Monthly Archives: February 2019

Joe Biden’s Pledge is a Terrible Idea

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; February 26, 2019)

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s idea that presidential candidates sign a pledge not to ‘aid and abet’ foreign meddling in the 2020 election will do nothing to solve that problem and will, instead, further politicize U.S. intelligence agencies.

While speaking at the Munich Security Conference in February, Biden told the audience that U.S. politicians should not use to their advantage any false information derived from a foreign nation’s influence operation. If they do, they are ‘aiding and abetting’ that nation’s attack on the U.S.

Never known for subtlety, Biden was clearly directing his comments towards the President Donald Trump and his campaign’s actions in 2016.

The Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity Pledge

As the co-chair of the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity (TCEI), a nongovernmental panel established last year to help member countries protect their elections from foreign influence, Biden understandably views what happened in the 2016 election as unacceptable. A fair sentiment, even if self-serving given his own possible presidential candidacy in 2020.

However, Biden’s suggestion that all 2020 presidential candidates sign a TCEI pledge to not spread foreign disinformation is not a solution.

In fact, the TCEI pledge, packaged as simple common sense, is a misguided reaction to the 2016 election that will not stop foreign interference and could actually do substantive harm to our electoral process by putting our intelligence agencies in the position of selectively damaging American political candidates and parties.

The pledge itself asks candidates to “refrain from wittingly or unwittingly helping foreign actors undermine Western democracy” by agreeing to the following:

(1) Candidates should not use or spread materials that were falsified or stolen for disinformation or propaganda purposes.

(2) They should avoid spreading doctored audio or video of other candidates, including “deep fake” videos.

(3) They should avoid using bot networks to attack opponents via third parties.

(4) They should maintain high cybersecurity for their campaigns.

(5) And, they should commit to transparency in campaign financing.

Biden’s Bad Idea for Candidates to Sign the TCEI Pledge

On initial glance, the TCEI pledge conditions seem benign and a reasonable person might think they would improve (certainly not do harm to) the integrity of the 2020 presidential election.

They would be wrong and here are some reasons:

First, how can a candidate stop doing something they are unwittingly doing? They can’t. And that reveals one of the pledge’s worst unintended consequences. Since candidates won’t always know if they are being manipulated by foreign influence operations, the Biden-TCEI pledge promotes the idea that it is up to the U.S. government to let them know.

How could that go wrong?

Well, here’s why it could.

The Biden-TCEI pledge encourages the politicization of the U.S. intelligence community (IC) by placing it in a situation where, with direct access to information regarding foreign influence operations, the IC could impact a U.S. election through its selective release of information on election interference.

Again, in principal, that sounds fairly innocuous.

However, in 2016, imagine if the IC (with presidential approval, as required by Executive Order 13526) had told both the Hillary Clinton and Trump campaigns that the Russians were actively pushing pro-Trump messages onto social media platforms and, knowing that, the Trump campaign was expected to stop using these messages in their campaign communications.

Logical questions from the Trump and Clinton camps might be: What exact campaign-related messages are under suspicion? Could there be other campaign messages being pushed out by foreign sources? How certain can you be that these are linked to Russia? Are there other foreign influence operations possibly active? At what level of certainty does the IC decide to inform the campaigns about foreign influence operations?

If the IC fails to identify every foreign-sourced campaign message — which is likely — it effectively taints all campaign messages for the candidate preferred by a foreign influence operation.

The process would be a nightmare and Biden’s pledge does nothing, perhaps even increases the likelihood of the same disaster in 2020.

And imagine if it is more than just the Russians meddling in a U.S. election. We know from experience, not just the Russians, but the Chinese, Iranians, and our ally Israel are capable of running sophisticated influence operations against the U.S.

[For for an interesting article on Israeli influence operations against U.S. elections, check out this excellent story by The New Yorker’s Adam Entous and Ronan Farrow. Spoiler alert: The Israelis are far more sophisticated than the Russians at election meddling.]

The American public is best served when they know the true source of election information. There is no doubt about that.

But under the encouragement of the Biden-TCEI pledge, the public will be ill-served when sourcing information comes from senior- or mid-level intelligence officers, either through leaks to Washington bureau journalists or through its direct release by the executive branch (now headed by Donald Trump, by the way).

U.S. intelligence information will become a political football and subsequently discounted by large segments of the American public (regardless of its accuracy).

Joe Biden’s pledge idea does nothing to solve this problem and might make things worse.

The second concern with the Biden-TCEI pledge is how it implicitly discredits legitimate news and information sources. Democrats, not just Biden, have called out Wikileaks specifically for its ‘laundering’ of Russian-hacked emails in the 2016 election — as if what Wikileaks does is fundamentally different than any other news organization.

But by the Democrats’ standard, we should not trust the New York Times or the Washington Post either as they have in the past taken possession of stolen or leaked emails/documents and published them once they were deemed newsworthy (Pentagon PapersPanama Papers, Podesta emails, etc.). This is constitutionally protected speech, including the right to also pass this illegally obtained information to others once it is has been released in the media.

By defaming legitimate news organizations for doing their jobs legally and under the protection of the U.S. Constitution, Biden’s pledge increases the likelihood that important whistle blower information in the future will be suppressed because it might be hacker-sourced.

The third concern is that the Biden pledge is asking Americans to ‘voluntarily’ suppress their free speech rights which will narrow the range of information, ideas and opinions existing within our public discourse during elections. Worse yet, it will do so without significantly stopping Russian, Chinese, Iranian or Israeli election interference.

To the contrary, bad actors could use the Biden pledge to implicate the campaign of their choosing as being the “preferred choice” of the Kremlin (or some other enemy of the U.S.).

A candidate, journalist, media outlet or a government official can merely suggest the Russians are helping a specific candidate in order to taint that candidate.

Doesn’t that happen anyway?

Yes, but again, the Biden pledge does nothing to stop and probably encourages such skulduggery.

And, finally, Biden’s pledge will have a chilling effect on the quality of our policy debates as it will effectively prevent any candidate from expressing an opinion that might be aligned with the opinion of a foreign adversary.

We see this dynamic already in the 2020 campaign where a candidate has suggested U.S. interests are better served if the U.S. leaves Syria as soon as possible. This legitimate policy position was met with claims that this candidate is ‘wittingly or unwittingly’ representing the Russians and Syria’s dictator Bashar al Assad.

Biden’s seemingly innocent pledge will, in fact, narrow the range of topics and opinions allowed in U.S. political discourse — which is the opposite of what we need from our electoral system.

So, should we just let the Russians meddle in our next election?

Of course not. We should always protect our information systems from foreign exploitation and hold those countries accountable when the evidence finds them culpable. And it is in the IC’s job description to identify foreign influence operations targeting the U.S. and to minimize their damage to the best extent possible.

At the same time, let us not kill the patient in order to kill the disease.

What can we do?

In an open society like ours, the probability of foreign actors interfering in a U.S. election will always be non-zero. The American people therefore should not be coddled into thinking their government, political and media elites are capable of protecting them from all nefarious actors that might try to interfere in our elections. Furthermore, with this responsibility now, these elites have proven they will abuse their power for often partisan reasons when left unconstrained.

Let the free and educated American people be the best line of defense from foreign interference; even if, on occasion, bad information will enter the political bloodstream.

That is one cost of our freedom — the potential exposure to bad information.

This cost is far outweighed by the benefits of our First Amendment that allows us to seek information from a multitude of sources, including foreign, should we choose to do so.

Personally, I seek alternative points of view (propaganda, if you want to call it that) on American policy, even those of our adversaries. Why do I do this? Because sometimes our government and news media lie and news sources not controlled by American corporate interests are sometimes the only source for good information. For skeptics of this claim, I recommend the book, The Best War Ever: Lies, Damned Lies, and the Mess in Iraq, by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, which details — in an entertaining and digestible way — how “politicians lie to journalists and then believe those lies when they see them in print.”

