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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Secession of the Successful

College America was becoming a class apart. Its members had their own tastes, preferences, and neighborhoods. And its children were marrying one another. (For instance, the Clintons’ daughter wed a fellow Stanford graduate whose parents had both served in the House of Representatives.) College-educated parents passed along good genes, provided their children with cultural opportunities, paid for test-prep classes, and used their connections to open the doors for internships and jobs. Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, writes of friends who ask his help in getting internships for their children. “I understand what they’re doing; this is part of being a parent. Still, it’s a reminder that America’s current internship system, in which contacts and money matter more than talent, contributes to an economy in which access and opportunity go to the people who already have the most of both.”   
Some on the left recognize the hypocrisy of progressives’ abandoning the toiling masses. “Blue state secession is no better an idea than Confederate secession was,” observes one progressive journalist. “The Confederates wanted to draw themselves into a cocoon so they could enslave and exploit people. The blue state secessionists want to draw themselves into a cocoon so they can ignore the exploited people of America.”

Ironically, many of the most exploited people reside in blue states and cities. Both segregation and impoverishment has worsened during the decades-long urban “comeback,” as even longtime urban enthusiast Richard Florida now notes. Chicago, with its soaring crime rates and middle class out-migration, amidst a wave of elite corporate relocations, epitomizes the increasingly unequal tenor of blue societies.

In contrast the most egalitarian places, like Utah, tend to be largely Trump-friendly. Among the 10 states (and D.C.) with the most income inequality, seven supported Clinton in 2016, while seven of the 10 most equal states supported Trump.

If you want to see worst impacts of blue policies, go to those red regions—like upstate New York—controlled by the blue bourgeoise. Backwaters like these tend to be treated at best as a recreational colony that otherwise can depopulate, deindustrialize, and in general fall apart. In California, much of the poorer interior is being left to rot by policies imposed by a Bay Area regime hostile to suburban development, industrial growth, and large scale agriculture. Policies that boost energy prices 50 percent above neighboring states are more deeply felt in regions that compete with Texas or Arizona and are also far more dependent on air conditioning than affluent, temperate San Francisco or Malibu. Six of the 10 highest unemployment rates among the country’s metropolitan areas are in the state’s interior.

Saturday, April 29, 2017


 The U.S. economy was not great again in the first quarter of Donald Trump’s presidency.
The Commerce Department said Friday that gross domestic product expanded at just a 0.7 percent annual rate in the first three months of the year, a sharp drop from the 2.1 percent growth in the final quarter of last year. It marked the economy's worst performance since the first quarter of 2014.

First-quarter GDP data has been notoriously bad in recent years only to improve in subsequent months. But the grim headline a day before Trump travels to Pennsylvania to celebrate his first 100 days delivers a significant political blow to a president who loves to hype economic data like strong jobs reports even though his policies so far have little to do with them.
 Ana Swanson and Max Ehrenfreund report at The Washington Post:
Many economists expect U.S. growth to rebound in the second quarter of 2017, and they believe it to be on solid footing in general, especially as it is bolstered by the improving economic situation abroad.
Still, in the long term, they expect GDP growth to hover around 2 percent. They argue that the economy Trump has promised — one in which GDP is expanding at a pace of 3 percent a year or more and 25 million new jobs are created in the next 10 years — is probably unattainable.
Long-term changes in the economy, including demographic trends such as the aging U.S. labor force, will also complicate Trump's bid for rapid economic growth, the experts say. Although more Americans have gone back to work since the financial crisis nearly nine years ago, the percentage of the population that is working has declined in recent years as baby boomers retire, limiting how much the economy can produce. At the beginning of 2000, 67.3 percent of the adult population was working or looking for work. As of last month, that figure was 63 percent.
 Diane Swonk, a Chicago-based economist, took a dim view of Trump's proposal to create 25 million jobs in the next decade.
“That's more than we generated in the 1990s, the longest expansion in the post-World War II period, which is significantly more robust than what we have now — mostly because we had a lot more people to employ,” she said. “Are you going to have 80-year-olds working at McDonald's now? What are we talking about?”

“There's been a resistance to deal within the constructs of mathematical reality,” she said.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Trump Learns That the Presidency Is Hard -- But He Learns Little Else

In Defying the Odds, we note that Trump was unprepared for the presidency.

Inconveniently interrupting the “He’s getting better!” meme, Trump’s interview with Reuters on Thursday is nothing short of terrifying. His cluelessness about the world persists “This is more work than in my previous life,” he says. “I thought it would be easier.” That smacks of “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” — which amounts to admission of complete ignorance of the world’s complexity and insistence that everyone is as blind as he (was).
Oh, but that’s the least of it. Sounding weirdly sympathetic to arguably the world’s worst tyrant, he said of Kim Jong Un: “He’s 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age.” And as if to set everyone’s teeth a bit more on edge he declared, “There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely.” Gulp. Yes, thanks for the reminder that the potential for nuclear war rests with a man given to impulsive outbursts and angry responses to perceived sleights. (Referring there to Trump not Kim Jong Un.)
Josh Dawsey, Shane Goldmacher, and Alex Isenstadt report at Politico:
“I kind of pooh-poohed the experience stuff when I first got here,” one White House official said of these early months. “But this shit is hard.”
Nowhere has Trump’s learning curve been steeper than Capitol Hill. According to people close to the president, Trump believed that in selecting Priebus as chief of staff he was getting a deeply connected Washington wise man, someone who could guide his agenda through Capitol Hill.
Between Priebus and Vice President Mike Pence, who once served in House leadership, Trump thought he had the experts he needed and wouldn’t have to worry about Congress that much. But Priebus is a political insider, not a congressional one. And Pence, who was governor of Indiana before joining Trump’s ticket, has been absent from the Hill during the rise of the House Freedom Caucus, the ideological hardliners who delivered Trump the most stinging defeat of his young presidency.
House Republicans’ rejection of his plan to repeal-and-replace Obamacare served as a wake-up call — and a clarifying moment when he realized he couldn’t leave Congress to others, even Speaker Paul Ryan.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Word Order Counts

"People will be better off with pre-existing conditions under our plan. That's the whole goal here."

