Saturday, March 31, 2012

March 30, 1972

March 30, 1972 was an important day in more ways than one. In Vietnam, the North began its Easter offensive. And in Key Biscayne Florida, now-former Attorney General John Mitchell convened a meeting with Jeb Magruder and Fred LaRue to consider a large variety of campaign-related matters, including the third version of Gemstone, G. Gordon Liddy's plan for intelligence and security for the 1972 election.

The men later disagreed over what happened at the meeting, with Magruder saying that Mitchell approved it and Mitchell denying it. Either way, Magruder telephoned Gordan Strachan to tell him it was approved, and Strachan included it in a memo to Haldeman, who checked off, Strachan would recall, that he had read it. But as we shall soon see, whatever they said later when the jig was up, each of these men would now act as if a large operation that would include electronic surveillance was part of the Nixon re-election campaign.

Meanwhile, the President, Haldeman, and Colson were talking ITT and the difficult confirmation of the new Attorney General, Richard Kleindienst. That one, they eventually were able to wait out, unlike the effects of what was being arranged down in Florida.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Baseball Post

Since I've been thinking a lot about 1972, it's worth noting that April will mark the 40th anniversary of the first baseball strike, which cost most teams around eight games that spring.

I'm afraid I'll have to go all old guy on this one: it's just bizarre for me to realize that there's a whole generation of baseball fans who have no experience of work stoppages. I definitely remember the 1972 strike...and of course the two big ones in 1981 and 1994, and there was a one game stoppage in 1985. If I recall correctly...oh, I might as well look it up. Yup., 1985. Plus others, which cost spring training games some years, or not. Overall, as the chart shows, it was just a constant threat thing every few years until the 1994-1995 disaster.

But I suppose if you were born in 1990 or later, you have no experience of that at all. Just strange to me.

What I have no memory of, on the other hand, is what it was like for work stoppages to be a new and unexpected thing. To me, it was just the way baseball had always been...I was a fan before 1972, but not long enough before that to appreciate it as a new and unusual thing (although I do believe I experienced the designated hitter as a new and unusual thing when it was introduced.

Notes on a Nerdfight

Nate Silver posted a very long takedown of election predictions, some of which are by economists and some by political scientists. He proves, without a doubt that some people, or at least some book publicists, have not been at all careful about their claims (I don't mean to be snide, there; being careful about one's claims is actually about the most important thing an academic can do when taking their work public). His conclusion:
The “fundamentals” models, in fact, have had almost no predictive power at all. Over this 16-year period, there has been no relationship between the vote they forecast for the incumbent candidate and how well he actually did — even though some of them claimed to explain as much as 90 percent of voting results.
It's an interesting post, and I certainly agree that calling people on their predictions is a useful thing to do. I started taking notes...and then John Sides beat me to the response. Which is just as well; John knows this part of the world quite a bit better than I do, anyway, and I agree with almost everything he said.. So rather than composing a proper post, I'm just going to splatter my notes out here, starting with three general points, all of which John covered better than I do:

1. This can't be said enough times, and I wish Silver had said it up front. Election prediction models are a tiny sliver of what political scientists do. To the extent that they're looking on as anything but a parlor game, it's as a guide to explanation, not prediction.

2. And with that: it's not my field, and I don't keep up with it nearly as closely as I perhaps should, but really political scientists know quite a lot about voter behavior and elections. Almost all of that has nothing to do -- nor, really, should it -- with making the best election prediction models.

3. What's more the near-consensus among political scientists is pretty simple: the economy plays a major role in elections, but campaign and candidate level effects can also be real.

4. On prediction systems. There are two reasons prediction systems can fail: because the thing they're trying to predict is not predictable, or because they're not very good models. The first would be true if, for example, candidate and campaign effects were very large -- but it also would be true if perfectly predictable effects of economic performance depended on data that were not available until after the event (or even before the event but after the prediction).

5. If the problem was that the models stink, then what we might find are some predictors that do much better than others, even if it just means they stink less.

6. That appears to be the case. Three of the predictors -- Abromowitz, Wlezien & Erickson, and Hibbs -- do quite well. Their average error (not RMSE, just simple of the error Silver reports) for the two-party margin of difference is 3.3, 3.7, and 4.6, respectively. Out of fifteen predictions among them, only a couple are stinkers -- Hibbs on Gore/Bush missed by 8.7 points, and W & E miss that one by 9.5. And they get the winner right every time.

7. Then again, Hibbs is using two variables and no polling. With that, you can get an average miss of under five points? I'll take it!

8. Major warning: it's certainly possible that those three have just been lucky. However, what's reassuring is that they are consistently among the best. So that even in 2000, when none of them do particularly well, they rank 3rd, 4th, and 6th out of 9 predictions.

9. This makes me strongly suspect -- but doesn't prove -- that what we have are good and bad predictors, not an overall failure of prediction-systems-in-general, or something that is impossible to predict. Again, it doesn't prove it!

10. However, treating these three systems as similar to, say, the Lockerbie predictor -- which has missed by 19.3, 12.6, and 8.9 points in its three trials -- doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. If someone publishes poorly constructed Senate election projections that perform poorly, does it make Nate Silver's Senate projections worse? Which suggests it's not good enough to just look at and average all predictions; you need to look at and critique which ones are well constructed and consistent with what we know generally about elections.

11. Not that I'm doing that in this post!

12. The one disagreement I have with John's response is that he gives the models a pass because they almost invariably have at least picked the right winner, and after all that's what we really care about. I'm not sure that's right. For one thing, it depends a lot on what the point is of doing the prediction. If it's to test what we think we know by projecting out into the future, then our demands are very different than if the reason is to satisfy our curiosity. Both of those are legitimate things to do, but they imply different standards to use in evaluating a predictor.

13. Silver makes much of the distinction between pure fundamentals predictors which include only non-campaign indicators, and those which incorporate polling information. That's reasonable, but I believe (and I haven't looked at all of them) that there's a wide range in how these predictors use polling. Generally, if someone uses horse race numbers from September (and I don't know that any of the models Silver uses do that) then it's not going to be nearly as useful as one that looks at presidential approval many months out.

14. Basically, what we want for an explanatory-type predictor, it seems to me, is something that excludes the influences of the campaign and of non-incumbent candidates. A pre-campaign presidential approval number essentially incorporates the effects of whatever events have happened during the campaign along with any residual popularity of the incumbent. I can see both advantages and disadvantages compared to either ad-hoc dummy variables (for, say, incumbent party while a city was flooded) or ignoring all the events that can't be systematically accounted for (such as the economy or wars).

15. By the way: if the question is whether the models in general work, then I think Silver makes the wrong choice by including multiple version by the same author(s). If the models were updates, then only the last one should count; if they were released together...I'd probably just dismiss those altogether. Silver is of course correct that anyone who releases multiple versions and then only touts the winners is misbehaving. But that doesn't really speak to the question about whether the models as a whole are capturing anything.

16. That said, as I eyeball it, I'm not seeing that it matters much; again, just from a very quick glance, it doesn't appear that the highest-number version does (much? any?) better.

17. Silver mentions the issue of revised data. This is, again, a fairly big deal, although how it affects any of these predictions I have no idea. My general memory of these things is that there were significant post-election revisions in three of the five cycles. In 1992 the revisions were improvements, which would have made Bush a more likely winner and, again just eyeballing, tending to hurt the models' performance. In 2000 the revisions were downward, which would have helped W. and made most of the models' performance better; in 2008, the revisions were again downward, which would have helped Obama, helping some predictors and hurting others. Caveat: that's again based on both my memory and on eyeballing -- and of course different predictors use different numbers, so the revisions could easily affect different models differently.

18. Of course, if the purpose is to successfully predict the future, then it's a fairly big deal if it turns out that the economic data just aren't good enough quickly enough to be able to do so. If it's explanatory, then it's no big deal at all to go back and plug in the right numbers after the fact.

19. I'd be interested to see if the separation between "good" and "bad" models I noted above holds up if final economic numbers are plugged in.  Not enough interested to do the work myself.

20. Silver makes much of the spread between the models -- not only are their errors large, but they don't vary together. That's a good point -- but again, if some of these models are better than others, then it's not all that interesting to know that the "bad" predictors are all over the place. The three "good" models are relatively tightly bunched in all five cycles, with no more than a six point spread.

