It Was Never About Trump

One of the most confusing things for the American left to understand is how Republicans keep supporting Donald Trump…

… and I get it, it doesn’t make so much sense. His personal life should disqualify him with Evangelicals, who carried George W. Bush politically. He’s blown a hole in the deficit, something that should have disqualified him with the alleged “fiscal conservatives.” He’s no Dick Cheney styled neo-conservative. In fact, the guy seems to have no real policy credentials or ideas. He’s flip-flopped on abortion rights, been inactive on his stated desire to bolster coal and fossil fuels, and even been largely ineffective on immigration. What exactly do they like about this guy? Why do Republicans continue to protect a guy cozying up to their one-time enemies in the Kremlin?

Do they like him? Like, for real? The polls say yes. Trump’s approval among Republicans routinely tops eight or nine out of every ten voters. Did they always though? No. Over the Summer of 2015, Trump’s approval within the GOP went up from 65% unfavorable to 57-40% approval to disapproval. Did anyone forget about who he was? Of course not. It was during that time that Trump upped his rhetoric on immigration and other cultural issues that drew Republican interest. It’s worth noting though, they knew all the stuff we knew, and they didn’t like him. But they could accept a person they didn’t personally approve of, once he was speaking their language. Indeed, they did by the Fall of 2015.

Eventually, Trump did win the Republican nomination, but he did so with 30% of the party’s delegates against him. Yet, today we regard his support as being like a cult. When did it change? Did it really? Is the GOP all in with him, really? Trump’s approval offers us a clue. Trump was elected with roughly 46% of the vote, but only 38% approval on that same day. At his lowest points in office, he has fallen about as far as 33% approval, and his ceiling has been just under his 46% vote share. A portion of the Romney 47% and McCain 46% that were solid GOP voters before, particularly suburban moderates, have become “never Trump” Democrats, helping them flip Congress. On the other hand, there was a near equal group of Obama-Trump voters who flipped from the Democrats in his favor. It’s fair to say that about 33% of the country love Trump, and intend to vote for him and Republicans across the board. It’s fair to say that there is another 5-7% of the country who usually approve of Trump, but are occasionally embarrassed by his antics. If you add these folks up, you get a 38-40% voting block that make up the base of the Republican Party. There is another 6% of the country that can’t bring themselves to say they like Trump, or the GOP for that matter, but generally end up voting that way in the end- because they prefer Republicans to Democrats. If you break down the full 46% that is the Trump coalition, you realize that about 13% (roughly very close to that 30% that opposed him at the convention) are less rock solid in their commitment to Trump. Democrats see this and wonder why these people don’t turn on Trump. Surely these fault lines in the party offer opportunity, right? Unless Democrats and the left are completely misreading Trump and his support- which they clearly are.

The choice these GOP voters made in 2016 was that they preferred a person they had problems with over Hillary Clinton, or for that matter a third-term of Barack Obama. They were not under any illusion about Donald Trump the person, or the political vision he put forward for the country on everything from immigration to climate change, to abortion rights and tax policy. This is why Trump has record setting negatives, as Clinton attacked his dirty language and personal character, but she could never quite put him away in the polls. They knew Donald Trump, good and bad. They were prepared to pick him over the Obama-Clinton Democratic Party. There was nothing about him that mattered.

As Democrats fret about impeachment polling not moving after hearings in the intelligence committee last week, it’s important to apply these past lessons- Trump’s coalition doesn’t care what Trump did. A solid 70% of them love whatever he does. The other 30% just don’t like the Democrats. Whether or not he was fair to the Ukraine isn’t going to suddenly awaken the “good” Republicans. Nothing about Trump will. Not his dirty language, his affairs, his love of Putin, or anything else. The policies don’t particularly matter. The man certainly does not.

The main animating principle of the Republican Party is opposition to the Democratic Party. The Republican base built by Trump is uniquely strong in the electoral college and U.S. Senate. This problem isn’t going away because Donald Trump did something bad. It was never about him anyway.

Yudichak’s Switch, 2019 Elections Complete Pennsylvania’s 2016 Re-Alignment

The New State of Play

Yesterday, State Senator John Yudichak (I-14th) switched parties in the Pennsylvania Senate, changing the partisan balance from 26-23 to 27-22. Democrats had high hopes hope of picking up the State Senate for the first time in 26 years next year, but that was when they only needed two seats to flip the chamber. Now they need three seats, which is just about the limit to what is truly possible in 2020. The obvious repercussion to this is that Republicans are more likely to control re-districting in the chamber than they were, which could change the odds of Democrats winning the chamber back in 2022 as well.

There was really no shock, just mild surprise, when Yudichak made the announcement. The timing doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but the announcement itself looked like it was coming for a while. From his early career disagreements with Congressman Paul Kanjorski, to his later dislike of former PA House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, to his more recent strong disagreements with Governor Tom Wolf and more liberal Senate members from the Southeast part of the Commonwealth, Senator Yudichak has always kind of been a man of his own mind. He’s also been pretty popular over the years though, beating the former Mayor of Wilkes-Barre in the 2010 primary to get to this seat, and most recently facing no primary or general election opponent to retain his seat as a Democrat in 2018. He’s triangulated against the more liberal wing of the party to continue winning as Luzerne and Carbon Counties moved right, and there’s not much reason to believe the general public in that district will suddenly hate him.

There’s something else at work here though- the continuing trend of districts President Trump won moving increasingly red, and districts Secretary Clinton won in 2016 moving blue. The Republicans are on their way to wiping out in Southeastern PA, where they lost the bulk of the seats they held for a generation prior to Trump. On the flip side Western PA outside of Allegheny County is pretty much completely flipped to the GOP at this point. We’re rapidly approaching the point where there aren’t any moderates winning districts that lean away from their party.

Our 2019 election results suggest that we’re reaching the point of peak partisan polarization. At this point, the Republican Party controls the county commissioner board (or equivalent) in all but three counties that President Trump won. The Democratic Party controls the county commissioner board (or equivalent) in every county Secretary Clinton won but one. In other words, we’re beginning to see a strong connection in Pennsylvania between Presidential election voting and voting all the way down to county elections, in odd number years. There’s basically no difference anymore.

