washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: April 2011

Meanwhile, Up North, A Surge For the Left

In case you’ve missed it (and their campaigns are so blessedly short it’s likely you did), the Canadians are holding a national election on Monday, and there’s a rare degree of intrigue as to what might happen. Until very recently, it appeared that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, who have been operating a minority government (one without an actual majority in the House of Common–not that unusual a situation in Canada) since 2006, would finally gain a narrow majority of parliamentary seats. In Canada’s multi-party, first-past-the-post system, that would normally require about 40% of the popular vote. But now, another minority Tory government seems more likely, with the outside possibility of Harper losing power to a coalition of all the other parties.
The really interesting dynamic involves Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP), a social democratic party with close ties to the labor movement, which in some recent polls has surged into second place, past the center-left Liberals, long considered the country’s “natural” governing party. NDP chieftain Jack Layton (who is suffering from prostate cancer) seems to be the most popular of the party leaders, and the winner of both English- and French-language leader debates. NDP has been gaining strength in several parts of Canada, most notably in Quebec (usually dominated by the Liberals and the quasi-separatist Bloc Quebecois). If NDP’s surge holds up, Layton could become the official Leader of the Opposition, and under an unlikely but tantalizing scenario, Prime Minister in a coalition government involving NDP, the Liberals and the Bloc (the Green Party pulls a substantial vote in Canada–9% in 2008–but hold no seats in Parliament).
The issues in this election wouldn’t seem unfamiliar to Americans, but the context is quite different. The Canadian economy is in better shape than that of the U.S. (unemployment is 7.7%, not that bad by historical standards), and the fiscal situation much better: all the major parties promise a balanced federal budget within the next few years. The most remarkable difference is that no one serious would propose any sort of privatization of Canada’s single-payer health care system. Some have feared a majority Tory government might try to undermine legalized same-sex marriage, but Harper declared the matter “closed” after a solid vote confirming the policy in the House of Commons in 2006.
Early voting for this election has been up sharply, and the variety of possible outcomes should make for an interesting election day on Monday.

TDS Co-Editor William Galston: Gang Politics

This item by TDS Co-Editor William Galston is cross-posted from The New Republic.
Three recent items–two surveys and a news article–illuminate the current state of our country’s fiscal debate. Taken together, their message is straightforward: The American people want the problem addressed now, they’re dissatisfied with the solutions proposed thus far, and everything depends on the Senate’s “Gang of Six.”
According to a Pew Research poll released April 26, 81 percent of the American people believe that “the federal budget deficit is a major problem that the country must address now.” Not only is this figure up 11 points in the past four months, but also it reflects a rare consensus across lines of ideology and partisanship. 89 percent of Republicans respond in the affirmative; so do 81 percent of Democrats and 79 percent of Independents. This is as close to unanimity on a major issue as our country ever gets.
While the people have issued clear marching orders to their elected representatives, they have little confidence that their voices will be heard or heeded. The same poll notes that only 31 percent believe that we’ll make significant progress toward deficit reduction in the next five years, down from 37 percent in December. The 50-point gap between the supermajority that wants the problem to be addressed seriously and the minority that thinks this will happen is a pretty good measure of the low level of confidence Americans now repose in their governing institution. If we get to the general election with unemployment still much too high and progress toward deficit reduction stalled, the public mood will be sour and explosive.
Why are people so dissatisfied with what the political system is offering up? A Gallup survey out April 27 shows that 43 percent prefer the Republican/Ryan plan for long-term deficit reduction to the Democratic alternative, while 44 percent prefer the Democratic/Obama plan to the Republican alternative. But they don’t much like either one. Asked about the Obama plan, 71 percent say that it doesn’t go far enough to fix the problem, and 62 percent fear that Democrats will use the deficit as an excuse to raise taxes. Asked about the Ryan plan, 66 percent are worried that it cuts Medicare too much, 64 percent that it would “take away needed protections for the poor and disadvantaged” and “protect the rich at the expense of everyone else.”
In the midst of such public dissatisfaction, the Senate’s “Gang of Six” has become the locus of all hopes for a compromise. The same day that the Gallup poll was made public, a Bloomberg article offered some insight into the Gang’s negotiations: Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said that the group is considering a plan to cut $3 in federal spending for every $1 of revenue it raises. He suggested that it would involve spending cuts in every major budget category along with changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. And he expressed a sense of urgency: If the Gang cannot create a bipartisan plan around which responsible members of both parties can coalesce, however reluctantly, over the next two months, we may well be heading for a damaging train wreck over the debt ceiling.
In this murky situation, a few things are clear. First, the American people have grave doubts about what the parties have proposed. Second, neither party can get its way on its own. And third, the Senate plan under negotiation seems closer to center of gravity of public opinion than either House Republicans or the White House, and more responsive to the people’s reservations about the plans made public so far.
Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, another member of the Gang, said last Sunday that “The country can’t afford for us not to have an agreement.” He’s absolutely right. Not only would the collapse of the Gang’s efforts endanger our international fiscal standing this summer; it would virtually guarantee that no significant steps toward fiscal stability would occur until after the presidential election–at the earliest.
Amidst our hyper-polarized politics, it falls to the Senate to display reason and moderation. The senators may not welcome this responsibility, but they dare not shirk it. The Founders would not have been surprised.

