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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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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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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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Rick Perry: shooting from the hip, or drifting (gasp!) left?

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, in an interview yesterday with the Texas Tribune and the Washington Post, said a couple of very odd things. It makes me wonder if he’s simply unleashed these days, or if he’s decided on a course change in a potential Presidential race.

The story, dominated by a “Perry versus Ted Cruz” horserace focus, somewhat buried what I’d consider the lede – highly interesting comments on the overheated open carry issue in the Texas Capitol, and on Molly White’s xenophobic Facebook comments in reaction to Muslim Texans visiting the state Capitol last week.

Representative White garnered national media, and not in the good way, after telling supporters on her Facebook page, on the day Muslim Texans were visiting the Capitol, that she’d instructed her staff  to ask those who visited her office “to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws,” a stance that earned her a sharp rebuke from House Speaker Joe Straus, as well as deserved nationwide scorn.

In his interview yesterday, Perry made no bones that he disagrees with Rep. White’s position:

“It’s every legislator’s right to say what they want to say,” he said of the Belton Republican’s Facebook comments. “I certainly wouldn’t have.”

“I think the message needs to be sent and has historically been sent that we are a very diverse state,” he said. “We have a lot of different people, different religions, different cultures that call Texas home. We want them to feel comfortable there.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 9.12.17 AM

This photo never gets old.

The former Governor was even more surprising in his comments about the ongoing controversies surrounding the open carry of handguns debate raging in Texas: the gun totin’ rootin’ tootin’ pistol-packin’ coyote-shootin’ daddy-o ain’t a fan:

Perry said he was “not necessarily all that fond of this open carry concept,” adding that those who carry guns ought to be “appropriately backgrounded, appropriately vetted, appropriately trained.”

This position puts him squarely at odds with the so-called “Constitutional carry” advocates currently threatening members of the Legislature with violence if they don’t pass a law allowing them to openly carry handguns without first getting a license. (the measure more likely to pass is one which would require licensing and training, much like current concealed weapon license holders do)

But there’s a more crucial nuance to Perry’s position – one likely to put him at highly-emotional odds with Second Amendment zealots:

“We license people to drive on our highways,” he said. “We give them that privilege. The same is true with our concealed handguns.”

“Hold on there a damn minute,” gun rights advocates are likely to respond, despite Perry merely stating a fact reflecting current reality in Texas law.

Perry just put gun rights – which Second Amendment advocates consider a fundamental Constitutional right – on the same level as drivers licenses – which has long been deemed a privilege, not a right. This is a stance highly likely to get Bubba’s britches in a wad.

Neither of the above stances, on the Muslim dust-up or the open carry fight, is likely to ingratiate him with the more conservative leaning Republican voters in a Presidential primary race.

There are two possibilities here. The first is that Perry simply misspoke and will soon walk back his comments. If so, fair enough, and not particularly interesting.

The second possibility is highly interesting. If his comments were deliberate, it may well signal a change of strategy for Perry in his Presidential aspirations. His comments seem…well…reasonable. Even to me. Hold me close.

Has Perry decided that the GOP Presidential field targeting the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party is too crowded, and instead he’s going after establishment Republicans? If so, it wouldn’t be irrational.

On most early head-to-head measures of Perry versus Ted Cruz (who will probably run for President and is indeed the cuddly darling of the Tea Party), Perry usually doesn’t fare well. Add former Governor Mike Huckabee to the list of potentials going after the conservative grass roots, and you can imagine where Perry might suddenly feel under water.

But over on the establishment-leaning side of things, Mitt Romney just announced that he’s out, arguably leaving Chris Christie (who, it was just revealed yesterday, has a fresh criminal investigation pending), and Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (who Perry might imagine he can best head-to-head). Potentials Rand Paul and Scott Walker may not have yet decided what they want to be when they grow up. But if Perry has decided to delay a head-to-head battle against rival Ted Cruz, at least in the early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, drifting toward establishment Republican primary voters would be one way to do it.

Only time will tell whether Perry’s comments signal a course change, or whether he was just shooting from the hip. But anybody who agrees that there is no finer live entertainment than Republican Presidential primary process might agree that the interview was certainly eyebrow-raising.

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Does Rick Perry’s own indictment logic bring CPRIT back into play?

Governor Rick Perry’s aggressive response to his felony indictments so far has pretty much been limited to name-calling and counter-accusations.

