Sunday, April 8, 2018

Sunday Reading

Corruption, Thy Name Is Trump — Jonathan Chait in New York magazine.

“My whole life I’ve been greedy, greedy, greedy,” declared Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. “I’ve grabbed all the money I could get. I’m so greedy. But now I want to be greedy for the United States.” To the extent that Trump’s candidacy offered any positive appeal, as opposed to simple loathing for his opponent, this was it. He was a brilliant businessman, or at least starred in a television show as one, and he would set aside his lifelong pursuit of wealth to selflessly serve the greater good. This was the promise that pried just enough Obama voters away from Hillary Clinton in just enough upper-Midwest states to clinch the Electoral College.

Since Trump took office, his pledge to ignore his own interests has been almost forgotten, lost in a disorienting hurricane of endless news. It is not just a morbid joke but a legitimate problem for the opposition that all the bad news about Trump keeps getting obscured by other bad news about Trump. Perhaps the extraordinary civic unrest his presidency has provoked will be enough to give Democrats a historic win in the midterms this fall, but it is easy to be worried. Trump’s approval rating hovers in the low 40s: lower than the average of any other president, yes, but seemingly impervious to an onslaught of scandals that would have sunk any other president, and within spitting range of reelectability.

As the races pick up in earnest, some kind of narrative focus is going to be necessary to frame the case against Trump. Here, what appears to be an embarrassment of riches for Democrats may in fact be a collection of distractions. It is depressingly likely that several of Trump’s most outrageous characteristics will fail to move the needle in the states and districts where the needle needs moving. His racism and misogyny motivate the Democratic base, but both were perfectly apparent in 2016 and did not dissuade enough voters to abandon him.
The Russia scandal is substantively important, but it is also convoluted and abstract and removed from any immediate impact on voters’ lived experience. The reports of Trump’s affair with Stormy Daniels, even the possibility of hired goons to keep her quiet, is not exactly a disillusioning experience for voters who harbored few illusions to begin with.

But they did harbor one. Trump’s core proposition to the public was a business deal: If he became president, he would work to make them rich. Of course, the fact that Trump was able to reduce the presidency to such a crass exchange, forsaking such niceties as simple decency and respect for the rule of law, exposed terrifying weaknesses in the fabric of American democracy. But the shortest path to resolving this crisis is first to remove Trump’s party — and it is Trump’s party — from full control of the government in 2018, and then to remove Trump from the White House in 2020. The clearest way to do that is to demonstrate that Trump is failing to uphold his end of the deal. After all, the students at Trump University once constituted some of the biggest Trump fans in America. Until they realized Trump had conned them. Then they sued to get their money back.

Historically, corruption — specifically, the use of power for personal gain — has played a central and even dominant role in American political discourse. In the 1870s, revelations that public officials were caught lining their pockets with millions of dollars from alcohol taxes (the Whiskey Ring) and inflated railroad costs (Crédit Mobilier) exploded into spectacular scandals. One of the triumphs of the Progressive Era was establishing rules and norms of professionalism in government so that public officials would not be tempted to sell their favors. The far more petty corruption cases of the 20th century still roused public rage. Harry Truman was famously scorned in his time, owing to penny-ante scandals, one of which involved an aide’s acceptance of some freezers. Dwight Eisenhower’s chief of staff had to resign after he accepted a vicuña coat; George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff, John Sununu, resigned in disgrace after using military aircraft for personal and political trips. There is a reason Trump labeled his opponent “Crooked Hillary,” and it stems from a law of American politics Democrats would be wise to remember: To be out for yourself is probably the single most disqualifying flaw a politician can have.

“Why shouldn’t the president surround himself with successful people?” argued Larry Kudlow, now Trump’s primary economic adviser, in 2016. “Wealthy folks have no need to steal or engage in corruption.” The administration seems to have set out to refute this generous assumption. The sheer breadth of direct self-enrichment Trump has unleashed in office defies the most cynical predictions. It may not be a surprise that he continues to hold on to his business empire and uses his power in office to direct profits its way, from overseas building deals down to printing the presidential seal on golf markers at the course near Mar-a-Lago. It is certainly not a surprise that Trump has refused to disclose his tax returns. What’s truly shocking is how much petty graft has sprung up across his administration. Trump’s Cabinet members and other senior officials have been living in style at taxpayer expense, indulging in lavish travel for personal reasons (including a trip to Fort Knox to witness the solar eclipse) and designing their offices with $31,000 dining sets and $139,000 doors. Not since the Harding administration, and probably the Gilded Age, has the presidency conducted itself in so venal a fashion.

It is hardly a coincidence that so many greedy people have filled the administration’s ranks. Trump’s ostentatious crudeness and misogyny are a kind of human-resources strategy. Radiating personal and professional sleaze lets him quickly and easily identify individuals who have any kind of public ethics and to sort them out. (James Comey’s accounts of his interactions with the president depict Trump probing for some vein of corruptibility in the FBI director; when he came up empty, he fired him.) Trump is legitimately excellent at cultivating an inner circle unburdened by legal or moral scruples. These are the only kind of people who want to work for Trump, and the only kind Trump wants to work for him.

