15 May

Donald Trump wins Oregon primarily by default

Tuesday, Donald Trump will win the Oregon primary, a sentence that a year ago would have seemed as unlikely as Bigfoot getting elected to the legislature. At the Republican convention in Cleveland this summer, Oregon’s delegates will vote for someone who likes to brag to political rallies about the size of his hands.
He could run on a ticket with Bigfoot.

Oregon has, at least, a better excuse for voting for Trump than a lot of other states; by the time the race has gotten here, all the other Republican candidates have dropped out. The last-ditch deal of Ted Cruz ceding his rights in Oregon to John Kasich lasted about as long as Carly Fiorina’s campaign for vice president, and Kasich’s actual efforts in Oregon consisted of one afternoon with two town halls, and a TV ad that ran approximately once.

Considering that Kasich seemed to hold most of his press conferences while eating, he might have enjoyed campaigning in Portland, recently named the top restaurant city in America.

It was a measure of the foot-in-the-paint-bucket effort against Trump that the state was ceded to the only candidate who didn’t manage to get into the voter’s pamphlet, which Oregon voters tend to regard as the bare minimum of credibility.

“Stop and consider that,” marveled the conservative web site RedState. “The Kasich campaign was out-organized by the Trump campaign. How is that even physically possible?”

Besides managing to complete the Oregon paperwork, Trump has at least campaigned here, unlike his odds-on November opponent, Hillary Clinton. Earlier this month before 4,000 in Eugene, he repeatedly denounced “Crooked Hillary” and called Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Goofy Liz,” both phrases that don’t typically appear in the voter’s pamphlet.
And, of course, Trump pledged to build the wall with Mexico.

He would, he promised, be great for Oregon: After he’d been president for a while, he predicted, “You’re going to call me and say, ‘We can’t stand it. We’re winning too much in Eugene, Oregon.’ And I’m going to say I don’t care.”

Just how this is going to work, of course, is not entirely clear. Candidates come to states to explain what they’re going to do for them – and Trump did assure the audience that he was going to fix the timber industry – but the occasion wasn’t big on specifics.

For example, the event didn’t get into Trump’s plan for a 45 percent tariff on anything from China, or what launching a trade war with Asia would do to a state that considerably lives off Asian trade.

The problem with getting into positions of the Trump campaign is that the positions change so fast. Oregon may be, in its legal arrangements, the most pro-choice state in the country, but earlier this year, Trump was counted having five different positions on the issue in three days.

Oregon has just raised its minimum wage, a major federal issue this campaign, but we couldn’t get much guidance there, either. At various times Trump has been against raising the federal minimum, seemingly for raising it, against having a minimum wage, and suggesting the issue should just be left to the states.

He has been firm, and congratulating himself, on keeping Muslims from entering the United States. Then last week he explained it was “just a suggestion.”

This makes supporting Trump a challenge. Last week Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon’s only Republican in Congress, swallowed hard and managed it, but could only offer that Trump “is the better option than Hillary Clinton in the White House.”

Still, the presumptive Republican nominee has provided lots to talk about, in lots of places.

“In Britain and Italy,” reported Nicholas Kristof, a Yamhill native who now wanders the world for The New York Times, earlier this month, “everywhere you go, there is a sense of, ‘What’s going on in America?’”

Kristof has, of course, seen allied discontent before. “They disagreed with Bush,” he remembered about the Europeans, “but Trump is Bush squared.”

In Portland to speak to the Oregon Community Foundation, Kristof has seen enough of Yamhill, and some high school classmates, to see the appeal of how “Trump is focusing on the legitimate discontent of being left behind.”

It’s just not clear whether Trump’s offering them bread, or just a circus.

Still, he’s certainly made an impact.

“Trump is right that much of the world is laughing at us,” notes Kristof, “largely because a major party is about to choose Trump.”

At least Oregon can argue that it wasn’t really up to us.

We didn’t even get a chance to consider John Kasich.

Or even Bigfoot.

NOTE: This column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian, 5/15/16.

