Congressional Races: Democrats Should Go For Broke

It’s the Friday before the election. There’s little that can happen between now and the close of polls Tuesday night that will change the results of the presidential election. The Clinton campaign could fail to effectively execute its get out the vote operation (unlikely). There could be some massive external event, like terrorism or a cyber attack (unlikely but unfortunately far from implausible). But short of such unlikely events, Hillary Clinton should win, probably by a comfortable margin. Similarly, Democrats should win enough races to flip control and put Charles Schumer in charge of the Senate.

The House of Representatives is probably as settled a matter as the White House and Senate. Gerrymandering, incumbency, Republican money shifting from Trump to down-ballot races, and few Republican-held districts in suburban areas with college educated Republicans and Independents made it hard for Democrats to get control. It got even harder when Donald Trump ratcheted down his attacks on Republicans, including Paul Ryan, and FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress about something that may or may not pertain to Clinton’s emails energized Republicans and probably tamped down the size of Clinton’s victory, thus minimizing a coattail effect. The few things that Democrats could do to change results. Nevertheless, Democrats should go for broke and try to win the House.

A Republican House could be catastrophic. But the risks of a last-minute lunge for the House are minimal. With a likely surge in Latino voters, and the possibility of defections by Republican women and the possible effects that could have down-ballot, they might even get lucky. Control of the House may determine the fate of Hillary Clinton’s presidency. A Democratic House would kill the possibility of endless investigations, and could drive a stake in the heart of the current incarnation of the Republican party. For the next four days, Democrats should do everything they can to win the House.

A last-minute drive for the House is severely limited by what Democrats can’t do. It is too late to get on TV or to send mail. Voting in many races is nearly done, because of early voting or, as in Oregon and Colorado, elections conducted almost entirely by mail-in ballot. It is too late to build a field operation where none exists. But there are a few things Democrats could do to nibble in to Republican margins. And a few places where Democrats would have a better chance of surprising Republicans.

Most of what Democrats could do at this point is over the phones. And that’s usually not that effective. But one possibility is using phone vendors with well-trained callers delivering a persuasion message to a narrowly universe of voters targeted as mostly likely to change their vote, or to ensure they vote for the Democrat rather than stop voting at President. Vendors who do these calls are mostly at capacity already, but some reserve extra capacity for campaigns with few ways to spend unexpected windfalls.

Robocalls with recorded messages have a very small effect. But they’re dirt cheap, can be set up and in the field in a matter of a few hours, and messages from, say, Bernie Sanders or Michelle Obama or a powerful celebrity backer might be noticed and add a few votes to the Democrats’ column. It is probably too later for digital adds, but if not, they could be tossed in to the mix.

Another thing Democrats can do is use the press. Clinton, Tim Kaine, and their main surrogates (Barack and Michelle Obama and Joe Biden) have been using Clinton rallies to take shots at Republican senators. These hits, such as the President’s swipes at Marco Rubio, have been noted in press coverage. Hits on House Republicans could be worked in to their speeches. And people like Sanders or Biden could even do call in radio interviews in the markets of the targeted Congressmen to make the argument against their reelection.

Many Senate and Congressional Republicans will have to run several points ahead of Trump to win. Some voters will pick Clinton because they loathe Trump, then vote Republican for Congress to constrain Clinton. But recent Democracy Corps poll by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg showed a big opportunity for Congressional Democrats. On the generic ballot, Democrats had a 47-39 edge. But when asked if they wanted the next Congress to work with Clinton to address the country’s problems, or to stop her from advancing her agenda, working together was favored 58-38. Highlighting their connection with Trump and criticizing them for vowing to block Clinton from accomplishing anything could be a potent message for Clinton voters pondering splitting their ticket. The Greenberg poll was before the Comey letter, so that message may not work as well now. But if Dems are targeting races that they know they would otherwise lose, it’s worth the effort.

Finally, there’s the matter of where to focus. Democrats would avoid states that have already mostly voted. Their efforts would have less of an effect in presidential battleground states, where the Clinton campaign already has massive field organizing and get out the vote operations. But there are numerous potentially competitive races in New York, where Schumer isn’t seriously challenged, and the presidential candidates aren’t campaigning, a the little bit of campaigning would have a slightly larger effect.

There are individual districts scattered around, in Kansas, in Minnesota, in New Jersey, where Democrats might steal a seat. But the big pool of potential seats in California. We might know Clinton won while polls in California are still open, possibly depressing Republican turnout. But the main thing depressing Republican turnout will be a Senate race between two Democrats, and no chance Trump could win California. With a likely surge in Latino turnout, plus growth of Latino populations in many Republican congressional districts, Democrats could get lucky. They could dump phone calls in to nearly every district, regardless of how Republican it is, as long as there is a Democrat on the ballot.

Getting lucky is probably the only way Democrats will win the House. Maybe the odds are currently 2%, and everything they could do would only increase the odds to 3%. But given that a Republican-controlled House will probably lead us in to a Constitutional crisis, it is worth the shot.

