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The GOP is Not Dead

[ 309 ] May 4, 2016 |


I do not understand this whole line of thought in the last few months that the Trump phenomenon is the end of the Republican Party. Michael Cohen writes an obituary for the GOP:

At one point, the Republican Party nominally stood on a platform of economic and social conservatism. At least that was the public face of the party. Today, with Trump at its helm, it’s a party of nativism, xenophobia, crudeness, and misogyny. Those elements were of course always present in the party — and are at the root of its modern political success. But they were generally hidden below the surface or utilized with dog whistles. With Trump, there is no mistaking the fact that what drives GOP voters is not conservative dogma, but rather resentment, anxiety, and fear, particularly of minorities, Muslims, and immigrants.

That post-2012 Republican Party autopsy that said the GOP must reach out to Hispanic voters if it wanted to win a national election again is dead and buried. Quite simply, the Republican Party cannot win national elections if it doesn’t find a way to broaden the party’s appeal. With Trump as the presidential nominee, that effort will be set back, perhaps a generation or more.

Even more searing than the electoral challenges, Trump has delivered a savage blow to the GOP’s conception of itself. Armed with a mere handful of endorsements from elected GOP officials, Trump has run a campaign aimed directly against the Republican establishment. And he beat the stuffing out of it. And by taking positions on everything from taxes and trade to transgender Americans and terrorism that run directly against decades of conservative orthodoxy, he’s left the Republican establishment with no clear ideological mooring. Is the GOP a party of small government conservatism or a party of nativism and white male resentment? For decades, Republicans tried to be both, and Trump has, with a single presidential campaign, exposed the fallacy that lay at the heart of the party — namely that its voters were only interested in conservative dogma insofar as it was married to those aforementioned feelings of resentment, anxiety, and fear. But when given a choice between dogma and dog whistle, they’ve chosen this year – overwhelmingly – to go with the latter.

I think there are two ways these obituaries go. Cohen more specifically talks about the short and medium-term electoral issues. While it’s very hard to see Trump winning, the Republicans will still control the House and many statehouses. They’ve baked their advantages into the cake that the GOP really isn’t “dead” electorally even in the short term outside of the White House. Even if they lose the Senate in 2016, they may well win it back in 2018. Others seem to go farther and really think the GOP is dying as a political party and a major realignment is happening. Here I am highly skeptical. At most, the GOP is “dead” in the same way that the Republicans were in 1964 or the Democratic Party was in 1988, which means not at all. For me, all that has really happened is that the base voter for the GOP has thrown off the elites. They don’t really care about corporate tax breaks. They care about their own white nationalist resentments and figured out that they don’t need Mitt Romney or another GOP elite to give it to him. They can choose their own daddies.

There are several others examples of these sorts of essays. Here’s Robert Reich’s version. Here’s Zack Blumenfeld in Paste. There are many others. None of them make much sense. All of them suffer from short-term prognostication about the current presidential race. The GOP is going nowhere.


Quality Reviewing

[ 12 ] May 4, 2016 |


The best book reviews are as much about the review author as the book being reviewed while at the same time being fair to the book. That’s what I strive for when I review, although probably with mixed success. Anyway, I thought of this when reading Rich Yeselson’s review of the new Tamara Draut book Sleeping Giant: How the New Working Class Will Transform America.

The ironic truth is that when labor is strong, it doesn’t need the state to intervene so much on its behalf. That’s why labor leaders in the 1950s, like Steelworkers legal counsel and later Supreme Court justice Arthur Goldberg believed, naïvely if understandably, that labor did best when the courts and legislatures left it alone to resolve differences with management. But when labor is weak, as it is now, it lacks the political and economic juice required to win its own battles, much less to pass remedial legislation on its own behalf.

EFCA was worth a try, but there was never a chance that unions were going to persuade pro-business Democratic senators in low-union-density states like Louisiana, Virginia, Nebraska, let alone Arkansas, to vote against the pathological hatred of their business donors for unions, and support a law that would have made it easier to organize. A more promising avenue to assist passage of such a bill, when political conditions allow it, would be to continue to pressure Democrats to abolish the super-majority filibuster.

