Greg Sargent channels the conventional wisdom that Hillary Clinton's negatives are old and baked into the cake, while Donald Trump's could get even worse than they are now:

[Hillary Clinton] has been subjected to intense scrutiny for over two decades. Note that Trump’s attacks on her are largely rehashes: He’s going after Bill Clinton’s affairs and Hillary Clinton’s alleged role in “enabling” them....While it’s possible that a renewed focus on all these things could damage Clinton further, it’s more likely that they will accomplish little, because they don’t represent new information.

By contrast, we simply don’t know yet what is out there in the record on Trump....One Dem opposition researcher has estimated that approximately 80 percent of negative stuff out there on Trump has yet to surface publicly — and they continue to do so. Which means it’s possible that Trump’s negatives have more room to grow (as preposterous as that might seem) than Clinton’s do.

This seems like the right way to bet, but I'm a little less sure. On the Hillary side, negatives that are widely accepted can actually be easier to confirm than new ones. If Trump keeps banging away on "Corrupt Hillary," a lot of people might start remembering all that old stuff that they'd forgotten about during the past decade. And this could be easier than we think, since there are also a substantial group of Bernie supporters these days who are doing everything they can to help this narrative along.

On the Trump side, yes, his negatives have room to grow. But the opposite is true too. If a lot of people haven't really been paying attention to the campaign yet, it's quite possible that they might decide the guy isn't really as bad as rumors have it. Sure, he's not entirely PC, but he speaks his mind! He's going to bring back jobs from China! He's a man of the people!

Then again, maybe they'll eventually figure out that he's just another plutocrat Republican who plans to cut the hell out of tax rates for the rich, something a lot of people apparently don't believe yet. But that's not a certainty. For some reason, voters and pundits alike seem to give Republicans a pass on their tax plans, shrugging them off more as totems than as actual intentions.

In other words: I don't know. This is not a normal year and Trump is not a normal candidate. But there's one more thing to point out: if Pollster's algorithms are to be believed, Trump's negatives are actually about the same as Hillary's and they're both trending upward at about the same slow but steady rate. The only real difference is that Trump's ratings are more variable than Hillary's. This isn't necessarily good news for Democrats.

For the first time in a while, American workers are truly doing fairly well:

U.S. businesses are facing a problem that many haven’t thought about in years—rising wages. That could be one factor that tips over a market that has the uncomfortable combination of declining earnings and high valuations.

Workers, for the first time since the financial crisis, are demanding raises and actually getting them—or they are walking. The number of workers quitting jobs has increased, a sign they are confident they can get new jobs, and companies are loathe to lose good workers. It now takes 27 days to fill a job, the highest since at least 2001.

....“More revenues are going into the pockets of workers,” said Brian Schaitkin, a senior economist at the Conference Board, a corporate-research organization. “Higher wages are going to place downward pressure on corporate profits.”

Uh oh. Downward pressure on corporate profits. Must be time for the Fed to raise interest rates and put a stop to this nonsense. After all, inflation has skyrocketed recently to...about 1 percent.1 Put that together with actual wage gains for workers and we're in a heap of trouble. Something must be done quickly.

1Yes, yes, I know the Fed actually uses core PCE as its preferred measure of inflation. But that's pretty low these days too. And inflationary expectations are also low. Really, inflation just isn't a big worry at the moment.

Win or lose (hint: he's going to lose), Bernie Sanders should feel pretty good about his success in pushing Hillary Clinton to the left during the primary campaign. She's now against the TPP; she definitively favors a large hike in the minimum wage; and she supports expansion of Social Security. These may not seem like huge changes—and they aren't—but they're a lot more than most candidates accomplish. Dennis Kucinich ran twice without having any measurable effect at all on the Democratic race.

