The Democratic Base and Winning Elections

If you want to understand American politics, take a look at the House Districts that Democrats held continuously between 2011 and 2019. What you will find unites them is that in nearly all of them, the Democrats in those seats won with over 60%, and often over 80% of the vote. While Democrats won nearly half the vote for the U.S. House, and actually more in 2012, they won a minority of the seats in Congress. Some of this was a direct result of gerrymandering. Even if you unpack gerrymandering, the problem is that Democratic base voters largely live packed together in cities and inner suburbs. Highly educated white voters, single women, African-Americans, non-Christians, Latinos, Asians, and the LGBT community largely live in urban enclaves. The result of these voters becoming the backbone of the Democratic coalition is that Republicans are virtually non-competitive for any major city Mayoral race in America. The flip side of that coin is that Republicans have controlled the U.S. House for 20 of the last 26 years.

If you understand the geography of American politics, and the demographics, you understand everything. You understand why Bush and Trump could both win without majorities, and why Trump might win again. You understand why Democrats struggle to win majorities in the House and Senate, even when they win more votes. And of course, you understand the impending demographic hell awaiting Democrats in 20 years, when half the country lives in eight states. The big, diverse, broad coalition Democrats have built may in fact grow substantially bigger, but they probably are destined to be ruled by a not-so-diverse minority of regressive thinkers, as things stand.

The American Constitution was not written to support majority rule, but frankly to protect the rights of states, communities, and minorities of the population from doing things they didn’t want to do (to be read at that time as slavery, but later desegregation and other awful stuff). While many on the left have come around to realizing the system is rigged against them electorally, none of them have really come around to any sort of realistic changes. Abolish the electoral college? Abolish the Senate? These ideas require Constitutional Amendments, which require a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of Congress, or by ratification by two-thirds of the states (38), either in the legislatures there of or a constitutional convention. Good luck there. Some suggest packing the Supreme Court the next time Democrats get power, but remember, the Republicans will do the same the next time they’re in charge too. There’s no quick, easy fix to our system of government.

Now that I’ve laid out the demographic, electoral, and constitutional hell lying ahead of the American left, let me make you feel a little bit better. Democrats can win elections to change things for the better. There are three living former Democratic Presidents who managed to win fairly large electoral college majorities. Hillary Clinton would have won an electoral landslide in 2016 with just 500,000 more votes spread out correctly across Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona. Democrats won the House in 2006, 2008, and 2018 under our current rules. Democrats controlled the Senate for part of 2001 and 2002, and again from 2007 to 2015. Unless you’re convinced Russia can hack voting machines and change votes, Democrats can actually win some elections and make change that way. It is possible, but maybe not the way you want to win.

One of the most common, and fair laments of progressives is “why do Republicans listen to their base, and Democrats don’t.” It’s a fair question, but one that takes us back to geography and demographics. The average Democratic Congressman wins by a larger margin than Republican ones, even in fairly drawn districts. This is a nice way of staying the obvious- Republican districts (their base) has more in common with competitive districts (the 40 that Democrats won in 2018) than Democratic districts (our base), demographically speaking. They’re whiter, more practice religion, more are married, and more own homes than rent- to name a few things. Democrats did well in 2018 by focusing their appeal to these voters on issues like health care and education, rather than proposing large scale wealth redistribution and social justice programs that polled well among the base. These are the types of voters who would support Bill Clinton’s abortion position of “safe, legal, and rare,” but might cringe at going further. There’s probably a sizable group in these districts that gave Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton negative approval, but also say they disapprove of “socialism.” To put it bluntly, they’re not big fans of “extremes.” Republicans have seen some erosion of their support in these communities in the era of Trump, but they didn’t buy into the full Democratic base vision either. Democrats have always needed to maintain some base of support beyond their base to win elections. Before it was “Blue Dogs” and with electoral realignment it is the upper middle-class suburbanite. They’re not out at marches and demonstrations, and they’re alarmed by extremism in both parties. They’re demographically more like Republicans, but socially lean left. They don’t want their taxes raised, but they want their government services functioning. When push came to shove in 2016, many of them voted demographics. In 2018, Democrats clawed them back.

