"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
March 30, 2012
BASEBALL: 2011 EWSL Wrapup By Team
The second piece of the puzzle (after the below) in preparing my annual Established Win Shares Levels previews is to review the prior year's team results. I'll present these without much comment for now; the teams are sorted by how their 2011 pre-season rosters stacked up against their EWSL, with the later columns showing how they plugged the gaps with guys not listed before the season. I'll go back and update this later with how this affects the cumulative team adjustments.
UPDATE: As you can see from the above, MLB-wide, teams earned 1174 Win Shares, or 39.13 per team, from the rest of their rosters, the least since 2006. Results year-by-year since I started tracking results at a team level:
2005: 1067 (35.57)
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:55 PM | Baseball 2012-13 | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: EWSL 2012 Age and Rookie Baselines
It's that time of year again - it gets later every year - for my division previews powered by Established Win Shares Levels (originally explained here): before we get to rolling out the 2012 EWSLs, I have to update the age adjustments and rookie values I use each year. These are based on the data I have gathered over the past eight seasons, and so with each passing year, one would hope they become progressively more stable and useful in evaluating the established talent base on hand for each team entering each season. As a reminder: EWSL is not a prediction system. It's a way of assessing the resources on hand.
To my mind, the age data is actually some of the most interesting stuff from this whole project, arguably more useful than the annual team previews, because it's a mostly objective (albeit unscientific) dataset that gives us a different look at the aging curve from the perspective of the guys who look like they have roster spots in March and April of each year.
I'll skip some more of the usual preliminaries (see this post from 2010 explaining more) and get right to the charts:
Non-Pitchers 2011 and 2004-2011:
The younger age cohorts, as usual, were volatile due to their small sample size. Among the 20somethings, the 28 year olds got hit the hardest (led by Joe Mauer, David Wright, Shin-Soo Choo, Kendry Morales, Casey McGeehee, Stephen Drew and Franklin Gutierrez), while the 26 year olds did the best (led by Matt Kemp, Matt Joyce, Emilio Bonifacio, and Melky Cabrera); the 31 year olds (led by Adam Dunn, Adam LaRoche, Felipe Lopez, Juan Uribe and Ryan Spilborghs) and 33 year olds (led by Chone Figgins, Marlon Byrd, Rafael Furcal, and Luke Scott) also took it on the chin, and as has been the pattern since the end of the steroid/Barry Bonds age, the over-35 crowd did more poorly than the overall results since 2004.
Pitchers 2011 and 2004-2011:
Besides the youngest arms, the 26 year olds (led by Ian Kennedy, Justin Masterson, Eric O'Flaherty, Fernando Salas and David Robertson) and 35 year olds (led by Kyle Farnsworth, Scott Downs, Freddy Garcia, and Joel Peralta) had the best 2011 showings; the 24 year olds (led by Tommy Hanson, Jaime Garcia, Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz) and 27 year olds (led by Josh Johnson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Andrew Bailey, Joakim Soria, Jonathan Broxton, and Kevin Slowey) the worst aside from an overall decay above age 30.
We wrap up with the rookie adjustments:
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:50 PM | Baseball 2012-13 | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 29, 2012
LAW/POLITICS: A Word About Charles Fried
Charles Fried has suddenly become a very popular fellow on the Left. The former Reagan Solicitor General and Bill Weld appointee to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is being touted by the Washington Post's in-house left-wing activists Greg Sargent and Ezra Klein, as well as ThinkProgress and Media Matters and its frenetic professional tweeters Eric Boehlert and Oliver Willis over Professor Fried's support for the constitutionality of Obamacare. Dahlia Lithwick went further, using Prof. Fried's prediction of an 8-1 decision as evidence that "[t]he conservative legal elites don't believe in the merits of this challenge". It's not surprising that these folks are in such a rush to get the cover of a former Reagan lawyer to restore their talking point - now in tatters after a week of serious, sober and probing questioning from the Supreme Court - that only an extremist would think there is any constitutional issue at all with Obamacare. But there are some things they're not telling you about Charles Fried.
Now, let me preface this by saying that I have a lot of respect for Prof. Fried. He was my constitutional law professor and probably the best teacher I had in law school, a brilliant man who had taught just about every area of law under the sun and was especially talented at bringing together the strands of disparate areas of the law. I read his book about his days as the SG before I started law school, and I respected his willingness - as a guy who is not pro-life - to argue, twice, for overturning Roe v Wade. He was also the faculty adviser for the Law School Republicans, which I headed for a time. Prof. Fried has indeed been, in the past, a longstanding member of the GOP legal establishment; he testified in favor of John Roberts' Supreme Court confirmation, and in 2006 wrote a NY Times op-ed defending his former deputy, Samuel Alito, as "not a lawless zealot but a careful lawyer with the professionalism to give legally sound but unwelcome advice" and "a person who can tell the difference between the law and his own political predilections."
But if you think brilliant people can't be horribly wrong, you have not spent much time studying lawyers and the law. And if you've been reading the left-wing activists, you might not have learned that the 76-year-old Prof. Fried has not only been a vigorous defender of Obamacare who famously testified that the federal government could mandate that you buy vegetables and join a gym, he also voted for President Obama and wrote him what amounted to a political love letter last summer, wrote a book in 2010 with his son which he characterized as showing that the Bush Administration's anti-terrorism policies "broke the law" and were "disgusting and terrible and degrading," and has been a vociferous critic of the Tea Party.
Read More »
Prof. Fried's big, public break with the GOP came in the heat of the last election campaign, when he joined Weld in backing Obama, citing the selection of Sarah Palin as GOP vice presidential candidate. (Fried had published an article blasting race-based affirmative action in the Harvard Law Review when Obama was its president). He has staked out an increasingly strident view of the Commerce Clause in his defense of Obamacare, testifying:
Sen. Durbin: The point raised by Senator Lee - the 'buy your vegetables, eat your vegetables' point? I'd like you ask to comment on that because that is the one I'm hearing most often. By people who are saying "Well, if the government can require me to buy health insurance, can it require me to have a membership in a gym, or eat vegetables?" We've heard from Professor Dellinger on that point, would you like to comment?
Oddly, Prof. Fried even testified that if Congress lacked the power to mandate the purchase of insurance, "not only is ObamaCare unconstitutional, but then so is RomneyCare in Massachusetts" - despite the fact that the legal basis for a state-level mandate derives from state police powers rather than the more limited, enumerated powers in Article I of the U.S. Constitution (you can hear his rather tortured reasoning on this point near the end of this video):
Last August, during the debt-deal battle, Prof. Fried went further, penning an op-ed for the Daily Beast entitled, without irony, "Obama Is Too Good For Us," blasting basically everyone in the GOP (besides Jon Huntsman) and Palin and the Tea Party movement in particular.
It is fair and accurate to describe Prof. Fried as a former Reagan official and former member of the GOP legal establishment. But it is deeply misleading to suggest that he speaks today for some element of mainstream thought on the Right, or to tout his views on Obamacare without presenting to readers his support for Obama, his effective divorce from the modern GOP, and the extreme nature of his views on the government's ability to make you buy broccoli.
« Close It
March 23, 2012
POLITICS: Meanwhile, Bobby Jindal Wins Again
The GOP's national leadership - including the presidential candidates stumping today in Louisiana - may be uninspiring, but the GOP governors continue to roll. Bobby Jindal last night just scored another victory with the passage through the Louisiana House of a landmark school choice bill (the bill still awaits action from the LA Senate), before proceeding to debate a second bill that tightens teacher tenure standards:
In a victory for Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday night that would expand state aid for some students to switch from struggling public schools to private and parochial classrooms.
Jindal still faces a tough fight - some of the legislators who voted for the bill also voted for an amendment limiting the use of local (as opposed to state) tax dollars for vouchers that could cross local district lines, and opponents are vowing a constitutional challenge. But then, reform is never easy.
For more on why Jindal is one of the nation's very best governors, this long wide-ranging interview discusses not just his education reform proposals but also his pension reform fight. Excerpt:
[B]efore we discuss any change, we have to understand that the status quo is not sustainable: $18.5 billion [Unfunded Accrued Liability]. We're spending already over $2 billion dollars a year [for retirement programs]. If we do nothing, the UAL will go up by $3 billion.
When you look historically at the 1980s, taxpayers were paying for 60% of the retirement program's cost. Workers were paying 40%. That was considered a fair balance. Today taxpayers are paying 75% and the employees are only paying 25% of the retirement costs. Even with all the reforms that we've proposed, we're not going back to 60/40, even with the savings for taxpayers. You're still looking at a ... two-thirds, one-third split. So taxpayers are still paying for two-thirds of the retirement program. I think a better question, another way to ask that question, would be, "Why didn't you go back to 60/40, why not cut the taxpayers contributions to 60%?"...
Finally, in case you missed it, a Jindal tour de force on energy:
March 22, 2012
BASEBALL: Negro League Stats Are Here!
Baseball-Reference.com has at long last started publishing Negro League stats. It's a glorious day. They're a work in progress, a lot less complete than those at other sites, but I assume that's due to a superior commitment to accuracy.
