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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

"Russia Loaded the Gun. The Trump Team Fired"

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

Craig Timberg, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Adam Entous at WP:
Russian operatives used a fake Twitter account that claimed to speak for Tennessee Republicans to persuade American politicians, celebrities and journalists to share select content with their own massive lists of followers, two people familiar with the matter said.
The list of prominent people who tweeted out links from the account, @Ten_GOP, which Twitter shut down in August, includes political figures such as Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, celebrities such as Nicki Minaj and James Woods, and media personalities such as Ann Coulter and Chris Hayes.
There is no evidence that any of them knew the account was run by Russians.
Independent researchers had suspected the account was Russian, and their work was confirmed Wednesday by two people familiar with the investigations into the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
Betsy Woodruff & colleagues at The Daily Beast:
Former FBI counterterrorism agent Clint Watts, who testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Russian cyberattacks, told The Daily Beast that this is “exactly what I was talking about” in his testimony in March.
“If what you said is true, I’d say, ‘My job is done,’” said Watts. “If this account is definitely an (Internet Research Agency) account, it proved Russian Active Measures (like the 2016 propaganda campaign) works, because Americans will use it against other Americans.”
Watts said the content of these pages is “made to look organic” so that “Americans will use it against their political enemies.”
“If you take rumors, false information, plants, and just repeat them, you’re doing the job of a foreign country. They are seeding out information or narratives they know candidates or partisans will use. They were so effective, they had the very top people in the campaign using it,” said Watts.
“Basically, Russia loaded the gun. The Trump team fired.”

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.

Trump Troubles

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's character.

At first it sounded like hyperbole, the escalation of a Twitter war. But now it’s clear that Bob Corker’s remarkable New York Times interview—in which the Republican senator described the White House as “adult day care” and warned Trump could start World War III—was an inflection point in the Trump presidency. It brought into the open what several people close to the president have recently told me in private: that Trump is “unstable,” “losing a step,” and “unraveling.”
The conversation among some of the president’s longtime confidantes, along with the character of some of the leaks emerging from the White House has shifted. There’s a new level of concern. NBC News published a report that Trump shocked his national security team when he called for a nearly tenfold increase in the country’s nuclear arsenal during a briefing this summer. One Trump adviser confirmed to me it was after this meeting disbanded that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron.”
In recent days, I spoke with a half dozen prominent Republicans and Trump advisers, and they all describe a White House in crisis as advisers struggle to contain a president who seems to be increasingly unfocused and consumed by dark moods. Trump’s ire is being fueled by his stalled legislative agenda and, to a surprising degree, by his decision last month to back the losing candidate Luther Strange in the Alabama Republican primary. “Alabama was a huge blow to his psyche,” a person close to Trump said. “He saw the cult of personality was broken.”
 Josh Dawsey at Politico:
Trump, several advisers and aides said, sometimes comes into the Oval Office worked into a lather from talking to friends or watching TV coverage in the morning.
Sometimes, a side conversation with an aide like Stephen Miller on immigration or a TV host like Sean Hannity would set him off.
Then, staffers would step in to avert a rash decision by calming him down. At times, new information would be shared, like charts on how farmers might feel about ending NAFTA — or how his base might react negatively to an idea, like the verbal deal he struck with Democrats on immigration last month.
In the first stretches of the administration, aides would ask outside figures to intervene with Trump.
Sometimes, advisers and people who know Trump well deliberately engage the media. Corker has told others on Capitol Hill that Trump doesn’t listen unless he hears the criticism on TV or reads it in the paper.
The Priebus strategy was largely to delay. Instead of ousting Sessions, as Trump wanted, Priebus, Bannon and others had outside advisers close to Trump call him and explain the ramifications. They tried to remind him what a dedicated campaign supporter Sessions had been — and that his firing could set off unpredictable dominoes.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Bannon Base

In Defying the Odds, we discuss changes in the major parties.

