Tea Leaves and Prognostications

There are..what? Seventeen Republicans contending for the party’s nomination? How does one tell which one –if any– has “legs”?

Predicting political outcomes is perilous. I’ve lived long enough–and seen enough “pundit predictions”–to take all of them with a whole shaker of salt. With the possible exception of Nate Silver, political “analysis” is mostly the analyst’s wishful thinking.

That doesn’t mean they can’t be fun to read. Especially the ones that tell you things you want to believe.

One such “analysis,” I came across was written not long after the 2014 midterms–midterms that Republicans won big– by a GOP columnist for the Houston Chronicle, Chris Ladd. Rather than celebrating those victories, Ladd declared the week of the Midterm Elections “a dark week for Republicans.” 

And why was what looked like a resounding victory “a dark week”?

The Midterms of 2014 demonstrate the continuation of a 20 year old trend. Republicans are disappearing from the competitive landscape at the national level where the population is the largest utilizing a declining electoral base of aging, white, and rural voters. As a result no GOP candidate on the horizon has a chance at the White House in 2016 and the chance of holding the Senate beyond 2016 is vanishingly small.

Ladd identified a “blue wall” on the electoral college map, and noted that in 2014, GOP support had gotten deeper, but no wider.

The Blue Wall is a block of states that no Republican Presidential candidate can realistically hope to win. On Election Day that block added New Hampshire to its number and Virginia is shifting At the outset of any Presidential campaign, a minimally effective Democratic candidate can expect to win 257 electoral votes out of the 270 needed to win. If Virginia joins New Hampshire that number will be 270 out of 270.

To win, a GOP  candidate has to win all nine “tossup” state and one solidly Blue state. Thus, in the next, and into the foreseeable future, Presidential elections will be decided in the Democratic Primary. What are the chances that a Republican candidate capable of appealing to the increasingly right wing GOP will appeal to enough Democrats to win in tossup and Blue states?

Ladd makes a number of other points (my favorite: “Voter suppression is working remarkably well, but that won’t last.” Glad to see someone willing to call it what it is..), and the whole piece is well worth reading, especially if you are a Democrat looking for a feel-good few minutes.

The problem with taking this–or any– analysis at face value is that things change. Predictions are particularly hazardous in state-level races: Favored candidates do stupid things (RFRA, God intended that rape, etc.), or get caught playing footsie in public restrooms. A hurricane keeps voters away from the polls. Even at the national level, parties have been known to nominate people who are simply unelectable– unsalable even to the party base.

National trends can also change. At some point (admittedly, probably not 2016), the GOP is going to realize that a strategy that depends on playing to the anger and fear of old white guys isn’t viable, and the party will revert to its more rational roots.

The only political prediction that is usually true is: the party that gets more voters to the polls, wins.


  1. Considering how few Hoosiers know when to vote for what office, getting voters to the polls is a daunting task.

  2. The late Dr. Fred Craddock, the leading progressive preacher of the 20th century, said this:
    “When preachers are not doing well they often get louder.” The republican base is loud and boisterous. We may take that to be a sign of meaninglessness. To give power to those whose meaning and purpose is lacking is to do harm! Perhaps the republican base will take that seriously and start doing the right thing, meaning rid the party of the idolatry of pretense morality and begin to find its ethics. The later requires that they will begin to think of how decisions impact the whole, rather than the plutocracy.

  3. As a life long small r moderate Republican who believed in balanced budgets, efficient sized government, separation of church and state, small business development and large business and banking regulation, and staying out of people’s bodies and lives.
    I can honestly say the my GOP left me behind along with so many others I know, when they took a hard right turn with religion and big money driving their platform. With Oligarchy overtones and privitazation of government responsibilities that has further separated so many of us from the Grand Old Party, along with the rise of the Tea Party that I see as Libertarian outliers unable to get elected with their ideas attaching themselves to the Republican Party and mimicking parasite stratigies sucked the life out of it with billionaire money, right wing rant radio, and lies.
    I see the future of the GOP as further polarizing our nation and it people, and a slow death from the parasites that has infected it with little hope for a cure.
    It makes me sad for America and our political system.

  4. The oligarchy has been very clever in masquerading their Corporatist intentions. When the Democratic Party shifted to the Party of Civil Rights, the Southern Democrats fled the party and went over to the Republicans – Nixon’s Southern Strategy. The Big Government that was castigated by the Republicans had it’s roots in the Federal Government enforcing Civil Rights Legislation. Ever since then with the exception of Defense other operations of the Federal Government have been labeled as Big Government over reach such as EPA, Clean Air, Clean Water, automobile mileage requirements, regulations on the financial industry. The Republicans were never friendly to Unions, but Union busting became part of the Republican Platform. There was never any hope the Unions could out spend Corporate America in campaign donations, but the goal became to exterminate the Unions.

