Monday, November 5, 2018
Last pre-election post. One measure of the impact of elections is
that I've been writing about 50% more on politics since Trump and the
Republicans won big in 2016, as compared to the previous four years
under Obama. And it's not like I didn't have things to complain about
with Obama -- although I wrote much more then about foreign affairs
and wars, including a lot on Israel (which hasn't in any way changed
for the better with Trump, but has been crowded out of consciousness).
And the fact is, the ratio would be even greater if I had the time and
patience to dig through everything that matters.
One thing I learned long ago is that elections don't fix problems,
but if they go the wrong way they can make many of our lives worse off.
You can't expect that the people you elect will do good things with
their power -- in fact, power doesn't make anyone a better person --
but you can at least try to weed out the ones you know better than.
I can't really blame people who thought they were doing us a favor
in 2016 by retiring Hillary Clinton. I could have written a long book
on why she should never have been considered for president, so I'm
not surprised that many other people didn't like or trust her. Of
course, that doesn't justify them voting for Trump. Elections are
almost always about "lesser evils," and it helps to weigh them out
carefully, even to lean a bit against your prejudices. While it was
easy to see why people might think Hillary "crooked," you have to
flat-out ignore tons of evidence to judge Hillary more crooked than
Trump. Nor was that the only dimension: build a list of any trait
you might think matters in a president, and if you're honest about
the evidence, Trump will lose out to her. Electing him was a glaring
lapse of judgment on the part of the American people.
Nor was it their first. My first election was 1972, when we had
the change to elect one of the most fundamentally decent people who
ever ran for high office, but by a large margin the American people
preferred Dick Nixon. Given that Nixon was even less of an unknown
than Reagan, the Bushes, or Trump, that's a pretty damning reflection
on the American people. I've regularly been disappointed by elections.
After my 1972 experience, I didn't vote again until 1996, when I was
living in Massachusetts but couldn't ignore the opportunity to vote
against Bob Dole (who was second only to Nixon among the villains I
voted against in 1972 -- people forget what a rat bastard he was in
his first couple of terms).
Still, worse than Trump's election in 2016 was the Republicans
seizing complete control of Congress. Not only did this make Trump
much more dangerous, it shows that voters haven't fully realized
the monolithic threat that Republicans represent. I think a lot of
the blame here belongs to Obama and the Clintons, who pursued their
presidential campaigns with scant concern for the welfare of the
rest of the party, largely by not leading the public to understand
what Republicans were up to. In particular, Clinton focused her
campaign on picking up Trump-averse Republicans in the suburbs with
little concern for Trump-attracted working class Democrats. When
the 2016 returns came in, Republicans who didn't particularly like
Trump still voted for him due to party loyalty, as did independents
who for various reasons (deplorable and sometimes not) happened to
Even now, when I meet up with Democrats, they're more likely to
want to talk about who they like for president in 2020 than winning
Congress here and now. My answer is simple: whoever works hardest
to put the party ahead of themselves, but no Democratic president
is going to be worth a damn without a solid partisan base. I've
never been a diehard Democrat, but Republicans have left us no
I wouldn't call these links recommendations, but here's a brief list of
things I'm looking at to get a feel for the current elections:
FiveThirtyEight: Forecasting the race for the Senate: Since I started
writing this, odds for a Democratic takeover have improved from 1/7 to 1/5.
This is because the Republican lean in North Dakota against Heidi Heitkamp
has narrowed a bit, and Arizona and Nevada have tipped just barely to the
Democrats (+1.6 in AZ, +0.9 in NV). Marginal Democratic incumbents in
Missouri, Indiana, and Florida remain with very leads (+1.7, +3.7, +3.0).
The other Democratic seats most at risk are Montana (D+5.2) and West Virginia
(D+7.5). If all this falls as predicted, the actual change is D+1, which
would leave the Senate in a 50-50 tie (to be decided by VP Mike Pence).
In order for the Democrats to take over, they'd have to win one of: North
Dakota (Heitkamp is -5.0%, but six years ago she was the only unpredicted
winner), Texas (R+4.5), Tennessee (R+5.5), or Mississippi (Democrat Mike
Espy leads but with 41.4% would face a runoff against a white Republican,
probably Cindy Hyde-Smith). No other Republican seats are anywhere near
FiveThirtyEight: Forecasting the race for the House. Again, over
the last few days, chances for the Democrats to gain control have risen
from 6 in 7 to 7 in 8, with an average gain predicted at +39 seats.