21. I think I'm repeating this for the third time, but it's important: I don't know that the best-performing predictors are actually good, or that the worst-performing are bad. Could be luck.

22. And last point. I can't find it, but if I recall correctly someone (Nyhan?[See update below]) showed that a weighted average of the predictors does an excellent job. Silver says the predictors are still mostly useless averaged; is that true with a weighted average, in which the "bad" models would count for much less than the "good" ones?

UPDATE: Make that this post, reporting on this article.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Warren Beatty, 75.

First things first: I didn't get around to the Elsewhere post yesterday. At Post Partisan, I argued that it's okay for the press to say that Romney has won the nomination; at Plum Line I noticed that Barack Obama's approval ratings had moved to right-side-up in Pollster's trend line. I should note: Unfortunately for that post, since I wrote it there was a new YouGov poll that stunk for the White House, which pushed the trend line back below water (and, the way it works, means it never escaped in the first place). Bigger point in my post: the best polling clues about November right now are still Obama's approval ratings, not how Mitt Romney is doing.

And now that I've taken care of that, on to the good stuff:

1. Robert Mackey in the NYT gives a long, must-read summary of conservative attacks on Trayvon Martin. I think he could have done a bit more to point out that some mainstream (and dissident) conservatives have not participated, but it's a good piece.

2. Alan Abramowitz gives the current results of his congressional election predictor. Mostly good news for the GOP.

3. "There have been no Republican votes for a budget compromise since 1991." Brad DeLong, explaining the truth about budget negotiations.

4. Matthew Dickinson figures that the Court will break along partisan lines -- and argues that if so, there's nothing wrong with that. Jonathan Cohn has a more traditional perspective.

5. And I'm just going to repeat an item I used for the Plum Line roundup yesterday:  Elspeth Reeve has very helpful advice for Victor Davis Hanson and anyone else struggling to understand what is actually very simple etiquette problem (try in good faith to call people by the name(s) they ask to be called; try hard in good faith to avoid calling people by the name(s) they ask you to avoid. Was that really very hard?). Oh, that was me, there, in the parentheses. Back to Reeve: make sure you read down to the bottom.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Winter 1971-1972 Continued Again

So G. Gordon Liddy revamped his Gemstone proposal, and presented a slimmer and somewhat less outrageous version to the group on February 4, although the buggings (and some of the more radical ideas) survived.

As Fred Emery tells it, there's plenty of dispute among the conspirators about exactly what happened in the meeting...and, in the aftermath, what if anything the upper echelon at the White House knew about it, including whether White House Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman knew about it at this point.

After that second meeting, Liddy and Hunt waited for a decision, and received none (although they were plenty busy with other dirty tricks and potentially criminal schemes, including a possible plan to kill muckraking columnist Jack Anderson). Eventually, Liddy asked Hunt to introduce him to Chuck Colson at the White House. The product of that meeting was a call from Colson to Jeb Magruder at the campaign, although whether Magruder was asked to approve the plan or just make a decision one way or another, and whether Colson knew what was in the plan, is disputed. Either way, it started the ball rolling again.

Meanwhile....well, once you start down the "meanwhile" road, it just goes on forever. But among other things, at this point they're dealing with the ITT/Dita Beard affair. Oh, and they're also trying to run the country.

I do have one tidbit worth including, from Haldeman's diary on March 20:

We got into some political follow-up....Also, [Nixon] got to thinking that we should move all the political operations, primarily Colson, out of the White House, and into Mitchell's operation [that is, the Committee to Re-Elect]. The White House has the aspect of appearing to use the super power of government, and that we've got to get Colson less visible because he offends people and rides too hard.

A nice idea.

But Colson is in the White House, and Liddy pushes, and finally things start moving forward.

Catch of the Day

Will Wilkinson The Economist's J.F. has a wonderful postmortem of Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign:
NEWT GINGRICH does not eat sandwiches; he fundamentally transforms them, radically changing them from solid foodstuff to masticated bolus to energy.
That's how it starts, and it hardly lets up. Frankly.

I'm not sure what's worse: the pundits who bought the Newt thing after South Carolina; the ones who bought Newt during his late fall polling surge; the ones who took him seriously way back when he got in last spring; or the ones who have been warning us that he was a threat to win a GOP presidential nomination every four years beginning in 1996. Either way, the operative quote goes to political analyst extraordinaire Johnny Rotten: "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

Via Waldman, who adds a nice two cents. Oh, and now that his campaign is over (yes, it is), can I go back to calling him Tom P. Baxter (and I'm not going to be modest: if you enjoyed Wilkinson's post, you'll probably enjoy that one of mine. Holds up nicely, I think).

Nice catch!

(Updated: I had the wrong DiA semi-anonymous blogger. My apologies).

"Even Ronald Reagan"???

Yes, I know that GOP Reagan worship is strong, but really -- do Republicans now simply assume that Ronald Reagan was the Greatest President Ever? Really?

I ask, because (via Benen) of a new Mitt Romney ad bashing Barack Obama for claiming to be one of the greatest four presidents (which, natch, Obama never said, as Benen points out, but that's not the point here). The narrator says that Obama's claim is that he's better than "George Washington, John F. Kennedy, and even Ronald Reagan" (my emphasis).

Parsing that, it seems that the Romney campaign is asserting, or perhaps assuming, that claiming to be better than Ronald Reagan is a stronger claim than claiming to be better than George Washington. Right? That's what the "even" is doing there.

Do Republicans really think that Ronald Reagan was a greater president than George Washington? I guess so. What I'm really wondering, however, is whether that ad really was aimed for a general election audience. Does Team Romney really think that anyone outside of partisan Republicans thinks of Reagan as a greater president than Washington?

Granted, it's just a tiny point about an ad that hardly anyone (I assume) will see. Still, if anyone is looking for hints that Republicans are trapped in a feedback loop, this is the kind of evidence that goes into the pile.

(In case you're wondering: Lincoln was presumably omitted from the ad because Obama's original comment mentioned Lincoln, and thus Obama supposedly wasn't claiming to be greater than him).

Update: yet another awful typo, or whatever you call it when you put the wrong word in, fixed.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Marina Sirtis, 58. I think it's fair to say that almost none of the problems with Troi were her fault, at least as far as I know -- it would be like blaming the shuttles on Kirk's Enterprise for no one remembering they exist whenever the transporter is out. Or something like that. And, really, the Worf-Troi semi-romance was one of the worst ideas ever. But again, not fair to blame Sirtis.

Never mind; I should get to the good stuff.

1. Ezra Klein interviews Yale's Akhil Reed Amar about broccoli tyranny. Not exactly the same case that I made yesterday, but I think reasonably parallel to it. Recommended.

2. I might as well link to someone who sees these issues completely differently, in this case Conor Friedersdorf. I think, as you can tell from my post linked above, that he's totally and completely wrong. But he's a smart guy, and worth reading even when he's (in my view at least) off-base.

3. Matt Corley at the American Prospect has a very nice piece on voter ignorance.

4. Catherine Rampell profiles Jonathan Gruber.

5. And all about Etch-a-Sketch gaffer Eric Fehrnstrom, from David S. Bernstein.

Winter 1971-1972 Continued

Liddy was told he had a $1M budget -- remember, it's 1972, so think $5M+ in today's money -- and asked to devise a plan to present to the Committee to Re-elect. He unveiled his ideas in a meeting at the Justice Department with Attorney General John Mitchell, White House Counsel John Dean, and Jeb Magruder, who was formally running the campaign until Mitchell resigned.

I'll give you Emery's version of the story below the fold, but the key is the result: the plan was not accepted...or rejected. While there is disagreement about exactly who said what, the gist of it is that Liddy was told only that it was too much, and to pare it down to a half-million dollar budget. It certainly did not appear to occur to anyone to get this guy as far away from the president's campaign as possible. And why not? It's how the White House had been operating. The campaign would be no different.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Elsewhere: Health Care, Democracy, November,

Let's see...