What this means, both in Presidential and Congressional Elections, is that Democrats are prisoners to the middle more than Republicans, both because of geography and demographics. It also means that the voters most loyally supporting Democrats are quite a bit different than those last voters that Democrats need to win over. It creates a natural tension between social and economic progressives and the politics in the swing districts. This manifests itself on issues like impeachment, where the base is near unanimous in support, but the issue lacks majority support. The same snag can be hit on issues like immigration, where there is broad agreement that Trump’s position is bad, but more ambitious Democratic positions don’t poll well either. The base wants and needs different things than the voters who hold the key to majorities. In short, elections are a tough business.

I have real doubts about theAmerican future right now. On the one hand, we may just end up in a hellscape, where a regressive minority rules a progressive majority. We also may end up with an overly pragmatic, successful Democratic Party wins elections, but perpetually fails to satisfy or excite the passions of their most enthusiastic voters. The third option? I don’t know, but it’s probably pretty ugly.

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The Post-Kawhi NBA

In the past five years, the Golden State Warriors have been in five NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been in four, and Toronto has the lonely other one. In other words, 27 other NBA cities have been watching the finals as uninterested spectators. Before that, Miami went to four straight finals, playing San Antonio two straight years, and Oklahoma City and Dallas the two previous trips. That’s seven teams in the last nine years.

After Kawhi Leonard chose the Los Angeles Clippers at 2am on Saturday morning, bringing Paul George with him, the league is wide open. There are at least seven teams in the West with a chance to win the championship, with at least another five trying to put an improved product on the court. In the East, Milwaukee and Philadelphia appear to be the favorites, but there are at least seven or eight other teams battling to be playoff teams this year, and maybe get in the way. For the first time in a long time, there’s close to 20 teams trying to win this season, and probably less than five trying to pick first. That’s a dramatic change.

So how do I sort out the league right now? Here’s how I see the title chances…

  • The Beasts of the East- Milwaukee did lose Brogdon, which will hurt, but they had the best record in basketball last year, they have the reigning MVP, and they’re mostly coming back. Philadelphia swapped out Jimmy Butler for Josh Richardson and Al Horford, and improved their bench depth dramatically over what finished last season for them. These two teams open as the favorites in a dramatically less top heavy East. The path to the finals isn’t totally clear (Indiana can potentially complicate things), but this is the least crowded pathway to the mountain top.
  • Under Pressure Out West- I cant wait for the first LeBron-AD vs. Kawhi-PG game at the Staples Center. For the first time ever, both LA teams are expected to win the championship at once. You know what though? Golden State starts the season with three returning All-Stars, and will get a fourth back later in the year, so they’re expecting to win too. Oh, and as long as Harden and CP3 are both in Houston, they are expected to get a ring too. None of these teams get a break.
  • The Emerging Western Elite- One can’t fault Portland fans for being excited about a Western Conference finals team bringing back their top star on a max deal, while keeping their core together. Denver had the second best record in the West last year and expects their young team to only improve. All Utah did was bring in several major upgrades to their young line-up that was emerging as elite over the last two years. All three of these teams expect to compete with the big four this year.
  • The Crowded East- If Indiana can get healthy, they can challenge in the East. Does anyone think Toronto or Boston will fall way off this season? Nah. Brooklyn is at least a year from competing for a title with Kevin Durant likely out this season, but Kyrie and DeAndre Jordan will immediately improve them. Orlando finished strong last year, and they kept their best two players, so look for more improvement there. Detroit will look to keep Blake Griffin healthy to improve on their playoff appearance. Miami didn’t pick up Jimmy Butler to watch the playoffs, and they might not be done. As long as Bradley Beal is in Washington, they at least have a chance at the playoffs.
  • Fighting for a Playoff Spot Out West- When is San Antonio ever not at least decent? They’ll be battling to get back to the playoffs like last year. Sacramento’s young vote just missed the playoffs, and they’ll want in. Dallas has a couple of very young stars, and they want to get in on this too. New Orleans will want to start the Zion era in the playoffs. If Westbrook isn’t traded, Oklahoma City can’t help themselves but to contend for a spot. Minnesota is a year removed from their young guys getting to the playoffs, and they’ll want to get back quickly. Even young Phoenix, who had a puzzling Summer, has to think they want to contend.
  • Playing Out the Schedule- I thought about moving Atlanta and Chicago out of here, but give them one more year. The Knicks, Cavaliers, and Charlotte shouldn’t have much in aspirations in the East though. Memphis is the only team not trying this year, out West.

