My Gosh, Maybe They WERE That Stupid! Romney GOTV an Extension of GOP Politics

Last weekend Politico posted a piece by Maggie Haberman titled Enthusiasm is Key in Ohio Ground Game. Of course, the title shows that the article is in essence dead wrong, that it wasn’t analysis, it was a story, political coverage as theater criticism, because  enthusiasm is not the key to any ground game. Enthusiasm makes it a heck of a lot easier to implement your ground game, but you can often make up for low enthusiasm with more money; you just pay for your ground game entirely rather than implement it with volunteers.  What’s most important for a ground game is sufficient resources and a sound plan led by skilled staff. That’s why this line stunned me:

The Romney campaign says it’s exceeded its weekly door-knocking goals, and bases its turnout model on people who have voted in every election, as well as those who registered to vote in the primaries…

I tweeted that line, and several experienced field people who follow me on Twitter had the same incredulous reaction: No. Way. that could be the Romney strategy. The consensus that emerged between us was that the article had to be wrong, that there was no way the Romney campaign’s plan was to focus on turning out people who if the campaign did nothing would still turn out on their own. Any rational GOTV program focuses on people who you have good reason to think will vote for your side, but who, if you don’t push them to vote, may not make it to the polls or get their absentee ballot mailed in and counted.

Well, as the last few days have shown, there’s actually good reason to think the Romney campaign actually was deluded about the composition of the electorate, and they may–I’m still having a hard time accepting they were this estranged from realty–they may have thought there was little they needed to do, that there were so many people who hadn’t voted in 2008 that now so hated Obama that Romney’s turnout would take care of itself, and–and here’s their bigger error–there were more people who shared their view of Obama than there were who believed it was worth sticking with the president for another four years.

As a matter of empiricism, this was obviously a staggering failure. But it’s not something that was caused by, or can be fixed by, technique and technology. This failure is an extension of the problem at the heart of today’s Republican party: It’s a bunch of white people, many more men than women, who are angry about change and who refuse to adapt to the America that is more cosmopolitan, culturally and racially diverse than the America of their nostalgic fantasies, where white male privilege was the unquestioned norm.

Back when David Souter announced his retirement, Barack Obama mentioned that one of the qualities he wanted in his nominee was empathy. The Republicans went crazy. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick wondered “when the simple act of recognizing that you are not the only one in the room [had] become confused with lawlessness, activism, and social engineering?” It was a rhetorical question, but there actually is an important answer: it was in the 1950′s and 1960′s and the years since, when the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, and–these two are the most neglected but most important foundations of the culture wars–the feminist movement and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965–profoundly changed America. White men, and culturally conservative white women, were not denied a place in the room that now included brown and gay and foreign-born and non-Christian Americans. But rather than agreeing to “share the room” with people different from then, too many white Americans viewed any room not belonging exclusively to them as run wild with, as well as created by, lawlessness, activism and social engineering. They did not want to legitimize the fact that they were not the only one in the room.

The Republican party’s politics of exclusion, wedge issues, race-baiting and culture wars are based on appealing to the shrinking share of Americans who don’t want to share the room. Now it looks like their polling and field organizing are also based on the assumption that they’re the only ones in the room.

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Labor Day

Invariably on Labor Day there is a lot of reflection on the violence that’s been directed at American workers acting collectively as a labor union. Every American schoolchild learns about The Boston Massacre, not about scores or hundreds of massacres of American colonists, because there weren’t scores of massacres of colonists at the hands of the British. But the history of unions and collective actions by workers in the U.S. includes scores of major massacres.

Luckily such massacres are rare today (although that’s in part because barely 10% of the workforce is unionized, compared to roughly a third in the mid-1950′s). But don’t assume violence against workers is a thing of the distant past. As I saw Labor Day weekend in 1995, there are still employers who will beat and possibly even kill workers who stand together and demand fair, equitable compensation and respect and a voice in the workplace.

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Ryan’s Personal Worst

Paul Ryan said he ran a marathon under three hours. Runners World magazine showed that he did not, that he has run one marathon, in 1990, and his time was 4:01:25. One reaction to Ryan being caught saying something that wasn’t true is that it’s nothing that voters will care about, that it’s not a substantive like the substantive lies in his speech at the Republican convention. I think that is horribly wrong, and not only because his statement had another lie that I haven’t seen anyone else catch. This lie about marathoning–and a closer looks makes it difficult to see it as anything other than a deliberate lie– may turn out to be the best way for voters to see him for what he is: a person and a policy maker concerned with marketing over accomplishment. It is also a lie that exemplifies the Randian arrogance and self-delusion at the core of Paul Ryan’s public image.

