The Majorities in the 2023 Congress

At FiveThirtyEight Nate Silver projects that Republicans are favored to hold the majority in the 2022 House and the majority in the 2022 Senate is a toss-up. Here are his remarks about the House:

Overall, the Deluxe forecast expects Democrats to eventually lose the popular vote for the House by closer to 6 points, about the margin that they lost it by in 2014. And it expects Republicans to wind up with 237 seats in an average outcome, a gain of 24 seats from the 213 they had at the start of the current Congress.

While these are his remarks about the Senate:

Indeed, our forecast sees the overall Senate landscape to be about as competitive as it gets. The Deluxe forecast literally has Senate control as a 50-50 tossup. The Classic and Lite forecasts show Democrats as very slight favorites to keep the Senate, meanwhile, with a 59 and a 62 percent chance, respectively.

For comparison the Cook Political Report predicts that if all solid, likely and leaning Democratic seats go for Democrats, all solid, likely and leaning Republican seats go for Republicans, and the toss-ups split 3-2 for the Democrats that the present 50-50 split will be maintained. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, on the other hand, making the same assumptions as CPR, sees the Senate as being narrowly carried by the Republicans. The difference is the the Crystal Ball see one less toss-up than CPR does.

In a normal election year, even a normal midterm election year, the Senate would be considered very unfavorable for the Republicans. In November’s election 14 seats held by Democrats while 21 seats held by Republicans will be decided. That’s a lot more seats that need to be defended.

However, this is not a normal midterm election. President Biden’s approval rating is much worse today than Obama’s was on election day 2014 or Trump’s on election day 2018. And all three of those projections are steady-state. IMO a significant number of factors need to break in the Democrats favor for the election results to be merely bad rather than apocalyptic:

  • Inflation can get no worse.
  • Crime can get no worse—in particular it can’t be a “long, hot summer”.
  • We can’t be more at war than at present.
  • Abortion needs to be a more significant voting motivator than present polls suggest.
  • Black and Hispanic voters must vote Democratic in numbers no smaller than they did in 2020.

just to name a few.

President Biden started his term likening himself to Franklin Roosevelt, indeed trying to be the next FDR. The comparisons with Carter have been numerous. Carter is beginning to look like a best case scenario. If things continue along their present trajectory Biden will be lucky not to be a Democratic Hoover.

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A “Scripted Production Masquerading as a Congressional Hearing”?

From the very outset of the House’s January 6 investigation committee, I pointed out that to have any sort of authority and legitimacy, Speaker Pelosi needed to accept and involve the representatives selected by the House minority, however antagonistic and obstructionist they might prove. Gary Abernathy’s column in the Washington Post illustrates how right I was:

Never have we seen such a scripted production masquerading as a congressional hearing. Narration and questions are carefully read from a teleprompter. The witnesses even appear to have been coached to pause at specific points to await the next prepackaged query. While chair Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) and vice chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) do the heavy lifting, other committee members sit in zombie-like silence, unless it’s a day designated for one of them to perform, too.

The committee’s tactics are particularly disturbing for those of us who identify and empathize with Trump supporters, but want the GOP to abandon the former president. We know that following a well-worn playbook pitting the same basic collection of usual adversaries against Trump will not succeed at changing minds.

His remarks on the allegedly “smoking gun” testimony by Cassidy Hutchinson?

Numerous news outlets reported almost immediate denial of the story, although generally from anonymous sources. But as Georgetown law professor Jonathan Turley tweeted: “It is the type of problem that arises when the focus of a hearing is persuasive rather than investigative. The account fit the narrative and the underlying fact seemed simply too good to check.”

Still, someone on the committee playing the role of skeptic could have perhaps challenged her on the details, as well as another episode wherein she said she personally heard Trump “say something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the f-ing mags away.” Her habit of couching her recollected conversations in terms of people saying “something to the effect of” leaves plenty of wiggle room for later revision.

Everything Hutchinson said on Tuesday may well be true. But it’s more likely that she got some things wrong. By rushing her in front of the cameras without more fact-checking — or wiser heads determining to prune her testimony to only events she witnessed firsthand — the committee opened the door for her entire appearance to be summarily dismissed by critics. Such sloppiness doesn’t harm Trump nearly as much as it impugns both the committee investigating him and journalists too eagerly relaying its overscripted and faulty narrative as news.

