Tag Archives: 2020 election

Politics As Identity

When the pandemic really started to hit home, Trump’s poll numbers improved–causing several commenters to this blog and friends on Facebook to express both mystification and fear.

I tend to agree with Paul Ogden’s March 28th response, analyzing this “panic bump.”  Agreement has also come from Nate Silver and from Rachel Bitecofer, writing at the Niskanen Center.  They have also  noted that Trump’s “bump” is considerably smaller than those that followed previous shocks to the political system, and that all previous examples had dissipated in fairly short order.

I worry far more about a different asset Trump enjoys–one that differs from previous situations and reflects a troubling phenomenon in American politics. As Rachel Bitecofer wrote, that “formidable asset” is today’s political polarization and hyper-partisanship, which provide Trump with a reliable (arguably unmovable) base of support, and–at least so far– has prevented a truly substantial erosion in approval ratings.

Now, the parties are largely ideologically homogenous and partisanship has evolved to become a social identity, an individual’s “ride or die,” which makes the prospect of red states breaking in favor of Biden seem unlikely, especially given the salience of white racial identity in contemporary Republican politics. In an America in which partisans are willing to inflict bodily harm on each other over politics, it seems unlikely that a mere recession, even an intense one, could move them off of their preferred presidential candidate in the ways it did prior to the polarized era, when the economic-fundamentals models, like the dinosaurs once did, ruled the Earth.

A similar analysis has made by Heather Cox Richardson, a professor of history at Boston College, in an essay comparing Trump’s “rhetorical strategy” to that described  by Eric Hoffer in 1951, in his classic book, “The True Believer.”  Hoffer argued that demagogues need “a disaffected population” composed of  people who feel they’ve lost power and status that they previously held– “that they had been displaced either religiously, economically, culturally, or politically.”

The disaffected will follow even obviously unfit leaders who promise them a return to their former privileged status.

But to cement their loyalty, the leader had to give them someone to hate. Who that was didn’t really matter: the group simply had to be blamed for all the troubles the leader’s supporters were suffering.

What is particularly chilling is the degree of devotion this strategy inspires. In an article for Salon, Chauncey DeVega interviewed a psychiatrist about Trump and his base.

Q: As in other cults, the members are in love with the leader. Trump’s followers are very damaged people. As such, whatever Trump commands them to do they will do, even if it means getting sick and dying from the coronavirus.

A: That is correct. Such a level of mass fanaticism is very disturbing, and is something that we have not seen in the United States on such a large scale. We have seen it with Jim Jones and other cults. People follow the cult leader to their doom. Of course, there was a similar type of fanaticism in Germany with Adolf Hitler. Trump’s followers really need a strong leader to make them feel safe. It could be a strong father figure, a god, anyone who is powerful enough to make them feel loved and safe.

Trump’s followers, like other cult members, also want someone who will accept their aggression and destructiveness as being good and normal. These people are devoted to Trump. That devotion is more important than anything else.

These descriptions are certainly consistent with what I have observed over the past three years. Trump’s supporters are disproportionately people who simply couldn’t abide having an African-American President, and who are terrified of being “displaced” by uppity women and detested minorities.

They will not desert him.

That means that the only way to defeat Trump and his Republican sycophants in November is to get out the vote. We cannot waste time trying to peel off damaged people from what has been accurately described as a cult. We must fight every effort at vote suppression and electoral rigging, and work like we’ve never worked before to get the majority of Americans– people who haven’t made fear and/or hatred part of their identities– to the polls.

 

An Open Letter to Tom Steyer And Mike Bloomberg

Okay–here’s the thing.

Neither one of you is going to be the Democratic nominee. And I certainly hope neither of you plans to splinter the vote and help Trump by running a third-party candidacy.

Steyer, you are just a (much) smarter, saner version of Trump. Your ads make it clear that you are unacquainted with the complexities of governing; you seem to think that because you were able to make a lot of money (which, to be fair, in your case you actually earned), you have what it takes to run the country.

Would you take your toothache to a dentist who was really smart and who’d made a lot of money but had never gone to dental school or filled a cavity? Of course not.

