Category: State & Science

Steve Bullock Has an Opportunity to Come Out Swinging

Image Credit: New York Times/The Postrider Illustration

The next two Democratic debates will take place on July 30 and July 31 with largely the same cast of characters from the first two in June, save for one loss and one addition: with California Congressman Eric Swalwell out, Montana Governor Steve Bullock is in. Bullock will be the only newcomer to the debates from the last go-around, which makes him the only candidate with an opening to make a first impression, as well as a unique opportunity to seize it by playing up his characteristic style that has been relatively absent in the primary thus far.

Bullock joined the race a bit late, on May 14th, which put him behind the curve in terms of  fundraising and polling, precluding him from qualifying for the first round of debates. He has stood by his decision to enter the race late due to his commitments as governor, which included working with the Montana legislature up until their session ended at the end of April. This allowed him to focus on expanding Medicaid in Montana with bipartisan support, no easy feat in a state where only 36% of voters went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, as well as securing rules blocking foreign governments from spending money in state elections, a college tuition freeze, and infrastructure spending. This late entry tracks with his governing ideology and how he has been pitching himself to voters ever since: as a moderate Democrat, a dedicated public servant, and, considering that he’s the only one of the current 2020 hopefuls who won a statewide race in a state that Trump also carried in 2016, an electorally-viable candidate. Bullock has proven himself able to appeal to and win rural voters while standing steadfast by marriage equality, Medicaid expansion, net neutrality, campaign finance reform, abortion rights, energy consciousness, and gun control in a very Republican-leaning state. As of the second quarter of 2019, Morning Consult has him at a 54% approval rating in Montana, which makes him the 15th most popular sitting governor in the United States.

Bullock has positioned himself in a manner similar to that of South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg: in line with the moderate Democratic mainstream and able to reach out and win voters in rural districts that threw Trump the election three years ago. But despite the fact that, unlike Buttigieg, Bullock has held a major statewide office, Buttigieg is the one with momentum. With his entrance into the debates, Bullock has a small opening to set off a spark for his campaign, and the lineup could not be more perfectly suited for him to do so.

On July 30, Bullock will be joined by (bear with me here…) Buttigieg, former Maryland Congressman John Delaney, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and author Marianne Williamson. The major candidates in this debate are Warren and Sanders, both of whom are on the left end of the Democratic Party, in stark opposition to where Bullock stands. Unlike the almost identically-minded and similarly-placed (though quite a bit nerdier) Hickenlooper, who was overshadowed by Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and instant Internet sensation Williamson in his first debate, Bullock can make Hickenlooper’s exact point — that he was the “one person up here who’s actually done the big progressive things everyone else is talking about,” let alone in a purple state — while being the only fresh face. And that was a valid point, if one left to a relatively uncharismatic campaigner who was stuck between the eye-grabbing Williamson and outright confusing Andrew Yang.

But Bullock has the chance to take that argument and champion it. He is one of the few state executives in the race, and Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Hickenlooper are struggling to even scrape the bottom of the barrel of support needed to carry on. And as the only newcomer on stage, Bullock may get just the eye draw from audiences he needs. At this point Williamson is, as they say, a “stale meme,” and the exciting rematch of the Biden-Harris showdown will take place during debate night two. Bullock is arguably the most experienced and accomplished candidate and executive who will be on stage on July 30 (other than Hickenlooper, who was in all fairness a two-term governor of a state over five times bigger than Bullock’s), and he has more credibility than anyone else that night to explain why he favors a pragmatic and moderate approach to policy and on how to appeal to independent flyover state voters. Bullock has an opportunity to come out swinging on that point and come across as the new and surprising adult in the room with that homey, down-to-earth, paper route-riding charm that has made his story so inspirational. 

If he is able to rise above the technicalities that Warren and Sanders will be arguing about, and above the Millennial and wonk-charming of Buttigieg and O’Rourke, Bullock has a chance to go from the odd man out to a household name – and make a compelling argument for why he is a candidate who can win a national election the rest of them could not.

Christine Lagarde is a Good Pick to Run the ECB, and Mark Carney Should Get Her Current Job

Christine Lagarde is to head the European Central Bank

 

In the last few weeks, a consensus finally emerged over who will head perhaps the second-most-important financial institution in the world, the European Central Bank. Though her name was not prominent in the list of initial candidates for the job, after some lengthy negotiating and horse-trading between French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leading forces in European politics settled on Christine Lagarde as their choice for the ECB presidency. The French Lagarde, currently head of the International Monetary Fund, is a unique but deeply-qualified choice to head the ECB, and will become the first woman to helm the institution on November 1 of this year.

