Trump: I have too many Hispanic friends…to be a racist

Trump: I Have Too Many Hispanic Friends and Employees to Be a Racist

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump is taking heat from all sides for what are widely viewed as racist comments towards federal judge Gonzalo Curiel, an ex-prosecutor who was born in Indiana and is overseeing litigation of a Trump University fraud case. Trump wrongly maintains the Indiana-born Curiel is “Mexican” and thus biased because of the candidate’s plan to build a wall on the U.S./Mexico border.

Anyone suggesting this makes Trump a racist is wrong, according to Trump.

“It is unfortunate that my comments have been misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage,” he said in a written statements. “I am friends with and employ thousands of people of Mexican and Hispanic descent.”

He continued, “The American justice system relies on fair and impartial judges. All judges should be held to that standard. I do not feel that one’s heritage makes them incapable of being impartial, but, based on the rulings that I have received in the Trump University civil case, I feel justified in questioning whether I am receiving a fair trial.”

In other words, Trump maintains he has no problem with Mexicans, except with the (non) Mexican judge who is overseeing a case regarding a sham seminar program explicitly designed — according to court documents brought to light in multiple lawsuits — to persuade people to pay tens of thousands of dollars many didn’t have for classes many found to be basically worthless.

Trump continues with a lengthy and familiar defense of Trump University, which he had falsely said would feature instructors he’d personally selected because of their long experience in the field: student surveys were positive, unsatisfied students were offered refunds, etc. He then goes into a short rant about “illegal immigration, jobs and unfair trade.” He then promises this would be his last word on the subject.

Trump’s defense came late Tuesday, after Republicans spent days hammering him for his remarks — and just hours after Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk became the first Republican to rescind his endorsement.

“While I oppose the Democratic nominee, Donald Trump’s latest statements, in context with past attacks on Hispanics, women and the disabled like me, make it certain that I cannot and will not support my party’s nominee for President regardless of the political impact on my candidacy or the Republican Party.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has been walking a political tightrope after tepidly endorsing the mogul despite clear differences of both substance and style, struggled to explain how Trump’s remark could be “the textbook definition of a racist comment” without the candidate himself being a racist. Ryan said he continues to back Trump.

For the record, Curiel’s father, who is Mexican, was actually in the U.S. before Trump’s own mother arrived in America from Scotland.

Photo credit: JOSH EDELSON/Getty Images


Coburn: ‘America Doesn’t Trust You Anymore’

Coburn: 'America Doesn't Trust You Anymore'

APRIL 27: Former Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., testifies during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on “Government Reform: Ending Duplication and Holding Washington Accountable” on Wednesday, April 27, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Former U.S. senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) had a somber message for Congress Wednesday when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. “America doesn’t trust you anymore,” he told his former colleagues.  “That’s the truth.” Coburn was appearing alongside Gene L. Dodaro, the head of the Government Accountability Office, during the hearing to discuss duplicative federal programs.

Via the Washington Free Beacon:

The GAO recently released its annual report, finding the federal government could save hundreds of billions of dollars just by consolidating duplicative programs.Coburn, making his first appearance before the Senate since his farewell speech when retired in late 2014, pleaded with Congress to take action to reform government, simplify the tax code, and save taxpayers billions of dollars in the process.

Coburn, whose efforts at combating waste, fraud and abuse are legendary, is the man behind the annual government wastebook. Now he is a senior advisor in the Convention of States Project, which aims to force Congress to balance the budget. The Convention of States Project is currently organized in all 50 states, with hundreds of thousands of working volunteers, supporters and advocates committed to stopping the federal government’s abuse of power.

He said 10 of 34 states needed have passed resolutions so far.“I would just tell you a little of my background this last year in 2015 I spent my time in 21 different states,” Coburn told the committee. “And America doesn’t trust you anymore. That’s the truth. Because they don’t see the actions coming out of Congress that should be coming out.”

“And that doesn’t mean that they’re right all the time, but you’ve lost their confidence,” he said. “And that’s not one party, that’s both. And so when you have hundreds of billions of dollars that could be saved and aren’t, and they know it. You know, they actually read your reports. People online, and then they use social media, pass it around.”

“The important thing is to restore the confidence in the country what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it and how you’re doing it,” Coburn said.

Coburn praised the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, of which he served as ranking member for two years, but said much more work needs to be done.

“The unfunded liabilities of this country, with its debt, is $142 trillion,” he said. “That’s $1 million per family, or that’s $1 million per taxpayer. Nobody knows what a trillion is but when you’re telling a young family with small kids, ‘Oh, by the way, here’s the debt burden that’s coming to you over the next 25 years, you better be prepared for it.’”

Coburn said “too much government” and “too intrusive a government” is to blame for median family incomes being the same size as in 1988.

Congress could save tens of billions of dollars by taking action to reduce waste and fraud where it is rampant. Coburn said “there’s no doubt in my mind, 100 percent sure, one out of three people in this country collecting disability are not disabled.”

Throughout Coburn said Congress needs to stop focusing on fixing the symptoms but focus on fixing the disease. He called for a more simple and fairer tax code, which he said could eliminate 90,000 IRS agents, who make 77 percent more than the average American.He pointed to Alexis de Tocqueville, quoting at length the French political philosopher’s Democracy in America, to explain the current upheaval in American politics and the presidential race.

“Some of you may have read it, some of you may not have, but it tells me where we are today in our country,” Coburn said. “And having been in 21 states the last year, and 15 already this year, and what I’m hearing, I’m hearing what Tocqueville described back in the late 1700s.”

Coburn cited Tocqueville observations that centralized power of “small, complicated rules, minute and uniform” leads to the “will of man … not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided.”

Big Threat to the Economy

Big Threat to the Economy

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are so focused on winning the presidential election this fall that budgetary navel gazing is pretty low on their priority list.

While Trump, Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the long-shot Democratic candidate, have all unveiled highly ambitious tax and spending plans, they are far more intent in gaining political advantage with voters than pondering the long-term impact of their proposals on the economy, the budget and the long-term national debt.

Related: Clinton Moves Towards Sanders on ‘Medicare for All’

But two formidable budget experts — former Congressional Budget Office directors Robert D. Reischauer and Douglas Holtz-Eakin — warned that all three of the candidates are headed down a perilous fiscal path absent some important mid-course corrections in their thinking, before one of them becomes president in January.

Government red ink is on the rise again after years of declining deficits. The CBO projects that the federal debt will rise by 50 percent to $21 trillion by 2024 absent dramatic change in federal spending and tax policy. According to the latest estimates of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Trump’s promised tax cuts would add $12.1 trillion to the debt over the coming decade. Sanders would add from $2.2 trillion to $14.9 trillion with massive social spending programs. Clinton would add about $200 billion to the debt with spending programs exceeding her proposed tax increases.

“In one sense, the campaigning on both sides has been irresponsible,” Reischauer, a liberal-leaning scholar, declared during a session on the next presidency during the 2016 Fiscal Summit of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation* in Washington.

“Put simply,” noted Holtz-Eakin, a Republican, “the federal budget is a danger to the U.S. economy, which is already projected to grow at a rate of only about 2 percent per year.”

