Sheri Gallo: Rotary Club Republican

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In response to my previous post about the three “political parties” in Austin, one Facebook commenter aptly pointed out that Council Member Sheri Gallo does not neatly fit into the “conservative” group.

I said the following in response:

I was strongly considering using fractions, and saying there were 2.5 conservatives, since Gallo is very different from Zimmerman & Troxclair. She is a true moderate –– I call her a “Rotary Club Republican.”

What is the Rotary Club Republican? As I explained on Facebook, I regard Gallo as the type of conservative that is almost extinct in the modern GOP. For starters, she is clearly out of place in Trump’s anti-immigrant, authoritarian GOP. But more importantly, she also does not embrace the vehemently anti-government philosophy championed by Republicans in Congress or state government in recent years.

Although Gallo expresses reluctance to raise taxes and regularly raises flags about spending she finds imprudent, she rarely characterizes her opposition to spending on anti-government principles.

A telling example was her recent abstention from a vote to authorize libraries to spend $1 million in the coming years on CDs. It wasn’t the library spending that bothered her; it was that her belief that money was being diverted from more pressing library needs. Indeed, she has campaigned on supporting libraries, in stark contrast to her tea party colleague Don Zimmerman, who recently expressed bafflement that institutions that lend out free media exist.

Gallo made a similar argument when she abstained from votes to authorize spending for a number of contracts with social service providers. She said repeatedly that she supported the spending in principle but could not vote for any new spending measure because the city’s budget reserve had temporarily dropped below the recommended 12 percent. Gallo was sensitive to the criticism she received over that vote, insisting that she supported the spending but wanted assurance from city management that the reserve fund would be replenished.

Whether Gallo’s positions are a result of her own beliefs or the muddled politics of her district, she has adopted a political identity that is almost unrecognizable in the national political landscape.

Why “Rotary Club” Republican? I suppose I could say “Chamber of Commerce” Republican –– referring of course to local chambers, rather than the vehemently right-wing national chamber. Either way, I think of the Rotary Club as a place where community elites gather to discuss ways collaboration between government, business, churches and other nonprofits can improve the community. Gallo’s approach to government similarly seems based on fostering cooperation between government, business and nonprofits, rather than advocacy for one over the other.

As a result of Gallo’s relatively moderate positions on public spending, a number of otherwise progressive or Democratic-leaning activists in the city will likely be rooting for her to hold onto her seat in her race against Alison Alter, who is more closely aligned with the progressive movement/Democratic Party this November because they want to make sure they keep a pro-development vote on Council. Alter (whose husband is my former University of Wisconsin history professor, Jeremi Suri!) has emerged  as a leading opponent of a major development (at least as proposed) in the district, the Grove at Shoal Creek, and will likely be supported by the bloc of city progressives more closely aigned with neighborhood groups that are skeptical of dense development.

The three political parties in Austin

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“There are two parties in Austin,” a veteran activist told me recently.

What this person was referring to was the division among self-described Democrats or progressives over the issue of development and growth within the city.

As Austin has grown from a mid-sized city to America’s 11th largest city, the conflict over how the city should develop has become the dominant political question within liberal circles.

On one side are those aligned with neighborhood associations that fight to maintain the character of their neighborhoods –– which are most often dominated by single-family homes. Made up largely of middle-aged and older homeowners, neighborhood groups often raise objections to proposed developments, citing neighborhood character, increased traffic and flooding caused by increased impervious cover. They reject the idea that the city’s housing crisis is the result of low supply, and increasingly have pointed to gentrification in some areas as evidence that new development does not necessarily equate to affordability. Historically the Austin Neighborhoods Association, the umbrella group for neighborhood groups, has been the most influential organization on this side.

On the other side are a burgeoning group of “urbanists” who argue in favor of adding dense development to the urban core. Many of them have no doubt long-believed that dense cities are simply better because they prevent sprawl and facilitate public transit, but in recent years, as Austin’s housing prices begin to go the way of San Francisco’s, they have also begun to emphasize their belief that the only way to lower housing costs is to build more supply. They skew younger and have only recently begun to organize, both through urbanist-specific advocacy groups, such as AURA (originally Austinites for Urban Rail Action) as well as an umbrella neighborhood association, Friends of Austin Neighborhoods, which markets itself as more inclusive than ANC.

Urbanists often refer pejoratively to those aligned with the neighborhood groups as NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard) who don’t want new people moving into their neighborhood –– particularly poor people. The neighborhood activists often accuse the urbanists of either being in bed with developers or being duped by real estate interests.

But thanks to Austin’s new district-based City Council, there is actually a third political grouping that has influence in the city: conservatives. Yes, there are quite a few Republicans in Austin, particularly in the suburban areas on its western fringes.

