• Engineering 101: Why a Wall Is a Bad Idea
• GoFundMe Campaign for Wall Falls Apart
• Congressional Republicans Strip King of Committee Assignments; Some Demand His Resignation
• Abrams Exploring Senate Bid
• TV Ads No Longer a Priority for Priorities USA
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Another day, another poll about the shutdown, another set of bad news for Donald Trump. Both of the polls we mentioned on Monday said that Americans blame the President, as opposed to Congressional Democrats, for the shutdown by a large margin (one had it 53% to 29%, the other 55% to 32%). On Tuesday, Quinnipiac released their latest, and they have it nearly the same, with 56% blaming Trump and the GOP, and 36% blaming the Democrats. Across the three polls, then, the President is losing the battle of public opinion by an average of 23%.
His personal ratings look like they are being affected as well. Five houses have released approval ratings for the President this month; here is how the current numbers compare to his worst and his average in each of those houses' polls:
|Polling House (click to see latest poll)||Current (App/Dis)||Worst (App/Dis)||Average (App/Dis)|
With the caveat that Trump's approval and disapproval vary in a fairly narrow range, and that there is always a 2-5 point margin of error, he's below his average in three of them, and not far above average in the other two. He's below 45% approval in all five, and he's approaching his worst numbers ever for CNN and Rasmussen. The latter should be particularly concerning for Trump, since Rasmussen skews Republican, and tends to reflect changes in that demographic (i.e., the base).
Meanwhile, there is also evidence (albeit limited evidence so far), that Trump and the GOP are pushing the Democrats further left. The latest from Gallup reveals that 51% of Democrats now identify as "liberal." That is the first time since the early 1990s, when the GOP was in the midst of a very successful campaign to turn "liberal" into a dirty word, that a majority of the party has identified in that way. The trend has been building for at least a year, and will presumably be encouraged further by the behavior of Trump, as well as the presence of a sizable number of progressive candidates in the Democrats' 2020 field. It should be very interesting. (Z)
Last week, we had an item looking at some of the problems with building a wall from a public policy perspective. A few days after that, an engineer named Amy Patrick published a brief essay on Facebook that has been widely circulated. She is an experienced structural and civil engineer who is often called in to help fix projects that go wrong, and is sometimes called upon to testify in court cases about wall construction. Or, as she puts it: "Am I a wall expert? I am. I am literally a court-accepted expert on walls."
In addition to the ecological problems, which we noted in the previous post, Patrick points out the following:
- The prototypes that Trump has used for photo-ops are either impossible to build, or won't function properly.
- The time it would take to build a complete wall is greater than the time Trump has left on Earth.
- Right now, it would be easy to traverse the wall with supplies available at any Home Depot. Soon, cheap drones capable of transporting humans will make it even easier.
- Current cost estimates make no provision for things that might go wrong, and things always go wrong.
- The type of expert needed when things go wrong (structural forensicists, like Patrick) are in short supply, and generally unwilling to work on this particular project, either because of their personal politics, or their desire not to offend future clients.
The fundamental problem with all of the current plans, Patrick observes, is that they are the work of contractors and not engineers. These are very different groups of people with very different sets of expertise and very different motivations. Thus, she concludes, "Structurally and civil engineering-wise, the border wall is not a feasible project."
And as long as we're on the subject, let's also note two non-engineering issues that have gotten attention in the last week. The President, of course, has said that one major reason the wall is needed is to stop the flow of drugs across the Southern border. As chance would have it, there are experts in this very subject available right now, as notorious drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is on trial in New York City. The subject of drug running has come up a few times, and Guzman's former underlings have referenced tunnels, fishing boats, trains, tractor-trailers, and ordinary cars crossing the border at legal ports of entry, but none has said that drugs were spirited across unwalled sections of the border.
Finally, there has also been some attention paid recently to the eminent domain issue. Trump expects to use eminent domain to take all the land needed for the wall, having had some success with that technique in his career as an Atlantic City casino owner. However, many of the folks on the border don't want their land seized, with the result that there are still 60-70 lawsuits pending from the Bush years, over a decade ago. And that might be the good news for Trump; there are other expanses that are held by native American tribes, or else are subject to treaties with...wait for it...Mexico.
