The 2016 election season affected industries across the board. What’s the impact on Springfield and where is the nation headed? To find out, Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson sat down with political professors Elizabeth Dudash-Buskirk of Missouri State University and Daniel Ponder of Drury University, along with lobbyist Scott Marrs of Governmental Services Group Inc. and political consultant Miles Ross of Veritas Public Relations LLC.
Eric Olson: How would you summarize the 2016 political season in one word?
Elizabeth Dudash-Buskirk: Contentious.
Miles Ross: Tumultuous.
Scott Marrs: Surprise.
Daniel Ponder: Polarized.
Olson: Was it more vocalized or more visible in that polarization?
Dudash-Buskirk: I just think the language that was used, the images that were constructed, were more focused on being as polarizing as possible and less focused on placating the argument of unity. Usually, we really see our presidential candidates talk about the fact that sooner or later we will come together.
Ross: It was laid bare. When I run campaigns, you run to the right on the Republican side in the primary, then you go to the middle in the general. People just stayed in their lanes. There was no trying to appease to the middle or the independent voter. Donald Trump, more so than anybody, was continuous in his message that many people saw as divisive, but his supporters really ate it up. It was kind of surprising. Almost everybody got it wrong.
Dudash-Buskirk: As a professor, I don’t know how you felt, but all of us were sitting around going, “I’m quitting my job tomorrow because we can’t do this anymore.” Just wrong, even from the communications side, from the quantitative side, from voter behavior side, none of it was making any sense.
Ross: I think we were all looking at 2012, 2008 and seeing what voters did then and thinking, “Well, Trump has to win Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, all these swing states. There’s no way he’ll run the table, so obviously, Clinton’s going to win.” But he ran the table by talking to his base supporter.
Ponder: I was on a radio show election night. I brought all my surveys and my polls that I had been watching and I thought I was going to blow them out of the water with my education. I just threw it in the air, “All this doesn’t work anymore!”
Olson: Have you been able to figure out what the difference was?
Ponder: I was noticing more than I’ve seen in my professional career the people running away from experience. I told my students I think one of the more interesting dynamics was in the primary with the Republicans, because you have Catherine Hanaway for example, correct me if I’m wrong, but in all the commercials that I saw for her, not once did she mention that she’d been in the House of Representatives, much less speaker. Then there was that commercial that (Republican candidate Josh) Hawley ran in the primary with (Democratic candidate Kurt) Schaefer, the moderate commercial – everybody remember that one? The one where it says, “He’s a moderate. We don’t want a moderate.” I just thought, “Wow.”
Dudash-Buskirk: About 240 years of history will do that.
Ponder: I think it speaks to the polarization. When it’s polarized, you don’t want a moderate. But the interesting thing to point to, the research shows in theory at least, it’s the elites who are polarized – members of Congress, governors, etc. Some of the research has shown that the public is still relatively moderate.
Dudash-Buskirk: And we have to choose. The public can be as moderate as it wants, but we ultimately choose one or the other. So we’re forced into it because of the elites. I totally agree. Every academic model from political science to political communication to sociological behavior has been violated by this election.
Ross: Throughout the Republican primary many people were promising things that just aren’t feasible, just can’t happen. I think people are overlooking logic and they’re talking about what they theoretically want, but we know there’s not a path to do. Repealing Obamacare on day one, that’s not possible because you don’t have 60 Senators. People are getting amped up, but it’s not even logical.
Olson: Bringing that into business, could you identify one or two things in this political season that will affect business the most this year?
Ponder: Well, no surprise with (Missouri Governor-elect Eric) Greitens winning I think we become right-to-work.
Ross: I think the way voters voted was really a pushback on the feeling, and I say feeling, that the federal government and state government is crushing business. I think even if you’re a worker in a factory, you feel like over the last eight years, the federal government has laid too many regulations whether it’s Obamacare or an EPA ruling. It’s felt like a lot. People are angry about that. I think that mood is going to lead into next year, the next couple of years. I think a lot of business owners are going to be happy about that. What I’m starting to see among voters and among business owners and politicians is that they’re excited because they feel a new sense of freedom to do business. The Trump-Carrier deal – we all know that was just optics. He’s not going to be able to do that in other states because Mike Pence is governor of Indiana. He’s not going to do that in Missouri, but that’s an optic thing. People know that, but they’re buying into the belief. Even people in the Carrier plant in Indiana know what happened, but they’re excited that somebody stuck up for them. I think that feeling is letting business owners start thinking about, “Well, maybe I can add jobs. Maybe I can do something and the federal government isn’t going to say I can’t do this.”
Olson: So there’s a lot to this psyche involved?
