Democrats

Putting Their Parties Back Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.  On April 14th in Brooklyn, the Democrats conducted their 9th debate in their expanded schedule and have 1 more planned for May although the date and location are still to be determined.  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 Thursday 4/21/16).  

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.  At current rates, the 10 scheduled Dem debates will be seen by 80m people.

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 55% 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 DNC debates are producing about twice the audience per debate that the 2008 debates produced, and, in aggregate, are on track to produce about the same total audience 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 (10 compared to 12 GOP in 2016 and 26 in 2008) means that the total audience of the Democratic debates in 2016 will be only slightly larger than the 2008 Democratic total, and possibly as much as 100m less than the 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

(Note: 2016 Democrat debate total audience is based on projections)

Consequential Days Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can the Frontrunners Reassert Control?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sanders, Cruz Soldier On; A Year of Opportunity for Democrats?

If current polling holds tomorrow night and Cruz and Sanders prevail in Wisconsin, it will give them a vital boost heading into a very important stretch where the terrain looks less favorable for them – New York on April 19th and then the Northeastern “Super Tuesday” of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island on April 26th. Polls from the past few days show Trump with large leads in these late April delegate rich contests, while Clinton retains about a 10 point lead in New York. So while each frontrunner may take another hit this week, April could be the month where both Trump and Clinton finally put their race away.

Having said that, these last few weeks have been challenging ones for both frontrunners. Sanders racked up big wins in recent states, and had another impressive record breaking fundraising month in March. Video of Clinton in an angry exchange with a voter got her off message this week, and the campaign has yet to really find its footing again. Recent Trumpian interviews with the Washington Post and New York Times have been disastrous for him, reinforcing not just his radicalism and misogyny but his extraordinary ignorance of global and domestic affairs. Polling showing him slipping behind Cruz in Wisconsin raises questions about whether we are beginning to see evidence of a broader Trump weakening (Tues am - NBC/Survey Monkey finds evidence of some Trump slippage this week). I remain unconvinced that Cruz or Kasich at this point are strong enough or capable enough to take full advantage of a potential Trump stumble, and am keeping my money on the one with the hair to prevail outright on the 1st ballot in Cleveland.

As of press time, the Sanders and Clinton campaigns had not resolved their differences to settle on a date and place for a promised 9th debate. This is an unfortunate occurrence, as people voting in April, May and June deserve their own fresh debates. I put the blame for this debilitating squabble squarely on the DNC (Democratic Party), whose original, inadequate schedule had the last English language debate taking place on February 11th, when only 2 of the 50 states would have voted. Remarkably, when confronted with the inadequacy of the schedule, the DNC repeatedly ruled out adding any additional debate beyond this early February one, suggesting that DNC expected/wanted the primary to end in March not June. The reason these debates are negotiated upfront, long before the voting begins, is to avoid exactly what is happening now – in the heat of battle both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns are having to spend time negotiating with one another (no easy thing), and fighting this out in the media rather than talking about the issues that will drive the fall election. That we are even talking about this at this point is a sign of the extraordinary mismanagement of the debate schedule by the DNC this cycle (Tues am - the two sides agreed to next Thursday, April 14th for a Brooklyn debate). 

A Year of Opportunity for Democrats? Several reports this week signaled that the election could be shaping up to be a year of opportunity for Democrats. A new report from Gallup found Party ID starting to break open for Democrats, moving from 42/42 in October to 46/40 today. (see the graph below). Gallup’s daily track of the President’s approval rating, a key shaper of broader public opinion, has been consistently finding Obama in the low 50s, even hitting 53% this past week. Both the 46% Party ID and 53% Presidential approval are highs for the President’s second term, and suggest a very favorable environment for the Democrats this fall. 

A new poll by Stan Greenberg’s Democracy Corps found similar movement toward Democrats, away from the Republicans and early indications that key elements of the Democrat coalition have begun to become far more engaged in the election. House specific questions yielded similar results, suggesting that the movement towards Democrats we are seeing could extend below the Presidential level. As my own recent analysis of this year's electoral map showed, Presidential success for the Democrats in 2016 is likely to have a disproportionate impact on the battle for the Senate and House, potentially even putting the House in play.

