We will not turn red voters into blue. We will just have to outlive them.

Someone last night said that in that Georgia race the turn out was high for both Democrat and Republicans, but that the district just had more Republicans (and Republican leaning independents) than Democrats (and Democrat leaning independents). Still, though, it was close. Their side had only a few more votes than our side. I want to see the age data, though. If their side had lots more of the older voters than our side, and we had lots more of the younger voters than their side, then every election cycle in that district there will be less of their voters. This is how districts shift. This is how Glendale, California, for instance, went from being solid Republican to solid Democrat in twenty years. The Republican majority died off. Right now there are still lots of Baby Boomers around. Baby Boomers, despite their Woodstock image, are the most conservative generation since the 1920’s. It’s they who provide the winning margins to Trump and Trumpist candidates. And they are at that wonderful age where they vote as if their lives depended on it. Old people vote way more than young people and even more than middle aged people. That is a basic rule of American politics–old people just love to vote. Boomers are in their late fifties to early seventies now, a giant grey haired demographic bubble of a voting machine. Hence, we have Donald Trump. And wherever there’s a district full of Boomers, Trumpism will prevail. But it can’t last. It can’t even last a decade. Boomers are dying off, and will begin dying off faster and faster. And those rotten kids coming up to replace them are the most left wing bunch since the New Deal. So in the short run there will be lots of disappointments, a lot of elections where Democrats think they could win but get beaten by a wave of silver hairs who almost never miss the chance to vote. Add in the effects of voter suppression by the GOP and it just gives them an even better edge. It’s going to take ten or twenty years before this Trump cancer is eliminated from the body politic. He’ll be long dead and he will still have followers. But eventually they will disappear. In the short term those opposed to him, being that we vote less often than they do because we tend to be younger, will have to make extraordinary get out the vote efforts. Demographics more than any other factor drive voting trends, and voting trends decide elections. You will continue to be disappointed that we cannot seem to win over red districts. But there will be fewer and fewer red districts as the years go by. In the short term, unfortunately, Trump will do incredible damage. I wish there was way to avoid that short of waiting till 2020, but there isn’t. Even if he were to be removed from office, his people would still fill a Pence Administration, nor would a rock ribbed Indiana conservative like Pence make any move to undo much of Trump’s legacy. We are stuck with this for three more years, and it will take an extraordinary get out the vote effort and unity on our part to excise this monstrosity from the body politic. There will be no revolution, no magic wand, nor will Republicans decide they agree with everything we believe in and join us. We will not turn red voters into blue. We will just have to outlive them.

The New Deal plus Reaganomics equals too many luxury hotels.

Just saw that Bergamont Station is being plowed under to make way for, you guessed it, another luxury hotel. As if Santa Monica has a desperate need for another luxury hotel. It’s nothing but luxury hotels. But the thing about luxury hotels is that they provide enormous tax revenue for a city, and so the more the GOP cuts the federal budget of funds that would eventually (mostly via the state) make their way down to cities to pay for services, the more cities are reliant on big businesses like luxury hotels to provide local tax revenue. And the more city services and urban planning a city engages in, the more it needs the revenue of things like luxury hotels. Quality of life is expensive, and quality of life in a place like Santa Monica is very expensive. People who live there expect the city to provide very nice things. Which means a city like Santa Monica needs to come up with lots of tax revenue. To the City of Santa Monica, Bergamont Station was a big hole that didn’t make bring in much tax revenue. Fill that hole with a luxury hotel and revenue comes pouring in. So some of the worst offenders of tearing down small businesses and replacing them with mega developments are often progressive cities like Santa Monica that provide a wide array of city and social services. I watched Glendale do the same thing, tearing down all these little mom and pop places and replacing them with the then highly profitable shopping malls. What happens now that shopping malls are closing down I do not know. Nor do I know what will happen when there are not enough tourists and business groups to fill luxury hotels. But in the meantime mom and pop businesses and creative spaces like Bergamont Station are seized by eminent domain and leveled to make way for rich people spending lots of money. The city can pay its bills, provide social services, fix streets, build libraries and put on summer concert series. We’ve come to accept all this as necessary. A lot of people get hurt. More people get helped. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. It’s all quite logical and very Vulcan. It’s a very mid-20th century sort of thinking that goes back to the New Deal, actually, the same sort of thinking that condemned whole neighborhoods and replaced them with shiny identical apartment towers with affordable rents. That is the justification for tearing down Bergamont Station, anyway. Leveling a popular art colony and cultural hang and replacing it with a hotel that can help Santa Monica pay its bills. But that need to tear it down, the reason that Santa Monica needs to tear beautiful spaces like Bergamont Station down and build a hotel is due to late 20th century Republican fiscal policy. Tax cutting Reaganomics. Cut taxes, cut the budget, reduce pay outs to state and local governments and voila, Santa Monica needs to find a revenue stream, quick. Every city in America, big and small, is facing the same problem. Combine New Deal social policy and Reaganomics fiscal policy and instead of affordable apartments you wind up with way too many luxury hotels none of us can afford to stay in. I wonder what Robert Moses would say. He might think Boss Tweed was running things again. He might be right.

