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Presidents Lead Coalitions

[ 367 ] February 3, 2016 |


There’s a certain left critique of Hillary Clinton — Doug Henwood’s being the ultimate example — that take an oddly liberal atomist view of politics. Not only is this type of critique obsessively focused on the presidency, it’s obsessively focused on the unfettered will of the occupant of the White House. As applied to Hillary Clinton, the argument seems to be that legislation her husband signed in the 1990s represents the Real, Authentic Hillary Clinton while her considerably more progressive platform and rhetoric in the 2016 primaries represents the Phony, Pandering Hillary Clinton. This line of thinking completely fails to understand how politics works:

I don’t think so. In part, Clinton may be reacting to Sanders. But really the power of Sanders’ challenge is as much effect as cause. It represents a Democratic coalition that is well to the left of where it was in 1994 or 1976. The political landscape has changed, and even Bill Clinton would govern very differently if he took office today than he did in the ’90s.

For example, Hillary Clinton has been forcefully arguing for an end to mass incarceration and denouncing the racist effects of these policies. But, as first lady, she supported the 1994 omnibus crime bill signed by her husband that severely exacerbated the problem. Some liberals are surely worried that the 1994 statute represents the “real” Clinton and she’ll go back once the primaries are over.

I don’t think, in this case, there’s much basis for concern. It’s important to understand the politics of the era, and how much things have changed. The 1994 omnibus crime bill had, at the time, broad support within the Democratic coalition. Only two Democratic senators voted against the bill, and one was the conservative Alabaman Richard Shelby. Among the members of the House who voted for the bill was…Bernie Sanders. The statute was, in retrospect, a terrible mistake, but it was based on bad assumptions that were widely shared by liberal and moderate Democrats alike at the time. Neither Clinton nor Sanders would make the same mistake again.

Or take gay and lesbian rights. Bill Clinton thought it was politically necessary to sign the appalling Defense of Marriage Act after it passed with veto-proof majorities, and Barack Obama thought it was politically necessary to nominally oppose same-sex marriage. And, yet, the Supreme Court justices they appointed provided four of the five votes necessary to not only strike DOMA down but hold that the right to same-sex marriage was guaranteed under the Constitution. Both Clinton and Obama applauded these decisions, and no serious contender for the Democratic nomination will ever again oppose same-sex marriage. A party’s leaders tend to move with their parties.

To assume the Hillary Clinton of 1994 would be an accurate reflection of the Hillary Clinton of 2017 is to fundamentally misunderstand how politics works. When JFK made Lyndon Johnson his vice presidential nominee in 1960, labor and civil rights groups nearly revolted in view of Johnson’s fairly conservative record representing Texas in Congress. When he became president, Johnson signed arguably the most progressive collection of legislation since Reconstruction. It wasn’t that Johnson changed; it was that he was representing different constituencies in a different political context.

Needless to say, with Republican control of the House all but assured there will not be another Great Society if either Clinton or Sanders get elected. Indeed, the differences between a Clinton presidency and a Sanders presidency are probably much narrower than many supporters of either assume. But even if Sanders doesn’t win, the support he’s generating is having an effect. If the Democrats are going to keep moving away from their timid ’90s, his supporters need to keep the pressure on.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that the outcome of the Democratic primary is inconsequential. There remain real substantive differences between Sanders and Clinton in 2016. Most of these differences aren’t very important given nearly-inevitable Republican control of the House. (I actually to some degree accept the defense of the essential unseriousness of Sanders’s health care proposal that the details don’t really matter given that no good reforms are passing during the next president’s term, but this cuts both ways.) But some could still be important: on trade, on some presidential appointments, on some regulatory priorities. I personally think the “Overton Window” is back-of-a-cocktail-napkin junk and don’t see any evidence that presidents trying and failing to do things makes them significantly more likely to happen in the future, but obviously that’s essentially impossible to prove or disprove and if you believe this the stakes of the primaries are larger.

But what Hillary Clinton is saying in 2016 is a much more reliable guide to what her governing agenda would be than legislation that passed with overwhelming majorities in 1994 or 1996. The robust support Sanders is attracting means is an important win for liberals in the Democratic coalition even if he doesn’t win the nomination.

…Bouie has related thoughts.


Your Moment of Zen

[ 24 ] February 3, 2016 |

Today’s Rudolph William Louis Giuliani Award For Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Primary Campaign Excellence Goes To….

