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Monday Musings on 2016 – What Will New Hampshire Bring?

Trump, Sanders lead the polls – Both Sanders and Trump seem to be in good shape in New Hampshire as of today. But as Iowa showed us last week, anything is possible in this volatile race. Iowa could have given us two nominees if Trump and Clinton had decisive victories. But it didn’t, and as I wrote last week, the entire election changed. What surprise will NH produce? What order will 2-4 be on the GOP side? We will find out tomorrow night. But here are a few things we know:

- Rubio had a campaign altering meltdown on Saturday, and so far his reaction to it seems to be digging the hole deeper.

- Cruz isn’t wearing well. His exchange with Carson on Saturday, and his incredible lie about what actually happened was a bad sign for his campaign. He is still very much in this thing but there are all sorts of warning signs emerging.

- That Rubio and Cruz have had a rough week means that the Donald has had a good one.

- Sanders outraised Clinton last month by a third ($20 to $15m). Remarkably, Sanders will likely be able to match Clinton’s money as the map gets bigger. No one could have imagined that even a few weeks ago.

No predictions, but my sense is that Trump may re-emerge as the frontrunner this week; Clinton will close and make NH tight but not win; Sanders will close everywhere else, including the next Dem contest, Nevada.

What’s next for the Democrats? The two Democrats will debate this Thursday on PBS/CNN, and then have Nevada on 2/20, South Carolina on 2/27, and on 3/1 AL, AR, CO, GA, MA, MN, OK, TN, TX, VT, VA. It is going to get big, fast.

Still can’t understand why Clinton is embracing more of a reform agenda – I’ve covered this issue in the last few weekly memos but it remains the great mystery of the race to me. Sanders, Trump, Cruz and Rubio have all made challenging the broken system central to their campaigns. The resistance by Clinton to do so, given that she has a very strong set of campaign and voting rights proposals, seems at this point – at best – tone deaf. Something to watch in the days ahead, and be sure to review Ari Berman's smart piece "Hillary Clinton's Bold Plan for Voting Rights." 

Bad Week for Dems and debates – The much and appropriately maligned DNC approach to the debates is perhaps best understood by the audiences garnered by the recent New Hampshire debates. The first DNC NH debate was the on the Saturday before Christmas. The second was hastily thrown together by candidates needing greater exposure than the inadequate DNC schedule had given them. The first debate, on ABC, received 8m viewers. The second, on MSNBC in weekday primetime, received 4.5m viewers. The GOP NH debate which aired this past Saturday also on ABC received 13.2m viewers. The GOP weekend debate outperformed the weeknight DNC debate three fold this week; the GOP ABC debate on a far better Saturday night had a 65% higher audience than the Dem ABC debate; and the single GOP NH debate this week had more viewers than both Dem NH debates combined.

The inferior and flawed debate DNC approach has let the Democrats down this cycle, giving their candidates and their arguments far less exposure than what Republicans have received. So while we are pleased that the two campaigns decided to add four more debates to the original six, it is tragic that these campaigns, in the middle of the most intense period of the election so far, had to take so much time to improve what was a terribly inadequate approach crafted by the DNC. 

For more on the debate debate see our memo which compares the audiences received by both parties in the 2008 and 2016 cycles.

Enthusiasm/Interest – Watch tomorrow night for turn out numbers. As we wrote last week, in Iowa Democrats experienced a 40% drop from their 2008 Caucus vote, while the GOP saw a 50% increase. We know GOP debates are on average getting more than 60% more viewership than the Dems. Are numbers like this predictive of the outcome in the fall? Of course not. But they are instructive as where the two parties stand today; and I want to go on the record now saying I believe this is a problem for the Democrats in 2016, exacerbated by a horribly misguided approach to their debates. 

"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.   Full disclosure: I will vote for Hillary Clinton in the DC Democratic primary, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign.  

 

After Iowa, A Different Race for President

On Wednesday, February 3rd, this version was revised, and corrected, from the original.  See note below.

Those pesky voters did their thing last night and created a brand new Presidential race in both parties. Cruz, Rubio and Sanders all outperformed expectations, and head into New Hampshire with renewed vigor. Trump disappointed, though one would assume he will do better in a primary state where organization matters a bit less (if he doesn’t collapse). Hillary Clinton retains a huge structural advantage in the Democratic race, but received a very real warning that she will need to continue to improve, grow and respond to current circumstances or face a far more serious challenge than her team has seemed prepared for (see this recent Greg Sargent piece in the Washington Post for more on this).

