Monday, November 5, 2012


Four years ago I did a pretty decent job of predicting Election Night. This time around, my guess is pretty much a reflection of Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight website. I don't think Obama/ Biden will pull out Florida or North Carolina, but they'll get every other swing state and win with 303 electoral votes.

How I see it

Here's how you know President Obama is headed to victory:

  • Desperate Attacks in Ohio: The Romney campaign has steadfastly maintained it would "not be dictated by fact-checkers." Never was this more apparent than in its ads that claimed the auto-industry bailout would lead to Chrysler shipping jobs to China. But in a campaign full of half truths and outright lies, that was a bridge too far. Chrysler called them out, and the claims failed to dent Obama's consistent lead. It seems to me this attack was a last-ditch desperate attempt to swing Ohio. If Romney thought he was ahead there, his campaign wouldn't need to resort to such tactics.
  • Romney tries to open Pennsylvania: Romney spent parts of the week before the election campaigning in Pennsylvania. The Romney campaign claimed it was expanding the map and laying the groundwork for a landslide. Nonsense. Romney campaigned there for the same reason he ran the Chrysler ads, he knew he wasn't going to win Ohio. McCain did the same thing four years ago, making a late and ultimately unsuccessful play for Pennsylvania. Seeing Romney bound around the Keystone state tells me his advisors can read polls better than many of their supporters, who are hellbent on discrediting Silver's math. But if you can't win Ohio, which normally leans Republican, you ain't winning Pennsylvania, which leans Democrat.
Nate knows. And, really, Mitt does, too.
  • Emphasis on tiny states: I actually live in a battleground state media market, New Hampshire. This is just anecdotal evidence, but it seems to me Romney is advertising here far more than Obama. Once again, this tells me that Obama realizes his campaign is 1) ahead NH in polls, and 2) safe electorally without New Hampshire. Romney's appeal for New Hampshire's four electoral votes indicates how desperate he is to patch together 270.
  • Threw up in my mouth a little: Last night I watched 60 Minutes which aired a truly disgusting segment on the broken mess that is the U.S. Senate. It was the typical "Both parties are partisan and don't want to get things done!" B.S. that has made shows like 60 Minutes largely irrelevant. The most odious part was watching Tom Coburn, the ultra-conservative senator, say that the Senate is so lacking in leadership that it is better off broken than functioning. Of course no one called him on his crap, but it's a perfect example of why the Right will always triumph in our system: Conrad and his conservative colleagues WANT that disfunction. Steve Kroft, or whichever dinosaur was interviewing Conrad, kept saying that the American people want the parties to come together to solve problems. But he never mentioned that Republicans do not believe the government should solve problems. They do not believe in government. They joined it to destroy it. So when Conrad tells his constituents the Senate is better off not functioning, he wins. That incentive system is what has destroyed the U.S. Congress.
  • Gross consequences: This messed up system is what allows Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan (!) to tell people to vote with them because they'll be able to deal with Congress. Think of the cynicism. The Congressional Republicans publicly stated their top goal, with the economy in shambles, was to make Barack Obama a one-term president. They fought him at every step to block his agenda. Now, when Romney says he will be able to get things done the implication is clear: We know that if the president wins the Republicans won't let him do anything, so vote for me and since I'm pushing their agenda and we control the House, and Democrats believe in government action, we'll be able to do something. Either reward our terrible behavior or suffer more of it.
  • More awful incentives: A similar incentive system has destroyed U.S. elections. People hate how incessant political campaigning has become and, more than anything, how negative it is. That, too, plays into Republicans' destructive hands. The constant negative campaigning can depress turnout, which helps Republicans. So Republicans go ultra negative, and Democrats (knowing they cannot stay silent) respond with equally negative messages, causing many to tune out and drop out of the process. Again, a win for the conservative movement. Democrats rely on people participating, but Republicans have an incentive to be as negative as possible.
  • Excuses excuses: Just like revisionist historians have credited the financial crisis with Obama's big victory in 2008, expect similar Republican handwringing about Hurricane Sandy. But the fact is Romney's momentum stopped before the storm, and the race is now where has always been, save three weeks between the DNC and the first debate: Obama with a small but solid lead.
  • A battle for the soul of the Republican party will begin on Wednesday, as establishment Republicans seek to wrest their party back from the Koch brothers/ Tea Party wing of ultra conservatism. The team captains already seem to be staking out their ground, with Governor Chris Christie on one end and Congressman Paul Ryan on the other. Because of the primary system, Ryan's scorched earth orthodoxy will likely win out. That is ultimately bad for Republicans, good for Democrats, and terrible for the country.
On that sunny note, I'll wrap this up. Enjoy the returns. And the weeks of Republicans shouting about how the election was stolen (unless Obama loses, in which case it likely was stolen).

