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Latest news and features from, the world's leading liberal voice

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    Convention says Republicans got blamed for the last shutdowns, helping Clinton win in 1996. In reality, it was the economy, stupid

    We are less than a week from a possible government shutdown, thanks to the inability of congressional Republicans and President Obama to reach a budget compromise. Much of the disagreement stems from the determination of some Republicans use the budget bill to defund Obamacare. Given the imminence of the threat, much reference has been made to the previous government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996.

    For those who don't remember, 1995-96 featured congressional Republicans led by Newt Gingrich taking on Democratic President Bill Clinton. The conventional wisdom now is that Clinton won the political battle over the shutdowns. Some have taken that a step further and believe Gingrich's "defeat" cost Republicans in the 1996 election.

    The former is definitely true. Republicans clearly took more blame for the shutdowns 17 years ago. Today, though, the "margin of blame" is 16pt smaller – with Americans surveyed only 3pt more likely to blame congressional Republicans than the president (the margin was 19pt in 1995-96). That suggests that Republicans are much in better shape now than they were then.

    But even if the polling today did look like 1995-96, I would argue that this looming shutdown will offer nowhere such a clear win for Obama and the Democrats as it did for Clinton. The 1996 elections didn't differ at all from what you'd expect – given the state of the economy and the outcomes of congressional elections in presidential years when there is split government.

    Take a look at presidential and congressional approval from 1995-1996. This allows us to see what impact the budget had on the different parties' overall stature because of the shutdowns.

    You would have expected Congress to see a steep decline in 1995-1996 because of the budget shutdown, but that simply didn't happen. Check out this graph from Charles Franklin, with the key points of budget shutdown included.

    As now, congressional approval was already in the can back in 1995. There was perhaps a slight decline in congressional approval going into 1996, but it's a point or two at most.

    The same pattern held with President Clinton. Here's a chart from the same time period, created by the Monkey Cage's John Sides.

    Clinton's approval rating just after the shutdowns was, if anything, slightly lower than before it. In other words, he really didn't win much in terms of his standing. He didn't gain ground in his approval rating, and didn't lose less than Congress.

    Clinton's major increase in presidential approval occurred in the months after the shutdown. Those ratings corresponded very well with a major increase, also, in congressional approval. That's not surprising, given that both approval ratings tend to move in unison with one another. Congressional and presidential approval in this case moved up – because the economy was improving.

    Perhaps counterintuitively, both Clinton and congressional Republicans actually saw their standing improve in the ballot test for the November 1996 elections. Clinton opened up about a 6pt edge on Republican Bob Dole in the immediate aftermath of the shutdown, when he had been tied prior to it. Congressional Republicans closed a 5pt deficit, to a 1pt deficit, in the national House vote ballot.

    Both of those margins pretty much held through the election. Congressional Republicans would gain a little bit on congressional Democrats. Both Clinton and Dole ran away from Reform party candidate Ross Perot (Clinton slightly more so). It looks as though most people did not determine their vote based on their view of the government shutdown.

    Indeed, only 10% of Americans said the government shutdown was their greatest reservation about Republicans, following the 1996 vote, per a post-election poll. The exit polls didn't even ask about it.

    There just isn't much sign that 1996 differed from what you'd expect, given the fundamentals. Clinton won the national vote by a little less than 9pt over Dole. One would think that if the shutdown had really hurt Republicans over the long term, then Clinton would have done far better than the economy would suggest. That simply didn't happen.

    Of the seven economic fundamental models displayed by Brendan Nyhan, two underestimated Clinton's vote, three overestimated it, and two pretty much nailed it. That's what you would expect to happen if there were no big event that overrode the 1996 election.

    The same holds for the House. House Democrats gained two seats over their 1994 showing, but that's well within expectations. The result was less of a loss than Republicans went on to suffer in 2008 or 2012, or then Democrats sustained in 1992, for instance. It's equal to the loss Republicans took in 2000. Only once since 1952 has the majority party gained more than three seats in a presidential election year, when the other party controlled the White House.

    In short, there's just no clear evidence that House Republicans suffered, even if they were largely blamed for the shutdown.

    In fact, Senate Republicans actually picked up two seats in 1996. Some might say that Democrats would gladly settle for a two-seat Republican gain in 2014. While that's true, you have to know the baseline going into the 1996 elections: Republicans controlled 56% of the class up for re-election; they ended up winning 62% of the class thanks to wins in the south.

