Mick Mulvaney was a four-term Republican congressman from South Carolina with a reputation as a hawk on government spending in 2017 when President Donald Trump chose him to be director of the Office of Budget and Management, the nation's top fiscal officer. Mulvaney held that position until December 2018, when Trump named him "acting" White House chief of staff , a position he held until March 2020 when the president replaced him with North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows.
Pundit Mark Shields has been on the political playing field since Robert F. Kennedy ran for president in 1968. After years of managing campaigns from the courthouse to the White House, he is now one of the most widely recognized commentators in the United States.
Shields is best known for his work on CNN's "Capital Gang," where he debates policy issues with syndicated columnists Robert Novak, The Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt, and Time magazine's White House correspondent Margaret Carlson, and for his weekly appearances on the award-winning "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," where, since 1987, he has teamed up with conservatives such as David Gergen, Paul Gigot and David Brooks to provide the program's principal political analysis.
Shields grew up in Weymouth, Mass., and graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1959 with a major in philosophy and a minor in history. In 1964, after serving in the Marines in Florida, Shields moved to Washington, D.C., to indulge his love of American government.
His first political assignment was as a legislative assistant to former Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.). From there, he launched into a career on the campaign trail.
Shields' first major campaign experience was during Robert F. Kennedy's bid for the presidency, for which Shields helped organize the California primary. He then went on to work for Sen. Edmund Muskie's presidential campaign in 1972, R. Sargent Shriver's bid for the vice presidency and Rep. Morris Udall's campaign for the Democratic nomination in 1976.
In 1979, Shields joined the editorial staff of The Washington Post and a year later started writing his column, which is now syndicated weekly by Creators Syndicate. In addition to written commentary, Shields began regular appearances on television and radio in the early 1980s, including a nightly piece on ABC Radio's "Look at Today."
Shields' book, "On the Campaign Trail," about the 1984 presidential campaign, has been praised as "funny," "irreverent" and "insightful" and for bringing that race "to magnificent light." As one reviewer put it, Shields "is the wittiest political analyst around, and he is frequently the most trenchant, fair-minded and thoughtful."
Now enjoying life as a full-time political pundit, Shields appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. He speaks to audiences often, sharing his firsthand accounts and impressions of the major political events of the past few decades. He has also taught courses on American politics and the press at Harvard University and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Shields lives near Washington, D.C., with his wife, Anne, chief of staff at the Interior Department.
The political shadowboxing before presidential debates is cleverly choreographed. Take the 2000 contest between then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore. Before that year's first general election debate, the Bush team did a superb job of lowering expectations for Governor Bush by emphasizing to reporters what an experienced and superb debater Gore was. So, when Bush more or less held his own in the opening debate, the Texas governor got a lot of the "better than expected" press coverage his campaign had all the time been angling for.
What do presidential candidates George H.W. Bush, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Ross Perot, Al Gore, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Barack Obama, John McCain and Mitt Romney all have in common? On the biggest night each of their political careers, when they — live and on national television without teleprompters or prepared texts — were being scrutinized and judged by up to 80 million of their fellow citizens on their fitness to be president, all of these men agreed to accept and to trust journalist-anchor Jim Lehrer to moderate their presidential debate.
The "post-game" analyses of the 2020 Democratic National Convention have gone on for longer than the convention itself. Critics continue to weigh in on whether Barack Obama or Michelle Obama was the more effective speaker and whether Joe Biden, in his 24-minute acceptance speech (remarkably brief by historical standards), put to rest questions about Sleepy Joe.
But all that, to me, is beside the point. What matters most is what poet Maya Angelou once said: "People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel." Three separate pieces over four days had to make you, if you were a sentient human being, feel better about Joe Biden.
Political polls elicit predictable reactions from the candidates being polled. The campaign of the candidate trailing in the poll almost invariably invokes history: "I, for one, am grateful that Christopher Columbus didn't take a poll before he bravely sailed off in search of a New World. He never would have left the dock" or, "Thank goodness George Washington and his cold, hungry and out-manned troops at Valley Forge didn't listen to the pollsters, or you and I today would still be bowing and curtsying before the queen."
And the candidate who is leading in those same polls also has a script to follow, which typically goes like this: "Encouraging as these results may be, any poll is nothing more than a snapshot in time. We'll just continue to work harder to earn the confidence of the hardworking Americans we seek to serve." Which is often followed by, "We all know there is only one poll that counts, and that is the real poll on Election Day."
