New Hampshire

1) Big win for Trump.  Not just that he won, but how the whole think shook out is almost better than he could have hoped for.  If Rubio comes in a strong #2, then Rubio can really make a strong play to consolidating the “establishment” and challenging Trump going forward.  Alas, the Marcobot debate really seems to have mattered.   Dylan Matthews:

Meanwhile, the biggest potential threat to him — a Marco Rubio who unified the “establishment lane,” drawing support from John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie and finishing a close second to Trump — never materialized. Rubio did gain in polling, but only 2.3 points; Kasich meanwhile gained 3.4 and Jeb Bush gained 1.3. The establishment remained divided, with three candidates bunched together in the low double digits, rather than one candidate whose numbers could rival Trump’s.

Worst of all, Rubio didn’t even finish second. After Iowa, a strong second-place finish could’ve made Rubio the consensus establishment favorite even if he only beat Kasich and Bush by a little bit. But his second-place polling place didn’t translate into actual second place, perhaps because of his “robotic glitch” gaffe during Saturday’s debate in which he repeated the same talking point ad nauseam, even after Christie called him on it.

The cherry on top is that Ted Cruz remained mired in fourth place. If Cruz had gotten second or even third — as appeared plausible, given that his numbers rivaled those of Kasich, Rubio, and Bush — that would’ve suggested that he wasn’t a social conservative Iowa fluke, like Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012, that he was actually a viable nominee with appeal outside evangelical-heavy electorates.

By finishing so poorly, Cruz blunted whatever momentum he might have had going into South Carolina, another evangelical hotbed where Trump leads but Cruz was gaining pre-Iowa (it hasn’t been polled since, bafflingly):

Winning New Hampshire is good for Donald Trump. Keeping the establishment divided is good for Donald Trump. Marginalizing Ted Cruz is good for Donald Trump. So tonight was, in every conceivable way, very very good for Donald Trump.

And Nate Cohn:

Mr. Trump could not have asked for much more. If you were ranking Republicans in terms of their chances to defeat Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz, you would probably list Mr. Rubio, Mr. Bush and Mr. Kasich. Yet they appear likeliest to finish tonight in exactly the opposite order — maximizing the likelihood that all three stay in the race…

The presence of so many viable, mainstream Republican candidates poses a huge challenge to the party’s establishment. Most obviously, the three have split mainstream voters and donors, and will continue to do so. But it is even worse: They have used their donors’ money to viciously attack one another, instead of Mr. Trump.

The strong showing for Mr. Kasich is particularly inconvenient for the party. His appeal is narrowly concentrated among moderate voters, who are overrepresented in New Hampshire. He doesn’t have the broad appeal or organization necessary to turn his New Hampshire strength into a serious race.

But his showing in New Hampshire could be enough to prevent a Republican with broader appeal, like Mr. Rubio, from consolidating the coalition of mainstream conservatives and well-educated moderate voters who could eventually defeat Mr. Cruz or Mr. Trump.

Mr. Bush and particularly Mr. Rubio have the potential to build broader coalitions. But both have now failed to capitalize on huge opportunities; there are well-founded doubts about both candidates, which will make it harder for voters and party leaders to coalesce behind either…

Mr. Cruz failed to demonstrate any meaningful appeal beyond the base of self-described “very conservative” and evangelical voters who helped him win Iowa. He holds just 12 percent of the vote. That’s modestly above past winners of Iowa who have gone on to lose this primary, like Mike Huckabee, who won 11 percent in New Hampshire, or Rick Santorum, who won 9 percent.

Mr. Cruz won just 4 percent of moderate voters and just 9 percent of “somewhat conservative” voters.

The weakness of Mr. Trump’s opposition should not detract from his own performance. He currently holds around 34 percent of the vote — above the 31 percent he held in pre-election polls.

And Yglesias:

The establishment’s consistent dream, ever since Trump rocketed into a national polling lead, has been that consolidation of the “establishment lane” candidates will lead eventually some someone from the Rubio/Bush/Christie/Kasich foursome taking a strong lead. The problem for the establishment is that New Hampshire is the only state where this would have actually worked. Had supporters of those four men all united behind a single candidate, he would have won.

