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There’s a theory I’ve heard articulated somewhere that McConnell is actually the most brilliant politician his generation produced, in that he’s able to use razor-thin majorities to facilitate grossly partisan outcomes and then weather the backlash with minimal losses and no policy rollback, only to do it all again when he has another brief window.

Not sure I buy it in terms of brilliance; but I think it speaks to the “polarization is a choice” part of this. A lot of the elites of both parties are true believers and they use power in ways that are ideological when they have it. That prevents the formation of a durable New Deal-esque coalition because such a commanding majority needs to be an ideological big tent.

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founding

It does matter that his “grossly partisan outcomes” are mainly negative (blocking things) rather than actually passing things. And it also probably matters that his outcomes are more partisan than ideological.

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Remember, the amount of work and effort contrarian nihilists have to put in is less than those trying to actively achieve or affirm something.

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Alec McGillis has written a great book on this: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/28/opinion/sunday/mitch-mcconnell-supreme-court-senate.html Basically McConnell is a brilliant legislative tactician but the safe net has still expanded and the country continues it's slow liberal cultural march. Meanwhile his cynical strategies have deeply damaged the institutions he supposedly cares about and arguably helped lead to the "only I can fix it" appeal of Trump.

It's a mixed bag.

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But is he a great tactician?

The strategy “I will not stand by norms and I will get everyone in my party to agree with me but never the other party” seems to have been very successful! But the innovation seems to be a form of shameless partisanship.

Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, but the idea this was “genius legislating” always seemed a. It too far.

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His strategy of turnings everything into a partisan death battle under Obama was smart, it prevented Obama from achieving bipartisan wins, shaped the "He's ramming this down our throats!" narrative, and helped the GOP win bigly in 2010.

Same with stoking cynicism about government's ability to do anything that helped lead to a major win 2014 ("Its all just partisan bickering" as 10,000 news stories of the time said). That's not the only reason these outcomes happened, but he found a real way to "hack" the Madisonian system: refuse to work with a president of another party on anything (even Russian election meddling which he refused to back Obama on in 2016) to polarize the electorate and deny the other side bipartisan cover.

That's what I mean by smart tactician, his strategies do work (but I think come at tremendous cost).

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Right I think we agree exactly on what happened I’m just bristling at the characterization.

He had a very insightful realization about the nature of public opinion regarding procedure/partisanship. He did no great legislating.

He is rush Limbaugh with a gavel, not Henry clay.

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His strategy of sawing off the branch he was sitting on was smart! He found a way to "hack" the system to get what he wanted (but it might come at a cost).

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I think Mitch doesn't care much about the damages he's doing. He's a bit like Daley The Elder: his political approach has always been about gaining and maintaining political power, whatever the cost: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/28/opinion/sunday/mitch-mcconnell-supreme-court-senate.html

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He’ll be dead or retired before the consequences of his actions come home to roost

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That's a good point. He hasn't been particularly successful in rallying his caucus around legislation, and he was repeatedly forced to capitulate to Trump. He's certainly not a brilliant legislator. Perhaps he's a solid tactician, with a good sense for when he can get away with breaking rules.

His refusal to seat a new SCJ changed the country for fifty years.

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How many times has McConnell actually been able to do that? Or rather, what has accomplished beyond what a replacement-level Republican leader would have?

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Declining to confirm Merrick Garland seemed insane at the time, but led to a durable conservative majority on SCOTUS. Probably the biggest political win for either party this century.

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Why did it seem insane at the time?

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Mostly because no one had played hard ball like that with a court nominee. It was so blatantly outside of what was considered temperate, ethical political behavior that it was assumed some high price would be paid for being such an asshole.

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that explains why the conventional wisdom deemed it insane. it seemed quite smart to me

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It would have been a very bad move had Hillary won. Garland was seen as a moderate, compromise choice: already pretty old and praised by Orrin Hatch.

Had Hillary won, she would have picked a much bolder person.

So McConnell was betting that Trump would win. That did seem a bit insane (thanks, Jim Comey!)

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there’s no reason to think hillary could have confirmed someone bolder

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If Hillary had won, it would very likely mean she had won the senate as well. At that point, she would have gotten her pick.

But it wasn't insane for McConnell to risk a young RBG in place of Garland vs. a lasting conservative majority on the supreme court, even if he thought it was 10-1 odds against (which would have been remarkably pessimistic of him).

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I'm kind of surprised at some of the pushback you're getting here, and I'll just address it all in one comment here. The instant Scalia died, I immediately knew that the GOP Senate would never let Obama get a nominee through--and indeed, not even an hour had passed after news of his death when Ted Cruz said just as much [https://twitter.com/tedcruz/status/698634625246195712].

And if Clinton had won but the GOP had kept the Senate, they absolutely would have left the seat vacant for as long as that stood. And I think we have to accept that from here on out that SCOTUS will run shorter on numbers than usual if the White House and Senate are split over a long time if a vacancy arrives.

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The key part of this was to not have a vote. If there was a vote, then Garland is likely confirmed. And that's what I think is going to be very hard to pull off for anything longer than that year.

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I think people assumed the GOP would face a backlash over it.

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Sure, but why would a Hillary appointee have been materially worse than Garland? There was never any real chance of Democrats winning so many senate seats they could ram through a liberal.

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Yes. The nominee would have been more progressive, but more importantly, much younger.

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Arguably, keeping Scalia's seat vacant through November 2016 juiced GOP turnout on election night because the Supreme Court was much more salient for the Republicans' base than for the Democrats.

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It seemed insane only because people at the time assumed Hillary would win.

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Right, that's what I mean. People thought he was turning down the chance at a moderate-ish justice and was just going to get a liberal one in the next term.

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founding

If you assume he also would've blocked a Hillary nominee, it makes perfect sense.

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Well you'd also have had to assume he would've had the votes to block a Hillary nominee, which was the more dangerous part for McConnell.

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founding

See Eric's comment above, his odds of winning this gambit were very high.

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You know what happens when you make assumptions.

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Again, I said I don't really agree with the theory that he's brilliant; the second paragraph is my core thesis.

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A replacement-level Republican leader likely allows hearings for the Merrick Garland SCOTUS nomination. Likely to confirm. That takes away a big motive for pro-life voters in 2016.

All that said, McConnell’s specialty is blocking stuff and it reflects the overall GOP vibe. It’s really different than doing new stuff. I don’t think a leader gets in the Hall of Fame unless they pass some major bills.

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I've seen many Democrats on Twitter starting to get angry about Biden getting no credit for his economic focused messaging which they perceive as "moderate" because it focuses on kitchen table issues. I think this column gets at what it means to be perceived as moderate - you need to say something in the language of the other side. Trump 2016 clearly came out for gay rights and protecting social security/medicare in language Democrats used, and I think that got to left leaning independents in a way that swung meaningful numbers of votes his way. Just talking kitchen table stuff is not speaking in the right way to the right voters to be perceived as moderate (anymore).

What could Biden say or do that would be immediately understood by right leaning independents in their own language? I think there could be something on the border/asylum topic (press conference at the border highlighting the policy change requiring presentation of asylum seekers at ports of entry with a backdrop of border patrol officers?).

Interested if you all have other interpretations?

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Build closed camps along the Mexican border and detain the applicants there until their cases have been adjudicated. And to implement this policy in a humane way, you also need to budget a major increase in the number of immigration judges.

