washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

October 26: Virginia May Signal Whether Minority Voters Are Likely To Turn Out in 2018

After reading a lot of back-and-forth about the trajectory of the November 7 Virginia gubernatorial election, I offered some thoughts at New York about the national implications:

For all the discussion about Donald Trump’s success among “Rust Belt” white working-class voters in 2016, another big factor in his upset win was unexpectedly low turnout among “Obama Coalition” voters (usually defined as young and minority voters), especially African-Americans. Despite Trump’s constant deployment of sub-rosa and not-so sub-rosa appeals to white racial resentments, according to census data, African-American turnout dropped from 66.6 percent in 2012 to 59.6 percent in 2016, the largest presidential cycle-to-cycle turnout slump for black voters in recorded history. Latino turnout was stable, a major disappointment to Democrats who thought Trump’s constant immigrant-baiting might create a large backlash. Millennial turnout was up, but not massively.

Some reasons for the African-American turnout drop-off in 2016 are reasonably obvious: It was the first presidential election since 2004 (when black turnout was very similar to 2016 levels) when the first African-American president was not on the ballot. And as Ari Berman has demonstrated, GOP-engineered voter suppression may have played an important role in reducing African-American turnout in some key states, notably Wisconsin.

Postmortems aside, the collapse of the Obama Coalition should cast a long shadow over Democratic hopes of a 2018 wave election. That’s because these voters traditionally have not participated proportionately in non-presidential elections. Unless the pattern changes — and after 2016 we now know that Donald Trump’s presence as leader of the GOP won’t likely change it without some additional encouragement — then Democrats looking to win back the House in 2018 may need a level of success with white voters beyond anything they’ve accomplished lately. In the last Democratic midterm wave election, in 2006, Democrats won 47 percent of the white vote. Barring something really unimaginable, that is not going to happen in 2018 (Republicans have now won at or near 60 percent of the white vote in four consecutive presidential and midterm elections).

In 2014, Democrats were worried enough about the “midterm falloff” problem in their electoral base that the Democratic National Committee created and funded an initiative — known as the Bannock Street Project —to address it. Utilizing the digital voter-targeting and outreach methodologies pioneered in the 2012 Obama campaign, the $60 million project targeted pro-Democratic demographic groups in ten states. All ten of those states had Senate elections in 2014; Republicans won nine of them — a net gain of six Senate seats in this relatively small slice of the country.

There is some empirical evidence the Bannock Street Project actually did boost base turnout, making a 2014 debacle less severe than it otherwise might have been, but it’s tough to get around the bottom-line failure. And given the uninspiring numbers from 2016, Democrats face 2018 with this very large problem still unsolved.

That is one reason to look closely at what is happening in the competitive off-year gubernatorial election in Virginia, a state with a large African-American population and a growing Latino presence as well. Despite a pro-Democratic trend in presidential elections (Virginia has now gone Democratic in three consecutive presidential years, after going Republican ten straight times dating back to 1964), the party has suffered underwhelming election finishes in the last two non-presidential years: in 2013, Terry McAuliffe undershot the polls in dispatching ultraconservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli; and in 2014, Republican Ed Gillespie nearly upset Senator Mark Warner. So the possibility of midterm falloff among minority voters is and should be a big concern.

At least one observer, civil-rights activist Steve Phillips, is warning that Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam and his campaign are ignoring African-American voters in the pursuit of white swing voters to an extent that may doom his candidacy:

“Northam has spent over $17 million as of October 1, 2017…. [T]he Northam campaign’s biggest line item—nearly $9 million—consists of funds given to an advertising firm led by an all-white board to run television ads. These campaign ads attack the Republican nominee for his ties to the oil company Enron. What is the strategic rationale of such an advertising campaign? Clearly, those ads are not supposed to motivate African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and other people of color to take time from their busy lives to come out and support the Democratic ticket.”

Phillips also deplores the scant attention and support pro-Democratic groups in Virginia have given to Northam’s African-American running mate, Justin Fairfax.

