Election 2018

SO…how to analyze the results of last night’s midterm elections. There is both a lot going on here, and less going on than one might suspect. Let’s get right into it.

Referendum on Trump

The big question on everyone’s mind for last night’s election was this: how is Donald Trump going to affect the midterm elections? The answer: it’s a mixed bag. He seemed to simultaneously help and hurt the Republicans, and in some ways, perhaps most indelibly, not affect them much at all, which is the really big surprise. All in all, this election was more like a run of the mill midterm election than most of us thought it would be. The results of the party in the White House losing seat in congress were pretty standard, not even coming close to a “Blue Wave” of repudiation of Donald Trump, which was the big hope for Democrats in this election. Typically, the president’s party loses 25-30 seats in the house in a midterm election, and right now it’s looking to be a loss in the mid-30s for Republicans.

What does this mean? This means, on a national level, that Trump is nowhere near the Destroyer Of Worlds that he’s been made out to be for the Republican party.

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If he was truly as toxic at the ballot box as Democrats hoped he would be, this election would look a lot more like when Barack Obama lost 63 house seats in 2010 or Bill Clinton lost 54 in 1994.

That’s right. Donald Trump did better, FAR better, as a bellwether in his first midterm election that either of the two most talented politicians in my lifetime. In fact, his party performed at about the average of the losing midterms for George W. Bush and Republican saint Ronald Reagan (George W. Bush’s first midterm was just over a year after 9/11, and should be excluded from the statistical pattern). If the Democrats thought The Bogeyman was going to drag Republicans down to bring a Blue Wave to Washington, they were wildly mistaken.

The senate races turned out to not be much of a referendum on Trump, and more a referendum on the treatment of Brett Kavanaugh in the recent Supreme Court nomination. Every close senate race that Trump campaigned for ended up as a win for Republicans, so that does indicate that he was able to rally the base to get off the couch and go vote, which is a good sign for him and the party. But it also turns out that every Democrat who voted against Kavanaugh in a state that Trump won lost their seat in the senate, and polling of Republican voters indicates that the Kavanaugh hearings were a major motivator for them. So the hail Mary to “save Roe v. Wade” thrown by the Democrats seems to have seriously backfired on them, and now Trump and Republicans have a clear path to continue reforming the federal judiciary for the next two years, and if Justice Ginsburg should fall into ill health in that time, Democrats will have basically no chance to block an even more conservative nomination, because they will almost certainly not have a single Republican senator they can convince to vote with them. If  I could offer some advice for court watchers, it would be to familiarize yourself with Amy Coney Barrett. (Hint: she’s loudly and proudly pro-life)

Based on the Senate seats up for election in 2020 (1/3 each election, as a reminder), there is almost no statistical chance of Democrats regaining the senate, so if Trump should happen to win, we can almost be guaranteed one or two more conservative Supreme Court justices. This will be a major motivating factor in the next election, for both sides of the aisle.

All-in-all, this election was not anywhere near the bloodbath that many predicted for Republicans, nor anything even resembling a rebuke of Donald Trump. Were it not for the current occupant of the White House, there would be nothing at all remarkable about this midterm election. And even worse for Democrats, since Trump was not on the ballot and many Republicans stayed home during this election, I think it can be said confidently that Democrats would not have picked up anywhere near this many seats, and that Republicans may have even held onto the house. So it’s a loss for Republicans, but no more than any average midterm loss for the party in power. What that means for 2020 remains to be seen.

Mexican Word Of The Day: Beto

As in: You Beto take down all them yard signs!

The most-watched individual race in the country was probably the election for Texas senate between Robert Francis O’Rourke and His Evilness Ted Cruz. This was the sort of election that years ago would not have even been worth mentioning or covering, Texas being, well, Texas. But it was an unnervingly close race for Republicans, O’Rourke coming within three points of defeating Cruz.

It’s not easy to read the tea leaves to determine exactly what this means, but there are a couple of major factors that are fairly apparent that caused this race to be so close. The first is the California Factor: as is by now well known, approximately 1,000 Californians have been moving into Texas every day for a few years now. They have turned the metropolitan areas of Texas purple, if not outright blue. I have some familiarity with Austin, and this city’s reputation as a delightful place to live with a vibrant cultural scene, along with its semi-recent status as a mini-Silicon Valley, has been a major draw to Californians for a couple of decades now, with a major migration starting to occur in the mid-2000s. I am less familiar with the culture and goings-on around Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, but it appears that these cities are starting to attract these economic migrants as well. And economic migrants they are, as the class of people moving eastward to the land of ten gallon hats tend to be well-educated professionals, presumably largely of the upper middle class, and presumably moving either with a job in hand, or with highly marketable skills that allow them to move freely and find work easily. It’s hard to say if they find the lack of a state income tax appealing, but one might assume an upper middle class professional might smile a bit when they notice the effect that has on their bottom line.

