"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
Politics 2016 Archives
January 17, 2017
POLITICS: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 4 of 4
NRO: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 4 of 4, looking at where Trump underperformed other Republican candidates.
January 12, 2017
POLITICS: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 3 of 4
NRO: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 3 of 4, looking at each side's state-by-state turnout as a percentage of the Voting-Eligible Population.
January 11, 2017
POLITICS: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 2 of 4
NRO: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 2 of 4, looking at how Trump performed in the battleground states by historical standards for post-incumbent challengers.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:00 AM | History | Politics 2016 | Poll Analysis | Writings Elsewhere
January 10, 2017
POLITICS: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 1 of 4
NRO: The Real Reason Trump Won: Part 1 of 4, looking at how Trump performed nationally by historical standards for post-incumbent challengers.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:00 AM | History | Politics 2016 | Poll Analysis | Writings Elsewhere
December 21, 2016
POLITICS: Hillary Clinton: President of California
POLITICS: Hillary Clinton: President of California
Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:47 PM | History | Politics 2016 | Poll Analysis | Writings Elsewhere
December 19, 2016
POLITICS: The Media/Liberal Obsession With Conclusions
December 10, 2016
POLITICS/BASEBALL: A Valentine For Japan?
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:31 PM | Baseball 2012-Present | Politics 2016 | Writings Elsewhere
December 8, 2016
POLITICS: New York's Vote Was A Microcosm of America in 2016
December 3, 2016
POLITICS: The Electoral College Is Not Like Slavery
December 2, 2016
POLITICS: Congress Should Let General Mattis Serve as Secretary of Defense
November 30, 2016
POLITICS: Trump Needs To Take The VA Secretary Job Seriously
November 23, 2016
POLITICS: Mitt Romney, The State Department, and Loyalty
POLITICS: Haley's Comet Streaks Towards Turtle Bay
November 21, 2016
POLITICS: Hillary Voters: The Minority in 37 States
November 16, 2016
POLITICS: Does Donald Trump Have a Mandate?
November 10, 2016
POLITICS: My Cousin Donnie
NRO: My Cousin Donnie
November 9, 2016
POLITICS: A Republican Win, Not Just A Trump Win
POLITICS: Where Does Never Trump Go in a Trump Presidency?
POLITICS: We're Going to Need Each Other, America
November 8, 2016
POLITICS: How Will The Senate Break?
POLITICS: My Final Prediction: Hillary 303, Trump 235
POLITICS: Democrats Aren't Preparing Their Voters For Hillary To Lose
November 7, 2016
POLITICS: In Defense of Trump Voters
November 5, 2016
POLITICS: Where Trump Stands Right Now
November 3, 2016
POLITICS: Republicans Coming Home in The Campaign's Last Days
November 2, 2016
LAW/POLITICS: The Latest Partisan Hit Job on Clarence Thomas
October 31, 2016
LAW/POLITICS: Cliven Bundy, Jim Comey, and the Problem of Political Prosecutions
October 28, 2016
POLITICS/LAW: What Is the 'Unrelated Case' That Caused the FBI to Reopen the Hillary Investigation?
(As we learned out shortly after I posted this, it was the latest Anthony Weiner sexting case).
October 19, 2016
POLITICS: Trump Holds the Line
NRO: Trump Holds the Line
POLITICS: Trump Opens As Best He Can
POLITICS: Republican Senators Still Swimming against the Trump Tide - for Now
October 18, 2016
HISTORY/POLITICS: The Real Reagan Record on AIDS
October 14, 2016
POLITICS: Trump The Transgressive Candidate
October 12, 2016
POLITICS: Thinking About Trump and "Locker Room Talk"
October 10, 2016
POLITICS: The Death of Compartmentalization
POLITICS: Bobby Jindal's Fiscal Record
My latest NR magazine piece, on Bobby Jindal's fiscal record in Louisiana.
October 8, 2016
POLITICS: Trump Is Not Part Of The Right's Tribe
October 7, 2016
POLITICS/POP CULTURE: Oh, NOW David Letterman Thinks Trump Should Be Shunned
October 4, 2016
POLITICS: Pence Beats Kaine, Kaine Beats Trump
POLITICS: Tim Kaine, Pro-Abortion Catholic
POLITICS: The Too-Happy Warrior
POLITICS: The Too-Happy Warrior
POLITICS: Pence's and Kaine's Briar Patches
POLITICS: Kaine The Interruptor
September 30, 2016
POLITICS: Democrats Get Trump Envy
August 1, 2016
POLITICS/WAR: Hillary Clinton's Foreign Policy Failures
Most of my NRO content can be found now on my NR author page, although I probably should update the links here more often anyway.
My first article in the magazine (subscription-only, and those aren't linked in the author archive): Hillary Clinton's Foreign Policy Failures
Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:33 PM | In Print | Politics 2016 | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
July 14, 2016
POLITICS: Should The GOP Adopt A No More Trumps Rule For 2020?
June 29, 2016
POLITICS: In Harlem, Democrats Trade Race Cards and Voter Suppression Charges
June 28, 2016
POLITICS: No, This Is Not How We Got Trump
June 27, 2016
POLITICS: The Crazy People Have Taken Charge of the Democratic Party
POLITICS: Donald Trump's One-Day Fundraising Haul Is Probably Bogus
POLITICS/LAW: 'Borking' Shows Why Senators Matter
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:33 PM | History | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2016 | Writings Elsewhere
June 24, 2016
WAR/POLITICS: What If The Orlando Shooter Wasn't Gay After All?
June 23, 2016
POLITICS: Has Britain Declared Independence?
June 22, 2016
POLITICS: Patrick Murphy Is a Fraud
June 21, 2016
LAW/POLITICS: Federal Investigation of Bill De Blasio Fundraising Yields NYPD Indictments
LAW/POLITICS: Is There Anything to a Lawsuit Accusing Donald Trump of Raping a 13-Year-Old Girl with Bill Clinton's Billionaire Sex Buddy?
RELIGION/LAW/POLITICS: The New York Daily News Smears Catholic Bishop with a Bogus Bribe Charge
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:38 PM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2016 | Religion | Writings Elsewhere
June 15, 2016
POLITICS/HISTORY: Re-Imagining Russell Kirk
LAW/POLITICS: Six Thoughts on Free Speech and the Bankruptcy of Gawker
POLITICS: How Bad Are Trump's National Polls? Some History.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:56 AM | History | Politics 2016 | Poll Analysis | Writings Elsewhere
June 10, 2016
POLITICS: Donald Trump Is Down 46-35 To Hillary Clinton In His Favorite Poll
POLITICS: Could The GOP Convention Dump Trump for Scott Walker?
June 9, 2016
POLITICS/LAW: With Obama's Endorsement of Hillary Clinton, He Should Appoint a Special Prosecutor
June 8, 2016
POLITICS/HISTORY: A Few More Words About Zachary Taylor and Donald Trump
POLITICS: Yes, Hillary Clinton's $12,000 Jacket Makes Her a Hypocrite about Income Inequality
POLITICS: With a Little Effort, Donald Trump Could Have Appealed to Conservatives
June 7, 2016
POLITICS: A Farewell To RedState
June 4, 2016
HISTORY/POLITICS: Politico Sells Zachary Taylor Short
June 2, 2016
POLITICS: We Get the Candidates Our Undignified Media Deserve
POLITICS/HISTORY: No, Ronald Reagan Didn't Launch His 1980 Campaign in Philadelphia, MS
One of the wearying things about arguing with liberal/progressives is that they never stop trying to rewrite history; a bogus claim that is debunked only stays debunked if you keep at debunking it year after year after year. So it is with the hardy perennial effort to tar the reputation of Ronald Reagan by claiming that his 1980 presidential campaign and subsequent two-term presidency was tainted from the outset by having kicked off his campaign with a speech about "states' rights" in Philadelphia, Mississippi - Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel was retailing this one on ABC's Sunday show The Week just two weeks ago, trying to compare Reagan to Donald Trump:
There's all this nostalgia about Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site for where three civil rights workers were killed by white supremacists.
There are many other sources that assert this as fact - see, for example, this Huffington Post column from April by Nicolaus Mills, Professor of American Studies, Sarah Lawrence College:
[I]n going to Patchogue, Long Island this coming Thursday to speak at a controversial Republican fundraiser, Trump is taking a page out of the Ronald Reagan playbook. He's following the path that Reagan took in 1980 when he began his presidential campaign at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Long Island? Forget it, he's rolling. More examples from one presidential cycle to the next can be found from David Greenberg at Slate, William Raspberry in the Washington Post, Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert in the New York Times, and so on. Wikipedia even has a page for "Reagan's Neshoba County Fair "states' rights" speech".
Where to begin? This particular canard has so many things wrong with it, I feel obligated to set them all down in sequence. Hopefully, doing so here should - at least for a little while - collect the context in one place.
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1. Reagan did not kick off his 1980 campaign in Mississippi. Unlike today, candidates in Reagan's time tended to jump into the presidential race with a formal announcement of their candidacy. Reagan, befitting his skill with television, made his formal announcement with a tape recorded 24-minute speech from a study in New York City on November 13, 1979:
The speech touched on a number of Reagan's campaign themes, ranging from taxes to gas lines to spiritual revival to calls for an early form of NAFTA, and included a passage that would become a regular Reagan staple, discussing the excesses of federal bureaucracy and the need to send more power back to the states:
We must put an end to the arrogance of a federal establishment which accepts no blame for our condition, cannot be relied upon to give us a fair estimate of our situation and utterly refuses to live within its means. I will not accept the supposed "wisdom" which has it that the federal bureaucracy has become so powerful that it can no longer be changed or controlled by any administration. As President I would use every power at my command to make the federal establishment respond to the will and the collective wishes of the people.
Reagan's speech at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi would not come for another nine months, long into the campaign and well after Reagan had secured the GOP nomination.
2. The speech was not in Philadelphia. Contrary to the mythology that liberals have built around the speech, it was not "the site for where three civil rights workers were killed by white supremacists" in 1964, but at a county fair some 7 miles away. The Neshoba County Fair was not some kind of crypto-Klan event commemorating the murders; in 1980 it was celebrating its 89th year, drew tens of thousands of people annually, and was a sufficiently large popular event that it was profiled in a National Geographic article in June 1980, which is where Reagan's staff got the idea to have him speak there:
Team Reagan found this particular event attractive after reading a June 1980 National Geographic magazine article titled "Mississippi's Grand Reunion at the Neshoba County Fair."
It seems unlikely that the National Geographic article was part of some sort of conspiracy to deliver racially coded messages through the Reagan campaign. The more logical conclusion is that Reagan's campaign saw an opportunity to reach an enormous crowd (accounts of the event said that Reagan spoke to between 20-30,000 people) in a hotly contested swing state as he moved from the GOP Convention into the fall campaign.
3. Mississippi was a battleground state in 1980. It's easy to forget in today's era of red/blue maps - in which Mississippi is one of the reddest spots on the map - but the state was a potentially key battleground in 1980. A reliable "Solid South" state from 1876-1944 after Reconstruction ended and the Klan conducted, essentially, a terrorist campaign to suppress the Republican Party in the state, it had swung wildly with the racial politics of 1948-72, voting overwhelmingly for the Dixiecrat campaigns of Thurmond in 1948 and Wallace in 1968, the Republican campaigns of Goldwater in 1964 and Nixon in 1972, and solidly for the Democratic campaigns of Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956, and breaking in a 3-way race for an uncommitted slate of electors against JFK and Nixon in 1960. But Jimmy Carter, a Georgian, had narrowly brought Mississippi back to the Democratic fold in 1976, beating Ford 49.6% to 47.7%; the state was decided by just 14,000 votes, providing 7 of Carter's 57 electoral vote margin of victory (Ford would have been re-elected with just 25,000 more votes in Mississippi and Ohio).
The state was still heavily Democratic in 1980: Thad Cochran was elected to the Senate in 1978 as the first Republican to win a statewide election in Mississippi since Reconstruction; the Governor's mansion would not be occupied by a Republican until 1992; and entrenched Dixiecrat Senator John Stennis would fend off a challenge from a young Republican named Haley Barbour in 1982.
And Mississippi had proven a tough state for Reagan personally to crack: in 1976, while Reagan swept every Southern state's primary except Florida (which voted before Reagan's first victory, in North Carolina), Mississippi held no popular vote and its delegation went for Ford at the convention, put off in part by Reagan's selection of moderate Richard Schweiker. The loss of Mississippi sealed Reagan's fate at the 1976 convention - but its preference for Ford is consistent with the pro-party-establishment tilt of the state GOP in every presidential season before 2016. Reagan claimed the state uncontested in the 1980 primaries, when it voted after George H.W. Bush had dropped out. It would go on to be a close race that fall, with Reagan beating Carter 49.4 to 48.1, winning the state by a little under 12,000 votes (i.e., around half the size of the crowd Reagan spoke to that day). Although the 1980 election was a 44-state landslide, Mississippi was one of eight states decided by less than 2 points, seven of which went to Reagan - the only closer states were Massachusetts, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Alabama, and it was one of just five states (plus D.C.) where Carter cleared 48% of the vote (the others being Georgia, Hawaii, West Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina).
Meanwhile, President Carter opened his general election campaign in Tuscumbia, Alabama, then the national headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan (there was a Klan rally the day Carter came to Tuscumbia). Reagan actually got in a lot of trouble for blasting Carter for that choice of location, inaccurately describing Tuscumbia as the location of the Klan's founding, prompting Carter to accuse Reagan of stereotyping white Southerners and the Democratic Governor of Mississippi to predict that Reagan would lose votes in the state because "voters thought it showed a lack of understanding about the South."
In other words, especially with polling being a much less precise art than it is today, it would have been very unusual for Reagan not to visit Mississippi in the fall campaign in 1980. It was a major potential swing state, and the Neshoba County Fair was the year's best opportunity to meet a large crowd. That's why it was a common stop for Mississippi politicians, and why Michael Dukakis went there in 1988; Dukakis managed to mention at his appearance that the Fair was near the birthplace of Oil Can Boyd, but not mention the slain civil rights workers. Liberals who argue today that Reagan should have simply ceded a swing state that Carter was vigorously chasing cannot be serious.
4. Reagan deliberately balanced the one-day Neshoba appearance with a week-long pitch to urban black voters in the North. Much of the "symbolism" invoked by critics of the Neshoba speech is focused on the fact that this was Reagan's first appearance of the general election campaign. As noted above, that's rather artificial: Reagan had been running officially since November and unofficially since 1975, and he formally locked up the nomination when Bush dropped out at the end of May. And while Neshoba was his first stop on the trail after the GOP Convention in Detroit two weeks earlier, the decision to put it first was actually a deliberate choice to not look like Reagan was pandering to racists, because it was immediately followed by a full week dedicated to making a (futile, in retrospect) pitch to black voters:
Reagan strategists decided to spend the week following the 1980 Republican convention courting African-American votes. Reagan delivered a major address at the Urban League, visited Vernon Jordan in the hospital where he was recovering from gunshot wounds, toured the South Bronx and traveled to Chicago to meet with the editorial boards of Ebony and Jet magazines.
Cannon's report at the time quoted a campaign source making explicit that the order of the appearances was staged so the Neshoba appearance wouldn't send the wrong message:
Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan today used rural Mississippi to launch a three-day swing that reflects the diversity and the difficulties of his approach to the campaign.
"I am committed to the protection of the civil rights of black Americans," Reagan told the Urban League. "That commitment is interwoven into every phase of the programs I will propose."
The Christian Science Monitor noted of the Urban League appearance and its stress on the economy that "Mr. Reagan also seeks to bring back into the Republican Party the black voters who followed Franklin D. Roosevelt into the New Deal in another economic crisis."
A little over a decade removed from the end of the political movement to defend segregation, and in an era when forced busing to integrate schools was still a hot-button issue, it's not at all remarkable that Reagan (or any candidate) would want to present himself as a candidate who could appeal both to white Wallace voters and to black voters in the North. It's silly to look at the careful effort to send that message, with much more of the candidate's time devoted to the latter, and charge Reagan with running a coded segregationist campaign.
5. "States' rights" was not even an applause line in the speech. Aside from arguing with the location and timing of Reagan's speech, critics have lambasted him for using the phrase "states' rights" in the speech, to the point where it is often portrayed as the centerpiece of the speech. As noted above, devolving power from the federal government to the states was a regular theme of Reagan's, and had been addressed in his announcement speech and many addresses since then. And as Reagan biographer Steven Hayward has observed:
[A]s a westerner Reagan had fully associated himself with the "Sagebrush Rebellion," for whom "states' rights" had no racial content, but rather meant wresting control of land from Washington. This was far from an outlandish or minority view. The same day Reagan made his "states' rights" remark in Mississippi, the National Governors Association issued what the Associated Press described as "a militant call for reduced federal involvement in state and local affairs." Arizona's liberal Democratic Governor Bruce Babbitt wrote in a New York Times op-ed article that "It is time to take hard look at 'states' rights' - and responsibilities - and to sort out the respective functions of the federal government and the states."
But the speech was hardly focused on the issue. Reagan spoke for 15 minutes. You can listen to the whole speech yourself on YouTube, and read it here.
The introductions included Dick Molpus, a representative from the state's Democratic governor, William Winter (in fact, Molpus was Winter's Executive Director of the Governor's Office of Federal-State Programs, in charge of overseeing the state's vast and dysfunctional dependence on Washington aid), who noted Reagan's presence as the first presidential nominee to speak at the fair, and used that to echo Winter's statement in his inauguration that January that Mississippi "is now entering the mainstream of American life." Gov. Winter was a racial moderate, in the parlance of the Southern politics of the day, which meant - like Carter - a Democrat who supported segregation when it was popular but was trying to move beyond it in the 1970s. He supported Carter, not Reagan, and told the Washington Post the following month that "we're seeing a determination, in the South, to stay with a man who understands our own special problems." But his spokesman's choice of words is also telling: white Mississippians in that era felt acutely their isolation from an American mainstream that had (rightly) spent most of the previous two decades scorning the state's oppressive racial policies and attitudes. Reagan's presence in Neshoba, like Carter's presence in the White House, was seen as a valued sign of legitimacy.
Another of the introductions, which included several gifts, stressed that Philadelphia was the headquarters of the Choctaw Nation in Mississippi.
Reagan acknowledged that he was deep in long-held Democratic territory:
I know that in speaking to this crowd, that I'm speaking to what has to be about 90 percent Democrat. [A loud chorus of "No" from the crowd.] I just meant by party affiliation. I didn't mean how you feel now. I was a Democrat most of my life myself, but then decided that there were things that needed to be changed.
About halfway into the speech, Reagan rolled into his discussion of federalism and welfare:
[Y]ou'll never know how rewarding this is, this institution that has existed for so long-and as I said in the beginning, I know there is nothing-I have read all about it in the National Geographic. [Laughs] But, how did you ever accomplish this without a federal program? [Applause]
If you listen to the recording, you can clearly hear that there was a lot of applause at multiple points in this section, but nearly no audible reaction to the reference to "states' rights" or even at the end of that or the following sentence. Nothing in this passage, or anywhere else in the speech, hits anything like a note of racial divisiveness - indeed, this very section of the speech is built around Reagan's defense of the work ethic of welfare recipients, an issue usually portrayed by liberals as a coded racial appeal.
Some critics have argued (see here and here) over whether Reagan had previously used the term "states' rights" in a speech, but this is grasping at straws given how the speech is customarily presented by liberal-progressives as some kind of racist smoking gun.
Listening to the speech itself, the context is impossible to misunderstand, and the reaction of the crowd tells the tale. The people of Neshoba liked what they heard from candidate Reagan, but the passing use of the phrase "states' rights" was clearly not what their minds were on.
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May 25, 2016
POLITICS: The Dog That Didn't Bark: Trump Voters in Down-Ballot Primaries
May 23, 2016
POLITICS: You Won't Believe Why Hillary Bagman Terry McAuliffe Is Under Federal Investigation
May 18, 2016
POLITICS/LAW: Three Thoughts on Donald Trump's Supreme Court List
May 17, 2016
POLITICS: The Never Trump Movement Is Neither Anti-American Nor Hypocritical
May 11, 2016
POLITICS: A Very Different Republican Coalition: Can It Fly?
There's been a lot of attention paid to Donald Trump's appeal to a particular type of voter: white working class, no college degree, not that religious or socially conservative but anti-immigration. Let's look at a few exit poll numbers to contemplate how a Trump coalition might be shaped very differently from Mitt Romney's coalition, which drew together a respectable but insufficient 47% of the general electorate.
I did some simple algebra combining the share of each group in the electorate and the share won by each candidate, to consider what chunk of their voters fell in each group. For example, college graduates were 45% of the 2012 general electorate and Romney won 48% of them, so whereas non-college-grads were 53% and Romney won 47% of them - thus college-educated Romney voters were 23% of all voters, non-college-educated Romney voters were 25% of all voters, and accordingly college-educated voters made up 48% of the Romney vote. For purposes of this exercise I looked back at the Trump coalition in three states that were decisive (Indiana, Florida and South Carolina). While primary and general election coalitions are different animals, this is the data we have to work with so far, and it gives us a clue as to some of Trump's challenges ahead, as well as how a candidate with Trump's appeal to such groups could be an electoral force if that candidate wasn't also as off-putting as Trump is to other core elements of the Romney coalition.
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As noted above, almost half of the Romney voters in 2012 (48%) had college degrees. Trump matched that figure in Florida,, but in both Indiana and South Carolina, just 42% of his voters had college degrees. The Romney-Obama race actually did not feature a big educational divide, at least around the college/non-college fissure. The GOP primary has featured a larger one. Trump's ability to win educated voters is one of the major question marks for his fall campaign.
49% of the Romney voters in 2012 were women, despite the partisan gender gap and reflecting the fact that Romney did better with white women than any candidate since Reagan in 1984. Trump's primary coalition has been very male even by GOP primary standards - 41% of his voters in Indiana were women, 44% in Florida, 44% in South Carolina.
We don't have applies-to-apples comparisons for all three states, but 52% of the Romney voters in 2012 were at least weekly churchgoers, compared to 45% of Trump's voters in Indiana. 74% of Trump's South Carolina voters said shared religious convictions were important to them. 60% of Romney's voters said abortion should be illegal, a large contingent Trump will have a lot of trouble replacing if he continues to manifest signs of being a lifelong supporter of legal abortion.
71% of Romney's voters were married.
Exit polls often ask a binary yes/no question about whether illegal immigrants should be deported or allowed to stay in the country, a useful question for isolating the true hard-liners on the issue but a more fraught one for capturing the nuances of people who would be willing to entertain "amnesty" but only under fairly stringent conditions. And admittedly, attitudes may have hardened a good deal on the issue since 2012. Anyway, despite running mostly as an immigration hardliner in 2008 and 2012, 54% of Romney's voters in 2012 were on the amnesty side of the amnesty/deportation question, compared to 45% of Trump's voters in Indiana and Florida and just 36% in South Carolina.
Size of government
Do Trump's voters agree with his pro-big-government stances? A whopping 84% of Romney's 2012 voters told exit pollsters that government does too much, when offered the alternative of "it should do more." We haven't seen that question in a lot of primary polling, but it suggests another warning sign. Interestingly, 35% of Trump's Florida voters said that we need to cut Social Security benefits - even though Trump is running on a platform of dissent from the GOP on that issue, he actually did better with those voters than with those who want the status quo.
Lack of education may be a hallmark of Trump's coalition, but lack of money is not as much one as you might have guessed. 67% of Romney's voters made over $50,000 a year, compared to 74% of Trump's voters in Indiana, 66% in Florida, and 71% in South Carolina. 32% of Romney's voters made over $100,000 a year, matched by 32% of Trump's South Carolina voters and exceeded by Trump in Indiana and Florida (36% each). (85% of Romney's voters were not part of a union household; 62% worked full time).
Of course, we've covered previously Trump's issues with self-identified "Very Conservative" voters, the heartland of the Ted Cruz primary vote. But demographically, Trump's primary coalition does look less educated, less churchgoing and more male than the Romney 2012 coalition. Obviously, the optimist's theory (for Trump, and for down-ticket Republicans to the extent that Trump voters might also vote for actual Republicans for the House, Senate and Governorships) is that Trump's coalition looks different because he is adding new groups. But the danger sign is that just to pull even with what Romney did, he may still need more educated, religious, conservative voters and women than he has thus far been interested in appealing to.