As informed voters, we need to know to know what the Russians, Iranians, Venezuelans, and Syrians are thinking, even if it is weighted towards government-produced propaganda. We are not children. We can handle discordant information. We really can.

And if I want to watch RT’s Redacted Tonight with Lee Camp or The Jimmy Dore Show on You Tube every night, well, why is that your concern or the government’s? [I am obligated however by conscience and logical consistency to inform you that RT is partially funded by the Russian government.]

They spread lies!

All the media outlets spread f**king lies at one time or another. The trick is learning to know when.

The blessing of being a U.S. citizen is that we have access to varieties of information and can access it without fear of retribution from our government (though that same government is allowed — through the bipartisan supported Patriot Act —to track everything any of us watch and read on the internet if they choose to do so — yes, that is a true statement, not Russian propaganda.).

The Biden-TCEI pledge is part of a nanny-state culture where elites, themselves held together by a common set of behavioral norms and motives, coordinate to ‘protect’ the American people from evil doers, both domestic and foreign.

But Americans don’t need Joe Biden, the U.S. intelligence community, the news media or the 2020 presidential candidates deciding what information Americans should read and hear in the next election. It is not their job and, besides, they are not good at it.

But the Biden-TCEI pledge wants you to believe they are good at it.

  • K.R.K.

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Trump and the GOP have a market share problem

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; February 20, 2019)

Donald Trump, the candidate, has a market share problem. His support has very little upside and — as of now — has a maximum potential market (vote) share of just 45 percent among eligible voters.

That will not win the next election. He needs a new strategy and he needs one fast.

To demonstrate the problem, Figure 1 offers a simple volumetric analysis of eligible U.S. voters using data from the December 2018 American National Election Study (ANES).

Figure 1: How Eligible Voters Rate Donald Trump (Dec. 2018)

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics by Kent R. Kroeger

First, assume voters that currently rate Trump 57 or higher on a 0–100 thermometer scale potentially will vote for him if the election were held today. Likewise, I estimate 60 percent of those rating him between 43 to 56 are potential votes for him today (the 60 percent estimate is based on percentages derived from the 2016 election). Finally, since we are seeking a maximum in vote share potential, assume any voter that voted for Trump in 2016 potentially will vote for him again (even if their rating of him is below 43).

This adds up to 45 percent of all eligible voters. Of course, many people won’t vote at all, but if non-voting is randomly distributed across levels of Trump support, the highest vote share Trump can expect (under the current status quo) is only 45 percent.

This is a gut-punching number if you work for the Trump White House or Republican National Committee (RNC).

That potential vote share is noticeably similar to Trump’s maximum job approval rating over the first two years of his presidency — 46 percent (occurring at the start of his term in Figure 2).

Figure 2: Average Trump Approval Rating (

Source: RealClearPolitics

This is not a coincidence. Trump has a hard ceiling when it comes to support and unless something shocks the system (e.g., a nuclear disarmament deal with DPRK or some national security emergency of the real kind), it is hard to see where Trump can go prospecting for new supporters.

White Republicans stand almost alone in the American electorate

The independent voters (and ‘weak’ partisans) Trump needs to win reelection are too far removed in their attitudes from the GOP’s core voters to become probable Trump voters in 2020. The distance between independents and the Republican Party can be seen in two charts from the 2018 ANES.

The first chart (Figure 3) plots eligible voters by their partisan and racial/ethnic identification. The bubble size indicates the relative size of that voter segment — the biggest being white Republicans (31%), followed by white Democrats (27%), white independents (10%), Black Democrats (9%), Hispanic Democrats (8%), Hispanic independents (4%), Asian Democrats (3%), Hispanic Republicans (3%), Black independents (2%), Asian Republicans (2%), Asian independents (1%), and Black Republicans (1%).

In Figure 3, the horizontal axis is defined by an index score formed by illegal immigration questions from the 2018 ANES focused on crime and security. The vertical axis is defined by an index score formed by illegal immigration questions from the 2018 ANES focused on the economy and society (all data and SPSS coding syntax available upon request to:

The relative distance between white Republicans and the other voter segments (except Asian Republicans) is substantively significant. White Republicans are much more likely to view illegal immigration has harmful to both the national economy and crime. In contrast, Hispanic Republicans view illegal immigration has impactful on crime and security, but no so much on the economy. This finding is consistent with other research on the immigration attitudes of Hispanic Republicans (herehere and here).

Figure 3: Voter Segments by Attitudes Regarding Illegal Immigration

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics by Kent R. Kroeger


Problematic for Republicans in Figure 3 is the gap between white Republicans and white independents, who generally fall in the middle on both immigration indexes. While white independents have a slightly negative view of illegal immigration’s impact on the economy, their attitudes are not as extreme as white and Asian Republicans. However, white independents are almost equidistant between white Democrats and white Republicans, suggesting that the Republicans could still bring them into the voting fold with improved messaging and less extremism on the issue. In contrast, Hispanic, Asian and Black independents appear lost causes for supporting the Republicans on illegal immigration.

A similar analysis in Figure 4 focuses on partisan policy attitudes and national pride. And, again, white Republicans stand virtually alone relative to the bulk of the American electorate.

In Figure 4, the horizontal axis is defined by an index score formed by questions on the 2018 ANES related to national pride. The vertical axis is defined by an index score formed by a series of policy-related questions from the 2018 ANES shown to be highly correlated with respondents’ partisanship strength.

Figure 4: Voter Segments by Attitudes Regarding Partisan Issues and Pride in Country

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics by Kent R. Kroeger

White Republicans are strikingly more patriotic and conservative in their policy views than the other voter segments. Only Hispanic Republicans are more patriotic and, on policy issues, only Asian Republicans are similarly conservative.

While legitimate methodological and theoretical criticisms can be made regarding the use of spatial distances to explain voting behavior, in the 2018 ANES data at least, the association (no claim of causation) between voter spatial distances and aggregate voting behavior was significant.

It feels safe to conclude that white Republicans have become so isolated from the American mainstream, without an immediate strategy adjustment by the GOP, it is difficult to see how Trump can achieve anything near the 46 percent of the popular vote he garnered in 2016. Without a major third party candidate cutting disproportionately into the Democrat’s voter base, the only question about 2020 is what will be the depth of Trump’s defeat and how will it impact down-ballot Republicans.

Trump cannot expect the same perfect storm that worked for him in 2016

If 2016 taught anything, never say never in American presidential elections. Still, the factors that played major roles in Trump’s 2016 upset victory over Hillary Clinton will not be in Trump’s favor the next time around.

First, the overwhelming advantage in ‘free, unfiltered media’ gifted to Trump by the cable news networks in 2016 will not repeat itself in 2020. To the contrary, according to Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, the first 100 days of the Trump presidency experienced the most negative presidential media coverage of any president they’ve measured (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Tone of President’s News Cover in First 100 Days

Sources: Stephen J. Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter, The Mediated President (2006), p. 37 for Clinton and Bush; Center for Media & Public Affairs for Obama; Media Tenor for Trump. Percentages exclude news reports that were neutral in tone, which accounted for about a third of the reports.

No evidence exists to suggest the tone of Trump’s news coverage has improved since the first 100 days. In fact, if we accept recent research from the partisan media watchdog, Media Research Center, over 90 percent of Trump’s news coverage has been negative in the first two years of his presidency.

Second, in 2016, Trump’s opponent made a whole host of significant strategic mistakes, along with coming into the race with high negative ratings across a large swath of the American public and news media.

