Posts Tagged ‘Democratic Party’

The Thinker

Looking past the midterms, part two

(A continuation of sorts of this March post.)

Currently 43 Republican members of the House have announced that they will not be seeking reelection this November. This includes most famously the current Speaker of the House Paul Ryan who says he is leaving to spend more time with his family. Three Republican senators are also not seeking reelection too. The Atlantic is keeping a tally with all the details. In the House, Republicans currently hold a 237/193 majority with five seats vacant.

A party needs 218 seats to control the House. If you do the math it’s not hard to see why Ryan is throwing in the towel. If Republicans lose 20 seats in November they are in the minority. In the last wave election for Democrats in 2006, Democrats picked up 31 seats in the House and 5 in the Senate, giving them control of Congress. If anything, 2018 promises to be even more of a wave election for Democrats than 2006 was. Thus many so-called principled Republicans are deciding to hither thee elsewhere rather than face the wrath of voters and the sting of likely defeat.

The math is so brutal that Republican insiders are now assuming they will lose the House. Their focus is now on retaining the Senate. Currently there are 51 Republicans and 47 Democrats in the Senate, but the 2 Independents caucus with the Democrats, effectively meaning if the Republicans lose two seats they have lost that chamber too. If they lose just one seat we have a tied Senate where power will effectively be shared, with Vice President Pence breaking ties. Four Republican senators (Corker TN, Flake AZ, Hatch UT and Cochran MS) are retiring. The only Democrat retiring already did: Al Franken (WI) due to sexual harassment complaints.

31 Senate seats are up this time, 23 Democratic and 8 Republican. 11 are battleground states. In wave election years though it’s unlikely a Republican will pick off an incumbent Democratic seat. The most vulnerable Democratic seats are in Montana (Tester), North Dakota (Heitkamp), Missouri (McCaskill) and West Virginia (Manchin). The most vulnerable Republican seats are Nevada (Heller) and surprisingly Arizona (Flake, retiring). In fact, Nevada is likely to pick a Democrat. Tennessee might surprise by picking a Democrat, even though it is considered a safe Republican state.

Most likely Republicans won’t be able to flip more than two of these contested states. In a wave election year though most likely they won’t pick up any. If Democrats flip Nevada and Arizona, that should do it. Flake is retiring in part because he is not sufficiently supportive of Trump, which means that the Arizona Republican nominee will pander to Trump’s base, disenfranchising the nominee from Arizona independents. Nevada has been trending blue for a long time as is Arizona. But there may be surprises. Democrats may flip Ted Cruz’s seat in Texas.

When the dust clears Democrats have better than even odds of having recaptured Congress. Democrats recapturing the House is now a given. Most likely Democrats will control the Senate with 51 to 53 votes.

Of course much can change between now and November 6, but most likely any changes will help Democrats. Ryan’s retirement is symptomatic of a deeply depressed Republican bench that seems to understand they are going to get their asses whipped. Trump’s increasingly bizarre behavior will continue to accelerate. There will likely be reports from Bob Mueller long before the election that will further put Republicans on the defensive.

So much for my latest election analysis, still some six months out. Imagine though that Democrats do regain control of Congress. What will that mean with this dynamic? Clearly Democrats will be able to hold impeachment hearings. Since only a simple majority is needed for impeachment, impeaching Trump will only be a matter of time. The real action would then move to the Senate, which would have to convict Trump to remove him. 67 votes would be needed to remove Trump from office, so Democrats would need probably no more than 16 Republicans to vote to convict. Would a third of Republican senators vote against a president of their own party? It seems unlikely, since the U.S. Senate did not convict Bill Clinton in 1999.

Conviction though would be a political act. Republican senators will have to look at the Mueller report, the wreckage of the election and their party and determine whether they are better off without Trump. Given Trump’s lying, his histrionic nature and his open grifting, any party that hopes to rebrand itself in a more positive fashion should realize that Trump is their deadweight and they are better off without him than with him. Without him, Mike Pence is president. Pence is deeply conservative but at least he is sane. He is unlikely to have a stream of hidden affairs to be unearthed. He’s unlikely to launch a nuclear war. And his positions align with those of most Republican senators, at least those who will be left.

Trump expects loyalty from everyone but never gives any in return. He is burning a lot of bridges, as evidenced by how little of his agenda has made it through Congress. So most likely it won’t be too hard to find enough Republican votes in the Senate to throw Trump out of office. There will still be the Cult of Trump that will form an important part of the party’s base, but as Trump continues to devolve it’s likely his supporters will grow less passionate. They may also realize that Trump has proved a failure at governing and that Pence is a much more stable alternative.

Remembering my own reaction after Trump won the presidential election it’s not hard to imagine Republicans will receive their own wake up call on November 6. The most likely message from voters is that they want politicians who will govern again and this includes reaching out to a vanishing center and compromising. They will want politicians that will fix problems, not make them worse. The Tea Party brand is dying and 2018 should pretty much kill that part of the party.

Let’s hope we survive to vote on November 6.

 
The Thinker

The perfect storm

In case you hadn’t noticed, Donald Trump suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder, a side effect of his Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I’d say give the man some Ritalin but in many ways his ADD simply helps speed up his unraveling. The more I watch the man, the more convinced I am that he subconsciously wants to fail. He’s in way over his head. He can’t acknowledge it to himself so he spends a lot of time doing stupid stuff.

Stupid stuff like spending Easter tweeting that there will be no DACA deal and he’s going to blow up NAFTA if he doesn’t get his border wall. This is likely to blow over rather than blow up because when you have ADD by definition you have a short attention span. So it’s likely a week from now he’ll have totally forgotten he tweeted this stuff. In any event, if you are hearing a chorus of “ho hums” coming from Capitol Hill, it’s because they’ve seen stuff like this so many times that it’s becoming rote. Even the press is starting to move these presidential tweets below the fold. Hopefully they’ll move to page A10 pretty soon.

It’s obvious Trump is not a politician, which is presumably what his supporters like about him. When he tries to schmooze it comes across as wholly inauthentic. In any case, politicians quickly learn if you want to get stuff done you have to do a lot of schmoozing. That’s because power in the government is decentralized and not even Trump can change that, although he is trying. For now at least if he wants to get something major done, it has to be done through Congress, not executive actions.

