washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

June 13: If Biden Somehow “Stands Aside,” Harris Will Stand Up

I have no authority to shut down idle pundit speculation about something weird happening at the Democratic National Convention in August (or even later in the election cycle), but would prefer a little deference to reality, as I noted at New York:

One of the more tedious phenomena of this election year has been the chronic pundit talk of Joe Biden “stepping aside” as presidential nominee and Democrats replacing him with Gretchen Whitmer or Gavin Newsom or some other sort of fantasy candidate. One of many reasons this scenario made little sense is that should something happen to convince the president to abruptly end his reelection campaign, he’s already chosen a stand-in who is very close by: his vice-president, Kamala Harris.

Obviously, anyone willing to overlook Biden’s clear determination to stick it out this year can imagine Harris “stepping aside” — or being shoved aside — as well. But there’s really no evidence that the Democrats who would make this decision (the Biden-Harris loyalists who serve as convention delegates or on the Democratic National Committee) feel this way at all. And now there’s evidence that rank-and-file Democrats have the veep’s back.

While a new Politico–Morning Consult poll with data about Harris shows that she shares her boss’s general election vulnerability, Democrats remain bullish on her. Seventy-four percent think she’d make a good president. By a 59 percent to 31 percent margin, they think she could win a 2024 general election. She’s stronger than Biden among the Black and Latino voters that have been stressing Democrats in recent years. And in terms of early 2028 preferences among Democrats, she’s far ahead of the competition (Harris is at 41 percent; Pete Buttigieg is at 15 percent; Newsom is at 14 percent; Whitmer is at 5 percent). Harris is already the principal voice of her administration and her party on the GOP threat to abortion rights, which will very likely become a more prominent issue as November approaches. She’s not going anywhere.

None of this means that Democrats would want Harris to replace Biden, or that they might not harbor fears about Harris facing Trump. Bigots would definitely be mobilized by the prospect of a half-Black, half–Asian American woman (and one with a Jewish husband!) in the White House. But the idea that Democrats are ready to abandon her or Biden simply has no basis in verifiable fact.

If, for some unforeseeable reason, Biden is incapacitated or decides to pack it in before November, Kamala Harris, for better or for worse, will be the Democratic candidate, period, full stop. Barring any clear evidence to the contrary, it’s time to forget about the fantasy tickets.

 


If Biden Somehow “Stands Aside,” Harris Will Stand Up

I have no authority to shut down idle pundit speculation about something weird happening at the Democratic National Convention in August (or even later in the election cycle), but would prefer a little deference to reality, as I noted at New York:

One of the more tedious phenomena of this election year has been the chronic pundit talk of Joe Biden “stepping aside” as presidential nominee and Democrats replacing him with Gretchen Whitmer or Gavin Newsom or some other sort of fantasy candidate. One of many reasons this scenario made little sense is that should something happen to convince the president to abruptly end his reelection campaign, he’s already chosen a stand-in who is very close by: his vice-president, Kamala Harris.

Obviously, anyone willing to overlook Biden’s clear determination to stick it out this year can imagine Harris “stepping aside” — or being shoved aside — as well. But there’s really no evidence that the Democrats who would make this decision (the Biden-Harris loyalists who serve as convention delegates or on the Democratic National Committee) feel this way at all. And now there’s evidence that rank-and-file Democrats have the veep’s back.

While a new Politico–Morning Consult poll with data about Harris shows that she shares her boss’s general election vulnerability, Democrats remain bullish on her. Seventy-four percent think she’d make a good president. By a 59 percent to 31 percent margin, they think she could win a 2024 general election. She’s stronger than Biden among the Black and Latino voters that have been stressing Democrats in recent years. And in terms of early 2028 preferences among Democrats, she’s far ahead of the competition (Harris is at 41 percent; Pete Buttigieg is at 15 percent; Newsom is at 14 percent; Whitmer is at 5 percent). Harris is already the principal voice of her administration and her party on the GOP threat to abortion rights, which will very likely become a more prominent issue as November approaches. She’s not going anywhere.

None of this means that Democrats would want Harris to replace Biden, or that they might not harbor fears about Harris facing Trump. Bigots would definitely be mobilized by the prospect of a half-Black, half–Asian American woman (and one with a Jewish husband!) in the White House. But the idea that Democrats are ready to abandon her or Biden simply has no basis in verifiable fact.

If, for some unforeseeable reason, Biden is incapacitated or decides to pack it in before November, Kamala Harris, for better or for worse, will be the Democratic candidate, period, full stop. Barring any clear evidence to the contrary, it’s time to forget about the fantasy tickets.