Arguably, Clinton’s biggest error, however, was not personally campaigning in Wisconsin and Michigan in the final months of the campaign; and perhaps more critically, Clinton essentially took the month of August and a good part of September off from the campaign trail, only occasionally emerging at fundraisers. In that period, Trump was doing multiple campaign rallies a dayand saw his polling deficit to Clinton shrink from nearly eight points in early August to just one point in mid-September 2016, according to the RealClearPolitics poll averages.

There is no gentle way of saying this: Hillary Clinton was too inactive for too many long stretches in the campaign. But that will not be the case with the next Democratic nominee Trump faces.

Lastly, and most importantly, the U.S. has become a center-left country since the 2016 election and, with every day, a little bit bluer as Republicans disproportionately are dying off while identity groups associated with the Democrats are slowly growing in size.

The Democrats’ emerging majority through demographics thesis has been over-predicted by many social scientists and political pundits, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening in the long run.

Even if there is no deterministic relationship between vote choice and a person’s demographic characteristics, demographic trends are still in the Democrats’ favor.

Republicans can take some comfort in knowing political parties and people’s attitudes do change over time in predictable ways and only rarely has either major party been noncompetitive for long stretches of time. Political parties are strategic actors skilled at adjusting to changing electoral environments in order to remain relevant. It is a survival instinct.

Nonetheless, the following figures from Pew Research and the U.S. Census Bureau should keep RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel and Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale restless at night:

(1) “The Silent Generation (born 1928 to 1945) is the only generational group that has more GOP leaners and identifying voters than Democratic-oriented voters,” according to a 2017 study by Pew Research. “Democrats enjoy a 27-percentage-point advantage among Millennial voters (59% are Democrats or lean Democratic, 32% are Republican or lean Republican).”

Millennials account for 30 percent of the U.S. voting age population and is larger than the once dominant Baby Boomer generation.

If the GOP doesn’t become more competitive for Millennial support, the GOP will become the minority party at all levels of elected government in the next 10 years.

(2) Similarly, racial and ethnic divisions increasingly differentiate Republicans from Democrats, according to the Pew study, and the trends in this area favor the Democrats. “By more than two-to-one (63% to 28%), Hispanic voters are more likely to affiliate with or lean toward the Democratic Party than the GOP.” Trump made minor improvements among Hispanic voters when compared to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, but hardly enough to suggest a trend favoring the GOP.

The Democratic advantage among Hispanics has been relatively stable. However, as a percentage of all Americans, Hispanic power is growing steadily and will be potentially decisive in every election hereafter. In 2014, Hispanics represented 17 percent of the U.S. population — in 2060, that number will be 29 percent, only 15 percentage points behind the non-Hispanic white population (44 percent).

In the future, it is hard imagine a successful Republican Party that hasn’t expanded its base to include more Hispanics and Millennials.

In the near-term, the Republicans are faced with a (likely) presidential candidate already skating on the thinnest of margins who must now navigate an even narrower path to victory.

The normal benefits of incumbency (money, agenda-setting powers, free media, policy victories) are muted by a unvaryingly hostile national news media (even Ann Coulter is calling Trump an ‘idiot’ these days). Where once a strong economy would make a president a sure bet for reelection, today, it has done little more for Trump than to prevent the bottom from dropping out of his approval ratings. Even a slight weakening in the economy could portend an election bloodbath against Trump on a scale similar to Reagan-Mondale.

Is Trump destined to lose in 2020? Not if the Democrats have anything to say about it…

The expectation here is that I will say something about how, if the Democrats move too far to the left, they risk what should be an easy victory in 2020.

That conclusion is not supported by the data.

Look again at Figure 4.

If anything, most of the voter segments are clustered in the ‘Democrat’ corner of the partisan attitudes index. It is not the Democrats most at risk of being ‘too extreme,’ it is the Republicans that are risking being relatively too extreme.

Independents are closer to Democratic positions than they are to Republican positions. Sure, that could change. I could imagine the Democrats pushing too hard on an issue where the American center is undecided (e.g., continuation of the current American wars in Syria and Afghanistan) and Trump using that issue to pull independents and ‘weak’ partisans back towards the GOP.

Voters, including independents and centrists, do not generally like vagueness coming out of the mouths of their politicians. That is why voters with otherwise moderate views will nonetheless prefer a candidate with strong partisan policy positions over a “centrist” candidate with views closer to their own. The research confirms this dynamic is not uncommon between voters and candidates. Distinctive candidates (and parties) attract voters.

And every election finds new issues (potentially important to voters) where candidates and parties can re-position themselves to become more distinctive and attractive. It is on these issues where the two parties subsequently skirmish to find the high ground position; and it is this strategic positioning that keeps the two parties competitive from one election to the next.

Figure 6: Partisan Attitudes by 2016 Vote Choice

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics by Kent R. Kroeger

So while on most issues voters have sorted themselves out along partisan lines (see Figure 6 where positive values indicate ‘Democratic’ positions and negative values indicate ‘Republican’ positions), there are still many important issues where Americans have not yet picked sides. And these issues represent fertile battle spaces for strategic positioning by the parties looking for that next big electoral advantage.

Here are just two examples: Free trade (Figure 7) and Gun control (Figure 8).

Given Trump’s populist takeover of the GOP, it should not surprise anyone that Republicans and Democrats are both divided on this issue — though that may change over time if Trump’s populism remains preeminent in the GOP. For now, free trade remains an issue where one party could still strategically position itself to attract a significant number of new or swing voters.

Figure 7: Attitudes about Free Trade by 2016 Vote Choice

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics by Kent R. Kroeger

As for gun control, anyone that has lived in the Midwest knows Democrats own guns too and who doesn’t know a few Republicans that are staunch supporters of more restrictive gun control legislation.

Gun control remains a competitive theater of operations for Democrats and Republicans to prospect for new voters.

Figure 8: Attitudes about Gun Control by 2016 Vote Choice

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics by Kent R. Kroeger

The point here is that the American political system, while too rigid in many ways such as the advantages afforded incumbents and the power of special interests to influence public policy, it is still a competitive, two-party system. It is presumptuous to claim either party has a permanent (or even growing) advantage in the voting booth. We are always just one or two elections away from power shifting in the U.S. House or presidency and there is nothing in the data to suggest that will change.

As for Trump, my original thesis that he has a market share problem still stands, but with one caveat. A clever politician (or party) faced with such a problem will look for ways to redefine the competitive space — to change the status quo in such a way that old partisan loyalties may become less relevant in the light of newer contingencies and considerations.

The de-nuclearization of North Korea? A peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians? Brokering a summit and peace treaty between Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia? A new era of Chinese-American economic cooperation built on a more equitable trade agreement? I don’t assume anything is impossible when it comes to Trump — no Democrat should.

That said, I’m not saying Trump is capable of being that creative either. He has shown no nimbleness in that regard as he continues to behave as if his biggest challenge is keeping his base supportive. Should someone close to him demonstrate the real problem — a lack of voters available to him in the political center — he might come up with a few surprises just in time for the 2020 election.

  • K.R.K.

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Gabbard Agonistes

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; February 12, 2019)

Midway through Frank Capra’s film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the corrupt power brokers, scheming to enrich themselves through a federal dam project, realize the ‘stooge’ they hand-picked to be a U.S. Senator, Jefferson Smith (played by James Stewart), wasn’t just honest, but willing to expose their illegal plan.

How do the power brokers plan to stop Senator Smith?

After Senator Joseph Paine and Governor “Happy” Hopper, both from Smith’s home state, along with party boss and media magnate Jim Taylor, conspire to frame Smith in a similar land-sale enrichment scheme, Smith is forced to defend himself on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

In one of the most iconic scenes in Stewart’s film career full of iconic scenes, Smith filibusters for close to 24 hours on the Senate floor, in the hope that the media’s coverage will generate support for his defense.