Lagarde is a major name and player in international economics, despite having – in an odd similarity to America’s central bank chair, Jerome Powell – no traditional or technical economics schooling, instead bringing a legal background to the central bank. Nonetheless, she served as France’s Minister of Commerce; Minister of Agriculture; and Minister of the Economy, Finance, and Industry before being named IMF director in 2011. As IMF director, she presided over much of the extended IMF bailout for Greece during their sovereign debt crisis – an already rocky situation that was further complicated by the need to work in tandem with European institutions to handle the crisis. This supranational approach — which required delicate negotiation and consensus-building between the austere European North, international backers, and a debt-laden Greece — marks exactly the kind of leadership that is necessary as president of the ECB. In this episode, during which Greece became the first developed country to fail to repay an IMF loan in time, Lagarde was forced to buck pressure from key creditors, most notably Germany, and displayed the independence needed from a central banker in a Europe that is currently so politically and economically sensitive. 

Lagarde lacks a scholarly economic background and technocratic experience helming a monetary policy body, which makes her unique for a central bank head. This is unfortunate but does not disqualify her, if only because she has acted as a major figure in international economics for nearly a decade and should still bring credibility to the bank’s independence and stability. She is largely expected to carry on the policies of the Italian Mario Draghi, who has served as the bank’s president since 2011 and worked extensively alongside the IMF and European leaders to deal with the fallout of the Greek sovereign debt crisis and the extended Eurozone crisis. Draghi’s tenure has been marked by bold and proactive monetary management of the Eurozone that owes much to his academic, political, practical, and technical understanding of economics. While there is no doubt that Lagarde has political and practical experience in economic management, she would be well advised to lean on the ECB’s executive board and on the governors of the European countries’ national central banks for the technical economic analysis that made Draghi’s term so effective. If she can manage to work closely with Phillip Lane, the chief economist of the ECB, and rely on other technocrats at the bank, her political and supranational leadership will make for a strong tenure, and she will be prepared to whether the storms Europe is sure to face in the next eight years.


But who should take her current job?

 

Lagarde’s track record at the IMF has covered two major sagas in the fund’s history: the Greek crisis and the Argentinian bail-out, the results of the latter of which remain to be seen.1And, as the largest loan in the history of the IMF, will be a major validator for the successes (or failures) of the institution and of Lagarde’s leadership. Maintaining the continuation of the Argentinian program will require navigating through tricky waters there, soon to get trickier if Argentina’s current president, Mauricio Macri (who has been willing to work with the IMF and impose reforms needed to straighten out the domestic peso), loses reelection to Alberto Fernández in October.2Alberto Fernández’s running mate is Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Macri’s predecessor, whose policies, along with those of her predecessor (and husband) Nestor Kirchner, are to blame for many of Argentina’s current economic ailments. Other than Argentina, the IMF faces some daunting challenges to come: Turkey is undergoing its own rapidly deteriorating currency crisis, with the lira down over 30% against the dollar since the start of 2018 (though Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan currently seems unlikely to seek IMF aide); resistance from the United States to raising IMF members’ quotas (financial commitments which also translate to votes within the institution) which has required the IMF itself to rely on borrowing to fund its loans; and a new loan to the persistently reform-hesitant Pakistan (it is now on its 13th IMF program in the last 30 years). Lagarde’s steady hand and ability to assuage concerns across the spectrum of contributors, while boldly embracing new goals such as income inequality and climate change, will be missed, and leaves the IMF in desperate need of a strong successor.

Due to a long-standing (despite recent hesitation with David Malpass’ nomination and subsequent approval to head the World Bank, what with him being nominated by acclaimed anti-internationalist Donald Trump) understanding between the United States and Europe wherein America selects the World Bank president and Europe selects the IMF Director, there is one European name that stands out above the others as the most qualified (and likely) choice to replace Lagarde. That is Mark Carney, the current Governor of the Bank of England, also formerly the Governor of the Bank of Canada. A British, Canadian, and Irish citizen with a wealth of experience guiding Canada through the financial crisis (he boldly slashed rates in 2008, even while the ECB raised them), Carney was later named to the Bank of England, where he has been an avid realist about the economic threats Brexit will pose on the United Kingdom.  He’s worked diligently to guide a drop in the pound since the Brexit referendum, steer through fears of currency and trade-induced inflation, and attempted to provide forward guidance on the implications of Brexit’s uncertainty. His background also includes a lengthy stint as chair of the international Financial Stability Board, serving within the Bank of International Settlements, and work for Goldman Sachs on South African bond markets and on the Russian financial crisis of 1998. 

