Another Prediction That Trump Could Cost Republicans Control Of The House

The failure of Donald Trump to repeal and replace Obamacare, as he repeatedly claimed he would do as soon as he took office, has led to a further deterioration in public perceptions of Trump’s job performance, and risks hurting the entire Republican Party. I have previously looked at predictions that a low approval rating for Trump could cost Republicans control of the House. National Journal has another prediction that Dems Could Take House in 2018:

Demo­crats now have a real­ist­ic shot at re­tak­ing the House in 2018. Each of the past three midterm elec­tions have swung wildly against the party in power—re­flect­ive of the long­stand­ing dis­sat­is­fac­tion of voters to­wards polit­ic­al lead­er­ship, no mat­ter who’s in charge. Trump’s job ap­prov­al rat­ing is hov­er­ing around 40 per­cent, a tox­ic level for the dozens of Re­pub­lic­ans run­ning for reelec­tion in swing dis­tricts. Re­pub­lic­ans would be fool­ish to as­sume that Pres­id­ent Obama’s co­ali­tion of mil­len­ni­als and non­white voters—many of whom stayed home in past midterm elec­tions—re­mains dis­en­gaged giv­en their aver­sion to Trump.

Polit­ic­ally speak­ing, the health care bill couldn’t have been more dam­aging for Re­pub­lic­ans. In a dis­cip­lined Con­gress, safe-seat Re­pub­lic­ans would be more will­ing to take risky votes so those in com­pet­it­ive seats could main­tain some in­de­pend­ence from the party. But this time, hard-line con­ser­vat­ives in the Free­dom Caucus de­clared their un­stint­ing op­pos­i­tion early on, for­cing some vul­ner­able Re­pub­lic­ans to go on re­cord in sup­port of the un­pop­u­lar le­gis­la­tion—which didn’t even come to a vote. Adding in­sult to in­jury, Trump bragged on Twit­ter that the health care ex­changes would col­lapse as a res­ult of his in­ac­tion—the worst pos­sible mes­sage to send to any­one who viewed Trump as a can-do ex­ec­ut­ive…

There are already signs that Trump’s sag­ging ap­prov­al rat­ing is rais­ing the pos­sib­il­ity of a stun­ning up­set in an up­com­ing con­gres­sion­al elec­tion in sub­urb­an At­lanta. The race, to fill the va­cant seat held by Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Tom Price, couldn’t be more rel­ev­ant to the health care de­bate. One pub­lic poll shows the Demo­crat­ic front-run­ner, Jon Os­soff, nar­rowly lead­ing sev­er­al of his GOP op­pon­ents in a run­off—this in a con­ser­vat­ive dis­trict that has elec­ted Re­pub­lic­ans to Con­gress for over four dec­ades. Fear­ing an em­bar­rass­ing de­feat, the party’s lead­ing House su­per PAC is spend­ing over $2 mil­lion on at­tack ads con­nect­ing Os­soff with Nancy Pelosi.

Of the 36 at-risk House Re­pub­lic­ans, ac­cord­ing to The Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port’s rat­ings, 28 rep­res­ent urb­an or sub­urb­an dis­tricts where Trump isn’t par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar. In last year’s elec­tion, most of these GOP rep­res­ent­at­ives sig­ni­fic­antly out­per­formed Trump as voters dis­tin­guished between the pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee and the re­cord of their own mem­ber of Con­gress. But with Trump as pres­id­ent, that dis­tinc­tion is harder to make…

Demo­crats need to net 24 seats to win back the House ma­jor­ity, which sounds a lot more im­pos­ing than it ac­tu­ally is. As polit­ic­al ana­lyst Nath­an Gonzales noted in a re­cent column, the pres­id­ent’s party has lost House seats in 18 of the last 20 midterms, with an av­er­age loss of 33 seats in those 18 los­ing cycles. Two of the most im­port­ant big-pic­ture factors—pres­id­en­tial ap­prov­al and par­tis­an en­thu­si­asm—are now point­ing against the GOP.

Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, Re­pub­lic­ans would ex­per­i­ence some early gov­ern­ing suc­cesses and rally be­hind their pres­id­ent. With Trump, Re­pub­lic­ans have come up empty-handed so far. We’re more than a year away from the next big elec­tions, but there are already signs that a Cat­egory 5 hur­ricane is build­ing.

The Republicans risk further losses following their defeat on health care. Trump continues to lose credibility, and is losing in his attacks on the press. Many sources, including The Wall Street Journal, have discussed the difficulties they will have on rewriting the tax code. Trump’s executive order to reverse Barack Obama’s efforts to fight climate change could also turn out to harm Republicans. The New York Times, in an editorial describing the harm which Trump’s actions will do, concluded in noting the possible public opinion backlash:

And then there is public opinion. It punished the Republicans severely in 1994 when Newt Gingrich and his allies tried to roll back environmental laws. It punished them again in 2008 after eight years of denialism and prevarication on climate change under George W. Bush and his fossil fuel acolyte, Dick Cheney. There is time enough before Mr. Trump’s ignorance translates into actual policy for the public to make its opposition to this anti-science agenda felt again.

It is possible that the Democrats might benefit from Trump’s unpopularity regardless of what they do, but it must also be kept in mind that the Democrats did lose to Trump in 2016 despite all the blunders from Trump during his campaign. That might be written off as the consequence of the Democrats fielding a weak candidate against him, but it also must be kept in mind how the Democrats also  lost badly in 2010 and 2014 when they ran as a Republican-lite party. The Democrats need to have the courage to stand for something, giving voters a positive reason to vote for them rather than counting on dislike of Republicans to be enough.

Republican Failures On Health Care Raise Calls For Single-Payer Health Plan

The failure of  the Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare is a tremendous defeat for Donald Trump, along with Paul Ryan, which may hinder their ability to pass other parts of the Republican agenda, such as rewriting the tax code. The inability of Republicans to come up with a reasonable solution for our health care problems highlights the inability to solve the problem by relying on the market, and has revived calls for a single-payer health care plan.

The Week has this argument for Why Democrats should push ‘Medicare for all’ now even before it the Republicans gave up on their plan:

The AHCA is a monstrous bill that would leave at least 24 million more people uninsured by 2026. But whether or not it fails, the Democrats shouldn’t sit idly by and wait for Republicans to slowly bleed ObamaCare to death by other means. They need a counter-offer, one that’s more compelling than the creaky status quo. They need a single-payer, Medicare for all plan. Here’s why.

The first reason is that single-payer is quite clearly the best universal health-care policy option for the United States. As Dr. Adam Gaffney explains, the U.S. model of multi-tiered health insurance has generally lousy and highly unequal outcomes, both here and in European countries with similar structures like the Netherlands. Complicated public-private hybrid systems mean much larger administrative costs, and the fact that markets are extraordinarily ill-suited to deliver health care means tons of difficult regulation.

Indeed, the distance in uninsured people between ObamaCare and single-payer is actually greater than that between ObamaCare and the Republican plan. Complicated, janky programs tend to let people fall through the cracks.

..The AHCA is extraordinarily unpopular because it takes coverage and subsidies away from people, and a majority believe that it should be the government’s responsibility to make sure everyone is covered. Fundamentally, Medicare is very popular, a fact only partially covered up by generations of red-baiting and duplicitous austerian propaganda. If Democrats had simply bulled ahead with a single payer-esque plan in 2009, instead of the complicated and heavily means-tested ObamaCare, they almost certainly would have done better than they actually did in the 2010 election.

And even for people who are skeptical of going full-bore all at once on single-payer, it still makes an excellent opening bid. Start with single-payer for all during the next bite at the health-care apple, and you could end up with a plan of combining Medicare and Medicaid, enrolling all people under 26 and over 55, and putting a Medicare buy-in on the ObamaCare exchanges. (That might begin chipping away at the employer-based system and be a somewhat more gradual route to single-payer.) Just witness the original opening bid for ObamaCare, which was far more generous before it got badly whittled down by conservative Democrats…

It also makes an excellent organizing signpost. Medicare for all is simple, easy to understand, and hard to argue against or distort. Most people know someone on Medicare who can testify to the generally good care, or who is counting the days until they can enroll and have the peace of mind that comes with quality coverage. Fabricated agitprop like the mythical ObamaCare “death panels” will be a much harder sell.