But they didn’t.

And in national polling averages, winnowing alone doesn’t work. If you combine Rubio’s 17.8 percent with Bush’s 4.3 percent, Kasich’s 4 percent, and Christie’s 2.5 percent you get a grand total of 28.5, which is still slightly behind Trump.

But worse than that, there’s little reason to believe that actual voters endorse the “lanes” schema that political journalists have embraced. Voters who like Christie’s tough-talking persona may be drawn to Trump as the next best thing. Kasich and Trump stand out as the two candidates in the field who are a bit soft on the welfare state. Rubio and Trump are running on similar themes of rescuing the United States from Obama-induced decline. And then, of course, national polling still shows a healthy 10 percent of Republicans backing outsider figures Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, who may naturally gravitate toward Trump…

So far, the establishment has been trying to beat Trump with wishful thinking. It keeps not working. Trump could self-destruct or drop out for no reason at all. He could be abducted by aliens. Who knows? But merely hoping for those things is not a plan. The plain reality is that right now he is on course to win the nomination unless some concerted effort is made to stop him. And so far, there’s no sign that any such effort is underway. Republican leaders not actively involved in the campaign simply seem baffled and stunned into indifference. And they’re running out of time.

And hey, big win, i.e., strong 2nd, for my favorite Republican running, John Kasich.  That said, it is truly hard to conceive how the candidate who is my personal favorite could possibly win the Republican nomination.  I’d love for Kasich to come on strong and make a real showing for the sanity wing of the GOP, but I just don’t see it happening.  Will be curious to see how much of a bump he gets from NH.  Given all his resources, Jeb! will surely go on.  My guess is Chris Christie hangs it up.

2) On the Democratic side, no spinning it, big win for Bernie.  Sure, we now expected it because of the polls, but a 20 point margin is a big deal.  I still don’t think this means he’s the nominee, but it does give every indication Hillary is in for a long, hard slog (say what you will about Rumsfeld, the man was quotable).  That said, I still believe what Nate Silver wrote more than 6 months ago is highly relevant:

There’s another theory, however, that probably does more to explain Sanders’s standing in Iowa and New Hampshire, and it’s really simple. Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa and Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire are really liberal and really white, and that’s the core of Sanders’s support…

In Iowa and New Hampshire, that isn’t a very big deal. In 2008, 93 percent of Democrats who participated in the Iowa caucus were white, while 95 percentof those who voted in the New Hampshire primary were.

In fact, along with the Democratic electorate in Sanders’s native Vermont, those in Iowa and New Hampshire are as favorable to him as any in the country. In the chart below, I’ve listed the share of Democratic voters who identified as liberal, and as white, in the 39 states where the networks conducted exit polls during the 2008 Democratic primaries. Then I’ve multiplied the two numbers together to estimate the share of Democrats in each state who were both white and liberal...

I estimate that 54 percent of the voters in the New Hampshire Democratic primary were white liberals in 2008. That’s the second-highest figure in the country,2 after Vermont (59 percent). In the Iowa caucus, meanwhile, white liberals made up 50 percent; that put the state in a tie with Massachusetts for the third-highest percentage.

The percentage of white liberals isn’t so high in other early primary states, however. It’s just 29 percent in Nevada and 19 percent in South Carolina. The percentage is also low in high-population, delegate-rich states like California (26 percent) and Texas (17 percent).

Put another way, Iowa and New Hampshire aren’t representative of the more diverse electorates that Democrats will turn out elsewhere. It just so happens that the idiosyncrasies of the first two states match Sanders’s strengths and Clinton’s relative weaknesses.

Now, momentum isn’t nothing, but it’s not necessarily everything it’s cracked up to be.  If you go back and look at 2008, Obama should have had the momentum to run away with things, but the demographic determinism remained doggedly persistent with Hillary continuing to win states through to the end that had favorable demographics to her.  In 2016, Bernie should continue to do well in states with lots of white liberal Democrats, but I just don’t see his performance thus far leading to the large shift among non-white voters that he would need to pull this off.

