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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Death of the Grand Old Party

Obituary: That Grand Old Party died today in an apparent suicide. All vestiges of the party's small and limited government beliefs were washed away in a ritualistic roll call that culminated with the now deceased party jumping off of a cliff (Reminiscent of the national Democratic party's suicide in 1972). In its place, a new party arose. A party committed to an authoritarian presidency devoid of reason or direction. In a rather confusing development, the new party will also use the name Republican even though it has little connection to that party. Though the new party will be called Republican, it dare not attempt to use GOP as a synonym as there is nothing Grand about this new endeavor. So good bye GOP and hello to the New Coke edition of the Republican Party. May it die a quick and painful death (likely from self-inflicted wounds).

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Kasich Offers GOP's Best Chance of Beating Clinton

If only one poll showed Trump losing to Clinton, perhaps you could dismiss as a bad poll. But when 50 out of 56 polls show Trump losing, often in spectacular fashion, you can't dismiss the results as inaccurate. Trump would be a disaster for the GOP - perhaps costing them the House and definitely the Senate. The reason Trump is behind and the reason he will lose is simple - only 35% of voters have a favorable opinion of him. Fully 63% do not like him - that's a deficit of 28 percentage points. Clinton is unpopular as well, but her unfavorable number is 55% and her favorable is 41% - so her deficit is 14 percentage points, exactly half the size of Trump's.
Folks need to remember that primary voters and general election voters are very different. So far, Trump has carried about 40% in the primaries, primaries in which about 17% of Republicans have voted. That translates to 7% of all Republicans. Only about 30% of registered voters are in the GOP. They key to winning is winning over non-GOP voters. And Clinton's unavailability is driven large by exceptionally high unfavorable ratings from registered Republicans - voters she was never going to win. Trump, however, has high unfavorable numbers from Democrats as well as Independent AND Republican voters. 
Republicans seem to think that a majority of voters dislike Clinton as much as they do. They think there is no way voters would choose Clinton. This belief is driven by the echo chamber effect - the anti-Clinton folks talk with other anti-Clinton folks so they only hear about disapproval. They also think everyone hates Obama, but Obama's approval rating has rebounded and is back over 50% - it's actually 53%. One clear indicator of whether the party in power will win an election is the approval rating of the president - if it's above 50% the party in the White House usually wins.
If Trump is the nominee, I think a lot of Republicans are going to be completely dumbfounded on election night as they watch Clinton win, Democrats retake the Senate, and possibly the House. At this point, the GOP's best hope for defeating Clinton is a contested convention that picks a nominee other the Trump (or Cruz who loses to Clinton in 44 out of 56 polls and has an unavailability deficit of 20 percentage points.)
So who beats Clinton? John Kasich. He leads in 11 out of 16 polls and in 10 of 10 of the most recent polls. What's Kasich's favorability deficit? He doesn't have one. He actually has a favorability surplus of 7 percentage points - interestingly, his average lead over Clinton is just about 7%. Kasich may not winning among the 7% of Republicans who have voted in primaries, but he's clearly the preferred choice among those folks who will vote on Election Day.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Of Course People Are Offended By the Confederate Flag: It Was Literally the Symbol of Segregation

Recent events at St. Mary's College have garnered some unfortunate news coverageLast week, as part of an Easter tradition, students hid decorated beer cans all around campus. Unfortunately, some of the beer cans were adorned with Confederate flags and with racist, sexist, and homophobic statements. There can be no defense of the statements that were written on the cans, but many folks have a hard time understanding the offense that people take with the Confederate flag. This is understandable - because most people don't know the actual history of the flag or how it came to be part of American culture. Once that history is made clear, people tend to understand why displaying the flag is not something that anyone should ever do proudly. 

Many will tell you that the "confederate flag" is simply a symbol of Southern Pride, or that it represents the ideals of limited governments and "state's rights." But such claims are not supported by the flag's actual history. In reality, the confederate battle flag pretty much disappeared from view and memory after the war. The flag truly became a symbol of the south during the late 1940s and the 1950s - and racial prejudice played the key role in its reemergence. In 1948, Southern Democrats split from the Democratic party over the issue of civil rights. Strom Thurmond ran under the banner of the States Rights Democratic Party, or the Dixiecrats. They adopted the battle flag as their symbol and their party platform declared "We stand for the segregation of the races..." "States rights" and segregation were understood to be synonymous. Thurmond won in South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. In fact, he topped 70% in AL, MS, and SC.

