| Category: Government
| Posted at: Thursday, 30 October 2014
This is a long post, so recharge your glass before you start.
The order of states might seem a bit odd, but when you read the second post in this series (with updated numbers) it might make more sense.
Let’s start with Mississippi. With the largest black population of any state in the Union, you would think that Mississippi is ripe for a Democratic takeover. You would think wrong. The white vote in the Magnolia State is so red that even when nearly half of those Republican voters are left fuming after the dirty tricks that the incumbent Senator Thad Cochran used to win a primary runoff, the Democrat Travis Childers still will be swamped by a red tide.
West Virginia. You know how ex-smokers become even more sadistically anti-smoking than anti-smokers who never smoked? That’s what happens when a long-blue state turns red. Shelley Moore Capito will crush Natalie Tennant and the GOP will take the state house and all three US House seats by the end of the night.
South Dakota. Have you ever locked yourself out of the house? Once you realize what you’ve done, you panic and start scrambling around the house in the hope that some window somewhere might be left unsecured. That’s what happened a couple weeks ago in South Dakota. Democrats saw that all the doors were locked–doors, being those purplish states that they might be able to walk through. South Dakota was a window, that by some magic set of circumstances might yield entry to their goal of not being locked out of the Senate’s leadership. Sorry, but the window is locked.
In Arkansas the name Pryor won’t be enough to save the seat. Mark Pryor has been in a steady descent since Independence Day when he last led Tom Cotton by a single point. Falling from 45.5 his RCP average of 1 July, Pryor is now four points lower. In retrospect, the result will have been obvious and smart political followers will wonder why they ever thought that Arkansas was really in play.
Kentucky was never quite as bright blue as some as its neighbors. Hence it is not quite so red now. Like Mississippi, Kentucky is far more conservative than is its senior senator. However, unlike Mississippi, it is not so red that it could bleed away Tea Party votes and still cruise to a GOP victory. A better Democratic candidate might have been able to exploit a divide within the GOP to win a Kentucky Senate Seat. Allison Lundergan Grimes is not that candidate. Her campaign has been so horrendously bad that were it not for Wendy Davis, Grimes would be a bigger national punch line. Since the beginning of September, Grimes has flat-lined at 42 percent. Mitch McConnell’s support is anemically low for a likely Senate Majority Leader, but he will still pull out a win. I’ll explain more in a later post, but Kentucky will likely give us our first real glimpse in how the rest of the night is going to unfold. Grimes is going to lose. But if she keeps it close–ie, under five points–the GOP may come away disappointed for the third election in a row. If McConnell manages to come close to Rand Paul’s 2010 margin of 55-44, then even MSNBC correspondents will bemoan the President curse on his party before midnight.
Alaska is a tricky place to predict. Polling is usually off by more than the national average. But it is also off in the same direction every time. Historically, polls favor Democrats by between 3 and 12 points. Mark Begich has stayed between 42 and 43 points since the beginning of October. The only variation has been the result of a single, unreplicated poll by a highly-partisan analyst who released the results on Facebook because he has no website, included no cross-tabs, and also found that Dan Young is ahead by only a single point. There are so many red-flags about this poll that it’s worth betting against. That said, Nate Silver posits that there is a 15-point spread in the margin of error in Alaska, and who is to say that Mr. Moore’s poll isn’t the correct one and everyone else is off by 15 points. Meanwhile in the Frontier State’s gubernatorial race, Independent (D) Bill Walker is leading Republican incumbent Sean Parnell by less than two points. But . . . the spread between the four most recent polls that make up that prediction are Parnell +5, Parnell +3, Walker +6 and Walker +9. In order to have a meaningful of average of polls, you must have a normally distributed sample of polls. It’s only four data points, but these polls do not appear to be normally distributed. Which means that the average Walker lead of 1.8 is bunk. Two of them are right and the other two are very wrong. He’s either leading by five or trailing by just as much. History tells us that Parnell and Sullivan win their races by more than the average would predict. There will come a year when this history changes. Just not this year in America’s ultimate libertarian state when America’s ultimate anti-libertarian President is underwater by a solid double-digit amount.
Louisiana. Mary Landrieu has survived close races before. But this year there has been only a single public poll since Independence Day showing her with over 46% in a race between her and Bill Cassidy. And that one poll still had her losing by three points. If the race were November 4th, she would lose a head-to-head race. But the race isn’t November 4th. The primary is. The runoff is on December 6th. The trick for her next week is to keep it close. If she can exceed 45% in the initial contest she has a chance to get within the margin of fraud of a win. (In Louisiana, the margin of fraud is larger than in most other states.) If she is barely able to break 40% in November, then absent a cataclysmic change in the political environment, the only thing she gains is a one-month reprieve before she is voted out. She won’t reach the amount she needs.
If you’re keeping score, along with Montana, this brings us to a Republican pickup of 5 Senate seats and a 50-50 split. The loss of another Democratic seat would flip the upper chamber to the GOP. Except that, there are two GOP seats that shouldn’t be in play, but are.
Kansas is our second example of the Locked Door Syndrome. Only this window might be open. When one party completely dominates, it ultimately divides into two competing wings, one of which combines with the party out of power in a new coalition. Governor Sam Brownback leads the tax-cutting government-slashing wing, while Kansas state senate Republicans are big business crony capitalists who do quite well under big government. Senator Pat Roberts is representative of the latter wing. These two wings cannot co-exist long in one party and thus, the logical coalition is for the party of big business to join with the party of big government under one banner. In this sense, Kansas is on the cutting edge of what is to come nationwide. The division is stark enough that in a more neutral political environment, it would be likely that neither wing would achieve a majority and both Brownback and Roberts would lose. In fact, it was probably going to be the case that, had national Democrats not tried to force open a window in Kansas by supporting Greg Orman, that Brownback was going to lose this year. The only thing now saving Brownback is that some small government Republicans who otherwise would have stayed home, will instead hold their noses to vote for Roberts in order to ensure that Republicans take the Senate. Talk about blowback.