Ryan is saying that people will be better off with preexisting conditions. People who actually have preexisting conditions (e.g., diabetes) would disagree, saying that they would rather not have them.

What Ryan meant to say is: "People with preexisting conditions will be better off with the GOP plan." That statement would be untrue, but at least it would make sense.

Another example:

Bipartisanship in Congress

Sean McMinn reports at Roll Call:
Senate Democrats, once happy to rail against what they called obstructionist Republicans in the chamber, flipped positions with their friends across the aisle when it came to partisanship in the 114th Congress.
A new report from the Lugar Center and Georgetown University shows that most senators — almost two-thirds of the chamber — acted more bipartisan when it came to cosponsorships on bills during the most recent Congress, compared to the Congress before.
But it was Republicans who made bigger gains. While both parties in the 113th Congress — which spanned 2013 and 2014 — were below the average for all senators during the last 20 years, GOP senators in the 114th Congress had a score slightly higher than the average (after controlling for which party was in the majority). Democrats remained lower than the average for all minority senators during the 20-year benchmark period.
The Lugar Center, led by former U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, and the McCourt School of ublic Policy at Georgetown University today jointly released their new Bipartisan Index rankings of all members of Congress, completing the picture of the 114th Congress (2015-2016). The non-partisan tool indicates the degree to which Senators and Representatives work across party lines.
The rankings of the 114th Congress are based on bill sponsorship and co-sponsorship.
They are directly comparable to the data for the 113th Congress (2013-14), which was one of the most partisan of the past 20 years, and provide historical context for the increased partisanship in Congress over the past two decades. According to the new figures, 61 senators improved their Index scores, while 23 fared worse. In the House, 212 members had higher scores for the 114th Congress than the 113th, while 139 had lower ones.
The new data allows voters to see over time how willing their senators and representatives have been to work across party lines. Based on the scores, Senator Susan Collins (R, Me.) was the most bipartisan senator and Rep. Pete King (R, NY) was the most bipartisan representative. This is the second Congress in a row in which Senator Collins finished with the top Senate score. Rep. King was second among all House members in the previous Congress.
For the Senate in the 114th, 45 senators were above zero, and therefore judged to be “bipartisan,” meaning they scored better than the average senator in their circumstances during the 20-year baseline period (1993-2013). Fifty-three senators scored below zero. This is an improvement from the 113th when 36 senators scored above 0.00 and 62 scored below it.
The House also improved, though not by as much. In the House in the 114th, 152 members were above 0.00, and 275 were below 0.00. This compares to 142 above 0.00 and 280 below 0.00 in the 113th
The Bipartisan Index measures how often a member of Congress introduced bills that succeed in attracting co-sponsors from members of the other party, and how often they in turn co-sponsor a bill introduced from across the aisle. The Index is based on a formula applied uniformly to all members. No subjective judgments are made about individual members or bills. The Index serves as a critical resource for voters and the media and, its sponsors hope, encourages lawmakers to be more bipartisan when writing or co-sponsoring legislation.
The scores released today update interim scores released last year for the calendar year 2015, the first session of the 114th Congress. Bipartisan Index scores tend to rise modestly during the second year of a Congress due to Index components that benefit from the accumulation of bipartisan bills and co-sponsorships. Therefore, the scores for the entire 114th Congress will tend to beat those of the first session.
To see current and previous Bipartisan Index rankings, click here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

NAFTA Was Reagan's Idea. Gingrich Secured Its Passage.

In  Defying the Odds, we explain that Trump has renounced the conservatism of Ronald Reagan.

Trump is reportedly considering an executive order to pull out of NAFTA.  If so, he is renouncing a key achievement of modern conservatism.

In 1979, Reagan proposed it:

In 1993, Heritage said:
Ronald Reagan first proposed a free trade agreement between the U.S. and Mexico in his 1980 presidential campaign. Since that time, The Heritage Foundation is proud of the role it has played in articulating President Reagan's vision of free trade in Latin America and around the world. Since the mid-1980s, Heritage analysts have been stressing that a free trade agreement with Mexico not only will stimulate economic growth in the U.S., but will make Mexico a more stable and prosperous country. Heritage has published over three dozen studies stressing the benefits of free trade in North America.

In the House, Newt Gingrich played a key role in securing approval of NAFTA:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

GOP Is Messing Up the Politics of Health

Mark Murray reports at NBC:
Half of Americans say they have little to no confidence that Republican efforts to repeal and replace Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act would make things better, according to results from the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
Fifty percent say they have little to no confidence that these GOP efforts would improve things - a 16-point increase from February's NBC/WSJ poll, which was taken before House Republicans pulled their health-care legislation from the floor in March. (Republicans are trying to revive the legislation, but there still isn't a definite path forward.)
David Nather reports at Axios that House Republicans want to cut Affordable Care Act insurer payments.
The Kaiser Family Foundation did the math on those ACA insurer payments, to see what happens if Congress doesn't provide them because of Republican objections. Turns out the federal government would actually have to spend $2.3 billion more in that case, because it would have to pay for bigger tax credits for ACA customers.
Here's why:
  • If insurers don't get paid back for the cost-sharing reduction subsidies they have to give to low-income customers, they'll get the money another way — by raising premiums. (If they don't leave the marketplaces altogether.)
  • Higher premiums = bigger tax credits, because the tax credits are supposed to cushion the blow of the rate hikes.
  • If the tax credits are bigger, the federal government spends more.
  • The government would save $10 billion in 2018 by not making the insurer payments, but it would have to spend $12.3 billion more on the tax credits.
  • Net increase in government spending: $2.3 billion.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Cable President

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's use of mass media.

