Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Georgia Republicans Take Huge Political Hit for Bill That Makes Small Tweaks to State's Election Law

Instead of reading media reports about what the new Georgia election law does, I decided to sit down and actually read the bill.  After my initial review, I decided I needed to read it again.  Given all the fuss being made (the changes have been called "draconian," "Jim Crow" and "shameful" are used to describe it), I figured there must have been something I missed during the first trip through the 98 page bill.  After all, Democrats were screaming that the bill was voter suppression (particularly of minorities), and that as a result of the legislation, thousands of Georgians would be denied the right to vote.

Surely Georgia Democrats would not falsely claim voter suppression to score political points, would they? Oh, wait, Georgia is home to failed gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who in 2018 lost Georgia by five times what Trump did, yet to this day still refuses to concede.  The 2018 Georgia election featured near record mid-term turnout, and record African-American voting.  Yet Abrams continues to peddle her nonsense, without proof, that Republican voter suppression efforts kept her out of the Governor's mansion.  Democrats are right to challenge Republicans when they repeat Trump's BIG LIE that he won the 2020 election. But Democrats should be called out when they refuse to challenge Abrams' BIG LIE.  Both lies, and they are lies, undermine democracy and voters' faith in our elections.

While several media reports have accurately reported the contents of the Georgia election law, provisions in earlier drafts, which arguably were voter suppression, got most of the publicity.  Those included elimination of Sunday early voting and no excuse absentee voting, neither of which was included in the final version of the bill.

Here is a summary of what the new Georgia election law does, with my commentary:

  • Expands weekend early voting.  Previously only one day of weekend early voting was required.  Now counties are required to provide at least two, and counties can also provide two Sundays of early voting if they want.  So the "Souls to the Polls" effort of Atlanta-area African-American churches won't be affected.
  • Creation of drop boxes for ballots.  Georgia law did not previously allow voters to put their completed ballots in a drop box.  In 2020, this was a temporary voter option that was offered via administrative rule due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  It is now codified.  Each county will have at least one drop box, with counties able to add one more for every 100,000 registered voters living in the county.
    ---Democrats complain about the law limiting where these drop boxes will be located and that they will no longer be 24/7.  But the drop boxes need to be in locations and open at times when they can be monitored.   Election officials have learned if they don't monitor the drop boxes, people will deliberately pour liquids or garbage into the drop slot, or even try to light the ballots on fire.  
  • Monitoring voter lines and reducing size of precincts.  The new law requires that the line of voters be monitored and that if the wait to vote is too long, that extra equipment and personnel be provided to the precinct.  The law also provides that heavy turnout precincts be reduced in size so voters don't have to wait so long.
  • Absentee ballot identification.  The new law requires that a voter requesting an absentee ballot provide a driver's license number, the number of his or her state ID (available to Georgia residents for free) or copies of some other permissible ID.  Previously the identification of the voter on the application for the ballot and the ballot focused primarily on matching signatures.
    ---I've long complained the voter signature match is a joke. First, people's signatures change greatly over time.  The election board or some comparable government entity would have to continually update voter signatures. Second, the election workers who are called upon to compare signatures have no training on handwriting analysis, which is a skill that takes substantial training and years of experience to master.  Third, whether a voter signature matches involves an extremely arbitrary judgment which is open to mischief by partisan election workers wanting to disenfranchise voters of the opposite party.  Democrats are going to scream about all the disenfranchised voters who can't come up with an ID, and thus can't vote, but they can never produce more than a handful of such voters at best. 
  • Mailing out absentee ballot applications.  Government officials will no longer be able to mail out absentee voter applications.  Private political organizations can still mail them out, but there is a prohibition on filling out the forms in advance for the voters. And they have to contain a disclaimer that the form is not coming from the government.
  • Voters must be allowed to request an absentee ballot on-line.
  • Prisoners must have access to the internet to apply for an absentee ballot. 
  • Privacy protections for voters voting absentee.  It hasn't gotten a lot of attention, but the new law protects voters casting absentee ballots from being pressured to vote a certain way or otherwise have their vote monitored. 
  • Shortened deadlines for requesting an absentee ballot.  The new law shortens the time for requesting an absentee voter application and makes the deadline earlier.  The idea behind the change is so clerk's office has more time to process the applications so there is not the huge backlog like there has been in the past.
  • Ban on handing out food and water to voters.  What was going on in Georgia was that some candidates and political interest groups politicking with people in line while handing out food and water to those voters.  The Georgia legislature added the food and water restriction to a section of the law which banned candidates and political organizations from engaging with voters while in line to vote.  An argument has ensued as to whether the food and ban applies to just candidates and political organizations or applies to everyone.
    ---I looked closely at the construction of the paragraph in which this ban was inserted.  While I think the legislature may have intended it to be limited to candidates and political organization providing food and water, because of the lack of limiting language and the construction of the provision, the ban almost certainly applies to everyone but poll workers who are explicitly excepted from the law.
  • Run-off elections reduced from 9 to 4 weeks.  The time frame for holding a run-off election in Georgia has been substantially reduced.  The early voting period for run-offs has correspondingly been shortened.  And while it was already Georgia law, the new law makes it clear that only those voters who were eligible to vote in the original general election could vote in the run-off that followed that election.  Military and overseas voters will receive ranked choice ballots in the original general election so as to eliminate their need to do a second ballot in the runoff.
    ---I think reducing the time between the general election and the associated runoff is a good idea.  Better yet would be the expansion of ranked choice voting so that the need for runoff elections are eliminated.  This election I have finally been sold on the merits or rank choice voting.
  • Disclosure and reporting requirements.  The law contains a number of new disclosure and reporting requirements for local officials as it relates to the ballots that are received and counted.
  • Removal of Secretary of State as chair of State Election Board.  A major part of the new Georgia law is aimed at reducing the authority of the Secretary of State over elections.  The major change is that the SOS will no longer be the Chair of the State Election Board, and will only remain on the board as an advisory, non-voting member.  The new chairman of the Election Board will be an appointee of both houses of the Georgia state legislature.
  • Takeover of county election operations.  In case Georgia county election boards are viewed as underperforming, they are subject to take over by state officials.
Contrary to some media accounts and universal Democratic claims, the new law in Georgia isn't going to disenfranchise scores of voters.  In fact, it is doubtful it will reduce turnout at all.  There are also a number of very positive changes in the bill.  

