Chad Blair: Aloha everyone and welcome to another installment of the Pod Squad, as always Chad Blair with Honolulu Civil Beat. Today the topic is presidential politics as it applies to the Aloha State. Joining me to discuss the presidential situation is Colin Moore. He is a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii. Do I have the title correct?
Colin Moore: Well, I’m technically an assistant professor.
Blair: I wasn’t going to bring that up.
Moore: Thank you Chad, I’m very happy to be here.
Blair: Thanks for coming back, Colin.
And emeritus professor of political science, also UH Manoa, Neal Milner. Hello, Neal.
Neal Milner: Hi, Chad.
Blair: Good to have you guys back.
So Neal has a column up running right now. Well Neal, give us just a very quick summary of this column you have regarding Trump and Hawaii.
Milner: Well the quick column is this: There’s been virtually no buzz, no coverage about Hawaii caucuses, or who’s doing what for the presidency here, unlike anywhere else in the mainland.
In the column I talk about some of the reason for this, but to me what’s most relevant to this discussion is that: 1) We have virtually no knowledge of what’s going on; 2) The usual trope, the usual way that we fill no political knowledge here is to come up with these kinds of explanations that tend to be kind to Hawaii. It isn’t that we don’t know a lot of stuff, it’s that Hawaii is different.
And so what’s been written about Trump at all, which is very little, is that he won’t have any appeal here because his style is different, because he’s not polite. Now the people who have said that and will get quoted are people who are old-line Republicans – really old-line Republicans. So my point was that; 1) you really don’t know how well Trump is doing here; 2) there certainly are some indications that there are the kinds of problems here, at least some of them, certainly economic ones, that seem to be appealing to Trump supporters; and 3) because we don’t know anything more about this and we’re ignoring him, it’s indicative of some of the problems that these conventional explanations have.
Blair: And by the way, the conventional, the old school Republicans, their guy is no longer in the race – that was Jeb Bush. That was the favorite candidate of Pat Saiki, the former chair, as well as most of the mainstream Republicans. I can tell you the outliers, the guys that are on the outs with the party, they have been aggressively pushing Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson to a lesser extent. Sam Slom of all people, the Republican senator, is backing Ben Carson.
Moore: And Charles Djou is pepping up John Kasich.
Blair: That’s right, exactly. Now are we leaving anybody out? Oh, Rubio…
Milner: But it’s still a well kept secret. This is something that you know because you’re in the business of knowing. And we know because you just told us. But it’s not something that is being used to mobilize potential caucus-goers.
Blair: What do you think? Do you think Trump has some appeal here? Neal mentioned the economy. I assume you would also talk about immigration, that’s probably his number one issue, whether that wall is going to go up between us and Mexico, and who’s going to pay for it. I think just the general anger at government right now, the incumbents and so forth. What do you think, Donald Trump appeal to Hawaii voters?
Moore: I sure do. I mean look, the same issues that make him appealing on the mainland make him appealing here. So we don’t have a problem with people crossing the border, but there’s a lot of frustration here with immigrants taking what people perceive as their jobs or their benefits. There’s the same frustration here at least with our state government, that it’s impossible to get anything done or that special interest control the government, the unions here more than maybe on the mainland. And so, I don’t see any reason why voters here wouldn’t find him every bit as appealing. I mean, there is this fact that he’s been arguably racist, which might turn some voters off.
Moore: Well yeah, I’d say absolutely. But I don’t know how much that’s going to affect the people who vote in the Republican caucus here. So I perceive that he’s going to have some pretty robust support. Look, he’s polling extremely well right now is Massachusetts. Massachusetts is one of the most Democratic states in the nation, just like us.
Blair: I’d would say along with Hawaii.
Moore: Just like Hawaii, yeah. Maybe Rhode Island. And so, if he can win in Massachusetts, I don’t see why he can’t win here, too.
Blair: I should tell our listeners that the Republican presidential caucus is on March the 8th. And if you do want to sign up you need to get ahold of the party. You do have to declare yourself a Republican, but anybody can walk in the door and they’ll enroll you right there. And then on March 26th is the Democratic caucus – or presidential preference poll – whatever you want to call it. Same deal, you don’t have to be a Democrat, but you can go there and sign up for the party, and then you get to vote. So I want to let everybody know that is on the table here.
