Kevin Drum

Why Did Carly Fiorina Accept $500,000 From a Ted Cruz Super PAC?

| Fri Sep. 18, 2015 12:01 PM EDT

Ted Cruz has a stable of super PACs supporting him. One is called "Keep the Promise 1" and it did something odd a few months ago: it donated $500,000 to Carly Fiorina. I missed this at the time, but an FEC letter has brought it back into the spotlight:

Keep the Promise 1 had a healthy $10 million on hand from a $11 million donation from hedge fund CEO Robert Mercer as of the end of June. But it only spent $536,169. A little for legal services. A little for surveys. And a whole lot for Fiorina.

....The donation to Fiorina was made June 18, which shows tremendous foresight. Fiorina was barely registering then, not yet revealed as the scrappy underdog with killer debate skills. And Donald Trump had yet to steal most of Cruz’s disenchanted voters.

Nobody knows why a Ted Cruz super PAC would donate half a million dollars to Carly Fiorina's campaign. But that's not what I'm really interested in. What I want to know is why Fiorina's campaign accepted the donation. Fiorina has shown an impressive aptitude for tap dancing and misdirection, but I don't think even she can pretend that a gigantic check appeared out of nowhere and they didn't bother asking any questions about it. So what's the deal, Carly?

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Punters Agree: Bush Won, Trump Lost on Wednesday

| Fri Sep. 18, 2015 11:16 AM EDT

Ed Kilgore is aghast that Politico ran a story using prediction markets to figure out who won Wednesday's debate:

I've been known to joke that at its worst Politico gives you a snail's-eye view of American politics. But this is self-parody: hourly variations in betting market!

Obviously Ed is a killjoy. But I kinda think he's wrong too. Betting markets are an interesting and sometimes useful tool for getting real-time feedback on high-profile races. For example, here's a chart from PredictWise, a Microsoft research project that aggregates several betting and prediction markets:

The winners: Fiorina, Rubio, and Bush. The losers: everyone else. Since this precisely matches my own post-debate judgment, I declare this an excellent analytic tool.

Media Advisory: Don't Help Turn Vaccines Into a Political Football

| Fri Sep. 18, 2015 10:45 AM EDT

During Wednesday's debate, Dr. Ben Carson was very clear that vaccines don't cause autism. "But it is true that we are probably giving way too many in too short a period of time," he added. And Dr. Rand Paul agreed: "Even if the science doesn't say bunching them up is a problem, I ought to have the right to spread out my vaccines a little bit at the very least." Carson's answer was flat-out wrong and Paul's was misleading. In fact, the medical community is pretty much unanimous in saying that the standard vaccine schedule is both safe and effective.

So a big thumbs down to Carson and Paul. But Eric Merkley and Dominik Stecula are unhappy that CNN even brought up the subject in the first place:

If CNN, and other media, continues on the course of unprecedented politicization of vaccine safety by treating it as a campaign issue, the societal consensus on the safety and efficacy of vaccines may be eroded at tremendous cost. Here’s why.

....Notwithstanding the quackery on stage at the GOP debate on Wednesday, Republican voters are just as likely to believe in vaccine safety as Democrats, at least for now. That may change if party elites become polarized on the issue, and if this is communicated to the mass public through the national press.

....Until recently, party elites were in consensus on vaccines. While some cues were present in the press, these did not have the potential to polarize the public. We fear that if party elites continue to polarize, the cues present in the press could begin to undermine the societal consensus on childhood vaccinations. Why are we reasonably sure this is the case? Because we have seen this movie before, with global warming.

....It would not be surprising if Democratic elites leap at this opportunity to solidify their own science-based credentials and make it a campaign issue, particularly if someone like Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination. These cues are then communicated to the public through the press, and we may be off to the polarization races.

Merkley and Stecula are noting something that's gotten a lot attention over the past few years: the mere fact of politicians taking a stand on an issue can polarize that issue on a national scale. There have been times when President Obama has stayed quiet about something simply because he knows that speaking up can turn it into a political circus. Global warming is the biggest obvious example of this polarization effect, but there are plenty of others. Obama took this to heart during last year's Ebola scare and mostly let others take the lead in talking about it.

Merkley and Stecula are pleading with the press not to aid and abet a similar dynamic with vaccines. It's bad enough that the anti-vaxers continue to get a lot of media attention. It would be much, much worse if it somehow becomes a Republican vs. Democrat issue.