It’s likely when you were growing up if your parents scolded you it did not enamor you toward them. It works the same way in Congress, which is why so little of Trump’s agenda has gotten passed despite having a Republican congress. In some ways Congress is digging in their heels. They’ve pretty much blocked Trump’s outreach to Russia and passed veto-proof legislation to tighten Russian sanctions. Congress has trumped Trump, and even Trump has seen the writing on the wall by expelling sixty Russian diplomats who were likely spies.

Trump obviously didn’t read the FY18 spending bill even though congressional leaders met with him to get his agreement on it before moving it through Congress. When it was sent for his signature he rebelled then reluctantly gave in. The legislation funds election system reforms, targets Russian hacking of our elections and hits many of the items on the Democratic Party’s wish list, such as major increases in funds for domestic programs. The CDC is allowed to research the effects of guns on public health again. Who would have thought with Republicans supposedly controlling government?

In any event, if Trump actually makes a stand on his border wall, the proper thing to do is to stand up to him. That’s what you do with bullies and arguably Congress is doing a pretty good job of it already. Granted, there are some exceptions. The Republican congress finds it in their interest to give the White House a pass on its general corruption. Mostly the Congressional leadership is well aware of his ADD and uses strategies like the spending bill to work around him.

Trump can renegotiate NAFTA and take many actions, but he can’t cancel it. His leverage on DACA is mainly of his own choosing. It won’t take for too many DACA recipients to actually be deported before he learns how counterproductive it will be. And these measures certainly won’t spur Congress to build a border wall, or convince Mexico to pay for it, mainly because he can’t really block these imports from Mexico by himself. He has to convince Congress to change the law. As long as he is yelling at Congress, it ain’t happening.

All this is leading toward the midterms on November 6, which is likely to return Democrats to the majority in Congress. It will still be a tough hurdle for Democrats, given the extreme gerrymandering nationwide and further voter suppression efforts. But Trump is doing pretty much everything possible to empower Democrats back into the majority. Just today I read that China is imposing its own tariffs against selective U.S. imports in response to recent U.S. tariffs that Trump authorized. This dropped the DJIA some 450 more points, putting all stock indexes in the negatives for the year. We are a hare’s breath away from correction territory. The downturn is almost exclusively due to the tariffs Trump has put in place, which will have the obvious result of restraining trade and thus reducing economic growth. These Chinese tariffs are specifically chosen to hurt his base of support. European and other countries are starting to do likewise. Not much can convince Republicans to vote for Democrats, but policies that hit them in their own pocketbook can bleed off a number of wavering supporters.

Underlying all this chaos is the epic turnover among White House staff. Trump can’t even find a new lawyer, as his brand has become toxic. Administration is missing from the so-called Trump administration. What his bullying has caused is an epic reaction, causing people to appreciate democracy and sound governance. It is spurring people (mostly women) to run for office. By some estimates, the recent March for our Lives was the biggest march ever in Washington. Trump has engaged young people in particular against him. This hastens not just his disempowerment, but also the end of Republican governance.

Leading perhaps to the perfect storm on November 6. With no sign that Trump will change tactics and every indication that he will double-double down, it’s not too hard a prediction to make.

 
The Thinker

On Civil War monuments, American Nazis, white supremacists and (maybe) necessary limits on free speech

Is there a difference between a Neo-Nazi and a white supremacist? My take: not really. A Neo-Nazi may be quicker to raise a Nazi salute and yell “Heil Trump!” (as happened in Charlottesville) while surrounding monuments to Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee. Both seemed happy to chant, “Jews will not replace us” readily enough. Both groups assert that whites are a superior race and should be in charge.

If you truly believe this then there is no room for the democratic process, which may explain why so many Americans like totalitarianism. That’s pretty much what the real Nazis figured out once they decided they were right. Jews and other minorities in Germany weren’t going to “self-deport” themselves. So the final solution of murdering them all seemed an obvious but grisly solution to their so-called problem. There is no reason to think American Neo-Nazis would think otherwise, particularly when they show their seriousness by arming themselves to the teeth during their “protests” and spend the night before hanging outside a Jewish synagogue.

Forgotten among all this Neo-Nazi news is exactly what the Nazis actually believed. If you were a Nazi, you agreed with Germany’s National Socialist German Workers Party. I doubt any of these Neo-Nazis would consider themselves socialists. Socialism means government controlling the means of production, which is far more Alt-Left (if such a community existed) than Alt-Right. Nazi’s believed that you had to have German “blood” to be a citizen. Presumably Neo-Nazis would demand that you have “white” blood to be a citizen, but most Neo-Nazis probably would not qualify there too. Somewhere in their recent genetic past are likely one or more non-Caucasians. Would they self deport themselves from America if true? I think not.

Nazis also wanted to abolish unearned income, like living off your interest and dividends. No Neo-Nazi would go along with that. Many of them live off inheritances already. Also, Nazis wanted the nationalization of German industries. Imagine the government owning GM or Ford! No Neo-Nazi today would ever conceive of doing this. Nazi’s wanted “old age welfare”, government appropriation of private lands, and to kill all “usurers” (moneylenders). So what makes American Neo-Nazis even more appalling than real Nazis is that they are more conservative than actual Nazis were. They want all the Nazi bad stuff without its modicum of good stuff!

Perhaps that’s why a scene from the day after Election Day, November 9, 2016, keeps going through my head. I arose in Nashville and was flying home, transiting through Atlanta. Obviously, Trump’s election was huge news and CNN was everywhere in the airport while I was there. I was riding the subway between concourses and was drawn to watching a black flight attendant. There was no mistaking the anguish on her face that she valiantly but fruitlessly tried to hide. She knew that Jim Crow had won the day. She now knew she had an explicit (rather than implicit) target on her back. She woke up like many of us into an America she no longer recognized. Me? Well, I was white. I would survive. Probably.

