Democrats

Clinton Getting A Bounce, Wages Are Rising

“Monday Musings” is a new column looking at the 2016 elections published most Mondays. You can find previous editions here.

2016 Overview – As expected, we find early evidence today of a Clinton bounce. CBS has Clinton going from 43/44 to 47/41, CNN from 45/48 to 52/43, Morning Consult from 40/44 to 43/40 and PPP and Ipsos/Reuters each have Clinton with a 5 point lead. The averages are showing gains for Clinton of 2-3 points already, and Obama’s approval rating in Gallup over the past 10 days has gone from 49/48 to 54/42, the best of his entire second term. It is early but Clinton and the Democrats are clearly getting a meaningful bounce.

It is significant that in some of these new polls have Trump hovering in low 40s, signaling that he still having trouble bringing his party together. If he is not in the mid 40s by mid August his campaign will officially be in trouble. Additionally, based on the Real Clear Politics state averages, Clinton should be firmly ahead in every single battleground state including Arizona and North Carolina by week’s end.

But could the economy slow over the next few months, and change the current dynamic that seems to be favoring Clinton? While Friday’s GDP report appeared to signal trouble ahead, as this analysis from the NYTimes’s Neil Irwin explains things are better than many reported on Friday. And for consumers (voters), things were particularly good:

“The wages and salary component of compensation is now up 2.5 percent over the last year; that same reading was only 2 percent in the second quarter. It’s just one number, but it points to this conclusion: Worker pay is not just rising; it’s also starting to rise at a faster pace. And it’s coming in the form of cash compensation, not being eaten up by health insurance and other employer-provided benefits.”  

Given this report, it is far more likely for economic sentiment to be an asset for Clinton in these final 100 days of the election than Trump.

A Very Good Week for Democrats – Last week’s DNCC was my 8th Convention, and I think it was the best I’ve attended. The speeches and talks by private citizens were powerful, the production itself just excellent and the tone upbeat and can-do. It was an extraordinary contrast to the angry mess the Republicans stumbled through a week before.

What we saw last week was a mature, successful governing party, one with a deep set of talented, experienced and well-regarded leaders comfortable on the national stage. It was a reminder of just how successful the Democrats have been at the Presidential level – both the Clinton and Obama Presidencies left America better than they found it, and Democrats have won more votes in 5 of the last 6 Presidential elections. If Hillary Clinton wins this fall, it will be arguably the best stretch for a political party in all of our history.

This confident, mature, successful Democratic Party took a generation to build. When I got into American politics in the last 80s and early 90s, things were reversed – the GOP was ascendant, confident, well led, popular with young people and it was the Democrats who had run out of political and ideological gas. Led by the New Democrats of that time, the Democratic Party began a long period of modernization and reform that has helped produce the governing and political success we’ve had over the past generation.

Critical to that success today is the demographic opening NDN and a handful of other organizations helped identify a decade ago. If they can harness this emergent coalition in this and coming elections, the Democrats have discovered a young, growing and diverse coalition that could sustain them for many elections to come and will eventually also generate majorities in both Congresses. Remarkably, Democrats may be in the middle or even early stages of a very long run (see our 2007 magazine essay laying all this out, The 50 Year Strategy) and not at its end. 

Clinton Enters the Two Conventions With Meaningful Lead

“Monday Musings” is a new column looking at the 2016 elections published most Mondays. You can find previous editions here.

2016 Overview - This will be a short column this week as so much news will be made in next few weeks any big analysis will just have to wait till after the Dems gather in Philadelphia.

That said, our trusty Huffington Post poll aggregate has the race at 43.4 Clinton to 39.8 Trump. My quick summary of the many national and state polls that have tumbled out in recent days is that Clinton still holds a meaningful lead nationally and in the battleground states. The main issue for US politics in the next two weeks is whether Trump can do anything to change that central dynamic. As I've written many times, I remain doubtful. Why?

First, Trump. I just don't see how his high negatives, ongoing nastiness, terrible campaign, no real solutions to things that matter and warring Party can help him make the gains he needs to make in the coming months. As others have written he is still hovering around 40%. My guess is that he should be up at 44-45% by mid August, but does he have the ability to rise above that level? Am super skeptical.

Second, Clinton. Friends despite the obvious challenges the Clinton effort has been a well run, confident enterprise, not likely to make a major mistake that could alter the trajectory of the race. With Sanders endorsing, a VP pick this week and what will be a strong Convention with a slew of well-regarded and popular politicians, she should match any bump Trump gets. We won't really know where the race stands until about two weeks after Philadelphia, but my expectation at that point is that Clinton will lead by 4-6 points nationally and in the battlegrounds, putting her in a very good position to win this fall.