Partisan Democratic politics, his narrative goes, is solely responsible for this indictment.

rickperrymugshot

Obligatory Perry Mugshsot

Let’s set aside for a moment the unlikelihood that a Republican judge, who assigned another Republican judge, who named a Special Prosecutor with Republican credentials, then named a special Grand Jury containing Republican, Democratic, and non-registered jurors, could in any way secretly further some Democratic agenda. I mean, it’s hard to set all that reality aside, but let’s just give it a shot.

And let’s just pretend Perry might have a point – that this is some secret plot by partisan Democrats to derail his career. Humor me.

Stick with me here: why would Democrats do that?

Perry won’t be a statewide candidate for public office any more. He’s retiring as Governor. If you’re a Democrat who opposed Perry every chance you got, who was willing to leave no stone unturned to ensure that he’d stop being Governor…well, your prayers were already answered before this indictment. Problem solved – he’ll leave the Governor’s office  the third Tuesday in January, no matter what else happens.

Ah, but Perry’s running for President, you say? Fair point. Let’s explore that. Name me one Democrat in America who thinks it would be a disaster if Rick Perry were to become the Republican nominee for President. I’ll wait.

Fact is, if the Republicans were to nominate Perry for President, it would be the gift that keeps on giving. It would end up being a credible, qualified Democrat – Hillary Clinton perhaps – against the oops guy. The smart money is that Perry would Sarah Palin himself all year and go down in flames, handing the Presidency to the Democrats for another four years.

So, logic dictates that there is absolutely no motivation for partisan Democrats to engineer a Perry indictment.

But wait! I can hear Republican allies of Perry countering the above with “it’s the revenge, stupid.” A generation of Democrats have detested Perry since the earth cooled, and now they will get their revenge for all the years that Perry ruled that earth with an iron fist.

Oh. I get it. You’re putting revenge on the table as a possible motive? I couldn’t be tickled pinker about this, because now we get to explore that line of logic too.

If revenge is on the table, that also means that the big conference call Perry’s legal team had with reporters last week is back in play. You may recall that Perry’s lawyers trotted out an affidavit from the former Public Integrity Unit investigator claiming that neither the Governor nor his staff was part of the CPRIT investigation. And from that, they concluded that there’s no way that the CPRIT scandal could have possibly had anything to do with Perry’s threats against the Travis County DA’s office, or his subsequent veto of their funding.

But wait – I thought we just agreed that revenge is a possible motive? And if so, isn’t it still possible that the CPRIT scandal could be front and center as a motive for Perry’s actions? After all, CPRIT was full of Perry appointees, most of whom were deeply embarrassed by the entire episode. Their ethics and honesty were called into question. There’s no doubt their reputations as leaders and overseers is shot to hell. Some of those Perry appointees and allies probably had to lawyer up and defend their actions in a grand jury. One of those people remains under indictment today. Don’t you think the Governor whose friends and allies he appointed into that big mess might have been a little annoyed by that?

So either revenge is a motive, or it’s not. The only way for Perry to claim that Democratic partisans are behind his own indictments is to conclude that Democrats are seeking revenge for years of Perry being in charge. And by the same logic, the only way for Perry’s legal team to conclude that the PIU investigator’s affidavit proves that CPRIT had no part in Perry’s decision-making is to assume that a revenge motive does not exist.

So which it is, Governor?

Fact is, I still stand by my first thoughts on the indictments. The indictment document itself says next-to-nothing. We still know little or nothing about the evidence that led to the indictments. We don’t know whether the Special Prosecutor’s case is weak or strong. And we will continue to not know until the Special Prosecutor decides that it’s time for him to lay out at least part of his case. Almost the entire body of punditry on this issue so far has consisted of Democrats wishing and Republicans grumbling.

But until the Special Prosecutor tells us more, we won’t know much. But meanwhile, it’s safe to conclude that Rick Perry still hasn’t said anything worth listening to, since little of it makes any logical sense.

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David Dewhurst’s distraction

The David Dewhurst phone call heard ’round the world is mostly, bluntly, hysterically funny. Blazingly stunning in the level of his awkwardness, he was stumbling over his own words in an obvious attempt to convey that he would say nothing to step over the line, with the clear subtext being, “but you know what I’m sayin’, right pal? It’d be a shame if anything happened to your nice little police department….”

