Political Soothsayer Charlie Cook Shared Insights at Amplify

Charlie Cook, called “one of the best political handicappers in the nation” by the New York Times, took the stage at Amplify Convention in October and shared his latest thoughts on the upcoming midterm elections, the 2016 presidential race, and the state of the political system.

Midterm Elections

“We know from history that midterm elections are a referendum on the President,” said Cook. “Unhappy voters go to the polls to vote against the President, and when they don’t see his name on the ballot, they vote against every candidate wearing the same color jersey.”

Rarely, though, do voters happy with the President give his party a boost. “There have only been three times since the Civil War that the party in the White House has gained seats during mid-term elections,” said Cook. With President Obama’s approval rating hovering in the low 40s, and his disapproval rating up in the low 50s, Cook expects to see Republican gains in Congress and Democratic losses.

The usual makeup of midterm election voter turnout compounds this prediction. Cook said that midterm voter turnouts are smaller than presidential elections and skew older and more Republican. “It’s like a thumb on the scale for Republicans that just isn’t there during presidential elections,” he said.

However, since the Democrats lost 63 seats in the House in 2010 and only made up eight of those in 2012, Cook expects fairly small losses in the House because “there’s not much left to lose.”

Turning to the Senate, Cook gives the Republicans about a 60% chance of taking a majority. “The geography of this election is really skewed against the Democrats,” he said. “There are more Democratic seats vulnerable in states that Romney carried in 2012 than Republican seats in Obama states.”

The Republicans need a six-seat net gain for a majority. Cook said that three Democratic seats are “toast” and three more are very vulnerable. However, he put three Republican seats in some degree of doubt as well.

The 2016 Presidential Race

Turning to the 2016 Presidential election, Cook was quick to say that no one knows what’s going to happen. With that caveat he shared his thoughts on what might happen over the next two years.

“Hillary Clinton is probably going to run,” he said, “and she will probably get the Democratic nomination.” Nonetheless, said Cook, there are plenty of good reasons why she might not run. He invited participants to put themselves in Clinton’s shoes — successful, wealthy, a new baby granddaughter. “She has a really nice life waiting for her outside of the presidency,” said Cook.

He contrasted this with the campaign trail, which he said left him utterly exhausted after a single day. Clinton knows what that life is like, he said. Plus, Cook said that on Election Day in 2016, Clinton will be about the same age that Reagan was when he won his first presidential term. Her age is not prohibitive, he said, but it is probably a factor.

If Clinton doesn’t run, said Cook, the Democrats will look towards Senator Elizabeth Warren. “She’s where all the energy is for the Democrats,” he said. “The bankers should be afraid.”

On the Republican side, Cook called the idea that Chris Christie was a Republican frontrunner before Bridgegate “ridiculous.”

“Think about all the frontrunners who fell by the wayside in the primary,” he said. “They desperately wanted to nominate someone a whole lot more conservative than Mitt Romney. Are they really going to go to Chris Christie, a guy more centrist than Romney?”

Cook said that even Jeb Bush, with his focus on immigration and education reform, and a wife born in Mexico, probably can’t win a Republican nomination. “He either has to compromise his deepest principles or run against the grain of his party,” Cook said.

“We’re going to end up with a Republican field that looks like the cast of characters from 2008,” said Cook.

What’s Screwed Up in Washington

“It’s worse than it looks,” Cook said about the legislative and procedural gridlock in Congress. “We could have a five-day symposium on what’s screwed up in Washington.” He said that the blame is shared equally by Democrats and Republicans.

In the House of Representatives, he said, the minority party has “precisely zero” influence. “The majority party runs the place,” he said. “It’s a waste of tax payer dollars to pay airfare for the minority reps to come to Washington.”

He said that the “civil war” between the establishment Republicans and the Tea Party and the “majority of the majority” rule used by Republican Speakers of the House are allowing only “super conservative” legislation to come out of the House. These bills have “essentially zero” chance of passing the Senate, said Cook.

On the Senate side, Cook says that the institution is not designed to deal with the intense level of partisanship that has characterized American politics since the late 1980s. He said that Senators McConnell and Reid, and who lead their respective parties in the Senate, are “the most combative, bitterly partisan” Senate leaders in decades. “Both of them are willing to do just about anything to make sure the other can’t do anything,” said Cook.

He expects this legislative “log jam” to start breaking up around 2017 or 2018, and he encouraged credit unions to make their case now, while things are stuck, so when they start moving again good legislators and legislation are ready to go..

Questions about this story? Contact James Pearson: 206.340.4790, jpearson@nwcua.org.

Posted in Events, Federal, MAXX Annual Convention, NWCUA.