Throughout the book, Draut returns to what is her greatest fear—that despite the encouraging signs that this new working class is on the move, she is not certain “whether the racial, ethnic, and gender divides that have impeded solidarity can finally be dismantled.” She notes that polling shows that the less financially secure are the most worried about the economic impact of immigration. She accuses Republicans of having “deliberately used race to pursue their broader objectives of shrinking government and deregulating the economy.”

She is right to be worried. And she wrote this book before the rise of Donald Trump. We understand now, if we didn’t before, how significant it is that the social democracies of Western Europe were constructed when their populations were almost entirely homogeneous. Today, right-wing parties in several countries, with much stronger labor movements than that of the U.S., wish to maintain nativist social welfare states and reject a broader social solidarity. In the United States, we know from the rage so many white working-class people have toward Obamacare—even some who have benefited from it!—that the historical weight of racial and ethno-nationalism is a great burden. Donald Trump’s campaign for president is an effect, not a cause, of this widespread ethno-nationalism of white workers who, justifiably, think they’ve been screwed, but see people of color not as colleagues and collaborators but as the cause of their distress. Draut reminds us time and again that a solidarity is painstakingly being built, but from a movement of the new working class that is “primarily, but not entirely, of people of color and immigrants.” It has the support of what I have called the new “laborism” of mostly white, college-educated union staffers and other urban, professional leftists, but less so of the white working class itself.

One of the biggest problems in writing on the left is what we might call the “predictive hope fallacy,” where writers so want a future (or sometimes a past) to be better than the present that sometimes the rational analysis goes out the window to write some sort of inspiring conclusion that will supposedly show how everything is going to work out. I actively tried to avoid this in Out of Sight by grounding my ideas in the proven (if limited) effectiveness of regulatory and export law and creating citizen access to already existing institutions like the Investor State Dispute Settlement courts. One can question whether my ideas are also too optimistic, but that was the goal anyway. I’m certainly not saying that Draut does that, despite the grandiose title, because I haven’t read the book yet. But Yeselson definitely doesn’t go down that road, which is why some of the left dislike him. Both Draut and Yeselson are right to think about the real limitations to working-class solidarity, when the white working class has so supported the xenophobic fascism of Trump.

In any case, a lot of chew on in the review and likely the Draut book.

There Is No Perfect Way to Design Institutions

[ 102 ] May 4, 2016 |
Republican vice presidential candidate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin winks as she speaks during her vice presidential debate against Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Republican vice presidential candidate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin winks as she speaks during her vice presidential debate against Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

This is a very important point:

Masket’s case, in other words, is that our institutions should have protected us from this undesirable outcome. Brendan Nyhan also raised this point a while back in a series of tweets.

But I think it’s time to interrogate whether this is really true. Can we really design institutions that protect us from anti-democratic ideas?


One of the reasons advocates for human rights and other freedoms tend to also favor open political processes is that we assume good institutions will choose leaders who will protect freedom and justice. Open elections are certainly better in this regard. But they’re not a guarantee that parties and candidates who rely on bigoted appeals or talk about curtailing freedoms won’t win sometimes.

This is especially important when we talk about American institutions in historical context. I’ve often criticized the anti-partyism and incomplete notions of democracy that have shaped 20th-century party reform in the US. The old convention system, with its brokers and geographic organization, was more pluralistic — it was easier, under the pre-reform convention system, to ensure that a party nominee was acceptable to most factions within a party. As we are now learning, the current primary system allows a candidate to be nominated with a plurality of voters if no strong opponent emerges.

But here’s the thing: While these old institutions were far better at avoiding a conundrum in which a party nominates a candidate that many of its members don’t really like, they were hardly a bulwark against failures of substantive democracy. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with American history can point to at least a few instances of racism, sexism, and xenophobia.

