NDN 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.  

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.

Why the Map Is So Dangerous for Republicans This Year

Last week, I surveyed the early landscape for the fall elections and found that it is a year of opportunity for Democrats.  This week we drill down on one piece of this story – 2016’s electoral map.

One of the great lessons of the Obama and Clinton Presidencies is that it is not enough just to win a Presidential election; to move their agenda from promise to law, a President must also create a governing coalition that remains in power over time.  For Hillary Clinton, the success of her Presidency may depend in part on whether she can also produce a Democratic majority in the Senate, and potentially the House, next year. And given that we’ve now seen the party in power suffer enormous losses in three consecutive mid-term elections, it suggests that the Democratic Party must not just be focused on winning the Presidency this year but winning as many Senate and House seats as possible to help prevent Clinton’s governing coalition from being just a two year aberration.

The good news for the Democrats is that Senate and House seats they have to win in 2016 have a remarkable and one time overlap with their Presidential targets.  Using the Cook Report rankings as a guide, here is a rough breakdown of how 2016 looks (Democrats need to pick up 7 Senate seats and 30 House seats to gain a majority):

Presidential/Senate targets (9) – CO, FL, IA, NH, MI, NV, OH, PA, WI

Presidential only (1) -– VA

Expanded Presidential/Senate targets (3) – AZ, GA, NC

Senate target, non Presidential (1) – IL

House targets in expanded Presidential/Senate battleground (20) – AZ (2), CO (1), FL (5), IL (1), IA (2), MI (2), NH (1), NV (2), PA (1), VA (2), WI (1)

House targets in CA/NY (10) – CA (4), NY (6)

Other House targets (7) – ME (1), MN (2), NE (1), NJ (1), TX (1), UT (1)

What this breakdown suggests by competing in just 14 states (AZ, CO, FL, GA, IA, IL, MI, NC, NH, NV, OH, PA, VA, WI), Democrats will be able to hit all their Presidential and Senate targets and more than half of their House targets.  Adding California and New York will bring it to 30 of 37 House targets.  By historical standards, this is a remarkably concentrated and efficient map.  It means: a strong showing at the Presidential level will have disproportionate impact on Congressional races (coattails on steroids); it is an enormous opportunity for Democrats through their digitally enhanced coordinated campaigns to gain efficiencies that will allow more time/spending on expanding the map to states like AZ, GA and NC; the Clinton campaign’s success at raising high dollar monies and the Sanders success at low dollar fundraising suggests the Democrats will have enough money to contemplate a more expansive effort if the Clinton Sanders rapprochement is successful; and it means that the national campaign committee with the hardest job – the DCCC (House campaigns) – will be able to throw far more of its resources into those seven races outside the national footprint.

Given the innate advantage Democrats have at the electoral college level, and the debilitating early demographic and political challenges of the Trump experience (not sure it is a campaign yet), one could understand how the Clinton campaign and national party would play it safe, stay focused on the core 10 states needed to win the Presidency, and feel understandably that electing the first woman President was a big enough job for any Presidential campaign.  But the map and circumstances of this year suggest a more aggressive, and yes, perhaps more risky approach.

What would that look like exactly?  It means making it explicit that the national campaign map is now 16 not just 10 states (the 14 above plus portions of CA and NY).  It means running paid advertising and establishing coordinated campaigns in all 16 targeted states, including a national strategy to win over Millenials led by Sanders campaign veterans;  deploying the candidate/VP and Bidens, Obamas, Sanders and Bill Clinton to these states;  and it means letting the broader Democratic community know about this strategy to give them something incredibly powerful to fight for – ideological control of Washington – and not just something to fight against – Trump. 

I have no doubt that this “man on the moon” kind of approach would produce an enormous outpouring of financial support at all levels for the party, and broader citizen engagement/activism in these critical elections.  Its audaciousness and ambition itself will be a tonic to the risk adverse culture of Washington that so many Americans would have grown weary of, and will signal the nation that the Democratic Party and its new leader mean business.

