washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

April 24: Trump Could Suffer the Fate of Late-Second-Term W.

In looking at various scenarios for how things will unfold politically between now and November, I landed on one nobody is much taking about, and I explained it at New York:

As signs proliferate that the coronavirus is spreading to nonurban Trump country, the odds of the president being able to seek reelection as the vengeful tribune of red America infuriated by a blue America pandemic that has wrecked the economy grow smaller. That’s not to say Trump won’t use every angle he can to divide voters along the same racial, cultural, and geographical lines that undergirded his 2016 victory. But he may now be vulnerable to growing unhappiness about his management of the crisis right there in his electoral base. Indeed, the rapid business reopening some of his Republican allies are engineering in pro-Trump states could expose the MAGA folk to the kind of infection rates normally associated with urban hot spots.

As Ron Brownstein explains, positive assessments of Trump’s handling of coronavirus has up until now closely tracked less-hard-hit areas where things could soon go terribly wrong:

“[Trump’s] precarious public support on the virus heavily depends on preponderant backing from voters in the places that have been least affected. The Pew Research Center divided respondents in its mid-April poll into three groups: those living in counties that faced high, medium, and low incidences of the disease as of early in the month. The high- and medium-impact counties on one side and the low-impact counties on the other each accounted for almost exactly half of the nation’s population.

“These areas diverged strikingly in their assessments of Trump’s response. And ominously for the president, assessments in the medium-impact counties were closer to the (mostly negative) high-impact group.”

So as the impact of the pandemic spreads, so too may downward pressure on Trump’s approval ratings, which are already very slowly sinking. And there could even be a tipping point where dismay with POTUS begins to eat into his base:

If this scenario seems unlikely given Trump’s strong hold on red America — and perhaps it is — we should remember another president who appeared to have unshakable support from his party’s base: George W. Bush.

In late July of 2005, W.’s job-approval rating among his fellow Republicans stood at 87 percent, a bit below where Trump’s are today. Among independents, he was at 46 percent. After his clueless performance in the management of Hurricane Katrina, his numbers began eroding, dipping to 79 percent among Republicans and 32 percent among indies in November and then 68 percent with Republicans and 28 percent with indies in May 2006, when the occupation of Iraq was beginning to become unpopular across party lines. By the time the economic crisis of 2008 kicked in, the president who had won two close red-blue slugfests by uniting the GOP and enthusing the conservative movement saw his job-approval rating drop to 55 percent among Republicans and 19 percent among independents. The “uniter, not divider” was doing neither very successfully.

I am by no means predicting that sort of trajectory is in store for Donald J. Trump, but it’s a scenario worth considering, particularly if he gambles on a highly partisan approach to COVID-19 that backfires with an increasingly infected red America, while failing to revive the economy. The whole country’s watching him on TV every day, and if he fails in this crisis, everyone’s going to see it, and only the most fervent supporters (or those lucky enough to live in the shrinking parts of the country with low rates of infection) will still be cheering. Yes, there are plenty of voters who will cast ballots for him no matter how he handles the coronavirus and the economic fallout. But even though pundits remembering 2016 will likely give him every benefit of the doubt, there’s now legitimate doubt he’s going to keep the race close.


Trump Could Suffer the Fate of Late-Second-Term W.

In looking at various scenarios for how things will unfold politically between now and November, I landed on one nobody is much taking about, and I explained it at New York:

As signs proliferate that the coronavirus is spreading to nonurban Trump country, the odds of the president being able to seek reelection as the vengeful tribune of red America infuriated by a blue America pandemic that has wrecked the economy grow smaller. That’s not to say Trump won’t use every angle he can to divide voters along the same racial, cultural, and geographical lines that undergirded his 2016 victory. But he may now be vulnerable to growing unhappiness about his management of the crisis right there in his electoral base. Indeed, the rapid business reopening some of his Republican allies are engineering in pro-Trump states could expose the MAGA folk to the kind of infection rates normally associated with urban hot spots.

As Ron Brownstein explains, positive assessments of Trump’s handling of coronavirus has up until now closely tracked less-hard-hit areas where things could soon go terribly wrong:

“[Trump’s] precarious public support on the virus heavily depends on preponderant backing from voters in the places that have been least affected. The Pew Research Center divided respondents in its mid-April poll into three groups: those living in counties that faced high, medium, and low incidences of the disease as of early in the month. The high- and medium-impact counties on one side and the low-impact counties on the other each accounted for almost exactly half of the nation’s population.

“These areas diverged strikingly in their assessments of Trump’s response. And ominously for the president, assessments in the medium-impact counties were closer to the (mostly negative) high-impact group.”

So as the impact of the pandemic spreads, so too may downward pressure on Trump’s approval ratings, which are already very slowly sinking. And there could even be a tipping point where dismay with POTUS begins to eat into his base:

If this scenario seems unlikely given Trump’s strong hold on red America — and perhaps it is — we should remember another president who appeared to have unshakable support from his party’s base: George W. Bush.

