No, Mr President: Wait Some More On Immigration Reform


On the whole, I found the president’s presser yesterday reassuring. First off, it upset Ron Fournier and the usual Washington establishment types, which is a good sign. Second, his very affect – calm, upbeat, confident – is classic Obama. Third, his basic stance of asking the GOP to put up or shut up now they have majorities in both Senate and House is exactly the right move. It forces some kind of constructive proposal out of them and puts the onus on them to say – at long last – what they might be for instead of whom they are against. Or, more likely, it reveals the emptiness of their opposition and lack of a constructive policy agenda.

But it seems to me that this effective strategy is immediately undermined by his continuing to threaten unilateral executive action on immigration. The threat makes sense as a way to bring the GOP to the table, but not if he fully intends to follow through before the end of the year regardless. Instead of forcing the GOP to come up with a compromise bill – which if it can, great, and if it cannot, will split the GOP in two – he’d merely recast the debate around whether he is a “lawless dictator”, etc etc. rather than whether it is humane or rational to keep millions of people in illegal limbo indefinitely. It would strengthen those dead-ender factions in the House that are looking for an excuse to impeach. It would unify the GOP on an issue where it is, in fact, deeply divided. And it would not guarantee a real or durable solution to the clusterfuck.

Yes, he’s out on a limb with his supporters on this – and they punished him for it with low turnout on Tuesday. But he punted before the election and he could punt again. And the truth is: no real progress on this can be made without legislation, and the looming demographic challenges for the GOP in 2016 without any action on the issue makes some movement on this a sane move in the next six months, especially from the point of view of the donor class and business lobby.

In other words, it makes much more sense to me for Obama to ask the GOP for a major legislative proposal before he takes any unilateral action. If they fail to do so – and it’s perfectly possible they do, given intense divisions within their ranks – then Obama’s executive action makes much more sense and can be defended much more easily, as a response to Congressional failure. But to pre-empt this with a divisive act that would polarize the country still further would make no long-term progress likely and put the blame for gridlock on his shoulders, rather than the GOP’s. And what good would that do?

What I’m saying is that he should precisely “wait” some more before acting on this. He’s waited long enough to make another six months’ delay, while he demands a bill to sign, a perfectly palatable option. If he accepts another bucketload of efforts to secure the border as part of the deal, his position remains more popular than the GOP’s with the center and the Latino population. And the real goal of all this is legislation that can guarantee citizenship, better immigration criteria and a secure border beyond any president’s executive orders or revised regulations. Unilateralism can make that less likely rather than more.

(Photo: US President Barack Obama pauses during a press conference in the East Room of the White House November 5, 2014 in Washington, DC. By Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.)

Alabamans Defeat Imaginary Sharia Threat

Alabama’s Amendment 1, drafted by a lawyer who fears the non-existent problem of American courts applying Sharia law, passed on Tuesday with 72 percent of the vote. The amendment to the state constitution declares that Alabama courts “shall not apply or enforce a foreign law if doing so would violate any state law or a right guaranteed by the Constitution of this state or of the United States”. Many reports on the amendment (like the preceding link) claim that it bans the application of foreign law altogether, but Eugene Volokh disputes that:

Normal American “choice of law” principles often call for the application of foreign law in cases that involve foreign transactions, for instance in some tort cases arising from injuries in foreign countries, determining the family status of people who were married or adopted children in foreign countries, and more. American courts wouldn’t enforce foreign rules that violate Americans’ free speech rights, equal protection rights, and so on; but in the great bulk of cases in which foreign law would be applied, there would be no such constitutional problem. The Alabama amendment wouldn’t bar use of foreign law in such cases.

What it would do is less clear, Paul Horwitz explains, because the prohibition on applying foreign laws that contradict Americans’ constitutional rights is, er, “already the law in every state, including Alabama”. The redundant amendment, Horwitz argues, is a waste of time and money that will likely have unintended consequences and serves only as a gesture of hostility toward Islam:

Our state and federal constitutions prohibit discrimination against religion. An explicitly anti-Muslim law would be unconstitutional. But hostility to Muslims, or to any minority, always buys a few votes in some corners. So we now have the worst of both worlds. The law, in its past and present versions, is driven by religious hostility. But in order to avoid being struck down, the current amendment bars courts from recognizing Jewish or Christian (or, yes, Islamic) prenuptial contracts, or enforcing judgments by Southern Baptist arbitrators. At least, it would, if those judgments violated state or federal law. But our courts already forbid that. Amendment One is literally not worth the paper the law would be printed on–and printing laws costs money.

