Monday, May 23, 2016

Grand Old Patty Hearst Syndrome

Steve's back on the tortured acceptance of Donald Trump by the GOP establishment...

It has been a year in which most observers of our political landscape have been rendered breathless by the apparent role-reversal of the two major parties, with the usually orderly Republicans flying in a protracted cluster formation, and the normatively unruly Democrats seeming for a few precious moments to be accepting the idea that they should simply anoint their highly qualified front runner.

Ah, but DNA cannot be sublimated in perpetuity; one’s essential nature cannot be denied. It lies dormant but dangerously incubates. This past week was when nature erupted over nurture for both parties.

In today’s column we assess the stunningly rapid alignment of the lemmings on the Republican side. In our next installment, we’ll get to the innate instinct for self-destruction in the Democratic Party.

Buyer’s remorse for the Donald? Think again. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll, 80% of Republicans now believe that the party and its leaders should get behind Donald Trump for President.

Now, 80% is a hyoooge number. Like, perhaps ten-fold the impression you have of Trump supporters as a segment of undereducated aging white guys in trailer parks in the rural south.

To make this a bit less notional, this means that eight out of ten of your Republican neighbors on the soccer sidelines in Darien, Winnetka, Shaker Heights, Edina, and Sausalito now want Donald Trump to be the next President of the United States. That dinner at Sleepy Hollow with the five couples the other night? Think about it.

Trump acceptance has now broken beyond rural cells that were ripe for a message of economic xenophobia.  It is now riding the Metro North, the SEPTA, and the Sounder to the wealthy suburbs.

What’s most interesting about the Republican commute from “Are you f’ing kidding me?” to “well, he won the nomination of my party fair and square” is the seeming acceptance of passenger Trump but the reluctance to take his baggage on board.

Here’s a parlor game of sorts to play with Republican friends and colleagues: ask them whether they agree with Trump’s position on the following issues. See if they will publicly acknowledge total agreement with a single one of them, or can identify a rationale for why they can acquiesce to the ones they reluctantly accept.  Count the times they vehemently disagree – if any -- with their own candidate.

