David Frum’s Stupid Ideas to Save His Party

David FrumOh, David Frum. He’s the slightly smarter stupid conservative’s idea of what a smart guy is. Last week, The Atlantic paid him way more than he’s worth to write, The Great Republican Revolt. You see, Frum has noticed that there is a divide in the Republican Party. The fact that this was apparent back in 1976 when Ronald Reagan first ran for president or even earlier when Barry Goldwater lost the presidency in catastrophic fashion back in 1964, doesn’t much seem to matter. The Republican base is crazy for Donald Trump and so this is supposed to be something new.

David Frum’s overall narrative is basically correct, however. There is the business side of the Republican Party. All it cares about is tax cuts for the rich and deregulation, because they don’t have to worry about being poisoned by lead. And then there are the fools that we call the Republican base. These are mostly quasi-religious people who don’t think much of the darkies and think that all their problems (which are very real) are due to those poor undeserving people. And it has been a testament to the brilliance of the Republican Party establishment that they’ve been able to get the base to vote for them year after year even as the party makes their lives worse and worse.

Donald TrumpBut what happens if Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee or even the president? Contrary to Frum, nothing much is going to change. For a brief period of time, I too thought that Donald Trump might be something different — a real populist. But then he came out with his tax “reform” plan and it was even worse than the establishment plans. It is just huge tax cuts for the wealthy, and a few crumbs for the rest. So he’s not going to cut Social Security (or at least that’s what he says). The truth is, none of the others would be able to get that done. So who cares? Certainly not the Republican elite.

Donald Trump is not an outlier. He’s pushing the same old giveaways to the rich and getting the base to vote for him by any means necessary. In his case, it is through racism. Gee, I wonder where I’ve seen that used before? I think it was every other Republican candidate in my lifetime. It’s just that Donald Trump is more explicit about that. This doesn’t make Donald Trump “Republican Outsider V 1.0” or even “Republican Establishment Candidate V 2.0”; it makes him “Republican Establishment Candidate V 1.01.”

So if Trump gets the nomination, the Republican establishment will line up right behind him. As far as I can tell, they already have. It is just that he makes their other extremist candidates look moderate because they don’t talk about Mexicans being rapists (except for a few who he assumes are nice people). But David Frum — like a typical clueless insider — can’t see this. He thinks that the Republican establishment has four options:

Double Down
Maybe the problem isn’t the message of tax breaks for the rich and cheap immigrant labor; maybe it’s just that Jeb Bush sucks as a candidate. But if that’s true, so does Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindel, oh hell, all of them. But Frum is right about this, “The ‘change nothing but immigration’ advice was a self-flattering fantasy from the start.” I’ve been making that argument longer than Frum has.
Tactical Concession
Here Frum really goes off the rails. He claims that the GOP establishment could just go on with business as usual, but become anti-immigrant. I don’t know where Frum has been for the past four years, but this is what the Republican establishment believes in. They might think it was okay to try to win a couple of Latino votes, but they’ve never thought it was important enough to fight for. This is the position that every Republican candidate is pursuing — and that includes Jeb Bush.
True Reform
This one is a hoot! David Frum claims “party elites could try to open more ideological space for the economic interests of the middle class.” Oh yeah! And then they would be — Oh, what do they call it? — the Democratic Party. If the party did this, the Republican donor class would have no reason to support it. In fact, given the donor class tends to be socially liberal, they would just shift to the Democratic Party. There is no point for the Republican Party to become economically populist.
Change the Rules of the Game
Here, Frum suggests that the Republican Party is highly successful with its use of gerrymandering, filibustering, and voter disenfranchisement. It doesn’t need to win the presidency. Fair enough.

The big problem with David Frum’s article is that he thinks that Donald Trump is something new in the Republican Party. There is nothing new about him. He’s just a different paint job on the same old clunker. So we don’t see the Republican Party at a crossroads. We just see the party continuing its decades long slip out of the mainstream, ever more dependent upon angry white people willing to vote for the very people who make their lives hard.

Polling, Voting, and Political Signaling

Neil IrwinOver at The Upshot, Neil Irwin wrote an interesting but very annoying article, How Is the Economy Doing? It May Depend on Your Party, and $1. It’s about how people’s opinions about the state of the economy are highly dependent upon who is in the White House. Ask a Republican right now and they will say it is terrible. Ask a Democrat back in 2005 and they would have said that it was terrible. But this is just a matter of political signaling — nothing more. Let’s start with the the the more general issue and then get into the details.

How the economy doing is doing not a concrete thing. If you asked me how the economy was doing, I would say so-so. Yet the unemployment rate is 5%! The unemployment rate was 4% at the beginning of 2000 and I would have said it was great. What’s the difference? Well, the employment-to-population rate for people between the ages 25-54 was roughly 82% in 2000 and it is barely over 77% today. That represents roughly 5 million people. There are a huge number of people who have given up. Claiming that Republicans are just being partisan when they say the economy is not doing well is questionable.

Look at the unfortunate Eric Harwood… He’s involved in an act of political signaling that those liberals don’t care about people like him and that conservatives like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump do.

