The power of Trump (and PID)

Great column from Thomas Edsall taking a deep dive into some really interesting recent political science research.  So, we know that Trump supporters will stick with him when he is blatantly racist, when he brags about groping women, when he is breathtakingly incompetent, (probably) if he actually shot someone on 5th Avenue, but what if he openly advocated Democratic policy positions?

Well, the research from Jeremy Pope and Michael Barber shows that the more you identify as Republican, the more you will follow along with Trump.  Edsall:

Many Republican voters, including self-identified strong conservatives, are ready and willing to shift to the left if they’re told that that’s the direction Trump is moving.

Michael Barber and Jeremy C. Pope, political scientists at Brigham Young University, reported in their recent paper “Does Party Trump Ideology? Disentangling Party and Ideology in America,” that many Republican voters are:

malleable to the point of innocence, and self-reported expressions of ideological fealty are quickly abandoned for policies that — once endorsed by a well-known party leader — run contrary to that expressed ideology.

Those most willing to adjust their positions on ten issues ranging from abortion to guns to taxes are firm Republicans, Trump loyalists, self-identified conservatives and low information Republicans.

The Barber-Pope study suggests that for many Republicans partisan identification is more a tribal affiliation than an ideological commitment.

Many partisans are, in effect, more aligned with the leader of their party than with the principles of the party. (Although Barber and Pope confined their study to Republicans, they note that Democrats may “react in similar ways given the right set of circumstances.”)

What I thought was particularly interesting (in the linked paper, but not shown in Edsall’s piece) was the fact that the Trump effect was much more potent than “Republicans in Congress” on bringing GOP voters to a more liberal position.

And some more (depressing) insight:

I asked both Barber and Pope of Brigham Young what their thoughts on American politics are now that Trump has been in office eight months.

Pope argued in an email that there has been too much emphasis on polarization and not enough on partisanship.

While elites — elected officials and party activists — are ideologically polarized, the best the general public “can manage is a kind of tribal partisanship that does not really reflect the content of the elite discussion,” Pope wrote:

Citizens pick a team, but they don’t naturally think like the team leadership does. And when Trump tells Republicans to think in a new way, lots of people happily adopt that new position because they were never that committed to the old ideas anyway. They’re just committed to the label.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate, in Pope’s view, are struggling to come to terms with a hard truth: that much of the Republican electorate

is not really interested in the conservative project as expressed by Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell or the Freedom Caucus. They are hostile to immigrants and rather nationalist in outlook, but not consistently market-oriented or libertarian in their thinking the way that some Republican elites continue to be.

In a separate email, Barber wrote that the commonplace phrase “all politics is identity politics” is a good description “of the state of the Republican Party, and the Democratic Party to a degree.”

He noted that a large corporate tax cut “isn’t really an ideological priority for much of the rank and file” of the Republican Party, but “if it means that their side has ‘won’, then they are in favor of it. More broadly, I think it shows us that teamsmanship is much more important than any particular policy agenda.” …

Third, and most significant, if the Barber-Pope, Broockman-Daniels and Achen-Bartels conclusions are right, American politics is less a competition of ideas and more a struggle between two teams.

In other words, insofar as elections have become primal struggles, and political competition has devolved into an atavistic spectacle, the prospect for a return to a politics of compromise and consensus approaches zero, no matter what temporary accommodations professional politicians make.

Ugh.  It’s almost as if we are stuck in a doom-loop.

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Trump the independent

So, I meant to write a post earlier this week about how Trump is decidedly not an independent, despite a raft of pretty silly columns suggesting he is just because he is willing to work some with Democrats.  Reagan accomplished many of his key agenda items (including real tax reform) by working with Democrats– nobody every suggested he was independent.  Now, obviously, Trump cares little for the Republican party beyond the fact that it is a useful vehicle to feed his desire for power, personal enrichment, and approbation, but that doesn’t make him an independent.  Now Trump maybe has a DACA deal with Democrats.  That still doesn’t make him an independent.  Paul Waldman’s take was my favorite:

Sure, you can consider Trump an independent, so long as you discount the fact that almost everyone he has appointed to any position in the entire government is a Republican, and the executive orders rolling back Obama-era regulations to protect workers, and the dismantling of environmental protection going on at his EPA, and the sabotage of the Affordable Care Act going on at his Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Education’s promotion of for-profit education, and the failed effort to repeal the ACA and gut Medicaid, and the upcoming tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and the Wall Street executives put in charge of financial oversight, and the anti-gay efforts the administration has undertaken, and his ban on transgender Americans serving in the military, and the long list of conservative judges he has appointed, and the huge increase in military spending he wants, and the administration’s attacks on abortion rights, and his travel ban, and his decision to end DACA, and his bogus voter fraud commission, and his winks and nods to neo-confederates and the alt-right, and his pardon of authoritarian racist Joe Arpaio, and his pullout from the Paris climate accord, and his potential pullout from the Iran nuclear deal.

