What the Australian Elections May Tell Us about the 2020 Presidential Elections

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with his family after winning the 2019 election in Sydney, Australia, May 18, 2019. (Dean Lewins/AAP Image/via Reuters)

Good morning. If we could harness the heat from every hot take being offered about the Game of Thrones finale that aired last night, we could solve the world’s energy problems overnight.

Making the click-through worthwhile: How the dynamic in this weekend’s Australian elections may foreshadow next year’s presidential election in the United States, the New York Times travels to blue-collar Ohio and finds working class voters like President Trump “punching China in the face,” the concern about Russian influence in American elections goes in a strange direction, and an example of what Joe Biden can give you that Trump can’t.

The Signs Are There Suggesting a Rerun of 2016

The story down under sounds familiar: The party of the Left entered an election that was declared “unlosable.” That party led in 60 consecutive polls and the exit polls suggested they would enjoy a big victory, sweeping the more conservative party out of power.

The party of the Left promised higher taxes and sweeping new policies to address climate change.

The leader on the Right was dismissed as yesterday’s man, afraid of change, comfortable with old energy, governing over chaos. The leader on the Right insisted he spoke for his “quiet” citizens, who are not outspoken political activists but “they have their dreams, they have their aspirations, to get a job, to get an apprenticeship, to start a business, to meet someone amazing, to start a family, to buy a home, to work hard and provide the best you can for your kids, to save for your retirement.”

And as you probably heard, the party of the Right won; they won the working-class vote, much to the shock of the party of the Left.

The editors note that the politics of climate change are a lot more complicated than environmentalists want to acknowledge:

Labor sought to raise revenue through policies, meant to curb global warming, that would raise the energy bills of hard-pressed blue-collar “battlers” and also shrink their job opportunities in the country’s important energy industries. That probably cost Labor its hoped-for gains in Queensland, where the Left has fought a long campaign to prevent the opening of a new coal mine. As former Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott observed: When climate change is solely a moral issue, Labor wins; when it’s an economic one too, the Coalition wins. The scales tip farther rightward when the voters are informed that Australia’s contribution to carbon emissions is nugatory and that the Greens don’t seem interested in asking China or India to cut their much greater carbon emissions. The Left in politics and the media advertised this as “the climate change election.” And they lost.

Observers compared it to the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s victory in 2016. They might also notice other right-of-center leaders who were generally opposed by most of their country’s political and cultural elites and who won anyway: Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, Japan’s Shinzo Abe, Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, the leaders of Poland’s Law and Justice Party. Now there’s talk that Conservative Boris Johnson may become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Oftentimes these right-of-center parties hit a lot of populist notes; sometimes the rhetoric on immigration veers into xenophobia and other ugly directions. (Not every populist movement fits this right-left spectrum; neither Italy’s Five-Star movement or the “yellow vests” in France hit some right-of-center notes but also support a lot of left-of-center proposals.)

Whatever term you think best applies to the kinds of leaders warmly welcomed and celebrated at the World Economic Forum in Davos — cosmopolitan, internationalist, corporatist, “globalist,” “Establishment” — that’s the brand and image that is having a tougher time in country after country. It is the image of the Obama-era status quo, perhaps best personified in Europe by Angela Merkel, who first came to power back in 2005 (my coverage from Berlin, way back when, at the link). These are leaders who are comfortable with the free flow of labor and goods across national borders, who believe there is a government duty to redistribute wealth and determine who is most deserving of that wealth, who believe in the power of regulation to improve people’s lives, and who are comfortable partnering with big business but who often forget the small businessman. They believe climate change requires immediate and serious action, which will inevitably affect the cost of living of ordinary citizens; those ordinary citizens are just going to have to accept higher gasoline and energy prices as a necessary sacrifice for the long-term environmental health.

As a particular dragon-riding ruler said last night, “They don’t get to choose.”

