In construction, the plumb line is a definitive means of measuring a line that is perfectly straight up and down with gravity. Building at an angle is inherently unstable.
Can this truth be useful in measuring public affairs? Are there analyzes that if followed will produce better results? In short is there a relationship between physics and obtaining and using political power?
I recognize that politics and precision are largely unrelated. At best we allocate power by choosing people we believe have the character and intuitive talent to exercise power in the moment. We know that when a Presidency begins, circumstances we could not have anticipated often take over.
Today public opinion polls agree on one thing: the public does not want a rematch of President Biden and former President Trump.
Predictably President Biden and his followers insist he deserves another term. His followers have a stake in another four years. Or, a case can be made that Biden, is trying to avoid, as long as he can, lame duck status?
A majority of Democrats want a new standard-bearer. Time is slipping away unless they want Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Primaries exist to enable competition and voter choice. And that is where Robert Kennedy Jr. comes in—the past shadowing the present.
The last incumbent who attempted to outstay his welcome in his own Party was Lyndon Johnson in 1968. He only withdrew after being embarrassed in the first primary in New Hampshire by Senator Eugene McCarthy. While Johnson won the raw vote, he fell under 50%; NPR characterized the end result: “shattered expectations”.
And when Johnson stood down, Robert F. Kennedy, the brother of President John F Kennedy and a US Senator from New York emerged and most believe would have secured the nomination if he had not been assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan. Kennedy’s popularity was in part derived from the tragic end to his brother’s presidency, again, by an assassin.
Now I know that the youngest cohorts of voters have not marinated in the Kennedy culture. But then their percentage of participation in elections is relatively low compared to those who do remember and have at least a lingering affection for the Kennedys. And how many younger voters want to renominate an 80-year-old candidate?
It is, of course, easy to assume that Kennedy will suffer an irreparable fall in standing for his anti-vaccine posture. Yet during the Covid lock down period actions were taken that at the time were unpopular but accepted as necessary and today are regarded as serious errors of judgment. Closing down schools leads the list.
As President Biden would say, “here’s the deal”. The President is old and experiences lapses that often accompany his age. And the most vivid event during his presidency was the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. My guess is that these two facts will continue to disable him politically.
Many of those who make politics their life calling understand the problem but anticipate a re-run of 2020 against an even more unpopular Donald Trump. Maybe the rematch that few want will happen. Given the stakes for our complicated country, living through disruptive times, I hope not. BCA Research, which enjoys a prestigious international reputation, in characterizing the risk from Artificial Intelligence (AI), noted: “The safety risks around AI are huge, and we think there is a more than 50/50 chance AI will wipe out all of humanity by the middle of the century.” Yes, we live in disruptive times.
On the other side of the political equation Trump does not seem to be scaring his challengers. He now has eight (plausible) competitors. And I predict that within hours of the New Hampshire Primary vote counting the field of challengers will be no more than two. Money, what Jesse Unruh, a California political power in the Democratic Party in the 1960s and 70s characterized as the “mother milk of politics”, will shift overnight.
It should also be noted that none of the Republican candidates are weighed down by an unpopular choice for a vice-presidential running mate.
So, Trump might win but I doubt it—the center of gravity has shifted. Plumb line testing is in order and as the lead weight swings back and forth searching for gravity, I don’t think it will center on Trump.
One final note. Political parties are a weak institution because our laws protect a monopoly of power. And instead of using a plumb line to find the center of gravity politicians run to power. Power displaces measurement.
A good example of an institutional bias against competition just happened in golf. The Professional Golfers Association has spent the last year attacking LIV Golf, the Saudi-based start-up, that was to bring some competition to the world of professional golf. In the last week they decided to merge. Those on top will do anything to stay there; competition be damned.
Golfers play for money; Presidents play for keeps.
Just in. Former President Trump has been indicted by a Grand Jury sitting in Florida for illegal handling of classified information.
Predictably. Significant Republican officeholders including the Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy and Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis claim it is a political prosecution.
Prediction: Republican leaders are on a countdown to terminating the Grand Old Party (GOP) in deference to Trump. Perhaps: The Trumpist Party. Purpose: Trump whisperer.
Preference: Belief that safeguards assured criminal defendants and associated requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt are superior to political rhetoric.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.