American Electoral Institutions Explained

Eric Levitz in New York Magazine on how political institutions keep American politics polarized between a median Democratic position and a right-of-median Republican position now that the urban/rural split between the two parties is entrenched:

By itself, the conservative movement’s apocalyptic paranoia might not constitute an existential threat to American democracy. The depths of the American right’s radicalism are formidable, but its breadth of popular support is not. The donors, activists, and primary voters who set the GOP’s agenda are more ideologically extreme than the Republican Party’s median general-election supporter. And so long as the GOP caters to the former, its national coalition is likely to be a minority one. Thus, if the United States were a majoritarian democracy — in which the Republican Party had to win a majority of the nation’s votes to have a hand in federal governance — then the party might soon find itself with sufficient incentive to marginalize its most extreme elements. But the U.S. is a very different kind of polity.

Every elected branch of the U.S. government structurally overrepresents low-density areas. And since America’s two parties are now polarized along urban-rural lines, the GOP has ballots to burn. Losing the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections hasn’t stopped Republicans from holding the White House for a majority of this millennium. Republican senators have represented a majority of America’s population for only two years in the last four decades — but Republicans have boasted Senate majorities for more than half of that period anyway. And many election forecasters expect the pro-Republican biases of the Senate and Electoral College to grow more pronounced in the years to come.

Those biases, combined with midterm elections that inherently favor the sitting president’s opposition — and a two-party system that ensures Republicans will always be the only option for “change” voters when a Democrat is in office — set a high floor beneath how far the GOP can realistically fall. One testament to this reality lies in the mounting evidence that Republicans have actually increased their support among nonwhite voters during the Trump era, even as the party has catered to white racial animus. With only two parties to choose from, socially conservative and/or disaffected nonwhite voters have proved willing to rally to the GOP banner even as Republicans have replaced their dog-whistle appeals to white grievance with foghorns. For these reasons, it is unlikely that Republicans will be consigned to the political wilderness long enough to make a break with the conservative movement thinkable.

-- Eric Levitz, "The RNC Has Made a Compelling Case for America’s Imminent Collapse," New York Magazine, August 25, 2020.

Election Results

Oakland, California

Hillary Clinton 87.76%
Donald Trump 4.63%
Jill Stein 3.76%
Gary Johnson 1.36%

Berkeley, California

Hillary Clinton 88.27%
Jill Stein 4.46%
Donald Trump 3.17%
Gary Johnson 1.35%

Alameda, California

Hillary Clinton 78.04%
Donald Trump 13.04%
Gary Johnson 2.58%
Jill Stein 2.52%

-- Robert Gammon, "Trump Only Got 4.63% of the Vote in Oakland," Oakland Magazine, November 28, 2016

The Right Way to Resist Trump

Luigi Zingales in the New York Times:

Now that Mr. Trump has been elected president, the Berlusconi parallel could offer an important lesson in how to avoid transforming a razor-thin victory into a two-decade affair. If you think presidential term limits and Mr. Trump’s age could save the country from that fate, think again. His tenure could easily turn into a Trump dynasty.

Mr. Berlusconi was able to govern Italy for as long as he did mostly thanks to the incompetence of his opposition. It was so rabidly obsessed with his personality that any substantive political debate disappeared; it focused only on personal attacks, the effect of which was to increase Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity. His secret was an ability to set off a Pavlovian reaction among his leftist opponents, which engendered instantaneous sympathy in most moderate voters. Mr. Trump is no different. . . .

The Italian experience provides a blueprint for how to defeat Mr. Trump. Only two men in Italy have won an electoral competition against Mr. Berlusconi: Romano Prodi and the current prime minister, Matteo Renzi (albeit only in a 2014 European election). Both of them treated Mr. Berlusconi as an ordinary opponent. They focused on the issues, not on his character. In different ways, both of them are seen as outsiders, not as members of what in Italy is defined as the political caste. . . .

Democrats should also offer Mr. Trump help against the Republican establishment, an offer that would reveal whether his populism is empty language or a real position. For example, with Mr. Trump’s encouragement, the Republican platform called for reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, which would separate investment and commercial banking. The Democrats should declare their support of this separation, a policy that many Republicans oppose. The last thing they should want is for Mr. Trump to use the Republican establishment as a fig leaf for his own failure, dumping on it the responsibility for blocking the popular reforms that he promised during the campaign and probably never intended to pass. That will only enlarge his image as a hero of the people shackled by the elites.

Finally, the Democratic Party should also find a credible candidate among young leaders, one outside the party’s Brahmins. The news that Chelsea Clinton is considering running for office is the worst possible. If the Democratic Party is turning into a monarchy, how can it fight the autocratic tendencies in Mr. Trump?

Comey and Emailgate

Kevin Drum:

When an election is close, you can blame pretty much anything for your loss. There are dozens of people, events, and movements that can make a difference of 1 percent or so. In this election, you can blame Hillary Clinton, Berniebros, Facebook, Jill Stein, neoliberalism, the DNC, white racism, CNN, Obamacare, or anything else you want. They all deserve a share of the blame, so pick your favorite and go to town.

As for myself, I blame Emailgate. In a purely abstract way, I almost admire the ability of Republicans to elevate a self-evident molehill into a groundless smear on Hillary Clinton for the tenth or twentieth time and still get anyone to pay attention to it. [ . . . ]