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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Editor’s Corner

August 4: There’ll Be No “Moving On” from 2020 Now

The political impact of the new felony criminal indictment of Donald Trump could be both massive and complicated. But one thing it will do for sure is keep the 2020 election in view, as I noted at New York:

It’s easy to conflate all of Donald Trump’s legal problems into an undifferentiated blur of litigation serving as a sideshow to his 2024 comeback effort. But it’s important to recognize that the latest indictment from special counsel Jack Smith won’t just serve as a distraction for Trump and other candidates running for president. It will inevitably focus the intraparty and interparty debate already underway on the events of the last presidential election, a dynamic that will only intensify once the expected indictment of Trump under Georgia state law for election interference activities drops in Atlanta any day now.

It is almost impossible to overstate how much this development plays into Trump’s reelection strategy. From the get-go, the 45th president has made his 2024 campaign a vengeance-and-redemption tour based on his contention that Democrats “rigged” the 2020 election and subsequently conspired to waylay his career with an impeachment, the January 6 committee investigation, and multiple civil and criminal proceedings. In various ways, other Republican candidates and opinion leaders have sought to convince their voters to “move on” to a campaign based on negative characterizations of Joe Biden, his “far left” party, his economic and fiscal record, and his age and alleged disabilities.

But now there’s no “moving on” from the events of 2020 in all their wildly improbable trajectory culminating in the January 6 Capitol riot. The pathetic reaction of top Trump rival Ron DeSantis to the latest indictment — basically offering to save Trump’s freedom by wrecking the federal law enforcement system — shows how everyone other than the former president has lost control of the 2024 narrative. The sheer weight of Trump’s upcoming trials on the nomination-contest calendar will force his rivals to adjust the pace and direction of their campaign activities as well, even as they chase the man dominating the political landscape from a great distance.

That’s true, in a different sort of way, for Biden and other Democrats. The new indictment (which, again, will be echoed by the impending Georgia indictment) doesn’t involve some arcane matter like presidential records or some prepresidential or non-presidential Trump misconduct. It focuses on events virtually all Americans read and watched and heard about in great detail as they unfolded. Given the lens of partisan polarization through which the prosecution will be viewed, Team Biden will need to make a persuasive case to a narrow band of swing voters that Trump is the villain of the story and a criminal who must be kept from regaining power lest his crimes bear fruit. And if Trump is indeed the GOP nominee and the general election is as close as it appears to be right now, then Democrats will without question make their crucial voter mobilization efforts turn on characterizations of Trump and his cronies and allies as threats to democracy and the rule of law.

All roads lead right back to the crucial days between the wee hours of November 4, 2020, when Trump falsely declared victory, and January 6, 2021, when his election coup finally failed.

This is the ground on which Trump has always wanted to wage his 2024 election battle, from the day last fall when he announced his comeback bid as an effort to resume his interrupted presidency. If he loses this election or his freedom, it will be entirely his own doing.

Jul8 28: DeSantis’ Electability Boast Ringing Hollow

Like most Democrats, I’m annoyed by Republican pols who brag they will kick our butts in a general election. I’m glad to report the most annoying braggart of them all, Ron DeSantis, has been getting his comeuppance, as I noted at New York:

As Ron DeSantis tries to catch up to Republican presidential primary front-runner Donald Trump, the Florida governor’s campaign has been making aggressive assertions that he has an advantage in terms of his “electability” against Joe Biden. The case for DeSantis being the better Republican general-election candidate has had less to do with any direct evidence than with the fading memories of his strong reelection performance in 2022, compared to the mixed results of Trump-endorsed midterms candidates and, of course, his loss to Biden in 2020.

But truth be told, a lot of DeSantis’s electability claims are more about Republican voters’ presumed lack of trust in Trump, which isn’t all that well established. In fact, a new Monmouth survey of Republicans shows Trump has an electability advantage over DeSantis. It’s not even very close. If you directly ask Republicans which candidate is stronger against Biden, Trump wins pretty clearly:

“Regardless of whether you currently support Donald Trump, which of the following statements comes closest to your view about which Republican has the best chance to win in 2024.”

Forty-five percent said Trump was definitely stronger and another 24 percent said Trump was probably stronger. Only 13 percent said any other Republican is definitely stronger, and 18 percent said some other Republican is probably stronger. Directly comparing Trump and DeSantis, 47 percent said the Florida governor was weaker than the former president; 22 percent said he was stronger.

It’s not just Monmouth showing DeSantis’s loss of an electability advantage (if he ever had one). As the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake notes, this problem shows up in early state polls as well:

“Fox Business polls in the key primary states of Iowa and South Carolina tell the same tale.

“In Iowa, 45 percent said Trump would be the most likely to defeat Biden, while 23 percent picked DeSantis. And in South Carolina, Trump’s edge on this measure was threefold: 51 percent to 17 percent.”