Help Is Not On the Way

Even as the struggle over the federal budget intensifies, and the Obama administration tries to avoid catastrophic damage to the economy if a debt limit increase is not approved, it’s important to note that a combination of Federal Reserve policy and Republican control of the U.S. House has completely ended any hope of short-term action to speed the recovery or help the unemployed. Here’s Ezra Klein’s sad summary after watching Ben Bernanke’s press conference yesterday:

This, then, is what the economic policymaking world looks like today: Congress has long since given up on further stimulus, and is arguing over how big its spending cuts should be in 2012 (in one of his most interesting answers, Bernanke said the long-term deficit was a top priority, but large, short-term spending cuts by Congress would force compensatory action from the Fed to protect the economy). The Federal Reserve has given up on doing more, and in June, will pull back to doing slightly less. And the recovery remains shaky, with first quarter GDP growth expected to come in under two percent and few signs that some dam of pent-up demand for workers is about to burst forth. In short? Sucks to be you, unemployed Americans.

Hard to argue with that.

Obama has made strategic mistakes, but waiting until the Republicans revealed their extremist agenda before presenting his own more rational alternative was not one of them.

This item by James Vega was first published on April 20, 2011.
Writing in the April 15th issue of the New York Review of Books, Elizabeth Drew expressed a widely shared progressive criticism regarding Obama’s approach to the deficit and budget battles:

On Wednesday he (Obama) gave a good speech far too late. What if he hadn’t been so dilatory on a subject he inevitably would have to confront?
…if Obama had addressed the fiscal crisis at the outset of this year, rather than deliver a wan and cautious State of the Union address, he would have set the predicate for the current budget battle rather than leaving an opening for Paul Ryan’s radical (and somewhat nonsensical) proposal to fill the vacuum…Ordinarily, such a proposal would have been laughed out of town, but now it’s been transformed into respectability.

Many progressives have expressed similar “why did he wait so long” criticisms of Obama’s actions.
Underlying this attitude is a fundamental disagreement about political strategy – progressives generally want Obama to forcefully champion a clear, solidly liberal program and agenda at all times and in all circumstances. They support this approach on both moral and political grounds and as result do not approve of either compromise as an objective or flexibility as a negotiating tactic except in the most unusual circumstances.
The debate over this basic issue is a perennial staple of intra-Democratic discord and will not be settled any time in the foreseeable future. But it is important to note that the specific application of this view to the “why did he wait so long” discussion ignores a series of basic realities.
First, even on the surface it is hard to see how Obama could have laid out the broad vision he presented last week back in early 2010. At that time it would have directly conflicted with the desperate, all-out push that was going on to pass the health care bill and it would also have appeared to contradict the near-universal Democratic position at that time that any discussion of reducing deficits was premature while the economy was not yet showing even the most minimal signs of recovery – signs that have only begun to appear in the last few months.
More important, the notion that Obama could have “set the predicate” or “filled the vacuum” for the budget/deficit debate back in early 2010 with the proposal he outlined last week is based on a rather dated notion –that the president has a commanding “bully pulpit” at his disposal, a platform from which he can reliably drive the national agenda.
In the modern, fragmented media environment that has developed since the 1990’s this is simply no longer the case. The modern political media environment has three unique and critical communication channels, each of which shapes — and profoundly diminishes– the ability of a president to directly control a national debate. How a Presidential initiative is handled by each of these communication channels has to be evaluated on its own terms.