Even the state’s conservative evangelicals didn’t get behind the amendment:

Although anti-Shariah bills are often proposed and supported by conservative Christians, Amendment 1 was actually heavily criticized by many religious groups in the Cotton State — including several prominent evangelical Christians. Organizations such as Greater Birmingham Ministries publicly decried the measure, and Randy Brinson, the president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, blasted the law as “just silliness.” Brinson argued that the bill did not actually protect “Christian values,” and passing it could potentially jeopardize foreign adoptions, marriages to people outside of the U.S., and religious liberty. “This is a tremendous waste of effort. It’s a waste of time and it costs money,” Brinson said ahead of the vote.

Beyond the phantom menace of Sharia, Mark Joseph Stern characterizes Amendment 1 as an effort “to nullify Supreme Court decisions that lean on foreign law”, particularly regarding capital punishment:

According to the amendment, any decision that uses international law could not legally be applied in Alabama courts, since citing it would involve the “application” of foreign law. A state judge couldn’t overrule the execution of a minor based on Roper, since Roper relied in part on international law. Nor could she annul the conviction of a gay person for having gay sex, since Lawrence cited foreign courts. The execution of the mentally retarded, too, would be back on the table in Alabama; in fact, much of the Supreme Court’s modern death penalty jurisprudence would now seem to be inapplicable in the state. This is not some speculative overinterpretation of a poorly worded amendment; overturning established death penalty law was a stated goal of the amendment’s chief drafter. No doubt a team of lawyers is already poring over Supreme Court rulings, searching each decision for a reference to international law. Once they’ve found one, they can alert state judges: Use this ruling, and you’ll be breaking the law.

Looking over the situations in which Alabama courts would typically come into contact with foreign law, Amanda Taub remarks on the legal uncertainties the amendment creates:

Start with disputes governed by foreign law, which are common. Consider, for instance, what might happen if a couple was married overseas, but then sought a divorce in Alabama. Or if they adopted a child overseas, but then a custody dispute came before Alabama courts. Such cases would, by necessity, require Alabama courts to consider foreign law in order to determine the validity of the marriage, adoption, or custody agreement. After Amendment One, it’s not clear whether, or how, they will be able to do so.

It’s also extremely common for contracts to be governed by foreign law, through what is called a “choice of laws” clause. Amendment One carves out an exception for “Alabama business persons and companies,” who may decide to use foreign law in Alabama Courts. But it’s not clear how that exception will be applied, because the very same clause says that “the public policy of Alabama is to prohibit anyone from requiring Alabama courts to apply and enforce foreign laws” — which appears to directly contradict the exception. That’s a potential nightmare for companies that do business in the state, who now don’t know if their choice of law clauses will be enforced, or if global contracts will now become subject to uncertain interpretation as soon as they cross Alabama state lines.

Furthermore, Faisal Kutty points out, “the consequences” of such restrictions on Sharia and foreign law “may be counterintuitive”:

In August 2012, for instance, just one month after Kansas passed Senate Bill 79, a state court found its hands tied when Elham Soleimani sought the enforcement of the mahr (dowry) provision in her Islamic marriage contract. Her husband, Faramarz Soleimani, had agreed to pay 1,354 gold coins—valued at $677,000 at the time—in the event of divorce. Faramarz agreed to this at the time of the marriage, given that it was his second marriage and Elham was 24 years his junior. The Johnson City District Court refused to enforce Elham’s claim for various reasons, the most significant being the religious nature of the contract. In its 28 August 2012 ruling, the court concluded that enforcing the agreement would “abdicate the judiciary’s role to protect such fundamental rights, a concern that was articulated in Senate Bill No. 79.” Essentially, the court took the position that enforcing the Islamic contract would violate the foreign law ban and the separation of church and state doctrine under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Elham lost her claim to her dowry thanks to the law, which Republican State Senator Susan Wagle introduced as “a vote to protect women.” Elham would surely beg to disagree.