The committee investigation might have served many different purposes. It could have been a thorough-going investigation of the events of January 6 with an eye to preventing their recurrence. That might have included investigations of the condition and conduct of the Capitol Police Force, the reports of police ushering people into the Capitol or agents provocateurs among the demonstrators, as well as a dispassionate analysis of the demonstrations, the breaching of the Capitol, and the conduct of the president and other public officials leading up to and during the events. It could have been educational, as George Will has urged. I think what we’re seeing is what happens when those purposes are completely overwhelmed by battlespace preparation for the next general election.

Mr. Abernathy concludes:

The committee is anxious to prove that Trump knew the election wasn’t fraudulent and yet engaged in numerous unsavory tactics to engineer and encourage an attack on the U.S. Capitol in an effort to prevent Biden’s certification as president. It’s a misguided objective, and will likely never produce evidence that will be trial-worthy. It is clear that Trump acted irresponsibly on Jan. 6, but it remains highly unlikely that Trump was involved in actually planning the attack on the Capitol.

There are multiple ways of looking at our present politics. My way is that politicians inevitably conflate their own personal welfare with the common good, that there is a considerable separation between elected officials and their staffs from the party rank-and-file, that many people are not particularly interested in politics and not strongly partisan, and that party affiliation is malleable, changing with conditions (yours, local, and national) and location, performance, and personalities. Maybe my view is old and anachronistic.

Another way is that we have become completely tribal. Once a Republican, always a Republican. Your tribe is completely right and the other tribe is completely wrong and cannot be swayed by logic, reason, decency, or appeals to the common good.

I wonder what people holding that view will think should Republicans gain decisive majorities in both houses of the Congress in the next election? My conclusion will be that Democrats screwed up. I presume theirs will be that Republicans cheated.

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Too Clever By Half

Apparently, I was ahead of the curve. In his most recent New York Times column David Brooks laments the financing of extreme Republican candidates by Democrats:

The Democratic Party is behaving recklessly and unpatriotically. So far, Democrats have spent tens of millions to help Trumpist candidates in Republican primaries.

In Illinois alone, the Democratic Governors Association and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker spent at least $30 million to attack a Trumpist’s moderate gubernatorial opponent. In Pennsylvania, a Democratic campaign spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads intended to help a Trumpist candidate win the G.O.P. gubernatorial primary. A political action committee affiliated with Nancy Pelosi worked to boost far-right Republican House candidates in California and Colorado.

They are doing it because they think far-right Trumpist candidates will be easier to beat in the general elections than more moderate candidates.

What the Democrats are doing is sleazy in the best of circumstances. If you love your country more than your party, you should want the best candidates to advance in either party. And in these circumstances, what they are doing is insane: The far-right candidates whom Democrats are supporting could easily wind up winning.

Mr. Brooks goes on to point out, as I have, that such strategic thinking is misguided and might well backfire:

Many Democrats, living in their own information bubble and apparently having learned nothing from 2016, do not seem to understand the horrific electoral landscape they are facing. They do not seem to understand how much their business-as-usual approach could lead to a full Republican takeover in 2025 — which as this week’s Jan. 6 insurrection hearing reminded us yet again, would be a disaster for our democracy.

He concludes:

In 2020 Biden was the candidate who didn’t seem to be pinioned to the coastal elites. But Democrats are still being battered because of that association. And what are they doing to fix the problem? Spending money to support Trumpists.

Those crazies could be running the country in a few years.

There are a few things missing from Mr. Brooks’s commentary. The Trump presidency didn’t emerge ex nihilo, out of nothing. Trump was actually an effect and he was the result of the very factors to which Mr. Brooks calls attention: most Americans don’t want to live in the country the progressive left wants the United States to become. That is, as Mr. Brooks observes, “a basic difference in how people see the country”.

In addition I think that there’s something that Mr. Brooks fails to consider. Perhaps the Democratic incumbents Mr. Brooks is criticizing in his column love their jobs not only more than they love the country but more than they do their party. One of the key factors in being a successful politician is you must believe that you can win. They believe they can win and stop at nothing to do so.