While Democrats complain about how difficult it is to vote in Republican-run Georgia, they ignore the fact that voting in Georgia is much easier than in many Democratic-run states such as New York.  For example, unlike Georgia, New York requires an excuse to vote absentee and limits early voting to just 10 days. For the record, I dislike long early voting periods.

But while the final bill proved to be innocuous and indeed made some needed changes to election law,  Georgia Republicans have already lost.  Democrats, with little evidence, have successfully labeled the law as a Republican-inspired effort to stop people from voting.  While Democrats are wrong on the substance of the bill, they are right that the bill was spawned by those who bought into Trump's lie about a stolen election.

In short, Georgia Republicans aren't going to block or discourage Democratic-leaning voters from voting with the new law, and their decision to push the bill through will be a potent weapon for Democrats to motivate their voters in 2022.   While the law has many good features, pushing it through as a partisan effort in 2021 will prove to be a huge mistake for Georgia Republicans.

OOP's short takes:
  • Read about the FBI investigation of Rep. Matt Gaetz and his alleged 17 year old traveling companion.  I don't know if it's true and Gaetz deserves the presumption of innocence.  But one thing Gaetz has proved beyond doubt is that he is one of the most reprehensible and ignorant members of Congress.  He may not be the worst member, but he definitely ranks in the top 10.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Washington DC Residents Deserve Congressional Representation, But Retrocession, Not Statehood, is the Answer

If you live in the District of Columbia, you have no voting representation in the U.S. House or the Senate.  This is despite the fact that Congress has ultimate governing authority over the district.

I never understood the need for District of Columbia.  I understand that it would be better that our main federal office buildings, the White House, Congress, etc. be located in a separate federal district, not subject to the jurisdiction of any state.  My problem was the inclusion of residential neighborhoods into the district.  That act permanently disenfranchised thousands of Americans.  Talk about taxation without representation. 

Democrats note the unfairness of the residents of Washington, D.C. not having federal representation in Congress.  They propose a solution - making it a state.   

As of 2019, Washington, D.C. had a population of 692,683, ranking it the 20th largest city in the United States.  Washington, D.C. has less population than Austin, Indianapolis, Charlotte, and Columbus, Ohio.  Washington, D.C. at 68.34 square miles in size, is not a large city geographically either.  By comparison, Indianapolis is 368 square miles.  The smallest state is Rhode Island at 1,214 square miles.

It is not fair that Washington, D.C. residents do not have voting representation in Congress. But making it a state is beyond absurd.  This is especially true when there is an obvious solution  to giving D.C. residents representation - retrocession.  To carve out Washington, D.C., land was taken from two states, Maryland and Virginia.  The land can be given back.  In fact, there is precedent for doing so.  In 1847, the former Virginia part of the district was receded back to that state commonwealth,  That area is now the Virginia counties of Arlington and Alexandria.  

If the Democrats were truly concerned about D.C. residents having a say in federal affairs, they would support retrocession.  But instead they call the proposal a "distraction," pushing ahead for full statehood for Washington, D.C.  The real reason why is the Democrats want two more votes in the United States Senate.  As of 2016, 76% of registered voters in the district were Democrats while 6% are registered Republicans.  

There have been periods of time when the GOP controlled both houses of Congress.  Republicans were fools for not using that opportunity to fix the unfairness of Washington, D.C. residents not having a voice in Congress.  Now it looks like D.C. statehood might be more a question of when, not if.