We’re seeing the completion of the 2016 election trends. The Republican Party is almost extinct in Southeast PA. The Democratic Party is basically extinct in Western PA, “the T,” and in much of Northeastern PA. This is not going to increase the incentive for either party to compromise and behave more moderately. If anything, we’re seeing it continue towards the opposite.

What Happened in Election 2019

The dust has settled on the election of 2019, and everyone is asking the same question- what does this mean for 2020? It’s nearly impossible to separate questions about Trump from anything political, but it’s also nearly impossible to take things from one election and apply them to some future election with different people in it, and not make mistakes. There are a lot of elections from Tuesday to look at, and they generally give us different things to discuss, so I’m going to break this up into sections dealing with different topics, states, and regions individually.

Pennsylvania, as a whole-

map credit to @4st8 on Twitter.

There were essentially two elections held in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, which yielded a very close, mixed result in statewide elections in the state. Judge Dan McCaffery appears to have won a Superior Court seat for the Democrats as the top vote getter, delivering a victory for Democrats that gives them the majority on that court for the first time in a very long time. McCaffery ran up very strong numbers in Philadelphia and it’s suburban counties (Bucks, Montgomery, Chester, Delaware, and Lehigh), while also doing well in Lackawanna, Northampton, Centre, Erie, and of course, Allegheny. McCaffery also outperformed his running mate in the red counties, but it’s worth noting how similar his map was to the map of who controls County Commissioner boards in the 67 counties. Democrats flipped Monroe, Lehigh, Bucks, Chester, and Delaware counties in Tuesday’s elections, while maintaining control in Northampton, Lackawanna, Montgomery, Philadelphia, Centre, Erie, Allegheny, and Cambria. Statewide Democrats essentially were carried by 12 counties that mostly got bluer in 2019 than they were even in 2017 (Cambria actually got pretty red, but was held based on localized factors).

Judge Megan McCarthy King appears to have won the second Superior Court slot, currently leading by a narrow 30,000 votes over Democrat Amanda Green-Hawkins, while trailing McCaffery by a narrow 8,000 votes (roughly). For the Republicans, she offers a hopeful sign for 2020 in the Keystone State. While things haven’t gone great for the GOP as a whole, it’s worth noting now that in the statewide Judicial races of 2017 and 2019, Democrats have won 5 seats, and the GOP has won 4. King’s path to victory appears to have been strong showings in “Trump Country” counties, counties the GOP flipped control, and staying competitive in Monroe and Northampton counties. The GOP flipped control of county governments in Luzerne, Cameron, Armstrong, Westmoreland, Washington, and Greene counties, in most cases for the first time in generations. The GOP candidates got more votes than the Democratic candidates for Superior Court in 56 counties, winning by more than 10% in 51 of them, and by more than 5% in 55 of them. Their base in the era of Trump stayed extremely solid. That didn’t win them a sweep, but it did earn them a very, very close split.

Pennsylvania remains as competitive as it was in 2016. You’ll read analysis saying otherwise, and I understand why, but if you look at the overall picture, nothing has changed. Democrats probably have a narrow, narrow edge heading into 2020, but increasingly will be reliant on about 12 counties to carry them across the state. The impact of Trump, impeachment, and the national climate was higher turnout everywhere, and Trump counties getting more “red,” and Clinton counties increasingly getting blue.

The Lehigh Valley Region

Let’s state the obvious- Democrats had a better night than Republicans. Beyond that, you could look at Lehigh, Northampton, and Monroe and draw some dramatically different conclusions about where these counties are at moving forward. It’s fair to say that Republicans shouldn’t be excited about any of them, but the Democrats should have varying degrees of excitement about each of them.

I’ll start in Lehigh County because it was the most dramatic Democratic victory of the three. Four years ago in this exact election cycle, Republicans won three of the four Commissioner seats, virtually every contested row office, and were pretty dominant across the county government. That is all gone now, and it really wasn’t very close. County Executive Armstrong’s victory two years ago was a little bigger than many of us expected (disclosure- I managed that), and this cycle showed that to be the new norm.  Allentown, West Bethlehem, and Whitehall provided a substantial base of votes for Democrats, as did increasingly solid performances in some of the inner suburban communities- South Whitehall, Fountain Hill, Salisbury, Emmaus, and even the Macungies. One could look at Lehigh County, which used to be the more conservative of the Valley’s counties, and say that it is now blue. Not “swingy,” purple, or anything else that suggests it’s competitive, but blue. The Superior Court results back that up, in what was essentially a test case of generic partisan voting- The Democrats finished first and second here, and their margin was closer to 2,000 votes over the top Republican. Allentown elected two younger, more progressive council members out of their three. The results suggest Lehigh County is now performing like the Philadelphia suburbs.

Northampton County Democrats should be very proud and happy with what was a very good night at the polls. Democrats swept the county wide races, winning both Judicial seats, the DA’s office, the Controller’s office, and the one County Council seat they had to defend. Judge McCaffery carried the county by roughly 800 votes for the Superior Court race too. An African-American man was elected in a pretty white county council seat too (disclosure- I managed that). If you stopped right here, you’d ask how is this different than Lehigh County? I’d tell you, it’s at the margins. McCaffery’s rather close victory runs very similar in both raw votes and margins to Judge-elect Abe Kassis’ 1% and 1,005 vote victory over his Republican opponent. While margins were larger in the District Attorney and Controller’s race, it’s worth noting that those races featured Republican candidates with longer records to oppose for Democrats, and they exposed them. The ticket for Democrats was also not exactly indicative of “the coming revolution”- three career prosecutors for Judge and DA, a highly qualified City Controller for County Controller, and a former School Board President for County Council. They were fairly established people, and ran on fairly mainstream messages. It was a successful ticket, it won- but it wasn’t “burn it down” progressivism either. Democrats also did not take either of the two Republican held seats on County Council that don’t have any of the two main cities in them. Again, Democrats should be happy. They should also understand that Northampton County is still a very competitive, “purple” county. The overall margin of victory is about half of Lehigh County’s, which is great, but not blowout gaps. The most heartening thing here for Democrats is that after a huge spike in their favor leading to a blowout in 2017, the 2019 spike was even larger, and more bi-partisan, and they still won it. 

