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The Daily Strategist

April 17, 2015

Populist 'Capture' of Democratic Party Overstated?



I'm not sure if Dana Milbank got caught up in the frenzy of a spirited rally or if he got it right in his WaPo column "The Populist Capture of the Democratic Party." Headline writers often overstate the content of the copy that follows. Yet, Milbank's report on the pending "Trans-Pacific Partnership" trade agreement almost matches the dramatic announcement in the title:

A quartet of senators and a dozen members of the House took the stage in a park across from the Capitol midday Wednesday to join hundreds of steelworkers, union faithful and environmentalists in denouncing President Obama's bid for fast-track approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

"I've never seen a trade agreement that is more secretive than this one," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told the crowd. "What are they hiding? What they're hiding is a huge shift from democratically elected governments to corporations all over the world, and that's why we're fighting."

A parade of speakers echoed Brown's denunciation, and Milbank reports that "The upcoming battle over fast-tracking and the Trans-Pacific Partnership shows how dramatically the center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted." He adds that "a best-case scenario has them winning only 10 of the 46 Democrats -- and an even smaller percentage of House Democrats, despite aggressive lobbying by the usually passive White House."

Milbank cites the bad taste residue left by NAFTA and the shrinking number of political moderates remaining the the Democratic Party, along with the rallying of populist ideas in concert with the ascendancy of Elizabeth Warren. He believes Hillary Clinton will have to accommodate some populist concerns to unite the party, if she wins the presidential nomination for 2016. Many observers believe the agreement will pass, nonetheless, owing mostly to Republican support.

Politico hyped up the "Democrats' civil war over free trade" in a post by Adam Behsudi, noting:

The open warring among Democrats over fast-track trade legislation, and the party's broader existential crisis on free trade, grew more pronounced Thursday as senior lawmakers announced a breakthrough on the trade bill. Many Democrats still feel the burn, 20 years later, of lost manufacturing jobs from the North American Free Trade Agreement -- pushed through by former President Bill Clinton -- and they fear another Democratic president is on the verge of turning his back on working-class Americans by negotiating a trade deal that would send jobs overseas.

Let's not forget that the followers of both former Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin and the populist Democrats of the 90s voted for Bill Clinton on election day decades ago. Further, what gets overlooked amid all of the "let's you and him fight" reportage about the trade deal is that, if we had a Republican majorities in the House and Senate that would actually negotiate in good faith, it would be possible to forge a trade deal that everyone could live with. But it would have to accommodate the concerns of Democratic leaders, such as Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who is quoted in Behsudi's article:

"The single biggest economic issue facing American families is that jobs do not pay enough to live on," she said following the Trade Promotion Authority bill's introduction on Thursday. "Fast tracking the TPP would make it easier for corporations to offshore Americans jobs and force our workers to compete with those in Vietnam making less than 60 cents an hour."

It's clear that Clinton, or any other potential Democratic presidential candidate will have to take a stronger stand against trade agreements that sacrifice American jobs. That's a message point that will likely resonate with swing voters.


April 16, 2015

Fundamentals Looking Better for Democrats




It's pretty well-established that one of the "fundamentals" that damaged Democrats in 2014 was a big lag between improving economic indicators and public perceptions of how the economy was performing.

Well, now the perceptions are catching up, and I discussed the implications today at Washington Monthly:

This new finding from Bloomberg Politics' polling (as reported by Margaret Talev) is a pretty big deal, assuming it holds up as a trend:
Americans are becoming more optimistic about the country's economic prospects by several different measures. President Barack Obama's handling of the economy is being seen more positively than negatively for the first time in more than five years, 49 percent to 46 percent—his best number in this poll since September 2009.

Here's the under-side of that optimism, though:

[T]he national survey of 1,008 adults, conducted April 6-8, also reveals that about three-fourths of Democrats and independents, along with a majority of Republicans, say the gap is growing between the rich and everyone else—and a majority of women want the government to intervene to shrink it. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

So it may well be that Hillary Clinton's talk about inequality isn't just a response to progressives unhappy with Obama's "centrism," but a theme we'll be hearing more of both from her and from Obama himself as the obvious thing for a left-of-center pol to talk about when the overall direction of the economy is looking better. It also probably means that we'll hear Republicans continue their awkward efforts to suggest shrinking government will unleash upward mobility. All in all, optimism about what a Democratic president is doing plus concerns traditionally associated with Democrats is a pretty good public opinion backdrop for a Democratic non-incumbent.

To put it another way, improving perceptions of the economy amid growing worries about inequality not only strengthens the case for another Democratic presidency but undermines the GOP's case that it's "time for a change."