Step over the line he did, simply by being, as he repeated over and over, “The Lieutenant Governor Of The State Of Texas” who was willing to make such a phone call, the sole purpose of which was to get a relative sprung from the hoosegow.

Voters need no further evidence that Dewhurst was using his public office for the personal benefit of his family than when he said he would have the guy in charge of the entire Department of Public Safety – the state police – call behind him “in ten minutes.” Unless you somehow believe that you – a rank-and-file citizen – could also get the commander in charge of your state’s police to call a local police department on behalf of your jailed relative, you have to conclude that the Lt. Governor stepped over the line.

Let’s be honest – a lot of people, elected or not, would have done exactly what Dewhurst did. When you have a family member or close friend in jail, you’ll use everything at your disposal to spring ’em. I’m confident that legendary Democratic Lt. Governor Bob Bullock would have done everything he could to get a family member out of jail. It’s just that if Bullock had tried it:

1. It would have worked.

2. He wouldn’t have gotten caught.

3. He probably would have gotten somebody else to do it for him.

4. He might well have himself been the family member in jail.

Dewhurst apologists are on social media trying to convince us that this is nothing more than a distraction, and they’re probably right. It’s just that they underestimate the extent to which we Texans absolutely love being distracted. The story has gone national, and it has legs which his opponents will be all-too-happy to exploit. There’s simply no way that this can somehow be considered great news for the campaign of a Lt. Governor already in political peril.

Situations such as these are why Texas politics is the greatest contact sport on earth.

Update: From the Dallas Morning News, Tod Robberson’s take on this is priceless.

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What passes for “conservatism” around here is amazing

Those clever rocket surgeons down at the Department of Transportation are proceeding with their plans to turn what used to be perfectly serviceable paved state highways into gravel roads, and reduce the speed limits down accordingly.

The problem is the oilpatch trucks. They’re heavy, and there’s a bunch of ’em. In areas where the oil bidness is booming, the trucks have ruined the roads, the roads are dangerous, and they need repair immediately. I can think of worse problems to have, given that the energy boom is also great for the Texas economy and creates jobs and all.

But TxDoT – the transporation folks – are dead broke, and claim they don’t have the money to repave the roads. That’s because the Republicans in charge around here have starved all of state gu’mint so they can go to their Tea Party meetings, smile real big, and tell ’em how they starved gu’mint. That’s after they bash Obama for a while.

But here’s one teeny weenie little problem: what happens after they un-pave a road and gravel it? They’ll reduce the speed limit, from the current 70-75 down to 30 or 35 mph. Do you think for a minute that a trucker having to drive a hundred miles or more down that road isn’t going to look for an alternate route – which is still paved and at the higher speed limit – to make up all that lost time? For commercial truck traffic, time is literally money.

Of course they will. And in many cases, they’ll figure out an alternate route. It may take them far out of their way, but when the speed limit differential – 40 miles per hour difference – is that high, they can go far out of their way and still save a little time.

So now, what used to be one ruined road TxDoT won’t fix will become two ruined roads TxDoT won’t fix — both for the exact same traffic.

Now how the hell is that “conservative”? Just asking.

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GOP: mainstream media make our butts look fat

Remember the parade of 2012 Presidential contest debates in the Republican nomination process? Trust me, Republicans do, and they’ve apparently been quietly steaming about them ever since.

These would be the same debates after which many voters across America started referring to the candidates as “the clown car.” These would be the same debates during which a live studio audience loudly boo’ed an active duty military man who was at that moment in a combat zone, because he happened to be gay.

These would be the same debates during which Texas Governor Rick Perry had his infamous “oops” moment, in which he couldn’t remember the third federal agency he’d promised to abolish, hammering the final nail in his own presidential coffin. They were also the debates during which Mitt Romney bet Perry $10,000 that he hadn’t supported individual mandates while Massachusetts Governor, which was among the first indications to voters that Romney, and anybody else who will just casually throw out a $10,000 bet, probably isn’t exactly your standard issue regular guy.

Aside from the other two Republican distractions of the 2012 nominating process – the un-candidates who didn’t run, but who kept oozing into the headlines anyway, making the clown car more clown carish, Sarah Palin and Donald Trump – the Republican debates showed Americans how out-of-touch the Republicans were with mainstream Americans, and they were key to setting up an Obama re-election.

Turns out the Republicans missed the point entirely. Turns out it apparently hasn’t crossed their minds that it was their own candidates, with assists from their own hand-picked debate studio audiences, who made their butt look fat.

