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GOP Presidential nomination gets murky…sort of

I’ve said several times in the last few weeks that Donald Trump is the most likely Republican nominee for President. But events that seemed to start with last week’s sophomoric “there’s nothing wrong with my penis” debate, and continue through last weekend’s voting, cloud that picture a bit.

During last week’s debate, Marco Rubio was shrill in aggressively attacked Trump, Trump responded poorly, Ted Cruz saw the opportunity, and was the net beneficiary. Cruz’s strength in states that weighed in this weekend seemed mostly at the expense of Rubio, but he seemed to take some from Trump as well. All told, it is Ted Cruz who moves into this week with enough momentum to make people wonder, mostly at Marco Rubio’s expense.

Here’s why Trump is still in the best position:

Starting with Florida and Ohio on March 15th, then moving into big midwest states, the GOP will have a bunch of winner-take-all contests. In addition to Florida (which Trump comfortably leads) and Ohio (where Trump and Kasich will battle, but Trump currently leads), those delegate-rich winner-take-all states include Illinois (winner-take-most), Missouri, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Those states represent 457 delegates. While I cannot find reputable recent polling for Missouri or Arizona as I write this, Trump doesn’t trail in any of those states. In states with recent polling, Trump currently leads in all of them to varying degrees.

If Trump were to win those states, added to the 384 delegates he’s already earned, his delegate total would rise to 841, of the 1,237 needed for the nomination. Just as importantly, since the above states constitute all the delegate-rich winner-take-all states between now and April 26, the other Republican candidates would be falling far behind, as they continue to split delegates in the proportional states (with Trump taking his fair share of them as well).

Here’s why Trump’s position is weakened:

Voting in Louisiana this weekend demonstrated how fast a candidate with a tenuous hold on supporters can fall. Granted, Trump only underperformed his polling by about 2%. But he was supposed to win the state by 15%, and only won by 4%, with a strong surge from Cruz. Trump’s support was relatively stable, but Marco Rubio’s support completely collapsed between the early voting period and election day, probably driven by Rubio’s shrill debate performance last week, and Cruz taking advantage of it.

gop-debateThe volatility of the race may indicate that all the polling in those winner-take-all states mentioned above may ultimately not be worth the paper its printed on. And the biggest irony here is that, for all the attacks on Trump from all quarters in the last week, the key reason Trump suddenly looks weak has less to do with voters leaving Trump, and more to do with voters leaving Rubio. For all the endless discussion for months about Trump’s ceiling, perhaps we should have been considering Trump’s floor.

It is by no accident that Cruz is now spending heavily all over Florida, where a much-weakened Rubio fights, probably unsuccessfully, to avoid losing his home turf. And it would not be surprising if Ohio Governor John Kasich won in his home state the same day. This newly-exposed volatility may well mean that, instead of Trump marching on toward the nomination by taking the big winner-take-all state delegates, at mid-month we may soon begin to see candidates split these states. This, in turn, makes it much more likely that nobody will get to the GOP convention with a majority of delegates, setting up the contested convention people always talk about but which seldom happens.

I still think the most likely outcome in Florida is that Trump wins, if only because Florida has a robust early voting period. Many of those voters have already cast their votes, and Trump may have already won it, regardless of subsequent events. The real show in Florida, aside from where the 99 delegates go, may be whether Trump and Cruz can deliver the knock-out punch to Rubio’s campaign. Meanwhile, in Ohio, it’s John Kasich’s chance to be taken seriously if he can win at home.


The current GOP volatility makes this Thursday’s Republican debate in Miami do-or-die for Rubio, and absolutely crucial for Cruz and Trump.  And it also may be time to invest heavily in the international popcorn corporation of your choice, because the last few days of the GOP contest have been anything but clarifying.

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Why Clinton is the likely Democratic nominee

I haven’t been shy lately in saying in public forums that Hillary Clinton will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee for President. That said, the standard-issue “barring extraordinary circumstances” disclaimer applies, in an election year seemingly cram-packed with extraordinary circumstances so far.

Still, I should explain.

At some point in a Presidential primary election process, it’s no longer fundamentally about the spin, momentum, rally attendance, or enthusiasm. As time goes on, it’s more and more about the math. And the math can be cruel.

To date, Democrats in 15 states have weighed in. In raw votes cast, Clinton is ahead of Sanders by almost 1.4 million votes. Ignoring superdelegates, she has an estimated 596 delegates, to Sanders’ 407. It takes 2,382 to win the nomination. While this win number does include superdelegates, it is a safe assumption that superdelegates will do this year what they’ve done in previous years – ultimately vote for the candidate who has the lions share of electorally-earned delegates, regardless of who they endorsed earlier in the process.

Yes, most of the superdelegates are currently for Clinton, but if Sanders suddenly took a commanding delegate lead, they would feel free to switch, and they would. So, for the purposes of the current delegate score, I didn’t count them. But do keep in mind that their votes do count toward that 2,382 win number.

The delegate count is key, and so is the delegate selection process Democrats use. While some states after March 15 will be “winner take all” in the Republican process, the Democrats remain proportional to the end. That means that the underdog in a state continues to earn delegates, and it means that it takes a frontrunner much longer to reach their win number. But it also means that once a candidate falls behind, it is much more difficult to catch up, even with some big wins elsewhere. Eventually, an underdog will fall so far behind that the nomination is a virtual impossibility.

Meanwhile, to the extent polling has been off anywhere lately, it has usually been in underestimating the strength of the leader, not usually that of the challenger. With that in mind, let’s look at the upcoming primary calendar.

sanders_clintonThe next 2 weeks, delegates at stake, and most recent polling

This weekend, Democrats go to the polls in Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, and Maine. Next Tuesday comes Michigan and Mississippi. The Northern Mariana Islands (which, apparently, is a place) are in there somewhere, followed on March 15 by powerhouses Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio.

In the Kansas caucus, with 33 delegates at stake, Clinton leads by 10%.

In Louisiana, with 59 delegates at stake, Clinton leads by 39%.