This would be an easy bipartisan win in Congress if Republicans actually wanted to make the problem go away, but they don't.

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While I would love to see some sort of comprehensive immigration reform, the asylum problem is unique and not merely the fault of Congress, who have, in a bipartisan fashion, allocated more money *every single year* for more immigration judges. They have also generally well funded other immigration-related priorities, sometimes more than the administration asked for. At least as of a few years ago, both Congressional Republicans and the Government Accountability Office blamed DOJ for its inability to hire new judges efficiently. Regardless, the number of judges, which have doubled in a few years time (up to ~600 now) can't keep up with the rapid growth in claims (~2 million last year) and likely never will be able to. The asylum process is completely broken.

https://www.borderreport.com/immigration/congress-oks-money-for-more-immigration-judges-but-case-backlog-continues-to-worsen/

https://bipartisanpolicy.org/explainer/immigration-backlogs/

https://rollcall.com/2017/08/02/congress-wants-more-immigration-judges-and-fast/

https://www.voanews.com/a/us-justice-department-to-go-on-hiring-spree-for-immigration-judges/7026657.html

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But isn't it true that people are often released on their own recognizance and just disappear into the underground economy?

I think if you combined faster adjudication with mandatory detention you'd get better outcomes. People who have valid reasons for fleeing their homes should be okay with waiting in lockup a couple of months before getting their asylum papers, but people who know the process will end in rejection might be somewhat deterred.

(This may be wrong, but it's worth a try)

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Sep 12, 2023·edited Sep 12, 2023

I agree that would be better than it is now, but the growth of claims will likely still continue to outpace our ability to deal with it. A few months in a US jail is probably worth the opportunity still. We need a process to reject claims at the border in 1-2 days as opposed to months or years later.

(edited to fix a typo)

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Yeah, there may also be a need for something like the Dublin regulation used in the EU, where you have to apply in the first country you reach (which is normally Greece).

In other words "you crossed through Mexico, so you have to apply for asylum in Mexico". I think this is probably not consistent with international law but the underlying problem is that international law creates an untenable incentive structure. You obviously can't let Chinese people apply from inside China (etc.) because hundreds of millions of people would qualify, so there's this touch-base game where people are encouraged to make dangerous illegal journeys.

I don't think any solution is going to look ideal.

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"I think this is probably not consistent with international law"

It's completely consistent with international law, since Mexico agreed with the United States to the "safe third country" designation, so anyone who passes through Mexico without making an asylum claim there cannot then make an asylum claim in the United States.

I think we'd all probably agree that a Chinese dissident who stows away on a ship that lands in Vancouver and then heads to the U.S. border checkpoint in Blaine to make an asylum claim should have just applied to asylum in Canada. What people mostly quibble with is the idea that Mexico is "safe."

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Democrats don’t want camps on the border map it’s not just Republicans.

And the reality is that we’d need to build cities given the numbers - literally millions of people.

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what happens after the cases are adjudicated, exactly?

like does that mean a lot fewer people being admitted, and if so where do they go?

(For example, we do not have a relationship with Venezuela that really enables us to return their people...)

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I think it's true that there's an additional issue here. Anyone who has a "well-founded fear of persecution" is eligible to be awarded asylum, based on the 1951 Refugee Convention. And it's not supposed to matter that you crossed the border without a visa.

That might have worked in the aftermath of World War Two, but it becomes less practical when international airfares are cheap and billions of people can truthfully say (e.g.) "I'd be put in jail if I criticized Xi Jinping". But I still think reasonable judges can hear these cases and reject them when they're clearly frivolous.

I don't know what the situation is with Venezuelan applicants but it's definitely possible to deport people to countries where you don't have friendly relations. (Normally the fact that they've made an unsuccessful asylum claim is kept confidential, since that in itself can endanger people once they're back home.) The EU deports hundreds of people to Afghanistan every week on special charter flights from Istanbul to Kabul, which I think the Taliban have agreed to because it makes money for Ariana, the national airline.

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Yeah, the issue with deportations only really comes up when somebody's been convicted of a serious crime -- e.g. China and India won't allow them back into the country so the deportation order becomes de facto unenforceable. But generally every country's okay with a regular old "you were in the country illegally" deportation.

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I think MY exaggerates how Trump treated the Social Security/Medicare issues. He really didn't talk about it that much. What was different about Trump was that he really didn't talk about it that much, very unlike Romney/Ryan. It was clear he didn't care that much about that issue, and instead filled the vacuum with bashing immigration and pumping himself up.

One can argue this was a form of moderation, but I really think of it as an orthogonal turn to other issues.

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"If you want to immigrate to this country to pursue the American Dream that's great, but you need to wait in line like everybody else. You can't cheat and cut in front by claiming asylum, that's malarky."

The Groups of course would go absolute bananas if he said this, but that could be the whole point.

Also maybe sort of non-jokey answer to the "what is a woman?" question he will inevitably get.

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“What could Biden say or do that would be immediately understood by right leaning independents in their own language?”

He could say that Congress must act to fix the country’s problems (migrants, student loans, etc.) and he could stop issuing clearly unconstitutional executive orders.

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Brother I am so on the "the article 1 branch needs to do more" train.

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I think that highlighting bipartisan legislation (and cross-party cooperation on ie: geopolitical issues) would probably be helpful for this and might feature in 2024 campaign messaging. (“I’m willing to work with the opposition on big shared-interest issues” is something that voters seem to value, for good reasons.)

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He could give speeches about how America is the greatest nation in history and how we need to support nations like Ukraine to protect the American dream from the forces of tyrrany.

He could talk about the importance of American innovation and industry. Can-do spirit and entrepreneurship!

He likely already says those things, but we tend not to hear him talk very often. More importantly he needs to punch left. Right-leaning independents can get on oard with that.

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Democrats really do need to come to grips with the fact that the median voter fears the far left more than they fear the far right.

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There were about 5-6 million Obama voters who voted for Trump and not Hillary. He got a decisive number of votes.

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Use the language abt China that Niki Haley does in the bio ad I’ve been subjected to for the last month+. I think Biden is starting to do this with the new ad abt him going to UKR.

https://host2.adimpact.com/admo/viewer/b8b66092-eb4f-4498-9f7e-6cf98248b860

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That… actually is more or less the actual policy on asylum that Biden has adopted? Everyone who passed through a third country on the way to the US gets automatically turned back now.

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The problem is that the left on immigration is sort of insane and so you have to tiptoe around the fact that a great deal of the asylum claims made at the southern border are basically bogus. Instead, we're spending resources processing the claims of what are effectively economic refugees from Central America whose "asylum" claim is a generalized fear of crime that doesn't come anywhere close to what's generally understood to be "asylum."

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Thomas, I don't think you're really addressing Polytropos's point. Sure, the left is extreme here, but they're not in the Oval Office. Perhaps evaluate what Biden is actually doing? OK, we're spending some extra resources, but what else bad is happening?

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Again, the Biden admin’s official policy— which has been in place for months— has been to automatically reject all asylum applicants who pass through third countries or fail to make their request at a port of entry. A lot of people to Biden’s left on immigration issues don’t like that, but they’re also not currently the president.

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yeah, the problem is that Biden can't really advertise how moderate or even conservative his border policy is.

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How do you know this? I don't really follow his speeches and so don't know what he's saying on a daily basis. Do you?

