Political Animal

Texas Democrats Are Eager to Vote

I’ve often compared the red/blue divide in our politics to two tectonic plates that are locked together. Every so often, there is some slippage along the fault line that causes a minor political earthquake, but things usually settle back into a stable state. No one can quite predict when The Big One will come, but there’s always the potential for a huge shift that will permanently rearrange the divide and leave one party with an insurmountable advantage.

We’ve had two presidential elections, in 2000 and 2016, when the party with fewer voters nonetheless won the election due to an advantage in the Electoral College. In Congress, we’ve seen control switch back and forth during this same period. The one thing that would change everything is if Texas and its 38 Electoral College votes suddenly moved into the blue column. Without Texas, it’s inconceivable that a Republican could win the presidency. The Republicans currently enjoy a 27-11 advantage in their congressional delegation, and they hold both U.S. Senate seats. Both of those majorities are key to the Republicans’ current control of Congress.

Based solely on demographic analyses of Texas, it has looked like the Democrats might be competitive in the presidential election by 2024 and perhaps have an outright advantage by 2028. Those estimates don’t take into account the possibility that racial, ethnic or gender groups might change their voting preferences. If whites vote even more heavily Republican or Latinos become more like swing voters, then Texas may remain reliably red for a longer period of time. But if the reverse happens, or if, say, white women move sharply away from the GOP in reaction to school shootings and the #MeToo movement, then Texas could be competitive in 2020.

Early voting for the midterm election primaries started in Texas on Tuesday, and the Dallas Morning News reports that the Democrats are turning out at close to presidential year numbers.

Of the 51,249 Texans who cast ballots Tuesday on the first day of early voting, more than half voted in the Democratic primary.

The total number of voters from the 15 counties with the most people registered is high for a midterm year. In 2016, a presidential election year, 55,931 Texans voted on the first day of early voting for the primary. But in the last midterm election in 2014, only 38,441 Texans voted on the first day.

Even more surprising is the turnout among Democrats. Since the last midterm election, the party saw a 51 percent increase in first-day early voting turnout, while Republicans saw a 16 percent increase.

Some of the individual county numbers are striking. Democratic turnout surpassed 2016’s numbers in Harris, Dallas, Collin and Denton counties. It basically equaled 2016 in Bexar and Travis counties. The Republicans didn’t even come close to matching presidential year numbers.

It’s been widely noted that Hillary Clinton actually came closer to winning Texas than Iowa, which was surprising because Iowa went for Barack Obama twice. To close the remaining gap, the Democrats need to get out their base and make a lot of converts. Short of that, they need to wait for demographic change to do its work while maintaining their current levels of support. The early voting numbers don’t reliably predict the results in individual races. There are some factors, like a higher than usual number of open seats, that might help explain why turnout is up so much. Without question, though, the numbers indicate an unusual degree of interest in the upcoming elections, and it’s much more pronounced on the left.

Texas could become a case like Virginia, where once the Democrats seize the advantage, they really never give it up. Republicans can still win statewide in Virginia, but it’s not going to happen very often. When it comes to winning states in a presidential election, Virginia is already moving to the bottom of the Republicans’ list of “purple” states. The GOP can survive this by winning in blue states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, but they cannot survive losing Texas.

I think the true test of whether Texas might turn blue by 2020 is going to be Senator Ted Cruz’s reelection effort. If he wins comfortably, then it means that nothing much has changed in the Lone Star State. If he loses, however, then I think Texas will be a true battleground state in the next presidential election.

Seismologists will tell you that’s impossible to tell when The Big One is coming. But it could be this November.

The Most Cynical Response to School Shootings

At his so-called “listening session” yesterday with students and families who have been affected by school shootings, the response Trump zeroed in on was training and arming more teachers in schools. This morning, he went on a Twitter rant about it. It is a spectacularly bad idea for a whole host of reasons that even Sen. Marco Rubio seems to understand, based on his response last night at CNN’s town hall forum.

But I would like to put the idea of arming more teachers in a group of suggested responses, including those that call for more armed guards at schools, metal detectors, bullet-proof windows, and red-alert drills. Some of those things might be necessary in the short-term, but as a long-term solution to school shootings, they are the most cynical response out there and would turn our classrooms into something resembling war zones.

Perhaps I’m simply a nostalgic old-timer who remembers the day when none of those things were even contemplated. It’s not that we were free of fear-induced responses. I remember the duck and cover drills that were based on the ridiculous notion that hiding under a desk would protect us from a Soviet-launched nuclear bomb. I can only hope that one day these ideas about turning our schools into war zones due to school shootings will be met with the same derision.

The reason I call these ideas the most cynical is that they tend to assume that school shootings are simply a fact of life and that our only response is to up the ante of our defenses against them. The NRA has been so successful at focusing our attention on the “bad guy with a gun,” who can only be stopped by a “good guy with a gun,” that some people are willing to turn the whole enterprise designed to educate our kids into a defensive battlefield.

Let me say loud and clear, “that is not normal!” The best way to demonstrate that is to point out that nowhere on the planet, except for actual battlefields, is that kind of response contemplated or even necessary. The regularity of school shootings is unique to America, which means that there is nothing inherently human about taking an assault rifle into a school in order to shoot a bunch of innocent children. Crafting an entire response to the reality that it has happened too many times in this country normalizes the abnormal.