 


June 12: Why Kennedy Is Likely to Fade

I’ve been wondering for a while about the wildly varying poll numbers for Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and the more I learn the more I think his standing will soon fade, as I explained at New York:

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. needs just one more really strong poll showing to meet part of CNN’s criteria for participation in its June 27 presidential debate. The network stipulates that participants secure at least 15 percent in four national surveys no later than June 20 from a specific list of approved pollsters, and Kennedy has three (a Quinnipiac poll and a CNN poll in April, and a Marquette Law School poll in May). He may still fail to make the stage because CNN also requires that participants be on the ballot in states representing at least 270 electoral votes, and the Kennedy campaign is in a fight it may not win over how ballot access is confirmed. But still, the idea that Kennedy is polling as well as any non-major-party candidate since Ross Perot is a good advertisement for his viability.

There are, however, two reasons Kennedy’s standing in the race may be significantly overstated by the best of his polls. The first is a matter of history and, well, common sense: as Election Day nears, voters begin to focus on the most viable options and become less likely to “waste their votes” on candidates with slim odds of actually winning. So even the strongest of non-major-party presidential candidates in living memory — Perot in 1992 and 1996, John Anderson in 1980, and George Wallace in 1968 — all lost ground by late summer of the election year and finished well below their peak in polls. It’s one key reason RFK Jr. is frantic to get into a debate with the Democratic and Republican nominees (as Perot, the strongest indie candidate ever, did in 1992); he needs a game-changing development to forestall the otherwise inevitable late-cycle swoon.

But there’s another reason that polls showing Kennedy in the mid-to-high teens could overstate his actual support: They are counterbalanced by other polls showing him performing much more poorly. Indeed, all three June polls testing five major- and minor-party candidates (Biden, Trump, Kennedy, Cornel West, and Jill Stein) place RFK Jr. a lot lower: 6 percent at Emerson, 4 percent at Yahoo News, and 3 percent at Economist/YouGov.

Why are there such wild gyrations in Kennedy’s standing in the polls? There’s no infallible answer, but the New York Times’ Ruth Igielnik offered a persuasive explanation last month: Question order in presidential polls has a big effect on non-major-party candidates:

“[M]any reputable pollsters ask both versions of the question: one that poses a simple head-to-head contest between major-party candidates, and one that includes third-party candidates who may be on the ballot.

“And which question gets asked first is where the difference comes in. …

“Our experiment worked like this: All respondents were shown both the long and short questions, but half were shown the full list first, and the other half were first shown the two-way race.

“Among those who saw the long list first, Mr. Kennedy garnered 7 percent of the vote.

“But among those respondents who encountered the head-to-head contest before seeing the full list, Mr. Kennedy’s support shot up six percentage points to 13 percent.”

That’s a very big difference. What explains it?

“[I]t is at least partly related to a phenomenon that pollsters call expressive responding. This is when people might use a survey response to show their frustration or express a particular feeling that’s not exactly what is being asked.

“In this case, many respondents seem to be using the second question to convey frustration with the choices for president in the first question, whether or not their answers reflect their full views.”

As you probably know, frustration “with the choices for president” is famously high this year. Igielnik goes on to show that most of the recent polls showing Kennedy with double-digit support are those that ask first about the head-to-head Biden-Trump contest before including the other candidates in a second question, while those that present the full list of candidates right off the bat tend to show much lower support for the conspiracy theorist with the famous name.

When voters actually vote, of course, they are going to see the full list of candidates without first encountering some frustrating presentation of the major-party choices alone. So the odds are good that Kennedy will underperform his best polls. Indeed, putting together the two factors we’ve discussed, it’s not surprising to learn that RFK Jr.’s standing in the RealClearPolitics polling averages has steadily drifted downward from nearly 17 percent last November to 13 percent as recently as March to 8.6 percent today. Defying history by making a serious run at Biden and Trump will take a lot of doing for Kennedy and isn’t a very good bet.


Why Kennedy Is Likely to Fade

I’ve been wondering for a while about the wildly varying poll numbers for Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and the more I learn the more I think his standing will soon fade, as I explained at New York:

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. needs just one more really strong poll showing to meet part of CNN’s criteria for participation in its June 27 presidential debate. The network stipulates that participants secure at least 15 percent in four national surveys no later than June 20 from a specific list of approved pollsters, and Kennedy has three (a Quinnipiac poll and a CNN poll in April, and a Marquette Law School poll in May). He may still fail to make the stage because CNN also requires that participants be on the ballot in states representing at least 270 electoral votes, and the Kennedy campaign is in a fight it may not win over how ballot access is confirmed. But still, the idea that Kennedy is polling as well as any non-major-party candidate since Ross Perot is a good advertisement for his viability.