You mentioned, economic issues. Our economy is doing pretty well. I mean we do have a high cost of living, but our unemployment is very low. We are a state heavily made up of immigrants, much more than certainly Iowa or New Hampshire. Why would he find an appeal here, Neal, do you think, with some of these different demographics?
Milner: Well, whatever the unemployment rate here, if you look at Eric’s piece that he wrote in Civil Beat.
Blair: Eric Pape.
Milner: Eric Pape’s piece on Civil Beat on the plight of the middle class, the middle class is extraordinary vulnerable here. Again we don’t know a lot of things. We don’t know to what extent that working class has been hollowed out the way they have been on the mainland, but there’s no reason to think they’re doing well at all. There’s no reason to think that people that have at most a high school education aren’t really suffering. That certainly is likely to be the same thing here. So, economically, you could see some of the reasons that they would channel this into Trump.
I’m less sure on the immigration one, and certainly on the kind of ethnocentrism that shows up with a lot of Trump voters, because our experiences are different here. We’re not necessarily more tolerant or better or whatever else, our experiences with immigration and certainly with ethnocentrism are much more complex here. But I think economically – I got some comments on the article and two were from Trump supporters, and these were long comments, and they weren’t nasty, they weren’t ethnic, they weren’t ethnocentric, they were about how we’re suffering economically compared to our parents who were blue-collar parents and so on.
Moore: That’s right. One thing Trump brings to the table that traditionally Republican candidates didn’t is, he’s not a free trader. This is remarkable, and this has a lot of traction right now. People see the trade agreements, which have been supported by Republicans and Democrats for years, that has been a central establishment issue, something that most of the political establishment can agree on. He’s against those. He says, “I’m going to protect your jobs.” Now that may be insane economic policy, but I think that that really makes him a distinctive candidate.
Blair: You know, this appeals to people like Mark Takai, who is also against the trade deal with Asia, and of course this has a lot to do with the union presence here. Well, how about that, a union state like Hawaii going for a guy like Donald Trump.
Milner: Well, the interesting thing to me about the unions, is how unions here that had a very strong tradition of militancy, now these were of course private-sector unions – the sugar workers. Unions are very different and the public employment unions are not militant, are not very much interested in changing politics as usual. So, this is a union state in a very different way than let’s say – the grandparents of my children who worked on the sugar plantations faced.
No one is going to accuse anybody in HGEA, even on a more militant day, of being a Communist.
Blair: No, that’s not going to happen.
It’s amazing when Scott Walker came out here to be the keynote for the Lincoln Day dinner with the local Republican party. HGEA and other unions stood on Kalanianaole and sign waved, because we all know about Walker’s reputation in Wisconsin. Course, look how well he did in the presidential election. Didn’t even make it to the primaries.
Now, are we missing the potential for one of the other Republicans, Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, who are basically in second place here, or even Ben Carson or John Kasich, to have some ground here?
Moore: I don’t think so. I honestly don’t. I wish I could say yes, but I don’t think. Maybe Cruz because there is a small evangelical presence here that might be somewhat helpful. I don’t see how Rubio gets much traction here, or Kasich. Trump is the one who has motivated the base. This is the guy who everyone has heard of. This is who they’re going to go out and support.
Milner: Well, I want to come back to what I said before. There’s two important things to understand about this. When Colin and I say this, we’re saying this with much less data than we could say if you asked us a question about Florida – which is as far away from here as any state you can get – that’s one thing. And secondly, you’re not hearing this kind of question being discussed in public by Republicans. And that, to me, is astonishing and kind of frighting. That’s what I was trying to get at earlier about the lack of political discourse not at a very high level. I mean this is, “Who you going to vote for and why?” And it’s not there.