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Trump & Mortality

Ned Resnikoff has a good piece on how fear of death may help Donald Trump. You should check it out. When I read it, it reminded me that a few days before the 2014 election I wrote a piece on this phenomenon–the social science theory is called “terror management theory”–for a now-defunct media outlet which ended up not running it. Rather than let it die on my hard drive, I figured I might as well post the piece here. I didn’t include the introductory sections, about the context of the 2014 elections. 

ISIS and ebola are scary. And Republicans are using them—even combining them—to criticize Democrats, especially by linking them to Obama, who they imply is failing to keep America safe.

After 9/11, the American Psychological Association asked researchers Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski to write a book on how Americans would respond to the attacks. Beginning in the 1980’s, the three conducted experiments that became the basis of what they named terror management theory (TMT). Reminding people of their mortality often makes them consciously anxious. That anxiety eventually fades, sometimes in as little as a second or two. But, according to TMT, a subconscious awareness of mortality lingers longer, and a person’s psychological response is to reinforce their worldview. They will think more favorably toward those with whom they share their traits and values, and less favorably toward those they perceive as outsiders. Hundreds of experiments in several countries have produced results that support the theory. Interventions as subtle as interviewing subjects outside a funeral home have produced significant results.

For their post-9/11 research the Solomon team used TMT to examine political behavior. In one experiment, subjects were presented three statements by hypothetical candidates running for governor. Compared with the group that was not primed to be aware of their mortality, those made aware of death were much more likely to favor a swaggering , charismatic appeal to shared values than appeals that were pragmatic and task-oriented, or about relationships and respect for all. Later experiments showed stronger support for Bush when subjects were reminded of their mortality. Solomon believes that the 2004 election was influenced by factors such as terror alerts, the Osama Bin Laden video, and the Bush campaign’s focus on terrorism.

It is not clear, however, that reminders of mortality remain long after the exposure, and how much, if any, they effect voting behavior. TMT also does not account for the ranking of priorities in how people vote. African Americans, for instance, may be as susceptible as caucasians to a TMT effect, but it may do little or nothing to override their strong allegiance to the Democratic party. And appeals to charisma do not work only with conservatives. TMT research shows that people who lean liberal, when made aware of their mortality, will rally as strongly to a charismatic liberal leader as the experiment subjects rallied to Bush. Fear may rally both parties’ bases and offset the effects. Even a small fear effect could be the insufficient but necessary factor that decides an election. But there are structural and ideological reasons that fear may not deliver Republicans their senate majority.

Bush was an executive, whereas the Republicans are tying to use fear for legislative offices. People yearning for a strong leader aren’t inspired by “elect me to the Senate where I will issue strongly worded statements objecting to Obama’s failure to implement a travel ban between West Africa and the U.S.” And with Bush in the White House, conservatives could champion military action, robust surveillance, and favoring government coercion over civil liberties. But most conservatives do not trust any of those powers in the hands of a man many see as subverting American power and values.

Even if Republicans held the White House, bombing would not stave off ebola. To prevent an ebola epidemic we need experts, and bureaucrats, and properly-funded government agencies that can force people to do things they prefer not to do. Even ISIS is not entirely a military conflict; for instance, the Treasury Department is trying to choke off their revenue from oil smuggling. Government solutions are a problem for Republicans, because for forty years Republicans have told Americans to fear the government itself.

This may be why Republican attacks on the competence of the Federal government appear to have failed to keep ebola fear at fever pitch. Focus groups with mothers in Louisiana and North Carolina have find women feeling “the world continues to be sad and dangerous.” And there is evidence that with small but important slivers of the electorate that problems such as the surge of children at the border and the events in Ferguson MO may have hurt Democrats. But Americans who believe Ebola is a threat to the US are unlikely to believe it is a threat to their own community or family, and recent polls show fear of ebola subsiding and trust in the federal government’s ability to handle ebola growing.

Democrats may do poorly on Tuesday if enough voters have an unusually heightened sense of their mortality. But they may hold on to the Senate if Republican message on the government is ineffective, and if voters aren’t scared, but just angry. And sad.


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Nevada Democratic Convention: The Goal Isn’t Process, The Goal Is To Win

Jon Ralston has a meticulously detailed rundown Saturday’s Nevada Democratic Convention. The whole thing is worth a read. As I argued here, while Sanders drifts aimlessly through the rest of the nomination, Clinton’s team cannot work with the DNC, state parties, and other campaigns to set up, fund, and engage coordinated campaigns that might help wipe out Republicans and put Democrats in control of Congress and state governments. What happened Saturday suggests that Sanders’ lingering candidacy is creating an additional problem, a wave of rancor and chaos that could wash over the Democratic convention in July, drowning Democrats chances of a big win in November.

Ralston is no fan of the Clintons. But he’s also no fan of duplicity and counterproductive purity preening, and he respects a political party that operates legally but with brutal effectiveness:

Reid, who endorsed Clinton shortly after helping her win the caucus, has iron-fisted control over the party apparatus and has for many years. Chairwoman Lange answers to him and his operatives, but that does not, as the twisted transitive property of Sandersophiles seems to conclude, mean she is corrupt.