This should make for a fun year.

Give Me Nancy Over AOC Every Time

Nancy Pelosi is taking more than her share of grief from the far left right now for stating the obvious- real politics isn’t twitter. She was mad that AOC, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley voted alone against the House Democrats border supplemental spending bill, then voted against the Senate bill too, and criticized House leadership for caving. Pelosi fired back with “All these people have their public whatever, and their Twitter world.” Pelosi then continued with “But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people, and that’s how many votes they got.” The internal fault lines of the House Democrats are on display.

This is not a new fight. In one of the very first votes of 2019, AOC joined Ro Khanna and Tulsi Gabbard in voting against the rules package. AOC once voted with the GOP against re-opening the government during the shutdown, because the bill funded ICE. AOC joined up with Tlaib, Pressley, and Omar to vote against the 2020 Appropriations bill for Labor and Health and Human Services, putting them in strange company with more conservative Democrats Colin Peterson (MN), Ben McAdams, and Denny Heck. Obviously their stated reasons were different, but for the four freshman “progressives” they claim it was opposition to the Hyde Amendment remaining in the legislation. Never mind the hypocrisy. Never mind ending the Mexico City Policy (Global Gag Rule).

This is not the extent of the AOC lead internal battles. Her spokesman stated this week that “the greatest threat to mankind is the cowardice of the Democratic Party.” No, really. But that’s not all. AOC wants to see Caucus Chairman, Black Caucus member, and fellow New Yorker Hakeem Jeffries face a primary. Yes, really. On impeachment, AOC claims it has more support within the freshman class than publicly stated, and that progressives are frustrated with Speaker Pelosi. Yes, really.

I think it’s about time we call it as it is, and stop trying to make it anything but- AOC is pretty much a younger, non “white dude” version of Bernie Sanders. She is not “loyal” to the party, but rather views herself as a leftward critic of leadership. She’s sponsored just two pieces of legislation so far, neither of which has passed Congress, one of which was a resolution and wouldn’t have the force of law, and on the Green New Deal, she bungled the roll out. So basically, passing legislation is not her thing. Also, voting for legislation, if it’s less than perfect to her, is not ideal. Critiquing the Speaker though? That’s her jam.

AOC is using her seat in Congress for advocacy work, rather than legislating on the behalf of her constituents. If that’s what the people of Queens and the Bronx want, they are certainly free to re-elect her. Don’t hold this up as a blue print for America though. AOC, like Omar, Tlaib, and Pressley are all freshmen, but all represent seats that Democrats held before the 2018 Election, unlike the 40 seats Democrats picked up that were held by Republicans after 2016’s Election. Those 40 freshmen were running on far less divisive messages, like protecting Obamacare (not voting against the Health and Human Services appropriations bill, like her) and defending traditional Medicare. They may have talked about raising the minimum wage or expanding green energy development, but they weren’t going as far as AOC. They couldn’t. The Democratic Party can’t, unless it plans on going back to pre-2018’s 180 seats where they win 60% or more in the districts, but fail to win majorities. Those 40 new Democratic members can’t afford to legislate like AOC. They didn’t run on her agenda, because they would just lose.

Nancy Pelosi is not an advocate, she’s a legislator. She’s the woman who came to Congress and advocated for those suffering from HIV and AIDS. What does that mean? From her House website:

Armed with the lessons of San Francisco’s model of community-based care, Congresswoman Pelosi worked to accelerate development of an HIV vaccine, expand access to Medicaid for people living with HIV, and increase funding for the Ryan White CARE Act, the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), the Minority HIV/AIDS Initiative and other research, care, treatment, prevention and search for a cure initiatives vital to people living with or at risk for HIV/AIDS.

