When it comes time to defend his red wall along the Great Lakes, President Trump is going to come face to face with the consequences of his Pentagon leadership’s failure to implement his oft-promised 355-ship Navy (up from 290 today).
Pennsylvania workers make many of the essentials that go into ships, including shafts manufactured in Erie and cooling systems in York. Every time the Navy awards a contract for a new ship, the president or vice president should be at one of these facilities talking about the jobs the contracts will provide. But the Navy hasn’t been issuing those contracts, so the president can’t make those announcements.
The Navy could have gone big — still could still go big — in Philadelphia. To extend the life of the existing fleet, a person familiar with the planning tells me, the Navy must perform roughly 100 more ship dockings in the next decade than current dock space can accommodate. Philly Shipyard has the capability to build floating dry docks to make up for this shortfall. Why isn’t Trump announcing a plan to expand the Navy’s dry-dock infrastructure while standing in Philly Shipyard?
Wisconsin benefits from Navy shipbuilding in two ways. First, there is the shipyard in Marinette that creates jobs in both Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Fincantieri Marine Group is a bidder on the new 20-ship Navy FFG(X) guided-missile frigate program, but politics cannot take precedence over ship design, so the contract is not guaranteed to land lakeside in Wisconsin. The least Trump could do, though, is insist that the Navy pick up the pace of its dreadfully slow design competition.
The Fincantieri Marinette Marine is already under contract to build four Multi-Mission Surface Combatant ships for Saudi Arabia. More work would be sent Wisconsin’s way if the Trump administration could persuade the Saudis to increase their order or bring other countries, such as Israel, on board.
Incredibly, Michigan ranks near the bottom of all the states when defense spending is calculated as a percentage of a state’s GDP — 47th out of 50 in fiscal year 2017 for what was once the arsenal of democracy. Per-resident defense spending in Michigan that year was a paltry $386, compared with $1,554 in Oklahoma.
When the Air Force decided in 2017 not to base F-35A fighter aircraft at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan, it missed an easy way to achieve some equity in the distribution of defense-industry dollars in the states. Trump could direct the Pentagon to reverse that decision.
The Navy’s plans for a new “large unmanned surface vessel” calls for a ship which could be built at a Great Lakes facility; near Detroit makes sense, if only out of fairness to a state that has been largely ignored in the Trump military rebuild. Given the likely long-term need for many of these ships in the future, a new facility could be planted and grown along with the program. It pains this Buckeye to say so, but somewhere along the Michigan coast next door to Ohio would be equitable.
A focus on Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin need not be limited to the Defense Department. Recently, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) pushed successfully for the planned relocation of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management to Grand Junction, Colo., in a brilliant move to bring bureaucrats closer to the citizens they regulate and whom they are supposed to serve. Sending large parts of the Environmental Protection Agency to Flint, Mich., or nearby locations would drive home the same message.
Trump has the chance to drain the swamp while making government agencies much more attuned to the people in flyover country. But he must act soon.
Yet, it is really the Navy’s utter failure to deliver even a bare-bones plan to realize the president’s promise of a 355-ship Navy that ought to rankle the commander in chief. A new chief of naval operations will arrive soon. The president ought to have waiting on his desk copies of the speeches in which he promised, and then promised again, a 355-ship Navy, along with the slogan famously used by Winston Churchill scrawled with the black Sharpie that Trump likes to use: “Action this day!”
As Democrats move from success in the 2018 midterms to the early stages of picking a 2020 presidential candidate, a narrative is taking root. It holds that the key Democratic voter today is young, liberal and rebellious—in short, a version of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old activist who became the youngest congresswoman ever and who appears to be pushing the party to the left.
There is one problem with this narrative. It largely misses the story of the voters who actually delivered success to Democrats last year—and who may determine the outcome of the next presidential race.The disconnect between perception and reality is important because it affects what Democrats do—now that they have a piece of governing power in Washington with their newfound control of the House, and because it affects the way the party views the nascent effort to choose the next presidential contender. In particular, it affects views of the largest name in the party not yet in the 2020 field: former Vice President Joe Biden.
It’s certainly true that there was a lot of energy among young, liberal Democrats in 2018, and that figures to be true again in the new presidential cycle.
Yet the Democratic electorate in 2018—the one that swung House seats and governor’s offices from Republican to Democratic—was neither as young nor as liberal as popularly imagined. AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 115,000 self-identified 2018 midterm voters, found that just 15% of those who voted Democratic last November were aged 18 through 29. The largest contingent of Democratic voters—36%—actually were ages 45 through 64.
All told, 60% of Democratic voters were aged 45 or older.
In ideological terms, there is no doubt that the party is moving to the left. An increasing share of Democrats are identifying themselves as liberal. Yet that movement also can be overstated. While half of Democratic voters last year identified themselves as liberal, 48% called themselves moderate or conservative. And moderates outnumbered “very liberal” Democratic voters by two to one.
Their switch is why many of those moderate Republicans washed out to sea; their fate was sealed more by moderate women rising up to vote Democratic than because of a left-wing insurrection. Indeed, candidates endorsed by the moderate New Democrat coalition flipped 33 of the 42 House seats that went from Republican to Democrat.
Geographically, the keys to Democrats’ success came not in the party’s coastal enclaves—such as Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s district, which was held by Democrats long before she arrived—but rather in the industrial upper Midwest swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. All three states were won by Mr. Trump in 2016, but Democrats won the popular House vote in those states last fall. Democrats also nominated moderates for governor in all three states—and all three won, by a margin of 1.3 million votes.This reality is important for Democrats as candidates begin drifting onto the 2020 presidential battlefield. The prevailing narrative suggests not only that the advantage goes to a fresh face who excites the party’s young progressives—think former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas or Sen. Kamala Harris of California—but that such a choice has the best chance of success against Mr. Trump.