Political Strategy Notes



Thomas B. Edsall reports in his column at The New York Times that public attitudes about the redistribution of wealth have taken a conservative turn in a number of recent surveys. While some may argue that this indicates Dems should moderate their policies in a conservative direction, it could also be taken as a challenge to better educate the public about proposals to spur a more equitable distribution of wealth.

Political consultant Matt L. Barron explains at The Hill why Democrats should pay more attention to rural voters.

The good news for Hillary Clinton at this juncture, according to Kyle Kondik and Larry J. Sabato of The Crystal Ball is that she is the undisputed Democratic front-runner for President in 2016, with no "second-tier" opposition in sight. The bad news is that she is the biggest, earliest target her adversaries could hope for. If her front-runnership holds up, Dems could benefit significantly by not having a divisive primary season. But the GOP will have the advantage of highly-focused, Hillary-bashing message repetition over a long period of time, and their nominee could benefit from battle-testing and party unity based on weakness-eliminating competition.

UK politics appears as divided as our own, but Labour seems to have some serious mo -- even in Thatcher's old stronghold, reports Dave Hill at The Guardian.

Aamer Madhani makes a strong case that voter turnout the recent election in Ferguson is more cause for concern for progressives than celebration.

At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Greg Bluestein reports on the emerging Democratic majority --- in Georgia: "I sometimes feel like Georgia flies under the radar," said Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress. "But things are changing there so quickly."...The analysis was done by the Center for American Progress, the American Enterprise Institute and William H. Frey from the Brookings Institute...shows that Georgia could become a majority-minority state in 2025 and that minorities could outnumber whites among eligible voters by 2036...A narrow majority of students in Georgia's public schools are now non-white and the data show that the proportion of white children could diminish to about 30 percent by 2060..."Blacks have more proclivity to vote in one direction than Hispanics or Asians," said Teixeira. "It's definitely changing the character. And one thing that will really make a huge difference in Georgia is if white voters vote more liberally. You don't need much of a shift in the white vote for there to be a tipping point." Bluestein's article has nifty charts also.

The moral case for a gas tax hike is clear in terms of the environment and the need to fund transportation upgrades. But the political case is more problematic --- especially for Dems. Janel Forte of Medill News Service explains why.

My hunch is that the headline for Nate Cohn's upshot post is half-right that "Big Money From Super PACs Is Eroding the Power of Parties" -- in the sense that the GOP has benefitted far more from super PACs. Cohn's point is more about insider party "elites" losing their kingmaker power to the uber-PACs.

Will some wealthy Democrat please give this young man a lot of money?


April 15, 2015

Two-Term "Curse" For Democrats in '16 Not At All Clear



Something you hear regularly going into this cycle is that Democrats could suffer from "fatigue" or even a "curse" in association with the fact that they have held the White House for two consecutive terms. This makes me a little crazy, because (a) this is a very small data set from which to draw any predictive conclusions, and (b) the data we do have are often examined uncritically. So with some help from academic circles, I examined this myth at Washington Monthly:

To the extent that we are going to keep hearing that Democrats are handicapped in 2016 by "fatigue" with being the party controlling the White House since 2008, it's helpful to have a truly comprehensive look at the precedents, as supplied the other day by Washington University's John Patty at Mischiefs of Faction:

Is it really "hard" for a party to hang on to the White House for 12 years? The obvious answer is, "yes," it is generally unlikely to that one party will control the White House for 3 terms. But, let's do some math, with admittedly limited evidence.

If we accept that George Washington and John Adams were of the same "party," then the presidency was held by the same party for the first 12 years (3 terms) of the Republic. Then, Jefferson, Monroe, and John Quincy Adams were co-partisans (of the "other" party relative to Washington and Adams) holding the presidency for 20 years (5 terms). Jackson and Van Buren controlled the presidency for the same party for 12 more years (3 terms).

This ends in 1840, when stuff started to get kind of crazy---at first slowly and then incredibly quickly---as the issue of slavery emerged and stretched the nation to civil war. For 20 years (5 terms), no party held the presidency for more than two terms in a row (and, to be honest, the notion of "party" was remarkably fluid during that time).

Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, and began (for lots of varied reasons) a period of 24 years (6 terms) of one-party control of the presidency. Starting in 1884, we have 12 years of partisan switching, bookended by Grover Cleveland's (uniquely) non-successive terms in office. We then have 16 years of Republican control of the office under McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, and Taft.

Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, served two terms, but surrendered the office back to the Republicans in 1920. The Republicans sent Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover to the White House for one term each, a period of 12 years. They were followed by Franklin Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman for 20 years (4 terms).

Let's pause for a second. Up through the Second World War, there were 2 elections in which one party had controlled the presidency for 8 consecutive years and was defeated. On the other hand, there were 5 elections in which one party had controlled the presidency for (exactly) 8 consecutive years and retained control. That's over 70% success in holding on for 12 years plus. So, to be clear, from a very naive standpoint, early history suggests that there might be some "partisan momentum."