Related: Trump Replaces His Untenable Debt Fix with a Different One

“Doing nothing is not an option, as [the next president’s] legacy would be to bequeath to the next generation a standard of living unworthy of this nation,” he added.

Reischauer and Holtz-Eakin have plenty of firepower as budget and economic gurus.

Reischauer served as CBO director from 1989 to 1995 and subsequently headed the Urban Institute from 2000 to 2012. His research and interests range from the federal budget and health policy to income distribution and economic growth. He was one of two public trustees of the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds from 2010 to 2015.

Holtz-Eakin was chief economist of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers during the administration of President George W. Bush and later headed the CBO from 2003 to 2005. He advised Arizona Sen. John McCain’s 2008 Republican presidential campaign and currently is president of the American Action Forum.

Related: Trump Would Risk the ‘Full Faith and Credit’ of the US

While the two experts have different economic and political worldviews, they are in firm agreement that some of the most important subjects — including the long-term debt and the need for reform of the federal tax code, government regulations and major entitlement programs — are getting short shrift.

“A brighter future is achievable by focusing on what is driving the structural budgetary challenges confronting the nation,” Holtz-Eakin wrote in a memorandum outlining his views on what the next president and Congress must do. “Addressing the rapid growth of health, retirement and other entitlement programs; the nation’s broken tax code; the rising regulatory burden; and the U.S.’s irrational immigration system will improve the nation’s fiscal outlook and growth potential.”

Reischauer agreed in his memo, offering “unvarnished generic advice” to the next president and Congress. “Although budget deficits and debt did not seem to be important issues for the voters in November, the public, fiscally conservative members of Congress, and markets are likely to become increasingly concerned if deficits continue to rise as they are projected to do under a continuation of current policies.”

None of the three remaining presidential candidates have expressed much concern about the deficit or the threat of Social Security, Medicare and other major entitlement programs running out of money or busting the budget. Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, has pledged to protect Social Security from cuts and  says he believes that he can substantially reduce the national debt without raising taxes by reducing “waste, fraud and abuse” in government.

Related: As Trump Turns to the General Election, He Flip Flops on Policy

Sanders favors a major expansion of Social Security benefits and creation of a raft of new social programs, including national health care. Clinton favors an increase in health care coverage and enhanced Social Security benefits, along with other new programs, but has vowed to pay for most of them by raising taxes. This week she disclosed that she might support expanding the availability of Medicare to Americans under the age of 65.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of the unsuccessful GOP presidential candidates, said today at the conference that the deficit was among “the least talked about issues” throughout the campaign.

Reischauer and Holtz-Eakin think the remaining candidates are kidding themselves — or kidding the voters — and that far more serious consideration of a long-term debt reduction strategy is essential before the U.S. strays once again into a debt crisis.

“Growing deficits and increasing debt levels will reduce the nation’s capital stock, slow the growth of productivity and wages, limit policy makers’ ability to employ fiscal policy to combat future recessions, and expose the nation to greater risk of fiscal crises,” Reischauer wrote.

Anti-Islam politics in the heart of Europe

Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have been streaming into Europe for some time now. Over the last few months there is an ant-islam backlash against the refugees. This is the reaction in the city of Erfurt in central Germany.
Anti-Islam politics in the heart of Europe

This medieval city of timber-framed buildings and cobblestone streets is on the front lines of the escalating culture war over Islam in the West.

Donald Trump may be calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. But on this side of the Atlantic, too, Islam is under fire, with political opposition to the faith growing as an anti-Muslim message emerges as the rallying cry of Europe’s far right.

In few places is the shift more startling than here in Germany, where attacks by Islamist radicals in neighboring nations and a record wave of Middle Eastern migrants are testing the national will to protect minority rights adopted after World War II.

Once a libertarian force opposed to the euro and Greek bailouts, the fast-growing Alternative for Germany party (AfD) has now squarely joined the anti-Islam ranks. In recent weeks, the AfD unveiled a scathing denunciation of the faith, warning against “the expansion and presence of a growing number of Muslims” on German soil. Adding fuel to the party’s campaign, German authorities on Thursday arrested three Syrian men who had posed as migrants, accusing them of plotting an attack on the historic center of Düsseldorf in the name of the Islamic State.

Saying it wants to protect women’s rights, national security and German culture, the party — supported by almost 1 in 6 voters — is calling for a ban on headscarves at schools and universities and is preparing to release an anti-Islam “manifesto” based on “scientific research.” Here in the formerly communist east, the party has gone further, startling local Muslims by launching an effort to stop the construction of Erfurt’s first mosque.

According to city records, 75 percent of Erfurt’s 200,000 residents say they have “no religion.” But AfD officials are outraged by the thought of minarets rising only a few tram stops away from the steeples of Erfurt’s ancient churches.

“This issue is too important to remain silent about,” said local AfD politician Stefan Möller. “We owe it to our country to speak out. We are patriots.”Anti-Islam politics in the heart of Europe-map of central Europe

Muslim leaders and progressive politicians, meanwhile, are sounding the alarm, while calling the AfD’s move against Islam a sign of the times. This year, at least two German universities have closed Muslim prayer rooms, arguing that places of higher education should be secular and that Islam should not receive “special treatment.” They are encouraging Muslims who want to pray to use generic “rooms of silence” designed for all students.

In Germany, as in other parts of Europe, there has also been a recent spate of attacks on mosques, including attempted arsons and vandalism.

‘Reminds us . . . of Hitler’

Some here — and not only Muslims — are deeply worried by the trend.

“The crematoriums for the concentration camps [of World War II] were built in Erfurt,” said Bodo Ramelow, the left-wing governor of the state where Erfurt is located. “Buchenwald and Dora concentration camps were here. The first big wave of racism was directed against our fellow Jewish citizens. . . . We must never again allow a majority vote to prevent a minority from thriving.”

Muslim leaders see rising opposition in Germany as part of the same phenomenon that has turned Islam into a campaign issue in the United States, as well as in France, Austria, the Netherlands, Poland and other nations in Europe.

“For the first time [since World War II] there is a party again attempting to existentially constrain an entire religious community and to threaten it,” Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, said about the anti-
Islam stance of the AfD. “This reminds us of the times of Hitler.”

Political opposition in Europe to more conservative forms of Islam has been growing for years. In 2009, Switzerland effectively banned a new mosque, and a year later, France passed a law outlawing headscarves in public. But Muslim leaders fear a resurgence of anti-Islam sentiments throughout the West.

In the United States, Trump is targeting Muslims, while in Austria last month, a “Muslim invasion” of migrants fleeing war became the dominant theme of a presidential race narrowly lost by the far right. In Britain, London’s first Muslim mayor faced a campaign in which even Prime Minister David Cameron sought to link him to extremists.

In France, acts of violence against Muslims surged more than threefold in 2015, jumping from 133 incidents to 429, according to the country’s Interior Ministry. In May, Polish police entered university dorms in Krakow to question a number of foreign students about connections to terrorism, prompting allegations of racial profiling and Muslim-bashing.

In January, the Danish city of Randers passed a resolution requiring public institutions to serve pork. Supporters rallied in favor of the bill by saying Danish food culture should trump the religious requirements of Muslim immigrants.

