Matthew Yglesias Shows That Republican-Lite Democrats Are Not More Likely To Win

The conflict between the DCCC and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party seen in a Texas primary this week was just one instance of them supporting conservative over progressive Democrats. Democrats tried to run as a Republican-lite party in 2010 and 2014 and did poorly. They nominated the most anti-liberal pro-status quo candidate possible in Hillary Clinton for the presidency in 2016 and lost to a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump. On the other hand, non-establishment candidates have been doing better than many expected.

Matthew Yglesias, who is generally supportive of the Democratic establishment, has noted that the party’s view that more conservative Democrats are the key to victory has not been valid. He provided some examples, and then discussed studies regarding this at Vox in an article entitled,  The DCCC should chill out and do less to try to pick Democrats’ nominees–There’s very little evidence that “electable” moderates do better.

The real truth, however, is that politics is hard to predict. Extensive empirical research shows that it matters less than you might think whether a party goes with an “electable” moderate.

This suggests primary voters should probably be inclined to vote for candidates who they think will be smart, hard-working advocates for causes they believe in rather than focusing too much on “electability” concerns.

It’s natural, in particular, for a national party committee whose work heavily features fundraising to be strongly biased toward candidates who are good at fundraising. But there’s very little evidence that this is genuinely the key to political success (Donald Trump, for example, was a terrible fundraiser in 2016), and overemphasis on donor-friendly candidates ends up putting a thumb on the ideological scale in an unseemly way.

Some other things to consider are that the old linear left/right political spectrum no longer applies. Last year a change candidate was desired, and Bernie Sanders polled much better than Hillary Clinton in head to head tests against Republicans. There were a substantial number of Republicans as well as independents who would vote for Sanders, but not for Clinton. When the Democrats made the mistake of nominating Clinton, the remaining anti-establishment change candidate won (even if he advocated the wrong kind of change).

Voters also prefer candidates who stand for something, while the types of Republican-lite Democrats who fail to stand for anything come across as fakes more interested in their own gain. Many Republican voters were willing to switch from traditional Republican views to those of Trump, suggesting that they were not really ideological conservatives while voting Republican. A large share of Sanders voters did not support him due to being far left on the traditional spectrum, but because they wanted a change from the corruption of the status quo. In contrast, the efforts of establishment Democrats to move to move the party of to the right has been a failure in election after election.

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Attack on Progressive Candidate Backfires Against DCCC

Liberals and progressives have two major opponents in American politics–the Republican Party and the Democratic Party establishment. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which, as I noted last week, is forefront in the effort by Democrats to avoid taking a stand on the issues, also raised concern on the left for its attacks on a progressive candidate in Texas’s  7th Congressional District. Their attacks against Laura Moser appear to have backfired. Vox reports:

Until a few weeks ago, Laura Moser was a little-known name, one of seven candidates running for the Democratic primary in Texas’s Seventh Congressional District.

That was, until the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee unleashed a scorched-earth campaign against the former freelance journalist and progressive activist, releasing an opposition memo highlighting past statements Moser made seemingly denigrating her home state.

The move may have helped propel Moser across the finish line in the first round of the primary and into a May runoff election, along with Houston attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who was endorsed by the pro-female candidate Super PAC Emily’s List.

By trying to finish off Moser early, the DCCC ended up elevating her national profile and opened up an intraparty rift in the process, galvanizing progressive groups that came out supporting her.

The Intercept, along with Vox, pointed out  that, “Voter-turnout expert Ben Tribbett argued that the DCCC pushed Moser over the top.” More on the race at The Nation:

Moser was one of the two top finishers in the initial primary, beating out several other serious, and well-funded, contenders. A May runoff will feature Moser, a tech-savvy activist who popularized the Daily Action text-messaging tool that became a favorite with resistance campaigners against Trump and Trumpism, and corporate lawyer Lizzie Fletcher, who ran with the backing of Emily’s List and a number of wealthy donors. Moser won 24 percent of Tuesday’s primary vote to 29 percent for Fletcher. The next closest contender, progressive physician Jason Westin, won 19 percent.