Then there’s Monroe County, the heart of the Poconos and fastest changing of the three counties, politically. In 2000, George W. Bush comfortably won a double-digit victory, but by 2008 and 2012 it was a steady part of the “Obama coalition” in Pennsylvania. Hillary Clinton narrowly held onto it in 2016, which had some concerned that Democratic momentum had halted, but 2019 suggests otherwise. For the first time in a long while, the Democrats will control the County Commissioner’s board 2-1. This is significant because it suggests the county’s national tilt left is dripping down into local races. It’s still worth noting that the GOP held the row offices, and won the Superior Court race here, suggesting some institutional strength isn’t quite there in the party yet, but they’re getting better at this. The one peculiar thing here is that Judge McCaffery not only didn’t win the county, he finished in dead last of the four candidates in the race. This is… strange, to say the least. The bottom line with this is that it was a good night for Monroe, but Monroe is still on the pathway to Lehigh County status, not there yet.

The Voting Machines…

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Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? I’m going to make several points here, some of which will be popular, some of which won’t, but all of which are simply true.

  1. Northampton County’s counting problems were unacceptable. It did cause undue stress and burden on candidates and campaigns who were impacted, and they deserved better. There should have been enough testing done to know you wouldn’t have some candidates shown as zeroes in races with three candidates. This is just not good. The county has a responsibility to run elections, the company has a responsibility to provide working machines for our taxpayer dollars, and neither did well at this. There’s six months until the 2020 primary for President, and this has to be fixed.
  2. The actual voting process in Northampton County was fairly easy and pleasant, and didn’t feature any “real” problems. Let me just start by stating something obvious to me after 17 years of elections- every single election I’ve ever been apart of has had issues with machines. Things like machines not booting up fast enough in the morning, while important to remedy, are not indicative of “massive problems” with an election. This isn’t re-assuring to most people, but it’s a reality of having democratic elections. My voting process on Tuesday, as well as the overwhelming majority of people I talked to, was easy and fine. It was a new system, and people do have trouble sometimes their first time using new technology, and I have no doubt that for some people it wasn’t as good. I have good poll workers at my poll too, which helps. The most common complaint I heard from people unhappy with the process, was that the paper ballot they received from the machine didn’t match what they thought they voted (straight ticket or otherwise)- which they had every opportunity to fix themselves in the booth by hitting “no” instead of “cast ballot” when they noticed the problem. A person’s inability to follow pretty basic instructions, or ask for help when they have an issue, is not a problem with our elections process, but a problem with the person. There were two cases cited of people having trouble with retention votes for judge, which is an issue I guess, but not a massive one that in any way changed the results. Over the course of the day, I heard more complaints in Lehigh County about actual voting issues than I did in Northampton County, and frankly I heard nothing I’d call overly significant in Lehigh County either. I’m going to come down on the side of saying the machines themselves were pretty easy to vote on, in both counties.
  3. Imagine this happening in April. There is at least a 50/50 chance that the Presidential ballot in the Democratic Primary in May, as well as the delegate ballot and statewide Auditor General races will have odd numbers of candidates. If this happens then, it’s a national embarrassment. ES&S needs to have it made clear to them that the time to fix this problem is very, very short, because if they can’t do it quickly, the county needs different machines for April. This happening in April would be very, very damaging.
  4. The election, despite the problems, was fair and accurate. Thank goodness for paper ballots being printed. Ultimately they were what was counted, to get to the final result. They were done so in the company of both judicial candidates or representatives, with the GOP County Chairwoman present (so don’t believe any of her ramblings about this being unfair), and all people who had a legal right to be present. The final results, a county narrowly decided by about 800 votes in the statewide race, pretty much match-up to what Northampton County actually is politically. That the machines failed to spit out proper and correct results from the start is a problem, but it is not a problem that should cast any doubt about the final result, which was counted by the actual paper ballots that voters clicked “cast vote” to vote. The results look right, and there’s no reason to believe there’s any problem with those paper ballots- which is why paper is better to have. One can certainly make the argument for Lehigh County’s system, in which you hand mark the paper and then put it into a scanner to be counted, but scanners are as faulty as anything else (though I do like having hand marked ballots to re-count, though Florida in 2000, or North Carolina’s 9th district in 2018 tell us that these can fail/be cheated on too).
  5. No, the election was not rigged. Let’s note here that the most injured party on election night was the DEMOCRATIC nominee for Judge, and the election was administered by a Democratic administration. There is literally plausible or sane argument that can be made that Northampton County sought to harm the Democratic nominee for the Court of Common Pleas, and anyone saying so needs to be committed to an insane asylum. The whole thing was a colossal mess, and certainly ES&S deserves increased scrutiny here, but even insinuating they were trying to rig the election would be crazy- why didn’t they try to rig Lehigh County too (they produced those machines)? This is kind of just an insane thing to have to rebut. That there are Democrats saying this kind of stuff, given the narrow Democratic victories that they are casting doubt on, is absolutely insane.

The Cities are Way, Way, Way Left of Pennsylvania

Map credit to @4st8.

The joke I’ve made for months is that no Philadelphia city elected official could get elected in any of the surrounding suburban counties. That’s not looking like a joke anymore. Philadelphia’s strange at-large council system elects seven members of City Council, but limits the majority party (basically Democrats forever at this point) to five seats. As usual, the Democrats won all five seats. The two “minority party” seats were virtually conceded to Republicans in recent times, and David Oh and Al Taubenberger have filled them for a bit now. On Tuesday night that changed. The Working Families Party candidate, Kendra Brooks, defeated Taubenberger for the seventh and final at-large spot, and will be the first third party candidate in my memory to win Philadelphia. Taubenberger has long been considered semi-moderate, and it’s hard to imagine this would have happened even next door in a suburban county. It happened though.