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Griffin’s Departure

Illinoisans generally and Gov. Pritzker in particular should be relieved that the issue on which JB Pritzker ran for governor, a graduated income tax for Illinois, was rejected at the polls by Illinoisans when it was brought before them in 2020 now that Ken Griffin is leaving Illinois for Florida. One of the aspects of a graduated personal income tax rarely mentioned is that it renders the states that have them more dependent on wealthy individuals for revenue rather than less and Ken Griffin is the wealthiest man in Illinois, by all reckonings an order of magnitude richer than our billionaire governor. The 1% of total revenue he represents will be sorely missed.

The editors of the Chicago Tribune via Yahoo have their own reactions to his departure:

To put it mildly, Griffin believes that the state’s leadership, especially Gov. J.B. Pritzker, is inattentive to these issues which Griffin sees as raging so far out of control as to undermine the city he loves.

That’s why Griffin has spent a lot of money trying to defeat Pritzker by supporting the candidacy of Richard Irvin in the Republican primary for governor. How well that investment worked out will be revealed Tuesday night, but we suspect Irvin has not been all that Griffin, a very sophisticated political player, had hoped.

Whomever the Republican nominee ends up being will have a tough fight this November against Pritzker, especially in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent actions, a boon to Pritzker’s electoral chances, and we’ll wager Griffin is not so enthused about candidate Darren Bailey, who has not expressed much interest in the concerns of secular, corporate Chicago.

Does Griffin’s exit matter? On one level, he is just one individual pursuing his best interests that he now believes lie outside of the state. He is just one of nearly 13 million Illinoisans, all with the right to expect attention and care from their elected leaders.

Griffin, of course, will be just fine in Florida. And Citadel will retain some employees here. All of that is true. And as some defensive political leaders have rushed to say, none of this is a big surprise. Griffin didn’t need to leak any draft decision to foreshadow what he intend to do. It came out of his own mouth. Loud and clear.

But while Griffin’s ideological foes have been saying various versions of “don’t let the door hit you …,” we don’t share that reaction. The violent crime problem is real and there is no question that Griffin’s drawing of attention to the international perception of a decaying city has been valuable, as has his tacit warning to Pritzker to not let any national presidential ambitions and the boxes that must be checked in feasance to the constituencies of Democratic Party get in the way of his sworn duty to the people of Illinois, including the business community. A counter argument coming from a credible source is healthy for this state. Griffin would surely have hated running for governor, but he’d have been a far better candidate than anyone on the current Republican slate.

And the state won’t just miss the tax receipts. Griffin has been a notable philanthropist in Illinois, especially in Chicago, funding a variety of causes, institutions and urban amenities, especially during the Rahm Emanuel era. His total personal giving exceeds $600 million; the other employees at Citadel have given a whole lot more. The University of Chicago Crime Lab, the Shedd Aquarium and Museum of Science and Industry aren’t glad Griffin’s going.

When you combine the departures of Boeing, Caterpillar, and Citadel, all within a matter of weeks and even when partially offset by Kellogg’s announced relocation to Illinois, it does not suggest a healthy state.

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Who Owns Ukraine?

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Elizabeth Braw sheds some light on an aspect of the situation regarding Ukraine of which I was unaware:

Over the past few years, Chinese buyers have bought farmland in countries ranging from the U.S. and France to Vietnam. In 2013 Hong Kong-based food giant WH Group bought Smithfield, America’s largest pork producer, and more than 146,000 acres of Missouri farmland. In the same year, Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps bought 9% of Ukraine’s famously fertile farmland, equal to 5% of the country’s total territory, with a 50-year lease. (In 2020, the U.S. imposed sanctions on the Chinese company over human-rights abuses.) Between 2011 and 2020, China bought nearly seven million hectares of farmland around the world. Firms from the U.K. bought nearly two million hectares, while U.S. and Japanese firms bought less than a million hectares.

“What matters most is what the Chinese do with the land,” said J. Peter Pham, a longtime Africa analyst who served as the Trump administration’s envoy to Africa’s Great Lakes region. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, “they got approval from the previous regime to take 100,000 hectares to produce for palm oil,” the cultivation of which causes damaging deforestation. “And in Zimbabwe, they’re producing beef for export back to China, which is neither a sustainable nor wise use of farmland in a country where people go hungry for want of basic staples.”

Nine percent is a lot. In comparison China owns 0.05% of U. S. farmland.

