Monday, March 02, 2020

On Voting In The California Primary, Early Voting, Super Tuesday & Why Bernie Cannot Beat Donald Trump

Joe Biden - The Only Sane Choice for 2020
The Dividist will be casting his California vote for Joe Biden on Super Tuesday in the Democratic primary on the day of election. We understand why some would prefer the convenience of early voting and absentee ballots when and if you know you will not be able to cast your vote on election day. What we don't understand is why anyone would cast an early ballot if they don't have to, with a primary season as fluid and dynamic as the Democratic Presidential Primary in 2020.

If You Don't Have To Vote Early, Early Voting is Silly

Things change. Early voting opened in California a full month before the vote on March 3rd. In that time we've seen: Caucuses in Iowa and Nevada; Primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina; Three Democratic Debates, Michael Bennet, Andrew Yang, Deval Patrick, Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar all drop out of the race; The President deliver his State of the Union address; The President acquitted by the Senate in an impeachment trial; and 95% of humanity wiped out by the Corona virus (estimate based on media coverage). What if you cast an early vote for Andrew Yang and then died from the Corona virus? Did you waste your vote? Should it even count if you voted early and were dead on election day?

If You Are A Cult Of Personality Acolyte, It's Okay To Vote Early

I understand why you would cast your vote early IF you are a Bernie Sanders cultist. After all, he is THE ONE, so nothing that actually happened in the last month, last week, last day, last hour, or going forward is ever going to change your vote. However, if you are looking for a return to normalcy and competence in the White House by ensuring that Donald Trump is not reelected, it would have been prudent to watch developments before casting your vote too early.

Which is why we were pleased to read this in Politico:
“People in Super Tuesday states and California, in particular, are not returning their ballots yet,” said Danielle Cendejas, a Democratic strategist in California whose firm did campaign mail for both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns. “They’re waiting for a signal, and I think this is a signal. If you were debating between which of the Democrats who aren’t Bernie Sanders or even Elizabeth Warren to throw your hat behind, you’re probably going Joe Biden’s way.
Unless You Don't Care If Donald Trump Is Reelected, Voting For Bernie Sanders is Stupid

Incumbent Presidents have a huge electoral advantage and are usually reelected. A sitting President holds a powerful platform to influence public opinion. They can and do wield the power of the office to enact policy and influence constituencies to garner support and undermine opposition. We know that President Trump will utilize every angle he can, legal or not, ethical or not, seemly or not, to win at any cost. That's what Democrats and #NeverTrumpers are up against.

There is a very narrow Electoral College path for a Democratic candidate to defeat Donald Trump. You can see the path by comparing Barack Obama's 2012 Electoral College 126 vote win (332-206)...

2012 Electoral College Results

... to Hillary Clinton's 2016 Electoral College 74 vote defeat (232 - 306):

2016 Electoral College Results
Hat/Tip to @TheValuesVoter for the graphics and analysis
The difference between the 2012 and 2016 elections are six states and one congressional district -  Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Maine’s 2nd district.

That's it. That is the only path. To win the White House the Democratic Ticket must hold all of the 2016 Blue States and take back enough of the six states lost to Trump to win the Electoral College (For ease of analysis we'll ignore Maine's CD-2). And Democrats need to retake those six states while the Trump administration, Trump campaign, and Trump Organization are using the power of the Presidency in concert with every dirty trick in the book to hold those states and flip New Mexico, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Nevada from Blue to Red. It's a problem.

How does Bernie Sanders solve the puzzle? How does he win? Let's just pretend that he can hold all of the 2016 Clinton blue states. Stipulated. He won't, but let's pretend he does. We'll even give him back all of Maine's 4 split electoral votes. Let's just focus on the six states Trump flipped in 2016.

Of the six, the state with the most electoral votes is Florida with 29. Obama won Florida. Clinton lost Florida. Bernie has already lost Florida before the General Election even begins because of this:

"Sanders praises some of Castro's policies, angering Republicans and Democrats in Florida"
"By singing the praises of aspects of Cuba's communist regime during a prime-time interview Sunday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders pulled off the unimaginable: uniting Republicans and Democrats in the notoriously divided swing state of Florida. 
That unlikely union springs from long-standing fears of socialism in the Sunshine State, home to so many exiled Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans who fled socialist regimes in their home countries and make up an ever-growing size of the electorate in Florida."
Take Florida's 29 Electoral Votes off the map. Poof. Gone. 

