Biden vs. The Red Horizon

Remember back after President Obama won in 2012? We heard from a lot of Democrats about how “demographics are destiny.” The idea was that the Obama coalition would simply carry the Democratic Party to future majoritarian status. In the time since, it’s true that Democratic victories in 2018 and 2020 were built largely off of that coalition, but there have been cracks in the foundation that should be concerning, particularly given the radicalization of the GOP in the Trump era.

It is true that in the coming 20 to 30 years, the country should move from majority white to non-white in population. It is also true that within the next 20 years, half of the country’s population will reside in just eight (8) states. Yes, the diversifying country is happening in about 8 states, or roughly 16 Senate seats. In many of the more rural, smaller, more red states, the country may even be whitening. Those 42 other states will have 84 Senate seats. When you add on that the Democratic coalition of voters tend to live together in urban and inner-suburban House Districts, you get close to 200 Congressional seats where Democrats routinely win north of two-thirds of the vote, but those 200 seats aren’t enough for a majority. This means Democrats will need to win in more moderate suburban districts, where the politics can tend to be at odds with the politics in the blue districts that make up most of the Democratic caucus. In other words, an emerging non-white majority in America is in danger of being ruled by a shrinking minority of rural white voters, if Democrats can’t balance the politics just right to win the moderate suburbs.

Of course, all of this is assuming the current political alignment even holds, which is at best murky. If this isn’t clear yet, non-white voters in the Democratic Party tend to be more moderate than a lot of white Democrats, particularly the men. Making things even harder is a slight but noticeable split between white voters in the big cities and suburbs, breaking down clearly along educational grounds. When you combine more conservative non-white voters voting more ideologically than based on identity (seen in 2020 as very slight shifts towards Trump) with urban white working class voters behaving more like suburban are rural blue collar whites with their vote, because of culture grievances (canceling Christopher Columbus, Blue Lives Matter, “socialism,” etc.), you get the kind of minor cracks in the Democratic coalition foundation that can be lethal in the long-term. You get a 2016 to 2020 shift map of Eastern Pennsylvania with weird red pockets where you don’t expect them (see below).

That map tells us a lot of things, but what it’s screaming at us is that the places Trump did better are generally the places where Democrats have essentially one party rule- Philadelphia, Allentown, Harrisburg, Reading, Bethlehem, Easton. Again, we know the slight shifts among non-white men, and the more pronounced shift in white, blue collar urban neighborhoods explains a lot of this change. What I think we don’t appreciate enough is how hard it is to try and stop it. Big city mayors like Jim Kenney or Bill de Blasio are not going to be the kinds of spokes people that can push on more progressive politics, it’s antithetical to them winning. The same can be said for more progressive members of Congress that can increasingly win districts in cities and inner suburbs. While I loathe Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for the damage she does to Democratic candidates in the 40-50 competitive House seats left with her messaging and presence, she represents the district she represents. Asking her to “tone it down” would probably harm her as bad as asking the New York Mayoral candidates to endorse “stop and frisk.” She’d end her career taking that advice. Sure, it might help us in Long Island Congressional races and Presidential elections, but exactly zero members of Congress are taking one for the team like that. In short, the impediment of the politics in blue seats on Democratic victories is probably inevitable right now.

The map above screams a second thing at us- Joe Biden is a particularly strong politician. His ability to take the slight hits in Democratic strongholds across the country, but still flip nearly every major battleground state through suburban America is a unique political ability we haven’t seen in a long time. His coalition of voters probably had 90% overlap with President Obama or Secretary Clinton, yet he found the gains in the electorate that he needed to beat a motivated GOP electorate that produced the second most popular votes ever- behind him. Biden’s coalition was broad, really diverse, and most importantly improved on all the areas where Democrats underperformed in 2014 and 2016. Contrary to the views of pundits that Biden was “lucky” to get nominated, you could see the contours of his coalition in the primaries before Covid hit- he was winning black working class, white working class, and suburban educated voters, in some states literally taking every county. In short, Biden was the guy for right now.

So what can the President do to try and fight off the demographic and political doom that seems to be setting up a “red horizon” for us? While many Democrats are arguing policy particulars, I actually don’t think this comes down to how much they raise the minimum wage, or cut student debt, or any of the things people are rage tweeting about right now. I think there are three broad themes he needs to hit in this Presidency to stop our political decay.

  • End “Messiah politics,” turn down the political temperature. In short, be a boring, normal guy. Democrats, going back as far as JFK, have elected charismatic, big personality types. The GOP has done similar. We pretty much reached the peak with the Trump cult. Americans don’t elect kings, in fact we were founded on not doing so. The concentration of American power in Congressional leaders, nine lifetime appointed judges, and a singular American President has not done us well. It has divided leaders from the people, and created the perception of the “elite” ruling class. It has also made us concentrate a lot on the personal characteristics and scandals of Presidents, which short of breaking the law, should largely be irrelevant. The President doesn’t have to be a perfect person, in fact none of them are. The President can be boring, we don’t need to see them on TV every day. We certainly shouldn’t be hanging on their 1am tweets. The press is struggling with the lack of news from President Biden, and that is a good thing. Our hope and savior shouldn’t come from one elected leader, but from ourselves. Joe should be a boring guy, a devoted family guy with a very important job. We need to break our addiction to sensationalistic political news coverage that has become the new normal, post-Gingrich.
  • Deliver tangible victories and results for his base. I would say a $1.9 trillion recovery package that revolutionizes public health, saves small businesses, puts cash in pockets, eradicates child poverty, and does a bunch to kill Covid is the best start we’ve seen in forever. It is not enough. Voting rights must be codified through federal legislation. The right to organize for unions must be strengthened after decades of attacks. Public education needs to be strengthened and funded. Action on climate change and the environment is needed. President Biden needs to enact legislation with Congressional Democrats that touch the lives of as much of his 82 million voting block as possible, particularly those groups who made up the backbone of his coalition.
  • Convince whatever portion of the Republican electorate he can that government can still be useful, at least sometimes. This is admittedly the trickiest part. Most of the Trump voting block was less interested in policy, but more so in grievance politics. Thank God for that. Had Trump went beyond his isolationist rhetoric on trade and wars, and actually combined action for the “forgotten man” on economics with his white man grievance politics, he may very well have rebuilt the FDR coalition and governed a new dynasty. Fortunately the grievances are still the lede in the GOP platform, but they can’t cross their rich donor base. Trump used their bigotry views to align lower educated white voters with millionaire Republicans better than anyone in modern time, in part because many working class white voters haven’t felt they get benefits from the government acting in decades. Of course they do, but the connection isn’t made. Whether it is on Covid relief, a massive infrastructure bill, or creating green jobs, the Biden Administration needs to change that perception. Left with their current presumptions, 47% of Americans were willing to follow an ignorant con-man into the abyss. We are on the verge of losing one of our only two American political parties permanently to the conspiracy theorists descending from the John Birchers through the Tea Party, a set of loons who stormed our Capitol and romanticize a second Civil War. In fifteen years the Republican Party will either be a healthy political party with political ideas, or it will be a dangerous, white nationalist cult that is governing the majority of the country through essentially an apartheid government. How they are brought back to the table after President Biden will decide that.

Looking at the future through the lense of reality is hard. In a couple decades, we could be a hellscape of a nation. That is, unless Joe Biden can restore some public confidence in the institutions that govern us. Unless he can convince us that DC is not a bunch of out-of-touch, hyper educated folks representing interest groups and eschewing reality in our lives. If he succeeds, he’s one of our greatest Presidents. If he fails, we will fall to the chaos of extremist politics and a bleak future.

0.

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…

The man of the hour.

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.

So much to see here…

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.

How it happened…

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.).

So much fun…

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.

Turns out this stuff works.

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.

El oh el…

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.

Impeachment- Rome is Burning…

The view down Pennsylvania Avenue…

A few hours from now, Donald J. Trump is likely to become the third President to be impeached by the House of Representatives in the more than 240 years of the Republic. As I write this, I’m sitting in the Capitol Hill Starbucks on Pennsylvania Avenue, just blocks from the House floor. I might as well be home in Easton, given the divide I currently feel towards our politics.

To be clear, I believe Donald Trump should be impeached on many more counts than the two the House will consider tomorrow. Yes, he attempted to abuse his power by withholding both military aid and an Oval Office visit from the Ukraine, unless they investigated Joe Biden and his son. To be clear, that’s also an effort to extort a bribe. Trump also obstructed justice in his attempts to thwart Congressional oversight, refusing to turn over documents, make witnesses available, and ignoring subpoenas. Robert Mueller also made clear that Trump obstructed justice in his probe of election interference, particularly in limiting cooperation and firing the FBI Director. He also filed false reports of his campaign spending, when he failed to disclose his “hush money” payment to Stormy Daniels (and others) that he made when he wanted to keep the affair with the porn star quiet before the election. In addition to all of that, he is not disclosing the “gift” of free legal representation from Rudy Giuliani on his ethics forms (I’m not sure they’re a gift, but I digress). I’m leaving aside matters I consider to be of personal distaste, or his moral character, which I believe should be settled by the 2020 Election, not the impeachment process. I think he should be minimally impeached on articles of abuse of power, two counts of obstruction, bribery, falsification of campaign finance reports, falsification of an ethics report, and possibly extortion. In fact, I believe the House is wrong to vote on this matter until they have played out all legal disputes for additional testimony from people such as Mick Mulvaney, Rudy Giuliani, and Secretary Pompeo, because let’s face it, then Senate isn’t going to force the testimony of anyone else. House Democrats cutting this short are short-changing Democracy. And again, I’m leaving aside all issues of policy differences, Trump’s capacity to serve, or his moral character. Those have no place here.

Here’s the other, obvious side of this, to me- this was both inevitable and completely pointless. From the day he took office, some House Democrats, and very many activists in our base wanted to impeach him for all the political and personal reasons we find him disgusting. To be clear, most of America, including some of the people who supported him in 2016, find him unacceptable- Trump is the first President in modern times to never average or sustain a 50% approval rating for any sustainable period of time in the first three years he sat in office. In fact, 2016 exit polls showed his Election Day approval at 38%, while he received 46% of the vote. A full 8% of America knew Trump was no good, and still preferred him to any other choice for President. Americans know what Donald Trump is, and don’t care. Nothing he did to Robert Mueller, the Ukraine, with Russia, to the Congress, or otherwise uncovered in this investigation is going to dramatically change anything. The televised hearings didn’t move public opinion. Shaming the GOP for supporting their President (who has mostly done what they wanted in delivering conservative judges, tax cuts, and deregulation), it didn’t work. You can make the Senate take any oath as jurors that you would like, Donald Trump will not be convicted and removed from office by 67 Senators. This is not in doubt. In fact, the outcome was inevitable. Trump supporters do not care that he is objectionable to the Democratic base, and in fact they like it, full stop. Democrats should have listened to the voices telling them this from the start, because this is a process with no point. Trump won’t have to wear a “scarlet letter” for being impeached, but perhaps the freshmen Democratic members representing actual competitive districts might, because we put them in the inevitably hard position of choosing between the just (holding Trump to account) and the good (working on politically popular items that would allow them to continue helping their constituents by being re-elected). History will show Trump to have looked like a clown, and absolutely no living person has any reason to care.

And so tomorrow we will have a historic moment in our Congress that will have little to no tangible impact on today. Your Facebook feed will be full of middle aged white men in red hats calling Speaker Pelosi and Democrats vile names, talking ignorantly about Hillary Clinton’s “crimes” that never existed. You’ll also have women in pink hats on your feed talking about how the “Senate must do the right thing,” and posting Capitol phone numbers to lobby Senators who have long since made up their mind, based on opinion back home. Some twitter warriors will call for Rep. Peterson (D-MN) to be primaried for voting “no” on impeachment (good luck ever holding that dark red seat without him). The noise will be loud. And for who, for what?

To be clear, again, I think Donald Trump deserves his historical designation as a crooked dumpster fire of a President tomorrow. I’m just failing to see what we all get from it. If Democrats had been able to subject Trump to the drumbeat of criminal accusations over the next year, much like Republicans did to Hillary Clinton in 2016, and ultimately moved a big chunk of that 8% that voted for him and disliked him to stay home, vote third party, or vote Democratic next year, a failed impeachment would have had tremendous value. As is, it feels like we appeased the loud voices in the party that never understood the value of this anyway.

Moving forward, it’s clear to me that we should not view impeachment through some sort of moral duty prism. There is no trigger in the constitution at which Congress is compelled to impeach. In fact the House chose to not impeach Vice-President Spiro Agnew in the 1970’s even as he was indicted and convicted of felonies. The only “successful” impeachment of our President was the Watergate process against Richard Nixon, which pushed him to resignation once we had broad national unity against him. Even though this standard would protect reprehensible people like Trump, it would also stop nonsense conversations that have no real value. You can’t impeach and convict a President unless their own party turns on them. It was true with Bill Clinton. It’s true today. Perhaps we’d be better off making that our standard.

Trump’s Battlefield of Choice

From the very start, Steve Bannon laid it out bare:

“I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

It fits with the Trump campaign’s 2016 strategy– sacrifice educated white votes from suburbia to pick up more plentiful (especially in swing states) lower middle class white voters. Trump wants to talk immigration, trade, and retracting the American global role, and he wants Democrats to talk racism, sexism, and things that generally don’t resonate with their voters, or swing voters. It works pretty well for them, or it at least did.

If you were going to pick a dream scenario for Trump, it would be a fight over racism with “the Squad”- AOC, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib. Just days after AOC called out Speaker Pelosi for “racism,” Trump could hardly resist injecting himself into this mess. Now he is in a fight with four women of color, two of which are Muslims, all of which are quite left, and at least two of which have a history of questioning Israel’s decency and legality. It’s a wet dream for him in motivating his base, and convincing the persuadable voters- the roughly 8% of the electorate who said they didn’t like Trump in 2016, but voted for him anyway- that Democrats don’t really care about people like them. Battling with AOC in particular, who isn’t popular nationally, or even in just New York, is perfect for Trump. Trump needs to keep almost all of these voters, and AOC is the opponent to help him do it.

One of the big fears Democrats in DC should have is that their base is certain Trump is unpopular, and just being bold and unapologetic is a winning strategy. It’s worth noting that Trump is currently polling his best on record. It’s also worth noting that this comes right after the first Democratic debate (perhaps it wasn’t a hit?). Many Democrats point to last year’s mid-terms, or Trump’s overall not impressive poll numbers as evidence he will be beaten in 2020. They point to Democratic advantages on issue polling, which also existed in 2016. They point to a perceived slew of new Democratic voters- even if registrations don’t back that up. It’s like 2016 didn’t happen- Democrats are sure the country feels like they do. Plenty of signs say otherwise though.

One of them is the debate we’re having- this is Trump’s favored battle field. Donald Trump wants the Democrats to focus their attacks on him on racism and sexism, and he wants AOC to be a big part of it. AOC and Ilhan Omar poll really poorly with the voters Trump swung in 2016, and he’d like them to be the face of the Democratic Party.

None of this is to excuse Trump’s tweets and general racism, but do consider it a call back to reality. Over the past three weeks, AOC has been a dominant figure in our political news. First, her Chief-of-Staff called moderate and new Democratic members today’s “Southern Democrats,” basically quasi-segregationists. Then Nancy Pelosi stepped in to defend them. Then AOC called her a racist. Then the House Democrats defended Sharice Davids against AOC’s Chief-of-Staff calling the Native-American, LGBT member part of a “racist system.” Then Trump tweeted racist things about “the Squad.” Now the House has rebuked him. It’s AOC, all the time. America doesn’t like it. They don’t like her.

The Five Big Things- 5. Taming the Military Industrial Complex

It would be fair to say that Dwight Eisenhower both did more for the U.S. Army than anyone in the 20th Century, and that the Army did more for him too. The last five star General, Eisenhower defeated the Nazis in Europe. The fame of that victory catapulted him to the White House as our 34th President. No one would dare call Eisenhower an anti-war dove. That’s what makes it all the more remarkable that Eisenhower used his 1961 farewell address to warn about the dangers of the military industrial complex. He could not have been more spot on.

Few people really know what they’re talking about when they bloviate about the Pentagon Budget. You hear crazy statements about how we could “cut the Pentagon” and pay for new spending programs at home that cost trillions of dollars. The truth? The 2020 Budget request asks for $718.3 billion for the Department of Defense. The entire national security budget request is for $750 billion. The other side of that coin though? The U.S. is spending more in 2019 than Germany, The United Kingdom, France, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, and China combined on defense, and is asking for more next year.

The United States could drop nuclear bombs on virtually any country in the world that would put them out of existence. The U.S. Navy has no actual rival in the sea, nor does the Air Force through the air. American military capability is second to none, and would be so if it were substantially smaller than it is now. Is it necessary? Is this a good use of resources?

Let’s start by understanding the Defense Budget. Very little of it gets spent on salary, benefits, or housing for members. The share of it dedicated to bases and upkeep is also not high. Most of the money is dedicated to weapons contracts. The U.S. spends money on bombs, planes, aircraft carriers, and other weapons, mostly. Some of it is absolute waste, and Generals testify to such annually, but it stays in the budget every year because hawks in Congress want to keep producing it in their districts, and contractors want the payday. Among the non-waste weaponry, we’re often buying way more than we actually need. A reasonable group of ten educated members of the public could probably find $100 billion in cuts without harming our readiness to defend the country. A trained panel could do more.

Even that only partially explains our addiction to military spending though. As of 2017, the cost of the War in Afghanistan was roughly $2.4 trillion, all on borrowed money. As of 2013, the Iraq War has directly cost $1.7 trillion, with another $490 billion in costs owed to veterans of the war. These costs will continue to climb in coming decades as interest costs grow and veterans accumulate costs. In other words, the U.S. is probably approaching $5 trillion in costs for the two wars that came out of 9/11. Would that pay for “Medicare-for-All?” No. But by comparison, the Interior Department’s 2019 Budget was $11.7 billion, and one of the reasons co derivatives cite for selling off protected lands (Interior is in charge of that) is costs. You could protect all the land you want, end homelessness for Veterans, fix the Flint water crisis, repair all the deficient bridges, and do a lot of stuff with $5 trillion. Instead we’re paying interest on that money to invade foreign countries and occupy them for going on two decades.

Having a strong military is important and useful to being a global power, but it’s easy to question the judgment of how America has used it’s hard earned treasure since Eisenhower. While we argue about Medicare and Social Security’s solvencies, or fail to act on lowering prescription drug costs, or don’t protect our natural lands, or don’t fund our public schools, we’re spending more money than is needed to do those things on unnecessary military might and invasions. This is exactly what Eisenhower warned us of- an addiction to the war machine.

The argument is not on whether we should cut our military budget to the bone, but really whether we’re spending the people’s money right. While we can’t afford to do things our public need, we somehow have money to waste on war. Ending this addiction can solve many other problems and improve life for the people. It’s a necessary step to making life better in America.

Read big thing 4 here.

Read big thing 3 here.

Read big thing 2 here.

Read big thing 1 here.

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.

If I Were President Tomorrow…

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

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

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

Making Sense of Barr, Rosenstein, and Mueller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dividing Lines

The political order is breaking down right in front of us. While DC is immersed in ideological battles, we’re seeing traditional liberalism and conservatism morph right in our eyes, you have cultural liberals arguing for free trade, cultural conservatives railing against billionaires, and moderates on both sides picking and choosing amidst the carnage.

This is not to say there aren’t still more traditional left and right, or even extreme left and right. That still exists. The main point is that there are new politics emerging, like a spring blooming from the Earth. In the aftermath of 2016, there are new coalitions forming, some good, some bad.

Americans aren’t satisfied with their political choices. This is why 42% self-identify as independent. It’s why more radical voices are rising on the left and right. It’s why people who lack credibility (Trump, Bernie, AOC) are gaining followings. People want to hear what they want to hear, not what is “possible” or “electable.” It’s why talking about the cost of something, or Congressional viability, or details of a plan haven’t derailed some of the frauds and grifters who have risen in our politics. Nobody cares about what’s wrong with their lies.

The only way out of this hellscape is vision. Someone will have to put something real, appealing, and truly good for people’s lives on the table. Tax subsidies for Amazon to bring minimum wage jobs to Queens aren’t exciting, even if they’re an upgrade for people who need more income there. Activists will sabotage that every time, because there’s no real joy in it. People want their standard of living improved. They want opportunity. The only way to stop them from dumb ideas is to offer good ones.