Paul Waldman

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...

Rand Paul Continues Record of Brilliant Media Manipulation

Flickr/circulating
As I've probably made clear by now, I am 1) abundantly skeptical of Rand Paul's ability to be president of the United States, and only somewhat less skeptical of his ability to win the presidency; and 2) in tremendous admiration of Paul's skill at working the media. There will be abundant time to explore #1 in the months ahead, but today offers us yet another example of #2. Paul, you see, is convening a super-secret meeting of his brain trust to discuss his upcoming presidential campaign, and somehow, news of the meeting found its way to the National Journal and reporter Shane Goldmacher: Sen. Rand Paul is summoning his top strategists and political advisers to Washington one week after the November election for a strategy session over his widely expected 2016 presidential bid. The gathering of Paul's top lieutenants in the nation's capital has been quietly organized by Doug Stafford, his chief political strategist, who began reaching out to key figures in Paul's political world...

Barack Obama, the Veto-Less President

This chart and more can be yours if you click inside.
If the Republicans take over the Senate in this year's election, as now looks likely, one thing seems certain: President Obama will be issuing a lot of vetoes in the next two years. Or maybe not over the whole two years, but certainly at first. With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 2006, there would be an initial spasm of pointless legislating , as they set about to fulfill the promises they've made over the course of Obama's presidency: repealing the Affordable Care Act, slashing environmental protections, cutting taxes, establishing "the Reagan" as the new currency to replace the dollar, and so on. The prospect of future veto fights highlights an extraordinary fact: Obama has issued fewer vetoes than any president in modern (and even not-so-modern) American history. He has vetoed a grand total of two bills: the Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act of 2010, which had to do with home foreclosures , and a continuing resolution that had...

Have Republicans Found a Way to Insure Poor People and Still Hate Barack Obama?

Flickr/David Mason
At the risk of being overly optimistic, I think we may have reached a tipping point on Medicaid expansion, where it will soon become completely acceptable for Republican states to accept it, insure their poor citizens, and reap the economic and social benefits despite the taint of Obamacare. I'm not saying there won't be holdouts, because there will be. But something is changing. I'll explain why in a moment, but first, the quick background. (Skip this paragraph if you know all this.) When the Supreme Court decided in 2012 that states could opt out of the expansion of Medicaid included in the Affordable Care Act, some health-care wonks said we shouldn't worry. The expansion was so generous—with the federal government picking up 100 percent of the cost at first, then ratcheting down to 90 percent of the cost over a few years—that it would be insane for any state to turn the money down. In fact, the most conservative states had the most to gain, since their Medicaid eligibility levels...

Why Liberals Love (and Trust) NPR

Flickr/MrTinDC
The Pew Research Center has one of its ginormous studies out today, this one about polarization and media use, and as usual it's full of interesting stuff. I want to make a point about news in general and NPR in particular, and then after that, for those who care about these things, I have a methodological point to make about how we measure ideology. One of the distinct things about the Pew results is that conservatives love, love, love Fox News, while no single news outlet has the same kind of near-universal use among liberals. Look, for instance at this chart showing which sources each group cites as their main source of news: But the really interesting difference emerges when they ask which sources people trust: You'll notice that for the consistent conservatives, trust is basically a function of ideology and partisanship. The only sources that over 50 percent of them trust are Fox and a bunch of conservative radio hosts (and yes, conservatives would argue that that's because all...

John Kasich Successfully Begins Two-Year Ritual of Self-Flagellation

Does the fact that it was 1985 excuse this Bieber-plus-mullet? Only the voters can decide. (Wikimedia Commons)
At Holy Cross-Immaculata church in Cincinnati, there's a Good Friday tradition called " Praying the Steps ," in which parishioners slowly climb the 85 steps up to the church, saying a prayer on each step. It may take a while to get to the top, but that's the entire point of the exercise—the time and effort it takes is a symbol of one's devotion. Keep that in mind for a moment as we talk about that state's governor, John Kasich, and his complicated feelings about the Affordable Care Act. Yesterday, Governor Kasich went through a ritual that has grown no less absurd for being so familiar. It goes like this: 1) Republican politician accidentally acknowledges that the ACA is the law and repeal efforts are futile (or even that it actually helps people); 2) Conservatives do a collective spit-take; 3) Politician issues apology/clarification, making clear his unshakeable belief that the ACA was vomited out of the very fires of hell and of course he wants to repeal it; 4) Conservatives say, "...