What happens next? As I wrote last week, we all have to more humility in our projections about this race, as it is volatile and uncertain. Conventional wisdom has Trump and Sanders winning New Hampshire next week, but we have a week of campaigning, town halls, debates and other things that could once again toss the CW of 2016 on its head. Remember that in both 1992 and 2008 New Hampshire was very very good to the Clintons, and could be again. I have no real thoughts about the race post New Hampshire at this point though my assumption is that Sanders will close the gap with Clinton nationally and in most states, and raise enough money to allow him to compete with Clinton head to head for as the election moves beyond the four state early window.

A few additional observations on the Tuesday after Iowa:

The Democratic debates – Last week the Clinton campaign advocated for a debate to be added this week in New Hampshire, the Sanders campaign agreed but only if they and the DNC could agree to three more debates. The issue of a new debate schedule remains unresolved as of this morning, and of course all debates and forums for the Democrats going forward will only be Clinton and Sanders now. For the DNC this negotiation is an opportunity to erase the impression of favoritism they have clearly showed in the debate schedule to this point; or reinforce it. The outcome of the talks could have a huge impact on 2016.

Enthusiasm – Democrats should remain worried about enthusiasm. As we’ve documented elsewhere, the GOP debates are getting far larger audiences than the Democrats. Compared to 2008, the Rs debates are generating 5 times the viewership while the Dem debates are only up twofold. Similarly, the 2016 Iowa caucuses saw a 50% increase in turnout for the Rs from 2008 (120,000 to 180,000), while the Democratic turnout number was off by 40% from 2008 (240,000 to 171,000). While these numbers are not predictive of outcomes this fall, and the two primaries are of course very different, given the enthusiasm problem Democrats have experienced in 2010 and 2014 any evidence of an enthusiasm gap in 2016 has to be worrisome to party leaders.

Young People – According to the entrance polls last night Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton by 70 points with voters under 30, 84-14.. 70 points!. Will be important to watch if this gap begins to show up with voters of color in the coming states, mitigating Clinton’s much noted early advantage with nonwhites (particularly in higher turnout primary states). I will have more on issue later, as it is emerging as perhaps the most significant demographic story to watch on the Democratic side.

Political Reform/Changing the Clinton Narrative I made the case last week that Clinton’s refusal to take up the political reform mantle has been a bit inexplicable. She can run as both an experienced hand who can make the system work better, and argue that those who know the system best are most able to change it. But the agenda she offers on reform has to be real, meaningful, biting and persuasive. My piece from last week offers some ideas on what that agenda could be but it has to start with a commitment to close the Clinton Foundation and have family members forgo all speaking fees while she is President.

David Axelrod had a great related insight last night on CNN.  Paraprhasing, he said that when you run on "experience" the campaign is all about you, not about the country, the voters, an agenda.   Bernie has made it all about us, the future, the country.   As a Clinton 1992 guy I remember, deeply, about how we made our entire campaign about his argument, about the future, about the US.  Perhaps it is time for Clinton to invert her campaign, and make her pitch about us and her compelling agenda for the future, and not so much about her and her complicated family.

Note 2/3- In the original version of this memo, I mistakenly attributed the difference between Sanders and Clinton in the Iowa Caucus to coin tosses in six precincts.  While there were coin tosses, I misunderstood what type of delegate they were awarding.  As this good piece from Media Matters explains, those six delegates awarded by the coin tosses due to the arcane system used in Iowa would have not have been enough to wipe away Hillary Clinton's 3.77 delegate lead as of yesterday afternoon.  So I stand corrected, and have removed the incorrect passage from the current draft of the memo.  

This column takes the place of my regular "Monday Musings" column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You can find previous columns here

Full disclosure: I will vote for Hillary Clinton in the DC Democratic primary, and given the maximum contribution to her campaign.  

Monday Musings: Trump Rising, Dems Battle, Thoughts on Political Reform/Dem Bench

The trend lines we discussed last week continued into this one: Trump appears to be in the process of besting Cruz in Iowa and everywhere else; and the Democratic race remained too close to call in Iowa and New Hampshire. Some observations:

Humility About What Comes Next – Given the poll mistakes/errors of recent years, the challenges with getting an accurate likely voter screen rate, lots of political volatility, rapidly changing demographics, voters having far more access to political information than before, it is important that all of us have a bit of humility about predicting outcomes this election season. I’ve tried to stick with poll aggregates and trends, which while not predictive, are instructive. Doing a deep dive on the numbers this morning it sure seems as if Trump is in a very strong position to win the GOP nomination, while the Democratic race is too close to call. If Sanders wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, I have far less faith in the Clinton “fire wall” than others. Wins in those early states along with a very strong grassroots money machine and organization could make Sanders a significant threat to Clinton as the map gets bigger. But if Hillary wins Iowa she will re-assert a degree of control over the race she doesn’t have right now.