Lloyd Green writes at The Hill:
In 2012, two-thirds of Mitt Romney’s individual contributions came in the form of large donations. As for his backers, their top five employers were large banks: Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, according to Open Secrets. Of Romney’s top five donor states, only Texas voted for him. At the same time, however, West Virginia was the state nearest to Wall Street that Romney won. As a practical matter, however, West Virginia may as well have been in a separate galaxy.
By contrast, small donors comprised an outsized portion of Trump’s campaign haul. In other words, Trump’s donors were his voters, and vice versa, and that nexus is not one that has escaped Bannon’s eyes. At Moore’s primary night party last month, Bannon hammered away at the fact that Moore was not graced by a deep bench of donors, and the reality is that Moore was outspent 10 to one.
Over the next 14 months, Corker stands to repeatedly stymie Trump. As a legislative body that relies upon consensus to function, a coalition of Democrats and renegade Republicans are poised to block Trump at every twist and turn. Yet that does not constitute party building, and for the moment it is Bannon who is keeping his eye on that prize.

Trump and the FCC

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

Trump on the FCC:
From  the FCC itself (emphasis added):
We license only individual broadcast stations. We do not license TV or radio networks (such as CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox) or other organizations with which stations have relationships (such as PBS or NPR), except to the extent that those entities may also be station licensees. We also do not regulate information provided over the Internet, nor do we intervene in private disputes involving broadcast stations or their licensees. Instead, we usually defer to the parties, courts, or other agencies to resolve such disputes.
But even if FCC does not license networks themselves, it can cause trouble for media companies.  On September 15, 1972, Nixon talked about using it to punish The Washington Post.
PRESIDENT: The Post has asked -- it's going to have its problems.

HALDEMAN: (Unintelligible)

DEAN: The networks, the networks are good with Maury [Maurice Stans]coming back three days in a row and --

PRESIDENT: That's right. Right. The main thing is the Post is going to have damnable, damnable problems out of this one. They have a television station.

DEAN: That's right, they do.
PRESIDENT: And they're going to have to get it renewed.

HALDEMAN: They've got a radio station, too.

PRESIDENT: Does that come up too? The point is, when does it come up?

DEAN: I don't know. But the practice of nonlicensees filing on top of licensees has certainly gotten more,...

PRESIDENT: That's right.
DEAN: more active in the, in the area.

PRESIDENT: And it's going to be God damn active here.

DEAN: (Laughs)

PRESIDENT: Well, the game has to be played awfully rough.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Leftward Ho, Fall 2017

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the Sanders candidacy and the liberal drift of the Democratic Party.

Alan Greenblatt at Politico:
Consumed by internecine battles and the idea of opposition, Democrats run the risk of again nominating someone like McGovern who pleases progressives but steers a course too far from the country’s center of political gravity to win, even as Trump continues his funhouse mirror impression of Nixon as the avatar of white cultural-grievance politics.
Politics today are much different than they were then, as is the shape of the American electorate. But there are parallels that Democrats should bear in mind as they nurse their hopes of driving Trump from the Oval Office. Trump is a culture warrior, and progressives today are perfectly willing to engage that sideshow—just as they did 45 years with Nixon.
Look no further than the recent controversy over NFL players’ protests over police violence and racism, which Trump has successfully portrayed for most voters as an insult to men and women in uniform, the American flag, mom and apple pie.

