Monday, February 22, 2016

Cruising the Web

Two writers at The Federalist, Emily Ekins and Joy Pullmann, have an excellent essay looking to explain why so many young people find socialism appealing these days. Part of the reason is that they were born or came of age after the end of the Cold War and so have little idea what socialism has meant for countries in the modern world. They know that there was something called the Cold War, but they don't know much about the horrors of the system. My AP European History students, who are all very bright and engaged 12th graders, are amazed when we cover the horrors of the Soviet Union. They'd vaguely heard that Stalin was a Bad Guy, but they really didn't know any details. When they learn about the state-induced Ukrainian famine, they're shocked and can't believe that they had never heard that story before. I often spend a whole period just telling them some of my experiences from spending a summer in the Soviet Union under Brezhnev in 1979. Hearing what everyday life was like and how pervasive the sense of being spied on was from a person whom they know brings it all home for them.

The authors point to survey data that finds that while surveys have favorable opinions of socialism compared to other age groups, they can't define it.
So what do millennials think socialism is? A 2014 Reason-Rupe survey asked respondents to use their own words to describe socialism and found millennials who viewed it favorably were more likely to think of it as just people being kind or “being together,” as one millennial put it. Others thought of socialism as just a more generous social safety net where “the government pays for our own needs,” as another explained it.

If socialism is framed the way Sanders does, as just being a generous social safety net, it’s much harder to undermine among millennials. This narrative says government is a benevolent caretaker and pays for everybody’s needs (from everybody’s pockets), along the lines of the Obama administration’s Life of Julia montage.
That sounds about right from what I've observed from my high school students. And the next point that the authors make also sounds true. When asked questions about a government-managed economy versus a free-market economy, they still prefer the free market. They just don't know that socialism involves the government running the economy. As Ekins and Pullmann point out, young people have experienced government-run organizations and they much prefer those run by private businesses. When I teach the unit on the Bureaucracy, I give them a passage from James Q. Wilson's classic work, Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do And Why They Do It , which contrasts service at the DMV and McDonald's and then explains why the structure of government agencies and the role of incentives create that difference. There is also a section on how Donald Trump was able to come in and build an ice-skating rink at Rockefeller Center so much more quickly and cheaply than the city government could do it and why that was. And my students all get the difference. And they all have stories about how horrible the DMV can be. As teenagers, dealing with the DMV has been one of the few times they've actually had to deal much with a government bureaucracy. And it hasn't been a pleasant experience.

It's also ironic, as Ekins and Pullman remind us, that Democrats don't seem to be able to define the difference between socialism and what their Democratic Party stands for. Like Bernie Sanders, millennials associate socialism with Scandinavia and that makes it nice-sounding for them.
Perhaps the most important reason millennials are less concerned about socialism is that they associate socialism with Scandinavia, not the Soviet Union. Modern “socialism” today appears to be a gentler, kinder version. For instance, countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Norway offer a far more generous social safety net with much higher taxes.

In this view, government just covers people’s basic needs (from everybody’s pockets, of course), but doesn’t seize all the businesses and try to run them, or overtly attempt to control people’s consciences.

These countries actually are not socialist, but “socialistic.” To accommodate their massive social welfare spending, these countries opened their economies to free-market forces in the 1990s, sold off state-owned companies, eased restrictions on business start-ups, reduced barriers to trade and business regulation, and introduced more competition into health care and public services.

In fact, today these countries outrank the United States on business freedom, investment freedom, and property rights, according to the Heritage Economic Freedom Index. So, if anything, the lesson from Scandinavian countries is that market reforms, not socialist ones, explain their prosperity.
But of course, the image of Scandinavia as a socialist paradise persists to this day. Neither Bernie Sanders or any of the Democrats or Donald Trump have caught up on the changes in the past two decades.

The other problem is that young people have no idea of the effect that the massive debts that states are piling up to pay for all these nice benefits will have on their future.
The consequences of slower economic growth, lower productivity, and relatively lower standards of living are opaque unless you have something to compare it to (Norway is an exception here, because they have oil to sell to support their welfare apparatus). Ironically, the consequences of socialist-type policies inside the United States include the very economic effects millennials are so angry about: high college tuition, a rotten job market (especially for those on the bottom rungs of the career ladder), expensive health care, and expensive housing.

