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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Vote Blue! No Matter Who.

VOTE BLUE.

No matter who.

“Vote Blue, No Matter Who” do-it-yourself t-shirts and bumper stickers–just call your local, unionized print shop and ask for an estimate. They can contact editors@thedemocraticstrategist.org for the artwork.

Vote Blue No Matter Who bumper sticker

Vote Blue!

No Matter Who!

“Vote Blue, No Matter Who” do-it-yourself t-shirts and bumper stickers–just call your local, unionized print shop and ask for an estimate. They can contact editors@thedemocraticstrategist.org for the artwork.

Vote Blue! No Matter Who.

VOTE BLUE!

No Matter Who.

“Vote Blue, No Matter Who” do-it-yourself t-shirts and bumper stickers–just call your local, unionized print shop and ask for an estimate. They can contact editors@thedemocraticstrategist.org for the artwork.

Vote Blue No Matter Who bumper sticker

Vote Blue

No matter who.

“Vote Blue, No Matter Who” do-it-yourself t-shirts and bumper stickers–just call your local, unionized print shop and ask for an estimate. They can contact editors@thedemocraticstrategist.org for the artwork.

RIP GOP book by Stanley Greenberg

R.I.P. G.O.P.

You can find out more about the return to progressive politics from our founder Stanley Greenberg in his new book!

Pre-Order Now.

The Daily Strategist

January 22, 2020

House Republicans Want to Bring the Crazy to the Senate Impeachment Trial

There’s been a lot of maneuvering going on with respect to plans for a Senate impeachment trial of Trump. But this particular angle tickled my fancy at New York this week.

Mitch McConnell’s struggles to bring the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump to a quick and relatively drama-free end are almost comically inspiring. First he had to talk his client down from an early determination to hold no trial at all, which would be, well, kinda unconstitutional. Then after the House impeachment proceedings, McConnell had to convince Trump it would be a bad idea to turn the Senate trial into a show trial in which all the lurid conspiracy theories House Republicans had borrowed from crazy-town right-wing media would be given their full delusional airing.

But the idea of hearing fresh witness testimony in the Senate was taken over by Senate Democrats demanding subpoenas for the Trump officials and records their House counterparts had been denied, which subsequently led to Nancy Pelosi’s decision to hit the pause button on transmitting the House-passed articles of impeachment in an effort to force Senate Republicans to allow witnesses. It now appears that McConnell has beaten back that latest threat by securing 51 Republican votes for trial procedures that delay any decisions on witnesses until well into the proceedings.

Unfortunately for ol’ Mitch, a new complication has emerged for his plans to give the Trump trial the dignified air of a canned mortuary funeral ceremony, as the Washington Post reports:

“A turf war over who should defend President Trump in a Senate impeachment trial is raging behind the scenes in Congress, as House Republicans push to join Trump’s legal team — an idea that piques the president’s interest — over the objections of Senate Republicans.

“House GOP leaders in recent weeks have advocated for Trump’s most aggressive defenders — Republican Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), John Ratcliffe (Tex.) and Douglas A. Collins (Ga.) — to cross the Rotunda and help White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone rebut the two charges that the president abused his power and obstructed Congress.

“Trump, partial to bare-knuckles tactics and top-rated TV performances, loves the idea, according to four administration and congressional officials familiar with his thinking who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly.”

Senate Republicans do not like the idea, to put it mildly. You have to appreciate that for all the perfectly justified talk of partisan and ideological polarization dominating every feature of life in Washington, there remains a cultural gulf between House and Senate that hasn’t gone away. Senators of both parties generally regard representatives of both parties the way older siblings regard particularly unruly and immature younger siblings: necessary nuisances but hardly equals in any sense. One way Ted Cruz earned pariah status in the Senate was by consorting with House Republicans openly and frequently. Senators aren’t supposed to do that.

Even though Republicans in both chambers are valiantly seeking to protect their warrior-king POTUS from the effort to remove him from office, the last thing senators want is a bunch of snot-nosed House members cutting wild capers and embarrassing their party with risible tales of almighty Ukraine seeking to install Hillary Clinton in the White House over the objections of the American people, who see through this Democrat socialist coup.