Erica Etelson is one of those writing op-eds promoting a single-payer plan, and taking the Democratic Party to task for failing to do so:

With Trumpcare dead on arrival in Congress, Democrats have an opening to propose what they should have pushed for in the first place: single-payer health care for all. Fifty-eight percent of Americans, including 41 percent of Republicans, favor a federally funded health care system that provides universal coverage. Only 48 percent want to keep Obamacare as is.

Though Democrats are loathe to admit it, Obamacare is far from perfect. Some people pay higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs than they can afford. In some areas of the country, choices of doctors are limited. Compared to nations with single-payer systems, health outcomes are poor. And a small but vocal minority of Americans are troubled by Obamacare’s individual mandate which, they believe, infringes on their liberty…

Bernie Sanders ran with remarkable success on a Medicare for All proposal that generated enormous excitement among the progressive wing of the party and sent shivers down the spine of the Democratic corporate establishment. Hillary Clinton, a one-time champion of single-payer, pounced on Sanders with alarmist, counterfactual claims that Sanders’ proposal would increase costs and make people worse off.

While the GOP is still cringing over the humiliating defeat of its seven-year promise to repeal Obamacare, Democrats should kick them while they’re down by introducing single-payer legislation. Even Trump-collaborator, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, is starting to wise up, thanks to his constituents; at a recent town meeting, Manchin praised Canada’s health care system and said he was taking a look at single-payer as an alternative to Obamacare…

We watched the Democratic National Committee undercut Sanders’ candidacy. And we’ve watched the Democrats disappear the single-payer option by refusing to support Rep. John Conyers’, D-MI, single-payer bill (HR 676). Enough.

The Democrats’ lackluster opposition to Trumpism does not match the fierce and relentless resistance of their base. They can and must stop doubling down on the centrist “pragmatism” that has alienated growing numbers of voters and start acting like a party more committed to the health and well-being of the 99 percent than protecting the power and profits of oligarchs.

This populist moment in American politics is the Democrats’ to seize. With a strong majority supporting single payer, the Democrat have a golden opportunity to give their dwindling base a reason to come home. As Trump said moments after conceding defeat, “Here’s the good news: Health care is now totally the property of the Democrats.” Good news indeed, if the Democrats know what to make of it.

Donald Trump now has the opportunity to work with Democrats, and any Republicans who are willing, to fulfill his campaign promises of giving us a great health care plan which will cover everybody. Of course he will not do so, and will probably continue to work to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

Rachel Maddow Trolls Twitter With Virtual Non-Story On Trump Tax Returns

Rachel Maddow had Twitter excited yesterday evening when she tweeted: “BREAKING: We’ve got Trump tax returns. Tonight, 9pm ET. MSNBC. (Seriously)” I was immediately suspicious as to whether she really had anything. After all, MSNBC pretends to be a news channel. If they really had a major scoop, they would have announced it at the time on whatever show was on. Instead they used this to build excitement for Maddow’s show, and then waited until after the first break to show what they had.

It turned out that she had virtually nothing. All she had was two pages from Trump’ 2005 tax return which showed that he reported an income of $150 million and pain $38 million in federal income taxes. If anything this helps Trump, debunking claims from Hillary Clinton that Trump has “paid nothing in federal taxes.” There was certainly nothing here linking him to Russia. The little information released was so favorable to Trump that some are speculating that Trump was behind the “leak” of these two pages.

We did learn that Trump has taken legal deductions to legally minimize his taxes. Shocking. I do that too (even if not on the level which Trump is able to). He has also supported elimination of the alternate minimum tax. A wealthy Republican wanting to change the tax laws to reduce taxes on the wealthy is hardly a scoop.