Sorry people, but 2018 will likely not be a very good year for Democrats.

I can tell you all right now that unless there is an economic disaster and medical insurance catastrophe, 2018 might not be a very good year for Democrats. We are highly unlikely to win the Senate–indeed, we are likely to wind up with fewer Democratic senators than we have now–and the House might be a wash, maybe a few more Democrats or a few more Republicans, but we will not take the House. We might well expand our governorships, and maybe regain some of the legislative seats we lost last year (I believe we lost a thousand seats across the fifty states, an absolute calamity that few Democratic voters are even aware of). Perhaps if some vast and horrible scandal overtakes Trump then things could be different. Barring that, given how Trump’s supporters are spread across lots and lots of rural and small town America while Democrats are crammed into urban and suburban districts mostly on the coasts, there will be more districts with a Trump majority than with anti-Trump majorities. Rural voters are over represented as rural districts have smaller average populations than urban districts. And of course as far as the Senate goes, small states have the same number of seats as big states. So we will at best chip away at the GOP majority in the House, but in the Senate, 2018 is the year of the rural voter. And as Millennials move to where the jobs are, in the big city megalopolises found mostly along the coasts, the average age in these rural parts keeps aging, and older voters–us baby boomers–just adore Donald Trump. Only a third of the senate is up for grabs, but alas most of the states in 2018 are in those aging rural and small town states where Trump did really well. That’s just the way it rolls. This mess is unlikely to end until 2020, provided we don’t mess that up again. It might not end until 2024, by which time a whole lot of baby boomers will have died off and Millennials will be hitting that age when people finally start to vote regularly. Some candidate who probably none of us have heard of now and is thoroughly progressive will win that year, and our long national nightmare will be over. I’ll be 67.

The source of Trump’s power

I think many of us–maybe most of us–have forgotten that Betsy Devos’ purpose is to essentially shut down the Dept of Education. She wasn’t brought in to run the place but to dismantle it; not to support public education but to begin its replacement by private education. And she could be very good at this sort of thing. It would be like putting a hardcore pacifist–Father Philip Berrigan, say–in charge of the Defense Department. The goal would be to reduce the department and its policies to the lowest, least intrusive level possible. You have to understand that. That’s why, to her partisans, all the objections to her lack of expertise were completely irrelevant. Because hopefully there will not be much of a department left to run anyway.

The same thing with the head of the EPA. And HHS. They don’t need to know how to maintain, all they need to do is tear down. This is revolution. It’s not reaction. It’s revolution. We are the counter-revolution. This is as deep and fundamental a struggle as there has been in this country, as profound as the change brought about by the Reagan Revolution and the New Deal. The thing was, both FDR and Reagan swept the electorate and Congress in mighty waves. Trump won with three million fewer votes than the loser, and holds a small lead in Congress. His power now is based almost completely on the terror among establishment Republicans of the hold that Trump has on his base. And that base includes most–perhaps two thirds or more–of the Republican party. That is, when Republicans face their primary voters, they will be looking at almost all hardcore Trump supporters. And if Republicans in the House turn against Trump, it is assumed that they will be swept away in the primary by rabidly pro-Trump voters who throw all their support to a pro-Trump challenger who will be backed to the hilt by a vengeful Donald Trump.

Just about every single Republican member of the House faces this problem. Only a third of the Senate does (only a third of the Senate’s six year terms are up for election every two years), though all but one of the eight GOP Senate seats coming up in 2018 are in states that Trump won strongly (Nevada being the exception.) It is this, and only this, that keeps the entirety of the House GOP and all but a few of the Senate GOP licking Trump’s boots every day, no matter what he says. And it is this, and only this, that is Trump’s source of political power right now. But as long as Trump holds the GOP in congress by the short hairs like this, just about every outrageous cabinet pick and every executive order and every crazy tweet and every idiotic foreign policy stumble will be supported by this Republican Congress. And unless Trump’s base cracks–and there’s nothing saying even blatantly treasonous revelations about he and Putin could shake their frightening devotion–Trump will still maintain this hold on his party. This is why he seems to play to his base only. His devoted followers represent maybe a third of the electorate, but they are eighty or ninety per cent of those who vote in Republican primaries. And that is all Trump needs to carry out his revolution. Successful revolutionaries are rarely popular with everybody. But they know who in power to shoot to get their way. Of course, unlike Steve Bannon’s role model Lenin, Trump can’t actually execute anyone. But he can tweet with deadly accuracy. The first Republican congressman who gets out of line will find that out.

