Hubbell Lackluster in First Debate

Trust-fund baby Fred Hubbell, the Great White Hope of Iowa Democrats, didn’t just falter, but went down for the count in the first gubernatorial debate on Wednesday night (10 October); afterwards, he didn’t tweet anything at all for 17 hours, so he seems to have been knocked out cold.

Supporters of Kim Reynolds, Iowa’s first woman governor—who, incidentally, was not just born, but actually raised and educated in the state—, will be hard-pressed to agree on the highlight of the debate, since she had several. Supporters of Hubbell in the studio audience were the first to violate the rule against clapping and cheering, so they seemed to have sensed that their candidate was in desperate need of help, despite the life-lines being thrown to him by the two reporters asking the questions.

Not even on his signature issue, putting the state government back in control of managing Medicaid, did Hubbell seem to have any facts and figures at his disposal; he’s so used to having the stage to himself, and speaking before adoring audiences, that he folded like a cheap suit once he got on stage with another person, who was able to counter his statements without missing a beat.

Most Iowa Democrats today are probably wishing that Nate Boulton had behaved better in law school. You can probably get the “Corn Fed, Iowa Bred, Voting for Fred” T-shirts at a discount already. The Republicans should be selling one with a picture of Hubbell at the first debate and the caption: “Corn Fed, Iowa Bred, Left for Dead.”

Hubbell’s lack of preparation, not just for the debate, but for the job which he is seeking, was illustrated by a question on the budget. He was simply asked to say whether he considered the budget to be in good or bad shape, but he didn’t want to give a straight answer. He found himself in a predicament, since the state is currently running a surplus, and he didn’t want to admit that the budget was in good shape, but didn’t think he could get away with saying that it was in bad shape, either; therefore he criticized the governor for making cuts earlier in the year, which at the time were believed necessary in order to avoid running a deficit in the fiscal year which ended on 30 June. Those cuts were actually made in response to the revenue projections of the three-member Revenue Estimating Conference, however; certainly it is possible to explore ways to improve the reliability of the REC and of the budget process, but anyone familiar with the notoriously unreliable work of the CBO at the federal level will not hold out much hope that it will ever be possible for a government board or agency to predict future revenues with great accuracy.

The question on the budget was the one occasion on which Hubbell was pressed to give an answer by the Des Moines Register reporter, Kathie Obradovich, and he claimed in the end that he couldn’t say whether the budget was in good or bad shape without knowing more. But why doesn’t the guy know more? He hasn’t had a day job since the beginning of 2011, nearly eight years ago, and he’s been an official candidate for governor since July of last year. And if you click on “Meet Fred” on his website, he introduces himself as “A proven leader who knows how to balance a budget”! Now he admits that he’s not very familiar with the state budget, and that he’d have to study it in order to form an opinion about it.

Hubbell’s inability to admit the obvious, that a budget running a surplus is a good thing, reminded me of the 1984 campaign of Walter Mondale (yes, I’m that old). President Reagan had resuscitated the economy, which had been left in extremis by President Carter, which put Walter Mondale, the Democrat nominee for President that year, who had been Vice President under Carter, in a similar predicament. He couldn’t deny that the economy was in great shape, so he came up with the line that the middle class was “standing on a trap-door”; as soon as Reagan was re-elected, the trap would be sprung and the middle class would realize that it had been deceived. Well, Reagan was re-elected, and the middle class continued to prosper; the middle class, in fact, only fell through the trap under Obama, as the proportion of adults living in middle-income households fell below 50% in 2015—the same Obama for whose endorsement Hubbell pronounced himself “profoundly grateful” in a tweet on 1 October.

Independents—if not the only, then the main group of persuadable voters—as they focus on the race will realize that their taxes are likely to go up under Hubbell. He might claim that he plans to raise taxes on the rich only, but everyone with an IQ one point above that of Maxine Waters knows that there aren’t enough rich people in the state, and that you’d have to sock it to the middle class here to build up a gold-plated, government-run version of Medicaid, and fund the other schemes of Hubbell.

Thanks to the Trump boom, unemployment is low and wages are rising. But the tax and regulatory policies of the state government can add to or detract from the business climate in the state, and Governor Reynolds certainly deserves credit for pursuing pro-growth tax policies, and the GOP should make sure that voters realize that Hubbell would pursue policies which would make businesses reluctant to locate here or expand here.

Things are good, but the governor struck the right tone in the debate by saying “we are just getting started”: the GOP should not rest on its laurels, but strive to make things better. Going forward Hubbell is going to look more and more like Walter Mondale, trying to convince people who have gotten bonuses and pay increases at their current job, found a job after being out of work or leaving school, or switched to a better-paying or more congenial job, and who are now paying federal and state taxes at a lower rate, that they shouldn’t be happy or thankful at all, but quite miserable, because they are actually standing on a trap-door. And, just as in 1984, voters can rest assured that the trap will not be sprung, as long as they keep the team responsible for improving the economy in place.