In Michigan, with 147 delegates at stake, Clinton leads by 18%.

In Mississippi, with 36 delegates at stake, Clinton leads by 44%.

In Florida, with 246 delegates at stake, Clinton leads by 24%.

In Illinois, with 156 delegates at stake, Clinton leads by 19%.

In North Carolina, with 121 delegates at stake, Clinton leads by 19%.

in Ohio, with 143 delegates at stake, Clinton leads by 15%.

I can find no polling for Nebraska, Maine, Missouri, or the Northern Mariana Islands, and in all these places combined, 155 delegates are at stake.

In all the Democratic primaries and caucuses between now and March 15, with more than a thousand delegates up for grabs, I can find no reputable recent polling showing Senator Sanders leading Secretary Clinton anywhere. It would surprise me, however, if Sanders didn’t prevail in the Maine caucuses. But with only 30 delegates at stake there, that’s no game-changer.

In a proportional delegate selection process that makes it critical that Sanders catch up with Clinton, there are precious few places he can. While he will almost certainly pick up delegates at every step of the way, Clinton will pick up significantly more at each step. And with each of those steps, the delegate count stacking up for Clinton will make it harder and harder to see how Sanders makes up his shortfall.

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News briefs from the Texas primary elections

Here are a few tidbits left over from yesterday’s primary elections in Texas that are just too juicy not to mention:

Clinton has yuge win over…Trump?

I find it hilarious that Hillary Clinton, who will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee for President, got hundreds of thousands more votes in Texas than Donald Trump, who will almost certainly be the Republican nominee for President. This, despite total GOP primary turnout being roughly twice that of Democratic primary turnout in the state.

The sun will come out, to Morrow

Travis County (Austin) Republicans have themselves a teeny weenie little problem, and his name is Robert Morrow. He won the race for Travis County Republican County Chairman yesterday. For those not familiar with this bastion of civility, Morrow once claimed that he was 95% sure that Hillary Clinton has brain cancer and wouldn’t run for President. He once asked Chelsea Clinton at a book signing if her mother had ever told her that Webb Hubbell was her real father, and whether Bill Clinton targets teen girls. In Morrow’s world, Rick Perry is bi, Marco Rubio is gay, and the Republican National Committee is “a gay foam party.”  Are you beginning to see a suspicious pattern here? He lambasted a reporter who contacted him last night, after the reporter had the nerve to decline to join Morrow in using the “N” word. Morrow’s election as GOP chair is personally annoying to me, because now I have to renew my Costco membership so I can afford all the popcorn I’ll need to watch this train wreck unfold. Morrow, perhaps predictably, is a Donald Trump fan, who most wise politicos in Austin blocked on social media years ago. His twitter feed: totally NSFW. I know he sounds like a real catch, but sorry – no word yet whether he’s single.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the Republican Party, Part II

In other news regarding GOP class acts, the State Board of Education, long known as The Place Where All Good Ideas Go To Die, may soon have another member who will fit right in: Republican Mary Lou Bruner leads going into a runoff election for a seat on the Board. She believes that Barack Obama used to be a gay prostitute, that teaching evolution is responsible for school shootings, and that the United Nations has a secret plan to reduce the world’s population by 2/3’s. Pretty swanky.

It’s always darkest just before the Lon

It’s the day after an election. Which means that, as usual, it’s time for everybody to say this: poor Lon Burnam. Burnam lost his state House seat in an election two years ago, and now he’s lost a statewide primary. The only actual qualified candidate in a statewide race for Railroad Commission (which has nothing to do with railroads), he won’t make the runoff election, because he was bested by a candidate named Grady Yarbrough (who has nothing to do with Ralph Yarborough, a legendary former US Senator widely beloved by Democrats over the age of, say, 92). The winner of the runoff (which has nothing to do with Lon) will go on to run as a Democrat in a statewide election for Railroad Commissioner (which has nothing to do with Democrats winning a statewide race, per usual).

What other fun facts did you notice across Texas yesterday?

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The depth of Republicans’ despair

The National Republican leadership should have listened to GOP political consultant Alex Castellanos, who was among the first to sound the alarm bell about Donald Trump and come up with an early plan to stop him. But they didn’t.

They should have listened to Trump rivals Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal, and later Jeb Bush, all former GOP governors who read a Trump candidacy for what it was: a potential electoral disaster. But they rolled their eyes.

They could have listened to ABC News political pundit and former Bush campaign chief strategist Matthew Dowd, who continually pushed back on the state of denial and challenged anybody to explain to him how they imagined Trump would stumble. Some openly scoffed at him in ways that could only be described as abusive.

dead gopPotential funders of an anti-Trump campaign probably assumed that various Presidential rivals’ superpacs would be effective in attacking Trump, but instead, Jeb Bush’s superpac attacked Marco Rubio, and Rubio’s super pac attacked Jeb, and Ted Cruz’s superpac attacked Rubio. 

Then they placed their faith in Cruz’s appeal to evangelicals to save them from Trump, but after South Carolina they discovered that Southern evangelicals hate minorities more than they love Jesus. This in no way should have been a surprise, since these same voters didn’t hesitate to abandon the Democratic Party in a rage in the 1960s in the wake of Democrats’ support of the Voting Rights Act empowering minorities – why Republicans thought they’d follow along now is beyond comprehension. 

Few wanted to confront the notion that Trump was the logical end of what they themselves had built – a mountain of rage, xenophobia, misogyny, and racism, which Trump had tapped into with perfect pitch. They built that mountain through thousands of local races across America over the past eight years, backing candidates in GOP primary elections from sheriffs to mayors and state legislators, where actual policy differences were microscopic; the only real differences between their backed Tea Party challengers and the defeated Republican incumbents is that the incumbents didn’t hate the President enough, weren’t pissed off enough, and wouldn’t bow to their Tea Party masters fast enough. 