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Breaking: Someone Says Awful Truth [UPDATE]

There has been a lot of outrage in the wake of Indiana U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's statement last night that he does not support abortion in cases of rape.
“I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is a gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Earlier today, Mourdock tried to walk the comments back, saying:
"I said life is precious. I believe rape is a brutal act. It is something that I abhor. That anyone would come away with any meaning other than what I said is regrettable, and for that I apologize."
But I have to confess I am very confused and actually somewhat surprised that Mourdock's quote last night has caused such outrage. To be clear, I think it's a terrible thought, completely devoid of humanity, compassion, and understanding. I also think it's just plain wrong. I disagree with it in every sense, and suspect that Mourdock is the worst kind of hypocrite.

But for all the terrible things that Mourdock's statement is, it's also completely logically consistent with his stated belief. And the belief of our possibly-soon-to-be-vice-president, Paul Ryan.

Paul Ryan and his colleague Todd Aiken
Paul Ryan cosponsored the artfully titled “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act.”
“I’m very proud of my pro-life record, and I’ve always adopted the idea that — the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life,” Ryan has said.
Paul Ryan, Richard Mourdock, Todd Aiken, these are all guys on record as supporting a ban on abortion in cases of rape. And if you asked Paul Ryan, and he was honest or just politically stupid, why he thought a raped woman should carry her pregnancy to term, he'd give you some speech about the sanctity of human life. And if you asked him whether he thought God has a hand in creating human life, and whether God's plan plays a role in his belief, I bet he'd say something very similar to what Mourdock said last night. Ryan is clear that his faith in God informs his view on abortion policy. The idea that every pregnancy is a gift from God is completely in line with his stated beliefs. Even if Ryan only believes some variation of Mourdock's statement, we know he agrees with the important part.

This is what these guys believe. When someone slips up and says it plainly there is a lot of coverage and outrage. How about when male U.S. Representatives like Ryan and Aiken introduce legislation that would have impact beyond mere words? How about when a presidential candidate picks a sponsor of that legislation to be next in line for the presidency? Where is the outrage there?

There is none. Whether it's because of laziness, intellectual dishonesty, or a fear of being called biased, the actual policy gets a free ride in the media. Just don't say the belief out loud.

No matter what he said during his debate against Vice President Biden, Paul Ryan personally believes that the government should prevent a woman who has been raped and impregnated from terminating her pregnancy. And if she flouts the law that he proposes, he would presumably like her criminally prosecuted.

But a note to victims in Paul Ryan's America: Just don't ask the government to make raising the child any easier.

UPDATE 10/25/12 @ 7:37pm

Apparently, I'm not alone in my surprise at the shocked reaction to Murdock's comments. The New Republic's Amy Sullivan gives an eloquent breakdown here.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Debate Disaster: Obama's Enthusiasm- Gap and the Return of the Mass. Moderate

Wednesday night's presidential debate was so shockingly one-sided that there are many points that I'd like to make. To the list!

Only Clint Eastwood could have lost this debate

  • If President Obama simply fought Mitt Romney to a draw, especially in light Friday's positive jobs report, this race would be over. Obama had opened up a solid lead about a month before the election. He was an average performance away from shoring up victory.
  • Obama has never been a world-class debater, but he was so bad in Denver that I have only been able to come up with a couple of explanations, let's take them one by one. To the list within the list!
  • Obama looking at Bush 41's watch
    • Coming off of a very strong convention, Obama had been dominating the campaign for weeks. Romney couldn't get out of his own way. There was his bungled foreign trip, a forgettable convention highlighted by Romney failing to salute the troops and a septuagenarian lecturing an empty chair, the 47% recording, and a host of dismal polls. But the Obama camp should have recognized that they were on the verge of victory and that Romney was a smart and capable guy in an absolutely desperate situation. This is a man who has been actively running for president since 2004. Who turned down a $30 million salary in 2009 to run again. A man that is willing to say anything to win that office. Maybe the Obama team, so disciplined and smart for so long, got overconfident and severely misjudged the proper strategy for this debate.
    • After Bill Clinton's amazing convention speech, expectations were high for Obama's address to close the DNC. When he came off as uninspired, some speculated that perhaps he had a warning that September's job numbers would be soft and he wanted to set a more subdued tone. But after Wednesday, when the president seemed like he'd rather have been anywhere else, one has to wonder: Is the man's heart fully in this race? Remember, President Obama and his closest advisors have maintained that from the outset of their campaign in 2007, Obama did not have an unshakable need to be president. And he has had to endure so much, that maybe he's suffering from a personal enthusiasm- gap.
    • Maybe Al Gore was right and the altitude got to him.
  • Many outlets have pointed out, in tones both serious and satirical, that if the purpose of the debate was to make honest arguments for one's positions, then Obama actually dominated. Romney contradicted his own statements and distorted his own positions. Obama called him out (for the most part) and was honest with the American electorate. And it's a sad indictment of our culture and media that Romney's performance can be called a "win." But I can't buy that. For many voters the debates are the start of election season, or at least a time to form strong opinions. Yes, the media should be honest about what Romney said. But the voters who are undecided or uninformed are not watching those recaps anyway (and who can blame them). Obama had a responsibility to call out the BS, at the risk of his image, for the good of his campaign and the country. He failed. But Romney's debate tactics lead to my last point...
  • Romney, fighting off retirement and for his political life, morphed back into the Massachusetts Moderate conservatives reviled all through their primary (who saw that coming?). On Social Security, Medicare, taxes, Romney blurred his differences with the president. He even bragged about his Massachusetts health care plan. One of his advisors almost got fired for doing that this summer! Republicans are juiced up after their nominees excellent performance, and they have every right to be. But how can conservatives feel good when, after they longed for an ideological-choice-election led by Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney saved his campaign by acting like a blue- dog Democrat? Got to turn their stomachs a bit... but I'm sure they'll take it.
He's probably still going to win, though

