Super Tuesday and the Republicans’ Dilemma

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Trump country. Republican Super Tuesday 2016 By Nizolan [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Today’s voting could essentially render the ultimate results of both parties’ nomination contests foregone conclusions. Polls suggest Donald Trump will win strong pluralities nearly everywhere, Ted Cruz will win Texas and move into a clear second place in delegates, and Marco Rubio probably still won’t have a first place finish anywhere, yet mainstream pundits and Republican establishment types will still find a way to tell us Rubio is really in good shape if you just squint hard enough. Trump will still have competition, and the Republican establishment will be trying to find ways to sabotage him, but for now it’s Trump’s race to lose.

Hillary Clinton looks poised to win majorities nearly everywhere except Bernie Sanders’ home state of Vermont, where he’s killing it. I like Sanders in spite of the magic math behind his proposals, but it appears to be over for him. He’s had a good influence on the race. Clinton would do well to co-opt some of his aspirations and rhetoric, and try to bring his enthusiastic supporters into her fold. It will be interesting to see how Sanders and his camp deal with his dropping out, whenever that happens. Democrats are going to need him to be a good soldier, and I would think that the man himself will graciously support Clinton. As a Democrat, I’m a little worried about the intentions of Sanders’ supporters; several prominent Sanders partisans have claimed they won’t vote for Clinton. We’ll have to revisit the issues of sitting out elections and protest voting as the general election approaches.

There will be more to write about all this once we have results. But before we go, let’s just dwell for a minute on the spectacle of the Republican Party’s leading candidate for its presidential nomination having a hard time disavowing the support of one-time Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke and his white supremacist followers. This has once and for all exposed the Republican Party as the natural home of American white supremacy and racism. Respectable Republicans are just shocked, shocked and outraged are they, at this development. Like the “Southern Strategy” hasn’t been a thing since Richard Nixon.

Who knew that humble tax cutters, welfare state slashers, opponents of universal healthcare and poisoners of African Americans’ water were sharing a political party with tens of millions of outright racists this whole time? Who could’ve known?

Well, now we know. Moderate Republicans, you want low taxes? Well, you need the votes of tens of millions of racists to help you elect your candidates. You want limited regulations on the activities of American corporations? Well, you need the votes of tens of millions of racists to elect your candidates. You want to repeal the Affordable Care Act? Well, you need the votes of tens of millions of racists to elect your candidates.

Evangelicals, you want to criminalize abortion? Well, you need the votes of tens of millions of racists to elect your candidates.

Gun enthusiasts, you want people to be able to own and carry in public pretty much any gun they want? Well, you need the votes of tens of millions of racists to elect your candidates.

Climate change deniers, you want to reverse President Obama’s climate regulations? Well, you need the votes of tens of millions of racists to elect your candidates.

Holding these policy preferences doesn’t necessarily make you a racist. But you’d better be ready to answer for the company you keep.

So, Um, Trump’s Gonna Win?

Yes. Well, probably. At least, I don’t see how he doesn’t win the Republican nomination given current facts on the ground (the general election is a much different and much more unpredictable story). Donald Trump has won nearly every category of voter – and in Nevada, every category – so far that has come out for the Republican contests. It used to be self-evident that support for dropouts Chris Christie and Jeb Bush would go to Marco Rubio. Reality had other plans. If Trump’s lead only increases when a candidate drops out, he wins. Now we have the three-man race predicted here, and if Rubio and Ted Cruz don’t play rock-paper-scissor or whatever it takes to get one of them to drop out, Trump wins. And if one of them drops out, Trump probably still wins.

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The Republican nomination contest. By Peretz Partensky from San Francisco, USA (Dumpster Fire) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Those of you who have been reading Swinging Dead Cats since it started last August already knew that Trump was likely to win the Republican nomination. Along with declaring Trump the frontrunner in my post “Surprise! Donald Trump Appeals to White Nationalists” I mentioned that the Republican party harbors a substantial minority of no-doubt-about-it racists. I got some pushback on that one. This is an important point that people keep missing. Sometimes, the answer to questions like the ones I asked in the linked post are really, horrifyingly simple.

So what’s going on here? Why would a bloc of voters who have always voted for GOP economic policies all of a sudden be open to Democratic economic policies espoused by someone who sounds like a racist demagogue?