Ashley Parker and Robert Costa report at The Washington Post:
During a small working lunch at the White House last month, the question of job security in President Trump’s tumultuous White House came up, and one of the attendees wondered whether press secretary Sean Spicer might be the first to go.
The president’s response was swift and unequivocal. “I’m not firing Sean Spicer,” he said, according to someone familiar with the encounter. “That guy gets great ratings. Everyone tunes in.”

Some White House officials — who early on would appear on TV to emphasize points to their boss, who was likely to be watching just steps away in his residence — have started tuning into Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” because they know the president habitually clicks it on after waking near dawn.

But Trump’s habits have consequences far beyond being the quirky, unchanging ways of a 70-year-old man who keeps an eye on cable as he goes about his day, as his confidants describe his behavior. Foreign diplomats have urged their governments’ leaders to appear on television when they’re stateside as a means of making their case to Trump, and U.S. lawmakers regard a TV appearance as nearly on par with an Oval Office meeting in terms of showcasing their standing or viewpoints to the president.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Trump, College America, and Non-College America

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the demographic divides of the 2016 campaign.  Those divides are evident in the latest ABC-WP survey on Trump approval ratings:

White women college grads....40%
White women, not col. grad....51%
Men college graduates............54%
Men, not college grads............65%

From Defying the Odds:
The gap between college America and non-college America went beyond economic issues. It literally extended from birth to death.

In 2009, only 8 percent of college-educated white women were unwed when they gave birth, compared with 34 percent of white women with some college, and 51 percent of those with no more than a high school diploma. A 2015 survey found that 88 percent of children with least one college-graduate parent were living in a two-parent household, compared with 59 percent of those whose parents had only high school diploma and 54 percent of those whose parents did not finish high school.

There was a rise in the mortality of middle-aged (45 to 64) non-Hispanic whites between 1999 and 2013. (African Americans and Hispanics saw mortality rates fall.) This change stemmed mostly from drug and alcohol poisonings, suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis. Mortality for those with a high school diploma or less increased by 134 per 100,000. Those with some college saw little change while with a bachelor’s degree or more saw death rates fall by 57 per 100,000.There was a similar pattern among younger people. The death rate for whites between the ages of 25 and 34 rose between 1990 and 2014. For those with a college degree, the increase was a modest 4 percent. For those without a high school education, it was 23 percent.

In other words, non-college families were less stable than college families, and they disproportionately suffered from substance abuse and other pathologies that showed up in death statistics. Accordingly, working class whites had a more negative view of American society than other groups. 

Least Popular

Dan Balz and Scott Clement report at The Washington Post:
President Trump nears the 100-day mark of his administration as the least popular chief executive in modern times, a president whose voters remain largely satisfied with his performance, but one whose base of support has not expanded since he took the oath of office, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Trump’s first months in office have produced some tangible successes. Beyond the continued enthusiasm of his most loyal supporters, a small majority of Americans see him as a strong leader. A bigger majority approves of his efforts to pressure U.S. companies to keep jobs in this country. Those who say the economy is getting better outnumber those who say it’s getting worse by the biggest margin in 15 years in Post-ABC polling.
But the president’s balance sheet overall tilts toward the negative. Majorities of Americans say Trump has not accomplished much during his first months as president. Meanwhile, he shows little improvement on his temperament and honesty, and while he’s gained ground on empathy, over 6 in 10 still say he does not understand the problems of people like them.
Mark Murray reports at NBC:
Forty-five percent of respondents in the survey believe Trump is off to a poor start, with an additional 19 percent who say it's been "only a fair start." That's compared with a combined 35 percent who think the president's first three months in office have been either "good" or "great."
Trump's 100th day in office takes place on April 29.
By contrast, in the exact same question from April 2009 NBC/WSJ poll, 54 percent of Americans said that Barack Obama's first 100 days had gotten off to either a good or great start, while 25 percent said they were fair, and 21 percent called them poor.
Trump's overall job-approval rating stands at 40 percent — down four points from February. It's the lowest job-approval rating for a new president at this 100-day stage in the history of the NBC/WSJ poll.

Saturday, April 22, 2017


In Defying the Odds, we compare the 2016 campaign to the 1992 race, pointing out that both featured a Clinton, a Bush, and a bombastic billionaire.  But Trump not only resembled Perot in certain respects, he also drew on the same issues as Pat Buchanan.
Within his own party, Bush faced an unexpectedly strong primary challenge from columnist Pat Buchanan. After growing up in Washington, DC, earning degrees at Georgetown and Columbia, working as a White House aide in two Republican administrations, and logging many hours on the television talk-show circuit, Buchanan was yet another insider who took up outsiderism. Specifically, he became a spokesperson for a faction of conservatism that disdained internationalism and free trade, and even flirted with Holocaust denial. Bush’s support for NAFTA and Israel outraged him. “He is yesterday and we are tomorrow,” Buchanan said in his announcement speech. “He is a globalist and we are nationalists. He believes in some Pax Universalis; we believe in the Old Republic. He would put American's wealth and power at the service of some vague New World Order; we will put America first.”After the Los Angeles riots, he placed much of the blame for disorder on undocumented immigrants: “foreigners are coming into this country illegally and helping to burn down one of the greatest cities in America.” His solution will sound familiar to those who saw the 2016 campaign: “If I were President, I would have the (Army) Corps of Engineers build a double-barrier fence that would keep out 95% of the illegal traffic. I think it can be done.”
Buchanan also saw the budding desperation of the white working class. In his 1992 convention address, he said:
There were the workers at the James River Paper Mill, in the frozen North Country of New Hampshire–hard, tough men, one of whom was silent, until I shook his hand. Then he looked up in my eyes and said, “Save our jobs!” There was the legal secretary at the Manchester airport on Christmas Day who told me she was going to vote for me, then broke down crying, saying, “I’ve lost my job, I don’t have any money; they’re going to take away my daughter. What am I going to do?”
The social and economic forces driving the two Americas apart had been brewing for a long time. But why did they have such impact in 2016, and not ten years earlier? One reason was the Great Recession, which slammed working-class communities, and whose effects lingered long after its official conclusion. In 2016, Pat Buchanan looked back at his 1992 race and told journalist Jeff Greenfield: “Those issues started maturing. Now we’ve lost 55,000 factories. … When those consequences came rolling in, all of a sudden you’ve got an angry country. We were out there warning what was coming.

