Monday, June 25, 2018

BTRTN: Hey, Republicans...What If Donald Trump Was the Mayor of Your Town?

It’s been hard to write a column about the utter depravity of the last three weeks. Steve thinks it is time to hit them with our best shot.

Well, we finally know Donald Trump’s secret plan to deal with immigration. He intends to turn the United States of America into such a despicable, amoral, and cruel country that no one in their right mind would ever want to come here.

There was the crude treatment of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, which culminated in a Trump flunky announcing that there are “special places in hell” for people who disagree with our President. Then there was the Kim Jong Un-believable spectacle of watching the President of the United States splay himself fully before a violent, malevolent, murderous tyrant for no apparent gain other than photo ops and promises that appeared to be the North Korean equivalent of “we will build a wall and Mexico will pay for it.”
And now we find ourselves in the middle of one of the more ruthless, soulless, and deceitful human rights atrocities ever committed in our hemisphere, and it is being implemented by the government of the United States of America. We are the people who take the tired, weary, and hungry people yearning to be free and rip their babies out from their mothers’ arms as a conscious strategy intended to discourage any other rapist and drug-dealing, ah, infants from coming to our shores.

At last look, 87% of Republicans approved of Donald Trump’s performance as President. Perhaps that number may drop a point or two because a couple of Republican mothers accidentally see a clip of the footage from Texas while switching from “Real Housewives of Atlanta” to “Hannity” at 9:00. Maybe.

Of course we’ve said that so many times before. It always starts the same way. Well, this finally is it… This is as low as it goes. This is so despicable, so shameful, so morally bankrupt… finally, Republicans will turn on Donald Trump. Finally, this time, they will see his cruelty, his shameful arrogance, his monumental ignorance, and his decision-making process based solely on calculations of self-interest. Finally, they will see…

Sometimes I am forced to wrestle with the ineffectuality of the columns I write. Because of the radical polarization of our media, it’s likely that 85% of the readers of this column are educated progressives who are likely to generally agree with the positions taken here. Perhaps we occasionally express a new variation on a theme, but we do not change minds, if only because there is pre-existing concurrence.

Then there are perhaps 15% of our readers who are not progressives. Can we change their minds? In truth, they tend to be the internet bomb throwers who take joy in trolling progressive websites and spraying electronic graffiti on our posts. These Foxholes usually conclude their tirades by questioning Barack Obama’s country of origin and reminding us of Hillary Clinton’s emails and Benghazi. We don’t change a lot of those minds, either.
Writing columns that simply make liberals feel smug and ignite Trumpublican internet rage is arguably a waste of valuable electrons and fiber optic bandwidth. The purpose must be to shape an argument that actually changes minds of the people who approve of or condone the actions of this administration.

This many months into our epic national nightmare, allow me to reveal a secret. It has long been my fondest dream that I write the column that causes a significant number of Republicans to finally see, to realize, and to acknowledge that the man they have elected President is an amoral, ignorant wrecking ball bent on destroying our democracy and our values solely for the purpose of keeping him and his family out of prison. That I would write the words that finally changed their minds. That one of our columns would go viral among decent Republicans and finally help them realize that they, too, must take a stand. That we must all rid the country of Donald Trump before Donald Trump rids our country of its soul. 

How to do that? What could possibly do that? 

Earlier this week a flyer was stuffed in my mailbox urging me to join my neighbors in attending the monthly meeting of the Police Commission here in town so that they could lodge a formal protest about the fact that the Waze app is now rerouting traffic off the crowded parkway nearby and flooding our blissful suburban street with rush hour traffic approaching 200 cars an hour.  I decided to attend to watch local democracy in action. A town officer spoke a tad condescendingly to me and my neighbors about our naïveté in thinking that there were immediate solutions to this complicated problem. He prattled on about the complexity of traffic patterns, state laws, and the many competing priorities vying for attention in our community. He concluded by proposing a formal analysis of traffic patterns, which will take six months to complete. 
Our meeting with town officials may not have been satisfying, but I sure realized something by attending it.

