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Partisan Hacks Follow the Money

The right-wing media’s disconnect from reality in the 2012 election was fed by its financial dependence on the growing partisan economy, writes John Avlon.

Sifting through the wreckage of the 2012 election, conservatives are realizing the price of staying inside their cocoon. The unskewed polls, the partisan cheerleading and complaints about the MSM’s liberal bias, the rigid think-tank reinforcement—it all led the right into a state of denial about the election, and a disconnect from modern American culture.

Dick Morris

Dick Morris: “There was a period of time when the Romney campaign was falling apart, people were not optimistic, nobody thought there was a chance of victory and I felt that it was my duty at that point to go out and say what I said.” (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Perhaps the most powerful driver of this galloping group-think? Money. 

The rise of partisan media has created financial incentives for columnists, pundits, and pollsters to try and please ideological employers with pronouncements that resonate with the faithful. After all, nothing gets clicks like confirmation bias.

The competition too often becomes about who can outflank their fellow travelers. Natural partisan affinity gets forced into something more militant, with substantive calls for common ground treated as signs of weakness. This dynamic fuels polarization in our politics because even congressmen look to partisan media for their clues about just what the base might want, rather than what is right or practical in terms of actually solving problems.

That in turn creates distorted policy debates, where politicians and partisan journalists (the phrase should be an absurd contradiction, but it is not) put their own independent perspectives through a filter, calibrating their short-term interests against what they might really believe would be in the long-term best interests of the nation.

The intellectual dishonestly usually comes in the form of soft collusion—a reluctance to criticize extreme voices on their own side of the aisle in public, even as they are dismissed in private. Team-ism drives the coverage because team-ism drives the funding. There is no profit in making enemies of people who might sign your next paycheck. There is no quicker career-killer than whispers of “disloyalty” to the partisan cause. And all this is reinforced by socialization—the separate social circles that conservatives and liberals travel in, especially in Washington, D.C., and New York. The days of William F. Buckley and Murray Kempton being genuinely good friends seem like a distant dream.

Dick Morris is a prime example of a partisan hack posing as a pollster and analyst, and as part of his mea culpa for publically predicting a landslide for Mitt Romney he essentially admitted to Sean Hannity that he was trying to create his own reality-distortion field: “There was a period of time when the Romney campaign was falling apart, people were not optimistic, nobody thought there was a chance of victory and I felt that it was my duty at that point to go out and say what I said.” This is a naked admission that his political analysis is little more than partisan propaganda —and yet what’s most striking is how dog-bites-man it seems, an acknowledgement of the obvious.

Must Read

The Independent Rundown

The day’s essential reads for independents and centrists.

Independent Nation gives you the day’s 5 essential reads for independents and centrists:

1. “Lee Atwater’s Infamous 1981 Interview on the Southern Strategy,” in The Nation.
Before there was Mitt Romney’s 47 percent rant, there was Lee Atwater.

2. “Romney Earned Zero Votes in Some Urban Precincts,” at CBS News.
In the heart of the city,there ain’t no love for Mitt.

3. “Dick Morris Admits That He is a Partisan Hack,” at The Huffington Post.
This is what happens when you let your gut do arithmetic for you.

4. “Post-Pew Poll: Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Predicted to Fail,” at The Washington Post.
53 percent of Americans say they are likely to blame Republicans if a fiscal-cliff deal falls through.

5. “Will Obama Agree to Entitlement Cuts? He Already Has,” at The New York Times.
It wouldn’t be the first time Obama OK’ed cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

Send stories for the Independent Rundown to matt.deluca@newsweekdailybeast.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DeLucaMattS.

The Independent Rundown

The day's essential reads for independents and centrists.

Independent Nation gives you the day’s 5 essential reads for independents and centrists:

1. “Election a Call for Purple Politics,” at CNN.
The voters spoke loud and clear, writes John Avlon: Give us a bi-partisan government.

2. “Americans Favor Regulations More Than Romney Bargained For,” at Bloomberg News.
Adios, regulations on the financial industry? No thanks, Mitt.

