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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Midterm as Referendum

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional politics as well as the presidential race

From Pew:
The congressional elections are more than four months away, but voter engagement is high when compared with comparable points in previous midterm cycles. And a record share of registered voters (68%) say the issue of which party controls Congress will be a factor in their vote in November.

Compared with recent midterms, more voters also say their view of the president – positive or negative – will influence their vote for Congress. A 60% majority say they consider their midterm vote as essentially a vote either for Donald Trump (26%) or against him (34%). These are among the highest shares saying their view of the president would be a factor in their vote in any midterm in more than three decades.

In early voting intentions, 48% of registered voters say they would favor the Democratic candidate in their district, or lean toward the Democrat, while 43% favor the Republican or lean Republican.

The new survey by Pew Research Center, conducted June 5-12 among 2,002 adults, including 1,608 registered voters, finds that, unlike in recent midterms, voter engagement is high among members of both parties. Overall, 51% of registered voters say they are more enthusiastic about voting than usual, the largest share expressing increased enthusiasm about voting in a congressional election in at least 20 years.

Friday, June 22, 2018


 In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional politics as well as the presidential race.

Josh Voorhees at Slate:
When Amy McGrath, a Kentucky Democrat, kicked off her congressional campaign last year with a slickly produced ad about her struggle to become the first female fighter pilot, it was hailed as the best ad of the early midterms cycle and helped vault her to a primary victory last month. Now, a Democrat in Texas may have done her one better.

MJ Hegar, an Air Force veteran who is running against Republican Rep. John Carter in a dark-red district in central Texas, released a bio ad on Wednesday that tells the story of how her military helicopter was shot down by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and how she later sued the Pentagon to overturn its ban on women serving in ground-combat.

Some high praise from a famous source:

Thursday, June 21, 2018


In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's positions on immigration.

John Haltiwanger at Business Insider:
President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order he said will end the separation of migrant families at the US-Mexico border. But immigration lawyers and experts are concerned by the vague language of the order and warn it leaves significant space for interpretation.
In particular, lawyers are concerned with this line: "It is ... the policy of this Administration to maintain family unity, including by detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources."
Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer based in Memphis, Tennessee, told Business Insider that the wording grants US Customs and Border Protection the "option" to "continue with family separation."
"They didn't have to use that language. They could've been very clear family separation is not the policy of the US," Siskind added. "It all seems designed to jail people who shouldn't be jailed."

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A New Testament Verse for the Age of Trump

James 2:2-7 (NIV)

2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Rich People

In Defying the Odds, we talk about the social and economic divides that enabled Trump to enter the White House. We quote Joan C. Williams on why Trump supporters resent professionals but not rich people:
"For one thing, most blue-collar workers have little direct contact with the rich outside of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But professionals order them around every day."

The 43% of Democrats who say the U.S. benefits from having a class of rich people is down significantly from six years ago, and Democrats remain much more negative than either Republicans or independents about the impact of a rich class. Roughly eight in 10 (81%) Republicans and 57% of independents say having a rich class is good for the nation, little changed from 2012.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Trump Effect v. Economy Effect

Here's how to predict whether Republicans will actually lose the House in November: Do you think the election will turn on President Trump's low approval ratings, or the booming economy?
  • As you see in this interactive graphic, the GOP would lose 68 seats based on the saggy presidential approval but gain 55 if you go by the booming economy.
Between the lines: The party in power tends to do well in the House during midterm elections when voters are happy with the economy, but it does poorly when the president's approval rating is low, Axios' Harry Stevens and Caitlin Owens write:
  •  There's no recent precedent in which the economy is doing well but the president's approval rating is underwater.
  • Darrell West of Brookings: “Generally, it’s been 'the economy, stupid' that’s been the major issue. But this year it could be, 'It’s Trump, stupid.' Because Trump just dominates everything. He dominates news coverage, he dominates social media activities. He’s a very inviting target for Democrats.”
So it depends what matters to voters. As we found in 2016, they matter more than pundits.

Friday, June 15, 2018


In Defying the Odds, we talk about the social and economic divides that enabled Trump to enter the White House.  

Many posts have discussed attitudes toward immigrants and various  ethnic and racial groups.

