Sunday, March 31, 2019

Mayor Pete-mentum?

Beto O'Rourke is definitely making an impact on the race, but for somebody who truly came out of nowhere, there's the one and only Pete Buttigieg, aka Mayor Pete. He's not exactly topping the polls right now, but just getting on people's radar screens at this point is pretty amazing. And I have to admit, I like a lot of what I see; he's seems to have very good political instincts. Like this, from a January interview in Washington Post Magazine:
“Donald Trump got elected because, in his twisted way, he pointed out the huge troubles in our economy and our democracy…at least he didn’t go around saying that America was already great, like Hillary did.”
---Mayor Pete
Right on, Mayor Pete! Of course, this earned him no applause from the political geniuses who advise Hillary Clinton. Nick Merrill, one such advisor, had this to say:
“This is indefensible. @HillaryClinton ran on a belief in this country & the most progressive platform in modern political history. Trump ran on pessimism, racism, false promises, & vitriol. Interpret that how you want, but there are 66,000,000 people who disagree."
Yes, how can Mayor Pete say those terrible things about such a successful campaign?
Anyway, David Atkins has a good take on the Washington Monthly blog about the dispute that underlies this exchange.
"Trump is a fraud, and so are his promises. But during the 2016 campaign, he acknowledged the anxiety of these communities, and gave them a narrative that fit both their worldview, their understanding of politics, and their prejudices.....
It is very disappointing that so many voters in the white working class were willing to believe and accept the racism-fueled narrative of false promises that Trump offered, but that is what happened. Whoever the Democratic nominee is in 2020 has two options to confront this problem. One is to simply give up on reaching these voters in the belief that their prejudices concerning racial and gender minorities make them unwinnable, regardless of the nominee’s messaging around economic policy. The second is to campaign to them in a way that acknowledges the desolation of these communities and gives them a more appropriate and accurate villain to blame.
Merrill’s argument fallaciously assumes that taking this second approach means unavoidably abandoning the Democratic party’s base: women and people of color. But both common sense and specific research indicates that this doesn’t need to be the case.....
Another broad misconception shared by those in Merrill’s camp is that economic populists from the left who support Buttigieg’s messaging believe that all Trump voters can potentially be swayed by it. It’s common among these types to point to some act of horrific racism or sexism at a Trump rally and smirk about “economic anxiety.” But, of course, no one really believes that all Trump voters are persuadable in this way...Even if only 5% of Trump voters are...persuadable...that's the difference in many districts and states between a loss and a landslide victory."
To his credit, I think Mayor Pete gets this.
About this website
The deplorable basket may not be as big as believed

Saturday, March 30, 2019


Probably a good day to think about this since O'Rourke had his official kickoff rally today in El Paso. I watched it on C-Span and I'll have to admit that, despite some skepticism about his candidacy, I was impressed. (Plus he gets big points for coming on stage and leaving to The Clash's Working for the Clampdown!) He is a dynamic and inspiring speaker and he will be formidable on the campaign trail. That could turn out to be just as or more important than whether his policy ideas are particularly distinctive.
I note that the latest Quinnipiac poll has him in third place in Democratic primary preference behind Biden and Sanders, but ahead of Harris. And of course that was taken awhile ago before this rally; it will be interesting to see how his polling evolves in the next few weeks.
Tom Edsall's recent piece on "Is Betomania Real or Phony?" is worth reading in this context. Here are some excerpts from this piece, emphasizing the ways in which O'Rourke might well catch on (there are plenty of ways he might not too, which Edsall also covers in the article).
"Frank Wilkinson, a former colleague of mine, wrote at Bloomberg:
"O’Rourke is not the only candidate modeling decency as an antidote to Trumpism. But he’s the one who has best harnessed the anxiety and rage generated by Trumpism’s assaults on democratic values and transformed them into willful, defiant optimism."
Don Fowler, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, captures this feeling: “He clearly possesses a charismatic charge, a spark that few others have."....
A Texas Democratic operative lavished praise on Beto, on background, in order to speak freely:
"O’Rourke has an intangible energy that goes beyond the litmus test. On a national scale that could be monumental. It’s emotional. It’s not tangible. Beto tapped into something with nontraditional voters. People who never publicly supported a campaign were putting Beto signs in their yard. LeBron James wore his logo on a hat."....
[Scott] Reed, who ran Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign, went on:
"His Willie Nelson event in Austin drew 50k folks and was also a strong signal to young voters — even though very few voted. His performances in the debates was exceptional and added to his momentum. Cruz was the #1 G.O.P. fund-raiser and he got swamped every quarter. I see a little Bobby Kennedy in him."
Richard Murray, a political scientist at the University of Houston, was also impressed. He emailed:
"His appeal in Texas is a combination of an attractive persona with animated mannerisms that come across as cool and authentic to many (especially those under 35); boundless energy plus exceptional verbal skills that enable him to weave stories from folks he’s encountered on the campaign trail into compelling narratives (a rare skill) — displayed in an environment where voters in our very diverse and fast growing metropolitan areas have soured on the far right turn of Texas GOP leaders like Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick."
How about a national campaign?
"Will this combination work in a national primary featuring the most diverse set of competitors in the nation’s history? I do not know, nor does anyone else. But the retail politics states of Iowa and New Hampshire are great places to test his road show outside the Lone Star State."...
Robert Stein, a political scientist at Rice, is upbeat on O’Rourke’s prospects. He wrote me:
"Shortly after the November election progressives hit him hard for not backing their issue positions on guns and energy. My sense is that he is looking to avoid being defined on a left/right dimension/continuum. It seems like he is trying to define his candidacy as humane, pragmatic and capable of beating Trump."
Stein argues that
"he is sufficiently retail for places like Iowa and New Hampshire and if he can survive the rush before Super Tuesday, he should come out of the March primaries in the upper echelon of remaining candidates."
I am less skeptical of these arguments than I once was. I will be watching O'Rourke's candidacy closely as I suspect many of us will be.
About this website
Former Texas lawmaker Beto O'Rourke kicks off his presidential bid in El Paso, Texas.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Automation Threat and Trump Country

