The Likely Outcome of Impeachment

It was over a decade, but John McCain’s percentage of the vote should be familiar to you- he got 46% of the vote. McCain is generally viewed as an honorable, if flawed man, but had to run against the tides of history- an unpopular war, an economic meltdown, an imbecile running mate, a historic opponent, and most of all, an unpopular President from his own party. Four years later, Mitt Romney had to run against a popular President, with a growing economy, and he managed to bump his performance up to a whopping 47%. In 2016, the Republicans nominated a reality TV star that got caught on video saying “grab ’em by the pussy,” who had bankrupt casinos and stiffed contractors, and was hardly someone that should have appealed to Evangelical voters- he got elected President with 46% of the vote. I’m not a gambling man, but if I was, I would not take the under on Donald Trump getting 46%. It appears to not matter who the GOP nominates- they are getting 46%. Bank it.

It’s this reliability and stability in the GOP’s electorate that allows them to stick by their leaders, regardless of what happens. The Republican Party almost ceases to exist in some of the biggest states in the country, namely California and New York, but their stranglehold on “red” states, and even their enclaves in “swing” states remain solidly in their hands. Even as Democrats spent millions of dollars telling the country how bad Trump was in 2016, it did nothing. Republican voters stuck by him. No matter how terrible he is, he’s better than the alternative, to them.

So you’re going to have to excuse me saying this- no Republicans are coming to the Democratic position on impeachment. Zero. That’s even more clear in the Senate, where Democrats would need at least twenty Republican Senators to cross over and vote to convict. There are not twenty Republican Senators who would be considered “endangered” right now, in fact there are at least 34 that could credibly say the politics in their states favor backing Trump. In other words, you enter the impeachment process with no pathway to convicting the President.

What about the argument that the hearings could change that dynamic? I direct you above, to the part where I told you this President said of women that you can “grab ’em by the pussy,” and the video was released nationally, and he was elected a month later. Exactly what do you think could be said about Donald Trump to diminish him among the 46% that would vote for a turnip to be President, if it were the Republican nominee? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. There is no low, no embarrassment that would change their minds. Nothing. And knowing that, there’s no Republican members of Congress to move. Even for the few you’d flip trashing him, you’d lose others.

What of the argument that the hearings could galvanize Democratic voters? It’s hard to prove either way. What I do know is that we spent 2016 exposing his fraudulent behavior, his vulgarity, his lack of knowledge, and every bad trait that Trump has, and we got 48% of the vote- a lot, more than he had, but not enough. There are limits to how motivating the negatives on Trump are, even to Democratic voters. At least that’s what history tells us.

What harm could impeachment do? When Watergate began in 1972, it wasn’t a broadly popular investigation, nor was Nixon unpopular, but it grew into a movement that eventually pushed him out of office. Not every investigation takes that route, of course. Iran-Contra ended as a dud, having no sizable impact on any election, and largely not sending the principles to jail. The Whitewater investigation into Bill Clinton did end in impeachment, which in turn actually caused the Republicans to lose seats in the 1998 midterm, serving as the modern political argument against impeachment. While Democratic activists passionately want to impeach Trump, the rest of the electorate sits solidly (34-48%) against it– even as they give Trump the lowest approval in that poll of his Presidency. The political will for impeachment isn’t there, and the past shows it to be risky to push through that.

There is a solid argument that says the Democrats must do the right thing, for history, for the rule of law, and for our constitution. Of course, the tricky thing is what “the right thing” is? If there is truly no pathway to conviction of Trump in the Senate, if impeachment may politically help him, is it “the right thing” to impeach the President? Is the possibility of a second Trump term, possibly with a Republican House, and the probability of more Supreme Court appointments worth it? Even if we assume his guilt, which I do, what’s the value in impeaching him with no chance to convict. Yes, it might make me feel good, but what’s that do for the people Donald Trump is actively hurting every day he is in office? Is it worth risking RBG’s seat on the Supreme Court? Risking four more years of inaction on climate change? Risking more children in cages? What risk is too much to pursue something that is almost certain to fail?

Politics can be emotionally unsatisfying much of the time. I have concluded that the odds of removing Donald Trump from office, at this time, are approximately zero. I have also concluded that there is no way to fail at removing the President without paying a political price. It would feel better to impeach Donald Trump, and the Mueller report does show that he deserves it, but I think it’s a losing idea. I’m not against holding hearings, subpoenas for documents, and keeping the door open for impeachment in the future. I think going into that today though is a fool’s errand.