At least twenty of my neighbors thought that this newly bastardized traffic pattern was a big enough problem that they should postpone cocktail hour long enough to show up at the police station and register a complaint that their government was not serving their needs.

I can’t say this for sure, but I am willing to wager that the strong majority of those twenty people did not march with the MeToo people, did not write angry notes to their congressional representatives to protest presidential proclamations about “shithole countries,” and did not stuff flyers in mailboxes in outrage when their president announced that neo-Nazis and anti-Semites were the moral equivalent of the protesters who objected to their violence and bigotry. For that matter, they probably did not attend any of Donald Trump’s gas-bag stadium shows,either.

No, the people who showed up at this particular police precinct may not be tuned into national politics, but if a Waze app causes hundreds of tardy type-A private equity nerds to drive their Beamers through our ‘hood, then it is definitely time to storm the local Bastille.

Most people, it seems, are rather apathetic about our national political crisis, our constitutional rights, and our freedoms until those sacred principles are violated on their own block. It’s sort of like conservatives and gays: they find homosexuality morally repugnant until their daughter comes out of the closet. Then they become instantly transformed into progressives on that particular issue.
And then it hit me. 

Is this how to make the argument to Republicans? Is it simply a matter of re-framing the discussion in a way that will make it all more tangible, immediate, and relevant to them?

Ok, dear Republicans, I need you to take a moment and think about the friendly little American town where you live, have raised your family, have volunteered with the local scouting organization, and where you sing in the church choir. Please create that picture in your mind. You are immersed in that lovely little town. Perhaps you were born and raised there. It is a pretty town, where the people are nice, considerate, charitable, and respectful of the rights of others. It is a place where people generally live by the golden rule, regardless of where they worship. It is home. It embraces you, your spouse, your children, your work, your friends, your spiritual life, your home, and your recreation. Everything. You like it just the way it is, and your fondest hope is that when your children grow, they will return to live and work in this pretty how town, with up so floating many bells down.

Now imagine that your daughter is walking down Main Street on her way to the Gap and she runs into the new elected mayor. He slaps her on her ass and tells your daughter that he is such a popular mayor that if he wanted to, he could grab her “by the pussy” and get away with it.

What??? He did what???
Allow me, my Republican friend, to depict how this presidency would feel to you if everything the Donald Trump was doing on a national basis were being done by some local political hack who got elected mayor of your town. How would you feel about it if everything that is happening in the shells of empty Wal-Marts on the border in Texas were actually more like that Waze app creating utter havoc on your street and destroying your way of life. You would be horrified, wouldn’t you?

How’s this? You know Juan, the guy who does all the work in your yard? He and his crew show up every Friday morning at 8:00 am, and they work their butts off for two hours, cutting, trimming, and weeding until your yard looks like a million bucks. 

I have news for you. The new mayor just had Juan arrested on suspicion that he is an illegal immigrant, and I.C.E. stormed his house and grabbed his four year old twin boys, threw them in the back of a Chevy Blazer, and shipped them to a detention camp in Alabama. Juan has not had a trial, and has not been convicted of anything. But now he is in a cage down at that old shuttered K-Mart screaming at the top of his lungs for help finding his children.

Hey, if it was your loyal, hard-working gardener Juan that was behind bars screaming for his children, you’d race down and try to fix that travesty, wouldn’t you?

You know that severely angry young man who was been arrested last year for carrying loaded weapons into a classroom at your local junior high school, and who threatened to blow up the Starbucks on South Main Street with a military-grade explosive? The one who is rumored to have broken the legs of his uncle?

Did you hear that the  Mayor just had a big public embrace with that kid and  is now walking around saying that they are really good friends? The mayor welcomed him back to the school that your kids attend because the kid promised that he would stop bringing his AR-15 into the assembly room. Apparently the new Mayor thought it would be a real P.R. coup if he could claim that he had "solved the problem" that the kid represented because he now had a personal relationship with the borderline psychotic. So that kid can come back to school any time he wants. The mayor claims he has indeed solved the problem, but you are not convinced. The dangerous young man still owns all of his weapons.