Keep that in mind because most "proofs" of what Patty calls the "eight year itch" hypothesis begin, conveniently, in 1948. But even after that the "itch" argument is, well, scratchy:

Moving to the modern (i.e., post WWII) period, there have been 6 elections in which one party has controlled the White House for exactly 8 years. The other party has won 5 of those.

But the five of six are not exactly clear precedents:

1. The 1960 election was very close and arguably riddled (in important ways) with fraud.
Not to mention the fact that 1960 was preceded by two recessions, and that Kennedy (a) benefited from a large net positive in religious voting; and (b) managed, miraculously, to become the preferred candidate of both African-Americans and segregationists.

2. One of these elections was preceded by an eligible incumbent president declining to run (Lyndon Johnson in 1968).

I'd say the assassinations of MLK and RFK and a rapidly escalating war in Vietnam were also unusual factors.

3. Another was fought by an incumbent who was unelected and succeeded an incumbent who resigned in scandal (Gerald Ford was not elected vice-president).

4. A third one led to the phrase "hanging chads" becoming a thing and was arguably ultimately decided in the courts (George W. Bush's win over Al Gore in 2000).

Thus, we are left with McCain's loss to Obama in 2008.

And even then, this wasn't exactly a "normal" election given the economic collapse of 2008 and the historic nature of Obama's candidacy.

The whole argument really gets weak when you look at the whole record and then the details. Let's hear less of it moving forward, please.


Sargent: Help for Americans Facing Change a Key Point of Clinton Strategy




Hillary Clinton has been getting rave reviews for her campaign launch video. Among the more interesting takes on Clinton's launch, Greg Sargent offers this perceptive analysis:

Hillary Clinton's video announcement of her presidential run features Americans who are entering transitional periods in their lives -- an expecting mother, a pair of immigrant brothers starting a business, a man changing to a new skilled blue-collar job, a woman running for president (Clinton herself). They discuss the future with a mix of trepidation and self-conscious hopefulness. This includes Clinton; by discussing her own story in similarly personal terms, she seeks to humanize her ambitions and tie them to the ordinary hopes for the future expressed by the "everyday Americans" that precede her in the video.

Clinton's message is strengthened by her tone in the video, argues Sargent. She doesn't fall for the oft-parroted strategy of distancing herself from President Obama, which wouldn't work, especially in her case. Instead, with a focus on the future, she steps forward "to praise the economic progress he has made, and promise a "new chapter" designed to build on it, one focused on giving those "everyday Americans" a better shot at getting ahead."

It's a bet, says Sargent, that "swing voters and independents don't see the Obama years as quite the smoking apocalyptic hellscape Republicans continue to describe." Further, "swing voters don't want to hear this argument anymore; that they agree Obama's policies have not turned the economy around fast enough, but think this was understandable given the circumstances and don't see those policies as an utter, abject failure." Sargent adds,

My guess is the Clinton team believes Republicans, flush from their epic 2014 victory, will again over-read public disapproval of Obama and will mistakenly premise their strategy too heavily on the notion that the public agrees the Obama presidency was a disaster. And as Jonathan Chait notes, there is a decent chance the economy will continue to expand; that the desire for change will not prove as potent as Republicans expect; and that national demographics will continue to favor Democrats.

The Republicans will undoubtedly respond with a tsunami of propaganda designed to paint the Obama years as a one-sided disaster for America. But the Clinton campaign understands that there is a reason President Obama was re-elected in the wake of a similar GOP effort in 2012.

Clinton's video display of an array of Americans in credible, real-life transitions is a brilliant stroke, because many, if not most most Americans see themselves as on some kind of a cusp. Pessimistic though they may be about the economy, there is always the hope that we can do better with hard work and a break or two.

"Everyday Americans need a champion. And I want to be that champion," says Clinton in the video. She wants to be the champion who provides that pivotal break. Her launch video plays that card exceptionally-well. Hard to see how such a message won't resonate positively, even when posited against cynical Republican counter-messaging.

While the video is very general in terms of specific policies, Sargent believes Clinton's policy agenda, as revealed in the months ahead, will help drive home the message of hope:

...Clinton's agenda will look a lot like the "inclusive prosperity" blueprint from the Center for American Progress: Paid sick leave, child care, universal pre-K, and other family-friendly policies to remove barriers to work for women; investments to upgrade the nation's infrastructure and stimulate demand; more spending on education and job training to keep pace with the challenges wrought by globalization and technological change; a minimum wage hike and policies designed to increase workers' bargaining power and profit-sharing to boost stagnating wages...