In 1956, Georgia incorporated the confederate flag into its state flag. Why did GA make the change? To protest the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling which outlawed school segregation. Then, in 1962, George Wallace, governor of Alabama and proud segregationist, raised the battle flag over the State house. Why? To link the south's battle against integration to the "glorious Civil War." Wallace ran for president as a third party candidate in 1968 and segregation was a central theme of his campaign. He carried 5 southern states and came in a close 2nd in 4 more. So the reemergence of the confederate battle flag was driven by opposition to integration and civil rights. The flag was then and is now a symbol of segregation and oppression.

Why do so few people know the real history of the flag? Because of what they learned in school.  Text books up through the 1960s and into the 1970s provided a very distorted picture of the Civil War and the Jim Crow south. Text book companies knew they could not sell books in Southern markets if they told the whole truth. And they were not going to produce Northern versions and Southern versions of their books. So generations grew up thinking that the Civil War was over "states right" and that slavery was a marginal issue. They also learned that Southern politicians opposed integration simply because they believed in a limited federal government. That the Dixiecrats were simply defending states' rights. Now, all of those folks are hearing things that don't fit with what they learned and many are claiming that people are just trying to rewrite history. In reality, people are actually trying to right history.

Now, I don't think that every person who displays the flag is a racist who endorses the flag's history. Rather I think they are unaware of its true history and have accepted the popular myth that the flag simply symbolizes southern culture or heritage. It may be that many of the folks who display the Confederate flag today do so with no racial motivation. They may believe that it represents limited government or state's rights. But their intentions and motivations cannot undo the flag's true history and purpose. Nothing can separate the symbol from its past. Those who proclaim that the flag is about "heritage and not hate" should know that the history of the flag makes clear that it represents heritage AND hate.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

GOP Convention Delegates Should Look to Governors for Nominee

Dear GOP Delegates,

When you get to Cleveland this summer and no one wins the nomination on the first ballot you will have a very important decision to make. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz will be the clear leaders in the delegate race, but neither man can be nominated. Cruz has become the face of the anti-Trump movement and Trump heads the anti-establishment movement. So Cruz and Trump represent the deep divide within the GOP. To nominate either would be to perpetuate the divide and make it nearly impossible for the party to unify. So you must pick someone entirely different. I have some suggestions.

It would be great to see a successful governor like John Kasich nominated, but I don't think the party can look to any of the declared candidates from this cycle (a move that would require a change to current party rules - a change that is being considered). Speaker Paul Ryan would make an excellent choice. He is the intellectual leader of the GOP. But in the end, I think you need to look to a governor. Hillary Clinton is beatable and a Republican with a good reputation and executive experience is an obvious choice to challenge her.

There are three obvious candidates to consider: Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, and Larry Hogan of Maryland.

Martinez is a successful and popular governor of a swing state. As a former Democrat she'd appeal to moderate and independent voters. As a woman, she would cancel out Clinton's cynical attempt to make gender a qualifying factor in the election. As a Latina, her nomination would do much to undo the tremendous damage done to the party image by Trump. But she also rescinded sanctuary status for illegal immigrants who commit crimes in her state which would appeal to Cruz and Trump supporters. Her Achilles heal is the weak job growth during her tenure. That would likely relegate her to the VP spot with Baker or Hogan.

Baker and Hogan offer similar appeal. Both were successful businessmen (which should appeal to Trump supporters) and both won election in very blue states. Perhaps most surprising, given the political make up of their respective states, they are the two most popular governors in the country. Baker and Hogan are fiscal conservatives. Baker is a social liberal, which may anger evangelicals - but I think they'd accept anyone over Clinton. Hogan has deftly avoided discussing social policies, but he could find success employing the same strategy he used to win in Maryland. On issues like same sex marriage Hogan simply acknowledged that it was settled law and he wasn't interested in relitigating the past. The Supreme Court has determined that same sex marriage is a constitutional right - it is settled.

Hogan ran on a promise to bring better management skills and a more responsible budget to a state with chronic structural deficits. Hogan tackled the structural deficit and is now battling state Democrats over mandatory spending formulas that threaten the return of deficits. Hogan is leading a discussion in Maryland that must be held at the national level as well. He's provided record funding for education (which should win over moderates and independents), has avoided any hint of scandal, and the Maryland economy is doing quite well.

Baker and Hogan are both in their first terms and Hogan has not held elective office before - but the success of Trump and Cruz makes clear that experience in elective office is no virtue this cycle. Neither men is part of the Washington establishment - which is a virtue this cycle.