On Trump and Chaos - One of the more remarkable things about this memorable election is the Trump's campaign comfort in comparing their effort to Richard Nixon's in 1968.   First, why anyone would knowingly compare oneself to Richard Nixon is hard enough to understand.  Second, the embrace of the son of Southern stategy "law and order" theme and its very direct indictment of the Obama era is something Democrats will have to rebut head on.  I offered some thoughts on this debate in last week's column, "America is Better Off and Safer Today."  The order/disorder theme, which was so central to the GOP's late victories in 2014, will be just about all we hear about in Cleveland this week.  Will Democrats be ready? That is the big question now.  

America Is Better Off and Safer Today

“Monday Musings” is a new column looking at the 2016 elections published most Mondays. You can find previous editions here.

2016 Overview – The Huffington Post poll tracker now has the race at 4.8 points for Clinton, a slight drop from her high two weeks ago.  While there are some polls showing movement in the last few days away from Clinton, others show large leads.  Expect a period of very volatile polls over the next month or so until they settle down a bit in August.

With Sanders coming on board the Clinton campaign today, a central contrast of the 2016 campaign will begin to emerge more clearly – united party/strong team/proven track record/thoughtful agenda vs. isolated Trump/unpopular leaders/failed Presidencies/no forward looking solutions to emerging challenges.   This emerging contrast, an inevitable outcome of the next few weeks, will make it far more likely that Clinton and the Democrats make gains and lead heading into the home stretch of this historic campaign. 

Part of that contrast has been developed in the deeply respectful and civilized way the Democrats worked through their platform over the past few weeks.   While the primary was contentious, and there were meaningful platform fights/disagreement, this process was well within the bounds of our how our politics is supposed to work.   The capacity to resolve disagreements is the cornerstone of a properly working democracy.   Which is why this contrast with Trump, who remains at war with his own party just days before his own convention, is so important.  Trump is missing perhaps the single most critical trait for a leader of a democracy – the ability to work through and solve problems with people you disagree with.   His take his ball and go home sensibility, isolationist in the extreme, is one that almost guarantees the failure of a Trump Presidency.   Democrats would be wise to make more of how he has conducted himself during this campaign with his own fellow Republicans as a clear signal of his inability to manage the complexities of the Presidency itself. 

Are We Better Off?

There is little doubt the questions of are we better off and safer today after 8 years of the Obama Presidency will become central to the coming campaign.   To me, this is not even a close call.   Let’s review some data and bust some myths along the way:

- Millions More Have Jobs, and Incomes Have Been Rising Since at Least 2013 (link)

- Tens of Millions Have Gained Health Insurance, and the Uninsured Rate Has Dipped to Historically Low Levels (Link)

- Annual Deficits Are One Fourth % of GDP That They Were Under Last Year of Bush Presidency (Link)

- The Stock Market Has Been Hovering at All Time Highes, and Is More Than Twice What It Was When Obama Came to Office (Link)

- High School Graduation Rates Are at An All Time High (Link)

- Crime Across the US Has Plummeted, and the Nation is Much Safer Today (Link)

- There Have Been No Foreign Fighter Attacks on US Soil in 15 Years (Link)

- There Are Fewer Undocumented Immigrants in the US Today than At End of Bush Administration - The Flow Has Dramatically Slowed (Link)

- Far Fewer Americans Have Died in This Decade Due to Terrorists Attacks or Died in Military Actions Overseas (Link, Link)

- The US Could Be Energy Independent By 2020 (Link)

- Renewable Energy Production Has Soared (Link)

- Greenhouse Gas Emissions Declined in 2015 (Link)

If you look at recent polling data, it is hard to conclude that Americans are angry or giving up hope.  They may be anxious, and want more from their country and their leaders, but you can find in the data that people understand that things are improving in America.   Here is a good example. 

I am not being Pollyannaish here.  There are lots of challenges facing our country, and the world today.  Yes, we have much work to do.  But finding a data stream to counter what I just put up there is no easy thing to do.  Should we be satisfied with where we are? Of course not.  But are we better off today? Clearly. 

Look forward to discussing this in the months to come. 

Clinton Extends Her Lead; Brexit, Rising Wages, Immigration and the American Election

2016 Overview – Despite recent turmoil, Secretary Clinton and the Democrats remain in a very strong electoral position. If anything, things may have improved for the Democrats in recent weeks, in part driven by the continued erratic performance by Donald Trump and the slow consolidation of Democrats by Hillary Clinton after winning her nomination a few weeks ago.