Granted, it's an optimistic scenario. But the Republicans have an even tougher sell -- more tax breaks for the rich as the lynchpin of their economic strategy, pitched by a host of sour messengers, not one of whom can point to an impressive track record on behalf of middle-class families.


April 14, 2015

Creamer: Why Corker-Menedez Bill Should be Defeated



The following article by Democratic strategist Robert Creamer, author of "Stand Up Straight: nHow Progressives Can Win," is cross-posted from HuffPo:

This week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee takes up a bill sponsored by Senators Corker and Menendez that would give the GOP-controlled Congress veto power over recently-concluded Framework Agreement that would prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The bill sounds reasonable enough. Its backers say it is only intended to give Congress the ability to sign off on the final agreement.

In fact, it represents a last-ditch effort by the same Neo-Con crowd that brought us the disastrous Iraq War to delay and then kill the deal.

The reason is simple -- and some Neo-Cons like former Bush U.N. Ambassador John Bolton don't try to hide it. They want the U.S. to take military action against Iran. They want another war in the Middle East.

Experts in arms control throughout the World have hailed the deal -- which was negotiated between the United States, the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Germany and Iran -- as a major breakthrough.

Most military experts familiar with the details of the framework -- including the former head of the Israeli Intelligence Service Mossad -- believe that the agreement is the best alternative for preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The agreement requires extensive and intrusive monitoring of Iran's nuclear program--including daily access by international inspectors--to make sure that Iran is living up to its commitments.

Experts say that without an agreement, Iran could produce enough highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon within two or three months if they chose to do so. This agreement increases that time to at least twelve months. If Iran made any attempt to break the agreement, it would give the United States and its allies time to take action.

And it is clear as day that if the diplomatic process fails, the U.S. will be left with two terrible options: a nuclear Iran or another Middle East War.

Most military experts agree that simply bombing Iran's nuclear facilities would only set back Iran's nuclear program, not eliminate it. So the military option would almost certainly require American involvement in another full-blown Middle Eastern war.

If the United States Congress manages to kill the nuclear deal, international support for the sanctions that have brought Iran to the negotiating table will collapse, and the hardliners in Iran who want a nuclear bomb will be strengthened politically and emboldened to race for a bomb.

The Framework Agreement announced in Switzerland turns out to be much more detailed -- and much more iron-clad -- than the Neo-Cons' dire warnings had predicted. So now they have opted to take a more subtle approach.

"Oh", they say, "all we want to is to give Congress the right to have a say."

Of course, this line of argument completely ignores the Constitution, which clearly gives the President the right and responsibility to negotiate international agreements and conduct foreign policy.

The nuclear agreement with Iran is not, after all, a legally binding international treaty that must be approved by the Senate. As many Republicans are quick to point out, it could be abrogated by a Republican President if the voters choose to elect one in 2016.

Why in the world would anyone want to give the completely dysfunctional GOP-led Congress the ability to veto this critical agreement?

Why would any Democrat in his or her right mind want to hand that power to the likes of Senator Ted Cruz or to "bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" McCain, or to the Tea Party "nuclear experts" who dominate the House Republican caucus.

Continue reading "Creamer: Why Corker-Menedez Bill Should be Defeated" »


April 13, 2015

Chait: Democratic Majority Still Emerging, Despite Midterms



In his New York Magazine post, "Why Hillary Clinton Is Probably Going to Win the 2016 Election," Jonathan Chait shares a six-pack of reasons for the argument encapsulated in his title. He leads with his strongest point:

1. The Emerging Democratic Majority is real. The major disagreement over whether there is an "Emerging Democratic Majority" -- the thesis that argues that Democrats have built a presidential majority that could only be defeated under unfavorable conditions -- centers on an interpretive disagreement over the 2014 elections. Proponents of this theory dismiss the midterm elections as a problem of districting and turnout; Democrats have trouble rousing their disproportionately young, poor supporters to the polls in a non-presidential year, and the tilted House and Senate map further compounded the GOP advantage.

Skeptics of the theory instead believe that the 2014 midterms were, as Judis put it, "not an isolated event but rather the latest manifestation of a resurgent Republican coalition." Voters, they argue, are moving toward the Republican Party, and may continue to do so even during the next presidential election.

It has been difficult to mediate between the two theories, since the outcome at the polls supports the theory of both the proponents and the skeptics of the Emerging Democratic Majority theory equally well.

A Pew survey released this week gives us the best answer. Pew is the gold standard of political polling, using massive surveys, with high numbers of respondents and very low margins of error. Pew's survey shows pretty clearly that there was not a major change in public opinion from the time of Obama's reelection through the 2014 midterms:

10-part-affiliation-graph.nocrop.w529.h373.png

Of course, Pew is not surveying actual voters. It's surveying all adults. But that is the point. What changed between 2012 and 2014 was not public opinion, but who showed up to vote.

