Tuesday, January 30, 2018

State Of The Union - The Musical!
"The Producers" Edition

The Producers - Manafort Trump Conway Flynn
Welcome to the Dividist's annual coverage of the Presidential Address to Congress - aka State of the Union - The Musical!

In 2007, as a blogging toddler, the Dividist despaired at finding a unique approach to writing about the SOTU when so many other bloggers would be traversing the same ground. The answer came from Bob Woodward. In an on-line Washington Post forum the Dividist asked whether the SOTU had any real relevance. Woodward responded by saying it was "mostly theater." Genius. That was the answer. What better way to frame the SOTU social media reactions than within the lyrics of a Broadway show tune?

The game is to start with a Broadway song then find blog posts, news stories, tweets, essays and commentary that can be vaguely referenced in the song and link them to the lyrics. It keeps the Dividist awake and blogging throughout the speech without distracting too much from the mandatory drinking games.

The program so far...

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Divided Government Detritus and Flotsam - The "Keep Separation of Powers Separate" Edition

Periodically, the Dividist enjoys strolling down a metaphorical beach to take note of the divided government detritus that has washed ashore and cluttered his little island of rationality in the great big blogospheric ocean.

With the midterm elections looming large, the prospect of a blue tsunami on the horizon sweeping Democrats into a House of Representatives majority have Democrats giddy and Republicans worried (except for the #NeverTrumpers who are just fine with divided government this cycle.)

Time to go beachcombing and look for any shiny bits of divided government flotsam we may have previously overlooked. Submitted here for your reading enjoyment...

Jonathan Haidt explains the impact of tribalism on the Framer's intent. 

While participating in a twitteratti discussion on the impact of tribalism on our body politic (along with a generous helping of Trump bashing), the Dividist stumbled across a lecture by Jonathan Haidt entitled "The Age of Outrage." Haidt fuses issues of tribalism, identity politics, polarization, intersectionality, illiberal "liberals", the Social Justice Snowflakes so evident on college campus, and - most interesting to the Dividist - the relevance of the Framer's intent to all of the above. In particular this beautiful, almost poetic, description of what the Framer's were trying to create and why:
"Here is the fine-tuned liberal democracy hypothesis: as tribal primates, human beings are unsuited for life in large, diverse secular democracies, unless you get certain settings finely adjusted to make possible the development of stable political life. This seems to be what the Founding Fathers believed. Jefferson, Madison, and the rest of those eighteenth-century deists clearly did think that designing a constitution was like designing a giant clock, a clock that might run forever if they chose the right springs and gears. 
Thankfully, our Founders were good psychologists. They knew that we are not angels; they knew that we are tribal creatures. As Madison wrote in Federalist 10: “the latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man.” Our Founders were also good historians; they were well aware of Plato’s belief that democracy is the second worst form of government because it inevitably decays into tyranny. Madison wrote in Federalist 10 about pure or direct democracies, which he said are quickly consumed by the passions of the majority: “such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention . . . and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” 
So what did the Founders do? They built in safeguards against runaway factionalism, such as the division of powers among the three branches, and an elaborate series of checks and balances. But they also knew that they had to train future generations of clock mechanics. They were creating a new kind of republic, which would demand far more maturity from its citizens than was needed in nations ruled by a king or other Leviathan.. 
So, how are we doing, as the inheritors of the clock? Are we maintaining it well? If Madison visited Washington, D.C. today, he’d find that our government is divided into two all-consuming factions, which cut right down the middle of each of the three branches, uniting the three red half-branches against the three blue half-branches, with no branch serving the original function as he had envisioned."
It's a great lecture, you should read it in its entirety or watch it here:

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

2018 Election - House Rules & The O'Neill Exception

Crossposted from Uniters.Org 
UPDATED: Jan-03-2019 to reflect  election results*
 We're bored with the "Blue Wave" metaphor. We'll go with "Dividist Pac-Man" 
Outside of the Mueller investigation, the biggest political question of 2018 is whether Democrats can ride a widely anticipated Blue Wave into a majority in Congress and divide the government. There are similarities to the mid-term wave elections that flipped Congress in 2006 and 2010.

Many compare the stunning Senate special election victory of Democrat Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore in crimson red Alabama to the equally stunning 2010 victory of Republican Scott Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley in deep blue Massachusetts. Does the Jones win point to a 2018 political tsunami like the Brown election foreshadowed a 2010 red wave? Maybe.

In both cases, the long shot won with the help of a seriously flawed opposition candidate. In Alabama Roy Moore was accused of sexual impropriety with minors, and in Massachusetts Martha Coakley called Curt Schilling a "Yankee fan." This is, of course, not a fair comparison. Coakley's faux pas was far more egregious to the citizens of  Massachusetts and more damaging to her candidacy than Moore in Alabama. Still the similarities are striking and the punditocracy at MSNBC are positively giddy in anticipation of surfing the blue wave they see on the horizon.

