The big political news in Washington today was Mark Warner’s surprise announcement that he was not running for president in 2008, citing concerns about the impact of a campaign on his family. Naturally, hundreds of political operatives and would-be pundits got on the phone with each other to see if anyone knew the “real reason” for Warner’s decision. But best I can tell at this point, we should all take Warner’s word for it that he and his wife had agreed on this fall as a failsafe point, and after taking a long look at what a presidential run–or for that matter, a victory–would do to their lives, took a pass. This happens pretty often, actually. Sure, there are always some Big Dogs in Washington (e.g., Wilbur Mills, John Connally, Phil Gramm, Orrin Hatch) who delude themselves into thinking they are presidential timber, until they crash and burn on the campaign trail. But almost every cycle, there are potentially strong candidates who just don’t run. Until (and for that matter, after) he finally ran in 1980, Ted Kennedy was perenially regarded as a proto-candidate. Mario Cuomo and Sam Nunn famously didn’t run in 1988 and 1992. Bob Kerrey surprised a lot of people when he announced he wouldn’t run in 2000. And sometimes candidates go back and forth. Nelson Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan both foreswore a run in 1968, before jumping in late. And in 1992, Ross Perot set a new standard for irresolution by running full-tilt for president, withdrawing, and then re-entering the race. The most renowned statement of non-candidacy was, of course, William Tecumsah Sherman’s terse announcement prior to the 1884 presidential election that “if drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve.” Indeed, my former boss Sam Nunn often avoided a definitive statement of non-candidacy by remarking: “As a Georgian, I would never make a Sherman Statement.”But my personal favorite in this genre was Fritz Mondale’s comment, after abandoning a 1972 run, that he “didn’t want to spend the next year living in Holiday Inns” (this was back in the day, before the willingness to become a quasi-resident of Iowa, and consume vast quantities of that state’s fine pork products, became the threshold issue for potential candidates). Reminded of this disclaimer when he accepted the vice-presidential nomination in1976, Mondale allowed as how the Holiday Inn chain had made a lot of improvements in the intervening four years. Warner’s announcement of non-candidacy will not be the last of this cycle, but no one really knows who may drop out or drop in exactly when. I know very smart people who are convinced Hillary Clinton won’t run, and/or that Al Gore will, against all the current evidence. Among Republicans, you hear that Rudy Guiliani is definitely in, or definitely out. The only sure drop-out among the frequently named is George Allen, whether or not he survives his rolling disaster of a Senate re-election campaign. But I think it’s both wise and decent when a potential candidate drops out to give him or her the benefit of the doubt and accept that mere personal reasons are always sufficient to justify a statement of non-candidacy. For all the allure of the power and influence associated with becoming the Leader of the Free World, getting there is a brutal business indeed, and as President Al Gore and President John Kerry can tell you, in our system there ain’t no consolation prizes for valiant near-misses.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
June 2: Rise of Religious “Nones” a Mixed Blessing for Democrats
Since I’m always standing at the intersection of politics and religion, I’m always interested in fresh data on the subject, and wrote some up at New York:
One of the big predictions in American politics lately, of infinite comfort to embattled progressives, is that the increasing number of religiously non-affiliated Americans, particularly among younger generations, will spur a steady leftward drift. Perhaps that will mean, we are told, that Democrats will be able to build their elusive permanent majority on the grounds of abandoned houses of worship. Or perhaps, some hope, the religious roots of today’s Republican extremism will begin to wither away, allowing American conservatives to resemble their less intemperate distant cousins in other advanced democracies, ending the culture wars.
Both propositions may be true. But it’s a mistake to treat so-called nones as an undifferentiated secularist mass, as Eastern Illinois University political scientist Ryan Burge explains with some fresh data. He notes that “in 2022, 6% of folks were atheists, 6% were agnostics, and another 23% were nothing in particular.” This large bloc of “nothing in particular” voters may lean left, all other things being equal, but they tend to be as uninterested in politics as in religion, making them a less than ideal party constituency. He explains:
“To put this in context, in 2020 there were nearly as many nothing in particulars who said that they voted for Trump as there were atheists who said that they voted for Biden.
“While atheists are the most politically active group in the United States in terms of things like donating money and working for a campaign, the nothing in particulars are on another planet entirely.
“They were half as likely to donate money to a candidate compared to atheists. They were half as likely to put up a political sign. They were less than half as likely to contact a public official.
“This all points to the same conclusion: they don’t vote in high numbers. So, while there may be a whole bunch of nothing in particulars, that may not translate to electoral victories.”
As Burge mentioned, however, there is a “none” constituency that leans much more strongly left and is very engaged politically — indeed, significantly more engaged than the white evangelicals we’re always hearing about. That would be atheists. In a separate piece, he gets into the numbers:
“The group that is most likely to contact a public official? Atheists.
“The group that puts up political signs at the highest rates? Atheists.
“HALF of atheists report giving to a candidate or campaign in the 2020 presidential election cycle.
“The average atheist is about 65% more politically engaged than the average American.”
And as Thomas Edsall points out in a broader New York Times column on demographic voting patterns, atheists really are a solid Democratic constituency, supporting Biden over Trump in 2020 by an incredible 87 to 9 percent margin. It’s worth noting that the less adamant siblings of the emphatically godless, agnostics, also went for Biden by an 80 to 17 percent margin and are more engaged than “nothing in particulars” as well.
So should Democrats target and identify with atheists? It’s risky. Despite the trends, there are still three times as many white evangelicals as atheists in the voting population. And there are a lot more religious folk of different varieties, some of whom have robust Democratic voting minorities or even majorities who probably wouldn’t be too happy with their party showing disdain for religion entirely. There’s also a hunt-where-the-ducks-fly factor: If atheists and agnostics already participate in politics and lean strongly toward Democrats, how much attention do they really need? There’s a reason that politicians, whatever their actual religious beliefs or practices, overwhelmingly report some religious identity. Congress lost its one professed atheist when California representative Pete Stark lost a Democratic primary in 2012; the only professed agnostic in Congress is Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, whose political future isn’t looking great.
It’s a complicated picture. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat argues that American liberalism’s increasing identification with secularism is keeping a lot of conservative Christians from politically expressing their reservations about Donald Trump. And religious people beyond the ranks of conservative faith communities may feel cross-pressured if Democratic politicians begin to reflect the liberal intelligentsia’s general assumption that religion is little more than a reactionary habit rooted in superstition and doomed to eventual extinction.
Perhaps it makes more sense for Democratic atheists and agnostics to spend time educating and mobilizing the “nothing in particular” Americans who already outnumber white evangelicals and ought to be concerned about how they’ll be treated if a Christian-nationalist Gilead arises. Only then can “nones” become the salvation for the Democratic Party.