    The reverse will be true in 2014. Democrats will control 60% of the seats up for election in 2014. Republicans have a lot more opportunity to pick up seats. They are playing offense mostly in the south, as they were in 1996. If Republicans were to win 62% of the seats in play in 2014, they'd pick up eight seats.

    Now, I don't think Republicans will gain eight seats in 2014. To me, one would be wise not to project too much correlation between the 1995-96 shutdown and a possible one in 2013. This is a midterm election, not a presidential election year. Congressional and presidential approvals are both in worse shape now than they were then. And polling puts Obama in worse shape than Clinton was at this point, as he faces a possible shutdown.

    For those who look to the 1995-96 shutdown as a sign that it will have major electoral implications, look again.© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    Texas evangelical leader David Barton threatened a Tea Party challenge to Senator John Cornyn – a truly apocalyptic scenario

    John Cornyn, the US senator from Texas, has been a stalwart of conservative causes. He did his best to destroy the Affordable Care Act. He opposes reproductive freedom and same-sex marriage. His voting record gets a perfect grade from the NRA, and he explained that cutting government benefits helps the poor because they "need a hand up, not a hand-out".

    But apparently, he WASN'T "conservative" enough for many Republicans in Texas. Over the past few weeks, Tea Party activists floated the idea of replacing Cornyn with David Barton, the evangelical activist who has done more than anyone else to advance the "Christian Nation" myth. Although Barton withdrew his name from consideration Wednesday, Glen Beck (among others) is still holding out hope that a "true conservative" might step in to take down the perfidious Cornyn.

    The fact that this kind of discussion is even taking place helps put to rest two very common misperceptions about the right wing of the Republican party. The first is that the Tea Party is primarily about fiscal and economic issues. It is not; it is also about religion.

    The second misperception that Barton's abortive candidacy exposed is that the Tea Party is a conservative and patriotic force in American politics. In fact, it is a radical movement that seeks to destroy our present system of government. There is nothing comparable to it on the left or the right in American politics.

    Let's take a closer look at what David Barton really stands for. He presents himself as a historian, but by now, no serious person can buy that characterization. His most recent book, The Jefferson Lies, turns out to have been filled with distortions of the actual facts. The book came under criticism from numerous conservative Christians – most notably, Grove City College professors Michael Coulter and Warren Throckmorton, who published a detailed refutation of the book titled Getting Jefferson Right: Fact-Checking Claims about our Third President. In August 2012, Barton's Christian publishing house, Thomas Nelson, stopped production of the tome, announcing that they had "lost confidence in the book's details".

    But the facts have never stood in the way of Barton's "history", because the history merely serves as a platform for more ambitious goals.

    Barton's political agenda couldn't be clearer. The organization he founded, Wallbuilders, holds the idea that church-state separation is a myth as its chief talking point. Barton also launched the Black Robe Regiment, an association of clergy members and "concerned patriots" whose goal is to establish "the American Church" as "overseer of all principalities and governing officials, as was rightfully established long ago".

    Barton's ideas spread well beyond American's system of governance. In his worldview, global climate change is God's punishment for abortion. He also takes some interest in economic issues, usually to offer a "Biblical" perspective. People are on welfare, he announced on Wallbuilders Live, because they don't read Bible!

    If Barton were some out-in-the-woods extremist, we could appreciate him as a colorful detail in the diverse and vibrant landscape of American religion. But he is on a first-name basis with Newt Gingrich, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, and Michele Bachmann. One of Barton's go-to organizations is the American Renewal Project, which is closely aligned with the fundamentalist policy group the American Family Association and whose "pastor briefings" bring rightwing clergy together with politicians.

    The immediate cause of Barton's rumored run for office had to do with the government shutdown. Specifically, it had to do with Cornyn's failure to throw his support behind Cruz and push the button on an economic meltdown.

    It would be wrong to characterize those who were itching to push that button as the "fiscal conservatives" in the room. Instead, the appeal of the shutdown to folks who follow Barton is precisely its apocalyptic nature. They want to create a crisis because they understand intuitively that the kind of change in our society that they wish to bring about can really only happen in the context of some major crisis.

    Which brings up the second lie that Barton's candidacy exposed: that he and the forces he represents are conservative and patriotic. The separation of church and state that Barton decries as a "myth" has been at the foundation of the American system of government for more than two centuries. The claim that Barton and friends want to "take back" America is nonsense; they want to turn America into something it never was.

