"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
Writings Elsewhere Archives
July 21, 2018
LAW/POLITICS: Democratic Desperation on Kavanaugh is Showing
July 12, 2018
LAW/POLITICS/HISTORY: Revenge for Merrick Garland?
Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:00 AM | History | In Print | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2018 | Writings Elsewhere
May 11, 2018
BASEBALL: The Misery of the Mets fan
NY POST: The misery of the Mets fan (in this morning's paper)
February 19, 2018
POLITICS: Let the Kids Talk - but That's Not the End of Any Debate
October 3, 2017
POLITICS: Bobby Jindal for HHS
NRO: Bobby Jindal for HHS
September 1, 2017
POLITICS: Do Liberal Writers Really Believe In An Obligation To Oppose Everything Trump Does?
August 31, 2017
POLITICS: Editors Podcast on Hurricane Harvey
NRO: The Editors Podcast, on Hurricane Harvey and other topics.
August 10, 2017
POLITICS: WaPo and The Hill Publish 'Troll Poll' about Postponing the 2020 Election
July 31, 2017
POLITICS: The Pocketbook Party
July 30, 2017
POP CULTURE/HISTORY: Dunkirk Is A Horror Movie
July 28, 2017
POLITICS: How Republicans Went Wrong on Health Care
July 26, 2017
WAR/POLITICS: Military Fitness Is A Military Decision
July 20, 2017
WAR: Anti-Radical Muslims Need to Organize and Draw Lines
Also up at Fox Nation.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:00 AM | History | Religion | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
July 12, 2017
POLITICS: It's Not Treason, But It's Not Defensible, Either
June 26, 2017
LAW/RELIGION/POLITICS: Religious Liberty, Trump Win Important Victories at the Supreme Court
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:59 PM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | Religion | Writings Elsewhere
June 20, 2017
POLITICS: In a Bad District for Trump, Karen Handel Persisted
POLITICS/HISTORY: We Should Have Heeded This Warning From Ronald Reagan
June 15, 2017
POLITICS: Who's to Blame for Political Violence?
LA Times: Who's to blame for political violence?
My take on the Steve Scalise shooting.
June 14, 2017
LAW/POLITICS: Yes, The Attorney General Can Have Privileged Conversations With The President
Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:42 AM | History | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | Writings Elsewhere
June 8, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Comey Wasn't Investigating Trump - But Look Who Said He Was
June 7, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Jim Comey Backs Up Trump's Story, But It's Not All Good News for Trump
June 4, 2017
HISTORY/POLITICS: A Myopic View Of Robert E. Lee
June 1, 2017
BASEBALL: Fighting Isn't Bryce Harper's Job
May 31, 2017
POLITICS: Trump's Problem Isn't How He Talks but What He Says
May 30, 2017
POLITICS: "Never Trump," Winning, and the Duty to Argue in Good Faith
May 22, 2017
LAW/POLITICS: Supreme Court Strikes Down Majority-Minority Districts for Being Majority-Minority
POLITICS/LAW: Here's How Congress Can Fix the Way We Investigate Presidents
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:45 PM | History | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | Writings Elsewhere
May 16, 2017
LAW/POLITICS: In Hate-Crime Prosecutions, Thoughts Shouldn't Matter
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:00 AM | In Print | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
May 15, 2017
May 11, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Acting FBI Director Shoots Down Media, Trump Narratives
May 10, 2017
POLITICS/LAW/WAR: Republicans Should Want The Russia 2016 Story Out In The Open
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:10 PM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
April 27, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Will Slow Staffing Cause Trump and Sessions to Side with Obama against the Little Sisters of the Poor?
April 26, 2017
POLITICS/SPORTS: ESPN Layoffs Should Be a Wake-Up Call about Politicizing Sports
April 24, 2017
POLITICS: Democrats to Pro-Lifers: You Are Unwanted and May Be Discarded
April 21, 2017
POLITICS: Repeal and Piecemeal: A Better Obamacare Strategy
April 11, 2017
POLITICS: Sean Spicer Steps in a Hitler Mess
Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:48 PM | History | Politics 2017 | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
April 3, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Gorsuch Opponents Fall Back on the Last Refuge of Scoundrels
March 27, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Chuck Schumer's Made-Up 60-Vote Standard
March 24, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: No, Trump Isn't Under Criminal Investigation by the FBI
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:40 PM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
March 23, 2017
POLITICS: Hate Crimes Hoaxes Strike Again, Anti-Semitic Bomb Threats Edition
POLITICS/LAW: It Doesn't Matter That Garland Didn't Get a Hearing
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:01 PM | History | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | Writings Elsewhere
March 20, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: The Garland Precedent Should Not Stop Gorsuch
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:20 PM | History | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | Writings Elsewhere
March 18, 2017
POP CULTURE: RIP Chuck Berry, The Founding Father of Rock
March 14, 2017
POLITICS: Let's Normalize Trump
LA Times: Let's Normalize Trump
March 13, 2017
POLITICS: What The CBO Score Means
March 7, 2017
POLITICS: Republicans Use the Grandfather Option to Fix the Mess Made by Obamacare
March 6, 2017
POLITICS/LAW/HISTORY: Trump and the Emoluments Clause
My latest NR magazine piece: Foreign Entanglements, on Trump and the Constitution's Foreign Emoluments Clause.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | History | In Print | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | Writings Elsewhere
March 1, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: There's No Republican Crackdown on Peaceful Protests
February 28, 2017
POLITICS: The State of Trump Is a Work in Progress
February 25, 2017
POLITICS: New Democratic Party Chair Thomas Perez Was Cited By Congress For Official Misdonduct
February 24, 2017
POLITICS: How Republicans Should Check Trump
POLITICS: Democratic Senators Chicken Out From Town Halls
February 20, 2017
POLITICS: The Gerrymander Myth
My latest NR magazine piece, on gerrymandering: The Gerrymander Myth.