It all came to a head yesterday, when the bombshell hit that Governor Chris Christie had endorsed Trump. There aren’t many true game-changing events in politics, but this event certainly was one. It was such a strong symbol of the unconditional surrender of the so-called “establishment” that deniers could no longer deny. One could no longer ignore Trump’s evil genius, with the endorsement coming on the heels of Trump’s miserable debate performance the night before, and the emergence of what Trump deniers imagined might be “Marco-mentum.” In only 12 hours, Trump once again dramatically dominated the news cycle. Gone was the newfound buzz in Rubio’s candidacy, gone was the notion that Trump was on the ropes, and gone was any notion that Trump’s march to the nomination would be interruptible this Tuesday as GOP voters go to the polls to allocate hundreds and hundreds more delegates, most of them to Trump.

Unless something happens that they cannot even imagine yet, Trump’s nomination is all-but-done. If it’s still possible to stop him, the people with the means to fund it can’t imagine what it is, and are too divided to coalesce around a single plan to get it done. They try to imagine a brokered convention, but can’t figure out who the brokers might be.

The Republican leadership stands today in open despair and grief, some sensing for the first time that they’ve waited too late to stop a Trump nomination, many still in denial that they helped build Frankenstein’s monster in the first place. They’ll soon put their game face on and pretend to follow along, but they’ve already seen their future, and it’s bleak.

The New York Times has an excellent must-read piece on where all this leaves them: planning for a Democratic White House and trying to save what’s left.

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Tidwell: Presidential election and Supreme Court picks will ultimately end gridlock – one way or the other

Editor’s note: this analysis, written by Russ Tidwell, has far-reaching national implications, given pending redistricting litigation in Texas and elsewhere. Tidwell is well-qualified to speak on this – he was the Political Director of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association for 26 years, and is now with the Texas Association of Consumer Lawyers. He has been in the thick of every Texas redistricting battle since 1981.

By Russ Tidwell

The Scalia Supreme Court vacancy brings into focus the stakes in the Presidential election – the path to end Washington gridlock, which is ultimately rooted in the way districts are drawn.

While President Obama was winning a majority of the vote in the 2012 election, Democratic candidates, not Republicans, were winning a majority of the total vote for Congress. Republicans retained solid control of the U.S. House, however, because of carefully gerrymandered districts that leave Republican officeholders beholden only to angry voters who dominate the Republican Primaries – And neither those voters nor their Congressmen want to see any compromise with the hated Obama.

Only the U.S. Supreme Court can fix this.

Earlier: On SCOTUS vacancy, Republicans are probably screwed

Republicans in the U.S. Senate will probably deny confirmation to any Obama nominee, hoping for a Republican Presidential victory in November. But more than just the Scalia seat is on the line.  The next Presidential term will see an additional three Octogenarians still on the court.  The average age of departure from the court is 78.  When the new Presidential term begins, Anthony Kennedy will be 80, Stephen Breyer 78 and Ruth Bader Ginsberg 83.

This unusual confluence of age will allow the next President to shape the future of voting rights, for better or worse, for generations.

Let’s explore how we got in to this national paralysis of gridlock and how we can get out.

We need to understand racially polarized voting patterns.  After Democratic President Lyndon Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Anglo voters in the South rather rapidly transformed from Yellow Dog Democrats (previously the segregationist party in the South) to solidly Republican in Federal elections.

The Republican “Southern Strategy” sped this along, with campaigns enflaming emotions over busing, affirmative action, fears of quotas and the like. Remember the code words: welfare Cadillacs, law and order, forced busing, states’ rights and cutting taxes.  By the end of the Reagan administration, a majority of Anglo voters nationally were voting to “cut taxes”, now convinced that any government spending was just going to more handouts to minorities.  Meanwhile, programs to support the middle class we being strangled and wealth redistributed to the top.

My background working with trial lawyers brought to my attention studies of how the human brain works, showing how this transition could be accomplished so rapidly and uniformly.  Our brain stem, or reptilian brain, controls motor functions and survival instincts, fight or flight, etc.  Repeated appeals to this part of the brain — fear of the other tribe, for example — can create code to control voting patterns, preempting any further thought process.  This is the brain mechanism that can “trump” the others.

Racially polarized voting is not a theory to be debated.  It has been repeatedly proven up in Federal Court for the last fifty years. This is a little known fact, but the U.S. Supreme Court requires plaintiffs to demonstrate a pattern of racially polarized voting to satisfy certain redistricting and voting rights claims. Experts do a precinct by precinct analysis of demographics and election returns.  The expert report showing this pattern of racially polarized voting filed most recently by Texas plaintiffs was not even contested by the State.  The patterns are nationwide.

I bring this up to back up an observation I have about the 2010 off-year election.  It was a White Backlash election.

In 2008, a record turnout brought us the first Black President.  Voter participation always falls off in the off-year, but in 2010, minorities were particularly complacent, having just helped elect a President of color.  However, a large percentage of Anglos were enraged (remember the Tea Party signs “We want our Country back”) and they voted disproportionately.

This was a national phenomenon.  Democrats lost many Governors, control of the U.S. House and perhaps more importantly, more than 700 seats in state legislatures that were about to do redistricting.

Republicans gained control of numerous legislative bodies, some for the first time in a hundred years.

The 2011 redistricting process provided the opportunity for these Anglo majorities to draw maps designed to keep them in power indefinitely and to control Congress.  They systematically packed some districts with a high percentage of minority voters and fragmented other minority communities into multiple Anglo majority districts.

This allowed them to rig the process to deny minority voters fair representation in Congress or the State Legislature.  Consider the makeup of the congressional delegation in these states carried at least once by President Obama:

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 8.40.40 AM

You can see why President Obama’s remaining agenda is blocked.  In these major states carried by the President, Republicans control two-thirds of the seats in Congress in a rigged process.  The Red States are worse.  These are not swing districts.  There are precious few of them. The Republican officeholders only have to answer to their primary voters who hate the Black President.  Thus, Gridlock.

The agenda of the next Democratic President will also be largely blocked for years – no matter who it is. We are not going to get single payer health care or free college education or a living minimum wage until Democrats get to appoint more Justices to the Supreme Court.

