On Sunday, Chuck Todd asked Donald Trump about former KKK grand wizard and famous white nationalist David Duke:

"Depending on who the Democrat is" doesn't seem like a very strong repudiation of Duke, does it? Apparently Trump is still playing footsie with the racists. On Tuesday, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman asked about Trump's reply to Todd:

And here is longtime Republican policy wonk Avik Roy:

“Conservative intellectuals, and conservative politicians, have been in kind of a bubble,” Roy says. “We’ve had this view that the voters were with us on conservatism — philosophical, economic conservatism. In reality, the gravitational center of the Republican Party is white nationalism.

....He expands on this idea: “It’s a common observation on the left, but it’s an observation that a lot of us on the right genuinely believed wasn’t true — which is that conservatism has become, and has been for some time, much more about white identity politics than it has been about conservative political philosophy. I think today, even now, a lot of conservatives have not come to terms with that problem.”

Trump’s politics of aggrieved white nationalism — labeling black people criminals, Latinos rapists, and Muslims terrorists — succeeded because the party’s voting base was made up of the people who once opposed civil rights. “[Trump] tapped into something that was latent in the Republican Party and conservative movement — but a lot of people in the conservative movement didn’t notice,” Roy concludes, glumly.

The problem for Republicans is simple to describe: it's not that their leaders are racist, but that they've long tolerated racism in their ranks. They know this perfectly well, and they know that they have to broaden their appeal beyond just whites. But they're stuck. If they do that—say, by supporting comprehensive immigration reform or easing up on opposition to affirmative action—their white base goes ballistic. In the end, they never make the base-broadening moves that they all know they have to make eventually.

For Democrats, the problem is the mirror image. Bashing Donald Trump and his supporters for their white nationalism helps with their base, but it's the worst possible way to attract working-class whites who might be attracted to traditional Democratic economic messages. Once you say the word "racism," the conversation is over. Potentially persuadable voters won't hear another word you say.

As long as this remains the case, Democrats will routinely win the presidency because their non-white base is growing every year. But Republicans will routinely win the House—and sometimes the Senate—because way more than half of all congressional districts are majority white. Result: endless gridlock.

I wish I knew the answer.

Here's a fascinating comparison of the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections via Stuart Stevens. I'm not sure what the source is—someone's PowerPoint presentation, perhaps—but I assume the data was transcribed correctly. Here it is:

This is based on one poll, and it's pre-convention. Still, it sure explodes a lot of myths about Donald Trump. He's doing worse among white men than Mitt Romney and much worse among white women. He's doing slightly better among the middle-aged, but far worse among the elderly. And he's doing better among blacks.

On the non-surprising front, he's doing far worse among Latinos. Obama won them by 44 percent, while Clinton is winning them by 62 points. I wonder why?

This doesn't show how Trump is doing specifically among blue-collar white men (those with no more than a high school diploma), but I wonder if he's really as popular among this demographic as everyone thinks? Or, in the end, is he just going to perform in a pretty standard Republican way, but just a bit worse?

We Need Smarter Bears

Over at John Cole's place, everyone is watching the Katmai Park live bearcam. So I watched too, and it's clear that Katmai Park needs a smarter breed of bear. I watched for a few minutes, and during that time I saw a couple of dozen salmon leap up the falls in the foreground while the adorable young bear just stood around in one spot oblivious to the fact that all the fish were elsewhere, laughing at him. I feel certain this is a metaphor for something, but I can't quite think of what. Help me out.

UPDATE: Victory! (For the bear, anyway. Not so much for the salmon. But I'm rooting for my fellow mammal.) This must be a metaphor for yet something else. Perhaps that bears know more about being bears than I do? It may have taken a while to snatch breakfast from the jaws of defalls, but then again, what does a bear have besides time? It's not as if he needs to finish up fast so he can get back to Judge Judy.