There are, however, two reasons Kennedy’s standing in the race may be significantly overstated by the best of his polls. The first is a matter of history and, well, common sense: as Election Day nears, voters begin to focus on the most viable options and become less likely to “waste their votes” on candidates with slim odds of actually winning. So even the strongest of non-major-party presidential candidates in living memory — Perot in 1992 and 1996, John Anderson in 1980, and George Wallace in 1968 — all lost ground by late summer of the election year and finished well below their peak in polls. It’s one key reason RFK Jr. is frantic to get into a debate with the Democratic and Republican nominees (as Perot, the strongest indie candidate ever, did in 1992); he needs a game-changing development to forestall the otherwise inevitable late-cycle swoon.

But there’s another reason that polls showing Kennedy in the mid-to-high teens could overstate his actual support: They are counterbalanced by other polls showing him performing much more poorly. Indeed, all three June polls testing five major- and minor-party candidates (Biden, Trump, Kennedy, Cornel West, and Jill Stein) place RFK Jr. a lot lower: 6 percent at Emerson, 4 percent at Yahoo News, and 3 percent at Economist/YouGov.

Why are there such wild gyrations in Kennedy’s standing in the polls? There’s no infallible answer, but the New York Times’ Ruth Igielnik offered a persuasive explanation last month: Question order in presidential polls has a big effect on non-major-party candidates:

“[M]any reputable pollsters ask both versions of the question: one that poses a simple head-to-head contest between major-party candidates, and one that includes third-party candidates who may be on the ballot.

“And which question gets asked first is where the difference comes in. …

“Our experiment worked like this: All respondents were shown both the long and short questions, but half were shown the full list first, and the other half were first shown the two-way race.

“Among those who saw the long list first, Mr. Kennedy garnered 7 percent of the vote.

“But among those respondents who encountered the head-to-head contest before seeing the full list, Mr. Kennedy’s support shot up six percentage points to 13 percent.”

That’s a very big difference. What explains it?

“[I]t is at least partly related to a phenomenon that pollsters call expressive responding. This is when people might use a survey response to show their frustration or express a particular feeling that’s not exactly what is being asked.

“In this case, many respondents seem to be using the second question to convey frustration with the choices for president in the first question, whether or not their answers reflect their full views.”

As you probably know, frustration “with the choices for president” is famously high this year. Igielnik goes on to show that most of the recent polls showing Kennedy with double-digit support are those that ask first about the head-to-head Biden-Trump contest before including the other candidates in a second question, while those that present the full list of candidates right off the bat tend to show much lower support for the conspiracy theorist with the famous name.

When voters actually vote, of course, they are going to see the full list of candidates without first encountering some frustrating presentation of the major-party choices alone. So the odds are good that Kennedy will underperform his best polls. Indeed, putting together the two factors we’ve discussed, it’s not surprising to learn that RFK Jr.’s standing in the RealClearPolitics polling averages has steadily drifted downward from nearly 17 percent last November to 13 percent as recently as March to 8.6 percent today. Defying history by making a serious run at Biden and Trump will take a lot of doing for Kennedy and isn’t a very good bet.


June 7: Democrats: Don’t Count on “Game-Changers” to Produce Victory in November

Examining the evidence we have so far about the impact of Trump’s criminal conviction, I’m becoming worried that Democrats are assuming too much about Trump’s vulnerabilities, so I wrote a warning at New York:

For months now, many political observers have stared at polls that show Donald Trump with a modest lead over Joe Biden and have placed a mental thumb on the scales for the incumbent due to “Trump’s legal problems.” This was particularly common (and justifiable) back when it looked as though Trump could be on trial for multiple criminal charges in different cases before Election Day. And even when it turned out the (arguably) weakest case against him was the only one that would reach fruition before November, the available evidence and plain logic suggested that being officially branded as a “convicted criminal” could knock Trump’s candidacy off-balance in a serious way.

Anyone holding their breath to see if a guilty verdict in the Trump hush-money trial would impact the election can now exhale. While it’s possible to look at the data and see a glass that is half-empty or half-full, the overall indication is that Trump’s conviction has not changed the race. And on balance, that’s good for the 45th president.

