Monday, August 31, 2020

- Cognitive Madisonianism Part Deux -
Divided government, protecting the filibuster, and voting for hypocrites.

 Biden Shrugged  
The 2016 presidential election stunned pundits and voters alike (including the Dividist). But, as surprising as the electoral victory of Donald Trump was in 2016, a case can be made that the 2016 Senate election results were even more shocking. And therein lies a lesson for 2020.

Four years ago, The Dividist shared his thoughts on the 2016 election in a post entitled "Cognitive Madisonianism, splitting tickets, the 2016 Senate race, and why American voters are smarter than pundits and political scientists."

The Dividist was enthralled to discover the phrase "Congnitive Madisonianism" and eager to put it to use. As he explained then, it is a political science term for the simple concept that American voters, in their collective wisdom, prefer and vote for divided government. That concept being the raison d'etre for this blog, the reader can appreciate the Dividist's enthusiasm.

In that post we assessed the current state of the election and made some predictions about the likelihood of maintaining our happily divided government across the new year:

"In 2016 the GOP will keep the House majority, the Democrats will keep the Executive branch and our government will stay happily divided regardless of what happens in the Senate. The dividist voting heuristic strives to Keep It Simple Stupid and walk the simplest path of least resistance to keeping the government divided. In 2016, that path is to vote Clinton for President (or - at the least - not vote for Trump), and vote to reelect your Republican Congressman. For the Senate - vote your conscience."

In 2016, the Dividist could see a rationale to vote for either party gaining majority control in the Senate:

"The best dividist reason to support a Democratic Senate is based on the fear that some "Black Swan", "October surprise" event (e-mails, Wikileaks, Clinton Foundation, Trump quitting the race, etc) will derail the Clinton campaign juggernaut sufficiently to let the GOP nominee be elected President.  A Democratic Senate is a backstop to prevent Unified One Party Republican Rule.

The best dividist reason to support a Republican Senate is based on moderating Supreme Court picks. If the Democrats win the Senate there is a real possibility they will implement a "Nuclear Option" rule change for Supreme Court nominees. That means a Clinton Presidency and Democratic Senate could steamroll a GOP minority and confirm anyone Clinton nominates for the Supreme Court. They might even withdraw Garland to nominate and confirm a more reliably liberal judge.

Given the continuing catastrophe of the Trump campaign, the Dividist thinks hoping for a GOP Senate and moderation of Clinton picks for the Supreme Court is the better choice."

You win some. You lose some. For a current comparison, our 2020 prediction is that the Democrats will keep the House majority, Joe Biden and the Democrats will win the Executive Branch, and the best way to keep the government divided will be for the GOP to hold a slim Senate majority. But, as in 2016, the outcome of the Senate races in 2020 are very much in doubt.

That Was Then. This Is Now.

The best reason to support a Democratic Senate in 2020 is based on the fear that some "Black Swan", "October Surprise" event will derail the Biden campaign juggernaut sufficiently to let Donald Trump be reelected President.  A Democratic Senate is a an additional backstop to constrain the worst authoritarian and criminal impulses of Donald Trump - which are legion. But unlike 2016, the Democrats have the House majority and will still have the House majority after the election to protect against that eventuality. So even if he wins re-election, we can count on continued oversight from the House and probably another impeachment. Democrats can take their pick of Trump's "high crimes and misdemeanors." 

The best reason to support a Republican Senate in 2020 is based on moderating what will otherwise become a Unified One Party Rule Democratic Government. If the Democrats win the Senate and the White House there is a very real possibility they will implement a "Nuclear Option" rule change eliminating the legislative filibuster. Even Mitch McConnell did not go that far in his six years as Senate Majority leader. He could have. He was under tremendous pressure from President Trump and the wingnut fringe to do just that. Regardless of what you think about McConnell, you have to give him this - he showed fidelity to the institution of the Senate and afforded a degree of protection for the minority Democrats by permitting the continued use of  the legislative filibuster. 

Some leading Democrats recently asserted that they would not support eliminating the filibuster if they win the Senate majority. But Democrats do not have a good track record on this issue. In 2013, it was Harry Reid and the Democrats that first pushed the Senate down the slippery filibuster slope when they eliminated it for judicial and cabinet confirmations. Among the Democratic Senators that took that first step and voted to trigger the Nuclear Option were Diane Feinstein, Jon Tester, Jeanne Sheehan, Michael Bennett, Cory Booker, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy, Kirsten Gillibrand, Chris Coons, Maize Hirono, Charles Schumer, Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden, Dick Durbin, Angus King, Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey, Bernie Sanders, Patrick Leahy, Debbie Stabenow, Claire McCaskill, and Tammy Baldwin. In fact, of the current Democratic Senators who were in the Senate then, only Joe Manchin voted against it. Even Vice President Joe Biden supported the move. Under unified one party rule government, the Democrats will be under enormous pressure to implement the hard left progressive agenda and steamroll the GOP.  Democrats simply cannot be trusted to preserve the filibuster rule which protects the interest of political minorities. 

Which leads us to a conundrum and brings us back to the 2016 comparison. What we are talking about doing now is exactly what we were talking about then: Voting strategically and splitting tickets to maintain divided government and moderate the likely Democratic President.  

