Give Victory A Chance - Baseball, War, Politics, Law, and More!
May 25, 2016
POLITICS: The Dog That Didn't Bark: Trump Voters in Down-Ballot Primaries
May 23, 2016
POLITICS: You Won't Believe Why Hillary Bagman Terry McAuliffe Is Under Federal Investigation
May 17, 2016
POLITICS: The Never Trump Movement Is Neither Anti-American Nor Hypocritical
May 11, 2016
POLITICS: A Very Different Republican Coalition: Can It Fly?
May 6, 2016
POLITICS: Is #NeverTrump Doomed To Fold?
May 5, 2016
POLITICS: Dear Republican Politician: Let's Talk about Donald Trump
May 4, 2016
POLITICS: Politics Is Still Downstream of Culture
POLITICS: Trump's Next Victim: Pollsters
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:33 PM
May 1, 2016
POLITICS: Yes, Donald Trump Would Be Worse Than Any Prior Republican Nominee
April 27, 2016
POLITICS: Trump Supporters Already Pre-Spinning November Trump Loss
POLITICS: The Fiorina Pick
NRO: The Fiorina Pick
April 26, 2016
POLITICS: Ten Reasons Moderates Should Vote for Ted Cruz
April 25, 2016
POLITICS/FOOTBALL: Donald Trump Hearts Tom Brady; Does Indiana?
April 20, 2016
HISTORY/POLITICS: Do Not Weep for Andrew Jackson
April 19, 2016
POLITICS: What To Watch For In Tonight's NY Republican Primary
POLITICS: When Will Democrats Return Trump's Donations?
April 8, 2016
POLITICS: After Wisconsin, By The Numbers
April 5, 2016
POLITICS: No, Donald Trump Can't "Burn It Down." Washington Would Go On The Same.
April 4, 2016
LAW/POLITICS: BREAKING: SCOTUS Rejects "One Man One Vote" Challenge
March 25, 2016
POLITICS: Why Did Almost Nobody See The Trade Issue Coming Before Trump?
March 24, 2016
POLITICS: Can Donald Trump or Ted Cruz Beat Hillary Clinton? A New National Poll May Surprise You
March 18, 2016
POLITICS: Mitt Romney: I'm Voting For Ted Cruz. You Should Too.
March 17, 2016
POLITICS: It Is Time To Grow Up And Unite Cruz And Rubio Supporters Behind Ted Cruz
POLITICS: Ted Cruz or Bust: Armageddon Tuesday By The Numbers
March 15, 2016
POLITICS: This Is Not 1980, And Donald Trump Is Not Ronald Reagan
March 9, 2016
POLITICS: It Is Time For Marco Rubio To Join Ted Cruz For The Benefit Of Marco Rubio
March 7, 2016
POLITICS: Donald Trump Is A Cowardly Appeaser Who Got Bullied By The Mob
March 5, 2016
POLITICS: Don't Overlook The Importance Of This Weekend's Voting
March 3, 2016
POLITICS: Marco Rubio's Path To Victory After Super Tuesday, By The Numbers
POLITICS: Will John Kasich Criticize Donald Trump Tonight or Run Interference for Him?
March 1, 2016
POLITICS: New CNN Poll: Trump Loses To Hillary, Rubio & Cruz Would Win
POLITICS: A Vote For Trump is a Vote For Hillary Clinton: Why Trump Is A Sure Loser
February 28, 2016
POLITICS: Donald Trump is a Glass-Jawed Coward Afraid to Debate Rubio or Cruz Again
POLITICS: Donald Trump Fails Three Times to Deny the KKK
February 27, 2016
POLITICS: Release Your Testimony, Donald Trump
POLITICS: Marco Rubio Gives Democratic Strategists The Vapors
POLITICS: Super Tuesday Preview: Massachusetts
February 26, 2016
POLITICS: Will Donald Trump Bail on Future Debates?
February 25, 2016
POLITICS: America Won Tonight's Debate
POLITICS: Second Florida Poll Of The Day Shows Rubio Closer To Trump
POLITICS: New National Poll of Hispanics: Rubio Popular, Trump Hated
February 24, 2016
POLITICS: Rubio Campaign Calls On Trump To Renounce Pro-Trump White Supremacist Robocalls
POLITICS/LAW: The Vindication of Rick Perry
February 23, 2016
POLITICS: The Ted Cruz Campaign Will Win Or Lose By March 6
POLITICS: Nevada GOP Caucus Looks Like A Voter Fraud Bonanza
February 22, 2016
POLITICS: 'Amnesty' Is A Majority Position With Republican Primary Voters
POLITICS: South Carolina By The Numbers
February 20, 2016
POLITICS: Exit Polls From 2012, 2008 and 2000 Tell Us A Few Things About South Carolina
February 19, 2016
POLITICS: New South Carolina Polls Show A BIG Surprise
February 18, 2016
POLITICS: John Kasich's Brokered-Convention-Or-Bust Strategy
POLITICS: The Time For Expectations Management Is Ending
LAW: Antonin Scalia's Political Philosophy
February 17, 2016
POLITICS: Is Jeb Bush Preparing Himself to Drop Out?
February 16, 2016
POLITICS: New South Carolina Poll From CNN: The Race For 2-3-4
POLITICS: A Nutty Plan To Confirm An Obama Nominee To Replace Scalia - After The Election
February 15, 2016
HISTORY/LAW/POLITICS: Closing The Book On The Silent Generation
February 14, 2016
POLITICS: Can Any Republican Senators Afford To Go Wobbly On A Scalia Replacement? Guess Which Ones.
POLITICS: Which Obama Do Republicans Want to Nominate?
POLITICS/LAW: Scalia and South Carolina
February 9, 2016
POLITICS: Which Obama Do Republicans Want to Nominate?
POLITICS: New Hampshire Primary 2016
February 8, 2016
POLITICS: Almost New Hampshire
February 6, 2016
POLITICS: New Hampshire Fight Night
POLITICS: Road to New Hampshire
February 3, 2016
POLITICS: Ulrich for Mayor?
February 2, 2016
POLITICS: Now With More National Review
As a reminder, you can follow me on Twitter @baseballcrank or bookmark these links to catch up on my latest work:
and now at National Review
Latest since my last post here:
January 17, 2016
POLITICS: Trumpian Motion
January 14, 2016
POLITICS: Rubio, Cruz, Trump
January 4, 2016
POLITICS: End of 2015
My last two essays of 2015 were just before Christmas:
On to 2016.
December 18, 2015
POLITICS: Bomb Aladdin!
December 16, 2015
POLITICS: Fifth Debate Analysis and Boyd Strategy Essay
My longest deep dive of the year, from the theories of John Boyd: Military Strategist Explains Why Donald Trump Leads - And How He Will Fail
In the LA Times: To understand Donald Trump, look to Europe
December 10, 2015
POLITICS/LAW: Up With Scalia, Down With Kasich
December 9, 2015
POLITICS: Latest Essays Through Dec 8, 2015
November 26, 2015
POLITICS: Happy Thanksgiving, 2015!
November 23, 2015
POLITICS: Nutty Uncle Bernie
November 20, 2015
POLITICS: Fear and Loathing in Hillaryland
November 18, 2015
POLITICS: Aging Democrats
November 16, 2015
POLITICS: What Conservatism Is
POLITICS: Jindal for President
November 4, 2015
BLOG/POLITICS: My Latest, 10/6/15-11/3/15
September 24, 2015
BASEBALL: RIP Yogi
POLITICS: Rubio on "Amnesty"
September 17, 2015
POLITICS/LAW: My Latest, 9/17/15
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:40 PM | Law 2009-16 | Politics 2015 | Politics 2016 | War 2007-16
September 4, 2015
POLITICS/LAW: Latest Roundup
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:44 AM | Hurricane Katrina | Law 2009-16 | Politics 2015 | Politics 2016
August 13, 2015
My two most recent posts at RedState:
1. My quick reaction to the first debate (it seems from post-debate polling that many viewers disagreed with me about Ben Carson, who I thought had a very weak debate but who finished strong.
2. Laura Ingraham Gets Punked By Donald Trump, on the recklessness of conservative talk radio in boosting Donald Trump.
July 24, 2015
POLITICS/HISTORY: Connecticut Democrats Erase Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson From Their History
LAW/POLITICS: King v Burwell
I forgot to add this one the last time I updated here - I didn't get around to writing up a full analysis of the King v Burwell decision and its many glaring flaws, but I did put together a Storify essay from my Tweets.
July 10, 2015
BLOG: Welcome Back, Blog!
I've been neglecting this blog rather badly for altogether too long - the archives say I haven't posted here since September 21, 2014. I've been busy in the interim on Twitter, of course, and publishing elsewhere. I probably need to post archived versions of some of those posts here. For now: links.