The second major factor is that, to put it bluntly, Ted Cruz is the Hillary Clinton of the Republican party. O’Rourke put up a strong performance, no doubt, and is highly charismatic and photogenic, unfortunately just about the only qualities that matter in today’s tv age of elections. But he was also going up against one of the worst and weakest candidates the Republicans have to offer on the national stage. He is, much like Hillary Clinton, simply mechanical and unlikable. You can almost see the gears of ambition moving underneath his face whenever he speaks.

Now, he is a brilliant, accomplished man of substance, let there be no doubt about that. He has “authored 70 U.S. Supreme Court briefs and presented 43 oral arguments, including nine before the United States Supreme Court. Cruz’s record of having argued before the Supreme Court nine times is more than any practicing lawyer in Texas or any current member of Congress.” To say nothing of his long legal and policy experience at the state and national level. To compare his professional career and accomplishments to O’Rourke is worse than a joke, lower than an insult. A sampling of O’Rourke’s professional accomplishments prior to running for office is as follows:

Following college, O’Rourke worked as a live-in nanny for a family in Manhattan, then at Hedley’s Humpers as an art mover, before working with his uncle at a startup Internet service provider. During this time, he fell into a depression, unsure of what to do with his life. However, his friends Stevens and Klahr (along with his friend from Columbia University, David Guinn) joined him in New York, and they rented and renovated an inexpensive 2,000-square-foot factory loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Interested in the publishing industry, he found a job as a proofreader at H. W. Wilson Company in the Bronx, and wrote short stories and songs in his free time. He began to miss his family and lifestyle in El Paso, and returned to the city in 1998.

It might also be worth noting that he has not, to put it mildly, pulled himself up by his bootstraps. “His mother was the owner of a high-end furniture store, and is the stepdaughter of Fred Korth, Secretary of the Navy under President John F. Kennedy. His father served in El Paso as County Commissioner and then County Judge.” It also just so happens that his father in law is a billionaire (and the $20 billion kind, not the scrappier, pluckier $1 billion kind). On substance, experience, and knowledge of policy and law, there is nothing to compare here.

But O’Rourke has that magical ingredient for politics, that special sauce that’s the most important quality to get one elected to political office: he’s likable. He seems down to earth, as many aristocrats in political memory and history have seemed. He comes across as a genuinely nice guy, a trait (or affect) that many a man of privilege has been able to convey, many of whom were christened “Kennedy” or Roosevelt.”

Whereas Cruz has the core personality defect of many a successful man or woman: raw, naked, uncured ambition. For someone like him or Hillary, it seems like every sentence they speak can be translated as “I want to be president.” If their mouths don’t say it, it certainly comes across in their eyes…those creepy, creepy eyes. You can easily imagine them hyping themselves up in front of the mirror, practicing their affects, polishing their folksy aphorisms, perfecting their “aw, shucks” working class accents. It’s not a stretch to imagine someone like this with a backward-lettered motivational tattoo on their chest that they can read every morning to affirm their ambition and get them pumped up before they walk out the door.

Now this is not exactly an uncommon personality trait, and anyone who has spent time in certain social circles, particularly in places like New York or Washington, D.C., will know that this is pretty run of the mill for bankers, lawyers, politicians, and business people. And the higher up you go in the social strata of these universes, the more common and pronounced that trait is. However, since as I mentioned “likability” is a major factor in the success of a politician, it serves one well to have the good sense and common decency to at least hide it from everyone else. As well, since this is one of the most fundamental understood truths of politics, one would have to assume that people like Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz are aware of it as well, and they still are unable to hide this aspect of themselves. So what we are seeing is almost certainly a muted aspect of their true selves and real ambition, and that may say something scary indeed about how deep the river of ambition runs within them.

I happen to know one person who has met Ted Cruz, a very politically active conservative who has dedicated her life to Republican causes and politics. Her impression of him was that “He’s the sleaziest son of a bitch I ever met.” And this is from someone on his team. Imagine how he comes off to moderate voters or apolitical citizens.

So O’Rourke doing so well against Candidate Cruz is somewhat akin to Donald Trump beating Hillary Clinton…it almost certainly wouldn’t have happened against anyone else. This is not to discount the demographic changes taking place in Texas, which are sure to be a long term concern for Republicans in the future. But it is to say that we can’t read too much into or learn much from this one result, because it’s probably a statistical anomaly based on an extraordinarily weak and unlikable candidate. And let’s not also forget that he spent more money than God to lose this race (approximately $70 million), received mountains of fawning, un-probing press coverage, and was endorsed by every celebrity Hollywood could drag away from a martini for five minutes. So he had an unprecedented number of favorable factors for a nationally unknown, first time senate candidate, and was up against possibly the least likable senator of either party. There are lessons here and things to be learned in the forensic aftermath of this election, but as with the overall midterms, there is no sea-change or harbinger of a new era in American, or Texan, politics.

