Understanding Republicans

One of the problems many Democrats have is that they don’t understand how they are different than the Republican Party, fundamentally. They look at Donald Trump, and they just can’t even fathom how 63 million people could vote for him. How could Evangelicals vote for a serial adulterer? How could Republican women vote for someone who doesn’t respect them? How could Second Amendment voters back a man who clearly isn’t a hunter? How could blue collar, lower educated voters back someone who doesn’t respect them? They view Trump through the relationship he has to his voters, and in that they miss what it means to be a Republican.

Democrats are defined as the “big tent” party, the patchwork quilt of different interest groups in the party, the “identity politics” party. They value diversity, and as a result have many different views of the world. Perspective is a part of being a Democrat. While not all Republicans are white men, all Republicans identify with “traditional majorities.” Black and Latino Republicans identify with the GOP majority through their work, their community, their class, and their religion. Indeed they view the world through those lenses. It’s precisely for this reason that Republicans circle the wagons in support of “the troops,” “the flag,” “police,” “Jesus” and other institutions that they view as representing traditionalism (note that I put these in quotations because these words only represent their interpretation of them). Because they have this shared identity among them, Republicans don’t spend a lot of time “pandering” to different demographics in their party, both because they aren’t plentiful and their voters aren’t particularly motivated by those divisions.

Democrats are a coalition of sometimes unaligned interest groups. As a result they try to build an intersectional ideology around common themes of justice, fairness, tearing down oppression, and destroying bigotries. Many times though, the identity driven divisions rear their ugly head.Since Republicans essentially have one shared “traditional majority” identity, they deal with this a lot less. Republicans are largely united by shared conservative ideology. There are certainly divisions between religious, economic, cultural, militant, and constitutional conservatives, but they are more differences of scale, style, and rhetoric, and less about actual policy. Republicans are fine with uniting after most messy primaries, because they’re all Republicans. Their values are shared.

The reality about Republicans is that their moderate-conservative divide is mostly a matter of posturing and messaging, and their voters are pretty much okay with it. A nasty primary is no reason to vote for a Democrat, because a Democrat does not share their values. Donald Trump emerged from a vicious primary with 17 competitors, flawed and all, and 90% of Republicans were willing to overlook whatever personal issues they had with his past behavior and beliefs, and still vote for him. Indeed, Trump failed to capture a majority of their primary vote, while Hillary Clinton won nearly 60% of her party’s, and yet it was Clinton that was dogged by divisions within the left, not Trump with the six in ten Republicans who didn’t support him in the primaries.

If we’re going to be fair, Trump has delivered Republicans the government they asked for, perhaps as well as any Republican in history. They got their tax cuts on wealthy people and corporations. Obama era regulations are being stripped away at record pace. Trump has delivered a packed federal judiciary of young, conservative judges, and two conservative Supreme Court judges who will be there for decades, cementing their control there. On immigration, Trump is at least attempting to deliver on the “hard border” policies they say they want. Sure, they have to put up with the semi-kooky trade talk, but he’s not really breaking up the corporate racket. Not only are Republicans getting the policies they wanted from Trump, his politics are a direct appeal to the white Democrats that felt most unhappy with their “place” in the Democratic coalition, the sort of political answer to the “Obama coalition” that can lead them to electoral college victories. The White House and cabinet are full of Republican operatives. He’s governing as a pro-life, anti-immigration, pro-gun, pro-corporate, big military Conservative. If all your here for is the ideology, you’re getting it from Trump.

Trump is delivering Republicans what they want, and as a result they’re following him. It’s why his approval among Republicans is over 90%, even as he’s underwater with everyone else. Oh sure, they “wish he wouldn’t tweet so much,” and he’s crass, and he’s “not Presidential,” but none of that stuff is what matters. He defeated the hated Clintons, he’s ripping apart the Obama legacy, and that is what’s important. He’s empowering their views on immigration and “American identity,” which again, is what matters. And most of all, he’s winning.

This is why the GOP has no one standing up to him- they realize they’ll be gone. Mark Sanford survived cheating on his wife and lying, but lost his 2018 primary for not being pro-Trump enough. Justin Amash’s weird views were tolerable, until he called for Trump’s impeachment, and now he’s had to leave the party. Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and even Ted Cruz have had to bend the knee and accept and defend Trump. That would be the guy Trump published the phone number of, “Little Marco” and his small hands, libertarian Jesus Rand Paul, and of course, Lyin’ Ted, who’s father Trump said was involved in killing JFK. Supposed conservative brainiac Paul Ryan and much of the “moderate” wing of the House Republicans simply retired and went home, rather than fight back against the Trump brand. And Mitt Romney, who swore he was “Never Trump” in 2016? He’s bending over backwards to defend Trump in the Senate now. George P. Bush, the son of “Low Energy” Jeb Bush, the grandson and nephew of a President? He had to beg Trump for an endorsement and robo call on his behalf to continue the dynasty and survive the 2018 Texas primary for Land Commissioner. You’re not a Republican office-holder in 2019 if you’re unwilling to kiss the ring. There’s no constituency, no base of power for you.

Why are Republicans sticking with Trump? Democrats. The Democratic coalition is scary to them, it doesn’t share their values and world view. Democrats don’t share their views on capitalism, “western Christianity,” the English language, law and order, and just their general view of “Western Civilization.” They want to be a Christian, capitalist nation that speaks English. All the talk of “demographics are destiny” in the Obama era was (incorrect, for one) enough to freak them all out. They were willing to accept whoever could stop Hillary. Since he succeeded, they’re ready to stand behind him. It is really about “owning the libs” as much as anything else. John McCain and Mitt Romney’s “respectability politics” didn’t beat President Obama. George W. Bush’s entire Presidency lead to Obama. That brand of Republican was leading them to eventual defeat.

What of the “Never Trumpers” though? Notice a few things about the #NeverTrump crowd:

  1. Most of them were DC based staffers and consultants, not activists or elected officials.
  2. Most of them were regulars on cable news and other media outlets where they needed to maintain “respectability.”
  3. None of them, from Kasich to George Will, are influential in this White House, or even really working for the official GOP. I admire Rick Wilson and the whole crowd, but they’re as out of power as Hillary.

The #NeverTrump movement is not a thing in today’s Republican Party. They hold little influence. They represent less than 10% of the movement now. It turns out it wasn’t about their “small government” after all.

What Democrats can’t wrap their head around is what it all means. To conservative America, Trump’s flaws and imperfections are less important than what he’s delivering. They’re getting what they want in policy, rhetoric, and symbolism. He’s driving liberals literally insane. Do they necessarily like the tweets and racism? I don’t think they care at all either way. If that’s the price for the America they want, well they knew it wouldn’t come free. They’re not sitting around fretting over things that upset Democrats.

It’s worth noting that Democrats can and should defeat Trump in 2020, and should have in 2016. Democrats win the debate on a bunch of issues. They just happen to get defined by the issues they lose on. Rather than marketing themselves on the broadly popular things people like about them, Democrats are seen as having a debate between “identity politics” and socialists, and there’s not broad enthusiasm for either. Democrats are a coalition though, and you can’t yell at a portion of your coalition to sit down and shut up, or you end up in the food fight Speaker Pelosi has to have with “the Squad” a week or two ago. Frankly, Democrats constantly have to strike the balance between their different constituencies across the spectrum, or risk part of the coalition not showing up to vote. All the groups don’t just fall in line and march in lockstep.

The Republican Party has an easier base to manage, one that presents less consequences for their leaders when they make decisions. When you square this with their structural advantages, you understand why they’re able to be so effective. Their voters show up more frequently. They share an ideology. Voter “self-sorting” of where they live is an advantage for them. Half the population will live in eight states in twenty years, especially non-white voters, which should give them huge advantages in the Senate. When you dive into the entire psychology of American conservatism though, you start to realize that it’s just easier for their candidates to appease their whole base. This explains so much of why they seem more cohesive and organized than Democrats do.

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A (Too Early) Look at 2020

November 8th, 2016 was shocking to a lot of people, but it should not have been. The Clinton campaign was built to maximize their total vote number, and it did, despite the candidate facing a number of challenges that were unique to her. The Trump campaign was built to maximize his swing state vote. Both succeeded. That gave Trump a win.

The Clinton campaign was very metric driven, producing huge call numbers and lots of volunteer shifts. Hillary’s campaign focused in on turning out the “Obama coalition.” Her travel scheduled focused on urban vote centers where the goal was turnout. She ran phenomenal vote numbers out of big cities- Philadelphia, Raleigh, and Miami- even as she lost swing states. She ran record breaking margins in the huge blue states (California and New York), and narrowed red states with large minority populations (Texas, Arizona, Georgia). The only candidate to get more votes than Hillary was Barack Obama- maybe the best political talent we’ve ever seen.

The Trump campaign made an early gamble that paid off- they could never get nominated in a conventional campaign, and the resulting “traditional” Republicans they lost in wealthy suburbs (the supposed “small government,” anti-tax breed) were less useful than the newcomers and Democratic converts they were targeting. Trump gambled that 90% of the 46-47% that had voted for McCain and Romney would stick with him, even as he ran harder on identity right-wing politics. With that base of about 42%, Trump took aim at Democrats that Hillary was less interested in- lower middle-class earning whites. He went after “Gephardt” Dem issues like global trade deals. He attacked illegal immigration, which Democrats used to decry as lowering wages. And he called her a war hawk. It didn’t hurt that Bernie Sanders attacked these same vulnerabilities in Hillary in the primary, but the strategy was very lucrative for Trump- those voters live disproportionately in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Maine- and Trump saw the benefits pay off in close state after close state.

Not much seems to have changed for 2020 so far. Trump is messaging to the exact same people so far. The only wrinkle in his strategy is an increase in talk about Israel, which clearly is meant to help him hold Pennsylvania and Florida. Democratic messaging hasn’t changed much either. Democratic messaging has focused on “expanding the base,” and increasing turnout. Both sides have largely doubled down on 2016. The result is a rather highly engaged electorate very early on- more people than ever say they will vote in 2020.

What can we gather from this? What will 2020 look like? I have some very early predictions about the electorate.

  • I expect turnout to be up from the 2016 number of 138 million to between 142-145 million voters.
  • I expect the electorate to be about 69% white and 31% non-white.
  • I expect the Democratic popular vote win to increase from about 3 million votes in 2016 to 5 million votes in 2020. I expect the Democrat to get about 72 million votes to Trump’s 67 million votes.
  • I’m predicting a 50% to 46% Democratic popular vote win.
  • Despite all of this, the election is no better than a toss up for Democrats. If I were a betting man, based on Trump’s approval taking a bump up after the first Democratic debate, I’d say he should be favored to basically hold around 300 electoral votes. He has a decent chance of holding his 306 from last time, and even expanding it. Re-running 2016 on both sides, or Democrats just trying to be “better” at it, is not likely to change anything. Trump’s current approval sits between 43 and 47%, while it was 38% on Election Day in 2016.

This runs counter to what you might think if you spend a lot of time interacting with progressive activists on Twitter, so it’s a bit jarring for many of us. The fact is that both sides are re-running the 2016 playbook, and I don’t see a lot of evidence that any Democrat is much (if any bit) stronger than Hillary. Of the 20 some candidates, my feeling right now is that there are three to maybe six with a chance to beat Trump. They’re not all polling at the top of the field. The chances that Democrats nominate someone who’s appeal is strong with all or part of the base, but not with swing voters, are real. If that happens, you could be looking at something slightly worse than 2016 for Democrats, an environment where Speaker Pelosi not forcing her endangered members to walk the plank early ends up paying off in preserving the Democrats as relevant in at least one chamber of the government.

How Trump Gets Re-Elected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Impeachment Unicorn is Stupid

There are two ways to view the impeachment debate- one is through a morality and justice lense, the other based on outcomes. If you think about the issue through the lense of justice, morality, and fairness, I basically agree with you that Donald Trump is a terrible guy. There are two main problems though- the first is what the actual charges would be, seeing as how the Mueller Report doesn’t specifically name charges like the Starr Report did against Bill Clinton (because the law has changed). The second problem is a problem of outcomes- absolutely nothing is going to happen to Donald Trump.

This is where the outcome based view on impeaching Trump comes in. Impeachment does not enjoy majority support nationally, in “red” states and districts, or with any group besides Democrats. It is not clear the votes are there, all 218 of them, to impeach Trump in the House. It is abundantly clear that the 67 votes to impeach Trump in the Senate don’t exist. Trump’s approval among Democrats and Independents is already at record lows, while his Republican approval is at a record high, so who is going to be moved by an impeachment that won’t result in a conviction? There’s a solid chance impeachment isn’t popular in the 40 districts Democrats picked up last year, since it’s not nationally. The politics are questionable at best, and likely to go south at worst for Democrats. The end result of the process is not in doubt though- Trump will not be impeached and convicted.

All of this leads to a very real question- what is the point of impeachment. Supporters believe the hearings will shed light on Trump’s crimes and turn more of the country against him, much like the House’s Watergate investigation did, leading to articles of impeachment clearing the Judiciary Committee in 1974, and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill telling Nixon they could no longer defend him from eventual removal. The question, of course, is why? Trump has historically low approval, and universal name identification. Somehow though, impeachment doesn’t achieve majority support now. It should at least beg the question, if the voters know and dislike Trump, why aren’t they for removal? What would change their minds? Children in cages? Him on tape talking about grabbing women “by the pussy?” Paying hush money to his mistresses? Praising foreign thugs and dictators? Criticizing our law enforcement and intelligence communities? Saying there are good people among Neo-Nazis? Thumbing his nose at Congressional investigators? Since none of that drove a majority to call for impeachment, what do you think will? Given that the public is partisanly divided on Trump now, why will a failed impeachment change minds?

Again though, that’s the question- what’s the point? Trump won’t be removed by impeachment, that’s clear. Beyond removal, there is no penalty to Trump. He loses no powers. He’s not thrown in jail. He doesn’t even get publicly rebuked like Charlie Rangel was when he was censored. The only penalty possible is political, and it’s not clear there’s much chance of that. Trump’s base knows who he is and doesn’t care. The rest of the voters have made up their minds on liking him or not. Most of the voters oppose impeachment. The idea that eventually acquitting him will galvanize opposition is grounded in the mistaken view that the press will cover the hearings as having “exposed” Trump, or that even most voters will even bother watching hearings when the final outcome is assured anyway. Outside of the Democratic base it’s likely more people will watch a Baltimore-Kansas City baseball game.

About his only chance of re-election in 2020 is the same as it was in 2016- people decide they hate Democrats more than him. He won a “lesser of two evils” election last time, and it’s his only hope again. His 46% election showing in 2016 would be a high water mark for his approval in office. What this shows us is that people will vote for Trump while disliking him. His approval is likely to be below his election number again next time. There’s not much further lower to drive his approval. Trump trails all of his main potential 2020 opponents now. Why risk changing that on something not broadly popular?

There’s some who argue there’s an alternative ending here. Perhaps the House could impeach, then hold their own trial- despite the constitution granting sole right to hear a trial to the Senate. Others say open an impeachment inquiry, but don’t put forward articles yet, which isn’t actually a thing (The House created a special investigation of Watergate that was not yet impeachment during Nixon’s saga). Still others argue that contempt proceedings against other figures right now could help build a case (I agree). To be clear though, the McConnell Senate would ultimately hear any attempt at impeachment and will acquit Trump of his crimes. There’s no alternative ending here. And again, unlike Nixon with Watergate or Hillary with Benghazi, Trump isn’t starting from 60%+ approval from which to fall.

Unless you can remove Donald Trump from office, impeachment has no teeth. There is no accountability in it. Let’s stop pretending here, the point is that impeachment makes you feel good. Impeachment makes you believe something happened. It let’s you yell at the TV like something was done about him. It doesn’t stop him from continuing as President. It doesn’t bother him. It doesn’t even make it less likely he gets re-elected. If anything, it gives him a plausible argument to the majority that oppose impeachment that the Democrats are even worse than him. But it makes you feel good.

Politics aren’t about your feelings though. Politics are about the results to real people. For the children he’d put in cages, the trans military members he will discharge, those suffering from his cuts to government programs, and all the other people being impacted by Trump’s actions in office, it’s about removing him. This is not to say that those supporting impeachment are wrong as a matter of morals and justice, they’re not. It’s not to say that a functional democracy wouldn’t impeach him, it would. He absolutely deserves it. But the net impact of impeachment is just making you, the activist Democrat feel better- and that has no value. If conditions on the ground change, and the politics of impeachment move to where it clearly helps remove him in 2020, I’m 100% with you. For now though, I’m with Speaker Pelosi- fruitless impeachment is not worth the 40 most vulnerable members of the House taking an unpopular vote on something we can’t deliver anyway. There is no constitutional obligation to impeach (ask Spiro Agnew). There is no requirement. It’s a judgment call, and we ain’t there yet.

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.

How the Democrats are Losing the Online Game

Tell the truth, how many fundraising e-mails did you delete this weekend? For me, it got so bad that I unsubscribed from close to a dozen e-mail lists. Back in the dark ages when I was in college (2002-2006), I got myself on every e-mail list I could. It felt like I actually got information about the 2004 Presidential candidates back then. That’s not what e-mails are used for on political campaigns in 2019.

Democrats now view digital campaign organizing, e-mails, and even their website as an ATM. In the wake of McCain-Feingold and the Citizens United Supreme Court Decision, Democrats face a real challenge in keeping up financially with the right-wing financial machine. They’ve exasperated that by ingesting the poison pill rhetoric that all lobbyists and political action committees (PACs) are terrible, and we can’t take their money. The Bernie purity rhetoric, and even President Obama’s a generation ago, puts Democrats behind the eight ball. So what’s been the answer? Go grassroots. Ask for $27 over and over again. We still can’t keep up, but it’s worth a shot. Pledge to take no PAC money or federal lobbyist money at all- even from unions, Planned Parenthood, or Environmental groups- to try and motivate activists who have little understanding of campaign budgets to fund your campaign.

The net result is a million micro-messages from every group and candidate on the left to try and motivate you to give some cash. It turns into annoying white noise. It works fine for interest groups in DC, who do the best in this messy void, but leaves everyone else all over the map. It leads to the “Democrats have no message” meme.

What about the Republican Party? They don’t have quite the same issues. In 2016 everyone knew that the Trump message was “Make America Great Again,” and “Crooked Hillary.” Hillary Clinton was a criminal that would take the America you and your descendants built away from you, and give it to “other” people, but Donald Trump would stop that and restore it to you. Yes, they did field, television, and mail to get that message to you, but on a far scaled down level from what Mitt Romney and John McCain has done. They understood that the race would be decided at the margins, so they went cheaper and more straight to the point- they talked to you online. Sure, maybe some GRU guy in Moscow was giving them an assist, but don’t underestimate what the GOP did. They were getting 20 impressions on your brain through Facebook, for the price of one TV ad, at a far more efficient clip too. They hit their audience directly with one simple, straight forward message- Make America Great Again. The whole right-wing took part.

So what’s going to happen in 2020? Look no further than this week’s Wisconsin election for the State Supreme Court. Democrats narrowly lost, despite hitting their turnout targets across the board. Republican turnout simply spiked. What was their message? Socialism. It didn’t matter if it was the Koch funded groups, the NRA, or religious conservatives, they simply told you the Democratic “socialists” are coming to take what you want away from you. They’ll take your guns, your church, and your tax dollars, and give America to those “others.” They will spend hundreds of millions of dollars into digital ads on the internet that tell their voters to fear Democrats, because socialism.

As the really smart friend of mine that does digital campaign work explained this to me yesterday, I realized just how messed up the Democratic Party is on digital. We’re trying to use the internet to finance our campaigns, while they’re using it to poison the Democratic brand. It’s a mismatch. If no one in the Democratic Party figures this out soon, it could be too late- and Donald Trump could be basking in “four more years” chants.

Making Sense of Barr, Rosenstein, and Mueller

Donald Trump and his campaign will not be charged with conspiracy to collude with Russia to interfere in our 2016 Election. While the Mueller report makes no final recommendation on charging Trump with obstructing justice, Attorney General Barr will not charge him. Mueller and the Department of Justice have found that Russia did interfere in our election.

Those are the official legal findings as the Mueller investigation ends.

In pure legal terms, Mueller does not believe there was a legal conspiracy between Trump or his campaign, defined as a two-sided agreement, to interfere in our last election. He is not saying Russia didn’t interfere at all. He is rather saying the Trump campaign and candidate weren’t a part of that interference. This may seem odd, since Don Jr. met with Russians about Hillary dirt, and Paul Manafort shared polling data with Russians. Mueller seems to be saying neither had any actual part in the Russian interference though. Perhaps because they were inept, or perhaps because Russia never wanted their help, but they seem to be but a footnote in what he alleges happened.

There is the question of obstruction, which remains more murky and incomplete than it may seem right now. Mueller did not charge Donald Trump or exonerate him on this question, in part because Trump used legitimate Presidential powers to seemingly stonewall the investigation, as well as vague and not-so-vague attacks to intimidate witnesses. With the question left to Barr, who is both a believer in executive power and an appointee of the President. He was never going to charge him, if left with an open question. That’s not the end of the story though.

I tend to believe in and accept Bob Mueller’s findings. With that said, there are still some important questions. Why did Trump associates keep lying about Russia? Did Russian interference determine the outcome in 2016? Did finding out about Russian interference later change Trump’s behavior or policies towards Russia? These aren’t all Mueller’s questions to answer, but they still remain today.

A lot of people on the left seem despondent, and even willing to engage in crazy conspiracy theories over this. It’s important to understand that those conspiracy theories aren’t grounded in any reality. After indicting 37 people, Bob Mueller is certainly not going to cover for anyone. Rod Rosenstein put him in place and supervised him, and doesn’t seem to be a figure who would cover for the Administration. While there are questions about Attorney General Barr, it’s worth noting the obvious here- Congress can subpoena all of these men. Mueller can talk about his report. Barr won’t be afforded cover to lie to Congress. Neither would Rosenstein. The room for anybody to be lying right now is non-existent. The potential exposure is too great.

Which all leads back to where this began- Mueller was never going to indict Trump, nor would Trump’s Department of Justice allow it. The only body with legal oversight of the President’s activities is the Congress. The House Judiciary Committee should call all of these men in to testify about their findings. Mueller can tell us what he found in the first person. I suspect the real question here will be on the judgment of Mueller to not recommend either way on obstruction of justice, and of Barr to say he will not charge the President for it. If the House reaches a different conclusion, after hearing the evidence, then they should act. Even if crimes were found, that committee would have been charged with deciding this then.

The Global Moron Movement

Like most people in December of 2016, I wasn’t happy Donald Trump was going to be President, and hoped somehow it wouldn’t happen. Of course, a month later he was President, and over time I’ve come to realize that was pretty much the only outcome that could happen. Sure, he’s awful in every way, but he was declared the winner under the system of elections that we have in our country. As painful as it was, and for as much damage as Trump will probably do, the best hope for maintaining any legitimacy in our democracy is a resounding 2020 defeat that sends Donald Trump home to Trump Tower, or Mar-a-Lago, or wherever the hell he wants to call home. Rooting for some other outcome is essentially hoping to delegitimize our process in the eyes of some group of voters, which never goes away easily. What’s to stop Trump voters from seeking the same outcome for a future Democratic President over whatever crazy grievances they have?

Let’s be clear here, I am not categorically against impeachment, provided Robert Mueller or another prosecutor accuses Trump of a crime, nor do I disagree with the sentiment of wanting Trump gone. I simply believe we shouldn’t give the appearance of simply wanting to overturn election results that we don’t like. Removing an elected leader because you don’t like them should be the job of elections, in so much as possible. Now to be clear, there is some moral hazard in this position on Trump- our Republican friends spent eight years trying to de-legitimize President Obama as a Kenyan-born “Muslim,” and the last two years ignoring Donald Trump’s failings, which is also behavior that threatens to de-legitimize our democracy. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, and all other attempts to game our electoral system also de-legitimize our democracy. So we’re not dealing with rational, adult actors across the table of American politics from us. If we match their behavior though, the sad truth is that they’ll only go lower, and we’ll continue to chase. At some point, the hellscape we’ll create won’t even be worth saving.

I get that some people don’t care, and I get it- who wants to be the one bringing a knife to a gun fight? This is not purely an American problem, it’s becoming a problem across Western democracies. In the United Kingdom, anti-Brexit forces in Parliament seem fine with no Brexit deal to leave the EU, calling for either a new vote or to just let the carnage hurt every piece of society, if they can’t have their way. Leftists in France are calling for the resignation of popularly elected President Macron, and the implementation of their policy platform- even though the French-left’s candidate lost to Macron in 2017. Right-wing Americans want to send American forces into Venezuela to remove the winner of their last election, and left-wing Americans want us to ostracize Brazil’s new President and his right-wing extremism. Essentially, democracy is only cool if it yields the results we want, otherwise we need to remove the winner.

It is worth noting that many of these elections had irregularities and maybe even outright interference that casts doubt on the outcome. That is a serious problem. If it can be absolutely proven that an election was stolen (as seems clear in NC-09’s Congressional race), an election like that should not be recognized. Short of that, we should make it our mission to insure the fairness of future elections. Invest in ballot security. Break down barriers to citizens voting. Insure that our elections are free and fair, and that all votes count. Trying to overturn elections in the absence of absolute and indisputable proof will only insure Russia’s election of making Americans, and the west in general, doubt our electoral systems. We’d be much better off campaigning in the next election on safeguarding our electoral system for everyone. Basically, I stand with Speaker Pelosi on how we should move forward.

You win some, you lose some. If we dispute every election we don’t win, and try to overturn all of those results, we will do as much to damage the strength of our democracies as anything Vladimir Putin could ever try to do.