By now, Republican officeholders are daily and in ever-increasing numbers coming up with reasons why they will be unable to attend the late-August GOP convention in Jacksonville, Florida. In every campaign year, everything is a poll — who shows up and who doesn't when your candidate comes to town; who elbows in for the picture with the standard-bearer as opposed to who suddenly remembers that he and his family have an unbreakable appointment with the hometown taxidermist about stuffing the late, beloved family hamster.
Looking at the most respected national polls conducted in the month of July, we see that President Donald Trump, in the matchup with former Vice President Joe Biden, is winning 40 percent, 41 percent, 40 percent and 37 percent of the national vote. Yes, a poll is only a snapshot in time of attitudes and judgments, not set in stone. But the emerging reality is clear: A majority of American voters have decided that they really do not want Trump to be their president for the next four years.
New York Times/Siena College has Democrat Joe Biden at 50 percent and Republican President Donald Trump at 36 percent; CNN has Biden at 54 percent and Trump 36 percent; Fox News has Biden at 50 percent and Trump at 38 percent. These recent national polls have left Democrats almost giddy with anticipation. But before Democrats put the champagne on ice, they would be wise to remember the prophetic words of an authentically wise Texan. Former Gov. Ann Richards said, on July 3, 1988, on CBS's "Face the Nation": "July does not a November election make."
History can be cruel. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who was unquestionably America's most prominent prophet and practitioner of nonviolence, was followed by riots, arson and looting in 168 American cities and towns. The numbers are staggering: 2,600 fires were set; 21,700 people were injured; 2,600 were arrested; 39 were killed. One city that was spared all that in the days following King's murder was Indianapolis.
Credit for that must be given to the citizens of Indiana's capital city and to its leaders, both black and white, and also to a remarkable American political leader, who, on that April night in 1968, delivered the news of King's death to an Indianapolis rally of mostly African Americans.
Here's the fail-safe test for whether a political party is growing and strengthening or shrinking in size and prospects: Is that party spending its time, energy and effort seeking, recruiting and welcoming converts to its ranks, or is that party instead hunting down heretics within its ranks and, in the name of political purity, banishing them to some outer darkness?
Because American politics is always a matter of addition, not subtraction, the convert-seeking and convert-welcoming party is healthier and almost always has the better prospects of winning the November general election. Republicans understood that well in 1980 when the GOP presidential nominee openly courted and embraced converts, even giving them very own designation as Reagan Democrats. At the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the future Democratic nominee told the nation: "There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America." Thus did Barack Obama become the first Democrat in 12 presidential elections to win 53 percent of the national Vote.
It is a common, if not especially honorable, practice in American politics for a candidate and her campaign to prefer to run not against their actual opponent on the ballot but rather against the most unpopular caricature of the opponent's party. That explains why Democrats, for close to three decades after the election of 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt crushed Republican Herbert Hoover by 18 percent in the popular vote and carried 42 of the then 48 states, continued to run against "Herbert Hoover Republicans." Ignored was Hoover's humanitarian record during World War I, when through his leadership, 7 million Belgians were rescued from certain starvation.
As you probably already knew, the next six months of 2020 presidential campaigning are going to be ugly. I do not say this happily, but I do so based upon a lifetime of watching candidates run for election and reelection. Almost invariably, politicians return to what worked successfully in previous campaigns.
Consider the most recent presidential election of 2016. When exit polls across the nation asked actual voters whether their opinion of the two candidates was favorable or unfavorable, their answers were Donald Trump 38 percent favorable and 60 percent unfavorable, and Hillary Clinton 43 percent favorable and 55 percent unfavorable.
Somebody close to President Donald Trump could, in a burst of candor, tell him that he does not know everything to be known about the history of the filibuster in the United States Senate — or even the origin of the infield fly rule in Major League Baseball.
But nobody, absolutely nobody, should ever dare to suggest that this president has not completely mastered everything there is to know about American popular television. Lest we forget, only one American president, before he came to office, was the host/star/dominant personality for 14 years of a network prime-time TV show, which, in its debut season, actually averaged 20 million viewers a show. That was Donald Trump's The Apprentice.
Democrats are beside themselves; after President Donald Trump's consistently inconsistent and uneven public pronouncements on the seriousness of the coronavirus, moving in one 24-hour period from "something we have tremendous control over" to our "toughest enemy: the invisible enemy" and limiting all crowds to fewer than 10, his poll numbers have gone up. How, they ask, could this be the case when the president's leadership of this "war" has been start-stop, don't-worry-be-happy?