And of course, the final note that must be rang on the Texas senate race, the one which truly tells us what to be anticipating as we move towards the future, is that Robert Francis O’Rourke didn’t care about the senate anyways. Believe me when I tell you, he’s getting to work on 2020 TODAY. I hope you already knew this, but he had absolutely no intention of winning a senate seat to be a senator. If you thought he intended to win yesterday and spend the next 6, 12, or 18 years crafting policy and proposing legislation in the senate, I’ll give you a minute to sit back and laugh at yourself. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Ok, so now let’s get real. O’Rourke’s very obvious, transparent plan was to win a seat in the senate, and then spend the next two years campaigning for president, just like a certain someone else we know. Do you suppose that he was paused by yesterday’s defeat, or that his pride was wounded in a way that would make him step back for a second and wonder if he’s truly qualified to run the free world, or if he could even win a presidential election? Do you think that a $70 million loss might make make him stop and reflect on his ambitions, instill a sense of humility, and for one moment second guess himself? Me neither. So prepare yourself for O’Rourke 2020, and soon.

For my part, I do wonder why Democrats are so excited about electing another über-wealthy white guy who’s a child of privilege to office as a “breath of fresh air,” but I guess if you’re a dreamboat, that’s all that really matters in politics.

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And in case anyone still wonders what’s going on here, have you seen Politico lately?

Beto’s consolation prize: Running for president

Beto O’Rourke dodged a bullet. The Texas congressman came dangerously close to beating Ted Cruz on Tuesday.

Lest his groupies wallow for long in defeat, they should know there’s a lot for them to like about his loss: No getting bogged down in the drudge-work of a freshman senator in the minority or obligation to fulfill his duty to serve out his term.

And, to O’Rourke’s credit, there was no blowout, a fate that would have extinguished his star. Indeed, he showed an unapologetic liberal could compete and almost win in Texas.

O’Rourke’s narrow loss to Cruz instead sets him up to run full time for president — and jump immediately into the top tier of Democratic contenders.

O’Rourke has not yet indicated his intentions, but he has built, in the course of a few short months, a national brand and a national fundraising base that few Democrats can match. Conveniently, the chief knock on O’Rourke’s campaign, that he embraced staunchly progressive positions that played poorly in Texas, only heightens his appeal in a national primary for a Democratic Party that has been tacking leftward.

Even after beating O’Rourke, Cruz’s chief strategist, Jeff Roe, stands impressed. “The Democrats don’t have anybody like him,” Roe said. “I’ve seen all of them. They don’t have anyone of his caliber on the national stage. I pray for the soul of anyone who has to run against him in Iowa in 453 days.”

So those are the two biggest stories and take-aways from the 2018 election. There are of course other issues, Governor’s races (Florida and Georgia chief among them), voter turnout, ballot initiatives, outcomes in state legislatures, demographics and trends, etc. But unfortunately I’ll have to leave those to the professionals. I think the two issues above are the main topics of concern that are going to have the biggest impact as we move past this year’s Most Important Election Of Our Lifetime…until the next one.

I’ll leave you with a bit of wisdom from Joe Rogan, which I presume neither party is going to learn from after this election:

“When you win, you win.

When you lose, you learn.”


Scalia predicts Kavanaugh debacle in 2005

I haven’t yet written a post about the hearings for Justice Kavanaugh, although I did listen to most of the confirmation hearings prior to the sexual assault claims, and to every minute of testimony from both Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey-Ford before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Mostly this is because to write, fact-check, and cite everything that needs to be said about it it going to take hours and hours to author and compile.


Putting aside the sexual assault allegations (and even, or especially, considering them if you get right down to it), let’s be absolutely clear on one thing about his nomination, the only thing that matters and the fact that explains everything that happened from the day he was nominated: this entire ordeal was about one thing only, and that is the fate of Roe v. Wade. There is nothing else that mattered about him or his nomination other than that he was seen as potentially the deciding vote in overturning that case and sending the question of abortion back to the states, so that each state can decide for itself how to properly regulate this matter.

Sit on that for a minute. Literally, nothing about Brett Kavanaugh or who he was mattered other than this political fact/perspective/possibility. It literally didn’t matter who he was, where he went to school, where he had practiced law, what his judicial history or philosophy was, what his reputation was among the profession, how many opinions he wrote, how he wrote them, or what issues they covered. His character didn’t matter. His personal history and professional conduct didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he could be the 5th vote in overturning Roe v. Wade. He was an empty vessel containing nothing but this political time bomb.

Antonin Scalia predicted this 13 years ago. Sadly, he was as prescient as ever, a veritable Cassandra, cursed to utter prophecies that were true but that no one believed. This is a fantastic lecture, and I highly encourage you to listen to it from the beginning, especially if you find he and originalism confounding and frustrating. But most especially, listen to the snippet below, an excerpt from the last few minutes of his talk. He explains exactly why a nomination like Kavanaugh’s was almost inevitable to happen the way it did, certain to proceed in the fashion it did during the confirmation hearings, and certain to come down to a strictly party-line vote in the senate.

Then ask yourself: is this really the way forward, and how we want this process to work now and until the end of our republic? Because I believe Justice Scalia to be right: this is the natural, inevitable, and only possible outcome from a “living constitution.”



The talk in its entirety