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There is more complexity to it than that. While the Biden administration has taken steps to reduce asylum claims, they have done that in part by introducing programs that skip that process:

"In addition, migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela can apply for the chance to live and work in the United States for two years under a special humanitarian parole. In April, the Biden administration announced that migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras would be eligible for a family reunification program. These programs, expected to start this month, allow certain immigrants seeking to reunite with immediate family members to enter the United States and later apply for a green card."

If the main source of asylum claims no longer need to claim asylum to enter, then shockingly the numbers will drop!

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/03/us/politics/migrants-mexico-border.html

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Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua are all countries whose leaders are deeply hostile to the US, whose leaders we’ve worked to diplomatically isolate. Taking a more generous stance toward people in this situation is fairly consistent with historic US policy toward emigrants from places like Vietnam and the USSR.

Family reunification is also continuous with longer-standing aspects of US immigration policy.

These parts of the plan also obviate the issue of immigration court congestion, disorderly arrivals, having to house, feed and monitor big populations that can’t work in the country legally, etc. Like, this basically still fixes all of the worst problems with asylum-seeking.

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But the Left will say that the US is responsible for what has happened in Latin America, so we we have a duty to these immigrants.

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I'm not particularly left, but I think we've mucked around often enough in their internal politics that we probably are somewhat responsible for a lot of what's gone wrong down there.

Even ignoring deliberate interventions and interference, our basic inability to curb our enthusiasm for illicit drugs and narcotics is itself a big driver of their inability to achieve normal governance.

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The export drug trade is not what's driving instability in El Salvador or Guatemala. Most of their drug problems are internal (dealing and usage) problems. A central American route doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

You can contrast that with the port state of Colima - which is the most violent in Mexico due to export drug gangs battling over fentanyl precursors. The violence must be horrible, but it hasn't destroyed the local economy or led to drug gangs imposing de facto rule on the populace. Consequently, there's no refugees.

But taking a step or two back: What do you think the natural state of the world is in Latin America? Countries like Brazil and Peru, where we haven't "mucked around" much, really don't look all that different from El Salvador or Honduras. It's pretty wild to assign so much agency to us rather than the people living in their own country. The natural state of the world is poverty, and countries go to shit all the time without outside help.

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And if anything we're getting MORE enthusiastic for illicit drugs.

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How much is Biden / are Democrats talking about the better parts of their current asylum policy?

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Not much. My guess is that the Biden admin is watching how a few ongoing legal challenges and the effects of the policy shake out before they decide how they want to message on it (and if the tradeoffs around raising the salience of immigration are worth it).

For better or for worse, Biden and his team have been pretty cautious about policy messaging over the past year or so. On one hand, this helps them have good message discipline, but on the other, the communication gaps allow a lot of narrative drift.

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Biden should be talking about his border and energy policies relentlessly, and especially with the border it feels like they’re almost afraid of people finding out.

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Maybe? There’s a fair amount of research suggesting that Democrats messaging about crime and immigration pushes voters right even when they approve of the content of the message because it raises the salience of the immigration issue. Quietly managing the problem and using messaging bandwidth to talk about abortion rights, Medicare/Medicaid, social security, infrastructure, and jobs may be the better strategy.

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We're heading toward Green Lantern country here. People don't pay attention to presidential speeches, at least until the real campaign kicks off, say after next Labor Day. There's plenty of time to mount the case, but don't waste your time campaigning hard right now when nobody cares and nobody is listening.

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it's not that I disagree with what you are saying, but my current hobby horse is pushing people on what "control the borders" means in real on the ground action. Because I think deep down it is a lie to say you can control that border - at least not without getting into horribly inhumane practices (and even the old "kids in cages" policy didn't stop people from finding their way in...)

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Totally agree; the “open borders” canard gets my goat because people who use that phrase rarely care to outline what their vision of “closed” borders would look like, much less acknowledge that the push factors encouraging people to migrate despite extreme hardship are not ones that can be “managed” by any border control scheme short of extreme cruelty and violence (and maybe not even then).

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Why can't push factors be managed? There are 200 other countries in the world and if you're "pushed" out of El Salvador why couldn't you head to Costa Rica, which is a country with a higher life expectancy than the US? What is CR doing that the US can't do?

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that's an odd way to structure the question. I suppose CR is much smaller, lower income, and has worse opportunities - which gives us nothing actionable for the US to do.

It's more like immigrants are telling us the US is more awesome than CR based on where they decide to go. But hey, this is America - we already knew we were awesome, right?

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Right - this is a good example of how this is really an immigration issue, and not an asylum one.

But in that framework these push factors have always existed - the US has always had more income and opportunities and been bigger. But we haven't always had border chaos or an overwhelmed asylum situation.

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There is some truth to that. But, symbolism still matters a lot, and it's important to present a picture to voters that you are at least trying (and trying honestly, not some token effort).

Take the wall, for example, We all know that the wall won't really stop illegal immigration, and people will find ways around it. But, it is a powerful symbol to the electorate that the government recognizes the problem and is trying to do something. Even if the wall is ineffective, the cost essentially boils down to taxpayer money and environmental impact. The taxpayer money involved is on the order of tens of billions of dollars, a drop in the bucket compared to the Inflation Reduction Act. And whatever environmental damage results from the wall construction is probably less than the environmental impacts of Republicans being in power, which would include not only wall construction, but also worse climate change and a gutting of all rules regarding clean air and clean water.

And then, of course, the asylum laws themselves are a mess. They were designed for a bygone era where the number of people claiming asylum was very small and don't seem to fit the modern world.

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“Control the borders” is also kind of a red herring because most people staying in the US illegally are visa overstayers, not clandestine border crossers.

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I think that does undersell it a bit. Even if the current population of unauthorized immigrants are 70% visa overstays vs. 30% border crossers (honestly that feels high but that's one Pew study I found) the rate that visa overstayers eventually return to their home country voluntarily is much higher (> 2x). So I don't think it's a red herring in that sense.

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But even returning voluntarily at 2x the rate probably isn't that high a rate of return.

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“…by the end of December 2020 the number of Suspected In-Country Overstays for FY 2020 decreased to 566,993…”

https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/2021-12/CBP%20-%20FY%202020%20Entry%20Exit%20Overstay%20Report_0.pdf

“The number of undocumented immigrant crossings at the southwest border for fiscal year 2022 topped 2.76 million”

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/migrant-border-crossings-fiscal-year-2022-topped-276-million-breaking-rcna53517#

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but that 2.76M is encounters, including people making multiple attempts, so not really the right number to use.

I actually find good data really hard to get though, especially since sources tend to fudge the asylum numbers in whichever direction their politics fall. They are not exactly illegal, but they definitely are additional humans who entered the country and need to be in the tally...

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Of course: The right number to use is unknowable. 2.7M "encounters" is the number they caught.

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I've mentioned this before, I have a close relative who is near the top of the nuts and bolts stuff of immigration issues, just below the lowest level of policy. Their basic analysis is that the people are coming, the push factors are just too high, short of machine gunning folks at the border they're going to show up there.

We maybe can pay Mexico massive amounts of money to help us slow the tide down and send people back so that the chaos looks like its Mexico's and not ours, but control in the sense that there won't be many, many more people than we want showing up and trying to get in is more a function of what happens elsewhere than what we do here.