I will start with The Weekly Standard, where I have this issue's cover story, just posted today: Giving Thomas His Due, on Justice Thomas' opinions over the past year and what they tell us about his philosophy.
Then there's The Federalist, where I tend to post my longer essays these days. I ran a lengthy 5-part essay prior to the Obergefell decision, "Can Gays And Christians Coexist In America?". Part I looked at the Biblical reasons why Christians believe in one-man-one-woman-for-life marriage. Part II looked at the history of Catholicism and other Biblical Christianity in the battles over slavery and Jim Crow. Part III looked at the Christian concept of scandal and the battle between liberty-based and equality-based views of "LGBT rights." Part IV looked at the legal arguments over the rational basis for distinguishing between opposite-sex and same-sex marriage. And Part V traced possible ways forward for coexistence post-Obergefell, which admittedly are not looking especially promising at the moment.
The First Principle Of U.S. Foreign Policy looked at various approaches to our foreign policy.
Others from the fall, including some of my poll-analysis posts:
Polling Postmortem: The Best And Worst Senate Polls Of 2014 (I keep meaning to run the companion piece on the Governors races before 2016 polling heats up).
Do Democrats Always Win Close Statewide Elections? (covers the 1998-2013 elections; I should update this with 2014 results).
And of course, if you missed it last time, my essay on how History Is Not On The Democrats' Side In 2016 is still an important read on the coming election, undoubtedly the most significant piece I will write on the 2016 election.
The Rise & Fall of the Confederate Flag in South Carolina - I wrote this a few weeks back, but it's very relevant to today's news.
Reading Tea Leaves on the 2015 Supreme Court Term - Basically just some educated speculation on who would write what and when, which ended up having mixed results.
Democratic Party Now Literally Selling Hate - a Father's Day gift post!
Bernie Sanders, Deodorant and Diversity - a meditation on central planning and markets.
Marco Rubio Recounts The History of Obama’s Treatment of Israel - quick hit on a great Rubio floor speech. Rubio isn't my first choice in 2016, but he's done nothing but impress this year.
From the fall:
2014 and Republican Morale - a GOP victory lap and a reflection on what it meant.
The Breakers Broke: A Look Back At The Fall 2014 Polls - A personal victory lap on my 2014 poll analysis and how it relates to the polling controversies of 2012.
The 2014 Polls And The 2012 Exit Polls - An earlier look at the same topic and at some specific issues with exit polling and poll methodology.
BREAKING: Supreme Court Takes Obamacare Subsidies Case (on King v Burwell).
First Cut: 7 Polling and Elections Lessons From 2014 (Immediate 2014 election aftermath)
Why I Voted Yes On Question 1 (NY) (Election Day post on a NY ballot initiative)
A Sad and Desperate Attack on Chris Christie - Actually a fairly deep dive on voter fraud controversies.
Introducing The Senate Breakers Report - September 26, 2014, the start of my Fall 2014 stretch drive when I started getting too busy to cross-post here.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:22 PM | Blog 2006-16 | Law 2009-16 | Politics 2014 | Politics 2015 | Politics 2016 | Poll Analysis
September 21, 2014
POLITICS: Bobby Jindal's Energy Plan
POLITICS: Better Call Paul
September 20, 2014
POLITICS: Mary, Mary
September 19, 2014
BLOG: RedState and Federalist Roundup
I owe longtime readers here some explanation and apology - my work at both RedState and The Federalist is now exclusive, at least when first published, to those sites, and while I post links on Twitter and Facebook, I tend to forget sometimes to post links back here at the old stomping grounds. (I may well close the comments section here too soon, since the lack of activity means a high spam-to-real-comments ratio, and since most regular commenters by now know how to find me elsewhere).
Here's my most recent posts over the past month, all of them on matters of politics and/or history:
Where I Was On September 11 (a repost of the annual remembrance)
Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:28 PM | Blog 2006-16 | History | Politics 2014 | Politics 2016 | Poll Analysis | Comments (1)
September 15, 2014
POLITICS: Mid-September Polls Are Not The Last Word On Senate Races
A Snapshot, Not A Verdict: Will A Wave Still Swamp More Democrats?
The perennial question about election polls is back again, if ever it left: how far can we trust them? Should we disregard all other evidence but what the current polling of individual Senate races tells us - which is, at this writing, that if the election was held today, Republicans would gain 6 seats in the Senate to hold a narrow 51-48 majority? As usual, a little historical perspective is in order. It is mid-September, with just over seven weeks to Election Day, and as discussed below, all the fundamental signs show that this is at least a mild Republican "wave" year. A review of the mid-September polls over the last six Senate election cycles, all of which ended in at least a mild "wave" for one party, shows that it is common for the "wave party" to win a few races in which it trailed in mid-September - sometimes more than a few races, and sometimes races in which there appeared to be substantial leads, and most frequently against the other party's incumbents. Whereas it is very uncommon for the wave party to lose a polling lead, even a slim one, after mid-September - it has happened only three times, one of those was a tied race rather than a lead, and another involved the non-wave party replacing its candidate on the ballot with a better candidate. If these historical patterns hold in 2014, we would therefore expect Republicans to win all the races in which they currently lead plus two to four races in which they are currently behind, netting a gain of 8 to 10 Senate seats.
Read More »
The Mid-September Polls: Still Waiting For The Wave
When I last reviewed the Senate races in late June, the picture we saw was that Republicans had largely locked up three races for open seats currently held by Democrats - in Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia - and locked down the one GOP Senate seat in deep-blue territory, in Maine. That left nine heavily contested seats, mostly in red or purple states (plus blue Michigan, the toughest race) and four other purple or blue state races in which the GOP had not yet become competitive, but retained hopes of bringing the race into its sights:
As I noted at the time, this left Republicans "waiting for the wave" - hoping that fundamental factors like low Obama job approval ratings and the shift from registered-voter polls to likely-voter polls would show a general, across-the-board movement that would tilt the field just enough in these races to pull Republicans ahead.
The battleground at present, as determined from this morning's RealClearPolitics polling averages, is only slightly different - the Democrats are still in a good deal of trouble, but the lack of major movement would seem to suggest that a "wave" has yet to surface:
As before, I'm looking at head-to-head polling between Bill Cassidy and Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, since the main third candidate, Rob Maness, is likely to draw votes away from Cassidy but won't help Landrieu avoid a runoff, so the more interesting question is who would win the runoff. The three locked-in pickups still look locked in, and Maine is still off the table. The two longest shots, in Oregon and Virginia, are not competitive - in fact, Republicans are actually closer now to making a race of Illinois and New Jersey than Oregon and Virginia (although both Dick Durbin and Cory Booker still have double-digit leads in traditionally blue states, so we would need to see further poll movement before declaring either of those states to actually be competitive). New Hampshire and Minnesota have tightened, but are not yet in the "hotly contested" bracket, while the GOP has fallen further behind in Michigan. In the Republican-held seats, David Perdue has opened a 3-point lead in Georgia and Mitch McConnell has gradually pulled to about 5 points ahead in Kentucky - a good lead, but no better than what Gary Peters in Michigan and Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire have on the Democratic side. Thad Cochran is well below 50, often dangerous territory for an incumbent, but he still has a 14 point lead and it's still Mississippi, so he is even less likely to end up in a tight race at the end than Durbin or Booker. The wild card for now is Kansas, where the Democrats have thrown their support behind "independent" Greg Orman against the suddenly vulnerable Pat Roberts but have failed in their bid to get their own nominee, Chad Taylor, thrown off the ballot. It will be at least a week, maybe two, before we have a critical mass of polling in that race that post-dates Taylor's attempted withdrawal. All of the remaining races feature leads of less than 4 points, four of them leads of less than two points, and in only three of the contested but not locked-up races is the leader at 47% or better (McConnell, Shaheen, and Al Franken). On the surface, therefore, what we have is a dogfight with a whole bunch of races that could still go either way.
The Fundamentals: The Tide Still Favors Republicans
But the recent history of Senate races says that a whole bunch of races will not go either way - it is more likely that a whole bunch of races will all go the same way, in the Republican direction. There's been a lot of discussion about the meaning of the term "wave" election. Political scientists use their own somewhat precise definition of a "wave" election, and Sean Trende has reviewed the arguments under that rubric. If you define a wave in terms of political spin - a large enough election outcome to draw conclusions about some sort of voter mandate - then you need to set the bar and measure the final results against them. For those purposes, I would say the GOP has had a successful year if it picks up at least 7 Senate seats, net, and can claim a real "wave" if it picks up 8 or more, which would require it to not only run the table in Romney 2012 states (including the narrowly won North Carolina) but also break through in some of the Obama 2012 states like Iowa, Colorado, New Hampshire, Michigan, and/or Minnesota.