Here’s the good news though- there is another way to remove Donald Trump from office- beating him in 2020. If Hillary Clinton has just received 49% instead of 48% in 2016, she would have probably (assuming they weren’t just more base, blue state votes) won at least four more states, and been elected President easily. She did that against incomparable negativity aimed her way, from the primary season through Election Day. She did so despite the fact that attacking Trump largely did not work. If the Democrats spend half as much time building up their potentially electable candidates as they do looking for a way to make impeachment happen, they absolutely can beat a President who’s approval is at -18%. We can win in 2020. We should win in 2020. We have to win in 2020. It’s really the only way forward.

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How the Democrats are Losing the Online Game

Tell the truth, how many fundraising e-mails did you delete this weekend? For me, it got so bad that I unsubscribed from close to a dozen e-mail lists. Back in the dark ages when I was in college (2002-2006), I got myself on every e-mail list I could. It felt like I actually got information about the 2004 Presidential candidates back then. That’s not what e-mails are used for on political campaigns in 2019.

Democrats now view digital campaign organizing, e-mails, and even their website as an ATM. In the wake of McCain-Feingold and the Citizens United Supreme Court Decision, Democrats face a real challenge in keeping up financially with the right-wing financial machine. They’ve exasperated that by ingesting the poison pill rhetoric that all lobbyists and political action committees (PACs) are terrible, and we can’t take their money. The Bernie purity rhetoric, and even President Obama’s a generation ago, puts Democrats behind the eight ball. So what’s been the answer? Go grassroots. Ask for $27 over and over again. We still can’t keep up, but it’s worth a shot. Pledge to take no PAC money or federal lobbyist money at all- even from unions, Planned Parenthood, or Environmental groups- to try and motivate activists who have little understanding of campaign budgets to fund your campaign.

The net result is a million micro-messages from every group and candidate on the left to try and motivate you to give some cash. It turns into annoying white noise. It works fine for interest groups in DC, who do the best in this messy void, but leaves everyone else all over the map. It leads to the “Democrats have no message” meme.

What about the Republican Party? They don’t have quite the same issues. In 2016 everyone knew that the Trump message was “Make America Great Again,” and “Crooked Hillary.” Hillary Clinton was a criminal that would take the America you and your descendants built away from you, and give it to “other” people, but Donald Trump would stop that and restore it to you. Yes, they did field, television, and mail to get that message to you, but on a far scaled down level from what Mitt Romney and John McCain has done. They understood that the race would be decided at the margins, so they went cheaper and more straight to the point- they talked to you online. Sure, maybe some GRU guy in Moscow was giving them an assist, but don’t underestimate what the GOP did. They were getting 20 impressions on your brain through Facebook, for the price of one TV ad, at a far more efficient clip too. They hit their audience directly with one simple, straight forward message- Make America Great Again. The whole right-wing took part.

So what’s going to happen in 2020? Look no further than this week’s Wisconsin election for the State Supreme Court. Democrats narrowly lost, despite hitting their turnout targets across the board. Republican turnout simply spiked. What was their message? Socialism. It didn’t matter if it was the Koch funded groups, the NRA, or religious conservatives, they simply told you the Democratic “socialists” are coming to take what you want away from you. They’ll take your guns, your church, and your tax dollars, and give America to those “others.” They will spend hundreds of millions of dollars into digital ads on the internet that tell their voters to fear Democrats, because socialism.

As the really smart friend of mine that does digital campaign work explained this to me yesterday, I realized just how messed up the Democratic Party is on digital. We’re trying to use the internet to finance our campaigns, while they’re using it to poison the Democratic brand. It’s a mismatch. If no one in the Democratic Party figures this out soon, it could be too late- and Donald Trump could be basking in “four more years” chants.

Making Sense of Barr, Rosenstein, and Mueller

Donald Trump and his campaign will not be charged with conspiracy to collude with Russia to interfere in our 2016 Election. While the Mueller report makes no final recommendation on charging Trump with obstructing justice, Attorney General Barr will not charge him. Mueller and the Department of Justice have found that Russia did interfere in our election.

Those are the official legal findings as the Mueller investigation ends.