So what’s the current makeup of the Council? I would say:

Pro-Density/Urbanist Progressives: 4 

Neighborhood Association Progressives: 4

Conservatives/Suburbanites: 3

What is interesting, however, is that for many progressives on the pro-density side, the conservative/suburban forces have become valuable allies on their most cherished issue. Although the conservatives are disinterested or hostile to reforming the area’s transit system (another urbanist goal), they almost never vote to block developments that urbanists view as critical to making the Austin more…urban.

If anybody thinks I got anything wrong, feel free to comment or email. I’d be interested to discuss further.

How to commit voter fraud

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It’s great news that courts are striking down Voter ID laws. Hopefully Anthony Kennedy is taking note of the arguments made by jurists rendering these decisions.

The problem up until this point with Voter ID has been that it’s relatively easy for its proponents to frame the policy as reasonable. In an age when ID is required to enter a gym, it seems to make sense that you’d have to show an ID to vote. A lot of people seem to buy the argument that, in the absence of a photo ID requirement, there is nothing stopping hordes of people from casting multiple ballots.

In fact, it’s extremely difficult to cast a fraudulent ballot. Every election I’ve voted in so far has been in Wisconsin pre-Voter ID, and as far as I can tell, there are only a couple ways I could get to cast an extra ballot.

  1. I would have to know of somebody who is registered to vote in a different precinct (and hence different polling location) but who I am sure will not vote that day. For instance, if I had a friend who told me he wasn’t going to vote in the spring election, I could go vote in his stead. I would present myself at the polling location, the official would ask me for my address, I would respond with the address of my friend, and then I would sign his name.
  2. I would have to know the address of somebody who has recently died or moved away, and present myself as them at their former polling site.

If those stars aligned thus, and I was willing to run the risk of being charged with a felony, I might be able to cast an extra ballot for the candidate of my choice.

The specificity of the circumstances necessary to commit voter fraud explain why numerous investigations into voter fraud have never yielded more than a smattering of fluke incidents, none of them involving more than one confused or deranged person. Moreover, the most common types of illegal voting wouldn’t be prevented by an ID. An ID would not ensure that the voters are not also registered in another state, or that they do not have a criminal conviction that bars them from voting (also a horrible policy).

Voter ID is a hoop that the great majority of voters can jump through. But the small number of voters who don’t have IDs are more likely to be Democrats. That’s why, aside from weirdo Rhode Island, all states with Voter ID laws are run by the GOP.

What my flight attendant said about America

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Our flight home from Pittsburgh on Southwest Airlines featured a very unconventional flight attendant. Among the things he announced over the PA system during the flight:

“Remember, nobody loves you or your money more than Southwest Airlines.”

“Ding dong, the witch is dead. Just kidding, my ex-mother-in-law is alive and well in Alabama.” (I can’t remember what the lead-in to this joke was..)

“We’re here.” (Deadpanned at the conclusion of a very turbulent landing)

“Welcome to Los Angeles, I mean Austin.” (Not sure whether this was intentional…if it were an Austin-based crew I’d think it might be a dig at the supposed takeover of the city by Californians)

I didn’t think the jokes were rip-roaring funny, but it was a nice change from the robotic talking points that most other flight attendants spit out. Apparently Southwest has a reputation for employing humorous flight attendants, suggesting the company encourages or even trains them to integrate raunchy punchlines into their announcements.

It seems like a good business strategy. A) It gets people to pay attention to a speech that they otherwise would ignore and B) It distinguishes them from the much-loathed competition.

Does this sound familiar? It’s basically Donald Trump’s MO.

Just like the airline industry, politicians are viewed as woefully incompetent or negligent parasites, clinging to power by virtue of a rigged system. That they continue feeding us the same stale slogans about customer service or public service –– whether in the midst of a three hour delay or the latest government shutdown –– only makes their poor performance more frustrating.

In this context, many voters or customers are just happy to see a candidate or company break from the mold, even if whatever they’re doing isn’t that productive. Trump essentially admits to having tried to bribe politicians, and the flight attendant is admitting that Southwest Airlines is only in business for the money. Neither of those admissions is going to improve politics or air travel, but the appearance of straight-talk makes people feel better.

At the risk of stating the obvious about Donald Trump…

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The guy is crazy.

That’s a point that underpins every discussion of Donald Trump but remains conspicuously unstated. I, and presumably many others, avoid saying it because it seems so… obvious. That was certainly the case when he was still viewed as nothing more than a political side-show. Even after leading in the GOP primary polls for months, many clearly considered the idea of analyzing Trump seriously as an insult to their own intelligence as well as the American political system. He was such a joke that to criticize him was to submit to the reality TV world of politics he had created. It was the equivalent of taking a serious position on the beef between Khloe Kardashian and Snooki.

