Uncle Joe’s Politics of Yesterday

I’m a huge Joe Biden fan. He’s one of the most fun politicians I’ve met along the way. Of all the national Democrats out there right now, his “brand” is the easiest for me to identify with. I do believe that if nominated, he would flip Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, at least, and probably win a hard fought, narrow election. I haven’t made the leap yet to support him mostly because there are a few other candidates I like at least as much.

Joe Biden can be frustrating though. His botched flip-flop on the Hyde Amendment should have been a positive for him, and it wasn’t. The Anita Hill hearings don’t move many votes at this point, so why not admit it wasn’t your best hour and apologize to her. This guy is plenty progressive enough on the issues, for me to vote for him in a general election, but why not just address the easy stuff, and show people how decades in the Senate and eight years as Vice-President caused you to grow?

I generally admire that Joe Biden has some bi-partisan street cred, but I find myself flummoxed by his recent talk that Republicans “will change” with Trump gone. Biden was Vice-President in the Obama Administration, the first administration in my lifetime to get absolutely zero bi-partisan assistance. Yes, Biden has a commanding personality, but why does he think that will move them more as President than it did as Veep?

I’ve thought about it a bit, and tried to get into his head. I’ve come up with a few potential reasonings in his head for this.

  1. Joe Biden knows the GOP can’t be eliminated from American politics, so he will try to do outreach, however futile it seems. A lot of Democrats have spent the last decade predicting the GOP’s doom. The results? Donald Trump, eight years of House control, and going on six years of Senate control. Massive control over the states, and gerrymandering to accompany that. Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. How’s that “destiny” coming along? Demographic and voting trends are coming together to produce over three dozen states where the GOP could build durable majorities. Their judicial control could last a long time too. The Republican Party not only isn’t dead yet, but won’t be any time soon. Knowing that something will always exist in the conservative space of American politics, Biden is seeking some level of influence over it. The culture wars of American politics, at least since 1968, have energized conservatism and divided Democrats. Biden is trying to calm some nerves and perhaps make defending Trump less essential to moderates and marginal conservative voters.
  2. The last 50 years of social warfare have been bad for the country, and for the Democrats- so he’s going to try to stop the fall. From Richard Nixon forward, American government has been less and less effective. Since at least 1994, gridlock has been the natural status quo in Congress. Not coincidentally, the power of the Democratic Party has become less and less. Democrats have been characterized as social change agents during this time period, and it has resulted in pretty consistent conservative governance. With his “return to normalcy” message, Biden believes he can dull that Republican advantage. He hopes that the momentum from winning this way will allow him to govern the country as President. His hope is that this gives an out for “his friends” across the aisle to work with him on some things. Wishful? Sure. But, not entirely insane.
  3. He understands the Democratic Party has about half it’s voters who want to turn the political temperature down. About half of Democratic voters want a moderate nominee for President. Many of us absolutely recoil when we hear AOC being put forward as the voice of the party. There are absolutely a lot of voters in the party who felt left out of the 2016 primary war between various leftward factions, and they *may* be enough to constitute the base of a nominated candidate. By simply not chasing Bernie ad the field left, Biden can essentially get them by default. Only one or two other candidates are even really trying to court them.
  4. He knows the people unhappy with him aren’t his primary voters anyway. Let’s be honest, if you said you’d never vote for a white man in 2020, or that President Obama didn’t push far enough left, or you’re generally a Twitter activist, Joe Biden was never going to be your first choice for President. Wasting his time pandering for votes he’s not getting anyway would probably only increase the acrimony. His hope is that he can build a plurality for now, and achieve a majority once the field shrinks to two or three candidates. It’s really his only pathway to the nomination.
  5. There were Trump voters who just couldn’t quite stomach Hillary, and his strategy is to win them. Winning the primaries and losing the general election isn’t all that appealing for a former Vice-President. He has to think about a general election too. In 2016, Donald Trump out performed both his poll numbers and his approval polling on election day. This means there was at least some portion of his 46% that weren’t proud of their vote, they just picked Trump over Hillary Clinton. Polling suggests Trump’s current popularity is around 41-42% of the electorate. Even if Biden wins over 20% of that swing-Trump vote, that could flip anywhere from three to six states. This may not be the “cool” strategy of the Democratic Party right now, but it’s a very viable one.

Now, these are just my guesses on what drives Biden’s politics, however frustrating as they are. It is quite possible that his play to the center of political life in America will ultimately cost him this nomination, even if he really has thought this out this far. With this said, I think it’s important that even those who want someone more progressive at least think through why Biden may be being Biden. By my estimation, there are only four or five candidates I think we can nominate for President that have any chance of being elected. Most of the country is not a Democratic Primary election. Do I particularly believe he can suddenly make the GOP behave in a sane, decent way that it hasn’t since pre-Nixon? I’m suspicious as hell. I’m also suspicious though that the Democratic Party will be a national party in 20 years fighting a culture war. No middle ground might sound nice, but it’s a political dead end.

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When the Idiots Rise

Legislative work is hard. The people who work at the top levels, both leadership members and their senior staffs, are highly skilled operators. They can count votes with the best of them. They know the rules inside and out. They also know how to read a poll. They are, at their core, political beasts. They understand public sentiment, particularly in their endangered members’ districts. They understand how an appropriations bill can help a member, and how a tax bill can kill the same member. Not everything is about getting their absolute way, they consider politics at the core of their decision making, because they understand that when you are losing elections, you lose all political power, because you can’t govern.

Unfortunately, this isn’t true of everyone in the legislative or political processes. In fact, increasingly, most of the folks in the process are clueless to all of this. Restrictive campaign finance laws and self imposed campaign fundraising rules have empowered single-issue interest groups to do the heavy lifting of financing candidates for higher offices. Individual legislators represent increasingly homogeneous, “safe” districts where their chief concern is a primary challenger, so they wish to “represent their districts,” at the expense of party functionality and winning elections on the whole.

It’s out of this climate that most of the people working within the political process arise. Operatives who are increasingly just glorified activists, people living in their confirmation bias bubble. If something in the process gets in the way of their goals, they argue it’s time to blow up the process- regardless of the potential downfall. Some of these folks honestly believe they can have their cake and eat it too, that there’s a way to do whatever you want, and never have to live with the consequences of the other side doing it to them in the future. They have no sense of history, of why certain laws are the way they are. They think compromise is both bad and unnecessary. They think there’s a clear majority for their full ideological agenda. They believe persuadable voters aren’t worth the effort, and aren’t needed anyway. Some of these folks aren’t just low level, rookie organizers. Some are sitting in formerly important jobs, like chiefs-of-staff.

Gerrymandering and voter self-sorting, flawed campaign finance systems, significant barriers to working in the political system for “commoners,” and confirmation biased media are just a few of the poisonous factors destroying our politics. This “fantasy land” of politics has created a situation where some stone cold morons have risen in our system, and some very bad ideas have become the group think of the enlightened village of Washington, DC. Operatives who couldn’t survive five minutes in a swing district or a swing state read off of polls they don’t understand and pontificate about how the answer to electoral woes in those areas is to either ignore them or do more of the prescription they wanted to do in the first place. They talk of national trends in a nation with no national elections. They talk of what the base wants, when they can’t build a base that constitutes a majority in swing districts and swing states. They talk of issues that draw passionate responses at rallies, but can’t build a winning coalition out in the states. They’re, in a word, clueless.

What’s worse though? These voices find followings among the passionate activist class. You hear people say they really wish Nancy Pelosi, the most effective political leader in the Democratic Party right now, should be more like freshmen members of her caucus who haven’t passed a single major piece of legislation yet. You hear activists defend legislators who can’t pass legislation of any kind by attacking the process and “the establishment.” It’s like a cancer of ignorance is spreading on our politics.

Believe it or not, political gravity still exists. Most voters are not as ideological as those of us in the process are. In fact, the best rule a political operative should live by is a pretty straight-forward one: we are all weird. Those of us inside the process don’t represent a majority of anything. It’s why we so often fail to inspire the mass uprisings of the people we espouse wanting. I would argue right now that our politics simply don’t connect to most of the people. The result is a rising idiot class leading our politics right off of a cliff that will not be pretty for our future.

The American Left and All the Wrong Lessons Learned in 2016

To hear it be told, Hillary Clinton lost because she couldn’t turn out enough base Democratic voters. To hear it be told, she couldn’t turn them out because she didn’t have the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party, she must have run as a pro-corporate shill. Turnout wasn’t way up over 2012. She didn’t win the popular vote. She didn’t get the most votes of anyone not named Obama ever. She didn’t run abnormally high numbers out of Philadelphia, or win it’s suburbs, or win a huge number out of Wake County (Raleigh), or cut the margin in Texas by a million votes (mostly by turning out new Latinos), or hit all the early vote numbers in Florida that she supposedly needed to win. By that matter, all the unabashedly progressive candidates in swing and red states won in 2016 and in 2018 by running to her left, and Senator Feingold is calling on Minority Leader Schumer to step aside and let AOC show us how it’s done in the Senate!

Sssssttttttttttaaaaaahhhhhppppp it ya comedian!!!

The new logic out of socialists and social justice lefties alike is that any candidate running for President that moderates (they’re all basically looking at you Joe, even if they’re boo’ing Delaney and Hickenlooper off the stage) is damned to lose, because that’s what Hillary did, or at least she did it in their story, so now we need to not do it again. To hell with the majority of Democrats wanting a moderate. To hell with how poor impeachment polls, do something, Nancy! It’s time for Democrats to push left. We want to believe Hillary didn’t push left, even though she did, and we want to blame her not giving us a pony for her defeat. Got it? Never mind that she was the more liberal primary candidate on domestic policy in both of her campaigns for President. To hell with facts.

Even if we take them at face value, does being perceived as moving left actually work? Sure, AOC got elected in a district in Queens and the Bronx, and some other unabashedly liberal new members have won in Silicon Valley, Detroit, and the Twin Cities lately, but what’s that got to do with winning nationally? How did Russ Feingold do in Wisconsin? How did moving left end up in Florida, Georgia, or Texas last year? Did Bernie actually lose the nomination by 15%, or was it just under? How has Medicare-for-All done at the ballot box, like say in Colorado in 2016? Did Ben Jealous win? I could go on.

Hillary Clinton did about as well as could be expected at turning out the Democratic base in 2016, given the circumstances. No one can be expected to follow Barack Obama and match his numbers in some key constituencies. She had serious baggage from a quarter century of attacks on her character. She wasn’t the kind of natural politician Obama or her husband were. She was the first woman nominee, and did face serious sexism. Bernie did inflict damage on her with the left. There was a Comey letter. Wikileaks happened. Her campaign did make some major strategic mistakes. Russia did act against her. Despite all that, she basically matched President Obama’s 2012 raw vote count. She did win the popular vote by nearly three million votes and two points. Despite everything, Hillary Clinton did well by every metric that wasn’t the important one- the electoral college.

Let us be clear, Hillary Clinton won astounding victories in big blue states like New York, California, and New Jersey. She made up significant ground in large red states like Texas, Arizona, and Georgia by turning out new voters, particularly non-white voters. Turnout in the 2016 Election was at a record high. Enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton, pure passion that turns out voters, was high. She did appeal to blue state America, as was evidenced by her raw vote numbers and margins in the blue bastions of America. Let’s stop beating around the bush here- Hillary Clinton did not lose because of, nor did she have a problem with turning out the base of the new Democratic Party coalition of non-white voters, unmarried women, and educated white voters. There’s no evidence that taking more progressive positions would have appeased the Berniecrats and far leftists. There’s no track record that those policies are any more electable in big statewide contests that decide the Presidency.

So why the hell did she lose then?

If Hillary Clinton had a special electoral problem with any specific group of voters in the electorate, she had it with swing voters in swing states. For the most part, it could be summed up as “Reagan Democrats,” though that’s probably too general in description. These voters are pretty common though in some of the swing states she narrowly lost- Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin obviously, but also Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Iowa have plenty of the non-college educated, traditionally Democratic white voter. Maine, New Hampshire, and Minnesota only narrowly avoided flipping for basically the same reasons as well. It’s too generalized to call them all “Reagan Democrats” in the traditional sense, because there were different religions and even to a small extent races and genders involved in this subtle movement. They were mostly white though. They were in some cases Obama voters. They were less ideological voters. They were less partisan. They mostly didn’t live in center city of a major metropolitan city.

There’s absolutely no evidence that moving leftward will move these voters. History tells us that these voters aren’t overly moved by policies- they supported action on climate change and Obamacare in 2007 and 2008, before opposing those policies in 2009 and 2010, but re-elected President Obama in 2012. John Kerry won nearly every issue in the 2004 exit polls before losing the election. Again, they’re not ideological.

So what did they not like about Hillary, or for that matter John Kerry or Al Gore? For one thing, they found her, and them, to be less than authentic. They didn’t believe they would “fight for them.” They were all questioned on their honesty and integrity. They were all called “boring,” and lost the “would you like to have a beer with this candidate” question. All were viewed as smart and qualified, but lacking in integrity and charisma. Go back into the 1980’s, and even the 1970’s, and it typically holds up. Contrast this with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, both of whom won twice, and both of whom were viewed like rockstars by the public.

What about Barack and Bill though- were they progressives? In truth, they were on some issues, but both basically ran as center-left candidates. Neither of them made overt appeals to leftists. While Barack did benefit from being anti-Iraq War and Bill was viewed as pro-working class, neither did much of anything to reach Nader or Stein voters. So would Hillary have benefitted from going harder left? Considering she had the “most progressive” party platform in history, and still lost some of their votes, I think we already know the answer to that. Winning elections, for Democratic Presidential candidates, has had nothing to do with presenting bold, left policies.

Every losing Democratic nominee since Humphrey has faced questions about their honesty, their authenticity, and their ability to connect to voters. Every winner has been likable and authentic. All three Democrats who have won the White House in that time were center-left to centrist. All three were likable and were coming in to fix a mess. The trends are clear, and none of them are matching up with what the American left seems to want 2020 to be about.

Of course, one of our great talents in the Democratic Party is never understanding why we actually won. We look at 2008 and 2012 and want it to be about the “rising new electorate,” while not admitting to ourselves that the Obama campaign was successful in ruthlessly tearing down the McCain and Romney tickets in the swing states, essentially winning them all. We want 2008 to be purely about our success in electing women, rather than looking at who those women were- veterans, prosecutors, corporate attorneys, and other professionals in traditionally male-dominated businesses- a collection of tough women that swing district voters liked.

So now the working theory of the lefties at the Justice Democrats and in AOC’s office is starting to largely sync up with the working theory that governed headquarters in Brooklyn during Hillary’s campaign- we’ll grow our way out of this political mess. It’s cheaper, more efficient, and allows us to move our message left if we target turning out more people like the voters we win now, growing our base. Chasing swing voters forces us to equivocate on some issues, costs more, and is harder. It makes Democrats feel better too, it forces no self-reflection on how we’re doing and if we’re contributing to a destructive political culture. We can be loud and proud, and believe the future will be better for us.

This future is an electoral hellscape though. In 2020, Texas is still a million votes away (based on 2016), and Georgia is still a reach. The battleground map, at a minimum still runs through Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona, Ohio, and Iowa, all states that Trump won in 2016. Meanwhile the Trump campaign will zero in on flipping Minnesota, New Hampshire, Maine, New Mexico, and Nevada, and may even get a few. The Senate map for 2020 is narrow too, and offers the Democrats a half dozen real opportunities to flip three seats, most of which are in swing states. In the long term, perhaps Democrats do eventually turn Georgia and Texas blue, while Arizona becomes a swing state not unlike Nevada or North Carolina. But do Republicans turn Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Maine into red states?

The future isn’t going to be won this way. Following the AOC’s of the world, on policy, politics, style, and substance, will yield popularity in blue districts and blue states, but America is not New York, politically. In 20 years, half the country will live in less than ten states, and close to 40 states will have white voting majorities. Demographics are not destiny. Socialism as an ideology is not the answer. We did very well at what we did in 2016, by every metric not called the electoral college, but building up our base is not a strategy to win Wisconsin. It’s not even necessarily a strategy to win Florida. For one thing, you have to go to swing voters and actually campaign to them. Two, you need to authentically talk values, not just give them increasingly less realistic policy proposals that aren’t going to pass Congress. Being “bold” about things we can’t deliver isn’t going to solve much.

Political parties are a collection of what they want to be though. If the Democratic Party wants to be incapable of consistent electoral victories when we don’t have a JFK like talent, we’ll get our wish. Putting forward a likable, authentic, realistic Presidential candidate in 2020 will get us much further than throwing red meat to our base.

Demographics Won’t Save Us

Three facts:

  1. America is roughly a quarter century from the projected point where white people are no longer the majority.
  2. In 2040, roughly twenty years from now, half the country will live in eight states (CA, TX, FL, NY, IL, PA, NC, GA).
  3. When the country becomes majority-majority, at least 37 states will be majority white. That’s total population. Even more states will likely be majority white voters.

With those three facts, I think it is safe to say that demographics are not destiny. In 2020, demographics are a very real threat to actually doom the Democrats. Considering how far we are from reaching the point where current demographic politics tilt the other way, it’s fair to say that many of us will never see that day.

It’s also important to remember all the danger that can get done along the way. We’ve already seen the Voting Rights Act gutted of much of it’s enforcement powers, and now we’re seeing a real attempt to drive down Latino participation in the census by adding a “citizenship question.” If the Trump Administration is successful at curtailing legal immigration through draconian methods, including ending the lawful act of seeking asylum as we know it, the demographic future Democrats spoke of in the Obama years may be dramatically different. Couple all of this with Trump having won white millennials, and you can see the storm clouds.

All of this leads me to my main point here- Democrats shouldn’t rely on demographics saving them in 2020 or beyond. They need only look at their 2018 message and coalition to see their path forward to winning elections. It’s not division, but actually a broad agenda of progress. It’s not choosing who gets progress, but offering progress to the whole nation. This is hard for many activists, who deeply want to see accountability for the current disaster that is the GOP, and it’s voters. That’s a road to nowhere though. That’s not understanding why we lost in 2016. That’s believing that being right is more important than being practical. We should reject it.

Some Democrats Have No Idea Why They Lost In 2016

To hear my boss in North Carolina tell it, he actually thought we were going to win the Tar Heel state for Hillary Clinton deep into the night of November 8th, 2016. The numbers from Mecklenburg, Wake, Durham, and Orange Counties, the backbone of Democratic power in the state, were hitting voter turnout and performance targets. Turnout was high statewide, presumably a good thing for Democrats. But it wasn’t enough. Democrats lost the battleground state by slightly less than 175,000 votes in the end.

In my native Pennsylvania, the story was similar. Hillary Clinton’s margin out of Philadelphia was greater than either of Bill Clinton’s, Al Gore’s, John Kerry’s or anyone else who won the state not named Barack Obama. She carried all four of Philadelphia’s “collar counties,” the former backbone of Republicans in the state, and in some cases carried them substantially. She carried Allegheny County (Pittsburgh area) by a margin exceeding President Obama’s. She carried places like Dauphin County (the state capitol) and Centre County (Penn State), something unthinkable when Gore and Kerry were carrying the state. Turnout was very high across the state. Like North Carolina, Hillary spared no efforts to win the state, visiting constantly.

The list of examples showing the same thing is fairly substantial. Hillary campaigned hard in Florida, and exceeded the early vote numbers that she was expected to need in almost every metropolitan area. She lost the state very close. Turnout was high, her margins in the cities were impressive, and yet every swing state seemed to break the same way. Yet the myth persists- Hillary’s campaign didn’t do enough to motivate the base Democrats and they didn’t do enough to spike turnout among “marginal” voters. Some Democrats insist that we must do this better to win in 2020. The facts would argue that we did this pretty well in 2016, AND that there may be only limited ability to do this better in 2020. Just about every candidate running would be lucky to match her performance among the base in 2020. I know, it’s a sobering thought, but the facts say this conventional talking point is wrong.

There’s also an equally false myth out there about Donald Trump- that he motivated tens of millions of new white “hillbilly” voters to turn out. Let me let you in on a little secret, he didn’t. Trump got a little less than two million more votes than Mitt Romney, which with the increased voter turnout, made for a 1% drop in the Republican share of the vote. Trump got the same percentage of the vote as McCain did in a blowout loss in 2008, which means he basically got the population growth difference. This may shock you, but basically if Clinton has received 49% instead of 48%, she probably would have won six more states, and an electoral blowout (provided they weren’t all in the big coastal blue states). Donald Trump actually had no special turnout machine, his margin was not a bunch of new white Republicans. His victory was actually fueled by key crossover Democrats in the swing states, and people disgusted with both that picked third party candidates.

The bitter truth is that Democrats lost the 2016 not because they didn’t do enough to motivate the base voters in Philadelphia, Cleveland or Charlotte, but because of voters they lost in Eastern North Carolina, Northeast Pennsylvania, Eastern Iowa, and suburban Milwaukee. Our ability to win them back isn’t the only factor that matters in 2020, but it is a very big one.

About Electability

We are now far enough into the 2020 Election that I can feel comfortable saying this- stop dismissing electability. To be clear here, this is not to say you should accept overly basic, thoughtless analysis that says only a white man can beat Trump, but if you’re going to make an argument that runs contrary to current head-to-head polls, it should not begin with “don’t discuss electability.” The fact is electability is literally the most important thing in the 2020 primaries, and it has to be a concern. If you’re a Democrat, and you happen to believe that representing Democratic voters is actually an important thing, then you have to win elections. Parties that lose elections don’t get the power to do anything. Period.

Polling right now suggests that Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke are the most electable candidates. That’s powerful evidence. While I despise him, Bernie Sanders does overcome cratering personal numbers yet, when matched up with Trump (For now. Wait until the negatives start.). This isn’t the final and definitive say on electability though. You can argue, for instance, that while Amy Klobuchar is a relative unknown yet today, her winning track record in Minnesota shows an electable candidate. You could argue that Kamala Harris has a track record of winning major statewide elections, and will mobilize Democratic base voters better than anyone else. You can argue that Pete Buttigieg’s campaign has been the best run to this point, and his ascent shows a special talent that is unique. Argue whatever you want. Don’t try to skip out on an electability argument though.

Beating Donald Trump is actually, most likely going to be really hard. Elections this century suggests that a Republican nominee starts with a floor of 46%, regardless of who they are, or what they run their campaign on. Democrats start at 48%, but are totally capable of losing the electoral college to a Republican holding their base, at this level. President Obama won his elections with 53% and 51%, and still was winning most of the swing states fairly close. It’s worth noting also that while he did turn out the base, he also spent hundreds of millions of dollars appealing to blue collar white voters by beating the bejesus out of McCain and Romney on the economy in swing states. Democratic Presidents have to be able to do two things at once to win an election. If they can’t both energize Democrats and win over the bulk of the 6% of the country not in either column to begin with, they will lose the electoral college. Full stop. Losing candidates can’t protect your health care, keep children out of cages, or do anything at all about climate change.

Maybe that electability thing actually does matter, doesn’t it?

The Likely Outcome of Impeachment

It was over a decade, but John McCain’s percentage of the vote should be familiar to you- he got 46% of the vote. McCain is generally viewed as an honorable, if flawed man, but had to run against the tides of history- an unpopular war, an economic meltdown, an imbecile running mate, a historic opponent, and most of all, an unpopular President from his own party. Four years later, Mitt Romney had to run against a popular President, with a growing economy, and he managed to bump his performance up to a whopping 47%. In 2016, the Republicans nominated a reality TV star that got caught on video saying “grab ’em by the pussy,” who had bankrupt casinos and stiffed contractors, and was hardly someone that should have appealed to Evangelical voters- he got elected President with 46% of the vote. I’m not a gambling man, but if I was, I would not take the under on Donald Trump getting 46%. It appears to not matter who the GOP nominates- they are getting 46%. Bank it.

It’s this reliability and stability in the GOP’s electorate that allows them to stick by their leaders, regardless of what happens. The Republican Party almost ceases to exist in some of the biggest states in the country, namely California and New York, but their stranglehold on “red” states, and even their enclaves in “swing” states remain solidly in their hands. Even as Democrats spent millions of dollars telling the country how bad Trump was in 2016, it did nothing. Republican voters stuck by him. No matter how terrible he is, he’s better than the alternative, to them.

So you’re going to have to excuse me saying this- no Republicans are coming to the Democratic position on impeachment. Zero. That’s even more clear in the Senate, where Democrats would need at least twenty Republican Senators to cross over and vote to convict. There are not twenty Republican Senators who would be considered “endangered” right now, in fact there are at least 34 that could credibly say the politics in their states favor backing Trump. In other words, you enter the impeachment process with no pathway to convicting the President.

What about the argument that the hearings could change that dynamic? I direct you above, to the part where I told you this President said of women that you can “grab ’em by the pussy,” and the video was released nationally, and he was elected a month later. Exactly what do you think could be said about Donald Trump to diminish him among the 46% that would vote for a turnip to be President, if it were the Republican nominee? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. There is no low, no embarrassment that would change their minds. Nothing. And knowing that, there’s no Republican members of Congress to move. Even for the few you’d flip trashing him, you’d lose others.

What of the argument that the hearings could galvanize Democratic voters? It’s hard to prove either way. What I do know is that we spent 2016 exposing his fraudulent behavior, his vulgarity, his lack of knowledge, and every bad trait that Trump has, and we got 48% of the vote- a lot, more than he had, but not enough. There are limits to how motivating the negatives on Trump are, even to Democratic voters. At least that’s what history tells us.

What harm could impeachment do? When Watergate began in 1972, it wasn’t a broadly popular investigation, nor was Nixon unpopular, but it grew into a movement that eventually pushed him out of office. Not every investigation takes that route, of course. Iran-Contra ended as a dud, having no sizable impact on any election, and largely not sending the principles to jail. The Whitewater investigation into Bill Clinton did end in impeachment, which in turn actually caused the Republicans to lose seats in the 1998 midterm, serving as the modern political argument against impeachment. While Democratic activists passionately want to impeach Trump, the rest of the electorate sits solidly (34-48%) against it– even as they give Trump the lowest approval in that poll of his Presidency. The political will for impeachment isn’t there, and the past shows it to be risky to push through that.

There is a solid argument that says the Democrats must do the right thing, for history, for the rule of law, and for our constitution. Of course, the tricky thing is what “the right thing” is? If there is truly no pathway to conviction of Trump in the Senate, if impeachment may politically help him, is it “the right thing” to impeach the President? Is the possibility of a second Trump term, possibly with a Republican House, and the probability of more Supreme Court appointments worth it? Even if we assume his guilt, which I do, what’s the value in impeaching him with no chance to convict. Yes, it might make me feel good, but what’s that do for the people Donald Trump is actively hurting every day he is in office? Is it worth risking RBG’s seat on the Supreme Court? Risking four more years of inaction on climate change? Risking more children in cages? What risk is too much to pursue something that is almost certain to fail?

Politics can be emotionally unsatisfying much of the time. I have concluded that the odds of removing Donald Trump from office, at this time, are approximately zero. I have also concluded that there is no way to fail at removing the President without paying a political price. It would feel better to impeach Donald Trump, and the Mueller report does show that he deserves it, but I think it’s a losing idea. I’m not against holding hearings, subpoenas for documents, and keeping the door open for impeachment in the future. I think going into that today though is a fool’s errand.

Here’s the good news though- there is another way to remove Donald Trump from office- beating him in 2020. If Hillary Clinton has just received 49% instead of 48% in 2016, she would have probably (assuming they weren’t just more base, blue state votes) won at least four more states, and been elected President easily. She did that against incomparable negativity aimed her way, from the primary season through Election Day. She did so despite the fact that attacking Trump largely did not work. If the Democrats spend half as much time building up their potentially electable candidates as they do looking for a way to make impeachment happen, they absolutely can beat a President who’s approval is at -18%. We can win in 2020. We should win in 2020. We have to win in 2020. It’s really the only way forward.

There’s No Actual Bernie Momentum, So What’s Actually Going On?

Hit pieces on Neera Tanden. Declarations of “victory” over Fox News. Accusations that Democrats are “agonizing” over how to beat Bernie. Even reporters threatening twitter users with “doxxing” for criticizing their work on Bernie:

https://twitter.com/regwag2003/status/1118287071104372736?s=21

Yes, this is real life. It’s not even one incident.

https://twitter.com/katierogers/status/1118239852720533505?s=21

I keep asking myself the same question- why the f**k does the press keep covering for this guy? Like, I come to all the normal “white bread” answers that leave me unsatisfied- they’re hyper educated big city kids that think socialism is cool, they despise the overly secretive “Clinton Washington” crowd, they think the system is broken, etc. I just find that answer quite unsatisfying. This guy gets a pass for his lack of achievements in Congress, his lack of realistic details in his plans, his creepy essays, his lack of a job until he was 40, his hiring a Putin stooge, his bad votes on immigration, guns, and the crime bill, and everything else, from so many reporters. The answers for why this happens fall flat for me. Even things like the investigation into his wife bankrupting a for-profit college, Bernie’s hypocrisy on millionaires, and Bernie failing to vote for Russian sanctions get less ink than Hillary’s e-mails, and always come with caveats. It’s like they’re a part of his press shop. It couldn’t be that Bernie is nothing but an angry, old grifter. Never.

Their advocacy has changed in the past few days, as I noted above. It’s not just advocacy for ole’ Bernard- it’s offensive aggression on his behalf, particularly coming out of the New York Times. It’s an actual effort to enforce a view of the race that isn’t true- the myth that Bernie Sanders has momentum and is the front-runner to be the Democratic nominee. To be clear, he has a chance to win the nomination, provided the field stays divided. He raised the most money in the first quarter, just as he out-raised Hillary Clinton in 2016- but his $18 million haul is not overwhelming and crushing when compared with Kamala Harris $12 million, Beto O’Rourke’s $9 million plus, Pete Buttigieg’s $7 million, or even the $6 million of Elizabeth Warren and $5.2 million of Amy Klobuchar. All of these candidates are less known, and in their first national run. As the field begins to narrow in the coming months, all can improve. On top of this, Bernie trails former Vice-President Joe Biden in nearly every poll, and has seen roughly half of his 2016 support evaporate in the last three years. He’s a front-runner, he might win if he never has to get 50%, but Bernie Sanders has no particular momentum, or recent strength that should back up his supposed “momentum.” All of this reporting is a myth.

So- why? Honestly, I have no idea. I’d love to know why @NYTLiz, @kenvogel, and @katierogers are all racing to aid Bernie right now. Of course they’ll call it a ridiculous accusation. Who would ever question their intentions?

Since Bernie’s Visiting My Home, Let Me Welcome Him…

Bernie Sanders will be about fifteen minutes from my home tonight, in Bethlehem, PA, where I went to college, doing a town hall on Fox News. Given the “help” that the “Bernie Bros” gave me in helping build up a Twitter following of 10,000 people, help received in the form of being put on a hit list and targeted for harassment, I feel like the least of things I could do for ole’ Bernard is to welcome him to the swing area of one of the key swing states, the Lehigh Valley.

Let’s dispense with some of the basic buzzwords we know are coming from Senator Bernard. Yes, the Lehigh Valley was the epicenter of a generation ago’s working class America. Bethlehem Steel, Mack Trucks, and Ingersoll-Rand did employ tens of thousands of people, many of whom were off the boat Catholic Europeans (white working class for those of you new to this.). Thanks to the Steelworkers, UAW, and many of the other major industrial unions that make up the Building Trades unions, thousands of middle class households had a good living. All of those companies are gone though, and while strengthening unions is still a key part of our politics here, other things matter too. What other things? Well, for one, immigration reform is important to our growing Latino population, and to the growing tech industry here (we have over a half dozen colleges). Bernie May want to avoid that subject though, since he voted against immigration reform when he had a chance. The main point though is that there’s bigger issues to us than bringing back yesterday’s economy for the Lehigh Valley, we’ve moved on. Even most of our union members are working on 21st century projects that fit a community that is progressing with the world- so talk to us about that.

We know we’re also going to get a large helping of “Medicare for All,” free college, and “Green New Deal” talk. All are noble ideas, but trouble voters in a swing district suburban area like this. These middle class voters wonder if the tax hikes associated with his Medicare for All plan will be larger than their current costs of premiums, deductibles, and co-pays, not whether or not the total cost is bigger or smaller for our macro-economy. The thousands of people employed by Lehigh Valley Hospital and St. Luke’s hospitals, two of our region’s largest employers, wonder if their jobs will survive under his revamped system, as do all of the folks working in the health insurance industry around here. As I said above, we have over a half dozen colleges and universities in this area, and the employees there wonder what will happen to them if Senator Bernard’s plan for tuition-free college passes. Many, many people in the Lehigh Valley commute to work in North Jersey, New York City, and Philadelphia, almost all by car, and wonder what will change under Sanders’ climate policies, or how he would fund a massive investment in mass transit from this region to those hubs, to get people off the roads. Will Bernie address these concerns tonight? Of course not. He’ll broadly talk about making the economy “fair,” which to these people sounds like they’ll get the shaft when the details get sorted out. He’ll stay at thirty-thousand feet with the details on funding, talking about “taxing billionaires” and cuts to Defense spending and corporate welfare, all great places to start, but folks around here know that’s not enough to get the job done. In short, Bernie will appeal to his base with red meat, and not to most of the people of this swing area of a swing state.

With all of that said, it should serve as no surprise that Bernie’s track record here isn’t so great, politically speaking. In the 2016 Presidential primary, Bernie lost Northampton County (50-47) and Lehigh County (52-47), as well as neighboring Monroe (53-46), despite the fact that Clinton struggled in the region and never even visited during the primary or general election. Not one significant public official on the Democratic side- the Congresswoman, our long-time State Senator, either county’s Democratic County Executive, any of the four major mayors, the District Attorney and Controller in Northampton County, or any of the state representatives in the region have endorsed Bernie in 2016 or 2020. Most of the unions that he will speak about a lot tonight, also backed Hillary in 2016. Bernie has not had much appeal here. Early national and Pennsylvania polling show Joe Biden handily beating Bernie here, and show Bernie’s support as being almost cut in half since 2016. People are waking up to the sham he is.

It’s time to be honest about who Bernie is- he fashions himself as a European style leftist, but really is just a critic of the Democratic Party that lacks substantive answers. It’s all “30,000 feet,” it’s all just about pointing out the compromises Democrats make to get things done, and it’s all preaching to the choir about what he’d do, with no realistic plans to get there. I’m glad he’s campaigning to my home area, but there’s all of a zero chance I’ll support him.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Bernard.

About the Presidential Race, 4/10

I think we’ve almost got the whole 2020 field- really! At this point, we’re waiting on Terry McAuliffe, Steve Bullock, and Michael Bennet to make their decisions, but really we’re all mostly waiting on Joe Biden to shake things up- one way or the other. Stacey Abrams and Seth Moulton still sit on the periphery as possible candidates for now.

While I’ve been watching very closely, I haven’t picked my final horse yet. There are 19 current candidates, and frankly it’s hard to see this race not hitting 20. I do have some generalized feelings though, so I figured I’d share them.

I Really Like a Lot of Candidates

I pretty much knew that I loved several candidates from the jump. I already had made up my mind that I felt positively about Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden before this campaign (add Sherrod Brown here too, though he ultimately didn’t run.). I had more than a strong hint that I liked Julian Castro too, which hasn’t changed. Jay Inslee’s commitment to fighting climate change has made a fan of me. Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke have built strong followings in a hurry, and I am impressed by their charisma. John Hickenlooper’s record as Governor of Colorado has surprised me in a positive way, relative to how he’s been sold so far. That’s ten candidates I can already give a positive grade.

There are others whom I am not necessarily negative on, I just don’t have enough information yet to make a decision. Tim Ryan is always someone I liked, but I soured on a bit for his opposition to Nancy Pelosi as Speaker. His recent entry is too new for me to judge yet. John Delaney is a fairly wealthy former Congressman who is self-funding, and running towards the middle. I don’t see his pathway if Joe Biden enters, but it’s hard to judge until then. Wayne Messam is a very interesting Mayor of Miramar, Florida, but he hasn’t generated a ton of coverage yet. Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson come from outside of the government world, but like Messam aren’t getting much coverage. Eric Swalwell is an impressive Congressman, but he just entered this week, and so I have no feelings yet. I haven’t passed much judgment on these five so far.

This leaves Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Mike Gravel in the category where I’m less than supportive. My feelings towards them are not all the same, so let me address them individually.

  • Mike Gravel- The former Alaska Senator is commendable in some ways, particularly for reading the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional record in his Senate tenure. With that said, a lot of time has passed since those days, as has a mostly unnoticed 2008 campaign for President. Gravel pretty much freely admits he’s not running to win this nomination, so it’s hard for me to be excited.
  • Kirsten Gillibrand- If I voted entirely on issues, I could probably like what Gillibrand is saying now. The problem there is her career has put her on both sides of everything from guns to immigration. Evolution is fine, but it gets to be a bit of a stretch. While I believe Al Franken should have been afforded a Senate Ethics Committee investigation, I don’t blame Gillibrand at all for voicing her opinion on that. I do hold Gillibrand’s about face on Bill Clinton against her though. After a two decade relationship, working in the Clinton Administration, working in major allied law firms, having Bill and Hillary campaign and advocate for her House and Senate candidacies, for her to “evolve” and say President Clinton should have resigned over the Lewinsky affair was a bridge too far. You don’t turn on your mentors the moment they aren’t popular and useful anymore. Even so, her campaign positions are admirable, and while I’m not a fan, I feel better about her than I did before she entered.
  • Tulsi Gabbard- Gabbard is another candidate I was out on from day one. I’m unhappy with her 2016 decision to quit the DNC to endorse Bernie and call the process “rigged.” I could get over that though. What I can’t get over? Gabbard’s advocacy for Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad. It is one thing to oppose military intervention in the Syrian Civil War, it’s another thing to say he hasn’t committed war crimes against his people. In Gabbard’s defense, her campaign has laid out a desire to curb war spending in America, which has given her ideological consistency and clarity that I can respect. I’m just not forgiving advocacy for a bad guy.
  • Bernie Sanders- Absolutely not. Does Bernie have a few aspirational ideas that aren’t bad? Sure. I can’t say I generally agree with him though on the policies for right now, nor does his record suggest to me that he has any plan to enact his plans, much less pass them through Congress. I cannot forgive his 2016 behavior either. The guy’s not a Democrat, and he’s shown us that. There’s no way I’d support him to be the nominee in 2020.

So that’s my feelings on the candidates. So how about…

The State of the Race-

Polls really don’t mean much until Joe Biden either enters or exits the race, because he’s the undisputed polling leader. In the race’s current construction, with him as a probable candidate, the race is far different than if he doesn’t. If 30% or so of the electorate suddenly were free agents, that would shake things up, and probably dramatically change the current polling order.

What does matter is money though. There is no argument that Bernie raised the most in the first quarter. Kamala Harris also had an impressive quarter. Beto O’Rourke did pretty well as well, and Pete Buttigieg did fairly well. Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Cory Booker all did well enough to compete, but have to keep up their pace.

What’s more important than cash raised though is burn rate. Bernie spent $4 million of his $18 million despite not being in the race very long. Warren spent 80% of her money raised, but still came out with a deceptively impressive cash on hand number by transferring Senate campaign funds. Can they sustain their spending rate? Meanwhile, while Klobuchar came in behind them, she only spent about 20% of her cash, and transferred more over from her Senate campaign. Watch the cash on hand, and the burn rates, when evaluating early fundraising.

In a race where most of the candidates are similar on issues, I’m watching who has the strong operations. Lean campaigns that raise respectable money, while remaining competitive in the polls, impress me. This is part of what has made “Mayor Pete” seem serious to operatives so far- he’s sustaining a competitive campaign without spending much.

Nobody is Perfect

Just about every candidate has some flaws in their candidacy. Some seem overblown, others concerning, but really none are disqualifying to me, unless I said so above. I’m not looking for perfect, or to be inspired, or to make history. I just want to elect a competent President.

This means I’m looking for an electable nominee. Some candidates, like Biden and Klobuchar, have solid arguments about their electability- but it’s anecdotal so far. Candidates need to prove that.

This Ain’t 2008

Because everyone in the field is trying to raise their money from the “grassroots,” rather than traditional bundling, the debate is more leftward than the country at-large, and it is favoring candidates with less experience and record. That may very well be a good thing in the end. It might also spell defeat for the Democrats. The 2008 process pushed us towards an electable nominee, this one may very well push us towards one that appeases our base, and no one else.

Conclusions

I’m going to stick with an upbeat outlook here. I absolutely love 3-4 candidates, like around 10, and could accept 15-16. That’s a good field. In the end, I want a nominee who can win though, and that is what will matter to me. I can give a bit on ideology and/or excitement, as long as they can beat Donald Trump. That’s what matters.