The Case for Calm

A couple of worried Democrats are coming over for dinner tomorrow. Since I'm the voice of calm, my job is to explain why they probably shouldn't be panicking over polls showing that Hillary Clinton's lead is shrinking. This is pretty easy to do, but first this year's standard disclaimer:

This is the weirdest presidential campaign in my lifetime. Everything I know might be worthless. Caveat emptor.

OK, so why am I still feeling pretty calm? I could show you the pretty picture from Pollster, which really doesn't show much change over the past year, but I've already done that—and anyway, haven't I said that Sam Wang is my preferred pollster? Indeed I have. So here is Sam Wang:

Roughly speaking, Hillary Clinton has had a steady 3.5 percent lead over Trump all year. Then she got a boost from the Democratic convention, followed by a few bad weeks for Trump. That wore off and she dropped back to a little below where she's been all along. In the last few days, Clinton has started rising again, and my guess is that over the next few weeks she'll meander back to her longtime lead of 3.5 percent. Pollwise, the single most remarkable thing about the Clinton vs. Trump race is how stable it's been ever since the day Trump took his famous escalator ride down to the ground floor of Trump Tower to announce his candidacy.

To the extent that Democrats are panicking, I think it's because a few weeks ago Clinton was ahead by 7 percent or so, and everyone was licking their chops and wondering if a landslide was possible. It was deflating when that turned out to be a mirage. I got caught up in that a bit too, and it was probably foolish. In reality, it was just a temporary bump and was never likely to last.

Still, even if Clinton has a fairly reliable 3.5 percent lead, isn't that pretty disappointing? I mean, she's running against a clown like Trump. This isn't some normal Republican like John McCain or Mitt Romney. She should be ahead by 6 or 7 points. What the hell is wrong with America?

I'm not sure about that. But keep in mind that election fundamentals—Democrats have held the White House for eight years; the economy is in adequate but not great shape; Obama's approval level has been only fair until very recently—suggest that this should be a Republican year. Alan Abromowitz, whose forecasting model has had reasonable success, figures that Trump should win the popular vote by 3 percent. If, instead, Clinton wins by 3-4 percent, it means she's outperformed the fundamentals by 6-7 percent. That's not bad.

Ahmad Khan Rahami appears to have been a pretty incompetent terrorist. One of Josh Marshall's readers says this is no surprise:

Good intelligence work, good police work, more aware citizenry and other measures set up since 9/11 have limited — for now, and hopefully far into the future — the ability of major terrorist plots to get off the ground in the US. Major cells get disrupted, chatter on social media leads to arrests, and then great police work over this past weekend gets the bad guy in no time. There simply isn't any scope for large-scale, mass-casualty events at the moment in the US. Our strategy is working.

If all the serious plotting gets discovered and broken up, the only plots left are small, poorly thought out ones. That's the good news. But there's no way to stop every single one of these penny-ante Osamas, so it's inevitable that we'll periodically get hit with smallish-scale attacks. That's the bad news—especially since Ed Kilgore thinks Ross Douthat might have been right about which candidate benefits most from pint-sized terrorist attacks. Here's Douthat:

I don’t think it’s a simple case of “the worse the blow, the better for Trump.” The Man From Mar-a-Lago is many things, but he isn’t a reassuring figure or a steady hand, and the prospect of putting him in charge in the midst of an enormous national security crisis might give many undecided voters pause.

....What Trump benefits most from, I suspect, is a more limited sense that things are out of control — a feeling of anxiety about the world that pulses through your TV set or your computer screen but hasn’t yet hit your neighborhood or family or bank account directly....He would benefit more from another spate of Islamic State beheadings than he would from a terrorist attack that required a major military response,

Maybe so. It's an interesting, if unsettling theory, anyway.

Patrick Caldwell summarizes the effect of third-party candidates on Hillary Clinton's standing among millennials:

In a Quinnipiac poll from last week, when Stein and Johnson were included, Clinton received just 31 percent support from likely voters 18-34. Johnson came in second with 29 percent, while Trump garnered 26 percent and Stein 15 percent. When Stein and Johnson weren't offered as options, that age cohort sided with Clinton over Trump by a 55-34 margin.