The pluralistic structure of old-school nominations — especially in the Democratic side, where a rule stipulating that nominees had to win two-thirds of delegates held up for 100 years — protected the veto power of the states that became the Confederacy and the Jim Crow South. It wasn’t until after the elimination of the two-thirds rule that the Democratic Party began to take up the issue of civil rights.

In the wake of Trump winning people (especially dismayed Republicans) will tempted to romanticize a period in which party nominations were controlled by party elites. Some already have. But this would be misguided. Proverbial smoke-filled rooms of party elites had a distinctly flawed track record in choosing nominees, both substantively and in terms of reading the electorate. John W. Davis, one of the candidates produced by the rules Julia mentions, was not only substantively illiberal but earned a robust 29% of the popular vote. And unlike certain malfunctioned attempts by Democratic bosses to choose a nominee that I could name, at least nominating Davis didn’t literally lead to civil war. In the last decade, a non-democratic nomination process gave us “Sarah Palin, potential president should something happen to John McCain” with the enthusiastic support of party elites. I’m not sure what the basis for a high level of faith in these elites would be.

Seeing too much democracy as the problem also ignores the extent to which Republican elites made their own bed. As we’ve already discussed, Republican elites have mobilized a variety of racial and cultural resentments to generate support for candidates advancing an agenda whose key priorities notably lack support not only among the public at large but even among Republican voters. This just isn’t a recipe for a stable coalition in the long term.

In this case, the general election is likely to provide a check on the Republican primary electorate. And if it doesn’t — democracy is never a guarantee that the voters will get it right according anyone’s judgement. There’s no institutional framework that can guarantee substantively good results, not least because politics largely involves disputes over what substantively good results are.


[ 101 ] May 4, 2016 |

If I may summarize this National Review article: Ted lost because Everybody Hates Cruz.

“He’s got the whole establishment p**sed off at him, so they didn’t rally to him as the alternative,” says former Virginia representative Tom Davis, who has endorsed John Kasich. “They sat on the sidelines with their hands in their pockets.” That’s because, according to the GOP aide, supporting him “would establish a new model for how ambitious young senators would behave in the Republican party that’s totally intolerable for the establishment-senator types.”

At a press conference on Tuesday morning, his final day on the campaign trail, Cruz let loose on Trump, calling him a “serial philanderer” and a “pathological liar” and concluding, “Morality doesn’t exist for him.” But the Republican establishment and the party’s voters knew that, and they chose Trump over Cruz anyway.

Indiana: “Give us Barabbas!”

Even Cruz’s donors weren’t that crazy about actually spending money on him.

Though Cruz and his allies likely would’ve decided against investing significant money in New Hampshire, it’s also true that Cruz’s allied super PACs couldn’t spend much of the cash piling up in their coffers. In a bizarre scheme, Cruz donors had placed a total of $38 million into bank accounts, but the money came with all sorts of strings attached. Millions of dollars of money “raised” by the super PACs were never released by their donors, and thus could never be spent to help Cruz.

Ironically, it was the campaign’s proven fundraising ability, much of it phantom, that put Cruz on the map when much of official Washington still considered his candidacy a joke. After he raised more money in the first quarter of 2015 than any other candidate with the exception of Jeb Bush, they had no choice but to take him seriously. The vast majority of the super PAC money, though, came from three wealthy donors whose largesse was conditional. One of them, Toby Neugebauer, an American ex-pat living in Puerto Rico, ultimately spent just $1 million of the $10 million he gave to a Cruz-backing super PAC.

Staking his political fortunes on the ultra-right from the outset of his campaign turns out to not have been the best strategy, either.

As it turned out, Cruz’s triumphs, even in friendly territory, were more the exception than the rule: There simply aren’t enough very conservative voters to make a candidate the Republican nominee on their own, even in an anti-establishment year.

And talking of extremists, I hope this story is true.

Tony Perkins, the chairman of the Family Research Council, reportedly advised Cruz to replace his white shirts and red ties with pastels in order to soften his image.