Anyone pushing back want to read this polling of South Carolina’s Republican voters and try to argue again that many of them are not racists? A staggering 38% of South Carolina Trump voters wish the South had won the Civil War. If 38% of Trump voters wish the South had won the Civil War, and the South fought the Civil War over the right to continue owning slaves, then 38% of Trump voters still believe that we ought to have the right to own slaves. As Esquire’s Charles Pierce likes to say, South Carolina is the “home office of American sedition.” So some might say hey, it’s South Carolina. But if people think that 38% number isn’t similar across the South, they haven’t been following American politics.

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Trump is building a yooge, classy, beautiful, unbelievable coop for the Republican chickens coming home to roost. Mexico is paying for it. By Curtisscoopsandyardbarns (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Now, Christie’s endorsement of Trump blunts the momentum Rubio may have had after Thursday night’s debate. The idea that Rubio did any real damage to Trump among the latter’s own core supporters was laughable anyway.

Meanwhile, the math is what it is: Trump is winning and racking up delegates, and a strong plurality of the hundreds of delegates up for grabs on March 1st look likely to go Trump’s way. Trump is leading in every state that votes next Tuesday and usually by wide margins, except in Texas – Ted Cruz’s home turf. Cruz is likely to win in Texas, giving him a second state (he won Iowa). Rubio will do well enough that the Republican establishment and much of the media will convince themselves he still has a chance. So Cruz and Rubio will both stay in the race.

This is a nightmare scenario for the GOP establishment. Starting on March 15th most Republican contests are winner-take-all, meaning that Trump would win all of a state’s delegates with only a plurality of the vote. This will almost certainly happen if both Cruz and Rubio stay in the race. Trump could essentially have the nomination wrapped up by the end of March!

The Trump phenomenon is not really a mystery, as Matt Taibbi explains in his excellent recent piece over at Rolling Stone. The racial and cultural resentments of many Americans, and their justified anger over their economic situations (though deeply ironic as they’re the ones who have been voting middle class-gutting Republicans into office, after all) – these were always there for someone to come along and put them together, unleash them without filters, and see what happens.

The Lament of the Moderate Northeastern Republican

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The disastrous presidency of George W. Bush put a lot of pressure on the northeastern Republican’s habitat. Donald Trump threatens this once-proud political animal with extinction. Bring on the meteor!  By Own work, based on Usa counties large.svg and Census Regions and Division of the United States.svg (Usa counties large.svg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
If you follow American sports or consume even a little sports media, you probably know or have at least heard the name of Bill Simmons. Originally from the Boston area and known for a unique voice that blends the passions of a local sports fan with a deep appreciation for American popular culture, Simmons arose to national prominence working for ESPN as a writer, TV personality, and producer. ESPN sacked Simmons last year but then he got hired by HBO. He’s back to doing his very popular podcasts and will launch a show this year at his new network.

One of the hallmarks of Simmons’s podcasts is that he often brings on friends and family to discuss things about which they care or have special knowledge. Two of my favorite Simmons regular guests, Joe House and John O’Connell (JackO), are guys he met at college. Simmons, a diehard Boston Red Sox fan, calls up JackO (a diehard Yankees fan) whenever there’s baseball or Red Sox-Yankees rivalry stuff to discuss. Listeners have known for a while now that JackO, in addition to being a Yankees fan, is a dyed-in-the-wool northeastern Republican of the low taxes/limited regulations/strong military/socially liberal variety. JackO is apoplectic over Donald Trump’s rise so Simmons has turned to him a few times over the past several months to get JackO’s takes on campaign developments and to make sure his buddy’s head hasn’t yet exploded.

Normally I roll my eyes when JackO talks politics and stay tuned for the baseball stuff, but on Friday’s podcast he said a few things that I’d like to pivot off of in order to explain the current political moment.

Let’s start with the things JackO gets right. First, he believes a Trump candidacy will destroy the Republican Party’s chances at the presidency for at least a decade. While the polls show a worrying lack of separation at the moment between Hillary Clinton and Trump and Bernie Sanders and Trump, I agree with JackO that Trump is more likely to lose in an electoral college landslide come November than Trump is to make things close or win. Remember, most people vote for a party now that Republicans and Democrats are much more clearly sorted by ideology and policy preferences. A decently-informed voter knows with which party his or her politics generally align, and he or she votes accordingly. The Democratic Party enjoys a built-in advantage in the electoral college and it’s hard to see how Trump improves on his 56% unfavorable rating once the general election campaign begins in earnest. Hence the high likelihood of a landslide Trump defeat.