Obama’s Next Legacy: Detente With Iran

Amid all the drama of the last few days – in which the inevitably triumphant Democratic coalition scenario segued seamlessly into the Republican lock on the Congress for decades – it’s worth taking a deep breath to see what’s really changed under Obama. On domestic policy, we had a huge shift toward universal health insurance – a shift that looks very likely to stay in place. On foreign policy, Obama has bet a huge amount on a long-game engagement with Iran. So far, the strategy has worked far better than most predicted. The sanctions have been effective in both getting rid of Ahmadinejad, and getting Iran to the negotiating table; the international coalition has stayed rock solid; Rouhani’s election made detente feasible; lower oil prices have given Iran an incentive to deal to save its economy; and slowly, Iran itself has changed in a way that makes an opening to the West much more feasible. For a sample of that, I recommend the Economist’s latest survey on the country. Money quote:

While the world has been cut off from Iran, it has failed to notice how much Iranians have changed. No longer is the country seething with hatred and bent on destruction. Instead, the revolution has sunk into the disillusion and distractions of middle age. This is not always a nice place, perhaps, but not a Satanic one, either.

As if on cue, this week saw a potential breakthrough in the nuclear negotiations, three weeks before the looming deadline for a deal:

Iran has tentatively agreed to ship much of its huge stockpile of uranium to Russia if it reaches a broader nuclear deal with the West, according to officials and diplomats involved in the negotiations, potentially a major breakthrough in talks that have until now been deadlocked. Under the proposed agreement, the Russians would convert the uranium into specialized fuel rods for the Bushehr nuclear power plant, Iran’s only commercial reactor. Once the uranium is converted into fuel rods, it is extremely difficult to use them to make a nuclear weapon. That could go a long way toward alleviating Western concerns about Iran’s stockpile, though the agreement would not cut off every pathway that Tehran could take to obtain a nuclear weapon. … For the United States, the fuel agreement would give negotiators more flexibility.

Perhaps the most striking thing is the role of the Russians. Despite a dramatic worsening of the relationship with the US, Russia has twice now cooperated in key WMD restrictions in the Middle East – first by brokering the deal that destroyed Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons, and now in helping nudge the negotiations past a stumbling block. At some point, those dismissing the reset may have to rethink when it comes to broader international problems. I’d argue that the next deadline can be breached, as long as serious progress is still being made and as long as Iran’s ongoing suspension of its nuclear program continues. But the deal is easily the most substantive foreign policy achievement in a generation. It should not be lost over an arbitrary deadline.

The incoming Republican Congressional leadership, of course, has other ideas:

Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican likely to replace Rep. Mike Rogers as the next chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told The Daily Beast Wednesday that he would like to begin digging into the administration’s Iran talks—in particular, the role played in those talks by the U.S. intelligence community. … Nunes said he thinks the deal being contemplated could lead to disaster. “Shouldn’t the Congress be concerned about the Iranians getting a nuclear weapon,” he said. “They are going to be close to getting a nuclear weapon because of this deal, this should matter to the American people.”

McCain said he, Corker, and Burr are also interested in pursuing more vigorous oversight of the Iran deal as well. “The Iranians are helping [Syrian dictator] Bashar Assad,” McCain added. “They are the ones that got the 5,000 Hezbollah guys into the fight [against Syria’s rebels], they are gaining more and more influence in Baghdad. And we somehow believe we make a nuclear deal with them and that will lead to other areas of cooperation.”

John Hudson wonders how presumptive Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell will approach the Iran file:

One thing McConnell did not mention that will surely loom large in the coming months is congressional action on Iran’s nuclear program. This year, Reid single-handedly prevented a bipartisan bill leveling new sanctions on Tehran from reaching the Senate floor because the White House feared it would upend the fragile nuclear negotiations the United States is conducting with Tehran in Vienna. Republicans have shown no such concern about disrupting the talks with punishing sanctions. “The pressure is now on President Obama to bear down and negotiate a good Iran deal or face a resounding political defeat when the Senate votes ‘no’ on the deal,” Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Foreign Policy.

But more opposition from the right and the Greater Israel lobby might actually help get the deal off the ground – especially as the administration does not need the Congress to relieve some financial sanctions as part of an ongoing confidence-building deal. In this vein, Golnaz Esfandiari listens to what Iranian officials had to say about Tuesday’s Republican rout and what it portends for the nuclear talks:

Iranian Communications and Information Technology Minister Mahmud Vaezi said the victory of the Republicans in the November 4 elections will not have “any effect” on the nuclear negotiations. … But former diplomat Ali Khorram, who reportedly advises Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, said that the Obama administration could be forced into taking a harder line in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, if both sides fail to reach a final agreement by November 24. “Obama has to use the remaining time to reach a deal with Iran,” Khoram said.