The electoral college and Trump-crazy Baby Boomers and everything else

For years I have been harping on the dangers of the electoral college, on how small states and rural populations are over represented in the Senate and House, and how we baby boomers are the most conservative generation since the 1920’s. I could be pretty shrill and annoying about it. Earlier this year it dawned on me that despite all the attention on Millennials, that it is Boomers who are at the apex of political power in 2016. Trying to be more wryly ironic than shrill and annoying, I wrote that we’d have to wait eight or even sixteen years before things really swung against the GOP and conservatism. Which is probably a safe bet. It’s going to be a long, long fight. Just before the recent debacle, when everyone knew it was to be a Democratic landslide and crushing defeat of conservatism, I was wondering how the New Deal had remained the ideology of the land and core of the government for 48 years (1932-1980) but Reaganism had lasted only 36 years (1980-2016). I was wondering what accounted for those 12 extra years that the Left had managed over the Right.

Oops. Turns out it was not twelve less years of Reaganism (or the mutated variants thereof) at all. Conservatives could keep trashing the country for twelve more years…even though they get less votes every election cycle. Democratic candidates at every level get more actual votes, when you meaninglessly add all of them up together, than Republican candidates. There are more voters in the United States who are not conservative than there are conservatives. Yet look who’s running the show. Turns out liberals are over represented in bigger states and in urban areas which means we wind up with less representation per vote. And then there’s the fact that baby boomers vote conservative (despite all their Woodstock Generation pretensions), and they vote more, much more, than people younger than them. That’s true of generations in general, voters over fifty vote at a higher rate than those under fifty, the further you go down in age the less the voting percentage. You bitch about kids too lazy to vote now as people bitched about you all not voting enough then. Indeed, turnout in 2000 was much lower than turnout in 2016….you might blame those lazy Gen Xers for eight years of Bush/Cheney….

It’s just a political fact of life–old people vote more. Old people tend to be more conservative. And this bunch are especially conservative. I’ve always been struck by how the generations preceding the Boomers–the Greatest and Silent generations (who comes up with these names?)–dumped Goldwater in a landslide. They knew crazy when they saw it. But Boomers saw George W. Bush and voted for him. And now there’s Donald Trump, the Boomer president. I had thought George W. Bush was the quintessential boomer president but Trump takes that cake now. Most Boomers seem to embrace crazy. And when America’s older people (the ones below 70, anyway) are from the largest baby boom in US history, while Millennials were spawned in the lowest (and still declining) birthrate in US history, those older voters will be a powerful presence on election day. It doesn’t help that people live longer now than they did in 1980–about four years longer for males, an entire presidential election cycle, meaning your crazy grandpa gets to vote for a president at an age when his own crazy grandpa was long buried. And it certainly doesn’t help that the part of the Democratic coalition that Democrats have such high hopes for–Hispanics–are still voting well below the rate of Whites (and below the rate of Blacks, too). And that so many of the states where Trump did so well this year–and districts where GOP congressional candidates did well–are 80% and more (many much, much more) Caucasian. Even worse that so many of those districts are experiencing a drain of their younger, college educated population–the ones who rejected Trump out of hand–to the coasts, where they pile into larger, urban areas with less congressional representation per capita than their folks have at home. Not to mention those two senate seats no matter how small (or large) the state. Half the United States legislature is based on the notion that the number of voters is irrelevant. The slave south held a headlock on federal policy for sixty years using that two senators per state power. And then in the 20th century the South was able to maintain its ideology of white superiority through that same senatorial power. Eventually the south took over the GOP and with that same small state power has dominated US policy making and resisted the policies of a black president with all the furor and machiavellian genius of John C. Calhoun. That same senatorial dominance means electoral votes out of synch with popular vote. Hence, Trump.

This will not change much in the next four or eight years. The average baby boomer is my age, just coming on sixty, with another twenty years of voting (that is, five presidential elections, ten congressional elections, and about six senatorial elections) left in the average one of us. As boomers get older their voting rate just keeps rising, and it’ll take a decade before attrition–Boomers will die, eventually–surpasses that increasing voting rate and finally drops their numbers beneath those of Gen Xers and Millennials, who will have gotten older and grumpier and more prone to voting by then. Like I said, that is ten years off.. And by then the Hispanic baby boom that accompanied the explosion of Hispanic immigration in the 1980’s-90’s (immigrants always have lots of kids, their kids slow down and grandkids sometimes have no kids at all) will have gotten old enough to finally start voting at a rate approximating whites. Unfortunately they will mostly be in bigger states–California, New York, Florida, Texas–the way the Irish were once mostly in big urban areas that limited their political impact, but nonetheless, it will help to chip away at the white GOP majority. The GOP is at peak strength now, unless, somehow, they suddenly appeal to blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women and people under 40. Which is probably unlikely. Hell, just the opposite.