It should take very little work — and be a very big priority — for Democratic candidates to stitch all the administration’s misdeeds together into a tale of unchecked greed. For all the mystery still surrounding the Russia investigation, for instance, it is already clear that the narrative revolves around a lust (and desperation) for money. Having burned enough American banks throughout his career that he could not obtain capital through conventional, legitimate channels, Trump turned to Russian sources, who typically have an ulterior political motive. Just what these various sources got in return for their investment in Trump is a matter for Robert Mueller’s investigators to determine. But Trump’s interest in them is perfectly obvious.

Trump’s campaign followed his patented human-resources strategy, filling its ranks with other rapacious and financially precarious men. Paul Manafort was deeply in debt to a Russian oligarch when he popped up on Trump’s doorstep. Michael Flynn was selling his credentials to Russian and Turkish dictators while advising Trump. Jared Kushner was flailing about in an effort to make good on a massive loan he took out on a white-elephant Manhattan building and seems to have used his access to Trump to leverage potential investors who might bail him out. Even as he has wielded enormous influence, Kushner has been unable to obtain a top-secret security clearance, because he may be vulnerable to foreign influence.

The virtue of bribery is a subject of genuine conviction for Trump, whose entrée to politics came via transactional relationships with New York politicians as well as Mafia figures. Trump once called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars American corporations from engaging in bribery, a “ridiculous” and “horrible” law. Enforcement of this law has plummeted under his administration.

Trump’s vision of an economy run by tight circles of politically connected oligarchs has reshaped America’s standing in the world. The same effect that applies at the personal level with Trump has appeared at the level of the nation-state. Small-d democratic leaders have recoiled from the Trump administration, while autocrats have embraced him. Similarly, the president and his inner circle feel most comfortable in the company of the wealthy and corrupt. They have built closer ties to Russia, the Gulf States, and China, all of which are ruled by oligarchs who recognize in Trump a like-minded soul. They share the belief that — to revise a favorite Trump saying — if you don’t steal, you don’t have a country.

An easy fatalism about all this corruption has gained wide circulation. It was known about Trump all along and his voters signed up for it anyway, so nothing matters, right? In fact, Trump’s behavior runs directly contrary to his most important promises. “Draining the swamp” was not supposed to mean simply kicking out Democrats and competent public officials. He made speeches promising good-government reforms: a ban on lobbying by former members of Congress and stricter rules on what lobbying meant; campaign-finance reform to prevent foreign companies from raising money for American candidates; a ban on lobbying by former senior government officials on behalf of foreign governments.

Not only has Trump made no effort to raise ethical standards but he and his administration have flamboyantly violated the existing guidelines. Lobbyists are seeded in every agency, “regulating” their former employers and designing rules that favor bosses over employees and business owners over consumers. The problem of former government officials’ being paid by foreign governments has been superseded by the far larger problem of current government officials’ being paid by foreign governments.

Small episodes of corruption can play an outsize role in American politics, since the human scale of petty self-dealing is often easy to understand. And in Trump’s case, the smaller and larger scandals reinforce each other. Why is Trump giving rich people and corporations a huge tax cut? Why has he been threatening to take away your health insurance? Why is he letting Wall Street and Big Oil write their own rules? Above all, if Trump supposedly believed that “if I become president, I couldn’t care less about my company — it’s peanuts,” why are his children still running it? For the same reason he has let his Cabinet secretaries run up large travel expenses, and why his son-in-law met with oligarchs in China and the Gulf States whose money he was trying to get his hands on.

Even the strong economy does not mean Democrats have no way to attack Trump’s economic management. After all, the reason public opinion about the economy improved almost immediately after his election is that the Republican message machine stopped bad-mouthing the recovery and instead rebranded the same conditions as a fabulous new era of prosperity. Rather than sit back and allow Trump to take credit for a recovery he inherited, Democrats can press the point that he and his allies are doing little more than skimming off the top of it.

Somebody persuaded corporations, fattened by a trillion-dollar tax windfall, to publicize the same raises and bonuses they had been handing out for years as a special dividend of the Trump tax cuts. If Democrats win control of a chamber of Congress and thus the ability to hold hearings, they should investigate whatever coordination yielded this nexus of self-interest. A Democratic House or Senate could also compel disclosure of Trump’s tax returns, and both the documents themselves and any drama surrounding them would attract more attention to the administration’s commitment to self-enrichment.

But that can happen only if the Democrats win the midterms, and the best way to do that is to tell a very simple story. Trump represented himself as a rich man feared by the business elite. He had spent much of his life buying off politicians and exploiting the system, so he knew how the system worked and could exploit that knowledge on behalf of the people. In fact, his experiences with bribery opened his eyes to what further extortion might be possible. Trump was never looking to blow up the system. He was simply casing the joint.

Mr. Popularity — John Nichols in The Nation on Trump’s delusions.

Trump is so out of touch with reality that he thinks he is popular.

He’s not. And Americans, no matter what their partisanship, no matter what their ideology, should be worried that their president is lying not just to them but to himself.

Trump has been obsessed in recent days by a Rasmussen Reports daily presidential tracking poll that was published April 4. It put his approval rating at 51 percent. “Still Rising: Rasmussen Poll Shows Donald Trump Approval Ratings Now at 51 Percent,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday, as part of a pattern of tweets claiming that he’s experiencing a popularity surge.