In pure legal terms, Mueller does not believe there was a legal conspiracy between Trump or his campaign, defined as a two-sided agreement, to interfere in our last election. He is not saying Russia didn’t interfere at all. He is rather saying the Trump campaign and candidate weren’t a part of that interference. This may seem odd, since Don Jr. met with Russians about Hillary dirt, and Paul Manafort shared polling data with Russians. Mueller seems to be saying neither had any actual part in the Russian interference though. Perhaps because they were inept, or perhaps because Russia never wanted their help, but they seem to be but a footnote in what he alleges happened.

There is the question of obstruction, which remains more murky and incomplete than it may seem right now. Mueller did not charge Donald Trump or exonerate him on this question, in part because Trump used legitimate Presidential powers to seemingly stonewall the investigation, as well as vague and not-so-vague attacks to intimidate witnesses. With the question left to Barr, who is both a believer in executive power and an appointee of the President. He was never going to charge him, if left with an open question. That’s not the end of the story though.

I tend to believe in and accept Bob Mueller’s findings. With that said, there are still some important questions. Why did Trump associates keep lying about Russia? Did Russian interference determine the outcome in 2016? Did finding out about Russian interference later change Trump’s behavior or policies towards Russia? These aren’t all Mueller’s questions to answer, but they still remain today.

A lot of people on the left seem despondent, and even willing to engage in crazy conspiracy theories over this. It’s important to understand that those conspiracy theories aren’t grounded in any reality. After indicting 37 people, Bob Mueller is certainly not going to cover for anyone. Rod Rosenstein put him in place and supervised him, and doesn’t seem to be a figure who would cover for the Administration. While there are questions about Attorney General Barr, it’s worth noting the obvious here- Congress can subpoena all of these men. Mueller can talk about his report. Barr won’t be afforded cover to lie to Congress. Neither would Rosenstein. The room for anybody to be lying right now is non-existent. The potential exposure is too great.

Which all leads back to where this began- Mueller was never going to indict Trump, nor would Trump’s Department of Justice allow it. The only body with legal oversight of the President’s activities is the Congress. The House Judiciary Committee should call all of these men in to testify about their findings. Mueller can tell us what he found in the first person. I suspect the real question here will be on the judgment of Mueller to not recommend either way on obstruction of justice, and of Barr to say he will not charge the President for it. If the House reaches a different conclusion, after hearing the evidence, then they should act. Even if crimes were found, that committee would have been charged with deciding this then.

The Global Moron Movement

Like most people in December of 2016, I wasn’t happy Donald Trump was going to be President, and hoped somehow it wouldn’t happen. Of course, a month later he was President, and over time I’ve come to realize that was pretty much the only outcome that could happen. Sure, he’s awful in every way, but he was declared the winner under the system of elections that we have in our country. As painful as it was, and for as much damage as Trump will probably do, the best hope for maintaining any legitimacy in our democracy is a resounding 2020 defeat that sends Donald Trump home to Trump Tower, or Mar-a-Lago, or wherever the hell he wants to call home. Rooting for some other outcome is essentially hoping to delegitimize our process in the eyes of some group of voters, which never goes away easily. What’s to stop Trump voters from seeking the same outcome for a future Democratic President over whatever crazy grievances they have?

Let’s be clear here, I am not categorically against impeachment, provided Robert Mueller or another prosecutor accuses Trump of a crime, nor do I disagree with the sentiment of wanting Trump gone. I simply believe we shouldn’t give the appearance of simply wanting to overturn election results that we don’t like. Removing an elected leader because you don’t like them should be the job of elections, in so much as possible. Now to be clear, there is some moral hazard in this position on Trump- our Republican friends spent eight years trying to de-legitimize President Obama as a Kenyan-born “Muslim,” and the last two years ignoring Donald Trump’s failings, which is also behavior that threatens to de-legitimize our democracy. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, and all other attempts to game our electoral system also de-legitimize our democracy. So we’re not dealing with rational, adult actors across the table of American politics from us. If we match their behavior though, the sad truth is that they’ll only go lower, and we’ll continue to chase. At some point, the hellscape we’ll create won’t even be worth saving.