Bloomberg, you would actually be a more plausible Chief Executive than Tom Steyer–anyone who has been mayor of New York City for three terms understands federalism, Separation of Powers and the function–and limitations– of the Executive branch. But you are smart enough to know that the considerable baggage that experience generated means you have little chance of winning the nomination and initiating what would be billed as a fight between billionaires (a fight that would turn off the party’s Left, whose presence at the polls will be critical) despite the unholy amounts of money you are currently spending on advertisements.

Both of you need to put your massive egos aside and your billions to better use. Permit me to suggest some of those uses:

Buy Fox “News” and turn it into an actual news organization. If Newscorp refuses to sell–or even if you do get that done–go after Sinclair Broadcasting and/or other high-traffic propaganda outlets. (They can still tilt conservative, as that term used to be understood. Just not Trumpian.) (Longterm, you might consider funding that “Seal of Approval” media organization I’ve blogged about…)

If you MUST blanket the airwaves and Internet with political advertising, find the most creative people you can and go after McConnell and Trump and vulnerable Republican Senators. Hard.

Do you know what I would do if I were as rich as the two of you?

I’d hire the best private investigators I could find, and charge them with digging up the tax returns and other financial records Trump is so desperate to keep hidden, and with identifying his and “Moscow Mitch” McConnell’s connections to Russia. I’d instruct them to follow the tantalizing leads suggested in the Mueller report that were left unexamined. I’d send them looking for the high school grades and college transcript Trump doesn’t want anyone to see–not to mention the seamy details of his long friendship with Jeffrey Epstein. (I’d also ask them to find out what the hell it is that Trump has on Lindsay Graham.)

The two of you have the financial wherewithal to save the country. Don’t waste it on ego trips.

 

It’s The Structure, Stupid!

Folks in my age group will remember the banner that was famously hung in Bill Clinton’s campaign headquarters: “It’s the Economy, Stupid!”  I wish I could hire a sky-writer to outline a different message every day until it sinks in: “it’s the structure, stupid!”

What do I mean by that?

Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows that I am desperate for voters to rid us of the proudly ignorant, deeply corrupt lunatic currently in power. His moral and intellectual defects certainly matter. But he and his Keystone Kop administration are only there because of systemic dysfunctions–which is why the various pissing matches on the Left over candidate purity are so beside the point.

Until we fix the system, God herself can’t get Medicare-for-All or free college or a UBI or even immigration reform passed. (I personally give props to candidates like Mayor Pete who clearly recognize the need to focus on how to get from point A to point B, rather than simply identifying point B as a desired destination.)

Yes, we need to get rid of the morons and crooks running the White House and the Senate. We also– desperately– need to elect people who understand the need for systemic change and who will make that change their number one priority.

Connecticut’s Democratic Senator, Chris Murphy, made this point in a recent interview with The New Yorker. The interview, not surprisingly, revolved around Impeachment and the Democratic primary, but when Murphy was asked whether he agreed with Joe Biden’s expressed belief that bipartisanship would ultimately return–that Republicans and Democrats would once again be able to work together–his response was absolutely dead-on.

I think we can’t be dependent on the culture of this town changing based on personality changes. There are incentive structures that reward dysfunction. You have got to change those systems. You have to change the way that congressional districts are drawn. You have to publicly finance elections and get rid of dark money. You have to stop the habit of Democrats and Republicans meeting every single day, separate from each other, so that we can never talk across the aisle about big problems. There are rules that incentivize partisan bickering. Barack Obama ran on a promise to be able to change political realities in Washington through sheer force of personality, and it didn’t work. I just think we have to be focussed on changing the rules.

The rules Murphy is referencing have created the toxic culture we inhabit, and that culture won’t improve until those rules change.

It’s simple enough to prescribe what’s needed: massive turnout to eject the repulsive remains of what was once a respectable political party, replacing them with people who: 1) are committed to the restoration of democracy and the rule of. law; and 2) who understand the structural reforms that will be required in order to achieve that restoration.