The New Yorker’s Nicholas Thompson says Ryan’s time, for a twenty year old, was “entirely average; in fact, for the race that Ryan ran, it was below average.” That’s not really true. To finish a marathon, at any age, is not average. It takes preparation, at a bare minimum three or four months of disciplined fitness work, as well as focus and an ability to push yourself to finish the race. A 4:01 marathon is an achievement of which anyone should be proud.

But the difference between a 4:01 marathon and a sub-three hour marathon isn’t a quibble over a workout time. It’s a difference between what someone did, and who someone is. For most men, breaking three hours in the marathon requires at least two or three years of serious training. It’s not simply getting in to shape, it’s training: probably 40 to 80 miles a week for most of the year, regular 12 to 15 mile runs, attention to diet, rigorous adherence to a schedule, consistent and sufficient rest and sacrificing some indulgences that give people pleasure. A man with a time of 4:01.25 is someone who has run a marathon. A man with a marathon time better than 3:00:00 is a marathoner.


For someone who doesn’t run, the difference between a four-hour marathon and a two-fifty-something may seem inconsequential, and easy to confuse. But for someone who does run seriously, it’s immense. To make an analogy to an activity that Ryan is unquestionably good at, it’s like the difference between doing twenty-five pushups (not bad!) and a hundred (holy smokes!)

That’s an OK analogy, but it’s comparing things one is capable of doing. A marathon is a performance, and your time is the level of your achievement. What Ryan did was akin to someone with a bachelor’s degree, who thus knows the magnitude of the difference, saying she has a PhD. Or, like someone elected to the Wisconsin House of Representatives telling someone who wouldn’t be likely to catch the lie that he was a member of the United States House of Representatives.

And for those who might still believe that Ryan’s tongue simply slipped, look again at what he said:

H. H.: Are you still running?
P. R.: Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or [less].
H. H.: But you did run marathons at some point?
P. R.: Yeah, but I can’t do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.
H. H.: I’ve just gotta ask, what’s your personal best?
P. R.: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.
H. H.: Holy smokes. All right, now you go down to Miami University…
P. R.: I was fast when I was younger, yeah.

Note that Ryan didn’t say he couldn’t run another marathon, but that he doesn’t run marathons anymore, that he “had a” personal best, which conveys the meaning that it wasn’t a single event, but a period of time where he ran marathons, plural. How would the term “personal best” have meaning if you did that thing only once? How could he run only one marathon but mistakenly remember it as more than one? Why didn’t he say that time is also his personal worst?

Paul Krugman points out the obvious: Ryan lies about policy, so it shouldn’t be a surprise he lied about his marathoning. But Krugman makes another important point, about how his image has helped Ryan get away with lying:

[T]he response from the Beltway [that Ryan's budget did not add up] was that it can’t be true, because he comes across as such an honest, sincere fellow. So little things indicating that this character judgment was all wrong do matter.

I don’t know why the usual suspects continue to have such faith in their ability to sense character, although I can guess: it privileges those who can actually have one-on-one conversations over those who just, um, actually analyze policy proposals. I mean, any old blogger can analyze policy.

Ryan gets away with policy lies because the bloviators and very serious people of Washington ignore what he does, and focus on who they believe he is. They annointed Ryan as the “serious” Republican, so they can’t fathom that he might be perpetrating a fraud. They overlook him putting out a “budget” with no numbers, and when pressed on it blithely said it was just a “marketing document.” They overlook him being forced to admit the Romney-Ryan campaign hadn’t run the numbers of their budget proposal. “He’s a numbers guy, a wonk,” they think. “He wouldn’t be that brazenly dishonest.”

Ryan has cultivated an image of a serious intellectual, someone conversant in philosophy, a man of ideas. But is there any foundation for this belief? He did not graduate from college with any distinctions, and never did post-graduate work. He has no significant writings. His only think tank work was as a speechwriter/publicist. He presents himself as a serious and devout Catholic, but when he invoked Catholic social teachings to defend his budget, Catholic social teachers showed he is clueless about Catholic social teachings. And he presents himself as a player in Congress–and in terms of messaging he is–but in over twelve years in Congress he has had only two piece of legislation become law.