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May 6, 2016
POLITICS: Is #NeverTrump Doomed To Fold?
May 4, 2016
POLITICS: Trump's Next Victim: Pollsters
Donald Trump has proven adept at corrupting everyone and everything that comes into his orbit. He has constructed a kind of cargo-cult imitation of a real political campaign, with press flacks and pundits and elected officials and "policy advisors" and even now speechwriters all acting as if Trump was a real candidate rather than a bad joke told too long. But the one thing Trump has not really needed so far was thoroughly bogus general election polls. Oh, his strength has been overstated in some national primary polls, and the online Reuters poll has been a particular favorite. But Trump in the primaries has mostly been content to tell bald-face lies about his polling against Hillary Clinton, content that any rebuttal could be shouted down with "BUT I AM BEATING YOU IN THE PRIMARY SO YOU MUST BE WORSE."
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Trump can no longer hide behind that, so he will need to find some pollsters willing to be...flexible...in their methodology in order to show that this is a real contest. Trump's millions of supporters, and his enablers in talk radio and on Fox News and Drudge and Breitbart, will provide a willing market for this. And so will the mainstream media, which as much as it wants Hillary to win, is also addicted to Trump-driven ratings and can't afford to just admit that the election is effectively over in May.
Enter "Rasmussen Reports". Now, if you have followed polling controversies over the years, you know that Rasmussen has been a lightning rod. A minor pollster before 2000, Rasmussen was reinvented by Scott Rasmussen in the mid-2000s into one of the giants of the polling business, with ubiquitous high-volume polling that included one of the most influential daily tracking polls, while Rasmussen himself became a prominent pundit. For the most part, during the Bush years, Rasmussen had a solid record as a pollster, and while it had some embarrassing misses in 2010 (usually due to over-projecting Republican candidates), it was still a reputable pollster. In 2012, I still relied on Rasmussen's national party-ID survey, which had a strong predictive track record over the prior decade. But it failed spectacularly, as did many of Rasmussen's polls, in 2012: the party ID tracker was projecting the most Republican general electorate since the Coolidge years, and we got precisely the opposite. So far as I can tell, the party ID poll was discontinued immediately after the 2012 election.
Rasmussen has stayed in the political polling business since then, but greatly diminished, as Scott Rasmussen himself left the company in mid-2013, and it has refocused more on making money from non-political polls. His departure also ended the firm's GOP tilt, or at least induced an overcorrection; for much of 2014, for example, Rasmussen's job-approval poll showed President Obama to be a lot more popular than any other pollster, a finding totally inconsistent with the 2014 election results. On the whole, my postmortem of the 2014 Senate polls found Rasmussen's polling to be a mixed bag.
But now, in the past few weeks, Rasmussen has emerged as the lone pollster showing Trump competitive nationally with Hillary Clinton:
You will notice that Trump's standing in the Rasmussen polls is no better than in others - he's at 38% in the April 25-26 poll, and 41% in the April 27-28 poll. Every poll in the RCP average since the start of March has Trump between 35% and 43%, with a current average a shade below 41, but most have Hillary in the upper 40s or the 50s. So what gives? Obviously, Rasmussen didn't push soft "undecideds" who are likely to vote Hillary to make a choice, so it shows a lot fewer Clinton voters in the April 25-26 poll:
Nearly one-in-four voters say they will stay home or vote third party if Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the major party presidential candidates.
The April 27-28 poll, with Trump up 3, is even fishier because it assumed everybody is forced to vote:
Trump edges slightly ahead if the stay-at-home option is removed. Trump also now does twice as well among Democrats as Clinton does among Republicans.
Well, yeah, you can get different polling results if you pretend turnout will be mandatory. Unfortunately for Trump, that's not how elections actually work.
But don't be surprised if we see more polling organizations, especially in the media, fiddle with their methodologies to prop up a horse race at least into the fall. And watch people who desperately want to believe them fall for it.
That's how things work in Donald Trump's America.
« Close It
May 1, 2016
POLITICS: Yes, Donald Trump Would Be Worse Than Any Prior Republican Nominee
Why now? Why Trump?
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Haven’t We Voted For Some Terrible Republicans Before?
Many – if not most – #NeverTrump voters have pulled the lever for some or all of Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, and Bob Dole as well as lots of other less-than-pure Republicans for lesser offices. I personally voted for all of them, plus backing some fairly heterodox presidential primary candidates like Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich. In the years since I became old enough to vote in 1989, the only two semi-serious GOP presidential contenders before Trump that I’d have seriously considered not voting for were Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan, both mainly for national security reasons, but at least Paul and Buchanan were dyed-in-the-wool pro-lifers, in Paul’s case grounded in his life experience as an OB/GYN.
I also voted for some terrible down-ticket Republicans here in New York (Mike Bloomberg, Carl Paladino, Rick Lazio, George Pataki…heck, I even voted for a City Councilman who was the blood-drinking leader of a local pagan sect and was recently sentenced to a decade in prison for selling Democrats access to the Republican primary for Mayor.) It’s an easier answer for the local officials: I live in deep-blue territory, and local electeds may have fewer powers and less important roles in party leadership. Indeed, I’d probably vote for Trump if he ran for Mayor of New York, since he really is not that different from Bloomberg, and the Mayor’s race is almost entirely a single-issue referendum on policing (for similar reasons, I might even vote for Bill Clinton if he ran for Mayor).
We know, from his deeds, words, and even his pronouncements in this campaign, that Trump offers nothing to conservatives – worse than nothing, he would evict us from any position within our own party. He gets his foreign policy ideas from Michael Moore and Code Pink (or worse yet, from Vladimir Putin); his abortion views are grounded in his sympathy with Planned Parenthood; he supports socialized medicine in the form of single-payer healthcare, higher taxes, more government spending, and Herbert Hoover's trade policy. He’s never met a bailout or a crony-capitalist deal he didn't like, or a Democrat he wouldn’t donate to. He’s astonishingly ignorant, emotionally unstable, and wholly incapable of saying no to Democrats. Trump is a spoiled, entitled rich kid who shows not the slightest understanding of the American way of up-by-the booststraps striving to better yourself; in Trump’s world, the rich get richer by having the right friends, and everybody else is a serf who needs the government to protect them from foreign competition.
Let’s compare Trump to some of the prior Republican presidential losers, and I’ll throw in Rudy and Newt for good measure since I’ve written on this site in their defense before:
Mitt Romney: Romney’s flip-flopping on pushed me pretty far, since I wrote tens of thousands of words attacking him in the 2008 and 2012 primaries, predicted that he’d be a bad general election candidates, and basically spent the 2012 campaign carefully avoiding making any affirmative statements about Romney’s commitment to his own stated agenda. I once characterized Romney’s record of standing with conservatives as “a sheet of thin ice as far as the eye can see“.
But even so, Romney was no Trump. Romney, unlike Trump, had an actual record in office, albeit only a single term as Governor, and he did pursue some fiscally and socially conservative positions in office, on taxes, spending and same-sex marriage. Romney was also more loyal to the GOP as an institution and a team than Trump – he’d been a Republican Governor, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, had run against Ted Kennedy for Senate, had built a network of loyalists in the party through endorsements, donations and campaign stops, and was the son of a father who was a Republican Governor, Republican presidential candidate and Republican Cabinet Secretary and a mother who also ran for Senate as a Republican. Romney in 2012 was also on his second run for the White House, which required him to stay consistent and committed to his 2008 platform; he was neither quite as inexperienced nor quite as new to his “severely conservative” platform by 2012 as he had been four years earlier.
And perhaps most important and most unlike Trump, Romney demonstrated by 2012 that he had the capability, the intelligence, the base of knowledge, and the personal character to be Commander-in-Chief. His foreign policy pronouncements in 2012 were not terribly exciting (President Obama memorably mocked them as a throwback to the 80s), but over and over since then he has been proven right by events. And while Romney’s political identity was always questionable, he was and is a man of outstanding personal character – faithful family man, pillar of his church, unfailingly loyal to his business partners and employees, generous with not just his money but his time to charity, personally modest and decent. In every one of these ways, Romney stood as the opposite of Trump, a thrice-married serial adulterer who has left a long trail of wreckage through both his family life and his business career and has become a byword for crassness. As much as I worried about Romney’s ideological commitments and political courage, I came to admire the man personally and trust that he would be a steady hand leading the nation, a leader we could be proud of. Trump is the opposite of all those things.
John McCain and Bob Dole: I actually voted for McCain three times, although in retrospect I regretted supporting him against Bush in 2000, the reasons for which I explained at the time (I do not regret preferring McCain to Romney and Huckabee in 2008). McCain was in many ways a more open moderate than Romney, more consistent in his stances on a lot of issues but also consistently a problem for conservatives. That said, it was not actually that hard to see McCain as a guy who was broadly on the side of conservatives part of the way on a lot of issues, and more to the point, a guy who proved himself fully capable of digging in and fighting for our side on some tough calls. He voted to put Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court – the Thomas vote was a tough one, as he was confirmed by two votes. He voted to remove Bill Clinton from office in the 1998 impeachment. He was a faithful vote for the Reagan agenda in the 1980s, a consistent pro-lifer and a supporter of entitlement reform, free trade, and nuclear power. He backed Phil Gramm in the 1996 primaries. He built his whole 2008 campaign around courageously standing up for finishing the job in Iraq when the war was at the nadir of its popularity. And McCain was and is a vigorous voice on national security issues for decades.
None of that is to whitewash McCain’s problems for conservatives, nor to deny that McCain has his own issues of character (e.g., cheating on and abandoning his first wife, or the Keating Five scandal). But between his political career and his famously heroic POW record, McCain had demonstrated some important attributes of presidential character: seriousness of purpose, deep and abiding patriotism sealed in blood, the ability to take a stand and stick with it come Hell or high water. I knew McCain was a compromise in a bad political environment in 2008, but I also trusted him as Commander in Chief and as a guy who would follow through when the going got tough.
The case for Dole – aside from the fact that I was 25 and more of a knee-jerk straight-ticket voter at the time – is more or less similar to the case for McCain, although Dole’s legislative record was distinctly less conservative than McCain’s. Dole was doomed, of course, as everyone knew at the time, but at least he was a war hero, the sort of man you could trust as Commander-in-Chief, and was nothing if not a party man through and through, with 35 years as an elected Republican and leader of a GOP caucus in the Senate.
Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich: I suppose I need to defend Rudy (my first choice in 2008) and Newt (my final choice and vote in 2012 after Perry and Pawlenty dropped out), although the latter was mostly a desperation protest vote. Rudy was the first candidate I supported for President who was not even nominally pro-life, and will probably be the last. In part that was an effort to square the circle of finding workable common ground on judges, which by the end of his campaign, Rudy had never been able to do, and that’s a story for another day, but also one that drove home the impossibility of making a Republican presidential candidacy work without a clear and explicit commitment to the pro-life cause.
But fundamentally, despite flaws in their personal character (flaws on display again this year as both have disappointingly gravitated towards Trump), what I liked more than anything about Rudy and Newt is that they had actually accomplished an enormous amount for conservatives, both in policy and politics, as well as helping a whole lot of other Republicans get elected over the years. They fought the battles and earned their scars.
Despite his social liberalism, Rudy’s tenure as Mayor of New York was the most consequential real-world domestic policy achievement for conservative ideas since Reagan; he single-handedly changed the trajectory and living conditions in New York City, and sustained a colossal amount of incoming political fire to do so, plus providing tremendous leadership in crisis after 9/11.
Newt’s tenure as Speaker featured its share of missed opportunities and misjudgments, but name me a more consequential and effective Republican House or Senate leader in the last half century; in 1995-96, he got more done for conservative policy priorities in two years with a Democratic President than Denny Hastert did in six with a Republican. And for all their policy deviations, Rudy and Newt are both guys who are well-versed in conservative ideas and expert at defending them in the public square. None of these things – not the accomplishments, not the fights for policy and the political team, not the ability to sell our ideas and solutions – is true of Trump. (Polls show that virtually every position Trump has taken during the campaign is less popular with the general public now than before he ran).
In short: yes, you can find an example of many of Trump’s flaws in prior Republican presidential candidates. But not one of those candidates combined the total package of Trump: the unfitness to be Commander-in-Chief; the total lack of accomplishments, sacrifices or even efforts over his lifetime for any cause we believe in, combined with repeated efforts to assist the other team; the manifest lack of political principle, personal character or demonstrated political character; the ignorance; the catnip for white supremacists; the toxic effect on the brand of both the party and its ideas.
A vote for Trump, even in the general election, is a suicide note for the Republican Party and the conservative movement. I will never vote for Hillary Clinton, but I cannot in good conscience ever give aid and comfort to Donald Trump and the poison he represents. The only cost to abandoning Trump in the general election is the specter of a defeat to Hillary – but Trump’s nomination ensures that anyway. If he wants to sink the GOP at sea against Hillary Clinton, I see no reason to waste a life preserver on him.
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April 27, 2016
POLITICS: Trump Supporters Already Pre-Spinning November Trump Loss
POLITICS: The Fiorina Pick
NRO: The Fiorina Pick
April 26, 2016
POLITICS: Ten Reasons Moderates Should Vote for Ted Cruz
April 25, 2016
POLITICS/FOOTBALL: Donald Trump Hearts Tom Brady; Does Indiana?
April 20, 2016
HISTORY/POLITICS: Do Not Weep for Andrew Jackson
April 19, 2016
POLITICS: What To Watch For In Tonight's NY Republican Primary
POLITICS: When Will Democrats Return Trump's Donations?
April 8, 2016
POLITICS: After Wisconsin, By The Numbers
April 5, 2016
POLITICS: No, Donald Trump Can't "Burn It Down." Washington Would Go On The Same.
Of all the arguments made in favor of a vote for Donald Trump to be President of the United States, or at any rate the Republican nominee, probably the most seductive is the argument that Trump will “burn it down”: replace the business-as-usual Washington political establishment with a bull-in-a-china-shop outsider who will do something different. A great many Americans across the political spectrum are deeply frustrated with our system, for many reasons – some of them very good reasons, others understandable ones. Trump speaks to their frustrations, which is a major reason why he has won 37.1% of the popular vote so far in the Republican primaries; so does Bernie Sanders, which is a major reason why Sanders has won 41.1% of the popular vote so far in the Democratic primaries. But even setting aside the many reasons why Trump is highly unlikely to win a general election, anyone who understands the problems with how Washington works also knows that Trump is almost uniquely unsuited to actually change them.
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The Sources of Anger
There are a lot of different currents of anger running through our politics right now, some of which are contradictory (people on different sides of an issue want opposite things), and some of which are impractical (people are angry at things government is powerless to change, except for the worse). At the roots of the anger is a stagnant economy, which exacerbates every problem that exists in better times. As Jay Cost noted back in December, economic growth or its absence has historically been linked to public trust or distrust of American government, and we’ve been in a period of very weak growth ever since the end of the tech-and-trade boom of the 1990s:
As the Wall Street Journal added in January, 2015 finished as “the tenth straight year that the U.S. economy has grown by less than 3%. Such a long underperformance hasn’t happened since the 1930s.”
That’s the backdrop for the economic snake oil of Trump’s trade-war rhetoric and Sanders’ socialism. But anger at the political system has some common political themes as well. People increasingly feel like the government doesn’t listen and doesn’t change – or that when it does change (the biggest changes of the past decade being same-sex marriage and Obamacare) it either does so without consulting the voters (in the case of SSM) or while completely ignoring their loud protests (in the case of Obamacare). And the system rolls on: everybody who goes to DC gets richer, and few go home when they’re done; nobody gets held accountable for disasters like the 2008 credit crisis; political leaders like Bill and Hillary Clinton walk away from things that would get ordinary citizens fired or jailed; people get elected promising Republican voters that they’ll cut government and stop abortion (or even stop financing it), and promising Democratic voters that they’ll punish the banks and close Gitmo, restrain the surveillance state and stop killing people with drones, and somehow none of it happens, yet well-financed interests and liberal legal activists always get what they want, and the budget never stops growing. The system seems impervious to the voters who elect it. Every decent American must be struck now and then with the urge to grab a torch and a pitchfork, burn the whole edifice to the ground, and start over. Lots of “burn it down” voters have flocked to Trump. But Trump is simply the wrong man for the job.
The “Deep State”
Our Constitutional system of government, as originally designed, wasn’t supposed to be like this. America is a republic, not a pure democracy, so we’re supposed to have checks and balances that operate as sobriety checkpoints that make jarring, far-reaching changes slow at the national level. But this was supposed to be balanced out by keeping most power in the hands of the states and ensuring that the federal government always ultimately answered to “We The People.”
Somewhere along the way, step by step, we’ve been losing that – losing the sense that either our state and local governments or our elected representatives in Washington are actually in charge, let alone have the incentive to change things. The courts have erected ever-growing edifices of constitutional law, taking more and more decisions out of the hands of elected officials even on issues never mentioned when the people were asked to add things to the Constitution, leaving massive, unreviewable power in the hands of 5 unelected judges. The power of the purse used to be a great source of influence for the House, which could simply decline to fund things the voters who elected it didn’t like; now, massive amounts of the federal budget – around three-quarters of federal spending, by some estimates – are already committed to entitlements and debt service before Congress even appropriates a penny, and the budget process is rigged so that the only options presented are shutting down the entire government or funding every last horrible thing that the President or a majority of the House or 40 Senators wants. The federal government draws the states into an ever-growing web of funded and unfunded mandates and joint partnerships, which again roll along unless both parties unite to stop them, and for which nobody can be held solely accountable to the voters. Vast economic powers are delegated to the Federal Reserve, which is unelected and only vaguely guided by written rules, and huge powers are devolved on the bureaucracy, including permanent civil servants and a menagerie of agencies not directly accountable to the President – or to anyone else.
Writers on the Left and the paleocon and libertarianish Right often refer to this complex – sometimes including the big donors, federal contractors and military brass – as the “Deep State,” a permanent political establishment that reacts slowly, if at all, to the elected branches and is expert at capturing them.
If we are going to re-impose any sort of popular control over our government and not simply work within the system as it exists today, the most important element of all is a willingness and ability to tame the “Deep State” by attacking its powers at the roots.
Running The Traps
This is one area in which a President Donald Trump would be such a conspicuous failure. Yes, sure, Trump is a guy who dislikes letting the Beltway Establishment set rules for him. He’d say whatever he wants, and at least try to do whatever he wants. I have no doubt that Trump, in office, would produce a whirlwind of executive orders and other unilateral acts. I have no doubt as well that he would attempt to negotiate deals he likes with Congress and foreign governments. I’m not so sure we would see his famous “you’re fired” as much as we might like – Trump’s campaign has been awfully hesitant to fire people that Trump hired, unlike the contestants on his TV shows, as that would reflect an admission of error by Trump. But it’s one thing to try to do your own thing without paying attention to the rest of the system; it’s quite another to go after the system’s ability to keep doing its own thing, ignoring you and undermining you at every turn.
What in Trump’s background suggests he has either the knowledge of the Deep State system or the personality needed to challenge or dismantle parts of it? The essential characteristic of the whole apparatus is precisely that it doesn’t ask the President’s permission to keep going. You can ignore Supreme Court decisions, but they will keep issuing them, and when you’re gone, they’ll still be on the books and obeyed by lower courts. You can yell at the bureaucracy, but you can’t fire it. This is not a new problem – it’s precisely why ‘outsider’ governors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura have gotten steamrolled in office. One is reminded of Harry Truman’s observation about handing over power to Dwight Eisenhower, our last President who had never been an elected official: “Poor Ike. It won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll sit here and he’ll say, ‘Do this, do that,’ and nothing will happen.” Eisenhower, as befit his vast military and diplomatic experience, proved a highly skilled and savvy Commander-in-Chief and a determined, hands-on enforcer of the laws, but he never even attempted to reverse the trends of how DC had swollen under the New Deal. And his Supreme Court appointments would go on to massively expand the power of the judiciary. Ike ran the government very, very well – but he never even tried to tame it.
Trump has no intention – he has made this clear – of altering entitlements, so right off the bat, most of the budget is off the table, and his obvious ignorance of the budget process means he would never be able to get far enough into the weeds to actually reform how the system works. He has proposed no reforms that would actually change anything about the bureaucracy or the judiciary or even the Pentagon, nor given any indication of having studied the question. As I noted back in November, in arguing for Bobby Jindal:
Would Trump burn down the system? I’m not even sure he’d know where to set the matches.
Even working within the system, if you haven’t done the homework to understand how the Deep State puts one over on its transient elected masters, you stand little chance of piercing its smoke screens. I’ve made a similar point before about why Trump would ultimately be a bonanza for the GOP’s consultant class – his nomination would actually encourage more of the kinds of candidates most likely to lavish resources on consultants and depend on them, rather than knowing enough (as Ted Cruz does) to impose some supervision and discipline on them and require them to produce results.
Trump’s whole background in real estate development is that of a guy who plays by the rules and within system (hence, his many donations to liberal politicians), not one who tries to change the game, as this shrewd review of his book “Art of the Deal” explains:
Read the whole thing; there’s a lot more where that came from, and a lot to think about even in a review that is broadly sympathetic to Trump’s book.
Think about it: when has Trump shown any interest in changing the rules for anything? When has he shown he even knows or cares what the rules are? As Leon noted yesterday, Trump keeps getting schooled by Ted Cruz just on how to understand and operate within the rules of the Republican delegate system – unsurprisingly, since Cruz is a brilliant Constitutional lawyer whose whole life has been dedicated to rules, but Trump’s failure to plan ahead for how to beat the party establishment at its own game bodes very poorly for his ability to do the same to the Deep State.
And of course, the fact that Trump has no fixed political principles means he is bound to take the paths of least resistance to any end he desires – why dig in for a long, bloody fight to reform how the rules work, when someone with a vested interest in the rules is willing to offer you a short term reward? In 1876, Republicans took a bargain that gave Rutherford B. Hayes a single term in the White House, and gave Democrats the end of Reconstruction and effective control of the South for the next 75 years. That’s the kind of deal the “GOPe” has been making ever since, and yet it’s exactly the kind of deal you and I know Trump would take and declare a “win” because he’s always more interested in being a winner than in the long game.
If we stand any chance of making real change in how the country works over the next four years, we won’t get it from Trump (any more than we would from Hillary Clinton, who is practically the living embodiment of the Beltway Establishment). Fortunately, there happens to be one guy left in this race who actually cares very deeply about the rules of the game and how to change them: Ted Cruz. Maybe Cruz won’t succeed either in burning the whole system down, and maybe he shouldn’t try to bite off such an ambitious goal, but at least he will try and has a track record of being precisely the kind of person who will hold out to get some real results.
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April 4, 2016
LAW/POLITICS: BREAKING: SCOTUS Rejects "One Man One Vote" Challenge
March 25, 2016
POLITICS: Why Did Almost Nobody See The Trade Issue Coming Before Trump?
March 24, 2016
POLITICS: Can Donald Trump or Ted Cruz Beat Hillary Clinton? A New National Poll May Surprise You
March 18, 2016
POLITICS: Mitt Romney: I'm Voting For Ted Cruz. You Should Too.
March 17, 2016
POLITICS: It Is Time To Grow Up And Unite Cruz And Rubio Supporters Behind Ted Cruz
POLITICS: Ted Cruz or Bust: Armageddon Tuesday By The Numbers
March 15, 2016
POLITICS: This Is Not 1980, And Donald Trump Is Not Ronald Reagan
Every piece of evidence we have about the 2016 general election and the world around us points in the same direction: if nominated, Donald Trump would lose, and likely lose badly. The fact that Trump has defied expectations in the primary and survived numerous incidents (seemingly almost daily) that would end any other political career has given pundits and analysts an almost superstitious, gunshy awe of predicting failure for him - thus the "lol nothing matters" response you often get when you discuss both Trump's obvious, glaring weaknesses and his pitiably weak standing in the polls. But the one straw commonly grasped by Trump supporters when confronted by the evidence is Gallup's polling from early 1980 showing that Ronald Reagan was some 30 points behind Jimmy Carter, who of course he went on to demolish in the fall.
The Gallup 1980 polls are a weak analogy, for several reasons.