OOP's short takes:

  • For the record, I'm not against Puerto Rico statehood, that is of course, assuming the residents of the territory want statehood.  Unlike Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico has all the characteristics of a state, as opposed to a city.
  • In terms of the partisan scorecard, that probably would give the Democrats two more U.S. Senators, though Republicans are competitive in Puerto Rico and have elected GOP Governors of the island.  Ironically, Republicans are more competitive in Puerto Rico than they currently are in Hawaii, the only island that is a state.
  • In seeking to dismiss the defamation lawsuit filed against her by Dominion Voting Systems, "Attorney" Sydney Powell argues that "no reasonable person" would have believed her claims of election fraud were "factual."  Instead Powell claims she was engaging in exaggeration and hyperbole.  Yet, to this day millions of Trump supporters fervently believe The Big Lie that Donald Trump only lost because of widespread fraud.  Powell is saying in no uncertain terms that Trump supporters who believe The Big Lie are not "reasonable."  Finally, Powell is speaking the truth.
  • Woke up this morning to a report on the inequities of women and men when it comes to pay.  The MSNBC host pointed out that women only make 82 cents of what men make.  A guest emphasized that is why Congress needs to pass the latest "equal pay" act.
  • In fact, the Equal Pay Act passed Congress and was signed into law in 1963.  Since then it has been illegal to pay similarly situated men and women differently when working the same job. 
  • PayScale issued a 2021 report that included the 82 cents figure now cited by news hosts and guests.  But the PayScale report also said that "when men and women with the same employment characteristics do similar jobs, women earn 98 cents for every dollar earned by an equivalent man."  While PayScale rightfully criticizes the 2 cent differential, it had to know the misleading 82 cents figure in its report would be the one that gets all the attention. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

If Governor Holcomb Wants to "Rescue" a GOP County Organization, He Might Consider Hamilton County

Last week, I wrote about Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb's intervention to "rescue" the Marion County (Indianapolis) Republican Party by installing one of his operatives, Joe Elsener, as Chairman.  Marion County, which has now become the most Democratic county in the state, is in dire need of help.  I have doubts though that Holcomb and Elsener are willing to take the steps necessary to repair what used to be one of the best grassroots party organizations in the country.

When it comes to Marion County, the good news is the Republican numbers have probably bottomed out.  The bad news is the Republican Party's fortunes in Marion County are unlikely to improve significantly any time soon.  Rebuilding the Marion County Republican Party, which has been in steady decline for the last 3 1/2 decades, is a long term project.  That house burned down awhile back.  It will have to be rebuilt from the ground up.  

Holcomb would be better advised to focus more on the Republican county organizations that are currently on fire, and not in a good way.  Looking at the more urban Indianapolis donut counties, the Republican numbers are significantly down during the Trump era.  But one county ranks above them all in terms GOP decline - Hamilton County.  

Directly north of Marion County-Indianapolis, Hamilton County is home to three of the state's 20 largest cities - Carmel, Fishers and Noblesville.  Westfield and other municipalities also lie in its boundaries.  Hamilton County has the fourth largest population in Indiana and is the wealthiest county.  Long a bastion of Republican votes, Hamilton County is rapidly losing its GOP edge.   

In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney bested President Barack Obama in Hamilton County 66.3% to 32%.  Statewide, Romney had just 54.1% of the vote.  

In 2016, Republican Donald Trump took Hamilton County with 56.8% of the vote, beating Hillary Clinton by 19.6.% of the vote.  Statewide Trump had just 57.1% of the vote.  So Hamilton County went from 12.2% above the presidential GOP baseline vote to .3% below it.

In 2020, President Trump won Hamilton County with 52.4% of the vote.  Trump's margin of victory over Biden in Hamilton County was just 6.8%.  Trump won Indiana with 57% of the vote. So the Hamilton County presidential result ran well behind Trump's performance statewide.

To recap Hamilton County's decline using the 2012/2016/2020 format:

GOP presidential vote:  66.3/56.8/52.4
GOP winning margin:  34.3/19.6/6.8
Ham. Co. GOP v. State:  12.2/-.3/-4.6

It is easy to chalk off such performances due to Trump's significant unpopularity in Hamilton County as opposed to the unpopularity of the GOP brand.  But off year elections show Republican candidates significantly underperforming in Hamilton County.  In the 2019 municipal elections, Democrats won a combined three seats on the Fishers and Carmel city councils.  The Democrats could have won a majority on the Fishers council had they been able to recruit candidates to run.  The Hamilton County Democratic Party also couldn't find candidates to challenge the GOP incumbent mayors in Carmel, Fishers and Westfield.  Precinct election results in 2019 show Democratic mayoral candidates in those cities would have started with a 45% baseline.

It should be emphasized that, until 2019, no Democrat had ever won elected office in Fishers or Carmel.  Indeed, for decades there had been virtually no elected Democrats anywhere in Hamilton County.

The Hamilton County GOP's house is on fire.  The only thing that has saved that organization thus far is a lackluster Hamilton County Democratic organization which has struggled to recruit candidates. That is about to change.  