Appearing Friday morning on the Trump-approving Bernie & Sid Show on New York’s WABC radio show—”we both think you’re doing a terrific job…”—the president claimed he was on a roll. “A poll just came out now, Rasmussen, it’s now 51,” chirped the president. “And they say that it’s 51, but add another 7 or 8 points to it. That’s somewhat embarrassing for me to tell you because they don’t want to talk about it, but when they get into the [voting] booth they’re going to vote for Trump.”

Rasmussen, a polling firm that has consistently found higher numbers for Trump than other survey research operations, did put the president at 51 on Wednesday. But Thursday’s Rasmussen daily tracking poll had the president’s approval rating falling to 47 percent, with 51 percent of those polled expressing disapproval. On Friday, when Trump was saying “it’s now 51,” his Rasmussen approval rating was actually 47 percent, while his disapproval number had risen to 52 percent.

In other words, the survey firm that the president has been busy thanking for doing “honest polling” is telling us that his approval rating has gone down in a week that saw talk of a “trade war” with China and mounting calls for the removal of scandal-plagued Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt.

But it’s actually much worse than that for Trump. Rasmussen is just one pollster. All the rest of the recent polls from major survey research groups show Trump with a double-digit polling deficit. Some have his approval rating falling into the 30s. The Real Clear Politics average of recent polls provides the clearest picture: As of Friday morning, Trump’s approval rating was at 41.5 percent. His disapproval rating was at 54.6 percent. That’s a 13.1 percent deficit.

That’s also well below the level of support Trump got when he lost—let’s reemphasize: lost—the popular vote in 2016. In that year’s presidential race, Trump secured 46.1 percent of the vote to 48.2 percent for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Clinton received almost 3 million more votes than Trump, and that was after she faced an onslaught of criticism and attacks during the 2016 campaign.

Trump could never accept those numbers. He has made wild claims about voter fraud and promoted other electoral fantasies in attempts to explain his failure to appeal to the vast majority of voters. And he never acknowledges—no matter how his numbers compared with Clinton’s in the popular vote—that the overall portion of the 2016 American electorate that chose someone other than Trump for the presidency was 54 percent.

Why should Americans worry that their president keeps deceiving himself—and his fellow Republicans, in Congress and in the states where GOP-backed candidates are being rejected with growing frequency—about these approval ratings?

Because this is a president who, we are told, trusts his instincts. If Trump really believes his approach to governing is popular, if he really imagines that his popularity is “still rising,” he is more likely to keep doing what he is doing.

The fact is that Trump’s instincts are wrong, as are his policies. They are not making him more popular. He may experience temporary fluctuations in his approval ratings, but they are never great—or even all that good. In fact, when it comes to approval ratings, it certainly looks like Trump’s best days were back in November of 2016, when he was on the losing end of a 54-46 measure of popular sentiment.

The Smells of Home — Sofija Stefanovic in The New York Times about sense memory recall.

When I was 5, the night before we left Yugoslavia and a few years before that country embarked on the Balkan wars and eventually dissolved, my mother put me to bed. Before starting on the hour of lullabies I demanded, out of nowhere she said, “The smells of your childhood will always stay with you and will make you remember home.”

“But what if you were born in a garbage bin?” I said.

“Then the smell of garbage will always remind you of home,” she said, and her eyes filled with tears, making me (incorrectly) assume that she’d been born in a garbage bin herself and was getting emotional about it.

Though I didn’t think much of it at the time, my mother was right about the smells. It is well documented that our senses can cause an involuntary flooding of memory. Some call it the “Proust phenomenon,” after the scene in “In Search of Lost Time” when a character’s childhood comes back to him simply from tasting a madeleine biscuit soaked in tea.

To me, the Belgrade of my childhood smelled like the Marlboro cigarettes my mother smoked — even while I was in utero (it was the ’80s) — and the perfume my aunt wore and chestnuts roasting in the winter, which sellers scooped into a paper cone and we ate on our way to my grandma’s place.

But I didn’t think about those smells as being special, because I had never not smelled them. We hadn’t yet moved to Australia, with its clean air, eucalyptus trees and suburban lawns, where the Southern Cross constellation hung above us, far from our family and the small gray sky of my hometown. I didn’t know that I would miss the smells, or rather, that I wouldn’t realize I missed the smells, and their associated memories, until I experienced them again.

It’s only now, as an adult living in New York, that I have my own Proustian moments. On a cold day smelling of snow, I sometimes get a whiff of urine in a doorway, and that olfactory cocktail reminds me of our building on the Boulevard of Revolution, with its green door, where my family lived when I was small. Men used to relieve themselves in the doorways there, just as they do here.

Behind the green door was an old foyer, and if you were walking down the stairs, you had to push a button each time you arrived on a new floor because the light was on a timer that went out. Out the back of that building I played with other kids. Stray kittens would appear near the caretaker’s toolshed and we’d argue over them, tugging them out of one another’s grasps, except when it was snowing and the kittens huddled under the shed and we’d make snowmen instead.

All those memories from a stinky doorway.

For me, the Belgrade of today is not home. We left there a long time ago, and I rarely visit. When I do, I often get lost, and the slang of young people is unfamiliar. It is not the home I remember when my senses are triggered (like when I try the Israeli peanut snack Bamba, which is uncannily similar to the Yugo Smoki I grew up on). The more time I spend with my memories, the more I augment them, my fantasy Belgrade becoming more beautiful than it ever was.