Prospects for Democrats flipping the Senate - Less Than Zero
With Jones in the Senate, the GOP is barely afloat with a 51-49 Senate majority. It doesn't seem a massive political tsunami should be necessary to flip a leaky Republican rowboat with a mere two seat majority. An energetic GOTV ripple or two might do it. But those numbers are misleading.

There are 33 contested Senate seats in this election cycle. Twenty four of those seats will be defended by Democrats, only nine by Republicans. This class of Democratic Senators were elected on the coattails of Barack Obama's re-election in 2012, and a number of them are in states carried by Donald Trump last year. Only two Republican seats are considered toss-ups and the other six are either leaning or strong Republican. The Democrats would have to take both toss-up seats and defend 100% of their own. It's just not going to happen.

In the 2010 Red Wave Republicans picked up six seats, but still fell three short of the majority. Unlike 2018, the 2010 election was an even playing field with Democrats defending 19 seats and Republicans 18. The 2006 Blue Wave was also contested on a relatively even playing field, with Democrats defending 18 seats and Republicans defending 15. Democrats picked up six seats and took the majority.

The wildcard for Senate predictions in this election is whether either the moonbat left or wingnut right successfully primary establishment candidates and run clown candidates that scare the electorate. As Republicans found in the 2010 and 2012 Senate races and again this year in Alabama, there are limits to what even partisan voters will accept in a candidate. We assume that voters from both parties have learned that lesson, but we could be wrong.  If the parties avoid that mistake and the candidates fall into the normal politician range our Dividist 2018 Senate prediction is that Republicans pick up 1 or 2 seats and retain the Senate majority [Nailed it.*].

Prospects for Democrats flipping the House - Pretty Darn Good
The House of Representatives is notoriously difficult to flip. Tip O'Neill's famous dictum "All Politics is local" is generally applied to House elections.  Historically, incumbent representatives enjoy 95%+ reelection rates with strong local support, even if Congress is wildly unpopular.  For whatever reason, voters who hate Congress still love their representative, particularly if they bring home the bacon, which they all do.

Despite the entire House being up for reelection every two years and only 1/3 of the Senate at risk each cycle, for over 100 years, the House never flipped unless the Senate flipped first or concurrently. That changed in 2010 when the GOP flipped the House but fell short in the Senate. This was widely attributed to Republicans undermining their electoral advantage by posting a slate of un-electable clown candidates. They did the same in 2012. Eventually they figured it out and took the Senate majority in 2014.

Any rule is only true until it is not. Tip O'Neill's maxim "All politics is local" was not true in 2006 and 2010 when nationalized wave elections made politics decidedly not local and flipped  House majorities.

What does history tell us?
A few years ago, we started looking at the history of flipping House elections, hoping to glean some insight into what nationalizes the electorate sufficiently to throw their local heroes out of office. We first looked at recent elections, then over the modern era, then at the previous century. Now we'll finish the job by looking at every single time the House flipped majorities since Republicans and Democrats first faced off in 1856:

In 1856 the Whig Party disbanded and the Republican Party was born. That year Republicans and Democrats faced off for the first time and Republicans won 37 seats. Democrat James Buchanan won the Presidential election, Democrats retained their majority in the Senate and secured a majority in the House with 133 seats. Two years later, in the 1858 mid-terms, Republicans picked up 90 seats and won a majority in the House against the previously unified Democratic government. That was the first flip of a House majority when Democrats and Republicans were the dominant political parties.

Since then, including 1856, there have been 80 81* Republican vs Democrat elections for control of the House and Senate. Over that period of time the House has flipped majorities exactly 17 18* times - in 1858(R), 1874(D), 1880(R), 1882(D), 1888(R), 1890(D), 1894(R), 1910(D), 1918(R), 1930(D), 1946(R), 1948(D), 1952(R), 1954(D), 1994(R), 2006(D), 2010(R) and maybe 2018(D).

A necessary but not sufficient condition.
Here is the interesting bit. Of those 17 18 flips over 160 162 years only three elections, 1880, 1888 and 1948 flipped against a divided government. All of the other 14 flips were against unified one party rule of the opposition party. Exactly like we have now had in 2018*. In addition, the three exceptions of 1880*, 1888*, and 1948* all occurred during Presidential election cycles. The House has never flipped majorities in a midterm election against a divided government. In the entire history of Republican vs Democratic elections, the House has only flipped against unified opposition party governments in a midterm election. Moreover, the House has never flipped against a divided government in the Modern Era since 1948. We call this electoral phenomena...