In Allegheny County, longtime District Attorney Stephen Zappala beat back left-independent challenger Lisa Middleman by a solid, but not overwhelming margin. Zappala was nominated by both parties in May, and one may have presumed he would have won bigger than 57-43%. He won nearly every precinct in the suburban areas of Allegheny County, but still only won by 14%- because he lost nearly all of the City of Pittsburgh. Again, he had both nominations, so those city voters made it a point to *not* vote straight ticket, and it got closer because of that.

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are substantially to the left of even their neighboring suburbs, which are the left-leaning parts of the state. The space between politics in the two major cities and even a place like Scranton is now substantial. Given the high number of raw votes in those cities, this could have huge impacts on future PA elections.

New Jersey Elections, as a Whole

This is going to be a lot shorter than my breakdown of Pennsylvania, because it’s a lot more cut-and-dry. Democrats in New Jersey lost two seats in the Assembly and one in the Senate, all in one legislative district in the far South of the state, where the Democratic Senator refused to rule out voting for Trump next year. This is as close to indicative of nothing as you can possibly come up with. South Jersey’s Democrats, lead by Senate President Steve Sweeney, have chosen to not go along with Governor Murphy and essentially create a three-party state. Their “third party” didn’t fair well in one of their own districts, which I guess you can try and read into it what you want, but i’m not even sure it means they’re wrong either. Democrats tried to win a few other Republican seats to add to their substantial majority around the state, and they didn’t succeed, which I guess you can blame on national factors and impeachment, but you still have to remember that they are *Republican* seats. Yes, Trump is popular in Republican seats, which is why they keep supporting him in Congress. There’s nothing all that shocking about any of this. Democrats ran out of room to grow.

Sometimes a majority outgrows what it can sustain. Democrats have probably done that in New Jersey. It’s definitely securely blue, and nothing really happened that should change your mind there. In the long run, one must hope that Governor Murphy and the South can get together ahead of 2021 and reconcile their differences, to avoid another embarrassing governor like Chris Christie, but that’s not for today. My point about New Jersey’s overall results is that they don’t tell you much of anything.

Phillipsburg

While their neighbors on the Pennsylvania side of the Lehigh Valley were voting out Republicans, Phillipsburg was voting them in. Todd Tersigni defeated Stephen Ellis, and will be the next Mayor of Phillipsburg in January, along with a staunchly Republican council. This comes on the heels of a tumultuous four years in which council clashed viciously with Ellis, and essentially set out to destroy him from the start. For Tersigni, who probably felt slighted at times when he was a Democrat, by the county and town Democratic committees, he found a home in the GOP and got the job he wanted. For Ellis, it’s got to be disappointing.

Let’s not kid ourselves about the state of Phillipsburg and it’s politics at this point, it’s bad. The town was dealt a bad hand when Ingersoll-Rand left town, and it has struggled to carve out an identity and direction since. That’s neither party locally’s fault, and one shouldn’t root against Phillipsburg either way. The politics though are terrible. People had “piss on Ellis” bumper stickers on their cars to show their displeasure, complete lies and innuendos were thrown around (I’d say possibly by both sides), and the race certainly got nastier in the closing days. Usually what goes around comes around, and I’m sure that will be the case for the new Republican government that takes office in January. I’m not sure that’s a good thing for anybody, but nobody is asking me either. Phillipsburg needs a few good years, but i’m not sure the politics there will ever quite allow it.

The politics in Phillipsburg are changing pretty rapidly though. Downtown Phillipsburg was the Democratic stronghold when I was a kid, and now that is dramatically changing. “Hillcrest,” a neighborhood on the north side of town used to be “Marge Roukema Republicans,” (North Jersey moderate ex-Republican Congresswoman) but are increasingly swing voters left out by the Trump coalition. This election didn’t really change any of that. Phillipsburg performed more like the rest of Warren County as a whole, which could be attributed to the power imbalance between the two parties in the county, but also could just be that most of the town is actually more like the rest of the county than their neighbors in Easton. It will be interesting to see how this all goes.

The Rest of the Country

To varying degrees, nothing that happened on Tuesday was all that shocking. Virginia’s legislature flipped blue in both houses, which is not shocking at all given that the state has pretty much been going blue from 2005 onward. Kentucky’s Governorship certainly did flip, despite Governor Bevin’s pathetic whining, but that’s also no shock. Andy Beshear is popular, and is the son of a popular Governor, and Bevin is the second least popular Governor in America. Beshear was also pretty careful to not contest the election on purely national themes. Mississippi was close, but the Democrat was a pro-life “Southern style” Democrat running against a somewhat weak Lt. Governor. The reality in all three states is that they ran on pretty mainstream messaging, not really ideologically in the image of Presidential front-runner Elizabeth Warren or Dem-Socialist darling AOC. We can say the Democratic Party over performed in these states, but do these candidates even remotely match up to what is likely to be the campaign in 2020? I’m skeptical.

That’s all i’ve got. Thanks to all of you who voted, and who read this kind of long piece.

Moving the Phillies Forward

As mediocrity goes, you can’t get more mediocre than 81-81. While everyone has a diagnosis for why the Phillies were so mediocre, it’s worth remembering one thing- absolutely no one predicted this. The 2018 Phillies were 80-82, an improvement from 66-96 the year before, and largely did it with improved pitching in Gabe Kapler’s first year. After adding two former NL MVP outfielders, a multi-time All-Star shortstop, arguably the best catcher in the game, and a durable and elite late-inning reliever, the Phillies weren’t expecting a one-game improvement. It was easy to expect 90 wins and an NL Wild Card. Neither happened.