Cognitive Madisonianism Led Us Astray in 2016

There is a case to be made that the only reason the Republicans held the Senate in 2016 was because voters were so certain that Hillary Clinton would be elected President. Democrats went into the election with a huge advantage. As the Dividist explained then

"The Democrats have a huge structural advantage in the 2016 Senate races. Democrats are only defending 10 of the 34 seats contested this cycle... The GOP will lose Senate seats... Donald Trump will not be providing any coattails to Republican Senate candidates. In most states, Donald Trump is a millstone around their neck. Cognitive Madisonianism is the political opposite of partisan coattails. If Republicans maintain the Senate majority, it will only be because Americans split their vote and consciously decide to keep that additional check on the Clinton administration." 

And that is exactly what happened. While over three million more Americans did indeed vote for Clinton, Trump was elected based on the Electoral College vote. This was where the voters outsmarted themselves. A good example of the phenomena occurred in two critical swing states. Trump won the electoral vote in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by narrow margins, but, Republicans Pat Toomey and Ron Johnson won their Senate seats by much larger margins than Trump in those states. The only conclusion is that the people voting for Clinton against Trump also voted for GOP Senators to moderate her administration

Again, Democrats had a huge advantage. There were 34 Senate seats contested in the 2016 election. The Republicans in the 2016 class of Senators were swept into office propelled by the Tea Party Red Wave of 2010 and included GOP victories in traditionally blue and purple states. Republicans needed to defend 24 of the contested seats while Democrats only needed to defend 10.  There was every reason for Democrats to be optimistic about making significant gains and - since Hillary Clinton was likely to be President - they only needed 4 net seats to take the majority. Even as late as election eve, Democrats were confident of retaking the Senate majority. 

So what happened? It was a bad night for Democrats. The Democrats  picked up only two seats, in Illinois and New Hampshire, and the GOP successfully defended everything else.  The shocking election of Donald Trump overshadowed the Senate results. The 2016 Senate races represented a pathetic level of under-performance by the Democrats given the advantages they had going in. Overconfidence in a certain Clinton victory was unquestionably a factor. That overconfidence resulted in an unintended consequence. Virtually everyone was convinced Clinton would be President. For a small but significant quantum of voters, that meant it was important to vote for Republican Senate candidates to constrain her inevitable administration. That was then. This is now. 

Nevertheless - Cognitive Madisonianism Is The Way To Go In 2020

Despite the 2016 result, we are taking another bite of the apple in 2020. While always wary of the Democrats propensity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, we have to go with the odds, and all indicators are pointing to a Biden victory. After both conventions we find no meaningful statistical shift in Biden's ~7 point lead before the conventions. As long as Biden hangs around the 50% level of support, he's tracking significantly better against Trump than Clinton did in 2016. Nate Silver and twitter acquaintance  @Autark are tracking the difference between '16 and now:

Comparing Biden and Clinton vs Trump

Biden and the Democrats have not, are not, and will not make the mistakes of 2016. The 2020 election will be more like 2018 than 2016. But for those who cannot get past the polling failures of 2016 - lets go to Professor Alan Lichtman, one of the few who got the 2016 election right, utilizing his polling indifferent "13 Keys" methodology. Lichtman is predicting a Biden victory

"Lichtman bases his prediction on a model of "13 keys" that can be answered as either true or false for any given election. The "13 keys" in his system include factors such as the economy, incumbency, social unrest and scandals, as well as the candidates' personal charisma.

"The secret is keeping your eye on the big picture of incumbent strength and performance. And don't pay any attention to the polls, the pundits, the day-to-day ups and downs of the campaign. And that's what the keys gauge. The big picture," Lichtman explained."

Barring a black swan / October surprise, Biden will be elected POTUS. The only way to maintain a moderated and centered federal government is to keep the Senate under Republican majority control. At the time of this writing, on the eve of Labor Day and the traditional starting gun for the Presidential race, control of the Senate looks like a coin flip. But there is a clear path to an optimal divided government outcome. Using Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball analysis as a basis, this is how we get there...

The "Leans" and "Likely" Democratic seats go to the Democrats. So Arizona and Colorado flip Blue. The "Leans" and "Likely" GOP Seats go to the GOP. So Alabama flips Red (Sorry Doug Jones - You're a good man - but it's Alabama). Of the three toss-up states - Iowa, North Carolina, and Maine - the incumbent Republicans (Ernst, Thomas, Collins) must hold two seats. End result - a 51-49 Republican majority in the Senate with Mitt Romney the deciding vote. The Dividist is good with that outcome. 

That said, we understand the angst and anger of our Never Trump brethren demanding that every elected Republican in the federal government be thrown into the GOP funeral pyre, the party burned to ground or, banished to the wilderness for an electoral cycle or two.

We will not argue whether Trump enablers in the Senate are hypocrites that deserve to be thrown out of office. They do. 

But the potential damage of a Unified One Party Rule Democratic government with a nuked filibuster cannot be overstated. Joe Biden is a center-left establishment liberal Democrat. He is known as an effective negotiator willing to reach across the aisle to craft bi-partisan solutions. He was effective as the Obama administration ambassador to the Senate when the GOP had a much greater majority. With a one seat majority in the Senate, and Mitt Romney a swing vote, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have no choice but to work with President Joe Biden. On the other hand, if the Democrats take the Senate majority, Biden will have no defense from his left flank and the worst impulses of the fringe moonbat wing of his party. Harry Reid is (semantically) returning to the scene of the crime, Democrats are licking their chops. eager to complete the job he started, and will dismantle this important institutional Senate norm. If we want to avoid that we can, but we have to reelect a few hypocrites. 

The Dividist Recommends Cognitive Madisonianism: 

Vote for Biden. Vote for your Democratic representative. Vote to keep your Republican Senator in office for another cycle to keep our government happily divided, centered, and working as the Framers of the Constitution intended.

Cross-Posted at Medium

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