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“The Ghost Of Section 5 Haunts Our Elections”: 2016 Is Proof We Needed The Voting Rights Act

Most political watchers awoke yesterday morning to the news that Eric and Ivanka Trump would be unable to vote for their father in the upcoming New York state primary because they didn’t file as members of the Republican Party by October. This little-known New York rule could have a huge impact on the candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, both of whom are drawing voters from outside the traditional party structure, since 27 percent of the state’s voters are registered outside the Republican and Democratic parties. If they didn’t declare a party affiliation by October 9, they won’t be voting in the state’s primary.

Much of the reaction to the plight of Trump’s children was reflections on the Trump campaign’s disastrous ground game, but that misses the point: vast numbers of voters will be forced to navigate purposefully arcane rules this election season, everything from restrictive voter ID laws to altered voting schedules to decreased numbers of polling places.

Why? The 2016 presidential elections will be the first since the 2013 decision by the Supreme Court to weaken Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 5 mandated that states and localities with a history of racial discrimination receive permission from the federal government before enacting any changes to their voting laws; states like Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, and a variety of other townships and counties around the country.

While Section 5 initially applied to states that imposed restrictive measures such as literacy tests, Congress later expanded the law to jurisdictions with sizable minority populations that used English-only election materials. States were only removed from the pre-approval list after 10 years of by-the-book elections.

Today, the ghost of Section 5 haunts our elections.

In North Carolina, which has been under fire for a variety of issues over the past few years, Republican-backed legislation has “included a reduction in early-voting days and ended same-day registration and preregistration that added teenagers to voting rolls on their 18th birthday.”

Recently in North Carolina, an attempt to gerrymander black voters into large congressional districts (to minimize their overall influence) backfired when it was found in federal court to be discriminatory — five weeks before primary elections for the illegal districts took place. While a separate congressional primary will be held June 7, the mix-up will have a tangible impact on voter turnout, given that people sometimes have to take time off, wait in long lines, and meet registration deadlines to vote.

Another recent example can be found in Arizona, whose presidential primary was a complete disaster, with some voters waiting in line for over five hours. Some didn’t wait around long, leaving without casting a vote at all. In a measure to allegedly cut costs, “election officials in Phoenix’s Maricopa County, the largest in the state, reduced the number of polling places by 70 percent from 2012 to 2016, from 200 to just 60—one polling place per every 21,000 voters,” according to The Nation.

The situation was so dire in other parts of Arizona that people passed out from sunstroke, had their party affiliation allegedly changed from Democrat to Independent, and never received mail-in ballots. Maricopa County was previously one of the counties identified under Section 5 as requiring pre-approval, due to a history of discrimination. Minorities make up 40 percent of the county’s population. Before 2013, Arizona would have had to submit the closing of polling places for review, and likely would have been denied, given Section 5 had previously blocked 22 voting changes from taking effect in Arizona.

Finally, we can also look at the state of Texas, where the state legislature passed a stringent voter ID law following the invalidation of Section 5 that the federal government had previously blocked using the same law. As a result, over 600,000 voters in the state will likely have to go through a more onerous voting registration procedure because they lack one of the forms of ID eligible under that law, if they are able to vote at all. While a federal appeals court ruled in August that the voter ID law had a discriminatory impact, Texas is currently appealing its case to a full appeals court, in the hopes it will not need to change the implementation of the law, which will remain in place as-is while the appeals process continues.

It’s clear that we are missing key protections from Section 5 that would have ensured more reasonable and less discriminatory voting processes at the state and local level. Now that states and localities with a history of discriminatory voting practices don’t need pre-approval to enact changes in their laws, many of them have simply passed the very same laws they were prevented from enacting for decades, and more still have enacted new laws meant to suppress the vote. In 2016, we need the full force of the Voting Rights Act more than ever. In its absence, the integrity the democratic process is in question.


By: Benjamin Powers, The National Memo, April 12, 2016

April 13, 2016 Posted by | Election 2016, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Can Trump Bully His Way To The White House?”: Channeling Anger In The Most Ugly And Predictable Way

Donald Trump—with his swashbuckling, profanity-laced bigotry and searing, rapid-fire assaults against his opponents—is poised to either upend modern-day conservatism or reveal the true nature of its ideological roots. For now, it appears, his most serious remaining challengers—Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio—possess neither the gravitas nor the electoral might to save the GOP from the darkest impulses of its base.

