Category Archives: political polarization

“How the Proud Boys Gripped the Miami-Dade Republican Party”

The N.Y. Times is reporting on the Proud Boys’s successful efforts to join the leadership of the Miami-Dade Republican Party, once the locus of Jeb. Bush’s power. “[A]t least a half-dozen current and former Proud Boys who have secured seats on the Miami-Dade Republican Executive Committee, seeking to influence local politics from the inside.” A few are running for local offices. “For now, longtime party stalwarts remain in control amid an internal power struggle, but the influx of Proud Boys and the radicalization of other members have created considerable upheaval.” And this appears to be a nationwide strategy.

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GOP Plans to Contest Swing-State Elections, on Tape

Politico’s Special Report describes the GOP plan for Michigan, which centers on recruiting activists primed to believe election fraud lies as poll workers and connecting them directly to movement lawyers. This appears to be the party’s playbook for other swing states as well.

“Being a poll worker, you just have so many more rights and things you can do to stop something than [as] a poll challenger,” said Matthew Seifried, the RNC’s election integrity director for Michigan, stressing the importance of obtaining official designations as poll workers in a meeting with GOP activists in Wayne County last Nov. 6. 

. . . .

Seifried also said the RNC will hold “workshops” and equip poll workers with a hotline and website developed by Zendesk, a software support company used by online retailers, which will allow them to live-chat with party attorneys on Election Day. In a May, 2022 training session, he said he’d achieved a goal set last winter: More than 5,600 individuals had signed up to be poll workers and, several days ago, he submitted an initial list of more than 850 names to the Detroit clerk.

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Intraparty Fights Taken to Court

Just a few days before Idaho’s May 17 primaries, Republicans took their internal fights to court.

“In the virtual hearing [last] Friday afternoon, Fourth District Court Judge Jason Scott heard arguments from intertwined Republican organizations — one suing the other, days before a primary election that pits establishment Republicans against ultra-conservative Republicans.

Scott ruled at the end of the two-hour hearing that the Bonneville County GOP had indeed overstepped its bounds by endorsing candidates in state-level primary, . . . saying it had determined those candidates were true Republicans.”

The county GOP’s actions violated party rules and election laws.

In the wake of the victory, Idaho GOP Chairman, is reported to have said, “‘While we’re pleased with the court’s decision, it’s regrettable that we were forced to take this action through the judiciary[.]’ . . . ‘At the end of the day, this is about party unity. The Republican Party needs to speak with one unified voice and the state party rules were put in place to ensure that happens. Rules and laws exist to help us navigate when we disagree.’”

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“America Has Split, and It’s Now in ‘Very Dangerous Territory’”

Tom Edsall NYT column:

Why did the national emergency brought about by the Covid pandemic not only fail to unite the country but instead provoke the exact opposite development, further polarization?

I posed this question to Nolan McCarty, a political scientist at Princeton. McCarty emailed me back:

With the benefit of hindsight, Covid seems to be the almost ideal polarizing crisis. It was conducive to creating strong identities and mapping onto existing ones. That these identities corresponded to compliance with public health measures literally increased “riskiness” of intergroup interaction. The financial crisis was also polarizing for similar reasons — it was too easy for different groups to blame each other for the problems.

McCarty went on:

Any depolarizing event would need to be one where the causes are transparently external in a way that makes it hard for social groups to blame each other. It is increasingly hard to see what sort of event has that feature these days.

Polarization has become a force that feeds on itself, gaining strength from the hostility it generates, finding sustenance on both the left and the right. A series of recent analyses reveals the destructive power of polarization across the American political system.

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How to tell if an election result is valid?

In advance of the 2020 election, I devoted a significant portion of my scholarship to this issue: given an official announcement (or certification) of an election’s result, how are citizens, journalists, judges–all of us–to determine whether the result should be accepted as valid?

I considered this question especially important in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election because I thought that public discourse on this topic had become dangerously muddy, with many individuals characterizing Donald Trump’s victory as somehow invalid because of Russian interference. To me, this discourse seemed extremely problematic because I had no doubt that the vote tallies that produced Trump’s win were a sufficiently accurate count of ballots entitled to be counted and that there was no basis for considering that the wrong candidate had been declared the winner of the election. To characterize Trump’s victory as somehow invalid confused public discourse on this important topic, hindering the ability to distinguish the circumstance in which an election is truly invalid because the wrong candidate has been declared the winner.