Pennsylvania is the next largest with 20 electoral votes and Bernie is committed to banning fracking so... kiss another 20 Electoral votes goodbye:

"Proposals To Ban Fracking Could [EDIT: "Will"] Hurt Democrats In Key States"
"In a swing state like Pennsylvania, a major gas producer, fracking and energy are key issues. Even a small segment of voters swayed one way or another could change the election. "Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes in 2016 were decided by about 44,000 votes, or less than 1% of the electorate in that race," says Chris Borick, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. He thinks the effect of a candidate's relatively aggressive environmental policies shouldn't be underestimated."
"Sanders’ Proposed Fracking Ban Would Cost Him Pennsylvania And Probably The Election"
"Fracking has brought a flood of new jobs to the state and to this day there are still more openings than they can find people to fill them... Additionally, landowners with property sitting on the Marcellus shale deposits have been able to sign leases with the oil and gas industry bringing them much needed income. All of that adds up to a net positive for Pennsylvania residents. If you promise to eliminate all of that activity as President, it’s a safe bet that voters will turn out in support of Donald Trump once again in November.  
To a lesser extent, there is also fracking in Ohio, primarily in the eastern part of the state. The same situation exists there in terms of jobs and leasing opportunities. If you start your presidential run with a move that will likely cost you Pennsylvania and Ohio, the path to victory suddenly narrows drastically."
In 2016 Clinton lost to Trump by almost half a million votes in Ohio. It's going to be a tough climb for any Democrat to reclaim the state, but if Democrats nominate a candidate that wants to undermine the fracking boom in Eastern Ohio while increasing energy costs for everyone else... well, that's 18 more potential electoral votes shot to hell.

A fracking ban policy position is not only batshit insane political malpractice on a suicidal level, it is not good environmental policy. The fracking revolution opening vast energy reserves of cheaper and cleaner natural gas and is the very reason coal power plants are being closed or converted. Fracking is the reason that the USA has led the developed world in reducing our carbon footprint in recent decades when nothing else has. In addition, fracking has provided enormous economic benefit and the subsequent US energy independence improves national security. A fracking ban is bad environmental policy, bad economics policy and criminally bad politics:

"The Arithmetic Of Fracking"
The increased use of natural gas at the expense of coal has lowered the nation’s CO2 emissions absolutely and by a net 150 million metric tons in 2019, according to a Rhodium Group study and projections by the Energy Information Agency... Banning fracking will likely lead to unemployment and higher prices for heating, electricity and gasoline, and even more emissions—bad outcomes for politicians running for office."
So where does that leave us? If Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania stay red (and they will if Sanders is the nominee), it's game over. Even if Sanders can pick up Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa (which he won't) - Trump is re-elected.

Look. I understand the Sanders campaign pitch. That somehow Bernie will excite a youth vote and motivate a new constituency of previously disillusioned non-voters to suddenly decide they will get off their ass and cast meaningful votes for the first time in history.

The Sanders Youth Vote Myth

There is only one problem with the Sanders story. Through the four contests so far, there is absolutely no evidence that this massive mystery vote is out there and a lot of evidence that it is a complete mirage - as outlined in this excellent and detailed Vox explainer:
"Sanders himself has been clear that his strategy for beating Trump is to massively boost turnout, especially among young people — and young people in our data indeed say they would turn out at much higher rates for him. But for Sanders to do as well as a moderate Democrat against Trump in November by stimulating youth turnout, his nomination would need to boost turnout of young left-leaning voters enormously... 
There is no way to be sure whether Sanders’s nomination would produce this historic youth turnout surge — but it seems doubtful. Turnout in the 2020 primaries so far has not exceeded 2008 levels, including among young voters. If anything, research suggests the opposite is more likely to occur: In response to an extreme Democratic nominee, Republicans could be inspired to turn out at higher rates to oppose him... What if Sanders’s nomination doesn’t stimulate youth turnout enough to offset the votes it would lose to Trump? In an academic working paper based on this survey, we consider this possibility... 
The gamble Democrats supporting Sanders based on his early polls against Trump must be ready to make is that, despite the evidence to the contrary, the lowest-participating segment of the electorate will turn out at remarkably high rates because Sanders is nominated."
Sanders beating Trump is completely delusional. If you want to vote for Sanders because he aligns with your extreme progressive views, or because you believe he will lead you to the promised land, or because you want a "political revolution",  Hey! Knock yourself out!

