Good Friday Morning! And happy Memorial Day weekend! It’s been warm enough here to be considered summer for the last few weeks. As Summer arrives, we’re beginning to get some idea of what conditions the Fall midterms will encounter. That’s where I’m starting out today, looking at the big data points for the fall midterms.
I’m also covering a little bit of the NFL’s new rules on kneeling during the anthem and the saga surrounding whether or not the US will hold a summit with North Korea. Links follow.
New this week at the Conservative Institute
If you’ve followed the headlines of the last week and thought that Israel was slaughtering innocent men, women, and children while celebrating a new embassy, I’d forgive you. The news coverage of what is happening in Gaza and Israel’s response has been abysmal.
The horrific mass shooting in Santa Fe, Texas brought with it another national debate on social media and national media on the need to restrict or ban guns in the United States. Hashtag activism took over with people tweeting #NeverAgain, trying to claim some solidarity with victims in such situations. It’s become a predictable pattern with a familiar rhythm after any mass shooting story.
Predictable patterns, narratives, and rhythms purposely obscure the truth. CNN and anti-gun group Everytown falsely claim there have been between 22 – 40 school shootings this year. They run these stats and stories to induce panic and make everyone believe the same thing: America faces an epidemic of school shootings, and your children are in grave danger.
Here’s the truth, there is no epidemic of school shootings, children are safer in schools now than they were in the 1990’s, and the overall murder rates in schools and society at large have collapsed over the last 25 years.
Republicans Gaining Momentum for Midterms
It’s a good time to check in on the Republican midterm chances this week. I say that primarily because there’s been an unusual shift in polling towards Republicans which could — heavy emphasis on the word could — change expectations for November. I preface everything I’m about to write by saying: It’s early summer and the November elections are many news cycles away. So many things can change that could radically shift the race.
That said, let’s let’s look at three broad data points that give us some idea of the general fundamentals of the race. First, Donald Trump’s approval rating, while still below 50%, has improved and stabilized around 44%, according to the RealClearPolitics average. The last time he was close to that level was April of last year, before his approval plummeted after firing James Comey.
Second, the generic ballot, which asks voters whether or not they’d vote for a generic Republican or Democrat in November, has narrowed considerably. Right now, Democrats hold a 4 point lead, which shrunk from a high of nearly 14 points over Christmas, which signaled a massive blue wave election in November. In general, Democrats maintain a small lead when both parties are even.
Finally, we have the results from actual races from special elections over the last year and primaries that are occurring on a rolling basis. Democrats scored numerous victories in special elections across the country for the past year. Often these swings showed intensely red districts moving towards Democrats in a meaningful fashion, enough to imply a blue wave.
Those three factors are the critical data points. Presidential approval ratings and the generic ballot provide you with the “fundamentals” of an election. Most election models are built around those data points to measure how an election is moving. Special elections give us real, but flawed data. The type of person who votes in a special election doesn’t always correlate to the general election voter, so while it’s important, we don’t know how significant. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight had this to say in April when the generic ballot shrunk to Democrats +7:
The bigger question is what to make of the disparity between the overwhelming swing toward Democrats so far in special election results — which would imply a Democratic wave on par with the historic Republican years of 1994 and 2010 — and the considerably more modest one suggested by the generic congressional ballot, which shows Democrats ahead by only 7 points and implies that the battle for House control is roughly a toss-up. One plausible answer is that the generic ballot will shift further toward Democrats once voters become more engaged with the campaign in their respective districts and pollsters switch over to likely voter models. Still, both the generic ballot and special election results (when taken in the aggregate) are fairly reliable indicators. Rather than choosing between them, it’s best to consider both. That means entertaining a wide range of scenarios that run between Republicans narrowly holding onto the House and an epic Democratic wave.
Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics, led with this analysis:
If you had asked me six months ago who I thought would win control of the House of Representatives in 2018, I wouldn’t have hesitated before answering, “It’s early, but Democrats are heavily favored, although conventional wisdom has been very slow to catch up.” With a raft of GOP retirements in highly vulnerable open seats, a president with job approval ratings in the 30s, and a generic ballot lead for Democrats in the double digits, it was increasingly difficult to spell out a path to victory for Republicans. In fact, things were bad enough that it appeared their losses could grow into the 40 or even 50 seat range.
Things have changed. If the election were held today, it’s not clear who would hold the chamber. I might put a thumb on the scale for Republicans, but right now – and it is still early – the House is likely to be close. Once again, conventional wisdom seems slow to catch up, with analysts still discussing the toxic environment for Republicans.
