domingo, 11 de noviembre de 2018

Pelosi, McCarthy are the frontrunners in House leadership elections

Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Zach Gibson

House Republicans and Democrats will soon elect their leaders to take them through the 2020 elections. Here’s a read of the field, from well-placed Republican and Democratic sources.

What's happening: Republicans go first, holding their leadership elections on Wednesday.
Kevin McCarthy is expected to be the minority leader. His only challenge comes from the Freedom Caucus' Jim Jordan, and nobody seriously expects Jordan to trouble him. This will be McCarthy's first time in charge of the Republican conference. But he has experience helping Republicans win back power. As chief deputy whip, McCarthy played a key role in recruiting the class of Republican candidates that flipped the House in 2010.
Steve Scalise, who is popular within the conference, will be the minority whip. There was plenty of speculation that he would challenge McCarthy for the top job, but he's chosen not to.
Liz Cheney of Wyoming is expected to be the House Republican Conference chair.
Insiders consider Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota the leading contender to run the House Republicans' campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee.

House Democrats plan to hold their leadership elections on Nov. 28.
Nancy Pelosi is the overwhelming favorite for speaker and doesn’t currently face a serious challenger. Many Democrats consider her the best person to keep the caucus disciplined enough to balance investigations of the Trump administration with an ambitious agenda. And some of the most powerful progressive groups and leaders — including EMILY's list, Planned Parenthood and AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka — have endorsed her.
Steny Hoyer of Maryland is expected to continue as majority leader.
Jim Clyburn of South Carolina is expected to be the house majority whip. Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette is challenging him, running on the idea that Democrats need to "repay" the trust of female voters by electing more women to leadership. The Congressional Black Caucus backs Clyburn, and DeGette’s bid seems ill-fated.
Cheri Bustos of Illinois is a favorite to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. She'd be the only member of Democratic leadership from a Trump district, and she has made that understanding of red America a key part of her pitch for the job. Reps. Denny Heck, Suzan DelBene and Sean Patrick Maloney are also vying for the job. All four are members of the moderate New Democrat Coalition.

Younger voters are better than older voters at telling factual news statements from opinions

Rubén Weinsteiner

While some say wisdom comes with age, younger Americans are better than their elders at separating factual from opinion statements in the news, according to a new analysis from Pew Research Center.

In a survey conducted Feb. 22 to March 4, 2018, the Center asked U.S. adults to categorize five factual statements and five opinion statements. As a previous report revealed, about a quarter of Americans overall could accurately classify all five factual statements (26%) and about a third could classify all five opinion statements (35%).

But age matters, according to this new analysis, as younger adults were more likely than older Americans to correctly categorize all five of the factual statements, and also more likely to do so for the five opinion statements.

About a third of 18- to 49-year-olds (32%) correctly identified all five of the factual statements as factual, compared with two-in-ten among those ages 50 and older. A similar pattern emerges for the opinion statements. Among 18- to 49-year-olds, 44% correctly identified all five opinion statements as opinions, compared with 26% among those ages 50 and older.

When looking at the 10 statements individually, younger adults were not only better overall at correctly identifying factual and opinion news statements – they could do so regardless of the ideological appeal of the statements. (In selecting statements, the study strived to include an equal number that would appeal to the sensitivities of each side of the aisle; to learn how the Center determined the ideological appeal of the statements, see the methodology.)

For example, 63% of 18- to 49-year-olds correctly identified the following factual statement, one which was deemed to appeal more to the right: “Spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid make up the largest portion of the U.S. federal budget.” About half of those ages 50 and older (51%) correctly classified the same statement. Additionally, 18- to 49-year-olds were 12 percentage points more likely than those at least 50 years of age (60% vs. 48%, respectively) to correctly categorize the following factual statement, which was deemed to be more appealing to the ideological left: “Immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally have some rights under the Constitution.”

Among the opinion statements, roughly three-quarters of 18- to 49-year-olds (77%) correctly identified the following opinion statement, one that appeals more to the ideological right – “Government is almost always wasteful and inefficient” – compared with about two-thirds of older Americans (65%). And younger Americans were slightly more likely than older adults (82% vs. 78%, respectively) to correctly categorize this opinion statement, one appealing more to the left: “Abortion should be legal in most cases.”

This stronger ability to classify statements regardless of their ideological appeal may well be tied to the fact that younger adults – especially Millennials – are less likely to strongly identify with either political party. Younger Americans also are more “digitally savvy” than their elders, a characteristic that is also tied to greater success at classifying news statements. But even when accounting for levels of digital savviness and party affiliation, the differences by age persist: Younger adults are still better than their elders at deciphering factual from opinion news statements.

Beyond digital savviness, the original study found that two other factors have a strong relationship with being able to correctly classify factual and opinion statements: having higher political awareness and more trust in the information from the national news media. Despite the fact that younger adults tend to be less politically aware and trusting of the news media than their elders, they still performed better at this task.

When age is further broken down into four groups, the two youngest age groups – 18- to 29-year-olds and 30- to 49-year-olds – are almost matched in their ability to correctly categorize all five factual and all five opinion statements, and both outpaced those in the two older age groups – 50- to 64-year-olds and those ages 65 and older.

Rubén Weinsteiner

viernes, 9 de noviembre de 2018

The 2018 midterm vote: Divisions by race, gender, education

Voters at Franklin Elementary School in Kent, Ohio, on Nov. 6. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

The stark demographic and educational divisions that have come to define American politics were clearly evident in voting preferences in the 2018 congressional elections.

There were wide differences in voting preferences between men and women, whites and nonwhites, as well as people with more and less educational attainment.

Nationally, voters favored Democratic candidates for Congress over Republican candidates by a margin of about 7 percentage points, according to a preliminary estimate by The New York Times. (With votes still being tabulated in some states, this margin may change.) Democrats won a majority in the House of Representatives for the first time since 2010, while Republicans appear to have added to their majority in the Senate.

The gender gap in voting preference is not new, but it is at least as wide as at any point over the past two decades, according to exit polls by the National Election Pool, as reported by CNN. Women favored the Democratic candidate in their district by 19 percentage points (59% to 40%) while men voted for the Republican 51% to 47%. (The exit polls offer the first look at the electorate; the portrait will be refined over time as additional data, such as state voter files, become available).

The exit polls show divisions across racial and educational groups, too. As was the case in the 2016 presidential election, white men voted Republican by a wide margin (60% to 39%) while white women were divided (49% favored the Democratic candidate; as many supported the Republican).

Blacks voted overwhelmingly (90%) for the Democratic candidate, including comparable shares of black men (88%) and black women (92%).

(For more on long-term trends in voters’ party identification, see “Wide Gender Gap, Growing Educational Divide in Voters’ Identification.” For a detailed study of demographic divisions in the 2016 electorate based on voter records, see “For Most Trump Voters ‘Very Warm’ Feelings for Him Endured.”)

When gender, race and education are considered together, women college graduates stand out for their strong preference for the Democratic candidate (59% favored the Democrat while just 39% voted Republican). Whites with less education – particularly men – supported the Republican. White men who do not have a college degree voted Republican by about two-to-one (66% to 32%).

The age divide in voting, which barely existed in the early 2000s, also is large. Majorities of voters ages 18 to 29 (67%) and 30 to 44 (58%) favored the Democratic candidate. Voters ages 45 and older were divided (50% Republican, 49% Democrat).

Among voters who said this was the first midterm in which they voted, 62% favored the Democrat and just 36% supported the Republican.

As is typically the case with midterm elections, views of the president were a major factor in the outcome. In September, Pew Research Center found that a majority of registered voters (60%) said they viewed their vote as either a vote for or against President Donald Trump.

The national exit poll found that more voters said their midterm vote was to oppose Trump (38%) than said it was to support him (26%); 33% said Trump was not a factor in their vote. The midterm vote also was highly correlated with views of Trump’s job performance: Among those who approved of the president (45% of all voters), 88% voted for the Republican. Among the larger share who disapproved (54%), an overwhelming percentage voted Democratic (90%).

In a year in which issues around gender and racial diversity have been key issues in politics, voters were divided in their opinions about whether whites or minorities are favored in the country today and whether sexual harassment is a serious problem in the U.S.

Overall, 41% of voters said whites in the country today are favored over minorities; 19% said that minorities are favored over whites, while 33% said that no group is favored. Attitudes on this question were strongly correlated with vote choice. Among those who said whites are favored in the U.S., 87% voted for Democrats. By contrast, large majorities of those who said minorities are favored (85%) or that no group is favored (69%) voted for Republican candidates.