Democrats Are Running an ISIS-Free Convention

Jim Geraghty reviews the Democratic convention:

In the past eleven days, we’ve seen five terrorist attacks in Europe: a truck attack in Nice, a suicide bomber in Ansbach, an attack with an axe on a train in Wuerzburg, a machete attack in Reutlingen, and a priest’s throat slit in Rouen, France.

Not one speaker addressed ISIS or Islamist terrorism last night. Democrats formulate their governing plans in a happier, peaceful, imaginary world.

It is a little odd. Obviously Democrats aren't going to go down the apocalyptic path that Republicans did, but destroying ISIS really would make the world a better place. You'd think someone might mention this. And yet, when Scott Pelley asked Hillary Clinton on Sunday what she most wanted to accomplish as president, she said this:

Well, I care most about getting the economy working for everybody.... rebuilding the ladders of opportunity....education....health care....race and discrimination....immigration reform....gun safety.

During this whole laundry list, I was talking to the TV: "Say ISIS. Say ISIS. Say ISIS." But she never did. And to my surprise, nobody commented on this the next day, not even conservatives (at least, none of the ones I read). Eventually, though, it's going to become a little too obvious if no speaker ever says anything about it. Maybe Bill Clinton will mention it tonight. Or one of the military folks on Wednesday or Thursday. Somebody should.

Party Unity Finally Comes to the Democrats

This is annoying. I feel like I ought to have something to say about tonight's festivities, but I don't, really. The A-listers (Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders) all gave good speeches. Bernie held nothing back, giving a full-throated endorsement of Hillary Clinton that showed him in his best light. Earlier in the day there had been some booing when Hillary's name was mentioned, but it seemed to die out as the night wore on, and in the prime time hour that was all most people saw, it was pretty much all sweetness and light. If the object was to show off a united Democratic Party to the nation, I'd say that Team Hillary did it.

On the other side of the aisle, Donald Trump was doing his usual: doubling down on whatever he's been criticized about recently. In this case it was NATO: "We have to walk," Trump said. "Within two days they're calling back!...They will pay us if the right person asks. That’s the way it works, folks." Republicans were almost universally appalled. During the Democratic speeches, Trump spent his time tweeting out his usual juvenile zingers. There's no point in highlighting them, though. It was just the workaday Trumpiness that I suspect even his fans are starting to get bored of by now.

And...that's about it. Party unity proceeds apace among Democrats, while puerile insults continue apace in Trumpland. Tune in again tomorrow.

Speaking of Republicans and Hillary Derangement Syndrome....

Jonah Goldberg writes today that the conventional wisdom about the DNC email leak is that Russia engineered it in order to help Donald Trump, its preferred candidate:

But there’s another theory with wide currency out there. It’s most articulate and forceful subscriber is Hugh Hewitt. Because Hillary’s private server was almost certainly hacked by the Russians, we should assume that they know literally everything Hillary has sent or received over it. Most intelligence and cyber security types seem to agree. Hence, Hugh argues, Hillary is “compromised.” They have leverage over her.

So far, I’m pretty much with Hugh. But here’s what I don’t get. If the Russians have so much leverage over Clinton, why don’t they want her to be president? This morning, Hugh dangled a theory that the Russians were yanking her leash by showing they have the goods on her. They saved the server emails for later (or for blackmail), but released the DNC emails to brush her back, or something.

This is lunacy. For starters, keep in mind that there's no actual evidence that anyone hacked into Hillary's private server. Second, even if the Russians did hack her server, they only "have something" on Hillary if she actually did something. Both Hewitt and Goldberg seem to think it's so obvious that Hillary is up to her armpits in corruption that they don't even have to make an argument for this. Of course she's concealing mountains of double dealing on her server. And the Russians are keeping all this secret so they have leverage over President Hillary when the time comes.

This is, of course, nuts. It's nuts to so blithely assume Hillary's corruption. It's nuts to think the Russians would keep their intel secret instead of simply releasing what they have and ruining her chances of winning. It's nuts to think that Hillary would even run for president if she knew she had some kind of huge bombshell that was likely to blow up on her.