Likewise, I am not convinced at this point that Trump ends up being a disaster for the Rs in the general. Possible, but so is a long transformation into a more conventional figure enhanced by extraordinary Trumpian media instincts and skills. Folks have been underestimating him from the get go, and it would be unwise to write him off in the fall.

Returning to the Democrats, it is also important to remember that the last three Democrats to get to the White House ran against the “establishment” and beat the conventional wisdom of their time. Democrats are just not in the coronation business. Along these lines be sure to review Greg Sargent’s recent piece which explains why the Sanders challenge is important for Clinton. What happens now with the Democrats? All comes down to strategy and execution. A great window into this final week is the new Sanders and Clinton “closing” ads. And be sure to watch the CNN “town hall” tonight at 9pm - will matter!

Clinton and Political Reform – One of the more puzzling elements of the 2016 campaign is why Hillary Clinton hasn’t run more aggressively on her very ambitious and thoughtful political reform agenda. I think there is an obvious way to turn her experience and understanding of the dark side of politics into a broader argument that it takes an insider to fix the system from the inside. She can not only run on her articulated plans, but could commit to suspending the foundation if she were to become the nominee and closing it if elected, leading a government wide effort to modernize the treatment of data and email in a new cyber age, tying Congressional pay to getting budgets done on time (no budget no pay), creating a minimum number of days Congress must be in session each cycle, etc. The reforms she could offer to change the system have to be biting, real, and bring about real change. While I think she is smart to hug Obama and offer continuity as a matter of core strategy, this is one area she should offer a sharper break with him. Trump, Sanders and Cruz all are offering some version of a radical overhaul of the system. She needs to join this chorus in her own way, recognizing that part of her argument – first women President – is unlikely to be sufficient.

Reflections on the Democratic Bench – The strong reviews Senator Cory Booker received this weekend while stumping for Hillary Clinton brought to mind the ongoing debate about the strength of the Democratic bench. My own take on this debate is that the high end of the next generation of Democrats is very strong, and can match the Ryan, Rubio, Cruz cohort – Booker, Newsom, Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Patrick Murphy, Castro, Cuomo, Kaine, O’Malley. If Democrats didn’t have such an usual election this time we may have seen many of these candidates take a run and audition on the national stage the way the Rs have done this time. Part of what is holding back this next generation of Democrats is the success of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and their larger than life allies – Gore, Hillary, Kerry, Biden, Reid, Pelosi – who occupy a space that has no equivalent on the Republican side. There is only so much space in the political universe, and the Democrats have a highly successful aging boomer cohort that is just not leaving a lot of room for the next generation. The next gen Rs – a group I call the “children of Reagan” – have no successful set of Presidents and allies to crowd their progress. So the “lack of a Democratic bench” insight is actually the result of a good problem to have, one the Rs don’t have – the presence of two living successful Democratic Presidents and Administrations (filling the Cabinet over 16 years also took many potential Senators and Governors out of electoral play). 

While this upper end of next gen Democrats can hold its own with the upper end of the Rs, the problem for the Democrats is what comes underneath this talented tier. This is where the enormous GOP advantage in the state legislatures and governor’s mansions will, over time, become an enormous structural problem for the national Democratic Party. The pipeline the Rs have now will allow them to produce far more higher and medium tier politicians capable of winning elections and exercising power. Add to this the exposure a more open party is giving to Ryan, Rubio, Cruz, Christie etc and you can imagine the Rs being able to maintain a degree of political power in Washington and in the states for a decade or more, even as the nation as a whole moves closer to the Democrats. My analogy is the Democrats have a better product but the Rs have a better management team right now. No Democrat should be optimistic about how this competition is likely to play out in the short and medium term.

Tuesday morning update - The Dem Town Hall.  I thought all three candidates performed well, continuing to show growth and improvement on the trail (why you have these things on TV).  Sanders was probably seen by the most people by going first, and did well, adding more information to people still wanting to learn more about him.   Hillary was unusually animated and effective last night too, showing her experience and facility on a wide range of issues.   I don't know if the Town Hall was seen be enough people to be a difference maker, and was hard to see how last night could have swayed people one way or the other (and Clinton did get dinged up a bit).  But Clinton and her campaign have clearly begun to rise to the serious Sanders challenge now, and are throwing everything they got into this final week in Iowa.  