Of course, the power brokers aren’t going to let that happen. Boss Taylor tells Senator Paine: “I’ll blacken this punk…You leave public opinion to me.”

Using his control of the media, newspapers, and radio in Smith’s home state, Boss Taylor does just that — “SEND SMITH TO JAIL WHERE HE BELONGS,” implores a radio announcer — and, in the final scene, basket loads of anti-Smith telegrams and letters are poured onto the Senator floor. As Smith starts reading the letters, he collapses in despair, ending his day-long filibuster.

Claude Rains (L) and Jimmy Stewart (R) in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington


If I had written the movie, it would have ended right there. But this is a Capra movie and as Smith is lifted out of the chamber, a guilt-stricken Senator Paine confesses to his colleagues (and the nation) his own guilt and Smith’s innocence.

If only the real world always worked out that way.

Today, the Senator Paines are on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News offering live commentary from the Capitol’s rotunda as Senator Smith is carried away.

The modern world of politics isn’t as oafish and thinly-veiled in its deceit as a Capra movie and Jimmy Stewart doesn’t win — not often at least.

We are watching in real-time today a similar dynamic, with even greater (negative) consequences, should the mainstream media succeed in its brazen and surprisingly uncloaked attempt to smear and impugn the character of Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who is currently running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

There is no other presidential candidate running today, besides Bernie Sanders and possibly Elizabeth Warren, with as clear a message as Gabbard’s: End our counterproductive regime change wars.

I don’t know what policies or ideas Kamala Harris really supports. Or Beto O’Rourke? And Howard Schultz? He says he wants a centrist Democrat nominated, whatever that means. Who are these people and why should anyone be excited about their candidacies?

But, for some reason, the mere mention of Gabbard’s name can turn a gaggle of temperate Democrats into an seething, tweet-raging mob.

I know the fundamental reason for the rage. Gabbard betrayed Hillary Clinton at a moment in the 2016 Democratic nomination race when the momentum had finally shifted away from Sanders and back towards Clinton.

In late February 2016, Gabbard went on national TV to announce her resignation from a Democratic National Committee leadership position on the grounds that the nomination race was rigged against Sanders and that she could not support the leading candidate, Clinton, due to her long, well-documented history of poor judgment, particularly with respect to the use of U.S. military and diplomatic power (2003 Iraq War, destabilizing Libya, destabilizing Syria, etc.).

That is why NBC, MSNBC, CNN,, Politico, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The New Republic, Vanity Fair, The Nation, and many more news outlets, smear Gabbard. They think she’s a traitor.

It has hurt Gabbard’s effectiveness in the U.S. House and eliminates any possibility (as remote as it already was) that she will win the 2020 Democratic nomination.

Still, I pray she can find a way to stay in the race as long as possible.

This country needs to hear what she has to say.

Even if she only makes it to the first major debate in June, Americans will hear a thoughtful argument on why, according to Gabbard, U.S. regime change wars in the Middle East and elsewhere have done harm to our nation’s broader security interests — not to mention the immense harm done to innocent civilians living in these countries.

Good intentions, including some genuinely good deeds we’ve done in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, are not sufficient reasons for imposing America’s will on foreign countries where U.S. strategic interests are not at stake, says Gabbard.

That is not a radical argument, by any definition. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul makes it pretty much every day to anyone willing to listen.

But — and I regret saying this — the Republican Party has a higher tolerance for dissent among its ranks than do the Democrats. Yes, Rand Paul has been marginalized within the U.S. Senate on matters related to national security. But when they need Paul’s support on other matters, there is no hesitation to welcome him back into the GOP-fold.

That is not how the Democratic establishment is dealing with Gabbard. They are openly using a three-stage strategy to end her national ambitions: (1) smear, (2) isolate, and (3) and ignore.


When Gabbard, without permission from the House leadership, visited Syria (and met with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad) during a congressional break, on her return the Democratic establishment trotted out their attack Chihuahua, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, to accuse Gabbard of being sympathetic to dictators and the use of chemical gas attacks on innocent civilians. That Gabbard has consistently labelled Assad a “ruthless dictator” has been ignored by her critics. That she believed any punishment of the Assad regime for gas attacks should not have happened until international observers, such as the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, had independently determined culpability is also ignored. Gabbard has never denied that the Assad regime has employed gas attacks on its own citizens, but you wouldn’t know that if you watched CNN or MSNBC.

The national news media routinely gaslights Gabbard…because they can…with impunity.

Their most recent smear of Gabbard was perhaps the most dishonest. In a poorly-sourced story relying entirely on a Democratic Party-aligned communications firm, NBC news suggested Russian intelligence agents — presumably the same crew that interfered in our 2016 election — have decided to back Gabbard in 2020. The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald gives a detailed autopsy on how this deplorable NBC story came to life. Suffice it to say, nothing in the NBC story was reliable or trustworthy. It was simply a partisan hit job propagated by a Democratic Party-friendly news network.

Gabbard responded forcefully to the NBC story:

“Today, our freedoms and democracy are being threatened by media giants ruled by corporate interests who are in the pocket of the establishment war machine. When journalism is deployed as a weapon against those who call for peace, it threatens our democracy as it seeks to silence debate and dissent, creates an atmosphere of fear and paranoia…This danger is not new — we saw it take hold of our nation during the last Cold War, as McCarthyite hysteria.

Russia-baiting propaganda is being deployed against our campaign along with anyone else, on the left or the right, who speaks out against regime change war or the new Cold War. The corporate media is doing everything they can to stop our campaign before it gets started — including using fraudulent journalism and discredited sources to launch their biased attacks.”

Stories like NBC’s against Gabbard are the perfect smear. No American journalist is going to invest the time — much less have access to — the Russian sources behind this story. The fact the smear comes from known Democratic hacks gives the appearance that it is a non-partisan attack. Gabbard, after all, is a Democrat. It all stays in the family.

Furthermore, Trump, Russiagate, and our military adventures are profit centers for the national news media. Why would they let someone like Gabbard piss on their money parade?

When Gabbard recently appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to talk about Syria and other regime change wars, they gooey condescension coming from Joe Scarbrough, Mike Brezinksi, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius and easily MSBNC’s worst show host, Kasie Hunt, was palpable.

When Hunt tried to confront Gabbard on Syria, she exposed herself as ill-informed.

Apparently, many Americans like Hunt are unaware that, today, the U.S. is not fighting Assad’s Syrian forces. We are in Syria fighting ISIS, controlling Syria’s most lucrative natural gas fields, and trying to keep the Kurds, Turks, and Assad’s forces from fighting each other.

But, Hunt, having been embarrassed by Gabbard before a national audience, resorted to what any good MSNBC on-air personality does when outed as being nothing more than a corporate tool— she re-tweeted the NBC news story smearing Gabbard for allegedly being a Russian tool.

Source: MSNBC


I don’t believe in a vengeful God, but sometimes I pray I’m wrong and there is an especially dark place in Hell for MSNBC’s current on-air talent pool.

As for David Ignatius, has he ever been on the right side of foreign policy debate? From Iraq WMDs, the Iraq War, Libya, Honduras, Yemen, Syria, Russia, Iran, and soon, Venezuela, he has always been wrong, very wrong, and inconceivably stupid wrong. You have to work hard to so consistently make that many bad calls. Even Tom Friedman laughs at David Ignatius’ track record.

The NBC/MSNBC smear campaign against Gabbard is particularly insidious because it dovetails nicely into the current Russiagate zeitgeist that continues to consume and paralyze the Democratic Party — that part of the Democratic Party, at least, not associated with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and concerned about addressing problems such as climate change, health care, and income inequality.