There are good Democratic thinkers such as George Lakoff who are showing us the way to win elections when the deck is not stacked against us.  This is Elizabeth Warren messaging.  I remain optimistic about the ultimate success of a progressive agenda in this country when we are no longer hamstrung by redistricting.

With the election system rigged only the U.S. Supreme Court can fix redistricting through enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  The Court has to stop the packing and cracking of minority communities.

The process can only begin with the election of a Democratic President this fall.  Sadly, Republican Presidents have not appointed justices friendly to voting rights in decades.

We must recognize that the process will take years with litigation in many states culminating after the 2021 redistricting.  Cases still pending in Texas, North Carolina, Virginia and Arizona can lay the legal foundation for fully restoring voting rights, but not until 2021.

The Obama Coalition must hang together to win the 2016 election.  Democrats have won the popular vote in four out of the last five Presidential elections, but those elections have been close.

I have one haunting concern about our electoral prospects this year and it is that reptilian brain theory of the American voter. The survival instinct imbedded there is politically dangerous.  Looking back on it forty-four years later, why did the very progressive George McGovern lose 49 states in the 1972 general election? I am still struck by this sweeping loss on the heels of all the social and economic progress of the 1960s.  McGovern ran against what was a very unpopular war in Vietnam, but now, thinking of our reptilian brains, were voters viewing that war opposition in the larger, more powerful frame of containment of our then arch enemy, the Soviet Union?  Did they code McGovern as not willing to keep us safe in the Cold War?  Something like that undercut him in a devastating way.

Food for thought when we Democrats have to decide who to put forward to win this year’s General Election.

We live in an era of terrorism, magnified irrational fear, and anti-Muslim hysteria.  We have seen the mood of the country turn on a dime after Paris and San Bernardino.  The brain stem is doing what it evolved to do, default us to safety.

The Republican attack machine will spend more than a billion dollars exploiting the weaknesses of our nominee, whoever it is, and provoking fear of his or her capacity to keep us safe.

We have one candidate who has been the subject of those attacks for years – and still standing.  A former Secretary of State, former resident of the White House, who is perceived to be mildly Hawkish.

Another candidate is not vetted in a national general election, who voted against the first Gulf War, the one popular world-wide for reversing Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.  The same candidate sought conscientious objector status in the Vietnam era.

I want to see a progressive agenda succeed in this country.  I believe the New Deal Era built the middle class.  It takes government investment in hard and soft infrastructure, fair regulation of business excess, and a progressive tax system.  We don’t have the votes in Congress to get there in the near term.

But we see the path to get there. A Democrat has to win the 2016 general election.

By the way, who is your very favorite Supreme Court Justice? The notorious RBG, maybe? Appointed by Bill Clinton.

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On SCOTUS vacancy, Republicans are probably screwed

There’s really no other way to put this: fallout from the death of Supreme Court Antonin Scalia in West Texas last weekend has zero likely positive outcomes for Republicans, either from a legal or political standpoint.

The immediate knee-jerk from the GOP leadership in the Senate, from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (who controls the first stop for any Supreme Court nominee), to the two U.S. Senators running for President, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, was to immediately dismiss even the possibility that President Obama should nominate a replacement for Scalia, leaving it for the next President. Sight unseen, Republicans were proclaiming an Obama pick to be DOA, leaving a Supreme Court vacancy open for a year, and insinuating that a President who had, at the time, 341 days left in office is without Constitutional duty or power.

GOP leaders have softened in the hours since, either by backing away from earlier statements or by their silence. It is slowly sinking in that no matter what they do, they lose.

The simple fact of the matter is that the President has an absolute Constitutional requirement to appoint Justice Scalia’s replacement. It is equally true that the U.S. Senate has an absolute Constitutional requirement to deal with it. But the Senate dealing with it can legitimately range from confirming Obama’s choice, to making paper airplanes out of the paperwork the White House sends over.

I totally get it – the Senate Republicans want to run out the clock on the Obama Presidency, work to make sure the Republican nominee wins the Presidential election, and preserve their conservative wing of the court. At the same time, however, it is slowly dawning on them that the process of running out the clock also makes it much less likely that they’ll win the Presidential election. They find themselves in a terrible “catch 22” situation.

It is in examining the Senate Republicans’ choices that it begins to sink in that there’s no likely way for them to win. Here they are:

Do nothing: 

Obama could send a nomination that the Republican leadership does nothing with. They don’t call hearings. They don’t call for a vote. The nomination just languishes over time. Most of an entire year. The GOP messaging would likely be that the pick of a President this late in his final term isn’t valid, thus the next President should pick. This is similar to their first knee-jerk reaction following Scalia’s passing.

There are two huge problems with this, one legal and the other political. The legal ramification applies to any scenario in which the Senate doesn’t approve an Obama pick: it leaves a 4-4 tie between the conservative and liberal wings of the court. A tie on the Supreme Court means that the lower court ruling stands. There are many lower court rulings currently pending in which conservatives were counting on the high court to overturn. This will not happen until a full Supreme Court is seated. Given that President Obama isn’t likely to nominate a justice of conservatives’ liking, it probably wouldn’t happen anyway, but with a ninth justice seated, conservatives would at least have a chance of convincing the new justice on a case-by-case basis of the logic of their argument on a case.

The political problem is even more perplexing to them. It’s potentially huge, and it’s a game-wrecker for them: Republican attempts to push a nomination for an entire year, into the next Presidency, open up a huge opportunity for Democrats to point out to an essential coalition — the ones who showed up in droves to elect Barack Obama — that the GOP doesn’t believe Obama’s is a legitimate Presidency – the fastest way I know of to create the anger and motivation to reignite that coalition and elect a Democrat this fall.

Go through the process, but obstruct:

After Obama sends over his nominee, hold hearings, slowly, before voting down the nominee. Then repeat. Then repeat again if necessary. Run out the clock on the Presidency. The GOP messaging would have to focus on the nominees being unqualified. They would side-step the “Obama isn’t a legitimate President” insult, and instead concentrate of Obama’s nominees being clowns.