First, there is the conservative echo chamber – Fox News, talk radio, the conservative blogosphere and so on. This entire conservative media machine is directly connected to the message system of the Republican Party and is primarily designed for bitter, slashing and dishonest attack – the creation of straw men and simplistic caricatures. It is not equally well suited for the defense of conservative proposals or the adjudication of debates between conflicting views
Second, there is the “serious” mainstream political commentariat. In the 1950’s and 1960’s this group of newspaper and TV commentators had substantial influence on the national debate over issues and reflected a mildly liberal “establishment” sensibility. Since the Reagan era, however, liberal or progressive views have come to be viewed with vastly more suspicion than comparable conservative views by mainstream commentators. As a result, proposals that feature liberal or progressive ideas are invariably treated as “partisan politics” rather than “serious proposals.” On subjects that the mainstream media consider inherently conservative – taxes, deficits and budgeting being prime examples — conservative opinions are automatically treated as being more serious, responsible and “adult” than liberal ones. Underlying this notion is a definition of the word “adult” that essentially identifies it with “acceptable to the major business groups”. To most mainstream commentators today any proposal that provokes serious business opposition is, by that fact alone, proven inherently flawed.
Third, there is the superficial “headline” news of local stations and 24 hour cable channels that is designed as quick entertainment for casual viewers. This information source attempts to deliver a quick and breezy overview of major events mixed with a large number of human interest stories. It presents political debates in a rigidly balanced “He said, she said” format that essentially reduces the coverage to battling sound bites. On issues like taxes, budgets and deficits, the newscasters themselves almost invariably take refuge behind vacuous clichés delivered with cheerful smiles – “Well you know, Joe, nobody likes to pay taxes” – “Gee, George, government sure spends lots of money” or “Sooner or later, Ed, ya gotta pay your bills“.

Given this three-channel media environment, how would Obama’s recent speech have been received if he had delivered it in early 2010 instead?

Can Dems Retake the House?

This item by J.P. Green was first published on April 19, 2011.
Alan I. Abramowitz and Nate Silver agree that Dems have a good chance to win back a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives next year, which should be cause for some concern among smarter Republicans. Here’s Abramowitz, from his current column at Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

Democrats would only need to pick up 25 seats in 2012 to get to the magic number of 218 that would give them control of the House-assuming that all of their members supported the Democratic candidate for Speaker. That’s hardly an insurmountable number. In fact, two of the last three elections, 2006 and 2010, have produced bigger swings, and 2008 came close.
Despite the recent volatility of House elections, some astute political observers are giving the Democrats little or no chance of regaining control of the House in 2012. For example, last December, Republican pollster Glen Bolger went so far as to “guarantee” that the GOP would maintain its House majority even if President Obama were to win a second term. And just last month, respected political handicapper Charlie Cook agreed that a Democratic pickup of 25 or more seats in the House was highly unlikely.
Both Bolger and Cook cited the relatively short coattails that winning presidential incumbents have had in recent years as a major obstacle to big Democratic gains in the 2012 House elections. In the past 40 years, the largest number of House seats gained by the winning incumbent’s party was 16 in 1984, a year in which Ronald Reagan won reelection by a landslide. You have to go all the way back to 1964 to find an election in which the winning incumbent’s party gained at least 25 seats in the House.
Notwithstanding these predictions and the historical record, however, there are three reasons to believe that Democrats have a decent chance of taking back control of the House in 2012. First, as a result of their big gains in 2010, Republicans will be defending a large number of seats in House districts that voted for Barack Obama in 2008; second, many of those districts are likely to vote for Obama again in 2012 because of the difference between the presidential and midterm electorate in the current era; and third, Republican incumbents in these Obama districts will be at high risk of losing their seats if Obama wins because straight-ticket voting is much more prevalent now than it was 30 or 40 years ago.

Further, adds Abramowitz,

…There are 60 Republicans in districts that were carried by Barack Obama in 2008 including 15 in districts that Obama carried by at least 10 points. In contrast, there are only 12 Democrats in districts that were carried by John McCain in 2008 and only six in districts that McCain carried by at least 10 points.

