The Vice-Presidential Debate: What’s at Stake?

via Blue Nation Review
via Blue Nation Review

Thursdays from now until the election, we will feature a piece by a UPK author that deals with an aspect of American politics. Today, Joel K. Goldstein, author of The White House Vice Presidency, discuses the importance and possible impact of Tuesday’s vice-presidential debate.

When Senator Tim Kaine and Governor Mike Pence square off in the vice-presidential debate on October 4, 2016 they will be engaging in an institution that is both unique and important in American government. The debate, which will take place at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., will be the tenth vice-presidential debate over the last 40 years.

The unique quality of a vice-presidential debate comes from several features. The major party presidential candidates typically debate two or three times, but Kaine and Pence will have only one vice-presidential debate, a pattern that has been followed in every presidential campaign beginning with 1976 except 1980. Accordingly, the stakes for the vice-presidential candidates are high; they have no chance to redeem a poor performance as, for instance, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama did in their second debates in 1984 and 2012 respectively.

The debate also presents a novel experience for the running mates. After all, presidential candidates have been debating during the primary season; the vice-presidential candidates have not had that opportunity except in the rare instances where they were unsuccessful presidential candidates that year (John Edwards, 2004; Joe Biden, 2008).

Moreover, the vice-presidential candidates are frequently relatively unknown. It is not unusual for 30% to 50% of the electorate to feel it knows too little about the vice-presidential candidates to have a firm opinion about them. Some surveys suggest that is the case this time. Neither Pence nor Kaine has run for president, served in high visibility roles, or attracted extensive attention (as Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin did).

9780700622023Finally, the focus of the vice-presidential debate is not so much on the two candidates on stage but on the two national candidates who are absent that night, the presidential candidates. The vice-presidential candidates therefore must be conversant regarding their record and that of their counterpart but also with the positions and biography of the two presidential candidates.

These features introduce some interesting dynamics into the debate. Because many voters will not have fixed opinions about them, vice-presidential candidates want to make a good impression in this signature campaign event to help shape the initial public perceptions of them. How they are regarded will affect their utility during the remainder of the campaign and the extent to which the public views them as a plausible president. Accordingly, they want to present themselves in an appealing way which may lead them to minimize the extent to which they attack the opposing ticket. On the other hand, their role is largely to support the party standard-bearer, by echoing his or her themes, defending his/her views, actions and qualifications and attacking those of the opposing presidential candidate. If the vice-presidential candidates spend a lot of time talking about themselves or their opponent, they are probably missing their main mark.

Yet even if the vice-presidential candidates are not entirely the focus of the vice-presidential debate, the vice-presidential debate is an important institution. It gives presidential candidates greater reason to choose a running mate who is able and accomplished and who can perform well under the bright lights of a national campaign. It focuses the spotlight on the second candidates, thereby making it easier for voters to consider them in casting their votes. Thus, the vice-presidential debate contributes to the quality of vice-presidential candidates (and vice presidents) and helps make their election more democratic.

And sometimes the vice-presidential debate makes a difference. In the first debate in 1976, Senator Walter F. Mondale helped, and Senator Bob Dole hurt, his cause. Mondale had themes and presented himself in an appealing way; Dole came across as sarcastic and unfocused. The highlight of the debate came when Dole blamed the Democratic party for all of the wars in the 20th century, prompting Mondale’s rebuke that “Senator Dole has richly earned his reputation as a hatchet man tonight, by implying, and stating, that World War II and the Korean War were Democratic wars.” Thereafter, Governor Jimmy Carter routinely cited the Mondale-Dole choice as a reason voters should support him, the Democrats used the vice-presidential choice in campaign ads, and Mondale contributed to Carter’s victory.

Dick Cheney was seen as having bested his rivals in the 2000 and 2004 debates; Senator Joe Lieberman’s unwillingness to attack the Republican ticket vigorously in 2000 was seen as a missed opportunity for the Democrats in a painfully close election.

