Category Archives: House of Representatives

hamilton jefferson election 1800

Republicans Could Learn from Alexander Hamilton

The election of 1800 pushed the young American republic to the brink of a constitutional crisis.  Just the fourth election, and the first truly competitive one, the Federalist and Republican parties — though they would bristle at being labelled parties — organized candidate tickets, John Adams and Charles Pinckney and Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, respectively.

This innovation, a devolution into faction which so frightened the Founders, threatened the Electoral College because prior to the 12th Amendment, Electors had no way of differentiating between the president and vice-president.  Designed without parties in mind, each elector cast two votes and the top two electoral vote getters receiving at least a majority (in 1800, 70 votes) would become president and vice-president.

However, with a party ticket and partisan electors choosing from preferential candidates rather than dispassionately selecting a president from the population, electors had to coordinate votes to ensure that they didn’t each cast their ballots for the president and vice-presidential hopeful; one elector had to cast one vote for a third candidate lest the presidential and vice-presidential designee end up with the same number of electoral votes.

Failing to do so would throw the election to the House of Representatives.



A Republican Coordination Failure

Federalists managed this feat, no easy task given difficultly of coordination in a nation that moved at the speed of horses, with one elector giving a vote to John Jay, leaving John Adams with 65 electoral votes and Charles Pinckney with 64.  Republicans failed to execute their similar plan.  Their electors cast 73 electoral votes for both Jefferson and Burr and the tied election went to the Federalist-controlled House of Representatives, which threatened to overturn the election, nullify results, or even pass installation to install an interim chief magistrate.

In the House, state delegations each cast one vote for president with a majority (9) needed for victory.  While Federalists dominated the chamber — they lost their majority in 1800, but the new Congress would not be seated until March — they only controlled eight delegations, short of a majority.  Republicans controlled seven states and one, Vermont, had a split delegation.

All knew that Republicans picked Thomas Jefferson as their presidential nominee, but that did not bind Federalists, most of whom despised the former vice-president.  They wanted to deny him the presidency and so a number of them voted for Burr: Six Federalist delegations initially voted for Burr, all seven Republican delegations as well as Federalist Georgia voted for Jefferson.  Vermont, split, cast a blank ballot.  Maryland had five Federalists and three Republicans in its delegation — four Federalists voted for Burr while one voted for Jefferson along with the Republicans, leading to a blank ballot.  No president had been decided.

These divisions — six states for Burr, eight for Jefferson, two blank — held for 35 ballots.



Hamilton’s History with Jefferson

Throughout the affair, Alexander Hamilton urged his Federalist colleagues to vote for Thomas Jefferson, his longtime nemesis, because he trusted Jefferson’s character and virtue whereas he found Burr unscrupulous and too self-serving.  A perfect example of Burr’s self-serving character is his unwillingness to stand down after the election when to the House, despite knowing his designation as vice-president.

It’s hard to overstate the depths of the animosity that flowed between Hamilton and Jefferson.  Hamilton considered Jefferson’s political views as “tinctured with fanaticism,” and, as a person, “a contemptible hypocrite.”  During the 1796 election, Hamilton wrote a series of some 25 essays under the pseudonym Phocion attacking Jefferson.  The most notable of the works, all published in the Gazette, accused Jefferson of having an affair with one of his female slaves.

For his part, Thomas Jefferson lambasted Hamilton and funded James Callender, a sensationalist Republican journalist who frequented the muck to attack Federalists, primarily Hamilton.  Callender helped destroy Hamilton’s career and public reputation through false accusations of corruption and the popularization of Hamilton’s affair with Jane Reynolds.



The Callender Affair

In 1792, information came to light that made then-senator (and future president) James Monroe believe Hamilton used his position as Secretary of the Treasury to enrich himself through speculation.  Such accusations naturally angered Hamilton, who prided himself on virtuous leadership that sacrificed his own interests for those of the country.  That disinterested leadership defined his views of government and explains his eventual support of Jefferson over Burr in the 1800 election.