[ 101 ] February 2, 2016 |



Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush was not in Iowa on caucus night, but his cash certainly was. The former Florida governor spent more money in Iowa than any other candidate and still lost big in Monday’s state caucuses.

According to ad-buy data collected by Morning Consult, Bush and his super PAC, Right to Rise, have spent about $14.1 million on ads in Iowa. That’s more money than any other presidential candidate has spent in the state. And ultimately, the return on investment for Bush was dismal.

Since he received just 2.8 percent of the vote in Iowa Monday night — and walked away with just one delegate — Bush ended up spending about $2,800 per vote.

That’s about 18 times as much money as first-place winner Ted Cruz spent for each vote he received. It’s also 34 times as much as silver medalist Donald Trump spent, and 10 times the amount spent by third-place winner Marco Rubio.

At least Kasich and Christie just blew off the state. Jeb! really did try, and he got walloped by a guy who’s running more a Pyramid scheme than a campaign and whose debate performances make Rick Perry look coherent and lively. It’s either an impressive testament to just how much damage Fredo did to the family brand, or perhaps evidence that George W. was Sonny (“I though Santino was a bad don”) and Jeb! is Fredo.

St. Ralph Speaks, Generic Words Next To Each Other Edition

[ 168 ] February 2, 2016 |


Rich Juzwiak describes a Ralph Nader rant as a “good one.” It is…not that. It is in fact very, very dumb.

The candidates still narrow the agenda. That is, the voters are not propelling into the electoral arena and debate the kind of things like cracking down on corporate crime in the ghettos against consumers, against workers. They’re not pushing in the issues on housing and public transit and empire abroad. They’re not pushing for restoration and rebuilding of our public works the facilities in every community that are crumbling. We’ve seen ‘em: bridges, highways, water/sewage systems, public transit.

Yes, I don’t understand why the Democratic candidates simply refuse to discuss the nation’s infrastructure. Both Clinton and Sanders ignore the issue in their policy platforms, and both Clinton and Sanders ignore the issue in their public speeches. Only Ralph Nader considers these issues important.

In addition, nobody could fairly listen to the relatively brief speeches given by Clinton and Sanders last night and think that the scope of the issues being addressed by the Democratic candidates is narrow or trivial. The two candidates advanced progressive positions on a wide range of issues: healthcare, education, the minimum wage, criminal justice, wages, gun control, worker’s rights, and climate control. Looking at their campaigns as a whole you’ll see much more. In fairness, neither Sanders nor Clinton is addressing the most important issue of our times, whether public libraries are built to Ralph Nader’s precise aesthetic preferences.

Nader’s tired, generic, dishonest rant reflects a man for whom it’s always 1996 1976 [thanks to Erik for the friendly amendment] and is convinced that he’s the only honest man left in the world. The fact that some people are still buying his con at this late date is rather pathetic. Whichever of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders you prefer, they’re both people of far more depth and far more meaningful progressive commitment than this tired, endlessly narcissistic hack.

Requiem for An Epic Grift

[ 69 ] February 2, 2016 |


On conventional terms, Ben Carson’s cosplaying as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination was a failure, with the 9% of the Iowa caucus vote almost certainly the peak. On its own terms, however, it was highly successful:

In the final three months of 2015, the Carson campaign paid:

$4,769,922.68 to Eleventy Marketing Group. Eleventy Marketing Group’s president is Ken Dawson, who is also Carson’s chief marketing officer.
$2,871,229.50 to TMA Direct. TMA’s president and CEO is Mike Murray, who is also Carson’s senior advisor for grassroots marketing.
$1,256,436.09 to Communication Manager Source, which is run by Joanne Parker, wife of the aforementioned Dean Parker.
$138,666.06 to Vita Capital. Vita Capital’s CEO is Dean Parker.

That’s over $9 million siphoned directly to companies owned by Carson staffers, out of a total of $27 million spent by the campaign in that time. A great deal of the campaign’s expenditures went to marketing, which completes the cycle by bringing even more money into the Carson campaign.

Viewed correctly as a front designed to transfer money from rubes to various marketing executives, the Carson “campaign” was a massive success.