Photo of the day

This was in a really good David Roberts article about practicality versus ideology on the Democratic side.  Worth a post.  For now, I couldn’t resist this photo:

sanders millennials

(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)Millennials for #revolution.

Even bad polls matter

Great column from John Cassidy on how important polls are even when they are wrong.  It’s all about the expectations and polls are hugely important in setting those expectations:

Given that opinion polls failed to predict the result of the Republican caucus in Iowa, it might be wise not to place too much stress on what they’re saying about the New Hampshire primaries tomorrow night. We can’t simply ignore the polls, though. Often, they turn out be right, or right enough, and they help to set expectations for all of the candidates. Whether these expectations are surpassed sometimes matters as much as the actual result.

Take Donald Trump’s performance in Iowa. If you had said six months ago that Trump would place second there, with 24.3 per cent of the Republican vote, many political experts would have described that as an impressive achievement. But, because Trump had risen to the top of the Iowa polls in the weeks leading up to the February 1st election, the result was widely interpreted as a huge setback. Marco Rubio, on the other hand, exceeded his polling numbers, and thus the expectations that they had created. His third-place finish, just 1.2 percentage points behind Trump and 4.5 percentage points behind Ted Cruz, prompted an immediate shift in perception among pundits and the online betting markets. In fact, Rubio instantly replaced Trump as the bettors’ favorite to win the G.O.P. nomination…

Is this pattern fair, or good for democracy? Perhaps not. It is the way modern political campaigns work, however, and not just in the United States. Poll results drive media coverage, which in turn can drive polls. If you are a candidate with low poll ratings, the media tends to ignore you, and it’s very hard to raise your numbers. If you are on top of the polls, like Trump is, the media serves as your trumpet. The process is circular and self-reinforcing, not unlike a bubble in the financial markets. [emphasis mine]

So, whoever “wins” New Hampshire today is going to depend far more on how top candidates fared compared to recent poll numbers than on how many votes they got.

Why Marcobot really hurts

There’s political gaffes and there’s political gaffes.  Far and away the worst are those that reinforce (or even worse help to create) a media narrative about a politician.  Al Gore could have said any number of stupid things and he was never going to be painted as ignorant– he was going to be framed by the media as a liar.  John Kerry could have said something intemperate and outrageous, but it would be noted for it’s possible “flip-flop” character, not for being intemperate.  Without a doubt, the media develops a conventional wisdom/narrative on candidates and they very much like to tell their stories through this lens.  When it is a negative narrative, the last thing you want to do is help them out.  Classic example– the reason Rick Perry’s “oops” moment was so devastating was because he was already seen as an intellectual lightweight.

Anyway, Ezra Klein is all over it in the case of the Marcobot performance on Saturday:

There’s a good case to be made that Rubio’s glitch at the debate won’t matter. As my colleague Andrew Prokop notes, Cruz was thought to have had a bad debate right before the Iowa caucuses, but he won anyway. And who knows? Maybe Republican voters agree with Rubio that it’s of paramount important to establish that Obama is an evil genius rather than a bumbling fool.

But I think it will matter, and the reason it will matter is that this is what the other campaigns have been privately saying about Marco Rubio all along — that he just isn’t ready to be the nominee. Before Saturday, it was a convincing enough message that the Republican Party hadn’t united around Rubio, despite the obvious benefits of doing so. After Saturday, the argument has a lot more force.

Gaffes matter when they confirm underlying doubts about a candidate. That’s why Rick Perry’s “oops” moment echoed so far and wide — it validated suspicions that Perry wasn’t quite up to the rigors of the campaign. If the same thing had happened to Romney, it would’ve been a one-day story, because Romney was a PowerPoint presentation reincarnated as a human being — no one believed he couldn’t remember a bullet-pointed list of three items.

Rubio’s stumble on Saturday was an “oops” moment; it confirmed underlying doubts about his candidacy — doubts that the rival campaigns have been whispering in Republican ears for months now, with surprising success… [emphasis mine]

This doesn’t mean Rubio is finished, of course. He’s hardly the first promising primary candidate to stumble amid the heat of the race, and this is hardly the worst crisis a promising candidate has ever faced…

If Rubio really is as good a candidate as he’s seemed at certain times in this race, he has plenty of time to prove that Saturday night was an aberration and win the nomination. But insofar as he was hoping to unite the party around him after New Hampshire, that’s no longer going to happen.