Views of the seriousness of the problem of sexual harassment also were closely tied to midterm preferences: 72% of those who said it is a very serious problem supported Democratic candidates. Among those who said it was a somewhat serious problem, Republican candidates held a slim edge (50% vs. 48%). And while relatively few voters said sexual harassment is not too serious a problem (11%), this group voted overwhelmingly Republican (79% vs. 20%).

Key takeaways about Latino voters in the 2018 midterm elections

Destiny Martinez, 18, voted for the first time on Oct. 24 at an early voting event for students in Norwalk, California.

Latinos make up an increasing share of the U.S. electorate. A record 29 million Latinos were eligible to vote in this year’s midterm elections, accounting for 12.8% of all eligible voters, a new high. While it’s too soon to know how many voted and their turnout rate, Latinos made up an estimated 11% of all voters nationwide on Election Day, nearly matching their share of the U.S. eligible voter population (U.S. citizens ages 18 and older). Here are key takeaways about Latino voters and the 2018 elections.

1In U.S. congressional races nationwide, an estimated 69% of Latinos voted for the Democratic candidate and 29% backed the Republican candidate, a more than two-to-one advantage for Democrats, according to National Election Pool exit poll data. These results largely reflect the party affiliation of Latinos. In a Pew Research Center pre-election survey, 62% of Latinos said they identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party compared with 27% who affiliated with the Republican Party. Among other racial and ethnic groups, a lower share of whites (44%) voted for Democrats in congressional races compared with blacks (90%) and Asians (77%). (Exit polls offer the first look at who voted in an election, a portrait that will be refined over time as more data, such as state voter files, become available.)

2About a quarter of Hispanics who cast a ballot in 2018 (27%) said they were voting for the first time, compared with 18% of black voters and 12% of white voters, according to the exit polls. Meanwhile, many new voters this year were young. A majority of voters younger than 30 said they were voting for the first time.

3Hispanics had a gender gap in voting preference, with 73% of Hispanic women and 63% of Hispanic men backing the Democratic congressional candidates – a reflection of the election’s broad gender differences. In a pre-election Pew Research Center survey of Hispanics, differences by gender extended to views of the country. For example, Hispanic women were significantly more dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country today than Hispanic men.

A gender gap also existed among white voters, with 49% of white women backing the Democratic congressional candidate compared with 39% of white men. By contrast, few gender differences existed among black voters, with about nine-in-ten black voters of both genders backing Democratic candidates.

4Latinos made up a notable share of eligible voters in several states with competitive races for U.S. Senate and governor, including Texas (30%), Arizona (23%), Florida (20%) and Nevada (19%). In these states, Democrats won the Latino vote, sometimes by a wide margin. In the Texas Senate race, 64% of Latinos voted for Democrat Beto O’Rourke while 35% voted for Republican incumbent Ted Cruz. In the state’s race for governor, about half of Hispanics (53%) voted for Democrat Lupe Valdez and 42% backed the Republican, Greg Abbott.

In Florida, Republican candidates often win a larger share of the Hispanic vote than elsewhere, in part due to a large population of Cubans that has tended to vote more Republican than other Hispanic groups. In the Senate race, 54% of Hispanics voted for Democrat Bill Nelson and 45% backed Republican Rick Scott. Latinos voted similarly in the race for governor, with 54% of Hispanics voting for Democrat Andrew Gillum and 44% voting for Republican Ron DeSantis.

Meanwhile, Latinos voted for Democratic candidates by wide margins in Nevada. About 67% of Latinos voted for Democrat Jacky Rosen in the Senate race, compared with 30% who voted for Republican Dean Heller. In the race for governor, Latinos voted in a similar manner.

5In Florida, a record 2.2 million Hispanics registered to vote this year, an 8.4% increase over 2016. This is nearly double the increase from the previous midterm election in 2014, when Hispanic voter registration increased 4.6% over 2012.

Counties with some of the largest Puerto Rican populations had some of the fastest growth in registered voters, including Polk, Pasco, Osceola, Lake, Marion and Volusia – all counties where Hispanic voter registration grew by 15% or more over 2016.

6Nine U.S. House districts in which Hispanics make up at least 10% of eligible voters changed parties. These include Florida’s 26th and 27th districts, California’s 25th District, Arizona’s 2nd District, Texas’ 7th and 32nd districts, Colorado’s 6th District, New York’s 11th District and New Jersey’s 2nd District. In all of these congressional districts, the Democratic candidate won a seat previously held by a Republican.

The number of representatives of Cuban origin representing South Florida districts fell from three to one. (South Florida holds more than half of the nation’s Cuban-origin population.) In Florida’s 26th District, Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, an immigrant from Ecuador, defeated incumbent Republican Carlos Curbelo, who is of Cuban origin. In addition, a Cuban no longer represents Florida’s 27th District, where longtime Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen did not seek re-election. Democrat Donna Shalala defeated Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, who is of Cuban origin. Meanwhile, Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, who is of Cuban origin, won re-election in Florida’s 25th District.

The Populist Morass

Why liberal policy savants deplore rule by the people

© Lindsay Ballant

THE LIBERAL INTELLIGENTSIA HAS MET THE ENEMY, and it is you. As the shockwaves of Donald Trump’s presidency continue to shudder through our institutions of elite consensus, a myopic, profoundly self-serving narrative is taking shape across the politically minded academy: the rude, irrational, dangerously xenophobic and racist rites of popular sovereignty have swamped the orderly operations of constitutional government. What’s more, this upsurge in mass political entitlement isn’t confined to America’s notoriously demotic, chaotic political culture. No, the democratic world at large is succumbing to the darker siren songs of human nature, elevating authoritarian strongman leaders, dusting off ugly and divisive nationalist slogans, and hastily erecting trade barriers in the desperate, misguided hope of restoring some mythic, nostalgia-steeped, ethno-nationalist gemeinschaft

The name for these distressing, backward-reeling political trends, our liberal solons agree, is populism. The hallmarks of populist movements, we’re instructed, involve the rampant scapegoating of racial, religious or ethnic minorities, and the fierce rejection of mediating institutions seen to obstruct the popular will—or, in a pinch, the will of this or that Great Leader. The resulting, chilling political dispensation works out to an elegant sort of strongman syllogism, in the view of Harvard government professor Yascha Mounk:

First, populists claim, an honest leader—one who shares the pure outlook of the people and is willing to fight on their behalf—needs to win high office. And second, once this honest leader is in charge, he needs to abolish the institutional roadblocks that might stop him from carrying out the will of the people.

And once these populist goons ascend to power, all bets are off when it comes to preserving the cherished canons of liberal democracy. They cavalierly pack courts, suppress independent media, and defy the separation of powers—all in the name of you, the people. The populists now storming the world historical stage “are deeply illiberal,” Mounk writes. “Unlike traditional politicians, they openly say that neither independent institutions nor individual rights should dampen the people’s voice.”

To be sure, the present world order doesn’t lack for strongmen, hustlers, and bigoted scoundrels of all stripes, from Donald Trump and Viktor Orban to Recep Erdogan and Nigel Farage. But it’s far from clear that anything is gained analytically from grouping this shambolic array of authoritarian souls under the rubric of populism. Indeed, by lazily counterposing a crude and schematic account of populist rebellion to a sober and serenely procedural image of liberal democratic governance, Mounk and his fellow academic scourges of new millennial populism do grievous, ahistorical injury to populist politics and liberal governing traditions alike. Let’s survey the damage in order, starting with an abbreviated look at the history of modern populism, chiefly as it took shape here, where it’s been most influential, in the United States.

Enmity for the People

Ever since the dismal heyday of Joseph McCarthy, liberal intellectuals have adopted populism as an all-purpose synonym for cynical, bottom-feeding demagoguery, particularly when it takes on a racist or nativist guise. McCarthy himself was undoubtedly a populist in this version of historical inquiry, as were his many spittle-flecked progeny in the postwar world, such as George Wallace, Pat Buchanan, and Ross Perot. For that matter, the preceding generation of opportunist panderers outside the political mainstream were populists as well: the FDR-baiting radio preacher Charles Coughlin and the quasi-socialist Bayou kingmaker Huey Long; the definitely socialist Upton Sinclair and a motley array of Southern Dixiecrats and Klan sympathizers—populists all, and dangerous augurs of how minority rights, civic respect, and other core liberal-democratic values can be deformed in the hands of charismatic, divisive sloganeers.