Obama Needs To Take Responsibility For Syrian Training Failure

| Fri Sep. 18, 2015 10:01 AM EDT

With a grand total of four—or maybe five!—Syrian rebels in the field following a year of training efforts, it's obvious that things aren't working well. President Obama apparently thinks it's not his fault:

The White House says it is not to blame....At briefings this week after the disclosure of the paltry results, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, repeatedly noted that Mr. Obama always had been a skeptic of training Syrian rebels. The military was correct in concluding that “this was a more difficult endeavor than we assumed and that we need to make some changes to that program,” Mr. Earnest said. “But I think it’s also time for our critics to ‘fess up in this regard as well. They were wrong.”

Most of the comments from Republicans are pretty ho-hum partisan bellyaching. But this one seems on target:

Ryan C. Crocker, a retired career diplomat who was an ambassador to Afghanistan under Mr. Obama, said the president was right to think a train-and-arm program would not work. But the president, Mr. Crocker added, should have either continued to resist it or at least taken ownership of it rather than blame others for its failure.

“How un-presidential that sounds — ‘We didn’t want to do it, we thought it was unsound but you made us do it,’ ” said Mr. Crocker, now dean of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. “It’s just indicative of their whole approach to Syria, which is not to have a policy. This is the worst thing they could say.”

When he's right, he's right. Maybe supporters of the training mission ought to take some lumps too, but the buck stops in the Oval Office. Once he agreed to do it, it was Obama's plan. The failure is his too.

"When Do We Get Rid of the Muslims?" Donald Trump: "We're Going to be Looking at a Lot of Different Things."

| Thu Sep. 17, 2015 8:37 PM EDT

So what's the incident that will finally send Donald Trump back to his mansion to mope about not being president? I mean, the guy seems invulnerable. And he's certainly survived a stupendous number of gaffes that would have killed anyone else.

But his latest howler at a town hall in New Hampshire—especially after his weak debate performance last night—might finally be his death knell. Note: The issue isn't the questioner. There are lunatics in every crowd. This one declared, "We have a problem in this country: It's called Muslims....They have training camps growing where they want to kill us." Then he asked, "When do we get rid of them?" Did he mean all the Muslims? Just the fantasy training camps? Who knows. But all Trump said was this: "We're going to be looking at a lot of different things." No pushback, no nothing. I'm sure he'll be walking this back soon, but it might be unwalkable. If there's any justice, this might finally do him in.

Another Shot Fired in the Great Immigration vs. Wages War

| Thu Sep. 17, 2015 7:30 PM EDT

Does illegal immigration suppress the wages of native-born workers? The evidence suggests that it doesn't—or not much, anyway. One of the data points supporting this is a study done by David Card of the effect of the 1980 Mariel boatlift on workers in Miami. Even though Miami experienced a huge spike in immigrants during the boatlift, Card found no significant impact on wages.

Today George Borjas steps in with a different analysis. He's been arguing for a long time that immigration has a bigger effect on wages than we think—especially the wages of unskilled workers. In a new working paper, he looks specifically at the wages of high school dropouts and concludes that although overall wages in Miami were unaffected by the Mariel boatlift, the wages of dropouts were affected. In relative terms, they went down by 10 to 30 percent.

I wouldn't be surprised if this were true, but Borjas's paper does leave me with a few questions. Take a look at the chart on the right, which shows the wages of high school dropouts relative to high school graduates. Miami is the thick blue line. The other lines are various estimates of wages in cities that weren't affected by the boatlift. There are a few oddities here:

  • Before 1980 and after 1990, the wages of high school dropouts in Miami are above zero, which means dropouts earned more than high school grads. That seems very peculiar, and none of the control cities show the same effect. Does this suggest there's something wrong with the Miami data?
  • The Mariel boatlift produced a truly enormous spike in unskilled workers. Borjas estimates that it increased the number of working-age high school dropouts in Miami by about 18 percent in just a few weeks. I wonder if it's really possible to extrapolate from this to the much more gradual increase in illegal immigrants nationwide over a span of two or three decades?
  • This is especially apropos because the chart shows that the impact on wages was fairly short lived. Even with such a huge labor shock, wages of high school dropouts were only affected for about six years. By 1988 they had recovered fully. Borjas acknowledges that this is hard to account for.