Take a look at Satchel Paige's stats. There are more detailed numbers for Paige in Larry Tye's biography, which I highly recommend both for that reason and because Paige is a helluva story and a compelling character who both symbolizes and transcends his era. Anyway, look at Paige's strikeout rates, from 11.5 K/9 in 1927 to 10.2 K/9 in 1945. Even given the sometimes uneven levels of competition and the fact that some of these are small samples of his innings, it's just extraordinary to have those strikeout rates under the playing conditions of that era, with little or no night baseball and players still - just as in the white Major Leagues - taking a more contact-based approach than they would from the mid-1950s on. Indeed, even into his mid-40s, Paige would have some of the highest strikeout rates in the American League of his time. I mean some time to do a longer look at Paige's career through the lens of the various numbers; there's so much to work with even given the difficulty of putting it all quite into context. Paige was a rotation starter from age 20 in 1927 in Birmingham, yet by 1956-58, at age 49-51, he was still a swing man for the AAA Miami Marlins. Paige was 11-4 with a 1.86 ERA in 1956, posted a 2.42 ERA and a 6.91 K/BB ratio in 1957; over the three seasons in Miami, in 33 starts and 72 relief appearances, Paige threw 340 innings, went 31-22 with a 2.41 ERA and averaged 0.71 HR, 1.43 BB and 5.16 K/9. Paige made his last professional appearance in A ball in 1966 as a teammate of Johnny Bench.
Anyway, I'll be excited to see the site build out more stats - most of us have a pretty good idea of what Paige's and Josh Gibson's talents look like when translated into something like a real stat line, but many other Negro League stars are fuzzier in popular memory (Oscar Charleston and John Henry Lloyd in particular are guys who deserve to be more vividly remembered - there's every reason to think that Charleston was on the same level with the other all time great CF talents like Mays, Mantle, Cobb, Speaker, and DiMaggio).
March 21, 2012
POLITICS: Red State, Blue State, Mitt State, Newt State
How has the popular vote differed in the 2012 GOP primary if you break out the states by their track record in recent presidential elections? It turns out that there are some distinct patterns, patterns that provide both good and bad news for a GOP contemplating a general election behind Mitt Romney.
Let's start with the 13 "Red" states (i.e., the states won by the GOP in the last 3 presidential elections) to vote so far: SC, MO, AZ, WY, AK, GA, ID, ND, OK, TN, KS, AL & MS. Here's how the vote breaks down, out of 4,052,212 votes cast:
Newt 30.4% (2 wins)
If we combine the votes for the 5 conservative and two moderate candidates as explained here*, we get the following:
Conservative bloc: 60.3%
Unsurprisingly, Romney has struggled in solidly Republican states, where the conservative vote has outpolled him 2-to-1, but the division in that vote means that he, Newt and Santorum have run almost in a 3-way heat, with Newt actually narrrowly in the lead (Santorum will probably close the gap on Saturday). The good news is, unless the Romney campaign really collapses, he's likely to win most of these states against Obama anyway. The bad news is, there are a lot of down-ticket GOP officeholders who could suffer if Romney isn't able to energize voters in these states.
Then we have the 8 Blue states (states won by the Democrats the past 3 elections) to vote so far: MN, ME, MI, WA, MA, VT, HI, & IL, in which 2,460,097 votes have been cast. Unsurprisingly, these states present a diametrically opposite picture:
Romney 47.3% (7 wins)
Moderate bloc: 47.5%
Romney's run much closer to a majority with voters in blue territory, who are accustomed to making a lot of compromises in search of electable candidates; Ron Paul has also run a lot stronger in these states, while Newt has been a complete non-factor with GOP electorates that tend to be mistrustful of the role of Southerners in the party's leadership. That doesn't mean there's no market for conservatives, as the Pennsylvanian Santorum has actually done better in blue states than red ones.
Then there's the 7 Purple or Swing states, each won by each party at least once in the last 3 elections. Excluding Virginia, which skews the sample because the conservatives were not even on the ballot, that leaves IA, NH, FL, NV, CO, & OH, in which 3,345,072 votes have been cast:
Read More »
Romney 41.8% (4 wins)
Conservative bloc: 46.6%
These states - most notably Iowa, Florida, and Ohio - have seen some of the most heated campaigning of the race. The bottom line in the swing states may be the same as in the red states (Romney being outvoted by the combined conservative vote, but winning a plurality by the division among his opponents) but he has clearly outdistanced any one of his adversaries, as Newt was largely a non-factor in Iowa, showed poorly in Ohio and was not on the map in New Hampshire, while Santorum ran a distant third in Florida. And the conservative bloc's lead in these states has been much more modest, with neither commanding a majority of the vote. There's certainly a plausible argument here that - whether or not he can win over skeptical swing-state swing voters - Romney has at least shown that none of his remaining opponents is a consistent vote-getter in those states. Like most of Romney's arguments for the nomination, this is more about the weakness of his opponents than his own strengths.
Finally, there's the vote in the territories (Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands), in which 113,014 votes have been cast:
Romney 87.8% (2 wins)
Not much use breaking these out further; Romney's campaign steamrolled the other candidates in these jurisdictions, but none of them vote in November. In theory, combined with Romney's vastly improved showing this year among Florida's Hispanic primary voters, his overwhelming win in Puerto Rico might seem to indicate that despite Romney's current hardline immigration rhetoric** he may be on a path to do much better with Hispanic voters than I have feared. On the other hand, nothing in the general election polling would seem to support that view; neither Puerto Rican Republicans nor Cuban-American Florida Republicans seem to be all that representative of Hispanic swing voters in places like Colorado and Nevada.
* - After Saturday's Louisiana primary, the last state voting in March - or perhaps after the first April votes - I'll do a more complete update of my running tally of the popular vote in the 2012 primaries, see here and here
« Close It
March 20, 2012
POLITICS: Trayvon Martin And Perspective
On February 26 in a suburb of Orlando, a Hispanic man, George Zimmerman, shot to death an unarmed African-American teenager, Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was on neighborhood watch, carrying a pistol. "Zimmerman spotted Martin as he was patrolling his neighborhood on a rainy evening and called 911 to report a suspicious person. Against the advice of the 911 dispatcher, Zimmerman then followed Martin, who was walking home from a convenience store with a bag of Skittles in his pocket." To date, Zimmerman has not been arrested, but after a media outcry, local and federal grand jury investigations have been opened. Zimmerman contends that he shot Martin in self-defense; there are no eyewitnesses and the details are murky, but at least one witness overheard a confrontation. Presumably, further investigation will be needed before prosecutors can build a case that does not leave the claim of self-defense surrounded by a cloud of reasonable doubt, ending with a Casey Anthony type verdict. There's been some discussion about Florida's particularly strong self-defense law, but in any state in the Union, if a jury believes there is a real possibility that Zimmerman acted in self-defense, he'd be acquitted, and if the jury doesn't, he'd be convicted.
The Martin case is a legitimate local news story, of the type that crops up now and then - in major cities like New York, where I live, we have multiple crime stories a year that involve sensational or particularly tragic facts and - at least at the outset - a significant possibility that injustice will be done either to the victim, the defendant, or both. Such cases test public confidence in the competence and fairness of local law enforcement, and sometimes find both to be wanting.
But the media feeding frenzy over this particular story - one out of the thousands of homicides in this country - in apparent response to a left-wing campaign to keep it in the national news, reflects at best a loss of perspective and at worst a cynical effort to inflame racial division in an election year.
Read More »
A change.org petition asking for Zimmerman's prosecution has drawn more than 420,000 signatures and an attorney for the Martin family has asked for an FBI investigation.
Later Tuesday, civil rights activist Al Sharpton is expected to join Sanford city leaders in an evening town hall meeting to discuss with residents how the investigation is being handled. On Monday, students held rallies on the campus of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee and outside the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center, where prosecutors are reviewing the case to determine if charges should be filed.
Martin has merited coverage by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and USA Today. The story has been covered by all three broadcast networks and extensively on cable. But there is one outlet that has barely mentioned Trayvon Martin - Fox News.
Now bear in mind that the very people pushing a "national conversation" on George Zimmerman are not always so concerned that the media give a full and fair accounting of our criminal justice system's fairness to victims of crimes. They are still complaining, a quarter century later, that the Massachusetts prison furlough program became an issue in the 1988 presidential election, and that a few obscure local ads even mentioned one particular graphic crime, committed by an inmate named Willie Horton. Somehow, even though it directly involved the judgment of a presidential candidate, that was not deemed fit for discussion.
Or turning to the present day, if the point is to use crime stories to dramatize real world concerns, what about a story that affects a lot more people than the fairness and competence of the Sanford, Florida police department: incursions into the U.S. by Mexican drug cartels? You can easily find dramatic individual stories written up in the local and sometimes national print media - a quick Google search turned up these examples:
March 14, 2012: "An alleged lieutenant of the Sinaloa cartel has been indicted in the U.S. for conspiracy in the kidnappings and deaths of a West Texas man and three New Mexico men."
March 3, 2012, a story Erick wrote up on RedState: "A Mexican drug leader. Oscar 'El Apache' Castillo Flores, was released by the United States back to Mexico and immediately set about reacquiring power and killing people. He eventually is gunned down himself. His death happened this past week.
In September of 2011, Oscar's brother Omar was gunned down in Texas. About the same time, someone kidnapped his wife from a Walmart in Brownsville, TX."