So there you have it - three solid options to consider in Cleveland. A ticket the included Martinez and either Hogan or Baker would make for a strong challenge to Clinton. Much stronger than any ticket that included Trump or Cruz.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Trump, the Frankenstein's Monster of Conservative Talk Radio

Donald Trump spent part of his day today talking with a conservative talk radio host in Wisconsin. It was a contentious conversation because the host was a #neverTrump person. Amusingly, Trump had no idea until the host finally told him so 15 minutes into the conversation. It turns out that much of conservative talk radio is in the #neverTrump camp. I find it to be rather ironic that conservative radio hosts don't like Trump because they made him inevitable. These hosts have spent the Obama years railing against the establishment, convincing listeners that establishment Republicans were sell outs, that they refused to fight Obama (nevermind that Obama's domestic agenda effectively ended in January 2011 when the HOP tookover the House). They've spent years railing against illegal immigrants, hyping every rare instance of an illegal immigrant committing a heinous crime. Telling listeners that illegal immigrants are simultaneously taking our jobs and mooching on our supposedly generous welfare benefits. They've spent years selling anti-Islamic nonsense, convincing listeners that sharia is coming to America, that Muslim refugees are really just terrorists exploiting the system and that we're all unsafe (nevermind that more people die in the US from mass shootings at schools and movie theaters than from Islamc terror attacks).

So of course when Trump came along embracing every bit of this nonsense a group of voters that had been primed for the message embraced him. And of course, all of the credible candidates, who recognized that talk radio hosts were really just selling a load of bull to generate ratings (hate and fear are good for generating ratings and votes), were deemed to be "establishment" candidates and therefor unacceptable. And one by one, all of the candidates capable of winning in November were passed over and driven out of the race.

And so, Trump won over 40% the 17% of Republicans who voted in the primaries and now that 7%  of the party has made him the front runner. In so doing, they have done tremendous damage to the Republican Party image. They have made it nearly impossible for the party to gain any traction with the growing number of minority voters. They have attracted the overt support of white nationalists. They have turned the incredibly flawed Hillary Clinton into a solid front runner. They have put the GOP House majority at risk. They have created an opening for the GOP to lose all the ground it has gained in the last 40 years and again become a minority party.

And through it all, these folks have managed to convince themselves that Trump is a strong candidate and that a majority of Americans agree with them (nevermind that polling clearly shows Trump losing to Clinton and that Clinton's lead is growing). They excuse all of the nonsense that comes out of Trump's mouth and they even accept him attacking the spouses of his opponents. They accept his constant whining about unfair rules and his frequent threats of lawsuits. And they do this, at least in part, because folks like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and other broadcast blowhards have primed them for Trump's message. Now those broadcasters hate Trump. Probably because Trump has now become the leader of their movement - he's taken it away from them and with it their influence over their listeners. So I am amused by their embrace of #neverTrump - he is after all very much their creation.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Conditional Party Government and the GOP Speaker Turmoil

If you are at all confused by the turmoil in Washington and the sudden one-two punch of John Boehner's sudden retirement and presumptive successor Kevin McCarthy's equally sudden decision to withdraw from the Speaker race, fear not! Political science has the explanation. It all comes down to a very elegant theory of power in Congress known as Conditional Party Government

It its simplest form, Conditional Party Government holds that whether or not power in Congress will be highly centralized among party leadership is conditioned upon two things - 1) the degree of unity (homogeneity) within each party and 2) the degree of difference (heterogeneity) between the parties. If each party is internally united around a common set of policy goals then there is little to fear from centralized power among the leadership. Leadership will put forward legislation favored  by the party and block legislation that is opposed. Likewise, if the two parties are deeply divided then there is significant motivation to ensure that the minority party have as little influence over the legislative process as possible. This is more easily achieved if power, and therefore access to the process, is controlled by party leadership. 

But, if a party is divided there is little to gain from centralized control. After all, leadership may push an agenda that many in the party oppose. Likewise, if the two parties are not far apart on the issues then there is little reason to want to exclude them from the process.

There can be no question that House Republicans and House Democrats are deeply divided and, as such, there is every reason for the House GOP to want to exclude Democrats from the legislative process. But that's only one of the two conditions.

The House GOP is internally divided, especially on matters relating to the budget and the debt ceiling. It's divided between two camps 1) a pragmatic wing of the party that believes they have an obligation to govern, to deliver a budget, and to avoid a government shutdown - even if that means compromising with Democrats and President Obama - and 2) an insurgent minority, the Freedom Caucus, that prefers confrontation, showdowns, and shutdowns to compromise. And both factions have to deal with the pressure coming for the Republican party base, the activists who vote in primaries, which is more aligned with the Freedom Caucus. The Freedom Caucus is no longer willing to accept centralized power in the leadership and base voters are encouraging them to push back.