What’s more, the whole arrangement has worked pretty well, turning the Nevada Democratic Party into one of the most formidable organizations in the country. Since 2008, and with last cycle the only blip, the Democratic Party in Nevada has overseen two presidential victories, a miraculous Reid re-election and many lower-ballot wins, thanks to a legal money-laundering operation and a massive voter registration vehicle.

Sometimes the Establishment is, you know, the good guys, especially when, you know, they win a lot of seats. That’s what parties are suppsoed to do, not be outlets for malcontents who have empty social lives or rabble rousers without a cause.

Many Sanders supporters just don’t like Hillary Clinton, or prefer his policies such as single payer health care and free college tuition (and are unbothered by the absence of any plausible theory of how he would pass and implement his proposals). But for some, Sanders is a way of flipping off the Democratic party for no reason other than it’s a political party. That is very juvenile, and very stupid.

Sanders often speaks of his candidacy as a movement. It’s not. It’s the candidacy of a guy who joined the oldest political party in America so he could get easy ballot access and do what he’s done most of his adult life: run for office. Unlike Paul Wellstone, who ran for the U.S. Senate after a primary career in academia but also a full and frenetic life of activism on behalf of good causes and in support of just about every marginalized population or constituency in Minnesota, Bernie Sanders runs for office. He hasn’t done much to help others run for office, much less win elections. He hasn’t trained a cadre of activists. He hasn’t organized communities, or linked organizations in pursuit of common goals, or mobilized people in pursuit of something other than getting him votes. He runs for office, and not much more than that.

That’s all fine. I don’t care if Bernie Sanders actually has built or led a movement. But I’m tired of the confusion between social or political movements, an electoral candidacy, and an effort at political party reform. Sanders claims he’s leading a movement when he’s actually running a campaign, and his most motivated supporters are focused primarily on reforming a party.

But is it a party that needs their reforms? What’s their complaint, and what’s the purpose of their proposals? The goal of a party isn’t about participation, it’s about winning. Those aren’t incompatible goals, and most people believe that a more inclusive Democratic party will win more elections. But ultimately it’s about organizing candidates, resources, and voters to win elections, and the purpose of winning elections is to achieve the power to advance shared goals, grounded in shared principles. Process is important, to provide legitimacy and order and efficiency. But party process not as a means, but as an end, is wankery.

As Michael Kazin recently argued, the Nevada Democratic party is one of the rare examples of an actual political establishment that has significant intra-party power, and as Ralston said, it’s ruthlessly effective not just at controlling it’s internal processes, but at defeating Republicans in a tough partisan environment. If the goal is to defeat Republicans and secure governmental power, and then to use that power to advance the policies supported by your base and for common good, Nevada may be the worst place in America to attack the legitimacy and effectiveness of the state’s Democratic establishment and the institutional Democratic party. Doing so showed that a faction of Sanders’ supporters, who his campaign encouraged, or at least did not constrain, care only about process, are wrong about the process, and don’t care about results. They’re a bunch of wankers, and they need to be shut down. It’s long past time for Sanders to stop blathering about leading a movement, to recognize his proposals for party reform are mostly unnecessary or even counterproductive, and to end his candidacy.

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Groupie, Loitering in Hotel Lobby, Succeeds In Meeting Celebrity


The Domus Santa Marta is a five-story hybrid hotel/dormitory within the Vatican City. It has about 130 rooms, and except during papal conclaves–when it houses all the participating cardinals–about half the rooms are occupied by Vatican staff. It is also used by members of Pontifical Academies when they have meetings and conferences in Rome. It is also used to house guest speakers, such as Henry Kissinger (who, like Bernie Sanders, was invited by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, under the chancellorship of Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, to speak at a PASS conference).

The Vatican has an official residence for the Pope, in the Apostolic Palace. But Francis, breaking with tradition, decided against living in the papal residence, and chose to live instead in Domus Santa Marta. Francis does, however, still use the papal residence in the Apostolic Palace for reciting prayers to people assembled St. Peter’s Square, and for official audiences, such as with visiting church officials and to meet with foreign political leaders.

Today’s daily release from the Vatican press office contained no mention of a meeting between the Pope and Sanders. But press reports based on statements from the Sanders campaign say the Pope and Sanders did briefly speak Saturday morning.

This may have been an intentionally “unintentional” bumping-in-to as humorously depicted in an episode of The West Wing. But I don’t think so. Let’s look closely at the AP report:

Sanders said it was a brief meeting at the papal residence.

The official papal residence, in which Francis does not reside, but where he holds official audiences? No.

Sanders and wife, Jane, stayed overnight at the pope’s residence, the Domus Santa Marta hotel in the Vatican gardens, on the same floor as the pope. They were seen at the hotel reception, carrying their own bags.

So no, it wasn’t an official meeting, it occurred in the same facility which lodges speakers to Papal Academies, be they Bernie Sanders, Jeffrey Sachs, or Henry Kissinger. It is not the official papal residence, but the dormitory/hotel where the pope has chosen to live in community with other Vatican staff.

