In praise of Bill Kristol

Seriously.  Sure, it is laughable that his “major” candidate for president is someone pretty much nobody has heard of, but Peter Beinart gets this right:

But in his search for a third-party alternative to Trump, Kristol doesn’t deserve derision. He deserves praise. All around him, GOP commentators, operatives, and politicians are coalescing behind a man who daily screams his unfitness to be president. (Yesterday’s highlights: The Donald’sthreats against the judge overseeing the Trump University case and hisunfamiliarity with the term “Brexit.”) Kristol could have joined the herd, as have allies like Sheldon Adelson and Marco Rubio. Instead, he has hunted for an alternative. Given that most conservatives won’t support Hillary Clinton, he’s taking tangible steps to prevent the complete collapse of #NeverTrump.

Sure, David French isn’t a strong candidate. But in laughing at Kristol, pundits are conflating the success of his initiative with its virtue. [emphasis mine] Many did the same when Mitt Romney came out against Trump. When it became clear that Romney’s denunciations weren’t influencing voters, commentators mocked the former GOP nominee as “impotent,” “pathetic,” and “sad.” But Romney, like Kristol, was trying to stop a man he rightly considers dangerous to the republic. That’s admirable regardless of the outcome.

In scorning Kristol and Romney because their anti-Trump efforts aren’t likely to succeed, the media is surrendering to the logic of Trump himself. For Trump, what matters, above all else, is winning. That’s why he jeered at John McCain for getting captured in North Vietnam. It’s why he talks incessantly about the size of his crowds and the strength of his poll numbers. It’s why he so often insists that the newspapers that write critical stories about him are losing circulation.

For Trump, being victorious is proof of being right. Journalists should reject that vile ethic, not make it their own.

Demographics and the 2016 election

Honestly, I can’t get enough of Ronald Brownstein’s demographic takes on the electorate.  In the Atlantic he writes about how the Democratic party is relying ever more on minorities while Republicans are relying ever more on the white working class.  Of course, one of these groups is growing and the other is shrinking.  That said, Republicans have been doing really well among non-college educated whites and that has really helped offset other losses.  Here’s some particularly telling charts:


And you know there’s going to be even more yellow and dark grey in 2016.  As for the party breakdown:


On both sides, this year’s presidential primaries documented the impact of these changes. One key reason Trump captured the GOP nomination was his dominant performance among the noncollege whites, who remain a much larger share of the Republican than the Democratic electorate. Conversely, Hillary Clinton remains on track to claim the Democratic nomination largely because she dominated the party’s growing minority component—and also because the blue-collar whites that predominantly preferred Bernie Sanders (especially outside the South) have eroded so much as a share of the total party vote…

A Trump-Clinton general election seems guaranteed to further accelerate these shifts. Early national polls consistently show Trump amassing big margins among working-class whites but underperforming with college-educated whites and facing cavernous deficits with nonwhites. If those trends sustain, it’s possible that working-class whites could again provide nearly half of Republican presidential votes—even in an election where they may sink to only about one-third of all voters…

In other words, in the most likely scenarios, this election will widen the distance between the class and racial composition of each party’s core of support. And, regardless of which side ultimately prevails, that promises to complicate the post-election challenge of finding any common ground between two coalitions embodying increasingly divergent visions of America.

Yep.  America is getting increasingly divided.  Though, I’m thinking that the more genuine white ethnocentric the Republican party becomes, that that’s got to eventually scare away a good number of college-educated whites.

The complexity of addiction

I did a brief post back in April on Maia Szalavitz’s new book that argues that addiction is essentially a learning disorder.  New York magazine’s Jesse Singal has a recent take focusing mainly on the completely un-scientific ideology of “hitting rock bottom” before seeking treatment.  Short version: there’s no research at all supporting this and it is probably counter-productive (don’t get me started on Alcoholics Anonymous.  Sure, it helps people, but… science!).  Singal also nicely summarizes Szalavitz’s take on how addiction is learned:

It should be seen not as a disease or a moral or personality shortcoming, but rather a learning disorder. “Addiction doesn’t just happen to people because they come across a particular chemical and begin taking it regularly,” she writes early on. Rather, “[i]t is learned and has a history rooted in their individual, social, and cultural developments.”

Or, as Szalavitz put it to the Daily Beast: “If you don’t learn that a drug helps you cope or make you feel good, you wouldn’t know what to crave. People fall in love with a substance or an activity, like gambling. Falling in love doesn’t harm your brain, but it does produce a unique type of learning that causes craving, alters choices and is really hard to forget.”