At a practical level, the Democrats can pull it off.  A Clinton Sanders deal would mean sufficient resources. We have an unusually rich and popular surrogate pool that will need to be deployed in creative ways for Democrats to gain advantage from this structural opportunity.  The controversial DNC Clinton joint fundraising committee has meant the operational mechanisms for managing all this have been in place already for some time.  The Clinton campaign is being run by folks like Robbie Mook who come from the Party, understand how the Senate and House campaign committees work, making this kind of cooperative arrangement possible.  And the far more sophisticated data driven tactics of a post Obama Democratic Party means the upside of a truly coordinated campaign are far greater than in the past – much more can be gained with better technology and targeting.

Given the unusual map of 2016 and the Democratic Party’s enormous operational/technological advantages, this is a particularly bad year for the Republicans to offer a deeply unpopular, unsophisticated and just crappy candidate.  The question for the Democrats now is will they seize the opening they now have and turn what is likely to be a good year into a great one. 

Update - some analysts suggest both Indiana and Missouri could be in play as well, and could be part of ever more expanded map.  Will monitor this as the terrain becomes a bit more clear.  

A Year of Opportunity for Democrats - Looking Ahead to the Fall Elections

Last week we took a deep dive on what Clinton and Trump have to do to put their parties back together after contentious primaries.  This week I look further forward, and offer an early take on what the landscape might be for this fall's election in an admittedly unpredictable year: 

Current Polls (all data from the Huffington Post Pollster aggregate) -

Party – Dems lead in Party ID 36/28, and in favorability 46/47 (minus 1) to the GOP’s 31/60 (minus 29), a substantial margin. Congress, which is controlled by the GOP, has a historically low approval rating of 14 (14/72).

The President/Party Leaders – President Obama’s job approval is 49/47, and his overall approval is 48/46. Vice President Biden’s approval is 47/37, and Bernie Sander is 51/40. On the other hand, there are no major GOP political figures with net positive approval ratings – Ryan is 32/39, Kasich is 36/39 and McConnell is 17/43.

Trump vs. Clinton – In the latest Huff Po aggregate, Clinton leads by 7 in direct head to heads with Trump, 47/40. Her approval rating, while low, is far better than Trump’s, 41/55 (minus 14) to 33/62 (minus 29).

The Issue Landscape – There isn’t an obvious opening on domestic issues for the Republicans this cycle. The economy is vastly improved from where it was, and should continue to do well through the fall. Annual deficits are a 1/3 of what they were. Health inflation has slowed, and tens of millions have insurance who didn’t have it before. Energy prices are low, and the US is making real progress is transitioning to a better energy future. On immigration, one of Mr. Trump’s signature issues, the country is with the Democrats, and not him. The basket of issues around “security” remain the GOP’s one obvious opening, with Obama at 39/48 in his handling of foreign policy, and the Secretary having some lingering issues from her time as Secretary of State. Expect a tremendous level of engagement from the GOP on “security” issues this year.

The Map – As we covered in previous posts (here and here), the map is particularly advantageous for Democrats this year. The significant overlap among the states/districts Democrats need to win for the President, Senate and House both allow Democrats to maximize a Presidential state advantage, and use efficiencies gained through coordinated efforts to go on offense in states like Arizona, California, Georgia, New York and North Carolina, Additionally, Trump’s hard line immigration approach will make Democratic success in states with heavily Hispanic populations like Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Virginia and perhaps even North Carolina more likely.

Expanding the map to more states and voters is also important for Democrats to not only ensure that they win, but that they can govern effectively. Due to low turnout and only a small number of targeted Presidential states, only about one in three of eligible voters cast their ballot for President Obama in 2012. By expanding the map, Democrats could get that number up, creating more buy-in from the American people, or the “consent of the governed” our founders intended. This extra level of support could make become meaningful in a closely divided Congress next year.

The Choice of Vice President – For Donald Trump there seems to be one really good pick – John Kasich – and lots of less helpful ones. Kasich brings delegates to wrap up the nomination quickly, has as good a favorable rating as any GOPer in the country, has deep governing experience to complement Trump’s inexperience, hails from the region of the country where Trump must win, and is the Governor of the state where the GOP Convention is taking place. Kasich’s standing inside the Party will grow for “taking one for the team” by joining the ticket. I just don’t see how this doesn’t happen.