Georgia is interesting. You have to read Sean Trende’s analysis of eight decades of voting patterns in the Peach State in order to understand its idiosyncracies. One of the most puzzling enigmas is its racial characterization of voters. Trende points out that “unknown” is the fastest growing race in the state. And nobody knows who they are. So when you look at early vote counts and see that the zip codes with the highest proportion of early votes comes from areas with larger non-white populations, you have to remember that some of those non-whites are unknowns. Strange. Also strange is that, aside from Alaska, Georgia is the only state in the nation where the Democratic Senate candidate has a demonstrable trend of higher numbers since October 1st. In fact, among the closest governor’s races in the nation, Pat Quinn in Illinois and Dannel Malloy are the only Democrats to show significant improvement over the last month. Jimmy Carter’s grandson is mired at the same 44% where he was at the end of September and where he peaked at the end of July. So whatever is happening in the Perdue-Nunn race is not showing up in the other Georgia statewide race.
Let me digress about this point because it bears repeating: There are only four Democrats in closely contested state-wide races who have shown an improved level of support during the month of October. This is an enormously important point–especially this year.
All of the major poll aggregators focus on the head-to-head spread. But not all spreads are the same. The Democratic candidate with steady 2-point lead who is ahead 49-47 (Shaheen) is in a substantially better position going into the last few weeks of campaigning than is the Democratic candidate leading by two points but who has less than 45% support (Hagan and almost everybody else with a “D” after their name). Barack Obama in 2012 struggled to hit the 50% mark. But he was close enough to it that all he had to do was to demonize his opponent enough so that enough of the undecideds stayed home and 49% was enough to win when it came time to count those who actually showed up to vote. You aren’t likely to succeed by employing that same demonization strategy when there are 14 percent undecideds in the last few weeks of the race. That’s like trying to run out the clock in football with a three-point lead and fifteen minutes left. All summer long we have seen a substantially greater number of undecideds than in years past. By the end of October one of two things were going to happen: undecideds were going to break for one party or the other, or they was going to stay home. We now have a month’s worth of data showing no evidence of a break toward Democrats in 16 of the 20 most hotly contested statewide races in the country. However, in over half of those races (11 out of 20) the GOP candidate is up over the last four weeks and/or the Democrat has noticeably declined. (AR-Gov, AR-Sen, CO-Sen, GA-Gov, IA-Sen, KS-Gov, MA-Gov, MI-Gov, NC-Sen, NH-Sen, and NH-Gov).
(As an aside to my digression, the movement we’re seeing undercuts Nate Cohn’s argument that the polls are biased in the GOP’s favor. Even if that were true, a consistent skew won’t disguise movement. October’s polls clearly have shown movement in a Republican direction.) However, even though we see movement now, doesn’t mean that it will continue (Nate Silver’s point). What it does mean is that in the next five days, absent a massive change, in all but three races Democrats have already persuaded all the voters that they are going to persuade, while Republicans have some potential upside still remaining. (This BTW, is how a “wave” forms causing almost every race to “tilt” in the same direction.) In a later piece I want to explore this strange year and expand on what I discussed regarding Kansas and tell you what I think it portends for the future alignment of the parties.
End of digression.
When it comes right down to it, Michelle Nunn has to force a runoff if she expects to win. If she does, January 6th is a long way away. Since control of the Senate won’t be at stake by then, this could very well be the year when Georgia Democrats end their streak of losing runoff races.
Colorado. Wow, did Mark Uterus, I mean, Udall, blow it. And I predicted it two years ago:
” . . . pinning your party’s hopes on the most vocal advocates of a highly controversial social issue, when there is near universal agreement that other issues are more important, gives your party’s megaphone to those who are both extreme and irrelevant. Sandra Fluke is this year’s Terri Schiavo. For every already-Democrat she inspires to vote, she turns off at least one independent for the crime of insulting them by ignoring larger issues. Karl Rove’s plan to drive up Evangelical turnout in 2004, while it worked then, gave rise four years later to Mike Huckabee, who is perhaps the most demagogic and dangerous major presidential candidate to have run for office since William Jennings Bryan beclowned himself and his party in the late 19th century.”
Barack Obama won with the “war on woman” sword in 2012 and Mark Udall will die by that same sword this year. The desperation NARAL radio ad preposterously postulates that in “Cory’s [Gardner'] world” there will be condom shortages and a ban on birth control. Again, if it weren’t for Wendy Davis,Udall and Grimes would be fighting for the “2014 I am not a witch award.” Both sides should study the Colorado race, but especially Democrats, as Colorado was the most winnable race that they didn’t have to lose. Oh, BTW, Udall flames out so spectacularly that he takes down Hickenlooper with him.
Iowa. You do not say that lawyers make better legislators anywhere. You especially do not say that lawyers make better legislators than do farmers when you’re trying to win a race in Iowa. This election was over the moment that recorded remark hit the news. B.C. (Before Catastrophe) Joni Ernst was five points down and never over 36% in the polls. Since then Bruce Braley has never been higher than he was the day he made that stupid remark. Braley too is a strong contender for the “I am not a witch” award. Aided by Braley’s collapse and Terry Branstad’s large margin in the governor’s race, three of the Hawkeye State’s four US House seats end the night red.
North Carolina and New Hampshire are worth discussing together. Prognosticators have been lumping them that way because both female Democratic incumbents have clung to one or two-point leads even as their male GOP opponents have gained noticeably over the last month of the race. But for reasons I discussed in my digression above, having the same spread does not mean that they are in the same place. Kay Hagan is stuck at +/- of one point of 45% since Labor Day, which is exactly where she was on the Fourth of July. Feminists could say that Hagan has hit a glass ceiling. Jeanne Shaheen is bounded by a similar +/- one-point range. The difference is that her range is +/ one point of 48%. Another difference is that North Carolina is a shade more red than is New Hampshire. This is especially true in midterm years. Hagan’s supporters will point to early voting totals that show that compared with 2010, Democratic turnout is up two-percent, while Republicans are down six. What they overlook, however, is that Republican Richard Burr beat his Democratic opponent by nearly 12%. So Hagan’s apparent eight-point improvement over Elaine Marshall’s early numbers four years ago is good, but it is not good enough. Kay Hagan and Jeanne Shaheen end the night on the opposite sides of their races: Shaheen wins hers while Hagan loses.
