Reporting on Politics and Policy.

April 1 2014 3:58 PM

If Republicans Are Proud About the Early-Voting Cutback, Why Don’t They Talk About It?

American Crossroads is going on the air in North Carolina with this new ad against Sen. Kay Hagan. (It boosts her chief rival, Thom Tillis, who is trying to fend off a challenge from Rand Paul-backed doctor Greg Brannon.) The ad refers twice to voting reform passed in the Tillis-run House of Representatives. We learn that Hagan opposed it ...

... and that Tillis will defend it.

Now, it's perfectly accurate to refer to the law in question as "the voter ID law." But the law does more than require ID at the polls. It shortens the early-voting period from 17 to 10 days; it ends the ability of a voter who shows up at the wrong precinct to cast a provisional ballot; it ends same-day registration. The ad points out that Hagan wrote a letter to Eric Holder asking the DOJ to challenge the law, and she did, though voter ID was only one of her points of contention.

This fits into a pattern. Since last year, when Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law, he and the rest of the Republicans in the state have called the law "commonsense" (this polls well) and talked almost exclusively about the voter ID components. In one particularly slippery video, McCrory attacked the "politics" behind the law's critics, mentioning nothing about the new law apart from the ID standard.

Why am I obsessing over this? Yesterday I had some fun with Matt Lewis' assertion that the Democrats were pointing reporters to stories about gerrymandering and vote restriction laws, suggesting that this got the agency completely backward. Lewis took umbrage at this.

In fact, it is the mainstream media who are presenting biased information here. For example, let’s consider the aforementioned New York Times front-page story, headlined: ”New G.O.P. Bid to Limit Voting in Swing States.” The clear implication is that the GOP is working around the clock to disenfranchise African-American voters. And how are they hoping to achieve this sinister goal and prevail as victors in November? The GOP’s signature move  – the one cited by Weigel — is to limit early voting. (The other method is gerrymandering; I’ve already poked holes in that argument.)
Of course, there are two ways of explaining these positions, one much more cynical than the other. You might suggest it is a purely political calculation with the goal of suppressing African-American votes (I hope we would all agree that’s a horrible motivation that should not be condoned).
But what everyone — including Weigel — fails to mention, is the possibility that there are sincere and legitimate arguments for why early voting is a bad idea — based on its merits. This isn’t a secret. Plenty of serious and respected experts and commentators have made this point (see herehere, and here). So while there are two ways of explaining these efforts, guess which option the media chooses to believe.

Let's work backward from the links. Lewis cites three sources who advance the argument that "early voting is a bad idea": political reporter Jon Ralston, two political scientists, and himself. Neither the political scientists nor Ralston actually call for an end to early voting. The former wrote that early-voting periods can be too long, and that "even a limited few-days-early voting period could convey most of the advantages of the practice." The latter simply argued for voters to wait until Election Day in case scandalous news emerged about a candidate. Now we're talking about a state cutting back early-voting days that happen to be used in great proportions by black voters. It's one thing to say "you shouldn't eat that" and another to say "I'm going to legally prevent you from eating that."

I work at Slate, so, hey, I get the value of contrarian opinions. But that's what the aforementioned columns were offering. Contrary, but-what-if opinions. Just three months ago, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration recommended early voting as a way to expand the franchise. (Not everyone can wriggle out of work on a Tuesday to get in line for an undetermined amount of time.) Lewis says that if early-voting opponents were really making a "purely political calculation with the goal of suppressing African-American votest," we should oppose it. OK, then—I give you this story from Ohio:

“I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine,” said Doug Preisse, chairman of the county Republican Party and elections board member who voted against weekend hours, in an email to The Dispatch. “Let’s be fair and reasonable.”
[Precinct Chair Don] Yelton also offered several other reasons why he supports the voter suppression law. Among them, “[i]f it hurts a bunch of college kids that’s too lazy to get up off their bohunkus [sic] and get a photo ID, so be it,” and “if it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that wants the government to give them everything, so be it.”

Just two voices, sure, which is why I'm more convinced by the decision made by pro-Republican ad-makers, and by North Carolina's Republican governor, to talk about voting reform without ever mentioning the decision to cut back same-day registration and early voting.

