April 7, 2020

Nominations and polls

By Stephen Tuttle | Jan. 7, 2017

Every president-elect is faced with the immediate problem of hiring and nominating many people for many jobs. Many, many jobs; nearly 7,500, including nearly 1,500 requiring Senate confirmation.

Many positions will go to career bureaucrats who at least have some idea of what they’re doing. Some will go to presidential pals and major campaign donors. We’ll never even hear of most.

We will hear much about President-elect Donald Trump’s 15 cabinet nominations, those at the top level of government. Every new president includes a surprise or two in that group, and there’s usually someone facing a confirmation fight.

Trump, true to form, has made several surprising choices, and there may well be more than a single confirmation battle on the horizon. The highlights:

Let’s start with Michigan’s own Betsy DeVos, Trump’s choice for secretary of education. She and her husband and her father have contributed lavishly to Republican and conservative causes over the years. Nothing unusual in that; major donors are rewarded by both parties. 

DeVos is also known as the queen of vouchers. She has worked for years, in multiple states, trying to pass voucher laws that would allow taxpayer money earmarked for public education to go directly to parents to be used for private, parochial, charter or even home schooling.

DeVos will likely be confirmed, but we already know fiats coming from the feds concerning education are not well received at the state level.

Secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, might face stickier questions, especially concerning his relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin. He partnered with a Putin-backed Russian oil company and then put the headquarters in the Bahamas to avoid U.S. taxes.

Some Republican senators have already expressed significant skepticism about his chumminess with a country that acts like the Cold War is still percolating. 

Treasury secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin is likely to face his own opposition during confirmation hearings.

Mnuchin was a Goldman Sachs executive during the time the firm helped create the housing crash and ensuing recession. He then bought mortgage lender Indymac, changed the name to OneWest Bank and became known as the Foreclosure King of California, famous for ruthless foreclosure policies. OneWest’s mortgage subsidiary foreclosed on 38,000 homes in California in just seven years, including nearly 40 percent of all reverse mortgage foreclosures in the country. 

Mnuchin will have questions to answer. 

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama is Trump’s attorney general nominee. It won’t be his first confirmation hearing.

Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions for a federal judgeship, but accusations of racism, which he has always denied, derailed his confirmation. Those old claims will likely be rehashed. He’s also virulently anti-immigration, even opposing visas for highly educated and highly skilled immigrants.   

Sessions will also have to explain why he thought the Supreme Court gutting of parts of the Voting Rights Act was a “great day for the South.” 

Then there’s retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has been tapped to be Trump’s national security adviser, a position not requiring congressional approval and typically shielded from its prying inquiries. It’s a shame because those would have been interesting hearings.

Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was forced out and retired a year early for an allegedly ineffective management style that included fabricating facts to support his theories.

He has publicly claimed there are cities in Texas and Florida enacting Sharia law (no city anywhere in this country is doing any such thing), there are signs on our southern border in Arabic guiding terrorist infiltrators (there are no such signs) and that members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign team were part of a pedophile ring (no they weren’t). Good grief. 

Those are just the highlights of an eccentric group of Trump nominees. The confirmation hearings have the potential of some real political theater.    

We need a final election postscript regarding the polls. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth about the inaccuracy and unreliability of polling. How could they have been so wrong?

They weren’t.

Most final national polls had Clinton ahead by two to four points. She won the popular vote by about two points. That’s pretty accurate. Statewide polls weren’t far off, either.

Here in Michigan, for example, Clinton maintained a double-digit lead throughout the summer. As the leaves began to turn, it became eight points, then six, then four, then within the margin of error. Had the election been Nov. 15, the polls conducted on the 8th would have likely shown Trump ahead, as he then was.  

By the time polling numbers are released, they are almost always days old, a snapshot of last week’s opinions. The final poll, on Election Day, revealed a tipping point several swing states had been trending toward for weeks. The fact that those trends weren’t widely reported doesn’t make the polling inaccurate.

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