Category Archives: political polarization

“How a ‘Committed Partisan Warrior’ Came to Rethink the Political Wars” (New Bob Bauer Book!)

Peter Baker on Bob Bauer and his new book, in the NYT:

Once, after he executed a particularly tough-minded legal attack on Republicans, Bob Bauer remembers, a conservative magazine called him an “evil genius.” He took it as a compliment. “I was very proud of that,” he said. “I thought, That’s cool.”

For decades, Democrats have turned to him as their lawyer to wage battles against the opposition. Reverse a House race they seemingly lost? Accuse the other side of criminal activity? Go to court to cut off Republican money flows? Find a legal justification for an ethically iffy strategy? Mr. Bauer was their man.

But now Mr. Bauer, the personal attorney for President Biden and previously the White House counsel for President Barack Obama, is looking back and rethinking all that. Maybe, he says, that win-at-all-costs approach to politics is not really conducive to a healthy, functioning democracy. Maybe, in taking the “genius” part to heart, he should have been more concerned about the “evil” part.

In a new book, “The Unraveling: Reflections on Politics Without Ethics and Democracy in Crisis,” to be published on Tuesday, Mr. Bauer takes stock of what he sees as the coarsening of American politics and examines the tension between ethical decisions and the “warrior mentality” that dominates the worlds of government and campaigns today. And in the process of thinking about what went wrong, Mr. Bauer, who calls himself a “committed partisan warrior,” has stopped to wrestle with his own role in the wars…..

r. Bauer has had a role in most of the significant political-legal wars of the last few decades, representing Democratic Party organizations and candidates, advising House and Senate Democratic leaders during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment battle and serving as Mr. Obama’s campaign lawyer and later White House counsel.

In the last few years, though, Mr. Bauer retired from his law firm, Perkins Coie, and increasingly turned his energies to finding ways to fix the system, working with Republicans like Benjamin Ginsberg and Jack L. Goldsmith. Among other projects, he advised lawmakers who revised the Electoral Count Act in 2022 to make clear that no vice president can single-handedly overturn an election, and he guided a bipartisan group that in April recommended changes to the Insurrection Act to limit presidents’ power to deploy troops to American streets.

Mr. Ginsberg, a longtime election lawyer who represented George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, among others, before breaking with the Republican Party over its support for Mr. Trump, said that Mr. Bauer was always “an ethical, principled guy” who managed to zealously represent his clients without crossing lines that should not be crossed.

“We’ve been battling each other for 40 years on stuff, and it’s always important, he knew, to fight fiercely for your candidate,” Mr. Ginsberg said. “But his concept of the rule of law is that the process works best if you have fierce partisans on each side but with an appreciation for the democratic process, institutions and norms.”

Bob’s new book is fabulous, and here is my blurb of it:

With wit, insight, self-awareness, and humility, Bob Bauer reflects on his life as a leading political lawyer, making an urgent plea for a renewed commitment to political ethics. A must-read warning about how our existential politics has led to norm collapse, and how to bring us back from the brink.

— Richard L. Hasen, Author of A Real Right to Vote and Election Meltdown

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“What Is “Fusion Voting”? Just a Way to Save the Country, That’s All”

Dan Cantor and Bill Kristol ask:

What in the world could possibly bring the two of us together? One of us is a slightly reformed Reaganite, the other a slightly chastened social democrat, each of us mugged by authoritarianism. In the 1980s and 1990s, one of us worked for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; the other worked in the presidential campaigns of the Reverend Jesse Jackson Jr. and co-founded a progressive third party.

And yet, here we are, collaborating on a project that we believe can help restore the political health of the country we both love.

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“With a Democrat’s Help, the F.E.C. Goes From Deadlock to Deregulation”

There’s a lot to drive discussion in this NYT piece on the FEC and Commissioner Lindenbaum’s role in a recent series of votes.  (Disclosure: I was serving at the White House when Commissioner Lindenbaum was nominated.)

I haven’t had the chance to dig into the substance of the specific rulings highlighted in the piece, including the recent advisory opinions (and including the important AO on canvassing and coordination that Ned and Rick flagged a little over a month ago).  I tend to think that some of the critique of commission action and inaction is sometimes directed at the desire to change laws or regs rather than working with what the regs actually say, and I’d want to actually read the underlying legal materials before opining on the policy decisions.

