‘Chaos’ gives Pence prominence

Basil A. Smikle Jr., left, says Vice President Mike Pence is “terrifying for New York.”

There are no in-betweens when making reference to our country’s commander-in-chief. President Donald Trump garnered just enough support to win the White House, but had fewer total votes than his competition.

Openly, news reporters are consistently sparring with press secretaries. His Twitter feed comes under constant scrutiny. And, quite frankly, Trump has far greater trouble with something all presidents have had to endure: criticism.

Behind the curtains, however, there is possibly someone else quietly driving Washington and not facing the microscope of the press corps. That troubles the executive director for the state’s Democratic party.

During a meeting with the OBSERVER last week in Dunkirk, Basil A. Smikle Jr. talked about his concerns regarding the role Vice President Mike Pence could be playing in how the United States moves forward in the coming years. “The president, in many ways, is responsible for the day-to-day chaos of his administration,” Smikle said last week. “What that does is it leaves an opening for Mike Pence to do the governing. … I’m not saying he’s doing it well.”

Smikle, who has written commentaries in the Daily News of New York, The New York Times and has been featured on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN on a number of occasions, was in town last month for the annual county Democratic banquet in Jamestown. He’s enjoying his work, but understands the party has plenty of work ahead of it, especially on the national front.

While Trump’s “chaos” may be a good thing for his party in the coming elections, the present is unstable. Smikle noted, very candidly, the ultra-conservative former Indiana governor has a more “dangerous ideology” than the man who won the presidency in November.

“My belief is that what you’re going to see going forward is the president become more and more of a figurehead and Mike Pence doing the day-to-day management of his governing,” he said. “That to me is even more terrifying for New York in part.”

At last week’s party dinner, Smikle said Democrats need to talk policy, not politics, with constituents. In his 40-minute meeting with the OBSERVER, he was engaging, critical about the Democrats’ brand, which he says needs repairing, and also touched on a number of current topics, including:

¯ Georgia’s recent House election victory by Republican Karen Handel over Democrat Jon Ossoff — “What is disappointing is that became the most expensive House race in history,” he said, noting Handel won a predominantly Conservative district. “You can’t replicate that. … I would have rather seen a lot of that money go in to the state party as opposed to that one race.” More than $50 million was spent in the June election.

¯ National debate on health care — “People are now talking openly how they want to see more universal health care. … Folks have woken up to ‘Wow. When people get elected that actually matters.’ … I’m hoping that drives people to the polls and hoping it drives turnout going forward.”

¯ Upstate voting — “You don’t have many Democrats (upstate), relatively speaking, but they turn out so much more. Their numbers are much greater than New York City in terms of turnout because they know that every vote up here counts. That’s a lesson we need to be able to reinforce downstate.”

¯ Potential targets for House seats in 2018 — “This is important because you’ve got members of Congress who are trying to walk this tightrope between supporting New York and sort of supporting the president. You can’t have it both ways,” Smikle said, referring to U.S. Reps. Chris Collins and John Faso.

“They sort of helped weaponize (Trump’s) health care bill and made it something that was going to be a bitter pill for the state. That is not something that people who care about good governance … allow themselves to be used in that fashion.”

¯ On the country’s current divide — “I don’t see it changing anytime soon.”

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.