Unless you are a glutton for punishment, you may not have heard the latest buzz in the conservative media – that IRS head Douglas Shulman visited the White House 157 times. “Bombshell Discovery” and “Smoking Gun” were among the thoughtful cautious and judicious phrases chosen to describe this fact since the only possible interpretation was that Shulman was getting near-daily marching orders directly from Obama on how to most savagely persecute the Tea Party. But then that big spoilsport Josh Marshall has to come along and ruin the fun. As he says:
In a few words, most of the right-wing press is just astonishingly bad.
Here’s today’s example. Yesterday I heard word on Twitter that ex-IRS Chief Douglas Shulman had visited the White House a whopping 157 times. The story started at The Daily Caller. It’s not totally clear whether that was whopping or sub-whopping. But whatever.
He then lets Garance Franke-Ruta present the facts:
The public meeting schedules available for review to any media outlet show that very thing: Shulman was cleared primarily to meet with administration staffers involved in implementation of the health-care reform bill. He was cleared 40 times to meet with Obama’s director of the Office of Health Reform, and a further 80 times for the biweekly health reform deputies meetings and others set up by aides involved with the health-care law implementation efforts. That’s 76 percent of his planned White House visits just there, before you even add in all the meetings with Office of Management and Budget personnel also involved in health reform.
But it gets better. Those 157 visits? Those are times he was ‘cleared’ to visit the White House. The logs only show he actually showed up 11 times. It’s quite possible that the records missed a couple visits. But it seems likely that the story – which originated at The Daily Caller – was off by about ten fold.
He then concludes:
Now, this isn’t an indictment of [all] conservative journalists… But as a group, the standards of most institutional right wing journalism are just so appallingly bad that their stories simply aren’t credible.
But, hey, wait just a darn minute. If — as the Daily Caller also reported — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was giving money to “Friends of Hamas” at the same time that the IRS was involved in tax discussions about setting up Death Panels under Obamacare, then maybe it was actually Hagel who was passing information on how to persecute the Tea Party groups from Obama over to Shulman using his contacts in the “Friends of Hamas” as intermediaries.
Sure there is an argument that the departure of Michelle Bachman from office is good for Republicans, as per LC Granderson’s CNN Opinion post “Bachmann exit helps GOP scrub stupid away.” But it can’t be a bad thing that the quality of congressional dialogue won’t be quite as lame.
Or, as E. J. Dionne, Jr. puts it in his WaPo column, “Bachmann’s retirement should foster some soul-searching about the nature of our political discourse and how easy it is for falsehood and innuendo to get treated as just one more element in the conversation — no more or less legitimate than any other… She perfected a tactic well-suited to the current media environment: continually toss out outlandish, baseless charges, and, eventually, some of them will enter the mainstream media…”
Jeremy W. Peters’ “G.O.P. Sizes Up Obama as Midterm Target” at The New York Times reports on the strategic debate now underway in the Republican Party.
Virginia’s Republican Governor does something good in announcing plans to restore voting rights to people convicted of nonviolent felonies. But he can do even better, as Sue Sturgis reports at Facing South: “While civil rights advocates are lauding McDonnell’s action, some are calling on him to go further by automatically restoring voting rights to all Virginia citizens with past criminal convictions who are living and working in the community.”
At last, the filibuster may be ripe for nuking, reports Jamelle Bouie at The Daily Beast..
Andy Kroll’s Mother Jones post “Meet the New George Soros” showcases the new bogeyman for the wingnuts, Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg: “All told, Katzenberg gave or raised more than $30 million to reelect Obama, helping Hollywood make up for Wall Street’s plummeting financial support of the president. And that’s not counting the funds he marshaled for other Democrats, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and California Gov. Jerry Brown.”
In his New York Times Opinionator blog, Thomas B. Edsall discusses the a trendy justification for cutthroat capitalism: “In a more detailed paper, “Can’t We All Be More Like Scandinavians?” Acemoglu, Robinson and Verdier expand on their argument that the world is dependent on American leadership in technology and innovation to sustain global growth. In order to maintain its position at the forefront of global innovation, the authors contend, the United States must maintain an economic system that provides great rewards to successful innovators, which “implies greater inequality and greater poverty (and a weaker safety net) for a society encouraging innovation.”
