I: LANDSLIDES AND REALITY
WHY THE REPUBLICAN PARTY NEEDS TO DISAPPEAR. Ron Reagan, Jr., recently offered, as clearly and succinctly as anyone, why the Republican Party, as currently constituted, needs to disappear.
We have a two-party system in this country. You could argue that maybe we should have a multi-party system, and maybe that’s what will happen in the end now. But the two-party system as we’ve known it for a long, long time now, is effectively dead. The Republican Party does not exist, will not exist, going forward as it has in decades past. The problem is not Donald Trump, he’s just a symptom. The problem for the Republican Party is the Trump voter. The Trump voter, which is nearly half the party, they’re not going to go for Paul Ryan or somebody like that next time. They’re going to want another Donald Trump.
WHY WE NEED A LANDSLIDE. For the sake of the preservation and health of our democracy, we need a landslide for Clinton, not only in the electoral college, but also in the popular vote; we need to take back not only the Senate, but also the House, and we need to repopulate state house and local offices with Democrats and Democratically-aligned independents all down the line. While, for democracy to work as it should, we need more than one party, for the reasons stated by Ron Reagan, Jr. (and so many others), the Republican Party, and all who have aided and abetted it, must lose their right to sit at the seat of government.
Here’s a good analysis at 538 of what a landslide could look like, at least at the top of the ticket.
DOWN-TICKET, the Koch brothers and Rove and other “dark money” funders are pouring money into Congressional races where the Republican candidate, or seated Republican, is vulnerable. Elizabeth Warren, in a recent e-mail “ask” for support of four Senate candidates, Tammy Duckworth [opponent Mark Kirk], Maggie Hassan [opponent Kelly Ayotte], Catherine Cortez Masto [opponent Joe Heck], and Katie McGinty [opponent Pat Toomey], reported on what they face:
Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois is a true American hero who lost both legs while serving in Iraq. But Republican Mark Kirk’s Super PAC just launched its first ad: a nasty “swiftboat” style attack on Tammy’s record of service for veterans. Illinois has been called the Democrats’ top pickup opportunity in the Senate – but if Tammy is going to win, she needs help to fight back against these disgusting smear attacks.
New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan knows a thing or two about attack ads. Since Maggie launched her Senate campaign, her Republican opponent [Kelly Ayotte] and the right-wing Super PACs have already spent $24 million against Maggie (and remember, New Hampshire is not that big!). Despite all of their efforts to drag Maggie down, the polls are still neck and neck. Every dollar Maggie has to fight back will make a difference.
Former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto is also under heavy attack in a too-close-to-call Senate race [opponent Joe Heck]. The right-wing groups are drooling over the thought of taking the open Senate seat Democratic Leader Harry Reid has held for decades. They’ve already spent or reserved $26 million in attack ads against Catherine, and that number could skyrocket in these final months of the campaign. Catherine knows how to fight back against the powerful interests, but she needs us by her side.
Clean energy and environment leader Katie McGinty has jumped ahead in the polls in Pennsylvania, and it has put the Republicans in a panic. The Koch Brothers alone have spent over $5 million to help their friend Pat Toomey, and the outside spending in Pennsylvania will likely get a lot worse. Katie McGinty is a terrific candidate running a strong campaign, and with our help she can win this Senate race in November.
ON THE HOUSE SIDE, NCEC’s “Yes, the House is in Play” offers a clear-eyed assessment of what it would take to turn the House blue.
The cratering of support for Donald Trump among white college-educated women and, to some extent, men with college degrees, could hamper GOP efforts in a number of districts. National political trends suggest that the 30-seat gain needed to recapture the House is not beyond reach.
In order for a majority to materialize, the Democrats must minimize their losses to virtually none. Apart from the near certain loss of Florida’s 2nd District—due to an otherwise favorable court-ordered redistricting plan—this seems at least possible. The 2006 election provides a blueprint—when the Democrats gained 30 House seats without relinquishing a single one. Nevertheless, a repeat of this performance is unlikely.”
Any chance to turn the House blue depends strongly on the size of a Clinton landslide. Here’s how Sabato’s Crystal Ball analyzed the possibilities earlier this year:
In many states, Republican-controlled legislatures drew a large number of marginally Republican seats in order to maximize the number of seats the party could control. But a relatively large Democratic wave could inundate even some supposedly safe GOP seats, overcoming a seemingly high floodwall. Whereas a one-point increase over 2012 would result in nine net seats being won by the Democratic presidential nominee, a two-point increase (54% nationally) quickly raises that net advantage to 35 seats.
Nate Silver also discusses the “landslide effect” in “How A Trump Debacle Could Affect The House And State Legislatures”:
This question boils down to how closely tied presidential voting is with votes for Congress and state legislatures. There’s a pretty clear relationship — for each additional percent of the vote a presidential candidate receives, his or her party will gain several House seats and about two dozen state legislative seats, according to my analysis. But there’s quite a bit of leniency in that relationship. While having an unpopular candidate [like Trump]at the top of the ticket is certainly a challenge, it’s not necessarily a death sentence. Candidates can sometimes successfully distance themselves from their presidential candidate.