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Agree with Thomas...attempts at illegal crossings fluctuate wildly but don't particularly correlate with conditions in the originating countries. Central America is far more developed than it was 20 years.

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In part, the development of Central America is helping to push the immigration - a truly poor country has no exit outside of the truly wealthy, but a low-to-middle income country has at least a way for desperate people to spend to get out of there.

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How exactly are the push factors different than they were in, say, 2007? That's the part that's never really been explained.

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well for starters, Venezuela is quite different now based on how their economy has collapsed. I believe the Northern Triangle countries have also gotten a lot worse over the past 15 years.

Remember the mix of origin countries has changed quite a bit from the old days when these were mostly Mexicans: https://www.axios.com/2023/04/06/us-mexico-border-crossing-migrant-statistics

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I really don't understand the current Progressive allergic reaction to building a longer / better wall other than it was a Trump promise so fight it. We've had portions of a wall since probably the 70s. Major new sections were constructed under Obama.

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founding

The big problem is that it’s going to be ecologically disruptive if it is at all effective - and in most places, it’s unlikely to be as effective as an extra mile of desert anyway.

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I mean the idea of a wall through Big Bend seemed pretty dumb. I’m not against walls - immigration should be available but controlled, but the entire wall thing became a proxy for hatred

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The ecological disruption seems like it could be mitigated. For example, you could have sections where the wall becomes a big fence, with gaps between the fence posts large enough for migrating animals, but too small for humans to fit. Or, you could put in an outright wildlife gap in the wall in a few strategic spots, just load the area with tons of drones and sensors so that any human passing through would be quickly detected and caught by the border patrol.

In any case, the climate change consequences of Republicans coming to power feels a much bigger ecological deal than a border wall, plus, unless Democrats win every election, the wall will eventually get built anyway.

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Sep 12, 2023·edited Sep 12, 2023

Interesting. I never got the sense the primary objection was environmental / conservationists. Semi-related but obligatory hat tip to Ted Turner for removing 1000s of miles of fences from all his ranches. In some sense sad that any single person could acquire 2m acres but as long as someone can, happy it's him.

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well along the Rio Grande it is quite bad for the people who own river property, no?

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NIMBYism

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My ideal immigration policy is one that I hope is close to yours, and it always starts with jobs: if employers have jobs they need to fill, they should be able to hire whoever they can, and those workers should be able to live next to where their jobs are. Through that, workers pay taxes like anyone else--if FICA isn't being paid, then it's the employer that's likely up to no good--not to mention direct sales taxes and indirect property taxes. And it should go without saying that anyone who breaks a law, native or immigrant, should be held accountable for it.

My only difference would be on English: if a job requires it, then of course the worker needs to speak it. If it doesn't, then no big deal for me--however, eventually one would need to learn to speak English in order to do more than just their job, and that provides a natural incentive to do so.

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One issue Biden has that Matt didn't discuss is that even when Biden does something moderate, like with the border, sympathetic media figures don't message it as moderate because they spent 4 years claiming Trump was Nazi for doing the same thing. So they just pretend nothing is happening, thinking their silence will help Biden.

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And on the flip side, they imply that Texas putting buoys in the river to prevent more crossings is somehow inhumane. I have seen a number of people (not journalists to be fair) conflate the buoys with the barbed wire fences on the other side of the river and claim, for example, that Texas put "saw blades in the Rio Grande" and is literally murdering migrants.

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Plenty of journalists took that position. Newsweek published multiple articles by at least two different reporters with it right in the headline:

(1) "Close-Up Video Shows Texas Floating Barrier Has Circular Saws":

https://www.newsweek.com/video-texas-floating-barrier-saws-rio-grande-1818433

(2) "Company Behind Texas' Circular Saw Floating Barrier Speaks Out": https://www.newsweek.com/company-behind-texas-circular-saw-floating-barrier-speaks-out-1819163

(3) "Texas Rep Horrified by Circular Saw Barriers: 'Designed for War'": https://www.newsweek.com/texas-rep-horrified-circular-saw-barriers-1820175

Go to Google News and search "Rio Grande" paired with terms like "saw blades," "circular saws," etc. and you'll find at least a dozen other mainstream news outlets (e.g., NBC, CBC, and Business Insider, just in the first few I sampled) that either use the term in the body of the article or quote someone using it without any further clarification or critique.

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Oh, to be fair, I hadn't seen what was between the buoys. They kind of do look like saw blades, although it's not clear if they are very sharp or not (I'm guessing not). It's hard to find much unbiased information - you'd think a journalist would at least ask someone about their construction.

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That does seem to be part of the issue.

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Leaving aside the polarization argument, nobody wins in a “landslide” any more (barring outright economic disaster such as in 1980 and 2008)...mainly because Democrats learned their lesson from McGovern’s defeat (You could say Republicans learned from Goldwater’s defeat, but the party got lucky with once-considered far-right Reagan who triumphed thanks to the aforementioned economic disaster).

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Immigration and transgender issues are the places where the activists on both sides are sort of insane and neither party can really move to the center because of it.

Crime/policing the left-wing activists are pretty damn insane but not so much the right.

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Republicans are generally favored on the economy, voters' #1 issue.

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Not an issue I've been super-focused on, to be sure, but I keep reading claims the problem is lack of adjudication capacity. We need more immigration magistrates, but that's a non-starter.

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Don't forget Congress needs to also act and we have a House that is incapable of legislating. We need to increase resources for immigration processing, admin more people through normal channels, loosen restrictions on cross border workers (people don't want to be forced to choose between work and their families), and close asylum loopholes.

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It's not crucial to your thesis, but I disagree that Hillary Clinton was popular leading up to her 2016 run. There's a Pew chart in this article: https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2015/05/19/republicans-early-views-of-gop-field-more-positive-than-in-2012-2008-campaigns/

She was popular with Democrats, if that's what you mean, so that gets her through the primaries... But Republicans always really disliked her and she was not "general election" popular. Remember all that Benghazi fun, and how down people were on "Clinton baggage"? And at that link you see young Dems with only 65% approval for her in 2015...

I'm still on board with the classic "O'Malley would have won" SB argument, that Hillary brought some distinct negatives that pushed Trump over the line. I even go further, and though I voted for her, I think her distinct weaknesses as a candidate are partly to blame for the toehold both the Bernie Sanders crowd and the Trumpsters were able to get in the late 2010s - both movements I quite dislike personally (as a more classic Bill Clinton/Obama liberal voter).

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Neither Sanders nor Trump would have achieved real political relevance if the the D party hadn't tried to clear the field for her. The inability to accurately comprehend how electorally toxic she was, by democrats, continuing to this day, is the biggest analytical error in politics I can remember. She was always unelectable.

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She won more votes than Donald Trump. She might have been unelectable against a normal Republican but she wasn't unelectable against Trump; she was risky.

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Sep 12, 2023·edited Sep 12, 2023

Donald Trump and the clown show of the 2016 presidential primary would have been laughed into the dustbin of political history if the reward for winning had been anything other than, "You get to run head to head against Hillary Clinton."

The difference between Bernie 16 and Ron Paul 08 was Bernie was running head to head against Hillary Clinton.

The people outside her very specific coalition fucking despise her. And everyone inside her coalition lives in a nonviable electoral map. There's a reason the electoral college suddenly isn't seeming so skewed any more and it's named Hillary.

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As already stated, she won more votes than Trump; she also won more primary votes than Obama. Yes, she’s unpopular. She’s too unpopular to be president. But you consistently exaggerate the problem.