If the parties of the Left around the world are becoming too-exclusively urban parties, and if their internal conversations are driven by cultural, political, and economic elites in big cities and on university campuses, and if they’re losing touch with their fellow citizens in suburban and rural areas . . . you would expect to see these sorts of results.

This doesn’t mean that the 2020 presidential election will play out exactly as Australia’s elections did. But this dynamic of urban, political, and cultural elites creating a conversational bubble and charging ahead, oblivious of how their agenda sounds to key demographics, sure sounds familiar. Read further.

Tax Hikes & More Regulation vs. ‘Punching China in the Face’

Kamala Harris wants to have the power to fine companies that don’t meet her administration’s terms of equal pay.

Last night in a Fox News town hall, Pete Buttgieg called for at least four new tax hikes: A “fairer, which means higher” marginal income tax, a “reasonable” wealth tax “or something like that,” a financial transactions tax, and closing “corporate tax loopholes.” He also declared that he supported absolutely no restrictions on any abortion whatsoever.

Meanwhile, out in Youngstown, Ohio, the New York Times finds that those not-so-prosperous working-class communities that turned to Trump . . . are sticking with him.

[David] Betras, who recently stepped down as Democratic chairman of populous Mahoning County, said that while Democrats in Washington harp on President Trump’s unfitness for office, his taxes and possible impeachment, the president is solidifying blue-collar support through an aggressive trade war with China, even if his tariffs mean economic pain in the short term.

“The Democratic Party has lost its voice to speak to people that shower after work and not before work,” he said. “All we’re saying is he won’t turn over his tax returns. He’s saying, ‘I’m fighting China to get you better jobs.’”

He added: “They don’t care about his taxes — they just don’t.’’

The 2020 election could well feature a Democratic candidate who is more supportive of trade with China than President Trump — and if that comes to pass, I would expect Trump to beat the drum on this issue throughout the upper Midwest.

Biden has downplayed China’s global economic threat. “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man!” he exclaimed at a rally in Iowa, adding, “They’re not competition for us.”

Democrats in Youngstown said that is exactly the wrong message.

The president is “punching China in the face” with tariffs, while the “leading candidate on our side is saying China is not even an issue,” said Representative Tim Ryan, a Democrat whose district includes Youngstown and who is himself a presidential candidate. “If we go into the election with that as our message, we’ll get beat again.”

. . . “The communities were cut loose and ignored and then they voted for Trump because at least he’s punching somebody in the face, and no one else is,” Mr. Ryan said.

Now there’s a slogan: “Trump 2020: He’s Punching Somebody in the Face.”

Donations from Russians Are Illegal, but Donations from Russophiles?

In case you missed it over the weekend, the Daily Beast writes about Tulsi Gabbard — remember her? She’s still running for president — and declared that her campaign is “being underwritten by some of the nation’s leading Russophiles.” Not donations from Russians, mind you, but a couple thousand dollars in donations from Americans with publicly stated views that are more or less in line with those of Vladimir Putin’s regime.

It will not surprise you to learn that I think Gabbard’s perspective on this is wrong, as well as the views of those donors. But that’s not illegal, nor is it a scandal. Considering the amounts involved, it is unlikely that Gabbard is taking a softer-on-Russia stance in order to get these donations; it is more likely that these folks are making these donations to her because of her softer-on-Russia stance. (One legal note: there is one person who donated under the alias “Goofy Grapes” which is in violation of Federal Election Commission regulations.)

Sometimes you hear talk about the “criminalization of policy differences.” Acting as if a couple of too-cheery-about-Putin Russia scholars is somehow inherently suspect reflects the “scandalization of policy differences.”

ADDENDUM: You know why you ought to join NRPlus if you haven’t already? This weekend, while formally launching his presidential campaign, Joe Biden declared he would reject President Trump’s “clenched fist, closed hand, and hard heart.”

Glen Griffin observed in the NRPlus Facebook page, “But if you want a shoulder rub, a neck stroke, and warm breath in your ear, turn to Joe.”

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