Yes, the “story” that emerged from a Manhattan courtroom on May 30 has concluding chapters yet to come, particularly on July 11 when Judge Juan Merchan has scheduled a sentencing hearing for Trump. And we can anticipate hundreds of millions of dollars in paid messages from the Biden campaign reminding voters the president’s opponent is a felon. But in a way, that’s a partial victory for Trump since it reinforces his campaign’s argument that his indictment, trial, and conviction in the hush-money case were a piece of partisan jobbery and not a legitimate criminal proceeding at all. Ideally, the Biden campaign would have liked the conviction to speak for itself without any goosing from a White House that stands accused (without a bit of documentation) of orchestrating the entire prosecution.

In other words, facts aside, Trump’s conviction and his overall status as a man perpetually on the wrong side of the law are being perceived through partisan lenses, which in turn will tend to encourage unaffiliated voters to discount them. It’s not fair and it’s not right, but it’s reality.

What this means more broadly is that Trump may once again defy expectations based on the available precedents. This has happened an awful lot in the man’s relatively short but eventful career in elected politics, beginning with the moment when many of us were certain that career was about to abruptly end — when he blithely disrespected the very sacred cow of America’s favorite POW war hero, John McCain, and paid no price for it.

You can argue all day about why Trump seems to be “Teflon Don” or even conclude that it’s not about him but about his feckless opponents in both parties or about an atmosphere of partisan polarization (to which he has definitely and self-servingly contributed) that nothing can penetrate. But whatever it is, we’re in a presidential contest that appears to be all but impervious to the kinds of things that used to be called game changers.” It’s time to accept at least as a rebuttable presumption that the game isn’t changing. And that has implications for future events like the presidential debates, the two major-party conventions, and the cut-and-thrust of the campaign competition as the November election grows nigh.

That doesn’t mean Trump’s going to win, to be clear. “Convicted criminal” or not, he remains relatively very unpopular: He’s incapable of moderating his savage and vengeful message, and this year’s turnout dynamics could make Biden’s base of support more reliable. And Trump’s polling lead, even though it has induced regular panic in some Democratic ranks, has never been more than a few ticks away from vanishing altogether. But no one should expect Trump to self-destruct or persuadable voters to wake up some morning and realize what a terrible man he is.

If, late on Election Night, Trump appears on TVs and computer screens as the president-elect of the United States, as he did to the horror of Blue America in 2016 — or worse yet, if he loses and claims victory anyway as he did in 2020 — no one should be that surprised. We’ve been here before.


Democrats: Don’t Count on “Game-Changers” to Produce Victory in November

Examining the evidence we have so far about the impact of Trump’s criminal conviction, I’m becoming worried that Democrats are assuming too much about Trump’s vulnerabilities, so I wrote a warning at New York:

For months now, many political observers have stared at polls that show Donald Trump with a modest lead over Joe Biden and have placed a mental thumb on the scales for the incumbent due to “Trump’s legal problems.” This was particularly common (and justifiable) back when it looked as though Trump could be on trial for multiple criminal charges in different cases before Election Day. And even when it turned out the (arguably) weakest case against him was the only one that would reach fruition before November, the available evidence and plain logic suggested that being officially branded as a “convicted criminal” could knock Trump’s candidacy off-balance in a serious way.

Anyone holding their breath to see if a guilty verdict in the Trump hush-money trial would impact the election can now exhale. While it’s possible to look at the data and see a glass that is half-empty or half-full, the overall indication is that Trump’s conviction has not changed the race. And on balance, that’s good for the 45th president.

Yes, the “story” that emerged from a Manhattan courtroom on May 30 has concluding chapters yet to come, particularly on July 11 when Judge Juan Merchan has scheduled a sentencing hearing for Trump. And we can anticipate hundreds of millions of dollars in paid messages from the Biden campaign reminding voters the president’s opponent is a felon. But in a way, that’s a partial victory for Trump since it reinforces his campaign’s argument that his indictment, trial, and conviction in the hush-money case were a piece of partisan jobbery and not a legitimate criminal proceeding at all. Ideally, the Biden campaign would have liked the conviction to speak for itself without any goosing from a White House that stands accused (without a bit of documentation) of orchestrating the entire prosecution.

In other words, facts aside, Trump’s conviction and his overall status as a man perpetually on the wrong side of the law are being perceived through partisan lenses, which in turn will tend to encourage unaffiliated voters to discount them. It’s not fair and it’s not right, but it’s reality.

What this means more broadly is that Trump may once again defy expectations based on the available precedents. This has happened an awful lot in the man’s relatively short but eventful career in elected politics, beginning with the moment when many of us were certain that career was about to abruptly end — when he blithely disrespected the very sacred cow of America’s favorite POW war hero, John McCain, and paid no price for it.