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April 1 2014 1:56 PM

How Paul Ryan’s New Budget Undercuts the Democrats’ 2014 Campaign

It started to leak last night, but I'm guessing few Democrats read Paul Ryan's latest—and possibly last—budget by this morning. They didn't really need to, if they'd done last year's homework. The new Path to Prosperity, the nonbinding document that Republicans hope to pass in a partisan House vote, looked remarkably like the last Paths to Prosperity. This budget, like the last few, transforms Medicare into a "premium support" program (nobody say "voucher"), though no fewer than four times it refers to this as a way to "strengthen Medicare." It collapses the income tax to two rates, 10 and 25 percent, and cuts the corporate tax to 25 percent, too. It's probably more "extreme" than last year's budget, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities puts it, because to get to balance Ryan needs to make some deep discretionary cuts. But he doesn't have to get specific about what will be cut.

So, knowing that, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer could address a scrum of reporters today and announce that he "welcomed and relished" Ryan's work. Once again, the nemesis had repealed Obamacare while keeping its $732 billion in Medicaid cuts. Once again he'd gone after Medicare.

"It shows with all of these House Republican members running against all of our Democratic Senate incumbents are going to take it from both sides," said Schumer. "They're going to have to first defend the Ryan budget, and second they're going to have to say why they don't support our Fair Shot Agenda."

Schumer was using the name Senate Democrats had just given—like 100 hours ago—to their package of agenda-setting stunt legislation. Among its features will be a minimum wage hike and paycheck fairness. The Ryan budget stole no Democrat's thunder on that. It also didn't touch Social Security in any meaningful way. That means the GOP will go into the election with nothing meaningul tying it to one of the Democrats' preferred attack lines—that the party wants to cut Social Security.

See, the midterm's going to present them with an older electorate, and the Democrats want these voters to be just as afraid of Republicans as they are afraid of Obamacare. Democrats keep searching for ways to raise the specter of Social Security cuts. In North Carolina, Sen. Kay Hagan is currently looking at the 1980 Libertarian Party manifesto to prove that David Koch, the party's vice presidential candidate that year, backs privatization. In Florida, Democrats attacked now-Rep. David Jolly for lobbying for a conservative group that backed privatization. They really, dearly want to link Republicans to something they know seniors hate.

Ryan is denying them an opportunity to do so.

April 1 2014 12:02 PM

Election Handicapper, Handicap Thyself

Before Bruce Braley decided it was a good idea to deride possible Senate Judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley as "an Iowa farmer who never went to law school," the race for Michigan's open seat had been seen as the softest piece of blue turf. Democrats have not lost a Senate race in Michigan since 1994, and the party has become so effective at the federal level that Michigan-born Mitt Romney only pulled 44.6 percent of the vote in his 2012 run. But there's always falloff in midterms; Rep. Gary Peters, the Democratic candidate, is deeply unexciting; Terri Lynn Land, the former two-term secretary of state, lapped Peters in fundraising and passed him in early polling, as the Democrat changed up campaign managers.

That's distracted pundits from the way Land got into the race (as the "eh, good enough" candidate when stronger candidates took a pass), and started them describing her as a "strong" contender.

"The Republicans also have an apparently strong candidate with former secretary of state Terry Lynn Land" (sic), writes Ben Highton at WaPo's Monkey Cage blog.

"Republicans will have an excellent candidate in Terri Lynn Land, the former secretary of state," writes Nate Silver in his (unjustly) infamous Senate preview. "She comes from the old guard of moderate Michigan Republicans, instead of the tea party wing that might have preferred a candidate like Rep. Justin Amash."

True, but are we defining "excellence" down? Democrats are crowing today about a clip from Lansing TV, in which a reporter informs his audience of how Land limited questions and passed on a Crimea query because an aide told her to wrap it up. Print reporters were no kinder.

While Land declared her candidacy last summer, she has appeared reluctant to interact with the media. She participated in her first official press call with multiple reporters last week, reiterating her call to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and fielded only a handful of questions Monday before turning in her signatures.
Asked about gay marriage, Land said she believes in "traditional marriage between a man and a woman." Michigan voters "have spoken on this issue," she explained, referencing a 2004 ballot proposal but declining to say whether the issue is ripe for another look.