I get that some people don’t care, and I get it- who wants to be the one bringing a knife to a gun fight? This is not purely an American problem, it’s becoming a problem across Western democracies. In the United Kingdom, anti-Brexit forces in Parliament seem fine with no Brexit deal to leave the EU, calling for either a new vote or to just let the carnage hurt every piece of society, if they can’t have their way. Leftists in France are calling for the resignation of popularly elected President Macron, and the implementation of their policy platform- even though the French-left’s candidate lost to Macron in 2017. Right-wing Americans want to send American forces into Venezuela to remove the winner of their last election, and left-wing Americans want us to ostracize Brazil’s new President and his right-wing extremism. Essentially, democracy is only cool if it yields the results we want, otherwise we need to remove the winner.

It is worth noting that many of these elections had irregularities and maybe even outright interference that casts doubt on the outcome. That is a serious problem. If it can be absolutely proven that an election was stolen (as seems clear in NC-09’s Congressional race), an election like that should not be recognized. Short of that, we should make it our mission to insure the fairness of future elections. Invest in ballot security. Break down barriers to citizens voting. Insure that our elections are free and fair, and that all votes count. Trying to overturn elections in the absence of absolute and indisputable proof will only insure Russia’s election of making Americans, and the west in general, doubt our electoral systems. We’d be much better off campaigning in the next election on safeguarding our electoral system for everyone. Basically, I stand with Speaker Pelosi on how we should move forward.

You win some, you lose some. If we dispute every election we don’t win, and try to overturn all of those results, we will do as much to damage the strength of our democracies as anything Vladimir Putin could ever try to do.

There Will Be No Peace

I wish I could say that I was shocked that NYU students Leen Dweik and Rose Asaf cornered and berated Chelsea Clinton at a vigil for the Muslim victims of the terrorist shooting in New Zealand that killed 50 people, but I’m not. I wish I could say these two young people had a point, but they don’t. I wish I could say that I’m glad to see young people engaging the political process, but I’m not. About the only thing I take from this unhinged and unfair behavior is that I told you so.

Chelsea Clinton is not a public official. She has never run for public office. Despite popular opinion, she is not actually her mother or her father. By the way, her former President father isn’t running for office ever again. Her former Secretary of State and Senator mother is also not a candidate for office either. Strange as this is for many supporters of Bernie Sanders, Chelsea Clinton is just a pregnant woman in New York with her own career and a famous last name. You’re not really “speaking truth to power” when you corner her at a public event to attack her views, you’re just using her fame to get yourself attention.

Here’s the real kicker though- Dweik and Asaf are wrong about Chelsea Clinton, and Clinton is right on her criticisms of Ilhan Omar that angered them so much. Now I’ve given my opinion of the good and the bad on Omar already, but here’s the simple fact- Omar has repeatedly used anti-semitic and over the top language in her criticisms. One doesn’t need to say Israel hypnotizes it’s supporters, or that it’s “All About the Benjamins” to allude to Israel buying support, when making the very plausible case that the Netanyahu Israeli Government is ineffective, opposes peace, and is bad for both U.S. and Israeli interests. It is a point that can be made without slurring a whole religion or nation. It is a point that can be made without old-line anti-semitism accusing “the Jews” of using money to control the world. Omar is a smart enough woman to know what her words mean, to choose the words she wants to use, and to understand context. She chose not to. She deserved every condemnation she got for that. Perhaps these young ladies are drawn to defend her though because she aligns with their views- one of them has actually called for Israel to be demolished. I am not a supporter of Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu, but these are radical views that should not be given credence.

Let’s be clear here, the American far-left is radical. It is not just fighting a war against Trump extremism, but against anyone who doesn’t accept their “revolution.” I’ve personally been put on their hit-lists, but worse yet, I’ve seen them bully people in public, like in this case. It doesn’t matter if you are Chelsea Clinton or some private citizen living in Southwest DC, these folks are ready to attack you, and even cause your career harm. Behavior like these NYU students displayed is not an exception, or something to be treated as an isolated incident. This is the norm. This is how they wish to conduct politics. This is what they want the American left to be.

I see no pathway to peace between the Democratic Party and the Bernie-inspired far-left. I’m sick and tired of hearing Democrats say we all need to “unite,” and “be positive” with these folks. It’s not going to happen. They’re never coming to the table to unite. Stop pretending that it can happen when only one side is interested in it. These people wish to destroy the Democratic Party, not work with it.

The Clinton-Sanders primary has been over for more than 2.5 years. Like Japanese troops who didn’t know World War II was over and continued to fight, these students are in the ranks that haven’t stopped fighting yesterday’s war. You can’t make peace with these people.