Other than those things, though, he’s been totally independent, not at all doing what Republicans want.

Waldman got his start as a media and politics guy, so I think this part of his take is particularly useful:

So you may be wondering why a bunch of smart and plugged-in journalists would be drawn to the idea that Trump isn’t governing like a Republican. There are a few reasons, the most important of which is the media’s insatiable need for novelty. It’s called the “news,” not the “olds” or the “sames” (a number of other languages use the same construction, with the word for “news” being the plural of “new”). An agreement on the debt ceiling is an opportunity to say that things have changed, which is what we in the media always want to say. All the other things that are unique and novel about Trump—we’ve certainly never had a president so petulant and ignorant before!—can lead one to conclude that everything he does is different from what another Republican would have done, so there’s an impulse to say that he’s different on policy as well.

And while it almost certainly isn’t something they’re consciously attempting to argue, I suspect that another reason reporters might want to assert that Trump is an independent is that it serves as a defense of the two-party system and the larger stability of our democracy. One way to look at Trump is that he’s the logical product of a party that has set about in recent years to promote fear of immigrants, distrust of scientific authority, the specific interests of white people, the belief that all problems have easy solutions, and a contempt not just for the media but for the idea of objective truth itself. Trump is proof positive that if you say Both Sides Do It, you’re completely wrong.

On the other hand, if Trump is an anomaly who stands outside the two parties and got elected essentially by accident, then the system is basically fine. Once he’s gone and all this madness has come to its merciful end, we can return to the way things were without asking whether there’s a profound rot within the GOP and within America itself that allowed this toxic buffoon to become his party’s nominee and then the president.

That would be a nice thought. If only it were true.

And Hans Noel with a nice political science perspective:

To be very clear, everything Trump has accomplished has come from his acting as a Republican:

  • He won the Republican nomination by appealing to Republican voters who were frustrated with existing Republicans.
  • He won the general election by appealing to Republican voters who would vote for any Republican before they voted for a typical Democrat.
  • His agenda is mostly the Republican agenda. He nominated Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court because Republican-aligned interests told him to. He campaigned on the idea that the Affordable Care Act didn’t do enough, and then backed a repeal bill that moves in the opposite direction.

What’s more, the parts of the Trump agenda that aren’t very Republican — trade protectionism, the wall, health reform that would increase coverage — have been dead ends…

Why? Because Trump isn’t a team player. He wants to make his own deals, and he’s not well-versed in all the deals that are being made around him — all the deals that are embodied in a well-functioning political party.

But each party represents a history of deals that can’t just be ignoredA political party is a coalition of political actors, from politicians to voters, who coordinate to get things done in a democracy. This means they have to set aside some differences. Someone says, “Okay, I want to restrict abortions, and you want to pay fewer taxes.” (Or “I want police to be more accountable in how they treat the black community, and you want a higher minimum wage.”) “How about we join forces and get both things?” And since there are so many people and so many issues, these trade-offs become complicated and are constantly renegotiated. This gets messy. Parties are institutions that manage those trade-offs, from nominations to campaigns to legislation to administration.

Almost every real accomplishment of the Trump administration has been something that Republicans have been working on for some time. But credit Republicans (and the allied conservative movement) as much as you credit Trump.

And, of course, Trump’s self-conception is quite reliant on himself as a dealmaker.  If he makes a deal, he’ll consider it a “win” period.

And this.