Now, clearly, Democrats are putting this pressure on Land because their candidate is still struggling to reclaim the usual Democratic advantage. It's not like Land is gaffe-ing all over the place, and the handicappers suggest that should be enough for a Republican to win in a year like this. How quickly we forget the 2012 race that the handicappers botched—North Dakota's Senate race, in which a fine-on-paper mainstream Republican was outhustled by an adept Democrat.

April 1 2014 10:03 AM

Meet Your Next Obamacare Victim: Confused Arkansas Guy

Arkansas is simultaneously the most fertile and most treacherous ground for a political campaign against Obamacare. Fertile, because the state's rapid sprint away from conservative Democrats and toward conservative Republicans makes it pretty easy to beat up Democrats like Sen. Mark Pryor. Treacherous, because the state's Republican legislature has pioneered and continued a "private option" for Medicaid expansion, cleaving the Tea Party (Americans for Prosperity, et al.) from the Chamber of Commerce, and preventing the state from joining the larger Obamacare rebellion. (Luckily, as Republicans are finding in West Virginia and Kentucky, Republican voters don't change overnight simply because they can access health insurance.)

So: For a while, Americans for Prosperity was drenching Arkansas in ads that told the story of a woman whose health insurance had been canceled by the coverage mandates of the ACA. Democrats and liberal groups cried havoc—the state had actually extended the life of such plans until 2017. What was AFP to do? Sink six figures into this ad.

Jerry's problem is not that his plan has been canceled, per se. It's that the fate of the plan is lost in confusion. "It was taken away from us, or it was given back to us, or it was taken," he says, exasperated. These AFP ads are designed to have long tails, as liberals criticize them and smear the humans who appear in them. A guy who's confused about Obamacare? That could be me!

April 1 2014 8:54 AM

The Only Election That Can Give Democrats Hope for 2014

Ever since the election in Florida's 13th District, when I've talked to Republican strategists I've heard three theories about 2014. One: The party is doing almost exactly what it needs to have a fantastic election. Two: Despite the party's mistakes, everything is coalescing to make 2014 a fantastic election. Three: The party's on track to win, but it has to do more than talk about Obamacare, lest it give away its right to a "mandate."

There are really no pessimists left alive. The only data I can see that might embolden Democrats for 2014 (i.e., coax them out of a pants-wetting crouch) comes from Virginia. There, in 2013, Democrats really did manage to break the demographic curse of the off-year.

Here are the numbers. In 2009, the year after Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia in 44 years, the Republicans won a landslide. The electorate was 78 percent white, and 67 percent of that bloc voted Republican.

In 2013, helped tremendously by a scandal that took popular Gov. Bob McDonnell out of commission, Democrat Terry McAuliffe won the governor's race. But his electorate was only 72 percent white. Democrats managed to push the black proportion of the electorate from 16 to 20 percent. That bloc, which gave a 82-point margin to McAuliffe, saved the race for the Democrats.

McAuliffe's win was smaller than most polls predicted, and Republicans were convinced that, with another week of bad Obamacare headlines, they could have won the race. But Democrats left the field with modeling and messaging that turned out a less-white electorate. If they can deploy that in North Carolina, in Louisiana, in Michigan, they can win.

So they assume. The flip side: McAuliffe's pollsters insisted that the Obamacare issue cut their way in 2013, and that voters preferred a candidate who would expand Medicaid. In office for three months now, McAuliffe has had zero luck convincing the Republican supermajority in the House of Delegates that it needs to expand Medicaid. Americans for Prosperity has continued counting votes from its sympathetic members, keeping them from breaking for Medicaid. The Democrats' 2014 survival plan requires Republicans to reach historic levels of obstinancy, and for their base to simmer with outrage and vote despite their disappointment with their own party. Inspiring stuff!

March 31 2014 6:39 PM

Rand Paul and the Alternate History of World War II

Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post blogger/columnist who has never pretended to be a fan of Rand Paul, got her hands on a 2012 (vertical!) video of Rand Paul answering a question about sanctions on Iran. Paul mused a little about the mistakes America made before the outbreak of World War II.

"There are times when sanctions have made it worse," Paul said. "Leading up to World War II, we cut off trade with Japan. That probably caused Japan to react angrily. We also had a blockade on Germany after World War I that probably encouraged some of their anger."