OOP's short takes:

  • As I write this, the United States has announced sanctions against Chinese officials for human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims.  The sanctions are being coordinated with several other countries.  This came following President Biden declaring that Russia will pay a price for interfering in the 2020 election.  It is so refreshing to finally have a President who will stand up for the United States and its values against dictators.
  • I'm not fond of the phrase "voter suppression" to describe the spate of state legislative proposals dealing with voting.  A better phrase is "voter discouragement."  Republican legislators, egged on by Trump's bogus claim of a "stolen election," have been zealously pursuing these proposals believing the changes will result in lower turnout and a GOP advantage. Democrats meanwhile scream that the measures will result in the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of voters. 
  • Here is what neither party tells you: voter discouragement methods might change how people vote, but they do not significantly change turnout.  Republicans, by pursuing such measures, are handing Democrats a significant political issue while gaining nothing.  Even appearing to make voting more difficult is not a popular position.  Democrats know that.
  • It's unfortunate that Republicans have decided to go down this road.  There are significant steps that should be taken for ballot security, such as a photo ID requirement.  (Poll workers comparing voter signatures has always been a joke.)  Likewise, I'm not fond of month long early voting, ballet harvesting, or unrestricted vote by mail.  Regarding the latter, we adopted the secret ballot for a reason in this country.  Vote by mail opens the door to people being pressured to vote a certain way by an employer, union hall, spouse, etc.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Article Shows Star Columnist is Clueless About Problems Of the Marion County Republican Party

An alert reader sent me a column written by Indianapolis Star columnist James Briggs titled "Governor" Eric Holcomb won't let Indianapolis Republicans die."  

In the article Briggs demonstrates that he doesn't have a clue about local politics and in particular the problems that plague the Marion County Republican Party.  With all due respect to Mr. Briggs though he's only the latest clueless Star columnist on the subject.  Certainly the political types referenced in the article know better, or at least they should. 

Earlier this March, the Marion County Republican Party held a caucus to elect a new county chair.  As was typical of such elections in recent years, a slew of precinct committeemen were appointed before the
Joe Elsener, Chair, Marion County Republican Party
 caucus to ensure the favored candidate, Joe Elsener, won over two aggressive opponents. Things were so rigged that Elsener, who works for the Indiana Republican Party and Holcomb's campaign, did not even bother to attend. 

Yet does Briggs mention this at all?  Of course not.  Nor does Briggs mention the history of how county chairs are elected, a critical part of the story in the decline of the Marion County Republican Party.

Until the middle 1980s, precinct committeemen (PCs) were by statute elected every 2 years, and a month or later those ELECTED committeemen would elect a new county chair.  Appointed committeemen, who received their appointment from the county chairman, were not allowed to vote in that election.

In 1986 and 1987, the "John Sweezy Forever" (Sweezy was then the long serving Marion County Republican Chairman, a very lucrative position back then) bills were passed by the Republican-dominated Indiana General Assembly.  The legislation made the PC and Chair positions four year terms, and timed things so that the election of the county chairman took place years after the election of the PCs.  That gave the incumbent county chairman a lot of time to appoint PCs who would vote the way the county chairman wanted.  (In other words, the county chairman could pick his own voters.)  Eventually the law was scrapped entirely in favor of party rules which essentially kept the same dynamic.

Until the middle 1980s, whenever the controlling faction of the Marion County Republican Party would grow weak and ineffective, it would commonly be ousted at the next election by a different faction which ran a competing slate of PCs.  The result was a local Republican Party that was constantly refreshing itself and was responsive to the GOP electorate and the party workers.

Briggs also doesn't bother to address Marion County "slating," a process by which the grass roots party workers (not really) endorse candidates they intend to work for in at the primary.  As many as 90% of the people voting at the slating conventions are PCs (and ward chairs) who have been appointed by the county chairman just to go and vote in that election.  (Marion County Democrats also have slating.)  As a result, rigging slating contests for candidates favored by the county chair is remarkably easy.

All these changes have had the effect of stripping power from the grass roots of the Marion County GOP and handing that power to the county chairman and other leaders.  With the rules and practices as they currently exist, there really is no reason to work in the Marion County GOP doing the grunt work that every party needs to have done.  Does Briggs address this?  No.

To affirm the narrative of Briggs' piece, he reaches out to exactly the wrong people.  Her turns to former Indianapolis councilor Jefferson Shreve who Briggs proudly identifies as "a moderate" who is a "tough critic of the party." (It is unclear why Briggs thinks either of those things are true).  Shreve praises the Elsener selection because of his "youth, energy and experience."  Briggs completely misses the fact that Shreve, a longtime Bloomington resident, most certainly did not have an Indianapolis residence when he was first elected to the council in a vacancy election that was rigged by party bosses so he could win.  