Oof. She loses 24 percent of the millennial vote to Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. But wait. Jacob Levy says that, on net, Johnson helps Clinton because he's also taking away votes from Trump. On a net basis, it's only Stein who's really hurting her:

Quinnipac is unusual in directly comparing people’s answers in the two-way and four-way match-ups. Of people who chose Clinton in the head-to-head, 85% stay with Clinton in the 4-way, 8% go to Johnson, and 7% go to Stein. But of people who chose Trump in the head-to-head, 90% stayed Trump, 9% went to Johnson, and 1% went to Stein.

....What this suggests to me is: Clinton’s widely-reported overall loss in the switch from two-way to four-way polling match-ups is entirely due to Stein. Although Johnson is polling much higher than Stein and seems like he should therefore be having a bigger effect on the race, that effect is largely neutral between the two leading candidates, or perhaps favors Clinton slightly.

Hmmm. Maybe. The question is whether you can take the behavior of all voters and extrapolate it to the behavior of young voters. I'm not so sure about that. But even if we assume we can do that, I think it misses something.

Among people who are left of center, Jill Stein is a pretty obvious choice if Hillary Clinton isn't your cup of tea. That's especially true among former Bernie Sanders supporters who are far to Clinton's left. But Gary Johnson doesn't make any sense at all. At a policy level, he's a left-wing disaster. Bernie Sanders would rather cut off his big toe than put Gary Johnson in the White House. So why is Johnson getting any love from voters on the left?

From an electoral point of view, my guess is that it's a waste of effort for Clinton to try to peel off young Stein voters. Stein makes sense for them. But peeling off Johnson voters should be pretty easy. Just point out that he wants to repeal Obamacare, slash Social Security, supports Citizens United, and doesn't want to do anything about climate change. He's a pretty ripe target.

Over at Wonkblog, Jeff Guo provides the skinny on women in Hollywood:

Women in their 20s get a fair number of starring roles. But as soon as they hit 30, their careers fall off a cliff. By their 40s they're all but invisible.

This data is for films made over the past century. I'd be curious to see the same thing for the past ten or twenty years. I can't quite figure out if I think it's likely to be better or worse. But I think I'd guess worse.

The Bridgegate trial has started, and while Chris Christie isn't actually on trial, it's still not going well for him:

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey knew that his close associates were involved in a plan to shut down lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge as it was happening and that the closings were intended to punish a local mayor for declining to support him, prosecutors said on Monday.

....Defense lawyers have also said that Mr. Christie knew. But the statement on Monday was striking in that it was prosecutors confirming that assertion.

....Prosecutors from the United States attorney’s office said that two of the alleged co-conspirators in the case, David Wildstein and Bill Baroni, had bragged to the governor about the lane closings, and that they had been done to “mess” with the mayor of Fort Lee because he had declined entreaties to endorse the governor’s re-election. Mr. Christie also knew that phone calls from the mayor, Mark Sokolich, raising concerns about a public safety emergency, were deliberately being ignored, prosecutors said.

I think most of us have pretty much assumed this was true all along. But who knows? If the evidence confirms this, maybe Donald Trump will start treating Christie with a little more respect.

Via Tyler Cowen, Murray Weiss and Aidan Gardiner tell the story of how police caught the Chelsea bomber so quickly. On Saturday night a couple of enterprising street socialists saw a fine looking suitcase on the sidewalk and decided it was something they could use. This suitcase, it turned out, contained the second bomb, which never went off:

The young men, who sources described as being well-dressed, opened the bag and took the bomb out, sources said, before placing the explosive into a garbage bag and walking away with the rolling suitcase. In doing so, investigators believe they inadvertently disabled the explosive, sources said. That allowed investigators to examine the cellphone attached to the bomb intact and discover that it was connected to the family of Rahami.

From there, they were able to identify pictures on social media of Rahami's family and of him, and they matched one of his photos to surveillance footage captured in Manhattan.

Another pair of thieves snatched a backpack near a New Jersey train station. When they opened it and found explosives, they dropped it and called the police. They may be thieves, but they aren't crazy.