But for my purposes, I will use a simpler functional definition of a "wave," one that covers each of the last six Senate election cycles and seems, from all the available evidence, to fit this one as well: a party has a "wave" election when the President's approval ratings and generic Congressional ballot both favor it, it gains seats on net in both the Senate and House races, and it loses no more than two Senate seats it held going into Election Day. As we can see, by that definition, we had a Republican wave in 2002, 2004 and 2010, and a Democratic wave in 2006, 2008 and 2012, and should expect a Republican wave again in 2014:
The only slight exception to the across-the-board wave dynamic in those elections is that the GOP trailed in the generic House ballot in mid-September 2004 and ended up tied on Election Day. And we see the same trend now: President Obama's approval rating is double digits under water, and Republicans have opened a growing lead in the generic ballot.
If you project the election results just from these national fundamentals, you could take the view explained by Trende that the Senate races should mostly track the President's approval rating and that Democrats' current poll performance in the generic ballot and the Senate races may be close to its ceiling because Democratic candidates have locked up basically all the voters who approve of the President's job performance, leaving a pool of undecideds who overwhelmingly disapprove of Obama and are thus likely to break against his party.
But what about the polls themselves? It would seem dangerous to disregard them. Josh Katz at the New York Times' Upshot blog looks at some recent history and concludes that poll-based forecasts, while more accurate than fundamentals-based forecasts, are less accurate than forecasting models that incorporate both polls and fundamentals. Nate Silver looks at the individual polls in Governor, Senate and House races, and finds a significant amount of polling error even in the last three weeks of a campaign - with October polls in Senate races consistently off by an average of 4 or more points. 4 points is not a big deal in an uncompetitive race, but when we're talking about races where the lead is 4 points or less, it's a very big deal. Silver, however, confines his review to individual polls, and not averages:
It’s important to note that the accuracy of the average poll — what these figures describe — is not the same thing as the accuracy of the polling average. The polling average will cancel out some of the errors from individual polls provided that the misses come in opposite directions.
Let's take a look, then, and see specifically how the final results compared to the polling averages as of mid-September for the last six cycles. For all of these, I will use the RCP average; I noted with an asterisk where I had to do my own estimating of an average (this was too pervasive to bother marking off in 2004 and 2002, as the averages were less sophisticated and available). The sample size is still not huge, but it's more than just a couple of elections: I was able to track down polling in 87 at least moderately competitive races followed by RCP, out of more than 200 Senate elections in that period. Those 87 races include all the races that were seriously contested except for the three races won by a candidate running as at least a nominal independent in a three-way race (Angus King in 2012, Lisa Murkowski in 2010, and Joe Lieberman in 2006), which I excluded because those races tend to defy easy D vs R classification. We have a good cross-section of Senate cycles to work with here - every Senate seat came up at least twice, we have three general and three midterm elections, three Republican waves and three Democratic waves, three elections when the President was popular and three when the President was unpopular. (What may be harder to quantify with the data we have is the extent to which the predictive value of polls has been affected by the expansion of early voting in many states over this period to allow votes to be cast well before Election Day, but I do not believe any state allows early voting in September).
2002 to 2012: A Senate Odyssey
Working backward, let's start with the 2012 election. I include here both the mid-September (where available, September 15) RCP average and the final RCP polling average, so you can compare how much of the accuracy or inaccuracy of the mid-September polls may be due to polling errors as opposed to subsequent movement in the electorate (the "poll error" column shows how far off the final poll average was from the result). The "2-Party Wave" column shows the swing in the 2-party vote from mid-September to the final election result. Thus, for example, a candidate who led 46-39 in mid-September is getting 54% of the two-party vote; if that candidate wins 51-49, she would be down 3% in the two-party vote. Another way of putting it is that a 2.5 point swing in the 2-party vote is, more or less, enough to wipe out a 5-point polling lead (I explained in my recent essay on presidential election history why the 2-party vote is a useful metric). I highlight movement towards the wave party in yellow, towards the non-wave party in light orange.
2012: Comparing September 15 Polls To November 6 Election Results
Three things jump out from this chart. One, Republican Senate candidates led in seven races at this point two years ago that they went on to lose, even though mid-September was right after the Democratic convention and thus while President Obama was still enjoying something of a post-convention "bounce." Tommy Thompson had an 8-point lead and lost by 6, a 14-point swing (thus, a 7 point swing in the 2-party vote in the direction of the wave party). The Democrats didn't lose a single race they led, and the biggest swing to the GOP was in the Pennsylvania Senate race, which went from a blowout to a 9-point loss. Of the seven states that flipped, four were carried by Obama in November, and two others were probably the result of bad polling - Republicans lost races in North Dakota and Montana, in which they led in the RCP poll average on Election Day. The other was Richard Mourdock in Indiana.
Two, there was an across-the-board 2-party swing of 2.6 points towards the Democrats, the largest in any of the races we'll examine. That testifies to the strength of the Obama ground game, and suggests that the state-by-state polls, which did better than the national polls in the great polling debate of 2012 (more in my 3-part postmortem on 2012 polling here, here and here), were still playing catch-up in the Senate races in estimating what the final electorate would look like.
And three, if you look at the "Wave Party" column and the "Non-Wave Party" column, which subtract the September poll averages from the final results, you can see that most of the Democrats' gains came from their candidates improving in the polls, rather than from the Republicans sagging. In other words, the late deciders broke for the wave party. That is the recurring trend in most of these elections.
2010: Comparing September 15 Polls To November 2 Election Results
In 2010, unlike 2012, the wave was mostly baked into the polling cake by mid-September; most of the poll movement was Republican leaders pulling away, albeit even in races like Illinois where the GOP lead in mid-September was microscopic and the number of undecideds enormous. In Wisconsin, as in 2012, the race flipped with the wave after mid-September, with Ron Johnson pulling ahead of Russ Feingold (Wisconsin generally holds its primaries late, and turning out college students who arrive on campus in September is a big factor). Republicans did blow one race they led in mid-September (Ken Buck in Colorado, where there had been a nasty primary and the Governor's race was imploding), and one where they trailed in mid-September but led on Election Day (Sharron Angle's race against Harry Reid in Nevada).
2008: Comparing September 15 Polls To November 4 Election Results
In 2008, we see a 1.6 point overall shift to the Democrats, and three races (all GOP incumbents) flipped in the Democrats' direction after mid-September, all in states carried by Obama in the general election.
2006: Comparing September 20 Polls To November 7 Election Results
I used different dates than September 15 for 2002, 2004 and 2006 because those were the closest dates on which I could find the RCP poll page on the Wayback Machine. Again, we have three races flipping in the direction of the wave party, the Democrats, two of them Republican incumbents in Missouri and Virginia (the latter due in large part to George Allen's "macaca" flap helping cost him his 5-point lead), the other the New Jersey Senate race where Tom Kean had led Democratic incumbent Bob Menendez by 4 but was stalled at 45. The one race that "flipped" in the GOP direction against the wave was in Tennessee, where Harold Ford had been tied in the polls in mid-September, but overall there was a 1.7 point movement in the 2-party vote towards the Democrats.
2004: Comparing September 16 Polls To November 2 Election Results
It's hard to believe now that in 2004, when Republicans still held two Senate seats in Pennsylvania, Democrats were defending Senate seats in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana. Flips after mid-September rescued a Republican incumbent, Lisa Murkowski, in Alaska, buried the Senate Minority Leader, Tom Daschle, in South Dakota, and flipped open Democratic seats in North Carolina and Florida. Every Republican lead was safe.
2002: Comparing September 30 Polls To November 5 Election Results
We only have September 30 polls for 2002, but it was the wildest last month of a Senate election in memory, as two races flipped after the Democratic incumbent left the ballot - scandal-plagued Bob Torricelli in New Jersey dropped out and was replaced by Frank Lautenberg, rescuing a race the Democrats were losing badly, while Paul Wellstone - who had a small lead over Norm Coleman in Minnesota - died in a plane crash, and was replaced by Walter Mondale, who completed his collection of losing statewide in all 50 states. Two other Democratic incumbents, Max Cleland in Georgia and Jean Carnahan in Missouri, lost after leading in the polls entering October; no Republican lost a lead. In Louisiana, I measured the polls and the 2-party vote with regard to Repubicans' chances of forcing Mary Landrieu into a runoff (which they did, but then lost), as that was their goal that year. However, the 2002 Louisiana Senate race had the worst polling of any of the races I examined, and the "average" here is of one partisan poll from each side, with no public polling I could locate.
Note that, as in 2004 and 2010, and unlike 2012, 2008 and 2006, there was no overall move to Republicans - but the tight races broke consistently in the GOP's direction.