Briggs also talks with Robert Vane, former communications director for Mayor Greg Ballard.  Few are better at spinning a narrative than Vane, but his description of the former Mayor is laughable:  "I think Ballard personified [the type of Republican who could get elected in urban areas]: tough on crime, good on job creating, blocking and tackling of government."  In reality, Ballard was none of those things. The homicide rate soared under Ballard, the streets were filled with pot holes and rarely cleared of snow during the winter.  The only jobs Ballard "created" were for politically connected developers, government contractors and the law firms which gave him campaign contributions. 

In 2007, Ballard won a surprising upset against incumbent Bart Peterson promising to bring to an end "country club Republican" politics.  Then he proceeded to take country club Republicanism to a new level.  Mayor Ballard LOVED corporate welfare and he had no problem raising taxes and fees on working men and women to hand out money to any developer or contractor contributing to his campaign.  I counted at least 40 taxes and fees he proposed raising during his tenure. Frankly, it's a lot higher.  I got tired of counting.

In 2011, Ballard won re-election narrowly despite a weak opponent who didn't engage him on the corporate welfare issues on which he was most vulnerable.  Although his re-election positioned him to help rebuild the Marion County Republican Party, Ballard did for the party what he did in his first term:  NOTHING.  Mayor Ballard bears no small amount of the blame for the current condition of the Marion County GOP.

That Briggs doesn't get what happened to the Marion County Republican Party is highlighted by his focus on State Senator Jim Merritt's "disastrous mayoral campaign."  Indeed, Merritt was a horrible, tone-deaf candidate, but his election loss was perfectly in line with the steady decline of the Marion County Republican Party which has been going on for at least 35 years.  It was not an aberration.

If Elsener wants to rebuild the Marion County GOP, he can start by giving up some of his power in favor of strengthening the grass roots of the organization.  (That includes eliminating slating, which is hopelessly broken.)  If you want people to be involved in the party at its lowest levels, you have to give those party workers power, rewards, and recognition.  None of that is happening now.  The steady transfer of power from PCs to the county chairman has been a disaster for the Marion County Republican Party.  

In terms of issues, the Marion County GOP needs to become (non-Trumpian) populist if it wants to be more successful.  Currently local politicians in both parties warmly embrace every corporate welfare scheme that is proposed even if it means (and it usually does) higher taxes and fees for Indianapolis voters. That Briggs doesn't get this is evidenced by his comment regarding the Statehouse fight against the Blue Line, an expansion of rapid Indianapolis bus service to the westside.  Briggs says that the Republicans can't be viewed as "anti-transit."   Briggs needs to leave his office and actually talk to some voters about the Blue Line.  It is seen by many as a financial boondoggle that will devastate businesses along Washington Street by leaving only two travel lanes on a popular east-west thoroughfare.  It is not popular.  Even the more popular Red Line is increasingly viewed negatively by Indianapolis residents who now see it as a waste of tax dollars.  The "build it and they will come" approach to mass transit does not work.  It's not like they weren't warned.

Currently there is no party standing up for Indianapolis taxpayers against these expenditures which are always about putting money in the pocket of politically connected developers and contractors  That creates a huge political opportunity for the Marion County Republican Party.  Briggs clearly does not get this.  It is not clear that Elsener does either.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Analysis Shows Trump Was Drag on Republican Ticket in 2020

Of the myths that embellish Donald Trump's mediocre political resume, the one that is most perplexing is that the former President is some sort of political genius who assembled a unique populist coalition of voters which propelled him to political success.  Back in the real world, Trump barely won the electoral college in 2016 while losing the popular vote by 2.9 million votes, then was smashed in the 2018 mid-terms, losing forty House seats.  In 2020, Trump lost the popular vote by over 7 million votes.  He followed that electoral loss by, in January 2021, losing the Senate, thanks in no small part to his "stolen election" attacks on elected Georgia Republicans.  With his latest loss, Trump became the first incumbent President since Herbert Hoover to lose the White House, the House and the Senate.

Last time I checked other political offices require candidates to actually win the popular vote to be elected.  Thus, Trump's narrow electoral college finishes, while badly losing the popular vote, doesn't seem to provide a roadmap for other GOP candidates.  In fact, a review of the 2016 and 2020 election results, show Trump consistently ran behind Republican candidates.  Trump was a drag on the GOP ticket.  

But what about that infamous Trump turnout?  Indeed, Trump was an expert at driving infrequent GOP-leaning voters to the polls. But he also succeeded in motivating infrequent Democratic voters to cast ballots.  I have documented that what ultimately killed Trump's chances was the small, but extremely significant, percentage of frequent Republican-leaning voters who crossed over to support Biden. Exit polls showed that Biden had a higher percentage of Republicans voting for him than Democrats who cast votes for Trump.  That GOP crossover vote handed the election to Democrat Biden while allowing Republicans to make gains in the House and state legislative chambers.

But while I had an idea what was going on electorally, I longed for better data to analyze.  Thus, I was quite pleased to find a January 21, 2021, article by Nathan L. Gonzalez, an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.  Gonzalez crunches the numbers using a statistic that should be familiar with modern baseball fans:
Vote Above Replacement, or VAR, measures the strength of political candidates relative to a typical candidate from their party within the same state. That initial benchmark is derived using Inside Elections’ Baseline, which captures a state’s political performance by combining all federal and state election results over the past four cycles into a single average. 

