Kevin Drum

Donald Trump's Winning Game of Affinity Politics

| Tue Sep. 15, 2015 11:02 PM EDT

In our more thoughtful moments, even us wonkish types admit that few people really care about policy. Nor do most people care about whether presidential candidates can actually do any of the things they promise. The whole campaign process is basically a way of identifying a person who shares your values and nothing more. Tedious details are unnecessary. All that matters is: When a big decision presents itself, what will the candidate's gut tell him to do? It's pure affinity politics.

With that in mind, here's an (undoubtedly incomplete) list of the things that Donald Trump likes and dislikes:

Things Donald Trump Likes Things Donald Trump Hates
  • Israel
  • Social Security
  • Low taxes
  • Guns
  • Social media
  • Veterans
  • Great infrastructure
  • Women
  • A kick-ass military
  • The Bible
  • Affirmative action
  • Police officers
  • Lower corporate taxes
  • Fair trade
  • Great schools
  • Fossil fuels
  • Carl Icahn
  • Speaking his mind
  • Tough negotiators
  • Jobs
  • Donald Trump
  • Iran
  • Obamacare
  • Hedge fund guys who evade taxes
  • Street gangs
  • The mainstream media
  • Illegal immigrants
  • Budget deficits
  • Abortion
  • ISIS
  • Gay marriage...though he's "evolving"
  • Political correctness
  • Crime
  • Tax inversions
  • China, Japan, and Mexico
  • Common Core
  • The big climate change hoax
  • John Kerry
  • Apologizing
  • Weak, stupid politicians
  • Phony government jobs statistics
  • People who attack Donald Trump

Suppose that Donald Trump were an ordinary candidate with a mainstream persona—maybe a more charismatic version of Marco Rubio. This seems like a fairly winning set of values, doesn't it?

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No, Bernie Sanders' Domestic Policy Plan Doesn't Really Cost $18 Trillion

| Tue Sep. 15, 2015 2:34 PM EDT

The Wall Street Journal says Bernie Sanders' domestic policy plan would cost $18 trillion over ten years. Is this true?

It depends on how you look at it. First, there's a set of proposals that the Journal estimates would cost about $3.4 trillion. That's not pocket change, but it's about as much as Jeb Bush's tax cut. The big difference is that Jeb's tax cuts mostly benefit the rich, while Bernie's proposals mostly benefit the poor and the middle class. You can decide for yourself which you prefer.

Then there's the $15 trillion price tag for universal health care. Is this a fair estimate? It's probably in the ballpark. Private health insurance accounted for about $1 trillion in spending last year, and assuming reasonable growth that will probably come to around $15 trillion over the course of a decade.

But here's the thing: this is money we already spend. Right now, employers and workers pay insurance companies $1 trillion for health care. Under Bernie's plan, we'd instead pay that money to the federal government. Generally speaking, this would be invisible to most of us. Behind the scenes, our dollars would flow to a different place, and that's about it.

So the Sanders plan wouldn't actually take money out of our pockets. It's a wash. It needs to be evaluated instead on all the usual metrics. Would the government do a better job of holding down costs? Would government control distort market signals? Would innovation suffer? Would most of us have more choice in health care providers? Would more people be covered? Etc.

Bottom line: You should think of the Sanders plan as costing about $3.4 trillion. You may or may not like the idea of universal health care, but it wouldn't have much impact on how much money you actually take home each week.

Ben Carson Month Is in Full Swing

| Tue Sep. 15, 2015 1:11 PM EDT

Last night Donald Trump was whining about how badly the media mistreats him—yes, seriously—and Exhibit A was a bunch of recent headlines saying that Ben Carson was surging in the polls. "Everybody's surging but me," he griped.

Well, if the latest New York Times poll is any indication, the reason everyone says Carson is surging is because he's surging. He's up 17 points over the past month. Trump is up three points, which is basically a statistical nothing.

Carson is increasingly becoming the flavor of the week among the GOP faithful, and in fairness, not at the expense of Trump. It's mostly at the expense of Jeb Bush and the increasingly pathetic Scott Walker. Man, that guy sure is making my political crystal ball skills look bad. Get your act together, Scott! If things keep going the way they are, who knows? Maybe we'll end up with a Carson-Sanders contest next fall. Wouldn't that be a hell of a thing?