Despite the rancor of this tough political year, it could very well be that these numbers reflect the public giving credit to the President and the Democrats for a job well done.  Millions more are working today, and wages have begun to tick up; annual deficits are a third of what they were, and interest rates remain low; the President's health care reform has insured 20m people in just its first few years and health care costs have slowed; the global energy paradigm is changing in ways good for the planet and the United States; and while the world remains a challenging and difficult place, far fewer Americans are dying today than during the previous President's terms, diplomacy has been introduced into the Middle East, the President has advanced a far reaching plan for Asia anchored in his hard fought TPP, etc.   Much has gone right these past 7 years, and the country is stronger for it.  There can be little doubt that this record of achievement will be used effectively by many Democrats this fall to help draw a stark contrast with a generation of ineffectiveness and ideological extremism on the other side. 

So, yes, this data is early, and much can happen. But every election takes on a specific set of characteristics as the cycle unfolds. And at this point, there is a growing body of evidence that this could be a year of enormous opportunity for Democrats to not just win the Presidency but to make up valuable ground lost in the very tough 2010 and 2014 midterms.

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.

A Very Good Week for Bernie Sanders; Our Creaky Democracy

The unpredictable 2016 race gave us some new twists and turns last week as Bernie Sanders won 6 of 7 contests by shockingly wide margins – 82/18, 79/20, 78/21, 73/27, 70/30, 69/31 (incl Democrats Abroad). As many of these states were small and did not award many delegates, the essential trajectory of the race hasn’t changed – Clinton still holds a commanding lead. To date she has won 56% of the delegates allocated through voting, and retains a strong lead over Sanders in most national polls. But these convincing wins give Sanders and his team a powerful rationale to soldier on through what will be a busy April: 

April 5 – Wisconsin

April 9 - Wyoming

April 19 – New York

April 26 – Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island

The nature of the April schedule is going to be very consequential to both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns. Sanders has done far better on days when fewer people were voting, using the power of his campaign/message to make significant gains (think MI on 3/8 or these last round of states) against the natural name ID advantage Clinton has wielded effectively, particularly on the two Super Tuesdays, March 1st and 15th. The first three April states are one on one contests, which have historically played to Sander’s advantage. New York, however, is a closed primary (no independents), and the Clinton brand remains awfully strong in the Big Apple. But it is the final batch of states on April 26th which may indeed be Bernie’s last stand. He has not performed well on these big Tuesdays, and if Clinton can come close to replicating her previous Super Tuesday performances it could end the race once and for all.

Alternatively, if Bernie can surprise in Wisconsin and New York, April 26th could be a day of enormous opportunity for the spirited Sanders effort.

Given Bernie’s need for name ID in these large contests in late April, it should be no surprise now that the two campaigns have now begun to squabble about the previously agreed upon April debate. Debates matter in American politics, and one should not underestimate the power of debates to help insurgents gain recognition and support. A far superior GOP debate schedule has yielded 186m viewers, and helped power a telegenic insurgent, Trump, into a commanding lead. On the Democratic side, a late and poorly designed debate approach has yielded just 66m viewers, denying the Democrats’ plucky insurgent national air time that could have made a difference for him, particularly in those Super Tuesday states where he just did not have the time or money to compete in so many states simultaneously. So watch this week for news on this new round of debate over debates, and be sure to see our report on the debate audiences so far. 

As for Trump, it is belief he is going to win the Republican nomination. I will spend more time on Trump next week, but at this point I just don’t see how Trump isn’t the GOP nominee.

Our Creaky Democracy – We’ve seen it all these last few months – no paper ballots in Iowa, preventing a recount in an historically close election; 5 hour waits for voting, and far too many people leaving lines because they couldn’t wait any more; voters denied the ability to vote due to new draconian “Voter ID” laws being implemented for the first time; and the absurdity of “caucuses,” which guarantee a very low turnout even in a Presidential campaign. We are long overdue for a big national conversation about how to update our democracy for a new century – look for more from us on this in the coming days. The US must be an exemplar for the very best election practices, and we have a lot of work to do to get there in the years ahead.

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.

Tuesday May Be The Last Day to Stop Clinton, Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rubio and the "The Children of Reagan"

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

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

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

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

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

Taking Trump Seriously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My previous columns on 2016 can be found here. 

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