In late July of 2005, W.’s job-approval rating among his fellow Republicans stood at 87 percent, a bit below where Trump’s are today. Among independents, he was at 46 percent. After his clueless performance in the management of Hurricane Katrina, his numbers began eroding, dipping to 79 percent among Republicans and 32 percent among indies in November and then 68 percent with Republicans and 28 percent with indies in May 2006, when the occupation of Iraq was beginning to become unpopular across party lines. By the time the economic crisis of 2008 kicked in, the president who had won two close red-blue slugfests by uniting the GOP and enthusing the conservative movement saw his job-approval rating drop to 55 percent among Republicans and 19 percent among independents. The “uniter, not divider” was doing neither very successfully.

I am by no means predicting that sort of trajectory is in store for Donald J. Trump, but it’s a scenario worth considering, particularly if he gambles on a highly partisan approach to COVID-19 that backfires with an increasingly infected red America, while failing to revive the economy. The whole country’s watching him on TV every day, and if he fails in this crisis, everyone’s going to see it, and only the most fervent supporters (or those lucky enough to live in the shrinking parts of the country with low rates of infection) will still be cheering. Yes, there are plenty of voters who will cast ballots for him no matter how he handles the coronavirus and the economic fallout. But even though pundits remembering 2016 will likely give him every benefit of the doubt, there’s now legitimate doubt he’s going to keep the race close.


April 23: Trump May Be Blowing It With Seniors

The strength Joe Biden has been exhibiting among seniors is fascinating and potentially important, and I wrote about a new wrinkle in the story at New York:

Two of the political data points that currently spell bad news for Donald Trump are steadily worsening public assessments of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and Joe Biden’s strong position among voters over 65, who have leaned Republican in every presidential election since 1996. Since the elderly as a whole are more vulnerable than younger cohorts to a lethal dose of COVID-19 and since Trump at first minimized the threat and later expressed impatience with measures to arrest it, the obvious question is whether the one poll finding has anything to do with the other. Is Trump losing older voters because he seems callous toward their fears?

Morning Consult definitely has evidence that seniors are souring on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, particularly now that he’s fretting so much over the economy:

“By a nearly 6-to-1 margin, people ages 65 and older say it’s more important for the government to address the spread of coronavirus than it is to focus on economic goals. And as President Donald Trump increasingly signals interest in prioritizing the economy, America’s senior citizens are growing critical of his approach.

“In mid-March, this group approved of Trump’s handling of the outbreak at a higher rate than any other age group, with a net approval of +19. A month later, that level of support has dropped 20 points and is now lower than that of any age group other than 18-29-year-olds.”

Similarly, Quinnipiac shows seniors approving of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus by a 48/45 margin in early March but disapproving by a 52/45 margin in early April. Quinnipiac also shows Biden’s lead among seniors swelling from 49/46 in March to 54/41 in April, even though the Democrat’s overall lead drops from 11 to eight points.

But any way you slice it, Trump is playing with fire in promoting a megastrategy for the pandemic that appears to make the safety of seniors a secondary concern, even as he agitates against allowing the robust voting-by-mail options that might make seniors feel safer in voting. His party needs to win seniors and needs them to vote at their typically high levels. It’s possible Biden’s success in polling of older voters reflects these specific concerns about Trump or simply a tendency to embrace a less erratic and more empathetic leader at a time of maximum insecurity. But it could be Uncle Joe’s ace in the hole.


Trump May Be Blowing It With Seniors

The strength Joe Biden has been exhibiting among seniors is fascinating and potentially important, and I wrote about a new wrinkle in the story at New York:

Two of the political data points that currently spell bad news for Donald Trump are steadily worsening public assessments of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and Joe Biden’s strong position among voters over 65, who have leaned Republican in every presidential election since 1996. Since the elderly as a whole are more vulnerable than younger cohorts to a lethal dose of COVID-19 and since Trump at first minimized the threat and later expressed impatience with measures to arrest it, the obvious question is whether the one poll finding has anything to do with the other. Is Trump losing older voters because he seems callous toward their fears?

Morning Consult definitely has evidence that seniors are souring on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, particularly now that he’s fretting so much over the economy:

“By a nearly 6-to-1 margin, people ages 65 and older say it’s more important for the government to address the spread of coronavirus than it is to focus on economic goals. And as President Donald Trump increasingly signals interest in prioritizing the economy, America’s senior citizens are growing critical of his approach.

“In mid-March, this group approved of Trump’s handling of the outbreak at a higher rate than any other age group, with a net approval of +19. A month later, that level of support has dropped 20 points and is now lower than that of any age group other than 18-29-year-olds.”

Similarly, Quinnipiac shows seniors approving of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus by a 48/45 margin in early March but disapproving by a 52/45 margin in early April. Quinnipiac also shows Biden’s lead among seniors swelling from 49/46 in March to 54/41 in April, even though the Democrat’s overall lead drops from 11 to eight points.