There are actually some signs in Virginia of Democratic concern for motivating base voters instead of simply competing for swing voters, including a high-profile appearance by President Obama. Swing-voter-focused ads have also been supplemented by more base-oriented efforts, including a flier that directly links Republican candidate Ed Gillespie to Donald Trump and to the infamous neo-Confederate protesters in Charlottesville. And it’s also possible Gillespie’s own racially tinged ads that demagogue about the MS-13 criminal gang or the restoration of felons’ rights will backfire (in one famous case, in Georgia in 1998, an over-the-top white racial appeal orchestrated by GOP operative Ralph Reed boosted African-American turnout in a midterm election significantly and produced a surprise Democratic statewide sweep).

It is not clear, moreover, that non-presidential election falloff among African-Americans in Virginia is as severe a problem as it is in some states. According to exit polls, the African-American percentage of the Virginia electorate was virtually the same (ranging from 20 percent to 21 percent) in 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2016. The one exception, though, shows the potentially calamitous results of poor minority turnout: In 2009 African-Americans represented just 16 percent of the Virginia electorate, and Democrat Creigh Deeds lost decisively.

So minority turnout in Virginia (and for that matter, in the less competitive contest in New Jersey) is worth watching on November 7. Heading into 2018, Democrats would be well advised to conduct a full public discussion of the Bannock Street Project and other investments in “base” turnout, while making voter mobilization just as important a factor as swing voter persuasion in all the party’s investments.


Virginia May Signal Whether Minority Voters Are Likely To Turn Out in 2018

After reading a lot of back-and-forth about the trajectory of the November 7 Virginia gubernatorial election, I offered some thoughts at New York about the national implications:

For all the discussion about Donald Trump’s success among “Rust Belt” white working-class voters in 2016, another big factor in his upset win was unexpectedly low turnout among “Obama Coalition” voters (usually defined as young and minority voters), especially African-Americans. Despite Trump’s constant deployment of sub-rosa and not-so sub-rosa appeals to white racial resentments, according to census data, African-American turnout dropped from 66.6 percent in 2012 to 59.6 percent in 2016, the largest presidential cycle-to-cycle turnout slump for black voters in recorded history. Latino turnout was stable, a major disappointment to Democrats who thought Trump’s constant immigrant-baiting might create a large backlash. Millennial turnout was up, but not massively.

Some reasons for the African-American turnout drop-off in 2016 are reasonably obvious: It was the first presidential election since 2004 (when black turnout was very similar to 2016 levels) when the first African-American president was not on the ballot. And as Ari Berman has demonstrated, GOP-engineered voter suppression may have played an important role in reducing African-American turnout in some key states, notably Wisconsin.

Postmortems aside, the collapse of the Obama Coalition should cast a long shadow over Democratic hopes of a 2018 wave election. That’s because these voters traditionally have not participated proportionately in non-presidential elections. Unless the pattern changes — and after 2016 we now know that Donald Trump’s presence as leader of the GOP won’t likely change it without some additional encouragement — then Democrats looking to win back the House in 2018 may need a level of success with white voters beyond anything they’ve accomplished lately. In the last Democratic midterm wave election, in 2006, Democrats won 47 percent of the white vote. Barring something really unimaginable, that is not going to happen in 2018 (Republicans have now won at or near 60 percent of the white vote in four consecutive presidential and midterm elections).

In 2014, Democrats were worried enough about the “midterm falloff” problem in their electoral base that the Democratic National Committee created and funded an initiative — known as the Bannock Street Project —to address it. Utilizing the digital voter-targeting and outreach methodologies pioneered in the 2012 Obama campaign, the $60 million project targeted pro-Democratic demographic groups in ten states. All ten of those states had Senate elections in 2014; Republicans won nine of them — a net gain of six Senate seats in this relatively small slice of the country.

There is some empirical evidence the Bannock Street Project actually did boost base turnout, making a 2014 debacle less severe than it otherwise might have been, but it’s tough to get around the bottom-line failure. And given the uninspiring numbers from 2016, Democrats face 2018 with this very large problem still unsolved.