The only trouble with this brand of populist-baiting is that it’s ideologically and historically incoherent. Inconveniently for the prim, hectoring postwar sermons of populist scourges like Richard Hofstadter and J.L. Talmon, populism originated not as a readymade platform for strongman demagogues, but as an economic insurgency of dispossessed farmers and working people. America’s first (upper-case P) Populist dissenters didn’t set out to traduce and jettison democratic norms and traditions; they sought, rather, to adapt and expand them, in order to meet the unprecedented rise of a new industrial labor regime and the consolidation of monopoly capitalism in the producers’ republic they described as the “cooperative commonwealth.”

Far from rallying to this or that fire-breathing strongman orator, the Populists of the late nineteenth century summoned their political insurgency out of a vast network of purchasing-and-marketing cooperatives, known as the National Farmers’ Alliance and Industrial Union—a movement that would come to employ more than forty-thousand lecturers nationwide and organize at the precinct level in forty-three states. Because the Farmers’ Alliance sought to promote both the economic independence and civic education of its members, it began life as an urgent campaign of political pedagogy. The pages of its widely circulated newspaper, the National Economist, outlined the history of democratic government in the West, harking back to Aristotle and Polybius. Alliance lecturers also found themselves advancing not merely political literacy, but literacy itself, since the gruesome exploitation of Southern tenantry usually involved getting farmers to sign usurious contracts they were unable to read.

In time, Populist organizers came to realize that simple economic cooperation would never, by itself, countermand the kind of economic power accruing to Gilded Age capitalists. So they began to organize a political arm, aimed at providing the sort of infrastructure that economic democracy requires. In addition to advocating the kind of procedural reforms to be taken up by a later generation of Progressive era reformers—such as direct election of senators, legislating by popular initiative, and public ownership of utilities—Alliance organizers proposed an alternate currency and banking system, known as the Subtreasury Plan. The idea behind the Subtreasury was to re-engineer America’s currency—and thereby the American economy at large—to reward the interests of laborers over those of capital. Economic reward would be directly weighted to crops harvested, metals mined, and goods manufactured, as opposed to wealth amassed and/or inherited.

Populists, in other words, took the country’s founding promise of democratic self-rule seriously as an economic proposition—and understood, as few mass political movements have done before or since, how inextricable the securing of a sustainable and independent livelihood is to the basic functioning of democratic governance. True to the incorrigibly procedural form of liberal political appropriation, however, the Subtreasury Plan would survive as a rough blueprint for the introduction of the Federal Reserve in 1914—with the significant caveat that the Fed would serve as a subtreasury network to fortify the nation’s currency for bankers, manufacturing moguls, and stock plungers, not ordinary farmers and workers.

Class and the Color Line

As a movement taking root among tenant farmers in the South and West, the Farmers’ Alliance also began to defy a foundational taboo of the white postbellum political order. Alliance lecturers recruited black tenant farmers into the movement’s rank and file, and began advancing a sustained attack on the mythology of white supremacy gleefully exploited by the region’s planter class. This attack was halting and culture-bound, with many lapses on the part of white Populist leaders into patrician condescension and (at times) uglier private sentiments. But the movement’s halting lurch toward an integrationist strategy prior to the rise of Jim Crow segregation and voting-suppression laws throughout the South grants a bracing view on the unsettled nature of racial politics in the region at the height of Populist organizing. After the Alabama Populist party adopted a plank in its 1892 platform supporting the black franchise “so that through the means of kindness . . . a better understanding and more satisfactory condition may exist between the races,” a white farmer wrote to the Union Springs Herald: “I wish to God that Uncle Sam could put bayonets around the ballot box in the black belt on the first Monday in August so that the Negro could get a fair vote.”

It’s not clear that anything is gained analytically from grouping today’s shambolic array of authoritarians under the rubric of populism.

It was also in 1892 that the national People’s Party was founded—and soon became known as the Populist Party in the political shorthand of the day. In their landmark Omaha Platform, the insurgent leaders of the Populist movement declared “that the civil war is over, and that every passion and resentment which grew out of it must die with it, and that we must be in fact, as we are in name, one united brotherhood of free men.” Georgia Populist lawmaker Tom Watson, who would go on to be the party’s vice-presidential candidate in 1896, announced that the Populists were determined to “make lynch law odious to the people.” Addressing white and black working Americans, he pronounced an indictment of racism that had to sound ominous indeed for the white planter elite: “You are made to hate each other because on that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial despotism which enslaves you both. You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars you both.” To black audiences, he pledged that “if you stand up for your rights and for your manhood, if you stand shoulder to shoulder with us in this fight,” then Populist allies “will wipe out the color line and put every man on his citizenship irrespective of color.”

This is not to say that Populists, in launching such salvos against the battlements of racist identity in the South, were remotely successful. Indeed, Watson himself, having seen conservative Bourbon forces cynically marshal black voting support behind segregation platforms in repeated election cycles, would go on to become a hateful paranoiac bigot in the mold of other racist Southern demagogues. C. Vann Woodward chronicles this hideous transformation in his biography Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel, which stands eighty years on as one of the most heartbreaking and unflinching studies of an American political career ever published.

Watson’s career is also significant because, in the hands of Richard Hofstadter’s revisionist portrait of Populists in his 1955 book The Age of Reform, figures such as Watson—in his late-career moral dotage—are made to stand in for the entire Populist movement. By selectively quoting the outbursts of Watson and other bigoted Populist orators, Hofstadter veers right by the Alliance’s legacy of mass political education and financial reform, and depicts the Populists as nothing more than a downwardly mobile assortment of racist and xenophobic cranks. What ailed these unhinged souls, Hofstadter argued, was a condition he diagnosed as “status anxiety”—together with other demented reveries arising from their own terminally waning cultural prestige. Without Populists, the clear implication of his argument runs, you’d never have the whole backward, bigoted spectacle of the modern Southern regime of racial apartheid, hellbent on subverting any movement toward black self-rule in the name of a sainted white Protestant Populist tradition.

Here’s the thing, though: the institutionalized system of postbellum white supremacy in the South came in response to the threat of the cross-racial class alliances that Populists sought to build—not as an outgrowth of any pre-existing bigotries on the part of Populist leaders. Hofstadter and his many latter-day epigones like Yascha Mounk get the causation here precisely backwards—and in the process, misdiagnose just how and why the regime of Jim Crow took hold so deeply in the American South. It’s not that the Populists were losing status in the South after Reconstruction had been dismantled; it’s that they were gaining political power on an explicit platform of cross-racial solidarity to combat the market forces that were dispossessing poor white and black tenant farmers alike. Given how readily Northern liberals and Progressives of the era adapted to the reign of Jim Crow and endorsed its racist underpinnings, it’s curious—though, alas, not surprising—to see how populism has become the byword of choice for racist demagoguery in respectable liberal debate.

By 1896—nearly two decades after the Alliance’s emergence out of the earlier agrarian Grange movement—national Populist leaders agreed to fuse with the Democratic ticket, which nominated the free-silver boy orator from Nebraska, William Jennings Bryan, for president.

Bryan’s thunderous “Cross of Gold” nomination speech at the 1896 Democratic Convention served in the popular imagination to anoint the idea of (small-p) populism as an emotional exercise in high-voltage speechifying. But as Lawrence Goodwyn made clear in his masterful 1976 history of the movement, Democratic Promise (a work that neither Yascha Mounk nor any of today’s other name-brand populism-baiters has apparently bothered to consult), the radical, grassroots phase of Populist organizing had crested four years prior to the 1896 fusion ticket—and while Bryan was undoubtedly a breath of fresh air in the economically reactionary Democratic Party of Grover Cleveland, his free-silver crusade was but a faint shadow of Populist reform. Free Silverites had assumed national leadership of the party via the financial support of Western mining interests keen to see the United States go off the gold standard—and so what had been an ambitious bid to realign the entire orientation of the nation’s political economy became dumbed down into the sort of money-driven shadowplay all too familiar to students of major party politics: via the alchemy of campaign cash, the domesticated hobby horse of a cherished set of donors becomes tricked out into the spontaneous expression of the popular will. Free-silver was no more likely to deliver long-term prosperity to the toiling masses than today’s Republican tax-cutting boondoggles do (particularly since the price of gold declined shortly after the election in the wake of newly discovered global reserves, easing financial pressure on debt-burdened farmers and industrial workers). And yet there it was, marketed as the panacea of first resort to the many economic and political derangements of Gilded Age capitalism. The Populist insurgency was likely always doomed to fail at the national level, but to have it fail in such an inert, compromised form was a gratuitously cruel body blow to the Alliance-aligned side of the movement. In this light, it was somehow fitting that Bryan would end his long public career as a fundamentalist crank and a Florida real estate tout-for-hire at the height of the 1920s stock market boom.© Lindsay Ballant

System of a Down

All this bears revisiting in such detail because today’s anti-populist writers have shown themselves to be every bit as ignorant of Populist political economy, and its richly instructive course in American history, as Hofstadter had proven to be back in 1955. Far from addressing the real scourges of economic privilege, the populism of liberal lore is, as Hofstadter taught, first and foremost a movement of ugly and intolerant cultural reaction. Even a writer like UC Berkeley economist Barry Eichengreen, who manages to descry legitimate economic grievances in today’s political revolt against neoliberal orthodoxy, delivers up this magisterially nonsensical gloss on the immediate legacy of Bryan: “Whether William Jennings Bryan is properly viewed as a populist is disputed . . . since Bryan, while positioning himself as anti-elite, did not prominently exhibit the authoritarian and nativist tendencies of classic populism.”

