“Andrew Jackson’s Lessons for Donald Trump” Article

            Like many other students in our class and around the country, I am still processing Trump’s election and what it will mean for the United States. This week I searched for an article about him, and one that Jon Meacham wrote titled Andrew Jackson’s Lessons for Donald Trump drew my attention.

Towards the beginning of the article, Meacham discusses how there are “surface similarities” between Trump and Andrew Jackson such as their “powerful personalities,” their campaigns which championed “freeing the country from established, ossified interests,” and the shock their election success brought to the traditional establishment (Meacham). Yet, the author highlights a sharp distinction between the two individuals: their political experience (Meacham). However, the most interesting statement that Meacham tells the reader is one that Senator Thomas Hart made about Jackson saying that “‘He always said the people would stand by those who stand by them’” (Meacham). Now, as Meacham says, “it is President Trump’s move” given Americans’ support of Trump (Meacham).

Meacham is right. America, although not the majority population, threw their support for Trump. Millions of Americans have entrusted him to lead our country through all of the challenges it is facing and will face in the coming years: Global Warming, a threatening North Korea, and economic/social problems right here in America. I, like all Americans should, want Trump to be a great president and support policy that will benefit all Americans and the world. Now, it is time for Trump to prove himself to the people and  rise to this challenge.

Here is a link to the article.

Why Duckworth soundly defeated Kirk in the Illinois Senate Race

After an expensive and brutal campaign fight between Representative Tammy Duckworth and Senator Mark Kirk, Duckworth won the election by an astounding 14.2 points. This landslide victory for Duckworth is surprising given that “incumbents possess substantial advantages over challengers,” but there are factors before and during the campaign season that contributed to Mark Kirk’s monumental defeat (Herrnson, 266). Kirk’s loss of endorsements from a scandal, the media coverage around the event, and the overall mood among Illinois voters including the coattail effect all led to Tammy Duckworth being chosen to be Illinois’ new junior senator.

One of the most surprising, and possibly scandalous moments during the campaign, was when Kirk “questioned [Duckworth’s family] ties to the American Revolution during a Senate debate” which brought about accusations of him being “‘offensive, wrong, and racist’”. It is important to note that even before this scandal, Kirk had increasingly been receiving poor polling numbers, and an accusation like this, on live television during a debate with Duckworth, hurt his chances of reelection. As Herrnson notes, scandals can be “important in determining an incumbent’s vote share,” and it is certain that this event adversely eroded his support (253). While the scandal was hurtful enough to Kirk’s campaign, the resulting loss of vital endorsements solidified his almost certain destiny to failure. Endorsements are essential to any campaign, and the revocation of support from the Human Rights Campaign and Americans for Responsible Solutions, who then declared they back Duckworth, significantly damaged the incumbent’s campaign (Crowder-Meyer, November 14, 2016).

In addition, the media’s extensive coverage of Kirk’s scandal undermined his reelection bid. First of all, campaign debates are dangerous for incumbents since they “can place a challenger on equal footing with an incumbent,” and this exactly happened during the second debate in which Kirk made a racist remark about his opponent (Herrnson, 241). Following the comments, many media outlets, such as CNN, NPR, and PBS, flocked to cover the event more than they had covered the rest of the campaign. By extensively reporting this topic, the media was agenda-setting and making “the public…view that issue as important” and perhaps even priming this event “to take on greater weight in political judgment, such as voting” (Hayes, 57). Such a discussed statement could have persuaded voters to use this one event, rather than Kirk’s policy views, when voting. Mediated communication is “more trustworthy than direct communication,” so perhaps media users placed greater weight on this information than that from direct communication (Crowder-Meyer, October 21, 2016). Nevertheless, it is clear that the media coverage surrounding the scandal significantly hurt Kirk’s campaign.

Another vital factor contributing to Kirk’s astonishing defeat could have been the coattail effect and the negative mood among Illinois voters. Kirk was elected in 2010 during a political “wave election” that in many ways was a referendum on President Obama and the Democratic Party (Crowder-Meyer, September 23, 2016). Herrnson notes “nationalized elections result in…an unusually large number of challengers getting elected,” and Kirk surprisingly defeated an incumbent Democrat in a traditionally solid Democratic state in 2010 (28). Given that Illinois is a blue state, it would make sense for Kirk to struggle to maintain his seat in 2016. In addition, Hillary Clinton’s significant polling advantage within Illinois and the United States could have also contributed to the coattail effect which might have led voters to vote for Duckworth given that “coattails contribute more to congressional election results in presidential years than does anticipatory balancing.” (Erikson, 570). In addition, the general electorate attitude, especially the direction of Illinois and that of Kirk, was incredibly negative with only 14% thinking Illinois was headed in the right direction and a mere 35% of Illinoisans approving Kirk’s work in Congress. It is very likely coattails and this voter sentiment greatly reduced Kirk’s chances of reelection given “the political setting in a given election year has an impact on incumbents’ prospects for reelection.” (Herrnson, 34).