In 2012, Vice President Joe Biden shifted the momentum in the Democrats’ favor after President Barack Obama had a substandard first debate. Biden ridiculed the positions of Governor Mitt Romney and Representative Paul Ryan and his performance energized the Democratic base.

The Biden-Palin debate outdrew the presidential debates that year, the only time the undercard debate has received such relative prominence. After Palin’s disastrous interview with Katie Couric, many watched the debate anticipating a monumental meltdown. She got through the debate without any such debacle but failed to persuade most Americans that she was qualified to be president. By contrast, Biden provided a masterful performance. Whereas the Pew Research Center found that only 42% thought Palin was qualified to be president (compared to 52% who did not), 77% saw Biden as qualified (as opposed to 16%).

The most famous moment in presidential debate history, of course, occurred in the 1988 vice-presidential debate when Senator Lloyd Bentsen delivered his “Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy” putdown to Senator Dan Quayle after the Indiana senator had compared his congressional experience to that of JFK. Quayle had actually done pretty well in the debate, attacking Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis as a tax-and-spend liberal. But when the panel of reporters persisted in asking Quayle what he would do if he became president, Quayle misinterpreted the questions as challenging his qualifications and ignored his handlers’ admonition to avoid the JFK comparisons and spoiled an otherwise successful evening. The rest, as they say, is history.

Quayle went on to become vice president and contributed in that role to the George H.W. Bush administration. But he never escaped that dramatic moment and we’re reminded of it every four years about this time as it is replayed again and again.

That provides a cautionary tale for Mssrs. Pence and Kaine as they approach this major event in their national political careers. No matter how well they do in presenting themselves and in sounding campaign themes, celebrating their ticket-mate, and criticizing the opposing presidential candidate, one inopportune moment may prove defining. Or a uniformly impressive performance may enhance their stature and their ticket’s prospects.

By Joel K. Goldstein, Vincent C. Immel Professor of Law, Saint Louis University School of Law

Obamacare Wars, Reviewed

9780700621910The passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 could easily be considered another example of the partisan rancor that dominates American politics. In fact, not five minutes after ACA was signed into law, in March 2010, Virginia’s attorney general was suing to stop it. And yet, the ACA rolled out, fought and defended at every turn—despite President Obama’s claim, in 2014, that its proponents and opponents could finally “stop fighting old political battles that keep us gridlocked.” But not only would the battles not stop, as Obamacare Wars makes acutely clear, they spread from Washington, DC, to a variety of new arenas. The first thorough account of the implementation of the ACA, this book reveals the fissures the act exposed in the American federal system.

The book, released in January, was recently reviewed by The Journal of Politics. Dr.

“In this interesting and thought-provoking book, Daniel Béland, Philip Rocco, and Alex Waddan attempt to capture that nuance. They set the stage for their primary argument by deftly condensing the long history of health care reform in the United States and the specific conditions at the beginning of the Obama administration into a digestible description that helps the reader to understand the debate leading up to passage. They also demonstrate that the complexity of the ACA made its passage an ‘uncertain legislative victory’ at best and provided many ‘points of leverage’ for a determined set of opponents to obstruct implementation.

Obamacare Wars suggests that in order to understand how the law’s many detractors used that leverage, we must avoid treating the ACA as a monolithic piece of legislation and instead divide it into its three major components: state health insurance exchanges, Medicaid expansion, and insurance regulation. Béland, Rocco, and Waddan argue that each component gave state officials distinct opportunities to obstruct the implementation of the law, creating different ‘post reform politics,’ because of variation in the ‘policy legacies, institutional settings, and public sentiments’ associated with each. The main thesis of the book is that these three factors, and not just partisan polarization, explain how opponents in the American states responded to the ACA.”

Dr. Nicholson-Crotty’s review praises the book’s thorough examination of the topic.