To begin with the least risible part first: there was of course no such thing as “classic populism” at the time of Bryan’s elevation to the Populist-Democratic presidential ticket, since the Populists had only emerged as a national political force four years earlier. Not even FM radio franchises or cable art-house channels throw around “classic” with such militant indifference to the word’s actual meaning. But more damning, of course, is Eichengreen’s casual ascription of authoritarian and nativist sentiments as the essence of American populism—a tic everywhere on display in the contemporary liberal effort to diagnose the baneful spread of populism across the globe. The Populist movement is here indicted for helping to originate the very apartheid system of class rule that, as the historical record plainly shows, it had originally sworn to dismantle; to claim that Populist figures are by definition sowers of racial resentment is a bit like reading the modern GOP’s full-frontal assaults on voting rights back into the historical record to proclaim the Republicans as the party of the Confederacy.

The late-Populist descent into race-baiting is instead better understood as the embittered, tail-chasing phase of moral inquiry that awaits all too many disappointed reformers in our Kabukified two-party political scene. To hold these excrescences of Populist failure forth as first-order definitions of populist political leadership is more than sloppy scholarship; it’s an interested falsification of the past, directly in line with the discredited Hofstadter school of drive-by populist caricature.

And alas, Eichengreen is only getting started; the unsupportable generalizations billow on and on. Ticking off the alleged anti-democratic, “antisystem” perils of contemporary “populist” movements, he rears back and delivers this word-picture:

Because populism as a social theory defines the people as unitary and their interests as homogeneous, populists are temperamentally impatient with the deliberations of pluralist democracy, insofar as this gives voice to diverse viewpoints and seeks to balance the interests of different groups. Since the people are defined in opposition to racial, religious, and ethnic minorities, populists are intolerant of institutions that protect minority rights. To the extent that populism as a political style emphasizes forceful leadership, it comes with a natural inclination toward autocratic, even authoritarian rule.

No, no, and again no. Far from displaying a telltale impatience with the protocols of representative democracy and the delicate balancing of “diverse viewpoints,” the People’s Party of the 1890s sought to expandsuch deliberations and such political participation, at a time of virulent white racism and class privilege in every other sanctum of American political leadership. Eichengreen doesn’t say much about alleged populist hostility toward minority rights and the populist masses’ swooning predilection for authoritarian leaders, but none of his sympathetic readers will much expect him to. As is the case in all these tracts, it’s sufficient to name check a few global strongmen, a Hugo Chavez here, a Marine Le Pen or Nigel Farage there, and the specter of intolerant strongman populists on the march across the globe is effectively conjured, in much the same way that saying “Candyman” in front of the mirror three times will cause a bug-filled supernatural predator to materialize out of thin air.

This procedure is the globally minded academics’ version of one of the pet talking points favored among lazy pundits during the 2016 presidential primaries: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders both appear to champion the cause of forgotten citizens in the face of corrupt and self-dealing political establishments, ergo, they must be the same kind of troublemaking rebel!Never mind that Trump’s substantive platform departed radically from Sanders’s governing plan in nearly every particular, from health care provision to foreign policy to marginal tax rates; no, the notion of a shared populist birthright binding the Queens-bred Prince Hal figure of Trump and the Brooklyn-bred movement socialist Sanders was simply too irresistible to pundits weaned on a historical frame of reference that lasts about as long as your average cable commercial break.

Brexit Ghost

In the same way, liberal political savants are now marketing a one-size-fits-all explanation of the spreading mood of disenchantment with the Eurozone and globalizing capital more generally, the challenges of immigrant assimilation, the rise of tech monopoly and the decline of social mobility and fairly rewarded wage labor. In the brisk, mansplaining chronicles of Mounk, Eichengreen, et al., current uprisings now get reflexively written off to the irrational forces of mystic, metastasizing global populism, and all the thorny, substantive questions of policy and political persuasion that might otherwise be marshaled to address each in its turn likewise get swept under the general heading of populist reaction. Among other things, this interpretive schema is a bizarre brand of political fatalism, offering little more in the way of concrete remedy to these challenges to neoliberal governance than a prayerful hope that the misguided souls making up the base of global “populism” will return spontaneously to their appointed roles as rational, norms-abiding endorsers of the neoliberal status quo.

To get some rough idea of this procedure’s intellectual bankruptcy, consider the 2016 Brexit vote. Here was, yes, a brashly nativist campaign to roll back the Eurozone—but by all accounts the pitch that put the Leave vote over the top was Nigel Farage’s canny though deeply dishonest argument that exiting the Euro would free up vast sums of money for Britain’s national health service. In other words, the would-be “populist” merchants of invidious ethnic, racial, and cultural division were egged on to victory by an appeal to continue funding at a lavish level . . . the most successful social-democratic model of universal health care provision in the industrialized West. Yes, there was no small amount of Leave-camp agitprop targeting immigrant populations as a drain on the NHS’s resources and quality of care—but the fact remains that no one, after a decade-plus of senseless austerity cuts to the British social safety net, was down for even a right-wing culture crusade that might reduce health care expenditures. Indeed, the Yes campaign prevailed in no small part by latching on to NHS spending as a badge of British cultural identity, which might itself suggest a fertile brand of forward-looking organizing for leftists and social democrats possessed with a scintilla of imagination.

In lieu of any such analysis, Eichengreen dotes on the higher rates of unemployment and the lower rates of support for “multiculturalism and social liberalism” in the Leave camp. This is, in part, fair enough—and as an economist, Eichengreen is properly attuned to larger economic forces at play behind shifts in popular opinion. At the same time, though, there’s no clear historical basis to contend, as he does, that the downwardly mobile makeup of Leave supporters is in line with “other instances of populism,” which plainly “suggest that an incumbent group will react most violently—that its members will be most inclined to feel that their core values are threatened—when they are falling behind economically.” That is, at most, just half the picture in any “instance of populism”—or in any broad economic mandate put before a popular vote, which is, in reality, what was up for discussion in the Brexit campaign. As the NHS part of the Brexit campaign made all too plain, aggrieved Leave voters were upset about more than declining incomes, immigrant demands on social services, and the putative excesses of multiculturalism: they intensely disliked the legacies of neoliberalism, as Labour and Conservative governments alike have packaged and promoted them over the past three decades.

Second Time Farage

Indeed, there is no more potent symbol of neoliberal governance and its many social-democratic blindspots than the EU itself, which all but commanded the bankruptcy of the Greek economy and denied Greece’s leftist Syriza party functional control over the nation’s own currency so as to the bolster the EU’s own preferred terms of maximum austerity in the comically misnamed Greek bailout. Yet it’s easy to forget in postmortems like Eichengreen’s that membership in the EU was precisely the question at stake in the Brexit vote. Eichengreen does cite the sluggish performance of the British economy in the wake of its admission to the EU, but notes in a bizarre footnote that, among the “big three” continental economies of France, Germany, and the UK, the fact “that [economic growth] decelerated by less in Britain suggests the EU membership and Thatcher-era reforms had a positive effect.” That would be in the same sense, one supposes, that it’s a “positive effect” to be kicked in the shins rather than strangled from behind.

