trauma,” Beck calls it — such as a war or a depression. Throughout history, wars and depressions have failed to cause big shifts because voters weren’t primed for one. Likewise, periods of voter alienation didn’t cause enduring swings between the parties because there was no triggering event. But when the proper conditions are present, they produce “concentrated bursts of change” that cause turmoil in the presidential nominating process, the political scientist Walter Dean Burnham wrote.

Realignment theory was popular in the 1960s and ’70s, but it’s faded since, because the American electorate has become polarized to the point where long periods of single-party dominance no longer happen. But realignments can still occur. They’re just more likely to happen within parties, rather than between them. [more]