What Does History Tell Us?
If we sum up the overall bottom line from these six races, a pattern becomes reasonably clear:
Which gives us this net result:
Out of 87 races, the poll leader in mid-September (counting Ford in 2006, since he was tied with a wave at his back) lost 24 of them, and 21 of those flips broke in the direction of the wave - an average of 3.5 gains and 0.5 losses per year for the wave party from where they stood in mid-September. 31 of 87 races moved 2.5 or more points (i.e., a 5-point or greater total swing) in the direction of the wave party, compared to 15 that moved 2.5 or more points against the wave party.
But recall that a lot of the big movement we saw was in races that were effectively decided by mid-September. We don't care about a 5 point swing in this year's Montana Senate race, and for the same reason we don't care about races in the past where the poll leader in mid-September had at least an 8 point lead with the wave at his or her back, or in a very safe state. If we remove those races - and I admit that doing so introduces a bit of hindsight bias - we get 46 races. In 12 of those races, the wave party was ahead or tied in mid-September, and won 9 out of 12:
(I count the GOP as "leading" in 2002 against Landrieu because they were simply shooting to force a runoff and she was under 50; her actual poll lead over her nearest opponent was enormous, but she did end up in a runoff). Several of these races did tighten, while others, such as Texas in 2002, turned from a narrow lead into a rout - the wave party gained in 5 races, dropped in 6, and lost the one tied race and two of the leads, one of which (Doug Forrester leading Torricelli in 2002) was the result of a last minute change of candidate. The only actual blown lead was by Ken Buck. The other big dropoffs were voters in Montana "coming home" to the GOP in 2006, but not enough to save Conrad Burns, and Jim Bunning limping badly home in 2004 after having a big lead in a GOP wave year. Of the seven incumbents in these races, only two (Bennet in Colorado in 2010 and Burns in 2006) got noticeably more votes than their poll average in September.
By contrast, we have a sample of 34 races where the wave party trailing in mid-September:
The wave party won 21 out of these 34 races, 10 of them against incumbents of the non-wave party. It gained in the 2-party vote in 25 out of 34, gained by 2 points or more (enough to wipe out a 4-point lead) in 18 races, and gained by 2.5 or more in 16 races. The wave party won nine races where it trailed by at least 3.5 points, eight where it trailed by at least four, five where it trailed by at least 6.5, and three races where it trailed by 9 points at this juncture. And of the ten races where the wave party overcame at least a 2.5 point poll deficit, six were against incumbents - not reassuring news for Kay Hagan or Mark Udall.
The overall trend here is not as overpowering as the historical trend disfavoring the Democrats in the Presidential race in 2016, and as I cautioned in that essay as well, there is never any guarantee that history will repeat itself. Strange things can and do happen in individual races after mid-September, as we have seen in those last six cycles. Republicans have proven themselves quite adept in recent years at coming up with novel ways to lose winnable elections. And even without big blunders, waves do not simply happen: capitalizing on them requires a lot of hard work from candidates, citizen activists, political professionals, and donors. But if 2014 follows the path of 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012, we would expect to see between 53 and 55 Republicans in the Senate in 2015.
« Close It
August 12, 2014
POP CULTURE: Robin Williams, Suicide, Depression, and Evil Spirits
August 8, 2014
POLITICS/LAW: Recent Posts Roundup
Now that my posts are single-sourced to RedState and The Federalist (for Google/traffic reasons), I've been forgetting to link to them all here. A roundup of my latest:
At the Federalist, a cross-posted version of the Obamacare bailouts piece.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:05 PM | Blog 2006-16 | Law 2009-16 | Politics 2014 | Politics 2015
July 22, 2014
POLITICS/BUSINESS: Latest Posts
More of my latest posts, off the site. At RedState:
DC Circuit Blocks Obamacare Subsidies, Mandate in 36 States (updated with the Fourth Circuit's decision)
At The Federalist:
July 18, 2014
POLITICS: Could Elizabeth Warren Face Ted Cruz In 2016?
Similar, But Not The Same
Should Republicans nominate Ted Cruz, who has kept his options open with frequent trips to Iowa and New Hampshire? In some ways, Cruz and Warren are mirror images, and the cases for and against them are surprisingly similar. But there are also some critical differences.
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Before 2008, the idea of a presidential contest between two first-term Senators in their (by then) fourth year in Washington would have seemed ridiculous; in 1988, Dan Quayle was roundly mocked for his youth and inexperience after twelve years in Congress, including eight in the Senate. But just as the defeat of Robert Bork and the subsequent confirmation of David Souter led to the rise of the conventional wisdom that a Supreme Court nominee should be a "stealth" candidate with a minimal paper trail, the election of Barack Obama in his fourth year in the Senate suggested the electoral advantages of running a candidate with as thin a record as possible, who could serve as an empty vessel into which voters could pour their aspirations.
While partisans on both sides would gag at the comparison, in some ways, Cruz and Warren are a lot alike. Both ran their first campaign for public office in 2012 (although Cruz had begun mounting a campaign to run for Texas Attorney General in 2010 before Greg Abbott decided to run for re-election), and won in the state that best emblemizes their party's ideological base. Both seem at times like walking regional/ideologiocal stereotypes, Warren a professorial type from Boston academia, Cruz with his Texas cowboy boots and swagger, despite the fact that Warren is from Oklahoma, Cruz was born in Canada, and both pursued their higher education in New Jersey.
Both are obviously highly intelligent and Harvard Law pedigreed - Cruz was on the Law Review, clerked on the Supreme Court and had been a national debate champion in college, and has argued nine Supreme Court cases; Warren was a nationally respected bankruptcy law professor at HLS and was herself a statewide high school debate champion. Yet, both rely heavily on populist appeal rather than Paul Ryan-style wonkery. Both have one of the surest signs of intellect and one of the most useful skills in politics and lawyering, the ability to boil down complex issues to explain them in simple terms. Warren, of course, can be fantastically misleading when doing this, most famously when comparing the interest rates paid by banks on loans that are repaid overnight and rarely default to the rates paid by college students on loans that may extend 10 to 30 years and default frequently, an analogy no honest adult could defend. But then, Cruz's critics have their own list of favorite soundbites they don't like; both are seen by their party's grassroots base as rare principled truth-tellers, and by the opposing party as dangerous charlatans or worse. Both have proven to be successful grassroots fundraisers, although Cruz has been less consistent at political moneymaking than Warren. Both are much in demand by campaigns looking to fire up their party's base, and would run fiery campaigns that grow their party's base at the risk of turning off moderates. Both are eloquent and forceful speakers, but neither is particularly warm, charming or likeable in the way that we usually associate with winning national candidates. Both broke the usual mode of cautious and deferential new Senators, making an immediate splash in Washington. Both would be history-making candidates - Warren the first woman to be a national party presidential nominee, Cruz the first Hispanic nominee.
For all the similarities, however, there are some important distinctions between how Cruz and Warren are situated.
1. Cruz has a stronger electoral record. Both Warren and Cruz have yet to prove they could win anything outside the most favorable possible conditions - a polarizing national election deep in favorable territory, Warren in Massachusetts, Cruz in Texas. But there's two difference. First, Cruz ran a lot closer to the national ticket. Mitt Romney carried Texas by 15.8 points, earning 57.13% of the vote; Cruz also won by 15.8 points, with 56.46% of the vote. For all intents and purposes, Cruz ran even with Romney in Texas. But (while we do not have exit polls) he may have had a somewhat different coalition: a Latino Decisions pre-election poll found Cruz drawing 35% of the Hispanic vote against 65% for his opponent Paul Sadler, compared to 29% for Romney and 70% for Obama. By contrast, while Obama won Massachusetts by a whopping 23.2 points, with 60.67% of the vote, Warren won only by 7.6 points, with 53.74% of the vote. There are too few Hispanics in Massachusetts to be picked up in the exit poll (4% according to the exits), but the Latino Decisions poll (which, I should note, had Hispanics as 5.9% of the vote) showed Warren running only a little behind Obama, winning them 86-14 to Obama's 89-9. But other demographic groups were a different story. Obama won men in Massachusetts 55-43, Warren lost them 53-47. Obama won 73% of voters under 30, Warren 61%; Obama also won 56% of voters age 30-44, Warren lost them 55-45. Obama won 92% of the black vote, Warren 86%. Obama, who was routed with white voters nationally, won them in Massachusetts 57-42, including white men 50-48 and white women 63-37. Warren lost white voters 51-49, losing white men 50-42 and winning white women 55-45. Obama won self-described moderates 55-43 and independents (another group he lost nationally) 52-45; Warren lost both, moderates 55-45 and independents by a lopsided 59-41. Obama won suburbanites 57-42, Warren lost them 51-49. While maps can be misleading due to the urban concentration of Democratic voters, you can see that Cruz carried a much broader cross-section of his own, much larger and more diverse state (Cruz got 4.4 million votes compared to Warren's 1.7):
Now, there are extenuating circumstances here. Warren was running against a moderate, well-funded, personally popular incumbent, Scott Brown, a famously talented retail politician; Cruz's opponent, former State Rep. Paul Sadler, was basically an underfunded punching bag. So Warren's race was much more contested than Cruz's or than the presidential race in either state. That is reflected in voter turnout: 72.9% of registered voters voted in Massachusetts in 2012, compared to an average of 70.5% over the prior three general elections, whereas only 58.6% of registered voters voted in Texas in 2012 compared to an average of 66.4% over the prior three general elections.