When it comes to assigning blame for this season, I come unequivocally down on the side of blaming the General Manager and front office. Yes, the manager has his flaws. Yes, injuries hit this team- as they did the 100 plus win Yankees. The truth is that this team was simply not talented enough though, because of the GM. I assign blame to Matt Klentak for four specific failures:

  1. Terrible starting pitching. Taking a chance on one of Eflin, Velasquez, and Pivetta might have made sense. Rolling the dice with all three, then trotting out a busted Eickhoff, a rookie Irvin, and trying to pass off Smyly and Vargas as help was insane. Klentak simply has to stop trying to be precisely right on his “player valuations,” and get some premier talent.
  2. A punchless, inadequate bench. Among this year’s underrated disasters was the bench. Gosselin lead the team in pinch hits, despite being DFA’ed and spending a few months in AAA. Aaron Altherr played significant games here. Nick Williams didn’t work off the bench. Roman Quinn still can’t stay healthy. Andrew Knapp isn’t a great hitter. Jay Bruce and Scott Kingery had to provide most of their value as starters. And yeah, Sean Rodriguez was on the team.
  3. An old bullpen unable to pitch the way their manager wants to manage. Presumably the Phillies asked Gabe Kapler about managing a bullpen in his interview. I presume they understood he wants to play match-ups aggressively in the late innings. If they understood that relievers were going to be getting up and down a lot, making a lot of one and two out appearances, and needing to be durable enough to get up and down almost every night, then why did they give him a bunch of older relievers. Men over 35 years old can perform as relievers, but they need their rest. Robertson, Neshek, Nicasio, and Hunter all were older arms that got injured this season. Even younger guys like Seranthony, Arano, and Morgan had issues staying healthy in this system. The front office didn’t think this through.
  4. A minor league system unprepared to help. This isn’t getting enough attention on the list of failures. The Phillies raided the IronPigs early and often to plug holes. It didn’t work. The team failed to attract veteran AAA players who could help, and failed to develop much beyond Adam Haseley in terms of prospects ready to help now. Just two of Klentak’s draft choices over the first four years have played for the team. That’s pretty alarming.

What do I then make of the debate over Gabe Kapler’s future? I largely don’t care. I do come down on the side of firing both he and pitching coach Chris Young, mostly because neither provided much positive. Kapler hired poor hitting and pitching coaches, projected his laid back persona onto a team that needed more accountability, and refused to adjust in areas where his philosophies failed. I’m not really concerned that his press conferences were abrasive to our fanbase, but I am concerned by his unwillingness to play any old-school, situational baseball. Ultimately though, I blame Kapler less than the front office for this team’s failures. I’m less interested in firing him than Klentak. He may even be this generation’s Terry Francona that stinks here and figures it out elsewhere. I don’t dislike the guy. I’d mostly fire him because I don’t think he’s great at this right now, and I think there are better available options on the market, not because I think he’s the top thing ailing our team.

Looking ahead to the off-season, I have my wishlist in mind for what they need on the field too. I’m looking for:

  • Go for some big splashes. Cole, Rendon, and Strasburg (if he opts out) are all worth the bid. Nothing is hurt by succeeding here. But more directly…
  • Two starting pitchers. At least one needs to be a legit number two type, and the other should be at least a three. I’d be in on the Bumgarner, Hamels, Wheeler market, in addition to the pitchers above. I’d also be in on the Ray, Minor, Boyd trade market.
  • At least two late-inning relievers. And yes, there should be some guys below 35 here. The Phillies should even consider forking out some closer market money on San Francisco’s Smith.
  • Either a starting center fielder or a very solid fourth outfielder. I’m thinking you either make Adam Haseley your fourth outfielder for now by grabbing a big splash in center, or you come home with a Cameron Maybin type of fourth outfielder type that you don’t fear starting sometimes. I’m not opposed to re-signing Dickerson and giving up a little defense with him and McCutchen in left and center, with Haseley spelling their off days and late innings, but I don’t find it realistic.
  • An upgrade utility infielder. I have no problem with Brad Miller being back, but upgrade on Sean Rodriguez. If it’s Kingery playing this role because you signs third baseman and don’t dump Cesar at second, I’m fine, but upgrade here.

I think we’re walking into next season with three starters (Nola, Arrieta, Eflin), at least six or seven starting positions, and three of the five bench spots (Grullon, Miller, and Bruce) filled in-house. That’s it bad. My big worry though is the Phillies will fire Kapler, and allow Klentak to repeat last off-season where he whiffs on filling out a full roster because he’s afraid to spend some veteran money on pitchers and bench pieces. I’m fine with firing people, I just wish we were talking about the right people. The failures of 2019 need to be assigned to stubbornness by the front office to make the last one or two moves needed. Only a change in attitude and philosophy can take us to the playoffs in 2020.

Yay for Impeachment! Or Not…

For the fourth time in American history, the President of the United States will face a formal impeachment proceeding. With this being our 45th President, that is just shy of 10% of our Presidencies. With this being the third time in the last fifty years we’re going through this, it’s safe to bet we’ll see a fifth in our lifetime. This is rare, but it’s increasingly less rare. In this case, one could argue it felt nothing less than inevitable.

To be fair to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, I think she tried hard not to do this. I think she knows what a disaster it will probably be. I am less than certain frankly that Trump didn’t try to get to this point, for varying reasons. It felt inevitable though because in the “blue” House Districts that Democrats held before 2018, impeachment is popular. For similar reasons in “red” Senate seats, it’s doomed to fail. Pelosi tried to hold back the tide in her “blue” seats to protect the 40 freshmen House members elected in swing districts last year. Politics would not allow that.

So what is the process? What’s the likely outcome? What is the actual political fallout. Let’s observe.

Trust the Process?

The House leadership intends to begin this process in six separate committees. In other words, the House Judiciary, Intelligence, Financial Services, Ways and Means, Government Oversight, and Foreign Affairs Committees will begin this process with formal hearings investigating parts of Trump’s Presidency. Presumably at the conclusion of their investigations, they will either recommend articles of impeachment, or not. Speaker Pelosi chose to do this, rather than hold an initial House vote to open the inquiry, and send it straight to the Judiciary Committee (the process under Nixon and Clinton).

