Tuesday, February 21, 2017
As they survey the carnage that was wrought by eight years of lurching ever more to the left, the Democrats' only immediate hope is to regain at least part of their control of Congress before Donald Trump seeks a second term in 2020.
If they can't accomplish that in the 2018 midterm elections, they will be unable to do anything except morph into the "Party of No" that they were fond of calling congressional Republicans during the Obama years. Unlike the Republicans of most of those years, though, they will not control at least one chamber of Congress.
And without a base of power, it is unlikely that the party can find a candidate capable of defeating an incumbent Republican in 2020 — which most likely means continuing Republican dominance in at least the early years of the 2020s.
There has been considerable rending of garments and gnashing of teeth among the Democrats' ranks, but it has not been exclusively due to Hillary Clinton's victory in the popular vote and defeat in the electoral vote. At least part, I am convinced, is because many Democrats recognize the enormity of the task before them.
If Democrats are to have any influence when House districts are redrawn following the 2020 Census, they need to win control of state legislatures, most of which are in Republican hands. If they can't do that entirely in 2018, they need to have a solid start toward an objective that can be realistically accomplished in the 2020 presidential election year.
That's going to be a tall order.
The good news for Democrats is that, historically, midterm elections tend to favor the party that does not hold the White House, but to seize the majority in the House of Representatives, Democrats need to win about two dozen Republican–held seats. History suggests that, even if Trump's popularity remains below 50%, the odds are against that. It has happened before — recently, in fact — that the out–of–power party has won that many seats from the opposition party in a single election, but it is the exception to the rule.
And it almost never happens that a new president's party goes from being the majority party in the House to losing that many seats and control of the chamber in his first midterm election.
Trump is the ninth president since World War II to enter office with his party holding the majority in the House. Four of the previous eight — Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — saw their parties lose control of the House in their first midterm elections.
Ronald Reagan's Republicans never held the majority in the House while he was president, but they did lose 26 seats in Reagan's first midterm election.
Only one postwar president who entered office with his party controlling the House — George W. Bush — saw his party pick up seats in his first midterm. Bush's Republicans did so with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks still fresh on voters' minds. If a similar event occurs between now and November 2018, Republicans might well add to their sizable majority in the House. They would almost certainly see gains in state legislatures.
On the other hand, if voters have a strong negative reaction to something the White House does — as they did with the passage of Obamacare in 2010 — they could punish the incumbent's party severely.
Either extreme is possible, but right now neither extreme is likely. Thus far, at least, Democrats have had no galvanizing moment, but neither have Republicans. Congressional approval is about twice what it was a year ago — still not great but about as sturdy as it ever is — and House districts, being the compact constituencies that they are, are much less likely to give their own representatives the boot — or even to shift parties if the incumbents retire.
Retail politics is what matters most in congressional districts.
To add another twist to the narrative, Kyle Kondik of Crystal Ball observes that, while Donald Trump won more congressional districts than Hillary Clinton, more Republicans hold seats in districts that voted for Clinton than Democrats hold seats in districts won by Trump. If Democrats can win those "crossover seats" that are in Republican hands — there are 23 — that would leave them only one vote behind the Republicans in the House.
"If a party can win the district at the presidential level," Kondik observes, "it's reasonable for that party to believe it can win the seat at the congressional level, too."
Before Democrats start thinking that taking back the House will be a slam dunk, it is important to remember that there are 12 districts that voted for Trump and are represented by Democrats. If Republicans can win those seats, Democrats will be, at best, only halfway to their goal.
Besides, "many of these 35 crossover districts may be more competitive on paper than in practice given that several have strong incumbents," Kondik writes, "and it's also possible that their Hillary Clinton–Donald Trump vote is not really an accurate gauge of their true partisan lean."
To seize even a one–vote majority in the House, Democrats would need to flip nearly 10% of Republican–held seats. Barring a galvanizing event or issue on the order of the 9–11 attacks or the passage of Obamacare, Democrats, as the out–of–power party, are more likely to benefit from the more typical losses sustained by the party in power — about five to 10 seats, give or take. Democrats may chip away at the deficit in the House, but, at this point, it seems that seizing the majority outright is a mountain too high in 2018.
It would seem — again, on paper — that Democrats' best odds for takeover are in the U.S. Senate, where winning just three seats from the Republicans would give them a majority. It would be a razor–thin one, to be sure, but it would still be a majority, and it would ensure divided government for the second half of Trump's term.
Capturing three Republican–held Senate seats is about 6% of Republican seats in all, which seems like a more manageable task — until you remember that only one–third of Senate seats are on the ballot in a given election. Sometimes special elections are held to fill the unexpired terms of senators who have died or resigned, but it is right around one–third in each election.
Mr. Kondik observes that flipping three Senate seats is "in keeping with the average midterm performance."
The Senate seats that will be up for election in 2018 are, for the most part, the ones that were on the ballot in 2012, when Barack Obama was re–elected and Democrats added to their majority in the Senate. Only nine Senate seats that will be decided in 2018 are in Republican hands.
Thus, winning three of the Republican–held seats on the ballot in 2018 would amount to flipping one–third — and all but one of those states voted for Trump.
Jeff Flake of Arizona: Flake was elected to his first term in the Senate in 2012 after six terms in the House. He only received 49% of the vote against two other opponents but one was a Libertarian who captured 5% of the vote, most of which probably would have gone to Flake had he not been in the race, and that would have just about matched Flake's share of the vote when he was first elected to the House in 2000. His share of the vote in his district never fell below 62% after that.
Arizona has been reliably Republican in nearly all presidential races since 1952, and it hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1988. It is true that the margins have been closer in recent years, possibly the result of a growing Hispanic population, but the margins still favor Republicans by hundreds of thousands of votes. Democratic efforts probably would be wasted there.
Roger Wicker, Mississippi: Wicker was first elected in 2006 to replace retiring Sen. Trent Lott, then was re–elected in 2012, defeating Albert Gore, a retired minister and distant relative of the former vice president. As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he faced a challenge in 2016 that was comparable to the one the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will face in 2018. His party had to defend 24 Senate seats while Democrats had to defend only 10. Democrats picked up a couple of seats, but that was a fraction of what they were expected to win on Election Night, which has to be considered a victory for Wicker.