Your Initial Iowa HOT TAKES

[ 356 ] February 1, 2016 |


  • You know how I’ve criticized NFL coaches for having third-stringers return punts in key situations because it’s all downside without much upside? Well, the Clinton campaign preemptively declaring victory is like that.
  • Political science is looking just a little bit better tonight. Trump is not dead, not by a long shot, but certainly Rubio becoming the candidate of party elites and giving Trump a major challenge is looking a lot more likely than it did last week.  Not only did Rubio outperform his RCP average by 6 points, but the other candidates with some elite support underperformed their already dismal numbers, which has to help Rubio’s chances of making New Hampshire look more respectable.
  • And, certainly, tonight’s results do not alleviate concerns about the quality of Trump’s GOTV organization and the commitment level of his supporters.  If he maintains the kind of lead he has in national polls right now, it’s not a big deal, but if he starts to slip…
  • I’m not saying I would write off Cruz entirely, but I don’t think his chances are great. The Iowa caucuses are very favorable territory for him — he should have been able to beat Rubio by more than 5 points.
  • I’m sure Jeb!’s donors are excited that all that money got him almost 2,000 votes more than Carly Fiorina.

Pre-Open Thread Iowa Final Thoughts

[ 64 ] February 1, 2016 |

  • Because I need two more chances to be wrong, I will go chalk in terms of predicting the outcome. I think the concerns about Trump’s organization and the commitment of his supporters are far from trivial, but I think with Cruz trending in the wrong direction he won’t make up the gap. I won’t be shocked if Sanders pulls an upset, but the idiosyncrasies of the Iowa caucus that hurt her in 2008 work in her favor in 2016. I think she’s more likely to overperform the final polls than to underperform them.
  • It should also be noted that the Iowa caucus is a really terrible and indefensible institution. As with the electoral college, I don’t think any progressive would support it if designing a way of choosing a nominee from scratch — giving outsized influence to an unrepresentative state that uses vote-suppressing procedures is just a bad idea. And it’s more common to hear defenses of the Heartland Wisdom of the Iowa caucuses than it is to see affirmative defenses of the electoral college.
  • Silver’s rundown of the various scenarios is useful. Particularly since some of Cruz’s support seems to be leaking to Rubio I actually think that the best-case viable scenario for the Donald would be for Cruz to finish a close second to Trump and Rubio a very distant third. If Rubio does better than the final polls and Cruz worse, that pretty much finishes the latter and gives the former a shot if he can at least pull ahead of Jeb! and Kasich in New Hampshire and do well in South Carolina.  (These are, of course, very big ifs; it’s certainly Trump’s race to lose if he wins tonight.)
  • On a related note, the prediction markets now favor Trump.

If You Choose Not to Decide, Have You Really Still Made a Choice?

[ 82 ] February 1, 2016 |


As a follow-up to Paul’s post below Julia Azari makes a couple of interesting points:

My basic hypothesis is that the Republican Party network failed to coordinate to stop Trump or promote another nominee not because they couldn’t do it, but because they decided to let things unfold rather than try to control events. There’s a stronger conspiracy version of this theory, which suggests that elites might have used the channels by which they usually coordinate on a nominee to deliberately eschew coordination. The weaker version, which is the one I’m more comfortable embracing, suggests that this time party elites just didn’t bother.

I think there’s some truth in this, but I still prefer my subtle variation. I don’t think that the failure of GOP elites to coalesce around an alternative to Trump and Cruz represents a conscious decision not to decide so much as it reflects genuine disagreement about who the best alternative to Trump or Cruz is. There are certainly some influential Republicans in the stop-Trump camp. Rupert Murdoch’s media apparatus has been attempting to go after Trump and prop up Rubio with an almost comic lack of subtlety, and Cruz wasn’t wrong to think that he was being targeted Thursday. There are a lot of Republican influencers who agree with Murdoch that Trump would be a disaster, but if they don’t agree that Rubio is the best alternative, there’s not much they can do.

As they say, parties are a they, not an it (something that, it should be said, The Party Decides does recognize.) A lot of party elites might prefer any of Rubio/Jeb!/Kasich/Christie to Trump, but there’s nothing that can force them to decide between them. Nonetheless, if Trump wins, it clearly as (at a minimum) a serious anomaly for The Party Decides thesis.

This point is really interesting:

Finally, Trump is kind of a paradoxically perfect disjunctive presidential candidate. In the political time theory, the disjunctive phase is typically characterized by two problems: The different factions in the party can no longer be reconciled, and the priorities of powerful voices within the party can no longer be reconciled with the national mood and its policy imperatives.

Azari is talking here about Stephen Skowronek’s theory of political time and presidential authority (explained here.) I was actually thinking that Trump could be seen as the modern equivalent of a certain type of preemptive candidate: the apolitical war hero the Whigs used to throw up, or that the Republicans used to win two presidential elections during the New Deal era. When your party is the minority coalition, your best bet is to run someone without strong existing party attachments who could theoretically attract less committed members of the majority coalition.