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1. Strength of polling: When we talk about general election polls today, we really mean three types of polls (head-to-head national polls, head-to-head state polls, and polls testing the favorability/approval of various candidates with the general electorate). On all of these topics, as I have discussed before at length, we have a lot of polls from multiple pollsters, and we commonly use polling averages to account for the fact that individual pollsters can be wrong, sometimes very wrong.
By contrast, nearly all the public polling from the first three months of 1980 is from a single pollster, Gallup - and Gallup ultimately got the race wrong, showing Reagan trailing through much of October and only polling ahead by 3 at the end (a trend complicated by the fact that there was only one Reagan-Carter debate, it was the
As Nate Cohn has observed of that fall's campaign:
The legend of Reagan's epic comeback is largely the result of anomalous Gallup polling, which even showed a Carter advantage over the final month of the campaign. But if RealClearPolitics or Pollster.com had existed in 1980, the conventional wisdom would have been a little different. In fact, Reagan held a lead from mid-September onward and had a two or three point lead heading into the debates. Private polling conducted for the Reagan and Carter campaigns showed the same thing. Reagan's 10 point victory is a precedent for sweeping undecided voters, but it isn't a model for a come-from-behind victory
2. A temporary Carter bump: 1980 was - unlike this one - an incumbent re-election campaign, in which the dominating issue is always the sitting President. Jimmy Carter was an extremely vulnerable incumbent throughout 1979, as his job approval in Gallup's polling showed him dropping below 50, then below 40, then all the way to 29% in June and again October 1979.
What happened next was the Iranian hostage crisis. On November 4, 1979, Iranian radicals stormed the U.S. embassy and took 90 hostages, including 66 Americans, as part of the revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power. Within a few weeks, the number of hostages was narrowed to 53, later 52.
Americans tend to rally around their President in times of foreign crisis, and this was no different. As Americans tied yellow ribbons for the hostages, they wanted to put their faith in the deeply unpopular Carter to find a way out. Carter's approval rating hit 54% in early December, and peaked at 58% in late January, staying above 50% into the beginning of March. But as the crisis dragged on, Carter's weakness reasserted itself, and was back in the 30s by mid-April when the Desert One rescue mission failed. Carter never recovered; his approval rating even among Democrats hovered around or below 50% the rest of the year.
Even if you look at this Monkey Cage graph of the polls, what you see is that Reagan was steadily building, while Carter's trend was straight downhill from January through July before dispirited Democrats started to rally a bit.
You can see that in the Democratic primary race of 1980. Carter won Iowa by 28 and New Hampshire by 10, and through March 18, he had won 9 out of 10 primaries against Ted Kennedy, losing only Kennedy's home state of Massachusetts. Carter beat Kennedy in Florida by 37, in Illinois by 36, in Vermont by almost 50, in Alabama by almost 70.
But Carter's declining standing as the hostage crisis dragged on showed up in the primaries - Kennedy won New York and Connecticut on March 25 and would beat Carter 9 more times between mid-April and late June, including big states like Pennsylvania and California. In an incumbent election - which 2016 is not - that's a big sign.
3. The Republican primary calendar: On the flip side of the coin, the January-early March polls test Reagan just before he started winning primaries - a winning streak that unified the GOP behind him. In a crowded 7-candidate field featuring two future nominees (George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole), the Senate Minority Leader (Howard Baker), a former Texas Governor and Treasury Secretary (John Connally) and challengers from Reagan's right (Congressman Phil Crane) and Dole's left (John Anderson, who would win 7% of the vote in November as a third-party candidate), Reagan did not get off to the most auspicious start, losing Iowa and winning just two out of the first five votes through March 4. But his one big win, in New Hampshire on February 26, was much bigger than Trump's, as Reagan drew 50% of the vote.
And once Reagan got rolling, starting March 8 in South Carolina, he showed what a tremendously strong party-unifying candidate he was: between March 8 and May 3, he won 9 of 11 states, including winning 55% in South Carolina, 70% in Alabama, 56% in Florida, 73% in Georgia, 49% in Illinois, 63% in Kansas, 74% in Louisiana, 53% in Texas.
Trump's dynamic is precisely the opposite. Despite winning numerous primaries (so unlike Reagan in February he wasn't polled as a second-place primary candidate), he has never been able to win Reagan-style majorities. Entering today, among 26 primaries/caucuses (not counting Guam and the Virgin Islands, where we have no vote totals), Trump hadn't won a majority anywhere, has cracked 40% just 6 times in 26 tries, and has fallen below 30% nine times (he did win 73% of the vote today in the Northern Marianas Islands, in an electorate of 471 people). His overall share so far is 34.8% of the vote. Even if you ignore polling entirely, Trump still faces more resistance at this point than any GOP frontrunner since the start of popular primary voting in 1976. The primary voting itself is consistent with the view that Trump is running a factional campaign that the majority of Republican voters object to.
4. Reagan was already a winner: While it is understandable that some people (wrongly) thought Reagan would struggle to close the deal in a general presidential contest, the idea that Ronald Reagan was incapable of winning outside a divided GOP primary field was already ridiculous in 1980. To start with, Reagan had almost knocked off a sitting president in his own party in a head-to-head two-man race in 1976, in which he won a majority of the vote in 11 states. Moreover, in the largest state in the country, California, Reagan had won two statewide elections by wide margins - he defeated California's sitting Governor, Pat Brown, 58-42 in 1966, and was re-elected 53-45 in 1970. Trump has never faced general election voters anywhere.
5. Trump is really, really well-known and really, really unpopular: Head-to-head polling this early in a non-incumbent race can change, as the candidates get better known by the public. But the problem for Trump, as public polling shows fairly unanimously, is that both he and Hillary Clinton are extraordinarily well-known candidates already, and Trump is significantly more unpopular even though Hillary has been on the receiving end of massive political opposition for most of the past 25 years (including a brutally contested primary in 2008). Just the latest poll averages show Trump at 61% or 62.4% of voters view him unfavorably, compared to 53.3% or 53.6% for Hillary Clinton. Those numbers are unprecedentedly awful for a presidential candidate, they've been consistently awful for months, and lately they've been getting worse, just as Trump falls further and further behind in more recent head-to-head polling and before he has ever faced a sustained negative ad barrage from the Democrats.
Reagan, with his sunny optimism and basic decency, was never anything like this personally unpopular. Pollsters didn't ask the same kinds of questions in those days, but a Gallup survey in September 1980 asked about twelve different concerns voters had with Reagan, and only one of the twelve attracted a majority (52% thought Reagan "puts his foot in his mouth, says things without thinking or considering the consequences"; 48% thought he was too old for the job, and none of the other ten options attracted anywhere near a majority).
Is Trump Unelectable?
There's no such thing as a completely unelectable candidate, as you never know when a deus ex machina event will overturn the tables to the point where the other candidate is no longer competitive. Christine O'Donnell could have won, under the right bizarre set of circumstances; so could Todd Akin or Alvin Greene or Carl Paladino. But it was easy enough for any reasonably intelligent person to see coming a long way away that those were not likely results, and that the reasonable response from their parties was to get as many people out of the blast radius as possible.
Without rehashing all the unique-to-Trump obstacles he would face in a general election, Trump would enter it in much the same situation as Akin, who won 36.1% of the vote in a divided GOP primary in which 603,000 people voted, and got 39.2% in November in an electorate of 2.7 million, and whose gaffe-tastic presence in the campaign created all sorts of collateral damage to other Republicans. In exit polls, 21% of Republican voters didn't vote for Akin (15% went for his Democratic opponent), and he lost independents by 12. Akin narrowly carried white voters 48-45 and won by 12 with voters over 65 (53-41), but lost basically every other demographic badly. He lost suburbanites by 16 points. Now imagine what 2012 looks like with Akin as the presidential nominee.
Primary and general electorates simply are not the same people - in 2012, 18 million voted in the GOP primary, 129 million in the fall - and the ability to electrify a determined minority of one party among several choices is not remotely the same thing as the ability to be the first of two choices among all voters. Trump is banking very heavily on disaffected white working class voters, the fastest-shrinking demographic in the electorate; the same voters who made up 65% of the 1980 electorate were only 36% in 2012.
If we had no polling, we could rely on common sense to tell us that there are hard limits on the general-election appeal of a candidate who is boorish towards women, who has gone out of his way to offend non-white voters, who is running a proudly ignorant campaign based on what amounts to class war against anyone with an education, who consistently draws the opposition of around two-thirds of the party in his own primaries, who has never won an election before in seven decades on this earth, who somehow manages to staff his campaigns with people even more buffoonish than he is, and who has a long record of opposing his own party's platform on nearly every issue of importance to its voters. The fact that we do have polling and it does confirm exactly what you'd have predicted in its absence should tell us not to keep doubting our own sanity just because he keeps winning pluralities in the primary. If Trump is the GOP nominee this fall, the rational response is to get as far away from his campaign as you can.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:20 PM | History | Politics 2016 | Poll Analysis | Writings Elsewhere
March 9, 2016
POLITICS: It Is Time For Marco Rubio To Join Ted Cruz For The Benefit Of Marco Rubio
March 7, 2016
POLITICS: Donald Trump Is A Cowardly Appeaser Who Got Bullied By The Mob
March 5, 2016
POLITICS: Don't Overlook The Importance Of This Weekend's Voting
March 3, 2016
POLITICS: Marco Rubio's Path To Victory After Super Tuesday, By The Numbers
POLITICS: Will John Kasich Criticize Donald Trump Tonight or Run Interference for Him?
March 1, 2016
POLITICS: New CNN Poll: Trump Loses To Hillary, Rubio & Cruz Would Win
POLITICS: A Vote For Trump is a Vote For Hillary Clinton: Why Trump Is A Sure Loser
February 28, 2016
POLITICS: Donald Trump is a Glass-Jawed Coward Afraid to Debate Rubio or Cruz Again
POLITICS: Donald Trump Fails Three Times to Deny the KKK
February 27, 2016
POLITICS: Release Your Testimony, Donald Trump
POLITICS: Marco Rubio Gives Democratic Strategists The Vapors
POLITICS: Super Tuesday Preview: Massachusetts
February 26, 2016
POLITICS: Will Donald Trump Bail on Future Debates?
February 25, 2016
POLITICS: America Won Tonight's Debate
POLITICS: Second Florida Poll Of The Day Shows Rubio Closer To Trump
POLITICS: New National Poll of Hispanics: Rubio Popular, Trump Hated
February 24, 2016
POLITICS: Rubio Campaign Calls On Trump To Renounce Pro-Trump White Supremacist Robocalls
POLITICS/LAW: The Vindication of Rick Perry
February 23, 2016
POLITICS: The Ted Cruz Campaign Will Win Or Lose By March 6
POLITICS: Nevada GOP Caucus Looks Like A Voter Fraud Bonanza
February 22, 2016
POLITICS: 'Amnesty' Is A Majority Position With Republican Primary Voters
POLITICS: South Carolina By The Numbers
February 20, 2016
POLITICS: Exit Polls From 2012, 2008 and 2000 Tell Us A Few Things About South Carolina
February 19, 2016
POLITICS: New South Carolina Polls Show A BIG Surprise
February 18, 2016
POLITICS: John Kasich's Brokered-Convention-Or-Bust Strategy
POLITICS: The Time For Expectations Management Is Ending
February 17, 2016
POLITICS: Is Jeb Bush Preparing Himself to Drop Out?
February 16, 2016
POLITICS: New South Carolina Poll From CNN: The Race For 2-3-4
POLITICS: A Nutty Plan To Confirm An Obama Nominee To Replace Scalia - After The Election
February 15, 2016
HISTORY/LAW/POLITICS: Closing The Book On The Silent Generation
Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:11 PM | History | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2016 | Writings Elsewhere
February 14, 2016
POLITICS: Can Any Republican Senators Afford To Go Wobbly On A Scalia Replacement? Guess Which Ones.
POLITICS: Which Obama Do Republicans Want to Nominate?
POLITICS/LAW: Scalia and South Carolina
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:31 PM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2016 | Poll Analysis | Writings Elsewhere
February 9, 2016
POLITICS: New Hampshire Primary 2016
February 8, 2016
POLITICS: Almost New Hampshire
February 6, 2016
POLITICS: New Hampshire Fight Night
POLITICS: Road to New Hampshire
February 3, 2016
POLITICS: Ulrich for Mayor?
February 2, 2016
POLITICS: Now With More National Review
As a reminder, you can follow me on Twitter @baseballcrank or bookmark these links to catch up on my latest work:
and now at National Review
Latest since my last post here:
Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:26 PM | Blog 2006-Present | History | Politics 2016 | Poll Analysis | Writings Elsewhere
January 29, 2016
POLITICS: Last Night's Debate Underlines Why Congress Is a Problem for the "Establishment" Republicans
POLITICS: Michael Reagan to Donald Trump: You're No Ronald Reagan
One of the hazards of trying to claim the mantle of a great man who is only fairly recently departed from the scene is that he still has family and friends around to set you straight. Donald Trump should remember that the next time he tries to insinuate that he’s anything like Ronald Reagan or has anything like Reagan’s approach to politics, leadership or conservatism. Don’t take my word for it; listen to Reagan’s son Michael.
The younger Reagan, himself a popular conservative author and talk radio personality, took to the pages of that venerable New Hampshire institution, the Manchester Union-Leader, on Tuesday to remind New Hampshire voters that The Donald is nothing like the man they set on the path to the Presidency with his primary victory in 1980:
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There’s much more where that came from, but his point about judging actions rather than just words is crucial, and why Republican primary voters – even those inclined towards younger candidates like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz – should look at the candidates’ records and not just listen to their rhetoric. When you do that, you see that far more than any experienced politician in the race, Trump is all talk, nothing but talk, having done nothing for any conservative cause or goal in his almost 70 years on this earth.
Ellen Carmichael sat down with Michael Reagan to talk further about the op-ed:
And the younger Reagan is deeply skeptical of those voices piping up for Trump, even the son of one of President Reagan’s old allies:
Of course, there’s always one way Trump could imitate Reagan. A week before the Iowa Caucuses, Reagan had a 9 point lead in the Iowa polls, and skipped the last debate before Iowa to move ahead to New Hampshire. He ended up losing Iowa to George H.W. Bush. Taking Iowa for granted was a lesson Reagan never forgot. Trump may yet need to be taught it.
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January 19, 2016
POLITICS: ARG Polls Love John Kasich When Nobody Else Does
There are many rules of thumb in evaluating polls, especially in the volatile context of a primary. We usually caution people to look at polling averages rather than individual polls for a variety of reasons, not least the fact that some pollsters may have biases (even if unintentional) or may consistently produce outliers. Sometimes, of course, one pollster that sees the world differently from everyone else is right, so being way off the averages probably means the pollster is wrong, but it doesn't always.
So it is right now with American Research Group (ARG) in the New Hampshire Republican race. The RCP poll average right now has Ohio Governor John Kasich second in New Hampshire, far behind Donald Trump at 31 but with 13.3% to 11.5 for Marco Rubio, 11.3 for Ted Cruz, and 8.3 each for Chris Christie and Jeb Bush.
But the polling averages are heavily influenced by the lastest poll from ARG, which has Trump 27, Kasich 20, and Rubio 10 with everyone else in single digits. If we look at the Huffpost Pollster average, we can see what the averages look like with different pollsters in and out of the average:
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The last three ARG polls had Kasich at 20, 14 and 15, while the majority of other polls the past several weeks had him in single digits. And since most of the other candidates do almost as well in ARG as elsewhere, what ARG is showing is Kasich drawing that extra support from...Donald Trump. And maybe that's right, given Trump's appeal to more liberal and moderate Republicans and independents, but it seems pretty implausible given their diametric styles - Kasich is the ultimate establishment Republican, a bleeding heart moderate who's been in office since the 1970s and likes to brag about running the House Budget Committee 20 years ago. ARG has a justifiably poor reputation as a pollster. FiveThirtyEight's pollster ratings, last updated before the 2014 elections, gave it a C+. Down the stretch run in 2012, it significantly overestimated Mitt Romney's performance in New Hampshire:
It also had Ovide Lamontagne up six in its last (early October) 2012 poll of the Governor's race, which he lost by 12 points - an 18 point miss.
Its final polls in 2014 had the Senate race tied (Shaheen won by 3) and Maggie Hassan up by 2 after leading by 15 and 10 in the two prior ARG polls (Hassan won by 5).
So, this may be the time when ARG is right, but the smart money wouldn't bet on it.
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January 17, 2016
POLITICS: Trumpian Motion
January 14, 2016
POLITICS: Rubio, Cruz, Trump
January 13, 2016
POLITICS: Marco Rubio Is Now Getting Attacked Unfairly For Killing Charlie Crist's Climate Scheme
In 2007, Florida’s newly-elected “Republican” Governor Charlie Crist announced, with much fanfare, a costly “cap and trade” plan to regulate carbon emissions by Florida electric power plants. In the Spring 2008 legislative session, Crist pushed the Florida legislature to adopt his mandates into law. During the months-long public debate on the plan, Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio called for free-market approaches to “clean energy” and decried European-style mandates. Instead of Crist’s plan, the legislature at Rubio’s insistence passed a bill (which Crist reluctantly signed) that instructed the state Department of Environmental Protection to develop a potential plan, which would then go back to the Legislature no sooner than 2010 to put it up for a vote before Crist (who was then projected to be up for re-election in 2010) could actually do anything. The delaying tactic worked: the mandates were never passed into law, Crist ultimately ran away from them while running for Senate in 2009, in large part due to Rubio’s (successful) primary campaign, and by 2013 the whole scheme had been repealed. None of these facts are reasonably in dispute – yet Crist in 2009 ran with a wholly disingenuous attack claiming that Rubio had supported cap-and-trade, and some of Rubio’s critics in this race are recycling that attack. Charlie Crist’s sloppy seconds should be no less nasty this time.
Let’s go blow-by-blow here to get the context.
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Orange Charlie’s Big Green Plan
In 2007-08, after winning election amidst the Democratic wave of 2006 and as an even bigger wave (in which Barack Obama would carry Florida in November 2008) was cresting, Crist was a popular new governor trying to pull Florida to the left on carbon emissions, and getting lots of fanfare for it:
Rubio Fires Back
In July 2007, Rubio took to the pages of the Miami Herald to push back, with his characteristic more-in-sorrow-than-anger tone, aimed at persuading voters who liked the sound of Crist’s ideas that the carbon emission mandate plan was a bad idea:
Rubio’s alternative plan wasn’t all pure free-market: he was also pushing “green energy” tax incentives, including for ethanol (the final bill included an ethanol mandate of the type that Rubio and a number of his primary opponents now want phased out at the federal level). But he was vocally against carbon-emission mandates from the very outset on grounds that they would be costly out of proportion to any possible effect.
Crist Riding High
The Tampa Bay Times, writing in 2009, noted that Crist seemed to have the upper hand as the 2008 legislative session started:
We’ll come back to that quote in a minute, but it was not isolated – Rubio at the time was convinced that the federal government was going to force down cap-and-trade on the states, and argued that there was money to be made in Florida meeting the demand for new technologies to comply with Washington’s mandates:
As it would turn out, the political momentum of cap-and-trade would be slowed down by the 2008 financial crisis and other events. But at the time, a rearguard action would be needed to buy time – a traditional method of blocking runaway political initiatives.
In January 2008, however, Crist was attracting national attention, and told a left-wing rag that he had been converted to the “climate change” cause by an adviser to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who he saw as a “role model” on the issue (Ah-nold remains a cautionary tale on the hazards of recruiting celebrity amateurs with vague principles to run for office as “Republicans”).
The Rubio Interview, March 2008
Rubio critics today are circulating this clipped video from eight years ago, which was anonymously added to YouTube last week, and which basically recycles a 2009-era Charlie Crist attack ad that claimed that Rubio was the one who supported cap-and-trade:
You can tell from the clip that Rubio is cut off in mid-sentence. Here’s the short video summary of what was left out:[VIDEO SINCE TAKEN DOWN]
Florida conservatives didn’t fall for that then, nor should conservatives further removed from that battle fall for it now. The clip is from a half-hour interview Rubio did on March 13, 2008 – you can watch the crucial four-minute segment from 22:50 to 25:15 here. Rubio started off by noting that the budget crisis in Florida (related to the economic downturn) would prevent funding any “clean technology” initiatives, and then moved on to the cap and trade bill. Here’s the crucial passage:
In the context of the legislative battle at the time, it’s crystal-clear that Rubio was not backing Crist’s plan for California-style mandates – he explicitly said that was the wrong way to go. Instead, he proposed letting the bureaucracy spin its wheels for a while coming up with a more specific proposal (inside the Beltway, this sort of thing is usually done by handing things off to a “bipartisan commission” or “blue-ribbon panel” – Rubio clearly knew that game eight years ago), thus preventing any mandate plan from passing into Florida law without a chance for the Legislature to live to fight it another day.
The environmental bill, House Bill 7135, was ultimately signed into law by Crist on June 25, 2008. Crist by this point was auditioning to be John McCain’s vice presidential nominee, and TIME Magazine noted that week that while “America’s tree-huggers virtually canonized Crist,” he was also making concessions on offshore oil drilling, and “on Wednesday Crist signed a bill (albeit weakened by the G.O.P.-led state legislature) to finally phase in auto and carbon emissions limits in Florida — including the first ‘cap and trade’ arrangement in the Southeast, whereby companies that exceed their air pollution caps can buy emissions credits from firms that keep pollutants below their caps.”
According to the State House legislative analysis at the time, the final bill’s effect included “[a]uthorizing the DEP to adopt rules for a Cap-and-Trade Regulatory Program to address GHG emissions from electric utilities, subject to legislative ratification and not prior to the 2010 Legislative Session.” In the absence of legislation, Crist was powerless to act, as his own DEP head admitted: “[a]n executive order would not have been able to implement a cap-and-trade system on its own. We needed the legislative authority.”
The Club for Growth “cited Crist’s support for cap-and-trade legislation when it…endorsed Rubio” in that race. Today, the Club’s generally favorable “white paper” on Rubio’s record on free-market and economic growth issues notes that Rubio “voted for legislation…that authorized - with legislative approval required for implementation - Florida's Department of Environmental Protection to pursue a system of cap-and-trade to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Talking to people involved in the process in November, the National Journal concluded that Rubio was right:
Politico, talking in October not only to Rubio allies but also to “Susan Glickman, an environmental advocate who lobbied for the 2008 bill,” reached the same conclusion:
The delays were effective, and the winds changed. As Politico observed, “[m]uch of the language in the 2008 energy bill has since been stripped from statute, in bills sponsored by Republicans who have expressed skepticism about climate change.” The Florida House repealed the provisions in 2012, and Governor Rick Scott signed the repeal in 2013, also repealing the ethanol mandate, which he viewed as “duplicative” of the federal mandate anyway.
Rubio Pushes Crist To The Right, For A While
The 2010 Rubio-Crist Senate primary, which began in earnest in early 2009, put an end to Crist’s cap-and-trade plans, and the need to compete with Rubio was universally recognized as the reason why:
Politico likewise credited Rubio’s Senate run for scrapping Crist’s plan, and concluded that “Rubio’s positioning on environmental issues has inarguably changed as he evolved from local Republican legislator to high-profile U.S. senator and, now, presidential candidate. But the shift has in many ways been more about political framing than substance.”
Marco Rubio has never supported a cap-and-trade mandate, and his actions in 2008 prevented Florida from adopting one. His willingness to play the system by appearing to acquiesce to a DEP study was sound legislative strategy of a kind that we often see – much like how the GOP Congress beat back Hillarycare in 1994.
There’s a certain irony here, because what Rubio did is in some ways similar to how Ted Cruz used amendments to ‘bear hug’ the Gang of Eight immigration bill. But there’s also a key difference. Rubio’s “poison pill” didn’t stop the legislation from passing – it changed its provisions in ways that were acceptable to him, because it left Crist without power to actually do anything without going back to the Legislature a second time. By contrast, had Cruz’s amendments been adopted into the Gang of Eight bill, there remained a risk that the bill would pass, despite Cruz’s later protests that he was actually opposed to his own amendments.