I'm no expert in this stuff, and I imagine the folks who are experts will weigh in soon enough. However, even if Borjas is basically right, the question we care about is what this tells us about the effect of illegal immigration on wages more generally. If a huge spike produces a short-lived wage depression of about 20 percent or so, what does a gradual increase over a wide geographic area produce? Unfortunately, Borjas says that there was more going on in Miami during this period than just a labor supply increase, which means "it is difficult to say much about the dynamics of the wage effect of immigration from the evidence generated by the Mariel supply shock." Intuitively, though, it seems like it would be something far less dramatic. Maybe 5 percent or so? Less?

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Obamacare Has Now Been MIA in Two Debates

| Thu Sep. 17, 2015 2:02 PM EDT

In the first Republican debate, Obamacare was barely mentioned. Over at National Review, Ian Tuttle notes that last night it was also MIA:

Beyond a few brief in media res mentions from candidates, a repeal line in Cruz’s closing address, and an allusion or two (e.g., the question about John Roberts), the president’s signature piece of legislation was a non-issue.

Which makes one wonder: Is it a non-issue?....I suspect that the anti-Obamacare fervor is in a period of quiescence. We have now seen Obamacare implemented sans “death spiral.” The website works. The Supreme Court has handed the Obama administration two affirmative Supreme Court decisions. And the president has made sure to do much in the interim — immigration executive actions and Iran deals, for example — to draw fire away from his healthcare law. Conservative heads have a limited supply of steam.

Tuttle is right. Obamacare has become a brief, pro forma applause line these days, but not much more. Partly this is for the reason Tuttle rather surprisingly concedes: It's up, it's running, and it's working reasonably well. The nation still stands, and it's hard to keep whipping up hysteria for years and years over something that, it turns out, just isn't affecting all that many people.

I don't think this means that Obamacare is going away as a political issue. But I do think that the repeal movement has lost a lot of steam as a winning issue for Republicans. The tea party types are starting to realize that nothing in their lives has changed, and the more moderate types realize—maybe via personal experience, maybe via news reports—that it's doing a lot of good for poor and working class folks. So it's become something of a wedge issue: Pounding on it loses about as many votes as it gains.

This is becoming a real problem for the GOP. A lot of issues that used to be pretty reliable winners have now turned into dangerous wedge issues: gay marriage, taxes, terrorism, illegal immigration, military adventurism, abortion, crime, education, global warming, Ukraine, free trade, Social Security cuts—the list goes on and on. And this is coming at the same time that their bread and butter, the angry white guy demographic, is declining. I'm not sure what they're going to end up doing about this. The GOP has a tough decade ahead.

Who Won the Fiction Sweepstakes in Last Night's Debate?

| Thu Sep. 17, 2015 1:31 PM EDT

I just took a quick survey of all the various fact checks of last night's debate and totted them up. The following list includes only items that I judged (a) fairly important and (b) pretty clearly wrong or misleading, which means I left out several close calls. Here they are:

  • Trump says Wisconsin is $2.2 billion in the hole
  • Trump denied lobbying Bush for casino gambling in Florida
  • Trump says he never went bankrupt
  • Trump says vaccines lead to autism
  • Trump says illegal immigration costs us $200 billion per year
  • Trump says Mexico doesn't have birthright citizenship
  • Fiorina says HP doubled its revenue under her leadership
  • Fiorina says sting video showed baby "with its heart beating, its legs kicking"
  • Fiorina says Obama did nothing on immigration reform
  • Christie says Social Security will be insolvent in "seven or eight years"
  • Christie says he supported medical marijuana
  • Cruz says Planned Parenthood sells fetal body parts for profit
  • Cruz says Iran gets to inspect itself
  • Paul says vaccines lead to autism
  • Huckabee says Hillary Clinton is under investigation by the FBI
  • Carson says a better fence was responsible for cutting illegal immigration in the Yuma sector

So the final score is: Trump 6, Fiorina 3, Christie 2, Cruz 2, Paul 1, Huckabee 1, and Carson 1.

Apparently Bush, Rubio, Walker, and Kasich didn't say a single thing that was badly wrong. Good for them.

It's Official: Hillary Clinton Is Just Being Hammered by the Press

| Thu Sep. 17, 2015 12:48 PM EDT

Nate Silver takes a quantitative look at Hillary Clinton's headlines since July 24 and concludes that she's just getting hammered. The calendar on the right shows the near-daily punches she's taking:

Since Friday, July 24—I’ll talk about the significance of that date in a moment—there have been 13 mornings when Clinton’s email server was a major story, seven mornings when her bad polling numbers were a major story, and seven mornings when speculation about Biden running was a major story…By contrast, I identified just one morning since July 24 when a favorable headline for Clinton gained traction on Memeorandum.