As a consequence of this concern, I wrote a law review article on this topic: Assessing the Validity of an Election’s Result: History, Theory, and Present Threats. I also wrote a shorter essay on the same topic aimed at a more general audience: How to Know if the Election Is Actually ‘Rigged’. (If I’m capable of assessing my own work, this latter essay might be the most significant piece I wrote in 2020.)

Continue reading How to tell if an election result is valid?
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“Democracy is on the brink of disaster. For voters, it’s politics as usual.”

Rick P, in the previous blog post, was right to highlight Karen Tumulty’s column. The Washington Post today also has a piece presenting a rather depressing counterargument, by Colgate political scientist Sam Rosenfeld. The conclusion (although it’s definitely worth reading the whole thing):

“It would be helpful if more Republicans recognized that normal politics still gives them a perfectly good shot at victory — and that they don’t need to burn the house down to win power. But the party’s recent illiberal turn has deep roots, drawing on currents of extremism and procedural ruthlessness on the American right that stretch back many decades — and the very fact that the electoral punishment for transgressing democratic norms is so slight means Republicans have no need to grapple with the trade-off if they don’t wish to. And this is how electoral politics as usual might doom democracy itself.”

Accepting this as the reality, I see the potential solution only being the kind of structural reform of electoral systems that prevents anti-democracy Republicans from being the dominant force on the political right. For at least as long as “burn the house down” Republicans are not the majority preference among general-election voters in most states, it’s worth pursuing ways that the electoral process can be reformed so that “burn the house down” Republicans are not the only right-of-center options on November general-election ballots in states (and districts) that lean right-of-center. That way right-of-center voters can pursue their “normal politics” preferences with a candidate who, allied with with enough “left-of-center” preferences against burning the house down, can secure a Condorcet-majority victory.

Given the gravity of the threat, I’m eager to hear of other remedies for this disease. But as I tweeted on Thursday, Peter Baker accurately diagnoses the current pathology: “Those who speak against [Trump] are purged, and his endorsement is the most coveted asset in almost any Republican primary.” Consequently, in the second part of the two-tweet thread, if this is an accurate diagnosis, the cure must be structural reform that prevents an authoritarian like Trump from controlling which right-of-center candidates are on the November general-election ballot.

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“As the GOP sheds its moderates, a whirlwind approaches”

This Washington Post op-ed, by Democratic consultant Doug Sosnik, is a counterpoint to the Virginia GOP self-description of Younkin’s victory there, as posted by Rick Pildes.

While ranked-choice voting enabled Virginia Republicans to choose a gubernatorial nominee who was broadly acceptable in that still-purplish state, traditional party primaries may cause the GOP to pick nominees for Senate seats who identify themselves as the most Trump-aligned of candidates. (But, as the Washington Post elsewhere reports about Alabama’s upcoming Senate race, this will not occur without an all-out fight.)

Sosnick’s point is that which kind of GOP candidate wins the party’s nomination may have huge consequences for governance. An extreme GOP nominee might lose the general election in a more blue-leaning state, like Pennsylvania. But in places like Missouri and Ohio, a super-Trumpy nominee could win the general election. Whether or not the GOP wins control of the Senate after the 2022 midterms, the type of GOP Senators elected (Trumpy versus traditional) may make a big difference in the capacity of the Senate, and therefore of Congress, to function.

Sosnick singles out the retirement of five traditional GOP Senators (Blunt of Missouri, Burr of North Carolinia, Portman of Ohio, Shelby of Atlanta, and Toomey of Pennsylvania) as particular cause for concern. I, too, have been especially concerned about this, and start my law review article on the need for Requiring Majority Winners in Senate elections with this point.

While a majority-winner rule is not a cure-all, and while the specific electoral method of round-robin-voting likely would do more to protect traditionalist Republicans from decimation as a consequence of Trump’s use of the current party primary system (combined with plurality-winner general elections) to purge the party from anyone insufficiently loyal to Trump, a federal majority-winner requirement at least would require most states to consider potential reforms that would give less extreme candidates more of a chance.