As for the GOP’s supposed edge in redistricting, Abramowitz notes:

Of course before the 2012 congressional elections take place, House districts will be redrawn based on the results of the 2010 Census. In states where Republicans control redistricting-and the number of such states grew considerably as a result of the 2010 midterm elections-GOP legislatures may be able to redraw the lines to protect potentially vulnerable Republican incumbents. However, the ability of Republican legislatures to protect their party’s House incumbents may be limited by the dramatic increase in the past decade in the nonwhite share of the population in many states. For example, while Republicans will control redistricting in Texas, which is gaining four House seats, more than any other state, most of the population growth in Texas has been because of the rapid increase in the Hispanic population. At least one, if not two, of the new Texas House districts are likely to go to Hispanics.

Abramowitz also cites the increased turnout, over the mid terms, of Obama-friendly constituencies in a presidential election, particularly Latino voters, who are growing even faster than expected, according to the latest census data. But he believes the Dems strongest card may be the rising trend toward straight-ticket voting in recent years. Abramowitz stops short of predicting a Dem takeover of the House, but he calls it a “realistic” possibility, especially if Obama wins a “decisive victory” in ’12.
Nate Silver sees the budget fight and the vote on GOP Rep. Ryan’s draconian budget proposals as a potential net plus for Democratic congressional candidates. Silver explains in a recent five thirty eight post,

So far, no polls have been conducted on Mr. Ryan’s budget as a whole. But — although voters will like the deficit reduction it claims to achieve (several outside analysts have questioned the bill’s economic findings) — a couple of its individual elements figure to be quite unpopular. In particular, the bill includes substantial changes to Medicare and Medicaid — changes that many voters tell pollsters are unacceptable. And it would cut the top tax rates, when polls usually find that most Americans want taxes on upper-income Americans to be raised rather than lowered.

Silver also believes that the Republicans’ prospects for a senate takeover next year are overstated. Echoing Abramowitz’s point about the decline in split-ticket voting, he sees the vote on Ryan’s proposals as a potential game-changer for the House:

…One possible consequence of the vote is that it could tie the fate of Mr. Obama and the Democrats in Congress more closely together. In the past, presidents have rarely had substantial coattails when running for a second term; Bill Clinton’s Democrats won just 9 seats in the House in 1996, for instance, even though he beat Bob Dole overwhelmingly. In 2010, however, the share of the vote received by Democrats running for Congress was very strongly correlated with support for Mr. Obama, and today’s vote could deepen that connection, making it less likely that voters will return a divided government again.

When two of the sharpest political data analysts agree that the House may be up for grabs, the DNC and Dem contributors should take note and invest accordingly. Of course there is a difference between Dems having a decent chance to win back a House majority and the probability of it happening. For the moment, however, The President appears to be moving into solid position to leverage the trend toward straight-ticket voting for the benefit of the Party. With a favorable break or two on the economy, the possibility of a Dem takeover of the House could morph into a good bet.