Apparently addressing domestic critics, he said those who oppose the talks “out of ignorance” should “wake up” because he said Iran’s national interests could be jeopardized if there was no deal. “We should not allow Republicans to unite with Israel and witness the tensions we saw under [former President] Mahmud Ahmadinejad and George W. Bush because it is not in the interests of Iran and the region,” Khorram said in an interview with the official IRNA news agency.

Arash Karami rounds up some more Iranian reactions:

Outspoken University of Tehran professor Sadegh Zibakalam, who is politically aligned with moderates, told Khabar Online, “Republicans do not believe in decreasing conflict and creating friendly relations with Iran.” He said the Republican victory is “not to our benefit,” as “Within the Republicans, there are more who are opposed to Iran, and they think the way our own conservatives do.” … Fars News Agency interviewed analyst for US affairs Fouad Izadi, who said that he believes the chances of new sanctions being passed is much higher now, given the Republican victory. He criticized domestic analysts and officials who have focused entirely on Obama while “The problem is in the Senate.”

Izadi said that this victory should be a “wake-up call” for some in Iran and predicted that Iran’s problems with Congress in the last 30 years “will become more clear in the coming days and months.”

The Bloomberg View editors weigh in, warning DC not to spike the talks:

The alternatives to Obama’s sanctions-plus-diplomacy approach are two: sanctions alone, or airstrikes. Neither of these would end Iran’s nuclear-weapons program for good. On the contrary, they would probably accelerate Iran’s bid for the bomb and undermine critical support for sanctions in Europe. So long as Iran sticks to the restrictions on its enrichment program, and the current sanctions remain in place, there is no hurry to end this negotiating process. What matters is getting the right deal. Iran’s nuclear program is largely frozen. At the same time, Iranian society is gradually becoming among the least religious and least anti-American in the Middle East. Yes, the conservative regime remains hostile and committed to creating a nuclear weapons capability. Yet it also needs a deal to keep its growing consumer society happy.

Comparing Obama’s effort to seal the Iran deal with FDR’s struggle to get Congress on board with entering World War II, Scott McConnell urges the president to fight like hell for it, because his legacy may well depend on it:

There is little doubt that if Obama reaches a deal, Israel and its advocates will be able to generate a seemingly massive Congressional uproar to undermine the President’s diplomacy. But larger forces, both inside and beyond the Beltway, line up on Obama’s side. The Pentagon, it was reported recently, has been seeking to make deals with Iranian companies in order to stabilize Afghanistan. Will the U.S. military brass, having expended large amounts of blood and treasure to wrest Afghanistan from the Taliban, wish to see it revert to Islamic extremism because Israel doesn’t want Iran involved in stabilizing the country?

Maneuvering for an Iran deal will take all the political acumen Obama can muster, and more than he has demonstrated in previous dealings with Congress. And in terms of political skill and appeal, Obama is no Franklin D. Roosevelt. But the president has powerful cards to play, and will have the support of much of the world if he plays them well. One day peace with Iran may seem as inevitable as did war with Germany. Even though he was drubbed in the midterms, Obama’s chance to forge an historic and positive legacy still lies very much before him.

He should seize it with both hands.

Walker 2016? Seriously?

Gov. Walker And Democratic Challenger Mary Burke Debate In Milwaukee

In John Dickerson’s interpretation, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s victory last night – his third in four years – “isn’t just a win for Walker, it’s a win for a theory of governing”:

After Walker became the first governor to defeat a recall attempt, he argued that he had found a way to appeal to Obama voters by governing as a conservative. He said that almost 10 percent of the electorate voted to re-elect President Obama and keep him in office, too. In the Wall Street Journal, he argued he was a model for the Republican Party—someone who could govern as a conservative and still win in a purple state. The midterm electorate is much different than in a presidential year, but Walker won some new ammunition for his argument. Walker won 11 percent of the “liberal” vote and, while he lost those who self-identified as “moderates” by six points, that’s a small margin for someone who has been considered as enemy number one for liberals. Walker will now return to the top of the presidential speculation, arguing that he knows how to win and govern as a true conservative in a purple state. Oh, and 34 percent of union households voted for Walker.

On the presidential front, I can only say he seems to me utterly unprepossessing. He has the same problem some other GOP hopefuls have: he just doesn’t seem presidential. He looks like a product of a college debating club, his appeal is very tied to the governor’s role and to the fight with organized labor – which are not federal issues. Foreign policy? No idea. You need something more – either the charisma of an Obama candidacy or broader national exposure or a distinct image. Maybe this will come, but it doesn’t pass the sniff test to me at this point in the cycle. Philip Klein differs:

Although Walker polls in the single digits in most surveys, the 2016 field has no clear front-runner and a number of attributes put him in a unique position. There is well-publicized split within the Republican Party between its conservative and pragmatic wings, and of all the potential candidates out there, Walker is the one who is most likely to unite the two.