And then there are your dear friends on your cul-du-sac … Justin, Angela, and Theresa. You go way back – they have always been steady, reliable, and important friends, and positive influences in your household. They were there to take care of your kids when you had to rush Mary to the hospital. Justin coached your kid’s soccer team and Theresa is the girl scout troop leader your daughter so admires. 

Well, the mayor just announced that he thinks – with no evidence --  that your three friends have been fleecing the town for years, and he is requiring that that they pay more to use the town’s services.  Your good friends are being singled out for punishment with no evidence. When they object, the mayor publicly disrespects these citizens, calling them childish names. 

Then there was the time that the mayor showed up at the big football game and announced that the opposing high school – the one closer to the city with more diversity than the lily-white high school in your community -- was located in a town that was a “shithole.” You have friends in that town. It was hard to look them in the eye after he said that. 

How about the time the mayor told the high school to stop teaching science – right after he proclaimed that science is just a “big hoax.” How did you feel when your high school – that used to be number one in the state – is now rated far below the neighboring towns in science and math scores, and the colleges have taken note?

How about the time you learned that your new mayor routinely pays for sex, and then had his employees pay hush money to the women to buy their silence? You learned that your mayor had a pattern of sexually predatory behavior, and that he categorically dismisses all allegations of impropriety by saying that every single victim of his misogyny is a liar. Every single one.

There was the time that a gang of neo-Nazis and anti-Semites showed up and began chanting their hateful slogans and taunting anyone who wasn’t a white male. Remember when your son when down to the village green to protest the neo-Nazi hatred and bigotry? Remember the riot that ensued and the young woman who was killed? Remember when the mayor announced that your son was every bit as much to blame for the young woman’s death as the neo-Nazi who drove the car into the crowd?

Remember when you first learned that the election that this major won actually was enveloped in a cloud of suspicion that he had enlisted the help of mobsters and criminals to influence the voting? You then watched as he fired the Chief of Police for conducting an investigation and tried to put one his cronies in his place. When that failed, he started to tear into the local police, telling everyone he could that they were liars and biased political hacks who were trying to destroy him.

And, yes. There was the time that your daughter and son-in-law had the baby, your first grandchild. And someone from the town thought that your son-in-law had committed a criminal act. So to set an example to all the other people in the town, the government ripped your granddaughter out of the  hands of your screaming daughter and shipped the infant off to a camp miles away. 

Then, of course, there was that very first incident... when the mayor groped your daughter on Main Street. When she complained, the Mayor announced very publicly that your daughter was a liar and that he was going to sue her.

Of course, you were forced to deal with all of this stuff first hand, because you don’t learn about what is going on in your home town from a flagrant liar on Fox News. No, Fox News doesn’t cover local stories, so they couldn’t spin all this crap in a way that makes your disgusting mayor look like a hero. You can’t hide behind some fantasy that all the terrible stuff that this mayor has done is the invention of a biased press. Because when it happens in your own town, you see it, you feel it, and it happens to people you know. People who you have known, respected, and trusted for years. So you know deep down that it is the truth.
Here's the problem, my Republican friend.

This horrific little scenario that I have concocted about your town? 

You actually live in that town.

Right now. 

That town is called the United States of America.

If any one of the acts that we have described here – just one -- had been committed by your local mayor,  you would be justifiably ballistic. You would be up in arms in rage. You would fight tooth and nail to protect the civility, decency, and charity that defined your community. You would fight for your town.


Stop watching Fox News and kidding yourself that Sean Hannity’s perverted, self-interested version of reality is actually the truth. 

Don’t kid yourself thinking you can wear a hat that says “Make America Great Again” while wearing a jacket that says, “I really don’t care.”

You’d care if it was happening to your wife. Your daughter. Your son. Your home. Your job. Your friends. Your town. 

I wouldn't tolerate this shameful behavior if it was being done by a Democrat. You shouldn't ignore it because it is being committed by a Republican.