For the better part of 30 years, the trend in the House has been toward ever more centralized power. So being Speaker meant controlling the agenda. Controlling committee assignments. Controlling the rules of debate. The GOP divisions are making that approach to leadership impossible. The Freedom Caucus wants consultation, access, influence. They want a more subservient Speaker. So any new Speaker will have to consult, get permission, and make concessions (something that was once normal back when the two parties were more ideologically diverse). So far, nobody wants to be Speaker under those restrictions. Boehner wasn't willing to accept such a diminished role and neither was Kevin McCarthy. It appears that Paul Ryan will also take a pass.

Now, you may think that this simply represents arrogance on the part of those unwilling to accept diminished authority. It's more complicated than that. The Freedom Caucus is home to a lot of recently elected members with little institutional memory. Boehner, McCarthy, Ryan and many in the GOP's pragmatic wing understand a simply reality - anything done to weaken the Speaker will strengthen the Democratic minority. Members of the Freedom Caucus say that they want a more open process. There are few ways to open the process only to them. So if they prevail and elect a chastened and restrained Speaker they are likely to realize that the price of their expanded access was just too high. If the Freedom Caucus weakens the Speaker they will strengthen Democrats. In the end, I suspect the Freedom Caucus will realize that the price of a weakened Speaker is simply too high. I'm just not sure how quickly they'll realize it. But at some point, I think they'll have to see that what divides them from House Democrats is far greater than what divides them from the other members of their own party. 

*As a quick aside... I'd love to see centralized power in Congress subside. I would much prefer the days when free and open debate took place and when the minority party was treated with some degree of respect. I'm not advocating centralized power and I'm not cheer-leading for any faction within the House GOP. I'm just trying to make sense of what's going on.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Compromise Is Not A Sign Of Weakness, But Refusing To Compromise Is

There's a great quote in a New York Times article exploring the fallout from John Boehner's sudden and dramatic decision to resign as Speaker and from Congress.

"At its core, there’s a group of members in the House Republican caucus who affirmatively don’t want to govern if that means compromise. And governing always means compromise.”

This of course is the core problem. Folks on the right often claim to believe in the strict text of the constitution, yet their governing philosophy completely dismisses the constitutional order. From the moment the GOP won the House in 2010 a group of hard core Republicans decided that only they should determine the nation's agenda. Never mind that Democrats had the presidency and the Senate. Now the GOP has the House and Senate and the hard core are doubling down. Again ignoring the presidency and the Dem's ability to filibuster.

And when leaders like Boehner and McConnell try to govern by negotiating the compromises that our constitution demands they are treated as weak leaders and sell outs. Former Majority Leader captured it well in a recent Op-Ed:

"...somewhere along the road, a number of voices on the right began demanding that the Republican Congress not only block Mr. Obama’s agenda but enact a reversal of his policies. They took to the airwaves and the Internet and pronounced that congressional Republicans could undo the president’s agenda — with him still in office, mind you — and enact into law a conservative vision for government, without compromise.
Strangely, according to these voices, the only reason that was not occurring had nothing to do with the fact that the president was unlikely to repeal his own laws, or that under the Constitution, absent the assent of the president or two-thirds of both houses of Congress, you cannot make law. The problem was a lack of will on the part of congressional Republican leaders."
In truth, Republican leadership has been anything but weak. Instead they've tried hard to fashion compromises in the face of a partial party revolt. Ronald Reagan cut deals and compromised with Democrats often. The folks who now claim to revere Reagan actually revere a myth of an uncompromising conservative who never existed and never would've been a success if he had. When Reagan proclaimed that government was not the solution to our problems and that government was the problem he was referring to a convoluted tax code and excessive regulations. Reagan did succeed in lowering taxes and easing some regulations, but he never preferred a shut down over cutting a deal. And Reagan also agreed to tax increases, new regulations, and several sizeable expansions of Medicaid. For all of the railing against "Obamacare" the Medicaid expansions under Reagan transformed Medicaid from a relatively small program into the largest single source of health coverage in the nation. But Reagan used his leverage as President and the GOP Senate majority to reach compromises he could live with. He never got everything he wanted, but neither did Democrats. That's how are system is supposed to work.

But the current crop of hard core GOP in the House and folks like Ted Cruz in the Senate believe that they should get 100% of what they want. They're not willing to accept anything less. Though that strategy may please the small number of folks who vote in primaries it's unlikely the majority of general election voters will continue to back a majority party that refuses to govern.