Harsh Your Mellow Monday: Landslides Are Best Left for Songs, and Other Fleeting Hopes
Landslides that aren’t coming for Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump, The Des Moines Register’s rough season, backside of the Super Bowl over-reaction, Rashida Tlaib said things, and the lessons of Falkirk. Let’s get after it.
[HM1] Leave the Landslides to Fleetwood Mac
Although I’m on the record doubting Senator Bernie Sanders’ prospects, let’s play along for a moment, because Team Trump has been stoking the fires of the Bernie supporters for a while now. The president himself and his messaging machine has found it fitting to repeat the mantra of the Bernie supporters that having been screwed in 2016 (he well may have been) the DNC and establishment were going to do it to the Independent Senator that becomes a Democrat when he runs for president this time around (maybe, we will see). Notably, at his Iowa rally Thursday night, the president laid off Sanders despite him being the favorite to win the caucuses there. So why is MAGAland throwing Bernie a bone lately? The theory goes that the avowed Democratic Socialist will be an easier opponent than some of the others vying for the nomination, fits the president’s messaging to his base, and might — according to this line of thinking –even have the added bonus of splitting parts of the Democratic coalition. Then, some of them proclaim, President Trump wins a landslide reelection similar to Reagan wiping the the electoral floor with Walter Mondale.
Bernie Sanders may win the nomination, and may well split part of the party in doing so, but the idea there is going to be a landslide Trump triumph is the stuff of MAGAland fan fiction.
Sanders’ supporters and their various issues with the Democratic Party are legion and well-known, so we are not going to rehash them all here. To be fair, the DNC and others have a point when a candidate only wants their party when seeking high office, eschews the label the rest of the time, and by some counts something like 12% of Bernie’s Democratic primary voters switched to Trump in the general election against frenemy Hillary Rodham Clinton. Clinton, who is once again not being quiet about Sanders’ interruption of what supposed to be her 2016 coronation, is playing right into all of this and probably doesn’t care what it means.
Sounds dire, right? Is all that potential dysfunction enough for a 49 state blowout?
No. No, it is not. Not in this present environment.
It brought to mind something Geoffrey Skelley had touched on last May at 538, when the primary contenders were just getting the field set.
In the recent string of close elections, there have been two in which the nominee who won the national popular vote didn’t win the Electoral College — 2000 and 2016. Before 2000, the last time a candidate had won the popular vote but not the Electoral College was in 1888.
Now, some might not consider a large single-digit margin — such as Barack Obama’s 7-point win in 2008 — to be “close.” But it’s worth noting that out of 21 presidential elections from 1904 to 1984 — or the time between these two competitive periods — only nine had margins in the single digits. The other 12 were double-digit blowouts.
What was behind the competitiveness of presidential elections in the late 19th century and our current time? Most obviously, both eras featured high levels of political polarization and partisanship. According to VoteView.com, the largest ideological gaps between the two parties in Congress occurred at the end of the 19th century and around our present time. And recent data from the Pew Research Center shows that the American public has been becoming more politically polarized. Other research has found twin peaks in partisanship in the late 19th century and the current era, with highly nationalized elections that exhibited consistent voting patterns from state to state. It’s no coincidence that Electoral College maps in both periods often looked very similar from election to election.
Whether you like it or not, we are living in the longest era of highly competitive elections since the Civil War.
Whoever the nominee for the Democratic Party is going to be, President Trump is still a very polarizing figure. No matter who the candidate is a 3-5 point victory for Donald Trump’s re-election, while comparatively decisive, would be the high-end of realistic optimism. A more likely victory scenario for the president is to replicate his Electoral College win from 2016 with a modest increase in voting and just enough division on Team Blue to keep him in office four more years. That is, of course, if the economy holds up. The last wide margin of victory in a presidential race — Barack Obama’s — in 2008, was greatly affected by the financial crisis that hit in September of that year and John McCain’s questionable response to it. McCain probably wasn’t winning anyway, but Hope and Change against a serious economic scare only weeks before voting started was a teed up shot Barack Obama wasn’t going to miss hitting. If the economy falters, the talk of an electoral wipeout might be whispered about against the president, instead of for.
But absent world economic collapse, a major shooting war, or a giant squid attacking the East Coast, this is going to be a war of attrition along well established political trenches. There will be no blowout victor coasting to victory in prime time on election night. Only a survivor of a close and politically brutal contest.
[HM2] You Had One Job To Do: Des Moines Register Edition:
It’s been a really rough few months for the Des Moines Register.