So what am I getting at? Just hold on, this crazy Trumpist GOP surge cannot last. You will not see a series of Trumpoid presidents. Or an endless GOP majority in congress. But it won’t end right away either. They have a solid eight years ahead of them. Unless, of course, there is some sort of Watergate-scale catastrophe. But I’m not getting my hopes up. I am just waiting for the slow change of generations. That is generally what has flipped the political course of history in this country. We boomers are in our last spasm of power now. Sure we didn’t actually win the popular vote in the presidential race. And for sure more people voted for Democratic candidates than voted for Republicans, again. But just enough older white people are in just the right places. Watch how we 52-70 years olds muck it up for the rest of you. Then again, our parents were gung ho for the Cold War and Viet Nam and nearly blew the world up once or twice. Their parents somehow combined Jim Crow and the New Deal. Every age has its issues. We are yours.

Electoral college

The electoral college is all about congressional representation. Every state has a base of three–for the two senators and minimum one congressional seat. By themselves a small state–there are seven states with one district–have little electoral influence. But as a bloc they have electoral clout.  Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas have 12 electoral votes between them that go GOP almost without fail, as many electoral votes as Washington state yet with less than half the population. But this isn’t as important as it used to be…there are two 3 vote states–Delaware and Vermont–that are solidly Democrat. And when you add up the populations of the GOP’s 4 electoral vote states in the Rockies and Plains, they equal in electoral votes states and population states like Pennsylvania. And a lot of states in the west–Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado–have begun turning regularly blue.

It’s in the bigger states that the Democrats get burned. Were California’s electoral votes allocated on the same population basis as Wyoming’s (plus two for the senators), we would have 202 instead of 55. Texas would have 142. Florida would have 105. New York would have 103. Illinois 68. The problem is that urban and suburban congressional districts tend to be more densely populated than rural districts. The more urban the state, the less the congressional representation. There are thirteen states with an average district size of over 600K people (California’s is over 700K) and only three of those have been reliably red in presidential elections (though at least two of those states, Texas and Georgia, will be purple battleground states within ten years, and probably blue in twenty). And of the 13 states with average congressional delegation size of less than 400K, eight have been reliably red. Democrats as a rule have the underrepresented districts, Republicans the overrepresented. To make things worse, the GOP has gerrymandered a lot of Democrats in some states into huge districts, and themselves into many smaller districts. Ohio’s majority Republican congressional delegation in a majority Democratic state is the most flagrant example….and though it has nothing to do with the electoral college, all those Republican congressmen running for office in their tidy white districts is one of the reasons Trump captured the state this year.

This disparity in congressional district population has been the only thing that has kept the GOP in the presidential game at all. Without it the Democrats would have an overwhelming electoral college majority. Even Trump flipping four reliably blue states this goofy year stills leaves him down by well over a million, maybe even two, in the popular vote. Were congressional districts allocated fairly, the Democrats would gain dramatically in the House of Representatives, and in the electoral college, and the GOP would shrink. Shrink a whole lot. Even so, inevitably, the tide is turning, as rural populations thin out and urban populations expand with kids moving in from the country and immigrants arriving and having 3 to 4 kids instead of the white’s 1 or 2 (or none at all). The white population of conservative suburban districts is aging and dying out  (and will be leaving ghostly tracts of four and five bedroom houses too big for modern families) and is not being replaced by equal numbers of their own–indeed replaced by immigrants (think Orange County). The GOP has been overwhelmingly a baby boomer party–we have been the most conservative generation, by far, since the 1920’s–but we boomers failed to have enough kids to keep the ratio going. In another decade or so the GOP will cave in and become strictly regional, much as the original conservatives, the Federalists did. They elected the first two presidents but were gone by the 1820’s, swamped by the immigrants they hated. The GOP too is pretending that only their demographic truly deserve to vote, deserve even to be here. Alas, there are only so many white people born between 1946 and 1964, and the GOP has adamantly refused to expand beyond them. And their kids and grandkids don’t vote like they do at all. The electoral college will turn blue, even if we don’t ever change it.

