As the White House gears up for the 2020 campaign, it’s pressing the case that Democrats are rallying behind what it’s calling the policies of “socialism.”
Trying to portray Democrats as out of step with ordinary Americans, Vice President Mike Pence said in a speech Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference that the choice in the next election is “between freedom and socialism, between personal responsibility and government dependence.”
It was the latest step in a coordinated effort by President Donald Trump and his allies to drive up enthusiasm among the GOP base by sowing fears about the policies pushed by Democrats.
“The moment America becomes a socialist country is the moment America ceases to be America,” Pence told the crowd of conservative activists.
Pence also took aim at “Medicare-for-all” and the Green New Deal, policy proposals prominent in the crowded Democratic contest for the presidential nomination.
The Medicare proposal really means “quality health care for none,” Pence said. And “the only thing green” about the Democrats’ environmental framework to combat climate change, the vice president said, “is how much green it’s going to cost taxpayers if we do it: $90 trillion.”
The American Action Forum, a Republican-linked think tank, has estimated that the Green New Deal could cost $51 trillion to $93 trillion over 10 years. Democrats have not specified a price tag, though Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who introduced the plan along with Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, said it would be “the same way we paid for the original New Deal, World War II, the bank bailouts, tax cuts for the rich and decades of war—with public money appropriated by Congress.”
The health care and climate proposals have become litmus tests in the race for the Democratic nomination, with many liberals embracing the ideas even as some pragmatists raise questions about cost and feasibility.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said at the conference Thursday that Americans should “put socialism on trial and then convict it.” Trump was expected to deliver a similar message when he addresses the conference today.
A Trump campaign official said the campaign was exploring ways to use the “socialism” message to drive a wedge between Democratic voters and independents. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal planning.
The campaign also believes that the attacks will activate Trump’s base, which may have lost some motivation because the president has run into congressional opposition as he tries to fulfill his U.S.-Mexico border wall promise.
The head of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, told the conference on Thursday that the GOP would look to “go out and educate” voters about socialism.
Responding to Pence’s socialism accusation, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said: “This is no surprise. It’s nonsense, but Donald Trump and Donald Trump’s minions will do whatever they think helps Donald Trump. That’s all that’s going on here.”
Pence called Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is making a second run for the Democratic presidential nomination, an “avowed socialist,” though Sanders identifies as a “democratic socialist,” calling for sweeping social programs to help reduce income inequality. Pence added Sanders that epitomized Democratic candidates and officials who “have papered over the failed policies of socialism with bumper-sticker slogans and slick social media campaigns.”
Sanders fired back in a missive to his vast small-dollar donor list, encouraging them to give to his campaign in Pence’s “honor” and saying Pence was targeting them because his “campaign is the strongest and most powerful challenge to Trump’s re-election.”
The White House has tried to cite the political chaos in Venezuela, where moderates backed by the Trump administration are challenging the socialist government of Nicholas Maduro after years of economic collapse, as a warning sign about the consequences of Democratic policies in the United States.
A Gallup poll from last August found that 37 percent of Americans feel positive about socialism, a share little changed over the past decade. Nearly 6 in 10 Democrats (57 percent) reported having a positive view of socialism, more than three times the share of Republicans (16 percent).
According to Gallup, young adults are especially likely to view socialism positively. About half of Americans under 30 (51 percent) and 41 percent of those age 30 to 49 reported feeling positive on that topic, compared with about 3 in 10 of those 50 and older.
Dorothy Brown Gridley
Keith Wayne Kraus
The race for the state Supreme Court is nonpartisan, but the two candidates might as well stitch a D or R on their judicial robes.
On the left, appeals court Judge Lisa Neubauer has ties to the Democratic Party that run both long and deep.
She used to work for Democratic politicians, her husband ran the state party for four years and her daughter is a Dem lawmaker.
Neubauer has given more than $27,000 to state and federal liberal and Democratic candidates and groups over the years (though she quit making political donations in 2007). She and her husband were early financial supporters of Barack Obama.
She was appointed to the bench by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. Her current campaign is backed by all the major labor unions and run by Dem operatives.
On the conservative side, appeals court Judge Brian Hagedorn’s partisan ties can be summed up in two words: Scott Walker.
Hagedorn served as Walker’s chief legal counsel for four years—leading the legal fight on Act 10—and was named to the appellate bench by the Republican governor in 2015.