In April, the Italian province of Veneto adopted a change in a law that critics say makes it harder to build mosques.

“I’m absolutely against the construction of new mosques,” Luca Zaia, Veneto’s governor from the right-wing Northern League, told the Nuova di Venezia newspaper. “I’ve already met some of these preachers, and I told them clearly that sermons need to be pronounced in Italian, for reasons of transparency.”

Criticism becomes broader

Germany has long been a bastion of tolerance in Europe, with many citing World War II history as an example of the danger when religious and ethnic minorities are targeted.

Some AfD supporters point to the growing influence of radical Islam in Germany as evidence of what happens when the faith is left unchecked. In 2014, for instance, a group of ultracon­ser­vative Islamists staged a publicity stunt in the city of Wuppertal, dressing up as “sharia police” — a reference to Islamic religious law — and allegedly telling bystanders not to drink alcohol or visit nightclubs.

Islam’s critics, although insisting they have nothing against progressive Muslims, are increasingly taking aim at the faith more broadly. They note a lack of respect for gays and lesbians, as well as women, allegedly shown by some Muslims — including suspects in a series of sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve in the German city of Cologne.

But opponents of the right wing argue that its own stances against gay rights and in defense of “traditional” roles for women suggest that anti-Islam positions are merely being used as a political ploy to win votes.

The AfD “basically represents the same authoritarian, homophobic and sexist — in short: inhumane — position as ultraconservative Islamic associations,” Mina Ahadi, an Iranian dissident and critic of fundamental Islam, wrote in an open letter to the group.

An attempted meeting between the AfD leadership and senior Muslim officials in Germany broke down last month, with both sides blaming each other. To produce materials arguing that Islam is incompatible with German democracy, the AfD is relying on authorities such as Tilman Nagel, a former professor of Islamic studies at Göttingen University who, in a telephone interview, lashed out at “political correctness.”

“The fundamental principles of Islam can’t be reconciled with our free constitution,” he said.

In Erfurt, the AfD’s opposition to a new mosque has stunned the small local community of 70 Muslims who are seeking permission to build it, the city’s first, on a grassy patch of land in an industrial quarter on the outskirts of town. In fact, the AfD found out about the plan only when a local Muslim leader told the party about it during a meeting last month.

“I could see the hate in their eyes when I told them,” said Suleman Malik, a 33-year-old immigrant from Pakistan who is leading the effort.

“They want to violate our freedom of religion, but I don’t think they will succeed,” he said. “This is a national issue now, and I don’t think Germany wants to see this happen.”

Stephanie Kirchner in Berlin, James McAuley in Paris and Stefano Pitrelli in Rome contributed to this report.

June 6

What the bad jobs report means

What that bad jobs report really means (FILES) File photo dated April 9, 2013 shows a jobs sign on the front of the US Chamber of Commerce building in Washington, DC. The US economy generated 209,000 new jobs in July, down from June but maintaining a solid 200,000-plus monthly streak since February, the Commerce Department said August 1, 2014. The unemployment rate, rose a mere 0.1 point to 6.2 percent, still near its lowest level since October 2008 and well down from the 7.9 percent at the start of 2013. The new jobs were well-spread between the construction, manufacturing, professional service and retail sectors, and got a boost as well from 11,000 new jobs in the government sector. AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER / FILESKAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

                                                             (Karen Bleier/AFP via Getty Images)

There are certain months when you should close your eyes, click your heels together three times, and think to yourself: The jobs report has a margin of error of 100,000 jobs. The jobs report has a margin of error of 100,000 jobs. The jobs report has a margin of error of 100,000 jobs.

This is one of those months. The good news was bad and the bad news was worse, so our only consolation is that this might be a blip. Consider this: The unemployment rate ticked down from 5.0 to 4.7 percent for the rotten reason that there are almost half a million fewer people looking for work; the economy added 38,000 jobs in May when it was expected to add 155,000; it turned out that 59,000 fewer jobs were created in March and April than we had previously thought; and 468,000 more people who wanted full-time jobs could find only part-time work. Ugly all around.

And it doesn’t get a lot less so even if you take a longer view of things. Indeed, the economy has gone from adding a three-month average of 282,000 jobs a month at the end of last year to just 116,000 today. That, as you can see below, is the lowest it’s been since July 2012.

So on a scale of 1 to Lehman, how worried should we be? Well, as 538’s Ben Casselman points out, that depends on which of the three stories behind this apparent slowdown is the correct one. Here they are in ascending order of badness.

1. This is just statistical noise. First off, the Verizon strike subtracted 35,000 jobs from the official numbers that haven’t actually been subtracted from the economy. So the 38,000 jobs the Bureau of Labor Statistics says we added was really something like 73,000. And second, as we already mentioned, there’s always a margin of error of 100,000 jobs with these reports. That means there’s a real chance the economy didn’t slow down quite as much as it appears to have. It might have added around 90,000 or 100,000 jobs instead.

But even if this were true, we shouldn’t exactly be bringing out the bubbly. After all, we’d still only be adding half as many jobs as we were six months ago. And, again, that’s operating under the optimistic assumption that there will indeed be big, positive revisions. A more realistic one, though, is that there won’t. Revisions tend to be good when the economy is, and bad when it is too, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they just turned negative when economic growth has been so anemic, nor would it be if they continued to be so.

2. The economy is slowing down since there aren’t many people left who are still looking. It’s taken a lot longer than anyone wanted, but the metronomic 180,000 to 200,000 jobs the economy has added almost every month for the past five years might have finally given a job to most of the people who want one. In that case, we would expect the recovery to gear down for the happy reason that, like the little engine that could, it had made it over the mountain to the land of full employment. In other words, we aren’t creating as many jobs as before because we don’t need to.

But we can poke holes in this story, too. If companies really are running out of unemployed people to hire, then they should be trying to hire away people who already have jobs by offering big raises. The problem there, though, is that wages aren’t rising faster than they have been. Not to mention the fact that there are still a lot of people who can find only part-time work and not the full-time jobs they want. That suggests there’s plenty of slack left in the labor market.

3. The r-word. It’s hard to see where a recession would come from today, but we can’t completely rule it out when job growth has slowed so much and the labor force is shrinking. That last part in particular is a big reversal from just a few months ago when it looked like the recovery was starting to suck people in off the sidelines. Maybe it’s just that boomers are retiring even more en masse, or maybe it’s that our jobs engine is sputtering. We just can’t say for sure right now.


The moral of the story, then, is that there is none. Not every blip becomes a bust, but every bust looks like a blip at the beginning. Sometimes the only way to tell the difference is to wait. Just ask the Federal Reserve. It almost certainly won’t raise rates in June like it had hoped to, and may not in July either, now that there’s so much uncertainty.

Nobody said the truth had to be satisfying.

Matt O’Brien is a reporter for Wonkblog covering economic affairs. He was previously a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.  Follow @ObsoleteDogma


The daily parade of cable news pundits

Today is Wednesday, the day after Donald Trump’s big victory in the New York primary, so today, pundits, our Narrative is “Trump: He’s wrapped up the Republican nomination, right?” So that’s what we’ll talk about today, all day. Because we’re TV pundits and we stick to the Narrative.