Now Bernie can take credit for one more move to the left:

“I’m also in favor of what’s called the public option, so that people can buy into Medicare at a certain age,” Mrs. Clinton said on Monday at a campaign event in Virginia. Mr. Sanders calls his single-payer health care plan “Medicare for all.” What Mrs. Clinton proposed was a sort of Medicare for more.

The Medicare program covers Americans once they reach 65. Beneficiaries pay premiums to help cover the cost of their coverage, but the government pays the bulk of the bill. Mrs. Clinton’s suggestion was that perhaps younger Americans, “people 55 or 50 and up,” could voluntarily pay to join the program.

Now, as Nancy LeTourneau points out, this is hardly something new in the Democratic Party firmament:

Back in 2009/10, Medicare buy-in was discussed as part of Obamacare — until Joe Lieberman weighed in. Given Republican obstruction at the time, health reform would not have passed unless every Democrat voted for it. One defection — ala Lieberman — was enough to end its prospects.

An expansion of Medicaid combined with the option of Medicare buy-in is an incremental path towards universal coverage. That is what Democrats (with exceptions like Lieberman — who was actually for it before he was against it) have been working towards for decades.

Be that as it may, this isn't something Hillary has publicly supported during this year's campaign. Until now. Why is she doing this? I'd call it a combined Bernie/Trump effect. Bernie has pushed Hillary to the left in order to win the Democratic primary and Trump has shown that it's surprisingly safe to take a more populist tone even among Republicans. This suggests that Hillary can move a bit to the left without endangering her chances in the general election.

Whatever happens next, I'd say Bernie has been more successful at pushing the mainstream Democratic Party to the left than any insurgent candidate since the early 70s. He may not win the nomination, but that's not a bad legacy.

How good is the current economy? There's no single variable that tells us and no single index that everyone agrees on. Depending on what they care about, different economists will put different weights on things like productivity growth, the trade deficit, the strength of the dollar, and so forth. However, if we only want to know how workers and consumers feel about the overall economy right now, things are a little easier. They care about the things that are visible to them: jobs, wages and debt. With that in mind, here's how the US economy did in 2015 on the five big variables that households pay attention to:

 

2015
Value

How Good?

Grade

Inflation

0.1%

Low and steady. Inflationary expectations are well anchored.

A

Unemployment

5.3%

Generally very good, but a bit worse than it looks since it's partly due to a decline in labor participation.

B+

Real GDP
Growth

2.4%

About average for the past few decades, but below average for an economic expansion.

C-

Real Wage Growth

2.0%

This is hourly wages for production and nonsupervisory workers. It's well above the average of the past few decades.

B+

Household Debt

10.0%

This is debt service as a percent of disposable income. It's currently at its lowest level since 1980.

A

Total

 

 

B+

This is pretty good. So why does everyone feel so lousy about the economy? We can't ask them directly, since polls have long since showed that answers about the economy are almost entirely driven by partisan feelings these days. But it's still pretty easy to intuit what's going: people feel lousy partly because we really have gone through a long and grinding recovery, and partly because everyone keeps telling them the economy is lousy.

On one side of the aisle, conservatives have every incentive to insist that the economy is still in terrible shape. The party out of power always says that. In 2016, Republicans want voters to feel lousy about the economy so that they'll kick the Democrats out of the White House.

On the other side of the aisle, liberals don't want to admit that things are going well either. They have a broad structural critique of the economy, and they can only get traction for that critique if voters continue to feel a lot of pain. In 2016, liberals want a higher minimum wage; restraints on Wall Street; student debt relief; spending on infrastructure; continued monetary looseness; and more. All of this is less likely to happen if Democrats start praising how well the economy is doing.

This is an unusual situation. Usually one party wants to badmouth the economy and the other wants to celebrate it. This year, both parties are insisting that the economy is listless and stagnant, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. The truth is that for the past year the economy has been in pretty good shape. We're all just afraid to say so.

From the New York Times today on the grim job prospects of high school grads with no college:

Only 10 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds have a college or advanced degree, according to a new study by the Economic Policy Institute, although many more of them will eventually graduate.

