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The Daily Strategist

September 1, 2015

Moody's Election Model Sees Blue Wave Forming



All of the usual caveats about it being too early to discern meaningful political trends for the 2016 general election notwithstanding, Moody's Election Model has some very good news for Democrats. From Ryan Sweet's "Democrats to Win in a Landslide in 2016, According to Moody's Election Model" at The Street.com:

Our Moody's Analytics election model now predicts a Democratic electoral landslide in the 2016 presidential vote. A small change in the forecast data in August has swung the outcome from the statistical tie predicted in July, to a razor-edge ballot outcome that nevertheless gives the incumbent party 326 electoral votes to the Republican challenger's 212.

...It takes 270 electoral votes to win a U.S. presidential election. Our July forecast predicted a Democratic win with 270 electoral votes, to 268 for the Republican, regardless of who wins either party's nomination.

"Democratic landslide" --- an appealing concept, that. Not a bad mantra for some creative visualization, looking toward 2016. But the why of it is interesting and maybe a little worrisome, according to Sweet:

The primary factor driving the results further to the incumbent party in August is lower gasoline prices. Plummeting prices and changing dynamics in global energy markets from Chinese weakness and the Iranian nuclear deal have caused us to significantly lower our gasoline price forecast for the next several years. This variable is very significant to voter sentiment in the model, with lower prices favoring incumbents.

Good to know that. There's also the converse to worry about, as when soaring gas prices helped defeat Jimmy Carter in 1976. Sweet also points out that the model does not predict what would happen if the election was held today; it is rooted in what is known about economic, demographic and political realities coming in 2016, which is more than a little dicey.

Another cautionary note from Sweet:

Just three states account for the change in margin, with Ohio, Florida and Colorado swinging from leaning Republican to leaning Democrat. The margin of victory in each of these important swing states is still solidly within the margin of error though, and will likely swing back and forth in Moody's monthly updates ahead, underlining the closeness of the election to come. Furthermore, three of the candidates for the Republican nomination enjoy favorite-son status in Ohio or Florida, potentially making the outcome of those important states even more unpredictable.

Still the model has an impressive track record, as Sweet notes: "The model successfully predicts every election back to 1980, including a perfect electoral vote prediction in the 2012 election."

For Democrats worried about the Trump card, Rob Garver and Eric Pianin, reporting on a new Quinnipiac Poll, also have some good news at The Fiscal Times. Despite Trump's antics dominating the GOP field,

In a hypothetical matchup with Vice President Joseph Biden, Trump loses 48 percent to 40 percent in the new poll. He does little better against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the current Democratic frontrunner, losing 45 percent to 41 percent. Even in a matchup with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the Democratic socialist, Trump comes up short, 44 percent to 41 percent.

The upbeat reports in this post could have a very short shelf life, as with pretty much anything you read about politics at this early stage the 2016 campaign. But it's not just Republicans screwing up. Neither the Moody's study or the Quinnipiac poll would be so encouraging if Democrats weren't doing a pretty good job of maintaining civility, keeping focused on the issues and generally behaving as adults, in stark contrast to the GOP. We can hope that is worth something to an increasing percentage of voters who would prefer to live in a country run by grown-ups.


August 31, 2015

Political Strategy Notes



In The Jacobin, via TNR, Touré F. Reed, associate professor of history at Illinois State University, explains why "Liberals Are Wrong to Separate Race from Class," and presents a compelling argument that "the now-commonplace claim at the heart of the recent Black Lives Matter protests against Sanders is that white liberals have long reduced racism to class inequality in order to deflect attention from racial disparities...This is not just wrong, but the formulation--which ultimately treats race as unchanging and permanent rather than a product of specific historical and political economic relations--undermines both the cause of racial equality in general and pursuit of equitable treatment in the criminal justice system in particular."

From Kate Kaye's AdAge post "Democrats to Kick Off Digital Voter Targeting Effort at Summer Meeting": "At the DNC's behest, data services firm Experian and political data company TargetSmart Communications have spent the past several months turning the Democratic Party's voter file into data that can be used readily to aim video ads, addressable TV spots and mobile and desktop display ads at specific voters...Voter File 2.0 reflects the party's broader strategy of steering Democratic campaigns toward a preferred set of tools and vendors...The approach stands in contrast to that of the GOP, which historically has fostered a more competitive environment among multiple tech vendors. On the Republican side, firms including i360, the data company funded by the Koch Brothers, and Targeted Victory enable clients to send digital ads to specific voters using voter file data."

The Upshot's Josh Barro has a primer on "anchor babies," and notes "According to Pew, in 2012 there were 4.5 million American children with at least one parent who was an unauthorized immigrant, and four million unauthorized immigrants living with an American child....There is one other myth in the debate: A citizen child is not necessarily a shield against deportation. In the second and third quarters of 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported that over 46,000 parents of citizen children were deported, accounting for 22 percent of all deportations."

NYT columnist Frank Bruni sorts through the GOP rubble and pulls up John Kasich, explaining why Dems should not worry too much about him. Polls suggest he is electable in the general election -- in the highly unlikely event he survives the primaries.

Marking the 10th anniversary of Katrina, NYT columnist Paul Krugman notes, "...Katrina was special in political terms because it revealed such a huge gap between image and reality. Ever since 9/11, former President George W. Bush had been posing as a strong, effective leader keeping America safe. He wasn't...It took a domestic disaster, which made his administration's cronyism and incompetence obvious to anyone with a TV set, to burst his bubble." Krugman adds some devastating snapshots of GOP presidential candidates as "political poseurs," including: "...Consider Jeb Bush, once hailed on the right as "the best governor in America," when in fact all he did was have the good luck to hold office during a huge housing bubble. Many people now seem baffled by Mr. Bush's inability to come up with coherent policy proposals, or any good rationale for his campaign. What happened to Jeb the smart, effective leader? He never existed."