Mississippi has voted for Republican presidential nominees in 10 consecutive elections, and the last Democrat to be elected to the Senate from Mississippi was conservative John Stennis, who won his final Senate term in 1982.
Democrats would be wise to take a few pages from Wicker's 2016 playbook — and not even think about trying to take him down.
Deb Fischer, Nebraska: Fischer took out former Sen. Bob Kerrey in 2012 to win her first statewide election when incumbent Democrat Ben Nelson retired, thus returning the seat to Republican hands. I haven't heard whether she will seek a second term, but I presume she will. She has been described by many as a "true conservative," and her record in the Senate bears that out.
She seems like a good fit for the state she represents. In the last 100 years, Nebraska has voted for only three Democrats for president — Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 and 1936 and Woodrow Wilson in 1916.
Dean Heller, Nevada: Heller was appointed to succeed disgraced Sen. John Ensign, who resigned amid an ethics scandal in 2011. Heller won a full term on his own in 2012.
Heller could be open to electoral attack. He is conservative but less so on social issues, which seems like a good fit for Nevada. Democrats, however, may sense an opportunity. Nevada has been a bellwether state in presidential politics, voting for the winner in all but two elections since 1912 — and one of those elections was in 2016, when Nevada voted Democratic for the third straight time. That's something that hadn't happened since the FDR years.
What's more Heller has recently come under fire back home, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
Caution, Democrats. Heller won a full six–year term in 2012 while Obama was carrying Nevada.
Bob Corker, Tennessee: Trump won more than 60% of Tennessee's vote. No presidential candidate in more than 40 years received a larger share of the votes that were cast in the Volunteer State.
That should benefit Corker, whose only political experience prior to his election to the Senate was four years as the mayor of Chattanooga. He received 65% when he won his second term in 2012; Mitt Romney carried the state with 59% of the vote that year.
If you think Corker will be tough to unseat ...
Ted Cruz, Texas: ... it will be virtually impossible to unseat Cruz.
There is frequently talk of how unpopular Cruz is with his fellow Republicans in the Senate — but they won't decide whether he gets a second term. Texans will, and Texans like him. His presidential primary victory there last year kept him in the race with Trump — for awhile.
Orrin Hatch, Utah: At 82, the longest–serving Republican senator apparently is considering seeking an eighth term next year, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. If he does, that's bad news for the Democrats. Hatch hasn't been held under 60% of the vote since his first campaign for re–election — in 1982.
John Barrasso, Wyoming: Originally appointed to serve until a special election could be held to fill an unexpired term, Barrasso won that special election with 73% of the vote in 2008, then won a full six–year term in 2012 with 76% of the vote.
That's even better than Ronald Reagan did in Wyoming when he ran for re–election.
So there you have it. Eight Republican–held Senate seats that are up in 2018. Add to that one more — Jeff Sessions' old seat now occupied by Alabama's former attorney general, Republican Luther Strange. Strange was appointed to succeed Sessions until a special election could be held. That special election will be held in June 2018, then the winner (presumably Strange) will be on the ballot again in November.
Not only has Alabama voted Republican for 40 years, it has given Republicans better than 60% of the vote in the last four elections.
Alabama, like most Southern states, once routinely elected Democrats to Congress, but it hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1992 — and he switched to the Republicans after the GOP seized control of Congress in 1994.
It seems that winning the Senate is every bit as elusive as winning the House for Democrats in 2018. They would be well advised to focus on returning Democrats to the 25 Senate seats they have on the ballot next year (that includes the two independents who typically vote with the Democrats). Not all are in danger, of course, but Democrats do hold 10 seats from states that voted for Trump.
And at least one of those senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has been rumored to be considering switching parties. That might not be a bad idea. West Virginia has voted for Republican presidential nominees in five consecutive elections, and it gave Trump nearly 68% of the vote.
Friday, January 27, 2017
There's a point in "Inherit the Wind" when Spencer Tracy is addressing the jury on progress. His comments were in the context of Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution; while you may or may not agree with that particular theory, there can be little disagreement with what Tracy's character said about progress of any kind:
"Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it."In that context, Tracy was speaking of the things that had to be given up to make way for the new, but it isn't always things that are sacrificed. Often it is lives.
America's space program certainly has been like that — and you would be hard pressed to find a better example of an endeavor that was undertaken almost exclusively in the name of progress.
It is also beyond dispute that the space program revolutionized our lives. Think of all that was made possible by the things that the astronauts discovered.
And the space program didn't have to pay much of a price, really, until this day in 1967.
It was on this day that the crew of Apollo 1 — Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee — perished when a fire broke out during a test of their spaceship at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Americans had become spoiled with all the successes of the space program in the '60s. Sure, there had been some problems with the unmanned rockets in the program's nascent days, and that had been costly in a monetary sense, but there had been no casualties.
Americans held their breath as the astronauts did things that would make Americans shrug and sniff just a few years later, like blast off, leave the Earth's atmosphere, then return, proving it could be done, or orbiting the Earth, proving that could be done as well. Each mission was a building block to the goal President Kennedy set for the space program earlier in the decade — to send men to the moon and return them to the Earth.
They made it all look routine, just as they did a couple of decades later with the space shuttle. Just as when the Challenger blew up on almost the same day in 1986, Americans were shocked when the fire broke out and snuffed out the lives of the three astronauts.
Grissom had been one of the original Mercury astronauts with John Glenn (Grissom was the first Mercury astronaut to die; Glenn was the last only a few months ago). White was the first American to walk in space. Chaffee would have been on his first space mission.
All the astronauts were prepared to die if necessary, but I doubt they dwelled on the possibility. That's the way people in dangerous professions have to be if they are to do those jobs the way they need to be done.
On this day 50 years ago, the quest to fulfill Kennedy's pledge and the desire for progress took three lives. It wasn't a bargain, but America paid the price — and rose from the ashes, meeting Kennedy's challenge with the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969.
Saturday, January 21, 2017
"The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer."
Donald Trump, Jan. 20, 2017
Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States yesterday.
Now there are 11 words I never expected to string together in a sentence.