JackO believes that the recriminations among Republicans following a disastrous Trump campaign will lead the party into the political wilderness for a decade. I agree with him that the 2016 election is winnable for Republicans and that Marco Rubio would have a much better chance. This is why moderate northeastern Republicans of the JackO variety are pulling their hair out over the Trump candidacy. They’ve known Trump for decades and understand him to be the unqualified bully that he is. It exasperates them that their conservative compatriots in the Republican coalition don’t see this as well.

Now, let’s recognize that the Trump phenomenon has been a long time coming for the Republican Party. It has used culturally and racially divisive politics since the time of Richard Nixon in order to turn out its base of conservative and reactionary white people. The difference between now and then – or the 80s, 2000 and 2004 – is that these white people are not the overwhelming demographic and electoral force they once were.

In addition, much of the Republican base has woken up to the fact that the party establishment has never had much of an appetite for actually pursuing reactionary cultural and racial policy once in power. There is a real and deepening rift between voters like JackO and the base. Now, we’re treated to the spectacle of an openly white nationalist super PAC making phone calls on behalf of Trump, and the poor JackOs of the establishment wing are having massive sads. Who knew that the Republican base would finally come to realize that the establishment only really cares about low taxes and limited regulations?

Let’s put away our tiny violins and examine some of the other Republican establishment claims. Voters like JackO complain about the budget deficit in existential terms, like US debt is going to eat our children and grandchildren and we won’t have an economically viable country anymore. High levels of debt are not ideal, to be sure, but who’s responsible for US debt anyway? Republicans love to call themselves the fiscally responsible party, the party of balanced budgets. However, if we ignore the rhetoric and look at different presidents’ actual records, we see this is exactly the opposite of reality. You can call yourself fiscally responsible all you want, but when budget surpluses are wiped out on your watch and your party blows up the budget deficit, well, you’re full of it. Look at the different charts at the above links. It’s simply undeniable that Democrats have been the more fiscally responsible presidents. Even President Obama, who came into office during a recession that severely decreased tax receipts, has been steadily reducing the budget deficit since the economy started rebounding.

In the podcast, JackO also complains about the “confiscatory 90%” tax rates that will accompany a Democratic presidency. I guess he’s referring to Sanders speaking approvingly of a 90% income tax bracket for the nation’s wealthiest, which Sanders accurately says existed during Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency. While it’s unfortunate that Sanders has not yet released an income tax plan, he has also stated recently that he would not seek a 90% bracket as president. Hillary Clinton is on the record with a tax plan that will increase rates by 4% on people making over $5 million, hardly the stuff of JackO’s fever dreams.

In any case, Republicans argue that it’s self-evidently true that higher taxes hurt productivity and economic growth, but research shows that to not be the case. In fact, the highest rates of economic growth since World War II have been accompanied by higher levels of taxation. It could be true that there is a level of taxes that will cause capitalists and high-income workers to take their balls and go home, but if there is, we haven’t found it yet.

This is why it’s hard to take moderate northeastern Republicans seriously. They simply don’t know what they’re talking about or they make stuff up. If they took their own socially liberal and fiscally responsible poses seriously, they would vote for Democrats! Instead, they’re fond of insulting Democrats, like JackO thinks he does when he sneers about “socialism,” and they continue to make common cause with the reactionaries fueling the rise of the Tea Party and Donald Trump. If they despise their own party’s base so much, why do they keep voting with them even when it’s clear they’ve lost control of the Republican Party? Why do they keep voting for the party that explodes the deficit every time it gets its hands on the presidency?

Honestly, I’m curious. How do these voters, who are often times smart and successful people, continue to vote for the party that does exactly the opposite of what they claim to want? If they were to enter the Democratic fold, they might actually have a voice within the country’s one fiscally responsible party, and they’d be voting their purported interests on abortion, guns, civil rights, the environment, and most other social and cultural issues. There is actually a lot of common cause to be made between Democrats and moderate northeastern Republicans. But the latter need to have some kind of Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus experience regarding their cherished party. How do we facilitate that?

In the meantime, they should save us their grief over Trump. He’s the nominee the Republican Party deserves.

Weekend Links

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Mmmm, stuffing.