But any way you slice it, Trump is playing with fire in promoting a megastrategy for the pandemic that appears to make the safety of seniors a secondary concern, even as he agitates against allowing the robust voting-by-mail options that might make seniors feel safer in voting. His party needs to win seniors and needs them to vote at their typically high levels. It’s possible Biden’s success in polling of older voters reflects these specific concerns about Trump or simply a tendency to embrace a less erratic and more empathetic leader at a time of maximum insecurity. But it could be Uncle Joe’s ace in the hole.


April 16: Where’s That Republican Health Care Plan?

I kept thinking to myself that Republicans were missing something important during the coronavirus pandemic. Then it hit me, and I wrote it up for New York:

Despite provoking 70 congressional votes on measures to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Republicans still never developed any sort of consensus plan for addressing such basic problems as the millions of Americans without health insurance or the insurance-company practice of denying coverage to those with preexisting health conditions. Yes, they could tell you what they opposed. (Basically any Democratic-supported effort to expand coverage via public or private means or a combination of the two, like Obamacare.) And Republicans went to a lot of effort in the courts and state legislatures and, after 2016, via federal executive action to undermine the ACA and its protections, usually on grounds that Obamacare made health insurance more expensive for the people who didn’t much need it.

To a considerable extent, Republicans in Washington were inclined to dump all the problems of the health-care system on the states, which is why some described the idea of repackaging federal health-care dollars into block grants for the states as the GOP “plan,” though it was the very opposite of one in terms of providing national protections.

GOP fecklessness on health care was by nearly all accounts a significant factor in Democratic midterm gains in 2018. Given the continued efforts of the Trump administration and Republicans in the states to blow up Obamacare in the courts (though they rather disingenuously asked the Supreme Court to wait until after the 2020 elections to decide their case), and their continued inability to come up with a comprehensive approach to health-care reform of their own, Democrats entered 2020 planning to emphasize this issue again.

Has that changed the Republican posture on health-care policy? Not in any significant way. Yes, the Trump administration has endorsed the idea of using coronavirus stimulus funds to reimburse hospitals for treatment of uninsured coronavirus patients. But there’s still no plan for the millions of people without insurance who are at risk of infection (not to mention other life-threatening ailments), much less for the many millions of additional Americans who will lose employer-sponsored health insurance as they lose their jobs. And the GOP position is still characterized by unrelieved hostility toward existing programs that might help, as NBC News observes:

“The clarity in Trump’s health care vision begins and ends with repealing the Affordable Care Act …

“His budget proposals would strip away funding for the law, and he has endorsed a lawsuit to wipe it off the books. But the president hasn’t thrown his weight behind a replacement bill or even an outline, and he has rejected calls to reopen Obamacare for enrollment during the current crisis.

“Trump’s focus on mitigating the economic damage has kept health care on the back burner. Some allies worry that with millions of newly unemployed Americans poised to lose coverage during a public health crisis, Trump’s lack of a plan for the needy will be a political liability in his re-election bid.”

No kidding.

The focus by Democrats on the nonexistence of any GOP plan to expand health coverage — alongside efforts to shrink coverage via the Obamacare exchanges or Medicaid — is certain to become intense now that they are no longer arguing about the ultimate health-care plans of their own presidential candidates. Much as progressives may find Joe Biden’s health-care proposals inadequate, they look like a veritable horn of plenty compared to anything coming out of the opposing party. Yes, conservative policy wonks have developed theoretical plans, mostly involving high-deductible catastrophic care policies, perhaps supplemented by health-savings accounts. But now more than ever, in a national health emergency, they look howlingly out of proportion to the current situation.

Presumably, Trump will try to take credit for whatever emergency measures Congress provides for dealing with immediate coronavirus-related health costs and try to get across the finish line in November without the “phenomenal” plan he has been promising since 2016. But if they are competent, 2020 Democratic candidates from Joe Biden on down will make this not only a policy emphasis, but a token of all of Trump’s many broken promises, which have brought the country and its most vulnerable people to the gates of living hell.


Where’s That Republican Health Care Plan?

I kept thinking to myself that Republicans were missing something important during the coronavirus pandemic. Then it hit me, and I wrote it up for New York:

Despite provoking 70 congressional votes on measures to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Republicans still never developed any sort of consensus plan for addressing such basic problems as the millions of Americans without health insurance or the insurance-company practice of denying coverage to those with preexisting health conditions. Yes, they could tell you what they opposed. (Basically any Democratic-supported effort to expand coverage via public or private means or a combination of the two, like Obamacare.) And Republicans went to a lot of effort in the courts and state legislatures and, after 2016, via federal executive action to undermine the ACA and its protections, usually on grounds that Obamacare made health insurance more expensive for the people who didn’t much need it.