The answer is found in history. At times of crisis — even crises in which the sitting president has seemingly made things worse rather than better — the natural American reaction is to rally to the flag, to support the commander in chief. Take the failed invasion of Cuba in 1961 ordered by President John F. Kennedy. It was a total failure. The Cuban expatriates leading the attack were captured as soon as they landed. Yet Kennedy's job approval rating in the aftermath, after he took responsibility for the failure, saying, "Victory has 100 fathers, and defeat is an orphan … I'm the responsible officer of the government," soared to 83 percent positive.
When President Jimmy Carter was in office, the shah of Iran was admitted to the U.S. for medical treatment, and Iranian revolutionaries took Americans at the U.S. embassy in Tehran hostage and kept them there until Carter left office fifteen months later. And what happened in the polls? Jimmy Carter's job rating had been 31 percent positive and climbed in little over one month to 61 percent approval. Rallying to the flag is an established national impulse.
Even Ronald Reagan, who won election and reelection in successive electoral landslides, and whose approval rating was just 51 percent positive on inauguration day, watched — painfully — after he was gravely wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt as his job rating jumped up to 68 percent approval.
What ought to be surprising is the very small bump up in his poll numbers Trump has yet been given. One reason is that Trump, in the phrase of pollster Peter Hart, one of the founders of the Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll, has had "a trading range of low 40s to high 40s, with his average rating at 45." Other presidents have had their job ratings climb to the 60s during good times and then fall into the 30s when things went south. President George H.W. Bush was at 89 percent approval after the successful, short Gulf War in 1991 and then saw his job rating plummet to 29 percent positive — a fall of 60 — by the summer of 1992, the year he would lose reelection.
Donald Trump has not had the traditional public rallying to his side that previous presidents have enjoyed. But, let it be noted, that while Trump has a "low ceiling" in how high his numbers climb, he also has a very "high floor" to support him — beneath which he has yet to slip.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
My sainted mother was a public school teacher until she married my father and immediately, as a married woman, was forced by local Massachusetts rules then in force to leave the classroom. (My own grade school teachers included Miss Galvin, Miss Harrington, Miss Donahue, Miss Keohane, Miss Condrick, Miss Loud … you get the picture.)
One happy adult memory is a lunch with my then-90-year-old mother in the leading Italian restaurant in our hometown of Weymouth, Massachusetts. The world-weary expression on our waitress’s face, herself already a grandmother, brightened immediately when she recognized my mother from more than 60 years earlier: “Miss Fallon,” she announced, “You were the best teacher I ever had. Remember me from the Jefferson School … Marie?” My mother did in fact remember and later unsentimentally recalled Marie’s losing encounters with the eights table in multiplication.
In addition to my mother, my only sister was a public school teacher. My only daughter was a teacher. After leaving the Marine Corps, I, too, taught high school history. I agree with former Democratic Texas Gov. Ann Richards who, before seeking and winning public office, had been a junior high school teacher. She said, “Teaching was the hardest work I had ever done, and it remains the hardest work I’ve done.” Republican presidential candidate and former Sen. John McCain echoed the same sentiment when he argued that a good teacher should not be paid less than a bad congressman.
Former White House Chief of Staff and later Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel shrewdly noted, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” meaning, “the opportunity for us to do things you could not before.” The current national and international crisis has closed schools and required parents to share confined indoor space with their children for hours and days on end.
All over America, mothers and fathers who had not thought much about it have been forced to confront, understand and appreciate what the American public school teacher does every day of the school year: manage, inspire, organize, discipline, inform and educate not one or two children but 30 children, all day long — some, sadly, with the attention span of a fruit fly.
While safeguarding people’s health and providing treatment to all afflicted are our overriding priorities, it may also be time for us Americans, beginning with parents, to recognize just how demanding, difficult and indispensable the work of the public school teacher is and that a school teacher deserves to be paid much more than the median salary, which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $58,230 for an elementary school teacher in the U.S. Recalling McCain’s rule, a congressman — bad or good — is paid $174,000 a year.
There is not a school board or state legislature in the country in the spring of 2020 that would not be overwhelmingly urged by parents everywhere to support a major pay increase for public school teachers.