“If the Democrats become the party of those in favor of kneeling rather than standing for the national anthem,” says historian Jeffrey Bloodworth, author of Losing the Center: A History of American Liberalism, 1968-1992, “that would be a full McGovern.”
Amy Walter at The Cook Political Report:
The latest data from the Pew Research Center, proves [that] Democrats have moved dramatically leftward since the 1990s on issues like the social safety net, immigration, and race relations. On those issues, the so-called Warren wing represents the mainstream of Democratic opinion
As for the issue of what [Mark] Penn calls “identity politics,” Democrats’ views on race have shifted dramatically over the last 23 years. In 1994, just 39 percent of Democrats said that “racial discrimination is the main reason why many black people can’t get ahead these days,” while 53 percent of Democrats agreed with the statement that “blacks who can’t get ahead in this country are mostly responsible for their own condition.” From 1994 until 2015, Democrats who viewed the lack of progress for blacks as a product of discrimination were outnumbered by those who said it was basically blacks’ own fault. By 2015, however, a majority (50 percent) pegged discrimination as the culprit. By the summer of 2017, the discrimination number shot up 14 points to 64 percent.
At the start of the Obama era, 57 percent of Democrats said that the country should continue to make changes to give blacks equal rights with whites. By 2017, that number had rocketed up 24 points to 81 percent. Why such big movement, so quickly? The percent of white and Hispanic Democrats who wanted to see more changes to racial equality, which was slowly climbing from 2009 to 2014, jumped dramatically in 2015 to 2017. In 2014, 57 percent of white Democrats wanted to see more changes to give blacks and whites equal rights. It was 80 percent in 2017. The support from Hispanic Democrats went from 59 percent in 2014 to 76 percent in 2017.
Kenneth P. Vogel at NYT:
Entrenched Democratic groups are facing growing questions about the return on the hundreds of millions of dollars they have spent over the years. Groups affiliated with Mrs. Clinton “spent so much money based on a bad strategy in this last cycle that they should step aside and let others lead in this moment,” said Quentin James, a founder of a political committee called the Collective PAC that supports African-American candidates.

Mr. James’s committee is among more than three dozen outfits that have started or reconfigured themselves since the election to try to harness the surge in anti-Trump activism. In addition to political committees, grass-roots mobilization nonprofits and legal watchdog groups, there are for-profit companies providing technological help to the new groups — essentially forming a new liberal ecosystem outside the confines of the Democratic Party.
While the new groups gained early traction mostly on the strength of grass-roots volunteers and small donations — and with relatively meager overall budgets — they are beginning to attract attention from the left’s most generous benefactors.
“We’re in a disruptive period, and when we get through it, the progressive infrastructure landscape may look different,” said Gara LaMarche, president of the Democracy Alliance, a club of wealthy liberals who donate at least $200,000 a year to recommended groups. “There may be groups that have been around that don’t rise to the challenge, and there may be some new groups that do rise to the challenge, while others fade away.”
The Democracy Alliance has helped shape the institutional left, steering more than $600 million since its inception in 2005 to a portfolio of carefully selected groups, including pillars of the Clinton-aligned establishment like the think tank Center for American Progress and the media watchdog Media Matters.
 But this year, the Democracy Alliance hired Archana Sahgal, a former Obama White House official, to help the new anti-Trump groups, and it suspended its intensive vetting and approval process to recommend donations to a host of groups created since last fall’s election.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Corker v. Trump

Jonathan Martin and Mark Landler at NYT:
Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, charged in an interview on Sunday that President Trump was treating his office like “a reality show,” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”

In an extraordinary rebuke of a president of his own party, Mr. Corker said he was alarmed about a president who acts “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something.”

“He concerns me,” Mr. Corker added. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”
The senator, who is close to Mr. Tillerson, invoked comments that the president made on Twitter last weekend in which he appeared to undercut Mr. Tillerson’s negotiations with North Korea.

“A lot of people think that there is some kind of ‘good cop, bad cop’ act underway, but that’s just not true,” Mr. Corker said.

Without offering specifics, he said Mr. Trump had repeatedly undermined diplomacy with his Twitter fingers. “I know he has hurt, in several instances, he’s hurt us as it relates to negotiations that were underway by tweeting things out,” Mr. Corker said/
“Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here,” he said, adding that “of course they understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”
As for the tweets that set off the feud on Sunday morning, Mr. Corker expressed a measure of powerlessness.
“I don’t know why the president tweets out things that are not true,” he said. “You know he does it, everyone knows he does it, but he does.”

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Gun Gap

In Defying the Odds, we discuss demographic gaps in the 2016 election -- and ssues such as gun control.

Nate Cohn and Kevin Quealy write at NYT:
Americans are deeply split along demographic lines, but there aren’t many demographic characteristics that embody America’s cultural divide better than gun ownership.

In the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday, the polling firm SurveyMonkey published a pair of maps from its 2016 presidential election exit polls. It showed the electoral maps for voters who said they had a gun in their home, and for those who said they did not.