3. “Rightbloggers’ Solution to Obama’s Reelection: Bring Back Culture War and White People!” at The Village Voice.
Bloggers on the right thought that if only they believed hard enough, Mitt Romney might become president.

4. “Media Fight on the Right Over GOP,” at Politico.
How will the far right respond to criticism of its media darlings?

5. “Bush Adviser Threatens to Cut Out Republicans’ Tongues,” at Salon.
If they keep mouthing off about rape.

Send stories for the Independent Rundown to Matt DeLuca at matt.deluca@newsweekdailybeast.com . Follow him on Twitter: @DeLucaMattS.

Must Reads

The Independent Rundown

The day’s essential reads for independents and centrists.

Independent Nation gives you the day’s 5 essential reads for independents and centrists:

1. “Will Conservative Donors Ever Open Their Wallets Again?,” in The Sunday Telegraph.
Crabby American billionaires want their money back, writes John Avlon.

2. “A Veterans Day Like None Other Before,” in The Atlantic.
Today, America must make peace with her veterans.

3. “What Romney Lost,” in The New York Review of Books.
As a candidate, Mitt Romney abandoned everything he ever stood for. What can we expect after such a cynical campaign?

4. “The GOP Polling Debacle,” at Politico.
The Republican Party overdosed on its own internal polling.

5. “How Obama Won the Middle,” in the New York Daily News.
Pollster Doug Schoen runs down the numbers, and finds that independents and moderates  may have made the difference.

Send stories for the Independent Rundown to matt.deluca@newsweekdailybeast.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DeLucaMattS.

Must Reads

The Independent Rundown

The day’s essential reads for independents and centrists.

Independent Nation gives you the day’s 5 essential reads for independents and centrists:

1. “Welcome to the Twilight Zone,” in Newsweek.
John Avlon on how the right-wing media invented a new reality.

2. “The GOP Must Choose: Rush Limbaugh or Minority Voters,” at The Atlantic.
Do Republicans want to chomp stogies with El Rushbo or remain a force in American politics?

3. “Mitt Romney’s ORCA Program Couldn’t Stay Afloat,” in Politico.
How the GOP’s voter-targeting program went belly-up.

4. “California GOP Showing Worries Party Strategists,” from the Associated Press.
Republicans are going the way of the dodo in the Golden State.

5. “State of Denial,” in The Economist.
For the party of Lincoln, it could have been worse. That’s what’s terrifying them.

Send stories for the Independent Rundown to Matt DeLuca at matt.deluca@newsweekdailybeast.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DeLucaMattS.

Must Reads

The Independent Rundown

The day’s essential reads for independents and centrists.

Independent Nation gives you the day’s five essential reads for independents and centrists:

1. “The Cuban Stunner,” at The Daily Beast.
Another reason the GOP can’t break out the victory cigars – Obama might have stolen away the Cuban vote, writes John Avlon.

2. “How the GOP Got Stuck in the Past,” in Newsweek.
Republicans have become estranged from modern America, writes David Frum.

3. “Back to Work, Obama is Greeted by Looming Crisis,” in The New York Times.
When Obama called, GOP leaders didn’t pick up.

4. “How the Faithful Voted: 2012 Preliminary Analysis,” at the Pew Forum.
More Mormons voted for Bush than for Romney.

5. “‘Next Bush’ Makes Campaign Filing in Texas,” at NBC Latino.
A resident of Fort Worth, W’s nephew filed papers to run for state office on Thursday.

Send stories for the Independent Rundown to Matt DeLuca at matt.deluca@newsweekdailybeast.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DeLucaMattS.

Surprise Voting

The Cuban Stunner

It appears the president won or almost won the Cuban-American vote, which reveals a diminished affinity for the GOP and underscores the perils of the party’s anti-immigration stance—and its need to reach out aggressively.

The depth, if not dimensions, of President Obama’s reelection victory is slowly resonating, even in Republican circles.

cuba miami

A woman waves a Cuban flag and an American flag in the Miami neighborhood of Little Havana. (Lynne Sladky / AP Photo)

After all the partisan spinning, it is clear that the combination of the Obama campaign’s ground game and demographic evolutions in our nation were decisive for his victory and bode well for the Democrats in the future.