Abortion, Identity Politics, and the Democratic Party

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the 2016 election, pointing out that the Democratic Party has moved to the left, particularly on social issues such as abortion.

At The Atlantic, Emma Green spoke with Michael Wear, former director of Barack Obama’s 2012 faith-outreach efforts, who said:  "The Democratic Party used to welcome people who didn’t support abortion into the party. We are now so far from that, it’s insane."

Mr. Sanders and the new leadership of the Democratic National Committee touched a party sore spot this week when they took their “Unity Tour” to Omaha to rally for a mayoral candidate who opposes abortion rights. Mr. Sanders, repurposing the themes of his presidential bid, told a crowd of about 6,000 on Thursday night that the candidate, Heath Mello, 37, would be a future star in the Democratic Party who could help break the grip of big money on the nation’s politics.
Identity politics reared its head, and pro-abortion forces attacked, forcing party chair Tom Perez to backtrack.
By Friday afternoon, Mr. Perez had issued a far more strongly worded statement. “I fundamentally disagree with Heath Mello’s personal beliefs about women’s reproductive health,” Mr. Perez said. “It is a promising step that Mello now shares the Democratic Party’s position on women’s fundamental rights. Every candidate who runs as a Democrat should do the same because every woman should be able to make her own health choices. Period.”
In an interview on Friday, Mr. Perez further toughened his language, saying he respected those Democrats who “have personal beliefs” against abortion rights but warning them not to pursue such policies in office. “If they try to legislate or govern that way, we will take them on,” he said.

Bernie Is Popular, Bannon Is Not

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the improbable presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders.

Jonathan Easley reports at The Hill:
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) is the country’s most popular active politician, underscoring his importance to the Democratic Party as it seeks to rebuild in the wake of a disastrous 2016 election cycle.
Sanders is viewed favorably by 57 percent of registered voters, according to data from a Harvard-Harris survey provided exclusively to The Hill. Sanders is the only person in a field of 16 Trump administration officials or congressional leaders included in the survey who is viewed favorably by a majority of those polled.
White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon is far and away the least popular political figure in the poll, with only 16 percent viewing him favorably, compared with 45 percent having a negative view of him.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Stranger Things: Policy and Politics during the First 100 days of the Trump Administration.


A Twitter president.

An unpopular president:

First Quarter Presidential Job Approval Averages, Elected Presidents Since World War II

A polarizing president

Health Care

Tax Reform

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Near-Term Future of American Politics

James Hohmann in The Washington Post reports on Clinton WH political director Doug Sosnik. Democrats are unlikely to win the House next year, says Sosnik
Doug agreed to let me share with Daily 202 readers a 24-slide deck he just prepared on “Politics in the Age of Trump.” It has a bunch of charts and maps that you may want to print out for future reference. (See the whole thing here.)
The GOP’s performance in the 2010 midterm election positioned the party to dominate in the House for the entire decade. Consider that, in 2012, Republicans controlled the chamber despite getting 1.2 million fewer overall votes across all the House races. That’s how important it is to be able to draw the lines. (See slide 19.)
This also helps explain why there has been a steady decline in true swing seats since the 1990's. Red districts have gotten redder and blue districts bluer. There are fewer and fewer split districts. (See slide 10-12.)

Most of the tea party incumbents are unlikely to lose, so the action is going to be more in the moderate districts. (See slide 12.)
Due to the nature of the states with elections in 2018, Doug also thinks the Democrats are unlikely to take back the Senate for the rest of the decade. Again, barring a complete Republican meltdown. (See slides 7-9.)
Governors who win in 2018 will likely drive the redistricting process across the country. There are 38 governors races this cycle. Half are in open seats. There are contests in nine of the country’s 10 largest states. The outcome in these races will go a long way in determining who is in charge until the end of the 2020s. (See slides 15-16. Slide 20 shows who dominates the process in each state.)
History says that the party out of power should be highly motivated and do well. There seems to be signs of that now, but is it real? The greatest single question mark, which no one got right in 2016, is who is going to vote. That is even more difficult to predict in an off-year election. (See slide 24.)

An under-appreciated early warning sign will be mayoral races. (Slide 17 has a list of key municipal contests this cycle. Slide 22 lists the major elections in 2017. Again, here is the deck.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Off-Year Developments

In a special election to succeed Tom Price in Georgia's 6th CD, Democrat Jon Ossoff won 48.3 percent, just short of the 50 percent necessary to avoid a June runoff with second-place Karen Handel. James Hohmann at the Washington Post:
Ossoff shouldn’t have come as close as he did. He is a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker and former congressional staffer who has never run for office before and doesn’t even live in the district. Republicans, from Newt Gingrich to Johnny Isakson, have easily held the Sixth District since the 1970s. Price just won reelection with 62 percent before giving up his seat. “This is already a remarkable victory,” Ossoff said in a statement sent at 1:35 a.m. “We defied the odds, shattered expectations, and now are ready to fight on and win in June.”
National Republicans had to pour in millions just to keep Ossoff under 50 percent. The super PAC aligned with Speaker Paul Ryan spent more than $3 million on a rescue mission. After seeing polling on March 24th that showed Ossoff at 42 percent and rising, the group deployed an organizer to Atlanta the next day. He oversaw a full-time paid field team of 100 that has knocked on doors seven days a week since. "If we had waited another couple of weeks, it would have been too late," said Corry Bliss, executive director of Congressional Leadership Fund, told the Washington Examiner’s David Drucker.
Fredricka Schouten at USA Today:
Many vulnerable Senate Democrats saw their campaign donations soar during the first three months of the year, as they raced to demonstrate early financial strength ahead of the 2018 battle for the Senate.
The 10 Democratic incumbents up for re-election in states carried by President Trump collectively raised nearly $19 million between Jan. 1 and March 31, more than twice what they collected during the comparable period of their last Senate campaigns, a USA TODAY tally of newly released figures shows.
There will be no shortage of money on the Republican side, either.
The National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $7 million in March alone, its highest monthly haul in a non-election year, party officials said. And new Federal Election Commission filings show that several House Republicans considering bids against vulnerable Senate Democrats have assembled massive war chests in the first three months of the year.
Nathan Gonzales, who tracks Senate races as editor of the non-partisan Inside Elections newsletter, said the surge in fundraising underscores the power of incumbents to raise money and the energy of liberal donors in the Trump era.
“If you are a Democrat and you are not raising a lot of money right now, there’s something wrong with you,” Gonzales said, noting the record sums flowing into a Georgia House race to back Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old political novice competing in a Tuesday special election.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Bad Poll News for Trump and the GOP