In every state but Vermont – perhaps the most liberal state in the country, but one where many, including Bernie Sanders, support gun rights – voters who reported living in a gun-owning household overwhelmingly backed Donald J. Trump.

The opposite is true for voters who said they did not live in a home with a gun. In all but one state that could be measured, voters overwhelmingly preferred Hillary Clinton. (The exception was West Virginia; not enough data existed for Wyoming.)

Over all, gun-owning households (roughly a third in America) backed Mr. Trump by 63 percent to 31 percent, while households without guns backed Mrs. Clinton, 65 percent to 30 percent, according to SurveyMonkey data.

No other demographic characteristic created such a consistent geographic split.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Stars and Bars and Roy Moore

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

Cameron Joseph at TPM:
Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore’s top supporter is a hardline Confederate sympathizer with longtime ties to a secessionist group.
Michael Anthony Peroutka (pictured on the right above, with Moore in 2011) has given Moore, his foundation and his campaigns well over a half-million dollars over the past decade-plus. He’s also expressed beliefs that make even Moore’s arguably theocratic anti-gay and anti-Muslim views look mainstream by comparison. Chief among them: He’s argued that the more Christian South needs to secede and form a new Biblical nation.
Peroutka, a 2004 Constitution Party presidential nominee who in 2014 won a seat as a Republican on the county commission in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, spent years on the board of the Alabama-based League of the South, a southern secessionist group which for years has called for a southern nation run by an “Anglo-Celtic” elite. The Southern Poverty Law Center designates the League of the South as a hate group (a designation Peroutka regularly jokes about). That organization, after Peroutka left, was one of the organizers of the Charlottesville protests last summer that ended in bloodshed.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to The Right: A Bad Week for the GOP

Republicans are confronting a growing revolt from their top donors, who are cutting off the party in protest over its inability to get anything done.
Tensions reached a boiling point at a recent dinner at the home of Los Angeles billionaire Robert Day. In full view of around two dozen guests, Thomas Wachtell, a retired oil and gas investor and party contributor, delivered an urgent message to the night’s headliner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: Just do something.

Wachtell, who has given tens of thousands of dollars over the years to Senate Republicans, recalled that McConnell responded defensively. Passing legislation takes time, the Republican leader responded, and President Donald Trump didn’t seem to understand how long it required.
“Anybody who was there knew that I was not happy. And I don’t think anybody was happy. How could you be?” said Wachtell, who has previously given over $2,000 to McConnell but recently stopped donating to Senate GOP causes. “You’re never going to get a more sympathetic Republican than I am. But I’m sick and tired of nothing happening.
Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns at NYT:
Since last week, Senate Republicans lost one of their own when Roy S. Moore, the firebrand former state judge, trounced Senator Luther Strangein a Senate runoff in Alabama. The retirement of Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee kicked off a potentially fratricidal fight for his seat, with the establishment’s preferred successor, Gov. Bill Haslam, declining to run on Thursday.
An audiotape surfaced of Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, lambasting Republican leaders and urging conservative donors to close their wallets to lawmakers who are disloyal to President Trump. And a House Republican, Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, was forced to resign this week after a text from his mistress became public in which she mocked him for trumpeting his staunch opposition to abortion as he pressured her to terminate a pregnancy.
Former Representative Michael Grimm of New York has also resurfaced after serving time for felony tax fraud to challenge his Republican successor on Staten Island — with the backing of Mr. Trump’s former strategist, Stephen K. Bannon.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Russians Targeted Michigan and Wisconsin

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

Manu Raju, Dylan Byers and Dana Bash report at CNN:
A number of Russian-linked Facebook ads specifically targeted Michigan and Wisconsin, two states crucial to Donald Trump's victory last November, according to four sources with direct knowledge of the situation.
Some of the Russian ads appeared highly sophisticated in their targeting of key demographic groups in areas of the states that turned out to be pivotal, two of the sources said. The ads employed a series of divisive messages aimed at breaking through the clutter of campaign ads online, including promoting anti-Muslim messages, sources said.
It has been unclear until now exactly which regions of the country were targeted by the ads. And while one source said that a large number of ads appeared in areas of the country that were not heavily contested in the elections, some clearly were geared at swaying public opinion in the most heavily contested battlegrounds.
Michigan saw the closest presidential contest in the country -- Trump beat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by about 10,700 votes out of nearly 4.8 million ballots cast. Wisconsin was also one of the tightest states, and Trump won there by only about 22,700 votes. Both states, which Trump carried by less than 1%, were key to his victory in the Electoral College.