And while we’re on the subject of salaries, all those captains of industries, such as the airline CEOs, who’ve been pocketing multimillion dollar salaries and who are now coming to the taxpayers tin cup in hand to secure a public bailout, are now effectively public employees and should not be paid more than a good — or bad — member of Congress. It only seems fair, if the public pays their salary, that the public is able to set the pay scale. But first, let’s agree to pay the teachers a helluva lot more.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
We're traveling in a crowded subway car somewhere under Manhattan when, without warning, the car comes to an abrupt halt in a tunnel in between stations. The subway car is plunged into darkness, and our own growing anxiety, along with that of our fellow passengers, is almost palpable. After a while, a measured, authoritative voice comes over the public address system and calmly tells all us stranded, semiscared passengers a) what has happened; b) what is now being done to fix the problem; c) that we will be safe and on our way within a finite amount of time; and d) what we can do in the meantime to help the rescue process along. That is what the voice of leadership sounds like.
That was what Americans heard on Jan. 28, 1986, when their president, Ronald Reagan, spoke the seven names — Michael Smith, Gregory Jarvis, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka and Christa McAuliffe — of the astronauts who had perished in the space shuttle Challenger explosion: "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them this morning as they prepared for the journey and waved good-bye and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God.'"
The president alone can speak to all of us and for all of us. After the failed U.S.-supported invasion of Cuba he had authorized, the president of the United States took sole responsibility for the failure ("I'm the responsible officer"), adding "victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan."
Thus spoke John F. Kennedy, whose epitaph may have been best written by a young man who explained why he gave up two years of his life and volunteered to join the Peace Corps Kennedy created: "I'd never done anything political, patriotic or unselfish, because nobody ever asked me to. Kennedy asked."
Commanding five-star general of the victorious Allied forces in World War II that destroyed Hitler's Third Reich, Dwight Eisenhower warned against the militarization of America: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." Ike refused to romanticize combat: "I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity."
President Gerald Ford, in hopes of healing the divided nation he had inherited and ending waves of political recrimination, ignored the political consequences and his own reelection prospects by pardoning his disgraced predecessor, the resigned Richard Nixon. That decision probably cost Ford the presidency, but he explained "The ultimate test of leadership is not the polls you take, but the risks you take. … Political courage can be self-defeating, but the greatest defeat of all would be to live without courage, for that would hardly be living at all."
Then we have the words of a president who, speaking to a nation aware that the mysterious and deadly coronavirus is changing the way they live and work, said: "So, if we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work — some of them go to work, but they get better." Another presidential statement: "There's a theory that, in April, when it gets warm — historically, that has been able to kill the virus." He has called the outbreak "a hoax" and blamed it on the Democrats and the press. You really miss the voice of leadership when you don't hear it.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
Historically, we Americans have been among the world's most optimistic people. Why? One reason could be that every American, with the exception of those whose ancestors were already here when Columbus arrived or those whose ancestors were brought here in chains, is either herself an immigrant or the direct lineal descendant of immigrants. To be an immigrant — to leave family, friends and familiar places; to dare to strike out across the sea or the continent to a foreign place; to live among people you have never seen; to speak a language you have never heard — is an act requiring enormous human courage. But being an immigrant is also a testament to optimism that here, in this blessed country, we are free to improve our lives and the lives of those who follow us.
That special American optimism has influenced our political choices of national leaders. Even after a president sorely disappoints us, we somehow remain confident that we will find in the next leader the qualities missing in the flawed predecessor. Think about it: Richard Nixon, after serving in the U.S. House, the Senate and two terms as Dwight Eisenhower's vice president, may have been our most experienced and credentialed president. After the criminality and corruption of Watergate and Nixon's resignation in disgrace, in the next election came former one-term Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, lacking in Washington experience and promising never to lie to the American people.
But Carter, a conscientious, intelligent and honorable man facing economic problems, seemed to change his mind a lot. So, in 1980, voters, looking for the opposite, chose the ideological leader of the nation's minority party, Republican Ronald Reagan, who had not changed his mind since 1962.
President George H.W. Bush, who essentially "won Ronald Reagan's third term," faced rough economic seas in his reelection, and when the president appeared confounded by an electronic scanner at a grocery checkout counter, voters doubted their president understood the hard times they were enduring. Enter Democrat Bill Clinton telling voters "I feel your pain." Voters found the empathetic, connected leader they were then looking for.
