The Progressive Fix

Obama, HRC and Race

A renewal of the 2008 debate over Obama, Hillary Clinton, race and the Democratic Party began with a rather underwhelming presentation by an HRC booster determined to show how her demonstrated appeal to white voters would enable Democratic to expand the electoral battlefield in 2016.   As you may recall, during the 2008 primaries she did especially well in the Greater Appalachian states where Obama has struggled so noticeably.  But that, of course, was among white Democratic presidential primary voters, a relatively small universe and one that mostly stuck with Obama in the 2008 general election. It’s another question entirely as to whether Clinton or any other Democrat could significantly improve the party’s performance with white voters–particularly the non-college-educated “white working class” voters in culturally conservative parts of the country.

This discussion intersects with another one of note: is it possible that the robust turnout and overwhelming percentages Barack Obama achieved among young and minority voters will dissipate with anyone else–say, Hillary Clinton–at the top of the ticket?  That’s one implication you could draw from the elevated percentages Republicans achieved among “Obama Coalition” voters in 2014–and in 2010, for that matter.  Another, however, is that even in “Democratic demographic” groups midterms tend to disproportionately draw the more conservative voters; so there’s no particular reason to think a presidential election won’t produce comparable turnout patterns and party preferences.

A third major Obama/Clinton issue that will quickly emerge in the next cycle is the extent to which Obama’s depressed approval ratings (assuming they don’t bounce back) could be communicable to Clinton.  There’s actually not that large a modern data set of successors to two-term presidents; some have won (George H.W. Bush, Al Gore–in the popular vote, at least), some have lost narrowly (Nixon in 1960, Ford in 1976); some have lost by quite a bit (Stevenson in 1952, McCain in 2008).

In all these discussions, it’s probably a good idea not to overemphasize what happened in the 2008 primaries, tempting as that will be.  A lot has changed since then.

The Permanent Campaign: King to Hold First Iowa GOP Cattle Call

While the presidential cycle technically began on November 5, and the “invisible primary” of donors and elite players is well underway, the first really notable events are usually in Iowa.  And what will almost certainly be the first “cattle call” of the cycle in Iowa will, significantly, be held by Rep. Steve King in conjunction with Citizens United, on January 24 in Des Moines.  Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum have already agreed to attend, and the full field of the “mentioned” have apparently be invited.

This is significant because King is a hard-core “constitutional conservative” who clearly intends to have a greater influence than before on the Caucuses.  He can be expected to arrange for detailed ideological vetting of the candidates, and will be especially unforgiving to anyone expressing reluctance on a full reversal of the president’s executive actions on immigration or any interest in taking measures to restore Obamacare purchasing subsidies if they are struck down by the Supreme Court.  If, as many of us expect, the presidential nominating process exerts a strong pull to the right on the entire field, this may be where it starts, and where the 2014 media narrative of the GOP as a party of “pragmatists” moving to the “center” dies a noisy death.


The Permanent Campaign: GOP Open Mic Night

As the 2016 presidential cycle undeniably (except for those in denial) arrives, the remarkable fact most discussed is that no one has yet really emerged to take on Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.  But an equally remarkable fact is how wide open the GOP race is, with a field of possible candidates that just keeps on expanding.  The current cast of “mentioned” proto-candidates includes Sens. Cruz, Graham, Paul, Portman and Rubio; former Sen. Santorum; Govs. Christie, Jindal, Kasich, Pence and Walker; former Govs. Bush and Huckabee; political novice Carson; and hardy perennial Rice. If that’s not enough, some would add unsuccessful Senate candidate Fiorina.  And of course, there’s Mitt Romney, who may be the only one in the bunch who’s less likely to run than he was a few months ago.

I’m not sure there’s been this wide-open a Republican field since maybe 1940.  It’s often said the role of the Iowa Caucuses is to “cull” the field and produce a real choice for the rank-and-file.  A field this large, with no front-runners, probably needs pre-culling.  And the candidates usually mentioned as potential front-runners–the donor favorites Bush, Christie and Rubio–have some of the least impressive numbers in Iowa.  The “invisible primary” of fundraising and maneuvering by and among party elites should be especially interesting in the next few months.

The Permanent Campaign: Bad Spin

After every election comes a sea of interpretation, some of it deliberately overstated to create a “mandate” (or the lack of one!) and project the results into the future, and some of it simply wrong-headed or questionable.  At TPMCafe today, yours truly did some “myth-busting” about several of the things we are hearing, including (1) talk of the results as “a tsunami that will sweep the nation in 2016,” (2) a dismissal of Democratic GOTV efforts as a total failure, (3) the argument Democrats should finally and totally write off the South, (4) claims that the results prove either that “populism” doesn’t work or is a cure-all for Democrats, and (5) suggestions that “the fundamentals” explained everything that happened.