In 1989, Pelosi, along with Rep. Jim McDermott and then-Rep. Charles Schumer introduced the AIDS Opportunity Housing Act, which led to the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA)initiative – an essential lifeline for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Legislating is about action. It’s about passing bills. For Pelosi, that’s passing the last minimum wage hike in our nation. It’s passing H.R. 1. It’s passing the Affordable Care Act. It’s passing Dodd-Frank. It’s usually about swallowing some things you don’t want in a bill. Sometimes it’s about being responsible, and even if you don’t like a piece of legislation, passing it any way because otherwise children sleep on concrete floors, with no blankets, soap, clean clothes, or toothbrushes. I know it can feel smart to simply say no if you don’t like something, but who do you leave behind? Someone leading a major party in Congress, you have more obligations than to your own ego and ideology. So while you may want to impeach a bad President, you may realize it’s not wise- both because he’ll never get convicted, and it will kill your party in the next election. Legislators have to get things done. Leaders have to have better judgment than to just do what the Twitter mobs want. Nancy Pelosi legislates and shows that judgment. Is it always perfect and satisfying? No. Adult life isn’t either though.

So back to the top, “the left” attacking Speaker Pelosi and supporting AOC- give me Nancy 100 times out of 100. I’d much rather have a responsible adult leading the Democratic Party, the first woman to ever lead any branch of the United States Government. I have faith that Speaker Pelosi has the best interests of the people of our country in mind. I have faith that she will get the best deal possible under any circumstances, and that she understands how to get things done in Washington. I don’t believe any of this about AOC. I believe she knows how to get television cameras to follow her, how to create memes, and how to get re-tweets. None of that is legislating, or leading. I’ll take a hard pass.

A Fair Minded Look at the Phillies at the All-Star Break

If the season was over today, the Phillies would be on the way to Washington, DC to play the Nats in a Wild Card match-up between Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola. The season is not over today though. The Phillies are 47-43, in third place, and trending downward. They are both a playoff team at the moment and a team who feels like everything is wrong. It is confusing.

The Phillies have the same record as the Cubs, a legitimate contender. Before you get excited though, that’s the story of the whole National League. The only teams more than five games out of the playoffs right now are the Marlins (13), Mets (7), and Giants (5.5). While the Phillies have lost 9.5 games since June started to the Braves, and over 10 to the Nats in the standings, it’s important to note that only the Dodgers, Braves, and Nationals have really played all that well in that time. This is a free for all.

The problem for the Phillies though is that their issues run deep, particularly at the starting rotation. Aaron Nola (8-2, 3.74 ERA, 110.2 IP, 1.8 WAR) is increasingly looking like the top of rotation young Ace they banked on. Zach Eflin (7-8, 3.78 ERA, 100 IP, 1.1 WAR) looks like a capable mid-rotation arm in the majors too. Then what? Jake Arrieta has continued his regression since coming to Philadelphia, and now may need elbow surgery to remove a bone spur. As much as Arrieta was disappointing, he’s been the only other major league caliber arm that you could trust to go out every fifth turn and eat six innings. After a brief hot spurt after returning from the minors, Nick Pivetta produced a 7.33 ERA over his last four starts, reverting to the early season form that got him sent down. It looks increasingly like it’s time to give Pivetta a look in the bullpen, as it has been time to do with Vince Velasquez for a while. Neither are looking like major league starters. Jerad Eickhoff is once again hurt, after pitching himself into and out of the bullpen. AAA starters Enryel de los Santos and Cole Irvin have been unable to stick with the club either. At a bare minimum, the Phillies need two major league starters to sustain themselves in a playoff race.

The line-up has taken some deserved abuse, but let’s take a deeper look for a second. Here are some of the key lines at the break:

  • Bryce Harper- .253/.370/.470/.840, 16 homers, 62 RBIs, 2 WAR
  • JT Realmuto- .273/.328/.438/.766, 10 homers, 42 RBIs, 2.8 WAR
  • Rhys Hoskins- .263/.401/.530/.931, 20 homers, 59 RBI, 2.5 WAR
  • Jean Segura- .278/.322/.447/.769, 10 homers, 40 RBIs, 2.1 WAR
  • Scott Kingery- .292/.344/.545/.889, 11 homers, 27 RBIs, 1.6 WAR
  • Cesar Hernandez- .285/.339/.420/.759, 7 homers, 40 RBIs, 1.3 WAR
  • Jay Bruce- .243/.292/.575/.867, 24 homers, 57 RBIs, 1.4 WAR
  • Maikel Franco- .227/.296/.413/.709, 13 homers, 41 RBIs, -.2 WAR