February 18, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Following Up On The Foreign Emoluments Clause and Gerrymandering
Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:42 PM | History | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | Writings Elsewhere
February 16, 2017
POLITICS: What About Whataboutism? Does It Matter If Obama Did It First?
February 9, 2017
POLITICS/LAW/WAR: Why The Ninth Circuit Ruled Against Trump's Refugee Order
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:42 PM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
POLITCS/LAW: The Threat to the Integrity of an Independent Judiciary
February 5, 2017
POLITICS/LAW/WAR: Judge Robart: Not A Republican Judge
At NRO: Judge Robart: Not A Republican Judge.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:23 PM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
POLITICS/LAW/WAR: Trump vs Judge Robart: What Happened?
At NRO: Trump vs Judge Robart: What Happened?
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:45 AM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
January 28, 2017
POLITICS/LAW: Two Further Thoughts on Trump's Refugee Order
POLITICS/LAW/WAR: Refugee Madness: Trump Is Wrong, But His Liberal Critics Are Crazy
Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:35 PM | Law 2009-Present | Politics 2017 | War 2007-Present | Writings Elsewhere
January 23, 2017
POLITICS: Do Democrats Really Want Their Own Tea Party? Be Careful What You Wish For
January 21, 2017
POLITICS: Crowd Sizes Matter To The Media Only When The Cause is Liberal
January 20, 2017
POLITICS: Trump: America First
NRO: Trump: America First
POLITICS: Trump Strikes an Anti-Washington Note
January 18, 2017
BASEBALL: Rock The Hall
NRO: Rock The Hall
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 16, 2017
POP CULTURE: At The Movies, Technology Isn't Everything
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
BASEBALL: Baseball Goes Deep: Extra Innings, Game Seven
November 2, 2016
HISTORY: History is Forgotten If We Don't Keep It Fresh
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 15, 2016
BASEBALL: The 2016 Cubs: One Of The Best Defensive Teams Since 1900
October 14, 2016
POLITICS: Trump The Transgressive Candidate
October 13, 2016
POP CULTURE: Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize
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: 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: 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
BASEBALL: Ichiro Suzuki: A Hit King, But Not The Hit King
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 14, 2016
WAR/RELIGION: There Is No Radical Christianity That Compares to Radical Islam
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.
Read More »
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.
« Close It
May 30, 2016
HISTORY: Remember Joseph Warren This Memorial Day
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 5, 2016
POLITICS: Dear Republican Politician: Let's Talk about Donald Trump
May 4, 2016
POLITICS: Politics Is Still Downstream of Culture
POLITICS: Trump's Next Victim: Pollsters
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.
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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
LAW: Antonin Scalia's Political Philosophy
February 17, 2016
POLITICS: Is Jeb Bush Preparing Himself to Drop Out?
February 16, 2016
POLITICS: New South Carolina Poll From CNN: The Race For 2-3-4
POLITICS: A Nutty Plan To Confirm An Obama Nominee To Replace Scalia - After The Election
February 15, 2016
HISTORY/LAW/POLITICS: Closing The Book On The Silent Generation
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
January 17, 2016
POLITICS: Trumpian Motion
January 14, 2016
POLITICS: Rubio, Cruz, Trump
January 4, 2016
POLITICS: End of 2015
My last two essays of 2015 were just before Christmas:
On to 2016.
December 18, 2015
POLITICS: Bomb Aladdin!
One of the favorite shticks of Democrat pollster Public Policy Polling (PPP) is to ask questions designed to make Republican voters look bad. This kind of "troll polling" flatters all the usual sorts of people who love to laugh at what yokels the GOP's supporters are, and as yet no Republican-leaning pollster has gotten into the regular business of giving Democrats a taste of the same medicine. If the last few years have taught us anything, it's not to trust individual polls that can't be checked against a polling average, but by definition these are all one-off polls. But there's a deeper issue here that the latest PPP trolling question illustrates: that average Americans are far too trusting of pollsters, and the ability of pollsters to exploit that trust shows why polling on individual issues is untrustworthy.