After eight years of Clinton, by a 2-to-1 margin, American voters judged their nation to be "headed in the right direction," and the president enjoyed a 65 percent favorable job rating. Yet an electorate, disappointed and angry by disclosures of the president's lies, self-indulgence and adultery in the White House, responded to George W. Bush's promise to "restore dignity to the Oval Office."
You get the point. So, what about 2020? When the Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll asked Americans whether Donald Trump has "the right temperament to be president," by more than 3-1, voters said no. When asked whether Trump was "knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle the presidency," voters again answered no by 2-1. On being "steady and reliable," voters answered no by 2-1, and on "dealing with an international crisis," Trump received a 2-1 negative response from the voters. American voters are exhausted from the controversies, the outbursts, the haranguing and the intemperance which have characterized this presidency.
So, what do the Democratic candidates in their last debate before Super Tuesday do? They bicker; they shout; they talk over one another; they yell —- exactly what the voters do not want in 2020. The only two exceptions from this vantage point were the two former mayors, Pete Buttigieg and Mike Bloomberg, who lowered the emotional thermostat and spoke in audible but not relentlessly abrasive language. Believe me; voters in 2020 are not looking to replace Donald Trump with a Democratic version of the incumbent. We want someone who has demonstrated competence, knowledge and maturity. We want someone who does not need to be on Twitter, on TV and in our faces 24/7. We're looking for what's missing — not for more of the same.
In the seven presidential elections since 1992, the Republican presidential nominee has won the popular vote exactly once. The lone GOP candidate to receive a majority of the national vote was George W. Bush in 2004. Bush’s election-day victory over Democrat John Kerry, who had, in most observers’ views, “won” the debates between the two, was explained by the respected Democratic pollster Peter Hart: “Voters preferred I Like over IQ.”
One test of deciding between presidential nominees is, “Who would you rather have a beer with?” which is another way of asking which White House challenger the voter personally likes more than the other. In short, our ballot for president is the most “personal” vote we Americans cast. Almost always, we pick the candidate with whom we are more comfortable and, more significantly, the candidate whose judgment and character we think we could depend upon in a personal crisis.
As evidence of the weight of the “I like” factor in presidential voting, let’s look at recent contests: In 2012, Barack Obama, the winner, was rated 52 percent personally favorable by voters, while Mitt Romney’s scores were 47 percent favorable and 50 percent unfavorable. In 2008, Americans had a rare positive choice. In the last Gallup poll before election day, John McCain was given a favorable rating by 57 percent of Americans and was barely eclipsed by Barack Obama’s 61 percent favorable score. In 2004, winner George W. Bush was 53 percent favorable among voters on election day, while John Kerry’s numbers were at 47 percent – 51 percent. In 1992 and 1996, voters liked Democrat Bill Clinton more than they liked both then-President George H. W. Bush and Sen. Bob Dole.
Of course, the outlier election was 2016, when both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump received historically low favorability scores. About one in five voters rated both candidates unfavorably but, when forced to choose between the two, voted for Trump with 3-2 odds.
But what about the 2020 outsider who’s on our living rooms TVs at every timeout of every game, at every commercial break between weather reports, news coverage and even during the Super Bowl? Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, an authentic billionaire, is spending at a rate unprecedented in American politics. And it is paying off. In most recent national polls, Bloomberg — on the strength of his wall-to-wall media campaign — has risen to double digits and as high as third place in some surveys.
We know that Michael Bloomberg has supported and spent generously to back candidates and initiatives that reflect his own priorities of gun control and climate change. In the eyes of some Democrats, Bloomberg’s political history — his quarter-million-dollar gift to South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham; the more than $11 million the mayor donated in 2016 to Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, whose narrow win secured Mitch McConnell as senate majority leader; and his endorsement of George W. Bush for reelection — suggest his commitment to the Party in 2020 is more convenience than conviction.
But we do not know who Mike Bloomberg really is. Does he have a temper or a sense of humor? Can he laugh at himself? Would we want him as a neighbor? Can he personally ask the machinist in Dayton and her husband for their votes? Or is he a billionaire who, like so many people with money, is most comfortable surrounded by high-priced, professional bootlickers who tell him how much smarter, more successful and more qualified he is to be president than anyone else?
Through his sophisticated and expensive TV and internet campaigns, we are learning what Mike Bloomberg wants us to know about him. What voters have yet to find out — and will not know until he’s in the arena, mixing it up with the other Democrats and on the debate stage — is whether we will like Mike.
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