When Monroe and other Republicans confronted Hamilton, they learned Hamilton dallied with Reynolds, but did not act corruptly or abuse his powers.  Monroe and his counterparts understood the distinction between public and private life, realizing that indiscretions in marriage did not equate to corrupt or insidious public action.  The investigation ended without leaks.

Some four years later, Callender uncovered the papers related to the Hamilton investigation, perhaps leaked to him by Jefferson, though more likely released by former House clerk John Beckley, a Jefferson ally.  He published the documents and further editorialized the affair, lambasting Hamilton’s moral standing and falsely accusing him of corruption.

Hamilton responded in a lengthy pamphlet that he assumed would end the confrontation and restore his stature — after all, the same defense and revelation of facts had ended Monroe’s intrigue.  Unfortunately, the pamphlet, in which Hamilton admitted the sordid details of his affair but denied all allegations of corruption, reached a mass audience and that audience assumed Hamilton’s moral indiscretions exposed a rotten character.  Callender’s efforts, funded by Jefferson, thoroughly disgraced Hamilton.



Differences Aside

And yet, when it came to the tied 1800 election, Hamilton put his long-standing rivalry and antipathy towards Jefferson behind him and fervently wrote Federalist congressman urging them to make Jefferson, not Burr, president.

Hamilton worried that the country would suffer, that the government would be subverted or otherwise harmed, by “an unprincipled man [who] would exploit public passion.”  He warned of a latter-day Catiline, the Roman senator who tried a populist uprising against the Republic.  Burr’s populism — he was the first (vice) presidential candidate to canvass for office and helped establish the first political machine in New York — and ambition made him such a man.

Federalists believed that Burr, who held few core principles and profited from the Hamiltonian economic system, would maintain the Federalist program.  But Hamilton, who did so much to consolidate government and design the Federalist programs, willingly sacrificed their rollback for character in the presidency.  “Great Ambition unchecked by principle…is an unruly Tyrant,” he wrote.

“As to Burr there is nothing in his favour. His private character is not defended by his most partial friends. He is bankrupt beyond redemption except by the plunder of his country. His public principles have no other spring or aim than his own aggrandisement per fas et nefas. If he can, he will certainly disturb our institutions to secure to himself permanent power and with it wealth.”



The Lesser of Two Evils

Jefferson, on the other hand, had greater ability than Burr and was not “zealot enough to do anything in pursuance of his principles which will contravene his popularity, or his interest. He is as likely as any man I know to temporize — to calculate what will be likely to promote his own reputation and advantage; and the probable result of such a temper is the preservation of systems, though originally opposed, which being once established, could not be overturned without danger to the person who did it. . . . Add to this that there is no fair reason to suppose him capable of being corrupted, which is a security that he will not go beyond certain limits.”

“He is of a temper to undertake the most hazardous enterprises because he is sanguine enough to think nothing impracticable, and of an ambition which will be content with nothing less than permanent power in his own hands.  The maintenance of the existing institutions will not suit him, because under them his power will be too narrow & too precarious; yet the innovations he may attempt will not offer the substitute of a system durable & safe, calculated to give lasting prosperity, & to unite liberty with strength. It will be the system of the day, sufficient to serve his own turn, & not looking beyond himself.”

“The truth,” Hamilton wrote, “is that under forms of Government like ours, too much is practicable to men who will without scruple avail themselves of the bad passions of human nature.”

Hamilton put his hatred towards Jefferson and concerns over the longevity of his system to support a candidate with character fit to be president, eschewing his party in the process.  He recognized the dangers posed by a self-serving individual without ideology of which to speak and no clear attachment to the constitutional system.



How Republicans Can Learn from Hamilton

Republicans should learn from that.  Donald Trump has no interest in protecting the Constitution — in fact, his actions as president have undermined it through violating the foreign emoluments clause, the domestic emoluments clause, undermining the separation of powers, and trying to erode the First Amendment’s protections of free speech and press.