But if you want to defeat Trump in November, take the needle out of your arm and Vote for Joe Biden.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Stack Ranking the 2020 Presidential Candidates 2.0
The Post-NH, Pre-NV, Presidents Day Edition

Klobuchar Harris 2020

President's Day is a good day to reflect on who might be our next President. During the formative years of this blog, the Dividist frequently maintained and updated candidate stack rank preferences over the course of a presidential campaign cycle (a couple of examples here and here from February, 2007 and February, 2008). Interestingly, some of the presidential hopefuls from those lists over a dozen years ago remain relevant in the campaign today, including Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton.

As noted, the Dividist stack ranking is a preference not a prediction. The list, then and now, represent the top candidates the Dividist would like to see as President, stack ranked in order of preference, within an additional constraint of supporting a divided government outcome.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

President Trump is engaged in graft that does not meet the moral standards of one of the most corrupt participants in the most corrupt political organization in U.S. history.

UPDATED: 02-02-2020
Trumpany Hall
 Trumpany Hall - Trump Tower New York / Trump Hotel D.C. / Mar-a-Lago Florida 
As the Kabuki Theater of the Senate Impeachment Trial plays out on our screens, let's reflect on what what transpired in this White House over the course of this administration.

We often hear the phrase "All politicians lie." It's probably true.  But does quantity matter? Do the dozens of Obama lies during his presidency justify the thousands of lies by Donald Trump three years into his first term? Does the qualitative nature of the lie matter? Are all lies equal? Is this really the hill that President Trump, his administration and GOP accomplices want to die on? If "all politicians lie", does it not matter how many lies or what kind of lie?
“We do that [quid pro quo] all the time ... That’s why we held up the money … I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.” - Mick Mulvaney
 Since there is always going to be "political influence in foreign policy", does it matter if the quid pro quo is pressure in the service of United States policy objectives or if it is extortion in the service of the President's personal political benefit? Does motivation matter. Does corrupt intent matter? Is it all the same to Trump apologists when "everyone does it".

So how do we sort out the spectrum of corrumption and graft in Washington DC? How do we distinguish the unseemly legal graft of selling access for political contributions, from the illegal corruption of extorting foreign governments for personal political gain? Where do we rank the conflict of interest of President Trump when he shapes domestic and foreign policy to generate financial profit for the Trump family, Trump friends, Trump Administration cronies, Trump Company and President Donald Trump himself? How do we sort it out?

For guidance, we might look to the wit and wisdom of George Washington Plunkitt.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

An Open Letter To: Senators Lisa Murkowski (R), Joe Manchin (D), Mitt Romney (R), Doug Jones (D), Susan Collins (R), Kyrsten Sinema (D), And Two Senators To Be Named Later

Re: The Senate Impeachment Trial

Impeachment Gang of Eight
  Proposed Impeachment "Gang of Eight"  
Dear Senators Lisa Murkowski, Joe Manchin, Mitt Romney, Doug Jones, Susan Collins, Krysten Sinema,

I am writing in regard to your imminent role setting the ground rules for and rendering a verdict in the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump. You've each publicly stated your intent to live up to the oath required of all Senators prior to the trial:
 “I solemnly swear, that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of President Donald Trump, I will do impartial justice, according to law.”
As regards the pending impeachment trial you've shown restraint in your public comments, expressed a willingness to keep an open mind on the proceedings, and a desire to treat the trial with a serious consideration of the facts.

In your respective careers in the Senate you have shown a pragmatic willingness to compromise on legislation with your counterparts across the aisle without compromising your Democratic / Liberal Republican / Conservative principles. That does not mean you don't support most of the partisan policies promoted by your party. You do. Presumably you choose to run as a Republican or Democrat because those party policies predominantly reflects your views and those of your constituents. That's expected.

Because of who you are, because of your willingness to compromise, because of your respect for the Constitution and the institution of the Senate, you are uniquely positioned to provide an extraordinary service to Americans, the institution you represent, and the country you love - Right Now.

I propose you form an Impeachment Gang of Eight.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Unitary Executives, Imperial Presidents, National Emergencies and Partisan Realignment

Trump stands on giants of executive overreach
 When it comes to executive overreach, Trump is standing on the shoulders of giants. 
In light of President Trump's dubious declaration of a "National Emergency" to tap more of the Treasury than Congress will authorize, it's worth noting how far we have drifted from the Framer's intent for presidential power, congressional power of the purse, and the separation of powers in general.