    According to Barton, God is punishing American for its grievous sins, like granting women reproductive rights. Clearly, Barton's God is mad at America. But it isn't hard to see that Barton is doing the judging. He really doesn't like the electorate that returned Barack Obama to power. He doesn't like our diverse, pluralistic society that worships many Gods and no God. He doesn't like our nonsectarian public schools. And if he bothered to study the works of some of our Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, he probably wouldn't like them, either.

    Some establishment Republicans might take solace in the fact that Barton has decided not to burden the Texas GOP with a nasty primary battle, just as they might rejoice in the defeats suffered by the Tea Party in the elections this week. But they shouldn't be overly optimistic. The predictable defeats of Tea Party stalwarts in 2010 and 2012 didn't stop the Tea Party and its raging base from being a persistent force in American politics, and we shouldn't forget that true Tea Partiers, such as Ken Cuccinelli and Dean Young, came within only a few percentage points of defeating their much better-financed rivals. The civil war within the GOP is by no means over, and if, as the Tea Party believes, you've got God on your side, it takes a lot more than a few narrow losses at the ballot box to stop you.© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    All the variables that predict primary winners from polling to endorsements are working more in her favor than in 2008

    Hillary Clinton remains the most formidable presidential nomination frontrunner for a non-incumbent in the modern era. As I wrote about last year, Clinton's combination of a number of factors made her strength pretty much unprecedented. Clinton has, if anything, become stronger over the last 12 months.

    Clinton's polling among Democrats is still incredible. The latest Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey has her at 67% of the vote among Democrats nationally. That compares to 61% in December 2012. The fact that her numbers have if anything gone up is a very good sign for her. It shows that her numbers weren't merely inflated because she held the non-partisan secretary of state position, as they were for general election electorate.

    Some might want to dismiss the predictiveness of early polling. Some may want to point to Clinton or Rudy Giuliani in 2008. The problem with that point of view in my opinion is that most early front-runners didn't put up anywhere near the same numbers Clinton is doing for 2016. Clinton was about 30pt lower in 2008 than she is now. Giuliani was about 35pt lower than Clinton now.

    Other candidates too were simply not close. George W Bush was stuck in the mid 20s for the 2000 Republican nomination. His father was in the low 40s for 1988. Colin Powell was in the mid 20s and mid 30s for his 1996 and 2000 no-goes respectively. Bob Dole was in the high 30s for 1996.

    The only candidate anywhere close to Clinton was Al Gore for 2000. Gore had long been in the upper 40s to mid 50s. Gore went on to waltz to the nomination in the single strongest non-incumbent performance in the modern era. He won every single primary and took 76% of the primary vote.

    Clinton's numbers look a lot more like an incumbent. Bush was in the low 70s for 1992. Clinton was in the low 60s to low 70s for 1996. Obama mostly was in the low to mid 60s for 2012, even when matched up against Hillary Clinton.

    Moreover, Clinton's edge extends to the early caucus and primary states. Your national numbers can be amazing, but if you don't win either Iowa or New Hampshire, you're likely not going anywhere. Clinton is in the mid 60s in New Hampshire and the low 70s in Iowa.

    A peak under the hood should give Clinton more confidence. Her favorable rating among Democrats nationally per Quinnipiac is 90% compared to just 4% who viewed her unfavorably. That suggests that it isn't just name recognition that is catapulting Clinton at this time.

    Almost all other factors that made Clinton strong when I wrote my last article remain the same. She's got the organization in place in the early states thanks to her 2008 run, while pretty much any other candidate would need to start fresh. Clinton remains incredibly well polished in public speaking, as she was in 2008. I mean she says pretty much nothing to possibly get in trouble.

    Importantly, there is no sign of anyone like Barack Obama contemplating a run. Clinton's coalition of women, non-college educated whites, and Latinos was just beat out by Obama's of African-Americans, college-eduated whites, and young voters. All Clinton needs to do is take a little bit of Obama's 2008 base to ensure his nomination.

    The only candidate in my mind who could catch fire, Massachusetts' Senator Liz Warren, has already declared her support for Clinton. In fact, every single female Democratic senator is behind Clinton. What a difference that is from 2008.