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"she also won more primary votes than Obama"

That's only true if you're using a banana republic quality vote-counting methodology:

"Obama won more total votes than Clinton in the contests where they both appeared on the ballot. Clinton won the popular vote only if you count votes from Michigan, where Obama’s name did not appear on the ballot."

https://www.factcheck.org/2008/06/clinton-and-the-popular-vote/

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Ah, maybe I misremembered—I thought that caucuses ended up playing a bigger role in how Obama won while receiving fewer votes. Certainly the Michigan votes shouldn't count if both of their names weren't on the ballot there.

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I think part of the point I'm making is that people still look at those numbers, just like this, and say, "look how close she was!" And those numbers are just misleading. She wasn't close to being a viable candidate. She might look like a viable candidate:

1. against Donald Trump, the least popular nominee of all time besides herself.

2. by running up margins in places that don't matter. However much turnout you have in places you're gonna win easily anyways makes zero difference if you're driving even more opposition turnout in competitive races.

You have to win in completive places and if your mere presence on the ballot will turnout 50% of the population of swing states just to vote against you no matter what, the final vote counts just don't matter. Which is exactly what's about to happen to Trump if the Rs can't get their shit together to nominate someone else. He is hard capped in the states he has to win.

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But the untested premise is whether that "50% of swing states" part is indelibly true or not. She certainly did not run a campaign well-calculated to win the white working class that Trump ended up taking from the Democratic column. Of course, bad strategy is part of being a bad candidate, but I don't think that's what you're talking about.

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Would she have beaten Rubio or Kasich? No.

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Agree on Kasich. Rubio, I don’t know...Trump won by stunning the Democrats among the white working class, which he did with a pro-social program, anti-immigrant message. Rubio would have trouble delivering on both of those.

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founding

Who “tried to clear the field” for her? Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden chose not to run because they were sure Clinton would win and wanted to avoid the embarrassment of a primary loss, and most likely others thought similarly.

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Obama pressed Biden to not run [1]. I don’t know how much that mattered, but there absolutely was behind-the-scenes pressure to keep Biden out of the race. It wouldn’t surprise me if that same were true for Warren (although I haven’t heard of it).

[1] https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/441050-obama-pushed-biden-not-to-run-in-2016-ny-times/amp/

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Beau Biden’s death was a much larger factor than any pressure on Joe by other Dems

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Did they use the death as a convenient way to keep Biden out?

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Biden chose not to run because he was in grief. Many potential candidates were made irrelevant by GOP victories during the Obama years. It's a fiction that the DNC or Democrats "cleared the field" or conspired against Sanders.

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This actually just completely ignores that she became electorally toxic specifically because of the Sanders challenge.

If there's a point here, "clearing the primary field for her ensured that the only significant challenge she'd get would come from a gadfly like Sanders rather than, like, Deval Patrick who wouldn't force her to shift to positions that would be deeply problematic in the general election" is more like it.

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I remember how at the start of April 2016 Sanders went to Temple and asserted that "Hillary is unqualified to be President." His campaign and staffers fully embraced weaponized misogyny at that point. They spent 100% o their effort telling people not to vote and that the Democrats are the same as the GOP. The lies about the primary somehow being "rigged" and that Democrats stabbed "us" in the back persist to this day.

Hell, many of Sanders' top election staff have made their own grifting careers basically saying "The Democrats are worse than Trump and the GOP, give the GOP permanent trifectas, give us money, we are the real left."

and most vile bigotry

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But the main thing was that she tried to run to the Left of Obama. Reneging on TPP was a disaster. Sanders was not popular with the median voter; she did not need to pander to his supporters.

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Sep 12, 2023·edited Sep 12, 2023

I'm down with TPP (yeah you know me), but it wasn't exactly a popular idea amongst the normies... Trump and Sanders were both speaking out against it. I'm not sure it was politically strong advice to say "no you should be the one candidate promoting it right now" when the polling was like this: https://news.gallup.com/poll/191135/americans-split-idea-withdrawing-trade-treaties.aspx

28% support, 28% oppose, most not sure

Like sadly the 2016 mood was not hot on globalization, and I don't think it was one Hillary away from being popular, y'know? (And look at all the tariffs Biden has kept...)

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At the same time, everyone knew that absent Bernie and Trump, if she had run against the same anti-protectionist candidates that both parties had been serving up for decades, she would’ve supported it. Did anyone believe that Hillary really opposed TPP?

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Strong agree. It just made her look unprincipled and cynical. She, rightly described TPP as the gold standard of international agreements then came out against it to appeal to the Sandersistas.

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I think part of what helped Trump and Bernie was how unpopular China had become, and this snuck up on party elites.

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The high approval for Clinton was in 2012 when she was still Secretary of State, not in 2015 when the primary run was starting and when she was already moving to the left.

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And if one looks at her polling throughout her political career, one will see all kinds of oscillation, with her less popular times being Hillarycare and when she was seeking out public office of her own:

https://media.cnn.com/api/v1/images/stellar/prod/171220102644-hilary-clinton-image-polling.jpg

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>It's not crucial to your thesis, but I disagree that Hillary Clinton was popular leading up to her 2016 run.<

This seems right. I believe Hillary Clinton actually enjoyed her greatest popularity in the wake of her failed 2008 bid for the nomination. I think there was admiration for her doggedness, perhaps tempered with sympathy. It had to have been an emotionally crushing loss. And that post-defeat glow lasted for a while, at least for a year or two into her tenure as Secretary of State IIRC. But it eroded steadily and remorsellely after she left the cabinet and prepared for her 2016 presidential run (as she suffered blowback for the Benghazi situation).

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We were supposed to like Hillary because we were supposed to want a woman President and be so impressed by her YLS credentials that we would never call Hillary a nepotism-enabled shill. Telling the people what to think rarely works out so well

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Sep 12, 2023·edited Sep 12, 2023

I think this comments supports the larger ‘elites are having a big impact’ thesis that Matt seems to advancing in this post. I think the comment does raise issues around how elites weird relationship with power & voters. Elites have a lot of influence on media narratives in the press - through talking to reporters, endorsing Clinton, and organizing donors - but not actual *control* over the levers of power. These elites don’t have actual smoke filled rooms anymore - compare that to the system that existed up to immediate post-war where the professional politicians and partisan policy elites who get the jobs leading executive agencies just ran both parties on behalf of local political machines.

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It's amazing to me that in this corner of the internet the 2016 primary debate that still lives on is somehow this, but it is just absolutely not real that "O'Malley would have won."

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Haha. Ok but I think this is code for “a normal inoffensive white guy would have won.” Which I do think is true. I’m a bad feminist because I honestly don’t care if I never see a woman in the Oval. I’d much rather nominate a guy and win.

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gasp! them's fighting words!

ok first let's agree O'Malley NEVER would have won the primary, so this is all just for fun... But the 2016 election was about voting AGAINST the other candidate. The people who hated Trump would still have hated Trump and voted against him, but some of the people who hated Hillary might have just stayed home that day.

What's your case for why he wouldn't have beaten Trump? Like which voters do you imagine going more Trumpy in response to O'Malley?