Obamacare Wars is a worthwhile read for scholars interested in federalism and intergovernmental relations and in health policy and politics. Béland, Rocco, and Waddan contribute significantly to our understanding of implementation in federal systems by demonstrating convincingly that the politics and strategies of implementing this single piece of health care reform legislation in the American states were myriad and a function not only of partisan polarization but also of the diverse policy issues embedded within the law.”

The 2016 Election and the End of the Conservative Movement

photo courtesy of CNN
photo courtesy of CNN

Every Thursday from now until the election, we will feature a piece by a UPK author that deals with an aspect of American politics. Today, Dr. George Hawley, author of Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism, dissects the possible effects of Donald Trump’s candidacy on the American conservative movement.

By George Hawley, PhD

In American politics, we are accustomed to thinking about people and groups in binary terms: liberal and conservative, left and right, and Republican and Democrat. Because the GOP has established itself as the conservative party, and the GOP has won many impressive victories in recent cycles (presidential elections being prominent exceptions), we might infer that there is large grassroots support for conservatism. At the very least, we should be able to describe the average Republican voter as a conservative. Such a description would be wrong. Observers make this mistake because they fail to understand that conservatism as a general sensibility is very different from American conservatism as an ideology and dogmatic collection of inflexible policy demands. Once we disaggregate these two phenomena, Trump’s success, and the conservative movement’s ineffectual efforts to stop Trump, make more sense.

As a general disposition, conservatism is a normal tendency. If we define conservatism as a fear of radical change, then all societies at all times have had a large proportion of conservatives. Indeed, we may even think of conservatism as the default position of most people. For decades, polls have shown that more Americans define themselves as conservatives than liberals. Republicans are especially likely to define themselves as conservatives.

Yet the major institutions of organized conservatism do not define conservatism as a disposition; to the leading journalists and intellectuals associated with the movement, conservatism requires devotion to the free market, support for traditional values, and commitment to an aggressive foreign policy abroad – the so-called three-legs of the conservative stool. These are the hallmarks of a “true conservative.”

Political scientists use different terms for these two types of ideologies. To understand the distribution of Americans across the ideological spectrum, we must understand that operational ideology is different from conceptual ideology – for the best recent examination of this issue, I recommend Ideology in America by Christopher Ellis and James Stimson. Americans, especially Republicans, tend to be symbolically conservative; they love the flag, consider themselves religious, and enjoy rhetoric about liberty and the Constitution. But when it comes to actual policy preferences, their operational ideology, Americans are, on average, pretty liberal.

Most Americans do not support upper-class tax cuts; they are not pro-life purists; they are not eager for more wars. In fact, this is not just true of Americans overall. Most Republican voters reject at least one important element of the conservative policy agenda. In terms of operational ideology, consistent conservatives are not just a minority of all Americans; they are a minority among Republicans.

To get a sense of just how little the Republican electorate supports the conservative policy agenda, we can examine polling data. Looking at the 2012 American National Election Survey, we see that almost 62 percent of Republicans would support new taxes on millionaires; only about 19 percent said they supported cutting the federal budget for education; fewer than ten percent supported cutting Social Security spending. Republicans are also, on average, rather moderate or even liberal on many social issues. Fewer than one in five Republicans said they wanted to prohibit abortion in all circumstances; a majority of Republicans supported legal recognition for same-sex couples. If we define a “true conservative” as a person who supports the conservative position on every policy issue, then such conservatives are a tiny percentage of the electorate.

Professional conservatives are faced with a frightening reality: the GOP has been successful in spite of its conservatism, not because of it. The Republican Party can successfully activate voters by appealing to their symbolic conservatism; but Republican leaders, conservative intellectuals, radio hosts, and talking heads have had little success in selling the operational conservative ideology to the public. Even Tea Party supporters, those ostensibly intractable devotees of supply-side economics, are divided on corporate and high-income tax cuts.