So, building the wall will be expensive and difficult, or maybe impossible. Getting the necessary land will be expensive and difficult, or maybe impossible. Consequently, anyone who thinks there will be a wall in place by the time Trump leaves office (a group that may well include Trump himself) is probably smoking something they got courtesy of El Chapo. (Z)
Speaking of the wall and delusions, ultra-right-wing activist Brian Kolfage, trading to some extent on his status as an injured veteran, started a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to build Donald Trump's wall. Though the President seeks over $5 billion, the site has an upper limit of $1 billion, so Kolfage started there. He got up to $20 million or so before GoFundMe stepped in and effectively shut things down.
There were a bunch of problems with Kolfage's scheme. First, a private citizen or charity or company cannot simply give money to the government. Congress not only controls accounts payable, they also control accounts receivable. So, they would have to vote to accept the money, which isn't happening. Second, there was zero chance that Kolfage's campaign would raise anything more than a drop in the bucket, overall. Even $20 million, which is pretty impressive, is less than 0.3% of what Trump wants, and likely less than 0.015% of what the wall would actually cost. Third, and finally, Kolfage has past instances of collecting donations for a political cause, only to have the money disappear into the ether.
Anyhow, having collected his $20 million under possibly false pretenses, Kolfage set up a private concern called We Build the Wall, Inc., last week. He redirected all of the donations to it, saying that he and his "team" would begin private construction, since the government wasn't going to accept a check. That is when GoFundMe stepped in; they said this was a violation of their terms of service, and that donors would get their money back unless they specifically instructed that the donation be rerouted to We Build the Wall. Even if the newly-created company is legitimate, they are not going to achieve anything with just a few million dollars and no eminent domain power. And given Kolfage's past, it's pretty likely that We Build the Wall is going to turn into We Pay for Brian's New House and Tropical Vacation. Nonetheless, there's a good chance that he hangs on to at least a million or two. Remember the line about a fool and his money. (Z)
On Monday, the House Republican Steering Committee held a hastily organized meeting, and stripped Rep. Steve King (R-IA) of his committee assignments. On Tuesday, the House as a whole will vote on a resolution expressing formal disapproval of King's racist remarks in a New York Times interview published over the weekend. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) went further than just expressing disapproval, and called on King to resign. Romney's Beehive State colleague, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), seconded the sentiment.
There is no question that King's remarks this weekend expressed a racist worldview. First of all, in response to an online video posted by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), he declared that it would have been better if the video had been filmed in full Indian dress at Little Bighorn or Wounded Knee, instead of in her kitchen. Nothing like making reference to two of the ugliest engagements of the Indian Wars, including one in which hundreds of unarmed men and women were gunned down in cold blood. And if that were not enough, King followed up with this quote:
The more multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual America becomes—the less it looks like Ronald Reagan's America—the more dependably Democratic it will become. The Democratic Party is hostile to white men, because the smaller the share of the US population that white men become, the sooner that Democrats inherit the national estate.
That's quoted from a piece by Pat Buchanan, but it could easily have been from the pen of David Duke.
Oops, wait. That paragraph wasn't about what King said this weekend. What he said was that "white supremacist" and "white nationalist" shouldn't bother people. That's very bad, but the stuff in the previous paragraph was actually tweeted out this weekend by Donald Trump. And while the two senators whose home state is home to Wounded Knee (Mike Rounds and John Thune, both R-SD) registered very mild unhappiness with the President's reference, the GOP as a whole has been mum, as they generally are when the President engages in race-baiting.
Meanwhile, King's remarks this weekend are far from the first time he's strayed into white supremacist territory, from his display of a Confederate battle flag in his office (despite the fact that Iowa was a Union state), to his embrace of white nationalists in America (Peter Brimelow) and abroad (Geert Wilders, Faith Goldy), to his retweets of avowed neo-Nazis, to a string of quotes just like the ones from this weekend. For example, "I'd like to see an America that is just so homogeneous that we look a lot the same" or, "For every [immigrant] who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds—and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert," or the time he compared Mexicans to "dirt." Of course, that "dirt" comment was a long time ago—all the way back in November of last year.