I might say that Maddow has jumped the shark here, but I already thought she did this with her fallacious claims blaming Clinton’s loss on third party candidates rather than on Clinton being a terrible candidate who ran a horrible campaign, and her fear mongering on Russia which has reduced her to the level of a liberal Glenn Beck. Once a journalist loses their credibility as Maddow has, this usually cannot be regained, making last night’s fiasco nothing more than confirmation of where Maddow stands.

Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia remains an open question. There have certainly been some items to raise questions, such as the incidents involving Jeff Sessions and Mike Flynn. It does appear that many who have spoken with the Russian ambassador, including advisers to Clinton as well as Trump, have been Retconned into forgetting the meeting.

Thomas Wood has put together an impressive “Russiagate Timeline.” There is certainly enough smoke to demand an investigation, including a review of Trump’s tax returns. However, despite claims from Clinton supporters, there is zero evidence of the key question of whether there was any coordination between Trump and Russia to influence the election.

House Conservatives Threaten Fiscal Cliff Compromise

For the benefit of readers who were too busy with New Year’s Eve parties and today’s football bowl games, the Senate passed a measure to attempt to avoid the fiscal cliff after the House was unable to. The bill was a compromise which had measures which both liberals and conservatives were unhappy with (which would be expected considering how far apart the two parties are). As I predicted, and to nobody’s surprise, this is coming down to the last minute. Despite passing the Senate by 89 to 8, the bill’s fate in the House remains unclear.

The reason that the two Houses of Congress are responding so differently is that Senators face state wide races while most House members are gerrymandered into safe districts. Most House Republicans are safe from challenges by Democratic opponents, but many are at a real risk of primary challenges from Tea Party members who oppose the compromises necessary for good government in their rabid  opposition to the American system of democratic government. Senate Republicans are more likely to fear a nation-wide backlash against Republicans for allowing the country to go over the fiscal cliff.

John Boehner is losing what little control he had over the House Republicans. If he maintains his position as Speaker it will only because nobody else wants to be in his position. Eric Cantor has joined the conservative rebellion, with House conservatives now discussing passing the bill with amendments calling for spending cuts and returning it to the Senate. Senate Democrats say this would kill the bill.

If the House conservatives fail to get enough votes to accomplish this, there is still the possibility that Boehner would allow the full House to vote on the bill, where it might pass with votes from Democrats and enough Republicans to give it a majority. This has Boehner is a lose-lose situation. If he allows the bill to pass without the support of a majority of Republicans he weakens himself in his own party. If the bill does not pass the House, the Republicans will take the blame for the country going over the fiscal cliff.

Update: It appears that there are not enough votes to amend the bill (which would probably kill it) and there are reports that there will be a vote on the Senate bill tonight.

Update II: The House voted to approve the bill 257-167.

Republican Priorities

Obama summed up the main priority of the Republicans on Meet the Press today:

I offered not only a trillion dollars in– over a trillion dollars in spending cuts over the next 10 years, but these changes would result in even more savings in the next 10 years. And would solve our deficit problem for a decade. They say that their biggest priority is making sure that we deal with the deficit in a serious way, but the way they’re behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected. That seems to be their only overriding, unifying theme.

Turns out they have a second priority, cutting Social Security benefits:

Negotiations to reach a last-ditch agreement to head off large tax increases and sweeping spending cuts in the new year broke down, at least temporarily, on Sunday after Republicans requested that a deal include a new way of calculating inflation that would lower payments to beneficiaries programs like Social Security and slow their growth.

Disagreement over Social Security is being called a major setback in the fiscal cliff negotiations today.

Update: Republicans appear to have taken Social Security cuts off the table for now. While they might not demand these cuts as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations they do plan to bring this up again in 2013.

A Conservative Wish For A New GOP

As I last pointed out a couple days ago, this is not a good time for serious conservatives. Despite constantly repeating his name in speeches, the Republican Party has become so extreme, and so unwilling to engage in the type of negotiations and compromises necessary for government, that there would be no place for Ronald Reagan in the party today. In that post I quoted Andrew Sullivan. Many other conservatives, such as Bruce Bartlett, have the same complaints. Moderate political scientists such as Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have discussed the problems to the nation caused by the extremism of the current leaders of the Republican Party. Today Mark McKinnon writes that all he wants for Christmas is a New GOP:

What I want for Christmas is a new Republican Party. Or I’ll take the old Republican Party of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, or George W. Bush. What I don’t want is the Republican Party we have today. As former George W. Bush and John McCain adviser Nicolle Wallace said, “I’m just tired of the Republican Party being the Stupid Party.”