President Donald Trump's image among Americans as someone who keeps his promises has faded in the first two months of his presidency, falling from 62% in February to 45%. The public is also less likely to see him as a "strong and decisive leader," as someone who "can bring about the changes this country needs" or as "honest and trustworthy."
Pew reports:
When asked to compare Trump with previous presidents, 51% say they trust what Trump says less than they trusted what previous presidents said while in office, compared with 30% who say they trust him more and 16% who say they trust what he says about the same as what previous presidents said.
The public continues to have concerns about Trump’s decision making. Overall, 63% say that Trump is too impulsive in making important decisions, while 32% say his approach is about right; just 2% say he is too cautious in making important decisions. Views on this question are similar to those shortly before he took the oath of office: In January, 58% said they thought Trump would be too impulsive in making important decisions.
About half (51%) of Americans have an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party, while 45% have a favorable view. In January, slightly more had a favorable than unfavorable view (51% favorable to 45% unfavorable).
Today, 57% of Americans have an unfavorable view of the GOP, while 40% have a favorable view. In January, Americans were about equally likely to view the GOP favorably (47%) as unfavorably (49%).

Pols Saying Stupid Things

A North Carolina legislator used his Facebook campaign page on Wednesday to compare President Abraham Lincoln to Adolf Hitler.

Cabarrus County Republican Rep. Larry Pittman posted the comment in response to a torrent of criticism over legislation he and two others sponsored in the General Assembly to restore a state ban on same-sex marriage.
Larry Pittman, a North Carolina Republican, wrote on Facebook that Lincoln was the “same sort of tyrant” as Hitler

In the lengthy thread, someone posted that “the Civil War is over. The Fed won. Get over it.”

In an apparent response, Pittman said, “And if Hitler had won, should the world just get over it? Lincoln was the same sort of tyrant.”

Pittman wrote on his page that Lincoln was “personally responsible for the deaths of 800,000 Americans in a war that was unnecessary and unconstitutional.”
Rep. Markwayne Mullin told his constituents Monday during a town hall meeting in Jay that it is “bull crap” that they pay his salary.

“You said you pay for me to do this (represent you in Congress). Bull crap. I pay for myself,” the third-term Republican said. “I paid enough taxes before I ever got there and continue to through my company to pay my own salary.
“This is a service. No one here pays me to go. I do it as an honor and service. This is a service for me, not a career, and I thank God this is not how I make my living.”
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI):
“Nobody’s got to use the Internet. … And the thing is that if you start regulating the Internet like a utility, if we did that right at the beginning, we would have no Internet. … Internet companies have invested an awful lot of money in having almost universal service now. The fact is is that, you know, I don’t think it’s my job to tell you that you cannot get advertising for your information being sold. My job, I think, is to tell you that you have the opportunity to do it, and then you take it upon yourself to make that choice. … That’s what the law has been, and I think we ought to have more choices rather than fewer choices with the government controlling our everyday lives.”

His press secretary, who has to use the Internet, tweeted this:

Monday, April 17, 2017

Front Row, Back Row

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the impact of inequality on the 2016 election.

At CNN, Alexandra King reports on Brian Stelter's interview with journalist Chris Arnade:
...Arnade, a former banker who now travels across the country writing about poverty and addiction, said that his work had shown him that there are "two Americas," who look at things "really, really differently." 
It's a divide, he said, that the election of President Donald Trump had "exposed."

"The front row defines itself through its career. You can think of it that way. That's their meaning to them. Whereas the back row is somebody who if they have an education beyond high school it's been cobbled together through community colleges, through smaller state schools. And they generally work with their muscles, not their mind," Arnade told Stelter. 
Arnade said there was only one question he needed to ask during his reporting trips to tell if someone belonged to a back-row community.

"One of the biggest questions I'll ask is -- do you think your children's life will be better than yours? And is your life better than your parents'? Almost in unison, the answer is no, I don't think my children's life is gonna be better than mine," he said.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Swamp Lives in Darkness

At The New York Times, Eric Lipton, Ben Protess and Andrew W. Lehren report:

President Trump is populating the White House and federal agencies with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who in many cases are helping to craft new policies for the same industries in which they recently earned a paycheck.

The potential conflicts are arising across the executive branch, according to an analysis of recently released financial disclosures, lobbying records and interviews with current and former ethics officials by The New York Times in collaboration with ProPublica.

In at least two cases, the appointments may have already led to violations of the administration’s own ethics rules. But evaluating if and when such violations have occurred has become almost impossible because the Trump administration is secretly issuing waivers to the rules.

Both parties use the revolving door...