Thomas Edsall at NYT:
Steven Miller and Nicholas Davis, political scientists at Clemson University and Texas A&M, report on poll data collected by the World Values Survey between 1995 and 2011 in their recent paper, “White Outgroup Intolerance and Declining Support for American Democracy”:
Social intolerance of immigrants, those who speak a different language, and those from a different race leads to increased support for strongman rule in the U.S., potential rule of U.S. government by the army, and decreases support for even having a democracy in the U.S.
Intolerance, they continue,
increases white individuals’ openness to undemocratic alternatives — white Americans who exhibit social intolerance are more likely to dismiss the value of separation of powers.
Because the Miller-Davis study is based on survey data collected well before the 2016 election, the two authors write, “our analysis might undersell the strength of the relationship between intolerance and anti-democratic attitudes.”
Their research suggests that anti-democratic attitudes are on the rise. The percentage of whites who qualified as socially intolerant doubled from 12.6 percent in 1995 to 24.9 percent in 2011, when the most recent World Values Survey was conducted. If that rate of increase were to continue, the percentage of whites in 2020 who would qualify as intolerant would be almost a third.
One of Miller and Davis’s most striking findings is that among socially intolerant whites, education heightens hostility to immigrants and fails to moderate the anti-democratic orientation of these white Americans.
Miller and Davis argue that college-educated white Americans who are
prejudiced against ethnolinguistic difference are much more likely to see democracy as empowering these minority groups beyond their numerical endowment, extending rights and liberties to groups that these white Americans see as unwelcome.
How does this operate? The best educated among those already hostile to immigrants are the ones who are best equipped intellectually to recognize that “democracy involves the institutionalized protection of the rights of various minority groups,” which is just what intolerant voters oppose.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Understanding Populism

In Defying the Odds, we trace Trump's outsiderism to earlier figures.

Jay Cost has a paper at AEI titled “`The Humble Members of Society' Understanding Populism in the United States.  The executive summary:
This report traces the antiestablishment roots of populism, arguing that it is a manifestation of the principal problem inherent to representative government. In the Anglo-American political universe, it first appeared in the early 18th century in the ways the Country Whigs modified the English Commonwealth tradition to attack the economic policies of Robert Walpole.

Migrating to America after the Seven Years’ War, it manifested itself in the Anti-Federalist opposition to the Constitution, Jeffersonian complaints about Hamiltonian economics, and Jacksonian democracy. In all these instances, populist antiestablishment sentiment envisioned a kind of conspiracy of the wealthy, well-born, and connected to hijack republican government, denying the rightful rule of the people and ensconcing the elite in permanent power.

As industrial capitalism facilitated vast inequalities of wealth and power, the ancient anxieties have been notably persistent—such as the agrarian Populists and Bull Moose Progressives, the George Wallace phenomenon, and finally the tea party and Trump movement. While the complaints of each faction are different in the specifics, the underlying grievance, that the privileged few have interfered with the connection between the people and their elected leaders, has been notably consistent.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Scotch-Taping the Trump Record

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's management style.

Annie Karni at Politico (and not the Onion):
Under the Presidential Records Act, the White House must preserve all memos, letters, emails and papers that the president touches, sending them to the National Archives for safekeeping as historical records.
But White House aides realized early on that they were unable to stop Trump from ripping up paper after he was done with it and throwing it in the trash or on the floor, according to people familiar with the practice. Instead, they chose to clean it up for him, in order to make sure that the president wasn’t violating the law.
Staffers had the fragments of paper collected from the Oval Office as well as the private residence and send it over to records management across the street from the White House for Larkey and his colleagues to re-assemble.

“We got Scotch tape, the clear kind,” Lartey recalled in an interview. “You found pieces and taped them back together and then you gave it back to the supervisor.” The restored papers would then be sent to the National Archives to be properly filed away.
Lartey said the papers he received included newspaper clips on which Trump had scribbled notes, or circled words; invitations; and letters from constituents or lawmakers on the Hill, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“I had a letter from Schumer — he tore it up,” he said. “It was the craziest thing ever. He ripped papers into tiny pieces.”
Lartey did not work alone. He said his entire department was dedicated to the task of taping paper back together in the opening months of the Trump administration.
One of his colleagues, Reginald Young, Jr., who worked as a senior records management analyst, said in over two decades of his government service, he had never been asked to do such a thing.
“We had to endure this under the Trump administration,” Young said. “I’m looking at my director, and saying, ‘Are you guys serious?’ We’re making more than $60,000 a year, we need to be doing far more important things than this. It felt like the lowest form of work you can take on without having to empty the trash cans.”