The what-might-have-been states: Minnesota, New Mexico, and Virginia. All three could have been won with the right candidate and the right message. Instead of finishing with 53 or 54 Senate seats (depending on Georgia’s January outcome), Republicans could have seized as many as 58 seats. That they played defense while Democrats shot themselves in the foot made short-term sense, but was a lost major long-term opportunity to remake the Republican brand.
There’s still a few days left and thus time or a few more shoes to drop. More to follow after a few more polls.
Carl DeMaio is a Republican former San Diego city councilman. Among his many “conservative” proposals, he supported pension reforms that would eliminate defined benefits for public employees. In California where defined benefit pensions burden the state with huge amounts of looming debt, this kind of reform is absolutely necessary in order to avoid a fiscal crisis that is sure to come. DeMaio had a viable plan to fix San Diego’s pension problems by reducing spending elsewhere in the city’s budget. Two years ago he narrowly lost the race to be San Diego’s mayor. It wasn’t his pension reform plans that got him; he was weathering that assault by fiercely opposed teacher and public employee unions. No, what kept him from getting more than 47.5% of the vote was the fact that DeMaio is gay.
DeMaio is now locked in a toss-up race for the US House seat held by one one-term incumbent Scott Peters. One week before election day the National Organization for Marriage endorsed the Democrat Peters.
There is nothing odd about an advocacy group endorsing candidates from the party it usually opposes. The National Rifle Association endorsed several pro-gun Senate Democrats in 2010 who then went on to win, including Max Baucus, Mark Begich, and Harry Reid. Successful advocacy groups advocate positions, not parties, thus enabling the groups to have allies no matter who wins control.
That is not what NOM has done. DeMaio’s Democratic opponent is very pro-gay marriage.
In the case where both party’s candidates are on the same side of an issue, a successful advocacy group supporting the other side would either have saved its political capital for another race and declined to endorse, or it would have asked its supporters to hold their noses and vote for the candidate from the party it usually supports in order that it would have a vote with the leadership of the party in control of the chamber.
What NOM has done is to demonstrate that it doesn’t want a vote at the Republican table; it wants a veto over the GOP.
If it hasn’t already, gay marriage is coming to a town near you. You can’t stop it. And over time, you’re going to look like a fool for having tried. Here is why: At most, no more than one-percent of the American people will ever want to enter into a gay marriage. One percent.
A jobs crisis that has reduced the percentage of Americans working to its lowest level in three decades, sixteen-trillion dollars of unsustainable debt, a sabre-rattling Russia, a European Union that is one shock away from setting off a fiscal calamity, an anti-entrepreneur and freedom-crushing federal bureaucratic apparatus that is simultaneously omnipresent and incompetent . . . and in the face of all that you’re going to vote on the basis that one percent of the population might be enjoying the horizontal mambo with someone you don’t approve of? If that’s really your highest priority, you’re an idiot.
If that’s you, you’re also not on the side of freedom. That is because you stand opposed to the small businessman stymied by bureaucratic cronyism. You stand opposed to Europeans who have struggled for decades to get out from under the Soviet shadow. You stand opposed to your own children and grandchildren who deserve to be born without soul-crushing debt that will forever limit their futures. That you would deny all that freedom just to impose your will on those with whom you disagree makes you a totalitarian no better than the “progressive” who gleefully would do the same to you.
You don’t have to support gay marriage. But you do have to tolerate it. Of course, that’s what freedom really means: allowing someone to do something with which you disagree so that in return someone can’t stop you from doing what they disagree with.
There has never been a more intolerant movement than the progressive movement that in the name of “tolerance” forces you to bend to their will. If you want to take a gay marriage position that you can win, then support the freedom to opt out of it instead of having the government force you to participate. Even many gay-marriage supporters balked when Coeur d’Alene, Idaho tried to force a wedding chapel to perform gay weddings. No lover of freedom could ever support such a rule, but that is what progressives want.
And that is what the National Organization for Marriage wants. They want to force the Republican Party to bend to its will. If Republican candidates in close races demonstrate that they can win without NOM’s support, then NOM has no power at all.
Which, come to think of it, is a pretty good reason for a gay marriage supporter to cross the aisle and support a gay Republican, thus putting an end to NOM once and for all.
When I was a planner at U.S. European Command I was part of a group that looked at counter-terrorism planning. One of the concerns we were addressing was the “lone wolf” attacker. That was what we called an inspired individual who took it upon himself to, on his own, stage a terrorist attack. I took the counter-intuitive position that the lone-wolf attacker was not a problem; instead he was an indicator of success.
Terrorism is not how the strong attack their enemies. Coordinated terrorist attacks originating in the Middle East are themselves a counter-intuitive indicator of success. That is because the American military (and its Western Allies) are far too strong to attack symetrically. Al Qaeda never could hope to attack the United States militarily. They never have had the resources to directly confront America with missiles and tanks. So they have had to resort to organized terrorist attacks.
Lone wolf attacks like the ones perpetrated against Canada twice in the last two days are indicators that now even organized terrorist attacks often are beyond the abilities of al Qaeda and affiliated groups. Since al Qaeda’s losses suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, they rarely have been able even to conduct organized terrorist attacks. As horrible as these lone wolf types of attacks are, they amount to little more than murders, not wholesale attacks against the West.
And that was my point to the other planners at EUCOM: lone wolf attacks don’t need a military solution. When the enemy’s attacks amount to a few (obviously very tragic) murders that the police can handle, a military response unnecessarily expends more of our resources while it gives our enemies more credit than they deserve.
If Republicans wanted to ensure that the Kansas Senate seat stayed in GOP hands, they would join the suit by Democrat Senate candidate Chad Taylor and ask to have Pat Roberts’ name removed from the ballot so that it could be replaced by the primary’s runner-up, Milton Wolf.