Democrats are leading in two KS races (KS-3 D+6.6, KS-2 D+1.8; they're
showing KS-4, my own district, as R:+19.4, which strikes me as way too
Nate Silver: Final Election Update: Democrats Aren't Certain to Take the
House, but They're Pretty Clear Favorites.
FiveThirtyEight: Forecasting the races for governor: Closest race
is Nevada (D+0.1), followed by Iowa (D+0.8), Kansas (R+1.3), Ohio (D+1.5),
Wisconsin (D+1.7), Georgia (R+2.2), South Dakota (R+2.5), Alaska (R+4.0),
Florida (D+4.2), Connecticut (D+5.1), Oregon (D+6.5), Oklahoma (R+7.2),
New Hampshire (R+8.7), New Mexico (D+9.4), Michigan (D+9.7).
Perry Bacon Jr: Election Update: Democrats Are Likely to Make Big Gains
in Governors Races: One note here is that 538's models have a split
decision in Kansas: D+0.5, R+1.3, R+0.8.
Nathaniel Rekich: How to Watch the Midterms: An Hour-by-Hour Guide:
When the polls close in each state, and what key races are likely to
be reported shortly thereafter.
Stavros Agonakis/Scott: The 13 most important governor elections in 2018,
briefly explained: Nevada, Georgia, Kansas, Wisconsin, Ohio, South
Dakota, Iowa, Oregon, Florida, Maine, New Mexico, Connecticut,
Ella Nilsen: The 16 most interesting House races of 2018: Incumbents
noted, all endangered R: IA-4 (Steve King), CA-45 (Mimi Walters), WV-4, KS-3
(Kevin Yoder), KY-6 (Andy Barr), VA-10 (Barbara Comstock), VA-7 (Dave Brat),
CO-6 (Mike Coffman), IL-14 (Randy Hultgren), MN-3 (Erik Paulsen), NY-19
(John Faso), TX-7 (John Culberson), NE-2 (Don Bacon), PA-1 (Brian Fitzpatrick),
OH-1 (Steve Chabot), FL:26 (Carlos Curbelo).
Dylan Scott: The 10 most important Senate elections, briefly explained:
Arizona, Indiana, Nevada, Missouri, Florida, Montana, Texas, Tennessee, West
Virginia, North Dakota.
Dylan Scott: The 9 most important state legislature elections in 2018,
explained: Colorado, Minnesota, New York, Maine, Wisconsin, New
Hampshire, Arizona, Florida, Michigan.
Silver's piece above mentions a number of historical and current
trends, and how they weigh on the elections. Obviously, one reason
people are leery about predicting big Democratic gains is that Trump
in particular and Republicans in general did better in 2016 than the
polls suggested. That has people worried that Republicans are being
systematically undercounted, and we won't know if that's the case
until the votes are counted. Could just be a statistical fluke with
no relationship to past or future elections. To the extent that any
correction needed to be made, it's likely that pollsters have done
that already. My own view is that Republicans have developed a very
effective get-out-the-vote system, which Democrats (except for Obama,
and then mostly for himself) never matched. (Clinton was especially
lax in that regard.)
My own reservations about the Democrats' prospects are mostly due
to respect for their "ground game" -- their ability to keep their
base motivated, angry, hungry, and responsive to their taunts and
jeers. The Democrats totally dropped the ball in 2010, and didn't
fare much better in 2014. One thing you have to credit Republicans
with is not letting up in 2018. And while Obama seemed aloof from
his party, Trump has been totally committed to rallying his voters.
Moreover, he does have a fairly robust economy to tout, and no big
new wars to be mired in, and he was saved from blowing a huge hole
in health care coverage. A lot of things he's done will eventually
cost Americans dearly, but many of the effects are incremental. So
he should be in pretty good shape, he's clearly trying hard, and
his party machinery remains very efficient. Also, he's fortunate
in having a playing field very tilted in his favor: the House is
so thoroughly gerrymandered Republicans can lose the popular vote
by 5-7% and still wind up with control, and the break on Senate
seats favors the Republicans even more. The fact there is that even
not counting California (where the top two open primary finishers
are both Democrats, so there's no Republican on the ballot), the
Democrats can win the popular vote by 10% or more without gaining
On the other hand, even though Trump has managed to hang on to
virtually all of his supporters (and in many cases he's delighted
them), he never has been very popular, and people who dislike him
really detest him. By making the election so much a referendum on
himself, he's drawing many young and disaffected people out to vote
against Republicans, pretty much everywhere. Silver identifies two
important points favoring the Democrats. One is that they've done
a very strong job of raising money. Even more important (although
the two aren't unrelated) the Democrats have recruited exceptionally
strong candidates to contest virtually every election.