If young people had to pay for all the socialist schemes they ostensibly support, their support might rapidly erode. Take, for example, Joy’s brother, a millennial, who recently earned an $8,000 year-end productivity bonus. He was incensed to learn that he would take home only $5,000 of that after taxes. That’s the way most of us feel at tax time, and it’s a major reason politicians keep kicking the can down the road on things like Social Security and Medicare bankruptcy—because they understand people will be furious once they fully realize the costs of these government programs are too high for us all to afford.

Indeed millennials, like generations before them, become more averse to government social spending as their own income rises and have to pay more in taxes.
My students are often outraged when we get to the unit on economic policy and I show them a few charts indicating the impact of government spending on entitlements in the years when they will hope to be in their prime-earning years. They're horrified and suddenly quite willing to cut entitlements for the elderly and other government spending. Suddenly all those government programs that they have been supporting all year in class discussions no longer seem so worthwhile.

So I can will understand the appeal of Bernie Sanders' message to my students. Quite a few of them are very intrigued by his candidacy. And, of course, Hillary Clinton's message is not far behind. I think we need someone to take the approach Ross Perot did in 1992 when he'd just sit before a TV camera and spend a half hour going over charts demonstrating what government spending was going towards and how the growing government debt was going to affect ordinary people.

Some people compare Donald Trump to Ross Perot, but his actual message is nowhere as down-to-earth as Perot's was. I probably wouldn't detest him as much if he were actually about making the sort of decisions to address these problems as Perot promised to do. Instead, Trump seems to believe that he can fix Social Security, for example, by cutting "waste, fraud, and abuse." We've been promised that for decades now and politicians just don't want to admit that there isn't enough waste, fraud, and abuse to address the real imbalance in spending.

Paul Ryan did something like Perot's commercials when he gave the answer to the State of the Union. But we need it done over and over again in clear, simple language if that message is ever going to take hold over the popularity of promising lots of free stuff. As long as liberals pretend that everything can be paid for by taxing "millionaires and billionaires," they'll keep falling for the lure of socialism. Reality is just not as appealing as the cupcakes and unicorns that they're being promised.

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I still find it hard to believe that a third of the voters in South Carolina's GOP primary voted for Donald Trump. If blaming George W. Bush for 9/11 and claiming Bush lied to get us into Iraq while telling us how he likes the individual mandate and thinks Planned Parenthood does great stuff for women, and being exposed as a liar for his claims of having opposed the Iraq War before it startedas well as reiterating his call for George W. Bush's impeachment all in the week before the vote didn't sway his voters away, I guess nothing will. Because "he tells it like it is" or whatever. Except for when he's saying something just the opposite of what he said before. And then he lies about it. But hey, he's politically incorrect so it doesn't matter that he's lying to the public.

All I can hope is that the opposition to Trump will coalesce around someone else and do it fast. Jeb Bush dropping out is the first step. But things don't look auspicious after that. As John Podhoretz puts it,
Yes, Jeb Bush dropped out last night in an astoundingly graceful and deeply moving display of civility and decency. So that’s one down—and a big one, because the outside money spent on Bush’s behalf has mostly been dedicated to bringing Marco Rubio down.

Rubio will benefit from Bush’s departure in that sense, though there’s no certainty his 4-to-8 percent of the vote will simply line up en masse behind his fellow Floridian.

But Ben Carson, who delivered a bitter non-concession speech an hour after polls closed in South Carolina, made it clear he’s staying in for the time being. So too with John Kasich who seems determined to hold on even though he has no organization to speak of but is the governor of Ohio—where the primary is on March 15, more than three weeks from now.

Last night, Carson and Kasich together received about 15 percent of the vote. If they eat up 15 percent of the vote in the so-called SEC primary day on March 1—that’s 12 states—they will make it all but impossible for the only two alternatives to Trump to catch up to his 35 percent.

Neither of those alternatives is going to drop either. Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucus and ought to be able to win Texas, the state he represents as a senator, on March 1. The problem for Cruz going forward is that there was no state better constituted for Cruz—who is running as the hard-right religious-conservative candidate—to win again than South Carolina. It was a bad night for him.