As Gene Healy of the Cato Institute and author of The Cult of the Presidency noted:
"[The President's] constitutional vision is, in short, sharply at odds with the text, history, and structure of our Constitution, which authorizes a government of limited powers."
Oh wait. My bad. That quote was from Cato's 2006 White Paper "Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush." It was an essay I referenced when, as a blogging toddler in 2006, I was alarmed at the ever expanding Unitary Executive claims made by the Bush/Cheney administration.

Later, in 2008, I was gratified to see candidate Barack Obama run on a promise of reversing the executive overreach in the GWB administration and returning the United States to core constitutional principles:
"I taught constitutional law for ten years. I take the constitution very seriously. The biggest problem that we're facing right now has to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all, and that's what I intend to reverse when I'm president of the United States of America." - Sen  Barack Obama - Townhall in Lancaster, PA, March 31, 2008
But I digress. Lets return to what the ACLU has to say about our President's overreach:
"... there is a very real danger that the administration will enshrine permanently within the law policies and practices that were widely considered extreme and unlawful during previous administrations. There is a real danger, in other words, that the administration will preside over the creation of a "new normal."
Oh wait. My bad. That paraphrased quote was from the 2010 ACLU Report "Establishing a New Normal" documenting the Obama administration extending, expanding and institutionalizing the executive branch overreach of the Bush/Cheney administration. The ACLU fears were borne out with later revelations of the Obama administration's widespread warrantless surveillance, continuing indefinite detentions, Presidential ordered drone kills, and of course Obama's infamous "phone and pen" executive orders on climate, immigration policy and the ever expanding regulations by presidential fiat.

The Cult of the Presidency
Abdication of congressional authority to the executive branch did not start with the last three administrations. It's part and parcel of a long term trend that has waxed and waned (mostly waxed) since the founding of the republic. It was Franklin Roosevelt that put the notion of POTUS as Cult Leader into high gear. Every president since has stood on the shoulders of previous executive power abusing giants. At least when FDR issued presidential edicts based on a National Emergency, there really was a national emergency (Great Depression, WWII). We also learned from FDR that even if there is a real national emergency, presidential orders can be misguided, racist,  immoral, unconstitutional and contradict American values.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Happy Divided Government New Year!

Trump Pelosi McConnell Divided Government
As noted by a recent twitter acquaintance, January 2nd is Divided Government Eve, and January 3rd is the real date to celebrate the political new year.
And the Dividist is celebrating. After another disastrous short 2 year stint of unified one party rule, today Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats take majority control of the House of Representatives and restore divided government to Washington D.C.

Since the election, the punditocracy has been weighing in on what we can expect from divided government over the next few days, weeks, months, and years. Unsurprisingly, the Dividist has some thoughts on the subject, but we'll leave those for future posts. This Divided Government New Year is a time for celebration and prognostication.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Just Vote Dividist - 2018 Closing Argument Edition

Welcome to the seventh election eve "Just Vote Dividist" post. This blog was started in 2006 to advocate a divided government voting heuristic. Every election cycle since we've posted a closing argument how and why to vote for divided government.  

In this post you'll find our recommendations for the 2018 midterms. It doesn't take a lot of analysis. President Donald Trump in only half way through his term. Dividing this government requires Democrats winning the majority in either one or both legislative branches. The 2018 Divided Government vote is for a straight Democratic ticket.

In previous election eve editions we've painstakingly summarized and recycled our previous votes and general arguments for divided government. We'll include that in an addendum at the bottom of this post, and get right to the meat of why and how you should vote for divided government.

First an elementary civics lesson that far too many Americans fail to fully appreciate.

The President of the United States is not the government of the United States. 
The President of the United States is not even necessarily the leader of the government of the United States. The executive is one of three co-equal branches of government. The actual government of the United States is led by the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader representing their respective democratic institutions in concert with the President of the United States. The personalities, interpersonal relationships, communication skills, ideological motivation, partisan loyalties, personal ambitions, institutional obligations and dynamic interactions between those three leaders determine the domestic policy and international posture that governs the United States.

Co-Equal Means Co-Equal
The President is not the leader of the government but is the leader of a political party. In a unified one party government, the President may function as the leader of of the United States government if the president's party in Congress put partisan discipline and loyalty above their constitutional responsibilities. When we have a divided government, leadership of the United States government is just as likely to reside in the Congress as it is in the Executive branch.