He Woulda’ Lost

One of the favorite refrains of the Berner crowd is that “Bernie would have won.” Their logic is pretty straight forward- Hillary *barely* lost the 2016 Election, and Bernie had less baggage. The belief of Berniestan is that he would have won Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. After all, he’d do better with groups she underperformed with, he’d motivate more people, and he’s the most popular politician in the country. Right?

Hillary Clinton actually beat Bernie. Despite the fact she lost the general election, she beat Bernie Sanders handily in the 2016 primary, by every metric available. With or without super delegates, regardless of caucus or primaries, and without any DNC interference, Hillary beat him. She beat him in pledged delegates. She beat him by about 15% in the popular vote. She had all but won the nomination by March. In fact, if caucuses were eliminated in places like Nebraska and Washington, in favor of higher turnout primaries, she would have beat him even worse. When on the ballot, Bernie’s alleged popularity never showed up. He got crushed.

Hillary was once the most popular politician in America too. In fact, she was so right up until she ran for President in 2016. When you’re not a candidate, that’s normal. When you’re not the front-runner, that’s normal. When no one thinks you can win, you’re popular. Bernie did not face much in actual vetting and criticism in 2016, because no one believed he would win, ever. No one believed he would be nominated or elected. This time he will enter as one of the few front-runners in a big field. Had he been nominated in 2016, he would have faced unprecedented scrutiny, for him. A nominated Bernie would probably not be the most popular politician in the country, and would probably end up viewed quite partisanly.

Bernie is weak with white people too. Like every other Democrat in America, he’s under water. He’s above water with women, but under with men. He’s above water with African-Americans. In other words, once Bernie became known, he became similar to just about any national Democratic candidate in terms of who supports him. In other words, it’s far from clear he’d win people Hillary did not.

Bernie’s support from African-American’s is wide, but shallow. Like every other national Democratic figure, Bernie Sanders and his policies are popular with the most loyal Democratic voting bloc. The thing is, the votes never followed Bernie in 2016. He was crushed in South Carolina, and every other majority-minority primary, particularly African-American ones. His endorsed candidates in 2018 generally lost non-white voters. At no point has Bernie shown an ability to turn favorable ratings from African-American voters into votes. His inability to energize African-American voters, coupled with his rather normal white approvals, would have made winning in 2016, or for that matter 2020, very difficult.

Bernie is basically a left-wing Democrat, politically, but he simply rejects the party base. Bernie has spoken pretty openly against identity politics. In other words, he’s not trying to deepen his wide but shallow support among African-Americans, women, or Latinos. It would have been hard to turn out more of these voters by eschewing their particular interests. Given that Bernie is rather average as far as candidates go otherwise, how would he change the results of 2016?

Bernie Sanders would have lost- and would lose in 2020 if he changes nothing. While he has had high approval numbers in the past (his latest I’ve seen are 44-42), those numbers will melt towards an average Democrat’s over the course of the race. He will have to win in a rather standard, boiler plate fashion in 2020- something he was utterly incapable of in 2016. What’s worse for him is that he won’t have Hillary as a foil this time. This time it will be him under the microscope. That would have been the kiss of death in 2016. It should remain a concern in 2020.

Re-Alignment

I registered to vote in 2001, as a Democrat. Michael Bloomberg was a Republican, no one was discussing whether or not demographic politics were destiny or not, and Donald Trump beating a Clinton or a Bush for President seemed like a total joke.

The two parties are changing quickly, right before our eyes. The Republican Party of 2001 was very different than 2019. Gone are the aristocratic Bush types at the top. Gone is the globalist view of military engagement and global trade from the Bush days, and in it’s place is Trump isolationist policy. The Republican Party is now a cultural identity party for “traditional” America, stressing nationalism, law and order, and aggressive anti-elitism. They’re both longing for a cultural America that is traditional, but also calling into question the last 80 years of globalism in American foreign policy. This is a far cry from the Republican Party of Bush- a neoconservative foreign policy, pro-big business (which they still mostly are in policy, but not as much rhetoric.), and theocratic morality politics.