Was it something done intentionally by the Pope’s personal staff or the Secretariat of State? Possibly, but unlikely. Look where it happened:

Sachs said Sanders and his wife Jane met the pope in the foyer of the domus as the pope was leaving for Greece. The meeting lasted for about five minutes, Sachs said.

If it was an actual meeting, would the papal staff planned for it to take place out in the open? Especially when Sanders’ room was on the same floor as the pope’s? The pope’s staff could have just quietly walked Sanders down the hall and they could have spoken in the pope’s suite. Instead, this happened in an open space, which presumably the pope traverses when walking between his room and the day’s destination, which today included a flight to Greece to join the Patriarch of Constantinople to meet refugees on Lesbos.

This is what likely happened: Jeffrey Sachs, maybe with a tip from Sorondo, knew the pope would have to walk through the lobby of the Domus to get in to his car. So like groupies following a band, or a twelve year old wanting an autograph on a baseball card, they waited in the lobby for an opportunity to stop the celebrity so they could tell people “He met the celebrity!” [but without scoring a photo of the encounter].

If in fact Sanders hung out in the lobby waiting to stop the pope on his way to Greece, it was incredibly self-absorbed and an obnoxious distraction for the pope, who was surely much more focused on addressing a profound crisis (with what turned out to be a dramatic and powerful act). Furthermore, if Sanders waited around to pounce on the pope as he was trying to leave for Greece, is that a dignified way for a presidential candidate to behave? Is this the conduct and judgment of someone who aspires to be the commander in chief of our armed forces and the diplomatic and political leader of the most powerful country on Earth?

UPDATE: The pope’s description pretty much tracks with what I suspected and described above. Sachs tried for a while to say Sanders had been requested, but in a passive way, probably to avoid having to admit what he finally admitted, that Sorondo told Bernie to wait in the hallway with him so they could greet the pope on his way out the door.




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The Papal Invitation That Wasn’t

When I sat at my computer Friday morning and saw that Bernie Sanders had been invited to the Vatican I was stunned. Though I voted for Hillary Clinton in the Illinois primary, my reaction was not the Democratic nomination. I thought “wait, this has to be wrong, there is no way the Vatican could be this dumb, it is bad for the Vatican to get embroiled in a US election.” Through the course of Friday it became obvious that in fact no office that directly represents the Pope or is an important body of the Holy See was involved in inviting Sanders to what turned out to be a conference of mostly academics. On why the Sanders campaign agreed to the trip I cannot say. I’m baffled by the decision. But regarding the machinations behind the decision, it appears the invitation was pushed by economist Jeffrey Sachs and American policy advocate and communications consultant Michael Shank. Sachs and Shank both have at least the appearance of a conflict of interest, and if they did in fact initiate the invitation, their actions undermined the interests of both Bernie Sanders and the Catholic Church.

To understand why the invitation and the intrigue around it are so weird it’s helpful to understand a few things about the institutions involved. “The Vatican” can mean many different things, and never all of them at once. Roughly speaking, the Holy See is the ecclesial, administrative, doctrinal, and diplomatic authority of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church. The Pope is its head. An administrative body, the Curia, with a few thousand members, including some lay-people but with senior officials all clergy appointed by the Pope, are in charge of a web of bureaucracies that govern the Church. These bureaucracies and other important bodies—such as the Vatican museums and library, and St Peter’s Cathedral—are located within Vatican City, which since 1929 is the recognized sovereign territory of the Holy See. In the narrowest sense, “the Vatican” is like referring to the CIA as “Langley” or the US auto industry as “Detroit.” It is a sovereign territory, but it’s more a place, than the institution, which is the Holy See. Though a city-state, the Vatican does not conduct diplomacy; diplomacy is conducted by the Holy See. It has never sought full state status, but the Holy See has Permanent Observer status at the United Nations.

Bodies that conduct diplomacy generally avoid taking sides in the elections of other countries, in particular when they can do little or nothing to influence the outcome. (But not always.) So that was the first indication something wasn’t right about the supposed invitation of Sanders to come to meet with the Pope.

It also was strange that such an important announcement would be made not by the Papal Secretariat of State or the Pope’s press office, but by Sanders, as an aside, on some morning talk shows. On The View, he even said he would be meeting with the Pope. Furthermore, on Friday the Vatican released a long-awaited papal encyclical, Amoris Laetitia, on the Church and the family. It is inconceivable that the Vatican would drop a political bombshell like inviting Sanders on a day it would want discussion to be on the encyclical.

As it turned out, the invitation was not from what people usually mean when they refer to the Vatican or The Holy See, or the Pope. It was from the relatively obscure Pontifical Academy of Social Science.

There are several Pontifical Academies, including the Pontifical Roman Academy of Archeology, and the Pontifical Theological Academy. Similar to Britain’s Royal Society, the Pontifical Academy of Science (PAS), founded in 1603, is a non-sectarian academic society for advancement and understanding of the natural sciences. Its sister academy, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (PASS), was founded 22 years ago, and receives funds from the Vatican, but operates autonomously. It was PASS that extended Bernie Sanders the invitation to come to Vatican City to attend its conference “Centisimus Annus 15 Years Later.”