And while Mitt Romney was a hometown candidate and former Governor of Massachusetts, politically and culturally much closer to the typical Massachusetts Republican than Obama to the typical Texas Democrat (in 2008, Obama lost the primaries in both Massachusetts and Texas), Romney's popularity in the state was pretty bad by 2012 (the exit poll had his favorability at 40-59) after the national campaign and the acrimonious New Hampshire primaries of 2008 and 2012. That helps explain why Obama beat Romney with demographic groups in Massachusetts (white men, white women, independents, suburbanites) that Obama was losing, badly, in most of the battleground states and nationally.
We do, however, have one piece of additional evidence of Cruz's ability that we don't have with Warren: his record in a hotly contested primary. Warren cruised to the nomination, which is a show of her strength in scaring off challengers but also means her ability to win a primary race is untested. Cruz, by contrast, won a major upset against a deeply entrenched member of the Texas GOP establishment, longtime Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst (Cruz finished second in a crowded primary, 44% to 34%, but won 56.8% against Dewhurst in the runoff).
In the final analysis, neither Cruz nor Warren has proven they could appeal to anything like the swing voters of Ohio, Florida, and other purple states. But Cruz has at least shown that he can win a hard-fought primary and run even with his party's national ticket on friendly turf. Warren has yet to do even that much.
2. Warren has to beat Hillary. The proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the 2016 presidential race is Hillary Clinton. Hillary is beatable, in theory, in a primary; after all, she lost to Obama in 2008. But in reality, her massive name recognition and fundraising prowess starts her off in a much stronger polling position than in 2008, and her presence alone may deter Warren from running (and already influenced Warren to sign a letter encouraging Hillary to run). Moreover, Warren would face a serious demographic challenge. Obama's 2008 victory over Hillary required a two-pronged assault on her coalition: one prong was anti-war white liberals who carried Obama to wins in the caucuses and states in the Pacific Northwest and Upper Midwest, and the other was an overwhelming, 90%+ majority among black voters (see, e.g., here, here, and here), who allowed Obama to sweep the South (in most Southern states, black voters are a majority of the Democratic primary electorate, and Obama swept Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, DC and Delaware).
Warren, running more on economic populism (e.g., Hillary's six years on the Board of Directors of Wal-Mart) than Hillary's support for the Iraq War or Hillary's opposition before 2013 to same-sex marriage, is one of the few Democrats with the fundraising ability and ideological footprint to replicate the first part of Obama's primary coalition, and her gender neutralizes Hillary's most potent weapon. But there is no reason to believe that she could reconstruct the monolithic black support that was decisive for Obama. That would leave Warren needing to make a frontal assault on Hillary's existing base, a much tougher challenge than consolidating the support of people who are not already locked in.
By contrast, Cruz faces an open field, the most open Republican field in the modern primary system and really comparable only to prior Democratic fields (1976, 1988, 1992, to some extent 2004) that lacked any kind of frontrunner. Few national polls these days put anybody above 15% support, much less 20%, and the leaders are often people with big name recognition who are not that likely to run (Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney) or face a natural ceiling on their appeal (Rand Paul). The moderate/"Establishment" wing of the party has yet to consolidate behind one candidate, having gotten the jitters over Chris Christie after Bridgegate. That hardly guarantees victory for Cruz, as the GOP has an embarrassment of riches in terms of Governors and Senators who could run and be appealing candidates in different ways. But it's precisely the kind of open field in which a strong ideological figure could emerge victorious despite a lack of the traditional resume Republicans ordinarily expect.
3. Cruz is much younger. Warren, like Hillary and Romney, is a child of the 1940s; Cruz is a child of the 1970s. If you compare them to the roster of Republicans who might be in the Presidential or Vice Presidential mix (by design, this is an overinclusive list), both Warren and Hillary stick out as an older crowd:
Even in the primaries, that means yet another way in which Warren will struggle to distinguish herself from Hillary to win the favor of the Democrats' youth-obsessed electorate, which fell for Obama partly because of his relative youth and 'coolness.' It also means there's a greater urgency to Warren's decision - if she doesn't run in 2016, she probably never will (we've never elected a non-incumbent who was over 70, and the two over-70 nominees, John McCain and Bob Dole, were constantly dogged by the age issue), whereas Cruz could easily stay in the Senate and run a decade or two from now.
In a general election, age may not be a disabling factor but it is likely to play in a way that provides a favorable contrast for the Republican nominee (if it's Cruz or one of the other fortysomethings) against Warren, just as it would against Hillary. Only two Presidents were over 65 when they entered office (Reagan and William Henry Harrison, and Harrison died a month into his term), and the dependence of the Democrats on younger voters will be tested if their candidate is 20-25 years older than the Republican.
4. Cruz is building a foreign policy profile. Americans are focused on domestic policy issues these days, and the 2014 election, like 2012 and 2010, will be dominated by domestic issues. But Americans still expect their President to be up to the role of Commander-in-Chief, and in an increasingly dangerous and unstable world beset with regional crises, foreign policy may be harder to avoid in 2016.
Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, has put a lot of effort into building a profile on foreign policy. His most famous Supreme Court fight as Texas Solicitor General was over the International Court of Justice's treaty authority to reopen U.S. death sentences handed down to Mexican nationals, a subject he returned to earlier this year with an essay in the Harvard Law Review on the limits of the treaty power. He joined with Rand Paul in early 2013 in a high-profile fight against drone strikes against U.S. citizens, but has subsequently broken with Senator Paul over the future direction of U.S. foreign policy, and made a point of giving foreign policy speeches at conservative events. Cruz has traveled extensively - to South Africa for the Mandela memorial service, to Israel to show support for a key U.S. ally, to Ukraine, to Poland and Estonia to criticize Vladimir Putin. Cruz's list of Senate committee assignments includes a who's who of committees focused on national security, border security, public safety, technology and American power:
Committee on Armed Services (Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, Subcommittee on Seapower)
Warren, by contrast, serves on the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and the Special Committee on Aging (on which Cruz also sits; Cruz is also on the Rules Committee). The Washington Post noted in December that Warren "has done nothing, for example, to curry favor in early primary states or to build her foreign policy credentials by traveling abroad." This stands in stark contrast to Obama, who built his campaign around opposition to the Iraq War. Her statement of "Eleven Commandments" that progressives stand for in today's Netroots Nation speech is conspicuously silent on foreign affairs or national security; the closest she comes to the border is the bland assertion that " immigration has made this country strong and vibrant, and that means reform." Warren often evades foreign policy questions; witness this video from yesterday of her literally running away from a question about Israel and Gaza:
5. The Fauxohontas Factor: Warren and Cruz will each give the other party huge amounts of ideological ammunition, but comparatively little biographical ammunition. The one exception is the furor over whether the pasty-white Warren - who claims to have some small amount of Cherokee blood and on this basis was touted by Harvard Law School as a "diverse" faculty member - improperly took advantage of affirmative action preferences not meant for white people. Pundits generally assume that this controversy was beaten to death because it didn't stop Warren from winning in 2012, but as noted above, that race left Warren running far behind the national Democratic ticket, and as Mike Dukakis, John Kerry and Mitt Romney can tell you, what works in Massachusetts may not always work nationally. And the fake-Indian issue could be surprisingly potent in a campaign against an actual son of a Cuban immigrant.
6. Warren has to play ball with Obama: The final factor here is structural. Cruz can more or less draw up his own path right now: his party doesn't control the White House, it doesn't (for now, at least) control the Senate, and Cruz is so often at loggerheads with party leadership that there is no real concern that he will be locked into votes he doesn't want just out of being a loyal soldier. That's not all good - he also carries the baggage of a lot of people blaming him for the 2013 government shutdown - but it means his mistakes will be his own.