Where would you like to upgrade? Sure, Franco has been his volatile self, but with Alec Bohm looking like a 2020 arrival at third base, are you getting more than a stop gap piece for the year? Cesar can drive you nuts sometimes, but are you in a rush to trade a .285 hitter in a market where you won’t get a massive package back? Sure, you’re looking forward and seeing a team with Bohm at third, Kingery moving back to his “home” at second, and Adam Haseley and/or Mickey Moniak sliding into your outfield and you’re excited, but this group is really not too bad. Next season you’ll get Andrew McCutchen back too, which should really help. Even Brad Miller and Sean Rodriguez have done respectable jobs from the bench. About the only complaint you could have is that Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, and Aaron Altherr have all been terrible offensively as fourth outfielders. Andrew Knapp isn’t swinging a great bat, but this is what true back-up catchers give you.

All of that leads to the bullpen. Hector Neris has been mostly great as a closer. The problem has been behind him. David Robertson, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, and Seranthony Dominguez have all missed substantial chunks of the season, weakening the 8th inning. Victor Arano has been hurt, Edubray Ramos has stunk, and Juan Nicasio and Jose Alvarez have been exposed when pushed into bigger roles.

Can a team with less than five big league starters and a busted bullpen hold it’s position as a playoff team. They’re certainly capable, it’s possible. I would give them less than a coin flip’s chance though. They need to pick up some pitching, and based on the state of the system, pitching they can keep beyond this season. I’m not sure they should overpay for it though. Mortgaging the whole future for anything less than a home run doesn’t make sense for such a flawed team.

The Phillies and the Mirror

As June began, the Phillies were three games up on the Braves and ten games up on the Nationals. Today is July 5th, and the Phillies are 6.5 games back of the Braves and a half game behind the Nationals. One could essentially argue the Phillies season could be split right at the point Andrew McCutchen tore his ACL, pre and post, but it would not be fair to blame that for even most things that are wrong. This team’s flaws are deep, and they are not simply any single dramatic move away from being fixed.

The offense certainly doesn’t deserve even the bulk of the blame for this team’s struggles, but it can’t be absolved either. Bryce Harper is on pace to set a career high in RBIs, hit close to 30 homers, and post about a 4 WAR season, and yet you can argue they needed more. The season has been quite streaky for Jean Segura and Cesar Hernandez, while JT Realmuto has been steadily good, but not great. Odubel Herrera’s poor play and personal issues, and the persistent struggles of Maikel Franco have done a number on this line-up’s consistency. McCutchen and his replacement Jay Bruce have been steady surprises. Rhys Hoskins is on pace to post a 35 homer, 100 plus RBI, north of 4 WAR season. And yet with all of this, the offense is disappointing. John Mallee seems to just be getting an adequate performance from a line-up expected to dominate. Many players are not meeting their norms. The bench lacks depth. In fact, if you remove Scott Kingery’s breakthrough season, the offense is disappointing. How does Mallee have his job?

The Phillies do not have a major league starting pitching staff, and their bullpen has had more talent on the injured list than throwing in the seventh and eighth innings. Aaron Nola is rounding into ace form, in July. Zach Eflin has shown himself, last night not withstanding, to be a solid mid-rotation starter. Jake Arrieta is basically a $25 million innings eater at this point. Vince Velasquez is not a Major League starter. Nick Pivetta shows flashes, but the start that got him demoted and the 7.33 ERA over his last four starts suggests he needs a bullpen look soon. Post injuries Jerad Eickhoff just doesn’t locate his fastball or get his curveball below the bat enough. None of the highly successful AAA arms look capable. Robertson, Neshek, Morgan, Hunter, and Dominguez, all key parts to the bullpen, have missed significant time. That’s caused Nicasio, Alvarez, Ramos, and others to be exposed as incapable of high leverage seventh and eighth inning appearances. The Phillies let 2018 pitching coach Rick Kranitz walk to Atlanta in the off-season, giving the job to Chris Young. Young said the rotation’s young guys would be fine with him. It’s hard to defend the job he’s done.

All of the falls together on Gabe Kapler. His coaches are his coaches. The team has had several instances where players didn’t hustle, a Kapler issue. The team refuses to play “small ball” at all, a Kapler issue. The team hit an awful swoon last August and September, and collapsed. This June they hit another slide they have yet to really emerge from. Kapler has yet to show he can fix the flaws of his team. It’s hard to defend him, given the influx of talent he received.