Obviously, Trump is not fit for office.  He promotes falsehoods, lies to the American people, and blunders about without a clear understanding of policy, domestic and foreign.  About 1/3 of his presidency is spent on properties he owns, mingling with donors and lobbyists who pay companies in which he maintains a financial stake hundreds of thousands a year simply to have access to the president.  The Founders never wanted such a businessman to be president because that individual would have innumerable conflicts of interest and act on in a self-serving manner; the fears Hamilton had of Burr come true in Trump.

Trump’s authoritarian minded.  He has offered a tacit endorsement of political violence and degraded political discourse through slander, libel, and countless lies told about the opposition.

Our institutions do constrain him, and that’s a testament to the efforts of Hamilton and other Founding Fathers to create precedents of separated power and checks and balances, not risking the early republic for personal or factional interests, but instead recognizing the gravity of their decisions.  Precedents can be overturned and the normalization of an authoritarian president coupled with weak congressional opposition does not bode well for the country going forward.

Hamilton acted for the country, not for himself.  He worked ceaselessly to protect the country from the dangers of ann ambitious and self-serving character.  Republicans need to learn from Hamilton’s actions and recognize that our country would be best served by abandoning Donald Trump.

If Republicans want to be glorified as Hamilton has, if they want to protect the American republic, they would do well to deny Trump the 2020 GOP nomination and, if he claims it, unite behind a Democrat for the sake of our nation.



For more on election of 1800 and the histories of Hamilton and Jefferson, checkout Gordon S. Wood’s “Empire of Liberty.”  Click the image to buy.

hamilton jefferson
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lamar smith

Lamar Smith is Everything Wrong with Today’s GOP

Lamar Smith, Republican representative from Texas’s 21st congressional district, which covers parts of San Antonio and most of its northern suburb/exurbs, showcases the vast ignorance and hypocritical desires for censorship of ideas it dislikes that has corrupted today’s Republican Party and turned it into an illiberal organization of national embarrassment and worldwide disrepute.

Somehow, Lamar Smith ascended to the chairmanship of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology despite having no scientific background and standing athwart the tide of scientific progress.  He’s used his chairmanship to harass scientists and promote conspiracies, delusions, and outright lies to the American people.



Lamar Smith Denies Science

A prolific climate change denier, Lamar Smith claimed that an Obama-administration report on climate “intended to frighten Americans into believing that any abnormal weather we experience is the direct result of human CO2 emissions.”  A whopping 97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans have caused climate change.

Smith believes in the so-called “global warming pause,” a theory which cherrypicks data to argue that temperatures haven’t actually risen in the years since 1998.  Of course, this theory is utter bogus and finds support only among the scientifically illiterate buffoons hell-bent on promoting pseudo-science and undermining the intelligence of the American people.

lamar smith pseudo science
What pause?



He thinks peer-reviewed scientific findings using methods he cannot begin to comprehend have actually been fudged with public scientists “altering the data” to “advanced [the Obama administration’s] extreme climate change agenda.”  Again, 97 percent of all climate change scientists disagree with Lamar Smith, who has received more than $700,000 in campaign contributions from energy companies.

Speaking of peer-review, Lamar Smith isn’t a fan of the system that verifies scientific findings and maintains the high-quality of published research.  Smith wants to overhaul how the National Science Foundation (NSF) applies for and is awarded grants for scientific research.

Politically-Motivated Scientific Censorship

Currently, the NSF has two existing criteria for grant applicaitons: Intellectual merit and broader impacts of the research.  These two prongs encourage research freedom and promote ideas that benefit all fields of study.  Politics do not influence grant application and awarding, a clear must as politically-motivated science will never have rigour and credibility.



But Lamar Smith wants all research grants awarded solely by what the House of Representatives — a chamber dominated by Republicans entirely resistant to science and its findings — defines as in the national security interest or which help boost the economy.  This will naturally preclude most social science research and other explorations into important subjects that help us understand our society and guide policymaking in ways unrelated to what Lamar Smith finds useful.  Research into climate change would of course be stopped.

To boost his lost cause, Smith had committee aides go to the NSF and review its grants and research, ostensibly to find wasteful use of taxpayer money, but obviously to exert political review of the scientific process.  Quite clearly, this entire affair reeks of attempted political censorship on science simply because Lamar Smith and his unenlightened colleagues detest the results of peer-reviewed, high quality science.



