Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Advice for Joe Biden's 2020 running mate in USA Today


'The vice presidency is a good gig': Here's some advice for Joe Biden's 2020 running mate


Aaron Mannes, Opinion contributor Published 5:02 a.m. ET Aug. 2, 2020

You didn’t become vice president just for future opportunities. You want to make a difference now. There’s good news and bad news.

Congratulations on being selected as Joe Biden’s running mate. If the polls hold, you’ll be the first female vice president of the United States. (Don’t take too much credit for the win, or blame if you lose. Research shows that the vice presidential candidate doesn’t make much difference.)

The vice presidency is a good gig. It comes with a plane, a nice house and lots of high-profile appearances. It provides a good chance of becoming president. Of the 48 vice presidents, 14 have become president (15, if Biden is elected). Again, if Biden is elected then in the past 14 presidential elections, three vice presidents have been elected president (Nixon, Bush and Biden) and two others came very close (Humphrey and Gore).

But you didn’t become vice president just for future opportunities. You want to make a difference now. There’s good news and bad news. Good news, first.

Good news for the potential next VP

In 1976, Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter revolutionized the vice presidency. Historically, the office was mostly the butt of jokes, what historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. called a constitutional "appendix.” Carter viewed this as waste. The former Georgia governor chose Walter Mondale, a respected Democratic senator from Minnesota, for their personal and political compatibility. This was an innovation in its own right — previous presidential nominees hadn’t given it much thought. Carter ensured his vice president would have access to the president and the White House policy process. This included a weekly private lunch with the president and entrée for the vice president and his staff to White House meetings and paper flow at every level. Most important was giving Mondale a West Wing office. In the White House things happen on the fly, but unlike his predecessors, Mondale could look in on the national security adviser or chief of staff — whose offices are right next door, or see the president in the Oval Office down the hall.

These vice presidential perquisites have continued and expanded. Mondale’s chief of staff was also made a member of the White House staff, giving him access to the White House. By 2016, the final full year of Biden’s vice presidency under President Barack Obama, eight people from his office were also on the White House staff.

Biden, as a two-term vice president, chose you for the ticket because you are “simpatico.” Biden won’t cut you out of the process, like President Richard Nixon did to Vice President Spiro Agnew, who he despised. You will see the president often and know what’s going on in the White House.

There’s stuff you should do to keep things this way. Presidents hate leaks. You can give the president unvarnished advice, even disagree with him, but do it privately. Stories of president-vice president disagreements will be bad for both of you. Don’t let your staff leak either. Dan Quayle didn’t have a great hand to play as vice president in President George H.W. Bush’s administration, but his staffers leaking White House dirt didn’t help. And when the president makes a decision, like it or not, publicly support it.

Bad news for Biden's VP candidate

Now the bad news: Biden knows how to “president.” The expansion of the vice president’s role has coincided with a string of outsider presidents who came to office with little or no experience in D.C.—governors (and also Obama who had only been in the Senate for four years). They turned to their vice presidents when they faced new issues such as national security, and unfamiliar Washington institutions, like Congress.

Biden was vice president for eight years and a senator from Delaware for 36 years. What can you tell him about Congress or world affairs that he won’t already know? Further, Biden has plenty of experienced advisers. Outsider presidents have turned to the experienced staffers of their insider vice presidents. When incoming President Ronald Reagan saw his team needed more Washington experience, he turned to James Baker, campaign manager and close friend of his GOP primary rival-turned-vice president, George H.W. Bush. As White House Chief of Staff the uber-effective Baker played a critical role in making the Reagan Revolution a reality. 

Serving an insider president puts you in a similar position to Dan Quayle, who found the job mostly fundraising and funerals.

All is not hopeless. One presidential resource is finite: time. Find areas that are important, but the president lacks the time to address. Quayle did useful diplomacy in Latin America and Asia, where the president’s national security team — focused on Europe and the Middle East — didn’t have time. Alternately, the president may have an issue in which he is heavily invested and assigns you to reinforce this commitment. President Bill Clinton was deeply interested in Russia and assigned Vice President Al Gore to oversee a bilateral commission to strengthen those ties. 

Unattached to any bureaucracy and with a unique convening power, vice presidents can be a force multiplier and bring focus to key issues. George H.W. Bush oversaw regulatory reform and a counter-terror task force. Besides several bilateral commissions, Gore ran the reinventing government initiative. Biden managed the stimulus spending for Obama. Biden will probably give you a few such assignments. 

Biden is famously friendly, you’ll get along great with him. But that doesn’t mean that your efforts mesh politically with the White House, which is a big bureaucracy in its own right. Having some of your staffers in senior White House positions would be great, but unlikely. Encourage your staff to get close to their White House counterparts, and consider bringing experienced Biden staffers onto your team.