Every four years, Iowa becomes the focus of the political world, and The Des Moines Register as the paper of record for the fine folks of that area enjoys a moment of prominence. Usually the paper gets to contribute a moderator to a debate or two, and the nation’s media consumers look to them for the local expertise on the goings on of the Iowa Caucuses. The release of the final polling numbers was even going to get a CNN prime-time slot for the big reveal.
Nothing is more important to the Register and its polling partners than the integrity of the Iowa Poll. Today, a respondent raised an issue with the way the survey was administered, which could have compromised the results of the poll. It appears a candidate’s name was omitted in at least one interview in which the respondent was asked to name their preferred candidate.
While this appears to be isolated to one surveyor, we cannot confirm that with certainty. Therefore, the partners made the difficult decision to not to move forward with releasing the Iowa Poll.
In the lead-up to the 2020 election, all eyes are on Iowa. Get updates of all things Iowa politics delivered to your inbox.
The Register has published the Iowa Poll for 76 years, and it is considered the gold standard in political polling. Selzer & Co., which conducts the poll, is recognized for its excellence in polling. It is imperative whenever an Iowa Poll is released that there is confidence that the data accurately reflects Iowans’ opinions. — Carol Hunter
The conspiracy theorist will run rampant with that one, but since this isn’t the first publicly embarrassing incident for the Des Moines Register in recent months maybe the answer is much more simple, since poor leadership tends to carry over from incident to incident.
You remember Carol Hunter, don’t you. This is the second national mess the Des Moines Register has found itself in recently, and the second time Hunter has put out a statement on the matter. The first was back during the Carson King/Aaron Calvin/Beer sign guy kerfuffle that went from feel good viral story, to cancel culture touchstone, to journalistic maelstrom. After that bit of fun, Carol Hunter did a statement, which most, including me, found wanting:
That press conference was before the Des Moines Register article, and the backlash against Calvin and the Register was immediate. The Register went ahead and posted the profile a few hours later, and even though it was mostly positive, the damage was done. Everything the Des Moines Register did after that just made it worse. First came the realization that Calvin himself had very questionable things in his own social media, started deleting old tweets, then apologized and locked his Twitter account. The Register’s social media postings continued to get ratioed and draw withering criticism, and finally Executive Editor Carol Hunter took to the pages of her own paper with a terribly thought out piece entitled: “We hear you. You’re Angry. Here’s what we are doing about it.” After informing readers that the reporter in question was no longer with the paper, this summary was given:
The Register reporter writing the profile had discovered the tweets on King’s public timeline earlier in the day, and he asked King about them. King, to his credit, expressed immediate regret.
The timeline gets a bit complicated here: Register editors discussed at length whether to include information about the tweets and King’s remorse in our profile, but we were still editing the story when King talked to local TV stations. Busch Light announced its decision shortly afterward. We hadn’t yet published anything about his tweets when some people on social media began accusing the Register of doing King wrong and ruining a potential opportunity to continue raising millions of dollars to help sick children.
Many of you have said the timeline is beside the point. You’ve asked instead why we chose to look into King’s tweets in the first place. Some of you then noticed questionable tweets by the reporter himself, which the Register then began to investigate.
The idea that the paper’s coverage had nothing to do with pulling of support is ridiculous on its face, but the real problem here isn’t the horribly managed reactions, but the utter failure of leadership prior to that. The whole of the piece is an embarrassing exercise in CYA couched in journalistic buzzwords and paragraphs containing many words but somehow missing the only ones that should be uttered by a leader after a systemic failure like this: This was wrong.
If your big moment in the sun is every four years, you should probably spend the three years or so in the meantime tightening up your operation and decision making processes. Not to mention your leadership. Otherwise, folks might find themselves in 2024 looking elsewhere for the pulse of the caucusing Iowan. Gold standards can be tarnished, after all, if not maintained.
[HM3] Shaken, and Greatly Stirred, Super Bowl Halftime Reax
There was a sportsball game last night. You may have heard. It was a good game, with two teams that are easy to root for, multiple story lines, a come-from-behind win, and Kansas City getting their first title in 50 years. A feel good story all around.
So naturally, social media is all hyped up over the halftime show.
Shakira and Jennifer Lopez co-headlined the performance. Now, I’m old enough to remember Fly Girl In Living Color-era JLo, and also when Shakira first managed to break through after being a superstar in the Spanish-speaking world before that. At 43 and 50 years of age, respectively, Shakira and Jennifer Lopez did what they have spent most of their careers doing: singing, dancing, entertaining, some more dancing, and lots of hip and booty shaking in the middle.