At Brookings William A. Galston and E. J. Dionne, Jr. consider “The New Politics of Marijuana Legalization: Why Opinion is Changing” and observe that “demographic change and widespread public experience using marijuana imply that opposition to legalization will never again return to the levels seen in the 1980s. The strong consensus that formed the foundation for many of today’s stringent marijuana laws has crumbled.”
From Josh Krushaar’s “Republican Red Flags All Over in Bellwether States: The GOP’s recruitment struggles in Virginia and Colorado don’t bode well for the party’s long-term health“: “For all the lip service given by Republicans to the party’s efforts to modernize its image, a quick look at the GOP’s standing in two must-win battlegrounds doesn’t paint a promising picture of their efforts. In Colorado and Virginia–the archetypes of suburban, demographically changing states–Republicans are barely contesting next year’s Senate races, are facing fresh setbacks in the two pivotal upcoming gubernatorial races, and are dealing with persistent issues recruiting new talent into the pipeline.”
Eugene Robinson should be able to get about 70 million “Amens” for this one.
The following article, by Democratic strategist Mike Lux, author of The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America came to Be, is cross-posted from HuffPo:
There were big demonstrations at the Department of Justice a couple of weeks ago starting on May 20, including civil disobedience and arrests, and I wrote about these important demonstrations at the time. But after two days of protests at DOJ, the demonstrators switched targets and went over to the law firm of Covington and Burling, where seven brave grandmothers from all over the country were arrested. Here is a video of Cammy Depew, one of these grandmothers, talking about what led her to be willing to be arrested, a video that is powerful in its simplicity:
I think everyone understood the reasons for taking on the DOJ — they seem to have been a lot more interested in wiretapping journalists than in holding bank CEOs accountable. But why would demonstrators focus on Covington and Burling? Because these grandmothers understand that to get at the root of our problems, we’re going to have hold K Street accountable, not just government. And the line between the problems at DOJ and Covington and Burling couldn’t be any more direct. C&B was Eric Holder’s law firm; they were Lanny Breuer’s law firm, and just as I predicted when he left his perch at DOJ after not prosecuting any of the top execs at the big banks on Wall Street, he went straight back there after his DOJ stint; and they are Wall Street’s leading law firm here in the nation’s capital. Quite a track record, and quite a revolving door. When Holder finally leaves DOJ, and whenever it is that day won’t come a moment too soon, my strong guess is that he will head straight back to Covington as well.
The Covington-DOJ connection is at the heart of the problem. Holder and Breuer enjoyed their work on behalf of Wall Street at Covington, and made a lot of friends (and money) doing it. The idea of going back is understandably appealing. But it’s hard to go back to representing bankers when you have just been prosecuting them. It is time for Obama to break the connection, and appoint an Attorney General who will prosecute bankers, not grandmothers who have been abused by bankers. Or, say, reporters.
Covington and Burling was the perfect target for this kind of demonstration, because they are such a ripe symbol for the kind of K Street influence that is corrupting our government. But this goes far beyond C&B. K Street’s tentacles are everywhere — in his book The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins, Jeff Connaughton calls this phenomenon “the blob,” that constantly migrating group of lobbyists, PR people, regulators, Capitol Hill staffers, and think tank staffers who stay close to Wall Street for all kinds of reasons (although most of them involve money). Jeff was focused on Wall Street, but it’s not just Wall Street that has K Street’s minions blobbing all over our government — big monopolist industries control too much of our government. And it’s a thoroughly bi-partisan problem. I am a Democrat because Democrats are far better on social issues, and because there are some Democrats that still fight the economic powers that be. The reason more and more people, like those seven gutsy grandmas, feel like they have to take to the streets, though, is because neither party is listening to them and fighting for them nearly enough.
We have to take our country and our government back. We have to beat back the blob. And we should use every non-violent tool in the citizen tool box that we have available to us, from electing good people to engaging in civil disobedience.
The following article by Ruy Teixeira is cross-posted from Think Progress:
In 2012, the GOP got 49 percent of the (two party) popular vote for the House but managed to snag 54 percent of the seats. That no doubt had something to do with clever boundary drawing (otherwise known as gerrymandering) in states where Republicans controlled the redistricting process.