Let’s look at the numbers (using Huffington Post Pollster site as our guide):

Clinton/Trump – Clinton’s lead is now 7 points, the highest of the year - 45.8 to 39. Importantly, Trump remains under 40, a place few general election candidates have found themselves at this point in the past several decades of polling. While Clinton’s negatives are higher than she wants at 42/54, Trump’s are twice hers, 36/60 (24 points net negative compared to 12). Polls over the past week have Clinton’s leads at 2, 4, 5 (3), 6, 7, 9, 10 and 12. The trend line continues to favor Clinton, and more gains are possible in the coming weeks.'

Obama/National Environment/Party – Obama’s job approval is 50/46, personal approval 50/45. On the economy he is 47/47, health care 42/48 and foreign policy 42/46. The approval rating of the Democratic Party stands at 45/46, while in perhaps one of the more important pieces of data of the election, the Rs are at 30/61. The GOP brand was only 53% negative and net 20 negative in the fall.

The bottom line is that these numbers do not find an electorate unhappy with the status quo, and ready to throw the bums out. While there are some weaknesses for the Democrats here, the wildly negative ratings of both the GOP and Trump suggest it will be very difficult for them to exploit them this fall. If these numbers hold, expect Democrats to make substantial gains in both the Senate and House, and perhaps even putting the House into play.

Obviously the new big unknown at this point is whether Brexit will bring an economic slowdown to the US in coming months, something that could impact the overall environment.

2016 and A Post Brexit Politics – With Brexit in the air, it is important to understand what is similar here in the US to the circumstances in the UK and throughout Europe, and what is different. First, economic conditions are better here. Our recovery from the 2007-8 financial collapse has been far better than Europe’s by virtually every measure. Importantly, as Rob Shapiro has been writing for months now, wages and incomes for most Americans have been rising since 2013 as our recovery gained steam (see Robert Samuelson for another cut on this “rising wages” theme today). The strength of the Democratic Party we see in the numbers above is to a great degree a reflection of voter’s perceptions that things are better, and continuing to improve.

The success of the Democratic Party in the US is the second biggest difference. Throughout Europe, traditional social democratic and socialist parties (the center-left) are in collapse. The most striking example of this is in the UK of course, where the Labour Party suffered an historic defeat in the last general election. Europe and the UK are losing their ideological alternatives to center right and far right politics, leaving the playing field more open for nationalists. This is not true in the US. The Democratic Party not only has high marks from the public, it has won more votes in 5 of the last 6 elections, leads in this coming election, and has left America better than it found it in both the Clinton and Obama Presidencies. The success of a liberal and open Democratic Party in the US has given our country a far more effective break on rising nationalist sentiment than the UK/Europe (and we will leave the investment vs austerity debate for another day). 

Finally, immigration.

There is a fair bit of anecdotal evidence and real data that the inability to control migrant flows is driving more of what is happening in the UK and Europe today than even economic discontent. These tensions, long simmering, have been heightened by recent terror attacks on the Continent and the truly challenging Syrian refugee crisis. A collapsing Middle East and North Africa could present Europe with a terror/migrant challenge for many years to come, and is a legitimate and serious concern for everyday UK/European citizens.

I would argue, perhaps controversially, that this area is perhaps more similar to our domestic debate than many here in the US understand. While yes we have a larger immigrant population, and one that is overwhelmingly from non-jihadi parts of the world, what has been clear in the polling data in recent years – and frankly this is just common sense – the American people want an orderly immigration system, with the government not migrants in control. The Trumpian argument is that Democrats are advocating for “open borders,” out of control migration driven by the migrants themselves. And of course the Supreme Court failed to rule in favor of the Administration last week on its signature immigration reform effort of the 2nd term, leaving these matters more unsettled than is desirable at this point (here is my statement on the US vs Texas non decision decision).

While I don’t think Trump is winning this argument with the public, it is important that in the months ahead Democrats do define their immigration position and make it clear what we are for. Vague references to comprehensive immigration reform (which has failed to pass for 11 years now) and our proud immigrant tradition are insufficient given the current political breezes blowing through the West.