As for Trump (I’m writing this the Friday after his election, as my fellow liberals still stumble about shocked and weeping, as I would be, if not for all the Prozac), he is the ultimate Baby Boomer candidate, if not a Boomer himself–he’s one of he Silent Generation, believe it or not–and Boomers are at their peak electoral power now. He may be incoherent half the time, but then wasn’t Bob Dylan? And Trump may come off like a loutish New York version of George Wallace, but then a helluva lot of us voted for George Wallace (a shocking number of the Gene McCarthy voters in 1968 voted for Wallace that November, and voted for Wallace in even bigger numbers in the 1972 primaries, especially in Michigan and Wisconsin.) Trump didn’t win many big states in a big way last Tuesday–Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin combined gave him a razor thin 107,000 vote margin, once all mail in ballots were counted (Hillary stomped all over Trump among those who vote by mail). Still, that was just enough to put all those upper midwest minorities and Gen Xers and Millennials with all their college degrees (far fewer Boomers went to college than did) in their place. You betcha.

There are still loads of us Boomers alive (I was born right smack in the middle of the boom, 1957), and we are at our peak voting years, our 50’s and 60’s. People vote with astonishing regularity at our age (you value regularity at our age) and this year we just happened to be angry and in the right combination of states to give Donald Trump an electoral vote majority with the worst disparity of popular votes ever. Hillary had a higher popular vote margin than not only Al Gore, but more than JFK (1960), Nixon (1968) and maybe even Carter (1976.) It’s like if you don’t win the Super Bowl by more than two touchdowns they give the trophy to the losing team. A constitutional shenanigan, really. As Hillary’s numbers are finally officially tallied–which could take weeks in California, where there is a mountain of mail in ballots, millions of them, being counted by hand–the scale of this shenanigan will dawn on everybody, and the notion of Donald Trump having a mandate for revolution will disappear into thin air. You need to win votes to launch a revolution. FDR did. Reagan did. George W. Bush didn’t. Bush is so now loathed by most Republicans it’s hard to believe he was one of their own, with a GOP approval rate above 90%. There’s not much love in the long run for those who win the electoral college but lose the popular vote–when was the last time you heard nice things about Rutherford B. Hayes or Benjamin Harrison?–and in the 2000 election Bush was down only half a million votes. Trump is down by much more. A popular vote deficit of historic proportions. Huge, even. Big league.

Oh well, all us Boomers will start dying off soon enough–the eldest if us are 70 now, and we used to smoke like chimneys–and Gen Xers and Millennials will finally outvote us in, oh, two election cycles. We’ll still vote plenty, of course, all crotchety and conservative, but we’ll at last be outnumbered by all those rotten kids. And you know how they vote, those rotten kids, overwhelmingly blue, in ratios not seen since FDR’s day. Even as they get grumpy and old themselves they will vote probably twice as Democrat as we do now. Certainly twice as liberal. They are the most liberal bunch since the New Deal. The Reagan Revolution was made possible because those original New Dealers were dying off (about three or four years earlier than we will, a whole election cycle). But the Reagan Revolution will fade the same way, as we Boomers die off. We are witnessing its final thrashings now. The New Deal lasted for 48 years, 1932-1980. The Reagan Revolution might last 40 years, 1980-2020. Apparently Reaganomics contained faster acting seeds of its own destruction. But I digress.

There are likely to be none of these absurd vote winner losing the presidency travesties once we are gone, taking the GOP with us. Once the whites only GOP disappears, there will be no need for imbalanced congressional districts. There will be no advantage of farmers having two or three or times as much political pull as city dwellers, or a rancher in Wyoming having 67 times as much electoral vote representation as a writer in Los Angeles. The electoral college will again be reduced to an archaic afterthought, and not a threat to democracy itself. Or so I hope.

Curt Shilling

Curt Shilling went on Hardball on MSNBC last night to announce his intention to consider running for the Massachusetts Senate seat held by Elizabeth Warren and even though Chris Matthews was easy on him, Shilling almost immediately disintegrated into incoherence. He bitched about everyone dumping on him for his “you’re a Jew” comment on CNN, and then made a big scene out of something he misheard Chris Matthews say. (Matthews said troops, Shilling angrily insisted he’d said truth, and wound up looking the complete fool.) Unless the former Red Sox pitching great can learn to communicate on television, he won’t even make it out of his own primary. I have never witnessed a potential candidate (and one nationally known) so unprepared to run for a statewide office, even in a geographically small state like Massachusetts. He makes Paul LePage of nearby Maine look almost slick and professional in comparison. I’m not saying Elizabeth Warren has nothing to worry about, as these are weird times and one never knows, but head to head in a debate she will reduce him to chopped liver. If this is a sign of the quality of Trump inspired candidates the Republican Party can expect to see for a couple election cycles they are in serious trouble. Either someone in the Massachusetts GOP establishment better send Curt Shilling to candidate school quick, or find someone else to run for the Republican senate nomination who can send him off to the showers for good.