"Monday Musings" is a new column looking at the national political landscape published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You can find previous columns here

Full disclosure - I will vote for Hillary Clinton in the DC Democratic primary.

Mondays Musings: With Two Weeks To Go Till Iowa, A Close Race

What a political week. 2 debates, a State of the Union, dramatic events in/with Iran. Where do things stand?

The Democrats – Polls suggest that Sanders and Clinton head into the all important February window with Iowa a tossup and Sanders slightly ahead in New Hampshire. If Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire, he will then be able to mount a very serious challenge to Secretary Clinton as he has the resources and organization to compete even as the map gets bigger.  I am not sold, like many, that the “Clinton firewall” survives losses in Iowa and New Hampshire so what happens in Iowa in two weeks is shaping up to be very consequential.

My take on the Sunday night debate was all three candidates did well, and there was no “winner.” Sanders held his own in what was a very tough debate for him. O’Malley impressed, again. But Clinton may have had the best night, strategically, as she opened up an attack on Sanders (his distance from Obama) that I think over time will be very troublesome for the Vermont Senator. Yesterday the President hit 51% approval in the Gallup daily track, his best showing since early 2013 and a very respectable number this late in his Administration. It has long been my contention that Democrats must defend the Obama Presidency in 2016, for if we cannot convince the public our team can do a good job when in the White House why elect more of us? So I think this argument will be central to both the primary and the general, and it was artfully argued by Secretary Clinton on Sunday night.

And of course hats off to the President for a terrific SOTU speech, and for what will be increasingly seen as a successful two terms in the White House.

The Republicans – They also face the prospect of an outsider candidate winning both Iowa and New Hampshire – Trump in this case. Two weeks out Iowa appears to be a tossup between him and Cruz, with Trump holding big leads everywhere else. If Trump wins Iowa sure feels it will be hard to stop him from winning the nomination at that point. There is evidence that the various attacks on Cruz – Goldman loan, eligibility, Ethanol opposition – are beginning to take their toll on him. How much so? We will find out in two weeks. Unlike the Ds, the Rs have another debate before Iowa/NH, coming on Jan 28th. This one will really matter.

Debate viewership tally so far: 6 GOP debates, 102m viewers (17m per debate), 4 Dem debates, 43m viewers, (10.75m per debate). At this rate the 12 GOP debates will be seen by about 204m viewers, the 6 Democratic debates 64m At 10.2m viewers, NBC's 4th Democratic debate was the second most watched Democratic debate, but still came in lower than any of the 6 GOP debates so far, including their two on a little watched cable network, Fox Business (updated 1/18/16).

Over the next 10 weeks the Republicans will have 6 more debates, the Democrats 2. Of those 2 Democratic debates one will be in Spanish. Despite the prospect of the Democratic race going into the late spring, the last English language debate the DNC has scheduled is on Feb 11th.

In 2008, the 17 Democratic debates which had ratings were seen by at least 75m viewers. So even though the Democratic debates this cycle have received more viewers per debate, the total viewership of the 6 debates will come in about 10m less than what the Democratic debates achieved in 2008, and only a third of what the Rs are getting this cycle with their better debate approach. Very hard to spin any of this as positive for Democrats, or "maximizing" opportunities. 

See here for more on the "debate debate."   

"Monday Musings" is a new column looking at the national political landscape published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You find previous columns here.  And yes this one came out on a Tuesday. 

Full disclosure - I will vote for Hillary Clinton in the DC Democratic primary.

Monday Musings: Can Anyone Stop Trump? Dems Wake Up To A Competitive Race

New WSJ/NBC/Marist Polls – New polls released yesterday give us a fresh look at where things stand three weeks before Iowa.

The GOP - For the GOP, there is really only one question now – can anyone stop Trump? Trump has big leads in all the early states except Iowa, so the cold reality is if Trump wins Iowa it is really hard to see how he doesn’t run away with the election regardless of who finishes third or fourth in New Hampshire. And on that front, the two big attacks on Cruz now – questions about his eligibility to be President, and a very sustained campaign against him in Iowa by Ethanol backers (as a Texan and oil/gas man he has taken an aggressive anti-Ethanol stance in Congress) – appear to be making a difference in Iowa. The NBC poll mirrors other recent polls, finding the race tightening up, with Cruz 28 Trump 24. Again, if someone does not beat Trump in Iowa, just hard to see how he doesn’t run away with the nomination given where things stand today.

All of this makes the next two GOP debates – on 1/14 and 1/28 – very consequential.

The Democrats – The NBC polls found what many believed had taken place over the past few weeks – Iowa has tightened up. The NBC polls found Iowa at Clinton 48 and Sanders 45, New Hampshire Sanders 50 Clinton 46. At this point anything is possible in these states, including Sanders winning both. For Clinton Iowa really becomes a must win now, as – and it must be said – Sanders, with ample resources and a surprisingly capable campaign, has become a real threat to win the nomination. The Democrats only have one more debate before Iowa and New Hampshire. It is this Sunday night on NBC News, and will be an important one too.

So, remarkably, with three weeks to go before Iowa, three staunchly anti-establishment candidates – Trump, Sanders and Cruz – seemed poised to make a serious run at winning their nominations. Remarkable indeed.

Yes We Can! Obama's Final State of the Union Address - Barack Obama will address the nation as President for perhaps the last time tomorrow night in what will be an important scene setting speech for the coming 2016 debate. Early press reports indicate he will focus on the progress made by the nation over his Presidency, an idea we explored in our recent end of year message. One thing I will be looking for is how much a clear articulation of what a well run government can do, and the positive changes it can manifestly make in the lives of our people, will be able to be used by other Democrats to challenge the all government is bad argument of the post Reagan GOP this cycle. 

The GOP’s descent into a reactionary mess – What exactly is going on inside the GOP? I return to a long form magazine article I wrote a few years ago which anticipated the rise of a reactionary candidate like Donald Trump. An excerpt:

.....There can be little doubt that despite the remarkable progress made over the past generation across the globe, there are significant challenges remaining: tackling climate change, improving the way we provide skills to our workers and students in a more competitive global economy; state capitalism as seen in China and Russia and other nations; and a still unstable Middle East and Islamic world just to name a view.

But while significant challenges remain, there can be little doubt that humankind is going through perhaps it’s most remarkable and productive period in all of our history. More people can do, contribute, and participate meaningfully in the life of their communities and nations than ever before. What lies before us may be indeed a dark time, but my own sense is that we also may be entering – if we get things right – an unprecedented age of possibility for the people of the world.

While this age holds great promise it has proven to be profoundly unsettling to the great architect of this age, the United States. In the past decade and a half we have seen a President impeached; a contested Presidential election settled along partisan lines; high levels of electoral volatility; twelve years of no wage and income growth for American workers; dangerous levels of inequality; reckless foreign engagements which cost the nation extraordinary sums of money, global prestige and human capital; a Great Recession; a financial collapse; a burst housing bubble and one of the most devastating attacks ever on American soil. It is hard to argue that America’s response to this first decade or so of this new century has been successful abroad or at home.

Additionally, these great global changes have manifested themselves in very particular ways in American society, which has magnified the sense of rapid and even unsettling change which is so much a condition of modern life across the world. As perhaps the most technologically advanced nation on Earth, the transformation of our economy from industrial to digital has been perhaps more profound here than just about anywhere else. One very direct impact of this has been the incredible speed in which remnants of the industrial age – companies, skills and schools, well known consumer brands, broadcast media – have been rendered obsolete and not yet fully replaced by their digital analogs.

But perhaps most profound of these uniquely American changes is the way our people have changed. Our demographic and racial history – the triumph of Europeans over Native Americans, and the subjugation of African slaves – is well known. It produced a society dramatically unequal, where an overwhelming majority oppressed powerless minorities. Any student of American history knows how significant the struggle over equality and racial integration has been, and by the early 1960s American had become a nation ninety percent of white European descent and about ten percent black and everything else. But this demographic and racial trajectory set on a very different course in the 1960s. The Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s finally ended institutional segregation in America. And one of the most important piece of legislation ever passed in America that no one has ever heard of – the immigration act of 1965 – had the effect of changing America’s immigration targets from white Europeans to Asians and Latin Americans.

The net impact of both these changes is the most profound demographic and racial transformation of the people living on this land called America since the arrival of the Europeans in the late 15th century. In the past 47 years, fueled by high levels of non-white immigration, America has gone from a 90 percent white/10 percent minority nation to one 65 percent white and 35 percent people of color. Current estimates have the nation becoming majority non-white in 2040. Of course the central driver of this change is an historic wave of immigration from Mexico and Latin America into the US. In 1965 there were 3 million Latinos in the US. Today there are 45 million Latinos 15 percent of the US population, a group is they were their own country would be the second largest Latin country in the Americas (if we exempt Iberian Brazil). There are now more Latinos in the US than African Americans, and people of Mexican descent make up a full ten percent – one out of ten – of the people who live in the US today. This figure is expected to double by that magic crossover point in 2040, with Latinos making up fully 30 percent of the US population, or almost a third.

Additionally, the great baby boom generation, for so long the dominant driver of American culture, is aging, and yielding to a new generation, made up largely of their children, the Millennials. This generation is the largest generation in US history and is beginning to enter the American electorate in very large numbers. Its members have grown up in the world I have described – more global, more connected, more competitive more diverse and have had very direct experience the inadequate response offered by American leaders in the past decade. America has in essence its own “youth bulge” and how this generation swings politically might just determine which party reigns for the next 30-40 years and much else about American culture. By any measure – our own youth bulge and this historic transition to a non-white America - is an extraordinary level of demographic and socio-economic change, one which should be expected to roil the traditional politics of a nation.

It is the premise of this essay that American politics in 2012 can be best understood by examining the reaction of political parties, ideological movements and elected leaders to the vast changes – demographic, economic, geopolitical – roiling the world today......

Read on.  It all still rings very true a few years deeper into these profound changes. 

Monday Musings" is a new column looking at the national political landscape published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You find previous columns here.

Monday Musings: The Sprint to Iowa and New Hampshire Begins

Real voters head to the polls less than a month from now. Where do things stand? A few things we know:

4 candidates lead in the early states – Cruz and Clinton lead in Iowa, Trump and Sanders in New Hampshire, Clinton and Trump lead in the less polled Nevada and South Carolina. Only these four candidates can claim leads in the early states and top tier status as 2016 begins. All four have plenty of money and will be able to compete as the map gets big when over half the country will vote in just the first 15 days of March. These four all clearly have a shot at this point. The path for every other candidate in both parties is far harder to see.

So much weakness on the GOP side – Consider these Real Clear Politics national averages now:

Christie 4.8, O’Malley 4.6, Bush 4.3, Paul 2.8, Fiorina 2.5, Huckabee 2.0, Kasich 1.8

After months of significant exposure to the public and tens of millions of dollars of television ads, the four GOP candidates who have gotten a huge amount of press and free media coverage – Christie, Bush, Fiorina and Kasich – stand at 13% combined, less than Ted Cruz, far less than Bernie Sanders, and any one of them now is only running even with or trailing Martin O’Malley, who has been totally ignored by the national media. Republican voters have had a good long look at these candidates and just don’t seem to be buying. Hard to see how any one of them breaks out in the weeks ahead and challenges the top tier, Trump and Cruz, and Rubio who is still hanging in their but continues to struggle to find his place.

Will the debates change anything? The GOP field is far more likely to be affected by the debates, as they hold three before New Hampshire – Jan 14, 28 and Feb 6 - while the Dems only hold one, on Sunday night Jan 17. Expect the ratings for all these debates to be very high as voters all across the country will be paying much more attention now (see here for our collection of materials on the debate strategy of the two parties so far).

So, what is going to happen? Who knows….but as 2016 begins, four candidates – Trump, Cruz, Clinton and Sanders – have a real shot.  For the rest, including Rubio, the path to the nomination is hard to see.  But of course we know things will change, and could change quickly.  Stay tuned!

Monday Musings" is a new column looking at the national political landscape published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You find previous columns here.

Happy Holidays from NDN - There is Much to be Thankful For

Just a quick note of thanks for your support and partnership this past year. As I survey the landscape, there is much progress to celebrate, and opportunities to be thankful for. Consider just these:

• The US economy continued its long, slow recovery, with the unemployment now close to “full employment,” wages picking up, deficits a third of what they were a few years ago, even a modest interest rate rise.

• America’s health care system continued to improve, with close to 20m people gaining insurance and costs flat-lining.

• This Administration’s approach to energy and climate change has helped bring dramatic change to all this important economic, sustainability and geopolitical challenge – America is far more energy independent than in years past, production advances and innovation in the renewable space has been impressive, cost of gas and oil are way down, and the President has helped usher in a new era of global cooperation on climate.

• The Administration’s ambitious trade agenda took a huge step forward the passage of TPA, the completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and progress on a host of other important items on the trade agenda. The success of TPP is ushering a new era for America’s interests in Asia.

• The Administration’s far sighted approach towards Latin America paid significant dividends, as new and more modern governments have been elected in Argentina and Venezuela, the remarkable normalization process with Cuba continued and the Vice President’s smart new plan for Central America received substantial bi-partisan backing in the recent budget deal.

• In the Middle East, while there is much to be concerned about of course, there are also signs now that the regional powers understand they must begin to negotiate their way out of the current crisis and not continue to rely on dangerous proxy wars and the funding of radical sectarian elements. Iran agreed to an historic nuclear agreement, substantial peace talks continue in Yemen and Syria, and in Lebanon Iran and Saudi Arabia actually worked out a deal for a new government to bring stability to a county so critical to reclaiming the region.

Not everything went as hoped in 2015. The Islamic State began exporting its chaos outside of Syria and Iraq, we didn’t get a deal on Puerto Rico, the debate over immigration and our more diverse nation took an awful detour, the Internet still remains far too fragile for our own good, and the Syrian refugee crisis further weakened an already wobbly European Union. These are all things that will front of mind for us when we return next year.

But as I sit here today, looking back and imagining forward, I am struck by how much progress we have made, together, in recent years. And as we all power down to spend time with our families, let us take a moment to savor this progress and commit to seeking even more in the year ahead.

Happy Holidays from the spirited and wonderful team at NDN!

Best,

Simon

Learning from the Sanders/DNC Data Skirmish

Some thoughts on the Sanders/DNC data flare up, an early skirmish in building our 21st century politics:

While what the Sanders campaign did was clearly wrong, the DNC's decision to shut off a candidate's access to party data was an epic, reckless mistake. The DNC must now not only take aggressive steps to ensure a safe, secure data ecosystem, it must establish a clear process for resolution of future data-based disputes/breaches. Their suspension of Sanders's access was not just hasty, it appears to have violated their contractual mechanism for resolving disputes like this, opening up the DNC to legal action and potentially millions of dollars of damages. There simply was no justification for the acts taken by the DNC against the Sanders campaign this week.

In coming days the DNC must do two things to re-establish trust in the data ecosystem the current team at the DNC inherited: 1) spell out a clear policy of how data disputes will be resolved so as to eliminate the specter of arbitrary, punitive actions by future Chairs/staff - what campaign will use the database if they can get tossed off and have their campaign shut down if they piss off the wrong people? 2) conduct the discussed independent security audit now so that the candidates and party committees using the database this cycle have greater assurance that it is working as promised.

The Chair would also be wise work hard to reaffirm the perception of independence of the DNC. Lingering doubts about favoritism and special treatment undermines the integrity of our primary process, and will make party unity in the general more challenging. Free and fair elections are essential to bestowing legitimacy to winners of a vote, which is why America has fought for so hard for open, transparent elections domestically and abroad for generations.

To be clear - the Sanders campaign did bad stuff, and there is a process in place to understand what happened and to take appropriate steps to address. But what the DNC did was an unprecedented and irresponsible intervention in the primary process. They too need to own it and help ensure it never happens again. And I write all this as an enthusiastic support of Hillary Clinton.

This piece was adapted from a series of tweets posted earlier this morning.

Update: In a new piece about the data skirmish, DNC CEO Amy Dacey writes: 

"On Thursday, further NGP VAN analysis revealed that it was very likely that a user had taken data out of the system during the breach. Upon learning that, the DNC had to suspend the Sanders campaign’s access to the voter file to ensure the integrity of the system. This action was not taken to punish the Sanders campaign — it was necessary to ensure that the Sanders campaign took appropriate steps to resolve the issue and wasn’t unfairly using another campaign’s data. This temporary suspension was well within the DNC’s authority. Moreover, the DNC was left with little choice in the matter when the Sanders campaign declined to respond in a timely manner to the requests for assistance with an investigation." (bolding ours).

This is the rub of the matter isn't it? Was the DNC within their right to supsend this campaign - or any campaign or state party - if the suspension doesn't follow the protocol layed out in the contract between Sanders/other campaign and the DNC?  If the authority didn't come from the contract, where did it come from exactly?  The DNC has to help all Democrats better understand this in the days ahead. 

Mondays Musings: Ted and Donald, Millennials in Play? Debates matter

Trump and Cruz rising, Hillary losing a bit of steam? - Lots of new polls out these last few days, all showing the same thing - Trump and Cruz have momentum. 6 weeks now till the Iowa Caucuses and at this point Trump and Cruz seem to be creating a new upper tier in the race, with Rubio perhaps being in the second tier all by himself and everyone else in tiers below. The GOP race, with perhaps five candidates still holding out hope (add Bush and Christie to the top three), enters a very intense period now with three debates in the next six weeks, 2 more in February and of course the first four states voting also in February. The Republicans debate tonight on CNN – be sure to watch! (and you can catch me discussing Trump from O’Reilly’s show last Friday night and this extended clip from Howard Kurtz’s Sunday show on Fox).

On the Democratic side there is some evidence of Hillary coming back down to earth after her strong debate performances, and day long Benghazi testimony. In the NBC/WSJ poll Rubio gains 6 points against her and now bests her in a direct head to head 48/45, and Cruz moves from 41/49 to 45/48. The best Iowa poll now has it Clinton 48/39, a bit too close for comfort for Clinton who has lead in some Iowa polls by 20 or more. Even the new WaPo/ABC poll out this morning has her only beating Trump by 6 points among registered voters, 50/44. Since her Benghazi testimony she has been out of the public eye – we are seeing some evidence now that this could be making a difference. All of this data points to the simple reality that nothing is being handed to Hillary Clinton, and she is going to have to fight hard to win the nomination and the general election next year.

Millennials in play? - I am quoted in a Greg Sargent Washington Post piece yesterday looking at what has to be considered a potentially ominous development for the Democrats – Rubio matching Hillary Clinton with millennial voters (and thus beating her 48/45) in the new NBC/WSJ poll. Greg’s piece is well worth reading in its entirety.

The debates matter - Pew has a new poll out showing just how important the debates have been this year to the public discourse. And from NDN’s point of view, just how risky the DNC’s duck and cover strategy has been.  As a reminder so far this year 73m people have watched the GOP debates, 25m the Democratic ones. 

SNL - Be sure to watch Will Ferrell's return as W Bush in a brand new off the charts awesome SNL skit.

"Monday Musings" is a new column looking at the national political landscape published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You find previous versions here.

Mondays Musings: Opportunity and Peril, Cruz Rising

Reminders of the opportunities and perils in the world today - On this anniversary of Pearl Harbor, what stands out about the 2016 race this morning is how much we’ve been reminded of both the opportunities and perils the modern world offers America today. We wake this morning to the good news of the Chavista government in Venezuela having been routed last night. On the heels of a new and more modern government in Argentina, and the beginning of the normalization of ties with Cuba, Latin America is going through an important period of shedding some of its more destructive and anti-modern impulses. This is of course is good news for the United States, as it is likely to make our own neighborhood more peaceful and prosperous in the years ahead.

But we also wake to the news of another far right victory in European elections, this one in France. In the US and Europe, globalization and all that it brings (rapid migration, economic/social dislocation) is fueling a rise in reactionary parties and politicians. There isn’t a great difference between France’s Le Pen and the US’s Trump. The rise in this reactionary sentiment on both sides of the Atlantic is worrisome of course, and terrorist attacks and Syrian refugees are adding fresh grist to this nationalist mill. The weakening of establishment politics here and in Europe has to become a central reason for greater urgency in both eliminating the Islamic State and resolving the various sectarian conflicts in the Middle East, starting with Syria.

We had some other good news last week as it appears that the Saudis and Iranians worked together to fashion a new government in Lebanon. Perhaps the combination of lower oil prices, the barbarity and prowess of ISIL, the instability mass Middle Eastern refugees are bringing to other regions of the world is all creating a moment where sustained Saudi/Iranian cooperation could become possible. Certainly our leaders should be doing everything we can to encourage this path, as it is the only way peace will ever come to the region in the years ahead.

Be sure to also read my take on the panicky, disappointing GOP response to Paris and San Bernardino terror attacks here. All of these developments are a reminder why we need an experienced, forceful leader in the White House in 2017. Ain't going to be an easy time to be US President in the coming years.

2016 Landscape – Only real significant change this past week is growing evidence that Ted Cruz is making a major move in the polls nationally and in the early states. Ben Carson’s collapse has benefitted Cruz, and he has now become the most significant challenger to the front runner Donald Trump. While Rubio has gained a bit of ground in recent weeks, he is still in the second tier. One thing I wonder is whether his first ad in the early states which so firmly identifies him as coming from a striving immigrant family will end up limiting whatever momentum he may have had from his good performances in recent debates. The GOP’s next debate is in eight days, Tuesday, December 15th. And then six more GOP debates come in the first 10 weeks of 2016. Lots of fireworks ahead!

"Monday Musings" is a new column looking at the national political landscape published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You find previous versions here.

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