From devastating scandals to excessive media coverage to coattails and negative voter sentiment, Kirk faced an increasingly difficult task of maintaining his senate seat which is normally an easy undertaking for an incumbent given their traditional advantages (Herrnson, 266). Had these factors not been present in this election, than perhaps, like many of his fellow Republican incumbents in the Senate, Mark Kirk would have won.

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A Lesson for the Democratic Party

After reflecting on the shocking outcome of the elections this past week, I was curious as to what the Democratic Party will do to make itself grow and perhaps retake control in the 2018 congressional elections and beyond. One opinion article, from The New York Times, explained the Democratic Party’s surprising loss in this election, and I wanted to bring it to this blog’s attention.

Frank Bruni, the author, first mentions how the Democratic Party had “adopted a strategy of inclusiveness that excluded a hefty share of Americans and consigned many to a ‘basket of deplorables’ who aren’t all deplorable.” The author recognizes that there are many Trump supporters who fit this description, but he states that “some [of these individuals] are hurt. Some are confused.” The idea of the decline of the white working class has been a relatively common theme in this election, but it seems as though the Democratic Party failed to cater to these voters. This group has been ignored in the past, and it seems the media has a constant fixation with a candidate’s need to win the minority vote rather than the working class white American vote.

The Democratic Party now has the opportunity to grow and embrace this ignored section of the electorate. Yes, there are racists, homophobes, and xenophobes among this group. However, reaching out to non-racist white working class Americans, those who are, as Frank Bruni says, “hurt” and “confused,” will help strengthen the party and perhaps make way for a takeover of Congress in the 2018 midterm elections and beyond as Bruni highlights in this article.

 

Media Coverage in the 2016 Illinois Senate Race

After an examination of national news sources, particularly The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, there is a surprisingly small amount of media coverage about the 2016 Senate race in Illinois. The media actively seeks “conflict and drama,” so the majority of national reporting has been merely covering Kirks’ struggle to maintain his Senate seat (Hayes, 56). Most articles from these two national sources report Kirk as being “vulnerable” perhaps being even the “most vulnerable Republican senator up for re-election,” rather than covering substantive issues facing Illinoisans. Given Kirk’s seemingly uphill battle to win this election, the media is committed to following “the conflict,” and thus poses a threat to his campaign since he cannot control the pessimistic media tone from reaching voters (Crowder-Meyer, October 21, 2016).

Being the challenger, Tammy Duckworth has received relatively little national media coverage from either The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. For instance in the past six months, The New York Times has only published three articles that even mention her, some merely discussing how Duckworth did not receive endorsements from gun control groups or her stance on the TPP. In this sense, Duckworth might struggle with name recognition among voters as she is not being discussed nearly as much as the incumbent.

More importantly than national news, however, is the local media’s coverage of the race. There has been a significant focus on Donald Trump and the relationship between him and Kirk. Being from the Republican Party, it was surprising that Kirk quickly withdrew his support of Trump, and there have been numerous articles, from sources such as Herald & Review and the Chicago Sun-Times, that highlight Kirk’s aversion to Trump. Individuals trust the news media more than campaigns, and this repeated coverage is perhaps priming Illinoisans to value Trump as an important issue when voting (Crowder-Meyer, October 21, 2016). As Hayes mentions in his work, “the more attention the media devote to an issue, the more likely the public is to view that issue as important.” (57) It is unclear whether this denouncement of Trump is significant enough to help define this important issue as: Kirk does not support Trump, rather than, Trump is the Republican nominee and Kirk is a Republican. Nevertheless, Kirk’s numerous attempts to distance himself from Trump, and the media’s repeated priming of this topic, might help him in November in a state where Donald Trump averages 14.7 points behind Hillary Clinton.