b

Republican civil war

Odds are that the GOP will lose a couple dozen seats in the house this year. It seems as of now highly doubtful that they’ll lose more than that. Very effective gerrymandering by GOP controlled statehouses have left enough Republicans in safe districts that can withstand even a severe drubbing of their presidential candidate and a big increase in Democratic voters. But the irony is that the Republicans in districts that are not safe veer to the more moderate side of the GOP, being that the districts they are in are not conservative enough to have elected a Tea Partier. Democrats will pick up those seats, leaving a GOP majority in the house that, though smaller, will be even more conservative than it is now. Trump won’t win the White House, and a lot of Republican senators will be losing their seats because of Trump and likely losing the majority to the Democrats, but the House will be more Trumpified than it is now. There has been a long running Republican trend since 1980 (maybe since 1978) where every election brings more hard line conservatives into the House than before. In 1994–seven elections after the Reagan landslide in 1980–Newt Gingrich took control of the House GOP and set it firmly to the right. Indeed to the right of Reagan, certainly to the right of George S Bush. Clinton’s national health insurance plan was destroyed by the Gingrich revolution. Fast forward ten more congressional elections and Paul Ryan–more Reagan than Reagan just four years ago–is now far too moderate for most conservatives in the House (and among Republican Party rank and file) and in all likelihood will not be Speaker in 2017. Just four years ago he was hardline conservative. Now he is a RINO. Every Republican you see interviewed seems to see nothing but intra-party civil war and bloodletting. Meanwhile, the demographics in the general population run against them, and their base grows smaller and smaller. Parties do disappear sometimes. The Federalists were gone by the 1820’s after being dominant in the first twenty years of the country. The Whigs elected presidents before the Civil War and were national and growing until they almost instantaneously disappeared in the late 1850’s. But we’ve had two dominant parties since the Civil War, it’s hard to imagine one disintegrating completely. Yet that is what seems to be happening. A surreal time. Perhaps it is just a phase and the GOP will re-emerge. Perhaps it will split into multiple parties. The liberal Democrat in me snickers. The historian in me looks on in astonishment. To think I lived to see this day.

Brokered convention

(Predictions for the nomination races written in early December, 2015)

The last time the GOP had a brokered convention was 1976, when the delegate count was so close a credentials vote–over whether Mississippi’s Ford or Reagan slate of delegates would be seated–was required to break the impasse. Ford’s slate won the vote, but just barely, and he was renominated. But the damage was done and Carter won that year. It was the last gasp of the old Eisenhower GOP, by 1980 Reagan conservatives, embittered by their loss at the 1976 convention, swept the party and convention and the liberal wing (that had been so essential in getting Civil Rights, social security, welfare and environmental laws passed over the objections of Southern Democrats–all of whom are Republicans now) ceased to be. The moderate Republicans clung on longer but are mostly gone. By now the GOP seems split between conservatives and flat out crazy conservatives. So brokered conventions seem to have lasting consequences. The last time the Democrats came close to a brokered convention was 1968 and the repercussions followed into 1972, when the left, furious at the treatment in Chicago in 1968 (tear gassed, among other things), gamed the process and got McGovern nominated. Alas, he was no Ronald Reagan as far as vote getting went, instead he was our Barry Goldwater.

So what does all this mean? Well, the odds of a brokered Democratic convention are near nil, Bernie will be beat solidly and early in the primaries. [Ha! Now there’s a prediction…. Yet Bernie was, actually, he was stomped on early and regularly thereafter, but no one knew in 2015 that he’d be able to raise 200 million dollars online and keep indefatigably pressing on, if never catching up, till the bitter end, and making an exciting and ideologically passionate race of what most of us political junkies thought back then was sure to be a snoozer. But I digress….] And the chances of a brokered Republican convention? Maybe, maybe not. Yet with Trump and now Carson both going mad dog and threatening to bolt the party should it appear there is a party establishment effort to block them, the results for the GOP are dire at best. Right now they are more interested in saving the party–the old Reagan GOP, this time–from being seized by crazed Trump revolutionaries. After all, Reagan’s people had seized the party the same way in 1980, and they know what it means for the old order. But the GOP has been riding Trump’s crazy beast for years now, kissing Rush Limbaugh’s ass and giving in to the extreme right at every opportunity, now suddenly and inexplicably it has turned on them. The GOP had thought all along they could control the reins and there was no danger of anyone Rush Limbaugh-like could ever have a shot at the nomination. But Trump has proven them wrong. There are more Republicans now who think of Trump as one of them than there are not. And if there’s anything a typical Republican hates it’s a RINO (Republican In Name Only), and suddenly all these Trump loving Republican voters consider the party itself to be RINO. As the race develops these next couple months the only thing a Trump voter will hate more than Moslems is another Republican.