To a considerable extent, Republicans in Washington were inclined to dump all the problems of the health-care system on the states, which is why some described the idea of repackaging federal health-care dollars into block grants for the states as the GOP “plan,” though it was the very opposite of one in terms of providing national protections.

GOP fecklessness on health care was by nearly all accounts a significant factor in Democratic midterm gains in 2018. Given the continued efforts of the Trump administration and Republicans in the states to blow up Obamacare in the courts (though they rather disingenuously asked the Supreme Court to wait until after the 2020 elections to decide their case), and their continued inability to come up with a comprehensive approach to health-care reform of their own, Democrats entered 2020 planning to emphasize this issue again.

Has that changed the Republican posture on health-care policy? Not in any significant way. Yes, the Trump administration has endorsed the idea of using coronavirus stimulus funds to reimburse hospitals for treatment of uninsured coronavirus patients. But there’s still no plan for the millions of people without insurance who are at risk of infection (not to mention other life-threatening ailments), much less for the many millions of additional Americans who will lose employer-sponsored health insurance as they lose their jobs. And the GOP position is still characterized by unrelieved hostility toward existing programs that might help, as NBC News observes:

“The clarity in Trump’s health care vision begins and ends with repealing the Affordable Care Act …

“His budget proposals would strip away funding for the law, and he has endorsed a lawsuit to wipe it off the books. But the president hasn’t thrown his weight behind a replacement bill or even an outline, and he has rejected calls to reopen Obamacare for enrollment during the current crisis.

“Trump’s focus on mitigating the economic damage has kept health care on the back burner. Some allies worry that with millions of newly unemployed Americans poised to lose coverage during a public health crisis, Trump’s lack of a plan for the needy will be a political liability in his re-election bid.”

No kidding.

The focus by Democrats on the nonexistence of any GOP plan to expand health coverage — alongside efforts to shrink coverage via the Obamacare exchanges or Medicaid — is certain to become intense now that they are no longer arguing about the ultimate health-care plans of their own presidential candidates. Much as progressives may find Joe Biden’s health-care proposals inadequate, they look like a veritable horn of plenty compared to anything coming out of the opposing party. Yes, conservative policy wonks have developed theoretical plans, mostly involving high-deductible catastrophic care policies, perhaps supplemented by health-savings accounts. But now more than ever, in a national health emergency, they look howlingly out of proportion to the current situation.

Presumably, Trump will try to take credit for whatever emergency measures Congress provides for dealing with immediate coronavirus-related health costs and try to get across the finish line in November without the “phenomenal” plan he has been promising since 2016. But if they are competent, 2020 Democratic candidates from Joe Biden on down will make this not only a policy emphasis, but a token of all of Trump’s many broken promises, which have brought the country and its most vulnerable people to the gates of living hell.


April 15: Trump’s Reelection Odds Heading Down

After noticing that Trump fans were still crowing triumphantly about his certain victory in November, I offered an assessment at New York of where he currently stands:

Given the near-universal belief of Republicans that POTUS was cruising in style toward a second term, I was beginning to feel lonely not long ago in my skepticism about the Keep America Great cause. And I even felt some doubts about my own judgment as a booming economy boosted Trump’s job-approval ratings out of their stagnant position in the low 40s, with signs they might even drift up toward where Obama’s were in 2012 when he was reelected. Adding in the GOP’s Electoral College advantage, the historic value of incumbency, and Trump’s lavishly financed and unscrupulous campaign, and you had the look of a plausible, if hardly certain, winner.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit after Trump very publicly dismissed its significance, and it was legitimately in question for a while as to whether the rally-round-the-flag effect that usually boosts national leaders in times of emergency – enhanced by Trump’s opportunity to commandeer media attention with daily “briefings” – would offset the universal tendency of voters to sour on incumbent presidents in hard times.

The evidence is beginning to mount that the damage COVID-19 is doing to the economy Trump so often touted as his supreme achievement, along with meh public assessments of his leadership, have together reversed the arrows and made the incumbent an underdog, as National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar — by no means a liberal or partisan Democrat — explains:

“[T]he reality is that, absent a speedy V-shaped economic turnaround by the fall, Trump is now a decided underdog for a second term.”

Yes, it’s true that past precedents of poor economic conditions blowing up presidential reelection candidacies (from Herbert Hoover to Jimmy Carter to George H.W. Bush) seem inadequate to the kind of disaster COVID-19 poses. But there’s also no example of a president being reelected in the midst of economic calamity on the grounds that it wasn’t entirely his fault. Given the extraordinarily polarized foundation on which Trump has built his political career and his presidency, it’s hard to imagine a figure less likely to inspire sudden respect and appreciation among those not already in his camp (even the regularly pro-Trump polling from Rasmussen currently shows as many Americans strongly disapproving of the job he is doing as approving of it by any degree). To the extent that every presidential election involving an incumbent is basically a referendum on life during the previous four years, you have to figure Trump’s current mediocre approval ratings (at 44 percent at FiveThirtyEight and 45 percent at RealClearPolitics) are a ceiling rather than a floor, assuming no shocking turnaround on either the public-health or economic conditions of the country.