In recent weeks, DeSantis has deemphasized the argument that he’s more appealing to swing voters and instead focused on out-Trumping Trump by running to his right on immigration, crime, COVID-19, and federal spending. It’s possible he’s abandoning his once-obsessive electability pitch altogether and is going after hard-core “very conservative” and/or ultra-MAGA voters. Some right-wing Republicans believe, improbably, that swing voters actually want stridently ideological candidates rather than any sort of squishy centrists. And in the end, a candidate can’t win the general election at all without winning the nomination. More likely, Team DeSantis is going after today’s Trump voters by abandoning anything like moderation and perhaps making electability an afterthought. It’s a good way to make yourself unelectable altogether.

July 27: And Now, For Something Completely Different: A Two-Incumbent Presidential Election

As a political history fanatic, I quickly read and then wrote about this history-based insight on 2024 at New York:

There isn’t much question that the likeliest scenario for the 2024 presidential election will be a rematch between 2020 winner Joe Biden and 2020 loser Donald Trump. Allegedly, this is a pairing most Americans don’t want (it’s actually a bit hard to tell since Democrats nearly all despise Trump and Republicans nearly all despise Biden, meaning a “rematch” begins by displeasing half of the electorate). But the polls show Biden crushing Robert Kennedy Jr. and Marianne Williamson in the primary and Trump far ahead of 12 intraparty opponents, so anything other than a rematch would be quite a surprise.

But Biden vs. Trump: Part II will not simply be a replay of the 2020 election. Most obviously, conditions in the country have changed with the winding down of the COVID-19 pandemic and the winding up of the economy, along with renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine and all the partisan controversies that have accompanied this latest phase of divided U.S. government.

Perhaps most important, there will be a new incumbent president on the ballot in 2024. But as Jonathan V. Last observes, Biden won’t be the only president on the ballot if Trump wins the GOP nomination:

“No one living has seen an election in which two presidents have run against one another.

“And that changes everything …

“One of the (many) advantages an incumbent president has is that he has proven that he can do the job.

“This sword has two edges: An incumbent’s presidential record can be attacked. Some voters may like it. Some may not. But at the lizard-brain level, they have all seen him sitting at the big desk in the Oval. They know what he looks like as president.

“At the risk of stating the obvious: Joe Biden is president of the United States. Donald Trump used to be president of the United States.”

So in a Biden-Trump rematch, both candidates will have already passed the plausible-president threshold, and both have a recent presidential record to defend. As Last points out, this hasn’t happened since 1892, when former president Grover Cleveland faced incumbent president Benjamin Harrison, who had narrowly defeated Cleveland (while losing the popular vote) four years earlier. Then as now, the rematches came in an extended period of closely contested presidential elections. Then as now, the electorate knew both candidates very well.

But there are some big differences between the 19th-century and 21st-century rematches. For one thing, Harrison’s 1892 defeat was preceded by a financial panic and recession that cost his Republican Party an incredible 93 House seats (out of a total of 332) in the 1890 midterms. The 2022 midterms, by contrast, were a near dead heat with modest Republican gains in the House. But the even bigger difference is that the Cleveland-Harrison transition in 1889 was peaceful. The 2021 transition was perpetually contested by the loser and eventually by a mob that invaded Congress and tried to stop the final certification of the winner. Indeed, those events are an important — to many voters, a central — part of Trump’s record as an incumbent.

The horrific culmination of the first Biden-Trump election has frozen the vast majority of partisans in place as a rematch approaches, with most Democrats regarding Trump as a lawless rogue who had to be impeached twice, and most Republicans regarding Biden as a usurper who stole the White House from its rightful occupant. Conversely, most Republicans view the Trump administration as an era of peace and prosperity, while most Democrats view the Biden administration as a return to normalcy and constitutional governance. It’s unclear how many voters will engage in any judicious comparison of the records of the two presidents, and it’s entirely possible the result will be determined by voters who must decide which of them they dislike the least.

But beware of anyone telling you there is some infallible historical precedent governing a 2024 rematch. As has been so often the case since Trump won the 2016 election in an upset that overturned previous infallible historical precedents, we’re in unexplored political territory.

July 20: Are Liberal Media Afraid of DeSantis? I Don’t Think So.

Sometimes you just have to cringe at the excuses politicians make for their troubles. As I noted at New York, Ron DeSantis has resorted to the hoariest of them all.

It’s never a great look when a politician hits a rough patch and blames it on the news media. But rather than blaming Donald Trump for his recent 2024 campaign troubles — or even taking some responsibility for his bungled start — Florida governor Ron DeSantis keeps making the cringeworthy claim that his campaign is actually going gangbusters but is being artificially downgraded by liberal scribes who fear him.

“I think it’s pretty clear that the media does not want me to be their candidate,” DeSantis recently told Fox News when asked how he plans to overcome Trump’s lead. “They’ve tried to create a narrative that somehow the race is over.”