Remember all that stuff about how Donald Trump's tax plan treats pass-through income? (Quick refresher here if you don't.) Apparently the Tax Foundation gave up on getting a straight answer about how this works, so they're now giving two estimates of the impact of Trump's plan. If we assume he's going to keep the low pass-through rate—the one that would benefit his own businesses—they figure his plan would create a whopping 215,000 new jobs per year over the next decade. And that's with lots of dynamic scoring pixie dust sprinkled around.

In other words, I think we can safely say that Trump's plan would create approximately zero jobs. However it would blow a huge hole in the deficit (about $6 trillion without pixie dust) and it would be a huge windfall for the rich, increasing their after-tax income by a whopping 16 percent. And make no mistake: unlike a lot of Donald Trump's fanciful ideas, a Republican Congress would be delighted to pass something like this. And they'd do it in a way that couldn't be stopped by a filibuster.

Once again, I get it. This is BORING. It's policy stuff. Ugh. We really don't want a bunch of dull numbers like this mucking up our beautiful front pages or our lovingly hand-crafted nightly news programs. That's why I kept this post short.

Zack Beauchamp has a long piece at Vox today that runs down the recent rise of far-right populists in Europe and the United States. Has this been driven by anger from blue-collar workers lashing out at their losses from globalization?

This anger plays some small part, but it doesn't tell most of the story. A vast universe of academic research suggests the real drivers are something very different: anger over immigration and a toxic mix of racial and religious intolerance. That conclusion is supported by an extraordinary amount of social science....This research finds that, contrary to what you’d expect, the "losers of globalization" aren’t the ones voting for these parties. What unites far-right politicians and their supporters, on both sides of the Atlantic, is a set of regressive attitudes toward difference. Racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia — and not economic anxiety — are their calling cards.

....Donald Trump is a manifestation of this backlash, as are Brexit and the surge of support for far-right European parties. They show the extent of white Christian anger — the privileged who are furious that their privileges are being stripped away by those they view as outside interlopers.

It is that fury over immigrants that offers the best explanation we have for why the forces of intolerance are currently on the rise in the West. If we want to understand the world we live in today — and the one we’ll be inhabiting for years to come — we need to understand how immigration and intolerance are transforming the way white Christians vote. We need to understand that the battle between racist nationalism and liberal cosmopolitanism will be one of the defining ideological struggles of the 21st century. And we need to understand that Donald Trump is not an accident. He’s a harbinger.

I don't know that I agree with every word of this essay, but I agree with a lot of it. It's worth blocking out 20 minutes to give it a read.

For a lot of liberals, the most important goal of this election is to keep Donald Trump out of the White House. And since Trump naturally sucks up most of the political oxygen, that means lots of blogging about Trump and not so much about Clinton.

But a lot of lefties aren't happy about that. They want a positive argument in favor of voting for Clinton, not just a negative one for voting against Trump. That's fair enough, so I figured I'd put one together.

But I should be crystal clear here: Nobody should take this as an attempt to demonstrate that Clinton is perfect or to persuade you to vote for her. If you think she's too instinctively hawkish—as I do—that might be reason enough for a liberal to vote for someone else. On some issues—supporting the Iraq War, supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, voting for the Patriot Act, etc.—she's taken positions that might be flat deal killers. On other issues, you might think she's not strong enough, or that it took her too long to get to the right place. Finally, on a personal level, she's often oversecretive, overly lawyerly, and sometimes skates a little close to some ethical lines. She distrusts the press and withholds information too often. And she is, plainly, an establishment politician, with all the flaws that implies.