I didn't get to see it happen. I was at work. But I always wish an incoming president well and withhold judgment until he has taken office and actually done something. I always hope the president succeeds, whether I voted for him or not. His success is my success.
And I really haven't had much of an opportunity to watch the highlights. I was at my part–time job this evening, just got home a short while ago, and I have seen a few highlights although probably not enough to get a true feeling for what the experience was like.
But I feel strangely optimistic tonight. It's an odd sensation for me because I really haven't felt that way much for many years now.
I lost my job around the time of the economic implosion in the fall of 2008. Technically, my job was a casualty of the George W. Bush era, but he was only president for a few months at the beginning of my period of unemployment. For more than 5½ years of the Barack Obama presidency, the best I could get was part–time work, and I struggled to make ends meet.
It was a bleak time in my life, and it was a time when I felt abandoned — by my government, by my church, by many of my friends, even by my family.
It was fashionable in the Obama years to say that the economy he inherited was the worst since the Great Depression. That, of course, was so devastating that Franklin D. Roosevelt felt it was necessary to create a New Deal for Americans. That was his mission in 1933 — to revive the American economy, to put America back to work.
It seemed to me in 2008 — and it still seems to me — that, in the worst economy since the Great Depression, it was Barack Obama's mission to forge a new New Deal — to make putting America back to work his top priority. Was there anything in his way? Democrats like to say that Republicans obstructed Obama's agenda, but that conveniently ignores the fact that they controlled both chambers of Congress in 2009 and 2010. They even had a "filibuster–proof majority" in the Senate.
Obama could have done something about the unemployment crisis, but he did not.
Instead he focused his political capital on the nomination of an Hispanic woman to the Supreme Court (a nomination that was never in doubt), a beer summit with a white police officer and a black college professor and the so–called Affordable Care Act.
That's when he lost me. Instead of helping Americans get their financial lives back on course, he came up with something that Americans could be compelled to buy with money they didn't have — and they could be punished financially if they failed to buy it. Is there a more draconian arrangement in American life?
Now the health insurance policy that I am obliged by law to buy costs me nearly $750 per month. That's a 54% increase over what I was paying each month in 2016. My rent just went up, too, by about $50 per month. That means I'm paying $300 more per month for those two things alone.
I just got a raise, which helps, but it's only $100 more per month. So I'm still $200 in the hole.
I can't afford it.
When I hear a president talking about remembering the forgotten, he's singing my song.
It may turn out to be more political hooey, but I'm hopeful, on this night, that it is not.
Sunday, January 1, 2017
"There's a difference for voters between what offends you and what affects you."
In November 1968, when Richard Nixon had finally won the presidency, and he addressed the nation as president–elect for the first time, he referred to a sign he had seen a young girl holding in the closing days of the campaign. "Bring us together again" is what it said.
That, Nixon said, would be the great mission of his administration — to bring together a nation that was deeply divided. It seems to be the thing that every incoming administration promises to do. At least, it has always been that way in my memory. But it is much easier said than done.
As challenging as it was for Nixon — and, of course, he did not succeed in bringing America together — it may be even more difficult, if not impossible, for the Donald Trump administration. If you follow the news, you know that there were protests in large cities from coast to coast after Trump's election.
It really is nothing new that some of the voters are unhappy with the outcome of the election — although throwing such a tantrum over not getting your way in an election is rather new. No president is ever going to please everyone. As for bringing us together again, I would argue that Americans have seldom been 100% united about anything. Even when Congress declared war on Japan, propelling America into World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor, there was a dissenting vote.
But there is something significantly different about it this time.
In what is best described as scattershooting, the Democrats have been casting wide nets to find something, however unlikely, to reverse the outcome of the election. Failing that, they pigeonhole people as good or evil, depending upon how they voted.
That is a dangerous mindset. It assumes things about other people that cannot be proven by their electoral choices. In fact, it is a claim that usually can be refuted — easily. For example, I've heard Trump voters described as racist — even though many of them voted for Barack Obama twice.
Each election is different, and each vote is based in part on how one has voted in the past, in part on whether one is satisfied with how things have gone since the last election and in part on the issues of the day. Enough voters in enough key states were dissatisfied with the status quo to flip the outcome from blue to red.
The left is engaged in stereotyping. Isn't that precisely what the left has found so objectionable about the right? And yet the left sees everything in stereotypes. All women think the same. All minorities think the same. All gays and lesbians think the same.
(Democrats don't seem to value individuality anymore, and that bothers a lot of people. The Democrats of 2016 reminded one voter of Frank Burns on the M*A*S*H TV show when he said, "Individuality is fine as long as we all do it together.")
That completely ignores the fact that millions of Americans had no interest in identity politics. They were interested in jobs, keeping one or getting one, and security.
It is a lesson Democrats refuse to learn. If they ever do, they may be able to bridge the gap that exists in America. Democrats will say that "gap" actually favors them. After all, their nominee won the popular vote — and if she had been able to sway fewer than 40,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin combined, she would have won the electoral vote, too.
Instead she piled up a huge margin in California, thus winning the national popular vote. If you take California out of the mix, Trump wins the popular vote, too.
But in neither case is it a landslide.
This country is divided — deeply — and one of the many challenges America faces in 2017 and beyond is the need for a greater sense of national unity.
As polarized as this nation is, I don't know if that can be achieved — or who can achieve it. I have my doubts that Trump can do it — but I had plenty of doubts about Trump in 2016, and he always surprised me.
The situation calls for someone who can appeal to both sides. Can he do it? History says no — but as any stock investor can tell you, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
"Tell people there's an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."
Yesterday was my birthday.
I spent the afternoon and evening at my father's house, doing what I prefer to do on my birthday — watch football on TV.
But I started the day with an early trip to the nearby clinic. The folks there needed to take a blood sample to make sure that the right dosage is prescribed for a medicine I have been taking for several years. It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this that one's body changes with the passage of time. People who wear glasses need to have their prescriptions adjusted for changes in their vision. And, if you take a medicine on a daily basis, as many people do, sometimes the dosage needs to be adjusted.
Anyway, with my work schedule and the necessary commute time, it simply isn't possible for me to plan to go in during the week. Fortunately, the clinic is open for abbreviated hours on Saturdays, and no appointment is necessary for blood work. You just need to get there before everyone else does if you want to avoid the wait.