Ezekiel J. Emanuel, chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, explains why "Why Republicans' health-care plans are bad deals for Americans," rooted as they are in three basic "reforms": stingier subsidies, tax employer contributions to health care plans and allow plans to cross state borders (the ACA already has a provision, with regulatory standards). As Emanuel concludes, "Republican thinking on health-care reform has hardly advanced since 2008. The deals proposed then were bad and were defeated at the ballot box. And they remain bad deals for average Americans. This may be why few are willing to trust the "replace" part of the Republican pledge to "repeal and replace" the ACA."

In addition to overwhelming public support for tougher background checks for gun purchases, here's an even better reason why Dems could be bolder in their gun control messaging: "Among the 18 states that impose extra background check requirements for private gun sales, the average rate of gun deaths in 2013 was five fewer (out of every 100,000) than the rate among states that do not regulate background checks beyond the federal requirements," according to Libby Eisenstein, writing in the National Journal.

At The Plum Line Greg Sargent posts on a new Democratic ad designed to obliterate whatever fading hopes for getting a respectable share of the Latino vote the GOP was harboring. "The GOP has given Democrats the raw material, if used properly, to potentially take the Hispanic vote off the table in 2016," Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg tells me. "These ads signal that Dems understand they can dig the hole so deep for the GOP with Hispanics now that they will never get out no matter who the nominee is in 2016."

The good bank.


August 28, 2015

Jimmy Carter's Forgotten Fight For Voting Rights



On this 50th anniversary year of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Democrats are remembering that epic development and the protests and sacrifices that produced it, even as they intensify efforts to defend and restore voting rights under attack today. But we sometimes forget battlefronts in this fight that occurred between then and now.

In honor of Jimmy Carter's current condition at death's door, journalist and historian Rick Perlstein wrote a powerful column at the Washington Spectator reminding us that the 39th president launched a major push for expanded voting rights back in 1977. Carter aimed at goals we have yet to achieve, thanks to a conservative counter-revolution--still underway today--against what had been a bipartisan effort to vindicate everyone's right to vote.

Everyone loved to talk about voter apathy, but the real problem, Carter said, was that "millions of Americans are prevented or discouraged from voting in every election by antiquated and overly restricted voter registration laws"--a fact proven, he pointed out, by record rates of participation in 1976 in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota, where voters were allowed to register on election day. So he proposed that election-day registration be adopted universally, tempering concerns that such measures might increase opportunities for fraud by also proposing five years in prison and a $10,000 fine as penalties for electoral fraud.

He asked Congress to allot up to $25 million in aid to states to help them comply, and for the current system of federal matching funds for presidential candidates to be expanded to congressional elections. He suggested reforming a loophole in the matching-fund law that disadvantaged candidates competing with rich opponents who funded their campaigns themselves, and revising the Hatch Act to allow federal employees "not in sensitive positions," and when not on the job, the same rights of political participation as everyone else.

Finally, and most radically, he recommended that Congress adopt a constitutional amendment to do away with the Electoral College--under which, three times in our history (four times if you count George W. Bush 23 years later), a candidate who received fewer votes than his opponent went on to become president--in favor of popular election of presidents. It was one of the broadest political reform packages ever proposed.

It was immediately embraced. Legislators from both parties stood together at a news briefing to endorse all or part of it. Two Republican senators and two Republican representatives stepped forward to cosponsor the universal registration bill; William Brock, chairman of the Republican National Committee, called it "a Republican concept." Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker announced his support, and suggested going even further: making election day a national holiday and keeping polls open 24 hours. House Minority Leader John Rhodes, a conservative disciple of Barry Goldwater, predicted it would pass "in substantially the same form with a lot of Republican support, including my own."

But then the conservative movement, led by Carter's eventual successor, Ronald Reagan, struck back with every weapon at its disposal, including the Senate filibuster, and stopped the initiative, after polarizing Republicans against it. And under the lash of the conservative movement, Republicans have been at the very best fair-weather friends of voting rights ever since, before becoming outright enemies during the Obama administration.

As Perstein notes, Carter is more concerned about voting rights than ever:

This spring, when only those closest to him knew of his illness, Jimmy Carter made news on Thom Hartmann's radio program when he returned to the question of democracy reform. In 1977, he had pledged "to work toward an electoral process which is open to the participation of all our citizens, which meets high ethical standards, and operates in an efficient and responsive manner." In 2015, he was still at it.

He declared our electoral system a violation of "the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it's just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president."

It's no time to give up the fight.


Republicans' 'Summer of Donald' Merits Ridicule



The New York Times has not one, but two K.O. punches for the Republican presidential campaign and the Summer of Donald. First Krugman:

...Go back to the politics of 2009, when the new Obama administration was trying to cope with the most terrifying crisis since the 1930s. The outgoing Bush administration had already engineered a bank bailout, but the Obama team reinforced this effort with a temporary program of deficit spending, while the Federal Reserve sought to bolster the economy by buying lots of assets.

And Republicans, across the board, predicted disaster. Deficit spending, they insisted, would cause soaring interest rates and bankruptcy; the Fed's efforts would "debase the dollar" and produce runaway inflation.