There’s a good case to be made that the DCCC helped Moser, whose grassroots fund-raising spiked after the attack. She also earned a late-in-the-race endorsement from Our Revolution, the group formed by Bernie Sanders backers that had established a strong presence in Texas—and when the results came in, Texas populist Jim Hightower, an Our Revolution Board member, said: “The voters of Texas showed they are the only deciders in the race to represent them in Congress.”

People Are Sending Checks For Thoughts And Prayers To NRA-Backed Republican Candidates

Many people are upset about Republicans who offer thoughts and prayers in response to mass shootings without offering any real solutions. A Michigan woman responded by sending a check made out for “thoughts & prayers” to a Republican Congressional candidate, indicating it was a campaign contribution. With Republicans believing that thoughts and prayers are sufficient, others have also followed in sending such contributions to Republicans backed by the NRA. Additional examples are collected here.

Republican Congressman Claims Jews Could Have Survived The Holocaust If They Had Guns

In the past I would periodically have posts just to highlight really dumb things said by politicians. Once Donald Trump began running, he both overshadowed dumb comments from all other sources, and made so many that I couldn’t attempt to blog on them all. Today I heard a comment from a Republican other than Donald Trump which was so absurd that I couldn’t let it pass without a post. According to Alaska Public Radio,  “Alaska Congressman Don Young argued against gun control by suggesting Jews might not have died in the Holocaust if they had been armed.”

This is an argument which conservatives have made in the past. Jonathan Greenblatt, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, responded to this argument in 2016 after it was made by Ben Carson:

  • Guns or lack of them did not cause the Holocaust. The Holocaust was the product of anti-Semitism and the moral failure and indifference of humans.
  • It is mind-bending to suggest that personal firearms in the hands of the small number of Germany’s Jews (about 214,000 remaining in Germany in 1938) could have stopped the totalitarian onslaught of Nazi Germany when the armies of Poland, France, Belgium and numerous other countries were overwhelmed by the Third Reich.
  • Despite the overwhelming military force of the Nazi regime, there were thousands of brave civilians — Jewish and gentile — who indeed often resisted with every fiber of their being. Unfortunately, arming every European Jew would not have been enough to stop an evil force that was only overcome by the military might of the Allies.

Young also supports allowing teachers to carry firearms–not that many have any desire to do so.

In other political news today, Hope Hicks announced she is resigning the day after she admitted to telling white lies. If Hope Hicks is resigning after telling white lies, shouldn’t Donald Trump resign for telling really big lies?

Billy Graham, Anti-Semite and Homophobe

Billy Graham, one of the founders of the religious right, died this week. Following are a few views on Graham from people who are not fans of the religious right.

Friendly Atheist writes that Billy Graham’s Body Shouldn’t “Lie in Honor” in the Capitol Rotunda

Evangelist Billy Graham, who died this week at age 99, was known for being an informal advisor to presidents of both political parties as well as one of the most admired people in America for decades.

That’s the white-washed version of his legacy.

He also helped inspire the modern Religious Right, left behind a son who’s best known for making life worse for LGBTQ people and women and minorities, disparaged Jews over their “stranglehold” on the media, and was hardly a champion of civil rights in the 1960s even when his support could’ve helped African Americans.

That’s the full legacy. You can’t talk about Graham without noting those glaring flaws in his life.

And that’s why it’s inappropriate for Republican leaders to honor him by bringing his body to the United States Capitol Rotunda next week so that people can pay their last respects.

The post later cites a letter which the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell protesting the honor. From that letter:

Graham’s career was devoted to revivals, Christian conversions, hellfire preaching and the insertion of his brand of religion into what is supposed to be a secular government governed by a godless Constitution barring establishment of religion or governmental preference for religion, FFRF points out. One of Graham’s dubious accomplishments was to successfully lobby Congress to pass a law declaring an annual National Day of Prayer. This law enacted at Graham’s behest, which FFRF has previously challenged, has entangled religion and government, spawned countless inappropriate prayer breakfasts, prayerful governmental events and prayer resolutions at all levels of government. In doing so, it has sent for generations a message that evangelical Christians are “insiders” and non-Christians and the nonreligious are “outsiders.”