Shaking butts on the biggest TV show of the year? Well then, cue up the outrage.
But you shouldn’t be.
If you don’t know who those two entertainers are, or how they have entertained for the last 20+ years, that’s on you. You are entitled to your opinion of course, but slow your roll on “But the Children!!!” stuff. “The Children” were more likely invested in Demi Lovato singing, and doing a good job of it, the National Anthem. Most young teens and down in age know Shakira as that judge from The Voice and from Zootopia, and know JLo from being a dance show judge on TV. Most of those same kids Googled and YouTubed to find out about them, and saw far more provocative stuff than anything that was on the field in Miami.
But pouncing must be done, ranging from the predictable cries about the children’s eyes and delicate innocence to eye-rolling stupidity of the grifter class linking multi-millionaires grinding on stage to sex trafficking.
Folks, simmer down. If you don’t want your children to see it, shoo them from the room or change the channel. The puppy bowl was on. It’s your choice.
Try not to be threatened by wiggly bottoms on a voluntary-to-watch TV show. Those with the most outrage points at death do not win the game of life. Courage now.
[HM4] Against Hillary, but Only The Acceptable Amount
Speaking of Hillary Clinton rising up from the shadows to once again take a run at Bernie, Sanders supporter and “Squad” member Rep Rashida Tlaib (D-MI13) was having none of it:
— Christopher J. Hale (@chrisjollyhale) February 1, 2020
As has become something of a habit for her, this was followed with a walk-back and explaining statement:
My statement regarding last night:
“I am so incredibly in love with the movement that our campaign of #NotMeUs has created. This makes me protective over it and frustrated by attempts to dismiss the strength and diversity of our movement. (1/4)
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) February 1, 2020
For all the press they have dominated, both justified and overblown, “The Squad” is also subject to an election this year, and of the members Rep Tlaib is by far the most likely to have re-election trouble. She won a six-way race by 900 votes, and has been in the headlines for plenty of stuff not related to representing her constituents of the Michigan 13. Her famous “We’re going to impeach the motherF*$@#!!!” was not exactly keeping with Speaker Pelosi’s edict of solemnity, and she has had other issues since taking her house seat. Hillary Clinton is not a favorite of the Bernie supporting squad, but she won the Detroit area 13th in a rout. With it being a +32 blue district, which is about as air-tight safe as it gets, being a noisy wheel who doesn’t play ball is a good way to get yourself a primary challenger backed by those you rail against in your own party.
Playing national surrogate for Bernie Sanders is all well and good, but to not take care of the folks at home — or at least appear too — while keeping your own party’s backing is a tried and true formula for being a one and done congresswoman.
[HM5] Grifting in The Name Of
Over at Arc Digital, Joshua Tait did a review of the latest 501c3 slush fund to come out of grifting supercouple Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Charlie Kirk, which he generously plays along to their calling it a “think tank:”
A historian of think tanks, Jason Stahl, argues that this strategy of imitating the academy lowered the barriers of entry for conservative ideas and elevated them to an artificial parity with academic scholarship. The aim was to create a right-leaning alternative to academia for conservative or centrist lawmakers. It was very successful.
One key to this strategy has been maintaining intellectual legitimacy. No one will cite a Cato or American Enterprise Institute study if it’s not considered credible. Nor will they be able to win money from non-partisan sources. Despite their ideological priors, good think tanks strive — not always successfully — to maintain credibility.
The Falkirk Center seems to undermine this strategy, or at least goes in a different direction. It takes to heart Andrew Breitbart’s claim that “politics is downstream from culture.” Instead of hoping to influence policy, the Falkirk Center bets it can make a dent in our civic discourse with online influencers. Maybe there is something to the assumption: if we’ve learned one thing over the last five years, it’s that social media and web media influencers can shape our discourse.
But a culture war first, celebrity-based strategy, especially modeled on Turning Point USA, risks defaulting on the credibility necessary to sustain a think tank as anything other than another stable of online shouters. In this vein, it’s strange to notice the ostentatiously highbrow Claremont Institute awarding Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec one of its Lincoln Fellowships for 2019.
We could go all day about Junior Jerry and Kirk, but I’ll just add this. Along with the moronic Battle of Falkirk analogy they should have thought through, there is one other thing. The history of the word “Falkirk,” if chased down far enough, comes out to something akin to “speckled church.” If you consider Kirk and Falwell as a growing mold needing to be washed off the faithful, then the imagery works quite well.