Here's the latest poll question that has PPP's followers floating on a cloud of smug this morning:
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Over six thousand Retweets at this writing! A flavor of what PPP is trying to accomplish comes from the following Tweets:
[UPDATE: Apparently the question was suggested by far-Left arch-feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte, who tweeted: "Idea: Let's come up with a fake country with a vaguely Arabic name and poll GOP voters on whether or not we should bomb it."]
If you look at the overall breakdown on PPP's poll question and how Democratic voters answered the same question, Republicans don't actually come out looking quite as bad as the Tweet headline suggests:
If you're keeping score at home, that means 55% of Democrat voters were willing to express an opinion on bombing a fictional country, compared to 43% of Republicans. PPP is dining out on the 30-19 edge in Republican voters who said "yes," but if you take this poll seriously, the 57-45 edge in Republican voters who were unwilling to answer a question with an egregious falsehood about world events embedded in its premise seems to cut in the opposite direction than what PPP is trying to accomplish here.
But really, you should not take these troll polls seriously, and in fact they should teach educated poll consumers to be skeptical about all issue polling. Why did 55% of Democrats and 43% of Republicans answer a question about bombing a fictional country? Partly, one assumes, because it didn't occur to them that the pollster would take advantage of them by asking a question that assumed facts that do not exist. Partly because people in general do not like to admit there are things they do not know. Partly because people do assume there are all sorts of little countries out there they have never heard of, a fair number of which (e.g., former Soviet republics, parts of the old Yugoslavia, breakaway African states) didn't exist 20 or 30 years ago, and that some of these are unstable places that may house the occasional wretched hive of scum and villainy. And partly because answers to issue polling questions tend to vary a lot by what the pollster says before asking them:
In this particular case, the Agrabah question was Question 38 on a 41-question poll. If you've ever taken a poll, 38 is a lot of questions - you're getting impatient, the kids may be yelling for you, but if you are a good-natured sort and want your voice heard and you've already invested several minutes of your time, you're determined to stick it all the way to the end by this point. (We don't know how many people hung up before they got to the end). Let's look at the issue questions leading up to this:
Question 29 Do you support or oppose requiring a criminal background check of every person who wants to buy a firearm? (6% were not sure)
You'll notice first that the number of people who didn't feel qualified to answer questions about gun ownership and the minimum wage was pretty low, but rose as they moved into the next set of questions and then abruptly more than doubled when they got to bombing the land of genies and magic carpets. You'll also notice how the poll led into this with a series of questions all tied around terrorism and Islam, so respondents were primed to expect that a question about bombing some obscure Arab-sounding place was related in good faith to the questions that came before it - that bombing Agrabah was a thing that our leaders were seriously discussing.
You'll also notice if you dig into the crosstabs that the most liberal (31%) and youngest (46% under age 45) and male (51%) poll respondents were the least willing to refuse to answer (all this is among Republicans; PPP hasn't yet released the poll of Democrats). Interestingly, aside from George Pataki (who polled at 0% so his support can't have been more than 1 or 2 people), the two candidates whose supporters were least likely to answer the question were Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee - 76% of Carson's supporters declined to answer it.
[UPDATE: PPP has now released the full poll. When questioning Democrats, PPP asked only ten questions; the Agrabah question was sixth, and was not preceded by any other issue questions, let alone a battery of questions about terrorism and Muslims. The disparity in how the question was placed in the two polls is stark.
But the crosstabs are beside the main point, which is that people are willing to tell pollsters all sorts of things about which they do not actually have anything like a fixed opinion, let alone an informed one. I very much doubt if PPP polled a single person who went into that call with an opinion about bombing Agrabah, and I doubt very many of them continued to have an opinion the next day. A machine asked them to press a button, so they just took their best guess.
And if you read every issue poll from today forward with that in mind, you will realize how much of the issue polling that gets published is no more useful or predictive than knowing people's opinions about bombing a place that exists in a Disney cartoon. PPP may have been looking to discredit Republican voters, but it really did more to reveal the problem with the trustworthiness of its own industry.
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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
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
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 17, 2010
POLITICS: Posting Up
I have a column in the NY Post this morning on the great missed opportunity that is 2010's Republican Party in New York (it's on p. 25 of the print paper).
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:58 AM | In Print | Politics 2010 | Writings Elsewhere | Comments (41) | TrackBack (0)
August 28, 2002
WAR/BLOG: 'Very Smart Inactivist'
I'm obviously still at the stage of just dropping some archival and random stuff in here while I figure out whether there's time in my schedule to blog. Here's one of my little scraps of broader publicity: an email I sent to Jonah Goldberg that got posted in The Corner on the National Review Online.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:28 PM | Blog 2002-05 | War 2002-03 | Writings Elsewhere | TrackBack (0)
January 25, 2001
BASEBALL: Link From The Prospectus