But it would be a mistake to assume that’s all there is to it. Republicans also benefit from how their votes are distributed spatially, as a very useful post by Kyle Kondik on the Crystal Ball reminds us. His analysis shows that Democratic House districts tend to be small and densely populated, while Republican House districts tend to much bigger and sparsely populated. According to Kondik, Democrats currently hold 87 of the 100 smallest Congressional districts, while the GOP holds 73 of the 100 largest districts. Overall, the GOP holds districts covering 80 percent of the US land mass (!), compared to the Democrats’ measly 20 percent.
Moreover, those small Democratic districts tend to be very Democratic, which wastes a considerable proportion of Democratic votes where they’re not, in a political sense, needed. Kondik notes that Obama won 70 percent of the vote in 61 House districts, while Romney won 70 percent in just 19. The term of art for this is that Republican votes are more “efficiently” distributed to produce Republican victories. That means that, even if there were no gerrymandering to speak of, a Democratic share of the vote that is just over 50 percent would still likely translate into less than 50 percent of House seats.
That’s the dark side of a pattern I commented on in a post a couple of months ago. The Democrats benefit on the Presidential level and in many states from dominating large dynamic metropolitan areas, particularly the most densely populated parts of those areas:
The flip side is an inefficient distribution of Democratic votes in House districts. The only effective way for Democrats to nullify this disadvantage is to push farther out into less densely populated suburbs and metro areas, trying to create or find more Democrats and thereby put more seats in play. Blaming all their problems on gerrymandering or, worse, waiting for 2020 and another redrawing of the map, will simply ensure that current Republican advantages remain intact.
Matt Miller has a WaPo opinion post, “A Money Bomb for 2016,” suggesting a simple idea for ending the corruption that has paralyzed our political system. First, Miller does and excellent job of describing the core problem:
New legislators are told by party leaders to spend no less than four hours a day “dialing for dollars” for reelection. That’s twice the time they’re expected to spend on committee work, floor votes or meeting with constituents. And it doesn’t count the fundraisers they attend in their “free time.”
“Members routinely duck out of the House office buildings, where they are prohibited by law from campaigning,” the Boston Globe recently reported, “and walk across the street to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee offices…. There, on the second floor, 30 to 40 legislators and their staffers squeeze into the ‘bullpen’ … a makeshift call center of about two dozen cubicles, each 2½ feet wide and equipped with two land lines.”
The two parties function “basically like telemarketing firms,” Tom Perriello, a Virginia Democrat who lost in 2010 after serving one term in the House, told the Globe. “‘You go down on any given evening and you’ve got 30 members with headsets on dialing and dialing and dialing, trying to close the deal.'”
…Our leaders are groveling half a day every day to just 150,000 out of the 311 million of us. Forget “the 1 percent.” This is the one-twentieth of 1 percent who can afford to give a couple of thousand dollars to campaigns.
This is your democracy at work.
It’s a depressing image, enough to make many a potentially-promising candidate say “no thanks” to party recruiters. But Miller has a potential solution, which originates from a proposal by Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig:
Enter Lessig’s idea. He’s working to launch “a super PAC to end all super PACs.” He wants 50 patriotic billionaires to pony up $20 million to $40 million dollars each (provided their fellow tycoons do the same). Toss in contributions from less well-heeled folks who believe in the cause. Presto: You have a $1 billion to $2 billion dollar war chest devoted to making grass-roots public funding of campaigns a viable path to office.
The super PAC would champion a short slate of reforms centered around publicly supported small-dollar campaign funding. It would intervene in campaigns to help elect congressional candidates who sign on to this agenda and to defeat candidates who oppose it. Building on recent reforms in Connecticut and New York, the bedrock fix might involve a system of matching grants or tax credits or vouchers that enable average citizens (via public dollars) to be the main source of finance for competitive campaigns.
Politicos are helping Lessig develop a more precise, district-by-district estimate of how much money it would take to win a congressional majority pledged to these reforms, but his guesstimate feels like it is in the ballpark.