Ready, pundits? Go, ninjas, go:

Scottie Nell Hughes, ‘Trump Supporter,’ on CNN: “You have a sitting senator in Texas, a sitting governor in Ohio that cannot even get 50 percent of their own state to support them. [Trump] has proven time and time again that he can win in every part of this country.”

Sarah Isgur Flores, former Carly Fiorina campaign manager, MSNBC guest: “Donald Trump wants to claim that being on the five-yard line is a touchdown. I think everyone believes Ted Cruz can shift the momentum on the second ballot [at the GOP convention].”

Meghan McCain, Fox News contributor: “Trump’s negatives will filter down into Senate races, congressional races and local races. And I worry about it being like Goldwater, like an unmitigated bloodbath, where [Republicans] lose everything.”

David Gregory, CNN analyst: “Cruz has got to do something that he did in Wisconsin, expand his base of support. … He’s got to go to other states in the West, including Indiana and the Midwest, to show that he can reach beyond that core strength of evangelical Christians.”

Ann Coulter and David Gregory (Coulter by Mandel Ngan/Getty Images. Gregory by Peter Kramer/Getty Images)

Thank you, pundits. To summarize: Trump — he’s up! He’s down! He’s neither up nor down!

In other words, it’s just another day in Punditstan, the land of gleaming teeth, flowing hair and hot takes. Throughout the day and long into the morrow, the pundits will work diligently to replenish America’s strategic opinion reserves — with regular breaks, of course, for ads for retractable hoses, cholesterol medication and nonstick cooking pans.

These days, the people of Punditstan are a critical part of the cable news-industrial complex. The leading news networks — CNN, Fox News, MSNBC — don’t report the news as much as they talk and speculate endlessly about it. For at least the past year, as well as for the next five months, the only thing they’re talking about is the presidential campaign, a story perfectly tailored for 24-hour cable with its built-in conflict, historic importance and, yes, ever-changing “narratives” (plus, who in America doesn’t have something to say about Trump and Clinton?). That means just one thing: Right now, we’re at peak punditry.

A CliffsNotes guide to punditry

Never mind that all the gasbagging may be contributing to an overheated political climate (Jon Stewart once famously said that cable’s partisan food fights were “hurting America”). After the campaign started and the pundits started yakking, ratings for all three cable networks, once in seemingly terminal decline, rebounded to nearly Iraq War levels. There are now so many cable pundits — CNN has about 100 on its payroll, while MSNBC and Fox News declined to provide numbers — that it’s hard to tell them apart.

Some pundits are “contributors.” Some are “analysts.” Still others are “commentators” or “strategists.”

The secret pundit decoder works like this: A “contributor” (such as Meghan McCain) is an exclusive network hireling who gets paid for his or her sound bites. He or she earns a fee for each appearance or a flat amount for being on call, like a firefighter, whenever his or her services are required. The amounts can range from about $150 per “hit” to the mid-six figures for a marquee name such as Karl Rove or David Axelrod, both former campaign savants and presidential advisers. An “analyst” (such as CNN’s David Gergen or David Gregory, the former host of “Meet the Press”) is a salaried or contract employee who is expected to analyze the day’s Narrative rather than opine about it like a contributor. A “strategist” is usually a part-timer and a partisan hired for his or her political experience and insight.

Not that these rules really matter. Analysts contribute opinions, contributors analyze and strategists do both.

Then there are “guests,” Punditstan’s temporary-worker class. Guests typically aren’t paid, and often aren’t even identified as guests. Guests are free to peddle their thoughts to whichever network will have them (full disclosure: I’ve been an occasional guest on cable, just like everyone in Washington who has ever had a byline). The ever-itinerant nature of this class of talking heads explains why you’re likely to see vaguely familiar faces such as political scientist Larry Sabato or think-tank wise man Norman J. Ornstein on MSNBC one day and on CNN the next.

Ana Navarro and David Axelrod (Navarro by Heidi Gutman/Getty Images. Axelrod by Charles Norfleet/Getty Images)

CNN has pioneered another variation on the theme during this election season: the “supporter.” Last year, it hired two commentators to defend Trump, Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany (Scottie Nell Hughes, another Trump supporter, is a frequent CNN guest). It has also had a Bernie Sanders booster (Jonathan Tasini), one for Ted Cruz (Amanda Carpenter), one for Jeb Bush (Ana Navarro) and multiple ones for Hillary Clinton. Poor John Kasich; no one on CNN was paid to spin for him.

The taxonomy of punditry can be further subdivided by background and personality. There are former campaign operatives and party hacks (Nicolle Wallace and Rick Tyler on MSNBC, Paul Begala and Donna Brazile on CNN, Rove on Fox News), lifelong journalists (The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson on MSNBC) and even a lapsed politician or two (Michael Steele and Joe Scarborough on MSNBC). Yes, there’s a certain credentialism at work; the average dentist or truck driver, no matter how brilliant or witty his or her opinions, has no chance of ever moving to Punditstan. And there are, of course, degrees of temperament and vehemence: A rigorously nonpartisan analyst such as CNN’s Gloria Borger rarely throws bombs while others (think Fox News’s Andrea Tantaros) have crafted a career out of lobbing them.

Dumbed-down conversation

Pundits surely provide much that enriches our national political conversation. But there’s that other stuff, too. With so much blather filling the air, some of the conversation inevitably gets kind of dumb. There was, for example, that remarkable moment on CNN in March when one panelist, Boston Herald columnist Adriana Cohen, accused another, Amanda Carpenter, of having an affair with Cruz.

Or that time on Fox Business Network in February when Trump supporter Omarosa Manigault argued with Fox News contributor Tamara Holder over the mispronunciation of their first names, their views of Trump, and some other things:

“It’s the same difference, boo,” Manigault said after Holder corrected her about how she says her first name. “You want to come on with big boobs, then you deal with the pronunciation of your name. Look, Donald Trump stands firm on what his position is about us going into Iraq … ”

“Wait a second!” moderator Maria Bartiromo interjected. “Why are you bringing up Tamara’s boobs? I don’t understand why you brought up Tamara’s boobs.”

Yeah, said Holder: “How does who you support have to do with the size of my boobs?”

Manigault eventually apologized, saying she should have called Holder a “boob.”

Another extreme of political punditry belongs to Ann Coulter. During her many years on TV, Coulter, 54, has trafficked in provocation and outrage, pointedly from a conservative perspective. Coulter, in fact, has raised the fire-breathing brand of off-the-cuff commentary to a kind of performance art. In hundreds of TV appearances, she has said many things that might be considered harsh and a number that might be considered downright awful (“I have never seen people enjoying their husbands’ deaths so much,” she once wrote of a group of women left widowed by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, before going on the “Today” show to defend the comment). TV producers find this irresistible, of course. They invite Coulter back year after year, providing a massive promotional platform for her books and columns.

Coulter expresses just one regret about her years in punditry. Early on, when she was a little-known lawyer, she was asked by CNN to comment about the possible successors to retiring Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall. Coulter thought the most obvious choice was Clarence Thomas, who was later confirmed, but she held her tongue after an older, seemingly wiser guest rattled off a list of candidates that didn’t include Thomas. “I learned [then] that most people on TV are idiots and never to be swayed out of saying something I think is true, even if everyone else on the panel disagreed with me.”