February 16, 2012: In a NY Times story on a Texas state government website compiling stories of Texans terrorized by the drug gangs: "Col. Steve McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the state's top law enforcement agency, told a Congressional subcommittee in May that the agency had identified 22 homicides, 24 assaults, 15 shootings and 5 kidnappings in Texas since January 2010 that were directly related to the Mexican cartels."
December 16, 2011: "[A] new federal court case outlines how Mexican drug cartels have teamed up with violent street gangs to operate inside the United States.
The case involves dozens of members of the Barrio Azteca gang charged with operating a massive drug-trafficking and money-laundering enterprise. A handful of members have already been convicted and were sentenced in Texas this week, while others face trial next spring for racketeering, murder, drug offenses, money laundering and obstruction of justice.
Information released by the Department of Justice (DOJ) this week says Barrio Azteca is also responsible for the March 2010 murders in Juarez of a U.S. Consulate employee, her husband and another associate."
September 25, 2011: "Mexican police are investigating whether the death of a woman found decapitated at the Texan border is the third killing made in retribution for posts about drug cartels on social networking websites.
The woman, identified by local officials as Marisol Macias Castaneda, a newsroom manager for the Primera Hora newspaper, was found in Nuevo Laredo next to a handwritten note claiming she was murdered for posts about the Zetas cartel, which is believed to dominate the area's drug trade to Laredo, Texas."
March 3, 2011: "A man who stole drugs from a Mexican cartel was bludgeoned, stabbed and then decapitated in a suburban Phoenix apartment -- a gruesome killing that police say was meant to send a message that anyone who betrays the traffickers will get the same treatment."
December 8, 2009: NY Times story on a San Diego trial of a Mexican drug cartel; "authorities in Kansas City, Mo., and Miami are also investigating the Mr. Rojas-Lopez's squad for drug trafficking and killings in their cities."
December 4, 2009: "he raging drug war among cartels in Mexico and their push to expand operations in the United States has led to a wave of kidnappings, shootings and home invasions in Arizona, state and federal officials said at a legislative hearing."
This is even before we get to the matter of the Obama Administration's direct implication in the cartels' crimes via Operation Fast and Furious, the misguided gun-running scheme that ended up putting weapons in the hands of the cartels that killed, among others, a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
As you can see, the cartel story has not, of course, been completely ignored; the New York Times has reported on it, federal hearings have been held, indictments handed down, and the state governments of Texas and Arizona are concerned. It is legitimately a major story, and should be covered as one. But the relevant point here is that no individual case has been given the kind of maudlin saturation coverage of the 41 CNN stories in less than a month on the Zimmerman/Martin case cited by ThinkProgress, nor are left-wing organizations pressing for justice for the cartels' many victims. (To the contrary, ThinkProgress has blasted the Texas government website as a 'Border Vigilante Website' and characterized discussions of violence at the border as "Fear-Mongering.")
The reality is that the Trayvon Martin case is being pushed by left-wing organizations eager to provide a backdrop of racial strife to this year's elections - a dangerous tactic, given how frequently popular agitation over these kinds of racially divisive stories have led to riots that leave people dead or homeless and local businesses and jobs destroyed. And that while activists on both sides of the aisle often try to get big media to focus on particular crime stories that advance some national political or cultural narrative, the media is much more apt to be receptive to such campaigns by the left than the right. That's not to deny that the media sometimes goes crazy over cases with no particular political significance, like the Casey Anthony and Natalee Holloway cases, but those cases didn't damage any of the left's narratives.
Serious news organizations always have to make choices in what they cover, and even news consumers who understand the media's biases are subject to the pervasive influence of decisions to allocate coverage. As I've noted before, for example, the media often puts a face to death penalty stories and tends to lump the death penalty and abortion issues together, while ignoring the fact that there are as many abortions every day as there have been executions in the past 80 years. When one local story is magnified many times over and personally dramatized, in the process consuming vast news resources, while stories affecting many more people are reduced to dry recitations of numbers with no followup and no coherent narrative, the viewing public is given a false picture of the world. That's no service to anyone but the activists of the left.
« Close It
March 14, 2012
POLITICS: Mitt Romney: Winning, But Not Getting More Popular (The Popular Vote, March 10-13)
After last night's contests, it's time to update my running tallies of the popular vote in the GOP presidential primary and see what further conclusions can be drawn. I continue to break out the votes in three groups - the five conservative candidates (Santorum, Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann and Cain), the two moderate candidates (Romney and Hunstman) and the libertarian (Paul) - for reasons explained in my last post. Also, the numbers through Super Tuesday have changed slightly from the last post, as more complete tallies in some states have become available. This time I'm including the Wyoming results in the totals, but not the tiny vote totals from the territories (the Northern Mariana Islands and U.S. Virgin Islands; no popular vote totals are available from Guam or American Samoa).
I. Popular Vote Totals To Date
Let's look at how the week of contests since Super Tuesday stacks up against the popular vote count up to then:
Let's take a different angle and break that out by month:
Read More »
Before opponents of Mitt Romney get too excited here, it's important to remember that three of the past week's four contests were on very unfavorable turf for Romney: the Kansas caucus came in a state where the GOP has a very strong pro-life conservative contingent (Sam Brownback is the governor, after all), and the primaries in Deep South states Alabama and Mississippi are tough sells for a Massachusetts moderate (although the Mississippi GOP is very establishment-minded; there are few red states in which the Tea Party has less influence). The next five weeks feature a battery of states, some of them quite rich in delegates and a number of them winner-take-all, where Republicans are more accustomed to nominating guys like Romney - Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Maryland, Connecticut.
That said, especially after Romney's team made the mistake of talking up his chances in Mississippi (where he finished third), this has been a rough week for him in the popular vote, salvaged only by the continuing division among the conservative bloc. The conservatives drew at least 64% of the vote in all three states to less than 30% for the moderates, and Newt Gingrich alone ran almost even with Romney even when you include Hawaii, which Romney won. Month-to-month, Romney's share of the vote has been declining even as the field narrows, with the conservatives drawing a clear majority of the votes cast in March (aided as well by poor showings by Ron Paul in the Deep South) despite not even being on the ballot in Virginia. Neil has more.
None of this means that Romney will not be the nominee. Barack Obama lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton after March 1 by 600,000 votes, and still won the most delegates; even if this race finally devolved into a 2-man race and Romney started losing head-to-head battles with Rick Santorum, he'd still probably take the nomination. And as of now, even if Romney can't win over a majority faction of the party, he has still outpolled any other one candidate.
There are, in my view, three groups of voters to watch to see if the primary breaks out of its current groove:
First, the Newt voters. Newt needed wins last night in Alabama and Mississippi to re-establish himself as at least a regional candidate. He didn't get them, and it's hard to see where else he'll find more favorable conditions. Like Erick, I think it's time for Newt to exit and let this be a 2-man showdown between Romney and Santorum (Paul doesn't need to get out, his voters aren't going anywhere else). Newt has enough delegates already to have a little leverage if there's a contested convention, but he has no path to the nomination in his own right, there's no way a deal made with Beltway Republicans is going to end with him in either position on the ticket, and unlike Paul he's not representing a wholly distinct faction of the party. If Newt leaves, or if his remaining supporters give up on him, I'd assume the majority will go to Santorum - but Romney would at least have the opportunity to convince some who are uncomfortable with Santorum, and that could change the popular vote dynamics.
Second are the Momentum voters, who haven't really appeared in significant numbers yet (although they do represent some part of why Romney has pushed up to the mid-30s from the 25% position he was stuck at in national polls for all of 2011). Momentum voters may not love or even like Romney, but they're voters who will get behind the frontrunner and who, in GOP primaries, traditionally step in to end the contest (except in 1976, when if anything they went increasingly to Reagan down the stretch - but then, he was Reagan. Over the 1968, 1976 and 1980 primaries combined, he drew 51.9% of the popular vote). Except so far, they haven't - I thought we were seeing momentum at last when exit polls suggested a Romney win in Mississippi, but it didn't happen.
Third are their opposite - the Bitter Enders, which is largely the class I'm in at this point. These are the voters who have come around to the view that Romney will be the nominee, but will nonetheless go to the polls to cast ballots against him to register their protest at having such a candidate head the party. Paradoxically, Romney's best bet for getting the Bitter Enders to stop voting against him is to play up the possibility that Santorum will win (forcing people to think twice about the consequences of voting for him), or at any rate force a contested convention that could handicap the ticket in the fall. Pretty much everyone who's still casting votes for Perry, Bachmann and Hunstman is in this category, and I'd wager a fair number of the Newt voters as well (I won't decide for a while yet who to actually vote for on April 24).
II. State By State
Here, I've updated the table of states (also included here are the two territories with popular votes released, the Northern Mariana Islands and U.S. Virgin Islands), ranked by the conservative bloc's share of the popular vote.
As you can see, the conservatives have now drawn a majority in 12 states (including cracking 60% of the vote in 6 states in or around the South), and a plurality in 4; the moderates have drawn a majority in 6 (including Virginia), and a plurality in 5 plus the Northern Mariana Islands; the libertarians drew a plurality only in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the uncommitted vote was more than a third of the vote. The only state primaries where a majority voted for the moderate candidates, given a choice, have been Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
III. Primaries vs Caucuses
The four new contests don't do a lot to change the overall picture I noted before, in which Ron Paul is much stronger in caucuses, Newt Gingrich in primaries. But note that the conservative bloc has now passed 50% of the vote in primaries.