Notwithstanding their fervent attempts to distance themselves from the billionaire businessman, Trump’s brand of conservatism is a creature of their own making. Until now, as long as the monster could be controlled, it found safe harbor in their midst. It has proven difficult to walk away from Trump wholesale or even authentically criticize him when they themselves have peddled a more digestible, coded form of the same cultural biases.

Trump, however, has now given voice to an ideological strain of extremism that is imbued with an ugly nativist theology and racial animus. Once secreted away in the shadows, where questions of its existence and influence over the party’s platform could be batted away or outright denied, the roots of economic loathing and racial resentment have been unearthed and paraded under cable news studio Klieg lights.

Some of the same party establishment players who chafe at Trump’s prominence now once delighted in the bully’s capacity to fell his foes. One after another, they trekked to his gilded Manhattan office tower to curry the favor of an unrepentant birther. In their lust to reclaim the White House, they relished the fruits of his largesse—pocketing thousands in campaign donations—despite Trump’s extensively documented track record that included allegations of housing discrimination, corporate bankruptcies that crushed small-business owners and their families, and tales of marital infidelity worthy of an E. L. James trilogy.

But, then the tables turned. Trump, the archetypical ruffian, grew dissatisfied with the size of his political kingdom and proffered himself for the grandest prize of them all—the American presidency.

In doing so, Trump, the celebrity wrecking ball who eschews the confines of conservative principles, has built an intractable movement fueled largely by a wave of white male resentment. It is the same tide, advanced by gerrymandering and funded by billionaire kingmakers, that swept through state legislatures—especially in the South—and delivered congressional control to Republicans. It was in that climate, one seeded and nurtured by conservatives, that the Trump candidacy found fertile ground.

“Conservatism has never been about anger,” Rubio told a crowd gathered at CPAC Saturday.

In fact, conservatism—from William F. Buckley to George Wallace, from Ronald Reagan to Newt Gingrich—has always been about the politics of resentment. Rubio’s flowing rhetoric is soundly disproven, both by contemporary evidence and the history of conservatism in the U.S. Party re-alignments that came after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation proclamation and Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Acts demonstrated the willingness of conservatives to switch parties when one or the other proved too liberal for their collective tastes. Because of this, the GOP has not always been the “party of white men.” But conservatism has always been driven by a desire to maintain their political and economic power—and their anger at the possibility of losing it.

And there has always been a chest-thumping, populist ringleader willing to take up that charge.

Early on, Trump validated the most deeply held anxieties of his supporters with coarse language aimed at the marginalized and disenfranchised. He, his base said, was just “telling it like it is.” Only Trump, they believe, can protect them from the boogeyman of their shrinking majority.

Trump’s popularity is buoyed by his ability to channel and manifest the anger of those who believe they are losing power as the country—and the electorate—grows more diverse. For them, the casino magnate is the perfect antidote— the proverbial captain at the blockade—who represents their best and last hope to maintain an economic system built on racial privilege.

No one—least of all Mitt Romney—cared about Trump’s volatile temperament, his string of failed businesses or his proclivity toward xenophobia and chauvinism while he was helping them carry the water. Ironically, for Trump, the measure of leadership is counted in the number of people who fit tidily under his diminutive thumbs—people like Romney, whom Trump alleges was once so desperate for his endorsement that he would have “dropped to his knees.”

That he would utter something so foul, so devoid of basic decorum, should have come as no surprise. According to researchers, studies of teens with history of aggressive bullying behavior suggest that they derive pleasure from seeing others in pain, and there is no question that Trump enjoys pummeling anyone who utters an unkind word about him. His goal has always been to strike enough fear to silence or discredit his naysayers.

“We find that bullies have a strong need to control others,” John Lochman, a psychologist at Duke University Medical School, told The New York Times. “Their need to be dominant masks an underlying fear that they are not in control, and they mask the sense of inadequacy by being a bully.”

“Bullies see the world with a paranoid’s eye,” added Kenneth Dodge, a psychologist at Vanderbilt University. “They feel justified in retaliating for what are actually imaginary harms.”

Like any self-respecting schoolyard bully, Trump is unapologetic, seemingly emboldened by the cheering crowds and rising poll numbers. In turn, his swell of supporters continues filling hotel ballrooms and bingo halls—cheering his unchecked bravado, erupting loudly as he unleashes round after round of bombasts. They rejoice in his ability to degrade and dominate, proudly shoving and heckling dissenting protestors. Young activists for Black Lives Matter have drawn Trump’s specific ire and his supporters make no secret of their disdain.

