Renewing Our Democracy

A Summer of Opportunity and Challenge for Hillary Clinton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Report: Presidential Primary Debate Audiences

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

Summary 

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

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

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

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

Key Findings

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

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

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

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

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

 

Audience Per Debate

              

 

Total Audience

 

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 

SF Chronicle: Simon on Democrats and the Sanders Legacy

In their recent piece, "Will young Sanders backers stay and steer Democrats leftward," John Wildermuth and Joe Garofoli interviewed Simon for his take on Sanders' performance during the 2016 Democratic Primary election. Simon's is quoted at length in the article.

In the first passage, Simon points out the opportunity the Democratic Party now has to engage young voters and build its base:

That surge of young, enthusiastic and progressive support for a longtime independent congressman and senator who wasn’t even registered as a Democrat until last year should be a loud wake-up call for the party, said Simon Rosenberg, founder of NDN, a center-left think tank.

“This presents Democrats with an enormous opportunity to make their case” to many young people who are more identified with Sanders and his progressive ideals than with any particular party, said Rosenberg, a veteran of former President Bill Clinton’s campaigns. “The question of whether these folks become Democrats is up to the Democratic Party itself.”

In the second passage, Simon describes the advent of the generational turn in party leadership:

Like it or not, though, change is coming for the Democratic Party and party leaders have to deal with it, Rosenberg said.

“Parties always change when another generation takes power,” he said. “The era of Clinton, (Rep. Nancy) Pelosi and (Nevada Sen.) Harry Reid is changing to the era of Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris, (Hawaii Rep.) Tulsi Gabbard and (New Jersey Sen.) Cory Booker.”

The Democrats are in the midst of a transition from a party of the 20th century to a party of the 21st century, Rosenberg said, and Sanders’ supporters have to be an important part of that change.

These new voters “see a failed set of elites running the country and have the sense that the country is not well-led,” he added. Democratic leaders “must realize these aren’t wild-eyed critiques, not the critiques of bomb-throwers. ... They must have humility and realize they have a lot to learn.”

Unpublished
n/a

US News: Simon on Restoring the Consent of the Governed

Simon has a new op-ed in US News today on the urgent task of restoring the "consent of the governed" to American politics. The opening graphs:

"It is easy to forget perhaps how radical an idea America's democracy was in the 18th century. Oligarchical elites controlled governments and people, and authority was derived from the "divine right of kings." Our Founding Fathers had to replace that authority with a new one, writing in the Declaration of Independence that governments would derive "their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Through the lens of today, this simple phrase is profound and powerful. The clear implication is that our Founders believed that it was only through the process of achieving consent could a government be just; and that governments without consent would struggle to be just (or effective, popular, etc). In a year in which there has been so much talk of corruption and rigged political systems, this idea – whether part of the problem we face today in America is that the system is no longer capable of conveying consent – is something I think worth exploring." 

The full article is available on the US News website.

Backgrounder: Improving the Democratic Debate Schedule

Debate viewership tally so far: 12 GOP debates, 186.3m viewers (15.53m per debate), 9 Dem debates, 72.03m viewers, (8m per debate).  As of March 10th, the Republicans have concluded their 12 debates.  The final total audience size for the 12 GOP debates is 186.3m viewers.  At their current rate, the 10 Democratic debates are on track to be watched by a total of 80m viewers, falling short by at least 106m viwers.  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.  The 1/25/16 CNN Democratic "Townhall" drew 3.2m viewers, bringing in less than half the audience of the previously lowest watched major candidate event of the 2016 cycle. (Updated on Tuesday 4/19/16) 

In 2008, 16 of the 26 Democratic debates had enough viewers to be rated.  Those 16 debates were seen by a total of more than 75m people.  So even though the Democratic debates this cycle have received more viewers per debate, the total viewership of the 10 debates will come in only about 16.5m more than what the Democratic debates achieved in 2008, and just a little under half 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. (Updated on Friday 2/12/16)

Four More Debates Added - The Washington Post is reporting that the DNC and Sanders and Clinton campaigns have reached a deal to add four more debates in NH, MI, PA and CA.  This will bring the Democratic debate total for the 2016 cycle to 10.  It is also consistent with our recommended changes, which advocated one more debate before IA/NH and more debates after February.  We are obviously pleased with this development, but hope in the future a better schedule would not force candidates in the most important part of the campaign to be spending time negotiating over debates rather than reaching voters.  We will be updating this "backgrounder" over the next few days. (Updated on Wednesday 2/3/16)  

Full Debate Schedules - Here's a link to complete debate schedule, including the 12 GOP debates and the 10 scheduled by the DNC.  Note that in the first three months of 2016, the RNC has 7 debates scheduled, the DNC 4, 1 of which will be conducted in Spanish on the Spanish-language network Univision.  