You can argue all day about why Trump seems to be “Teflon Don” or even conclude that it’s not about him but about his feckless opponents in both parties or about an atmosphere of partisan polarization (to which he has definitely and self-servingly contributed) that nothing can penetrate. But whatever it is, we’re in a presidential contest that appears to be all but impervious to the kinds of things that used to be called game changers.” It’s time to accept at least as a rebuttable presumption that the game isn’t changing. And that has implications for future events like the presidential debates, the two major-party conventions, and the cut-and-thrust of the campaign competition as the November election grows nigh.

That doesn’t mean Trump’s going to win, to be clear. “Convicted criminal” or not, he remains relatively very unpopular: He’s incapable of moderating his savage and vengeful message, and this year’s turnout dynamics could make Biden’s base of support more reliable. And Trump’s polling lead, even though it has induced regular panic in some Democratic ranks, has never been more than a few ticks away from vanishing altogether. But no one should expect Trump to self-destruct or persuadable voters to wake up some morning and realize what a terrible man he is.

If, late on Election Night, Trump appears on TVs and computer screens as the president-elect of the United States, as he did to the horror of Blue America in 2016 — or worse yet, if he loses and claims victory anyway as he did in 2020 — no one should be that surprised. We’ve been here before.


June 5: Republicans Aren’t Asking Trump to “Step Aside,” Are They?

In the wake of Trump’s criminal conviction, a rather obvious contrast between the two parties occurred to me that Democrats ought to think about. I wrote about it at New York.

One of the most notable aspects of the 2024 presidential contest has been how often voices have been raised in the left-of-center commentariat calling on Democrats to abort Joe Biden’s reelection campaign before it’s too late. In February, the New York Times’ Ezra Klein created an enormous buzz with a podcast episode suggesting that Biden “step aside” and let his party choose a more electable (and non-octogenarian) nominee. My colleague Jonathan Chait has discussed this possibility as well. And the idea was raised again quite recently by polling-maven-turned-pundit Nate Silver.

I’m on record as raining on this particular parade for multiple reasons, including the overreaction to marginally adverse polls it represents, the extremely unlikely Biden self-defenestration it would require, and the lack of any Democratic consensus on a “replacement” nominee. But if it’s odd how many Democrats have proved ready to panic and consider previously unimaginable survival strategies after a few bad polls, it’s downright weird that there is no such talk in Republican ranks after that party’s presumptive presidential nominee was found guilty of 34 felony criminal charges. Might that prove to be a problem in November? And if so, might Republicans, who frequently complain that the nation cannot survive another four years of Joe Biden as president, do well to choose someone from their own “bench” who has somehow managed never to be indicted for and convicted of a crime?

The very idea of Trump “stepping aside” or being pushed aside is laughable, of course. Whatever else he is, the 45th president is convinced he’s the most indispensable man in American — and perhaps world — history. After a hostile takeover in 2016 he has imposed an iron grip on the Republican Party that has clearly tightened after Trump demolished a large field of rivals this year. Nonetheless, the fact that these rivals even ran for president betrays the existence, however weak and attenuated, of an undercurrent of doubt about the wisdom of a third straight Trump nomination. But no one in GOP circles — absolutely no one — is articulating it now that there is a major objective reason for worry. Indeed, Team Trump’s savage reaction to prize Senate candidate Larry Hogan’s mild re-verdict suggestion of respect for the legal process that led to it shows how little grumbling will be tolerated. The two major parties couldn’t be much farther apart in this respect.

It is true there is one legitimate reason Republicans might not consider reconsidering Trump even if he and his supporters would allow it: Unlike Democratic delegates who are loosely bound to the candidate under whose banner they were chosen, Republican Trump delegates are formally and in some states legally bound to back the former president unless he explicitly releases them. A convention revolt against Trump (again, a laughable proposition) would require an overwhelming consensus of the party leaders Trump himself has chosen. So there’s not much point in talking about it, particularly since that would call down upon the doubters thunderbolts from Mar-a-Lago.