That they would never even consider doing that tells you that the national party would rather lose a seat than to have it fall into Tea Party hands.
Why Republicans will gain at least 9 seats in the Senate and reduce the number of Democrats in the House to below 190 seats, their lowest level since 1930.
The RCP average has Dems and Repubs deadlocked at 45 seats each, with ten more too close to call. Unfortunately for Dems, seven of those seats are in red states and three are in purple. Not one seat is being fought on favorable terrain where the President’s popularity might keep the Democratic senate nominee above water.
Speaking of which, President Obama is underwater himself. Not just underwater, but an anchor. At this point in the 2010 election cycle, President Obama was more unpopular than popular, but by only four points: approximately 49-45. Today the RCP average has the margin at 13 points, with only 41% of voters approving of the president’s job.
Worse than that, while the President himself is unpopular, his policies themselves are even more unpopular. A recent ABC/WSJ poll found disapproval for his presidency to be 51%. But the disapproval levels for his policies lagged even that: 54% against his handling of the economy, 56% against his international affairs, 56% against his implementation of health care, and 59% against his immigration policies. Worse still, now that terrorism is becoming a concern with more Americans, the greatest number of Americans ever support Republicans over Democrats on this issue by a 55 to 32 margin. Compared with 2010, Dems have fallen 10 points and Repubs have gained 4 on an issue they already led and that wasn’t a top concern four years ago. Republicans, who began the year thinking that they could again use Obamacare as a cudgel against Democrats, have discovered that they have a whole arsenal of clubs from which to choose to beat their opponents. On virtually every issue Democratic positions are overwhelmingly unpopular.
Still worse for Democrats is that re-districting since 2010 has worsened their position. Racial gerrymandering is the main culprit. Most of the 41 voting members of the Congressional Black Caucus will be returned to Washington in January with huge margins of victory. Democrats have built these districts’ lines to ensure a large amount of black representation in Congress. Many such seats are more than 80% Democratic. In a 50-50 nation where one-tenth of the House seats are hugely Democratic, that leaves many fewer Democrats to sprinkle around the rest of the country. For years, Republicans have had a Brer Rabbit attitude toward Democratically-led racial gerrymandering, as it gives them a disproportionate edge in the rest of the country. So in House seats that aren’t CBC house seats, President Obama is on average even more unpopular than he already is nationally.
On this date four years ago the RCP average had the GOP favored in 207 seats and the Democrats in 193. All 35 tossups broke for the GOP. The House in big elections tends to break big for the winning side. This year, the GOP is favored to win 230 seats—27 more than they were favored to win at this time in 2010. Democrats are favored in only 188, 5 fewer than in 2010. Of the 17 tossups, 13 are currently Democratic-held. Just as in the Senate, Democrats are fighting a reeling defense everywhere in the House. Worse for Democrats is that between September 11, 2010 and the 2010 election, the map widened in the GOP’s favor. They saw their lead slip such that on election day, the RCP average had them ahead in only 171 seats. On average, every seat moved over one notch; seats that had been leaning Democratic became tossups, forcing Democrats to defend even more turf. If a similar movement occurs again, expect Democrats to see another dozen or so seats slip away where they are currently favored to win.
And here’s why that might happen. Democrats spent the summer of 2010 fluctuating between 41 and 44 percent support on the generic congressional ballot question. This summer they are in exactly the same place. In 2010 the GOP began its rise out of the same region right around the 4th of July. But until then they were neck-and-neck with the Dems. This year the GOP looks to have begun its climb about six weeks later and now finds itself five points ahead of where it was just three weeks ago and with the highest level of support it has enjoyed all year. If this is indicative of undecideds breaking against the Dems, it will reflect in races where Democratic incumbents currently look safe.
I’ve lived through three landslide midterm elections in my adult life and all of them looked like this. But neither 1994, 2006, nor 2010 looked this bad for the party in the White House until much later in the race. Plus, in 2006 Republicans had a firewall of eight untouchable seats. No matter what happened they would keep Arizona, Indiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. This year Democrats have three fewer seats that are firmly out of reach of the GOP. Even the President’s home state of Illinois is not safe. While unlikely, a veto-proof GOP majority in the senate and as few as 175 Democrats in the House, is not out of range.
Why the GOP will miss its opportunity (again).
Republicans are not the Stupid Party™ for nothing. In 2010 and 2012 they made the mistake of nominating wackos and witches in swing states and even blue ones where they had credible alternatives who were almost guaranteed to win. This time the GOP applied an opposite, but equally stupid approach. In three states so Republican that a red dog could win, they renominated their RINO incumbents who were the only Republicans in those states who could possibly lose. Kansas, a state so Republican that FDR won there only twice, typified the stupidity, but Kentucky and Mississippi weren’t far behind. The national GOP, tone deaf as always, didn’t appreciate that the only thing less popular in Kansas than a Kansas Democrat was a Washington Republican. By propping up the dinosaur Roberts, they have ensured the loss of a seat they couldn’t lose.
Almost as bad as Republican leaders are Republican voters. In 2010 complacency cost them seats they were going to win. Going into election day, Republicans led in Colorado and Nevada and were tied in Washington. They lost all three seats. In fact, the Republican candidate failed to beat the final RCP average in every single tossup state. The Obama turnout machine turned out while Republicans stayed home thinking that they already had the win.
And in 2010 Democrats gave Republicans an incentive they don’t have now: Nancy Pelosi. Sure, she is still around. But she no longer leads the House. Almost as unpopular as she was at her nadir, is the GOP’s John Boehner. “A pox upon both your houses” is the voters’ mood.
That thinking is evident in the generic congressional question, where this year, Republicans have never been able to break away from the Dems. If “none of the above” were a choice, it would probably win. Without a hated nemesis and with lackluster leadership of their own, a landslide victory—or even control of the Senate—is not going to happen.
UPDATE: Jay Cost notes a similar trend to what I stated in the first part of this post
All in all, this is precisely the sort of poll you do not want to see if you are a Democrat. With less than two months until the 2014 midterm, Republicans are polling stronger in the NBC/WSJ poll than at any point since … two months before the 2010 midterm.
