The problem is Republicans, not our political system

09 Aug 2016 01:44 am
Posted by: Donna

Word.

The above tweet is about as good an explanation as it gets for why I don’t vote for any Republicans. And Trump surrogates are not the only people who feel this way (that pregnant women infected by the Zika virus should be denied abortions). So does Marco Rubio, along with the vast majority of his GOP colleagues in Congress.

But there are some deluded souls, generally found in environs like DC or Brooklyn or Manhattan, who feel that if more us would simply cross the aisle to vote for politicians who don’t represent our interests well and may even hold views we find repugnant (such as wanting to force Zika infected women to bear babies), the system would improve!

One such person is David Wasserman, U.S. House editor for the Cook Political Report, who cited lack of crossover voting (among other factors including the usual laundry list of “hyperpartisan polarization” ills such as primaries and geographic sorting), in a recent piece for FiveThirtyEight.com

Straight-ticket voting — Voters are splitting their tickets — voting for a Republican for one office and a Democrat for another — at lower rates than we’ve seen in decades. They’re just not making distinctions between parties’ presidential and congressional candidates like they used to. The decline of local news readership probably plays a role — after all, these outlets have traditionally provided an avenue for candidates to build a personal brand independent of their party’s.

In turn, that’s further narrowing the trading range of Senate and House seats that are truly up for grabs in November. Even a 53 percent Democratic district or 54 percent Republican district can now be considered a safe seat in most cases. Most races are no longer contests between two candidates with unique backgrounds and qualifications; more often they are censuses of how many Republicans or Democrats live in a given state or district.

I live in both a competitive Congressional district (AZ CD9) and in a state legislative district (LD28 in North Phoenix) that, despite the Republican advantage in registration, has elected one Democrat, Eric Meyer, to serve in the House along with a Republican seatmate and a Republican Senator. (CD9 is fairly evenly balanced between the parties and no-party preference voters and has gone Democratic for Congress, the Presidential races, and taken the left side on certain ballot measures in the last several elections.) It is safe to say that my area has a higher percentage of voters who vote both parties. To me, that seems like voting for chocolate sundaes on one hand and broken glass and arsenic sandwiches on the other but people do it.

Democratic politicians in swing districts or competitive statewide races here in Arizona know people split tickets and that those voters are essential to the narrow victories they hope to have. This leads to them going against the Democratic majority and the so-called establishment in ways that have included, but are not limited to:

Refusing to take a strong stand on gun safety.

Treating President Obama like a pariah (despite his very good current approval rating nationwide).

Rejecting Syrian refugees.

Refusing to denounce Donald Trump.

And that’s just recently. You can go back a few years and find Arizona Democrats who felt it necessary to seek Joe Arpaio’s endorsement, or to not come out strongly against SB1070 and other anti-immigrant measures. Because of swing voters. You can fault them for it or not but that’s why they’re doing it.

Is crossover voting, in itself, a bad thing? No. I don’t claim that my particular area is necessarily representative of all highly competitive districts. In parts of the Northeast and in coastal urban areas ticket-splitting can be a reasonable way to vote, one that may not legitimize bigotry and harmful policies. But not in places like Arizona. Competitive districts and reliance on ticket splitters here appears less likely to lead to politicians appealing to broad swaths of the electorate with sensible policies than it does to amplifying the power of a small band of eccentrics who will, say, vote for Kyrsten Sinema for Congress but also Donald Trump for President.

Of course, David Wasserman of 538 thinks it’s regular partisan primary voters who are the weirdos.

Primaries have become the new general elections — The Cook Political Report currently rates just 37 of 435 House seats as competitive this fall, less than 9 percent of the House. As a result, primary elections have become tantamount to general elections in the vast majority of seats. Because primaries are held on many different dates, they tend to generate less national attention and attract disproportionate shares of hardcore, ideological party activists to the polls.

In 2014, only 14.6 percent of eligible voters participated in congressional primaries — a record low, according to the Center for the Study of the American Electorate. That means a tiny fraction of voters who are the most hardened partisans are essentially electing more than 90 percent of members of Congress. And these low-turnout primaries are often easy prey for ideological interest groups who demand purity.

It’s troubling that primary election participation has declined, but the oft-repeated claim that “elections are won in the primaries” is, in the majority of cases, garbage. About the only time a race is truly won in the primary is when only one of the major parties fields candidates. Most races are won in the general election, when the majority of voters show up, and in too many Red districts and states those general election voters have refused to penalize the GOP.

Wasserman wades further into the Both Sides forest:

The enormous pressure to please narrow, extreme and grossly unrepresentative bases of primary voters has straitjacketed members who would otherwise be willing to collaborate across the aisle, ditch talking points or behave in a way that reflects their true conscience. No one wants to risk alienating their base unnecessarily for fear of becoming the next Eric Cantor.

One vehemently anti-Trump GOP member recently confessed to me that the NRCC, his party’s campaign committee, had pressured him not to declare #NeverTrump until after his state’s candidate filing deadline had passed, for fear that his stance would generate a primary challenge on the right and jeopardize the seat. My hunch is that some GOP members will be more willing to speak out against their nominee after their primaries pass.

The big picture, however, is that the tyranny of primaries has turned Congress into a legislative graveyard. The last two full Congresses, the 112th and 113th, were the two least productive in history. Last week, federal officials confirmed the first local transmission of the Zika virus in Florida, yet Congress is still struggling to pass emergency funding because of partisan squabbling over abortion and environmental regulations.

Tyranny? Grossly unrepresentative? Hyperbole much, David? Never is it even guessed at why these “extremists” (and Wasserman at least doesn’t bother to pretend that they aren’t Republican) haven’t been ousted in general elections, where voters are presented with more moderate alternatives all the time – the Democrats? Why are these general election voters constantly absolved of their choices? They either approve of, or don’t care about, massive cuts to public education, health care, social services, and infrastructure, not to mention horrid racist voter suppression and misogynistic anti-choice laws.

Republicans were warned not turn against Trump because of primaries? Well, see above where Democrats in at least some of those wondrous competitive districts full of ticket-splitters also feel they can’t speak out against Trump because of the generals!

Funny that Zika was the only actual policy issue Wasserman mentioned in his piece, as the typical iteration of his argument leaves it to the reader to imagine what grand bipartisan kumbaya compromises are being thwarted by “polarization” – probably something anodyne like marginal tax rates. Here, Wasserman characterizes the fight as “partisan squabbling”, ignoring how it is the Republicans demanding devastating cuts to women’s health care (including crucial family planning services that will help women in the affected areas avoid pregnancy until the virus is contained) and trying to exploit the crisis to make a “playbook move, to use a public health emergency to try to weaken unrelated environmental restrictions”.

Is it really a problem of polarization, where one side is digging in on their ongoing anti-science and anti-environment crusade, along with their twin obsession of denying women abortions under any circumstance and the ability to plan their pregnancies via contraception and the other is pleading with them not to do that?

I tweeted this in response to @HawaiiDelilah, and was pleased to see others agreed with me.

Which ones? Pundits, if bipartisanship is so important to you then you should be able to rattle of your list of 2016 GOP policies you think are awesome. Because bipartisanship will require adopting many of them. Or you should shut up and let the Democrats do the work of opposing and defeating them that you are incapable of doing, or refuse to do. The problem isn’t the system, it’s the Republicans.

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