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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Polarization and Views of Media

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's relationship to the media.

Steven Shepard at Politico:
Nearly half of voters, 46 percent, believe the news media fabricate news stories about President Donald Trump and his administration, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.
Just 37 percent of voters think the media do not fabricate stories, the poll shows, while the remaining 17 percent are undecided.

More than three-quarters of Republican voters, 76 percent, think the news media invent stories about Trump and his administration, compared with only 11 percent who don’t think so. Among Democrats, one-in-five think the media make up stories, but a 65 percent majority think they do not. Forty-four percent of independent voters think the media make up stories about Trump, and 31 percent think they do not.
Among the voters who strongly approve of Trump’s job performance in the poll, 85 percent believe the media fabricate stories about the president and his administration.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Democrats and Republicans Like to Live in Different Places

In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race.

One reason for GOP control of the House is deliberate gerrymandering.  Another is partisan clustering, that is, the tendency of Democrats to huddle up in cities, where they create huge margins for their party, which means wasted votes.

A new Pew poll confirms that Democrats and Republicans like to live in different kinds of places.
Our studies of political polarization and partisan antipathy both found that the disagreements between Republicans and Democrats go far beyond political values and issues. They also have markedly different preferences about where they would like to live. Most Republicans (65%) say they would rather live in a community where houses are larger and farther apart and where schools and shopping are not nearby. A majority of Democrats (61%) prefer smaller houses within walking distance of schools and shopping.

Monday, October 16, 2017

New Details on Russia's War Against American Democracy

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

Paul Manafort, a former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, has much stronger financial ties to a Russian oligarch than have been previously reported.

An NBC News investigation reveals that $26 million changed hands in the form of a loan between a company linked to Manafort and the oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire with close ties to the Kremlin.

The loan brings the total of their known business dealings to around $60 million over the past decade, according to financial documents filed in Cyprus and the Cayman Islands.
The Russians who worked for a notorious St. Petersburg “troll factory” that was part of Vladimir Putin’s campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election were required to watch the “House of Cards” television series to help them craft messages to “set up the Americans against their own government,” according to an interview broadcast Sunday (in Russian) with a former member of the troll factory’s elite English language department.
The interview, broadcast by the independent Russian TV station Rain, provides new insight into how the troll factory formerly known as the Internet Research Agency targeted U.S. audiences in part by posting provocative “comments” pretending to be from Americans on newspaper articles that appeared on the websites of the New York Times and Washington Post.
A central theme of this messaging was demonizing Hillary Clinton by playing up the past scandals of her husband’s administration, her wealth and her use of a private email server, according to the interview with the agency worker, identified only as “Maksim,” with his face concealed.
“Maksim” says he worked for the agency during 2015, the year before the election, when it was already focusing its attention on Clinton.
“The main message is: Are not you, my American brothers, tired of the Clintons? How many have they already been?” Maksim says, adding that he and his colleagues were told to emphasize the Clintons’ past “corruption scandals.”
But more broadly, the instructions given to employees of the English language department were to stoke discontent about the U.S. government and the Obama administration in particular. “We had a goal to set up the Americans against their own government,” he says. “To cause unrest, cause discontent [and] lower [President] Obama’s rating.”

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Redistricting: A 1990 RNC Pamphlet

In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race.

There has been much discussion of the role of gerrymandering in House races. Democrats blame unfair districts for GOP control.  Although they may stretch the argument and overlook the role of natural clustering ("unintentional gerrymandering'), there is little doubt that deliberate gerrymandering by GOP state lawmakers pads the party's majorities in the House and the state legislatures.

During the 1980s and 1990s, roles were reversed, as Democrats controlled most legislatures.  During this period, Republicans complained about gerrymandering. In 1990, the Republican National Committee issued a pamphlet about the topic.  "The gerrymander is unfair to voters," it said.  "`Packing' wastes votes while `cracking' makes them ineffectual. With a predetermined outcome, people have little reason to vote."

I am familiar with this pamphlet.  As an RNC staffer at the time, I wrote it.

I have embedded it below.  (Sorry for the light copy.)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Sinister Agendas and Anti-Constitutional Impulses

