Joe Biden's Chances and Jim Webb's Drop Out

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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I usually do an item on candidates when they drop out of the presidential race, as Jim Webb did yesterday, but it’s hard to see any larger lessons here. Winnowing works, yes, but Webb appears to have been less winnowed than (as Jamelle Bouie points out) never really ran in the first place. If you declare a candidacy but don’t actually campaign, are you a candidate? He claims to be thinking of launching an independent bid, but getting on ballots is hard, at least in many states; it’s hard to see how that happens. At any rate: It takes a particular kind of gall to claim, as Webb did in his drop-out announcement, that Congress has allowed itself to become too weak -- when he gave up his Senate seat instead of trying to fix the (very real) problem.

1. Dave Hopkins on Webb.

2. At the Monkey Cage, Michael Albertus argues that autocrats can redistribute land, but democracies don’t. Interesting research. I disagree, however, that James Madison’s goal in the Constitution was “shielding landowners and businessmen.” In my reading, Madison wanted to protect minorities in general.

3. Also at the Monkey Cage: Jesse Richman on the electoral hazards to the majority party in Congress when it controls the agenda too strongly. I haven’t read the underlying paper, but those effects seem awfully strong to me -- although the basic story sounds correct.

4. “We should have uniform standards for elections, automatic registration with anti-fraud checks and national voter identification provided by the federal government.” Rick Hasen at the Los Angeles Times on the growing divide between Democratic and Republican states on voting laws, and what should (but won’t) be done about it. I fully agree with his analysis and solution.

5. Joe Biden theorizing from Sean Trende at RealClearPolitics. Sensible -- but whatever Biden thinks he’s doing, I’ll stick with the idea that functionally he’s running for understudy.

6. Plum Line’s Greg Sargent reminds everyone: Since the problem wasn’t John Boehner, replacing Boehner with Paul Ryan won’t fix things.

7. Meanwhile, Reid Wilson reports on what the Freedom Caucus is demanding on reconciliation. In case you’re wondering: Yes, it’s totally nuts to believe that there are any electoral effects of defeating a bill by veto compared to defeating it by filibuster.

8. Republicans get ready to gun for Donald Trump. Byron York at the Washington Examiner has the details. I doubt that negative ads would backfire (although it is possible), but either way, my guess is that the best thing Republicans could do to defeat Trump is to unite around a single candidate.

9. Good conversation from the FiveThirtyEight gang on Trump’s chances. They overrate him in my view (giving him a 4 to 7 percent chance at the nomination), but the analysis is otherwise fine.

10. Dan Drezner on Star Wars and catastrophic success. I’m not tempted to jump into a Star Wars discussion based on a trailer of a movie we won’t see for two months. Really I’m not.

11. And Alyssa Rosenberg on the Star Wars trailer. Did I mention that I’m not at all tempted to start writing about it? Good.

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Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

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Maria Lamagna at mlamagna@bloomberg.net