But the Trump administration is more vulnerable to conflicts than the prior administration, particularly after the president eliminated an ethics provision that prohibits lobbyists from joining agencies they lobbied in the prior two years. The White House also announced on Friday that it would keep its visitors’ logs secret, discontinuing the release of information on corporate executives, lobbyists and others who enter the complex, often to try to influence federal policy. The changes have drawn intense criticism from government ethics advocates across the city.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Trump Is Ignorant of History

Trump recently needed the Chinese president to school him on North Korea. His ignorance is both unusual and consequential, as James Hohmann writes at The Washington Post:

He mentioned Abraham Lincoln during a fundraising dinner for the National Republican Congressional Committee last month. “Most people don't even know he was a Republican,” Trump said. “Does anyone know? Lot of people don't know that!” (Most likely, every person in the ballroom knew and has attended at least one Lincoln Day dinner.)

“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice,” he said at a Black History Month event. (Douglass died in 1895.)

Sean Spicer’s cringe-worthy comments this week that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s actions were worse than Adolf Hitler’s suggested a more endemic problem of historical illiteracy in the White House. The press secretary has since apologized for saying that Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people in the same way that Assad is doing.” He also referred to concentration camps as “the Holocaust centers.”

Trump has admitted that he is not intellectually curious. In a moment of candor, he told The Post’s Marc Fisher last summer that he has not read any biographies of presidents. He said he would like to someday but never has time. Then he explained that he does not need to read extensively because he reaches the right decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense.” Trump told Marc he is skeptical of experts because they can’t see the forest through the trees and lack his good instincts.
This is a break with many of his predecessors. Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton all invited elite historians for private dinners at the White House. Each thought deeply about his place in history as he mulled weighty decisions. Bush, who majored in history at Yale, heavily employed historical analogies in his speeches. John F. Kennedy even hired Arthur Schlesinger Jr. to be his in-house historian.


One important reason the new president has flip-flopped so much in recent days is because he has never grappled deeply or seriously with most issues. Trump has typically staked out whatever position was most politically expedient at that moment and then confidently argued for it, untethered by core convictions beyond a desire to make money, build his brand and win elections. “He's learning the job,” Mitch McConnell told Newsmax TV in an interview that aired yesterday.

At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall writes:

What is key though is to understand that this is not just ignorance. Ignorance is just the first stage of Trump’s fairly advanced problem. He is not only ignorant but clearly unaware of his level of ignorance. This is compounded by a seeming inability to understand that everyone else isn’t equally ignorant to him. Those of us who are parents know the wonder of discovery experienced by small children. They find out there were things such as dinosaurs or close primate relatives called lemurs. As loving parents we indulge them, sometimes feigning ignorance of things we actually already knew to support a child’s joy in discovery.

But Donald Trump is a 70 year old man. And not a terribly nice man.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Parties and Candidates Dominated House Campaign Finance

Perhaps it is time to stop bemoaning the weakness of political parties in financing federal elections. The prevailing opinion is that since the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, “outside groups” accepting unlimited contributions have come to play so important a role in competitive races as to be pushing the candidates and political parties to the sideline. A newly released study by the Campaign Finance Institute (CFI) of 2016 general election campaign spending shows decisively that this is not true.

The basic source of misunderstanding stems from the legal categories under which federal financial activities are reported. Formal political party committees are designated, but all others are lumped together as non-party actors. Within the supposedly “non-party” organizations are four major Super PACs clearly associated with congressional party leaders. The Congressional Leadership Fund and Senate Leadership Fund are associated strongly with the House and Senate Republican leaders; the Senate Majority PAC and House Majority PAC are strongly associated with the Democratic leaders.

When the leadership committees are included in the calculations, the picture comes to look radically different from the conventional wisdom. These four committees were massively important in 2016, spending $232 million in general elections for the House and Senate (see table 1). This more than doubled the $114 million of independent expenditures (IEs) by the comparable committees in 2014*. Substantial increases were posted by each of the four leadership PACs – House and Senate, Democratic and Republican. By comparison, the four formal party committees’ IEs and receipts stayed roughly level. (For party receipts since 2002, see table 4.) The remaining non-party committees spent less on IEs in House races in 2016 than 2014 but more for the Senate, with the combined total going up by about 15%. Taken together the formal party committees and the leadership Super PACs combined to outspend all of the other non-party spenders by a margin that was more than four times as large in 2016 ($132 million) as in 2014 ($29 million).

The results are particularly visible in marginal contests. In House races, the parties (defined here to include the leadership Super PACs) were responsible for 88% of the independent spending in the 34 competitive elections with $2 million or more of IEs in the general election (see table 2). These races accounted for 93% of all general election IEs for the House in 2016. Independent spending in those races exceeded candidate spending by 1.31 to 1.

In Senate elections, the battle for majority control stimulated substantially more non-party IEs than for the House. As a result, the parties plus leadership committees together spent roughly the same amount in the eight states with the highest IEs as all other non-party organizations combined. These races accounted for 92% of all general election IEs in the Senate (see table 3). Independent spending in these eight races nearly doubled candidate spending, 1.97 to 1. When candidate spending is included, the candidates plus parties accounted for 65% of all spending in the eight Senate elections. The other 35% came from non-party organizations other than the leadership Super PACs. In the generally less competitive races below these top ones in both House and Senate, spending by the candidates predominated. The 35% coming from these truly non-party organizations is significant. It is much more than one would have seen before Citizens United. But parties have found a way to fight back; and neither they nor the candidates have been displaced.

The precise way in which the parties have rebounded says something about the current law’s permeability. The four leadership Super PACs raised about three-quarters of their 2016 money from individuals. Of that, 80% of the money from individual contributions came from donors who gave the Super PACs more than the maximum they would have been allowed to give the formal party organizations. The remaining money going to the leadership Super PACs came from organizations (including corporations) that may not give to the formal parties at all. By combining unlimited contributions from all these sources, the leadership Super PACs’ funding looks much like the soft-money the formal parties accepted before the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA). The two main differences are these. First, before BCRA the soft money typically would be spent on “issue ads” targeting specific candidates. Unlike IEs, these could not “expressly” advocate the election or defeat of those candidates. Second, spending by the new leadership Super PACs ostensibly has to be “independent” of the candidates’ and parties’ campaigns while the soft-money spending before BCRA – by wearing the fig leaf of being about issues – did not have to wear the similarly thin fig leaf of claimed independence.