Well, maybe. It’s early, and we have no idea what will happen. But keep you eye on Super Tuesday, that is March 1. There are a dozen primaries and caucuses that day, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. If Trump is as popular with Republican voters in those southern and/or Bible Belt states as he is right now in South Carolina (which votes a week earlier), then he could well sweep them all. Toss in some of the other states that day and Trump will come out of Super Tuesday with a juggernaut, and he can pile on southern states Kentucky and Louisiana on March 5, Mississippi on March 8, and three of the five states in the March 15 primary Florida, North Carolina and Missouri. By that date, almost every state south of the Mason-Dixon line has voted in a presidential primary. The north and west dominate the next two months, not that it matters much. Candidates who sweep the south tend to win the nomination, as every single southern state has their primary in the first six weeks of the primary a schedule. It’s one of the ways that southerners control the Republican nomination process, and it’s one of the ways that the Republicans have been driven so far to the right. Trump knows this, and has positioned himself to sweep those nativist southern republicans voters off their feet. The more he yells about Muslims, the more they love him down there.

And once he nails every one of those states–as he probably will–there might well be nothing left to stop him but back room deals at a brokered convention. Provided there are other candidates who have won enough delegates to keep Trump from coming into the convention with enough to win the nomination outright. And then there’s this…”a new Republican National Committee rule that requires any GOP nominee win a majority of delegates from eight different states”. Which guarantees a mad scramble as candidates beg other candidates to withdraw and release their hard won delegates to them. Imagine the promises made during those conversations. It’s impossible to figure out ahead of time how many delegates a candidate will get…each state has their own method of allotting them. Even if Trump wins every state I mentioned it does not mean he gets all the delegates. He’ll get most, but not all. But somebody besides Trump will have to win at least eight primaries and have access to enough delegates to keep Trump from winning the nomination before the convention even convenes. Not only to stay in contention, but to keep Trump from winning the number of delegates he needs before the primaries are even over. As it looks now, Trump doing just that is a likely scenario. If there are any more attacks like in San Bernardino, that likelihood becomes all the more certain.

But here is the Republican establishment hope: that the anti-Trump vote in the Republican primary is high enough so that he did not quite get the number he needs for the nomination, and that those anti-Trump delegates would do anything but vote for Donald Trump, and that one candidate besides Trump manages to win a minimum of eight states. Those are high hopes, but they are feasible. Then (and only then) is there a possibility of a brokered convention. Of course that also means Donald Trump very likely storming off in a huff and announcing a third party bid, and of the Republican Party, at least at a presidential level, flushing itself down the toilet. They might even lose Congress.

But what the hell, they got the state legislatures and governorships sewn up. We handed the states over to the GOP and have paid for it ever since. So even the worst possible outcome for the GOP in 2016–a split party and a Democratic blow out–leaves them with a solid base to rebuild from. Donald Trump is a one time freakout. The GOP will revive.

This was originally an endless Facebook post about this CNN story: http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/10/politics/rnc-brokered-convention-preparation/

Bleeding Kansas

“KSN News Poll shows Donald Trump losing ground in Kansas” says a stunning little article from a Kansas media site.

“The poll showed that Donald Trump would get 44 percent of the vote followed by Hillary Clinton with 39 percent. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson had eight percent. Nine percent of those polled were undecided. The margin of error is 4.2 percent.”

That’s right–Kansas, solidly Republican Kansas, edging toward Hillary Clinton. And while I wouldn’t bet real money against the GOP in Kansas, not ever, but the fact that Hillary is gaining and is within a few percentage points in the state really shows just how bad off Trump is nationally, for now anyway. The last time a Republican presidential candidate lost in Kansas was in 1964, when Goldwater scared even Kansans. Before that you have to go back to the Dustbowl years when FDR took it twice (beating a Kansan in 1936, Alf Landon, in fact). Before that it was when the Republicans tore themselves apart in 1912 and Kansas voted for Woodrow Wilson (by a plurality) and then voted for him again in 1916, with war looming. Before that it was 1896, when William Jennings Bryan, from next door in Nebraska, gave such an extraordinary acceptance speech (“You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!”)[ at the Democratic convention it swept even Kansans off their Republican feet. And before that is was never. Kansas was quintessentially Republican even then.

In fact, it’s hard to find a state more Republican than Kansas. After all the state had been born bloody, in 1856, with pro-slavers–Democrats all, in those days–from Missouri beating and burning and massacring the Kansas Territory’s free soilers, soon to be Republicans all, trying without success to chase them out and bring Kansas into the union as a slave state. Kansas was also where John Brown had done his killing, his sons massacring some local pro-slavers with swords, hacking them to pieces. It was an eye for an eye response to a massacre of local free soilers by pro-slave ruffians. Politics was a murderous affair in Kansas then, with some voting and a lot more shooting and burning and death threats and beatings, and we forget that John Brown was a Republican martyr. “John Brown’s body lies mouldering in the grave”, went the hugely popular song of the time, “but his truth goes marching on!” The lyrics were later transformed into the Battle Hymm of the Republic, a Republican Party anthem till the party turned southern in the Reagan years.