While a large portion of Americans have fully embraced the reality TV alternative reality that Trump has spun, and a significant portion are pondering whether to dive into it, there are still a large number –– perhaps a plurality –– who are dumbfounded by the rise of what by any normal standards would be a parody candidacy.

I think it’s important that Hillary Clinton, in discussing and attacking Trump, address both those who have accepted the premise of Trump as a candidate and those who do not. The ways she can attack Trump to appeal to people who might consider voting for him are endless –– misogyny, racism, his business practices and his lack of positions/principles –– but there is a significant portion of the American electorate that is also hungry for somebody to simply represent sanity in its simplest, nonideological form.

I guess this is the right idea:

 

“I do not want Americans and, you know, good-thinking Republicans, as well as Democrats and independents, to start to believe that this is a normal candidacy,” Mrs. Clinton said of Mr. Trump’s campaign on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“But I think in the course of this campaign, we are going to demonstrate he has no ideas. There’s no evidence he has any ideas about making America great, as he advertises. He seems to be particularly focused on making himself appear great. And as we go through this campaign, we’re going to be demonstrating the hollowness of his rhetoric.”

No joke: Ted Cruz got more votes in Wisconsin than Trump got in New York

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Yes, Voter ID is definitely intended to depress turnout in elections, but it is nowhere near as effective at producing low turnout primaries as New York’s election rules are.

The Empire State’s closed primaries, lack of early voting and strict registration deadline meant that Donald Trump won an overwhelming victory in a state of 20 million despite getting only 518,000 votes.

Two weeks ago in Wisconsin, a state of 5.5 million, Ted Cruz got 531,000 votes.

Turnout in New York’s Democratic primary was also quite low, considering the size of the state, but not nearly as low as that of the GOP primary. Hillary Clinton’s 1.05 million votes were more than the combined totals of all three GOP candidates. There’s an easy explanation for that: New York is a solid blue state with far more registered Democrats than Republicans. And of course, polls show that both Hillary and Bernie would beat Trump in a general election match-up in New York by more than 20 percentage points.

So the New York primary did not prove that New Yorkers love Donald Trump. It did prove, however, that nobody in the state likes Ted Cruz.

Finally, @Reince and The Donald spar

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The internets (including yours truly) have thoroughly enjoyed making fun of RNC Chair Reince Priebus’ delusional insistence that he runs a functioning party, but I guess it is to his credit that he managed to avoid being personally attacked by Donald Trump for so long. Mostly that was because Priebus made clear that, unlike other party leaders, he would not challenge Trump, no matter how many times he openly rebuked the party’s stated principles or its attempts to attract new voters (or retain current ones). And as long as you don’t challenge him, Trump is inclined to leave you alone. Just ask Vladimir Putin or David Duke.

 

But this week, we finally witnessed Priebus’ breaking point. Trump finally attacked a constituency that the lifelong political operative holds dear: Party bosses.

Trump’s repeated insistence that he has been cheated out of delegates in Colorado and elsewhere by party “bosses” prompted this response from Priebus on Twitter:

Nomination process known for a year + beyond. It’s the responsibility of the campaigns to understand it. Complaints now? Give us all a break

The attacks on Trump are working, just not for Republicans

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Last Thursday, when Mitt Romney, John McCain and a cadre of Republican bigwigs committed to defeating Donald Trump may prove to have been one of the best days of the 2016 election cycle for Democrats.

Trump being denounced by Romney, a failed and notoriously lame candidate, was predictably met with guffaws from many in media, as well as plenty of Republican voters. A significant portion of the GOP electorate, they pointed out, is composed of committed Trumpians, and there is nothing Romney can do to change that. That’s true. But that’s not the goal of the anti-Trumpers. Attacks aren’t aimed at converting everybody who is watching, they’re aimed at connecting with the sliver of viewers who are on the fence.

The attacks against Trump, both from GOP leaders and from a deluge of anti-Trump ads in major states, have clearly had an impact, just not in favor of one of the intended beneficiaries: Marco Rubio. They may have helped Ted Cruz, although it’s hard to tell.

But what they definitely have done is hurt Trump as a general election candidate. The numbers make that clear. In the past month, Trump’s average unfavorability rating has risen more than 5 percent, from 56.9% to 62.1%. His favorability has dropped more than 4%, from 37.1% to 32.9%.

In addition, Hillary Clinton’s average lead over Trump in general election matchup polling has increased from 2.9% to 6.3%.