The United States is a nation of immigrants (still), and New York City is brimming with them. People who have been parted from the smells and tastes of their homes, who I assume are, like me, jolted back when a long-forgotten piece of music blares from a passing car, or a childhood spice enters their nostrils on a windy street in Queens. Do their memories make them feel nostalgia, or love, or are they ambivalent, terrified, heartbroken?

My son was born in New York City a few months ago. Based on the sensations of our block, he may well feel at home smelling a garbage bin. He might also remember the smell of the cinema near our apartment: popcorn and synthetic butter. The sound of his mother humming a Yugo-rock tune. Will these sensations, of the only home he has known, ever stand out to him as something to be missed?

If we go back to Australia (I’m not sure what the final straw will be — health care, education, immigration policy, gun laws), my son will be left with memories waiting to be sparked like a match. And then, the sound of a siren might take him back to our East Village block, where I pushed him in a stroller, picking up dog poop and balancing a coffee that I spilled on myself, and then cursed over and over. Maybe the smell of a dog’s breath will remind him of the couch he had to share with poodles while his parents shouted at the news, or the dog run with its squirrels and cobbles.

As stimuli fly at my baby — I watch him turn his head when he hears someone shouting, at the smell of laundry coming from a grating — I wonder what version of home he’s creating for himself. Which memories will my son carry of the city where he lived when he was born? And will he be like me, and many others who have moved, carrying certain baggage wherever he goes?

I remember my mother’s comment about how the smells of my childhood would remind me of home, and home, I now know, is a place that exists not on a map but in my mind, ready to appear in its full, smelly glory at any moment.

Doonesbury — Quick results.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Blame Game

This poll is from Friday so I’m not sure how long it will last; voters have the short-term memory of a goldfish.

By a 20-point margin, more Americans blame President Trump and Republicans rather than Democrats for a potential government shutdown, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

A 48 percent plurality says Trump and congressional Republicans are mainly responsible for the situation resulting from disagreements over immigration laws and border security, while 28 percent fault Democrats. A sizable 18 percent volunteer that both parties are equally responsible. Political independents drive the lopsided margin of blame, saying by 46 to 25 percent margin that Republicans and Trump are responsible for the situation.

Republicans use a shutdown as part of their tactics; they know that even if they’re in control of everything they can always blame it on someone else and get away with it, and they know their base hates government anyway and cheers when there’s a shutdown until it directly impacts them.

The last time the government shut down, Trump laid the blame not on Congress but on the president.

TRUMP: In my opinion – you know, I hear the Democrats are going to be blamed and the Republicans are going to be blamed. I actually think the president would be blamed. If there is a shutdown, and it’s not going to be a horrible shutdown because, as you know, things will sort of keep going…. If there is a shutdown I think it would be a tremendously negative mark on the president of the United States. He’s the one that has to get people together.

Would you like a bandage for that bite on your ass?

In the long run it won’t really matter.  The polling after the last shutdown in 2013 also hit the Republicans but by the mid-terms in 2014 they were still able to stay in control of the House and Senate.  But this time there’s more going on than just fighting over CHIP and DACA, and the shutdown didn’t stop the Mueller investigation.  We’ll just pick up where we left off with Trump and his racism and warmongering.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Unpopular Vote

Here’s an interesting bit of news: The tax bill being whooped through Congress is very unpopular with the American people.

Senate Republicans’ effort to pass tax reform is at a crucial juncture. As some senators waffle on whether to support the bill, they may want to spare a glance toward public opinion: Poll after poll shows that more voters than not are opposed to their efforts. In fact, the GOP bill is one of the least popular tax plans since Ronald Reagan’s day.

About a third of voters currently support the Republican tax reform package, according to an average of five surveys released1 this month. In a Quinnipiac University survey, just 25 percent of voters approved of the plan. Surveys from ABC News/Washington Post, CNN, Morning Consult and YouGov put approval of the plan slightly higher, but all are still at 36 percent or lower. Meanwhile, an average of the five polls puts opposition at 46 percent.

Why is support so low? Americans are opposed to the bill because they think it disproportionately benefits the rich. (It likely will.) President Trump’s administration has argued, however, that there were similar complaints about the Reagan tax cut plan of 1981, which preceded an economic boom.

The Reagan plan, though, was far more popular in 1981 than the current Republican plan is now. In a Gallup survey taken in the days after Reagan signed his tax cuts into law on Aug. 13, 1981, 51 percent of Americans were in favor of it. Just 26 percent of Americans were opposed. The other major tax cut of the Reagan administration (signed in 1986) wasn’t nearly as popular, but it was still more popular than the current GOP legislation. A CBS News/New York Times survey conducted in the days after the bill passed Congress found 38 percent in favor and 34 percent opposed.

Indeed, major tax cut plans are usually more popular than unpopular. Heck, even some tax hikes have been more popular than the current GOP bill.2

Yesterday I cynically suggested that the tax cuts would go through and trash what’s left of the recovery and throw 15 million people off health insurance and the vast majority of Americans wouldn’t notice until it lands in their lap, if then.  Well, maybe they’re noticing after all.

 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Base Coating

According to a poll published by Reuters, Trump is losing support from his rural base.