The weak hold that conservatism has on any segment of the electorate is not a new development. But Donald Trump has put the conservative movement’s weakness on very public display. Trump kept the GOP’s conservative symbolism (the flag, appeals to greatness and patriotism), added an implied element of ethnic grievance, and otherwise ignored conservative dogma. Conservative pundits are right that Trump is not a true conservative, and they are right to oppose him on ideological grounds. The National Review cover story denouncing Trump, the #NeverTrump movement, and Glenn Beck’s Trump-inspired tears were all justified.

Unjustified, however, was the belief that the conservative movement’s hostility to Trump mattered. The disconnect between the conservative movement’s influence on public policy and the public’s actual support for conservative policies is one of the dirty secrets of American politics. The real problem that Trump presents the conservative movement is not that he ensures a new Clinton Administration – though he may. Instead, Trump showed that conservatism is a spent force, easily abandoned by ordinary Republicans when they are provided with a right-wing alternative, even a flawed and erratic alternative.

When Trump won the GOP nomination, in spite of conservative objections, we saw definitive evidence that the organized conservative movement has little popular support. If he goes on to win in November, conservatism is finished. If Trump loses to Clinton, conservatives will try to wash their hands of the defeat. But much damage will have already been done.

In contrast to conventional wisdom, the United States is not a “center-right nation.” The American voting public may be to the right of the electorates in other advanced democracies, but it is certainly not conservative in the sense that William F. Buckley used the term. In fact, despite the claims by various talk-radio personalities, Republicans do not lose because they “betray conservative principles.” Those very principles have been a hindrance to greater electoral success. Trump has broken this illusion, and having demonstrated that there is no conservative consensus among GOP voters, we can expect others to follow his lead. Although the Republican Party will likely survive the 2016 election, its status as a uniformly conservative party will not. The end result of the Trump campaign will be an ideological vacuum on the right, one that will likely be filled by something very different from the mainstream conservative movement we have known for six decades.

2016 Kansas Book Festival

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This Saturday is the 2016 Kansas Book Festival in Topeka. We are proud, honored and not surprised that three University Press of Kansas books (Kansas Wildflowers and Weeds, Twenty-Five Years Among the Indians and Buffalo, and Kansas Trail Guide) are being honored as 2016 Notable Books.

The fifteen books selected for the honor feature quality titles with wide public appeal, either written by Kansans or about a Kansas-related topic.

“The Kansas Notable Books Committee considered the eligible books published in 2015. I was delighted to receive the recommended list and make the final decision,” said State Librarian Jo Budler. “Our list is intended to showcase Kansas’ unique talent and history while encouraging residents to visit their library and check out the celebrated titles.”

An awards ceremony will be held at the Kansas Book Festival, on September 10, 2016 at the State Capitol, to recognize the talented Notable Book authors.

In addition, UPK Authors Michael John Haddock (Kansas Wildflowers and Weeds), Jonathan & Kristin Conard (Kansas Trail Guide), Warren Street (Twenty-Five Years Among the Indians and Buffalo) & George Frazier (The Last Wild Places of Kansas) will present talks about their books during the festival.

Huelskamp’s Defeat: Did Kansas Aggies Get their Revenge?

5726782ca3c5b_previewBy Christopher Bosso

The 1st Kansas is one of the nation’s largest and most rural House districts, stretching from the suburbs of Topeka over 300 miles westward along the Nebraska border to Colorado and curling south another 200 miles to the Oklahoma state line.

The Big First is also Agriculture: vast fields of wheat and grain sorghum interspersed with “concentrated feeding operations” of thousands of head of beef cattle. Not surprisingly, those representing the 1st in Congress, including Representative (later Senator) Robert Dole and Representative (later Senator) Pat Roberts, were devoted to and left indelible fingerprints on agricultural policy – and to making sure that Kansas got its fair share of federal funds.

In 2010 the district’s voters elected state senator Tim Huelskamp to fill a seat left empty when fellow Republican Jerry Moran won the Senate seat vacated when, Sam Brownback, also a Republican, became governor. Huelskamp beat out five other Republicans with 34.5% of the vote in a hotly contested primary, after which he went on to an easy general election victory in a district that voted Democrat only once (1953-1955) in its history.