Marco Rubio hasn’t won anywhere yet. But he roared back from a disaster in New Hampshire, is the most fluent and most likable candidate in the field, and as in Iowa, outperformed the polls.

Rubio is the overwhelming second choice. He’s not going anywhere.

The not-Trump party is big and weak. The Trump party is small but strong. And as those three cheerleading pre-teens at a Trump rally in January sang to a cheering throng, “Deal from strength or get crushed every time.”
Pundits can claim that this or that politician has little chance of winning, but that doesn't mean that a man who had the hubris to decide to run in the first place will bow to the analysis of some writer who never had the guts to run for public office on his or her own. For example, David Wasserman of 538 published a column at 538 the day before the South Carolina vote explaining how Cruz has "a huge math problem" when it comes to gaining delegates.
The states that are his most natural fits — those with the highest proportions of evangelical voters — are also the least likely to award their delegates on a winner-take-all basis. In other words, Cruz’s votes may not translate into delegates nearly as efficiently as his rivals’.

An examination of the GOP delegate landscape shows that in states where evangelical Protestants are at least 30 percent of the population, just 22 percent of delegates will be awarded on a winner-take-all basis,1 compared to 47 percent of delegates in other states...

his delegate allocation matrix puts Cruz’s campaign at a serious disadvantage. For example, if Cruz wins the primary in his home state of Texas by one vote, he’ll probably win a handful more delegates than his nearest competitor. By contrast, if Marco Rubio or Trump win Florida by one vote, either would win a whopping 99 more delegates than his nearest competitor.

If you only count states that vote after South Carolina, the winner-take-all versus proportional gap gets even more daunting for Cruz. In fact, after South Carolina, the only winner-take-all states with a high proportion of evangelical Protestants are Indiana, Missouri and West Virginia — all of which are winner-take-all by congressional district.

These disparities could help explain why Cruz’s position in betting markets remains very anemic — a good deal behind both Trump and Rubio — even though he is doing fairly well in the polls.
We saw how that worked in South Carolina. Cruz came in a very close second behind Rubio, but neither of them got any delegates from the day's results. Donald Trump got all 50 of them. So even doing well in a proportional state is not going to help the other candidates if the delegates are awarded by congressional district. So even talking about the March 1 elections as proportional can be deceptive.

And of course, Cruz is facing a lot of questions about how he can do going forward if he couldn't come in first or even beat out Rubio in a state that seemed designed for him to be successful. As Philip Klein writes,
f Ted Cruz can't make it in South Carolina, can he make it anywhere?

Following his strong third place showing in New Hampshire, I declared Cruz the new front-runner in the GOP race. I did so, because I viewed South Carolina as tailor-made for him — a state dominated by evangelicals and very conservative voters. With many conservatives having dropped out of the race and Ben Carson badly hobbled, it seemed there for the taking, especially given how strong his turnout operation proved in Iowa.

But Cruz ended up not only losing to somebody with a liberal record in Trump, but also Sen. Marco Rubio, albeit by only a few hundred votes.

It's important to remember that consolidating support of conservatives isn't just fundamental to Cruz's strategy for winning the Republican nomination, but it's central to his strategy of taking the general election. The Cruz theory is that Republicans lose presidential elections when they nominate squishes like Bob Dole, Sen. John McCain and Mitt Romney and conservatives stay home. His argument has been, if the GOP nominates him, he can energize conservatives in November. But that argument is now a lot more difficult to make given that he couldn't beat Trump or Rubio in South Carolina.
Tim Alberta piles on concerning Cruz's problems.
With three-quarters of the electorate identifying as evangelical, it was shaping up as a great night for Ted Cruz, who launched his campaign at Liberty University and has boasted of building a “firewall” to dominate the March 1 southern states because of their ultra-conservative, religious composition. South Carolina represented the first test of that theory.

Cruz failed. Among South Carolina’s evangelical Republican voters, Trump won 33 percent, Cruz won 27 percent, and Rubio won 22 percent. And while Cruz did carry the 38 percent of “very conservative” voters in the state, it wasn’t enough to finish anywhere close to Trump. Nor was it enough to beat Rubio, whom he finished roughly 1,000 votes behind.

