The Five Big Things- 3. Tribalism and Nationalism

Race is not real. That’s not my opinion, that’s scientific fact. Genetics tell us that the real difference between white and black people is nothing. We created race. We created different religions. We created class. We created nations. And now those things separate us. There’s nothing inherent about our differences. We simply abide by them.

Untangling our demographic differences would be attempting to ignore the totality of modern human history. Wars, genocides, slavery, and apartheid has been committed in the name of our differences. Laws ban marriages and even interactions across demographic lines. Mick Jagger once depicted Satan as taking part in the Holocaust, the “Hundred Years’ War,” and the Russian Leninist Revolution. One can believe he would gleefully take part in some of the most divisive events in human history.

Nationalism and tribalism in general have served as rationalizations for some of the worst events in our world history. Today, tribalism serves as the driving force behind political isolation and gridlock in Western democracies. The “demonization of other” serves as a convenient way to scapegoat those who are different, and use them to explain away failures in society- and to inflict vengeance for them.

People don’t generally want to warm up to “being together.” Here in the United States nearly every group has faced bigotry and blame for societal issues. Obviously African-Americans faced slavery, Jim Crow, and institutional racism. Native Americans had the Trail of Tears, not to mention their land stolen by European settlers. Catholics faced the Klan. Eastern Europeans were subjected to “red baiting” throughout the Cold War. Japanese Americans faced internment camps after Pearl Harbor. European Jews were often denied asylum and left to die in the Holocaust. Even the Irish and Italians faced bigotry when they first got here. Americans like to celebrate Ellis Island and it’s symbolism, but rarely speak of it being shut down after the racist Immigration Act of 1923. It is not a wonder that people fear for Latino immigrants amidst talk of building walls on our southern border and separating young children from their parents. The same can be said for Muslim Americans amidst a “Muslim Travel Ban.”

American, and increasingly western politics in general are more divided than ever. Simply giving a person’s race, gender, education level, and religion can allow a skilled American political operative to guess their voting tendencies with relative ease. Nationalist movements are rising in places like the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy. White nationalists are speaking out in the United States. These divisions are incentivizing gridlock, as political parties find their supporters are increasingly likely to not support compromise with other political parties, whom they regard as less American than they are.

Nationalistic fervor, especially ethno-nationalism, does not lead to good outcomes. Populist movements and their scapegoating tendency do not lead to responsible policy making. Political tribalism and division do not lead to stable democracies and general acceptance of democratic norms as we knew them. To be fair, we can draw a direct line all the way back to the 1960’s that directs us to this moment. Leaders who continue to embrace these forces are not leading us to a better and more just future, no matter their intentions. They’re leading us towards a no-holds barred fight that leaves us less interested in the nation’s best interest, and more interested in our “tribe’s” best interest at the expense of the others. History tells us that’s when things get ugly.

Read big thing 2 here.

Read big thing 1 here.

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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.

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.

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?

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.