All sanity seems to have left the ranks of those in charge of the GOP—or, more accurately, those who want to be in charge. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) demonstrated in a jaw-dropping performance Thursday on Morning Joethe depth of the problem and why we are bound to go over the fiscal cliff. He made it clear he won’t vote for a tax increase on anyone, no matter how much they make. So, by his logic, we will end up going over the cliff, and raise taxes on everybody, because he and too many others like him in the party are unwilling to raise taxes on anyone. This intransigence will also make a core Republican tenet of broader tax reform more difficult to pursue because the new Congress will then be fixated on smaller bore issues like fixing the rates.

But there’s more. Huelskamp’s response to the Newtown tragedy? No need to change any gun laws. (Not even better enforcement of the laws we have?) And those who suggest any changes are simply “politicizing” the situation to fit their political agenda. Was George W. Bush “politicizing” 9/11 when he created the Department of Homeland Security? If so, then by all means shouldn’t we “politicize” in the wake of a national tragedy?

Other Republican elected officials said they wanted to wait to see what the National Rifle Association had to say. On Friday, Wayne LaPierre delivered. No new gun laws, but how about an armed guard in every school, because “the only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Then LaPierre went on to blame every other facet of our culture for the problem. Now, I don’t disagree that much goes into the cultural equation causing violence, and much needs to be considered to address the root causes, like mental health and violent media. But in 2008, the U.S. reportedly recorded 11,000 gun-related deaths, and Japan recorded 11—and I believe the Japanese play video games. So maybe we should at least include guns in the discussion.

Now, I don’t think more security in our schools is necessarily a bad idea. But it begs the question of funding and federalizing local control of schools, two concepts deeply out of vogue with Republican orthodoxy. And reality.

But here’s the deeper point and the bigger problem for the GOP. Increasingly, it is becoming clear that the party is against everything and for nothing.

Nothing on taxes. Nothing on gun control. Nothing on climate change. Nothing on gay marriage. Nothing on immigration reform (or an incremental, piece-by-piece approach, which will result in nothing). It’s a very odd situation when the losing party is the party refusing to negotiate. It may be how you disrupt, but it is not how you govern, or how you ever hope to regain a majority.

And so, we have a Republican Party today willing to eliminate any prospect for a decent future for anyone, including itself, if it cannot be a future that is 100 percent in accordance with its core beliefs and principles. That’s not governing. That’s just lobbing hand grenades. If you’re only standing on principle to appear taller, then you appear smaller. And the GOP is shrinking daily before our eyes.

Ronald Reagan was long thought to be the most conservative of Republicans. And by any standard today he is the most popular Republican in modern history. Yet he raised taxes 11 times, supported a ban on assault rifles and the Brady Bill, which mandated background checks, and established amnesty for 3 million undocumented workers.

No one questioned Reagan’s principles or values. But he was seen as great because he had the ability to maintain his principles while adapting, evolving, and negotiating as the world around him changed. When I raise these issues, many of my Republican friends respond, “We will not become a stronger Republican Party by acting more like the Democratic Party.” And I say, “No, we become a stronger Republican Party by acting like reasonable human beings who acknowledge reality.”

The world is still changing. Faster than ever. And so should the Republican Party. Or condemn itself to a smaller and smaller base of core supporters and permanent minority status.

Tax Rates Lower Under Obama Than Reagan

Many on the right act as if the Reagan years were a golden age of small government and low taxes while Barack Obama has brought us socialism and high taxes. Of course these are the same people who are certain Obama raised their taxes when he actually lowered them. Taxes are lower under Obama than under Ronald Reagan:

But in fact, most Americans in 2010 paid far less in total taxes — federal, state and local — than they would have paid 30 years ago. According to an analysis by The New York Times, the combination of all income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes took a smaller share of their income than it took from households with the same inflation-adjusted income in 1980.