This can help explain many little-known facts about drug addiction: for example, that the vast majority of people who try even drugs like heroin will not become addicted to them; or that early-life trauma hugely increases the odds of becoming addicted to a substance. To take an oversimplified hypothetical: If someone first offers you alcohol at a time when you’re dealing with serious family issues, unresolved trauma, and other addiction risk factors, you’re more likely to develop an unhealthy relationship with the substance than if your first sip comes at a time when stuff is going okay for you. Many, many factors intermingle in complicated ways to determine whether a given individual will develop an addiction. [emphasis mine]

Fortunately for me, my only addictions are over-researching cameras and automobiles on-line.  What’s really frustrating, though, is how wrong our society seems to have gotten it on addiction and how much this has set us back in addressing a very real problem.

Trump still (mostly) obeys political gravity

Yes, Donald Trump really is a unique political character who seems to get away with an amazing out of stuff that would seemingly sink an ordinary polititican (e.g., lying constantly, not disavowing the KKK, showing extraordinary ignorance about policy, being extremely crude in repeated statements, etc.).  That said, he’s not exactly a colossus astride our political system.  Yglesias on “Teflon Trump”:

But a key piece of their framing buys into one of the oddest myths of the 2016 campaign — the entirely false legend of “Teflon Trump,” who shrugs off problems that would sink a conventional candidate. They write that “key Democrats say they are growing worried that her campaign has not determined how to combat her unpredictable, often wily Republican rival, to whom criticism seldom sticks and rules of decorum seem not to apply.” …

The reality is that Donald Trump is currently viewed unfavorably by 58 percent of the population, with fewer than 40 percent saying they have a positive impression of him.

That is the conventional rules of politics at work. Trump gets criticized, and much of the criticism sticks — driving the public to a deeply negative view of him. [emphases mine]

You see the same thing at the elite level. Most elected Republicans are supporting the Republican Party’s presidential nominee. But some are not, including Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, a number of other elected officials are taking the odd position that they support Trump but aren’t endorsing him.

This stuff all takes perhaps less of a toll on Trump than one might like. But the toll is very real. The result of saturation-level media coverage of Trump is that he is very well-known and very unpopular. The criticism sticks.

I also like this take on Clinton.  Yes, I’m strongly supporting her, but I can certainly imagine stronger candidates (though, honestly, the Democratic bench seems pretty weak these days.  Booker in 2024?)

If Democrats want an explanation for why the election isn’t a blowout, the thing they should be remarking on is not Trump’s fake immunity to criticism — it’s the unpopularity of their own nominee. Clinton’s unfavorable rating is higher than that of any other major party presidential nominee in history, with the sole exception of Trump.

Fortunately for her, the Trump-Clinton gap is actually rather large. And in her defense, there appears to be a structural rise in nominee unpopularity linked to growing political polarization.

Still, the fact remains that Democratic Party elites deliberately cleared the field in favor of a not-very-popular nominee whose limitations as a stump speaker and poor relationship with the press were well-known and widely understood at the time. The thinking was that a divisive primary would have hurt the party, but they ended up getting a divisive primary anyway.

Clinton can reasonably hope that when the primary ends, her numbers will improve, though it’s far from guaranteed that this is the case. The point, however, is that whatever challenges Clinton is facing in the general election, they have nothing to do with difficulty attacking Trump. He has been criticized from an unusually wide range of figures, and those criticisms have stuck. He is unpopular, and he is currently losing the election.

Meanwhile, Chait points out that Trump has absolutely no idea how to run a political campaign (evidence of winning the Republican Primary aside 🙂 ):

There is, however, an upside: Trump’s campaign is an absolute garbage fire. By all accounts it is the most organizationally and strategically inept campaign for a successful major-party nominee in recorded history.Ashley Parker and Maggie Haberman round up many of the details, but the basic story that emerges from their reports and others is that Trump has absolutely no idea what he’s doing.

“Trump is reliant on information he garners himself, and can be swayed by the last person he talked to,” Parker and Haberman somewhat delicately put it. His campaign staff is far too small, and yet constantly at war with itself, already having gone through multiple shakeups and coups. In keeping with his general disdain for data, Trump has eschewed any use of analytics to target voters or competitive areas. Indeed, he has fixated bizarrely on plans to compete in New York and California, two states where any Republican faces hopeless odds against an entrenched Democratic electorate. He is currently in North Dakota for reasons nobody fully understands. He attacks fellow Republicans for no apparent reason. The super-pac donors who are supposed to be raising money on his behalf are disorganized and confused about basic questions like which super-pac they’re supposed to donate to.

To the extent that running a competent campaign matters, it will hurt Trump very badly. Yes, he won the Republican primary by relying on a massive imbalance of media coverage and exploiting a divided, extremely large field that failed to coalesce against him. Yes, he tapped into deep strains of anger in the conservative base that fellow Republicans ignored. But he’s not a political savant, and he hasn’t abolished the rules of politics.

Yep.  Trump could certainly win the general election.  But it’s not because he’s a political genius to whom the rules do not apply.  But he probably won’t win.




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