None of it happened. Interest rates stayed very low, as did inflation. But the G.O.P. never acknowledged, after six full years of being wrong about everything, that the bad things it predicted failed to take place, or showed any willingness to rethink the doctrines that led to those bad predictions. Instead, the party's leading figures kept talking, year after year, as if the disasters they had predicted were actually happening.

...How would the men and women who would be president respond if crisis struck on their watch?

And the answer, on the Republican side at least, seems to be: with bluster and China-bashing. Nowhere is there a hint that any of the G.O.P. candidates understand the problem, or the steps that might be needed if the world economy hits another pothole.

And then there is this, from Timothy Egan:

In a few weeks, Pope Francis will visit our fair land, a fitting pivot from the Summer of Trump, closing out a gluttonous episode of narcissism, rudeness, frivolity and xenophobia. For all that the orangutan-haired vulgarian has done to elevate the worst human traits a public figure can have, Francis is the anti-Trump. He has more power, media magnetism and authenticity in his lone functioning lung than Donald Trump has in his entire empire of ego.

...But for saying things that the darker elements of the Republican Party believe, but rarely voice, Trump is their clear front-runner -- a dangerous moment for a troubled party. He's drawn praise from ex-Klansmen like David Duke. The Daily Storm, a neo-Nazi website, urged its followers "to vote for the first time in our lives for the one man who actually represents us."

Egan is no doubt correct that the Pope's visit will certainly set a stark contrast to the Summer of Donald, reminding the American public of the dignity that is now sorely lacking among Republican leaders. That's what it has come to -- a once great political party reduced to groveling for any kind of media coverage while their ring-master hogs the limelight with increasingly lame pronouncements. The Democratic Party has its problems, but it can't be denied that the modern GOP sets a matchless standard for well-earned ridicule.


August 27, 2015

Political Strategy Notes



In Jon Per's "GOP a threat to U.S. economy, say economists" at Daily Kos, he writes, "While all eyes have been focused on the worldwide stock market plunge, a recent survey of economists by the Wall Street Journal identified a different threat to the vitality of the U.S. economy. But it's not the instability of Chinese stock prices, the devaluation of our currency, the Eurozone's Greek tragedy, or even a premature Fed interest rate hike that has WSJ's economists so concerned. Instead, the fear is that the GOP-controlled Congress will once again precipitate a fiscal crisis this fall."

It doesn't sound like the Vice President and his family are ready for yet another run for the White House. A remarkably candid admission from Vice President Biden about his "emotional fuel" deficit will leave many lamenting that such honesty, sanity and soul are exactly what is missing -- and needed -- in American politics.

Jeb Bush is giving Trump a run for the GOP's gaffer-in-chief.

After giving Jesse Jackson due credit for his energetic and inspiring leadership, this post seems overstated and somewhat backwards in that Rev. Jackson's influence was more a product of demographic transformations than a self-contained game-changer.

Ashley Lopez explains why "Why Republicans Might Not Get A Voter Turnout Surge in Kentucky Next Year."

At Slate.com Jamelle Bouie argues that Trump is tapping into a vast undercurrent of public animosity toward wealthy donors, lobbyists and special interests corrupting American politics. "In an analysis for the Democratic Strategist and the Washington Monthly published earlier this year, pollster Stan Greenberg drew a connection between the high-dollar fundraising of modern political campaigns and the deep government distrust from working-class whites, working-class white men in particular...For Greenberg, it's this--more than anything else in politics--that fuels anti-government cynicism. ...There's almost no chance that Trump or his team has read Greenberg. But if Greenberg is right--and millions of Americans are open to an explicit message against the wealthy donors and fundraisers that dominate American politics--then Trump's message of financial independence could be his key to a broader constituency."

At The Guardian Daniel Pena explains why "It's not just Trump: Latinos should boycott the Republican party en masse" and notes, ""Illegal" and "Mexican" have come to be used interchangeably by both Republican supporters and the candidates themselves. This should set off alarm bells in the minds of Latino voters and Americans everywhere. The Republican Party is not designed to include people like us. And it's quickly becoming a promoter of and platform for white supremacist, hate group rhetoric."

Meanwhile, Washington Post editorial writer Harold Meyerson has a primer for the media who will be conducting "the next GOP debate" and notes "the insularity of the discourse in conservative media is such that economic issues on which substantial numbers and, on occasion, majorities of Republicans agree with their Democratic and independent compatriots are rarely brought up for fear they'll run afoul of GOP political correctness. It's all the more incumbent for the moderators in the upcoming Republican debates to pose such questions."

At Moyers & Company Richard Schiffman's interview with Norwegian psychologist and economist Per Espen Stoknes probes a question of increasing importance to progressives, "How Do We Get People to Care About Climate Change?" Says Stoknes, "There are five main psychological barriers: distance, doom, dissonance, denial, and identity...And the reason climate science communication is so difficult is that it triggers these barriers one after the other."


August 26, 2015

Let's Don't Drag the Vice President Into the 2016 Presidential Contest



I don't know about you, but the runaway talk about Joe Biden being on the brink of running for president in response to the demands of a "panicked" Democratic Party are making me a little crazy. I rebelled against the meme today at TPMCafe.

All this speculation is second- or third-hand and unsourced, with the exception of a few quotes from famed media manipulator Dick Harpootlian of South Carolina. The meeting between Biden and Warren--between the president of the Senate and a senator, to put it another way--could have been about anything or nothing. There are zero indications Warren's fans are the least bit interested in Biden; they are mostly already signed up to ride with Bernie Sanders, and probably remember Biden was on the wrong side in the battle over bankruptcy "reform" that really launched Warren's national career.