Authoritarian Inclinations

Such desires for political censorship have continued, with Lamar Smith, at a conference held by the Heartland Institute, which prides itself as being the organization most resistant to climate science, expressed support for punishing “scientific journals that publish research that doesn’t fit standards of peer review crafted by Smith and the committee (although he didn’t say how that would be accomplished).”

Lamar Smith wants science to be beholden to political interests.  NO science should be conducted that may challenge his bizarre worldview; no research can be of merit if doesn’t align with what Smith finds important.  Authoritarian and totalitarian countries try to control science and its findings.  The Soviet Union infamously did so to further its propaganda.  No country benefits when science must be politically correct and controlled by ignorant bureaucrats — no society remains free when the government controls all it dislikes.

In what way is this anything other than an attempt to limit the intelligence and knowledge of man to the doctrines the Republican Party finds acceptable?



2017 elections

The 2017 Elections Bode Well for Democrats

Democrats made large gains in the 2017 elections

The 2017 elections have seen a large swing to Democrats vis a vis their results just one year ago.  Special House of Representatives elections held in ruby-red, long uncompetitive districts have seen Democrats come tantalizingly close to major upsets.  While Democratic wins remain elusive, victories only tell half the story: The near-20 point swing towards Democrats in the 2017 elections indicate that 2018 may very well be a landslide year.

Chart 1 shows that the Republican margin in each district fell, on average, by 17.7 points.  Democrats dramatically improved upon their 2016 House showing, due in part to an energized base, an unpopular Republican president, and a national swing to Democrats, as evidence by congressional generic ballot polls.

2017 elections
Chart 1: Though Republicans won, the 2017 elections show a definitive trend away from Republicans.

Kansas 04

Donald Trump clobbered Hillary Clinton by 27 points (60-33) in the 84 percent white district.  Since 2002, the closest congressional race saw the Republican candidate win by 22 points.  Clearly, Democrats are traditionally not competitive in this R+15 state.



Yet Democratic candidate James Thompson lost to Ron Estes, then the Kansas State Treasurer, by only 6.8 points, a dramatic turnaround from both the 2016 presidential and congressional results.  Overcoming a 15 point structural disadvantage would be incredibly difficult — clawing back some 9 points and forcing high-profile Republicans to make campaign appearances deep in the GOP’s heartland shows that Donald Trump’s historically low approval among the American people can make competitive safe seats.

Montana At-Large

Montana has a weird dynamic: It happily elects Democrats as senators and governors, but opts for Republicans at the congressional and presidential level.  Since the state has one district, the constituencies are the same at each level.  In 2016, it elected a Democratic governor while overwhelmingly voting for Donald Trump and then Representative Ryan Zinke.

Thus, when Greg Gianforte, who lost the gubernatorial race in 2016 decided to try again in the 2017 elections, he stood as the overwhelming favorite.  His opponent, Rob Quist, had no political experience and was not a particularly gifted candidate.  But the race soon tightened, prompting Donald Trump Jr to venture to the state in hopes of propping up the millionaire Republican.

On Election Day eve, the race took an unexpected twist when Gianforte assaulted reporter Ben Jacobs.  This act of violence threatened to tilt and already close contest to the Democrat, but Gianforte survived due in large part to the early vote: Around 2/3 of Montanans had voted before the incident.  A poll taken on Election Day showed movement towards Quist, but not enough to overcome the already-cast ballots.



Still, the race showed Democratic competitiveness well away from diverse urban centers, which, along with the KS-04 results, portends a diverse House battleground in next year’s midterms.

South Carolina 05

The race to replace for House Freedom Caucus member Mick Mulvaney flew under the national radar.  Mulvaney won the district by 21 points in both 2014 and 2016; Trump underperformed Mulvaney but still won by 18 points, better than his numbers from South Carolina as a whole.