FFRF also highlights how irresponsible it is for the U.S. Congress to venerate and honor a noted anti-Semite. The secret taping system that recorded President Nixon’s conversations and led to his Watergate downfall captured Graham’s anti-Semitic musings with Nixon. “A lot of the Jews are great friends of mine, they swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know that I’m friendly with Israel,” Graham told Nixon. “But they don’t know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country.”

Graham was on the wrong side of the leading issues of his time. The day after Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his letter from the Birmingham Jail — a letter addressed to white religious leaders like Graham who were doing little else other than “mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities” — Graham mouthed a few more, arguing that King should “put the brakes on a little bit.” Graham seemingly never met a U.S. war of aggression he didn’t favor or encourage the occupants of the Oval Office to wage. As columnist and former priest James Carroll observes: “Billy Graham was the high priest of the American crusade, which is why U.S. presidents uniformly sought his blessing.”

Graham vociferously opposed gay rights and marriage equality, saying “we traffic in homosexuality at the peril of our spiritual welfare.” The Billy Graham Evangelical Association once said that Vladimir Putin was “more right” on LGBTQ rights than then-President Obama. Graham, in his 90s, wrote a full-page ad appearing in several North Carolina newspapers “to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote FOR the marriage amendment” in May 2012, which passed, banning gay marriage until later nullified. He belonged to a denomination that refused to ordain women. The “Billy Graham” rule directing a man to not be alone with a woman other than his wife continues to influence evangelicals, including Vice President Mike Pence, isolating career women in the process.

Religion Dispatches protested calling Billy Graham America’s Pastor:

Let’s try this simple test. Would a good pastor suck up to presidents and other powerful people, granting them general absolution despite their known crimes (and yes, here I am thinking primarily of Napalmer-in-Chief Lyndon Johnson and of Tricky Dick Nixon, the president with whom Graham had the closest relationship)?

For that matter, would a good pastor reinforce a parishioner’s Jew-hatred, as Graham clearly did vis-a-vis Nixon (although he later claimed that he forgot saying these appalling things)?

Can The Two Party System Come To An End?

The two party system is seriously broken when we were given a choice as terrible as Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president. More people voted for third  parties in 2017 than in other recent elections which lacked a big name candidate, but others see third party voting as futile. It is a sign that the two party system might be due to collapse when an establishment writer such as David Brooks writes a column about The End of the Two-Party System.

While I don’t entirely accept his rational for this, it is clear that both parties are divided. True conservatives don’t fit into a party led by Donald Trump. True liberals and progressives, including many supporters of Bernie Sanders, don’t fit into a party led by an authoritarian right warmonger like Hillary Clinton, or a party which consider her fit for its nomination. Brooks concluded his column writing:

Eventually, conservatives will realize: If we want to preserve conservatism, we can’t be in the same party as the clan warriors. Liberals will realize: If we want to preserve liberalism, we can’t be in the same party as the clan warriors.

Eventually, those who cherish the democratic way of life will realize they have to make a much more radical break than any they ever imagined. When this realization dawns the realignment begins. Even with all the structural barriers, we could end up with a European-style multiparty system.

The scarcity mentality is eventually incompatible with the philosophies that have come down through the centuries. Decent liberals and conservatives will eventually decide they need to break from it structurally. They will realize it’s time to start something new.

We do need something new, regardless of whether it is for the reasons which Brooks discussed.

There are structural barriers as Brooks noted. Earlier this month The New Republic looked at Why America Is Stuck With Only Two Parties:

It wasn’t always like this. There was a time in American politics when it was relatively easy to jump-start a new political party and get it into the mainstream. That was how the Republican Party—the only third party in American history to become a major party—displaced the Whigs (along with several smaller parties) between 1854, when it was founded, and 1860, when it propelled Abraham Lincoln to the presidency.

