Sure, repealing Obamacare is about bringing “choice” back to Americans when it comes to their health insurance. That’s what Republicans say, right? That it’ll cost consumers less and be better and that’s all they want for the nation. How do you know that’s bullshit? Because of what repeal will really mean: massive tax cuts for the wealthiest tax-payers.
Urged on by Trump, the Senate overnight adopted a budget resolution that clears a path for eliminating the tax-and-spending provisions of the Affordable Care Act by simple majority vote — no Democratic cooperation required. That means repeal of two provisions targeted at high-income households: a 0.9 percent hospital insurance tax on earnings above $250,000 for couples and a 3.8 percent tax on capital gains, dividends and other nonlabor income above that same threshold.That would provide a tax cut averaging $7 million for each of the 400 highest-earning taxpayers, according to new calculations by the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities using Internal Revenue Service data. That cut, the center estimated, would amount to $2.8 billion annually overall — or approximately the value of Obamacare subsidies for those with modest incomes in the 20 smallest states and the District of Columbia.
Overall, eliminating those two levies would represent a tax cut of roughly $346 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Households with million-dollar-plus incomes — a much larger group than the top 400 — would receive an average tax cut of $49,000 a year, the center says.
The only people Republicans are looking out for are the ones in Trump’s swamp.
WASHINGTON — A brawl is about to break out among Democrats on Capitol Hill, and when it’s done, Democrats will say they’re going to be OK. They’re wrong.
They’ll return next year to face one of the biggest Republican majorities in the House of Representatives since the 1920s. They’ll have 48 out of the 100 Senate seats, but they have to defend 25 of those seats in two years. They lost the White House in a year when they were strongly favored to win.
And they still face a daunting challenge crafting, let alone communicating, an economic message. It’s widely agreed that the party was unable to find a vigorous, meaningful way of telling working-class voters it understood their concerns.
Those voters “see the party as wanting to advance everyone but them,” said Will Marshall, the president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a centrist group with Democratic leanings.
“We celebrate every time a barrier falls, but what Trump voters hear is ‘Nobody cares about me.’ You have to talk to these voters in a more emphatic way.”
Part of that strategy means getting away from a big-spending, liberal image. “A more centrist perspective is going to position them better,” said James Pfiffner, Virginia-based author of a dozen books on American government and politics.
That’s not what you’re going to hear starting Tuesday, as Congress returns to write a federal budget and House Democrats vote on whether to retain Nancy Pelosi as their leader or turn to Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio.
Republicans will have at least 238 seats in the House next year, while Democrats should have 194, a net gain of six seats. Three races are undecided, and all lean Republican.
Ryan’s challenge to Pelosi is the first time since she became the top House Democrat 14 years ago that she’s faced opposition.
Ryan reflects concern that the party’s dismal showing in the congressional and presidential elections is a loud, stark reminder it’s not bold or inclusive enough.
Ryan, said Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., “wants more voices in the conversation so that we can work together to craft our message and forge a winning strategy.”
That makes sense to many liberals, who cheered Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and his Democratic presidential campaign pledges to shake up the political system.
“The Democratic Party needs to project that we’ll really challenge power and the system, and not just have good policies within the system,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal activist group that’s not endorsing anyone.
Democrats have to remember, he said, “the main thing people are looking for is backbone in the Democratic Party.”
Pelosi, a wily political survivor, is seen as winning easily with accolades from unions and liberals.
Once that vote, scheduled for Wednesday, is done, Democrats will be talking big.
“Democrats don’t have a debate about seniors, diversity or women’s issues,” said Rep. Ann Kuster, D-N.H., who represents a swing district. While Democrats are unified over the role of government, “Republicans are about to go to war over deficits versus tax cuts,” she said.
“We’re not on life support. The party could be stronger, but it’s still strong,” said Dan Glickman, a former Wichita, Kan.-area congressman and secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration.
Democrats offer several ways their congressional positions are solid:
—Popular vote. “We won the most votes,” said Bob Mulholland, a veteran California Democratic strategist. Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has 47.9 percent of the vote to President-elect Donald Trump’s 46.7 percent. His popular vote is the lowest for a White House winner since Bill Clinton 24 years ago.
—Demographics. Democrats running in House races won 67 percent of the Latino vote, 89 percent of the African-American vote and 56 percent of voters under 30, according to network exit polls. The Latino and young-voter percentages were up slightly from 2014, while the African-American number was about the same.
—History. Republicans won control of the House two years after Clinton won his first term. Democrats won control six years after George W. Bush won his first term, and Republicans regained control two years after Barack Obama’s 2008 victory. The GOP had a net gain of 64 House seats in 2010.