Chait goes on to acknowledge that "The Emerging Democratic Majority thesis places a lot of weight on cohort replacement." But he also notes that "every new election cycle incrementally tilts the electoral playing field toward the Democrats," despite the oft-cited Harvard Institute Poll of millennial voters (which had flunked its prediction that millennial voters would favor the GOP in 2014). Further, younger millennial voters are still tilting pro-Democratic in the Pew poll.

Chait's other points are well-rooted in reality as well. And it's not like the Republicans have yet left the fever swamps to adopt a more temperate approach to win moderates. Indeed, as Chait puts it:

The argument for Clinton in 2016 is that she is the candidate of the only major American political party not run by lunatics. There is only one choice for voters who want a president who accepts climate science and rejects voodoo economics, and whose domestic platform would not engineer the largest upward redistribution of resources in American history. Even if the relatively sober Jeb Bush wins the nomination, he will have to accommodate himself to his party's barking-mad consensus. She is non-crazy America's choice by default.

It's good to have political demographics on your side, and Chait is surely right that sanity is a big plus as well.


Political Strategy Notes



As Hillary Clinton launches her campaign, Alex Seitz-Wald's MSNBC.com post "Clinton team courts progressive economists" should encourage the Democratic Party's left flank. "Clinton's team has been making a concerted effort to reach out to progressives economists and activists, and last week joined a meeting on inequality organized by economist Joseph Stiglitz and the Roosevelt Institute, a progressive think tank, msnbc has learned...Stiglitz is influential among progressives, who view him as one of the Democratic Party's counterweights to the influence of former Bill Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin."

Jonathan Chait explains why "Why Hillary Clinton Is Probably Going to Win the 2016 Election" at New York Magazine. Chait explores a half-dozen major reasons for Clinton's edge, but his best line may be "The argument for Clinton in 2016 is that she is the candidate of the only major American political party not run by lunatics."

At Politico Annie Karnie offers a clue about Clinton's central message: The memo also reminded staffers of one of the campaign's animating themes: that the election "is not about Hillary Clinton and not about us -- it's about the everyday Americans who are trying to build a better life for themselves and their families." If they can keep that theme front and center all the way to November 2016, Clinton will wage a formidable campaign.

Maddowblog's Steve Benen provides a sound prospective on the fairness of analyzing Rand Paul's issue positions in light of his father's influence: "it's generally unfair to hold candidates responsible for the views of their family members...But with Rand and Ron it's not quite so simple. Much of Rand Paul's political life was spent urging people to put his father in the White House, making public appearances to espouse his father's bizarre ideas, and often speaking on his father's behalf as a surrogate...In this sense, Ron Paul isn't just Rand Paul's father; he's his son's political mentor. Their familial relationship isn't even what's important in this dynamic - any political figure who worked with a fringe presidential candidate who espoused ridiculous views should expect some scrutiny." Nothing wrong with asking Paul if he agrees with his father's controversial policy positions, but it could backfire if done too much.

Peter Beinart warns at The Atlantic that liberal Democrats must find their anti-war bearings to get in line with voters who want arms negotiations with Iran. "Democrats, the polls show, back the agreement by margins of three or five to one. Yet key Senate Democrats are skeptical of the deal, and few have endorsed it enthusiastically."

As the presidential jockeying picks up steam NYT columnist Paul Krugman urges his readers not to get too distracted by personality politics, because it's more about the difference between the two major political parties than anything else. Krugman illuminates the profound differences in major policies between the parties and concludes "...The differences between the parties are so clear and dramatic that it's hard to see how anyone who has been paying attention could be undecided even now, or be induced to change his or her mind between now and the election."

Stephen Collinson and Alexandra Jaffe of CNN highlight a glaring weakness in the GOP presidential field: "Republicans are reaching for a trusted trump card in their quest to take back the White House -- blasting Democrats as feckless on foreign policy...But the GOP's strategy carries significant risks, not least because its candidates, though bristling with hawkish rhetoric, are notably short of hands-on foreign policy experience."

At The L.A. Times Mark Z. Barabak explains why Dems can't take "the interior west" for granted, and better shore up their strategy in the region.

And Scott Keyes warns at Think Progress that "Republican Lawmakers Hope To Turn Nevada Into A Playground For Voter Suppression."