The piece does highlight that “Ms. Lindenbaum’s work in the trenches of campaigns, where lawyers sort through the law’s gray areas to decide what can and cannot be done, that her supporters and detractors alike say has informed her thinking.”  And I agree with the profoundly informative nature of that experience.

The piece also highlights Marc Elias’s role in the series of recent votes: “One surprising thread through many of Ms. Lindenbaum’s most consequential decisions is that they were sought by Mr. Elias, who has become the face of voting-rights litigation on the left.”  But I think that thread may only be surprising if you’re the type to anoint someone as the “face of voting-rights litigation” for a diverse and hazily defined coalition of millions of voters with a whole lot of distinct voting-rights interests.  (The unrelenting focus of American political reporting on branding star personalities is not the only way to understand policy decisions or present narrative.)  Lawyers bring matters forward for a lot of reasons, including the interests of their clients and/or funders.

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“Far-right gains in EU election deal stunning defeats to France’s Macron and Germany’s Scholz”

EU parliamentary elections took place yesterday, with some significant wins by “far-right” parties — sufficiently significant in France to drive President Macron to dissolve the parliament and call a snap national election.  (Counterpart: in Hungary, Prime Minister Orbán’s party earned a plurality of EU parliament seats, but actually slipped from its prior level of support.)

Meanwhile, Mexican elections show the country heading in the opposite direction.

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“Misunderstanding the harms of online misinformation”

Ceren BudakBrendan NyhanDavid M. RothschildEmily Thorson & Duncan J. Watts in Nature:

The controversy over online misinformation and social media has opened a gap between public discourse and scientific research. Public intellectuals and journalists frequently make sweeping claims about the effects of exposure to false content online that are inconsistent with much of the current empirical evidence. Here we identify three common misperceptions: that average exposure to problematic content is high, that algorithms are largely responsible for this exposure and that social media is a primary cause of broader social problems such as polarization. In our review of behavioural science research on online misinformation, we document a pattern of low exposure to false and inflammatory content that is concentrated among a narrow fringe with strong motivations to seek out such information. In response, we recommend holding platforms accountable for facilitating exposure to false and extreme content in the tails of the distribution, where consumption is highest and the risk of real-world harm is greatest. We also call for increased platform transparency, including collaborations with outside researchers, to better evaluate the effects of online misinformation and the most effective responses to it. Taking these steps is especially important outside the USA and Western Europe, where research and data are scant and harms may be more severe.

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“Courting Risk: Corporate Underwrites & State Attorneys General”

New report from CPA.

From the foreword by Jacob Hacker & Paul Pierson:

Political spending to support controversial policies and leaders thrives in darkness. And no spending has defied necessary scrutiny more than the bigger and bigger donations that public corporations are giving to state attorneys generals through partisan third-party groups.


As this pathbreaking report lays bare, even companies that have dedicated themselves to transparency and accountability in political spending are pouring tens of millions of dollars
into state attorney general races through third-party groups like the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) and Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA). RAGA, in particular, has raised more than $84 million from public companies and its trade associations (roughly half again more than DAGA), which it has used to help elect state attorneys general who have pursued aggressive litigation directly at odds with these companies’ stated values.


The stakes could not be higher. Riven by gridlock and polarization, America’s Congress has ceded much of its power to shape policy to the courts and the states. In this political vacuum, state attorneys general have become far more powerful. Fueled by the same rising polarization, they have also become far more partisan….

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Must-Read Andy Kroll: “Scenes From a MAGA Meltdown: Inside the ‘America First’ Movement’s War Over Democracy”

Kroll deep dive in ProPublica:

What divides the Republican Party of 2024 is not any one policy or ideology. It is not whether to support Donald Trump. The most important fault line in the party now is democracy itself. Today’s Republican insurgents believe democracy has been stolen, and they don’t trust the ability of democratic processes to restore it….

I grew up in Michigan. My own political education and my early years as a journalist coincided with a stunning Republican resurgence in my home state. Over several decades, Michigan’s dynastic families — the DeVoses and Meijers and Van Andels on the west side, the Romneys and Fords on the east — poured money and manpower into the Michigan Republican Party, building it into one of the most vaunted political operations in the country. They transformed Michigan from a bastion of organized labor that leaned Democratic into a toss-up state that, until recently, had a right-to-work law and put Republicans in control of all three branches of government for eight of the last 14 years. Michigan Republicans were so successful that other states copied their tactics. As Dick DeVos, heir to the Amway fortune and a prolific Republican donor, once told a gathering of conservative activists, “If we can do it in Michigan, you can do it anywhere.”