Carney (and his Irish citizenship) will no doubt garner him support within  “The Hanseatic League”, a group of Northern EU states that were unable to secure any of the big EU jobs, as they may feel they’re due some representation in international institutions. His cross-Atlantic experience, enviable resume, and internationally-renowned record despite his ostensibly domestic roles should more than make up for whatever he lacks in worldwide institutional management experience.

This is to say, Carney is a highly technically proficient central banker, which makes him a nice complement to Christine Lagarde. One will move from a key international role to a technocratic central bank, while the other might move from a technocratic central bank to a key international role. Both will be trading out of their traditional comfort zones, but in an era soon to be marked by new and increasingly interconnected global economic conditions, their experience and disparate backgrounds may be immensely useful when it comes to working together to build a cross-Europe and global consensus, and finding new solutions to the next economic crises they each may face.

Which Avenger is Each 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate?

Image Credit: Marvel

There are now 23 major candidates running for the Democratic nomination for president, and one or two more that seem likely to run or have expressed interest in doing so. That’s a lot of people to keep track of. Some are big names who have been around a while, and some are small names you probably will never hear from again. But they all got me thinking: in this, the year of 2019, there is really only one other newsmaking phenomenon that has the same star power, intrigue, cultural ubiquity, and overwhelmingly-large cast of characters: the Avengers.

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What if Pence Was Dropped from the Ticket in 2020?

In the summer of 2016, Indiana governor Mike Pence was selected as Donald Trump’s running mate. This choice was not to be made lightly, but reporting in June highlighted the struggles then-candidate Trump was facing in selecting a vice presidential candidate. Mainstream moderate Republicans had still refused to endorse him, a simmering consensus emerged that it was not an election Republicans were likely to win in November, and with the 2016 Senate race still in play, pulling candidates away from other key races was potential political suicide. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions (all early backers of Trump compared to most members of the party) were among the last names left on the shortlist, and the aim of the Trump campaign was clear. It would need someone who would “balance his brash populist persona with a political profile that includes deep experience in Washington or ties to the party establishment”, according to The Washington Post. We don’t really know whether Christie or Gingrich were ever made an offer to be on the ticket, or if they outright declined because they thought he would lose, or even whether Tom Cotton or eventually-to-be-sentenced Michael Flynn were ready to go on as vice president until Trump changed his mind at the last minute. However it played out, Mike Pence was selected, Donald Trump was elected, and we now live in a world where Pence is a heartbeat away from the presidency.

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How Game Theory Dooms the Challenger in Presidential Elections

Assuming the incumbent president runs for reelection, roughly every eight years there is an election in the United States that pits an incumbent president against the other party. In the upcoming 2020 election, that other party will be the Democrats, who are seeking to unseat President Donald Trump. Donald Trump is a historically unpopular president and the economy may be lessthanstellar come 2020, two factors that should indicate a competitive race. But there’s a problem – there could be around 15-20 candidates competing for the Democratic nomination to run against the incumbent president.1For the sake of this exercise, we are ignoring Bill Weld’s Republican primary challenge against Donald Trump, which seems unlikely to turn into much. An incumbent president has not lost renomination since Chester A. Arthur lost to James G. Blaine in 1884, but incumbent presidents have faced significant primary challenges that may have lead to their downfall, which I’ll discuss later.

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Sherrod Brown Could’ve Been the Perfect Democrat for 2020, But He Waited Too Long to Make a Move

(Photo Credit: Tony Dejak / AP)

Sherrod Brown will not be running for president. The Ohio Senator announced yesterday through surrogates that he was content with his role in the Senate and lacks the “consuming drive” to seek the highest office in the land. This announcement came as a shock on a number of levels. Brown hadn’t formally launched an exploratory committee, but he was engaged on a listening tour that took him through the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, where he extolled his trademark “dignity of work” concept, a New Deal-esque mantra that sounds more like a slogan that would be taped to the side of Woody Guthrie’s guitar than headlining the campaign of a legislator with over forty years of government experience. But Brown was considered a serious 2020 contender even before he embarked on this journey, and many observers viewed his status as a Midwestern Democrat with labor union bona fides as the perfect antidote to Donald Trump’s populist appeal.

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