Warren, by contrast, would inevitably have to run with eight years of Obama's foreign policy and economic baggage, and the early signs are that she lacks Cruz's stomach to buck party leadership. One of the signature anti-corporate-welfare fights Cruz has been leading lately is his crusade against the Export-Import Bank; Warren just came out in support of the Obama Administration and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in favor of re-authorizing the Ex-Im Bank. That may well be a decision popular with major donors, and even a decision publicly defensible as a pro-business, pro-growth posture (the grounds cited by Warren), but it inevitably muddies her populist message whenever she sides with the current power structure out of party loyalty. It is always hard to square populist revolt with "four more years of the same" and not discomfiting the comfortable on your own side.
So...will Cruz run in 2016? Will Warren? Should they? Certainly both can have an impact on the policy debate within their own party by running, and Warren in particular could have a much larger impact if she runs than if she tries to play kingmaker/queenmaker in an effectively uncontested race. And it would be foolhardy to count either of them out, as a potential nominee or a potential President. That said, for all her weaknesses, it is still hard to argue with the idea that if Hillary Clinton wants the nomination, she will get it and should get it as the strongest Democratic candidate in 2016 - not Warren. The case for Republicans running someone other than Cruz is more arguable, given the large number of other options (personally, while I like Cruz a lot and admire his principled and pugnacious conservatism, I prefer a Governor like Bobby Jindal or Scott Walker, for a lot of reasons), and that is what primaries are for - but there is little question that Cruz would be, like Warren, the most polarizing candidate the party could choose.
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July 15, 2014
POLITICS: 8 Myths In The Immigration Debate
Stop Saying That. It's Not True.
The ongoing debate over immigration, and over illegal immigration in particular, is one of the most acrimonious - usually needlessly so - in our politics. It divides both parties, though it's no secret that the divisions within the GOP on this issue are far worse. And all sides in this debate are guilty of peddling myths and rhetoric that do more harm to the debate than good.
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1. "One-Time" Amnesty: The 1986 immigration bill - one of Ronald Reagan's biggest mistakes as President - was sold to the public as a long-term, if not permanent, solution to the immigration problem, and in exchange, illegal immigrants already in the country for four years were given a one-time path to citizenship. The law was a failure, as all sides of the debate recognize (if it had really solved the problem, we wouldn't still be fighting over it): "the number of unauthorized immigrants living in the country soared, from an estimated 5 million in 1986 to 11.1 million today."
Trust us, we are told: it will be different this time. And it probably will - some things will work better than in the past, some worse. But fundamentally, complete security at the border that eliminates 100% of illegal immigration is no more plausible than 100% elimination of drugs, abortion, guns, pornography, cigarettes, prostitution, or anything else there's a demand for. The best we can do is to reduce, rather than completely eliminate, lawbreaking. And the record of government competence in this particular area does not inspire confidence.
Personally, I favor a path to legalization, perhaps not full citizenship but at least lawful permanent residency for people who have made a life in this country and - other than being here illegally - have not committed any crime. But if we are talking seriously about the terms of a path to legalization, we should ask ourselves what kind of path is rigorous enough to accept as a permanent feature of our immigration laws, one that preserves the preference and priority for legal immigrants rather than incentivizing them to come illegally. We should not play the childish game of pretending that we can lay down a path now and never be asked to do it again.
2. Everything Is "Amnesty": At the same time, the unrealistic and hyperbolic overuse of the term "amnesty" often makes it impossible to have a reasonable discussion of what to do about illegal immigrants. Not every proposal short of mass deportations or Romneyesque "self-deportation" by attrition is the same: many proposals involve penalties or disabilities that make people worse off than if they had come legally, or worse off than they were before (except for gaining legal status). And immigration is by no means the only policy area in which governments use amnesties, clemencies or similar programs - tax amnesties are fairly common, as are amnesties for lesser offenses like parking violations. No grave social stigma is attached to people who qualify for them. Even in the criminal law, few people are punished to the full statutory maximum penalty for any offense, and lots of people (even violent offenders) return to American society after paying whatever debt is demanded of them.
The blanket condemnation of any and all policies that allow people to stay in the U.S. after entering illegally is based on the view that illegal immigration somehow makes you different as a person, as if it is a form of original sin that can never be forgiven. That is neither a conservative nor a Christian view, and it is inconsistent with a long history of people making it to America by hook or by crook. If it benefits society to allow people to remain here - a point we can fairly and reasonably debate - and if we do not create undue incentives for illegal entry, there is no principled reason why people who want to be Americans cannot be allowed to stay here.
3. "Undocumented Immigrants" and "Illegals": Because illegal entry is a form of conduct, not an identity, we should really dispense with referring to people as "illegals." They are not a legal status - they're human beings. But the flip side of "illegals" is the liberals' insistence on the term "undocumented immigrants," as if the law itself is simply meaningless misplaced paperwork. Really every person with a functioning brain recognizes the willful dishonesty of this term, which exists solely to pander and mislead.
The proper term for people who entered the country illegally is illegal immigrants, or perhaps illegal aliens, although the term "alien" isn't really all that commonly used as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries.
4. "Conservatives Just Hate Immigrants": One of the really infuriating tendencies in the immigration debate is the Democrats' insistence on not distinguishing between legal and illegal immigration. But conservatives care about law and order, and to most conservatives, the distinction is a hugely important one. No serious person would propose that legal immigrants "self-deport," for example. The majority of conservative voters, if given the choice, ask only that the government put the clamps on illegal immigration.
5. "Nobody Is Anti-Immigration," and "Nobody Is Anti-Immigrant": Again, the flip side of this is that our side of the aisle often protests that nobody is against immigration or that nobody is against immigrants. And if we are honest, this is simply not true. First of all, there are undoubtedly some people - and they are usually loud enough to be easily spotted - who simply don't like Mexicans, or generally dislike non-English speakers. (In fact, even if you welcome immigration, it can undeniably be frustrating at times dealing with people who do not speak the language well. That is a completely human reaction and one that has always existed in every country.) Second, while I believe it has greater benefits than harms in the long run - because people, on net, are an asset, and a nation needs a growing population - the immigrant experience in this country has always brought with it a certain level of poverty and social problems, and reasonable people can differ over the costs and benefits.
And third and most importantly, even if you have nothing personally against immigrants, there are clearly people (and not just conservatives) who think all immigration should be restricted, legal and illegal, or at least that we should restrict the volume of immigration to something like what is now allowed legally. At the extreme, every sane person believes this - neither our economy, nor our culture, nor our political system is equipped to deal with, employ and assimilate an unlimited number of people who did not grow up here. But even within the bounds of current debate, there are those who argue that too many immigrants drive down wages and reduce job opportunities for native-born Americans. Like it or not, this view is fairly prevalent among labor unions and blue-collar workers (if anything, it is more commonly held among African-Americans, who have often been the workers competing directly with new migrants). It was the view of Cesar Chavez. It is, at least in part, why Mexico itself has such draconian immigration laws. The same arguments are echoed in debates over agricultural guest workers and H-1B visas for high-tech workers. Again, reasonable people can differ on the merits of this argument, but it is a legitimate argument and not simply a smokescreen for the hating of Mexicans. In times of economic hardship and uncertainty, it is callous and insular for our political elite to look down on these concerns and belittle them as unfit for public discussion.
If you think there is no such thing as people who are against immigration, ask yourself the last time you heard the phrase "close the borders." Because that is being against all immigration.
6. "Secure The Border First": One of the favorite phrases used by Republican politicians is "secure the border first." As a matter of legislative bargaining, of course, it's entirely reasonable to demand that the other side put X in a bill, or maybe even pass X into law, before we move on to Y. That's part of the give and take of sausage-making.
But as a policy matter, as I noted above, the border will never be 100% secure. You can argue for particular policies: the fence (which I think would be both practically and symbolically helpful, but is no cure-all), an increase in the size of the Border Patrol and in the tactics it is approved to use, or interior-enforcement mechanisms like e-Verify (I'm skeptical of its big-government bureaucratic mandates). But realistically, we are unlikely even to have an agreed-upon, objective standard for when and whether the border is "secure". If we had solid, real-time data about border crossings, we'd be better at stopping them. We can demand specific improvements, but any policy we enact must accept the reality that some level of border insecurity will always be with us.
7. "Comprehensive Immigration Reform": One of the worst features of modern Washington is the thousand-page forest of "comprehensive" legislation on any given subject, in which there are an almost limitless number of places to hide special-interest gimmicks and giveaways and traps for the unwary, and so many nooks and crannies that even more voluminous regulations are needed to interpret the rules. Madison famously warned, in Federalist No. 62:
It poisons the blessing of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?