One broad measure of this recognition is this: conservatives are arguing that the man they once dismissed as a failed socialist president is now grimly touted as a rare political talent with an unparalleled ability to inspire. These compliments come with a base alloy of consultant self-interest—once Obama is no longer on the ticket, they say, Republicans will be back in fighting form. There’s no need to change policies.

There are a lot of demographic shifts you can point to by way of saying that the GOP has a lot of ’splaining to do. After all, Americans today are more racially diverse and more likely to live in cities than the past.  These are not conservative sweet spots.

But if you want one fact to slam home the deeper shift beneath this election, you can just say this: it looks like President Obama won the Cuban-American vote.

Florida’s final votes are still being counted, but some exit polls show Obama narrowly won the Sunshine State’s Cuban vote. The Pew Hispanic Center found that Obama won Cuban Americans in Florida by 48 to 47.  So did Fox News’s exit-poll numbers and the Obama-associated One Florida—numbers Obama campaign manager Jim Messina quoted in a post-election interview. The Miami Herald found Romney narrowly won the Cuban-American vote, while local pollster Sergio Bendixen set the margin at 52-48.

But that’s almost beside the point. Fifty years after the Cuban missile crisis, it looks like Democrats picked the Republican Cuban lock in Florida. This is not just demographic data, it has the sweep of history behind it.

Must Reads

The Independent Rundown

The day’s essential reads for independents and centrists.

Independent Nation gives you the day's five essential reads for independents and centrists:

1. “Rove Piling-On Continues As He Rings Donors Today,” at Bloomberg News.
Rove’s sugar daddies morph into loan sharks.

2. “Alan Simpson: Leaders Know What to Do, Now Do It,” in The Wall Street Journal.
One half of America’s crusading debt-reduction duo tells recalcitrant pols to, you know, do something.

3. “GOP Challenge: How to Transcend Aging White Base,” in The National Journal.
Republicans are desperately seeking their non-white friends.

4. “Adviser: Romney ‘Shellshocked’  By Loss,” at CBS News.
False confidence in Mitt’s camp caused missteps in the final weeks.

5. “Meet the Republican Losers Who Make it Really Hard to Spin a ‘No Mandate’ Narrative,” at Slate.
Spin away, Karl – a look at the Republicans who got trounced makes voters’ intentions clear.

Send stories for the Independent Rundown to Matt DeLuca at matt.deluca@newsweekdailybeast.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DeLucaMattS.

Must Reads

The Independent Rundown

The day’s essential reads for independents and centrists.

Independent Nation gives you today’s 5 essential reads for independents and centrists:

1. “The Strategy That Paved a Winning Path,” in The Washington Post.

An Obama win never seemed like a sure thing. Then it was all over.

2. “Blue Team Aided by Small Donors, Big Bundlers; Huge Outside Spending Still Comes Up Short,” at OpenSecrets.org.

When the chips fell, gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson lost big.

3. “Economists’ Urgent Advice for Obama: Shrink Deficit, Cut Taxes and Avoid the ‘Fiscal Cliff,’ in The Washington Post.

A dozen top economic prognosticators tell Obama what they would do.

4. “Barack Obama’s Second-Term Cabinet,” at Politico.

Must Reads

The Independent Rundown

The day’s essential reads for independents and centrists, Election Day addition.

Independent Nation gives you the day’s 5 must reads for independents and centrists:

1. “Ohio’s Nightmare Scenario,” at The Daily Beast.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted is set to be cast as the Katherine Harris of 2012, reports John Avlon.

2. “After an Emotional Finale, Team Obama Fears a Split Decision,” at New York Magazine.
It’s an Armageddon scenario to be sure, but with a race this tight, a split in the electoral and popular votes is within the realm of possibility.

3. “Welcome to Election Day: Seven Things That Could Go Wrong (or Already Have),” at ProPublica.
Long lines? Confusion over voter IDs? Here’s what Americans go through to exercise their sovereign power.

4. “If Democrats Keep the Senate, Republicans Can Blame Themselves,” at Politico.
Who would have thought the Democrats might hold on to their Senate majority?