And of course the White House spokesman, when pressed, is going to say nice things about the number two figure in the administration. For that matter, why should Joe Biden go out of his way to make a Sherman Statement disclaiming any interest in a presidential run five months before a single vote is cast?

So much for the supply side of the equation. What about the demand side?

Notwithstanding attributions of "panic," and despite heavy, heavy negative press for months now, Hillary Clinton is maintaining a lead over all potential Republican nominees in the RealClearPolitics polling averages. In the last national poll to be released, from CNN/ORC, she led Bush by nine points, Fiorina by ten points, and Walker and Trump by six points. In the Democratic nomination contest, she's leading Sanders nationally two-to-one, even though pollsters are choosing to muddy the waters by including Biden in the surveys, and is leading Bernie in every state other than (in some polls) New Hampshire. Biden's running a weak third at around 12 percent. Having run twice before and failed dismally twice before, amid signs he did not or could not raise the kind of money needed for a serious candidacy, he's not exactly a natural magnet for moneyed or tenured elites, either.

The more you look at the Biden bandwagon, it looks more like a ghost ship being pulled through the mist by a combination of hungry political reporters, Hillary haters (including most of the conservative media), and Delaware-based Friends of Joe who, of course, would love to see him run. Plus there's Harpootlian!

Now as Michael Tomasky pointed out this week, Biden (with or without Warren) as a fallback contingency for the Democratic Party in case all the fears about HRC actually do materialize is one thing. Leaping into the race now would be not a rescue, but a demolition mission. For starters, it would be received bitterly by the many Democratic women who figured HRC's final assault on the political glass ceiling was a natural follow-up to Obama's historic presidency. And worse yet, it's hard to imagine Biden would have any compelling rationale for a candidacy that did not depend on feeding MSM and GOP attacks on her character.

To the extent that there are some voices Biden listens to on this matter, whether it's Obama's or vox populi, let's hope they are telling him to stay well to this side of the failsafe point no matter how many reports pop up at Politico flattering him on his prospects. Should HRC's candidacy crash and burn before Iowa, let the party as a whole sort it out and choose its own rescuer. If Bernie Sanders defeats her in the Caucuses and primaries, let him reap the rewards of his own remarkable campaign. And more likely, if Clinton can overcome the obstacles before her, real and imaginary, the last thing Democrats need is some deus ex machina lurching onto the stage at a crucial moment. Let the Republicans enjoy all the drama.

By all credible accounts, the Vice President is still mourning the death of his son Beau. He should be allowed to take his time, instead of being dragged into an unnecessary and potentially destructive presidential race.


Hey GOP Candidates, What Was That About Cutting Social Security?



Most of the Republican presidential candidates have wised up to the point where they don't call for outright privatization of Social Security any more. But as the stock market heads south, they should not be allowed to evade their records as ardent supporters of various cuts in Social Security. As Sahil Kapur reports at Bloomberg Politics:

As they barnstorm the country trying to win supporters, Republican presidential hopefuls are regularly talking up the need to "save" Social Security by cutting it..But, in what may be an example of political prescience -- or, at the very least, reason for political relief -- given Monday's stock market swoon, they've been mysteriously silent about one issue that many conservatives support: privatization. Instead of calling for private accounts that give seniors the ability to invest their Social Security benefits, with all the potential for reward and risk that implies, many of this year's Republican candidates are calling for maintaining the structure of the popular federally-managed retirement program. Their plans for saving money: Making benefits less generous.

You may remember Jeb's brother's big push for privatization. Now, however, the GOP presidential wannabes are pretty quiet about cutting Social Security, compared to their stated positions quite recently. As Kapur notes,

This month in Iowa, Jeb Bush said he opposes the plan to privatize Social Security backed by his brother, former President George W. Bush. "It would've made sense back then. Now we're we beyond that," he said, calling for raising the retirement age and income-based means testing. Florida Senator Marco Rubio regularly discusses the need for Social Security changes like lifting the eligibility age for people under 55 and slowing the growth of benefits, but he doesn't mention privatization. Texas Senator Ted Cruz backed private accounts as "transformative" during an April interview with CNBC, but he seldom, if ever, discusses it on the campaign trail.

Further, Bryce Covert reports at Think Progress, via Nation of Change:

In June, presidential candidate Jeb Bush said that he thinks the next president will have to try to privatize Social Security. Others have gotten behind the idea as well: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) drafted a plan in 2013 that included partial privatization, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is in favor of using private accounts. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has included privatization in his budget blueprints.

But don't be fooled by the silence on Social Security among the GOP candidates. Social Security cuts and even privatization will resurface again, embedded as they are in the GOP's DNA. As Kapur explains, "It continues to have strong support among Wall Street donors, influential fiscal conservatives and congressional Republican leaders. The lesson from the 2005 debacle was about branding."

As for the Democrats, Kapur explains "Democrats, meanwhile, strongly oppose any kind of privatization of Social Security and generally oppose cutting the program at all. They've instead proposed addressing the long-term problems by raising the cap on income that is subject to Social Security payroll tax." And with good reason, as Covert explains:

"What's beautiful about Social Security is that in the long the return workers get on contributions is linked to productivity growth and wage growth," said Monique Morrissey, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. "Whereas markets are notoriously volatile and often behave in ways that are not based on the fundamental strength and weakness of the economy."

Americans are already affected by those ups and downs of the stock market through their 401(k) savings, which have skyrocketed in recent decades. Privatizing Social Security would increase the risks they have to take on. "We have a system where workers are already far too exposed to the vagaries of the stock market," Morrissey said. "We don't need to be expanding that."