…What changed? July 24 was the morning after The New York Times reported that “a criminal investigation” had been launched into whether Clinton had “mishandled sensitive government information” on her email account. That report turned out to be mostly erroneous; the Times later appended an editor’s note to the article, which is about as close as a newspaper will get to retracting a story. Still, the email story was back in the news after several months when there hadn’t been much reported about it. And subsequent stories about the investigation into Clinton’s email server, from the Times and other news outlets, have proved to be better-reported than the Times’s initial misfire.

Meanwhile, that was also about the time that speculation about a late Biden entry ramped up....Then, of course, there are the stories about Clinton’s poll numbers.

I know I'm repeating myself, but where's the beef? Hillary Clinton received official emails on a personal account. Jeb Bush did the same thing. So did Colin Powell. So did a bunch of folks in the Bush White House (using RNC servers). Some of the emails Hillary received may have contained information that's now deemed classified, but it's quite clear that government officials routinely send classified reports over email. Maybe they shouldn't, but they do. It's neither new nor unusual nor really a very big deal.

As for the personal emails, they're a complete red herring. No one ever turns over personal emails, and officials have always decided for themselves which ones are personal. No one cares whether those emails were on a private server.

So we're left with one thing: Hillary received official emails on her personal account. That's it. It's fair game for Republicans to attack her bad judgment in doing that, but there's just nothing more to learn about it. She did it. She's admitted it. It's part of her record as secretary of state. It's done.

But every new tidbit turns into a front-page story. Every release of emails turns into another set of front-page stories. (Gefilte fish!) And every front-page story leads to a poll decline, which then turns into another front-page story.

There's just got to be something else about Hillary Clinton that reporters are interested in. Maybe she needs to start yammering away about razing every coal-fired power plant in the country and turning northern Iraq into a glassy plain. That seems to be what it takes these days.

Jake Tapper Was Way Too Obsessed With Donald Trump Last Night

| Thu Sep. 17, 2015 11:54 AM EDT

I mentioned this last night, but I want to call it out specifically this morning: Jake Tapper sounded like he was auditioning for a place on Celebrity Apprentice during his moderation of the Republican debate. Over and over, instead of simply asking questions, he framed them in terms of something Donald Trump said. It was all Trump, all the time. Here's a complete rundown of his Trump-obsessed questions from just the segment before the first commercial break (along with a bonus question from Dana Bash):

TAPPER: ....Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, has suggested that your party's frontrunner, Mr. Donald Trump, would be dangerous as President. He said he wouldn't want, quote, "such a hot head with his finger on the nuclear codes."

TAPPER: You didn't answer my question. Would you feel comfortable with Donald Trump's finger on the nuclear codes?

TAPPER: Governor Bush, would you feel comfortable with Donald Trump's finger on the nuclear codes?

TAPPER: ....Governor Bush, you recently said while discussing Planned Parenthood, quote, you're "not sure we need a half billion for women's health issues."....But Donald Trump said....

TAPPER: In an interview last week in Rolling Stone magazine, Donald Trump said the following about you....

TAPPER: Governor Christie....You say that [Trump's] big wall, his plan to deport 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants, it sounds great, but it's never going to happen....

TAPPER: With all due respect, you said about Donald Trump's plan to deport 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants, "People who say that have no idea what this entails."

BASH: Governor Bush, Mr. Trump has suggested that your views on immigration are influenced by your Mexican born wife....

TAPPER: Ms. Fiorina, the vast majority of countries do not have birthright citizenship. Donald Trump is right about that....

TAPPER: ....Ms. Fiorina, you were CEO of Hewlett Packard. Donald Trump says you, quote, "ran HP into the ground," you laid off tens of thousands of people, you got viciously fired.

TAPPER: Donald Trump says that the hedge fund guys are getting away with murder by paying a lower tax rate....Do you agree?

This is ridiculous, and it demonstrates the bankruptcy of the political press corps. John Kasich even complained about it early on, and Tapper promised, "We are getting to the issues, sir." And he did—but usually by quoting Trump and demanding that the candidates respond to what Trump said.

I'm genuinely surprised that no one else on the stage called Tapper out on this. Hell, Tapper even expected it, and it would have been a good moment. "Jake, Donald Trump is a buffoon. Who cares what he says? Can you please run a real debate and start asking us questions about what we'd do as president of the United States? The stakes are too high to be playing these games." That would have taken down Trump a notch and attacked a mainstream media figure, which always plays well with Republican crowds. I wonder why no one took the opportunity?