I doubt this aspect figures into Russia’s calculus in the war but it certainly should in the Ukrainian and U. S. post-war planning.

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Beware Perverse Results (Updated)

I see that the editors of the Washington Post have caught up with me. Democrats shouldn’t fund the campaigns of extreme Republicans:

The country needs a broad coalition to defeat candidates who would help former president Donald Trump, or another politician in his mold, again attempt a coup in 2024. Which is why it is not just shameless, but dangerous, that Democrats have spent tens of millions this year promoting Republican extremists.

By boosting the primary campaigns of right-wing zealots running against more moderate Republicans, Democrats seek to set up favorable races for themselves, against less electable candidates, in the general election. The result is that Democrats have helped Trumpian fanatics move one step closer to offices from which they could directly threaten the nation’s democracy.

Tuesday night brought the latest example. State Sen. Darren Bailey (R) won the Illinois GOP gubernatorial nomination after Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) and the Democratic Governors Association spent $30 million to help him. The Trump-endorsed Mr. Bailey made his name by opposing covid-19 public health measures, pushing to evict Chicago from Illinois and favoring the banning of abortion in the state.

Even worse was Democrats’ use of this strategy in key presidential swing state Pennsylvania, where state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R), a leading 2020 election denier, last month won the GOP gubernatorial nomination. He spent a mere $370,000 on television ads. His Democratic opponent, Josh Shapiro, spent more than $840,000 on ads designed to help him win the Republican primary.

Note the numbers. Democrats were the primary sources of funding for some Republican candidates. Now they’d better hope like the dickens that President Biden’s declining popularity and inflation don’t drag whole Democratic tickets down and elect the candidates their funding got tapped in the primaries.

Update

It seems like I’m being confronted with picture of Darren Bailey grinning everywhere. The editors of the Wall Street Journal get into the act:

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, a moderate African-American from Chicago’s suburbs with a compelling biography, would have been the most formidable opponent. That’s why Democrats spent millions of dollars tearing him down. One ad accused him of “profiting by defending some of the most violent and heinous criminals” as a defense lawyer.

Mr. Bailey’s victory probably had less to do with Donald Trump than with his cultural conservative bent that resonates downstate. Former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner supported abortion rights and won election in 2014 by campaigning against Chicago’s public-union machine. But he lost re-election in 2018 after cultural conservatives soured on him.

Mr. Bailey’s best but longshot bet is to avoid talking about divisive social issues like abortion and instead run against Illinois’s public-union mal-governance, which has resulted in some of the nation’s highest property taxes, soaring pension liabilities and an exodus of businesses and residents.

and conclude:

While many Republicans are ready to move on from Mr. Trump, Democrats find it politically useful to keep him around. It’s hard to take seriously their anguish about the condition of democracy when they gamble on helping Trumpian candidates. They’d better hope the GOP tsunami isn’t so large that it sweeps into office the candidates they claim are threats to democracy but whom they helped nominate.

Having no one to blame but themselves will not stop them from blaming Republicans, even if a lot of the voters who voted for these guys’ candidacies were one day crossovers.

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Why Is There Inflation?

I was going to post on Alan Blinder’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal examining the reasons for the present inflation. The TL;DR version is that none of it is Biden’s fault.

However, Barry Ritholtz’s post on the underpinnings of the present inflation is so much better IMO we should consider it seriously. Mr. Ritholtz attributes the present inflation to (roughly in descending order of importance):

1. Covid-19
2. Congress
3. President Biden CARES Act 3
4. President Trump CARES Acts 1+2
5. Consumers (overspent without regard to cost)
6. Consumers (shift to Goods)
7. Russian Invasion of Ukraine
8. Just in Time Delivery (supply chains)
9. Fed/Monetary Policy
10. Wages/Unemployment Insurance
11. Home Shortages
12. Semiconductors/Automobiles
13. Corporate Profit Seeking
14. Tax Cuts (2017) / Infrastructure (2022)
15. Crypto

which he follows with a more detailed analysis of each of the factors. I would quibble with some of his remarks but all in all I think he’s produced a very good first order approximation. Maybe better than a first order approximation.

