Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Fall Election Update

 I'll cut right to the chase: Joe Biden is going to win this thing pretty easily. It could be what they call in layman's terms a landslide. None of the political press is going to tell you that the president of the United States is going to get crushed in an election. That doesn't make headlines, except maybe after the fact. I said on Twitter in March, "It's not whether Biden is going to win, but by how much."

Here's what I see: there are swing states everywhere, which would be fine, but for the fact that they're in the wrong places. That is, the president should not be fighting for so-called "red states". North Carolina is always decently close, but a Republican in decent position for re-election shouldn't have to worry about it. Texas is one of the most Republican states in the country. It's the "new" home base of the Republican political dynasty, the Bush family. No Republican president should have to fight for Texas. Georgia is in play; that's the same story: it shouldn't be happening.

Arizona never goes to the Democrats, not since Bill Clinton. Biden appears to be leading in Arizona by a healthy margin. Please bear in mind that Mitt Romney, who lost fairly convincingly, won Arizona by more than nine points.

Trump absolutely needs Florida to win the election, and that too is competitive. What about Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania? You'll recall these states that decided the election, because Trump carried them narrowly, and Hillary Clinton absolutely needed them. All three are slipping away fairly convincingly from Donald Trump.

Trump's supporters are fond of shouting, "Hillary had a polling lead, too!" True, as far as it goes. But here's the facts: the polls weren't that wrong. The polls showed significant tightening in the race, even in the final week. Trump's victory was plausible, and in fact occurred. James Comey functioned as an October surprise last time, and it worked. The voters were pretty tepid in their support for Hillary Clinton anyway, and a huge proportion of late deciders went for the challenger, Trump. (Technically, it was an open election, but I think it fair to put Clinton in the role of the incumbent after eight years of Obama.) Challengers are never held to account before the fact on the promises they make, and the uproar concerning Trump's character was so fierce for so long, that a great number of white men probably just decided that a bunch of women and minorities were being sensitive. Or it was the "liberal media" or whatever you like.

But this election is a referendum on the incumbent. Even if some significant portion of the electorate does not blame Trump for the troubles related to his handling of the coronavirus, the pandemic itself took away his special advantage on the economy. An incumbent widely seen as at least distasteful cannot lose his advantage on the economy, especially when he is perceived as lacking empathy.

Let's get back to the numbers. What you'll see in every summer with an incumbent president going into an election year is a malaise of approval ratings in the mid-40s, and then sometime in late July, when actual voters start paying attention to political news, and begin to think about how they will assess their choices in the fall, you usually see the president's numbers improve to the high 40s, or more. If the president has an approval rating at 47 or 48% on election day, the incumbent will likely win. There is some non-negligible segment of the electorate that will choose third parties, or not vote at all. Take an honest look at where Trump is right now. I'll give you my upshot: I don't think he'll get near 47%. In the national polls, Biden is pegging pretty close to 50% or higher, and averaging about 48% in the battleground states. Trump trails in most states on both counts. We might be able to say that whoever hits that "incumbency number" and hits it consistently, is going to be the president.

What do I think about the debates? I think the debates are Biden's to lose. If Biden has some sort of catastrophic performance in all of them, the undecideds and tepid supporters currently supporting him could stay home, or vote for Trump. Usually though, debates reinforce the narratives and thought processes of the voters. If it is ever said that a debate shifted an election, it ought to be said that whatever the big moment was reinforced something the electorate already thought.

The quintessential example is Reagan in 1980. When he asked, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" he had the benefit of being the challenger, against an incumbent who seemed overwhelmed by events. When Reagan asked the question, nothing President Carter could say in response could dislodge the perception that the overwhelmed president was making a last-ditch effort to scare voters away from his opponent. He added, "there you go again," which added to the perception. But the debate didn't shift the perception; it simply clarified the perception. If Donald Trump is a malignant narcissist with a shocking lack of empathy, who has no ability or willingness to actually confront the problems he has faced or created, something in the debate will confirm that perception. It's already out there. Strategically, the Biden team needs to try to find a way to reinforce this perception during the debate. Maybe anger the president into a random argument, the thrust of which challenges his sense of self. A normal person will somehow seem to accept the criticism, and somehow deflect it. Sometimes, a little joke at one's own expense will seem endearing, and take the bite out of an attack. Trump can't do this, and Biden's team knows this.

Conversely, I think Trump's best line of attack will pertain to Biden's age, and perceived lack of mental acuity. This is a dangerous attack, because Trump's own vocabulary indicates an age-related lack of mental acuity, or worse. But I think it's the best they've got. If Biden can't hack it, some segment of the electorate may hand the keys back to Trump, even knowing all of his flaws, and decide hopefully that we can do better in four years. I don't think that attacking Harris will help Trump. I think the middle of the electorate understands that it's Biden's show on the Democratic side. He's not a Trojan horse, because he wasn't fundamentally that exciting of a moderate candidate. If you wanted to use a moderate to hide radical influence, why not Mayor Pete? Why not Harris herself? Biden won the primary, because he is a deliberate contrast to the weaknesses of Donald Trump. Politics is much like sports; it's not about the absolute level of talent; it's the match-up.