Your job is to help the president any way that you can. Everything you know about the president — what he’s worried about, what he needs, what he doesn’t know that he should — can help you help him.

Congratulations and good luck. We all are wishing you every success — we’re all counting on you.

Aaron Mannes is a lecturer at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy. He wrote his dissertation on vice presidential influence. Follow him on Twitter: @awmannes

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Jessica Jones and Presidential Authority

Hey fans (do I have any?), it's been awhile. I have a day job and I'm trying ... trying... to write a book.

For the book I'm thinking about what the politics of reconstruction will look like in an age of Creedal Passion. If none of this makes sense to you, read this. A big part of that is really getting the work of Stephen Skowronek on presidential time.

Have you read the links, great, let's move on.

Central to Skowronek's thesis is that presidents have tremendous power (this responding to Richard Neustadt's great Presidential Power, which argues that presidents are actually quite limited in their power and must bargain to get anything done). The great presidents not only have power, they have authority - they have a warrant to exercise their power. Skowronek argues that this warrant is shaped, as much by the president's actions, as by the time in the political cycle in which they operate.

To get my head around all of this, I needed to understand what it means to have power, without authority (with a dayjob in government, I understand the reverse.) It all came together, watching Jessica Jones on Netflix. This is a tremendous series based on a Marvel comic book which Netflix has chosen to end after its third season (here's hoping that will change!)

Jones is a powered individual (there are others) who has enormous strength. I'd guess she is roughly 100 times as strong as an average person. In one scene she casually tosses a full-grown adult into the air and they land twenty-feet away. I figure I could do the same with a lawn chair. She is bullet-resistant, but not bullet-proof. She can definitely be hurt. She lives openly, working as a private eye and she's got an interesting and complex backstory and lots of issues. Just watch the series.

So she has power. She can wander around town beating up bad guys, breaking into buildings, what have you. She has no warrant to do so. The police get touchy about her exercising her powers and there is a great deal of public suspicion of powered individuals. If she uses her powers in a public way which is not approved, she is seen as a greater threat than the criminals she is fighting.

She can fight the police, and win, for a time. But she can't fight the entire police force, which can bring to bear some formidable weaponry. Thus she needs to cultivate police support (something that Jones, who is extremely touchy, finds very difficult.) This is a trope in pretty much every story involving a private detective, constantly pressing against and sometimes beyond the boundaries of what the police find acceptable. But a super-powered person has far greater freedom to press against the boundaries. The police do not want to take her on - she can easily break out of prisons - also she can punch people to death. On the other hand, her ability to become the object of public hatred is
much, much greater than a typical P.I.

As Jessica Jones uses her powers, she starts to accumulate enemies. Eventually those enemies could bring her down. If she can obtain authority to use her powers, support from the police and some modicum of public acceptance, she can at least negate some of this opposition.

One of Jessica Jones' responses to this challenge is to be a good private investigator. She can get into places others can't (she can jump on top of building for example and break locks.) But she still needs to know what to look for and where. She works hard on these skills so that she can maximize the use of her power.

I started writing comparisons to recent and current presidents to illustrate all of this further - but why bother. But if you insist on that, maybe read this by Daniel Drezner.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Presidents Day Special: The Greatest Veep

Today is Presidents Day, the day we honor the people who have held our nation's highest office. I'm skeptical of this holiday - not all of them were so great. I preferred honoring the greats with a day. We used to celebrate the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln, and that was enough. We shouldn't add to the list so lightly. Besides I'm not sure there is another president who can join them. Jefferson was undoubtedly a great man - but also a problematic one. Same with FDR. I'm not sure there is another president who really comes close.

A few years I spent some time considering the question of who was our greatest president - outside of the presidency. That is, who had the most distinguished post-presidency, who performed the greatest public service, the greatest work outside of politics, and the most successful military career. I won't recapitulate my findings, give it a read here.

But I thought I would do the same this year for vice presidents. Who was our greatest VP? What does that even mean.

(In the future, I really should do a post about the worst VPs, because we had some real scoundrels. SPOILER ALERT: It's gotta be Spiro Agnew, but there are some really interesting runner-ups. Alexander Hamilton killed a guy. Schuyler Colfax was pretty corrupt. Richard Mentor Johnson spent his time as VP running a tavern.)

VPs who became great presidents

1. Thomas Jefferson
2. Theodore Roosevelt
3. Lyndon Johnson
4. Harry Truman
5. Chester Arthur/Gerald Ford

Jefferson and Roosevelt are on Mt. Rushmore, they make everyone's list of presidential greats. Johnson and Truman both had pretty big accomplishments in office, which at least balance the wars they stumbled into. I have a soft spot in my heart for Gerald Ford and Chester Arthur. Neither sought the presidency or vice presidency. But when placed in the role, both rose to the occasion and helped heal nation move past a divisive moment.