And the good news is that Democrats have a very strong story to tell. During the Obama Administration, due to new and far better enforcement strategies, crime along the border region is down and the two largest cities on the border are two of America’s least violent and safest; after 15 years of huge flows of undocumented immigrants into the US, the flow is way down and with net migration of undocumented immigrants into the US is at zero for the entire Obama Presidency; our smarter enforcement strategies have prioritized deportation of criminals (something opposed regularly by the GOP), and created a significant deterrent at the border that has helped drive down flows to historically low levels.  It should also be noted that there has been no domestic US terror attack conducted by a foreign fighter since 9/11 - a rather remarkable achievement. 

While doing all this, the Administration has also essentially stopped deporting long settled law abiding families from the interior of the US who used to have to fear deportation every day; shown that a program like DACA (for DREAMers) could be successfully implemented without creating new flows; and seen trade with Mexico during this period more than double. Today Mexico is our 2nd largest export market for American goods in the world, buying more from us than Japan, Germany and the UK combined.

I have argued, and still believe, that the smart and effective management of the US border remains one of Barack Obama’s most unheralded policy successes. Despite rancorous politics and the defeat of his two major reforms of the system itself, Obama has shown that we can indeed manage the border and the US immigration system while expanding trade flows all at the same time. Coupled with our strong and spirited advocacy for broader immigration reform, this is a record Democrats should be embracing and running on in 2016 (akin to a more aggressive defense of our economic progress over two consectutive Democratic Presidencies).  

What may, of course, upset this narrative this year is what has been known as the Central American migrant crisis, something that looks a bit like the Syrian crisis in Europe. There can be little doubt that the politicization of this ongoing challenge in 2014 contributed to a late GOP surge that helped Rs win a significant number of seats in Congress despite the Administration eventually getting their arms around the crisis. Flows from Central America have begun to tick up again this year.  Anticipating that things could become more unsettled here, it would be wise for Democrats to prepare for Trump and his allies, emboldened by Brexit, to rachet up their attacks on Obama's management of the immigration system and the border itself.  Democrats need to keep it front of mind that the desire for an orderly immigration system is a reasonable and every day concern for Americans of every backgroud while challenging the Republicans to join us in solving these challenges rather than just playing politics with them every electon year.

………I will have more on our post Brexit politics in the coming weeks. In the meantime, read Rob Shapiro’s smart take on it, and check out my quotes in a major Washington Post piece on it from the Washington Post this weekend.  For my previous weekly columns on the 2016 election, visit here

Trump and GOP in Crisis

2016 Overview – The last few weeks have been remarkably bad ones for Donald Trump.  His erratic performance has pushed his poll numbers down.  Voices of dissent in his own party have grown louder, and stories about a renewed effort to replace him at the Convention have resumed with vigor.  His campaign organization and fundraising are in a shambles, and so behind at this point it is not clear he can mount a traditional campaign at all this cycle.  Even a domestic terrorist attack did nothing to aid his standing or wound the Democrats.  And while all this is happening, the Clinton campaign has become confident and sure footed, her public performances as good as they’ve been all cycle, and her capable campaign team is executing a long awaited game plan with intensity and purpose.  Republicans are right to be panicking about the fall.

Some numbers: the basic structure of the race hasn’t changed in the last few weeks, despite Orlando.  As I wrote two weeks back, the underlying dynamics of this cycle would have suggested Clinton to be up 6-8 points at this point.  Today, the Huffington Post aggregate has her up 45.3 to 37.7, 7.6 points net.  This is up from a 2 point average in Mid May.  As you can see from the graph below, the change in the race is coming not only from Clinton gaining ground and consolidating Democrats after clinching the nomination, but also because Trump has been dropping.  What is important is that all this movement has come before Bernie Sanders has officially endorsed (which will come), suggesting that Clinton has even more room to grow in the coming weeks.  

Yesterday, Trump said he would not officially begin his general election campaign until after the Convention.  In political Nerdistan this was a bit of a bombshell.  For it means that at a moment where the race is starting to slip away from him, Trump is going to allow the Democrats a full five weeks on the air in the battleground states without a response.  Traditional campaign tactics would suggest that Trump go up on the air now with a very substantial buy to blunt Clinton’s significant momentum.  By not responding at all until late in the summer when vacationing voters will be harder to reach, Trump is possibly in the process of losing the general election right now.

At the core of his campaign’s historic levels of dysfunction is a big and consequential lie – that he was wealthy enough to self-fund his candidacy.  You could say that this impression was an essential building block of his brand/persona – couldn’t be bought, successful businessman, no politics as usual.  It was perhaps the most important part of the early Trumpian brand, but it also had the practical effect of preventing his campaign from setting up a real fundraising operation (why do it if you are a self funder?).  What we are learning now is the myth of his wealth – and at this point it looks to be more myth than reality – will have prevented him from establishing even a modest campaign to take on a Democratic Presidential apparatus that has won more votes in 5 of the last 6 elections.  It is just too late at this point for Trump to build even a modest campaign, and every day GOPers on the ground in the battleground states don’t see ads up on the air the greater the panic and dissent will be.    