..."The last stock market plunge in 2008 actually was the nail in the coffin of the idea of privatization," Morrissey said. "It became very visceral for all the people who lost a huge amount of money in 401(k) plans." But Republicans still seem intent on bringing the issue back to life.

You won't hear much from Republican presidential candidates about the need for cutting Social Security until the memory of this latest stock market plunge begins to fade, and then they will crank up the cuts and privatization talk again. Democratic campaigns, however, ought to remind the public where the GOP candidates, presidential and otherwise, stand on Social Security as often as possible. Failure to do so would be political malpractice.


August 25, 2015

Creamer: Clinton Email 'Story' Going Nowhere



The following article by Democratic strategist Robert Creamer, author of Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, is cross-posted from HuffPo:

A message to the out-of-touch Washington pundit class: get a grip. What was or was not on Hillary Clinton's email server when she was Secretary of State is not a game-changing news story.

In fact, no one outside the chattering class -- and right-wing true believers -- could give a rat's rear about this story -- and there is a good reason: there is no "there" there. If someone really thinks the great "email" story -- or the Benghazi investigation -- are going to sink her candidacy, I've got a bridge to sell them.

Of course, this is not the first time that the media -- with an assist from right-wing political operatives -- have laid into Hillary Clinton in an attempt to create a "scandal" where there was none.

Over the weekend, syndicated columnist Gene Lyons quoted a New York Times editorial as saying:

"These clumsy efforts at suppression are feckless and self-defeating." It argued that these actions are "swiftly draining away public trust in (her) integrity."

That editorial actually appeared in January 1994. The Times was expressing outrage at Hillary Clinton's turning over Whitewater documents to federal instigators rather than the press, which, as Lyons pointed out, " had conjured a make-believe scandal out of bogus reporting of a kind that's since become all too familiar in American journalism."

Speaking on NPR's Diane Rehm show, the Atlantic's Molly Ball sounded the same notes 21 years later. The email issue "continued to contribute to the perception that she has something to hide."

The Times' Sheryl Gay Solberg added that the email issue "creates and feeds into this narrative about the Clintons and Mrs. Clinton that the rules are different for them, and she's not one of us." Really?

What might really feed a negative narrative would be the New York Times' own story several weeks ago that falsely accused Ms. Clinton of being under criminal investigation. Which she is not and never was. The Times public editor acknowledged that the story was false and that it feed another narrative: that the New York Times had an ax to grind against the Clintons.

Of course the bottom lines of this story are simple:

At the time Ms. Clinton was Secretary of State there was no prohibition against the Secretary of State having a private email server. In fact, no Secretary of State before Ms. Clinton had a government email account.

None of the emails on the Secretary's personal account were classified at the time they were sent or received. That is not in dispute. There is an on-going controversy between various agencies of what ought to be classified in retrospect as the material is released to the public by the State Department, but that does not change the fact that none of it was classified at the time. In fact, one of the several emails at issue actually says the word "unclassified" in the upper left hand corner and can still be accessed by the general public on the State Department web site.

Finally, no one has ever pointed to an instance where the fact that something was on her server instead of a government server had any negative consequences whatsoever.

There is no issue here, period.

And as for the Benghazi "affair," none of the many investigations that have already been completed concerning the events surrounding the death of the American Ambassador to Libya in the Benghazi attack has found a shred of evidence that that Hillary Clinton did anything wrong whatsoever leading up to or in response to that attack.

And frankly if you ask most people about the Benghazi affair they think you're talking about something you rub on your muscles to reduce pain.

So now Congressman Trey Gowdy, who is the Chair of the Select Committee that was set up by the Republicans in the House to once again investigate this non-scandal, has decided to investigate the non-existent issue of the Clinton email server as well -- even though he acknowledges that it has nothing to do with Benghazi.

Not withstanding the lack of substance to any of these issues, people like Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post proclaim that they could be a terrible weight on her candidacy.

Who exactly are these pundits talking to? Rarely have they been so out of touch with the real American electorate. The perceptions and narratives they are discussing are the perceptions and narratives of the insider pundit and political class -- not normal voters.

And the same goes for often-unnamed Clinton backers that are wringing their hands that Clinton has not yet put the email issue behind her.

No one is handed the American presidency -- and that is especially true of a candidates that are not incumbent Presidents.

Every candidate faces many challenges and hurdles to getting elected -- and Hillary Clinton is no different. But the email-server issue is not one of them.

Clinton's campaign completely recognizes that it must fight for every delegate in the primaries and every vote in the general election.

In the general election, she must motivate Democratic base voters to turn out in massive numbers. She must excite new voters -- especially young people and women. And she must persuade undecided voters that she will fight effectively to actually change the rules of the political and economic game so that we have economic growth that benefits every American, not just Corporate CEO's and Wall Street Banks.

These are her real challenges -- and her campaign is focused like a laser on meeting those challenges.

It's time for her supporters to focus on those challenges as well -- and for the media to resist continuing to play its role as enabler of baseless right wing attacks like the great email and Benghazi "scandals" of 2015.


August 24, 2015

Political Strategy Notes



A.P.'s Erica Werner reports that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is considering "a major role in Democratic primaries in key congressional races nationally, which could produce weakened nominees who would be more easily defeated by Republicans, according to an internal memo obtained Thursday by The Associated Press." Werner says the Chamber is targeting Democratic primaries for 4 senate races (IL, OH, FL and PA) and 5 house races for possible involvement.

