Four years ago, Donald Trump spoke of an “American Carnage” in his inaugural address. He spoke of a country that resembled a hellscape. In his address, he said:
For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government, while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs, and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes, starting right here and right now, because this moment is your moment — it belongs to you. It belongs to everyone gathered here today, and everyone watching, all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration, and this, the United States of America, is your country.
What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country, will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now. You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before. At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction, that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public, but for too many of our citizens a different reality exists. Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories, scattered like tombstones across the across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge, and the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
Donald Trump got very little right as President, or as a candidate. What he did get right was appealing to his market- not a shocking feat for a guy who made his money “marketing his brand (or name, honestly).” His vision of a hellscape country, one being taken away from the “common man,” by the hyper-educated, the woke, and “the elite,” hit home to voters who happen to live in swing states, blue collar voters that feel left behind by Washington. In 2016 his message hooked high school educated white voters that felt talked down to, forgotten, and left behind. It was the perfect foil to a former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State who best appealed to voters when she appeared competent in office, and appealed less as a candidate pushing an agenda of change. In 2020 he aimed his appeals not only at that base, but went a step further- targeting Black and Latino men with a message that they too are not being served well by the “elite.” That message kept him in the ballgame against a very strong opponent who can appeal to a very broad cross-section of the country both personally and politically. While President Biden clearly beat him, Trump’s message of “every man” vs. “the elite” didn’t exactly fail him in a very difficult race.
We live in a very great nation, but not everyone enjoys the fruits of that greatness equally. For many, the last 50 years of American growth has not been marked by an exponential improvement in quality of life. While our economy has grown, people are working more and more to make ends meet. Anxiety, chronic pain, and other illnesses are leading to more addicting pharmaceuticals, and more addictions. Individual households are relying more and more on credit to maintain their lifestyles. The concept of vacations is more and more foreign. Divorce is now more common than “happily ever after.” In short, people are living to work, and seeing their personal lives suffer. It is a hellscape.
Even as society is feeling the stress of this unequal distribution, our institutions have spent much of the 21st century failing us. Millions are protesting against police brutality. The Catholic Church and major college sports programs failed to protect children from predators or hold people accountable for the abuse. Wall Street and the big banks gave us the 2008 crash through unethical and immoral behavior aimed at making themselves profits. Congress repeatedly shows itself as incapable of handling major issues from climate change to immigration. Terrorism has touched our shores several time this decade, most famously on 9/11. We had an insurrection after our last election. We fought the war in Iraq for over a decade, on false pretenses. We’ve been in Afghanistan even longer than the Soviets were. We do nothing about mass shootings. Bernie Madoff and Enron seem long ago, but they too were this century. And all of that was before Covid shut down society for a year. We have had an early 21st century of memorable and epic institutional failure. In a country that has long since accepted it’s higher standard of living, it has taken it’s toll on our public confidence.
Official Washington, particularly Democratic official Washington, doesn’t quite comprehend how Trump happened, or why his message worked. They don’t understand why he made inroads with non-white voters in 2020, let alone how he won once. Their advanced degrees from prestigious universities allow them a far better understanding of New York and California than Ohio, but Ohio is more like 30 other states cast out across the nation. They find themselves shocked that their message cannot reach tens of millions of Americans, or that many Americans would simply rather “burn it down.” How can Trump’s baseless, crude rhetoric be fine to many people? So much of official Washington was shocked on November 8th, 2016 as Hillary Clinton lost to this bleak vision of America, and they were shocked again on November 3rd, 2020, when Trump was not overwhelmingly repudiated at the polls. How did Iowa and Ohio go from Obama states to Trump states? Why has North Carolina stopped trending our way? How has Florida gone this way? The truth is that many pundits, appointees, staff on the Hill, and political consultants in DC would be totally and completely lost if they were dropped into a bar in Wilkes-Barre, PA, which may offer us a clue into why their algorithms can’t explain away the anger in our electorate.
On January 6th, I watch the insurrection against our democracy in a fit of rage. As he was leaving Washington, Donald Trump had managed to truly create the kind of carnage that he spoke of in his inaugural address. Like Nixon, Reagan, and Bush 43 before him, he left his successors with a mess to clean up, problems that would consume their political capital, preventing them from some of the big achievements they sought to do. Fortunately, Trump and his party paid a steep political price for their failings. Even if fairly narrowly, they lost the White House, House, and Senate. For a little while, we’re safe from Trumpism. That will not be the case forever. The forces that created Donald Trump’s Presidency still exist. His defeat is not an ending, unless the conditions many Americans live under improve. People do not embrace a bigoted demagogue all of a sudden, by accident. The carnage that leads to bad leaders takes a long time to create, and an even longer time to fix.
It took me nearly a week to finally be emotionally and intellectually able to write this piece, but write it I will. Joe Biden is our President-Elect. Donald Trump has been defeated. Kamala Harris has made history. People danced in the street, they cried tears of joy, they prayed, they rejoiced. For me, Saturday was one of the most moving days I have ever had. The sting of Hillary Clinton’s loss obviously hit me personally, I worked for both of Hillary’s Presidential campaigns, but it hit me even more personally than that. Rarely in the Trump era did I feel targeted by his vitriol, because I’m a white, straight, Catholic, suburban raised man, and he wasn’t trying to scapegoat me. I watched his policies and his rhetoric aimed directly at the heart of family, friends, and acquaintances alike, and felt helpless. It made me angry. The feelings I had this past weekend were so much different, so much better. I watched millions of people genuinely rejoice, dance in the string, and dance. For the first time in my political career, none of the bureaucratic BS of the campaign mattered at all to me. I was just proud of what I had been a part of. Nothing mattered to me but how this made people feel. It’s a new day.
Now, some notes…
An ode to Joe Biden.
We don’t give Joe Biden enough credit for what a master politician he is. Just the black and white ink of his resume should have been proof enough- Senate Judiciary Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Chair, seven times elected Senator, two-term Vice-President of the United States, and yes, now the President-Elect. We tend to view Joe Biden through his losses, and lose site of what he’s achieved, be it personal or political. This man is one of the great American statesmen and politicians of post-World War II America. Don’t mistake him for a saint, but don’t dismiss him as Barack Obama’s “crazy uncle #2” either.
Joe Biden was in my top tier in this race from day one (along with Harris, Booker, and Klobuchar), so obviously I’m thrilled with this outcome. Obviously being a part of his team, this is personally fulfilling as well. A lot of people ask me why I felt he was right though, and I’ll give you this anecdote- on Super Tuesday in headquarters, I declared very early in the day that Biden would win Massachusetts, and I was basically laughed at (one super senior staff member simply replied “that won’t happen.”). A buddy on the campaign asked me if I was serious, to which I replied kinda yes, and he asked me why. I asked him what other candidate could possibly win Rep. Pressley (The Squad) and Rep. Lynch’s (Irish Catholic moderate) Boston districts. My point played out pretty well. Biden could build the broadest coalition in the race, because he could speak to and empathize with the most people. He’s got Bill Clinton abilities, combined with the experience of the Obama White House, and the wisdom of years. All of that played huge against Trump.
The Broken Democratic Brand…
After 2016, one of the criticisms of the Democratic Party was that “the brand” was broken. The party had lost power in all three branches of the federal government at that time, and our 2016 nominee had ended the race deeply unpopular. The argument was basically that Barack Obama had won twice largely on personal popularity. The party itself didn’t poll very well, and seemed to hemorrhage voters they used to get.
Joe Biden won Tuesday’s election, the Democratic Party did not. Let’s be honest beyond Biden about what kind of candidates were winning. Mark Kelly and John Hickenlooper were remarkably strong Senate candidates. Roy Cooper and Josh Stein in North Carolina are very powerful Governor and Attorney General candidates. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro was the only Democratic row office candidate to win. House superstars like Lauren Underwood and Conor Lamb survived. Many of their freshman colleagues met a much harsher fate. Even at the Presidential level, Joe Biden joined Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama as the only Democrats of the post-LBJ/late 1960’s cultural revolution to win a national election. All were very gifted politicians and came to power on the back of a national crisis. We never win on generic ideology.
How bad are things though? In Pennsylvania, Democrats lost the popular vote for the US House by nearly 130k votes, at last glance. Democrats lost the entire New Hampshire state government, including both houses. Pennsylvania’s House and Senate Democrats sit at the exact same numbers they were at after the 2010 midterms. North Carolina’s legislature, just two years after Democrats broke the supermajorities, lost Democratic seats. Pennsylvania Republicans won their first row office victories in over a decade. New York State legislative Democrats lost seats. Minnesota and New Mexico Democrats lost Congressional races in good Presidential years.
I would not say 2020 was a terrible year for Democrats, but it was a correction of 2018’s majority. Like in 2016, late breaking voters seemed to decide giving us strong majorities was not in their interests. The reality is that Republicans have proven very capable of convincing voters to deny Democrats power, even in elections where they are rejecting the GOP. In 2018, Democrats were winning down ballot races in GOP strongholds. In 2020, Democrats lost some of those same seats back, limiting their ability to govern moving forward.
The Blame Game
Let’s dive into this week’s best political battle- the Conor Lamb’s of the world vs. the AOC’s of the world. I’ll start by stating the somewhat obvious- my politics aren’t a match with “the Squad,” and more so are with Lamb. With that said, I think that both sides have brought forward some interesting thoughts, both about Biden’s wins and the down ballot losses Democrats have suffered this cycle. For me, there’s lots of blame and credit to go around.
First off, I’ll state three obvious truths about Biden’s victory. First, there is no doubt that people of color, and more specifically their organizers, played a gigantic role in flipping Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, and holding Nevada. Second, there is no doubt that Biden’s being more acceptable to suburban moderates in those same states got him those last few percentages of the vote that he critically needed. Third, and I can’t believe I’m writing this, but the unity encouraged by Bernie, Elizabeth Warren, and “The Squad” played a critical part in avoiding the lack of enthusiasm we fought in 2016. If you remove any piece of this puzzle, Joe Biden probably becomes the third Democratic nominee this century to win the popular vote but lose the crucial states needed to win. With all this in mind, I have to say that I’m not denying anybody the credit they are being given for this victory. When someone says Stacey Abrams deserves credit for flipping Georgia, all I’m doing is nodding in agreement, because you ain’t wrong.
… but let’s talk about the losing we did too. This is a tough love portion that goes in two parts, with the first being the impact of further-left messaging on the difficult races, particularly swing states and districts. The use of the term “socialism,” which is somewhat misleading anyway by “new left” Democrats, is a non-starter with many immigrant populations (especially Latinos) and suburban voters (swing districts). It played a huge role in losing Florida and Texas, and more specifically swing Congressional districts. Pointing out that candidates who supported Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal all won, while not pointing out that they represent safe blue districts, is dishonest at best. Talking about defunding the police, abolishing private health care, ending commercial flights, and phasing meat out of our diets, while quite popular in our liberal enclaves, is a straight ticket to defeat in the kinds of districts that you have to win to get a majority. For their popularity in blue districts, “the Squad” is a perfect boogeyman for Republicans to put front and center in their efforts to call moderate Democrats extremists. You can’t build a majority under the American government system for further-left politics. Fortunately, I don’t think the “socialist” messaging stuck to Biden in most places, particularly after he won a primary against that. It absolutely worked is scaring late-breaking voters in Florida, Maine, North Carolina, Texas, and Congressional districts in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Ohio, and even New York. It’s not about forcing everyone to be moderate, it’s about forcing them to be disciplined. If your policy isn’t to actually *defund* the police, don’t use words with that meaning to gin up voters who are already with us. If you’re not actually going to *seize the means of production,* don’t call yourself a socialist. Since anything you say will be used against you anyway, only give them words you mean to give them. I will give a rare rebuke to our leadership though on the Hill for this- if you don’t want AOC to be the face of the party in Iowa and Florida, start pushing some other voices out front and on TV more. If you don’t, don’t get mad later.
Let’s not limit the blame to just the progressives though. Not all of AOC’s critique of the party is wrong. The Democratic Party is not interested in party building at a precinct level, across the nation. Most state legislative caucuses are fully owned by their expensive television consultants, and their money flows there. AOC’s point about investing heavier into the online presence, which those of us in the industry call digital organizing, was proven right this cycle by those of us on the Biden campaign, who both organized Super Tuesday almost fully online, then spent literally months organizing digitally during the pandemic. Elections are literally won where the people are, not Washington, and that is online in communities, and at the most localized level, which is the precinct. Want some truth? Hillary lost Pennsylvania by 5 votes per precinct in 2016. Our organizing model does not view campaigns through that sort of lense (more later on this.).
The Waste of the Grassroots Donor
I don’t have to remind you that well-funded Democrats lost Senate races in Kentucky and South Carolina. I don’t have to remind you of the hundreds of millions of dollars wasted on these races, which you may have contributed to. I doubt I need to dive too far into the relative disappointment for Democrats, particularly on the House and Senate level, with how we performed relative to how well funded we were.
This is not something that would have even been a thought before Howard Dean’s 2004 Presidential campaign, and it wasn’t even conceivable until after 2008. The old big donors would ask the party leadership essentially where to donate. With the shift away from PACs and institutional donors, there’s no way to focus donations into the most flippable seats. Let’s be honest about some of the well funded Senate seats we lost- Kentucky, Montana, South Carolina, Kansas, and even Texas- were not supposed to be competitive for President. The money still flowed there. Small dollar donors as our primary life blood in donations means a lot of money will go to waste. They will donate with their hearts, not their heads, and that’s their right to. That doesn’t help though.
Back in the primaries, I ripped the DNC for using the number of donors as a criteria to make the stage. I said it forced candidates to chase the whims of Democratic activists, not the average, median voter back home. I maintain that criticism after this general election.
The Failed Democratic Organizing Model.
I’m just going to cut straight to the chase here- The Democratic Organizing Model being used nationally basically exists to make it’s managers look good. That’s it. It’s there to produce large scale numbers that look good to your potential next employer. It’s not there to do much else.
I told you earlier that Hillary lost PA by 5 votes per precinct, which she did. Did we react to that by partnering with down ballot candidates to increase our vote share, precinct by precinct? No. We instead focused on macro change, with the focus on statewide autodialers and big shifting numbers. This is not a Pennsylvania specific problem, and even in a victory it showed up in our losses down ballot. Democrats will lose roughly a dozen Congressional races nationwide, and lost close state legislative races in swing states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas. This is specifically why we can’t govern and have nice things.
The average organizer was managing 25 to 40 precincts total. The organizing model in an area that size should emphasize quality, not quantity and efficiency. We should be building a precinct captain structure, and running each district as it’s own mini race. Recruitment call goals should take a back seat to one on one’s and meeting with clubs, party committees, and active citizens. We should be less reliant on predictive analytics to tell us who to talk to, because we should have volunteers engaging their neighbors. We should organize, not phone bank. Our turfs are small enough to do so.
Don’t limit this to just organizing. Our constituency outreach is one-size fits all, and often times turns off more people than it should. Our political outreach often times has no idea who the local electeds are. Our press teams spend way too much time on statewide and national press. In short, I think Democratic campaigns are too big and bloated in their structure, and broken in their execution. We got through that this time, because people worked hard and our candidate was made for this race. That won’t happen automatically again.
What I Got Wrong
In the beginning of this race, I said we needed to nominate Biden or someone like him, who could beat Trump in the close states- because I said then that Trump would get every vote of his 46% from 2016, if not more. I was right then, more so than I was right at the end. To this point, Trump has received nine million more votes than he did last time, and sits around 47.5%, a 1.5% upward shift. While his campaign and White House seemed inept, and he was polling around 41-42%, the fact is that this race played out very similarly- most of the undecided voters were actually for Trump. Trumpism was about more than a campaign or policies, but was inherently cultural. He proved much of the Democratic professional class wrong- you don’t need to quantify everything and be precise in every calculation to succeed politically. You can do it through blunt force and speaking directly to an audience motivated by things without a policy objective. Political incorrectness is what motivates their base, and we learned in this election that trying to match that turns off some of the folks we need to build a majority.
As I suspected, the demographic divides in our politics began to crumble. Biden made gains among white voters, seniors, suburbanites, and independents. Trump made gains among black men and certain Latino groups. Demographics were not destiny. I over-estimated the impact that would have in a few swing-states though- namely Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina. The truth is that the era of monolithic demographic movements is coming to an end. With that end, our politics will almost certainly re-align some more. This is probably good for Democrats, if they embrace it, as the GOP did not pay a price for their embrace of Donald Trump really.
There is another silver lining- I do not see another Donald Trump. He is their turnout machine, and he will not be on the ballot in 2022. while others will try to embrace Trumpism, I sincerely doubt their ability to do it. While he is morally troubling and intellectually lazy, Donald Trump is the greatest marketing mind on the planet and he managed to sell himself- an inexperienced, personally flawed, policy lightweight- as the symbol of political masculinity, the anecdote to political correctness, and the pushback to Obamaism is America. He knew there was no market for Paul Ryan’s Ayn Rand crap, Cheney’s neocon wars, or even the moral smugness of much of the old school “Christian Conservatism” crowd. You may think a Tom Cotton, a Mike Pence, or Don Jr. can easily pick up his cause now, but you’ll likely find that is wrong. Much like Bill Clinton’s successors (Gore and Hillary) could not ride his popularity to the White House, and Barack Obama’s personal popularity didn’t push Hillary over in 2016, you’re likely to find its hard to find another Trump.
That’s all for now. I’ll gather this whole series up in one, later on.
When I started this process out, just over ten months ago, this is not the script I had in mind. Yet, here we essentially are, kind of where I expected things. Biden won the primaries by eventually building the coalition of white and black blue collar voters that Bernie Sanders could not defeat. Biden immediately was then staked out to a lead against Donald Trump because of generic Democratic strength with non-white voters AND strength with white voters, particularly old and educated ones, that hadn’t been seen since Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign. Throw on Covid and suddenly Biden’s lead has approached landslide levels. Even so, here we are essentially battling in Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin, the big six from last time, and Biden is clearly stronger in them than Clinton ended up being- as I figured. As I thought from the start, Biden would put Ohio and Iowa back in play, but I did not expect conditions this year to legitimately put Georgia and Texas in play. In short, Biden ended up being who I thought he was. 2020 was not what I expected though- and yet it looks like the ending I expected.
So the race- not much moving. 538 puts Biden up 8.8%. They give Biden a 90% chance of victory. That seems pretty good. RCP puts Biden up 7.9%. He’s over 50% in every poll they count, other than the two outliers (Rasmussen and The Hill), where he’s at 49%. He leads every battleground state as well, other than Arizona, despite the Rasmussen, Trafalgar, and Susquehanna state polls messing with the averages. Biden’s overall lead is 5.6% better than Hillary’s at this same point. His 51.4% polling average is also favorable to Hillary’s 45.5% closing number. There simply are less undecideds, Biden has more support, and Trump is in a bigger hole. The Economist gives Biden a 96% chance to win. This race simply doesn’t look like 2016.
Four years ago I kicked off “Get Out The Vote” weekend with a Chelsea Clinton rally in Elizabeth City, NC, followed by a mad dash to the county board of elections site in town to deal with the crowd standing in line to vote. If I’m being honest, I was both far less confident in that outcome and far happier with the experience of the campaign. I had an easier job, woke up looking at the bay side of the Outer Banks every morning, and didn’t realize just how bad our party had become at running national campaigns yet. About the only bad thing I can say about my 2016 experience four years later is the Presidential outcome. This time I have a laundry list of personal and professional grievances with the experience, but I’m beyond confident in the outcome I see coming. It looks like Bob Casey in Allentown tomorrow, Andrew Yang in Bethlehem on Sunday, and a special guest in the Lehigh Valley on Monday. Let’s see where things end up…
Above is my updated map. I am not predicting a close election, or anything resembling 2016 on the surface. The only caveat to my 375-163 map is that I feel eleven states and two congressional districts will be competitive on Election Day. With that in mind though, I see Biden pulling out all of them but Texas. If he really wins by 7% or more, I don’t see how he doesn’t.
What do “the professional” pundits think? Below are some “other” maps:
With the exception of the betting market, there’s not much debate about the state of this race. Chalk that up to the male tilt of the betting market. Throwing that out, I think you can see the state of the race. Now go vote and make it real.
The eleven day out mark is significant for two reasons. One, Anthony Scaramucci spent 11 days as the incoming White House Communications Director, so we are one Scaramucci away from the election. Two, it was 11 days out in 2016 when James Cody dropped his infamous letter on Hillary Clinton. It is worth noting that Clinton’s RCP average lead on that date was only 3.9%, as she battled Russia, misogyny, trying to win a third term for her party, and Trumpism. Did Comey decide the race? No. Did he probably tip the race away from her? Probably. She was already stuck below 50%, with lower approval, and big obstacles in her way. Being called a crook didn’t help.
We now head into the second to last weekend of the election. The Bidens, Bernie, and Bon Jovi are all in PA. Cher is on the road. Millions of people are voting. We’ll have more later today…
Let’s talk about Trump insulting Erie during his stop there last night. There was no way he was coming, he didn’t have to. Really? One of the rather remarkable things about this election is how steady Joe Biden’s lead has really been since 2017. This President has never been very popular, compared to any predecessor in modern times. It is more likely than not that he is going to go down as having won a 2016 fluke, a statistical accident, than that he ever was really favored to win. Him thinking otherwise is both hilarious and insulting.
Could he win? It is statistically possible, and should be taken seriously until it’s called, but it’s unlikely. It is true that Trump finished 3.9% better than his RCP average, which was an almost identical 42.2% in 2016. It is also true that Gary Johnson and Jill Stein both lost close to a point from their averages though, a non-factor this time, and that Hillary finished 2.7% above her average as well. A similar change this time would push Biden close to 54%, a huge number for any modern nominee. The 2016 results were complicated and need to be read far deeper into than we often do. it’s highly unlikely to look the same in 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.
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.
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.
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.