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
I ran across a story on faulty focus group memories of Trump, and I wrote about the implications at New York.
As an unpopular president facing a sour electorate, Joe Biden really needs to make 2024 a comparative election rather than a straight referendum on his presidency. Luckily for him, his likely general-election opponent, Donald Trump, is equally unpopular for reasons that are quite vivid. He’s as well known as Biden, and he works very hard to reinforce the traits that might make an undecided voter (even one unhappy with Biden) reluctant to put him back in the White House. So half of Biden’s work in drawing contrasts is done for him, and part of the other half is made easy for him by Trump’s strongest supporters, the “deplorables” (to use the Hillary Clinton term that has become a MAGA badge of honor) who enjoy shocking the world by advertising their hero’s most questionable characteristics.
It is becoming apparent, however, that Trump’s potential coalition is being augmented by low-information voters with a hazy understanding of the Trumpier features of the 45th president’s record, character, and agenda. By that I do not mean the non-college-educated voters who make up so large a part of the Trump base. Many if not most of them are pretty educated about their candidate. But there’s evidence that disengaged and/or deeply alienated folks who may nonetheless vote in a presidential election (if not any others) don’t know as much about Trump as you might assume, as the New York Times’ Patrick Healey has observed:
“Our latest Times Opinion focus group discussion with 13 undecided independent voters included a striking result: 11 of the 13 said they would vote for Donald Trump if the election were held now, and only two said they would vote for President Biden. The reason: overwhelming concern about the economy.
“But I was less surprised by the big vote for Trump than by this: The group didn’t blame Trump for things he was responsible or accountable for.
“For instance, several people linked their economic troubles to COVID, but they didn’t put any blame on Trump for that. Some were upset with the end of abortion rights nationally, but they didn’t tie that to Trump’s Supreme Court appointments. Several wanted bipartisanship, but they didn’t blame Trump for his hand in sinking the recent bipartisan border deal. One person, a Latina, blamed Trump for worsening racism in the country and recounted a searing incident that happened to her — but she was among the 11 who would vote for him anyway.”
Healey concludes that “a lot of our focus-group participants — and many voters — see Trump as an acceptable option in November, yet they don’t know or remember a lot about him.” This makes them, of course, highly susceptible to Trump campaign messaging asserting that the economy during his presidency was the greatest ever; that he’s a natural peacemaker who inspired respect for the United States everywhere; and that he’s a decent, law-abiding businessman (and family man!) whose near-constant forced court appearances are uniformly the product of his persecution by the other party.
Democrats, of course, will have opportunities (and increasingly, an obligation) to set the record straight about Trump and his presidency. But the difficult thing is that low-information voters also tend to be low-trust voters, which means they don’t tend to believe traditional arbiters of objective reality like the mainstream news media, and may not grant more truthful politicians superior credibility. Further distorting understanding of the Trump administration (and thus its possible return) is the huge trauma associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, which gives everything that immediately preceded the disaster an undeserved glow, while immolating memories of less powerful traumas associated with the former president’s tenure.
In other words, low-information voters who dislike politics so much that they are not inclined to dig into facts and evidence touching on political topics are highly vulnerable to the kind of disinformation that benefits Donald Trump. And if they are in a bad mood in November, they could help turn the election into a negative referendum on Joe Biden even if they are inviting something — and someone — far worse. Democrats will have to work hard to break through with the truth.