Archive for November, 2018

[update below] [2nd update below]

It’s been almost two weeks since the elections and I remain riveted to the post-mortem analyses, particularly as the results continue to come in (only in America is the outcome of an election not only not definitive by the following day but takes weeks before all the ballots are counted and the final numbers known). Call it what you will—a blue wave in slow motion, a blue tide—the midterms were a big victory for the Democratic Party—and given the structural disadvantages the Democrats were up against, not to mention egregious gerrymandering the likes of which have never before been seen in the history of the republic, the victory was even more impressive than those of the Republicans in 1994 and 2010.

There were disappointments of course, notably Florida—the one 2016 purple state where Trump has not lost ground, and which was thus going to be tough, and all the more so in the face of voter suppression—and some weak spots, as Nate Cohn, raining on the parade, pointed out. But the bright spots were more numerous, e.g. in suburbs everywhere; the Mountain West, notably Arizona and Colorado, which are now purple to blue; onetime Republican strongholds in California that are now blue, most remarkably Orange County; in swathes of the South—where the blue wave was blunted by gerrymandering but where a different kind of Democratic Party is rising—and particularly North Carolina, where the Democrats may succeed in overcoming the Republicans even at the state level by 2022; and across the Rust Belt, e.g. the blue tsunami in Michigan, and even in Ohio, which looked to have turned into an outright red state in the immediate aftermath of the election but, in analyzing the data, in fact remains purple, i.e. competitive for the Dems in 2020. And then there’s Texas and Beto O’Rourke’s exceptional campaign; as the sober, level-headed Thomas B. Edsall, who is no Dem Party Pollyanna, wrote in a must-read column last week, a blue Texas could actually happen, and particularly with Trump in the White House. Edsall’s analysis reminds one of what was said about rock-ribbed Republican Virginia—a state that simply never voted for a Democrat at the national level—in the mid ’00s, that it was destined to become a swing state by 2016, maybe even 2012. But, lo and behold, VA went for Obama in ’08 and is now solidly blue. If/when Texas votes for a Democratic presidential candidate, it’s ‘game over’ for the Republican Party.

The Cook Political Report editor David Wasserman’s tweet on Saturday pretty much sums it up:

And this by Nate Silver:

See the full thread of Silver’s tweet—which is a must-read—here.

So one feels good about the Dems, particularly in perusing the image up top, posted by Robert Reich on his Facebook page and in which he rhetorically asked to spot the difference.

University of Washington political theory professor Jamie Mayerfeld had a nice post on Facebook, which I am taking the liberty of copying-and-pasting:

I am a Democrat. I have always been a Democrat (…). My identification with the Democratic party has waxed and waned, but at the moment it is intense. Right now, we face an existential danger – an emboldened extreme-right anti-planet xenophobic Orwellian racist political movement that has seized control of the Republican party. We need to fight it in an organized manner. That organized resistance has a name, and it is the Democratic party.

It’s 2018. The Democratic party is not what it was in 1876 or 1996. (Remember this: in 1981, 48 Democratic representatives and 37 Democratic senators voted for Reagan’s tax bill, whereas in 2017 zero Democratic representatives and zero Democratic senators voted for Trump’s tax bill. My thanks to Corey Robin for making this point.) On a wide range of issues, the Democratic party has been transformed, thanks to the hard-fought battles of (among others) LGBT activists, immigrant rights activists, and Black Lives Matter. Let us not throw away the hard-fought victories of these movements now. I agree that there is still a lot of room for improvement; we must demand continued improvement from the Democratic party.

My gratitude to the Democratic party is reinforced when I compare the United States to many other countries, such as the UK, where the main alternative to Theresa May is a party whose leader refuses to oppose Brexit and who echoes pro-Putin and pro-Assad propaganda. Or France, where the left is demoralized and divided. Or Italy, where its electoral presence has plunged to new lows. One can’t take it for granted that in a country of over 300 million people a politically viable party somewhat approximates one’s policy preferences. And yet I’m pretty sure that the Democratic party roughly approximates – or provides a major platform for – the policy preferences of many self-styled progressives. We are, in one respect, very lucky.

Jamie is on the mark in his comparison of the US Democrats to their center-left/progressive counterparts in Europe, which are in a pitiful and/or calamitous state (but that’s a discussion for another day).