Some other briefly-noted stories on campaigns, polls, and some more
general statements of principles:
Stavros Agonakis: Poll: GOP voters blame news for division in America;
Democrats blame Trump.
Jonathan Chait: Trump Isn't Inciting Violence by Mistake, but on Purpose.
He Just Tols Us. Or, as Paul Woodward linked to it, "Trump flexes his
Lee Fang/Nick Surgey: Business lobbyists, GOP operatives plot to take
down wave of Ocasio-Cortez-style democratic socialists in midterms:
I've seen some virulent red-baiting ads that try to box all Democrats
into an extreme "radical left," but they're pretty clunky, making me
wonder whether they'll be at all credible to anyone not already aligned
with the John Birch Society. But clearly, there's money behind this
Tara Golshan: Donald Trump's race-baiting closing argument going into
Election Day, explained. Also by Golshan:
Beto O'Rourke could lead a blue wave in Texas -- even if he loses his
Paul Krugman: A Party Defined by Its Lies, and
Last Exit Off the Road to Autocracy.
Vernon Loeb/Andrew Kragie: The President's Lies: "Donald Trump is
spreading misinformation at a dizzying clip -- even for him."
Andrew Prokop: The midterm elections are about whether Republican power
will be checked: Although the margins are slim and popular support
is weak, after 2016 Republicans possessed more levers of political power
than they had since 1930, and that's given them opportunity to change a
lot of things to favor their constituencies and themselves. Democrats
now have a chance to reverse some of that leverage: not the presidency,
and the Senate is tough due to the split of seats up this this year,
but if Democrats take over the House, Republicans won't be able to pass
more tax cut bill, or to repeal the ACA, and budgets will require some
degree of bipartisan negotiation. If Democrats gain two seats in the
Senate they'd be able to stop the worst of Trump's cabinet and judicial
appointments (e.g., Betsy DeVos and Brett Kavanaugh). Most governors
are up, and shifting control there and in state legislatures would help
on various issues, including voting rights that can affect elections
in 2020 and beyond. I've sometimes wondered whether there isn't a small
but critically influential bloc that prefers split government: since
1980, single party control of both the presidency and Congress has been
the exception, not the rule.
Aaron Rupar: Trump's final pre-election speeches featured vicious
attacks on Kavanaugh accusers.
Dylan Scott: 2018 is the identity politics election: The catchphrase
"identity politics" gets thrown around a lot, usually as a bad thing but
it's often hard to understand what it's being contrasted to. In some
nations, identities tend to be ethnic/tribal: e.g., early US-sponsored
elections in Iraq didn't even publish the names of candidates on the
ballot, so all voters had to go on was ethnic/religious identities
(note: civil war between those groups ensued). In the US, most people
have multiple identities (roughly correlating to the extent that any
given identity feels discrimination and prejudice against)), mapped
variously onto two major parties, but as a general rule. At its most
basic and inevitable level, identity offers a heuristic: it makes
sense to vote with people more like yourself, or against those you
perceive as threats.
Adam Serwer: Something's Happening in Texas: "The Republican Party's
future dominance of the Lone Star State, and the nation itself, relies
on rigging democracy to its advanage. It won't work forever." Also by
Trump Hits the Panic Button.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: Journalists should stop repeating Trump's lies:
Refers back to the author's
Hack Gap piece, which should be required homework before voting in
this election. Trump's claim that no other nation has "birthright
citizenship" is a prime example of a lie that's been much repeated
simply because Trump told it.
Other Yglesias posts this week:
What's at stake in Tuesday's elections: Nice, concise statement of the
implications of various outcomes. The one that's missing is the question
of whether Trump, presented with a Democratic Congress, might veer off in
a direction of bipartisan compromises, which could steer the Republicans
out of the dead-end the party's far-right has trapped them in. As long as
he's had Republican control of Congress, he's had no reason to reach across
the aisle, and this has let the far-right effectively veto any attempts at
compromise. But if there's no way a strict party vote can deliver him any
results, he would likely find the Democrats more agreeable than the far-right.