TDS Co-Editor William Galston: Ask Not

This item by TDS Co-Editor William Galston is cross-posted from The New Republic.
No later than the first year of the next presidential term, we’ll have to find a way of coming together around a plan to restore long-term fiscal sustainability. There are three principal impediments to agreement: the president’s health reform law; Medicare and Medicaid; and taxes. I don’t mean to suggest that other issues–such as defense and Social Security–are trivial, but only that the gaps on these issues seem easier to bridge.
Of the three most difficult issues, one–the health reform law–will have to wait until 2013, because it will be a focal point of the 2012 presidential campaign. Obama will defend it staunchly, while the Republican nominee will demand its repeal. (If Mitt Romney is his party’s candidate, it will be interesting to see how he frames the argument.) If Obama wins, the law will go into effect and become part of the fiscal baseline; if he loses, it probably won’t.
I’ll focus today on one of the remaining issues–Medicare–reserving the others for future columns. I’m leading off with it because I have some skin in the game: This January, I had the sobering experience of signing up for Medicare. (Note to fellow boomers: make sure you’ve set aside a good bottle of wine to get you through the period of mourning that follows.)
As I filled out my form, I began thinking about my situation. My wife and I are both professionals. While neither of us is paid lavishly, our combined income is enough to place us in the upper-middle class. For us, Medicare’s major advantage is guaranteed issue regardless of preexisting conditions. (And you don’t reach my age without accruing some.) If we had to pay the full actuarial cost of our insurance, we could. Yes, we’d probably have to make some adjustments elsewhere in our budget. But we’d still be more comfortable than most working Americans, even after we retire.
There’s an obvious rejoinder: Haven’t my wife and I already paid into the system for the benefits we’ll receive over the next two or three decades? Answer: Yes, but not enough. A few months ago, Eugene Steuerle and Stephanie Renanne of the Urban Institute put out a very useful summary, “Social Security and Medicare Taxes and Benefits Over a Lifetime,” calculated for different retirement cohorts. While I’m no methodologist, their assumptions seem straightforward and plausible. Applying them to our own case suggests that the value of my contributions falls short of the actuarial value of our benefits by at least $100,000. And if my wife and I were younger professionals scheduled to retire in 2030, the gap would be far greater.
So who’s going to make up the difference? Answer: today’s workers, many of whom are already struggling to raise their children, pay the mortgage, and save for college. Worse, workers as a share of the total population are declining. A recent analysis of BLS data showed that share declining in 2010 to only 45.3 percent, the lowest since 1983. Yes, part of that decline represents the effects of the Great Recession. But longer-term trends are also evident: our population is aging, the share of women working outside the home has plateaued, and men have been dropping out of the labor force for more than a quarter of a century. A generation ago, more than 80 percent of working-age men were employed. Today, that figure stands at 66.8 percent.
One of the large demographic developments of the past generation is the emergence of a mass upper-middle class, a new meritocracy of credentialed professionals whose family incomes reflect the compounding effects of assortive mating. While we are not rich, our lives differ quantitatively and qualitatively from those of today’s hard-pressed middle class. Our lives are rich with choices; theirs are driven mostly by necessity. It’s just not right for us to make their lives even harder. Nor is it sustainable. Over the next decade, our country can’t afford the tax cuts the Republicans insist on giving us. Nor can it afford to subsidize our retirement–certainly not to the extent of current law.
My fellow boomer-professionals, fiscal responsibility begins at home. Didn’t the young president who inspired so many of us fifty years ago have something to say about this? Are we still capable of responding?

TDS Co-Editor Ruy Teixeira: Poll Shows ‘Massive Opposition’ to Medicare Cuts, Vouchers

If you thought that, surely by now Republicans would have a clue that screwing around with Medicare is an unpopular idea, you would be wrong. The House Republican budget bill cuts funding for Medicare and substitutes a fixed amount voucher that seniors would have to use to buy private health insurance. “To say this approach is unpopular is to considerably understate the case,” explains TDS Co-Editor Ruy Teixeira in his latest ‘Public Opinion Snapshot‘:

First, take cutting Medicare. In a just-released Washington Post/ABC poll 78 percent opposed cutting spending on Medicare “to reduce the national debt,” including 65 percent who were strongly opposed. This compares to just 21 percent who favored cutting the program.

The voucher idea long-favored by conservatives’ fared even worse in the poll, notes Teixeira:

As for turning Medicare into a fixed amount voucher to be used to purchase private health insurance, 65 percent in the same poll prefer that the system remain the way it is. And that number rises to 84 percent when a follow-up query is posed stipulating that the value of the voucher would rise more slowly than the price of private health insurance (as the Congressional Budget Office projects will be the case).

As Teixeira concludes, “This can fairly be characterized as massive opposition.”

Trumping the Birthers

This being a serious political strategy e-rag, we try hard to avoid name-calling, since it never elevates dialogue about relevant issues. So, resisting that very difficult (in this case) temptation, I’ll try a little reverse psychology: Please Republicans don’t nominate that Donald Trump. We Dems are so scared of running against him. Trembling in our Birkenstocks, we are. As he said himself, “I’m the last person Obama wants to run against.”
OK, maybe you don’t buy that. How about a straight-up sincere appeal: Please Republicans, nominate Trump. We beg you. You know in your souls that his narcissistic personality captures the spirit of current GOP policies better than anyone. Go for the gusto! Let form follow function. We’ll even give you an edge, by telling you what video ad we will run against him. That’s right, you guessed it: His own “bragging birther” video clip, which is a tad nauseating to embed here, but you can see it at YouTube.
Yeah, we know. There’s no real chance he’s going to win the GOP nomination. It’s not only that he lacks the humility gene. His lightweight “policies” are all over the place and his narrative is too weird. On America’s worst day, I doubt there are enough ‘low information’ voters to affirm such sheer idiocy.
Speaking of humility, is there any chance fed and state Republican pols who wasted all those taxpayer dollars and time writing and huckstering ‘birther’ bills will now apologize to taxpayers?…Didn’t think so. But every one of them should be asked to do so, or explain why they won’t, on camera.

