Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Two Year Myth

Ever since the election I've been seeing people on the left talking about how Trump will be president for two years. The highest profile version of this I've seen to date is a column by former conservative Kathleen Parker. She says:

My "good" prediction is based on the Law of the Pendulum. Enough Americans, including most independent voters, will be so ready to shed Donald Trump and his little shop of horrors that the 2018 midterm elections are all but certain to be a landslide — no, make that a mudslide — sweep of the House and Senate. If Republicans took both houses in a groundswell of the people's rejection of Obamacare, Democrats will take them back in a tsunami of protest.

This is a total fantasy. There is no way that the Democrats can remove Trump from office, even in an unprecedented landslide. No chance at all.

Because Senators server six year terms, the people coming up for reelection in 2018 are the ones who last ran in 2012 with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. The Democrats who won were riding on Obama's coattails and the Republicans who won were bucking a headwind. The numbers show that. The Democrats and independents who caucus with the Democrats are defending 25 seats. The Republicans are defending 8. That's long odds for the Democrats.

But, let's assume that the Democrats manage a clean sweep and win all 33 seats. That would give them 56 seats. Assuming that they also take the house and pass a bill on impeachment, then the Senate would have to vote on removing President Trump and that takes a 2/3s super-majority. They'd have to have 67 votes. Does anyone seriously think that 11 Republicans will join the Democrats in ejecting a Republican president? The best guide we have to go on was the impeachment of Bill Clinton which failed in the Senate because the Democrats refused to vote to remove him, even though there was no question that he was guilty of perjury.

And, even if the Democrats did manage to remove Trump, that just elevates Pence to the presidency. Are we to believe that they will find cause to impeach him, too, so that nancy Pelosi can be president (it goes without saying that they will also refuse to confirm a replacement vice president after Trump is removed).

So any hopes of removing President Trump involve a lot of wishful thinking.

But is it even rational to assume that 2018 will be a Democratic wave election? The White House changes parties regularly. Since World War II, it's switched every 8 years with two exceptions, both involving Reagan (Reagan defeated a sitting president and his successor was elected but only held the White House for a single term). The Senate has changed hands several times since the Republicans took it in 1980 but its shifts tend to take 6 years or longer. The Republicans have only controlled the Senate since 2014.

The House is a different animal. The Democrats controlled it continuously from the 1930s until 1994 with the exception of the Republicans controlling it twice, both times for single term in the 1950s. The Republicans finally won control of the House in 1994  after 40 years and kept it until 2006 then won it back again in 2010.

It's instructive to look at what was going on when the House changed hands. 1994 was partly a reaction to Bill Clinton's presidency but it also featured the Contract With America - a set of issues that the Republicans promised to vote on in their first 100 days. They delivered on their Contract, also, but it was mainly symbolic since the Democrats still controlled the Senate.

The Democrats took the House in two wave elections. The first, in 2006, was largely a reaction to the war in Iraq. The 2008 election was a reaction to the financial crisis. The Republicans formed the Tea Party in 2009 and took the House back the following year. Considering that the Democrats controlled the House for 58 out of 62 years then the House may be in a similar, long-term Republican period with short interruptions because of external events. If this is true then there is no pendulum to swing back.

There is good reason to believe this. The country in general tends to be center-right but in the last two decades people have self-selected so that the country is a sea of red with small clusters of urban-dwelling liberals. This makes it nearly impossible to draw competitive congressional districts. Ohio continues to be nearly 50/50 but the graphic below shows how the Democrats have retreated into only a few counties.

Even if we assume that it is possible to swing Congress back so soon, what will the Democrats' message be? Their post-election analysis rejected and moderation in favor of doubling down on progressive policies and identity politics. They have sworn to to all that they can to resist President Trump at every level. That satisfies their base but they already have the base's vote. A lot depends on how Trump's policies play out but the Democrats are taking a huge risk. They are convinced that Trump is a terrible president and that the rest of the country will eventually realize it. They have no plan B. If Trump succeeds or even muddles through then the Democrats will fail. 

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Elizabeth Warren (sort of) Gets It.

In a speech to the Democrats last weekend, Elizabeth Warren had some genuine insights.

Our moment of crisis didn't begin with the election of Donald Trump," she said. "We were already in crisis. We were already in crisis because for years and years and years, Washington has worked just great for the rich and the powerful, but far too often, it hasn't worked for anyone else."

"People don't just wake up one day and elect leaders like Donald Trump because 'hey, everything is awesome, but what the hell, let's roll the dice and make life interesting,'" she added. 

Democrats frequently enabled or participated in these trends, Warren said.