Let’s say he was just talking about the liberal mainstream media, that great nemesis for all conservative politicians. Is it true that they (we?) fear DeSantis as the GOP nominee and are thus developing a “narrative” that “somehow the race is over,” presumably to head off the awful specter of a DeSantis-Biden general election? You can see why that’s a story Team DeSantis would relish since it both implies the candidate’s problems are imaginary and encourages Republican primary voters to support their enemies’ enemy.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t make a great deal of sense.

For one thing, reporting that the DeSantis campaign is encountering problems doesn’t mean writing him off (as a matter of fact, I just wrote a piece the other day arguing it was far too early for that). But the candidate has some basic weaknesses that have been evident for some time.

As my colleague Jonathan Chait observed back in April, DeSantis is potentially a very vulnerable general-election candidate:

“He has gone on the record in the past supporting both privatization and benefit cuts for Social Security and Medicare, a position so deeply toxic that even most Republican voters recoil from it. More recently, he signed a ban on abortion after six weeks, a period so restrictive it virtually amounts to a complete ban …

“Yes, DeSantis would be able to regain some of the orthodox Republican voters repelled by Trump’s personal style. But he would forfeit not only some of the Trump cultists whose only connection to Republican politicians is a personal attachment to the 45th president but also some of the working-class voters Trump attracted by discarding some of his party’s unpopular issue baggage.”

Since April, DeSantis has doubled down on trying to run to Trump’s right. He has gone hog wild not only with an abortion stance that may be kryptonite to his swing-voter appeal but on positions like his hostility to COVID-19 measures (including vaccines) and his demands for militarization of the southern border, which may appeal to the GOP base at the cost of alienating the general electorate. If he keeps pursuing this strategy while chasing Trump from far behind, you have to figure that by the time the deal goes down in 2024, the DeSantis who won an easy reelection in Florida in 2022 may be all but unrecognizable to those who voted for him mostly because the state’s economy was doing well.

But you don’t just have to speculate about how offensive a crazed MAGA monster out-Trumping Trump may be to swing voters down the road. You can look at polls right now and see the evidence that DeSantis has no actual general-election advantage over Trump despite his team’s constant assertions that he is more electable. According to the RealClearPolitics polling averages, trial heats show Trump trailing Joe Biden by 0.2 percent (43.8 percent to 43.6 percent). DeSantis trails Biden by 1.5 percent. It’s not a meaningful difference, but it does show that the breezy self-confidence with which many DeSantis boosters assume he’s Democrats’ biggest nightmare is based on supposition, if not superstition.

Perhaps DeSantis backers would argue that the governor isn’t kicking Biden’s ass just yet because his sterling virtues aren’t as well known as they will be after he runs a couple of hundred million dollars worth of ads. But a look at DeSantis’s favorability ratio (better than Trump’s or Biden’s but still underwater) suggests that may not be true either. His RCP polling averages are currently at 37.9 percent favorable and 45.2 percent unfavorable. So to know him is not necessarily to love him; more exposure as the 2024 race heats up may not improve his standing against Biden.

None of this data, of course, factor in the signs that are actually the source of recent negative media stories: DeSantis, for all his money and the incessant boasting of his campaign and super-PAC staffs, isn’t running a particularly tight operation.

It’s a separate question, of course, as to whether Democrats would prefer dealing with an actually inaugurated Trump or DeSantis. No one knows exactly how either man would conduct himself in the Oval Office, and a lot would depend on what happens downballot as well. But to the extent that DeSantis’s route to the nomination involves capturing the heart of Trump’s base of support, the odds are very high that by the time Republicans (likely) nominate one of them, their differences would be less significant than ever before. As Chait put it:

“The best option for any liberal, moderate, or believer in democracy is to keep the Republicans away from power until they become sane again. In the meantime, the party has nothing to offer but different kinds of bad choices.”

So no, liberal media aren’t lashing out at DeSantis because he strikes them as a world-beater. Right now, DeSantis’s objective standing in the 2024 contest doesn’t require any negative spin.

July 19: Good News for Democrats in Full Midterm Data

Now that we have something more accurate than exit polls for examining the 2022 midterms, it’s time for a reconsideration of that election’s implications, as I noted at New York:

National elections are complicated phenomena. You can determine the results and their immediate consequences soon enough. But the internal dynamics of the electorate and the implications for future elections can take a while to grasp. At first, all you have are imperfect exit polls and pundit insights, and they sometimes produce equally imperfect conventional wisdom.

That’s what happened in the 2022 midterms. We know that Republicans managed narrowly to flip the U.S. House but fell short of expectations in that chamber, as well as in the U.S. Senate and to some extent state contests. There was a lot of talk about Democrats benefiting from highly motivated pro-choice voters upset about the reversal of Roe v. Wade, and Republicans suffering from extremist Senate candidates promoted by Donald Trump. Now we’re getting a clearer picture thanks to the Pew Research Center’s careful analysis of validated voters (those saying they voted and for whom Pew found voter files) from the midterms:

“In midterm elections that yielded mixed results for both parties, Republicans won the popular vote for the U.S. House of Representatives largely on the strength of higher turnout.