And, as Kraushaar suggests, the nationally darkening climate for Trump’s reelection is being matched by bad news from states he needs to eke out another Electoral College win:

“In traditionally Republican Arizona, a must-win state for Trump, he trails Biden 52 to 43 percent in a new OH/Predictive Insights poll. He’s down by 6 points to Biden in Florida, in an April University of North Florida survey, despite his generally sunny track record in the state. Biden led Trump in a trifecta of Michigan polls conducted in March. According to the RealClearPolitics statewide polling averages, Biden is ahead in every swing state.”

Add to that the shocking, and shockingly large, Democratic win in a Wisconsin Supreme Court contest (ostensibly, but not really, nonpartisan), during which Republicans went to extraordinary lengths to hold down turnout from pro-Democratic constituencies, and you’ve got a landscape that’s no longer friendly to Trump and his party. Joe Biden’s strong showing in trial heats against Trump points to another expected advantage the president has lost: Democrats are not in disarray, as they were four years ago. Biden’s efforts to keep his party united have gotten off to a good and early start, and all the indications are that third- and fourth-party options for disgruntled progressives aren’t looking nearly so alluring this time around, as The Economist noted in a recent profile of Green Party presidential front-runner Howie Hawkins:

“Polling by YouGov for The Economist shows support for third-party candidates at 3%, half of what they won in 2016. More probably, then, Mr. Hawkins is in a fight to avoid humiliation. Even getting on the ballot in many states, which Greens usually manage, is proving difficult. The problem is getting signatures (and the tightening of some requirements). The party’s presidential candidate is eligible to stand in just 21 states so far. Mr. Hawkins guesses 1.6m more signatures are needed to qualify in the remaining ones. The arrival of COVID-19 makes that look almost impossible.”

No, I am not predicting an end to the Trump administration on January 19, 2021. The pandemic’s course and its impact — in terms of lives and political side effects — are far too unpredictable for that and, at this point, we aren’t even sure a normal election with normal procedures can be held in November.

But the idea that Trump has some infernal hold on the presidency (the combined product, I believe, of perennial shock over what happened in 2016 and the endless braying braggadocio of Trump’s conservative media voices) is looking shaky now. He clearly will not be able to campaign as the triumphant engineer of an economic boom created by bulldozing the environment and shiftless workers and godless foreigners while showering tax dollars on wealthy American job-creators. His other credentials for a second term are compelling mostly to people who want to return this country to the 1950s. That’s always going to be a decided, if loud, minority.


Trump’s Reelection Odds Heading Down

After noticing that Trump fans were still crowing triumphantly about his certain victory in November, I offered an assessment at New York of where he currently stands:

Given the near-universal belief of Republicans that POTUS was cruising in style toward a second term, I was beginning to feel lonely not long ago in my skepticism about the Keep America Great cause. And I even felt some doubts about my own judgment as a booming economy boosted Trump’s job-approval ratings out of their stagnant position in the low 40s, with signs they might even drift up toward where Obama’s were in 2012 when he was reelected. Adding in the GOP’s Electoral College advantage, the historic value of incumbency, and Trump’s lavishly financed and unscrupulous campaign, and you had the look of a plausible, if hardly certain, winner.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit after Trump very publicly dismissed its significance, and it was legitimately in question for a while as to whether the rally-round-the-flag effect that usually boosts national leaders in times of emergency – enhanced by Trump’s opportunity to commandeer media attention with daily “briefings” – would offset the universal tendency of voters to sour on incumbent presidents in hard times.

The evidence is beginning to mount that the damage COVID-19 is doing to the economy Trump so often touted as his supreme achievement, along with meh public assessments of his leadership, have together reversed the arrows and made the incumbent an underdog, as National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar — by no means a liberal or partisan Democrat — explains:

“[T]he reality is that, absent a speedy V-shaped economic turnaround by the fall, Trump is now a decided underdog for a second term.”

Yes, it’s true that past precedents of poor economic conditions blowing up presidential reelection candidacies (from Herbert Hoover to Jimmy Carter to George H.W. Bush) seem inadequate to the kind of disaster COVID-19 poses. But there’s also no example of a president being reelected in the midst of economic calamity on the grounds that it wasn’t entirely his fault. Given the extraordinarily polarized foundation on which Trump has built his political career and his presidency, it’s hard to imagine a figure less likely to inspire sudden respect and appreciation among those not already in his camp (even the regularly pro-Trump polling from Rasmussen currently shows as many Americans strongly disapproving of the job he is doing as approving of it by any degree). To the extent that every presidential election involving an incumbent is basically a referendum on life during the previous four years, you have to figure Trump’s current mediocre approval ratings (at 44 percent at FiveThirtyEight and 45 percent at RealClearPolitics) are a ceiling rather than a floor, assuming no shocking turnaround on either the public-health or economic conditions of the country.