—Opposition. The party out of power doesn’t get the blame for governing if things go awry. Republicans have prospered from attacking President Obama’s economic and health care agendas. Now Democrats are in a position to be the critics and rail against the new president. They already are.
“He talked about being a populist. He talked about taking on special interests,” said Sanders. “Yet the initial indications that we are seeing is that not much of what he talked about … has much to do with where he is today.”
But the old problem remains: Democrats aren’t convincing enough working-class people that the party’s on their side.
“We needed to let the American people know what we believe,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democrats’ new leader in the Senate.
He cites the example of student debt as a missed opportunity. Sanders got overwhelming support from under-35 Democrats as he argued to make tuition free at public colleges and universities. Clinton and most congressional candidates argued for a modified version.
That confused people, perhaps contributing to the poorer Democratic showing among younger voters, he suggested.
The biggest danger for congressional Democrats is that Trump is successful and fashions a new Republican era, much as Ronald Reagan did through most of the 1980s.
“If his policy falters, they may regain seats in the midterms,” Robert Borosage, the president of the liberal Institute for America’s Future, said of the Democrats. “Yet they can win battles and still lose the war.”
If the slaughter of 20 school children didn’t sway Republicans to support sane gun safety laws, why would a protest by House Democrats?
*The following is an opinion column by R Muse*
If any American failed to comprehend just how dysfunctional politics are, Democrats in the House decided to just sit down to protest the lack of action on gun safety measures, namely background checks and bans on selling terror suspects assault weapons. The Democrats’ action was to demonstrate to the voters that Republicans are too devoted to, or too terrified of, the National Rifle Association and gun manufacturer lobby to act in the people’s behalf. No matter where one comes down on the issue of gun proliferation, and regardless the majority of Americans’ support for the most basic safety regulations or a Democratic sit down strike, only a fool thinks anything will change.
On Wednesday Think Progress noted that 23 of the Republican senators who voted against background checks for gun purchases could lose their jobs in November when Americans go to the polls. In fact, the progressive site also backed up their assertion by citing that “roughly 90 percent of Americans, including 80 percent of gun owners, supported the [failed] measures.” They also noted that after the Republicans blocked the measures “voters” and gun safety advocates pledged to make the November election “a referendum on Republican politicians who are beholden to the NRA,” even citing the amount of cash the Republicans received from the gun lobby.
Here’s the problem with even insinuating that because the worst gun massacre in modern history is still fresh in people’s minds, and an overwhelming number of Americans “support” basic gun safety regulations, that the 23 Republicans up for re-election are in jeopardy of being voted out of Congress: nothing is going to change. And, the 23 Republican senators are not going to be voted out of office over their no votes on gun regulations. It is also true that House Republicans, including Speaker Paul Ryan, are not going to be swept out of office because Democrats staged a sit down protest to demand a vote on gun safety, a vote they would certainly lose.
Paul Ryan should have let Democrats have their vote so the House can get back to being a very high-paying job with no responsibility or accountability to the people. Of course Ryan knows Democrats are attempting to prove to the 90 percent of American voters who support gun safety legislation that they are trying to follow the will of the voters, and that when Republicans block any gun regulations they can point fingers and say the Republicans are going against the will of the people. In that sense, Ryan was not completely exaggerating about the Democrats’ sit-down protest is a publicity stunt; Democrats, Republicans, the NRA, the gun manufacturing lobby, and gun safety advocates all know there is no way in the proverbial Hell that the GOP will support gun legislation.
Yes, there is news about a “glimmer of hope” that some kind of Senate compromise to prevent people on the terror watch list from buying assault weapons is being bandied about, but that is a damn far cry from legislation requiring mandatory background checks over 90 percent of the voters support.
The point of this little screed is that American voters have very short memories, are easily terrified, and frankly, are just as stupid as a fence post. The idea, or hope, that Republicans are in danger of being voted out of office because they vote contrary to the will of the people is misplaced at best and more likely the result of severe memory failure. Don’t believe it? Just consider how successful Republicans have been at gaining seats in Congress and state legislatures in spite of legislating in direct opposition to the majority of voters’ wishes.
For example, majorities of Americans support raising the minimum wage, protecting and expanding Social Security, keeping Medicare as it is and expanding Medicaid, and yet Republicans religiously pass legislation contrary to the people’s will and still increase their power in government. Majorities of voters also reject defunding Planned Parenthood, are outraged that women’s access to contraception is limited due to the minority religious right’s demands and yet in the states and Congress Republicans reliably win elections by going against the will of the voters.
