Yay for Impeachment! Or Not…

For the fourth time in American history, the President of the United States will face a formal impeachment proceeding. With this being our 45th President, that is just shy of 10% of our Presidencies. With this being the third time in the last fifty years we’re going through this, it’s safe to bet we’ll see a fifth in our lifetime. This is rare, but it’s increasingly less rare. In this case, one could argue it felt nothing less than inevitable.

To be fair to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, I think she tried hard not to do this. I think she knows what a disaster it will probably be. I am less than certain frankly that Trump didn’t try to get to this point, for varying reasons. It felt inevitable though because in the “blue” House Districts that Democrats held before 2018, impeachment is popular. For similar reasons in “red” Senate seats, it’s doomed to fail. Pelosi tried to hold back the tide in her “blue” seats to protect the 40 freshmen House members elected in swing districts last year. Politics would not allow that.

So what is the process? What’s the likely outcome? What is the actual political fallout. Let’s observe.

Trust the Process?

The House leadership intends to begin this process in six separate committees. In other words, the House Judiciary, Intelligence, Financial Services, Ways and Means, Government Oversight, and Foreign Affairs Committees will begin this process with formal hearings investigating parts of Trump’s Presidency. Presumably at the conclusion of their investigations, they will either recommend articles of impeachment, or not. Speaker Pelosi chose to do this, rather than hold an initial House vote to open the inquiry, and send it straight to the Judiciary Committee (the process under Nixon and Clinton).

From there, this will follow normal process. The Judiciary Committee would then debate and vote on the articles before them. The assumption is they will pass. Then those articles of impeachment would go to the full House, who would vote on whether to impeach (or as a legal process matter, essentially indict) the President. If a majority, or 218 members vote to impeach, President Trump would join Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson as the only Presidents ever impeached. Neither of them was convicted, and neither was penalized at all in office. The other President to face impeachment of course was Richard Nixon, who resigned when it was clear he would be impeached. It’s almost certain Donald Trump will not resign.

The next step is presumably a Senate trial. Assuming one is held (it’s not entirely clear that they have to), the trial’s rules will be set by the Senate itself. The Senate President is of course Vice-President Pence. The man in charge of the Senate is Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will literally decide the rules of the trial. Chief Justice John Roberts would then serve as the judge enforcing the rules. There must be 67 Senators voting to convict the President and remove him from office, or he is considered acquitted in this process. There are current 47 Democrats in the Senate, so any vote to convict must include 20 Republicans.

Impeaching and removing a President is really hard. That’s why it’s never happened. It’s meant to be a consensus process, where all parties buy in. That’s really hard to do in divided government.

What’s the Likely Outcome?

By virtually any read, President Trump will eventually win this process. Whether that happens in the House committees, the full House, or the Senate, the outcome is virtually assured. Unlike Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, the President’s own party really isn’t interested in hurting him. Unlike Nixon’s process, there doesn’t appear to be any senior Republicans feeling politically threatened by the process. This begins under similar conditions to Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

So when will this fail? The furthest possibility is a Senate trial. For Trump to be convicted, it would seem that all 47 Democrats and 20 Republicans, or some similar math is needed. This means Doug Jones, Jon Tester, and Joe Manchin, all dark “red” state Democrats, would have to vote to convict, let alone Democrats in swing states like Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire, Virginia, Minnesota, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado (to name some), have to vote to convict. Then you need Republicans. The only one sounding reasonable today was Mitt Romney, who represents Utah, so don’t get hopeful. The obvious pressure points are Collins and Gardner, both of whom may benefit from voting to convict, but aren’t showing any budge. Senators Tillis, Ernst, and McSally may move if Trump falls further in the polls, but so far they’re not. Longer shots include Toomey, Portman, Murkowski, Rubio, Daines, Burr, and Johnson. I went as far as possible here politically, and your count is 13. There’s virtually no way Democrats even do this well, but they’d need 7 more votes. Because Republicans know that, they’ll hang together.

It may feel like Trump being impeached in the House is a done deal at this point, as 218 members now support an inquiry- but an inquiry isn’t impeachment yet. There are 235 Democrats, 198 Republicans, 1 Independent, and a vacancy in the House right now. This essentially gives Democrats 236 votes to start with, since the Independent left the GOP over impeachment. This means Democrats can lose 18 votes and still impeach Trump on just Democratic votes. That means impeachment is pretty likely. There are 40 freshmen representing formerly Republican seats though. This means that if Democrats can’t move the needle on impeachment polling, it may not be able to pass the House. It’s likely to pass, but it’s no lock.

I’d bet on articles of impeachment passing the House Judiciary though. The only potential pitfall is that six investigating committees is too many, but that’s not likely to matter. Don’t bet on this to die fast, but bet on it to die, basically.

What’s the Politics?

I’ll just go on record and say that this is maybe the only time I’ve disagreed with Nancy Pelosi’s judgment in this Congress. Impeachment starts out polling terrible, that’s not likely to change, and the polling is probably even worse in the swing districts. Pelosi had no choice though. A majority of the House wanted this inquiry, largely thanks to jitters among moderates who fear primaries (thanks, Justice Dems). Once those politics changed, Pelosi pretty much had to do this. And to be even more fair, the President of the United States openly admits he blackmailed an allied leader to help him hurt a domestic political rival.

Let’s just start from the unassailable facts to begin here though. Impeachment isn’t popular. It’s polling below 40%. That has been consistent. There are short term spikes, but it’s never overly popular. Much like in the Clinton impeachment, it has nothing to do with the facts- half the country thought Clinton was guilty, but only 30% supported impeachment at the time of the actual votes. Even as impeachment is not popular now, neither is Donald Trump- his average approval is actually up to 44.9%, a historically mediocre to poor number in a President’s first term. Those numbers are being propped up by some outlier numbers from Rasmussen and Emerson. So it is fair to say that both impeachment and Trump aren’t popular right now.

If we accept those facts as the case, then it’s hard to see how impeachment changes it’s own politics. They know Trump. They do not really like Trump. They still do not want impeachment. There’s less polling on the matter, but polls on various accusations against Trump show the public usually believes he’s guilty. In other words they already think he’s bad, they just don’t care enough to impeach him. It’s unlikely that hearings or testimony are going to move these folks in the middle with contradictory views. Sure, the hearings will be on TV, but are these folks going to watch it? Of course not, not unless something ridiculous and extraordinary happens in them. In that sense, it means the best shot for Democrats to change the math on impeachment is probably this Fall, when opinions might still be moved by something wildly over the top. Opinions won’t move during a Senate trial. Either way, it’s more likely that nothing said ever matters in this process, because a segment of the population is just not interested in impeachment.

In the best case scenario for Democrats, they put forward some new revelations in the hearing process that make things politically inconvenient for Senators like Collins, Gardner, Tillis, and Ernst. Perhaps they can help themselves put distance between Trump and Senate Republicans in swing states, improving their chances of taking the Senate next year. What seems more likely though is Trump’s eventual acquittal, whether it be in the House or Senate, and an eventual tough vote for 40 vulnerable House Democrats, and maybe even three Senate Democrats.

I don’t think Democrats had to do this. I don’t think this reaches much beyond the core of the Democratic electorate. This is not what 2018 Democratic campaigns were based on. Ultimately, I think it’s more likely than not to be bad politics. But for better or worse, this is where we are.

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Grading the Candidates- Joe Biden

No candidate has bothered the activist class of the Democratic Party more than Joe Biden. For me though, Biden remains among my top four candidates. The former Vice-President is far from perfect, as he showed with his Iraq War vote, his credit card/bankruptcy legislation, and parts of the 1994 Crime Bill that he wrote. Looking at the preponderance of his record though, Biden has been an excellent public servant and would be a good President.

Biden’s strengths as a candidate are well documented. Biden leads primary polling, usually comfortably, and has done so all year. He also continuously polls the best against Trump. He does this with near 100% name recognition. His “Scranton Joe” persona polls very well with “Rust Belt” white voters and African-Americans (as evidenced in South Carolina). He’s probably the only candidate who can boast those strengths at this point. There’s also no question that he has the qualifications for the job.

Biden’s weaknesses are also known. His legislative record offers a treasure trove of votes to examine, like those I mentioned above. His career stretches all the way back to the days of debates over busing desegregation, meaning Biden has some real challenges reaching a more progressive Democratic Party than the one he entered as a young man. An older white man is not exactly what the activist class probably has in mind for 2020. His early debate performances didn’t inspire confidence. In short, Biden has very real challenges.

Of course, some of Biden’s critics have gone off the deep end in their criticisms of the former Vice-President. It started with a ridiculous hatchet job trying to hit Joe Biden on #MeToo allegations for smelling the hair of women, orchestrated by allies of Bernie Sanders. It never stopped there. There have been multiple attempts to portray Barack Obama’s Vice-President as a racist, with the latest being the absurd attack by Jamil Smith of Rolling Stone. There was last week’s pathetic attempt by Julian Castro to make Joe Biden look old and forgetful in the debate, in which Castro ultimately got his facts wrong. This week we saw “CornPop” gate blow up on Twitter, as this week’s crop of millennial progressive writers accused Biden of making up a story about an altercation with an African-American man nicknamed “CornPop.” It turns out that despite their mockery, “CornPop” was real. Imagine that. A lot of the young, progressive class of the Democratic Party are exposing themselves as shameless and morally bankrupt in their pursuit of power- and incompetent. Their attacks aren’t working because they failed to connect with or change the mind of the base of Biden’s voters. They’re not knocking down his “Scranton Joe” image because their attacks lack credibility and don’t relate to the things Biden’s voters care about.

Biden’s credibility as a candidate will rise and fall with his ability to maintain his “Scranton Joe” working class appeal to older white and black voters. If that falls apart, he can’t win. If he can maintain it, he will pick up steam later in the process. People on both sides of the Biden debate would be smart to realize that.

The Cold Democratic Truth

Since LBJ left Washington, three Democrats have been elected President, winning five total elections. That’s out of thirteen Presidential races. In the victories of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, three traits have been present every time:

  1. They have been exciting, dynamic candidates.
  2. Their candidacies have been responses to a crisis- Watergate, recession, and war.
  3. Each of them was viewed as a moderate, mainstream candidate that promised positive change for the better.

Now, the good and bad news about 2020- there is crisis in the political air. I’m not sure if that crisis is the very presence of Donald Trump to the majority of voters, like our activists tend to believe, but he may be. Even if not though, I think the looming recession from a trade war, not to mention climate change, will qualify as a crisis to most. Whether it’s threats to our democracy, climate, economy, or society, there’s a crisis in the eyes of most of our citizens.

But what about the other two characteristics of Democratic victories? Is there an exciting, dynamic character who won’t be viewed as a radical? Here we run into a problem. There are lots of Democrats running for President, but are there any winners? Joe Biden is certainly a steady, calming figure, but is he exciting some group of voters (moderates?)? Elizabeth Warren has a plan for everything, but policy and professor types generally land with a thud in general elections. Bernie Sanders is easily labeled a nut. Kamala? Mayor Pete? We just don’t know enough yet.

Would the Democratic Party know if they found a broadly appealing, mainstream candidate though? Hillary Clinton began last cycle as that person, but was hammered by her left. Joe Biden consistently polls ahead in the primaries and in general election battlegrounds, but if you listen to MSNBC and Twitter, he’s a bumbling old moron. Is the dysfunction of the Democratic Party as crippling as conditions on the ground, or more? I guess we’ll find out, again. With so many candidates in the field, but only several looking like solid general election candidates, Democrats are being offered the opportunity to choose wisely. Conditions are lined up for them to win, if they don’t beat themselves first.

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.

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.