Friday, November 11, 2022

Why Is Ron DeSantis Such a Marco Rubio?

Following his apparent 59/40 romp to reelection over Charlie Crist, Eugene Volokh wants descriptive answers to the question of why Ron DeSantis did so well, particularly in contrast to his razor-thin 2018 victory (where he won by less than half a point). What's the secret of his political success?

I'm not going to fully venture an answer to that question. But there's an important data point that I want to flag which is I think easily overlooked in the coming DeSantis mania, namely: that Marco Rubio had almost the exact same result as did DeSantis. He prevailed in his Senate race over Val Demings 57/41. This also represents a significant improvement over Rubio's margin in his last race (which was in 2016, not 2018, so not apples-to-apples, but still pertinent)

I mention this because it suggests that a consilient explanation for DeSantis' strong performance probably should be one that also explains Rubio's near-identical performance. The similarity in results is especially notable given that Rubio and DeSantis don't seem like especially similar political figures or cut similar profiles beyond both being conservative Republicans -- it'd be hard to come up with personal attributes that both share that represent plausible explanations for explaining their respective performance. That DeSantis and Rubio seem quite different (we're talking about DeSantis, not Rubio, as a potential 2024 contender) makes it all the more noteworthy that they basically had identical margins this election. That suggests that the factors driving the results had less to do with DeSantis' personal political genius (unless that genius is something he somehow shares with Rubio), and more on broader structural considerations that have little to do with DeSantis-qua-DeSantis.

So, to move towards an answer to Volokh's question of why DeSantis did so much better in 2022 than 2018, some plausible factors (none of which naturally demonstrate particular "political brilliance" by DeSantis) include:

  • The general "reddening" of Florida.
  • 2018 being a worse year for Republicans than 2022.*
  • Incumbency advantage.
Now, of course, all of these could be unpacked further, and potentially in a fashion that gives more individualized credit to DeSantis. For example, maybe Florida is "reddening" in part because of DeSantis' policies or personal popularity (though the trend seems to predate him -- there hasn't been a Democratic Governor in Florida since 2000, hasn't been a Democratic Senator since 2018, and by 2018 Democrats were already down to a single statewide elected official). Or maybe Rubio's performance this time around is attributable to good coattails from running with DeSantis.

But to a large extent, I think we're overstating DeSantis' political acumen based on this election. I understand the first-blush appeal -- he did far better than many of his Republican colleagues in the 2022 cycle. But he didn't do materially better than his other Florida Republican colleagues, which suggests that the explanation for his success might be Florida-specific, but probably isn't DeSantis-specific. Contrast that to, say, Marcy Kaptur in Ohio, who seemed to dramatically outperform other Ohio Democrats -- that suggests that she might have some personally unique mojo worth looking into. Ditto Chris Sununu in New Hampshire, who easily won reelection in a swing state where Democrats won three tightly contested Senate and House races. Compared to Kaptur and Sununu, DeSantis looks pretty well ordinary -- no more impressive than Marco Rubio.

* This is obviously true, though it's a bit obscured because Democrats probably overperformed expectations more in 2022 compared to 2018. But the actual results of the 2018 midterm were far better for the Democrats than was the case in 2022.

Reading Rosenberg in 2022 Portland

I'm teaching a seminar on Anti-Discrimination Law this semester -- the first time I've taught the class in 10 years. One of assigned materials is Gerry Rosenberg's classic book The Hollow Hope, a famous critique of the judiciary's ability to bring about social change.

I was especially curious to hear my students' reaction to the book, as I think a lot has change even over the past ten years regarding some of the underlying presumptions that made Rosenberg's book so explosive when it was released, or even when I first assigned it in 2012.

Back then ("then" being the early 1990s, when the book originally came out, and 2006, when I first read it, and 2012, when I first taught it), liberal law students still were I think largely operating in the nostalgic shadow of the Warren Court as the model of what courts should be doing on behalf of vulnerable minority groups. Courts were presumed to be an important vector of social change; to the extent the Supreme Court had become conservative it was frustrating that judicial conservatives wouldn't let the judiciary do its job like it did in the mid-20th century. The Hollow Hope was such a shock to the system because it suggested, not that the Warren-era precedents were illegitimate or products of bad judicial reasoning, but that they didn't matter -- they (allegedly) did virtually nothing to bring about the lauded progressive changes like desegregation in the 1950s and 60s.