Several years ago, however, my home state stopped making sense to me. I watched as thousands of political newcomers, whose sole qualification appeared to be fervor of belief, declared war on the Republican establishment that had been so dominant. Calling themselves the “America First” movement, these unknowns treated the DeVoses and other party leaders as the enemy. I had covered the DeVoses and the Michigan Republican Party long enough to know that they were not just pro-business but staunch conservatives who wanted to slash taxes, abolish regulations and remake the public education system in favor of vouchers and parochial schools. Yet the new “America First” activists disparaged prominent Michigan Republicans as “globalist” elites who belonged to a corrupt “uniparty” cabal. That cabal had denied Trump a rightful second term and needed to be purged from the party.

With a consequential election looming, I traveled back to Michigan earlier this year to understand how this all happened. I sought out the activists waging this struggle, a group of people who don’t trust institutions or individuals except Trump and one another — and sometimes not even that. Could they triumph over the elites? I found chaos, incompetence, strife, a glimpse of a future post-Trump Republican Party and, all around me, danger for our system of government and the state of the country.

“We can’t keep going through election after election like this where a large plurality of the country just does not accept the outcome of the majority and refuses to abide by it,” said Jeff Timmer, a former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party who now works with the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. “That’s when the system falls apart.”

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Republican Party of Nebraska Fails to Oust Incumbents

AP News reported recently that after being taken over by loyalists to Trump, “[t]he Nebraska GOP . . . refused to endorse any of the Republican incumbents who hold all five of the state’s congressional seats.” In three instances, it endorsed challengers. In two, it simply declared it would not be endorsing the incumbents. Its efforts, however, have failed: All the incumbents won their seats, including Don Bacon, whose congressional district is “purple-ish” having gone for Obama in 2008 and Biden in 2020.

“It’s not a good look,” [Political Science Professor] Hibbing said. “You’d like the faces of your party, who would be your elected representatives, and the state party leaders to be on the same page.”

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“In Electoral Disputes, State Justices Are Less Reliable GOP Allies than the U.S. Supreme Court—That’s the ‘Problem’ the Independent State Legislature Claim Hopes to Solve”

Rebecca L. BrownLee Epstein, and Michael J. Nelson have this new article in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Here is the abstract:

Scholars have identified serious drawbacks to the independent state legislature (ISL) claim, which precludes state-court review of election laws, thus preventing state guarantees like “free and fair elections” from being enforced. Considering its flaws, we ask why ISL would be pursued so fervently and why the Supreme Court, in Moore v. Harper, adopted a version of it. Examining data that compare election-law outcomes in federal and state supreme courts, we found that state supreme court justices, even if Republican, are not reliable supporters of the GOP electoral agenda. The Roberts court, by contrast, has voted in the GOP-supported direction in most election-law cases it has decided. This, we argue, is why ISL is promoted so vigorously: it takes electoral disputes—such as who can vote, what the rules for counting are, and such—out of the hands of state courts and places them squarely into the hands of the Supreme Court, a reliable partisan ally.

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“Political Parties and Loser’s Consent in American Politics”

Geoffrey Layman , Frances Lee, and Christina Wolbrecht have this new article in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Abstract:

Social science has established that political parties have been indispensable to American democracy and their most active members as keepers of the democratic flame. The aftermath of the 2020 presidential election raised questions about the role of the parties in protecting democracy, particularly the fundamental democratic norm of “loser’s consent.” We argue that recent political developments—close elections, ideological polarization, participatory party nominations, and changes in campaign finance and media—have worked to undermine the parties’ commitment to loser’s consent. We use recent survey data to show that party activists no longer demonstrate greater commitment than do ordinary citizens to democratic norms—especially to loser’s consent. We also examine how parties and voters responded to the post-2020 crisis of democratic legitimacy, finding that both parties prioritized their political interests over democratic health. However, a small number of voters did deviate from normal partisanship and helped to shore up American democracy in the 2022 elections.

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