Fatal to his campaign?  Of course not.  But is this going to color future reporting about him for the rest of the campaign?  Almost assuredly.  That’s why this hurts so bad. In fact, here’s the lede from last night’s Post story about his campaign:

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Marco Rubio delivered his closing argument in New Hampshire Monday night — and gave his opponents more fodder for attacks in the process.

Appearing in Nashua at his final campaign rally before Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary, the Florida senator made a point that he often makes on the campaign trail about instilling values in children. Then, he made it again, using nearly identical words. This came just two days after Rubio took heavy criticism for repeating himself in a televised debate. He appeared to realize that he was repeating himself toward the end of his Monday remark.

The Post story the day before referred to Rubio’s “robotic” debate performance.  I’ve never seen Rubio referred to as robotic before this weekend.  Or, as Kevin Drum smartly commented:

Unfortunately, now that Christie has pointed out Rubio’s index-card habit, everyone is going to be looking for it on every other subject too. Reporters will be combing through his debates and stump speeches looking for canned talking points, and then doing side-by-side comparisons as if he’s an author being accused of plagiarism.

Yes, yes, yes.  The whole way reporters are going to approach Rubio going forward has changed.  And in a way that makes his road ahead substantially harder.

Campaign finance reform is far from a political panacea

Does money have too much influence in American politics?  Yep.  (Though one look no further than Jeb’s campaign to see the obvious limits).  Do we really need some meaningful campaign finance reform?  Absolutely.  Would even the very best possible reform solve what ails or political system?  No way.  Seth Masket is on the task in his latest Pacific Standard column:

The real nugget of Sanders’ reforms is the Fair Elections Now Act, and it’s not a bad proposal. It’s certainly more thoughtful than previous campaign finance efforts that simply sought to put caps on how much people could donate to candidates or parties. What FENA does is set a modest threshold for candidate fundraising to demonstrate their viability. For example, candidates for the House of Representatives would need to raise $50,000 across at least 1,500 donors.

If they meet this threshold, public financing would kick in. The government would provide the candidate with enough funding to run competitive primary and general election campaigns. If they wished to raise more money, they could do so in a way that magnifies the contributions of smaller donors. The government would give the candidate five times each private donation they’d received of $100 or less.

This is actually not a very radical proposal. Several states (Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine) have recently been using public financing in state legislative races…

It’s also worth noting that small donors—the sorts of donors valorized by such reforms and generally believed to have purer souls than those who donate thousands at a single time—have their own agendas. Those who contribute small amounts tend to be more ideologically extreme than other donors. To the extent politicians would be more dependent upon them for election and re-election, such a reform could end up making government actually more dysfunctional.

Good points, but this paragraph is Masket’s brilliant key nugget:

For another, it’s still just really hard to find direct evidence that donations, even a lot of them, change the votes of politicians. To hear Sanders’ supporters describe it, his money is pure and comes from his hundreds of thousands of supporters who want nothing more than a better future for the country, while Hillary Clinton is a shill for corporations and the military industrial complex, and her affiliated super PACs have corrupted her outlook. Isn’t it interesting, then, thatthey voted identically 93 percent of the time they served in the Senate together? Is the hope that a complete re-structuring of the campaign finance system will make politicians seven percent less attuned to wealthy corporate interests? [emphasis mine]

And, of course, a smart and sober conclusion:

The reform proposal at the core of Sanders’ revolution is actually not that revolutionary, and it could actually do some good. But it’s hard to see it dramatically re-structuring our electoral system, no less inducing other societal shifts. And it actually has some costs built into it, such as a potential increase in polarization. So certainly peruse and consider it, but don’t expect it to bring about the revolution.

Yeah, that.