From there, this will follow normal process. The Judiciary Committee would then debate and vote on the articles before them. The assumption is they will pass. Then those articles of impeachment would go to the full House, who would vote on whether to impeach (or as a legal process matter, essentially indict) the President. If a majority, or 218 members vote to impeach, President Trump would join Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson as the only Presidents ever impeached. Neither of them was convicted, and neither was penalized at all in office. The other President to face impeachment of course was Richard Nixon, who resigned when it was clear he would be impeached. It’s almost certain Donald Trump will not resign.

The next step is presumably a Senate trial. Assuming one is held (it’s not entirely clear that they have to), the trial’s rules will be set by the Senate itself. The Senate President is of course Vice-President Pence. The man in charge of the Senate is Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will literally decide the rules of the trial. Chief Justice John Roberts would then serve as the judge enforcing the rules. There must be 67 Senators voting to convict the President and remove him from office, or he is considered acquitted in this process. There are current 47 Democrats in the Senate, so any vote to convict must include 20 Republicans.

Impeaching and removing a President is really hard. That’s why it’s never happened. It’s meant to be a consensus process, where all parties buy in. That’s really hard to do in divided government.

What’s the Likely Outcome?

By virtually any read, President Trump will eventually win this process. Whether that happens in the House committees, the full House, or the Senate, the outcome is virtually assured. Unlike Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, the President’s own party really isn’t interested in hurting him. Unlike Nixon’s process, there doesn’t appear to be any senior Republicans feeling politically threatened by the process. This begins under similar conditions to Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

So when will this fail? The furthest possibility is a Senate trial. For Trump to be convicted, it would seem that all 47 Democrats and 20 Republicans, or some similar math is needed. This means Doug Jones, Jon Tester, and Joe Manchin, all dark “red” state Democrats, would have to vote to convict, let alone Democrats in swing states like Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire, Virginia, Minnesota, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado (to name some), have to vote to convict. Then you need Republicans. The only one sounding reasonable today was Mitt Romney, who represents Utah, so don’t get hopeful. The obvious pressure points are Collins and Gardner, both of whom may benefit from voting to convict, but aren’t showing any budge. Senators Tillis, Ernst, and McSally may move if Trump falls further in the polls, but so far they’re not. Longer shots include Toomey, Portman, Murkowski, Rubio, Daines, Burr, and Johnson. I went as far as possible here politically, and your count is 13. There’s virtually no way Democrats even do this well, but they’d need 7 more votes. Because Republicans know that, they’ll hang together.

It may feel like Trump being impeached in the House is a done deal at this point, as 218 members now support an inquiry- but an inquiry isn’t impeachment yet. There are 235 Democrats, 198 Republicans, 1 Independent, and a vacancy in the House right now. This essentially gives Democrats 236 votes to start with, since the Independent left the GOP over impeachment. This means Democrats can lose 18 votes and still impeach Trump on just Democratic votes. That means impeachment is pretty likely. There are 40 freshmen representing formerly Republican seats though. This means that if Democrats can’t move the needle on impeachment polling, it may not be able to pass the House. It’s likely to pass, but it’s no lock.

I’d bet on articles of impeachment passing the House Judiciary though. The only potential pitfall is that six investigating committees is too many, but that’s not likely to matter. Don’t bet on this to die fast, but bet on it to die, basically.

What’s the Politics?

I’ll just go on record and say that this is maybe the only time I’ve disagreed with Nancy Pelosi’s judgment in this Congress. Impeachment starts out polling terrible, that’s not likely to change, and the polling is probably even worse in the swing districts. Pelosi had no choice though. A majority of the House wanted this inquiry, largely thanks to jitters among moderates who fear primaries (thanks, Justice Dems). Once those politics changed, Pelosi pretty much had to do this. And to be even more fair, the President of the United States openly admits he blackmailed an allied leader to help him hurt a domestic political rival.

Let’s just start from the unassailable facts to begin here though. Impeachment isn’t popular. It’s polling below 40%. That has been consistent. There are short term spikes, but it’s never overly popular. Much like in the Clinton impeachment, it has nothing to do with the facts- half the country thought Clinton was guilty, but only 30% supported impeachment at the time of the actual votes. Even as impeachment is not popular now, neither is Donald Trump- his average approval is actually up to 44.9%, a historically mediocre to poor number in a President’s first term. Those numbers are being propped up by some outlier numbers from Rasmussen and Emerson. So it is fair to say that both impeachment and Trump aren’t popular right now.

If we accept those facts as the case, then it’s hard to see how impeachment changes it’s own politics. They know Trump. They do not really like Trump. They still do not want impeachment. There’s less polling on the matter, but polls on various accusations against Trump show the public usually believes he’s guilty. In other words they already think he’s bad, they just don’t care enough to impeach him. It’s unlikely that hearings or testimony are going to move these folks in the middle with contradictory views. Sure, the hearings will be on TV, but are these folks going to watch it? Of course not, not unless something ridiculous and extraordinary happens in them. In that sense, it means the best shot for Democrats to change the math on impeachment is probably this Fall, when opinions might still be moved by something wildly over the top. Opinions won’t move during a Senate trial. Either way, it’s more likely that nothing said ever matters in this process, because a segment of the population is just not interested in impeachment.

In the best case scenario for Democrats, they put forward some new revelations in the hearing process that make things politically inconvenient for Senators like Collins, Gardner, Tillis, and Ernst. Perhaps they can help themselves put distance between Trump and Senate Republicans in swing states, improving their chances of taking the Senate next year. What seems more likely though is Trump’s eventual acquittal, whether it be in the House or Senate, and an eventual tough vote for 40 vulnerable House Democrats, and maybe even three Senate Democrats.

I don’t think Democrats had to do this. I don’t think this reaches much beyond the core of the Democratic electorate. This is not what 2018 Democratic campaigns were based on. Ultimately, I think it’s more likely than not to be bad politics. But for better or worse, this is where we are.

Grading the Candidates- Joe Biden

No candidate has bothered the activist class of the Democratic Party more than Joe Biden. For me though, Biden remains among my top four candidates. The former Vice-President is far from perfect, as he showed with his Iraq War vote, his credit card/bankruptcy legislation, and parts of the 1994 Crime Bill that he wrote. Looking at the preponderance of his record though, Biden has been an excellent public servant and would be a good President.