Take a look and see what is happening to this country.

If only half the town is fighting to preserve it, this town will die.

Perhaps, readers, if you agree with what we have put forward today, you might print this essay out. Fold it up, and make it into something that looks like a local flyer about a horribly flawed Waze app that is ruining the neighborhood. Then stuff it in the mailboxes of the people who you know are Republicans.

Maybe they will realize that this particular Waze app is actually a president who is taking this country horribly off its course. Maybe they will join us down at the town hall. Maybe they will realize that is time for all hands on deck to get the problem fixed. 

If only half the country is fighting to save it, this country will be changed forever. 

And yes, Mayor Trump, you would have solved your supposed immigration problem once and for all. No tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free will ever again aim their hopes and dreams toward these shores. 

Because it will no longer be the land of the free and the home of brave.

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did.

Women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn't they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

--E.E. Cummings

Saturday, June 23, 2018

BTRTN: Can The Dems Take The House in November? An Updated, Analytic Look

Tom with our second look at the 2018 House midterms.


The headline:  the outlook for the Democrats taking control of the House in the 2018 midterms remains strong, but hardly certain.  We still have many primaries to go, five more months of unexpected national and international events, the ongoing Trump madness, and, of course, 435 head-to-head campaigns.  But at this point, the Democrats are in an enviable position.

Our track record in predicting the House is quite strong.  The BTRTN record speaks for itself – we have been exceptionally close in each of the last four elections.

House Elections
BTRTN Prediction
Actual Outcome
R + 58
R + 63
D + 4
D + 8
R + 10
R + 13
D + 5
D + 6

Our predictions are driven largely by our proprietary BTRTN House Prediction Regression Model, which uses relevant predictive data since 1970 (with a nod to daughter Allie).  More on that later.

But to get to the answer (and we will return with a full explanation), this BTRTN snapshot indicates that if Election Day were today, the Democrats would pick up +38 seats – with a low-end of +28 and a high end of +50 -- and win control of the House.

NOTE:  The goal of this article is to provide an accurate portrayal of where the race to control the House stands today.  It is NOT a prediction of how Election Day will play out.  It is a “snapshot” of how the House would look if the election were held today. 

Image result for election 2018 buttonSETTING THE STAGE

The Republicans hold a huge advantage in the House today, with 235 seats to the Democrats’ 193, with seven vacancies.

The main question in this race, of course, is can the Democrats secure a net gain of +25 seats to move from 193 seats to 218, which would be just enough to win the majority (218 to 217 for the GOP)?

What would it mean if the Dems re-took the House?  It’s hard to understate the magnitude of such a coup.  The Trump domestic policy agenda – already difficult with a fractured GOP and the need for 60 votes on much legislation in the Senate -- would literally stop dead in its tracks.  Nancy Pelosi (or her successor as Speaker if she stepped down or was voted out) would control what bills came to the House floor.  Assuming the GOP held the Senate (which is likely), any proposed GOP Senate legislation would face only the dimmest prospect of securing Democratic support in the House; these bills, therefore, will never reach Trump’s desk for signature.

Furthermore, the House committees would be chaired by Democrats, who would control what the Committee did with its time – including what it would investigate and what bills it would consider.  Democrats could, for example, initiate all sorts of investigations into the Trump Administration, which would contain daily revelations, choking the airwaves and blogosphere.  Thus far GOP committees have been extremely partisan and supportive of Trump; the committees that have investigated Trump have not used the full powers at their disposal to get at “the truth” – they have not called all relevant witnesses, nor have they used their subpoena power to get at relevant documents.  They have accepted “executive privilege” as an excuse from members of the administration to refuse to answer questions, even when such privilege was not warranted.