But kids these days, I figured, may not hold the judiciary even conceptually in such high regard. I could very much imagine the progressives in my classroom coming in with a lot of preexisting cynicism towards the courts -- the baseline assumption being courts as obstacles to social progress rather than (currently malfunctioning) enablers of it. For that sort of student, how would Rosenberg be received?

The conversation we had in class was interesting and dynamic (as they typically are -- I have great students). But it ended on a topic that has virtually never come up in my law school classrooms until now: the earnest questioning of when political violence is justified.

I want to be clear: this question, like any other, is a valid subject for classroom discussion. America was founded by violent revolution, after all; in my Constitutional Law class we just finished reading about the importance of protecting under First Amendment principles discussion about, or even "abstract advocacy" of, violence as a tool for seeking political change.

Nonetheless, it was a sobering discussion, and one that felt very much borne out of despair. Rosenberg, it seemed, put the nail in the coffin of any hopes of using courts as a vector for social change, at least as against entrenched and powerful social interests. And they were already deeply cynical about the vitality of democratic institutions as a meaningful avenue for securing progress -- not because they opposed democracy in concept, but because they thought our democratic institutions had been so malformed by corruptions like gerrymandering, voter suppression, and boundless money in politics that there was no longer reliable correspondence between the nominally democratic levers of power and the popular will. Given that, they wanted to ask, to what extent are we in an arena where at the very least we need to take seriously the prospect of widespread political violence, and act accordingly? (One student, in particular, was absolutely emphatic that liberals needed to arm themselves -- the fascists were coming, he said, and we absolutely cannot rely on the state to protect us anymore).

Again, the discussion was thoughtful, bracing, and serious -- in particular, there wasn't a lot of gleeful discussion of violence that one occasionally hears from the more radical set, which falls over itself in the eagerness to "punch Nazis". But also again, it was sobering just that this was where my students' minds were at -- a cynicism and depression pushed nearly to the breaking point, and serious lack of confidence in the vitality of the basic institutions of liberal democracy. As a pretty normcore liberal, that worried me. And even more worrisome to me is that I did not feel like I had a lot of compelling arguments to assuage their fears.

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

The 2022 Almost-Post Mortem

I was a bit hesitant to write my post-mortem recap today, since some very important races remain uncalled. Incredibly, both the House and Senate remain uncalled, though the GOP is favored in the former and Democrats have the slight advantage in the latter. It would be truly delightful if Catherine Cortez Masto can squeak out a win in Nevada and so make the upcoming Georgia run-off, if not moot, then slightly less high stakes. But again, things are up in the air that ought make a big difference in the overall "narrative" of the day.

Nonetheless, I think some conclusions can be fairly drawn at this point. In no particular order:

