Over at MyDD, Chris Bowers has the best early analysis of the ’08 presidential contest I’ve seen so far. He understands that Obama’s rise, by muddling Clinton’s front-runner status, ironically liberates HRC to run a campaign-by-attrition in which her money and broad base of support may mean she doesn’t have to win right away. He notes how important winning in Iowa is for Edwards. He suggests that beating expectations may be critical for Obama. And he rightly indicates that for the “rest of the field,” the token of their seriousness as candidates is whether they have a plausible chance to win or come close to winning anywhere in the early going (Vilsack’s target is Iowa; Richardson’s is Nevada; Dodd’s is New Hamphsire; Biden’s, apparently, is South Carolina).It’s obviously early, and lots could change. For one thing, threats by California and Florida to move up their primaries could alter the landscape crucially by tossing two expensive, delegate-rich states into a mix now dominated by small, inexpensive states. The rumbling in New Hampshire about moving up its primary to protect its ancient status could produce a nightmarish leapfrogging process (both Iowa and New Hampshire have state laws aimed at guaranteeing their one-two positions) that could start the whole show crazy early. And most obviously, what the candidates say and do, and that ol’ devil, external events, could trump everything.I don’t agree with Chris about the real possibility of a brokered convention. Just about everything about the nominating process makes that a science fiction proposition; remember that the last multi-ballot Democratic Convention was in 1952, when most delegates were still selected by home-state poohbahs and many delegations remained uncommitted until the convention.But lots of other unusual contingencies are entirely possible, including one that’s always right under the surface: an early running-mate deal between a top-tier and lower-tier candidate with strength in a particular state.In general, Chris’ handicapping is a lot better than most of the stuff being published in the MSM at this stage of the campaign.Incidentally, I don’t personally have any dog in the hunt at this point. If that changes, I’ll shut up about ’08.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
After absorbing a lot of Democratic gloom-and-doom about the midterms, I offered some silver lining at New York:
The 2022 midterms don’t look great for Democrats, who will try to buck history by hanging on to super-slim congressional majorities. Thanks to the particular lay of the land, Democrats have a decent chance of maintaining control of the Senate. But the House? Not so much: The two times since the New Deal when the president’s party won net House seats in a midterm (1998 and 2002), the president in question had sky-high job-approval ratings. Even if you believe Joe Biden’s plunge in popularity has been stemmed or even turned around a bit, he’s not going to have 60 percent-plus approval in November 2022 unless really crazy things happen. There’s just too much partisan polarization for that these days.
Thankfully for Democrats, even if they lose their congressional majorities next year, Biden himself won’t be an underdog for reelection in 2024. After all, the last two Democratic presidents were reelected after historically terrible midterms. Democrats lost 54 U.S. House seats in 1994 and 63 in 2010. Yes, they had bigger majorities going into those elections than Democrats have now. But they lost the national House popular vote by an identical 6.8 percent in both midterms, which is pretty bad, particularly since Democrats suffer from a voter-inefficiency problem in House elections (too many voters concentrated in too few districts).
It’s possible for a president’s party to lose a midterm so badly that bouncing back in the next cycle is all but impossible. Consider the man whose unique comeback accomplishment Donald Trump will be emulating if he runs in 2024, Grover Cleveland. The president Cleveland defeated in an 1892 rematch, Benjamin Harrison, was a Republican whose party lost an incredible 93 House seats in the 1890 midterms. This, mind you, was at a time when the House had only 332 members, which means the GOP lost over half their caucus in one cycle (an even worse percentage than in 1894, when Democrats lost a record 125 House seats during the midterm after Cleveland’s comeback triumph). In this era of polarization, nothing like that is going to happen to Democrats in 2022.
Looking more broadly at the power of incumbency, there have been 13 sitting presidents since World War II who were on the general election ballot. Nine of them won. The four losers all faced special circumstances. Gerald Ford had not previously been elected to anything more than the U.S. House; he ascended to the vice-presidency and then the presidency when disgraced predecessors resigned, and he pardoned the president who appointed him, the especially disgraced Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter was caught up in a historical realignment that he had held off four years earlier by carrying his native South, which then resumed a massive Republican trend. George H.W. Bush suffered from a terrible economy but then also a party split (third-party candidate Ross Perot won a lot of previously Republican voters). And we all know about Donald J. Trump, who was impeached twice and seemed determined to offend swing voters.
In retrospect, what’s most remarkable is that Ford and Trump very nearly got reelected despite their handicaps, exhibiting not the weakness but the strength of incumbency. And it’s with that perspective that any early handicapping of a potential 2024 rematch should be considered. Trump benefited from incumbency in 2020, as will Biden in 2024. So the idea that the 45th president has some built-in advantage over the 46th — absent the renewed election coup so many of us fear — doesn’t make a lot of sense.