Over at MyDD, Chris Bowers recently posted an analysis of the extent to which Ds and Rs in the House have voted as a bloc in the early stages of this Congress. It’s sort of interesting, in the way that studies of how baseball players perform in very limited circumstaces (say, with runners in scoring position with two outs, on the road) are sort of interesting, but it also shows the danger of blowing up small distinctions into big implications.Chris’ basic take is that Republican House members are marginally more “loyal” to their party line than Democrats, who have more, if only a handful, of true “heretics.” But even those small potatoes are fluffed up misleadingly by his selection of eight “final passage” votes as “party differentiators.” As Chris knows, “final passage” votes in the House are an unreliable indicator of ideology, since (a) they ignore committee actions and amendments (on those rare occasions GOPers allow them), and (b) they reflect only those bills the Republican leadership has decided to move, generally because they are certain to pass. And they are also not exactly reliable signs of party loyalty, either, since both parties’ leaderships on occasion treat votes as “free” and don’t mind defections among Members in vulnerable districts.Still, the study was a good contribution to the general store of political knowledge. But now Chris has done a second post focusing on House Democrats who are “members of the DLC,” and finds, well, not much of anything.First, I’d like to rise to a point of personal privilege and address this “DLC membership” business, because it’s also been a source of confusion elsewhere in the blogosphere. There is one and only one way to become a “member of the DLC,” and that’s to plunk down 40 bucks and get all our stuff–policy papers, Blueprint Magazine, etc.–in the mail. There is something on our web page called the New Dem Directory (which is apparently what Chris was looking at) which is simply contact information on elected officials–most of them at the state and local levels–who have either joined some related New Dem-identified organization or participated in DLC events. It’s basically an online phone book, and the DLC has never used its contents to market itself or take credit for anybody’s career. There ain’t no membership cards, oaths, whip operations, or litmus tests. Are we straight on that?Now, most of the House Members in this online phone book are there because they are members of the House New Democratic Coalition, a completely independent group that shares a general orientation with the DLC, but neither asks for nor takes orders from anybody at 600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They tend to be from competitive or even dangerously vulnerable districts more than the rest of the Caucus, and thus are given “free votes” more often than their peers.Still with me here? Okay. Having analyzed these 39 Members on those 8 House final passage votes, Chris concludes they are “not dramatically more disloyal” than other Dems, and by at least one measure, are actually less disloyal. In others words, says Chris, “the only pattern here is that there is no pattern.” So, is he ready to bury the myth that the DLC, on secret instructions from Corporate America or Karl Rove or somebody, is leading its (non-)members into perfidy and Republicanism? No–he concludes we don’t have any clout with our(non-) members, and thus have to reason to exist other than to criticize other Democrats!Gee, seems to me that there are a whole hell of a lot of Democratic organizations out there who have had pretty much the same impact as the DLC on the votes of House members on these eight votes, i.e., none. Are they useless, too? Should we all just go out of business, unless we can demonstrate they we either dramatically increase or dramatically decrease the bloc voting of House Democrats on these eight votes? Lord knows, no other political activity, from policy development to political strategy to fundraising to grass-roots organizing, could be worth doing, right?Okay, you see my point by now. I’m not at all hostile to Chris Bowers; he’s a smart guy who is probably trying to be objective here. But he’s like a baseball manager who likes one player and dislikes another, and can always find some marginal, triple-loaded statistic to put the former in the starting lineup and send the latter to the minors. This is not how you build a winning team in baseball, or in politics.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
I returned to one of my favorite themes at New York this week in the context of the ongoing MAGA delegitimization of elections:
Donald Trump’s obsession with inflated estimates of the crowd sizes at his various live events has been a long-running joke in American politics. This was exhibited most famously in his bitter argument with the National Park Service over the number of people who attended his inauguration five years ago. But as Elaine Godfrey notes at The Atlantic, the phenomenon persists even today, and it’s central to MAGA claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump:
“Before the 2020 election, Trump and his fans would often ask reporters how Joe Biden could possibly win when he didn’t have rallies as big as Trump’s. Now that Biden is president, Trump-rally goers say things like Trump couldn’t really have lost. Look at all of these people! In Arizona this weekend, 51-year-old Tammy Shutts put it this way to me: ‘100 percent, 1,000 percent, 1 million percent Biden didn’t win’ her state, she said, gesturing to the hordes of people around her. ‘I’ve been in Arizona for almost 21 years. There is no way—no way—we went blue.’”
As Godfrey acutely observes, big crowds aren’t “just a bragging point” for Trump and his supporters. It’s “proof they are part of the American majority.” This both reflects and reinforces the core belief in MAGA land that more objective measurements of Trump’s popularity, like polls and election results, are unreliable and likely “rigged.” The proof? Look at those crowds!
Th preference for subjective instead of objective standards for political strength was not, of course, invented by Trump or his followers. It’s pretty common among political groups who don’t want to accept evidence that they are outnumbered or outgunned. During the home stretch of the very competitive 2012 presidential campaign, with polls showing Barack Obama building a solid lead over Mitt Romney, there was a profusion of Republican wishful thinking based not only on comparative crowd size but on the number of Romney yard signs evident along the highways and byways of the country. This obsession with the display of popularity reached epic levels during Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, which greatly valued huge flags and signs, boat parades, owning the libs with obnoxious motorcades through Democratic areas, and, of course, Trump’s rallies. The Biden campaign could not remotely match all this frenetic activity, in part, to be clear, because it considered it unsafe to voters, campaign operatives, and volunteers alike in the middle of a pandemic. But to an extent that leaves coastal elites baffled, the conviction has spread that Biden’s base of support was a statistical Potemkin village because it was far less visible.
Political operatives and pundits should examine themselves in the mirror before making too much fun of this hammerheaded, snail’s-eye view of political popularity. Some of its also stems from the incessantly discussed and near-universally accepted emphasis in recent political discourse on enthusiasm as a tangible election-winning asset. It does matter, to be sure, particularly in midterm and off-year contests, in which lukewarm voters often do not participate. But a candidate does not get extra votes for having supporters who are teeming with joy or fury, and enthusiasm beyond the point needed to get voters to the polls only helps if it is communicable. As a substitute for objective data about electoral outcomes, enthusiasm and its visible signs can be actively misleading.
But if your favorite president and partisan media have told you day in and day out for years that polls are fake news and elections are rigged, then direct experience of the strength of the political cause you share with so many others (in many places, with virtually all of your friends and neighbors) is all you’ve got. Add in a polarized atmosphere in which the other “team” is deemed actively evil and its supporters are dismissed as dupes or fellow-travelers in sin, and you get January 6, 2021. On that day, another crowd — “the biggest crowd I’ve ever,” according to Trump — formed to overwhelm Congress with its conviction that Biden’s victory was a lie because the Democrat didn’t command those monster crowds.
The sense that the MAGA movement feels like a majority and thus must be one is naturally growing stronger at a time when Democratic enthusiasm is low and Trump is plotting a triumphant restoration to power, whatever it takes. As Yeats famously said of post–World War I Europe just over a century ago, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” Unfortunately, some of the worst believe their passionate intensity entitles them to rule.