I think in a sense we’re both right here, in part because under the current partisan alignment Skowronek’s model is finally losing a lot of its explanatory power. With the exception of Jackson/Lincoln each reconstructive president has had less of an impact than the previous one, and it’s not clear to me that any president can really be “reconstructive” in this context.

The bad news is that even if Republican party elites fail to stop Trump, this doesn’t mean that the Republican Party is on some level failing or about to crack up. It’s true that at the presidential level the Republicans are essentially at the preemeptive stage of political time; under normal circumstances it will be difficult for a non-exceptional candidate to win. But at the congressional level, they’re at the disjunctive stage (but have an advantage in the House anyway because of the way electoral rules favor Republicans.) And in many states, they’re a completely dominant coalition.

The Republican Party, in its current state, is a minority coalition that because of institutional structures is likely to control at least one federal veto point after most elections. And while all things being equal they will be a significant underdog in presidential elections, they only need to get lucky once to be able to impose some radical changes on American politics. Even if they Trump wins the nomination and is beaten badly by Clinton, the inevitable “Republican CRACK-UP” stories will almost certainly prove as wrong as they typically do.

Ted the Heartless Thompson Gunner

[ 124 ] January 31, 2016 |


A good question, that proves children are right to be repelled by Ted Cruz:

It happened at a Ted Cruz campaign event in Hubbard, a small town smack in the middle of the state. According to reports in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Politico, Cruz fielded a question from Mike Valde, a Democratic voter who had come to the event with a story to tell and a simple question to ask.

The story was about his brother-in-law, a barber named Mark. As Valde told it, Mark was a small business owner who worked so hard that he didn’t even take paid days off. But Mark was unable to afford health insurance until the Affordable Care Act became law. When it did, Mark bought insurance and then, when he started feeling ill, saw a physician — who promptly diagnosed him with cancer with no hope for recovery. He died last year.

He had never been to a doctor for years,” Valde said, reportedly on the verge of tears. “Multiple tumors behind his heart, his liver, his pancreas. And they said, ‘We’re sorry, sir, there’s nothing we can do for you.’”

The room fell silent, according to the Times’ account, and then Valde, who later told reporters that he was a Hillary Clinton supporter, posed his question: “Mark never had health care until Obamacare. What are you going to replace it with?”

Cruz offered Valde his condolences before launching into the same basic argument that Republicans always make. “Under Obamacare,” Cruz said, “millions of Americans have lost their jobs. Millions of Americans have lost their doctors, have seen their premiums skyrocket.” He pointed out that Obama had promised families would see average savings of $2500 from health care reform, and joked that he’d gladly encourage anybody who’d actually reaped such savings to vote for Clinton — a quip that drew laughter from the audience.

Valde, apparently less amused, kept at it. “My question is, what are you going to replace it with?” he said. Cruz responded that he’d get there, but first he wanted to talk some more about the “millions of stories on the other side” — people who’d had to give up their old plans and, as a result, ended up with higher premiums or co-pays, narrow networks of providers or some combination thereof.

Eventually Cruz suggested that if Valde’s brother-in-law couldn’t afford health insurance premiums previously, it was probably because government regulation had driven up the price — and that the best solution, at this point, was to wipe the slate clean and build a new health care system, one in which people could purchase coverage across state lines.

“Many people will quite literally die because of your policy preferences.” “[Lies ass off about effects of ACA.] “But what is your offer to the uninsured?” “Worthless junk insurance unregulated by Congress or state governments.”

In fairness to Cruz, it’s not like any Republican has a better answer. This is more unique:

The Cruz mailers have been widely condemned by Iowans. “I just wonder how many of these went out to people who might seriously believe they committed a violation or were embarrassed that their neighbors might know about their alleged voting record,” Braddock Massey, a Rubio supporter who lives in West Des Moines and received one of the mailers, said.

Donna Holstein, who was listed on one of them, was upset to learn that she had been given a failing grade and that her neighbors might be told whether she participates in the caucus. She told me that she has voted consistently but that she can’t this time because of a disability.

“I’m crippled, so I can’t go to the caucus,” Holstein said. She was not happy about being shamed in front of her neighbors. “That’s what you call a bully,” she said about Cruz’s tactics. “I wish he would quit.”

Given the target, it’s at times like this that God help me I can understand the basis of The Donald’s appeal:

“But he’s a liar,” he said. “He didn’t even put down on his financial disclosure forms that he borrowed money from banks at low interest loans, lower than you could get, lower than anybody could get.”

