Paul Waldman

Did Candidates Make a Mistake By Distancing Themselves From President Obama?

As I've written elsewhere, the best definition of a wave election may be that whatever happened in each individual campaign no longer matters all that much, and the results are all pushed strongly in one direction by the national trend. That's never 100 percent true for any race, because there's still variation among both winners and losers, but it becomes awfully hard after an election like this to say about any one candidate, "He would have won if only he had done this." Nevertheless, it's still worth asking whether the strategy adopted by so many Democrats this year of distancing themselves from President Obama was really a good idea. That impulse was particularly strong this year because so many of the races were in the South, where Barack Obama and the Democratic party are both unpopular. Even in other places, however, candidates didn't want to have anything to do with the President. For instance, there's an article in Politico today detailing how mediocre candidates (...

The Next Attempt By Republicans to Mislead On the Affordable Care Act

Mitch McConnell is deeply concerned about these women. (Flickr/Swampler)
If you were paying close attention, you would have heard a new phrase being repeated by Republicans, particularly Mitch McConnell, over the last few days: "restore the 40-hour workweek." You may have said, "Wait, is the workweek not 40 hours anymore?" If you had no idea what McConnell is talking about—and I'm pretty sure he's hoping very few people do—it sounds like he's advocating some kind of pro-worker initiative. And indeed, that's how he and John Boehner put it in their op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal , saying that one of the top items on their agenda is to "restore the traditional 40-hour definition of full-time employment, removing an arbitrary and destructive government barrier to more hours and better pay created by the Affordable Care Act of 2010." Now we're getting closer. The government, with that damn Obamacare, is cutting your hours and pay! As Boehner put it , we have to "restore the 40-hour workweek for American workers that was undone by Obamacare." Since we're...

Here's a Chart Showing That Last Night Produced Just About What We Should Have Expected

There's no way for liberals to sugarcoat this election, but as I've been looking over the results, it strikes me that with a few important exceptions, it's only shocking because of what we've been expecting in the last weeks and months, not because of what we should have expected all along. In other words, the polls, reading as they did and not only the eternally fickle electorate but probably lots of people who never managed to cast a ballot, gave us a false sense of how things might go. Let me give you a couple of examples to show what I mean. Few people thought that Mark Pryor in Arkansas was going to win, but they didn't think he was going to lose by 17 points. The same is true of Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky—she was a long shot, but I thought she'd lose by 5 points or so; in the end she lost by 16. Yet if you knew nothing about the particular candidates or particular races, you'd say that of course Democrats in Arkansas and Kentucky were going to lose big. Those are...

David Brooks: Wrong On the Effects of Microtargeting, Wrong For America

Flickr/ljlphotography
I stopped reading David Brooks a while ago, when he decided it was his mission not to provide thoughtful commentary on current events but instead to produce one column after another that read like the Cliff Notes for a high school "character education" class. But his column today is worthy of comment, because it gets at something that I've been thinking about for a while, raises an important issue about how campaigns are conducted today, and still manages to be utterly wrong. As we all know, campaigns have become increasingly sophisticated at targeting voters. Back in the stone age when I worked on campaigns, they had little more information to work with than what was on your voter registration card. They knew your age, your gender, your address, and a couple of other data points, and with some creativity they could infer other things about you (for instance, one campaign I worked on sent a mailer about gay issues to any household with two people over 30 of the same gender living...

Why Republicans Have Gotten Away With Craziness This Year

Just a couple of people with non-crazy ideas. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
We don't know if Joni Ernst is going to be the next Senator from Iowa, but one thing we can say is that Democrats failed to paint her as a radical Tea Partier with dangerous ideas. (Actually, there's another thing we can say: her replacing liberal lion Tom Harkin would have to be the widest ideological swing in a Senate seat from one Congress to the next in a long time.) The question is, why? And more broadly, why have they failed to do that with any of the GOP Senate candidates running this year? It's not like this is a bunch of moderates. One explanation is that the establishment triumphed by weeding out the nutcases : National Republicans managed this year to snuff out every bomb-throwing insurgent who tried to wrest a Senate nod away from one of their favored candidates. They spent millions against baggage-laden activists such as Matt Bevin, the Louisville investor who mounted a ham-fisted challenge to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Mississippi state Sen. Chris...