Chester Arthur - National Portrait Gallery
Ford's story is well known. Arthur's has some similarities. He was member of the political machine of New York Senator Roscoe Conkling and head of the New York Customs House. This was a huge job when tariffs were the primary source of federal government revenue - and yes, there was ample room for corruption. When Conkling was denied the presidency, Arthur was nominated to the vice presidency in a move by party leaders to reconcile with Conkling's faction. Conkling told Arthur to refuse the nomination, Arthur accepted and the Republican Garfield-Arthur ticket won the 1880 election. In office, Arthur continued to work on behalf of Conkling.

Garfield was assassinated in July 1881 by Charles Guiteau, who thought he deserved a job in the administration. This was back when federal jobs were patronage positions handed out by the president and the cabinet. When Conkling approached Arthur about how they were going to run things, Arthur rebuffed his patron. Instead, Arthur pressed for Civil Service reform, which had been one of Garfield's causes. As president Arthur was prudent, careful, and generally respected. He was also seriously ill and concealed it. There was nothing in Arthur's background suggesting he would be president or be capable in the position - but when the moment came he served admirably when the United States needed it.

While these may have been great men - they were not great VPs! Most of them spent little time in that office. Only Jefferson spent a full term as VP, and he spent it as far away from President Adams (his political rival) as possible.

VPs who carried out great acts of public service

1. Thomas Jefferson
2. Martin Van Buren
3. Joe Biden
4. Hubert Humphrey
5. Dick Cheney

Jefferson of course wrote the Declaration of Indepence, as well as serving as ambassador to Paris and Secretary of State. Martin Van Buren built the modern Democratic Party. Biden and Humphrey were long-time Senators with lengthy lists of accomplishments. Cheney served as White House chief of staff, was a much admired congressman, and a well respected Secretary of Defense. It is hard to remember that when Cheney was nominated to the vice presidency, the choice was generally lauded.

Besides Cheney, Van Buren and Biden played significant roles as vice president. This list by the way is off the top of my head. I don't know my 19th century VPs as well as I should, but I'm sure some of them were well respected before taking our nation's "most insignificant office."

VPs who had tremendous achievements in science, arts, and commerce

1. Thomas Jefferson
2. Teddy Roosevelt
3. Charles Dawes
4. Henry Wallace
5. Levi Morton

Jefferson was a scientist, philosopher, architect, and founded the University of Virginia. TR was a naturalist, explorer, and historian of some renown. Henry Wallace did important work in agricultural science before serving as FDR's Secretary of Agriculture. Levi Morton was a business giant, after his term as vice president merged his interests with J.P. Morgan.

Charles Dawes is my favorite. He was a successful businessman, held a range of government posts, won a Nobel Prize for his work on German debt relief after WW1, and wrote Melody in A Major. This last was set to words in 1958 and became the hit Tommy Edwards song, It's All in the Game.

None of these men were particularly distinguished vice presidents. Dawes main accomplishment was sleeping through a key Senate vote where he was supposed to break the tie. Wallace got into squabbles with members of FDR's cabinet.

The Greatest Vice President as Vice President

None of the lists so far have much to do with the vice president as the vice president, but rather the individuals who held the office. What can we say of the efforts of vice presidents as vice presidents.

We could rate the most influential VPs. Cheney is probably top, but the other modern VPs, particularly Gore were pretty important. There were also a few fascinating earlier cases of vice presidential influence. Maybe I'll do another post on this. But I'm thinking about someone who exercised the extremely limited formal role of the vice president as well as possible.

In many cases, this role is characterized by doing nothing when the nation is in crisis or the president's status is in doubt. Thomas Marshall refrained from acting when President Wilson was incapacitated with a stroke. Ford was careful and quiet as Watergate heaved to its close (as was Gore during the Clinton impeachment.) Nixon performed admirably, chairing cabinet meetings without appearing to usurp the president, when Eisenhower was ill. Bush 41 did the same after Reagan was shot.

But this is negative. I can think of one, rather profound, case where a vice president used his formal powers in a way that was significant - shaping U.S. history for centuries.

He may have been a scoundrel, but Aaron Burr did something important as vice president. He protected the independence of the judiciary. Read the whole story here.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Fun History Lesson: Impeachment, the Supreme Court, and the Balance of Powers

Since everyone is talking about impeaching Supreme Court Justices, let me tell you a story about how Aaron Burr saved America.

In general Burr appears as a blackguard and scoundrel. And some of it is true (he did shoot Hamilton - but maybe it was an accident, who knows.) Burr's correspondence was lost, so there's a lot we don't know about him.