For example, in Arizona after the 2020 elections, the Republican Baseline was 51.1 percent compared to 47.6 percent for Democrats. That means we would expect a typical — or “replacement level” — Republican to receive 51.1 percent of the vote and a typical Democrat to win 47.6 percent. We can then compare individual candidate results to those benchmarks. 

In the 12 presidential battlegrounds, Trump posted a positive VAR in just four states. That means he did better than an average GOP candidate in Iowa (+1.7), Michigan (+0.3), Minnesota (+1.6) and Pennsylvania (+2), but worse than an average GOP statewide candidate in Arizona (-2), Florida (-0.7), Georgia (-3.8), Nevada (-0.8), North Carolina (-0.7), Ohio (-1.4), Texas (-3.2) and Wisconsin (-0.1). Of course, Trump still won four of those states, but his superhero electoral status has some flaws.

Biden was a more valuable asset for his party. He had a positive VAR in 10 of 12 battleground states including Arizona (+1.8), Florida (+1.5), Georgia (+3.5), Michigan (+1.3), Minnesota (+1.3), Nevada (+4.1), North Carolina (+0.3), Ohio (+2.1), Texas (+4.9) and Wisconsin (+0.9). Of course, Biden didn’t win all of those states, but it’s clear why Democratic candidates for the House and Senate weren’t afraid to be endorsed by or seen with their presidential nominee before the election. Biden underperformed an average statewide Democratic candidate in Iowa (-0.8) and Pennsylvania (-0.5). 
Although the most high profile Republican in the country, Trump was never a popular general election candidate.  Tying one's political fortunes to Trump might get a Republican through a primary, but Trump then becomes an albatross around one's neck in the general election.  Ask former Senators Martha McSally, David Perdue, Kelly Loeffler, and Cory Gardner if that isn't the case.

Monday, March 15, 2021

What Charlie Sykes Does Not Understand About Cats and Dogs and The People Who Own Them

I listen to a lot of podcasts, but my favorite is the daily Bulwark podcast hosted by former Wisconsin radio host and current Never Trumper, Charlie Sykes.  

I have a lot of admiration for Sykes.  Unlike other right-wing media types who enriched themselves by embracing Trumpism, Sykes refused to cave on his conservative principles.  In the end, it cost him his audience, his radio gig and, no doubt, a lot of money.   But to Sykes, integrity and intellectual honesty matter.  This world needs more people like Charlie Sykes.  

There is something else you should know about Charlie Sykes. He likes, no LOVES, dogs.  He has two or three dogs, I believe, German Shepherds.  He is constantly talking about his dogs on his podcast and posting pictures of his dogs on social media. 

Charlie Sykes w/Eli (posted on Twitter)

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I too like dogs.  I grew up in the country, in southeastern Indiana.  We had dogs and cats as did nearly every farmer who lived in the area.  When I moved to Indianapolis in my 20s, it was the first time I found out that cats and dogs, and their respective owners, are supposed to hate each other.

Moving into an apartment after graduating from college, I had to choose to be either a cat or a dog owner.  Because one can leave cats alone for days at a time and you do not have to walk them during the brutal Indiana winters, the choice of becoming a cat parent was easy.  It was one of the best choices I have ever made.   

The problem with Sykes is not that he likes dogs.  The problem is, as a dog owner, he seems obliged to roundly dismiss those of us who are cat owners.  The only cat owner he appears to tolerate is frequent Bulwark guest, Tom Nichols.

Now, with adult hindsight, I realize there are differences between dogs and cats, and the people who choose to own them.  Dogs offer undying loyalty and constant affection.  You are the center of their lives.  They want to be around you 24/7.  Cat owners do not need or want that from their pets.  But dog owners sure do.  If dog owners are insecure about whether they are loved and appreciated by the world (and many are), a dog tells them in no uncertain terms that they care about them even if no one else does. 

Cat owners, on the other hand, know they are loved by family and friends. We do not need to be constantly reminded of that by our chosen pet.  It is not that cats do not offer affection.  Indeed, I have never owned a cat who was not friendly or did not enjoy spending time with me.  (As I write this, my cat Thelma has entered my home office and is asking to be petted.)  But those moments of affection are MOMENTS because, unlike dogs, cats have lives apart from their owners.  Because a cat’s show of affection is periodic, it has much more meaning than a dog’s constant slobbering admiration of its owner. 

On one of last week’s podcasts, Sykes complained that other Bulwark writers, Sarah Longwell and Jonathan Last, dissed dog owners who post pictures of their pets on social media.  Longwell said dog owners do that because they are trying to “humanize” themselves.  Longwell has it wrong.  Dog owners know they are human.  They are just not sure they are human beings who are loved.   They post pictures of themselves with their pets to prove that another living, breathing mammal cares about them. 

