August 4, 2022
The old rules no longer apply. While it is still too early to understand the full ramifications of the resounding defeat suffered by anti-choice Republicans in Kansas, this much is clear: Polling models based on “historical data” are broken. Pundits rely on those models at their peril. Three months ago, after the leak of the draft opinion in Dobbs, Sarah Isgur published an op-ed in Politico, Opinion | Abortion Might Not Be the Wedge Issue It Used to Be. Isgur wrote,
After years of partisan sorting on abortion, there probably aren’t many voters motivated by that issue left to turn out.
Isgur was about as wrong as she could be in her prediction. In her defense, she was undoubtedly applying the “old rules”—the ones that applied before the Supreme Court gave states control over women’s reproductive choices. But Isgur’s failure of imagination prevented her from seeing that “this time is different.” Early data from Kansas proves just how different it is. See Vox, 4 charts that show just how big abortion won in Kansas.
The article in Vox illustrates the many ways in which Isgur (and other pundits) were wrong. The first relates to the mistaken notion that reproductive freedom will not motivate turnout. That myth was dispelled by the largest turnout in Kansas history in a primary election—nearly double the normal turnout. See Chart 1 in Vox. No polling model assumed a 100% increase in turnout. The old rules no longer apply.
The second myth destroyed in Kansas was that “partisan sorting” had divided America into a “red team” and a “blue team” on abortion. Wrong. One reason for the substantial margin of victory for choice in Kansas was that 90,000 Republicans switched from the “red team” to the “blue team” on the abortion issue. Only 25% of voters in Kansas are registered Democrats, but the measure was defeated by 59% to 41%. See Charts 2 and 3 in Vox. The old rules no longer apply.
The third myth destroyed in Kansas was that reproductive choice would not motivate women to register and vote in larger numbers. Wrong, again. The final chart in the Vox article shows that before the leak of the draft opinion in Dobbs, women accounted for 52% of new voter registrations. After the release of the draft, women accounted for 58% of new registrations, and after the release of the final opinion in Dobbs, women accounted for 68% of new voter registrations. It turns out that telling women they are second-class citizens gets their attention. The old rules no longer apply.
The pundit class has risen to its collective defense by dampening expectations that the result in Kansas will apply in the midterms. In pundit-speak, the vote in Kansas was an “issues vote,” while the vote in November will be an “electoral vote,” i.e, a vote on candidates, not on issues. As explained in a Washington Post analysis of the outcome in Kansas,
There is a big difference between asking people to weigh in on an issue and asking them to weigh in on a candidate who embodies a range of issue positions.
The WaPo analysis concludes with this assertion:
For many on the left, the results in Kansas were a reminder of precisely that point: Turnout matters. But electoral politics are rarely downstream from views on one single issue.
I have highlighted the key phrase in the WaPo analysis above: “Rarely”—an explicit invocation of history and the “old rules” governing turnout in midterms. Pundits were caught off-guard by what happened in Kansas and are busy tut-tutting and tsk-tsking those who believe that the firmament has shifted. Democrats don’t need a 17% margin of victory (as in Kansas) to overturn “conventional wisdom” in the midterms. A 3% uptick for Democrats will produce a seismic shock in the midterms, leaving the pundits sputtering a new round of excuses and post-facto rationalizations.
Here’s my point: The victory in Kansas guarantees Democrats nothing, but it gives us reason to hope and reminds us once again that we are in uncharted waters—where existing maps are useless. Conventional wisdom is dead. We are not prisoners of the past and our choices are not controlled by massive datasets that describe behavior before Dobbs, before Bruen, and before January 6th. We control our fate going forward. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Republicans’ new rallying cry: Defund Social Security!
Several months ago, Senator Rick Scott released an RNC “platform” that called for “sunsetting” Medicare and Medicaid in five years. Senator Scott has spent the last six months denying that his plan was intended to end Medicare and Medicaid. Today, Senator Ron Johnson helped remove any ambiguity about the meaning of the RNC platform. Johnson suggested that Medicare and Medicaid be “sunset” every year, requiring Congress to reauthorize and fund those programs annually. See MSN, Sen. Johnson suggests ending Medicare, Social Security as mandatory spending programs.
If Republicans are given a chance to kill Medicare and Medicaid annually, they will accomplish that goal in short order—through the expedient of shifting the programs from “mandatory” spending to “discretionary” spending. Here’s the problem with Johnson’s ridiculous proposal: In order for Medicare to work, every taxpayer who receives a paycheck has a mandatory obligation to fund Medicare. See the asymmetry? Taxpayers must contribute to Medicare, but Johnson wants to give Congress the ability to say, “We have to pay for a foreign war this year, so you taxpayers who have funded Medicare through your paychecks are just out of luck! Go find yourselves other healthcare coverage!”