And if the Phillies want to go be buyers to fix their problems, what would they even offer? The prospect pool is pretty shallow. Just two of their prospects appear in MLB’s top 100. Trading out of their top 5 is likely to do serious harm to the 2020 team, given their current levels. The AAA team has fallen off a cliff, and most of the others aren’t contending for the post-season either. Just two of Matt Klentak’s draftees have made the majors so far. Two. 2016 #1 overall pick Mickey Moniak has flashed some brilliance in AA this year, but following a scorching hot June, he just went on the injured list.

The hitting is underwhelming, the pitching is hurt and bad, the coaching is questionable, and the minor leagues are bare- when do we start blaming Matt Klentak? While it’s clear that all of these things need to be fixed, do you want Klentak to even be allowed to oversee that. He hired Kapler. He traded the emerging JP Crawford. He let Kranitz go for Young. He gave money to Carlos Santana and Michael Saunders, and signed a declining Arrieta. He drafted all these guys not good enough to make it. Is Klentak and his team who you want to fix this team? The guy who thought this pitching staff was good enough? Really?

So I guess that leads all the way up- Team President Andy MacPhail, and the man who hired him, team managing partner John Middleton. The team they have has enough raw talent to be good, but clearly needs a full cleanse to put the people in place to fix it. Does it stop at adding a player or two? Replacing a coach or two? A new manager? A new front-office? Ultimately it falls on John Middleton, a man who has been willing to sign over gigantic sums of his own money to players in an effort to try and win. How far up the chain is this thing rotten? How many changes are needed? Who does he have confidence in to get things right? With all of the tough decisions awaiting, who does Middleton trust with his money, to fix this thing and put the Phillies back in the post-season?

Because let’s be serious- if this team looks in the mirror, they’re not a playoff team right now.

America the Beautiful

They came from Slovakia, Lithuania, Germany, England, Switzerland, Hungary, and others. They left behind the comfort of the status quo. They left behind their families and lives. They came to places like Clifton, New Jersey. They came to places like Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. They came to New York City. Their names were changed at Ellis Island and in courthouse naturalizations after decades. They are my forefathers. They are my relatives. They’re why I’m here.

One joined the Navy, the other the Air Force. My grandfathers weren’t the only ones in the family to serve in our armed forces though. Here state side, they’ve served in township governments, worked for the states, and served the county. They found this country worth serving. That’s just another piece of why I’m here.

They worked in factories, garages, and prisons. They lived in apartments, suburban acre homes, and over top of bars. Some died with pennies, others with small fortunes. Some were here in colonial times, others came here in the roaring 20’s. Their stories are all different, but they all ended up here. In America. Living in this country as Americans.

I’ve never been ashamed to be an American a day in my life. Why would I be? My family never owned a slave or argued for segregation, though I acknowledge that to be a real disgrace in our history. My Catholic ancestors were more likely to be targets of the Ku Klux Klan than members, though I know what they did. America did terrible things, like the “Trail of Tears,” but it also put a man on the moon, defeated fascism in World War II, and advanced the creation of the internet, flight, and electricity. Every day, America does objectionable things and great things. Are we any more one than the other? I guess some people would argue we are. They can only do so because they live in the nation that created the very concept of the First Amendment.

The United States is far less than perfect, as is any nation created of humans. The standard is not perfection though, nor can it ever be such. When I sit around and have a beer with my friends who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, I don’t see Colonialists. When I sit and have dinner with legislators and elected officials I work with, I don’t see corporate shills. When I talk with fellow voters in my town, I don’t see heartless, greedy, self-interested people. To be fair, I am looking on them in a positive way. They will make mistakes. They will say the wrong thing. We all should try to get them to be better. But I do think most people do the best they can. Some times that’s better than others.

This is not a plea to ignore children in cages, or other objectionable actions by our government. It’s more a plea for those who share my political persuasion to not give up on your neighbors, your community, and your country. Don’t be over the top. Don’t be vindictive. That is not a pathway to a better future. It’s a downward spiral to nothing. It’s to ignore our actual past, in favor of a less than 3D view of our people, past and present. It’s to not appreciate the actual country that made you and put you here, to argue the battles you need to fight right now. Don’t do that to yourself.