Some in Clinton camp now regret limited debate schedule - An article by Patrick Healy in The New York Times Saturday morning, January 16th, contains the following: 

"Several Clinton advisers are also regretting that they did not push for more debates, where Mrs. Clinton excels, to more skillfully marginalize Mr. Sanders over his Senate votes in support of the gun industry and the enormous costs and likely tax increases tied to his big-government agenda.

Instead, Mrs. Clinton, who entered the race as the prohibitive favorite, played it safe, opting for as few debates as possible, which were scheduled at times when viewership was likely to be low — like this Sunday at 9 p.m. on a long holiday weekend."

Oct 23rd, 2015 - NDN has joined the chorus calling for a better Democratic debate schedule, writing: "There are too few debates, too many are on weekends or holidays when viewership is much lower, and there aren’t enough close to when the most consequential voting will take place." 

A few stats: in 2007/8 Democrats had 26 debates, this cycle they will have 10.  The RNC has scheduled 12 debates, the Democrats will have 7 with one shown only on a Spanish language network.  In the all important Jan thru March window next year, when close to 60% of eligible voters will vote, the GOP will have 7 English language debates and the Democrats 3.  All in all the DNC will have 3 English language debates in prime time during the week for the entire nominating process, the RNC could have as many as 10. 

If the current debate viewing level for each party (16.61m vs 10.63m) holds through the remaining debates, the RNC's candidates will have a total audience of 199.32m people for their 12 debates.  The Democratic candidates will be seen by just 106.3m over 10 debates.  And even that number for the Democrats could be high as of the 4 remaining debates, one is in Spanish and another is with PBS, a network that simply doesnt have the reach of the commercial broadcast networks.  And in a new piece Simon's finds that there is clear evidence now that this early exposure is boosting not harming the GOP field.  

Regardless of the virtue of the original DNC debate strategy, the RNC has produced a far better approach that will guarantee their candidates hundreds of millions of more impressions.  This gap is so large that it could sway the outcome of a very close race, and the DNC should take steps to close this gap in the weeks ahead.  Simon's recent piece offers three simple steps the DNC could take today to address the problem, and suggests other things the Party could be doing to generate more interest in its candidates and emerging leaders (MSNBC forum good step, though still very limited in reach). 

We've built this backgrounder with our work and the most recent and best pieces from other sources to help keep people up to date.  If you agree with us that Democrats deserve a better debate schedule, join us in making your voice heard.  

From NDN

"A Very Good Week for Bernie Sanders; Our Creaky Democracy," Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 3/28/16.

"Dem/GOP Presidential Primary Debates Audiences in 2008 and 2016," Simon Rosenberg and Chris Murphy, NDN, 1/28/16. (Updated on Friday 3/18/16)

"As feared and predicted, 2nd Dem debate draws very small audience," Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 11/15/15

"Monday Musings on 2016: Clinton/Obama strong, Carson unraveling and a warning about Dems/2016," Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 11/9/15.

"Early Exposure Appears To Be Helping GOP Presidential Field," Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 10/17/15

"On Dem debates, progress, but more to do - 3 steps the DNC should take next," Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 10/10/15

Democrats are playing a dangerous game with the debate schedule,” Simon Rosenberg, TIME, 9/16/15.

"The Democratic debate schedule is a mess. Here's how to fix it," Simon Rosenberg, MSNBC, 9/9/15. 

"The Consent of the Governed," SImon Rosenberg and Corey Cantor, NDN, 12/17/14.  This analysis looks at how the decline in competitive states and races in our Federal elections is allowing far too few Americans to meaningful participate in picking their leaders, and questions whether our political system is still capable of providing "the consent of the governed." 

Media Appearences and Citations

"Hillary's debate desire: DNC rolls over now that she wants more Bernie bashing," Howard Kurtz, Fox News, 2/12/16.

"Hillary Clinton's Recurring Struggle to Connect With Young Voters," Ronald Brownstein, The Atlantic, 2/4/16.

"Clinton may have won Iowa, but she's got a lot of problems," Joe Garofoli, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/2/16.

"MSNBC, NH newspaper to hold unsanctioned Dem debate," Ben Kamisar and Rebecca Savransky, The Hill, 1/26/16.