And, as Kraushaar suggests, the nationally darkening climate for Trump’s reelection is being matched by bad news from states he needs to eke out another Electoral College win:

“In traditionally Republican Arizona, a must-win state for Trump, he trails Biden 52 to 43 percent in a new OH/Predictive Insights poll. He’s down by 6 points to Biden in Florida, in an April University of North Florida survey, despite his generally sunny track record in the state. Biden led Trump in a trifecta of Michigan polls conducted in March. According to the RealClearPolitics statewide polling averages, Biden is ahead in every swing state.”

Add to that the shocking, and shockingly large, Democratic win in a Wisconsin Supreme Court contest (ostensibly, but not really, nonpartisan), during which Republicans went to extraordinary lengths to hold down turnout from pro-Democratic constituencies, and you’ve got a landscape that’s no longer friendly to Trump and his party. Joe Biden’s strong showing in trial heats against Trump points to another expected advantage the president has lost: Democrats are not in disarray, as they were four years ago. Biden’s efforts to keep his party united have gotten off to a good and early start, and all the indications are that third- and fourth-party options for disgruntled progressives aren’t looking nearly so alluring this time around, as The Economist noted in a recent profile of Green Party presidential front-runner Howie Hawkins:

“Polling by YouGov for The Economist shows support for third-party candidates at 3%, half of what they won in 2016. More probably, then, Mr. Hawkins is in a fight to avoid humiliation. Even getting on the ballot in many states, which Greens usually manage, is proving difficult. The problem is getting signatures (and the tightening of some requirements). The party’s presidential candidate is eligible to stand in just 21 states so far. Mr. Hawkins guesses 1.6m more signatures are needed to qualify in the remaining ones. The arrival of COVID-19 makes that look almost impossible.”

No, I am not predicting an end to the Trump administration on January 19, 2021. The pandemic’s course and its impact — in terms of lives and political side effects — are far too unpredictable for that and, at this point, we aren’t even sure a normal election with normal procedures can be held in November.

But the idea that Trump has some infernal hold on the presidency (the combined product, I believe, of perennial shock over what happened in 2016 and the endless braying braggadocio of Trump’s conservative media voices) is looking shaky now. He clearly will not be able to campaign as the triumphant engineer of an economic boom created by bulldozing the environment and shiftless workers and godless foreigners while showering tax dollars on wealthy American job-creators. His other credentials for a second term are compelling mostly to people who want to return this country to the 1950s. That’s always going to be a decided, if loud, minority.


April 10: Joe Biden’s Debt to African-American Voters

As Joe Biden officially won the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination (or at least lost his remaining rival), I looked back at his victory and found a common thread, which I wrote up at New York:

Looming in the foreground, of course, is COVID-19 and its drastic effect on the remaining primaries and the overall political climate. But recalling that Biden really won the nomination in an amazing sprint in late February and early March, after a dismal beginning to the cycle for the former veep’s campaign, it’s pretty clear in retrospect that he owes everything to African-American voters. Let us count the ways:

1. Elevating Him Over Cory and Kamala

There were two highly credible African-American candidates in the 2020 Democratic presidential field, Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Both of them hoped to replicate Barack Obama’s 2008 path to victory with a strong early showing in lily-white Iowa followed by a breakthrough in majority-black (among Democratic primary voters) South Carolina. But Joe Biden’s strength among black voters in and beyond the Palmetto State — far more durable than Hillary Clinton’s in 2008 — remained an immovable object.

Booker never caught fire much of anywhere, and despite spending a lot of time in South Carolina, never showed any signs of cutting into Biden’s black support there. Harris had one moment of hope after politely brutalizing Biden’s record on school desegregation in a June 2019 debate, and even saw a spike in black support in South Carolina. But it wasn’t impressive or enduring: A late-July Monmouth poll in that crucial state showed her being crushed by Biden among South Carolina’s African-Americans by a 51/12 margin.

2. His Saving Grace in Nevada

After finishing fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire, Biden’s campaign was on death’s door. But then he finished second in the Nevada caucuses on February 22, and in conjunction with a terrible debate performance by Michael Bloomberg, the former veep was back in the discussion heading toward the last early-state primary in South Carolina a week later and then Super Tuesday on March 3.

Had Biden slipped behind Pete Buttigieg in Nevada, where the former mayor put on a strong and well-financed effort, he might have been written off for good. And according to entrance polls, Biden trailed Mayor Pete by four points among white voters (two-thirds of the total) in the state, and didn’t beat him that badly among Latinos. But among the 11 percent of Nevada caucusgoers who are African-American, Biden trounced Buttigieg 38/2 and nailed down the runner-up position behind Sanders.