    The oligarchy was clever also in devising a subtle alliance with Bible Thumpers and the NRA types. A large helping of fear mongering such as Donald Trump’s comments on Mexico strikes a chord with the GOP Base. Republican candidates must now veer hard Right to keep their base activated, but they carry the water for the interests of the Koch Brothers, etc., who hardly have the economic interests of Republican Voters at heart.

    Unfortunately, the Democrat Party has also been subverted by Wall Street. I think it was Micheal Moore who said to Wall Street during the Corporatization of the Democrat Party, let the people have one political party.

  5. It is hard to take Ladd seriously when he talks about “voter suppression …working remarkably well.” Of course he has no statistics to back that up because, well, there aren’t any. I looked at Indiana’s turnout pre and post the adoption of our voter ID law, supposedly the strictest in the country. The percent of the adult population voting has not dropped one bit. In fact, it’s gone up.

    The reason turnout appears low in Indiana is because of inflated voter rolls. We went from 69% of the population registered to 93% in the 20 years after the 1993 Motor Voter Law passed that outlawed automatic purges for non-voting The reason why is duplicate registrations and dead people being on the rolls. Indiana is one of the worst states in the country in terms of keeping its voter registration rolls clean and has been sued because of it. If you look at the numbers the decrease in turnout originate with the 1993 Motor Voter Law not the 2007 voter ID law. That decrease in turnout is due entirely to inflated voter registration rolls. Again, if you look at turnout in terms of percent of the adult population, the turnout has not decreased one bit.

    As far as the fate of the parties go, Republicans control more state legislative chambers than ever. They have a record number of Governors. They have majorities in the U.S. House and Senate that haven’t been equaled for some 80 years or so. The only place the Rs haven’t succeeded is winning the White House. And yet some people insist the Republican party is dying. Would anyone in their right mind seriously trade the Republicans’ position for that of the Democrats?

  6. As Sheila points out, reading political tea leaves is not a reliable science so the best we can do is to try to anticipate cultural trends.

    Considering that we live in a political bubble inflated by Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch’s over the air egoes, which is as artificial as the Bush housing debacle, the burst of conservatism will be soon and spectacular. Despite their huffing and puffing the whole sordid mess has nothing, nothing at all real to show for its bluster. Not one accomplishment since Bush I decided to leave Hussein in power and settle for the destruction of his military. The pressure of their lies cannot stretch the balloon against the tide of such overwhelming failure.

    The stakes through the heart will be climate change and health care.

    Climate change captures headlines daily as its consequences move out of the lab, where they could have been contained, onto Main Streets. Droughts, floods, tornadoes, wildfires, extreme heat and cold, FEMA taking over from the military as the undeniable demonstration of the critical role of socialism in the future.

    Heath care costs eating us alive adding further evidence of how spectacularly Capitalism fails the wrong markets.

    My biggest worry is over reaction, stopping the pendulum.

    We all I believe hope for a returned recovered Republican Party. If their current Presidential slate is their leadership there is no hope. Nothing will rise from the ashes.

    I think that we all know people who had to spectacularly fall and fail before recovery began. Such I believe will be the fate of the GOP.

  7. Written for another purpose but perhaps apropos:

    In the beginning we were few, gathered into tribes which seldom interacted with others, but all were ruled by nature. Nature gave and took away and we observed but did not understand. We filled in the blanks with myths which not surprisingly favored certain individuals, the ones who made them up and told them, over others and allowed the myth makers to write history.

    While our competition for nature’s bounty grew strong, fast, fit of tooth and claw and wing and gill, and with acute senses, we were a random experiment for other approaches. Intelligence and speech and insatiable curiosity. They, it turned out, were the superior adaptation to the environment then.

    Now we are many and we understand and we arrange nature to our benefit all due to our mastery of the earth’s daily allocation of energy and its effects on our fixed supply of matter, we are less adapted to the environment that we now create.

    Our downfall? Or our second chance to prove intelligence and speech and insatiable curiosity superior.

    Nature doesn’t care. We have to.

    First we have to replace myths and myth makers with prophecy based on knowledge.

  8. They do it much better than you might think,Pete. And they are getting better at it. Indiana is now starting to get rid of the straight party ticket. That should lengthen the existing lines by about a mile.

    I just hope we use all the rain up this year so the sisters won’t have to worry about their hair.I’m thinking ’bout running a shuttle to the polls.

    Want a ride, Smitty?

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