Biden’s strengths as a candidate are well documented. Biden leads primary polling, usually comfortably, and has done so all year. He also continuously polls the best against Trump. He does this with near 100% name recognition. His “Scranton Joe” persona polls very well with “Rust Belt” white voters and African-Americans (as evidenced in South Carolina). He’s probably the only candidate who can boast those strengths at this point. There’s also no question that he has the qualifications for the job.

Biden’s weaknesses are also known. His legislative record offers a treasure trove of votes to examine, like those I mentioned above. His career stretches all the way back to the days of debates over busing desegregation, meaning Biden has some real challenges reaching a more progressive Democratic Party than the one he entered as a young man. An older white man is not exactly what the activist class probably has in mind for 2020. His early debate performances didn’t inspire confidence. In short, Biden has very real challenges.

Of course, some of Biden’s critics have gone off the deep end in their criticisms of the former Vice-President. It started with a ridiculous hatchet job trying to hit Joe Biden on #MeToo allegations for smelling the hair of women, orchestrated by allies of Bernie Sanders. It never stopped there. There have been multiple attempts to portray Barack Obama’s Vice-President as a racist, with the latest being the absurd attack by Jamil Smith of Rolling Stone. There was last week’s pathetic attempt by Julian Castro to make Joe Biden look old and forgetful in the debate, in which Castro ultimately got his facts wrong. This week we saw “CornPop” gate blow up on Twitter, as this week’s crop of millennial progressive writers accused Biden of making up a story about an altercation with an African-American man nicknamed “CornPop.” It turns out that despite their mockery, “CornPop” was real. Imagine that. A lot of the young, progressive class of the Democratic Party are exposing themselves as shameless and morally bankrupt in their pursuit of power- and incompetent. Their attacks aren’t working because they failed to connect with or change the mind of the base of Biden’s voters. They’re not knocking down his “Scranton Joe” image because their attacks lack credibility and don’t relate to the things Biden’s voters care about.

Biden’s credibility as a candidate will rise and fall with his ability to maintain his “Scranton Joe” working class appeal to older white and black voters. If that falls apart, he can’t win. If he can maintain it, he will pick up steam later in the process. People on both sides of the Biden debate would be smart to realize that.

And Now That It’s Over…

Saturday night was the last Phillies game on our 17 game plan for this season, and within 24 hours after that, it all finally seemed over. After the Red Sox had completed the sweep on Sunday afternoon, it finally seemed safe to stop saying “maybe” this team would make the playoffs. Last night as I laid on my couch and watched the Cubs win again, it dawned on me that this season is almost definitely over. I’d still like to see them beat out the Mets for third and win 82 games, I guess, but I don’t really care. The season that seemed so promising when I was down in Clearwater in March will end as their eighth straight season out of the playoffs.

I won’t play the game of “who to blame,” because I don’t want to leave anyone deserving out. For the second straight season, Gabe Kapler and his analytics driven approach failed in a pennant race. He over manages the game playing every match-up, and frankly his chosen coaching staff (particularly his original hitting coach and his pitching coach) taught their “new” approach to the game, and failed miserably. I’d stop the blame there, but that would be irresponsible and unfair. Matt Klentak handed him a flawed roster, one that could hit pretty well, but couldn’t pitch to save their lives. Not a single Phillies starting pitcher has a better ERA than the Braves fourth starter, Julio Teheran, and only one has thrown more innings. Klentak gave Kapler, his chosen manager, a bullpen full of pitchers over 35 years old, knowing full well that Klentak regularly likes to use his bullpen early and often. Add on a pitching coach trying to force all of the pitchers to throw four-seam fastballs up in the zone, and you see how the disaster happens. The GM did a bad job building his rotation, bullpen, and bench. The manager doesn’t use them right. The pitching coach was a noticeable downgrade from the one we let go to Atlanta. And yeah, well, the pitchers and hitters mostly didn’t do their jobs either.

You can only blame the players to the extent that they underperform their abilities. There is no doubt that this team on the field now was somewhat unlucky. Your center fielder beat up his girlfriend in a casino, your original left fielder tore his ACL in the midst of a really good bounce back season, then the new left fielder you traded for had typical nagging injuries for an older player. So sure, you’re going through the growing pains with a rookie in center field. Your third baseman did what he’s done throughout his young career so far, and when the team got impatient, they sat him down and played a lot of inferior bench players. Your old bullpen guys all got injured together, and you got stuck with waiver wire and AAA guys to finish the season. About the only part of the team that legitimately underperformed on the field was your starting pitchers, and that was fatal. Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto put up 3.8 and 5.7 WAR seasons to date, or roughly All-Star and All-Star plus level seasons in their first years here, with particularly strong second halves. Jean Segura wasn’t quite what he was last season in Seattle, but he’s an “every other year” type of player traditionally, and still posted a well above average 2.6 WAR. Cesar Hernandez is pretty much who he was last year too. Scott Kingery was a pleasant surprise to even his biggest critics, like me, posting a respectable 2.4 WAR season. The only true disappointment has been Rhys Hoskins, and he’s posting a solid 2.7. A poor second half and low batting average makes us not appreciate a 28 homer, 81 RBI performance. On the field, for the most part, you got what you paid for, so while I am not a fan of Kapler’s methods, this team’s failures need to mostly be laid at the feet of bad luck and bad front office work.

Let’s not beat around the bush- a year ago right now, our owner was talking about “stupid money.” That did not happen. Instead our general manager used his “player valuations” to talk himself out of giving Patrick Corbin the sixth year, or out-bidding the Rays for Charlie Morton, or making an offer to current Brave Dallas Keuchel, or even trading minimal value for Cole Hamels last Summer. For your information, all of those guys are currently headed for the playoffs. All of them are at least better than four of the Phillies pitchers. Did I mention above that our pitching coach from last year is in Atlanta too? Meanwhile our team President Andy McPhail’s attitude was “if we get in, we get in, if we don’t, we don’t.” The Phillies, and owner John Middleton who promised stupid money, meanwhile stayed below the luxury tax with an inadequate team. Player valuations are a great excuse for this in small markets, like Oakland and Milwaukee, both of who still have stronger playoff aspirations than us. That shouldn’t work in the largest single-team market in the league though. And if you’re going that route, you better do it as well as Oakland and Milwaukee. The ownership and front office failed this team though. They didn’t do enough to win in 2019. That’s idiotic when you consider the money they did spend.