And for young high school graduates, the unemployment rate is disturbingly high: 17.8 percent....“It’s improved since the recession, but it’s still pretty poor,” said Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, who noted the average hourly wage for high school graduates had declined since 2000 despite increases in the minimum wage in some places.

Ms. Gould is part of a growing chorus of economists, employers and educators who argue more effort needs to be put into improving job prospects for people without college degrees.

Is it unreasonable to expect reporters to hop over to FRED for five minutes and check this stuff out? I don't know how EPI measures unemployment, but the federal government measures it in a consistent way every single month. For young high school grads, the average unemployment rate during the expansion of the aughts was around 11 percent. Today it's 11.2 percent. In other words, it's not "pretty poor," it's completely normal. And there's no need to be grudging about how much it's improved since the recession. It's down by more than ten points since its peak.

It's true that young high school grads have seen their incomes drop over the past decade: their cash earnings have declined about 7 percent since before the recession. But that's also true of every other age and education cohort.

When it comes to both employment and earnings, young high school grads are doing about the same as everyone else. Maybe we should put more effort into improving their job prospects, but we don't need to wildly misstate the data in order to make the case.

Meet the chairman of the American Freedom Party:

William D. Johnson, J.D., is an international corporate lawyer practicing in Los Angeles....As Chairman of the American Third Position, he serves the purpose of speaking on behalf of the party, and championing its sensible and just policies before the American people. He is also, more than any other, responsible for safeguarding the course, values, and program of the party.

And now, meet the American Freedom Party:

White Americans should push back! Change your party allegiance to the American Freedom Party. A Nationalist party that shares the customs and heritage of the European American people....Return to Americans their traditional right of freedom of association, including freedom in racial matters, along with the abolishment of all forms of government- and corporate-mandated racial discrimination and racial preferences, such as affirmative action, quotas, and all forms of “sensitivity training.”

Finally, courtesy of MoJo's own Josh Harkinson, meet Donald Trump's newest delegate from the great state of California:

Trump's slate includes William Johnson, one of the country's most prominent white nationalists...."I just hope to show how I can be mainstream and have these views," Johnson tells Mother Jones. "I can be a white nationalist and be a strong supporter of Donald Trump and be a good example to everybody."

....Armed with cash from affluent donors and staffed by what the movement considers to be its top thinkers, AFP now dedicates most of its resources to supporting Trump. Johnson claims that AFP's pro-Trump robocalls, which have delivered Johnson's personal cellphone number to voters in seven states, have helped the party find hundreds of new members. "[Trump] is allowing us to talk about things we've not been able to talk about," Johnson says. "So even if he is not elected, he has achieved great things."

....Johnson also now finds it easier to be himself: "For many, many years, when I would say these things, other white people would call me names: 'Oh, you're a hatemonger, you're a Nazi, you're like Hitler,'" he confessed. "Now they come in and say, 'Oh, you're like Donald Trump.'"

See? Donald Trump is already making America great again.

UPDATE: No worries, folks. This was all just a big misunderstanding: "A database error led to the inclusion of a potential delegate that had been rejected and removed from the campaign's list in February 2016." OK then.

The latest micro-flap for conservatives to feel victimized by is an allegation by one guy that the Facebook team that selects "trending" topics is staffed by a bunch of Ivy League 20-something liberals:

“Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,” said the former curator. This individual asked to remain anonymous, citing fear of retribution from the company. The former curator is politically conservative, one of a very small handful of curators with such views on the trending team. “I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz.”

That was yesterday. Here is today:

The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, led by Republican Sen. John Thune, has launched an inquiry in response to recent news that Facebook was reportedly suppressing conservative news items in the "trending" section of the site. The committee, which oversees Internet communication and media issues, drafted a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking about the curated section, telling the tech giant to "arrange for your staff including employees responsible for trending topics to brief committee staff on this issue." Thune signed the letter, which also asks for "a list of all news stories removed from or injected into the Trending Topics section since January 2014."