In either case, one of the lessons is that any elected official with a record is going to have to make choices in legislative battles that diverge from absolute ideological purity, even when pursuing goals that conservatives want, and that sometimes entails the risk that proposals to water down or slow down a bill might end up looking later on like an undue compromise, or even in some cases might be just a step on the way to a broader defeat. But this one is a win that Rubio delivered for conservatives, which was justified by subsequent events. It failed as a line of attack when it was coming from Charlie Crist, and it should fare no better now.
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January 12, 2016
POLITICS: The Case For Marco Rubio, Part I: Experience
The two main goals of the primary process - whether in a presidential or other race - are to choose the best candidate to do the job, and the candidate with the best chance of winning the job. Less than three weeks from the Iowa Caucus and less than a month from the New Hampshire Primary, we have reached a time for choosing. That choice involves a careful and serious weighing of those two objectives. Unlike in past years, the GOP's conservative and moderate wings are both still divided, although the options are narrowing. With my first choice (Bobby Jindal) out of the race, I believe the choice for conservatives comes down to Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz - and the best candidate remaining, on balance, is Rubio. Today, I will begin a series of posts explaining why, beginning with the question of Rubio's experience. Subsequent chapters will focus on Rubio’s salesmanship, his conservatism, and his "electability."
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The Rubio Temptation: The Gravitas Party Meets The Age Of The Shiny Object
Republican presidential primary voters face a temptation - indeed, three very different temptations, each of them a departure from the nominees (successful and unsuccessful) of the past several decades. By now, we all know the basic mold of a Republican presidential nominee in the 1952-2012 period: older, white, male, usually Protestant, generally with significant executive experience and/or a distinguished war record, often on his second try for the White House, often better known for foreign than domestic policy, rarely from the party’s liberal or conservative wings but closer to the party’s center, usually someone with strong ties to the West, Southwest or Midwest, almost always someone who has been a known quantity in national politics for a decade or two. But of the three contenders who seem most likely to still be factors in the nomination race after the first month’s voting - Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump – all break the mold in significant ways, and all tempt GOP voters to abandon old habits and accept known and uncharted risks. In terms of age, experience, and ethnic and ideological background, Rubio and Cruz depart from that mold in some very similar ways.
Let's face it: Republicans have traditionally been the sort of stodgy bunch who think that people should not get to be the boss until they have paid their dues, accomplished things, waited their turn, and proven themselves ready to run the show. This is in most cases a healthy impulse, and I have written before at length about the virtues of experience. If it has a downside in picking leaders, it’s that we have too often chosen nominees who have been left to ossify in the Senate for too long, like Bob Dole and John McCain, each four to five decades removed from their time as vigorous young war heroes, and a quarter century removed from when they were actually considered to be among the more conservative members of the GOP caucus. Its downside in picking candidates, however, has been on graphic display in 1992, 1996, 2008 and 2012, as younger, more glamorous Democratic nominees seduced young voters who place a large premium on the virtues of youth.
The Republican habit of picking the next in line after years of experience is actually a comparatively recent development specific to the Cold War. Until 1952, the GOP had never selected a Presidential nominee as old as 60 - in fact, the party had picked four straight nominees under age 50 (all of whom lost), and had previously won three elections (in 1868, 1880 and 1904) with candidates between the ages of 46 and 48:
As you can see, a lot of this shift derived from the timing of wars. Between 1868, when Republicans ran U.S. Grant (who was 43 when he accepted the surrender of Robert E. Lee) and 1896 and 1900, when the GOP ran William McKinley (who was 17 when he enlisted), Republican nominations were dominated by younger men who had fought in the Civil War. (In an all-male electorate, the Republican Party of that age was composed disproportionately of Union Army veterans). Then, between Ike in 1952 and George H.W. Bush in 1992, GOP nominees were dominated by older men who had fought, led or served in World War II. 10 of 16 Republican nominees between 1952 and 2012 have been age 60 or older.
While Republicans have not won the White House with a non-incumbent nominee under age 50 since James Garfield in 1880, the Democrats have gone in the opposite direction, and have not won the White House with a non-incumbent nominee over age 60 since James Buchanan in 1856 (this year their two choices will be 69 and 75 on Election Day). Their infatuation with the Next New Thing traces back to 36-year-old former one-term Congressman William Jennings Bryan, who won the Democratic nomination in 1896 and again in 1900 and 1908, and it blossomed into a full-blown crush with John F. Kennedy in 1960, Gary Hart in 1984 (who nearly tied Walter Mondale in the primary popular vote), the Bill Clinton/Al Gore ticket in 1992, John Edwards on the national ticket in 2004, and Barack Obama in 2008.
The Republican strategy of choosing mature, tested leaders paid off for a long time, especially during the Cold War. Democrats won a popular-vote majority just twice between 1948 and 2004 (in 1964 after the JFK assassination and in 1976 after Watergate), compared to seven times for the GOP. Starting in 1994, Republicans also cracked through the old gerrymanders and hereditary party loyalties to take control of the House and a growing number of state governments, and it has frequently out-performed the results that were projected by polls and media doomsayers. The party by the George W. Bush years had thus grown accustomed to thinking of itself as the natural, if quiet, majority.
With this backdrop, 2008 and 2012 hit victory-minded Republicans especially hard. To see a majority won in 2008 by the most lightly-qualified presidential candidate of modern times, and then repeated in 2012 after the least impressive first term since Jimmy Carter and the most partisan first term since FDR, was profoundly alarming and depressing for many Republicans. The obvious inference that Obama was given a pass on his unprecedentedly weak resume on account of the color of his skin only makes the whole phenomenon more irksome. Republicans in the Obama era have made it something of a point of pride that we don’t do this sort of thing.
But at some point, you have to face up to the possibility that you are losing because you keep doing the same thing that used to work, instead of trying the thing that the other side is using to beat you. And that’s the Rubio temptation, the hope of re-creating the lighting in a bottle that Democrats found with Obama in 2008, Clinton in 1992, and JFK in 1960: youth, glamor, eloquence, cool. Republicans haven’t had a candidate with Rubio’s kind of charisma since Reagan (and before Reagan, hadn’t had one since Teddy Roosevelt, well before the age of radio, let alone TV or the Web), and Reagan was an old man who oozed maturity - his cool was not hipness but the retro cool of a guy old enough to have starred in black and white films.
Rubio, of course, is not the only major candidate in this race who breaks this mold. Ted Cruz is also an unusually young and inexperienced candidate - at 45, Cruz is just six months older than Rubio, and also a first-term Senator, elected two years after Rubio. And Trump, the third major candidate in the race, may be old (he'll turn 70 a week after the end of the primaries) but has never held public office at all (Wendell Willkie is the only prior Republican nominee who'd never been an elected official, a military officer or a Cabinet Secretary). After eight years of criticizing Obama for taking a job he was unprepared for, should Republicans be picking a candidate as green as Obama?
Mister Speaker Rubio
The experience question seems particularly to dog Rubio, in good part because of his youthful appearance (many voters seem unaware that he and Cruz are the same age). Erick Erickson's focus group of 35 undecideds in December delivered this message:
The most interesting part of the night came in a consideration of Rubio vs. Cruz. I asked all 35 to identify a word that they associated with both men. With Rubio, the most common word was “inexperienced.” With Cruz, the word was a variation of “accomplished.”
Or consider a recent YouGov national poll, which asked whether the candidates are ready to be Commander-in-Chief. Less than half (47%) thought Hillary Clinton ready for the job, and none of the other six candidates topped Jeb Bush's 34%, but of the five Republican candidates tested, Cruz scored highest among Republican primary voters at 64%, compared to Rubio at 52%. While the voters have tossed the most accomplished Governors from the field (Jindal, Rick Perry, Scott Walker), the three Governors remaining on the main stage (Jeb, Christie and Kasich), who are competing with Rubio in New Hampshire, have been hitting him hard on their advantage in executive experience.
The irony here is that Rubio actually has a quantitative and qualitative edge in experience in politics over Cruz, as well as over President Obama in 2008. And if he is going to convince the voters that he is really ready to lead this country, Rubio needs to talk more about his tenure as Speaker of the Florida House. As I'll explain in more detail in a subsequent installment, that would serve an additional purpose, because his Florida tenure not only showcases Rubio as a leader who has actually accomplished things, but illustrates as well his willingness as a conservative to pick fights with the moderate leadership of his own party.
There are a few reasons why Rubio may be hesitant to focus on his years as a state legislator. First, being a U.S. Senator is obviously a more prestigious role - there are only 100 Senators and they grapple with national issues, whereas there are over a thousand state legislators and many of them represent tiny districts and deal mainly with local issues. Second, in a season when voters are angry at the political class, Rubio may not want to highlight the fact that he is by any definition a career politician, having been first elected to office in his twenties when he was still living with his parents. And third, seven years of Rubio's nine-year tenure in the Florida House overlapped with the Governorship of Jeb Bush, and Rubio may be hesitant to tout legislative accomplishments that are easily described as Jeb Bush's accomplishments.
But by the end of 2016, Rubio will have spent 16 years in elected office, four times the experience of Cruz in elective politics, twice that of Hillary Clinton, and more than any candidate left in the Republican field besides Kasich. (Rubio won two elections before Hillary first ran for office). Unlike candidates who have spent most of their careers inside the Beltway, Rubio started at the very lowest rung of elective politics as a member of the 5-person City Commission that governed the 6,000-person predominantly Cuban hamlet of West Miami, and worked his way up in the State House in Tallahassee.
In the absence of executive experience - and Obama's election called into question whether the voters value that as much as they used to, or as much as I'd like - the next-best kind of experience for the Presidency is political leadership experience. Republican presidents in the past who lacked the experience of leading a political coalition (e.g., as a Governor) generally fared poorly, the most extreme example being the rapid dissolution of the party under William Howard Taft, who came to the White House from experience in the legal system (as a judge and Solicitor General), in colonial administration (as Governor-General of the Philippines) and as Secretary of War. Barack Obama had no such experience - he'd served as a backbencher in the minority all but his last two years as State Senator (and spent most of those running for Senate), in his first two years as Senator (after which he was gone running for President), and had never been elected to any leadership position by his colleagues. And it showed: Obama has gotten a lot done by executive fiat, but his relationships with even his own party's Congressional leadership have been frosty, and he never did learn how to relate to people in the other party, resulting in his failure to get much besides Obamacare and Dodd-Frank through Congress and five years of governing by crisis. Cruz, who has spent most of his Senate tenure staging filibusters, shutdown fights and other episodes of brinksmanship, has proven his willingness and ability to say no, a very valuable trait for a conservative in DC. But can he actually get people in his own caucus to follow him? That's an open question.
For Rubio, it is not. Like Henry Clay or Dick Cheney in the House of Representatives, Rubio in the Florida House was identified immediately as leadership material, and appointed within a year to one of two majority whip jobs in the GOP caucus before he turned 30. Two years later, in 2002, he was named House Majority Leader, and for the last two years of his tenure (2006-08), he was Speaker of the House. While his ascent up the leadership ladder was accelerated by term limits that cleared out more senior members, that's still a remarkable record of winning the confidence and support of his own caucus. As a long and not especially sympathetic profile by Michael Mishak in the National Journal notes, Rubio won that confidence in large part by handling redistricting after the 2000 Census at the behest of the then-Speaker:
In his second year in the Legislature, he volunteered to help a committee tasked with the once-in-a-decade ritual of redrawing voting district boundaries. It’s a tedious task, one that involves managing the grievances of dozens of lawmakers whose political careers could end with the shifting of lines. Johnnie Byrd, a Republican leader on his way to becoming speaker, thought Rubio would be perfect for the job. “He has this real ability to communicate with people all over the state,” Byrd says. “Many Miami-based legislators don’t have that ability to communicate statewide, so I let him run with it.”
I highly recommend anyone interested in how Rubio would lead, or what he is made of, read two further writeups on his Florida House tenure - one from Perry Bacon at NBC News, the other by Jim Geraghty at National Review.
Rubio's approach throughout his years in Tallahassee was constructed around team-building and getting buy-in from his caucus. As Majority Leader, he focused on message (communicating is what Rubio does best), and as Speaker, Rubio's election to the job in 2005 (a year ahead of taking it) set the tone, which he would follow up by devolving more power to committee chairs:
He was the first Cuban-American to win the job, and the Voice of America beamed his speech to countries around the globe, including Cuba. Nearly 200 people flew from Rubio’s hometown to Tallahassee to attend the ceremony, which took place in the state House chambers. They wore laminated floor passes inscribed with a quote from Ronald Reagan: “There’s no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”
Rubio fought tooth and nail with then-Governor Charlie Crist on an array of issues (I'll return to some of those another day), and at the end of the day he cut some deals with Crist to move the ball in a conservative direction (e.g., on property tax relief) while leaving Crist stymied on efforts to move the chains the other way:
In his second session, Rubio played hardball with Crist. Climate change was one of Crist’s signature issues, and he wanted the Legislature to pass a bill that would lay the groundwork for a California-style cap-and-trade system to cut carbon emissions. Rubio and House conservatives opposed the idea, but public sentiment was with Crist. The House ultimately passed the bill, but Rubio’s team inserted a poison pill that prevented the plan from going into effect. “I fully credit him with the gutting of the bill,” Gelber says.
Rubio - like Cruz - also spent a few years in private law practice and did some teaching on the side, but neither ever seems to have viewed those roles as more than a stepping-stone to bigger things in politics.
The Cruz Road
Cruz has taken a different path to the Senate, one with its own virtues, but also with fewer opportunities to lead. Marked as a star coming out of Princeton and Harvard Law School, he started off on the traditional path of the elite of the DC bar - clerkships on the Fourth Circuit in Richmond and for Chief Justice Rehnquist, a job at a DC law firm (where he represented John Boehner during Boehner's successful lawsuit against Jim McDermott for intercepting a phone call) - before joining the George W. Bush campaign in 1999. Cruz started off at the Ashcroft Justice Department, working on the transition team and as Associate Deputy Attorney General working with the Office of Policy Development and the Office of Legal Counsel, but he left that job after six months to run the Office of Policy Planning in the Federal Trade Commission from 2001-03, working on early internet-regulation issues as well as a variety of ambitious initiatives to break down legal barriers to competition. Again, Jim Geraghty has a fair and detailed look at Cruz's FTC years, noting that he "earned a reputation as a passionate boss intent on tracking the success of the office’s efforts in granular detail," in some contrast to Rubio's more hands-off, delegation-driven management style. Like Rubio, Cruz had mixed success in his early years, and was more successful at stopping bad policies than promoting good ones. It is useful that he would come to the Presidency having seen the DC bureaucracy and its obstacle course from the inside, but at the same time, his policy-director jobs were never really high enough on the pyramid to really move any sort of ambitious agenda.
After seven years in DC, Cruz left to go home to Texas in 2003, where he would spend five years as the state's Solicitor General (he was appointed by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, now the Governor), arguing cases in the state and federal Supreme Courts. Michael Kruse at Politico had a long profile of Cruz's SG years, including his eight Supreme Court arguments and his role in dozens of amicus briefs in cases like Heller v. DC, the landmark Second Amendment case. Cruz managed a staff of a dozen lawyers, not much more in the way of executive experience than being a legislative committee chair; what distinguished him was his role as a forceful and brilliant advocate and his ambitious expansion of the office's filing of amicus briefs. That testifies to Cruz's talent and principles (neither of which can fairly be disputed), but it also means that most of his pre-Senate career was in the rarified air of the appellate courts and federal policy-setting offices, while Rubio was in Tallahassee and Miami building political bridges and wrangling the support of legislators. Cruz is plainly the better choice of the two for a Supreme Court seat, and in the long run his "bad cop" role in the Senate is valuable simply for ensuring there will always be someone to demand a better deal. But Presidents don't just debate and demand; they lead. Rubio's experience prepares him better to do that.
Admittedly, Rubio - like Cruz, Hillary, and Obama - lacks a particularly accomplished record in the U.S. Senate. Partly that's due to not being there very long, but even moreso it's due to the fact that the Senate has been completely dysfunctional for most of the past decade, so really nobody has gotten much done there. This is a major reason why Rubio decided to leave to run for President.
It should be noted here that Rubio is entering his sixth year in the Senate, while Cruz is in his fourth - just as Obama was in his fourth. That's not an enormous difference, but the reality is that Rubio and Cruz have been mostly focused on running for President in 2015-16, just as Obama and Hillary were in 2007-08, and in turn that means that the real time that Rubio has been a full-time Senator is four years to Cruz's and Obama's two. That's particularly important in foreign affairs, where Rubio has had more time to develop his expertise and fluency on the issue (unlike, say, Obama, who didn't even show up to run his own subcommittee because he was only appointed to run it the year before the presidential election).
Rubio has focused heavily on foreign policy and national security in the Senate (much as Cruz has). In addition to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (both Rubio and Cruz are on the committee and chair subcommitees), Rubio has served on the Foreign Relations and Select Intelligence Committees (plus Small Business), and chaired the awkwardly-named Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security,Democracy, Human Rights, And Global Women’s Issues (which among other things has jurisdiction over U.S. Cuba policy), while Cruz has served on Armed Services, as well as Rules and Joint Economic and chairing a subcommittee on Judiciary. Both have traveled abroad and been actively engaged in debates on surveillance, Syria and Iran as well as (in Rubio's case, since it precedes Cruz's Senate tenure, Libya). The value of Rubio's Select Intelligence Committee service is that it has given him more regular inside access to classified intelligence, something Presidents have to consume regularly.
Rubio's major effort to build a bipartisan legislative coalition in DC was, of course, the Gang of Eight immigration bill in early 2013, a poorly-conceived last effort to find middle ground on immigration reform that fell apart for a variety of reasons, not least that Rubio delegated too much of the drafting of a massive bill to untrustworthy Democrats like Chuck Schumer. But his major policy win in the Senate is also worth recalling: the repeal of "risk corrdior" bailouts for insurers in Obamacare.
The risk corrdior bailout presents a real contrast in styles with Cruz, who has fought furiously (even to the point of pushing a government shutdown) for total war against Obamacare, to great (if debatable) political effect, but none in practice. Rubio, by contrast, took on a more manageable target and focused on messaging - he announced and introduced a bill in late 2013 attacking the bailout program, and his early efforts were critical:
As Forbes' Avik Roy, a longtime leading critic of Obamacare (and now a Rubio adviser) explains:
Staffers at the Senate Budget Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee had been sniffing around Obamacare’s risk corridors in the spring and summer of 2013. But Sen. Rubio was the first to publicly raise concerns about the issue. In a November 2013 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Rubio wrote, “While risk corridors can protect taxpayers when they are budget-neutral, ObamaCare’s risk corridors are designed in such an open-ended manner that the president’s action now exposes taxpayers to a bailout of the health-insurance industry if and when the law fails.” Simultaneously, Rubio announced that he was introducing a bill, “The Obamacare Bailout Prevention Act,” to repeal Obamacare’s risk corridors.
(There's a lot more links and sources in Roy's column). Typically, Rubio did not end up doing the dirty work of actually writing his bill into the 2014 "cromnibus" spending bill, and both Rubio and Cruz voted against the cromnibus (both on cloture and the bill itself). Nonetheless, he succeeded in making an issue of the risk corridor bailouts and persuading his colleagues to follow his lead. And that has had real effects in practice, as The Hill reported in November:
Sen. Marco Rubio may have dealt the biggest blow in the GOP’s five-year war against ObamaCare.
Given his lack of executive experience and relatively short tenure in DC, Rubio is not my ideal candidate, nor the traditional ideal of GOP presidential nominees. But he would come to the presidency with a decade and a half of experience in elected office, and years of practice as a political leader and spokesman, not just a lone voice on the periphery. Leadership matters, and we don't have to guess if Rubio can do it; we know, because he has.
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January 10, 2016
POLITICS: How A Donald Trump Nomination Would Make The GOP Consultant Class Very Rich
While Donald Trump won't be the GOP nominee, reclaiming the party from Trump still requires that we contemplate what a Trump nomination and even possibly a Trump presidency would look like. The picture isn't a pretty one. One of the underappreciated aspects is how any electoral success by Trump in the primaries and potentially the general election could spawn a bonanza for the GOP's much-despised consultant class, at the expense of the party's ability to field principled and/or successful statewide and national candidates.
The reason for this is fairly straightforward: Trump is the avatar of the clueless-rich-guy style of candidate that is the absolute favorite target of consultants. Oh, the consultants working for other candidates right now would be, momentarily, upset if Trump won the nomination; they're hired guns, but they do like to win. And consultants for Senate and House Republicans would be dismayed for a while by how a Trump nomination would cost the GOP Senate and House seats and make Chuck Schumer the Senate Majority Leader. But there's always another campaign season.
Back when Mitt Romney was running a similar effort to win the nomination, I warned that a Romney victory would spawn imitators:
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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.
Patrick Ruffini, who knows this space well, has elaborated on this dynamic:
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.
Even moreso than Romney, this describes Trump to a T - a candidate who has never lifted a finger to help conservatives or Republicans, who has donated copiously to leading Democrats like Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer and the Clintons throughout the Obama years, who has until very, very recently (at age 69) been pro-choice and a supporter of gun control and big government, who even in this campaign has proposed massive tax hikes and spoken warmly of single-payer healthcare - but who has abruptly decided that his stance on immigration (itself a brand-new change from his past positions) qualifies him to be a Republican presidential contender.
If Trump were to win the nomination, consultants all across this land would get the message that the next rich guy, and the next, could be persuaded to run for Senator and Governor and President, not only with no political experience but without the need for any record of standing up for anything conservatives or Republicans believe in or wish to accomplish. It's not easy to sell political amateurs with no record of conservatism that they can be the next Marco Rubio or the next Ted Cruz - that requires working your way up the ladder, proving your principles in action, showing real political talent, beating entrenched moderates, winning elections. But "the next Donald Trump"? All you need is money and "attitude." No need to have been any sort of friend to conservatives more than a day before you announce. We'll scripts some outrageous remarks, lay out some cash, get people to vouch for you...the consultants will have a field day.
This would be the real Trump legacy.
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January 4, 2016
POLITICS: End of 2015
My last two essays of 2015 were just before Christmas:
On to 2016.
December 16, 2015
POLITICS: Fifth Debate Analysis and Boyd Strategy Essay
My longest deep dive of the year, from the theories of John Boyd: Military Strategist Explains Why Donald Trump Leads - And How He Will Fail
In the LA Times: To understand Donald Trump, look to Europe
Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:55 AM | History | In Print | Politics 2015 | Politics 2016 | Writings Elsewhere
December 10, 2015
POLITICS/LAW: Up With Scalia, Down With Kasich
December 9, 2015
POLITICS: Latest Essays Through Dec 8, 2015
November 26, 2015
POLITICS: Happy Thanksgiving, 2015!
November 23, 2015
POLITICS: Nutty Uncle Bernie
November 20, 2015
POLITICS: Democrats Start To Show Early Signs of Panic About 2016
Fear and Loathing in Hillaryland
To all outward appearances, Democrats and liberal-progressive pundits are confident to the point of arrogant, gloating certainty about the 2016 presidential election. In part this is “victory disease” – they were sure they would win in 2008 and 2012, they were right, so they are convinced it shall always be so. In part it’s a defense mechanism – they got shellacked in 2010 and 2014, and the best way to convince yourself that these losses were illegitimate as a repudiation of their party and its message is to argue that lower-turnout off-year elections don’t represent the real American people who turn out for general elections, who are presumed to give Democrats an unstoppable demographic advantage in all future elections. In part it’s a matter of having settled on a famous and “historic” (first woman) nominee while Republicans are still going about the messy business of sifting through the 14 remaining GOP candidates. And in part it’s calculated strategy, given how much of modern campaigning in general and the strategy of the stilted, sclerotic Hillary campaign in particular will depend on simply bluffing the voters into believing that she’s already an inevitable lock to win. But behind the facade of braggadocio, there are signs that Democrats are starting to worry that their 2016 strategy and prospects may not be as foolproof as advertised.