This makes much more sense. This is not the Pope, or any major office of the Holy See, that invited Bernie Sanders to the Vatican. It is a scholarly academy, established by Pope John Paul II, that granted him permission to attend, but not have an official speaking role, at a scholarly symposium on the twenty-fifth anniversary of a papal encyclical. [UPDATE: The agenda was changed this morning {April 11}, Sanders now has a ten minute slot before a coffee break Friday afternoon.]

I imagine shortly after Sanders’ announcement there was widespread confusion within the Holy See’s Secretariats of State and Communications and in its diplomatic mission in Washington D.C.. By Friday afternoon the Director of the Vatican’s press office said the invitation had not come from the pope, “but from a Vatican institution,” and that he had no knowledge the Pope was even aware of the invitation. The president of PASS had already unloaded on Sanders for what she said was his “monumental discourtesy” in asking for an invitation and not going through her office.

On Friday the Chancellor of PASS, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, said he had extended the invitation, and the Sanders campaign quickly proffered his invitation. But one of the conference participants, economist Jeffrey Sachs—an advisor to Sanders—had, according to The Atlantic, helped facilitate the invitation. And around that time, the Sanders campaign did something extraordinary: it directed press inquiries about its candidate to someone presumably not on the campaign payroll and with no authority to speak on behalf of the campaign: communications consultant Michael Shank.

Shank has written and done advocacy on a wide range of issues, and has worked or consulted for numerous elected officials, government agencies, and NGO’s. In the context of the Sanders/Vatican incident, a few things leap out. According to his website, “he handles communications for Professor Jeffrey Sachs.” He has also been a communications consultant for PASS.

Shank is also quite transparent about his antipathy toward Hillary Clinton and his lack of respect for Obama’s presidency. In 2007 he criticized both Clinton and Barack Obama: “Elect Clinton, it seems, and we elect Bush.” And “it appears as if Obama is becoming as Bush-lite as his competitor Clinton.” He’s called Obama a “right of center president,” and asked “Obama worst climate pres?”

Shank has also referred to the Clinton “dynasty,” like the Bush family, “both monarchies undermining democracy.” He’s lauded—and possibly co-written?—Sachs’ opinion pieces attacking Clinton and praising Sanders.

Shank has also done his share of praising Sanders and complaining about his mistreatment by the media. He’s described a potential Sanders foreign policy. He’s alleged that NBC is biased toward Clinton because it’s owned by GE, which for tax reasons “love her Wall St bias.” He’s characterized New York Times pieces as “propaganda” and said the Times was in the “pockets of the Clinton campaign.” And last July he tweeted a quote of Sanders comparing himself to the Pope, and ended the tweet with “@CasinaPioIV,” which is the Twitter account for PAS and PASS.

@CasiniaPioIV shows up frequently in Shank’s Twitter feed, including many praising both PASS & Sachs, others praising only PASS or specifically Sanchez Sorondo. And Thursday, the night before Sanders announced the invitation, Shank posted this:

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 9.11.08 AM

It could be a coincidence of timing, but much more likely is Shank knew the announcement was coming the next morning.

But this is more revealing:

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 9.14.09 AM

I have to imagine the men in the Holy See’s Secretariat of State will be apoplectic if they see reports of the appointees and/or staff of a Vatican-affiliated institution allowing public reports of their partisan-oriented musings on American electoral politics being attributed to the Vatican.

What should be troubling about all this to the Vatican is the overlapping interests here between Shank, Sachs, Sanders, and PASS, and the appearance that Sachs and Shank parlayed their connection with PASS to use the Vatican and the Pope to help Bernie Sanders become President. A Vatican-affiliated institution is paying a man—Michael Shank—who also has some kind of official status with the campaign of a US presidential candidate. It also has a close relationship with another man, a famous academic, who has an official role with the same presidential candidate’s campaign, and has been a vicious critic of that candidate’s opponent. The Vatican-affiliated institution has invited the US presidential candidate who one of its consultants and one of its prominent collaborators are supporting in official capacities, and it never offered the candidate’s opponent the same opportunity.

It’s hard not to think Jeffrey Sachs and Michael Shank used their status and relationship with PASS and Bishop Sanchez Sorondo—with whom Sachs was on a panel a few days earlier—to use the Vatican to help out their candidate (who, it’s worth pointing out, as president could even offer positions in his administration to both Sachs and Shank). Whether their manipulations–if in fact that’s what happened–help Sanders, is questionable. I do not see a net positive in Sanders leaving the country a few days before a crucial primary. What is not in doubt is that whoever maneuvered to get Sanders invited to Vatican City did a disservice to the Roman Catholic Church.

Sachs and Shank obviously are committed to social and global justice, which are central to Catholic social teachings, and are at the heart of Francis’ radical—not liberal or progressive, but radical—Papacy. But neither is Catholic. In fact, Shank has written that the climate conference at PASS, made him “a believer again,” but not in God, as he remains non-religious, but “rather in our ability to get something done on climate change.” That faith is admirable, and something he and I share. But that faith, in the absence of communion with and allegiance to the Catholic Church, appears to have pulled the Church in to secular concerns that benefit Sachs, Shank, and Sanders, but are not in the best interests of the Holy See, the Pope, and the Church.