President Obama’s admission that he lacks a strategy for dealing with the Islamic State was a foolish thing for a President to admit out loud. But it is not surprising. That is because for most of our nation’s history, America has lacked an explicit foreign policy and a supporting strategy.
When we have approximated a guiding principle, we usually have done so only as far as to define what we were against: against European intervention in the Western Hemisphere under the Monroe Doctrine, against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II, and against Soviet expansion during the Cold War.
The eight years of the second Bush presidency at least had the virtue of America and the world clearly understanding what the United States stood against. We stood against the use of terrorism, be it deployed in Baghdad or Britain. Of course, fabricating a strategy from opposition to a tactic is a form of reverse-engineering that was bound to be a less than successful exercise.
The last six years haven’t even possessed that murky level of clarity: withdrawal at any cost in Iraq, withdrawal on a fixed timeline from Afghanistan, intervention without aims in Libya, and a stutter-step approach to a Syrian civil war that now has America on the precipice of being on the de facto side of Bashar Al Assad, about whom the President said, “must go”. What exactly is the point?
The jumbled mess that seems to be American Middle Eastern foreign policy was pithily encapsulated by one online commenter:
“We’re supporting Shia in Iraq near Baghdad, mostly Sunni Kurds in the North, and never Kurdish independence anywhere. We support vetted moderate Sunnis in Syria who only sometimes give that support to their more radical Sunni Salafist brothers in the IS to kill the Alawite Shia Assad government they both oppose, and of course destroy the Shia we support in Iraq. We support the ultra-Sunni Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, but not their tribal affiliated Al Khalifa Sunni brothers in Bahrain. There we seem to support democracy which would lead to Shia government. We don’t support the Shia aytollahs in Iran, nor their more secular opposition which protested and was crushed a few years ago.”
Again, what exactly is the point?
In addition to lacking a strategy, President Obama’s confused rhetoric demonstrates that there also is no tactical point to our military endeavors in the region. White House correspondent Alexis Simeldinger’s recent report may look like a semantic exercise. However, “destroy” and “degrade” are very different military objectives. From such terms necessarily flow military plans to support the attainment of the President’s specified objectives. When the President himself postulates that the goal is to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State, he has contradicted himself in the space of three words.
This is not the first time. American intentions in Libya were doomed from the start because those intentions themselves were never clear to military leaders in US Africa Command (AFRICOM) who quite literally didn’t know what the President wanted them to accomplish. You cannot have a coherent strategy if you don’t have a clear objective.
After the fact, the Bush Administration recognized this glaring deficiency when it attempted to construct a goal for the war in Iraq. Defeat Saddam Hussein, which was the original 2003 goal, is not an objective. It is a means to an objective. What Iraq was supposed to look and act like should have been the objective.
To his credit, Bush developed the objective of a self-sustaining, stable, and responsible Iraq was marginally achieved, at least by 2010. To his detriment, for at least the first three years of the war, Bush and the country muddled through the Iraq War because the Administration couldn’t even define what victory should look like so that America would know when to send its troops home. To Obama’s credit, he continued in Iraq and made great strides toward Bush’s goal during the first two years of his presidency. To his detriment, he, like his predecessor, failed to understand that after the conflict portion of war is over, peace is more of a rheostat than a switch. You can’t flip it off suddenly and expect that stability would remain.
There seems to be one cause more than any other that makes America stumble into its foreign policy mistakes. That cause is the feeling that “We need to do something”. Whether we need to do something because we feel that people around the world are being wronged or because we feel that someone has wronged us, the urge to “do something” is a natural human emotion. It arises out of sympathy for a victim or anger at an affront. But sympathy and anger are emotions. They are not logical reasons for entering a conflict.
Unfortunately, most of America’s “bad” wars seem to have begun this way. Two-hundred years ago, the fledgling nation tired of diminutive treatment from Great Britain, and so feeling that it had to do something to show Britain that it could not be pushed around, America launched a war against its former occupier at a time when it was itself then occupied by the much greater task of defeating Napoleon. The war ended exactly as it began: confusedly, and earning no concessions for America from the British. In fact, the Treaty of Ghent is one of the few treaties in history that explicitly enshrines the status quo ante bellum. Well, except for the 15,000 Americans who died as a result of the War of 1812.
A century later the president, against the wishes of the country, provided quasi-support to Allied Powers engaged in a far-off war, and then cried foul when the Central Powers attacked that support. “We have to do something” became his rallying cry and so America entered a regrettable war in which it never had any business being. When mercifully World War I came to a close, voters so abhorred President Wilson for the pointless conflict that less than a week from victory, they jettisoned 25 members of his party from the House and turned over control of the Senate to the opposition.
Wars in Vietnam, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, have likewise left America in no better position than before the commencement of hostilities. And all of these conflicts began over an American feeling that it had to do something. By acting on the basis of emotion instead of thought, America invited the probability that the unintended consequences of “something” would be worse than if it had done nothing. Like medieval doctors treating ailments with leeches and bloodletting, the “cure” always leaves the patient no better off than before the treatment, and often is worse than the disease itself.
Today you have everyone from National Review’s Rich Lowry to progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren saying that destroying the Islamic State should be the nation’s “Number one priority”. Left-leaning columnist Jonathan Alter says that “There’s not much disagreement on how to handle ISIS. U.S. warplanes have already flown more than 100 sorties to degrade ISIS ground forces, and many more bombs are on the way.”
Alter is probably right about what will be done, but never addressed is why America would do it. What does it expect to accomplish? How, as a result of aerial strikes, does America expect that the situation will be better?
Unfortunately, the entire debate is backwards. Instead of asking what military action we should take, we need first ask ourselves what do we want the post-military situation to look like? Then and only then can the Department of Defense propose a military plan to achieve that end result. And sometimes that plan, means no plan, because sometimes, any military solution only makes the situation worse. In other words, the first question is not “What?” but “Why?” Taking any action without a goal and the thoughtful analysis of whether or not the goal is attainable, is foolish, costly, and dangerous.