In Defying the Odds, we explain that Trump has renounced the conservatism of Ronald Reagan.
He usually dismissed high ideals by reducing them to crude material terms. Consider for instance, America’s foundational proposition that all men are created equal. “The world is not fair,” Trump said in a 2006 video. [here] “You know they come with this statement `all men are created equal.’ Well, it sounds beautiful, and it was written by some very wonderful people and brilliant people, but it's not true because all people and all men [laughter] aren't created [equal] … you have to be born and blessed with something up here [pointing to his head]. On the assumption you are, you can become very rich.” Similarly, Trump did not think of “American exceptionalism” as a way of thinking about the nation’s role as a beacon for equality and liberty. As he said in 2015 [here] , it was all about the Benjamins.
I want to take everything back from the world that we’ve given them. We’ve given them so much. On top of taking it back, I don’t want to say, “We’re exceptional, we’re more exceptional.” Because essentially we’re saying, “We’re more outstanding than you. By the way, you’ve been eating our lunch for the last 20 years, but we’re more exceptional than you.” I don’t like the term. I never liked it.
Trump’s disdain for these ideas put him at odds with a major strain of conservative thought that revered the Declaration. It surely set him apart from conservatives who loved to quote Reagan’s rhetoric of a “shining city on a hill” and who faulted President Obama for seeming to belittle American exceptionalism. Trump just did not care very much for conservative ideology. In May of 2016, he said: “This is called the Republican Party. It’s not called the Conservative Party.” Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio told a post-election conference: “One of the problems is many people tried to look at the Donald Trump phenomenon through the ideological lenses which had defined previous Republican presidential nominating contests. Donald Trump is post ideological. His movement transcends ideology.”
With Trump turning and turning in a widening gyre, his crusade to make America great again is increasingly dominated by people who explicitly repudiate America’s premises. The faux nationalists of the “alt-right” and their fellow travelers such as Stephen K. Bannon, although fixated on protecting the United States from imported goods, have imported the blood-and-soil ethno-tribalism that stains the continental European right. In “Answering the Alt-Right” in National Affairs quarterly, Ramon Lopez, a University of Chicago PhD candidate in political philosophy, demonstrates how Trump’s election has brought back to the public stage ideas that a post-Lincoln America had slowly but determinedly expunged. They were rejected because they are incompatible with an open society that takes its bearing from the Declaration of Independence’s doctrine of natural rights.
Trump is, of course, innocent of this (or any other) systemic thinking. However, within the ambit of his vast, brutish carelessness are some people with sinister agendas and anti-constitutional impulses. Stephen Miller, Bannon’s White House residue and Trump’s enfant terrible, recently said that “in sending our [tax reform] proposal to the tax-writing committees, we will include instructions to ensure all low- and middle-income households are protected.” So, Congress will be instructed by Trump’s 32-year-old acolyte who also says the president’s national security powers “will not be questioned.” We await the response of congressional Republicans, who did so little to stop Trump’s ascent and then so much to normalize him.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Democrats Are Looking at House Gains

David Wasserman at Cook Political Report:
President Trump and GOP control of Congress have sparked a 2018 Democratic candidate bonanza. Don't call it "recruitment:" for the most part, these aspirants decided to take the plunge on their own. Many are political newcomers; others have waited years for the right moment to run. And in light of national polling, it was only a matter of time before more GOP-held House seats joined the ranks of the vulnerable.

Over the past week, the Cook Political Report has met with dozens of Democratic candidates sporting impressive resumes, ranging from military veterans and former Obama administration officials to prosecutors and scientists. Much like the GOP's crop of candidates in 2010, only a handful were current or former elected officials. However, some campaigns have progressed more quickly than others and not all opportunities are created equal.
In the latest Economist/YouGov poll, Democrats lead 40-33% in the generic ballot. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Kevin de León Could Win

California Democratic state Senate president Kevin de León is reportedly planning to challenge incumbent Senator Dianne Feinstein.

He could win.

Although he is not yet a household name in California, he could mount a credible campaign.  He has strong ties to organized labor and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, both of which have an outsized voice in party affairs. And as a top legislative leader, he is in a strong position to raise money.

Feinstein's situation recalls that of Senator Jacob Javits (R-NY) in 1980. Javits was a long-serving, well-respected member of the Senate minority. But as a liberal Republican, he was increasingly out of step with his party. He was also old and in ill health. Al D’Amato, then an obscure local official on Long Island, saw an opportunity. Few gave him much chance at the start, but Javits had never had a serious challenge from within the party, and was late to recognize how deep his troubles were. D’Amato attacked Javits’s liberalism, beat him in the primary and went on to win the general election. (Though he ran to the right in 1980, D’Amato ended up with a moderate voting record in the Senate. Full disclosure: I briefly worked in his office as a Congressional Fellow.) 

Like Javits, Feinstein has not had a serious intraparty challenge since winning her seat. In fact, she has not had a competitive race since Michael Huffington’s surprisingly strong showing in 1994. Like Javits in 1980, she is out of practice. Unlike Javits, she does not seem to have any major health problems. But she is the oldest US senator, and she is not as vigorous as she once was. And though her voting record is consistently liberal, her willingness to work with Republicans puts her at odds with the strongly progressive wing of the Democratic Party. 

Right now, the energy in the Democratic Party is all on the progressive side. At Democratic rallies, speakers do not get cheers when they brag about their bipartisan outreach. A scrappy, energetic progressive like de León could rouse the party base in a way that Feinstein could not. (Bernie Sanders showed the way on that score.)

One might argue that, even if Feinstein ran behind a progressive in the top-two primary, she would win in the general because Republicans would coalesce around her. But suppose there are Democrat-on-Democrat races for both governor and senator – as seems very possible. In that case, GOP turnout would plunge. And even if GOP voters did show up to the polls, many would skip the Senate race, as they did in 2016. In this scenario, a progressive Democrat could win the general as well as the primary.

One catch: progressive billionaire Tom Steyer is thinking about running.  If he got in the race, de León would have a harder time.  But in a head-to-head contest with Feinstein, we could see a replay of the 1980 Senate race in New York.