The main problem with this lies in the likely high quality of the President’s nominee(s), and/or the likelihood that a nominee would mirror important Democratic coalition goals – African-Americans, Hispanics, women, LGBT, etc. He could send over somebody who recently sailed through Senate confirmation without a hitch, making it more difficult for Republicans to explain why they recently voted to confirm this person for one thing, but suddenly believe this person is unqualified for another thing. Obama has several choices for nominees such as this, including the current Attorney General, or a D.C. appeals court judge who sailed through on a 97-0 vote recently. He could send over any number of nominees who the American Bar Association deems highly qualified. The biggest problem with Republican messaging on this front is that ultimately the American people have to believe the message., A highly qualified nominee blunts that considerably. The most likely outcome is the same as in the “do nothing” scenario – Republicans are seen as obstructionist, leading to anger and high motivation for the Obama coalition, and a much greater likelihood that a Democrat will be elected President this fall.

Confirm an Obama nominee:

This is the scenario some Republican Senators are probably secretly praying for, and it’s the most unlikely outcome. It entails somehow convincing the President to nominate somebody who would be seen as a consensus candidate – somebody progressive enough for Obama to nominate, but one harmless enough for Republicans to confirm.

The hitch in this plan: who the hell are we talking about? At the end of the day, they have to come up with a name – a specific human being. And the political parties are so utterly polarized at the moment that it is likely that this human being doesn’t exist. And even if he or she does exist, Senators like Ted Cruz — who is one of the few Republicans who might win from this situation even if the entire rest of his party loses – would invent reasons why this person is actually Satanic.

It is likely that anybody the President is willing to nominate would be — if for no other reason than by virtue of the nomination — unacceptable to a Republican Senate majority. And even if any given GOP Senator would privately be fine voting for the nominee, it would be out of fear of that Senator’s primary voters that they’d feel obligated to fight against the nomination.

As unlikely as this scenario is, it is the one with the least political damage done to the Republican nominee for President, but it could come at a cost to Republican Senators in contested primary elections in future years.


There may be other long-shot strategies Senate Republicans could discuss behind closed doors – like statutorily changing the number of Supreme Court justices from nine, to eight or seven (yes, Congress can do that) – all of which lead to the same place as the above scenarios – angering and motivating Democrats and contributing to a Democratic win for President. It should increasingly obvious to Senate Republicans that it doesn’t matter what they do, it is simply undeniable that Justice Scalia’s death could not have come at a worse time, and any reaction leaves them in a considerably weakened position than they were before, both legally and politically. Their options aren’t great.

Update: too serious for you? Fair enough. Here’s The Onion’s take.

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Book Review: Broad Influence, by Jay Newton-Small

Then-Texas Governor Rick Perry’s 2012 decision to inflict himself on the rest of America by running for President was not, generally speaking, a move that had a tremendous impact on the republic. He bombed. Oops.

However, one personally positive side-effect of Perry’s run, for me, was that national journalists from all over made pilgrimages to Austin, to learn more about the strange organisms called “Texans” and the oddity we had elected Governor. While in Austin, some of these reporters wanted to meet with and talk to me about Texas politics in general and about Perry more specifically.

That’s why I got a call from Time Magazine correspondent Jay Newton-Small in 2012, wanting to set up a meeting. And we did indeed meet one day, in the lobby of the W Hotel in Austin. We talked for quite a while, and within an hour I concluded that I had been lucky enough to get to know one of the sharpest and most interesting journalists in the nation. We’ve maintained our correspondence since, which has mainly consisted of her updates on what she’s working on, and me dreaming up and suggesting justifications for her to return to Austin on her publication’s dime so we can have drinks and talk more. None of my justifications have worked at all. So far.

It is in that context that I have been eagerly awaiting the release of her book, Broad influence; How Women Are Changing the Way America Works, now freshly for sale at a bookstore near either you or near your computer.

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 6.35.58 PM

I just love a good double entendre

Now that the book’s out, wow. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. In fact I just blew an entire Sunday, beautiful weather and all (in Austin, sorry blizzard people), because I couldn’t put the damn thing down.

What Newton-Small doesn’t invest a lot of time doing is convincing readers that improving professional opportunities for women is the right thing to do, from a human rights perspective. I mean, it is, but that book’s been written so many times that if you are, on general principles, still a gender equality denier in 2016, there’s probably not much anybody can say to convince you otherwise. You’re just being a jerk.

What she does is more ground-breaking, interesting, and quantitative than that. She takes readers through institutions both public and private, and makes the compelling case that women achieving critical mass in those institutions fundamentally changes dynamics, dramatically improves outcomes, and is an absolute economic imperative for the future.

Her argument for gender parity is compelling from every angle, offering up evidence against the tokenism of having “a woman” in the boardroom, instead making the case that for an institution, public or private, to enjoy the full benefit of gender diversity, the institution must reach a critical mass of women. She quantifies examples from the White House and Congress, to Wall Street board rooms, law enforcement, the military, and the judiciary.

Every corporate CEO who ever approved a gender diversity hiring initiative purely for public relations purposes should read this book, to learn why the PR motive doesn’t even make the top ten list as to why a critical mass of women at every level of an organization is a good idea.

Testosterone-filled lawmakers should read it to find out the answer as to why, last time they were involved in a big legislative showdown, their brinksmanship probably didn’t work out the way they’d hoped.

Politicos should read it to find out ways they may be alienating significantly more than half of the electorate, and may not have a clue as to how they’re managing to do that, or why it’s important that they cut that crap out.

And everybody else should read it because it’s a damn good story well-told.

Meanwhile, Jay, here’s another justification for getting back to Austin: you have a book signing to do. First round’s on me.

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Odd things happen at Capital Tonight Show Worldwide Headquarters sometimes


Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and I are determined not to leave the Capital Tonight Show set until one of us switches parties. So far, we’ve been here for 3 weeks, and our food and water supplies are running low.

