NDN Blog

Trump and GOP in Crisis

2016 Overview – The last few weeks have been remarkably bad ones for Donald Trump.  His erratic performance has pushed his poll numbers down.  Voices of dissent in his own party have grown louder, and stories about a renewed effort to replace him at the Convention have resumed with vigor.  His campaign organization and fundraising are in a shambles, and so behind at this point it is not clear he can mount a traditional campaign at all this cycle.  Even a domestic terrorist attack did nothing to aid his standing or wound the Democrats.  And while all this is happening, the Clinton campaign has become confident and sure footed, her public performances as good as they’ve been all cycle, and her capable campaign team is executing a long awaited game plan with intensity and purpose.  Republicans are right to be panicking about the fall.

Some numbers: the basic structure of the race hasn’t changed in the last few weeks, despite Orlando.  As I wrote two weeks back, the underlying dynamics of this cycle would have suggested Clinton to be up 6-8 points at this point.  Today, the Huffington Post aggregate has her up 45.3 to 37.7, 7.6 points net.  This is up from a 2 point average in Mid May.  As you can see from the graph below, the change in the race is coming not only from Clinton gaining ground and consolidating Democrats after clinching the nomination, but also because Trump has been dropping.  What is important is that all this movement has come before Bernie Sanders has officially endorsed (which will come), suggesting that Clinton has even more room to grow in the coming weeks.  

Yesterday, Trump said he would not officially begin his general election campaign until after the Convention.  In political Nerdistan this was a bit of a bombshell.  For it means that at a moment where the race is starting to slip away from him, Trump is going to allow the Democrats a full five weeks on the air in the battleground states without a response.  Traditional campaign tactics would suggest that Trump go up on the air now with a very substantial buy to blunt Clinton’s significant momentum.  By not responding at all until late in the summer when vacationing voters will be harder to reach, Trump is possibly in the process of losing the general election right now.

At the core of his campaign’s historic levels of dysfunction is a big and consequential lie – that he was wealthy enough to self-fund his candidacy.  You could say that this impression was an essential building block of his brand/persona – couldn’t be bought, successful businessman, no politics as usual.  It was perhaps the most important part of the early Trumpian brand, but it also had the practical effect of preventing his campaign from setting up a real fundraising operation (why do it if you are a self funder?).  What we are learning now is the myth of his wealth – and at this point it looks to be more myth than reality – will have prevented him from establishing even a modest campaign to take on a Democratic Presidential apparatus that has won more votes in 5 of the last 6 elections.  It is just too late at this point for Trump to build even a modest campaign, and every day GOPers on the ground in the battleground states don’t see ads up on the air the greater the panic and dissent will be.    

The realization that Trump’s enormous whopper about his wealth prevented him from mounting a real campaign could have an extraordinary impact with GOP insiders – those who vote at the Convention.  Unless Trump dumps $100m or more into his campaign in the next week or so, I think there is a very real chance he will be replaced at the Convention.  Replacing his campaign manager won't be enough. 

After Orlando/Not Just Trump – While the Democratic effort to close the “terror gap” and other common sense gun safety measures after the Orlando shooting is smart politics and the right thing to do, it would be wise to couple that with a challenge to the Rs to join them in giving the President the legal authority to fight ISIS in the Middle East.  As the President said last week, it is not an either/or, but a both/and.  The authority the President is using to fight ISIS abroad was explicitly written to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban in 2001.  If words matter – as many Rs say – then let’s name our current adversary properly – the Islamic State – and give the President the authority he needs to fight them in the months ahead.  The Congressional GOP’s refusal to give the President the authority he needs, along with the explicit political support, is one of the great abdications of responsibility we’ve seen in the past generation of American politics.  They should be called on it.  

This refusal to take responsibility for the world as it is today (something I wrote about extensively recently) has become a hallmark of the modern GOP.  Consider Paul Ryan’s House right now – no budget, no Zika funding, no TPP, no immigration reform, no response to ISIS/home grown threats.  And of course the Senate has for the first time in American history refused to act upon a Supreme Court vacancy.  Today’s GOP is simply ideologically incapable of governing in a time of enormous global change that its leaders are struggling to understand.   

Previous Columns – Previous editions of this weekly column can be found here

Memo: Hispanics Have Made Significant Economic Gains in Recent Years

A new study by the Pew Hispanic Center released this week has a rather dramatic finding – 81% of Hispanics in the US believe their family’s financial situation will improve this year (up from 67% in 2008). 40% say their personal finances are in “excellent” or “good,” up from 23% in 2008. The rising and deep economic optimism found in the Hispanic community today can be explained by recent economic data which suggests the last few years have been particularly good ones for Hispanics in the US. Let’s look:

Unemployment Rate Plummeting – The Hispanic unemployment rate has dropped dramatically from its recession high of 13% to just 5.6% today (a net drop of 7.4 percentage points). This is only slightly above the national average of 4.7%. The Hispanic unemployment rate at the beginning of the first Obama term, January of 2009, was 10.1%. Millions of Hispanics are working today who weren’t a few years ago.

Wages Gains Accelerating – According to a new study by Dr. Rob Shapiro, in the 2013 and 2014, Hispanics saw average household income gains of over 3% in each year. These gains were higher than their African-American and white counterparts, and twice what this community experienced in the early years of the economic recovery. Millions of Hispanics are making more money today than they were a few years ago.

Uninsured Rate Dropping – In the last few years the Hispanic uninsured rate has fallen by more than 25%, from 41.8% to 30.5%. This translates into about 4 million Hispanics having gained coverage since the implementation of the ACA, or 7% of the entire Hispanic population in the US. Millions of Hispanics have health insurance that didn’t a few years ago. Millions more would have insurance if two of the states with the largest Hispanic populations, Florida and Texas, had taken advantage of the Medicaid expansion resources available under the ACA.

A few things to note about this data:

- The real economic gains of Hispanics in the US in recent years, and the rising optimism found in the Pew data, comes at the same time we’ve experienced a rise in anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic rhetoric in the US. -

- The data includes the 8m-9m undocumented immigrants in the US who are Hispanic (total Hispanic population is about 55m today).

In sum, despite the lack of legalization and rising anti-immigrant/Hispanic rhetoric in the US, Hispanic families in the US have made very significant economic gains in recent years. Depending on how one weights the data, it may be the case that Hispanics made more significant economic gains than any other demographic group in the 2nd Obama term.

Faced with a challenging political climate in the US, the Hispanic community has stood strong, worked hard and grown even more optimistic about their future. It is hard to imagine a more powerful repudiation of Donald Trump than the economic success and rising optimism of Hispanics across the US today.  

Clinton Steps Up, Trump Stumbles and the Democrats and Post Cold War America

2016 Overview – The core dynamic of the race that we discussed last Monday hasn't changed this week – Hillary Clinton and the Democrats maintain a modest but meaningful advantage heading into the next phase of the campaign. Trump’s recent bump in the polls made the race a bit closer, but has receded now, leaving Clinton the clear front runner today.

As for the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton will clinch the nomination on Tuesday night. Bringing Sanders and his many supporters (he is still over 40% in the Democratic Primary and at 49% in national polls against Trump) into the fold will be one of many important tests for Secretary Clinton over the next few months as she makes the transition from candidate to nominee. Last week saw a very important moment in that transition, as Clinton, in San Diego, delivered what may have been her most powerful speech – and inspiring public performance - of the campaign. It felt very much like her formal pivot to the general election, and a very effective effort to begin to seize control of an election she has a very good chance of winning.

Trump, on the other hand, has struggled mightily in the post-nomination phase of his campaign. His now infamous interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper revealed Trump at his very worst – petty, mean-spirited, conspiratorial, shockingly comfortable with racist slurs against well regarded federal officials. Just as Clinton has started to feel “bigger,” and more of the national leader she aspires to be, Trump appeared much “smaller” over the past week, overwhelmed by the enormity of the job he is so clearly unsuited for. It was not an encouraging week for the Republican Party.

The Democrats and Post Cold War America – What is very much in the air these days, on both sides of the Atlantic, is a discussion about whether the system the West built after WWII is failing. Our friends in Britain are debating Brexit, and throughout Europe the established political order is struggling to stay relevant. At home Donald Trump has intimated at a very different kind of global order, one with America playing a far less significant role. And of course we have a candidate associated with socialism, itself a different set of arrangements, still leading in the national polls. We are, whether we understand it or not, in the midst of a great – and perhaps welcome and needed – debate about our path forward as modern, liberal democracies in a time of enormous global change.

Last week, in two muscular speeches (here and here), President Obama made his case for why the Western project, at least here in the United States, is both working and has left America in a far better position that many Americans understand. In his Air Force Academy speech he argued:

We are blessed to be living in the most peaceful, most prosperous era in human history. Now, that sounds controversial until you survey the history of the world. It’s hard to see, with all the violence and suffering in the world, and what’s reported on the news every day. But if you step back for a moment -- think about last week, when I was in Hiroshima to remember all who were lost in a World War that killed some 60 million people -- not 60,000, 60 million.

For decades, there have been no wars between major powers. Wars between nations are increasingly rare. More people live in democracies. More than 1 billion people have been lifted from extreme poverty. From the Americas to Africa to Southeast Asia, there’s a new generation of young people, connected by technology and ready to make their mark. I’ve met them. They look up to America. They aspire to be our partner. That’s the progress and the hope that we have to build on.

And as for America itself he said:

And here’s a fact: The United States of America remains the most powerful nation on Earth and a force for good. (Applause.) We have big challenges in our country -- in our politics, our economy, our society. Those are challenges we have to address. But look around. We have the world’s strongest economy. Our scientists, our researchers, our entrepreneurs are global leaders in innovation. Our colleges and universities attract the best talent from around the world. Our values -- freedom, equality, opportunity -- those values inspire people everywhere, including immigrants who come here, ready to work, and integrate and help renew our country.

Our standing in the world is higher. I see it in my travels from Havana to Berlin to Ho Chi Minh City -- where huge crowds of Vietnamese lined the streets, some waving American flags.So make no mistake, the United States is better positioned to lead in the 21st century than any other nation.

One of the great questions of this big debate about the Western project is whether the system is failing, or are the defenders of liberalism and the system failing it?  Domestically, I will point to one aspect of this debate, and the question of who will be better for the American economy in coming years, the Democrats or the Republicans. In two recent polls which asked the question, Donald Trump led Hillary Clinton by double digits. In each poll the economy is seen as the most important issue for the next President to tackle. So this is no small thing.

Given this, Democrats should be asking themselves some tough questions.  Given the performance of the economy over the past generation, how can Trump be leading? President Clintons and Obama have brought jobs, growth, soaring stock markets, and far lower annual deficits. The two Bush Presidencies brought recession, job loss, higher structural deficits, a domestic housing and financial collapse and declining wages and incomes. As Dr. Rob Shapiro has been pointing out, even on wages, it now appears that the pernicious dynamic we began to see early in the 2nd Bush era has come to an end. Since 2013 wages have been rising for most Americans. Lots of new data indicate that Americans understand things are getting better; and President Obama this past week hit the highest approval rating of his 2nd term. So, the American people sense that indeed things are improving, are better – and of course they are.

Perhaps it is the newest and most inconvenient truth in American politics today, but what is just incontrovertible fact is that over the past generation when Democrats have been in power things have gotten better, and when Republicans have been in power, things have gotten worse. The system here in America isn’t failing. One of the two political parties has understood the great changes the Cold War’s end brought to the world, and has governed effectively against these opportunities and challenges. The other political party, however, has struggled to understand the new forces of the 21st century, and has failed when in power. And there is perhaps no greater manifestation of this party wide failure to understand the modern world and plan against it than the current GOP nominee, Donald Trump (see my long form magazine article from a few years back on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess). 

To me the reason that this inconvenient truth is not better understood is that Democrats as a whole have not adequately understood, or owned, the success of their two recent Presidents. One got the feeling last week, in Obama’s two speeches and in Clinton’s too, that the Clintons and the Obamas are about to do everything they can to change this. The Presidential wing of the Democratic Party, which has been far more successful than its Congressional counterpart over the past generation, is going to have its say this summer and fall. And it is long past time for their Congressional allies to join them in making the case for the success of liberal governance to the American people. The fate of the election, and perhaps even the Western project itself, may depend upon it.

Update - Another sign of the GOP's failure to wrap its arms around modernity is what is about to happen in the California Senate race.  In their open primary system, every candidate runs against everyone else, with the top two vote getters regardless of party moving on to the fall election.  According to the latest poll, the two Democrats are at 37 and 19, and the three Rs are at 8, 5 and 5.   Putting the results together, Ds are at 56 and the Rs are at 18 - this in the state that produced the GOP's most successful politicians of the past 60 years, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.   There is no state in America which has embraced the modern world with as much gusto as California, and there is perhaps no state in America where the Republican Party is closer to losing major party status.  

The Democrats' Generation Gap

Not since the Vietnam War and the presidential primary campaigns of 1968 and 1972, has America seen as wide a gap in voting behavior between older and younger voters within a political party as the Democrats are experiencing this year. Healing that rift becomes the primary challenge for Hillary Clinton whose general election victory could very well depend on winning over millennials (born 1982-2003) to her side.

The youngest adult millennials, those between 18 and 29 years of age, have voted for Senator Bernie Sanders in Democratic primaries in states across the country by margins of 3 or 4 to1, a level of support that matches or exceeds the size of the margins President Obama enjoyed among millennials in his two campaigns. According to the Harvard Institute of Politics’ most recent poll, by a narrow 30 percent to 26 percent margin, women in this segment of the generation are even more likely to believe that Bernie Sanders would do a better job than Hillary Clinton in “improving women’s lives in the U.S.” But Clinton is much more competitive among millennials 30 to 35 old as they settle down and begin to form families. And among voters over 45, Secretary Clinton has been able to roll up margins over Sanders at levels comparable, if slightly lower, than her opponent’s advantage among young people.

There’s little doubt that Clinton’s Republican opponent, Donald Trump, and his campaign are well aware of this generational split within the Democratic Party and would like to exploit it by making their own appeal to millennials. But, Clinton and the Democrats should have the edge in any battle for the support of America’s youngest voters. Millennials identify as Democrats over Republican by a margin of about 1.5 to 1 and a majority of them have favorable attitudes toward the Democratic Party and negative impressions of the GOP. So how can Hillary Clinton begin to close the generation gap within her own party in time for the general election? The best way for her to undertake that task is not to try and speak directly to millennials while the primary campaign is still under way, but to talk to her own core supporters, those over 45 years of age, about the need to forge a permanent inter-generational alliance that could cement Democratic national political dominance for decades to come.

Her dialogue with her supporters must begin by talking about what is right about millennials. Older voters, millennials’ parents and grandparents, have shaped the most tolerant generation in America’s history. The votes of millennials enabled the country to elect its first African-American president in 2008—and then to re-elect President Obama in 2012. The millennial generation’s determination to eliminate discrimination in any form not only led to Barack Obama’s election, it has provided the momentum for our country’s new attitudes toward members of the LBGT community, immigrants, and women’s rights—all causes Secretary Clinton supports.

Millennials are also the most connected generation in America, an attribute that Hillary Clinton can speak to from her own experience as Secretary of State. During her tenure in that office she added social media to America’s arsenal of soft power in Latin America and the Middle East. She could talk to her peers about how she envisions millennials using these new tools to establish relationships around the world that can lead to a more peaceful and inclusive future.

There are other aspects of the millennial generation that Hillary Clinton could use the bully pulpit of a presidential campaign to highlight. Millennials are the biggest generation in American history. They are simultaneously very demographically diverse and attitudinally unified. Forty percent of them are non-white and one out of five have an immigrant parent. Their numbers mean that they will shape American society and its politics for decades to come and many of their beliefs provide fertile ground for coalition building both within the Democratic party and, in some surprising ways, across party lines.

  • In Pew’s latest study of generational differences on issues of public policy, it is members of the millennial generation, in both political parties, that consistently take the more liberal position on such issues as immigration, gay rights, civil rights and economic inequality in comparison to all older generations. Their personal experience of growing up in an increasingly diverse America has caused them to look for consensus through cooperation and collaboration rather than engage in the type of confrontational behavior so many older politicians now seem to favor.
  • Millennials are “pragmatic idealists.” They believe deeply in causes, just as baby boomers did when that older generation was growing up—ideals that still fuel the enthusiasm of female boomers for electing a woman as President of the United States. But millennials also bring a determination to “get things done” as President Obama is fond of saying. They look for results not rhetoric. Reflecting the generation’s preference for fixing problems at the local level and not in some remote bureaucracy, millennial Democrats, according to Pew’s analysis are the generation among Democratic identifiers who are most likely to agree that “government regulation of business usually does more harm than good.”
  • At the same time, millennials in both political parties are most likely to believe in collective action to address the nation’s challenges and in using an activist government to find “win-win” not “we win, you lose” outcomes in both domestic and foreign policy. They are the least likely to agreewith the idea that “government is almost always wasteful and inefficient” or that “government today can't afford to do much more to help the needy.” Similarly, millennials are the generation most likely to be skeptical of achieving peace through military strength.

Of course, for the generation’s commitment to community and consensus to ensure that our political behavior lives up to America’s highest ideals, millennials also have to make their presence felt in the coming elections. In November, the generation will comprise about 30 percent of the electorate, a greater percentage than baby boomers will likely contribute. If she has any hope of motivating them to turn out and vote for her in November, Clinton must also pay particular attention to the deliberations of the convention’s platform committee to ensure it addresses the generation’s primary concern, the cost of a college education.

She has already spoken out forcefully on the need to lift the burden of student debt from this generation so they can afford to start their own families and get on with their lives the way older generations were able to do when they graduated from school. She has endorsed, and the Democratic Party platform should underline, the importance of allowing millennials to refinance their student debt to lower the amount of their monthly payments, just as older generations have been able to do with their home mortgage. And for those whose debts were incurred because of unscrupulous lenders or schools, the platform ought to commit to providing them a way to have those debts forgiven entirely.

Even more important, the Democratic platform will need to advocate for programs that will end this generational scourge forever. Older generations didn’t have to borrow money to go to high school and millennials and the generations that come after them should be able to get their higher education debt free, because that’s the level of education they—and America—will need to be successful both in today’s economy and in the years ahead.

There is a direct economic connection between these millennial specific policy positions and the concerns of Clinton’s older supporters. The earnings of millennials are the best guarantee that Social Security and Medicare benefits will not have to be cut for boomers and Gen-X’ers in the future. In addition, the desire of millennials to find work with both a social purpose and a living wage should lead to equal pay for equal work; paid child care leave for fathers as well as mothers; and companies committed to their country and communities, not just the bottom line. The entire country will benefit from the kinder, fairer economy millennials will create.

In addition to making it clear to older Americans that they have common cause with the millennial generation, Clinton’s leadership skills can be demonstrated by taking the lead in holding out the hands of her generation in friendship and support across the generational divide. Combined with her own generation’s wisdom borne from experience, such an alliance would ensure not only a Democratic victory in November but America’s continued greatness in the 21st Century.

Rising Incomes Are a Key to Winning in 2016 -- But Not Enough

Even if we accept that the 2016 campaign is a fact-free zone, what precisely are Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders talking about when they rant about incomes cratering for most Americans? It’s true, as I’ve documented, that a majority of Americans saw their incomes stagnate or decline throughout the Bush expansion (2002-2007), and the financial crisis and ensuing recession aggravated those losses. But that dynamic ended more than three years ago. Since 2013, the household incomes of most Americans have risen steadily and substantially.

The only candidate who seems to get this is Hillary Clinton, judging by her pledge to preserve and extend the economic gains achieved under President Obama. But Trump and Sander’s appeal should tell us that politically, those gains are not enough, and that a wining economic platform for this year’s election has to address the whole picture of the last 15 years. Yes, voters want measures to ensure that their recent progress will continue, a challenge Clinton has met better than her Democratic rival or Republican opponent. They also want a credible pledge that they will never have to endure another housing collapse or muddle through an expansion that leaves them on the sidelines.

Nevertheless, there's no doubt that most Americans are doing much better than they did four or eight years ago. Last month, the Federal Reserve’s “Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2015” found that nearly 70 percent of Americans say they’re “doing okay” or “living comfortably,” versus 18.5 percent who say they’re “worse off.” Behind those positive views, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that Americans’ real personal income grew 1.9 percent from February to December 2013, followed by 3.0 percent gains in 2014 and another 4.0 percent gains in 2015.

To be sure, aggregate economic data does not always capture most people’s real experience. To track people’s actual experience, I sorted and collated the Census Bureau data on household incomes from 2009 to 2014. I focused on the incomes of American households headed by people who in 2009 were 25-to-29 years old (millennials), 35-to-39 year sold (Generation X), and 45-to-49 years old (late baby boomers). I tracked their incomes as they aged from 2009 to 2014, and analyzed the results by gender, race or ethnicity, and education.

The results show that most Americans saw their incomes continue to stagnate or decline from 2009 to 2012, with the exception of millennials. For economic and statistical reasons, young households always make greater progress than older households, and millennial households were the only age group whose income rose from 2009 to 2012. Moreover, as I’ve also documented, household incomes have risen significantly since 2013 for Generation X and Baby Boomers as well as millennials.

Average Annual Household Income Gains

                2009 - 2012      2013 - 2014

Millennials    3.2%              4.3%

Generation X  - 0.4%            2.3%

Late Baby Boomers -1.1%  0.5%

The results also show that gender and race matter. While the income dynamics of the last decade didn’t create today’s partisan divisions based on gender and race, they probably reinforce them. For example, while households headed by men generally fared better than those headed by women in the leans years from 2009 to 2012, women turned the tables in 2013 and have made more progress than their male counterparts since the turnaround.

Average Annual Household Income Gains By Gender

                  2009 - 2012    2013 - 2014

                 Men Women Men Women

Millennials 3.5% 2.5% 2.7% 3.0%

Generation X - 0.2% - 0.6% 0.9% 2.8%

Late Boomers - 0.5% -1.1% 0.2% 0.2%

The results based on race and ethnicity also may help explain Hillary Clinton’s strength among minorities, as compared to Trump and Sander’s connections to angry white voters. In particular, under Obama’s policies, including Obamacare cash subsidies, the incomes of Hispanic and African-American households across all three age groups have grown faster than their white counterparts since 2013.

Average Annual Household Income Gains, By Race and Ethnicity

                2009 - 2012                2013 - 2014

               White Black Hispanic White Black Hispanic

Millennials 3.7% 0.0% 1.8%     2.9% 3.0% 3.2%

Generation X 0.1% 1.7% - 1.5% 1.6% 2.0% 5.0%

Late Boomers - 0.9% - 4.9% 1.8% - 0.1% 2.0% 2.8%

The results also show that after the tough times from 2009 to 2012, when Generation X and baby boomer households at every educational level lost ground, every age and educational group but high-school educated baby-boomers have made significant income progress since 2013. These gains even include households headed by high-school dropouts, lifted by the very strong job growth since 2013 and the Obamacare cash subsidies.

Average Annual Household Income Gains, By Education

        2009 - 2012                      2013 - 2014

        No Diploma HS College No Diploma HS College

Millennials -0.6% 1.1% 4.2% 4.4% 3.0% 5.1%

Generation X -2.2% -1.3% -0.1% 6.2% 4.0% 1.5%

Late Boomers -4.8% -1.7% -0.6% 9.5% 0.0% 0.4%

Incomes do not explain everything. The incomes of white millennials have risen rather strongly throughout this entire period. Yet, they’ve responded to Trump and Sander’s cases that political and economic elites have denied them their hard-earned gains. Maybe they’re angry that their parents lost much of their home equity, or maybe they’re turned off rather than reassured by Clinton’s dispassionate demeanor. To win them over, she will have offer a credible path to both maintain everyone’s recent income progress and preclude another housing collapse and joyless expansion.

This post was originally published on Dr. Shapiro's blog.

A Summer of Opportunity and Challenge for Hillary Clinton

Trump's Mo' Appears to Have Stalled – Two weeks ago we found movement in the weekly tracking polls for Trump that soon became an official “Trump bump.” The race closed from an 8-10 point Clinton lead to something smaller, somewhere in the 2-4 point range. The tracks this week suggest that this Trumpian surge has ended, however, with no track showing gains for Trump in the past week. And one, the GOP pollster Rasmussen, found a significant shift towards Clinton. The Huffington Post rolling average has Clinton up 4.3 points today. This is bad news for Donald Trump.

Why? For when Clinton clinches the nomination next week she is likely to get a “bump” of 2-4 points, as Trump did. This would put her ahead by 6-8 points, a formidable lead in a Presidential race (see this MSNBC piece for what the race looks like w/o Sanders).  So while Trump has made the race far closer in recent weeks, his gains were not sufficient to fundamentally change the nature of the race, or to suggest he is truly competitive at this point. As I wrote a few weeks ago, the 2016 playing field leans towards the Democrats. To review the top lines:

- President Obama hit a 2nd term high in job approval last week, coming in at 53 approve/43 disapprove in the Gallup daily track. This suggests that there are very practical political limits to the “discontent” much discussed this cycle.

- In the Huffington Post aggregate, the Democratic Party holds a huge advantage in favorability, coming in at 46/46 approval while the GOP is 29/60, a net negative of an astonishing 31 points (Trump is only 20 points net negative this week). Both Trump and Clinton, as unpopular as they are, are far more popular than Reince Priebus’s GOP as a whole.

- The Democrats have a very powerful and popular set of surrogates they can unleash in the fall – the Obamas, Sanders, the Bidens – to support Secretary Clinton and her VP. The contrast between a popular set of Democrats barnstorming the country, together, touting the success of two consecutive Democratic Administrations, versus the isolated and angry Trump advocating for an agenda of national decline will become a powerful and material development this fall.

- The economy continues to perform well, and there is even a growing body of evidence that after more than a decade of stagnation or decline, wages have begun to rise (here and here).

- An unusual electoral map this year means that the Senate and House results will be disproportionately influenced by the outcome of the contested Presidential states. Clinton could have unusually long and powerful coattails this year.  

- Democrats are least a generation ahead in campaign organization and technology, and are far ahead in developing their brass tacks campaign this cycle.  

So, in what is an important development in the race, Trump’s momentum has slowed, and the race appears to be settling down as many analysts expected – with Clinton holding a small but consequential lead.

A Summer of Opportunity and Challenge for the Clinton Campaign – For the Democrats, one gets the sense the election will be won or lost between now and the Convention. It is shaping up to be an extraordinary next eight weeks – the wrapping up of the nomination battle, the coming together of the party, the picking of the VP, managing a successful Convention and the running of the gauntlet of the various investigations going on into Clinton’s time as Secretary of State. These next eight weeks may be the most important of Hillary Clinton’s career, representing an enormous test of leadership for the experienced and talented candidate.

If Clinton can leave Philadelphia will these eight weeks having been successful, she should be in very strong shape for the fall election. She will have been heavily tested, and triumphed, offering the public a window into how she would indeed handle similar challenges in the White House. While our Presidential races are long and grueling, they are perhaps appropriate in scale and difficulty to the job itself, the hardest in the world today.  It is this through this grueling process and the tests it provides that one can be transformed from candidate to President. 

The State Department’s IG Report - Put me in the camp that I think the investigations going on into Secretary Clinton are serious, and require a far more direct response from the candidate and her campaign than we have seen to date. Given the timing of the various investigations and court cases, it is likely that total exoneration of the Secretary prior to the November election is not on the table. Questions and doubts will linger, and be a material part of the fall conversation. There are many things the Clinton camp can do to begin to address these concerns head on – commit to establishing an independent commission to recommend far better management of US government records in this new digital age of governing; join Bernie Sanders in a true partnership to improve our politics though an aggressive effort throughout her Presidency to reform our electoral system, make structural changes in the day to day ways of Washington and modernize the Democratic Party itself; suspend fundraising for the Clinton Foundation; forgo speaking fees for all Clinton family members during her Presidency – the list goes on. Whatever the comprehensive response is, it needs to be far more aggressive than what we’ve seen from the campaign to date.

To me one antidote to all this toxicity in our system today would be for Hillary Clinton to not just position herself as one who can make this unwieldy system in Washington work better for everyday people, but to authentically commit, as one who has seen the ugliness of our system up close, to leave behind a far better and more representative politics for coming generations of Americans. She has the opportunity in the coming together with Bernie, with his help and guidance, to move these  issues from the margins of her candidacy as they are now, to its core. Doing the nation, and her candidacy, a lot of good along the way. 

More on the 2016 Election – Be sure to review our deep dive on the 2016 map and the opportunities it offers Democrats; our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP. 

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the London-based progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.  

Report: Presidential Primary Debate Audiences

This memo looks at the audiences the Presidential Primary debates received in 2016 and 2008.  The Republicans have completed their full 12 debate schedule for the 2015-2016 cycle.  We now have the final numbers for the debate audiences for the Democrats and Republicans.  The top line analysis can be found below, and tables of the audiences of each debate which received ratings in both 2016 and 2008 can be found on pages 4 and 5 of the full memo, attached (at bottom).  More information about the debate over the 2016 debates can be found in our backgrounder (Updated on Wednesday 5/25/16).  

Summary 

2016, Republicans – 12 debates, 186.3m total viewers, 15.53m viewers per debate.   

2016, Democrats – 9 debates, 72.03m total viewers, 8m viewers per debate. 

2008, Republicans – 14 debates, 42.87m total viewers, 3.07m viewers per debate.

2008, Democrats – 16 debates, 75.22m total viewers, 4.7m viewers per debate (Dems had another 10 debates which were not rated, so total viewership was higher than 75.22m).

Key Findings

GOP Dramatically Outperforms Dems in 2016 and Rs in 2008 – In 2008, the 16 Democratic debates outperformed the 14 GOP debates by more than 53% per debate (4.7m per debate vs 3.07m).  In 2016, the 12 GOP debates have outperformed the 9 Democratic debates by a much larger margin, over 94% per debate (15.53m vs 8m).  It is a dramatic reversal. 

The 12 GOP debates have produced more than 5 times the audience per debate than their 14 debates produced in 2008, and almost 5 times the total audience.  The 9 DNC debates produced almost twice the audience per debate that the 2008 debates produced, but, in aggregate, produced a total audience 3 million less than the 2008 debates produced.  

Democratic Debate Schedule Struggles to Match 2008 – Despite very large audiences for the debates this cycle, the smaller number of Democratic debates (9 compared to 12 GOP in 2016 and 26 in 2008) means that the total audience of the Democratic debates in 2016 was 3 million less than the 2008 Democratic total, and 114m less than the 2016 GOP total.

DNC’s Original Debate Schedule Audience – The DNC’s original six debate schedule produced an audience of 48.4m.  After requests from many, including the Clinton and Sanders campaigns, the DNC added four debates on February 3rd.  The DNC also smartly brought in CNN to augment its PBS and Univision debates.  These improvements in the schedule brought an additional 24m viewers, 8m from the CNN re-broadcasts and 16m from the three additional debates conducted so far.  Augmenting the original schedule increased the overall Democratic debate audience by 50%. 

The Townhalls – While the audiences for the CNN town halls were not significant, the formats were.  Each of these programs gave viewers a window into the candidate the more rigid debate formats have not.  They have been an important innovation this cycle by the DNC, and in coming years should be given more prominence.  Our guess is if adequately promoted with more time, viewership for these town halls could be far more significant.  

 

Audience Per Debate

              

 

Total Audience

 

Everyone Will Lose if the UK Exits the EU — Except Donald Trump and his Soulmate, Vladimir Putin

On June 23rd, Britons will hold a referendum on whether to stay or leave the European Union (EU), and surveys point to close vote. If Britain does exit the EU, or “Brexit,” the fallout could be serious and widespread. In February, G-20 finance ministers warned that Britain’s leaving the EU “could threaten global economic recovery.”

Brexit also would produce serious challenges for the United States, and possibly for Hillary Clinton. The EU represents much of what Donald Trump is campaigning against. So, a Brexit vote will give Trump an opening to lace his smack-downs of Hillary with talk about his so-called positions on trade, immigration and NATO.

If Britons say “No” to Europe, the first fallout will hit as when global investors pull back Europe and Britain, driving down the Euro against the dollar and, by 2017, driving up our trade imbalance with Britain and Europe. Britain has also been a big advocate of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and Brexit could well disrupt those talks.

Trump will call these developments proof that wide-ranging trade pacts don’t work and that Hillary doesn’t appreciate how they weaken countries. In fact, wide-ranging trade deals have been key factors in Europe’s recovery in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the developing world’s rapid modernization since the early ‘90s, and America’s leadership in information and Internet technologies. And if Brexit ends up strengthening the U.S. dollar, it will show that global investors still see the United States as the world’s strongest and most stable economy.

If Brexit happens, the U.K. also will have to restore its border controls with EU countries, including new limits on inflows of European workers to Britain. Those moves could also trigger new calls by right-wing European politicians to close EU borders to new immigrants from Turkey and Syria, which in turn could mean more refugees seeking asylum in the United States.

Trump will likely see these developments as proof that Europe is lining up behind his draconian plans to tighten borders and bar Muslims, and turning its back on Hillary. In fact, every major leader in Europe, including Britain, has condemned Trump’s anti-Muslim stance. Moreover, these new developments won’t change the EU’s distinctive policy of very light controls at the contiguous borders of EU countries — and Britain’s new approach would merely apply America’s current border regime to the U.K.’s borders with the EU.

A “No” vote by Britons also will cost the EU its largest military power, weakening the EU’s security and defense initiatives and its plans for European-wide defense cooperation. As a result, concerns will increase about Europe’s capacity to be an effective geostrategic partner to the United States, and about NATO’s future value.

Trump will likely call these developments proof that our 67-year old commitment to NATO, backed up by 67 years of investments, has gone bad, and that Hillary mismanaged U.S.-European relations. In fact, if Brexit pulls Britain out of the EU-wide defense policy and weakens EU security plans, those developments will enhance NATO’s role and importance, especially as a bulwark to Vladimir Putin’s ambitions to weaken European resolve and sow trouble between the United States and its most important allies.

The downside for Trump in using Brexit as evidence of his own canniness is that his criticisms line up pretty closely with Putin’s. They both say that the multilateral trade agreements of the last half-century have undermined the traditional economic arrangements they favor. They both also see Muslims as threats to the values and order they have each sworn to restore.

On NATO and the U.S.-European alliance, Trump’s views also align more closely with Putin than with U.S. strategy under every president since World War II. And why not — after all, Trump and Putin are equally committed to “Make America (or Russia) Great Again.”

This post was originally published on Dr. Shapiro's blog.

The Trump Bump Part II, Learning from Bernie and The CA Debate Should Proceed

Despite Spirited Challenges, Clinton Holding Her Ground A slew of new polls confirm the "Trump bump" we first discussed in last week’s column.  While the CBS/NYT poll had Clinton’s lead at 6, and NBC/WSJ at 3, the ABC/Washington Post poll had Trump ahead by 2. Clinton had an 8-10 point lead over Trump throughout March and April.  That advantage is probably down to 2-3 points now as Republican voters consolidate behind their new leader.

Importantly for Clinton we haven’t seen any decline in her substantial advantage over Bernie Sanders during this same period.  Barring an unforeseen event, she should wrap up the nomination in early June.  At that point expect Clinton to get a “bump” too, putting the race back into a 5-8 point margin for her, a far more comfortable place for Democrats eager to see this as a year of opportunity.

A 2016 caveat is, however, needed here and in the remainder of my columns – do not underestimate Donald Trump.  He is taking hold of his party more rapidly and effectively than many imagined, and while his campaign apparatus is dangerously behind a well constructed, hybrid Clinton/Obama machine, his masterful use of free and social media this cycle has been a 21st century political gamechanger.  Few Democrats believed the race would ever get this close, and that this will be a highly competitive and challenging race is slowly settling in across the country.

More Analysis Needed on Sanders’ Strong National Showing – One of the more remarkable bits of data coming from a week of new polls is how much better Sanders performs than Clinton in head to head polling against Trump.  In the most recent polls, Sanders is often above 50 against Trump, and has leads of 15, 4, 13, 13, 12, 10, 9 and 15.  In the last four polls tracking both Sanders and Clinton, Sanders’ lead against Trump is 12, 7, 7, and 11 points higher than Clinton’s.  During the course of this messy, contentious election cycle no candidate of either party has performed this well in general election polls for this long. It is no small achievement.

The conventional wisdom in town is that Sanders runs this strong because no one has ever roughed him with negative advertising, and that his “socialism” would tank him voters if they really knew what he was proposing.  Perhaps.  Whatever the case, it would be wise for Democrats to study and come to understand why this rumpled, unknown old lefty has run so strong in this election, particularly with unaffiliated voters (independents) and young people.  My guess is that like Trump and Cruz, his steadfast rejection of conventional politics (even attacking the DNC itself) has significant appeal to an electorate who felt let down by their leaders.  But the Party should both be giving Sanders more credit for what he has done, and begin working hard to learn from it for the all important fall elections.

Sanders, Clinton and the DNC – A new Politico piece contains the following passage:

"The perception that the DNC and other state parties have unfairly favored Hillary Clinton is going to make the reconciliation of Sanders and Clinton supporters nationally and in the states far harder," said Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg, president of the NDN think tank. "The DNC should have tried much harder to address this perception early on, as it always had the potential to become a reason for Sanders partisans to question the legitimacy of Clinton's victory”

As readers of our work are aware, I’ve been warning for months that the DNC needed to do far more to address what were reasonable concerns about its impartiality in the race (remember the DNC Chair getting booed at a major New Hampshire event in September).  I don’t exactly know what can be done at this point, many months too late, to reestablish the DNC’s role as independent arbiter, and uniter of the spirited factions that have emerged this cycle.  But one obvious opportunity for the DNC Chair to publicly affirm her impartiality is to ensure that there is a 10th and final debate in California.  This debate was agreed to by the Sanders and Clinton camps, and became an “officially sanctioned” DNC debate.  For the DNC to walk away from the debate now, given that Sanders has signaled his desire to proceed, will only confirm the worst suspicions of Sanders partisans.

And why wouldn’t Democrats want to debate in California, the state that is arguably the American center-left’s greatest success story in recent years?  The state that is driving global innovation and entertainment? A state whose demography is a window into our future?  And a state with a long list of super talented next generation elected officials like Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris, Alex Padilla, Adam Schiff, Xavier Becerra and Eric Garcetti?  The DNC should be working aggressively now to get this debate scheduled, honoring their agreement, and giving the tens of millions of potential voters in June a chance to hear a fresh airing of the issues.

More on the 2016 Election – Be sure to review our deep dive on the 2016 map and the opportunities it offers Democrats; our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP. 

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the London-based progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.

Is Trump Getting A Bump?

This column was originally published on the morning of Monday, May 16th, 2016.  It was updated on the afternoon of May 17th to include two new polls that comported with the piece's original argument.

While Donald Trump still faces enormous challenges in his campaign for the White House, the last few weeks have been very good ones for him.  His primary ended earlier than many expected, and well before the Democrats.  He rolled out a Vice Presidential search process and appointed Chris Christie to head up the building of his government.  He had a successful trip to Washington, sending a clear signal to all the party is in the process, slowly, of coming together behind him.  The media gave saturation, perhaps even unprecedented, coverage, to his every move and utterance.  In extraordinarily rapid fashion Trump has made the transition from brash outsider to confident leader of the Republican Party, again demonstrating that despite his political inexperience and sky high negatives, this guy is capable of playing the game at the highest level.

And perhaps most importantly to the Trumpian narrative, the success of his last few weeks has already begun to show up in the polls.  Using the Huffington Post Pollster aggregate as our guide, Hillary Clinton’s lead over Trump, which was 8-10 points throughout March and April, has shrunk to between 3 and 4 points. The six most recent polls have had Clinton’s lead at 4, 2, 4, 2, 3 and 2. The Ipsos/Reuters weekly tracking poll released over the weekend also caught this movement, finding Clinton’s margin dropping from 9 to 4 (45/36 to 41/37) over the past week.  The new NBC/Survey Monkey track finds similar movement, going from 49/44 to 48/45.  The Morning Consult track also reports similar numbers, going from 44/38 to 42/40.  Trump is clearly getting a bump now, and the data suggests that while some Republican leaders may be holding out, rank and file Republicans are rapidly consolidating behind their new leader.  

This movement could explain why Priorities USA, the Clinton SuperPAC, will start their general election campaign in the coming days, six weeks earlier expected. 

As I’ve written before, it should not surprise anyone that Trump had the potential to bring his party together despite his contentious primary.  On the big issues of the day – large tax cuts, climate denial, gutting Obamacare, interventionist foreign policy and restrictionist immigration policy – Trump is a very much in line with modern “conservative” Republicans.  Even on trade Trump is aligned with his party’s voters.  It is well known that Republican voters are more protectionist than the Ryan/Chamber wing of the GOP, and even more so than Democratic voters.  And it is also my own experience that Republican voters are far more invested in the “strong/weak leader” attributes of candidates than non-aligned voters and Democrats, something that is playing to Trump’s advantage.

The “strong leader” dimension of this race should be watched closely in the months ahead.  It is possible that this Presidential attribute is particularly important to Republicans reared on the powerful Presidency of Ronald Reagan, himself a former entertainer and unusually potent political showman.  For close to thirty years Republicans have been searching for a worthy successor, and have come up short again and again.  The Bushes were both failed Presidents, and leave little to celebrate about their time on the national stage.  A series of Congressional leaders – Hastert, Gingrich, Livingston, Lott – have seen their careers end in disgrace.  The children of Reagan who have begun to assert themselves in the GOP – Cruz, Rubio, Ryan, Walker – also showed they aren’t quite ready yet.  No national Republican today has a net positive approval rating.  It is not an exaggeration to say that since Reagan the Republicans have not produced one truly successful national Party leader.  This unrealized thirty year quest to find another one as great as Reagan may explain Trump’s success in ways other more traditional analyses cannot.  It also points to Kasich, who was a political ally of Reagan’s, as the Vice President who can help symbolically pass the torch from Ronald to the Donald. 

While this is only a snapshot in time, and we have a long campaign ahead of us, at this point it appears that Trump may be able to make a race of this thing after all.  But  as we discussed last week, failure to do so means a particularly devastating year for the Republican Party.   

Sanders Still In Weakened Position –The good news for Hillary Clinton this week is on the Democratic side.  Despite her losses in West Virginia and Indiana in recent weeks, Clinton’s national polling lead against Sanders has ballooned from low single digits a month ago to 13 today, and shows no sign of abating.  The same Reuters/Ipsos poll that showed her race against Trump tightening significantly also found her 15 point lead over Sanders unchanged from a weekly earlier.  Despite his two recent wins, Sanders has been unable to make up any public opinion ground against Clinton, suggesting that for many Democrats the primary has already ended.  While she might struggle this week in Oregon and Kentucky, her sizable national advantage is likely to prevent Sanders doing as well in the early June states, including California and New Jersey, to keep his candidacy going until the Convention.  And when Sanders is truly defeated, and stops campaigning, one would imagine that Clinton will get the same kind of bump Trump appears to be getting now, snapping the race back to a 6-8 point advantage for Clinton, a more comfortable margin, and one more in keeping with other measures of the national landscape.  

 

Trump’s Free Media Dominance Should Be A Worry for Clinton – I will dive into this a bit more in future columns, but want to say that Trump’s facility as a public communicator and his ability to completely dominate news coverage should start to become a true worry for team Clinton.  I have long rejected the theory that all this early exposure was somehow hurting Trump, and raised alarms last fall about how the anemic Democratic debate schedule was ceding far too much ground to Trump and the Republicans. While Democrats may have substantial advantages in how modern campaigns are run, we are about to learn the true value of celebrity and persistent media presence, traits that can be virally magnified in the social media age in ways not possible in previous media eras.  I don’t think Trump’s facility with modern media will be enough to close the institutional gap with the blended Clinton Obama campaign apparatus, but it is possible that the modeling of the digital nerds have not adequately war gamed a Kardashian like social media celebrity like Trump.   Underestimating Trump has proven to be a dangerous indulgence this Presidential cycle. 

More on the 2016 Election - Be sure to review our deep dive on the 2016 map and the opportunities it offers Democrats; our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP. 

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the London-based progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.

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