In an interview with the Washington Examiner in March, Walker rejected the idea that there was a tradeoff between conservatism and pragmatism. “You don’t have to compromise one for the other, meaning you can stand up for your principles, you can push your core beliefs, and you can still govern effectively,” Walker said. The fact that he demonstrated this in Wisconsin is what makes him such a potentially strong candidate. His fight for limited government reforms in the face of a ferocious assault from national liberals endeared him to activists on the right. At the same time, his ability to successfully govern and get re-elected in a blue state is comforting to Establishment Republicans.

But Ana Marie Cox damps the enthusiasm over Walker’s victory:

Nothing about the exit-poll results besides Walker’s win itself suggests that Wisconsin voters are especially enamored of conservative ideals. They were evenly divided over how Walker handled the Affordable Care Act (or didn’t handle it, really); they were almost evenly divided in their view of government unions (slightly more with an unfavorable view); they were almost evenly divided over whether “government is doing too many things that should be left to individuals.” About half of voters had a negative view of the Democratic Party. About half had a negative view of the Republican Party. The only policy issue that rallied a significant majority of Wisconsin voters was the minimum wage—two-thirds favored raising it.

None of this sounds like proof that Walker has succeeded in making conservative arguments more appealing to more voters, or that he’s gained more voters because he’s made conservative arguments. (The same rich, white, married, male church-going coalition pushed him over the top this time as last.) Rather, Scott Walker may have succeeded because he’s been able to make all of his races about Scott Walker.

Update from a reader:

Here’s a factoid: If Walker were elected, he would be the first president since Harry Truman not to have graduated from college. It would be curious to look back at contenders over recent decades, and leaders of other foreign countries, to see if there is any other example of this. Certainly not the UK or France. Italy or Australia? Russia, China certainly possible.


UK? Surely not. Two of the last six UK Prime Ministers did not go to college: Jim Callaghan and John Major. That is two since 1976.


Funny that UK and Australia had Prime Ministers in the 1990s without tertiary educations – John Major and Paul Keating. The last Russian/ Soviet example was Chernenko.


(Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

The GOP’s Plan To Do Nothing

As I pointed out yesterday, National Review’s response to GOP majorities in both Houses was to tell Republicans not to bother with governing. Friedersdorf pushes back:

If you’ve ever wondered why the Founders were so wary of political parties and factionalism, consider how dysfunctional American government would be if both major parties agreed to govern only when they controlled all of Congress and the White House. It’s impossible to say with certainty that National Review’s long game will fail. It’s conceivable that the GOP could retain Congress and win the White House in 2016, and that all the politicians now setting aside substance to focus on future electoral gains will suddenly become principled conservative legislators eager to improve America once a member of their party retakes the White House.

But come on.

Most politicians are inclined to delay or forgo the tough business of governing to preserve their electability. When encouraged to postpone governing until a later date by the very intellectuals who are supposed to be urging substantive results, the most likely result is that the long-anticipated time for actually governing will never arrive.

My own view is that this complete nihilism in terms of governing is actually quite emblematic of the most powerful forces in the GOP today. Fox News and the entire conservative media-industrial complex have no real interest in Republican governance. They thrive on conflict and on opposition. How many ratings-rich shows are they going to produce on tax reform? They have created an alternate cultural universe for the right where the craziest tub-thumpers get the most attention and where the boring, necessary act of governing is anathema. Ponnuru defends his magazine’s editorial:

It’s worth recalling that the Democrats, after taking Congress in 2006, did not announce en masse that they now needed “to prove they could govern.”

They cut a few deals with President Bush, but certainly did not base their political strategy on earning public support thereby. (They didn’t engage in a lot of veto showdowns, either, or base their strategy on that.) They did, more or less, what the editorial recommends: lay out their own approach on the main issues of the day and try to build support for a governing majority that could implement that approach.

Danny Vinik, for once, agrees with National Review:

Liberals are mocking the piece on Twitter, but the reasoning makes a lot of sense. If Republicans set high expectations for themselves, they are bound to fail. After all, Democrats can block legislation at will by using the filibuster. As we’ve seen from the past few years, the media will not report that Democrats blocked legislation that had support of more than 50 senators. They’ll report that Congress failedand the blame will fall squarely on the GOP. Democrats learned this the hard way over the past few years.