  • There was no red wave. It was, at best, a red trickle. And given both the underlying fundamentals  on things like inflation and the historic overperformance of the outparty in midterm elections, this is just a truly underwhelming performance for the GOP. No sugarcoating that for them.
  • If Trafalgar polling had any shame, they'd be shame-faced right now, but they have no shame, so they'll be fine.
  • In my 2018 liveblog, I wrote that "Some tough early results (and the true disappointment in Florida) has masked a pretty solid night for Democrats." This year, too, a dreadful showing in Florida set an early downer tone that wasn't reflected in the overall course of the evening. Maybe it's time we just give up the notion that Florida is a swing state?
  • That said, Republicans need to get out of their gulf-coastal-elite bubble and realize that what plays in Tallahassee doesn't play in the rest of the country. 
  • That's snark, but also serious -- for all the talk about how "Democrats are out-of-touch", it seems that the GOP also has a problem in not understanding that outside of their fever-swamp base most normal people maybe don't like the obsession with pronouns and "kitty litter" and "anti-CRT". Their ideological bubble is at this point far more impermeable, and far more greatly removed from the mainstream, than anything comparable among Democrats.
  • Abortion is maybe the biggest example of this, as anti-choice measures keep failing in even deep red states like Kentucky, while pro-choice enactments sail to victory in purple states like Michigan (to say nothing of blue bastions like California). Democratic organizers should make a habit of just putting abortion on the ballot in every state, and ride those coattails.
  • It's going to fade away almost immediately, but I cannot get over the cynical bad faith of what happened regarding baseless GOP insinuations that any votes counted after election day were inherently suspicious. On November 7, this was all one heard from GOP officials across the country, even though delays in counting are largely the product of GOP-written laws. But on November 8, when they found themselves behind on election night returns, all of the sudden folks like Kari Lake are relying on late-counted votes to save them while raising new conspiracies about stolen elections. Sickening.
  • Given the still powerful force of such conspiracy mongering, Democrats holding the executive branch in key swing states like Wisconsin and Michigan is a huge deal. Great job, guys.
  • For the most part, however, most losing MAGA candidates are conceding. Congratulations on clearing literally the lowest possible bar to set.
  • The GOP still should be favored to take over the House, albeit with a razor-thin majority. And that majority, in turn, seems almost wholly attributable to gerrymandering -- both Democrats unilateral disarmament in places like New York, but also truly brutal GOP gerrymanders in places like Florida. This goes beyond Rucho, though that case deserves its place in the hall of shame. The degree to which the courts bent over backwards to enable even the most nakedly unlawful districting decisions -- the absurd lawlessness of Ohio stands out, but the Supreme Court's own decision to effectively pause enforcement of the Voting Rights Act because too many Black people entering Congress qualifies as an "emergency" on the shadow docket can't be overlooked either -- is one of the great legal disgraces of my lifetime in a year full of them.
  • Of course, I have literally no idea how the Kevin McCarthy will corral his caucus with a tiny majority. Yes, it gives crazies like Greene and Boebert (well, maybe not Boebert ...) more power, but that's because it gives everyone in the caucus more power, which is just a recipe for chaos. Somewhere John Boehner is curling up in a comfy chair with a glass of brandy and getting ready to have a wonderful day.
  • My new proposal for gerrymandering in Democratic states: "trigger" laws which tie anti-gerrymandering rules to the existence of a national ban. If they're banned nationwide, the law immediately goes into effect. Until they are, legislatures have free reign. That way one creates momentum for a national gerrymandering ban while not unilaterally disarming like we saw in New York. Could it work? Hard to know -- but worth a shot.
  • Let's celebrate some great candidates who will be entering higher office! Among the many -- and this is obviously non-exhaustive -- include incoming Maryland Governor Wes Moore, incoming Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro, incoming Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman. Also kudos to some wonderful veterans who held their seats in tough environs, including Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Virginia congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, New Jersey congressman Andy Kim, Maine Governor Janet Mills, and New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan.
  • Special shoutout to Tina Kotek, who overcame considerable headwinds (and the worst Carleton alum) to apparently hold the Governor's mansion in my home state of Oregon. Hopeful that Jaime McLeod-Skinner can eke out a victory in my congressional district too, though it looks like that might come down to the wire.
  • I also think it's important to give credit even to losing candidates who fought hard races. Tim Ryan stands out here -- not only did he force the GOP to spend badly needed resources in a state they should've had no trouble keeping, but his coattails might have pushed Democrats across the finish line in at least two House seats Republicans were favored to hold. (I hate to say it, but Lee Zeldin may have played a similar role for the GOP in New York).
  • I'm inclined to agree that, if Biden doesn't run in 2024, some of the emergent stars from this cycle (like Whitmer or Shapiro) are stronger picks for a presidential run than the also-rans from 2020. But I also think that Biden likely will get an approval bump off this performance -- people like being associated with winners!
  • On the GOP side, the best outcome (from my vantage) is Trump romping to a primary victory and humiliating DeSantis -- I think voters are sick of him. The second best outcome might be DeSantis winning narrowly over Trump and provoking a tantrum for the ages that might rip the GOP apart. DeSantis himself, as a presidential candidate, is an uncertainty -- I'm not convinced he plays well outside of Florida, but I am convinced that if he prevails over Trump the media will fall over itself to congratulate the GOP on "repudiating" Trumpism even though DeSantis is materially indistinguishable from Trump along every axis save that he's not abjectly incompetent (which, in this context, is not a plus).
  • The hardest thing to do is to recognize when even candidates you really like are, for whatever reason, just not going to get over the hump. This fits Charlie Crist, Beto O'Rourke, and (I'm sorry) Stacey Abrams. It's no knock on them -- seriously, it isn't -- but they're tainted goods at this point. Fortunately, Democrats have a deep bench of excellent young candidates who we can turn to next time around.
  • And regarding the youth -- I'm not someone who's a big fan of the perennial Democratic sport of Pelosi/Schumer sniping. I think they've both done a very good job under difficult circumstances, and deserve real credit for the successes we saw tonight and across the Biden admin more broadly. However, we do need to find room for some representatives from the younger generation to assume leadership roles. Younger voters turned out hard for the Democratic Party and deserve their seat at the table. It says something that Hakeem Jeffries, age 52, is the immediate current leadership figure springing to mind as a "young" voice -- that (and again, there's no disrespect to Jeffries here) is not good enough.