It took three things to create a party back then: people, money, and ballots. Parties were responsible not only for recruiting and nominating candidates for office, but they also printed and distributed their own ballots (typically with the help of partisan newspaper publishers). Thus, there were very few barriers to entry: Candidates didn’t have to petition to appear on a ballot, and new parties were free to endorse candidates from the more major parties, so their nominees ran less risk of being labeled spoilers. Essentially, parties could contest for power just as soon as they had backers and supporters. This was what happened to the Liberty and Free Soil parties in the nineteenth century: Starting in the mid-1840s, as the two dominant parties—the Whigs and Democrats—hewed to the pro-slavery forces in their ranks, these new formations sprouted quickly and began gathering anti-slavery advocates.

In 1848, Free Soil nominated former President Martin van Buren after the Whigs supported slave owner Zachary Taylor for president, and got 10 percent of the national vote. Crucially, they were able to do this after the Whig convention that summer because there were no legal obstacles to getting him on the ballot. Six years later, in July 1854, the Republican Party held its first convention and swept the Michigan statehouse and executive branch that very same year. By 1856, its presidential candidate John Fremont won a third of the popular vote and 114 electoral votes.

That’s no longer possible: Today, third parties can’t mount their own presidential bids after they learn whom the two major parties have nominated—there simply isn’t enough time between the end of primary season and the general election to gain meaningful ballot access in enough states to win an Electoral College victory. Evan McMullin, the former CIA operative who ran for President in 2016 as an anti-Trump alternative to Hillary Clinton, was only able to get on the ballot in 11 states because he entered the race so late. It would’ve been easier in the 1800s: McMullin wouldn’t have had to collect millions of petition signatures and hire expensive lawyers to get on the ballot.

The article went on to how the two major parties use ballot access to make it difficult for third parties to compete. The two major parties also conspire to prevent competition in other ways, including restricting access to the debates. While true that these are major obstacles, knowledge of how the major parties maintain their monopoly also presents strategies to work at to achieve change.

Ultimately bigger changes such as rank order voting would be helpful. This would enable voters to choose more than one candidate, with their vote transferring to their second choice if their first choice is eliminated. The idea is to allow people to vote for a third party without feeling like they are wasting their vote. Voters might vote for a Green Party candidate first, and then have their vote go to the Democrat next. This pattern might often be seen, but in  2016 I probably would have voted for Jill Stein and then Gary Johnson, only voting for candidates opposed to our pattern of perpetual warfare. It is also hoped that with ranked order voting more people would vote third party, leading to better third party candidates, with them ultimately being able to win.

There are no doubt major obstacles to third parties actually challenging the major parties. It is debatable as to whether this is a better or worse strategy than to try to reform the major parties, but the two strategies are not mutually exclusive. Despite the major obstacles, we are closer to changing the system than at many times in the past. Dissatisfaction with the major parties is at a new high, with many young voters having no affiliation with either. The internet changes the rules, both for fund raising and campaigning, reducing traditional needs for the old party structures. The internet has the potential to alter politics as it has altered a lot of commercial activity.

Even if a third party does not become a major party, third parties have historically had their value in influencing the major parties, which desire their votes. Seeing the loss of votes to a third party could keep the Democrats from continuing to move to the right. On the other hand, people practicing lesser-evilism voting it makes it easier for the major parties to continue on their current path–which led to a choice as terrible as Trump v. Clinton.

Nunes Memo Provides Reminder Of Republican Hypocrisy And Democratic Dishonesty

Following days of hype far in excess of the outcome, the Nunes memo was finally released. The memo itself, while providing reminders of both Republican hypocrisy and Democratic dishonesty, doesn’t change what we knew. What matters is how Donald Trump and others wind up responding to the release.

The memo actually means very little, especially when kept in mind that it is a memo written by members of one party, while the response from the other party has so far been suppressed. The key argument is that Steele dossier was an essential part of the argument for the surveillance of Carter Page. However, the same memo undermines this argument, stating that  information about George Papadopolous “triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation” in July 2016. The initial application for the surveillance remains classified, so it is not possible to independently determine how important the Steele dossier was.