I submit that while destroying IS may end up being the right course of action, before we decide to do that, our number one foreign policy priority ought to be figuring out as our objective what we want the world to look like, and then formulating a feasible strategy to get us there.
Otherwise, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, is just going to join a long list of Middle Eastern public-enemy-number-ones over the last quarter-century including: Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Saddam Hussein (again), Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Muqtada al Sadr, Muammar Khadafy, and Bashar al Assad. Without first understanding the objective of American intervention, the only certainty is that after the Islamic State, we simply will find ourselves confronted by yet another “great” threat with a hard-to-pronounce name.
Further complicating the question of what to do about the Islamic State is the fact that the Middle East really is a tertiary problem for the United States. What we choose to do there puts in peril American prestige and power in theaters more important and potentially more dangerous. Both Europe, with an economically injured but still militarily dangerous Russia, and Asia, with an emerging China and a declining Japan, are much bigger concerns than a terrorist organization whose reach is limited and whose only direct attack on America has been a couple murders.
Perhaps that’s a little too crassly stated. After all, televised beheadings are incomparably gruesome. However, let us attempt to maintain some proportionality: do we really think that the best answer is to launch thousands of forces and spend hundreds of millions of dollars in an attempt to end a murder rate that falls short of a Chicago weekend?
Finally, let us attempt to maintain some perspective as well. The development of IS was a wholly predictable event. The destabilization of Bashar al Assad guaranteed the emergence of IS or someone else like it. In that region of the world, the only surety was that any resultant opposition wasn’t going to be moderate and democratic. So if non-intervention in the Syrian Civil War was the right choice—and it probably was—then we should have known that this was going to happen. If the decision to leave Iraq was the right choice—and it probably was (although it certainly could have been a more measured withdrawal)—then the rise of a brutal opposition was a predictable consequence. But if this was a foreseeable outcome, what was a better alternative? It’s very likely that there wasn’t one, and that there still isn’t one.
Perhaps this indicates that the most important principle to keep in mind when it comes to deciding a strategy is best encapsulated in Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer for serenity. God grant me the courage to change the things I can change, the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference.
In other words, having no strategy, might not be the worst thing. (But still, you don’t say that.)
In Part II: How to create an American strategy
If you like wonky political analysis, Dan “Baseball Crank” McLaughlin has an excruciatingly detailed look at what the historical record portends for the 2016 political landscape.
McLaughlin’s conclusion based on evaluating every presidential election since the American Civil War is that a party that enjoys presidential incumbency for eight straight years almost always sees a drop-off in support in the following election. While this isn’t an earth-shattering result–almost all political analysts recognize that after two successful elections, it is very hard to win a third–McLaughlin shows that the mathematics behind this phenomenon are nearly unanimous. Even when parties do win third elections (FDR in 1940, and George H W Bush in 1988, for example), there is a pronounced drop-off in the amount of support that the incumbent party gets compared to the previous election’s results.
While I urge you to read the article, that’s not what this post is about. Instead, I saw something in one of McLaughlin’s charts that has caused me to question a bit of conventional wisdom that I have always before accepted.
Conventional wisdom holds that higher voter turnout favors Democrats over Republicans. So take a look at this chart from McLaughlin’s analysis. What this shows is the total presidential vote count for each party as well as the total number of voting eligible age non-voters from 1980 to 2012.Look at the blue line for Democrats. Aside from 2008 it is remarkably steady. So steady, in fact, that with an R-squared of .978, a Democratic candidate for president can expect to receive 3.87 million more votes than the Democratic nominee did four years before. Again, aside from 2008, in the last ten presidential elections, the Democratic nominee never over or underperformed this projection by more than 2.2 million votes. I’ve reproduced just the Republican and Democratic data below and added the linear trend that is fitted to 1980-2012 Democratic vote totals except for the outlier year of 2008.
In 2008 Barack Obama overperformed the trend line by an astounding 8.5 million votes as he turned out an anomalously large number of youth, minorities, and independents. Four years later, Obama overperformed the Democratic trend by a mere 1.1 million votes, a much more historically normal result.
Now look at the red line for the number of Republican votes. It is all over the place. In 1984 and 1988, when Democratic performance was almost exactly in line with the historical trend, Republicans outdistanced them by 17 million and 7 million votes. In 1992 and 1996, when Democrats only slightly underperformed their trend, Republicans fell woefully short by 6 million and 8 million votes.
Wondering how far back the trend line goes, I plotted the same data for all post-war presidential elections. Prior to 1980 there is more Democratic variability than in subsequent years, but the extreme linearity of the trend disappears at least before 1972. (If we consider, back to 1972, the 1976 election joins the 2008 election as an outlier. These two elections, Carter’s post-Watergate election and the first election with a black man on the ballot, might indicate that modern Democrats have very little independent or cross-over appeal, and that when it does occur, it happens only as a result of an uncommon circumstance.)
What’s interesting about the period between 1972 and 1980 when this pattern appears to have established itself is that this was the time when the Democratic Party completed its realignment. Previously it had been a coalition of geographies: white Southerners and urban Northern Catholics. Bouncing in and out of the Democratic coalition before then were Midwestern farmers, Northern Protestants, and blacks.
What has changed since is that the Democratic coalition is now almost entirely demographically based and includes nearly all black voters, a solid majority of Hispanics, and a steady percentage of women. Aside from these groups, there is very little bouncing in and out of the Democratic coalition since the 1970s. Again, with the exception of 2008 when Barack Obama greatly expanded his party’s vote before it collapsed back to its normal self four years later, the only growth Democrats have seen over the last four decades looks to be entirely dependent on the population growth of its constituencies.
Of course, many Democratic pundits and strategists would take comfort from such a conclusion. After all, at least one portion of the Democratic triad (Hispanics) is growing faster than the general rate of population growth. (McLaughlin addresses this point in another post here.)
On the other hand, the record of the last ten elections indicates that Republicans have far more upside potential, having bested the Democratic trend line by five million or more votes on four occasions. Democrats have never beaten that same trend by even half that amount except for once.