The Democratic Party is basically on another planet too. Bill Clinton’s moderation politics are taking a beating from the activists. “Safe, legal, and rare” to describe abortion policy would almost be disqualifying in a primary. The party has moved a solid step left on everything from taxes to guns, from abortion to criminal justice reform, on health care to LGBT rights. Would a Democrat reiterate Bill Clinton’s pronunciation that “the era of big government is over” in a 2022 State of the Union? Would they even consider a balanced budget, such as Clinton oversaw, as a positive? While the reality is that the Democrats have not really moved crazy left as a practical matter, the rhetoric has shifted dramatically. The Democratic Party is abandoning much of the strategic practicality of Clinton and Obama for more ideological, direct appeal to what it sees as it’s base.

Perhaps that is the biggest shift in American politics over the past 18 years- who each party views as it’s base. When I started in politics in 2002, the Rust Belt man in a Ford pick-up truck was a Democrat, or at least a swing voter. The wealthier suburbs of Philadelphia were moderate Republicans. Now that’s switched. For all the talk of rural Republicans and urban, more diverse Democrats, perhaps those changes are minor compared to the exchange of blue collar whites to Republicans, and educated, white collar whites to Democrats. The Democratic Party is now more Starbucks, the Republicans more Dunkin (for the record, I love both.). The Democratic Party is adapting to a coalition of white collar suburban white people joining African-Americans and most every other group that is considered a minority. The Republicans, under the colorful rhetoric of Trump, are welcoming blue collar, lower middle class, Rust Belt whites to their billionaires and traditionalists.

The biggest driver of the political shifts is the way the two parties now view America’s place in the world. Donald Trump’s new base has driven the Republicans away from international trade deals, rhetorically against cheap foreign labor, to want out of NATO, to want to withdraw from treaties such as KORUS, and to want out of conflicts in places like Syria and Afghanistan. The basic tenet of the Trump doctrine is “why are we paying for it” with regards to the world, and for a desire to spend that money at home. Just as dramatic is the shift on the Democratic side. The Democratic Party is suddenly the party of free trade, foreign intervention in places like Syria, and arguing for at least a more liberal border. Republicans are increasingly uninterested in international collaboration with allies like Canada, South Korea, and our traditional EU allies. Democrats aren’t feeling so great about collaborating with nations they see as against their values, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, or Italy. This shift has had impacts both in foreign and domestic policy.

All of this has left some people out of place in their own political parties. Michael Bloomberg, mentioned above, has gone from a Republican, to an independent, to a Democrat. The Blue Dog Democrats are virtually gone away, while there aren’t pro-choice Republicans in Congress anymore. Those pieces of their coalitions have left them, eliminating the base of support for most of those members. They’ve gradually lost primaries to more ideological candidates, and lost general elections because their own voters abandoned them.

The major question for the future is if the left-right divide will break down- will the Bernie voters and Trump voters eventually link up? Both are populists that want to shock the system. One took over their party, the other has not been able to so far. Could they eventually all be in the Republican camp if Democrats continue to reject populism?

We are living through a realignment in our politics that is changing both coalitions. The political parties are not what they were when I registered. If you had told me in 2001 that a Republican President would be for isolationist trade and foreign policies, and that I’d oppose that President like I do, I would not believe you. So imagine America by 2040.

In Virginia, View Post-Trump Politics

Like most people, I was horrified by the med school yearbook photo of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. Let me correct that- like most political people. While nearly every major Democrat in Virginia and America has called for Northam to resign, as well as some Republicans, Northam is still living in the Governor’s mansion in Richmond. He’s totally unmoved by the calls for his head. Even after his disaster of a press conference on Saturday, he’s still in office.

So what the hell are we going to do about it? Already the story is being pushed off the front pages, first by the Super Bowl, and now by the State of the Union. More people will announce 2020 Presidential bids, further burying the story. Soon, it will be forgotten outside of Virginia, then even inside. Northam can’t run for re-election anyway, and he will become less and less relevant. What are you going to do about it? Impeach him? Why would the Republicans go along with that, and make his Lt. Governor an incumbent Governor for 2021? They’ll argue he committed no crime- and they’re right. Even if we assume Northam is a full blown racist/Ku Klux Klan man currently, that’s only socially objectionable, not criminal. The picture is incredibly offensive and unworthy of a public official- but what are you going to do about it?

And how about that Lt. Governor, Justin Fairfax? On Friday night, he was the darling of the American left, which of course meant the Republican Party wanted to destroy him. By Sunday night an old accusation of sexual assault was pushed out into the open against Fairfax. Sure, there was nothing but the accuser’s word against his, but Republicans took absolute glee in noting the similarity in this case and that of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Even worse, some are noting that national Democrats shoved Al Franken for a lesser set of accusations, but aren’t pushing Fairfax out. Is any of this fair? No. Are the cases the same? No. It really doesn’t matter to these folks.