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Contested GOP Convention: It’s Been A Possibility For a Long Time

This is from an email I sent around to some editors in mid-October. Nobody bit on it, but I decided there may some value in pointing out that it wasn’t only recently that one could see a reasonable possibility of a contested convention:

It looks likely that there will be a slow war of attrition, with numerous candidates bunched together, and no “establishment” figure showing signs of breaking free and dominating the race. With a large, evenly matched field, small vote margins, underfunded and understaffed campaigns and the resulting differences in delegates allotted, will likely lead to intense controversy, appeals to the RNC, and possibly even litigation.

Compounding this potential problem is an FEC that’s been rendered toothless, so with no effective deterrent campaigns will be tempted to flout campaign finance laws. The RNC has proven unable to stand up to Trump‘s threats, and probably can’t as long as it fears he would run as an independent.

Then there’s the problem of administration: in 2012 the Iowa Republican party–which runs the caucuses–did such a poor job that it was impossible to know who actually won. The Nevada caucuses were disputed. In Maine some caucuses where Ron Paul was expected to do well were canceled. It is even a question whether all the top candidates will qualify for the ballot in all states; in 2012, for instance, only Romney, Paul and I think one other candidate qualified for the ballot in Virginia.

It will then be a question whether delegates will vote at the convention consistent with the results in their states’ primaries and caucuses. The RNC has made numerous rule changes since 2008 which may be challenged or even ignored; in fact, Colorado canceled its primary, and it will send an entire slate of uncommitted delegates to the convention, where they will be permitted to vote however they wish. Because of this in Colorado and possibly elsewhere, the delegate selection process–which goes on for two to four months after the initial primary or caucus vote–will likely be a series of political firefights, all over the country (as it was in some states in 2012, when Ron Paul factions often outmaneuvered the Romney-aligned party regulars).

In short, nearly every week from early January to the conclusion of the RNC convention is mined with threats to the legitimacy of the Republican nomination process, and possibly even the candidacy of the eventual nominee.

Next time I pitch something and don’t get interest, I’ll post it here.


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What To Watch For From the Kansas Democratic Caucuses

I missed my chance with Minnesota. The evening of the New Hampshire primary I wrote a preview that was informed by my time running a campaign in New Hampshire. I skipped Minnesota; probably a good thing, because I’m still gobsmacked at the awfulness of running caucuses for every state and federal office. But I’ve worked in other states, and learned enough that I might be able to help you understand and learn more from the results of the Democratic contests. I worked in Kansas in 2010, managing the campaign for the Democratic candidate for Governor. There are smart Democrats in Kansas who know far more than me about caucuses and internal Democratic politics. But I know enough to be curious about the results, and have questions that may inform how we think about the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as it moves to Michigan and Mississippi and Tuesday and five big states March 15th.

First, as you know, Kansas is a very Republican state. Unlike states in the South or in New England, it strongly favors the party it strongly favored in the late 19th century. But it’s a bit more complicated. Before the Civil War, there was “Bleeding Kansas,” as pro-slavery forces and abolitionist “Free Staters” fought skirmishes from 1854 to the start of the Civil War over whether Kansas would be a slave or free state. Lawrence, the home of the University of Kansas–my home for much of 2010–is a wonderful town, one of the most underrated college towns in the country. It was also an outpost of New England Republicanism in the nineteenth century, a center of abolitionism, and the scene of the one of the worst massacres of civilians in during the Civil War, when Quantrill’s Raiders marauded the town and killed over 150 civilians.

This history is important to today’s Kansas, because Kansas is unique in that for decades it had a New England Republican party which has become a Koch-funded, evangelical-influenced Republican party without losing it’s dominance in the state. Before Sam Brownback, Republican governors were typically moderates, and after Roe v Wade, every Republican governor was pro-choice. They were often quite like New England Republicans. Democrats were often more socially conservative than the Republicans, and were often more like Democrats in Oklahoma or Missouri than the more “ethnic” Democrats in the Northeast or the Great Lakes states.

Until recently Kansas was functionally a three-party state. Kansas Democrats–now fairly liberal and in line with the mainstream of the national Democratic coalition–could seldom muster legislative majorities or win statewide office against a unified Republican party. But by the 1980’s the Kansas GOP developed a strong conservative wing–heavily evangelical, and generously funded by the Wichita-based Koch operation–and increasingly won primaries and nominated hard-core conservatives. Moderate Republicans didn’t flee the party, but they often split their ticket and voted for Democrats (such as Kathleen Sebelius) against conservative Republicans, and the moderate Republicans in the legislature often controlled power with the help of the minority Democrats to keep conservatives out of power.

Since moderates stayed in the GOP, Kansas Democrats–which fairly pragmatic about the candidates they elect in primaries–are a fairly liberal bunch. They’re also almost entirely white, and mostly clustered in a handful of cities–primarily Wichita, Topeka, Lawrence, Kansas City, KS, and Johnson County, which includes the Kansas suburbs of the Kansas City metro area and is home to about one in five Kansans. Southeast Kansas was traditionally a Democratic stronghold, but that’s the part of Kansas that’s more like Arkansas than Nebraska, and like Appalachia and the Ozarks, that area has trended strongly toward the GOP in recent elections.