On the other hand, no successful politician is ever perfect. Franklin D. Roosevelt signed on to lots of compromises that liberals detested. Ronald Reagan did the same with conservatives. Clinton will too. There are just too many competing interests in a pluralistic country like America to expect anything else. But all that said, the liberal case for Clinton remains pretty overwhelming. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but here it is:

  1. In 1995, despite strong pressure from diplomats and White House aides to remain low-key, she went to China and said, "Human rights are women's rights, and women's rights are human rights."
  2. She worked her heart out for health care reform in 1993.
  3. She now supports Obamacare, and supports expanding it.
  4. She supports increasing the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour. This is good for workers, but less likely to have downsides than a national level of $15.
  5. She supported comprehensive immigration reform in 2007 and continues to support it.
  6. She was a prime mover behind the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, and was a key figure in finding compromises that allowed it to pass after partisan bickering nearly sank it.
  7. Sen. Sherrod Brown: "As much as we want to move this country forward, you gotta cajole, persuade, work with, whatever it takes. And I think she does that better than about anybody I know."
  8. She supports LGBT rights.
  9. She worked with Attorney General Janet Reno to create the Justice Department's Office on Violence Against Women.
  10. She was one of the prime movers behind SCHIP, the State Children's Health Insurance Program, eventually signed into law by Bill Clinton.
  11. She has regularly supported expansions to SCHIP.
  12. She was instrumental in the founding of the Center for American Progress.
  13. She has been the target of countless baseless attacks but has always rebounded and kept on working anyway.
  14. President Barack Obama: "What sets Hillary apart is that through it all, she just keeps on going, and she doesn't stop caring, and she doesn't stop trying, and she never stops fighting for us—even if we haven't always appreciated it."
  15. She voted against both of George Bush's tax giveaways to the rich.
  16. She favors closing the carried-interest loophole.
  17. Jill Abramson, who covered Bill and Hillary Clinton critically for more than two decades, first in the Washington bureau of the Wall Street Journal and later at the New York Times, says this about Hillary Clinton: "Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy…There are no instances I know of where Clinton was doing the bidding of a donor or benefactor."
  18. She supports legislation to end racial profiling at all levels of government.
  19. She wants to clean up the toxic lead remaining in soil, water, and paint.
  20. As secretary of state, she was tireless in traveling the world to repair the damage to our reputation from the Bush years.
  21. German chancellor Angela Merkel: "I admire her strategic thinking…Whenever I was able to work with Hillary Clinton, it was a great pleasure."
  22. She wants to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.
  23. She voted for TARP.
  24. She was the principal author of the sanctions on Iran that brought them to the bargaining table.
  25. She then began the secret negotiations with Iran that eventually led to the treaty stopping their work on nuclear weapons.
  26. She supports Dodd-Frank.
  27. At the age of 29 she co-founded the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families advocacy group.
  28. She is annoyed by airline bag fees.
  29. She supports a higher tax rate on the very rich.
  30. She supports the Paris Climate Agreement and has endorsed a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050.
  31. She wants to restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences.
  32. She was one of the original co-sponsors of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have implemented card check.
  33. She has literally spent her entire adult life advocating for children and women.
  34. Sen. Barbara Boxer: "She is authentic. Hillary is Hillary, and she's not going to become a cheerleader with pom-poms."
  35. She supports automatic voter registration at age 18.
  36. She has a lifetime score of 94 percent from the AFL-CIO and 98 percent from AFSCME.
  37. She pushed through State Department regulations that gave same-sex couples most of the same rights as straight couples.
  38. She supports universal pre-K.
  39. She has set a goal of producing one-third of the nation's electricity from renewable sources by 2027, three years before Obama's deadline.
  40. She wants to expand home visiting programs, one of the best known ways to improve child development.
  41. She wants to spend $275 billion (over five years) on rebuilding infrastructure.
  42. She was instrumental in securing help for New York's 9/11 first responders.
  43. In the Senate, she fought Republican attempts to privatize Social Security.
  44. She spent 11 hours testifying in front of the Benghazi committee and made Republicans look like idiots.
  45. She supports net neutrality.
  46. She would nominate liberal judges to the Supreme Court.
  47. She would also nominate liberal judges to the lower courts.
  48. She supports a plan that allows people over 55 to buy into Medicare.
  49. She co-sponsored the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008.
  50. She is pro-choice and supports the right of all women to have access to affordable contraception and safe and legal abortion.
  51. She wants to prevent pharmaceutical companies from jacking up the price of long-standing drugs.
  52. She supports the addition of a public option to Obamacare.
  53. She wants to overturn Citizens United.
  54. She has fought for decades for increased funding for HIV treatment and research.
  55. She wants to restore the portions of the Voting Rights Act that were recently struck down by the Supreme Court.
  56. She supports Obama's efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.
  57. She wants to beef up antitrust enforcement.
  58. She worked to ensure ratification of the New START treaty with Russia.
  59. She wants to impose a tax on high-frequency trading.
  60. She's a big supporter of the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan to regulate carbon emissions from power plants.
  61. In the Senate, she had a very good reputation as someone who could work across the aisle to get things done. Her word was always good.
  62. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on his Republican colleagues in the Senate: "Two of them, her very prominent antagonists in this election, and one looked over at the other and said, 'Boy, she's good.' The other one leaned back and said, 'Yeah, she's really good.' And that's the Hillary that they know. Not the talking points Hillary or the caricature, but the real person."
  63. She wants to tighten regulation of the shadow banking system, one of the prime causes of the crash of 2008.
  64. She wants to strengthen the Volcker Rule.
  65. She supports DACA and DAPA, the "mini-DREAM" executive orders.
  66. She supports 12 weeks of paid leave for new mothers or to recover from a serious illness.
  67. As first lady, she fought for the Family Medical Leave Act. As a senator, she worked to expand FMLA to cover wounded soldiers and their families.
  68. She has long supported gender equality efforts around the world.
  69. She has legendary stamina and endurance.
  70. Sen. Al Franken: "She is the toughest, most experienced, hardest-working person I know."
  71. As secretary of state, she personally negotiated the 2012 ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
  72. She has a 100 percent rating from both NARAL and Planned Parenthood.
  73. In the Senate, she co-sponsored the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
  74. She did not kill Vince Foster.
  75. She did not issue a "stand down" order after the Benghazi attack.
  76. She didn't flip-flop on the bankruptcy bill.
  77. She didn't steal the primary from Bernie Sanders.
  78. She did not mishandle classified information or conspire to evade FOIA requests when she set up her email account on a private server.
  79. She did not loot the White House when she and Bill left in 2001.
  80. She had nothing to do with Filegate.
  81. She didn't dole out any favors to Clinton Foundation donors when she was secretary of state.
  82. She did nothing wrong in the Whitewater affair.
  83. She referred to "super-predators" precisely once, 20 years ago in a context that referred solely to members of drug gangs.
  84. She probably overreacted to the financial misconduct in the White House travel office, but ultimately did nothing seriously wrong in the Travelgate affair.