But does any of this matter? I guess it depends who you ask. Remember that just about a month before the 2016 Presidential Election the “Access Hollywood Tape” dropped against Donald Trump, where we could hear him say he could “grab ’em by the pussy,” talking about women in general. Against a backdrop of many sexual assault accusations, many assumed he was finished. National Republicans (not for the first time either) called on Trump to drop out. There were open talks about removing him from the GOP ticket. What did the outrage, in many cases for Trump, actually matter? It didn’t. He kept running. He won. In fact, his vote share (46%) was higher than his personal approval, average polling, or really any poll was showing him. Trump simply soldiered on, and all we can tell from the data is that more people were willing to vote for him than we had envisioned beforehand.

In Ralph Northam we see someone adapting to the post-Trump norm, while in Al Franken we don’t. Trump bet that the public didn’t care that he was a bad guy. Northam seems to be taking that same bet. Franken took a throwback to the pre-Trump days, when shame could push a politician out. The idea was that your first act towards forgiveness was to go away. Ralph Northam seems to get that if he resigns, he’s gone for good. Like Trump, he’s betting that people will move on. My guess is that if it works, you are seeing the new norm.

In Justin Fairfax, you are also seeing a challenge to the new norms. Republicans learned in the Franken case that the Democratic Party wanted to be “zero tolerance” on sexual impropriety, and that Franken left because of that. They don’t have the same level of proof in the case of Lt. Governor Fairfax, and so far they have been less successful. If they fail in this case, perhaps this doesn’t become the norm.

In the age of the internet and changing standards of what is and isn’t accepted, I suspect this current mess in Richmond is going to be common for a little while. Perhaps society will eventually become more forgiving of past transgressions and accusations, perhaps they will be even less so. It seems very clear to me though that if Northam survives this week as Governor, he probably survives his term. If he survives his term, the tradition of resigning amidst scandal will be the latest casualty of the Trump world. Right now, I’d probably bet on that.

A Bold, New World View, Part 11- Regionalism Still Matters

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.

Read Part 4 here.

Read Part 5 here.

Read Part 6 here.

Read Part 7 here.

Read Part 8 here.

Read Part 9 here.

Read Part 10 here.

Who is the Democratic base? This has been the central debate between Hillary and Bernie supporters since 2016. Hillary supporters largely argued that women and African-Americans, and most specifically African-American women, as well as Latinos, made up the “base” of the Democratic Party. Bernie supporters argued that the base were the most feverish ideological leftists in the party. I think Hillary supporters were wrong only in being overly general. I think Bernie supporters are just wrong. The Hillary “base” is slightly too small, unequally distributed, and ignores regionalism. The Bernie coalition is just not a majority, and probably never will be.

I don’t believe either political party has what amounts to a national base. Different political issues animate different regions of the country, and the demographics change dramatically. Even within regions there can be dramatic shifts from places like North Philadelphia to suburban Willow Grove, just minutes into the suburbs. Democrats can’t “nationalize” the question of their base. To be fair, Republicans can’t either, even though their demographic of voter is mostly the same everywhere.

Hillary’s defined base worked well enough to win the nomination, largely because it worked in the South. Hillary had a lot of success in 2008 in the west by winning the Latino base there. Hillary walloped President Obama in the Rust Belt states because she won the “labor/working class” demographic, the same people she lost badly to both Bernie and Trump in 2016. Every region of the country has it’s own “base Democratic” voting block. There are overlapping issues of economic fairness and access to opportunity, but the animating issues change. Labor issues are huge in Wisconsin, but voting rights are huge in Georgia. I can’t imagine a Democratic nominee opposed to either one, but the fight at this point seems to be over which set of issues get to be center stage.

What about the Republican Party though? Right-wing populism dominates in Appalachia and the South, energy issues in Texas and much of the Plains and Southwest, while tax cuts in the North. Rather than fighting over whether the tax cuts for their Northeast donors should take precedence over union busting in Wisconsin, or a border wall for Arizona and Kentucky, they just say all of the above. If their Wyoming Congresswoman wants to talk guns and energy exploration while their Massachusetts Governor talks tax cuts, they’re fine. A national nominee from the GOP will be expected to cut taxes, appoint conservatives to the judiciary, spend on the military, protect gun rights, and be tough on immigration- even though these positions make no sense together at times.