That is one reason to look closely at what is happening in the competitive off-year gubernatorial election in Virginia, a state with a large African-American population and a growing Latino presence as well. Despite a pro-Democratic trend in presidential elections (Virginia has now gone Democratic in three consecutive presidential years, after going Republican ten straight times dating back to 1964), the party has suffered underwhelming election finishes in the last two non-presidential years: in 2013, Terry McAuliffe undershot the polls in dispatching ultraconservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli; and in 2014, Republican Ed Gillespie nearly upset Senator Mark Warner. So the possibility of midterm falloff among minority voters is and should be a big concern.

At least one observer, civil-rights activist Steve Phillips, is warning that Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam and his campaign are ignoring African-American voters in the pursuit of white swing voters to an extent that may doom his candidacy:

“Northam has spent over $17 million as of October 1, 2017…. [T]he Northam campaign’s biggest line item—nearly $9 million—consists of funds given to an advertising firm led by an all-white board to run television ads. These campaign ads attack the Republican nominee for his ties to the oil company Enron. What is the strategic rationale of such an advertising campaign? Clearly, those ads are not supposed to motivate African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and other people of color to take time from their busy lives to come out and support the Democratic ticket.”

Phillips also deplores the scant attention and support pro-Democratic groups in Virginia have given to Northam’s African-American running mate, Justin Fairfax.

There are actually some signs in Virginia of Democratic concern for motivating base voters instead of simply competing for swing voters, including a high-profile appearance by President Obama. Swing-voter-focused ads have also been supplemented by more base-oriented efforts, including a flier that directly links Republican candidate Ed Gillespie to Donald Trump and to the infamous neo-Confederate protesters in Charlottesville. And it’s also possible Gillespie’s own racially tinged ads that demagogue about the MS-13 criminal gang or the restoration of felons’ rights will backfire (in one famous case, in Georgia in 1998, an over-the-top white racial appeal orchestrated by GOP operative Ralph Reed boosted African-American turnout in a midterm election significantly and produced a surprise Democratic statewide sweep).

It is not clear, moreover, that non-presidential election falloff among African-Americans in Virginia is as severe a problem as it is in some states. According to exit polls, the African-American percentage of the Virginia electorate was virtually the same (ranging from 20 percent to 21 percent) in 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2016. The one exception, though, shows the potentially calamitous results of poor minority turnout: In 2009 African-Americans represented just 16 percent of the Virginia electorate, and Democrat Creigh Deeds lost decisively.

So minority turnout in Virginia (and for that matter, in the less competitive contest in New Jersey) is worth watching on November 7. Heading into 2018, Democrats would be well advised to conduct a full public discussion of the Bannock Street Project and other investments in “base” turnout, while making voter mobilization just as important a factor as swing voter persuasion in all the party’s investments.


October 20: When It Comes To Senate Races, Are Trump and Bannon Both Losers?

After reading an awful lot of articles about Steve Bannon and Donald Trump jousting over 2018 Senate primaries, I expressed some skepticism at New York about this alleged clash of the titans:

While it hasn’t been formally confirmed by the White House just yet, Politico is reporting that President Trump called up three Republican senators who are up for reelection and promised to help them fend off any primary challengers that might emerge. It’s probably not a coincidence that all three – John Barrasso of Wyoming, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi — have been the subject of dark imprecations and thinly veiled threats from former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, that great defender of Trumpism even if that involves opposing Trump.

The three senators receiving an offer of help from Trump are a goodly portion of the incumbents under fire from Bannon. There are only eight GOP senators up next year. Bannon isn’t messing with Ted Cruz. Bob Corker is retiring. Another, Orrin Hatch may retire, too; he hasn’t announced his intentions. There are two senators that Bannon and like-minded “populists” might target but that Trump probably won’t back no matter what Mitch McConnell does: sworn presidential enemy Jeff Flake of Arizona and the less-abrasive but still unreliable Dean Heller of Nevada. That leaves the very three Trump apparently called this week.

Two potential right-wing challengers are looking at Barrasso with bad intent: gazillionaire Foster Friess, the man who bankrolled Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign, and Blackwater founder (and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) Erik Prince. Bannon has talked to former Nebraska state treasurer Shane Osborn, who lost badly to Ben Sasse in a 2014 Senate primary, about taking on Fischer. And Chris McDaniel, who blew a primary runoff against Thad Cochran in 2014, is eager to run against Wicker, who had the temerity to suggest that Mississippi might want to consider ending its ancient and evil love affair with the Confederacy.