Democrats could not have asked for a better turn of events. The GOP is imploding at the top and Republican mega-donors are spending millions of dollars attacking the likely Republican nominee in the two biggest general election swing states: Ohio and Florida. To be clear, some of the GOP attacks, such as those that criticize Trump for some of his past or current liberal positions, might not have much impact in a general election campaign. But many of the others are using the same line of attack against Trump that Clinton intends to use: That he’s an unhinged, sleazy charlatan.

Trump has two main appeals. The first is his ethno-nationalist appeal against immigration, “political correctness,” and Muslims. The second is his “outsider” appeal –– that he’s pointing out the hypocrisies of those in power and looking out for the little guy. Those who are drawn by the first appeal probably aren’t budging –– and they probably were never up for grabs by Democrats –– although some of them may have been peeved by the stories about Trump using immigrant labor. But it’s the second appeal that can be eroded and likely is being eroded by highlighting his shady business practices and bankruptcies. That’s what many Republicans are trying to do and what Democrats definitely intend to do.

While some have made the plausible suggestion that Trump’s ethno-nationalist appeal could turnout whites who otherwise wouldn’t vote, what it’s definitely done has ensured that non-whites will be turning out at rates likely greater than they did for Obama. Exhibit A: The David Duke debacle. Could any Democratic strategist have devised a better way to make sure that one of the party’s core blocs of support –– African Americans –– turns out in force on Election Day? And Trump has of course also guaranteed through his anti-immigrant antics that Latino voter turnout will be higher than in 2012 and that he will receive a lower share of that community’s vote than Romney did.

The clash between Trump supporters and anti-Trump protesters further highlighted the racial nature of Trump’s message and movement, something that is unfortunately embraced by some of his white supporters but that also makes clear to the multicultural and multi-racial Obama coalition that 2016 is not an election that can be sat out.

Facing off against any Republican candidate but Trump –– even Ted Cruz –– I think it’s clear that it would not be easy for Hillary Clinton to win a general election. She is unpopular among independents and she likely would not turn out as many young people and African Americans to the polls as Obama. A Latino on top of the Republican ticket, particularly Rubio, would likely cut into Democrats’ typical support among Hispanics.

But with Trump all of the above problems are solved. Hillary is not the ideal candidate to face Trump, and as absurd as it sounds to say, she could lose, but she’ll be starting the general election campaign at a major advantage.

Actually, Republicans don’t have to accept Trump yet

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Look, if I had to bet (and I’m not), I’d obviously bet on Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination. I have made my peace with the fact that he’s the favorite. But, unlike any other presidential candidate in the past 40 years, I don’t think that Trump’s current commanding lead over his opponents makes him the inevitable nominee.

I think if we just look back at history a little bit you’ll see why…

It wasn’t until a few decades ago that the presidential primaries became analogous to a “regular season,” in which candidate who won the most during that part of the process advanced onto the championship, otherwise known as the general election.

Assuming Wikipedia has it right, presidential primaries were first devised during the Progressive Era as a way to empower the masses over party bosses. But most states didn’t embrace the process, and while aspiring nominees often competed in primaries as a way to demonstrate their strength as candidates, success was considered a feather in the cap when seeking the nomination at the convention, rather than a rock-solid guarantee of becoming the party standard bearer.

For instance, Lyndon Johnson desperately wanted to run for president in 1960, and mistakenly neglected competing in the 12 state primaries that existed at the time (38 didn’t have them) based on the belief that he’d have a better shot locking down delegates behind-the-scenes. It didn’t work for him there, but it did for his successor, Hubert Humphrey, who did not even compete in the primaries before being nominated in 1968. Obviously the fact that the guy (Bobby Kennedy) who had won most of the primaries was assassinated may have made that possible, but the convention was likely going to be brokered anyway, since Kennedy didn’t have most of the delates locked down.

The system has since changed to heavily favor primaries, obviously. Every state (and territory) has one, and the GOP has rules that require the delegates awarded to each candidate to support that candidate on the first ballot.

If Donald Trump were a conventional candidate, his current lead would all-but guarantee him the nomination. Republican voters would jump on the bandwagon, his opponents’ campaign funds would dry up and the party would quickly unite behind his candidacy. Even though he’d only won a quarter of the delegates he need for the nomination, the writing would be on the wall etc.

And yet, the opposite is happening. Republicans are renouncing him and, for the first time this election cycle, major forces are devoting major dollars to try to tar-and-feather him. There’s a really good chance the effort against him will fail, but not because his current lead is too great. If his opponents are willing to fight in all 50 primaries, who’s to say it’s too late after the first 15?