In any event, the real Nazis turned out to be a huge problem for the rest of us. It’s largely forgotten but the United States entry into the Second World War was hardly due to a national consensus. Then as now there were Steve Bannons around who wanted to keep us out of the war. We might not have entered the war without the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. (Before the attack, President Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease program though showed our sympathies.) By then it was clear what we were dealing with: people so driven by ideology that only war could end them. We entered these wars not just because we were attacked, but also because we could not allow an evil this large stand. It was a completely reasonable to think that if the Nazis and the Japanese succeeded, our freedoms and liberties were in jeopardy.

The irony is that today America is perhaps the most Nazi-sympathetic country on the planet, as Donald Trump’s election attests. A postwar Germany went out of its way to avoid falling into the Nazi trap again. Displaying the Nazi flag in Germany today is a crime, as is doing a Nazi salute, wearing a Nazi uniform, shouting Nazi slogans and giving Nazi greetings. Many European countries have similar laws. Europeans learned the lesson: that National Socialism stuff is dangerous stuff!

Here in the United States though these things are allowed. We saw what a ruckus it can stir up over in the protests in Charlottesville. We allow most forms of civil protest even when these views if implemented would lead to the destruction of our liberal democracy. Curiously, in writing Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler admired the way Americans were separating its races through segregation and by making it hard for non-whites to hold power. Much of it was due to Jim Crow laws, but there was plenty of racism north of the Mason-Dixon line too. The Democratic Party of the 19th and early 20th centuries was largely a white nationalist and principally working class party. Somewhere in the middle of the 20th Century the roles got reversed. The Party of Lincoln is now the party of white nationalists.

This raises the question: should certain forms of free speech like advocating for Nazism simply not be allowed? Nazism literally ripped Germany apart, not to mention much of the world. It killed tens of millions so why on earth would any country permit it? Why play with such a dangerous fire? Our own Civil War supposedly settled the question of whether all of us were really equal before the law. But Charlottesville proves that there are plenty of people who didn’t like the answer. The Civil War monuments erected during Jim Crow and afterward prove that in some ways our bloody civil war was but a major skirmish and we have not quite settled the question.

It’s unlikely that removing these statues of the leaders of Confederacy will extinguish these racists feelings too. It might enflame these feelings instead. It’s worth a try and I hope state and local governments persist in these efforts. There are plenty of admirable Southern people deserving of statues in their place whose actions rests on a higher moral plain.

 
The Thinker

Are Democrats making an enemy of the good?

My wife and I rarely disagree but lately we have been disagreeing on Senator Bernie Sanders. I’m pretty sure we both voted for Bernie in last year’s Massachusetts Democratic Primary, as in fact did most of my neighbors. (Bernie signs were everywhere.) Of course, Sanders ultimately lost the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Sanders has hardly gone away, which doesn’t surprise any of us who have been following Bernie. He’s as opinionated as ever and remains basically the point on the spear of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. This is in spite of the fact that Bernie is not a Democrat anymore and is back to being an independent senator from Vermont who happens to caucus with the Democrats.

Still, when Democrats campaign for public office, they are usually trying to get Sanders’ endorsement. This is no surprise because even as an ex-candidate Sanders can pack them in. When he endorses a candidate, legions of Bernie fans contribute small amounts of cash to that candidate. In April as part of a joint “unity tour” with DNC chair Tom Perez, Sanders campaigned for Heath Mello, the Democratic candidate for mayor in Omaha, Nebraska.

Sanders and Perez took a lot of heat for their endorsement of Mello. While a member of the state senate Mello supported a 20-week abortion ban. He also supported restrictions on telemedicine that affected rural access to Plan B, an over the counter abortion drug. This disgusted many Democrats, particularly those Democrats that are prochoice. One of them is my wife, who sees it as sexist. By supporting Mello, Sanders and Perez appeared to give tacit endorsement to his antiabortion views, at least in the eyes of many Democrats.

Mello went on to lose handsomely, which was not a big surprise in a red state. It’s not too surprising that Mello would be opposed to abortion, as he is a devout Catholic. So perhaps the real issue is whether opposing abortion should be disqualifying to any Democratic candidates. For my wife, it appears to be a red line that no Democrat should cross. That turned out to be true for Tom Perez, who subsequently said that all Democratic candidates should be pro-choice. Not all Democrats agree. My senator Elizabeth Warren took exception, as did Bernie Sanders. Neither Warren nor Sanders are antiabortion, but both believe the Democratic tent should be big enough to welcome views that many inside the tent don’t approve of.

So do I. It may be true that as Will Rogers said that Democrats are inherently disorganized. The same is less true with Republicans, although it is not obvious that they are as factionalized as they are. Still, all parties draw boundaries somewhere and those boundaries can be murky. Many progressive Democrats like me are uncomfortable with the many Wall Street Democrats inside our party. But I would not kick them out, just as I could not kick out Heath Mello for his views either.

There are a couple of reasons why I feel this way. First, to govern you need a majority, and to get a majority usually means that you have to include groups of people that you would prefer not to include. Within the Republican Party, the fiscal conservatives tolerate the evangelicals for this reason. Second, it’s not necessarily true that ideological purity is a good thing for any party. Ideology tends to block common sense and hearing alternative points of view, views that might be entirely valid if you can keep off the ideological blinders and have real discussions. By putting some like Heath Mello outside of the Democratic Party those discussions aren’t possible. In addition, you lessen the likelihood of gaining a governing majority.

I can certainly understand why my wife like most women would find it hard to stomach a Democrat that would restrict their reproductive choices. I’d likely not vote for Mello if I lived in Nebraska and there was a more progressive alternative on the Democratic Party primary ballot. On the other hand, Mello does live in Nebraska where liberals are very hard to find. His chances were slim to begin with, but they would have been slimmer had he campaigned as a prochoice progressive. Moreover, while Catholics have a few bees up their bonnets (exclusively male priests and abortion views, to name a few), overall Catholics are reasonably progressive and champion the needs of the poor in ways that most Protestant denominations ignore. That’s good!