This election season has brought about questions other than pure politics of Donald Trump such as of both candidates’ fit for office given their disabilities. This race is notable since it pits two disabled and experienced politicians against each other. In a surprising note of endorsement from The Chicago Tribune, a well-respected newspaper company based in Chicago, they claim that “While a stroke by no means disqualifies anyone from public office, we cannot tiptoe around the issue of Kirk’s recovery and readiness” because “His health is a fundamental component of this race.” Little attention, however, is given towards Duckworth’s loss of two legs due to her serving in Iraq. Media focus has continued to center on Kirk’s stroke and recovery. In particular, an article from the CBS Chicago discusses Kirk’s surgeon’s statement that “he has made a full cognitive recovery from his ischemic stroke” and Duckworth’s assertion that Kirk is “‘unhinged’” after Kirk made an inappropriate statement about President Obama. The media enjoys this topic as it plays into their “narrative” about each candidate, and they are in fact priming how individuals “evaluate” these two candidates and framing how this disability is a negative aspect of Kirk (Crowder-Meyer, October, 21, 2016). It is rather disturbing seeing such scrutiny on an uncontrollable physical aspect of a candidate and knowing it will “[form] what [the voters] think is important.” (Crowder-Meyer, October 24, 2016).

After a thorough examination of this campaign, it is clear that the local media coverage is priming voters and framing certain issues while the national media is generally avoiding discussing important issues in this race. This type of influence is significant in such an important race, but it is unclear how much it will change the outcome, if at all, on Election Day.

 

 

Campaign Finance in Illinois Senate Race

As Kirk and Duckworth’s campaigns prepare for the final few weeks before Election Day, the fight for raising funds from a variety of outlets continues. This election has one incumbent and one challenger, and it is clear that “incumbency is the primary explanation for differences in campaign fund-raising” when looking at pure data from the Federal Elections Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics (Herrnson, 170). Both Kirk and Duckworth have raised a similar amount of money, Kirk having raised $11,321,067 and Duckworth having raised $10,115,839, but their fundraising outlets are surprisingly different.

Mark Kirk, being an incumbent Republican, had more cash to start his campaign, than Tammy Duckworth, and this difference in starting money is significant. Herrnson explains that the “Senate incumbents’ most immediate advantage at the beginning of the election cycle is the funds already in their possession.” (196) Mark Kirk had more than two million dollars at the beginning of January 2015, and was already well prepared for this difficult campaign. However, Tammy Duckworth had $0 at the beginning of January 2015 and had plenty of work ahead of her to compete with Kirk’s already notable funding lead.

In addition to there being an enormous difference between Kirk and Duckworth’s starting money in January 2015, both candidates received strikingly different percentages of funding to their campaign from small individual contributions. Tammy Duckworth has funded 30% of her campaign from small individual contributions, which is significantly larger than the 15% average funding from small individual contributions that the Center for Responsive Politics and Federal Election Commission reported in the 2014 Senate elections (Herrnson, 194). It is clear that Duckworth is raising more money from small donors than normal which suggests that she is possibly more attractive to average Americans. For Kirk, small individual contributions are an insignificant part of his campaign funding. A mere 7% of the money raised by Kirk’s campaign came from individual contributions and reflects Kirk’s greater reliance on large contributions and PACs. As Francia et. al note, “Democratic donors are somewhat less affluent than GOP donors,” which supports findings that Tammy Duckworth, as the Democrat, receives more small donations while Mark Kirk, receives fewer small donations but a greater number of large individual contributions (37-39).

While Duckworth receives significantly more money more from small donations than Kirk, the incumbent raises more money from PACS, particularly business PACs, than his opponent. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that 25% of the incumbents’ contributions came from PACS while only 10% of contributions raised in Duckworth’s campaign came from PACs. It is no surprise that the GOP leader has more support from PACS as Herrnson notes that “GOP candidates [have enjoyed] somewhat more success with PACS,” but it is astounding that such a large percentage of Kirk’s campaign financing comes from large donors (Herrnson, 194). In fact, 77% of these PAC donations came from business PACs which suggests many of these donors could be investors who are hoping for “material incentives” (Crowder-Meyer, October, 14, 2016). On the other hand, Tammy Duckworth has received 44%, the largest PAC donor group, from ideological PACs which suggests that perhaps ideologues with specific policy hopes are contributing to her campaign (Crowder-Meyer, October 14, 2016). After looking at numbers from the Center for Responsive Politics, one can see that Kirk receives more contributions from PACs, the majority of which are from business PACs, compared to his competitor who receives significantly less donations from PACs, although the majority of which are from ideological PACs.

When analyzing any campaign, it is important to understand its particular financing strategy and the identities of donors as they have the power to “prevent equal representation” or “engage [the public] in politics.” (Crowder-Meyer, October 14, 2016). With this in mind, it will be interesting to see how the winner of this election will serve the people of Illinois given how one candidate relies on large donors and PACs, mostly from businesses, while the other depends on small independent contributions to fund their campaign.