“Vote Blue no matter who” is an essential first step, but it is only a first step. Then the hard work begins. We have to eliminate gerrymandering, the filibuster, and the disproportionate influence of money in our political system. We have fight vote suppression and pass the National Popular Vote Compact. We have to repair the enormous damage this administration has done to our federal government and our stature in the world. We have to move aggressively to combat climate change and protect the environment. We have to restore civic education and teach news literacy.

In other words, ridding ourselves of Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump is essential but not nearly sufficient.

We will have our work cut out for us–and we can’t do what absolutely needs to be done unless and until we change the systems that got us here.

 

Predicting 2020

As the punditry–memorably described by Molly Ivins as “the chattering class”–continues to forecast the 2020 election, I want to engage in a bit of confirmation bias. A recent Salon article reports on the predictions of a scholar who “nailed” the 2018 results, but–more importantly, from my perspective–offers observations that confirm my own.

The author, Paul Rosenberg, introduces the scholar thusly:

In July 2018 the most widely-respected analysts were decidedly uncertain whether the Democrats could retake the House—they were favored, but not by much. On July 6, Cook Political Report, for example, listed 180 seats as “solid,” and 21 “likely/leaning” Democratic, plus 24 “toss-ups” — meaning Democrats would have to win toss-ups by more than 2-1 (17 to 7) to take the House. In mid-August, 538’s first forecasthad “only 215 seats rated as favoring Democrats — ‘lean Democrat’ or stronger — which is fewer than the 218 they need to take the House.” And on August 30, 2018, Sabato’s Crystal Ball published a model prediction, based on 3000 simulations, with an average Democratic margin of 7 seats. Editors noted this was close to their own assessment: “Democrats as modest favorites but with Republicans capable of holding on to the majority.”

But on July 1, 2018 — preceding all this cautious uncertainty — newcomer Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policyat Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, released her prediction of a 42-seat “blue wave,” while also citing the Arizona and Texas U.S. Senate races as “toss-ups.” Her startling prediction was numerically close to perfect; Democrats will end up with a gain of 40 or 41 seats, depending how the re-run in North Carolina’s 9th district turns out. (Democrat Kyrsten Sinema won the Arizona Senate race, in a major historical shift, and Beto O’Rourke came close in Texas.) Furthermore, she even strutted a little, writing on Nov. 2 that she hadn’t adjusted her seat count, but that “the last few months have been about filling in the blanks on which specific seats will flip.” Her resulting list of those was also close to perfect.

 Bitecofer’s predictions for 2020 require dismissing widespread–but erroneous–beliefs, especially the belief that a number of Democrats won in 2018 because they made inroads with previously Republican voters. Not only does the data rebut that interpretation, but Bitecofer warns that the mistaken belief that Democrats won in 2018 by winning back “Trump voters” fuels what she calls an “illusory search for an ill-defined middle ground” that could actually demobilize the Democratic voters who did drive the 2018 blue wave.

Today’s polarized hyper-partisan environment is the product of long-term historical processes that can’t simply be wished away, Bitecofer argues. Her case is similar to the one described in detail by Alan Abramowitz in his 2018 book, “The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump,” as both scholars confirm….

The good news is that so long as Trump is in office, negative partisanship gives Democrats an edge, as electoral realignment continues. Rather than fearing Trump’s ability to repeat his 2016 upset, on July 1 of this year Bitecofer released her 2020 projection, which shows Democrats winning 278 electoral votes versus 197 for Trump, with several swing states too close to call. Bitecofer also isn’t worried about the Democrats losing their House majority. On Aug. 6, Bitecofer released a preliminary list of 18 House seats the Democrats could flip in 2020, nine of them in Texas. The most significant threats that concern Democrats are actually golden opportunities, according to her model.

The 2018 election generated a giant turnout of voters who favored Democrats. It wasn’t a pool of voters who changed their minds and voted Democrat after voting Republican.  Thanks to negative partisanship, Republican turnout also surged, which probably saved a couple of Senate seats, but Democratic turnout overwhelmed it.

The entire article, explaining Bitecofer’s analysis is fascinating and worth reading in its entirety. But the take-away is simple: turnout is the name of the game.