When Gabbard was first elected to Congress in 2013, she was a rising star. In an almost unprecedented opportunity for a new House member, she was placed on the prestigious House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees and had a important role within the Democratic National Committee (DNC) heading into the 2016 election.

And then…as mentioned previously…

Unwilling, without a fight, to let a warmonger with a history of bad judgment become the party’s 2016 presidential nominee, Gabbard resigned from the DNC and declared her support for Bernie Sanders.

Even more than her opposition to the military-industrial complex’s love for regime change wars, opposing Hillary Clinton was Gabbard’s most unforgivable betrayal for many Democrats.

She became the party’s “Sal” Tessio.

But Gabbard put principles ahead of career and that decision’s consequences include what we are seeing today. The Democratic Party establishment wants her isolated and marginalized and are using their propaganda division— the national news media — to do it.

In fairness, the party elites’ trust in Gabbard was always on a provisional basis.

Gabbard, a Hindu, was raised in a socially conservative, pro-life family in Hawaii. Her father, Mike Gabbard, born in America Samoa, was (and still is) a conservative Democrat that in the early 2000s, along with Tulsi, openly opposed marriage equality (as did Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton at the time).

And, similar to those prominent Democrats, Tulsi Gabbard’s position on marriage equality (and abortion rights as well) evolved in a progressive direction over time. As a House member, Gabbard has had one of the party’s most progressive voting records on LGBTQ and abortion rights issues.

Her critics still insist, unlike those other Democrats, Gabbard’s evolution is not genuine. Their evidence? Nada. [Never mind also that Gabbard came to support marriage equality before Clinton, Biden or Obama.]

Gabbard’s attitude shift — as she tells the story — centers on her experience as a military officer during the Iraq War.

Source: CNN


In my career, having conducted research for the U.S. Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness on soldiers’ attitudes during their service careers, what Gabbard talks about in her transformation sounds familiar. Serving in the military and exposed to a broader cross-section of Americans than from where they are often raised, soldiers frequently develop more progressive views on race, ethnicity and gender issues. It is the nature and demands of military service that prompts this attitudinal change. It is human nature.

In other words, it is wholly believable Gabbard’s views on LGBTQ issues changed during her time in the military.

But, apparently, among brie-and-wine progressives at Jacobin, and Vanity Fair, Gabbard’s evolution is untrustworthy and most likely the cover story of a party saboteur. Hillary Clinton’s conversion on marriage equality — on the other hand — totally credible.

Besides being placed on Nancy Pelosi’s naughty list, Gabbard has been substantively isolated within her own party through her removal from the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the current Congress.

That may be the single worst thing that has happened to Gabbard since 2016.

When the country needed to hear Gabbard’s voice during the House Foreign Affairs hearings on Venezuela this past week, we watched the committee largely roll over for Trump’s regime change adviser Elliot Abrams. A while I admire the sharped-edged, earnest grit of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s questioning of Abrams, Gabbard’s confident, polished demeanor was absent.

Frankly, Gabbard didn’t help her relationship with Pelosi or her standing in the party when she voted against the new House rules in January that included the PAYGO requirement. [Gabbard, Ro Khanna and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were the only Democrats to vote against the new House rules.] But, by that point, Gabbard’s outsider status was already hard-coded into the Democratic Party establishment’s lizard brains.

If you need evidence of how far the Democrats will go to isolate Gabbard, you need only have watched Trump’s last State of the Union address. As the Democratic Women in White took their seats near the front of the House chamber, Gabbard was so far in the back she was one row away from being in Pittsburgh.

Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (seated-left) and GOP Rep. Markwayne Mullin (standing)

AOC, in contrast, earned front row status in the stink-eye brigade.

House Democrats at the 2019 State of the Union Address


And I understand why AOC was willing to join this oddly high schoolish-level display. Its good for her congressional career. I’m good with that. But, AOC should know this: Push for substantive legislation on health care and the Green New Deal and they will drop you as if they caught you cheating with their boyfriends.


As for Gabbard, now that the party has effectively smeared and isolated her, the last step is to ignore her and hope she goes away.

Pretend she doesn’t exist so her donors dry up and she is forced to drop out of the presidential race — maybe even become a Republican.

As The Jimmy Dore Show pointed out recently, MSBNC’s Steve Kornacki didn’t even mention Gabbard when talking about the early polling for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Granted, Gabbard’s poll numbers are in single digits; that is, when the pollster actually lists her among the candidates.

CNN and the Emerson Poll didn’t even bother to list her name for respondents in their December 2016 polls, even though it was known she was planning to run for president. And when Gabbard was listed by the Emerson Poll in late January, her two percent support was similar to two far better known candidates, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (1%) and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar (1%).’s first video on the 2020 Democratic nomination somehow couldn’t find room for a picture of Gabbard on its title screen, but somehow Oprah and The Rock deserved spots and at least six other faces that I don’t know who the hell they are. Michael Avenatti?!


Iowa may fit a presidential candidate that surfs

But don’t feel sorry Gabbard quite yet. Iowa could be the antidote for a negligent and biased national media.

Among the first states to revolt against the railroad barons at the turn of the 20th-century and home to progressive, Henry Wallace, FDR’s prvice president from 1941 to 1945, Iowa has a strong populist, anti-interventionist streak. And based on her first visit to the Hawkeye State, Gabbard’s anti-regime change message resonates. Her first scheduled event in Fairfield drew an auditorium-filling crowd of at least 200 people and her foreign policy-focused stump speech had solid applause lines.

Gabbard also connected with an Iowa audience when she talked about the religious bigotry seemingly growing again among some Americans.

“Our country was established on the basis of freedom of religion, and the Constitution states there would never be any religious test for any public office,” says Gabbard. “It is a freedom enshrined in our Constitution, and that every member of Congress takes an oath to protect — a freedom that many heroes have given their lives to defend.”

Her concern about religious bigotry is a crotch-kick at some in her own party’s leadership that now openly questions whether practicing Catholics are qualified to sit on a federal bench.

An exaggeration? Think again.

The ‘religious test’ inference was impossible to ignore when Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein told judicial nominee Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearing, “The dogma lives loudly within you. Dogma and law are two different things. I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different.”

Even the neoliberals at Bloomberg winced at Feinstein’s implication.

Her interrogation of Coney Barrett is the modern form of the same anti-Catholicism that kept Al Smith from becoming president and easily could have ended John F. Kennedy’s presidential ambitions. Thank God we’ve advanced as a nation…except, that we haven’t.

Iowa Democrats will be open to Gabbard’s message on religious tolerance as they tend to be both progressive and religious. They aren’t San Francisco liberals.

Iowans are also unpredictable and sometimes even ornery — polar vortices will do that to people — but they will listen and have been known to lift previously unknown candidates into national prominence (e.g., Jimmy Carter) and knock down front runners just as readily (e.g., Howard Dean).

More importantly, Gabbard’s Navy officer training and discipline helped her connect extremely well in the smaller group settings while in Iowa.

As a citizen on the outside looking in, it is obvious the mainstream media and Democratic Party elites do not want Gabbard in this race.

To the Democratic Party establishment, Gabbard is the most dangerous candidate possible. She is at odds with her party that has spent the last 30 years trying to make up for its failure to get credit for the fall of the Soviet Union — the greatest U.S. foreign policy achievement since World War II.

Carter started the arms buildup, but Reagan received the credit. The Democratic neolib/neocons will never let that happen again.

Gabbard rejects the standing assumption within the political-military establishment that regime change wars are a legitimate and morally righteous use of American military superiority, regardless of the damage it inflicts on civilian populations.

Iraq, Libya, and Syria are a living testament to this policy’s deep flaws.