If anything, Coulter says, her TV persona is a milder version of her real self. “I’m bold and shocking when I talk to my friends, too,” she says. “So [on TV] it’s not exactly a performance, though I hope it is entertaining as well as edifying.”

Coulter’s adventures in punditry are unusual not just for their excesses, but for their length. A pundit’s time in the spotlight is roughly as long as a professional athlete’s — a few good years, maybe even a decade’s worth of them, and then you’re essentially out of the league. As in sports, there’s always a hungry kid with a more provocative take (and better-looking to boot) eyeing your place in the lineup. Check out the transcripts of cable panel shows from 20 or even 10 years ago and you’ll find serious churn. Where have you gone, Dee Dee Myers and J.C. Watts ?

Rare is the elder pundit-statesman such as Eleanor Clift, who has been slinging liberal-leaning opinions on TV since the Carter administration, most visibly as a panelist on “The McLaughlin Group” for almost 30 years. If there were a Mount Rushmore of punditry, Clift, 75, would be up there alongside the likes of Al Hunt, Clarence Page, Pat Buchanan and the blustery McLaughlin himself.

Bill Kristol and Eleanor Clift (Kristol by William B. Plowman/Getty Images. Clift by J. Countess/WireImage)

Clift is a seminal character in the development of the pundits’ arts and sciences. Not only was she among the earliest women in a field dominated by men, but she was one of the first news reporters to make opining on TV a regular sideline. When she first met McLaughlin while working for Newsweek, she recalls telling him, “’I’m a reporter, so I’m not supposed to have strong opinions.’ And he said, ‘If you want to get on this show, you’ll get some strong opinions.’ ”

The right stuff

So what does it take to make it in Punditstan? Network pundit-wranglers use words such as “passionate,” “authentic” and “articulate” to describe what makes a good TV opinion spouter. Credibility and experience don’t hurt, either.

“We look for the same things [a reporter] looks for in finding good sources for a print story,” says Dafna Linzer, the managing editor of MSNBC and NBC News’s political coverage. “We want people who have the ability to help voters understand the different moments and scenes of an election, people who can offer insight.” (The difference, of course, is that the people quoted in print stories don’t dominate an hour of prime time or come directly into your living room to yell at each other).

On the other hand, unlike professional sports or even politics itself, no one keeps score in punditry. Being consistently wrong isn’t necessarily disqualifying. For many years, Bill Kristol, a lion of the neoconservative movement, has made bold predictions about everything from the ease of stabilizing Iraq to Donald Trump’s dubious political prospects. Many of these predictions haven’t exactly panned out. Yet Kristol, now at ABC News, has been a leading citizen of Punditstan for the better part of two decades.

A pundit is more likely to get banished from the air for failing to follow the technical demands and subtle protocols of the job, said one prominent political pundit. Did the pundit talk too much or too little during a segment? Did he or she step on the host’s questions or insist on getting in the last word? Does the host or show’s producer simply not like you? Some producers and bookers, according to this pundit, maintain informal lists of “banned” pundits who will never be invited back.

Naturally, it doesn’t hurt a political commentator to know something about politics, but intensive study isn’t really necessary. One veteran TV pundit recalls preparing for his first TV appearance by reading feverishly about the topic du jour. He soon realized that this not only wasn’t necessary, it might be counterproductive; all those facts can weigh like an anvil on your mind when you’re asked for a snappy comment.

So now the pundit hones his approach by scoping out the all-important terms of engagement. How many minutes will he be on? How many people will be on the panel with him? Who’s the host? What part of the show will he be on — the opening “A” block or a later, lighter segment? With just a few minutes of airtime, he’ll marshal his zingers, deploying them as if they were his last bullets in a gunfight. Two things you’ll almost certainly never hear from a TV pundit: “I don’t know” and “I have no opinion about that.”

Training to be a talking head

Outside of being born with a gift for gab and a reasonably pleasant appearance, it’s possible to learn to be a TV pundit. Thanks to a small army of “media trainers,” many of the ancient secrets of Punditstan are for sale for just a few thousand dollars and the investment of several hours of study.

Peter Zorich, who worked as a news producer at four networks, started a training company with a partner in 2014. His New York firm, Best Guest Media, is a kind of one-stop shop for punditry. In addition to training business executives, politicians, doctors and lawyers to speak more effectively on news programs, the company helps its clients land TV gigs through connections with network bookers. For good measure, the company provides trainees with talking points. It even handles the logistics of getting to the studio.

Zorich will tell you that the fastest way to get on TV is to have been on TV. Producers scout each other’s programs and regularly poach promising newcomers. “A good TV guest isn’t just smart and accomplished,” he says. “They need energy and passion. I’m not talking about engaging in shouting matches. You have to be articulate andpassionate.”

Whatever the inherent flaws of punditry — the emphasis on glibness and flash, the lack of accountability — some of the knocks on it are no longer really valid. Older white men no longer dominate the field, as they did when Eleanor Clift first went before a camera.

Nor does the commentary stay strictly within a narrow range, as Bernie Sanders has asserted in his critiques of the “corporate” media. Although there’s no denying that each of the cable networks has its ideological shadings and biases, each has employed pundits that reflect a political spectrum that ranges from Sanders to Ted Cruz to whatever Donald Trump is.

And sure, there’s no question that some of it — maybe a lot of it — is hot air. But is it really doing harm to discourse? Is it inflaming our deepening partisan divide or somehow, in Jon Stewart’s phrase, “hurting America”?

I’m not sure I know the answer. But you can count on this: The citizens of Punditstan would be happy to give you their opinion.

Paul Farhi covers the media for The Washington Post. To comment on this story, email or visit

Superdelegates and Bernie Sanders

The Superdelegates and Bernie Sanders
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders criticized the Democratic party’s nomination process and superdelegates during a rally in Santa Cruz, Calif., on May 31. He blasted reports that rival Hillary Clinton had clinched the nomination as “factually incorrect.” (AP)

“Literally eight months before the first ballot was cast in Iowa, she had almost all of the superdelegates on board. That is an absurd system. … Now, on Tuesday night, on the 7th, you are going to hear from media saying that Hillary Clinton has received 80 or 90 delegates from New Jersey and other states…the nominating process is over, Secretary Clinton has won. That is factually incorrect. That is just not factually correct.”

— Sen. Bernie Sanders, speech in Santa Cruz, Calif., May 31

Sanders has complained regularly about the “absurd” system used in the Democratic Party presidential nomination process — a combination of 4,051 delegates elected through primaries and caucuses and then 714 “superdelegates,” who are elected officials, former elected officials and other eminence grises of the Democratic Party who can back whomever they want.

Hillary Clinton is on track to win a majority of the pledged delegates, almost certainly by June 7. But because superdelegates make up 15 percent of the total delegate pool, neither Clinton nor Sanders can obtain the 2,383 delegates needed to clinch the nomination without the support of superdelegates.