When Republicans have repeatedly told the electorate they intend to end Medicare, the old rules don’t apply. Democrats need to remind voters of that fact every day.
January 6th investigations.
The dam continues to break. A federal grand jury issued a subpoena to former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone. See Talking Points Memo, Cipollone Subpoenaed By Federal Grand Jury In Major Development In DOJ Jan. 6 Probe. Cipollone will have a much tougher time hiding behind executive privilege before a grand jury. Trump is already on a losing streak invoking executive privilege post-presidency. As one legal commentator noted, with that track record, it is a “no brainer” that Trump will lose any effort to block Cipollone’s testimony on grounds of executive privilege. See Politico, Trump faces uphill fight on executive privilege in DOJ probe.
Add this to the file titled, “Trumpworld defendants need to hire better lawyers.” The odious Alex Jones is currently in trial to determine how much in damages he must pay to the parents of Sandy Hook victims. Jones claimed (at one point) that no children were killed at Sand Hook, unleashing a delusional army of conspiracy theory foot soldiers who tormented the grieving parents.
Jones lied to the court in that case by saying he had no texts on his phone relating to Sandy Hook. In a colossal mistake, Jones’ attorney inadvertently sent a forensic image of Jones’ cell phone to attorneys for the Sandy Hook parents. The phone contained texts from Jones relating to Sandy Hook—establishing that he lied to the court (under oath).
While the development suggests that Jones and his attorneys will pay significant damages for their misconduct, the disclosures may affect the January 6th investigation, as well. Jones was in contact with Trump advisers before and (possibly) on January 6th. The J6 Committee and the DOJ will undoubtedly want to review Jones’ texts. See Rolling Stone, Jan. 6 Committee Plans to Subpoena Alex Jones’ Cell Phone.
The January 6th missing text scandal explodes.
Thanks to the efforts of American Oversight, we have now learned that the Department of Defense “wiped” the cell phones of senior officials—thereby destroying possible evidence of their communications on January 6th. See CNN, Jan. 6 text messages wiped from phones of key Trump Pentagon officials. The scale and scope of deleted J6 texts across multiple agencies and departments are simply too large to be attributed to chance or gross negligence.
Every instance of the destruction of texts is a violation of the Federal Records Act—and likely part of a criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice. Merrick Garland has acknowledged that destruction of the texts (and subsequent coverup) is within the purview of the DOJ investigative authority. See MSN, Garland Says Deleted Secret Service Texts Are Within DoJ Investigative Scope When Pressed About Scandal.
More on studies relating to postcards and texts.
In the days since I criticized an op-ed in the NYTimes, Opinion | Fed Up With Democratic Emails? You’re Not the Only One, I have been engaged in a mutually unsatisfactory correspondence with one of its authors, Micah Sifry. He feels that my criticisms do not fairly represent the full import of his article (which I invite you to read, if you have not). I disagree, which is where Sifry and I have been stuck for several days.
Today, Sifry emailed a statement with which I agree. He cited research projects by the Sister District Action Network (which I linked to in my original post). Sifry commented (in part), that there is “lots of blurriness to the benefits of postcarding” in the Sister District research. I think that is a fair characterization of the status of the research summarized at the Sister District link above. A review of that research shows a positive effect for postcarding in some instances, no effect in other instances, and a compounding-depressive effect in other instances. “Blurriness” is an apt description (and an underused word I will add to my file).
Doing high-quality social and behavioral research is challenging, especially where, as here, the effect size is small. And we must be careful to distinguish between raw data reported by organizations, anecdotal evidence, and scientific studies. That is why transparency is critical. Kudos to the Sister District Action Network for publishing all of its research findings—so that experts (not including me) can evaluate the quality of their studies and make reasoned conclusions about effectiveness. I believe that is common ground that everyone can agree on. But to be clear, none of this has caused me to change my view that postcarding and letter writing are effective and important on multiple levels.
With that as background, I am now going to leave the arena of scientific studies and move to anecdote—as in “one person’s experience that may not be representative of broader trends.” A reader, Elissa, emailed me about her experience texting voters to encourage them to “get out the vote.” Her description was published here. She says that the “response rate” to her texts was about 15%. She described the responses as follows:
Perhaps a quarter [asked] me to “Stop Texting”[,] an eighth were willing to volunteer or “triple” (remind three friends and relatives to vote), and an eighth were hostile Republicans or wrong numbers. I was surprised at how often the Republican responses were QAnon or obscene – only about a third were polite, and the rest dropped “F-bombs” or other curse words.