Aaron Burr: Scoundrel, hero, or both?
As VP, Burr presided over the Senate, which tries the impeached. In March 1803 the House impeached Judge Pickering, a federal district judge. Pickering was senile and needed to be removed. Burr conducted the Senate's proceedings admirably.Thomas Jefferson was intrigued by the possibilities. He had routed the Federalists in 1800 so the only real opposition was the Federalist dominated judiciary, and particularly his distant cousin Chief Justice John Marshall.

Jefferson did not care for or trust Burr, but he mentioned the possibility of impeaching Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. There have been a fair number of federal judges impeached, but it was always linked to criminal activity. Removing Chase would have been a purely political move. On March 26, 1804 the House voted to impeach. On July 11, 1804 Burr shot Hamilton. Charged with crimes in New Jersey and New York, Burr fled to DC - where dueling was not illegal - and resumed his duties as Vice President.

In early 1805, the Senate began its trial of Chase. Burr, by all accounts, presided in a fair, even-handed, and decorous manner. Chase was acquitted, by large margins on all charges on March 1, 1805. The failure to impeach Chase played a critical role in establishing an independent judiciary.

Did Aaron Burr do this for the good of the nation? Or did he do it to get Jefferson, who had dropped him from the ticket in 1804. Who knows? He did the right thing at a crucial early moment in our nation's history.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Reckoning & Revelation in the 2020s Director's Cut I: The Ex-Presidents

As my regular readers (hi mom!) know, I am pretty convinced the 2020s are going to be huge, a real political earthquake. I'm pitching papers to conferences to force myself to write this up. In less than two weeks I'll be presenting one paper at the American Political Science Association. In November at ISSS-IS on the national security/foreign affairs implications. I have further papers planned on political violence in the United States (unfortunately there will probably be some) and technology policy. If each of these papers is five to ten thousand words, I'll have the better part of a book in no time.

But I have stray thoughts related to my core thesis, probably not worth a book, but that I cannot just let alone. So this is the first installment of the director's cut.

The President's Club is a fun, interesting book that describes the relationships between the present and former presidents. During my dissertation it had some neat details about vice presidents, but it was also about relationships between top politicians, which was certainly relevant to my dissertation. Occupants of the White House found their predecessors useful as sources of advice, political cover, and as emissaries. Of course there was usually something problematic in the relationship as well. Immediate past presidents wo

uld tend to move to the background and let their successors make their own way. (If there was an electoral defeat, that often left some lingering hostility - although Carter and Ford and Clinton and Bush 41 all overcame this to become good friends.) Nixon, clawing his way back to respectability, was happy to help his successors and he was very capable. But of course, he was Nixon, a close association was not always smart politics. Carter tended to do his own thing, when he was good (as head of election monitoring in Panama in 1989) he was very good. And when he was bad (negotiating with North Korea in 1994), he was real pain in the ass.

Probably the ideal relationship was Truman-Hoover. FDR of course wanted nothing to do with Hoover, who was political poison. But when Truman took office in 1945, time had passed. Most importantly, Truman needed Hoover's organizational skills to oversee post-war relief efforts in Europe (Hoover had become famous overseeing relief efforts after WW1). Hoover welcomed the opportunity to serve and he and Truman became friends.

Come the 2020s
So what does this have to do with the 2020s? If, as I expect and predict, a Democrat wins big in 2020, they will have two energetic, capable, and generally popular Democratic predecessors to help them. With a big electoral victory, the next will hardly feel in the shadow of Obama or Clinton and thus feel freer to work with them. There is no significant personal or political baggage to deep collaboration. Clinton will be an energetic 75 and Obama will only be 60. They will both have lots to contribute. Further, the current president guts and filets the Republican party, Bush 43 (who personally likes Clinton and Obama) may be willing to play a role. He could be an extremely valuable emissary to traditional GOP constituencies who choose to adapt to the new era.

The traditional roles of the ex-President have been relatively low-key, but extremely useful. The ex-Presidency however is now increasingly institutionalized. Ex-Presidents sit on top of a personal network of think tanks, foundations, and communications operations. An ex-president is more than just a prominent person who can go out on the campaign trail or meet a foreign leader (although that will remain important.) They are now in a position to generate deep policy analysis, mobilize public interest, and support causes and efforts.

(Carter and Bush 41 will of course be very old, and their public activity will probably decline - but you never know!)

Basically an popular and allied ex-president is a huge force-multiplier for a sitting president.

And the VP?
My take would be incomplete without mentioning the vice president. Two notes, one is that under Clinton, VP Gore was the key interlocutor with President Carter (with whom Clinton had a strained relationship.) This might be an excellent emerging role for the vice president, managing relations with the former presidents. You cannot pawn an ex-president off on a staffer - it just is not appropriate. But the vice president has sufficient standing and the ex-president will understand.