Every party struggles between its inherently selfish desire to want to govern and ideological purity that tends to leave a party in permanent minority status. The primary reason why Republicans are governing now is not because they represent the majority of voters, but because they have disenfranchised so many voters who would vote for Democrats. When in a majority status again Democrats could try a similar strategy. They could try gerrymandering and restrictive voting laws to try to maintain their lock on power too. It would be wrong for the obvious reason that the broadest principle among Democrats is that voting should be as wide and inclusive as possible. Excluding citizens with sincerely held beliefs about the sanctity of life from governing is no way to govern. Reaching out to them and finding areas of common overlap and exercising powers in those areas amounts to effective governing, because such actions tend to embrace a widely-shared public consensus.

In my mind the true difference between Democrats and Republicans is Me vs. We. “We” means that Democrats aspire to be a party that lifts all boats by recognizing that we are all interdependent and empowering this philosophy through government action. We support policies that reduce misery, try to give everyone equal opportunity and in the words of our constitution “promote the general welfare”. Republicans are all about “me”. They want the government to lift the boats of people exactly like them, and no one else. Effectively they do this by taking resources away from those not like them. This is written all over their version of health care: the so-called American Health Care Act. There is nothing in the bill that really makes health care better for anyone, but it does give huge tax windfalls to the richest.

I don’t see this in Heath Mello. I see a man who is very much in favor of lifting all boats. He has areas of sincere disagreement, but Democrats are better with him in the party than out of it. Out of the party, Mello really has only one party to turn to. Do we really want to turn him into a Republican? Granted, it’s a party that needs huge doses of humanity. Maybe if it got it, the party would resemble the respectable party I voted for in 1976, but not since then. I do think if ideological purity is going to be the test for being a true Democrat, we as a party are hacking off our own limbs and making Republican rule that much likelier to hang around.

Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good. Let us Democrats disagree at least among ourselves without being disagreeable. Maybe in doing so we will more truly represent the values to which we aspire as a party.

 
The Thinker

Democrats score a big budget win

The budget agreement which funds the federal government through the end of the fiscal year (September 30) proves that although Democrats don’t control any part of government, they still wield enormous clout. For the most part the Omnibus funding bill demonstrates the power of Democrats and vested interests. Trump and Republicans may say they are going to change government, but the agreement proves it’s mostly bluster and that Trump is a largely powerless president with his influence receding more every day.

Indeed, it’s hard to find any good news for Republicans in this spending bill except for a modest increase in defense spending. Money talks and all others walk. This bill proves who’s really exercising power. Consider:

  • There are no cuts to “Obamacare” or the subsidies to the Affordable Care Act. Insurers now have enough certainty to set realistic rates and most will prefer to stay in the exchanges. The tens of millions at risk of losing health insurance can breathe easier, at least for now.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency is funded at 99% of last year’s level. So much for the deep cuts Trump promised and really the existential threat to its existence. Proposed changes to degrade environmental protections will probably fizzle too, as environmental law is unchanged and the same staff is largely in place.
  • Not a dime goes to fund Trump’s wall along the Mexican border. ICE gets a small budget increase and funds may be used to repair and replace the existing border fence only. There are funds to hire only 100 more ICE border agents.
  • Our socialist national train system, Amtrak, got a $105M increase.
  • The National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities did not get eliminated or even cut. Each agency gets a $2M increase instead. Ditto for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I guess Big Bird is going to stay for another year.
  • My ex-agency, the U.S. Geological Survey gets $23M in additional funding, much of it earmarked for improving earthquake prediction but also for better groundwater level monitoring.
  • The IRS maintained its last year’s budget and additional money was allocated for improving customer service.
  • The Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal services to the poor, maintains a steady budget.
  • The Justice Department is barred from using its funds to undercut local government’s marijuana initiatives.
  • The National Parks Service was funded at last year’s level.
  • There are none of the large cuts Trump wanted to the National Institute for Health that Trump wanted. In fact NIH gets $2B more.
  • Planned Parenthood is not blocked from receiving federal money. Federal funds still can’t be used for abortion services, but this has been the policy for about forty years.

One might call this the April 30 miracle: a bright ray of sun after a few very dark and uncertain months. Perhaps though it is not so miraculous. For Republican control of government is largely a mirage. Trump waffles and vacillates, making basic planning pretty much impossible. This leaves Republicans in congress to govern, but it’s a muscle so atrophied that it has proved nearly impotent. For it’s unclear what it means to be a Republican. Republicans have been great at opposition, but poor at legislating. The party is comprised of factions with vastly different agendas and with no history of compromise, and with no one feeling the duty to compromise even among themselves.

Still, in a way this Omnibus bill is good news for Republicans. By dodging the issues they supposedly care most about, they increase their reelection chances in 2018 and 2020. And that’s what this is really about. The curious thing though is that at best it gives them the illusion of power, because it’s only real power if you can execute it. Perhaps the hope is that in retaining a power that is largely not exercised they will one day have a majority where their caucuses are united enough to actually accomplish some of those massive changes they ran on. More than likely, they are hoping their base won’t hold their feet to the fire and they are good enough (not being Democrats) and their districts are so tightly gerrymandered where it won’t matter.

Citizen opposition though is a huge but unstated factor. Republicans understand the tide is turning rapidly against them so they are pulling up drawbridges and filling the moats. They don’t want to show up at town halls. Marches, protests, petitions to Congress and (at times) massive numbers of phone calls to Congress are having an impact. It’s making Republicans scared and sowing confusion and hesitancy.

For a supposedly principled and aggressive party, Republicans are looking more like Keystone Kops. For those of us in the opposition, this is good. Let’s hope activists and Democrats can sustain this through the 2018 elections. As long as Trump is president, it’s quite likely, which is why Trump’s time in office may be shorter than anyone thinks.

 
The Thinker

The Democratic Party at the crossroads

By all indications, Trump is on a roll, if being on a roll means heading speedily downhill, like his ratings. His dismal 38% approval rating is unprecedented. Presidents have gotten lower ratings (most famously George W. Bush near the end of his administration) but not this soon after taking office. Trump can compare himself to Jimmy Carter, who also started his term with more disapproving him than approving him, but in Trump’s case it’s by larger margins.