And, the House could begin impeachment proceedings.  Mueller’s ultimate charges may not carry through to a Senate conviction – 67 Senate votes would be required, which would mean, say, anywhere from 15 to 22 GOP votes.  But the showdown could be put in motion and debated for months on end, with little oxygen left for anything else.  To be clear, Democrats seem to be leaning against impeaching Trump, fearing “overreach,” Senate conviction failure and a backlash.  Mueller would likely need a true “smoking gun” for the Dems to move, something so convincing that it would attract near-unanimous GOP support.  Otherwise, the prospect of running against Trump in 2020 has far greater appeal than impeachment without conviction, which could actually strengthen Trump.

If the Dems took the House but the GOP held the Senate, Trump would have only one clear area of domestic policy that he could affect without meaningful interference:  he could continue his dramatic reshaping of the Judiciary.  Only 51 Senate votes (including Pence, as needed) are required to approve a judge, even a Supreme Court justice, and the House is not involved in this process.  But the House could stop the rest of Trumpworld legislation, or negotiate hard for Dem-friendly terms.


It is conventional wisdom – born of fact -- that first-term Presidents have a tough time in the mid-terms.  Translating campaign poetry into governing prose is difficult work, and time and again the bloom quickly comes off the rose.  George W. Bush 43 was one of only two first-term presidents in the past 100 years to see his party pick up seats in the midterms, the other being FDR in 1934.  The GOP gained seats under Bush 43 on the strength of strong positive feelings about him (and his party) in the aftermath of 9/11, which had occurred 14 months earlier. 

The chart below shows the last seven mid-term elections under first-term presidents, with a set of data that describes the political environment; the key data are the president’s approval rating and the closely linked “generic ballot.”  The generic ballot is a polling question that asks which party the respondent would support in a Congressional election – no candidate is specified, and that is what makes it “generic.”

President (all first-term)
President's Party # of House Seats
President's Approval Rating (Gallup) Pre-Election
President's Party Gallup Generic Ballot Net
Actual Pres Party Seat Change
Bush 43
Bush 41

The generic ballot is predictive of mid-term outcomes.  In each year, if the generic ballot was negative for the president’s party, which it was in five of the seven elections, that party lost ground.  The generic ballot favored the president’s party twice; once was the one time the president’s party actually picked up seats, in 2002 when Bush 43’s GOP gained +8 seats, and the other was in 1978, when the polls reflected post-Watergate/post-pardon blues for the GOP but Carter still lost seats at the ballot box.

But the generic ballot is not the only important variable; another one is how many seats the party in power holds.  Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had huge majorities at mid-term time (258 and 257 Democratic seats, respectively), and that, in combination with those negative generic ballots spreads, translated into huge losses, -54 seats for Clinton and -63 for Obama.  Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush also had large negative generic ballot gaps, but the GOP held far fewer seats, 192 under Reagan and 167 under Bush, so they lost only 26 and 8 seats, respectively.  This makes sense – the fewer seats the party has, the greater percentage of them that are “solid” seats, which provides a “natural floor” on how many seats the party might lose.

What does all this mean for Donald Trump and the GOP?  Trump’s current profile – just over five months from the mid-terms – closely resembles that of Clinton and Obama (see a subset of the chart, below).  His party is firmly in control with 235 seats, not quite as many as Clinton and Obama, but far more than Reagan or Bush 41.  He himself has a low approval rating, (using Gallup, for consistency with past presidents’ data) at 45%, exactly in line with the low levels that Obama (45%) and Clinton (46%) held at the time of their midterms. 

And Trump’s generic ballot is very negative, at -7, even with Clinton (also -7) and slightly better than Obama (-9).   This, of course, reflects the toxic political environment for the GOP, which includes Trump’s own low approval rating and the GOP’s legislative failures in certain important areas, including health care, gun control and immigration, plus the relatively low level of support for their one major accomplishment, the tax cut (four recent polls show that on average only 36% of Americans approve of the cuts, while 42% oppose them),

Pres Party House Seats
Pres Approval Gallup Pre-Election
Pres Party Gallup Generic Ballot Net
Pres Party Seat Change

Clearly, Trump’s situation is very similar to that of Clinton and Obama.  One might conclude, given that, he might lose as many as 50 seats.  And he might.  But our snapshot – which shows a range of a +28 to 50-seat loss – while dreadful for Trump is not quite as epic as the Clinton/Obama showing.  Why?