Social media is filled with photos of dog owners with their pets.  Yet when cat owners post pictures of their pets, which is quite often, they rarely include themselves in the picture. Why? Because we cat owners know the world loves us.  We do not have to prove that fact. 

But that fact contains an exception.  We cat owners are not universally loved.  Dog owners do not like us.  Dog owners’ dislike toward us though is not because of who we are, but because of jealousy. Dog owners hate that we do not share their insecurities, that we cat owners do not need validation from our pets to convince ourselves that we are loved. 

Are cats better than dogs?  Absolutely not.  But are cat owners better than dog owners?  Probably.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Trump Cease and Desist Threat Could Dry Up GOP Fundraising

Given its potential impact on 2022 politics, it probably should have gotten more coverage.  Late last week, lawyers for former President Donald Trump sent letters to the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee saying they were to "immediately cease and desist the unauthorized use of President Donald J. Trump's name, image and/or likeness in all fundraising, persuasion, and/or issue speech."  To avoid funding "RINOs" that have opposed him, Trump indicated that those wishing to support Republican candidates should instead give to his "America First" fundraising political action committee, with the implication being that he would then distribute the money to favored "non-RINO" candidates.

It didn't take long for the RNC to push back against the legal threat, claiming through its attorney on Monday that the RNC "has every right to refer to public figures as it engages in core, First Amendment-protected political speech, and it will continue to do so in pursuit of these common goals."

But before making that formal legal response, the RNC agreed to move part of its spring retreat in April to Mar-a-Lago and pay Trump big bucks for the hosting.  Reportedly, it was an attempt for RNC to show its loyalty to Trump in the hopes that former President would reward that loyalty by supporting its fundraising endeavors.  Because, of course, that strategy has worked so well in the past....

My guess is that the RNC attorney's retort to that threat is probably correct, though I'd like to see some legal analysis on the subject.  No doubt though the matter will never be litigated.  Trump has a long history of making empty legal threats.  That's understandable as Trump's batting average in legal proceedings is abysmal.

While the RNC wasn't intimidated by the Trump threat, there are literally thousands of GOP state and local organizations, as well as individual candidate committees, which may well be.  Going into the 2022 elections, state and local candidates might want to promote their Trump bona fides in fundraising entreaties.  If hit with C&D letters, they may choose to forego those efforts.

Then you have the additional problem of publicity.  If Trump insists his cult followers should not contribute directly to GOP candidates, but should instead send their money to him so he can divvy up the cash, Republican candidates will have their fundraising efforts crippled.  And, anyone who thinks Trump would actually forward that money to GOP candidates, has not been paying attention these last five years.  Trump does not care squat about the Republican Party.   He will be spending that money on the one thing he cares about - Donald Trump.  Given Trump is deeply in debt and facing likely criminal prosecution and certain civil litigation, he needs the money.

OOP's short takes:

  • True to form, members of my Republican Party have now decided, since Trump is out of office, they care about deficit spending again.  All GOP members of Congress voted against the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 economic relief package.  Yet, they had no problem supporting the Cares Act last year (also aimed at pandemic economic relief) which added even more to the nation's deficit.  The Senate vote on the Cares Act, signed by Trump, was 96-0 by the way.  
  • Republican members of Congress are going to regret not showing more support for the Covid-19 relief bill.  About 40% of Republicans support the bill in polls, yet 0% of Republicans in Congress did.  Biden was already popular, but he's about to get even more popular.
  • I found something I care less about than the British Royal Family - Piers Morgan.  Why anyone would employ that blowhard is beyond me.

Monday, March 8, 2021

$15 an Hour or Bust; Why Can't Democrats Be Reasonable About the Minimum Wage?

President Joe Biden campaigned on raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.  Republicans and some Democrats in Congress think the increase is too steep.  Republican Senators Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton have proposed raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour and indexing it to inflation. This is unacceptable to liberal politicians who insist that it needs to be immediately raised to $15 an hour to keep up with inflation.  But a look at the numbers shows this is not true.  

In October 24, 1938, when the minimum wage was first adopted it was 25 cents an hour.  Adjusted for inflation, that would be $4.67 today.  In February 1, 1967, the minimum wage was raised to $1.40 an hour.  That would be $11.13 in today's dollars.  The federal minimum wage in 2009 was raised from $6.55 an hour to $7.25. If the that rate was indexed to inflation it would be $8.81 today.   

The fact is, because of the demand for unskilled labor, very few workers today receive the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.  In 1980, when the federal minimum wage was $3.10 an hour, 13% of hourly workers earned the federal minimum wage or less.  Today, only 1.9% of hourly workers do.  Whether it is working at McDonalds, stocking grocery shelves, or ringing up customers at the Dollar General, all those jobs in the Indianapolis area start at $10 or more (with regular pay increases).  This is despite the fact that Indiana's minimum wage reflects the $7.25 federal minimum wage.