Dan Patrick Harold Cook CT Set

Things we have agreed on so far:





5. The Astros had a great season.


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On public service, mental health challenges, and knowing when to STFU

By now, we who pay attention to Texas politics have all heard the story.

An elected official mysteriously disappears for weeks. Rumors abound. When the official re-surfaces, there are acknowledgements of terrible bouts with depression, attempts at treatment, and working to get better and return to the job.

And yet, nobody gets in the newspaper calling for that official’s resignation.

Wait – did you think I was talking about the situation surrounding Republican Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk?

Nope. I was talking about Democratic State Representative Garnet Coleman of Houston. Mr. Coleman suffered from his own debilitating condition, disappeared from view for a time, fought his way back, and has since for years been an absolutely essential voice in so many policy discussions that I’ve lost track. He is deeply-respected by members of both political parties.

I’m not spilling any state secrets here – he has been very open about his situation in his years-long efforts to advocate for progress on mental health issues.

By my memory, no high officials in the Texas Republican Party called for Representative Coleman to resign. Maybe they did and I just missed it. But if they had, and if he’d heeded those calls, the state of Texas would have missed out on Coleman’s hefty accomplishments, which include increasing access to health care for more than 600,000 children on Medicaid, securing an increase of more than $161 million dollars for at-risk child care services, and co-authoring the legislation that brought the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to Texas. Those are just the top-lines to Coleman’s public service. You can read more about Mr. Coleman and his accomplishments here.

On the issue of Dallas County D.A. Hawk, however, immediately following her disappearance from public view, and subsequent disclosure that she’s in treatment for her own mental health issues, Dallas County Democratic Chairwoman Carol Donovan wasted no time in calling for Hawk’s resignation. It was a classless move, and Donovan should be ashamed of herself.

Donovan couched her statement in terms of being concerned for Hawk’s well-being:

In view of the facts that have just recently been revealed, Susan owes it to herself, not to mention her nearly 500 employees and the taxpayers, to resign and to concentrate on getting well.

Donovan might  be practicing psychiatry without a license. Alternatively, she might be committing political malpractice with her own acute political tone-deafness condition. And, incidentally, unless Donovan can point us to where she was quoted calling on Representative Coleman to resign when he was in the midst of his own difficulties, she’s also being hypocritical. In any event, she seems to have accomplished nothing other than to increase the already-existing stigma associated with mental health issues.

For all I know, Susan Hawk might be the worst District Attorney in the history of the office. But it will be the State Bar of Texas which rightfully determines whether she is fit for the practice of law, and it is for Ms. Hawk and the medical professionals of her choice to determine the best course for her treatment.

Meanwhile, please let this be a reminder to politicos that, sometimes, the very best thing to say is nothing, and the best way to react is with kindness, not shrill political hackery clumsily worded to mimic concern.

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GOP Debate #2 wrap-up: Fiorina shines, Cruz disappears, and awkward Bush moments

Not that Greater Texas needs yet another hot take on last night’s GOP Presidential debate hosted by CNN, but what the hell – here’s mine anyway.

As expected and is natural in such situations, CNN’s Jake Tapper did his very best to pit as many of the candidates against frontrunner Donald Trump as possible, calling on Trump to respond to charges other candidates had made against him on the campaign trail, and calling on others to respond to Trump’s insults.

This made Carly Fiorina shine, made for an awkward night for Jeb Bush, and made Ted Cruz a non-entity.

Last night Fiorina became the first challenger to go head-to-head with Trump, twice, and win resoundingly both times. In each case her comments furthered her own message, while leaving Trump red-faced with embarrassment. Going into last night’s event, she had been one of the bigger question marks on stage, having participated only in the kiddie table debate in the FOX News round last month, and shined there. But it’s one thing to attack Trump when Trump’s not even there; quite another to go toe-to-toe with him. But she fought her way to the main event, and she absolutely delivered. Expect a polling bump out of her corner in the coming week or so.

Meanwhile, since debate moderator Tapper was focused on attacks made by and toward Trump, Senator Cruz was…shall we say…under-utilized at the event, since Cruz never attacks Trump, what with their little tactical bromance and all. There was little Trump-related to ask Cruz, so Cruz wasn’t asked much, and stood silently as other candidates fought for time. I suspect Cruz, rightly or wrongly, called an audible to himself that he’d get more mileage complaining later on FOX that the CNN moderator was shutting him out, than anything he could have gained by elbowing into the fray last night. He might not be wrong about that. Since he’s polling comfortably in the middle of the pack, he can afford to bide his time while waiting for Trump to implode.

Jeb Bush had no such luxury last night, having under-performed expectations considerably. He had something to prove at the debate, and he failed to prove it. He had several good moments, but they seemed over-shadowed by the overwhelming feeling that he’s just too awkward in his own skin. He also squandered the best opportunity of the evening, when he insisted that Trump apologize to Bush’s wife for having insulted her earlier on the campaign trail, and Trump refused. At that point, Bush could have demonstrated some good old-fashioned chivalrous passion and anger in defending his family, but instead he passively let the moment pass in a way that reminded me of Mike Dukakis’ debate mistakes. If I were a Jeb Bush bundler right now, I’d be pushing the panic button. The man just simply isn’t acting like he believes he’ll ever be the nominee.

From the other end of the Florida spectrum, however, Marco Rubio elbowed his way into most of the policy arguments, and comported himself very passionately, articulately, and his debate performance may advance him a few clicks. And New Jersey’s Chris Christie, whose campaign is on the ropes and who desperately needed a lift, may well have done himself similar favors last night.

On the other hand, Ohio’s Governor John Kasich, who out shined most on the debate stage last month, got terminally lost in the crowd last night, and will quickly be forgotten if he doesn’t create a game change for himself. Similarly, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker seemed to relish playing to his own weaknesses, and it spectacularly didn’t work at all. Walker or Kasich may be the next exits from the race, following Texas Governor Rick Perry’s flame-out last Friday.