We ran the data through our proprietary BTRTN House regression model, which was built using data from all off-year House elections since 1970 (the earliest year we had all the relevant data).  The model predicts, specifically, the number of seats the president’s party will win or lose in an off-year election.  There are five variables in the model:  the president’s term, the president’s party, the generic ballot, which party is in the majority, and the number of seats held by the president’s party.

The input on this data is as follows:  Trump is a first-term Republican, the GOP is the majority party with 235 seats, and the generic ballot right now has the Dems up by +7.  Given these inputs, the model predicts that the GOP would lose 47 seats in 2018 if today were Election Day.

This number is lower than Clinton’s and Obama’s because the GOP holds fewer seats now than the Dems held going into those elections and, in Obama’s case, the generic ballot is less negative under Trump than under Obama.

But “D+47” is not the final answer.  We have to make an adjustment based on the impact of a more recent factor:  gerrymandering.


In 2016, the GOP won the “popular vote” in the House (that is, the sum of all the individual 435 elections) by a 49%/48% margin.  But astonishingly, they came away with a decisive majority of seats, winning 55% of the seats on only 49% of the votes, thereby taking a far greater number of seats than they “deserved.”  Such is the effect of the epidemic of gerrymandering now in action.  A one-point gap should have more reasonably translated into a 220 (GOP) to 215 (Dem) House composition, or a +5 GOP seat lead instead of the +47 they actually achieved.

Since 2010, the GOP has done an astonishing job of winning state houses and controlling state Senates and Assemblies, and thereby effecting redistricting schemes –“gerrymandering” -- that favor their candidates.

You can see from the chart below that, in 2010, when a relatively unpopular Barack Obama got crushed in his first mid-terms, there were 82 “close” elections – elections decided by a margin of 10 or fewer percentage points – which was just under 20% of all the races.  But the number of close elections has steadily dwindled since then, and in the last go-round in 2016, there were only 35 such races – 8%. Clearly gerrymandering is a factor.

House Elections Decided  By 10 Points or Less

The GOP lost only 17 races by 10 percentage points or less in 2016, which means that even if the Dems flipped all of them in 2018, that would not be enough to gain control (as mentioned, they need to win a net +25).  There are another 18 races that the GOP lost by 11 to 15 percentage points, and the Dems would have to take than a few of those as well.

But gerrymandering works both ways.  Courts have ruled against the status quo in Pennsylvania, resulting in a redistricting scheme that is clearly advantageous to the Dems, and should result in a pick-up of up to as many as six seats in Pennsylvania.

Our model uses data from the 2010 era forward, and so it incorporates some of the effects of recent GOP gerrymandering.  While it is safe to assume that some sort of discount is in order, on judgment we are taking a conservative posture of reducing the expected gain by -20%.


Hence, while our model has predicted the Dems will pick up 47 seats, we are reducing that by 20%.  If the election were held today, the Dems would pick up +38 seats, with a likely range of +28 to +50.

Right now the various rating services show 113 races that have the slightest chance of being "in play."  The GOP currently holds 89 of them.  This is where the Dems will have to pick up these seats.

The takeaway from this exercise is three-fold:  1) if this political environment persists, the Dems have a solid shot of re-taking the House; 2)  keep a close eye on the “generic ballot” which is the strongest predictor of actual performance, adjusted for gerrymandering effects (any Dem lead at all in the generic ballot, even by a slim margin, puts the House in play); and 3) at the end of the day, elections are still won and lost based on the popularity of incumbents (and whether they run again – 37 GOP incumbents reps are not, for various reasons, versus only 18 Dems), the strength of the challengers, they money they raise and the effectiveness of their campaigns. 

Don’t take any of that for granted. If the Dems want to re-take the House, they have to take what they have done in the high-profile New Jersey, Virginia and Alabama wins in 2017, and bring that level of talent, resource, commitment and energy to a national scale in 2018.