Democrats were fairly excited after Republicans went against the people’s will and shut down the government costing the taxpayers billions of dollars in late 2013 going into an important midterm election. And yet Republicans not only suffered no ill-effects from a ridiculously stupid and costly action, they actually increased their numbers in the House and took control of the Senate just nine months later. Now there is talk, and unicorn fantasies, that because Senate Republicans blocked gun safety measures 90 percent of the people support 23 sitting Republican senators “could be voted out of office.”
Look, if American voters had an ounce of intelligence, or regard for their own and the nation’s best interests, maybe Democrats would be justified in believing Republicans are making tragic career-ending moves. But recent history reveals that not only are voters not intelligent, Republicans are not in jeopardy of being swept out of Washington en masse or in significant enough numbers to change Washington’s dysfunction because they went against the will of the people. If anything, the recent past reveals that Republicans win when they go against the wishes of the people and there are a couple of reasons why, reasons Democrats seem incapable of grasping.
For one thing, the average voter does not follow politics enough to know it is one party blocking everything the majority of voters support. Paul Ryan didn’t have to declare the House was in recess to force a media blackout of the Democrats’ sit-in: most Americans never watch C-Span or follow the actions in Congress anyway. The other specific reason Republicans continue to succeed is because the average voter only hears what Republicans want and has trained them to hear.
In the case of gun legislation, the average voter only knows that gun safety measures are attempts by Democrats to endanger American lives by confiscating their guns and part of a scheme to violate the Constitution. Oh, it’s true when a telephone pollster asks a voter if they think terrorists should be allowed unlimited access to battlefield weapons they will say “Hell no,” or that if everyone should undergo a simple background check prior to purchasing weapons, 90 percent will definitely say “of course.” But that is not what voters hear from Republicans and why they will not throw them out of Congress for not voting for sane gun safety regulations.
It is frustrating that Republicans continue deliberately going against the voters’ wishes and still win elections, but staging a sit-down protest or flooding social media with outrage is and has not changed anything. If that were the case gun legislation, a minimum wage hike, and expanded Social Security would have passed years ago. The average voter does not have the time or wherewithal to stay glued to social media, or C-Span for that matter and if they do they either gravitate to like-minded opinions or tune out pertinent information that just might inform an intelligent and logical vote in November.
Until the American people are adequately informed, registered to vote and listen critically to what both Democrats and Republicans are saying, the sad fact is that nothing is ever going to change. Oh, people definitely feel emboldened when they see their heroes in Congress make an effort according to the majority’s demands, but that feeling never translates into votes in November. If the slaughter of 20 little children didn’t sway Republicans to support sane gun safety laws, nothing will. That includes protests by Democrats in the House and bereaved Americans sick of mass shootings raging on social media. Because when November rolls around they will have been sufficiently terrified into voting for Republicans again because besides being frightened senseless they are just plain stupid.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) on Tuesday said he is perplexed by the federal probe into campaign donations to his 2013 gubernatorial run.
“I’m really baffled by this story in the first place,” he told reporter Ronica Cleary during an interview with Fox 5 D.C. “I’ll be honest with you — if I was sitting in the private sector, not as governor, I don’t think someone would, this would have risen to the level.
“But listen, it’s OK. You get in this business. You open yourself up and I’m fine doing that when you’re confident you haven’t done anything wrong.”
Reports emerged on Monday that the FBI and the Justice Department’s public integrity unit are looking into campaign contributions to McAuliffe three years ago.
The agencies are investigating, among other things, $120,000 in donations from Chinese businessman Wang Wenliang. Foreign nationals are not allowed to donate to any American campaign unless they have a green card, which clears such contributions.
McAuliffe on Tuesday said Wenliang has a well-documented record of donating to individuals and institutions in the U.S.
“Well, as I say, he’s a major contributor to Harvard,” he said. “He sits on the board of New York University. Two of our most prestigious universities. He’s very active. Everybody takes his money.”
McAuliffe added that federal scrutiny into his past campaign contributions would not hinder his current duties as Virginia’s governor.
“Listen, I’m carrying on my schedule as governor,” he said. “No one’s alleged I’ve done anything wrong. And you just got to continue to do.
“I’m governor, I’m out doing what I need to do to help the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” added McAuliffe, who has previously endorsed Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton.
McAuliffe tried distancing the probe from his ties with the Clinton family during a press conference earlier Tuesday.