Say what you will about the likelihood of finding “50 patriotic billionaires” who also happen to be generous enough to contribute 20-40 million to such a cause. Lessig himself says “You have to embrace the irony.”
Miller points out that a mini-version of the idea has had some success in defeating 8 candidates who caved to well-funded special interests. And he reports that a new group called Fund for the Republic, is considering the idea. It may be possible to get such a fund started, and over time, who knows? Sometimes we have to put skepticism aside and make room for grace.
Fifty-two percent of Republican claims reviewed by the Tampa Bay Times fact-checking operation were rated “mostly false,” “false” or “pants on fire,” versus just 24 percent of Democratic statements, according to George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs. By the same token, 54 percent of Democratic statements were rated as “mostly true” or “true,” compared to just 18 percent of Republican statements.
The CMPA looked at 100 statements — 46 by Democrats, 54 by Republicans — that were fact-checked by PolitiFact between January 20 and May 22. The study’s findings are similar to a previous CMPA study, which found that PolitiFact gave more negative ratings to the Romney campaign than the Obama campaign in 2012.
At HuffPo, Jonathan Weiler, Director of Undergraduate Studies in Global Studies, UNC Chapel Hill, has a well-written blistering of a largely one-sided WaPo report on extremism in North Carolina. As Weller explains:
The all-too-frequent failure of political media to report accurately and with appropriate context is an ongoing disaster for our country. Among the adverse consequences of this failure is that political media aid and abet Republican extremism by softening its razor sharp edges and by bending over backwards to lend it respectability and legitimacy even when doing so requires distorting basic facts, apparently driven by the conviction that providing context and independent analysis might smack of liberal bias. The Washington Post this weekend offered a particularly dismaying entry in this regard in an article on the extraordinary developments in North Carolina. The article does note that since Pat McCrory took over the governor’s mansion in January, the state GOP has pushed North Carolina “hard to the right.” The ongoing legislative session in Raleigh has been a master class in venality, spite and contempt, resulting in, among many other things, the rejection of Medicaid expansion — thus denying half a million North Carolinians health insurance; extreme attacks on voting rights; proposals that would result in an historic shift in the tax burden away from the wealthy and toward the middle class and the poor; massive cuts in education to the university system, K-12 education and pre-K; and efforts to gut environmental regulations.
Author Michael Fletcher noted some of these proposed cuts, but repeatedly gave Republicans a platform to justify their proposals, while providing none for their Democratic opponents in state government nor offering any independent scrutiny of their claims…Fletcher offers not a single factual rebuttal to Republican claims in the article, despite the ample evidence that the premises behind key policy proposals are false or contradictory or both. Nor does he quote a single state Democratic lawmaker in the article opposing the Republican agenda. Surely a Washington Post reporter would have the access necessary to find one Democrat in the legislature who would go on the record. And surely he or a research assistant could spend a few minutes examining whether the claims he does quote stand up to scrutiny — in other words, to be something other than a stenographer. North Carolina Republicans have launched an all out attack on the less well off, apparently concerned only with the welfare of the already well-to-do. Their job is made easier by work like Fletcher’s on Saturday. This is shoddy journalism, as likely to obscure as to inform people about the true state of affairs in North Carolina, serving among other things to paper over the excesses of a broadly unpopular agenda — from taxes, to guns, to environmental protection to cuts in education and more…
As Weller concludes, “When, for the love of all that is decent and fair, are we going to drop the canard about a liberal media?” Indeed.
Rachel Weiner’s “No, It’s Not a Push Poll” at The Fix has a level-headed take on the new PPP poll showing Senate Minority Mitch McConnell in a dead heat in his race for re-election in KY, when matched against Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Says Weiner: “Two things are true: 1. McConnell is probably not as vulnerable as this poll might suggest. 2. it’s not a push poll, as some Republicans have alleged.”
Weiner goes on to point out correctly that many polls test negative memes, and also quotes American Association for Public Opinion Research President Nancy Mathiowetz: “Message testing, when campaigns test the effectiveness of possible messages about opponents and even themselves, is very different; and it is a legitimate form of surveying.”
A push poll is one that is designed to damage a candidate. PPP has an excellent track record in terms of both integrity and accuracy in predicting election outcomes. In addition, Weiner reports that to compensate for distortion caused by negative questions, PPP “weights its sample to account for that possibility.”