Aaron Blake reached out to Paul's spokesman (and former chief of staff) Doug Stafford, who nipped the controversy at its stem: "The megalomaniac Hitler was to blame for the war and the Holocaust." But where did the nano-gaffe come from? The idea behind it, the idea that America supported lunkheaded blockades that angered the Nazi state needlessly, is pretty mainstream within the paleoconservative community. The Ludwig von Mises Institute, which employs old-time Ron Paul ally Lew Rockwell and frequent Ron Paul literary collaborator Tom Woods, has published several pieces advancing the argument. Here's Ralph Raico reviewing a book on the subject of the post-World War I hunger blockade.

Besides the direct effects of the British blockade, there are the possible indirect and much more damaging effects to consider. A German child who was ten years old in 1918, and who survived, was twenty-two in 1930. Vincent raises the question of whether the miseries and suffering from hunger in the early, formative years help account to some degree for the enthusiasm of German youth for Nazism later on. Drawing on a 1971 article by Peter Loewenberg, he argues in the affirmative.

Here's Adam Young in a 2004 piece criticizing a euology that George W. Bush gave for Churchill.

Churchill was instrumental in establishing the illegal starvation blockade of Germany. The blockade depended on scattering mines, and classified as contraband food for civilians. But, throughout his career, international law and the conventions created to limit the horrors of war meant nothing to Churchill. One of the consequences of the hunger blockade was that, while it killed 750,000 German civilians by hunger and malnutrition, the youth who survived went on to become the most fanatical Nazis.

And here's David Gordon in a 2008 review of Nicholson Baker's Holocaust book.* After running through the World War I blockade story, he further impugns Churchill for the pre-World War II hunger blockade.

[It] is hardly surprising that the renewed outbreak of world war in September 1939, which returned Churchill to the British cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty, brought a new hunger blockade of Germany. Herbert Hoover strongly protested: was it really an acceptable tactic of war to starve innocent women and children? Churchill was unmoved and retained the blockade in place... Churchill rejected all efforts to reach a settlement. He continued the hunger blockade, a move that could only exacerbate the most extreme Nazi policies. 

At no point do any of these authors blame America for the crimes of Nazi Germany. And neither did Paul. All that's revealed in this incident is that Paul is conversant with the work of paleolibertarian histories. That's probably enough to terrify the people who'd prefer a hawk atop their 2016 ticket.

*I originally called "Human Smoke" a novel, but it wasn't. I did read "House of Holes," for whatever that's worth.

March 31 2014 4:29 PM

Lazarus Raised: Nobody Files to Run Against Rep. Mark Sanford

Yesterday, March 30, was the candidate filing deadline in South Carolina. Anyone wanting to run for any office had to have his or her papers in order, or that was it—no race. Any incumbent had to watch the filings closely, to see whether he or she'd have to fight for his or her job in the summer primary or the general election. Sen. Lindsey Graham drew a few Republican primary challengers, as predicted. Sen. Tim Scott, one of the best-liked figures in his party, drew a token challenge from a computer systems administrator. 

Only one incumbent member of Congress drew no challenge, either in his primary or in November. His name: Mark Sanford. Less than a year after the scandalized former governor won the state's 1st Congressional District—an expensive race that included a runoff and a briefly competitive campaign against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch—Sanford will stroll into a new term.

"I think Congressman Sanford is doing what he was elected to do by working to cut spending, shrink government and protect liberty," boasted Sanford's chief of staff, Jon Kohan. "I believe that not receiving major party opposition in his re-election bid is a testament to that."

March 31 2014 3:43 PM

Koch Network Goes After Democrats for Criticizing/Accepting Big Outside Spending

If you watch TV, or TV online, or online video of any kind—look, if you're a sentient human living in America right now, you see lots of GEICO ads. The insurance company's ad strategy basically consists of omnipresence, of telling any joke that might work for any audience. It's what I thought of immediately after seeing a pair of ads from American Encore and American Committment.

What are these groups? American Encore is the new iteration of the Center to Protect Patient Rights, which, as a lengthy ProPublica investigation explained, was a conduit for political spending from the Koch network. Now, as was the case under the old name, the group is run by Sean Noble. His group distributed $182 million in the 2010 and 2012 cycles, but doesn't have to disclose the source of its donors. We only know from disclosures from previous campaigns, and from finance investigations in California, that the Koch network seeded the money for this ad and others now running against Democrats who've been criticizing undisclosed spending.