Madison could hardly have asked for a better illustration of this than Obamacare, of which then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi earned her permanent place in the lexicon of notorious American political quotations by asserting that we would have to pass the bill to find out what was in it. Four years later, what the bill does and does not contain and when it goes into effect is still the subject of political debate, regulation, and litigation, including the pending D.C. Circuit Halbig decision on whether the bill's reference to subsidies on state exchanges actually means state and federal exchanges (even the Administration and its defenders essentially concede that this could have been more clearly drafted) and current Speaker Boehner's threatened lawsuit over when the employer mandate goes into effect.
Because so much of immigration law is a devil-in-the-details business, the prospects for mischief, misunderstanding and executive misreading abound, even if you think the idea of the bill is a good one. And while everyone is in favor of reforming the immigration laws, there are huge and real disagreements about what "reform" means. The only political justification for rolling every subject - border enforcement, path to legalization and/or citizenship, guest workers, H-1B visas - into a single bill is the theory that a comprehensive compromise is more likely to pass than a bill on one or another specific subject that does not have something for every faction.
The problem with this theory is that it is belied by political reality. "Comprehensive reform" didn't pass when we had a Republican president and a Democratic House and Senate. It didn't pass when we had a Democratic president, a Democratic House and a filibuster-proof Democratic Senate. It hasn't passed with a Democratic president, a Republican House and a Democratic Senate. And there's no particular reason to think it stands a better chance of passing with a Democratic president, a Republican House and a Republican Senate (if the GOP gains the Senate this fall) or even if the GOP were to win back all three branches in 2016. The more sensible approach, if you are actually looking to make the legislative process work and not just grandstand at campaign time, is to build trust and momentum by shearing off smaller pieces of the bill and passing them as standalone bills, one at a time, each with its own coalition, each concise enough that people will know what they are voting on.
8. The Facts Are On Our Side: Conservative immigration hawks repeatedly find themselves talking past the rest of the political system on these issues, because ultimately the conservative argument is about what is legal and illegal, right and wrong, practical and impractical, while everyone else is talking about what is popular and unpopular, what is offensive and what is welcoming. And of course, as with every aspect of this issue, there are fair arguments about immigration policy from the standpoint of pure, unprincipled electoral calculus.
Unfortunately, too many people on our side fail to understand that in a democracy, the facts are not everything - we can not win arguments without a thought to the tone and presentation of them and how they will be received by people who do not start off agreeing with us. It is always most effective to write and speak, on any issue, with an eye towards persuading people who may be undecided on an issue that yours is the most reasonable and humane position. Instead, way too many of the people who care most about the immigration issue write and speak as if their hair is on fire and an immigrant just killed their dog. And that is extremely unhelpful to the cause of the GOP, the cause of the conservative movement, and even the cause of doing something serious about controlling illegal immigration. For example, Proposition 227, banning bilingual education in California schools, passed with 61% of the vote in 1998 not because California voters were convinced to hate Spanish-speaking people, but because even many immigrants were persuaded that their children were better off being pushed to learn English. But today, with immigration a polarizing partisan issue nationally, California Democrats are pushing a ballot question to repeal Prop 227 by 2016.
Hispanic and Asian voters in particular tend to view the really hard-line rhetoric on this issue, the people who talk about "invaders" and hype every bad thing that can be said about illegal immigrants, the people who have a problem even with private charity aiding children and teenagers stranded at the border, as driven by racism. Fair or not, when the loudest voices in your movement have that effect, they should reconsider what they are doing, because facts or no facts, law or no law, in a democracy, one man and the truth are lonely drinking buddies.
The immigration debate is hard enough as a matter of both policy and politics without making it more difficult by constantly saying things that are not so.
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June 30, 2014
HISTORY/WAR: Enduring Lessons From The Diplomatic Crisis of July 1914
My latest at The Federalist, which also has fairly extensive coverage of today's Hobby Lobby decision.
June 26, 2014
POLITICS: Waiting For The Wave: The 2014 Senate Map
The polling tells us that the bulk of 2014's contested Senate races are basically dogfights. So why are so many Republicans optimistic? Because it's still June, and some of the elements of the dynamics of 2014 may not be fully baked into the polling yet. How good a year this is for the GOP will depend on those factors.
If you look at the chart at the top of this post, what you pretty clearly can see from the data is that the Senate races right now seem to be sorted into three general groups (although in each group I'm including one race that is less favorable for the GOP than the rest).
Group One, three currently Democrat-held seats in deep-red territory without real incumbents, is the likely GOP blowouts. Montana and South Dakota are both looking locked up, and the South Dakota polling may get even uglier for the Democrats if the third-party support for Larry Pressler (a former Republican Senator running as an independent) fades. West Virginia is closer, close enough that a giant gaffe or scandal or something could put it back on the table, and in a different year or state a 10-point lead would not look insurmountable. But it's hard to see where that support comes from, in a 2014 midterm in West Virginia.
Group Two is the tossups, nine states that are really too close to call right now. Seven of the nine are Democrat-held seats, five with incumbents (Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana and North Carolina) and two open seats (Iowa and Michgigan). One of the two GOP-held seats has an incumbent (Kentucky), the other is open (Georgia). The Democrats have settled on candidates in all nine, Republicans still have a primary in Alaska (the poll average here is the matchup of frontrunner Dan Sullivan against incumbent Mark Begich), a runoff in Georgia (the poll average here is the matchup of frontrunner Jack Kingston against Democrat nominee Michelle Nunn), and a "jungle primary" that will probably result in a December runoff in Louisiana (the poll average here is the runoff matchup of frontrunner Bill Cassidy against incumbent Mary Landrieu). In only one of these races, in Michigan, does the current leader have a 5-point lead; in five of the nine races the frontrunner is below 45%, and in eight of the nine (all but Cassidy in Louisiana) below 46%. While a 2 or 3-point lead in the polls in October may be meaningful, a race with a lead that size in June and 10-20 percent undecided is functionally a tossup, at least until you take into consideration the various factors (national environment, state electorate) that are likely to pull the race in one direction or another as we enter the fall.
Why do Republican analysts feel so optimistic? Because polls, as we recall from 2010 and 2012, are only as good as their ability to project who will turn out and vote, and we are probably still a few months from pollsters being able to really make accurate assessments of what the fall electorate will look like. As Sam Wang, Ph.D., has noted, the various models for predicting how the Senate races will go are predicting different things depending on the extent to which they look beyond the polls to incorporate predictive elements like the economy, the effect of incumbency, the President's approval rating, and the like. Sean Trende, here and here, offered a model based mainly on Obama's approval rating, and found even after some tweaks to incorporate a few other variables, that Democrats could be projected to face double-digit Senate seat losses if the President's approval rating was 43% or lower on Election Day.
That's just one way of skinning this cat, but right now, Obama's approval sits at 41.5 approval/53.9 disapproval, and has been trending rather sharply downward for the past month, with his approval on the economy, foreign policy and healthcare all consistently worse than his overall approval rating. (Via Ace, it's even worse in the battleground states). In that national environment, with midterm elections in general tending to produce Republican-leaning electorates, and with the historic poor performance of second-term presidents in sixth-year midterms, you really have to feel pretty good about GOP chances of winning most of those nine races. That may seem improbable, but there were basically seven Senate races that went to the wire or involved potentially big Democratic upsets in 2012 - Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia, Massachusetts, Indiana, and Missouri - and I didn't think at the time they would run the table and win all seven. They did. In a few of those, like Virginia and Wisconsin, the Senate races tracked almost precisely the outcome in the Presidential race, meaning turnout from the top of the ticket was decisive. If the national environment really does show as sour across the board for Democrats in November as it looks from today, eight-for-nine or nine-for-nine could be a possibility. If the environment (including the parties' turnout operations) swings back to a more neutral one, I'd be looking more at the GOP winning five of the nine, which would net a six-seat overall gain in the Senate, enough for control of the chamber but by a very narrow margin that might not last beyond 2016.
For now, that's still a big if, not reflected in polls showing voters not really ready to commit to either side in most of those races. It's why Republicans are waiting for the wave. But it's also a reminder that those races won't win themselves - Democrats ran the table in 2012 by fighting all the way to the whistle in every race with every resource they had. One thing helping the GOP may be the Governor's races: for example, Rick Snyder is now comfortably ahead in the polls in Michigan, and the Colorado GOP dodged a repeat of the 2010 trainwreck by picking Bob Beauprez over Tom Tancredo; Beauprez may not beat John Hickenlooper, but he'll give him a tough race without Tancredo's divisiveness.
Finally, there's Group Three, the races in which the polling shows the Democrats safe for now - but, depending on the national environment, maybe not safe enough just yet to declare those races over. Incumbents Jeff Merkley in Oregon, Al Franken in Minnesota, Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire all have leads around 10 points, and Mark Warner in Virginia has a sixteen-point lead on Ed Gillespie. (It's also always possible some other races could come on the board; there hasn't been much in the way of general election polling in Mississippi or New Mexico, for example. But we'll have to wait and see). But none of them are regularly polling above 50%, the usual rule of thumb for a safe incumbent.