What We Talk About When We Talk About a Republican Senate

Presuming we have a Republican Congress next year, there's going to be a lot of talk right after the election about what that will change 1) politically and 2) substantively. While I'm ordinarily an advocate of more substantive discussion and less political discussion (not that I have a problem with political discussion, since I do plenty of it myself, it's just that it should be leavened with consideration of the things that actually matter), there's a potential problem in the substantive discussion that I think we should be on the lookout for. For instance, this morning on the radio I heard some energy expert whose name I didn't catch say that if Republicans take over the Senate, we're likely to see the government shift its focus toward fossil fuels and away from renewables. Which sounds perfectly logical until you ask how such a shift is supposed to take place. This is what is often missing from policy discussion: enough acknowledgment of the institutional processes that determine...

Electing Judges Is Insane

This guy never had to run for reelection. Plus he brings his own gift bag. (Flickr/Nathan Rupert)
With a couple of minor exceptions, like a few local judgeships in Switzerland, the United States is the only country where judges are elected. Indeed, to the rest of the world, the idea of judges running for office—begging for money, airing attack ads against their opponents, thinking always about their next election even after they take the bench—is positively insane. And they're right. We've had elected judgeships for our entire history, but until the last few years, those elections were nothing like races for Congress or governorships. But those days are past—now not only are judges acting like politicians, outside groups (yes, including the Koch brothers) are pouring money into judicial races to produce courts more to their liking. And when you make judicial elections more partisan, you get more partisan judges, like one Judith French, a member of the Ohio Supreme Court who is running to retain her seat : At a Saturday event at which she introduced Republican Gov. John Kasich,...

Are GOP Donors Going to Get Anything In Return For Their Millions?

Oh please. Who are you kidding? (Flickr/Danny Huizinga)
If you're a liberal zillionaire who contributed lots of money this year to prevent a Republican takeover of the Senate, on Tuesday you're probably going to be pretty unhappy. Which is why, Ken Vogel of Politico reports , the people who run the groups through which all those millions are being channeled are rushing to reassure their donors that it was still money well spent. Which got me thinking about the conservative donors who are probably going to be celebrating next week. For some of them, Republican victories are an end in themselves, but others have a more specific agenda in mind. They help Republicans get elected because they expect something in return. To be clear, I'm not talking about quasi-legal bribery. If you're an oil company or a Wall Street firm, you donate to Republicans not so that they'll be forced to do what you want whether they like it or not, but because you know they like it quite well. Republicans want, deep in their hearts, to cut taxes and slash regulations...

They're All Randians Now

Evidence of the GOP's moral hardening.
In public opinion, the battle over the Affordable Care Act has come to a stalemate. Depending on how you ask the question, a majority of the public disapproves of the law, but a majority also doesn't agree with Republicans that it should be repealed. On the simple approval question, poll results look just about the same as they did five years ago, which is remarkable given all the fighting over it and everything that has happened, good and bad, in its implementation. But there's something remarkable in this new article in the New England Journal of Medicine that we really need to take notice of, because it represents a significant shift in how some Americans think about health care: Over the past decade, there has been a cultural shift in Americans' attitudes about the principle of universal health care coverage, one of the main rationales for the ACA. In 2007, during the presidential primary season, public support for the view that the federal government has a responsibility to make...

Christie 2016: 'Vote For Me Or I'll Punch You Right In Your Stupid Face'

Flickr/Eugene Smith
All politicians have to deal with hecklers from time to time, and most try to handle it by being polite but firm, using the moments before security reaches the person and hustles them out to say something like: "This is America, and everyone has the right to speak their minds. So you've had your say, and now it's my turn." It allows the politician to show the crowd that he's unflappable and patient, but not intimidated. That is, unless you're Chris Christie, in which case every heckler is an opportunity to show that you're something else: a tough guy who don't take guff from nobody. To wit, this video from Wednesday, taken by a Democratic tracker: My favorite part is how Christie keeps calling him "buddy" (reminded me of this ). Now try to imagine what would happen if Barack Obama shouted "Sit down and shut up!" at a citizen. Or almost any other prominent politician, for that matter; commentators would immediately start questioning his mental health. But even though it's been a while...