But the irony is that without the superdelegate system in place, Sanders likely would be toast on June 7, when six states essentially complete the primary process, including California with its 475 delegates. (There is also a vote on June 14 in D.C. to award 20 delegates.) So Sanders is complaining about a system that is actually keeping hope alive for his supporters, on the theory that superdelegates can change their vote any time before the convention starts in late July. But it’s a false hope.

Let’s look at the math.

Basic delegate math

According to the Associated Press, the gold standard for counting delegates, there are 4,051 pledged delegates. So a majority would be 2,026.

Clinton has won 1,769 delegates. So she is 257 short of a majority in pledged delegates.

Sanders has won 1,501 delegates. So he needs 525 delegates to win a majority.

Counting votes in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands over the weekend, there are 761 delegates that will be selected through June 7.

So Clinton needs 34 percent of those delegates, a number she will certainly win, given the Democrats’ system of proportional allocations. Sanders needs 69 percent, an almost impossibly high bar.

So, even without the superdelegates, Clinton would have won the Democratic nomination fair and square.

But she actually has 543 superdelegates in her camp (compared with 44 for Sanders). That leaves her just 71 delegates short of 2,383 needed to clinch the nomination.

Sanders claims it would be “factually incorrect” for the media to declare Clinton the presumptive nominee once she crosses the 2,383 threshold. But he is ignoring the fact that Clinton will also win a majority of the pledged delegates. There’s not much of a case he can make to superdelegates to switch sides, especially since he has long insisted that superdelegates should follow the will of the voters.

Indeed, senior Sanders adviser Tad Devine in early May told our colleague Greg Sargent that unless Sanders “significantly” closes the pledged delegate gap with Clinton, it will be borderline “impossible” to persuade superdelegates to switch from Clinton to Sanders.

Misleading timeline

Sanders also offers a misleading timeline about Clinton’s accumulation of superdelegates.

As he put it in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” “you have a situation where over 400 superdelegates came on board Clinton’s campaign before anybody else was in the race, eight months before the first vote was cast.” In the Santa Cruz speech, Sanders claimed “literally eight months before the first ballot was cast in Iowa, she had almost all of the superdelegates on board.”

Neither statement is factually correct.

Sanders appears to have selected eight months before Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses because he announced his run for the presidency on April 30, 2015 — eight months before Iowa. It makes it sound like the deck was stacked against him even before he got into the race.

But the earliest superdelegate count we find is a Bloomberg Politics article late August — four months after Sanders got into the race — claiming that 440 superdelegates were privately backing Clinton. (At the time she had 130 public commitments.) That’s about 60 percent of the delegates, not “almost all.”

Moreover, this was not an official count. It was not until November — about three months before the first votes — that the AP surveyed superdelegates and came up with a count of 359 for Clinton, compared with eight for Sanders and two for former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley. So that was six months after Sanders got into the race.

The Sanders campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The Pinocchio Test

In complaining about superdelegates, Sanders is trying to have his cake and eat it, too. If not for the “absurd” superdelegate system, Sanders’s presidential hopes would firmly die on June 7.

Thus Sanders is misleading his supporters when he suggests it is “factually incorrect” for the media to crown Clinton the presumptive nominee on June 7. In a narrow technical sense, the nominee is not chosen until the convention. But, barring some miracle, on June 7, Sanders will have lost the race for both pledged delegates and superdelegates. That leaves him with no hope to claim the nomination–unless he wants to overturn the will of the voters. But respecting the will of the voters was the original reason he complained about the superdelegate system in the first place.

Three Pinocchios


By Glenn Kessler June 2 of The Washington Post.

Urban-Rural Split In 2016 Election

Urban-Rural Split In 2016 Election

The 2012 election provided two powerful reminders about the electoral implications of overly-concentrated Democratic voters. First, the Republicans held their U.S. House majority, won in 2010, despite the fact that the Democratic candidates in the 435 House districts received more votes than their Republican opponents. Second, these House results were echoed by Democrat Barack Obama’s defeat of Republican Mitt Romney by nearly four percentage points nationally despite the fact that Obama carried fewer House districts than Romney did (211 to 224 based on the most recent congressional maps). Whether by dint of the nonpartisan self-segregation of voters or partisan gerrymandering, Democratic voters are distributed inefficiently in U.S. House districts.

Of course, House districts and state legislative districts can be redrawn each decade in ways that concentrate or diffuse voters to the electoral benefit of either (or neither) party. What do not change are borders for state, county, and local jurisdictions that elect officials and that also may happen to confer an advantage on one party or the other. For example, as I document in my latest book, The Stronghold, for the better part of a half-century Republicans have enjoyed inflated representation in the Senate by virtue of their greater strength in the small states. This was not always the case: In the mid-1950s, when Republicans regularly held Senate seats in California and New York, the Democrats enjoyed inflated Senate representation. Because state boundaries are fixed, however, barring the creation of new states via admission of new states or splitting of existing states into two, electoral advantages arise only if certain types of voters migrate or grow at disparate rates that favor one party.

Most remarkable are the variations in size and partisanship of America’s counties. The GOP’s recent, state-based advantage in the Senate pales against the far more dramatic partisan effects of population concentrations at the county level. Today, roughly half of all Americans live in the 144 largest counties, while the other half occupy the remaining 2,998 counties. In fact, the two largest counties — California’s Los Angeles County and Illinois’ Cook County — contain roughly the same share of the national population (4.82%) as the 1,437 smallest counties. Especially because they are home to concentrated communities of nonwhite voters, these large jurisdictions helped Obama win reelection even though he carried only 22% of all counties. (Throughout this piece, “county” will also include “county equivalents,” such as independent cities and parishes.)

Indeed, Obama carried 46 of the 50 most populous counties, many of them by overwhelming margins — and 12 more of the 50 most-populous counties than Al Gore (34) carried a dozen years earlier. Longer-term comparisons provide an even starker demonstration of the confluence of county-level population concentration and Democratic presidential performance: In his four-point, 2012 reelection victory Obama carried a mere 690 counties, whereas 24 years earlier 1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis carried 819 counties despite losing to George H.W. Bush nationally by about eight points. Overall, modern Democratic nominees are receiving a greater share of their presidential votes from a shrinking set of rapidly-growing counties. Sure, Obama won twice, becoming the first Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt to win election and then reelection with national popular majorities both times. But in sub-presidential contests, his party is hamstrung by the geographic over-concentration of its base voters.

Consider Table 1, which lists the number of counties in all 50 states, as well as the number and share of counties in each state containing 50,000 or more residents, plus the subset containing 100,000+. The table summarizes the data for all 50 states as reported in Table 2 (at the end of the article), which sorts states top to bottom from least- to most-densely populated, and codes them either blue, red, or purple based on presidential results for the past four cycles: blue if it is one of the 18 states carried by the Democratic nominee each of those elections; red if it’s one of the 22 states carried all four times by the Republican nominee; and purple for the so-called 10 “swing states” that neither party won all four elections.

