• We are a Nearly Perfectly Polarized Nation

    With 8 days left until we elect a new president, Morning Consult decided to poll the American public about the Comeygate emails that nobody has seen and which may or may not even be anything be new. The results are kind of perfect. They asked which is worse: Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, or Donald Trump’s comments on women, Muslims, Mexicans, and other minority groups? The answer:

    • Democrats: Trump’s comments, 85-12, percent.
    • Independents: A tie, 44-44 percent.
    • Republicans: Clinton’s email server, 82-10 percent.

    Elsewhere, they asked about Trump’s comment that Clinton’s use of a private server was worse than Watergate. Among Republicans, 82 percent said it was. I wonder if they would have agreed if Trump said it was worse than the Holocaust?

    I do wonder sometimes what these folks think is in these emails. I mean, suppose the worst: Hillary Clinton set up the private server in a deliberate attempt to evade FOIA and allow her staff to delete embarrassing emails. What do they think she would have inexplicably fessed up to on her BlackBerry? The mythical stand down order on Benghazi? That she really did order a hit on Vince Foster? Her plan to take away everybody’s guns once she becomes president? It’s a mystery.

  • What Not to Read During This Year’s Election Campaign

    Even those of us who have read a fair amount of history have plenty of lacunae. After all, a lot of stuff has happened since the glaciers receded and someone accidentally discovered that if you picked the little seedy bits off of some plants and tossed them away, they’d grow into new plants.

    Anyway. A couple of weeks ago I needed something new to read, and the choice came down to a gauzy bit of fiction or a history of Reconstruction. I chose the history. What a mistake. In the middle of a depressing election that’s turning largely on the politics of racial resentment and the loss of white supremacy, I’m taking the occasional breather by reading about possibly the most depressing era in American history—which, of course, turns pretty much entirely on the politics of racial resentment and the loss of white supremacy. And it’s not like this will have a happy ending or some kind of surprise twist. I know how it’s all going to turn out, after all. I think maybe I should have waited.

    Then again, maybe not. Maybe it’s the ideal read during Trumpmania. And with 150 mg of venlafaxine coursing through my body each day, I’m able to remain in a pretty chipper mood regardless. Better living through chemistry, my friends.

  • Is the FBI in an Unseemly Rush to Exonerate Hillary Clinton?!?

    From Rich Lowry:

    And Now the Rush to Say ‘Nothing to See Here’?

    Will the FBI now adopt an obviously election-dictated schedule for reviewing the Abedin emails? From First Read:

    NBC’s Pete Williams reports that it’s possible the FBI’s review of the emails could end quickly….“Officials say there’s no way to tell how long that will take. But they say if it goes quickly, and nothing classified is found, the FBI could say so within the next few days. It largely depends on how many of the e-mails are duplicates and how many are new to the investigators.”

    ZOMG! Having released a letter casting suspicion on Hillary Clinton despite having literally no evidence of anything new, the FBI might—might!—publicly exonerate her before the election if they review the emails and find nothing. WHY ARE THEY IN SUCH A RUSH??? Wouldn’t justice be better served by simply letting the FBI’s unfounded suspicion hang over the rest of the campaign?

    Never have I seen anyone so outraged at the prospect of quickly confirming that someone is innocent—something I’m sure Lowry expects since every email story of 2016 has eventually turned out to be hot air. But I think Lowry is being a little too obvious about it.

  • Poll Tightening? Meh.

    If you were a cynical observer and someone asked you what the media narrative would be during the last two weeks of the election, your answer would be simple: Tightening. With Hillary Clinton obviously way ahead and interest waning, reporters would be invested in telling everyone that the race was tightening so that they’d keep reading the news. Sportscasters do this endlessly when they’re faced with trying to keep their audience around during a blowout game.

    Believe it or not, I’m not that cynical. And yet, here we are, and everyone is talking about tightening. So why am I not talking about it? Well, take a look:

    Do you see much tightening there? I don’t. Now, as it happens, there actually is a bit of tightening here, maybe half a point or so over the past week. But it’s so small it’s almost invisible even in a big chart.

    Of course, this is just Pollster. Why rely solely on them? There are plenty of other poll averagers out there. The truth is that I don’t have a very good reason for this decision. I initially chose to use them because they produced nice looking graphics that I could manipulate fairly easy to show different time periods, different candidates, different polls, and so forth. Then I kept using them out of a sense that I should be consistent, rather than bopping around from site to site looking for numbers that happen to back up whatever point I wanted to make.

    Of course, I could use The Upshot’s roundup of all the poll averages, and then average those. But enough’s enough. There’s a point at which you’ve squeezed all the information you can out of the lemon.

    So for better or worse, I’m stuck with Pollster. In another week we’ll know how accurate they turned out to be. In the meantime, I’m not seeing much tightening there, and I’m not seeing much more anywhere else—including from Sam Wang, my longtime preferred poll averager when it comes to predictive accuracy. There’s maybe a point of tightening over the past month, maybe half a point, but that’s all. This race has been astonishingly stable for an entire year, and so far it’s staying that way.