Lead is political

Great column from Nicholas  Kristof:

In Flint, 4.9 percent of children tested for lead turned out to have elevated levels. That’s inexcusable. But in 2014 in New York State outside of New York City, the figure was 6.7 percent. In Pennsylvania, 8.5 percent. On the west side of Detroit, one-fifth of the children tested in 2014 had lead poisoning. In Iowa for 2012, the most recent year available, an astonishing 32 percent of children tested had elevated lead levels. (I calculated most of these numbers from C.D.C. data.)

Across America, 535,000 children ages 1 through 5 suffer lead poisoning, by C.D.C. estimates…

Yet anti-lead programs have been dismantled in recent years because in 2012 Congress slashed the funding for lead programs at the C.D.C. by 93 percent. [emphases mine] After an outcry, some money was restored, but even now these lead programs have only a bit more than half the funding they once had.

Lead poisoning is an old problem: An Australian doctor, Lockhart Gibson, diagnosed the first case in 1904.

Then in 1943, a doctor in Boston encountered a young boy who had tried to stab his teacher, and remembered that the same boy had suffered lead poisoning years earlier. Researchers soon found that early exposure to lead impairs brain development and is strongly associated with later violent or criminal behavior.

Yet the lead industry ferociously fought attempts at regulation. It wasn’t until the 1970s and ’80s that lead was largely removed from gasoline, and until 2008 that a regulation reduced lead in paint to a reasonable level. Millions of children continue to suffer brain impairment because of the greed of the lead industry…

Today the continuing poisoning of half a million American children is tolerated partly because the victims often are low-income children of color.

Truly appalling that our country lacks the political will to stop poisoning any of our children with lead.

Bernie the hedgehog

Let me be clear.  I like Bernie Sanders.  I think he’s doing a great job bringing important issues to the fore of national and Democratic politics.  I think he is a thoughtful and passionate advocate for these issues.  I’m therefore glad he is campaigning for president.  That said, I truly do not believe he would make a very good president (nonetheless, I still think he would be far better than of the Republicans who currently seem capable of capturing the nomination).

Among other reasons, I think that he really does have an overly-simplistic view of politics.  He is, in short, a hedgehog.  Political Psychologist Phil Tetlock has done a lot of great work looking at expert prediction as a matter of being a hedgehog or a fox– here’s a nice summary:

It’s a matter of judgement style, first expressed by the ancient Greek warrior poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things; the hedgehog one great thing.” The idea was later expanded by essayist Isaiah Berlin. In Tetlock’s interpretation, Hedgehogs have one grand theory (Marxist, Libertarian, whatever) which they are happy to extend into many domains, relishing its parsimony, and expressing their views with great confidence. Foxes, on the other hand are skeptical about grand theories, diffident in their forecasts, and ready to adjust their ideas based on actual events.

The aggregate success rate of Foxes is significantly greater, Tetlock found, especially in short-term forecasts. And Hedgehogs routinely fare worse than Foxes, especially in long-term forecasts. They even fare worse than normal attention-paying dilletantes — apparently blinded by their extensive expertise and beautiful theory. Furthermore, Foxes win not only in the accuracy of their predictions but also the accuracy of the likelihood they assign to their predictions— in this they are closer to the admirable discipline of weather forecasters.

The Atlantic’s David Graham clearly sees Sanders in the Hedgehog vein and Hillary as the fox.  Graham:

Sanders knows that what the country needs—the only thing it needs—is a political and economic revolution. Clinton knows the country needs progressive policies on a range of matters and a pragmatic, realistic strategy to implement them…

That divide was clear from their opening statements, with Sanders immediately jumping to his familiar mantra about a rigged economy and a corrupt campaign-finance scheme. Clinton’s answer was not so laser focused, discussing a general need for the nation to “live up to our values in the 21st century,” and checking off not just the economy, but racism, sexism, and more. This split is not new, of course, but with Martin O’Malley off the stage and out of the race, and the Democratic contest tighter than ever, the division has never been so clear. It led to an unusually interesting debate, with the two candidates frequently addressing each other directly and delving into detail.

At times, it was clear why Sanders’s hedgehog approach has been so popular with many Democrats—the ones who nearly delivered him an upset win in the Iowa caucuses, and the ones in New Hampshire who favor him by some 20 points in polls. That was especially true as they squabbled over who is a true progressive and as Clinton tried to defend her highly remunerative speeches to Goldman Sachs. But at other times, it seemed more like a limitation. Quizzed on foreign policy, Sanders seemed at sea about events overseas.