3. His Big Win in South Carolina

The whole narrative of the 2020 nominating contest flipped on February 29 when Biden won a big victory in South Carolina, winning nearly half the vote against what was then still a large field, and beating second-place Bernie Sanders by nearly 30 points. Sixty-one percent of the state’s African-American voters, well over half the primary electorate, went for Biden, who not only eclipsed Sanders’s support among young voters of all races but limited Tom Steyer — who made a last-gasp bid for black voters via heavy advertising and a big retail campaign presence — to 13 percent of the African-American vote.

The fact that Biden finally won a state was crucial to his shadow battle with Bloomberg, who for a time was close to supplanting Biden entirely as the candidate of Democratic centrists — and was becoming a threat to win black voters as well. As I noted at the time, Biden had some crucial momentum after South Carolina’s black voters saved him again:

“Between centrists looking for a champion against Bernie and regular Democrats wanting a viable alternative to either career non-Democrat, the former veep has a strong potential coalition and — if he can strongly outperform Bloomberg on Super Tuesday — a good shot at his own two-candidate race against Bernie.”

4. Croaking Pete ‘n’ Amy

It’s generally recognized that the last-minute conjoined endorsements of Biden by Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar on the eve of Super Tuesday had a lot to do with his performance not only in beating Bloomberg but in winding up with more delegates than consensus-favorite Sanders. What is less well-understood is that black voters made the departure of these two centrist candidates from the field inevitable.

Buttigieg famously worked hard to overcome an antipathy toward his candidacy among African-Americans. Klobuchar had her own problems in this demographic, which she never even began to resolve. When black voters became a factor in the primaries, the inability of either candidate to show any traction with them became an obvious sign they weren’t going anywhere as the primary electorate grew more diverse. In Nevada, Pete ‘n’ Amy each got 2 percent of the African-American vote. In South Carolina, Buttigieg won 3 percent of the black vote and Klobuchar won one percent. It was time for them to go, and they did so at the perfect time for Biden.

5. Vaulting Him Into the Lead on Super Tuesday

On March 3, Biden began putting together the coalition of minority and white-suburban supporters that made him the nominee via wins in ten of the 14 states holding contests that day. Again, though, African-Americans were his base: According to exit polls he won 58 percent of black voters across this vast landscape. The example set by South Carolina’s electorate, and amplified by high-profile endorsements from black opinion-leaders like Jim Clyburn, appeared to boost Biden into the coveted position of leading a multiracial coalition that looked like the Democratic Party as a whole.

6. Sealing the Deal in March

Before the coronavirus put a halt to the 2020 primaries (except for the botched, Republican-engineered April 7 event in Wisconsin), black voters again were crucial to Biden’s drive to presumptive-nominee status. In the March 10 Michigan primary that Sanders supporters thought he might win, Biden won comfortably, in no small part because he won two-thirds of the black vote. On March 17, where three states (Arizona, Florida, and Illinois) held virtually all-voting-by-mail contests, Biden won a sweep, with even higher margins among African-Americans, joined increasingly by white working-class and suburban college-educated voters.

All in all, it’s very clear that Joe Biden would have never survived the tough early going in 2020 without his base of African-American support, particularly if his rivals had managed to take away a significant share of that same support.

To the extent that black support for Biden is attributable to the power of his electability credentials among an element of the electorate determined to get rid of Donald Trump, it’s a good start for him in building an enthusiastic general election coalition. But it also suggests a political debt that may go deeper than Biden’s constant proclamations of loyalty to his great benefactor Barack Obama.

In choosing the woman who will serve as his vice-presidential nominee, the pressure on Joe Biden to thank African-Americans with a running mate from their ranks — a reciprocal gesture to the one Obama made in choosing him in 2008 — could be considerable. If, of course, there’s anyone else who tangibly could help improve the odds of beating Trump, black voters will likely again go with the winning formula.


Joe Biden’s Debt to African-American Voters

As Joe Biden officially won the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination (or at least lost his remaining rival), I looked back at his victory and found a common thread, which I wrote up at New York:

Looming in the foreground, of course, is COVID-19 and its drastic effect on the remaining primaries and the overall political climate. But recalling that Biden really won the nomination in an amazing sprint in late February and early March, after a dismal beginning to the cycle for the former veep’s campaign, it’s pretty clear in retrospect that he owes everything to African-American voters. Let us count the ways:

1. Elevating Him Over Cory and Kamala

There were two highly credible African-American candidates in the 2020 Democratic presidential field, Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Both of them hoped to replicate Barack Obama’s 2008 path to victory with a strong early showing in lily-white Iowa followed by a breakthrough in majority-black (among Democratic primary voters) South Carolina. But Joe Biden’s strength among black voters in and beyond the Palmetto State — far more durable than Hillary Clinton’s in 2008 — remained an immovable object.

Booker never caught fire much of anywhere, and despite spending a lot of time in South Carolina, never showed any signs of cutting into Biden’s black support there. Harris had one moment of hope after politely brutalizing Biden’s record on school desegregation in a June 2019 debate, and even saw a spike in black support in South Carolina. But it wasn’t impressive or enduring: A late-July Monmouth poll in that crucial state showed her being crushed by Biden among South Carolina’s African-Americans by a 51/12 margin.

2. His Saving Grace in Nevada

After finishing fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire, Biden’s campaign was on death’s door. But then he finished second in the Nevada caucuses on February 22, and in conjunction with a terrible debate performance by Michael Bloomberg, the former veep was back in the discussion heading toward the last early-state primary in South Carolina a week later and then Super Tuesday on March 3.

Had Biden slipped behind Pete Buttigieg in Nevada, where the former mayor put on a strong and well-financed effort, he might have been written off for good. And according to entrance polls, Biden trailed Mayor Pete by four points among white voters (two-thirds of the total) in the state, and didn’t beat him that badly among Latinos. But among the 11 percent of Nevada caucusgoers who are African-American, Biden trounced Buttigieg 38/2 and nailed down the runner-up position behind Sanders.

3. His Big Win in South Carolina

The whole narrative of the 2020 nominating contest flipped on February 29 when Biden won a big victory in South Carolina, winning nearly half the vote against what was then still a large field, and beating second-place Bernie Sanders by nearly 30 points. Sixty-one percent of the state’s African-American voters, well over half the primary electorate, went for Biden, who not only eclipsed Sanders’s support among young voters of all races but limited Tom Steyer — who made a last-gasp bid for black voters via heavy advertising and a big retail campaign presence — to 13 percent of the African-American vote.

The fact that Biden finally won a state was crucial to his shadow battle with Bloomberg, who for a time was close to supplanting Biden entirely as the candidate of Democratic centrists — and was becoming a threat to win black voters as well. As I noted at the time, Biden had some crucial momentum after South Carolina’s black voters saved him again:

“Between centrists looking for a champion against Bernie and regular Democrats wanting a viable alternative to either career non-Democrat, the former veep has a strong potential coalition and — if he can strongly outperform Bloomberg on Super Tuesday — a good shot at his own two-candidate race against Bernie.”

4. Croaking Pete ‘n’ Amy

It’s generally recognized that the last-minute conjoined endorsements of Biden by Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar on the eve of Super Tuesday had a lot to do with his performance not only in beating Bloomberg but in winding up with more delegates than consensus-favorite Sanders. What is less well-understood is that black voters made the departure of these two centrist candidates from the field inevitable.

Buttigieg famously worked hard to overcome an antipathy toward his candidacy among African-Americans. Klobuchar had her own problems in this demographic, which she never even began to resolve. When black voters became a factor in the primaries, the inability of either candidate to show any traction with them became an obvious sign they weren’t going anywhere as the primary electorate grew more diverse. In Nevada, Pete ‘n’ Amy each got 2 percent of the African-American vote. In South Carolina, Buttigieg won 3 percent of the black vote and Klobuchar won one percent. It was time for them to go, and they did so at the perfect time for Biden.

5. Vaulting Him Into the Lead on Super Tuesday

On March 3, Biden began putting together the coalition of minority and white-suburban supporters that made him the nominee via wins in ten of the 14 states holding contests that day. Again, though, African-Americans were his base: According to exit polls he won 58 percent of black voters across this vast landscape. The example set by South Carolina’s electorate, and amplified by high-profile endorsements from black opinion-leaders like Jim Clyburn, appeared to boost Biden into the coveted position of leading a multiracial coalition that looked like the Democratic Party as a whole.

6. Sealing the Deal in March

Before the coronavirus put a halt to the 2020 primaries (except for the botched, Republican-engineered April 7 event in Wisconsin), black voters again were crucial to Biden’s drive to presumptive-nominee status. In the March 10 Michigan primary that Sanders supporters thought he might win, Biden won comfortably, in no small part because he won two-thirds of the black vote. On March 17, where three states (Arizona, Florida, and Illinois) held virtually all-voting-by-mail contests, Biden won a sweep, with even higher margins among African-Americans, joined increasingly by white working-class and suburban college-educated voters.

All in all, it’s very clear that Joe Biden would have never survived the tough early going in 2020 without his base of African-American support, particularly if his rivals had managed to take away a significant share of that same support.

To the extent that black support for Biden is attributable to the power of his electability credentials among an element of the electorate determined to get rid of Donald Trump, it’s a good start for him in building an enthusiastic general election coalition. But it also suggests a political debt that may go deeper than Biden’s constant proclamations of loyalty to his great benefactor Barack Obama.

In choosing the woman who will serve as his vice-presidential nominee, the pressure on Joe Biden to thank African-Americans with a running mate from their ranks — a reciprocal gesture to the one Obama made in choosing him in 2008 — could be considerable. If, of course, there’s anyone else who tangibly could help improve the odds of beating Trump, black voters will likely again go with the winning formula.