The Reactive American Government

When a child is diagnosed with a developmental disability, the education system is expected to draw up a detailed plan for how it is we expect them to learn (no comment here on how I think they do at that task). By contrast, the American health care system essentially waits to treat illness until there is a diagnosed illness, rather than proactively drawing up a plan to usher the patient to success. In a way, you could invert these two examples to say that special education is reactive to a negative diagnosis and American medicine is proactive to avoid death. Either way, if comparing American governance to these systems, our government is much less proactive to reactive. We do not really try to create the reality that we seek, we just react to the problems we come across.

What is the outcome we are seeking on health care, or maximum employment, or a functional criminal justice system? Like hell if I know. We pass crime bills after a decade of violent drug trade in America, and we pass criminal justice reform when we realize we have over crowded prisons and millions of convicted felons that we destroyed in the prison system. We’re going to react to climate change, while failing to set the energy and environmental policies that get us to where we want to be. Infrastructure? We’re arguing over whether we should fix crumbling highways and bridges, decades after having the foresight to build the interstate highway system. We’re not forward thinking. We react to sickness in our public sphere. It limits the range of our reactions, and frankly our ability to have a unified, shared system of goals.

When we think about American success stories, those that were true American exceptionalism, we find they were only partially reactive, if they were reactive at all. The creation of the interstate highway system was more visionary than reactive. So was going to the Moon. Sure, both were reactive to some extent towards the Cold War, but they were more aspirational in that we set out with a national goal for what we wanted to be. The same can be said for Social Security and Medicaid, programs inspired perhaps by the Great Depression, but frankly forward thinking beyond the current crisis. LBJ’s “Great Society” was visionary of what we wanted to be, and it delivered us Medicare. In all these instances, we set goals based on values, and we pursued them based on aspiration, not illness.

Trumpism is simply a public reaction to what they perceive that we’ve become. Even though Barack Obama was a great President, the perception was that he spent a lot of time fixing the societal ailments, but less time “progressing.” Was perception right? No, but it’s reality. Sure, Obamacare was aspirational in what we want to be, but it also felt like only solving the problem of people without health care, treating a failure instead of building a future.

There is certainly an importance in fixing failure. It’s an important government function. When that’s all that we can do though, the public looses a measure of faith in the ability of government to improve their lives. That leads to the rise of frauds, strong men, and populist screwballs. We’re seeing that in America. We’re seeing that across the western world.

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What 2020 Might Look Like

Everybody has an opinion, and it usually matches their politics. Will Donald Trump be re-elected? No way, say the resisters. Of course, say the “red hats.” Not if Bernie is nominated, say the Socialists. And the moderate Democrats and #NeverTrump Republicans keep cautioning Democrats to stop moving left. But what do the numbers say?

Above is what I call the consensus concession map. The states in blue and red are the states that almost no one is arguing will change. The Democratic nominee starts at 175. Trump starts at 103. Under virtually any scenario where either side loses states they have above, the election was simply a national consensus landslide against both the losing party and nominee.

How likely is that to happen? It’s not going to happen. The Democrats almost can’t get beaten any worse than this, as Donald Trump is an unpopular incumbent President. I see no scenario where Trump falls below this either- his approval is higher today than it was on Election Day of 2016, when it was just 38%. He got 46% of the vote that day. With over 90% approval among Republicans, Trump basically can’t lose these dark red states. His current approval on Real Clear Politics is 43.2%.

So where do we begin? Let’s start here, a fair approximation of what is truly possible as a battleground. All of the Obama-Trump states in play, all of the states Trump was close in are in play, and the Democrats hopes in some Southern and Southwestern states remain in play. From here, we begin at 188-125.