According to the International Institute for Democracy, "if you define voter turnout as the ratio of voters compared to the entire population of citizens eligible to vote, then for presidential elections, the U.S. lately ranks 75th (with 53.58 percent of eligible voters turning out) if you focus only on the 113 countries with presidential elections."

E. J. Dionne, Jr. succinctly defines the current assault on voting rights: "Mr. Obama's election called forth a far more sophisticated approach to restricting voting. Republicans closely examined how Mr. Obama's political organization had turned out large numbers of young African-Americans who had not voted before. Their participation was facilitated by early voting, and particularly Sunday voting...So legislatures in many states where Republicans had full political control went to work to make it harder for African-Americans, Latinos and young people to vote. Of course, that is not what they said they were doing."

Columnist Doyle McManus terms Hillary Clinton's strategy "soft populism"...not the insurrectionist socialism of Bernie Sanders but still progressive enough to keep most Democratic primary voters on her side."

At The Plum Line Paul Waldman probes "The simple-minded populism that controls the GOP," and notes, "Democratic populism says that the problem is largely about power: who has it, who doesn't, and on whose behalf it's wielded...Republican populism, on the other hand, is aimed against "elites" that are decidedly not economic. It's the egghead professors, the Hollywood liberals, the government bureaucrats whom they tell their voters to resent and despise. "

Jonathan Chait distills the Rubio pitch and then shreds it in his New York Magazine column "Marco Rubio: Let Me Be Your Front Man, Republicans." Chait explains: "Republicans who favor tax cuts for the rich, cuts in social benefits for working-class Americans, and deregulation of Wall Street...What these donors want is a candidate who will continue to advocate the fiscal and regulatory policies they crave...Rubio is all but explicitly making the case for himself as the front man to make that sale."

Former Sen. Kay Hagan has decided not to run for the U.S Senate seat now occupied by NC Republican Richard Burr, who many observers of NC politics believe to be one of the more vulnerable senators up from re-election in 2016. There are some less well-known potential challengers, with the usual concerns about fund-raising in a shrinking window of time. More here.

Lee Drutman has some interesting observations at Vox Polyarchy about "What Donald Trump Gets About the Electorate." Citing a study showing that "the dominant left-right/liberal-conservative divide in American politics doesn't fit a large number of voters," Drutman says "While most elite-funded and elite-supported Republicans want to increase immigration and decrease Social Security, a significant number of voters (across both parties) want precisely the opposite -- to increase Social Security and decrease immigration. So when Trump speaks out both against immigration and against fellow Republicans who want to cut Social Security, he's speaking out for a lot people....By my count of National Election Studies (NES) data, 24 percent of the US population holds this position (increase Social Security, decrease immigration). If we add in the folks who want to maintain (not cut) Social Security and decrease immigration, we are now at 40 percent of the total electorate, which I'll call "populist."

Somebody has a serious message discipline problem.


August 21, 2015

The Fire This Time?



There's a fascinating debate going on in punditland and in the political science community over the craziness breaking out in every direction in the GOP presidential nominating contest. The conventional wisdom remains that it's all a mirage, and that eventually sane "adult" voices in the GOP will resume command and the restless grassroots elements supporting various extremist candidates will fall into docile place, just as they always do. In other words: nothing to see here folks, move along.

But it ought to set off some alarms when AEI's Norm Ornstein says he doesn't think this is all political business as usual, as I discussed at Washington Monthly today:

Us old folks remember a time when AEI's Norman Ornstein was the very voice of The Conventional Wisdom. So his new column at The Atlantic ought to come as a particularly significant warning about this election cycle and the particular level of conservative freakout we are dealing with:
Almost all the commentary from the political-pundit class has insisted that history will repeat itself. That the Trump phenomenon is just like the Herman Cain phenomenon four years ago, or many others before it; that early enthusiasm for a candidate, like the early surge of support for Rudy Giuliani in 2008, is no predictor of long-term success; and that the usual winnowing-out process for candidates will be repeated this time, if on a slightly different timetable, given 17 GOP candidates.

Of course, they may be entirely right. Or not entirely; after all, the stories and commentaries over the past two months saying Trump has peaked, Trumpmania is over, this horrific comment or that is the death knell for Trump, have been embarrassingly wrong. But Trump's staying power notwithstanding, there are strong reasons to respect history and resist the urge to believe that everything is different now.

Still, I am more skeptical of the usual historical skepticism than I have been in a long time. A part of my skepticism flows from my decades inside the belly of the congressional beast. I have seen the Republican Party go from being a center-right party, with a solid minority of true centrists, to a right-right party, with a dwindling share of center-rightists, to a right-radical party, with no centrists in the House and a handful in the Senate. There is a party center that two decades ago would have been considered the bedrock right, and a new right that is off the old charts. And I have seen a GOP Congress in which the establishment, itself very conservative, has lost the battle to co-opt the Tea Party radicals, and itself has been largely co-opted or, at minimum, cowed by them.

As the congressional party has transformed, so has the activist component of the party outside Washington. In state legislatures, state party apparatuses, and state party platforms, there are regular statements or positions that make the most extreme lawmakers in Washington seem mild.

Perhaps he's thinking of the widespread subscription to the lunacy of Agenda 21 conspiracy theories, or there's something even more alarming crawling around out there. But I digress...

Egged on by talk radio, cable news, right-wing blogs, and social media, the activist voters who make up the primary and caucus electorates have become angrier and angrier, not just at the Kenyan Socialist president but also at their own leaders. Promised that Obamacare would be repealed, the government would be radically reduced, immigration would be halted, and illegals punished, they see themselves as euchred and scorned by politicians of all stripes, especially on their own side of the aisle.