But what about the still very active VPs on the national scene? Increasingly the ex-VP is also acquiring institutional trappings and in many cases they are generally well regarded. Could a president give the former VPs a "seat at the table" at the President's Club? Gore could certainly be seen as an honorary member, and why not Biden? (Cheney will probably not find himself in accord with the Democratic president of the 2020s).

More force multipliers...

Social Media
There are libraries about who social media has changed everything. The long and short is that it enables many-to-many communications. The interactive nature creates a much more engaging experience and a stronger relationship. FDR let Americans into the White House with his fireside chats. An effective social media endeavor can create a feeling of personal connection.

At campaign events, Clinton would work the rope line furiously, knowing that every hand he shook would be converted to him - forever! With social media, politicians can now do that - at scale!

The current president has used social media in new ways, but not necessarily strategically. But imagine the president along with several former presidents and vice presidents, backed by some serious analytics, reaching out to influencers at various micro and macro levels all over the globe.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

July 4th Special Post - The Reckoning: American Politics in the 2020s

I have hinted that I am at work on a secret project. But, secret no more. This idea about what is going on in U.S. politics was accepted to the American Political Science Association conference and I need to start writing. With all the political ferment, on this day, in which we re-affirm our great national creed, I thought sharing was timely.

The current upheaval in American politics is generally interpreted through the lens of personalities and headlines, but it is actually the manifestation of two deep historical cycles that have shaped American history since the nation’s founding. The coming decade will probably bring both a president with an expansive public warrant to remake political institutions combined with a broad public sentiment to reform institutions to better reflect American ideals. Understanding how these independent cycles interact will be critical to grasping the huge changes the United States will face in the coming decade.

The Cycles Meet
Stephen Skowronek’s ThePolitics Presidents Make: Leadership from John Adams to George Bush and later in Presidential Leadership inPolitical Time: Reprise and Reappraisal and Samuel Huntington’s American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony each propose cycles in which American political institutions come under severe pressure. These cycles, which are independent of one another, have critical points in which vast institutional changes occur. These dynamic periods of change are converging in today’s America.  The last time that the two cycles met in this fashion was during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. In looking back to Jacksonian America, we can, perhaps, look forward as well.

Top-Down: Presidential Time
Skowronek’s framework of “Presidential Time” argues that the effectiveness of the president relies on the president’s warrant to make changes. The warrant for change is defined by the strength of the dominant political regime and the president’s links to this regime. Skowronek defines four types of presidencies. Periods of disjunction occur when the president is beholden to a weak dominant political regime. These presidents, such as Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter, seek to reorient their party to face new national challenges, but are unable to obtain the needed warrant from their supporters who remain committed to policies that served the party well in the past. These periods are followed by periods of reconstruction in which the president, not beholden to the weakened and no longer dominant party, is free to repudiate the existing political order and establish a new political one. These presidents include Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Reagan. There are also presidencies of articulation in which the party is strong and the president is expected to follow through on the promises of the regime founder. Kennedy and Johnson, for example, were charged with building on FDR’s achievements, as the Bushes sought for complete the Reagan Revolution. Finally there are the politics of pre-emption when the non-dominant party elects a president, who co-opts the policies of the dominant party. Recent examples include Nixon, Clinton, and Obama.

In many ways the present administration is unique, but Skowronek himself has described President Trump as being a disjunctive president, trapped between the demands of the party stalwart and the needs of the present. One of the notable characteristics of a disjunctive presidency, which Trump continues, is that the party often elects a president with only a nominal affiliation with the party establishment. Trump was elected to chart a new course and break from party orthodoxy, but has increasingly become beholden to it. When the president sought to make good on his central promise to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act and replace it with something better, he was stymied by an inability to satisfy party hardliners who adhered to small government orthodoxy and more centrist members of the party who recognized the need to improve upon rather than eliminate the popular program. The president’s primary legislative achievement is a tax cut that, while strongly aligned with party ideology, is generally unpopular with the public and undercuts any claim to being a different type of Republican. 

What is most notable about the politics of disjunction however is that they are followed by the politics of reconstruction, in which the next administration has a vast warrant to repudiate the last president and establish new institutions and pursue new policies. Just like the Reagan Revolution and the New Deal before that, policy entrepreneurs with ideas congruent with the repudiating the last administration may find enormous scope to enact new responses under the administration of a president with a vast public warrant.