Table 1: General Election Independent Expenditures, Party and Leadership Super PACs, 2014-2016.
Table 2: Party & Non-Party Independent Spending in House General Election Races, 2016
Table 3: Party & Non-Party Independent Spending in Senate General Election Races, 2016
Table 4: Hard and Soft Money Raised by National Party Committees, 1992-2016

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Big Cities and Everywhere Else

Thomas Edsall in The New York Times:
Bill Bishop, co-author of the book “The Big Sort” and a founder of The Daily Yonder, makes the case that the political split in America is not an urban-rural divide. Instead, he argues, it is between the largest cities and the rest of America.
In an email, Bishop noted that
outside of cities of a million or more — and really outside of the 56 central city counties of these large metros — Democrats lose.
This applies not only to presidential races, but to the House as well. In a piece for The Daily Yonder, Bishop wrote that “Democrats don’t have a ‘rural problem.’ They have an ‘everywhere-but-big-cities problem’.” He provided data on the pattern of partisan victory in 2014 House races on a scale from super urban to very rural. Democrats won a majority of districts only in the most urban counties, while Republicans won two out of every three in very rural districts.
Bishop argued in his email to me that “the split isn’t just about politics. It’s about lifestyle and identity.” Increasingly, where you live
is tied into lifestyle and lifestyle aligns with politics. Politics, like lifestyle, is one way we construct our identities.
The accelerated shift toward urban prosperity and exurban-to-rural stagnation reinforces polarizing disagreements between city and country on matters ranging from family values to education to child rearing practices to religious faith.
The two maps below show results by county in 1992, when Bill Clinton first won the presidency, and in 2016, when Trump did. The maps demonstrate the strategic hurdles currently confronting both parties. In 1992, Bill Clinton won 1,519 counties to 1,582 carried by George H. W. Bush. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won majorities in 490 counties to Trump victories in 2622. Obama won 875 counties in 2008 and 693 in 2012.

Trump's Ignorance on Display

At the Wall Street Journal, Gerard Baker,  Carol E. Lee and  Michael C. Bender describe Trump's recent meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping:
He said they hit it off during their first discussion. Mr. Trump said he told his Chinese counterpart he believed Beijing could easily take care of the North Korea threat. Mr. Xi then explained the history of China and Korea, Mr. Trump said.
“After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” Mr. Trump recounted. “I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power” over North Korea,” he said. “But it’s not what you would think.”
 Zack Beauchamp writes at Vox:
  1. Trump thought China could fix North Korea until the Chinese president politely informed him that North Korea is in fact complicated.
  2. Trump seems to have required the leader of China to explain basic facts to him that he could have Googled, or at least asked one of the many US government North Korea experts about.
  3. Trump came to a profound realization about one of the most dangerous conflicts on earth after a 10-minute conversation.
  4. Trump is getting his information about East Asian affairs from the leader of America’s largest rival in the region.
An interview with Maria Bartiromo of Fox:
 TRUMP: I was sitting at the table.  We had finished dinner.  We're now having dessert.  And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it.
And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded, what do you do?
And we made a determination to do it, so the missiles were on the way.  And I said, Mr. President, let me explain something to you.  This was during dessert.
We've just fired 59 missiles, all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing.
BARTIROMO:  Unmanned?
TRUMP:  It's so incredible.  It's brilliant.  It's genius.  Our technology, our equipment, is better than anybody by a factor of five.  I mean look, we have, in terms of technology, nobody can even come close to competing.
Now we're going to start getting it, because, you know, the military has been cut back and depleted so badly by the past administration and by the war in Iraq, which was another disaster.
So what happens is I said we've just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq and I wanted you to know this. And he was eating his cake. And he was silent.
TRUMP:  Yes. Heading toward Syria. In other words, we've just launched 59 missiles heading toward Syria.  And I want you to know that, because I didn't want him to go home.  We were almost finished.  It was a full day in Palm Beach.  We're almost finished and I — what does he do, finish his dessert and go home and then they say, you know, the guy you just had dinner with just attacked a country?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Kremlingate Update

Ellen Nakashima, Devlin Barrett and Adam Entous report at The Washington Post:
The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcement and other U.S. officials said.
 The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page’s communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials.
This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. Such contacts are now at the center of an investigation into whether the campaign coordinated with the Russian government to swing the election in Trump’s favor.
Jack Gillum, Chad Day, and Jeff Horwitz report at AP:
Last August, a handwritten ledger surfaced in Ukraine with dollar amounts and dates next to the name of Paul Manafort, who was then Donald Trump's campaign chairman.

Ukrainian investigators called it evidence of off-the-books payments from a pro-Russian political party — and part of a larger pattern of corruption under the country's former president. Manafort, who worked for the party as an international political consultant, has publicly questioned the ledger's authenticity.

Now, financial records newly obtained by The Associated Press confirm that at least $1.2 million in payments listed in the ledger next to Manafort's name were actually received by his consulting firm in the United States. They include payments in 2007 and 2009, providing the first evidence that Manafort's firm received at least some money listed in the so-called Black Ledger.
The two payments came years before Manafort became involved in Trump's campaign, but for the first time bolster the credibility of the ledger. They also put the ledger in a new light, as federal prosecutors in the U.S. have been investigating Manafort's work in Eastern Europe as part of a larger anti-corruption probe. 
 Jim Sciutto, Manu Raju and Eric Bradner report at CNN:
After a review of the same intelligence reports brought to light by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides have so far found no evidence that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal, multiple sources in both parties tell CNN.
Their private assessment contradicts President Donald Trump's allegations that former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice broke the law by requesting the "unmasking" of US individuals' identities. Trump had claimed the matter was a "massive story."
However, over the last week, several members and staff of the House and Senate intelligence committees have reviewed intelligence reports related to those requests at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Dog Didn't Wag