Q. So, when you say that you support Trump, do you mean banning all non-citizen Muslims?
 A. Well, not really, but hey, even Trump backed off that one in the meeting with Ryan last week. Now he’s saying it was just a “suggestion.”
Q. Oh, ok… got it. And deporting eleven million undocumented aliens? How about that?
A. Hey, he’s just making a point, you know? Like, nobody was even talking about illegal aliens before Trump, and now we’re talking about it. So that’s a good thing.
Q. And the wall? 50 feet tall, the length of the border?
A. Dude, I think you are being really, like, literal. The point is that we have to fix the problem of illegals coming across the border and stealing jobs, man!!
Q. But I thought the wall was because you think Mexicans are rapists and drug lords?
A. No, I don’t think that! And that’s not the reason for the wall. The wall is to keep Mexicans from taking our jobs.
Q. But that’s not what Donald Trump said…
A. That’s not the point. It’s not that they are all rapists; he was saying that for shock value to get attention, and sure enough, he did. So his ends justified the means.
Q. Let’s move on. How about the idea of the 45% tariffs on trading partners? Do you think that is a good idea, or not?
A. He’s a negotiator, man. That’s how he’s going to get China to back down on their currency manipulation. He won’t need to slap tariffs on, cause the Chinese will back down.
Q. Punishment for women who have abortions?
A. Hey, he walked that one back already. His staff immediately retracted that one.
Q. Got any issues with the accusations of misogyny? The insults about Carly Fiorina’s face and Megan Kelly’s menstrual cycle? Unwavering support for his campaign manager who was arrested for physically accosting a woman reporter? The way he treated Heidi Cruz, ridiculing her appearance and saying he was going to “spill the beans” on her?
A. Yeah, well that slanted piece in the New York Times also said that he hired women in very senior positions at his company, so I think he has a strong record on working well with women.
Q. Any concerns about the foreign policy stuff? Stepping back from NATO? Bomb the shit out of ISIS? Nuclear Japan and Korea? Fair ball to go after the families of terrorists? Assassinate Kim Jong-un?
A. Fine. He has some learning to do on the global stuff. Any candidate for President does.
Q. But, uh, that’s really not true. Hillary Clinton does know “global stuff…”
A. Oh, yeah? Well, I have one word for you: Benghazi.
Q. Any discomfort with the way Trump changes his positions? On planned parenthood, gun control, Israel?
A. He’s not flip-flopping. He points out that the most successful business executives are always open to new input and constantly refine and modify their positions.
Q. Any qualms that he provides little by way of specifics on his proposals? Like, how is he going to repeal Obamacare but then provide health insurance to every citizen?
A. Great leaders cast a vision, man. Leave it to the wonks to figure out the implementation.
Q. Don’t you think he should release his taxes like every other presidential candidate has in the past fifty years?
A. He says he will release them as soon as the audit is done, and that’s good enough for me.
Q. Any worries at all about the truly strange level of self-aggrandizement? How the “Hispanics love me,” the “Blacks love me,” the “women love me.” That the “Art of the Deal” is only second to the Bible among the world’s great books? That weird thing of pretending he was his own press agent to talk about how many women want to date him?
A. All politicians have out-of-control egos.
Q. How ‘bout just the flat-out lying and exaggeration? “I saw thousands of Muslims cheering in New Jersey when the World Trade Center came down.” “Most of the world’s Muslims hate the United States.” “I’ve heard that real unemployment is 42%.” “81 percent of white murder victims are killed by blacks.” “Hillary Clinton wants to take away your guns.” “Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination.”
A. Every one of those things is something that he actually did read in a magazine or on the Internet, so he was just saying that he had heard about it. Which was true… he had “heard about it.”
Q. How about just the crassness of it all? The insults, the bullying, the imitating people with disabilities? “John McCain is not a war hero,” “Little Marco, Lyin’ Ted, Low energy Jeb.” “Our leaders are stupid people.”
A. Hey, you heard him. He knows that he’s got to start acting more Presidential.
Q. Ok, look… it seems like you really don’t agree with your candidate on too many things. What am I missing? Is there something he is advocating that you believe in strongly that I am missing?
A. Well, uh, yeah. I mean, the guy tells it like it is. There’s none of that political correctness BS, you know? He speaks his mind, and that resonates with a lot of people.
Q. Well, o.k., but it appears that when he speaks his mind, you don’t really agree with him on many – gee, any -- of the positions that he has taken that we have discussed here. So can you tell me in one sentence why have you decided to support him?
A. Like, duh, man. My only other choice is Hillary Clinton, and I will never vote for her. 

There you have it, folks.

That secret special thing that Donald Trump possesses is actually something that I possess, you possess, and, indeed, every single human being on the planet earth possesses… except, of course, Hillary Clinton. What the rest of humankind has in common is not being Hillary Clinton, which is apparently the single and only lingering criteria Republicans actually are using to justify falling in line behind Donald Trump. On the substance of the issues, they either do not know exactly where he stands, or think that the stances he is taking either cannot or will not actually be executed. This would imply that they are banking the future of the United States on blind faith in his judgment and the hope that he cannot or will not actually do what he has publicly committed to doing.

Let’s call it a bad case of Patty Hearst Syndrome.  You’ll recall the famous heiress of Citizen Kane fame, who was abducted from her dorm room at the age of nineteen by the Symbionese Liberation Army, led by an earlier “the Donald,” Donald “Cinque” DeFreeze. 

Two months later, Patty Hearst re-appeared, re-christened with the SLA name “Tania.” Having been supposedly “converted” to the beliefs of the radical group, she was famously photographed brandishing an automatic weapon in apparent willing participation in a bank robbery.

“Patty Hearst Syndrome” is now used interchangeably with the original term for her psychosis, “Stockholm Syndrome,” which Wikipedia neatly summarizes as “capture-bonding … a psychological phenomenon … in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors.”

Take comfort in the fact that the utter lack of logic in the responses to the questions posed above has been diagnosed.  

Republicans have fallen in love with their captor.  Call it Grand Old Patty Hearst Syndrome.

