Heitkamp, Kolbe predict Biden victory but see problems ahead
With the presidential race undecided today, former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and former Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., both predicted that Biden will be elected president, but said there are many problems ahead both in the transition period and Biden presidency amid the continuing urban-rural divide.
Heitkamp is a potential Agriculture secretary in a Biden administration. Kolbe endorsed Biden.
In a “Morning After” Zoom event sponsored by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, Heitkamp and Kolbe said they expect President Donald Trump to do all in his power to challenge a Biden victory but that if Biden is elected there will still be divided government because the Senate is likely to be controlled by the Republicans while the House is controlled by the Democrats.
Heitkamp said there will be “divided government with a likely Democratic president.”
Kolbe said, “We have a very, very divided country. That is a very ominous sign for our friends in Europe and around the world. I am personally discouraged and pessimistic about how we are going to go forward here.”
Kolbe said as long as the country remains divided, the United States will not be able to reassume its role of leadership, but Heitkamp said she believes Biden would improve relations with U.S. allies.
Trump, Kolbe added, had made “an outrageous speech” in the middle of the night, claiming victory in the race while votes are still being counted.
“Trump is not going to go away between now and January 20,” Kolbe said. As the electoral process moves toward the Electoral College vote in December and the counting by Congress in January, Trump “is going to try to claim this is fraudulent,” Kolbe said.
Heitkamp said if Biden is announced as the presumptive president, “there is a very high likelihood there will be violence.”
Heitkamp played down the idea that the elections will end up in the Supreme Court, noting that elections are run by the states. Challenges are likely to go through the state courts, she said.
If Biden gets into office, the divisions between the Democratic-led House and the Republican-led Senate will continue to plague the presidency, the former lawmakers said.
Just as Trump governed by executive order, there will be tremendous pressure on Biden from the left to use executive orders, Heitkamp said.
Kolbe said the reason so many issues are ending up in the courts is that a divided Congress passes laws that are “unspecific.”
Heitkamp, a lawyer who was attorney general of North Dakota, said people should keep their eye on Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who does not want the court to function as a kind of super legislative branch.
Heitkamp said her observation is that “Roberts is tired of having to decide DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] and may believe in sending issues such as the Affordable Care Act and immigration reform back to the Congress, which should be writing the laws.
Heitkamp and Kolbe both said they believe Biden would rejoin the Paris Climate Accord by executive order. Heitkamp noted that President Barack Obama joined it by executive order and did not seek Senate approval. Kolbe said he thinks Biden will not make a big deal of rejoining the accord.
GMF President Karen Donfrield, who moderated the event, noted that Trump did not try to appeal to independents. Kolbe, Heitkamp and Meghan Kelly, director of business expansion services for the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia and young leader alumna of Atlantik-Brücke, a co-sponsor of the event, discussed the future of the political parties and Trump’s appeal, with an eye toward explaining the appeal to the Europeans who were on the call.
Kolbe noted that, in Arizona, Biden had found his base in the changing demographics of Maricopa County, which has 70% of the state’s population.
Kolbe, a longtime Republican advocate for free trade, said there will be effort to get the GOP back to its principles, but said he is not sure it will be successful because Trump and his followers are in charge of the party.
Heitkamp noted that the Republican Party “has always been the party of fiscal discipline, but Trump throws money in the air” and asked where the party goes on issues of free trade and fiscal discipline.
If Biden becomes president, Heitkamp said, there will be less pressure from progressives. If he loses, the progressives will say another agenda could have gotten more Hispanics and African-Americans to the polls.
Heitkamp said that Trump follows public sentiment, telling his supporters what they want to hear rather than leading.
On the coronavirus, Trump has said that the government has done all it can, that people need to get on with their lives until there is a vaccine.
“That is a message that resonates with people [who] want to get about their normal lives,” Heitkamp said. “Trump gave people permission to handle the virus in a dangerous and careless way.”
If Trump had told his supporters to wear masks, Heitkamp said, she is not sure they would have followed him.
“He is pretty good at hearing the tune, getting in front and leading the parade. That bodes poorly for the future of our country,” Heitkamp added.
Heitkamp also noted that under Obama there was “hyper” attention to political correctness, and Trump is the reverse of that.
People say that “Trump tells it like it, there is no bullshit,” Heitkamp added.
“Then there is that muscular thing, it is almost a machismo,” Heitkamp said. “That is why we have this incredible gender gap.”
She noted that some people say the Democratic Party is the “mother” party, which tells people what to do, the Republican Party is the “daddy” party that lets them do what they want.
“Shy Trump voters existed, they came out and voted in droves. You can’t oversimplify the attraction to Trump – that he is a Svengali or Rasputin, where he leads them,” Heitkamp said.
Kelly, who described herself as a millennial working woman, suburban mother and conservative, said there are “shy” Trump voters because it so socially unacceptable to be conservative in a millennial setting.
Suburban women, Kelly said, are tired of Trump’s “bullying” because they think it is a bad example for their children. They are also feeling pressure from the coronavirus because they are caretakers and teachers for the children. But the suburban moms are “also exhausted and outraged that their kids are not in school” and are writing their school boards to reopen. But the schools are controlled by the states and localities, she noted.
Another issue, she said, is energy workers. Western Pennsylvania is a leading producer of shale gas and natural gas. A majority of Pennsylvanians oppose fracking, which “does not match” the state’s dependency on fracking, she said. Biden has made comments critical of fracking, although he maintains that he is not opposed to it on private land.
Heitkamp noted that when she brought up energy workers in the Democratic caucus when she was in the Senate, she was not popular.
Heitkamp noted that rural America voted Democratic in the years after Franklin Roosevelt was president and improved the infrastructure in rural America, but has now become reliably Republican.
Kelly said there has been a loss of decorum and discussion, but said she believes the media censors that discussion.
Heitkamp pointed out a Brookings Institution article that says Democrats understand “vertical inequality,” which is most visible in large cities where extremes of wealth and poverty exist in close proximity, while Republicans pay more attention to “horizontal inequality,” focused on differences in wealth, income, and growth between the big cities — mostly on the coasts, and the rest of America in the Heartland where agriculture and manufacturing have been in a long-term decline.
Republicans and Democrats need to come together in understanding the inequality issue, she said.
“There needs to be a dialogue outside politics,” said Heitkamp, who started a project called One Country.
“Joe Biden can’t heal the country until we stop yelling at each other.”
–The Hagstrom Report
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