(I'll skip the turnout comparisons to 2008, as we're now far enough into the primary schedule that the comparisons are now truly apples to oranges. But I will note that Ron Paul continues to draw significantly larger numbers of voters than in 2008).
« Close It
March 12, 2012
POLITICS: Can Republicans Win In 2012 Without Leadership?
Fred Barnes, who is nothing if not plugged in to the thinking of leading Beltway Republicans, looks at how the Congressional GOP plans to work with the presidential nominee:
Republicans would like to revive party unity and repeat the Reagan-Kemp success story. House speaker John Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell are planning to confer with the Republican nominee, once one emerges. Their aim: agreement on a joint agenda.
Even considering the fact that McConnell has to play coy due to the fact that there's as yet no nominee, you will notice what is missing in this picture: the idea that the nominee himself, now most likely Mitt Romney, will have any ideas of his own to which Congressional Republicans will have to accommodate themselves. This is part of a broader pattern: outside of the party's most moderate precincts - where Romney is seen as a bulwark against conservatives - Republicans who have resigned themselves to Romney have done so, more or less, on the theory that he can be brought around to do things the party's various constituencies want him to do. This is the opposite of the thing we normally look for in a president: leadership in setting the agenda of the party and the country. As such, it represents an experiment, or at least a throwback to the late-19th century model of how the presidency operates. Can the GOP beat Barack Obama and run the country the next four years without presidential leadership?
Read More »
If you've read many endorsements or apologias for supporting Romney, you're familiar with the genre. Let's start with the National Review's always-incisive Ramesh Ponnuru, who endorsed Romney in December. If there were compelling arguments to be made for Romney's ideas, Ramesh would make them. He waves a few times in the direction of Romney's various current positions (Romney "now favors a market-oriented reform to Medicare"), but nearly all of his argument for Romney as acceptable to conservatives are based on the idea that the party would lead Romney, rather than the other way around:
If Mitt Romney becomes president, he will almost certainly be dealing with John Boehner as speaker of the House and Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader. While they, too, have their conservative detractors, they are the most conservative congressional leaders Republicans have had in modern times, and they will exert a rightward influence on the Romney administration. If they send him legislation to repeal Obamacare, cut taxes, or reform entitlements, he will sign it where Obama would veto it. If at some other point in his presidency a liberal-run Congress sends him tax increases, he will veto them where Obama would sign. Compared with President Obama, a President Romney would do more to protect the defense budget.
Then there's Ponnuru's National Review colleague Jonah Goldberg. Jonah has long been my favorite NR writer, someone I respect and almost always agree with. He hasn't really taken sides in this trainwreck of a primary season, but in early February he laid out what he thought was the best argument for Romney:
Even if Romney is a Potemkin conservative (a claim I think has merit but is also exaggerated), there is an instrumental case to be made for him: It is better to have a president who owes you than to have one who claims to own you.
How about RedState's own Martin Knight, offering his own take on Goldberg's column?
I don't believe he'll be a Conservative out of gratitude, i.e. because he'll "owe" us - it will be because he'll have no choice. Keeping the GOP's conservative rank-and-file happy would not be just be a matter of political profit for a President Romney, it will be a matter of political survival.
In point of fact, I think Martin's argument overlooks two points: (1) Romney will have enormous tools at his disposal to raise money, change the primary rules, etc. to throttle off any primary challenge and (2) even if all this works, a re-elected Romney after 2016 would have no such constraints. But take the argument as it is; it is still primarily an argument that Romney will be led rather than lead.
Next up is Leon Wolf, another RedState Contributor I greatly respect and usually agree with. Leon's point, written in early January:
Now, Mitt Romney has often been criticized (fairly and completely accurately, in my opinion) as a flip-flopper. I agree that this is less than a desirable trait and if I had my druthers I would prefer someone like Rick Perry who has been more or less consistently conservative for a relatively long time (an easier feat in Texas than Massachusetts, no doubt, but that is beside the point). However, the most salient point I can divine about this criticism, given the fact that Romney's latest flops are all to the right, is that Romney is being criticized for accurately perceiving that he needs conservatives. Yes, I would agree that Romney would bear careful watching as President and constant egging on from Congress, but I would certainly prefer someone who panders to me for political reasons than someone who openly gives me the finger in order to pander to centrists and/or leftists, which is exactly what we have gotten in terms of Presidential nominees for the last 20 years.
Then we have former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, writing back in October; Gerson is hardly a trusted movement conservative, but he's an eloquent writer. What's his "conservative case for Mitt Romney"?
So are Romney's current views his most authentic ones? On some issues - say, health care policy - it is difficult for an outsider to tell.
In other words, the best arguments for Romney as the leader of the party are arguments that Romney will not lead the party but follow it, subsume his own ideas and inclinations and cater to what the voters and his caucus on Capitol Hill seem to want. How does this work in practice? Let's look at what supply-side analyst James Pethokoukis, one of the sharpest minds on the right-leaning economic punditry beat, wrote about Romney's original 59-point economic plan:
[I]magine private-equity boss Romney back at Bain Capital sitting down to read his team's 59-point turnaround plan for some troubled widget maker. And imagine if the first two action items started with the phrase "Maintain current..."
Pethokoukis included a number of suggestions for how Romney could overhaul his agenda, but he wrote much more glowingly about Romney's revised plan. Here's what Rush Limbaugh, who has been critical of Romney, took away from Pethokoukis and his fellow supply-sider Larry Kudlow enthusing about the improved plan:
[D]o you remember a piece by Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal not long ago, I quoted from it repeatedly. Henninger's point was that Romney is not naturally a conservative. He's gonna have to be nudged. He's going to have be shoved in that direction. And here we have a long campaign, and it looks like that's happening. Jim Pethokoukis writes critically of Romney's 59 point plan. The next day Romney calls or his office calls Kudlow and says, "Hey, big change coming on the economy. We got two new economic proposals, and it's all supply-side." So Henninger was right. He's being nudged to the right. It's all good, folks, it's all good. The long campaign is just fine.
And maybe this is all good; maybe it's time to throw out the book of the past 100 years. Maybe the second decade of the 21st century will be the time for a party that is run by legislative consensus and responsiveness to popular demand, rather than principled leadership. Maybe for once, public servants will do nothing but serve us what we ask them for. Stranger things have happened. But it will be a grand new experiment, running a presidential campaign and maybe a presidency without the candidate's own opinions entering anywhere into the picture. It remains to be seen if the experiment will succeed.
« Close It
March 8, 2012
BASEBALL: A's Losing The Real Moneyball
I generally avoid business of baseball stories, but I've covered this one for years and it remains extremely frustrating. Bill Madden and Maury Brown look at how the San Francisco Giants are using their 'territorial' rights to keep the Oakland A's stuck in the dilapidated Coliseum by refusing to let them move to the less economically depressed San Jose following the collapse of their plan (hatched in 2006, seemingly endorsed at the polls in 2008, but abandoned in early 2009) to move to Fremont.
Brown speculates that Bud Selig favors the San Jose move as a way to increase revenues around the league, but lacks the votes among the owners to strip the Giants of their veto power. Madden:
To strip the Giants of their territorial rights to San Jose would require a three-quarters vote of the clubs, and as one baseball lawyer observed: "Clubs would realize what a terrible 'there but for the grace of God go us' precedent that would create in which all of their territorial rights would then be in jeopardy." As an example of that, one can't imagine the Yankees, Mets or Phillies voting to take the Giants' territorial rights to San Jose away when it could conceivably open the doors for a team seeking to re-locate to New Jersey.
Brown echoes this: "If the A's get to relo to San Jose, what's to say that the Rays don't wind up in Northern New Jersey, next?"
This is always a concern about precedent-setting by majority vote, but the situations are not at all comparable, because the A's are already in the Giants' market and are trying to move 35 miles further away. There is simply no fairness or equity argument you can make, in that sense, for the Giants' position. The more sinister implication here is that the Giants are playing a game of brinksmanship in hopes of capturing the ultimate prize: kicking the already-twice-moved A's out of Northern California entirely (and maybe even out of MLB), so the Giants can scoop up their fans. It would be hard to come up with a scenario that makes the territorial-rights concept less sympathetic than that.
On the other hand, the Giants' owners have an entirely reasonable point that they paid for those territorial rights when they bought the team:
The Giants' territorial rights to San Jose are part of the MLB constitution as a result of former A's owner, Levi-Strauss heir Wally Haas agreeing to cede them in 1989 to Giants owner Bob Lurie, who, frustrated in his efforts to get a new stadium in San Francisco, was looking to relocate the team....
The A's note, in a press release quoted by Brown, that this is a case of no good deed going unpunished, and imply that they have some legal basis for challenging the continuance of the Giants' rights after they failed to relocate the team:
Of the four two-team markets in MLB, only the Giants and A's do not share the exact same geographic boundaries. MLB-recorded minutes clearly indicate that the Giants were granted Santa Clara, subject to relocating to the city of Santa Clara. The granting of Santa Clara to the Giants was by agreement with the A's late owner Walter Haas, who approved the request without compensation. The Giants were unable to obtain a vote to move and the return of Santa Clara to its original status was not formally accomplished.