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This is not merely an academic theory; what you believe to be necessary to constitute a popular majority has enormous consequences for every aspect of politics and campaigns, from the policies you champion to the messages you campaign on to the places you send your candidates and the ways you raise money, and even to the people you choose to put on your national ticket. The theory might be proven correct in 2016; but it is also possible that the 2008 and 2012 electorates were a feature of the candidates in those races (matching the first-ever black presidential candidate against two uninspiring moderate Republicans with specific political vulnerabilities) and the conditions of those elections (including a financial crisis and Iraq War fatigue in 2008 and a lavishly funded incumbent in 2012). Yet, everything we have seen of the Democrats’ public behavior and statements thus far this cycle suggests that they are all-in on the assumption that driving up progressive voter turnout at the left-end margins, rather than appealing to swing voters in the ideological center, is all the Democrats need do to prevail (see, just for one example out of the pander-a-thon in the Democratic debates, Hillary’s approach to immigration).
In fact, the party recently produced an “autopsy” of their rout in 2014, which included the diagnosis that Democrats have no coherent message, yet recommended no alteration of their stances but rather a project to develop “narratives”:
The only actual concrete recommendation in the document was a discussion of filing lawsuits to defang laws against voter fraud.
The Static Electorate Fallacy
I have criticized the Democrats since 2012 as falling into the Static Electorate Fallacy: the assumption that the 2012 results are the demographic and geographic starting point, which presents a high barrier to Republicans’ ability to maneuver within a narrow band to eke out the additional votes they need. The static, between-the-48-yard-lines map that most Democratic-leaning analyses describe is an accurate picture of the 2012 election, when President Obama was running for re-election; the 2004 election, when President Bush was running for re-election; and the 1996 election, when President Clinton was running for re-election. But it is a terribly inaccurate description of the 2008 election, when the voters faced two new candidates after 8 years of President Bush, and the 2000 election, when the voters faced two new candidates after 8 years of President Clinton. That’s not a coincidence. As I’ve explained at length before over at The Federalist, in thirteen straight elections since 1816 in which the re-election of an incumbent was followed by an election with no incumbent on the ballot, the popular vote shifted significantly away from the party in power every single time, in all but one case (the election of 1868) by a margin wide enough to hand the GOP the election in 2016. Without rehashing that whole history, one reason for this is that voter turnout tends to grow almost three times as fast from the prior election when there’s no incumbent on the ballot. To pick a recent example from the Republican Party’s last successful candidate, Bob Dole got 39 million votes in 1996: George W. Bush got 50 million in 2000, and 62 million in 2004. Dole carried 19 states; Bush, four years later, carried 30. Obama, likewise, carried nine states John Kerry had lost, including Virginia (where Bush had carried 54.1% of the two-party vote and Democrats hadn’t won since 1964), North Carolina (Bush took 56.2% of the two-party vote) and Indiana (Bush took 60.4% of the two-party vote). Maybe changing demographics mean that history has no relevance anymore, but it seems risky to assume that the pattern of dramatic changes of just 8 or 16 years ago, continuing an unbroken trend that dates back to the demise of the Federalist Party, is no longer relevant.
Warning Sign Number One: The Greenberg Poll
The first major warning sign that a static 2012 electorate – or one inevitably progressing in the Democrats’ direction – may not materialize in 2016 is a recent battleground-state poll by longtime Clinton pollster Stan Greenberg and his firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, as explained by the Washington Post’s progressive activist Greg Sargent:
You might think such a poll result counsels caution in ignoring the middle; Salena Zito argues that it shows Hillary’s reliance on the gender card isn’t going to provide a silver bullet. But Greenberg, despite his decades-long role in the Clintons’ vaunted triangulation and 80/20 wedge-issue machine, is using the poll to argue that Hillary needs to go full-bore progressive, not to beat Bernie Sanders but for the general election:
Few other polls have directly measured enthusiasm; other polls seem to be at least assuming it, and though it’s an open question whether these are poll findings or simply assumptions, Democrats assume at their peril that the polls are all just skewed to ignore shifts in the electorate, as the losers argued in both 2012 and 2004. The latest Quinnipiac Colorado poll, for example, shows Hillary losing by double digits to every major Republican candidate – she trails Sen. Marco Rubio by ten points and Ben Carson by five among women. The Marquette Law poll, the gold-standard poll in Wisconsin (which simultaneously shows a grim prognosis for Ron Johnson in his re-election bid against Russ Feingold) shows Rubio leading Hillary 45-44 in Wisconsin after trailing her 48-40 in September. A national NBC poll shows the electorate D+1 (29% Republican, 30% Democrat) with independents leaning 30-22 in favor of the GOP, all significant shifts in the Republican direction since the spring of 2015. And of course, the RCP poll average shows a very longstanding trend of Americans disapproving of Obama’s job performance…
…and an even longer-standing trend of them believing by large margins that the country is on the wrong track:
None of this is in any way conclusive – it’s a year from the election, and Republicans haven’t picked a nominee yet and still might choose a weak one. But these are all early warning signs that the traditional dynamics that lead to rising voter enthusiasm in favor of the party out of power, and the decline of the party in power, may well be in play in 2016 as they have been without fail since 1816. If so, Democrats are right to be alarmed. Whether they are right to react by lurching even further left than Obama remains to be seen.
Warning Sign Number Two: Debate Ratings
Polling isn’t the only sign of a 2016 enthusiasm gap that has Democrats’ worries breaking through their usually united front to air their concerns in public. There’s also the fact that a whole lot more people are watching the Republican contenders debate, as this graph (which is accurate despite coming from Vox) shows:
The ratings for the first two main GOP debates swamped all prior records for primary debate audiences, and even the debates on hard-to-find networks like CNBC and Fox Business News (even I don’t have FBN on my cable package) and up against the World Series have outstripped the Democrats’ debate ratings. Heck, even the first Republican undercard debate drew 6 million viewers to watch Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, Lindsey Graham, and George Pataki. Hiding the Democrats’ debates against college football hasn’t helped, and some Democrats are complaining:
Newell argues that, however well-designed to shield Hillary (and Sanders’ off-message criticisms of Obama’s economic record) from public view, the low-rated debates are doing Democrats no favors:
Warning Sign Number Three: Small-Donor Fundraising
Early in the process, one important sign of voter engagement is small-dollar donations – people may not be focused on the election when they answer polls, but opening their wallets means they really feel strongly. You may have heard that both Hillary and Bernie Sanders have raised more money than Ben Carson, and vastly more money than any other Republican candidate. What you may not realize is that the 2016 cycle has seen a vast increase in Republican small-dollar fundraising, and only the huge and unwieldy size of the primary field compared to the essentially bi-polar Democratic field – and the fact that so much attention has focused on Donald Trump, who is mostly self-funding – masks the fact that this is going on.
Warning Sign Number Four: The Splintering Coalition
The final sign is that Democrats are scrambling to keep the various fractious elements of their coalition in the same tent. An example from today: President Obama and many progressives are mocking opponents of Syrian refugee resettlement as bigots, yet such opponents include not only the Mayor of Roanoke, Virginia – who penned a letter favorably citing FDR’s internment of Japanese nationals, and who sits uncomfortably on Hillary’s Virginia leadership team – but also a number of Democratic Congressmen representing majority Hispanic districts – who voted for today’s House GOP bill – and Hillary donor and Univision president Haim Saban, who called for more scrutiny of Muslim immigrants. Yet Democrats are banking so heavily on their theory of how to appeal to Hispanic voters that their presumptive Vice Presidential candidate, former ceremonial San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, is apparently attempting to learn to speak Spanish, and Obama’s Administration is even going along with an ACLU lawsuit to allow deported immigrants with mental illnesses to re-enter the country.
On the black-voter front, Democrats are in enough of a panic about the “Black Lives Matter” movement that leading Democratic Party bundlers are meeting to discuss bankrolling the movement, which might look at first like a statement of dissent from the party but feels more like an effort to co-opt a group that has staged inconvenient protests of the Democratic contenders, in the hopes of channeling its energies into partisan turnout:
On the white-progressive front, Bernie Sanders’ campaign is not a real threat to Hillary’s odds of winning the nomination, for any number of obvious reasons; Sanders may win New Hampshire and Vermont and maybe another state or two with a heavily white caucus electorate, but he’s mostly going to end up much closer to Bill Bradley’s 2000 showing than Gary Hart in 1984, let alone Barack Obama in 2008. But Sanders can still do damage if he gives voice to a “there’s no important difference between the parties” sentiment among economic and foreign policy progressives, which shows up in depressed turnout next November or a Naderite third-party vote. This Salon column is a good sample of that sentiment:
That sort of purist thinking is electoral disaster for Democrats, and the longer Sanders goes and the more money he raises, the greater its threat may become. And the fact that Hillary is likely to win the primaries easily doesn’t lessen the threat – Gore lost, as did other candidates who cruised through the primaries without facing real jeopardy of losing:
Election Day is almost a year away and the GOP is far from settling on a nominee, so a lot can happen. But the early warning signs are all there: we could be coming up on an election where the Republican nominee does a lot more to excite turnout than Hillary Clinton does. If we nominate a candidate who also offers more to the independent and centrist swing voters Democrats are racing to abandon, Democrats could really have an unhappy November ahead of them in 2016.
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November 16, 2015
POLITICS: Jindal for President
November 4, 2015
BLOG/POLITICS: My Latest, 10/6/15-11/3/15
October 27, 2015
POLITICS/HISTORY: How and Why Ronald Reagan Won
Fifty-one years ago today in Los Angeles, a 53-year-old political amateur, Ronald Reagan, gave a half-hour nationally-televised speech, "A Time For Choosing," on behalf of Barry Goldwater's campaign in the following week's presidential election. 16 years later, Reagan would win 44 states and an almost double-digit popular vote margin of victory, kicking off the most successful and conservative Republican presidency in U.S. history, leading to a 49-state landslide in 1984 and the election of his Vice President for a "third Reagan term" in 1988, the only time in the past 70 years that a party has held the White House for three consecutive terms.
Given the extent to which Reagan's legacy still dominates internal debates within the GOP and the conservative movement, it's worth asking ourselves: What did he accomplish? How did he do it? And what can we learn from him today?
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1. Reagan Moved The Country To The Right
From an ideological/political conservative perspective, the most important measurement of Reagan's success is that he moved the country further Right than he found it. This is an important factor to bear in mind when Reagan's legacy is misused both by those seeking unerring ideological purity and by those trying to capitalize on some of the ways in which Reagan took positions that would now be considered unacceptably moderate, liberal or compromising in today's GOP. Reagan was a creature of his time and - to use Gandalf's great line from the Lord of the Rings - "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." And so Reagan was, on the one hand, more interested in getting results than in demonstrating his 100% adherence to principle: he was fond of saying that "if you agree with me 80 percent of the time, you're an 80 percent friend and not a 20 percent enemy" and "if I can get 70 or 80 percent of what it is I'm trying to get ... I'll take that and then continue to try to get the rest in the future." On the other hand, if you told Reagan that the party had moved further to the right on some issues since 1988, he would undoubtedly be greatly pleased by the news. He himself moved to the right over time - from a New Deal Democrat in the 1940s, from the bill he signed early in his tenure as California Governor partly liberalizing the state's abortion laws before Roe v Wade. And on other issues, as noted below, Reagan himself either left a lot of work unfinished (as on domestic discretionary spending) or made compromises (as on entitlements) as a concession to the political realities of his day.
Reagan unquestionably (though not alone) shifted the nation further to the right than he found it, in some ways temporarily and in other more lasting ways. Victory in the Cold War was the obvious headline - as late as 1979, there were voices throughout the West arguing that we could never defeat the Soviets and that Communism represented a viable alternative model to the American system, whereas today even an open socialist like Bernie Sanders cites the increasingly more free-market Scandanavian model. Reagan revolutionized the politics of taxes - in 1980, the top federal income tax rate was 70%, and married couples making $30,000 a year paid a top rate of 37%; at $35,000 they hit the 43% bracket. Taxpayers over $200,000 in income paid, on average, a total effective tax rate over 40%. These would be unthinkable tax rates today, when we argue over top marginal rates in the 35-39.6% band. Other long-term policy wins that shifted the conversation included ending the Fairness Doctrine, nominating the first explicit originalist to the Supreme Court (Antonin Scalia), breaking the air-traffic controllers union, finishing the (started under Carter) project of airline and trucking deregulation, and starting the free-trade processes that would yield dividends into the 1990s (he promised a NAFTA-like agreement in his 1979 speech announcing his candidacy). And Reagan's victories laid the groundwork for the welfare reforms of Newt Gingrich (presaged in some of Reagan's own policies as California Governor) and the law-enforcement revolution spearheaded by his U.S. Attorney in New York, Rudy Giuliani.
Or look at the electorate. We talk today about a general electorate dominated by Democrats, because the exit polls showed a D+7 electorate in 2008, D+6 in 2012 (that is, for example, 38% Democrats and 32% Republicans in 2012), and how this gave Barack Obama an unbeatable edge. But the electorate in 1976 and 1980 was D+15, with only 22% of voters in 1976 identifying themselves as Republicans. Yes, many more of the Democrats in those days were fairly conservative-leaning, not just in the South but in the Midwest, but these were still not people you could walk up to and say "I'm a conservative Republican" and have their vote (a March 1979 poll had Reagan trailing Carter 52-38). Even the South had gone heavily Democrat in 1976, with Carter carrying all but one state (Virginia) below the Mason-Dixon Line. Reagan in 1980 carried 27% of Democrats to Carter's 67, and 56% of independents to Carter's 31. And Reagan's success changed the electorate's view of his party - the electorate was D+3 by 1984, D+2 by 1988.
2. Reagan Delivered Tangible Results
Closely related to Reagan's political and ideological success was that he did not just win inside-the-Beltway fights: he delivered real-world changes that voters could judge with their own eyes, which they did not need pundits to interpret for them. Inflation, which had been a dominant issue in the Ford and Carter years and which hit voters directly in the pocketbook, was decisively defeated by Reagan and Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker; it has never returned as a major issue. The gas lines of the 70s went away. Tax relief, including not just lower rates but an end to "bracket creep" (inflation pushing people into higher tax rates while their standard of living declined) was something people could see in their take-home pay. Unemployment, while stubborn, was in decline for years, the stock market boom roared, interest rates went down, and the economic growth rates from 1983-86 were out of this world. 15.1% of all U.S. workers made the minimum wage in 1980; by the mid-2000s, that number was down around 2%. The same dynamic was visible in foreign policy: problems that had been described as intractable under Carter suddenly started to give way, with an age of Soviet expansion and U.S. hostages giving way to the growth of U.S. power and the ultimate decline and collapse of the Soviet system.
Here's how Reagan himself described his welfare reforms in California:
One lesson from this is that today's conservatives still need to show people that their policies work. Another is not to focus too much on the abstract virtues of long-range fiscal policy to the detriment of things people can see and feel in their own lives. And listen: Reagan had always been against high taxes, but the 1978 California Prop 13 tax revolt helped convince Reagan to become a full-throated supporter of the Kemp-Roth supply-side tax reforms that would be the central defining feature of Reaganomics.
Reagan didn't go around on the stump pledging fealty to conservative ideals, but rather explaining why his ideas would work in practice and why they were common-sense positions in line with what the voters already believed in, what had worked previously in practice, and what had long been traditional in America. And he wasn't The Great Communicator because his speeches felt good, but because they said something concrete that people remembered. His pitch to voters was fundamentally a practical one: our ideas work.
3. Reagan Did His Homework and Knew What He Stood For
While Reagan's pitch was practical, his grasp of public policy and institutional politics was well-grounded in years of study of both the theory of conservative philosophy (often bandied about in those days in publications like National Review and Human Events, of which Reagan was an avid reader) and the practical details of foreign policy and domestic political controversies (Reagan was also a voracious consumer of public-policy journals in the 50s, 60s & 70s). He was no Johnny-come-lately to the movement, like some of our more recent and nakedly opportunistic presidential candidates. His firm philosophical grounding enabled him to appraise potential compromises to see whether, in fact, conservatives were getting more than they were giving up - and his understanding of the playing field abroad and at home meant that he wasn't learning on the job what the various agendas and procedural traps were.
I'd recommend five books to anyone trying to grasp Reagan - Thomas Evans' The Education of Ronald Reagan, which covers the years in the 1950s and early 1960s when Reagan was evolving into a conservative and becoming more politically active; Reagan in His Own Hand, a collection of Reagan's self-penned 1970s radio commentaries, which shows the breadth of his mastery of public policy at the time; Steven Hayward's 2-part Age of Reagan series, the 1964-80 volume covering Reagan's rise to power in the context of the political landscape of his day, and the 1981-89 volume covering his presidency; and finally Peggy Noonan's What I Saw At The Revolution, her speechwriting memoir that captures the mood, the personalities, and the view of the "Reagan Revolution" seen from the eyes of an idealistic young speechwriter.
And knowing that the media and even the GOP's own party elites would caricature him as an ignorant actor and an ideologue, Reagan put an enormous amount of effort into demonstrating his knowledgeability, and loved to pepper his speeches with statistics and concrete anecdotes. First of all, while he always had an eye on national issues (about a quarter of the 1964 speech was focused on foreign affairs), he didn't dive directly into federal or national politics, but ran for and won two terms as Governor of the nation's largest state, and still only won the White House on his second go-round. And his 1966 campaign focused on showing the voters that Reagan knew what he was talking about. From a 1966 profile:
from a retrospective on the campaign:
Reagan won over 3.7 million votes in 1966, enough votes to have won a majority even in the 2014 Governor's race, after half a century of growth in California's population. (In fact this was not Reagan's first election, either; he'd been elected to two separate terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild). A few excerpts from Reagan in His Own Hand should give a sense of the kinds of things Reagan was talking about a decade later, before he launched his 1980 presidential bid.
On power politics in Africa:
On the Law of the Sea Treaty:
On telecom regulation:
On the SALT II Treaty:
4. Reagan Compromised and Picked His Battles
Reagan would never have been able to get the things done that he did - with the Democratic legislature in California, with a Democratic House in DC, even with the Soviet Union - if he didn't know how to cut deals that gave the other guy something he wanted, a skill Reagan had learned in labor negotiations as both a union head and (with GE) negotiating for management. Thus, the reference to getting 70 or 80% of what he wanted - but thus also the recognition that Reagan could, for example, justify a tax hike here or there (as he did in 1982 and in some parts of the 1986 tax reform) because his overall record was unambiguously one of lowering taxes. But unlike some of today's GOP leaders in DC, Reagan could pull this off because he had delivered enough of those tangible wins in the past to have earned some trust (Peggy Noonan described this attitude as "l'droit c'est moi" - Reagan so embodied the Right that it was impossible to convince voters he couldn't be trusted). His reputation for making deals, but only those deals that benefitted him, let him usually negotiate from a position of strength: for example, he resisted calls for a summit with the Soviet Union until 1985, five years into his defense buildup and after he had clearly demonstrated that he was willing to take the heat for having no agreements with the Soviets at all. Yet while he used that leverage well, he also did ultimately sign a series of arms control agreements, agreements that made some real U.S. concessions in order to get a more broadly beneficial deal and keep a dynamic going that would be a winning one for us.
Reagan also trimmed his sails when needed on the campaign trail. In his 1976 campaign, he had talked about Social Security privatization and criticized Medicare and the Davis-Bacon Act; in 1980, he dropped any criticism of entitlements and won union support by pledging to retain Davis-Bacon. In office, he made only modest reforms to Davis-Bacon and signed a compromise bill on Social Security. He promised a woman on the Supreme Court, and delivered the decidedly moderate Sandra Day O'Connor. And even in his foreign policy, Reagan adhered to the first principle of U.S. foreign policy: triage that sets priorities rather than picks fights everywhere at once or else nowhere. Keeping his eye on the Cold War ball allowed him to get the maximum use of his political capital. At home, he accepted the loss of his pledge to balance the budget because it was more important to retain support for his defense buildup. And he knew when to lure his opponents into picking battles, too: while staging a symbolic and unsuccessful protest against the elevation of William Rehnquist to Chief Justice, the Senate let Scalia through unopposed.
5. Reagan Understood The Complementary Roles Of Party Establishments and Insurgents
Reagan's famous "11th Commandment" - not speaking ill of another Republican - was a defensive tactic, designed to convince other 1966 contenders to debate him on the issues rather than attack him personally. After winning the nomination, he mended fences with the endorsement of moderate party elders like Dwight Eisenhower. Reagan was never averse to upsetting applecarts: he did, after all, run a primary challenge to an incumbent President in 1976. But when the nomination was cinched, after Reagan's last-minute effort to mollify moderates with a liberal running mate (Pennsylvania Senator Richard Schweiker) Reagan publicly stood on the dais with Gerald Ford. Reagan wore down establishment opposition - by 1980, while the moderate establishment preferred George H.W. Bush, Reagan actually had more endorsements from elected officials (and picked Bush as his running mate). And he was unafraid to debate others on the Right - witness his vigorous 1978 debates with William F. Buckley over the Panama Canal Treaty.
In short, Reagan saw the value of populist insurgencies, but also the practical value of translating them into a new governing structure side by side with the old bulls. Reagan's CPAC speech in 1977 was explicit about the fact that bringing people along to join the party would have to mean being more open to listening to the new converts:
That was in line with his overall philosophy as set forth in his 1979 announcement speech:
I believe this nation hungers for a spiritual revival; hungers to once again see honor placed above political expediency; to see government once again the protector of our liberties, not the distributor of gifts and privilege. Government should uphold and not undermine those institutions which are custodians of the very values upon which civilization is founded—religion, education and, above all, family. Government cannot be clergyman, teacher and parent. It is our servant, beholden to us.
6. Reagan Understood The Role of Culture, Humor and Meeting The Voters Where They Are
Reagan was not, as our party sometimes appears, distant, dour or perpetually angry. He was legendary for his humor (even when being wheeled into the operating room after being shot), unafraid to make jokes at his own expense but also expert at wielding mockery against the nation's enemies. But his years in Hollywood also meant he still had friends in show business:
Reagan reached out to voters where he could find them, not always successfully but with a great overall record. He won young voters in 1984 by 19 points. He won 37% of Hispanics in 1980. He won self-described moderates, the only Republican candidate since 1976 to do so. He spent almost a full week in August 1980 pitching for black votes - speech to the Urban League, interviews with Ebony and Jet magazines, tour of the South Bronx. He touted to unions his background as a labor union president. In 1981, he got one Democratic Congressman to vote for his tax cut plan by calling in to him on a live radio show. Reagan argued for the GOP as a club anyone could join. And he loved to explain his conversion from a New Dealer and why he had become a Republican, rather than simply trying to convince people that he was - to pick a phrase - severely conservative.
7. Reagan Wasn't Perfect
Finally, the challenge of adapting Reagan's lessons to today includes recognizing that he, too, made mistakes. Some he came to see: the California abortion bill, his decision to send "peacekeeping" troops to Lebanon. Others were revealed by events: the 1986 immigration amnesty, the failed late-80s pursuit of "moderates" in the Iranian government, the Bob Jones tax fight. But this too should offer us perspective: even the best political leaders are not perfect. We should not be afraid to criticize our own leaders, nor expect of them perfect judgment. We must, instead, ask whether they have left our country, our party and our movement a better place than they found it.
« Close It
Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:30 PM | History | Politics 2015 | Politics 2016 | Writings Elsewhere
September 24, 2015
POLITICS: Rubio on "Amnesty"
September 17, 2015
POLITICS/LAW: My Latest, 9/17/15
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:40 PM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2015 | Politics 2016 | War 2007-Present
September 4, 2015
POLITICS/LAW: Latest Roundup
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:44 AM | Hurricane Katrina | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2015 | Politics 2016
August 13, 2015
My two most recent posts at RedState:
1. My quick reaction to the first debate (it seems from post-debate polling that many viewers disagreed with me about Ben Carson, who I thought had a very weak debate but who finished strong.
2. Laura Ingraham Gets Punked By Donald Trump, on the recklessness of conservative talk radio in boosting Donald Trump.
August 11, 2015
POLITICS: Laura Ingraham Gets Punked By Donald Trump
Donald Trump presents a threat - we can debate how big a threat, but a threat - to the conservative movement and the Republican Party. As conservatives and Republicans, we need a battle plan that has an endgame that gives Trump a way out of the primaries without running a third-party campaign, and brings his current supporters into the fold to not only support the Republican presidential nominee, but ideally help us select a more conservative nominee, party and platform. So there are limits to how much we should be attacking voters who are listening to Trump and like what they hear.