This spells trouble for Cruz on Super Tuesday. He remains better-organized than any other candidate across the South (which should make a difference, considering that both Trump and Rubio benefited from having impressive field operations in South Carolina). But there’s no question that Cruz’s inability to carry the evangelical vote here portends poorly for him in states of similar ideological and demographic makeup.

That’s a big problem for Cruz on March 1. But he faces even bigger challenges beyond then.

Both Trump and Rubio performed evenly with non-evangelicals in South Carolina: Trump took 30 percent, and Rubio took 22 percent. But Cruz saw a significant drop-off, winning just 13 percent of that group. This echoes Cruz’s performance in Iowa (33 percent with evangelicals, 19 percent with non-evangelicals) and New Hampshire (24 percent with evangelicals, 8 percent with non-evangelicals).
Cruz had a vision of how he could win the nomination and the general election. The results from South Carolina just proved his vision flawed. Just as we saw with Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, being able to win Iowa's evangelical vote isn't enough to propel a candidate to victory elsewhere.

As Jonathan Tobin points out, one of Cruz's big problems is that some of his natural supporters are choosing Trump over him.
Cruz’s assumption was that once other candidates that appealed to social conservatives like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum dropped out, he could count on a united evangelical vote. But what Trump showed us in South Carolina is that there is no such thing as a united bloc of religious conservatives. Or even of Tea Party voters that should, in theory, also be flocking to Cruz. What’s killing Cruz is that a lot of people who ought not to be voting for someone with Trump’s record are doing so. Cruz is right that he is the principled conservative that represents the beliefs of these voters. But they are still voting for Trump.

Trump may be hitting a ceiling at about one-third of the vote. But that bloc is largely composed of the Tea Party and evangelicals that Cruz assumed would never stick with the frontrunner. If this pattern is repeated in the SEC states, Cruz will lose them. And once you get past that point in the calendar, the GOP race moves to Northern, Midwestern and southern states where Cruz’s brand of conservatism has even less of a constituency. Trump may triumph there too, especially if Rubio is forced to compete with Kasich. But whatever happens in those states, the least likely outcome there would be victories for Cruz.

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Rubio might be the pick of most Republican politicians for the best candidate to beat both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But he still hasn't won anything yet. Maybe he'll pick up some of the disappointed Bush votes, but that's not guaranteed. They might prefer another experienced governor who has a lot of experience instead of the new guy. John Kasich might be the guy to best benefit from Bush's withdrawal. Klein writes about the risks that Rubio is facing, especially if he doesn't win in Nevada,
Rubio will be going into Super Tuesday on March 1 with four straight losses, and none of the 11 states voting that day can be seen as obvious places for a win. Rubio may be able to go 0-2, or 0-3, or even 0-4. But how does he recover if he goes 0-15?
But Klein also says something that I've been thinking. That just as Rubio and Kasich might be splitting the anti-Trump vote, Cruz and Trump might be splitting the anti-establishment vote. It might end up helping Rubio for Cruz to stay in the race.
All of that said, I want to offer one counterargument to a bit of conventional wisdom that's forming — that if Cruz and Rubio stay in, they prevent either one from emerging as the anti-Trump and thus make it hard for Trump to lose. There's also a way that one could see how Cruz staying in the race could benefit Rubio. What happens if Cruz splits the conservative, anti-Establishment/outsider vote with Trump, allowing Rubio to cobble together a coalition of more traditional Republican voters and somewhat conservatives? In a Trump vs. Rubio race, for instance, maybe a lot of conservatives riled up about immigration vote Trump. But with Cruz in the race, they can get somebody who wasn't part of the Gang of 8, and who is more conservative than Trump. Does Cruz absorb enough of these voters to actually help Rubio?
Klein ends up with one more thought that I bet we'll be hearing a lot about in the near future.
Any Rubio path to the nomination would have to depend on racking up delegates on March 15, when Florida votes. That same day Ohio, a winner-takes-all state, carries 66 delegates — which should be in Kasich's back pocket. But imagine an alternative scenario under which Kasich drops out, endorses Rubio, and delivers him Ohio, paving his way to victory? Could that form the basis for a Rubio-Kasich ticket?
Back after the first debate when Kasich did surprisingly well, mostly because he talked about going to the wedding of a gay friend, I heard several pundits saying that we would eventually see a Rubio-Kasich or a Kasich-Rubio ticket. I can see them being much more simpatico together than any other combination of candidates. What I can't see if John Kasich, after having done so well in New Hampshire, just altruistically bowing out before the Ohio vote. And I suspect that there is no GOP insider who can successfully make that argument to him.