Only baseball's longstanding antitrust exemption permits the existence of territorial rights in the first place; if the A's were mounting some sort of challenge, I assume they'd have to show that the extension of the rights were conditioned on moving the Giants, and given how much Magowan paid for the Giants and the argument that the team's value was significantly enhanced by its territorial rights, I'd be surprised if he didn't do extremely careful due diligence to determine that they were bulletproof.
In a logical universe, Selig would be able to organize a vote to strip the Giants of their veto power over the San Jose move in exchange for arranging financial compensation to the Giants ownership, perhaps to be paid in part by the A's and in part out of the revenue-sharing fund; the league could conceivably even assign a neutral arbitrator to assign a value to the compensation. This doesn't have to be a zero-sum game of chicken between the two Bay Area rivals.
March 7, 2012
POLITICS: Super Tuesday By The Numbers
The voting is over, and so for the most part is the counting. The delegate math, I leave to others; let's take a look at how the popular vote has shaped up over the course of this primary season and what conclusions we can draw. First, the overall popular vote before Super Tuesday, on Super Tuesday, and to date.* In addition to listing the candidates' individual vote totals, I've classified them in three groups: the five conservative candidates (Santorum, Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann and Cain), the two moderate candidates (Romney and Hunstman) and the libertarian (Paul). While there will undoubtedly be some grousing over the use of those labels, I think it's uncontroversial to note that Santorum, Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann and Cain all built their campaigns around appealing first to the conservative wing of the party and reaching out from there, while Romney and Huntsman took the opposite approach (and Paul, of course, is in his own category), so this turns out to be a reasonably useful descriptor of how the electorate has broken out between the voters responding to these different appeals. If anything, this overstates the moderate voting bloc, as Romney's "electability" argument, among other things (including religious loyalties among Mormon voters), has tended in exit polls to draw him some chunk of conservative support.
I. Popular Vote Totals To Date
There are three obvious conclusions here. One, Romney is steadily outpolling any one of his individual rivals, cementing his frontrunner status. Two, his frontrunner status derives entirely from the division among his opponents: the conservatives have consistently outpolled the moderates. And three, despite winning his home state of Massachusetts by a 60-point, 220,000 vote margin on Super Tuesday and despite none of the conservatives being on the ballot in Virginia, Romney's not getting any stronger - even with Perry and Bachmann out of the race and Cain not drawing a single recorded vote, the conservatives drew a majority of the votes on Tuesday. Thus, as Romney pulls away in the delegate race and thus advances closer to being the nominee, he does so over the sustained objections of a near-majority faction of the party. More optimistically, the strength of the conservative vote - even in a year when that vote is fractured and underfunded and the remaining conservative candidates are decidedly subpar - bodes well for conservative candidates who can unify that vote in the future.
Let's dig deeper below the fold:
Read More »
* - Excluding the Wyoming Caucus, for which the vote totals are minuscule and there's no comparable 2008 data. Late-arriving votes are still being tallied in some of the Super Tuesday states as well, but the numbers are pretty close to final everywhere. Also, vote totals (including minor candidates) were only available for some states, whereas in others I just added up the people I had data for, thus the totals don't completely match up.
II. State By State
The conservative bloc has won a majority in nine states, concentrated heavily but not entirely in the South and the caucus states (but including Ohio, where the conservatives drew 52.2% of the vote). Add to that three states where the conservative bloc formed a plurality, including Michigan. By contrast, the moderates have drawn a majority in five states - two New England states, two caucus states with large Mormon populations, and Virginia - and a plurality in five others, including two more New England states and Arizona, which also has a significant Mormon population. Only Florida, where Romney poured vast financial resources into the notorious 65-to-1 ad advantage over Newt Gingrich (the only opponent on the airwaves), did the moderates come close to a majority outside of Romney's most natural home turf.
III. Primaries vs Caucuses
I'm on record as far back as 2008 believing that caucuses should be abolished, and that the ability to win primaries is much more indicative of general election strength than winning more sparsely-attended and often unrepresentative caucuses. It's worth examining how the votes break down by type of election:
Mitt Romney, in 2008, was largely a creature of the caucuses; with his money and the unity and organization of his Mormon support, he won eight caucuses while winning only three primaries, in his home states of Massachusetts, Michigan and Utah. That's been inverted in 2012, although Romney fared much better in the Super Tuesday caucuses than he had before yesterday, undoubtedly owing in part to heavy Mormon support in Idaho and Alaska.
This time around, it's been Rick Santorum who relied heavily on the caucuses (where he could overcome his financial constraints by relying on cohesive religious conservative communities); although Santorum has broken out of that box in the Missouri, Michigan and Ohio primaries, only in Tennessee and Oklahoma has he won significantly contested primaries. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich continues to draw nearly twice as much support in primaries as caucuses, reflecting a campaign that is not well-organized and draws on older voters unified by ideology rather than religion. But the real story of the caucuses is Ron Paul, who regularly draws twice as much support in caucus states as primary states, where the larger electorate more easily drowns out his band of committed activists.
IV. Turnout and 2008 vs 2012
Note here that Idaho switched from a primary in 2008 to a caucus in 2012, dramatically reducing turnout; not coincidentally, it's the only state so far where Ron Paul drew fewer votes than in 2008. Romney, meanwhile, has seen his vote share vs. 2008 dramatically lifted by his showing in states like Ohio and Virginia that didn't vote last time until after he had withdrawn from the race. Also note that Washington last time held both a caucus and a primary, which explains why the caucus was much more heavily attended this year. Ohio figures from 2008 are a little iffy because two sets of numbers were reported. What you can see from this chart is that, aside from states where he didn't run last time. Romney really has only grown his vote totals from four years ago in a couple of states where he went all-out spending money (or, as in South Carolina, where there was a particularly large, up-for-grabs McCain vote). The fact that Romney drew fewer votes than four years ago in ten different states, as the frontrunner against an arguably weaker field, does not inspire confidence.
Overall, turnout has not been impressive outside of South Carolina, Michigan and Ohio and a couple of the smaller electorates. Note that South Carolina was the one state where the conservative vote really came together behind a single, non-hometown candidate; like the fact that Newt's and Rick Perry's highest showings in the national polls were the highest of any of the candidates, this is indicative of the fact that there's a lot of untapped enthusiasm out there for a candidate who can unite and excite the various components of the conservative base of the party. Newt wasn't able to sustain that any more than Perry was, but there's no doubt that both pursued a path to the nomination that had a higher ceiling than that of an unexciting moderate or a religious conservative.
V. Where Do We Go From Here?
As I noted at the outset, Romney hasn't - yet, at least - shown the kind of growing share of the vote that would characterize a frontrunner who is sealing the deal. From here the race moves to Kansas (as well as Guam, the Virgin Islands and the Northern Marianas) on March 10, and Alabama, Mississippi and Hawaii (as well as American Samoa) on March 13; other than Hawaii, these are likely to be much more friendly territory for Santorum and Gingrich than Romney (Paul may do well in Kansas, which holds a caucus). Missouri holds its caucus on the 17th, Louisiana its primary on the 24th. On the other hand, we have two primaries that are likely to heavily favor Romney - Puerto Rico, where he's been endorsed by popular Governor Luis Fortuno, on March 18, and Illinois, which has a fairly liberal Republican electorate long accustomed to settling for moderates, on March 20. My guess is that we won't really begin to see momentum - Romney starting to finally pull away in the popular vote, as opposed to winning tight pluralities in competitive states while each candidate wins the states more naturally favorable to them - until we get into the winner-take-all votes in April, partcularly Wisconsin (which should naturally be competitive) and Pennsylvania (which should naturally heavily favor hometown favorite Santorum).
Is that a good thing? I think thus far, it's been important for the primary to keep going, because (1) until yesterday, there remained a path to victory for other candidates, and the voters need to know that the race won't be ended prematurely by backroom deals rather than by acts of the voters, (2) it forces Romney to work for conservative support and become a better candidate, and (3) it sends a message to the party establishment that Romney-style candidates who are long on money and short on reliable principles will not go down without an expensive and laborious fight.
Like Erick and Neil, I think Romney's narrow wins in Florida, Michigan and now Ohio have cemented him in a position where it's all but certain that he'll be the nominee, and as I said before, I think Michigan was the last hope for a new entrant in the race. For reasons (2) and (3) above, I don't see a lot of harm in continuing the campaign through the rest of March until we are 100% certain of that fact, as it gives additional states the chance to register their objections to the frontrunner and put Santorum through the final paces of seeing if he can find one last way to knock Romney off his pedestal. Newt, despite gaining some delegates yesterday and a moral victory in his home state of Georgia, no longer has much to accomplish in this race besides a protest candidacy.
There's a three-week break between the April 3 primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and DC and the next set of primaries. My guess is that if Romney can win Wisconsin, it will be a lot harder for Santorum to justify continuing, and if he folds his tent, Newt and Paul will no longer have a race to show up for. Given how Wisconsin has been Ground Zero for many of the leading political battles of the past two years, that could be the real end of things, and if not, it will come with Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, Delaware and Connecticut on April 24.
But whenever the verdict of the delegate race becomes final, the voters have already spoken, and their message is clear: this is still the conservatives' party, awaiting only the right leader to unite it.