The voter fraud commission fraud

Jennifer Rubin’s column at the Post is titled “right turn.”  Rubin basically believes in conservative policies, but she’s no knee-jerk partisan and it seems that the horrendous turn of the GOP under Trump just keeps driving her further away from the Republican Party.  This column on the fraudulent and dangerous voter fraud commission could have easily been written by one of the Post’s “liberal” columnists.  Anyway, it’s good stuff.  The commission, of course, is horrible stuff:

Yes, a partisan politician — did we mention he’s running for governor? — and lawyer who writes for an alt-right publication known for hyperbole, exaggeration and outrightfalsehoods is simultaneously leading a commission that has set out to find the impossible, namely nonexistent evidence of large-scale voting fraud. In an outrage-filled administration, this ranks near the top of the list…

Things went from bad to worse on Tuesday when a memo sent by email surfaced to Attorney General Jeff Sessions from Hans von Spakovsky, a controversial member of the panel, that objected to seating Democrats or mainstream Republicans on the commission. Von Spakovsky initially denied seeing the letter (let alone writing it) but was outed when his think tank, the Heritage Foundation, sought to distance itself from a blatantly partisan initiative…

The entire outfit is plainly unserious and unfit to conduct any credible study. Walter Shaub, senior director of ethics at the CLC and former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, tells me: “They’re not even working hard at the pretense of fairly balanced proceedings. It’s clear they’re trying to leverage governmental authority to lend credibility to implausible claims of widespread voter fraud, while downplaying the urgent issue of foreign interference in our elections.” …

We have an entity operating under the auspices of the federal government funded by taxpayer dollars for obvious partisan purposes.

Former Republican ethics counsel Richard Painter tells me, “There’s more than enough evidence of a Hatch Act violation,” referring to the law that prohibits government officials from politicking on the job or using government resources for partisan ends. He notes that while Cabinet officials may get dinged for appearing at a political event, this is “a hundred times worse.”

He argues that a commission dealing with something as serious as voting was flawed from the start. “It’s absolutely critical that these be bipartisan,” Painter says. “If not, they’ll be subject to abuse. And here when you dig down it’s clearly an abuse.” …

Former Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller says Congress needs to act. “This commission was conceived from a lie — that millions of fraudulent votes were cast in last year’s election — and everything it has done since has been in furtherance of that lie,” he says. “We now know that one of its leading members sees it as a partisan instrument aimed at helping the Republican Party, writing in plain language what has always been obvious. It’s time for Congress to step in and shut this commission down or they own its assault on democracy.”

In short, the commission is a farce. [emphasis mine]

Like much of the Trump administration, this really is Banana Republic stuff.  And oh-so-depressing that the vast majority of the GOP just blithely accepts it.

The mind of Bannon

Wow– that 60 Minutes interview was something.  And that Bannon is a great psuedo-intellectual talker.  I think he has earned from News Gingrich the mantle of “dumb person’s idea of a smart person.”  Jamelle Bouie:

As both chairman for Donald Trump’s campaign and onetime chief strategist for his White House, Steve Bannon cultivated a reputation for a kind of vulgar brilliance—the erudition of an intellectual matched with the instincts of, in his words, a “street fighter.” And the political press has obliged this image…

His recent statements and White House record show someone skilled at self-promotion but unable to advance a coherent (or even accurate) narrative or take advantage of political opportunity.

As for Bannon’s alleged tactical genius? His ability to craft potent messages against Hillary Clinton lost its utility on the day after the election. What we should judge instead is his seven months as “chief strategist,” where, far from bolstering the president, he led him into a series of missteps and blunders, including a de facto “Muslim ban” that immediately mobilized large parts of the public against him. You can see the fruits of Bannon’s influence in Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, a response that earned near-universal condemnation from both parties and large numbers of Americans. What has Steve Bannon helped President Trump accomplish? Nothing, save a low and sinking approval rating.

Bannon’s carefully cultivated reputation obscures the truth. Far from being a mastermind or a “street fighter,” he is simply a provocateur, skilled at manipulating and exploiting prejudice—hence his success with Breitbart—but unable to do much else. [emphases mine]

Yep.  What I especially liked, though was Will Saletan’s column on how Bannon’s views of Trump really do resemble  fascism (certainly, in over-used term these days).  It was jarring to  hear Bannon’s political philosophy so starkly laid out as little more than leader worship with little concern for deeper principles.  Saletan:

The term “fascism” is thrown around too casually by the left, as “socialism” is by the right. But fascism has a genuine meaning based on past cases, and you can see its themes in Bannon’s interview. Fascism’s core idea is allegiance to a leader in the name of national greatness. What distinguishes fascism from republicanism is how he responds to conflicts between the leader and countervailing principles or institutions. A republican welcomes such conflicts as ways to challenge and check the power of the executive. A fascist, perceiving these conflicts as obstacles to national unity, seeks to obliterate them and to consolidate power.