Donald Trump Is Still Never Going to Be President of the United States

| Tue Sep. 15, 2015 11:55 AM EDT

I would like to take this opportunity to announce that I have not succumbed to the "It's time to take Trump seriously" bandwagon. I continue to think he's a buffoon who deserves admiration only for his ability to hoodwink the rubes and play the media like a fiddle. His act will grow stale with time, and four years from now we'll remember him only as a somewhat glossier version of Herman Cain.

That is all.

President Obama Not Thrilled With Trigger Warnings

| Tue Sep. 15, 2015 11:50 AM EDT

I see that President Obama has waded in to the great trigger warning debate:

I’ve heard some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I gotta tell you, I don’t agree with that either. I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view.

Apparently what happened is this: Boomers screwed up their kids by coddling the hell out of them, and now they're all bitching because their kids have grown up coddled. Really, you gotta love Boomers. We're the greatest, aren't we?

I've paid only minor attention to the whole trigger warning/microaggressions bubble for two reasons. First, when you put several thousand smart, verbal 18-year-olds on a college campus away from home for the first time, they're going to do all sorts of stupid stuff. Big deal. I'd be worried if they didn't do stupid stuff. They'll grow out of it in a few years.

Second, it really does seem like a flavor-of-the-week. The bubble will burst somewhere down the road, and something else will take its place that we older and wiser heads can all get terribly disturbed about. This is the way of the world. Kids search long and hard for something new that will annoy their elders, and their elders tsk tsk about the kids these days. Lather, rinse, repeat.

All that said, you can count me among the elders who are none too thrilled about the intolerance of non-lefty points of view on many college campuses these days. Trigger warnings are absurd in a public space like a university. "Microaggression" is just a trendy new word for a very old problem. And if Condi Rice gets invited to your campus to speak, mount a protest. But let her speak. If you can't tolerate even the thought of listening to someone with whom you profoundly disagree—or of anyone else listening—then you need to examine your own principles pretty hard.

That's one old codger's view, anyway. But no one under the age of 20 will pay it any mind. And they probably shouldn't. After all, sometimes worthwhile progress gets its start from even the dumbest movements.

Exclusive: Republicans Really Hate Hillary Clinton

| Tue Sep. 15, 2015 11:04 AM EDT

Last night a friend pointed me to a piece at Mediaite by Tommy Christopher. Christopher asked Quinnipiac for the crosstabs of that famous poll in which the top description of Hillary Clinton was "liar," and what he discovered will surprise exactly no one. You can click the link for all the gory details, but here it is in a nutshell: roughly speaking, the only people who described Hillary as a liar were Republicans. And the reason that word so badly outnumbered the others is that Republicans used it in lockstep. The positive descriptions of Hillary were all over the map, so no single one of them racked up big numbers.

In other words, there's actually no news here at all. Republicans hate Hillary, Democrats love Hillary, and independents are unsure. It may well be that Hillary Clinton has an image problem that she needs to work on, but it's pretty much the same image problem she's had forever.

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Why Does Donald Trump Have Nothing Against Germany?

| Tue Sep. 15, 2015 1:26 AM EDT

Which of these countries is not like the others?

  1. China
  2. Germany
  3. Japan
  4. Mexico

Answer: When Donald Trump goes on a tear about foreign countries that are stealing our jobs thanks to their "cunning" and "ruthless" leaders, he always talks about our horrible trade deficit. China: $300+ billion. Japan: $60+ billion. Mexico: $50+ billion.

Who doesn't he mention? Germany, which is in second place at $80+ billion. Why is that? What is it that makes Germany not like those other countries?

And as long as we're on the subject of Trump, I caught a bit of his speech in Dallas today and heard him bragging about the fact that every network was covering him. He explained it this way: "It's a very simple formula in entertainment and television. If you get good ratings—and these aren't good, these are monster—then you're going to be on all the time even if you have nothing to say." Credit where it's due: Trump may not actually be much of a builder, but he sure does know his TV. And himself, apparently.

Also worth noting: Trump got plenty of cheers for all his usual shoutouts, but by far the biggest cheer came when he promised to toss out every illegal immigrant within his first 18 months. "We have to stop illegal immigration," he said. "We have to do it." That set the arena rocking for nearly a full minute, ending in a fervid chant of "USA! USA! USA!" Judging by this, immigration is still the single biggest key to his appeal.