How Trump Gets Re-Elected

It’s 3am, the wee early hours of Wednesday, November 4th, 2020. You’re continuing to click refresh on the New York Times/Politico/MSNBC’s election results site, trying to make sense of the results. Donald Trump has been re-elected, despite losing the popular vote by a record margin for a victorious U.S. President, a margin the commentators are saying “will approach 5 million votes.” Democrats narrowly came up short of re-taking the Senate, winning 49 or 50 seats, but narrowly coming up short in three other pick-up opportunities. While it looks like Democrats will hold the House, they will lose seats, and Donald Trump is claiming a mandate. There are real fears that Trump will not only get to replace Clarence Thomas on the high court, but also liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The commentators talk of impending doom for Democrats on television.

You watch as ugly scenes break out in the streets of several major U.S. cities. The cable news shows continuously show the crying faces of young campaign workers at the Democratic nominee’s election night party. While this time they didn’t schedule a fireworks show to cancel, the look of shock seems to be hanging on the faces of Democratic pundits all night. How could they be so wrong? Democrats won nearly all the individual issues in the exit polls. Turnout was up among the electorate at large, reaching 140 million for the first time. Minority and youth turnout even went up. How did this happen?

By the slimmest of margins, Trump held onto Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona, six states he held by under 500,000 votes in 2016. Trump also managed to flip Minnesota and New Hampshire, and still may flip all of Maine to go with his ME-2 victory. While he lost New York and California by record margins, and saw his margins in Texas and Georgia shrink, Trump seemed to hold on in all of the swing states. His growing margins in red America enabled him to get to 46%, losing the popular vote by 4%. The Democratic nominee is being savaged by pundits for going too far left, while their defenders point to increased turnout and margin as proof that the nation wanted change.

It’s all you can do to watch the clips of Trump’s defiant victory speech and not scream at the television. What happened to America? It just doesn’t feel fair.

**********

I’m probably not as excited about the 2020 field of Democratic Presidential candidates as most people reading this. I like something around a dozen of them. I also think only something like 3-5 of them are electable. Half of the 24 candidates have a roughly 0% chance of being nominated, and should not have been allowed on a debate stage (I’m looking at you, Tom Perez). We still have the non-Democratic cancer from Vermont in our primary field to wreak havoc, and he still won’t promise to support the nominee without pre-condition. I can see the fault lines that could shift beneath our feet.

We have a front-runner who can’t get out of his own way. We have another who has a “white paper” for everything, a treasure trove for GOP operatives to cherry pick and misrepresent. We have another who has twice said she would kill private insurance altogether in her advocacy of Bernard’s “Medicare for All” plan, and the requisite tax increases. Mind you, these are three candidates I really like, and would happily vote for, both in the primaries and general election. But our first set of debates not only featured the whole field saying they would give undocumented people health insurance on the government dime (without the opportunity to explain why that’s smart policy, no less), but had a debate over 1975 busing policy, complete with a states rights position and one candidate basically calling the other a cop. It wasn’t our party’s strongest hour.

The Democratic Party definitely is moving left, for a variety reasons- misreading Bernie’s success in 2016, addiction to grassroots fundraising from online activists, a falling share of elder white voters and rising share of other groups, and the natural propensity of Democrats to want to move left after tough defeats. The debate put that on full display. The group think in DC is that Hillary lost because she didn’t excite “the base.” Hillary did of course win the popular vote by 3 million votes and get more votes than anyone not named Barack Obama in our history. 2016 turnout was also record breaking. Hillary’s margins in places like metro Philadelphia and Wake County (Raleigh) were historic though, and suggest the group think. Hillary lost because virtually every swing voter broke against her at the end of the campaign, thanks to a lot of factors. What you have to ask yourself is this: do you think those swing voters were mad Hillary wasn’t further left? If you punt on those voters, can you really find enough new voters in the base to offset that? The answer may not be what you like.

