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.

If I Were President Tomorrow…

If I woke up tomorrow in the White House, what would I do? Amidst all of the “big ideas” floating around the 2020 Presidential race, I have to be honest, I’m hearing a lot of hot air. They’re good ideas, but they’re not going to pass. It’s nice to discuss a world with more Supreme Court Judges, no electoral college, and a majority rule Senate, but all of those either aren’t happening or would be dangerous if they did. But what could happen? These are my “big” ideas.

  1. Overtime pay for all. With the stroke of his pen, President Obama tried to extend overtime pay to millions of Americans, but it has been rolled back since. If I were President, I would extend overtime pay to any American working over 40 hours a week. I’d try to get Congress to pass a law for it, rather than just do it through an executive order. If there’s more than 40 hours of work in a week, either pay up or hire more people. We need to restore the work-life balance, or at least get paid better for being squeezed dry of all productivity.
  2. Legalized marijuana. See how well Colorado and other states are doing? People want to smoke marijuana. Marijuana is better for them than most medicines or recreational substances they use instead. Locking people up for pot is basically a nuisance to most prosecutors and makes no sense. This industry is ready to take off, and have positive impacts on society. It can’t do that when the marijuana industry can’t use our banking system because marijuana is still considered a “schedule one” drug by the federal government.
  3. A payroll tax indexed to cover 90% of all wages, as it was intended. When Ronald Reagan signed tax reform in the 1980’s, the payroll tax covered 90% of all wages, and was easily able to fund Social Security. We could make that permanently so, and keep Congress from borrowing money from those programs with a simple act of Congress. Medicare and Social Security would be safely paid for, for the foreseeable future. It’s not a big ask to do this.
  4. No taxes paid below the poverty line. Americans hate taxes. Many people truly can’t afford any more. It’s time to shift the burden off of the middle class. No American should start paying income taxes until they’ve made it out of poverty for the year. In a perfect world I’d raise this threshold to a living wage, but one step at a time. Instead of shielding income at the top of the economy, do so at the bottom of the ladder.
  5. End all federal subsidies to the coal industry. This is not about saving money, it’s about getting out of the coal business. Yes, I know some people want their mines back, but at what cost? Should the rest of us breath in their pollution? Should we destroy our planet with their carbon emissions? I’m all for reinvesting in communities losing their main industry and helping the displaced workers, but we need to cut the chord with coal and shift the money towards renewables.
  6. Approve more nuclear power. Is nuclear energy scary? Yes. Is it overwhelmingly safe though? Yes. Is it clean? Extremely. I wouldn’t power the whole grid on nuclear, but I’d increase it’s share to get rid of dirty energy quicker.
  7. Mandatory background checks on all gun sales. Sure, Mitch McConnell wouldn’t let it get to a vote, right? Right now though, it would pass the House, and if it got a Senate vote, it would pass again. This would be a place to exert some political capital. There are 60 votes to pass this in the Senate. There’s no reason to have a loophole to allow people on the terror watch list and violent criminals to buy a gun. If we have to add language that the government can’t come confiscate guns from law abiding citizens or something to calm conspiracy theorists, so be it.
  8. A federal guarantee of the right to a funded public education. We know that the quality of your education is based on your zip code. We all know that’s unfair. A federally binding guarantee to fund the public education of every student makes sense.
  9. Enforce environmental and labor law portions of trade treaties. It makes me really nervous that the incompetent administration in Washington is re-negotiating trade deals. The main problem that most free trade deals had was their enforcement, not their text. The United States has often been relaxed in enforcing portions of trade deals that dealt with environmental rules, wages, and labor laws. If someone wants access to our market, we should make them play by our rules. We can, through administrative actions.
  10. Do infrastructure, do it big, do it now. The will is there, in a bipartisan way. Do the bridges. Do the roads. Do mass transit. Do ports. Really, do it all. Go big, go bold. Create the jobs. Rebuild the country.

This is what I would do if I woke up tomorrow in the White House. All of it is possible. None of it is an overreach.

Goodbye, Martin Tower

Today, a symbol to everything wrong with Bethlehem Steel, and our economy, came down. A building that was built to shelter the executives of that company from the thousands of people over in the mills, was finally detonated. As the workers in those factories saw their jobs lost and wages cut, the people in the tower felt none of that. It was distant. When the company totally folded, they just left the tower empty, standing there to remind everyone of the fall of the great employer of thousands of middle class homes. It just sat there off of 378, a reminder of how those folks left people high and dry from their literal tower of privilege.

Bethlehem recovered very nicely. It’s a beautiful city. I’m glad they blasted that building off the map though.

How I’ll Cast My Primary Ballot

Next Tuesday is primary day in Pennsylvania. While there won’t be as much on this year’s ballot as recent years past, the elections we do have will be very consequential. In fact, your vote is simply more powerful in low turnout races.

The top race on the ballot is the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. There are two open seats, and there are three candidates on the Democratic Primary ballot. My top choice is Judge Dan McCaffery. Judge McCaffery is endorsed by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and is the only candidate who received a highly qualified rating from the Pennsylvania Bar Association. As the only candidate from Philadelphia, he also provides needed regional balance to the ticket, given the other two candidates are from Allegheny County. As for the second slot, I prefer Amanda Green-Hawkins. I believe her demonstrated progressive values will serve her well on the bench. Her securing of the endorsement of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party also shows a political acumen that is needed.

The other major race on the ballot is the race for Northampton County District Attorney. I believe both people running are competent and have good ideas. I think both are qualified to do the job. Due to my previous involvement in the race, I’ll leave my comments on the race here. I’ll cast my ballot for Terry Houck.

The rest of the ballot is basically non-competitive. There are no other state court races this year, and there are no other competitive Northampton County races. The lack of competitive races may very well harm turnout. This is why it is more imperative than usual for you to get out to vote.

Democrats are Easy to Hate

There’s a race for Mayor of Philadelphia on May 21st. Mayor Kennedy is probably going to get re-elected, but not because he polls well- his opponents are the pro-charter school State Senator he crushed four years ago and the City Controller who lost his primary for re-election just two years ago. Kenney’s own loss of popularity is somewhat tied to his passage of “the soda tax,” a well intentioned idea to fund Philadelphia Public Schools, which of course didn’t all end up going to the schools. Kenney’s standing in his former strongholds of South and Northeast Philadelphia don’t like it. He’ll probably win a very, very low turnout race by 20% though. There’s nothing to love.

The best way to sum up the public standing of Democratic Politics, both in Philadelphia and beyond, was the recent video of State Rep. Brian Sims having an altercation with a pro-life woman outside of a Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia. Intellectually speaking, I agree with Sims point. In fact, I usually agree with Sims, in terms of a political point. I probably agree with that woman on very little. Somehow, I watch the video though and feel like Sims was basically a dick, a liberal who wanted an altercation with a conservative, because she committed the crime of believing different stuff. It’s a bad look. This is particularly a quagmire because of the reality of the situation- lawmakers that woman votes for are passing bills like the Alabama and Georgia anti-abortion bills that will criminalize women for receiving constitutionally protected health care, and probably put the health of hundreds of thousands of women at risk. I get that. Yet, Sims makes the woman advocating for that the “victim” here, in the optics.

The Democratic Party, at it’s best, is the defender of the marginalized minority. We stand up for the rights and well-being of the disadvantaged, minorities, and those who are different than the majority of us. That would be those kids in the Philadelphia schools that Jim Kenney passed the soda tax for. That would be the women who need to have a choice, for their life and well being. It would be every African-American wrongfully shot by police officers. It would be the Asylum seekers we open our doors to, whether they be Bosnian or Guatemalan. It would be for all of us, when we fight to protect our environment. The Democratic Party that emerged from the 1960’s has been a party that fights for the marginalized, and that has been a valuable public service.

The problem has been pretty straight forward though- the other side has defined the American left as being against many of the institutions and norms that have been identified as “good” in American culture. Worse yet, they’ve done so by using the words and actions of those on the American left. Kenney’s soda tax shows he’ll “hammer the working class” to pay for the big ideas of “Center City liberals.” The Sims video reinforces that we hate religious people. Ilhan Omar’s use of traditionally anti-Semitic language to describe the Israeli lobby in the U.S. reinforces that “liberals hate Israel.” AOC’s release of a “white paper” on the Green New Deal that blames “cow farts” for climate change and calls for “economic support for people who ‘choose not to work'” was a treasure trove of reinforcement for stereotypes about Democrats. They’ve even managed to turn Black Lives Matter into Democrats hating police, only a quarter century after Joe Biden and Bill Clinton passed the COPS Act.

You can’t be against the local church, the hardworking police officers, a good steak on the grill, a bottle of “pop,” the state of Israel, the existence of national borders, and the basic existence of traditional, cultural norms, and win elections in most of America. Most Democrats aren’t, of course, but that is not the message being broadcast by Fox News, or virtually anyone shilling against justice and reform. That message worked for Nixon in ’68, Reagan in ’80, Gingrich in ’94, and Trump in ’16. It pulled people who voted for Barack Obama over to Trump, and it did so across most demographics. While it is important that we defend those who need it, it’s also important to remember that even most of our voters live fairly normal lives.

In poll after poll, Americans say they agree with Democratic positions on policy issues. That was even true in the exit polls in 2004 and 2016, the last two Republican Presidential victories. Democrats usually only lose the questions about leadership, relatability (who would you have a beer with), and honesty and conviction in our causes. Despite that, Republicans have controlled the White House for 32 of the last 50 years, the House for 20 of the last 26 years, and the Senate for almost 15 of the last 26 years. It turns out being “right” isn’t that important to winning elections and making change. Americans, despite their desire to see some changes and reforms, don’t hate their “way of life,” or view their culture as fundamentally flawed. We can argue the merits of how right or wrong they are, but that won’t change it.

My basic plea to Democrats is simple- stop sticking up for bad actions by those we deem as having good intentions or causes. It’s literally fueling the fire for the other side. As long as the voters outside of the big cities view us as dishonest brokers, who hate everything about their way of life, we’re going to continue to be electoral losers. As we saw with a disciplined message in 2018, lead by pros like Speaker Pelosi, it doesn’t have to be this way.

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?