Eichengreen puzzles over why issues of inequality loomed larger over the Brexit ballot than they had during the retrograde policy reign of Margaret Thatcher. He notes greater maldistribution of per capita income in Britain as opposed to other major EU member nations and briefly references the disastrous austerity-driven response to the 2008 meltdown orchestrated by the Cameron government. Still, it’s principally the familiar Hofstadter specter of “status anxiety” and tribally fomented economic nationalism that drive Eichengreen’s anatomy of the Brexit campaign—so much so that he depicts Tony Blair’s vastly liberalized immigration policy at the EU’s behest not as an inflection point in the consolidation of labor markets under the aegis of global capitalism, but rather as the natural continuation of the market revolution ushered in under Thatcher. England had already, by the late 1990s, been taking in a greater share of its population growth from former UK colonies than it had through natural biological increase—with new immigrants mostly from former colonial holdings of the former British empire. But, Eichengreen notes:

This changed . . . with Tony Blair’s decision in 2004 to allow unrestricted access to the U.K. labor market for citizens of the EU’s eight new Central and Eastern European member states. The U.K. labor market was tight, and Blair had the backing of business. The policy was part of his strategy to reposition the Labour Party as business friendly and pro-globalization. The decision to open the doors to the new EU8 was, in fact, part of a broader set of government initiatives that included also more permits and visas for young people seeking work in the tourist trade and for seasonal agriculture

The reason that wages for all workers have been stagnant for so very long is that our predatory managerial and owning classes have kept the vast share of economic gains in this country for themselves.

Put another way: after Margaret Thatcher spent the better part of a generation cutting the once-robust British union movement off at its knees, Tony Blair pledged his fealty to global capital by casualizing his country’s low-wage service economy. But Eichengreen, in spite of his own economic bona fides, dismisses any class-based animus in the backlash to the immigration wave that followed hard upon Blair’s decision. EU8 immigrants were comparatively better educated than their forerunners in the former British colonial sphere and so couldn’t be seen as a threat to low-skilled, native-born job holders, he argues—and besides, “the foreign-born share and the proportion of a region’s voters supporting Leave were in fact negatively correlated. It’s as if regions where knowledge of immigrants was least, fear of immigration was greatest.”

Here we are again, in other words, in the reassuring liberal world of declining cultural status. Populists are nativists by definition, and nativists are hostile to immigration because they simply don’t know any better; they live in regions where the presence of a smattering of immigrants is likely to be more upsetting or disorienting than in higher-density outposts of the global knowledge economy. It’s hard not to note the affinities here between Eichengreen’s culturally determinist gloss on the Brexit outcome and Hillary Clinton’s principal alibi for her 2016 election defeat: that Democratic voters are clustered, via their own assortative genius, in places that “are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward,” while the sad-sack, downwardly mobile Trump base “was looking backwards” in its Ghost-Dance style mission to make America great again.

Meanwhile, Eichengreen’s other telltale metric of populist distemper—the weak-at-the-knees reaction to strongman leaders retailing sagas of cultural restoration—is quite comically absent from the Brexit referendum and its aftermath. Nigel Farage was a C-list media personality prior to the Brexit vote and now resides much further back in the celebrity alphabet. Theresa May nearly lost a heretofore ironclad-seeming Conservative majority by trying to jerryrig an early vote on her party’s Leave agenda, while mop-topped demagogue Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London, was driven into premature private-sector retirement by the sheer political unworkability of any and all Brexit plans presently on the books.

Norms Follow Function

So again: if these omniscient accounts of the latter-day scourge of global populism aren’t actually about populism, what are they about? Well, they’re doing what neoliberal intellectual work has been doing for the better part of a generation now—making the logic of market-driven policy appear to be a species of the highest political wisdom. This mission is at the heart of Mounk’s puzzlingly influential book, which tilts again and again at straw-man avatars of the “populist” menace in order to confirm what he and his cohort of think-tank apparatchiks knew all along: that the expert-administered dictates of the neoliberal market order are not simply the optimal arrangements for global capitalist enterprise; they are also, and far more urgently, the last, best hope for rescuing our fragile, Trump-battered democratic norms from the populist abyss. It’s right there in the book’s subtitle: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It.

However, on closer inspection, the task of saving our freedom isn’t a call to the barricades, the town hall, or the picket line; it is, rather, a closely modulated accord among postideological elites to keep all currents of opinion within their appointed lines. This pronounced and insular vision of elite governance for its own sake explains why Mounk and other self-appointed prophets of the gathering populist storm consistently fail to highlight what is in fact a central, and deeply anti-populist, bulwark of conservative rule over the past generation—the activist right’s militant embrace of state-based voter suppression, which has no remote historical affinity with a movement devoted to the expansion of the franchise via direct election of senators, legislation by initiative, and preliminary challenges to racist disenfranchisement of postbellum black voters. Astonishingly, Mounk devotes a section of his book to bemoaning the decline of judicial review in Western democracies without coming to grips with the substantive impact of the Roberts Court’s irresponsible gutting of the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, and the staggeringly counter-empirical Trumpist obsession with the threat of race-based “voter fraud.” Then again, such first-order assaults on basic democratic participation at the grassroots level have no clear place in a tract devoted to what Mounk is pleased to call “the miraculous transubstantiation between elite control and popular appeal.”

It gets worse. Highlighting the penchant of strongman demagogues to translate power relations into conspiracy theories, Mounk surreally argues that the best rejoinder to such unhinged public reveries is “to re-establish traditional forms of good government.” And the way to do this, it turns out, is to bow once more before the well-worn governmental shibboleths of the neoliberal information age:

To regain the trust of the population once Trump leaves office, politicians will have to stick to the truth in their campaigns; avoid the perception of a conflict of interest; and be transparent about their dealings with lobbyists at home and government officials abroad. Politicians and journalists in countries where norms have not eroded to the same degree should, meanwhile, double down with renewed zeal: As the American case shows, such norms can erode frighteningly quickly—and with terrible consequences.

After Trump won the 2016 election, Barack and Michelle Obama were mocked in some quarters for having insisted throughout the campaign that “when they go low, we go high.” It is, of course, easy to mock a team that continues to play by the rules when the opposing team turns up with goons in tow and clubs in their hands. But for anyone who wishes to keep playing the game, it’s not clear what the alternative is: if both sides take up arms, its nature changes irrevocably. Unlikely as it might seem at the moment, the only realistic solution to the crisis in government accountability (and most likely the larger crisis in democratic norms) is therefore a negotiated settlement in which both sides agree to disarm.

It’s hard to conjure a better rhetorical example of high-church proceduralism in the neoliberal age. There’s the notion that the excesses of Trumpism can be effectively dispelled by the self-policing moral rehabilitation of our leadership caste, as opposed to any expansion of political-economic freedoms that an aggrieved citizenry might demand on their own behalf. There’s the fanciful notion that Democrats blew the 2016 election by “going high” and adopting a morally superior campaign rhetoric, when in point of fact the Clinton campaign devoted its final general election push to a blizzard of harsh negative attacks on Trump—in part because even at that late date, Clinton couldn’t give a clear account of why she wanted to be president beyond it being the next logical entry on her resume. (Anyone who thinks “going high” is second nature to Hillary Clinton in campaign mode clearly slumbered through the 2008 primary season, when she and her surrogates mounted an unrelentingly vicious counteroffensive against her upstart opponent Obama.) Finally, there’s the broader depiction of political discourse as a formalist byplay of norms upheld by force of liberal leadership—norms that are at once the bedrock foundation of responsible public inquiry and yet somehow also prone to instantaneous collapse once a billionaire pseudo-populist and his retinue of goons start whaling away on them.

This ritualized fetish of norms and rules is but the extension of the habits of mind exemplified by Davos-style neoliberalism into the sphere of political morality. The notion that representative democracy best expresses itself in formalist modes of compromise and mutual disarmament is the mode of agreement best disposed to bargaining parties whose own social power is assured and ratified well beforehand. The formalist dream of government exclusively by rules and norms is a minuet among privileged arbiters of polite conduct who can afford the luxury of believing they are “going high” by deigning to enter the public sphere in the first place. All that’s missing here is a ritual call for greater “civility” among the surly ranks of Trump resisters—but Mounk completed his manuscript before that procedural plaint became de rigueur among right-thinking liberals.