Donald Trump has now conquered the Republican Party, and he is now the only thing standing between Hillary Clinton and the Oval Office.  This has become ample reason enough for Republicans to rapidly fall in line behind him. Exceptionally bright people -- capable of crunching the numbers on a biotech takeover, aggressively scrutinizing rental agreements in the Hamptons, and extracting heavy quid pro quo in a charity fundraiser – are putting their analytic skills on dimmer when assessing the Republican candidate for President. There appears to be little by way of examination of the implications of being “for” Donald Trump; only a self-assured certainty of the wisdom of being “against” Hillary Clinton.

Ironically, these are the very people who, when faced with a choice of evils, are most likely to default to “the devil you know.”  They are the people who would only very reluctantly hire an outsider for a crucial corporate role, who demand six personal letters of endorsement to join their clubs, and who drive Suburbans that serve as mobile resumes, with decals of brand names that ooze hard-earned establishment acceptance.

Hey, have some fun. It’s just a game. If you meet a Trump supporter, ask the same questions listed here.

See how much scrutiny you hear; how much vetting has taken place. Whether or not they really have a firm grip on exactly what their candidate believes and exactly what their candidate will do.

But in truth, the odds are that if you start down the path with these questions at a cocktail party, a polite hostess will swoop down, playfully scold you, and eagerly change the subject to the weather, the charity ball, or the successful lacrosse season.  After nearly a year of non-stop gab about politics, suddenly it is no longer cool to bring up politics over dinner at Jean-Georges; it is now frowned upon, as yesterday as chatty gossip about whether Leo will finally get his Oscar.

Because it is now two months until the Republican convention.

Two months for the ritual indoctrination; two months for the reprogramming.

Two months in hiding before re-emerging in Cleveland, now ready to go out in the public; perhaps now under the name of “Tania.”

There’s no reason for buyer’s remorse if you don’t have a clue what you bought.

There’s no way to question if you’ve been taken hostage.

And if you’ve fallen in love with your captor, you give yourself up to join his battle.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Should He Stay or Should He Go?

That is the question.

I have been having a running discussion with a very smart group of Sanders supporters to give me further insight on the rising Democratic national debate about Sanders’ prolonged campaign.  As readers of this blog know, I have been saying that, mathematically, Bernie has been tilting at windmills for a very long time; the die was cast for a Clinton nomination after Super Tuesday.  I would never have expected Sanders to drop out that early – because, you never know.  But the time for “you never know” has long passed.  We do know.  The nominee will certainly be Hillary Clinton.

The Sanders campaign may be long on emotion and short on facts, but they do have five core arguments for prolonging the campaign:  1) Sanders can still beat Clinton in the race for pledged delegates within the primary season; 2) Sanders fares better than Clinton in head-to-head polling versus Trump and thus superdelegates should be persuaded by that “fact” to flip their support from Clinton to him; 3) Sanders will bring a huge influx of young people to the polls, which is good for turnout this fall and the party in general; 4) the primary season was “rigged” against Bernie and, in effect, superdelegates should award him the nomination accordingly; and 5) if Sanders stays in until the convention, he has maximum leverage to influence the party platform.

Let’s take them in turn, analytically:

1)     Sanders can still beat Clinton in the race for pledged delegates within the primary season

This has been a hard point to defend for some time now, and, at this stage, is borderline delusional.  As the chart below shows, Sanders needs to win 67% of the remaining 789 pledged delegates to get to a one-vote majority.

Pledged Delegates to Date
Needed for Sanders Majority
% Needed for Sanders Majority
Total Delegates
Clinton
1768
257
33%
2025
Sanders
1494
532
67%
2026
Total
3262
789

4051








Sanders has won as many as 67% of the votes in a single primary, his home state of Vermont.  His next best showing was 60% in neighboring (and 96% Caucasian) New Hampshire.  He has won only 9 of 31 primaries (and only primaries remain) and in the other seven contests he had between 50% and 57% of the vote.  Thus the odds of Sanders’ suddenly racking up the required 70/30 margins are infinitesimal.

