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#AskTIME Subscriber Q and A: Zeke Miller

8 minute read

Welcome to the TIME Subscriber Q & A with TIME political reporter, Zeke Miller. He reported on the midterm elections for this week’s cover story, How Mitch McConnell Won the Day. His other stories can be found here.

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yogi asks, ZM, the GOP campaigned on “fixing” the economy, besides the DOA repeal of Obamacare, what sort of policies are the new senate majority leaders looking to try to implement first?

We’ve heard now from a range of GOP leaders and President Obama about their priorities for the coming months. One area of common ground is international trade. The president heads to Asia this weekend for a week-long trip where that will be front-and-center on his agenda, and this is an area where both parties can find common ground. In fact, it’s been Democrats who have been the most skeptical of the president’s trade agenda. Beyond that, I’d expect the GOP Senate to push for votes on the Keystone XL pipeline, like House Republicans did in the House.

deconstructive asks, Zeke, there are thoughts posting across the intertubes already that the new GOP / TP Congress will benefit Hillary as it offers her an easy foil. Might this also be true for Elizabeth Warren? I think she’s now the de facto leader for liberal and populist thinking within the Democratic party (sorry, Hillary is not, she’s still a centrist but way better than any R candidate), and while the R’s / TP’s will shut down her proposals, she won’t sit down and stay quiet. The more she speaks, the more Warren offers her ideas as a contrast to the conservatives …and to the scared-of-their-shadow Blue Dog D’s who won’t take a populist stand on anything (and keep losing in midterms, but I digress). Minimum wage did well at the polls, after all.

Definitely,but in different ways. Clinton is going to try to make the case that she can break the gridlock, owing to her long career in government. Warren will seize the opportunity for daily rhetorical warfare in the Senate against the new majority. Clinton’s case is more focused on the general electorate, while Warren’s (if she runs) would be giving a frustrated Democratic base a powerful outlet to vent.

deconstructive asks, Zeke, does Obama harbor any ill will against the D’s who ran away from him (and lost) this election? Of course, he’d deny anything in public, but that’s why you have sources and background info., yes?

Watching the president’s press conference on Wednesday, I think you could surmise the president was a bit frustrated by some in his party declining to appear with him.

Here’s what he said: “I love campaigning. I love talking to ordinary people. I love listening to their stories. I love shaking hands and getting hugs and just seeing the process of democracy and citizenship manifest itself during an election.” He didn’t get a chance to do that, but clearly enjoyed himself when he did. Republicans believe that he would have been useful in turning out the base, especially in North Carolina.

RichardAB asks, Zeke Miller: there has been a debate about the pro and cons of getting rid of mid-term elections. What is your stance on the issue?

I’m a political reporter. If you gave me an IV-caffeine drip, I’d take annual elections. But that’s just me being selfish.

DonQuixotic asks, Zeke, were there any mid term election results that surprised you? If so, what?

I was surprised how close VA Senate got. It kind of crept up on us. Partly that was because Republicans weren’t talking about what they saw in the polls and weren’t putting any more money into the race. (But there’s a strong argument that if they had done any more to draw attention to the race, that Democrats would have upped their turnout efforts and it wouldn’t have been as tight.)

deconstructive asks, Zeke, how likely do you think there will be a government shutdown? I think the odds are much higher (thanks, Ted Cruz), no matter what McConnell says. You don’t REALLY believe anything conciliatory he says, no?

I think Republicans know that if they want to win in 2016 they can’t really afford another shutdown. Additionally the GOP has spent the better part of the year promising that victory would mean Washington beginning to work again. That’s a tall order, but Republicans would own a shutdown to an even greater extent if there were another one. If the Affordable Care Act website worked as promised, the GOP would have started off this year in a much deeper hole because of the shutdown. They know they won’t get so lucky twice.

MementoMori asks, Voter turnout was terrible. How much responsibility does the media bear for low turnout given the fact that most of the media coverage focuses on the horse race rather than the issues. And when issues are reported, ‘both sides” is always given greater weight than veracity.

Voter turnout was terrible, but I don’t think you can blame us for all of it. (Perhaps we deserve some of the blame for the horse-race coverage, but let’s be honest, that’s how many voters want to consume their political news anyway.) The bigger issue appears to be frustration with the political process, and a belief that the outcome of the election wouldn’t result in any change in a potential voters’ day-to-day life. The only people who can dissuade voters of that perception are candidates/legislators.

Sacredh asks, the GOP had previously said that they wouldn’t move on immigration reform until after the election. Now that the election is over and they control both houses, will reform bring the establishment GOP and the Tea Party together or tear them apart?

That’s the $2 billion question for Republicans coming before the end of the year. From what Speaker Boehner/Leader McConnell have said, they intend to vigorously oppose any unilateral action by the president and have said executive action would poison the well for legislation action. There would definitely be a short-term coalescing together in the face of the executive action. The challenge for the GOP comes next year, when the party’s 2016 candidates announce. While the primary base is largely opposed to reform, they know they need to find a way to be open to it in order to win a general election. That means there will have to be some sort of split eventually, but the extent of that split won’t be known for some time.

deconstructive asks, Zeke, why do you think most of the D’s (especially the losing ones, but I digress) ran away from populist messages? Elizabeth Warren embraced them instead and played to welcoming crowds in both blue and red states …and furthermore, minimum wage initiatives swept the table in states that had them. Ergo, populism can play to mass audiences. Instead, too many D’s tried to play GOP Lite, and it failed. What gives?

This is certainly an argument that the NRSC was making to reporters yesterday, and the data does show that the base wasn’t enthused about showing up to vote. The question is why didn’t they show up. Was it because Kay Hagan was running too far from Obama/traditional D principles, or were they dissatisfied for other reasons or just tapped out. It’s hard to say. In a lot of instances, reaching for the center was the smart play, but the late breaking atmospherics of Ebola/ISIS/etc shifted undecided/swing voters to the GOP anyway.

NPO42 asks, In Wednesday’s comments, I tried to break down some of the voting trends in two states, Florida and Pennsylvania, and one of the main themes that appears was just how gerrymandered the majority of districts are. For example, in terms of a popular vote for House seats in Pennsylvania, the Republican candidates led the Democrats 56% – 44%, but the actual seats won was 72% – 28%, 13 seats to 5. On top of that, only 4 of the races were even decided by less than a 20 point margin. In my opinion, that’s a far cry from how the Framers originally intended representation in the House to be set up. Do you think we will ever come to a time when we won’t have large numbers, a good majority even, of gerrymandered districts? Are there too many entrenched interests involved to ever make that a reality?

Ever is a long time, but I certainly wouldn’t hold my breath for it. You’d need to see the courts act, or state legislators volunteer to give up some of their power. What’s the incentive for them to do that?




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