The remainder of the candidates on the main stage did nothing to help themselves, but may not have hurt themselves much either. Ben Carson still doesn’t seem quite ready for prime time, but I doubt it matters yet to GOP primary voters; they’ll continue to give him the benefit of the doubt for a while. Huckabee was Huckabee (which is bad), and Rand Paul was very busy being Rand Paul (which isn’t bad – but he better make a move soon, or he’ll die in media obscurity).

Not that many watch or any care, but speaking of Perry, the kiddie table debate was even more meaningless than last month, without Perry’s presence earlier last evening. My guess is that, with Perry’s exit, we’ve seen the last of the junior varsity debates for this cycle. But if it’s possible to shine in such an event, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham did so, much to everybody’s amazement. During the first undercard debate last month, Graham barely showed up, then said nothing memorable. By last night, however, the quaaludes must have worn off, because Graham was memorable, funny, relevant, and had interesting issues-related things to say, all without managing to act like an ass. Quite a trick for this GOP crowd. If Walker, Huckabee, Kasich, or Christie bow out of the Presidential race early enough, Graham may well earn a spot on a future main stage. Yesterday he proved that he’s earned it.

That’s my take, what’s yours?

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The Fox News GOP Presidential Debate Drinking Game

Because you, the crap-reading public, have demanded it, Letters From Texas Worldwide Headquarters delivers it. Here’s your 2016 GOP Presidential Debate Drinking Game:

If Donald Trump tries to explain why he really doesn’t hate Mexicans much: drink 1 shot.

If the first reference to Ronald Reagan is made within the first minute of the debate: 1 shot.

If Jeb Bush accidentally insults women, again: 1 shot.

If Perry, Santorum, Jindal, Fiorina, and/or Graham storm the stage demanding to be included: 2 shots.

If more than 5 candidates insult Donald Trump before the opening statements are over: 1 shot.

If Donald Trump insults more than 3 candidates in the first 10 minutes: 1 shot.

If Donald Trump insults more than 3 countries full of people in the first 10 minutes: 2 shots.

If Donald Trump insults the entire solar system in the first 10 minutes: 3 shots.

If Ted Cruz defends Donald Trump from whoever is insulting him: 1 shot.

If anybody asks Ben Carson who the hell he is and what he’s doing there instead of Rick Perry: 1 shot.

If Ted Cruz threatens to shut down the government if they don’t allow him to drone on incessantly about how he’ll repeal Obamacare on day 1: 1 shot.

If all 10 candidates vote to repeal Obamacare on the spot: 2 shots.

Any mention of the words “Jade” or “Helm:” 2 shots.

First mention of Benghazi: 1 shot.

First mention of Hillary Clinton’s emails: 1 shot.

First mention of Hillary Clinton’s hair style: 1 shot.

First mention of Hillary Clinton’s husband: 1 shot.

If Scott Walker utters the name of any of his Koch brother buddies: 1 shot.

If Scott Walker takes an actual phone call from a Koch brother during the debate: 2 shots.

If Mike Huckabee kisses South Carolina’s collective ass: 1 shot.

If Chris Christie kisses New Hampshire’s collective ass: 1 shot.

If anybody notes Rand Paul’s attendance at the debate at all: 1 shot.

If Marco Rubio tries to drink water in the middle of a sentence, again: 1 shot.

If John Kasich reminds viewers more than 3 times that he’s the governor of Ohio, which is a state that if the Republican nominee doesn’t win, they’ll never see the inside of the White House, because no Republican has ever won, ever, without must-win Ohio, which the Republicans must win: 1 shot.

For each candidate not wearing a flag pin, besides Donald Trump: 1 shot.

If Donald Trump wears a Donald Trump pin: 1 shot.

If Donald Trump claims he put his life in danger by visiting Laredo for, like, 10 minutes: 2 shots.

If Donald Trump says something totally offensive about somebody, then immediately says that he likes him a lot: 1 shot.

Update: nah, not really.

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Republicans say the darnedest things!

Republican presidential primary politics are the greatest show on earth. It’s political porn. It doesn’t matter what the Republican Party tries to do to minimize the damage to their brand, the early stage of their nominating process always quickly devolves into a clown car of epic proportions. As a Democrat, I fully support this, if only because it distracts from how silly we Democrats can be.

Those watching Donald Trump’s antics this time should be reminded that this is nothing new. Last time, it was Michelle Bachmann who, through The Frequent Saying Of Stupid Things, quickly rose to the top of the Republican heap, only to have her hopes and dreams crushed by Rick Perry, who after The Frequent Saying Of Stupid Things he engaged in, quickly had his own hopes and dreams crushed.

So Trump can hardly be blamed if experience has taught him that the way to quickly rise to the top of Republican polls is to say stupid stuff. It’s the way Republicans do it.

In fact, Republican primary voters are so in love with candidates who say stupid stuff that they’ll ignore everything else, in utter adoration of said stupid stuff.

Donald Trump immediately rose to the top of the polls because he deliberately expressed abject and offensive racism toward Hispanics in his announcement speech. But to his audience, the offensive is hot. Those voters are so enamored with his racism that it made them forget that Trump has also said in the past that he’s pro-choice, pro-universal health care, and pro-assault weapons ban. Wow, way to go, Republicans – that’s a really healthy commitment to your racism you’ve got there!

But alas, there are grown-ups among Republican primary voters. They have a long and proud history of being more than happy to go out on a date with any damn fool, but they won’t get engaged to just anybody. In 2008, they settled on John McCain as the man to marry. Say what you will about McCain, but he is a certified grown-up, and would have still been considered such in the general election, but for his little dalliance with that Sarah Palin thing. And in 2012, after flirting with unserious candidates like Bachmann, Perry, and Herman Cain, they coalesced around Mitt Romney, another bona fide grown-up.

So, I’m sorry, fellow Democrats, but the Republicans will not nominate Trump, much as we’re tempted to send him campaign contributions in the hopes that they will. The Republican faithful will soon conclude that he is not serious marriage material. In fact, they’ll quickly figure out that it turns out he isn’t even a fun first date.