I’m not quite as optimistic as Trende, but I agree with his evaluation. There is a distinct shift in the midterm elections towards the Republican Party. Midterm elections are always a referendum on the governing party, whoever is power. And typically, that’s why you see the governing party lose seats in Congress.
Because midterm elections are referendums on the governing party, and especially the President, I’d put my thumb on the scale for Democrats. Right now, Republicans appear to be out of blue wave territory. But that implies GOP voters will be as energized to vote in the midterm election. We already know through special elections Democrats are excited to vote, the question is if Republicans can generate some amount of support to get people out to vote.
One significant headwind facing Democrats is their progressive fringe base electing nutcases. The Washington Post’s Daily 202 newsletter noted this past week that the fringe left is winning primary elections, which harms Democrats in the general election. It’s a political civil war, of sorts, that’s getting very little coverage because of the deluge of news elsewhere. But if you combine that war with the potential disaster for Democrats in California, these headwinds could cost them the House.
Democrats need around 20-25 seats, depending on the scenario, to retake the House. Right now I think they either fall short of retaking the House, or they retake it by the slimmest margins. An interesting House would be one where Democrats retake the House, but 5-10 Democratic House reps got elected to oppose Nancy Pelosi.
Even more interesting would be Republican maintaining a majority because of meltdowns in California.
There’s a lot of campaigning left to go, and I still think Democrats remain favored to take the House. But things look much closer than they did over Christmas.
Trump, Twitter, and Public Forums
A federal judge ruled that the President couldn’t block people on Twitter. NBC News had one of the better synopsizes:
President Donald Trump cannot block Twitter users for the political views they have expressed, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled on Wednesday.
Blocking users from viewing his Twitter account — a feature offered by the social media platform — is unconstitutional and a violation of the First Amendment, Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote in her ruling.
“While we must recognize, and are sensitive to, the President’s personal First Amendment rights, he cannot exercise those rights in a way that infringes the corresponding First Amendment rights of those who have criticized him,” Buchwald wrote.
The government had argued that blocked individuals could still access the president’s tweets. The judge agreed but said that even considering the president’s First Amendment rights, preventing users from interacting directly with him on Twitter represented a violation of a “real, albeit narrow, slice of speech.”
The case had been brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
It argued that the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account is a “public forum” under the First Amendment.
The critical part of that phrase is that the court ruled Trump’s twitter account was a “public forum.” That’s a precise legal term of art. When it comes to speech, you can express yourself in several different areas, public forums, quasi-public forums, and private areas (among other descriptions).
Most public forums are places where the government has set up space, like public universities, parks, sidewalks, etc. It’s interesting to note here that a private company, Twitter, can have an account that morphs between public and private forums. Public forums receive the most free speech protection under the law. And if this is the case, many Democrats are going to have to stop blocking people too.
Ultimately, I don’t know if this stands. I’m surprised it made it to court in the first place because it’s not that hard to get around a Twitter block. In any event, if Twitter becomes a public forum, that radically changes social media platforms. It means that if you become a public figure of some kind, your account could fall into the same territory as Trump’s, where deleting, blocking, and other functions are denied to you.
People will take this as a snub against Trump, but it has far-reaching consequences that have ripple effects for all politicians. Should all citizens get access to the private profiles of state politicians? I know many state and local representatives that run social media accounts like you and me, connecting with friends and family. The federal judge opened pandora’s box. I suspect more lawsuits are looming on that front.
The NFL’s New Policy on Anthem protests
I have a column in the Conservative Institue today that goes over why I think the NFL’s new rules are wrong for our society at-large. So I’ll keep my remarks here shorter.
I don’t understand what the NFL is thinking.
This is a problem that was disappearing and losing steam as the NFL goes through its off-season doldrums. Now, during OTA’s, it’s all everyone is talking about — and the NFL has guaranteed this will be the top talking point all through the pre-season and first few weeks. They gift wrapped the subject to Trump as a talking point for the fall elections and probably guaranteed more angry fans.
I honestly have no clue why the NFL thought they needed to do anything in this situation. But you can thank Roger Goodell and the owners for ensuring this cultural fire-starter will explode during the pre-season game. It may even show up during the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
So congrats to the NFL for setting up rakes to smash themselves in the face every week of the 2018 season. Roger Goodell is the worst league commissioner in America.
Trump backs out of talks with North Korea
There are so many threads to the North Korea story right now.
Trump backs out of the summit with North Korea set to happen this month. North Korea “blows up” tunnels connected to its underground nuclear test site. North Korea also released three hostages earlier this month and said they were still open to talks.