But there's a difference between followers and leaders. If you're in a position of leadership - elected officials, organizers, fundraisers, cable and talk radio hosts, pundits, columnists, bloggers - and you're actively encouraging the Trump phenomenon, you are neither a conservative nor a Republican anymore and should not expect anyone to take you seriously again. Today's case in point: Laura Ingraham.
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Ingraham has hardly been the worst offender in Trump-boosting, but she has tirelessly aided the raising of Trump's profile, attacked his critics and made the ridiculous argument - given the dynamics of this 17-candidate field - that any criticism of Trump must mean you support Jeb Bush. A taste just from her Twitter feed:
Meanwhile, she hauls off on this website over Erick's decision to disinvite Trump from this weekend's RedState Gathering, going so far as to call this site "JebState" despite the fact - clear to anyone capable of basic English reading comprehension - that none of our front-page writers has been touting Jeb (at most, some but not all of us consider him an acceptable third, fourth or fifth choice).
The problem with building this narrative - that there is only The Establishment For Jeb and The Conservatives For Trump - is that it requires that we be born yesterday and know nothing at all about Donald Trump or the dynamics of the Republican Party. On the former point, I'm a New Yorker and I've been watching the man up close since the mid-80s...look at Trump's long history of big-government social liberalism, of major, recent donations to Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer. The man is simply no sort of conservative - he has a few vaguely right-wing positions, like dislike of immigration, but on the whole his politics are those of Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire who likes law and order but has no time or patience for really any of the philosophical traditions of our movement.
BUT HE FIGHTS! That's what we're told, although unlike a whole list of the people running in our party in 2016, he has no history whatsoever of ever lifting a finger for a single thing conservatives have ever wanted, or to resist any of the many insanities visited on my city by the Democrats (where was Trump in 2013 when Bill de Blasio defeated a badly underfunded Republican opponent? Heck, Trump could have run - unlike the presidency, Mayor of New York is actually a job that fits his experience, qualifications and hazy ideology). And lo and behold, Ingraham finds herself shocked this morning to discover that, on the great social-issue and size-of-government battle of 2015, Trump is...not so ready for a fight:
Trump: I would look at the individual things that they do, and maybe some of the things are good, and maybe, I know a lot of the things are bad. But certainly the abortion aspect of it should not be funded by government, absolutely.
Meanwhile, several of Trump's opponents have actually done something about Planned Parenthood - Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and, yes, Jeb Bush all actually took serious action against Planned Parenthood in their states, in several cases defunding them. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio have all been engaged in the battle in the Senate to do the same at the federal level. We can compare and contrast the degree of their involvements and success in these initiatives, but at least they have a record to judge. Trump has been MIA on this for years - and one of the results of that is that he hasn't thought through the basic fact that, because money is fungible, subsidizing any of the operations of the nation's largest performer of abortions (rather than re-routing that money to community health centers not engaged in abortions) is a boon to the merchants of death.
The erosion of our credibility - and unreliability of any results we might hope to obtain from doing so - from backing such a man is similar to my concern with running another Northeastern business tycoon four years ago:
The other point I would make about integrity is that it goes close to the core of why a Romney nomination worries me so much: because we would all have to make so many compromises to defend him that at the end of the day we may not even recognize ourselves. Romney has, in a career in public office of just four years (plus about 8 years' worth of campaigning), changed his position on just about every major issue you can think of, and his signature accomplishment in office was to be wrong on the largest policy issue of this campaign...But aside from his business biography, his primary campaign has been built entirely on arguments and strategies - about touting his own electability and dividing, coopting or delegitimizing other Republicans - none of which will be of any use in the general election. What, then, will we as politically active Republicans say about him? I was not a huge fan of John McCain's record, but I was comfortable making honest points about the things McCain had been consistent on over the years - national security, free trade, nuclear power, public integrity, pork-barrel spending. There were spots of solid ground on which to plant ourselves with McCain, and he had a history of digging himself in on those and fighting for things he believed in. But Mitt Romney's record is just one endless sheet of thin ice as far as the eye can see - there's no way to have any kind of confidence that we can tell people he stands for something today without being made fools of tomorrow. We who have laughed along with Jim Geraghty's prescient point that every Obama promise comes with an expiration date will be the ones laughed at, and worse yet we will know the critics are right. Every time I try to talk myself into thinking we can live with him, I run into this problem. It's one that particularly bedeviled Republicans during the Nixon years - many partisan Republicans loved Nixon because he made the right enemies and fought them without cease or mercy, but the man's actual policies compromised so many of our principles that the party was crippled in the process even before Watergate. We can stand for Romney, but we'll find soon enough that that's all we stand for.
Trump is Romney without the things that made Romney at least an admirable man and a plausible political candidate - his strong family, his leadership in his church, his many charitable works, the fact that his business enterprises always made money for his partners, his salvation of the 2002 Winter Olympics, and his having some actual experience winning an election and being a governor. And like Romney, Trump is using the single issue of immigration (on which, like Romney, his record before was not so consistent) as a substitute for having conservative convictions and a conservative record on all the other issues. And it seems that many of the same people who fell for Romney in 2008 and 2012 are falling now for the same act.
Besides Trump's incoherence (at best) on the issues conservatives care about, there's the electoral havoc. He has, of course, threatened to run third party, which as everyone knows would present a real threat of re-creating the conditions that helped the Clintons win the White House in 1992 and 1996, because Democratic voters, with their transactional relationship with power and their love for identity politics, will be far less interested in a third party campaign like Trump's. But even in the short run, what Trump is doing right now is sucking the oxygen out of the race the way, say, Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann did in 2012. And the net result of those campaigns was to make it harder for a lesser-known but serious conservative alternative to develop, which gave us Romney. This is precisely why multiple media reports suggest that the Jeb camp is almost as giddy about Trump as the Hillary camp - because when the Trump balloon inevitably deflates (and it will), Jeb will still have the highest name recognition left in the field. This is not my first rodeo, so I'm not fool enough to ignore the dynamics in play. And that's even before we discuss how the Democrats plan to Todd Akinize Trump - that is, to use things he says against other more responsible and sane Republicans.
A fair amount of Trump's current showing in the polls, of course, is just a figment of high name recognition, massive media coverage (greatly abetted by the likes of Ingraham and other conservative media figures) and poorly constructed polls that don't zero in on likely primary voters. And a fair amount of the really loud Trump support on Twitter in particular seems to come from either 1) the white supremacist fringe or 2) what seems like bought and paid-for astroturf, both of which tend to create noise vastly out of proportion to their numbers.
But for all of that, Trump does have some real support, both among Republicans fed up with the many failures of elected Republicans and among the broad mass of already-disenchanted eligible voters, many of whom we may want to reach and bring back to the fold if we want to alter the dynamics of 2012, let alone 1992:
So, I get the fact that - however frustrating it can be trying to bring the facts of Trump's actual record to his enthusiasts - we ultimately will need to persuade them rather than insult them if we want to build a winning coalition again. But that's the voters. I hold people like Ingraham to a higher standard. We did that here in late 2008, when people with various grievances against John McCain or Sarah Palin gave open or tacit support to Barack Obama:
We have been treated in recent weeks to an unfortunate procession of people on the Right lending their assistance to Barack Obama against the Republican presidential ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin. These people should never be listened to or employed in any responsible or prominent position by anyone in the Republican Party or the conservative movement again.
I believed that of those people then, and seven years later everything we have seen from Obama has vindicated it. And I am quite comfortable saying the same to those who would encourage the destructive path that Trump has chosen. Leaders - and even talk radio entertainers are leaders, whether they like it or not - have a responsibility not to lead those who come to them for guidance astray. Jesus was never more condemnatory than on this topic, in Matthew 18:6-7:
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!”
Donald Trump's feckless campaign is a millstone. Please, Laura Ingraham and everyone else in conservative media: take it off your necks, or be drowned by it.
« Close It
July 10, 2015
BLOG: Welcome Back, Blog!
I've been neglecting this blog rather badly for altogether too long - the archives say I haven't posted here since September 21, 2014. I've been busy in the interim on Twitter, of course, and publishing elsewhere. I probably need to post archived versions of some of those posts here. For now: links.
I will start with The Weekly Standard, where I have this issue's cover story, just posted today: Giving Thomas His Due, on Justice Thomas' opinions over the past year and what they tell us about his philosophy.
Then there's The Federalist, where I tend to post my longer essays these days. I ran a lengthy 5-part essay prior to the Obergefell decision, "Can Gays And Christians Coexist In America?". Part I looked at the Biblical reasons why Christians believe in one-man-one-woman-for-life marriage. Part II looked at the history of Catholicism and other Biblical Christianity in the battles over slavery and Jim Crow. Part III looked at the Christian concept of scandal and the battle between liberty-based and equality-based views of "LGBT rights." Part IV looked at the legal arguments over the rational basis for distinguishing between opposite-sex and same-sex marriage. And Part V traced possible ways forward for coexistence post-Obergefell, which admittedly are not looking especially promising at the moment.
The First Principle Of U.S. Foreign Policy looked at various approaches to our foreign policy.
Others from the fall, including some of my poll-analysis posts:
Polling Postmortem: The Best And Worst Senate Polls Of 2014 (I keep meaning to run the companion piece on the Governors races before 2016 polling heats up).
Do Democrats Always Win Close Statewide Elections? (covers the 1998-2013 elections; I should update this with 2014 results).
And of course, if you missed it last time, my essay on how History Is Not On The Democrats' Side In 2016 is still an important read on the coming election, undoubtedly the most significant piece I will write on the 2016 election.
The Rise & Fall of the Confederate Flag in South Carolina - I wrote this a few weeks back, but it's very relevant to today's news.
Reading Tea Leaves on the 2015 Supreme Court Term - Basically just some educated speculation on who would write what and when, which ended up having mixed results.
Democratic Party Now Literally Selling Hate - a Father's Day gift post!
Bernie Sanders, Deodorant and Diversity - a meditation on central planning and markets.
Marco Rubio Recounts The History of Obama’s Treatment of Israel - quick hit on a great Rubio floor speech. Rubio isn't my first choice in 2016, but he's done nothing but impress this year.
From the fall:
2014 and Republican Morale - a GOP victory lap and a reflection on what it meant.
The Breakers Broke: A Look Back At The Fall 2014 Polls - A personal victory lap on my 2014 poll analysis and how it relates to the polling controversies of 2012.
The 2014 Polls And The 2012 Exit Polls - An earlier look at the same topic and at some specific issues with exit polling and poll methodology.
BREAKING: Supreme Court Takes Obamacare Subsidies Case (on King v Burwell).
First Cut: 7 Polling and Elections Lessons From 2014 (Immediate 2014 election aftermath)
Why I Voted Yes On Question 1 (NY) (Election Day post on a NY ballot initiative)
A Sad and Desperate Attack on Chris Christie - Actually a fairly deep dive on voter fraud controversies.
Introducing The Senate Breakers Report - September 26, 2014, the start of my Fall 2014 stretch drive when I started getting too busy to cross-post here.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:22 PM | Blog 2006-Present | In Print | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2014 | Politics 2015 | Politics 2016 | Poll Analysis | Writings Elsewhere
September 21, 2014
POLITICS: Bobby Jindal's Energy Plan
September 19, 2014
BLOG: RedState and Federalist Roundup
I owe longtime readers here some explanation and apology - my work at both RedState and The Federalist is now exclusive, at least when first published, to those sites, and while I post links on Twitter and Facebook, I tend to forget sometimes to post links back here at the old stomping grounds. (I may well close the comments section here too soon, since the lack of activity means a high spam-to-real-comments ratio, and since most regular commenters by now know how to find me elsewhere).
Here's my most recent posts over the past month, all of them on matters of politics and/or history:
Where I Was On September 11 (a repost of the annual remembrance)
Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:28 PM | Blog 2006-Present | History | Politics 2014 | Politics 2016 | Poll Analysis | Comments (1)
July 22, 2014
POLITICS/BUSINESS: Latest Posts
More of my latest posts, off the site. At RedState:
DC Circuit Blocks Obamacare Subsidies, Mandate in 36 States (updated with the Fourth Circuit's decision)
At The Federalist:
Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:52 PM | Business | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2014 | Politics 2016
July 18, 2014
POLITICS: Could Elizabeth Warren Face Ted Cruz In 2016?
Similar, But Not The Same
Should Republicans nominate Ted Cruz, who has kept his options open with frequent trips to Iowa and New Hampshire? In some ways, Cruz and Warren are mirror images, and the cases for and against them are surprisingly similar. But there are also some critical differences.
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Before 2008, the idea of a presidential contest between two first-term Senators in their (by then) fourth year in Washington would have seemed ridiculous; in 1988, Dan Quayle was roundly mocked for his youth and inexperience after twelve years in Congress, including eight in the Senate. But just as the defeat of Robert Bork and the subsequent confirmation of David Souter led to the rise of the conventional wisdom that a Supreme Court nominee should be a "stealth" candidate with a minimal paper trail, the election of Barack Obama in his fourth year in the Senate suggested the electoral advantages of running a candidate with as thin a record as possible, who could serve as an empty vessel into which voters could pour their aspirations.
While partisans on both sides would gag at the comparison, in some ways, Cruz and Warren are a lot alike. Both ran their first campaign for public office in 2012 (although Cruz had begun mounting a campaign to run for Texas Attorney General in 2010 before Greg Abbott decided to run for re-election), and won in the state that best emblemizes their party's ideological base. Both seem at times like walking regional/ideologiocal stereotypes, Warren a professorial type from Boston academia, Cruz with his Texas cowboy boots and swagger, despite the fact that Warren is from Oklahoma, Cruz was born in Canada, and both pursued their higher education in New Jersey.
Both are obviously highly intelligent and Harvard Law pedigreed - Cruz was on the Law Review, clerked on the Supreme Court and had been a national debate champion in college, and has argued nine Supreme Court cases; Warren was a nationally respected bankruptcy law professor at HLS and was herself a statewide high school debate champion. Yet, both rely heavily on populist appeal rather than Paul Ryan-style wonkery. Both have one of the surest signs of intellect and one of the most useful skills in politics and lawyering, the ability to boil down complex issues to explain them in simple terms. Warren, of course, can be fantastically misleading when doing this, most famously when comparing the interest rates paid by banks on loans that are repaid overnight and rarely default to the rates paid by college students on loans that may extend 10 to 30 years and default frequently, an analogy no honest adult could defend. But then, Cruz's critics have their own list of favorite soundbites they don't like; both are seen by their party's grassroots base as rare principled truth-tellers, and by the opposing party as dangerous charlatans or worse. Both have proven to be successful grassroots fundraisers, although Cruz has been less consistent at political moneymaking than Warren. Both are much in demand by campaigns looking to fire up their party's base, and would run fiery campaigns that grow their party's base at the risk of turning off moderates. Both are eloquent and forceful speakers, but neither is particularly warm, charming or likeable in the way that we usually associate with winning national candidates. Both broke the usual mode of cautious and deferential new Senators, making an immediate splash in Washington. Both would be history-making candidates - Warren the first woman to be a national party presidential nominee, Cruz the first Hispanic nominee.
For all the similarities, however, there are some important distinctions between how Cruz and Warren are situated.
1. Cruz has a stronger electoral record. Both Warren and Cruz have yet to prove they could win anything outside the most favorable possible conditions - a polarizing national election deep in favorable territory, Warren in Massachusetts, Cruz in Texas. But there's two difference. First, Cruz ran a lot closer to the national ticket. Mitt Romney carried Texas by 15.8 points, earning 57.13% of the vote; Cruz also won by 15.8 points, with 56.46% of the vote. For all intents and purposes, Cruz ran even with Romney in Texas. But (while we do not have exit polls) he may have had a somewhat different coalition: a Latino Decisions pre-election poll found Cruz drawing 35% of the Hispanic vote against 65% for his opponent Paul Sadler, compared to 29% for Romney and 70% for Obama. By contrast, while Obama won Massachusetts by a whopping 23.2 points, with 60.67% of the vote, Warren won only by 7.6 points, with 53.74% of the vote. There are too few Hispanics in Massachusetts to be picked up in the exit poll (4% according to the exits), but the Latino Decisions poll (which, I should note, had Hispanics as 5.9% of the vote) showed Warren running only a little behind Obama, winning them 86-14 to Obama's 89-9. But other demographic groups were a different story. Obama won men in Massachusetts 55-43, Warren lost them 53-47. Obama won 73% of voters under 30, Warren 61%; Obama also won 56% of voters age 30-44, Warren lost them 55-45. Obama won 92% of the black vote, Warren 86%. Obama, who was routed with white voters nationally, won them in Massachusetts 57-42, including white men 50-48 and white women 63-37. Warren lost white voters 51-49, losing white men 50-42 and winning white women 55-45. Obama won self-described moderates 55-43 and independents (another group he lost nationally) 52-45; Warren lost both, moderates 55-45 and independents by a lopsided 59-41. Obama won suburbanites 57-42, Warren lost them 51-49. While maps can be misleading due to the urban concentration of Democratic voters, you can see that Cruz carried a much broader cross-section of his own, much larger and more diverse state (Cruz got 4.4 million votes compared to Warren's 1.7):
Now, there are extenuating circumstances here. Warren was running against a moderate, well-funded, personally popular incumbent, Scott Brown, a famously talented retail politician; Cruz's opponent, former State Rep. Paul Sadler, was basically an underfunded punching bag. So Warren's race was much more contested than Cruz's or than the presidential race in either state. That is reflected in voter turnout: 72.9% of registered voters voted in Massachusetts in 2012, compared to an average of 70.5% over the prior three general elections, whereas only 58.6% of registered voters voted in Texas in 2012 compared to an average of 66.4% over the prior three general elections.
And while Mitt Romney was a hometown candidate and former Governor of Massachusetts, politically and culturally much closer to the typical Massachusetts Republican than Obama to the typical Texas Democrat (in 2008, Obama lost the primaries in both Massachusetts and Texas), Romney's popularity in the state was pretty bad by 2012 (the exit poll had his favorability at 40-59) after the national campaign and the acrimonious New Hampshire primaries of 2008 and 2012. That helps explain why Obama beat Romney with demographic groups in Massachusetts (white men, white women, independents, suburbanites) that Obama was losing, badly, in most of the battleground states and nationally.
We do, however, have one piece of additional evidence of Cruz's ability that we don't have with Warren: his record in a hotly contested primary. Warren cruised to the nomination, which is a show of her strength in scaring off challengers but also means her ability to win a primary race is untested. Cruz, by contrast, won a major upset against a deeply entrenched member of the Texas GOP establishment, longtime Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst (Cruz finished second in a crowded primary, 44% to 34%, but won 56.8% against Dewhurst in the runoff).
In the final analysis, neither Cruz nor Warren has proven they could appeal to anything like the swing voters of Ohio, Florida, and other purple states. But Cruz has at least shown that he can win a hard-fought primary and run even with his party's national ticket on friendly turf. Warren has yet to do even that much.
2. Warren has to beat Hillary. The proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the 2016 presidential race is Hillary Clinton. Hillary is beatable, in theory, in a primary; after all, she lost to Obama in 2008. But in reality, her massive name recognition and fundraising prowess starts her off in a much stronger polling position than in 2008, and her presence alone may deter Warren from running (and already influenced Warren to sign a letter encouraging Hillary to run). Moreover, Warren would face a serious demographic challenge. Obama's 2008 victory over Hillary required a two-pronged assault on her coalition: one prong was anti-war white liberals who carried Obama to wins in the caucuses and states in the Pacific Northwest and Upper Midwest, and the other was an overwhelming, 90%+ majority among black voters (see, e.g., here, here, and here), who allowed Obama to sweep the South (in most Southern states, black voters are a majority of the Democratic primary electorate, and Obama swept Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, DC and Delaware).
Warren, running more on economic populism (e.g., Hillary's six years on the Board of Directors of Wal-Mart) than Hillary's support for the Iraq War or Hillary's opposition before 2013 to same-sex marriage, is one of the few Democrats with the fundraising ability and ideological footprint to replicate the first part of Obama's primary coalition, and her gender neutralizes Hillary's most potent weapon. But there is no reason to believe that she could reconstruct the monolithic black support that was decisive for Obama. That would leave Warren needing to make a frontal assault on Hillary's existing base, a much tougher challenge than consolidating the support of people who are not already locked in.
By contrast, Cruz faces an open field, the most open Republican field in the modern primary system and really comparable only to prior Democratic fields (1976, 1988, 1992, to some extent 2004) that lacked any kind of frontrunner. Few national polls these days put anybody above 15% support, much less 20%, and the leaders are often people with big name recognition who are not that likely to run (Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney) or face a natural ceiling on their appeal (Rand Paul). The moderate/"Establishment" wing of the party has yet to consolidate behind one candidate, having gotten the jitters over Chris Christie after Bridgegate. That hardly guarantees victory for Cruz, as the GOP has an embarrassment of riches in terms of Governors and Senators who could run and be appealing candidates in different ways. But it's precisely the kind of open field in which a strong ideological figure could emerge victorious despite a lack of the traditional resume Republicans ordinarily expect.
3. Cruz is much younger. Warren, like Hillary and Romney, is a child of the 1940s; Cruz is a child of the 1970s. If you compare them to the roster of Republicans who might be in the Presidential or Vice Presidential mix (by design, this is an overinclusive list), both Warren and Hillary stick out as an older crowd:
Even in the primaries, that means yet another way in which Warren will struggle to distinguish herself from Hillary to win the favor of the Democrats' youth-obsessed electorate, which fell for Obama partly because of his relative youth and 'coolness.' It also means there's a greater urgency to Warren's decision - if she doesn't run in 2016, she probably never will (we've never elected a non-incumbent who was over 70, and the two over-70 nominees, John McCain and Bob Dole, were constantly dogged by the age issue), whereas Cruz could easily stay in the Senate and run a decade or two from now.
In a general election, age may not be a disabling factor but it is likely to play in a way that provides a favorable contrast for the Republican nominee (if it's Cruz or one of the other fortysomethings) against Warren, just as it would against Hillary. Only two Presidents were over 65 when they entered office (Reagan and William Henry Harrison, and Harrison died a month into his term), and the dependence of the Democrats on younger voters will be tested if their candidate is 20-25 years older than the Republican.
4. Cruz is building a foreign policy profile. Americans are focused on domestic policy issues these days, and the 2014 election, like 2012 and 2010, will be dominated by domestic issues. But Americans still expect their President to be up to the role of Commander-in-Chief, and in an increasingly dangerous and unstable world beset with regional crises, foreign policy may be harder to avoid in 2016.
Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, has put a lot of effort into building a profile on foreign policy. His most famous Supreme Court fight as Texas Solicitor General was over the International Court of Justice's treaty authority to reopen U.S. death sentences handed down to Mexican nationals, a subject he returned to earlier this year with an essay in the Harvard Law Review on the limits of the treaty power. He joined with Rand Paul in early 2013 in a high-profile fight against drone strikes against U.S. citizens, but has subsequently broken with Senator Paul over the future direction of U.S. foreign policy, and made a point of giving foreign policy speeches at conservative events. Cruz has traveled extensively - to South Africa for the Mandela memorial service, to Israel to show support for a key U.S. ally, to Ukraine, to Poland and Estonia to criticize Vladimir Putin. Cruz's list of Senate committee assignments includes a who's who of committees focused on national security, border security, public safety, technology and American power:
Committee on Armed Services (Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, Subcommittee on Seapower)
Warren, by contrast, serves on the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and the Special Committee on Aging (on which Cruz also sits; Cruz is also on the Rules Committee). The Washington Post noted in December that Warren "has done nothing, for example, to curry favor in early primary states or to build her foreign policy credentials by traveling abroad." This stands in stark contrast to Obama, who built his campaign around opposition to the Iraq War. Her statement of "Eleven Commandments" that progressives stand for in today's Netroots Nation speech is conspicuously silent on foreign affairs or national security; the closest she comes to the border is the bland assertion that " immigration has made this country strong and vibrant, and that means reform." Warren often evades foreign policy questions; witness this video from yesterday of her literally running away from a question about Israel and Gaza:
5. The Fauxohontas Factor: Warren and Cruz will each give the other party huge amounts of ideological ammunition, but comparatively little biographical ammunition. The one exception is the furor over whether the pasty-white Warren - who claims to have some small amount of Cherokee blood and on this basis was touted by Harvard Law School as a "diverse" faculty member - improperly took advantage of affirmative action preferences not meant for white people. Pundits generally assume that this controversy was beaten to death because it didn't stop Warren from winning in 2012, but as noted above, that race left Warren running far behind the national Democratic ticket, and as Mike Dukakis, John Kerry and Mitt Romney can tell you, what works in Massachusetts may not always work nationally. And the fake-Indian issue could be surprisingly potent in a campaign against an actual son of a Cuban immigrant.