So neither party should attempt anything until they control both House, Senate and White House? I’d say that if there is one categorical sentiment from Tuesday it is that voters want an end to that gamesmanship. I’m sorry but even though I can see the brutal logic of this politically, I refuse to acquiesce to the cynicism behind it. Drum’s take:

Republicans probably are better off doing nothing for the next two years except mocking President Obama and throwing out occasional symbolic bits of red meat to keep the rubes at bay. Usually, though, this is the kind of thing you talk about quietly behind closed doors. It’s a little surprising that we’ve gotten to the point where apparently this level of cynicism is so routine that no one thinks twice about spelling it out in public in explicit detail. Welcome to modern politics.

It’s a politics in which voters are denied the chance to compare varying responses to particular challenges and expect their representatives to reach an agreement. It’s a politics designed to make deliberative self-government close to impossible. It’s factionalism gone mad. Waldman sees no political incentives, in our current climate, for the GOP to govern:

The incentives for them to continue fighting Obama on anything and everything are everywhere. The strategy of maximal obstruction got them where they are today. Twenty-four Republican senators will be up for re-election in 2016, and every last one will be looking over their right shoulder, worrying about a primary challenge and knowing that the only way to avoid it is to be as venomous as possible in their opposition to Obama. And next year’s House will also become even more conservative than it is now, with the addition of a group of new Tea Partiers.

A Republican party in the flush of a sweeping victory isn’t exactly going to be looking for areas where it can dial back its demands. If someone would like to explain how a GOP caucus in Congress even farther to the right than the one whose antics we currently enjoy would be more inclined to compromise with Barack Obama than it is now, I’m all ears.

And the beat goes on.

“The Country’s Most Competitive State”

NC Detail

Thomas Mills nominates North Carolina:

Tillis won the most expensive U.S. Senate race in history; the campaigns and outside groups spent more than $100 million on the contest. More than 100,000 political ads ran in North Carolina this election cycle, the most of any Senate race. And the state is relatively evenly split among Democrats, Republicans and independent voters.

In other words, North Carolina is the country’s most competitive state. But 2014 might have been just a preview of what’s to come. In 2016, besides GOP Senator Richard Burr’s reelection bid, the state will have competitive gubernatorial and presidential contests.

How the might 2016 play out?

North Carolina had the second-closest presidential race in both 2008 and 2012Democrats won the former, Republicans the latter. 2016 will be a tie-breaker of sorts, a test of the Democratic coalition’s strength. Republicans believe that Democrats stayed competitive because of an African-American turnout that might not return without Obama on the ticket. Democrats believe that changing demographics in the state are turning it bluer each election cycle.

Jason Zengerle analyzes Thom Tillis’s defeat of Kay Hagan:

Tillis’s most important move might have been in the race’s final days, when he went positive. After months of both candidates (and the outside groups supporting them) demonizing each other in 30-second TV spotsover 100,000 of which aired in the stateTillis’s final ad of the race was this one which, while still tying Hagan to Obama, did so in a less slashing fashion and actually put forward an affirmative case for Tillis. …

For a long time, it looked like the North Carolina Senate race would hinge on whether voters were more angry at Raleigh or Washington when they finally went to the polls. If it was the former, Hagan would win; if it was the latter, Tillis. Obviously, the national climate was such that it may have been impossible for any Democrat to win in North Carolina this year. But anger wasn’t the whole story, and, in the end, Tillis gave North Carolina voters just enough of a reason to vote forrather than againstsomeone that it made a difference.

(Screenshot from the Upshot’s detailed Senate maps.)

Another Reason For The Democrats’ Rout

Alec MacGillis blames the Dems’ gubernatorial defeats on bad candidates, not the Republican wave:

[W]hy would [Massachusetts’s Martha] Coakley and [Maryland’s Anthony] Brown go down, while [Colorado’s John] Hickenlooper and [Connecticut’s Dannel] Malloy survived? Here one has to consider the ultimate local context, the quality of the candidates. Hickenlooper and Malloy provoked plenty opposition in their states, not least with their signing of sweeping gun control legislation after the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. But voters also had a clear sense of where these men stood. The same could not be said for the lackluster Coakley and, especially, for Brown, who ran one of the worst campaigns I’ve ever observed up close.