Regionalism also does a lot to explain elected official behavior too. Bernie Sanders famously was less tough on gun manufacturers than Hillary fans wanted. Cory Booker is more pharma friendly than many Midwestern members of Congress, but many of them are friendly towards agribusiness in a way he doesn’t have to be. Members of Congress represent the people who elect them, in fact all elected officials do. For that reason, almost no one has a 100% partisanship score in Congress. It would be nice to be ideologically pure, but most American voters aren’t ideological.

It is a fun, but almost always overlooked fact that the United States has no national election. Even Presidential elections are really 50 individual state elections (plus DC), where you have to win the electoral college, not the popular vote. Inevitably, the concerns of your district or state will occasionally trump the ideological concerns of your party. If you want to stay in office very long, you’d be best to hear that warning.

A Bold, New World View, Part 9- Of Class and Identity

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.

Read Part 4 here.

Read Part 5 here.

Read Part 6 here.

Read Part 7 here.

Read Part 8 here.

“How are you going to vote to make her President?”

That used to be the main identity-based criticism of voting for Hillary Clinton that I heard. I heard it from other middle-class white guys who were basically flabbergasted that I was going to vote for Hillary Clinton for President. Many of them voted for Barack Obama at least once, but just couldn’t quite get there with Hillary Clinton. Some were explicit in their opposition to a woman being elected President. Others were not, and instead shrouded their opposition in many of *specifically* (not really) anti-Hillary stuff- she’s not likable, she’s mean, she’s crooked, she’s too ambitious, even that she “killed people.” Hillary Clinton had a “man problem,” and I’m sorry to say that *she* (to be read *they*) never fixed that.

The thing is, that discussion of identity politics and Hillary was, at least for me, a more 2015 conversation. By 2016, there was a new, leftist line of attack- that we should reject her “identity” politics in favor of a “class” argument. They argued that Hillary was distracting from the true division in America, class, because she supported corporations and the rich. Setting aside what I would call the obvious errors in their assessment of her and her political positions, their main argument had become that Democrats need to become “leftists” in a global sense, and take on corporations and the rich in traditional class warfare. Sure, they were blinded to some of the sexism in their rhetoric, but I found their rhetoric dangerous in the sense that it sought to separate class and identity, and put them in oppositional positions. This has the potential to be lethal. It only makes sense if you are trying to take an untenable position like socialism, and make it “mainstream.” Unfortunately that attempt did at least have moderate success.

Identity is who you are. Class is how you fit into the society you’re in. Everyone has an identity, and a class. Most people have a pretty decent idea of their identity. Many people don’t have a realistic idea of their class, because they have different definitions for it. Some folks, like the Bernie-leftists, define their class entirely by economic variables. Trump-ists over-value their personal characteristics in their identity- their race, gender, religion, and sexuality, namely. These extremes allow both groups to misidentify themselves with their candidates. This is what allows people in trailer homes to identify with their fellow white guy, who happens to be a born billionaire. It also gives both sides the ability to ignore all inconvenient facts, whether it’s the “socialist” paying his wife thousands of dollars a month from the campaign and buying another lake house, or the billionaire signing bills to cut his own taxes, while trying to take their health care.

The reason I vote for candidates with different backgrounds and experiences is that I know I share common needs and wants with what they are proposing. I don’t vote for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton because I hate white guys (I am one), or feel white guilt, or even because I necessarily prefer that people “like me” lose. I vote for them because they aspire to solve real problems that effect me. The truth is, the things I want to see the government do are more supported by women, African-Americans, Latinos, and generally oppressed people. Much of this is class recognition- I realize I share a lot more in common with them than wealthy, elite people, but also than rural white people and uneducated white people. A part of that class recognition is not assigning any higher value to my whiteness, maleness, or straightness. I realize those things are not making my life better.

The effort to pit class and identity against each other is foolish and misguided. There are specific issues to each identity that are unique and specific to them. Class is the weapon that should help us to understand and empathize with those different than us. One of the most alarming things to come of 2016 was the disconnect among leftists, that they could understand politics through a class-only lends, and be identity blind. If that becomes a trend, it could mean terrible things for America.