See the spreadsheet compilation at the bottom of the post for basic information on the House candidates the DCCC has identified in its “red-to-blue” campaign. The link for the DCCC campaign and to contribute is here. Of course, as we know, not all Democrats are created equal; a cautionary tale on that is in the “note on my district” at the end. The Daily Kos has identified two targeted lists of House candidates to support and will probably identify more. The lists, with a link to donate, are here and here.
II: CYNICISM AND HOPE
CLINTON, THE DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES, AND THE COUNTRY’S PSYCHE. I recently read Anne Garrel’s book “Putin’s Country,” and was struck by this paragraph:
. . . most Russians get their news from TV channels . . . and these channels have become shrill purveyors of conspiracy theories and anti-Western propaganda. Gleb Pavlovsky, a political consultant and skilled spin doctor who helped Putin during his first election campaign and remained a Kremlin adviser for years afterward, has lately parted ways. He is concerned about Putin’s lack of strategic thinking and the consequences of the feverish anti-Ukrainian, anti-American, and generally xenophobic programming. “This keeps people in a traumatized state,” he says. “They lose their sanity. They become paranoid and aggressive.” (p. 183)
It made me think how thoroughly our entire country, whether pro or con Trump, is in the grip of one sociopath’s megalomaniacal desire for attention. Imagine now, if you will, a defeated Trump, with Bannon and Ailes at either side, launching his big new enterprise, Trump News.
The only thing I know to do in the face of this is to keep trying—and likely keep failing—to bring the GOOD news, and I think there is plenty. When it comes to incumbent Democrats, however, and especially Clinton, there’s an extra veil to pierce so that good news can not only be heard, but also credited. It’s called cynicism.
Now, I do think healthy skepticism is essential to critical thinking. But cynicism is another matter entirely. Here’s a capsule wiki-summary of the difference between the two:
“A skeptic doesn’t believe anything without strong reasons, which is why it is also associated with doubt, especially when something hasn’t been experienced yet. Cynicism is believing the worst of something or someone. It has nothing to do with evidence. It is an outlook on life.”
As one example, to me, the widely circulated Halle-Chomsky piece on “Lesser Evil Voting” in this election is cynical, and far from trivial in the damage this thinking has done and can do.
Even as Halle-Chomsky (as with Michael Moore and Robert Reich) are trying to offer a palatable path for those who have antipathy to Clinton to bring themselves to vote for her, the underlying attitude remains of a piece with Michael Moore’s comment at a 2000 Nader rally (which Susan Sarandon also attended):
“Michael Moore, the filmmaker, lambasted the front-runners. ‘A vote for Gore is a vote for Bush,’’ he said. ‘’If they both believe in the same thing, wouldn’t you want the original than the copy? Wouldn’t you want Bush? Sirloin or hamburger? Which would you go for?’”
Look, it’s not that I don’t have a healthy skepticism. I think that’s important. What I don’t look for is purity. I don’t even prize it—among not only politicians but all the rest of us mere mortals. What we need are open minds and a willingness to take in information, assess it, and adjust our views, as required. (I’ve done that quite a bit during this election season and suspect I’ll continue to do so, but that’s for another time.) For me, the better formulation for thinking about politics and politicians is from Voltaire: We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Some have said that how a candidate runs a campaign offers a good indication of how s/he will govern. If we look in a clear-sighted way at Clinton’s campaign, I don’t see how anyone can fail to be impressed. If, however, Clinton is viewed through the veil of cynicism, then nothing she has done, is doing, or will ever do, can be seen for what it is, let alone be seen as in service of the good.
Clinton has demonstrated powerfully that she is as mentally tough as she is shrewd, and that she knows what it takes to govern. She once invoked Max Weber’s statement that “Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards.” I think that’s telling of how she will govern, and telling to the good.
The recent WIRED endorsement of Clinton, in this regard, is one of the best I’ve read:
“We don’t always agree with Clinton. As secretary of state, her inclination toward military solutions had disastrous consequences in the Middle East, and the US still has an alarming tendency to try to solve complex foreign policy problems with flying killer robots. Her specific position on encryption is tough to pin down, but she seems to favor encryption weak enough for law enforcement to penetrate. That violates basic privacy.
“But having met Clinton and talked about all these issues with her, I can tell you that her mastery of issues and detail is unlike that of any politician I’ve met. She comes to every policy conversation steeped in its history and implications, and with opinions from a diverse set of viewpoints. She is a technician, and we like technicians.
“Now, it’s true: Engineers, the heroes of WIRED, often misunderstand politics. They tend to confuse political problems with technological ones (because those are the ones they know how to solve), and they get impatient with the inefficiency, ugliness, and open-endedness of governing. If you think WIRED’s ideal future is an engineer’s future, you’ve misread us, and I apologize for being unclear. Making policy based on ideas, science, evidence, and compromise—as we believe Hillary Clinton will do—is not an approach to building a fully optimized system. When human beings are involved, optimization is asymptotic; you aim for it but never reach it. Clinton’s approach is merely prudent.
