Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Punditry In A Nutshell

Coming soon: GOP primary 2016!

I don't know who Jonathon Bernstein is, but this is the second piece of his at Salon that has me shaking my head.  First, he argued that Ted Cruz could win the Presidency.  Now he's arguing that the GOP could win the White House and the Democrats could win the House before 2022.

His argument is that the "pundits" are wrong when they make a case of demographics trumping candidates.  But it's not pundits making these claims.  It's political scientists like Ruy Teixeira and John Judis.  It's stats guys like Nate Silver and Sam Wang.

They are looking at levels of partisanship and partisan identity and seeing very little movement.  The idea that - somehow - a GOP candidate for president could get more than 35% of the Hispanic vote because of poor economic fundamentals, neglects to consider the level of animosity the GOP rank and file have shown towards Hispanics.  The occasional nice words from GOP Senators from Arizona might preserve those seats, but any GOP candidate who expresses any enthusiasm for immigration reform that embraces a road to legal status simply can't win the nomination.

It was the "pundits" who said that John McCain picking Sarah Palin was going to shake up the race.  It was the "pundits" who said that Obama was too aloof to connect to Rust Belt voters.  It was the "pundits" who said the first debate last fall changed everything.

Ultimately, it was the demographics, the partisan loyalty and the message - which includes ideology - that determines these races.

The GOP - as Krugzilla points out - has gone batshit insane.  They are engaged in a conversation with themselves about Obamacare, Solyandra, Benghazi and Planned Parenthood that has no bearing on the real world experience of millions of Americans.

Bernstein seems to think that all it will take is a respectable (or not - Ted Cruz) candidate who can easily articulate a better "message" and can persuade voters to change their minds.  In other words: Jon Huntsman.

The reason partisan identity is so strong right now is because the parties have legitimate and profound ideological differences.  The House GOP just voted to pretty much end food stamps as we know it in order to keep subsidies flowing to agri-business.  The House GOP has passed countless attempts to repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood.  They have passed no efforts to create jobs.

While most Americans are not familiar with the daily workings of Congress and the importance - for instance - of the GOP crapping the bed over its transportation bill the other day, they understand which party stands for which.  This was somewhat what Mitt Romney was trying to say with his 47% comment.  It's not that 47% of Americans are "takers", it's that 47% of Americans aren't going to vote for the GOP until the GOP believes something very, very different (or the Democrats believe something very, very different).

Finally, the structural issues are important.  Democrats live in cities, because cities demonstrate the needs for an activist government and congregate different ethnicities in close proximity to each other.  That concentrates Democratic votes because it reinforces the Democratic ideology.  This also makes it much easier for the GOP to gerrymander the countryside and suburban districts.  They control the House because they controlled the Pennsylvania and Ohio re-districting efforts.

If the GOP continues to refuse to govern, then it is possible that enough House seats could flip to switch the House in 2016, but it is still unlikely.

As for the structural balance of the Presidential race, the Democrats start with a floor of 256 electoral votes.  That includes "swing states" like PA, MI, MN, CO and NV that aren't really swing states.  If Joe Biden wins Ohio, he's president.  If Hillary Clinton wins Florida, she's president.  If Marty O'Malley wins Wisconsin and Iowa, he's president.

The "Pundits" Bernstein claims to refute need a horse race.  And certainly "anything can happen".  A war, a terrorist attack, a pandemic, a depression, an epic scandal.

But outside of a calamitous event, the lines are hardening, not softening.

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