“This has nothing to do with Clinton Foundation,” he said at the State Arboretum of Virginia. “This was an allegation of a gentleman who gave a check to my campaign. I didn’t bring the donor in; I didn’t bring him into the Clinton Foundation. I don’t even know if I’ve ever met the person.”
Officials are also purportedly investigating McAuliffe’s role at the Clinton Global Initiative, former President Bill Clinton’s charitable organization.
A Washington Post report from last year found that 120 donors who gave to Clinton charities gave more than $13 million to McAuliffe’s election efforts in 2013.
McAuliffe is a long-time Clinton ally who spearheaded Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008. He also served as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2000.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after doing everything in his power to antagonize Democrats in concert with his Republican pals, seems to have belatedly realized that needs President Obama and Democrats in Congress, and he’s moving to make amends.
Not only is Netanyahu visiting Washington D.C. Monday – not to go behind the President’s back to Congress – but to actually talk to him, but he belatedly and conveniently realized that his nominee for public diplomacy chief, Ran Baratz, had referred to President Obama as an anti-Semite and said Secretary of State John Kerry had the intellect of a pre-teenager.
Now Netanyahu says such thinking is “totally unacceptable and in no way reflect my positions or the policies of the government of Israel,” and he is reconsidering his choice of Baratz, as well he should, since the Likud party is not likely to let anyone forget this and other things Baratz has said, though Netanyahu’s cabinet gets to vote, and the prime minister has not outright rejected Baratz.
Baratz had posted the comments on Facebook and has apologized on Facebook for “the hurtful remarks” and in an email to The New York Times explained that “what I most regret is using the word anti-Semitism in relation to President Obama.” He said, “It’s not true and I deeply regret having done so.”
Aha! Right? A simple oversight? All’s good? Not so fast! As Barak Ravid wrote at Haaretz yesterday, “Israeli journalist Ben Caspit reported in the Maariv daily way back in August that Netanyahu had invited Baratz to a meeting regarding precisely this matter” and that therefore,
Netanyahu has three months to size Baratz up, to go through his past with a fine-toothed comb, and to check every mention of his name on the internet. A pretty natural, basic and necessary procedure in 2015. Netanyahu didn’t do this, and we can see the result.
Ravid is willing to accept Netanyahu at his word that he was unaware of Baratz’s “Facebook meditations” but wonders how the Prime Minister could not have been made aware of how their author felt on these matters when the two met face to face.
As Ravid writes, on the contrary, “If anything – we should assume that Baratz’s views on Rivlin, Obama, the media and others were what brought him this far.”
Timing-wise, the whole thing seems on a par with Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. Fortunately for Netanyahu, he is dealing with a man, Barack Obama, who is far more mature than he is, and who will not let U.S.-Israeli relations be torpedoed by someone Ravid refers to as “an ignoramus in anything relating to U.S.-Israel relations.”
I think that term could be used of Netanyahu as well.
Netanyahu had made his own displeasure felt early on with Democrats who supported the Iran nuclear deal, as though trying to take control of American foreign policy wasn’t enough of a slap in the face.
The New York Timesreminds us that Democrats “were left off the guest list of the annual Rosh Hoshana reception at the Israeli Embassy in Washington,” and other Democrats experienced various other forms of displeasure extended by pro-Israel groups.
Now all that seems to be coming to an end and Netanyahu’s appears to see the need for some fence-mending. While still not giving up on Baratz, Netanyahu has sent out Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer – whom you might remember was the guy Netanyahu also employed to throw John Boehner under the bus – to invite “prominent Democrats…to a dinner to commemorate Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who was assassinated 20 years ago.”
And the Times reports that even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, the pro-Israeli group that spent millions to oppose the Iran deal, “appears to be reaching out tentatively to the Democratic lawmakers it attacked for backing the agreement.” Of course, what Aipac wants is not détente but control.
Remember. These Democrats were attacked for insisting that America had a right to control its own foreign policy. This is a big deal, and Democrats should never forget what this was about. Netanyahu obviously if belatedly has remembered who really needs who in this relationship. It is not Israel that is about to give the U.S. a $40 billion aid package, after all.
Obama has triumphed so far over all his enemies, including Benjamin Netanyahu, and you can imagine he will be more than willing to make the nature of the U.S.-Israeli relationship very clear before he picks up a pen to sign that $40 billion check.
Uri Misgav wrote in an op-ed at Haaretz yesterday that “Anyone who was shocked by the words” of “Israeli Tea Party Type” Ran Baratz, “doesn’t understand where he is living,” and you can be sure Obama was not surprised and knows exactly how Netanyahu still feels about him.
