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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Feeling a bit bummed by Trump’s wins in Iowa and New Hampshire? and Why President Joe Biden should be feeling good about a rematch with Donald Trump” at MSNBC.com. As Tribe and Aftergut write, “The good news, as the election comes into sharper focus, is that there is strong reason to believe that the sensible American majority will preserve our democracy and our freedoms in the only way we can, by rejecting Trumpism and keeping President Joe Biden in office. The surest basis for optimism is evidence that the reality of a robust economy is sinking in with voters. Last week, The Wall Street Journal, citing a Federal Reserve Bank of New York survey, reported, “Consumer confidence last month saw its biggest one-month gain since March 2021.”….As Biden’s campaign shifts into high gear, you won’t need fantasy to find hope that he can win, so long as reality-based Americans — those clear-eyed about the economy and clear-eyed about Trump and the Republican Party — go to the polls like they did in 2018, 2020 and 2022….Though some worry about a lack of enthusiasm for Biden among Democrats, especially among young people, keep in mind the wise observation of The New Republic’s senior editor Brian Beutler: “[A]nti-Trumpism is the most powerful force in American politics.”….Biden opened the year powerfully framing the 2024 election as one whose stakes “are the preservation of democracy and freedom,” including reproductive freedom and freedom of the press….And Trump has done nothing but reinforce that framing with his constant anti-constitutional threats. On Jan. 17, for example, he said CNN and MSNBC should have their licenses taken away. With the right messaging, the Biden campaign can help the public see Trump’s rhetoric as a threat to every one of us.”

Tribe and Aftergut continue, “Biden is also sharpening his focus on abortion rights and the ways Republicans have eroded them. He has a gripping new ad running sure to appeal to those who cherish reproductive freedom….  The elections Democrats won from 2018 to 2023 tell us something important: Campaigning on the threats to reproductive freedom drives Americans who don’t want the government messing with their bodies or stalking their bedrooms to wake up and vote….But again, reproductive freedom is far from all. Biden’s 2022 legislative accomplishments, including getting Congress to pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act, the Chips and Science Actand the Inflation Reduction Act, are big economic wins that ordinary Americans are now feeling….Bloomberg reported last week that “U.S. consumer sentiment has risen to its highest level since July 2021… according to the University of Michigan’s Survey of Consumers Preliminary Results for January 2024.”….As the Journal said in its report about consumer confidence, “[A]s inflation cools … [a]nd with the solid labor market putting money in the bank accounts of freely spending consumers, recession fears for 2024 are fading.”….“It’s the economy, stupid,” as James Carville famously framed Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 election message. It always has been, and Biden appears to have landed in an economic sweet spot for his re-election….Democrats who need an extra dose of hope should pay attention to how the GOP is stumbling. Local parties play a huge part in the ground game of presidential campaigns — getting out the vote — but, as CNN reported on Jan. 20, there are growing Republican concerns that the turmoil in state GOP organizations could improve Biden’s election prospects….One last point: As Haley herself pointed out, Trump isn’t as sharp as he was. His bizarre rambling, his mixing up the names of Republican politicians and Democrats and his remarks that suggest he previously ran against Barack Obama have grabbed headlines over the last week or so….When the U.S. electorate hears and sees him next to Biden, it will be clear that the incumbent is the candidate with presidential command.”

Thomas B. Edsall shares a similar conclusion in his New York Times opinion essay, “We Are Normalizing Trump Again.” As Edsall writes, “this election year may surprise us, it will test, under heavy fire, the strength of the Trump coalition.” Ryan Enos, a political scientist at Harvard, shares this view. In response to my inquiry, Enos emailed me to say:

It’s certainly not the case that a majority of voters have normalized Trump. He remains a candidate favored only by a slight majority of voters within a minority party. But, given the U.S. electoral system, that makes him a legitimate candidate.

Even though many voters are willing to vote for Trump, Enos argued:

It doesn’t imply that they have accepted his vision of America — only that they prefer him to the other candidate and are willing to look past things about him that others find disqualifying. To many, Trump’s rhetoric and past actions make him unfit to hold office — and to be clear, he is a genuine threat to American democracy — but, unfortunately, not enough people see it that way, so he remains electorally viable.

Edsall notes, further, ….”Jonathan Weiler, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina, put it this way by email:

The kind of scrutiny a presidential campaign brings is just beginning. So, in spite of the fact that Trump receives more attention than is typical of non-presidents, he still has not yet been under the microscope as a “presidential candidate” to nearly the extent that he will in the coming months. And that will expose his liabilities — including what appear to be his growing cognitive challenges — to a much larger swath of the public.

For nearly a decade, Trump has avoided, time and again, the kind of public condemnation that destroys political careers. At the age of 77, he has lost a step. The next nine months will test what remains of his stamina, agility and cunning.”

In “Nikki Haley, Dean Phillips Learn the Hard Way as Ageism Flops In New Hampshire,” Bill Scher writes at The Washington Monthly: ““I don’t think we need to have two 80-year-olds sitting in the White House when we got to make sure that we can handle the war situation that we’re in,” said Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley on CNN Sunday, referring to President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, “We need to know that they’re at the top of their game.”….Democratic presidential candidate Dean Phillips made the same argument this weekend as he closed out his New Hampshire campaign against Biden: “If you listen to the voters, people feel he’s at a stage of life that makes it incompatible to leading the free world,” said the Democratic representative from Minnesota. “And the same is true of Donald Trump.”…Both ran campaigns premised on explicit ageism. Both lost….Why? Despite pockets of discontent, most Republicans agree with Donald Trump’s views, and most Democrats agree with Joe Biden’s views. And in past presidential elections, old age alone was not reason enough for voters to dump a leader with whom they generally agree….In an argument equal to Haley’s in its incoherence, Phillips began his campaign by saying, “I think President Biden has done a spectacular job for our country. But it’s not about the past. This is an election about the future,” But Biden’s “spectacular job” is happening in the present, not the past. The policies he’s enacted—including investments in clean energy, infrastructure, and semiconductor manufacturing—are all about building for the future. What about Biden’s performance today argues it would not be of similar quality tomorrow? Phillips did not, and cannot, explain….to most Democrats, Biden has moved the country forward. He muscled through pandemic aid. He tackled supply chain disruptions that contributed to inflation, which is now cooling. He protected the Affordable Care Act, which has provided coverage to eight million more people. He capped monthly insulin costs at $35 for Medicare beneficiaries. He’s invested in clean energy and making it more affordable. He’s funding infrastructure, building semiconductors in America, and presiding over a record stretch of low unemployment….We have two presumptive nominees with different visions for the country, each with a successful record from the vantage point of their bases. Ageism cannot, and did not, erase those achievements. And now, because ageism failed in the primary, ageism is less likely to cast a shadow on the general election.”

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