And one thing that is fairly certain is that, win or lose, Trump has gained
strength as the party's leader. He has, after all, really pulled out all the
stops to promote the party. Of course, he could just as well hold firm and
run his 2020 campaign against the Democrat-obstructionists. Indeed, his base
may prefer that stance, and he may prefer it. But there is middle ground he
could gain if he actually did something constructive (infrastructure is a
likely place to start). So he could emerge stronger after a defeat than a
What Democrats can learn from Larry Hogan: Also Charlie Baker, who
looks to be "cruising to reelection in Massachusetts." Hogan and Baker are
Republican governors in otherwise solidly Democratic states -- states that
Democrats would start with if they really were looking to push a far-left
agenda. I'm not sure what lessons Democrats should draw from this, but one
for Republicans seems pretty obvious: that Republicans can win and even
thrive in solid Democratic states by running candidates that are moderate,
judicious, and not sociopathic. There's an element of luck to this, but
also a deep-seated distrust of Democratic politicians, not least among
the party rank-and-file. Massachusetts, for instance, has had many more
Republican governors over the last 30 years than Democrats, but note that
the latest Democrat, Deval Patrick, elected with impeccable progressive
credentials, wound up so tightly enmeshed in business interests that he
wound up as one of the villains in Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal!
(eclipsed only by Andrew Cuomo among governors, Rahm Emmanuel among mayors,
and the Clintons nationwide). It strikes me that there's a double standard
here: people expect more from Democrats; when Democrats are elected, they
get swamped in everyday administration tasks (which mostly means working
with business lobbies); they can't figure out how to get their platforms
implemented; people are disappointed and grow increasingly cynical. The
best one can hope for in a Republican is quiet competence, and in the rare
cases when a Republican can do that without embarrassment, he or she gets
a free pass.
The cynical politics of John Bolton's "Troika of
Tyranny": the subject of what was effectively a campaign speech
delivered in Miami, a fairly transparent attempt to galvanize Cuban
support for Republicans in Florida "even as President Donald Trump's
closing argument in the 2018 midterms is
demagogic fear-mongering about would-be asylum-seekers from Central
America." Pre-Trump, Republicans distinguished between "good" and
"bad" refugees from Latin America: the "good" ones fled from communism
in Cuba, the "bad" ones from capitalism and US-allied "death squads"
from elsewhere. Trump has managed to muddle this a bit, as his racist,
xenophobic base tends to group all immigrants and all Latin Americans
together -- a point that threatens the Cuban-Republican alliance.
Still, not clear to me this works even as cynical politics. Obama's
opening to Cuba actually played pretty well to Cuban-Americans, who
saw opportunities as Cuba itself was becoming more business-friendly.
Moreover, Trump's militant stands against Venezuela and Nicaragua do
more to prop up the left-ish governments there than to undermine them.
Nor is it likely that Bolton can parlay his strategy into visas for
right-wingers to immigrate to the US, as happened with Cuba. And as
policy, of course, this is plain bad. Also see:
Alex Ward: John Bolton just gave an "Axis of Evil" speech about Latin
Ted Cruz and the Zodiac Killer, explained.
Jill Lepore: Reigns of Terror in America: A brief history lesson on
what's new and not after last week's terrorizing shootings and would-be
bombings. Mostly what's not:
On Friday, May 9, 1958, Rabbi Jacob M. Rothschild, of the Hebrew Benevolent
Congregation, in Atlanta, delivered a sermon called "Can This Be America?"
Crosses had been burned and men had been lynched, but Rothschild was mainly
talking about the bombs: bundled sticks of dynamite tied with coiled fuses.
In the late nineteen-fifties, terrorists had set off, or tried to, dozens
of bombs -- at black churches, at white schools that had begun to admit
black children, at a concert hall where Louis Armstrong was playing, at
the home of Martin Luther King, Jr. One out of every ten attacks had been
directed at Jews, at synagogues and community centers in Charlotte, in
Nashville, in Jacksonville, in Birmingham. In March, 1958, about twenty
sticks of dynamite, wrapped in paper yarmulkes, had exploded in an Orthodox
synagogue in Miami. The blast sounded like a plane crash. . . .
America's latest reign of terror began not with Trump's election but
with Obama's, the Brown v. Board of the Presidency. "Impeach Obama," yard
signs read. "He's Unconstitutional." In 2011, Trump began demanding that
Obama prove his citizenship. "I feel I've accomplished something really,
really important," Trump told the press, when, that spring, the White
House offered up the President's birth certificate.
I'm still working my way through Lepore's big book, These Truths:
A History of the United States -- currently 575 pages in (roughly
1956), 217 to go before the notes -- and even though I've been over this
terrain many times before, I'm still picking up new (or poorly understood)
pieces of information. For instance, she puts some emphasis on the
development of print and broadcast media, of journalism and advertising
and political consultants, and the effects of each on our democracy.