But in the end, the difference between Democrats and Republican in dealing with the problems facing their flawed 2024 presidential nominees is that unlike Trump himself, Republicans don’t seem to value winning above all else. Yes, he is a formidable politician with great strengths harnessed to great weaknesses, and yes, there’s no evidence yet the verdict in Manhattan is significantly eroding his consistent lead over Biden in most polls. But Republicans should rightly fear that day after day and week after week of Team Biden branding Trump as a convicted felon will eventually have an effect. Without question, years and years of data show Trump is as unpopular a politician as Biden, and if he did somehow “step aside,” Republicans could easily find a nominee better able to dispatch the unpopular incumbent. Republicans do not, moreover, have the kind of succession problem facing Democrats in the form of a sitting vice-president who is as unpopular as her boss.

Republicans are in unshakable solidarity with Donald Trump despite his criminal record because they truly don’t see an alternative path. And that’s true even if they privately fear he will lead them to defeat, and after that, to another denial of defeat that could end in another attempted insurrection or at a minimum in horrific civil discord. For all their famed irresolution, proneness to panic, and “bed-wetting” tendencies, Democrats still belong to a party where free speech is possible. If their nominee was convicted of multiple felonies, at least some Democrats would be looking actively and publicly for a replacement. But Republicans belong to a cult of personality where any hint of rebellion is punished ruthlessly. And that’s the party that will take power with Trump if he manages to get back into the White House.


Republicans Aren’t Asking Trump to “Step Aside,” Are They?

In the wake of Trump’s criminal conviction, a rather obvious contrast between the two parties occurred to me that Democrats ought to think about. I wrote about it at New York.

One of the most notable aspects of the 2024 presidential contest has been how often voices have been raised in the left-of-center commentariat calling on Democrats to abort Joe Biden’s reelection campaign before it’s too late. In February, the New York Times’ Ezra Klein created an enormous buzz with a podcast episode suggesting that Biden “step aside” and let his party choose a more electable (and non-octogenarian) nominee. My colleague Jonathan Chait has discussed this possibility as well. And the idea was raised again quite recently by polling-maven-turned-pundit Nate Silver.

I’m on record as raining on this particular parade for multiple reasons, including the overreaction to marginally adverse polls it represents, the extremely unlikely Biden self-defenestration it would require, and the lack of any Democratic consensus on a “replacement” nominee. But if it’s odd how many Democrats have proved ready to panic and consider previously unimaginable survival strategies after a few bad polls, it’s downright weird that there is no such talk in Republican ranks after that party’s presumptive presidential nominee was found guilty of 34 felony criminal charges. Might that prove to be a problem in November? And if so, might Republicans, who frequently complain that the nation cannot survive another four years of Joe Biden as president, do well to choose someone from their own “bench” who has somehow managed never to be indicted for and convicted of a crime?

The very idea of Trump “stepping aside” or being pushed aside is laughable, of course. Whatever else he is, the 45th president is convinced he’s the most indispensable man in American — and perhaps world — history. After a hostile takeover in 2016 he has imposed an iron grip on the Republican Party that has clearly tightened after Trump demolished a large field of rivals this year. Nonetheless, the fact that these rivals even ran for president betrays the existence, however weak and attenuated, of an undercurrent of doubt about the wisdom of a third straight Trump nomination. But no one in GOP circles — absolutely no one — is articulating it now that there is a major objective reason for worry. Indeed, Team Trump’s savage reaction to prize Senate candidate Larry Hogan’s mild re-verdict suggestion of respect for the legal process that led to it shows how little grumbling will be tolerated. The two major parties couldn’t be much farther apart in this respect.

It is true there is one legitimate reason Republicans might not consider reconsidering Trump even if he and his supporters would allow it: Unlike Democratic delegates who are loosely bound to the candidate under whose banner they were chosen, Republican Trump delegates are formally and in some states legally bound to back the former president unless he explicitly releases them. A convention revolt against Trump (again, a laughable proposition) would require an overwhelming consensus of the party leaders Trump himself has chosen. So there’s not much point in talking about it, particularly since that would call down upon the doubters thunderbolts from Mar-a-Lago.

But in the end, the difference between Democrats and Republican in dealing with the problems facing their flawed 2024 presidential nominees is that unlike Trump himself, Republicans don’t seem to value winning above all else. Yes, he is a formidable politician with great strengths harnessed to great weaknesses, and yes, there’s no evidence yet the verdict in Manhattan is significantly eroding his consistent lead over Biden in most polls. But Republicans should rightly fear that day after day and week after week of Team Biden branding Trump as a convicted felon will eventually have an effect. Without question, years and years of data show Trump is as unpopular a politician as Biden, and if he did somehow “step aside,” Republicans could easily find a nominee better able to dispatch the unpopular incumbent. Republicans do not, moreover, have the kind of succession problem facing Democrats in the form of a sitting vice-president who is as unpopular as her boss.