However, Rubio doesn't seem to be well organized in the Super Tuesday states and he doesn't have a whole lot of money on hand. So he'll have to depend on the Super PACs to help him out there. And Cruz is the only candidate who has built solid organizations on the ground in those states. We'll see how much that matters. Jeremy Carl writes at NRO,
The stakes will be higher for Cruz on March 1 than for any other candidate, but with a strong showing, including, perhaps a win in the biggest prize, his home state of Texas, Cruz could easily wind up in a very strong position after Super Tuesday.

However, if the goal is to stop Trump from winning the nomination, both Rubio and Cruz may have to alter their strategy going forward. Head-to-head polling regularly shows both Cruz and Rubio beating Trump one-on-one. It’s partly for this reason that the two have trained their fire on each other, each hoping to be the one to take on Trump. What South Carolina shows is that this choice, appealing as it may be to each campaign in theory, may not really be available in practice. Neither Cruz nor Rubio seems likely to be able to easily vanquish the other. It may be that their only path to victory going forward is to work together to take Trump down.
I don't know how much attacks from other candidates and Super PACs are hurting Trump. I keep think they will and his supporters keep proving me wrong. But it might help if Cruz and Rubio stop beating each other up and aim their fire at Trump just because it will staunch some of the wounds that each gain when they go after each other. And I suspect that they both so heartily dislike each other now that they won't be able to band together.

And it sounds as if the Cruz Super PAC is all set to spend its time attacking Rubio instead of going after Trump.

And stories about how the Cruz campaign tried to imply that Marco Rubio had renounced the Bible to a Cruz staffer and Ted Cruz's father, because that is just whom Rubio would make such a statement to, will not engender any hope of cooperation between the two candidates.

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And we knew this would happen. Now Donald Trump is wondering, just wondering if Marco Rubio is eligible to run for the presidency because his parents weren't natural-born citizens. Trump isn't saying that Rubio isn't eligible; he's just retweeting someone who wonders that. Of course, it's even more ridiculous than his claims about Ted Cruz's eligibility, but Trump just likes to throw these little jabs out there and take up as much political oxygen as he can. And of course the media like to help him out. And even though Barack Obama was sworn in as president twice even though one of his parents wasn't a U.S. citizen, Trump has still made a fuss about that controversy. Why should he deny himself the fun of casting doubt on Rubio's status.

He might even join those birthers who doubted that Chester Arthur was a natural-born citizen since his father was born in Ireland and there were rumors that Arthur had been born in Canada instead of Vermont. In those days citizenship came through the father rather than either parent. Arthur's father was not a citizen at the time of his birth, just like Rubio's weren't when he was born. Sounds like a conspiracy right up Trump's dirty alley.

Instead of flipping a coin, the Democrats awarded a delegate by pulling cards in Nevada. And, of course, Clinton got the lucky Ace. Why are we still using the caucus system? With all the stories of people not being able to get in to vote in Saturday's caucuses in Nevada, isn't it about time that states got rid of the anachronistic system?

And while Hillary is racking up the delegate totals, there are still some ominous signs for her from Nevada's results.
That said, the Nevada caucus results once again highlight several her weaknesses. Even though she dominated among black voters, she lost Hispanics to Sanders, which shows that her support among Democrats of color is not monolithic. She got pummeled among voters under 45 for the third time, and again got crushed on the metrics of caring and trustworthiness. These are genuine vulnerabilities that will cast a shadow over her campaign heading into the general election.
That's why she has to be cheering Donald Trump on from the sidelines.

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