My own basic take is that “fundamentals,” including the “two electorates” reality that suggests the two parties may continue to alternate victories, explain most of what happened on November 4–but bad candidates and campaign mistakes can still have an effect on the margins (as it certainly did in Maryland and Iowa, for example).


The Permanent Campaign: A Potentially Fateful Intervention by SCOTUS

The U.S. Supreme Court interrupts this post-election rumination period with a surprising and potentially fateful acceptance of a legal challenge to the subsidies being made available to eligible people (roughly 5 million of them) in the 36 states utilizing the federal exchange for the Affordable Care Act.  Taking up a case doesn’t mean accepting its premise, obviously, though the absence of any disagreement between Circuits in rejecting the claim, and its dubious nature according to most legal authorities, makes you wonder if the conservative majority of SCOTUS is big-footing it back into the Obamacare debate with bad intent.

In any event, if the Supremes do decide the subsidies are no longer available via the federal exchange (in a decision that is almost certain to come down next June), Republicans at both the federal and state levels will face an immediate dilemma with major implications for 2016 (and beyond): do they agree to a federal or state “fix” for the problem (very easily achievable via either federal legislation to add the words “or federal” to the section of ACA on subsidies, or via state re-christening of an existing federal exchange system as state-authorized) in order to avoid an immediate jump in the cost of insurance, or celebrate the crippling of Obamacare?

In some respects, this choice is parallel to the earlier decision forced on states by SCOTUS’ 2012 decision making the ACA Medicaid expansion optional.  Initially most analysts (though not yours truly) predicted Republican governors and state legislators would go along with the expansion as a matter of fiscal logic reinforced by powerful health care providers.  That seems to be the most commonly held opinion about a subsidy “fix” if SCOTUS forces it (again, I am skeptical).  But it’s very likely Republicans could become divided about what to do, and it’s hard to imagine a better vehicle for an “anti-Establishment” presidential campaign for someone like Ted Cruz if congressional Republicans or even some governors “save” the Great Satan of Obamacare.  Stay tuned.

Regulating the Open Internet: A Letter to Pro-growth Progressives

To Whom It May Concern:

As Democrats who care about the dual priorities of protecting broadband consumers and stimulating broadband investment, we are gravely concerned about President Obama’s endorsement today of monopoly-era, common carrier regulations (called “Title II”) for broadband providers. The president’s proposal does not balance these goals, nor move us towards compromise on other, arguably more critical, communications issues.

First, Title II is not necessary to protect consumers from the hypothetical threat of discrimination by broadband providers against edge providers. In Verizon v. FCC, the D.C. Circuit made clear that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could regulate pay-for-priority deals—and even reverse them after the fact—under Section 706 of the 1996 Act.

Second, Title II itself isn’t guaranteed to stop pay-for-priority by broadband service providers. Title II would merely require that the terms of any pay-for-priority deal be extended to all comers. The monopoly-era cases of generations ago in which the FCC used Title II to proscribe “inherently unjust” conduct have nothing to do with a competitive broadband provider offering paid priority. Thus, the prospect that Title II could be used to bar pay-for-priority deals is very small.

Third, the more likely rationale for imposing Title II is to pursue an aggressive regulatory agenda unrelated to net neutrality, in particular, “unbundling,” the policy that requires companies that make investments in broadband infrastructure to share them with competitors at government-set prices. But when this policy was ended in the decade following the bi-partisan 1996 Act, an explosion of investment by telcos and cable companies in broadband infrastructure resulted, which allowed the U.S. to catch up to the rest of the world. Both the Clinton and Bush Administrations supported this consensus. Moving backwards to a forced-sharing regime would likely chill broadband investment, along with its job-creation and impact on growth, and preserve the “digital divide.”

Fourth, the net neutrality saga has diverted the FCC’s resources for nearly a decade. By eschewing real compromise made possible by the D.C. Circuit Court, and instead pursuing a radical prescription of Title II, the FCC guarantees itself a drawn-out litigation battle with broadband providers. Other, more critical policies, such as broadband deployment in underserved areas and freeing up spectrum for wireless, will sit on the back burner.

Broadband providers have made clear they would not challenge net neutrality rules based on the FCC’s Section 706 authority, so long as the rules made some effort to accommodate arrangements with edge providers that led to new and improved services. That compromise would be consistent with the desire expressed by the American electorate to find the middle ground and reject extreme intervention in the U.S. economy.


Ev Ehrlich, PPI Senior Fellow

Michael Mandel, PPI Chief Economic Strategist

Hal Singer, PPI Senior Fellow

A Better Path Forward on Open Internet

This morning, President Obama spoke out urging the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to regulate broadband Internet as as a utility.