On Ebola, Like Terrorism, We Don't Actually Have to Be Right 100 Percent of the Time

I'm done (for the moment, anyway) writing entire posts trying to remind/convince people that the chances of you dying from Ebola are incredibly small. But that doesn't mean there isn't more to say about the often idiotic reactions people are having to a disease that has infected a grand total of two Americans on U.S. soil. This struck me this morning : Rep. Tim Murphy, who chaired a hearing last week questioning the Obama administration's response to the Ebola virus, argued again on Sunday for restricting travel from West African countries where the disease is threatening to spill over into the rest of the continent. "This is like dealing with terrorism," the Republican congressman from Pennsylvania said on "Fox News Sunday." "We have to be right 100 percent of the time, and Ebola only has to get in once." Representative Murphy is both exactly right and spectacularly wrong. He's wrong because Ebola doesn't only have to get in once. It already got in! And most Americans remain weirdly...

What Would Elections Be Like If Everyone Voted?

Click inside for the charty goodness.
Imagine, if you would, an election in which almost everyone turned out to vote. Campaigns would have to reorient their persuasion efforts, because they'd have to talk to everyone. It wouldn't matter whether it was a presidential year or a midterm year. All the time, money, and effort that goes into identifying potential voters, making sure they're registered, and then getting them to the polls would no longer be needed. And of course, people like me wouldn't be able to spend months talking about which voters were going to turn out and which ones weren't. One of the most fundamental features of a midterm election like this one is that the electorate will be different from the one that comes out in a presidential year. It'll be older, whiter, and generally more Republican. While Republicans try to reinforce this difference, Democrats try to counteract it. The degree to which each succeeds determines the outcome, and if this year is like previous midterms, turnout will be around 40...

The Return of the 'Different Kind of Republican'

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
There's always a market, particularly in the media, for the politician who can surprise by running counter to the stereotypes of his or her party. As the two parties become more ideologically unified, that figure becomes even more compelling. The trick is to do it without making your party's loyal supporters angry at you. Which brings us to Rand Paul , who has a plan to become 2016's "Different kind of Republican," the label that was placed on George W. Bush back in 2000: Sen. Rand Paul tells POLITICO that the Republican presidential candidate in 2016 could capture one-third or more of the African-American vote by pushing criminal-justice reform, school choice and economic empowerment. "If Republicans have a clue and do this and go out and ask every African-American for their vote, I think we can transform an election in one cycle," the Kentucky Republican said in a phone interview Thursday as he was driven through New Hampshire in a rental car. Paul — on the cover of the new issue of...

Are You Ready for Some Terror?

I don't know if Ebola is actually going to take Republicans to victory this fall, but it's becoming obvious that they are super-psyched about it. Put a scary disease together with a new terrorist organization and the ever-present threat of undocumented immigrants sneaking over the border, and you've got yourself a putrid stew of fear-mongering, irrationality, conspiracy theories, and good old-fashioned Obama-hatred that they're luxuriating in like it was a warm bath on a cold night. It isn't just coming from the nuttier corners of the right where you might expect it. It's going mainstream. One candidate after another is incorporating the issue into their campaign. Scott Brown warns of people with Ebola walking across the border. Thom Tillis agrees : "Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got an Ebola outbreak, we have bad actors that can come across the border. We need to seal the border and secure it." "We have to secure the border. That is the first thing," says Pat Roberts, "And in addition...

Fear of Lawsuits Is Not Why We Spend So Much On Health Care

Let's get you in there, shall we? (Flickr/Joe Shlabotnik)
You surely know that a good part of the reason our health care system is so expensive is the scourge of "defensive medicine," where doctors order test after test just so that if the patient doesn't get the outcome they want, it'll be harder for them to sue on the grounds that one more MRI or CAT scan would have made all the difference. Making it difficult for people to sue, then, should bring down the cost of health care, right? Actually, no : There's been a long-running theory that one reason medical costs are bloated is that doctors are scared of medical malpractice suits, so they order expensive and unnecessary tests to protect themselves from liability. But in three states over the past decade that enacted laws to put stricter limits on medical malpractice lawsuits, there hasn't been much of an impact in the volume or cost of emergency room care, a new Rand Corporation study shows. The finding suggests that doctors "are less motivated by legal risk than they themselves believe,"...

Some Things More Likely to Kill You Than Ebola

With the Ebola virus having now infected fully .0000006 percent of the American population, it's obviously time to panic, because you're probably going to die from it. But while you're panicking over Ebola, are there other things you should be fearing simultaneously, to really take your terror into the stratosphere? Why yes there are. And I've decided to make a chart, so you'll know just what to be afraid of. These data are drawn from statistics put out by the Centers for Disease Control ; 2011 is the most recent year for which the numbers are available. From the 113 different causes of death they list, I've chosen a few, then added one extra one down at the bottom: There are things that don't appear in this particular set of data; for instance, medical errors kill as many as 440,000 Americans every year. And some of those diseases are the result of other factors; for instance, the CDC says that smoking is responsible for 480,000 deaths in America each year. But you get the idea. Of...

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