I have a TNR column in which I argue that the SCOTUS decision on ACA won't matter, or won't matter much, in November. Hey, I was on Sirius/XM talking about it this afternoon. Good fun! But it has put me way behind posting today...well, that, and the thing I'm working, which I may or may not get done later today, is taking forever. Hint: Nerdwars. At Post Partisan, I say that Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are totally justified in lying about the status of their campaigns -- but that the press shouldn't be gullible about it.

And at Greg's place, I have a post up talking about SCOTUS, ACA, limiting principles, and democracy. Short version: the only limiting principle anyone needs is Madison. Give it a try.

The New Liberal Position on the Court and Health Care

As I understand it, the new liberal position on the Supreme Court and health care is going to be: the Roberts Court is unscrupulous, unprincipled, and nakedly partisan, and are going after the ACA for purely partisan reasons. So if only we passed single-payer, everything would be fine.

No, it doesn't make sense to me, either.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Diane Wiest, 64. "Don't Speak." Actually, everyone is terrific in "Bullets." I'm not sure whether or not it's in my top-5 Woody Allens, but surely it's in the top five of the post-Mia Farrow. Although I'm behind; I've seen just about everything though (of all things) Jade Scorpion, but I've missed almost everything since then. Ah well.

The good stuff:

1. I should link to Heather Hurlburt more often. Here, she has some fun with Foreign Policy Team Romney and their expertise on second terms.

2. Jeffrey Lax follows up on an earlier John Sides post about SCOTUS oral arguments.

3. Gershom Gorenberg looks at maps.

4. Ezra Klein: lawyers seeing differences that economists can't see.

5. Crowdsourcing democracy, the 2012 version. Lots of fun! A project from Xavier Marquez.

6. And Adam Serwer tweets sarcastically: "What I've learned from SCOTUS arguments this week is that both parties are identical and so voting isn't important." Not a dime's worth of difference.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Elsewhere: SCOTUS, Delegate Counts

At Post Partisan, I talked more about delegate counts, caucus states, and Romney's lock on the nomination.

For Greg, I did the old political scientist blogging standby: the "calm down, everyone" post. This time on the oral arguments with the Supremes today.

A couple of things about that...first of all, I haven't yet read the transcript or listened to anything. Don't think I needed to in order to write the post...I plan to at least read the thing, but I haven't yet. So keep that in mind. However, I do wonder a bit about reactions to these sorts of things in the age of twitter/cable news/blogs. Pack journalism, of course, began long before the instant news cycle. But it sure seems to me -- and I suppose this is hardly an original observation, but just what went through my mind today -- that twitter in particular can yield a very quick conventional wisdom.

Which sometimes can be just fine! But it's not especially well suited to things such as Supreme Court sessions, in which (1) the end may matter as much as the beginning, and (2) it's not all that clear how important any of it is (to the outcome) in the first place.

Catch of the Day

A rare positive catch. Brendan Nyhan notes that the NYT and reporters Elisabeth Bumiller and Alliison Kopicki do a great job in writing up the latest Times/CBS survey about Afghanistan -- by placing the results in the context of other recent surveys by other news organizations and Pew.

I want to chime in here with the coveted CotD to Brendan for noticing it, and for the NYT for doing it. Good job, and nice catch!

Elsewhere in the story...

They quote Peter Feaver of Duke (and the George W. Bush administration) saying that approval of the administration's Afghan policy might be higher if Barack Obama was saying more positive things about it (possible, I suppose), but also that:
He doesn’t talk about winning in 2014; he talks about leaving in 2014. In a sense that protects him from an attack from the left, but I would think it has the pernicious effect of softening political support for the existing policy.
The thing is -- whether Obama is more worried about attacks from those who want out of Afghanistan or those who want US forces there long after 2014 depends almost entirely on what Obama really wants, doesn't it?

Suppose, however, that what he really wants is the maximum possible flexibility. In that case, I suspect his best bet would be to play it as he is now. Don't sell the policy too much. If, at some point, he chooses to stay longer, I suspect he would still have both Republican and Democratic allies on the Hill who would support it (at the very least, John McCain almost surely would). On the other hand, if he wants to accelerate withdrawal, he can already claim numerous Republicans as supporters. The trick is to keep it as low-key as he can. That keeps it relatively far away from partisan craziness, and also prevents setbacks from being tied to  him.

Granted, if his goal is to build support for a long-term occupation, then it's possible that a higher-profile, more positive selling job might be a good idea (although not necessarily; it didn't help Bush much in Iraq).

At any rate, nice catch!, and a good job by the NYT.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Mal Reynolds himself, Nathan Fillion, 41. You know, Castle is reasonably good fun (although I haven't actually seen any of it this season, I don't think, so I have no idea whether it's slipped or not). Meanwhile, you all know about this, right?

I could go on, but instead I'll get to the good stuff:

1. I'm not going to link to everything about ACA and the Supremes, but I'll give you Jonathan Cohn's version of what conservatives have already won. Not sure I agree, but worth reading.

2. Dan Drezner is skeptical about the idea that Barack Obama would unveil a secret, radical foreign policy agenda if he serves a second term.

3. Greg Sargent on a GOP Senate candidate who has an innovative response to fact-checkers: just ignore them.

4. The House Democrats have a budget! Rosalind Helderman reports. I suppose I need to take a look at it to see if it's as phony as the GOP budget, although it's hard to get a lot of enthusiasm for reading through what the House minority wants. Maybe.

5. And Nerdwar is back. Nate Silver goes after academic general election prediction models; Andrew Gelman is first out of the box for the defense, or the other side, or whatever. More to come. I think what Ed Kilgore wrote here is pretty reasonable.

Winter 1971-1972

I'm way behind, and it's time to catch up.

Here's what you need to know. Over the winter of 1971-1972, Richard Nixon still looked vulnerable. Things were bending in the right direction for him, but as late as January 7-10 Gallup still had him at 49%. which was about where he had been since March of 1971. Not in deep trouble, but not yet safe, either. Meanwhile, the Democrats had three formidable looking candidates. The active frontrunner was Ed Muskie, who had impressed everyone as a VP candidate in 1968 and seemed dangerous. Lurking behind him was Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey had lost to Nixon by a whisker in 1968, and if he was to capture the nomination again one would assume that his party would be more unified and his convention a better kick-off; neither could possibly be any worse, could they? And still out there was the biggest threat of all, Ted Kennedy, whose brothers had been martyred so recently. Yes, Chappaquiddick in 1969 was a problem, but the Kennedy name was still magic. Nixon was right to be concerned about all three of these foes.

The New Hampshire primary that year wasn't until March. And almost no one understood the importance of the reforms which made a late entry difficult and a candidate winning without contesting primaries, as Humphrey had done in 1968, more or less impossible. So it took long into spring for Nixon's men to understand that Kennedy really wasn't going to be a factor, and dream opponent George McGovern didn't clearly clinch things, as it turned out, until the convention in mid-July  (indeed, he didn't have it won at all until he beat Humphrey in California on June 6, and then he had to win a couple of credentials fights at the convention to seal it).

Remember, too, that as of January 1972 Republicans had only won three presidential elections since 1928: two with a national hero at the head of the ticket, and one squeaker with the Democrats divided three ways (that is, with George Wallace on the ballot and with liberals furious at the party for most of the campaign); Democrats of course still controlled by Houses of Congress and had in almost every election since the New Deal.

In other words, Nixon was quite right to consider re-election extremely uncertain as of January 1972.

How did Nixon deal with all this uncertainty? He demanded information -- and his men demanded information. Information about what the Democrats were up to. Lots of information.  More information.

And thus it was that the Committee to Re-Elect the President needed an upgrade in information gathering, and after a false start, wound up -- on the recommendation of John Dean, Counsel to the President, to John Mitchell, Attorney General of the United States and soon to be Chair of the campaign -- hiring G. Gordon Liddy, late of the Plumbers, to move from the White House into the campaign to handle "intelligence."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Elsewhere: More Ryan, and Us, Lawyers

Over at Post Politics, I argued we're all "lawyers" when it comes to the Constitution -- that is, almost all of us, almost always, interpret the Constitution to make it consistent with our substantive preferences.