Yet Democratic challenger and political novice Archie Parnell nearly pulled a dramatic upset, falling just shy of defeating state representative Ralph Norman.  Parnell benefitted from the race remaining local, allowing the candidates to compete without millions from outside groups being spent or with visits from high-profile officials.  The non-nationalized race shows an energized Democratic base and a Republican base in need of massive investments in time and money to be driven to the polls.

Georgia 06

The most expensive House race in history drew extraordinary national attention and saw a campaign season last longer than many countries’ national elections.  Democrats pinned their hopes on former congressional aide and documentarian Jon Ossoff whereas Republicans opted for Secretary of State and former gubernatorial and senatorial candidate Karen Handel, a well-known politician.

For once, high turnout hurt Democrats.  Ossoff failed to improve on his Round 1 results because turnout in the R+8 district that in 2012 voted for Mitt Romney by 23 points.  He did, however, dramatically improve upon his 2016 Democratic predecessor, meaning he attracted some Republican support to pull 48% of the vote.



When a heavily Republican district experiences general election level turnout for a special election, Democrats suffer.  The other 2017 elections show that Democrats are energized to vote — lower turnout in GA-06 likely would have meant Republicans staying home.  Instead, Republicans spent tens of millions of dollar and sent Trump administration officials to the district to spur turnout.  And given there are more Republicans than Democrats in GA-06, it follows that more voters would mean more Republicans voting for Handel.

What do the 2017 elections mean for 2018?

The 2017 elections may leave some Democrats discouraged, but they needn’t be.  Across the board swings towards the party coupled with high base turnout and lagging Republican turnout indicates that 2018 will be a swing year.  If the 2017 elections Democratic swing is applied to all districts, Democrats will walk away from the midterms with a hefty majority.

Of course, such a pronounced swing is unlikely to happen.  But the results largely echo the aforementioned generic congressional ballot polls.  Taken together, Democrats — as of this writing — may well see a 6-10 point swing across all House districts.  That would be enough to make them the majority party.  Furthermore, the competitiveness of the 2017 elections in a diverse swarth of districts shows that Democrats will have many battlegrounds in their quest for 2018.

Conclusion

Don’t be discouraged by losses.  Recognize the political environment and the pronounced swings to the Democratic Party.  Be encouraged for the midterms.  Keep organizing, mobilizing, and persuading.  These results point to a great election ahead.

georgia's sixth district

Georgia’s Sixth Special Election Prediction

Ossoff the Slight Favorite in Georgia’s Sixth

My model projects that Jon Ossoff will receive 50.14% of the vote on Tuesday’s special election, which, when factoring the model’s margin of error, translates to a 51.00% chance of victory.

The model relies on a few variables — Donald Trump’s low approval rating, generic congressional polling the currently favors Democrats, Georgia sixth’s partisan voter index (PVI) as calculated by the Cook Political Report, and 2016 district presidential election results.

georgia 6 2016

This aligns with recent polling that has Ossoff a couple of points ahead of Republican challenger Karen Handel and with analyst consensus that Ossoff heads into the election as the favorite.

Ossoff has raised more than $23 million in his attempts to win the seat vacated by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price who, in 2016, won the district by 23 percentage points and once held by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.georgia 6 education

Georgia’s sixth congressional district is the most-educated district to be represented by a Republican; it has transitioned from a Republican safe seat to the most obvious example of evolving political coalitions: As the educated become increasingly Democratic, suburban districts throughout the country now offer Democrats a narrow pass to the House majority.

georgia 6 race

An Ossoff victory in Georgia’s sixth would be a further example of a national shift towards Democrats that could lead to a strong midterm showing in 2018 unless President Donald Trump improves his presidential approval rating.  It might also scare Republicans from similar districts long unworried about reelection races (other vulnerable Republicans may be encouraged to retire if Ossoff wins).  At its extreme, an Ossoff win might push Republicans into taking a harder stance on Trump and the man scandals surrounding his presidency.

Of course, that the race is competitive and has become the most expensive House race in history points to new national battlegrounds and Trump-caused problems for Republicans.  A victory or narrow Ossoff loss doesn’t change that; a victory would, however, drive media coverage and hand Democrats a much-desired win for their resistance movement.