There are those who continue to believe that Trumpian populism had and has nothing to do with economics. They are most likely to found on the "woke" left, among readers of Vox and in the nation's political science departments. To those who say--but wait! Look at where these people live and what's been happening to their communities--they employ the sturdy Marxian riposte, who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?
For the rest of us, there'a an interesting new Brookings study out about the effect of automation and automation threat on Trump/Republican voting.
"Derived from assessments of occupations’ automatability provided by David Autor and McKinsey Global Institute, our analyses are based on quantifications of the likelihood the current task mix of hundreds of occupations could be automated with current technology. As such, our numbers estimate occupational vulnerability and, essentially, worker precariousness or anxiety about the future—hence their political relevance.
What do our data show? Our data confirm both a stark history of automation in Trump country and substantial future exposure—exposure that points to more work flux, more job uncertainty, and potentially more political disruption.
Along these lines, while our backward-looking look at of “routine” job concentrations and work disruption clearly points to parts of the 2016 backlash map, our forward-looking analyses of automatability makes the link even more tightly.
At the state level, all but one of the ten states most heavily exposed to future job market changes cast its electoral votes for President Trump in 2016....By contrast, all but one of the states with the least exposure to automation, and possessing the highest levels of educational attainment, voted for Hillary Clinton, perhaps reflecting greater comfort with tech trends that have most benefited these same states. The strong association of 2016 Electoral College outcomes and state automation exposure—leaving aside questions of deeper causality—very much suggests that the spread of workplace automation and associated worker anxiety about the future may have played some role in the Trump backlash and Republican appeals.....
[T]he party contrast on automation exposure becomes much more dramatic when we look at the range of individual congressional districts’ levels of susceptibility. Now the differences look much larger than they did across states or in aggregate. Specifically, only 4 of the 50 most automation-exposed congressional districts are represented by Democrats, while every one of the 50 least-exposed districts is represented by Democrats.....
The story told by congressional-district voting very much confirms that jurisdictions exposed to the most automation-based dislocation are some of the most likely to vote Republican. [I]t is clear that to the extent that places experiencing high automation threats are experiencing greater economic stress, that stress is a factor in their voting behavior.
....[A]utomation, and the worker anxieties associated with it, appears to be a subtle, real, and far-reaching factor in voting behavior that may be triggering even more anxiety in red America than blue America, with more stress to come. Such trends underscore the importance of problem-solving to help mitigate the transitions ahead and suggest that it would behoove the presidential candidates to begin describing their responses."
Sounds like good advice. Democratic candidates are you listening?

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

America Is Getting More Liberal--But Can Democrats Actually Beat Trump?