The realization that Trump’s enormous whopper about his wealth prevented him from mounting a real campaign could have an extraordinary impact with GOP insiders – those who vote at the Convention.  Unless Trump dumps $100m or more into his campaign in the next week or so, I think there is a very real chance he will be replaced at the Convention.  Replacing his campaign manager won't be enough. 

After Orlando/Not Just Trump – While the Democratic effort to close the “terror gap” and other common sense gun safety measures after the Orlando shooting is smart politics and the right thing to do, it would be wise to couple that with a challenge to the Rs to join them in giving the President the legal authority to fight ISIS in the Middle East.  As the President said last week, it is not an either/or, but a both/and.  The authority the President is using to fight ISIS abroad was explicitly written to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban in 2001.  If words matter – as many Rs say – then let’s name our current adversary properly – the Islamic State – and give the President the authority he needs to fight them in the months ahead.  The Congressional GOP’s refusal to give the President the authority he needs, along with the explicit political support, is one of the great abdications of responsibility we’ve seen in the past generation of American politics.  They should be called on it.  

This refusal to take responsibility for the world as it is today (something I wrote about extensively recently) has become a hallmark of the modern GOP.  Consider Paul Ryan’s House right now – no budget, no Zika funding, no TPP, no immigration reform, no response to ISIS/home grown threats.  And of course the Senate has for the first time in American history refused to act upon a Supreme Court vacancy.  Today’s GOP is simply ideologically incapable of governing in a time of enormous global change that its leaders are struggling to understand.   

Previous Columns – Previous editions of this weekly column can be found here

Clinton Steps Up, Trump Stumbles and the Democrats and Post Cold War America

2016 Overview – The core dynamic of the race that we discussed last Monday hasn't changed this week – Hillary Clinton and the Democrats maintain a modest but meaningful advantage heading into the next phase of the campaign. Trump’s recent bump in the polls made the race a bit closer, but has receded now, leaving Clinton the clear front runner today.

As for the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton will clinch the nomination on Tuesday night. Bringing Sanders and his many supporters (he is still over 40% in the Democratic Primary and at 49% in national polls against Trump) into the fold will be one of many important tests for Secretary Clinton over the next few months as she makes the transition from candidate to nominee. Last week saw a very important moment in that transition, as Clinton, in San Diego, delivered what may have been her most powerful speech – and inspiring public performance - of the campaign. It felt very much like her formal pivot to the general election, and a very effective effort to begin to seize control of an election she has a very good chance of winning.

Trump, on the other hand, has struggled mightily in the post-nomination phase of his campaign. His now infamous interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper revealed Trump at his very worst – petty, mean-spirited, conspiratorial, shockingly comfortable with racist slurs against well regarded federal officials. Just as Clinton has started to feel “bigger,” and more of the national leader she aspires to be, Trump appeared much “smaller” over the past week, overwhelmed by the enormity of the job he is so clearly unsuited for. It was not an encouraging week for the Republican Party.

The Democrats and Post Cold War America – What is very much in the air these days, on both sides of the Atlantic, is a discussion about whether the system the West built after WWII is failing. Our friends in Britain are debating Brexit, and throughout Europe the established political order is struggling to stay relevant. At home Donald Trump has intimated at a very different kind of global order, one with America playing a far less significant role. And of course we have a candidate associated with socialism, itself a different set of arrangements, still leading in the national polls. We are, whether we understand it or not, in the midst of a great – and perhaps welcome and needed – debate about our path forward as modern, liberal democracies in a time of enormous global change.

Last week, in two muscular speeches (here and here), President Obama made his case for why the Western project, at least here in the United States, is both working and has left America in a far better position that many Americans understand. In his Air Force Academy speech he argued:

We are blessed to be living in the most peaceful, most prosperous era in human history. Now, that sounds controversial until you survey the history of the world. It’s hard to see, with all the violence and suffering in the world, and what’s reported on the news every day. But if you step back for a moment -- think about last week, when I was in Hiroshima to remember all who were lost in a World War that killed some 60 million people -- not 60,000, 60 million.

For decades, there have been no wars between major powers. Wars between nations are increasingly rare. More people live in democracies. More than 1 billion people have been lifted from extreme poverty. From the Americas to Africa to Southeast Asia, there’s a new generation of young people, connected by technology and ready to make their mark. I’ve met them. They look up to America. They aspire to be our partner. That’s the progress and the hope that we have to build on.