The sources did not specify when in 2016 the ads ran in Michigan and Wisconsin.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

After Las Vegas

In Defying the Odds, we discuss issues such as gun control

Mike Allen at Axios:
In a moment of such jarring tragedy, three sad but indisputable realities of America 2017 were exposed — and then amplified — within minutes of the shooting:
1. Our gun manufacturers are heavily incentivized by market demand and lax laws in most states, and by the federal government, to allow mad men to accumulate all the firepower they crave for mass killings. This didn't change after Columbine or Sandy Hook. And won't now.
2. President Trump and congressional Republican have every incentive to protect the status quo. Read and reflect on this chilling text from Steve Bannon to Axios last night. when asked if Trump will revert to his earlier support of gun control:
"Impossible: will be the end of everything," Bannon told Jonathan Swan.
When asked whether Trump's base would react worse to this than if he supported an immigration amnesty bill, Bannon replied: "as hard as it is to believe actually worse."
Go deeper: Why Trump is unlikely to do a Chuck-and-Nancy deal on gun control.
3. Yesterday, the same platforms the Russians used to manipulate voters were the middle men for B.S. conspiracy theories about Vegas.
Google results amplified an online claim that the shooter was "a Democrat who liked Rachel Maddow,, and associated with the anti-Trump army," per CNN's Oliver Darcy.
"Facebook promoted several dubious websites on its Crisis Response page."

Be smart: Trump's election showed the capacity for an unconventional politician to beat the system. But the dynamics post-shooting are the same — and we would argue getting worse, because heartless people can use social media to spread lies and fear with such ease and precision.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Tax Plan Benefits the Wealthy

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the tax issue in the 2016 campaign. Trump railed against special interests and claimed to be the champion of ordinary Americans.

Howard Gleckman at the Tax Policy Center:
The tax outline unveiled this week by President Trump and the congressional Republican leadership would reduce federal revenue by $2.4 trillion over the next decade, according to a new analysis by the Tax Policy Center. The plan would cut taxes for low- and middle-income households modestly, while focusing most of its benefits on the highest-income 1 percent.
President Trump has promoted the tax package, called the “Unified Framework for Fixing our Broken Tax Code,” as an historically large tax cut for the middle-class and a tax increase for the highest-income households. The reality, however, is quite the opposite.
In 2018, the framework would cut taxes for moderate-income households by an average of $660, or 1.2 percent of their after-tax income. By contrast, it would boost the after-tax incomes of the highest-income 1 percent by an average of $130,000, or more than 8 percent. The top 0.1 percent would get an average boost in after-tax income of $720,000 or 10.2 percent of their after-tax income.
The top 1 percent (those making $730,000 or more) would receive half of all the plan’s tax cuts while middle-income households (those making between about $50,000 and $90,000) would get only about 8 percent of the total benefit.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Maria Could Tip Florida

James Hohmann at WP:
More than 50 million ballots were cast by Floridians in the seven presidential elections from 1992 through 2016. If you add them all up, only 18,000 votes separate the Republicans from the Democrats. That is 0.04 percent.
Florida is rightfully considered the swingiest of swing states. Control of the White House in 2000 came down to a few hundred hanging chads — and one vote on the Supreme Court. The past four statewide elections — two governor’s races and two presidentials — were all decided by a single percentage point.
So it could be quite politically significant that tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans, maybe more, are expected to permanently move into Florida as the result of Hurricane Maria. The Category 4 storm has wreaked havoc on the U.S. territory of 3.4 million. Most of the island still doesn’t have power a week after Maria made landfall. There are shortages of fuel, medicine, food and running water. Infrastructure that was already crumbling is in ruins.
Trump's reaction won't help.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Return to Gucci Gulch