Bottom-Up: Creedal Passion
Skowronek’s framework can be understood as a top-down explanation of institutional change in which the president remakes institutions that no longer adequately respond to pressing political problems. Huntington’s framework, in contrast, is a bottom-up explanation of institutional change, as the American people demand changes that bring the nation’s institutions in accord with the central ideals of the American Creed. Huntington argues that the United States is shaped, not by a national identity, but by a Creed that consists of a range of shared values including commitments to equality, liberty, and individualism. The United States cannot live up to its ideals – no nation could, both because of their ambition and because of internal contradictions. Americans address this cognitive dissonance through a number of strategies, passing through periods of cynicism, complacency, and hypocrisy about their ideals. Every 60-70 years the United States enters a period of Creedal Passion, gripped by moralism in which there is vast public sentiment to remake the United States in line with these ideals. These periods, such as the Progressive Era of the late 19th and early 20th century, and the Sixties and Seventies, are characterized by enormous political, social, and cultural change.

These periods of creedal passion share a number of characteristics, including a broad questioning of authority and hierarchy, exposure of and moral indignation at social injustice, leveling concentrations of wealth and power, and flourishing of new communications media. Huntington predicted that the second and third decades of the 21st century would be a period of Creedal passion. The well-documented decline in public trust of traditional sources of authority and the massive public activism (on all points of the political spectrum from the Tea Party to Black Lives Matter) characterized by moral indignation are strong indications that we are in the midst of a period of Creedal Passion.

The contrast between the two Roosevelt presidencies illustrates the differences between the two cycles. Theodore Roosevelt, while undoubtedly a vigorous individual, was not a president who established a new political order. He built on and expanded the existing one. The Creedal Passion of the Progressive Era, with its outrage against high levels of poverty and the increasing concentration of wealth and power, was the engine driving the tremendous works of his administration. Franklin Roosevelt, in contrast, was able to reshape the relationship between the U.S. government and the American people, not because of a sui generis outrage, but because of a massive economic crisis, which existing political arrangements were not able to address. Skowronek’s new political orders occur when the old order is no longer able to address the challenges facing the nation and a new president is given a vast warrant to re-shape institutions. Huntington’s periods of creedal passion occur, not necessarily due to a secular political crisis, but rather to an increased awareness of long-standing injustices that are not in accord with American values.

The Age of Jackson
While both of these frameworks are independently robust, little work has been done to examine how they interact with one another. To understand the effect of these cycles in tandem it is critical to study the one previous period in American history when the institution reforming parts of cycles met, under Andrew Jackson. Although little considered now (Jackson is primarily remembered for his enormous cruelties to Native Americans), the Jacksonian erawas a period of tremendous social, political, and cultural change. Jackson, using the expansive warrant for change granted by the American people, established the presidency as the tribunal of the people and destroyed concentrations of power such as the Bank of the United States and the patrician class that had previously dominated the presidency. During Jackson’s presidency public sentiment also re-shaped politics and culture. Organized political parties were established. A powerful militant abolitionist movement emerged.  Transcendentalism, a new and uniquely American, school of thought flowered. Many of these reforms and changes occurred, not because of any particular action on the part of Jackson and his administration (as a slaveholder, he was not a supporter of abolition).
The past is an imperfect guide to the present or future. But reviewing the previous eras of presidents practicing the politics of reconstruction and periods of Creedal passion may give perspective on the coming decade. Examining Jackson’s America, when these two cycles dove-tailed may provide particular insight into how public outrage at the gap between American ideals and institutions will manifest itself and what concentrations of power will be subject to limitations and government action, and finally what new institutions may emerge.

The Cycles Meet
The public policy implications of the dynamic segments of the Skowronek and Huntington cycles meeting are profound. There will be vast opportunities not only to implement new policies, but also to eliminate old policies and the institutions that drive them. This analysis will provide insight into the types of policies that are likely to be enacted or repudiated by a powerful president establishing a new political order in a period of Creedal passion as well as to the types of issues that will resonate with a public desirous of remaking the United States.

Reform will have its limits. One of the characteristics of the American Creed is a distrust of complex institutions. It is impossible, however, to have a modern society without such institutions. Deploying the president’s power to destroy and create institutions in a manner that balances the public’s demand for greater transparency and reduced concentrations of power with the practical needs of a modern society will be an epic quest to navigate Scylla and Charybdis. This will require understanding the deep currents of American politics in order to tack wisely.

Even in periods of vast social and political change, politics remains the art of the possible. This work is not intended as a roadmap for a new policy. Rather it is a travelers guide to the coming decade and its complex political and social terrain.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Lobbying Pence: On the VP's Role in Trump White House

What a great Father's Day gift, some reports on the doings of Vice President Pence!

This White House leaks, that is an understatement. This White House gushes. Yet, monitoring reports on the internecine warfare of the West Wing, Pence remains in the shadows. His public appearances are of course covered and interesting. (The limited love the VP received at the Southern Baptist Convention was certainly interesting - they should have been the friendliest of crowds.)