The clinic opens at 8 a.m. so I got up early on a Saturday morning and got there right at 8 a.m. (OK, it was really 8:07, but that's close enough.) I walked in, told the receptionist I was there to do blood work and was whisked right in to the room where they do that stuff.
I had to wait there for a little while, then a young man walked in to take my blood. I told him that, in the past, people who have taken blood samples have found it easier to get it from the veins in my hands than the veins in my arms. I'm like my father in that regard. For some reason (genetic, I suppose) the veins in our arms are not conducive to the procedure for taking blood samples.
Now, I have been me all my life so I know things about me that people who have never met me before — like this young man — do not know. In the case of having blood drawn, I always try to save us all a little time, and I tell whoever is taking my blood that it tends to work best when it is taken from my hands.
But they always remind me of that George Carlin quote at the top of this post. They may take many things on faith, but they always have to touch the paint to make sure it is wet.
So I have learned to let 'em touch the paint. I tend to feel like a pin cushion by the time they are finished because, once they have failed to find a vein they can use in one arm, they always want to try the other, but — with rare exceptions, and there have been one or two — they are forced to conclude that I was right, and they proceed to my hands.
That is how it was yesterday. When the young man finally had to concede — after about half an hour of probing my arms for veins — that he would be successful using my hands instead, I watched as vial after vial filled up. It was like he had hit a gusher. And I pointed out that I had tried to save us some time.
But he had to touch the wet paint. They always do.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
I don't know how many times I have heard that question in recent days, but I know it has been a lot. I can understand some people's bewilderment. The polls showed Hillary Clinton leading from wire to wire. How could she possibly have lost?
If anyone is interested, I have a few thoughts on that.
The best place to start is with the declaration of a simple fact: History has always fascinated me. Whenever I have written about this election this year, my writing has almost always been grounded in the lessons that history can teach us.
In the last couple of years, many people have told me I was wrong, that just because Americans did something in the past did not mean they would do the same thing again (which was contradictory to the belief that states that had voted for Democrats for several elections would continue to do so).
For example ...
I frequently pointed out that Americans have only voted for the same party in three consecutive national elections once since the end of World War II. That was in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was elected twice and George H.W. Bush was elected to succeed Reagan when he was term–limited out of office in 1988.
Post–WWII Americans have changed the party in the White House every eight years since 1945 like clockwork. Well, one time they changed parties after four years. That was in 1980, when Reagan defeated President Jimmy Carter.
But aside from those two exceptions — both of which came during the post–Vietnam/post–Watergate period — post–World War II Americans have given a party two four–year terms in the White House, then they have been in the mood for change.
Historically, 2016 was destined to be a "change" election from the night in 2012 when Barack Obama was re–elected.
Is it really that simple? No, there is more to it than that, but it is an appropriate starting point.
Americans were predisposed this year to turn to the party that was out of power. Sometimes they have been reluctant to do so, and it has resulted in close elections, but that inclination for change runs strong in the American electorate. True, many (perhaps most) Americans found Donald Trump objectionable, but they still voted for him. Narrowly, yes, but still they voted for him, and it didn't surprise or shock me.
For a long time, I have known of an incredible sense of anxiety among Americans. I have seen election years when Americans were anxious but never to this extent before. They were frightened by terrorism and an immigration policy that seemed to encourage terrorists to come here. They were stressed economically by continually rising health care premiums that they were required by law to carry and incomes that didn't cover the necessities, let alone a luxury or two.
My main thought on election night was that a less flawed Republican would have crushed Clinton.
After all, Clinton was a deeply flawed candidate, too. The polls in which her supporters placed so much faith consistently showed that both she and Trump were unpopular. I started calling it an unpopularity contest when it became clear who the nominees would be, and I regarded their unpopularity as offsetting penalties (to use a football metaphor), canceling each other out.
Again, I believe a less flawed Republican candidate would have cruised to victory — even Ted Cruz.
I have also written in the last year of the Bradley effect, named for Tom Bradley, a black man who ran for California governor in 1982. Polls consistently showed him leading his Republican opponent — but on Election Day Bradley lost. Political scientists determined that, in pre–election polls, many respondents said they would vote for Bradley because they feared being labeled racist — even though it was extremely unlikely that the pollsters and the people being polled knew each other or that a pollster would give a second thought to anyone's responses five minutes after the conversation ended.
On Election Day, though, the voters were alone in the privacy of the voting booth, and Bradley's opponent won the election.
I wrote nearly a year ago that I thought we could be seeing the same thing in this campaign, and I never changed my mind about that. I don't have any evidence to back up my conclusion that the Bradley effect played a role in this year's election, and I suppose it will require some research before a verdict can be rendered, but I sincerely believe there may have been Trump supporters who told pollsters they would vote for Clinton because they didn't want to be labeled racist or sexist or homophobic.
I could be wrong about that, but I have read articles that point to that as a possibility, and I have heard people speak of something like that taking place. It wouldn't surprise me to learn there was an element of that in Trump's silent victory.
But I continue to believe that historical voting patterns offered significantly more clues to people that something like this was going to happen.
A couple of months ago, I wrote a post on this blog about states that I saw as up for grabs based on whether they gave Barack Obama or Mitt Romney 53% or less of the popular vote. Those states, I wrote, were candidates for flipping party allegiance in the general election — even if they had voted for one party for several election cycles.
For example, I wrote that Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes were at risk for Democrats, who hadn't lost the state since 1988. I didn't have to hear stories about how blue–collar workers there were suffering under adverse trade agreements. I looked at recent election returns. In 2008, Obama carried the state with more than 54% of the vote, a popular vote margin of more than 600,000. Four years later, he carried Pennsylvania again in his successful re–election campaign, but the margin was cut in half and his share of the vote was just over 51%.
Even with an incumbent on the ballot Democrats were losing altitude in 2012, and the results of the midterm elections of 2014 indicated that they were still losing altitude in spite of Obama's personal popularity. On election night, Trump beat Clinton in Pennsylvania by more than 65,000 votes.
The Democrats' strategy in 2016 was predicated on the belief that all the states that had voted for Obama in either or both of the last two elections — and many that had been voting for Democrats for decades — would continue to do so. It was called the "Blue Wall," and it was largely taken for granted.
