Monday, June 12, 2017

Congressional policy-making and the ticking clock

About a month ago, I posted this, pointing out that none of Trump's ongoing scandals (which have only gotten worse) prevent Congress from, ya' know, passin' bills n' shit.  If they actually had the capacity and will to do healthcare reform, tax reform, etc., they'd be doing those things.  The fact that they aren't tells us something.

It is time to start amending that.  There are a couple of aspects of a ticking clock here.  No, not the impeachment clock.  Trump will not be impeached.  I have explained before why it is so unlikely.  Conviction in the Senate requires a 2/3 supermajority, which would require Republican cooperation even after a hypothetical Democratic takeover of Congress in 2018, which is still hypothetical.  Republicans are not going to go along with it.  Period.  No matter what Trump does, and no matter how thoroughly caught he is.

However, 2018 is still a ticking clock.  It isn't just that we are only a year and a half away from the election.  Remember, Congress is frequently not in session, whether for summer recess (yes, they are children) or other scheduled recesses.  When they are in recess, they can't legislate.  (Apparently, they can't legislate when they are in session either, but that's another issue...)  That means they have less time than you think.  The "first 100 days" thing is bullshit, but really, they have already used up a big chunk of what should have been actual working time.  A lot of total time left is recess time.  That matters, just in practical terms.

So, what does 2018 mean?  Well, Democrats will pick up seats, barring something weird.  Weird shit happens.  Now, you have probably heard the following piece of bullshit conventional wisdom:  midterm elections favor the GOP because the midterm electorate is older and whiter.  BULLSHIT.  This was an explanation created by fuckwits with the memories of goldfish specifically to explain the 2010 election.  A Democrat was President.  The off-party nearly always picks up seats.  That meant the GOP picked up seats.  That meant the electorate was older and whiter.  Idiots who couldn't remember 2006, when the Democrats won big in a midterm (the previous midterm, BTW) decided that midterms just intrinsically advantaged Republicans.  Then, it happened again in 2014.  Point proven, right?!  No.  People are just fucking stupid, and couldn't remember what happened with Republican presidents.  Like, say, Reagan, or Bush the elder or younger.  Now, this was thrown off kilter in 2002 by Bush The Younger's post-9/11 approval ratings, which were still very high.  The other midterm election when things got screwed up was 1998, when the Republicans, um, blew it by impeaching Clinton over the Lewinski thing.  So, 1998 was messed up by the stupidity of impeaching Clinton over Lewinski, and 2002 was messed up by the post-9/11 stuff.  But, midterms don't give the GOP an advantage, and anyone who thinks that just doesn't know their electoral history.  They have the memories of goldfish.  Midterms favor the party out of the White House.

If Democrats pick up even a single chamber, that's it.  That's all she wrote.  No more chances at any legislation for the GOP.  Even if Democrats don't get a single chamber, the GOP's margins get slimmer, and it gets harder for them to pass anything, post-2018.  And have you seen how hard it is for them to do anything now?  And finally, the closer that election gets, the more nervous anyone in a close seat gets.

And here's where you start thinking, but wait, there aren't any close seats!  GERRYMANDERING!!!  (You are also mispronouncing it.  It is a hard-g, not a soft-g).  Aaaaaaand this is just where I get annoyed.  What does it mean for a congressional district to be "close?"  Here's how I define it in my research:  A mensch of a scholar named Gary Jacobson breaks down how the presidential candidates do within each congressional district, and hands out the data to anyone who asks.  I ask.  I define a "close" district as one in which the presidential candidates are within 10 points of each other in the two-party vote.  So, for example a 54-46 district is one that I consider "close."  It allows me to track, over time, the proportion of close districts with simple statistics.  I can do more elaborate stuff with more elaborate approaches, but this way, I can give you a basic breakdown.  Over the post-WWII period, the proportion of districts that I can classify as close fluctuates randomly around 25%.  There has been no decline over time in the proportion of districts that are close.  Every story you have read or heard about how gerrymandering is getting rid of competitive districts?  Total fucking bullshit.  If anyone wants the formal academic cites, I'm not the only one doing this research.  The journalists are just ignoring the scholarship here.

And the Republicans in these close districts?  The closer we get to 2018?  The more nervous they get.  That clock is ticking, and even before the calendar strikes November, Republicans' chances slip away.

So, I said a month ago that Trump's scandals don't necessarily prevent policy-making.  However, to the degree that they make Republicans skittish about policy-making-- and they most certainly do-- they get the party to waste precious time.  And they have already wasted their most useful chunk of time, meaning the chunk of time most-distant from the 2018 midterm election.  It only gets harder from here.  Not Trump-- hardness really isn't his thing.  I mean difficulty.


  1. Nope.

    People are NOT mispronouncing it.

    The word has taken on a life of its own. Language evolves.

    Deal with what the data IS telling you.

    1. Hey! Who let the troll in here?! Oh, right. Me.