« Close It
March 5, 2012
POLITICS: Mitt Romney, The Unconvincing Convert
It can be difficult to summarize in one place all of Mitt Romney's problems as a candidate and as a potential President. I have tried; I wrote, back in 2007, a series so lengthy on Romney's flaws (some 15,000 words, Part I, II, III, IV & V) that I can't possibly hope to rewrite the whole thing now, and explained why I preferred McCain to Romney. More recently I focused on the dangers of backing Romney to the integrity of his supporters, the conservative movement's need to maintain its independence from Romney, and the problems with Romney's technocratic approach. Let me try to zero in on four of his problems here: the unconvincing nature of his political conversion, the hazards of becoming enamored with candidates whose primary rationale for running is their money, the unprecedented difficulty of winning with a moderate Republican who lacks significant national security credentials as a war hero or other prominent foreign policy figure, and Romney's vulnerability arising from his dependence on his biography.
Read More »
I. The Unconvincing Convert
One argument that's been made in favor of Romney (including by a number of people I respect who are trying to find a way to support him in good faith) is that both the Republican Party and the conservative movement should, and do, welcome converts - and thus, Romney's history of being on the wrong side of practically every domestic policy issue should not be an obstacle to accepting him into the fold now.
Now, it's important that we recognize the full scope of what we are dealing with here, because Romney supporters often try to draw false equivalences to other Republicans who have changed positions on issues over the years. You need to examine Romney's history in this regard in its full detail to appreciate that his record of flip-flops and deviations from conservative and Republican positions is on an order of magnitude beyond anything else out there.
You can start with this DNC oppo video, which despite including a few ticky-tack attacks and ignoring a number of his major flip-flops does a devastatingly effective job of showing how easy it is to dramatize Romney's dizzying changes of position over the years, and sometimes over as little as a single day:
I went in detail through Romney's flip-flops and their meaning back in Part III of my 2007 series: abortion, immigration (more here), guns, the Bush tax cuts, campaign finance reform, Don't Ask Don't Tell, No Child Left Behind (see here, here and here on that last). This is before we even address his position on health care, although as I noted last time, Romney claimed in 1994 to be opposed to the use of mandates in health care. And even this list doesn't fully capture the entirety of Romney's enormous record in such a short career of taking positions opposed to the current conservative view, as every new controversy reveals another - witness Romney's record (after his supposed conversion to the pro-life cause) on compelling Catholic hospitals to dispense 'emergency' contraception.
As I discussed in 2007, Romney's flip-flops are uniquely damaging to him because (1) there are so many of them, (2) they came relatively recently in his public career, and in most cases he has spent little or no time in office developing a record of fidelity to the new positions, (3) he didn't really offer plausible explanations for them compared to his oft-impassioned explanations for holding the earlier positions and (4) there really isn't one central core to Romney as a political leader that is free of flip-flops, no one thing we could be sure he'd never compromise on. Thus my characterization of Romney's record as a sheet of thin ice as far as the eye can see.
All of that helps explain why Romney is broadly mistrusted, why nobody can really be sure if he'll stick with his newly-minted positions when the going gets tough. But I need to expand here on the third point.
The Republican Party is chock full of converts. People get more conservative as they get older, get jobs and families, experience more of life. Even many of our most prominent leaders were once liberals or Democrats or both, Ronald Reagan foremost among them (two of the candidates I've supported against Romney - Rudy Giuliani and Rick Perry - were former Democrats). Movements and groups in the party (from neoconservatives to Dixiecrats to Reagan Democrats) have often been identified on the basis of their prior affiliations on the other side. Change in party affiliation, policy positions or political philosophy, alone, is not reason for excluding people from leadership roles.
But here's the thing: politics, even presidential politics, is only partly about exercising power; it is just as much about persuading people of ideas and their implementation in laws and programs. A political leader is, for better and worse, the salesman of his or her party's ideas and proposals. Converts can actually be tremendous ambassadors for winning over new people to their party's standard, because they understand how to speak to the doubts people on the other side may have about their own positions. And they can talk the audience through the process of their conversion, explaining how they came to realize they were wrong, or detailing how the other side changed (in Reagan's famous phrase, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me.")
Romney never does this. He admits, grudgingly, his flip-flop on abortion, because it's the most prominent one, but even there, his explanation of how he became a pro-lifer over the stem cell issue (oddly, an issue on which many pro-life Mormons are not on the pro-life side) is less personal and less convincing than his prior narrative of how a family experience led him to be pro-choice. The dual conversion narrative leaves both positions sounding hollow and insincere: St. Paul only went to Damascus the one time.
And after that, it gets worse. If Romney really believed that his past positions on tax cuts, guns, immigration or campaign finance reform were terribly misguided, he could pepper his stump speeches with the kind of stories Reagan so often told about how he came to see that the old Democratic ideas just didn't work in the real world. He doesn't, and perhaps as the son of a Republican governor, presidential candidate and Cabinet secretary, he knows it would ring hollow. If anything, Romney bristles and throws back other people's changes in position when his are raised (a tendency Drew M. has compared to internet trolling). He's so busy trying to sell conservatives on the notion that he's bought our ideas that he doesn't have it in him to sell those ideas to anyone else. Jonah Goldberg and others have talked about how, as a convert, Romney often seems to have the words but not the music of conservatism, to not know the language. But that's precisely what a convert to a new set of ideas usually possesses in excess: an enthusiastic desire to share with the world what it was that made him change teams. The fact that Romney can't do this in convincing fashion and barely tries is not just a clear indication that his changes of position are matters of political convenience, but also why he has no chance of selling the voters on conservative and Republican policies if he can't really explain why he was won over by them himself. This is a serious liability in a general election, and a serious liability for a president as well. Even if Romney's primary opponents prove too flawed to stop him, it should worry us greatly about the future of our party's ability to convince anyone that we stand for anything worth believing in.
II. The Money Man
A second problem I have with Romney, and which worries me greatly if he wins, is that he is precisely the kind of candidate that political consultants, campaign professionals and the campaign committees in the GOP love, and who lead us over and over again to defeat.
(Side note: if Romney's the nominee, I will fight for him to win, because the stakes are too high to roll over and accept an Obama re-election. But that doesn't mean I need to be blind to the costs of Romney winning).
Political consultants love candidates who enter races with a lot of money and not much in the way of a political record or political convictions. Such candidates can be tailored to a script and platform developed by the consultants, they spend money on the consultants and their businesses, and when the candidate inevitably fails because he or she lacks the natural political instincts and convictions to speak well off script, the consultant can just shrug, say there's only so much you can do with a bad candidate, and move on to the next one. Over and over, Republicans have lost races with such people, and if Romney manages to back his way into a victory this fall, we shall never be rid of them.
We all know, whether or not we admit it, that Romney (who has heavily outspent his rivals in negative advertising in his key victories in Florida and Michigan) would not be the frontrunner in this race if he didn't have the most money. Patrick Ruffini gave a great, detailed account a few years back of the many flaws of wealthy candidates:
The dollar signs dancing around in consultants' heads don't make up for the fact that most self-funders tend to be subpar candidates for important structural reasons. First, they're political dilettantes unfamiliar with the rigors of elected politics. They make rookie mistakes. They assume their records before their recent entries into politics aren't relevant or won't be scrutinized. They have less political acumen or knowledge than many of the people I follow on Twitter, or even most of them. And that's just when they start running. Once they do, they run overkill levels of TV, and often resort to slashing negative ads to dislodge better known competitors, which drives their own negatives up....The gaudiness of the campaign operation tends to infect media coverage late in the game, and that's when self-funders really get worked over by the traditional press corps, which tends to counter-balance the perceived buying of the election with uniquely skeptical coverage when voters are actually paying attention. And as any student of campaigns will tell you, earned media is far, far more valuable than paid media, even at inflated levels of spending. From an ideological perspective, self-funders are political chameleons. Since they're somewhat politically attuned, they're likely to have been a donor, but like most big donors, they're pragmatists who've played both sides. And it's not uncommon for these rich candidates to have made donations to fashionable lefty social crusades. The country-clubbers who have supported Focus on the Family or the National Rifle Association with their philanthrophic dollars are few and far between.
All of this should sound familiar (from Romney's political tin ear to his carpet-bombing ad campaigns to his donations to Planned Parenthood). And as Ruffini pointed out, it gets worse when you consider the downstream effects of how a campaign built around money rather than principles warps the entire structure of the party and the movement:
And there's another element here that shouldn't be tolerated: corruption. To put it indelicately, when a mega-self-funder gets in, people get bought. Local parties are capitalized to the tune of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars with endorsements magically appearing shortly thereafter. People who couldn't afford to take salaries before can now take salaries. Others get put on the campaign payroll. Elected officials who've fought hard and risen through the ranks suddenly become fans of political "outsiders", leaving their own integrity and intellectual honesty open to question. In any system where money rules, conservatives lose. When endorsements and political support are rooted in money, not principle, that's just as great an insult as choosing a moderate over a conservative in a red state on electability grounds. This is not a matter of being a campaign finance zealot as it of avoiding bad and unreliable candidates who tend to lose at alarming rates.
There are certainly strong reasons to suspect that Romney has at least tried to do just this, in the way he has spread his money around over the years to people who turned up as his allies later (see here, here and here, here), most notoriously by donating money to help retire Tim Pawlenty's campaign debts as Pawlenty has stumped for Romney. This is how you get Romney surrogates attacking people for things they themselves voted for.