Stu Rothernberg quoted in Weiner’s post, adds: “No sane person would think he could affect a Senate race by calling 500 people — certainly not in a state with over 4 million people.” However, the small sample size also suggests Dems shouldn’t get too giddy about the results of the poll.
As Weiner concludes:
A more salient attack on this poll might be that it’s designed more as a tool to convince her [Grimes] to run than anything else. While non-partisan polls also suggest McConnell’s numbers are weak, Democrats are struggling to field a candidate in the increasingly conservative state and the senator is well-prepared for a challenge.
Another prudent conclusion might be that, when the GOP’s most powerful senator can only manage a tie against a Democratic Secretary of State who hasn’t yet announced her candidacy, she likely has a shot — particularly in a wave election. But Dems should probably save the happy water cooler chat for the announcement of Michelle Bachman’s retirement.
The following article, by Ruy Teixeira, is cross-posted from TP Ideas:
Could the great state of Texas turn blue? That’s a question that’s been debated recently in the blogosphere, sparked by a Democratic move (“Battleground Texas”) to turn loose the data-mining and mobilization techniques that worked so well for President Obama in 2012 on the Lone Star state. Republicans, as they should, certainly seem worried. Greg Abbott, the Republican Attorney General in Texas, described Battleground Texas’ efforts in the following terms:
One thing that requires ongoing vigilance is the reality that the state of Texas is coming under a new assault, an assault far more dangerous than what the leader of North Korea threatened when he said he was going to add Austin, Texas, as one of the recipients of his nuclear weapons.
This outburst has only added to the effort’s credibility.
The theory of blue Texas relies heavily on the ongoing demographic transformation of the state. Every year, there are relatively fewer white voters and relatively more minority voters, particularly Hispanics. According to recent CAP projections, white eligible voters in Texas will decline from 56 to 52 percent between 2012 and 2016, with a corresponding rise in minority voters primarily driven by Hispanics.
All else equal, this makes Texas only somewhat bluer, since the white vote in Texas remains overwhelmingly Republican. But when you expand the timeframe under consideration, the picture may look considerably darker for the GOP. In a New York Times column, Tom Edsall takes the projections out farther, relying on some work by political scientist Robert Stein. According to Edsall, these projections suggest that the white share of eligible voters could be down to 35 percent by 2025 and the Hispanic share up as high as 44 percent. If he’s right, getting to a blue Texas is no more complicated than simply waiting around for demographic change to take effect.
This projection should be taken with several grains of salt. As Nate Cohn points out, Edsall’s argument is based on very old (1995) Census state level projections (Census no longer does state level projections of race-ethnic change) and are not reliable at this point. The state of Texas, however, does do such projections and they suggest a more moderate rate of change — ones that look fairly consistent, I might add, with the short-term projections CAP has done. Instead of 35 percent white eligible voters and 44 percent Hispanic voters by 2025, these projections indicate that the highest level of change we are likely to see would produce 44 percent white eligibles and 37 percent Hispanic eligibles. That’s still significant change, but not quite Edsall’s demographic slam-dunk.
Cohn also rightly notes that you can’t assume that the proportion of Hispanics among actual voters is going to match their proportion among eligible voters and, moreover, the rate of Democratic voting among whites in Texas is so low that it constitutes a huge barrier, even with demographic change, to a blue Texas. In 2008, the white vote for Obama in Texas was only 26 percent and Cohn estimates that the white vote for Obama in Texas in 2012 could have been as low as 20 percent (there was no Texas exit poll this year so all we have for 2012 are estimates).
All this suggests to me that the quest for a blue Texas is going to have to be built on three pillars, only one of which is ongoing demographic change. The other two are matching minority, particularly Hispanic, turnout to white turnout and elevating white support for Democrats. In the latter area, if the Democrats can simply get their support to the 30 percent level — in other words, make the typical landslide among whites for the GOP just a little bit less of a landslide — they will be in a good position to stand on all three pillars and make their dream (and Greg Abbott’s nightmare) of a blue Texas come true.
After sorting through the Alabama results and comparing them to other 2017 special elections, I figured it was time to look ahead, so I did just that at New York.