Clearly they think it was the fault of the mainstream news outlets sponsoring those debates which were at fault. The indications are apparent this week.

First, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus threatened NBC and CNN with exclusion from the 2016 debate process if they air a Hillary Clinton feature (which, ironically, is reportedly being produced by FOX, but Priebus also said he isn’t interested in excluding FOX from the debate process – go figure).

Now the GOP is floating the idea of excluding actual mainstream news media from debate moderation, and instead letting figures such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin moderate.

Let that sink in: Republicans actually believe that respected mainstream journalists who acted as debate moderators made their candidates look stupid. It has apparently not crossed their minds that Republican candidates made Republican candidates look stupid. And now Limbaugh, Hannity, and Levin might be tapped to solve the problem.

When the national GOP decides that Limbaugh, Hannity, and Levin might be the solution, they’ve got quite a problem. I say bring ’em on. The national ridicule following a debate featuring clown car candidates, moderated by the biggest GOP clowns in show biz, will be something to see. I hope they add Glenn Beck to the list. And after the Republican nominating process winds down, the spectacle will make it even more difficult for their nominee to attract mainstream general election voters.

In the comments section, feel free to write the questions you think moderators like Limbaugh, Hannity, and Levin would ask the new-and-improved 2016 Republican clown car.

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Wendy Davis for Lieutenant Governor? No.

I really wish Wendy Davis would decide on her political plans, so that everybody can stop being an expert on the decision that I trust she’s more-than-smart enough to make for herself. And frankly, when she gets done mulling over her future, I hope she ultimately decides to run for Governor. I’ll certainly support whatever decision she ultimately makes; almost all Democrats, and more than her fair share of independent voters ultimately will.

But what I wish more than anything is for progressive activists to stop believing that her running for Lieutenant Governor is somehow a neato keeno option. It’s not.

For one thing, the first Democrat to win a statewide race since before today’s college freshmen were born is probably going to do so by completely changing the dynamic of the election. That’s more difficult to do down-ballot, for several reasons. But while I feel strongly about that factor, it’s arguable, as evidenced by all the people who constantly argue about it.

Here’s a structural factor which really isn’t arguable: the real powers of the Lt. Governor are not vested in the state Constitution; they’re given to the office by the members of the Texas Senate themselves when they pass the Senate rules. So, all those times that journalists have written that the Lt. Governor is arguably the most powerful office in State Government? That’s just the Senators handing over that power. Absent the rules that a simple majority of the Senators pass at the beginning of a legislative session, Lt. Governors would essentially be reduced to breaking tie votes in the Senate (which seldom happens) and waiting for Governors to die, be indicted, or be elected President, so the Lite Guv can move into the mansion. Other than that, they’d be coloring, cutting, and pasting in a really nice office.

We have all watched for several years as the Republicans in charge in the Senate have consistently changed the rules to win. When they couldn’t pass a 2003 mid-decade Congressional redistricting bill when Tom DeLay ordered them to do it, they just changed the rules which would have required a two-thirds vote to debate legislation, and they bypassed the Senate Democrats who opposed it. After the associated Democratic quorum break petered out, they passed the redistricting bill. They said at the time they’d never do this for anything else other than redistricting bills. But several years later when they couldn’t pass voter photo I.D. legislation over the objections of the Senate Democrats, they made a special rule just for that bill, and passed it too. Most recently, this summer when they couldn’t pass their anti-abortion legislation, they did away with the two-thirds rule to pass that as well. Then when Wendy Davis began her filibuster, the Republicans immediately made it clear that they’d ignore generations of Senate precedent regarding filibuster traditions and germaneness rules to silence her.

Is there any doubt in your mind that this bunch would change the rules again if Davis was elected Lt. Governor, to ensure that her leadership was minimized? Of course they would. The Senate would simply move to a majority leader system, in which the Republican Caucus chair would run the business of the Senate, leaving a Lt. Governor Davis in a largely-symbolic job, with little power and few staff. She would not determine which bills are called up for debate. She would not appoint committee chairs. They certainly wouldn’t let her control parliamentary rulings, like the ones which silenced her during her filibuster. They’d probably do away with the two-thirds rule altogether, although frankly I think they might as well do that anyway, since the Republicans have made it clear that their definition of the two-thirds rule amounts to “you can have your two-thirds rule, as long as I have my two-thirds.”