Bannon takes the latter approach. In the 60 Minutes interview, Charlie Rose asks him about the infamous video in which Trump boasted to Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush about groping women. Bannon only sees it as a loyalty issue:

Bannon: They [voters] don’t care.

Rose: They do care about respect for women.

Bannon: They do, but—

Rose: And it’s not just locker-room talk.

Bannon: That’s locker-room talk. The Billy Bush thing is locker-room talk. … Billy Bush Saturday to me is a litmus test. … When you side with a man, you side with him. OK? The good and the bad. You can criticize him behind [closed doors], but when you side with him, you have to side with him. And that’s what Billy Bush weekend showed me.

What’s striking here isn’t that Bannon tries to justify Trump’s remarks, but that he thinks justification doesn’t matter. Siding with the leader is more important than whether the leader’s behavior is “good” or “bad.” And if you don’t side with the leader, you must be purged, to illustrate the price of dissent. Bannon signals that he blocked New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie from an administration job because Christie failed this litmus test. “Christie, because of Billy Bush weekend, was not looked at for a Cabinet position,” says Bannon.

Damn.  Saletan is very much right in his analysis.  And no, we are not becoming a fascist country, but it is disturbing as hell that somebody with these ideas is so influential.  When it comes to the positive meanings of “American,” we can safely say that Trump’s presidency is profoundly un-American.

 

Our 19th century president

This 538 piece from Julia Azari is terrific.  I think it is going to be supplemental reading on the Presidency topic for my Intro class.  It fits nicely with some articles I was sharing a few weeks ago about Trump really not wanting to be president.  The problem is, he wants to be a 19th century president in our 21st century world.

Nineteenth-century presidents are the ones that, with a few exceptions like Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson, most people can’t remember or recognize. In terms of political outlook and accomplishments, they are a somewhat diverse lot, but several factors tie these men, and the way they approached the presidency, together. The presidency changed dramatically in the 20th century; the modern presidency is big, designed to deal with the challenges of an expansive federal government and an interconnected world. But in the 19th century, the presidency was a smaller office, with less of a policy role. Presidents’ staffs were nothing like the thousands of employees who now make up what some call the “presidential branch.” The U.S. played a smaller role in global politics than it does now, and the president played a smaller role in American political life…

Policy-making was much more Congress-centered in the 19th century. The clearest examples of this are probably from the 1850s, when presidents Zachary Taylor and Franklin Pierce left the difficult task of dealing with the growing crisis of slavery to Congress. (Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas urged Pierce to support the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which he eventually did – rather than the other way around.) After the Civil War, presidents grew less passive, but members of Congress still asserted their own agendas on issues like tariffs and currency — the big economic questions of the time. Presidents were more likely to be led by their parties than to lead them.

So far, Trump has mostly followed the 19th-century model, even if that wasn’t exactly his intention. Despite his clashes with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over health care, Trump has not shownan interest in the details of policy. He hasn’t fully staffed the executive branch and hasn’t appointed staffor Cabinet officials with a lot of relevant policy experience. This reflects older patterns in which the national government was smaller and did much less, and presidents didn’t have the extensive professional staff they have now…

While 18th- and 19th-century presidents commented on the major issues of their day, sometimes drawing on moral and religious appeals, this usually took place in speeches that had already been scheduled for other purposes — like an inaugural or farewell address. Presidents, and their particular values, weren’t omnipresent in Americans’ lives in the way they are now. Even Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which described the moral purpose of the Civil War, was simply an invitation to “say a few words” at a cemetery dedication ceremony. In contrast, televised national addresses and in-person remarks have become a standard way for modern presidents to respond to a tragedy or crisis.

Trump’s approach has been different. He seems to prefer addressing the public through Twitter and campaign-style rallies over the conventional prime-time address. Twitter obviously didn’t exist in the 1850s, but Trump’s preference for partisan media is also a throwback to older practices. And he hasn’t harnessed the moral power of the office, to say the least. This was perhaps most evident in his initial statement and subsequent press conference following the violent confrontations in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, which (directly and indirectly) led to three deaths. Trump drew criticism from across the political spectrum for his references to violence “on many sides” and his mention of his family’s winery in Charlottesville. His next chance at non-political leadership will come on Tuesday, when he’s scheduled to visit areas of Texas hit by Hurricane Harvey.