Should have tried earth tones.

The Bottom Line on The Donald and His Party

[ 185 ] May 4, 2016 |


It didn’t come out of nowhere, no matter what conservative pundits are going to claim as they reconcile themselves with their party’s nominee:

The paranoid mendacity of Joe McCarthy, the racial pandering of Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and George Bush, the jingoism and anti-intellectualism of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin — all these forces have embodied the essence of American conservative politics as it is actually practiced (rather than as conservative intellectuals like to imagine it). Trump has finally turned that which was always there against itself.

And the paradox is that he has managed to pull off the trick of downplaying or abandoning unpopular orthodox Republican ideas while being highly unpopular with the general electorate:

It is easy to find examples of parties where ideologically orthodox members felt sold out by moderate leaders who softened party platforms. Think of Tony Blair in the UK or Dwight Eisenhower in the US.

But at least those moderate leaders tend to be broadly popular with the public and to win elections. That allows those ideologically orthodox party members to get half a loaf — in the form of implementation of a watered-down version of a party platform.

Trump has somehow found a way to throw away the ideologically extreme ideas that orthodox conservatives cared about while actually making the party less popular. His nomination is a recipe for conservatives to sell out and lose anyway.

And don’t kid yourself: Trump is a terrible general election candidate. I’m not basing that on the head-to-head polls, which show Clinton thumping Trump; they generally aren’t very predictive this far out, and while they might mean more than usual this year because of how well-known both candidates have been for so long, there’s no way of knowing that ex ante. Rather, it’s that 1)the Democrats have a structural advantage in the electoral college all things being equal; 2)his unfavorable ratings are insanely high, putting him in a major hole and negating Hillary Clinton’s own high unfavorables, which should have been a major opportunity for the GOP; 3)Trump is almost certain to mobilize a high minority turnout; and 4)giving sexist boors enough rope is one thing that Clinton does really well. I would never say that it’s impossible for a major party candidate to win an election under the current partisan configuration, but Clinton is a yooooooooge favorite.

And when they finish digesting, the results will be the same …

[ 24 ] May 3, 2016 |

From the NRO, shortly before T-Hour in Indiana.

Why Cruz has failed to build on his massive Wisconsin victory will be the subject of another column. But one should note that as the media spotlight glared, Cruz’s share of the vote in national and in state polls dropped.

I can’t tell if this is a clumsy jab at The Media, or an admission that after about 30 seconds of Solid Cruz, most people would prefer to vote for a sack of cockroaches. Maybe it’s both. If The Media hadn’t given Cruz so much airtime, he wouldn’t have grossed out so many people, sounds like something a distraught neo-con would say.

For whatever reason, Republicans whose votes were potentially up for grabs have looked at both men and decisively chosen Trump. Movement conservatives and Republican activists will digest this lesson for months and years to come.

Considering that the lesson of Barack Hussein Obama 2008 is still working its way through, I think they need to eat more fiber.

But in all seriousness, I hope they’ve put up nets around NR HQ.

As of tonight, we might know whether Donald Trump will be the Republican presidential candidate. And barring unforeseeable events, it is certain that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. Those are two reasons (of many, unfortunately) why — other than the first years of the Civil War, when the survival of the United States as one country was in jeopardy — there was never a darker time in American history.

Maybe insisting on the right to oppress other human beings isn’t a good idea?

No that can’t be right. Forget I said anything.

Since this is a walk down memory lane sort of evening, remember this?

Donald Trump leads the polls nationally and in most states in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. There are understandable reasons for his eminence, and he has shown impressive gut-level skill as a campaigner. But he is not deserving of conservative support in the caucuses and primaries. Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.

Oh dear. Oh deary, deary me.

If Trump were to become the president, the Republican nominee, or even a failed candidate with strong conservative support, what would that say about conservatives?

Nothing we haven’t known for years.