5. “Swilling the Planters With Bumbo: When Booze Bought Elections,” at Smithsonian.com.
There was a time the vox populi was considerably less dry on Election Day.

Extra: "What Would the Founding Fathers Think of Election Day 2012," in The Wall Street Journal.
Remember 250 years ago, when pollsters didn’t exist?

Send stories for the Independent Rundown to Matt DeLuca at matt.deluca@newsweekdailybeast.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DeLucaMattS.

Provisional Ballots

Ohio’s Nightmare Scenario

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted is set to be cast as the Katherine Harris of 2012, reports John Avlon.

There was a traffic jam on the highway leading to the early voting station in Franklin County, Ohio, on Monday. Inside the former box store, lines snaked around the showroom floor with voters waiting more or less patiently for an hour or more.  

In the center of the polling place stood a separate line coiled in a tight rectangle, a hundred or so people holding bright-yellow provisional ballots. These harmless looking documents could be the hanging chads of 2012, throwing the final results of the election to Nov. 17 or later in what state party leaders call the “nightmare scenario.”

The man set to be cast as the Katherine Harris of this potential debacle is Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican and former speaker of the state house in his early 40s. Opponents regard Husted as a partisan operative trying to tip the scales, while he argues that he has done everything possible to level the playing field and extend early voting in “the most important swing state in the country”.

As both campaigns have preemptively lawyered up in the Buckeye State, a last-minute directive issued Friday by Husted—who has also cut down on early in-person voting hours, even trying to eliminate the Sunday before the election when African-American send “Souls to the Polls”—could have a dramatic impact on the election.

At issue is a section of the provisional ballot where the voter fills in the official ID verifying their legitimacy. Husted has gone to court arguing that voters who do not fill out that section of the ballot—without assistance from polling officials—should have their ballot invalidated when the counting time comes. 

Voting on Election Day in Ohio

A voters looks over voting material and a ballot while filling out a paper ballot at Tremont Elementary School on Election Day in Cleveland, Nov. 6, 2012. (Brendan Smialoski, AFP / Getty Images)

This seems to contradict sections of Ohio law and a previous court agreement, and so the measure is with the judges again, leaving local election administrators waiting for legal clarification that won't come until the votes are in. 

“It’s partisan politics, you know that,” said one local official with an experienced sigh.

Must Reads

Independent Rundown

The day’s essential reads for independents and centrists.

Independent Nation gives you the day’s 5 essential reads for independents and centrists:

1. “Votes of Independents Could Be Key,” in The Wall Street Journal.

A new Wall Street Journal / NBC News poll shows Mitt Romney leading 47 percent to 40 percent among independent voters.

2. “Dark Money Group’s Donors Revealed,” at ProPublica.

A Montana judge drew back the curtain on a social welfare nonprofit called Western Tradition Partnership. Should Karl Rove be shaking in his boots?

3. “Independent and Centrist Voters Breaking With Precedent,” at CNN.

There’s a fascinating dynamic in the way the final polls are breaking, John Avlon writes at CNN: “Mitt Romney is narrowly winning independent voters while President Obama is winning centrist voters by a nearly 20-point margin.”

4. “It’s the Future vs. the Past,” at The Daily Beast.

2012 Election

It’s the Future vs. the Past

The lines have been drawn—in Obama’s corner are the under-30 crowd, women under 50, and black and Hispanic voters. In Romney’s corner: white men and the elderly. John Avlon on whether the Democratic bet on the future will work.

The fault lines in the 2012 election are the future versus the past—and not in an empty rhetorical “America is at a crossroads” sort of way. Something more fundamental and demographically measurable is at work. Consider this:

old-vs-young-election-avlon

AP Photo (2)

President Obama’s largest margins of support come from voters under 30, women under 50, African-Americans, and Hispanics.

Mitt Romney’s largest margins of support come from senior citizens and white men.

The data are depressingly clear. According to the final Pew Poll, Obama is beating Romney by 28 points among voters under 30, while Romney is winning voters over age 65 by 10 points.