Keep in mind, too, that Mounk lays out his proceduralist playbook of elite deference as the best response to the plague of conspiracy thinking on the “populist” left and right. Why, if you simply increase your transparency, the reasoning goes, your virtues will become self-evident—as though conspiracy-mongering has overtaken our common world only because we’ve all needed a firmer pedagogic hand at our social-media cursors. Among other things, this sunnily didactic view of truthful-leadership-by-example overlooks the Obama administration’s commitments to official secrecy, leak prosecutions, and extralegal drone assaults of all description, despite its frequent rhetorical invocations of its own exemplary commitments to “transparency” and plain-dealing. It’s hard to see, in other words, how assurances of improved probity coming from our leadership class would be greeted with anything other than a chorus of disbelieving guffaws—or why they should be.© Lindsay Ballant

Productivity for What?

Mounk’s analysis grows yet more evidence-averse and saucer-eyed when he addresses what had been the great strength of historical Populist organizing: the condition of the political economy. He devotes much of the discussion to the mandate to increase worker productivity, while also asserting that “the role that inequality has played in the stagnation of living standards has sometimes been overstated.” Productivity gains, he insists, are the best hope for the improvement of economic conditions across the board: “if productivity had grown at the same rate in the past few decades as it had in the postwar era, the average American household would now be able to spend $30,000 more per year.”

Well, duh—the gains in both productivity and income over the first flush of the American economy’s postwar expansion were without precedent in human history. (This would be why French economists refer to the three decades following World War II as the trentes glorieuse.) But what Mounk isn’t telling his readers is that wages have failed to keep pace even with more modest productivity increases for American workers over the past four decades—which is why wages for those workers have remained essentially stagnant since the mid-1970s. So if you coax higher productivity numbers out of the U.S. wage economy as it’s presently configured, that’s the least likely path to improving the lot of the average worker.

But of course productivity gains are catnip to neoliberal managers and tech entrepreneurs—the same readers who’ve elevated Mounk’s tract into Hillbilly Elegy status for the TED Talk circuit. So once again we’re marched through alarmist talk of the grievous state of American public education as a training ground for knowledge workers and the anemic state of STEM funding. Sounding for all the world like Bill Gates cooing into Mark Zuckerberg’s ear, Mounk announces that an “ambitious set of educational reforms is needed to prepare citizens for the world of work they will encounter in the digital age.” Then it’s on to true gibberish, as Mounk seeks to apply his stunted apothegms on productivity to the world of work as it now actually exists. Militantly ignoring the last forty years of American wage stagnation, Mounk offers this otherworldly snapshot of what an improved social contract for American workers might look like:

After all, low productivity and high inequality tend to be mutually reinforcing. Workers who have low skills don’t have much bargaining power. This, in turn, depresses their wages, and makes it more likely that their children will also fail to acquire sufficient skills to succeed.

The reason that workers lack bargaining power, regardless of their skill levels, is that most forms of union organizing have either been outlawed or drastically curtailed under the neoliberal economic policymaking of the past four decades. And the reason that wages for all workers have been stagnant for so very long is that our predatory managerial and owning classes have kept the vast share of economic gains in this country for themselves. Latest figures from the Economic Policy Institute show that the pay gap separating CEO salaries from those of average workers now stands at 312 to 1.

Uber, But for Plutocrats

All the STEM curricula and Task Rabbit apps in the world won’t set that imbalance to right. But in lieu of a policy directive along the lines of organize your workplaces and tax the living shit out of the wealthy, Mounk again counsels the stately and measured trimming of differences between workers and rapacious managers—er, excuse me, dynamic entrepreneurs. And presto: a plan “to structure the world of work in such a way as to make it possible for people to derive a sense of identity and belonging from their jobs—and to remind the winners in globalization of the links they share with their less fortunate compatriots.” How might this staggering conceptual breakthrough be coaxed into being? Well, let global laborcrat Yascha Mounk sketch it out for you:

Take the example of Uber. It seems relatively clear that governments should neither forbid the service, as some countries in Europe are proposing, nor allow it to circumnavigate key protections for their workforce, as most parts of the United States have effectively done. Rather, they should steer a forward-looking middle course—celebrating the huge increase in convenience and efficiency that ride-sharing offers while passing new regulations which ensure that drivers earn a living wage.

Never mind that the entire business model of Uber is organized around the idea of denying its casualized workers a minimum wage (the median wageof Uber and Lyft drivers now works out to $3.37 an hour); or that recent studies indicate that, once vehicle maintenance and gas costs are factored into the equation, nearly a third of Uber drivers are actually losing money. The larger point is that this daft “forward-looking middle course” mimics in structure and substance alike virtually every misguided neoliberal policy that has beggared the living conditions of workers and debtors throughout the world, and sparked the very far-flung rebellions against globalizing capitalism that Mounk’s book purports to describe. With selected phrasing substitutions, this Goldilocks-style prescription of punitively wage-starving policies might have been lifted, say, from Al Gore’s heroic defense of the NAFTA accords while debating Ross Perot in 1995, when the former third-party presidential candidate prophesied a “giant sucking sound” of vanishing American jobs would follow hard on the new trade deal. Or it could have been taken from any number of Silicon Valley photo ops for candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016, as she celebrated the “convenience and efficiency” of an economic sector that doubles as both a wage-suppressing labor cartel and a libertarian cult.

Mounk’s Third Way policy prescription also echoes an especially distressing blindspot of neoliberal labor thinking: it’s taken for granted here that “governments” serving undefined constituencies are the right economic actors to be shaping the optimal labor relations for the ride-sharing market, and not, say, drivers themselves. Never mind that New York’s Taxi Workers Alliance managed under its own organizing steam to get the number of app-based drivers capped in the nation’s largest market for ride-sharing—thereby helping secure the livelihoods of a union membership that’s seen six taxi drivers kill themselves under the race-to-the-bottom logic of rampant ride-sharing. No, re-organizing your productive life in your own interest is too hopelessly divisive, and could even prove to be dangerously “populist” over the longer term. So just lie back and let above-the-fray global bureaucrats manage your working lives on your behalf, and you can thank us later.

This is, at bottom, the vision of expert-mediated civic life that the Yascha Mounks of the world are seeking to repackage as our imperiled tradition of “representative democracy.” Talk about your giant sucking sounds.

miércoles, 7 de noviembre de 2018

Trump's Narrative vs. Pelosi's Subpoenas

Both sides see a victory in Tuesday's results. But the ground is shifting beneath Republicans' feet.

Democrats wanted a base of power in Donald Trump’s Washington and they got it.

They also wanted to wake up Wednesday morning to a radically changed country. They wanted permission to dismiss the past two years as a fluke of history, a hallucination now fading. And they wanted something more: to rub the president’s nose in the dirt of defeat and repudiation so badly that it would be hard to see him doing more than limp through the balance of his first term, much less with a credible path to a second.

Those things Democrats did not get.

To the contrary, the GOP defeat was not nearly as severe as the Democratic one in 2010, at a similar point in Barack Obama’s presidency, nor the one two years into Bill Clinton’s first term in 1994.

This leaves 2018 as the “Yes, but” election—not fully satisfying but by no means fully deflating for partisans of either side.

Yes: the Democratic march into once-unfavorable suburban terrain across the country was impressive. No amount of prattle about the “expectations game” or historical averages can diminish the reality that Nancy Pelosi is poised to retake the speaker’s gavel and the vast appropriations and investigatory power this gives the opposition party to check a hostile executive.

But: There is scant evidence of a mandate for a scorched-earth pursuit of Trump, and Tuesday’s gains in the Senate for Republicans (as well as the recent Brett Kavanaugh nomination battle that likely contributed to this outcome) underline the risks of this approach. Despite pouring tens of millions into the effort, Democrats failed to take down many of the national Republican characters they view as most loathsome and villainous – among them Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Iowa Rep. Steve King, who lives on to freely offer his insights on immigration and white nationalism to domestic and international audiences.

Yes: Republican statewide victories in Florida, over a Senate seat and the governorship, as well as a governor’s victory in Ohio and basically a tie for the statehouse in Wisconsin despite Scott Walker’s narrow loss, indicate that the electoral path Trump navigated to the presidency in 2016 remains plausible in 2020.

But: The midterms offered redundant evidence (some GOP strategists have been warning of this for a generation) that the party’s base is predominately rural in a country growing more urban and suburban, predominately white and culturally conservative in a country growing more diverse and culturally tolerant. Do Republicans really think that losing a majority of people who voted – as they did in 2016 and did again Tuesday night – but clinging to power through institutions designed to buffer democracy like the Senate and Electoral College is a wise strategy long-term?