President Obama is being typically gracious in being willing to, at least publicly, overlook some of Netanyahu’s many gaffes and outright attacks, by meeting with him again. For the greater good he may be willing – at least publicly again – let bygones be bygones – but what many of us wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall when the president and prime minister talk privately.
A survey from the Harvard University Institute of Politics contained good news for Democrats. The younger voters that were a key part of President Obama’s victories solidly want to keep a Democrat in the White House.
The survey found that Obama coalition is going to keep their support with Democrats in 2016:
Overall, young Americans prefer that a Democrat (55%) win the White House over a Republican (40%) in the 2016 race for president, a view held within the younger (18-24 year-olds – 53%: Democrat; 41%: Republican) and older (25-29 year-olds – 57%: Democrat; 39%: Republican) segments of the age-group. This view is stronger among young African-Americans (87%: Democrat; 8%: Republican) and young Hispanics (68%: Democrat; 27%: Republican). A majority of young whites, however, prefer Republican White House control after 2016 (53%: Republican; 41%: Democrat).
Among 18-to 29- year-olds, President Obama’s job performance has improved seven percentage points over the past six months (50%: Mar. 2015; 43%: Oct. 2014). The president’s job approval also increased across all major subgroups, including among young Hispanics – rising sixteen percentage points over the same time period (65%: Mar 2015; 49%: Oct. 2014). The president’s approval ratings on handling the economy (47%: Mar. 2015; 36%: Oct. 2014), health care (43%: Mar. 2015; 37%: Oct. 2014) and race relations (50%: Mar. 2015; 47%: Oct. 2014) all also increased since October. Tracking with the president, job approval of Democrats in Congress improved five percentage points (40%: Mar. 2015; 35%: Oct. 2014) since the fall, while approval of Republicans in Congress remained at 23% for the third straight IOP poll.
It is no surprise that Hillary Clinton is running away with the Democratic nomination. Younger voters support Hillary Clinton over Elizabeth Warren 47%-11%. Clinton leads Bernie Sanders 47%-1%. No Republican candidate was able to break 10% support with younger Republicans. Ben Carson (10%), Rand Paul (8%), Jeb Bush (7%), Mike Huckabee (7%), and Scott Walker (5%) were the top five Republicans.
Many Republicans had embraced the hopeful delusion that young voters would be up for grabs without President Obama on the ballot, but it looks like the Obama coalition is holding strong and ready to support Hillary Clinton in 2016. What Republicans refuse to admit is that it is their policies that are pushing younger voters away. Republicans are wrong on immigration, same-sex marriage, women’s issues, climate change, the war on drugs, income inequality.
These are issues that matter to voters regardless of age, but on social issues, Republicans are completely out of step with younger voters. The Republican fantasy that the Obama coalition would crumble in 2016 is getting a stiff dose of reality. The 2016 election cycle is beginning with Democrats being powered by many of the demographic groups that powered President Obama to victory in 2008 and 2012.
Earlier this month, the Upshot—the Times’s “politics and policy vertical,” as it’s known in the business—ran a lengthy analysis of the Presidential campaign on the Republican side. The piece came up with three categories of candidates: Invisible Primary Leaders, those early favorites who lock up the party regulars and the money ahead of the first vote (Al Gore and George W. Bush, in 2000; Mitt Romney, in 2012; Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, in 2016); Mainstream Alternatives, who are broadly popular enough to be viable nominees (John McCain, in 2000; Barack Obama, in 2008; Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, in 2016); and Factional Favorites, those candidates with a strong following in one section of the party (Howard Dean, in 2004; Rick Santorum, in 2012; Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, in 2016).
It was an original and useful guide to the race, helping make sense of the state of play nine months before the Iowa caucuses and a year and a half out from the election. The Upshot’s upshot was that, amid the forest of names on the Republican side, “two figures—Jeb Bush and Scott Walker—have quickly moved to the head of the pack. Perhaps only Mr. Rubio has a good chance to join them at the top.” The reasons have to do with fundraising, positioning, élite support, broad acceptability—that is, with the roles spelled out in the piece. The author, Nate Cohn, concluded, “It will be fun to watch.”
That was when he lost me.
It might not be wise for a sometime political journalist to admit this, but the 2016 campaign doesn’t seem like fun to me. Watching Marco Rubio try to overcome his past support for immigration reform to win enough conservative votes to become the Mainstream Alternative to the Invisible Primary Leader—who, if there is one, will be a candidate named Bush—doesn’t seem like fun. Nor does analyzing whether Chris Christie can become something more than the Factional Favorite of moderate Republicans, or whether Ted Cruz’s impressive early fundraising will make him that rare thing, a Factional Favorite with an outside chance to win. If this is any kind of fun, it’s the kind of fun I associate with reading about seventeenth-century French execution methods, or watching a YouTube video of a fight between a python and an alligator. Fun in small doses, as long as you’re not too close.