I’ll Wear This Badge with Pride

[ 52 ] May 3, 2016 |

Given that the other option is working on this 8000 word encyclopedia article on the history of forests, I’ve naturally spent the last hour or so arguing against Rania Khalek’s ridiculous “Hillary is worse than Trump” pablum on Twitter. In case you are curious a vote for Hillary is a vote to kill everyone outside of America. Evidently, the entire world is affected precisely the same way by the United States and thus feels the same way about the 2016 election. Good to know that the Germans, Vietnamese, Iraqis, and South Africans are all the same. Trump at least gives the world a chance! Or something. It’s that kind of evening.

Anyway, there’s one person out there who is willing to console Khalek against my meanness. Thanks to TBogg for bringing this to my attention.

Freddie doesn’t like me? Oh my! How will I sleep tonight?

“At the risk of eventually looking deeply ridiculous…”

[ 75 ] May 3, 2016 |

Fortunately, I only put my money where my blog was in one case; I’ll pay that out on Friday.

Goddamnit, Ted, you disappoint me.


And . . . scene

[ 270 ] May 3, 2016 |

Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee for president of the United States.

This comment thread seems from a different era altogether than the one in which we live now.

Yale and Calhoun

[ 42 ] May 3, 2016 |


Yale University, an institution that won’t revoke an honorary degree even if the recipient is later shown to be a mass murderer, not surprisingly refuses to rename Calhoun College, named for the architect of secession himself. Instead, it decided to name new colleges after Benjamin Franklin and the civil rights activist Pauli Murray. The esteemed historian and Yale professor Glenda Gilmore says this is not enough and that Yale will eventually cave on this because John C. Calhoun represents evil.

To be sure, there’s something noteworthy about the contrast between these two figures who now sit across campus from each other. Although they lived in different centuries, Calhoun in the 19th, and Murray in the 20th, in many ways, she lived in — and fought against — the world that he built.

Calhoun, a Yale graduate, congressman and the seventh vice president of the United States, owned dozens of slaves in Fort Hill, S.C. Murray grew up in poverty in Durham, N. C., as the granddaughter of an enslaved woman. Calhoun championed slavery as a “positive good”; Murray’s great-grandmother was raped by her slave master. Calhoun profited immensely from the labor of the enslaved people on his plantation; Murray was a radical labor activist in Harlem during the Great Depression.

Calhoun perverted constitutional principles when he shaped a states’ rights doctrine that precipitated the Civil War and set in place a 90-year legal justification for segregation and disfranchisement. Murray fought for four decades against the regime that Calhoun authorized and published “States’ Laws on Race and Color,” the first comprehensive survey of segregation statutes across the nation. Calhoun was a patriarch who whipped his slave Aleck for offending Mrs. Calhoun; Murray was a gay woman who became a founder of the National Organization for Women.

The decision to keep Calhoun’s name overestimates his value for Yale students. Yale’s president, Peter Salovey, argues that “removing Calhoun’s name obscures the legacy of slavery rather than addressing it,” and living in Calhoun’s shadow will make students “better prepared to rise to the challenges of the present and the future.”

That last bit is patently absurd. Calhoun does have plenty to teach us about slavery. But renaming Calhoun College does not get in the way of teaching about slavery. Calhoun College is not retaining its name because it’s a rare opportunity to teach about slavery. It’s retaining its name on the principle of never going back on honorary naming (and no doubt there are wealthy donors who are behind this as well).

Texas Prison Museum

[ 26 ] May 3, 2016 |


When I lived in Texas, I kept wondering if I should go to the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville. It was both horrifying and fascinating at the same time. Why would someone go see an electric chair in a prison largely dedicated to celebrating law enforcement? But maybe the answer is that I would go to see who would go see that. In any case, I never actually went. But evidently, prison museums are a burgeoning set of tourist attractions across the country and the Texas Observer has what is actually a really interesting article on the Texas Prison Museum.