Outside the Morgan County fair in McConnelsville, in a rural swath of Ohio that fervently backed U.S. President Donald Trump in last year’s election, ticket seller John Wilson quietly counts off a handful of disappointments with the man he helped elect.

The 70-year-old retired banker said he is unhappy with infighting and turnover in the White House. He does not like Trump’s penchant for traveling to his personal golf resorts. He wishes the president would do more to fix the healthcare system, and he worries that Trump might back down from his promise to force illegal immigrants out of the country.

“Every president makes mistakes,” Wilson said. “But if you add one on top of one, on top of another one, on top of another, there’s just a limit.”

Trump, who inspired millions of supporters last year in places like Morgan County, has been losing his grip on rural America.

According to the Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll, the Republican president’s popularity is eroding in small towns and rural communities where 15 percent of the country’s population lives. The poll of more than 15,000 adults in “non-metro” areas shows that they are now as likely to disapprove of Trump as they are to approve of him.

I hate to throw cold water on your hopes that this slippage means the tide is finally turning and that rural America is waking up to the fact that they got conned by this cheap vulgarian.  Given the choice between him and a Democrat, they’d vote for him again.  After all, he promised that he’d get rid of the illegals and make America great again, and when you’re given the choice between abstract possibilities and admitting out loud that you got taken, the abstracts will win every time.

Say what you will about Trump, he knows how to keep his base.  Find a kneeling black football player, pick on a Puerto Rican mayor, start a Twitter war with a moderate Republican; it’s all about the distraction and the visceral.  The base will back him every time.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Monday, August 21, 2017

That Shrinking Feeling

Trump’s approval rating in three key Midwestern states — Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — is below 40%.

In addition, Democrats enjoy double-digit leads in Michigan and Pennsylvania on the question of which party voters prefer to control Congress after the 2018 midterms, and they hold an 8-point advantage in Wisconsin.

[…]

In all three states, more than six in 10 voters say Trump’s conduct as president has embarrassed them, compared to just a quarter who have said it’s made them proud.

These three NBC/Marist polls were conducted August 13-17 — after the Aug. 12 unrest and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and in the midst of Trump’s multiple responses to the events.

In Michigan, 36 percent of voters approve of Trump’s job performance (including 19 percent who strongly approve), while 55 percent disapprove (including 40 percent who strongly do).

In Pennsylvania, 35 percent give the president’s job a thumbs up (17 percent strongly), versus 54 percent who disapprove (41 percent strongly).

And in Wisconsin, 34 percent of voters approve of Trump (17 percent strongly), compared with 56 percent who disapprove (42 percent strongly).

In 2016’s general election, Trump won all three states by a combined 80,000 votes, becoming the first Republican to carry these states since the 1980s.

Asked if Trump’s conduct as president made them proud or embarrassed them, 64 percent of voters in Michigan and Wisconsin say they’ve been embarrassed, while 63 percent say that in Pennsylvania.

Polls change quickly, and we are fifteen months away from the 2018 mid-terms, but when you start layering in sentiments like “embarrassment,” that has a tendency to stick around longer than the instant reaction to news items that can spike or crater a weekly poll.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Other Priorities

I am sure that the Republicans and Trump will try again and again to kill off Obamacare, but the voters are done messing with it, according to Reuters.

A majority of Americans are ready to move on from healthcare reform at this point after the U.S. Senate’s effort to dismantle Obamacare failed on Friday, according to an exclusive Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Saturday.

Nearly two-thirds of the country wants to either keep or modify the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, and a majority of Americans want Congress to turn its attention to other priorities, the survey found.

[…]

The July 28-29 poll of more than 1,130 Americans, conducted after the Republican-led effort collapsed in the Senate, found that 64 percent said they wanted to keep Obamacare, either “entirely as is” or after fixing “problem areas.” That is up from 54 percent in January.

The survey found that support for the law still runs along party lines, with nine out of 10 Democrats and just three out of 10 Republicans saying they wanted to keep or modify Obamacare.

The only problem with Congress turning its attention to other priorities is that they will probably make as much of a mess of them as they did of healthcare.  The budget will be worse, the infrastructure will continue to crumble, and the only thing that they might pull off is tax “reform,” which to the majority party means nobody pays for anything.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Keep It Up

Apparently the word is getting out that Trumpcare sucks.

Just 12% of Americans support the Senate Republican health care plan, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds, amid a roiling debate over whether the GOP will deliver on its signature promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

In the survey, taken Saturday through Tuesday, a 53% majority say Congress should either leave the law known as Obamacare alone or work to fix its problems while keeping its framework intact.

The Senate is getting the word from constituents and will hear a lot more this holiday weekend when they go to the 4th of July picnics and parades and are greeted by people like you who will make their feelings known.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Georgia 6

There’s a lot riding on today’s special election for Congress in the Georgia 6th district, not the least of which are cable TV ratings.  If the Democrats win with Jon Ossoff in this upscale Atlanta suburb, it could be a predictor for how the 2018 midterms are headed, but if they lose to Republican Karen Handel, it could be that she had the advantage of carrying a district that has been Republican for almost forty years and used to be the home of Newt Gingrich.  Spin it as you will.

Or, as Nate Silver puts it, expect some dumbness from the punditry.

