Jonathan Chait

Last Night In Wrong, Self-Referential Edition

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1. Jonah Goldberg wrote last night:

So far, I haven’t heard a single Republican talk about impeaching Obama. Meanwhile, Chait, Kos, and Ed Schultz are all talking about it like Robert De Niro and the B-3 bomber.

I haven't talked about impeachment in a long time. Apparently this is a reference to my TRB column from a month ago. Let me reiterate the argument of the column. I did not say that Republicans were running on a platform of impeachment. I did not even write that they'd impeach Obama in 2011. I wrote that, if Obama wins re-election, Republicans will impeach him should they retain control of the House. The argument was that they'd use the investigative apparatus controlled by nutcase Darrel Issa to come up with something impeachable. Obviously, running around declaring you're for impeachment before you have your scandal is pretty self-defeating.

2. Noemie Emery is angry and confused by my post from last week, citing a paper that predicted a 45 seat GOP gain purely based on Democratic exposure and economic growth. Here's Emery:

Jonathan Chait comes up with three new excuses; first, that the trouble had been preordained: "Midterm elections, huge Congressional majorities spread deep into hostile territory, a presidency that began at the outset of a financial crisis, is a recipe for a wipeout," he says. Well, he didn't come in at the start of the crisis, but otherwise that explains FDR's "wipeout" in the 1934 midterms down to the ground.

Then Chait comes up with a "model" (from where?) explaining that a 40-seat loss would not mean Obama had done something wrong. "It's worth keeping in mind ... a clear sense of what we could expect if the president's policies and political strategy made no difference," he tells us. "You need to establish what 'wrong' would look like. That's probably a 50-seat loss.

In 1982, Ronald Reagan, at 42 percent approval with 10.2 percent unemployment, lost 28 House seats, which was considered a "thumping." Elsewhere, he said that the real problem afflicting the measure was ... malaise in the liberal base.

Okay, here's what I wrote:

Political scientist Douglass Hibbs has a model of the election. It takes account of three factors:

1. The presence of a midterm election, which generally results in losses for the president's party.

2. The incumbent party's "exposure" -- the more seats you hold, the deeper into hostile territory you're stretched, and the easier it is to lose seats.

3. Personal income growth, which heavily influences out-party behavior.

The model does not include presidential approval rating. Indeed, it doesn't include anything other than structural factors. That model predicts the Democrats will lose 45 seats in the House.

I think this made things clear. If you factor in the number of seats held by the majority party -- obviously, the more swollen the majority, the easier it is to lose seats -- and personal income growth, you predict a 45 seat gain for the GOP. Since she found this unclear, let me recap Emery's questions:

--"Well, he didn't come in at the start of the crisis, but otherwise that explains FDR's "wipeout" in the 1934 midterms down to the ground."

This is sarcasm, intended to prove that governing during a time of falling personal income growth doesn't mean you necessarily lose. Great point. I bet those fancy political scientists never thought of it. Except, wait -- personal income skyrocketed by 12.7% in 1934! So she hasn't even cherry-picked an example that cuts against a trend. She's cherry-picked an example that perfectly embodies the trend.

--"Then Chait comes up with a "model" (from where?)..."

Like I wrote, it comes from political scientist Douglass Hibbs. He's a political scientist, Ms. Emery. That means he studies things like elections. With numbers and stuff. You wouldn't understand.

--"In 1982, Ronald Reagan, at 42 percent approval with 10.2 percent unemployment, lost 28 House seats, which was considered a "thumping." Elsewhere, he said that the real problem afflicting the measure was ... malaise in the liberal base."

I don't understand what the point here is. If she's saying that 28 seats was lower than 45, well, that's why the model accounts for how many seats the president's party controlled going into the election. Republicans controlled just 166 seats after the 1982 election.

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