“A new Pew Research Center analysis of verified voters and nonvoters in 2022, 2020, 2018 and 2016 finds that partisan differences in turnout — rather than vote switching between parties — account for most of the Republican gains in voting for the House last year.”

So while Democratic turnout may have exceeded expectations, it didn’t exceed Republican turnout. And voters who did turn out overwhelmingly stayed with their own party:

“Overall, 68% of those who voted in the 2020 presidential election turned out to vote in the 2022 midterms. Former President Donald Trump’s voters turned out at a higher rate in 2022 (71%) than did President Joe Biden’s voters (67%) …

“Relatively small shares of voters defected from their partisan affiliation or 2020 presidential vote. Among those who voted for both president in 2020 and for a House representative in 2022, just 6% crossed party lines between elections or voted for third-party candidates in either election.”

Viewed in total isolation, this might be viewed as good news for Republicans going forward; that was how the New York Times interpreted the Pew numbers:

“The report serves as a warning sign for Democrats ahead of the 2024 presidential election, with early polls pointing toward a possible rematch between President Biden and former President Donald J. Trump.

“Though Democrats maintained control of the Senate, all but one of their governor’s mansions and only narrowly lost the House, the Pew data shows that a larger percentage of voters who supported Mr. Trump in 2020 cast ballots in November than those who backed Mr. Biden did. People who had voted in past elections but sat out 2022 were overwhelmingly Democrats.”

But the midterm results and the Pew data on who voted and for whom should emphatically not be viewed in isolation from historic trends. There were two data points supporting the expectation that a “red wave” would form in November 2022. The first was the “midterm falloff” typically experienced by Democratic-leaning voter groups, particularly young and minority voters who have never participated in non-presidential elections in numbers matching the older and whiter voters who now lean Republican. The second is that traditional midterm voter backlash almost always afflicts the party that controls the White House. What the Pew analysis shows us is that the first phenomenon (a Democratic turnout falloff) indeed occurred, but the second (significant vote-switching away from Joe Biden’s party) largely didn’t. As so you had a small Republican ripple instead of a wave.

The other side of the “midterm falloff” coin is that turnout by pro-Democratic voting groups tends to improve in presidential elections. All else being equal, that means if Democrats can again hang onto their voters and they turn out at a higher rate, they should have an advantage in 2024. To put it another way, they should have lost significant ground between 2020 and 2022 but didn’t. The fact that Democrats didn’t do as well as they did in 2018, which the Times analysis emphasized, is extremely unsurprising: Republicans controlled the White House then, and Democrats did produce some vote-switching in their favor.

The exceptional party loyalty exhibited by 2022 voters found by Pew, it should be mentioned, refutes some of the impressions of unusual voter trends that pundits discerned right after the elections, some of them derived from iffy exit-poll findings. The exits showed Democrats carrying women by a robust eight-point margin (53 percent to 45 percent), which reinforced the belief the abortion issue changed the results significantly. The validated voter data showed Democrats carrying women by a more modest three-point margin (51 percent to 48 percent). On the other side of the ledger, exit polls showed Republicans winning 13 percent of the Black vote, more than double the percentage the GOP won in 2018. But Pew’s validated voter data showed Republicans winning just 5 percent of the Black vote, a point less than they won in 2018.

To be very clear, the Democratic advantage in 2024 that I’ve inferred from the Pew data is what would happen if only turnout patterns change in that election. Everything — from conditions in the country, issue salience, and the quality of candidates and campaigns — may not stay the same, which could mean a narrow GOP victory or the first comfortable win for Democrats (or for either party) since 2008. But there’s a reason Democrats were thrilled to come out of the midterms without bigger losses than they sustained, and there’s no reason to assume their position will become more tenuous in a presidential year.

July 12: Iowa Republicans Stumble on the MLK Holiday to Begin Their 2024 Presidential Contest

We now have a starting point for the 2024 presidential nominating contest, and the date seems to have been something of an accident, as I observed at New York:

It’s official: Republicans’ first-in-the nation Iowa Caucus is set for January 15, 2024. That means the voting phase of the 2023 Republican presidential-nomination contest will begin in about six months, on a federal holiday.

Iowa Republicans have given themselves an unnecessary headache by scheduling their caucus to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. State chairman Jeff Kaufmann claims they did this without “considering it.” Now Kaufmann is trying to spin the miscalculation as a “tribute” to MLK, but it won’t be a good look for the famously non-diverse Republicans of Iowa to be engaged in full-time presidential politicking when others are reflecting on King’s provocative and progressive legacy. The burden of defending that decision will likely fall, ironically, on the two Black presidential candidates competing in Iowa, Tim Scott and Larry Elder.