 

Party and Outside Influence in the Illinois Senate Race

Given the competitiveness of the 2016 Senate Race in Illinois, numerous organizations have inundated the campaigns with funds, but some groups are prevented from making large donations. Mark Kirk, the current incumbent senator, is vulnerable, yet restrictions on political party organizations have limited the amount of money that can flow to him and his competitor, Tammy Duckworth (Herrnson, 102). These restrictions combined with the idea that “national committees’ involvement in…Senate elections tends to be relatively limited,” are clear after seeing the Republican Party donated a mere $46,800 to Kirk and the Democratic Party donated $48,300 to Duckworth (Herrnson, 94). Political parties still can fund candidates by hosting fundraisers, and President Obama’s visit to a Duckworth fundraising event in Chicago that supposedly will benefit the Illinois Coordinated Victory Fund shows this rather influential power (Crowder Meyer, October 5, 2016). Other than the president, some groups, such as the Chicago Tribune and the LPAC (Lesbian Political Action Committee) support Duckworth. Given the turmoil within the Republican Party, it is understandable that few party leaders endorse Kirk especially given criticism of his breaking away from the party’s nominee, Donald Trump. However, significant organizations and PACS, such as the Human Rights Campaign and Americans for Responsible Solutions, have thrown their support for the relatively moderate incumbent.

More importantly, however, than the national party’s direct influence on the campaign is the influence of PACs, organizations, and Super PACs given their generally fewer restrictions on the amount of legal campaign contributions (Crowder-Meyer, October 7, 2016). While Super PACs have spent large sums of money on both candidates, it is clear that Kirk supporters rather than those who support Duckworth have spent more money. A staggering $1,480,584, mostly from the Super PAC Independent Voice For Illinois, was spent towards opposing Tammy Duckworth while a mere $33,666 from a mix of Super PACs and 501c organizations sought to oppose Senator Kirk. These numbers, although enormously different, reflect the Republican financial advantage in this particular campaign and the general “trend toward a greater concentration in the sources of interest group money” rather than towards party organizations (Herrnson, 146).

After further investigation as to the source of the funds from the Independent Voice for Illinois, “the biggest donation to the group, $100,000 [as of April 2016] came from the Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp., whose chairman, Robert Murray donated to Kirk’s 2010 Senate campaign.” Interest groups are “oftentimes just a very few number of highly wealthy individuals,” and evidence from the Chicago Sun-Times highlights this significant argument (Crowder-Meyer, October 7, 2016). Although these donation amounts seem exorbitant, outside spending in Illinois ranks twelfth out of twenty-five senate races, and the total spending of around $3.2 million fails to rival the top four Senate elections which have received at least $45 million from outside spenders. The Illinois Senate race remains competitive and an incredibly important race to win for Republicans if they want to maintain control of the Senate, but the surprising small amount of funds (relative to the other Senate elections) shows that perhaps this is not a significant ‘target’ race in the eyes of donors.

Upon examining the flow of money to support and damage Senator Kirk and Representative Duckworth’s campaigns, it seems party organizations do not donate nearly as much money to campaigns as outside groups (such as PACs, Super PACs and non-profits). Party organizations can “provide campaign services” and “influence strategy,” yet the enormous flow of money to candidates from outside sources highlights their increasing controversial importance in campaigns (Crowder-Meyer, October 5, 2016 and Herrnson, 145)

 

Life Outside a Battleground State

The Electoral College has been a point of contention for many years, and residents in the few remaining battleground states greatly benefit from living in these places during the presidential campaign season (Liptak). Interestingly, the number of battleground states has sharply fallen over time due to “‘the recent tendency of like-minded people to live near one another’” according to Bill Bishop (as cited in Liptak). No matter the reason for this change in demographics, individuals who live in one of these states “are listened to more attentively… and their concerns are more likely to influence policy and spending.” (Liptak)

All Americans, regardless of something so trivial as place of residence, should be equally listened to, and it is a shame that people from a few select states receive such favorable treatment. Sadly, individuals who are less fortunate and do not live in a battleground state suffer more than those from the middle class as a study by Gimpel et. al showed “the impact of residing in an uncontested state is highly detrimental to the participation of the less educated, low income, and the non-ideological” (792). Life in one of the few battleground states benefits those from various backgrounds, yet the disadvantages for those in non-battleground states, particularly those who are underprivileged, is disconcerting for an America that prides itself on its “liberty and justice for all.” (ushistory.org)