The big question is exactly what either Trump or Bannon will add to any of these three races. Trump obviously has clout and ultimate visibility as the president of the United States, and for all the #NeverTrump movement conservatives (Flake and Sasse now being their increasingly isolated representatives) who initially withheld affection for their party’s ravisher, he’s now loved by the right-wing rank-and-file as though he were the reincarnation of Barry Goldwater.

But Trump’s clumsy and narcissistic embrace of Luther Strange in Alabama should give pause to any future endorsee. A postelection study showed Trump did little or nothing to boost his candidate’s standing, even in a state where Republicans adore him. It’s possible his appeal, such as it is, simply isn’t transferrable, and it’s also possible his fans believe in doing what Trump does rather than doing what Trump says. Candidates adept at bone-charring rhetoric and provocation of the hated liberals may be irresistible to Trump’s base, no matter whom he backs.

On the other hand, Bannon’s insurgent wizardry is a bit suspect as well. The idea that he deserves much credit for Roy Moore’s primary win in Alabama is laughable: Moore was a massive celebrity in his home state (and among Christian-right folk nationally) back when Bannon’s main theater of operations was in sinful Hollywood. And Luther Strange, bless his little heart, was a great big hot-air balloon losing altitude from practically the moment he accepted appointment to the Senate from a disgraced governor he had been protecting from impeachment. It is at this point not at all certain he can go rolling into a state like Wyoming with Mercer money and screaming Breitbart headlines and take down an incumbent senator, particularly if his candidate is a sketchy character like Prince, who probably knows more about sandy plains of Iraq than about the windy plateaus of the Equality State.

It could well turn out that neither Trump nor his former sidekick and ideological shaman is going to have that dramatic an effect on GOP Senate primaries in 2018.

So much losing. Sad!


When It Comes to Senate Races, Are Trump and Bannon Both Losers?

After reading an awful lot of articles about Steve Bannon and Donald Trump jousting over 2018 Senate primaries, I expressed some skepticism at New York about this alleged clash of the titans:

While it hasn’t been formally confirmed by the White House just yet, Politico is reporting that President Trump called up three Republican senators who are up for reelection and promised to help them fend off any primary challengers that might emerge. It’s probably not a coincidence that all three – John Barrasso of Wyoming, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi — have been the subject of dark imprecations and thinly veiled threats from former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, that great defender of Trumpism even if that involves opposing Trump.

The three senators receiving an offer of help from Trump are a goodly portion of the incumbents under fire from Bannon. There are only eight GOP senators up next year. Bannon isn’t messing with Ted Cruz. Bob Corker is retiring. Another, Orrin Hatch may retire, too; he hasn’t announced his intentions. There are two senators that Bannon and like-minded “populists” might target but that Trump probably won’t back no matter what Mitch McConnell does: sworn presidential enemy Jeff Flake of Arizona and the less-abrasive but still unreliable Dean Heller of Nevada. That leaves the very three Trump apparently called this week.

Two potential right-wing challengers are looking at Barrasso with bad intent: gazillionaire Foster Friess, the man who bankrolled Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign, and Blackwater founder (and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) Erik Prince. Bannon has talked to former Nebraska state treasurer Shane Osborn, who lost badly to Ben Sasse in a 2014 Senate primary, about taking on Fischer. And Chris McDaniel, who blew a primary runoff against Thad Cochran in 2014, is eager to run against Wicker, who had the temerity to suggest that Mississippi might want to consider ending its ancient and evil love affair with the Confederacy.

The big question is exactly what either Trump or Bannon will add to any of these three races. Trump obviously has clout and ultimate visibility as the president of the United States, and for all the #NeverTrump movement conservatives (Flake and Sasse now being their increasingly isolated representatives) who initially withheld affection for their party’s ravisher, he’s now loved by the right-wing rank-and-file as though he were the reincarnation of Barry Goldwater.

