Political Animal


September 30, 2014 5:10 PM Polling Update

Aside from the Iowa Poll I wrote about yesterday morning, there’s some other new polling data of note yesterday and today:

* There’s another poll of IA-SEN, from PPP, and though it doesn’t show Republican Joni Ernst with as big a lead as the Selzer poll for the Register, she is up by 2 points among LVs, precisely where PPP had the race a month ago.

* There are three separate polls out of MA, all confirming that Democrat Martha Coakley is in a red-hot race with Charlie Baker (i.e., it’s not a figment of the Boston Globe’s imagination). They’re from Western New England University (Baker up 47/46 among LVs); Suffolk/Boston Herald (Coakley up 44/43 among “very” LVs); and UMass/WBZ (Baker up 46/45 among LVs).

* There’s a rare poll of the Alaska governor’s race, from Rasmussen, showing independent Bill Walker leading incumbent Republican Sean Parnell 47/42 among LVs.

* And there was some interesting new polling from CNN/ORC of LA, showing Mary Landrieu leading Republican John Cassidy 43/40 among LV’s for the first round of the “jungle primary,” but trailing by three (50/47) in a runoff. Interestingly, among RVs the poll had Landrieu up 10 in the first round and actually winning the runoff, showing how important GOTV’s going to be in that race.

September 30, 2014 3:52 PM Gubernatorial Anti-Incumbent Wave?

One of the less persuasive memes of the campaign cycle has been the hoary if never very credible idea of a bipartisan anti-incumbent wave, which pops up every time political institutions are as universally unpopular as they are today.

But having said that, there is some reason to believe that highly-visible state-level incumbents—i.e., governors—could be vulnerable regardless of national partisan trends if their records are unpopular. And accordingly, there are an unusually high number of vulnerable incumbent governor’s going into November.

A Politico piece on the subject by James Hohmann suggests that “as many as a dozen” governors are “fighting for their political lives.” Looking at the Cook Political Report ratings, Jennifer Duffy has three Democrats and seven Republicans in supreme peril, with one Democratic incumbent having already lost in a primary (Hawaii’s Neil Abercrombie), and two open Democratic seats (in Arkansas and Massachusetts) being tossups. Duffy does not show Alaska’s Sean Parnell in any serious trouble, but that could change given two recent polls showing that Republican governor trailing independent Bill Walker.

Going into the cycle the buzz in gubernatorial races focused on Republicans running for re-election in blue states. That’s still the big factor affecting vulnerable GOP incumbents in FL, ME, MI, PA and WI. But the surprise is how many gubernatorial seats are vulnerable in states where the governor is in the same party that carried them in 2008 and 2012: five Democratic seats (CO, CT, HI, IL, MA) and three Republican seats (AK, GA and KS, and you could perhaps add AZ). So bad or at least unpopular governing matters, and/or candidate quality matters. In any event, there could be a lot of turnover in November, and possibly at least one overtime event (a Georgia gubernatorial runoff in December).

September 30, 2014 1:43 PM Lunch Buffet

Deadly combo of slow news day and major moonlighting deadlines makes this Tuesday painful. Hang with me, animals.

Here are some midday news/views tastycakes:

* Book-mark for future reference: Jonathan Cohn marshals the evidence that the Affordable Care Act is working well.

* New case headed for POTUS will test whether religious liberty holdings of Hobby Lobby apply to minority religions like Islam.

* At TNR Brian Beutler argues Romney wasn’t off-balance or “uncomfortable” making his 47% gaffe, as Mitt suggested in Liebovich piece.

* New York Times tick-tock on when administration assessments of IS changed mentions a factor a lot of critics have forgotten: shocking collapse of Iraqi Army.

* Juan Williams the rare pundit who thinks improving economy could tip midterms to Democrats.

And in non-political news:

* FCC bans NFL blackouts for non-sold-out games.

As we break for lunch, here’s more Marc Bolan with T. Rex, performing “Jeepster” in 1972.