This is the subject of Tom Edsall's excellent new column on the Times website. As he succinctly puts it:
"Two major studies released this month, the General Social Survey and the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, reveal some generally positive trends for Democrats: defections in the Midwest among Trump voters, as well as a shift to the left among all voters on issues of race, immigration and spending on the poor."
The latter point is something I've written about quite a bit before. It's just not the case that Americans, including white Americans, are awash in racism and nativism.
"In 2016, Trump capitalized on hostility to immigrants and minorities. Tom Wood, a political scientist at Ohio State, examined the General Social Survey data and found a noticeable, albeit modest, increase in social and cultural tolerance in 2018 among all voters. That a rise in tolerance is a negative for Republicans speaks for itself.
“Quite contrary to popular concerns,” Wood wrote in an email [to Edsall], “it seems that the American public has only grown more tolerant and inclusive over recent decades,” before adding, “There’s been meaningful improvement, or stability, in each of these measures of tolerance since the early 1990s.....I’d be reluctant to infer too much about this for the electoral stakes for 2020 but it does suggest that much anguishing about the U.S. electorate — that it’s growing more adverse to minorities, and is becoming scientifically uniformed on issues of high political charge — is basically wrong."
That's why the other part of what Edsall flags up top is so important. While a more liberal America is a hopeful development, it can still be politically stymied by voting trends in a handful of states. Therefore, if the Trump defections In the Midwest Edsall mentions are real and can be built on, that's hugely important news. Here's the evidence:
"G. Elliott Morris, a political analyst for The Economist, examined state-by-state data in the Cooperative Congressional Election Study. In an email, Morris wrote that the 2018 results make it clear that the president has lost a significant amount of support across the nation, both among his “core" or “base” supporters and the rest.
While millions of suburban whites who voted for Trump in 2016 cast ballots in 2018 for Democratic House and Senate candidates, “the defection runs much deeper than that,” Morris said. Not only did better-off suburbanites defect, “but more important so did working class whites.”
“My analysis of the 2018 C.C.E.S. data,” Morris continued, “finds that 7 percent of white voters without a college education left Trump’s side.” These non-college whites were crucial to Trump’s Electoral College victory, and “small numbers of defections could make a big difference,” especially in the Midwest, where, according to Morris, they make up 57 percent of the voters, compared with 47 percent nationwide."
So let's get those "small numbers of defections"! Which is yet another reason to avoid the four don'ts. They're highly unlikely to be attractive to potential Trump defectors.

About this website
In response to Trump’s presidency, America has gotten more liberal — despite appearances to the contrary. Will it matter in 2020?

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Four Don'ts of the 2020 Democratic Campaign

Whoever the Democratic nominee is going to be in 2020, that nominee has to avoid unforced errors to maximize their chances of beating Trump. Besides never letting the word "deplorables" pass their lips, here are four things the nominee should avoid advocating because they are unpopular and/or borrow a world of political trouble.
1. Reparations for the descendants of slaves. Preferred: social programs that disproportionately benefit blacks because of their income, education or geographic attributes.
2. Abolish ICE. Preferred: Reforming ICE + a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants + an actual immigration policy that includes border security and policies about future immigration levels.
3. Medicare for All that eliminates private insurance. Preferred: Medicare for Anyone or Medicare for All (Who Want It). Currently embodied in the DeLauro-Schakowsky Medicare for America bill.
4. A Green New Deal that commits to 100 percent renewable energy within 10 years. Preferred: A Green New Deal that focuses on jobs, infrastructure and research.
The preferred policies would of course still be very progressive. And they'd allow the Democrats to win the election too, unlike the four don'ts. Seems like an easy call to me.

Monday, March 25, 2019

How Good Is the Mueller Report for Trump?