Money is not a bad thing, and its presence in politics is inevitable. But the sooner we prioritize being a good candidate over being a well-funded one, the better for our prospects as a party.
III. The Naked Moderate
Here's another overlooked point: Romney is trying to run as a novelty, a Republican who has neither the strong loyalty of any domestic faction nor a corresponding strength on national security.
It is true that Republicans have nominated moderate, Establishment-backed candidates before. But if you look at the moderate Republicans to win the nomination since Eisenhower defeated Robert Taft in 1952, you will notice they all have something in common: all of them had military service records (several being war heroes of one sort or another), and all had significant foreign policy credentials. And several of them ran to the right of their primary opponents on national security, trumping domestic policy divisions. Ike, of course, had been Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, and faced an opponent (Taft) who was seen as somewhat isolationist; Ike was elected during the Korean War. Nixon, a WWII veteran who was more or less a moderate on domestic policy in 1960 and 1968 and a liberal by 1972, had made his name as an anti-Communist and been a two-term Vice President; he was elected at the height of the Vietnam War. Ford, a WWII Navy combat veteran, was nominated while already the sitting President. George HW Bush, a WWII Navy aviator who was shot down over the Pacific, was sitting 2-term Vice President (like Nixon, a VP whose duties were mainly in the foreign policy realm), and had been Ambassador to the UN, US representative in China and CIA Director. Bob Dole, crippled from his WWII injuries, had been in the Senate for decades and two-time Senate Majority Leader. John McCain, of course, spent a quarter century in the Navy, suffered torture as a POW in Vietnam, was first elected to Congress as an anti-Communist, focused throughout his Senate career on foreign policy and ran in 2008, during the 'surge' phase of the Iraq War, as an Iraq hawk and champion of the surge. Every one of these candidates, successful or not in November, led with their foreign policy/national security credentials and experiences.
(George W. Bush was moderate on a fairly large number of major issues, but even in 2000, Bush's strength on taxes and social issues made him the more conservative candidate in the race and a favorite of many in the electoral base; Bush ended up as the third-most-conservative president of the past 100 years, after Reagan and Coolidge. So I don't really class him as a moderate).
Romney has none of this going for him. He's never served in the military, and his main, modest foreign policy experience is from running the Winter Olympics in Utah. These are not absolutely disqualifying factors for a presidential candidate; George W. Bush had little to no foreign policy experience as Texas Governor (really, just dealing with Mexico); Bill Clinton had none at all. But they mean that Romney will be going into battle without one of the key credentials that other moderate Republicans used to command respect and keep their party united. He'll have the weakest base of core support of any GOP nominee since Dewey or possibly Willkie.
IV. Policy Talks, Biography Walks
Look: a great country takes all types, and Mitt Romney is one of the kinds of private citizen who contribute enormously to making America great. He's smart, articulate and fantastically disciplined and hard-working. He was a fabulously successful businessman, intimately involved in the development of many new and growing businesses during his career in venture capital and private equity. He ran the Salt Lake City Olympics well, rescuing it from a corruption scandal as well as the challenge of handling the extra security that came from hosting the Games just five months after September 11. He's obviously a good family man, a man of faith and unquestioned personal integrity. He seems like the kind of guy anyone would be glad to have as a next-door neighbor or a son-in-law. He's the kind of shirt-off-his-back guy who would ride out in the dark on a JetSki to save a drowning family and their dog, or shut down his entire business for days to help a co-worker rescue his kidnapped daughter, or give 15% of his income to charity. If we lived in a world without ideological conflict and were simply choosing a manager from among our most upstanding citizens to be a political leader, Mitt Romney would be near the top of anyone's list.
But that's not the world we live in, and we need to choose a candidate who can handle the world as it actually is. Ideas matter. As I've explained before, you persuade voters to your side by making arguments about philosophy and public policy and then tying them back to their real-world consequences. Romney's insistence on campaigning on his biography rather than his principles is one of the reasons I compared him in 2007 to failed Democratic campaigns of the past, and he's had the same problem this time - he hasn't articulated a concise message on economic policy so much as he's just told people that Obama is a failure on jobs and he's a businessman here to help. And that, in turn, only makes him more vulnerable to the frequent gaffes that stoke dislike of Romney's life of wealth and privilege.
All of this is why Romney cannot win in November; the best he can hope for is to stand by and let Obama lose the race. I believed in 2008 that Romney was unelectable; I still believe that was true of that race (although in retrospect it's hard to imagine any Republican winning after the mid-September financial crisis). I can't say that with the same certainty this time around; as Sean Trende and others have explained in great detail, Barack Obama is an enormously vulnerable incumbent president, one with an LBJ-sized credibility gap in his constant predictions that the economy is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (remember "Recovery Summer"?). The electorate doesn't believe in his policies and doesn't believe in his results. If high oil prices dovetail with a double-dip recession, Obama could simply collapse, no matter who his opponent is. But I still believe Romney is a terrible general election candidate, who will need a lot of good fortune and outside help to end up winning, and that just about anybody will be able to beat Obama in those circumstances.
Maybe Romney wraps up the primaries tomorrow, and he'll go a long way towards doing that if he wins Ohio. He's had chances to follow up wins before and blew them, but the voters sooner or later may throw in the towel and let him finish things off. But nobody who wishes the Party of Reagan well should regard that prospect with anything but grim resignation. This is no way to run for president.
« Close It
March 2, 2012
BASEBALL: The Really Wild Card
It's been rumored for a while, but Bud Selig makes it official:
Major League Baseball will officially expand the playoffs to 10 teams starting this season...The new format will add another wild card team, with the two wild cards to play each other in one game with the winner moving on to face a division winner.
I strongly approve of this; it's how the wild card should have been all along, if we must have it (which I still dislike). Forcing the wild card teams into a one-game, high-stakes playoff gives a definite advantage to being a division winner over a wild card. That is likely to have the largest impact in the American League East, where the Yankees and Red Sox have often seemed to treat the regular season as a formality; now, especially if they're facing another wild card team with one really good starting pitcher, they are going to want to fight like mad to get the division flag and not have to run the gauntlet of a one-game playoff. Yet, expanding to two wild cards also accomplishes what the owners wanted, which is to have more teams at least theoretically alive in September.
Yes, a part of me shares David Wright's reaction ("That would have been nice five years ago"). Of course, that's de facto what we have had a few times already when teams tied for the Wild Card, and it will get wilder still if we have those ties now, putting teams in the position of playing consecutive single-elimination games.
Bottom line: more thrilling September and October baseball, but in a way that makes early-season baseball more rather than less significant. For once, win-win all around.
March 1, 2012
BASEBALL: Pitchers At Their Peaks
Who was the best starting pitcher of all time, at his peak?
I've done a few different approaches to this question over the years, and still mean to do a more detailed and systematic look down the road when I have more time to devote to the issue. But here's one quick take. This is a list of all the starting pitchers I could find - I'm pretty sure I got everyone - to post an ERA+ of 150 or better over a period of 5 or more seasons. I found 25 of them (this excluded Jim Devlin, whose career ERA+ stood at 151 when he was banned from baseball in 1877 after 3 seasons for throwing games, and Al Maul, who posted a 155 ERA+ from 1895-99, but appeared in only 59 games over those 5 seasons and threw 140 innings in only one of them; I may have missed somebody else with a flukey pattern like Maul's. And I left off Hoyt Wilhelm, who was a full time starter for only a year and a half). ERA+, for those of you not familar with the concept, is baseball-reference.com's computation of how much better a pitcher's ERA was than the league average, after adjusting for park effects; a pitcher whose ERA is half the league average is twice as good as the league and thus has an ERA+ of 200. As you can see, an ERA+ that's 50% better than the league is a pretty hard thing to sustain over a 5 year stretch.
A more systematic approach would examine two additional questions I handle only anecdotally here. The major one is workloads - I've listed each pitcher's average innings per year here, but as you can see from my examination of pitcher workloads between 1920-2004, the average innings thrown by a #1 starter or by an average rotation starter has changed a lot over the years; the changes are even more dramatic as you go through the period from 1871-1910. The other item to consider is how much of pitcher ERAs even over an extended period can be attributable to defense, not only because different pitchers had better or worse defenses behind them but because the pitcher's share of the load has changed over time - as I demonstrated here and here, the percentage of plate appearances resulting in a ball in play has dropped from a high of 96.7% in the National Association in 1874 to a low of 69.7% in the National League in 2010. Clearly, the modern pitcher has far more responsibility for keeping runs off the board than his distant ancestors. (One could also examine changes in the quality of competition over time, but while I note a few guys here who cleaned up on war-weakened leagues, I generally ignore that issue in these kinds of studies; the best we can ask is who did the most with the competition of their day).
Here's the chart; as you can see, while for most of these guys the "peak" was easy to identify, in a few cases of guys who peaked over a long period or more than once (or in the case of Greg Marddux and Randy Johnson, were close enough to the top of the list to justify closer examination), I broke out their careers in more groups of seasons than one. QI/Yr is Quality Innings, a quick-and-dirty metric I use to multiply Innings Pitched by ERA+. Helps give some perspective to the quantity vs quality debate.