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Republicans Have a Big Problem And It Ain't Mitt

There is a dirty little secret festering beneath the surface of Governor Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. What started as whispers by the Republican establishment has grown into a murmur, and will likely be heard as a dull roar when President Obama takes his next oath of office in January. The secret is the plain and, for Republicans, painful truth that theirs is no longer a national party.

The Republican party's candidate for president has won the popular vote only once in the last five elections. If President Obama's current lead holds, that will be one win, George W. Bush's squeaker in 2004, in twenty- four years.

As America's demographics continue to shift toward people of color, the Republican message of deregulation and tax cuts will grow more stale and ineffective. Those policies have failed to help middle-  and lower- class families for 30- plus years, but until this decade, Republicans were able to attract those voters and win national elections through social issues. More than just raising wedge issues like abortion or gay marriage, Republicans would often talk about societal decline in racial overtones. Whether it was Ronald Reagan's anonymous welfare queen or George H.W. Bush's Willie Horton ad, Republicans gleefully ostracized minority voters.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Karl Rove's permanent majority.

The country got less white, and it gets less so every year. Working class whites have an interest in the status quo, and can be called "conservative" in the true sense of the word. This group often resents what they see as government intrusion through policies of affirmative action or welfare. Meanwhile, immigrants look to the government to provide a fair system and safety-net as they work to establish themselves. Meaning Ronald Reagan's base is shrinking as Barack Obama's grows.

Furthermore, society's evolving positions (to borrow a phrase) on issues like gay marriage and immigration, have taken once powerful weapons of mobilization out of the Republican arsenal.

So, Republican orthodoxy of tax- cuts and deregulation increasingly has to stand on its own, without social issues and under-the-table prejudice to help win the day.

And the results have not been pretty for Republicans.

Take this summer's nominating conventions, each a chance for the parties to convince the American people of its vision for government. The Republican convention came and went without a ripple, let alone a splash. Meanwhile, Democrats are still riding a wave of support generated by their prime-time speakers. The success of one convention and failure of another was not about Bill Clinton's eloquence or Clint Eastwood's nonsense. Democrats are just selling a product that more voters want to buy.

Make no mistake, the polls in this election will continue to be tight, and the Republican strategy can still work when their side is far more motivated to vote. But that isn't easy to pull off in presidential politics. And thanks to that shift in demographics and increased Republican extremism, there are flat out more people who identify and believe in the Democratic vision than the Republican.

This is something the Romney camp seems to recognize, and since tabbing Ayn Rand in shirt sleeves for vice president, the campaign it has made a hard turn to the center. That includes ads where Romney implores voters that he cares about working people just as much as the President does, and an interview in which he praised parts of Obamacare. His campaign realizes that if only 2006 Governor Romney were running, he'd have a real shot.

As First Read and Politico reported, Republicans have begun to lay the blame for a disappointing campaign on Romney himself, asserting that he did not present the clear case for conservatism. Among them, Governor Chris Christie, eagerly awaiting his 2016 run for the White House, told Meet the Press that Wednesday's debate would turn the election because Romney would  go head-to-head against the president with a message of conservatism. The implication was clear: if the campaign continues to falter it isn't about the opportunity or the message, it's the messenger.

Republicans hope that repeating this lie enough might somehow make it true. But deep down theirs is an inconvenient truth: that in order to reclaim its status as a national party, the Republican party must come to grips with a changed nation. If they don't, they'll look back on this election not as a disappointment, but on the closest they came to the presidency in a generation.