The son of a Jamaican father and Swiss mother, a colonel in the Army Reserve and former JAG officer whom [former Maryland governor Martin] O’Malley plucked out of relative obscurity in the Maryland House of Delegates to be his running mate in 2006, Brown is an amiable enough fellow but gives off the distinct vibe of a second-stringer. His big chance to show his stuff, the launch of the Maryland insurance exchange under Obamacare, was a total fiasco.

Massachusetts is the kind of place that periodically elects moderate Republican white dudes to positions of power—Republicans had held the governor’s mansion for 16 years before Deval Patrick won in 2006.

But he admits, “She probably shoulda won, though.” One piece of Dougherty’s advice to Democrats:

[J]ust like the GOP in 2012, a big part of your problem was candidate selection. GOP victories in the statehouses do have a way of thinning the bench. But Democrats should be able to do better than Martha Coakley in 2016. That’s solvable.

Red States, Blue Policy


Several Republican-leaning states approved minimum wage hikes Tuesday:

In Alaska, an overwhelming 67 percent of voters endorsed a minimum wage increase to $9.75 by 2016. In Arkansas, 65 percent of voters said “yes” to bumping the current minimum of $6.25 (many businesses still had to pay the federal minimum of $7.25) to $8.50 by 2017. Voters were almost as enthusiastic in Nebraska, with 59 percent approving a bump from $7.25 to $9 by 2016. The vote was closer in South Dakota, with 53 percent of supporting a hike from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour by 2015.

The raises happened despite big losses for Democrats in all those states. Late Tuesday just a single Democratic candidate was poised to win a federal election among them, even though the party made the issue a key political priority. Such a strong consensus for raising the minimum wage shows bipartisan support for an issue that has been contentious in Washington, where Obama and many congressional Democrats have backed raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016.

Ben Casselman isn’t that surprised to see red-state voters taking this sort of action:

[It’s] striking to see voters in state after state support raising the minimum wage even as they elect Republicans who, for the most part, oppose such policies. Looked at another way, though, the votes make more sense. In exit polls, voters across the country reported being dissatisfied with the state of the economy. Seven out of 10 voters said the economy is in bad shape, and only 28 percent said their own financial situation had improved over the past four years. Those responses are pretty consistent with the hard data: Wages have been stagnant in the recovery, and median household income is still 8 percent lower than when the recession began seven years ago.

In other words, voters are pessimistic about the economy and want new leadership, hence their support for Republicans. But they’re also worried about their low pay and want to see a higher minimum wage. From a policy perspective, those two votes seem at odds with one another. But they both reflect the same economic frustration.

Mariah Blake adds, “Given how popular the state-level measures were, most conservatives realized that opposing them was futile”:

Jackson T. Stephens Jr., the chairman of the Arkansas Club for Growth, sued to block his state’s ballot initiative on technical grounds but gave up fighting after the Arkansas Supreme Court rejected his challenge. “This is an overwhelmingly popular initiative,” he told the New York Times. “This thing is going to pass whether I jump up and down or spend all my money.”

Danny Vinik tries desperately to find some good news for Democrats:

Senate Republicans have steadfastly blocked the president’s plan to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. In all likelihood, they will continue to do so with Mitch McConnell as majority leader. Even if Senate Republicans somehow compromised with their Democratic counterparts on a smaller increase in the minimum wage, it would still face very long odds in the House.

It’s not hard to see the political problem here. How long can the GOP reject a policy idea that not only has support of both Democrat and Republican voters but has been implemented individually in 29 states, often through ballot measures? … After Tuesday night’s shellacking, the Democrats aren’t in a position to make any demands. But if there is any issue that they can point to and declare victory, it’s the minimum wage. As we turn the pages on 2014 and start thinking about 2016, itand not immigration reformmay pose the biggest political threat to the GOP

Meanwhile, Danielle Kurtzleben notes that inflation will chip away at some of these hikes:

[I]n Arkansas and Nebraska, there’s a catch: The value of those minimum wages will actually decline in subsequent years, because the new wages are not indexed to inflation. Inflation isn’t always a bad thing, but it does erode the value of a fixed hourly wage over time. Minimum-wage advocates often point out that the federal minimum wage suffers from the same problem. Although the value of the minimum wage has gradually been raised to $7.25 per hour, it is actually now worth less than it was in 1968, when adjusted for inflation.