As I said in my last post, I’d hand Trump an anvil but he doesn’t need it. He’s got one already, thank you and against all reasonable political instincts (which he is largely bereft of) he thinks it’s a hot air balloon instead. Trump is famously doubling down and playing to his base, but his base is pretty much his approval rating. This does not bode well for Republicans in 2018 and his reelection prospects in 2020. More savvy Republicans are already looking for ways to hang on and cut their losses. When not avoiding town halls they are subtly distancing themselves from him, at least in less red districts. Some are suggesting that repealing Obamacare maybe isn’t such a great idea after all.

Midterms are typically an assessment of the president and favor the party out of power. By that standard Democrats should do well in 2018 and the more Trump doubles down the better they will do. Taking back the Senate is still unlikely because Democrats have more seats to defend, and in redder states. Taking back the House is likely even with the existing extreme gerrymandering.

If you are a Democrat, things should be looking up even though things seem pretty bleak at the moment. Only 23% of Americans self identify as Republicans, a record low. This means the Republican Party’s lock on government is largely due to gerrymandering, which means it is artificial. It’s no surprise then that Republican states are working hard to further disenfranchise voters they don’t want voting. Their efforts were largely successful in 2016 so we should be no means count them out.

Unsurprisingly Democrats are craving a return to power. They would be wise not to expect it to be handed to them through Republican ineptness. That Hillary Clinton could lose to Donald Trump, clearly the worst major candidate for president in modern times, suggests they should be introspective right now. Many of us Democrats are mystified by our loss last year. I certainly was. I was right on the general dynamics (Hillary won by nearly 3 million votes) but she lost anyhow because of our biased Electoral College system. She lost principally because she could not persuade enough moderates in swing states to vote for her. Her approval rates during the campaign were always underwater, as were Trump’s.

Exactly why weren’t more of the right kinds of voters persuaded to vote for her, in spite of Trump’s numerous faults? Hillary had baggage and his name was Bill. This more than anything likely had to do with her lack of success when it mattered. For it was Bill Clinton that fundamentally changed the Democratic Party. The party lost its soul with his election and it’s still trying to recover it.

Bill Clinton was in many ways our first “Republican” Democratic president. He got through legislation that no Democrat would have dreamed of introducing, let alone passing. Bill thought he was being smart and the truth is Bill was and is devilishly smart. He invented the “triangulate your way to success” strategy that worked great for keeping him in office. Using it, he got legislation through Congress that likely would not have happened at all had George H. W. Bush been reelected. Consider:

  • Bill got the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) written into law. Independent candidate Ross Perot in 1992 predicted it would result in the loss of much of our manufacturing base and it did, and much more. In the process Democrats lost a lot of its voters who previously saw Democrats as working in their interest. NAFTA created a “you’re on your own” message to American workers. Previously Democrats were zealously protecting the working class.
  • Bill worked with Republicans to reform welfare. Benefits were time limited but in general turned out to be less generous than the old AFDC program. In doing so he lost much of the party’s poor base as well, or at least made them less eager to vote for Democrats.
  • Bill worked to deregulate the banks and Wall Street and brought in a whole new “corporate” wing of the party. It kept him in power but it didn’t really broaden the tent. By bringing in Wall Street, others found they had nothing in common with the party anymore but could find common cause with Ralph Nader and Jill Stein. It was hard to tell the fat cat Democratic Party from the similar Republican one.

Each of these was a major accomplishment that Republicans could probably not have done on their own. But Republicans working with a Republican-friendly Democratic president made these things to happen. In doing so Clinton fundamentally changed the Democratic Party.

It is certainly true that Clinton did many things that progressives liked. While these were not insignificant (Family Medical Leave Act, record expansion of jobs, high homeownership rate in history, increasing Pell grants) they really paled compared to these other actions as for its effect on the party. Clinton also gets credit for events that were outside of his control. Much of the prosperity of the 1990s was due to the tech revolution underway and the end of the Cold War. He did little to facilitate or shepherd the tech revolution. In any event, lots of jobs went overseas and many traditional Democrats did not feel the party represented them anymore.

Once in Congress, Hillary Clinton proved to be more like Bill than Bernie Sanders. She voted for two wars and took large amounts of money from wealthy Wall Street types. And she felt fine cashing in after leaving her Secretary of State position by giving speeches at inflated prices, often on Wall Street. No wonder then that so many thought she was not genuine. In any event there was little in her record that suggested she would really be a champion for the working class if elected. There was nothing in Trump’s record either, but his lack of a record was an asset. Clinton was a proven insider who had tuned out the working class. With Trump, at least you couldn’t say for sure he wasn’t.

With Trump’s foolishness comes opportunity for Democrats. Will Democrats figure it out this time? We’ll know soon, as the party will soon elect its next national chairman. We must win back these voters. If the next party chairman is another friend of Wall Street then gains will be fleeting at best for Democrats. In the eyes of many Americans, there is little difference between the two parties, as they will screw the working class either way.

However, if the Democratic Party returns to its roots and becomes a populist party again, it may recover its impressive historic strength. It looks like Rep. Keith Ellison will be the next DNC chair. This is a hopeful sign, because Keith seems to get this. If so the Democratic Party may be pulling away at last from the arguably disastrous Clinton years and back to representing the people that matter: the poor and working classes. We are the bulk of the country. Truly working in our interest and the party’s hold on power will be more predictable instead of ephemeral in the years ahead.

 
The Thinker

How the Democrats blew it and how to not blow it next time

I’m over the initial shock of the election, although it follows me into unwelcome places, like my dreams. The election seemed pretty easy to call in advance. Pollsters were in agreement. Everything had been sliced and diced. Although a two-term president is rarely succeeded by someone from his own party, it sure looked like with the worst Republican candidate ever things were going to break for Team Blue.

Obviously it didn’t, leaving pretty much everyone except Michael Moore and Scott Adams with egg on their faces. Heck, even the Trump campaign was planning for defeat. You could see in Trump’s “victory” speech that he was a bit shell-shocked by the whole thing; it’s almost liked he hoped to lose. Trump’s visit to the White House yesterday was also surreal. He had a stunned-bunny sort of look, like this is the last sort of job he wanted. And it’s worth noting that while Trump trounced Clinton in the Electoral College vote, Clinton still won the popular vote. She joins Al Gore and Samuel J. Tilden in the exclusive club of candidates who won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College vote (and who had not been president already.) By any standard, Trump’s election is not the will of the people.