While some of that is due to states enacting their own, higher, minimum wage laws, the biggest factor is the huge demand for unskilled labor.  Workers can move from one job to another securing better pay.  A worker who is making $10 an hour, can quite easily move to another job paying $12 an hour.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour would cost 1.4 million jobs.  That statistic doesn't include the number of people who would remain employed but have their hours cut because their employer can't afford $15 an hour.  

We have an ideal situation now where demand, and job mobility, is driving up wages of unskilled workers far above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.   While I don't think a federal minimum wage is necessary, at the very least we should not set it at such a level that it costs people their jobs or causes their hours to be cut.

OOP's short takes:

  • I'm sorry, but I can't bring myself to be concerned about the goings on in the British royal family.  Because someone is born or marries into the right family, they get to live high on the taxpayer dime despite no actual tangible accomplishments?   It is such a dumb institution.  We Americans fought the Revolutionary War to get away from the British monarchy.  So, why should I care about it now?  I just don't care.
  • Got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine yesterday at the Speedway.  I was doing okay, until about 11:30 last night when I suddenly got the chills.  That lasted for 1 1/2 hours.  After that, I had a slight headache and low grade fever.  Both of those are gone now.  
  • Over the years, Republicans have pursued legitimate ballot security measures, things like requiring a photo ID to vote.  Unfortunately, the GOP is now pursuing changes that seem less aimed at the security of the ballot and more at stopping people from voting.  Not every Republican ballot security proposal is "voter suppression" but any such effort will certainly be labeled that way from this point forward.  What is ironic is that voter suppression rarely works and is often counterproductive.  A prime example is the 2018 Georgia election.  Although Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey "Sore Loser" Abrams complained that her loss of the state by 55,000 votes (Trump lost by 11,779 votes) was due to "voter suppression" that election had huge turnout, including record African-American participation.
  • So Republicans in Congress are now worried about debt from the Covid-19 relief plan, but they had no problem with all the debt Trump ran up while the economy was booming?  Give me a break.
  • I could be wrong, but I really don't think the Covid-19 variants are going to derail the end of the pandemic which seems clearly in sight.

Monday, March 1, 2021

CPAC Shocker: Trump Only Gets 55% of the Vote for 2024 Nominee

The 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was short on political ideas and long on lies about the election and the January 6th insurrection attempt.  But the most prominent feature of CPAC was the blind worship of former President Donald J. Trump by every speaker and attendee.  Virtually every minute of the four day conference featured endless praise of Trump.  We were even treated to a golden statute of Trump.  More on that to come.

A poll of CPAC attendees found that Trump enjoyed 97% approval of his time as President, with 87% expressing strong approval.  Yet when the CPAC crowd was polled as to who they would support for President in 2024, Trump only received 55% support. 

I would have guessed Trump would have received 80% of the support, maybe as high as 85%.  Instead it now seems that a very large percentage of Trump's most fervent supporters do not want him as the 2024 nominee.  That is news. Yuge news.

Trumpers who don't want Trump to run again most likely still want him to play kingmaker.  But I cannot imagine any scenario in which Trump is fine ceding the spotlight to someone else while he works in the background pulling the strings.  That is most definitely not Trump's nature.

I still don't believe Trump will go to the post in 2024 because he won't want to face the possibility, indeed the likelihood, of losing again.  But given his love for attention and need for money, I can see him running for President before bowing out before the Iowa caucus.


Possibly the most bizarre event of the CPAC weekend was the appearance of the Golden Trump, a statue of the former President made in, of course, Mexico.  CPAC attendees, many of whom no doubt fashion themselves as Christians, seemed oblivious to the comparison of the Golden Trump statute to the Golden Calf story in the Old Testament. Vox explains:

The Golden Calf is one of the most famous stories in the Old Testament. The Israelites, newly freed from Egyptian slavery, have a crisis of faith while God is speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai. They melt down the golden jewelry to construct a physical god — a statue in the shape of a calf — to worship in place of 
Photo Appeared in Vox Article on Golden Trump
their abstract, invisible deity. It’s a story about the allure of idolatry, how easy it is to abandon one’s commitments to principle in favor of shiny, easy falsehoods.

... Someone involved in the conference constructed a golden statue — not of a calf, but of Trump — and wheeled it out to cheers from conference attendees. “That is so cool,” one of the onlookers says.

The [Republican] party sacrificed its commitment to political principles, including previously cherished ideals like free trade, on the altar of Trumpism. White evangelicals abandoned their alleged commitments to godliness in public servants and embraced a man accused of serial sexual assault who had an affair with a porn star and paid her hush money to cover it up. Conservatism, once seen as a high-minded intellectual tradition, became undeniably base and degraded in the Trump years.

But above all else, the statue points to the way in which the GOP remains the party of Trump even after his presidency — gaudy golden aesthetic and all. The party’s base is so committed to the former president that they construct idols of him, literally, to stand up at their premier political conference.

I hate having to admit when liberal publications like Vox are right.  Though I wouldn't be surprised to find out down the road that the Golden Trump statute, with its obvious biblical comparison to the Golden Calf, was a joke played on CPAC attendees.