The O'Neill Exception:
  •  The House majority never flips against a divided government in a midterm election. Most of the time unified one party government is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition to flip majorities in the House of Representatives and is always a necessary condition to flip during midterms.  
This may be the most reliable rule of thumb in politics that no one knows. Historically speaking, the table is set for the Democrats to take the House majority in 2018. But, as noted, the O'Neill Exception is a necessary but not sufficient condition.   Other elements must also be in place to nationalize the election and flip the House. As I explained in a previous post about this phenomena:
"The interpretation of this phenomena is pretty clear. A nationalized  i.e. - not politics is local - election requires a national focus to energize the voters. A sufficient "wave" election needs an organizing principle to power the kind of tsunami that can flip the House. Focused anger/blame on a unified party in power does the trick. A divided government distributes the blame and blurs the electoral focus.  A divided government cannot drive a sufficient nationalized election groundswell to overcome local favorites and local politics. 
We conclude that, as we've stated repeatedly, a one party unified government is a necessary but not sufficient condition to flip the House majority. Still, a unified government can remain in place for many years without a reaction against the concentrated one party rule. Additional factors, above and beyond one party unified government rule, must come into play to precipitate a wave election.  In general it takes an additional combination of corruption, overreach and/or arrogance on the part of the unified party in power to align voters in opposition and nationalize the House election."
Because Trump won, and because the Democrats managed to snatch Senate defeat from the jaws of victory when the Senate playing field was slanted decidedly in their favor, we now have Unified One Party Republican Rule. And because we have Unified One Party Republican rule, the conditions now exist for Democrats to flip the House in 2018. The Democrats need to gain 25 seats to flip the House in 2018. Not as many as the 2006 Blue Wave when they picked up 31 seats. Not as many as the 2010 Red Wave when Republicans picked up 63 seats. Not as many as 1858 when Republicans flipped the House against Democrats for the very first time with a pickup of 90 seats. Doable, even likely.

What are the sufficient conditions to flip the House?
The most popular test for the prospect of a nationalized wave election flipping the House, is the generic partisan poll. Decision Desk HQ has a great detailed analysis of the prospects for a Democratic flip in 2018 utilizing a variety of analytical techniques, including an average of the Generic Polls:

2018 Generic Republican Democratic Poll

On the basis of an average ~9% Democratic edge in the Generic Poll, they are currently forecasting the Democrats to net 32 seats and a narrow majority. That is encouraging for Democrats and Dividists, but we must strike a cautionary note.  The Generic Poll is not a good forecasting tool, particularly this far out from the election.

Late in 2013, the Democrats also had a ~9% lead in the generic poll, prompting a lot of triumphalist tweeting about the prospects of Democrats reclaiming Congress.  One year later the GOP picked up 9 Senate and 13 House seats in the 2014 midterms. That said - it's different this time. In the 2014 midterms, the Democrats were up against a divided government and the historical precedence of the "O'Neill Exception." In the 2018 midterms the Democrats are facing a unified one party rule Republican government, and the "O'Neill Exception" has their back.

Above and beyond the necessary condition of running against a Unified Government to nationalize the election, history offers additional conditions common to prior House flips that sufficiently offend the electorate to vote against the party in power. In short, the unified party in power has to cooperate by demonstrating some combination of egregious legislative overreach, blatant corruption, and/or arrogant abuse of power. This is the Trump One Party Rule Unified Republican Government - so no problem. Those conditions are met.

The Dividist 2018 House of Representative prediction is the Democrats will pick up around ~35 seats and take majority control of the House [Democrats picked up 40 seats to take the majority*]

Another key for Democrats will be forging a nationalized campaign organized around a unifying message in opposition to Trump administration overreach. Just like they did successfully in 2006 against the Bush/Cheney administration. And they should avoid running the kind of brain dead, electorate fracturing, identity politics campaign that so many of them love. It would also help to replace polarizing leadership that may deter independent and moderate voters. We are looking at you, Nancy Pelosi.

If they do that, Democrats can wrest majority control of the House of Representative from the GOP, restore divided government, moderate government policy, and provide real oversight for the balance of the Trump (or Pence) administration.

Hope Floats (on a Blue Wave).

Cross-posted on Uniters.OrgThe Dividist is pleased to participate in Solomon Kleinsmith's  ambitious new venture to organize Centrists, Moderates and Independents. Check it out.