September 30, 2014 1:14 PM The Street Storage System for Military Hardware

So MoJo’s Molly Redden went out to investigate the bourgeoning movement among police departments disturbed by the images from Ferguson to get rid of their own surplus Pentagon war machinery, and discovered it ain’t that easy. There’s a lot of paperwork with not a lot of help, and in general it’s clear the feds don’t want the stuff back. The reason is interesting:

According to interviews with state officials running point between the Pentagon and police, the Defense Department prefers to leave equipment in circulation whenever possible. “It’s a low-cost storage method for them,” says Robb Davis, the mayor pro tem of Davis [CA]. His town is trying to shake its MRAP [mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle]. “They’re dumping these vehicles on us and saying, ‘Hey, these are still ours, but you have to maintain them for us.’”

Thus police departments wanting to get rid of military equipment are strongly encouraged to give them to other po-po, who presumably either lack their own MRAPs or still think they’re cool.

So a trend that many perhaps thought reflected pure evil or at least egregious folly is really attributable to a green eye-shade cost-shifting trick. Figures.

September 30, 2014 12:48 PM No Guns for “Theocrats,” Eh?

It’s a painfully slow news day, meaning I will sometimes read and even write about items I normally wouldn’t give, literally, the time of day. Noting on an aggregator an item entitled “My Gun Range Is a Muslim-Free Zone,” I read a post from some ConCon gun advocate named Jan Morgan, and before laughing it off, found this interesting twist in her argument for excluding Muslims from her business:

I view Islam as a theocracy, not a religion. Islam is the union of political, legal, and religious ideologies. In other words, law, religion and state are forged together to form what Muslims refer to as “The Nation of Islam.”
It is given the sovereign qualities of a nation with clerics in the governing body and Sharia law all in one. This is a Theocracy, not a religion.
The US Constitution does not protect a theocracy.
The 1st Amendment is very specific about protecting the rights of individuals from the government, as it concerns the practice of religions, not theocracies.
It clearly differentiates between government and religion. Again protecting the individual’s religious beliefs and practices from (the state) government.
In Islam religion and state are one.
We are a Nation governed by laws, the U.S. Constitution. We are not a Nation that is governed by religion, politicians or clerics.
How then can Islam be protected by the U.S. Constitution?

Geez, lady, you’re living in Arkansas. If you’re worried about theocrats, Muslims should be the least of your worries. Check out the belief systems of your local Southern Baptist clergy, and Republican politicians. Hell, there’s even someone associated with your state (he’s now living in Florida) who’s both. Maybe you need a photo of Mike Huckabee at the door of your gun range with strict instruction not to let the guy in.

September 30, 2014 11:56 AM 2015 “Chokepoints”

In all the literature of “what would change if Republicans win the Senate,” it’s generally assumed that a lot of legislation would then clear both Houses and then reach the White House, where the president’s sparse use of the veto pen would suddenly be reversed into a vast and regular ink-spilling. Here’s a passage from the latest “what would change” piece, by Ezra Klein, that states the CW but also why it could be wrong:

Neither side expects legislative productivity to budge much. A Republican takeover wouldn’t end legislative gridlock so much as it would move the chokepoint. “The focus for dysfunction would shift from the Senate blocking bad Republican ideas to the President’s veto blocking bad ideas, but bad ideas would nonetheless be blocked,” says the Democratic aide. If Republicans take the Senate, some ideas will still fall to Democratic filibusters, but more will make it to Obama’s desk. He’ll have to actually veto things bills like the Ryan budget rather than simply letting them die through Senate inaction.

Yes, obviously, a reconciliation bill incorporating the Ryan budget is not subject to the filibuster and would almost certainly reach Obama’s desk in a Republican-controlled Senate. But you can bet the White House will constantly push Senate Democrats to exercise the filibuster against obnoxious legislation to avoid a “united Congress versus the lame-duck President” dynamic. The question is whether said Senate Democrats would fear their past anti-filibuster rhetoric would come back to haunt them. How they address that dilemma matters more than you might think: it could control their behavior if in the near future Republicans control both branches of Congress and the White House, making the Senate filibuster the only “chokepoint” available.

September 30, 2014 11:08 AM What Does Rand Paul Really Believe?

I suppose this week’s must-read is Ryan Lizza’s long New Yorker piece on Rand Paul, which fills in some of the man’s history while meditating extensively on the relationship between Ron Paul’s “Revolution” and whatever it is Paul the Younger can be said to represent. Lizza confirms the impression that Rand was from a very early age the old man’s chief political strategist, forever coming up with ways to better popularize The Cause (which were sometimes rejected by the candidate himself). So from one perspective, the son is carrying out what the title of the piece calls “The Revenge of Rand Paul,” a continuation of the family war against the GOP Establishment with much shrewder tactics.