Maybe a more useful question to ask is *who actually makes up the electorate in the swing states?* In the swing states Hillary won- Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada in particular- a good chunk of the “rising electorate” of minorities and youth is present. In states where she lost or dramatically underperformed President Obama- Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Maine particularly- millions of older white and moderate voters switched sides or turned out as new voters for Trump. The states of North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona are all states that were very close and have both characteristics in them- but they all went for Trump. It would suggest that if both parties pump up their base, Democrats will win the popular vote comfortably, but probably not the election. The Trump base is what exists more widely in the swing states. If Democrats want to win the electoral college, they will have to persuade some people not in live with the party.

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Donald Trump can be re-elected, and he won’t need a majority to do it. That’s the breaks of our federal system. He can do it by inciting fights over the Betsy Ross flag, school busing, women’s soccer players that 80% of his base never heard of (and 100% instinctively dislike), and immigration. It’s all culture wars, maybe 10% policy, and it requires little to nothing in thought. Trump will call it all “socialism”- identity politics, tax increases, and big spending- and his base will eat it up. We already saw this happen in this year’s Wisconsin Supreme Court race.

While Trump himself is incapable of coherent policy statements, it’s important to understand the ideological shift he represented. He moved himself into the space politically we might call “Gephardt Democrats.” He attacks global trade deals as being anti-worker (even as he makes them worse). He echoes past Democratic rhetoric on immigration, saying “illegal immigration” hurts wages (though we know he doesn’t care about that). He talks of wanting to avoid war through diplomacy with North Korea (and Russia), echoing in his own incoherent way non-proliferation talk. It sounds like Democrats of only a generation ago, even if it’s all nonsense and jibberish. Meanwhile he gets out of the way as more progressive Democrats tear down Democratic leaders of just a few years ago, from Bill Clinton to Joe Biden. A lot of the “Trump-Obama” voters liked those guys and voted for them. Now they hear major Democratic candidates trash them, and the positions of the “Gephardt Democrats,” and they come away with the impression that Democrats are at least as crazy as the Republicans. As Trump sounds a nationalist alarm, he sounds at least like he “cares” about them, to them, while Democrats argue whether they should even bother with them. The results are a small, but catastrophic shift across the swing states towards Trump. Sure, he’s losing Manhattan and Chicago by record-setting margins. He was going to lose them anyway. He only cares about the voters in the states that matter to his electoral pathway.

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To be clear, I do believe the Democrats can and should win in 2020. Donald Trump’s approval is not very high. It doesn’t take much to flip six states in 2020- for less than 500,000 votes, Democrats could win over 330 electoral votes and deal Trump a crushing defeat. With a half decent campaign, Democrats could take the whole government, actually. I’m just not betting the house on it. Impeachment, a hijacked message from younger House members, more debates with fringe figures and subject matter like the first one could derail 2020.

Like I said, don’t bet the house on it.

From “Trust the Process” to “Team to Beat”

As I write this, I have no idea what team Kawhi Leonard will sign with. I also don’t care. I have no doubt that Kawhi would make the Raptors, Lakers, or Clippers a serious contender to win the 2019-2020 NBA title. I also think the Philadelphia 76ers can beat any of them, regardless of where he goes. They’ve assembled that good of a team.

How do you lose a player as good as Jimmy Butler and still get better? You get Josh Richardson for him. You use his cap space on Al Horford. You keep Tobias Harris. You keep Mike Scott. You bring in Kyle O’Quinn. You draft Mattise Thybulle. You get Zhaire Smith back on the court. Of course you go and still lock up Ben Simmons too. Then you bank on Ben and Joel Embiid improving. Are the Sixers complete? No. They still could use a shooter or three, and a back-up point guard. But free agency is not over. Their cap space is not entirely exhausted. And the NBA playoffs are almost a year away yet.

This team is absolutely huge. They will be an absolute terror on defense with their length and defensively inclined bench. Obviously this team will only win if Ben and Joel improve the flaws in their games and stay healthy. There are always “if’s” in sports though. If they pick up a shooter or two, they are as set as a GM can make his team.

So it’s time to move on from a “process” mentality. The time is now. The Bucks and maybe the Raptors (with Kawhi) are certainly threats in the East, and you can argue any number of West teams (especially Golden State, Utah, both LA teams, Portland, and Denver) might be a challenge- but no one is clearly better than Philadelphia anymore. The stars aren’t rookies anymore, they know the core now. The Sixers are now the team to beat. They just have to go prove it now.