But Trump’s clumsy and narcissistic embrace of Luther Strange in Alabama should give pause to any future endorsee. A postelection study showed Trump did little or nothing to boost his candidate’s standing, even in a state where Republicans adore him. It’s possible his appeal, such as it is, simply isn’t transferrable, and it’s also possible his fans believe in doing what Trump does rather than doing what Trump says. Candidates adept at bone-charring rhetoric and provocation of the hated liberals may be irresistible to Trump’s base, no matter whom he backs.

On the other hand, Bannon’s insurgent wizardry is a bit suspect as well. The idea that he deserves much credit for Roy Moore’s primary win in Alabama is laughable: Moore was a massive celebrity in his home state (and among Christian-right folk nationally) back when Bannon’s main theater of operations was in sinful Hollywood. And Luther Strange, bless his little heart, was a great big hot-air balloon losing altitude from practically the moment he accepted appointment to the Senate from a disgraced governor he had been protecting from impeachment. It is at this point not at all certain he can go rolling into a state like Wyoming with Mercer money and screaming Breitbart headlines and take down an incumbent senator, particularly if his candidate is a sketchy character like Prince, who probably knows more about sandy plains of Iraq than about the windy plateaus of the Equality State.

It could well turn out that neither Trump nor his former sidekick and ideological shaman is going to have that dramatic an effect on GOP Senate primaries in 2018.

So much losing. Sad!


October 19: First New Hampshire Poll For 2020 Shows Trump Potentially Vulnerable

Don’t look now, but the pollsters are already out there looking at the 2020 elections. I wrote about it at New York.

Yes, it’s incredibly early to be taking polls for the 2020 presidential contest. But on the other hand, there are places like Iowa and New Hampshire where presidential politics is pretty much a constant preoccupation. So it’s worth taking a quick look at the University of New Hampshire’s Granite State Poll, the first to examine the standing of potential candidates in the first-in-the-nation primary.

Among Democrats, what jumps off the page is that there does not at the moment appear to be a deep yearning for fresh faces. Bernie Sanders runs first at 31 percent and Joe Biden runs second at 24 percent. In other words, over half of New Hampshire Democrats currently favor a presidential candidate who would seek to become the first to celebrate an 80th birthday in the White House. Even though she represents a state whose media markets extend well into New Hampshire, Elizabeth Warren is running a relatively poor third at 13 percent. Perhaps, at 68, she’s just a bit too young.

Nine other potential Democratic candidates are named, and they register a collective 17 percent of the vote (Cory Booker leads the pack with 6 percent).

Among Republicans, no potential challenger to Donald Trump is tested, but interestingly enough, only 47 percent say they “plan” to vote for the president in the 2020 primary, with 23 percent saying they’d prefer another candidate and 30 percent being unsure. The same survey at the same point in Barack Obama’s presidency showed 64 percent of Democrats planning to vote for the incumbent, 5 percent expressing support for a different nominee, and 30 percent unsure.

It’s important to remember that the cast of characters for the 2020 presidential contest has not been formed. At the same juncture four years ago, neither of the eventual winners of the 2016 New Hampshire Democratic and Republican primaries, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, was even listed in the Granite State poll field. Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton, who was eventually trounced by Sanders in New Hampshire, was favored by 64 percent, with no one else being in double digits. Among Republicans, Rand Paul and Chris Christie led the 2013 Granite State Poll; Paul would drop out before New Hampshire and Christie would finish sixth. Trump ultimately led the field by nearly 20 points. Indeed, Trump’s 35 percent as an upstart candidate facing a huge group of opponents in 2016 isn’t that much less than the 47 percent he currently commands in New Hampshire as the president of the United States.

So it will be fascinating to see if any Republican arises to test Trump’s vulnerability in the early going.


First New Hampshire Poll For 2020 Shows Trump Potentially Vulnerable

Don’t look now, but the pollsters are already out there looking at the 2020 elections. I wrote about it at New York.

Yes, it’s incredibly early to be taking polls for the 2020 presidential contest. But on the other hand, there are places like Iowa and New Hampshire where presidential politics is pretty much a constant preoccupation. So it’s worth taking a quick look at the University of New Hampshire’s Granite State Poll, the first to examine the standing of potential candidates in the first-in-the-nation primary.

