John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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My Notes from a Recent Speech

Posted on April 12, 2016
By Michael Vadon - https://www.flickr.com/photos/80038275@N00/20724666936/, CC BY-SA 2.0, $3

By Michael Vadon - https://www.flickr.com/photos/80038275@N00/20724666936/, CC BY-SA 2.0, $3



I gave a talk to a group and thought I would share my notes with you:

Thank you so much for having me here today.

Did anybody watch Jordan Spieth after his collapse at the Masters?

That kid is 22 years old. Wow, what poise.

I wish our Presidential candidates would act with such poise.

Just imagine what Donald Trump would do if he were in that position.

First, he would blame his caddy. Then he would blame the media. Then he would blame the Mexicans. And then he would blame “Lyin’” Ted Cruz.

Welcome to Washington.

This is actually a very nice, livable city.

I have lived here since 1989 when I worked for House Minority Leader Bob Michel.

Michel was the guy who got Ronald Reagan’s legislative agenda through the House of Representatives when it was run by Tip O’Neill.

He was also a personal hero of mine. He served in the Army in the Second World War. Came on the beach at Normandy the day after D-Day. Was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge.

Michel was the guy who perfected the art of disagreeing with his Democratic colleagues without being disagreeable.

Seems like a long time ago when politicians could reach agreements, hard-fought agreements, and help to make the country run.

I think politicians like Bob Michel and Bob Dole, another wounded veteran from the Second World War, saw what happened when the political system really does break down and they did their best to make the system work.

People hate Washington these days.

They hate Washington because they see all of the power coming here, all the wealth emanating from here.

But they also hate Washington because of the dysfunction. Because Congress can’t find ways to reach agreements. Because politicians don’t seem to do what their constituents sent them here to do. Which is to keep the government functioning.

But don’t blame Washington for that. Blame the people you sent here.

We have had a political revolution since 2006 in this country.

About half of the Congress has served less than 6 years in the House.   Only 19% of the House have served more than 20 years, and most of them served in the House Democratic leadership.

This is a pretty inexperienced bunch running the Congress.

The idea that a 44 year old is the Speaker of the House would have been unthinkable when I first came to Congress in 1989.

Back in the old days (and I guess I am an old-timer), the seniority system prevailed.

That meant that you only got a Committee Chairmanship by being older than everybody else.

That meant that the average tenure of a Member was 25 to 30 years. A Speaker didn’t become Speaker unless he had served first as a Whip, then as a Leader. And that took some time.

But somewhere around the Republican revolution in 1994, committee chairmanships and leadership positions no longer became based on seniority.

Thanks to a change in House Rules, initially put forward by my boss, Bob Michel, a six year term limit was put on the Chairman.

And what resulted was competition for choosing the new Chairmen.

Merit became more important, and part of the merit system was the ability to raise campaign funds for the party and for your colleagues.

More than the ability to legislate, more than the ability to communicate, more than the ability to lead, the most important attribute to rise up the ladder was campaign fundraising.

The ability to raise money was what propelled Eric Cantor up the leadership ladder in fairly short order when he became the youngest Republican leader of the House in a hundred years. (I am not sure if that’s right, but it sounds right).

And the ability to raise money for her colleagues is what keeps Nancy Pelosi in the Minority Leader’s Office despite a pretty bad record of winning election over the last 8 years.

The money game is now the most important part of the political process, and don’t think that has not gone unnoticed by the American people.

According to one poll, sixty-one percent (61%) of all voters think most members of Congress are willing to sell their vote for either cash or a campaign contribution, and the same percentage (61%) thinks it’s likely their own representative has already done so. That includes 30% who think it’s Very Likely their representative has sold his or her vote which ties the highest finding in surveys since 2012.

Money suffuses politics. And it’s not just campaign contributions.

As a matter of fact, campaign contributions from lobbyists to Members of Congress are actually just a small percentage of the money that is circulating in the political Jetstream.

Most money comes from billionaires who fund outside groups on the left and the right who are trying to manipulate the political system.

You can see ads from these groups on a daily basis here in Washington, taking up one cause or another.

And with these billionaires, you have the rise of the Super PACs.