Republicans are in unshakable solidarity with Donald Trump despite his criminal record because they truly don’t see an alternative path. And that’s true even if they privately fear he will lead them to defeat, and after that, to another denial of defeat that could end in another attempted insurrection or at a minimum in horrific civil discord. For all their famed irresolution, proneness to panic, and “bed-wetting” tendencies, Democrats still belong to a party where free speech is possible. If their nominee was convicted of multiple felonies, at least some Democrats would be looking actively and publicly for a replacement. But Republicans belong to a cult of personality where any hint of rebellion is punished ruthlessly. And that’s the party that will take power with Trump if he manages to get back into the White House.


May 31: Campaigning Against a Criminal: What To Expect From Trump Now

Now that Trump has been convicted of multiple crimes, the 2024 presidential campaign could change. I thought about how the former president would handle things, and wrote about it at New York:

Donald Trump’s most important consolation after a Manhattan jury found him guilty of 34 criminal counts is that he has anticipated this moment for a long time. He was indicted 14 months ago with subsequent criminal indictments following in Florida, in Atlanta, and in Washington. Ever since, he has been running for president as a man under criminal indictment, and coping with that fact has been central to his strategy and message. Indeed, it became clear a long time ago that Trump’s endless preoccupation with his failed 2020 stolen-election fables, a backward-facing stance that initially baffled political observers, was actually a way of conditioning voters to view his future treatment by the justice system skeptically, if not with great hostility.

During this year’s Republican nominating contest, this strategy worked brilliantly, not only insulating Trump from criticism from his rivals about his misconduct in the cases that led to his serial indictments but actually making his alleged criminality a badge of honor. His increasingly shrill attacks on the prosecutors he faced helped boost him to an easy win in the primaries as the hero of conservatives angry at the Democrats and liberal elites seeking to hold him accountable. Now that he has been found guilty in a case brought by a Democratic prosecutor in a dark-blue constituency, to the delight of those liberal elites, Trump can be expected to keep on with the same chest-thumping professions of innocence and victimization (and promises of vengeance) with the Republican Party that has already nominated him dragooned willingly into joining his crusade for vindication.

There’s no particular reason to doubt that Trump’s ongoing call for loyalty will continue to work with a Republican base that very badly wants to respond to it favorably. Pre-verdict polls have consistently shown that a significant share of Republicans would “reconsider” their support for Trump if he were convicted of any crime. But “reconsidering” isn’t the same as “abandoning.” As a May 5 AP-Ipsos poll showed, most of these voters will likely wind up right back in his camp with any encouragement at all (only 4 percent of Trump supporters said they’d drop their allegiance to him after a conviction, and that may be overstating the reaction given past experience with moments when Republicans seemed to be jettisoning the 45th president — but didn’t).

But even if Trump can confidently count on his base of supporters to stay loyal — indeed, perhaps even cling to him more fiercely than ever as the victim of a “witch hunt” — he must still deal with possible fallout among the small but potentially decisive sliver of swing voters that is open to voting for him but might seriously reconsider voting for a felon. He will need something different from tribal loyalty fed by conspiracy theories to seal the deal in November. For these voters, the key may be to double down on every line of attack on Joe Biden as a feckless incompetent and an active danger to the peace and prosperity of America. Conservative Christian activist Rod Dreher may have identified precisely the right precedent for what the Trump campaign will try to do to assuage concerns over his conviction, in tweeting a copy of an old Louisiana bumper sticker that read, “Vote for the Crook: It’s Important,” and commenting: “I had this bumper sticker on my Louisiana car in 1991, urging my fellow voters to vote for sleazy Edwin Edwards over ex-KKK leader David Duke. After Trump’s felony convictions, I say it’s time to bring it back for the fall election.”

Yes, supporters of the ethically challenged Edwin Edwards frontally attacked concerns he was corrupt by minimizing the significance of his corner-cutting as compared to the dire consequences of letting David Duke become chief executive of Louisiana, and what had been a close “race from hell” turned into an Edwards landslide. Nobody will ever mistake Joe Biden for David Duke, but the basic idea of suggesting that a little criminality is better than bad leadership could be fruitfully adapted by the Trump campaign. Trump’s sentencing (scheduled for mid-July) by Judge Merchan could create some serious logistical problems for him, restricting his movements while reminding voters he’s on the wrong side of the law. But he is just lucky that the clock has probably run out for any further criminal convictions prior to Election Day that might make the verdict in Manhattan harder to overlook.