Monday, November 07, 2022

Why the GOP Can't Quite Quit Kanye and Co.

It's been a month and this tweet is still up:

Why? Why, after spending countless hours railing against "Black antisemitism", is the GOP not interested in repudiating Kanye West?

At one level, the answer is obvious: As I talk about in my latest Haaretz column, the GOP has gone full Jeremy Corbyn this cycle, up to and including the antisemitism. The GOP won't condemn Kanye because the GOP is antisemitic.

At another level, the answer is still obvious: fair weather opposition to antisemitism is hardly a rare phenomenon, and the GOP has hardly shown much in the way of moral fortitude when it comes to denouncing hatred from their "side". The aforementioned "countless" hours attacking "Black antisemitism" were, as any half-awake political observer could tell you, not about genuine solidarity with Jews but a cynical way of living out the GOP's favorite hobby (trashing Black people).

But at still another level, there is something at least a little less obvious, and perhaps more provocative, that can be said. Namely: antisemitism may be a quick and easy way for the GOP to make inroads among Black voters. More than any other issue, antisemitism is a growth opportunity for the Republican Party.

Now I want to be absolutely clear: antisemitism is not a way to actually win a majority of Black voters, or anything close to it. Most Black voters are not antisemitic, most are not interested in antisemitism and are actively turned off by it.

However, the Republican Party doesn't need to win Black voters. It just needs to increase its margins from the currently abysmal levels to the merely horrible. Going from a 10% share to, say, a 25% share still objectively means they're getting absolutely crushed among Black voters -- but it also would make a huge difference in swing-y states like Georgia or Virginia.

So the operative question is not whether antisemitism is popular amongst Black voters, generally. The question is whether it is appealing to the particular tranche of Black voters who are most amenable to being picked off by GOP appeals. And there's good reason to believe the answer is yes. Or put differently: If you're a political strategist trying to flip even a few Black voters to the GOP, the small but not utterly trivial number of Black antisemites represent the lowest hanging fruit.

Kanye himself is evidence of this, of course, as is Candace Owens, recently spotted boosting far-left antisemite extraordinaire Max Blumenthal on their shared hatred of the ADL allegedly inventing contemporary antisemitism. Indeed, the dirty secret of contemporary data on antisemitism in the US is that there is a spike in minority communities -- but that spike is clustered along the most conservative tranche of the community. So it is entirely plausible that this subclass of Black voters -- likely the most natural target of conservative political appeals generally -- could be particularly attuned to emergent GOP rhetoric relying on antisemitic dogwhistles about Soros, about "globalists", about the ADL, and so on.

When one thinks about it, this isn't really anything unique to African-Americans. Similar dynamics are also playing out in Latino communities, for similar reasons. And if it weren't for the fact that White antisemites already vote overwhelmingly GOP, this strategy would work on them too (indeed, such appeals probably are part of what makes the antisemitic alt-left -- including folks like Max Blumenthal or Jimmy Dore -- at least MAGA-curious). Antisemitism appeals to conservatives, and that includes conservatives who -- for either idiosyncratic personal or communal historical reasons -- haven't voted Republican in the past. It so happens that in the Black community that there are more conservative individuals who haven't voted Republican, but the underlying dynamic is little more complex than "conservatives are attracted to antisemitism."

So this perhaps completes the answer of why the GOP can't quite quit Kanye and company. It's not just or exactly that they agree with him, or even pure partisan tribalism. Kanye is symbolic of a particular political opportunity conservatives have to win over, not the majority of Black voters or even a sizeable minority, but a large enough cohort of the most conservative group members.  Kanye represents an incredibly tempting future where the GOP again does not "win the Black vote" or come anywhere close to doing so, but does grab an additional 10% or so that might make all the difference in some crucial races. But the point is that, in terms of that opportunity's content, antisemitism is not just an unfortunate hanger-on. It is central to the appeal.