At Greg's place, I take more shots at Paul Ryan. Really, though, it's not at Ryan -- it's at anyone who takes his combination of bluster and bluff seriously. In particular, and I realize long-time readers will recognize this complaint, I just don't get the nonpartisan deficit hawks who fall for this sort of thing. I don't know...I'm certainly not the right constituency for this kind of stuff (that is, concern about budget deficits), so perhaps I just am missing something. But it sure seems to me that Ryan is exactly the kind of politician that people who care about deficits should oppose the strongest.

On "Obamaville"

If you haven't yet seen Rick Santorum's amazing "Obamaville" ad, you really should...I'll send you over to Paul Waldman's nice take on the apocalyptic video to watch it. Come back when you've seen it.


Now, I liked Waldman's take on the ad, and I also agree with Dave Weigel about "Umbrage Bait." But my favorite part of the ad is that the horror-story "Obamaville" is set...two years into Obama's second term.

And that, to me, fully sums up the Republican case against Barack Obama, or at least one weird variety of it. Obama is about to do all sorts of horrible things: bankrupt the nation, induce hyperinflation, confiscate guns, bring back* the Fairness Doctrine. About to do them.

Now, if you absolutely hate the president -- and to be fair Santorum is of course a failing nomination candidate who at this time presumably is only interested in partisan Republican voters -- that kind of pitch might well be effective. But to undecided voters? The problem with Santorum's horror video is that it doesn't bother telling you what Obama has done wrong so far. And for most voters, that's what it should be doing.

Put it another way: Republicans are pretty good at running against challengers in presidential races, where a logical message is to not trust the untried candidate. Run that same message against an incumbent, and you're basically saying: ignore what you see, and believe us that you can't trust this president. That's a very, very hard message to sell, or at least so it seems to me. Much more sensible against an incumbent, I would think, is to identify some of the many things that are going wrong (and there are always some, aren't there?) and blame the incumbent for them.

Granted, all of this is quite speculative on my part, and we know that campaign effects are far more limited in presidential presidential elections, so I don't want to take any of this too seriously. For whatever it's worth, however, and putting Santorum aside, I do have to wonder whether Mitt Romney is going to run stuff like this in the fall -- ads hitting Obama on such things as experience and what he might do if (re-) elected rather than on what he's actually done in office and how it's (supposedly) responsible for anything bad out there.

*Fixed language on this one.

Veepstakes? C'mon, Reporters

A few months ago, I ran an item reminding everyone that it's a complete waste of time to ask potential candidates whether they would serve as a running mate. The story is that there are lots of good reasons for people to say that they would not run for VP even if they would do so if fact, most people would accept the #2 slot if asked, in most circumstances, but lots of people would deny that before the fact. So there's really no reason to ask.

So, the follow-up: it's also a complete waste of time to ask a presidential candidate who he or she would choose as a running mater. And if any reporter does so, there's no reason to pay attention to the response. Example: Taegan Goddard reminds us today that Mitt Romney "seemed to rule out" Rick Santorum earlier, making Santorum's newly expressed interest in the job a moot point. Except all of it doesn't count: if Santorum says he's interested or not, and if Romney says he'd consider him or not. All of it should be regarded as posturing that has nothing to do with the actual VP selection. Not that there's anything wrong with it; there are some lies that I think are unethical when politicians tell them, but others -- including these sorts of career plan decisions -- are fine with me. And, as far as I can tell, fine with voters, too.


I've been calling the health care reform bill passed in 2010 and being argued in the Supreme Court this week "ACA" because I've thought it was the most neutral term. Affordable Care Act or Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act both sound like propaganda to me...not even close to the worst bill name in that regard, but still. And ACA seemed even more neutral than PPACA, partially because to my ears it's even less associated with the underlying words.

Obamacare? Only one side of the debate was using it, for one thing. For another I don't like putting it all on the president; it's as much WaxmanPelosiKennedyDoddHarkinCare (just to name a few) as it is Obamacare; generally, I'm just not real happy about adding to the presidential emphasis in US political culture. A third issue: the bill isn't really one bill, and one thing; it's a combination of various proposals, with the exchanges/subsidies/mandate as perhaps the core element, but all sorts of other reforms and regulations as major initiatives within it. For whatever reason, "ACA" evokes that to me more than "Obamacare" does.

The first of these objections no longer exists, however, with the Obama campaign embracing "Obamacare." The second and third objections still stand (although the third one is awfully subjective to begin with). I'm still, however, very wary about the presidential focus, but at the same time I don't want to sound as if I'm being snobby or disconnected from the general discussion. What do you all think? 

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Nancy Pelosi, the former Speaker of the House, 72.

The good stuff:

1. Health care. Walter Dellinger has "five myths" about ACA; all about health care costs, by Sarah Kliff; and Jonathan Cohn wishes the law a happy birthday.

2. For fun: Kliff on the business of standing in line to watch the Supremes at work.

3. Andrew Sprung responds to Brendan Nyhan's piece about Etch-a-Sketch. I think Sprung has a pretty good argument for how the gaffe should be properly interpreted...but I don't agree with him about the staying power of this one. I think it puts a name on something that was out there anyway, and that's about it.

4. The conservative reaction to Barack Obama's comments on Trayvon Martin, by Adam Serwer.

5. And back to health care: Dahlia Lithwick argues that the ACA case is just a sideshow; the real work of the Roberts Court will be elsewhere, and it's going to matter.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Question for Liberals

Suppose that SCOTUS rules for ACA, ending the legal challenges to the law. What does the health care system look like in the US in another decade? Are the exchanges working and relatively noncontroversial? Was cost control somewhat successful? Do Republicans remain rejectionist, and eventually repeal it when they get the chance? Or does the system break down in some other way, and if so is the next step predictable from here?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Suppose that SCOTUS actually tosses out ACA -- not just the mandate, but the entire law (it's extremely unlikely, but just suppose). And further suppose that Republicans capture the White House and the Senate this November. Four years from now, what have Republicans passed if anything to replace ACA? How does the issue play for Republicans in the 2016 elections?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

What Mattered This Week?

Seemed like a quiet week to me, unless I'm missing big things. Syria leads the international news, I suppose.

At home...hmmm...I wrote a lot about the Ryan budget, but I don't think it will have major consequences. Sticks a few more Members of the House with another tough vote, but they all voted for it last year, so while worth mentioning it's not exactly a big deal. I'm also a skeptic that "Etch a Sketch" will matter much, although it will likely be with us for a while, giving a name to something that people were going to be talking about anyway.

We finally got a bit of a stampede in the GOP presidential race post-Illinois. Romney was going to win anyway, but now it's less likely that he'll have to fight hard in April through June.

This was the week that the Trayvon Martin case became a major national story.

What else? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Baseball Post

Mind if I'm a grumpy old guy for a minute?

What's up with all these spring training night games? OK, a bit of research. 2002 (Media Guide had four, count 'em four, pictures of Barry Bonds on the cover): two Cactus League Giants night games. 1992, 4 scheduled Cactus League night games (just a jersey on the cover). 1982? Media Guide has a 25th year logo on the cover, and there were -- hey, no spring training schedule in the Media Guide! Hmmm....1987 has the schedule, with a bland diamond and logo on the cover, and only one night game.

I wouldn't want anyone to put too much stock in my memory, but what I recall is that there was usually just a single night game in the 1970s. Anyway, I've lost track of how many there have been so far, but there's one right now and two more scheduled for next week.

I'm grumpy because I like listening to the games in the afternoon. Oh well. I suppose if it was the 1970s, I wouldn't be able to listen to "radio broadcasts" of spring training games from here in Texas. Let alone watch any of them on TV, wherever I was. So I shouldn't complain. But, you know, I am anyway. Sorry.

Elsewhere: Romney and the Tea Party, World Bank

Over at Greg's place today, I proposed that Barack Obama's decision to nominate Jim Yong Kim for the World Bank should be seen as a party pick -- and reminds us that elections matter.

Meanwhile, at Post Partisan I did another piece on the "immaculate nomination" question (see here for the earlier post). Actually, I'll link two more things. I was working off of a good Ed Kilgore post which had a slightly different take on it -- and then just about when I finished mine, Steve Kornacki had yet another similar take on the subject. So lots of stuff to read this weekend if you're interested in how Mitt won.