Mike Konczal/Nell Abernathy: Democrats Must Become the Party of Freedom:
notably economic freedoms: "Freedom From Poverty"; "Freedom for Workers";
"Freedom From Corporate Power."
PR Lockhart: Georgia, 2018's most prominent voting rights battleground,
explained. The governor's race there will largely be determined by
who goes to the polls and who doesn't. The Republican candidate, Brian
Kemp, is currently Georgia's Secretary of State, which gives him a direct
hand in managing voter access, and he's been using his position to tilt
the election his way. Same sorts of things are happening elsewhere, but
Georgia has an especially long history of voter suppression, and Kemp
is actively adding to that legacy. For the latest, also note:
Emily Stewart: Brian Kemp's office opens investigation into Georgia
Democratic Party days ahead of the election.
Gregory Magarian: Don't Call Him "Justice": A few more words on
Brett Kavanaugh, whose new position on the Supreme Court only promises
to debase the word "justice" even further.
David Roberts: The caravan "invasion" and America's epistemic crisis:
Yglesias linked to this above, but I wanted to show the title, and the
piece is worth examining closer. Especially the term "epistemic crisis" --
a blast from my past, applicable to all sorts of gross misunderstandings,
including how the right-wing mythmongers take tiny germs of fact and
reason and spin them into lurid fears and fantasies. Not to deny that
sometimes they totally make shit up (like the ISIS jihadis alleged to
have joined "the caravan"), but "the caravan" is basically a dramatization
of a fairly common process, where the poor, threatened, and/or ambitious
of poor countries like Guatemala seek a better life in a richer country
like the US. One might think that an influx of poor people to a rich
country might drag the latter down, or that the continued impoverty of
immigrants might make them more prone to crime, but there is hardly any
evidence of that.
The thing I find most curious about "the caravan" is that it is so
public -- more than anything else, it reminds me of civil rights marches,
which makes it very different from past migration routes (more like the
slave era "underground railroad": quiet and stealthy). Civil rights
marches challenged relatively friendly federal powers to intervene and
limit unfriendly local powers. Nothing like that applies here, with
Trump's administration more likely to be provoked to harsher measures
than to accept the migrants. Given the timing and publicity, a much
more rational explanation would be that "the caravan" is a publicity
stunt designed to promote and legitimize Trump's rabid anti-immigrant
political platform. I'm surprised I haven't seen any investigation
into such an obvious suspicion. Maybe it's that the liberal press
assumes that everyone secretly wants to move here, so it doesn't occur
to them to ask: why these people? and why now? Roberts sticks to the
safe ground of "epistemic crisis":
Trump does not view himself as president of the whole country. He views
himself as president of his white nationalist party -- their leader in a
war on liberals. He has all the tools of a head of state with which to
prosecute that war. Currently, he is restrained only by the lingering
professionalism of public servants and a few thin threads of institutional
The caravan story, a lurid xenophobic fantasia that has now resulted
in thousands of troops deployed on US soil, shows that those threads are
snapping. The epistemic crisis Trump has accelerated is now morphing into
a full-fledged crisis of democracy.
Other "caravan" links:
Emily Stewart: Trump said there was a middle-class tax cut coming before
the election. There's no way that's happening. "Instead of running
on the tax bill they already passed, Republicans are trying to convince
voters with a new (nonexistent) one."
Kenneth P Vogel/Scott Shane/Patrick Kingsley: How Vilification of George
Soros Moved From the Fringes to the Mainstream.
Alex Ward: The US will impose new sanctions on Iran next week: "The
goal is to change Iran's behavior. It's unclear if that will happen."
There's hardly any evidence that sanctions do anything other than to
lock in and harden existing stances. If the goal was to "change Iran's
behavior," the key element would be laying out a path for that changed
behavior to be validated, but the sanctions described are all stick, no
carrot, and they're being imposed by a Trump regime that has already
shown no consideration for Iran's steady compliance with the previous
agreement. Moreover, the politics behind the new sanctions are almost
totally being driven by Israel and Saudi Arabia. One obvious Saudi goal
(shared by US oil companies and other major oil exporters, including
Russia) is to keep Iranian oil off the world market -- an interest that
will remain regardless of Iran's "behavior." It's a shame that Trump
cannot conceive of the US having any broader interests (like peaceful
coexistence) than the price of oil and the market for arms. Also see: