Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Read on Trump

William Saletan at Slate has, I think, the best analysis of the sort of man Trump is. He's not a cold-blooded fascist, he's an emotionally stunted narcissist. That presents great dangers, but as Saletan argues there are ways to deal with him.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Snyder's Twenty Lessons

MM sent this link along: Professor Timothy Snyder at Yale University offers "Twenty Lessons from the 20th Century," to fight back against growing authoritarianism. It is a good reminder that history itself is one of our greatest resources in defending a free society.

All twenty are important, but for the holiday season #14 is timely:
14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.
And for the year ahead, harder and more essential tasks like this:
10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Herronvolk Rising

As the certainty of Union victory hit home in the Confederacy in the spring of 1865, a small but sizable number of Confederates contemplated emigration to other nations in the Western Hemisphere where slavery as a legal institution still existed. Mexico and Cuba were attractive options, but Brazil topped the list of desired destinations. It had a tropical climate and fertile soil, a promise of paradise to these Southerners intent on building anew a slave-holding plantation society. The Old South may have been a smoldering ruin, but they believed they could resurrect it, even perfect it, in Brazil. It was the 1865 equivalent of "Make America Great Again," but on foreign soil.

One of the most pernicious myths in American History is that the cause of Southern secession was rooted in republican ideals, that an overreaching, tyrannical federal government had trampled the rights of Southern states. This explanation, along with all the other "slavery-did-not-cause-secession" theories (tariffs!), has been widely discredited by historians. The South seceded to protect their enormous economic and cultural investment in racial slavery. When Confederates believed republicanism protected white supremacy, they invoked republicanism. When they believed authoritarianism protected white supremacy, they extolled autocrats. They were racists first and foremost and they dressed this up in whatever political science was fashionable.

So when emigration advocate Frank McMullin, scouted locales in Brazil and reported back to a readership of potential Confederate emigres, here's how he described the Brazilian government, ruled by Emperor Pedro II:
We have the best system of government known to man; while it combines all the elements of strength requisite to insure its stability against every emergency, it guarantees practical equality to all its citizens, and administers justice with a firm and willing hand. We have a monarchy (thank God!) in name, and a true Republic in practice; and under the wise administration of our good Emperor, our destiny must be onward and upward to a degree of prosperity unknown to other countries.
For Southerners who had celebrated secession as the Second American Revolution, extolling imperial monarchy might seem like an extraordinary evolution, but McMullin knew what his audience of aggrieved white Confederates wanted to hear. Brazil was a land where an authoritarian leader would ensure that no radical administration could take power and deprive white men of their slaves.

Most of the emigres returned to the United States, if they did not perish in the Brazilian wilderness. (They were terrible colonizers. Their nostalgia-driven plans were utter fantasy.) As it turns out, they eventually found in the redeemed American South precisely what they had sought abroad, a land where a racial hierarchy with whites in control was reasserted by any means necessary. The postwar United States may not have recognized legal slavery after the passage of the 13th Amendment, but its transformation into a herronvolk democracy was swift. Whites maintained power ruthlessly through legal and extra-legal mechanisms.

Jamelle Bouie of Slate made this argument right after the election, observing the many moments in the nation's past when progress towards a pluralistic, open democracy was thwarted by white tribalism. Surely, Trump's election after 8 years of President Obama is another. In that sense, perhaps we should be less surprised at what happened November 8. Authoritarianism is nothing new in American history.

We ought to acknowledge the results of the 2016 election with apprehension and resolve. Yes, the shift towards fascistic politics is deeply disturbing. Dismay at Trump's ascendency is fully justifiable. But we can also draw renewed strength from the long traditions of resistance that have challenged the herronvolk and steadily eroded the foundations of white supremacy. If the Union chooses to march again—and we will—Trump and Trumpism will not be able to stop it.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Convention Watch

As the GOP Convention gets underway, it will be interesting to see how any Trump bounce in the polls manifests. First, a positive bounce would require a convention that actually functions without catastrophe, crisis, or embarrassment for the Republicans or for Trump. That's not in the bag. Romney's campaign was well organized and well funded and, still, it suffered this at their convention.

Second, if the convention works more or less as it's traditionally supposed to, can Trump break the polling ceiling that to this point he's been trapped beneath and do so with any staying power? Have a look at Huffington Post's polling tracker, which does a good job a averaging polls from multiple outfits. The graph to this point is clear. The recent tightening of the race has been almost exclusively a result of Clinton's numbers dropping after Comey's statement about the email investigation. Trump's numbers have not improved significantly. Even in May when Trump had locked in his primary victory and Clinton and Sanders were still slugging at one another, Trump's poll numbers never got much higher than 42%. Clinton's have never dropped below 43%. If her floor continues to remain above his ceiling, it's a very good indicator of how the race will play out. If the convention can't raise the ceiling, few other events between now and November will either.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Nobody Panic

Here's a quick dose of blog-tonic in case you read about polling numbers that came out today showing a tightening race for the Presidency and proceeded to freak out. The most alarming was a Quinnipiac swing state poll showing a tie between Clinton and Trump in Ohio and small Trump leads in Florida and Pennsylvania. A few observations:
  1. The race is tightening in some states (notably Florida) and nationally as well. Anyone with half a brain wants a Clinton victory and would love a blowout, so obviously that's bad news. But it's not terribly surprising either. Lockstep partisan voting habits seem to have earned Trump the polling loyalty of the Republican base. That would bring him to the high 30s or low 40s in the polls, but to win he'd have to break into different demographics.
  2. Speaking of earning votes from different demographics, Trump earned 0% of black votes in the latest NBC/WSJ polls of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Not a typo. 0%. That does not spell good things for him in November, whatever polls indicate about the overall race now.
  3. Clinton has sustained her national lead despite Trump's consolidation of support. It may become closer still in the next two weeks and Trump might even pull ahead for a bit. Why? Odds are that this stretch will be the nadir of her general election campaign because of the email scandal, the Trump veep speculation, and the GOP convention. Her numbers will go back up again after her own convention. (Take lots of deep breaths these next few weeks.) That doesn't mean Trump can't overtake her, but it helps explain the current closeness of the race.
  4. Betting markets still have Democratic victory in November in the low 70th percentile, exactly where it has been since mid-March.
  5. The Princeton Election Consortium has a Clinton victory at 80%, down from 85% because of the new polls but a psychologically reassuring number during these Trump-ety news cycles.
Hold steady... there's a long way to go yet.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The 2016 Stakes

As we all know the circus comes to Cleveland in just one week and Donald Trump will officially be named, despite wishful thinking to the contrary, Republican nominee for President. It is hard to comment on the state of the Republican Party at this moment. The shock has probably worn off of most GOP leaders, but some mixture of anger, denial, bemusement, despair, and delusion remains. The unsettling truth for them is that the most likely outcome of the election, regardless of who wins, is that the Republican Party will be dramatically changed.

Plenty of pundits have made this point, but it's actually worth considerable rumination. This is a Party, after all, historically populated with folks who usually find change disagreeable by nature if not downright threatening. Is it any wonder the Party is freaking out? Consider the official national platform they are debating and voting on at this very moment. It's barking mad, a series of throwback social positions indicative of a party that has no idea what it actually stands for anymore.

For all that, Trump still has a chance of winning that is not insignificant. Reader ER asked me the other day whether I was scared about the election. My answer was not too scared, but scared enough. The election fundamentals and consistent polling point to a Clinton victory, but it's not close to a lock. (Incidentally ER, a fiercely intelligent observer, is quite scared.) Sam Wang explains the current math and, as he sees it, it's all about the undecideds:
If Trump does not bring enough Republican voters home, there could be unexpected wins for Clinton. If all states within 5% went Democratic, the electoral total would be Clinton 381 EV, Trump 157 EV. This is the downside risk for Republicans. On the flip side, Clinton’s biggest major weakness is Pennsylvania, where she leads by a median of only 1%. If all states within 5% went Republican, the electoral total would be Trump 318 EV, Clinton 220 EV. So it is not crazy to imagine a Trump victory…if he could somehow become a candidate that did not repel members of his own party.
People express fear all the time when it comes to elections—"If George W. Bush wins, I'm moving to Canada," and all that. But it's always been a testament to the often maligned two-party system and the rigorous-if-flawed primary process that two candidates emerge both capable of stewarding the republic (or, to be more cynical, candidates just wise enough to keep from doing critical damage to the nation and the world). Even Bush 43, as reckless and dishonest as his administration was about Iraq after September 11, did not represent an existential threat. In retrospect, he was too good-hearted for that. (The most common counter-factual when it comes to that decade is to imagine Gore as President, but it is equally interesting to imagine Bush without Cheney, Rumsfeld, or Rice whispering Neo-Conservative poison to him, but instead counseled by Powell and like-minded realists.) Or Romney... even as the modern progressive movement would have been frustrated on numerous fronts, do we doubt the republic would have been in relatively safe hands had he won in 2012?

With Trump in 2016, the fear is real. There are two great threats to humanity that, to be safely answered, require steady, strong leadership from the American executive. The first is nuclear war; the second is climate change. Since 1945, American presidents have avoided nuclear war with patience, measured diplomacy, and good counsel. Trump is impetuous, puerile, and megalomaniacal, three qualities least desirable in someone with the power to launch nuclear weapons. He's also a climate change denier. This doesn't distinguish him from many in the elite Republican establishment, but his election would end US involvement in the Paris climate accord and any chance of implementing Obama's Clean Power Plan. Paris was a monumental achievement and Democratic presidential leadership is required for at least the next four years to push the US along the path to meeting its obligations.

Were another candidate the 2016 GOP nominee—a mythical Mitt Romney who believed in fighting climate change or the 2008 McCain, who (we often forget) ran on a cap-and-trade program—there would actually be a decent liberal argument for not worrying about the election. Much would be at stake, not least the Supreme Court, so of course liberals would want a Democrat to win. But in this scenario, a Republican victory that did not endanger Paris or the CPP, would give Democrats an opportunity over four years to take back state legislatures, rebuild their bench of national candidates, and fight to take back the White House and Congress in 2020. They would avoid the burden of holding the White House four terms consecutively and would be better positioned to win the year a new census will be taken that could determine control of the House of Representatives for the next decade.

But such a GOP candidate does not exist. Instead we must deal with the likes of Trump.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Mapping the Ocean

The Okeanos Exporer, an NOAA ship, is currently near the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument mapping the ocean floor with remote underwater vehicles and livestreaming the whole thing.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Descent into the Hellmouth

"There is a lot of demonic activity in Cleveland." — Rupert Giles
I've been struggling to wrap my mind around the paradigm-breaking election we've been experiencing since it began last summer, when the obvious finally struck me: this presidential contest is the lived experience of a season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For longtime Buffy fans, the parallels won't require much explanation. The usual arc of a Buffy season sees a host of vampires, ghouls, zombies, and other supernatural beastiessome more dangerous than othersthreaten Buffy's hometown of Sunnydale week after week only to be dispatched one by one until (as Buffy's friends would say) the Big Bad emerges, a monster of seemingly overwhelming power that will bring about the apocalypse. Buffy, the unlikely female protagonist, possessed of great powers though desperate just to fit in with all the other teenagers, ultimately saves the day when no one else can. It's entertaining, unexpected, campy, and most of all dark. It's the 2016 election.

Why do the monsters keep coming season after season? Because Sunnydale sits on top of a Hellmouth, a supernatural gateway to the Underworld whence all manner of demons spawn. Other Hellmouths exist too, or so we're told, one apparently beneath Cleveland, site of this year's GOP convention now less than a month off. Now, while each season offers a new villain to challenge Buffy, the real narrative problem of the show is how will Buffy & Co. close the Hellmouth and bottle up the source of evil?
A Hellmouth

So, too, is it with Hillary & Co. (And by "Co." I don't just mean Democrats; I mean everyone who rightly fears and despises Donald Trump.) Hillary's job is to defeat Trump, assuredly, but he's just the monster du jour. The Hellmouth, which is to say the nearly 14 million right-wing primary voters who endorsed Trump and all the racism, sexism, xenophobia and incompetence that comes with him, remains an active threat to the republic.

This is important. Trump himself has never looked so vulnerable. His polling is abysmal; he just fired his campaign manager; and he has no money. Betting markets now have the man who won more primary votes than any Republican candidate in history and who "clinched" a clear majority of delegates at 84% to win the nomination. There are mutterings of a coup in Cleveland.

There are probably some Democrats, gleeful at the stunning weakness of the current Trump campaign, becoming anxious at the thought of a sudden elevation of, say, Paul Ryan or even Ted Cruz. It would turn the race upside-down for a few weeks. But it's hard not seeing defeat for the GOP regardless. A lot of those Trump supporters would boycott the race and the Republican nominating process would be forever tainted. Every GOP politician who thinks about 2020, 2024, or 2028 (and, right now, all of them are) would most likely reject such a move or, at least, would not themselves want to be the candidate. Jeet Heer gets it right in The New Republic, making the case that the practical and morally responsible thing to do is to stick with Trump and hope he gets shellacked in November. Trump must lose, yes, but more than that his politics must lose. That requires (among other things) a landslide defeat.

Predictwise has the chances of Hillary winning at 77%. That's probably low, but we'll see how the next month plays out. In the meantime, you should watch some Buffy.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Splendor of the Purple One

This blog is about Union. Well, so was Prince. Many tributes to him are rightly describing how otherworldly he was, an artist of genius, inspiration, and overwhelming power. True, all of it. But he was also quintessentially American. No other nation could have produced him; no other artist so perfectly represented the nation in their time. He was the strong force consolidating all the contradictions of American cultural life into a comprehensible whole one hit record at a time. Virtuosity and soul, sex and god, male and female, starfish and coffee.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

New York Primary Night


From Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight:
Clinton’s chances of becoming the next president are now 71.4 percent, according to Betfair, the highest she’s been at any point of the election cycle.
The results: Clinton re-establishes control of the Democratic race while #NeverTrump suffers takes a body blow. Seems like another shift in momentum, but it was always going to happen.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Republican Diagnosis: Second Opinions

I've made the case (most recently here and here) that the Trump insurgency in the 2016 nomination race has exposed the ideological cancer devouring the Republican Party. Trump's success is the clearest indicator yet that radical measures -- realignment, reinvention, (I've used the term "reckoning") -- will be required to save the American political right.

Some political scientists, however, are unconvinced that significant change is in the offing, at least in the near future, and their arguments are worth a closer look. Jacob Hacker of Yale University and Paul Pierson of Berkeley published an op-ed in The New York Times stating plainly that "predictions of a Republican crackup should be greeted with skepticism." The reason according to Hacker and Pierson is that a long series of presidential election losses has caused their party to evolve into a quasi-permanent opposition party. They can't match the Democratic coalition in high-turnout presidential election years, but they can consistently win in low-turnout state and Congressional election years. They can't govern, but they can blame government for every social ill. Here's the more likely scenario they foresee:
It’s 2017. After Mr. Trump’s landslide defeat, President Clinton has a Democratic Senate and House of Representatives. The Republican National Committee has just released its latest post-mortem — it probably looks a lot like the post-2012 soul-searching exercise, the Growth and Opportunity Project, which encouraged moderation in tone and inclusiveness in policy.

But that blueprint is ignored. Instead, the party quickly regroups in opposition to the incoming administration. Most Republican voters hate Mrs. Clinton even more than they hated Mr. Obama. The conservative apparatus for sowing discontent with a new administration is in place, flush with cash and battle-tested.

For Republicans in and outside government, it will be a time not for facing up to hard truths but for doubling down on hardball tactics.
 Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics has a simpler explanation, that economic growth is the essential determinant of party victories along with a healthy dose of chance:
Here’s why I think the GOP hasn’t won many presidential elections recently: It wasn’t supposed to....

I’m not a “fundamentals fundamentalist”; campaign effects do affect outcomes, and there are decent reasons to believe that Donald Trump would underperform fundamentals significantly.  But the truth is, Republicans losing the popular vote in six of the last seven elections is as meaningless as Democrats losing the popular vote in seven of the 10 elections from 1952 to 1988 (eight if you count Richard Nixon as the winner of the popular vote in 1960).  As a matter of fact, even if we decided elections by coin flips, we’d expect to see runs like this with almost the exact same frequency as we actually see them. 
Far from dysfunctional, Trende sees a Republican Party that is as strong as it's been in a century, comfortably ascendent in Congress and dominant in its control of state and local government. Losing another presidential election might provoke some soul-searching, but nothing revolutionary.

Astute as they are, I think these arguments miss some crucial aspects of this campaign cycle and the current Republican position. It is true, for instance, that the power of the Republican Party in state and local government is significant (in some cases bringing disastrous results), but suggesting this is an adequate counterweight to the expanding power of the national executive is unconvincing. Even Congressional control isn't what it used to be. In the last sixteen years, critics of Bush and Obama have decried the growth of the "imperial presidency." There's no denying that many national policies have been set and enacted from the Oval Office.

The best example of this might be President Obama's Clean Power Plan. Recall that back in 2010, Congressional Republicans with a handful of Democratic allies killed a cap-and-trade bill designed to limit greenhouse gases. Knowing it was a non-starter, Obama never asked Congress for such a bill again. Instead five years later he used existing EPA powers to issue directives directly to the states regarding greenhouse gases. This wasn't a pale reflection of what might have been had Congress passed a bill that the President signed into law; as Will Oremus at Slate wrote, "Obama's Climate Plan Is Basically Cap And Trade." No Congress required.

The landmark Paris Agreement is another circumvention. This is no Kyoto Treaty; it's not a treaty at all, since Congress would have to ratify it. Obama will sign the agreement himself. No Congress required.

Taking stock, what has absolute Congressional obstructionism gained the Republican Party in the last eight years? They could not block action on the environment, on healthcare, on immigration, on an Iran nuclear deal, on same-sex marriage, or on opening up Cuba to name just a few major issues. The lasting influence of an otherwise feckless Republican opposition has been to create an executive branch that has assumed more legislative responsibilities than ever before, excepting perhaps the wartime presidencies of Lincoln and FDR. (Americans of every political stripe might someday rue this development.) Steven Rattner at The New York Times has gone further, arguing quite convincingly that Republican tactics have brought about the rise of Donald Trump.

And the last defense against a powerful liberal executive, a conservative Supreme Court, disappeared overnight when Justice Antonin Scalia died. In political terms, this was the fall of Paris.

So if Hacker, Pierson, or Trende are right that another loss in November (hardly assured) will not bring about substantial change to the Republican Party, we have to wonder how much longer the Party can sustain such dramatic political reversals without becoming obsolete.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Friday, April 8, 2016

Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Stable Race

In case you're out there wondering what other twists and turns this political season might have in store for us—Is Trump actually imploding? Will Bernie overtake Hillary? Can Ted Cruz steal the nomination?—a few words of caution:

This race, in spite of the media freak-outs about contested conventions, riots, white knights, and populist revolutions, is at this point pretty stable. The remaining primaries probably won't have much of an effect on the outcome, at least in terms of delegate apportionment.

First, let's look at the Democrats. (Pace Bernie devotees but) Hillary Clinton is going to win the nomination. Consider that his big win in Wisconsin came in a state that is tailor made for him to do well: northern, pro-labor, mostly white. And he did do well! Sort of. Except he's so far behind in delegates, he still fell short. Mother Jones, borrowing some data from Fivethirtyeight, has a rundown of the data here, but the long and short of it is that, even in about the friendliest territory imaginable for Bernie, he still came up a little short in his delegate haul. He'll have to win by even greater margins to overtake Hillary, and that's just not going to happen.

Then the Republicans. Trump's popularity has taken a hit in the past two weeks largely because of self-inflicted wounds, and that has derailed his efforts to win enough a majority of delegates and therefore the nomination outright. As Nate Silver calculates, Trump needs over 40% of the vote in the remaining primaries but his vote share in primaries isn't increasing enough to consistently break that 40% threshold. On the other hand, even the most obtuse of political observers like Charles Krauthammer can't help but notice that Trump still got 35% of the vote after two weeks of non-stop gaffes. Wisconsin made it a lot clearer what Trump's floor and his ceiling are. They might change a little bit in different states, but probably not enough to significantly change the outcome of the nomination contest.

Trump will come to Cleveland shy of the 1237 delegates he needs to win but far more than his nearest competitor, Ted Cruz. Cruz will try to wrest the nomination from him, possibly with the help of Republican Party establishment figures. Trump's delegate lead will be substantial, though, making it politically difficult to deny him the nomination regardless of how party elders might manipulate the rules. But maybe Trump is so toxic that the party will, in fact, turn its lonely eyes to Ted Cruz.

Either way, I don't think it will matter. Let's consider the two most likely scenarios:
  • Scenario A has Clinton facing Trump in the general election, still by far the likeliest outcome. (Sam Wang, polling and data guru, noted when prediction markets had Trump's chances for the nomination plummeting that it was a good time to buy Trump shares.) That Trump can only garner only 35% of the Republican electorate, however, tells us what a weak general election candidate he'll be. That 70% of women view him unfavorably (not to mention 58% of men) spells certain death in November. Barring a black swan event, Hillary will win.
  • Scenario B has Clinton facing Ted Cruz in the general election. In this scenario, Cruz has succeeded in plucking the nomination out of Trump's hands in spite of Trump's initial advantage in pledged delegates. But Trump supporters, convinced that Trump will have been robbed by Cruz and the loathsome establishment forces that drove them to support Trump in the first place, won't line up behind Cruz. They'll stay home or vote for Trump in an independent, third-party, or write-in campaign. (Plus, as Jonathan Chait reminds us, Ted Cruz is also a horrible general election candidate.) This would be game over as any split in the Republican electorate of even a few percentage points means that Hillary will win.
There's a lot of political theater in Scenario B, which is mainly what people are writing about, but it only distracts us from a relatively straightforward conclusion. Nomination markets for Trump and Cruz have shifted substantially and even Hillary's numbers have dropped a bit to 89% (which is still too low), but the market for the general election has been remarkably stable since mid-March, with Democratic chances for winning the White House in the low 70s.

A lot can happen in seven months so America hasn't escaped a Trump or Cruz presidency yet. But it's heartening to consider that, at this point, Hillary's chances of becoming President are about equivalent to the UConn women's chances of winning the 2016 championship at the start of the NCAA tournament. UConn won every game handily.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Trump Self-Destruct Watch

Latest update from the betting markets at 10am Sunday morning:

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Visual History of the Rise of Political Partisanship

Data on intra-party and cross-party agreements in the House of Representatives from 1949 to 2011 (in two year increments). Red dots represent Republicans, blue dots Democrats, and the gray lines represent cooperative agreements. The source page provides a more detailed breakdown, but the graphic speaks for itself.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Critical Question

As of the writing of this post, prediction markets have Trump's chances of winning the Republican nomination for President at 70%, a decline of about 10% in just the past few days. Most likely the softening of Trump's numbers have to do with a series of news cycles exposing his long history of brazen, outrageous sexism and linking it to Trump's miserable unfavorables among women. Astonishing... it's almost as if women pay attention to how candidates talk about gender.

Just how bad has it gotten this week for Trump? His campaign manager was arrested on charges of battery after he forcibly grabbed a female reporter at a press conference. He engaged in a despicable sleaze-fest on social media with Ted Cruz about the comparative attractiveness of their wives and the mental health of Heidi Cruz. Then just yesterday Trump suggested that "there has to be some form of punishment" for women who receive illegal abortions, until, that is, withering criticism of this deeply unpopular opinion forced Trump to walk back the statement a few hours later.

The cumulative effect of these stories and others may be playing out both nationally and in crucial primary states. If Trump's numbers can't hold up in the 17 remaining primaries, the chances of his securing 1,237 delegates and the nomination outright become increasingly slender. That means the contested convention scenario every pundit has been feverishly contemplating might in fact come to pass. And the most likely scenario is one in which Trump enters the convention with a clear plurality of delegates, a fiercely loyal core of disaffected white male working class Republican support, and declining national momentum, as the long odds of a Trump win in November are broadcast with greater and greater clarity while desperate #nevertrump-ers cast their votes for Cruz or Kasich. That seems like a recipe for chaos.

It's impossible to predict what will happen in Cleveland. I'd like to imagine a reenactment of Spinal Tap's legendary (non)performance in that same city, in which a packed hall of screaming Republican delegates are calling for a vote while the three hopefuls wander lost beneath the stage, Trump dressed in David St. Hubbin's white satin skintight jumpsuit, Cruz wearing Nigel Tufnel's leopard print tank top and licking his guitar neck, and Kasich in the role of Derek Smalls shouting "Hello, Cleveland?" to nobody in particular. (Actually, it is possible to read that film clip as analogous to the entire GOP primary season.)

Whatever happens before, during, or after the convention, the chances of a fractured party seem higher than ever. The predictable disintegration of Reince Priebus's poorly conceived loyalty pledge for GOP candidates augurs a bitter outcome in Cleveland no matter what the final delegate math might be. And last week Ross Douthat at The New York Times pronounced this doom:
There is now no possibility that the Republican Party will survive its rendezvous with Donald Trump unbroken.
If Douthat is right—and I think he is—the critical question for the 2016 election is not who wins the White House, but in the longer term how will the Republican Party repair itself? Conservative politicians, operatives, intellectuals, pundits, and indeed delegates ought to proceed with that question foremost in mind. That isn't easy for a political establishment trained to single-mindedly pursue electoral victories.

Take, for instance, the idea of running a conservative candidate against Trump should he win the nomination. Sean Trende at RealClear Politics argues that the cost of a third-party candidate would outweigh the benefits, an argument he cannot help but ground in win-loss scenarios in future election cycles:
Moreover, if Trump is to lose, the lesson (assuming there is any) about his popularity would be best learned if he loses straight up. Abandoning the party and running a rear guard action would enable Trump supporters – assuming he loses – to operate under a “stabbed in the back” theory in 2020 and going forward. And they’d be right!
Sure, this strategy might make 2020 and 2024 more difficult, but Trende's "assuming he loses" interjection reveals the fallacy here. If Trump is the only GOP candidate he might win, and that would endanger the republic. The reason for conservatives to run someone against Trump is to ensure that he loses, because the moral imperative of keeping a pugnacious, ignorant, hyper-confident, alpha-male, fascist out of the Oval Office (and more importantly out of the White House Situation Room) not only outweighs the significance of any particular presidential election, but provides the best opportunity of establishing a new dialogue among conservative voters about the kind of party they want to have in the 21st century.

UPDATE: Friday at 12:30pm, Predictwise has Trump down to 61% and Cruz up to 22%.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Music Monday

It's a cold, rain-soaked day in Massachusetts, the kind that give rise to a "damp, drizzly November" in the soul. Except it's March. That kind of day requires the right musical prescription, something gritty, swinging, and with enough gospel to fend off the blues. Best advice: the late great Levon Helm's 2009 album Electric Dirt.


Helm's voice is in pretty great shape here, though (after throat cancer) not quite what it once was in his heyday with The Band. His own composition, "Growin' Trade," sounds like vintage Band material. But it's some of the covers that are really extraordinary, especially "Heaven's Pearls," written by his daughter's band, Ollabelle, and "When I Go Away," a rockin' gospel tune written by longtime Dylan guitarist Larry Campbell.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Renewables in the Developing World

According to the UN Environment Programme, developing world nations outpace developed nations in renewable energy investments for the first time:


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Unprotected Speech

An interesting case, U.S. v. Rapert, determined that military personnel cannot find protection under the First Amendment for threatening the Commander-in-Chief. In this case, the offender said the following to a friend and neighbor, which was then reported up the chain of command by the friend's wife, who also serves in the military:
I can’t believe that n[****]r won this election. He hasn’t done anything in the 4 years prior and I don’t feel that he’s going to do anything in the 4 years upcoming. I don’t think I can serve in the military another 4 years under his control. I might have to go back home in this upcoming training session that we’re going to do for the winter and break out my KKK robe that was handed down to me by my grandfather and go put one order up and make it my last order to kill the President.
According to the opinion of the court, "Ultimately, the inquiry uncovered no evidence that Appellant or his family had any connection to the Ku Klux Klan."

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Reckoning

I wrote the first post for this blog on November 11, 2012. It began with this:
It’s been five days since President Obama won a second term with comfortable if not commanding margins in the electoral college and the popular vote (now 3+ million and still counting in a few areas). The universe of pundits seems to have arrived at a consensus that the Republican Party has a serious demographic problem. (That Romney lost after winning 60% of the white vote probably tipped them off.) Nor does it appear to be easily or swiftly solvable. It would be one thing if many non-white Americans didn’t like Republican leaders; it is a substantially more intractable problem that many Republican leaders don’t seem to like non-white Americans. So it’s no surprise that many of the questions being asked run along the lines of: “How will Republicans adapt to this new American electorate?”; “Can Republicans reach Hispanic voters?”; “How can Republicans appeal to more women?” etc. etc.

I’m not sure I have the wisest answers, but I am reasonably certain those aren't the right questions. Tactical policy reversals on immigration, gay rights, drug laws, and even tax reform—if they come about—would not provide a long-term solution to the dilemma of right-wing America.  If 2012 is to mean anything worthwhile to the future of the Republican Party (and therefore to the future of America), it has to take the form of an ideological reckoning.
Taking stock now three years and four months hence, it seems that an ideological reckoning may indeed be at hand for the Republicans. But if so, it will be born of crisis not of conviction. Despite a feint in the direction of self-reflection, the Republican Party has not dared to reconsider its identity in the wake of the 2012 defeat. Its leadership has exhibited neither the courage nor the imagination to do so. Consider that the standard bearers of the party elites, first Jeb Bush, then Marco Rubio, never once in their staggeringly well-funded, magnificently failed campaigns offered an idea to the electorate that wasn't eminently predictable. These were not real candidates; they were Republican presidential derivatives.

No, the Republicans find themselves staring into the abyss because of Donald Trump, whom Rubio and Mitt Romney have both called a "con man." They are correct; Trump sells snake oil at every campaign stop. It is a harder truth to realize, however, that Trump's bad medicine is concocted from the same ingredients as the product every other Republican candidate has been pushing for the past four elections, just distilled into something more poisonous. Josh Marshall pointed this out in a post about the inevitable failure of any attempt to run another conservative against Trump should he win the nomination: any conservative they could find basically agrees with Trump on virtually every issue. What could they say to attract voters except, perhaps, that they're not as vulgar?

Defeat could help. Not a split between the coasts and the heartland like 2012, but a landslide defeat. At the moment, the polls suggest that is possible. Republicans are looking towards November and the abyss is gazing back.