While the specific date of the Iowa Caucus had been up in the air until now, the GOP calendar was expected to start early in 2023 owing to some failed efforts by other states to displace Iowa and New Hampshire. Some of this maneuvering was encouraged by the Democratic National Committee, which felt freer to tamper with the calendar as its 2024 contest isn’t competitive. The big development for Republicans was the Nevada legislature’s vote to create a February 6 presidential primary, which led New Hampshire’s secretary of state to move its primary to January 23. Iowa’s decision maintains the traditional eight-day gap between Iowa and New Hampshire. South Carolina Republicans (who do not have to vote on the same day as Democrats) will round out the early states with a primary on February 24. Then other states are free to hold primaries or caucuses beginning in March.

So we are once again virtually guaranteed a snowy-evening launching point for the 2024 presidential primary calendar. Iowa Republicans have a significantly simpler caucus process than the opposition; Democrats’ convoluted if time-honored system of affinity groups, delegate-equivalents, and multiple votes crashed the Democratic caucuses in 2020, contributing to the DNC’s decision to take away the state’s first-in-the-nation status and ban presidential caucuses altogether. Republicans just show up, hear some speeches, eat a few cookies and vote for their presidential favorite in a straight balloting that’s easy to tabulate. Perhaps with the excess time a moment to commemorate a conservative take on the MLK legacy will be obligatory in 2024.

Meanwhile, Iowa Democrats will likely have caucus meetings on January 15. But in deference to the DNC’s wishes, they are not inclined to complete or announce any votes on presidential preferences or the allocation of any delegates on the traditional caucus night. It appears they will have a separate vote-by-mail process for their real decisions, which will be announced when the initial phases of the presidential-nominating contest are safely past. So Joe Biden will not have to compete in rogue Iowa caucuses, and if Robert F. Kennedy Jr. or Marianne Williamson happen to show any strength in Iowa, we likely won’t know about it until Biden has romped to victory in sanctioned primaries.

All the national attention, then, will be on the Republicans engaged in an individual struggle for survival and a collective effort to keep keep current front-runner Donald Trump from wrapping up the 2024 nomination before the first warm weather of spring arrives.

July 5: Yes, Trump Has Lost Some Tools for Overturning Another Election Loss. But Violence Remains.

As someone who wrote intensively about Donald Trump’s attempted election coup in 2020, I’ve been on the alert for a recurrence in 2024. And as I noted at New York, we’re not at all out of the woods yet.

Lest anyone forget: The front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination is a man who has never accepted his 2020 defeat. More importantly, Donald Trump has convinced a sizable majority of GOP voters to accept his unsubstantiated claims that the presidency was “stolen” from him in 2020. It follows, then, that if Trump loses again in November 2024, he is very likely to deny defeat once again. But his options for challenging the legitimacy of the next presidential race are increasingly limited.

Looking back at the attempted election coup that culminated in the violence of January 6, it’s obvious that Trump’s long-range strategy was to allege widespread Democratic voter fraud based on disputing the legitimacy of voting by mail and in-person early voting, while seizing on and publicizing every available rumor of chicanery by Democratic election officials. This gambit arguably started way back in the wake of Trump’s 2016 victory, when he insisted on claiming he had won the national popular vote that he actually lost to Hillary Clinton by 2.8 million votes. It reached a crescendo on Election Night 2020 when Trump claimed victory based on partial returns before mail ballots could be counted.

While Trump has never abandoned his effort to delegitimize non–Election Day voting, he (along with other leading Republicans) is now urging GOP voters to fully take advantage of the voting rules as they exist across the country. And that’s largely what they did in the 2022 midterms; clearly, the partisan “taint” of early voting has worn off. That means there will likely be no basis in 2024 for a “red mirage” phenomenon, in which the Republican candidate will take a momentary lead based on a disproportionate share of the votes that happen to be counted first. If the election is close, Trump would have to wait just like the rest of the country for all the votes to roll in. And unless he reverses course once again, his “stolen election” claims will need a different rationale than the illegitimacy of early voting. What will replace it? That’s unclear.

The three tactics Team Trump pursued in 2020 in an effort to negate Joe Biden’s win probably won’t be available in 2024. Those were (1) the effort to supplant state-certified presidential electors in key states via the unilateral action of Republican-controlled state legislatures, based on an exotic constitutional theory called the “independent state legislatures doctrine;” (2) appeals to Republican election officials in key states to put a thumb on the scales to reverse the outcome (e.g., the infamous Trump phone call to Georgia secretary of State Brad Raffensperger), and (3) the culminating bid on January 6 to stop or reverse Biden’s final certification in Congress, which was the object of the attack on the U.S. Capitol by a Trump-inspired mob.

As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent recently pointed out, all three of these avenues for flipping an election have been at least partially blocked since January 6:

“The Supreme Court’s decision in Moore v. Harper on Tuesday is a major reprieve for American democracy. By rejecting the radical idea that state legislatures have quasi-unlimited power to determine how elections are run, the court made it harder for lawmakers to engage in the shenanigans that Donald Trump encouraged to overturn his 2020 reelection loss …

“Along with the ruling, virtually all election-denying candidates for governor and secretary of state in key swing states lost in the 2022 midterms. [And] Congress reformed the law that governs how presidential electors are counted.”