Well, I do think it's at least somewhat helpful for his cause, partly because it means he dodges a number of potentially bad outcomes and partly because it's a good talking point for him and his campaign that he has been "exonerated". But I'm doubtful it changes things very much because judgments about Trump and his conduct are already so polarized. Folks who think he's a fine fellow victimized by delusional liberals will continue to believe that and foiks who think he's a lying slimeball will continue to think that, even he didn't directly conspire with the Russians. And these views of course are highly partisanized.
In addition, while there are segments of the Democratic party, activist circles and elements of the press who have invested a lot in believing Trump colluded in some way with the Russians, the general run of real world Democratic politics has not been so concerned with this. Nate Silver on 538 points out:
"Somewhat contrary to programming decisions on cable news, the Russia investigation wasn’t a huge point of emphasis for Democrats in the 2018 midterm campaign, nor has it been during the presidential campaign so far."
And Larry Sabato and Kyle Kondik on Crystal Ball say:
"The Democrats did not really run on the Mueller probe in the 2018 campaign, and for the most part, the 2020 candidates haven’t really been doing that either. Now the Democratic contenders will certainly not do so, though other investigations of Trump may bear fruit and become campaign fodder."
These are both very well-reasoned takes and I recommend them.
Without stretching too far, you can even make an argument that this report, by effectively taking Russia collusion off the table, does the Democrats a favor. This way they won't chase the will 'o the wisp of taking Trump down outside of the ballot box, which was highly unlikely to work and might have backfired. Now they have no choice but to beat him the old-fashioned way--by getting more votes in the electoral college. That was the right idea to begin with.
— Following the conclusion of the Mueller probe, President Trump being forced from office or the ballot because of legal troubles is even less likely…

Saturday, March 23, 2019

More on Trump's Re-Election Chances

These's been a couple of interesting articles lately on Trump's generic chances--that is, his re-elect probability against an averagely good Democratic candidate. The 538 chat on this is a good one to go over to get a sense of all the reasons why he may (or may not) be in a good position to be re-elected. In the end, I think the assembled 538'ers are not quite sure how to call it. One participant avers that they seem to be putting Trump 's re-elect probability at between 47-53 percent. Leaving aside the faux precision, it sounds like they just don't have a strong view one way or the other.
Also useful is an article on Vox by Dylan Scott going over some of the same ground. Distilling the discussion down to its essence, I'd say there are three big macro-factors that are influencing Trump's chances:
1. His approval rating--it is bad and that should hurt him
2. Incumbency--he is the incumbent and that should help him
3 The economy--the economy has been good by standard metrics and that should help him. However, his approval rating has consistently lagged economic performance since his inauguration and evidence from recent Presidencies suggests that the the relationship between economic performance and Presidential outcomes has generally weakened. Therefore, while the economy should be of some help to Trump, it may not be nearly as much help as it has been to Presidents in the past.
Of these factors, probably the most important to Trumps' fate the first one. So the key question for Trump is can he (a) use his other advantages to neutralize his lousy approval ratings or (b) actually improve these ratings.
Stay tuned!
About this website
The 2020 election challenge: Do the old rules about the economy still apply?

Thursday, March 21, 2019

How Democrats Can Win (and Keep Winning)