Some three months ago I categorically asserted that “barring major voter suppression in key swing states (emphasis added), Trump will not and cannot win in 2020,” and explained why. I will categorically assert this even more forcefully today, adding that I don’t think even voter suppression—in the states where it is brazen—will save Trump. Even lucid conservatives, staring reality in the face, know this, e.g. Commentary magazine’s John Podhoretz, who, in a post-mortem analysis, remarked that “[t]his election is very bad for the GOP, and harbingers ill for 2020.’ He concludes:

In 2006 and 2008, Democrats romped in Republican areas and came to believe the country’s ideological complexion had changed forever—and after aggressively passing expensive statist bills, they were set on their heels [in 2010] by voters who didn’t want the country to change that much or spend that much. And yet Barack Obama won in 2012.

But the analogy breaks down here, because Obama lost 4.5 million votes between 2008 and 2012 and still managed to win—because his margin of victory had been so huge originally. Trump got 63 million votes in 2016 and cannot afford to lose a single voter—indeed, he needs to gain voters. Where are the voters he’s going to gain? What has he done to expand out his base? Nothing—indeed, it looks increasingly like his “base play” in the last week may have delivered a death blow to Republican Senate candidates in Arizona and Nevada and might have hurt in several House races. This would suggest Trump’s electoral instincts are bad, not good, and that next time he needs to look at the situation with a colder and clearer eye. But who’s going to tell him? And does anyone think he would listen?

Can Trump change between now and 2020? Or ever? The question answers itself, as we know full well that he cannot and will not change. At a talk-debate on the midterms that I attended today, Stanford University/Hoover Institution political scientist David Brady said—and more than once—that Trump will only become more “trumpier” from here on out. It will be his reflex and the only thing he knows how to do. He will feed a steady diet of red meat to his fanaticized base—the quarter to a third of the electorate who will continue adoring him even if he shoots someone—but will not expand it, as he can’t and it’s quite simply impossible at this point. Seriously, who will vote for Trump in 2020 who did not in 2016? And at least some of his 2016 voters will not recidivate in ’20, that’s for sure. It will be miraculous if Trump reaches even 45% of the popular vote, and all the more so as turnout promises to be historic (at the talk-debate today, Stanford University political scientist/YouGov CEO Doug Rivers spoke of a possible 150 million voters in ’20; cf. 136.7 million in 2016 and 129 million in 2012).

And then there’s the Electoral College. It looks nigh certain that the 2020 campaign will be waged almost entirely in maybe eight or nine states, all of which Trump won in 2016, and where the Democratic candidate, whoever s/he may be—and it really doesn’t matter—will have the advantage. The Dems will start by locking down Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin—where Trump will not stun the world a second time with razor-thin victories—and obviously target Florida (where the 1.4 million newly enfranchised ex-felons will be a game changer), plus North Carolina and Arizona, which are low-hanging fruit at this point. And the map will be expanded to Georgia and Texas—the Big Enchilada—which Trump will thus have to fight to keep. Ohio and Iowa, though within reach, will be more difficult, though it’s hard to see the Dems not making a play for them.

As for Trump, he may make forays into Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nevada, and—if every electoral vote counts—the Maine 2nd CD, and which the Dems will thus not be able to take for granted, but does anyone seriously think he has a chance of winning any of these? (okay, perhaps the ME 2nd; la belle affaire). The bottom line: the Democratic candidate’s paths to victory will be numerous, whereas Trump—whose paths are exceedingly narrow—will be playing defense. La messe est dite. Voilà.

UPDATE: Nate Silver has an important analysis (November 20th) on the wave election and how “Trump’s base isn’t enough,” i.e. for him to win in 2020.

2nd UPDATE: Thomas B. Edsall has a column dated November 29th, “Donald Trump’s dimming prospects: Two years is an eternity in politics, but the president has a lot to worry about,” in which he says pretty much what I do above.