And as for America itself he said:

And here’s a fact: The United States of America remains the most powerful nation on Earth and a force for good. (Applause.) We have big challenges in our country -- in our politics, our economy, our society. Those are challenges we have to address. But look around. We have the world’s strongest economy. Our scientists, our researchers, our entrepreneurs are global leaders in innovation. Our colleges and universities attract the best talent from around the world. Our values -- freedom, equality, opportunity -- those values inspire people everywhere, including immigrants who come here, ready to work, and integrate and help renew our country.

Our standing in the world is higher. I see it in my travels from Havana to Berlin to Ho Chi Minh City -- where huge crowds of Vietnamese lined the streets, some waving American flags.So make no mistake, the United States is better positioned to lead in the 21st century than any other nation.

One of the great questions of this big debate about the Western project is whether the system is failing, or are the defenders of liberalism and the system failing it?  Domestically, I will point to one aspect of this debate, and the question of who will be better for the American economy in coming years, the Democrats or the Republicans. In two recent polls which asked the question, Donald Trump led Hillary Clinton by double digits. In each poll the economy is seen as the most important issue for the next President to tackle. So this is no small thing.

Given this, Democrats should be asking themselves some tough questions.  Given the performance of the economy over the past generation, how can Trump be leading? President Clintons and Obama have brought jobs, growth, soaring stock markets, and far lower annual deficits. The two Bush Presidencies brought recession, job loss, higher structural deficits, a domestic housing and financial collapse and declining wages and incomes. As Dr. Rob Shapiro has been pointing out, even on wages, it now appears that the pernicious dynamic we began to see early in the 2nd Bush era has come to an end. Since 2013 wages have been rising for most Americans. Lots of new data indicate that Americans understand things are getting better; and President Obama this past week hit the highest approval rating of his 2nd term. So, the American people sense that indeed things are improving, are better – and of course they are.

Perhaps it is the newest and most inconvenient truth in American politics today, but what is just incontrovertible fact is that over the past generation when Democrats have been in power things have gotten better, and when Republicans have been in power, things have gotten worse. The system here in America isn’t failing. One of the two political parties has understood the great changes the Cold War’s end brought to the world, and has governed effectively against these opportunities and challenges. The other political party, however, has struggled to understand the new forces of the 21st century, and has failed when in power. And there is perhaps no greater manifestation of this party wide failure to understand the modern world and plan against it than the current GOP nominee, Donald Trump (see my long form magazine article from a few years back on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess). 

To me the reason that this inconvenient truth is not better understood is that Democrats as a whole have not adequately understood, or owned, the success of their two recent Presidents. One got the feeling last week, in Obama’s two speeches and in Clinton’s too, that the Clintons and the Obamas are about to do everything they can to change this. The Presidential wing of the Democratic Party, which has been far more successful than its Congressional counterpart over the past generation, is going to have its say this summer and fall. And it is long past time for their Congressional allies to join them in making the case for the success of liberal governance to the American people. The fate of the election, and perhaps even the Western project itself, may depend upon it.

Update - Another sign of the GOP's failure to wrap its arms around modernity is what is about to happen in the California Senate race.  In their open primary system, every candidate runs against everyone else, with the top two vote getters regardless of party moving on to the fall election.  According to the latest poll, the two Democrats are at 37 and 19, and the three Rs are at 8, 5 and 5.   Putting the results together, Ds are at 56 and the Rs are at 18 - this in the state that produced the GOP's most successful politicians of the past 60 years, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.   There is no state in America which has embraced the modern world with as much gusto as California, and there is perhaps no state in America where the Republican Party is closer to losing major party status.  

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

 

The Trump Bump Part II, Learning from Bernie and The CA Debate Should Proceed

Despite Spirited Challenges, Clinton Holding Her Ground A slew of new polls confirm the "Trump bump" we first discussed in last week’s column.  While the CBS/NYT poll had Clinton’s lead at 6, and NBC/WSJ at 3, the ABC/Washington Post poll had Trump ahead by 2. Clinton had an 8-10 point lead over Trump throughout March and April.  That advantage is probably down to 2-3 points now as Republican voters consolidate behind their new leader.

Importantly for Clinton we haven’t seen any decline in her substantial advantage over Bernie Sanders during this same period.  Barring an unforeseen event, she should wrap up the nomination in early June.  At that point expect Clinton to get a “bump” too, putting the race back into a 5-8 point margin for her, a far more comfortable place for Democrats eager to see this as a year of opportunity.

A 2016 caveat is, however, needed here and in the remainder of my columns – do not underestimate Donald Trump.  He is taking hold of his party more rapidly and effectively than many imagined, and while his campaign apparatus is dangerously behind a well constructed, hybrid Clinton/Obama machine, his masterful use of free and social media this cycle has been a 21st century political gamechanger.  Few Democrats believed the race would ever get this close, and that this will be a highly competitive and challenging race is slowly settling in across the country.

More Analysis Needed on Sanders’ Strong National Showing – One of the more remarkable bits of data coming from a week of new polls is how much better Sanders performs than Clinton in head to head polling against Trump.  In the most recent polls, Sanders is often above 50 against Trump, and has leads of 15, 4, 13, 13, 12, 10, 9 and 15.  In the last four polls tracking both Sanders and Clinton, Sanders’ lead against Trump is 12, 7, 7, and 11 points higher than Clinton’s.  During the course of this messy, contentious election cycle no candidate of either party has performed this well in general election polls for this long. It is no small achievement.

The conventional wisdom in town is that Sanders runs this strong because no one has ever roughed him with negative advertising, and that his “socialism” would tank him voters if they really knew what he was proposing.  Perhaps.  Whatever the case, it would be wise for Democrats to study and come to understand why this rumpled, unknown old lefty has run so strong in this election, particularly with unaffiliated voters (independents) and young people.  My guess is that like Trump and Cruz, his steadfast rejection of conventional politics (even attacking the DNC itself) has significant appeal to an electorate who felt let down by their leaders.  But the Party should both be giving Sanders more credit for what he has done, and begin working hard to learn from it for the all important fall elections.

Sanders, Clinton and the DNC – A new Politico piece contains the following passage:

"The perception that the DNC and other state parties have unfairly favored Hillary Clinton is going to make the reconciliation of Sanders and Clinton supporters nationally and in the states far harder," said Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg, president of the NDN think tank. "The DNC should have tried much harder to address this perception early on, as it always had the potential to become a reason for Sanders partisans to question the legitimacy of Clinton's victory”

As readers of our work are aware, I’ve been warning for months that the DNC needed to do far more to address what were reasonable concerns about its impartiality in the race (remember the DNC Chair getting booed at a major New Hampshire event in September).  I don’t exactly know what can be done at this point, many months too late, to reestablish the DNC’s role as independent arbiter, and uniter of the spirited factions that have emerged this cycle.  But one obvious opportunity for the DNC Chair to publicly affirm her impartiality is to ensure that there is a 10th and final debate in California.  This debate was agreed to by the Sanders and Clinton camps, and became an “officially sanctioned” DNC debate.  For the DNC to walk away from the debate now, given that Sanders has signaled his desire to proceed, will only confirm the worst suspicions of Sanders partisans.

And why wouldn’t Democrats want to debate in California, the state that is arguably the American center-left’s greatest success story in recent years?  The state that is driving global innovation and entertainment? A state whose demography is a window into our future?  And a state with a long list of super talented next generation elected officials like Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris, Alex Padilla, Adam Schiff, Xavier Becerra and Eric Garcetti?  The DNC should be working aggressively now to get this debate scheduled, honoring their agreement, and giving the tens of millions of potential voters in June a chance to hear a fresh airing of the issues.

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

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

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

Is Trump Getting A Bump?

This column was originally published on the morning of Monday, May 16th, 2016.  It was updated on the afternoon of May 17th to include two new polls that comported with the piece's original argument.

While Donald Trump still faces enormous challenges in his campaign for the White House, the last few weeks have been very good ones for him.  His primary ended earlier than many expected, and well before the Democrats.  He rolled out a Vice Presidential search process and appointed Chris Christie to head up the building of his government.  He had a successful trip to Washington, sending a clear signal to all the party is in the process, slowly, of coming together behind him.  The media gave saturation, perhaps even unprecedented, coverage, to his every move and utterance.  In extraordinarily rapid fashion Trump has made the transition from brash outsider to confident leader of the Republican Party, again demonstrating that despite his political inexperience and sky high negatives, this guy is capable of playing the game at the highest level.