Among Democrats, what jumps off the page is that there does not at the moment appear to be a deep yearning for fresh faces. Bernie Sanders runs first at 31 percent and Joe Biden runs second at 24 percent. In other words, over half of New Hampshire Democrats currently favor a presidential candidate who would seek to become the first to celebrate an 80th birthday in the White House. Even though she represents a state whose media markets extend well into New Hampshire, Elizabeth Warren is running a relatively poor third at 13 percent. Perhaps, at 68, she’s just a bit too young.

Nine other potential Democratic candidates are named, and they register a collective 17 percent of the vote (Cory Booker leads the pack with 6 percent).

Among Republicans, no potential challenger to Donald Trump is tested, but interestingly enough, only 47 percent say they “plan” to vote for the president in the 2020 primary, with 23 percent saying they’d prefer another candidate and 30 percent being unsure. The same survey at the same point in Barack Obama’s presidency showed 64 percent of Democrats planning to vote for the incumbent, 5 percent expressing support for a different nominee, and 30 percent unsure.

It’s important to remember that the cast of characters for the 2020 presidential contest has not been formed. At the same juncture four years ago, neither of the eventual winners of the 2016 New Hampshire Democratic and Republican primaries, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, was even listed in the Granite State poll field. Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton, who was eventually trounced by Sanders in New Hampshire, was favored by 64 percent, with no one else being in double digits. Among Republicans, Rand Paul and Chris Christie led the 2013 Granite State Poll; Paul would drop out before New Hampshire and Christie would finish sixth. Trump ultimately led the field by nearly 20 points. Indeed, Trump’s 35 percent as an upstart candidate facing a huge group of opponents in 2016 isn’t that much less than the 47 percent he currently commands in New Hampshire as the president of the United States.

So it will be fascinating to see if any Republican arises to test Trump’s vulnerability in the early going.


October 13: Are Panicked Democrats Showing Signs of Post-Trump Stress Disorder?

After reading several articles about the Virginia governor’s race, I was moved to do some psychoanalyis at New York:

The Virginia gubernatorial race concludes in just under four weeks. Democratic candidate and Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam has a lead of 6.8 percent over Republican Ed Gillespie in the RealClearPolitics polling averages. The last time Gillespie led in a public poll was in March. Northam has maintained a fundraising advantage throughout most of the general election campaign and in mid-September had twice as much cash on hand as his rival. Virginia is arguably a “blue state” now, having been carried twice by Barack Obama and then by Hillary Clinton last year (by more than 5 percent). Just yesterday Morning Consult released state-by-state approval ratio numbers for Donald Trump; in Virginia, he was at 42/53, worse than his national average. And then there is Virginia’s historical pattern in gubernatorial elections of almost always voting against the party controlling the White House; the only exception since 1974 was posted by the current Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe.

You’d never know any of these data points if all you had to go by was the mood of Democrats concerning this contest. Earlier this week the Daily Beast’s veteran political reporter Sam Stein wrote that Democrats were “panicked” over Virginia, worried about a lack of enthusiasm for their candidate and the absence of the kind of massive national small-dollar investments in the campaign that characterized the congressional special election in Georgia earlier this year. A prominent Virginia activist penned a piece that rocketed around the internet with this headline: “Heads Up—An Impending Disaster in Virginia.” And Vox’s Jeff Stein penned a classic glass-half-empty assessment noting that polls showed the race as “surprisingly close” while “worried” Democrats fretted over Gillespie’s “culture war” attacks on Northam.

So what’s up with all the “panic” and “worry” and premonitions of “disaster” for Democrats in Virginia, given all the positive objective indicators of the state of the race? Jeff Stein may have touched on the underlying reason:

“The Virginia governor’s race this year is making some on the left queasy as a redux of Election Day 2016 ….

“Fear is creeping in that instead of beginning to beat back the tide of Trumpism and race-baiting dog whistles, Democrats will once again be submerged in it.”

In other words, the more Gillespie’s campaign begins to resemble Trump’s in its borderline-racist savagery about criminal gangs of immigrants and politically correct efforts to take down Confederate monuments, the more Democrats relive Election Night 2016, when all those objective indicators of a Clinton victory proved illusory.