02 May

Merkley endorsement of Sanders sending a message on this year’s Democratic message

Perhaps the most striking thing about Jeff Merkley’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders for president was the timing.

Merkley’s decision to become the first of Sanders’ Senate colleagues to support his campaign for the White House came after the race had been going on for months, after Hillary Clinton had built a sizable delegate lead difficult to overcome, and just before her sizable victories in New York, and last week in Pennsylvania and Maryland, had dispatched the contest to the all-over-but-the-shouting category.

But to Merkley, “It’s all about the timing of Oregon’s primary. Two weeks before the ballots go out seemed about the right time.” He’s pleased with “the idea that Oregon will be part of a vibrant competition.”

Besides, the state’s junior senator thinks there’s still a lot of shouting to come.

In his endorsement of Sanders, in an op-ed column in The New York Times, Merkley conceded, “Bernie has an uphill battle ahead of him to win the Democratic nomination.” That’s especially true, he noted more recently, because “People have a strong impetus to be on the winning side.”

Still, he argued in his endorsement that Sanders has “galvanized a grass-roots movement. People know that we don’t just need better policies, we need a wholesale rethinking of how our economy and our politics work, and for whom they work.”

Recently, he explained, “What I think about every day is that for the last 40 years, most of the gains in the economy have gone to the top 10 percent.”
The “wholesale rethinking” to deal with that would include a tougher attitude towards Wall Street – which Merkley urged strongly as a member of the Senate banking committee during the debate over the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill – and Sanders’ support of single-payer universal health care.

Merkley insists that medical overhaul isn’t as implausible as many would think. When the Senate was debating the Affordable Care Act in 2009, he says, there was a point when the entire Democratic caucus supported dropping the Medicare age from 65 to 55. Then one of the senators bailed, and the idea was dropped, but Medicare at 55 would have been a long step toward Sanders’ position.

Recently, Merkley stressed another issue. This Earth Day, he noted, he participated in planting three trees, and was assured that they were species calculated to handle the projected warming of Oregon’s climate over the coming decades. “That was somewhat depressing to me,” Merkley recalled, “how much it would be changing in a single generation.”

Last November, Merkley presented his Leave It In The Ground bill, banning new digging or drilling for fossil fuels on federal land, in a press conference outside the Capitol. He remembers that he invited both presidential candidates, and one showed up – although, he notes wryly, ever since then reporters have referred to the measure as Sanders’ bill.

This still leaves the challenge of imagining Sanders in the Oval Office, or as commander-in-chief – especially since Merkley’s op-ed went out of its way to declare, “Hillary Clinton has a remarkable record. She would be a strong and capable president.”

But Merkley insists that Sanders would be effective in the White House, citing his record in the House – where, Merkley notes, Sanders was known as the “King of Amendments” – and as mayor of Burlington, Vt. – where his achievements included bringing in a minor-league baseball team, which might resonate with some Portlanders. Sanders can expect to appeal generally in Oregon, the kind of state – heavily white, with a particularly liberal Democratic Party – where he has done well.

But if Merkley seems likely to be standing with his state in the Democratic race, he seems unlikely to be standing with the nomination winner. The Washington Post’s politics blogger went so far as to declare Merkley a loser in last week’s primaries since, as the only senator supporting Sanders, he was suddenly a convenient target for media inquiries about Sanders’ problems.

Clinton’s victories in the Northeastern urban states were not exactly surprising, but they did change the race; Wednesday in Indiana, Sanders declared, “If we do not win … we are going to have the votes to put together the strongest progressive agenda that any political party has ever seen.”

Merkley says of the Sanders campaign, “It’s important to capture that energy level, whoever wins the primary.” To do that, “Both sides have to stretch out to each other, on policy and strategy.”

Certainly, Merkley’s late-in-the-game endorsement of Sanders sets out his position on the Oregon primary.

But possibly more significantly, it also sets out his position on this year’s Democratic message.

NOTE: This column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian, 5/1/16.