The significance of the Steele dossier is reduced if there is evidence beyond it to justify surveillance of Carter Page, as the Nunes memo concedes does exist. In addition, The Wall Street Journal reports: “Carter Page, who served as a foreign-policy adviser to Donald Trump’s campaign, was known to U.S. counterintelligence officials for years before he became a prominent figure in a dossier of unverified research about the future president’s ties to Russia.” There is further information later in the article, which raises questions as to how significant the Steele dossier were as opposed to other actions by Page in bringing him to the attention of counterintelligence officials:

Mr. Page’s dealings with Russia date back to more than a decade before Mr. Trump ran for president and his opponents began crafting the dossier.

For three years, starting in 2004, Mr. Page was living in Moscow, where he opened an office for the investment banking firm Merrill Lynch & Co. He also served as an adviser on “key transactions” involving the Russian state-owned energy company PAO Gazprom and RAO UES, the Russian state-controlled electricity monopoly, according to Mr. Page’s biography.

In January 2013, Mr. Page was in New York at an Asia Society event on China and energy development, when he met Victor Podobnyy, a junior attaché at the Russian consulate in New York City who was in the audience, Mr. Page told the House Intelligence Committee last fall.

In March 2013, Mr. Page met with Mr. Podobnyy again over coffee or a Coke, he told the House panel in his testimony. Mr. Page, asked why he had sought out Mr. Podobnyy a second time, said he wanted to practice his Russian.

That June, three years before the 2016 presidential campaign and the creation of the dossier, Mr. Page had his first known brush with a U.S. counterintelligence official. He was interviewed by FBI counterintelligence agent Gregory Monaghan and another FBI agent, who were investigating whether Mr. Podobnyy was a Russian intelligence agent, according to a criminal complaint.

In 2015, Mr. Podobnyy was charged with posing as a U.N. attaché under diplomatic cover while trying to recruit Mr. Page as a Russian intelligence source. The criminal complaint filed by U.S. federal prosecutors alleged Mr. Podobnyy was an agent for the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service. The complaint also detailed Mr. Podobnyy’s discussion in April 2013 with Igor Sporyshev, a second alleged SVR agent posing as a Russian trade representative, about efforts to recruit “a male working as a consultant in New York City.” Mr. Podobnyy was afforded diplomatic immunity and left the country.

In a statement last year, Mr. Page confirmed he was the unnamed consultant and said he helped U.S. federal investigators during the case. The complaint charging Mr. Podobnyy said Mr. Page had provided the Russians with documents, which Mr. Page said were “nothing more than a few samples from the more detailed lectures” he was preparing for a course he was teaching at New York University at the time.

There certainly might be grounds to question both the initial surveillance and the continued renewal of FISA warrants for the surveillance of Page (as is required every ninety days).  However, if the Republicans see abuses re FISA, why did they overwhelmingly just recently vote to renew it and expand surveillance? It is hard to take seriously Republican concerns today regarding surveillance when they have been such strong supporters of mass surveillance.

It is not even clear if Carter Page is very significant with regards to Robert Muller’s investigation considering he is not one of those who have been indicted or who has entered into a plea agreement with Muller.

The release of the memo does serve as a reminder of the dishonesty of the Clinton campaign and the DNC, which had denied for months their role in paying for the Steele dossier. They very well might have violated federal election rules, and should be investigated for this. However, that is a separate matter, and is hardly enough to discredit investigations into money laundering and obstruction of justice within the Trump administration. On the other hand, the attempts by Democrats to fabricate a case, contrary to all the evidence to date, that the election was stolen from Clinton due to a conspiracy between Trump and Russia, is likely to ultimately help Trump distract from his actual crimes.

The real significance of the Nunes memo is not the content, but how it is used. If it is used to reform mass surveillance it could be a good thing–but that is very unlikely to happen by the hypocritical Republicans. The greatest fear is that Trump will use the Republican spin not only to undermine the credibility of the investigation but to justify another Saturday Night Massacre.