Dudash-Buskirk: It’s definitely all perception. The perception is that we hired a business guy to be our president and that is somehow going to shift every angry business person, small business, big business, it doesn’t matter because suddenly they have somebody who understands. It’s sort of an identification thing. He needed to make the Carrier deal the way it looked because if I were working in a factory, I wouldn’t identify with Donald Trump until something came along that looked like that. So there’s a big difference between those who are interested strictly in business and business policy and those of us who are kind of like, “You guys keep running your thing, but we’ve got other concerns.” I think those two, the perception that Donald Trump, big businessman, is a good businessman and the fact we’re turning more individualist and less communitarian is working in favor of electing people like Greitens and Trump over more experienced governing people.
Olson: Is the CEO a qualified person to lead in government?
Marrs: I think it could bring some fresh perspectives in. Running a big state government is a huge deal, which is similar to a corporation, with a lot of differences as far as how the state government workers work. They’re not working in a for-profit system, it’s just to retain what they have as far as keeping state government running. I think a fresh perspective wouldn’t hurt anything and it might help, we’ll see. It’s still going to be difficult to get initiatives through with not only the legislature – there’s a supermajority of Republicans right now – but also through the bureaucratic process. We’ve had legislation pass and waited two years before regulations are written.
Olson: Do you think a fresh face might quicken that process?
Marrs: I hope so. I do hope there’s a big change there. If the legislature speaks and they decide on something, the governor signs it, then it should be enacted rather than being under the control of the bureaucrats.
Ponder: I certainly didn’t want Ross Perot to be elected, but I remember thinking it would be kind of interesting in a parallel universe because he had such a CEO mentality. With Trump in particular, he now has to exist in a separation of powers system. He has a motivated majority, but he’s got a fairly narrow majority in the Senate. I don’t know if you remember, people would ask (Perot), “What are you gonna do?” He’d roll his eyes and say, “Again, I’m gonna get underneath the hood and tinker around with it and we’re all gonna go in lockstep together and work.” He just didn’t seem to have a perspective of what government is like. He’s obviously incredible as a businessman, but there are differences – profit motive versus governing motive and so forth. But that’s kind of what I’ll look to see how much (Trump) gets frustrated by Republicans in Congress. I mean he’ll certainly be frustrated by the Democrats, but then to see how Republicans respond to that.
Dudash-Buskirk: I actually believe that there’s a big difference between a president and a CEO. The president is supposed to be your first servant. Your America is defined by your president. Congress is where the sausage gets made. That’s where it matters, and the president can want and want and want but isn’t going to get unless Congress is in. Congress is not going to let Donald Trump run around and do whatever he wants, and I see that as the problem that we’re going to have. There’s a simplicity to what the people want and a complexity to what the government is going to do. Donald Trump appeals to the simplicity of the people without understanding the complexity of the government.
Olson: Speaking to the election, a board would be electing the CEO in terms of the hiring process. Is that a fair similarity?
Ross: I think that’s the way voters voted. I think they voted that way, to elect a CEO, to run the country, to open America up for business. Republicans always say, “Republicans are very bad at having a majority.” I think the first few months, the first few sessions, I think we’re going to get legislative agendas that match and we’re going to get those through. It’s going to be a fight, but then I think very quickly you’re going to see a divergence. Trump is going to want to do one thing, and Congress is going to say no. I think you’re already seeing that in the tea leaves. I think the Carrier deal has some Republicans upset because you have a president picking winners and losers, and I think the same thing in Jeff City, too. I don’t know if you’re hearing that, but I’m already hearing people questioning what’s going to happen after the honeymoon period.
Olson: Softening regulations may be the theme of this next year in politics. What are some specific ones? Obamacare or overtime?
Ponder: Of course there’s the famous “60 Minutes” interview where Trump is already moving back. He likes the idea of the children being able to stay on until they’re 26 and the pre-existing conditions now. The lynchpin, of course, is the mandate. But you can’t really have these things without the mandate. That’s what drives it, but that’s the single most unpopular thing.
Marrs: And then you’ve got the question that Republicans and Democrats have to answer. Twenty million people are on this. So politically, how do you cut off everyone who’s on there now?
Ross: They’ve got to balance that with people like me: a family of four and we pay our own health insurance. Mine went up $5,500 next year alone. I could buy another house with what I pay per month for health insurance that I can’t use. That’s the problem Congress has to work out. How do we take care of people? How do we control the cost of increases? How do we keep the 20 million that didn’t have insurance and help pre-existing conditions? There’s no real answer.
Dudash-Buskirk: Somebody’s getting hurt. The question is who is it going to be and how bad is it going to be?
Dudash-Buskirk: I really don’t think there’s going to be anything left of an Obama legacy policy wise, if Trump is in for eight years. I don’t think any of us are saying the world’s going to end, we just don’t know where it’s going to go.
Interview excerpts by Features Editor Emily Letterman, email@example.com, and editorial assistant Barrett Young, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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