Realistically, those are "reach" races that only go on the board if things really get ugly for the Democrats. Oregon is, I would guess, the best hope for the GOP relative to its present polling given the Cover Oregon fiasco, New Hampshire the toughest of the OR-MN-NH trio due to Shaheen's personal popularity and the likelihood of a landslide win for the Democrats in the Governor's race (the other two will have tight GOV races). Also, Al Franken has a huge warchest, so his race with self-funder Mike McFadden could get ugly and expensive. Virginia, of course, is the longest reach, but Gillespie should be sufficiently well-funded and anodyne to take advantage if Warner slides into the neighborhood of actually being vulnerable.
Predictions? Anybody who's predicting the fall elections in June with too much certainty is nuts. But right now, Republicans have a lot of opportunities in the Senate. If Obama's approval rating keeps tanking, the GOP avoids any major campaign-killing gaffes, and the Democrats don't come up with a magic turnout bullet, the swing in the Senate could be bigger than anyone is realistically talking about right now. Don't count your chickens; this is just the optimistic scenario. But it is not, from the vantage point of late June, an unrealistic one.
LAW: A Good Day For The Rule of Law
It is not the job of the court system to tell us what is right, or just; to make policy for us or govern our lives. But it is the job of the court system to police the basic rules of the road that keep our various elected officials, administrative agencies and lower courts from exceeding the powers the People, in the Constitution and laws, have entrusted to them. And today was a good day for the rule of law and a bad one for abuses of power:
1. The Supreme Court held 9-0, in an opinion by Justice Breyer, that President Obama abused his recess appointment power by unilaterally appointing members of the NLRB withouut asking the Senate. The Court split 5-4 on exactly how broad the recess-appointments power is, but all agreed that the President cannot just unilaterally claim that the Senate is in recess (for purposes of bypassing it) when the Senate itself (even Harry Reid) says that it is not in recess. That renders many of the NLRB's acts over a period of years invalid (although proper appointments were eventually made). So much for Obama's vaunted status as a Constitutional scholar; even his own appointees didn't buy his nonsense.
Justice Breyer left some wiggle room, however, for future debates over exactly when the Senate is recessed:
Justice Scalia, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito, would have gone further in scaling back the recess power. Scalia reminds us of a favorite point of his, that separation of powers is the true backbone of Constitutional liberty:
2. The Court also held, in a 9-0 loss for Martha Coakley (now running for Governor of Massachusetts) that Massachusetts abused its power under the First Amendment by a blanket ban on protests within 35 feet of an abortion clinic. As Chief Justice Roberts observed, this ban was so draconian that it prevented women entering the clinic from being exposed to peaceable forms of persuasion:
Petitioners are not protestors. They seek not merely to express their opposition to abortion, but to inform women of various alternatives and to provide help in pursuing them. Petitioners believe that they can accomplish this objective only through personal, caring, consensual conversations. And for good reason: It is easier to ignore a strained voice or a waving hand than a direct greeting or an outstretched arm....Respondents point us to no evidence that individuals regularly gather at other clinics, or at other times in Boston, in sufficiently large groups to obstruct access. For a problem shown to arise only once a week in one city at one clinic, creating 35-foot buffer zones at every clinic across the Commonwealth is hardly a narrowly tailored solution.
Justice Scalia would again have gone further, noting evidence that the buffer zones were deliberately intended to discriminate against pro-life viewpoints:
This is an opinion that has Something for Everyone, and the more significant portion continues the onward march of abortion-speech-only jurisprudence.
3. Meanwhile, the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, by a 6-1 vote struck down former Mayor Mike Bloomberg's Big Soda ban in a challenge brought by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The court concluded that the agency that passed the ban was not entitled to create policy-making legislation (a common feature as well of President Obama's agencies). A few key excerpts explain why unelected executive agencies (like courts) should not set policy:
Indeed. A good day for a government of laws, not of men.
June 5, 2014
WAR/POLITICS: Yes, It Matters That Bowe Bergdahl Deserted
Does it matter whether Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was a deserter, or worse, a traitor? In evaluating President Obama's decision to trade five high-ranking Taliban terrorists for Bergdahl, it absolutely does.
Given the public-relations fiasco around the Bergdahl deal, liberal commentators are circling the wagons. Their latest argument, designed to compartmentalize the pieces of the controversy so they can't be considered as a whole, is that the President's calculation of what it was worth giving up to get Bergdahl back should not have taken consideration of the facts of Bergdahl's conduct and disappearance, specifically his abandonment of his comrades and mission under circumstances suggesting a deeper betrayal than simple desertion. This argument (which is summarized here by Brian Beutler at the New Republic, although it's been coming from people all over the left side of the commentariat the past two days), goes more or less like this:
1) Either you believe the military should have an ethos of "leave no man behind," or you do not.
2) Either you believe deserters should be court-martialed, or you do not.
3) You can't have a court martial until you've brought Bergdahl back.
4) If you believe in 1) and 2), you should want Bergdahl back first before deciding if he deserted, which is a matter for the court martial system, and he is presumed innocent until then.
As Beutler put it on Twitter, "this standard of rendering verdicts against POWs while they're in captivity and using them to oppose rescue is disgusting."
There are two related problems with this syllogism that illustrate its dependence on simple-minded sloganeering in lieu of sober judgments of reality. First, it confuses purely military decisions with major national security decisions. For soldiers, "leave no man behind" is more than a slogan - it's part of the deep ethos of military service, the knowledge that your comrades have your back even if you get lost or wounded or just screw up. It's the second-highest value the military has, and it's why commanders won't think twice about rescue missions that may put the lives of more soldiers at risk than those that are being rescued. Of course, there's a fair amount of bitterness at Bergdahl's desertion - his decision to leave everyone behind - among his former Army comrades and especially those who lost loved ones trying to get him back. But nobody really argues the point that the military should make efforts like that to get guys like him back.
But an exchange of high-value detainees is not a purely military decision. It's a national-security decision of precisely the type that has always been reserved, not to military men according to their military code, but to the elected civilian political leadership that makes the really big decisions with an eye beyond today's battlefields to the greater interests of the nation. After all, the military's highest value, even higher than its commitment to the lives of its men and women in uniform, is the mission itself - and it's the civilian leadership that sets the mission and chooses what sacrifices we ask of them. There are serious downsides to making ransom deals with terrorists, including setting dangerous men free and setting bad precedents and incentives for the future. Even President Obama had to admit that we could live to regret this deal in terrible ways:
"Is there a possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely," Obama told a news conference in Warsaw.
The existence of downsides, even grave ones, may not convince us to adopt an absolute rule against deals with terrorists; national security decisions often involve a choice among lesser evils, and if your foreign policy can be summarized on a bumper sticker, you will probably get in a lot of accidents. But they illustrate why the pros and cons and competing values need to be weighed carefully, rather than letting one motto ("leave no man behind") or another ("we don't negotiate with terrorists") do our thinking for us. Our principles, as always, must remain a compass, not a straitjacket. And once you concede that the decision involved weighing competing values rather than blindly following a single overriding rule, you have to take consideration of the fact that - while of course we all wanted Bergdahl back - retrieving him was not as compelling a value as retrieving a soldier who did his duty as best he could and unquestionably remained loyal to his country.
Which brings me to the second problem with the syllogism being proposed: that it asks the President of the United States to make vital national security decisions while wearing lawyer-imposed blinders as to the facts. Yes, as a legal matter under U.S. criminal law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Sergeant Bergdahl is innocent until proven guilty of desertion or any graver misconduct. But every day of the week, every hour of the day, Presidents make decisions on matters large and small, in the national security area and other areas, affecting the lives of many people, based on facts that have not been litigated in court. The idea that the facts of Bergdahl's disappearance could simply be wished away or pretended not to exist, simply because no court-martial had been convened, is ridiculous and juvenile. It's not as if we could get the five Taliban back if we tried Bergdahl and found him guilty, after all. Presidents make decisions based on the best information they have. Sometimes, that information doesn't come from sources that conform to the legal rules of evidence, or from sources that could ever be disclosed in a courtroom. And sometimes, facts come out later that show that the President was misinformed - but those facts arrive too late for a decision to be made. These are the adult realities of the Presidency, and only an appallingly misguided legalism can lead President Obama's own supporters, in the sixth year of his presidency, to remain blind to it.
The military owed Bowe Bergdahl its promise to try to rescue him, even if he walked away. The nation did not owe him an agreement to compromise national security by surrendering five high-value prisoners without asking what we were getting in return.
May 28, 2014
POLITICS/LAW: Interstate Commerce and Interstate Sales of Health Insurance