Yes, there’s some advantages to being a hedgehog– and Graham points them out.  But it’s pretty clear you want a president that’s a fox.  And say what you will, there’s no way that Sanders is a fox.   (And for what it’s worth, James Fallows, as astute a political observer as there is, endorses Graham’s characterization).

And while we’re at it, there’s honestly few people in my experience who get how government really works as well as Norm Ornstein (Ornstein is a Political Science PhD who has somehow kept affiliation with the American Enterprise Institute while being a centrist and remarkably straight-shooter on the problems with the modern GOP).  Anyway, Ornstein is quite skeptical of Sanders’ potential to be an effective president:

Let’s say Sanders is accurate enough that his nomination would lead to his election via a bump in turnout from young voters and other populists disgusted by inequality, the billionaire class privilege and the distorted campaign-money system. Let’s say that he survives the billion dollars that might be spent by the Koch brothers’ alliance, the business community, the Republican candidate, and the Republican Party to destroy him as an unreconstructed socialist who will raise everybody’s taxes…

The odds that a Sanders victory would lead to a Democratic House or a majority of more than one in the Senate are very slim…

Republicans, no doubt, would have the same approach they had when Obama first got elected in a sweeping party victory, voting as a united parliamentary minority against every presidential initiative…

So all of Sanders’s initiatives would start as non-starters. [all emphases mine] Here, his theory of election and governance comes into play. He would go to the public, a public disgusted with Washington and its corrupt ties to the billionaire class and to business, and force members of Congress to their knees, shifting the debate and the agenda his way…

One of the enduring themes of our democracy is that inscribed in the Capitol, a quote from Alexander Hamilton: “Here, sir, the people govern.” But the notion that public opinion governs the agenda or the actions of Congress is, at best, a stretch. Going over the heads of Congress has long been a staple of frustrated presidents, and it has almost never worked; see Bill Clinton on health care and George W. Bush on Social Security among other recent examples. And these days, with most congressional districts resembling homogeneous echo chambers, created by a combination of people sorting themselves geographically and the distortions of redistricting, national public opinion has limited bearing on congressional leaders…

Sanders as president would be left with two main options: reduce his goals to aim for more incremental progress, or adopt a defensive approach to keep Obama’s policies from being rolled back—exactly what he has condemned in Hillary Clinton’s approach to governance. And while Sanders has been a more effective lawmaker than Cruz (or Rubio, for that matter, as demonstrated by Rick Santorum’s embarrassing failure on Morning Joe to find one accomplishment for his endorsee) there is little evidence that he has or could build the kinds of relationships with other members of Congress, or find ways to move the now humongous boulder up the hill (or Hill) of a thoroughly dysfunctional governing process. And, of course, he would face the deep disappointment of the activists he has inspired…

Could Clinton do better? Yes. First, she has an entirely realistic understanding of where American politics are, something she would carry into the White House on the first day. Progress can be made, on health delivery, financial regulation, the tax system, energy and infrastructure, but it will be a series of incremental steps, a tenth or a quarter of a loaf at a time. Second, in her time in the Senate she showed an impressive ability to build relationships with her Republican colleagues; many of them privately praise her even as they will do their duty and condemn her through the campaign. And she knows enough about the executive branch to use its tools effectively early on to protect the Obama legacy and extend it a bit further…

No candidate now running will transform the system in 2016. But some candidates would have an easier time governing through the dysfunction. Ron Brownstein and others have noted that facing that reality could seriously hamper Hillary Clinton in her outreach to voters demanding inspiration, not perspiration. That could well be true. But it also reflects her realistic understanding of the limits of American politics in this unfortunate day and age.

Is Hillary, a great leader, inspiring, lacking personal baggage, etc.?  God no.  Does she represent a politician who is 1) more likely to win a general election than Bernie? and 2) a Democrat who is actually more likely to accomplish policy goals liberals would prefer?  I would say the balance of the evidence very strongly points to yes on both.


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