But public appearances are basically carrying the President's water (or whatever POTUS wants done with his water...) 

Pence has been pretty effective as a presidential surrogate, smoothing our POTUS' rough edges (as much as possible, at least) on Capitol Hill, domestically, and abroad. This has had its costs of course, it does for every VP, but particularly in this administration. 

From what I've seen Pence's biggest contribution has actually been in personnel. Trump had a very limited rolodex of DC-types who feel administration jobs. That has hurt him (although in fairness, the very capable John Kelly can't run a Trump White House, so probably no one can.)

None of this is influence (which is what my dissertation was about). My core contention is that areas where VPs play are a role are areas where Presidents face vacuums in experience or are particular priorities. Following where a VP exercises influence can tell us something about how decisions are being made in the White House.

The problem was, that for all of the White House leaks, there was only very limited information on the doings of the VP! But that, quite suddenly, has changed...

Pence in the News: Finally!
First, there is a new book on vice presidents (how's my own book on the VPs coming... don't ask.)

Reporting on the book, Kate Andersen Brower's First in Line: Presidents, Vice Presidents, and the Pursuit of Power has this fascinating tidbit:

The author tried to persuade Pence’s staff to let her sit down with the former governor of Indiana. She’d already talked to the other six men who had held the title of VPOTUS. “I don’t want to leave you guys out,” Brower recalled telling Pence’s gatekeepers. But they wouldn’t budge. The narrative was too tricky, especially after reports that Pence was looking to position himself for a 2020 bid for the office down the hall.
“They are very tight-lipped, and they’re smart about it,” Brower said, adding that Pence’s staff has assumed a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” stance on profiles and one-on-one interviews. “If it seems like he’s doing a lot, then the president won’t like that,” she said.
So, that's why there aren't many leaks about the VP. He is being very careful not to leak or have too large a public profile. And if you do that, no one has much reason to leak about you. 

Then there is this terrific bit of reporting from The Washington Post, Pence turns VP's office into gateway for lobbyists to influence the Trump administration. So far twice as many organizations have registered to lobby of Office of the Vice President in Pence's first year as in any of the years in which Biden or Cheney served as VP (the number of lobbying clients trying to influence the President directly has remained essentially flat.) Here's a key quote:

“The vice president’s policy staff regularly takes meetings with representatives from the private sector — including registered lobbyists, whose activity is publicly disclosed and regulated — to discuss policy,” said Alyssa Farah, Pence’s press secretary. “Hearing the real-world impacts, positive or negative, to individuals or businesses is a key input to the deliberative process behind President Trump’s agenda and making the federal government more accountable to the American people.”
In some cases, Pence has served as a kind of second White House chief of staff on regulatory issues, given his extensive knowledge of how the government works and the president’s relative lack of interest in policy details, according to current and former Trump administration officials.
Pence was also responsible for staffing many of the federal agencies that lobbyists seek to influence. One other lobbyist who interacts with Pence described the vice president’s office as a key entryway to reach officials such as Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who worked for Pence when he was governor of Indiana. A spokesman for Verma said the agency gets requests for meetings “in many different ways.”
“His staff is very accessible,” said the lobbyist, who, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing future access to the Trump administration. “If you can’t get high up in the West Wing, they are your best bet.”
The actions taken by Pence and his staff as a result of lobbying are not disclosed in federal filings, and more than a dozen companies that have hired people to contact his office declined to comment on the role of the vice president or what their lobbying spending accomplished. 
Then there's this report from today's Post (I check lots of sources for VP doings, but it just so happens that The Washington Post is breaking the news on this particular front.)  The vice president has pressed USAID to direct funds to aid Iraqi Christian and Yazidis.

But Pence was unhappy with the progress in the field. He recently “directed” Green to go to Iraq before the end of this month and report back to him on plans to get assistance there quickly, according to a statement from the vice president’s office.
In a sharp-edged statement on Friday, Pence’s office said the vice president “will not tolerate bureaucratic delays.”
According to a U.S. official familiar with Pence’s concern that, as he saw it, USAID had failed to prioritize the issue, the vice president told Green that he would support any personnel changes the USAID administrator chose to make.
Before the end of the day, the head of USAID’s Middle East bureau, a career Foreign Service officer, was replaced by a political appointee who had worked on development projects under Green at the International Republican Institute.
What both of these stories have in common is the VP (and his staff) putting pressure on the bureaucracy to change policy. There is nothing wrong with this in principle.

This is what politicians do. They cannot control the vast bureaucracies directly (the famous principle-agent problem on a massive scale). They can intervene at times and places or structure bureaucracies in a way to help ensure preferred outcomes. This is agnostic to the actual policies. I don't know if having USAID put more of its limited resources towards towards Yazidis and Christians is actually smart development policy. But this is the kind of thing politicians do.