“It’s also skillful. Among those who’ve worked with her, Clinton is renowned for how well she listens and works in teams. And of course her inauguration would start to remedy a certain hiring bias that the nation’s HR department—the electorate—has displayed over the past 241 years.”
Even the New York Times has weighed in lately with an article or two that gives Clinton at least some of the credit she is long overdue. Here’s one, good right from the headline, “Hillary Clinton Twists the Knife in Donald Trump’s Tax Proposals.”
We need much more of this brand of intelligent assessment to begin to counter the cynicism that has set in, particularly among younger voters. Just last Friday, 538 reported:
“Donald Trump received one of his better polling results on Thursday — at least since the conventions. The highly regarded Pew Research Center released a survey showing Hillary Clinton leading Trump by 41 percent to 37 percent, with Gary Johnson at 10 percent and Jill Stein at 4. Consequently, Clinton’s chances of winning the election dropped 2 points in both our forecasts, to 86 percent in polls-only and to 76 percent in polls-plus.
“The fact that a 4-point deficit is a “good” result for Trump should give you a sense for how poorly he’s doing. Clinton remains a clear favorite to win the White House. “There was, however, another interesting bit of info in the Pew poll: The youngest voters in the electorate don’t seem very enamored with the major-party candidates.
“Clinton led Trump 38 percent to 27 percent among 18- to 29-year-olds, with Johnson at 19 percent and Stein at 9 percent, according to Pew. That is, Clinton was winning a smaller share of under-30 voters than she was of voters overall. That’s unusual, and normally, I wouldn’t pay much attention to such a result because the margin of error on subgroups (especially younger voters, who are more difficult to reach in a poll) is large. But Pew’s finding is fairly consistent with other surveys since the conventions.”
I believe cynicism, which I think is reflected in these poll results, has been irresponsibly fostered by political pundits with an outsized reach, and it’s going to be hard to turn around.
If Clinton wins in a landslide sufficient to turn Congress a robust shade of blue, she’ll have a chance to demonstrate what I and so many others who will vote for her this fall know she’s capable of: make a load of terrific appointments, from the Supreme Court right on down, and put her shoulder to the wheel and twist a lot of arms to get legislation on a host of important issues through both houses of Congress.
But what if she doesn’t have that blue Congress? What if, like Obama, she’s hobbled to a draw? What if Trump Press is up and running? And then there’s this, from The Atlantic, “The Era of ‘The Bitch’ Is Coming: A Hillary Clinton presidential victory promises to usher in a new age of public misogyny.”
Our country badly needs a national, ongoing civics lesson. We owe it to ourselves to restore and encourage analytical thinking that is well-founded on a deep understanding of history and of how government works. Encouraging questioning and healthy skepticism is part and parcel of that, but we’ve got to debunk cynicism and focus on the good if we are to foster hope.
On a recent visit to the FDR Museum, the closing video recounted FDR’s accomplishments. Former President Bill Clinton wrote the script and read the narration. He said, “hope is the beginning of progress.” He’s right. Here’s a snippet from the film:
A NOTE ON MY DISTRICT: My own NY-19 Congressional District leans red. While perhaps not a poster child for gerrymandering, it might be a strong contender, and it has certainly shape-shifted over time. When we first moved here, Kirsten Gillibrand held the seat in what was then the 20th District. She was, at the time a “Blue Dog” Democrat. She won the seat in 2006 on the heels of the release of a December 2005 police report of a 911 call by her opponent’s wife reporting that her opponent was “’knocking her around the house.’” Gillibrand handily won her re-election bid in 2008, I’m suspecting strongly aided by Obama’s coattails that year.
When Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State, then-Governor Paterson selected Gillibrand to take her Senate seat. That left the 20th District seat open, and an unknown Democrat named Scott Murphy ran, won, and then proceeded to side with the New York Republican delegation to vote against the Affordable Care Act. The Democrats, appropriately, deserted him; the Republicans he sided with proved fickle “friends,” and he lost his seat. Somewhere in there, our District became the 19th. The current Republican incumbent is retiring.
Democrat Zephyr Teachout and Republican John Faso are competing for the seat. Teachout is in a tough race, so far designated toss-up/leaning Republican. Teachout is working hard and has a lot of support, but it’s likely she’s going to need long coattails from Clinton in order to win.
Postscript: A note of thanks for your willingness to read this post. After all, I have no special expertise, just interest, as I hope we all do, in the outcome of this election. It has led me to spend far more time than I ever have thinking about the nature of our political system, its history, and its prospects.
Spreadsheet compilation from Susan Scheid with some basic information on the candidates the DCCC has identified in its “red-to-blue” campaign.House Races 2016 rev 160821 (1) Sheet1