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the tax issue in the 2016 campaign. Trump railed against special interests and claimed to be the champion of ordinary Americans.
Binyamin Applebaum at NYT:

The tax plan that the Trump administration outlined on Wednesday is a potentially huge windfall for the wealthiest Americans. It would not directly benefit the bottom third of the population. As for the middle class, the benefits appear to be modest.
The administration and its congressional allies are proposing to sharply reduce taxation of business income, primarily benefiting the small share of the population that owns the vast majority of corporate equity. President Trump said on Wednesday that the cuts would increase investment and spur growth, creating broader prosperity. But experts say the upside is limited, not least because the economy is already expanding.
The plan would also benefit Mr. Trump and other affluent Americans by eliminating the estate tax, which affects just a few thousand uber-wealthy families each year, and the alternative minimum tax, a safety net designed to prevent tax avoidance.
The precise impact on Mr. Trump cannot be ascertained because the president refuses to release his tax returns, but the few snippets of returns that have become public show one thing clearly: The alternative minimum tax has been unkind to Mr. Trump. In 2005, it forced him to pay $31 million in additional taxes.
Alen Rappeport and Thomas Kaplan at NYT:
Opposition from the real estate industry was swift and vocal, with trade groups strongly criticizing elements of the plan that they say will make home-buying less attractive and weaken the housing market. While the plan specifically calls for preserving the mortgage interest deduction, real estate agents are warning that a proposal to double the standard deduction will make taxpayers less likely to itemize their tax returns and claim the mortgage deduction.
The most politically fraught proposal is eliminating the state and local tax deduction, which allows taxpayers who itemize to write off their property, state and local taxes. The measure is particularly prized in blue states with high property taxes, but is also widely used in some Republican districts in Virginia, New Jersey and California.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How HRC Lost

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the mechanics of the 2016 campaign as well as the economic distress that brought down the Democrats.

Stanley Greenberg in The American Prospect:
The campaign relied far too heavily on something that campaign technicians call “data analytics.” This refers to the use of models built from a database of the country’s 200 million voters, including turnout history and demographic and consumer information, updated daily by an automated poll asking for vote preference to project the election result. But when campaign developments overtake the model’s assumptions, you get surprised by the voters—and this happened repeatedly.

Campaign manager Robby Mook and his team believed that identity politics, demographic trends, and Trump’s temperament would be enough to win, so they could avoid confronting the “trust problem.”

Astonishingly, the 2016 Clinton campaign conducted no state polls in the final three weeks of the general election and relied primarily on data analytics to project turnout and the state vote. They paid little attention to qualitative focus groups or feedback from the field, and their brief daily poll didn’t measure which candidate was defining the election or getting people engaged.
The fatal conclusion the Clinton team made after the Michigan primary debacle was that she could not win white working-class voters, and that the “rising electorate” would make up the difference. She finished her campaign with rallies in inner cities and university towns. Macomb got the message. “When you leave the two-thirds of Americans without college degrees out of your vision of the good life, they notice,” Joan Williams writes sharply in White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Russia Sought to Divide Us

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

Adam Entous, Craig Timberg and Elizabeth Dwoskin report at WP:
The batch of more than 3,000 Russian-bought ads that Facebook is preparing to turn over to Congress shows a deep understanding of social divides in American society, with some ads promoting African American rights groups, including Black Lives Matter, and others suggesting that these same groups pose a rising political threat, say people familiar with the covert influence campaign.
The Russian campaign — taking advantage of Facebook’s ability to send contrary messages to different groups of users based on their political and demographic characteristics — also sought to sow discord among religious groups. Other ads highlighted support for Democrat Hillary Clinton among Muslim women.
These targeted messages, along with others that have surfaced in recent days, highlight the sophistication of an influence campaign slickly crafted to mimic and infiltrate U.S. political discourse while also seeking to heighten tensions between groups already wary of one another.
While Facebook has played down the impact of the Russian ads on the election, Dennis Yu, chief technology officer for BlitzMetrics, a digital marketing company that focuses on Facebook ads, said that $100,000 worth of Facebook ads could have been viewed hundreds of millions of times.