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[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below]

This will be a brief one, as everyone has read countless analyses and commentaries by this point (6pm EST)—and Trump, seeking to change the subject, has, in firing Jeff Sessions—to whom one says ‘good riddance!’—already pushed the election results off the headlines. I had mixed feelings about the outcome last night and much of today. Though I was naturally relieved that the Democrats won the House, as was expected, I was hoping for a little more of a blue wave. A pick up of 34 seats, or whatever it will be, is un peu ric-rac (cf. the Republican blowouts of 1994 and 2010). And while I know how to read polls and am not Pollyannaish, I did have hopes/fantasies that the Dems could maybe win the Senate. Losing a net of two seats—and maybe three once the AZ and FL races are called—does not alter the status quo but will make winning a majority in 2020 that much steeper of a climb. Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly, and Claire McCaskill—all in deep red states—were not favored to win but still. Andrew Gillum’s unexpected loss was a big disappointment—and particularly to the Trump acolyte Ron DeSantis—as well as Stacey Abrams’s apparent one to the fascistic Brian Kemp, and it’s a pity that Beto O’Rourke didn’t stun the insidious Ted Cruz. But the mere fact that all three—who are progressives and two of them persons of color—came within a hair of winning—and the latter two in states where Democrats simply no longer win statewide races—is, objectively speaking, a feat in itself. And the defeats of the loathsome Scott Walker and even more awful Kris Kobach, entre autres, were particularly gratifying (in September of last year I predicted that Kobach would be the GOP’s post-Trump presidential nominee, but it now looks like I will be happily wrong on that).

So after the early disappointment, I’m feeling a little bit better about the Dems’ performance, and generally subscribe to the instant takes of EJ Dionne Jr, Ezra Klein, Kevin Drum, Nate Cohn, and Jim Newell, who see the outcome as a Democratic victory and a major setback for Trump. Given the state of the economy—the growth and unemployment rates being what they are—and with American soldiers not dying in a futile war that has nothing to do with the security of the homeland, it is quite exceptional that the opposition party would nonetheless win the popular by seven or eight points. Trump may be able to whip his deplorable base into a frenzy but he cannot expand it. It is a minority of the electorate and will remain as such. It only wins because of the structural distortions of representation (in the House and, above all, the Senate), gerrymandering, and voter suppression by GOP state governments.

While the Dems may finally feel okay about the outcome and with this manifestly representing a repudiation of Trump, that does not necessarily mean the latter is unhappy about it. Matthew Yglesias, in his instant analysis, sees Trump as one of yesterday’s winners, and he’s not wrong. The House may now be able to thwart Trump’s legislative agenda, except that Trump does not have such an agenda. He doesn’t care about legislation, particularly now that the Republicans have their tax cut for the 1%. Trump’s main interest is his judicial, cabinet, and other nominees, for which he needs the Senate. And that he has in his pocket—and all the more so as he pulled out the stops in the home stretch to campaign for GOP Senate candidates in close races. As for House investigations and subpoenas, Trump will stonewall, obstruct, and generally tell Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues to go to hell. A prediction: if a House committee subpoenas Trump’s tax returns, he will refuse to turn them over, even if the Supreme Court rules that he must (which it may or may not do). The only recourse for the House will be impeachment, with the full knowledge that the Senate will not convict. And in the meantime, Trump will spend the next two years on the campaign trail, feeding his frenzied deplorables and bashing the House Democrats nonstop. And he’ll love every minute of it, as will his deplorables. That is what awaits us.

Certain pundits last night on Twitter, including the most serious among them, were mentioning Beto O’Rourke as a prospect for the Democrats in 2020. Pourquoi pas?

UPDATE: The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer has a spot-on post-election piece—in which he says what I’ve been for some time—”America’s problem isn’t tribalism—it’s racism.” The lede: “Only one of America’s major political parties relies on stoking hatred and fear against those outside its coalition.”

2nd UPDATE: The Democrats on Tuesday made major gains at the state level, as one may read here and here. As the second link, by Bryce Covert, tells us, “[f]orget Congress. State legislatures are where real progressive action is most likely to happen.”

3rd UPDATE: The always interesting Thomas B. Edsall’s latest in the NYT opinion page is entitled, “The polarizer-in-chief meets the midterms.” The lede: “Democrats and Republicans continue to move farther apart. Trump wouldn’t have it any other way.”

4th UPDATE: Never Trumper ex-Republican Rick Wilson, whose writing style I love, had a typically terrific opinion piece in The Daily Beast, dated October 24th, which I just came across, on Trump’s rally in Houston two days earlier. It begins:

On Monday night, Donald Trump shoved the nationalist needle into the veins of millions of his followers, and slammed the plunger home. He finally said what we’ve known all along: He’s a nationalist.

He sent a signal to his alt-right allies that it’s time to rally to his side once again, just ahead of the midterm elections. It was one more knife into the moldering corpse of the GOP, which with every Trump rally has looked more and more like some clapped-out third-world claque of the Glorious Leader’s sycophants, and less like a modern political institution.