  • Inflation Problem Remains Unlicked

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    After being given up for dead, inflation is gradually coming back to life.

    It’s not roaring back. Indeed, it’s still below the 2% level the Federal Reserve targets, one reason the Fed is almost certain to leave interest rates unchanged when it meets this week.

    ….The behavior of inflation-protected bonds suggests that in early July, investors expected U.S. inflation to average 1.4% over the coming decade. As of Friday, that had risen to 1.7%. That is still below the Fed’s 2% target, evidence that investors remain unconvinced the Fed has licked the low-inflation problem.

    The “low-inflation” problem! That’s totally accurate, but did you imagine you’d ever see the Wall Street Journal discussing the problem of inflation being too damn low? For those of us of a certain age, it feels like an alternate universe.

    Anyway, the primary inflation measure used by the Fed is the trimmed mean PCE rate. Here it is. It’s been going up steadily but very slowly for the past few years, but it’s still pretty low and there’s not even a hint of acceleration yet.

  • Here’s the Real Danger of a Trump Presidency

    Aside from the possibility of declaring martial law or starting a nuclear war over a nasty tweet, Ross Douthat figures there are three “baseline dangers” from a Trump presidency:

    • Sustained market jitters
    • Major civil unrest
    • Rapid escalation of risk in every geopolitical theater

    This list demonstrates why the Republican Party was unable to stop Trump during the primaries: it could never come to grips with who he really is and what he appeals to. Conservatives, even reformish conservatives like Douthat, just won’t admit that the single biggest danger posed by Trump is that he has normalized a frighteningly unashamed race-based populism. They’ve never been willing to stomach the political cost of acknowledging this.

    This is why Trump’s Republican opponents launched such feeble attacks on him. They couldn’t call him out for his racism because (a) he was just being a little more explicit about it than them, (b) it risked losing the tea party base, and (c) conservatives are not supposed to admit that racism exists. So Trump slid by, and then got clobbered by a Democrat who had no such constraints.

    Trump has other appeals than just race. He’s got all the usual conservative hot buttons covered—taxes, abortion, Supreme Court justices, etc.—as well as a seductive pitch to the working class about bringing back their jobs. Nonetheless, race-based (and gender-based) resentment is clearly at the core of his campaign. If the Republican Party continues along the path of open white ethnocentrism that Trump has re-energized, it will be bad for the Republican Party and quite possibly devastating for the country. That’s the biggest risk of a Trump presidency.

    Plus the nuclear war thing.

  • Basically Everybody Thinks James Comey Has Fucked Up

    So how is America reacting to Comeygate? Let’s check in:

    Comey has lost Joe Walsh? Walsh is a guy who says stuff like this: “Illegals surging across the border. Again. 2 weeks before Election Day. Paying attention America?” And this: “White House won’t say if Obama will leave the country if Trump wins. He’ll probably leave. He’ll go back home.” But even Joe Effin Walsh thinks Comey has crossed a line.

    In the meantime, standup comic Harry Reid, who moonlights as Senate Minority Leader, wrote a letter to Comey:

    In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity. The public has a right to know this information. I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public. There is no danger to American interests from releasing it. And yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.

    By contrast, as soon as you came into possession of the slightest innuendo related to Secretary Clinton, you rushed to publicize it in the most negative light possible.

    I wouldn’t count on any explosive news emerging about Trump’s bromance with Vladimir Putin, but this is A+ trolling from Reid. The only surprise is that Reid wrote a letter to Comey instead of a tweetstorm. But Reid is old school.

    Meanwhile, back in the real world, it’s hard to find anyone, Democrat or Republican, who approves of how Comey has handled this situation. Inside the FBI itself, Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal tells us that the Bureau is pretty much at war with itself. Long story short, there’s a whole swarm of agents in the field who are hellbent on digging up dirt on Hillary Clinton. Senior DOJ officials—civil servants, not political appointees—rolled their eyes when they got briefed on the state of their investigation, but the agents keep beavering away regardless, continually coming up empty. The Washington Post adds this nugget: “One person familiar with the matter said their presentation drew at least in part from media accounts over various foundation-related controversies.” Uh huh.

    So either the field is full of rogue agents pursuing a vendetta against Hillary Clinton, or else the senior ranks of the Justice Department is full of political hacks who will stop at nothing to protect Hillary Clinton. Take your pick, I guess.

  • Comeygate Is Looking Worse and Worse

    We’re into single digits, people. There are only 9 days left until the hellscape of this year’s presidential campaign ends. In the meantime, let’s play a game! Can you guess who the mystery man is in this story?

    In the fall of 1996, a charity called the Association to Benefit Children held a ribbon-cutting in Manhattan for a new nursery school serving children with AIDS. The bold-faced names took seats up front. There was then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) and former mayor David Dinkins (D). TV stars Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford, who were major donors. And there was a seat saved for Steven Fisher, a developer who had given generously to build the nursery.

    Then, all of a sudden…“There’s this kind of ruckus at the door…He just gets up on the podium and sits down.”…“Frank Gifford turned to me and said, ‘Why is he here?’ ” Buchenholz recalled recently. By then, the ceremony had begun. There was nothing to do.