In that ad, we're told that Democrats are wrong, wrong, wrong to attack campaign spending by wealthy philanthropists. But hours after this went up, another ad—with the same narrator, and some similar video clips—emerged from American Commitment. Founded in 2012 by Phil Kerpen, who'd been a vice president at David Koch's Americans for Prosperity, American Commitment initially got seed money from the Center to Protect Patient Rights. It's using $50,000 to put this ad on the air in D.C. and some swing states.

Where once a comforting female voice told us to stand up for free-speech rights, now the same voice is telling us of the threat posed by two wealthy brothers who happen to be named something besides "Koch." Give them this: There's clearly no illegal coordination happening.

March 31 2014 2:37 PM

Conservatives Unhappy When Media Reports on GOP Voting Restriction Bills

Way back on Thursday, several news cycles ago, I wrote a short item about a new Wisconsin law that rolled back early-voting days and hours. The news value was fairly obvious: Not evey Republican had backed the bill, Gov. Scott Walker had vetoed parts of it. Several years of studies on early voting suggested that Saturday and Sunday voting, which the revised bill terminated, was particularly useful to poorer, less white voters. Black churches in many states had run "souls to the polls" voting drives on Sundays.*

Saturday night the New York Times ran a more comprehensive story about early-voting rollbacks, giving it the unsubtle headline "New G.O.P. Bid to Limit Voting in Swing States." It appeared on the front page of the Sunday paper. Not that I took it personally, but the NYT story got far more attention than my little squib, and the Democratic National Committee scheduled a press call about it. This didn't seem right to the Week's Matt Lewis. "Call it a coincidence -- or call it a coordinated attempt to lay the groundwork for explaining why projected Republican victories would be illegitimate (or, at least, tainted)," he wrote.

On Saturday, the New York Times ran an article strongly implying Republicans are attempting to disenfranchise African-American voters in "pivotal swing states." Two days later, the AP ran a story suggesting that gerrymandering explains the Republican advantage... first, pace Touré gerrymanding couldn't explain why Republicans are poised to take the Senate. Second, there's reason to believe people are self-segregating along ideological lines. None of this matters, of course -- not when there's an imminent loss to be preemtively explained. And that's just what's happening. 

Well, full disclosure: If there was a meeting where the AP and NYT coordinated their coverage, I was not invited. But I think Lewis is getting the story backward. The NYT and AP are not warning that Republicans will try to restrict voting. They are reporting on bills that came out of Republican legislatures and restrict voting. No state run by Democrats is making any comparable move to roll back early voting or increase ID standards at the polls. The AP's story, on gerrymandering, doesn't even argue that the 2011 district lines will affect Senate races, which would be silly. It reflects, accurately, that Republicans made a concerted push to win state legislative seats in 2011 in order to lock in a decade of gains. They were entirely open about that in 2011. Pointing that out is excuse-making?

No, it's reporting. Reports can safely dismiss any effort to work the refs and portray accurate reporting on this as proof of bias.

*The irony that I found in 2012 was that black voters, who saw themselves as the victims of laws that restricted early voting on weekends, became more likely to vote.

March 31 2014 11:57 AM

Chris Christie Will Never Use the Wrong Jargon About Palestinians Again

Four possible 2016 presidential candidates spoke at this past week's Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Las Vegas. All of the color you need comes from Ken Vogel, who was there when Sheldon Adelson Maybach-ed into the Venetian, and as the aging billionaire scootered around his casino trailed by Republican strategists.

But the incident with the greatest immediate impact on 2016 happened very quickly. During his Q&A, with Adelson in a reserved seat, Chris Christie got a chance to muse about his family visit to Israel. He scheduled it for Holy Week, he said, and marveled at the religious freedom on display.

"Israel is the only place that would ever permit that what happens in Jerusalem, especially during Holy Week," he said. "All of those faiths coming together, freely and openly, to practice those faiths ... to see it myself the first time in person was overwhelming."

Good so far. But Christie kept talking. "I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across, and just felt personally how important that was to understand—the military risk that Israel faces every day," he said.

Occupied territories! That's an uncontroversial term in international law, but Christie wasn't addressing the U.N. He was in Sheldon Adelson's casino. As Vogel later reported, Christie got a chance to apologize for "misspeaking" once the donors were meeting with possible 2016-ers one on one.

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