In retrospect pollsters failed because no one had come up with a way to model the racist vote. Racists generally won’t self identify themselves but based on the results the unidentified racists were about 5% of voters, all voting for Trump. And the reason they couldn’t be identified before was that Trump was our first modern openly racist candidate, well, at least since George Wallace in 1968.

So it’s important to understand that even with the wind at their backs Democrats had the odds stacked against them. Generally presidents don’t quite deliver the change envisioned, even if they are well liked, so voters will be inclined to try the other party. And Trump was all about change. But he also had people enthusiastic about him. Enthusiastic people vote. While there certainly were Democrats enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton, most of us were half-hearted supporters. Those who show up to vote with the most passion get their candidate elected.

It’s not that Democrats didn’t have a change candidate. Bernie Sanders was that candidate. He had amazing crossover appeal. During the Democratic primaries, Sanders generally won the rust belt swing states that normally vote Democratic but were picked off by Trump. It’s impossible to know that if Bernie had been the party’s nominee whether he would have done better than Clinton, but my guess is he would have. At least some of Clinton’s firewall states would have fulfilled their function and that may have been the edge that was needed.

So it’s worth recalling just how Clinton got the nomination in the first place. It’s not that she didn’t do a lot to earn the nomination. But she was the Democratic establishment’s choice. Clinton spent years cultivating these relationships and of course she also had Bill to help her as well. It was obvious that DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz had her finger on the scales for Hillary. But even if she hadn’t, long before Bernie had even entertained the idea of running for president, Hillary had an in with the various Democratic state party establishment. She had banked most of the party’s superdelegates. If every eight years is going to be a change election, it’s counterproductive for a party to have a system in place that discourages change candidates. The Republican Party did not, and it worked in their favor in this election.

So the lesson for Democrats should be clear: get rid of the party’s superdelegate system. To his credit Sanders brought this to the attention to the party after his nomination was out of the question, and sort of won. Superdelegates don’t go away but they will be reduced by two-thirds. This will make it easier for candidates like him to get a foothold in the future, increasing the odds that the eventual party nominee will be a rank and file pick, rather than the establishment’s. It’s a pretty good bet that rank and file will be closer to understanding who can actually win an election than the party’s elite as they won’t be living their lives in the insular political bubble that the party’s elite do.

But can real party change happen? Getting rid of most of these superdelegates helps. It would be better to get rid of all of them. What’s critical for 2018 though is to find a new party chairman that gets this. Howard Dean, who became the DNC chair after the 2004 election is willing to give it another try. His 50-state strategy was very successful. It allowed Democrats to regain control of the House and the Senate just two years later. We need Dean or someone who believes the same things. We don’t need Wasserman-Shultz or Donna Brazile again as both have proven ineffectual.

We also need to say goodbye to the Clintons. Both came with baggage and it dragged down the ticket, even if some of their issues were more smoke than fire. (Hillary’s emails, for example, was mostly a big nothing burger.) They represent the “new Democrat” that Bill Clinton invented in 1992. That business-friendly, Republican-lite branding no longer works and does not distinguish the Democratic Party. Both Bill and Hillary need to exit stage right. The party needs to hear from a variety of voices, hopefully mostly new voices to see what resonates within the party of today. The party is morphing too, but feels moribund. It’s a party that is increasingly diverse and multicultural. But it should not be the party of non-whites. It should appeal to those Trump voters who were sucked in by Trump’s popular and economic message. Whites still form the majority of voters in this country. Elections cannot be won without significant number of crossover white voters. For whatever reason, except for younger white voters, whites and white women in particular failed to deliver for Democrats in this election.

If you want people to vote for you, give them some compelling reasons to vote for you. Democrats failed here, choosing an establishment candidate with baggage and high unfavorables over a change candidate. Voters need to feel like the candidate is someone that gets their concerns, and has a track record of fighting for their issues. It’s hard to relate to a candidate who is a millionaire and gives $250,000 speeches to Wall Street firms. You need someone authentic with fire in their belly instead, someone a lot like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

The only good news for Democrats is that Trump is likely to quickly implode. He brings a lot of baggage to his presidency including a lot of civil suits and possible criminal charges for having sex with a minor. If he chooses to do those things he says he will do, he will piss off his voters who buy his brand but not most of his policies, like throwing undocumented immigrants out of the country. The Democratic Party need not be down for long. But if it is to recover quickly, it must do so with agility and intelligence. It needs to morph into a populist party again.

 
The Thinker

Trump is accelerating the Republican Party’s end

I gave in and started paying for online news, specifically the New York Times. My timing was fortuitous because I came across this article today that I might not have otherwise seen. It underlines just how damaging Trump has become to the Republican Party’s brand.

Trump is unlikely to win next Tuesday and I’m not losing any sleep over the prospect. It’s not out of the range of possibility, as I noted recently. Yesterday, election analyst and election guru Nate Silver posted a scary post-Halloween article on just how Trump might triumph against the forces against him. Considering the stakes of his winning, the prospects are scarier than Halloween ever will be. But even assuming he wins the Republican Party still has one foot in the grave.

As the article points out, this is because Trump’s candidacy prematurely stirred up a hornet’s nest of voters in Southern states that hadn’t necessarily accepted the Democratic Party brand. There was an opportunity during these last eight years for Republicans to rebrand the party, as its leadership tried fruitlessly to do after the 2012 loss. Instead, the party doubled down on the exact policies that allowed it to succeed in 2010, which amounted to opposing pretty much everything the other side proposed on principle. Then along came Donald Trump to take these toxic elements, whip them into a frothy frenzy, and ride it to a nomination and now to the final days of the campaign. It’s a message that sounds anti-woman, is definitely anti-immigrant and anti-minority.

The South of course is no longer a plantation economy. It is growing quite rapidly. Unsurprisingly the growth is coming mostly in its larger cities. The South is no exception to the general rule that when people live together more densely, they are more in each other’s faces.

And that’s what’s happening in Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Austin, New Orleans and many other places in the South, and most of these cities have Democratic mayors. That’s not to say it’s entirely smooth. Few major cities are integrated and most have areas where certain ethnicities predominate. But there are enough, and daily doing your job puts you in touch with so many people from different cultures and perspectives that fear slowly moves to wariness, then to relaxation and then toward general acceptance of people for who they are, unless they are in your face.

