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.

4.

It’s been a long time…

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.

Iowa was so long ago…

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.

NBD.

Some quick reads for you all. How Biden’s Malarkey Factory Fights Back. These folks deserve saint hood. Latino Turnout Could Decide Pennsylvania. While this shouldn’t surprise you, it might. Allentown, Reading, Bethlehem, and Hazleton are just *some* of the places future campaigns should invest their time and resources into turning out in droves. Entirely not campaign related, but Japanese robot Gundam shows off it’s dance moves. This is so 2020.

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…

11.

And soon, like a miracle, it will be over.

Well, we’re almost there. Over 50 million votes have been cast. How’s it look? 538 says it’s a 9.7% race in favor of Biden. Their forecast gives Biden an 87% chance of victory. Meanwhile, the Economist gives Biden a 91% chance of winning, and 346 electoral votes. The RCP average has it Biden 51.3%-42.4%, an 8.9% lead for Biden. That’s 4.1% larger than Clinton’s lead four years ago. These are actually pretty steady numbers, although 538 and the Economist are showing slight movement towards Trump. Ultimately though, the race is heading steadily towards a Biden win.

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…

14.

Well, we’re into the homestretch. With under two weeks to go, RCP has it 51-42.5%, or Biden plus 8.5%. Comparable to 2016, Biden’s lead is 2.9% bigger than Clinton’s. In yesterday’s polls, Biden lead by 8%, 9%, and 3% (in the one poll that gave Trump a final lead in 2016), which looks pretty healthy. If you look back at Clinton’s final 2016 RCP lead (3.3%), the thing that stands out is that she only hit 50% in one poll, and was often around 45%. Biden regularly hits 50%. 538 gives Biden an 87% chance of victory, while their polling average sits at 52.2-42% for Biden. Meanwhile, The Economist model gives Biden a 93% chance of victory, projecting a 346-192 win. None of this is close or good for Trump at this point.

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.

Feeling confident as ever, more later…

24.

Happy Monday

Rather than doing a race update or talking about issues, I want to take some time this morning to talk about politics, and why so many Americans hate it. Why it doesn’t speak to them. And why it’s not responsive.

Politics is an industry. It is not our system of government, it is an industry that has to produce growth and prosperity like any other. While I think most people think the industry’s consumers are the voters, I think the truth is that the consumers are the small dollar donors on the left, and the high rolling lobbyists on the right. Whether the positions of the donors are electable or not, the show must go on. You can’t run the industry, or at least finance it’s current form, without the donors funding it. This means running candidates, and taking issue positions, that don’t match up with the median voters out in the districts, but instead match up with the median donors. Donors are generally way more partisan and ideological than the decisive voters. Hence, the two parties seeming ever more polarizing and out of step with the average person in your neighborhood. They are discussing issues that matter more to donors than average voters. If you view the consumer for this industry as voters, it makes no sense. If you view the folks finding things as the consumers, it makes perfect sense.

This seems like a good point to point out that this does not mean politics is inherently corrupt. Many people take the incorrect view that donors “buy” policy from politicians. They don’t. Candidates mostly come with safe, pre-packaged viewpoints that match up with the donors. Basically, the funding only really goes to people who agree with the donors. As the Democrats have moved from bigger donor to smaller donor models, the candidates have moved left accordingly. As the Republicans fund their campaigns from wealthy, white men and “culture warriors” they have took increasingly more extreme positions as well. Part of why Donald Trump has taken over a previously hostile GOP establishment is that he controls the activist donor class, and they don’t.

Which leads back to my initial point- American politics suck, and the rise of Joe Biden is actually a repudiation of the professional class who run it in DC, just as Trump 2016 was. It turns out the last Democratic Vice-President, with his long and complicated Senate record, his age, race, and gender, and folksy style, was something the broader voting base liked. Oh sure, he struggled in the earliest primaries, but once non-white voters and blue collar “Rust Belt” voters got into the game, he shot up the leader board. The donor class has come along, now that he’s facing Trump, but it’s worth noting how wrong they were at the start. The “great” operatives, the left media, the donor class, they all preferred anyone to Biden. He would certainly implode, they said. Just as Hillary was a lock to win, right? Some of the podcast class declared Biden dumb, wrong on everything, and boring. Hell, they even labeled him a moderate. I’m not the only one noticing this now.

Well look where we are now…

It Was Never About Trump

One of the most confusing things for the American left to understand is how Republicans keep supporting Donald Trump…

… and I get it, it doesn’t make so much sense. His personal life should disqualify him with Evangelicals, who carried George W. Bush politically. He’s blown a hole in the deficit, something that should have disqualified him with the alleged “fiscal conservatives.” He’s no Dick Cheney styled neo-conservative. In fact, the guy seems to have no real policy credentials or ideas. He’s flip-flopped on abortion rights, been inactive on his stated desire to bolster coal and fossil fuels, and even been largely ineffective on immigration. What exactly do they like about this guy? Why do Republicans continue to protect a guy cozying up to their one-time enemies in the Kremlin?

Do they like him? Like, for real? The polls say yes. Trump’s approval among Republicans routinely tops eight or nine out of every ten voters. Did they always though? No. Over the Summer of 2015, Trump’s approval within the GOP went up from 65% unfavorable to 57-40% approval to disapproval. Did anyone forget about who he was? Of course not. It was during that time that Trump upped his rhetoric on immigration and other cultural issues that drew Republican interest. It’s worth noting though, they knew all the stuff we knew, and they didn’t like him. But they could accept a person they didn’t personally approve of, once he was speaking their language. Indeed, they did by the Fall of 2015.

Eventually, Trump did win the Republican nomination, but he did so with 30% of the party’s delegates against him. Yet, today we regard his support as being like a cult. When did it change? Did it really? Is the GOP all in with him, really? Trump’s approval offers us a clue. Trump was elected with roughly 46% of the vote, but only 38% approval on that same day. At his lowest points in office, he has fallen about as far as 33% approval, and his ceiling has been just under his 46% vote share. A portion of the Romney 47% and McCain 46% that were solid GOP voters before, particularly suburban moderates, have become “never Trump” Democrats, helping them flip Congress. On the other hand, there was a near equal group of Obama-Trump voters who flipped from the Democrats in his favor. It’s fair to say that about 33% of the country love Trump, and intend to vote for him and Republicans across the board. It’s fair to say that there is another 5-7% of the country who usually approve of Trump, but are occasionally embarrassed by his antics. If you add these folks up, you get a 38-40% voting block that make up the base of the Republican Party. There is another 6% of the country that can’t bring themselves to say they like Trump, or the GOP for that matter, but generally end up voting that way in the end- because they prefer Republicans to Democrats. If you break down the full 46% that is the Trump coalition, you realize that about 13% (roughly very close to that 30% that opposed him at the convention) are less rock solid in their commitment to Trump. Democrats see this and wonder why these people don’t turn on Trump. Surely these fault lines in the party offer opportunity, right? Unless Democrats and the left are completely misreading Trump and his support- which they clearly are.

The choice these GOP voters made in 2016 was that they preferred a person they had problems with over Hillary Clinton, or for that matter a third-term of Barack Obama. They were not under any illusion about Donald Trump the person, or the political vision he put forward for the country on everything from immigration to climate change, to abortion rights and tax policy. This is why Trump has record setting negatives, as Clinton attacked his dirty language and personal character, but she could never quite put him away in the polls. They knew Donald Trump, good and bad. They were prepared to pick him over the Obama-Clinton Democratic Party. There was nothing about him that mattered.

As Democrats fret about impeachment polling not moving after hearings in the intelligence committee last week, it’s important to apply these past lessons- Trump’s coalition doesn’t care what Trump did. A solid 70% of them love whatever he does. The other 30% just don’t like the Democrats. Whether or not he was fair to the Ukraine isn’t going to suddenly awaken the “good” Republicans. Nothing about Trump will. Not his dirty language, his affairs, his love of Putin, or anything else. The policies don’t particularly matter. The man certainly does not.

The main animating principle of the Republican Party is opposition to the Democratic Party. The Republican base built by Trump is uniquely strong in the electoral college and U.S. Senate. This problem isn’t going away because Donald Trump did something bad. It was never about him anyway.

A (Too Early) Look at 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Trump Gets Re-Elected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the Things Democratic Campaigns are Getting Wrong

It was Friday. I wanted some intel on a Presidential campaign I’m interested in working for. I got in touch with an organizer in Iowa to ask about her day. Her response? She’s in the office, calling through a volunteer list. Just as the other days. The scene this young lady described to me was not unusual, it was in fact very similar to what friends on other campaigns I’ve talked to have described. This makes it no less disturbing to me.

The Democratic campaigns for President have not yet, on the whole, made it clear they understand the mistakes of the Clinton campaign in 2016. This is not an alarm that I think they’re hopeless, or that Trump is a lock to win, it’s simply an observation of weakness that I’m making from more experience than some of the folks put in position to screw this up (thus far).

What are some of the failures I’m seeing? What should be different? I’ve compiled a small list of the things that stand out:

  1. The DNC and the campaigns are joining forces to ruin the future of digital organizing. An organizer in Iowa said to me “with all the young people online, we need to meet them there.” She’s right, but that’s not what we’re doing with digital organizing. We’re using digital as an ATM. Why? Because someone at the DNC decided grassroots donors would be a good metric for access to the first debate. Why? I guess because Bernie did it well in 2016- as though Bernie 2016 was the ideal campaign. Turning digital organizing entirely into an arm of the finance department makes zero sense when you look toward a future where actual organizing online will be an essential part of campaigns, but I guess burning a major potential future tool on an unsustainable model now is cool to someone.
  2. Organizers should organize, not just phone bank. The HFA organizing model had one main goal- produce enormous numbers. It did that. What it didn’t do was produce neighborhood organizing teams, or persuade swing voters in any of the decisive swing states. It was built off the idea that the election was purely a turnout battle, that there weren’t really any undecided people to persuade, so the most important thing to do was hit huge numbers, assuming that would cause higher turnout. The entire premise of the program was wrong. Clinton somehow won the popular vote by three million votes, but fell short in the six closest states by under a half million votes. As dumb as I thought the program was for a general election, it’s even dumber for trying to win an Iowa Caucus. Caucuses are all about personal relationships, getting quality captains, and the overall quality of your organizing work- not raw quantity. Unless you’re going to have paid staff at every caucus site in the state, it’s absolutely crucial that you build the best, most motivated, most strategic grassroots leadership teams in each caucus site, so that they know what to do on caucus night and have a plan to get it done. Organizers need to spend their daytime hours out, meeting with the people who may potentially be their caucus captains out there leading the charge. Build the relationships. Build the plan. Train them. You don’t do that phone banking.
  3. Bernie’s policies are not what helped him in 2016. Bernie Sanders didn’t get over 40% of the vote in 2016 because people loved his policy on Medicare-for-All or free college. A huge chunk of his votes came from people who didn’t want to vote for Hillary. Some of them were more moderate voters who have since peeled off to Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and others. Some were more ideological lefties that now are dividing between Bernie and Elizabeth Warren. Even so, a majority of Democratic primary voters ultimately voted for Hillary. Why so many candidates thought it was smart to chase him on policy issues is beyond me. Why they’ve all chosen to accept his paradigm, of eschewing major Democratic donors and pledging to take “no PAC or lobbyist money,” is beyond me (note- unions and liberal aligning organizations have PACs and lobbyists too). Much of Bernie’s support was built off of personal feelings toward Hillary, not specific policy issues. Trying to replicate that in a race with different people is idiotic.
  4. Make your damn candidates accessible. One of the reasons Hillary never got the benefit of the doubt in her campaigns was that the press didn’t like her. One of the main reasons they didn’t like her was that she never was overly accessible, and when she did talk she was often safe. People aren’t that ideological, and they aren’t policy experts. They do like authenticity, some real answers, and to hear from their leaders. And the press are junkies for access, and will treat candidates differently who give them their fix. Give interviews. Have your candidates tweet. Do all the social media. Try to make them fun.
  5. People want something positive. The percentage of the population with whom shitting on Donald Trump is a motivator is fairly baked in. Hillary got 48% running ads about what a bad man Trump is, and that wasn’t enough, as appalling as that is. If you’re going to win in 2020, it’s going to take something more. Speaking to the base, trashing Trump, and praying for demographics to win the election for you aren’t going to work. Put forth a bigger vision, speak to more people, and give people some hope again. Bill Clinton gave them hope. Barack Obama gave them hope. Hell, even Donald Trump in his crude way asked “what the hell do you have to lose?” If you want to win the election, go with something positive and hopeful.

That’s my two cents at least.

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.