Pedro Martinez has clearly earned the distinction of the most effective starting pitcher of all time at his peak, swimming upstream against Fenway Park and an era of sluggers gone wild. Pedro didn't carry a heavy enough innings load to be considered quite the best ever, even adjusted for his era, but when he was on the hill, there's never been better. And moreso than anyone on this list except Randy Johnson, Pedro did most of it himself - fewer than 60% of plate appearances against Pedro in those years ended in a ball in play, compared to a little under 75% for Maddux, a little over 75% for Walter Johnson, 77% for Lefty Grove, and 82% for Three Finger Brown. (Randy Johnson was a little under 55%).
Greg Maddux just might be the best ever - he led the league in innings every year from age 25-29, finished second at age 30 and third at age 32. His innings total looks lower here than it might be because of the strike seasons right at his age 28-29 pinnacle. That said, he has to be knocked just a peg for the fact that we don't know if he would have ground down just a little if he'd had a full schedule to pitch those two years. But no matter how you slice it, Maddux was one of the very best.
Walter Johnson remains my choice for the best starting pitcher of all time, utterly dominating an entire decade from age 22-31, during which he led the AL in innings pitched five times (Johnson's 1918-19 seasons, age 30-31, were shortened slightly by World War I. One of my favorite factoids is that Johnson allowed just two home runs in 616.1 innings those two seasons, and both of them were hit by Babe Ruth. But he was at his very best in 1912-13, when he averaged 34-10 with an ERA+ of 250 and averaged 358 innings a year.) There's a significant dropoff after the top three to the next tier.
Three Finger Brown gets a little bit of short shrift in discussions of the very, very best pitchers, in part because his career started late, and he certainly had a lot of help from one of the two best defensive teams of all time. Pitchers in Brown's era didn't throw a ton of breaking balls - they had to conserve energy over the high innings workloads of the day, they could afford to save their best stuff for the 'pinch' in the absence of home runs (Mathewson supposedly threw his fadeaway only about 10 times a game) and sports medicine was nonexistent, so if you strained your elbow throwing curveballs, you just pitched through it or gave up. But Brown, being missing a chunk of his pitching hand, could throw a breaking ball with a fastball grip (no need to strain the wrist with an unnatural grip), and that made him deadly.
I also think we haven't fully absorbed the impact of Randy Johnson just yet. Johnson was a Paul Bunyanesque freak of nature and a generally crotchety guy, but in his prime was a super-elite pitcher.
I looked more at Grover Alexander in this 2003 column - Alexander's prime here includes the 1918 season, in which he appeared in just three games before going off to fight in World War I, and the 1919 season, which played a shortened schedule. That artificially conceals what an amazing workhorse Old Pete was - Alexander averaged 384 innings a year from 1915-17 (age 28-30), often leading the league by enormous margins. By 1920 he'd picked up another monstrous workload, clearing 355 innings for the sixth time in a decade, all of them league-leading totals. Alexander might well have won 400 games, and would have been very close, if not for the war (he won 45 in the minors in addition to 373 after arriving in the NL at age 24). Note that our top six here includes a guy with a mangled hand and three pitchers who regularly threw some sort of sidearm (the two Johnsons and Alexander).
Which brings us to Lefty Grove, who like Walter Johnson (and a young Satchel Paige) broke into the league throwing nearly nothing but fastballs before gradually expanding his repetoire. Grove's real peak was age 28-32, but his ERA+ is slightly better for his age 35-39 seasons with the Red Sox, when he was gradually scaling back to being a 'Sunday pitcher' and no longer doing double duty as his team's ace reliever. As Bill James has noted, Grove won 300 games in the majors after winning 111 games in the minors, 108 of them for the Baltimore Orioles of a highly competitive International League.
Christy Mathewson probably got more help from his offense than any other great pitcher, with the arguable exceptions of Grove, Kid Nichols and Warren Spahn. But Matty in his prime didn't really need all that much help. This includes his epic 1908 season, when a 27 year old Mathewson threw 390.2 innings in the heat of the legendary pennant race, only to lose to Brown (pitching in relief) and the Cubs in the replay of the Merkle game on the season's last day.
Sandy Koufax is considered the gold standard for guys who scaled a really dizzying peak, and he surely is among the best, but when you take the air of Dodger Stadium and the mid-60s out of his numbers, Koufax pulls up short of the guys at the very top. (Another reason Koufax stood out so much at the time: notice there's nobody on this list between Hal Newhouser in the mid-1940s and Koufax in the first half of the 1960s, Whitey Ford having just missed)
Kevin Brown is not a guy you expect to see quite this high up a list like this, but Brown at his best was really, really good. The last two years of Brown's peak include the first two of his famous contract; over the first five seasons of that contract, Brown's ERA+ was 148, although with injuries he averaged just 175 innings, and then he went to the Yankees and unraveled.
Cy Young was relentlessly good and consistent for a very long time - back when I was running translated pitching stats, I noticed that when you adjusted him for the league average, Young's rate of walks per 9 innings was nearly the same every year for two decades. As I demonstrated in my essay on Baseball's Most Impressive Records, there was a generational change from the guys in the 1880s-1890s who carried ridiculous 400+ inning a year workloads to pitchers who started having long careers in the 1900s, but Young was really the one and only guy to do both, which is why his career numbers have that oceanic vastness that defies analysis. Note that Young benefits a little from the fact that these were the American League's first five seasons, the first year or two of which featured a somewhat lower level of competition than the NL of the day.
Hal Newhouser had his best seasons against a war-depleted American League in 1944-45 and a lot of rusty returning veterans in 1946, so he's probably several notches higher here than he'd otherwise be, but he was a nasty power lefty who was a legitimately great pitcher for a few years.
"Peak value" isn't exactly the best way to measure Roger Clemens, who is ranked here on his 1986-92 peak with the Red Sox, although like Grove he had an even better ERA+ over his second peak, which spans the strike-shortened 1994-95 seasons and runs through his 1997-98 tenure with the Blue Jays. Clemens also posted an ERA+ of 180 in 180 innings a year from age 41-43 with the Astros (career ERA+ by team: 196 with the Jays, 180 with the Astros, 145 with the Red Sox, 114 with the Yankees). It's the cumulative effect of those multiple peaks that makes his career one of the inner-circle ones.
Ed Walsh, the big spitballer, threw a staggering 375 innings a year over his six-year prime (including a ridiculous even for the day 464 innings in 1908's equally insane American League pennant race, which the Tigers won at the expense of Walsh's White Sox), at the end of which his arm gave out.
I was there with my two older kids for the last game of Johan Santana's prime, the epic, arm-weary last win at Shea Stadium. I hope we see even a little of the old Santana again some day, but we've now had a few years' remove to reflect on how great he was in his two Cy Young, three ERA title prime.
Kid Nichols, a contemporary of Cy Young who also might have won 400 games if he hadn't spent two years in mid-career (age 32-33) as a pitcher-manager in the Western League (a 361 game winner in the majors, he won 47 games in those two seasons - among his 74 career minor league wins - and then picked up where he left off, going 21-13 with a 2.02 ERA at age 34). At his peak from 1895-99, Nichols was the ace of a Boston Braves juggernaut that repeatedly defeated the legendary Baltimore Orioles of the day.
The peak years here for Smokey Joe Wood include a litany of arm injuries following his monster season in 1912, when he went 34-5, threw 35 complete games and pitched 22 innings in the World Series at age 22; Wood averaged just 139 innings the next three seasons. Walter Johnson said it hurt his shoulder just watching Wood's straight overhand delivery. Then again, Wood had second and third careers as an outfielder and college baseball coach and lived to be 95.
Spud Chandler barely merits this list, as he appeared in just 5 games in 1944-45 and 17 at age 39 in 1947, his last season, and won his MVP award in 1943 against war-weakened competition. But when he was on the mound, he was outstanding.
The peak years for Tom Seaver run 1969-73, the two Mets miracle seasons, when he was truly The Franchise.
The last of these seasons for the great lefty screwballer Carl Hubbell is 1936, when he won his last 16 decisions before being beaten by the Yankees in the World Series, and don't include the following year when he won his first 8 on his way to a 22-8 season; his peak also includes the 1934 season when he staged his famous All-Star Game strikeout streak. Hubbell was another late starter, debuting at age 25 after an itinerant minor league career.
Bob Gibson is here for 1966-70; note that his ERA+ for 1966-67 was 132, and his ERA+ for 1969-70 was 146, but his 1968 season puts him over the top.
Addie Joss lost the pennant race in 1908 and was dead by April 1911, but for one glorious day in October 1908, the 28 year old Joss was perfect, beating Walsh in what has to be baseball's greatest pitching duel.
Roy Halladay's peak here runs through 2011. Appreciate this while it lasts, folks.
Rube Waddell from age 26-28 averaged 313 strikeouts in 345 innings a year, at the time an unheard-of strikeout rate; it may have helped Waddell a bit that batters were just getting acclimated to the new "foul ball counts as a strike" rule, but then again flamethrowing lefties were not that common in 1904; in fact, lefties were still something of a novelty at the time.
Ed Reulbach appears here for his first five seasons, 1905-09; his teammate Three Finger Brown appears for 1906-10. Other than Jim Palmer, there are probably few pitchers in the game's history who owe more to their defense than Reulbach, who like Brown got a lot of help from the team with the famous Tinker-Evers-Chance infield. Still, the only man ever to throw shutouts in both ends of a doubleheader could use to be remembered a little in his own right; an awful lot of pitchers in baseball history, and even in the Hall of Fame, didn't make this list.