Now, I will say it’s hard to foresee another candidate amassing an outright majority of delegates before the convention, simply because none of his three opponents are showing any indication that they are going to drop out. But I actually still think it’s possible, simply because Trump’s delegate lead over Cruz and Rubio is nowhere near as overwhelming as his state victories would suggest.

But finally, as long as Trump doesn’t get an outright majority of delegates, what’s to stop the GOP from reaching back into history and doing a brokered convention, perhaps even going really old school and nominating a person who wasn’t even a declared candidate, such as Paul Ryan?

Please don’t give me the conventional wisdom about why it’d be bad for a party to ignore the will of the grassroots. If anything has been proven this election cycle, it’s that the conventional wisdom is often completely worthless.

Bad things will happen…to Trump or the GOP

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Donald Trump has exposed an enormous lie about Republican voters. He has shown that a substantial portion of self-described Republicans are not in fact committed to the principles of the GOP articulated by cold war warriors like Ronald Reagan and John McCain, libertarian-capitalists like the Koch Brothers or Christian fundamentalists like Phyllis Schlafly and Rick Santorum.

Trump’s stated positions (emphasis on stated) are directly opposed to those of the Republican establishment. On foreign policy, he expresses an affection for Vladimir Putin, says he wouldn’t favor Israel over Palestine and threatens to shut down trade with China and Mexico because he believes that the commerce the U.S. conducts with those countries is bad for it or unfair. Although he sometimes suggests we should “bomb the shit out of ISIS,” he mostly has said the U.S. should steer clear of that conflict.

Between Hillary and Donald, neo-cons would definitely go with Hillary.

Trump has also shown no interest in the cause célébré of modern conservatism: small government. Although Republicans have no doubt been hypocritical themselves on this front, Trump does not even gesture in favor of reducing government spending or diminishing the economic role of the state. He has been a staunch proponent of maintaining Medicare and Social Security as they are and has proposed no cuts in government beyond getting rid of “waste, fraud and abuse.” He has also expressed support for many of the tenets of the Affordable Care Act as well as single-payer systems in other countries. And again, his support for big trade barriers and mass deportations are contrary to free market ideology.

In the realm of economics, conservatives would probably opt for Hillary, whose record includes general support for free trade, despite some of the reservations she has conveniently expressed on the campaign trail.

When it comes to social issues, Trump is hardly better in the eyes of the Religious Right than Hillary. The only advantage the thrice-wed, profane hedonist can claim in his favor is his recently developed opposition to abortion. But even on that front he is utterly passionless and he is curiously staunch in defending Planned Parenthood, saying the organization has helped millions of women with non-abortion services. I say that statement from him is curious because it’s so true.

From the perspective of many Republican leaders, such as Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney and the Kochs, their agenda is more likely to be undermined by Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton. Therefore, what is the compelling reason to “unite” on his behalf? If they want to retain any semblance of the GOP as a free market, conservative party, it would be much better to remain in the opposition for the next four years than to take over by the grace of a guy who hardly supports anything you’re supposed to stand for.

There will nevertheless be plenty of “establishment” Republicans, who like Chris Christie, try to hitch on to the Trump bandwagon. Politics is full of people who have no principles. And it’s also filled with partisans, who are committed less to an ideology than their team, no matter what the stated principles are of that team.

But there will also be plenty of Republicans and conservatives who won’t support Trump. In fact, there already are conservative elected officials, pundits and talk radio hosts (emphasis on the last group) saying they won’t support Trump. Even if they are the minority, they will be a significant minority that, either through abstention or supporting an independent candidate, will do serious damage to Trump’s chances of winning a general election.

If Trump can prevail despite the opposition from the conservative movement, it will amount to a dramatic realignment of U.S. politics. But the classic conservative forces will have to go somewhere. They won’t all simply convert to Trumpism.

So I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m fairly certain that the way this primary will proceed will be as atypical as Trump’s candidacy. If any other candidate had the type of commanding lead in the primary that Trump now enjoys, the primary would essentially be over, and the party would quickly coalesce behind that candidate and move to heal any wounds that were inflicted during the primary. But some of the wounds Trump has inflicted on leaders of the party are too deep to be healed, and his divergences from the party’s ideology are too big for some leaders to accept. This will not be a bloodless civil war.

In support of my prediction, I direct you to a tweet sent by Jennifer Rubin, a columnist for the Washington Post and shameless GOP shill.

“In refusing to denoucne (sic) Trump and RNC act like Weimer Republic.. time for a new party, folks. Trump can have the old one.”

Suffice it to say, in a typical election, Rubin would not suggest the frontrunner for the GOP nomination is a Nazi.