Here’s the thing, though: Sometimes dumb things matter if everyone agrees that they matter. Congressional Republicans could use a signal of any kind right now to coordinate their strategy around two vexing issues: first, their health care bill, and second, their behavior toward President Trump and the investigations surrounding him. Whatever direction Republicans take on these questions, they will find some degree of strength in numbers. Republicans would probably be less afraid of publicly rebuking Trump, for instance — and becoming the subject of a @realDonaldTrump tweetstorm or Trump-backed primary challenge — if other GOPers were doing the same.

The Georgia 6 outcome might trigger some herd behavior among Republicans, therefore, changing the political environment in the weeks and months ahead. A loss for Handel would probably be interpreted by the GOP as a sign that the status quo wasn’t working. If even a few members of Congress began taking the exit ramp on Trump and the American Health Care Act, a number of others might follow. A win, conversely, would have a morale-boosting effect; Republicans would probably tell themselves that they could preserve their congressional majorities by turning out their base, even if some swing voters had abandoned them.

Right now Ossoff has a very narrow lead in the polls, but if last November is any guide, polls don’t mean a whole lot.  What does matter is seeing how the parties are shifting their bases; people who voted for Obama shifting to Trump; people who voted for Romney shifting to Clinton; blocs who were once considered reliable for both parties no longer hold that allegiance; and overall, a frustration or anger that they’re not getting either what they want or what was promised to them, thereby adding an age-old corollary on Tip O’Neill’s adage about all politics being local: “What’s in it for me?”  That means that the echos of November and the current situation for Trump don’t mean a whole lot. Even the debate over Obamacare takes second place to who’s going to bring home more bacon.

Ever the pessimist about things like this, I am bracing for a narrow loss for the Democrats and hours of dumb pundit analysis.  (The same will hold true if he wins.)  Twenty-four hours from now we’ll know and see who’s really dumb.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Friday, April 28, 2017

Just Stupid

According to this poll, in spite of what we know now, the American electorate would still elect Trump.

There’s no honeymoon for Donald Trump in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll but also no regrets: He approaches his 100th day in office with the lowest approval rating at this point of any other president in polls since 1945 — yet 96 percent of those who supported him in November say they’d do so again today. . . .

Among those who report having voted for [Trump] in November, 96 percent today say it was the right thing to do; a mere 2 percent regret it. And if a rerun of the election were held today, the poll indicates even the possibility of a Trump victory in the popular vote among 2016 voters.

Seriously?

Among surveyed Americans who say they voted in the 2016 election, 46 percent say they voted for Hillary Clinton and 43 percent for Trump — very close to the 2-point margin in the popular vote. However, while Trump would retain almost all of his support if the election were held again today (96 percent), fewer of Clinton’s supporters say they’d stick with her (85 percent), producing a 40-43 percent Clinton-Trump result in a hypothetical redo among self-reported 2016 voters.

That’s not because former Clinton supporters would now back Trump; only 2 percent of them say they’d do so, similar to the 1 percent of Trump voters who say they’d switch to Clinton. Instead, they’re more apt to say they’d vote for a third-party candidate or wouldn’t vote.

There are various reasons for this sentiment, according to Chauncey DeVega in Salon:

Political scientists and other researchers have repeatedly documented that the American public does not have a sophisticated knowledge on political matters. The average American also does not use a coherent and consistent political ideology to make voting decisions. As Larry Bartels and Christopher Achen demonstrate in their new book “Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government,” Americans have identities and values that elites manipulate, which voters in turn use to process information — however incorrectly.

Or, to put it more succinctly, Americans are mostly ignorant when it comes to what’s going on outside their own little world that may consist of their surroundings and their own sense of entitlement, much less what’s going on in another part of the country or the world.  All they know is what someone tells them, taking it at face value, unaware or uncaring that they are being manipulated or just plain lied to.  The guy on TV said it, therefore it must be true.  (That also explains a great deal about organized religion, but that’s a topic for another post.)

This is but one more reminder that Donald Trump’s victory was not a sudden crisis or unexpected surprise. The neofascist movement that Trump represents was an iceberg of sorts — one that was a long time in the making. If this new poll is correct, many millions of Americans would make choices that would steer the ship of state into that same iceberg all over again. Such an outcome is ominous. The thought process that would rationalize such a decision is deranged.

As I noted earlier this week, not all the people who live in places were Trump won by a landslide are deranged; some of them are more enlightened, even frightened.  But we don’t have a lot of time to wait for the rest of them to come around.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

BTYFO*

Via Greg Sargent:

The 100-day mark of the Trump presidency is approaching, and his aides are worried that the media narrative will depict his historically awful lack of accomplishments with highly unflattering levels of accuracy. But don’t tell that to President Trump. He knows the real problem is that the news media won’t acknowledge how terrific the start to his presidency has actually been in comparison with his loser predecessors…

[…]

A new Gallup poll out this morning, however, strongly suggests that an increasing number of Americans just don’t believe Trump’s spin about his presidency anymore. It finds that only 45 percent of Americans think Trump keeps his promises, down from 62 percent in February, an astonishing slide of 17 points…

I think Trump actually does know that he’s off to the worst start since William Henry Harrison and that’s why he’s doing all that butch stuff like dropping a huge bomb in Afghanistan and pushing the “go it alone” sabre-rattling on North Korea.  The cable TV people love that sort of stuff; they get to pull out those cool graphics and talk all military with retired generals.  They get to rattle off acronyms like MOAB and BFO and pretend they know what life is like in the trenches.