“Their thuggish and uncivilized actions are going to be met with a response these people understand,” one Trump supporter posted on Facebook.

Trump, who has promised to pay the legal fees of anyone who assaults a demonstrator, has faced no backlash on this issue from his opponents. That silence is tacit approval and now, it appears, nothing stands between Trump and the GOP nomination.

“There’s nothing short of Trump shooting my daughter in the street and my grandchildren—there is nothing and nobody that’s going to dissuade me from voting for Trump,” 71-year-old Lola Butler told a New York Times reporter.

But will it be enough? Can Trump ultimately win the keys to the Oval Office?

“I haven’t even started on her yet,” he says of Hillary Clinton.

However, “the math suggests Trump would need a whopping 70 percent of white men to vote for him,” writes David Bernstein for Politico Magazine. “That’s more than Republicans have ever won before—more than the GOP won in the landslide victories of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and far more than they won even during the racially polarized elections of Barack Obama.”

But that the GOP cannot find a single candidate who can fell this tailor suited-hooligan once and for all, speaks volumes about the party itself. Over time, Trump has vilified undocumented immigrants, suggested a travel ban on all Muslims and even demanded that the nation’s first black president produce his birth certificate and college transcripts—to prove he was born here and had duly earned his laudable achievements. He has openly mocked a reporter living with disabilities and regularly disparaged the journalists who cover his campaign events. Cameras have captured him jeering and sneering at protestors from behind the microphone.

“Get out! Get ’em out!” he shouts.

For his part, Rubio claims Trump is attempting to “hijack” the conservative movement. The truth is the real-estate titan is simply taking the wheel of a car that was custom-built for him.

There is no evidence that a kinder gentler Trump will voluntarily emerge, nor is there—at this point—any incentive for him to rehabilitate his public personae. Once a bully has established his superiority, he tends to escalate the “violence” in order to maintain that reputation. He knows that when the fear is gone, power walks out behind it.

A bully like Trump will continue to wreak havoc on the meek, fueled by his escalating hegemony, until he is felled either by humiliation or brute force (in this case, a brokered convention). Or, as my late Uncle Ross used to say, “They won’t stop until you knock ’em on their ass.”


By: Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, March 6, 2016

March 7, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Donald Trump, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“State Of The Union Vs. State Of The Trump”: Our Political Spite And Meanness Have Gotten Out Of Control

Barack Obama really does not have it so bad. He gets $400,000 a year in salary, $50,000 in expenses, a fleet of planes, a car and driver, and almost all the golf he can stand.

In other words, the president’s life is almost as good as Donald Trump’s.

With one major exception: President Obama feels actual remorse. And considerable responsibility. And Trump may never have felt either.

In his last State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Obama spoke of something presidents rarely speak of at such moments: regret.

Pointing out how “our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention,” Obama said, “Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter, that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.”

He went on, “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency: that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.”

And who is to blame, according to Obama?

Obama is to blame. At least a little.

“There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide,” Obama said, “and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.”

But he won’t hold the office for very much longer — only a little more than a year. And Obama said that if things are going to improve, somebody else needs to bear some blame around here: you and I.

Which made it an unusual political speech. If there is one rule of politics, one unbreakable commandment, it is this: Thou shalt never blame the voters.

The voters are holy. They can do no wrong. Or, rather, they can be blamed for no wrong. Because if you blame them, they may not vote for your party. And we couldn’t have that, could we?

Yes, we could, said Obama. Because our political spite and meanness have gotten out of control. And that must stop.

“My fellow Americans, this cannot be my task? — or any president’s — alone,” Obama said. “There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber who would like to see more cooperation, a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the demands of getting elected. … It’s not enough to just change a congressman or a senator or even a president; we have to change the system to reflect our better selves.”

We must “end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters and not the other way around,” Obama said. “We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics so that a handful of families and hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.”

In other words: Don’t hold your breath.

No, wait. That’s the kind of cheap cynicism that Obama wants to eradicate or at least reduce.

“What I’m asking for is hard,” he admitted. “It’s easier to be cynical, to accept that change isn’t possible and politics is hopeless and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.”

You bet it is! And if you get cynical and hopeless enough, they make you a columnist!