"Sanders battle with DNC overshadows Dem Debate," Ben Kamisar, The Hill, 12/19/15.

"The 'astounding' levels of campaign ads are just getting started," Nik DeCosta-Klipa, Boston.com, 11/17/15.

"So far, the Republican debates are way more popular than the Democratic debates," Alvin Chang, Vox, 11/16/15.

"CBS Democratic debate draws lowest ratings," Hadas Gold, Politico, 11/15/15.

"Saturday nights with Hillary, Bernie and Martin," Hadas Gold, Politico, 11/13/15. 

"Democrats Eye More National Events As Anger Over Debate Schedule Grows," Sam Frizell, TIME, 10/16/15.

"Hillary Clinton should push hard for more Democratic debates," Greg Sargent, Washington Post, 9/16/15.

Simon discusses the 'debate' debate on KABC, 9/11/15. (starts at the 10:00 minute mark).  

Other Prominent Pieces and Op-Eds

"CNN picks up Flint Democratic debate," Hadas Gold, 2/7/16.

"Clinton, Sanders agree to debates in Michigan and California," Hadas Gold, Politico, 2/3/16.

"It's on: We're getting four more Democratic debates," Greg Sargent, Washington Post, 2/3/16.

"Game on: Sanders says he will attend MSNBC debate," Hadas Gold, Politico, 2/3/16.

"The battle between Clinton and Sanders is about to get a lot more intense," Greg Sargent, Washington Post, 2/2/16.

"There's a Democratic debate fight, too, and Bernie Sanders just upped the ante," Chris Megerian, LA Times, 1/27/16.

"Democratic debates set to 'maximize' exposure, Wasserman Schultz cliams, but evidence is dubious," Amy Sherman, Politifact, 1/20/16.

"Winners and losers from the fourth Democratic presidential debate," Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, 1/17/16.

"Clinton campaign underestimated Sanders strength, allies say," Patrick Healy, New York Times, 1/17/16

""Helping" Hillary Clinton with little-watched Saturday debates was a terrible plan," Matthew Yglesis, Vox, 12/18/15 (Updated from 11/13/15 version).

"Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders Bristle at Holding Debates on Weekends," Alan Rappeport, New York Times, 12/18/15.

"The Invisible Democratic Debates," Frank Bruni, New York Times, 12/17/15.

"18 million viewers tune in for CNN GOP debate," Hadas Gold, Politico, 12/16/15.

"Debates Help Fuel Strong Interest in 2016 Campaign," Pew Research Center, 12/14/15.

"Disappointing debate ratings spark Democratic campaign complaints," Gabriel Debenedetti, Politico, 11/15/15.

""Helping" Hillary Clinton with little-watched Saturday debates was a terrible plan," Matthew Yglesias, Vox, 11/13/15.

"Democrats scheduled debates on days when no one will watch," Alvin Chang, Vox, 11/12/15.

"Fox Business GOP debate draws 13.5 million viewers," Hadas Gold, Politico, 11/11/15.

"Former Democratic Chairs Deny Consutling on Debate Schedule," Sam Frizell, TIME, 11/9/15.

"Democrats Just Can't Muster That Much Enthusiasm for 2016," Jim Newell, Slate, 11/9/15.

"Insurrection Erupts at the Democratic National Commitee," John Heilemann, Bloomberg, 10/16/15.

"Some Democrats Push DNC Chairwoman to Allow More Debates", Peter Nicolas, The Wall Street Journal, 9/30/15. 

"How Democrats got bogged down in a messy dispute over debates," Greg Sargent, Washington Post, 9/21/15.

"Democrats demand more debate time as intra-party rift reaches boiling point," Lauren Gambino, The Guardian, 9/20/15.

"Democrats have a growing debate problem on their hands," Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, 9/20/15.

"DNC chair heckled over Democratic primary debates," Alex Seitz-Wald, MSNBC, 9/19/15.

"Pelosi joins calls to add more Democratic primary debates," Theodore Schleifer, CNN, 9/18/15.  

"Clinton in N.H. to counter Sanders, says she wants more debates," Matt Stout, Boston Herald, 9/17/15. 

"Clinton, DNC face pressure to add debates," Gabriel Debenedetti, Politico, 9/16/15.

"Two D.N.C. Officials Call for Adding More Debates," Maggie Haberman, New York Times, 9/9/15.

"Does the Sanders surge pose a serious threat to Clinton? Howard Dean weighs in," Greg Sargent, Washington Post, 9/8/15. 

Sanders and Cruz Live to Fight Another Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump and Clinton In The Driver's Seat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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