Pro Tips for Vetting Veeps

The NYT's Richard Stevenson reports that Republicans are considering actually vetting their VP candidate this time around. It's sort of amazing how many duds they've had (I don't know how you score Dick Cheney, but they surely picked duds in 1952, 1968, 1988, and 2008).

At any rate, in case they're a little rusty from not having done this since 1996, I'm going to give them a quick hint: google your prospective candidate's name with the word "ethics." If what you get back seems to include the words "...charges" or "...violations" or "formal investigations," you probably want to move on to the next pick. Sure, it's possible that it's all just a massive liberal media conspiracy against her, but perhaps, just perhaps, that's not the fight you want to be having on the campaign trail.

This concludes a short lesson in Pro Tips for Vetting Veeps.

(Yeah, yeah, my real advice is as always just to pick someone that's survived a national campaign with reputation intact -- which in this case mostly narrows it down to The Huck. But it's more fun to do a Palin post).

"Selling" the Ryan Budget?

Jake Sherman over at Politico had an article yesterday about "how Paul Ryan sold his budget plan" which should really alarm Republicans, in my view:

The party polled on Medicare in 50 battleground districts. It vetted the plan with a dozen conservative groups. It reached out to rank-and-file lawmakers and asked them what they needed to support the sweeping conservative spending plan. Ryan briefed the Republican presidential candidates and won a quick public endorsement of the plan from Mitt Romney.
And perhaps most important, the GOP learned how to use the right poll-tested words.

Now, the part about vetting the plan with conservative groups would be promising...except that as we know, the Club for Growth immediately opposed Ryan's budget, so you have to wonder exactly what that vetting was for. Asking Members what they wanted is good, too (although, again, two defections in Ryan's own committee suggests problems with that procedure).

But the really troubling part is the "right poll-tested words."

I've talked about this before...look, this kind of Gingrich/Luntz thinking just doesn't work. Now, Sherman doesn't tell us who did their polling, but it sounds a lot like what Frank Luntz and Newt Gingrich did in the 1990s. The problem is that while you can always tweak the wording on anything to produce polling results you want, you cannot, ultimately, make an unpopular program popular by changing the words around. So, sure, if you ask people if they want to "save Medicare" it'll poll really well. But if what you're actually doing is "saving" it by cutting benefits...well, people are going to notice. And, at any rate, your opponents are not going to use the same language, and next thing you know the press might not, either, especially if your language is particularly, er, imaginative.

Now: there's nothing wrong at all with selling your programs in the best possible language. It may not do a lot of good, but it most likely can't hurt, and there's nothing wrong at all with a pollster advising politicians how to talk about the positions they are planning to take. Where you get into trouble is when your pollster tells you that your programs are actually popular, and that all you have to do is use his magic words.

And so to the Ryan budget:

On the day before the budget rollout, top Republicans gathered in Speaker John Boehner’s smoky Capitol conference room with National Republican Congressional Committee officials and went over key phrases. Call the Medicare reform “bipartisan,” they were told. Frame it as helping to “fix Medicare and keep it from going bankrupt.” Be sure to point out that Americans 55 or older would not be affected. And say it gives seniors the choice of “staying in the current Medicare system or using the new one.”
Using this phrasing, 46 percent in an internal GOP poll — conducted in January — would support the Republican argument that Medicare is going bankrupt, Republicans were giving them a choice and the GOP is trying to preserve the program. The Democratic argument that Republicans were ending Medicare registered at 37 percent.
Are you kidding? If my pollster comes to me and says that if I frame things just right in a poll my side wins by a 46/37 margin, I'm going to realize that the program being tested is deeply unpopular. 46/37 when you get complete control of information? That's awful.

Now, I would never advise a party to abandon a program simply because it's unpopular; sometimes, in politics, it makes sense to do what you can when you can do it, regardless of consequences. But I would always advise politicians to have a realistic idea of what is popular and what is not, and how little can be done to change that. It sounds to me as if House Republicans are not following that advice. And mistakenly believing something is popular is one of the surer routes to electoral oblivion that I can think of.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Damon Albarn, 44.

1. Josh Putnam and John Sides on the actual effects of the rules on this cycle's Republican nomination process.

2. Good Jamelle Bouie post on independents (although I haven't read the Third Way piece he's responding to, but sounds right to me).

3. Bryce Covert on the "Clarence Thomas problem." No, that's not a technical term, nor is it one she uses, but it'll do. It's a representation issue.

4. Ed Kilgore: how should we (that is, those of us who write about this stuff) treat primaries and caucuses when everyone knows it's over but it's not technically over and the losing candidates are pretending it's not over? It's a good question, and one I've bee working on since Florida (well, really, South Carolina, but regular readers know that story). Hey, I'd just be happy if we could adequately name this phase of things.

5. And politics everywhere -- most certainly including biblical translation. Fred Clark explains.*

*I think that last one was via a Jamelle Bouie tweet, but I'm not sure. General comment: I collect these things, and then lose track of how I got them...I hope I'm not violating proper etiquette by omitting numerous hat tips.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Campaigns Matter More in Primaries

I've been mostly quiet about the big Etch-a-Sketch thing -- which is just as well, because all you want to know about it can be found in a great Brendan Nyhan piece over at CJR.

I do have one comment, however, on an Ezra Klein post on the subject that I mostly agree with. Klein says, sensibly:
My hunch is that these moments only become “campaign defining” if the campaign was already defined that way in the first place, and in that case, they don’t have much of an impact. If that’s right, the election won’t be any different at all because of the Etch a Sketch comment. Which isn’t to say that it won’t be defined by it.
I think that gets it exactly right...for the general election. But Klein also discusses Rick Perry's "oops" moment in the same terms, and I'm not convinced we want to think about it the same way.

Remember, for the November election we have lots of very strong influences on our vote: party, of course, is the strongest, but there's also our view of the economy, and of the president in general. The candidates will have very different positions on matters of public policy. And we have several years, lots of events, and tons and tons of information to use to make those decisions. The chance that a gaffe or a debate moment or an ad will change anything is vanishingly small in that context.

But in primary elections, every voter is up for grabs, and most voters have very little information to use to differentiate the candidates. They do it; we know, because for example the exit polls tell us that (most) social conservatives figure out that they're supposed to vote for Rick Santorum. But especially early in the process, it's a pretty difficult task. Why Santorum and not Bachmann? Why Romney and not Pawlenty?

Because voters have little to go on, high-visibility and trusted party actors become important. So do ads (which of course are funded or not funded by party actors). And so too is information in the mass media. When something such as "oops" blows up, there's very little to prevent it from damaging a candidate.

Now, Klein is probably correct that this particular campaign gaffe mattered more to Rick Perry than it would have to Romney because Perry had already acquired a terrible reputation from previous debates. So, yes, the single moment has to be seen in the context of other moments. Remember too that this all happens (or doesn't happen) at the elite level, too. Party actors who had a lot at stake were paying close attention to the debates and other campaign events, and may well have made their choices in part based on candidate performance there. But in the general election, all those party actors are not only committed to their candidate, but for the most part committed to at least pretending in public that their candidate is totally dominating everything.

In other words: yes, it makes lots of sense that there can be "game change" moments in primary elections, but that they'll be few and far between in the general election.

Elsewhere: Against Careful Vetting, More Ryan Plan

At Greg's place, it's more on the Ryan budget, specifically on the mystery of why they moved ahead with it, as it clears committee (barely) and heads to the floor. I really can't remember any precedent for leadership demanding a tough vote on something that has no chance of being enacted. Can you?

Over at Post Partisan, I noted a new report calling for more "vetting capacity" on executive branch nominations, and said that instead we just need a whole lot less vetting.

Both my post and the Aspin Institute report are really focusing only on the nuts-and-bolts side of these appointments. There's also, of course, the breakdown of the Senate norm of confirming all non-controversial exec branch nominees. It's not unusual (nor, in my view, should it be) for individual Senators or small groups to use the opportunity to cut deals with the administration, but until very recently Senators believed that presidents were entitled to the particular people they wanted, unless there was some problem with the individual. I have no idea how you go about re-instituting that very healthy norm. But at any rate, the vetting problem is different, and as far as I can see very fixable.


Did you see that the airport in Little Rock is being named after Bill and Hillary Clinton?