In a September policy brief, The Best Path Forward on Net Neutrality, PPI Senior Fellow Hal Singer and Brookings Non-Resident Senior Fellow Robert Litan explained how Title II enforcement in the late 1990s chilled cable/telcom investment. They argue that by relying on its Section 706 authority the FCC can promote greater investment across both edge and content providers compared to Title II. It will also allow the FCC to avoid any unintended consequences, such as creeping regulation, that encompasses content providers or other ISP services.

Download “2014.09-Litan-Singer_The-Best-Path-Forward-on-Net-Neutrality

The Permanent Campaign: The Results, Part II

How did Republicans win their midterm victory?

The Senate takeover, as noted here often, was to a large extent the product of a pro-Republican landscape made even more promising by midterm turnout patterns. Only in Iowa and Colorado did Republicans win Senate seats in states won by Obama in 2012.   The extent of the coming “wave” was partly disguised by what Nate Silver is describing as a 4-point pro-Democratic “skew” in the polling averages, identical to the one that appeared in another big GOP midterm election, 2002 (and a bit larger than the 3.4% pro-Republican “skew” in 2012).

The 2010 midterm turnout patterns returned with a vengeance.  37% of voters were over 60, and only 13% under 30.  White voters represented 75% of the electorate. and Republicans won 59% of them, just as they did two years ago.  And there’s some evidence, as there was in 2010, that even in “pro-Democratic” demographic categories the more conservatives voters were significantly more likely to turn out, which is one reason why Republican performance among young and minority voters was up.  Overall turnout probably hit record lows (we’ll know when all the mail ballots and provisional ballots are resolves), perhaps as low as 37% of eligible voters.

As noted in a lot of analysis, voters who did show up were very negative about the economy despite strong jobs growth and slowly dropping unemployment rates, and expressed a job approval rating for the president in the low 40s.  So for analysts who stress “the fundamentals,” it was close to being a perfect storm for the GOP.  The best measure of the strength of the “wave” probably isn’t Senate or House seats, but the five-point national House popular vote margin (52-47). It’s below the GOP’s seven-point margin in 2010, and hardly a “tsunami,” but still impressive, though not much of a harbinger of what is likely to happen in 2016 with a much larger, younger, and darker electorate.

Campaigns did matter, of course.  It’s clear the DSCC’s much-discussed $60 million Bannock Street Project to reshape the electorate didn’t work as intended. Some Democratic campaigns–e.g., that of Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown–just weren’t very well-run, and some candidates–notably Iowa’s Bruce Braley–never overcame early mistakes. Meanwhile, GOP “rescue missions” targeting national money and staff to troubled candidates like Pat Roberts and David Perdue seem to have succeeded.  Despite early indications of a Democratic money advantage, outside groups more than made up the difference down the stretch, and the overall GOP paid media and GOTV effort showed an admirable (if legally dubious, since coordination isn’t supposed to happen) division of labor.

Right now the most promising prospect for Democrats is that Republicans will over-interpret the results and enter a very different presidential cycle with unrealistic expectations of a realignment, which is exactly what they did at this point four years ago.


The Permanent Campaign: The Results, Part I

So beneath the headlines of a Republican “sweep” or “wave” is a complicated election which we’ll discuss in two posts: one dealing with the results themselves, and other focused on the underlying dynamics and implications.

GOPers obviously achieved their goal of taking control of the Senate, winning seven Democratic seats without losing any of their own.  Their candidate has a substantial lead in an eighth, Alaska (where mail ballots will be trickling in for a while), and they will be favored to pick up a ninth in December when Bill Cassidy and Mary Landrieu meet in a runoff.  Some Republicans still think final returns and perhaps a recount will give them a tenth in Virginia.  In any event, the results give Mitch McConnell some maneuvering room in the Senate and also increase the odds of Republicans holding the chamber in 2016, when they’ll have as tough as landscape as Democrats had this year.

Republicans also over-achieved in the House, picking up at least 13 seats (probably a few more), including some that have eluded them for years like GA-12, home of the Last of the Southern Blue Dogs, John Barrow.

But it’s governorships that probably produced the biggest surprises and consolidated the cycle’s reputation as a partisan “wave” election.  Republicans picked up governorships in MA, MD (!), IL and AR, and only lost one (Tom Corbett of PA) of their highly vulnerable governors elsewhere, though Sean Parnell of AK is trailing as the final votes trickle in.  Victories by blue state GOP governors Paul LePage of ME, Rick Scott of FL, Scott Walker of WI and Rick Snyder of MI–all thought to be in peril–were particularly brutal for Democrats.

Republican state legislative gains were a bit more modest: they flipped at least five chambers–both chambers in NV, the MN House, the WV House and the NH House. Other gains are possible when final returns are in, but GOPers seem to have failed to win other targets, including the IA Senate, the KY House, the OR Senate, and the CO House.  They did, however, break the Democratic supermajority in one and perhaps both of CA’s chambers, important because of that state’s two-thirds requirement for revenue measures.