    Much of the establishment was actually encouraging Obama to run in 2008. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid weren't backing Clinton. Claire McCaskill's endorsement of Obama in 2008 was particularly memorable. Allthreeof them are now openly pleading for and endorsing Clinton for 2016.

    That's big news because a candidate who clearly wins the "invisible primary" usually takes the nomination. Primary voters can get confused between candidates whose ideology is very similar, so they look to the party elders. It's how Mitt Romney was able to take down Newt Gingrich in 2012. Clinton will have invisible primary advantage, which she didn't have in 2008.

    Overall, there are many reasons to think Hillary Clinton will win the 2016 nomination, if she were to run. There are not many reasons to think she's going to repeat her 2008 performance. Every factor that forecasts nomination winners points more strongly in her direction than it did eight years ago. Now none of this means Clinton will take the general election, though you have to get there first to have a shot.© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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    Michael Wolff: The Morning Joe host has a book to sell, so he's got speculation to feed. So does Rand Paul – and everyone else who won't win

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    At Akin's first big event since 'legitimate rape' controversy, Gingrich says GOP will eventually come around to support

    It is said there's someone for everyone. Who would have predicted, when Todd Akin, the Republican representative, was abandoned by his party for his "legitimate rape" comments a month ago, Newt Gingrich would be his knight in shining armour.

    But at the first major fundraising event held by the Akin campaign since the Missouri senate candidate was blackballed by the party funders and leaders, Gingrich pledged his support and said he was just the first in a wave of well-known Republicans to stand by Akin.

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    Federal Election Commission tracks donations to presidential and congressional candidates over the first 18 months of cycle

    More than $4bn was spent on the presidential and congressional candidates and campaigns in the first 18 months of the election cycle, according to the Federal Election Commission.

    Presidential candidates have received $601.9m of that money, the data released on Wednesday, shows, while $1.21bn has been donated to congressional candidates donated to presidential candidates personally.

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    How much have the candidates spent so far on the presidential election campaign? $573.8m, according to the latest figures. This is how that data breaks down. From the Federal Election Commission, it shows how much each candidate has spent on what so far.

    Barack Obama is in the lead - spending $348.31m, including $31.2m on staff payroll annd $13m on 'digital consulting'. Mitt Romney is not far behind at $225.49m, including $12m on payroll and $4.3m on 'fundraising consultation'.

    See what you can find with the help of the graphic below by clicking on each candidate and exploring spending by state and who the money goes to. Let us know what you find in the comments
    Graphic by Craig Bloodworth at the Information Lab

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    Casino mogul is sparing no expense to get Romney elected, a win that would benefit his businesses and his bank account

    Every day three scenes, on the surface unconnected, unfold in different corners of the world. By breakfast time in Macau, China's gambling mecca, thousands of people are inside vast casino resorts spending money on baccarat, poker, slot machines and restaurants. Managers monitor the profit by the hour.

    By lunchtime in Israel commuters and shoppers are perusing Israel Hayom, a brash giveaway tabloid and the country's most-read newspaper. It supports the government of Binyamin Netanyahu. And it clobbers rival dailies to the point of extinction.

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    From Perry's 'oops', to Biden's 'big stick', via RuPaul and Lena Dunham, here are my highlights of this political crazy season

    It's been the costliest election in American history and it sure feels like the longest. It has also been one of the weirdest. The GOP primary provided a mini-series' worth of clown-car exits and debates, Twitter gave celebrities the chance to make themselves seem as unself-aware and smug as pundits (and vice versa). YouTube gave the world the presidential candidate we deserved Bronco Bama and hashtags organized the terse poetry of the truly bored.

    Here is a list of some things that actually no, really, for serious happened.

    I wonder if a tweet where I admit how much I like Captain Beefheart will make the followers skyrocket even more!

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    Between this April Fools' Day and the future, Republicans could elect Ted Cruz, repeal Obamacare and try to take over the world. The results? Not so funny

    To: Newt Gingrich

    From: Freezone Industries

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    Paul: GOP not 'party of fat cats, rich guys and Wall Street'
    Gathering sponsor is linked to billionaire Koch brothers

    Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz were among several potential Republican White House contenders to gather in New Hampshire on Saturday, for a conference seen by some observers as marking the unofficial beginning of the state's 2016 presidential selection process.

    New Hampshire is known as the first in the nation state, due to the timing of the staging of its four-yearly presidential primary.