[T]he [Alabama] results were entirely consistent with the pro-Democratic trend that has persisted throughout 2017’s special and off-year elections. That would have been the case even if Roy Moore had eked out a narrow win. Republicans can, as Donald Trump has done, rationalize this or that 2017 defeat as being an anomaly. But it is impossible to take an honest look at the overall pattern of 2017 contests without hearing the not-so-distant rumbling of a likely 2018 wave for Democrats.
Harry Enten conducted a comprehensive analysis of 2017 special elections — all 70 of them — taking into account the established partisan “lean” of the jurisdiction being contested.
“The Democratic margin has been 12 percentage points better, on average, than the partisan lean in each race. Sometimes this has resulted in a seat flipping from Republican to Democratic (e.g. in the Alabama Senate face-off on Tuesday or Oklahoma’s 37th state Senate District contest last month). Sometimes it has meant the Democrat barely lost a race you wouldn’t think a Democrat would be competitive in (e.g. in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District in June). Sometimes it’s merely been the case that the Democrat won a district by an even wider margin than you’d expect (e.g. in Pennsylvania’s 133 House District last week).
“The point is that Democrats are doing better in all types of districts with all types of candidates. You don’t see this type of consistent outperformance unless there’s an overriding pro-Democratic national factor.”
The best elections to examine in order to figure out whether Democrats can win back the U.S. House in 2018 are the seven congressional special elections of 2017. Republicans won five and Democrats two (a winning percentage that’s not surprising since all but one of these elections were triggered by members of Congress joining the Trump administration). But as Enten notes, the average vote-percentage swing to Democrats from prior established partisan levels was 16 points. In a polarized electorate, that’s a large swing indeed.
In thinking about this pattern, keep in mind that the demographic groups most likely to vote Democratic typically don’t proportionately turn out for non-presidential elections, and particularly for special elections. There is a powerful trend under way.
While any single special congressional election is not necessarily predictive of future election results, in larger batches they are highly correlated to the next election coming down the pike. Enten looks at special elections prior to the last six midterms and finds that on average the partisan swing in the former is within three percentage points of the partisan swing in the latter. That would suggest a double-digit Democratic swing (or something close to it) in 2018.
If that seems extravagant, look at the congressional generic ballot (a simple polling question about which party the respondents would like to control the U.S. House), itself highly correlated with the national House popular vote. According to the RealClearPolitics polling average, Democrats currently have an 11-point advantage, the highest they’ve enjoyed since last year’s elections.
The question of exactly how big a margin in the national House popular vote Democrats would need to gain the 24 net seats required for control of the House is a difficult one. Political scientist Alan Abramowitz has just published an analysis of House elections dating back to 1946, which also takes into account the impact of GOP-controlled redistricting after 2010, and concludes that a Democratic win as small as four points could do the trick. David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report thinks a seven- or eight-point win would be necessary.
Despite the clear trends, there remain a lot of unknown variables as we head toward the midterms, most notably presidential approval ratings and retirements. But the current occupant of the White House has a highly polarizing approach to politics that almost certainly caps his approval ratings (which have never been above 46 percent in any event). And Republican retirements are definitely outpacing those of Democrats; 26 House Republicans are either calling it a day or running for other offices. There’s no telling where the much-rumored investigations of sexual misconduct by large numbers of congressmen will lead. But as Jonathan Chait points out, there are 219 Republican men in Congress as opposed to just 132 Democratic men, so the odds of net damage to the GOP (and to a GOP-controlled institution) are high.
There is more at stake next year, obviously, than control of the U.S. House. Thirty-six states will hold gubernatorial elections, and all but a few will hold state legislative elections. Partisan performance at the state level could have a crucial effect not just on the public policies of the jurisdictions involved, but on positioning for the next redistricting cycle, which will begin between 2020 and 2022. And even in Washington, Democrats now see an opportunity to win back the U.S. Senate, which would have seemed laughably impossible a year ago.
All in all, we will probably look back a year from now and see 2017 as a harbinger of a strong Democratic performance in the midterms. Its precise strength will determine whether Donald Trump enters the second half of his presidential term merely embattled or fully caged and cornered.