Polling Private Ryan

A lot of conservatives are jubilant about a Gallup Poll finding that Americans are evenly split on whether they support the “the Republican plan put forth by Congressman Paul Ryan” or “the Democratic plan put forth by President Obama” when it comes to a long-term deficit reduction measure. And some are particularly happy that a plurality of respondents aged 50 and over prefer Ryan to Obama. Hey, maybe seniors and near-seniors understand they’ll be “grandfathered” by Ryan’s Medicare proposals and don’t give a damn about anyone else! How exciting!
Or maybe not. As Jon Walker of Firedoglake tartly notes, the Gallup poll provides no description whatsoever of the “Ryan” or “Obama” plans, but does helpfully provide a party identification (useful to the vast numbers of non-Beltway-focused Americans who probably can’t tell Paul Ryan from Private Ryan at this point). The age breakouts in this poll nicely reflect the inverse relationship that has existed since before the 2008 elections between age and support for the president and the Democratic Party.
Perhaps the grandfathering in Ryan’s plan will reassure some seniors, but it’s worth remembering that it didn’t work for George W. Bush in 2005 when he proposed a Social Security privatization scheme with precisely the same buy-off-the-old-folks feature. For now, all we really know is that the Medicare cuts in Ryan’s plan poll terribly across the age groups and even partisan and ideological groupings. As always, Republicans do better in measurements of abstract support for spending cuts, and worse when they have to get specific. The Gallup poll probably represents the absolute high point in support for Private–er, I mean Privatizing–Ryan.

Whack-A-Mole

The devolution of the latest bout of birther hysteria, culminating in the White House release today of the president’s “long form” birth certificate (long the document birthers have demanded), is a pretty good indication of how thoroughly fringe conspiracy theories have saturated conservative politics and media.
The birther nonsense was a minor crazy-person “issue” in the 2008 presidential campaign. Afterwards, for no apparent reason other than constant repetition by right-wing blogs and web sites (notably WorldNetDaily) who influenced more conventional media like Fox, it grew and grew, eventually capturing a major segment of the Republican rank-and-file. Inevitably, a demagogue thinking about a presidential campaign seized on it, shot to the top of the GOP polls, and legitimized birtherism even more.
Now that the manufactured controversy has been definitively answered, Donald Trump is taking credit for “solving” the great puzzle of the president’s origins, but has already moved on to other contrived sets of “questions,” demanding Obama’s school records, and even more obnoxiously, reviving the Bill-Ayers-Wrote-Obama’s-book crap that surfaced during the presidential campaign.
And it’s not just Trump. On Fox last night, when commenting on (and defending) birtherism, Sarah Palin also made an offhand reference to Ayers perhaps writing Dreams From My Father.
You can certainly understand the evil utility of the Ayers “story,” which not only makes the president the terrorist-lover that Palin liked to talk about on the campaign trail in 2008, but also feeds all sorts of racist memes about Obama’s intelligence (as do the “questions” about his academic record).
What it all really illustrates is the endless game of “whack-a-mole” required when responding to “allegations” about the president involving conspiracy theories and invented “facts” that start with disreputable sources and invariably bleed over into conservative-activist email chatter, right-wing blogs, and eventually to Fox and actual Republican politicians.
Serious conservatives need to repudiate this idiocy once and for all, but they also need to meditate a bit on their own demonization of Obama and his policies, which has made it very easy for rank-and-file Republicans to believe the man wears horns. As it stands now, there’s every reason to assume many opinion-leaders on the right get a kick out of it, or at least find it useful so long as it doesn’t elevate Donald Trump or Sarah Palin to the White House.