Rise of the Moderate Democrat, Fall of the Moderate Republican: Earle I Mack on the Hill

By Earle I. Mack

Right now, the far right and far left are badgering their political parties, tugging at the anchors of our two-party system and, sadly, the heart of our country. This is natural, it’s our political pendulum. A pendulum starts in the middle and (like our politics) swings left and right — sometimes wildly — and eventually moderates again, settling in the middle. Our political pendulum has swung too far, and Republicans are going to pay for it.

By the day, by the campaign and by the policy, Republicans are watching their chances to hold on to the House and Senate fade away. What’s more, while turning off their base, they’re actually inspiring independents and moderates from both sides to gravitate toward the middle. Democrats have seized that middle ground through their rhetoric, some policy promises, and by forcing accused sexual assaulters like Sen. Al Franken(D-Minn.) or Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) to resign, all while Republican Roy Moore shamelessly campaigned and still hasn’t given up his quest to win the Senate seat in Alabama.

wo examples happening right now highlight this. First, Alabama — one of the most conservative red states in the country — just elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. A Democrat! Second, a tax bill is set to pass that could further disenfranchise, if not anger, some Republicans and right-leaning Independents throughout the country, especially in the Midwest.

Countless political pundits speculate that the Democrat won in Alabama because Moore was a flawed candidate, a clearly disturbed individual. Yet, look closer and you see something deeper. Democrats nominated a moderate in Doug Jones, with not the slightest hope he’d win. Once Moore’s credible accusers stepped forward, Jones stepped up his campaign, appealing to centrists with policy and rhetoric that galvanized African Americans, women and even young people. He simply appealed to sane people with a reasonable moral compass.

Many voters were undoubtedly spurred into action because Moore and his closely allied Republican ombudsman spewed vitriol and division. True leaders don’t divide. They inspire. Neither Moore nor Steve Bannon, who led the charge to nominate Moore, seem interested in inspiration or unity. They thrive on the outrageous, hoping to grab headlines. Sensible Republicans are quietly delighted Moore is gone. Many know that kind of far-right rage could spell doom for the Republican Congress in 2018.

Here’s the kicker, though. It’s not just outsiders wreaking havoc within the party. It’s insider establishment Republicans themselves, doing it unwittingly. While the Bannon philosophy just turned a section of the South purple for the time being, establishment Republicans are about to flip moderates in Midwestern states that went red — by miniscule margins — for Donald Trump, back to solid blue.

Some provisions in the Republican tax bill, to be voted on soon, are a colossal train wreck, terrible optics. Others are just bad policy or a wasted opportunity to correct injustices in our tax system. Republicans are capping state and local tax deductions, sometimes referred to as SALT. They’re doing this as a political move to stick their fingers in the eyes of tax-and-spend Democratic governors and mayors in deep-blue states such as New York, New Jersey and California. But let’s be clear: They’re not hurting the overwhelmingly wealthy people in any of those places, not in San Francisco, Los Angeles or Manhattan. They’re sticking it to Republican voters in the Midwest.

Midwestern voters who were inspired by Trump’s speeches, promising to focus on the middle class and put them first, are potentially going to get stuck with a larger tax bill than under President Obama. These hardworking voters who almost always vote Republican, even though they live in Democratic-controlled cities like Pittsburgh or Cincinnati, will not only pay more in taxes, they’ll be paying into a debt that will only get larger. That last point is part of the irony in all of this. As Republicans slash taxes, they have no interest in cutting the very same spending they complained about for years under Obama.

Now, let’s look at the optics of another crushingly disappointing part of the tax bill. Think mega-millionaires and -billionaires jetting off to their private enclaves like Martinique and Monaco. Think “Wolf of Wall Street” plugging around Italian ports in a yacht. Republicans might as well paint this picture after caving to big donors and not eliminating the infamous carried-interest deduction. They promised they would get rid of it, and it is still in the bill. That means big tax breaks for heads of hedge funds and private-equity managers will stay in place.

Both of those groups, by the way, share the approval ratings of Congress, which is to say they’re loved about as much as total hip-replacement surgery. By not eliminating this tax break, Republicans have opened themselves to Democratic talking points that kill them every time: Conservatives are nothing more than shills for Wall Street and corporate fat-cats.

Stanley Druckenmiller, an investor and hedge fund manager, summed it up best in a recent appearance on CNBC. He flat-out called the tax proposal unfair, saying, “You have these multi, multibillionaires with carve-outs.” He summed up carried interest as nothing more than “making money on somebody else’s capital,” adding, “If that’s not income, I don’t know what is.”

Keep in mind, these policies that cater to the rich come while we have 47 million people living below the poverty line. This kind of repulsive policy-making will lose moderates, many of whom are independents and could vote Republican. This is certainly a turnoff to the Midwest’s middle class, and Midwestern Republicans cannot afford to lose these voters. Take a look at the numbers, and you’ll see the razor-thin margins that Trump won by in 2016.

In Ohio, where voters adored his tough talk on trade, he won 52 percent to Clinton’s 44 percent. In Pennsylvania, where they loved his hard-charging America First policies, he won by only 1 point. Trump took Michigan and Wisconsin, but with less than a percentage point in each state. Voters who loved and believed in him propelled him to victory, but with the most miniscule margins.

Is there a blue wave rising from the Midwest? How about rise of purple in the South? Maybe. Certainly, the proverbial tide is shifting. With future Democratic poster-boy Roy Moore’s false morality still repulsing the country, and a tax bill frustrating voters from both parties, some (if not many) who leaned right last election will now gravitate left again.

The pendulum continues to swing. What I fear is next is a Democratic-controlled House and Senate working in unison, more cohesively than Republicans. Together, they could win back Midwesterners by reinstating SALT deductions, eliminating carried interest and keeping up a sensible push for moderates in the South. More worrisome are the dangerous far-left policies they will eventually pursue as they, too, begin to pull the pendulum even further left.

Right now, in America, this could be what’s called a pincer movement for Democrats. A pincer movement is a military term for a double envelopment in which armed forces simultaneously attack both sides of an enemy formation. Democrats just planted their flag in the South and are regrouping in the Midwest. The end of nationalism and populism may be upon us.

Earle Mack served as U.S. ambassador to Finland from 2004 to 2005. He was named chairman emeritus of the New York State Council of the Arts after serving as its chairman and chief executive officer from 1996 to 1999.

Read the full post from Earle I Mack on The Hill: http://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/365065-rise-of-the-moderate-democrat-fall-of-the-moderate-republican