VOL. 131 | NO. 155 | Thursday, August 4, 2016
View From the Hill
Outnumbered Democrats Hope To Ride Anti-Trumpmentum
BY Sam Stockard
State Rep. Raumesh Akbari identified herself with the “Fighting 26,” also known as the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus, when she took the podium to support Hillary Clinton at Philadelphia’s Democratic National Convention.
Accustomed to being outnumbered on the House floor against 73 Republicans, Akbari is also the chamber’s youngest at 32, but isn’t afraid to make a political stand.
At the DNC event, she urged young people who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primary to break on through to the other side.
“Which political leader will we allow to define our generation? Will we raise our voice and demand a leader who will fight for debt-free college education, a leader who will make community college free for all students, a leader who will help people loaded down with crippling student loan debt, a leader who will push new strategies to help people of our generation?” asked Akbari, the first Tennessean to speak at a Democratic National Convention since Al Gore eight years ago.
“Will you join me and support a leader who understands that the deep racial wounds of our country have not yet healed but together we can work to be the change we wish to see in the world?”
Normally understated, Akbari stepped out of character on the stage, nearly shouting, “Come on, y’all, she’s a bad sister! The stakes are too high. The consequences are too severe.”
Akbari pointed out Republicans in Cleveland nominated Trump, “a man who has defined his campaign on words that divide us and walls that divide” and passed a party platform that “enshrines intolerance.”
In comparison, she says, Clinton worked for the Children’s Defense Fund, traveled to segregated Alabama to work with families and stands up for women’s rights.
“Now listen, whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, an independent, whether you are black, white, Latino or Asian, whether you are gay, straight or transgender, whether you run a ranch, a farm, a church or a beauty shop down in Memphis, Tennessee, Secretary Clinton is a fighter for us all,” she said.
How the nation will forgive $1.2 trillion in student debt or make college free remains to be seen. In Tennessee, lottery funds are used for the Tennessee Promise.
But while returning home, Akbari says Democrats seemed to be unified, especially with Clinton reaching out to Sanders, offering his backers time on the platform and making sure a number of his ideas would be part of her initiatives going forward.
And while she acknowledges Trump won a significant number of Tennessee counties during the Republican primary, Akbari hopes the state’s voters will keep an open mind for Clinton as November approaches.
Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini agrees the party is united and “100 percent behind Secretary Clinton.”
When you’re as badly outnumbered as Democrats are in Tennessee, it’s a little easier to unite behind a presidential candidate.
But on the other hand
Tennessee Republicans are fractured, and the establishment remains cool toward Trump.
In fact, his ascendance could reshape the way the Republican Party conducts its preference primaries, though party members may be a little shifty on the matter.
Gov. Bill Haslam, who supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the primary, declined to endorse Trump despite constant questioning by reporters.
According to a Tennessean article, former state Sen. Stacey Campfield, a convention delegate, apparently was hurt by Haslam’s refusal to publicly support Trump. No doubt Haslam is heartbroken by concern from Campfield, a bit of an oddity when he was in the Legislature.
Of course, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn stood tall for Trump at the RNC, saying Americans have had enough of broken budgets, “unkept promises and pointless red lines” from Obama. Presumably, Clinton would be four to eight more years of Obama.
Blackburn also delivered this little treasure: “There is someone that can get the job done, or as Larry the Cable Guy would say, ‘Let’s get ’er done.’ There’s someone who can come in ahead of schedule and under budget, who’s read the specs, has seen the bottom line, negotiated the cost and built something to last.”
And yet another jewel: “Our nation is full of citizens who want a leader who knows the sure route to prosperity, who inspires, who knows that leadership is a hard-fought verb and not a subject line in an email.”
Most grammar experts would question whether “leadership” is a verb. But what the heck, it sounded catchy on the platform for those who want to jail Hillary Clinton for disseminating classified information on her personal email while secretary of state, then getting a pardon from the FBI director.
Blackburn also cited the words of President Abraham Lincoln who 155 years ago implored Americans to “save the good ship of the Union” or nobody would ever “pilot” the same nation again.
Whether she is encouraging a civil war or trying to avert one is hard to tell. Because while she says the nation is “in desperate need of true leadership, in desperate need of unity,” saying Trump can bring those is a bit of a stretch.