    Once he was onstage, he played the part of a big donor convincingly. Photos from the event show him smiling, right behind Giuliani, as the mayor cut the ribbon. During the “celebratory dance” segment of the program, he mugged and did the macarena with Giuliani, Kathie Lee Gifford and a group of children.

    “I am just heartsick,” Buchenholz, the executive director, wrote the next day to the donor whose seat had been taken. Buchenholz provided a copy of the email.

    What’s that? You all guessed Donald Trump? Seriously? All of you? Damn. And here I thought I was being so clever. But click the link anyway to read David Fahrenthold’s latest reporting on the almost pathological aversion to actual charity that has marked Donald Trump’s life.

    Meanwhile, in the breaking news department, Comeygate is getting fishier and fishier. It’s already unclear why FBI Director James Comey decided to ignite a firestorm over a set of emails that nobody had read yet and quite possibly have nothing to do with Hillary Clinton. It’s also unclear why the FBI hasn’t yet gotten a warrant to go ahead and read the emails, something that most likely could be done in a few hours. Now there’s this:

    The FBI agents investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server knew early this month that messages recovered in a separate probe might be germane to their case, but they waited weeks before briefing the FBI director, according to people familiar with the case….Given that the Clinton email team knew for weeks that it may have cause to resume its work, it is unclear why investigators did not tell Comey sooner.

    This is now getting beyond a case of mere poor judgment on Comey’s part. If the FBI knew about these messages weeks ago, they could easily have gotten a warrant and begun looking at them. If they were harmless—which I’m willing to bet on—Comey could then have either said nothing, or else made it clear that the emails were nothing new.

    Instead, the Bureau sat on this for weeks; failed to get a warrant; and informed Comey only at the very tail end of a presidential campaign, when there wouldn’t be enough time to release any exonerating information before Election Day. And if published reports are accurate, Comey went public with this within ten days of an election—something that contravenes longstanding policy at the Department of Justice—because he basically figured he was operating under a threat that it would be leaked with or without him.

    If you had material that was literally meaningless because no one had yet looked at it, but you wanted to make it sound sinister, this is how you would play it. Is that just coincidence? Beats me. But something smells very, very rotten here.

    POSTSCRIPT: Still, let’s stay clear on something. The behavior of Comey and the FBI is somewhere between clueless and scandalous, but the behavior of the media has been flatly outrageous. Given what we know, there is simply no reason for this to have been a 24/7 cable obsession—or to command the entire top half of the front page of the New York Times. This massive amount of attention has been in the service of literally nothing new. Once again, though, when the press hears the words “email” and “Hillary Clinton” anywhere near each other, they go completely out of their minds.

  • The Cubs Almost Blew It

    I’ve been vaguely rooting for Cleveland in the World Series this year. Mostly this is because Cleveland is sort of a hard-luck city, and two championships in one year seems like a nice thing for them. But mostly it’s because of my deep insight into the true passion of Cubs fans. For example:

    If the Cubs won this year, fans would have to give up all this. No more lovable losers. No more humblebragging about how the Cubs always find a way to blow it. No more genuine bragging about not winning a World Series since the fall of the Roman Empire. No more generational bonding over stories about Cub incompetence.

    And most important, no more uniqueness, the true source of Cub pride. If the Cubs won, they’d be just another team and next year would be just another year. That’s what happened in Boston. Now, the Red Sox are nothing more than another garden variety moneyball team. Before long they’ll probably move out to a shiny new billion-dollar sports palace in the suburbs. And why not? There’s nothing special about them anymore.

    This could have happened to you, Chicago. But it looks like you’ve dodged that bullet. Congratulations!

  • We Have 10 Days of Madhouse Politics Ahead of Us

    With 10 days to go before Election Day, we are FUBARed. Have you heard? There are some emails. They are pertinent to something or other. But nobody has actually read them, so, actually, maybe they aren’t.

    They are from Hillary Clinton to Huma Abedin. No, wait, they aren’t. Or maybe they are. No they’re not.

    They are duplicates of emails we’ve already seen. No they aren’t. But maybe some of them are. Or most of them.

    The FBI was legally required to inform Congress about these emails. No, just the opposite: it was an egregious breach of a longstanding Department of Justice policy of not announcing things that might affect a presidential campaign within 60 days of Election Day.

    The emails are “bigger than Watergate.” They’re a nothingburger.

    Jim Comey was in a no-win situation. No, he should have waited until he knew more.

    Comey had no idea what effect his cryptic letter would have. Don’t be an idiot: he’s been in Washington for decades and knew exactly what effect it would have.

    Sure, but he’s a standup guy. No, he’s a Republican hack and he’s trying to affect Republican chances in downballot races.

    What an unbelievable cock-up. Are we really going to spend the last ten days of the election eagerly awaiting each new leak from “officials” at the FBI who might know things and might not? Seriously? After this election is over, Jim Comey should resign and then spend the rest of his life in a monastery reflecting on his failings.