Actually, it doesn’t really matter what the polls say or whether or not the Trump voter is finally getting clued in that they elected a fraud and a bullshit artist (*’Bout Time You Found Out), and frankly I don’t care that they’re now disappointed.  The damage has already been done and whether or not Trump lasts his full term is a moot point; even if the entire GOP has an Oedipus moment — roughly translated as “Holy shit, what have I done?” — fixing the damage to our country and ourselves is going to take more than just an election cycle.

For those of us over the age of fifty, we thought we had this taken care of when our long national nightmare was over after Watergate and we all hung out at The System Works Bar and Grille and congratulated ourselves on saving America in a bipartisan fashion.  It lasted one presidential election cycle and then we were back at it again with the Moral Majority demonizing minorities, Iran-Contra, and right-wing nutsery that made Richard Nixon’s campaign of character assassination look like Candyland.

The disappointed Republicans aren’t going to vote for a Democrat.  They’re going to look around for someone else to blame (mirrors being in short supply) and they’ll be happy to settle on another huckster who can soothe their wounds.

Don’t look now, but I think the odds on Ted Cruz primarying Trump in 2020 are better than even.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Out Of Reach

Even if Trump’s poll numbers suck wind with a lot of voters, there’s one group he’s doing just fine with: his Republican base.  As far as they’re concerned, he’s the next Ronald Reagan.

So even if he doesn’t repeal Obamacare, doesn’t build the wall, doesn’t bring back jobs to the coal mines, raises their taxes and gives more breaks to the rich while piling up the deficit, and poisons the air and water around them, they’ll still support him and cheer him on.

And why not?  These folks have been voting against their own self-interest for the last fifty years.  Why stop a good thing?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Nowhere To Go But Up?

Gallup is out with a poll that puts Trump’s approval rating at 36%.

Trump’s three-day reading prior to Friday’s events was 41%. His previous low point was 37%, recorded March 16-18. His highest reading was 46% in the week following his Jan. 20 inauguration, and he has averaged 42% for his term to date.

Trump’s current 36% is two percentage points below Barack Obama’s low point of 38%, recorded in 2011 and 2014. Trump has also edged below Bill Clinton’s all-time low of 37%, recorded in the summer of 1993, his first year in office, as well as Gerald Ford’s 37% low point in January and March 1975. John F. Kennedy’s lowest approval rating was 56%; Dwight Eisenhower’s was 48%.

Gallup tries to put a shine on the news by saying that most presidents get better.

An encouraging sign for Trump, perhaps, is that all presidents whose ratings fell below 36% — with the exception of Nixon — saw their ratings improve thereafter. Clinton provides a particularly relevant example. His approval rating dropped to 37% in June 1993 but recovered to 56% by September of that year.

I think the difference between Trump and the other presidents — even Nixon — is that they were not perceived by the public, regardless of party, as being as openly and flagrantly loose with the truth and their perception of it than Trump.  Even at his worst, Richard Nixon didn’t pull off the whoppers that Trump comes up with every day.

It’s not just the lying and disengagement from reality that sets him apart.  It’s the perception that his policy goals are not the same as the country’s.  The majority of Americans want good health insurance that covers more people, not fewer.  The majority of Americans are in favor of an immigration policy that does not deport 11 million people and separate families.  The majority of Americans want to know if the last election was manipulated by a foreign power whose very name used to send people into fallout shelters.  And the majority of Americans voted for someone else.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Last Visit To The Oracles

The final numbers from the predictors are in.  Take your pick.  If you’re for Trump, make it chloroform.

First, Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight:

Hillary Clinton has a 70 percent chance of winning the election, according to both the FiveThirtyEight polls-only and polls-plus models. That’s up from a 65 percent chance on Sunday night, so Clinton has had a good run in the polls in the final days of the campaign. Clinton’s projected margin of victory in the popular vote has increased to 3.5 percent from 2.9 percent.

fivethirtyeight-pollsonly-11-08-16Here’s Sam Wang’s call at the Princeton Election Consortium:

Here are my best estimates. The Presidential and House races are a near-replica of 2012. Four Senate races are within one percentage point. Partisans in Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, and North Carolina may want to lawyer up for possible recount battles.

[…]

President: Hillary Clinton (D).

Most probable single outcome (shown on map below): Clinton 323 EV, Trump 215 EV.

pec-map-11-08-16

The biggest change in the results is that both models plus the Upshot at the New York Times are calling for the Senate to be handed over to the Democrats by the slimmest of margins: 538 calling it 50-50, which means the Democrats control because Vice President Kaine breaks a tie, or 52-48 via PEC (Independents Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME) caucus with the Democrats).  That would fend off total gridlock, which is guaranteed if all the Democrats have is the White House (see Obama, Barack 2010-2016).

Now it’s your turn.