All of this is to say that House Republicans do not appear to be acting out of genuine abhorrence of the kinds of things that King (and Trump) said this weekend, but because King created a big PR problem with his big mouth. If House Republicans want to make an actual statement, as opposed to giving King a slap on the wrist, they might consider something substantive, like expelling him. That would prompt an election, and the voters of western Iowa would have a chance to weigh in on whether they want to sustain King or not (assuming he were to run in the special election). Congressional Republicans might also push back against Trump when he says overtly racist things. Of course, that would upset the base, so it's not going to happen. (Z)
It's not clear which achievement is more notable: that Stacey Abrams was the first black woman to be a major party's gubernatorial nominee, or that she nearly won her election in Georgia despite its being a Southern state (and despite extensive shenanigans by her opponent, Brian Kemp). In any event, she's clearly got a big future in Democratic politics, and the party pooh-bahs have taken notice. This week, the news was that she's chatted with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) about mounting a Senate run in 2020.
Certainly, it is an intriguing opportunity for Abrams. In a presidential year, and up against an opponent who is not simultaneously the secretary of state overseeing his own gubernatorial election, a less-than-two-point loss in a statewide election could easily turn into a win. Further, she not only has her own fundraising network that she's built, but the DNC and the DSCC would undoubtedly shower her with money, given the PR value of a win, not to mention the value of flipping a seat that is currently not on anyone's "flip" radar. The seat that's up in 2020 is currently held by David Perdue (R), whose 46% approval rating is only middling, and who is likely to draw a serious primary challenger (he barely survived against Jack Kingston the last time around). Abrams would probably draw a primary challenger, too, but with her prominence plus the backing of the Democratic establishment, that challenger (or, those challengers) would be no real threat. So, the odds are probably better than average that she throws her hat into the ring. (Z)
Priorities USA Action, which is the biggest and best-funded Democratic super PAC, made a relatively small move this weekend that nonetheless hints at a sea change in American political campaigning. So, what did they do? They promoted Danielle Butterfield from being in charge of digital operations to being in charge of all paid media. Butterfield, despite having graduated college just 7 years ago, has an extensive résumé that includes stints with Obama for America and Hillary for America, doing work similar to what she does for Priorities USA. Her promotion is significant because it is a tacit acknowledgement by one of the biggest campaign apparatuses in the nation that digital advertising has surpassed television advertising in importance.
This is not to say that television advertising is no longer important, because it still has a place in political campaigning. At least, it does for now. But the writing has been on the wall for several cycles now, because there are some major problems with televised political ads, given the current state of mass media. Among them:
- Time-shifting: Television is now, to a great extent, consumed by
viewers who timeshift, using DVRs (like TiVo) or streaming services (like Hulu) to watch programming
on demand, as opposed to on a set schedule. These technologies make it much easier to skip over
commercials, or to ignore them while they are on.
- Cord-cutting: In addition, there are a growing number of Americans who
do not watch commercial television at all, getting their content from providers like Netflix or HBO
GO, or else through Internet sites like YouTube. Sometimes these services have commercials,
sometimes they don't, but if they do, those commercials are digital.
- Saturation: There are only so many commercial spots for sale, while
there are all kinds of candidates for local, state, and federal office, not to mention ballot
initiatives in many states. Consequently, as any TV viewer from the last 30 years knows, campaign
season includes almost wall-to-wall political ads. If someone is shopping for a car, and your
dealership's ad is the only one they see on Friday evening, then your commercial has a reasonable
chance of influencing where they shop on Saturday. But if they see 40 auto ads on Friday evening,
then yours gets lost in the sea of messaging. Same thing with political ads.
- Polarization: We know that, these days, Republicans and Democrats are increasingly segregated by geography. Well, the same is true for TV viewing. Conservatives watch Fox News, the History Channel, "Duck Dynasty," "Last Man Standing," and "Blue Bloods." Liberals watch MSNBC, Bravo, "Black-ish," "Modern Family," and "The Daily Show." It's not so useful to advertise to the choir, nor to those who are never going to buy what you're selling. There are channels and shows that attract a broad swath of voters, including swing/independent voters, but there are only so many commercial spots available on "Dancing with the Stars" or "The Orville."
Add it up, and TV ads just don't give enough bang anymore for the amount of bucks they cost. And, in unhappy news for the advertising sales departments at NBC, ABC, et al., the problem is likely to get worse. TV commercials have much in common with newspaper ads; they are useful for reaching a certain, mostly older, segment of the populace, but they grow more obsolescent by the day. Meanwhile, as the Russians just demonstrated in 2016 for everyone's...enlightenment, digital ads are much cheaper and much easier to target with precision, and exist on platforms that are growing in importance, rather than shrinking.
