Video of the day

You may have already seen this local story because it went viral.  It is a pretty handy coincidence when a professional photographer with good equipment decides to actually get the camera running during a storm.

Meanwhile, as this was only 10 miles away, I suppose I was a bad parent for staying upstairs and watching football with my kids in the room instead of getting us downstairs into the one room in the house with no windows.

Record high in political independents. Yawn.

A recent Gallup poll showed a record high number of political independents.  John Sides threw the proper Political Science cold water on this:

Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones writes:

Americans are increasingly declaring independence from the political parties. It is not uncommon for the percentage of independents to rise in a non-election year, as 2013 was. Still, the general trend in recent years, including the 2012 election year, has been toward greater percentages of Americans identifying with neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party, although most still admit to leaning toward one of the parties.

That last statement is important. Most self-described “independents” do lean toward a party. This other graph by Gallup is really the more important one:

Party Identification (Including Independent Leanings), Annual Averages, Gallup Polls, 1991-2013

Why is it more important? Because independents who lean toward a party — or “independent leaners” —  behave like partisans, on average. They tend to be loyal to their party’s candidate in elections.  They tend to have favorable views of many political figures in their party. They are not much more likely to identify as ideologically moderate. To be sure, independent leaners are not as partisan as the strongest partisans. But they resemble weaker partisans much more than they do real independents. In actuality, real independents make up just over 10 percent of Americans, and a small fraction of Americans who actually vote.

A second key point: In many other respects, voters are not “declaring independence” from political parties.  In fact, the American electorate is much more partisan than in the recent past.  Consider these points:

1) The number of “pure” independents is declining.  It was nearly twice as high in the early 1970s as now.

2) Partisan loyalty in presidential and congressional election is on the rise.  As a consequence, split-ticket voting is in decline.

3) Partisanship and ideology are much more aligned than they used to be — a trend that only helps to strengthen partisanship and party loyalty. Partisans like each other a lot less.

4) Partisans report less favorable feelings toward the opposite party and express more distress at the thought of their son or daughter marrying someone of the opposite party.

Yep.  Over time, these leaners will be less reliably partisan voters.  But as a snapshot of the electorate, it really makes little difference whether someone identifies as a weak partisan or an independent leaning towards a party.  I really enjoyed listening to John Dickerson, of Slate and CBS News, the other day essentially making this point during a podcast.  Political scientists have been hammering this point for years and it’s good to see that it has made it through to the more astute political journalists.

Today in Christie

First, I like Charlie Cook’s take that Christie was never really the “frontrunner” anyway:

Having said that, I also have a problem with the recent story line: “The frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination is hit with a scandal.” Christie, the frontrunner? Again—really? Christie indeed sat at the top of some of the polls that lay out a long laundry list of every imaginable contender (as well as some who are harder to imagine), but does that make him the frontrunner? I think not.

Think for a moment who makes up the Republican Party, and most specifically the part of the GOP base that dominates the presidential nomination process. Think about the people they seriously considered for their party’s presidential nomination last time around. Think Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich. Now, quickly, think Christie. Now think Sesame Street: “One of these things is not like the others; one of these things just doesn’t belong.” It’s laughable that the party that has previously seriously considered some fairly inconceivable candidates as worthy of the GOP nomination would suddenly reverse course and head over to a center-right candidate such as Christie.

Second, George Packer with a nice Christie as Nixon analogy:

The trouble with Christie has to do with more than ordinary narcissism, which, after all, is practically an entry requirement for a political career… What struck me in Tampa even more than his self-infatuated lyrics was the score they were set to—the particular combination of bluster, self-pity, sentimentality, and inextinguishable hostility wrapped in appeals to higher things. (After declaring that Democrats “believe the American people are content to live the lie with them,” Christie waved the flag of bipartisanship, saying, “We lose when we play along with their game of scaring and dividing.”) Those are dangerously combustible elements in a political personality. Americans older than fifty are all too familiar with them…

So why do I keep having flashbacks to 1972? Some of the parallels are weirdly exact. Whether or not he ordered the Watergate bugging, Richard Nixon ran a campaign of dirty tricks for two reasons: he wanted to run up the score going into his second term, and he was a supremely mean-spirited man…

Christie’s 2013 reëlection tracks closely with this story: an all-out effort to court Democrats in order to maximize his personal power, and a landslide victory in November, with all the benefit going to the Governor, not to his fellow-Republicans in the state legislature. On Christmas, theTimes published a piece about Christie’s long record of bullying and retribution. In it, the Fort Lee traffic jam was mentioned as just one of many cases (and, I have to admit, not the one that stayed with me) of vengefulness so petty that it inescapably called to mind the American President who incarnated that quality, and was brought down by it…

Character is destiny, and politicians usually get the scandals they deserve, with a sense of inevitability about them. Warren G. Harding surrounded himself with corrupt pols and businessmen, then checked out, leading to the most sensational case of bribery in American history. Ronald Reagan combined zealotry and fantasy, and Oliver North acted them out. Bill Clinton was libidinous and truth-parsing but also cautious, while George W. Bush was an incurious crusader who believed himself chosen by God and drove almost the entire national-security establishment into lawlessness without thinking twice. Christie, more than any of these, is reminiscent of the President whose petty hatefulness destroyed him—which is why, as NBC’s newscaster said when signing off on an early report on that long-ago burglary, I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this.

And, lastly, thanks to Itchy for the link to David Simon’s take (which I find quite persuasive):

For that kind of behavior you need someone really, really small.  For the anger and argument to become that self-absorbed and infantile, you need someone with even more selfish insecurity and fractured ego than [former Maryland governor] Mr. Schaefer could offer.  You need someone who saw himself as being not only larger than the sum of his constituents, but larger than the commonweal itself.  Add in the potential for actually harming innocent people — ambulances unable to reach calls, school buses unable to transport children — and you have something that leaves the Schaefers of the political world entirely incapable.  For this kind of petty venality, you have to look to a Huey Long or a Richard Nixon, someone for whom any fealty to democratic processes and public service no longer matters when personal ambition and aggrandizement are at stake…

If Mr. Christie didn’t order this mayhem himself, then he knew because the aides who achieved this carnage on his behalf were so successful in doing so that they could not have possibly held their silence.  Not over the course of four long days of maintaining the traffic snarl in Fort Lee. All of us who have worked in an office, who have experienced institutional hierarchy, who have seen the wages of unthinking loyalty to the boss — we know this much.  The same kind of people who would embark on such an action would not be able to do anything but run right down the hall to tell the governor how they had delivered pain to his political enemy.  They would then wait on their attaboy.  People of that ilk live for the attaboy.   Like cats with a fresh-caught mouse, they were bringing home a prize.  And there’s no joy for any housecat if the prize can’t be displayed to the master of the house.

I’m sorry for Mr. Christie, who seems in his better moments to be something of a leader.  But anger and argument lose all charm when they are employed for stakes so small, stupid and selfish.  He knew.  And he’s lying about it now.

Yep.  If nothing else, Christie created an atmosphere where key aides thought this is an action that Christie would approve of.  Otherwise, why would they have done it?!

Too bad Intrade’s gone, I’d love to see where Christie is at.  I’d put his 2016 chances as pretty damn low.

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