6. Warren has to play ball with Obama: The final factor here is structural. Cruz can more or less draw up his own path right now: his party doesn't control the White House, it doesn't (for now, at least) control the Senate, and Cruz is so often at loggerheads with party leadership that there is no real concern that he will be locked into votes he doesn't want just out of being a loyal soldier. That's not all good - he also carries the baggage of a lot of people blaming him for the 2013 government shutdown - but it means his mistakes will be his own.
Warren, by contrast, would inevitably have to run with eight years of Obama's foreign policy and economic baggage, and the early signs are that she lacks Cruz's stomach to buck party leadership. One of the signature anti-corporate-welfare fights Cruz has been leading lately is his crusade against the Export-Import Bank; Warren just came out in support of the Obama Administration and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in favor of re-authorizing the Ex-Im Bank. That may well be a decision popular with major donors, and even a decision publicly defensible as a pro-business, pro-growth posture (the grounds cited by Warren), but it inevitably muddies her populist message whenever she sides with the current power structure out of party loyalty. It is always hard to square populist revolt with "four more years of the same" and not discomfiting the comfortable on your own side.
So...will Cruz run in 2016? Will Warren? Should they? Certainly both can have an impact on the policy debate within their own party by running, and Warren in particular could have a much larger impact if she runs than if she tries to play kingmaker/queenmaker in an effectively uncontested race. And it would be foolhardy to count either of them out, as a potential nominee or a potential President. That said, for all her weaknesses, it is still hard to argue with the idea that if Hillary Clinton wants the nomination, she will get it and should get it as the strongest Democratic candidate in 2016 - not Warren. The case for Republicans running someone other than Cruz is more arguable, given the large number of other options (personally, while I like Cruz a lot and admire his principled and pugnacious conservatism, I prefer a Governor like Bobby Jindal or Scott Walker, for a lot of reasons), and that is what primaries are for - but there is little question that Cruz would be, like Warren, the most polarizing candidate the party could choose.
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May 19, 2014
WAR/POLITICS: Hillary Clinton's Iraq War Vote
April 2, 2014
POLITICS: Yes, There's A Republican Health Care Plan - Bobby Jindal's Plan
There's a Republican alternative to Obamacare - a health insurance plan rolled out today by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. It's not only a better plan, but starts with a better way to think about how we pay for healthcare.
The Search For A Republican Alternative
One of the hoary, beaten-to-death talking points of Obamacare's last-ditch defenders has been that it's impossible to repeal the Affordable Care Act because there isn't an alternative on the table. Of course, while there are some transitional issues that would arise in unwinding the damage Obamacare has done to the pre-Obamacare insurance market, if you believe (as most Obamacare critics do) that the statute has made things on balance worse, then there's no reason why Congress couldn't or shouldn't first tear the thing up and then get to work finding a different way to improve our healthcare system. And part of what is at work in this line of criticism is the Wonk Hack Trap: the desire of liberal policy writers and Democratic ad-makers to force Republicans to submit detailed plans to be picked apart with one-sided propaganda before there is any realistic prospect of them even being seriously debated, and possibly improved, in Congress (see this Jonathan Chait piece on the 2015 Ryan budget for a classic example of the genre - of course, with Harry Reid running the Senate, no Republican policy proposal has any prospect of being considered for a vote).
1. They want to end the tax bias in favor of employer-sponsored health insurance to create full portability (either through a tax credit, deductibility, or another method);
The best time to put such plans on the table is in a presidential campaign, or when the party holds both Houses of Congress (as it may next year, but does not now) and can pass at least parts of it and force the President to veto. Unfortunately, in 2012, Republicans were unable to offer a forceful message on this issue, because their candidate had already signed into law a plan nearly identical to Obamacare at the state level, and was generally interested in avoiding discussion of specific plans. Many Republicans would prefer to just stay silent for now, at least until 2015, in hopes of capitalizing on longstanding voter dissatisfaction with Obamacare. But with the Senate up for grabs and potential presidential candidates beginning to gear up, Governor Jindal has decided that it's time to put his cards on the table with a plan that includes many of these elements and some specific ideas of his own.
Jindal is already a veteran of the healthcare wars. In 1996, he was appointed - at age 24 - as Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, running the entire state hospital system, and in 1998 he served as Executive Director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, a Clinton-created bipartisan commission. A bipartisan majority of the commission ended up recommending a "premium support" plan for Medicare reform based on a model that Jindal had originally put together as a Congressional intern - a plan that (in varying forms) has resurfaced in Paul Ryan's annual budget proposals. Jindal went on to work as a policy advisor to Tommy Thompson in the Bush-era Department of Health and Human Services before his tenure as a Congressman and Governor, and he's been engaged in healthcare issues in his two terms as Governor of Louisiana. So, his plan is not merely a thrown-together campaign document, but represents his long-term thinking about how to approach healthcare.
The Jindal Plan
You can read the full 21-page plan document here, the 3-page Executive Summary here, Gov. Jindal's op-ed here, and overviews from Robert Costa and Amy Goldstein at the Washington Post and Benjy Sarlin at MSNBC.
Jindal takes as his starting point that Obamacare would be repealed root and branch, a goal that will be music to the ears of GOP primary voters, but will focus the attention of the many voters who despise Obamacare but want some reassurance that Republicans won't simply replace it with a desert sowed with salt. The theory of his replacement is as important as its details, many of which would surely have to be negotiated with Congress even if Jindal wins the presidency.
At a conceptual level, Jindal's plan - like most GOP proposals - diverges from the outset from plans like Obamacare-Romneycare-Hillarycare that promise "universal" coverage and set out to achieve it by (1) forcing people against their will into common insurance pools, (2) forcing insurance companies against their will into insuring all comers, (3) forcing employers to provide health insurance to certain of their employees, (4) in the case of how Obamacare was originally designed, forcing states to follow federal dictates in how and to whom they provide Medicaid, and (5) dictating in minute detail the terms on which all of these compelled interactions are carried out. Even with all of those mandates, even the optimistic CBO projections at the time the Affordable Care Act was passed estimated that the bill would reduce the uninsured population only from 54 million to 23 million by 2019, and those projections have grown less rosy over time, reminding us that universal burdens on the public do not guarantee universal compliance. Rather than chase the chimera of a one-size-fits-everyone plan that will never actually fit everyone, Jindal's plan revives the premise of our pre-Obamacare healthcare system (where over 80% were insured and about 85% of the insured were happy with their health insurance) and seeks to create the conditions of lower cost and more competition that will entice more people to voluntarily choose a health insurance plan. If this sounds like a familiar concept to you, it's because that's how the rest of the American economy works, and always has.
From his perspective as a Governor, Jindal also wants to reverse the centralization of power over health insurance in Washington, and create competition between states to offer better health insurance. Thus, in place of having mandatory federal rules (for Medicaid, for insurers, for employers, and for individuals) that are subject to waivers and delays at the whim and favor of the President and HHS, he would write more latitude for states directly into law, block-granting Medicaid funds and reducing the federal role to holding states accountable for outcomes rather than micromanaging their process (spoiler alert: Jindal has strongly signalled that this will also be his approach to education). Sarlin frets that this permissive approach "might just spawn dozens of mini-Obamacares at the state level," but at least that would be those states' choice, and in a blogger conference call this afternoon, Jindal stressed that by allowing insurance policies to be sold across state lines, he would rely on competition to incentivize states to avoid imposing an unreasonable volume of mandates.
For individuals who can afford their own healthcare, Jindal would step back and give them more tools to take control: a tax deduction on par with the employer deduction, and more health savings accounts to encourage people to be more involved in the costs of healthcare. Jindal is less interested than Obama in enrolling healthy, childless adults above the poverty line in Medicaid. But for those who legitimately cannot afford healthcare, Jindal's plan recognizes that government is too involved to simply walk away: he's proposing separate high-risk pools for people with pre-existing conditions, and focusing on making sure Medicaid focuses the safety net on those most in need. He would also keep in place the pre-Obamacare laws guaranteeing the continuation of coverage when you change jobs once you have insurance, regardless of whether you've gotten sicker since first enrolling. Jindal argues that Obamacare has undermined these protections.
Some of Jindal's proposals are things that could be enacted now at the state level already, or proposed piecemeal at the federal level in 2015, and much of it could be enacted in stages rather than in one swoop. That's a strength: it would enable him to avoid another thousand-page omnibus bill infested with hidden goodies, and provides some intermediate goals for activists to focus on between now and 2016. But it also means that at least some of his proposals (like tort reforms at the state level) would be beyond his reach to command even from the White House.
Medicare premium support, whether as a voluntary supplement to the current system or a phased-in replacement, will be more controversial, and Jindal's plan isn't entirely explicit on how it would approach that thorny problem. Nor is this a complete plan with all the accounting gimmickry needed to pass the CBO's arcane rituals for deficit scoring; the sacrificing of the required number of goats and chickens to satisfy the CBO models will have to wait. And Jindal's promise of more pro-life and conscience protections, while popular with social conservatives, will likewise test his fortitude if he makes it far enough to propose actual legislation. But as far as frameworks go, this is already a fairly detailed view of where Jindal wants to take American healthcare into the post-Obamacare world.
Follow The Leader
As I've noted before, Republicans and conservatives shouldn't fall in love with any one candidate this far ahead of 2016, and given the plethora of potentially attractive candidates and the roiling debate within the party over a variety of policy issues, we should be more rigorous than usual in demanding that potential candidates make the case for a policy agenda that has some realistic prospect of being put into action. Personally, if forced to choose at this writing, I would rate Jindal and Scott Walker as my top two choices, in that order - but there's a lot yet to happen, and we are not particularly close to even knowing who will and won't run (Jindal and Rand Paul are probably the two potential candidates who have given the strongest indications of interest, but many others - including Walker, Ryan, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Peter King, John Kasich and Joe Scarborough - seem to be floating trial balloons). While it's a plus for Jindal that he has a head start in rolling out a reasonably fleshed-out policy agenda on the signature policy issue of the Obama years and the experience to back it up - a head start that will force other potential 2016 aspirants to play catch-up - the more important thing is that he is kick-starting the serious business of having a real policy debate that will move us towards the common goal of repealing Obamacare and offering an alternative. And that will benefit the nominee in 2016 regardless of who it is.
February 6, 2014
POLITICS: The Lesson of Chris Christie and Bridgegate: Don't Fall In Love Too Fast
The political fallout of "Bridgegate" may not be entirely clear just yet - but the lesson it holds for Republicans looking for a 2016 presidential candidate should be. Don't fall in love too early. Nobody should be rushing to pick a 2016 presidential nominee two years before the first primaries.
One of the iron laws of politics is that sooner or later, everybody gets a turn inside the pinata. For Chris Christie, who enjoyed an unusually good 2013 while touting a brand of moderate Republicanism that irks both liberals and conservatives, the past month has involved taking a lot of whacks. The party started with the revelation in early January of emails showing that his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, conspired with his appointees to the Port Authority, under David Wildstein, to exacerbate Fort Lee, New Jersey's chronic traffic problems by closing a lane leading onto the George Washington Bridge, apparently in retaliation for the Mayor of Fort Lee backing Barbara Buono, Christie's hapless and overmatched 2013 opponent.
Lots of people on the Left and Right have been eager to bury Christie, but as of now, their obituaries still seem premature. Any candidate who comes to the presidential race, especially a candidate with any sort of executive experience, is going to have some dents - some bad appointments and associations, some things that didn't work or didn't happen as promised. And Christie is still a highly charismatic guy and a prolific fundraiser, and few of his potential rivals for the support of moderates in the GOP primaries have given much sign that they intend to run.
If the end result of Bridgegate is that a handful of Christie's appointees misbehaved, it may not be a major obstacle to being a presidential nominee. On the other hand, if credible evidence surfaces (as Wildstein has threatened in a letter laced with lawyerly vagueness and demands for a payoff) tying Christie directly to the decision to create a traffic snarl as a form of petty political vindictiveness during a blowout election campaign, he'll have his hands full just staying in office. The middle ground possibility - that Christie escapes being tied to the scandal personally, but it hamstrings his second term and gets painted as some sort of pattern - is perhaps the worst possibility for people considering backing Christie nationally, as it leaves him wounded but not fatally so.
The scandal is damaging to Christie in a couple of ways. The innocent explanation, that this was an unusual event resulting from a handful of 'bad apples,' still calls into question his management of personnel, a problem for a candidate running mainly on being an honest, competent executive who gets stuff done. And aside from its pure pettiness and how unnecessary the whole thing was (Buono was even more doomed than George McGovern in 1972), the use of government power to punish political enemies is especially problematic in a Republican primary because it's precisely how Obama and the Clintons operate and have for years. And with the general electorate as well: Democrats are supposed to stand for giving particular people and groups stuff they want, so voters tend to forgive them - up to a point - when they hand out goodies to friends and punish foes. Whereas the point of electing Republicans is to stand up for the general interest - such as the interest in limiting runaway government spending and regulation - so voters tend to be harsher towards Republicans who act as if they were hired to give particular people and groups stuff they want.
But even if the Bridge flap proves a minor bump in the road for Christie's national ambitions, it nonetheless reminds us that Christie is not only not the inevitable 2016 Republican nominee, he might not even make it as far as the Iowa Caucuses. And that perception itself can become self-fulfilling: it emboldens other candidates to jump in the race, as they might not if Christie looked like a juggernaut. It was Mitt Romney's money machine that played a major role in discouraging people like Christie and Paul Ryan from mounting bids in 2012, and caused Romney's major rival in the center-right of the party (Tim Pawlenty) to bet too heavily on the Iowa Straw Poll.
However things work out for Christie, a lot can still happen to him as well as to other Republicans between now and the primaries. As we've been seeing, even a guy who has been fairly well-vetted by the hostile New York, Philly and Jersey media still hasn't seen the kind of scrutiny that wilts national candidates. Hopping on the Christie bandwagon, much less trying to clear the field for him (or any other GOP candidate) at this early stage would be madness. Unlike the Democrats, whose bench behind Hillary Clinton is frighteningly sparse (and who can be confident that Hillary has been so drenched in scandal over the years without collapsing that nothing new could come out that would sink her), Republicans right now have a deep stable of talented, plausible presidential contenders; the wise move is to sit back and make them prove their case before putting a ring on it. Personally, my top choices remain Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker, but I'm more than happy to see them and other contenders put to the test of making the sale.
That's not just prudence in avoiding a shotgun wedding with a candidate who ends up fatally flawed. It's also important that the party have a real debate on the issues - and a real debate on the issues can only happen if you have more than one plausible candidate. We've grown accustomed, the past two election cycles, to a demolition-derby approach to GOP primaries, in which the candidates compete to paint their opponents as unelectable and/or fatally compromised. That's politics, and we'll see some of the same in 2016, but if we have more than one plausible nominee, it becomes possible to actually get the voters to look at competing policy proposals and competing visions of what the party stands for. That process is how you get, not just a compelling candidate, but a compelling message, the kind of clear rationale for governing that neither Mitt Romney nor John McCain was ever really able to articulate.
The list of issues on which it's possible to picture the party going in more than one direction is a long one:
-Whether Obamacare should be replaced with a new comprehensive scheme that keeps some of its elements, or scrapped in favor of a far less ambitious and decentralized approach.
-Whether entitlements require fundamental reform or simply fixes to make them less immediately fiscally insolvent.
-Whether to alter the hybrid federal/state structure of Medicaid.
-Whether America should play a leading role worldwide in promoting democracy, nation-building in failed states, and stopping dictators from abusing their people and their neighbors, or pursue a less ambitious role in the world.
-Whether or not we should increase legal immigration and whether or not, and on what conditions, we should allow illegal aliens to remain legally in the U.S.
-Whether to roll back NSA surveillance on libertarian grounds or preserve it on security grounds.
-Whether to attempt fundamental reform of the tax code or simply tinker with existing rates.
-Whether to take the party in a direction that is more confrontational with big business and finance.
-Whether to use the levers of federal power to impose conservative or neoliberal solutions to education and social issues or let go of federal control.
-Whether to roll back federal laws against marijuana.
-Whether to use executive orders in domestic policy (as Obama has) or simply repeal Obama's and restore the use of such orders to their traditional role.
These are just a few examples, and there are others, on which there is a sufficient constituency within the GOP and the conservative movement to go in more than one direction, make more than one different choice. We can answer those questions, rather than simply defaulting to what our nominee wants, if we make the candidates compete for our votes. And we can do that only if the party hasn't settled on a coronation of one candidate two years before the primaries.
August 6, 2013
POLITICS: 73 Rules For Running For President As A Republican
We do not yet know who the Republican presidential nominee will be in 2016. We do not even know for certain who the candidates will be, although several are visibly positioning themselves to run. We all have our own ideas about who should run and what the substance of their platforms should be. But even leaving those aside, it's possible to draw some lessons from the past few GOP campaign cycles and offer some advice that any prospective candidate should heed, the sooner the better. Some of these rules are in a little tension with each other; nobody said running for President was easy. But most are simply experience and common sense.
1-Run because you think your ideas are right and you believe you would be the best president. Don't stay out because your chances are slim, and don't get in because someone else wants you to. Candidates who don't have a good reason for running or don't want to be there are a fraud on their supporters.
2-Ask yourself what you're willing to sacrifice or compromise on to win. If there's nothing important you'd sacrifice, don't run; you will lose. If there's nothing important you wouldn't, don't run; you deserve to lose.
3- If you don't like Republican voters, don't run.
4-Don't start a campaign if you're not prepared for the possibility that you might become the frontrunner. Stranger things have happened.
5-If you've never won an election before, go win one first. This won't be the first one you win.
6-Winning is what counts. Your primary and general election opponents will go negative, play wedge issues that work for them, and raise money wherever it can be found. If you aren't willing to do all three enthusiastically, you're going to be a high minded loser. Nobody who listens to the campaign-trail scolds wins. In the general election, if you don't convey to voters that you believe in your heart that your opponent is a dangerously misguided choice, you will lose.
7-Pick your battles, or they will be picked for you. You can choose a few unpopular stances on principle, but even the most principled candidates need to spend most of their time holding defensible ground. If you have positions you can't explain or defend without shooting yourself in the foot, drop them.
8-Don't be surprised when people who liked you before you run don't like you anymore. Prepare for it.
9-Be sure before you run that your family is on board with you running. They need to be completely committed, because it will be harder than they can imagine. Related: think of the worst possible thing anyone could say about the woman in your life you care about the most, and understand that it will be said.
10-You will be called a racist, regardless of your actual life history, behavior, beliefs or platform. Any effort to deny that you're a racist will be taken as proof that you are one. Accept it as the price of admission.
11-Have opposition research done on yourself. Have others you trust review the file. Be prepared to answer for anything that comes up in that research. If there's anything that you think will sink you, don't run.
12-Ask yourself if there's anything people will demand to know about you, and get it out there early. If your tax returns or your business partnerships are too important to disclose, don't run. (We might call this the Bain Capital Rule).
13-Realize that your record, and all the favors you've done, will mean nothing if your primary opponent appears better funded.
14-Run as who you are, not who you think the voters want. There's no substitute for authenticity.
15-Each morning, before you read the polls or the newspapers, ask yourself what you want to talk about today. Talk about that.
16-If you never give the media new things to talk about, they'll talk about things you don't like.
17-Never assume the voters are stupid or foolish, but also don't assume they are well-informed. Talk to them the way you'd explain something to your boss for the first time.
18-Handwrite the parts of your platform you want voters to remember on a 3x5 index card. If it doesn't fit, your message is too complicated. If you can't think of what to start with, don't run.
19-Voters may be motivated by hope, fear, resentment, greed, altriusm or any number of other emotions, but they want to believe they are voting for something, not against someone. Give them some positive cause to rally around beyond defeating the other guy.
20-Optimism wins. If you are going to be a warrior, be a happy warrior. Anger turns people off, so laugh at yourself and the other side whenever possible, even in a heated argument.
21-Ideas don't run for President; people do. If people don't like you, they won't listen to you.
22-Your biography is the opening act. Your policy proposals and principles are the headliner. Never confuse the two. The voters know the difference.
23-Show, don't tell. Proclaiming your conservatism is meaningless, and it's harder to sell to the unconverted than policy proposals and accomplishments that are based on conservative thinking.
24-Being a consistent conservative will help you more than pandering to nuts on the Right. If you can't tell the difference between the two, don't run.
25-Winning campaigns attract crazy and stupid people as supporters; you can't get a majority without them. This does not mean you should have crazy or stupid people as your advisers or spokespeople.
26-Principles inspire; overly complex, specific plans are a pinata that can get picked to death. If you're tied down defending Point 7 of a 52 point plan that will never survive contact with the Congress anyway you lose. Complex plans need to be able to be boiled down to the principles and incentives they will operate on. The boiling is the key part.
27-Be ready and able to explain how your plans benefit individual voters. Self-interest is a powerful thing in a democracy.
28-If you haven't worked out the necessary details of a policy, don't be rushed into releasing it just because Ezra Klein thinks you don't have a plan. Nobody will care that you didn't have a new tax plan ready 14 months before Election Day.
29-Don't say things that are false just because the CBO thinks they're true.
30-If you don't have a position on an issue, say that you're still studying the issue. Nobody needs an opinion on everything at the drop of a hat, and you'll get in less trouble.
31-When in doubt, go on the attack against the Democratic frontrunner rather than your primary opponents. Never forget that you are auditioning to run the general election against the Democrat, not just trying to be the least-bad Republican.
32-Attacking your opponents from the left, or using left-wing language, is a mistake no matter how tempting the opportunity. It makes Republican voters associate you with people they don't like. This is how both Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry ended up fumbling the Bain Capital attack.
33-Be prepared to defend every attack you make, no matter where your campaign made it. Nobody likes a rabbit puncher. Tim Pawlenty's attack on Romneycare dissolved the instant he refused to repeat it to Romney's face, and so did his campaign.
34-If your position has changed, explain why the old one was wrong. People want to know how you learn. If you don't think the old one was wrong, just inconvenient, the voters will figure that out.
35-If a debate or interview question is biased or ridiculous, point that out. Voters want to know you can smell a trap. This worked for Newt Gingrich every single time he did it. It worked when George H.W. Bush did it to Dan Rather. It will work for you.
36-Cultivate sympathetic media, from explicitly conservative outlets to fair-minded local media. But even in the primaries, you need to engage periodically with hostile mainstream media outlets to stay in practice and prove to primary voters that you can hold your ground outside the bubble.
37-Refuse to answer horserace questions, and never refer to "the base." Leave polls to the pollsters and punditry to the pundits. Mitt Romney's 47% remark was a textbook example of why candidates should not play pundit.
38-Hecklers are an opportunity, not a nuisance. If you can't win an exchange with a heckler, how are you going to win one with a presidential candidate? If you're not sure how it's done, go watch some of Chris Christie's YouTube collection.
39-Everywhere you go, assume a Democrat is recording what you say. This is probably the case.
40-Never whine about negative campaigning. If it's false, fight back; if not, just keep telling your own story. Candidates who are complaining about negative campaigning smell like losing.
41-"You did too" and "you started it" get old in a hurry. Use them sparingly.
42-If you find yourself explaining how the Senate works, stop talking. If you find yourself doing this regularly, stop running.
43-Never say "the only poll that matters is on Election Day" because only losers say that, and anyway even Election Day starts a month early now. But never forget that polls can and do change.
44-Voters do not like obviously insincere pandering, but you cannot win an election by refusing on principle to meet the voters where they are. That includes, yes, addressing Hispanic and other identity groups with a plan for sustained outreach and an explanation of how they benefit from your agenda. Build your outreach team, including liaisons and advertising in Spanish-language media, early and stay engaged as if this was the only way to reach the voters. For some voters, it is.
45-Post something as close to daily as possible on YouTube featuring yourself - daily message, clips of your best moments campaigning, vignettes from the trail. You can't visit every voter, but you can visit every voter's computer or phone.
