What he said about Trump will shock you

This country is well into its sixth decade of absurdist politics. Wait. Let me make that clearer: there have been weird moments all along, but always in a cocktail mixed with earnestness and hope. Even the brash (Teddy Roosevelt) were relatively mature. But since the 1960s (with 1968 as the turning point), we’ve drunk our absurdism straight, with not even a chaser. We’ve become completely desensitized to being manipulated. We nod glibly when a Washington, D.C. personality flings an accusatory “Kabuki theater” epithet at an ideological opponent (even though they shouldn’t), without considering the “play within a play” (within a play, and so on, like animated Russian dolls) happening before our eyes.

So it’s good to have—like the person who shared it on Feisbuk described it—a refreshing look at what really are the causes and effects of the current political maelstrom. Regardless how your political views compare with the author’s, this piece by New York Magazine’s Frank Rich lays out a case for Donald Trump’s candidacy being like chemotherapy to a cancer-ridden political system. (That’s my analogy, not his.)

The billionaire businessman’s campaign has caused consternation among everyone except his ardent supporters. It has outlived all of the pundits’ lifespan predictions. But what does it mean? And how did we get here? Rich’s essay digs way into our political psyche. The only thing I think he leaves out—and this is a huge miss, don’t get me wrong—is honest treatment of how riling up the aforementioned supporters’ white nationalist urges is dangerous to the health of our nation.

But I do like that it has a sidebar from a co-writer of Bulworth.

Like fantasy football? You’ll love this.

Happy Friday.

Today we’re standing right up to statistics giant Nate Silver, who calculates a pretty heavy certainty that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders won’t win their respective nomination contests.

What Sanders and Trump have in common is they’re both unlikely to be nominated. (If I were laying odds, I’d put either one at something like 15-1 or 20-1 against.)

But never mind the numbers. Let’s put a rock in our sling and imagine what would happen if these two (very different, as Silver points out) thorns in the establishment’s side were to amass enough delegates each to be of the two major parties’ chosen ones.

Let that thought sink in for just a second.

What would Hillary do?
Has Hillary Clinton signed a loyalty pledge promising not to run as a third-party candidate? The Clintons would really, really like, please and thank you, to move back into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. To what lengths would they go to make that happen?

An independent Clinton run (or under a newly minted party banner) in this scenario obviously would triangulate to pull in moderates of whatever stripe. But two things would work against her: she’d be at war with the nation’s oldest surviving political party; and moderate Republicans, as repulsed by Trump as they might be, still would think twice before voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

What would Republicans do?
It’s at least remotely possible that a faction of anti-Trump Republicans could strike out on their own, find some way to renege on the pledge, and run their own ticket.

Could we have a four-way election, like some in America’s past? What if voters had these choices?

  • Hillary Clinton, America Forever Party
  • John Kasich, Modern Whig Party
  • Bernie Sanders, Democratic Party
  • Donald J. Trump, Republican Party

What would the national parties do?
Frankly, if it looked like the presidential preference primaries were going to yield a majority of delegates to Sanders, I don’t think the DNC would let him escape the convention. They would contain it through one maneuver or another, and preserve Clinton’s ascendancy.

I don’t know that I could be so bold with a prediction about the national Republican Party. It’s possible they would resign themselves to a Trump nomination and urge him to pick an agreeable running mate.

Yes, this is all casual conjecture. None of this will happen, probably.

But if Sanders and Trump were to win, we definitely could call it the “wild hair” election.

The Google made me do it: Is the tech giant manipulating democracy?

Who or what rigs elections? Sneaky algorithms, or unskeptical voters?

A Facebook comment has decided to become its own blog post. Maybe it’s trying to boost its own search ranking. (Yeah, I question that logic too.)

Happy Friday. A vocal critic of the ubiquitous search engine Google has published an article and a study that claims the technology firm may be influencing the outcome of elections by changing the order in which search results appear when users search for candidates.

The study imagines a phenomenon called Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME) and says, in summary: “In laboratory and online experiments conducted in the United States, we were able to boost the proportion of people who favored any candidate by between 37 and 63 percent after just one search session.”

I have neither the time nor the tools to refute the study’s merits, but let’s just take one step back. Even if it were true that a search tool could (and would) sway public opinion about candidates via search result ranking, the woolly mammoth in the room is that people’s favorability meters are moved at all, about anything, by search result ranking!