Just about everyone I read or watched on social media tried calling this a win or failure for Trump. And I just don’t get it because I didn’t see this as an endpoint — I saw it as a pretty open and naked negotiation tactic.
One of the problems with the Iran Deal was that Obama and his administration were effectively bargained down to accepting any deal they could get, they didn’t have the strength or leverage to walk away. Which led to the Iranians getting anything they wanted in return.
Right now, it doesn’t seem like Trump making that same mistake here. Kim and North Korea made noise they would refuse to put denuclearization on the table, and Trump walked away, even though he got some concessions. North Korea looks like they’re trying to get back to that table because the offer of access to Western capital markets is too high for an economically impoverished country.
Time Magazine interviewed an expert in that region who tends to agree with that view:
Leon Sigal, the director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council, says Trump’s letter Thursday informing Kim that he is canceling their scheduled June 12 face-to-face meeting should not be taken as the end of the two countries’ negotiations for a summit.
“If you read his letter carefully, it says things like, ‘I feel it is inappropriate at this time to have the summit’ or ‘We had a wonderful dialogue,’” he told TIME. “There are like six sentences like that. What’s happening is the critics are saying Trump was too eager for the meeting. Now he’s playing hard to get.”
Sigal has studied past negotiations between North Korea and the U.S., including the last time North Korea promised to denuclearize in the 1990s. He sees what’s happened as a pause in the difficult diplomatic process — a chance for both sides to move past the public diplomacy and hash out the details behind the scenes.
“I don’t think of this as catastrophic or anything like that,” Sigal said. “There’s a lot of gamesmanship going on at this point.”
Which is closer to what I see, gamesmanship. If you want to force North Korea to put nukes on the table, you have to show you’re willing to walk away from the table. It’s a failing of many previous administrations. Trump could still fail in a variety of ways, but walking away seems more like his attempt at playing coy than it does some broad policy failure.
I could be wrong and this is all improvisation by Trump, but there are more signs here that he’s playing a game rather than just making it up.
Links of the week
Conservatives Fail the N.F.L.’s Free Speech Test – David French, The New York Times
NFL’s National Anthem Policy Exposes Free Speech Hypocrisy of Right, Left, and Trump – Robby Soave, Reason Magazine
What the NFL Should Have Done About the National Anthem – Johnathan V. Last, The Weekly Standard
Bodycams help prove lawyer lied about police rape – Fox 5 Atlanta
Put Russia on the List – The Editors, The Weekly Standard
Deep in the Desert, Iran Quietly Advances Missile Technology – The New York Times
This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things – W. Ben Hunt, Ph.D., Epsilon Theory
Feds Seized a Fortune From #Resistance Icons Accused of Boosting Online ‘Ponzi Schemes’: Homeland Security investigator alleged ‘reasonable cause’ to believe Ed and Brian Krassenstein illegally hawked investment scams. – Lachlan Markay, The Daily Beast
The Statustician! (Tom Wolf’s greatest legacy was his satirical take on pretentious intellectualism) – Joseph Epstein, The Weekly Standard
Philip Roth’s pitiless take on the Sexual Revolution – John Podhoretz, The New York Post
Lame Excuse Jews – Shmuel Rosner, Jewish Journal
The Tragedy of Venezuela: When reporter Anatoly Kurmanaev started covering the country five years ago, the petrodollar-fueled party was still raging, but the greed and incompetence of the ruling party soon began to take their devastating toll – Anatoly Kurmanaev, The Wall Street Journal
Satire piece of the week
DANVERS, MA—Observing the potentially suspicious behavior from a monitor bay in the entertainment center’s control room, Chuck E. Cheese’s pit boss Lance Kessler reportedly told a floor attendant Thursday to keep an eye on a guest who kept winning big at skee-ball. “Our friend at machine 12 seems to be on one hell of a hot streak, so why don’t you head over there and make sure we don’t have any trouble,” said Kessler, adding that the attendant should keep close tabs on the child in order to determine whether he was using a weighted ball or some other method to cheat at the game. “Just stay close, comp him a free orange soda or two, and report back to me. Don’t try and confront him—I don’t want a repeat of last February when that kid got too handsy with Helen Henny and had to be escorted out in cuffs. Just make sure he’s clean before he tries cashing in his winnings for a giant stuffed Pikachu or remote-control car.” After learning that someone matching the guest’s description had won huge prizes at several Chuck E. Cheese’s locations around the country, Kessler had reportedly taken the child into a back room and was beating him with a phonebook.
Thanks for reading!