Our annual Thanksgiving tradition when I lived in Xining, Qinghai Province, China was to go out for Beijing-style roast duck. We were lucky enough to have an outlet of the famed Quanjude chain of restaurants, and over my 11 (!) years in China I must have spent five or six Thanksgivings there, feasting on delicious Chinese turkey.

This year, our school is going to host a Thanksgiving potluck for our adult students on Wednesday. We don’t have ovens big enough for roasting turkeys, and we’d have to order a bird online, and it’s just too much hassle (and, I don’t feel quite as strongly as this person does but roast turkey is not all that great anyway).

So I think we’ll roast a bunch of chicken legs instead, with mashed potatoes and stuffing on the side, and sweet potato pie for dessert. The stuffing pictured above is today’s practice run stuffing based on this recipe; it’s very tasty but I didn’t use enough bread. Wednesday’s version will be better!

I’ll take pictures of our Thanksgiving celebration and follow up on this post later in the week. I’m interested to see how the students like our traditional Thanksgiving dishes, as well as to see what they bring. One student says she’s bringing a Chinese-style fish. Maybe we’ll create new Thanksgiving fusion fare.

Here are some links to some stuff I read today as well as to some of my previous posts, for perspective:

  • The Republican establishment is taking Donald Trump seriously enough that big time donors supporting different candidates are starting to pool resources with the aim of taking him down.
  • Whereas New Hampshire has helped the establishment kneecap unsavory candidates in the past, this time its voters appear unwilling to cooperate. I stand by what I wrote about Trump’s chances over two months ago here. If anything, the establishment’s position is worse than it was then, making my original instinct to confidently call Trump the favorite to win the nomination look like the one I should have stuck with.
  • As a reminder, “the ‘Republican establishment’ refers to the Republican National Committee, Republican officials who mostly care about winning elections in order to keep taxes low and regulations limited, and their donors. Any candidate likely to get killed in a general election, like Trump, Carson, or Ted Cruz, make the main goals of low taxes and limited regulations less achievable, and are therefore anametha to establishment figures.”
  • Where to begin with the racism and xenophobia manifesting among Republican candidates for president and Republicans in general around the country? Josh Marshall, who understands the rightwing zeitgeist better than most, explained how Trump’s policy-making-on-the-fly quickly becomes the new Republican standard. Trump, remember, is a favorite among white nationalists. Not that the others are any better than him, really, but Trump’s ability to set the agenda helps explain why Marco Rubio would equate Muslims with Nazis, and why Rubio would follow that up by suggesting that Trump’s threat to shut down all mosques may not go far enough. Rubio, remember, is the GOP establishment’s great hope and is supposedly the reasonable Republican candidate.
  • Republican fear mongering drives so many of us crazy because it flies in the face of American history and ideals. Even George W. Bush, in spite of the consequences of his policies, went out of his way to discourage anti-Muslim bigotry.
  • Sometimes, when things are looking bleak, a righteous rant can help raise the spirits. This is a little on the nasty side, and it’s not going to convert any of the people the author refers to as “dumb hicks,” but I recommend reading it if you’ve been appalled by the rhetoric and policy turns the Right has taken after Paris.
  • Welfare does not make people lazy. We’ve known this for decades now but it doesn’t stop people, such as Maine’s dumb hick governor, from saying it does.
  • I’ll try to end these on a positive note. Democrat John Bel Edwards won election for governor of Louisiana on Saturday. Edwards inherits a mess of a state left by Republican Bobby Jindal, who no longer has being too busy running for president as an excuse for destroying his own state’s economy. Edwards’ victory is sweet because he defeated Senator David Vitter, a candidate whose last minute anti-Muslim hysteria didn’t seem to work. Edwards’ victory is even sweeter because Vitter is also a “family values” guy who wants to legislate your personal life in spite of his own taste for prostitutes. Anyway, nice to see a Democrat win a statewide election in a red state and hopefully Edwards and his team are as good at governing as they are at campaigning (*see below):

 

*I know we shouldn’t make light of sex work. It’s a real industry in which workers (many of whom are disadvantaged women) face uniquely dangerous risks and they deserve dignity and to be taken seriously. My points here are that (1) hypocrites like Vitter deserve ridicule and defeat, and (2) Democrats ought to follow Edwards’ lead and fight campaigns with their gloves off.