Aside from the Supreme Court’s rejection of the “independent state legislatures” doctrine, Republicans lost control of legislatures in Michigan and (at least temporarily) Pennsylvania. And beyond the reforms of the Electoral Count Act of 1887 that make it much harder to challenge presidential-election results in Congress, the vice-president who will preside over the tabulation of electoral votes in January of 2025 is Kamala Harris.

So the loopholes Trump tried to exploit in 2020 to give his insurrection some legitimacy just won’t be available in 2024. Sure, the sort of state-by-state guerrilla litigation based on rumors and conspiracy theories that made laughingstocks of Trump’s legal team in 2020 will theoretically still be available. But it’s no more likely to succeed than it did before.

Is Greg Sargent correct, then, in arguing that “our democratic system is fortifying itself on multiple levels, unexpectedly reducing the odds of a rerun of Trump’s efforts in 2024”? Let’s hope so. But it’s also possible that in the absence of legal fig leaves for insurrectionary measures, Team Trump will resort to an overtly revolutionary approach, including summoning a mob to the Capitol, this time not to interfere with Congress’s proceedings but to suppress them altogether.

Without question, a host of institutions, including the Biden administration, the federal courts, responsible Republicans (such as they are), and the U.S. military leadership would stand in the way of a outright insurrectionary bid to reverse a presidential election result and impose an authoritarian regime. It probably won’t happen. But it shouldn’t be ruled out as a strategic option for this lawless man and his devoted following. Trump has, after all, openly and repeatedly described the existing U.S. government as an inherently evil and corrupt “swamp” whose inhabitants in both major parties are hell-bent on the destruction of the country and its values. It’s a bedrock principle among MAGA enthusiasts that they enjoy a right of violent revolution (the entire basis, they claim, for the Second Amendment) against “tyranny” as they define it. And Trump represents a lot of people living in a sort of cultural — and even religious — panic motivated by the demographic and geopolitical decline of the “great” America they imagine.

It’s good that Trump has been hemmed in institutionally since January 6 and may be forced to accept an adverse 2024 result even if he won’t admit he lost. The best way to ensure that happens is for voters to rebuke him by a margin that is simply unmistakable, convincing his GOP co-conspirators once and for all that he and his movement represent a losing proposition. But at the same time, we should take the 45th president’s regular revolutionary mutterings seriously if not literally.

June 28: How Far Right Can Republicans Go? DeSantis Testing the Limits.

I’m old enough to remember when I thought the Republicans of the George W. Bush era had gone far off the cliff into the right-wing fever swamps. As I noted at New York, it’s getting far worse during the GOP 2024 presidential contest:

There’s a huge strategic dilemma at the heart of Ron DeSantis’s 2024 presidential campaign. He wants to convince the MAGA Republicans most likely to vote in primaries that he’s Trump without the drama, and perhaps even more radical than the 45th president. But that’s at odds with the “electability” argument that he’s better positioned to beat Joe Biden. Since DeSantis formally launched his campaign, Trump has maintained and even expanded his lead in virtually every poll of Republicans. The Florida governor has responded by leaning more heavily on a hard-core ideological pitch that may leave some anti-Trump Republicans, not to mention swing voters, cold. The Florida governor is trying to out-Trump Trump, and it’s not clear this strategy has much of a chance of success with the GOP base still in love with the 45th president.

The DeSantis stump speech has been evolving in recent weeks. Now, as before, he touts his record in Florida as a model for his party and for the nation. But his early emphasis on such standard gubernatorial virtues as industrial recruitment and sound fiscal management has gradually given way to a presentation of DeSantis as a culture warrior who gazes at conservatism’s enemies with a sort of unblinking reptilian stare, unlike Trump’s many self-distractions and sideshow antics.

DeSantis’s remarks at the candidate cattle call hosted by the Faith and Freedom Coalition, the country’s most politically focused organization of conservative Christian activists, in Washington on June 23 represented his most strident effort yet to get to the former president’s right. Trump is generally seeking vengeance against his enemies in the federal government; DeSantis is promising “accountability” for alleged COVID tyrant Anthony Fauci specifically. Trump is a hero to the anti-abortion movement; DeSantis insisted on a draconian six-week abortion ban that Trump called “too harsh.” Trump wants to finish building his border wall; DeSantis wants to militarize the border to stop the “invasion” of immigrants, and even to blockade Mexican ports to stop delivery of chemicals used to make fentanyl. Trump appointed three hard-core conservatives to the U.S. Supreme Court; DeSantis would only appoint a justice as extreme as Clarence Thomas.

Despite all of DeSantis’s huffing and puffing, the Faith and Freedom Coalition event turned into a MAGA rally at which even the mention of Trump’s name drew rapturous applause. When it came time for the former president’s “keynote” address, he was allowed to rant and rave to his heart’s content in contrast to his rivals’ limited time slots. DeSantis may have successfully made himself over in Trump’s image, but he’s still overshadowed by the former president.