As for the Democrats, my money is still on Tim Kaine of Virginia. He is a former Party chair, governor and is deeply respected by people on both sides of the aisle. He hails from a swing state, speaks fluent Spanish, is Catholic (Rustbelt, Hispanics) and reinforces the “steady hand on the rudder” sensibility that will likely be a core Democratic offering this year. There are other good choices out there – Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Mark Warner, Elizabeth Warren, etc – but I think Kaine just feels like the right choice for this race at this time.

Looking Ahead – Six months out, signs point to this being a year of significant opportunity for the Democrats. The playing field leans Democratic right now, and the map is particularly advantageous to Democrats this year. The Party’s leaders are well liked, and it has a strong track record of success in each of the last two Presidencies and in winning national elections. Taken together, all of this gives the Democrats a formidable advantage against an unpopular GOP without well regarded leaders and very little to show for their time in power over the past generation.

While the basic structure of the race favors Secretary Clinton, Trump is only 7 points behind at this point. Clinton’s high negatives will give Trump an opportunity to make his case. His even higher negatives and lack of a true campaign at this stage of the race are enormous liabilities for him, ones that will make it very hard for him to turn this into a competitive race in the months ahead. But expect very aggressive attacks around the “security” theme (note 1st major policy speech was on foreign policy), and on her honesty and overall leadership capabilities. Also expect the GOP to come together rapidly around Trump in the months to come, as on may of the major issues – tax cuts, climate denial, Obamacare repeal, hard line immigration policies, interventionist/jingoistic foreign policy – is very much a mainstream Republican.  While Trump appears weak today, he has been over-performing expectations for almost a year now, and cannot be written off.

While perhaps playing defense on “security” issues and her own record, there is a real opportunity for the Secretary to go on offense as the next CEO of a party with well liked leaders and a strong track record of success now in two Presidencies. It would be wise for the Clinton campaign to spend the time through the July Convention leading a national effort to tell the story of Democratic governing success (jobs, deficit, health care, energy/climate, equal opportunity for all, political reform, safer world), establishing the basic contrast of D progress/R decline prior to rolling out her closing argument and shifting the focus to her candidacy at the Convention itself.  Helping the Democrats understand and own their own success will make every Democrat stronger up no matter where they are on the ticket.

It will also be remarkable to see a very popular set of Democratic leaders – Biden, Bill Clinton, both Obamas, Sanders, the VP – standing alongside and campaigning with Secretary Clinton in the months ahead. That image of a powerful team lead by an experienced leader (and first woman!) will not be easily answered by an unpopular, isolated Trump and a deeply unpopular Party without a single national leader with net positive favorability ratings. An unprecedented “Democratic Team” that includes two former Presidents could end up being an extraordinary advantage for her this fall.

To address her weakness with Millennials, Clinton would be wise to do two things: 1) showcase younger, compelling leaders like Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom, Joe Kennedy at the Convention, giving them outsized and very public roles, and showcasing them thru post-broadcast media and forums; 2) adopt a far reaching plan to renew our democracy and reform our politics, along the lines of something I published last week. Whatever the Clinton plan is for bringing along the Sanders world, particularly Millennials, it must be an aggressive and serious effort, and should begin right away.

Conclusion – All signs point to it being a year of opportunity for Democrats.  Though Trump should not be underestimated, the hole he and his party have dug for themselves is very deep.  It remains to seen if they can make the fall election competitive. 

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.

Renewing Our Democracy, Restoring Consent

This note was originally sent as email to members of the NDN community on May 12th. 

....This week I published an op-ed on the US News website that lays out a three part plan for modernizing and improving how our democracy works in America.  I hope you will take a few moments to read it in the coming days.  It is one of the more important pieces I’ve written in recent years. 

I draw particular attention to this piece because I’ve become convinced that getting more people to meaningful participate in the process of choosing their leaders, restoring the “consent of the governed” imagined by our Founding Fathers, is an essential and necessary step in restoring faith in our institutions and moving our nation successfully into the 21st century. 

I and NDN have dabbled in these issues over the years.  I was one of the first non-Oregon investors in the Oregon vote by mail experiment in mid-1990s, one that has helped created a voting system with among the highest citizen participation in the nation.  I was an early champion of the use of the Internet in US politics as a way of lowering the barrier of entry for every day people into the political system, even putting the first American political party on line (the Democrats) in 1993.  I was an architect of the plan that added a southern and southwestern state to the early DNC nominating calendar, allowing voters of colors to play a much greater role in choosing the Democrat’s nominee.  And recently, NDN successfully advocated for an improved DNC debate schedule, allowing tens of millions of people to become better informed in their choice for President in 2016.

I also sit on the board of the Tisch College for Civic Life at Tufts University, arguably the leading academic institution in America today looking at citizen engagement and healthy societies.  I am honored that I will be teaching a class there this fall on American politics that will be allow me to spend a bit more time looking at these issues.    

I write all this to the NDN community today as a way of saying that I and our team will be committing far more time and energy to the basket of issues around political and electoral reform, and restoring “consent.”  As I look ahead over the next few years, I have become convinced that the distance many Americans feel from Washington must be addressed head on or progress on so many other issues that we care about will be disappointingly elusive.  

And there is urgent international context to this discussion as well.  If America is to remain steadfast in our commitment to advancing democracy abroad, our own democracy must be an exemplar, not a laggard or even an embarrassment (5 hour lines to vote!).  Acknowledging that even we in the world’s oldest democracy don’t always get things right, and can make improvements, will be an inspiration to other nations and advocates looking to modernize and improve their own political systems. 

Thanks for all that you do for us here at NDN and the many other organizations and leaders our community supports each and every day.

Best,

Simon 

Unpublished
n/a

Putting Their Parties Back Together

2016 Overview - With big wins in New York last week fueling them now, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are on track to win their Party’s nomination this July. The central story in US politics these next few months will be how each of them puts their parties back together after what has been a contentious primary season. The challenges for Trump and Clinton are different, and perhaps can best be summed up by the national polling aggregate graphs from the Huffington Post below.

Today, Hillary Clinton has an insurmountable lead in delegates and has essentially won her nomination, but Democratic voters remain remarkably split between her and Bernie Sanders. For Clinton, putting her party back together will revolve heavily on the perception of how Sanders and his followers are treated, both at a national level and in every state. Given the success of the Sanders campaign against overwhelming odds, and his very high standing in the polls, many Sanders backers will be expecting to play a meaningful role in the emerging post Obama Democratic Party. Accommodating the Senator, his many delegates and his followers, will be a fundamentally difference process than the successful Obama Clinton rapprochement in 2008. The defeated Senator then was a professional politician with future ambitions, and the Clinton world knew how to fall in line and get on board. We simply cannot expect the same from Sanders and Sandernistas across the country.  Many are new to politics, and come at the process with a degree of contempt for the system.  For Clinton 2008 was a "loss."  For Sanders 2016 will be seen by him and his supporters as a "win." Additionally, that there is such a wide held perception that the DNC and “the Party” improperly intervened on Clinton’s behalf in the primary renders the Party, its Chair and the Convention itself a far less effective tool for reconciliation than is usual.

The team around Clinton is a sophisticated bunch, and I am confident they will be able to make all this work. But the constant references to one finds on social media to “we got on board in 2008, your turn,” while perhaps comforting to Clinton supporters, is not now, and will not be a compelling argument to the very different sensibility of the Sanders world. 

Trump, on the other hand, is in a less advantageous delegate position today than Clinton but does not face the kind of popular alternative Sanders has come to represent. It is possible that if a more attractive and less extreme alternative to Trump had emerged in the primaries than Cruz, Trump could have been beaten. But it didn’t happen, and as one can see from the graph above, recent polling has Trump gaining and his two opponents losing ground. In some ways he enters this next phase in a more dominant position than Clinton, as he has doesn’t have a real opponent any more. Yet, his party is far more deeply fractured than the Democratic Party, and putting it back together would be an extraordinary challenge for any nominee, let alone one without political experience. What will make Trump’s job a bit easier is that he is not really at odds with his party on the big issues, arguing for big tax cuts, an interventionist foreign policy, a hard line immigration agenda, climate denial and rolling back Obamacare. He is perhaps louder, more boorish and less experienced than more establishment Republicans, but the ideological distance between him and Paul Ryan may be closer than the one between Clinton and Sanders today and thus easier to bridge than many realize.

The Pick of Vice President - The choice of Vice President will be an important step in this process of putting the party back together for both Clinton and Trump. I still think Senator Tim Kaine has the edge on the Democratic side – swing state, Spanish speaker, Catholic, former Party Chair, good guy, principled thoughtful national leader. He will help reinforce the “steady hand on the rudder” narrative that will contrast well with Trump this fall. But given my analysis above, will also be interesting to see if a nod to the next generation would be appropriate this time, with folks like Cory Booker and Julian Castro getting an extended look. Regardless of who Clinton picks, it would be wise for her to make a group of emerging, compelling Democrats – Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Joe Kennedy, Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom for example – co-chairs of the Democratic Convention this summer. Something significant will have to be done to excite and engage younger Sanders supporters. Celebrating our inspiring next generation of leaders, the ones who will inherit the party after the age of Clinton, Reid and Pelosi, would be one savvy step in this effort.

For Trump, there is one pick that seems to make so much sense that I have to believe it will happen soon – Ohio’s John Kasich. He brings delegates to help wrap up the nomination. He brings unparalleled government experience to complement Trump’s inexperience. He hails from the swingiest of general election states, and the site of the GOP convention. He will be an effective bridge to the “GOP establishment.” Given the events of recent days the cost of this deal clearly has gone up for Trump, but assume these talks are already well underway. There is just no one else who brings more to the ticket now than Kasich, and getting him to come on board will be of the most important tests of whether the Trump makeover has any chance of succeeding.

Further Reading - Two good reads from the last few days on this next phase of the process - The New York Times's Adam Nagourney "Can Clinton Feel the Bern?" and Politico's Gabriel Debenedetti's "Sanders Caught in a Political Trap." 

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.

Consequential Days Ahead

2016 Overview – As we discussed last week, the central question in the Presidential race now is whether Clinton and Trump can use the late April states to reestablish control over their nominating contests. Both are polling well in New York (April 19th), and on April 26’s “Super Tuesday” of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. If the polls hold, both Trump and Clinton will enter the final month of primaries in very dominant positions, raising questions about whether their opposition can or should continue. So there is a lot riding on the outcomes of these late April states.

On the Democratic side, the margin in New York will matter.  Polls have Clinton with double digit leads.  Recent states have found Bernie overperforming public polls, however, and in other large states like Michigan and Wisconsin without other contests Sanders has been able to close very strong.  My guess is that the final outcome will be closer to mid single digits than 15 points. But whatever it is, the final margin tomorrow night will be important for setting the stage for the five states voting next week.  

How Do Dems Make Peace? If Clinton does as well as is expected over the next week, calls for Sanders to drop out will get very loud. Clinton needs Sanders and his spirited following for her general election campaign. How will the peace be made? What can Sanders show his supporters they got for their remarkable run? Greg Sargent of the Washington Post wrote a few pieces on this matter last week, suggesting that at least one partof the deal could be the Democrats’ adopting significant changes in their own party nominating process at the July convention. Among the things Sargent says that could be considered are eliminating caucuses, establishing an independent process to schedule debates, opening up primaries to independent voters, limiting the number of states that can vote on any given day and more.  His pieces are well worth a read, and offer some smart thinking about the road ahead. 

Is Trump getting a makeover? Perhaps the most interesting development in the Presidential race is the apparent rebooting of the Trump campaign. Shaken perhaps by unexpected losses, inadequate political preparation, legal challenges for his campaign manager and historically high disapproval ratings, it appears that Mr. Trump is in the process of professionalizing his campaign. This is a deeply pragmatic step, both by him and his party. He is still the likely nominee, and Republicans need to do everything they can to salvage his candidacy as a blowout this year will do particular damage to Rs across the country. With long time establishment figure Paul Manafort joining the Trump campaign, it will now become acceptable for others to follow, justifying it as “good for the party.” This sensibility will eventually extend to Trump’s choice for Vice President. If offered, the pressure on folks like Kasich, Walker and Rubio (all named by Trump for his shortlist) to join the Trump ticket, “for the good of the party,” will be immense. And my assumption is that one of them will indeed hop on board.

Whether all of this will be enough to make the general election competitive given the damage Trump has already done to his brand of course is the big question. But remember, for the GOP, there is a huge and consequential difference between Trump losing with 48% of the vote, and losing with 45 or 44%. One early sign of this makeover will be in how Trump handles his victories over the next week. Will there be a change in tone? Style? Language? Worth watching.

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.

Can the Frontrunners Reassert Control?

2016 Overview – The later part of April provides both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton the opportunity to reassert degrees of control over their nomination battles. Both frontrunners are polling well in the upcoming contests – delegate rich New York on April 19th, and then April’s “Super Tuesday” of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island on April 26th. . This is a welcome stretch of favorable terrain after what has been a tough few weeks for both candidates. 

In a recent column, I discussed how Trump’s refusal to embrace a modern and complete campaign – fundraising/bid budgets, paid advertising, grassroots organizing, delegate operations, etc – was a potentially fatal mistake. At some point, many have believed, the improvised, impulsive, free media driven Trump start up of 2015 was going to have to mature into a real organization in 2016 if he were to take advantage of the opportunity he had given himself. Over the past few weeks Trump has begun to pay a real price for his stubborn decision to run his effort on the cheap. He gave a series of terribly ill-advised interviews which reinforced how unprepared his was for the Presidency of the most powerful nation in the world. In Colorado this past weekend, he lost every delegate at the statewide convention to Ted Cruz, soon after losing almost all of the delegates in North Dakota and just two months after getting out-organized by Cruz in Iowa. This morning Trump even admitted his own children had missed the registration deadline to vote for him in New York next week. These kind of “can he play this game” mistakes are further driving the GOP establishment/party professional class away from him, a dynamic that is becoming so powerful that it could not only deny him enough delegates at his Convention, but create a sufficient public rationale for finding an alternative to him in Cleveland even if he recovers his standing and ends the primary with a string of victories.

Secretary Clinton faces a different set of challenges. Whereas Trump’s problems are largely of his own making, the Clinton campaign is facing a far more spirited challenge from Bernie Sanders than almost anyone could have predicted. The Sanders campaign has dramatically outraised the extraordinary Clinton fundraising machine this quarter, won 8 of the last 9 contests, and appears to have pulled even in national polls with the Secretary. Whether all of this is enough to catch Clinton in the upcoming run of states where she has, according to early polling, meaningful leads, we will find out soon. The Clinton camp can find solace in that many of the remaining states have “closed” primaries, meaning only Democrats can vote. This will blunt the Sanders advantage with independents. Unlike Trump, she is likely to cross the delegate threshold needed to win the nomination in June. Additionally, the Sanders campaign has made a series of significant public missteps in the last few weeks, reminding us, perhaps a bit like Trump, of his own inexperience of playing the game at this level.

The Sanders camp, on the other hand, will find solace in that in many recent contests he has over-performed against the public polls, some by dramatic margins. No colleges are on break this month, unlike March, which is another thumb on the scale for Sanders. And of course he has the momentum from his remarkable wins of late, most notably his 14 point win in Wisconsin last Tuesday. All of this makes the Sanders Clinton debate on CNN this Thursday night the most important debate so far for the Democrats.

Sanders, Cruz closing in national polls - A close read of recent national polling shows a changing race in both parties. On the Democratic side, six new polls found two Sanders’ leads, two slight Clinton leads and two with bigger Clinton leads. Four of the six found the race essentially tied. Using the Huffington Post poll aggregator, the Clinton lead is now 2.5 points, 47.8 to 45.3, down from 11-12 points from just a month ago. On the Republican side, Trump now leads Cruz by just 9 points, 41 to 32, down from 18 points, 42 to 24, just a month ago. Looking at the charts below, you can see that in each the slope of the lines indicates that public opinion in the race is moving rapidly right now away from the frontrunners. Will it be enough? Can Trump and Clinton use these coming states to recover their momentum? We will see. 

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.  

Source: http://elections.huffingtonpost.com/pollster

"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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