The suburbs, which formed the bedrock of the Republican Party for half a century, are increasingly Democratic ground. The slow suburban exodus from the GOP has accelerated and even expanded beyond the Midwest and Northeast to the South and across the Sunbelt. Name the big metro – Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis, Philadelphia – and chances are there’s a Republican incumbent who lost Tuesday night or barely escaped.

Whose fault is it? Yes/but will hardly help the cause of assigning accountability for the occasional function and more customary dysfunction of Washington — particularly with a president who is quick to blame his travails on Democrats, or the media, or overzealous prosecutors, or on his own Cabinet appointees.

Even so, people who hoped that a country that has produced a generation of remorseless political combat, and whose citizens when it comes to politics and much else view each other with such sullen distrust, could produce a result more emphatic and clarifying were plainly hoping for too much.

Nor was this muddled result a historical anomaly. In Gallup's polling history, presidents with job approval ratings below 50 percent have seen their party lose 37 House seats, on average, in midterm elections. That compares with an average loss of 14 seats when presidents had approval ratings above 50 percent.

For all midterm elections since 1946, the average midterm loss for the president’s party is 25 U.S. House seats. Only two presidents, Bill Clinton in 1998 and George W. Bush in 2002, saw their party gain seats in a midterm election.

In a previous generation, there was significant evidence of genuine swing voters, people who might regularly bounce between parties, who might actually vote for a president but also vote for divided government to keep him on leash. There are still plenty of people who profess to favor this, though election analysts say there is not much evidence—in an era of cultural sorting and ideological polarization—of people who actually vote this way.

By accident or design, however, divided government of the sort Trump will now preside over is the historical norm. In the 38 years since Ronald Reagan’s victory, presidents have faced having at least one chamber of Congress controlled by the opposition party in 28 years.

And while this would never be something a president with strong policy ambitions would wish for, many of his predecessors have found it not altogether an uncongenial situation.

Clinton prospered politically after 1994 when he was able to contrast his relative moderation with what soon became the unpopularity of Newt Gingrich and his self-styled “revolutionaries.” George W. Bush was still able to implement his unpopular but militarily effective surge after his midterm “thumping” of 2006.

In general, however, those presidents had a degree of modesty about their new circumstances that would be unusual, so far, for Trump. A disoriented Clinton in 1994 summoned all manner of experts to Camp David—including fire-walking self-help guru Tony Robbins—to help him understand what happened and regain self-confidence. Bush in 2006 said his party had suffered a “thumping”; Obama in 2010 said Democrats had received a “shellacking.”

No one is expecting Trump to come forward in coming days with a message of self-critique or self-correction that by all evidence he believes is wholly unnecessary. In fact, the president is likely to cherry-pick the results, pointing to the red-state Senate romp as evidence of the popularity of his agenda while dismissing the suburban losses as minimal, a culling of losers and malcontents that will ultimately strengthen the GOP herd.

Indeed, he already called Tuesday a “tremendous success” on Twitter and quoted the actor Ben Stein, of all people, saying, “This guy has magic coming out of his ears.”

Trump’s response was typical of the night’s mixed outcome: Yes, he kept the Senate, but was happy to avert his gaze from whatever traps House Democrats have in store for him.

Trump turns his attention to his own political survival

With the midterms behind him, Trump dives into a re-election campaign facing a Democratic House, political gridlock — and special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

As president Donald Trump absorbed Tuesday night’s mixed election returns, two key allies were by his side in the White House: one of his 2016 campaign managers, Corey Lewandowski, and the man who will run his 2020 re-election bid, Brad Parscale.

The two men attended what the White House billed as a midterm watch party. But the presence of Lewandowski and Parscale underscored that it may have more accurately been described as the unofficial kickoff of Trump’s 2020 campaign. As guests snacked on hamburgers and hot dogs, the president was surrounded not just by the political aides who will orchestrate the effort but also by some of the donors expected to underwrite it, including Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter, and fracking billionaire Harold Hamm.

Starting Wednesday, Trump — who has already spent the past several weeks firing up crowds of supporters — will turn his full attention to his own 2020 re-election campaign, which aides and associates say will be close to all-consuming over the next two years.

“The re-elect begins today,” said Brian Walsh, President of the pro-Trump America First Action super PAC: "It’s all in and all on the line.”

With divided government making further legislative accomplishments almost impossible, they predict Trump will leverage the full power and pomp of the White House behind his own political survival. And while Tuesday’s results may have been bruising, in historical terms they are far from a re-election death sentence: Both Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama rebounded from even worse midterm results in their first terms to be comfortably re-elected two years later.

Trump’s 2020 effort is poised to swing into gear almost immediately, with the RNC redirecting its infrastructure to assist the Trump re-elect and its political director Chris Carr. RNC officials say that a massive midterm mobilization effort — in which the party invested over $275 million in its field, digital and data programs, and recruited hundreds of field staffers — was a dress rehearsal for the 2020 campaign. Once the Trump campaign, overseen by Parscale, melds with RNC, the result will be a nearly $400 million behemoth focused on the next election 726 days from Wednesday.

In another sign of the shift in Trump’s focus, several top White House aides are expected to depart soon for the reelection campaign. They include political director Bill Stepien and Justin Clark, who oversees the office of intergovernmental affairs.

Although Tuesday’s results were less damaging than the White House had feared — Republicans outperformed expectations in Senate races, picking up several seats — Trump’s advisers privately conceded they had to find ways to improve the president’s standing with suburban and women voters. As of Tuesday evening, Republicans had lost upwards of 27 House seats largely owing to the party’s underperformance in educated, suburban districts where the president will need to make inroads.

But GOP victories in some major states vital to Trump’s 2020 prospects boosted his team’s confidence. One of president's closest congressional allies, Ron DeSantis, will become Florida’s governor, and the GOP candidate, Mike DeWine, prevailed over Democrat Richard Cordray in the Ohio governor's race. On Tuesday night, Trump aides cited those outcomes as examples of why their path to 270 electoral votes remains intact.

Victories from pals like DeSantis helped to buoy the spirits of the president, who had been consumed by fears that he would be roundly blamed for across-the-board defeats. One even aide called the mood “buoyant" -- though it is likely to turn combative once Trump focuses on his House Democratic adversaries, who will soon be armed with subpoena power.

If Trump manufactured enemies in the run-up to the midterms, from a migrant caravan full of “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” to Democrats who “run around like Antifa” before going “back home into mommy’s basement,” he will now face real-life foils. 
GOP victories in some major states vital to President Donald Trump’s 2020 prospects boosted his team’s confidence. |

Trump Makes the Midterms Great Again

The man many see as an existential threat to the republic has done wonders for participatory democracy.

Donald Trump’s political foes have branded him a demagogue, a budding fascist and even a Russian puppet. Scholars have emptied their inkwells describing his authoritarian ways in their many books about the decline of democracy. Civil libertarians have denounced his ethno-nationalistic rants at midterm campaign rallies, his battering of the First Amendment, his goading supporters to commit political violence, and his plans to rewrite the Constitution with executive orders.

How do we thank the president for all he has done? His incitements have caused one of the greatest boons to representative democracy since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Without Trump, the current midterms would likely have been their usually dreary self, with the party not holding the White House picking up a modest number of seats and nobody but party officials, journalists and a scattering of the civic-minded really caring all that much about the outcome. But thanks to Trump’s policies and barnstorming provocations, polls have detected near-record enthusiasm for the midterms, with 70 percent calling themselves highly interested in the election, compared to 61 percent in the 2006 and 2010 midterms. Voter registration has likewise swelled in several states holding key races, and the greatest number of absentee ballots for a midterm election (36 million) have been cast, up 75 percent over 2014. The early youth vote is up 144 percent in Illinois, 111 percent in Florida, and 362 percent in Georgia. Name an earnest get-out-the-vote campaign of the past 20 years that has ever notched those kinds of numbers.

Am I wrong to attribute our democratic orgy to Trump? I think not. As John Hudak of the Brookings Institution points out, good economic times resound at the ballot box to the benefit of the party holding the White House, and these are very good economic times. Popular presidents also stir large midterm turnouts. Trump doesn’t qualify as a popular president, with only lackluster approval ratings, but among his most devout followers he commands a godlike status that makes up for his ratings deficiencies. Could any current Democratic aspirant for the White House fill aircraft hangars and arenas in red-state America the way he does and make them howl? He’s the most popular unpopular president we’ve ever had.