As the various heavy-hitters in American politics (the RNC, DNC, presidential candidates, etc.) embrace the lesson that Priorities USA has, it could have some significant implications for American politics. First, because digital advertising is cheaper and more efficient, it could reduce the importance of money in campaigning, and may even encourage the adoption of meaningful campaign finance reform (dare to dream). For what it is worth, House Democrats have already made moves in this direction, although nothing is likely to happen on this front while the current Senate is in office.
In addition, by de-emphasizing money and mass media, and putting even greater focus on a candidate's ability to connect with voters at a grassroots level, it means that a different kind of candidate is favored. Someone with an extensive and well-funded political network doesn't have as big an advantage as they once did, while an upstart who manages to cut through all the noise has much more than a puncher's chance. In other words, a television-driven world favored someone like Jeb Bush, while a digital-driven world favored someone like Donald Trump. At the moment, that is not a trade that the majority of Americans would make (see above), but in the long term, the new media environment could produce the next Theodore Roosevelt or the next Abraham Lincoln (both of them outsider candidates who achieved the presidency despite the wishes of the political establishment). (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan14 Barr's Confirmation Hearing Will Be All about Mueller
Jan14 Why Manafort's Polling Data is a Big Deal
Jan14 The Don and Vlad Show, Part I: Trump Hid What He Said to Putin from U.S. Officials
Jan14 The Don and Vlad Show, Part II: FBI Suspected Trump Might Be Working For Russians
Jan14 Giuliani Thinks Mueller's Report Will Be Horrific, But Has a Plan
Jan14 Monday Q&A
Jan11 Shutdown, Day 19: Much Theater, Little Progress
Jan11 Trump Campaign Had Over 100 Contacts with Russians
Jan11 Cohen to Testify Before Congress
Jan11 White House Thrilled by Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Health Problems
Jan11 Steve King Can't Figure out When "White Supremacist" Became Offensive
Jan11 Crowded Presidential Field Could Imperil Democrats' Chances at Retaking the Senate
Jan11 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Kirsten Gillibrand
Jan10 Trump Storms Out of Meeting with Democrats
Jan10 House Democrats Use Health Care to Pressure Republicans
Jan10 White House Wants to Expand Trump's Tariff Powers
Jan10 Barr Met with Senators Yesterday
Jan10 Rosenstein Plans to Leave the Justice Dept. after Barr is Confirmed
Jan10 Romney Gets a Chilly Reception in the Senate
Jan10 Steyer Will Not Run in 2020
Jan10 Thursday Q&A
Jan09 Smoke, Meet Gun
Jan09 Trump Gives Border Speech He Didn't Want to Deliver
Jan09 Takeaways from Tuesday's Speeches
Jan09 Other Shutdown News
Jan09 Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
Jan08 Shutdown Day 17: Things Are About to Go from Bad to Worse
Jan08 Can Trump Really Declare a National Emergency?
Jan08 How Much Is $5 Billion, Really?
Jan08 Trump Administration May Try to Suppress Parts of Mueller Report
Jan08 Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Miss Oral Arguments for the First Time
Jan08 How Re-electable Is Donald Trump Right Now?
Jan07 Trump Offers an Alternative to a Concrete Wall: A Steel Wall
Jan07 Trump in No Hurry to Name Permanent Cabinet Members
Jan07 Schiff Is Not Interested in Impeaching Trump
Jan07 Ex-Felons Can Register to Vote in Florida Tomorrow--Maybe
Jan07 Sixteen Big Questions about Mueller's Investigation
Jan07 Money Is the New Straw Poll
Jan07 Petition Asks NYC to Rename a Stretch of Fifth Avenue
Jan07 Monday Q&A
Jan06 Shutdown Talks Going Nowhere Fast
Jan06 Senate Kicks Hundreds of Nominees Back to Trump
Jan06 It's Constitutional Amendment Time!
Jan06 Public Policy 101, Part I: Why a Wall Is a Bad Idea
Jan06 Public Policy 101, Part II: Why Term Limits Are a Bad Idea
Jan06 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Julián Castro
Jan05 Epic Power Struggle Begins
Jan05 Trump Threatens to Declare State of Emergency