So McConnell has gone back to his central task of megalomaniac wrangling:

“McConnell, who discussed the trial with the president at the White House on Wednesday, has been advising Trump and his legal team not to think of the trial as a ‘made-for-TV-type House setting,’ said one individual familiar with the leader’s thinking, ‘but rather one where ultimately your audience is senators in the middle on both sides, who are actually listening to the arguments here …’

“’One thing I’m not eager to do is re-create the circuslike atmosphere of the House — that’s not what we’re going to do here, if we can avoid it,’ said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), a McConnell ally. ‘So I think it seems obvious to me that if the president picks a team that does not include House members, that we’d be more likely to have the dignified process that the Constitution calls for.'”

As you can imagine, House Republican impeachment veterans are jockeying for a spot on Trump’s defense team:

“’There are a lot of rabbits running around claiming to be the very best bunny, but the president hasn’t yet decided which set of fuzzy tails he’ll use,’ said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.”

And in the end, Trump can pick whatever counsel he chooses for the trial. McConnell’s job is to convince him to stick with White House counsel and maybe a distinguished private attorney or two and leave the fuzzy tails out of it.

Decorum aside, you can only imagine the horror of freshly appointed Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler at the prospect of ranking House Judiciary Committee Republican Doug Collins becoming part of Trump’s Senate defense team. Collins, you may recall, was Trump’s favorite to get the Senate seat vacated at the end of the year by Johnny Isakson, and he has not ruled out challenging Loeffler next November in a jungle primary special election to formally fill out the remainder of Isakson’s term. A recent poll showed Collins trouncing the little-known Loeffler in a hypothetical matchup. A week or so of Collins being allowed to rant and snarl on Trump’s behalf with the entire MAGA Nation thrilling to every word would not give Loeffler much job security.

There’s not much question which way Trump himself leans in this matter. One reason Pelosi may be putting off the inevitable transmittal of the impeachment articles is that she enjoys watching McConnell trying to keep the preordained acquittal of Trump relatively dignified. Much of his party, including its leader, craves some crazy.


Teixeira: The Democrats’ Sunbelt Future

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftistand other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

I know I write a lot about how key the Rustbelt will be in this election, particularly the states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. I stand by that view for what I believe are sound empirical reasons. But there are also sound empirical reasons for thinking about the Democrats’ future beyond this election as primarily lying in a different part of the country.

As Ron Brownstein notes:

“For Democrats, the Sun Belt imperative is growing more urgent.

While most in the party are preoccupied with winning back the three Rust Belt states that tipped the 2016 election to Donald Trump, both people and political power are continuing to migrate inexorably from that region to the younger and more diverse states in the Southeast and Southwest.

This sustained population shift reinforces the consequences of Trump’s political repositioning of the Republican Party. Trump has targeted his polarizing message and agenda heavily toward the priorities of the older and non-college-educated white voters who still dominate most of the Rust Belt. That will make it tough for Democrats to rely on those states, particularly in presidential races, as much as they did during the 1990s and earlier this century.

In the near future, then, Democrats will likely need to offset any Republican gains in the Rust Belt by winning more elections in Sun Belt states, which are adding more of the diverse, white-collar, and urbanized voters at the core of the modern Democratic coalition. Through the coming decade and beyond, the crucial variable that could tilt the national balance of power between the parties may be whether Democrats can leverage those demographic advantages in the Sun Belt to break the hold Republicans have enjoyed on most of the region since at least the 1970s.”

In aid of thinking about trends in these states and possibilities for the future, I offer the coverage in my Path to 270 in 2020 report of these states.

The Southwest

The Southwest includes five states that could be in play between the Democratic nominee and Trump:

• Texas: 38 electoral votes
• Arizona: 11 electoral votes
• Colorado: nine electoral votes
• Nevada: six electoral votes
• New Mexico: five electoral votes

Together, these five Southwestern target states have 69 electoral votes. In 2016, Trump carried Texas and Arizona, and Clinton took Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico. While Texas is still likely in the Republican camp for this cycle, despite recent positive trends, Arizona is a stronger—and important—possibility for Democrats. Arizona could put the Democrats over 270 if the their candidate took Michigan and Pennsylvania but failed to take Wisconsin.