We aren’t going to convert “reasonable” Trump supporters–there aren’t any. We have to outnumber them.

 

 

Turnout, Vote-By-Mail And Gerrymandering

The Supreme Court, in an indefensible 5/4 ruling, has declined to stop political parties from engaging in extreme gerrymandering. (Thankfully, allowing the Trump Administration to add a citizenship question to the census was evidently a bridge too far….)

Readers of this blog have read my previous analyses of partisan redistricting, and I won’t repeat them here. I will simply link to the opinion, including Justice Elena Kagan’s dissent, with which I entirely agree.

That said, here we are. The Court has narrowly declined to enforce “one person, one vote,” and the remedy for that shameful refusal must come from voters. That means that the 2020 election becomes even more important than it already was–impossible as that may seem.

As I have noted before, in order to overcome a gerrymander, the “minority party” in a district that has been drawn to be safe for the majority party needs massive turnout. That’s hard, but it can be done. In the 2018 midterms, Democrats in numerous districts turned out in sufficient numbers  to overcome the considerable advantages built in by the GOP.

Although it may be the most effective, gerrymandering is only one of the voter suppression tactics employed by Republicans who recognize that they are increasingly a minority party. If the Court will not provide a tool for challenging partisan redistricting, Democrats–together with independents and any remaining rational Republicans–must engage in grass roots efforts that encourage, rather than suppress, turnout.

One of the most effective of those efforts is conducting the vote by mail, as this recent article documents.

“The ballot belongs to the voter, not the government,” said Phil Keisling, the former secretary of state of Oregon. “As long as it can be done with safety and integrity, it’s the obligation of the government to get it to me. It’s not my responsibility to qualify for it and get it.”

Many states are taking that goal seriously, and to meet it, they are taking steps to abolish the traditional polling booth….

In Washington, Oregon and Colorado — and any minute now, Hawaii, where the governor is about to sign a new law — there are no longer traditional polling places. (California is also rolling this out county by county; by the 2020 election, half of voters will get a ballot at home.) The states mail ballots in bar-coded envelopes to every registered voter several weeks before the election. It’s automatic; the voter doesn’t need to request it.

Those states are blue or purple, but home voting is also growing in red states. Voters in 28 of Utah’s 29 counties automatically get ballots at home. Nebraska and North Dakota also use it, to varying degrees. And nearly half of states allow certain elections to be conducted entirely by home voting. It allows voters to mark their ballots at their leisure and either mail it back or drop it in a ballot drop box. (Most use a drop box, which is why it’s not entirely accurate to call it vote-by-mail.) Some states allow voters to track the progress of their ballots electronically.

Not surprisingly, home-voting states have high turnout, and there is some evidence that when political subdivisions shift to voting by mail, turnout increases.

Between the midterm elections in 2014 and 2018, Utah rolled out home voting and had the greatest rise in turnout of any state. The five California counties that switched to home voting in 2018 increased their turnout more than the rest of the state.

Obviously, there is not time between now and November of 2020 to institute vote-by-mail or the myriad other changes that would increase turnout by making voting more convenient–making Election Day a holiday, instituting same-day registration, etc. The challenge for those of us who are appalled by the mounting efforts to deny citizens a genuine voice in governance (efforts that have included packing the courts with rightwing ideologues) is obvious: we must devote massive time and effort to getting out the vote in 2020.

We need a citizen tsunami sufficient to overcome the blatantly rigged districts the Supreme Court has declined to rule unconstitutional.

Huge turnout would likely allow Democrats to eject not just the corrupt and unfit Trump Administration, but also wrest control of the Senate from McConnell, and clean out the GOP’s state and local enablers. Americans can then focus grassroots efforts on electing politicians who will commit to drawing fair districts.

If that tsunami is big enough, it might even allow old-fashioned Republicans appalled and dispirited by what the GOP has become to retake their party.

If that doesn’t happen…history will record Mitch McConnell’s capture of the Supreme Court  and the GOP’s unhindered voter suppression as a successful coup d’etat.