The Trump virus still seems to be having its way with red-state America. But every virus entering the body politic creates an antibody, and the Trump antibody has been equally potent. The Democrats treated Trump’s special brand of politics and personality as fodder for lampoonery in 2016. But in 2018, the same package has bestirred Democrats to conduct their midterm campaigns as if waging Armageddon. It’s hard to imagine Democrats mounting such a furious midterm fight against a President Romney or a President McCain. Trump arouses a competitive something in Democrats we haven’t seen since Richard Nixon enraged them with his autocratic skulduggery. What he’s better than Nixon at doing is capturing the Democratic responses to his provocations and then inserting them into a feedback loop. Recent example: He nominated hardcore conservative Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and then repurposed Capitol Hill protests against Kavanaugh as an example of how the Democrats advocate mob rule.

Approaching politics like a reality show, Trump inserts new plot points into the drama whenever the going gets slow and the ratings falter. He’s incredibly mindful of “ratings,” even imaginary ones, making mention of them at least 24 times since becoming president, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “You know, I am a ratings person,” he told Sean Hannity last month. He has repeatedly called his show, "The Apprentice," the No. 1 show on TV—even though it wasn’t. He boasted about the ratings he got when he greeted returning American prisoners from North Korea, claimed credit for the high ratings "Roseanne" got on its return to the airwaves, and toasted former press secretary Sean Spicer for his “ratings.”

And now he has taken credit for the midterms, too. At a campaign rally in Cleveland, Trump insisted he had made a fortune for the media he loves to bash. “You know the midterm elections used to be, like, boring, didn't they?" Trump said. "Do you even remember what they were? People say midterms, they say, 'What is that, what is it,' right? Now it's like the hottest thing."

And he’s right on every count.

In Trump’s ratings-obsessed mind, getting the hate-watchers to tune in has been as important to his mission as attracting fans. Trump loves to be loved. But he also loves to be hated, and this reality show instinct might have taken the upper hand during the midterms. At press time, one political insider said seven Senate races were so close that the difference between a terrific night and a catastrophe for both parties was painfully thin. If the Democrats take full advantage of Trump’s fomentations and win the House of Representatives, as many predict, and improve their standing in the Senate, Trump will be the loser. And if they don’t, well, there will be another two years of the highest-stakes reality show the world has ever seen. Who knows what that will portend for 2020, but one thing is for certain: Voting, that foundational act of democracy, is back.

martes, 6 de noviembre de 2018

Will Trump shatter his own mystique?

Most presidents face a midterm thumping. But rarely do they make it so much about themselves.


One constant of Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency and his two years in power is how behavior that would be not just risky but downright stupid for any normal politician ends up working smartly for him.

This is the essence of the Trump Mystique—a three-year record in which he regularly demonstrated that many of the normal precedents, patterns and truisms of American politics simply do not apply to him. This mystique—Is it real or illusion? Is his patented sorcery still working?—is among the big questions being tested in Tuesday’s elections.

Trump’s own decisions over the past month have put the issue—whether Trump has defied political gravity or merely delayed its impact—in even sharper relief than it would have been anyway.

It would be smart, viewed through a conventional prism, for a president who has never commanded majority support to try to float above the midterms and allow politicians of his own party to keep their elections locally focused. It seems stupid to unite and energize the opposition in their loathing by insisting that congressional elections are a national referendum on himself.

It would be smart, if playing by normal rules, for a leader presiding over the best employment numbers in decades to make an economic argument his main push against the headwind that the incumbent president’s party historically faces in midterm elections. It seems stupid to reduce this to secondary status in favor of picking scabs over immigration and societal violence in the days before voting.

In the disoriented state of contemporary politics, however, it seems stupid for anyone to pretend to be smart in predicting the results of Trump’s decision to turn the volume up to 11 on Trumpism.

As Trump himself cast the implications for Tuesday in a weekend stop in Georgia: “I wouldn’t say it’s as important as ’16 but it’s right up there.”

Some dynamics seem inescapably true. One is that at nearly every important turn when traditional political logic would have pointed toward softening the tone and broadening support—from his 2016 acceptance speech to the 2017 inaugural address and countless other occasions since—Trump took the opposite path and along the way tightened his connection to his most devoted supporters.

A vivid recent example was over the sexual assault allegations against his Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh. For a few days Trump deferred to prevailing wisdom that he needed to treat accuser Christine Blasey Ford respectfully and project an open mind on the merits. Before long he returned to his customary instincts and attacked Ford, Democrats and the media, while cheering on Kavanaugh’s own attacks on Democrats.

For every Republican operative who thinks Trump’s midterm strategy is nuts—one senior GOP strategist running competitive statewide races said the president’s image took a 15-point hit in internal campaign polling over the past 10 days—there is a Democratic operative who worries that Trump’s polarizing approach just might allow him to beat the odds as he did in 2016.

But that same approach raises the cost of GOP setbacks for Trump, who has often made clear his own view that power is partly a matter of perception, and preserving an aura of strength and success. A narrow House loss, for instance, would surely be explained as the result of normal historical patterns. In the case of a national blowout, no matter if Trump blamed others, the result would be like a baby with a paunch and comb-over: No way to deny paternity.

“I do think it’s a little unfair to put it all on him because you start behind the eight-ball,” said a senior GOP Senate strategist, pointing to the usual historical pattern with a president’s first midterm election. “What I think is different [in 2018] is that while the president always has the ability to define the agenda, he takes all of the oxygen out of the air. The reality is, these races are completely national. And while there’s always a national bent to congressional races, there’s really no escaping it this time.”

A senior White House official said political advisers applied a three-prong test this fall in deciding where to send Trump. One was whether they could find good rally venues. Two was data suggesting which districts were especially promising if Trump could manage to ignite GOP-leaning voters who might normally vote in presidential elections but not midterms. Third was protectiveness, trying to avoid races where Trump would risk being blamed for a race that was a likely loser anyway.

The president’s vituperative attacks on Democrats and race-baiting immigration rhetoric broke new ground on divisiveness, but in one sense he was making a calculation—can a president influence the midterms to advantage?—familiar to three of his recent predecessors.

In 1994, Bill Clinton’s advisers urged him to take it easy and mostly stay off the campaign trail in favor of the White House and overseas trips. He didn’t buy it—convinced he could persuade voters to back him and Democrats if he could just get in front of enough of them. Polling suggested otherwise, and political aides later concluded that an unseasoned president’s own efforts helped fuel the GOP historic congressional takeover that year.

In 2002, the backdrop of 9/11 one year earlier changed the landscape for George W. Bush. Stressing national security themes, he helped Republicans make historically unusual congressional gains.

In 2010, Barack Obama saw a conservative backlash over spending to combat recession and the financial crash, as well as the Affordable Care Act. He campaigned in some districts where he was welcome but he knew it wasn’t doing much good. “There’s no doubt this is a difficult election,” he said at a Cleveland rally. He was right: November brought a “shellacking,” as he called it, that lost the House and reached deep into statehouses around the country.

Similar results in the opposite direction against Republicans Tuesday will not only put subpoena power in the hands of the president’s political foes—it could lead the handful of prominent Trump dissenters in the national GOP to urge others to join their cause.

“Yeah, he’s going to lose the House,” said Bill Kristol, editor at large of the Weekly Standard and a leading Trump critic. “They’re gonna lose eight to 10 governorships probably. So, where is the brilliance? Where is the political magic? ... He got 46 percent of the vote in 2016. It looks like Republicans are going to get, if they’re lucky, 46 percent of the vote [or lower]. … So what has Trump done for the party?”

Not that Trump will admit as much. Terry Sullivan, who managed Marco Rubio’s 2016 campaign, suggested that one key aspect of Trump’s mystique is that he will argue that his mystique is undimmed no matter the result. “Don’t take my word for it. Ask him tomorrow,” Sullivan said Monday. “Don’t take my word for it, ask his supporters. He will say that candidates that he campaigned with won and the ones who didn’t want to campaign with him lost. And the ones that lost that he campaigned with did better than they would have if they hadn’t campaigned with him—he made the race closer, so much closer.”

For all Sullivan’s evident sarcasm, Michael Strain, director of economic policy at the American Enterprise Institute, effectively agreed that Trump’s activities in the closing days of the campaign might help in some districts but won’t be the decisive factor if the evening ends in a big GOP defeat. “I think that the cake on the president is kind of baked—that people have a view of the Republican Party under Donald Trump” that won’t swing widely based on any day’s headlines, he said. “That suggests to me that if the president were talking about the economy and not talking about the caravan, that wouldn’t necessarily be a better strategy to get Republicans to win.”