The acid test for DeSantis won’t come in any shared candidate event or even in the debates that begin in August (which Trump may or may not deign to attend). It will be in the Iowa caucuses, where in the recent past the candidate successfully depicting himself as the “true conservative” in the field has generally won (e.g., Mike Huckabee in 2008, Rick Santorum in 2012, Ted Cruz in 2016). And indeed, it was the site of Trump’s biggest defeat in 2016 (though of course he later denounced it as “stolen”). DeSantis has surrounded himself with veterans of the Cruz campaign. And that is very likely reinforcing his decision to run much like Cruz did, relying on a hard-core conservative message and an expensive field effort focused on the likeliest — which often means the most conservative — voters.

Without question, this strategy will take a toll on the breadth of DeSantis’s support among more moderate Republicans who have plenty of other candidates to choose from. And there’s little evidence that general-election swing voters are really longing for an effective extremist (DeSantis’s big 2022 performance in Florida, which is receding rapidly in voters’ memories, is now his only evidence for “electability”). But you can appreciate that unless DeSantis wins Iowa or over-performs expectations notably, he’s probably sunk. He’s not looking that strong in New Hampshire, and in South Carolina he’s fighting not just Trump but two Palmetto State rivals.

So for the foreseeable future, DeSantis is going to campaign as not just steadier and more effective than Trump, but as the man who will leave the libs, as he likes to say, “in the dustbin of history.” There’s nothing cheerful or swing-voter-pleasing about the message he’s conveying.

It may be rather difficult to soften this image of DeSantis if it doesn’t work to outflank Trump. And it clearly hasn’t so far; Trump continues to lead his governor by 30 points in the national RealClearPolitics polling averages and leads in every early state poll as well. If that pattern continues, even as Trump faces indictment after indictment, Ron DeSantis may wind up in a narrow corner of the Republican Party into which he has painted himself very deliberately.

June 23: The Case For Exposing, Not Ignoring, RFK Jr.

Many strategic decisions by Democrats for 2024 are difficult. There’s one that shouldn’t be, as I argue at New York:

While the 2024 Republican presidential field continues to expand, it looks like the Democratic field will consist of President Joe Biden and two nuisance candidates. One of them, Marianne Williamson, is a 2020 retread who is having serious problems with the management of her campaign; she’s also polling consistently in the single digits. She can be left to exercise her First Amendment rights until the money runs out. But the second candidate, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., is another matter. His last name is extremely famous in Democratic politics, and he’s polling regularly in the double digits — sometimes above 20 percent of the vote. As The Hill reports, that has spurred a debate among Democrats about what to do with the man mostly known as an anti-vaxxer and conspiracy theorist:

“Party strategists cleave into two camps on the question of how Biden and his campaign should respond.

“One faction argues that Biden should ignore Kennedy. Engaging him would only legitimize and elevate his candidacy, they say.

“The other school of thought holds that Kennedy is too dangerous a figure to let campaign unimpeded. This second camp notes that, even if Kennedy never looks like a fully serious contender for the nomination, he could hurt Biden if he continues edging up in the polls.

“In a hypothetical scenario where Kennedy rose to 25 percent or 30 percent in the polls, questions about Biden’s age and political vulnerability would grow much sharper.”

The big problem with the “ignore him” approach to RFK Jr. is that he doesn’t depend on Biden or other Democrats for the publicity that will keep his candidacy running along like a low-grade fever. He’s getting all the attention he needs from his fellow anti-vaxx and conspiracy-theory buffs on social media. He’s also drawing plenty of conservative-media love for being a thorn in Biden’s side and for his willingness to consort with those types of personalities regularly (in part because they agree with much of his agenda). Kennedy has been featured on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, Joe Rogan’s podcast, and in Elon Musk’s Twitter Spaces discussions. These invitations came after the candidate sucked up to all three figures (he called Carlson “breathtakingly courageous” when Fox fired him, he played into Rogan’s stunt of trying to ambush a prominent vaccine scientist for an impromptu debate, and he gushed about Musk’s alleged contributions to free speech).

So ignoring RFK Jr. won’t starve his candidacy to death. But exposing him for what he is — not a real Democrat — could effectively cap his vote while forcing the mainstream media to stop treating him as a legitimate Democratic candidate. He should be regarded as a pest doing the bidding of the opposing party.