If they have an October surprise in the Trump camp, it had better be a good one. Maybe they should have two or three. They're going to need them.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Senator Kettinger Has The Floor

 Here's what I believe about judicial appointments: I believe that the President of the United States has the authority and the duty to nominate whomever he or she chooses for these offices. (This goes for Cabinet appointments, and other offices, as well.) I do not understand "advise and consent" to mean that a sitting US Senator cannot oppose a presidential nomination to some office, but I personally believe that ignoring a nomination for long periods, that is, to refuse to bring a nomination to the floor for a vote, is a failure of constitutional duty. If I believe that a particular nominee is unsuitable in either temperament, policy preferences, or lacking a basic sense of justice, I should have the courage to vote "no". I think a reasonable time for debate between the Senators about political or policy matters that may be germane is appropriate, but not necessarily while the nominee is giving testimony.

The one thing the American people do not need or want is extended soliloquies about my disagreements with some nominee or other. I have an opportunity during the hearing testimony to actually ask the nominee questions about things that I believe are important. As I have watched hearings over the years, what I see are Senators essentially talking to themselves, and to their voters, as opposed to asking questions of potential nominees. That needs to stop. A group of voters may be able to discern from the nature of my questions the areas of my concern with any nominee or other, but if I ask a question, I actually want an answer. I do not need to score points against the sitting president, or to score points against the sitting president's enemies. It is my responsibility to ask questions about the relevant philosophy of said nominees, simply and directly. If the answer to such questions alarms me sufficiently that I must oppose a nominee, then I will take to the Senate floor, explain my reasoning, and vote accordingly.

I do not intend, as a putative US Senator, to oppose the sitting president's nominees, simply because he or she is from the opposing party. Likewise, I recognize no such automatic duty to support the nominees of a president from the same party. To be very frank with you, I do not know how I will resolve the tension of being a representative who reflects the will of my voters, or who does what I think is best and most prudent. That is a tension inherent in any representative democracy, and highlights the different approaches to that representation. At this moment, I am most inclined to say that in grave matters of consequence, my ethics and my philosophy takes precedence over the will of the majority of the voters who elected me, if they should conflict. If I cannot convince a majority of the voters to support me, even when they do not agree in particular with something I have decided, I would rather have done what I believed is right,--especially in the most important matters--rather than chase the vagaries of public opinion. In less consequential matters, I may well say, "I have this opinion, but the voters of the state of Missouri have a different view, and in this case, I will defer to them."

It is most sad to me that so many members of both parties over the decades have changed their views on fundamental moral issues, or compromised their stances, in order to remain at the levers of power. This situation is distinct in my mind from changing one's mind in response to new information. If someone believes in a certain definition of marriage for example, and they say, "I believe that it is written in the natural law, and in the revealed will of God that x is correct/not correct," you cannot simply easily back away from such a position in a short amount of time. In other words, if I say that such a position of mine is fundamental to how I understand the world, I at least owe the people a detailed account of why I believe it, or why I do not believe it any longer, if I change my mind.

I digress. My main purpose here is to explain that I believe the president of the United States is entitled to a certain deference in his or her choices of personnel for the offices under his authority. If I find that I cannot offer my consent, I will explain and vote accordingly. In large measure, most people in America today are frustrated with elected officials who "play politics". I think the root of this is a lack of principle and consistency from our public officials. I do not believe that partisan rancor is inevitably a part of either the American people's engagement with politics, or inherent to the behavior of their elected representatives. Issues that matter will never be easily settled. Yet we need to actually discuss the issues that matter, and not essentially hide what we truly believe, for fear of political gain or loss. Perhaps it is a weakness of our system as it is currently designed that we are incentivized to hide our true ideas, and to engage in point-scoring against our political opponents--and their voters--but I do think we can do better.

Monday, September 21, 2020

I'd Most Likely Vote To Confirm Amy Coney Barrett

 That being said, it's foolish to pursue a confirmation right now. Progressives are usually always alarmed by Republican judicial nominations. If these lame ducks and losers force her through at the behest of a president regarded justly as lawless and authoritarian in the span of 45 days, the country may not survive.

I can understand the desire to try. Trump is overwhelmingly likely to lose. They know it. If you can get a Justice you like on the Supreme Court before the clock strikes midnight, as it were, it makes sense. Romney, Collins, and Murkowski signalling an unwillingness to go along with it confirms this. If Trump were powerful, they wouldn't. None of these three will pay a penalty for opposing Trump, though Collins will lose because she voted to confirm Kavanaugh. 

It's the perfect nightmare for a Republican Senator: All the chaos of a Trumpian circus, added to a nomination fight, with no discernible electoral benefit. I hate it when that happens.

Barrett in the abstract is fine. I certainly won't hold "the dogma lives loudly within you" against her. Quite the opposite. I don't even like the Republicans, and alarming Diane Feinstein, especially with respect to Roe v. Wade, or devout religious observance, is a benefit. In the end, it's a moot point. Barrett or someone else won't be sitting on the Supreme Court.