Obama blamed an array of people, most of whom turned out to be Republicans running for president.

Chris Christie was the target when Obama said, “As we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.”

Ted Cruz was the target when Obama said, “The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.”

And Trump was the target when Obama said: “When politicians insult Muslims … that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. It betrays who we are as a country.”

Making these statements — as true as they may be — will not do much to decrease the rancor in Washington, however.

Which Obama admits. He is not perfect. Often criticized for being aloof and academic, he is, in fact, proud of his toughness. If you are not tough in the world of today’s politics, nobody will respect you. Which means you have to be tough without being so tough that nobody will work with you, either.

“Our brand of democracy is hard,” Obama said Tuesday night. But there are good people in it who redeem it.

And Obama listed some of them, including “the American who served his time … but now is dreaming of starting over.”

“The protester determined to prove that justice matters.”

“The young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.”

“The son who finds the courage to come out as who he is and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.”

And Obama ended with a Carl Sandburg-like list, saying Americans are “cleareyed, bighearted, undaunted by challenge, optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”


By: Roger Simon, Politico’s Chief Political Columnist; The National Memo, January 13, 2015

January 13, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Donald Trump, State of the Union | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Politicians Protecting Themselves”: Ideology And Polarization Are Trumping All Of The Old Rules Of Politics

If you need convincing that 2015 wasn’t just an “outlier” of a year in American politics, where all of the old rules seemed to fly out the window, please read Mark Schmitt’s fascinating piece in the New York Times earlier this week that examines the rapid decline of some of the bedrock principles of political behavior we all used to take for granted. You cannot, he concludes, blame any of this weirdness on Donald Trump; it’s preceded his rise for a good while.

He may be changing the rules of the presidential primary race, but in the halls of Congress and in governors’ mansions across the country, politicians have already acted in ways that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. By testing and breaking the rules, they have been reshaping the practice of politics since long before Mr. Trump emerged.

Members of Congress, Schmitt observes, are showing unprecedented independence from their own constituents, and so, too, are state elected officials. In both cases they are beginning to refuse to “bring home the bacon” if they dislike the ideological provenance of the cook:

[S]everal members even announced in 2013 that they would not assist constituents with problems involving the Affordable Care Act. The idea of not just neglecting but actively refusing constituent services, for reasons of ideology, would be unimaginable to the constituent-focused members of Congress of both parties elected beginning in the 1970s.

Governors, too, rejected everything from infrastructure spending to federal funding for Medicaid expansion. Even when they saw their approval ratings drop into the 30s, they survived. In 2011, Rick Scott of Florida rejected $2.4 billion in federal funds for a commuter rail project and yet got reelected.

The widespread expectation that red states would accept the Medicaid expansion once the Supreme Court made it voluntary, as a deal too good to refuse, is an example of the old conventional wisdom.  In nearly half the states, ideology trumped helping constituents access available funds and services.

Schmitt believes that predictable partisan voting patterns and special-interest pressure have combined with ideology to all but kill the once-reigning assumption of American politics: the “median voter theorem,” which held that politicians of both parties would inevitably cater to the interests of swing voters in the middle of the ideological spectrum in the pursuit of a majority. It’s the basis of the still-common belief that in competitive contests candidates have to “shift to the center” to win general elections no matter how much time they spend “pandering to the base” in primaries. If, however, an ever-higher percentage of voters simply and reflexively pull the lever for the party with which they identify, then keeping them motivated enough to vote — perhaps by negative attacks on the hated partisan foe — becomes far more important than appealing to an ever-shrinking number of “swing voters.” Eventually, as Schmitt suggests, the whole idea of accountability to voters begins to fade, as pols try to figure out how to protect themselves via gerrymandering and oceans of special-interest money.

[B]y recasting politics as a winner-take-all conflict between wholly incompatible ideologies and identities — as most of the presidential candidates have done — they help to closely align party and ideology, so that those who identify as Republican will always vote Republican and vice versa. When politicians know more or less who will vote and how, they can ignore most voters — including their own loyalists.

Schmitt attributes a lot of these trends to the conquest of the GOP by conservative ideologues, but also notes that the declining competition for median voters has liberated Democrats — themselves less constrained by a conservative minority that barely exists anymore — to think bigger and bolder thoughts about the role of government than they have at any time since the Great Society era. So judging the new rules of politics as a good or a bad thing will most definitely depend on one’s own ideological perspective.