Super PACs are perfectly legal, under the legal landscape as declared by the Supreme Court.

And each Presidential candidate, except for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, has their own Super PAC.

The most spectacular failure, when it comes to the Super PAC world, was Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise.

Right to Rise spent over a hundred million dollars and it failed to deliver more than a few delegates for Mr. Bush.

Ted Cruz has plenty of Super PACs, funded in part by the Mercer family.

The Mercer family got into trouble with the Internal Revenue Service several years ago for failing to pay the proper amount of taxes.

They like Ted Cruz because he promises to eliminate the IRS in its entirety.

So, is that going to happen?

I doubt it. But the Mercer family likes the sentiment so they are helping to fund his campaign.

It should probably be no surprise to anybody that both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are making some headway by attacking the campaign finance system.

Trump loves to say how he is his own man, how he is not bought and paid for by lobbyists, how he doesn’t have a Super Pac.

Sanders, of course, has long railed against the campaign finance system. And the irony is that he has raised as much money as anybody.

88 percent of the Sanders donors have given his campaign $200 or less. Interestingly, 72% of Trump donors have given his campaign 200 or less.

Hillary Clinton has raised 222 million. Sanders has raised 140 million. Cruz has raised 122.5 million. And Trump has raised only 36.5 million. But in all fairness, Trump only decided to start raising money from people other than himself a couple months ago.

Both Clinton and Cruz have huge Super Pac operations. Neither Sanders nor Trump have a Super Pac.

So in many ways, this is a battle of outsiders vs. insiders.

Neither Clinton nor Cruz necessarily want the establishment mantle but both are going to get it.

Trump and Sanders agree on many more things than might meet the eye.

They both want to limit immigration.

They both want to erect trade barriers.

They both think the campaign system is broken.

And strangely, Cruz and Clinton occupy some of the same space.

Both of them have been ambiguous on trade. Both came out for the Pacific Rim trade agreement and then backed away from that support.

Both have supported an increase in work visas for foreign workers.

Both are friendly to Wall Street.

And both Clinton and Cruz are working the delegate systems.

Clinton has so-called Super Delegates, which are basically political operatives that the Democrats put in place to avoid another George McGovern fiasco.

Cruz believes that he has unpledged delegates breaking his way.

And now, both Sanders and Trump, but especially Trump, are decrying a corrupt system that is disenfranchising voters.

So where do we stand in the election thus far?

Barring a Jordan Spieth-like collapse, I would say that Donald Trump has the clear advantage.

Trump holds a 211-delegate lead over Cruz. The full breakdown is:

  • Trump: 756 (45% of delegates won)

  • Cruz: 545 (32%) - that includes the 13 pledged he picked up on Saturday in Colorado

  • Rubio: 172 (10%)

  • Kasich: 143 (9%)


Trump needs to win 61% of remaining delegates to reach the 1237 magic number.

Cruz needs to win 87% of remaining delegates to reach the 1237 magic number.

Kasich needs to win 138% of remaining delegates to reach the 1237 magic number.

In pledged delegates, Clinton holds a lead of 246 delegates (with Washington delegates to still be allocated). The breakdown is as follows:

  • Clinton: 1288 (55%)

  • Sanders: 1042 (45%)


In overall delegates (including superdelegates), Clinton holds an overall lead of 668 delegates. The breakdown is as follows:

  • Clinton: 1747 (62%)

  • Sanders: 1079 (38%)


Clinton must win 33% of remaining delegates to reach the 2383 magic number.

Sanders must win 67% of remaining delegates to reach the 2383 magic number.

There has been a lot of talk about a contested convention.

Republican insiders are kidding themselves if they think they can pluck somebody out of thin air (perhaps a Paul Ryan) and place them at the center of the Cleveland convention.  And to his credit, Ryan took himself out of contention.   We don’t live in 1940's America.  This is not a Wendell Wilkie vs. Tom Dewey vs. Robert Taft moment.