Even if this strategy does not work for Trump and he loses in November, the consequences of the guilty verdict will continue, and not just for the convict. If there was any doubt that Trump will deny and reject an election loss even more vociferously than he did in 2020, it should vanish now. Not only is he deeply invested in the claim that his legal peril represents “election interference” by Democrats, but he also needs the kind of get-out-of-jail card a return to the White House might offer.


Campaigning Against a Criminal: What to Expect From Trump Now

Now that Trump has been convicted of multiple crimes, the 2024 presidential campaign could change. I thought about how the former president would handle things, and wrote about it at New York:

Donald Trump’s most important consolation after a Manhattan jury found him guilty of 34 criminal counts is that he has anticipated this moment for a long time. He was indicted 14 months ago with subsequent criminal indictments following in Florida, in Atlanta, and in Washington. Ever since, he has been running for president as a man under criminal indictment, and coping with that fact has been central to his strategy and message. Indeed, it became clear a long time ago that Trump’s endless preoccupation with his failed 2020 stolen-election fables, a backward-facing stance that initially baffled political observers, was actually a way of conditioning voters to view his future treatment by the justice system skeptically, if not with great hostility.

During this year’s Republican nominating contest, this strategy worked brilliantly, not only insulating Trump from criticism from his rivals about his misconduct in the cases that led to his serial indictments but actually making his alleged criminality a badge of honor. His increasingly shrill attacks on the prosecutors he faced helped boost him to an easy win in the primaries as the hero of conservatives angry at the Democrats and liberal elites seeking to hold him accountable. Now that he has been found guilty in a case brought by a Democratic prosecutor in a dark-blue constituency, to the delight of those liberal elites, Trump can be expected to keep on with the same chest-thumping professions of innocence and victimization (and promises of vengeance) with the Republican Party that has already nominated him dragooned willingly into joining his crusade for vindication.

There’s no particular reason to doubt that Trump’s ongoing call for loyalty will continue to work with a Republican base that very badly wants to respond to it favorably. Pre-verdict polls have consistently shown that a significant share of Republicans would “reconsider” their support for Trump if he were convicted of any crime. But “reconsidering” isn’t the same as “abandoning.” As a May 5 AP-Ipsos poll showed, most of these voters will likely wind up right back in his camp with any encouragement at all (only 4 percent of Trump supporters said they’d drop their allegiance to him after a conviction, and that may be overstating the reaction given past experience with moments when Republicans seemed to be jettisoning the 45th president — but didn’t).

But even if Trump can confidently count on his base of supporters to stay loyal — indeed, perhaps even cling to him more fiercely than ever as the victim of a “witch hunt” — he must still deal with possible fallout among the small but potentially decisive sliver of swing voters that is open to voting for him but might seriously reconsider voting for a felon. He will need something different from tribal loyalty fed by conspiracy theories to seal the deal in November. For these voters, the key may be to double down on every line of attack on Joe Biden as a feckless incompetent and an active danger to the peace and prosperity of America. Conservative Christian activist Rod Dreher may have identified precisely the right precedent for what the Trump campaign will try to do to assuage concerns over his conviction, in tweeting a copy of an old Louisiana bumper sticker that read, “Vote for the Crook: It’s Important,” and commenting: “I had this bumper sticker on my Louisiana car in 1991, urging my fellow voters to vote for sleazy Edwin Edwards over ex-KKK leader David Duke. After Trump’s felony convictions, I say it’s time to bring it back for the fall election.”

Yes, supporters of the ethically challenged Edwin Edwards frontally attacked concerns he was corrupt by minimizing the significance of his corner-cutting as compared to the dire consequences of letting David Duke become chief executive of Louisiana, and what had been a close “race from hell” turned into an Edwards landslide. Nobody will ever mistake Joe Biden for David Duke, but the basic idea of suggesting that a little criminality is better than bad leadership could be fruitfully adapted by the Trump campaign. Trump’s sentencing (scheduled for mid-July) by Judge Merchan could create some serious logistical problems for him, restricting his movements while reminding voters he’s on the wrong side of the law. But he is just lucky that the clock has probably run out for any further criminal convictions prior to Election Day that might make the verdict in Manhattan harder to overlook.

Even if this strategy does not work for Trump and he loses in November, the consequences of the guilty verdict will continue, and not just for the convict. If there was any doubt that Trump will deny and reject an election loss even more vociferously than he did in 2020, it should vanish now. Not only is he deeply invested in the claim that his legal peril represents “election interference” by Democrats, but he also needs the kind of get-out-of-jail card a return to the White House might offer.