The “diverse nation” she says he’s qualified to lead isn’t feeling the love. Even as Trump’s speech reached out to Hispanics and the LGBT community and promised to keep every child in mind when considering policies, those groups aren’t going to be in his corner, especially when he keeps pushing the concept of a wall at the Mexican border.
Likewise, to say he can’t unify Republicans nationwide or in Tennessee is an understatement.
Asked if the Tennessee Republican Party is unified for Trump’s candidacy, Chairman Ryan Haynes says, “With regard to Tennessee and the Tennessee Republican Party, the Democratic Party has been decimated so badly in Tennessee I feel very confident when voters go to the polls in Tennessee that they will vote for Trump.”
Haynes says he finds a statement by Congressman Jim Cooper that Clinton could win Tennessee to be “laughable.”
Further queried about Haslam’s holdout on Trump as a signal of party disgust over the nominee, Haynes reiterates Tennessee voters will “overwhelmingly vote for Donald Trump compared to Hillary Clinton.
“I think the only thing Hillary Clinton will do is come in here and try to raise money for her campaign.”
As to concern about Trump’s bombastic personality or potential for turning the world against America, Haynes says, “I have seen Hillary Clinton’s record as Secretary of State and I’ve seen the anger that’s grown around the world, especially in the Middle East toward America, and I think a lot of her policies created that environment, hers and Barack Obama’s policies, and I’m confident that her policies that she put forward don’t work for this country.
“And I think they do anger the world.”
In other words, mainstream Republicans are just dealing with Trumpet 2016, holding out hope against Clinton. Yet if you ask many Republicans, they’ll say six of the eight years under husband Bill Clinton were some of the best they ever had.
Sending a signal
Nashville political commentator Pat Nolan says the Republican Party could be in for a “little bit of a civil war” if Trump loses to Clinton in November. Maybe that’s what Blackburn was talking about.
He points out no living Republican president or presidential nominee showed up and spoke at the Republican National Convention. Bob Dole was there but got nothing but a shout out from the podium.
Furthermore, the nation’s two highest-ranking Republicans, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, both made speeches but not in prime-time slots.
Nolan references discussion within the Republican Party about closing primaries in Tennessee to stop conservative Democrats and independents from crossing over and supporting moderate Republicans in primary races. Far-right Republicans think they hold the party’s majority in Tennessee, but they often wind up losing to moderates.
Haslam comes to mind, and so do Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, who is still catching the ire of hard-core people who blame him for helping negotiate a congressional vote for an Iranian nuclear accord, even though he was against it and there was no way it would pass, according to Nolan.
The presidential campaign could be a situation, though, in which Republicans aren’t happy no matter the outcome, simply because there are so many factions in Tennessee they all can’t be pleased.
A lot of people felt like Trump piled up delegates in states with an open primary system, requiring no party registration, Nolan says. Yet for a long time, conservative Republicans wanted to close the primary to ensure only the most conservative candidates won office.
This is really getting confusing. But that’s what happens when people can’t micromanage the political process.
Republican Party Chair Haynes says the matter has been discussed for some time and likely will come up again after the November vote.
Haynes isn’t sure if the matter is “specifically related” to Trump’s winning the nomination. But he thinks Trump’s success “shifted” people’s opinions.
“I do think that tea party individuals are generally for closing primaries, and now there may be kind of a reversal on that,” Haynes says.
“After this election cycle, it seems that some of those people are re-evaluating their position. Almost, the two camps are flip-flopping.”
They’ll really be flipping out if Clinton wins, something she could accomplish with the help of the urban, women and Hispanic vote.
Trump, on the other hand, is more likely to unite people fed up with Washington politics, and that’s a lot of folks.
No matter who wins the presidency, don’t look for a big shift in the Tennessee General Assembly’s makeup, where Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers. Truth be told, Akbari could be in the “Fighting 25” if she returns to the House.
Says Akbari, who is ever positive, likely a characteristic of most Memphians, “I must say there won’t be a mass exodus of Republicans voting for Secretary Clinton, but I do know that we’re going to be fighting as hard as we can to get as many people to vote for her and really focus on the issues she’s pushing.”
In Tennessee, those numbers are not on her side regardless of whether Republicans hate or love Donald Trump.
Nationwide, though, the Electoral College could favor her.
Sam Stockard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.