We forget too that what gave birth to the abolitionist Republican party had given birth to Kansas, indeed the struggles between good and evil in Kansas in the 1850’s helped to create the Republican party. Forgotten almost completely now is how those former pro-slavery Democrat ruffians from Missouri morphed into Confederate guerillas and came back to Kansas on a sunny day in 1863 to slaughter a couple hundred unarmed men and boys in the town of Lawrence, merely for being free state Republicans. Jayhawkers, as they called the free soil militias who fought the pro-slavery Border Ruffians, were incorporated into the Union Army and took their vengeance on Missouri many times over. That bitterness must linger in a zillion little ways even today. Certainly small town Kansas and small town Missouri seem like very different places. And as Kansas seems to drift blue, Missouri has shifted dramatically red. The strife had enormous consequences at the time. Bleeding Kansas, as they called it in the 1850’s, helped birth the Republican Party, but also sundered the Democrats into Unionist and Secessionists and utterly destroyed the Whig Party. The bloodthirsty politics of Kansas in the 1850’s foretold the American Civil War, just as the American Civil War foretold the politics of the century to follow.

Now it seems, a century and a half later, that the Tea Party experiment in the state’s governance–Kansas is its laboratory–has completely failed and the state’s electorate is planning on voting more Democratic than it has in over half a century. In most states that might not be that big of a deal. But this is Kansas. You could not find a single example on the electoral map this year that shows more clearly how catastrophic the nomination of Donald Trump could be for the Republican Party. Foretelling the future again? Who knows. People yell, people scream, people jump about excitedly and say crazy things. You can never tell who among us is making any sense till later, when our time now is history and most of us are dead and things so confused today appear so much clearer. Perhaps Trump is a one time thing and Kansas and the rest of the red states will return to their perennial rock ribbed Republicanism. Or perhaps, like the Whigs we can scarcely remember anymore, the Republican Party will break up on the rocks on Kansas and throughout the once quiet backwaters of Republicanism and new parties will emerge from the wreckage. That, after all, is how the Republican party was born.

Do I think so? No. My money is on the GOP recovering nicely. After all, the party recovered swiftly from the Goldwater debacle, gaining 47 House and three Senate seats in the 1966 midterms and retaking the presidency in 1968.  And it seems likely that today there is more than enough Republican solidity at the state level for a quick, phoenix-like reemergence in just a couple years. But then in 1852 I would have bet on the Whigs lasting forever too. Hadn’t they just elected a president in 1848? By 1856 what remained of them aligned themselves with the Know Nothings and disappeared.

In 2012 Ted Cruz told the New Yorker that without Texas

the Republican Party would cease to exist. We would become like the Whig Party. Our kids and grandkids would study how this used to be a national political party. ‘They had Conventions, they nominated Presidential candidates. They don’t exist anymore.’

Cruz was referring to Texas turning blue because half of the state’s population is now Hispanic and the Republicans were doing all they could to alienate them. But it’s not Hispanics (about 6% of the population) giving Kansas its blue tinge this year. It’s Republicans and independents. White people. Donald Trump is scaring his own kind.

Preston v Sumner

Congressman Preston Brooks, left, Democrat of South Carolina, debating Kansas politics on the senate floor with Senator Charles Sumner, right, Republican of Massachusetts, 1856. Sumner had just delivered his fiercely abolitionist Crime Against Kansas speech, two hours of vituperative elegance. Brooks objected. And you thought things were hostile now. This beating, incidentally, caused an instant media furor (news was telegraphed then almost as fast as we tweet it now) that helped to turn the Republicans into the dominant party of the north. The Civil War did the rest. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that the Democrats retook control. And it wasn’t until the sweeping electoral victories of Ronald Reagan that Republicans became dominant again, by basically abandoning the world view of Senator Sumner and taking up that of Representative Brooks. OK, I exaggerate. But Donald Trump does have far more in common with Preston Brooks than with Ronald Reagan. Something changed. Perhaps politics is much more immutable down south, ancient beliefs lasting generations. When the GOP shed it’s northern skin and became based in the south, it began to take on a lot of ancient southern ideologies as well. Ideas and notions have staying power south of the Mason-Dixon line, while up north they come and go with the generations. John C Calhoun is still a living presence down there, and we up north and out on the coast can barely remember the name Henry Clay.