Of course, Republicans have also far underperformed the Democratic trendline. In 1992 and then again in 1996 voters who might have voted Republican either didn’t vote or voted for H. Ross Perot, and in 2012 a milquetoast Mitt Romney couldn’t even manage the Republican vote total amassed eight years before when the country’s population was nearly 20 million people fewer.
Sean Trende has made this point before:
” . . . census data and exit polls reveal that some 6 million white voters opted to sit out [the 2012] election. The data show these non-voters were not primarily Southerners or evangelicals, but were located in Northeast, Midwest and Southwest. Mainly, they fit the profile of “Reagan Democrats” or, more recently, a Ross Perot supporter. For these no-shows, Mitt Romney was not a natural fit.”
Less hitched to demography, Republicans are a coalition of ideas that in some years have more or less overlap and appeal than in other years and are more or less represented by a particular nominee.
In other words, the electorate includes really only two types of people: reliable Democrats who always vote no matter the nominee, and potential voters who will almost never vote Democrat but might vote Republican if their nominee can persuade them. Furthermore the number of the latter vastly exceeds the former. While in most years Democrats achieve a very predictable result based almost entirely on the mechanics of population growth, this raw political landscape allows Republicans the opportunity to enjoy earth-shattering landslides when it chooses well, or to suffer soul-crushing defeats when it does not.
And that brings us back to the question of turnout. The conventional wisdom is that because the Democrat’s voter base includes groups with historically lower turnout rates, they are the ones to benefit from higher turnout. However, the record of the last forty years places nearly the entire burden for victory on the ability of the GOP presidential nominee to excite that portion of the electorate that was never going to show up to vote for the Democrat anyway.
I remember when I was a young Soldier in Germany and America stood against the idea of countries erecting walls to keep people from leaving.
Two days ago I picked up the theme of a Jim Geraghty piece and said that Progressives are so fixated on ends that they have no allegiance to means and have no consideration for the negative consequences of their utopian dreams. On a related note yesterday, Daniel Henninger wondered “Why can’t the Left govern?”
Henninger focused on President Obama, whose only major legislative accomplishment has worsened American health care, and on Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose attacks on New York’s charter schools spiraled out of control and sunk his high approval ratings to below 50%, and on France’s François Hollande, whose draconian taxes have pushed his popularity to the lowest ever recorded of a French President in the modern era.
Since in my earlier writing I made the analogy between modern Progressives and the era of the original Progressives, let me throw into the mix President Woodrow Wilson as an example of the failure of their ilk to govern. Wilson was so unpopular at the end of his second term that Warren Harding’s 26-point margin of victory still holds the record for the largest landslide of any President elected in the last hundred years. None of FDR’s elections were bigger wins. Nor was LBJ’s. William McGovern and Walter Mondale both cruised to respectable finishes compared to James Cox, 1920’s loser. Four years after he left, Wilson’s Democrats were still so unpopular that they didn’t receive even 30% of the popular vote, a pitifully low level that the losing party has never since failed to achieve.
What is it about ideologue Leftists that makes them so unpopular after their failed attempts at governing?
As I said the other day, Progressives believe that they know better than others how others should live their lives. That makes Progressivism inherently anti-democratic and requires that its adherents subvert truths and manipulate rules to advance their ends.
Democratic governments follow where their people lead. Progressive governments—those led by people who see popular opinion as wrong—lead their people in a direction that they do not want to go. When the subterfuge is discovered, or when the unpopular project spectacularly fails, popular opinion turns viciously against the Progressive.
By Executive Order (and not, it is important to note, by an act of Congress) President Wilson created the Committee on Public Information in 1917. The CPI was known by the New York Times as the “Committee on Public Misinformation” and by harsher critics was called the ominous sounding, “House of Truth”. This was America’s World War One propaganda ministry. It fabricated German atrocities, as well as American strengths. Anticipating by nearly a century the notoriously faked photo of an Iranian missile launch, one early CPI story announced that “the first American-built battle planes are today en route to the front in France”. The false “news” was accompanied by doctored pictures that were in fact of a single plane that was still in testing. (If you have ever wondered why the horrors of the Holocaust took so long to gain traction in the American press, in part, it was because Americans were still skeptical after having been lied to by their own government about imaginary German horrors from the last war.)
The CPI’s tactics came straight from its allies in the Anti-Saloon League, which employed a similar propaganda machine and a similar virulently nativist message to advance the cause of Prohibition.
Democracies don’t like being lied to. As soon as the war was over, the magnitude and frequency of the lies became apparent. Americans quickly recognized that their entry into the war was a catastrophic mistake. The result was that by the end of the 1920s, the label “progressive” largely had disappeared from the American political lexicon, not to be resurrected for another eighty years.
Democracies also don’t like failure.
To the Progressive, ideology trumps results. Most arenas outside of government don’t work that way. A product that isn’t popular loses money. It matters not how noble the cause or its producer.
In government failure is so easy to achieve because success is so difficult to ascertain. Ironically, it is the very nature of popular forms of government that makes this possible. Democracies, because they lag popular opinion—and especially constitutional republics, that purposefully employ procedures to dampen the excesses of democracy—are necessarily lethargic beings. Results arrive at a glacial pace. It is often years after one has advanced a program that it can objectively be determined to be a success. By then it is too late for its advocates to be held accountable if it had failed.
In 2002 I was part of an efficiency project initiated at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. The idea was that TRADOC should measure both the resources put into its programs and its programs’ results. For each program the objectively measurable input was money. I had no objection to this. However, since most of those programs were years-long projects, there was the need for intermediate objectives. It turned out that in almost every case, the measurable “output” was also money. If a project was expected to cost $100 million, the faster it could acquire that hundred-million was the measure of the success of the project. Each program was its own self-licking ice cream cone and no one was ever going to be judged on whether or not the program actually worked. The programs themselves became the goal. Left far behind were the goals of the original programs.
If this attitude exists within the military, a branch of government which occasionally gets called upon to deliver demonstrable results (ie, win a war), imagine how detached other branches of government are from having to account for their successes and failures. This is the perfect camouflage for a Progressive as he never has to face judgment for his results. All that matters is that he tried.