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He's also a below replacement level politician. He is extremely uncharismatic. It's hard to become president with basically zero charisma. He has plenty of scandals that didn't national play because he wasn't viewed as a serious contender but if he was the nominee, there was no shortage of fodder for the media. Having a popular dramatic portrayal of your career that is unflattering is also not helpful. Trump probably would have called him "Mayor Carcetti" throughout the campaign.

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Trump has never ever heard of the Wire and neither has 80% of the country.

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founding

There’s a former Republican president that has a comparable amount of visceral hatred.

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Leave Chester Arthur alone!

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He probably did collude with Russia; his campaign (Stone and Manafort) certainly did, Trump Jr. sent the “if it’s what you say I love it” email, and so Trump would have had to have been remarkably checked out to have had no involvement. At the very least his underlings don’t seem to have worried, “what if the boss finds out we’re doing this?”

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Chris Christie doesn't think Trunp's campaign was capable of colluding.

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I mean, then what was Stone doing working with Wikileaks and what was Manafort doing working with Kilimnik?

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It's certainly possible that's the extent of it; maybe that's the most likely possibility (I don't trust myself to judge that objectively). I don't know how we could definitively say that's as far as it went, though.

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an extremely underrated part of the Hillary hate on the left comes from a surprisingly large number of young people on the left having grown up in Republican households.

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Trump ran as a working class Tory, he won as a working class Tory, and then he handed the fruits of victory to Paul Ryan and the Zombie Reganites. Why? He single handedly smashed the Republican establishment. He showed everyone how little appeal small government austerity has. He built the foundation of a coalition that could have passed major legislation with bipartisan majorities and survived three terms or four. For some reason he did not appreciate the extent of his political insight and the scale of his political accomplishments and so he caved to the establishment. Truth is stranger than fiction.

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He said what was necessary to get elected and then outsourced the job to the GOP establishment because he’s lazy and, aside from a certain brutal cunning, stupid?

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Trump just wanted “wins”. In my opinion, Congress (before or after 2018) could’ve sent him almost anything and if they’d kissed his ass and made it sound like a victory for him, he’d sign it. No matter how “liberal” or “conservative” the policy.

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Pretty much. I left off that he isn't, for all his other faults, an ideological person, so he was pretty much fine with whatever flattered his ego.

It's not hard to imagine another world in which he turns to extended family instead of the GOP establishment to flesh out his Administration and ends up with a signature policy package completely different from TJIA, a bipartisan infrastructure bill, maybe some actual marginal improvements on the healthcare front passed quietly in Secret Congress. Of course the judicial nominees he'd put forward would be a clusterfuck...

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Didn't Ivanka try to push a paid family leave bill and it went absolutely nowhere in Congress? I think we're forgetting how much traditional establishment Republicans controlled Congress after their 2016 sweep of the presidency, House and Congress. They didn't think Trump controlled them... yet.

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I forget who said it, but the basic issue is that outside of immigration and trade, Trump doesn't really have any firm convictions so the government basically went on autopilot and McConnell/Ryan passed their own priorities through Congress.

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Sep 12, 2023·edited Sep 12, 2023

I do think that Trump is lazy, intellectually incurious, and probably less intelligent than most major politicians, but I think that you might be underrating how challenging *not* outsourcing a lot of governance to existing factions would be.

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That is the reason parties exist, yes. But the man didn't even try, nor did he protest when the folks to whom he delegated very promptly asked him to throw over basically every promise and applause line.

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I think the key to always remember about 2016 was that Trump was never really running for President. It was essentially a giant publicity “campaign/gambit to get more money from NBC” gone wildly farther than anyone imagined. Go look at TV coverage of the moment he won. The most shocked person in the room is Trump himself.

Point being is that everything he said in 2016 has to be seen through this lens (as well as the basic fact he’s a lunatic). Meaning any policy pronouncements or ideas he had was never made with any sense of an actual governing agenda. In true Trump fashion, he wanted to play the television character of presidential candidate.

I’d also note that I’ve been increasingly convinced that his antics actually cost him more votes than we realize. I saw some tweets recently that Kasich consistently beat Hilary by about 7 points in polling. Now take these with a grain of a salt as he wasn’t actually the nominee so that polling may change if he was. But given the Comey letter likely cost Hilary anywhere from 0.5% to 3% of popular vote (I know it’s hotly contested how much the letter mattered but given razor thin margins I think I’m safe in saying it made the difference in her losing), I think it’s safe to say Trump being a lunatic (and being himself) cost himself 5-10 percentage points of popular vote. Which is huge!

Which I think is maybe the biggest point that buttresses Matt. Because of the “Teflon Don” narrative, a lot of politicians have taken the apparent lesson that you can be an extreme play to the base ideologue and it won’t cost you votes. But as RDS is discovering (and as GOP discovered in 2022) this is clearly not true and was never true (buttressing Matt’s point that Dems took the wrong lesson from Bernie’s strong 2016 showing. It wasn’t some latent desire for socialism in the American public, it was a general dislike of status quo. And right lesson is speaking in Bernie’s simple terms is the right gambit to reach voters).

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Sep 12, 2023·edited Sep 12, 2023

There’s evidence that Trump was surprised he won, but the ‘he did it for the lolz’ hypothesis doesn’t seem right. The traditional ruling parties across the West have been doing quite badly for a while now, broadly around the same issues, and Trump rode those issues to a victory. Trump is a lot more Brexit than Macron in terms of successfully challenging the old system, but that probably has more to do with Democratic political ecosystem not being as politically entrepreneurial their GOP counterparts (I want to see that column from Matt: use Brexit vs Macron as models for disrupting the traditional political system & map it onto America's much different system). Looking at Trump’s hammer lock on the GOP and how the traditional ‘budget scold & anti-abortion zealotry’ candidates like Pence are doing in this primary, Trump-ism seems like a product that found a market, not dumb luck.

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So I think you're describing something different; you're describing bigger structural reasons why Trump won. I'm describing the specific personal motivations of why Trump ran and how he ran is campaign in the first place. Sort of like describing why did a specific war happen vs. what motivates individual soldiers to volunteer and fight in a war. For example is Civil War history. Slavery is the primary reason the war happened despite what reactionary Dunning school southern historians say. But if you read soldiers letters home, while a few were personally motivated by the issue, by far the bigger motivation at least in the beginning was "the Union must be defended" on the northern side and "I'm fighting because you're down here" on the Southern side.

My other reason for saying this is there's no way Trump is thinking about all the things you're talking about; in 2015-2016 or now. This is a man who's fundamentally incapable of thinking more than 24 hours ahead about anything, let alone capable of some deep level big picture analysis of American and world politics.

Somehow even today I think we underestimate how much stumbled into a winning strategy almost by accident and essentially won by hitting inside straight on the river.

I'll say the one thing that Trump had was essentially the brain of a "typical" voter. Since he imbibed so much talk radio/Fox post 2010, I think he sort almost by accident had a better understanding of a typical primary voter (and swing voter) concerns than someone attending too many think tank conferences and stuck in endless budget negotiations.

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The funny thing is he likely "stumbled into a winning strategy almost by accident" because he is "fundamentally incapable of thinking more than 24 hours ahead about anything." He just said stuff that seemed popular and got the crowds cheering--and had no ideological baggage (or scruples) to hold him back.

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I'm inclined to believe that Trump is stupid and doesn't think more than 24 hours ahead . . . and yet somehow he has completely taken ownership of the Republican party no matter what he does and what damage he does to the party. What politician in living memory has both taken such control of and refashioned a complete major party in his image?