Putting aside the obvious jokes (which I made on twitter yesterday, but it fell flat, which is why I feel compelled to mention it again here) about why Arkansas is naming something after a New York politician -- perhaps this is a good excuse to push an idea that American politicians should, as Emily Yoffe argued in a terrific post earlier this week, act like Americans and stop using their titles after they leave office. See Paul Waldman's follow-up, too. Hey, even Walt Disney knew this one: the theater on Main Street shows "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln," after all. In a democracy, Mr. or Ms. is a good enough title for anyone.

Back in the 1990s, I used to think that Bill Clinton was the right guy to start the trend. If he insisted on being Mr. Clinton now, I think there's a good chance it would catch on. But he didn't. Perhaps impeachment made him a bit more title-insecure than he would have been otherwise; perhaps it just never occurred to him.

Why Clinton? Well, it would presumably take a populist president to think of doing it...I wouldn't expect Ronald Reagan, for example, to have considered it. Nor would I expect it of anyone whose legitimacy as president was under fire: so not Nixon, or Ford, or Carter, or George W. Bush (and here's one case where it surely matters that Obama is the first black president; it would be entirely inappropriate to ask him to give up the title in the future while the other members of the ex-presidents club are using it).

Well, I hope he reads Slate (or the Prospect...well, I hope he reads Plain Blog, too, for that matter) and starts thinking about it. Surely by now impeachment is long past and his reputation as a legitimate president is safe and secure. After all, he's got an airport named after him! Maybe he could even get his buddy George H.W. Bush, surely secure in his reputation and with his own airport in Houston, to go along with it.

Yoffe is right: it's downright unAmerican to give people titles once they're done with their jobs. But she and I and you believing that isn't going to do any good. You know what we need? A Cincinnatus-of-the-titles, to take the lead and return to being a nice, citizenly Mr.

What about it, Mr., Mr. Clinton?

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Senator Orrin Hatch, 78. I've always thought of him as the epitome of the lawyer/politician. Does he believe any of what he says? No idea, but he knows which side he's on, will do what it takes for his side, and as far as I can tell when he's not making with the partisan talking points and actions he's been a reasonably productive Senator.

On to the good stuff:

1. How Republicans abandoned fiscal conservativism, by Bruce Bartlett.

2. Sarah Binder, on team teaching with...Ben Bernanke! Those interested in the Fed -- be sure to get down to comments in order to click through and get her syllabus.

3. More on whether and people sort themselves (geographically/residentially): Bill Bishop, also at the Monkey Cage.

4. Andrew Sprung, on Mitt Romney and the truth.

5. And Congressional oversight is really important, but it ain't coming from Darrell Issa apparently. Glenn Kessler on the Chair's latest whopper.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Elsewhere: House Budget edition

At Greg's place, I had fun with 10 questions to ask Paul Ryan and anyone who supports his budget -- do they really support shutting down all the popular government programs? Again, as Kevin Drum argued today, it's certainly possible that Ryan really wants to do that. And, if so, that's a legitimate position. Just not one that has much support beyond, oh, 10% or so of the nation. More likely, most Republicans have no intention of shutting down, say, the FDA, or even NASA. Which makes the budget-balancing portion of their budget a real fraud, in my view.

Meanwhile, for those who want something a bit more analytical, at Post Partisan I asked why House Republicans are doing a budget at all, and I speculated about the answer. If anyone has other suggestions, let me know; I consider it a bit of a mystery.

Illinois and No More Nightmares for Mitt

I didn't write an Illinois wrap last night, but I realized now as I read Steve Kornacki's post on Rick Santorum's remaining options and a tweet from Harry Enten that I really did, after all, have something to say about it.

Enten wrote:
Not sure why anyone thinks Romney is in better shape today than last week. His national numbers have slid down a little & IL changed little.
What I'd say is that Romney pretty much ended the possibility of one very real nightmare scenario with his solid Illinois win. No, not a contested convention: I don't think he was in any danger of that, and hasn't been since Florida (or, really, South Carolina). Winning ugly, however, was still at least a plausible outcome: Romney wins the nomination by maximizing delegates/vote despite having week after week of "losing" according to news coverage.

Suppose, for example, that Santorum had edged out Romney in the beauty contest vote in Illinois, while Romney took advantage of better organization to win a small majority of the delegates. That was a very plausible, in my view, outcome, but it still would have left Santorum no closer to the nomination (especially after Puerto Rico). Add a few more weeks to that, and it was possible that Romney's nomination might have looked like a theft to many conservative voters and activists.

That's just a lot less likely now. There's also virtually no chance that Santorum will be able to force another debate, or even manage to make Romney look bad for avoiding one. Nor is Santorum likely to raise much money going forward.

Yes, for the most part the recent primaries have been predictable based on demographics. But pushing all of that a few points in either direction was surely possible, and a few points in Santorum's direction -- while, again, not even slightly threatening Romney's grip on the nomination -- could have made things ugly. Now, it's still possible to imagine even a handful of upsets in the waning days of the race, but a really embarrassing string of losses (while still piling up delegates) is not going to happen, and indeed it's far more likely at this point that if there are any shifts they'll be towards Romney.

How much of a difference any of this makes beyond June was never very clear. But to the extent it did matter at all, Illinois put a major dent in the possibility of it.


I want to go back again to the question of whether delegates are bound or not, and why and how it matters.

Josh Putnam had a very good post recently explaining (again) the distinctions between bound and unbound, and pledged and unpledged, delegates. And in an atmosphere in which AP, network, and newspaper delegate counts have typically been including projections in caucus states based on the precinct caucus straw polls, which may or may not be predictive of eventual delegate counts, it's very helpful to have Josh constantly pounding the message that these distinctions matter.


I also strongly agree with Jeff Greenfield's analysis (via Goddard), which reminds us that in contested conventions, delegates are only bound to support their candidate on the question of nomination. They are not bound to support the candidate's position on rules or credential challenges -- and in a true contested convention, it is quite likely that such questions would be the key votes, with the eventual nomination vote determined by the earlier decisions. Moreover, Greenfield is correct that one of those rules changes could be to unbind bound delegates. There are, if I recall correctly, state statutes involved, but in my view there are neither political nor practical legal remedies to a convention doing whatever it decides to do.

Now, there are limits to this, and I think Greenfield doesn't do a good job on that part. A campaign with a properly functioning delegate operation should have extremely loyal delegates. So it's very, very unlikely there will be a successful challenge against Romney, even if he's not particularly popular around convention time and only has a bit over the minimum number of delegates. Greenfield refers to examples from the McGovern, Carter (1980) and Ford conventions, but the real lesson of those three test votes was that you're not going to beat someone who has the delegates. Presumably the supers would be the most likely to flip, but if that was a live possibility then it's highly unlikely they would remain publicly pledged in the weeks leading up to the convention.

So: I'm very interested in whether delegates are chosen or not, but not all that concerned with whether they are formally bound or not -- because I don't think it's the formal binding that really matters. What really matters, I suspect, is whether the delegates were slated by their candidates or not.

Of course, all that is really only relevant if there's to be a contested convention, and that's not going to happen this time around. But if it does ever happen in the future, that's what I'd keep in mind.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Conrad Lozano, 61.

Oh, and I didn't get around to linking to my Post Partisan post yesterday about Richard Lugar and polarization.

Now, the good stuff:

1. More war on budgeting. Greg Sargent reports the Citizens for Tax Justice view of the Ryan budget: "This is all smoke mirrors and no deficit reduction."

2. Jonathan Chait is good on the budget, too. As is Jonathan Cohn. Also Stan Collender.

3. Jack Goldsmith makes the case for the legality (and Constitutional sanction) of targeted government killings of US citizens abroad. I haven't really been involved in this debate...I'm not sold on his case, but I do agree with parts of it, and recommend the article to those interested. I guess my position on this one is that I'm ambivalent about the general point of whether this kind of killing can ever be legitimate, but I'm very much not sold that the current procedures are anywhere close to what they need to be to prevent abuse.

4. And Alyssa Rosenberg on the new patronage.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Can the Long Slog Help Romney?

