There’s an interesting op-ed in the Washington Post today: none other than Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos invades the MSM to fire a shot across the bow of the Good Ship Hillary, suggesting that her (a) apparent disdain for the netroots, and (b) her identification with the D.C. Democratic Establishment, could imperil her presumed presidential candidacy in 2008.Now I don’t presume to know a lot about the interactions, positive, negative or neutral, between Team Hillary and netroots worthies; I’ll take Markos’ word for it that Clinton’s advisors haven’t been giving bloggers and other cyber-activists a lot of love. I’ll also play into the thought experiment that Clinton is definitely running for president; I’m not so sure, but obviously it could happen.But I do think Markos misses something important in drawing a direct parallel between Hillary Clinton and those “D.C. Establishment” candidates who got thrown off-balance by Howard Dean in 2004. Best I can tell from staring at polls for quite some time, Hillary Clinton has broad and deep support and approbation among actual, grassroots, rank-and-file Democrats around the country, based on many years in the brightest spotlight. Going into the 2004 race, there was no candidate with this kind of catholic appeal or folk-legend visibility, and that’s one reason why Dean’s incandescent campaign broke through so quickly (and perhaps one reason it collapsed when the contest got into the serious, vote-getting phase). I’m perfectly willing to agree that netroots support specifically, and activist support generally, is important, but in the end, it’s all about votes.Maybe I’m wrong and Markos is right on that score, but the part of his op-ed I have to take greatest issue with is the familiar argument that Hillary is handicapped by her husband’s role in the decline of the Democratic Party and the election of George Bush. We’ve all heard this litany before: Clinton never got more than 50% of the popular vote (nor did the previous three Democratic nominees, or for that matter, two of the three prior to that); Democrats lost Congress during Clinton’s presidency (a process any political scientist will tell you had been building for decades, and that began slowly reversing during the last three cycles of the Clinton years); and of course, the usual stuff about Clinton’s “third way” policies alienating the all-important activist base (which is probably why he was wildly popular with most activists when he left office, and why so many of them still pine for someone like him). And even Markos concedes that Clinton produced “eight years of peace and prosperity,” which ought to make the Clinton name a bit less poisonous than this column suggests.In any event, Markos’ op-ed is a pretty faithful reflection of the attitudes toward HRC you see steadily circulating around the blogosphere like a breeze through a wind farm. So it’s probably very useful for those who read WaPo but don’t know blogs from hogs to catch a whiff of it today.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
In looking at the trajectory of the 2022 midterms, I noted at New York a theory that suggests we’d better get used to close elections that defy history:
With six weeks to go until Election Day, the midterms aren’t unfolding as we all expected earlier this year, when Republicans were better than even money to retake the Senate and a lead-pipe cinch to flip the House by a substantial margin. There are, of course, plenty of reasons you can cite for this change in the political climate, from the backlash to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision to somewhat better economic news to Donald Trump’s continued presence on the campaign trail to bad GOP-candidate selection. It’s nerve-racking, of course, because with Democrats holding the slightest of majorities in both congressional chambers, very small micro-trends in just a few states or districts could have enormous consequences for the parties and for the country (the consequences extend, of course, to state-level positions, not just governors but election-supervising secretaries of State).
“In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, political scientists John Sides, Chris Tausanovitch, and Lynn Vavreck write that American politics has become more polarized and calcified. Events and the responses to them from politicians no longer have the ability to deeply and fundamentally reshape our politics or political coalitions. ‘Voters and leaders in the two major parties are not only more ideologically distant from each other but also more likely to describe each other in harsh terms,’ they write. ‘In the fall of 2020, 90 percent of Americans said there were important differences in what the parties stood for — the highest number recorded in almost 70 years of American National Election Study surveys.’
“Moreover, they write, voters are ‘less likely to change their basic political evaluations or vote for the other party’s candidate.’ This calcification of our partisanship ‘produces rigidity in our politics — even when dramatic events suggest the potential for big changes.’
“In other words, if every election is an existential fight, then every election will be close. Or, as the Democratic strategist told me, ‘notably competitive.’”
If true, this would mean not only fewer “persuadable” swing voters to produce big shifts in the results from election to election, but likely a reduction in the sorts of “enthusiasm gaps” thought to affect partisan turnout patterns in the past. Elections would be more like a series of huge pre-mobilized armies meeting in a series of huge clashes with no prisoners taken (and little cooperation across party lines between elections). Even if that’s an exaggeration of the degree of gridlock from which our government and our electorate is suffering, we might truly be entering a period in which swings in party voting are limited. And as Sides, Tausanovitch, and Vavreck note, the “calcification” of party and ideological divisions can become self-perpetuating:
“Calcified politics and partisan parity combine to produce a self-reinforcing cycle. When control of government is always within reach, there is less need for the losing party to adapt and recalibrate. And if it stays on the same path, voters have little reason to revise their political loyalties.”
To be clear, very close elections can have variable outcomes. And in our winner-take-all system, the stakes will remain high. It will obviously make a great deal of difference which party wins the White House in 2024. Control of the Senate, moreover, depends as much on near-accidents of landscape than on the overall voting strength of the two parties, since only one-third of senators face voters each cycle. Democrats are benefiting from a modestly positive Senate landscape this year. Republicans should have a big Senate advantage in 2024. There is no guarantee either party can muster a governing “trifecta” in the future. As Republicans learned in 2017–18 and Democrats have learned in 2021–22, a trifecta isn’t all that if you can’t rigidly discipline all your troops all the time.
When white-knuckle time arrives just before Election Day this year, the odds are pretty good there will remain a lot of uncertainty about exactly what will happen when the votes are all counted (assuming we can get bipartisan buy-in on the results as officially certified, which is hardly a safe assumption at present). If Democrats managed to hold onto both congressional chambers, they may well feel vindicated by voters and go on to undertake an ambitious agenda in the next two years. More likely we will have a return to divided government and even more uncertainty and gridlock as we enter still another momentous election cycle.