And when Gabbard stands on that stage for the first debate in June, she will be the only candidate confidently standing against these counterproductive wars. Senator Elizabeth Warren, the only other Democratic to make definitive statements against U.S interference in Venezuela, is simply not as dedicated as Gabbard on this issue.

Be aware of the McCarthyesque techniques being used against Gabbard and others opposed to regime change wars

There are legitimate arguments against Gabbard’s views on U.S. regime change wars. If someone believes 4,000 American troops in eastern Syria is going to save Syrian and Kurdish lives and lead to the final defeat of radical Islamic terrorism (or, at least, the land-holding ISIS variety), they are entitled to that opinion. And they should feel free to debate Gabbard and others that share her views — but they should do so on the merits of their arguments.

I hope this country gets to hear Gabbard’s thoughtful message over the course of the 2020 campaign and I hope her critics are equally prepared to respond in a constructive way.

To instead smear her as a Russian stooge, or worse, as a simpatico agent of murderous dictators, is not just inaccurate, it is immoral.

This is the type of lazy journalism that is now standard operating procedure at the major cable news networks.

But, to be well-informed citizens, we need to hold these news organizations — and I use the word ‘news’ lightly here— to a higher standard.

There is real dissent on how best to use American military, economic and diplomatic power in a world still populated with far too many despots and evil-doers. But this dissent does not come from the radical fringe of American society or from a secret Russian plot to neuter American power (which is what the Russians openly do anyway because that’s kind of their job!). Anti-war dissent comes from an American mainstream that is not adequately covered by our corporate news media because they are, in fact, suppressed.

Anti-war advocates don’t make money for media companies as do Trump and war.

Noam Chomsky described this state of affairs 30 years ago:

“The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda,” wrote Chomsky in his book, Manufactured Consent. “Dissent and inconvenient information are kept within bounds and at the margins, so that while their presence shows that the system is not monolithic, they are not large enough to interfere unduly with the domination of the official agenda.”

That is the media system we live with today.

I don’t know when corporate interests completely absorbed our journalists and news organizations. It may be impossible to know when it happened. Or maybe it has always been that way and we are only now realizing it.

I don’t know.

What I do know is that American news organizations are not just bad, they are dangerously bad. And if the news media is allowed to kill off the Gabbard presidential campaign before she has an opportunity to share her views with voters, this country will be lesser for it.

Let us not allow party bosses like Capra’s fictional Jim Taylor shut down another honest politician.

  • K.R.K.

Please send comments to:

Could Hispanic voters form a viable third party in the U.S.?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; February 12, 2019)

Political scientists have long accepted that the formation of a viable third party in the U.S. is inhibited by its winner-take-all (simple-majority, single ballot) electoral system.

At the presidential-level, the electoral college doesn’t help either.

Yet, most voters, at some point disenchanted with the nominees of the two major parties, have probably dabbled with the thought of voting for a third-party candidate.

Actually voting for a third-party candidate rarely ever happens.

In his 1963 cross-national study of electoral systems, Political Parties, French sociologist Maurice Duverger concluded:

The simple-majority single-ballot system favours the two-party system…this approaches the most nearly perhaps to a true sociological law.

Until recently, Durverger’s Law had been one of political science’s few durable laws. In recent years, however, research by Patrick Dunleavy and Rekha Diwakar argues that the dominance of the two-party system in the U.S. cannot be explained by Durverger’s Law or its later derivatives. The U.S. two-party system is unique from a cross-national perspective.

Regardless of how we explain the entrenchment of the U.S. two-party system, the electoral evidence says third parties do not perform well in the U.S., particularly at the presidential level where local- and state-level party organizations are critical to a party’s national success.

Across all U.S. presidential elections, Figure 1 illustrates the general failure of third party candidates (the orange bars and one purple bar) to even come close to winning a majority of the popular vote.

Figure 1: Presidential votes by party

Source: Wikipedia


Instead, where third party candidates such as Teddy Roosevelt (Bull Moose Party, 1912) and Ross Perot (1992) arguably have been successful, is in splintering a majority party enough to allow a minority party candidate to win. Roosevelt pulled in 25 percent of the popular vote in 1912, effectively preventing President William Howard Taft, the Republican incumbent, from winning re-election. Likewise, Ross Perot’s maverick candidacy in 1992 garnered 19 percent of the popular vote and may have done the same to President George H. W. Bush’s re-election chances.

Voter disenchantment with an incumbent administration and an unacceptable alternative from the other major party seems to drive the emergence of meaningful third-party challenges.

Will we see a significant third-party challenger in the 2020 presidential election?

The current presidential election season is already inspiring predictable calls for a new third-party alternative to challenge Donald Trump and whomever the Democrats nominate. So far, the two most common scenarios are:

(1) Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz (or, perhaps, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg) running as an independent candidate in contradistinction to a Democratic Party he views as becoming too leftist.

(2) Should their preferred candidate not win the Democratic Party nomination, progressive Democrats could leverage Sanders’ expansive national infrastructure to run a third party candidate, not only for the presidency, but for congressional, state, and local elections as well.

The latter would be far more disruptive to the two-party system as a Schultz candidacy would inevitably fail and leave no residual organizational structure to build a viable third party for the future.

Sanders, on the other hand, has a national organizational structure independent of the Democratic Party and could be a credible electoral force at all governing levels.

But even a Sanders third-party run might face considerable resistance from some of his own supporters and end up, in the end, getting Donald Trump re-elected. Not a result most Sanders supporters or establishment Democrats want to see.

FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver recently detailed the limitations of a Sanders candidacy in building a majority coalition for the Democratic nomination.

In Silver’s model, there are five constituencies within the Democratic Party (Loyalists, the Left, Millennials, Blacks, and Hispanic/Asian) and a candidate must win three of the five to win the nomination. According to Silver, Sanders’ appeal is strictly limited the ‘the Left’ and ‘Millennials,’ whereas, California Senator Kamala Harris and Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke have strong appeal within at least three of the five groups. [I can’t resist pointing out that Sanders has for the last three years consistently out-polled Donald Trump in a hypothetical head-to-head contest.]

Given the current political culture, a third party would most likely form around an identity characteristic such as race or ethnicity

The previously mentioned third-party scenarios are predicated on a partisan-ideological split between the third-party candidate and the Democratic Party. In the case of Schultz, his candidacy would aim to capture the ‘silent’ majority in the ideological center of American politics; while, in Sanders’ case, his candidacy would be the jettisoning of the Democratic Party’s centrist, corporate elements.

But both of these scenarios assume most American voters are ideologically driven when they walk into the voting booth.

They are not. They are partisan. They are tribal. Their are full of social group antagonisms. But they are not ideological.

In their 2017 book of American public opinion, Neither Liberal nor Conservative, political scientists Donald Kinder and Nathan Kalmoe conclude that “the ideological battles between American political elites show up as scattered skirmishes in the general public, if they show up at all.”

According to Kinder and Kalmoe, partisan preferences and attitudes arise “less from ideological differences than from the attachments and antagonisms of group life.” And this summary of ideology in America has been consistent since political scientist Philip Converse’s study of American public opinion in the 1950s.

When Brigham Young political scientists Michael Barber and Jeremy Pope looked at Trump voters they found that the claim of party loyalists as being conservative was suspect and that “group loyalty is the stronger motivator of opinion than are any ideological principles.”

The findings of Kinder, Kalmoe, Barber and Pope reinforce the work of Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels who detailed in their 2016 book, Democracy for Realists, that most voters make decisions on the basis of their social identity and partisan loyalties rather than any coherent ideology. When a favored party changes course, like driftwood, American voters do as well. The opinions of an ideologue, in contrast, is not supposed to be so pliable.