And Lizza doesn’t appear to doubt that deep down Rand and Ron share the same ideology, which could well mean that Rand still doesn’t believe there should be a government remedy for private racial discrimination, or that paper money is real, or that 9/11 was anything other than “blowback” for U.S. meddling in the Middle East going back for decades.

If that’s true, of course, Rand Paul is not only an extremist but a liar. And there’s every reason to believe that is exactly the line of attack his Republican opponents in 2016 will take with him. Get ready to relive some of the strangest moments of the Revolution, from the racist newsletters to the very public defense of Iran, with young Rand at the controls.

September 30, 2014 10:17 AM Romney ‘12 in Two Paragraphs

Buried near the end of a soft-focus Mark Liebovitch piece on a visit with Ann and Mitt Romney, mainly preoccupied with determining whether the Mittster is serious about running again, is this fascinating snippet:

“I was talking to one of my political advisers,” Romney continued, “and I said: ‘If I had to do this again, I’d insist that you literally had a camera on me at all times” — essentially employing his own tracker, as opposition researchers call them. “I want to be reminded that this is not off the cuff.” This, as he saw it, was what got him in trouble at that Boca Raton fund-raiser, when Romney told the crowd he was writing off the 47 percent of the electorate that supported Obama (a.k.a. “those people”; “victims” who take no “personal responsibility”). Romney told me that the statement came out wrong, because it was an attempt to placate a rambling supporter who was saying that Obama voters were essentially deadbeats.
“My mistake was that I was speaking in a way that reflected back to the man,” Romney said. “If I had been able to see the camera, I would have remembered that I was talking to the whole world, not just the man.” I had never heard Romney say that he was prompted into the “47 percent” line by a ranting supporter. It was also impossible to ignore the phrase “If I had to do this again.”

Liebovitch was interested in the “on-the-record-all-the-time” idea as a reflection of Romney’s “limitations as a candidate.” But I’d say it captures the central nature of Romney’s entire 2012 campaign. Throughout the primaries he was always in effect talking to some angry if not entirely coherent Republican voter or donor or media opinion-leader, and trying to “reflect back” to their POV, which Mitt did not entirely share but had to take very, very seriously. It’s an almost impossible habit to break, and at a crucial moment, he couldn’t.

September 30, 2014 9:32 AM Sam Brownback’s Body

If you want a good historically contextualized look at the revolt against Gov. Sam Brownback in deep-red Kansas, check out the piece published at TNR today by John Judis. As John notes, the state has a history of religiously-infused radicalism, but also (probably as recompense) has a history of moderate leaders who reign in the extremists. That could be what is happening this year with the trouble Browback is suddenly in, and with the appearance of a viable independent Senate candidacy as well.

Judis is always fun to read, but he gets style points for mentioning the famous John Steuart Curry mural in the Kansas state capital that depicts John Brown dominating a landscape of war and natural disaster holding a rifle in one hand and a Bible in the other, and then concluding his essay as follows:

If the state’s voters are faced with a choice between a mild-mannered, cautious Democrat and a Republican crusader with a Bible in one hand and a check from Koch Industries in the other, history favors the Democrat.

September 30, 2014 8:38 AM Daylight Video

T. Rex’s Marc Bolan, who died in a car accident in 1977, would have been 67 today. Here’s T. Rex performing “20th Century Boy” in 1973.

September 29, 2014 5:53 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Lord a-mercy, September flew by. Time to bust out those Columbus Day decorations, eh?

Here are some remains of the day:

* Very strange GQ piece on the post-fame existence of George Zimmerman’s family, trying to “rebrand” itself and secure some media perks.

* Molly Ball profiles Greg Orman and argues it’s all about the revolt of moderate Republicans in Kansas.

* Dick Polman documents Republican “terror ads” across country aimed at bringing back political atmosphere of 2002.

* The Hill previews how party committees will pick where to place final emphasis, but offers no clues as to what they will decide.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer notes that in some fields community college associate degrees and “professional certificates” seem to have no value unless they lead to further education.