By the time the rally was over, David Duke was praising Donald Trump, delighted to hear the sound of a whistle that deafened every dog within a thousand miles. For the Tiki-Torch-and-Polo-Shirt Mafia, it was like finally having sex with a live, uncompensated human female.

If only I could write with such flair. Read the whole thing here.

5th UPDATE: Slate’s William Saletan has “Ten takeaways from Tuesday’s results,” one being that the Brett Kavanaugh hearings—with Christine Blasey Ford and all—hurt the Republicans (not the Democrats).

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This is a follow-up to my post of last night. I am taking the liberty of copying-and-pasting part of an email news bulletin sent yesterday, via The Action Network, by Michael Podhorzer, the (quite brilliant) political director of the AFL-CIO, which naturally concerns the midterms:

Normalizing Threats to Democracy

We cannot let a House win create the illusion that democracy worked. So, it’s worth recapping some of the most egregious threats to democracy:

  • Gerrymandering – This morning, 538 gives Democrats an 85.6 percent chance of winning the House. It’s left completely without comment that there’s virtually no chance that the Democrats will lose the national House vote. And, while there’s a very good chance that House Democrats will win their highest share of the midterm vote in 32 years, there’s no chance that their number of seats will reflect that. The same thing will be true in dozen of state legislative chambers.
  • The Senate – This morning, 538 gives Democrats only a 14.4 percent chance of winning control of the Senate, and projects that it’s just as likely that they will lose two seats. Yet, no matter what the outcome, it will be true that the 100 senators seated next January will have received more Democratic than Republican votes.
  • Rigging the rules – Georgia is certainly the most egregious case. Brian Kemp has run the table – seeing nothing wrong with supervising his own election, he’s done everything he could to disenfranchise African American voters, and even warned his supporters of the dangers of them “exercising their voting rights.” And yesterday, without any evidence, he accused the Georgia Democratic Party of attempting to hack the voter registration data base – something he had erroneously accused Obama of doing before. Here’s the post-election problem: If Abrams wins, that will be used to argue that voter suppression didn’t matter. If Abrams loses, the country will move on. (See Bush v. Gore.) This report by the Brennan Center provides a very comprehensive review of recent voter suppression efforts.

In his newsletter, Podhorzer highly recommends the new book by A-list political scientists John Sides, Michael Tesler & Lynn Vavreck, Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America, which is the subject of a piece in Vox yesterday by Ezra Klein, “How identity politics elected Donald Trump: And how it explains the Republican Party’s 2018 strategy.”

John Sides et al also had an op-ed in yesterday’s NYT, “It’s not easy to predict how immigration will affect the midterms.” The lede: “Trump’s unrelenting focus on migrants may prove ineffective because voters have already sorted themselves out along partisan lines.”

Regardless of what happens today, this is, as The New Republic’s Alex Shephard informs us, “[a] hopeless election: No matter the outcome…American politics will only get worse.”

Shephard concludes his depressing commentary with this: “What happens in 2020 is anyone’s guess, but the final scene of Reservoir Dogs comes to mind.” Here is that final scene.

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All I know is what I read in the papers and at FiveThirtyEight.com, which is that the Democrats should win the House (87.6% probability, dixit Nate Silver & Co) but not the Senate (a mere 19% chance for the Dems, d’après 538; though I will personally not be surprised if Beto O’Rourke pulls off a stunning upset against the unspeakable Ted Cruz). I’ve been optimistic all along for the Democrats: given Trump’s unpopularity, the succession of special election victories—or narrow losses in heavily red CDs—since the wanker was inaugurated and with impressive candidates, the unprecedented mobilization of the resistance, and the simple fact that there are more of “us” then there are of “them,” it has stood to reason that the Dems would make substantial gains this November 6th. Also, the consequences of Trump keeping his congressional majority for another two years have simply been too hideous to contemplate—not to mention what lessons he and the Republicans would draw from a Democratic Party midterm failure, and how this would impact their future action. The disaster of another two years of what we’ve been living through these past two necessitates no elaboration.