My only conclusion is that you can’t keep the blame to just one person or part of this team. If I were John Middleton, I would remove everyone from McPhail to Klentak, and Kapler and his coaching staff. For one, they failed to reach your goals with your money. Second though, they really lost this fan base as the summer was dragging on. The stands were not full like the heyday of 2009. They weren’t that entertaining. You have a team tied for third place, in the division, and a minor league system rated near the bottom of the league. Their draft choices aren’t reaching the league, and player development is questionable at best. There’s not much whining success to point to. The best moves of last off-season, bringing in the Harpers, Realmutos, Seguras, and McCutchens are not particularly genius- any idiot with the budget would do that. On the hard moves, everyone basically failed.

A new regime, one with a bigger market perspective, could do a lot with the parts the Phillies would hand them. I think they should consider doing that.

The Cold Democratic Truth

Since LBJ left Washington, three Democrats have been elected President, winning five total elections. That’s out of thirteen Presidential races. In the victories of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, three traits have been present every time:

  1. They have been exciting, dynamic candidates.
  2. Their candidacies have been responses to a crisis- Watergate, recession, and war.
  3. Each of them was viewed as a moderate, mainstream candidate that promised positive change for the better.

Now, the good and bad news about 2020- there is crisis in the political air. I’m not sure if that crisis is the very presence of Donald Trump to the majority of voters, like our activists tend to believe, but he may be. Even if not though, I think the looming recession from a trade war, not to mention climate change, will qualify as a crisis to most. Whether it’s threats to our democracy, climate, economy, or society, there’s a crisis in the eyes of most of our citizens.

But what about the other two characteristics of Democratic victories? Is there an exciting, dynamic character who won’t be viewed as a radical? Here we run into a problem. There are lots of Democrats running for President, but are there any winners? Joe Biden is certainly a steady, calming figure, but is he exciting some group of voters (moderates?)? Elizabeth Warren has a plan for everything, but policy and professor types generally land with a thud in general elections. Bernie Sanders is easily labeled a nut. Kamala? Mayor Pete? We just don’t know enough yet.

Would the Democratic Party know if they found a broadly appealing, mainstream candidate though? Hillary Clinton began last cycle as that person, but was hammered by her left. Joe Biden consistently polls ahead in the primaries and in general election battlegrounds, but if you listen to MSNBC and Twitter, he’s a bumbling old moron. Is the dysfunction of the Democratic Party as crippling as conditions on the ground, or more? I guess we’ll find out, again. With so many candidates in the field, but only several looking like solid general election candidates, Democrats are being offered the opportunity to choose wisely. Conditions are lined up for them to win, if they don’t beat themselves first.

Football 🏈 Predictions

Football season is here. Today, college football opens up and my high school alma mater plays their debut. It’s time to do the seasonal predictions for my teams’ seasons, from the pros down.

Philadelphia Eagles

13-3, NFC East 1st, NFC Home Field.

Are the Eagles the best team in football? I’m not prepared to go there. They’re really good though, and they have a really good schedule for them. They play just one road game against a 2018 playoff team (Dallas). If you want to say Atlanta and Minnesota could be hard road games, or that Lambeau is a tough place, fine, but are the Eagles really losing all four of those games? Doubtful they’d even lose three. They get to play Chicago, New England, Seattle, and of course, Dallas all in Philly. When you look at their schedule, they get to start as heavy favorites right now in eight games. They got a good schedule, on paper. Can they deliver?

Carson Wentz had a full off-season as the QB1 for the second time in his career. The other time was 2017, when he was second team All-Pro, and they won the Super Bowl. The additions in the backfield, the decision to add depth to the offensive line through the draft, and the decision to bring back DJax should make this offense scary. The defense has to stay healthier than last year, but that’s the biggest road block I see ahead. Big things are coming.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

9-3, New Year’s Day Bowl

Ian Book could be even better than he was last year. Second year starters tend to do that. There’s an argument that teams who make the CFP tend to improve from the experience. Notre Dame is really talented, and a playoff game better for last year’s undefeated regular season experience.

The problem is that everything went right last season. Stanford, Virginia Tech, and USC were all down. Georgia wasn’t on the schedule, let alone a road game. Michigan is there, this season. Even games like Louisville, Virginia, and Boston College aren’t gimmes. Only New Mexico, Bowling Green, Duke, and Navy are games they’re clear favorites.

Even so, I do think Notre Dame is a top ten team, so I’m splitting the difference between believing they go 11-1, or that it’s a disaster season. 9-3 it is.

Penn State Nittany Lions

10-2, New Year’s Day Bowl.

I almost went 11-1, Big Ten Champions. Why not? A first year starter, red shirt sophomore quarterback. With brutally difficult road games at Iowa, Michigan State, and Ohio State, and difficult home games with Michigan and would-be-rivals Pittsburgh and Rutgers, it’s a lot to predict Penn State to make the playoffs- but the talent and returning starters are there. If James Franklin is going to break out and win a second Big Ten Title, these next two seasons are good opportunities.

Temple Owls

6-6, Bowl Eligible.

My gut puts this team at 8-4. The coaching carousel worries me though. I feel good about them having some experience at quarterback, and being home against Maryland, Georgia Tech, and UCF. I just don’t like the feeling that they lack stability. So I went under my gut instinct.

Moravian Greyhounds

7-3, post-season eligible.

Hound ’em! An experienced quarterback helps. So does getting some local kids in. I like the Hounds to post a winning 2019.

Easton Red Rovers

12-2, EPC Champions.

When the strength of a high school football team, or really any football team, is described as their offensive line, I am happy. This team is going to be pretty good.