Gallup reports:
Americans' support for the military strikes against Syria last week is historically low compared with reactions to previous U.S. military actions. Fifty percent of Americans approve of the missile airstrikes, while 41% disapprove. Ten percent have no opinion.
Gallup has measured Americans' reactions to 11 other military interventions before the latest airstrikes in Syria, stretching from the invasion of Grenada in 1983 through the military action against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria in 2014. The complete question wording used in each assessment appears at the end of this article.
A majority of Americans approved of all of the previous actions tested with one exception: 47% approved of the bombing of Libya in 2011 (37% disapproved). Americans were most supportive of the initial intervention in Afghanistan in October 2001, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., and were also initially very supportive of interventions in Iraq in 1993 and 2003.
The 50% approval of the recent missile strikes against Syria is roughly similar to three other actions tested over the years with approval around the 50% level -- Libya in 2011 (47%), Kosovo and the Balkans in 1999 (51%), and Grenada in 1983 (53%).
Gallup also shows that his approval rating has flattened at 40% for several days.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Politics of the Syria Strike: Meh!

Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight:
Most foreign policy entanglements do not result in a “rally around the flag” event — when a president’s popularity jumps because Americans rally behind their commander-in-chief. That’s according to a 2001 study by William Baker of the Arkansas School for Mathematics and Sciences and John Oneal of the University of Alabama. Their study found that only 39 percent of U.S. military interventions1 from 1933 to 1993 resulted in a rise in the president’s approval rating. Still, 39 percent is a sizable minority of the time. So, will President Trump’s order to launch missiles at a Syrian airfield be one of them?
After former President Barack Obama laid out a four-point plan to go after the Islamic State group in 2014, I described five characteristics of foreign policy interventions that tend to increase the chances of a rally-around-the-flag effect. The list, compiled from political science papers, isn’t comprehensive, but it provides a good blueprint: The more points an intervention hits, the more likely the president’s approval rating will increase. Let’s take them one at a time.
1. Americans tend to react with greater enthusiasm when there is bipartisan support for an intervention.
2. Americans tend to give the president a boost when he’s acting against a major power.
3. Americans seem to respond more positively when the U.N. Security Council gives its approval to a foreign endeavor.
4. Americans are more likely to warm toward the president when there are revisionist goals at stake.
5. Americans are more likely to rally behind a president at the beginning of his presidency.
Huffington Post:
 Half of Americans support President Donald Trump’s missile strikes against Syria in retaliation for the Syrian government’s reported use of chemicals weapons on its citizens, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov survey. The poll also found some Americans concerned about Trump’s preparation for the attack and his failure to seek congressional authorization.

Fifty-one percent of Americans say they support Trump’s decision to order strikes, with 32 percent opposed, and 17 percent uncertain.

Four in 10 view the strikes as an appropriate response, with 25 percent considering them too aggressive, and 10 percent not aggressive enough.

Still, the poll found pessimistic views of the attack’s efficacy. Just one-third of the public thinks the strikes will be even somewhat likely to deter the use of chemical weapons, with 46 percent believing they’re somewhat unlikely or very unlikely to have any such effect.

There was little support for further U.S. response. Only 20 percent of Americans want Trump to take additional military action, while 36 percent say he should not. A plurality, 45 percent, was unsure.
Fifty-seven percent of Americans approve of the airstrike against Syrian military targets – calling immoral the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons that led to the strike - but most are leery of any military involvement beyond airstrikes, a CBS News poll shows.
Few Americans are willing to see the U.S. get involved in Syria beyond the use of airstrikes. Only 18 percent would want ground troops. Half of Republicans would limit involvement to either airstrikes or diplomacy, and Democrats largely would focus on diplomatic efforts.
Seven-in-ten Americans think Mr. Trump needs to get authorization from Congress before any further action against Syria; more than half of Republicans agree.

Americans support last week’s U.S. strike in part because most say the use of chemical weapons is immoral. There’s more division on whether it constitutes a direct threat to the U.S.
Back in 2013, most Republicans opposed the idea of airstrikes against Syria by President Obama, and half of Democrats were opposed then, as well.
Since the strike. Mr. Trump’s overall job approval rating has seen an increase to 43 percent. Slightly fewer now disapprove than did before. Forty-nine percent now disapprove of his performance.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Battle for the House

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is aiming to defeat seven California Republicans who represent congressional districts where Hillary Clinton beat President Donald Trump — including a cluster of seats in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.
The committee will send staffers in charge of overseeing House races in California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington to work out of an Irvine office in an effort to make inroads in Republican strongholds that have traditionally been sure bets for the GOP.

In 2016, for the second election in a row, the Republican presidential nominee carried the majority of congressional districts while losing the national popular vote. President Trump carried 230 districts to Hillary Clinton’s 205, up four from Mitt Romney’s
tally of 226 districts in 2012. This helps explain why House Republicans won 49 percent of all votes to House Democrats’ 48 percent in 2016 yet won 47 more seats.
The House has become well-sorted out: only 35 of 435 districts “crossed over” to vote for presidential and House candidates of opposite parties, down from 108 in 1996. Today, there are 23 Republicans sitting in districts Clinton carried, and 12 Democrats sitting in districts Trump carried. However, this is slightly higher than the record low of 26 “crossover districts” following the 2012 election.
The most striking House statistic in the last 20 years may be the decline of competitive districts, places where members have the greatest political incentives to work on a bipartisan basis. In 1997, our Partisan Voter Index scored 164 districts between D+5 and R+5, more than a third of the House, and greater than both the number of strongly Democratic and strongly Republican seats.
After the hyper-polarized 2016 election, there are only 72 districts between D+5 and R+5 – less than one sixth of the House and a 56 percent decline since 1997. This also represents a 20 percent decline from just four years ago, when there were 90 swing seats.