And in non-political news:

* Snakes alive, amazing that Brady Hoke still the football coach at Michigan today; fan base is livid over concussed QB being sent back into game.

That’s it for Monday. We’ll close with Jerry Lee performing “Middle Aged Crazy.”


September 29, 2014 5:08 PM SCOTUS Runs Out Clock On Expanded Early Voting in Ohio

In breaking news, by a 5-4 decision (you can predict the breakdowns, can’t you?) the U.S. Supreme Court set aside a 6th Circuit Court of Appeals order preventing Ohio from significantly reducing early voting opportunities. Worse yet, by refusing to make a substantive ruling while inviting the state to file a formal appeal to the 6th Circuit ruling, SCOTUS effectively ran out the clock since the disputed portion of early voting will have passed by the time the requisite procedures can be followed.

Now Election Law Blog’s Rick Hasen argues supporters of voting rights didn’t have the best case in Ohio, which still has a pretty robust early election program compared to other states. Hasen also fears the Ohio case could give SCOTUS a hook to issue a more sweeping repudiation of the claim that early voting is protected by constitution or statute. But the way the SCOTUS majority handled the case was, well, under-handed.

September 29, 2014 4:54 PM Tom Cotton and The Deserving Rich

It’s always been a bit of a quandary for conservatives that their constituents often refuse to take a consistent position on government assistance programs, but differ based on their perceptions of which beneficiaries are most “deserving.” Naturally enough, “deserving” tends to translate into “me” or “people like me,” while those people are presumed undeserving. Thus, you have the old folks living on Social Security and Medicare who are enraged at “The Welfare” and Obamacare.

There’s a special problem facing conservatives in farm states where agricultural subsidies are popular—and especially in the South, where family farms are rare and the big commodity programs have a very wealthy (and powerful) constituency. With food stamps now being the most regularly demonized “welfare” program, what is a good wingnut Member of Congress to do when a farm bill comes up—not just as a matter of logic, but of procedure, since food stamp authorizations have been part of farm bills forever?

Well, for Arkansas’ Tom Cotton, the answer is to lie about it:

So the virtuous farm subsidies are being “hijacked” by the Kenyan socialist to give food stamps to those people, and Cotton thinks “you’ve paid enough already.” That those “good” farm programs would have died out years ago if not for the votes of food stamp-supporting urban congressmen is not mentioned, of course. As Greg Sargent puts it, it’s “socialism for me, but not for thee.”

As Jonathan Chait observes, in taking this tack Cotton is once again proving himself to be the “perfect Republican:”

He is running not quite as a principled foe of government, but instead as a committed opponent of redistribution. Government is bad insofar as it gives money to the poor and vulnerable. Tom Cotton is going places in the Republican Party.

Yep. Add in the ideal resume, the special buy-in of both Tea Folk and neocons, and the whiff of self-righteousness that infuses everything the man says, and Cotton’s Senate campaign really is the beginning—or just possibly the end—of something big.

September 29, 2014 4:03 PM When The Next Attack Happens….

I’m going to bookmark a Paul Waldman post at the Prospect today, and you should, too, against the day, which we’d be foolish not to anticipate, when there is another newsworthy (in scale, location, drama or ferocity) terrorist attack on “the homeland.” As Waldman notes, Americans’ fear of terrorism already defies reality, but it would go off the charts if another big domestic event happened:

