James P. Freeman: Curling toward GOP victory

  Curling in Toronto in 1909.

Curling in Toronto in 1909.

 

“Cry out full-throated and unsparingly,

Lift up your voice like a trumpet blast…”

                                                --Isaiah 58:1a

 

If voters mean what they say -- constantly expressing dissatisfaction with the current hyper-partisan political class and calling for its removal -- they could convert hyper-pandemonic emotion into action by dismissing Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren in 2018. An able replacement would be Beth Lindstrom. She is the saucer that could cool the Senate’s tea. And, maybe, ferocious minority factions.

If this is, as we are reminded daily, the Year-of-The-Woman in American politics, Lindstrom, a moderate Republican, counters the argument that her party is comprised of old white men, tired and empty. And should she win her party’s nomination to unseat Warren this autumn, her candidacy removes one stone from the hand holding the political rocks  that Warren likes to throw: the progressive granite of gender politics.

If you are Warren, you must hope that Lindstrom is not your challenger in November. For Lindstrom, personable and perspicacious, makes the improbable seem possible -- Warren’s wicked claw paralyzed; the screech silenced; the progressive oppression lifted.

For this column, appearing sturdy, cheerful and thoughtful over English Breakfast, fittingly, at a Boston hotel, the single biggest take-away is that Lindstrom is serious and compelling.

“A strong economy,” she says, is still the biggest issue for Massachusetts residents. Ever since Donald Trump won the presidency stock markets have anticipated the unbridling of America’s economic might. Higher wages, bigger bonuses and lower taxes (mere crumbs to likes of Warren and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi) are filtering into wallets and purses. A recent national poll found that the second and third most important issues to respondents were, respectively, the economy and taxes. (Healthcare ranked number one; a relative non-issue in Massachusetts since Romneycare in 2006.) This bodes well for Lindstrom’s focus on economics.

Though never elected to office, Lindstrom brings just enough public-sector experience (executive director of Massachusetts State Lottery (1997-1999); director of Consumer Affairs in Gov. Mitt Romney’s cabinet -- overseeing regulatory agencies including banking, telecommunications, energy, insurance and licensure (2003-2006)) and private-sector experience (a founder and owner of small businesses) to understand the complexities of modern government.

As President Calvin Coolidge noted nearly a century ago, “the chief business of the American people is business.” But today much of America’s business is government. Lindstrom’s skill-sets and her MBA degree, therefore, will come in handy as Trump steers his massive $1.5 trillion infrastructure initiative into a hybrid of public-private partnerships (with lots of still-unknowns).

In January, Lindstrom launched a Business Growth Tour, intended to “collaborate with Massachusetts business owners on the steps that can be taken to help them grow and expand.” Lowering costs and reducing regulation present a “fair opportunity,” she insists. Small business owners make a big voting bloc. In 2016, there were nearly 640,000 small businesses in Massachusetts. They employed 1.4 million workers, representing nearly 47 percent of all  workers in the commonwealth. And nearly 90,000 of these businesses are minority-owned.

 

Warren, meanwhile, defends her questionable lineage, and her support of Dodd-Frank and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- both saturated with excessive regulations. Do small-business proprietors think that  there are too few regulations?

Perhaps unintentionally, Lindstrom’s presence is that of a restorer of Rockefeller Republicanism -- to frustrate today’s right-wing pathology; and repairer of the breach -- the chasm between professional politicians and everyday citizens. She speaks in tones of incrementalism, not extremism.

For the doubters -- those wondering if she knows how to win in liberal Massachusetts -- Lindstrom managed Scott Brown’s successful Senate campaign eight years ago. The inconceivable to the achievable.

Lindstrom senses a tremulous electorate in 2018, like what she felt in 2010. But today it’s harder to define; and it’s not yet articulated into a slogan. (In 2010, Brown ran to capture “the people’s seat.”) She may be forgiven for defining herself as an abstraction: “A common-sense Republican.” But what does that mean? Standard definition is yesterday’s technology and yesteryear’s candidacy. It will need some high-def refinement before Warren pounces. (In 2012, incumbent Brown called himself a “Scott Brown Republican,” letting Warren ill-define him.)

Her fractured party and its national leaders pose problems, too.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky bemoans Republicans embracing Trump’s $1.5 trillion in new debts (reminiscent of Obama-era levels) and projections for unbalanced budgets for the next decade. Ironically, Rand joined Warren in opposing the recent “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018,” which increases the debt ceiling and spending by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next two years. Lindstrom believes that the GOP must remain “the party of fiscal responsibility” and determine whether spending that is “necessary versus nice.” She favors congressional term-limits and a presidential line-item veto to force the government to think long-term, not each election cycle.

Like many Americans, she winces at the president’s “tone, temperament and tweeting” but thinks that more Americans will continue reaping the benefits of Trump’s economic policies by this year’s mid-terms. And, like many Americans, she supports his tax cuts; she expects that higher growth rates (not the paltry, so-called “new normal” touted after the Great Recession) will “temper higher debts and deficits.”

Talk of voters abandoning the GOP en masse in November may be premature. Just this month, a Politico/Morning Consult poll showed Trump’s approval rating equaling the percentage of voters who disapprove of his job performance (47 percent). And on a “generic congressional ballot” basis, the same poll found that the GOP now enjoys a one-point advantage over Democrats, as of Feb. 12. Will Americans reward his policies and ignore his personality this fall?\  

Still, while Trump may be the elephant in the room, he is not on the ballot in 2018.

Fortunately for Lindstrom, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker will be on the ballot. Baker, like Lindstrom, is a moderate. And more importantly, he is also the most popular high-level politician in Massachusetts. A January WBUR poll found that 74 percent of Massachusetts voters approve of the job that Baker is doing. That means  that he is more popular than Warren, and Lindstrom hopes  that his coattails will carry Republican votes down ballot.

(Incidentally, the same poll found that: “The one somewhat positive number for Trump is that a plurality of Massachusetts voters (43 percent) say the president has been good for the overall economy.”)  

For the next few months, Lindstrom looks to build her brand. Currently fewer than 8 percent of Massachusetts residents know who she is; Warren is recognized by nearly 95 percent of residents. That’s a challenge also facing her principal Republican opponents, state Rep. Geoff Diehl and former hedge-fund executive John Kingston. But all three Republicans are confident that they will meet April’s GOP state convention threshold to appear on September’s primary ballot. It’s still early.

Voters have been watching more Olympics than politics lately. Nevertheless, they may soon understand that Lindstrom’s campaign is analogous to the winter sport of curling, which requires resistance, patience and persistence to win. Whereas Diehl and Kingston are the two-man luge. Exciting and daring, certainly, but susceptible to crashing.

James P. Freeman, a former banker, is a New England-based writer and former columnist with The Cape Cod Times. His work has also appeared in The Providence Journal, newenglanddiary.com and nationalreview.com.