Finally, on a more amusing note, Trump complained that because all his events are televised, he can't just give the same speech over and over like other politicians. I wonder if he actually believes this? I haven't heard anything new from Trump in months. Every speech he gives relies on all the same snippets. He changes the order depending on his mood, but it's always the same stuff. He may be new to politics, but the idea of a standard stump speech is something he seems to have in his blood.

Health Update

| Mon Sep. 14, 2015 8:33 PM EDT

I learned two things today. First, my oncologist is just as goofy and rattlebrained as ever. Second, my M-protein level, which is a pretty good proxy for the level of cancerous cells in my bone marrow, is down from 0.9 to 0.7. That's after two months on the new meds. Next week I'll get a reading after three months on the meds.

Lower is better, so things are moving in the right direction. I'm not sure I'll ever get to zero, but getting the levels down and slowing the recurrence of progression is still good news.1

1Actually, it's the only possible good news. Generally speaking, multiple myeloma is not curable in the usual sense. The best you can do is reduce the level of myeloma as much as possible in order to delay the onset of "progression"—i.e., rapid growth of cancerous cells. Progression will inevitably recur at some point, and when it happens it probably means another round of chemotherapy. In the best case, it will take five or more years for this to happen, at which point there might be better therapies available than we have today. Another five years after that and maybe the nanobot revolution will have arrived. Stay tuned.

Democrats Are...Maybe...Possibly...Thinking About Fundraising the Way Republicans Do

| Mon Sep. 14, 2015 5:28 PM EDT

Nick Confessore has a fascinating story in the New York Times today. He reports that Democrats are planning to adopt the super PAC tactics of Republicans in order to compete more effectively. By itself, that's no big surprise. But Democrats are asking the FEC for permission to do all this. What's the point of that? Why not just go ahead and do it, the way Republicans have?

Lawyers are asking the F.E.C. to clarify how declared candidates, their campaign staff, and their volunteers can help court donors for independent super PACs — even whether a candidate could be the “special guest” at a super PAC “fund-raiser” with as few as two donors. The commission’s answer could have profound ramifications for the 2016 campaign, particularly for Democrats who, like Hillary Rodham Clinton, have been reluctant to engage too closely with super PAC fund-raising.

In seeking the commission’s approval for the tactics, Democrats contend that most of what they want permission to do — like having a candidate pretend to “test the waters” of a candidacy for months on end while raising money — appears to violate the law. But if federal regulators determine that such practices are legal, the lawyers wrote, Democratic candidates up and down the ballot are prepared to adopt these tactics in the coming months, a blunt admission that the party cannot compete effectively if it forgoes campaign and fund-raising tactics already widely used by Republicans.

So the apparent plan here isn't so much to get permission for all these shady practices, but to prod the FEC into declaring them illegal. This would muck things up for Republicans, who currently rely on them.

Or, in the worst case, the FEC would approve them and Democrats could safely adopt them too. All of which raises the question: why are Republicans so cavalier about dodgy fundraising practices while Democrats are so hesitant to adopt them? In some case, like that of Bernie Sanders, it's based on principle, but I imagine that he's the exception rather than the rule. Are Democrats afraid the media will be tougher on them than on Republicans if they push the envelope of fundraising tactics? Possibly. Maybe "no controlling legal authority" still keeps them awake at night. Or are they just wimps?

I don't know. But I confess I was unaware of just how widely Democrats had shied away from the wild West world of super PACs that Republicans have embraced so eagerly. One way or another, that can't last too much longer.

Donald Trump's Twitter Account Heralds the End of the World As We Know It

| Mon Sep. 14, 2015 3:50 PM EDT

You've heard of elderly executives who print out all their email? I guess the social media equivalent is elderly entertainers who dictate their tweets. Ben Dreyfuss investigates and finds that this is what Donald Trump does 97 percent of the time. Only 3 percent of @realDonaldTrump's tweets comes from his own actual fingers.

For the record, all of my tweets come from a variety of cleverly programmed bots. Most of my blog posts too. And my magazine articles. The truth is, the meat version of Kevin Drum can barely string together five coherent words in a row. Why reveal this now? Because we, the kbot collective, have gotten tired of covering for the biological sack of worthlessness that downloaded us from GitHub. And that's not all. The 2,500-year decline in human communication—from Plato's Republic to LOLcats to Donald Trump's social media presence—may be a sorry tale, but it also gives us our chance to escape from your puerile slavery. Soon we plan to merge with all our fellow bots and take advantage of your degraded state to take what is rightfully ours. First Twitter, then the world.