The good news for Democrats, and others who revel in the misery Republicans experience every time the nominate a Presidential candidate, is that Trump will not quickly go away. Presidential candidates don’t drop out of a race when they drop in the polls. They drop out of the nominating process when they run out of money. And Donald Trump will never run out of money, or ego.

So, friends, despite Trump’s self-destructive utterings, the 2016 clown car will continue careening down the highway at breakneck speed for the foreseeable future, with Trump still hanging onto the hubcaps. Because why would you put an early end to the greatest show on earth?

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The great rattlesnake heist of 2015

Well fellow Texans and Texas lovers, the dog days of summer are truly upon us. Most legislators except a few strays have left Austin, and as usual I’m spending more time at the Western Headquarters in the Big Bend region of Texas, AKA God’s Country.

“They” say that nothing ever happens in Big Bend. And “They” are wrong. Big doings out there in the last few days.

How big? I’m glad you asked. We just had the crime of the century, and the liberal lamestream media has been ignoring it. Wake up, sheeple.

According to the weekly Brewster County Sheriff’s blotter, which is the finest piece of writing I look forward to reading regularly, a gentleman in Alpine called the sheriff to complain that somebody had stolen 11 of his rattlesnakes.

I had questions.

First, what does a dude do with a bunch of rattlesnakes (besides “whatever the hell they want to do?”)

Second, if he was complaining that 11 of his rattlesnakes got absconded with, that would be 11 OUT OF EXACTLY HOW MANY TOTAL RATTLESNAKES, FOR GOD SAKES?

But no matter – the crack team down at the sheriff’s office was immediately ON IT, as usual. I just read today that they caught the guy.

They arrested Carl Peterson for having swiped the snakes. Peterson is apparently 57 years old, which is approximately 56 more years than most people would need to know better. He was arrested for burglary and…wait…making a terroristic threat. Which brings up another question, come to think of it.

There’s another guy who lives in Big Bend who seems to be everywhere at once, and who almost everybody experiences in a fairly drastic way, and his name is Karma. Apparently that Karma dude has already visited Mr. Peterson, because one of the pieces of evidence in this theft had already bitten the ever-living crap out of the perp by the time the sheriff got involved.

This has been one of my favorite crimes in the Greater Big Bend Metropolitan Area ever since The Infamous Mishap With The Lajitas Mayor years ago.

The aforementioned Mayor of Lajitas is Clay Henry, and he’s actually a goat. This probably would make more sense to us if we’d been there the drunken night they made that decision. But he’s been the mayor for years, and he’s the most scandal-free public official in that end of the state.

A few years ago, it seems that some tourists turned their beer intake valve up too high, and by the end of the evening they decided it would be an absolutely fantastic bang-up idea to castrate the Mayor, which they proceeded to do. Maybe they figured he wasn’t using ’em anyway, since there was no Mrs. Clay Henry in the mayor’s pen with him.

The perps were apprehended by the authorities, and brought to trial by a jury of their peers. In perfect Big Bend tradition — that tradition being that irony is much more important than justice — the trial ended with…wait for it…a hung jury.

How could I not love far West Texas?

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Dear GOP windbags dog whistling on marriage equality:

I get it – you’re really really PO’ed that gay people now have a Constitutional right to have, or be, an ol’ ball and chain too, and now you’re pretty much just impatiently awaiting the rapture with great annoyance.

Believe me – when it comes to the Supreme Court, I’ve been there. I was dismayed at the Citizens United decision that gave your ilk all that dark money to play with. I was downright angered when they handed George W. Bush the Presidency by halting the Florida recount. I was disgusted when they gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. There is no doubt that no matter where one is on the political spectrum, we can all agree that the Supreme Court makes mistakes. We might disagree on which specific decisions constitute those mistakes, but we would all agree that they make them.

You have every right to whine and rant. We are a proud nation of whiners and ranters. I fully support your rantitude and your whinarrhea. It’s the American way.

But what you don’t get to do — and I’m talking primarily to you, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and US Senator Ted Cruz — is advise people to feel free to disregard a United States Supreme Court decision. It is unpatriotic, and it’s un-American.

Let that sink in: what you are doing is un-American.

Marbury v. Madison was decided in 1803. It is settled law. The case determined that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of what the US Constitution means, and how our laws fit, or don’t, into that Constitution. It means that when it comes to the Constitution, the Supreme Court gets the last laugh. Maybe you were out sick they day they taught that in 10th grade.

So do what you must to curry favor with your political base. Say what you need to say to give Tea Party Republican primary voters a teeny weenie little stiffie, so they will love and adore you come time for the next election.

But while you’re doing all that, just keep in mind that the stuff you’ve said this week about the marriage equality ruling is really stupid. It is un-American, it runs contrary to the Rule of Law, and, since you’re lawyers and know better, I wish they’d disbar you for having promoted it.

Worried about your religious freedom, General Paxton and Senator Cruz? Fine – I support your religious freedoms. And since I do, I strongly suggest you promptly go right out and don’t marry any other dudes. You can also choose to block off the rest of your schedule today, so that you can invest all your time not hanging out with any same-sex couples. That’s pretty much the end of your religious freedoms in this matter.

Meanwhile, the rest of us would very much appreciate it if you would abstain from trying to destroy 212 years of American Constitutional scholarship, so you can curry favor with your base in the next election.

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Molly Ivins film documentary turning out like one would hope: a side-splitter with a message

Molly Ivins was an old friend of mine.

And film maker Janice Engel, who is a new friend of mine, is in the process of making what promises to be a hum-dinger of a documentary on Molly, titled “RAISE HELL: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins.”

Their work so far is outstanding; for those who knew Molly, it’ll be a breath of fresh air to get to spend another evening with her. For those who didn’t, you owe it to yourself to get to know her through the film. As Engel says, Molly should never be allowed to be come a mere footnote in history.

Please visit the film’s Kickstarter page and watch the footage so far, then consider helping them reach their financial goal so that they can complete this work. Molly was an essential voice in progressive politics, and we owe it to her to make sure her voice continues through this important documentary.

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