The odds are far more likely that Clinton will continue to win the remaining delegates at roughly the same rate (or better) that she has been winning thus far.  Most of the remaining delegates are in California (475), where she leads by +10 on average in six April/May polls, and in New Jersey (126) where she is ahead by +21 in two May polls.

2)     Sanders does better than Clinton in head-to-head polling versus Trump and thus superdelegates should be persuaded by that “fact” to flip their support to him

It is true that in May polls, Clinton leads Trump by +3 and Sanders leads Trump by +11.  But there are two good reasons to heavily caveat these results, if not completely dismiss them.

It is laughably early to rely on polls in May to predict outcomes in November.  Here are the results of May polling in the last 9 presidential elections.  Yes, they were wrong in 7 out of the 9, and the margins were usually wildly different.  They were never correct in a year when neither candidate was an incumbent, unless you count Bush in 2000 (he lost the popular vote but won in the Supreme Court Electoral College).  To go to a superdelegate and ask him or her to use May polling as a fact-base for flipping the verdict of an entire primary season seems ludicrous.

1980:  Carter 40, Reagan 32, Anderson 21  (actual outcome:  41/51/7)
1984:  Reagan 53, Mondale 43 (59/41)
1988:  Dukakis 52, Bush 38 (46/53)
1992:  Bush 35, Perot 35, Clinton 25 (37/19/43)
1996:  Clinton 49, Dole 35, Perot 15 (49/41/8)
2000:  Bush 46, Gore 41 (48/48)
2004:  Kerry 47, Bush 46 (48/51)
2008:  McCain 47, Obama 44 (46/53)
2012:  Romney 46, Obama 43 (47/51)

The second point is that GOP and its media surrogates have spent 25 years slamming and sliming Hillary Clinton, in the most wildly inflated terms.  They have not spent a single nanosecond doing the same to Bernie Sanders.  You can be sure that if Sanders made it to a general election, they would savage his known vulnerabilities (his self-proclaimed “Democratic Socialism,” the huge cost of his many pet programs, his 30+ years in Washington, DC, his age) and whatever else they might dig up.  His poll numbers inevitably would decline – just ask John Kerry.  Whatever you may think of Hillary Clinton, there is nothing new here for Donald Trump, especially if the FBI fails to indict her.  He may pound her, but he can only use information America has absorbed for 25 years.  And he is unlikely to touch Bernie’s most compelling attacks on her – her ties to Wall Street.  So the poll numbers reflect all known information on Hillary Clinton, while Bernie’s more or less reflect pristine treatment.

3)     Sanders will bring a huge influx of young people to the polls, which is good for turnout this fall and the party in general

No one can deny the throngs of young people that flock to Bernie’s events, or the impact they have had in the caucuses.  But Bernie has failed to translate that enthusiasm into primary victories.  Again, Clinton has won 22 of 31 primaries, and that is the best and only direct evidence of her true support.  

Why does she win primaries?  Because she is attracting other segments of the Democratic coalition that actually do vote and are very large themselves – such as African-Americans and Hispanics.  These voters are less fond of Sanders because he represents a lily-white state, and they prefer to trust the decades-long track record of the Clintons in championing civil rights.  There were 30 million black and Hispanic voters in 2012, compared to 23 million voters under 30. 

Plus, Hillary wins hands down versus Bernie among the 30+ crowd.  A full 109 million of them voted in 2012.

Did I mention “women”?

4)     The primary season was “rigged” against Sanders and, in effect, superdelegates should award him the nomination accordingly

I will start with a thought that still amazes me – Bernie Sanders did not become a member of the Democratic Party until 2015, and he did so for the single purpose of running for President.  Why in the world should he have been allowed to do that?  I personally think that you should be a long-standing member of any party – define longstanding as, say, five years -- to be able to stand atop its ticket.  Suffice to say, it is extremely generous of the Democratic Party to have such an open process.  (Perhaps they will close that loophole going forward.)

As I pointed out in my last post, the current primary/caucus system is actually tilted wildly toward the extremes of each party, which is why a Ted Cruz and a Donald Trump can emerge, and a Mitt Romney and a John McCain are forced to take conservative positions to win a nomination that are untenable in a general election.