It would be one thing if this came out of the fever swamps. And I know my readers will all tell me that Hewitt and Goldberg are part of the fever swamp. But they're not. Whatever else you think of him, Goldberg isn't even all that extreme in his conservatism. Hewitt is, but he's also a smart guy who's relatively restrained by radio jock standards. They're both pretty mainstream conservatives.

But one of them is willing to make up a completely batshit argument, while the other says he's "with Hugh" and is only willing to concede that he doesn't think his case "is quite as compelling as he makes it sound." If these guys are wondering how Donald Trump captured their party, all they have to do is look in the mirror.

MoJo's ace reporting team tells us what happened when Bernie Sanders addressed his delegates at the Democratic convention. At first, when he talked about the platform and the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, things went fine:

But when he tried to rally the delegates on behalf of Clinton, his audience became restless. "Immediately, right now, we have got to defeat Donald Trump, and we have got to elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine," Sanders said. His delegates shouted their protests and booed, forcing Sanders to pause before continuing in his remarks. Sanders called Trump a "bully and a demagogue" who "has made bigotry the core of his campaign." Still, the boos continued. "She does too!" delegates shouted. Others yelled, "Only you! Only you!"

Sanders declared that Trump poses a danger to the country's future, but he could not win over the crowd. "She has ruined communities!" one woman shouted. "She has ruined countries!" Sanders pointed out that Trump "does not respect the Constitution of the United States." Delegates kept on chanting: "Not with her!" and "We want Bernie!"

Our reporters say that Sanders "looked a bit surprised by the intensity of the Clinton opposition." I can't imagine why. This is one of the big problems I had with him back during the primary. It's one thing to fight on policy grounds, as he originally said he would, but when you start promising the moon and explicitly accusing Hillary Clinton of being a corrupt shill for Wall Street—well, there are some bells that can be unrung. He convinced his followers that Hillary was a corporate warmonger more concerned with lining her own pockets than with progressive principles, and they still believe it. And why wouldn't they? Their hero told them it was true.

Hillary is no saint. But her reputation as dishonest and untrustworthy is about 90 percent invention. Republicans have been throwing mud against the wall forever in an attempt to smear her, and the press has played along eagerly the entire time. When Bernie went down that road, he was taking advantage of decades of Republican lies in the hopes of winning an unwinnable battle. He was also playing directly into Donald Trump's hands.

I don't know. Maybe he never realized how seriously his young followers took him. It's possible. But he really needs to do something about this. Tonight's speech would be a good starting point.

Proton Gradients and the Origin of Life

Where did complex life originate? The New York Times reports on new research from a team led by William Martin of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf:

Their starting point was the known protein-coding genes of bacteria and archaea. Some six million such genes have accumulated over the last 20 years in DNA databanks....Of these, only 355 met their criteria for having probably originated in Luca, the joint ancestor of bacteria and archaea.

Genes are adapted to an organism’s environment. So Dr. Martin hoped that by pinpointing the genes likely to have been present in Luca, he would also get a glimpse of where and how Luca lived. “I was flabbergasted at the result, I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

The 355 genes pointed quite precisely to an organism that lived in the conditions found in deep sea vents, the gassy, metal-laden, intensely hot plumes caused by seawater interacting with magma erupting through the ocean floor....The 355 genes ascribable to Luca include some that metabolize hydrogen as a source of energy as well as a gene for an enzyme called reverse gyrase, found only in microbes that live at extremely high temperatures.

About a year ago I read The Vital Question, by British biochemist Nick Lane, which was all about this theory. Roughly speaking, his entire book was about the energy needs of these ancient organisms, which is based on something called a proton gradient. This, it turns out, is a complex and highly unusual way of providing energy, but it's also nearly universal in modern life, suggesting that it goes back to the very beginnings of life. But if it's so unusual, how did it get its start?