Here is some of what I’ll be looking at as the results start to come in.

  • WYANDOTTE COUNTY–Another way to say “Kansas City, Kansas,” also called Kay Cee Kay. It’s mostly African-American. Will Bernie make any dent there, or will Hillary rack up some more 85-15 margins?
  • SEDGEWICK COUNTY–Location of the state’s largest city, Wichita. Of all the big Democratic “strongholds” in all the states in which I’ve worked, I’ve never seen one where institutionally Democrats are any weaker. There was almost no volunteer or donor base and the party apparatus was staggeringly weak. There’s almost no non-party progressive infrastructure in Kansas, and what did exist in the past–a small but not-insignificant labor movement–is now beaten down. The city is divided along black/Latino/non-Latino white lines, and the non-Latino whites are mostly Republican. What will turnout be like. And will we get a better idea how Bernie did among Latinos than we did in Nevada?
  • SOUTHEAST KANSAS–Will the results here look like Oklahoma, where conservative Democrats go strongly for Sanders?
  • LAWRENCE–This is as liberal a city as you’ll find between Austin and Minneapolis. My only question is whether Bernie clears 75%.
  • JOHNSON COUNTY–What happens here probably translates to other states more than the results anywhere else in Kansas. The Democrats here are mostly well-educated, fairly prosperous, and similar to suburban Democrats and independents you’ll find around Columbus, or Richmond, or Denver. Again, being a caucus, the results will skew leftward and toward the activist base. But Johnson County is the kind of key suburban region where November turnout is usually high and Democrats can lose votes on taxes and distribution of wealth but also pick up votes on social and cultural values.

What matters the most is the delegate count. As a caucus, what happens in Kansas has limited value for inferring about the general election. But with more caucuses coming up, if Bernie romps here, he will probably net a lot of delegates in upcoming contests like Washington and the Dakotas. But if Hillary keeps it close, or even pulls off an upset, it will further undermine Sanders’ claim that he’s expanding the electorate, and be another sign that it’s nearly impossible for him to keep Clinton from locking up the nomination early.

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Muslims Were on New Jersey Rooftops Celebrating The Most Trump Moment Ever

Last night, about two minutes after the conclusion of the Republican debate in Detroit, Donald Trump did a live interview with Bill O’Reilly. After dismissing his opponents and telling O’Reilly “you get a little bit carried away with yourself,” Trump remarked on his performance:

We just finished a debate, which I hear I just won, based on all the polls…

This exchange was immediately after the debate. Literally, not more than a minute or two after the conclusion of the debate. For there to have been poll results, polls have to be written, samples need to be created, calls and interviews need to be conducted, data needs to be analyzed, result summaries need to be written, toplines need to be posted, and releases need to be issued. None of this is begun and finished between 11:00 PM and 11:02 PM EST. And even if in some alternative time and space a poll–or more than one, since Trump said the plural of poll–could be conducted, and results distributed in two minutes, who read those results and summarized them for Trump?

Whatever happened in the debate, whatever he said standing next to his opponents, nothing was more revealing about Trump than him telling O’Reilly that he heard from people (from whom he heard nothing) that he had great poll numbers (in polls that did not exist). It was an astonishing demonstration that either he doesn’t realize that everyone can easily see he’s full of crap, or that he doesn’t care.

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Collective Inaction

It’s now probably too late, but in the summer or even the fall the Republican party might have been able to stop the rise of Donald Trump. Stopping Trump would have required voters, activists, donors, institutional supporters, and party leaders to collectively recognize, engage, and cooperate in solving the problem. There’s still time to “solve” the Trump problem, but now it will simply create other problems at least as damaging to the Republicans’ chance of winning in November. An earlier effort that limited the damage to the party may not have succeeded, but we’ll never know. The party never decided to try. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone they never did.

For a hundred years Republicans have imagined America on the verge of forced collectivization. An abiding constant in GOP politics and policy–maybe the only constant–is a rabid opposition to organized labor. They’ve shunted aside the classic conservative emphasis on  tradition and communal bonds for the libertarian pablum of Ayn Rand, the soundbites and lobbying of Grover Norquist, and the money and campaign prowess of Charles and David Koch. They mocked “It Takes a Village” and “you didn’t build that.” And they respond to government efforts to promote a common good with reactionary resistance to any curbs on their individual autonomy.

So it should surprise no one that a problem requiring a collective response has paralyzed the Republicans with a collective action problem.

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Why Clinton Could Win Tonight, & Why Bernie Probably Will Win Tonight

My kids are eating dinner, and I’m going to have to scramble to put them to bed before the results start rolling in, but I thought I’d quickly lay out a few thoughts before we know who won tonight’s New Hampshire primary.

We’ll start with the most likely: why Bernie Sanders will probably win.

