Thursday, November 08, 2018

Cruising the Web

Here are some random thoughts on the results of Tuesday's elections.

The predicted blue tsunami never showed up. Oh, darn. With record turnout, the results were mixed reflecting the different offices being contested. And that all supported what we've been talking about this week in my AP Government classes. We'd been covering how the House and Senate were designed deliberately as two very different bodies. In talking about how the House was created to be closer to the people and one way that was true was by having two-year terms so people could vote them out if they were displeased compared to the Senate's six-year terms. And that helps explain why the House could flip between the parties when the Senate saw increases in the Republicans' numbers.

Since this is the week that we're covering the Constitution and discussing the checks and balances system in our federal government. On Tuesday, we'd covered the checks that the Legislative has on the Executive Branch. So today, I could introduce the term, "divided government" to my students and ask them to look at the chart they had listing those checks to predict what actions we might see from the Democratic House toward the Executive Branch. It was a timely connection between my curriculum and national news.

We also talked about what difference an increased Senate majority might mean. The kids immediately understood that it meant that Trump could get more judicial nominations through the Senate. I also pointed out to them that the end of the filibuster also applied to executive officers. I predicted that there would be such officials retiring or asked to leave now that Trump could be assured of getting those nominations through the Senate. Then one of my students came back after school to exclaim over how the Attorney General was asked to retire just hours after I'd made that prediction. It's nice I can impress my students with my political punditry.

I feel for Jeff Sessions which is rather ironic since I was pretty angry at him for being the first senator to endorse Donald Trump. I think his early support for Trump helped Trump in the GOP primaries. But, as the Washington Examiner writes, he didn't deserve the way that Trump has treated him.
Sessions never deserved the treatment he got. He certainly didn’t deserve it from the president whom he supported from early on, when no other elected official would. Sessions was always a friend of Trump, and the tragedy is that his loyalty led to his humiliation.

As attorney general, Sessions was unfairly smeared by the Left as a racist. He rose above this abuse and served his country ably. And from Trump’s perspective, he was arguably the most effective Cabinet member at implementing his agenda. A hawk on immigration and a true believer in law and order, Sessions helped form the Trump administration’s policy of enforcement. He cracked down on violent foreign gangs, such as MS-13, and the sanctuary city policies that were enabling them. He reformed the immigration court system to make it a more effective institution designed to serve Americans’ interests before anyone else’s.

You might wonder, what was there for Trump not to like? Well, what soured the relationship between Sessions and Trump was something Sessions was honor-bound to do.

Upon his swearing-in, Sessions recused himself from the investigation of Trump’s campaign because he had himself been involved in that campaign. It was his only choice under Department of Justice ethics guidelines. For that reason, perhaps, Sessions wrongly assumed that Trump would understand.

Trump did not understand. Instead, he said he never would have nominated Sessions had he known that Sessions would recuse himself from what soon became the Mueller investigation. He called Sessions an “idiot.” Despite having just gone through the nomination process with him, Trump said Sessions ought to resign from the position.

Early on, Trump’s anger was nearly the undoing of his presidency. Whereas Robert Mueller is actually highly unlikely to come up with anything against him, Trump nonetheless encouraged the idea that he had something to hide by throwing such tantrums over it.

Trump proceeded to heap abuse upon Sessions, both in private and in public, for the next two years. He disparaged him as a less than a “real” attorney general. He reportedly called him a “dumb Southerner.”

Trump’s threats to fire Sessions hurt no one but Trump himself. The speculation over whether the Senate would vote to confirm anyone as his replacement was always harmful and distracting to Trump’s agenda, and even to such Trump priorities as immigration enforcement.

But during this period, Sessions did his work at Justice in accordance with his and Trump’s beliefs. He was a loyal soldier, willing to tolerate Trump’s bullying if that’s what it took to wield the power of his office and implement what he believed to be right and lawful.
Here's hoping that Sessions returns to run against Doug Jones for his old Senate seat in 2020.

My students quickly saw that the House could use their majority to try to impeach either the President or other administration officials. They can also use their oversight powers to make the administration very uncomfortable. Mollie Hemingway reports on a conversation that Representative Jerrold Nadler, the prospective new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, had on the Acela train about his plans for that committee in the new Congress. Nadler is eager to investigate Justice Kavanaugh.
The two discussed two routes for investigating new Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh. The first is to go after the FBI for how they handled the investigation into unsubstantiated claims he sexually assaulted women. “They didn’t even do a half-ass job,” he said. “They didn’t interview 30 witnesses who said ‘Interview me! I’ve got a lot to say!'” he said, while mimicking people waving their hands to be called on.

His other plan is to go after Kavanaugh because “there’s a real indication that Kavanaugh committed perjury.” He claimed that The Atlantic published an article about the allegations of a third woman. Then he claimed that when Kavanaugh was “asked at a committee hearing under oath when he first heard of the subject, he said, ‘When I’d heard of the Atlantic article.’ But there is an email chain apparently dating from well before that from him about ‘How can we deal with this?'” Nadler told the caller.
Nadler is clearly uninformed about what Kavanaugh was talking about.
Nadler was apparently discussing a slightly different claim, since debunked, which is that Kavanaugh perjured himself when he denied hearing of The New Yorker’s disputed allegation involving Deborah Ramirez until the story came out. Considering that The New Yorker included a denial from Kavanaugh in its own controversial story, and was asking him about it right before publication, and he acknowledged all that in his Senate testimony, it’s unclear how fruitful such a perjury claim would be.

When the caller objected to the plan, Nadler pushed back, “That’s not technical, that’s real.” He conceded that maybe it was not a great plan, since even if Kavanaugh could be removed, it might not result in the political results desired.

“The worst-case scenario — or best case depending on your point of view — you prove he committed perjury, about a terrible subject and the Judicial Conference recommends you impeach him. So the president appoints someone just as bad.”

When the caller suggested going after Kavanaugh quietly, Nadler explained, “You can’t do it quietly because word will get out that the FBI or the committee is reaching out to witnesses.”

The caller then suggested that impeachment might still be worthwhile because the president elected in 2020 could nominate someone else. Nadler said the problem was that any investigation wouldn’t take long enough to last until the presidential election. “There are a finite amount of witnesses. I don’t see why it should take long at all,” he said. “We’re not talking about a 30-year scheme of getting money from Russians via hidden sources — that takes time.”
Oh, we're set for lots of fun. Some Democrats clearly didn't learn the lesson of what their obstreperous approach to Kavanaugh had cost them on Tuesday.

And then there was this tidbit.
Following the train ride, Nadler weighed in on Twitter about the news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has resigned, using the language of accountability: “Americans must have answers immediately as to the reasoning behind @realDonaldTrump removing Jeff Sessions from @TheJusticeDept. Why is the President making this change and who has authority over Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation? We will be holding people accountable.”

In March 2017, however, Nadler called for Sessions to resign:
Allahpundit is less than impressed with Nadler's knowledge of how impeachment works.
Is Jerry Nadler under the impression that Democrats now have 67 Senate seats? Or is he under the impression that 20 or so Republicans might vote to remove Kavanaugh even if you had video of him cackling about his plans to perjure himself before the Senate? Maybe, if you had something really damaging on him, they’d agree to censure.

Or, third option, does he think that the shame of being impeached by the House would drive Kavanaugh to resign, even though he just endured a month of being accused of serial gang rape as a teenager in order to win confirmation?
Yup, Pelosi is going to have trouble reining in some of these committee chairs.

One enjoyable result from the election results was that several of the progressive politicians who were regarded as the most attractive and promising new faces for the Democrats were defeated. Noah Rothman writes about this "great progressive collapse." He pointed to this list from the National Journal's Josh Kraushaar of progressive candidates who lost.

Rothman goes through this list of candidates that the left was really excited about, but who ended up losing.
And of course, the great hopes of Democrats for the 2018 cycle—Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke and Georgia’s Stacey Abrams—both (as of this writing) went down to defeat. Like Ocasio-Cortez, they suffered from a national media culture that was deeply invested in buying what they were selling. That contributed to their stagnation as candidates. They entered the race as unabashed progressives keen to appeal to the mercurial passions of liberal grassroots activists, and they never tailored that message to their states, which were more hostile toward a progressive message than the average pop-political weekly magazine in the Acela Corridor.

Friends of progressivism do their movement no favors by filling its champions’ heads with the false notion that they are popular. The failure of these office-seekers to understand and acknowledge the obstacles that center-right states and districts place before them leads to hubris, bravado, and a lack of seriousness. In such a comfortable environment, the progressive left’s most foolhardy aspirants are tempted to say out loud what they actually believe. It’s clear now that, even on a good night for Democrats, that kind of honesty represents a grave error in judgment. As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said with some unintended wisdom, they just paid for it.
Of course, the Democrats seem poised to make that same mistake for the 2020 presidential nomination. They should look at the candidates who defeated Republicans to take those seats in the House. By in large, those were candidates running as moderates to appeal to independent voters in suburban districts.

I never understood all the fuss over Beto O'Rourke. But the media can't give up their fascination with O'Rourke. This column by Ben Mathis-Lilley in Slate entitled "Don’t Overthink It, Just Nominate Beto in 2020," is typical.
He did astoundingly well for a Texas Democrat. He’s already got a national profile. He’s proved he can raise a ton of money without indebting himself to corporations. His Uplifting Articulate Guy persona presents a clear alternative to Trumpism without coming across as scolding or patronizing. While he lost his Senate race, he has experience in Congress, but not so much experience that past votes will haunt him. He’s shown a rare willingness to answer tough questions. And as the clip above indicates, he has the charisma to make a live-TV F-word somehow come across as endearing and wholesome. Beto 2020—why not?
Really? That's all they need to talk about the presidency? I thought Obama was underqualified with only a few years in the Senate before declaring for the presidency and Trump didn't have any government experience at all. We've had presidents of varying success before whose only leadership experience was in the military. But leading forces in war is certainly more of a qualification for government leadership than leading a privately held real estate company.

But Beto O'Rourke had only been in the House since 2013. Before that he was one member on the El Paso City Council. Sadly, we seem to be at the point that too many people don't give a flip about a potential president's prior leadership experience.

If O'Rourke had run, as other red-state Democrats did, more to the center, he might have been able to edge out a victory. But he seemed to succumb the leftist pipe dream that they could turn Texas blue. As Douglas Johnson and Molly Prince indicate, the impressive thing about O'Rourke was that he could raise so much more money and have so many more on staff and still managed to lose.
Politico had run a pre-analysis of how Beto blew his chance in Texas.
. What exactly, inquiring and envious Democratic minds will want to know, did he do with that $70 million? Why wasn’t he barraging persuadable Republicans with mail and phone calls and door knocks? Could he not identify them because of his campaign’s refusal to invest in polling and data analytics? Did he consciously avoid playing on their issues, determining it was more profitable for his political future to lose as a liberal than compete as a moderate? What was to be gained by calling for Trump’s impeachment? And what evidence exists of his appeal to the middle of the electorate?

O’Rourke can’t be blamed for receiving media hype. He shouldn’t be penalized for hauling in historic sums of cash. And he didn’t ask to be vaulted into the 2020 presidential conversation. There is no disputing his intelligence, his magnetism, his earnestness. But elections are ultimately defined by wins and losses. Should O’Rourke suffer an anticlimactic defeat, given the fanfare surrounding his ascent, it will be fair to ask: Did the country’s best candidate run its worst campaign?
Of course, if he had run as a centrist, he wouldn't have raised $70 million dollars from all over the country.

There's been a silly observation going around liberals on Twitter pointing out that Democrats actually won the "popular vote" for the Senate, but still didn't keep the Senate. I guess this is supposed to be some sort of argument about how the design of the Constitution is outdated and that the Senate, like the Electoral College, should be scrapped since it helped elect Republicans. Aaron Blake writes in the Washington Post to explode this stupidity.
But the Senate popular vote is a bogus stat for a whole host of reasons. It’s true that the Senate isn’t set up particularly favorably for Democrats — there were 30 red states in the 2016 election and 20 blue ones, and the many small red states such as Wyoming have the same number of senators as exponentially more populous blue states such as California and New York — but the Senate popular vote is not a stat that tells that tale.

The biggest problem with it is that not every state is up for reelection, leading to a skewed picture. If more Democratic seats are up for reelection, it stands to reason that Democrats will do well in the popular vote. And that’s exactly what happened in 2018: Democrats were defending 26 states, and Republicans just nine.

The second reason is California. It has a unique system in which the top two candidates advance to the general election, regardless of party. This year, that was two Democrats. That means all 6 million votes counted (with many more to come) go to the Democrats. Given California is by far the biggest state, that badly skews the national “Senate popular vote.” And in fact, the exact same thing happened in 2016, which was a big reason it was a highly misleading stat then, too.

Let’s assume there are eventually 9 million votes in California’s Senate races. If we apply the results of Tuesday’s governor’s race — Democrats' 59.5 percent to Republicans' 40.5 percent — that would give Democrats 5.3 million votes and the GOP 3.7 million. If you alter the numbers from the first tweet above to include this very plausible partisan split in California, Democrats' national “Senate popular vote” edge would be reduced to 36.8 million to 35.2 million — a pretty even split.

But that’s not quite it. There’s also this: While Democrats lost seats on Tuesday night, they actually won most of the races that were held — at least 22 of the 35 seats, and possibly a couple more. That’s 63 percent or more of the seats, despite winning just 55 percent of the vote.

Sounds pretty unfair to Republicans, right?
Sadly, ignorance of civics doesn't seem to stop people from making incredibly dumb arguments.

Blake had written a month ago to combat the similarly stupid attacks some liberals had been making about how Republicans have an advantage in the Senate and hence the Electoral College.
We can say a few things about this. The first is that it’s 100 percent true that Democrats are increasingly on the short end of how the U.S. government is set up — and demonstrably so. The second is that the government has been set up this way for many, many years, and these trends didn’t start this decade. And the third is that, in many ways, these Democrats' complaints represent an indictment of their party.
People have been claiming that it is "undemocratic" or senators elected from a minority of the population to be able to place Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court. But that's part of the way the Congress was designed.
ut it’s also true that this is how our government was set up. The bicameral legislature was a compromise forged in the Constitution. And even at the time, there were vast differences in the populations of states, with Virginia having 12 times as many people as Delaware. Both states were given two senators.

Today the gap between the biggest state and smallest state is closer to 70 times — California vs. Wyoming — but that difference is actually smaller than it has been for most of the past 150 years....

But this — and here’s the key point — doesn’t happen in a vacuum. These have been the ground rules since the late 1700s, and the map has been trending in this direction for decades and decades. Republicans have positioned themselves politically to take advantage of this; Democrats have done a decidedly poorer job.

It’s similar to what happened with redistricting. Republicans recognized the huge stakes in state legislatures, they won big there in the late 2000s, and now they have a historical amount of control over state governments and a congressional map that is more difficult for Democrats to penetrate.

It’s also similar to what happened with the electoral college. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, but she neglected the crucial states at the end and wound up losing erstwhile blue states Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

In my U.S. History class, we're covering the Civil War. When we looked at the 1856 election, the first with a Republican running for office, I pointed out that, although John C. Fremont lost to James Buchanan with only 114 votes to Buchanan's 174, the Republicans could look at those results and figure that they only had to win Pennsylvania and either Illinois or Indiana to win a majority of the Electoral College in 1860. It's no coincidence that the party went with a man from Illinois.

Well, we can do the same sort of math looking at Trump's 2016 electoral victory. Trump won a healthy 304 Electoral votes, 34 more than the 270 necessary to win. But if we look at the states where Republicans had trouble on Tuesday, Trump's red wall looks quite shaky. Republicans did poorly in Pennsylvania (20 EV), Michigan (16 EV), and Wisconsin (10 EV). If he can't keep those states, he's going to lose. He won those states only narrowly in 2016 and he doesn't seem to be trying to do much to win over independent voters. He can't count on the Democrats to run as awful a candidate as Hillary Clinton in 2020. If they choose someone with the ability to seem more moderate and win those voters, they should have a clear path to victory. But Trump doesn't seem to think he needs to change anything in his behavior and demeanor. He appears to think that, having won in 2016 being this guy, he can still win if he continues in that vein. He doesn't seem to recognize that he benefited from eight years of exhaustion with Obama's control of the White House and the record unpopularity of Hillary Clinton.

Glenn Reynolds makes the point that many conservatives have been making for years. If the federal government weren't so big and powerful, maybe we wouldn't get so worked up about elections.
The outcome of national elections is such a big deal because the federal government possesses such far reaching power over people’s lives. When the Constitution was drafted, James Madison told us that the powers of the federal government were “few and defined.” And that was true then.

It’s not true now, and people get upset over the idea of the other party in power more because they fear what the federal government might do to them than because they have hopes for what the federal government might do for them. An oversize, overreaching federal government really is tearing us apart. Gridlock is only a temporary solution to that.

If we do something to shrink the federal government, we’ll likely make things better. Is that crazy talk? Maybe. But it’s also true.