First, notice that the 18 Democratic-leaning states on average contain half as many counties (716, mean = 37.8) than the 22 Republican-leaning states (1,722, mean = 78.3), with the swing state mean in between but more closely approximating the Republican states (704, mean = 70.4). Overall, the red states contain 1,000-plus more counties than the blue states. In fact, the seven, solidly blue states of Connecticut (8), Delaware (3), Hawaii (5), Maryland (24), Massachusetts (14), New Jersey (21) and Rhode Island (5) combined have only 80 counties — fewer than a third of reliably red Texas’ highest-in-the-nation 254 counties. (Counties are also divided into various political subdivisions, including cities and townships.)

Table 1: Number and size of counties in blue, red, and swing states

Note: *The county totals include “county equivalents” such as independent cities and parishes.

Source: Compiled by author from U.S. Census Bureau.

Relatedly, the blue states on average feature higher shares of high-population counties. The share of counties with populations in excess of 50,000 persons in the 18 blue states (51.2%) is more than twicethat of the 22 red states (20.6%), and the share of the subset counties with more than 100,000 persons in blue states is thrice that of red states (34.4% to 10.6%). Again, the respective shares for the 10 swing states fall in between: 35.9% and 21.0%, respectively, for 50K+ and 100K+ counties.

In the post-Civil War period, county configurations have changed some, but not much; typically new counties have been formed by breaking apart older, larger ones into smaller jurisdictions. But since World War II, changes in county structure are extremely rare. The partisan differences in county structure thus result neither from Democratic states consolidating their county systems nor Republicans expanding theirs. Rather, it is a bizarre artifact of modern political-electoral geography that states with fewer counties — some of which were once conservative Republican strongholds — tend to vote more Democratic today. However, that those fewer counties tend to have larger and more Democratic-leaning populations is no artifact: Population densities of major metropolitan areas, mid-sized cities, and densely-packed inner suburbs naturally coincide with liberal and Democratic preferences. Indeed, the 2012 exit polls reveal the unsurprising result that Obama also performed better the more consolidated the “size of place”: He won abigger share of voters in big cities (69%) than mid-sized cities (58%), small cities (44%), or suburbs (50%).

Variations in county-level political geography would matter little if at all, of course, were it not for the contrasting preferences of voters in densely-populated areas compared to those in more sparsely-populated parts of their states and across the nation. But the significance of fewer, high-population counties in Democratic-leaning states is that concentration almost certainly affects the parties’ pool of potentially viable up-ballot candidates for state legislative and statewide offices.

Many county-level election contests are nonpartisan, and even where they are contested, the debates may not focus on the types of polarizing debates on issues like abortion and gay marriage that dominate statewide, congressional, and presidential elections. But the convergence of states’ partisanship and jurisdictional variance provides far more county offices to seek in Republican-leaning states. That said, if the extensive political science scholarship on progressive ambition and candidate quality[1] matter at all, by dint of sheer numbers contemporary Republicans should benefit from a deeper or at least more plentiful bench. Because the presidential candidate pool draws from governors, and the gubernatorial pool in turn draws from state legislators and other statewide politicians, who in turn draw from the stocks of county and municipal officials, electoral geography should provide the Republicans a more extensive farm system of “quality” electoral candidates, ceteris paribus.

In a thought-provoking essay for The Atlantic entitled “Red State, Blue City: How the Urban-Rural Divide is Splitting America,” Josh Kron examined the ways in which city-based Democratic voters in some states are able to exert sufficient political power, often through ballot measures, to expand gay rights or legalize marijuana — despite sometimes fervent resistance from majorities in many non-urban jurisdictions. Written before the Kim Davis gay marriage license episode in Kentucky, Kron foretold some of the tensions that we now see between the preferences of voters aggregated statewide relative to those aggregated into local jurisdictions. “Federalism’s dance is America’s great helix, and in due course a new national consensus will tend to emerge. But things might get more divided before they get better,” writes Kron.

Perhaps such tensions are precisely what the drafters of our national and state constitutions intended when they designed the geographic and temporal structures of elected offices. But as Democratic-leaning voters become increasingly concentrated in a small number of very large urban cities and inner suburban counties, tensions between city and state will persist — and the Republican electoral bench, so to speak, should only get deeper.

Table 2: State population densities and county size/shares

Note: *The county totals include “county equivalents” such as independent cities and parishes.

Source: Compiled by author from U.S. Census Bureau.

Thomas F. Schaller is a professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is the author of The Stronghold: How Republicans Captured Congress but Surrendered the White House and national political columnist for the Baltimore Sun.


[1] A few notable examples from this extensive literature include: Rohde, David W., “Risk-Bearing and Progressive Ambition: The Case of Members of the United States House of Representatives,” American Journal of Political Science, 1979:1-26; Fowler, Linda L. and Robert McClure, Political Ambition: Who Decides to Run for Congress. (1989: Yale); Maisel, L. Sandy and Walter J. Stone. “Determinants of Candidate Emergence in U.S. House Elections: An Explanatory Study,” Legislative Studies Quarterly, 1997:79-96; and Fox, Richard L., and Jennifer L. Lawless, “Entering the Arena? Gender and the Decision to Run for Office” American Journal of Political Science, 2004:264-80.

A sharp exchange over polling

In a political season marked by non stop polling, a lively exchange took place recently about the state of public opinion research and what to believe about all of the numbers describing the state of the race.
The context for the discussion was set by a series of national and state surveys showing Donald Trump gaining on or overtaking Hillary Clinton in the general-election campaign. It broadened into an examination how polls are produced and used in a competitive media environment.

Earlier this spring, Clinton enjoyed a substantial lead over Trump. Now, the RealClearPolitics poll average in the presidential race shows Clinton with a lead of just one point: 43.8 to 42.8 percent. Some recent polls showed Trump ahead, including a Washington Post-ABC News poll of registered voters released a week ago.

The shift raised questions: Is this merely a bounce for Trump because he has wrapped up the Republican nomination while Clinton is still fighting a campaign against Bernie Sanders? In that case, will Clinton reverse Trump’s gains once she has claimed the Democratic nomination? Do the current polls mean that the general election will be close and hard-fought? Most provocatively, is there something wrong with some of these polls?

The first salvo in the exchange came from Norman J. Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Alan I. Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University. Both are scholars to whom I’ve gone many times as I’ve reported campaigns and politics generally. The two co-authored an op-ed for the New York Times titled “Stop the Polling Insanity.”

They pointed to what they said were “wild fluctuations and surprising results” in recent Trump-Clinton polls. They also underscored how news organizations are producing polls at a rapid rate and using them to make news and generate clicks. “Too many of this year’s polls, and their coverage, have been cringeworthy,” they wrote.

Ornstein and Abramowitz took issue with a Reuters-Ipsos tracking poll that showed Clinton with a 13-point lead on May 4, a tie five days later and then a six-point lead for Clinton on May 15. They questioned whether opinions could have shifted that much during a time “when there were no major events” in the campaign.

They challenged an online NBC-SurveyMonkey poll that showed Trump within three points of Clinton and said that Trump was receiving 28 percent of the Hispanic vote when “most other surveys have shown Mr. Trump eking out 10 to 12 percent among Latino voters.”

They also raised doubts about a trio of Quinnipiac polls in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, arguing that the samples used in the surveys were “whiter than the states had in 2012” exit polls.