And maybe that’s the case. But consider the alternative, suggested by the reality of the midterm election results: The votes that will spell the difference for Democrats lie not on the left and on the coasts, but in the center and in the industrial Midwest.
That’s where Mr. Biden enters the picture. Perhaps the 76-year-old former vice president is too old. He certainly doesn’t meet the desire for “new blood” in politics cited last week by former President Obama.
On the other hand, if the Democrats’ key votes in 2020 will lie among centrists in the industrial Midwest, the more moderate profile of the favorite son of Scranton, Pa., will be an attractive one. Moreover, if voters generally are looking for somebody who knows how to get things done rather than simply create controversy, the guy who once prevented a government shutdown by cutting a big budget deal with Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell may have some appeal.
It’s too early to know, of course—but there is more than one narrative at work for Democrats.
When asked recently who Republicans should fear most in the 2020 presidential campaign, two prominent GOP figures, both women speaking independently of each other, gave the same response: Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
A third Republican, a male, asked which kind of candidate Democrats should want, replied: “They need a boring white guy from the Midwest.”
So, there you have it: The dream ticket of Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Case closed, cancel the primaries, on to the general election.
So if all that creates an opportunity for Democrats in 2020, here’s their dilemma: Can they pick a candidate who can blend the party’s conflicting impulses?
This may seem a long ways off, but the reality is that most Democrats thinking of running for president—and the number probably runs into the 20s—plan to make their decision over the next several weeks, so they can move out starting in early 2019.
.. The winning lottery ticket, of course, goes to somebody who can appeal to both. And that’s why Ms. Klobuchar’s name—and profile—attract attention. She’s a woman, obviously, which is important at a time when newly energized women are a growing force within the party. She pleased her party base in the hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh when she challenged him about his use of alcohol, but did so in a sufficiently calm and understated manner that she won an apology from Mr. Kavanaugh after he initially responded angrily.
.. She also won re-election this year with more than 60% of the vote in the one state Trump forces lost in 2016 but think they have a legitimate chance to flip their way in 2020.
.. The question is whether she or anyone can put together a policy agenda that pleases both party liberals, who are pushing for
- a Medicare-for-all health system,
- the demise of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement system and an
- aggressive new climate-change action plan, and more moderate Midwestern voters, who may be scared off by all of those things.
Ms. Klobuchar’s policy priorities may suggest a path. To address health care, the top priority of Democratic voters, she advocates a step-by-step approach, one that seeks to
- drive down prescription drug costs by opening the door to less-expensive drugs from Canada,
- protect and improve the Affordable Care Act, and
- expand health coverage by considering such steps as allowing more Americans to buy into the Medicare system.
.. She’s talked of a push to improve American infrastructure that would include expanding rural Americans’ access to broadband service, paying for it by rolling back some—though not all—of the tax cuts Republicans passed last year. She pushes for more vigorous antitrust enforcement, more protections for privacy and steps to curb undisclosed money in politics
.. For his part, Sen. Brown, a liberal who this year won Ohio as it otherwise drifts Republican, offers a working-class-friendly agenda that combines progressive impulses for government activism to drive up wages with Trumpian skepticism about trade deals and corporate outsourcing.
With Democrats set to take over top statewide offices next year, Michigan Republicans are considering proposals that would allow the Legislature to intervene in legal battles and shift oversight of the state’s campaign finance law to a new commission.
The lame-duck power plays would limit the power of Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Democrats have not held all three posts since 1990.
A House bill introduced Thursday by state Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker, and quickly praised by Republican leaders seeks to guarantee the GOP-led Legislature could intervene in legal battles involving state laws that Democrats may be hesitant to defend.
A separate proposal from Sen. Dave Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, would shift oversight of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act from the Secretary of State’s Office to a newly proposed “fair political practices commission.”
Verheulen denied his bill would supplant the authority of the attorney general, though it likely would give the Legislature a voice in ensuring the rationales for laws the House and Senate passed get defended in court.
“More and more public policy arguments are being made in the courts rather than in the legislative chambers, and I think there may be occasions where the House or the Senate or both want to simply express their view before the court,” said VerHeulen.
Nessel, in her winning campaign for attorney general, said she may not defend state laws she views as unconstitutional, including a 2015 law that allows faith-based adoption agencies to decline working with gay residents. Same-sex couples have sued the state over the law, and the litigation remains in court.
.. “Those legislators pushing this law should be reminded that the people elect their attorneys general and their governors and such a proposal — should it pass — would have a dramatic and disastrous impact on the state of Michigan and its residents for years to come,” Rossman-McKinney said.
Benson will be the state’s first Democratic secretary of state since 1994, but Robertson’s proposal would strip her office of a key responsibility by creating a new commission to oversee campaign finance laws.
.. “Legislative Republicans are now trying to thwart the will of the voters with bills that ignore their voices, (defy) history and will make Michigan a national punch line by effectively ending enforcement of the campaign finance laws they are required to abide by,” Boyd said in a statement. “It’s shameful.”
A longstanding Michigan law gives the attorney general the authority to intervene in any civil or criminal case “when in his own judgment the interests of the state require it” but does not give special privileges to legislators, who can ask judges to intervene in cases but are not guaranteed the right.
.. Republicans have controlled the offices of secretary of state and attorney general since the 2002 election. Democrats last held the governor’s office in 2010 under Jennifer Granholm.
When Democrats Whitmer, Nessel and Jocelyn Benson take office on Jan. 1, 2019, it will mark the first time in 28 years that Democrats have controlled the offices of governor, attorney and secretary of state at the same time.