"Republican politicians have pushed one policy after another that has favored the rich and powerful over everyone else, and far too often, Democrats have gone right along," she said. "And no matter how extreme Republicans in Washington became, Democrats might grumble or whine, but when it came time for action, our party hesitated and pushed back only with great reluctance. Far too often, Democrats have been unwilling to get out there and fight."

She's exactly right when she says that people didn't elect Trump because they are satisfied. But she missed some important points.

Her biggest problem is her insistence that it's all the Republicans' fault.

This country is in an economic crisis. For more than 30 years, working families, middle class families, poor families, students, seniors have been squeezed harder and harder, and now they are at the breaking point. Republican politicians have pushed one policy after another that has favored the rich and powerful over everyone else, and far too often, Democrats have gone right along. And no matter how extreme Republicans in Washington became, Democrats might grumble or whine, but when it came time for action, our party hesitated and pushed back only with great reluctance. Far too often, Democrats have been unwilling to get out there and fight.

Warren needs to take a close look at her own party. They like to tell themselves that they are the party of the working people and not the rich and powerful but that's not how people outside the party see them. Who are their biggest donors? Wall Street, Hollywood and Silicon Valley. The super rich. And why do these super rich people donate to the Democrats if the Republicans are the ones pushing policies favoring them? Are these people crazy? Or maybe the Democrats have become the party of the rich while telling themselves that they still represent the poor.

Former President Obama likes to brag that he saved the economy but what he saved was Wall Street. No one went to jail. All of those companies that are too big to fail weren't broken up. Instead they were buttressed. Income inequality kept rising. The Fed pushed billions into Wall Street by lowering interest rates to an effective 0%.

Ideology rules the Democrats. When given a choice between jobs and ideology, ideology always wins. The XP pipeline may not produce all that many jobs but it is symbolic of how the Democrats think. Even after studies showed that it was safe and would not contribute measurably to global warming, the Democrats still killed it because it made the ideologists feel good.

First Obama and then Hillary came out against coal. Hillary actually said that she was going to put coal miners out of work. yes, she went on to say some platitudes about finding them new jobs in clean energy but they knew better than to believe that.

In every other recovery since WWII, small businesses have lead the way but not this time which is probably why the recovery was so weak. What happened to the small businesses? No one is sure but it's very possible that the mountain of new regulations the Obama administration created has something to do with it.

Then there was the Trans-pacific Partnership which Obama decided to call an agreement instead of a treaty so that he wouldn't have to get the Senate to ratify it. He did the same with the Paris Accords, too. Both were unpopular among working-class Americans.

So Warren is correct that people feel left out of the economy but she missed the fact that they blame the Democrats - on every level. The Democrats have become the party of the wealthy and the city-dwellers.

Trump is trying to change the economy and put jobs first. He may be wrong-headed but he's trying to help Americans.

And here's where Warren gets it completely wrong,

We are not the minority party. We are the opposition party, and we need to talk about the key difference between us and them every day—and we need to say it in the plainest possible way

She goes on to talk about all of the regular anti-Trump talking points. But she never talks about what the Democrats will do for the average worker. She never proposes a new economic agenda, just doubling down on the current platform. She never thinks about how that will look to the people who voted for Trump.

So she learned nothing from the election.

Friday, February 03, 2017

The Democrat's Dilemma

The Senate Democrats have a huge dilemma. They spent years complaining about Republican obstructionism in general and the last several months complaining that the Senate Republicans needed to "do their Constitutional job" and approve President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court. But now that President Trump has nominated someone, the Democrats suddenly turned obstructionist.

There is no good reason for opposing Judge Gorsuch. He is eminently qualified and he will not tilt the court further to the right. There are some ruffled feathers on the left because Obama's nominee didn't get a hearing but the precedent of the opposing party stopping lame duck appointments goes back to 1992 and both Barack Obama and Joe Biden supported it as senators.

The main reason there is any controversy is that the left hates President Trump with a white hot passion. They don't want to see the Democrats in Congress cooperating with Trump on anything.

The problem for the Democrats is that it makes what the Republicans did against Obama look mild by example. The Democrats are raising the level of obstruction. This will haunt them in two ways. When they inevitably return to power, the Republicans will use every trick that the Democrats have used. In the meantime, the Republicans have every excuse to throw away the rule book and use the "nuclear option" - changing the rules by a simple majority vote. The Democrats already did this for everything except Supreme Court nominees, something they are surely regretting right now. Doing away with the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees will make it easier to confirm more polarized justices. That's one of those things that's only good when your side can do it.

So the Senate Democrats have strong reasons to allow Judge Gorsuch to be confirmed. But that will anger the base and will probably lead to some primary challenges.

For many Senators, there is no good choice. Doing the right thing will hurt them and doing the wrong thing will hurt the country. So they have a dilemma.