Did I Mention The POTUS Is Not The Government Of The United States?
This is not to minimize the role of the President. The President is the putative "Leader of the Free World" and "Commander in Chief" of the most powerful military in the history of the world. The "Unitary Executive" has extraordinary, almost monarchical latitude over United States foreign policy. However, United States domestic policy is forged primarily in the House of Representatives, by design.

In Divided Government - The Speaker of the House Calls the Domestic Shots
The "People's House" - the most democratic of our government branches, is where the Framer's intended and expected domestic policy to be created and shaped. This is why the House is the first branch codified in the first article of the Constitution. This is why the Speaker of the House is second only to the Vice President in succession to the Presidency. The Senate - representing the semi-sovereign state governments - was intended by the framers to be a moderating influence over both the majoritarian domestic policies of the House and the foreign polices of the President.

A Co-equal Triumvirate Governs The United States.
This structure is unique. This structure is exactly what the framers intended. This structure is what makes our system exceptional. The point is this - given that this power sharing triad is the essence of our elected government, perhaps we - as voters - should focus less on the singular office of the President and  more on the combination of leaders that will run our government.

With that in mind, we are pleased to present the three actual, realistic 2019 - 2020 United States Government choices you will be voting for Tuesday November 6. To simplify, we've eliminate the inprobable Democratic Senate, Republican House possibility. If there is a big enough Blue Wave to overcome the monumental Democratic map disadvantage in the Senate, the House will have to fall with it. One of the following three options will be elected on Tuesday to govern the United States for the next two years. Stack ranked by Dividist preference from worst to best.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Quantifying "A decisive quantum of voters in the middle.."

This happens periodically. The Dividist has been beating the divided government horse on this blog for a dozen years. We think we know all the arguments for and against. Then someone comes along and with a pithy turn of phrase crystallizes in a few words what the Dividist has spilled gallons of ink (megabits of pixels?) trying to explain.

Jay Cost challenges the PoliSci "alignment" theory of American politics in his National Review article"In Praise of Divided Government":
"I would posit another framework to understand politics over the past 40 years, one in which the two parties are basically evenly matched, strong ideologues dominate the bases of both sides, and a decisive quantum of voters in the middle is up for grabs. This process has yielded a general pattern that seems to repeat: One party surges to control the government, but this is short-lived; the opposition quickly gains a foothold; and divided government persists until the opposition finally takes total control, repeating the cycle."
Love that phrase "... a decisive quantum of voters in the middle". Succinct and to the point. This is how the Dividist tried to explain the same concept in one of his first posts in 2006 [Edited to provide some semblance of clarity]:
"Think of it this way. An election is a scale. Pile the large mass of partisan Democrats on one side and the large mass of partisan Republicans on the other, roughly balancing the collective polarized "Partisan Dead Weight" (PDW) that can be relied on to always gets on one side or the other. Then there are some smaller, more mobile weights, that call themselves Independents... an "invisible hand" that votes for divided government ...  [INSERT MANY HUNDREDS OF WORDS] ...  What if this "invisible hand' that prefers divided government becomes visible? What if the "collective unconscious" that prefers divided government, starts making that decision consciously? It could change elections in the same way 3rd parties do, by siphoning partisan support but without the spoiler effect. The beauty of this idea is that this party needs no candidates, no leaders, no platform, no conventions, really none of the trappings of a political party. Dividists are voting by objective, not by platform and not out of party loyalty."
The Dividist got to the point eventually, and subsequently managed to be a bit less wordy in his "About The Dividist" explainer:
"On this blog we advocate a specific voting heuristic that can be implemented by a relatively small percentage of the electorate, perhaps as little as 5%. The target readership are voters who are willing to cast their ballot based on a rational evidence-based voting strategy that will result in better federal government. 
The strategy requires that the voter be capable of casting their vote without consideration of party loyalty or political ideology. The voter must even be willing and able to vote for candidates they dislike, based on accomplishing a greater goal of more fiscal responsibility, stronger oversight, less spending, more deliberately considered, carefully crafted legislation and better overall governance. In short, the voters must be willing to vote for divided government. This blog is for those potential voters."
To be fair, the Dividst was and is describing an aspirational goal, while Mr. Cost is positing a historical political hypothesis. The important question for both of us is whether a small sliver of the electorate who are truly independent (i.e. not self-described "Independents" who actually vote one party as reliably as partisans) are, or could be, a swing vote that determines elections when using divided government as an organizing principle.

Does this "decisive quantum of voters" exist? How big is it? Can we quantify the dividist "quantum" vote? And what does it mean for the 2018 midterms?