Imagine it’s six months from now. A 19-year-old man—whom we’ll later learn was in communication with members of ISIL in the Middle East—walks on to the Mall in Washington on a weekend afternoon. Groups of tourists are walking about from one monument to another. He takes his backpack off his shoulders, reaches in, and removes the semiautomatic rifle he bought a month before at a gun show in Virginia, where he didn’t have to submit to a background check (though it wouldn’t have mattered, because his record is clean). He opens fire on the crowd, and before U.S. Park Police are able to reach him and put him down, he has killed six people and wounded eleven others. In his pocket is a note announcing his devotion ISIL, and that he is striking at the United States in retaliation for its illegal war on the true Muslims building a caliphate in Syria and Iraq….
Most of us appreciate, at least intellectually, that our chance of dying in a terrorist attack is approximately zero, and even if it increases, that increase would mean it has gone from approximately zero all the way up to pretty much zero. But that’s not how we act and react. So let’s go back to that attack, and consider what would happen in response. It would be the biggest news story of the year, every report emphasizing that it happened “just steps from the White House and the Capitol building.” The news media would amp up the fear to levels we haven’t seen in the last decade, encouraging everyone to look for sleeper cells lurking down at the Piggly Wiggly. Republicans would of course unite behind President Obama in our time of mourning—kidding! They’d go on TV to denounce him for being so weak that the evildoers struck us in our very heart, and proclaim not only that the blood of the victims is on the hands of every Democrat, but that more attacks are coming and we’re more vulnerable than we’ve ever been. Dick Cheney would emerge snarling from his subterranean lair to warn us that this is only the beginning and we really need to start bombing at least five or six more countries. Senator Lindsey Graham, who has already said about ISIL that “this president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home,” might just tear off his shirt and scream, “We’re all gonna die! We’re all gonna die!” right on Fox News Sunday.
And the public would follow right along. In a recent CNN poll, 41 percent said they were very or somewhat worried that they or a member of their family would be a victim of terrorism—which, to repeat, is about as likely as they or a member of their family getting hit by a falling piano. This number hasn’t changed much in years (five years ago it was 36 percent), all accumulated evidence to the contrary. But one successful attack is all it would take to push that number comfortably past a majority. In the last year, the number of people telling the Pew Research Center that government anti-terror policies have not gone far enough to protect us has increased from 39 percent to 50 percent (among Republicans it’s gone from 41 percent to 64 percent), despite the fact that the only terrorist attacks in that time came from a crazed man who wanted to kill TSA agents and a couple of right-wing extremists in Nevada.

And one can only imagine the kind of public policies, at home and abroad, a new terror panic might encourage.

Perhaps because I was living in Washington—spending most of each day and night on Capitol Hill—on and after 9/11, but I can understand the fear to some extent. I remember the drone of military aircraft patrolling Washington becoming a part of the background to life for a while, virtually unnoticed. I recall having a spike of fear when walking by Donald Rumsfeld’s Capitol Hill townhouse. I still think of looking at Graham Allison’s website showing the consequences of a “dirty bomb” for various DC neighborhoods (depending on the wind patterns!). And when I finally stopped living and working in Washington altogether, I’d say relief at no longer feeling that fear was fourth or fifth on the list of reasons I was pleased by the change of scenery.

I don’t have the fear at all any more, and I wonder why Americans who don’t, say, live in New York or Washington, the most obvious targets now as in 2001, still seem to feel it acutely. Or perhaps they feel it latently, only to have it surge to the surface when fanatics behead a journalist on the other side of the world.

September 29, 2014 2:42 PM The Poor Dudes Who Don’t Get a “Say” Over a Woman’s Reproductive Decisions

At events like this weekend’s Values Voter Summit, the most interesting stuff happens not at plenary sessions where pols and opinion-leaders deliver calculated and polished remarks, but at the break-out sessions where it’s more a matter of The Righteous Remnant having an internal but public conversation. At the Prospect, Nathalie Baptiste tells us about her experience at a session misleadingly titled “How Conservatives Can Win Millenials and Women,” featuring among others Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life:

Not only is the War on Women apparently fabricated by the godless lefties, Hawkins even found a way to paint men as the true sufferers in the abortion debate. Many young men approach her, she claimed, to tell her that they feel excluded from the discussion. She claims that millennial men are more anti-abortion than their women counterparts; this is the case, she said, because women who were unabashedly pro-abortion raised these men. Hawkins told the audience that she often tells men that if they would have to provide child support for a child they fathered, then they should have a say in whether or not the woman “kills their child.”

Now aside from the fact that Hawkins presumably believes the government, not the woman or the man immediately involved, should have the definitive “say” in prohibiting most or all abortions, there’s the question of what a “say” would look like for the “excluded” dudes. A chance to make a case for carrying a pregnancy to term? A right to make an offer of holy matrimony, prenatal care, or some other tangible assistance? Or a veto, just in case the government doesn’t exercise it first?

There is only one person—and by that, no, I don’t mean “zygote”—in this kind of reproductive decision whose body is involved, whose health is at stake, and who will actually have to live with the consequences, and that’s who should have the “say.” But it’s interesting an antichoice woman thinks the poor dudes are an aggrieved constituency to be tended.

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