At some point, one has to admit that there is method to the madness.

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This explains pretty much the entirety of why Trump has this chokehold on the GOP:

"The Principle of Least Interest is the idea in sociology that the person or group that has the least amount of interest in continuing a relationship has the most power over it. In the context of relationship dynamics, it suggests towards which party the balance of power tilts."

Trump could not care less about the GOP as a party, the GOP governing agenda or the GOP's future. Nor does he actually care one iota about the safety of the US, the constitution or the best interests of the country. THe only thing he cares about is the ego of Trump (and staying out of prison). I sincerely think he doesn't give to shits about his children other than as reflections of his own greatness or ego (hence his objectively creepy comments about Ivanka. Her being quite beautiful is a reflection of his genes and therefore a symbol of how awesome he is in his own demented mind). But it also means because he doesn't care he has the power.

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Sep 12, 2023·edited Sep 12, 2023

I think this is a ‘six of one, half dozen of another’ - Trump is coming out of the rich tradition of ‘northeastern big city tough guy politics’. It *almost* worked for Guillani in '08 & Christie in ‘12 and then Trump managed to actually do it in ‘16. The fact that Trump is the pure version of this archetype says *something* about how this kind of politics travels outside the Acela Corridor.

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founding

Wasn’t Brexit also pushed primarily as a big gesture, whose proponents were shocked that they actually ended up winning?

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My best understanding was this was David Cameron trying to be too clever by a half and turning out to be an idiot (one of many examples). He was worried about his right flank if he called for a general election; basically he though Nigel Farage and UKIP would steal away just enough of votes to cost Tories control of Downing Street.

You're right to say Cameron never expected "Leave" to win. But it was just a stupid gambit in the first place. This would be like if Biden decided as a way to counter charges he's a spendthrift proposed a nationwide "balanced budget" amendment confident it would never pass when in reality this is maybe the best example of something that sounds reasonable to the public (if I have to live within my means sand tighten my belt in bad times, shouldn't the government?), but would almost certainly absolutely awful as policy (can you imagine what would happen if in March, 2020 Congress needed to pass the stimulus under the auspices of a balanced budget amendment? I actually think it could have crashed the US and world economy which almost happened anyway).

As I side note, Brexit is one of those things that reminds me that as much focus as there's been on Russian influence on Trump and US elections (still don't think there's nearly enough focus on the fact that huge numbers of GOP politicians spent July 4th in Moscow in 2017), the Russian influence on UK has probably been more extensive and probably more damaging. Lot's evidence of Russian money flowing to Farage. There's the number of Russian billionaires who at least used to reside in London. The number of spies killed by Putin in UK (remember the polonium poisoning). And then the number of rich Russians literally thrown off balconies in the UK (https://time.com/5725041/uk-russian-assassins-heidi-blake/)

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Brexit and Trump seem to share the ‘here’s this one weird trick to sell a certain kind of right-wing-ism to a LOT more ppl’ energy. And they both also share that the media hound populists (Johnson & Trump) are a LOT better at using it win elections then the doctrinaire ideologues (Truss & DeSantis).

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Yeah, where’s Huey Long when ya need him?

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sure, somehow in 2016 we got ourselves into a ridiculous game of chicken where both parties put up sub-optimal candidates.

And I think the story of how THAT happened includes a lot of polarization politics. Neither party represented the normal folks, which is rare.

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I mean, the reality is that Trump likely didn't care about SS & Medicare (outside of knowing most people liked those programs) or tax rates (beyond not wanting to pay taxes). At a certain point, getting elected meant being able to scam a whole bunch of more people, avoid prosecution, and use his power to push federal dollars toward his hotels, golf courses, and the like.

Meanwhile, it turns out the Republican's who care enough about tax rates care deeply about lowering them.

It's the same thing w/ Democrats - Joe Biden cares deeply about union stuff, (surprisingly) LGBT issues, and a couple of other things. For the rest, he'll cooperate with the current coalition.

I realize Matt and other want it to be 2012 forever (except on the issues they don't want it to be 2012 forever, like housing, but That's Different). The reality is in a 50/50 country, the type of blowouts that cause parties to change aren't happening.

If Biden loses by a surprisingly large margin, maybe some in this comment section will get the candidate they want that tells trans kids they need to go through puberty, tells young police reform activists to shut up, or whatever dreams they have of never having to listen to urban voters under 40 again, and if Biden wins by a surprisingly large margin, maybe the Youngkin/Kemp types who are reactionaries instead of fascists may have a shot, but if it's 51-47, things aren't shifting much.

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Urban voter well under 40 here.

Please feel free not to listen to me if doing so pisses Jesse off, Mr/Mrs. Candidate, because that surely means you’re on the right track.

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Is it Chuck Schumer who, according to legend, has staffers stick a post-it note on their monitor about remembering the average voter family he named the Baileys, or whatever?

There's a corollary technique here that I won't spell out.

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The reality is that "never having to listen to urban voters under 40 again" is a damned good electoral strategy for a presidential election.

The typical urban voter under 40 is not nearly as ideological as Jesse is, but those who are... have nowhere to go. There aren't enough of them to win even low-turnout urban primaries in most instances. The candidate he'd have voted for for Philly mayor in the 2023 primary placed 3rd behind a more centrist reform candidate and the black machine politician, ffs!

The correct strategy in a general election is to completely ignore everything he believes and desires, knowing it will produce only a very small bleed in left-wing voters, in exchange for a larger swing in the middle where each swing vote is worth 2X what a mobilized lefty vote is.

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Like it or not, the political reality is that old people vote, young people don't. Until that changes, the optimal campaign strategy will always prioritize the needs/desires of the older generation.

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You didn’t read Matt carefully. “A 50/50 country” is a contingent situation that is amenable to change, not some immutable law of nature or divine curse. Either party may yet break the tie and return the country to a hegemonic party situation enjoying a solid majority- as was the case for much of us history.

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founding

Part of the problem is that it changes on a multi year timescale, and is the result of lots of people making decisions for their short term individual advantage rather than the long term partisan (or national) advantage.

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In what sense is that a problem rather than simply a feature of democracy?

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I think the evolution of political science has made a 50/50 country more likely.

National parties have a much more granular understanding of political views across the country, and are much more able to estimate how many compromises they need to make between the preferences of their members/donors and the preferences of their persuadable voters to win elections.

Net result - two parties in a very fine electoral balance (even if Democrats routinely win more votes at a national level).

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But for most of history we had a hegemonic media, at least in the sense that freedom of the press was limited to those who owned a press (or even more exclusive, a radio or television station). We now live in a world of alternative realities ranging from Q-anon to the belief that most people are really socialists at heart.

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Yes the media landscape is new. It does prove that polarization has become entrenched as a result.

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But then why have both parties changed in the past, including the recent past?

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>For some reason he did not appreciate the extent of his political insight<

Part of this flows from the fact that dumb luck played an oversized role. Trump got into the race as an exercise in brand building. He faced negotiations with NBC. And then lightning struck and he done got himself selected as the nominee. Not something he expected until NH, I'm pretty sure. And then he won the general. Similarly, it's clear from his rhetoric in the autumn of 2016 that Trump, like the vast majority of Americans, thought Hillary Clinton couldn't possible lose. He was very much an accidental president.