Instead, Americans are more partisan than ever as they continue to sort themselves out between Republicans and Democrats. And while more Americans than ever are calling themselves “independents” according to the Gallup Poll, it turns out these non-aligned partisans are often as partisan, if not more so, than committed partisans.

This growing partisanship is particularly evident in Americans’ issue priorities.

“Republicans and Democrats have long held differing views about policy solutions, but throughout most of the recent past there was rough partisan agreement about the set of issues that were the top priorities for the nation,” according to Pew Research’s Bradley Jones. “However, that is less and less the case. Republicans and Democrats have been moving further apart not just in their political values and approaches to addressing the issues facing the country, but also on the issues they identify as top priorities for the president and Congress to address.”


As recently as 2014, Democrats and Republicans generally put the same issues on the top of their agendas (i.e., the economy, health care, and national security). Today, not so much.

A viable third party will need to built on something other than ideology — most likely, race and ethnicity

Party ideologies can change from election to another. Remember when Republicans were the free trade party?

What doesn’t change is racial and ethnic identity.

If a sustainable third party is ever to form in the U.S., it will most likely be built upon a construct like race and ethnicity that doesn’t change so easily.

The 2018 American National Election Study (ANES), a December 2018 online survey of 2,500 eligible voters in the U.S., offers evidence that Hispanic Americans do not map onto the current two-party system as well as other Americans and could potentially support a durable third party in the near future.

Figure 2 indicates that Hispanics predominately identify as a Democrat (54%) or as an independent (31%).

Perhaps working against the idea of an Hispanic-based party is that Hispanics only account for about 13 percent of eligible voters (see Figure 2) and are the majority in only 30 U.S. congressional districts (of which 23 are represented by a Democrat).

Figure 2: Eligible Voter Segments in December 2018


Favoring the idea of an Hispanic-based party is the population growth trend which, according to the U.S. Census, will find Hispanics accounting for close to 30 percent of the total U.S. population by 2060.

But for a such a party to form, it must fulfill an unmet need. After all, if the Democratic Party substantively serves the interests of Hispanic Americans, what would be the point in carving out a new party?

Figure 3 gives some indication that Hispanic Americans do not self-identify the same way as white Americans do along the ideological spectrum. Hispanic Democrats see themselves as less liberal than white Democrats and Hispanic Republicans see themselves as less conservative than white Republicans.

This is more true for Black Americans, but as writer and scholar Theodore Johnson aptly notes from his own quantitative research, “The social conservatism of blacks does not affect voting behavior in presidential elections, even though religiosity is strongly correlated with partisanship.”

Figure 3: Average Ideological Position of Eligible Voter Segments (Dec. 2018)


In a previous essay on, using 2016 ANES data, I detailed how Hispanic Americans are more centrist in their attitudes than liberals on issues ranging from transgender bathroom laws, marriage equality, and abortion rights.

This pattern is also revealed in the 2018 ANES data (see Figure 4). Hispanic Democrats are more likely than Black or white Democrats to approve of Trump’s handling of his job and the economy

Figure 4: Presidential Approval by Eligible Voter Segments (Dec. 2018)


When comparing the ability of Democrats versus Republicans to handle a broad range of issues from the economy to natural disasters, Hispanic Democrats uniformly are less inclined than white, Black or Asian Democrats to think the Democrats are better (see Figure 5, where higher values indicate a stronger belief Republicans are better at handling a specific issue). An analogous pattern does not exist between Hispanic Republicans and other Republicans.

Figure 5: How the Eligible Voter Segments Rate the Two Parties by Issue (Dec. 2018)


Our final graph (Figure 6) plots the attitudes of 2018 ANES respondents on a series of questions related to illegal immigration. The list of questions can be found here. To simplify the analysis, I employed a principal components analysis to identify the two most significant factors in describing attitudes on illegal immigration. The two factors were: (1) illegal immigration’s impact on the economy and society, and (2) its impact on crime and security. The two factors account for almost 70 percent of all variance in attitudes related to illegal immigration.

Hispanic Republicans are plainly unique in their attitudes regarding illegal immigration. While they are similar in attitudes with their Republican brethren on the negative impact of illegal immigration on crime and security, Hispanic Republicans differ substantially on attitudes related to the economic and social impact of illegal immigration.

Figure 6: Immigration Attitudes and Opinions across Eligible Voter Segments (Dec. 2018)


I suspect one reason the Trump administration is emphasizing the ‘crime’ aspect of illegal immigration (i.e., drugs and gangs) over the economic impact is based on the relationships observed in the 2018 ANES. For Hispanic Republicans, illegal immigration is about crime, not the economy.

As for Hispanic Democrats, they differ slightly from white Democrats on the impact of illegal immigration on crime, while both groups see illegal immigration as a more positive factor on the economy and society.

Are these attitudinal differences enough to inspire an Hispanic third party?

Hispanic Democrats are more socially conservative and family-oriented than the average Democrat. Hispanic Republicans differ significantly from other Republicans on illegal immigration’s impact on its economic and social benefits.

Are these differences enough to inspire Hispanic Americans to jettison the current two-party system and build a third party that better represents their attitudes and opinions?

The safe and unimaginative answer is NO.

From data’s dispassionate perspective, however, it is hard to see how Hispanics believe their interests are sufficiently served under the current two-party system.

According to the opinion data, Hispanics are more socially-conservative and family-oriented than Democrats and more accepting of illegal immigration for economic and social reasons than the Republicans.

A third party dedicated to the interests of social conservatism and a more rational immigration policy might very well attract a large enough fraction of American voters to be the deciding factor in future presidential elections and a meaningful number of congressional and state-level races.

We can at least conjecture.

  • K.R.K.

Comments and critiques can be sent to:

A simple plan to help a hopelessly divided Democratic Party to beat Trump

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; February 2, 2019)

Within less than 24 hours of her well-orchestrated announcement that she was running for president, California Senator Kamala Harris officially became the 2020 election’s version of Hillary Clinton and offered more proof that the Democratic Party is deeply divided going into the 2020 election.

There is a simple solution, but first it is useful to dissect Harris’ campaign recent hiccup regrading Medicare-for-all for what it tells us about how deeply divided the Democratic Party remains.

Medicare-for-all: The Progressive Litmus Test

The day after her launch announcement, CNN generously televised Harris’ hour-long town hall in Des Moines, Iowa, and it didn’t take long for an audience member to ask Harris about Medicare-for-all, a health care reform bill she has already co-sponsored in the U.S. Senate, along with Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand.

[As I wrote at the time, Harris co-sponsoring a bill that had no chance of passage was virtually costless to her and did not necessarily represent what she truly believed. I wish I had been wrong.]

After appearing to give her full support behind the idea, CNN’s Jake Tapper, host of the town hall, pressed Harris on the topic:

Tapper: So just to follow up — so just to follow up on that, and correct me if I’m wrong, to reiterate, you support the Medicare-for-all bill, I think …

Harris: Correct.

Tapper: … initially co-sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders. You’re also a co-sponsor onto it. I believe it will totally eliminate private insurance. So for people out there who like their insurance, they don’t get to keep it?

Harris: Well, listen, the idea is that everyone gets access to medical care, and you don’t have to go through the process of going through an insurance company, having them give you approval, going through the paperwork, all of the delay that may require. Who of us has not had that situation, where you’ve got to wait for approval, and the doctor says, well, I don’t know if your insurance company is going to cover this? Let’s eliminate all of that. Let’s move on.

Harris couldn’t have described the problem with our current private insurance system any better. While watching her response, I believed that she believed Medicare-for-all is not only doable, but the best direction for this country’s deeply-flawed health care system. She had me at “Let’s eliminate all of that.”

But it didn’t take long for Harris to betray her own words. Within hours of her town hall comments on private insurance, some centrist Democrats squawked.