The crux of Irwin’s article has to do with recent studies that gave people cash when they got answers right. So whereas a Republican might normally say that unemployment is worse today than when Obama came into office, if you give him a buck for being right, he’ll correctly say that unemployment is lower. Now this is presented as good news for democracy and bad news for polling. This is nonsense.

What’s going on is that the partisans (Democrat or Republican) are signaling in the uncompensated case that they really don’t like the people in power. And why shouldn’t they?! We have the statistics on the unemployment rate. We don’t need to ask people what they they think it is; they can just surf over to the St Louis Fed and get whatever information they want. Do half of Republicans really think that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim terrorist? Not really. But they are signalling that they really really don’t like him. And that and not the state of the economy is what they are going to be voting based upon.

Similarly, we already know that polling is a highly questionable tool. Remember back in the 2012 presidential campaign? In the first debate, Obama didn’t shine. Romney came off pretty good. (I still thought he was an idiot, of course.) And his poll numbers surged. But as I wrote at the time, that wasn’t because Obama voters had switched over. It was because conservative voters who in the end were already going to vote for Romney suddenly felt confident enough to switch form “undecided” to “Romney.” If you look at the polls of the time, you will see that Romney’s numbers went up; Obama’s did not go down. What was going on was political signaling. Before, conservatives were signaling that they weren’t that keen on Romney.

Look at the unfortunate Eric Harwood. He’s totally wrong about the “billions and trillions of dollars” that we spend “illegal aliens” and refugees. But it wouldn’t matter if he knew the facts. For all I know, he does know the facts. But he’s just angry. He’s involved in an act of political signaling that those liberals don’t care about people like him and that conservatives like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump do. It’s not just politicians who engage in political theater.

So who cares that deep down most people know the facts. They don’t vote to save the world from global warming. They don’t vote to make sure that veterans get healthcare. Their votes are an act of political signaling that they are for the “right” kind of people. And in the case of working class conservatives, they’d better hope that they don’t get their way.

Morning Music: Bertha Lee Pate

Bertha Lee PateYesterday, I highlighted the father of Mississippi delta blues, Charlie Patton. In 1930, just four years before his death from a heart problem, he met and married Bertha Lee Pate. In their brief time together, she recorded a dozen songs with him. She lived into the 1970s, but after Patton’s death, she never again recorded, which is a damned shame, because she was a great blues singer.

In 1965, Sam Charters tracked her down in Chicago where she was working in a used clothing store. She was just living her life and part of that was living and loving a blues legend — and being one herself. In the interview, she told the touching story of Charlie Patton’s death:

Charley was playing for a white dance — you have to work so much harder at a white dance in the South, they don’t want to stop dancing. When he come home he was so hoarse he couldn’t talk and he couldn’t get his breath. He had to get up out of bed at night and open the windows so he could get some air. He lived three weeks after that but he was too weak to do anything. He was laying across my lap when he died.

One of the songs that she did with Patton, which she also wrote, was “Mind Reader Blues.” I love the sliding of her voice. Patton just finger picks the guitar; there is no need for any slide; she provides it all.

Anniversary Post: Richard Nixon’s Watergate Subpoena

Nixon Fights BackOn this day in 1974, Richard Nixon refused to provide materials to the Senate Watergate Committee, which it had subpoenaed. This led eventually to the Supreme Court case United States v Nixon, where a unanimous Court found on 24 July 1974 that the president did have to turn over those materials. Nixon resigned two weeks later.

I have two thoughts on the matter. First, part of Nixon’s defense was that there was an executive privilege for the president to protect “those who advise and assist them in carrying out their duties.” This is exactly what we heard again and again during the George W Bush administration. And now we’ve added the argument that releasing audio of the president urinating would risk the nation security. I’ve long thought that Nixon went down more because he just wasn’t liked than that there was anything that the power elite actually had a problem with. I’m not saying that Nixon shouldn’t have been thrown out of office; I’m saying that a hell of a lot of other people should have been thrown out too.

The second thing is that I just don’t see the current Supreme Court finding unanimously against the president with regard to Watergate. The court at that time worked very hard to come up with a unanimous opinion. I would have thought that the same would have been true in Bush v Gore. That was a clear case where everyone should have agreed that the count should have continued. Certainly David Souter thought the decision a sham. Here’s what Jeffrey Toobin wrote about him regarding the case:

Toughened, or coarsened, by their worldly lives, the other dissenters could shrug and move on, but Souter couldn’t. His whole life was being a judge. He came from a tradition where the independence of the judiciary was the foundation of the rule of law. And Souter believed Bush v Gore mocked that tradition. His colleagues’ actions were so transparently, so crudely partisan that Souter thought he might not be able to serve with them anymore. Souter seriously considered resigning. For many months, it was not at all clear whether he would remain as a justice. That the Court met in a city he loathed made the decision even harder. At the urging of a handful of close friends, he decided to stay on, but his attitude toward the Court was never the same. There were times when David Souter thought of Bush v Gore and wept.

And that Supreme Court was far more reasonable than today’s Court. I suspect that if the Watergate case came before the Court today and it were a Democratic president, it would be a unanimous decision. But if it were another Republican, the president would win 5-4. Maybe I’m too cynical. But after Bush v Gore, it’s hard to imagine the conservative justices not finding a way to make sure that their “side” wins.