Had the system been winner-take-all (as most elections are), or all primaries (and none of those crazy “zealots-only” caucuses), or conducted by direct national popular vote, or excluded independent voters entirely, Bernie would have fared worse.  In a winner-take-all system (which the GOP uses extensively), he would have come out with 500 fewer delegates. 

And it is hard to imagine that debate-timing chicanery, or direct vote-stealing and whatever else the DNC is being accused of could possibly have cost Sanders to the tune of the 3 million vote gap between Clinton (13 million votes) and Sanders (10 million).  LBJ and Richard Daley could not have pulled off a fraud of that magnitude no matter how hard they applied their legendary election-stealing prowess.

5)     If Sanders stays in until the convention, he has maximum leverage in influencing the party platform.

I can’t deny the truth of this statement, but that is not to say it is therefore wise. 

My view is that the paramount consideration here is to win the election and beat Donald Trump and the GOP.  So much is at stake – at least one and probably multiple Supreme Court justices, civil rights, women’s health rights, gun control, climate change, foreign policy turmoil and yes, income inequality, and many more – that “winning” should be the paramount goal. 

Bernie Sanders wants to foment a revolution.  Not a bad goal.

Hillary Clinton wants to win the election.  That’s a better goal.  And history shows that the Democrats who win are more pragmatic and more centrist:  JFK, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama.  And both parties have proven that more ideological candidates tend to get crushed (see: Barry Goldwater, George McGovern).

These goals are at cross-purposes.  The more leftward-leaning the platform, the less support our centrist country will give it.

Make no mistake, Bernie Sanders has done well.  He has made his points, made Hillary Clinton work for every delegate, challenged her from the left, upped her game.  But he lost the contest, and his lingering campaign is hurting the overall paramount goal.  When The New York Times runs a front-page lead-story headline like this…

Bernie Sanders, Eyeing Convention, Willing to Harm Hillary Clinton in the Homestretch

…you cannot tell me that is helping.

Bernie is not going to drop out today.  He will see it through California.   But assuming he loses there, he should throw in the towel right then, concede to Clinton, give her a full-throated endorsement and rally his supporters to her.  Then we can finally get on to the main event.

And if the numbers were reversed, and Bernie was this much ahead of Hillary, I would say the same thing.  Because I was on the other side of this one once.  That was in 2008, when a fella named Obama was ahead of a challenger named Hillary Clinton, and I was imploring her to drop out.  And on May 20, 2008, she had only 146 fewer pledged delegates than Obama.  Right now Bernie’s gap is 274.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Is The System Really Rigged Against Bernie?

A top candidate from a major party complains that the nominating process is rigged against him.  Violence breaks out on the campaign trail among his supporters.  More is threatened at the upcoming convention in July.  The candidate refuses to temper his followers and the threat of disorder hangs in the air. 

The GOP sure is a mess, right?  Well, maybe, but that paragraph actually describes the Democratic Party, who is now blowing its chance to be the one dignified and unified party in the mix.

The simmering feud between Bernie Sanders and the Democratic National Committee broke out into the open last week at the Nevada Convention.  That convention ended in mayhem that included chairs being thrown by Sanders supporters and threats by those supporters on the life of the state party chairwoman. 

For those lost in the arcana behind the headlines, here is the simple version of what happened (if there is such a thing).  Apparently a number of Sanders’ delegates (delegates to this convention, not to be confused with awarded delegates) were ruled ineligible to participate because they had not filed as Democrats by May 1, as the rules stipulate.  A lesser number of Clinton delegates were also ruled ineligible for the same reason.  

Nevada has 35 delegates and 23 were awarded in the caucus in February (Clinton won it and received 13 delegates to Sanders’ 10).  The brouhaha was around how to properly allocate the other 12 delegates.  And, as best as I can tell, we are talking about the difference between a 7-5 split versus 5-7.  To a numbers person, this is the essence of immateriality.  But to the rabid conventioneers, this was their reason for being, and they were not to be denied.

Whatever happened in Vegas may ultimately stay in Vegas, but more likely it will seep out to Philadelphia at the Democratic National Convention, where Sanders supporters are already organizing protests.  This will certainly do the Democrats harm in a year when unity and dignity are at a premium.

