Government Affairs: Back to the Future?

Words: Stephen Borg

Words: Stephen Borg

It was great to see so many familiar and new faces in Las Vegas at the annual MCAA Convention at the World of Concrete at the end of January. I am always reminded when I get to spend time with the members of MCAA of just how committed all of you are not only to your businesses and communities but also to each other and the industry as a whole. What an incredible group of members! It is also such a wonderful event every two years when we are able to publicly thank our outgoing Board Chair and welcome the new Chair to lead us forward for the next two years. Larry Vacala served you all so well during his tenure as Chair, and I look forward to working with Dick Dentinger to continue to push our priorities forward in Washington, D.C. This year was a particularly thought-provoking transition as it definitely got me reflecting on the transitions we are seeing and are going to see in Washington, D.C. after the 2024 election year.

With the timing of this year’s MCAA convention right at the beginning of the Presidential primary season kick-off, it was no wonder that a bunch of the MCAA members in Vegas asked me for my perspective on the Presidential race and the race for control of Congress. While the remaining nine months until election day is a “lifetime” in politics (and many factors can influence elections in such a short period of time), it appears as though we might be going into a Back to the Future scenario constantly going back in time to the same events in the Presidential race. Former President Donald Trump clearly stamped his card as the Republican front-runner with a record-breaking win at the Iowa Caucuses and resounding win over Nikki Haley in New Hampshire right in the middle of our convention, and President Biden continues to lead the Democrat Party as their presumed nominee even as there are numerous other candidates like Representative Dean Phillips (D-MN) and Robert Kennedy Jr. who have tried and failed to gain traction as an alternative. At this early point in the election process, I think the biggest and maybe only question is who Mr. Trump is going to nominate to be his running mate in the general election. And as many people feel the desire to hop in a DeLorean and take a trip back in time to try and gain insight into how closely 2024 will track with 2020, there remains a lot to remember.

First and foremost, four years is a long time! Not only have both the candidates aged to become two of the oldest candidates ever to run for president, but the political and global landscape has changed dramatically as well since 2020. We have seen numerous wars and armed conflicts break out across the world. We have seen numerous countries elect so-called “outsiders” to run their governments. We have seen record numbers of people flooding across our Southern border. And as you have no doubt heard and seen, 2023 was quite the adventure on Capitol Hill with one of the closest balances of power in history in both the House of Representatives and Senate, Republicans taking a historical amount of votes to elect their Speaker of the House, a successful vote to Vacate the Chair removing that Speaker after just a few months, a weeks-long endeavor to elect a new Speaker, threats of government shutdowns, a Member of the House being voted out of the institution by the other members, numerous members of both sides of the aisle resigning to take other jobs, and currently 40 members, many long term members, announcing they will not be running for re-election. While some of these events by themselves would not carry much influence, adding them all together during the current atmosphere has created quite a unique dynamic going into an election year. Do citizens get fed up and stay home? Do citizens get fed up and rush to vote in record numbers? Will citizens get excited about fresh faces or slink back at losing a friend in Congress? Does the number of independent voters watching these events unfold grow? Will the ages of Biden and Trump impact voter turnout? Will the legal issues surrounding Mr. Trump and the Biden family play any role in voters’ minds?

While historically speaking, these questions might be somewhat easy to answer on their own, taken together, it becomes clear we find ourselves in a place where these questions are extremely hard to predict. Add to these dynamics some more of the typical election year influences, and we just get a much hazier landscape. While the economy will always play an outsized role in any election, this year seems to have an even larger emphasis on the economy as both Republicans and Democrats are trying to claim that the economy is deeply in their favor. Republicans are pointing to inflation, rising interest rates, companies struggling to find qualified, willing employees, and overall public feelings about the economy under President Biden, while Democrats are pointing to low unemployment numbers, rising stock markets, and the fact that the economy didn’t really have a massive recession as so many predicted as key wins for President Biden and Democrats. It will be fascinating to see which way the public, and likely most importantly, independent voters, view the economy when they enter the voting booth in November.

The other main domestic issue that is really taking an outsized role and a new dynamic on both sides of the aisle is the border and border security. While traditionally a more Republican priority in Washington, D.C., and in state capitols throughout the country, the current dynamic of masses flooding into large Democrat-led cities throughout the country has raised this issue in the eyes of Democrat governors, mayors, and citizens in areas we have not traditionally seen. Will some of this frustration lead to split ballots? Are citizens staying home on election day? And probably more important on this issue in particular is whether Congress will act on a bipartisan border solution as part of a larger package of foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. If reports are to be believed, the main bipartisan Senators negotiating with the White House on this package are close to releasing a broad framework on their border security agreement. President Biden, knowing this issue has exploded and he has an opportunity to show a “win” before the election, has tried to give momentum to certain provisions that he would likely not have supported in the past. At the same time, President Trump and House Republicans are extremely leery of compromising on this issue both due to the political impact it might have in the elections but also because they believe they would be able to make much bigger changes should Republicans take the White House, keep the House, and regain the Senate come November. What Congress ultimately decides can have a massive impact on how big of an issue the border will play come November, as it is extremely rare that Congress acts on such a large issue during an election year.

So, while we sit here in January of 2024, having seen new issues and dynamics arise, we really seem to be going Back to the Future. President Biden will take on former President Trump, the race will likely be extremely tight once again, and the outcome likely will teeter on the same question, “Do we want the same outcome, or will going back in time change the course of history?”. Be sure to have Biff wax your DeLorean and buckle up!

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