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    The season finale saw the first lady meet Leslie Knope, but was she a better actor than Joe Biden or John McCain?

    The Parks and Recreation season finale may have featured Ginuwine, the Decemberists and Jon Hamm, but one guest star outshone them all. First lady Michelle Obama appeared as the keynote speaker at the National Parks Conference, eventually recruiting Leslie Knope to her Let's Move campaign.

    Amy Poehler's Leslie has always been a political overachiever, simultaneously admiring and emulating favoured bureaucrats Hillary Rodham Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Nancy Pelosi. When Leslies then-boyfriend, now-husband Ben Wyatt took a short-term job running a congressional campaign in Washington DC, it gave Leslie a chance to cross bipartisan lines and meet some of her heroes. But can these real-life politicians act, even if theyre playing themselves?

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    Liberals, be careful what you wish for. He doesn't even like the tea partiers who might replace him, and Eric Cantor's House of Cards-style ploy is downright scary

    Conservative Republicans are gunning for House Speaker John Boehner from his three primary opponents, whom he beat easily on Tuesday, to his own Number 2, to the conservative newbies trying to keep their tea partying constituents happy. But liberals should enjoy Boehner while they still can.

    After 64 years on earth, four of them in high school and eight in the House Republican leadership, it is difficult to imagine that Boehner could hear any new double entendres about his last name. This election cycle might have been the first time that someone used one against him in a campaign ad. One of those three opponents, JD Winteregg, appealed to voters searching for a cure to "electile dysfunction". Winteregg lost his job teaching at a Christian college over the stunt and didn't even come close to besting Boehner when the totals came in Tuesday night across Ohio.

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    The Republican politician thinks that people like him are being repressed by the gay community

    Name: Newt Gingrich.

    Age: 70.

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    Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich would bring considerable political experience, but a surprise pick such as Joni Ernst may be a more ideal veep

    With Donald Trump as the Republican party’s presumptive nominee, it’s time for him to start contemplating a running mate. Here are five options for the veep stakes for the outsider who has often said he would look for a number two with political experience:

    Chris Christie

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    Republican sources believe billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson will boost Newt Gingrich’s chances of becoming the vice-presidential nominee

    Newt Gingrich’s prospects of joining the Republican presidential ticket as Donald Trump’s running mate are expected to get a boost from mega donor Sheldon Adelson, say three conservatives with links to Gingrich or the casino billionaire.

    Related: Who will be Donald Trump's running mate? Here are five options

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    Toffler was one of the world’s most famous futurists who foresaw how digital technology would transform the world

    Alvin Toffler, a guru of the post-industrial age whose books, including Future Shock, anticipated the transformation brought about by the rise of digital technology, has died. He was 87.

    Toffler died in his sleep at his home in Bel Air, Los Angeles, on Monday, said Yvonne Merkel, a spokeswoman for his Virginia-based consulting firm Toffler Associates.

    With heavy hearts we share that Alvin Toffler, our firm’s founder, has died at age 87. #RememberingAlvinToffler

    Related: Is there too much stress on stress?

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    In a flurry of activity on Monday, Donald Trump named three Republican politicians seemingly in contention to be named as his vice-presidential pick at the party’s national convention in Cleveland later this month.

    Related: Donald Trump blames 'dishonest media' in furor over 'antisemitic' Clinton tweet

    Trump understands that if he can appeal to consumer America, he drowns political America

    Related: SEC document shows Trump was worth less than half of $10bn claim in 2012

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    The days are ticking down for the soon-to-be Republican nominee to pick his potential vice-president. Here is the cream of the running-mate crop

    Donald Trump is running out of time to pick a potential vice-presidential candidate. With the Republican national convention a week away, Trump has to choose a running mate. But Trump, who has divided his party, is picking from a limited list. Although his campaign has long been cagey about potential vice-presidential picks, these are five of the most likely choices for Trump in Cleveland.

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    It is notoriously difficult to tell who the Democratic and Republican nominee will choose, and Clinton and Trump are no different, but there are some clues

    America loves the veepstakes. Every four years, those who follow politics search desperately for signs of who the presidential nominees will pick to be their running mate.

    It doesn’t matter that in the words of John Nance Garner, vice-president to Franklin Delano Roosevelt between 1933 and 1941, the vice-presidency “isn’t worth a bucket of warm piss”. Observers still use every means up to and including psychics and tarot cards as they try to work out who has been picked.

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