The GOP strategy will focus on safeguarding Arizona and Texas and trying to pick off one or two other Southwestern swing states as insurance against Rust Belt losses. The Trump campaign has publicly mentioned New Mexico and Nevada as targets.

These Southwestern states are all fast growing relative to the national average. They also have relatively large nonwhite populations, especially compared with the Midwest/Rust Belt states. Overall, these Southwestern states present a demographic profile and growth dynamic that is more favorable for the Democratic nominee than the Midwest/Rust Belt swing region, where the heavily white populations and slow pace of demographic change are relatively advantageous for the GOP. Below, we provide a detailed discussion of these states in descending order of electoral votes.

Texas: 38 electoral votes

Trump won Texas by 9 points in 2016, a significant drop from Romney’s 16-point victory four years earlier. Despite this enticing improvement for the Democrats, it should be emphasized that Republicans have carried the state since 1976.

Democrats also had some successes in Texas in 2018. They lost the House popular vote by less than 4 points—a big advance for them in the state—and flipped two GOP-held House seats. Moreover, since that election, no fewer than six GOP House incumbents have announced their retirements, creating further possibilities for the Democrats. The Democrats also flipped 14 state legislative seats from the GOP and broke their supermajority in the upper chamber. Finally, while Republicans won handily by a double-digit margin in the governor’s race, Democrats made the race against incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz far closer than almost anyone thought possible; Democrat Beto O’Rourke wound up losing by less than 3 points.

The Democratic candidate in 2020 will seek to build on these trends. But of course, Democrats would need quite a swing relative to 2016 to succeed in flipping the state. Trump only needs to come close to the voting patterns he benefited from in 2016 to once again carry the state. Currently, he has only a modest +3 net approval rating in the state, so that is not something he can take for granted.

Texas has a huge nonwhite population, though it is somewhat less represented among actual voters. In 2016, nonwhites made up 39 percent of voters in the state in 2016—13 percent Black; 21 percent Hispanic; and 5 percent Asian/other races. Blacks and Hispanics supported Clinton by 76 points and 26 points, respectively. Asians/other races, however, supported Trump by 13 points. Texas white college graduates (27 percent of voters) also supported Trump by 20 points, 57 percent to 37 percent, while the largest group—white noncollege voters (34 percent)—backed him by a whopping 55 points, 76 percent to 21 percent.

Our estimates indicate that white noncollege eligible voters in 2020 should decline by 2.5 points relative to 2016, while white college graduates should also decline, though only very slightly. Black eligible voters should remain roughly stable, while Hispanics should increase by more than 2 points as a share of eligible voters, and Asians/other race will go up by half a point. On net, these changes favor the Democrats and will put a modest dent—1.6 points—in the GOP advantage in the state if voting patterns by group do not change in 2020.

As Trump’s massive lead among white noncollege voters suggests, if he can maintain or come close to his support among this group in 2020, he will most likely win Texas. Even a shift of 10 margin points against Trump among white college graduates, continuing a recent pro-Democratic trend, would still leave him with a 5-point lead in the state.

For the Democratic candidate, a winning coalition would have to include not only this big white college swing but also a large (15 margin points or so) pro-Democratic swing among Hispanics, Asians, and voters of other races, combined with increased nonwhite turnout overall. But even with these favorable changes, the Democratic candidate probably needs to reduce at least slightly the massive deficit among the white noncollege group. All in all, one would still have to favor Trump to take the state, but certainly the trends from 2018 onward suggest that Democrats may be able to take advantage of some of these pro-Democratic changes and that the state could be quite competitive in 2020.

Arizona: 11 electoral votes

Trump won Arizona by just 3.5 points in 2016, a substantial drop from Romney’s 9-point margin in 2012. Republicans have carried the state since 1996, but the 2016 result has given Democrats hope they can carry the state in 2020 for the first time in decades.