Moore: And you mentioned something earlier about the leaders of the Republican Party here, the most prominent ones have not supported Trump, and yet we are predicting that he might take the caucus. And I think this is a fascinating thing about the Trump candidacy. He’s not had the support of the party. The establishment Republicans have done, at least in the early days, everything they could to work against him. And yet that very fact seems to appeal to the electorate and I think it will appeal to our electorate in the same way it does to the mainland electorate.
Blair: I’m hoping he flies out here, that’s just my goal as a reporter.
Moore: Chad, it will be the classiest most luxurious trip around.
Blair: I want to go on the plane.
Milner: I tell you frankly he’s the only one – when I say this you have to understand it’s not my politics at all and I would never vote for him – but if I were to watch the GOP debate, the only guy I care about watching, as a social scientist and as a guy who likes comedic acting, is Trump. The rest them are terrible. The rest of them are insincere or they’re dull. So whatever Trump’s style is, there’s something there that draws you in.
Moore: He has charisma. He’s funny. He seems genuine in a way that the other candidates don’t. I mean, as loathsome a creator as I find him, Neal’s right, he’s the guy you watch.
Blair: OK, quickly, we’ve got to deal with the Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. How’s that going to play out? Of course we have quite a few weeks until the March 26th caucus. We’ll see right now the latest news is, I think, Hillary is already starting to wrap this up, super-delegates and what not. But do you think Bernie Sanders might have some appeal here in Hawaii?
Moore: Well, he does have some appeal. I mean around UH you can see the rallies and the students.
Blair: That’s where all the sign wavers are.
Moore: You might question how broad the appeal is if it’s just university students and faculty members. I think he’ll do OK, but Hillary is going to win, no question in my mind.
Milner: I think that’s right. Again though, it’s the way this thing is being carried out; there is so little public discussion. The politicians aren’t arguing about it. I mean, when Hillary and Obama squared off it was much more.
And the weird thing is how few signs there are.
Blair: I haven’t seen any.
Milner: My usual reaction to campaign season is, “God, there’s way too many signs, I’m tired of this.” You know we have phalanx along the Kalanianaole Highway that seem to run all the way out to Waimanalo. Now I’m saying, “Where are the signs?” It’s not about the signs changing people’s minds. We don’t know what they do. But the indication of political participation – they’re not around.
Moore: I’ve seen a couple of Bernie bumper stickers. I’m not sure I’ve seen a single Hillary bumper sticker or sign.
Blair: Me neither. That’s amazing.
Just quickly I should point out in 2004 when John Kerry would eventually take the nomination, the fellow that did here pretty well was Dennis Kucinich, which surprised some people, Big Island and Maui I think in particular – some of those very same supporters, some with shall we say, Socialist tendencies and whatnot.
Milner: Didn’t he show up here?
Blair: He did, and guess who met him at the airport.
And of course he’s alone, carrying his own bags.
Moore: Sitting in coach.
Blair: “Representative Kucinich. Hi, Chad Blair.”
Milner: Did you have to march through the Marine Honor Guard to get to shake his hand?
Blair: No, he was very approachable.
Any final comments? Because we’re out of time, plus I can tell that we could talk for hours about this. Neal a final thought about…
You know what I wish? Let me ask you this, why can’t we be the first in the nation? Hawaii, nice diverse state ethnically, economically.
Milner: Because I think Iowa law requires that Iowa be ahead of anywhere else. So you change it it, Iowa changes it. I lived in Iowa before. Iowa used to be in the middle of the pack. Things happened outside of their control that made it essential for them to be where they are, and now they’ve learned to play with it because the media loves it.
Moore: Hey I’m all for Hawaii being first. I mean it’s far more representative than Iowa is.
Milner: Yes, yes.
Blair: And you know what, then Wolf Blitzer would be coming after you, and Sean Hannity and all those guys.
Moore: This could be our big break, Neal.
Milner: Wait, I’m changing my mind here.
Blair: Alright, we’re going to stop there. I want to thank Colin Moore and Neal Milner as always for joining the Pod Squad.
I should plug you this information; remember to subscribe to us on iTunes and Stitcher, visit our site at civilbeat.com, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
Chad Blair with the Pod Squad, thank you, take care and aloha.