But like just about everyone, I’m nervous, if not anxious, about tomorrow. Though it is unlikely that we’ll lose, it is not totally out of the question. These are midterm elections, after all, so turnout is a big question mark (and despite the impressive early voting numbers). And even if Dem voters—including younger ones—turn out in unprecedented numbers, gerrymandering and other distortions in representation, could dilute the surge, e.g. the Dems rolling up majorities à la soviétique in CDs like the NY 14th but falling short in, say, the IL 6th and other toss-ups. To this, one may add egregious voter suppression in states with critical races (e.g. GA, ND, TNTX, WI)

Then there’s Trump’s barnstorming across the heartland, whipping up his deplorable cult voters—a granite-solid quarter to a third of the electorate, plus fellow travelers—with a level of demagoguery and rank racism the likes of which we have never witnessed from an American president. Trump is going the full fascist, and his base loves it. In an (uninteresting, uninsightful) op-ed in today’s NYT, contributing opinion writer Christopher Buskirk—who is editor and publisher of the pro-Trump journal American Greatness, and thus what passes for a Trumpian intellectual, which has to be the sole reason the NYT has engaged him, as it’s not clear what else he brings to the table—argued that the Democrats—whom he unsurprisingly predicts will be sorely disappointed by tomorrow’s outcome—committed a strategic error with their “failed character assassination” of Brett Kavanaugh, as this, among other things, both enraged and energized Republican Party voters.

I’ve heard this from progressive friends as well, who think the Dems blew it during the Kavanaugh hearings. Now it is incontestable that at least some pro-Trump voters were roused from their torpor by Kavanaugh’s counter-attack against Christine Blasey Ford. And there is no doubt that the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee did not handle the situation well, as they could have gone after Kavanaugh much more forcefully than they did. But when Blasey Ford’s account inevitably came to light in the course of the summer, it was inevitable that she would testify before the committee once she agreed to do so. And so she did—and many, myself included, found her convincing, though others did not—and which enabled Kavanaugh—who, one may surmise, received free advice from the Republican Party’s top political professionals—to go on the offensive and whip up the Trump base. His strategy could not have been anticipated—and, in any case, it was not—the thing took the course that it did, and it is not apparent what the Democrats could have done otherwise.

Some recommended articles I’ve read over the past few days:

Jonathan Chait in New York magazine, “However the midterms go, the Republican Party is going to get more extreme.”

Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast, “This Republican campaign is the most racist, dishonest ever.” The lede: “Republicans used to be able to pretend that racism was tangential to their electoral success. With this campaign, those days are long gone.”

David Roberts in Vox, “The caravan ‘invasion’ and America’s epistemic crisis: The far right’s xenophobic fantasies now involve the actual US military.”

Joshua Zeitz in Politico Magazine, “Democrats aren’t moving left. They’re returning to their roots.” The lede: “Many on both sides are worried about the party’s leftward swing. They say it’s a deviation from the mainstream. It’s not.”

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Credit: FT

Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil has won his expected landslide victory, Trump is ratcheting up the demagoguery to levels unseen in history by an American president, hard Brexiteers are determined to take the UK over the cliff, Matteo Salvini is topping the polls in Italy, Emmanuel Macron in France is blowing it big time but with no alternative on the horizon who would not be much worse than he, Angela Merkel is on her way out and who knows what will follow, Viktor Orbán and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will rule their respective countries for the rest of their natural lives if they so wish, et j’en passe. Ça va de mal en pis. We are not living in good times.

In this vein, I cannot recommend highly enough Anne Applebaum’s sobering essay in the October issue of The Atlantic (which went online in mid-September), “A warning from Europe: the worst is yet to come.” The lede: “Polarization. Conspiracy theories. Attacks on the free press. An obsession with loyalty. Recent events in the United States follow a pattern Europeans know all too well.” This is one of the most important pieces I’ve read over the past several months. If you haven’t read it, please do so. Now.

To this must be added the essay by Christopher Browning—the Frank Porter Graham ­Professor of History Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—in the October 25th issue of The New York Review of Books, “The suffocation of democracy.” Browning begins:

As a historian specializing in the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, and Europe in the era of the world wars, I have been repeatedly asked about the degree to which the current situation in the United States resembles the interwar period and the rise of fascism in Europe. I would note several troubling similarities and one important but equally troubling difference.

And then there’s the reflection by Thomas Meaney—visiting fellow at the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen in Vienna—in the New Statesman (September 12th), “The dark European stain: how the far right rose again.” The lede: “Faced with Trump and populist nationalism, liberals are quick to proclaim the return of fascism. But other disturbing historical echoes are going unnoticed.”

I have more but will leave it there for now. Bonne lecture 😦

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