That wall crumbled on election night.
Many people probably thought I was crazy when I wrote in September that Illinois appeared to be about the only sure thing for the Democrats in the Industrial Midwest.
It was well known that Ohio would be a swing state so when it swung to Trump, that may not have surprised too many people. Nor, I suppose, did Indiana's support for Trump surprise many people. Indiana did support Obama when he ran in 2008, but it voted against him in 2012, returning to its Republican roots, and this time Indiana's governor was on the Republican ticket.
But the defection of Michigan, which also had not voted for a Republican since 1988, did surprise a lot of people. At the time I acknowledged that Michigan's vote for Obama in 2012 (54%) exceeded the limit I imposed, but that was a drop of more than three percentage points compared to 2008. Surveys that indicated how much people there were suffering economically convinced me this fall that Michigan might very well flip.
I pointed out that Obama's support declined in Wisconsin between 2008 and 2012, making it a prime candidate to flip as well. Wisconsin had not supported a Republican since voting for the re–election of Ronald Reagan in 1984. It voted for Trump by about 25,000 votes.
I also observed that Iowa was a prime candidate for flipping. The only Republicans Iowa had supported since 1968 were Republicans who were already president and were seeking re–election (Richard Nixon in 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1984, George W. Bush in 2004), but the returns from 2008 and 2012 clearly showed that Democrats were losing altitude in Iowa, too. It only offered half a dozen electoral votes, but it was one of the bricks in that Blue Wall.
Was the collapse of the Clinton campaign inevitable? I suppose opinions on that will vary. There are indications that the Clinton campaign, by virtue of its own hubris, contributed to its demise in the Industrial Midwest. It assumed that, because those states had been voting for Democrats for so long, they would continue to do so.
I went online early on election night and looked in at Facebook. A friend of mine from my graduate school days, a dyed–in–the–wool Democrat, was encouraging his friends to forecast Clinton's total in the Electoral College. He predicted she would receive 332 votes, overshooting the actual total by, oh, about 100 votes. All through the campaign, he kept saying he wasn't worried about Trump. The polls showed him safely behind.
He's been keeping a low profile since the election. Hubris.
But Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell, who succeeded her retiring husband in the House in January 2015, wrote in the Washington Post recently that she warned that the Clinton campaign was in trouble in Michigan back in the spring before the Democrats' presidential primary, which was won by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Clinton's campaign was too slow to recognize its problem with Sanders in Michigan, Dingell wrote. "They never stopped on a campus; never went to a union hall; never talked to the Arab American community. Sanders was in my district 10 times during the primary. How would any sane person not predict how this one would go? It was fixable for the general election."
But, clearly, it wasn't fixed. Repeatedly I read and heard that the Clinton campaign would reassemble Obama's winning coalition of blacks, Hispanics and young voters, and that would propel her to victory. But Clinton couldn't duplicate the enthusiasm that surrounded the Obama campaigns. Her share of the black vote was lower, as was her share of the young vote, a group that has never been known for showing up at the polls in great numbers. Hispanics voted for Trump at about the same rate they voted for Romney four years ago.
In the closing days of the campaign, Clinton repeatedly urged her supporters to vote early. But neither Michigan nor Pennsylvania allow early voting. There are procedures in place for old–fashioned absentee voting, but most voters in those states cast their ballots on Election Day.
Those voters went to the polls knowing about Trump's secretly recorded locker–room conversation, the reopening of the email investigation, the looming hike in health insurance premiums and the warning about possible terrorism activity the day before the election. People who cast their votes early knew little if anything about those events. Might they have changed those votes? We will never know.
The outcomes in those states that do not allow early voting can be said to be reflections of voter sentiment about events that hadn't happened when many voters went to the polls.
Ultimately, it may turn out that the voters made the wrong choice. Wouldn't be the first time.
Sunday, November 6, 2016
Late last week reports suggested possible terrorist attacks in New York, Virginia and here in Texas tomorrow, the day before the 2016 election.
No specific locations were mentioned, and Texas is a really big place. The prospects for terrorist attacks here — and in those other states, too, for that matter — are practically endless.
ISIS isn't the culprit in these reports. Al Qaeda (a familiar name from the past) is. But if a terrorist attack occurs, will it really matter which one is behind it? Isn't terrorism terrorism, no matter who carries it out?
In the now–infamous words of Hillary Clinton, what difference would it make? Except, I suppose, to be sure which one is held responsible.
But we're already pursuing both, aren't we? I mean, that is what I thought. Maybe I was wrong.
Still when the state in which one lives is mentioned in such a context, it is only natural to wonder if something could happen where you live. I spend close to two hours commuting back and forth to work each weekday. It isn't hard for me to imagine something happening along my commute route.
That has forced me to contemplate something I don't like to contemplate — my own death — mainly because when I do, I generally tend to focus on my regrets, all the things I wanted to do but won't get to do.
Oddly, though, as Monday approaches, I find myself at peace. I haven't been thinking about the things that I didn't do. I've been thinking of the things for which I am grateful.
If I should die tomorrow, I am thankful for so many things.
I had loving parents who gave me a wonderful childhood. We weren't rich. I didn't have everything I wanted, but I had everything I needed to be happy and healthy.
My father was a religion professor at a private college. Sometimes he took continuing education courses in the summers, but some years he had summers entirely off. When he did, my parents took my brother and me on road trips. We saw so many historic sites and monuments when I was growing up. I wish everyone could have that experience. It gave me an in–depth education of my country's history — and a perspective on the subject most of my friends did not have.
I had great mentors in my life — teachers, co–workers, ministers. I'm grateful for all the things they taught me, and I try to put those lessons into action whenever I can. And I am thankful for the encouragement they gave me. I have tried to return the favor to those who have come after me.
I've had good friends in my life. Some are deceased now, and if there is an afterlife I look forward to seeing them soon. I have good friends who still exist in this life. Some have left my life, for one reason or another, and some are still in my life. We disagree about things from time to time, but the true friends don't let that stand in the way. For long, anyway. And I have many true friends.