American politics in general doesn’t seem like fun these days. There’s nothing very entertaining about super PACs, or Mike Huckabee’s national announcement of an imminent national announcement of whether he will run for President again. Jeb Bush’s ruthless approach to locking up the exclusive services of longstanding Republican political consultants and media professionals far ahead of the primaries doesn’t quicken my pulse. Scott Walker’s refusal to affirm Barack Obama’s patriotism doesn’t shock me into a state of alert indignation. A forthcoming book with revelations about the Clintons’ use of their offices and influence to raise money for their foundation and grow rich from paid speeches neither surprises me nor gladdens my heart.
Since I was eight years old, and the Republican candidates were named Nixon, Rockefeller, and Reagan, and the Democrats were Humphrey, Kennedy, and McCarthy, I’ve been passionate about American politics, as a student, a witness, and a partisan. Politics was in my blood, at the family dinner table, in my work and my free time. But at some point in the past few years it went dead for me, or I for it. Perhaps it was week thirty-eight of the Obama-Romney race (a campaign between “Forward” and “Believe in America”), or the routinization of the filibuster, or the name Priorities USA Action, or the fifty-eighth vote in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act—something happened that made it very hard to continue paying attention. I don’t take this as a sign of personal superiority: I’ve always disliked people who considered themselves to be “above” politics. I mourn my lack of political passion as I would if I were to lose interest in reading fiction, or to stop caring about someone who’d been important to me for most of my life. And I count on getting back the feeling—the intense mix of love, hatred, anxiety, astonishment, and gratification—because life, public life, is impoverished without it. Perhaps it will return sometime before November 8, 2016. But for now—I have to be honest—it’s gone.
The reason is the stuckness of American politics. Especially in the years after 2008, the worst tendencies of American politics only hardened, while remaining in the same place. Beneath the surface froth and churn, we are paralyzed. You can sense it as soon as you step out of the train at Union Station in Washington, the instant you click on a Politico article about a candidates’ forum in Iowa: miasma settles over your central nervous system and you start to go numb. What has happened is that the same things keep happening. The tidal wave of money keeps happening, the trivialization of coverage keeps happening, the extremism of the Republican Party keeps happening (Ted Cruz: abolish the I.R.S.; Rand Paul: the Common Core is “un-American”). The issues remain huge and urgent: inequality, global warming, immigration, poorly educated children, American decline, radical Islamism. But the language of politics stays the same, and it is a dead language. The notion that answers will come from Washington or the campaign trail is beyond far-fetched.
It’s easy to denounce the political class, but in a democracy the public generally deserves the leaders it gets. The populist surges of the past few years—the Tea Party on the right, Occupy Wall Street on the left—have been no more convincing than the ideas of élites, though energy from below is in itself an encouraging thing. I’ve always rejected the politics of anti-politics, whether it came from Jerry Brown, Ross Perot, or Ronald Reagan. So it would be churlish not to end with a short wish list for the 2016 campaign.
1. A Democrat—Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Deval Patrick—should give Hillary Clinton a serious, sustained challenge, for her and the party’s sake if nothing else. With competition, she’d be a better candidate; without, the yearlong vacuum will be filled with investigations, inconsequential gaffes, hyper-carefulness, and crushing boredom.
2. A Republican should run against the Republican Congress. Its negativism has become a disgrace to the party and the country. Such a campaign would have obvious enemies, but it would also tell voters that at least one candidate is willing to put country ahead of party.
3. Some candidate should unilaterally disarm, refuse super PAC money, and call out the corruption of all the others. That would mean losing, of course—but, hell, almost all of them are going to lose anyway.
4. Some big-money donors should do the equivalent. Regardless of the disclosure requirements, they should name the recipient of every dollar they give, and shame others for not doing the same.
5. Clinton should give the boldest speech of her career, on inequality. In it, she should criticize the policies of financial deregulation that took off during her husband’s Presidency, acknowledging that that is their provenance and connecting them to the deep unfairness of our economy.
6. A Republican and a Democrat with national reputations should hold hands and break the partisan rules. They should announce early on the intention of making the other his or her running mate in the event of winning the nomination—if only to test whether the political center is really as dead as it seems.