Hagedorn once belonged to the Kenosha County Republican Party, and his father runs the Milwaukee County GOP. His campaign’s primary strategist is a former Walker campaign manager.
If you want to see Hagedorn in action, buy a ticket to this Sunday’s Dane County Republican Party’s Lincoln-Reagan Day dinner in Madison.
For those who prefer Neubauer, she will be available at a Waukesha County Democratic Meet & Greet at the Casablanca in Brookfield on May 10.
Not that you would realize any this from listening to the candidates.
“There is no place for partisan politics on the Wisconsin Supreme Court,” Hagedorn wrote in an October column on Right Wisconsin, a largely GOP platform created by former right-wing talk show host Charlie Sykes.
In truth, partisan politics now dominate these races with control of the Supreme Court at stake.
Hagedorn’s campaign tries to argue that his opponent is the more partisan of the two.
Some of Neubauer’s strong Democratic ties were hashed out in her 2008 race against another liberal candidate for the appeals court.
Neubauer was an aide to longtime Democratic Sen. Fred Risser of Madison and was an assistant Midwest coordinator for Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign.
Her husband was a Democratic lawmaker for four terms, state chairman for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 and a member of a Democratic National Committee.
Combined, Neubauer and her husband have given $105,000 to liberal and Democratic candidates and causes. Neubauer herself had given $8,800 to Doyle, the governor who appointed her to the bench.
In the current contest, she has the backing of many liberal groups, including the Wisconsin Education Association Council. (For the full list of labor unions supporting her, go to the state Republican Party website.)
Her daughter Greta Neubauer is now a Democratic member of the state Assembly.
“For Lisa Neubauer, Democratic politics is the family business,” said Stephan Thompson, a campaign aide to Hagedorn. “With over $100,000 in donations to left-wing candidates (and groups) helping pave the way to power and influence, there’s no questioning Neubauer’s allegiances.”
Conservatives didn’t always see her that way.
In 2008, Rick Esenberg, head of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, endorsed Neubauer, with whom he had previously worked at the Foley & Lardner law firm.
“Lisa is a Democrat, but she is not a rabidly political person,” Esenberg wrote. “Back in the day, when a group of us wanted to discuss politics, she would generally beg off or change the subject.”
He added: “Her politics may be moderately liberal, but she is not a bomb thrower. Quite frankly, no one who is could stay at Foley & Lardner for 19 years representing business.”
Michael Grebe, the onetime Republican National Committee general counsel, also served as a reference when she was appointed to the appellate court bench.
All of that has changed this time around.
Grebe, a former managing partner at Foley, has given $1,000 to Hagedorn.
Employees at WILL have also chipped in $2,550 to Hagedorn’s cause, and the Milwaukee nonprofit’s new fundraiser, Mary Stitt, was recently paid $3,600 for having done fundraising work for his campaign.
Esenberg said a lot has changed in the past 11 years. He noted that his group isn’t officially backing anyone but he is supporting Hagedorn personally.
“Judicial philosophy matters more in Supreme Court races because it has the final word on unresolved questions,” Esenberg wrote in an email. “In the prior race, one candidate was pretending to be a judicial conservative. Here, it seems clear that Judge Hagedorn is the originalist candidate.”
Hagedorn has also been an active Republican in the past.
On his 2015 application for a judicial appointment, Hagedorn said he was a member of the Kenosha County Republican Party from 2005 to 2009. He was also the county co-chairman of GOP presidential candidate John McCain in 2008.
At the same time, he ran a blog called “Anno Domini” in which he left no doubt about his political persuasion.
“We’re close, very close to a complete Republican takeover of government,” Hagedorn wrote on “Anno Domini” in February 2006. “We have not been able to pass our agenda in part because we do not have enough power.”
Appointed chief legal counsel to Walker in 2011, Hagedorn has said he had a role in drafting Act 10, Walker’s signature bill curbing collective bargaining for public employee unions, and the hiring and managing of outside counsel in defense of the measure.
In a Trinity College magazine article naming him “alumnus of the year,” Hagedorn described his work on Act 10 as his most significant and satisfying. He also helped defend Walker’s voter ID legislation and the state’s same-sex marriage laws.
While Walker’s top state attorney, Hagedorn sent out a personal email in support of then-Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, saying his defeat could embolden union bosses and stop Walker’s agenda “in its tracks.”