And perhaps most importantly to the Trumpian narrative, the success of his last few weeks has already begun to show up in the polls.  Using the Huffington Post Pollster aggregate as our guide, Hillary Clinton’s lead over Trump, which was 8-10 points throughout March and April, has shrunk to between 3 and 4 points. The six most recent polls have had Clinton’s lead at 4, 2, 4, 2, 3 and 2. The Ipsos/Reuters weekly tracking poll released over the weekend also caught this movement, finding Clinton’s margin dropping from 9 to 4 (45/36 to 41/37) over the past week.  The new NBC/Survey Monkey track finds similar movement, going from 49/44 to 48/45.  The Morning Consult track also reports similar numbers, going from 44/38 to 42/40.  Trump is clearly getting a bump now, and the data suggests that while some Republican leaders may be holding out, rank and file Republicans are rapidly consolidating behind their new leader.  

This movement could explain why Priorities USA, the Clinton SuperPAC, will start their general election campaign in the coming days, six weeks earlier expected. 

As I’ve written before, it should not surprise anyone that Trump had the potential to bring his party together despite his contentious primary.  On the big issues of the day – large tax cuts, climate denial, gutting Obamacare, interventionist foreign policy and restrictionist immigration policy – Trump is a very much in line with modern “conservative” Republicans.  Even on trade Trump is aligned with his party’s voters.  It is well known that Republican voters are more protectionist than the Ryan/Chamber wing of the GOP, and even more so than Democratic voters.  And it is also my own experience that Republican voters are far more invested in the “strong/weak leader” attributes of candidates than non-aligned voters and Democrats, something that is playing to Trump’s advantage.

The “strong leader” dimension of this race should be watched closely in the months ahead.  It is possible that this Presidential attribute is particularly important to Republicans reared on the powerful Presidency of Ronald Reagan, himself a former entertainer and unusually potent political showman.  For close to thirty years Republicans have been searching for a worthy successor, and have come up short again and again.  The Bushes were both failed Presidents, and leave little to celebrate about their time on the national stage.  A series of Congressional leaders – Hastert, Gingrich, Livingston, Lott – have seen their careers end in disgrace.  The children of Reagan who have begun to assert themselves in the GOP – Cruz, Rubio, Ryan, Walker – also showed they aren’t quite ready yet.  No national Republican today has a net positive approval rating.  It is not an exaggeration to say that since Reagan the Republicans have not produced one truly successful national Party leader.  This unrealized thirty year quest to find another one as great as Reagan may explain Trump’s success in ways other more traditional analyses cannot.  It also points to Kasich, who was a political ally of Reagan’s, as the Vice President who can help symbolically pass the torch from Ronald to the Donald. 

While this is only a snapshot in time, and we have a long campaign ahead of us, at this point it appears that Trump may be able to make a race of this thing after all.  But  as we discussed last week, failure to do so means a particularly devastating year for the Republican Party.   

Sanders Still In Weakened Position –The good news for Hillary Clinton this week is on the Democratic side.  Despite her losses in West Virginia and Indiana in recent weeks, Clinton’s national polling lead against Sanders has ballooned from low single digits a month ago to 13 today, and shows no sign of abating.  The same Reuters/Ipsos poll that showed her race against Trump tightening significantly also found her 15 point lead over Sanders unchanged from a weekly earlier.  Despite his two recent wins, Sanders has been unable to make up any public opinion ground against Clinton, suggesting that for many Democrats the primary has already ended.  While she might struggle this week in Oregon and Kentucky, her sizable national advantage is likely to prevent Sanders doing as well in the early June states, including California and New Jersey, to keep his candidacy going until the Convention.  And when Sanders is truly defeated, and stops campaigning, one would imagine that Clinton will get the same kind of bump Trump appears to be getting now, snapping the race back to a 6-8 point advantage for Clinton, a more comfortable margin, and one more in keeping with other measures of the national landscape.  

 

Trump’s Free Media Dominance Should Be A Worry for Clinton – I will dive into this a bit more in future columns, but want to say that Trump’s facility as a public communicator and his ability to completely dominate news coverage should start to become a true worry for team Clinton.  I have long rejected the theory that all this early exposure was somehow hurting Trump, and raised alarms last fall about how the anemic Democratic debate schedule was ceding far too much ground to Trump and the Republicans. While Democrats may have substantial advantages in how modern campaigns are run, we are about to learn the true value of celebrity and persistent media presence, traits that can be virally magnified in the social media age in ways not possible in previous media eras.  I don’t think Trump’s facility with modern media will be enough to close the institutional gap with the blended Clinton Obama campaign apparatus, but it is possible that the modeling of the digital nerds have not adequately war gamed a Kardashian like social media celebrity like Trump.   Underestimating Trump has proven to be a dangerous indulgence this Presidential cycle. 

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

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

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

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