Romney is winning white men by a 21-point spread, with the president securing just 36 percent of their support. In turn, Obama is winning women under age 50 by a stunning 23 points.

And when diversity is taken into account, the gaps become even more stark. Romney is winning just 4 percent of black voters and only a quarter of Hispanics, on pace for the worst presidential performance with this fastest-growing demographic in America in modern political history.

In this sense, the 2012 election is the future versus the past, and it brings out barely slumbering tensions and resentments. Maybe that’s why the final CNN poll found that 37 percent of Romney supporters are primarily voting against Obama.

Must Reads

The Independent Rundown

The day’s essential reads for independents and centrists.

Independent Nation gives you the day’s five essential reads for independents and centrists:

1. “What’s Really at Stake in Election 2012,” at CNN.
When you go to the polls on Tuesday, do you want to reward hyperpartisan, factually flawed narratives; total opposition as a congressional tactic; and unprecedented, toxic dark money ad buys?

2. “The Smearing of a President: From Start, Unrelenting, Unfair,” in The Philadelphia Inquirer
To attempt to disgrace a sitting president of the United States with lies and innuendo does not an American patriot make.

3. “November’s Crucial Ballot Initiatives,” at The Daily Beast.
From same-sex marriage to the legalization of marijuana, John Avon on the straight-to-voters questions that could change state laws dramatically this Election Day.

4. “Some Voters Are Spelling Out Their Indecision On Their Donation Checks,” in The New York Times.
Too bad for these guys that in presidential politics you can’t just buy one of each.

5. “The Road to 270,” in The Economist.
Wherein the magazine does a decent job of adding up all the swing-state chatter and sorting out who needs to win what.

Send stories for the Independent Rundown to Matt DeLuca at matt.deluca@newsweekdailybeast.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DeLucaMattS.

Direct Democracy

November's Crucial Ballot Initiatives

From same-sex marriage to the legalization of marijuana, here are the straight-to-voters questions that could change state laws dramatically this Election Day.

Ballot initiatives are direct democracy—the cutting edge of politics—but they don’t get the respect they deserve despite the huge consequences that can come from giving citizens the rebellious ability to do an end run around their slow-moving state legislatures.

Florida Early Voting

A man votes early Oct. 29 in Miami. (Lynne Sladky / AP Photo)

With sex and drugs questions along with taxes, education, and election reform up in states across the nation, this year’s crop of ballot initiatives deserve your attention. Beyond the votes for president and Senate, they could help shape future policy debates across the nation.

So here my take on the most interesting and consequential items on the ballot in 2012. For a more comprehensive look, check out Ballotpedia.com

Same-Sex Marriage

Support for marriage equality is gaining traction across the nation, but it has famously been defeated in more than 30 ballot initiatives, raising questions about the ethics of putting civil rights to a popular vote. But polls show that streak might stop this cycle in Maine, where voters appear ready to recognize same-sex marriage despite defeating a similar proposal in 2009. Maryland, Washington, and Minnesota also have marriage-equality measures on the ballot. With a thin majority of Americans now supporting marriage equality—including President Obama—these ballot initiatives will be tests of whether we are at the tipping point.

Marijuana Legalization

Colorado is not just a pivotal swing state in the presidential campaign, it is ground zero for the most ambitious marijuana-legalization measure in the nation. Amendment 64 promises to regulate marijuana like liquor, producing new revenue for the cash-strapped state and dedicating the first $40 million to new school construction. The pitch is more sober-minded than a California pot-legalization pitch that was defeated in the Tea Party year of 2010. Polls have shown the measure could pass, thanks to majority support from every age group except those older than age 65, evidence of a striking generational divide on pot legalization. This initiative is an additional X factor in the state’s close presidential race. Will it boost youth turnout to President Obama’s advantage—or will that support go instead to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, and if so, whom will that hurt, Obama or Mitt Romney? Washington and Oregon are also considering similar measures, but Colorado seems the most likely to pass.

About the Author

Author headshot

John Avlon

John Avlon is senior columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and the host of Beast TV. He is a CNN contributor and winner of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ award for best online column in 2012.

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