Elissa reports that in 2020, she sent 126,519 texts. Applying her rough approximations from above, a 15% response rate and about one-eighth—or 2,372—of the recipients “volunteered” or agreed to encourage three friends to vote. Of course, no one knows if those voters followed through on their commitments, but in an evenly divided electorate, 15,800 votes can be the margin between victory and defeat in multiple election contests.
Not everyone has the constitution to suffer an 85% fail rate and look past incoming “F-bombs” and QAnon rants. But if you have that constitution, I urge you to read the article linked above about Elissa’s experience. Potentially influencing 15,000 voters in an election cycle is quite an accomplishment!
More on Trump’s plans if he wins in 2025.
In an earlier newsletter, I reported on Trump’s plan to use “Schedule F” to destroy the civil service by appointing “loyalists” whose only qualification is that they hate the government and want to destroy it. A reader recommended a follow-up to that topic in Thomas Edsall’s op-ed in the NYTimes, Opinion | Trump Has Big Plans for 2025, and He Doesn’t Care Whether You Think He’ll Win. I have cited Mr. Edsall in the past, sometimes approvingly, occasionally critically. Here, I agree with everything he says—and then some.
Edsall adds detail and context to Trump’s “Schedule F” plans by giving specific examples of how badly the plot could debilitate the government. For example, he notes that 9 in 10 of the employees in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) could be replaced with Trump loyalists intent on destroying the OMB. If that happened, the Executive branch of government would effectively cease functioning. Chaos would ensue. If you don’t believe me, read this summary of what the OMB does: Office of Management and Budget | The White House.
But as one expert contacted by Edsall notes, it would be a heavy lift to replace thousands of employees and that it’s hard to see how “a second administration would be be more effective and purposeful — and less chaotic — than the first.” I expressed a similar sentiment in my first comments on Schedule F. But IF Trump could insert tens of thousands of new appointees in place of existing career civil service employees, that would be devastating.
I would go further than Mr. Edsall in two respects. First, the Schedule F scheme is no longer a “Trump” plot. It is the GOP’s new platform for destroying government. Any GOP president elected in 2024 will implement it. Second, given the challenges of vetting and appointing tens of thousands of new employees, there is a more direct route for Trump to cause chaos: Cabinet appointments. Imagine Attorney General Rudy Giuliani, Secretary of Defense Michael Flynn, Secretary of State Matt Gaetz, Secretary of Treasury Paul Manafort, Director of FBI Roger Stone, Secretary of Education Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Director of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Lauren Boebert.
To be clear, I don’t believe Trump will be reelected (and Edsall provides an objective discussion of Trump’s declining prospects). And if Democrats hold the Senate in 2022 and 2024, all Cabinet Secretaries will be “acting” secretaries held over from the Biden administration.
None of this is meant to panic anyone. The stakes don’t change based on your level of panic. But we can change the stakes by leaving nothing on the table in 2022 and 2024. We must act accordingly. Take nothing for granted and commit as you have never committed in your life.
As you can tell, I am struggling to keep the newsletter concise and to the point. Part of that struggle is due to the fact that I receive dozens of helpful suggestions and links daily that deserve comment but exceed my self-imposed limitation on the newsletter (four double-spaced pages) that I violate every day. I omitted several major stories in today’s newsletter due to space limitations.
So, dear readers, I encourage you to keep posting Comments that provide helpful perspectives and links for other readers on timely topics that can motivate, inspire, and calm others. I certainly feel that way as I read the Comments section each day. Thanks to those of you who are regular contributors. I encourage others to join the conversation by posting and/or reading the Comments. (Posting is limited to paying subscribers for the reasons noted in the story above about the responses to Elissa’s texting efforts.) But anyone can respond to me directly by hitting “reply” to the email version of this newsletter. I can’t respond to every email, but I spend every morning reading every email and comment from readers. (Ask my wife and Managing Editor if you don’t believe me!)
From my vantage, the enthusiasm and commitment of readers are trending up as we head into the midterms. It was touch-and-go at the beginning of the summer, but we have turned a corner—despite the conventional wisdom of pundits telling us to call it quits. We are writing the new rules of engagement—the unconventional wisdom of citizens who won’t be told how they “will” think and act based on outdated models that do not apply to these extraordinary times. We are the masters of our fate—and we should begin acting so!
Talk to you tomorrow!