So the forces favoring a big-time right-wing insurgency, says Ornstein, are already at the kind of levels that produced conservative uprisings in the GOP in 1964, 1976 (Reagan's primary challenge to incumbent president Ford), 1980 and 1994. But wait: it could be worse than those:

[I]s anything really different this time? I think so. First, because of the amplification of rage against the machine by social media, and the fact that Barack Obama has grown stronger and more assertive in his second term while Republican congressional leaders have become more impotent. The unhappiness with the establishment and the desire to stiff them is much stronger. Second, the views of rank-and-file Republicans on defining issues like immigration have become more consistently extreme--a majority now agree with virtually every element of Trump's program, including expelling all illegal immigrants.

There's more from Ornstein, but you get the idea. For years right-wing insurgent energy has flamed up and died down in a cycle that keeps getting more dangerous. This time the fire may be out of control.






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



August 28: Jimmy Carter's Forgotten Fight for Voting Rights

On this 50th anniversary year of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Democrats are remembering that epic development and the protests and sacrifices that produced it, even as they intensify efforts to defend and restore voting rights under attack today. But we sometimes forget battlefronts in this fight that occurred between then and now.

In honor of Jimmy Carter's current condition at death's door, journalist and historian Rick Perlstein wrote a powerful column at the Washington Spectator reminding us that the 39th president launched a major push for expanded voting rights back in 1977. Carter aimed at goals we have yet to achieve, thanks to a conservative counter-revolution--still underway today--against what had been a bipartisan effort to vindicate everyone's right to vote.

Everyone loved to talk about voter apathy, but the real problem, Carter said, was that "millions of Americans are prevented or discouraged from voting in every election by antiquated and overly restricted voter registration laws"--a fact proven, he pointed out, by record rates of participation in 1976 in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota, where voters were allowed to register on election day. So he proposed that election-day registration be adopted universally, tempering concerns that such measures might increase opportunities for fraud by also proposing five years in prison and a $10,000 fine as penalties for electoral fraud.

He asked Congress to allot up to $25 million in aid to states to help them comply, and for the current system of federal matching funds for presidential candidates to be expanded to congressional elections. He suggested reforming a loophole in the matching-fund law that disadvantaged candidates competing with rich opponents who funded their campaigns themselves, and revising the Hatch Act to allow federal employees "not in sensitive positions," and when not on the job, the same rights of political participation as everyone else.

Finally, and most radically, he recommended that Congress adopt a constitutional amendment to do away with the Electoral College--under which, three times in our history (four times if you count George W. Bush 23 years later), a candidate who received fewer votes than his opponent went on to become president--in favor of popular election of presidents. It was one of the broadest political reform packages ever proposed.

It was immediately embraced. Legislators from both parties stood together at a news briefing to endorse all or part of it. Two Republican senators and two Republican representatives stepped forward to cosponsor the universal registration bill; William Brock, chairman of the Republican National Committee, called it "a Republican concept." Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker announced his support, and suggested going even further: making election day a national holiday and keeping polls open 24 hours. House Minority Leader John Rhodes, a conservative disciple of Barry Goldwater, predicted it would pass "in substantially the same form with a lot of Republican support, including my own."

But then the conservative movement, led by Carter's eventual successor, Ronald Reagan, struck back with every weapon at its disposal, including the Senate filibuster, and stopped the initiative, after polarizing Republicans against it. And under the lash of the conservative movement, Republicans have been at the very best fair-weather friends of voting rights ever since, before becoming outright enemies during the Obama administration.

As Perstein notes, Carter is more concerned about voting rights than ever:

This spring, when only those closest to him knew of his illness, Jimmy Carter made news on Thom Hartmann's radio program when he returned to the question of democracy reform. In 1977, he had pledged "to work toward an electoral process which is open to the participation of all our citizens, which meets high ethical standards, and operates in an efficient and responsive manner." In 2015, he was still at it.

He declared our electoral system a violation of "the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it's just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president."

It's no time to give up the fight.


August 26: Let's Don't Drag the Vice President Into the 2016 Presidential Contest

I don't know about you, but the runaway talk about Joe Biden being on the brink of running for president in response to the demands of a "panicked" Democratic Party are making me a little crazy. I rebelled against the meme today at TPMCafe.

All this speculation is second- or third-hand and unsourced, with the exception of a few quotes from famed media manipulator Dick Harpootlian of South Carolina. The meeting between Biden and Warren--between the president of the Senate and a senator, to put it another way--could have been about anything or nothing. There are zero indications Warren's fans are the least bit interested in Biden; they are mostly already signed up to ride with Bernie Sanders, and probably remember Biden was on the wrong side in the battle over bankruptcy "reform" that really launched Warren's national career.

And of course the White House spokesman, when pressed, is going to say nice things about the number two figure in the administration. For that matter, why should Joe Biden go out of his way to make a Sherman Statement disclaiming any interest in a presidential run five months before a single vote is cast?

So much for the supply side of the equation. What about the demand side?

Notwithstanding attributions of "panic," and despite heavy, heavy negative press for months now, Hillary Clinton is maintaining a lead over all potential Republican nominees in the RealClearPolitics polling averages. In the last national poll to be released, from CNN/ORC, she led Bush by nine points, Fiorina by ten points, and Walker and Trump by six points. In the Democratic nomination contest, she's leading Sanders nationally two-to-one, even though pollsters are choosing to muddy the waters by including Biden in the surveys, and is leading Bernie in every state other than (in some polls) New Hampshire. Biden's running a weak third at around 12 percent. Having run twice before and failed dismally twice before, amid signs he did not or could not raise the kind of money needed for a serious candidacy, he's not exactly a natural magnet for moneyed or tenured elites, either.