I could have chosen a more lucrative profession, I suppose, but it sure has been fun. In fact, in hindsight, the only truly bad thing about working for newspapers was the pay. I got to meet some interesting folks, both in and out of the newsroom but always because of my newspaper jobs. Oh, sure, there were things about my newspaper jobs that I didn't like — but isn't it that way with every job?
My field has also given me an opportunity, as a journalism professor, to work with young aspiring journalists, and that has been a rewarding experience. In recent years I have served as an adjunct advising a community college newspaper that was recently named the best college newspaper by the Associated College Press. The other nine finalists were four–year schools.
My job has given me the opportunity to do the things I always wanted to do when I was growing up. I wanted to write, and I have done that. As this blog clearly shows, I am writing today. I hope that, whenever I do die, I will have written something that day.
I can't be sure of that, of course. Sometimes people are unconscious for days, weeks, months, even years before they die. So I can't be absolutely certain that I will write something in the hours just before I die.
But if a terrorist attack occurs here tomorrow — and I become a victim of that attack — then this post will be testimony to the fact that I did write something in the hours before I died. I died with my boots on, you might say.
Now, just because I am at peace with the idea of dying does not mean it is what I want to happen. I want to live to see tomorrow's sunset and Tuesday's sunrise.
I'd like to see who wins the presidency after the nastiest campaign in my memory — and probably in the history of the United States. I've been studying American presidential history nearly all my life, and I know there have been some nasty campaigns in the past so I won't go so far as to claim this has been the worst ever, but it has certainly been the worst in my lifetime.
Just to satisfy my own curiosity, I would like to know who the American voters choose to lead them for the next four years. To not be able to see that would be like watching all but the last 10 minutes of a movie.
It would have to go on my list of unfinished business. Some people might call that a "bucket list." I don't really have a bucket list. (Sometimes I feel like comedian John Pinette, who said he had a list, but it wasn't a bucket list — although, he added, it did rhyme with bucket.) It's just a list of things I would like to finish before I die.
But I guess we all die leaving something incomplete. So if I die tomorrow, there will be things that are unfinished. That's the way it is.
And now, let tomorrow come — and bring whatever it brings.
Thursday, November 3, 2016
As these things go, the presidential election of 1896, which was held 120 years ago today, was a quiet realigning election.
Political scientists will tell you that a realigning election is a dramatic shift within a political system.
In a democracy such as the one in the United States, that tends to mean the ascendance of a new coalition that eclipses one that has been dominant.
My original major in college was political science. Later I shifted to journalism but not before I had been introduced to many of the concepts in our political system that continue to be seen in politics in America — one of which is the concept of realigning elections.
One of the things I learned in my brief career as a political science scholar, though, was there is no absolute agreement among political scientists about realigning elections — which elections are realigning elections, the definition of a realigning election, even whether realigning elections really do occur.
However, it is safe to say that a majority of political scientists would conclude that realigning elections do happen, roughly every three to four decades, and they are evident more in terms of voting patterns than in sudden power shifts from one party to another — although they are frequently characterized by landslides.
More specifically, political scientists say, realigning elections represent a transition from one "political system" to another.
That three– to four–decade window held true in the 19th century, but shifts seemed to come more frequently in the 20th century — although perhaps history needs a little more perspective before rendering such judgments.
A realigning election is usually — but not always — characterized by a shift from dominance by one party to dominance by another. The election of 1800, for example, is seen as the beginning of the "First Party System" in the United States, a period when George Washington's Federalists and Thomas Jefferson's Democrat–Republicans competed for control of the presidency, the chambers of Congress and the state governments, until the next phase in America's political evolution.
That was in 1828. Andrew Jackson and the emerging Democrat Party seized power and remained mostly in control of the federal and state governments for the next 30 years, establishing the "Second Party System," which eventually yielded to the "Third Party System" in 1860. That was on the brink of the outbreak of the Civil War and the inauguration of Republican Abraham Lincoln.
With only a few exceptions, Republicans held the White House for the next 70 years. That did not prevent another realigning election, though. In fact, the realigning election that heralded the start of the "Fourth Party System" was held on this day in 1896. As I say, it was relatively quiet in the outcome and didn't usher in a period when a different party prevailed. The same party kept winning; what changed was the set of issues. Republicans proved more in sync with the voters on those issues than the Democrats. It was just as simple as that. The Republicans also assembled a new electoral coalition consisting of businessmen, professional men, labor and farmers. Perhaps overshadowing everything else was the "Panic of 1893," an economic depression that was still being felt nearly four years later.
Grover Cleveland, one of only two Democrats to win a national election between 1860 and 1932, presided over that, and it contributed to a general impression of Democrat incompetence. In 1896, unemployment was high, and money became a key factor in presidential politics for the first time. William McKinley and the Republicans outspent the Democrats and William Jennings Bryan by 10 to 1. It has been estimated that the Republicans' 1896 war chest would be worth $3 billion in today's dollars.
The 1896 election was the first national realigning election in which there wasn't a dramatic shift in the balance of power from one party to another. It wasn't even close to a landslide. McKinley received 51.02% of the popular vote and 60.6% of the electoral vote. His numbers were only marginally higher when he sought re–election four years later — in spite of triumph in the Spanish–American War abroad and a booming economy at home.
But the 1896 election gave ammunition to political scientists who contended that realigning elections are not always seen in single elections but sometimes over a period of time. The conditions that ultimately led to the emergence of the "Fourth Party System" actually began with the economic "Panic of 1893." Republicans seized control of both chambers of Congress in the midterm elections of 1894; in fact, the G.O.P. won so many House seats in the midterm (120) that there were relatively few seats left that were plausible takeover targets in 1896 — and many of the seats Republicans had captured represented districts that were more evenly balanced than the election returns of 1894 indicated. Thus, even as McKinley was winning the White House in 1896, his party lost 30 House seats.
Republicans continued winning in the Senate, though. By 1906, Republicans held 61 Senate seats. Even though the number of senators has increased by 12 since then, Republicans have not held more than 55 Senate seats since the Stock Market Crash of 1929.
Still, with the exception of the Wilson years, Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress until the Crash.
On the presidential level, voting patterns in several states show how the electorate realigned in Republicans' favor in 1896.