Incidentally, I also believe the Senate may well change the rules in the event Dan Patrick wins his race for Lt. Governor. One can count on one hand the number of Senators who trust Patrick. So this isn’t entirely partisan – you can’t blame the Senate majority for an unwillingness to hand over their power to somebody they don’t trust.

None of the above breaks new ground. I’ve been talking to any reporter who would listen about this, and so have others, including Matt Angle, who is one of Senator Davis’ close confidants. But the chatter continues.

I get it – there’s a certain “the shoe’s on the other foot now” symmetry to the notion of Davis’ election to the very office most responsible for silencing her during her filibuster. It’s the office most responsible for the fact that the Texas Senate, once a proud and honorable institution, is nothing special anymore. But the idea just doesn’t work.

Wendy Davis could be the first candidate for statewide office Democrats have seen in a very long time who ultimately proves to be viable, or she could opt to run for re-election to her state Senate seat. But no matter where she lands, the structure of the office almost certainly means that it won’t be as a candidate for Lt. Governor.

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Republican outreach to minority voters hits overdrive, seen as wildly successful

Nah, just kidding, the Republicans are totally in the ditch.

Here’s an example of why: right-wing Republican hero Phyllis Schlafly said last week that Latinos have too many children out of wedlock, and don’t understand the Bill of Rights or the concept of small government. She apparently said it in expressing her opinion that the Republican Party shouldn’t reach out to Latino voters at all.

Schlafly, the founder of Eagle Forum, is an undisputed leader in the National Republican Party. According to her bio, she’s played a major role in every Republican National Convention since 1952, and was elected as a delegate to eight of them, most recently in 2012. She ran for Congress as a Republican twice.

How important is she to Republicans? Glad you asked. The Republican-led Texas State Board of Education recently required that school children learn about her in future history textbooks. Imagine the thrill of Texas school children learning all about how stupid Schlafly thinks Latinos are.

Here’s the chapter and verse, excerpted from the rules the SBOE adopted in 2010:

Screen Shot 2013-06-27 at 4.55.02 PM

Gosh, it sounds like we’re really going to be improving public education, while the Republicans improve their political lot with Latino voters!

So, just to review, following the 2012 election, the Republicans paid big-time lip service to doing a better job of reaching out to minorities. One of the most important conservative leaders in the Republican Party – one so important that Republicans in Texas insisted she be featured in future history books – is bigoted against Latinos, and doesn’t mind explaining why.

That, my friends, is how Republican minority outreach efforts are going. Any questions?

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The greatest deliberative body in the world?

“The Texas Senate is the greatest deliberative body in the world.”

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. Texas state Senators of both parties love to say it.

I wonder if they even noticed, before last night, that it’s not true anymore?

Yeah, about last night.

Last night made it clear that these days, The Greatest Deliberative Body In The World may not even be the greatest deliberative body in the building.

Perhaps it was the first point of order sustained against filibustering Democratic Senator Wendy Davis, in which this great deliberative body, where virtually all things are usually ruled germane to debates, suddenly ruled that Davis’ discussion of past legislative family planning budget cuts wasn’t germane to a bill on abortion restrictions.

Or perhaps it was the second point of order sustained against Davis, in which she was ruled out of order because another Senator decided to help her with her back brace. Yes – a point of order was sustained against a Senator based on an entirely different Senator’s action.

Or maybe it was Davis’ third strike – which called her out and ended her filibuster – the Republican point of order sustained against her in which Davis’ discussion, on how other legislation on the topic of abortion restrictions could affect this bill,was ruled not germane.

Let that sink in: debate on the topic of abortion restrictions is unrelated to legislation on abortion restrictions. That was the Republican claim, and that was the Republican ruling. Everybody watching in the building and around the world knew that Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, was the referee who threw the game. It was intended to end Wendy Davis’ filibuster. It may have instead ended some Republicans’ careers.

Dewhurst shouldn’t have been surprised when it also ended the last shred of patience with the hundreds of pro-choice Texans watching upstairs from the Senate gallery. Ignited by Senator Leticia Van de Putte’s angry pronouncement that a female Senator’s motion wasn’t being recognized over a man’s, the upstairs crowd exploded, and their deafening noise took over the building for more than ten minutes and ran out the clock.