Households earning more than $200,000 benefited from the largest percentage declines in total taxation as a share of income. Middle-income households benefited, too. More than 85 percent of households with earnings above $25,000 paid less in total taxes than comparable households in 1980.

Lower-income households, however, saved little or nothing. Many pay no federal income taxes, but they do pay a range of other levies, like federal payroll taxes, state sales taxes and local property taxes. Only about half of taxpaying households with incomes below $25,000 paid less in 2010.

The uneven decline is a result of two trends. Congress cut federal taxation at every income level over the last 30 years. State and local taxes, meanwhile, increased for most Americans. Those taxes generally take a larger share of income from those who make less, so the increases offset more and more of the federal savings at lower levels of income.

The article later gave a few examples:

¶A household making $350,000 in 2010, roughly the cutoff for the top 1 percent, on average paid 42.1 percent of its income in taxes, compared with 49 percent for a household with the same inflation-adjusted income in 1980 — a savings of about $24,100.

¶A household making $52,000 in 2010, roughly the median income, on average paid 27.7 percent of its income in taxes, compared with 30.5 percent in 1980, saving $1,500.

¶A household making $22,000 in 2010 — roughly the federal poverty line for a family of four — on average paid 19.4 percent in taxes, compared with 20.2 percent, saving $200.

The comparisons would be less dramatic depending upon which year of the Reagan administration current rates were compared to as Reagan both lowered and raised taxes during his time in office. The numbers do debunk any idea that Obama has ushered in an era of high-tax socialism. That’s why the right wing is so violently against numbers, arithmetic, and facts.

Republican Compromise Turned Out To Be Too Good To Be True

Realistically there was one sure sign that we would not see a compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff–it is not the last minute. It appeared there might be some hope of a quick compromise when Representative Tom Cole suggested that Republicans accept Obama’s position of continuing the Bush tax cuts for the middle class while raising rates on the wealthiest tax payers. John Boehner has already shot down that proposal (which doesn’t mean the Republicans might not compromise on this at the last minute).

Republicans, in their usual display of dishonesty on fiscal matters, claim that they are refusing to go along with this in order to protect small business. However, only a tiny percentage of small businesses would be affected by the repeal of the Bush tax cuts. The real motivation is not protecting small business, but protecting the ultra-wealthy and avoiding confrontation with Grover Norquist. While a few Republicans have recently said they would put their country before a pledge to Grover Norquist to never raise taxes, most Republicans fear the political consequences of facing a Tea Party fanatic in their next primary battle.

Some Republicans are looking for a way to raise taxes on the wealthy, knowing that this is necessary, while pretending they are not. Mitt Romney ran on the idea of reducing tax rates and deductions, but there aren’t enough deductions to eliminate for his plan to add up. Recently I heard a really absurd idea floated of raising taxes on the wealthy by keeping the same rates but having the top rate apply to all income. While this might satisfy the desire to raise taxes while telling Tea Party members that they did not support a higher rate, the consequences of this could be a disaster.

Republicans often falsely claim that higher rates will prevent investment in the economy as businessmen will stop working to avoid the  higher rate. This does not actually happen because of how marginal tax rates work. If there is a three percent higher rate on incomes over $500,000, income up to $500,000 will still be charged at the same rates. Paying three percent more only on income over $500,000 would not deter anyone from doing more business which increases income over $500,000. The situation would be completely different if earning over $500,000 meant paying the current top rate on all income. In this case, going over the income threshold would mean that all income would be taxed at a higher rate, not just income over $500,000 and someone earning $500,001 would be paying substantially more in taxes than someone earning $499,999. This would really lead to people having an incentive to make less money if their income would otherwise be over $500,000 (unless it would be substantially more). I doubt this idea will go anywhere.

Hopefully when pushed by a deadline Congress will find a meaningful compromises at the last minute. It is important to avoid the fiscal cliff which will lead to both automatic tax increses and spending cuts. I’m finding some liberals expressing views such as John Cole’s: “Ending the Bush tax cuts and big cuts to defense? Sounds good to me!” Perhaps, but the automatic cuts to Medicare and many domestic programs don’t sound as good.