When Trump pushes the buttons that excite his own largely white and more rural base, he stimulates reactions elsewhere too, mostly from the very people he is criticizing who are already living in the South, but in increasingly larger numbers as opportunities emerge mostly in its cities. This is allowing red states to become purple, putting states like Arizona and Georgia into potential play for Democrats. By turning them off, Trump is also turning them off on the Republican Party. This allows these people to form identities that tend to align with the Democratic Party. It’s not necessarily that they are drawn to the Democratic Party, it’s that there is no sane alternative. The Republican Party won’t go there. It will only retrench and become more steadfast and hardened in its positions.

As I noted many years ago, the Republican Party can’t win the demographics game. It must change or die. The longer it defers the process the less probable it becomes that they can pull it off at all. This is why I suggested last month that the Republican Party might be about to implode altogether. We’ll know after the election and it depends on whether Republicans control any part of government. Most likely the only part left that they will control will be the House.

Many Republican senators are already saying that if Hillary Clinton is elected they will refuse to consider anyone she nominates to the Supreme Court. More anti-governance though won’t buy them more votes. In 2010 this tactic brought in the Tea Party, but that market is tapped out. All Republicans can do is maximize the turnout of those already drawn to it. They cannot draw from voters turned off by their message, particularly when the people they scorn are exactly those they need to wield political power. Their actions will please their base, but hasten their demise, assuming the election doesn’t take care of that next week.

If somehow everything turns up roses for Republicans next week, their fundamental problem is still unsolved. They may be able to govern, but they won’t be able to change hearts and minds. If they gain or retain power, more of the same will simply drive animosity against them and exacerbate their inevitable decline.

For Republicans, it’s a game of heads I win, tails you lose. And Democrats are flipping the coin.

 
The Thinker

It looks like the Republican Party looks might Bull Moose itself again

And so it has begun. The conventional wisdom was that following Donald Trump’s defeat November 9 along with the likely loss of the Senate and possibly the House, the Republican Party would thrash and moan as they tried and likely failed to pick up the pieces and become an effective political party again. If you read me regularly you will have read this post where I tried to figure out whether this election would cause the Republican Party to just buckle or fall apart altogether.

What I did not expect when I wrote that post was that this would happen well before the actual election. Yes, the Republican Party is already disintegrating and of course you can thank Donald J. Trump for this. He spent most of the day lashing out at establishment Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Arizona Senator John McCain. Ryan won’t campaign with Trump anymore (while not rescinding his endorsement of him) but authorized any Republican member of the House to tack away from Trump where it makes sense. McCain is just one of the more prominent Republicans in Congress to say he won’t be voting for Trump. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the easily wounded and vainglorious Trump would lash out against these Republicans today. In his usual way-over-the-top tweets, he said these Republicans were actually worse than “Crooked Hillary”.

Ryan’s actions are entirely logical, at least for someone who is trying to maintain the Republican majority in the House. Ryan may be an ardent Republican but he knows how to add up the political math: Clinton will be the president elect, Democrats are likely to retake the Senate and if Clinton wins by seven percent or more the odds are Democrats will retake the House too. If Republicans lose the House, it means he won’t be speaker and given that the Tea Party will form the bulk of the diminished Republican minority he’ll be lucky to end up as minority leader. Being out of power really sucks so it makes complete sense for Republicans to cut their losses if it’s not too late.

Trump though does not operate logically. His feelings are hurt and he is in denial about his impending loss. People in denial go through predictable phases and he’s in the “lash out at anyone who dares to speak the truth” phase, which ironically will make not only his loss worse but aggravate it for all Republicans up for election.

It’s not too hard to predict what will happen the day after Election Day too. Trump is unlikely to concede but he is likely to call the election fraudulent. There may be civil unrest from Trump supporters, as I also blogged about. I do expect on Election Day that Trump “observers” will try to prevent voting or harass voters, at least in precincts with heavily minority communities. While Trump is unlikely to accept defeat, he can’t change the outcome. But what he can do instead is lash out at the Republican Party for not sufficiently falling in behind him. He will make establishment Republicans take the blame for his loss. Why is this not only likely but also almost certain? It’s because Trump never takes the blame for anything.

Clearly Trump commands a lot of loyal followers. They shout themselves hoarse at his rallies when they are not beating up on journalists and Trump protestors. He is the poster child for non-college educated whites. Since he lives for attention he’ll have every incentive in the world to become their champion. And since the Republican Party has failed him, he is likely to “fix” the Republican Party by taking his followers with him. In short, I think he’s likely to go full Bull Moose on Republicans after the election.

If so, this won’t be the first time the Republican Party has nearly cracked up. In 1912 former president Teddy Roosevelt (a Republican) joined the then relatively nascent Progressive Party. His endorsed Republican successor (and running mate) William Howard Taft proved insufficiently progressive after winning the presidency. The Progressive Party became the Bull Moose Party and Teddy became its nominee for president. The result 104 years ago was that Democrat Woodrow Wilson won instead, with Teddy a distant second and Republican Taft getting just eight electoral votes. Teddy got even with Taft, but lost the election in the process.

If this scenario plays out again after this election, Democrats will get yet another gift. It’s not hard to see Trump running again in 2020 but under his own party label, leaving whatever traditional Republicans are left to nominate their own candidate. If this happens Republicans will be in the trenches fighting other former Republicans instead of opposing Democrats, making Democrats hands on favorites in most races to win. The 2020 election might result in a Congress that would look familiar to Tip O’Neill when he was speaker in the 1980s; he commanded a huge majority of House Democrats. It also bodes well for Democrats in 2020 senate races too. This would be good for them because they will be defending more seats than Republicans that year.