Here's my question: Even if the allegations are true, in what way is this the business of the United States Senate? Facebook is a private entity and it can highlight any kind of news it wants. Ditto for the Drudge Report, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Mother Jones. Thune should take a closer look at the First Amendment before he goes any further.

Donald Trump Is a Big Fat Idiot

For today's sermon, I have chosen a passage from Al Franken's Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot, written back when he was allowed to be funny. We no longer condone fat shaming, of course, but we do condone mockery of those who deserve it, especially when it allows me to make a strained point about the upcoming election. Here is today's text:

Limbaugh knows what's good for him. Whenever he's ventured outside the secure bubble of his studio, the results have been disastrous. In 1990, Limbaugh got what he thought was his chance at the big time, substitute hosting on Pat Sajak's ailing CBS late night show. But the studio wasn't packed with pre-screened dittoheads. When audience members started attacking him for having made fun of AIDS victims, he panicked, and they had to clear the studio. A CBS executive said, "He came out full of bluster and left a very shaken man. I had never seen a man sweat as much in my life."

Limbaugh later apologized for joking about AIDS and promised to "not make fun of the dying." But by early '94, he had forgotten the other lesson: he needs a stacked deck. This time disaster struck on the Letterman show. The studio audience turned hostile almost immediately after Rush compared Hillary Clinton's face to "a Pontiac hood ornament." Evidently, that's the kind of thing that kills with the dittoheads, but Letterman's audience wasn't buying.

So here's my question: Is this what's going to happen to Donald Trump? Obviously he's not going to panic the way Limbaugh did, but so far his carnival barker act has only had to appeal to a smallish subset of angry white conservatives. Like Limbaugh's dittohead radio audience, they think he's great. But when he goes out into the great wide world of the general election, he's going to learn that most people just aren't buying what he's selling. What will he do then? Change his tune? Dig himself an even deeper hole? Open an Instagram account? Claim that his private investigators have confirmed that Hillary Clinton is actually Canadian? Fire away in comments.

Spring Is Springing, and So Are Our Ducks

Spring is here, and that means everything is blooming—including our local ducks. Here is our first ducklet of the season. We also have a fine crop of Canada gooselets, but they were hiding this morning. Maybe I'll catch them tonight.

Consider this your respite from Donald Trump. Enjoy it while you can.

Via Steve Benen, I see that the Republican Party has released yet another autopsy of the past few elections. This one is written by Gingrich Productions, and Newt explains his thinking toward the end of the report:

At Gingrich Productions we felt that some very profound changes were underway and we knew we did not understand them. We had been as wrong as anyone else about the probable outcome of the 2012 election.

That's some welcome humility, which isn't really in character for Newt. Maybe someone else wrote that bit. In any case, what does Newt recommend? There are nods to minority outreach buried in the middle of the report, and lots of attention to the new technology of campaigning (micro-targeting, social media, etc.). But what's at the very top? What does Newt really want to make sure people see? Here you go:

1. The wrong words cripple or kill. At least 5 Republican Senate candidates (Delaware, Missouri, Nevada, Indiana, Colorado) were defeated in 2010 and 2012 because they used language in a way that isolated them and alienated voters....

2. The right big idea or ideas, expressed in clear and simple language with the right tone, can win campaigns. Larry Hogan's intense focus on cutting taxes while refusing to comment on controversial issues propelled him to a shockingly large and unexpected victory as Governor of Maryland....

3. Big Ideas can attract donations and the lack of ideas can make money irrelevant....

Yeesh. Big Ideas™ and Big Language™ have been Newt's stock in trade for decades. He could have written this in his sleep. And all the stuff about new technology and social media has been obvious for years. Everyone is gaga over this stuff and has been since 2008. I sure hope the RNC didn't pay very much for this report.