“When polling aficionados see results that seem surprising or unusual, the first instinct is to look under the hood at things like demographic and partisan distributions,” they wrote. “When cable news hosts and talking heads see these kinds of results, they exult, report and analyze ad nauseam. Caveats or cautions are rarely included.”

The two scholars went on to cite well-known challenges for all types of polls. Traditional polls, considered the most reliable over a long period of time, use random samples of the population, call landlines and cellphones, and use real people to conduct the interviews. But those surveys are extremely costly, and response rates for many have plummeted over the years.

Online surveys use panels of potential respondents rather than randomly drawn samples. The methodology differs among the practitioners and is in a regular state of examination and refinement. They are much less expensive to produce.

Ornstein and Abramowitz’s op-ed prompted a rejoinder from Jon Cohen, SurveyMonkey’s chief research officer, and Mark Blumenthal, the firm’s head of election polling. (For the record, Cohen is a former polling director at The Post and someone with whom I’ve worked closely and collaboratively over many years.)

The SurveyMonkey duo took issue with the suggestion that polls showing Trump and Clinton in a close race are almost by definition to be questioned. “It’s not enough for Trump’s opponents to wish him away,” they wrote. “It’s important for political professionals to actually explore what is buoying Trump — even if they find his rise unfathomable.”

They argued that the polls have not been on a wild ride. In fact, they said, there was a clear trend based on the moving average of an average of all polls. Once Trump became the presumptive GOP nominee after his victory in the May 3 Indiana primary, Clinton’s lead began to shrink.

As for the NBC-SurveyMonkey poll showing Trump winning 28 percent of the Hispanic vote, they noted that six other national surveys taken after the reality TV star effectively secured the nomination showed his Hispanic support ranging from 15 percent to 31 percent, while acknowledging they were on the high end. But they said Clinton’s margin over Trump among Hispanics across the six polls ranged from 23 points to 53 points. The NBC-SurveyMonkey poll’s margin was in the middle of that range at 37 points.

Citing the late Andrew Kohut, the founder of Pew Research, they said those in the field of survey research should be measurers not handicappers. “Now more than ever at this moment of reinvention for public opinion polling, we need many independent estimates of voter preferences, not a herd of handicappers issuing their best guesses about the eventual outcome,” they wrote.

Those exchanges prompted another voice to enter the conversation, that of Mark Mellman, a respected Democratic pollster to whom many journalists long have gone for his insights into polls and elections. Noting that Ornstein, Abramowitz, Cohen and Blumenthal were all “very smart people,” Mellman sought to avoid taking sides and instead offered a few thoughts of his own on the issues raised.

Writing in the Hill, Mellman began by saying that an examination of polling averages of RealClearPolitics and the Huffington Post’s Pollster’s model showed that there is “little doubt that the presidential race has tightened considerably” since March and April. But he added that the current state of the race does not necessarily mean the outcome in November will be close.

He reminded everyone that, in the spring of 2008, when John McCain had wrapped up the Republican nomination while Barack Obama was still engaged in a hard contest against Clinton, the general-election polls showed the Arizona senator ahead. He lost the general election by 7 percentage points.

Looking at the issue of Trump’s support among Hispanics in the NBC-SurveyMonkey poll, he said that 28 percent “seems high, but not bizarrely out of sync,” given other polls and history. He also said that if Trump were getting, say, 13 percent of the Hispanic vote rather than 28 percent, Trump’s overall number in the horse race would be just 1.5 points lower.

Polls have played a significant role in this campaign. They’ve determined participation in the GOP debates and how the candidates were aligned on the stage, and they’ve driven a lot of coverage of the race. There is no question that news organizations have sometimes been indiscriminate in the way they have highlighted individual polls.

So there is food for thought in this series of exchanges. The traditional method of polling has become prohibitively expensive for most organizations at a time when the demand for public opinion surveys continues to grow, in politics and other fields. The methodology of all types of polls is under challenge. There is a serious and urgent debate underway among public opinion researchers about the way forward.

For the rest of us, the exchanges lead to common points of agreement, all of which might seem obvious but should not be forgotten. Don’t put too much emphasis on any single poll. Look closely at averages of groups of polls to determine whether there are real shifts in the race. And don’t expect polls to predict the future. Leave that question to the voters in November.

Dan Balz is Chief Correspondent at The Washington Post. He has served as the paper’s National Editor, Political Editor, White House correspondent and Southwest correspondent. Follow @danbalz

Kate Steinle’s family sues SF, federal gov’t

Kate Steinle and her murderer, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez

SAN FRANCISCO (UPI) — The family of a Northern California woman, Kate Steinle, who was allegedly shot and killed last summer by an undocumented Mexican immigrant, who had previously been deported five times, filed a wrongful death lawsuit Friday against the city and county of San Francisco and the federal government.

The parents of Kate Steinle brought the suit, which claims the woman’s death was “preventable” and even “foreseeable” because local and U.S. authorities failed their basic responsibility to keep the migrant off the streets.

Steinle was killed last July 1 while walking along San Francisco’s Pier 14 with her father. Authorities said Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican national, was the one who shot her in what investigators said was a random incident.

The case drew outrage and criticism nationwide when it was reported that Lopez-Sanchez had a prior criminal history and was not living in the United States legally. Further, he had been deported to Mexico five times, and returned on each occasion, before Steinle’s death.

Lopez-Sanchez claimed that he never shot at Steinle and that her death was purely accidental. Last September, a judge ruled that Lopez-Sanchez will stand trial in the case.

The family’s suit alleges that if federal government officials and local officials had done their jobs properly, their daughter would still be alive today.

Weeks before Steinle’s death, Lopez-Sanchez was in federal prison for illegal reentry to the United States. In March, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, however, sent him to face a drug charge in San Francisco. In April, prosecutors dropped the charge and former San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who is also a defendant in the suit, released him from custody — despite requests from federal agents to return him.

The suit says Mirkarimi also barred his deputies from getting involved in the matter due to San Francisco’s status as a “sanctuary city.” The sanctuary law, passed in 1989, is intended to encourage undocumented immigrants to report crimes without fear of deportation.

The lawsuit argues that Mirkarimi was negligent in his actions because the sanctuary law still allows local and federal authorities to communicate with each other.

“Plaintiffs allege that Mirkarimi and the City and County of San Francisco (CCSF) acted negligently, carelessly, recklessly, and/or unlawfully,” the suit states. “As a direct and legal result of the wrongful acts and/or omissions of Mirkarimi and CCSF, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was not given the opportunity to take custody of Lopez-Sanchez and he was released into the City and County of San Francisco where he obtained a firearm and pursued a criminal course of conduct, killing Kate.”

The final straw, the suit claims, then came when Lopez-Sanchez obtained a handgun.

“Kate’s fate was sealed when a [federal] ranger failed to properly secure and/or store a government-issued firearm while it was left in an unoccupied vehicle in a high auto-theft neighborhood in the City and County of San Francisco, California,” the lawsuit states. “Due to this failure, Lopez-Sanchez was able to gain access to the firearm, which he then used to shoot and kill Kate.

“Kate’s death was both foreseeable and preventable had the law enforcement agencies, officials and/or officers involved simply followed the laws, regulations and/or procedures which they swore to uphold.”

Copyright 2015 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).