New York was the largest state in the nation at the time. Its support was critical for anyone who wished to be president but especially so for Democrats. Between the end of the Civil War and 1896, Republicans Ulysses S. Grant (1868) and Rutherford B. Hayes (1876) won the presidency without winning New York, but the only Democrat to be elected president during that time, Grover Cleveland, desperately needed New York's electoral votes the first time he won the office.
New York is regarded as reliably Democrat today, but in the late 19th century it was a swing state. In fact, only once had any presidential candidate ever received more than 53% of the state's popular vote. The Republican share of the vote tended to be much healthier in the elections that followed 1896.
You can find similar stories throughout the United States from that time. Things almost certainly became a lot more relaxed for Republican candidates — and a lot more stressful for Democrats.
In fact, there is a strong argument to be made that the only Democrat to be elected president between the "Panic of 1893" and the Stock Market Crash, a period of more than 35 years, did so only because there were two Republicans running — the incumbent president and his predecessor, who ran as a third–party alternative — and they split the Republican vote.
The United States became a much more Republican country on this day 120 years ago.
Does the election of 1896 have anything in common with the election of 2016?
You be the judge.
Historians have long regarded it as one of the most dramatic and complex campaigns in American history.
McKinley did not pursue the nomination in the usual way, which was to appease eastern party bosses. Instead, he relied on the efficiency of his political organization, run by his friend and campaign manager Mark Hanna, an Ohio businessman. He then did most of the campaigning from the front porch of his home in Canton. His remarks reached the voters through newspapers.
Bryan ran as the champion of the working man against the rich, and he blamed the prosperous for the economic conditions the country faced. The root of the problem, Bryan said, was a gold–based money supply, and he promised to switch to silver, which was plentiful, would restore prosperity and would break the grip the wealthy had on the money supply. He conducted his campaign primarily by rail.
Turnout was almost certainly higher than it will be next Tuesday. It has been estimated that more than 90% of eligible voters cast ballots in the 1896 election.
Saturday, October 29, 2016
We're about a week from Election Day, and I find myself wavering between thinking we are living in an alternate reality or the End Times.
It could be both, I suppose, although I prefer to think of it as the former. As bad as that might be, it need not be final. The latter certainly would be final; you can come up with plenty of alternate–reality scenarios in which we can pull back from the precipice.
It definitely is not business as usual. That may be the real story of this election when all the votes have been counted.
Conventional wisdom used to hold that people really didn't start following presidential campaigns until after the World Series. But conventional wisdom has meant little in this election — and here we are in the middle of the World Series. People aren't starting to tune in to the campaign. If anything, they're tuning out.
Maybe they've seen enough already. If so, then they may be looking forward to the end of the campaign. But I've got news for you. It never ends. Only the current campaign ends, and one of the candidates recedes from the national stage. Unfortunately, though, we'll be stuck with one of them for the next four years.
Alternate reality could be defined as denying reality, I guess, and I certainly have known my share of folks who denied reality, even (or perhaps especially) when it was a reality that had been made possible by their own behavior. The first step in dealing with any problem, they say, is acknowledging that there is one.
But if this is an alternate reality, few are acknowledging there is a problem — at least in the sense of discussing what should be done and how it can be achieved. The situations we face call for a statesman who can bring disparate sides together, understanding that neither side can have everything it wants on issues like immigration, national security, jobs, economic growth, education, energy, etc. Despite a lot of bluster, most political observers see the Senate being closely divided and the House still in Republican hands when the dust settles on Nov. 9.
That clearly leads to the conclusion that compromises will be necessary if anything is to be done under the next president.
The thing that has increasingly alarmed me about this election is the constant decrease in the emphasis on the issues that we absolutely needed to discuss before deciding who should be our president for the next four years. Before you can choose who to follow, you have to be sure that person is going in the direction you want.
I'm not just talking about the fall campaign between the two nominees. I include in that the spring party primaries when the nominees were chosen. If issues have been mentioned at all, it has been incidental.
Instead the election is conducted in slice–and–dice terms. Demographics alone matter. Candidate X will win in State Y because there are too many/few minorities or more/fewer men than women or whatever — as if all members of any group think the same.
Of course, such a notion is idiotic — and anathema to the concepts of individualism and free thought. Nevertheless it is how many people see things these days. Sadly.
I sometimes think of the reaction many of my acquaintances with University of Texas degrees had when they learned that their alma mater had hired Charlie Strong, a black man, to be the new head football coach a few years ago. Strong had some good credentials — in the previous four years as a head coach at Louisville, he led the Cardinals to victories more than 70% of the time, and they reached bowl games every year — but I heard no talk of that or what he could bring to a program with Texas' national stature — or how the quality of the opposition at Louisville might (or might not) be comparable to the quality of the opposition at Texas, thus preparing him for the Austin Hot Seat.
What I heard Texas Exes say when Strong was hired was what a great thing it was that Texas had hired a black coach, that this would negate Texas A&M's recruiting advantage with black prospects (the Aggies hired a black coach in 2012). That was an angle that was worth exploring, but it ignored more long–term concerns — like whether the coach had demonstrated that he could build a legacy of success that would outlive his tenure.
Now, one can argue whether Kevin Sumlin (the Aggies' coach) has done that, but a few things cannot be disputed. (1) While Sumlin has only marginally more experience as a head coach than Strong, he has a winning record; (2) Sumlin is 3–1 in bowl games at Texas A&M, and midway through this season the Aggies have already won enough games to qualify for their fifth straight bowl appearance under Sumlin. Strong, on the other hand, appears unlikely to qualify for a bowl this season even if he somehow keeps his job.
That demographic mindset is essentially the same one used by Hillary Clinton's sympathizers when they speak of what they hope will happen in the Electoral College this year. James Pindell of the Boston Globe wrote recently about what might be different about the Electoral College map this year, starting with the possibility that states like Arizona, Missouri and South Carolina could be in the Democrats' column while states like Florida, Ohio, Iowa and Nevada could vote Republican.
Anyway, I was musing about states that could flip in this year's election in a post I wrote about two months ago, and I labeled states that gave 53% of their vote or less to the candidates who won them last time as potential flips.
Some of them seemed outrageous, I'm sure, and some of them seemed plausible, but from where I sit it looks like most of them are potentially up for grabs.