Nor is this a 1920 Convention, which took ten ballots to nominate Warren G. Harding to be the Republican standard-bearer. Harry M. Daugherty, Harding’s campaign manager, accurately predicted the process that delivered his boss the White House.
I don’t expect Senator Harding to be nominated on the first, second, or third ballots, but I think we can afford to take chances that about 11 minutes after two, Friday morning of the convention, when 15 or 12 weary men are sitting around a table, some will say:  “Who will we nominate?"  At that decisive time, the friends of Harding will suggest him and we can well afford to abide by the result?

That happened in 1920. But it won’t happen in Cleveland.

We don’t live in a society where political leaders can retreat into a back room and magically come up with the candidate that they believe will beat Hillary Clinton.  They tried that during the primary process and what that got them was Donald Trump.

The voters didn’t choose Jeb Bush.  They didn’t choose Scott Walker.  They passed on Chris Christie and Marco Rubio.

What makes us believe that they will allow the establishment to do the choosing now?

So that leaves us with the binary choice of Donald Trump vs. Ted Cruz, the devil we don’t know vs. the devil we do.

I know plenty of people who would rather just not vote, or write somebody in if the GOP Convention nominates either one of these two. That’s a perfectly rational choice, given the other choices.

Ted Cruz offers the status quo as President.  He will push the same legislative strategies as President that he has offered as a Senator.  He will make unrealistic promises and then condemn his Republican colleagues in the Congress for not keeping them.  He will be fiercely ideological and attack anybody who doesn’t share his narrow vision.  He will be a divider and Washington will grind to a halt.

We don’t know what Trump would do.  He might be a disaster, but then again he might not be.

We know that Trump is a deal-cutter.  We know that Trump is not particularly ideological.  We know that he is not a culture war warrior.  We also know that he is politically incorrect, that he goes out of his way to offend people and that he knows almost nothing when it comes to policy.

We can venture to guess that both Trump and Cruz hold themselves in very high regard, that they are both narcissistic. Cruz is messianic (his father and his wife both believe that God himself sent him here to save us from ourselves).  Trump doesn’t think he needs to confess his sins because he has done nothing wrong, but he is a late convert to the importance of an overt religious faith.

When it comes to their personalities, Trump and Cruz are bit of a toss up.  Cruz is smarter when it comes to policy, but his nomination will lose us the Senate and possibly the House.  Trump knows nothing about policy, but he will do more to shake up the status quo than Cruz, who will send us into the same swamp where Washington has resided over the last 6 years.

The problem facing the Republican nominee, whoever it is, will be the same problem facing Mitt Romney in 2012: demographics.

In 2012, Mitt Romney won 60.2 percent of the white vote, 6.1 percent of the black vote, 27.6 percent of the Hispanic vote and 31.6 percent of the Asian vote.   Romney won married women 53 to 46 and he won 56% of the white female vote.

In 2016, estimates range about how much either Trump or Cruz have to get among white voters. It’s hard to imagine that either Trump or Cruz will do better among Hispanic voters than Romney did and with the demographics changing so quickly, I would guess that the GOP needs to get close to 70% of the white vote to have a fighting chance.

Of course, that is predicated on the theory that Clinton reassembles the same coalition that helped to propel Obama to the White House. And it is not at all certain that she will do as well with younger voters or with African American voters.

Outside of demographics, there is also the map.

And the fact is Democrats have an electoral advantage: Over the past six elections, Republicans have averaged just 211 electoral votes and have not won more than 286 since 1988. Democrats averaged 327 electoral votes for those six elections, and their lowest total, even in losing, was 251 in 2004. Given the current alignment, the Republicans must find states that have been voting Democratic and convert them to their column in 2016.

The now-familiar division between Republican "red states" (23 of them, with 191 electoral votes), Democratic "blue states" (16 states plus D.C., with 212 electoral votes) and "purple states" (11 states, all furiously contested in 2012, with 135 electoral votes). In this century, only one red state has voted Democratic (Indiana in 2008) and no blue state has voted Republican; few have ever been close.

Which Republican candidate has the best chance to shake up this map?

Well, John Kasich.

But it will take a miracle for him to get the nomination.

Unless Hillary Clinton gets indicted (which in my experience is pretty unlikely), Republicans can either hope for the miracle, nominate Trump and hope for the best, or lose with Cruz.

I have no idea how they are going to move forward.  But I am hoping for the best.