Winning the Post-Debate: Potentially The Best of Both Worlds For Obama

After last night’s debate, there is a lot of talk of a change in strategy for Obama.  There will certainly be changes in how Obama debates after he failed to adequately respond to Romney’s lies last night, and missed many opportunities to demonstrate the flaws in Romney’s policies. Debates of this type are not scored based upon how well the specific questions are answered. The debates are won in the media by using every moment a candidate has to speak to present their arguments and debunk the arguments of the opponent.

Some discussion of changes in overall campaign strategy misses the point. Buzzfeed writes that Obama has changed the strategy from criticizing Romney for being too conservative to being inconsistent. They are half right. Today Obama did highlight the inconsistency:

“When I got onto the stage I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney,” Obama told a crowd of some 12,000 the morning after the contest. “But it couldn’t have been Mitt Romney because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country the last year promising 5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow on stage said he didn’t know anything about that.”

Obama also accused Romney of “danc[ing]” around his positions; he hit him on taxes as well as outsourcing jobs; and claimed that Romney didn’t support teachers.

“The man on stage last night does not want to be held accountabilty for the real Mitt Romney’s decisions and what’s he been saying for the last year,” Obama said, suggesting Romney had switched his positions for political expedience. “And that’s because he knows full well that we don’t want what he’s been selling for the past year.”

The change is really not as drastic as Buzzfeed suggests. Earlier in the year Obama had a choice of criticizing the hard line conservative positions Romney adopted during the campaign or to attack him for flip-flopping by raising Romney’s past different, but more moderate, positions. Attacking Romney’s “severely conservative” positions was the more effective choice as it would not help Obama to raise the possibility that maybe Romney is more moderate than he now appears. However, once Romney made statements in the debate which were more moderate than the positions he has been campaigning on, it was consistent with their overall strategy to point out these differences. Obama will continue to tie Romney to the positions he has campaigned on for the past year, and prevent him from shaking the Etch-A-Sketch.

As long as Obama responds effectively (which is likely in the days beyond the first debate), this could be the best of both world for Obama. He can now justifiably attack Romney for both being too conservative and for being a dishonest politician who will say whatever he believes will help him politically, regardless of the truth. Plus Obama can be the candidate who defends Big Bird and Elmo.

The mainstream media crowned Romney the debate winner based upon the stylistic criteria usually used in these events, but some did realize the bigger trap which Romney has fallen into. First Read pointed out how Obama can win the post-debate:

Who wins the post-debate? If Romney won the instant reactions from last night’s debate, it is more than possible that the Obama camp can win the next 24 hours. Why? Because Romney said several things that could make life difficult for him today or in the next debate. First, Romney declared, “I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans.” But in addition to supporting the extension of the Bush tax cuts, which are skewed heavily to the wealthy, the non-partisan Tax Policy Center says that Romney’s tax plan would give the Top 0.1% an average tax cut of more than $246,000. Next, he stated that “there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit.” While he has said his plan will be paid for, he’s yet to lay out any SPECIFICS on how he’ll pay for it. Romney also said, “I’m not going to cut education funding. I don’t have any plan to cut education funding.” But the Ryan budget plan, which Romney has said he’d sign into law, leads to long-term spending reductions in education. And Romney also didn’t disagree with the description that his Medicare plan would consist of “vouchers” for future retirees. Winning a “debate” is always a two-part deal — the night itself, and then the aftermath. This is now an opportunity for Team Obama and a challenge for Team Romney.

Jonathan Bernstein further described the hole Romney dug for himself:

… Romney’s policy positions are even more of a shambles now than they were previously. Romney’s position, over and over again, is to simply bluff it on policy. His tax plan continues to be the most obvious one, but it really happens across the board. Romney insisted tonight more than once that his tax plan will keep taxes the same for the wealthy, cut them for everyone else, and not add to the deficit. Forget about the Tax Policy Center; just that much is obviously incoherent and impossible. And, more to the point, it’s clear he’s going to keep on insisting that it adds up, no matter how clearly it doesn’t. But it’s not just that; on every policy, he’s just going to insist that the consequences of his plans that anyone might not like simply don’t exist, so that he’s for sweeping spending cuts but insists that no particular program that anyone brings up might lose any funding, or that he’s for repealing Obamacare but those with pre-existing conditions will magically be protected.