The more you look at the Biden bandwagon, it looks more like a ghost ship being pulled through the mist by a combination of hungry political reporters, Hillary haters (including most of the conservative media), and Delaware-based Friends of Joe who, of course, would love to see him run. Plus there's Harpootlian!

Now as Michael Tomasky pointed out this week, Biden (with or without Warren) as a fallback contingency for the Democratic Party in case all the fears about HRC actually do materialize is one thing. Leaping into the race now would be not a rescue, but a demolition mission. For starters, it would be received bitterly by the many Democratic women who figured HRC's final assault on the political glass ceiling was a natural follow-up to Obama's historic presidency. And worse yet, it's hard to imagine Biden would have any compelling rationale for a candidacy that did not depend on feeding MSM and GOP attacks on her character.

To the extent that there are some voices Biden listens to on this matter, whether it's Obama's or vox populi, let's hope they are telling him to stay well to this side of the failsafe point no matter how many reports pop up at Politico flattering him on his prospects. Should HRC's candidacy crash and burn before Iowa, let the party as a whole sort it out and choose its own rescuer. If Bernie Sanders defeats her in the Caucuses and primaries, let him reap the rewards of his own remarkable campaign. And more likely, if Clinton can overcome the obstacles before her, real and imaginary, the last thing Democrats need is some deus ex machina lurching onto the stage at a crucial moment. Let the Republicans enjoy all the drama.

By all credible accounts, the Vice President is still mourning the death of his son Beau. He should be allowed to take his time, instead of being dragged into an unnecessary and potentially destructive presidential race.


August 21: The Fire This Time?

There's a fascinating debate going on in punditland and in the political science community over the craziness breaking out in every direction in the GOP presidential nominating contest. The conventional wisdom remains that it's all a mirage, and that eventually sane "adult" voices in the GOP will resume command and the restless grassroots elements supporting various extremist candidates will fall into docile place, just as they always do. In other words: nothing to see here folks, move along.

But it ought to set off some alarms when AEI's Norm Ornstein says he doesn't think this is all political business as usual, as I discussed at Washington Monthly today:

Us old folks remember a time when AEI's Norman Ornstein was the very voice of The Conventional Wisdom. So his new column at The Atlantic ought to come as a particularly significant warning about this election cycle and the particular level of conservative freakout we are dealing with:
Almost all the commentary from the political-pundit class has insisted that history will repeat itself. That the Trump phenomenon is just like the Herman Cain phenomenon four years ago, or many others before it; that early enthusiasm for a candidate, like the early surge of support for Rudy Giuliani in 2008, is no predictor of long-term success; and that the usual winnowing-out process for candidates will be repeated this time, if on a slightly different timetable, given 17 GOP candidates.

Of course, they may be entirely right. Or not entirely; after all, the stories and commentaries over the past two months saying Trump has peaked, Trumpmania is over, this horrific comment or that is the death knell for Trump, have been embarrassingly wrong. But Trump's staying power notwithstanding, there are strong reasons to respect history and resist the urge to believe that everything is different now.

Still, I am more skeptical of the usual historical skepticism than I have been in a long time. A part of my skepticism flows from my decades inside the belly of the congressional beast. I have seen the Republican Party go from being a center-right party, with a solid minority of true centrists, to a right-right party, with a dwindling share of center-rightists, to a right-radical party, with no centrists in the House and a handful in the Senate. There is a party center that two decades ago would have been considered the bedrock right, and a new right that is off the old charts. And I have seen a GOP Congress in which the establishment, itself very conservative, has lost the battle to co-opt the Tea Party radicals, and itself has been largely co-opted or, at minimum, cowed by them.

As the congressional party has transformed, so has the activist component of the party outside Washington. In state legislatures, state party apparatuses, and state party platforms, there are regular statements or positions that make the most extreme lawmakers in Washington seem mild.

Perhaps he's thinking of the widespread subscription to the lunacy of Agenda 21 conspiracy theories, or there's something even more alarming crawling around out there. But I digress...

Egged on by talk radio, cable news, right-wing blogs, and social media, the activist voters who make up the primary and caucus electorates have become angrier and angrier, not just at the Kenyan Socialist president but also at their own leaders. Promised that Obamacare would be repealed, the government would be radically reduced, immigration would be halted, and illegals punished, they see themselves as euchred and scorned by politicians of all stripes, especially on their own side of the aisle.

So the forces favoring a big-time right-wing insurgency, says Ornstein, are already at the kind of levels that produced conservative uprisings in the GOP in 1964, 1976 (Reagan's primary challenge to incumbent president Ford), 1980 and 1994. But wait: it could be worse than those:

[I]s anything really different this time? I think so. First, because of the amplification of rage against the machine by social media, and the fact that Barack Obama has grown stronger and more assertive in his second term while Republican congressional leaders have become more impotent. The unhappiness with the establishment and the desire to stiff them is much stronger. Second, the views of rank-and-file Republicans on defining issues like immigration have become more consistently extreme--a majority now agree with virtually every element of Trump's program, including expelling all illegal immigrants.

There's more from Ornstein, but you get the idea. For years right-wing insurgent energy has flamed up and died down in a cycle that keeps getting more dangerous. This time the fire may be out of control.


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