7. Political reporters should embrace the value of objective truth, and adopt a policy of never repeating a party or a candidate’s dubious or false statement without exposing it in the next sentence.
8. Policies and their consequences should be the main story, tactics the footnote. Coverage of a candidate’s positioning on this or that issue should include a reminder of the context: notwithstanding No. 6 above, the differences between the two parties are clear, stark, and uniform across almost all issues.
None of it is likely to happen. Any of it would make American politics more relevant, more interesting—maybe even more fun.
There is nothing quite like watching Sarah Palin struggle with coherency to remind Democrats of what could happen if they don’t go out and support liberal candidates. If the midterms were a rude wake up call, Palin is a flashing warning of just how crazy Republicans are willing to go if they think they can get away with it.
As Republicans have long feared, and Democrats are fast learning, Palin is a massive liability for the Republican Party that hopes to prove that it is a serious political organization. Despite the tendency to do more harm than good, Palin keeps making her way in front of cameras and microphones. The results are usually bizarre, and almost always hilarious.
During the Iowa Freedom Summit, where Palin dropped hints that she may be exploring another run for president, she delivered a rambling, embarrassing speech. A speech so bad that her handlers quickly made the excuse that her TelePrompter was broken and her remarks were off-the-cuff. (Hey, remember when conservatives, including Palin bashed Obama for using a TelePrompter? I do.)
Her only friends now seem to be Democrats who are eating up each trainwreck with glee. And Palin is making it easy for them. It’s no wonder the Democratic National Convention released a statement after the Iowa speech publicly thanking Palin.
There is reason to be thankful. Palin is already turning her unique brand of idiocy into major profits for the Democrats. For example, during her speech, Palin held up an “I’m Ready for Hillary” magnet in an effort to mock the presumptive Democratic candidate. It was a moment that the “Ready for Hillary” PAC was happy to exploit – with major success.
The effort appears to have paid off. Big time. According to Mediaite, “I’m Ready for Hillary” raised well over $25,000 to help her eventually campaign for president. Her (inadvertent) boost to Hillary’s campaign made such an impact that the PAC made Palin an “honorary co-chair” to the organization. Considering the Koch brothers have already vowed to spend nearly $1 billion on ensuring Democrats lose in 2016, this Palin money is going to come in handy.
Meanwhile, Palin will likely not make her own presidential aspirations go beyond a few rallies and television interviews. She may want to consider joining the Hillary campaign full-time. It’s likely the only job offer she’ll have after this election.
A week after Election Day, we’ve had time not only to look at the returns and reach certain conclusions, but to begin knocking down some very questionable interpretations. Here are a few:
Republicans won a tsunami victory that portends a big win in 2016
Uh, no, probably not. The GOP victory slightly overperformed (if at all) what you’d expect from a combination of several factors: a “sixth-year” election with a Democrat in the White House, a pro-Republican midterm turnout pattern, a wildly pro-Republican landscape for members of Congress (especially senators), and a strongly “wrong track” public opinion profile reinforced by negative perceptions of the economy.
The composition of the electorate was an awful lot like 2010: 75 percent white (77 percent white in 2010, 72 percent in 2012); 37 percent 60 and over (32 percent in 2010, 25 percent in 2012); 12 percent 30 and under (12 percent in 2010, 19 percent in 2012). The party splits in various demographics also strongly resembled 2010; the better Republican numbers in pro-Democratic groups (viz. 36 percent among Latinos in 2014, 38 percent in 2010, 27 percent in 2012) reinforces the impression that more conservative voters turned out across the board. (Since nobody really thinks Republicans surged from 26 percent to 50 percent among Asian-Americans since 2012, it’s likely one or both numbers for that group are skewed).
So we’ve now seen three consecutive “swings” in turnout patterns and results that reinforce the “two electorates” hypothesis suggesting a structural Republican advantage in midterms and a Democratic advantage in presidential elections. Since the close alignment of the two parties with the segments of the electorate most likely (Republican with their older white voter base) and least likely (Democrats with their younger and minority voter base) to participate in midterms emerged in 2008, nobody’s “broken serve” yet. It could happen in 2016, of course, but nothing that occurred last Tuesday appears to make that more or less likely than it was on Monday.
Part of the illusion of a last-minute “tsunami,” of course, was created by a systematic overestimation of the Democratic vote by polls, amounting to 4 percent according to Nate Silverand 5 percent according to Sam Wang. In 2010 it was Republicans who benefited from a polling misfire.