Monday, November 7, 2016

99.9% vs 66.9%

Today — the day before the election — the polling oracles of Sam Wang at the Princeton Election Consortium and Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight are showing two very different predictions.  PEC says Hillary Clinton has a 99.9% chance of winning while 538 is saying it’s 66.9%.  Why?

pec-map-11-07-16

Princeton Election Consortium 11-07-16

Five Thirty Eight 11-07-16

Five Thirty Eight 11-07-16

At the moment 538 isn’t talking, but Sam offers an explanation.  Fair warning: it’s long, detailed, and gets into statistical interpretation that will test your wonk tolerance, but it’s worth the read to see why two different organizations without — at least on the surface — an agenda for one candidate over another can come to two very different results when they’re looking at the same data.

And for a happy medium, there’s the Upshot at the New York Times, which, with Hillary Clinton at 84%, lands exactly in the middle between PEC and 538.

Take your pick.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Not Too Tight, Please

If Nate Silver and his models are making you nervous about the possibility of waking up a week from today and seeing the smoldering ruins around you, there are other sites that can offer more insight and perspective, if not 100% reassurance that all is not lost.

Sam Wang and his group at the Princeton Election Consortium have been consistent with their predictions and still hold out Hillary Clinton as the winner with a 98% probability even as the race tightens.  This is from Monday:

Hillary Clinton’s advantage over Donald Trump has eroded somewhat since our last review of electoral forecasts on October 26th. Much of the change has been around forecasters moving states to toss-up that they had previously characterized as leaning toward Clinton.

Several forecasters followed this reclassification with Florida as it has tightened considerably in the polls. Trump has led in two of the last four polls there and only trailing by one in the other two. With its 29 electoral votes, the Sunshine State is pretty close to a must-win for the Republican nominee.

There are a lot of nuggets of numbers and graphs, and unlike FiveThirtyEight, they’re not interspersed with predictions about college football since PEC is not owned by ESPN (and Princeton hasn’t been a football powerhouse since my dad was there in the late 1940’s).  That’s not to disparage FiveThirtyEight, but just as they’re an aggregate of polls and weighted a certain way, so the the PEC.  And this morning I like this map better:

pec-map-11-02-16There is also the Upshot at the New York Times.

The Upshot’s elections model suggests that Hillary Clinton is favored to win the presidency, based on the latest state and national polls. A victory by Mr. Trump remains possible: Mrs. Clinton’s chance of losing is about the same as the probability that an N.F.L. kicker misses a 35-yard field goal.

(What is it with pollsters and football?)  The only problem with the Upshot is that it’s behind a paywall.

I have always thought this would be a tight race down to the finish.  I would rather it was not, but let’s not kid ourselves; the right-wing noise machine was not going to let up even if it meant supporting a misogynistic racist with delusions of tacky grandeur as their one and only.  But I don’t want it to be too tight.  Let’s get Hillary Clinton over the finish line with at least 300 electoral votes, okay?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Two Weeks Out

Is the race over?  Superstitious folk and pollsters with long memories (1936 and 1948) say never say it is, but it’s hard to imagine anything other than a giant meteor changing the trajectory of the race.

There are those who are going around saying yes it’s over; Hillary Clinton has a 93% chance of winning, according to the New York Times Upshot.  I prefer to go with the people at FiveThirtyEight who are a little less convinced (although still convincing) with an 86.3% chance.

fivethirtyeight-pollsonly-10-25-16The Oracle speaks:

As I wrote last week, Hillary Clinton is probably going to become the next president. But there’s an awful lot of room to debate what “probably” means.

FiveThirtyEight’s polls-only model puts Clinton’s chances at 85 percent, while our polls-plus model has her at 83 percent. Those odds have been pretty steady over the past week or two, although if you squint you can see the race tightening just the slightest bit, with Clinton’s popular vote lead at 6.2 percentage points as compared to 7.1 points a week earlier. Still, she wouldn’t seem to have a lot to complain about.

Other statistical models are yet more confident in Clinton, however, variously putting her chances at 92 percent to 99 percent. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big difference, since people (wrongly) tend to perceive odds above 80 percent as sure things. But flip those numbers around, and instead of Clinton’s chances, consider Donald Trump’s. The New York Times’s Upshot model gives Trump an 8 percent chance of winning the election. Our models say a Trump presidency is about twice a likely as The Upshot does, putting his chances at 15 percent (polls-only) and 17 percent (polls-plus). And our models think Trump is about four times as likely to win the presidency as the Huffington Post Pollster model, which puts his chances at 4 percent.

So let me explain why our forecast is a bit more conservative than some of the others you might be seeing — and why you shouldn’t give up if you’re a Trump supporter, or assume you have it in the bag if you’re voting for Clinton. We’ve touched on each of these points before, but it’s nice to have them in one place. I’ll also show you what probability our model would give to Trump and Clinton if we changed some of these assumptions.

TLDR: 1) A lot of voters are still undecided; 2) The model is calibrated on general elections since 1972; 3) The models are allowing for more unlikely events (giant meteor, perhaps?); 4) State outcomes are correlated with one another.

As we say frequently, the greater uncertainty in the FiveThirtyEight forecast cuts both ways. So while we show a greater likelihood of a Trump win than most other models, we’d also assign a greater possibility to a Clinton landslide, in which she wins the election by double digits. But while the campaign is almost over, the suspense isn’t quite done.

In other words, if you can’t bear the suspense, you still have the World Series (which Nate pegs the Cubs as favored to win) or the new TV season to distract you.

Friday, August 5, 2016