When Al Gore got in trouble for seemingly stretching the truth while on the stump, it was invariably a case of Gore trying too hard to connect with a voter, to demonstrate to them “I understand you, and I’m actually more like you than you may realize, I’m one of you.” In contrast, the image Ryan cultivates, and that the DC bloviators suck up, is straight out of Ayn Rand: “I come from the same place as you, but I work really hard, I’ve accomplished more than you, I’m better than you.”

Now he wants us to believe he’s faster than us too.


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Election Model Fundamentalists

Over at Monkeyblog John Sides is taking whacks at Charlie Cook for not understanding the fundamentals. I feel no imperative to defend Charlie Cook. But reading Sides I’m again struck by what I think is the overconfidence of many of the political science-types in election models for US presidential elections.

In chiding Cook, Sides suggests readers check out a recent post by Sean Trende. I won’t get in to the details of the various economic factors Trende thinks are useful in modeling the election. But look at the years:

Including this year that’s fourteen elections. That may seen like a decent sample to some, but is it? Are elections with an incumbent different than those without an incumbent? I think most people would agree they are. Only nine of those fourteen included an incumbent.

But are all incumbents the same? I think most would again agree that there’s a difference between an incumbent elected President and a former Vice President who ascended in to office due to the death or resignation of the President. If we compare only elected incumbents, the sample size shrinks to seven. [For the sake of the discussion I'm counting George W Bush's 2000 loss as him being elected President.]  That’s Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama.

Does it matter if there’s a third-party or independent candidate pulling significant votes from one or both of the major-party candidates? I think most would agree that it does. Wallace in 1968, Anderson in 1980, Perot in 1992 and 1996, Nader in 1996 and 2000, they all affected the election, in part by allowing plurality wins. And in fact, other than Reagan’s 50.75% performance against Carter in 1980, there was a plurality winner in every one of those races.

It would also seem that the strength of the incumbent’s first victory might be a factor in his reelection attempt. Nixon was put in the White House despite drawing only 43% in 1968, but he won big in 1972. Similarly, Reagan’s modest 50% victory in a three-way race was followed by his eighteen point reelection victory. But Bill Clinton’s six point improvement on his reelection still left him under 50%. George W Bush only improved three point over the 47% he garnered in 2000.  And Carter followed his 50% win with a nine point loss. It’s hard to conclude there were gains or declines after serving a term in office when what was required to win was so dramatically different between the elections, especially when the effects to the electoral map–such as Wallace winning states in the South, or Nader making competitive states like Minnesota and Washington that would otherwise have been easy Gore wins–significantly change the strategic contours of the race.

In 2008 Barack Obama received 52.87% of the vote. Only Johnson, Nixon (reelection), Reagan (reelection) and George HW Bush received a higher share of the vote. Johnson only ran once, and Nixon and Reagan were running for reelection but after receiving a smaller share of the vote in three-way races.

That leaves George HW Bush, who received 53.37% of the vote, as the only incumbent candidate since 1960 seeking reelection who in his first election got a higher percentage of the vote than did Obama. Bush obviously lost, which one could think augurs badly for Obama. But Bush also lost to a candidate who received only 43% of the vote. If Romney receives only 43% of the vote it will be a slaughter.

So, looking at the last fourteen elections, we see no parallels to this race, in which the incumbent was elected in to office in a race without a major independent or third-party candidate, and ran for reelection in a race without a major independent or third-party candidate.

I don’t believe models are useless. In fact, I think it’s worthwhile to look for economic factors that correlate with past election results. But in a sample so small, with literally no previous election since Eisenhower involving an elected incumbent whose campaigns were both free of any spoiler candidates, the claims for the models have to be so modest that they should be seen as little more than a curiosity. Some of the models may pick out the right factors, but it won’t be because there’s any meaningful statistical correlation between elections. It’s been 54 years since we’ve had an election with the same fundamentals of incumbency and size of the field. But that election was at the dawning of the TV age, when African-Americans could not vote in the south, and when the Latino and Asian populations were miniscule. You can’t model this election with any reliability when it’s profoundly and fundamentally different than every previous election in our history.