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Staff Churn

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's management style.

Maggie Haberman and Katie Rogers at NYT:
President Trump has gone overseas to embark on some of the most consequential diplomatic negotiations of his tenure, threatening an all-out trade war with allies and seizing a chance to make peace with a nuclear-armed menace.
But back home, he left behind a West Wing where burned-out aides are eyeing the exits, as the mood in the White House is one of numbness and resignation that the president is growing only more emboldened to act on instinct alone.
 People who did not work with Mr. Trump before the White House see his behavior as deteriorating; people who have worked for and with him for years say he has never changed, and there are simply fewer people around giving him a level of cover.
Being either ignored or attacked by Mr. Trump can be demoralizing, and the staff churn that was constant during Mr. Trump’s first year has not slowed. Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied White House turnover over the last six administrations, said that Mr. Trump’s staff turnover sat at 51 percent. By the time of the midterms, Mr. Trump — who, Ms. Tenpas said, has shown a tendency to move people into new roles rather than hire from the outside — will lead an emptier White House than his predecessors had.

Saturday, June 9, 2018


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

In addition to the prolific lies, the casual mistakes make it clear that Trump does not care about getting things right.  But sheesh, misspelling a message of condolence....

And also the "Special Councel."

 Image result for trump tweet councel

Friday, June 8, 2018


In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's character

Nicole Lafond at TPM:
President Donald Trump on Friday told reporters that he has every intention of using his pardoning power to its fullest extent, suggesting again that he has the power to pardon himself — “But I’ll never have to do it.” Trump said he is considering “thousands” of pardon applications — about 3,000 in total — including heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali, who died in 2016.  
“There will be more pardons. I thought Alice yesterday was beautiful. … I’m thinking about somebody that you all know very well and he went though a lot,” he said. “His memory is very popular now, I’m thinking about Muhammad Ali. I’m thinking about that seriously. And some others and some folks whose have sentences that aren’t fair.”

Thursday, June 7, 2018

State of the State

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional politics as well as the presidential race

Thoughts on the California Primary

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional politics as well as the presidential race


  • We don't know what the turnout is.  The election night numbers were incomplete.  
  • First, California has always been slow to tally the total number of voters.
  • Second, there are probably an unusually large number of provisional ballots this year,  The the LA County Registrar accidentally dropped 100,000 people from the list, so those people had to cast provisional ballots if they showed up at the polls.
  • Third, we just started using same-day registration.  Same-day registrants cast conditional ballots, which must be verified.
  • Fourth, under a law that went into effect in 2015, mail ballots, a ballot counts if it is postmarked by election day and received by officials by Friday.   Literally no one knows how many ballots will arrive today and tomorrow.
  • In short, we won't have a good handle on turnout until the weekend at least.


  • The top-two primary was supposed to serve as a moderating force in California politics.  But it does not always work that way.  In the crowded race against Rohrabacher, Harley Rouda pounded liberal themes:  He sought to stand out from the crowd by championing the party's rising progressive wing. (As of this writing, he is in a tight race for second place).
Senate Race

  • Feinstein had a huge lead over Kevin deLeon.  She has a reputation as a practical dealmaker, and he is a liberal champion.  So why idid he fare so poorly?  
  • First, she has a generally liberal record.  On one of the few issues where she's taken a more conservative position -- the death penalty -- she recently changed her mind. 
  • Second, it is tough for state legislative leaders to get attention in California, given ever-diminishing media coverage of state news.  He was a big shot in Sacramento and his home district, but totally unknown elsewhere.  
  • Third, an accused sexual harasser -- Tony Mendoza -- was his apartment-mate in Sacramento:  questions about "what did he know and when did he know it" dampened enthusiasm in the progressive community. (Mendoza failed to clear the top two in his bid to return to the Senate.)


  • Democratic consultant Steve Maviglio accurately describes the GOP's plight:
    • Things have gotten so bad that Republicans are popping champagne corks simply because they have a live body in the governors race. But GOP voters won’t have anyone to vote for in the U.S. Senate, LG or Insurance Commissioner (where they didn’t even field a candidate) races. The challengers in the AG, Treasurer and Controller races are unknown and underfunded. Sorry, folks, but John Cox is not going to the magnet that attracts Republicans to the polls.
  • The GOP has practically disappeared in large swatches of the state.  In the suburban Assembly district where I live -- a place that once leaned Republican -- Democrat Laura Friedman is running unopposed for reelection.  In other places, the absence of a real party structure has enabled kooks and bigots to get on the ballot as Republicans.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Thoughts on Top Two

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional politics as well as the presidential race.