Examples of some of my quibbles are that COVID-19 and the policy responses to COVID-19 aren’t the same thing and I would place the Fed higher in the list of contributing factors than Mr. Ritholtz does. I would also add two additional factors: appointing Jerome Powell as chairman of the Fed, for which President Trump must shoulder the blame, and re-appointing him, which is clearly President Biden’s fault.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that Dr. Powell is in a no-win situation. If he had acted with more alacrity he would have been blamed and not re-appointed but not having acted with alacrity he comes in for more blame for high inflation. Nonetheless he’s proving day by day that he’s not the right person for the job.

There are many things that Mr. Ritholtz gets right. Blaming Congress is always a safe bet. He correctly attributes at least part of the housing issues to the rent jubilee:

The Eviction Moratorium also plays into this; the unintended consequences may be that landlords are raising apartment rents in order to catch up on lost revenues from nonpaying renters from 2020-21.

I commend the entire post to your attention.

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The Threat of Racist Babies

The best post I have read today is by Christopher Gage on the threat of racist babies. Here’s its kernel:

Home to noted intellectual Jeremy Corbyn and a sea of green-haired nutters fluent in gender studies and Mythical Melanin Theory, Islington is London’s answer to Berkeley. (Some say residents of Islington consume 98% of the world’s falafel, which might explain a great deal.)

Burping into the social Chernobyl that is Twitter, Islington Council shared a poster replete with helpful diagrams, skull measurements, and the typical physiognomies of these racist babies.

‘Children are never too young to talk about race,’ say those employed chiefly to talk about race. Apparently, two-year-olds ‘use race to reason about people’s behaviours,’ and to choose their playmates. By age five, ‘white children are strongly in favour of whiteness.’

“At three months,” it reads, “babies look more at faces that match the race of their caregivers.”

Perhaps those babies search for the face matching that of their parents because those babies are utterly dependent on their parents, their parents being the centre of their universe. When I’m poleaxed via whiskey and wine, I consult my memory for the colour of my front door and the rough location of the keyhole. So far, this method has proven 97% effective across my fifteen-year career as a semi-professional carouser.

Researchers neglected to divulge whether non-white children displayed racial bias.

I’d suspect such omission is telling. The answer is likely ‘yes,’ yet such findings prove unhelpful to those desperate to keep their ludicrous raison d’être in vogue amid a precipitous decline in those concerned with the density of another’s melanin.

Read the whole thing.

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The U. S. Sentencing Committee

Here’s the TL;DR version of Thomas Hogan’s post at City Journal on the recent report of the U. S. Sentencing Commission. Meth prosecutions are up, immigration violation prosecutions are down (by a whopping 30%), and the recidivism rate for criminals convicted of firearms offenses is extremely high—70%.

None of those are what caught my eye. Consider this:

The Biden administration, already running behind in filling critical criminal justice positions, should consider filling the voting seats on the Sentencing Commission with clear-thinking, experienced nominees who can help reverse the surge of violent crime around the country. Meantime, the agency’s staff should keep recording and reporting the truth.

By statute the commission has a voting membership of seven and a quorum of four; there is presently one voting member serving.

Inaction is another way of implementing policy. IMO either the commission should be abolished or it should be brought to full strength.

My own views on sentencing are that I think that sentences tend to be too harsh and that the preferred policy should be to make arrest more certain, prosecution when there is a prima facie case very certain, and sentences less harsh. Present practices undermine the rule of law.

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Why the President’s Approval Rating Matters

Consider the Cook Political Report’s assessment of the state of the races for the House of Representatives. They report 161 non-competitive Democratic House seats, 187 non-competitive Republican House seats, 13 likely Democratic seats, 12 “leaning” Democratic seats, 12 likely Republican seats, 11 “leaning” Republican seats, and 33 toss-ups.

Let’s assume that all of the likely and “leaning” seats break for their respective parties and the toss-up seats break 50-50. That would result in a House with 203 Democratic seats and 226 Republican seats.

However, midterm elections generally are at least to some extent referenda on the sitting president and President Biden’s approval/disapproval ratings are the worst of his presidency. If the toss-ups break 2:1 for Republicans that would mean 232 Republican seats and 197 Democratic seats.

The lower the president’s approval rating and based on previous experience the more likely toss-ups are to go to the Republicans and the more seats presently “leaning” Democratic will tend to break for the Republicans.

Democrats had best hope this isn’t a typical midterm election. Or that President Biden’s approval ratings improve soon. The present trend is not in the right direction for that.

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