This article is the first in a series of Q&A's between RILA's Senior Vice President of Retail Operations Lisa LaBruno and featured general session speakers who will present at the 2016 Retail Asset Protection Conference.
What's the Biggest Problem in Washington?
With the race to the White House now in full swing, many are wondering what 2016 holds for the political climate in Washington. Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report, will join RILA at both its Retail Supply Chain Conference (February 28 – March 2) and its Retail Asset Protection Conference (April 17-20) to share her inside knowledge on the Washington political scene.
Ahead of her session, Where to Turn When the Political Climate Heats Up, Amy sat down with Lisa LaBruno, senior vice president of retail operations at RILA, and addressed key questions about the outlook of both political parties in Congress, the nuances of the presidential election and what we can expect from Washington in 2016.
Lisa LaBruno: After 2014, the National Republican Party tried to make changes to avoid what it saw as a primary process that hurt the eventual nominee. Did those changes actually make 2016 worse, or was the chaotic primary unavoidable?
Amy Walter: It is always dangerous to fight the last war or to make assumptions about a political environment that is four years away. We won't know if the changes to the primary calendar and delegate allocation was a bad decision until we get deeper into the contest. What we do know, as my colleague David Wasserman has outlined in this piece http://cookpolitical.com/story/9154, is that the primaries on March 15 are likely going to be more important than the ones held before that date. The winner of the delegate math is the candidate who is best able to understand and take advantage of the byzantine rules surrounding the process.
LL: Will the Republican Party unify behind a candidate?
AW: It depends on how messy this primary process gets and who the ultimate nominee will be. Marco Rubio has run as the candidate who can unify the many factions of the party - and the polls back that up. He is the only candidate who is currently acceptable to both very conservative, Tea Party types as well as the more moderate and secular GOP voters. Donald Trump and Jeb Bush are the most polarizing of the GOP candidates and would find it difficult to unite the party. There is little doubt that a Trump nomination would divide the party deeply and perhaps result in a third-party run by a more traditional GOP candidate.
LL: The civil war within the Republican Party has been pretty well covered over the past 5 or so years. But are some of the same forces at play within the Democratic Party, just more below the surface due to the fact that President Obama remains a largely unifying force?
AW: It's a good question. Winning tends to make people more amendable. Losing tends to bring out the worst in all of us. However, there's more than just losing the White House that is going on with the GOP. Ever since Obama was elected to office, the GOP plan to win elections has centered more on what they are NOT (namely Barack Obama) than what they stand FOR. The only thing that has kept this factious party together has been a shared dislike for Obama and his policies (Obamacare, EPA regulations, etc.). In order for Republicans to unite, they've got to promote a vision for America that focuses on what they will do to help average Americans instead of being focused solely on how much they hate the current President. Unlike Democrats, who are unified on social and cultural issues like gay marriage, abortion, immigration and the environment, Republicans are divided. Moreover, Democrats' views on the issue are more in-line with Americans than the GOP (think gay marriage, climate change and Planned Parenthood).
Democrats' big problem is that they are geographically constrained. Their constituency is urban. Their ability to drive up that vote in a national election is enough to win the Electoral College. In fact, Obama can thank his win in 2012 to heavy turn-out in three key cities, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Miami-Ft. Lauderdale. But, their inability to win in exurban or rural communities means that they will have a very hard time winning control of the House.
LL: Washington has become defined by its inability to get things done. Is that accurate? And if so, what can change that dynamic?
AW: To me, the biggest problem in Washington is that there are no real consequences for bad behavior. Despite the in-fighting and dysfunction, incumbents continue to get re-elected easily. There are very few incumbents who sit in swing/competitive districts, which means their only real threat to defeat is in a primary. That incentivizes the kind of behavior we see now with incumbents worrying more about satisfying the most extreme voices in their party than to compromise for the greater good. In the short-run, I think the only way this changes is there is either: 1) a very serious crisis that needs immediate action (an attack on the Homeland; a depression-like crash of the stock market). Serious doomsday stuff. I don't know that it's enough to have a "strong leader" either in the White House or in Congress if their followers are too scared to follow behind them.
LL: Even with majorities in both chambers, the GOP has had to rely on Democratic votes to advance any legislation of substance. How do you see this dynamic changing if Republicans are fortunate enough to win the White House? Will it cause certain segments of the GOP conference to be more confrontational with leadership or will it be a unifying moment for the party?
AW: The danger for Republicans is that they get everything they want - control of all three branches of government - and then use that control to push forward on an ideological and polarizing agenda. We know that the first act of a GOP controlled Washington will be to repeal Obama-care. How they do that - and what they do after that - will determine whether their majority lasts for more than just two years. As Obama saw in 2010, a divisive session of Congress can lead to devastation at the polls in the mid-terms.
LL: With the retirement of Speaker Boehner and Leader Cantor's loss, the GOP has seen some turnover in their ranks. At what point do you see House Democratic leadership changes?
AW: It is kind of remarkable that the Democrats - who count on younger voters to win elections - currently has three 70+ year olds in House leadership (Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn). There are plenty of younger members eager to take their place at the leadership table but it's not clear that the top two (Pelosi and Hoyer), are interested in going anytime soon. Moreover, Democrats also recognize that Pelosi is their greatest fundraiser they have. They may want new blood at the top, but they will miss her money raising skills.
LL: How long do you believe Speaker Ryan will serve in his current position?
AW: The more successful he is, the more likely he stays. At this point, he seems to have found a sweet-spot: earning respect from both the traditionalists as well as the rebels. Democrats are also happy with him. Keeping that coalition together post 2016 will be tough but not impossible.
Want to gain more insights from Amy? Register to hear her speak at RILA's upcoming events: