NDN Blog

Trump and Clinton Look Unstoppable Now; Some Thoughts About the 2016 Map

2016 Overview - Yes, there are scenarios where Clinton and Trump could come up short this summer. But they are increasingly unlikely, even remote. A Trump Clinton match up looks assured now, and what a titanic battle it will be.

Over the next week Democrats will vote in six states, Republicans four. The frontrunners are likely to lose some states in this patch. The nature of the states gives Sanders a bit more of a “comeback” opportunity, so there could be some drama this week. But it is also an opportunity for Trump and Clinton to re-assert their control over their nominating processes.

I spent some time recently looking ahead to a fall Clinton Trump matchup. A lot is unknown at this point but we do know a few important things: Clinton is consistently over 50 percent in the early match ups; Obama’s approval rating is now up in the high 40s, low 50s, a critical development in the race; the Electoral College Map still favors the Democrats; and on the big issue – can Trump flip enough white men to put the Rustbelt in play? - there just isn’t a lot of evidence yet that he can (and more here). For more on the fall, I recommend these good, early pieces from Dan Balz, Ron Brownstein and Greg Sargent.

The 2016 Electoral Map – New House rankings from the Cook Report now suggest that there is at least a mathematical possibility the Democrats could retake the House (they would need to win 30 of 31 targeted races). A bit surprised by this, I spent some time with the 2016 map and Cook’s rankings of all the Federal races. Using the Cook rankings (with one change - I moved AZ Senate into Tossup/Lean GOP), I came up with the following cheat sheet and thoughts about a possible expansion of what has been a very small Presidential map for Democrats:

Presidential 10-15

Dem Hold (10) - CO, FL, IA, NH, MI, NV, OH, PA, VA, WI

Dem PickUp (3) – AZ, GA, NC

Dem Watch (2) – MN, NM

Senate 8-11 (Dems need to pick up 7 seats net for a majority)

Hold (2) – CO, NV

PickUp 1st Tier (8) – AZ, FL, IL, NC, NH, OH, PA, WI

PickUp 2nd Tier (2) – GA, IA

House 37 - (31 Dem PickUps and 6 Holds, 30 net needed for majority)

AZ (2), CO (1), CA (4), FL (5), IL (1), IA (2), ME (1), MI (2), MN (2), NE (1), NH (1), NJ (1), NV (2), NY (6), PA (1), TX (1), UT (1), VA (2), WI (1)

Key Takeaways - In 2016 there is remarkable overlap between the Presidential and Senate target states. 9 of the 10 top tier Presidential states also have priority Senate races (and Dems are trying to make the 10th, Iowa, competitive at the Senate level), whereas only 3 of the Presidential states in 2012 and 2008 also had competitive Senate races. This overlap offers the national Democratic Party coordination opportunities that could produce enough economies of scale to free up resources to expand the national map. Why is this important? It has my belief that in the Obama era the national Party has not taken enough responsibility for winning elections beyond the very small number (10) of states in each of the last two Presidential cycles. Expanding the map as we discuss below will not only help the Democrats win the Senate, but now that the House is mathematically in play, maximize gains in the House (and of course help at the state and local level too).

The counter of course is that it is too risky to spread limited resources too thin. Hunker down, the argument goes, weather the Trumpian storm, win the Presidency, remake the Supreme Court, etc. But this is an unusual electoral map offering unique opportunities this year; Trump as GOP nominee ensures substantial resources allowing Democrats to consider going on offense; and if successful, could allow Democrats to not just win but have a chance of getting some of their agenda through Congress next year. Let’s look at two highly leveraged expansion paths:

Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina– Each of these longer shot Presidential targets also have targeted Senate races, and given where the polling is today in the Senate, it would be wise for the Democrats to put more races in play. There are questions whether any Southern state is open to the Democrats with Trump on the top of the ticket, but more will be known about this soon. Arizona looks particularly attractive this time as early polling has both the Presidential and Senate races as toss ups; there are also two Congressional seats in play; and Hispanics could be motivated by a ballot that may have both Arpaio and Trump. It should be noted that in 2008 team Obama ran a serious well funded campaign targeting Hispanics in nearby states with similar Hispanic populations - CO, NM and NV - turnout increased between 30 and 63%. Given where the polling is now, the first ever well funded and sophisticated Hispanic effort lead by the nominee could turn Arizona into a purple, lean blue state, as we’ve seen in other states with large Hispanic populations where the national party has invested.

Adding these three states would leave only the Illinois Senate race outside the national Democratic Party map and solely up to the DSCC to manage - though Illinois natives Obama and Clinton might have something to say about that.

California and New York - The map also suggests that the national Democratic Party and nominee should consider mounting some kind of coordinated effort in both New York and California. 19 of the 37 targeted House seats fall within the expanded 13 state map. 10 more fall in New York and California. Mounting targeted campaign in NY and CA to drive up turnout – something no national Democratic party has done in decades – could help put 10 more House seats in play. This means 29 of the 37 target House seats would fall under the national coordinated campaign’s reach, leaving only 8 of the 37 House races and solely up to the DCCC. This kind of coordination and leverage would be unprecedented in recent national politics, and could make the difference not only in the Democrats winning the White House, but in flipping the Senate and getting the House very very close.

So the national party strategy could look like:

National Party Coordinated Strategy

Pres/Senate (10) – CO, FL, IA, NH, MI, NV, OH, PA, VA, WI.

Expansion 1/Pres P/U and Senate P/U (3) – AZ, GA, NC. 

Expansion 2/Maximize House Impact – 17 targets in core 10 Presidential states, 19 in expanded map. 10 more in CA, NY.

Expansion 3/Presidential Watch (2) – MN, NM (states closer than expected in 2012).

Will the nominee and national Party expand the national map, taking advantage of unprecedented economies of scale and highly leveraged opportunities specific to this cycle? I hope so.

Oldie But Goodie - “In this election cycle the Republican’s angry war against modernity has escalated and appears to have become institutionalized. It is almost as if the more the world moves away from the simplicity of the Reagan moment the more angry and defiant – and of course wrong – the Republican offering is becoming” - Simon Rosenberg, “Forward, Or Backward?” September, 2012

More on the 2016 Election - 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.

Tuesday May Be The Last Day to Stop Clinton, Trump

Consequential Voting Tomorrow – Both parties face meaningful elections tomorrow, the second “Super” Tuesday of the 2016 race for President. 5 big states vote – Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio. The polls are close in enough states that we really don’t know what is going to happen. And after polls missed so badly last Tuesday in Michigan, it would be wise to question whether inexpensive polls of large states can accurately capture a volatile and unpredictable election every time.

Having said that, the likely outcome tomorrow is Trump and Clinton win enough delegates to keep the march to their nominations on track. The big questions tomorrow: can Sanders replicate his big Michigan win, and prevail in the Midwestern states of IL, MO and OH to offset Clinton’s likely wins in FL and NC? And can anyone defeat Trump outside of Ohio? A lot of the spin tomorrow night will depend on many states Clinton and Trump win, and whether it appears they are weathering their challenges, or being weakened by them.

As we gather tomorrow night to watch the results come in, keep two stats from Sanders’ Michigan win in mind: he won the white vote 57/42, and received 30% of the African-American vote. If he can keep those margins in the coming states, he will do well tomorrow night. If not, will be a good night for Secretary Clinton. 

Successful Insurgents - Regardless of what happens tomorrow night, we have to take a moment to reflect on the success of the three insurgent newcomers to the national political stage – Cruz, Sanders and Trump. Running for President is no easy thing, and for the three of them – with very limited national political experience – to get this far against experienced and talented opponents has been remarkable to see. To me it speaks to the power of the “system is broken” narrative each of them are carrying in their own way this election, a narrative so powerful that it is propelling these candidates far beyond where anyone believed they would go. I’ve discussed the need for Hillary Clinton to adopt a more direct narrative around this sentiment in previous columns, and have several quotes addressing the issue in Ryan Lizza’s thoughtful new piece in the New Yorker.

The loss of faith in "establishment politics" here in the US is very similar to what we are seeing in Europe today. Is it a crisis of the "West" itself: an end to 20th century politics here and in Europe?; something passing, something grave? Commentators here and in Europe should be spending more time exploring the similarities of what we are experiencing today, as indeed the challenges appear to be similar in scope and scale. A new piece by the very able Alex Seitz-Wald of MSNBC reminds us that none of the remaining 4 leading candidates for US President support the Trans-Pacific Parternship, an ominous sign for the global order indeed.  

No One Should Be Surprised By The Rise of Trump – Over the past few months, I’ve written a lot about the rise of Trump, even predicting this summer he would win the GOP nomination. I share two recent excerpts from my weekly column which help explain why no one should be surprised by the power of the Trump candidacy with Republicans:

GOP in full freak out over Trump (3/7/16) – While the GOP’s attacks on Trump escalated this past week, most notably in Mitt Romney’s high profile speech, I find these protestations a bit hard to take. Where exactly does Trump differ from the current GOP “establishment?” He is for large unfunded tax cuts which would drive up deficits and harm the economy; repealing Obama’s health care plan; a militaristic foreign policy; and for getting the 11m undocumented immigrants to leave. Even on trade, hard to argue that he is all that different right now from the Washington Republicans refusing to vote on the President’s hard fought TPP deal. The differences between the Romney and Trump approaches are far more about style and biography, and far less about their governing agenda. Donald Trump is very much a creation of modern Republican politics, and one can understand how worrisome that is to so many on the right.

But let’s be clear about one thing – if you don’t think exploitation of racial fear hasn’t been at the center of Republican politics for 50 years now, you just haven’t being paying attention. So Trump’s new found dominance in the GOP, particularly when his two remaining opponents, are, dare we say it – Hispanic! – should be no great surprise to anyone.

Strength of Reactionary Forces in GOP Not News (2/24/16) – Hard to know the exact date when reactionary forces began to truly assert themselves in the modern GOP. You could argue these sentiments were there from the beginning, congealing around Nixon’s Southern Strategy and its response to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. We could look to Bush’s “Willie Horton” ads in the 1988 Presidential campaign, which put a black man who had raped and murdered at the center of the national debate. You could point to 2005 and the emergence of the Minutemen, and the GOP House’s passing of the Sensenbrenner Bill, which called for the arrest and forced deportation of all 11m undocumented immigrants in the US. Perhaps it was in Barack Obama’s ascent to the Presidency in 2009 and the rise of the Tea Party. Or in 2015 with the forced abdication (self-deportation?) of Speaker Boehner just months after he gave the GOP their biggest House majority in 80 years. As I wrote in my long form magazine article in Letras Libres in late 2012, whatever date you cite you could see this descent of the modern GOP into a reactionary, angry mess coming for years now. What it lacked was a charismatic leader to pull it altogether from an inchoate jumble of grievances into a coherent, compelling argument and movement. Well, in 2015 that leader emerged. Donald Trump.

More on the 2016 Election - Our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; why it is time to take Trump seriously; 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 U.K. 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. 

Honored To Be Teaching at Tufts This Fall

Friends, some exciting news - I will be teaching a call this fall at my alma mater, Tufts University. Sponsored by Tisch College (where I am on the Advisory Board), and the political science department, the class will be called "Changing America, Changing Politics." The description in the course catalog will read:

"Examination of large-scale and ongoing changes in American politics, with particular focus on demographic, economic, geopolitical, media and technological dynamics. These trends are creating a new political era in America. Emphasis will also be placed on discussing how outsiders advocating a “new politics” - Obama, Sanders and Trump - have been disrupting recent presidential elections. Experienced political strategist, Simon Rosenberg, A85, will teach the seminar and most class sessions will include contemporary experts and practitioners brought in from Washington and around the country."

I will be crowdsourcing this class a bit, and asking for my friends and extended family for ideas on readings and speakers. Will be a weekly class, so I won't be in residence there. But more on all that soon. In the interim want to thank Dean Alan Solomont, Tisch's Peter Levine and Professor Jeff Berry for making it possible.

Go Jumbos!

Trump's Ruinous Tax Plan

"Donald Trump’s Chutzpah: His Tax Plan Doubles Down on Inequality and Gives His Own Company a Huge Tax Windfall"

Donald Trump, often a master of snide generalities, has been very precise about not only his plans for undocumented immigrants and Obamacare, but also his approach to taxes. The presumptive GOP nominee has laid out detailed proposals to cut tax rates, expand the standard deduction, and sharply shift the approach to business taxes. I’ve reviewed his proposals, and the conclusions are sobering. For a starter, Trump’s tax cuts are so expansive, they would decimate either the federal budget or the U.S. credit rating. Moreover, the GOP “populist” channels most of the benefits from his tax cuts to the country’s wealthiest individuals and businesses. So, Trump characteristically doubles down on the Democrats’ central meme of income inequality, and ensures that one of the biggest winners would be the Donald himself, through a giant tax windfall for The Trump Organization, LLC and other privately-held enterprises.

Just to begin, Trump’s proposals are wildly reckless as fiscal policy. According to the Tax Policy Foundation, a joint enterprise of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, Trump’s tax plan would gut federal revenues by $9.8 trillion over 10 years. In 2020, his plan would reduce personal income tax revenues by $695 billion or more than 36 percent, and gut corporate income tax revenues by $196 billion or 50 percent. All told, the revenue losses under Trump’s plan in 2020 come to $915 billion, equal to all defense spending projected for that year ($570 billion), plus 44 percent of all Social Security retirement benefits in 2020 ($793 billion) . If Trump wants to finance his tax plans by borrowing instead of cutting spending, he should know that such a large, additional burden on credit markets would push up interest rates and slow growth, and likely trigger a U.S. debt crisis.

Turning to the details, one feature of Trump’s plan that would help some middle-class Americans is his proposal to expand the standard deduction from $6,300 to $25,000 (singles) and from $12,600 to $50,000 (couples). His plan also simplifies and lowers marginal income tax rates to 10 percent, 20 percent, and 25 percent. But these changes provide nothing for the 45 percent of U.S. households with low or moderate incomes, because they are not liable today for any federal income tax.

Apart from the big standard deduction, Trump channels virtually all of his tax benefits to high income people and businesses. Trump’s plan would save an average household that pays income taxes $2,732 in 2017, mainly from the expanded standard deduction. Those in the 95th to 99th percentile, however, would save $27,657 in 2017, 10 times the benefits for an average taxpayer. Further, households in the top 1 percent would save $275,257 in 2017, 100 times the benefits for the average taxpayer. And those at the very top of the income ladder, the richest one-tenth of 1 percent of households including Donald Trump, would save $1,302,887 in 2017, or 480 times the benefits for average taxpayers.

These windfall gains are driven mainly by Trump’s proposals to reduce the top tax rate from 39.6 percent to 25 percent and slash taxes on businesses. So, Trump would cut the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent. Trump’s enthusiasts will note that his business tax reforms include ending the right of U.S. multinationals to defer their U.S. tax on income earned abroad, much as President Obama has proposed. But only Trump would cut the U.S. corporate rate to 15 percent. Some 96 percent of the foreign income of U.S. companies is earned in countries that tax corporate income at rates of 15 percent or more, and those U.S. companies get U.S. tax credits for the taxes they pay abroad. So, under Trump’s 15 percent corporate tax rate, 96 percent of the foreign-source income of U.S. multinationals would be free of any U.S. tax – much more than under current law.

Trump provides equally large tax windfalls for non-corporate businesses such as LLCs and partnerships, which account today for more than half of U.S. business revenues and profits. Here, Trump appears to agree with Obama and Hillary Clinton about closing down the “carried interest” loophole, which taxes most of the income earned by hedge fund and private equity fund partners at the 23.8 percent capital gains rate. But Trump’s version of this reform is meaningless, because he also cuts the top tax rate for income earned in all “pass-through” entities such as hedge funds and private equity funds to 15 percent: So, they would pay even lower taxes under Trump’s plan than under the current, carried interest loophole.

That’s not even the worst of it: This 15 percent rate would apply not only to hedge funds and private equity funds, but to all partnerships and privately-held businesses, including the Koch Brothers’ companies and The Trump Organization, LLC. Instead of paying taxes at the current 39.6 percent top personal rate, or the current 23.8 percent capital gains rate, or even the 25 percent top personal rate under Trump’s plan, the Koch brothers, hedge fund partners and the Donald himself would pay 15 percent. Under Trump’s plan, he and his company would pay a lower tax rate than an average American earning $47,750 today. That’s chutzpah even for Donald Trump.

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

Sanders and Cruz Live to Fight Another Day

Trump, Clinton still lead, but Cruz and Sanders not going away – Both Cruz and Sanders did well enough this weekend (Sanders won 3 states to 2 for Trump and Cruz, 1 for Clinton and Rubio) that their campaigns live to fight another day. Mathematically, however, Clinton is in better shape than Trump at this point; and there is some evidence now that the extraordinary attacks on Trump by Mitt Romney and others these past few weeks have begun to slow his momentum.

“Little Marco” Rubio appears to have missed his window of opportunity, and continues to underperform just about everywhere. John Kasich has picked up important endorsements and impressed on the debate stage. But it just feels too late for him, as the extraordinary investments made by more establishment Rs in Bush and Rubio has left him with very little time, and money. Finally, his “Midwestern nice," low-key demeanor seems ill-suited to in this particular election to allow him to emerge as a legitimate challenger to the more electric Trump and Cruz.

Each party has another debate this week, and there are big, delegate rich states voting between now and March 15th – FL, IL, MI and OH among others. So, we will know an awful lot more about this race on March 16th, and whether Sanders or Cruz can sustain a serious challenge in what amounts to the second half of the primary season that runs from mid-March through June early June. I for one hope the campaigns go on into the spring. If they end in March, almost 40% of the country will not be able to cast a meaningful primary vote this year. And as I’ve written elsewhere, it is becoming far too common for big chunks of the country to not be able to cast a meaningful vote in our national elections, a contributor no doubt to the distance many are feeling from Washington and our country’s politics.

Cruz and Sanders will remain in the race as long as their public rationale for winning the nomination remains convincing enough to keep the money coming in from their supporters. As a Democrat, I remain impressed and surprised by what a strong campaign Sanders has run, and that he has been able to hold his own on the national stage with Secretary Clinton. These long primary fights are important times for parties to regenerate, test messages, revisit old fights, and innovate on tactics and media. A remarkable new ad from the Sanders campaign is one of those bright spots in this long, hard slog, as he and his team are clearly stretching, reaching deep to try to keep up with the formidable Clinton camp. It is well worth watching.

GOP in full freak out over Trump – While the GOP’s attacks on Trump escalated this past week, most notably in Mitt Romney’s high profile speech, I find these protestations a bit hard to take. Where exactly does Trump differ from the current GOP “establishment?” He is for large unfunded tax cuts which would drive up deficits and harm the economy; repealing Obama’s health care plan; a militaristic foreign policy; and for getting the 11m undocumented immigrants to leave. Even on trade, hard to argue that he is all that different right now from the Washington Republicans refusing to vote on the President’s hard fought TPP deal. The differences between the Romney and Trump approaches are far more about style and biography, and far less about their governing agenda. Donald Trump is very much a creation of modern Republican politics, and one can understand how worrisome that is to so many on the right.

The establishment, however, should be equally worried about Trump’s lack of a traditional campaign as they are about his blustery manner and foul mouth. Building a national campaign in this day and age is like building a start-up company – you grow the company by doing, by trial and error, by learning from what works and what doesn’t. It takes time to get it right, to learn the terrain of this particularly year, to adapt the latest media and data techniques in a rapidly changing communications environment, to have your team gel into something bigger than themselves. And it takes time. You are seeing both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns improve and grow as they move into terrain and voting groups beyond the early small states, raise money, do their debates, produce their ads, etc. Trump has in essence yet to start building his campaign. He isn’t raising money in large amounts, isn’t spending a lot of money, isn’t producing a lot of paid media and appears to not have invested a lot on the ground in the states so far. It is hard to me to imagine given the national deficits he has now against Clinton and Sanders for him to win in the fall without a full-on modern campaign. Which means that he will have to start building it from almost the ground up starting in a few months, putting him at a significant organizational disadvantage to a far more experienced and capable Democratic presidential political operative class. He just won’t be able to muscle through the general the way he has the primaries. And this is a real problem indeed for the GOP and Trump who are likely to enter the general behind the Democrats and their incumbent President’s impressive 51% approval rating.

This theory will be tested over the next ten days. Cruz’s strong showing this weekend and some other polls showing signs of Trump slippage in key states could be early signs of Trump beginning to meaningful weaken. A normal, well-funded campaign would respond with a big positive ad buy to maintain their edge and prevent erosion. If the Trump campaign does not do this in the next few days very loud alarm bells should be going off in GOP land about Trump’s ability to fund and run a modern campaign.

A new poll of Michigan reinforces how little room for error the GOP has this fall. As I wrote last week, the likely 2016 map for the GOP offers a very narrow path to victory. They will have to flip a few states northern Rustbelt states like PA, MI, OH and WI to have a shot.  This new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll (very credible source) of Michigan found both Sanders and Clinton with significant leads:

Clinton 48% Cruz 41% Sanders 54% Cruz 36%

Clinton 52% Trump 36% Sanders 56% Trump 34%

As the demographics of these other Rustbelt states are not that different from Michigan’s, these are sobering numbers for the GOP indeed.  And for Sanders too - this poll has Clinton leading him in the Democratic primary 57-40.  

More on the 2016 Election - Our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; why it is time to take Trump seriously; 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 U.K. 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. 

Heading into Super Tuesday, Trump and Clinton Remain in the Driver’s Seat

This week’s Monday Musings memo finds Trump and Clinton still in the driver’s seat, with each appearing to have a very commanding lead in their Party’s fight for the nomination.  Both are doing well in the Super Tuesday states, and while neither may win every state it is hard to see how their current path to victory gets dramatically altered tomorrow.   Let's drill down a bit: 

Democrats – The most important polling we’ve seen these last few days is in Massachusetts, where two different polls in this Sanders must-win state show Clinton ahead.  If Clinton denies Sanders in CO, MA, MN and OK tomorrow very hard to see a path for victory for him, despite what is shaping up to be a record setting fundraising month for his spirited campaign.  Clinton continues to improve and grow on the stump, becoming ever more comfortable in the language and terrain of this challenging campaign in an unsettled time. 

An issue we’ve been raising for months – the enthusiasm gap – has gotten a bit more attention this week.  See this piece from Zach Carter in the Huffington Post, and this from Rachel Maddow.  Our latest debate audience tally has the GOP now at 158m for their ten debates, and the Dems at 55m for six.  The difference remains vast, and worrisome.    

Republicans – I move on this morning to the general election for a bit of a reality check on the Trump insurgency.   Using the 2012 Obama map as a guide, it shows how challenging it will be for Mr. Trump to win.  Assuming NY, NJ/New England and all the southwestern heavily Hispanic states remain out of reach for him (and that is without Arizona, which could be in play for Dems this time), he has to take 63 electoral college votes from either the 83 in IA, MI, OH, PA, VA, WI or the 112 if Florida is in play.  Of these states if Dems hold PA and FL, they only need to win one other of the five remaining states to win.  In some of these states there are 2016 specific winds blowing the Democrats’ way: in Michigan, the Flint water scandal has weakened the Governor and his party; in Wisconsin, the incumbent Senator Ron Johnson is being routed by his opponent Russ Feingold, and Scott Walker is no longer the same strong governor after his washout Presidential bid; in Pennsylvania, the Democrats were able to reclaim the governorship in 2014 and will have their convention there; and in Virginia, one knows that the current governor, Terry McAuliffe, one of Hillary Clinton’s closest allies, will move heaven, earth and maybe more to get Hillary elected (and there may be a Virginian on the ticket).  The path for Mr. Trump is challenging indeed.

It should also come as no surprise that when the choice for Republicans narrowed these three – a nationalistic Anglo and two Hispanics with recent immigrant roots – we discovered that the Hispanic candidates had a very low ceiling and the Anglo started grabbing most of the remaining outstanding votes.   Was just too much of a leap for a party that could produce Trump to end up going for Cruz, or Rubio, who has, so closely identified with his Hispanic immigrant roots. 

Another worry for the Republicans this fall is the unusual campaign Trump has run.  As he hasn’t raised money, put folks on the ground and bought television ads, he and his team will not have had the experience of working through all this in the primaries as most campaigns do.  It means that he if begins to put on the trappings of a traditional campaign, which one will assume he will need to do against the Democrats this fall, he will be doing it all for the first time, reducing his chances of doing it well.   Perhaps he can muscle through the general as he has the primary, but the Democratic Presidential machine has won more votes than the GOP 5 of the last 6 elections, is very modern and sophisticated, and has a built in electorate college advantage.  Trump's refusal to learn and build a traditional campaign apparatus means he will have fewer tools at his disposal in what will be a tough election this fall.  

Rubio and the "children of Reagan - In a 2014 post-election memo, I discussed the significance of the rise of the "children of Reagan" to national prominence in the GOP.  Marco Rubio has started using this phrase in his campaign, and even cut an ad with it last week.  Learn more about the idea behind the phrase here.  

A note on the coming “GOP crackup”- Last week I wrote about why the rise Trump should be no great surprise.  But I want to add one more observation to what is certainly one of the bigger stories in the campaign this year. 

Looking back over the past generation of American politics, perhaps the starkest difference between the two parties is that Democrats have produced two successful Presidents, and the GOP have given us what were in essence two failed Bush presidencies (we cover this in a different memo here).   There simply is far more reason for Republican voters to be angry at their establishment, for it has been almost 30 years since GOP voters have had a leader who they could be truly proud of; and in that time, the analysis goes, the failures of the GOP allowed the Democrats to bring far too much lasting change to the nation.   It is literally astonishing that in the past year the House Republicans deposed a Speaker who had given them their largest majority in almost 80 years, and that the three remaining Republicans in the Presidential have all run explicitly against a failed GOP establishment.  The “crack up” is much bigger than Trump, and where it goes and what it means very hard to tell right now.

Frankly, the nominees of both parties this time are going to have a harder time putting it all back together again than is typical in US politics. 

More on the2016 Map - The emerging 2016 map makes the Dems choice of Philadelphia for their convention look more prescient now, while strengthening the case for Senators Cory Booker and Tim Kaine for Vice President.  On the GOP side, the map suggests a northern Rustbelt or Florida VP strategy for Mr. Trump, putting Governors Christie, Kasich and Walker at the top of the list, with Senator Rubio perhaps a bit of a long shot.   Will be talking about this more in the months ahead. 

"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 U.K. 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.  

Rubio and the "The Children of Reagan"

In my 2014 post-election memo, "A Wake Up Call for Democrats," I wrote about the emergence of the "children of Reagan," a powerful new generation of elected officials rising on the right. Here is the excerpt:

"the scale of Republican success in recent years outside the Presidency has altered the balance between the two parties now, and may even leave the GOP a stronger national party than the Democrats over the next decade.

By power I mean all that comes with politics – strength of candidates, bench, staff and consultant talent, fundraising capacity, use of technology and of course control over government and policy. Part of what we are witnessing is the coming to power of the children of Reagan – forty something Gen Xers who came of age during the Reagan era. This age cohort is the most Republican of any age cohort in the US, meaning there are lots of them and they have a great deal of generational support for their politics. This generation of politicians is young, gaining in experience, and will be a force to be reckoned with in national and state politics for a generation to come. To regain power Democrats will have to take on and defeat this increasingly successful and energetic generation of politicians over the next decade, perhaps starting with the Presidential race in 2016 (Christie, Cruz, Paul, Rubio, Ryan, Walker)."

I've have discussed this idea, an extension of the generational theory work NDN has been involved with for more than a decade, many times in public, on TV and most recently in this interview with conservative author Matt Lewis.   So it was a bit of a surprise to hear one of the leaders of this new generation, Senator Marco Rubio, explicitly use this term this week, and even feature it in a new ad central to this next phase of the Presidential campaign.

To be fair, in cruising around the Internet I found a 2006 book by Hans Zeiger, "Reagan's Children," which may have first introduced this concept (trust me, never heard of it!). But however this phrase worked its way all the way to Marco Rubio's team, these "children of Reagan" have begun to make their mark in US politics and are primed to do so for decades to come.

Taking Trump Seriously

2/26/16 - The Washington Post's Greg Sargent refers to this memo in his very smart new piece on Christie's endorsement of Trump today.  It is very much worth a read. 

Some hastily tossed together observations the morning after Trump’s huge win in Nevada:

Strength of Reactionary Forces in GOP Not News – Hard to know the exact date when reactionary forces began to truly assert themselves in the modern GOP. You could argue these sentiments were there from the beginning, congealing around Nixon’s Southern Strategy and its response to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. You could point to 2005 and the emergence of the Minutemen, and the GOP House’s passing of the Sensenbrenner Bill, which called for the arrest and forced deportation of all 11m undocumented immigrants in the US. Perhaps it was in Barack Obama’s ascent to the Presidency in 2009 and the rise of the Tea Party. Or in 2015 with the forced abdication (self-deportation?) of Speaker Boehner just months after he gave the GOP their biggest House majority in 80 years. As I wrote in my long form magazine article in Letras Libres in late 2012, whatever date you cite you could see this descent of the modern GOP into a reactionary, angry mess coming for years now. What it lacked was a charismatic leader to pull it altogether from an inchoate jumble of grievances into a coherent, compelling argument and movement. Well in 2015 that leader emerged. Donald Trump.

But let’s be clear about one thing – if you don’t think exploitation of racial fear hasn’t been at the center of Republican politics for 50 years now, you just haven’t being paying attention. So Trump’s new found dominance in the GOP, particularly when his two remaining opponents, are, dare we say it – Hispanic! – should be no great surprise to anyone.

The Risks of Trump - The risks for the GOP in embracing Trump are most easily found in the new voter registration numbers in California. Twenty years after Pete Wilson took on the immigrants in California, the Republican Party is on its way to minor party status. Dems hold all statewide offices in California now and large majorities in both houses. By 2020 unaffiliated voters will outnumber Republicans, and for all intents and purposes the GOP will cease to exist in California. That this could be replicated across the country is of course the GOP’s nightmare scenario.

Will McConnell and Ryan Act Before the Trump Storm Hits? Will be interesting to see if GOP Congressional leaders move on a few important priorities for them - tax reform and TPP come to mind - prior to Trump assuming total control of the party this summer.

But Can He Win The General? – It is my belief that Democrats should be more worried than they are about Trump. The Rs are putting up big numbers with their debates and with turnout in the early states, indicating their voters are very excited and engaged. Democratic turnout and debate audiences so far are off their 2008 pace, and are trailing the Rs now. While early and not predictive, these are not good signs for Democrats.  

Will be possible perhaps for the Democrats to really motivate Hispanic, African-American, women and progressive voters scared of Trump this cycle, and if Obama plays the role Bill Clinton played in 2012, perhaps Millennials too. The Hispanic opening could cause the Democrats to go all out in Arizona and even Texas, and will be interesting to see how Florida breaks given Trump’s long presence there (and that many Hispanics there are not of Mexican descent and do not immigrate to the US). But the real demographic question is whether Trump can break through in the Rustbelt states that have been so critical to recent Dem Presidential victories but which have trended significantly towards the GOP in recent years. An early sign of this comes in the new Quinnipiac poll of bellwether Ohio which finds Trump, Rubio, Cruz and Kasich all ahead of Hillary Clinton even while she holds a 15 point lead over Sanders in the Democratic Primary. My assumption is Trump will try to get a Kasich or Walker on the ticket with him, bringing on a well regarded Midwestern/Rustbelt GOP governor to double down on this regional approach, help with managing the government itself while reaching out to the more establishment parts of the GOP (who knows if any reasonable person will take the job).

The Broken System -  There are many different things going on with Trump, which is one of the reasons he is growing as he plows through the GOP primary.  Trump is no single issue candidate, and his "Make America Great Again" slogan is powerful and artfully integrated into his narrative. One strain of Trump that I think Democrats have to really come to understand better is his basic argument about he has gotten things done in the real world; that political elites are ineffective, corrupt and have left the nation down; and the system is so broken it needs an outsider "do guy" like him to come in and fix it.   Democrats should not underestimate the appeal of this argument, and it is one reason I've been so vocal about the Clinton campaign developing a more compelling narrative around how she is going to bring fundamental change to Washington.. The last three Democrats to get to the White House - Obama, Clinton and Carter - all ran against the system.  She will have to at some point too (and this does not mean distancing herself from Obama who is still in the high 40s and holding his own).  

Put me in the don’t keep underestimating Trump camp. My assumption is that he will make a very formidable candidate in the general election, and the demographic impact of his candidacy is not yet well understood. This thing could be a blowout for the Dems, and he could become the Pete Wilson of the national GOP. But sure would be a mistake to assume weakness now from him and not political acumen and strength. Could be that this time it is the Rs are who “fired up and ready to go.” For Democrats in 2016, it is far better to plan for the worst rather than hope for the best. Time to take Trump seriously. 

Apology to Sanders folks - I've written this piece as if Clinton will become the nominee.  I promise to write a new version with Sanders as the nominee after Super Tuesday if he can put up good numbers in CO, MA, MN and OK.  

My previous columns on 2016 can be found here. 

Trump and Clinton In The Driver's Seat

For this week's Monday Musings on 2016 column some initial thoughts on Saturday's contests in South Carolina and Nevada:

The Republicans – After strong wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Trump appears to be in control of the GOP race now. Yes, lots could happen, and Rubio continues to gain strength as the mainstream alternative, but Trump has emerged from this huge GOP scrum in better shape than anyone else. Compare his vote totals and shares at this point to the last two GOP nominees:

McCain '08: 251,840 (31.5% of total)

Romney '12: 294,616 (30.5% of total)

Trump '16: 385,684 (31.9% of total)

Yes, Trump has 50% more votes at this point than McCain did in 2008.

We have another GOP debate this Thursday, which will be one of the most intense yet. Everyone will be gunning for the Donald, and with fewer candidates on the stage more time will be spent on him.  It will be one of his most important tests to date.  Watch for how his opponents play his attacks on George W. Bush for not keeping us safe, an issue that I assume with continue to resonate and disrupt the GOP conversation even after Jeb's hasty departure from the race.

As for the departure of Jeb!, it was always a mystery to me how he thought he could overcome the legacy of his father and brother. Both in their own ways were failed Presidents, and certainly many Republicans saw them as unworthy successors to Ronald Reagan. Despite raising and spending extraordinary sums of money, the Bush dynasty failed to re-assert control over the GOP, for now (there is another – George P. Bush is rising in Texas and is worth watching). The epic Bush crash in some ways makes Hillary’s early success even that much more impressive, while being a reminder that unlike Bush, Clinton has been part of two successful Presidencies. 

The Democrats – Saturday was a big big day in Clinton land. The remarkable Sanders insurgency was halted, but importantly, not ended. After three early contests this long shot and eccentric campaign has earned the same number of pledged delegates as Clinton (51); received at least 47% of the vote in all three states which are also important battlegrounds in the general election; has matured in a serious national political effort capable of matching Clinton in organization and money and outperforming them in media and creativity.  So while Bernie clearly suffered a blow on Saturday, he isn’t done and will go on to the 20 states voting in early March.  But his task is much harder now, and he has little room for error in the days ahead. 

Starting with Hillary's New Hampshire concession speech and picking up over the past week, you could sense that the Clinton campaign had finally begun to rise to the Sanders challenge. After months of unmemorable media, the campaign has produced a series of powerful ads that present their candidate in a far more favorable light (my favorite). Clinton’s own television speeches and appearances have gotten far sharper and better. The campaign is aggressively deploying its many and varied surrogates, allowing them to be in more than one place at a time while reminding voters of the lack of validation and support Bernie has been able to garner (I helped develop and oversee the surrogate program in the 1992 campaign and know how historically important this has been to Clinton land). And clearly a lot went right on the ground in Nevada on Saturday (also see this terrific piece about Senator Harry Reid’s role in Clinton’s victory).

What comes next? Clearly Hillary is in the driver’s seat now. She is likely to win South Carolina and head into the 11 contests on Tuesday, March 1st with a lot of momentum and rising confidence. Bernie will have to perform well that day to stay competitive. Importantly, he has a shot in at least 5 of the 11 – Colorado, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Vermont. Look for the Clinton campaign to ride their advantage with African-American voters in the other 6 states and concentrate on knocking Bernie out in CO, MA, MN and OK. If she runs the table on March 1st the Democratic nomination could come to a rather rapid resolution.  

Not a Fan of the “Single Issue Candidate” Line – One area where I think the Clinton campaign is making a big mistake is in their labeling of Bernie a “single issue” candidate. First, it just isn’t true, and attacks that are not grounded in reality don’t usually work that well over time. Second, it is offensive to both Sanders and his passionate followers, whom Clinton will need by her side if she wins. Bernie is much more than about breaking up the big banks. And that brings me to the third – it suggests that the Clinton campaign still doesn’t really understand what is propelling his candidacy. To me what is driving Bernie, and to some degree Trump, Cruz and Rubio too, is that they represent a break from the current political establishment. There is enormous disquiet in the American people now, and Hillary simply must begin to tap into this sentiment in some way. The answer to this is in part someone who can “get things done,” but it is also someone who is willing to bring fundament change to a system everyone views as terribly broken. I’ve been writing about this for months; why Clinton hasn’t become more of a forceful advocate of the very thoughtful political reform agenda she has already proposed remains another one of the big political mysteries of 2016 for me. 

Turnout/Enthusiasm – I will have more on this in a day or so, but Republicans continue to significantly outperform Democrats in television audiences for debates and townhalls and in turnout. While this gap is not determinative, it is illustrative. Republicans are far more engaged and enthusiastic about this election right now than Democrats. And given that in two of the past three elections Democrats have had enthusiasm and turnout challenges, these numbers continue to be a cause of concern.

But they are not only a concern for the fate of the Democratic Party in th fall.   If HRC does indeed wrap up the nomination by March 1st (an early winner was goal of current Primary schedule), then more than three quarters of Democrats, including ones in very large states like California, Florida and New York, will be able to cast a meaningful vote for their nominee.   As we've written before, the current political system is both making it harder for people to participate, and offering them very few chances to cast a meaningful vote for Federal offices.  We believe this dynamic is contributing to the rising alientation from the political system many feel today, and more perniciously, begs the question whether our system can still convey the consent of the governed as our founders had hoped. 

"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 U.K. progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign.  

Not Thrilled with the FCC's Emerging Approach to Change TV in the US

In the last few weeks I've become aware of a new proposal from the FCC which would radically change the way television operates in the United States. While we don’t yet know the specifics of the proposal, my initial thought is "why would anyone mess around with the business model of television now?" As a former television producer and writer for prime time American shows, I can tell you first hand that what America is experiencing today is truly a golden age of television. There is so much more programming, so much more innovation, so much more diversity, so many new voices, so many new distribution outlets and platforms than there ever has been. And a lot of the TV we watch is also really really good. When I watch TV today, even programs on tertiary networks, I am often stunned at the quality of the writing, the production values, the stars themselves. As someone who grew up in the business, it is clear that TV has never been better.  Why do something now that could crash all this creativity, innovation and success?

Perhaps proponents of this proposal who come from the tech side don’t really understand how profound the changes and improvements in television have been; how tens of thousands of highly creative and capable Americans are pushing an old medium to unprecedented places. Perhaps they see TV as just another form of bits and bytes.  But the magic of TV these days is anything but bits and bytes – it is something extraordinary, and like most creative surges, potentially fragile and ephemeral. Even small tweaks in the current, evolving business model could cause major disruptions in this enormous, complex, and innovative ecosystem.  

Additionally, and we will learn more about this next week when the FCC’s proposal comes out, the FCC seems intent on regulating the hardware (set top boxes) that is how many (but not all) people receive their programming. Given how rapidly television is moving to the Internet, to mobile devices, to services like Netflix and Amazon, this seems at first blush like an antiquated approach to a distribution network rapidly (and thankfully) leaving the set top box era behind.  This is an area that deserves much attention in the days ahead, as it would tragic if the FCC were to issue a tech mandate that is already out of date and behind an explosive tech curve. 

So I am anxious to learn more about the FCC’s proposal next week. But the bar for the FCC to act has to be very high here. Television has become a true crown jewel in America’s world leading creative and entertainment industry.  The distribution model of television and video in general is in the midst of a very profound tech driven change that needs time to play out.   Messing with all this now requires a very powerful rationale and an unassailable plan. What the FCC has floated so far seems to fall far short of this high bar, but I will wait to learn more next week before passing final judgement. 

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