Why should Democrats care which type of Republican are their general-election opponents? And why would Democrats want to help traditionalist Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, escape extinction at the hands of Trump and his MAGA movement?

The reason is that Democrats care about saving small-d democracy, or at least they claim to. If one of the two major parties becomes thoroughly anti-democratic (small-d), then the system is unsustainable. The Democratic Party can’t save democracy by claiming only it is capable of winning elections and running the government.

The lesson of 2021 is that Democrats have to figure out a way to save democracy that accepts the possibility of Republicans winning the 2022 midterms and potentially the 2024 races. Have Democrats come to terms with that?

The evidence suggests not, because if they had they’d be searching for reforms (like the majority-winner rule) that would increase the likelihood that the Republicans who win elections would be of the traditional type willing to abide by small-d democracy, rather than Trumpist insurgents who have no compunction against subverting democracy.

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“‘A real fight for our existence’: Massachusetts GOP spirals in Baker exit”

Moderate Republicans struggling to stay in office given party primary dynamics is not exactly news. Still, this Politico article on the Republican Party in Massachusetts is worthwhile.

“Republicans [in Massachusetts] have clung to relevancy in this bluest of blue state through a long line of moderate governors, including one-time presidential nominee and sitting Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who appealed across party lines even as Democratic supermajorities in the state Legislature continued to grow.”

But now, internal polling led Baker to drop out of the race. Still, a number of Republican strategists, including Baker, do not think that the ultra-rightward shift is sustainable.

“Baker [maintains] . . . that voters are still more aligned with his brand of old-school New England Republicanism and bipartisanship than anything else. And other Republican strategists dismissed the GOP’s rightward march and embrace of Trump as a losing general-election strategy in Massachusetts.

‘Catering to 10 percent of a population and not focusing on the other 90 percent — it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out you’re not going to get the numbers you need to get elected,’ said Colin Reed, former campaign manager to former Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown.”

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“How the GOP threatens harm to red state residents, as revealed in a new study”

This new Op Ed by Greg Sargent in the Washington Post, highlights, once more, deficits in policy responsiveness that arises out of hyper-polarization, among other things.

Sargent highlights a new  study from the Third Way–a centrist Democratic-leaning group–that analyzes the benefits to U.S. families of the top four provisions in the Build Back Better bill in real dollars.

What’s innovative about this study is that it shows ways in which average red state families in particular would benefit from specific BBB policies. Notably, no Republican voted for the version of BBB that passed the House — the basis for this study — and it’s very likely none will vote for it in the Senate.

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“A plurality of Republicans think they’re more moderate than their party”

Phillip Bump, Washington Post

New polling from YouGov/Economist reaffirms, once again, the degree to which the ideologies of our political parties (mostly just the Republican Party) and their legislative (in)action do not align with the preferences of ordinary voters. This is not sustainable.

“Most Democrats thought that the GOP was much more to the right than they were personally. But a plurality of Republicans also thought the party was further to the right than they were. About a quarter of the party said it matched their own ideology. About 4 in 10 said the party sat to their right — nearly the same response as was offered by independents.”

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“How a Cure for Gerrymandering Left U.S. Politics Ailing in New Ways”

Nick Corasaniti and Reid J. Epstein at the NY Times

“Partisan gerrymandering is as old as the republic, but good-government experts thought they had hit on a solution with independent commissions, advisory groups and outside panels. Taking the map-drawing process out of the hands of lawmakers under pressure to win elections, the thinking went, would make American democracy more fair.

But as this year’s once-in-a-decade redistricting process descends into trench warfare, both Republicans and Democrats have been throwing grenades at the independent experts caught in the middle.”

Partisanship has hobbled commissions in Virginia, Washington, and Ohio. Even Michigan and Arizona’s truly independent commissions are fending off partisan pressures.

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Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder Issues Its Final Report

The Commission was created to explore the implications of our “crisis of trust and truth.” A chain reaction of harm to our democracy has emerged as “bad information has become as prevalent, persuasive, and persistent as good information.” The Final Report issued today promises “a viable framework for action” and “makes 15 recommendations for how government, private industry, and civil society can help to increase transparency and understanding, build trust, and reduce harms.”

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