Huelskamp grew up on a farm in Fowler – 2010 population, 590 – and like many future members of Congress had an early fascination with politics and public policy. He returned to Kansas in 1995 after finishing his doctorate in political science and jumped into politics, getting elected a year later as one of the youngest state senators in decades. He was reelected three times with ease, largely on his conservative values on issues like abortion and same sex marriage as well as his views that government was too big and too expensive. Perhaps reflecting training in a Catholic seminary, or maybe just because he is contrarian by nature, Huelskamp also showed a willingness to criticize fellow Republicans he thought weren’t hewing to those values, to the point that in 2003 he was removed from the key Senate Ways and Means Committee for clashing with party leaders. His reputation with voters for his uncompromising defense of his – and their – beliefs, aided by the support of national conservative groups, enabled Huelskamp to enter Congress in 2010 as part of the “tea party” wave that gave Republicans control of the House.

Huelskamp promptly claimed the district’s “traditional” seat on the House Agriculture Committee. However, anyone who thought that he went to Washington to promote Kansas agriculture were soon disabused. To the surprise of no one who paid attention to his career, Huelskamp fast became a thorn in the side of House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans leaders. He also refused to compromise on cutting federal spending, even when the all-important Farm Bill was up for reauthorization. In fact, despite pleas by Kansas agricultural groups to support passage, Huelskamp and fellow House conservatives blocked action on the Farm Bill throughout the 112th Congress (2011-2012).

In December 2012 Speaker Boehner, furious at Huelskamp’s obstinacy, booted him from the Budget Committee and, to make the lesson hit closer to home, the Agriculture Committee. The Big First now had no seat on Agriculture for the first time in (recent?) history. Huelskamp, along with the other three members of the Kansas House delegation – the most conservative in the country – also famously voted against the final version of the Agricultural Act of 2014 – the Farm Bill! – despite pleas by Kansas agricultural leaders to support the compromise measure.

All of this should have hurt Huelskamp at home. Boehner certainly hoped that Big First voters would elect a more agreeable Republican. But they didn’t: Huelskamp survived a primary challenge by an underfunded opponent and won easy re-election in 2014. So did his three compatriots, no doubt because they adhered to the set of values on which their supporters sent them to Congress in the first place.

It’s August 2016. Huelskamp again faced a primary challenge. This time he got thumped, losing by 13 points to political novice Roger Marshall. Barring a cataclysm in November, Marshall will be the Big First’s next representative.

Many saw Huelskamp’s ouster as the revenge of Kansas Agriculture. Indeed, former Huelskamp allies at the Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Livestock Association supported Marshall, as did the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of Wheat Growers. Not surprisingly, Marshall pledges to regain the 1st’s rightful place on the House Agriculture Committee.

Yet Huelskamp’s loss may have more to do with Republican Party politics than with the power of agriculture interests. The primary was like the Spanish Civil War – the warm-up for World War II – with each combatant backed by outside powers using the two as proxies in a bigger fight. Huelskamp had the support of National Right to Life, the National Rifle Association, and conservative groups like Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity. Marshall, no liberal, was backed by what passes these days for Establishment Republicanism – notably the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. These groups poured nearly $3 million into the race, most of it fueling an arms race of television and radio ads. The money mattered: few challengers can beat an incumbent, even one with Huelskamp’s negatives, without it.

While Huelskamp alienated voters, he lost only because he faced a well-funded opponent in a one-on-one race funded by outside groups with their own agendas. Agriculture got its revenge, but only as a result of that larger war within the Republican Party.

Christopher Bosso is professor of public policy at Northeastern University. His areas of interest include food and environmental policy, science and technology policy, and the governance of emerging technologies. His newest book, Framing the Farm Bill: Interests, Ideology, and the Agricultural Act of 2014 will be published by UPK next year.