But what of the Sanders’ campaign’s central argument, that Bernie has been treated poorly in this nominating process?  I took a look at that premise, based on the numbers.  We start with the base case, the current process that, however flawed, has resulted in Hillary Clinton amassing 1,722 pledged delegates to Sanders 1,479 to date.  I would propose that the current system, which by all accounts leads to disproportionate influence held by the more extreme wings of both parties, favors Sanders considerably.  To wit: 
  • Sanders of course did extremely well in the caucuses, an aberrant form of an election if ever there was one.  Where else does one have to sit in a gymnasium for hours before raising your hand to vote?  If the Democrats ran all primaries and no caucuses, I estimate Clinton would now have 1,779 delegates to Bernie’s 1,422, a swing of 57 delegates.  This assumes both candidates would have won their caucus states by a 55/45 margin that is more typical for primaries, versus the extreme margin we have seen in many caucuses.
  • If the Democrats ran a “winner take all” process, which arguably more closely hews to how most elections are decided – when you win, you win outright – Clinton would have a 2,214 to 987 lead over Sanders, a swing of 492 delegates in Clinton’s favor.
  • Thus far, 13.2 million voters have opted for Clinton versus 10.1 million for Sanders.  That translates to a 55/43 margin.  If the delegates were awarded purely proportionately in that manner, Clinton would have 1,776 delegates to Sanders 1,367, a swing of about 50 delegates in Clinton’s favor.
  • A number of states also allowed Independents to vote in the Democratic primary.  Obviously that obscures the notion that a party should select its own nominee.  I have not gone back and counted but it is no secret that Sanders does very well among Independents in those “open” primaries. 

I’m not advocating any one of these systems over another.  I’m merely pointing out that among a set of methods of nominating a candidate, our current system is the one that most favors Bernie Sanders.

But even in this Sanders-favoring system, Clinton has emerged with a clear majority of victories, votes and, accordingly, pledged delegates.  In short, the primary/caucus system frankly favors more extreme candidates, a well-known fact.  Far from being treated badly by the process, Bernie has benefited from it dramatically and disproportionately.  Any other “fairer” system would have resulted in Sanders achieving fewer delegates than he has to date.

Finally, a word about superdelegates, the absolute bane of the Sanders campaign, since they have overwhelmingly lined up behind Clinton.  If the GOP followed the same process and held aside a material proportion of delegates for party regulars, it is highly unlikely Donald Trump would have won the nomination.  He would never have secured a terribly large number of such insiders, and conventional candidates would have been bolstered, and the #StopTrump movement would have likely succeeded.  I short, the Democrats’ system is a check that prevents a demagogue from emerging.  To be clear, I’m not suggesting that Sanders is a demagogue – he is certainly a legitimate candidate and, if he was ahead in pledged delegates, he would have every claim on the superdelegates and the nomination.  What I am saying is that there is a purpose to having superdelegates, and one only has to look at the GOP to see a process gone badly awry; the lack of superdelegates was one cause.

People forget that political parties used to select their nominees in “smoke-filled” rooms and primaries were not a significant part of the landscape until reforms in the early 1970’s in the wake of the madness of the 1968 Chicago convention.  While hardly democratic, those smoke-filled rooms produced reasonable nominees.  Certainly it is welcome to have “the people” participate more directly in the process, but our current system -- on the GOP side -- left the door wide open for a demagogue to barrel through.  I am comforted that the Democratic Party does not offer such a side door.

BTRTN

Well, we did get it right in that Clinton and Sanders split the two primaries held yesterday; unfortunately we got them reversed as Clinton won Kentucky and Sanders took Oregon.  Such are the travails of forecasting with limited polling and, in Oregon’s case, a whole new election method, mail ballots only (is anything done by “only mail” in this world we live in except the Oregon Democratic primary)?

Oregon
BTRTN Prediction
Actual
Clinton
55
44
Sanders
45
56
Kentucky
BTRTN Prediction
Actual
Sanders
53
46.3
Clinton
47
46.8