Here’s some cold water on everyone though- not all of those states are in play. If either party ended up winning all of these states, it’s a historic blowout. Just for fun, here’s what those maps would look like.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of our systems, understand that those scenarios are really unlikely unless one side or the other dramatically changes it’s mind about itself. Since that won’t happen, here’s my realist battleground map:

Behold a map where the Democratic nominee starts out with every Hillary state but Nevada, while Trump is defending the “Obama” states he picked up, plus Arizona and North Carolina. In other words, it’s 2016 and 2012’s battlegrounds, plus Arizona. What do we know about this? The Democrats only need to be a little better than they were in 2016, but these things usually run in one-sided trends at the end. Trump had to win all the swing voters in 2016 to squeak out a win, but he did. Barack Obama won nearly every swing state in 2008 and 2012 as well.

What might a Democratic victory look like? Here’s a few possibilities:

This is the “momentum” Democratic map, where the swing voters all break Democrats way at the end, and Democratic turnout is high.

This is the scenario where Democrats squeak out a win by flipping the PA/MI/WI states from last time, plus North Carolina, where they had a good midterm, but states like Iowa and Ohio just don’t budge, Trump hangs on in Arizona, and Florida continues trending badly. This map is essentially one where both messages work at reaching their sides, but Democrats win.

Here’s a possible narrow victory through the Rust Belt.

Here’s a scenario through North Carolina.

Ok, so enough with the fun stuff- how does Donald Trump win? You said it couldn’t happen last time, but it did. So let’s start with scenario A, 2016. He gets back to 46% and wins.

Not much imagination in that. So let’s go with a scenario B- where Trump builds off of 2016. He surges in some of the predominantly white states he lost last time, and gets this:

Minnesota, Maine, and New Hampshire flip, and Trump wins on the back of over 60% of the white vote.

One more scenario here, which is just a straight Trump sweep of what he won last time, the three states above, and the more diverse, but highly competitive Nevada, Colorado, and Virginia.

Could there be chaos? Yes. Ties are possible. Very possible. I came up with two plausible pathways there.

Who knows who controls Congress under this scenario, but things get chaotic. I doubt either side accepts the results. Things are bad.

How do Democrats most insure defeat in 2020- embrace a “base only” strategy and completely eschew persuading anyone that’s not neatly in their demographic camp. While the “emerging” electoral coalition that includes minorities and millennials largely is out there, the reality is that it is not ready to insure electoral college victories. This is where a “screw the Rust Belt strategy” begins 2020:

It’s not as dreamy as some people make it sound on the internet or on TV. Not at all.

So where do I have 2020 right now? Here’s my current prediction map:

I do not take into account the nominee or VP- yet. I might give Joe Biden more Rust Belt states, or Kamala Harris a shot at Georgia, or a ticket with Castro on it Arizona or Texas, but for now I can’t. I just give these states based on generic opinions. I might give Trump more states against a Bernie Sanders or other more lefty candidates too. But, without the benefit of particulars, I’m here right now.

The Presidential Race, Through Two Debates

Two debates, and their post-debate spin, are over. Two quarters of fundraising are over. The polls are somewhat stable. We’re reaching the point where we can start to make some assumptions about this race. There is starting to be some “tiering” of the field. Here’s mine:

  • The front-runners- Joe Biden stands out here on his own. The former Vice-President still leads the polls, and he raised the most money per day in his first partial quarter. His first debate not withstanding, he’s done well so far. Despite a drop in the polls, Bernie Sanders remains here too, as his fundraising and polling still stands out. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris are also clearly in here too. Based on money and media coverage, Pete Buttigieg is also clearly in this group. In a field of 25, these five are clearly the elite.
  • Viable and Alive, But Disappointing- I really like most of the candidates in this group, but polls and/or fundraising suggest they are failing to meet expectations. Cory Booker remains serious, but he seems unable to connect with voters or donors so far. Amy Klobuchar has a great track record of winning a swing state, but she’s been almost silent on the debate stage, which is translating to her (lack of) traction. How many of you remembered that Michael Bennet, a great Senator that also wins a swing seat, was still in the race? Kirsten Gillibrand has been, and this is charitable, bad at this, so far. Jay Inslee is an awesome Governor, and everyone agrees with him on climate change, but no one seems to think he’s going to win this thing. John Hickenlooper does a great job at smacking Bernie, but it isn’t translating into anything other than calls for him to run for the Senate. Steve Bullock is a red state Governor, the mother of electability arguments, and he’s trapped in single digits too. Literally everyone loves Julian Castro, and many want him on the ticket, but yet he can’t raise any money. His fellow Texan, Beto O’Rourke, is a former front-runner that now has struggled to do much but define who he sees as racist for the rest of us. I still think any of these candidates could break out and become a front-runner, but they’ve all come up short so far.
  • It’s not Gonna Happen, Bro- Bill de Blasio is the Mayor of the largest city in the country, but he’s been reduced to “tax the hell dot com” for attention. Tim Ryan and Seth Moulton are actual Congressmen, not that it’s helping them much. John Delaney was a Congressman, not that it’s helping him much either. None of these folks are going to win, even though I like some of them.
  • Wtf- Who thought letting a pro-Kremlin, pro-Assad stooge on the debate stage was a good idea? Please come pick up Tulsi Gabbard for us. Tom Steyer is going to spend millions of dollars to tell us why he’s more progressive than everyone else, and he still won’t be President. Andrew Yang has a position on circumcising guys. Joe Sestak has lost two PA Senate races. Mike Gravel has teenagers running his twitter account, so there’s that. Ever heard of Wayne Messam? I know you saw Marianne Williamson, and know all about the “dark, psychic forces” she’ll defeat as President. Why are these people running?

So by my count, there are 25 total candidates, but only 14 with an actual chance. Of those 14, I would be happy with about ten of them being nominated. I’d be excited by maybe six of them. So at this point, that’s my state of the race.

On Elizabeth Warren

When I say I like Elizabeth Warren, some people are surprised. In fact, she is among my favorite candidates in the field (I do not have one candidate, yet). If the primary were today, I wouldn’t be voting for her, but I’m still considering her. I find her intellect to be very, very impressive.

“But Rich, you hate Bernie! But Rich, you’re a moderate (only by today’s warped politics)!”

I’m amused by the notion that someone couldn’t both like Elizabeth Warren and say Joe Biden, or Cory Booker. I suppose in the world where you’re silo’ed off into corners from the start, sure. In truth, there are things I like about many candidates, and things I don’t. Warren certainly has done or said some things that drive me nuts. I also find a lot to like in her- her feisty spirit, her detailed plans for everything (cuts both ways here), and her clarity about what she represents.

Given how badly I’ve beaten on Bernie Sanders though, and the ideological ties between him and Warren, it is worth examining why it is I like her, and whether or not I am giving her a free pass that I don’t afford him. I say he’s too far left for me, he’s not electable, he’s not a good Democrat, that he’s a lefty Trump. I think that’s all true. How is she different?

I’ll start on the ideology. There are lots of similarities. Both are absolutely progressives. Both embrace a much bigger, more active federal government. Why is her progressivism better than his? Certainly she is more serious, and has more concrete plans, but is that really better? Having a white paper for everything also means giving the GOP a target for everything. Even if she did win, what would she get done? Which of her plans would get 218 votes in the House and 60 in the Senate? I know she says she wants to get rid of the filibuster, but that’s actually a terrible idea- inevitably the GOP will control the government again someday, and probably control the Senate more often if current demographic trends hold, and a future version of Trump would only need 51 votes for a “Mass Deportation Act,” or some other white nationalist garbage legislation. Besides, even at a 50 vote margin, I think it’s very dubious that single-payer health care or complete student loan forgiveness would pass a Democratic Senate. I’ve spent a lot of time ripping Bernie for not being truthful about how he’d pay for his ideas, and to Warren’s credit she has laid that out more clearly and honestly (even if she won’t admit a tax increase is coming to Chris Matthews). If we’re being honest though, her pathway to actually enacting her plans is as unrealistic as Bernie’s. That’s even more true when you consider the messed up State our government will be in come 2021.

Is she more electable than Bernie? While I say she is, the polls disagree with me. Bernie, much like Joe Biden, usually beats Trump by a significant margin. Elizabeth Warren, like Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg, is normally in a margin of error race either way. The entirety of my electability theory for Warren is that she has more actual appeal to the base of the Democratic base than Bernie, and that she will excite people more. The first problem with that theory is that I have absolutely no science or statistic to back that up, other than basically crediting her for being a woman. The second problem with my theory is that the Democratic base doesn’t win the major swing states on it’s own. Firing up the base was Hillary’s strategy, and she consistently, narrowly lost the swing states. My assumption that Bernie would be exposed as weak once the “socialism” attacks start on him is something I stand by, but why wouldn’t that work on Warren? If Bernie didn’t exist, we would be calling Warren the most left-leaning candidate on economic issues in modern politics. She’s for single-payer health care, the “Green New Deal,” free child care, and student loan debt forgiveness- just like Bernie. Really, she’s open to almost all the same attacks, but she doesn’t call herself a socialist. I pretty much base her electability on her being smarter and more detailed than Bernie, and her being a woman. In the end, is she even as electable as Hillary Clinton?

I can definitively say that at least she is a Democrat. Bernie is not. Warren calls herself a Capitalist, while Bernie literally calls himself a Socialist. On these two matters, I give her major points over Bernie. To be clear, they are purely an argument in semantics, but they mean something to those of us who both want to win in 2020, and maintain some level of pragmatism moving forward. Beyond that, Warren has lent her hand to the cause of electing other Democrats around the country, while Sanders has spent his time building up groups like the Justice Democrats, groups that criticize and primary Democrats. Sure, Warren has done some annoying things like lend credence to the conspiracy theories of Berners that the 2016 primary was rigged against Bernie, but I at least believe she’s on our team. He’s a Trojan horse.

If Sanders is a “lefty Trump,” isn’t Warren also kind of extreme? Both are populists at their core, and lefty progressives, but there is a real difference in the two. For Sanders, there is a narcissistic edge that Warren doesn’t quite have. For her, it is more about the ideas, while Bernie is mostly leading a movement that has ideas, but is centered around himself. This is much more like Trump, where the ideas can change if it works for him. In some ways, marriage to the actual ideals like Warren has can be almost fundamentalist, but it’s still preferable to marriage to the leader- Which history shows can lead to awful outcomes.

If I’m being honest, a real evaluation of Warren definitely leads to some actual misgivings. She’s probably a step to the left more than I’m comfortable with. Even so, I’m more comfortable with her than Bernie. While I don’t necessarily believe in her winning and enacting policies she’s promising, I could sleep much better at night with her than Bernie.

The Debates are Terrible? Blame Tom Perez.

I pretty much give Debbie Wasserman-Schultz a pass for her tenure at the DNC. The chair really doesn’t have much control over things when there is an incumbent President from their party. The only thing I do blame her for was allowing an independent to run in the Democratic Presidential Primary. Party membership should be a minimal requisite, since you’re putting them on stage with your candidates.

Tom Perez seemed obsessed with fixing all the non-problems from the start. He had his humiliating “listening tour” with Bernie, which ended up being a sign out the gate of what was ahead. In his determination to be “more fair” than his predecessors in 2016, Perez decided we would let 20 candidates debate over two nights- never mind that we don’t have 20 serious candidates. Never mind that we have no less than seven people who are absolutely certifiable in the field of 25. We wanted to give everyone a chance.

Worse than the size of the field though is how they qualify. Perez’s DNC decided to make a candidate’s raw number of donors a standard, a metric that favors internet sensations. Candidates like Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang found quick success meeting these standards, while actual members of Congress and Governors just struggled. Let’s face it, cults do well on the internet. As we saw with Bernie Sanders in 2016, once like minded people find each other in online communities, they feed off each other. Suddenly you have some very strange, very different kinds of views on your stage when that is one of the only two metrics that matter.

Isn’t it good to have diversity of views on stage? I guess that depends on your goals. The goal of the DNC should be to nominate the 46th President of the United States in 2020, a candidate who can beat Donald Trump. Forcing legitimate candidates to debate with people who have fringe ideas, or worse yet, appeal to the political fringes themselves for small dollar donors, doesn’t help us nominate a candidate who can appeal to the broader electorate. Without a doubt there are people on the political left who’s goal is to move the conversation further left, but it’s important to understand that there is a point where that goal is at odds with winning an election. The nation as a whole is not activist Twitter, or a Reddit thread, or a DSA meeting. One can reasonably want to move the health care conversation a step left of Obamacare and still realize there are limits to how far that can go.

Tom Perez’s insistence on letting literally any voice on stage landed us with a pro-Assad Congresswoman basically calling one of our top candidates an over zealous prosecutor last night, and an absolute lunatic saying she would defeat Trump with “the power of love” the night before. This is not helpful for a party that is trying to win an election this year. It may seem cruel and narrow, but Democrats should have stuck to raw dollars raised and polling data to determine the ten candidates we should have had on stage. We’d be able to see all the top candidates at once, without the circus coming to town. Unfortunately, Tom Perez tried to appease the crazies from the last war.

Understanding Republicans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power

So there’s another Al Franken article making the rounds talking about the regret over Franken’s sacking in 2017 from the Senate. Apparently people have regrets. They feel like there was a rush to judgment. Maybe the Senate Ethics Committee should have investigated, they’re saying. All of these were my thoughts at the time, but I’m actually a bit less sympathetic to Franken now. For one thing, he admitted bad actions. Two, he resigned. As we’ve seen from the Governor of Virginia to the President, if you’re shameless enough to tell your critics to go to hell, you don’t have to exit stage left.

The moment was bad for Franken though. The feminist movement was reeling from Trump’s victory over Hillary. The “#MeToo” movement was taking off. There were pictures. He was only disputing some of the details. I think a lot of people are revising history to pretend he could have survived and been a powerful voice in the Senate. He was the casualty ready and available to a political moment. Stubbornness probably doesn’t change that.

As with most political moments though, the chaos was not random, or without point. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has taken a lot of grief for her role in this chapter, and that’s probably unfair. Yes, she absolutely used the moment to take down a potential rival, but is that rare? Is she alone? In Democratic Party politics, the answer is no. The party is a coalition, and different factions compete for power every day. It’s less common to be so public in the GOP, in part because they have more core shared ideology across their party, and more shared identity. Not all groups within the Democratic Party actually are cheering for each other to succeed.

What Gillibrand did to Franken is really not that much different than Bernie’s populist broad side on Hillary in 2016’s “anti-establishment” moment, the Obama campaign wacking Bill Clinton over his Jesse Jackson comments in South Carolina’s 2008 primary, or AOC and “the Squad” attacking their more moderate Democratic colleagues after a recent immigration vote, or for that matter their attacks on Speaker Pelosi. The ideological and identity driven chess played within Democratic Party politics are constant, and when the moment arrives, they are used to bludgeon rivals. While some cringed as Kamala Harris went after Joe Biden on busing in the first Democratic debate, the reality is that she just did what every other modern candidate for President has done with an opening.

The post-1968 Democratic Party is a patchwork quilt of diversity, a coalition of interest groups who are only bound by the varying levels to which their causes have been oppressed in American society. Beyond that, you can find enormous gaps in the interests and beliefs from one group to the next. Because it is precisely these specific interests that bring these voters, activists, and donors to the table, Democratic power holders must decide to what level they need to cater to each group to reach power. For Gillibrand with more ardent feminists, or Harris with African-American voters and women, the choice to attack their white, male counterparts was probably easy and instinctual. It was a direct appeal to the interest groups whom they needed support from to rise to national prominence. Again, I think we need to be careful not to slam them for making a political judgment while we applaud those we like for doing the same thing. Both Barack Obama, using Iraq and “establishment politics” as foils for his “Hope and Change,” and Bernie Sanders, using class politics and open attacks on “the establishment” to elevate his Democratic Socialism politics, slammed Hillary Clinton as a cold creature of Washington, out of touch with the spirit of the American left. Many of my friends and I treat one much more favorably than the other, in no small part because he won.

Of course, it’s also worth remembering what a disadvantage that Democratic patchwork quilt really is politically. The Republican Party doesn’t have nearly the same identity divisions, or ideological ones, and is really open to anyone who can convince themselves conservative ideology helps them (so basically, white folks, mostly). They can stand up and cast themselves as defenders of a “majoritarian” American institution or concept- the flag, church, troops, cops, capitalism- and they don’t really have to critically examine the flaws of what they’re defending. Democrats have to have open, public debates about these things, because (for instance) African-Americans and organized labor voters might have drastically different views of the police based on their ideology and experiences. Democratic politicians may take nationally unpopular positions on issues like reparations or de-criminalizing border crossings, to win election in their Congressional district, or to seek the passions of activists and donors who care about those positions at a national level. Democrats like to wonder why their broadly popular positions don’t set the terms of the debate, while ignoring the unpopular positions that their coalition forced them to take.

Representing a patchwork of oppressed groups makes winning elections very difficult to win. Representing a group, or even several inside the coalition is a great way to rise to power within the party. Of course rising to power in a political party that has seen it’s power decline in the past quarter century from these internal struggles may not seem like a victory worth having. Then again, if you’re a traditionally oppressed cause, having power, even less power, beats being left out altogether.

The 2020 Race Update

The field changes, the field stays the same. That’s the lesson of 2020 so far. Eric Swalwell is out, Tom Steyer is in. As things go quiet from the Starbucks man, Me. “Appalachian Trail” Mark Sanford himself considers a primary against Donald Trump. This election is off the rails.

Is this the Democrats version of 1980, or another 1972? Good question. I take no joy in this, but I’d say the signs point towards a 1972. The party is generationally divided, impeachment is still very unpopular with everyone but Democrats, and Trump’s personal qualities- particularly whether or not he’s a racist- are at the center of the debate. It’s worth noting that Democrats won the 1970, 1982, and 1986 mid-terms, just before blowout Presidential “re-election” (Bush 41 was VP in 1986) victories. Then again, 1978, 1990, 2006, and 2014 suggest sometimes you can see the storm coming two years out.

This is my updated feelings on the 2020 field for President:

  • Love them (in no order)- Biden, Harris, Booker, Klobuchar, Castro. These are my most favorite candidates. I’m still looking at all of them for the primary, and I’d vote for any of them in the general election. Yes, they’ll fight a bit, this is competitive, but I’m not getting caught up in that mess. These are my favorites. I think all of them at least have a chance to be on the ticket. Obviously Biden and Harris are among the leaders to win the nomination.
  • Like them- Warren, Buttigieg, Beto, Bennet, Inslee, Hickenlooper, Bullock. I’d vote for any of these candidates in the general election, and I’m still considering them in the primaries- though they’re slightly behind the front group to me. Obviously Warren, Pete, and Beto have a better chance to be nominated than the rest, but I have concerns about each of their electability right now. I really like the other four, but have doubts about their viability in the primary (like Beto). Again though, I’d be happy with any of them.
  • Unsure- Messam. I know little to nothing about him yet.
  • It’s Not Happening- Delaney, Ryan, Moulton, Sestak, De Blasio. I like some of them more than others, but I think they’re all not going to be the nominee, and they haven’t quite convinced me to overlook their flaws yet. I’d be fine voting for them in the Fall though.
  • No- Bernie, Gillibrand, Steyer. I will not be voting for any of them in the primaries. If they are nominated against Donald Trump, different story.
  • Never- Tulsi, Trump. Never means never. Like primary, general, whatever. Trump obviously isn’t in the primaries, but I think the point stands.
  • Whut?- Yang, Williamson, Gravel. Who is actually funding them? Why? What is this?
  • Not Democrats (In Order)- Schultz, Weld, Sanford. Do I prefer them? I’d only vote for Schultz in a Trump-Tulsi match-up, or if the GOP doesn’t nominate Trump or Pence, and the Democrats do nominate the “no” group. Weld pretty much only gets my vote in the event he’s nominated against Tulsi. I can’t see myself voting for Sanford, but if he runs, he gets my best against Trump.

What say you?

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.

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.