April 10, 2015

No Way to Eliminate Risk of Late Candidate Collapse



Now that Hillary Clinton is set to announce her presidential candidacy on Sunday, perhaps we will get some clarity on the hopes and fears she arouses. I wrote about the latter today at Washington Monthly:

Amidst the growing din over Hillary Clinton's announcement of candidacy Sunday, there's one voice I'd recommend listening to if only because I do think he's isolated the main source of angst about HRC among Democrats. Here's Brian Beutler at TNR today:
[T]here's still a good argument that the Democratic Party could use a contested primary this cycle: not to toughen up Clinton's calluses, but to build some redundancy into the presidential campaign. It may even be the case that some of these Democrats with rattled nerves are less anxious about Clinton's prowess against Republicans than about the fact that all of the party's hopes now rest on her shoulders. Her campaign has become a single point of failure for Democratic politics. If she wins in 2016, she won't ride into office with big congressional supermajorities poised to pass progressive legislation. But if she loses, it will be absolutely devastating for liberalism.

If you're faithful to the odds, then most of this anxiety is misplaced. Clinton may have slipped in the polls by virtue of an email scandal and her return to the partisan trenches more generally. But she's still more popular and better known than all of the Republicans she might face in the general, her name evokes economic prosperity, rather than global financial calamity, the economy is growing right now, and Democrats enjoy structural advantages in presidential elections, generally.

But all candidates are fallible, and most of them are human, which means every campaign labors under the small risk of unexpected collapse. The one real advantage of a strong primary field is that it creates a hedge against just such a crisis. Right now either Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker or Jeb Bush is favored to win the Republican primary, but if both of them succumb to scandal or health scares, the GOP can shrug it off knowing that other seasoned Republicans have infrastructure in place, and are poised to swoop in if necessary.

If nobody serious challenges Hillary Clinton, nobody can be her understudy. In the near term that isn't a problem, but if doubts about her inevitability develop late in the year or early next, the placid silence in the Democratic field will grow eerie.

What I like about Brian's argument is that it's not really about Hillary Clinton, but about any "putative nominee" for a party facing so crucial a presidential election--one in which, as Beutler points out, a Republican win could very well create one-party government in Washington. Even if you think--as I do--that the risk of an HRC implosion is a lot lower than it would be with anyone else you can think of, it's still a risk.

But I'm not so sure there's any realistic way to create what Brian calls an "understudy...."

This is one area where it should be obvious a parliamentary system would be vastly superior--where "understudies" could be deliberately chosen, groomed and promoted by an all-powerful party. Since we don't have that, Democrats should probably reassure themselves that if HRC looks really vulnerable really early, there would be time for them to get behind a rival, and not necessarily one currently planning to run. So the risk Beutler is talking about, of a late disaster, is analogous to the fear a driver over icy roads harbors when thinking ahead to that last big curve.

I guess another way to look at it is that there are pros and cons to mostly uncontested and heavily contested nomination contests. We certainly saw the latter in 2012, when the GOP nomination contest drove the eventual nominee to the Right, especially on immigration policy. With a larger and even more complex field this time around, Republicans could have themselves a real demolition derby, one that will not necessarily produce the best nominee in the best condition. And even then, their nominee could experience a late collapse. There's just no way to eliminate risk in a high-stakes presidential contest.


Pew Research Center Takes "A Deep Dive Into Party Affiliation"



The Pew Research Center has come out with "A Deep Dive Into Party Affiliation: Sharp Differences by Race, Gender, Generation, Education," a massive survey (25,000 interviews in 2014) which should be of interest to anyone following politics.

There's a lot to chew on here. The time-challenged may have more fun cutting to the chase, "2014 Party Identification Detailed Tables," where we have interesting data for all kinds of demographic sub-groups. Here you can rank the most pro-Democratic demographic sub-groups.

Here's a top-30 ranking list for "Dem/Lean Dem %" demographic sub-groups, culled from the tables:

Black Protestant...82
Black, Non Hispanic...80
Atheist...72
Agnostic...69
Asian, non-Hispanic (English-speaking only)...65
Post-Graduate Women...64
Total unaffiliated (religious) Silent (69-86)...64
Total unaffiliated (religious) Millennial (18-33)...62
Jewish...61
Hispanic Catholic Xer (34-49)...61
Total unaffiliated (religious) Boomer (50-68)...60
Total unaffiliated (religious) Xer (34-49)...60
Hispanic Catholic Boomer (50-68)...59
Hispanic Catholic...58
Post-graduate degree...57
College grad Women...57
Nothing in Particular (religious)...57
Urban...57
Never married...56
Living with Partner...55
Middle Atlantic (DE DC MD NJ NY PA)...55
Divorced/Separated...54
Unmarried...54
<$30,000 Family Income...54
Millenial (18-33) Women...54
GenXer (34-49) Women...53
College Women...53
Hispanic Catholic Millennial (18-33)...53
Northeast...53
Pacific (AK CA HI OR WA)...53

Such a list, properly weighted for size of the various constituencies (Pew's chart provides the figures), could be useful in voter turnout targeting, after making allowances for overlapping groups.