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Not the First Time Ryan has Offered a Budget that Didn’t Include a Budget

Before Mitt Romney picked him to be his running mate, the DC press corps anointed Paul Ryan the “serious” Republican. So on one level it is astonishing that the supposed leading Republican budget expert would be forced to admit that, despite referring to Romney-Ryan budget, there in fact is no any Romney-Ryan budget, because, according to Ryan, they “haven’t run the numbers.”

A budget that hasn’t been added up doesn’t add up.

Making a pillar of your campaign a budget you’re forced to admit does not exist is worthy of entry in the World Championship of Chutzpah. Unless the press is far more inept that I think I believe they are, this will drain even more of the Romney campaign’s  nearly-depleted reserves of credibility. But it’s not as if Paul Ryan hasn’t previously done almost the exact same thing.

In 2009, as he began the process of trying to pass his first budget, President Obama criticized the Republicans for not offering an alternative to his budget and instead engaging only in obstruction. This charge made the Republicans squawk, so they responding with a press conference at which they made a big deal about offering a budget, saying they had a budget, announcing their budget, unveiling their budget…and then Paul Ryan admitted that the press conference was a sham, because they didn’t have a budget, but really, honest, if everyone would wait a week they’d have one. [Hilariously, they chose their second unveiling on April Fool's Day.]

What did Ryan say about the sham? He characterized the Republicans first document as “more of a marketing document, not a budget.”

Yet again, Paul Ryan promised a budget, but at best he’s got a marketing document. We shouldn’t expect any substance from Paul Ryan, since he doesn’t demand any of his party or of himself.

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Trump’s Curve-less Learning Curve



Recently, mogul, reality television star, and huge Anthony Weiner fan Donald Trump Tweeted that he was working on a “big surprise” for the upcoming RNC convention.

Well, we have a hint as to what that surprise might entail.

Last night, Obama impersonator (or “Fauxbama,” if you prefer) Kevin Michel posted a picture posing with Trump, along with a caption urging his Facebook friends to “[b]e sure to watch the Republican National Convention.”

Evidently it doesn’t sound familiar to Trump, but it may to you:

NEW ORLEANS — A Barack Obama impersonator was ushered off the stage after he mocked the Republican presidential hopefuls and joked about the real president’s biracial roots to a room full of conservative activists Saturday.

The Republican Leadership Conference turned the podium over to impersonator Reggie Brown, who drew raucous applause from the GOP’s supporters when he projected lewd photos of Rep. Anthony Weiner, the New York Democrat who just resigned after the furor over his sexually charged online dalliances with a former porn actress and other women.

Brown later played up the mass exodus of advisers to candidate Newt Gingrich’s campaign and said Gingrich’s supporters “are dropping faster than Anthony Weiner’s pants.”

The audience grew more uncomfortable when Brown turned to the candidates who are looking to make Obama a one-term president.


The impersonator joked about Romney’s Mormon faith and about polygamy, and Rep. Michele Bachmann’s tea party support.

Organizers then cut off Brown’s microphone and turned on music. He was shown off the stage.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Republicans evidently haven’t learned their lesson about avoiding Obama impersonators. After all, this is the party that pushed us in to the war in Iraq and, learning absolutely nothing, is eager to push us in to a war with Iran.

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Obama and White Catholics: Why Let Data Interfere With a Good Story?

Politico, from an article arguing that Paul Ryan could help Mitt Romney win over Catholic voters:

The administration still has some work to do to win over white Catholics nationally, though. While a Pew Research Center poll published last week showed Obama leading 51 percent to 42 percent among Catholics, that figure was inflated by Obama’s wide percentage among Latino Catholics in noncompetitive states. Among white Catholics, many of whom are clustered in the Rust Belt, Romney led Obama 49 percent to 44 percent.

Yeah, wow, that five point deficit shows that Obama has a lot of work to do with white Catholics to get back to his 2008 performance among white Catholics…whom he lost by five points:

Obama, who is polling three points behind his 2008 performance among white Catholics, is five points behind Romney among white Catholics, which is the same margin by which Obama lost white Catholics to McCain, who ran three points better than Romney is currently polling. But we’re told Obama has a lot of work to do among white Catholics.

If Obama doesn’t do anything to cut that five point gap among white Catholics, he may have to settle for beating Romney by the same margin by which he beat McCain.

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