Forbidden Words At CDC Is Just Latest Orwellian Result Of The Republican War On Science

The war on science from the Trump administration includes Orwellian restrictions on which words can be used. As The Washington Post reported, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was given a list of words which are now forbidden including “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

This is not the only situation in which government scientists have had to worry about which words they can use under Trump and other Republican presidents. In November NPR’s Morning Edition reported on how Climate Scientists Watch Their Words, Hoping To Stave Off Funding Cuts:

Scientists appear to be self-censoring by omitting the term “climate change” in public grant summaries.

An NPR analysis of grants awarded by the National Science Foundation found a steadily decreasing number with the phrase “climate change” in the title or summary, resulting in a sharp drop in the term’s use in 2017. At the same time, the use of alternative terms such as “extreme weather” appears to be rising slightly.

The change in language appears to be driven in part by the Trump administration’s open hostility to the topic of climate change. Earlier this year, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, and the President’s 2018 budget proposal singled out climate change research programs for elimination.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has been systematically removing references to climate change from its official website. Both the EPA’s leader, Scott Pruitt, and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry have said they do not accept the scientific consensus that humans are causing the planet to get warmer…

“Scientists I know are increasingly using terms like ‘global change’, ‘environmental change’, and ‘extreme weather’, rather than explicitly saying ‘climate change’,” Jonathan Thompson, the senior ecologist at the Harvard Forest, wrote in an email to NPR. Thompson has been the lead investigator on multiple research projects funded by the NSF in recent years. “This seems to be born out of an abundance of caution to limit their exposure to any political landmines in what is already an extremely competitive process,” he wrote…

This is not the first time scientists have resorted to euphemism to protect their research. Early studies of human sexuality referred to “fertility-related behavior.” Stem cell research was referred to by some Bush-era researchers as “therapeutic cloning.”

The web of alternative language can be confusing to policymakers and frustrating for universities and other institutions that support science. Some are concerned that the language scientists use to describe climate change research may lead to similar problems. And, anecdotally, some scientists worry that political pressure may be driving young scientists away from climate studies.

RNC To Support Roy Moore

The RNC’s moment of standing for principle didn’t last very long. The Hill reports, RNC reinstates support for Moore after Trump endorsement.

For a brief moment, it appeared that they would draw the line and not support Roy Moore due to his sexual misconduct involving teenagers. It is a shame that they did not stick with this view.

I also wish there was as much outrage in this country over war mongers running for public office as there is over sex offenders.

Fox Wins First Annual Fake News Trophy

Donald Trump recently called for a Fake News Trophy on Twitter. While I can understand that Donald Trump might be upset with CNN (the Clinton News Network), his attempt to exclude Fox from the award backfired. After all, Fox probably does remain the largest major source of false information after Donald Trump himself. Earlier this month the Washington Post Fact Checker found that Trump has made 1,628 false or misleading claims over 298 days since becoming president.

Rasmussen, the Republican-leaning polling outfit, conducted a poll to award the Fake News Trophy. Despite the biases of Rasmussen, the First Annual Fake News Trophy went to Fox. While there was the expected partisan bias in the results, overall Fox did win at 40 percent, with CNN well behind at 25 percent. From Rasmussen:

Trump suggested earlier this week that the media should award an annual Fake News Award for the worst coverage of his presidency but left Fox News out of the running since it is the only network the president and his supporters believe gives him fair coverage. But 40% of all voters think Fox News should be the winner of the first annual Fake News Trophy.

CNN is in second place with 25% support, followed by MSNBC (9%), ABC (4%), CBS (3%) and NBC (2%). Six percent (6%) say the award should go to someone else, and 11% are undecided.

A closer look finds that while 53% of Democrats and a plurality (42%) of voters not affiliated with either major party declare Fox News the winner, just 24% of Republicans agree. Forty percent (40%) of GOP voters opt instead for CNN, a view shared by just 13% of Democrats and 24% of unaffiliateds.

Republicans and unaffiliated voters are more critical of MSNBC than Democrats are, too. Views of the other networks are more comparable among the three groups.