Opting out of moral leadership turns out to be a serious departure from modern presidential norms…

The office of the presidency has changed a great deal and in innumerable ways, including undergoing efforts to formally separate politics from executive branch service and becoming subject to new expectations about how presidents will speak and lead. It changed, in part, because presidents themselves sought to expand their power and influence.

It’s possible that Trump can transform the job into something different, altering public expectations and the office’s guiding values. But there’s probably no going back. So far the mismatch has mostly brought Trump political trouble, with low approval ratings and few legislative accomplishments. At the same time, Trump leads a party that has long advocated, at least on paper, for a smaller federal government, something that is compatible with a 19th-century approach to the Oval Office.

If Trump can’t sell the public and his fellow party members on his presidential style, however, he may face the same fate as 19th-century presidents like Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and Chester Arthur: a challenge from within the party the keeps him from serving a second term.

 

Schools for profit

The title of this NYT magazine feature really captures it, “Michigan Gambled on Charter Schools.  Its Children Lost.”  In fairness, properly done, there seems to be a useful place for charter schools in our broader public school ecosystem.  Alas, under the influence of wealthy ideologues, like Betsy DeVos, Michigan charter schools have come to represent the worst pathologies of Republican ideology.

First, they are incredibly poorly regulated, because, obviously, all government regulation is bad.  Secondly, they exist primarily as a profit-making venture for many.  Now, this is a problem beyond Michigan (including NC) and so corrosive.  I’m sorry, but it just creates a set of horribly perverse incentives for private businesses to look to be profiting of off K-12 education (and higher education, too, for that matter).  At least maybe the rest of states can see Michigan as a model of what not to do.  Alas, I suspect few Republican state legislators will be so enlightened.

Some key excerpts:

The story of Carver is the story of Michigan’s grand educational experiment writ small. It spans more than two decades, three governors and, now, the United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, whose relentless advocacy for unchecked “school choice” in her home state might soon, her critics fear, be going national. But it’s important to understand that what happened to Michigan’s schools isn’t solely, or even primarily, an education story: It’s a business story. Today in Michigan, hundreds of nonprofit public charters have become potential financial assets to outside entities, inevitably complicating their broader social missions. In the case of Carver, interested parties have included a for-profit educational management organization, or E.M.O., in Georgia; an Indian tribe in a remote section of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; and a financial firm in Minnesota. “That’s all it is now — it’s moneymaking,” Darrel Redrick, a charter-school proponent and an administrator at Carver at the time I visited, told me. [emphases mine]

Redrick can pinpoint the precise moment he experienced this revelation: “One of my former principals — this is like 10 years ago, at another school — he said: ‘Redrick, I can tell you why we don’t kick kids out. This child right here represents $6,700.’ ” The principal was referring to the per-pupil state funding at the time. “And if you put out 10 kids, Red,” the principal went on, “that’s about $70,000. And where are we going to get that money?” …

In a 2002 book that Miron wrote with Christopher Nelson called “What’s Public About Charter Schools?” the authors consider two different charter models deployed by states: competitive and collaborative. While the collaborative approach encouraged the public and private sectors to “share innovations,” Michigan favored the other approach: “Engler wanted to lift public schools,” Miron told me, “but he believed in getting as much competition as quickly as possible. It became the Wild West state: Push, push, push.” While other states — Miron cited Ohio, Texas and Arizona — also emerged as exemplars of the “competitive” model, most have since reintroduced some regulation. “Michigan is still an outlier,” Miron said. “No state comes near us when it comes to privatization.”

The results have been stark. The 2016 report by the Education Trust-Midwest noted:

Michigan’s K-12 system is among the weakest in the country and getting worse. In little more than a decade, Michigan has gone from being a fairly average state in elementary reading and math achievement to the bottom 10 states. It’s a devastating fall. Indeed, new national assessment data suggest Michigan is witnessing systemic decline across the K-12 spectrum. White, black, brown, higher-income, low-income — it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live….

 

The “L” word

For a long time, Republicans did a great job demonizing the term “liberal” to the point that liberals first went from denying, then onto insisting, that, no they were not “liberal” but “progressive.”  I’ve always been happy to be a liberal and am pleased to see the rest of the Democratic party has finally caught up.  Here’s a chart from a recent Pew posting:

Worth noting, too, that this is not just generational replacement, but at every age level, Democrats are more willing to embrace the liberal label:

As for that really interesting gap based on race/ethnicity?  I don’t know what’s going on, but that’s got to be good for a Political Science publication or two (and, hmmmm, I do need an idea for an MPSA paper).

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