In the beginning, it could only work in a high-energy environment like a deep-sea vent. In these places, there was a natural gradient between proton-poor water and proton-rich water, and that was the beginning of the proton gradient. It's not the most efficient way of producing energy, but it was the only thing around 4 billion years ago. So willy nilly, life evolved to take advantage of this, and eventually evolved its own proton gradient inside cells.

Martin has been a longtime proponent of this idea as well, and now he's produced yet more evidence that it's likely to be true. The energy producing mitochondria in all of your cells are the result of this. Even 4 billion years later, they still depend on a proton gradient. Protons, it turns out, are the key to life.

POSTSCRIPT: And how is the book? It's good, though fairly dense at times if you're not already familiar with some basic chemistry and biology. And toward the end it gets rather speculative, so take it for what it's worth. But overall? If you're interested in the origins of complex life, it's worth a read.

So how has the country been doing during President Obama's term in office? Here's a scattering of indicators and how they've changed from 2008 (the last year of the Bush presidency) to now:

  1. Unemployment rate (U3): DOWN from 5.8 percent to 4.7 percent.
  2. Underemployment rate (U6): DOWN from 10.6 percent to 9.6 percent.
  3. Violent crime rate (per 100,000 residents): DOWN from 459 to 366.
  4. Fear of crime: DOWN from 37 percent to 35 percent.
  5. Uninsured rate: DOWN from 19.7 percent to 10.3 percent.
  6. Number of illegal immigrants: DOWN from 11.8 million to 11.3 million.
  7. Illegal immigrants from Mexico: DOWN from 6.6 million to 5.6 million.
  8. Teen pregnancy rate (per thousand females): DOWN from 40 to 25.
  9. Current account balance (trade deficit): DOWN from 4.6 percent of GDP to 2.3 percent of GDP.
  10. American war deaths: DOWN from 469 to 28.
  11. Inflation rate: DOWN from 3.8 percent to 1.1 percent.
  12. Shootings of police officers: DOWN from 149 to 120.
  13. Abortion rate (per thousand women): DOWN from 19 to 16.9 (through 2011).
  14. Federal deficit: DOWN from 3.1 percent of GDP to 2.5 percent of GDP.
  15. Drug abuse: DOWN from 22.4 million to 21.6 million (through 2013).
  16. Drug abuse among teenagers: DOWN from 7.7 million to 5.2 million (through 2013).
  17. Household debt (as percent of disposable income): DOWN from 12.8 percent to 10 percent.
  18. Public high school graduation rate: UP from 74 percent to 82 percent (through 2013).

I'm not presenting this stuff because I think it will change anyone's mind. Nor because Obama necessarily deserves credit for all of them. You can decide that for yourself. It's mostly just to get it on the record. And it's worth noting that none of this may matter in the face of two other statistics that might be more important than all the rest put together:

  1. Median household income: DOWN from $55,313 to $53,657 (through (2014).
  2. Americans killed in terror attacks: UP from 14 to 50+ (so far in 2016).

If you measure household income more broadly, it looks better than the raw Census figures. And household income has finally started increasing over the past couple of years. On the terror front, the absolute number of American fatalities from terrorist attacks is obviously very small. Still, the number of brutal attacks in the US and Europe (the only ones Americans care about) has obviously spiked considerably over the past year.

Are these two things enough to outweigh everything else? Maybe. Come back in November and I'll tell you.

We now have four polls out that were taken after the Republican convention: CNN, CBS, Morning Consult, and Gravis Marketing. They show an average post-convention bounce for Trump of 6.3 points. That's higher than the normal GOP bounce of about 4 points. They also show Trump leading Clinton by an average of 2.5 points.

This is not, by itself, anything for Democrats to be worried about. They'll get their own bounce this week, and it won't be until mid-August that everything settles down and we have a good idea of where everything really stands. But we can say two things. First, Donald Trump is suddenly going to start talking about polls again. Second, although liberals might have thought the Republican convention was a dumpster fire, it's obvious that Trump's message—even delivered in angry, apocalyptic tones—resonates with a lot of people. Democrats better hope that Team Hillary has an effective answer to that.