Something Old
Many of the things the OVP is up to are not that different from their predecessors. Other VPs have been a path to reaching the White House for groups that did not have relationships with the president. Mondale was the go-to person for traditional Democratic supporters like African-Americans, labor, and the Jewish community, because Carter did not have strong links with them. The hard right reached out to Quayle, in order to make sure their preferences reached the more moderate President Bush 43. Al Gore was the environmentalist voice in the White House.

Vice presidents have also pressed bureaucracies on a huge range of issues. Cheney famously found a workaround for the Endangered Species Act that allowed the government to open damns and provide water to drought-stricken farmers (which also led to a massive fish die-off.)

Gore was a go-to for Clinton on innumerable bureaucratic issues, from coordinating security for the 1996 Olympics to Reinventing Government. All vice presidents do this stuff, either on issues of personal concern or on behalf of the president. And in the process, of course they make new friends and take care of old ones.

Is this corruption? Maybe, certainly it can be. Lobbyists and organizations make donation to politicians who help them out. Sometimes it is all pretty mercenary, sometimes it is well-intended gratitude. If the OVP is now a den of corruption, well so is the rest of this town. (This leaves aside the administration's promise to drain the swamp, which clearly was not going to happen.)

So far this fits with the paradigm that Pence, as a Washington insider who knows how things work (and just as importantly who makes them work), takes care of things for the president.

Something New
But, something is off in seeing the doings of Pence's office as just more of the same. The USAID issue might be classic vice presidential influence. This does not seem like something the president would oppose. Pence takes care of his base, the evangelicals. This works in two ways, first his base cares about the fate of Christians in the Middle East. Also, USAID grants to help the Christians and Yazidis are apparently going through faith-based organizations - that is, at least in some cases, be groups that will generally be aligned with the VP's world view and institutional supporters. That's just good politics.

The lobbying however, while not new, is occurring on a much larger scale. The obvious conclusion is that in a poorly run White House, the OVP can get stuff done. Plus there are Pence people all over the administration. People in the bowels of the bureaucracy tend to sit up and respond to a call from the OVP, and even more so if the OVP got them their job. That's all standard. But doing so on such a large scale for paid lobbyists that work for businesses is new.

Anything the VP does, a critical question is: what does the president think?

Normally a president might be a little concerned that so many people were approaching OVP for favors. First, why aren't they coming to President? Second, the more people reaching out to the VP, the more likely that the VP gets into something that will embarrass the President.

That is in a normal administration. This administration does not seem to have a big problem with the influence peddling business. Second, the President does not grasp standard political inputs and outputs, thus is not monitoring the VP and does not really care. Finally, the President may trust the VP not to do anything that will be a problem. This final point is entirely plausible. Pence has been loyal to a fault and has maintained access.

Or not. According to a story from The New York Times about Pence's burgeoning political operation, which could be seen as filling a vacuum (because the president is not terribly interested the mechanics of the running a campaign.) Some White House staffers however, see it more as empire building, but grant that if no one else will do it, Pence might as well run the 2018 mid-term efforts.

Presidents may delegate a great deal to the VP, especially in the mid-term elections. There's a cold logic to this by they way, since mid-terms often go badly for the president, so if the VP is on point, who takes the blame?

Taken as whole, this much scope over political operations is pretty astounding. In my article in War on the Rocks I observed that given Trump's inexperience, Pence would be effectively a back-up chief of staff helping the president with everything. But the president's disengagement from the standard policy process and lack of interest in advice, has instead left Pence a great deal of room to do low-key stuff. He does not have much influence on big issues (I can't imagine Pence wants to get into trade wars for example). But on lesser issues it appears he has a free hand as long as - in this classic description of his great predecessor as VP Martin Van Buren, "he rows to his object with muffled oars."

Hidden Hand of the Hidden Hand
By most accounts, Pence's chief of staff Nick Ayers is a critical player in all of this. He is extraordinarily savvy and he is good at threading the needle - going just far enough. This is, precisely what Pence needs in this environment. One other thing about Ayers, he is extraordinary at turning political activity into money. Pence is certainly willing to help his friends (who have now all become lobbyists.) But it is probably Ayers who saw the opportunities to put out an open for business sign at the OVP.

In general VPs are loyal, painfully so, and avoid even the appearance of a conflict with the president. VPs who get too big for the job have poor political fates. (See John C. Calhoun, Nelson Rockefeller, and most recently Cheney.) Can Pence continue to thread the needle, build power without attracting attention from the president?

Given the unique nature of this administration, does it even matter? The president cannot fire the vice president and if the president becomes radioactive, being politically cast out will be a blessing, not a curse.