In some sense Trump was "shrewd" to stay away from Paul Ryan-style economics, I suppose (Matt certainly seems to think so) but I really do believe that, in the main, he got lucky. And Trump believes this deep down inside.

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Trump had mused about running for President before reality shows were invented, so it’s entirely possible that this wasn’t just about the Apprentice--also, according to Wikipedia he was fired after his announcement (because of his remarks about Mexicans), so he had already burned that bridge by the beginning of his campaign.

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Staffing your government, building out a policy-crafting apparatus, and wrangling majorities for legislation in Congress turns out to actually be pretty hard— and unless they’ve spent time actively cultivating an alternative, it forces even insurgent executive politicians to compromise with the existing ideological coalitions which can supply relevant resources.

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Trump didn’t run to advance any political agenda. He never believed he could win. He ran to enhance his brand. His campaign positions evolved as he got feedback from grassroots and crowds during the campaign. It was all about what’s working today.

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Because he committed many crimes and needed the establishment's support during impeachments.

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Sep 12, 2023·edited Sep 12, 2023

Excellent stuff today, top Yglesias! Structural analysis is great. I use it all the time! But we have to remember that it’s just a model, an analytic simplification, a heuristic metaphor. It’s a way to simplify the ideas and actions and behaviors of many many people so we can make some sense of the big picture. But it can’t be our sole lens. We must zoom in every once in a while. A straw can sometimes break the camel’s back, or tip the scale.

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In my professional life, I’m a hard core math person. I offer this in contrast to what I’m about to say. I think that vibes, mood, momentum, and a general zeitgeist are real and important in politics. I think voters (people) use a lot of motivated reasoning to justify what they want to do, and that gives outsized importance to small moments that can be used as evidence.

So much of the Obama campaign was about creating social permission to vote for him by lowering polarization. David Axelrod has run this campaign multiple times and it’s very effective. So, I agree polarization is a choice.

At the same time I absolutely don’t believe that you could switch Dukakis and Clinton and get the opposite results due to structural factors. There’s just no way Dukakis has the credibility with Southerners and personal charisma to pull it off. Obama had great timing, a great campaign, but also incredible charisma. Real artists made giant posters of his face and put them everywhere. I personally know some one that saw Obama get out of a car in DC, decided he would be President some day, and quit his job to go work for him. Hillary Clinton is not the same. Trump is closer. AOC is closer, if she carefully managed her career to reach that goal. Another vibes thing, I realize. But people are animals.

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I think it's really worth focusing on how the Democratic Party is moving to the left on issues because staffers and political insiders are being pulled left in arguments in the Beltway Bubble--not by and large by electoral forces. Dave Weigel recently had a piece looking at the lack of progressive challengers to incumbent Democratic politicians, as well as the win of the normie Democratic candidate in the Rhode Island special election. The insurgent wins of an AOC give outsized coverage in the media, because they are disproportionately drawn to the stories that get the clicks that online liberals are interested in.

Its very similar to how the Democratic Party moved left on Hyde not because of electoral gains in the party, but because the 2010 wave destroyed a lot of more moderate Democratic incumbents on the issue of abortion, and the 2012 gerrymandering locked them out of a comeback. Abortion advocates had an era of making progress in moving the Democratic Party on the issue because their internal opponents in the party were gone. Then we see Dobbs happen and the groups suddenly rediscover the need to soften the messaging once again.

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I wouldn’t characterize it as the beltway bubble, but as the college educated elite cohort generally. It’s only about 8% of the country, but it’s so freakishly prominent in the media/universities and Trump gave them space to deflect any disagreement as fascist/deplorable/etc.

They populated Warren’s campaign and made her (more) unelectable. And they’re in the White House giving Biden totally incorrect impressions of what younger dems want.

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I 100% agree with you, the issue isn't to characterize all college educated individuals, such as the ones who went to big state schools, but instead try to focus on a much smaller sliver of elites that make up a disproportionate share of the far-left.

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Flagship state school grads have also swung very liberal recently. (The historically very conservative Texas A&M cast over 60% of its ballots for Biden in 2020; UT Austin put up Assad margins for him.)

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Though you need to be careful about not painting these as uniform blocks. It’s not that Ivy graduates are 100% online far-left and state school graduates are 0% online far-left, but it’s more like 50% and 30% (compared to a general population of more like 5%).

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Our Ivy fixation drives me crazy.

I'd like to think that when we talk about "college students" we should use Texas A&M as our "Baileys."

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But we should also remember there's significant overlap in the types of people represented at the two types of schools! It's true that a large fraction of Texas A&M students do weekly bible study and drive a giant pickup truck, but there's still a lot more vegan queer roller derby players than in the broader population.

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I don't know anything about Texas A&M (except for the Jimbo Fisher death watch), but I'm pretty sure it's students represent the larger national college student population much better than those damn Ivies. Kind of as you note.

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A&M is probably still quite a bit more conservative than the average US state flagship university campus— like, the University of Wisconsin and University of Arizona both put up 80% for Biden (vs about 66% at A&M). American college students are just generally really, really left-leaning relative to the overall population now.

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I guess from where I'm sitting in Washington DC and working in politics I see it a bit like "All squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares."

The education polarization is an input but it's not fully deterministic. College educated voters are swinging left, but they are still a competitive, swingy group with voters in the middle. And it's not like wealthy, college educated districts are leading the vanguard in electing the most liberal of the liberal members--many are more suburban areas with economically moderate representatives.

But it is true that the far left vanguard of activists are disproportionately drawn from college educated voters. If think tanks and advocacy groups in DC were drawing their views from the full range of college educated voters it may be shifted and misaligned from the public as a whole, like with social liberalism, but I'd expect more economically conservative views and a bit of cultural centrism. Instead we have a big echo chamber.

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I think I still disagree with you because I think you *do* see those more normie college educated voters represented in the discourse. The YIMBY/NIMBY wars, woke/anti-woke fight, the rise of the ‘never trump’ GOP are all other examples of fights taking place between college educated ppl.

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So much of this boils down to people who want to win and gain power to do things, versus people that want to be ideologically pure. Matt is clearly someone who wants to win, and it regularly deranges the purists--especially in a case where Matt names a specific that is not so much deemed too small to matter, but is one that *really* crosses their lines, no matter how unpopular it might be.

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Sep 12, 2023·edited Sep 12, 2023

I'm struggling with this concept of "moderation". Trump was never a moderate, he just never had any commitments to anything beyond his own ego. Willingness to say anything isn't moderation it's extremism that's obfuscated by incoherence. Similarly, Joe Biden is probably the biggest partisan hack to ever hold the office. His entire career has been an exercise in staking out whatever happens to be the center point of the party any given moment. He's not a moderate either, he's gone from way to Obama's right, to way to his left because that's what the party did. He's committed to advancing whatever party line is in front of him, no matter how smart or dumb, legal or illegal, whatever he personally believes or not. He doesn't yell about stuff like he did when he was younger, but he's still happy to stage it perfectly extreme positions if that's what he thinks the party wants.

Actual moderation comes from humility. The willingness to recognize that other people have as much right to their ideas as you do. Moderation means not imposing one's will, or the will of one's party on the people who disagree with you. It means deferring to the legislative process. It means respecting constitutional limits. None of these people have any commitment to anything like that.

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Often times, the legislative process and who is determining constitutional limits aren't that moderate either.

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Of course.

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A truth Donald J. Trump whole heartedly endorses.

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