46-Never suggest that anybody would not make a good vice president. Whatever they may say, everyone wants to believe they could be offered the job.
47-If you're not making enemies among liberals, you're doing it wrong.
48- If you don't have a plausible strategy for winning conservative support, you're in the wrong party's primary.
49-The goal is to win the election, not just the primary. Never box yourself in to win a primary in a way that will cause you to lose the election.
50-Don't bother making friends in the primary who won't support you in the general. Good press for being the reasonable Republican will evaporate when the choice is between you and a Democrat.
51-Some Republicans can be persuaded to vote for you in the general, but not in the primary. Some will threaten to sit out the general. Ignore them. You can't make everyone happy. Run a strong general election campaign and enough of them will come your way.
52-Don't actively work to alienate your base during the primary. Everyone expects you to do it in the general, and you gain nothing for it in the primary.
53-Don't save cash; it's easier to raise money after a win than to win with cash you saved while losing. But make sure your organization can run on fumes now and then during dry spells.
54-If you're not prepared for a debate, don't go. Nobody ever had their campaign sunk by skipping a primary debate. But looking unprepared for a debate can, as Rick Perry learned, create a bad impression that even a decade-long record can't overcome.
55-The Iowa Straw Poll is a trap with no upside. Avoid it. Michele Bachmann won the Straw Poll and still finished last in Iowa.
56-Ballot access rules are important. Devote resources early to learning, complying with them in every state. Mitt Romney didn't have to face Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum in Virginia - even though both of them live in Virginia - because they didn't do their homework gathering signatures.
57-If you can't fire, don't hire. In fact, don't run.
58-Hire people who are loyal to your message and agenda, and you won't have to worry about their loyalty to your campaign.
59-Don't put off doing thorough opposition research on your opponents. By the time you know who they are, the voters may have decided they're somebody else.
60-You can afford to effectively skip one early primary. You can't skip more than that. You are running for a nomination that will require you to compete nationally. (Call this the Rudy Giuliani Rule).
61-Use polling properly. Good polling will not tell you what to believe, but will tell you how to sell what you already believe.
62-Data and GOTV are not a secret sauce for victory. But ignoring them is a great way to get blindsided.
63-Don't plan to match the Democrats' operations and technology, because then you're just trying to win the last election. Plan to beat it.
64-Political consultants are like leeches. Small numbers, carefully applied, can be good for you. Large numbers will suck you dry, kill you, and move on to another host without a backward look.
65-Never hire consultants who want to use you to remake the party. They're not Republicans and you're not a laboratory rat.
66-This is the 21st century. If you wouldn't want it in a TV ad, don't put it in a robocall or a mailer. Nothing's under the radar anymore.
67-Always thank your friends when they back you up. Gratitude is currency.
68-Every leak from your campaign should help your campaign. Treat staffers who leak unfavorable things to the press the way you would treat staffers who embezzle your money. Money's easier to replace.
69-Getting distance from your base in the general on ancillary issues won't hurt you; they'll suck it up and independents will like it. Attacking your base on core issues will alienate your most loyal voters and confuse independents.
70-If you are convinced that a particular running mate will save you from losing, resign yourself to losing because you've already lost.
71-Don't pick a VP who has never served in Congress or run for president in his or her own right. Even the best Governors have a learning curve with national politics, and even the best foreign policy minds have a learning curve with electoral politics. And never steal from the future to pay for the present. Your running mate should not be a Republican star in the making who isn't ready for prime time. In retrospect, Sarah Palin's career was irreparably damaged by being elevated too quickly to the national level.
72-Never, ever, ever take anything for granted. Every election, people lose primary or general elections because they were complacent.
73-Make a few rules of your own. Losing campaigns imitate; winning campaigns innovate.
July 17, 2013
POLITICS: Fear of the Missing White Voters
RealClearPolitics election analyst Sean Trende has come under coordinated red-hot rhetorical fire from the Left for his thesis that one of the major causes of Mitt Romney's loss in 2012 was that a disproportionate number of white voters - mostly downscale whites outside the South - stayed home. Much of the criticism of Trende's thesis is based on deliberately misreading his policy prescriptions - but it's also based on a simpler failure to grasp the basic math behind his calculations. Like any exercise in reading exit polls and census data, Trende's assumptions (which he lays out explicitly) can be critiqued by people who are serious about understanding the issue; there are no definitive answers in this area other than final vote counts. But the vehemence directed at Trende's number-crunching suggests a Democratic establishment that fears honest debate intruding in its narrative of an inevitable, permanent Democratic majority built on a permanently racially polarized electorate.
Given the intense and growing racial polarization of the Obama-era electorate, it is sadly necessary to look at the race of voters to make sense of what happened in 2012 and what it says about the two parties' coalitions going forward; on this, analysts on all sides agree. Indeed, those who argue for a long-term Democratic majority do so primarily on the basis of maintenance of current levels of racial division. It is also agreed among all analysts that turnout was down in 2012 from 2008; the raw numbers show that about 2.2 million fewer people voted, while the population grew. The issue is how to measure the rates of turnout among each racial group.
Who The Missing Voters Were
Trende's original thesis was based on the initial exit polls released immediately after the election as compared to Census Bureau population estimates, and developed in a four part series beginning last month. Naturally, given the nature of the data sets involved, his numbers changed as more precise sources of data became available. He conducted a simple five-step exercise:
1. Look at voter turnout - total and by race - in the 2008 election;
2. Look at Census data to determine the growth of eligible voters in each racial category;
3. Project what the 2012 electorate would have looked like if each category turned out at the same rates as in 2008, but adjusted for the 2012 population;
4. Look at voter turnout - total and by race - in the 2012 election;
5. Compare Step 3 to Step 4 to determine how each group's rates of turnout changed from 2008 to 2012.
This is not a controversial methodology; total population growth and total election turnout are hard data, and the only real issues are which of various Census reports you use to compute population growth by racial category, and which of various election sources you use to compute turnout by racial group. With a little cutting and pasting to combine his two charts, here is what Trende's June analysis concluded:
In other words, compared to 2008 levels of turnout, white voter turnout was down far more than non-white voter turnout (6.2% vs 3.8% for black voters and 1.6% for Hispanic voters), and there were approximately 6 million "missing white voters," as compared to about 871,000 black and Hispanic voters. Trende also finds about 1.3 million missing "other" voters ("other" being mainly mixed-race voters, as well as Native American, South Asian, and other groups - not necessarily a bloc as heavily Democratic as black or Hispanic voters). The "other" group is a statistically significant part of the analysis, but, as Trende's later analysis shows, that last figure may be an anomaly due largely to mathematical rounding issues, without which the number of "missing" non-white voters in total drops in half when you use later, more accurate data - more on that below.
There is one error in Trende's computation, which brings his total short of the 129.2 million votes cast in 2012, and that's Asian voters (who have broken heavily Democratic in recent elections after being a GOP voting bloc in the Reagan-HW Bush years). Trende finds about 70,000 Asian voters missing, when in fact Asian turnout was up enough that he should be showing about 575,000 extra Asian voters (I contacted Trende and he confirmed this). Asian voters are an oft-overlooked and growing piece of the puzzle, and they still turn out in very, very low numbers compared to their (still-small) share of the US population, but reaching out to them is an important consideration going forward. In any event, when you adjust for the proper counting of Asian voters, you find that it actually strengthens Trende's thesis that white voter turnout was down relative to turnout of the major non-white voting blocs.
Where The Missing Voters Were
Trende also produced a map showing where the missing voters were most likely to be found, although the map can't break them out by race; the areas in blue on the map represent the biggest drops in turnout, red represents growth in turnout compared to population growth.
As you can see from the map, a good number of the "missing" voters were in uncontested states like New York and Oklahoma where they would not have made a difference. And the big chunks of deep blue in New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota (as well as the heavy dropoff in turnout in Alaska, not shown on the map) are consistent with a dramatic decline in Native American voter turnout.
But a significant number of others were in Pennsylvania (Obama by 309,840 votes out of 5.75 million cast), Ohio (Obama by 166,272 votes out of 5.59 million cast), Michigan (Obama by 449,313 votes out of 4.74 million cast), and Minnesota (Obama by 225,942 votes out of 2.94 million cast). This is consistent with Trende's conclusion that - while these voters were not, in and of themselves, the cause of Romney's loss - they were a contributing factor large enough to consider, and one that may loom even larger in a closer future contest between a better Republican candidate and a Democrat who has less visceral appeal to non-white voters. (The lower turnout throughout the Northeast also surely reflects the influence of Hurricane Sandy).
The White-Voter Path To GOP Victory
Later in his series, Trende moved on to a second thesis: that it's possible - not likely, but possible - that depending how turnout develops (eg, if African-American turnout and voting patterns revert to pre-Obama levels), that the GOP could start winning national elections on the basis of winning a growing share of the white vote without eroding the Democrats' hold on non-white voters. As Trende notes, while this scenario requires some leaps from where we stand today, white voters have been trending gradually more Republican:
Democrats liked to mock the GOP as the "Party of White People" after the 2012 elections. But from a purely electoral perspective, that's not a terrible thing to be. Even with present population projections, there are likely to be a lot of non-Hispanic whites in this country for a very long time. Relatively slight changes among their voting habits can forestall massive changes among the non-white population for a very long while. The very white baby boom generation is just hitting retirement age, and younger whites, while unsurprisingly more Democratic than the baby boomers (who, you may recall, supported George McGovern), still voted for Romney overall.
Nowhere does Trende argue for the GOP to turn up its nose at Hispanic outreach, or counsel a harder line on immigration; rather, he argues simply that there are enough different variables that it's unwise to write off the GOP just yet on the basis of mathematical and demographic determinism, even if the GOP does defeat the current iteration of "comprehensive immigration reform." There is more than one way to build a winning electoral coalition.
The main salvo against Trende can be found in a belligerent ThinkProgress blog post by Ruy Teixeira and Alan Abramowitz entitled, "No, Republicans, 'Missing' White Voters Won't Save You." Stripping away the rhetorical overkill ("GOP phone home! Your missing white voters have been found, and it turns out they weren't really missing"), the main point of contention is that Teixeira and Abramowitz simply reject the notion that turnout was down at differential rates:
Trende was using an estimate of around 2.7 million additional eligible whites between 2008 and 2012. That's wrong: Census data show an increase of only 1.5 million white eligibles....[U]sing Census data on eligible voters plus exit poll data on shares of votes by race, we calculate that turnout went down by about equal amounts among white and minority voters (3.4 and 3.2 percentage points, respectively).
This attack on Trende was predictably amplified by Paul Krugman, who doesn't seem to have even read Trende's essays, calling them a "Whiter Shade of Fail"; Krugman concludes on the basis of reading the ThinkProgress blog post that "the missing-white-voter story is a myth." (Josh Marshall takes a similar line).
But careful reading is your friend. And a careful reading shows why Teixeira and Abramowitz are long on vitriol - because they are short on trustworthy data.
The immediate problem here is that Teixeira and Abramowitz don't show their work to explain how they come up with these percentages, so a certain amount of deductive detective work is required to figure out what they did (not making your computations transparent is generally not a sign of confidence in your data). From the links in their post, it appears that the main issue is that they and Trende are using different Census Bureau reports for their data. Also, critically, Teixeira and Abramowitz don't break out turnout among the component elements of "non-white" voters, who they treat as a monolithic mass.
The CPS Bait and Switch
As Trende observes, Teixeira and Abramowitz "look at a different data set -- the CPS [Current Population Survey] data," a monthly survey in which people self-report employment data and (after the election) self-reported voting participation. Trende, by contrast, used Census Bureau population estimates derived from the actual 2010 Census.
If you take it at face value, however, the CPS survey has a serious flaw that should be obvious even to a Nobel Prize winner:
[T]he CPS data conclude that there were 1.4 million more Hispanics who voted in 2012 than in 2008, 547,000 more Asians, 1.7 million more blacks, and 2 million fewer whites. That works out to a total of 1.8 million more votes cast in 2012 than 2008, according to the CPS survey.
In short: the CPS turnout figures cannot possibly be correct. It's like a preseason baseball prediction where the whole league is over .500. It's mathematically impossible. Now, it's certainly possible that CPS is wrong proportionally - that is, that it overreported the turnout of all groups equally. It's also certainly possible that it's not proportionate. But there's no way from looking at CPS alone to know, so relying on it as an authoritative source without caveat or explanation is a very questionable choice.
Teixeira and Abramowitz stake their whole argument on the CPS - but then they use it selectively. As noted above, the actual turnout figures produced by CPS support the idea that white turnout was down in absolute terms, while black, Hispanic and Asian turnout was up. If they broke these groups out individually, as they appear in the CPS data itself, that would destroy their entire argument that turnout was down equally across all groups. So they do two things to cover their tracks. One is to clump these groups together with "other" non-whites; but as Trende notes, "the large mass of missing 'other' voters is probably a rounding issue. This isn't a minor point; those voters represent 60 percent of all the non-whites that Teixeira and Abramowitz are discussing."
Second, as Trende demonstrates, Teixeira and Abramowitz are only able to use the CPS data to their advantage by mixing and matching it with other sources (specifically, exit polls) - if you use only the CPS, "the CPS data actually show a larger decline in the white vote than do the exit polls." (Trende, because he's using non-election-related Census data, has to use the exit polls for his turnout figures - but if Teixeira and Abramowitz think CPS is the more reliable source, why do they avoid using it to compute turnout?)
There is no perfect answer to these questions. The Census is the best possible population figure, but the interstitial estimates involve some inherent guesswork. Exit polls may be biased in who answers them, and the CPS is obviously biased to over-report voting and may be biased in who over-reports; we can't know. (One difference being that exit poll respondents don't know who won the election when they respond; CPS respondents do, so there may be a possible bias towards overreporting by non-voting supporters of the winner. But that's speculation.) What we do know is that Trende has put his methodological choices on the table and they are reasonable ones; Teixeira and Abramowitz have not, nor offered any defense for their methods, nor explained how they can square their theory of perfectly proportional decline in turnout across groups with the fact that the very source they use shows the opposite. Under those circumstances, it's not hard to decide who to trust.
The Wider Universe of Missing Voters
For all the heat over Trende's computations, it should not be forgotten that the "missing white voters" are only the difference in turnout patterns between 2008 and 2012 - both elections in which uninspiring and poorly-organized GOP campaigns faced off against Barack Obama (a uniquely inspiring figure to non-white voters due to his status as the first non-white President), and the first of which - the baseline - already involved a uniquely bad political environment for Republicans. In fact, voter turnout is a volatile variable that changes from one election to another; while it can be useful to perform an exercise like Trende's, it requires a serious failure of imagination to regard the 2008 and 2012 turnout environments as the outer boundaries of potential voter turnout.
How many voters are "missing" depends very much what your baseline is - a baseline that never stops moving. It's debatable exactly how many eligible voters there are at any given time (different sources use different measurements) but consider that Michael McDonald of George Mason University (on whom Teixeira and Abramowitz rely) figures a "voting eligible population" of 221,925,820 in 2012 - which means that compared to the entire universe of eligible voters, there weren't six or eight million missing voters, there were 92.7 million missing voters, 40% more than the total that voted for Obama. On the other hand, McDonald calculates that, while 58.2% of eligible voters voted in 2012, only 51.7% voted in 1996 when Bill Clinton ran for re-election. If you take McDonald's figures and use 1996, the last election with an incumbent Democrat on the ballot two years after a GOP rout in the Congressional midterms, as your baseline, suddenly you're not talking about missing voters at all - you're asking where 8.4 million extra voters came from.
I do not, of course, mean to suggest that there were 92 million voters that either campaign could reasonably have expected to turn out. My point is, the dropoff of some 6 million eligible white voters and 1.6 million eligible non-white voters as compared to the 2008 baseline is just one segment of a much broader universe of eligible non-voters, some of whom will doubtless be turned out by the winning presidential campaign in 2016 or 2020, just as some of the folks who turned out for Obama, Romney or McCain will surely drop out of the process in the next two elections even if they remain eligible voters. Turnout as a whole can be volatile over time, as McDonald's estimates show:
Turnout rates dropped as more previously ineligible voters entered the system, particularly after the voting age was reduced; it spiked in 1992 when Ross Perot's campaign offered an outlet to voters unhappy with both parties, and again in 2004 and 2008 as the Bush and Obama campaigns found distinctly different paths to bring previously disaffected voters to the polls. The increasing volatility of turnout rates in recent years suggests that improvements in technology, combined with changes in voting practices (e.g., early voting) may be improving campaigns' ability to locate new voters. And there's a second, equally important piece of the puzzle that I frequently stress: the two parties' bases, turnout methods and reasons for appealing to voters are asymmetrical. Look at this chart of the vote totals of the Democratic and Republican tickets in presidential races between 1976 and 2012:
The Democrat vote grew steadily year to year throughout this period, consistent with the view (implicit in all of Teixeira's analyses and those who follow a similar demographics-are-everything approach) that the Democrats are mainly a collection of interest groups that grow with the populations they represent. The Republican vote, by contrast, was much more volatile (and susceptible to being drawn off by dissenters like Perot), reflecting the fact that Republicans are a more ideological party and therefore more dependent on the issue environment (particularly the presence of national security as a major issue) and the quality of the party's candidate and platform to draw votes. Candidates and campaigns still matter, and matter more to Republicans. It's entirely plausible to think the GOP will run better candidates and better campaigns in the future - that the McCain and Romney campaigns were not the best of all possible Republican campaigns.
Specifically, we are not so far removed from George W. Bush and his Karl Rove-led political operation figuring out how to increase the GOP vote from 39 million voters in 1992 and 1996 to 50 million in 2000 and 62 million in 2004, a feat that astounded liberal observers at the time and upended conventional wisdom that the GOP could only succeed in a low-turnout environment. The 2004 election came after Ruy Teixeira and John Judis had published their "Emerging Democratic Majority" book in 2002, and Teixeira spent the 2004 election arguing so vociferously that the polls were overestimating Republican turnout that Mickey Kaus acidly remarked the day after the election "Bush 51, Kerry 48: Pollster Ruy Teixeira demands that these raw numbers be weighted to reflect party I.D.!"
Teixeira wasn't the first or last election analyst to assume that dramatic changes in the turnout environment were implausible; many observers on the right, myself and Trende included, spent a good deal of 2012 questioning how Obama could recreate the dramatic shift away from 2004's turnout that we saw in 2008. The point here is the danger of assuming that present trends will continue unabated forever.
In short, we're discussing the current margins - of the 92.7 million eligible voters who passed on the Obama-Romney contest, around 9% of those would have shown up at 2008 levels of turnout; of the 129.2 million who did vote, around 6% of those would have stayed home at 1996 levels of turnout. But until we run the next election, we don't know how far each side can push those margins, or with which populations of eligible but not certain voters. The history of American politics suggests that we have not seen the last new development that will surprise observers of the political scene.
Ruy Teixeira's Methods Seem Familiar
Reading through Texiera's flailing assault on Trende, I felt a strange sense of deja vu - because I had read this before, in Teixeira's review of Jonathan Last's excellent book What to Expect When No One's Expecting. And as with his dismissal of Trende, Teixeira's review was greeted by the usual head-nodders on the Left as an excuse not to deal with Last's arguments but rather dismiss them out of hand.
Last's book develops his argument that birth rates in the United States and around the world are falling to a point that threatens a declining population, that many changes in society, economics and government can flow from such a demographic shift, and that a lot of these could be very, very bad. Last's book notes that Hispanics (particularly recent arrivals to the U.S.) have been the only major group having enough children to keep the United States from falling below "replacement level" birthrates, but that trends among Hispanics suggest that they may also fall back towards the rest of the U.S. population over time. Finally, he argues that, while immigration has helped the U.S. stave off the more dire declines in population faced by countries like Japan, Russia and Southern Europe, there are downsides to relying too heavily on new immigrants to replace the native-born population, and reasons (especially given Mexican birthrates) to suspect that a steady supply of immigrants may dry up down the road.
Teixeira applies the same rhetorical sledgehammer to Last's carefully-researched, copiously footnoted and even-handedly argued book that he deployed against Trende: "If Last's claims sound hysterical and overwrought, that is because they are....If Last's claims about the impending population crash are fanciful, his claim that fertility decline will lead to economic collapse is completely ridiculous." But as with his attack on Trende, Teixeira's assertions don't stand up well under scrutiny.
To begin with, Teixeira's review of the book is astoundingly parochial: something like half of the book and scores of its examples (both anecdote and country-level data) look at birthrates around the world and in history, and a good deal of Last's argument addresses how the U.S. will be impacted by demographic changes in other countries, some of them very dramatically underway. But aside from one hand-waving reference to UN projections (more on which below) and a reference (which Teixeira refuses to engage) to Last's reliance on slowing Mexican population growth, Teixeira completely ignores everything happening outside the United States and all the book's discussion of history as an example.
Teixeira accuses Last of being "truly the man with a hammer who sees nails everywhere," yet the entirety of his critique of Last's solutions is to ask, "why not support immigration reform, as well as generally higher immigration levels?" and accuse him of being an immigration restrictionist who "just isn't very interested in seeing more immigrants in the country." It seems Teixeira is the one who only has a hammer, given that the argument for more immigration and growing political power for Democratic-leaning Hispanics is also the entirety of his attack on Trende, his attack on the 2004 polls and the 2002 book that made his name. As Last noted in response, if you actually read the book, you'd see that Last is not arguing against more immigration, just explaining why it's not the whole answer to every problem.
As for number-crunching, Teixeira didn't even bother to grapple with Last's marshalling and sifting of the demographic data; he just appeals to authority:
The Census Bureau does project that the fertility rate will diminish, but only by a modest .09 over the next 50 years. And while the fertility rate is likely to remain below the replacement rate for the next 50 years, the Census Bureau expects us to add another 100 million people by 2060 due to immigration and "demographic momentum." (Despite sub-replacement fertility rates, a relatively large proportion of the population will be in prime reproductive years for decades to come.) So much for population collapse.
At least this time, Teixeira looked at what the Census Bureau had to say. But he offers no reason why we would expect declining fertility rates to reverse themselves down the road, and while Last explains the implausibility of the UN's 2010 projection (which represented an abrupt and not credibly explained about-face from its prior stance), Teixeira incuriously accepts it at face value and then asserts these inherently speculative projections as fact. Last himself admits that many of the future projections involve uncertainty - but the past and current trends are hard facts. As Last notes, this is far from the only area in which Teixiera just hand-waves whole detailed sections of the book - unlike Teixeira, Last actually considers the experiences of other countries to see what works and what does not, rather than just blithely assuming that demographic trends will reverse themselves of their own accord.
Liberal pundits and Democratic activists - and the line between the two can be hard to locate - have increasingly overinvested in two excuses for insulating themselves in a bubble: that no data can possibly support any arguments by analysts on the Right, who can be dismissed with an ad hominem, a quick hand-wave and a lot of nodding, and that demographics alone will deliver them a permanent electoral majority without the need for their side to actually win any more arguments. These are hazardous trends, and the imbalance between Teixeira's rhetoric in dealing with pundits like Trende and Last and the actual substance of his critiques is an illustration of the dangers of the need to sustain this illusion at all costs to a writer's own credibility.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:30 PM | Politics 2012 | Politics 2013 | Politics 2016 | Poll Analysis | Comments (2)
March 21, 2013
POLITICS: Ahead of His Time
Those of us who supported Rick Perry over Mitt Romney in 2012 can take a small measure of vindication in this look at how Perry was ahead of the curve on immigration, education, entitlements and other issues in terms of anticipating where the GOP would be headed next. That's without even mentioning Perry's tax plan or his stances on Turkey and Syria.
If Perry had been the nominee in 2012, it's hard to see what states he loses that Romney won; the worst that happens is that he ends up more or less with the same electoral results as Romney and possibly a worse popular vote margin. But how the race's dynamics unfold? That's unknowable. On the upside, we're finally done with Romney, and can have a Romney-less contested primary for the first time since 2000.
Perry has an outstanding record and resume, but my sense is that he's best off playing Goldwater to the next nominee's Reagan rather than trying to run again himself. There's plenty of younger talent ready to go, and he'd have an uphill battle to unmake his first impression.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:39 PM | Politics 2012 | Politics 2013 | Politics 2016 | Comments (5)