In the current race, Hagedorn has the support of big-time GOP supporters such as Richard Uihlein and has turned to pro-Republican media outlets to push back on suggestions that he has anti-gay statements and associations in his past.
Hagedorn once wrote that a Supreme Court decision striking down an anti-sodomy law could lead to the legalization of bestiality. He also helped launch an evangelical Christian grade school that barred gay teachers and students.
Hagedorn is nowhere near as big a campaign donor as Neubauer and her family. But he has made four small donations to local GOP parties, totaling $110, in the past two years. His campaign said these were the costs for attending local party events.
“The voters will need to determine whether Brian Hagedorn can be fair and impartial given his time serving as Scott Walker’s lawyer and his partisan and extreme statements and writings,” said Tyler Hendricks, campaign manager for Neubauer.
No doubt, voters will figure it out for themselves in the end.
The new state transportation chief is giving the green light for continued work this spring on the 12-mile Janesville leg of the Interstate 90/39 expansion project.
The news was welcomed locally and comes after days of uncertainty over whether the project could be rebid and delayed at least a year because of projected cost overruns.
In an interview with The Gazette on Friday, newly appointed state Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson said he has opted to sign off on bids for work slated to roll out this spring on the Interstate section through Janesville.
That’s even though the project, based on a single bid proposal, likely will cost 6 percent to 7 percent more than the state Department of Transportation’s earlier estimates, according to a DOT memo released this week.
On Friday, Thompson said he agrees with the DOT recommendation that rebidding the project risks further cost increases of at least $20 million, and it would spell at least a year delay for a project already estimated to last until 2021.
Thompson believes the project has reached a mid-point stage, and delays now would cause prolonged disruption to beleaguered motorists and businesses along the construction-hobbled I-90/39 corridor.
“Once you begin a project like this and you’ve disrupted business along a corridor, it’s important that we get it done and get it done as soon as possible,” he said.
Based on multiple conversations and cost evaluations from DOT officials, Thompson said he doesn’t think the state would save money by rebidding the project to get a potentially less costly contract.
He said five contractors were eligible to bid on the Janesville segment, but only one did: I-39 Constructors, a partnership between Janesville-based Rock Road Companies and Black River Falls contractor Hoffman Construction Company.
If the central segment were delayed, the entire project—a 45-mile multilane expansion between Beloit and Madison estimated at more than $1 billion—would take until 2022 to finish, according to the DOT memo.
Thompson said he believes new Gov. Tony Evers will support his decision to forge ahead with the Janesville segment. He said Evers likely will decide whether to give final approval within the next week.
Some statewide media outlets presented Friday’s decision to go ahead as a litmus test of how Thompson, who has been appointed but not confirmed, might fare with some Republican lawmakers who have the power to accept his appointment as transportation secretary.
Lawmakers in the past few years have blasted the DOT and its leadership for project costs that have swollen far beyond projections.
The I-90/39 project faced earlier criticism from some lawmakers for lowball cost projections the DOT later had to amend.
Thompson told The Gazette that a projected cost overrun of nearly 7 percent “doesn’t satisfy me,” but he pointed out that road-building material costs have been volatile over the last year, in part driven by the mammoth Foxconn project near Racine.
The DOT memo that recommended the Janesville project move forward noted about 95 other bid proposals for road projects in 2017 and 2018 came in more than 10 percent higher than earlier estimates.
During the same period, Thompson said, about a dozen such projects came in with bid proposals that were 6 percent to 7 percent above previous estimates, a disparity similar to the bid on the Janesville project.
A mammoth, multipart project such as the I-90/39 expansion requires bidding out some work even if DOT engineers are only “60 to 70 percent” done with designs, Thompson said. That can lead to a margin of error when it comes to costs, he said.
Thompson wants “more consistent communication” between the DOT and a state panel of lawmakers who examine road projects. He believes the panel and the DOT should convene at least once a year to look at factors that might influence project costs.
Forward Janesville Vice President Dan Cunningham said Friday he believes Thompson made the right move by green-lighting the Janesville project.
“The Janesville-area business community applauds the secretary’s action. He may take some political heat for it, but it was unquestionably the right thing to do,” Cunningham said.
“Putting this project segment out for rebidding could have delayed the project by as much as a year and added $20 (million) to $40 million to the price tag. We simply can’t afford such a delay.”