Mitt Romney is expected to win tonight in Illinois, and win big. It's a loophole primary, meaning that the presidential preference election is really just a beauty contest, with delegates selected directly. That is, the delegates will be on the ballot, and you can vote for Newt but then vote for Romney delegates. Anyway, I'd expect that if the polls are even close to correct, Romney will win the lion's share of the delegates, maybe close to a sweep (see the invaluable Josh Putnam for full details including the history -- as he says, it's called "loophole" because of long-replaced Democratic rules. Republican state parties, as always, have far more freedom to pick delegates however they want than Democratic state parties do).

I don't think I've made this point before, but while generally people have believed that the long slog is a disadvantage for Mitt Romney -- because he has to spend money now, and because he has to worry about very conservative voters who are sure to vote for him in November -- there's a flip side to that, too. First of all, as long as people are still reporting on these things, Romney gets lots of nights of being a winner. Granted, he's had a few losing nights, too, but overall more winner nights -- and if the nomination was over, he wouldn't be getting those. Moreover, ideological positioning does seem to matter, and while Romney has had to take issue positions which might hurt his perceived position, he gets to have weeks and weeks in which he's defined as the candidate of the moderates. Not to mention the other candidates practically calling him a RINO. That's how he wants to be perceived in November, and he's getting plenty of free publicity supporting the idea.

By the way, don't discount the possibility of a stampede after Illinois. I'm not making any predictions about it at this point, but if the delegates fall right for Romney tonight, it's going to be increasingly difficult for anyone to pretend that Romney's not going to get to 1144.

Ryan Budget Rollout

Over at Greg's place today, I looked at Paul Ryan's FY 2013 budget rollout. Unlike those who emphasize the budget's conservative slant, my sense is that the key thing this year (as last) is how sketchy the whole thing is. With some justification: it ain't going anywhere, so why spell out painful cuts and tax trade-offs?

All of which I mostly don't blame Ryan for. He has his own set of incentives to work with. But I do blame any reporter who reports this as a serious budget. The thing that I find annoying? Ryan repeatedly in his charts credits CBO as his source, but as CBO says -- and Ezra Klein writes -- CBO was merely echoing back what Ryan told them to say.

Let me explain that a bit. The reason CBO scoring (or, the Joint Tax Committee for taxes) is important is because it's very difficult to know actual, real effects of changes in tax and spending programs. So you come up with a plan -- say, the Buffett Rule that the very rich should pay at least as much as other people. Okay, that's a nice idea, but then you have to turn it into some sort of specific proposal. You need to define your terms, figure out a mechanism, and spell it all out (eventually) in legislative language that's drafted carefully to achieve what you want to achieve. Then, after you've done that, you can start getting estimates for the effects on revenues.

But Ryan doesn't do that. What he does is to tell CBO what his estimate is for a program he hasn't written yet. None of it -- corporate tax reform, individual tax reform, the Medicare plan -- is well enough developed to get realistic estimates. So he's just making up his own conclusions, and telling CBO to run the deficit estimates with those numbers. It's not necessarily a completely phony exercise: Ryan could, when the actual program changes are ready, design them and modify them in order to hit his pre-chosen targets. However, the CBO certification that he's claiming is entirely phony. No one, no one, should buy the idea that Ryan's budget has been scored by CBO. Absolutely not.

Of course, budgeting is a lot easier when you can just make up numbers and pretend that your program changes, which you haven't actually figured out yet, will yield those numbers.

Unless, that is, you actually believe in budgeting. But we all know that Paul Ryan and the other Republicans don't. And therefore, the truth is that we have absolutely no idea what the effects would be of adoption and implementation of Ryan's budget. Maybe it would really slash the deficit; maybe it would increase it. There's no way anyone could, including Paul Ryan, could guess the answer from the information we've been given.

Santorum's Delegate "Strategy"

There was some talk last week and over the weekend that Rick Santorum had a delegate strategy -- that he was going to be fighting to get better results in the eventual delegate count than it looked from primary and caucus day reports.

Apparently, his delegate strategy consisted of: hire someone who the national press knew well (that would be  campaign operative John Yob); have him write a silly memo making implausible but technically complex and murky claims about the "real" delegate fight that was going on under the radar; and hope that the press was gullible enough to buy it.

But actually get organized enough to fight for real delegates? Not so much, apparently, as two stories out of Missouri hint at. You might have noticed that the Missouri caucuses received little attention over the weekend, even less than Puerto Rico. That's because they didn't do the straw poll thing that other caucus states have done this cycle (having instead held a beauty contest primary a while ago, which Santorum won easily). Nor have the released any official results. Santorum was expected to do very well -- the demographics are right for him. But (via Political Wire) if the AP and Daily Beast stories are correct, Santorum's people are being outmaneuvered by Mitt Romney's and Ron Paul's organizations.

Of course, the bottom line here is that winning the spin war on the subsurface fight for delegates is extremely unlikely to do Santorum's campaign any good if he's losing the actual delegates. It's hard to tell whether his campaign realizes that or not.

By the way, I credit the AP's Phillip Elliott for seeing through the Santorum delegate-strategy hype in his story last week. I didn't save all of the others, but lets just say that Elliott stood out for a job well done.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to John de Lancie, 64.So what I learned to today is that Picard's girlfriend Vash, last seen skipping out with Q, was in the one with the Slayerfest. Huh. Guess I have an excuse to watch it again -- it's a good episode, no?

Getting to the good stuff:

1. Conor Friedersdorf takes Mark Levin more seriously than Levin deserves, but I enjoyed reading the review anyway. One point of contention I'd have. Friedersdorf says that Levin has good taste in thinkers, and I'm certainly a fan of Levin's heroes -- the Framers, Tocqueville, Montesquieu, and Locke. Well, sort of on Locke, but sure (but where's Burke? Oh well). However, while I'll grant him Marx -- no point arguing that one -- and Plato, why is Hobbes his enemy? Sounds to me as if Levin's versions of Hobbes, and perhaps Locke, could use a little more careful reading. At any rate, anyone really worried about the utopian impulse should be in my view a lot more concerned about Rousseau. Of course, Friedersdorf is correct both that Paine (and Jefferson) would rapidly get implicated in any such real investigation, and that the utopian impulse is currently found much more among radicals such as George W. Bush and Newt Gingrich than on any leading Democrats these days.

I seem to have gone on too long. Oh well.

2. ACA and the Supremes: Jonathan Cohn has a look at the issues in play. Scott Clement has some polling numbers that look bad for ACA.

3. Sarah Kliff talks to Don Berwick about where the money is in health care costs. Remember: the US
doesn't have a federal budget problem; it's a health care costs problem, and it's at least as big a disaster (some, including me, would say more) if those costs were shifted off the government and back to individuals and businesses.

4. And why William Rehnquist wasn't Hero of the Republic, by Adam Liptak.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Elsewhere: CotD/Cranky Blogging

Over at Post Partisan I took a shot at ABC's This Week and Jonathan Karl, who perpetuated the myth that Barack Obama's approval ratings took a dive last week (as you'll no doubt recall, it was just a fluky poll).

First of all, credit where it's due: I got this from Josh Huder, who tweeted it, and therefore earns a Catch of the Day.

Second, and tangentially related, I'm going to disagree with Paul Waldman, who was all upset this morning about yet another, and apparently a record-breaking, appearance by John McCain on a Sunday show. Waldman says that the Sunday shows are "tremendously influential," but I see very little evidence that they are. Indeed, I'm not sure they ever were. It's true that there's a long history of people using the Sunday shows to float trial balloons or otherwise engage in sophisticated signalling among elites, but that's not the same thing as saying that they (as Waldman claims) "confer status on the people who appear, they define the limits of official debate, and they help set the agenda for the rest of the media." I suspect that only perhaps the first of those is true now, and I'm not certain that the past was any different.

Regardless: in my view, complaints about partisan balance on these shows are legitimate (although to a large extent a waste of time, given that I just don't see the shows as all that important). However, as I've said many times before, if there's partisan balance then which Republican is chosen is only the concern of other Republicans, and vice versa. If Republicans, for whatever reason, are satisfied to have John McCain representing them all the time, then there's no issue here.

Democrats would certainly have a legitimate complaint if Joe Lieberman was trotted out to speak for them. And, again, the parties have a definite beef to complain about if the other party has more screen time on these neutral shows. But that's it.