Donald Trump lies practically every time he opens his mouth. That's hardly even notable anymore. What is still notable is the corrosive effect he has on nearly everyone who enters his orbit. His kids lie without compunction. His spokespeople lie without compunction. His campaign manager—until recently a fairly normal conservative—lies without compunction. His surrogates lie without compunction. Everyone who spends any time around him seems to inhale the lesson that in the modern media environment, there's simply no penalty for lying, no matter how obvious the lies are.

Today, Chris Christie casually peddled the obvious lie that Donald Trump gave up on birtherism after President Obama released his long-form birth certificate in 2011. This is easily fact checkable. There are tweets. There's video. Glenn Kessler rounds up the evidence:

This is why Americans hate politics. A sitting governor goes on national television and when he is called out for an obvious falsehood, he simply repeats the inaccurate talking points over and over.

This will possibly be our shortest fact check ever....Slate magazine counted nearly 40 Trump tweets since 2011 that raise questions about Obama’s birth. Even after Trump starting running for president last year, he continued to question the president’s background in television interviews.

....This is such bogus spin that we have to wonder how Christie manages to say it with a straight face. Regular readers know we shy away from using the word “lie,” but clearly Christie is either lying or he is so misinformed that he has no business appearing on television.

Before he hooked up with Trump, Christie was a relatively normal politician. He'd spin, he'd exaggerate, he'd evade, and he'd conceal. But now he doesn't bother. He just tells simpleminded lies with no evident concern for the fact that he'll get called out on them. Trump has taught him that being fact checked doesn't matter. Getting air time for the lie is all that matters.