“I mean, look, Ted is a liar,” he added. “That’s why nobody likes him. This is why he doesn’t have one endorsement from one senator, not one. He works with these senators, he doesn’t have one endorsement.”


[ 47 ] January 31, 2016 |

I, for one, am outraged about the violation of the Sacred Equal Sovereign Dignitude of the NHL’s annual profit-taking exhibition game.

I’m going to guess that his kids are pretty proud of him.

“Can you even get a flight from Phoenix to Newfoundland?”

[ 98 ] January 31, 2016 |

John Scott’s account of the NHL trying to force him out of the NHL All-Star Game is richly entertaining:

“Do you think this is something your kids would be proud of?”

That was it, right there. That was the moment they lost me.

At first, when it became clear that I was going to win the All-Star fan vote, I understood the league’s position. They didn’t mince words — This is not a game for you, John — but I understood all the same. Honestly, on some level, I agreed.

In the beginning, at least, I just wanted the entire thing to go away. We were on a really fun run in Phoenix, and I was starting to feel like I was part of something. The Coyotes had been picked to finish dead last — but in the first half of the season, we’d surprised a lot of people. We were this strange collection of underdogs, and I fit right in. And I fit right in by doing what I do best: being a locker room guy, a no-nonsense guy, and a quiet yet effective enforcer.

One of the reasons I’ve made it as long as I have in the league is because I specifically know I’m not an All-Star.

So when they asked me to make a statement — nudging the fan vote in another direction and denouncing the John Scott “movement” — I did it without hesitation. I told the fans, “Listen. I don’t deserve this. Vote for my teammates.” And I was telling the truth.

But while I don’t deserve to be an All-Star, I also don’t think I deserve to be treated like I’ve been by the league throughout this saga. I’m an NHL player — and, whatever my set of skills may be, that I’m an NHL player is no accident. I genuinely believe that when I’m on the ice, or even just the bench, I make my teammates feel safe to do what they do best.

Does that make me an elite player? God, no. Am I going to be nervous as hell when I step onto the ice on Sunday — and I’m playing three-on-three, with Tarasenko whizzing by over one shoulder, and Toews putting the moves on me over the other? Of course. Will I be the worst skater in the game? I mean, probably.

But at the same time: this isn’t Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I’m not some random person off the street, and I didn’t win a golden ticket to “play hockey with the stars.” I won an internet fan vote, sure. And at some point, without question, it was a joke. It might even finish as a joke. But it didn’t start as one. It started with a very small pool, out of a very small pool, out of the very, very smallest pool of hockey players in the world: NHLers. That was the vote. A fan vote, an internet vote — but a vote from among the 700 or so best hockey players in North American professional sports.

And I’m one of them.

If the league thought this was an embarrassment, pretty much all of the players I’ve encountered have thought otherwise. I’ve gotten texts from so many guys saying the same thing: “You should go.”

And that didn’t happen because of the internet. I busted my ass to be one of them. I’ve skated every day since I was three years old to be one of them. I’ve persevered through Juniors roster cuts, Alaskan bus rides, Advanced Dynamics exams, and — yes — fights, to be one of them.

But I’m one of them. And that means a lot to me.

Scott’s role in the NHL — the one-dimensional enforcer — is postmaturely becoming an obsolete one. But that’s not the fault of the hard-working pros occupying the role. And while the campaign to vote for him as an All-Star captain was a little silly, it’s not nearly as silly as the league first making insulting phone calls and then pressuring his team to trade the guy 4,000 miles away to preserve the Solemn Integritude of a profit-taking exhibition game. (I mean, I’ve been an obsessive hockey fan since I have living memory. I watch a lot of hockey. I haven’t seen a second of an All-Star game since the first Bush Administration. This is actually the first interesting thing to happen to the All-Star game in, well, ever. If I had a Neilsen monitor I might actually watch it.) And note that the fans were already stripped of the ability to vote for anything but the captains, and to the extent that the John Scott movement represents a thumb in the eye to the many pompous sportswriters who demand that the fans have their vote taken away to preserve the Solemn Integritude of a profit-taking exhibition game I approve heartily.

…for a real Coyotes-related scandal, how about the possibility of Arizona taxpayers getting bilked for yet another stadium for the team with the second worst attendance in the league?

Jacques Rivette

[ 13 ] January 30, 2016 |


The French master died at 87. R.I.P.

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