The House Could Get Even Nuttier After This Election, But Heat May Be Off Boehner

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) W ith all the attention focused on the Senate in next Tuesday's elections, it would be easy to forget that there's an election for the House happening as well. The consensus is that Republicans will probably add a few seats to their majority—not a defeat, but not a blow-out victory either. Which means that nothing changes, right? Well, not exactly . As Ed O'Keefe writes: A new band of combative conservatives is likely to win House seats next week, posing a fresh challenge for Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and his leadership team as they seek to govern an expanded GOP majority next year. Six to eight new lawmakers are likely to replace incumbent Republicans in deep-red districts, primarily in the South. Most of them, such as Gary Palmer of Alabama and John Ratcliffe of Texas, are backed by the tea party movement and will be more likely than their predecessors to oppose GOP leaders on key legislation. That's right—the House Republicans will get even...

Why the 2016 Republican Primaries Will Be a Messy Venn Diagram

This guy's coming back! (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
The 2016 Democratic presidential primaries are promising to be rather boring—although anything can happen, at the moment it looks like Hillary Clinton won't have much competition, and if she does it will come from the less-than-electrifying likes of Martin O'Malley . The Republican side is where the sizzle is going to be, with a bunch of interesting personalities slashing each other to pieces in an exhilarating deathmatch. One of the themes of the commentary about that race will be the candidates' attempts to woo and ultimately secure as many of the GOP's constituency groups as possible. And I think there's a mistake in how we often think about that particular process. It's not a contest with an end point where one person wins. To see what I mean, let's take a look at this interesting article from Tim Alberta and Shane Goldmacher about the early struggle between Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee to win evangelicals : The courtship of Christian leaders by White House contenders—"the...

The Government We Deserve

Vote for me, because these are hogs.
This may be the most expensive midterm election in history, but it isn't necessarily the dumbest. That's not because it's smart in any way, just that elections in America are always dumb. To take just one tiny data point, the hottest Senate race in the country may be in Iowa, where everything turns on just how mad the Democratic candidate got when his neighbor's chickens kept crapping in his yard. Madison and Jefferson would be so proud. Commentators with brows set high and low periodically try to redeem a public that falls for this kind of stuff, with varying degrees of success. Political scientists often point out that accumulating detailed political knowledge is an inefficient use of time, when you can just use party identification as a proxy and almost all the time your decisions will be the same as they would if you knew as much as the most addicted political junkie. Perfectly true. But other attempts are less successful. I point your attention to a piece today in the Times by...

What's Wrong With Political Legacies?

That's Jebbie in front of his dad. (Wikimedia Commons/George Bush Presidential Library)
If you were Jeb Bush, you'd probably think this is a golden opportunity to finally mount that presidential bid you've been thinking about your whole life. The current Democratic president isn't particularly popular and has been serving for two terms, making the "time for a change" argument a natural for Republicans. The party is desperate for someone who can "reach out" to Hispanic voters, and you've long been known as the guy who can do that — your own wife is Mexican, and you speak Spanish. Perhaps most importantly, although there are a couple of Republican governors who might end up running, the competition at the moment doesn't exactly look like a field of giants. So over the weekend, we got new indications that Jeb '16 is on its way. Today's New York Times features an article about the Bush family's eagerness for Jeb to run, including sought-after endorsements by Jeb Jr., George W., and George H.W. Jeb's son George P. Bush appeared on ABC's This Week and said that his father is...

No Love for Obama as Election Day Approaches

Official White House photo by Pete Souza
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza I f Republicans win a significant victory in next Tuesday's election—and it now looks like they will indeed take the Senate—get ready for a whole lot of Obama-bashing, not only from the press and Republicans, but from liberals, as well. Some will go so far as to declare his presidency over, and I suspect more than a few genuine leftists will heap scorn on their liberal friends for their naïve embrace of a politician promising (as politicians always do) to change Washington. We can see one variant of this critique, the Jimmy Carter comparison, in a piece by Thomas Frank , based on an interview he conducted with historian Rick Perlstein: The moral of this story is not directed at Democratic politicians; it is meant for us, the liberal rank and file. We still "yearn to believe," as Perlstein says. There is something about the Carter/Obama personality that appeals to us in a deep, unspoken way, and that has led Democrats to fall for a whole string...

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