Presidential debates: Candidates in search of that magic moment

Dan Guild reviews presidential polling since 1976 to gauge the impact of televised debates. -promoted by Laura Belin

Since the advent of television, politics and indeed history have occasionally turned on a few moments. Seldom do they last longer than 60 seconds (like wit, television values brevity above all else).

Senator Joe McCarthy, and the moment he led, were stopped when he was asked, “Have you no decency, sir?” During the Watergate hearings, Howard Baker summed up the entire scandal when he asked, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

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With four months left, Donald Trump follows in Jimmy Carter’s footsteps

Dan Guild continues to explore parallels between this year’s presidential campaign and what unfolded 40 years ago. -promoted by Laura Belin

I wrote in April that President Donald Trump was on the same path that led to the wholesale rejection of Jimmy Carter and the Democratic Party in 1980. With each passing day the similarities become stronger.  

U.S. Senate seats once considered safe for Republicans, like Iowa’s, are now dead heats. States that shifted to the Republicans in 2016 (Pennsylvania, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio) have moved decisively toward the Democrats. Texas is in play, and this week saw a very good pollster find Joe Biden with a 13-point lead in Pennsylvania.

Two enormous events–the Black Lives Matter protests and the COVID-19 crisis–have upended American politics, just as an oil crisis and a hostage crisis upended politics in 1980. Events seem out of control, as they did in 1980, and like then, the president seems completely out of his depth.

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The ghost of 1980

Based on the latest Iowa poll for the Des Moines Register, Dan Guild wonders whether history will repeat itself, with an unpopular president taking down U.S. senators from his party. -promoted by Laura Belin

The presidential election of 1980 was by far the most important election of my lifetime. It gave power to social conservatives who had never tasted power before (Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford were both pro-choice). It also brought to fore and gave explicit expression to white racial resentment when Ronald Reagan spoke of “welfare queens” driving Cadillacs.

The 1980 election changed not only Republican politics (every GOP nominee since has been pro-life) but also Democratic politics. In the aftermath of the Reagan presidency, Democrats began talking about “ending welfare as we know it.” President Bill Clinton signed a major welfare reform bill 45 days before the 1996 election, in which he had a significant lead.

What is difficult to explain to those who have no memory of 1980 is how shocking the results were. It was not just that Reagan won, but that Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate for the first time in decades. The GOP picked up twelve Senate seats, beating some well-liked Democrats with national reputations.

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Donald Carter Trump

Dan Guild examines opinion polls from 1979 and 1980 for clues on how the COVID-19 crisis could affect President Donald Trump’s approval. -promoted by Laura Belin

The White House predicts between 100,000 and 200,000 Americans may die because of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Ten million people in this country have lost their jobs in two weeks. Ian Bremmer noted that an estimated 3.5 billion people were in lockdown because of the pandemic, which probably makes it the most widely shared experience in human history.

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Bombs to balms

Paul W. Johnson is a preacher’s kid, returned Peace Corps volunteer, former state legislator, former chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service (now called the Natural Resources Conservation Service), a former director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and a retired farmer. -promoted by Laura Belin

I have reached a point in my life journey when I often wake at night and mull over the life this world and my country have given me. 

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The First Debate: Irresistible Force Meets Immovable Object

A must-read review of what recent history tells us about the impact of presidential debates. You can find Dan Guild’s past writing for this site here and here. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Debates have arguably remade the race for the Presidency in 1976, 1980, 2000, 2004 and 2012. Even in races where arguably they are less important, they still are significant events. Having said all of this there are patterns that repeat themselves. Guideposts that can help evaluate how they will affect this race. Here they are:

1. Typically debates consolidate support within their Party for each candidate. Where this is unequal, the candidate who is behind tends to benefit.

2. In races where there is significant discontent, debates often help the candidate of the party that is on the outside.

3. Third Parties frequently decline afterwards

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