“You can’t just pull the rug out from underneath everybody’s feet,” said Michigan Democrat Sen. Gary Peters. Possible independent candidate for president, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, said Harris’ health care stance is exactly why a candidacy like his is needed.

Harris’ campaign went into damage control as one of her advisers suggested the candidate was also considering health reform plans which would preserve the private insurance industry.

CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski subsequently put out a tweet saying Harris was “ also open to bills that preserve private health care,” only to pull the tweet hours later after the Harris campaign complained that his first tweet was not exactly right either. [Another sad and illustrative moment in the ongoing death of independent journalism in the U.S.]

As Kaczynski went back and polished his Harris campaign public relations release, Harris national press secretary Ian Sams told other reporters at CNN that her consideration of alternate paths to a single payer system did not indicate a lack of commitment to the single payer goal.

Hillary Clinton circa 2020.

Centrist Democrats and critics of Medicare-for-all don’t need to look hard to find the potential problems with health care reform that comprehensive:

  • Will health care utilization rates increase dramatically under Medicare-for-all as the previously uninsured gain access? If so, what will that do to the program’s costs?
  • Will employers lift salaries and wages once their contribution to employees’ health insurance coverage goes away?
  • Can we expect doctors and hospitals to take substantial pay cuts and not change the quality or availability of health care?
  • How do you shut down the private insurance industry? And when you deliberately shrink the economy in such a way, what are the short- and long-term effects on employment and output?

Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the progressives have yet to adequately answer those questions. And they will have to be answered before Medicare-for-all becomes a reality. And I still believe it will. The economic case for Medicare-for-all is just too strong.

“At the end of the day, it is undeniable that the United States can afford the same guarantee of health care enjoyed by people in other wealthy countries,” according to Dean Baker, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “The question is whether we have the political commitment to bring it about.”

But for Harris to go wobbly right out of the gate on the elimination of private insurance, the central cost-saving element of the Medicare-for-all reform, is a non-starter with many in the progressive wing of Democratic Party.

Huffington Post contributor, Dr. Victoria Dooley, a nationally prominent Medicare-for-all advocate and Sanders supporter, wasted no time on Twitter responding to Harris’ backtracking on private insurance:


Progressives were already suspicious of Harris, given her tenures as a San Francisco district attorney and the Attorney General of California, as well as her unapologetic advocacy for tougher enforcement and sentencing laws. Still, some progressives held out hope that she would at least stand by her public support for Sanders’ health care reform bill.

Unfortunately, at a minimum, her equivocation on the private insurance question demonstrates her unsteadiness in defending the Sanders Medicare-for-all plan. To uncompromising progressives, Harris’ performance reveals her disingenuous support for Medicare-for-all in the first place.

In fairness to Harris, there are single payer proposals that aim to preserve a role for private insurers. Furthermore, critics of Medicare-for-all willfully misrepresent what the Sanders bill would actually do with respect to private insurance.

While Section 107 of Sanders’ bill expressly states — “It shall be unlawful for a private health insurer to sell health insurance coverage that duplicates the benefits provided under this Act” — private insurance companies would still be allowed to offer supplemental coverage, as occurs under Medicare now.

If it were just Harris, a progressive could hope she’s an aberration. After all, 81 percent of Democrats support the “idea” of Medicare-for-all, according to a January 2019 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. A Democrat aspiring to win the party’s nomination for president would be crazy to oppose Medicare-for-all, right?

If other Democratic candidates’ reactions to Harris’ predicament are an indication, however, Medicare-for-all may not be on sound footing with the party’s other leading presidential hopefuls.

In the shadow of Harris’ Medicare-for-all quandary, Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal asked Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren if she wanted to eliminate private insurance. Warren’s answer was anything but clear:

Right now, it means fighting the Republicans who are trying to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. We’ve got this lawsuit going on down in Texas where the Republicans are trying to do what they couldn’t do with the vote, and that is trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, to make it OK to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, to cut off access to health care for millions of Americans. So job number one is to defend the affordable care act…

…Job number two is to make changes where we need to make them right now. Changes to hold insurance companies accountable when they’re trying to cheat people, when they’re trying to scam people. Changes right now, and what’s happening with drugs, prescription drugs. We need to lower the cost of prescription drugs…

…And the third, how do we get universal coverage. Medicare for all. Lots of paths for how to do that. But we know where we are aiming. And that is, every American has health care at a price they can afford. And that the overall costs in the system are held as low as possible.

That was the abridged version of Warren’s answer.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was perhaps clearer, but hardly unequivocal in support of Medicare-for-all’s elimination of private insurers.

“If you did that you would create so much competition, I don’t think the private insurers would be able to compete because they’re far too concerned about their profits,” Gillibrand said when asked by Fox News about Medicare-for-all and private insurers. “That competition alone will displace them, it will disrupt that industry. That is how you get to single-payer.”

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s answer to the question, at least, was clear: “Even countries that have vast access to publicly offered health care still have private health care, so no.”

Germany is an example of such a country. While 86 percent of Germany’s population receive health coverage through a public option, 14 percent use private health insurance.

Booker, with his deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry, and Gillibrand, with her deep bench of Wall Street donors, have never been favorites among progressives, but Warren is different. She is expected to the primary competitor with Sanders for the Democrats’ progressive voters— who may account for half of likely Democratic voters today. The winner in that battle will probably be among the final two candidates vying for the party’s nomination.

Warren’s answer to the private insurer question will generate more than a little disappointment among progressives. Incrementalism, no matter how earnest, will not cut it with progressives. Listen to Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez. They talk about a “complete transformation” and “re-engineering” of not just the American health care system but the entire economy.

Progressives are trying to change the system, not tweek it.

What can bridge Democratic progressives and centrists?

If you dangled centrist Democrats from New York’s George Washington Bridge and forced them to choose between the economic policies of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and those of Donald Trump, they would choose Trump’s without pause.

Trump’s economic policies better serve their interests and the interests of their donors. It is not complicated. It is politicized self-interest. That is how pluralist democracies work.

With that in mind, the Democratic establishment cannot assume their two ideological flanks will stay loyal in a Harris-Trump or Sanders-Trump race. They are both heading down a path that could easily get Trump re-elected.

Something has to change the current dynamic within the party.

But what?

The formation of governments in other countries frequently depend on political coalitions to achieve a governing majority. It is an essential element in the art of governing.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in Israel needed the support of the Kulanu, Shas and The Jewish Home parties to form their current government.

Giuseppe Conte’s government in Italy needed a six-party agreement — Five Star Movement, League, Forza Italia, Democratic Party, Brothers of Italy, and Free & Equal — to form a governing coalition in 2018.

In every case, the smaller parties in the coalition gained something concrete by joining the government — typically a cabinet position, but sometimes a binding agreement on a favored policy initiative (as was the case for the Kulanu and The Jewish Home parties in Israel).

That is how governing is accomplished in divided, polarized political environments.

Granted, the U.S. does not have a parliamentary system, but we do we have the deep political divisions. Our two-party system merely papers over and suppresses many of these differences. They still exist.

That is why the Democratic Party’s two factions must agree now, whichever faction wins the nomination (and it still looks like this is Harris’ nomination to lose), the other faction deserves — or, rather, should demand — the vice presidential slot. Had Hillary Clinton made this deal with Sanders in 2016, she’d be gearing up for her re-election campaign right now.

As it stands, for those who believe issues like climate change and income inequality represent immediate and existential threats to this country, the Democrats cannot afford to lose the presidency in 2020. And to avoid that outcome, the Democrats need to see themselves as they are — an estranged, unstable coalition of two distinct and often opposed political doctrines.

To fail to embrace that reality is to risk re-electing Donald Trump.

  • K.R.K.