Returning to Henninger’s column, he likens Obamacare to the international anti-global warming movement and concludes that their “activity is increasingly disconnected from the issue of mitigating climate change.” It’s no wonder; Progressives steeped in a lifetime of bureaucratic myopia rarely have to achieve a measurable outcome. And on those few occasions, as in the case of Obamacare, that they are successful in shepherding a program through to fruition, they are unprepared by their upbringing as to how to create a program that actually demonstrates a successful result. So when Nancy Pelosi unfacetiously said that Congress had to pass the 2,000 page bill so that they could find out what was in it, she was confessing to being not unlike the automobile-chasing dog: “Now that I’ve caught the car, what do I do with it?”
Today’s New York Times makes this point. The White House announced yesterday that six-million people had signed up for Obamacare, a figure that “the law’s backers hail as a success.” But not so fast. Drew Altman, President of the Kaiser Family Foundation (an organization which has long been supportive of Obamacare) attempted to redirect the issue as to whether or not the program itself is successful.
“The whole narrative about Obamacare — ‘Will they get to six million? What is the percentage of young adults going to be?’ — has almost nothing to do with whether the law is working or not, whether the premiums are affordable or not, whether people think they are getting a good deal or not.”
Altman is right to point out that the goal of Obamacare is not that people sign up for it, but that it work. That’s something that the Progressive is unprepared for.
Progressivism exists outside the arena of accountability. Its practitioners have never been judged on ultimate outcomes. While it is in the pursuit of their programs that they often can claim a noble rhetorical advantage, It is only after their program is law that it is on full display. Then the autopsy of its failure exposes their lies and the anti-democratic subversions employed to bring about a program the population never wanted. And that is why when Progressivism fails, it fails spectacularly, and why the Progressive is so often ultimately judged to be a governing failure.
Jim Geraghty pens a controversial piece wherein he opines that liberals are more tolerant of the hypocrisy of other liberals than are conservatives. Before I get to that portion of his argument, I’d like to address his conclusion with an historical analogy. Geraghty writes:
“As long as a particular position or stance lets progressives feel good about themselves, they will embrace it. Thus the measuring stick of Obamacare is not whether it’s actually providing the uninsured with health insurance . . . but whether a liberal feels that it’s a sign that he cares about the uninsured more than other people.
Liberals will deem Obamacare a failure only if it stops making them feel good about themselves.
The original Progressives advanced another misbegotten law that made them “feel good about themselves”, even while it destroyed the country. That law was Prohibition. In 1925, H.L. Mencken observed,
“Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”
It would be another eight years after what was obvious to Mencken was finally obvious enough to Progressives that Prohibition was repealed. And even then, it was not the obviousness of the chaos created by Prohibition that turned Progressive minds. It was the fact that by 1933 Congress finally got around to re-apportioning districts–a decennial requirement that was purposefully (and unconstitutionally) ignored following the 1920 Census, because Progressives knew that if they counted the nation’s newly arrived Catholics and Jews, that their beloved Prohibition would have gone to an earlier grave.
Still, even after Prohibition died with the 21st Amendment, Progressives consoled themselves with the belief that it was a “noble experiment”.
There was absolutely nothing noble about Prohibition or about its supporters, who employed more dastardly tactics even than just using unconstitutional measures to over-represent the nation’s more rural (dry) areas instead of its burgeoning urban (wet) cities.
Daniel Okrent catalogued just some of the evils that Prohibition’s adherents used to advance their cause. They actively cultivated the support of both flavors of racists, typified by the overtly bigoted Arkansas congressman John Tillman, as well as soft bigoted paternalists like the United Methodist Church which explained in an official publication that “Under slavery the Negroes were protected from alcohol, consequently they developed no high degree of ability to resist its evil effects.” They encouraged anti-semitism and anti-Catholicism, as both religions were associated with alcohol’s manufacture, sale, and consumption. They stirred up nativism, specifically directed against Irish, Italians, and Jews. They not only allied with a resurgent Ku Klux Klan, they made the modern Klan and purposefully harnessed its hatred in order to enjoy the benefits of the fear unleashed by strong arm tactics that closely resembled those of Nazi brownshirts a decade later.
Most unforgivably of all, Progressives attacked all things German as war began on the Continent. A year after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, President Woodrow Wilson addressed Congress and claimed that those Americans “born under other flags . . . poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life.” The metaphor was well-chosen. While not an avid dry himself, Wilson wanted those supreme executive powers that only war could bestow. If that meant further stoking nativism to bring those zealots closer to his aims, then so be it.
Yes, what I am saying is that early Progressives supported their cause so fervently that entry into World War I–the single most disastrous American political mistake of the last hundred years–became a desirable means of achieving their Prohibitionist ends.
And all of what I just described is the horror that occurred before Prohibition’s enactment. History tells us full well the terror unleashed as a result.
Those early 20th century Progressives are the intellectual forebears of modern Progressivism. Therefore, it should surprise us not that a movement which allegedly supported greater democratization in the form of the Nineteenth Amendment’s extension of the franchise to women, also purposefully blocked blacks from the polls and diminished the value of an urban immigrant’s vote. Women supported prohibition; blacks and immigrants did not. Hypocrisy has a long pedigree in progressive politics.
In an answer to his own question “Why [is it] so hard to make progressives live up to their own rules?” Geraghty comes close to the truth when he says that Progressivism is about making progressives “feel good about themselves”. But even closer to the truth is this oft-quoted observation from C.S. Lewis:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
Progressivism is the belief that they know better than others how others should live their lives. There is nothing that they won’t do, there is no ally so abhorrent, there is no rule so inflexible, that a Progressive won’t embrace the unthinkable to advance their cause. That is because they do so with the approval of their conscience. (As an aside, this is why some strands of “Christian” conservativism have far more in common with Progressives than they do with most conservatives.)
In short, the end justifies the means–even if that end is measurably (as in the case of Prohibition and Obamacare) worse than the beginning. Adherence to means has no meaning in the progressive mind.