Paul Starr's new column on the Prospect website makes a lot of good points on how Democrats can win going forward and stick around long enough to actually get things done. He notes:
"The challenge for Democrats....isn’t just to gain power but to keep it. The big changes that Democrats want to bring about will take a long time to see through. The last two Democratic presidents both lost control of Congress at the first midterm election. To break that pattern, Democrats need a strategy that can maintain and even expand their coalition instead of undercutting it....
To avoid the problems Clinton faced in 2016 in conveying a message about change, the Democrats need to focus on a few big ideas that embrace many of the specific policies they will be promising to pursue...."
Starr mentions a couple of these big ideas. One is a Green New Deal. He frames it like this:
"[A] narrowly tailored climate policy—built, for example, around a carbon tax—will not work. To succeed politically, a program has to provide voters with immediate and tangible benefits, and the way to do that is to frame climate reform as a program for rebuilding America, which, in fact, it necessarily must be. Trump promised an infrastructure program but has failed to deliver it; the Green New Deal can be that program, except now aimed at meeting both economic and urgent environmental goals. This shouldn’t be a Christmas tree hung with every progressive ornament, but it has to be socially inclusive, deliver increased earnings (for example, through a higher minimum wage), and attend to the legitimate worries of workers and communities, especially those threatened at least initially by the coming energy transition. Borrowing is a proper way to finance public investments that bring a future return, and that is principally what Democrats should rely on, without being intimidated by deficit scolds as they were in recent Democratic administrations."
The points about providing voters with "immediate and tangible benefits" and not being afraid of borrowing for public investment are important ones. His other recommended big idea is family security. Besides a child allowance and an expanded child tax credit,
"Proposals for paid family leave and universal child care would also fit into what could be conceived of as a broader Family Security Act, aimed at helping young families get a start and providing a secure foundation for their—that is, for America’s—children. Democrats ought to finance these programs not only by repealing most of the unpopular 2017 Republican tax legislation but also through higher taxes on the superrich, as in Elizabeth Warren’s proposed tax on households with net assets of more than $50 million."
All good by me. Starr also stresses the need to stay away from unpopular or problematic ideas that will make it harder to get elected or get things done once your are. Music to my ears. He mentions specifically:
* reparations for descendants of slaves.
* single payer health care that eliminates private insurance
On the latter idea, Starr touts instead extending Medicare to those 50-65. I guess I would be tempted to go a bit farther and advocate the Medicare for Anyone idea (see previous post), which would make Medicare broadly available but allow people to keep their private health insurance if they wish. Perhaps that's a third big idea.
This third idea could be particularly important given that Trump appears determined to continue his advocacy for repealing Obamacare (see his latest budget). This is a tremendous opening for Democrats, given the role of health care in the 2018 election and the contrast this will allow the Democratic candidate to draw with Trump. Ron Brownstein in a recent Atlantic article cites some particularly illuminating data from 2018 that should clarify the stakes for Democrats on the health care issue:
"Health care, most strategists agree, was especially important in helping Democrats claw back some support from the working-class white voters who stampeded to Trump in 2016. In previously unpublished results provided to me by Edison, non-college-educated white women, usually a solidly Republican-leaning group, split nearly evenly when asked which party would do a better job at protecting patients with preexisting conditions. Fully 90 percent of the blue-collar white women who picked Democrats on that question also voted Democratic for the House. Blue-collar men still leaned more toward the GOP, but even 40 percent of them said that Democrats would better protect people with preexisting conditions, and almost four-fifths who felt that way voted Democratic for the House.
Most of the key dynamics about the 2020 general election, of course, remain unknown this far from the vote. But after Trump’s budget, two things appear more certain. One is that repeal of the ACA will be on the ballot. The other is that Democrats are much more eager to take on that fight than they were in 2012 or even in 2016, when Mitt Romney and Trump each ran on the law’s repeal."
So Democrats need to take up that fight but take it up wisely. That's the trick.
About this website
The Democrats can and must think big, but they have to frame their ideas around the realities of a coalition party that includes suburban moderates.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Do Democrats Actually Have an Immigration Policy? Do They Need One?

The answers to these questions are, respectively, no and yes. No one should kid themselves that opposition to the way Trump handles the issue and to the various racist and nativist things he says constitutes a coherent policy. It does not. Immigration is a complicated policy issue and an even more complicated political issue. Democrats must eventually define their position in this area or suffer consequences.
Of course, it is fair to point out that Americans are broadly sympathetic to immigrants, think they should be treated humanely and see them as generally strengthening the country--but that does not mean these same Americans do not favor defined limits on immigration levels, tighter border security and curtailing illegal immigration. Put simply, Americans do not favor open borders and believe (correctly) that this would not make sense as a national policy.
David Leonhardt makes some of these same points in an excellent piece in his New York Times newsletter. He notes that Democrats were not always so afraid to define their position on immigration and should not avoid doing so today simply because Trump is so terrible. He puts it this way:
"I understand why the Democratic Party has moved to the left on immigration policy over the past few years. It is, in significant part, an honorable reaction to Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant racism and a desire to stand up for immigrants during his presidency. The Trump administration has separated immigrant children from their parents, and Democrats are trying to protect those families.
What’s less clear to me is exactly what the Democratic Party’s new position on immigration is.
Among the questions that I’d like Democrats to answer:
* What kind of border security do you believe in? Do you favor the policies Obama put in place to reduce illegal immigration — or a different approach?
* Do you believe that immigrants who enter this country illegally should be allowed to stay? If not, which categories of undocumented immigrants should be at risk of deportation? (In a 2016 debate, Clinton and Sanders didn’t offer clear answers when Univision’s Jorge Ramos asked similar questions.)
* What do you believe should happen to future levels of legal immigration? And what should happen to the mix of different categories of immigration? Should family connections play as large a role as they now do? Should workplace skills continue to play a small role?
* Do you believe, as Sanders suggested in 2015, that more immigration can reduce wages, especially for lower-income workers and recent immigrants themselves?"
These are all good questions and they deserve answers! Trump has an immigration policy; Democrats must have one too--and it can't simply be opposition to whatever Trump does/says. Voters will eventually infer from this that you simply want the opposite of what Trump wants--i.e,, Trump wants to close the borders, so Democrats must want to open them. That's not good policy and it sure isn't good politics.
About this website
Not so long ago, the party had a clear platform. It no longer does.