One of the states I mentioned probably seems about as farfetched as it can get — Minnesota, home of Democrat icons Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, as reliable a state as you could find in American politics, I suppose. Minnesota hasn't voted for a Republican since voting for Richard Nixon in 1972. It was the only state to resist Ronald Reagan in 1984.
But the margins in Minnesota frequently have been narrow. Barack Obama received less than 53% of Minnesota's vote when he sought re–election in 2012. That was still a difference of more than 200,000 votes (in a state in which more than 2.9 million votes were cast). Four years earlier, when Obama first sought the presidency, Minnesota gave him just over 54% of its vote. He won that time by about 300,000 votes (more than 2.9 million Minnesotans voted in that election, too).
John Kerry defeated George W. Bush in Minnesota when Bush was re–elected in 2004. Kerry got just over 51% of Minnesota's vote — a margin of about 100,000 votes in an election that drew more than 2.8 million Minnesotans to the polls. In the infamous 2000 campaign, Al Gore carried Minnesota with a plurality of just under 48% of the vote. He beat Bush there by about 60,000 votes in a campaign that drew more than 2.4 million Minnesotans to the polls. If one assumes, though, that Gore would have received most if not all of the votes Ralph Nader won in Minnesota, his share of Minnesota's vote would have been about 52% or 53%.
Bill Clinton got about 51% of Minnesota's vote when he was re–elected in 1996. With Ross Perot on the 1992 ballot, Clinton carried Minnesota with less than 44% of the vote. Michael Dukakis received just under 53% of Minnesota's vote against George H.W. Bush in 1988. Native son Mondale managed to beat Reagan in Minnesota by less than 4,000 votes in 1984. Jimmy Carter, under whom Mondale served as vice president, won Minnesota with less than 47% of the vote in 1980.
Carter began Minnesota's 40–year run of voting for Democrats when he received nearly 55% of the vote there in 1976. In the nine elections since, no Democrat has received that great a share of Minnesota's vote. I suppose it helped to have the winds of Watergate at your back.
So as you can see, Minnesota's support for Democrats has been steady but not spectacular.
What is the demographic story in Minnesota? Well, the population is nearly 83% white. Slightly more than 5% of the population is black so the kind of racial politics that is being used in other states won't work in Minnesota.
More than one–third of Minnesota's population has a high school education or less. Just under one–third of the population has had some college, but only about 22% completed college degree work, and a little over one–tenth of the population has done postgraduate work.
"Based on my 53% threshold for considering a state at risk for flipping," I wrote, "Minnesota should be on that list. But Minnesota has been consistent in its support for Democrats if not overwhelmingly so. Put an asterisk next to it. It might flip — but it probably won't."
Ah, but what if it did? What if Donald Trump, as an outsider, appeals to the same maverick undercurrent of Minnesota electoral politics that propelled a professional wrestler into the state's governor's mansion and a comedy writer into a Senate seat?
That is the kind of question that will make Minnesota worth watching on election night.
Thursday, October 6, 2016
For most Americans, the war on terror began in 2001, when the World Trade Center was brought down by two hijacked airplanes. For a few, it may have begun eight years earlier when the first attack on the World Trade Center took place.
And, to be fair, that probably is when the war first came to America.
But it's been going on longer than that — in the sense that Islamic martyrs have been dying for the cause. Thirty–five years ago today, Lt. Khalid Islambouli, an Egyptian military officer and Islamic extremist, assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat during the annual Victory Parade in Cairo commemorating the Egyptian army's crossing of the Suez Canal to reclaim part of the Sinai Peninsula from Israel in 1973.
It probably evaded most Americans' radars, but Sadat's final months had been rocky. There had been a military coup in June that failed, and there had been riots. There were those who said the riots were the outcome of domestic issues that plagued the country, but Sadat believed the Soviet Union was orchestrating an attempt to drive him from power.
That was also a particularly violent time in the history of the world — at least in terms of high–profile violence. President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II had survived assassination attempts earlier in the year. Ex–Beatle John Lennon had been gunned down in front of his New York apartment building nearly a year before.
Egyptian Islamists had been angered when Sadat signed the Camp David Accords with President Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in September 1978 — for which Sadat and Begin shared the Nobel Prize.
There were several missed opportunities for authorities to take Islambouli into custody before the assassination, most notably in September 1981 when Sadat ordered a roundup of more than 1,500 people, among them many Jihad members, but somehow Islambouli's cell was missed.
Then, in spite of ammunition seizure rules that should have prevented the assassination, the cell managed to get into the parade and jump from the truck in which they were riding when it approached the reviewing stand, where Sadat was supposedly protected by four layers of security and eight bodyguards. Sadat stood, thinking it was part of the show. He was mortally wounded by a grenade and gunfire, along with 10 others in the reviewing stand. Vice President Hosni Mubarak, who had been sitting next to Sadat, was one of 28 who were wounded but survived.
Islambouli was identified as the man responsible for Sadat's wounds and executed the next year.
Nearly 30 years later, Islambouli's mother said she was proud that her son had killed Sadat.
What does this say about the mentality of the Islamic extremists that they are still waging this war nearly four decades later? It says the same thing that a second attack on the World Trade Center eight years after the first told us.
This is a foe that is patient. It picks its battles, and it learns from its mistakes.
Now, I know that a mother's love is a powerful thing. I covered murder trials as a young newspaper reporter, and I would not be surprised to hear the mother of a murderer say that she loved her son/daughter in spite of the crime(s) he/she committed. In fact, I have heard mothers say that. It is certainly not uncommon for Christians to say that they hate the sin but love the sinner.
But this mother says she is proud that her son committed the sin. That is a different matter, and it gives you great insight into a mindset.
This foe truly believes it is waging a holy war, and it is willing to give it as much time as it takes — generations, if necessary. The jihadists take inspiration wherever they can.
Since Sadat's assassination, Islambouli has been inspiring Islamist movements the world over. In Tehran a street was named for him after the assassination. A postage stamp was issued showing him shouting defiantly in his prison cell, and Ayatollah Khomeini declared him a martyr after he had been executed.
This is not a traditional foe, and it cannot be beaten in the traditional ways.