According to Yu, “$100,000 worth of very concentrated posts is very, very powerful. When you have a really hot post, you often get this viral multiplier. So when you buy this one ad impression, you can get an extra 20- to 40-times multiplier because those people comment and share it.”

Monday, September 25, 2017

Counties Left Behind

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the economic distress that brought down the Democrats.
Non-college whites felt isolated, and in a direct geographical sense. In recent years, the people most likely to move for better opportunities were the highly educated, who clustered in places such as Silicon Valley, New York, Boston, and Seattle. The counties encompassing such areas accounted for much of the growth in new businesses after the Great Recession. Government spending enabled lobbyists and contractors to flourish: five of the nation’s ten wealthiest counties were suburbs of Washington, DC. Meanwhile, small rural counties shrank and faltered. In the recovery of the early 1990s, they had accounted for a third of net increase in new businesses. From 2010 through 2014, they lost more businesses than they generated.
Kim Hart at Axios:
U.S. geographical economic inequality is growing, meaning your economic opportunity is more tied to your location than ever before. A large portion of the country is being left behind by today's economy, according to a county-by-county report released this morning by the Economic Innovation Group, a non-profit research and advocacy organization. This was a major election theme that helped thrust Donald Trump to the White House.
Key findings:
  • New jobs are clustered in the economy's best-off places, leaving one of every four new jobs for the bottom 60 percent of zip codes.
  • 57% of the national rise in business establishments and 52% of employment growth from 2011-2015 were in prosperous areas.
  • Most of today's distressed communities have seen zero net gains in employment and business establishment since 2000. In fact, more than half have seen net losses on both fronts.
  • Half of adults living in distressed zip codes are attempting to find gainful employment in the modern economy armed with only a high school education at best.
  • The healthier the economy, the healthier the person: People in distressed communities die five years earlier

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Todd Akin, the 2017 Edition

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

On Friday, Trump gave an odd, rambling speech, nominally in support of appointed Senator Luther Strange in the Alabama runoff. Jonathan Martin at NYT:
“If Luther doesn’t win, they’re not going to say we picked up 25 points in a very short period of time, they’re going say, ‘Donald Trump, the president of the United States, was unable to pull his candidate across the line,’” he predicted to 7,500 Alabamians at a rally on Friday night as Mr. Strange looked on.

His blurting out of his political stage directions was a vintage moment of Trumpian indiscretion. But it also had the benefit of being accurate. The contest between Mr. Strange and Roy Moore, a former State Supreme Court justice and evangelical firebrand, is the most significant test yet of the president’s power to sway the party’s conservative base.
“If Roy Moore wins, Bannon and all the other of those people will pop out of the woodwork everywhere,” said Senator Richard C. Shelby, the veteran Alabama Republican, referring to the former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon, who has taken a leading role against the preferred candidate of his former boss. 
Moore was removed from the bench for defying a court order to take down the Ten Commandments from the State Supreme Court.  In the past, he supported banning homosexual acts.
It is the sort of message that terrifies Republican elites, who fear he could be a more weaponized version of Todd Akin, the 2012 Missouri Senate candidate who lost after saying women’s bodies could block a pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.”
“Roy Moore would be the Todd Akin of 2017 and 2018 for every Republican on the ballot,” said Karl Rove, the Republican strategist, who is aligned with the Senate Leadership Fund. “Republicans will be asked, ‘Do you agree homosexuality should be punished by death, do you believe 9/11 was a result of God’s anger?’ He’ll say outrageous things, the media will play it up, and every Republican will be asked, ‘Do you agree with that?’”
 “I think they’ll go after that seat,” Mr. Shelby said of the Democrats’ approach should Mr. Moore win on Tuesday. That is less likely if Mr. Strange captures the nomination, he said. “If Luther wins, he’s in.”
The Senate Democratic campaign arm has lined up a pollster to test Mr. Jones’s strengths and Mr. Moore’s vulnerabilities. And Alabama Democrats are openly rooting for the former judge.
 “We want Roy Moore to win that primary,” said Patricia Todd, a Democratic state representative from Birmingham. “He gives us a better shot in the general election.”