Surprise! Donald Trump Appeals to White Nationalists

David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and a fan of Trump’s immigration policies, shakes hands with far-right National Democratic Party of Germany member Udo Voigt in Saxony, Germany. By Emmanuel d’Aubignosc [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
What happens when a party’s leading candidate for its nomination for president falls in a forest and a bunch of white nationalists hear him loudly and clearly? Well, we’re finding out now.

Evan Osnos, in a great reported piece for The New Yorkerhappened to be out in the field researching white nationalism when the Trump candidacy reached full bloom. And while some of the people Osnos spoke with don’t trust Trump entirely, one thing is clear: certain segments of the population love what Trump is saying about immigrants and America’s position relative to other countries. I can’t recommend this Osnos piece highly enough. Read it if you want to better understand what’s going on with Trump.

Two months ago a Trump candidacy seemed like a fun joke. But then he jumped into the race by calling Mexican immigrants rapists, followed that up by belittling John McCain for being captured during the Vietnam War, followed that up with misogynist insults of Fox News’ Megyn Kelly in the wake of the first Fox News debate, and recently praised the passion of two supporters who beat up a homeless Hispanic man in Boston (in fairness, two days after praising his “passionate” supporters Trump finally acknowledged the terribleness of the crime).

So far, there’s been no punch line to this joke. So far, the joke seems to be on us.

I now see no compelling reasons to believe that Trump is not the favorite to win the Republican Party’s nomination. And if he wins the nomination, he has a shot at the presidency. I’d put his chances of winning the general election somewhere between 30 and 40% if he makes it through the primaries.

Back to the problem of white nationalism. The Republican Party does not harbor a majority of racist whites, does it? No, it doesn’t, but it does host a substantial racist minority. And we’ll have to wait for new data, but I’d be willing to bet that Trump’s candidacy is encouraging more and more white Republicans to be more and more open about their racism. As the linked article explains, social desirability bias discourages people from sharing their real views about contentious topics. I’d argue that Trump is making it more acceptable for his fans to openly express their racism. And the linked analysis above from 538? That only looked at white attitudes towards blacks. Who knows how bad this looks when you factor in other minority populations, specifically Hispanics, in the context of the immigration debate and Trump’s inflammatory comments.

The genuinely fascinating thing about Trump’s candidacy is how he is exposing fault lines between the GOP’s elites and its base. The elites have two economic priorities: keep taxes low and limit government regulation. The base has two economic priorities: keep their jobs and their “earned” benefits, Social Security and Medicare (the “keep the government’s hands off my Medicare” phenomenon).

The GOP elite has always been hostile to welfare programs (yes, Social Security and Medicare are socialist welfare programs) because they require certain tax levels and regulations to keep afloat. So how has the GOP managed for decades, like with Bush in 2004, to elect people who promise to dismantle the programs the base relies upon? One thesis, though it has its flaws, is proposed in the famous book What’s the Matter with Kansas? The basic argument is that GOP elites impose upon the electorate candidates who share elite priorities of low taxes and slashed welfare programs, but are capable of redirecting the base with cultural issues, such as immigrants, abortion, gays, and guns (and yes, race), that the candidates and elites have little appetite for actually pursuing.

The Tea Party backlash against the GOP establishment is an expression of this tension in the party. The base started waking up to the fact that the establishment had no real dog in the culture war fights. The base began electing people who really did want to ban abortions, who really did want to carve out exceptions to equal protection laws to allow people with certain religious beliefs to discriminate against gays, who really did want to severely restrict immigration and forcibly remove those residing in the country illegally.

The problem here is that the GOP base has always preferred Democratic economic policies (link to opinions about Social Security, but could easily link to opinions about taxes, Medicare, etc.). So I find it extremely hard to believe that the GOP base is rallying around Trump simply because he talks more like a Democrat about economic issues. To Trump’s credit, he wants to increase tax receipts from the wealthy and use that money to strengthen Social Security as it exists now. All national Democrats hold this position, but usually with more specifics and often they want to expand Social Security benefits. If members of the GOP base truly prioritized their economic positions, they would vote for Democrats.

So what’s going on here? Why would a bloc of voters who have always voted for GOP economic policies all of a sudden be open to Democratic economic policies espoused by someone who sounds like a racist demagogue? I’ll be handing out more free year-long subscriptions to this blog if you have the right answer.

In my next post, I’ll try to explain why I think Trump is as much a favorite as anyone to win the GOP’s nomination, and why I think he has a puncher’s chance to win the presidency if he makes it to the general election as a Republican.