The following results in the California primary reflect totals as of 7 AM on Wednesday.

  • Newsom 33.3%
  • Cox 26.2%
  • Villaraigosa 13.5%
  • Feinstein 43.8%
  • deLeon 11.3%
House Seats: Seven districts in California have Republican incumbents but voted for Clinton in 2016. Democrats are hoping to take these seats in 2018, but they worried that the top-two primary might result in all-Republican contests in some of them. But it appears that Democrats will be on the November ballot in all seven. In the 10th District (Denham), a Democrat is in second place by a small margin.

In most races, top-two produced the same result as a closed primary:  a Republican and a Democrat. Contrary to the hopes of supporters of the procedure, it usually did not lead to the nomination of more centrists.  Villaraigosa was to the right of Newsom, but he had little appeal to Republicans and moderate independents.

Top-two did not generally change outcomes, but it did change tactics.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Gaming the Top Two Primary

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional politics as well as the presidential race

California's top-two primary encourages gamesmanship.  Democrats try to play the GOP side, either to split the vote or to get a sure loser on the November ballot.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Trump on the Law

  In Defying the Oddswe discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.
From the Office of Legal Counsel:
Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the President cannot pardon himself.


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Trump Has Bad Lawyers

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

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Obstruction of Justice

 In  Defying the Oddswe discuss  Trump's record of scandal.

Michael S. Schmidt, Maggie Haberman, Charlie Savage and Matt Apuzzo report at NYT:
President Trump’s lawyers have for months quietly waged a campaign to keep the special counsel from trying to force him to answer questions in the investigation into whether he obstructed justice, asserting that he cannot be compelled to testify and arguing in a confidential letter that he could not possibly have committed obstruction because he has unfettered authority over all federal investigations.
In a brash assertion of presidential power, the 20-page letter — sent to the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and obtained by The New York Times — contends that the president cannot illegally obstruct any aspect of the investigation into Russia’s election meddling because the Constitution empowers him to, “if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon.”
[Read the Trump lawyers’ confidential memo to Mr. Mueller here.]
“Of course, the president of the United States is not above the law, but just as obvious and equally as true is the fact that the president should not be subjected to strained readings and forced applications of clearly irrelevant statutes,” Mr. Dowd and Mr. Sekulow wrote.
But the lawyers based those arguments on an outdated statute, without mentioning that Congress passed a broader law in 2002 that makes it a crime to obstruct proceedings that have not yet started.
Samuel W. Buell, a Duke Law School professor and white-collar criminal law specialist who was a lead prosecutor for the Justice Department’s Enron task force, said the real issue was whether Mr. Trump obstructed a potential grand jury investigation or trial — which do count as proceedings — even if the F.B.I. investigation had not yet developed into one of those. He called it inexplicable why the president’s legal team was making arguments that were focused on the wrong obstruction-of-justice statute.

Top Two DCCC Games

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional politics as well as the presidential race

California's top-two primary encourages gamesmanship.

Democrats are helping a California GOP House candidate in hopes that he will split up his party's vote and thus enable a Democrat to come in second. Jordan Graham at the Orange County Register:
National Democrats have spent $137,000 in recent days promoting an Orange County Republican congressional candidate in a complex strategy aimed at helping a Democrat survive the June 5 primary to make the November ballot.
The radio ads and robocalls supporting John Gabbard, a GOP candidate in the crowded 48th Congressional District contest, seem to be part of an unorthodox tactic to siphon votes away from the race’s top leading Republicans, incumbent Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and former Orange County GOP Chairman Scott Baugh.
Due to California’s jungle primary system, which advances the top two vote-getters regardless of party, it’s possible both Rohrabacher and Baugh could make it to November, leaving Democrats without a candidate in the race. The leading Democrats in the race for the 48th are businessman Harley Rouda and stem-cell biologist Hans Keirstead.
Fearing an all-GOP ballot, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has spent $5.4 million in three Orange County congressional races in recent weeks, including some money that, on its face, might help Republican candidates. Until this week, the DCCC’s strategy has been to attack the contests’ second and third-place Republicans, including $1.7 million opposing Baugh, in an effort to consolidate GOP votes around one top candidate.