Tuesday’s votes mean that 15 states plus the District of Columbia now either currently index or have plans to link their minimum wages to some type of price index or cost of living formula, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Indexing the minimum wage doesn’t mean that it increases in value every year — rather, it just means the minimum wage maintains the same value as overall prices rise. Without indexing, the roughly $15,100 that a full-time minimum-wage worker earns right now buys less and less each year.

Pre-election analysis of these minimum wage hikes here.

Bullet Initiatives

Voters in Washington state decisively approved a ballot measure that closes the “gun-show loophole” by requiring almost all gun sales to be transacted through a dealer, so that buyers are subject to background checks. Kate Pickert discusses how state-level referenda are becoming the new focal point for gun control advocates:

The new national strategy is to largely bypass Congress, where recent gun control efforts have gotten little traction even in the wake of the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. Instead, gun control activists say they are redirecting their attention and money to states—and to voters directly. … Appealing to voters through ballot initiatives has helped advance other progressive causes in recent years, including minimum wage increases and the legalization of medical marijuana. It’s a lesson gun control advocates have taken to heart. “I think it does represent a subtle shift,” says Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who favors gun control. “What we’re seeing is a renewed effort by gun control advocates to take this issue to the voters directly.”

Frum approves of the new strategy:

When Michael Bloomberg and other deep-pocketed donors pledged themselves to gun reform after Sandy Hook, some observers imagined that he and they would waste their resources besieging the NRA on battlefields of the NRA’s choosing: state legislatures where intensely committed minorities can thwart even large-but-less-engaged majorities. The success of 594 in Washington shows the way to a very different political contest, in which majorities can make themselves felt over and against small pressure groups. Look for more such initiatives in 2016—a year when, with a president on the ballot, the electorate will be both larger and less conservative than in 2014. 594 is not the turning of the tide, of course. But it’s a harbinger of a possible new politics of guns, in which the nation’s gun rules will no longer be written by a fanatical and fearful minority of a minority.

But Charles Cooke downplays the significance of the vote:

This will presumably be touted as a great victory. But it’s really not. For a start, universal background checks represent the most modest of all the Left’s aims in this area. This was not a ban on “assault” weapons, which remain legal in Washington. It was not a reduction in magazine sizes. It was not a ban on open carry. Instead, it was a law that requires residents of the state to involve a gun dealer when they transfer a weapon to another resident within the state. (Transfers between immediate family members and between spouses or domestic partners are exempt.) I’m against these rules because I think that they are pointless and because they seem invariably to ensnare innocent and unaware people. Nevertheless, the significance of Washington’s having adopted the measure should not be overstated. That a blue state such as Washington should have convinced only 6 out of 10 people to support a billionaire-backed law that does very little in reality is a testament to the strength of support for the right to keep and bear arms even in nominally progressive areas.

And at the same time, Alabama voters approved a constitutional amendment affirming the right to bear arms and instructing the judiciary to apply strict scrutiny to any restriction thereof.

The GOP’s Lock On Congress

Chait declares that “Democrats stand almost no visible prospect of attaining a government majority”:

The structural advantages undergirding Republican control of both chambers of Congress are so imposing that only extraordinary circumstances could overwhelm them. Democrats managed, briefly, to gain control of Congress when the catastrophe of the Bush presidency created two successive national wave elections in their favor.

Only that sort of freakish event would suffice.

And Democrats might notice that, since winning back Congress requires a backlash against the president, their “positive” scenario requires first surrendering to Republicans’ total control of government. As long as Democrats hold the White House, Republican control of Congress is probably safe — at least for several election cycles to come.

The second conclusion is simpler, and more bracing: Hillary Clinton is the only thing standing between a Republican Party even more radical than George W. Bush’s version and unfettered control of American government.

But Suderman argues that last night was bad news for Clinton:

Knowing Clinton, she’ll likely attempt a tailored version of the strategy that Democrats in close races adopted this time around—positioning herself as separate from the president but not actively opposed to him. She’ll highlight the parts of policies that are widely liked, but acknowledge that many need to be fixed, tweaked, or updated—while providing as few specifics as possible about what those specifics should be. Indeed, to some extent, this is already the approach that Clinton has taken, vaguely moving away from Obama in ways designed to cause as little real friction as possible. She’ll be neither with Obama nor against him, emphasizing distance but not disagreement.

That awkward, fence-straddling approach led to some slightly ridiculous moments, and ultimately failed to work for Democrats in this year’s midterm. It’s not likely to work for Clinton (or any other Democratic nominee) in 2016 either.