*ADDENDUM - The "O'Neill Exception" exceptions:

Three exceptions that prove the rule.
The 1880 election for the 47th Congress of coincided with the presidential election between Democrat Winfield Hancock and Republican James Garfield when Republican President Rutherford Hayes declined to run for reelection. Going into the election the government was divided. Democrats  held a 42-32 seat majority in the Senate. Republicans controlled the White House and a 148-132 seat majority in the House of Representatives. James Garfield won the Presidency, Republicans picked up 5 seats in the Senate to create a 37-37 tie (broken by Republican VP), and took control of the House by flipping the majority to 151-131 with a net gain of 19 seats and a unified Republican government. One interesting sidelight - 78% of the electorate turned out to vote in one of the largest turnouts in American history, and this was the closest popular vote in U.S. history with the presidential candidates separated by less that 2,000 votes.  
The 1888 election for the 51st Congress coincided with the presidential election between incumbent Democrat Grover Cleveland and Republican challenger Benjamin Harrison. Going into the election the government was divided. Republicans controlled a narrow 38-37 seat majority in the Senate. Democrats controlled the White House and a 167-154 seat majority in the House of Representatives. Benjamin Harrison won the Presidency, Republicans maintained their one seat majority in the Senate, and Republicans took control of the House by flipping the majority to 179-152 with a net gain of 25 seats and a unified Republican government. 
Dewey defeats Truman
The 1948 Election for the 81st Congress coincided with the presidential election between incumbent Democrat Harry Truman and Republican Thomas Dewey.  Going into the election the government was divided. Republicans controlled a 51-45 seat majority in the Senate and a 246-188 seat majority in the House of Representatives. Thomas Dewey - I mean - Harry Truman won the Presidency. Yeah, there was a lot of confusion about that election, and the electorate might have been anticipating a Dewey victory, as was the Chicago Daily Tribune. Regardless, Democrats flipped the Senate gaining 9 seats with a 54-42 majority and the House gaining 75 seats to a 263-171 majority and a unified Democratic government.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Since we called President Trump a corrupt, unstable, incompetent, narcissistic, race-baiting, thin-skinned authoritarian with the temperament of a child before the election... Why do we think it matters to keep calling him those same names after the election?

Quinnipiac University Poll on President Donald Trump
 August 2017 word cloud of Quinnipiac Poll asking Americans to describe President Trump in one word.
Creative name-calling of President Trump on mainstream and social media has become something of a national sport. Each day, fast on the heels of the latest idiocy to come out of the mouth of our perpetually aggrieved president [Today, as I write this, it's "shithole countries."], we get the "shocked! shocked!" hair-on-fire horrified characterizations of those perpetually aggrieved at the fact that he is still in the White House.  In this game you get extra points if the name-calling is wrapped in righteous indignation, high dudgeon or general hysteria.

Quinnipiac University Polls keep score with a periodic analysis that asks one question:
"What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of President Trump?" 
The graphic at the top of this post is the word cloud from the August scoreboard, and here are the most recent December results.
In "Fire and Fury" - Michael Wolff's account of the early months of the administration - we see variations on all the same words and characterizations:
Michael Wolff Fire and Fury"For Steve Mnuchin and Reince Priebus, he was an "idiot." For Gary Cohn, he was "dumb as shit." For H.R. McMaster he was a "dope." - Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury 
"I don't describe him as childlike, every person in the White House ... Literally, that is the common description among every one of his senior people," Wolff said. "That the president is somewhat like a child." - The Hill 
"An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won't read anything - not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored." (F&F via CNBC) 
"Wolff added that "100 percent of the people around" Trump, "senior advisers, family members, every single one of them, questions his intelligence and fitness for office." - NBC 
"Mr Wolff portrays the president as an ageing man who repeats stories and quotes some of Mr Trump's closest allies describing the president as “incapable of functioning in his job. - Telegraph 
“Bannon described Trump as a simple machine. The On switch was full of flattery, the Off switch full of calumny. The flattery was dripping, slavish, cast in ultimate superlatives, and entirely disconnected from reality: so-and-so was the best, the most incredible, the ne plus ultra, the eternal. The calumny was angry, bitter, resentful, ever a casting out and closing of the iron door.” - Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury  
“If the Trump White House was as unsettling as any in American history, the president’s views of foreign policy and the world at large were among its most random, uninformed, and seemingly capricious aspects."  Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury 
If nothing else, the book cranked the Trump vilification volume up to 10. And this is where it's taken us...

We have now reached the point where Trump insults are being classified and categorized by the punditocracy into those insults that are politically correct ("evil","spoiled brat","ignorant jerk", "asshole" ) and those insults that are politically incorrect ("sociopath", "mentally disturbed", "narcissistic personality disorder"). In this clip, Professor of Psychiatry Allen Frances tells MSNBC pundit Ari Melber that attributing President Trump's behavior to mental illness is demeaning and disrespectful ... to the mentally ill: