So we are a year out from the 2016 elections. Where are we exactly? Not sure, but some observations:
A new GOP generation advances – The generational wheel took a significant turn this week with strong debate performances from Rubio and Cruz, and Paul Ryan’s ascension to the Speakership. The rise – and strength – of the 40something Gen X Republicans is becoming a significant event in American politics. While the Democrats may be winning the hearts and minds of an emerging America of the 21st century, the GOP may have short term advantages i having a new and better prepared “next” generation rising now, one aided by the incredible exposure the aggressive GOP debate schedule is offering them. Be sure to read more from me on this new GOP generation, one I’ve called the “children of Reagan.”
Clinton leads the Dems, still waiting for the Rubio surge– Not clear that the dynamics of the race have changed in the past week. Hillary continues to put impressive numbers across the board, and is seeing more of the Party leadership rally to her side. Bernie Sanders has gone up on the air in Iowa and New Hampshire, and is signaling that he has the resources and commitment to give Clinton a real challenge.
Nothing much appears to have changed on the GOP side, and for all the hype around Rubio, he is still way back in the back nationally and in the early states, has never polled regularly in double digits, and is not well funded. Roughly a third of the GOP electorate falls into the restrictionist anti-immigrant camp, and I remain skeptical these voters will fall in line behind a Rubio candidacy if he wins the nomination. As of today four GOPers seem to have momentum - Trump, Carson, Rubio and Cruz - an odd lot for sure.
Obama's job approval remains in a healthy place for Democrats in 2016, something we will be discussing more in future editions of MM.
The debate over debates continues – The ongoing disquiet from almost all the candidates in both parties over the debates this fall highlight just how important these events have become in choosing our leaders. At its core GOP candidate concerns about the toughness of the debate questions coming from a TV network long associated with conservative politics – particularly when it is now clear that Rubio, Carson and Trump offered huge whoppers as responses – reinforces how new to the game many of these candidates are. But in each party’s debate over their debates important principles are being discussed now, and I remain concerned about the how little exposure the Democratic debate schedule is providing its candidates and future leaders this cycle.
Tally so far: 3 GOP debates, 60-62m viewers. 1 Dem debate, 16m viewers. Rs have debates scheduled on Tue Nov 10th and Tue Dec 15th. Next Dem debates are Sat Nov 14th and Sat Dec 19th. By year’s end Rs will have had 5 weekday primetime debates. Dems will have had 3 debates in total, w/only 1 during the week in primetime and 2 on Saturday nights, one of the least watched times in television. And as a reminder, there is NO evidence so far suggesting the more aggressive debate schedule is hurting GOP candidates.
Hillary rising – the big story of the week is the clear rejuvenation of the Clinton campaign. Epic GOP missteps on Benghazi, strong debate and hearing performances, far more aggressive free media (SNL, Maddow etc), Biden deciding not to run has made this a remarkable few weeks for Hillary Clinton. Her public performances are far stronger, the bunker mentality has been shed, and her poll numbers are rising and Sanders falling. She is in a very commanding position now in the Democratic primary.
Things to watch now: how will her new strength translate into Iowa and New Hampshire, and whether her standing improves in the general election matchups against the GOP field.
Carson appears to be making a move – Two new polls out this week have Ben Carson moving ahead of Trump in Iowa. Trump and Carson still dominate the field, with Cruz, Rubio and Bush placing in 3/4/5 in different orders in different polls. What is remarkable however is that in almost every GOP poll, Trump, Carson, Cruz – outsiders/extremists/radicals/whatever we call them – are getting 60% between with no sign of any of them losing ground. While the national media continues to spend a lot of time on Bush and Rubio, there just isn’t a lot of evidence that either of them have a real shot today. Things may change but the more mainstream GOPers continue to struggle to get out of single digits.
The big question of 2016 remains whether any of these candidates can unite a highly fractured and contentious GOP next year. Sure is hard to see at this point.
And I think Donald Trump is right - the views of Carson's fringey church deserve far more attention than they've gotten to date.
The debate debate – NDN continues to make our case that the DNC must do more to close the gap with the far superior RNC debate schedule. I appeared in a Time magazine piece on the debate debate, and published a new analysis that finds evidence the entire GOP field is benefitting from all the early attention their more aggressive debate schedule has provided. The 2nd Democratic debate is scheduled for Sat November 14th in Iowa.
The Republicans gather for their third debate this Wednesday on CNBC, and be sure to read our new report on how recent Democratic Presidents have outperformed their GOP counterparts as background. And note that this will be the 3rd GOP debate during the week in primetime. The DNC only has 2 weekday primetime debates scheduled this entire Presidential cycle.
Next Wednesday the Republicans will gather for their third debate. This one, hosted by CNBC, will focus on the economy.
To help prepare for this welcome event, NDN has updated our April report comparing the economic record of the last two Democratic and Republican Presidents. The report shows that the contrast between the performances of the two parties when occupying the White House is stark: Republican Presidencies have led to recessions and larger deficits; Democratic Presidencies have led to growth, job gains and lower annual deficits. In short, the Democratic approach to the economy over the past generation has worked. The Republican approach hasn’t. And this dramatic difference becomes even more pronounced when one considers the how shockingly wrong the GOP’s bet the house predictions of the failure of both the 1993 Clinton budget and the “job-killing” ACA have been.
The full report can be found in pdf form below. Some highlights:
Job Growth: Over the Clinton and Obama Presidencies, over 30m new net jobs were created. Over the two Bush Presidencies, 3.5m. On a yearly basis, perhaps a more fair comparison, the two Democrats have produced jobs at 7 times the rate of the two Bushes: 2.1m vs. 300,000 per year.
Unemployment Rate: Both Democratic Presidents saw more than a 3% point job in the unemployment rate during their terms. The Bushes saw increases in the unemployment rate by more than 2% and 3% points respectively.
Deficits: Both Democratic Presidents saw dramatic improvements in the annual deficit during their tenures, with Clinton during large structural deficits to annual surpluses and Obama cutting the annual deficit he inherited by two-thirds. Both Bushes saw increases in the annual deficit on their watches, with the second President Bush seeing a more than ten-fold increase in the annual deficit during his Presidency, one of the greatest explosions of debt in US history. Illustrative graphs follow.
In this update, we’ve added a new section on the health care and energy sectors vital to the well being of the American people and our economy. While not offering a direct comparison with recent Republicans, our analysis finds dramatic improvements in both these critical areas:
Healthcare: The uninsured rate has plummeted, while the growth of health care costs, a significant driver of the US budget deficit, has slowed. Slower cost growth and healthier Americans are good for the American economy, businesses and the nation as a whole.
Energy: The President’s “all of the above” approach has a rousing success for the nation, increasing domestic production, lowering energy costs for American businesses, lessening our dependence on foreign sources of energy while giving the US a leg up on the new energy technologies of the future.
Taken together, what this data makes clear is that the last two Democratic Presidents have done a very good job as stewards of our economy in a more competitive, global era. The same cannot be said of the Republicans.
Update - Be sure to see this new analysis from Rob Shapiro. There is a growing body of evidence that after many years of flat or declining incomes for far too many Americans, incomes ticked up in 2014.
The Dems debate - The big news for Democrats was their first – and very successful – debate last week. I offered up my take in this post from last week. It’s far too early to tell if the debate changed the Democratic race. Focus groups the night of were very good for Sanders, and he gained more ground than Clinton in a new CNN poll. But like many I felt the strong performance by both of them made everyone else’s path much harder, including the Vice President.
But as I argue in a new analysis piece, there is a great deal of evidence now that the superior RNC debate schedule has lifted the entire GOP field vs the Democrats. My hope is that this piece showing the GOP Presidentials outperforming their party, competitive if not ahead in the general election next year and creating a more excited base of supporters will bolster the hand of those trying to improve the lackluster DNC debate schedule.
The dysfunctional GOP – I think we are all struggling to put in words what we are seeing from the GOP these days – Trump gaining significant ground in new polls, no new Speaker or a path to get there, the shame and embarrassment of the Benghazi committee, a former GOP Speaker pleading guilty to a case involving his sexual abuse of an underage boy and persistent rumors of an extra-marital affairs by Kevin McCarthy. The next true test for the GOP comes in just a few weeks as we crash into the debt limit on November 3rd (will be exciting to watch how this is addressed in the CNBC Presidential debate on 10/28). Fasten your seat belts friends – sure to be a bumpy ride.
One of the arguments you hear from the defenders of the current DNC debate schedule is that all this extra exposure that Republican candidates are getting from the superior RNC schedule will end up hurting the GOP. It is an interesting argument. But a cursory look at the current state of the race doesn’t back it up.
Let’s first look at Presidential general election match ups. In the Real Clear Politics general election averages, the strongest announced Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is essentially tied with all the major GOP candidates. She has a slight lead over Trump and Rubio, but trails Carson, Fiorina and Bush. Worrisome for the Democrats is that in these five match ups Clinton is between 42% and 45%, which is lower than one would expect at this point. While early, Democrats cannot be satisfied with their well known nominee in such a tight race with unknown and fringey Republicans.
But compare this data set with the Huff Po’s assessment of where the overall Democratic and Republican brands are. In Party ID, Dems leadthe Rs by 9, 33 to 24. In favorability, Dems also have a very strong lead, 40/49 to 33/55. The President’s approval rating has been bouncing around in the mid to high 40s these last few months, so it isn’t a drag. Democrat Jack Conway is leading in the Kentucky’s governor’s race, and early polling in 2016 Senate races are showing the Democrats in good shape. So there is no evidence of a drag on the Democratic ticket, or a collapse of the Democratic brand in any other early publically available data. Given this landscape, it is surprising that what is considered a weak GOP field is slightly ahead of the strongest Democratic 2016 candidate at this point.
What the data suggests then is either the GOP Presidentials are over performing or the Democrats are under performing their respective brands. The obvious explanation for why this would be the case would be the extraordinary level of attention the GOP candidates have gotten this far, including their two high performing weekday prime time debates. Yes, it is early, and this data doesn’t take into account this week’s successful Democratic debate. But remember, the far superior GOP schedule is likely to generate three times the impressions for GOP candidates over the course of the primaries. So rather than closing the gap with the GOP in the next few months the early advantage the GOP Presidentials have could grow, not dissipate.
It is still early and things will change. But a look at the data suggests that the extra attention the GOP candidates are getting is doing exactly what one would expect – improve their standing against a Democratic field getting far less exposure to the public. While this trend may not over hold over time, it should bolster the argument of those wanting a better Democratic debate schedule. It also suggests that the central rationale the DNC is using to stubbornly stick to a clearly inferior schedule cannot be backed up by data, or frankly, common sense.
Monday, 10/19 Update - A new CNN poll finds more evidence of impact (or lack of evidence of negative impact) of the early debates. At this point Rs are more enthusiastic about voting next year, with 86% showing enthusiasm, 68% higher levels of enthusiasm and 12% not. Dems are 80, 58, 21. While the differences are not great, it reinforces the need to more aggressively engage Democrats, improve the standing of its candidates.
Who Did Well - I think Clinton, Sanders and O’Malley accomplished their missions last night. With a commanding performance, Clinton re-asserted herself in a campaign where she has been far too often been on the defensive. As many have noted, she did a great deal to calm nerves about her recent decline, and reminder all of us why she has been so admired for so long. Sanders had a strong performance, crossing a threshold of credibility for more skeptical insiders and the press. Post debate focus groups and social media tracking indicated he may have gained more ground than Clinton, but certainly reinforced that he a good night in his first national debate.
O’Malley did all he could do in a single debate – held his own with Clinton and Sanders. Will be interested to see if he can pick up a few points in the next few weeks. Assume he will need to do keep his campaign funded and alive. Not sure how Webb and Chafee stay in the race much longer, and will be interesting to see how the next round of debates set their criteria for participation. Far less qualified and accomplished GOPers like Christie and Huckabee have hung around for months long after it was clear they had no shot so who knows….
All in all Hillary had a big night with insiders, the media, her own supporters and staff. Given the breadth of her support even if she just shored up what she already had, and got her supporters and team fired up it will be a big accomplishment. Sanders seemed to do better with voters themselves but let’s see what the polls show in the coming weeks.
One additional thing both Sanders and Clinton did through their strong performances was make it harder for the Vice President to enter the race. I’ve been pretty vocal that I both hoped he would enter the race, and that if he did he needed to do so by this debate. We will see what happens in the next few weeks but it is possible the Vice President’s window has closed, as he will now have to beat both Clinton and a far stronger than imagined Sanders.
I also agree with the many who have opined that the serious discussion by serious people about serious things we all saw last year provided a powerful contrast with the nuttier GOP field, something that was good for all Democrats.
What’s Next? Iowa - If Clinton can win Iowa, she has a significant chance to bring this race to an early end. Sanders is leading in New Hampshire and is competitive in Iowa. If he wins both early states he will become a formidable candidate in the next round no matter what happens in Nevada and South Carolina. And while he may not win he could end up extending this race till the late spring and anything can happen the longer we go. But if Clinton goes in and wins in Iowa, given her revitalized campaign and strength in the next set of states, she could functionally end this thing there. So look for a great deal of intensity now to shift to Iowa, a state where a candidate like Sanders could do very well. Lots of Iowa activity in the coming weeks – the all important Jefferson Jackson day dinner and the second Democratic debate. All going to be consequential.
The Debate Debate – While the audience for the debate last night was good – 15m – it was far less than either of the first two GOP debates each of which attracted over 23m people. Assuming these viewership numbers hold, the 11 GOP debates will be seen by about 260m people. The 6 Democratic debates will be seen by 92m. And given how many Democratic debates are on the weekends and that one is in Spanish, the number could be much lower. This gap is almost 200m debate views – simply an extraordinary and dangerous number for the Democrats. In a new piece I lay out some ideas on how the DNC can close the gap, both by improving the debate schedule and taking other steps.
But one thing Democrats have to stop saying, and believing, is this additional exposure a superior RNC debate schedule will provide their candidates is somehow good for Democrats. As of today, there isn’t a single recent poll showing Clinton or Sanders definitely ahead of a fringey GOP field after these last few months of dominant GOP media coverage. In fact one could argue there is more data showing these debates are helping the GOP field as intended - recent polls show the GOP field outperforming the overall GOP brand which remains far less popular than the Democrats. Which one would expect from the unbalanced coverage of the last few months. Press, attention, free media matters. Sort of a campaign 101.
And friends, if impressions didn’t matter, why would advertisers the world over pay millions of dollars to buy advertising to get these kind of impressions being offered to the Democrats for free? It is long past time for the DNC to take decisive action to close this dangerous free media gap. And given how serious and thoughtful the debate was, creating more opportunities for the contrast with far more feckless GOP would seem be a strategic imperative now. Particularly as this was the only Democratic debate of the entire primary season in prime time, during the week, in English with a modern media partner.
The State of the GOP – The most interesting question about 2016 now may be can any of the top GOPers unite a fractured party next year? The struggle to replace Boehner mirrors the GOP Presidential dilemma– a deeply fractured party, without leaders strong enough to bring the factions together. It is hard for me to see how any of the top tier GOP Presidentials now will be strong enough to bring this party together next year. When I discuss this with others, people often site Rubio as the one most likely to be able to pull it off if he wins. But I just have a hard time believing after all the anti-immigrant and Hispanic rhetoric of the last few months this GOP will turn over the keys to a guy who may look and sound like “one of them.”
The deeply divided and weakly led GOP is becoming one of the most important early 2016 dynamics to watch.
The Rise of the Reactionaries - What a week. The GOP repudiation of its establishment – something evident in the Presidential – has gone to a whole new level now. This dynamic may be the most important early dynamic in the 2016 cycle so far. And with all sorts of important work to do in Congress – a budget, debt ceiling, TPP, Ex-Im, transportation/infrastructure, the Middle East, immigration reform – there isn’t going to be a honeymoon for the new Speaker and House GOP leadership team. Be sure to read my long form magazine piece on what is driving the rise of reactionary politics inside the GOP.
Polling – No significant shifts this week. Trump and Carson still stand atop the GOP field, with Bush showing continued weakness and everyone else fighting to get in the game. On the Dem side, the story remains Bernie Sanders’ very strong showing in Iowa and New Hampshire and his ability to match Clinton on money. Clinton still holds a strong national lead among Democrats and has established what some consider a firewall in South Carolina and Nevada. While I am not a big believer in political firewalls, her strength and Sander’s weakness in these late February states is meaningful.
The Democrats Debate – The 1st Democratic debate is tomorrow, Tuesday October 13th on CNN at 9pm. Be sure to watch and encourage everyone you know to do so too. Clearly will be a big moment in the campaign. I offered some thoughts on how the Democrats can improve their debate schedule and close the gap with the GOP in a new op-ed here. Also recommend this new piece from Greg Sargent on why it is time for the Vice President to make his decision.
HRC and TPP – At this point, I don’t think Hillary Clinton’s opposition to TPP will make a big difference in what is likely to be a spring vote. The Dems who supported TPA are likely to hold, though her opposition may make it harder for the President to pick up support in his own party. The real question now is how the new anti-establishment dynamic affects the GOP and their ability to work with the President in a Presidential election year.
The five year long effort to update and modernize the global trading system through the innovative Trans-Pacific Partnership took a giant step forward on Monday with the announcement of a final deal. This was a huge accomplishment for the Obama Administration and USTR Mike Froman. Now comes debate over the terms of the deal in the 12 countries, including our own. Our assumption is that the vote in the US will come in the spring of 2016, giving the American people and its leaders six full months to debate the deal. We will be gearing up for what will no doubt be a contentious but meaningful debate - saddle up NDNers! For more from us, see this new TPP "Backgrounder" we've put together, and for a deeper dive you can see me on what was a terrific panel discussion on Wednesday at the Washington International Trade Association. Of note in that package is the two polling presentations - well worth a review.
So, give credit where credit is due. This week the DNC took a few important steps to close the gap with the superior RNC debate schedule:
- First, it began letting people the debates, including the first one this Tuesday October 13th, was coming. The overall promotion is still far less than what is appropriate given how central these debates are to the DNC this election cycle but it is a start. Asking all Democrats to watch the upcoming debates, making the watching of these debates central to what it means to be a Democrats and driving viewership to these debates should become the primary mission of the DNC over the six months. As I’ve written elsewhere, the RNC simply built a far better and smarter debate schedule, and the DNC has to become obsessed with closing the gap. Using the immense database of the DNC and all the other tools at its disposal to drive viewership to the debates has to become far more important than it is.
- Second, the strategy behind the newly announced dates for the 5th and 6th debates is good. They both take place during the week (unlike debates 2-4 which are on the weekends) when viewership is much higher, and they in that magic window between Feb 1 and Mar 15th when almost 60% of all eligible voters will vote.
So while there is some good news here, the DNC still needs to do more. Even with the improved DNC plan, the RNC’s superior debate schedule (more debates, more weekdays, better media partners, closer to the actual voting when more people are paying attention) guarantees them hundreds of millions of additional impressions over the life of the debates. This gap is so huge and so consequential that the DNC must do more to attempt to close it. In previous op-eds on MSNBC and in Time, I have suggested possible changes to the current DNC strategy, but whatever the DNC does to do to try to close the gap there are three things it must do in the coming weeks
Move the New Hampshire debate - This all important debate has been scheduled for December 19th, the Saturday night before Christmas. Simply this may be the single worst weekend of the entire year to schedule a debate if the goal is to get viewers. So the debate should be moved either to early December or early to Mid January. There are plenty of open weekends in that window, but of course it would be best to find a night during the week to gain maximum audience
Add another debate in late February, early March - Almost 60% of eligible voters will vote in the February 1 through March 15th window, with 21 states voting in the first two weeks of March alone. This two week crush will involve far more states and media markets than the general election will, and no candidate, no matter how much money they have, will be able to run an immersive paid and free media effort in these 21 states at the same time. So what this means is that for many of those voters the only real contact they will have with the campaign is through a debate. Understanding this, the RNC has schedule 4 and perhaps 5 English language debates during this magic window. The DNC has only one, February 11th in Wisconsin. Ideally the DNC should add 2-3 more during this window to match the RNC, but at this point adding one more in a large state like Ohio is a must at this point. The current approach is not providing enough information to Democratic voters to make up their minds, and will also certainly guarantee very low turnouts and lost party building opportunities in these critical states.
Be Open to More Debates - The rigid defense of an insufficient debate schedule hasn’t really made a lot of sense given how many important party leaders and leading Presidential candidates have suggested that the DNC makes improvements. But where the schedule is most indefensible is in the insistence only six debates with the last English language debate taking place on February 11th, when only 2 states will have voted. The primaries are scheduled to go through June, and in 2008 Clinton did not concede until early June. In addition to adding a debate in late February or early March, the DNC should say, publically, that they are open to more debates between March 15th and June if the nomination fight is still raging. The current schedule ensures there is no English language debate when 98% of the country is voting. We can do better.
A few additional points:
Be creative, engage Millennials – There are lot of other ways to reach voters than the traditional debate approach with old fashioned media partners. Innovative ways of the candidates reaching voters should be explored with newer media outlets like Yahoo News, YouTube, Facebook/Instagram, Huffington Post, Twitter, Buzzfeed and even services like Twitch. Garnering strong support from the Millennial generation – the largest generation in history - is arguably the Democrat’s highest strategic priority this cycle and more must be done to engage Millennials this cycle.
Use the DNC database and website – One thing the DNC should do immediately is announce that they are going to live stream every major candidate appearance by all the candidates including Larry Lessig for the remainder of the cycle. Every forum like the New Hampshire Democratic Party annual event a few weeks ago should be live streamed, recorded, put on you tube and promoted through the vast and powerful DNC database and social media assets. The DNC could use young and interesting party leaders like Tulsi Gabbard, the Castro brothers,Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Gavin Newsom. Joe Kennedy, Cory Booker or some of this cycle’s terrific Senate and House candidates to “host” these events, garnering exposure to a next generation of thoughtful leaders who could use far more national exposure. Short packaged 60 or 90 second videos, designed for younger more digitally inclined viewers could be created. If done right, these events will garner far more viewers and impressions than Saturday afternoon candidate forums on cable news networks.
The bottom line:
The RNC has produced a far better approach to showcase their candidates than the DNC has this cycle. The good news is that there is time for the DNC to take steps to close that gap. Some of the steps required have to do with the debate schedule, but the Committee could also become far more creative in finding other ways to bring its candidates and emerging leaders to the public. The very small and relatively old Democratic field, coupled with an inadequate debate schedule, means that the Party is not sufficiently building the public profile of an emerging generation of leaders, as the Republicans are this cycle, and often happens in a Presidential nomination fight. The DNC should do more to acknowledge this strategic challenge and take create, aggressive steps to ameliorate it, starting with some of the suggestions I’ve spelled out here. Failure to do so will not only hurt the Democrats in 2016, but could also do harm to the party for years to come.
Following the completion of negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, President Obama released this statement:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 5, 2015
Statement by the President on the Trans-Pacific Partnership
I've spent every day of my presidency fighting to grow our economy and strengthen our middle class. That means making sure our workers have a fair shot to get ahead here at home, and a fair chance to compete around the world. My approach to trade has been guided by a unifying principle: leveling the playing field for American workers and businesses, so we can export more products stamped Made in America all over the world that support higher-paying American jobs here at home.
Over the summer, Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together to help the United States negotiate agreements for free and fair trade that would support our workers, our businesses, and our economy as a whole. When more than 95 percent of our potential customers live outside our borders, we can’t let countries like China write the rules of the global economy. We should write those rules, opening new markets to American products while setting high standards for protecting workers and preserving our environment.
That’s what the agreement reached today in Atlanta will do. Trade ministers from the 12 nations that make up the Trans-Pacific Partnership finished negotiations on an agreement that reflects America’s values and gives our workers the fair shot at success they deserve.
This partnership levels the playing field for our farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers by eliminating more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on our products. It includes the strongest commitments on labor and the environment of any trade agreement in history, and those commitments are enforceable, unlike in past agreements. It promotes a free and open Internet. It strengthens our strategic relationships with our partners and allies in a region that will be vital to the 21st century. It’s an agreement that puts American workers first and will help middle-class families get ahead.
Once negotiators have finalized the text of this partnership, Congress and the American people will have months to read every word before I sign it. I look forward to working with lawmakers from both parties as they consider this agreement. If we can get this agreement to my desk, then we can help our businesses sell more Made in America goods and services around the world, and we can help more American workers compete and win.