The likely outcome of all this probably won’t fatally fracture the Republican Party. New parties face daunting odds and Republicans will still have an infrastructure in place for nominating, supporting and winning races, which is what the Bull Moose Party eventually figured out when they slowly came back to the Republican Party. This infrastructure is not easily duplicated. Given Trump’s poor management skills he would be uniquely ill suited to try to create a winning party under his own brand. While Republican chaos reigns, and particularly if Hillary Clinton and a Democratic Congress can institute real change, Democrats have the opportunity to profit handsomely from the chaos. Given the Democratic Party’s history, their odds are slim, but Democrats now lean far more to the left than they did eight years ago. It’s not out of the question.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The next few years could be glorious ones for Democrats, reset the rules of Washington and actually bring about the end to gridlock that Americans want. If so, it will be the Republican Party’s implosion that will make it possible.

Thanks in advance, Donald.

 
The Thinker

Should we applaud that a woman is likely to be nominated for president?

Is it remarkable that a woman will finally be leading a presidential ticket in this election? Yes it is, primarily because it took so long for it to happen. This makes Hillary Clinton’s status of the presumed nominee of the Democratic Party something of an embarrassment too. It might have happened eight years ago but of course Barack Obama narrowly won that nomination, which was also historic for transgressing the color barrier. So while this one took some time, it does say something that it was the Democratic Party that managed to pull two such historic nominations in eight years. Alan Keyes, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina never really had much of a chance within their parties. As for Hillary, I noted eight years ago that a woman’s time was likely to come soon.

Still, it is somewhat disappointing that of all the women out there that Hillary Clinton would be the first to get the nod. I am not one of those Hillary haters and I will happily vote for her in November. She was one of our better secretaries of state but was only a so-so senator from New York. Of course as first lady she had the opportunity to understand how the White House works and that’s one of my disappointments. Hillary was the opposite of an outsider. Her success came from being an insider and having the support of powerful people, particularly her husband Bill. Yes, some of her success due to being effective (but sometime catastrophically wrong) in office, but mostly it’s due to opportunity. Not many women can be married to a president of the United States. Her path to senator was smoothed over due to Bill’s connections. Her most distinguished role is really as secretary of state. In this she was a surprise pick and turned out to be a good choice. Obama had every reason to throw her to the wolves, but did not.

Maybe that’s how it has to go for our first female presidential nominee. Maybe it would be too daunting to have happened any other way right now. I say this not because I think that women don’t have these skills, but connections and establishment trust are imperatives, at least within the Democratic Party, and those are harder for women politicians as they are fewer in number and tend to have been in office for shorter periods of time compared with male politicians. Certainly she broke a glass ceiling, but not alone. Bill and friends of Bill did a lot of the pushing for her.

Hillary has high negatives that I frankly don’t get. I certainly have concerns about her judgment. Setting up a private email server was quite stupid and a more astute politician would have not ignored these red flags. While stupid, it was forgivable. It’s understandable that Republicans want to make hay over the killing of our Libyan ambassador and two others, but it’s quite clear from all the evidence that what happened was not her fault. She was hardly a perfect secretary of state, but she was a competent one and navigated that fine line quite handily between being empowered and following direction from the president.

Of course our foreign policy could have been handled better during her tenure, but the same is true of every secretary of state. We cannot control foreign events. All any president and secretary of state can do it position military and diplomatic forces effectively to reduce the likelihood of conflict. Diplomacy is tough and it rarely makes headlines. It involves creating and maintaining effective international collations. Radical change in foreign policy such as Trump would implement tends to not really be a good option. You must deal with the realities across the globe in all their enduring messiness. You should strategically move resources to reduce the messiness if possible. This can be done through long-term proactive strategies and the limited short-term application of military and diplomatic muscle when they can be effectively leveraged, such as with Iran.

Regardless, our next president will be either her or Donald Trump. While the choice is pretty obvious to me it’s apparently not obvious to plenty of voters. Voters need someone else to look at to help in their decisions, which is why who Hillary picks as her running mate may actually matter for a change. I don’t expect her to pick Sanders; they temperamentally too different as Hillary is a pragmatist and Bernie is an idealist. To me her choice is obvious: my senator Elizabeth Warren. Warren is frankly a far better speaker and communicator than Hillary is. Like Sanders she has a gift of connecting viscerally with voters. It’s unclear if Warren would accept this offer, although she had not ruled it out. Party insiders expect someone more milquetoast to get the nod. Tim Kaine and Sherrod Brown are names being bandied about. A prominent Latina would make a lot of sense but at the moment there is no one aside from Warren that would really be ideal.

I pity the fool Trump picks as his running mate and it’s unclear how many would accept. Newt Gingrich is not so secretly running for the position, but perhaps is less in the running since he has overtly criticized Trump over his racist remarks about the Judge Curiel, who overseeing the Trump University case. My bet is that he chooses New Jersey governor Chris Christie, because they are both temperamentally the same (bullies) and are both from the northeast. It would not surprise me at all if both the vice presidential nominees come from the northeast, which would be quite surprising as my area of the country is hardly representative of the rest of the country. Of course, time will tell.

I don’t worry too much about Sanders voters ultimately voting for Trump for the same reason that pissed off Clinton voters ultimately came around and voted for Obama in 2008. Wounds tend to heal given some time and there are five months until the election. In addition, pretty much all Democrats like and trust Obama. As long as the economy doesn’t implode, his opinions will carry a lot of weight. Obama endorsed Hillary today and will go on the stump with her next week. There is no downside for Obama: his legacy depends on having a Democrat succeed him. As this is a very rare occurrence (it hasn’t happen after two or more full terms since Harry S Truman) pulling it off would be another feather in his cap.

I also don’t worry about Trump finding a “presidential” footing. Like a leopard, there’s no way to change his spots. He may be a bit more cautious about putting his foot in his mouth but it’s not hard to predict he’ll do more of that than not in the months ahead. It really felt like with the latest reactions to his comments on Judge Curiel, he has finally jumped the shark. His hardcore supports won’t waver, but he has made it infinitely harder to bring in those with any doubts.

Barring some major external event and even given Hillary’s negatives, I don’t worry too much about the election either. She hardly has it in the bag, but she is intelligent and focused. Trump shows no inclination to be strategic, to raise serious money, to support fellow candidates or to act presidential. He’s effectively thrown his dice already and given the velocity and the angle it’s not too hard to predict he’ll land snake eyes.

The game is now truly afoot.

 

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