That means constantly calling out Kennedy for the abovementioned coziness with conservative-media figures and for his substantive points of agreement with the less savory elements of the American right. RFK Jr. is set to address Moms for Liberty, the extremist “parental rights” group, at an event next week along with Donald TrumpRon DeSantis, and an assortment of hard-core right-wing conspiracy theorists. As The New Republic observes, Kennedy is very much at home in such company:

“In the last week alone, RFK Jr. has made news for comparing Covid-19 mask mandates to Nazi experiments, saying chemicals in our water are making frogs gay and kids transgender, and claiming Wi-Fi causes cancer. He appeared on the conservative network NewsMax and accused China of developing “ethnic bioweapons” designed to go after specific races of people. And he promised to, if elected, gut funding for federal health agencies that recommend vaccine schedules for children. That includes agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

The man’s views simply aren’t those of a Democrat’s circa 2024. Even Democratic primary voters unhappy with Biden do not want to help produce a Trump or DeSantis presidency in 2024. Democratic messaging should make it clear that every vote for Kennedy generates smiles in Tallahassee, the fever swamps of the right-wing internet, and at Mar-a-Lago.

Any campaign to expose and discredit RFK Jr. should focus on a particular risk: that he could win, or at least put up headline-grabbing numbers, in a rogue New Hampshire primary that won’t include Biden. New Hampshire law traps Democrats into a first-in-the-nation primary date that defies the national party’s plan to start the 2024 nomination process in South Carolina. Without question, the president and party leader who created the new calendar cannot appear on the New Hampshire ballot or campaign there. So the key thing for Democrats nationally is to relentlessly pound away at the assertion that the nominating contest begins in whatever state’s primary Biden first enters (probably South Carolina’s). Fox News may celebrate a Kennedy win or near win in the Granite State. That should be regarded as spin or the kind of conspiracy RFK Jr. often embraces.

June 22: The Myth of the Hispanic Anti-Abortion Bloc

A lot of political misperceptions flow for outdated stereotypes. One of these is that Hispanic voters are trending Republican due to the Democratic Party’s support for abortion rights, as I explained at New York.

In all the recent talk about Republican gains among the fast-growing Hispanic and Latino populations in 2020 and 2022, there’s been a prevailing assumption that conservative cultural and religious views among these voters and the alleged progressive radicalism of the Democratic Party on subjects like abortion have played a major part in driving them to the right. While it is perilous to make too many generalizations about people of highly diverse national origins, proximity to immigration, religions, socioeconomic status, regions of the country, and even racial identities, it is pretty clear overall that on this decade’s hottest-button culture-war issue of abortion, Hispanic Americans are fully part of the country’s solid pro-choice majority. If Hispanics are trending to the right, it’s largely for other reasons.

Indeed, the recent direction of Hispanic opinion has unquestionably been toward support for legalized abortion. A major Pew survey in 2007-2008 showed a narrow plurality of Hispanics — 49 percent — agreeing that abortion should be “illegal in all or most cases,” with 47 percent agreeing that it should be “legal in all or most cases,” at a time when, overall, 54 percent of Americans favored legal abortion. The most recent Pew survey on abortion in June of 2022 (just before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade) showed 60 percent of Hispanics favoring legal abortion in all or most cases, right around the overall 61 percent.

To some extent, this trend reflects a particularly strong shift toward pro-choice views among Hispanic Catholics. In 2013, the Public Religion Research Institute found that 54 percent of U.S. Hispanic Catholics opposed legalized abortion. In 2022, PRRI showed the anti-abortion percentage dropping to 37 percent, with 61 percent favoring legalized abortion. Another factor driving pro-choice opinion has been a youth-led rise in the percentage of religiously non-affiliated Hispanics, as Pew explained in 2022:

“As of 2022, 43% of Hispanic adults identify as Catholic, down from 67% in 2010. Even so, Latinos remain about twice as likely as U.S. adults overall to identify as Catholic, and considerably less likely to be Protestant. … The share of Latinos who are religiously unaffiliated is on par with U.S. adults overall.”

At the same time, a relatively high percentage of U.S. Hispanic Protestants — 21 percent of the Hispanic population — are Evangelicals, often Pentecostals (especially recent immigrants from Central America). They provide a hard kernel of anti-abortion opinion; in the 2022 PRRI survey, 54 percent of Hispanic Protestants were opposed to legal abortion. They are not, contrary to the prevailing buzz, increasing as a share of the Hispanic population; the religious “nones” are the high-growth category in this as in other demographic groups.

Overall, U.S. Hispanics are roughly in sync with national opinion on abortion. Growth in Republican Party voting or affiliation is more likely to be attributable to other factors, ranging from the strongly anti-socialist views of Cuban and Venezuelan immigrants in Florida to support for local fossil-fuel-based industries in Texas, to a general sense in some states that Democrats are taking Hispanic voters for granted. Abortion policy would appear to have little to do with it, and shouldn’t provide any particular opportunity for a GOP that is out of step with the pro-choice majority of Americans overall. Indeed, one analysis of the 2022 midterms showed intense pro-choice opinion definitely helped produce better-than-anticipated Democratic results among Hispanics/Latinos in the latest election: “Latinos who chose abortion as their top issue, wrote Equis, while a smaller group, voted in dominant fashion for Democrats, and they turned out beyond predicted rates.”

Don’t be surprised if that trend continues until Republicans change their tune on abortion policy. It’s a loser for the GOP across many categories of voters.