Democrats may be suffering from their own version of PTSD — Post-Trump Stress Disorder — in which pessimism operates as a natural defense mechanism to prevent the kind of shocked disappointment they experienced on the night of November 8, 2016. After all, nothing’s really happened since then to dispel the irrational but powerful sense among left-of-center folk that they and their country are being punished by an angry God using this terrifying president as a scourge. Hopes of a quick recovery from the Trump madness were temporarily raised by Jon Ossoff’s special-election campaign in Georgia, which at one point looked like a certain win, but then that, too, turned out to be another bitter buzzkill.

So perhaps all the bad vibes Democrats are feeling about Virginia have less to do with the race itself than with the daily reality of waking up each morning and realizing that Donald Trump is president of the United States and apparently none of us will deserve good things for the foreseeable future.


Are Panicked Democrats Showing Signs of Post-Trump Stress Disorder?

After reading several articles about the Virginia governor’s race, I was moved to do some psychoanalyis at New York:

The Virginia gubernatorial race concludes in just under four weeks. Democratic candidate and Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam has a lead of 6.8 percent over Republican Ed Gillespie in the RealClearPolitics polling averages. The last time Gillespie led in a public poll was in March. Northam has maintained a fundraising advantage throughout most of the general election campaign and in mid-September had twice as much cash on hand as his rival. Virginia is arguably a “blue state” now, having been carried twice by Barack Obama and then by Hillary Clinton last year (by more than 5 percent). Just yesterday Morning Consult released state-by-state approval ratio numbers for Donald Trump; in Virginia, he was at 42/53, worse than his national average. And then there is Virginia’s historical pattern in gubernatorial elections of almost always voting against the party controlling the White House; the only exception since 1974 was posted by the current Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe.

You’d never know any of these data points if all you had to go by was the mood of Democrats concerning this contest. Earlier this week the Daily Beast’s veteran political reporter Sam Stein wrote that Democrats were “panicked” over Virginia, worried about a lack of enthusiasm for their candidate and the absence of the kind of massive national small-dollar investments in the campaign that characterized the congressional special election in Georgia earlier this year. A prominent Virginia activist penned a piece that rocketed around the internet with this headline: “Heads Up—An Impending Disaster in Virginia.” And Vox’s Jeff Stein penned a classic glass-half-empty assessment noting that polls showed the race as “surprisingly close” while “worried” Democrats fretted over Gillespie’s “culture war” attacks on Northam.

So what’s up with all the “panic” and “worry” and premonitions of “disaster” for Democrats in Virginia, given all the positive objective indicators of the state of the race? Jeff Stein may have touched on the underlying reason:

“The Virginia governor’s race this year is making some on the left queasy as a redux of Election Day 2016 ….

“Fear is creeping in that instead of beginning to beat back the tide of Trumpism and race-baiting dog whistles, Democrats will once again be submerged in it.”

In other words, the more Gillespie’s campaign begins to resemble Trump’s in its borderline-racist savagery about criminal gangs of immigrants and politically correct efforts to take down Confederate monuments, the more Democrats relive Election Night 2016, when all those objective indicators of a Clinton victory proved illusory.

Democrats may be suffering from their own version of PTSD — Post-Trump Stress Disorder — in which pessimism operates as a natural defense mechanism to prevent the kind of shocked disappointment they experienced on the night of November 8, 2016. After all, nothing’s really happened since then to dispel the irrational but powerful sense among left-of-center folk that they and their country are being punished by an angry God using this terrifying president as a scourge. Hopes of a quick recovery from the Trump madness were temporarily raised by Jon Ossoff’s special-election campaign in Georgia, which at one point looked like a certain win, but then that, too, turned out to be another bitter buzzkill.

So perhaps all the bad vibes Democrats are feeling about Virginia have less to do with the race itself than with the daily reality of waking up each morning and realizing that Donald Trump is president of the United States and apparently none of us will deserve good things for the foreseeable future.


October 10: The Nearly Extinct Moderate Republican

After reading various conservative complaints about the nefarious moderate Republicans on the Senate, I decided to do some research, and wrote it all up for New York:

The Senate’s moderate Republicans have been hunted nearly to extinction over the years. Within living memory, not only moderate but by any definition liberal Republicans were thick on the ground in the U.S. Senate. But today, “moderate” is mainly just a term of contempt for any GOP senator maverick-y enough to break ranks on something the heavily conservative party has decided it needs.