It’s terrible precedent for a Senate gallery to take over the Senate floor. It’s worse precedent for the majority party to cheat in order to win. Thousands of people swarmed into their Capitol building last night to see how their government works, but once they got there they found out that, these days, it doesn’t work at all. Republicans shouldn’t have been surprised at their reaction, which was essentially to rise up with one voice and declare “up with this shit we will not put!”

I’ve been watching the Texas Senate for almost 25 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve also never seen anything like this level of clock mismanagement by  legislative leadership, which is why this anti-abortion bill ended up in the red zone in the first place, vulnerable to Wendy Davis’ ultimately-successful filibuster.

Ironically, despite Dewhurst bumbling just about everything he touched last night, he’s also the lone Republican in state leadership who first raised the alarm bell mid-last week, and turned out to be exactly right in urging the House leadership to hurry up and return the legislation to the Senate, lest the bill get into Democratic filibuster range. The House scoffed at him, declined to meet Saturday, and put off final debate until a day later. Dewhurst’s warning turned out to be an accurate premonition.

This morning, the special session is over. The anti-abortion bill, currently dead, faces an uncertain future at the hands of Governor Perry’s decision of whether to call another session. People like Democratic Senators Wendy Davis, Senate Democratic leader Kirk Watson, and Senator Leticia Van de Putte are suddenly progressive heroes, the former propelled into international political stardom. Tens of thousands of Texas progressives and Democrats are suddenly feeling more empowered than they’ve felt in a generation.

And it’s entirely possible that none of it would have happened, if the Republicans in charge had managed the clock and run a fair fight.

Greatest deliberative body in the world indeed.

I’ll leave you with my own point of personal privilege, which not only demonstrates how proud I am of Wendy Davis and the Senate Democrats, but also proves that this woman can filibuster for 13 hours late into the night, and still be up and awake by 9 am the next morning:

 

wendytext

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Revisited: the Second Worst Church In The World

Remember the Second Worst Church In The World, the Church of Corinth near Dallas, at which the church’s minister was arrested for attempted sexual performance of a child? Some in the congregation responded by believing that the accusations were nothing but an attack by Satan and silenced people who dared express any concern for the underaged victim.

Guess who meets monthly at that church? Go on – give it a shot.

Meet the Denton County Republican Party.

In fact, the county Republican Party evidently attracted Peggy Venable, the Texas director of Americans for Prosperity, as a guest speaker at last Thursday’s meeting at the church, which is the same location the pastor is accused of victimizing the child.

Americans for Prosperity was a big spender for Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, who embarrassed has fellow Republicans last year when he said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

This is all starting to make more sense to me now.

 

[h/t to blog reader Wayne]

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Texas’ water infrastructure funding should not go down the drain [with video]

Following skirmishes on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives earlier this week which resulted in legislation tanking which would have put $2 billion in funding for much-needed water infrastructure, it came up on YNN’s Capital Tonight Tuesday. Here’s my take:

Water infrastructure, as an issue, stands on its own in Texas. It is a critical one, and if the legislature leaves it unfunded this session, it will create serious consequences for Texas’ future. They’re not growing any more water around here – the resource is, at best, a constant, and with recent droughts it’s not even that. This isn’t one of the Governor’s fake issues, designed to get him more support or make his friends richer. It’s a very real challenge.

Texas has a tripod of critical interests on the water front (pun intended, and I apologize). None of the three – energy, agriculture, and population growth – can be shortchanged. Energy exploration, an essential economic driver in Texas, takes a lot of water. Texas’ ever-growing population takes a lot of water. And the agricultural activity necessary to feed all that population growth three times a day takes a lot of water. If you shortchange any one of these, things start falling apart, and quickly. It takes a massive commitment to conservation, increased efficiency, and smarter management. Unless the water fairy unexpectedly shows up to save us all from ourselves, that all requires serious investment.

I respect the efforts of some of the House Democrats to leverage the issue in attempts to get more public education funding cuts restored, and I hope they succeed in restoring those cuts somehow. I even understand the misgivings of Tea Party Republicans against spending any money at all, even for the most legitimate of infrastructure investments – I completely get that your political base isn’t interested, and that the anti-government folks are on your ass.

But when it’s all said and done, I hope the legislature well-understands that funding the water plan has to happen. And I think most understand the consequences if it doesn’t.

You can watch this full episode of Capital Tonight here. And you can catch me on tonight’s episode on YNN in Austin at 7 pm. Give it a shot – we get into all sorts of interesting topics of interest to the policy- and politically-addicted.

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