The Democratic GOTV operation was a failure
It’s true the DSCC’s Bannock Street Project did not reshape the midterm electorate and produce victories, and national turnout was at the lowest rate since 1942. But turnout was up from 2010 levels in most states with competitive Senate races (as a percentage of 2010 vote): by 12.9 percent in Louisiana; 9.9 percent in Arkansas; 6.8 percent in New Hampshire; 6.6 percent in Alaska; 4.7 percent in Colorado; 4.2 percent in Kentucky; 3.8 percent in North Carolina; 2.6 percent in Kansas; and 1.4 percent in Arkansas. Georgia was the biggest disappointment, with 13 percent fewer votes cast in 2014 as compared to 2010, perhaps indicating that allegations of voter registration applications being buried by the Secretary of State’s office ought to get a second look.
A “but for” test would seem to indicate that overall Bannock Street kept turnout patterns from being even worse than they might have been. But to the extent it was an experiment, it needs tweaking, and it may simply be that not voting in midterms (particularly for young people) is too entrenched a habit to be significantly changed by any GOTV program. Republicans claims that Democratic GOTV efforts were canceled out by their own more impressive measures should also be examined, along with the suspicion that both parties’ early voting programs didn’t really add that many new voters.
Democrats should finally write off the south
The defeats of Kay Hagan, Mark Pryor and Michelle Nunn, along with the projected defeat of Mary Landrieu in a December runoff and the near-death-experience of Mark Warner have fed perennial talk that Democrats are wasting their time in the former Confederate States.
It may be true that Democrats will henceforth struggle in midterms in much (though not necessarily all) of the region, and that the decline in ticket-splitting means outperforming national tickets among white voters is becoming a thing of the past. But in presidential years, there’s no reason Virginia (carried twice by Obama), North Carolina (once), Georgia (where the nonwhite percentage of the population is creeping ever upward) and of course such essentially non-southern states as Florida (carried twice by Obama) cannot remain competitive for the foreseeable future. The trend lines are actually positive, with the realignment towards Republicans of southern white voters reaching its point of diminishing returns.
I’d argue what’s really obsolete is the get-as-far-to-the-right-as-possible Blue Dog model for southern Democratic success, epitomized by Rep. John Barrow (D-GA), who finally lost this year. Absent some strong, specifically partisan anti-Republican trend in a particular year, southern white conservative voters see no reason to vote Democratic any more, and each year their return becomes more unlikely. But ascending elements of the southern electorate, including transplants and knowledge workers, continue to be a ripe target for Democrats.
‘Populism’ is the cure-all/won’t work for Democrats
Nothing was more ubiquitous in Democratic campaigns this year than support for such “populist” economic themes as a higher minimum wage, which polled well nearly everywhere and sometimes split Republicans. But even in states where voters approved minimum wage ballot initiatives, Democratic statewide candidates did not benefit, leading some observers to “populist” appeals to reduce inequality might be less effective than a pro-growth message while others countered that a sharper populist message was needed when the Democratic Party holds the While House and is deemed responsible for the economy.
This is a dilemma for Democrats that goes back at least to the Clinton years, and will be partly ameliorated by the imminent departure from office of President Obama, making it easier for his successor as Democratic nominee to make 2016 a “two futures” choice of economic policies rather than a referendum on a status quo still suffering from the mistakes of the Bush administration. I’d personally argue that what Democrats most need isn’t “less” or “more” populism, but a more comprehensive economic message that explains how income equality is critical to growth and offers not just one but various ways to boost paychecks. Princeton professor Alan Blinder has made a pretty good start.
Meanwhile, a separate argument is that some Democrats spent too much time on “culture war” issues or talking about a “war on women.” I’d just note that the single biggest difference between the 2010 and 2014 votes were that Democrats won women last week by four points and lost them by a point in 2010. Something went right.
Fundamentals explain everything
I obviously agree such “fundamentals” as turnout patterns and midterm dynamics and the “presidential referendum” factor and demographics explain most of what happened last Tuesday. But sometimes candidates and campaigns trump everything. It’s very unlikely that Joni Ernst would have won comfortably had Bruce Braley not been filmed telling out-of-state trial lawyers he was their vehicle for keeping Chuck Grassley, “an Iowa farmer,” away from the Judiciary Committee gavel. Maryland’s Democratic Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown ran a sluggish and overconfident campaign, just like Maryland LG Kathleen Kennedy Townsend did eight years ago when she was upset by a Republican. And Mark Udall lost in 2014 while Michael Bennet won in 2010 largely because Cory Gardner was a helluva better candidate than Ken Buck. At the margins of every election, anything can and does happen.