To illustrate the trend, I looked at the gold standard for measurements of congressional Republicans’ ideological fidelity since 1971, the American Conservative Union’s lifetime ratings for members of the Senate. I took a less-than-50-percent rating as a pretty noncontroversial benchmark for moderation.

Forty years ago, in 1977, there were 14 Senate Republicans with a less-than-50-percent lifetime rating from ACU: Ted Stevens, Lowell Weicker, Charles Percy, James Pearson, Charles Mathias, Edward Brooke, Clifford Case, Jacob Javits, Mark Hatfield, Bob Packwood, John Heinz, Richard Schweiker, John Chafee, and Robert Stafford.

Thirty years ago, in 1987, the number of “moderate” Republicans in the Senate had dropped to nine: Lowell Weicker, David Durenberger, Mark Hatfield, Bob Packwood, John Heinz, Arlen Specter, John Chafee, Robert Stafford, and Dan Evans.

Twenty years ago, in 1997, the Senate’s moderate GOP tribe had shrunk to five: Susan Collins, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Arlen Specter, John Chafee, and Jim Jeffords.

Ten years ago, in 2007, there were two moderate Republican senators left according to the ACU standard: Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter.

And now, there’s just one: Susan Collins (who temporarily lifted herself to a 50-plus ACU lifetime rating before lapsing back into heresy).

Collins is now thinking about leaving Washington for the cozier confines of Augusta, Maine, by running for governor. Not everyone left is a hard-core conservative; Lisa Murkowski will still be around with her 60 percent lifetime ACU rating. But it’s not like there is a bench of moderate Republicans out there moving inexorably toward the U.S. Senate. So in a very real sense, Collins could be the last of the breed. It’s been a long sharp downward road to nowhere.


The Nearly Extinct Moderate Senate Republican

After reading various conservative complaints about the nefarious moderate Republicans on the Senate, I decided to do some research, and wrote it all up for New York:

The Senate’s moderate Republicans have been hunted nearly to extinction over the years. Within living memory, not only moderate but by any definition liberal Republicans were thick on the ground in the U.S. Senate. But today, “moderate” is mainly just a term of contempt for any GOP senator maverick-y enough to break ranks on something the heavily conservative party has decided it needs.

To illustrate the trend, I looked at the gold standard for measurements of congressional Republicans’ ideological fidelity since 1971, the American Conservative Union’s lifetime ratings for members of the Senate. I took a less-than-50-percent rating as a pretty noncontroversial benchmark for moderation.

Forty years ago, in 1977, there were 14 Senate Republicans with a less-than-50-percent lifetime rating from ACU: Ted Stevens, Lowell Weicker, Charles Percy, James Pearson, Charles Mathias, Edward Brooke, Clifford Case, Jacob Javits, Mark Hatfield, Bob Packwood, John Heinz, Richard Schweiker, John Chafee, and Robert Stafford.

Thirty years ago, in 1987, the number of “moderate” Republicans in the Senate had dropped to nine: Lowell Weicker, David Durenberger, Mark Hatfield, Bob Packwood, John Heinz, Arlen Specter, John Chafee, Robert Stafford, and Dan Evans.

Twenty years ago, in 1997, the Senate’s moderate GOP tribe had shrunk to five: Susan Collins, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Arlen Specter, John Chafee, and Jim Jeffords.

Ten years ago, in 2007, there were two moderate Republican senators left according to the ACU standard: Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter.

And now, there’s just one: Susan Collins (who temporarily lifted herself to a 50-plus ACU lifetime rating before lapsing back into heresy).

Collins is now thinking about leaving Washington for the cozier confines of Augusta, Maine, by running for governor. Not everyone left is a hard-core conservative; Lisa Murkowski will still be around with her 60 percent lifetime ACU rating. But it’s not like there is a bench of moderate Republicans out there moving inexorably toward the U.S. Senate. So in a very real sense, Collins could be the last of the breed. It’s been a long sharp downward road to nowhere.