But while the museum may reinforce a message of humane treatment as progress, it also reflects prison administration to the exclusion of inmates, says Elizabeth Neucere, a history master’s graduate from SHSU who wrote her thesis about the museum. While panels throughout the museum explain the work inmates do, few exhibits feature prisoners’ voices. Most inmates mentioned by name were executed, tried to escape, or were considered “famous and infamous.” A photo exhibit featuring executed inmates is one of the few displays that allows visitors to hear the voices behind the bars.

“The Texas Prison Museum … inhibits the possibility for public forum by creating silences in its historical presentation through the active choices made in exhibit design or display that makes a narrative superficial or absent,” Neucere writes in her thesis. “Impropriety in the Texas prison system goes unnoticed by museum visitors, making contemporary inmate battles for human rights seem unwarranted.”

For instance, Neucere says, the exhibit on inmate punishment displays handcuffs, a ball and chain, and old padlocks, as well as the bat, a leather strap with a wooden handle legally used to whip inmates until 1941. The card next to the bat says “Used for corporal punishment on convicts until the mid 1940s,” omitting the 1909 state investigation that uncovered abusive use of the bat, debates about banning it during the 1912 governor’s race, and its temporary replacement with the “dark cell,” an early form of solitary confinement. The bat returned to widespread use in the 1930s before being banned in 1941. But none of this information is present in the display.

The museum’s selective silences, Neucere says, are partly a response to Ruiz v. Estelle, which resulted in federal oversight and major reforms to the prison system after the 1980 ruling that it was unconstitutional. “Ruiz is not remembered fondly among the prison system and this is reflected in the museum, along with any other court case against the system,” Neucere writes. The plaintiffs’ accounts of overcrowding, inmate-on-inmate violence and inadequate medical care brought negative publicity. She suggests that, consciously or not, the case likely influenced the museum founders’ presentation of the story.

Pierce, the volunteer archivist, says there’s probably some truth in that argument. Many people who helped with the museum were directly involved with Ruiz compliance issues, “and they were preoccupied with people being sued and fired,” he says. “I think the thing they liked about the museum is that it gives a sense of authenticity, history and importance: ‘Yeah, I worked at the prison system, and there were some bad things about it sometimes, but we have a history.’”

Asked if he thought some of the decade-old informational panels should be updated, Willett, the museum director and retired warden, was hesitant. “History doesn’t change, so a lot of what’s out there is, in my mind, never going to be updated other than to just refresh it from the fading,” he said. “Some of the stuff is historical, and it’s over with, and it won’t be changed.”

It won’t be changed? Now that’s some wishful thinking! In fact, the article goes on to note that Neucere is taking over as curator next year and certainly will change some things. But curators don’t have full power. Most museums has something like a board of governors. Who tends to serve on these boards? Often they are staunch conservatives, either political appointees or people who are very invested in telling specific stories. So I’d be awfully skeptical that any changes to this museum will be fast. Law enforcement’s influence is likely to remain high, not to mention that I’m guessing the average visitor to this museum does not tend to skew as a Sanders voter. Yet such a museum actually has a ton of potential to tell really interesting stories about the past and present.

And Yet Khanna Persists…

[ 19 ] May 3, 2016 |

empty-suit1For some obscure reason, Parag Khanna persists not only in existing, but also in writing books that find major publishers.  My review of Second World can be found here. The intrepid Dan Drezner was given the unenviable task of reviewing Connectography (yes, that is its actual name); the results are impressive. Some of the choicest bits:

Parag Khanna may well be the most connected man alive. “Connectography” represents Khanna’s latest effort to arbitrage his personal networking skills into a theory of geopolitics…

The fluff is voluminous. Khanna and his editors clearly believe that his prose style is a winning one, but for this reader it was like struggling through the transcription of a TED talk on a recursive loop…

I wish that Khanna wee right about the power of connectivity. The world would be a better place. I fear, however, that he does not know what he is talking about.

And via Drezner, this Evgeny Morozov review of one of Khanna’s earlier efforts leaves a lot of blood and intestine on the floor.

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