Any benefits Romney did receive by winning the debate were tempered by a day in which the news centered around how Romney was dishonest and his tax proposals did not add up. Jonathan Chait described Romney’s successful debate plan–lying:

Romney won the debate in no small part because he adopted a policy of simply lying about his policies. Probably the best way to understand Obama’s listless performance is that he was prepared to debate the claims Romney has been making for the entire campaign, and Romney switched up and started making different and utterly bogus ones. Obama, perhaps, was not prepared for that, and he certainly didn’t think quickly enough on his feet to adjust to it.

Tim Dickenson summarized Mitt Romney’s Five Biggest Lies. Unfortunately he left out Romney’s false claims regarding Medicare cuts, but plenty of others have responded to that. The Medicare cuts come from subsidies to insurance companies which cost more to treat patients than under the government plan and cuts to hospitals to reimburse for treating the uninsured as there will be far fewer uninsured people. Paul Ryan includes the same cuts (and more) in his plan. Obama’s cuts do not reduce benefits to either Medicare beneficiaries or to doctors. In reality, Obamacare provides additional benefits to Medicare patients and increases payment to primary care doctors to care for Medicare patients.

Think Progress didn’t attempt to narrow the list to five, pointing out that Romney Told 27 Myths In 38 Minutes. I wonder if this is part of Romney’s strategy. He tells so many lies that it is difficult to keep up and present the evidence on all off them.

I am confident that Obama will do a better job of holding Romney accountable in the next two debates, but regardless of how Obama handles the debates, we have further evidence as to the weakness of Romney’s arguments, and a clear example of how Romney will say anything, and contradict anything he has said in the very recent past, for political gain.

Related:
How Jed Bartlet Would Handle The Debates

Jon Stewart and Bill Maher on the Debate

Initial Thoughts On The First Debate

Initial Thoughts On The First Debate

Obama appears to have gone into the debate  looking to protect his lead and take no chances. As a result he came off too wonkish. He responded to some Romney lies but allowed many  others to go unchallenged. Romney better understood how these “debates” work in ignoring the actual questions and ignoring the facts. The debates are not about actually answering questions or about giving the most scholarly answer. Romney will be awarded the win by the pundits, but it is doubtful anything he said will really convince many people to vote for him. John Kerry beat George Bush far more decisively than Romney won tonight but still lost the election.

On taxes, Mitt Romney decided to shake the Etch-A-Sketch and ignore everything he has supported to date. While Romney has told many lies, he was at the most dishonest on health care. Obama did a fair job of responding to Romney’s lies about a board which will be making health care decisions but Obama failed to respond to Romney’s distortions about Medicare cuts.

Romney was the far better bullshitter while Obama was the one up on stage who was able to give serious answers. Unfortunately the television debate format is not a good place for such professorial explanations. I am tempted to say that this was the most boring debate I have watched but realistically if there were boring ones in the past I wouldn’t recall them for comparison. I was waiting for them to debate which state has the trees which are the right height or whether planes should have windows. I am now worried that Romney plans to tie Big  Bird to the top of his car.

Obama generally had the wrong strategy for this debate, but at times did effectively challenge Romney, such as in asking for specifics of which deductions Romney would cut. My bet is that Obama will take on Romney more forcibly in the next two debates.

The post-debate coverage is often more important in influencing opinion than the actual debate.  Romney won the debate on style but as the fact checkers are looking at the debate Romney is losing points. Further discussion of topics such as Romney’s tax plan, the actual facts about Medicare, and health-care reform could wind up benefit ting Obama more than Romney.

Update: Or, as wound up happening, the media could concentrate on simplistic stories about who won (based upon style) and ignore the issues.