If Donald Trump didn’t cause the fading of the old political order, is he nonetheless benefiting from it? Quite probably so, in that he is the living symbol of spitting defiance to the belief of Republican elites that the median voter theorem required a less viscerally angry and culturally reactionary GOP. Indeed, political observers view Trump as strange and scary precisely because the old rules that would have consigned him to the dustbin of history don’t seem to be in operation anymore. We’d better all lower our resistance to the unexpected.


By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 6, 2015

January 7, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primaries, Ideology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP House In A Landslide”: House Of Representatives Is So Firmly In The GOP’s Hands

On the Republican side, at the very least, this may be the year for political scientists and analysts to try to forget everything that they think they know. But we still need to have some rational basis for what we’re saying, right? I mean, who can fault David Wasserman over at the Cook Political Report for using the presidential blowouts of 1964, 1972, and 1984 to try to guesstimate how a 2016 blowout might affect control of the House of Representatives? It’s as good a place to start as I can think of, so why not take a look?

Indeed, there’s nothing wrong with looking at the best precedents we have, and it can even be described as basic due diligence. But I think you have to go a little deeper than just looking at raw numbers.

To begin with, any scenario in which the Democratic Party enjoyed the benefit of the Solid South is simply not applicable to the present. The 1964 election, which came right on the heels of LBJ signing the Civil Rights Act, was pretty much the starting point of the realignment that over the next fifty years methodically flipped the South into a Republican stronghold. I’d argue that this process wasn’t really complete until the 2010 midterms, although the 2002 midterms wiped out a half dozen southern Democratic senators. It took decades for the South to stop voting for the Democratic Party on the state and local level. Even in the 1992 election where Clinton, despite some successes, lost most southern states, southern Democrats did quite well in the congressional elections. Today, this type of ticket-splitting is extremely rare.

By the time we get to the 1972 landslide, things are slightly more familiar, but it still basically holds true that the South chose Nixon for president and the Democrats in the down-ticket races. The corollary today would be the South voting uniformly for Hillary Clinton while returning almost all of their Republican senators and representatives to Congress. I don’t see that happening, although I can foresee Clinton winning a few southern states. Obama won Virginia and Florida twice, North Carolina once, and was within spitting distance in Georgia. It remains to be seen how the people of Arkansas feel about their royal family in our present climate, but I have my doubts that it will even be a competitive state.

Still, we’re talking about a hypothetical landslide election in which the Republicans nominate someone so divisive and controversial that they wind up losing supposedly safe red states. It’s probably true that in that kind of scenario, the House seats would tend to split. Senate seats would be more vulnerable, but I don’t see Richard Shelby losing in Alabama no matter how badly Trump or Cruz or Carson do at the top of the ticket.

The 1984 election seems almost modern compared to 1964 and 1972. At least the modern Democratic coalition was beginning to take form. But even in 1984 the Democrats still enjoyed a lot of stubborn southern support on the congressional level.

What’s more relevant today is the way party support has been split between urban/suburban and suburban/exurban/rural. This, in combination with aggressive (mainly Republican-controlled) gerrymandering, has resulted in very few true swing districts in Congress. It’s also resulted in a situation where the Democrats can win the overall congressional popular vote by a substantial margin and still not even come close to controlling House of Representatives.

Also interesting is just how persistent the disbelief is in the idea that Donald Trump might be the nominee. Wasserman refers to “the remoteness of a scenario in which Trump would face Hillary Clinton in a one-on-one contest.” Over at the Washington Examiner, Tim Carney assures us that Trump will lose Iowa, thereby become a “loser” himself, and wind up getting his butt handed to him in New Hampshire.

They could certainly be right, but I think they’re a little over-confident personally. I also think a landslide election is just as much of a possibility with Cruz as with Trump. And a brokered convention is a real wildcard. It could wind up preventing a landslide by cutting off the nomination of a Trump or a Cruz, but it could also be just the thing that makes a landslide possible. After all, this isn’t the year that the Republican base will tolerate having the Establishment step in and pick a nominee that they haven’t voted for.

But, it’s true. The House of Representatives is so firmly in the GOP’s hands, that even a landslide defeat on the presidential level might not be enough to wrench control away from them.

It wouldn’t hurt, though.


By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 14, 2015

December 16, 2015 Posted by | House of Representatives, Republicans, Senate | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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