First, Bernie has a home-field advantage. Sure, a lot of people have poo-poohed the notion. But it’s amused me that on Twitter the people who scoff at the notion are those with little or no experience with western New Hampshire, while those of us who know the Monadnock, Cheshire County (Keene), and the upper Connecticut River Valley counties of Sullivan (Claremont) and Grafton (Hanover), chuckle at people who never drive west of Manchester or Amherst declaring that New Hampshire is nothing like Vermont.

About 12-15% of New Hampshire voters (maybe slightly more in a Democratic primary) are in the Burlington VT media market, and have had Bernie on their radios and TV screens for 35 years. Plus, plenty of people who no longer live there but now live elsewhere in New Hampshire still knew of Bernie before his presidential bid. I don’t have time to grab the links, but last April Sanders had about 65% name recognition in New Hampshire. He was only around 35% name recognition in Iowa. It’s not like being from Massachusetts, but there’s some silliness going around that if a candidate’s not from Massachusetts she can’t have a home advantage. If that were true, Howard Dean–after the scream–wouldn’t have beaten John Kerry in almost all of Grafton, Sullivan and Cheshire counties, and lost statewide by only 12 points.

The similarities between New Hampshire and Vermont show up especially in New Hampshire’s Democratic electorate. Like Vermont, the New Hampshire Democrats are almost entirely white. Like Louisiana, Maine and Vermont, the second-most commonly spoken language isn’t Spanish, it’s French. New Hampshire has one of the heaviest concentration of people of English background in the country. And they’re the two most secular states in the country. Assuming Bernie’s strength is in states most like Vermont, there’s no state where he should be stronger than New Hampshire.

There’s another advantage I’ve seen nobody mention: proximity to Bernie’s front door.

In 2006 I managed a Congressional campaign in New Hampshire’s second district. We won, and I had the privilege of working in Congress. In that first year, while planning the first reelection, one of the Democratic party’s number-crunching operations did analyses for all the potentially vulnerable new members elected in that wave. In almost every district, anywhere in the country, over 85% of the population is in 10 or fewer cities and towns. But in our district–essentially the three quarters from Nashua to the VT/MA border, up to Canada, and down half of the Maine border, leaving a carve-out of Durham area, the Seacoast, and the Manchester area–the 20 largest towns had less than half the district’s population. [And that was despite Nashua having about 100,000 people). If a candidate campaigns in Nashua or the other Boston suburbs, about the only people who know she was there are those who were there themselves.

But in the small towns of the rest of the state, when a candidate comes to town, it’s relatively big news, and people talk about it at the local diners, in their supermarkets, their bars. They are not communities of commuters. And they expect to meet and touch the candidates. If a candidate hasn’t given people mani-pedi’s and served them breakfast in bed they’ll say “well, I don’t know, he hasn’t really been here enough for me to get an impression of him.”

Every morning Bernie Sanders wakes up in his bed at home is a day he could get in his car, campaign around New Hampshire, and be back in his bed that night.

None of this is to detract from Sanders’ strong campaign in New Hampshire. But no matter how strong his campaign is, it’s tough to argue that he doesn’t have built-in advantages with a heavily secular, liberal–57% of the primary electorate in 2008–and overwhelmingly white electorate, one that because of proximity he could campaign easier than any other candidate in either field. Sanders has led most of the polls for months, so he should win. He might win by more than 10 points.

But should we assume Sanders actually does have a strong campaign in New Hampshire? I suspect it’s pretty good. But outside of New England, probably no state except maybe Washington should be as favorable to Sanders as Iowa, and Clinton beat him there.

Furthermore, Clinton’s campaign manager Robbie Mook is from Vermont, a few miles from New Hampshire, and he cut his teeth on Dean’s New Hampshire staff (which by all accounts was outstanding, far better than his operation in Iowa) and then he came back in 2008 for the last few months to manage Jeanne Shaheen’s winning Senate campaign. He knows the state. And he may also have help from Michael Wholey, the most respected Democratic field operative of the last thirty years, who ran Kerry’s field operation, keeps involved in New Hampshire, and is based in Boston.

There’s also Clinton’s labor support. It’s possible that in 2008 Clinton would have lost New Hampshire had it not been for targeted voter contact to women by AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers, and Emily’s List. This time around she also has the endorsements of the SEIU and the National Education Association. There could be a strong member contact program, as well as independent expenditure mail and field contact to women voters. That would be flying under the radar, but could be decisive if the race is otherwise very close.

There’s also the simple fact that overall nationally Clinton does better with women, and 57% of the 2008 electorate was women. Clinton’s national strength with women is in large by because of her massive advantage over Sanders among women of color. But she does better with white women than with white men, so that’s something to keep in mind.

Finally, there’s the undeclared voters. They’re not registered Democrat or Republican, and can pick either primary. In 2008 I heard of quite a bit of anecdotal support for the notion that some undeclared voters who would otherwise have backed Obama thought he would win anyway, so they instead hedged their bets by voting for McCain in the Republican primary. It’s something that’s hard to measure, but so far all the anecdotal stuff coming from reporters has been about undeclared voters are deciding between a Republican and Sanders.

OK, I need to finish up with the kids. But I’m putting this here as a marker for deciphering results tonight and making sense of it all tomorrow.


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