After about 33 months and (as of today) 932 posts at NewDonkey.com, I’m finally ready to do what so many other bloggers have done, and move from a solo gig to something a bit more integrated into a strategic political mission.As of June 18, I’ll be blogging regularly at The Democratic Strategist, an online magazine that’s about a year old. In case you’re not familiar with TDS, its editors are the much-esteemed Bill Galston, Stan Greenberg and Ruy Teixeira, all major Democratic strategists in their own spheres. The e-zine’s main purpose is to provide a focused and non-factional forum for civil and empirically-based discussions of strategic issues for Democrats–everything from demographic and electoral analysis, to message and communications challenges, to party unification measures–with a special interest in long-range concerns that may elude the day-to-day debates over tactics. You should check out TDS’ current and back issues to get a sense of the already broad and impressive range of contributors, which include academics, journalists and practitioners from every corner of the party.My job, as successor to Managing Editor Scott Winship, is to enliven the daily content of TDS and to continue and sharpen its issue forums. As a big believer in its mission of party unity, civility, and fact-based reasoning, I’m excited about joining the TDS team.Given time constraints, this means I’m suspending NewDonkey for the time being. I’m not killing the beast; I’m cryogenically freezing it, sort of like Ted Williams’ head. Starting next week, visitors to this site will be redirected to TDS. Ruy Teixeira’s doing the same thing with his longstanding Donkey Rising blog, so we should benefit from some new energy all around.When I made the decision to suspend this blog, I got sentimental for a minute or two, until I remembered my pledge not to take blogging too seriously. I’ll never forget the first political blog I ever laid eyes on: Kausfiles, by Mickey Kaus, whom I knew back when he was at The New Republic. My first reaction was to think, “Oh my God; this is so embarassing for Mickey. Why does he think anybody will want to read anything he feels like saying on any subject?” Within two years, I was doing it myself, but the idea still sometimes seems preposterous. And I’ll remember that every day at TDS, and try to keep my words useful.Still, I know this blog has become a habit for a fair number of readers, and a source of information and amusement on occasion. I’m often humbled to learn that the quality of its readership is frequently superior to the quality of its content. Some folks have come here looking for a more heterodox if partisan point of view; others appear to consider it a voice from the New Democrat tradition that they find congenial or stimulating. And maybe some readers liked the occasional break from politics when I lurch off into religion or college football.In any event, the TDS leadership has encouraged me to keep The Daily Strategist blog as lively as NewDonkey, so if you follow me over there, you may not notice a great deal of difference, other than the fact that my pithy comments will be surrounded by outstanding contributions from others. (And speaking of comments, those who have long deplored the absence of a comment thread here will be happy to hear that we are in the process of making the comment thread at TDS more functional).So: I’m not saying goodbye, but instead “see you over at TDS,” where I hope all the donkeys can gather.
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.