The right to vote in free and fair elections is a hard-won, precious thing. It is not to be taken lightly. Citizens who exercise the franchise have the responsibility to examine their choices with the utmost care. We should summon every ounce of critical thinking we have, and use it.

Google’s refutation of the study’s allegations mentions civic tools that they have helped create and provide to the public. I’ve examined and used* these tools, and they are very helpful towards the ideal that an informed public uses unbiased information to choose its government.

But if the public chooses to rely simply on the top three or so results from lazy web searches, then whether or not those search results are (unwittingly or otherwise) manipulated matters not when it comes time to lay blame.

The aforementioned Facebook comment:

Since Google makes available an API with a trove of accurate election data that developers can use to present to users in whatever ways they choose, they’d have to be really cocky to still rely on the approach posited in Epstein’s article, supplanting their own “altruistic” endeavors in the meantime. It’s not impossible, just unlikely. The bigger issue is that internet users are uncritical when choosing from search results, no matter how or why those results are ranked. Sure, that behavior may influence how they view the candidates returned, but what’s the real root of that problem? It’s not the search engine.

*The app I attempted to build in 2014 did not get completed in time for the August elections. I plan to use the API and other tools more in the coming months to build a resource for Tennessee voters in 2016 and beyond.

What a nice nap. Did I miss anything?

Hello again, Tennessee.

The election cycle is quickly ramping up to full-on circus mode, and it’s causing me to want to rekindle this thing. I had every intention of maintaining a steady pace of updates in the off-season that followed what our elected officials actually do after we send them to their respective capitol buildings, but life happens (and roads get paved). No excuses; just picking-up and moving-on.

A Slow Bern?
I checked in on Tuesday with a small group of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders supporters in downtown Chattanooga. The event was not heavily publicized, so unlike the huge crowds that show up when the candidate is present, this gathering could have fit inside a VW Microbus. A couple of the folks had been to the recent Sanders rally in South Carolina, and spoke rather glowingly of the event.

They also spoke of larger groups active in Upper East Tennessee. I don’t have a good sense for how well the Sanders movement is doing statewide, though. Any comments from the Middle and West?

On the other hand, I’m also not aware of any grassroots organizing going on for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, or for former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb.

Carr going for a Cruz
Last week, a Facebook post by former Rep. Joe Carr declared his endorsement of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s GOP presidential primary bid. Carr, as the leading “Beat Lamar” candidate at a Chattanooga Tea Party event in 2014, had praised Cruz and fellow U.S. Sen. Mike Lee. The Cruz campaign also recruited former Williamson County Republican Party chair Kevin Kookogey as state director.

Cruz recently whisked through Tennessee on a bus tour.

With so many Republicans in the race, it is interesting to see how local support is lining up. Former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp is coordinating U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s efforts in the Volunteer State. Rubio is expected to visit Chattanooga on Sept. 3rd.

Businessman Donald Trump and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum will appear at a convention in Nashville this weekend. There are pockets of support for Dr. Ben Carson and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. Anecdotally, a lot of people remain undecided.

The Local
Nashville is in the midst of a municipal runoff election. Memphis is gearing up for its own elections in October.

Hamilton County will elect a new Assessor of Property in March—the only county office to be elected along with the presidential preference primary—and that campaign has kicked-off as well.

There is, as you know, lots more going on. I’ll put my thoughts together on some more political happenings.

Ten—yes, ten—years blogging about Tennessee politics

I don’t feel much like an active blogger (or writer of any kind, bar work emails) these days, but I had to carve out a moment to mark the tenth anniversary of this thing. A decade seems to lend a slight bit of heft to the phrase “passion project.” Either that or I’m just a perfect combination of nerdy and stubborn.

Even through all the fits, starts, and stumbles, I have received consistent feedback from readers across the state that this site is a helpful resource. When it’s going well, it delivers insights from one-on-one conversations with politicos; data about candidates and elections; and commentary from a nonpartisan, pro-civics perspective.

I’m relieved that I can pick up my tablet at any moment and get those things from a variety of other sources. I will keep after you, the public at-large, to demand ever more value from providers; and even to increasingly become providers yourselves. That’s kind of how Tennessee Ticket started.

Another ten-year mark grins at us from just a few months into the calendar: remember that time a bunch of bloggers converged on Belmont University for “BlogNashville”? It would be foolish to assume that a reunion is practical; but who knows? Maybe there are a few fools who’d want to entertain the notion.

Will this blog still be alive in 2025? Now that would be something.

Voter Information and Political Commentary