At any rate, all of this is good reason to completely ignore the Sunday shows. As most of the American people do.

And: nice catch!

Cranky Monday Blogging

I usually think that Jeff Zeleny at the NYT does a good job, but the Page 1 story he and Jim Rutenberg wrote about the possibility of a contested convention yesterday was pretty awful.

First, the good news: the word "brokered" didn't appear anywhere in the piece. Excellent!

So why am I so cranky about it? Well, first of all, the possibility of a deadlocked convention remains tiny. Zeleny and Rutenberg say it's the first time in a generation that Republicans are "preparing for the possibility that their presidential nomination could be decided at their national convention," but as Steve Kornacki shows, deadlock convention scares happen all the time, including all the way back in...2008. That's right, this "first in a generation" possibility happened last time around for the Republicans. 

But that wasn't enough to get me all cranky. No, what really bothered me was the evidence that they provide that the candidates are really preparing for a convention fight. Because their evidence, for the most part, shows no such thing. What they show for the most part is that the candidates are fighting hard for every delegate. For example:
The jockeying in the delegate race is causing the campaigns to work through a labyrinthine set of state rules under which delegate allocation does not always track with the popular vote in primaries and caucuses.
But that's what nomination politics is always about! And really, the bulk of the article is made up of such things -- so that Santorum trying to win delegates in the Missouri caucuses is treated as an unusual activity forced by the possibility of a contested convention, rather than the normal way that the nomination is always fought. Nor is a losing candidate claiming that he will somehow manage to win at the convention anyway something new; Hillary Clinton's campaign made those claims in 2008.

Is there any real preparation for a contested convention going on? Zeleny and Rutenberg do mention that people are "dusting off their party rule books, running through decades-old procedural arcana and studying the most recent convention-floor fight," but it's not really clear whether all of that is real or just an old cliche.

The one thing I've read elsewhere is that there's some talk of jockeying over who will get the pledged, bound delegate slots. That's a contested convention thing; if Romney has 1144 (that is, a majority) then it doesn't matter what those 1144 individuals really think as long as they are bound to him on the first ballot, but if Romney falls short than it would matter if some of his delegates are stealth Paul or Santorum supporters. So if campaigns are spending their limited resources on that, then it really would be a sign of preparing for something major in Tampa.

However, most of what this article is about is just normal nomination politics. Including day dreams about a deadlocked convention. Which, you know, is really not at all likely to happen.

Thank You, Brian Lamb

Brian Lamb, stepping down from heading C-SPAN, which he founded 33 years ago.

You don't need me to tell you how wonderful C-SPAN is. But it's worth remembering that C-SPAN didn't have to happen, and it didn't have to be a good as it all seems so obvious to us, but none of it was sure to happen, and without Brian Lamb it might not have happened. It's getting to be spring, so I'll put it this way:

If we only got live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House and the Senate, it would have been enough.

If we only got live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House and the Senate and they filled the other hours with committee hearings, it would have been enough.

If we only got live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House and the Senate and committee hearings and Prime Minister's Question Time from Britain, it would have been enough.

If we only got live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House and the Senate and committee hearings and Prime Minister's Question Time from Britain and miscellaneous other British stuff including the ceremonial opening of Parliament and Australia and Canada too, it would have been enough.

If we only got live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House and the Senate and committee hearings and Prime Minister's Question Time from Britain and miscellaneous other British stuff including the ceremonial opening of Parliament and Australia and Canada too, and TV ads from the presidential race (back when you couldn't get them elsewhere), it would have been enough.

If we only got live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House and the Senate and committee hearings and Prime Minister's Question Time from Britain and miscellaneous other British stuff including the ceremonial opening of Parliament and Australia and Canada too, and TV ads from the presidential race, and sub-presidential debates, local news election night coverage, and candidate appearances, it would have been enough.

If we only got live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House and the Senate and committee hearings and Prime Minister's Question Time from Britain and miscellaneous other British stuff including the ceremonial opening of Parliament and Australia and Canada too, and TV ads from the presidential race, and sub-presidential debates, local news election night coverage, and candidate appearances, and gavel-to-gavel coverage of the conventions, it would have been enough.

If we only got live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House and the Senate and committee hearings and Prime Minister's Question Time from Britain and miscellaneous other British stuff including the ceremonial opening of Parliament and Australia and Canada too, and TV ads from the presidential race, and sub-presidential debates, local news election night coverage, and candidate appearances, and gavel-to-gavel coverage of the conventions, and conference panels, it would have been enough.

If we only got live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House and the Senate and committee hearings and Prime Minister's Question Time from Britain and miscellaneous other British stuff including the ceremonial opening of Parliament and Australia and Canada too, and TV ads from the presidential race, and sub-presidential debates, local news election night coverage, and candidate appearances, and gavel-to-gavel coverage of the conventions, and conference panels and historical clips such as Inaugural Addresses and Convention Speeches (and again back before it was each to get that sort of thing elsewhere), it would have been enough.

But Brian Lamb brought us live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House and the Senate and committee hearings and Prime Minister's Question Time from Britain and miscellaneous other British stuff including the ceremonial opening of Parliament and Australia and Canada too, and TV ads from the presidential race, and sub-presidential debates, local news election night coverage, and candidate appearances, and gavel-to-gavel coverage of the conventions, and conference panels and historical clips such as Inaugural Addresses and Convention Speeches. And Book TV, and the Supreme Court and White House and other special series, and long-form interviews, and more and more and more.

Thank you for C-SPAN, Brian Lamb -- a true Hero of the Republic.

Puerto Rico

Well, that was decisive, no? Mitt Romney gets about 83% of the vote to sweep all 20 delegates from Puerto Rico. Overkill: he only needed to break 50% to get it. Either way, it's a large delegate win, and part of an impressive haul for Romney in the various miscellaneous places.

Nate Silver questioned whether it was wise for Rick Santorum to have campaigned there last week. It's a smart post, but I think I marginally and conditionally disagree. Silver's point is that Santorum won't win the nomination by picking off a delegate here and a delegate there; he needs to find some way to fundamentally change the way people are thinking about the contest, or else he's going to lose. So if he had managed to shave some delegates away from Romney, or even win Puerto Rico, it wasn't really going to change anything going forward -- while Illinois is going to get far more press attention, and thus gives him at least a theoretical possibility of breaking through.

That's true, and a good point.. But where I disagree is that I think Santorum's predicament is even worse than Silver sees it. The problem is that even if Santorum manages to shift momentum his way and start winning far more votes going forward....he could still lose anyway unless he avoids big delegate hits like this one. Well...I suppose it depends. If Santorum shifts everything 30 points his way, then perhaps a few delegates wouldn't matter. But if it's only a ten point shift? It's important to remember that the delegate count really does determine this thing, and it's very much possible for a candidate to lose a whole bunch of primaries at the end and be down in the national polls and the overall vote count but to still get the nomination if he has the delegates.

In other words, I think the problem for Santorum is that he has to thread the needle: he has to fight for individual delegates and find a way to change the clear voting patterns. Which is, of course, next-to-impossible.

The other piece of this is that it seems at least plausible to me that a campaign trip to underserved Puerto Rico could have a larger-than-normal effect; an extra day in Illinois isn't likely to do all that much. So if Santorum was looking at, say, polling that was showing a 60/30 Romney lead in Puerto Rico, but with weak enough preferences that a visit might have turned that around to 50/40 for him (a net 40 delegate swing!)...yeah, I'd send him there. Alas, since Santorum's campaign trip featured a seemingly massive gaffe and since we have no polling to judge anything by, there's no real way of even guessing what happens if Santorum's trip goes well or if he hadn't gone at all. At least until we get some behind-the-scenes reporting; for all we know he never took a poll there, and had no idea what he was doing (could his English-language comment have cost him 20 points? I have no idea!).

Oh, the other really cool thing about the Puerto Rico primary is that, as I write this (with 83% of the vote counted) Buddy Roemer is edging out Newt Gingrich for third place, and Fred Karger is beating Ron Paul for 5th. No, Plain Blog has nothing against Ron Paul and...well, I have nothing against Ron Paul, but it's a natural political junkie inclination to enjoy the obscure candidates.
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