The other reason this is all so cynical is that we should have learned by now that mass shootings (which are also pretty unique to America) don’t just happen in schools. They also happen in movie theaters, parking lots, night clubs, outdoor music festivals, and yes—even churches. If turning our schools into war zones was an effective response, are we prepared to basically turn our whole country into a war zone in order to stop mass shootings? The idea isn’t simply preposterous, it is unthinkable.

Of course all of this is nothing more than a distraction from the other way in which this country is unique—the prevalence of guns. When it comes to mass shootings, the prevalence of assault rifles makes them the weapon of choice for those who want to kill the most people in the shortest amount of time. If we want to stop mass shootings, making those illegal is the only common sense solution.

The Heroism of Immigrant Students at Stoneman Douglas High School

In order to promote their nativist immigration agenda, Trump and his administration are constantly trying to tell us that immigrants pose a threat to native-born Americans. Their stories are meant to convince us that immigrants are criminals and potential terrorists. Of course, that is all based on distortions and lies.

There are several stories of heroism coming out of the shooting last week at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida—not the least of which is what the surviving students are doing to stop something like that from ever happening again. But in light of the lies we’re hearing from this administration, perhaps it is important to also point out that three immigrant students stood out as heroes that day.

Anthony Borges is a 15-year-old whose family immigrated from Venezuela. He was shot five times while saving the lives of at least 20 other students.

Martin Duque was the son of Mexican immigrants who worked in the agricultural industry near the edge of Parkland. The family came from a small town of barely 7,500 people in the Mexican state of Guerrero. He was a proud member of the U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and is being presented with the Medal of Heroism by the United States Army, an honor awarded to a JROTC cadet “who performs an act of heroism.” Martin, only 14-years-old, was killed.

Fifteen-year-old Sam Wang was the son of Chinese immigrants. He, too, was a member of JROTC. Wang was shot and killed as he held a door for others to escape. For his heroism, the United States Military Academy at West Point announced that it would honor Wang’s dream of attending the academy by posthumously offering him a letter of acceptance to the school.

I’m sure that if you talked to students and families from Stoneman Douglas High School, they would tell you how grateful they are that this country welcomed the families of Borges, Duque and Wang. For some of them, they owe their very lives to that fact.

At a time like this, it is almost too painful to remember the president’s remarks about “shithole” countries because the contrast is too great. Nevertheless, it is a good reminder of just how offensive this administration has been when it comes to immigrants. The next time Trump tries to tell us a story about dangerous immigrants, I hope that these stories about Borges, Duque, and Wang are the first thing that pop into your mind.

Quick Takes: Pro-Trumpers May Have Met Their Match With Generation Z

The Parkland shooting happened just as the Mueller indictments had re-fueled a discussion about the ways that social media was abused during the 2016 election. What we’re watching now is a movement that has been spurred by students who grew up with the internet and are generally comfortable with technology, particularly social media. Some have dubbed them “Generation Z.” As such, they are exploiting the positive role that social media can play in our culture.

But even beyond that, I’m pretty fascinated with Charlie Warzel’s take on how the pro-Trump media has met its match with these young people. Here is how he describes the approach of the pro-Trumpers:

Dating back to the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election, the pro-Trump media has proven it’s remarkably savvy at crafting captivating narratives for its followers. These narratives follow a similar pattern in that they identify and attack a polarizing enemy — often a legacy institution or brand that’s particularly vulnerable to digital propaganda, like Hillary Clinton, the Washington establishment, or the mainstream media. Leveraging the power of their followers across social platforms, the pro-Trump media’s best practitioners attempt to own the story and stay one step ahead of their enemy. By the time the enemy has scrambled to address the outrage or debunk false information, the pro-Trump media has moved on to the next microscandal.

Their attacks on the students of Generation Z aren’t as successful as they have been when aimed at previous targets.

In the case of the Parkland students, however, the mold doesn’t fit. A look at the Twitter feeds of students like David Hogg shows that they are a remarkable foil for the pro-Trump media’s trolling tactics. Like the pro-Trump media, they, too, are an insurgent political force that’s native to the internet. And while they use legacy platforms like cable news to build awareness of their names and of their causes, much of the real work happens online.

They use platforms like Twitter to call out and put pressure on politicians. They address prominent critics like Bill O’Reilly not with bland, carefully written statements, but by dunking on them, and they respond to misinformation in real-time with their own viral, emoji-laden posts. Rather than take the bait on the crisis actor narrative, they opted to have fun with the conspiracy theories by mocking them. “I’m thankful that there are people out there finding my doppelgangers for me. I’ve always wanted to have a party with a room full of people who look like me,” Emma Gonzalez, a Parkland student, told BuzzFeed News. By dismissing the conspiracies for what they are — a tired, rather boring page in the Infowars playbook — Gonzalez and her classmates have stripped them of their power. Before the pro-Trump media can finish its line of attack, the students, unfazed, have moved on, staying one step ahead of their political enemies and owning the story.

Here’s an example:

I’ve seen a fair amount of that kind of thing in my own twitter feed. These kids aren’t intimidated and they’re often making fun of these taunts rather than elevate them to serious statements. A lot of people have commented on how media-savvy they are. But perhaps it’s more about being social media-savvy.

Meanwhile, they continue to stir things up.