No big shockers in the list, though I was mildly surprised by the pro-Democratic leanings of the religiously unaffiliated silent generation (age 69-86), who were the 7th most pro-Democratic constituency. For those who were wondering whatever happened to the Hippies, the chart also offers a clue in the stats for the "older boomers" (ages 59-68), who were Dem/Lean Dem at 49 percent, while only 41 percent for "Rep/Lean Rep." This cohort was the 2nd most pro-Democratic group of seniors. But it looks like many of them became moderate to conservative as well.

As for the demographic sub-group least likely to self-i.d. as Dem/Lean Dem, that would be White Non-Hispanic Evangelical Protestant Millennials (18-33) at 19 percent. The mirror image low score for Rep/Leans Rep goes to Black/Non Hispanic at 11 percent.






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



April 16: Fundamentals Looking Better for Democrats

It's pretty well-established that one of the "fundamentals" that damaged Democrats in 2014 was a big lag between improving economic indicators and public perceptions of how the economy was performing.

Well, now the perceptions are catching up, and I discussed the implications today at Washington Monthly:

This new finding from Bloomberg Politics' polling (as reported by Margaret Talev) is a pretty big deal, assuming it holds up as a trend:
Americans are becoming more optimistic about the country's economic prospects by several different measures. President Barack Obama's handling of the economy is being seen more positively than negatively for the first time in more than five years, 49 percent to 46 percent—his best number in this poll since September 2009.

Here's the under-side of that optimism, though:

[T]he national survey of 1,008 adults, conducted April 6-8, also reveals that about three-fourths of Democrats and independents, along with a majority of Republicans, say the gap is growing between the rich and everyone else—and a majority of women want the government to intervene to shrink it. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

So it may well be that Hillary Clinton's talk about inequality isn't just a response to progressives unhappy with Obama's "centrism," but a theme we'll be hearing more of both from her and from Obama himself as the obvious thing for a left-of-center pol to talk about when the overall direction of the economy is looking better. It also probably means that we'll hear Republicans continue their awkward efforts to suggest shrinking government will unleash upward mobility. All in all, optimism about what a Democratic president is doing plus concerns traditionally associated with Democrats is a pretty good public opinion backdrop for a Democratic non-incumbent.

To put it another way, improving perceptions of the economy amid growing worries about inequality not only strengthens the case for another Democratic presidency but undermines the GOP's case that it's "time for a change."


April 15: Two-Term "Curse" For Democrats in '16 Not At All Clear

Something you hear regularly going into this cycle is that Democrats could suffer from "fatigue" or even a "curse" in association with the fact that they have held the White House for two consecutive terms. This makes me a little crazy, because (a) this is a very small data set from which to draw any predictive conclusions, and (b) the data we do have are often examined uncritically. So with some help from academic circles, I examined this myth at Washington Monthly:

To the extent that we are going to keep hearing that Democrats are handicapped in 2016 by "fatigue" with being the party controlling the White House since 2008, it's helpful to have a truly comprehensive look at the precedents, as supplied the other day by Washington University's John Patty at Mischiefs of Faction:

Is it really "hard" for a party to hang on to the White House for 12 years? The obvious answer is, "yes," it is generally unlikely to that one party will control the White House for 3 terms. But, let's do some math, with admittedly limited evidence.

If we accept that George Washington and John Adams were of the same "party," then the presidency was held by the same party for the first 12 years (3 terms) of the Republic. Then, Jefferson, Monroe, and John Quincy Adams were co-partisans (of the "other" party relative to Washington and Adams) holding the presidency for 20 years (5 terms). Jackson and Van Buren controlled the presidency for the same party for 12 more years (3 terms).

This ends in 1840, when stuff started to get kind of crazy---at first slowly and then incredibly quickly---as the issue of slavery emerged and stretched the nation to civil war. For 20 years (5 terms), no party held the presidency for more than two terms in a row (and, to be honest, the notion of "party" was remarkably fluid during that time).

Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, and began (for lots of varied reasons) a period of 24 years (6 terms) of one-party control of the presidency. Starting in 1884, we have 12 years of partisan switching, bookended by Grover Cleveland's (uniquely) non-successive terms in office. We then have 16 years of Republican control of the office under McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, and Taft.

Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, served two terms, but surrendered the office back to the Republicans in 1920. The Republicans sent Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover to the White House for one term each, a period of 12 years. They were followed by Franklin Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman for 20 years (4 terms).

Let's pause for a second. Up through the Second World War, there were 2 elections in which one party had controlled the presidency for 8 consecutive years and was defeated. On the other hand, there were 5 elections in which one party had controlled the presidency for (exactly) 8 consecutive years and retained control. That's over 70% success in holding on for 12 years plus. So, to be clear, from a very naive standpoint, early history suggests that there might be some "partisan momentum."

Keep that in mind because most "proofs" of what Patty calls the "eight year itch" hypothesis begin, conveniently, in 1948. But even after that the "itch" argument is, well, scratchy:

Moving to the modern (i.e., post WWII) period, there have been 6 elections in which one party has controlled the White House for exactly 8 years. The other party has won 5 of those.

But the five of six are not exactly clear precedents:

1. The 1960 election was very close and arguably riddled (in important ways) with fraud.
Not to mention the fact that 1960 was preceded by two recessions, and that Kennedy (a) benefited from a large net positive in religious voting; and (b) managed, miraculously, to become the preferred candidate of both African-Americans and segregationists.

2. One of these elections was preceded by an eligible incumbent president declining to run (Lyndon Johnson in 1968).

I'd say the assassinations of MLK and RFK and a rapidly escalating war in Vietnam were also unusual factors.

3. Another was fought by an incumbent who was unelected and succeeded an incumbent who resigned in scandal (Gerald Ford was not elected vice-president).

4. A third one led to the phrase "hanging chads" becoming a thing and was arguably ultimately decided in the courts (George W. Bush's win over Al Gore in 2000).

Thus, we are left with McCain's loss to Obama in 2008.

And even then, this wasn't exactly a "normal" election given the economic collapse of 2008 and the historic nature of Obama's candidacy.

The whole argument really gets weak when you look at the whole record and then the details. Let's hear less of it moving forward, please.


April 10: No Way to Eliminate Risk of Late Candidate Collapse

Now that Hillary Clinton is set to announce her presidential candidacy on Sunday, perhaps we will get some clarity on the hopes and fears she arouses. I wrote about the latter today at Washington Monthly:

Amidst the growing din over Hillary Clinton's announcement of candidacy Sunday, there's one voice I'd recommend listening to if only because I do think he's isolated the main source of angst about HRC among Democrats. Here's Brian Beutler at TNR today:
[T]here's still a good argument that the Democratic Party could use a contested primary this cycle: not to toughen up Clinton's calluses, but to build some redundancy into the presidential campaign. It may even be the case that some of these Democrats with rattled nerves are less anxious about Clinton's prowess against Republicans than about the fact that all of the party's hopes now rest on her shoulders. Her campaign has become a single point of failure for Democratic politics. If she wins in 2016, she won't ride into office with big congressional supermajorities poised to pass progressive legislation. But if she loses, it will be absolutely devastating for liberalism.

If you're faithful to the odds, then most of this anxiety is misplaced. Clinton may have slipped in the polls by virtue of an email scandal and her return to the partisan trenches more generally. But she's still more popular and better known than all of the Republicans she might face in the general, her name evokes economic prosperity, rather than global financial calamity, the economy is growing right now, and Democrats enjoy structural advantages in presidential elections, generally.

But all candidates are fallible, and most of them are human, which means every campaign labors under the small risk of unexpected collapse. The one real advantage of a strong primary field is that it creates a hedge against just such a crisis. Right now either Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker or Jeb Bush is favored to win the Republican primary, but if both of them succumb to scandal or health scares, the GOP can shrug it off knowing that other seasoned Republicans have infrastructure in place, and are poised to swoop in if necessary.

If nobody serious challenges Hillary Clinton, nobody can be her understudy. In the near term that isn't a problem, but if doubts about her inevitability develop late in the year or early next, the placid silence in the Democratic field will grow eerie.

What I like about Brian's argument is that it's not really about Hillary Clinton, but about any "putative nominee" for a party facing so crucial a presidential election--one in which, as Beutler points out, a Republican win could very well create one-party government in Washington. Even if you think--as I do--that the risk of an HRC implosion is a lot lower than it would be with anyone else you can think of, it's still a risk.

But I'm not so sure there's any realistic way to create what Brian calls an "understudy...."

This is one area where it should be obvious a parliamentary system would be vastly superior--where "understudies" could be deliberately chosen, groomed and promoted by an all-powerful party. Since we don't have that, Democrats should probably reassure themselves that if HRC looks really vulnerable really early, there would be time for them to get behind a rival, and not necessarily one currently planning to run. So the risk Beutler is talking about, of a late disaster, is analogous to the fear a driver over icy roads harbors when thinking ahead to that last big curve.

I guess another way to look at it is that there are pros and cons to mostly uncontested and heavily contested nomination contests. We certainly saw the latter in 2012, when the GOP nomination contest drove the eventual nominee to the Right, especially on immigration policy. With a larger and even more complex field this time around, Republicans could have themselves a real demolition derby, one that will not necessarily produce the best nominee in the best condition. And even then, their nominee could experience a late collapse. There's just no way to eliminate risk in a high-stakes presidential contest.


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