Democrats reduced this deficit further in Arizona in 2018. They won the House popular vote by just less than 2 points and flipped a GOP House seat. The Democrats also flipped four state legislative seats from the GOP. Finally, and most importantly, they flipped one of Arizona’s GOP-held Senate seats, as Democrat Kyrsten Sinema defeated Republican Martha McSally by 2 points. In the governor’s race, however, the Republican candidate soundly beat the Democrat by double digits.

The Democratic candidate in 2020 will have a lot of upward trends to build on to turn 2016’s close loss into a close victory in 2020. As for Trump, he will need to hold the line from 2016 and make voting patterns in 2020 as much like the previous election’s as possible. Adding to that challenge, he currently has a negative net approval rating in the state of -5.

Arizona has a substantial nonwhite population, though, as with Texas, it is somewhat less represented among actual voters. In 2016, nonwhites made up 27 percent of voters in the state in 2016—17 percent Hispanic; 6 percent Asian/other races (a group that includes Native Americans); and just 4 percent Black. Hispanics supported Clinton by 36 points; Blacks by 52 points; and Asians/other races by 8 points. Arizona’s white college graduates (30 percent of voters) supported Trump only narrowly, by 47 percent to 46 percent, while noncollege whites, 44 percent of voters, backed him by 27 points, 60 percent to 33 percent.

We expect white noncollege eligible voters in 2020 to decline by almost 3 points relative to 2016, while white college-graduate eligible voters should remain stable. Black eligible voters should also remain roughly stable, while Hispanic voters should increase by more than 2 points and Asians/other races by half a point. These changes in the underlying demographic structure of the electorate are enough to knock a point off Trump’s advantage in 2020, even if voting patterns from 2016 remain in force.

Given the narrowness of Trump’s victory in 2016 and the projected deterioration in his margin from demographic change, Trump needs, at minimum, to hold his 2016 levels of support from various demographic groups. His most effective safeguard against losing the state would be to increase his support among his friendliest group, white noncollege voters. A 10-point margin shift in his favor among these voters would take his projected advantage in the state up to 7 points, all other voting patterns remaining the same.

For the Democratic candidate, a winning coalition could be assembled in several different ways. A 10-point pro-Democratic margin shift among white college graduates (going from -1 points to +9 points) would be enough to generate a half-point victory in the state. A 15-point pro-Democratic swing among Hispanics, Asians, and voters of other races, would be even more effective, taking the victory margin over a point. And a 10-point pro-Democratic margin shift among white noncollege voters would take the Democratic candidate’s advantage to just less than 2 points. Given that a number of trends seen in 2018 were consistent with these possible changes and that Trump’s margin in 2016 was already so thin, Trump may have difficulty holding the state in 2020.


Teixeira: Turn Trump Disapproval Into Democratic Votes

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Excellent data from 538 on the relationship between Presidential approval and election outcomes. Make no mistake: history suggests that Trump’s low and essentially unchanging approval ratings put his re-election in very serious danger.

“Now that the 2020 election has gone from “next year” to “this year,” it’s worth taking a step back and asking a question that we first posed in early 2017: How popular is Donald Trump? After all, a president’s job approval rating can be predictive of his reelection chances, especially as November draws closer.

On Jan. 1, 42.6 percent of Americans approved of President Trump’s job performance, according to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker (52.9 percent disapproved). That’s a pretty typical number for Trump (although it’s worth noting that, since Jan. 1, the U.S. and Iran have taken actions that could shake Trump’s approval rating loose from that anchor), but ominously for the president, that’s the second-lowest FiveThirtyEight average approval rating of any recent1 president on the first day of their reelection year. Only Gerald Ford (39.3 percent on Jan. 1, 1976) was less popular — and, of course, Ford lost that campaign to Jimmy Carter.”

Trump disapproval; there is nothing more important. That is why I have repeatedly said that the top three things the Democratic nominee must do in the 2020 general election are:

1. Convert Trump disapproval into Democratic votes.
2. Convert Trump disapproval into Democratic votes.
3. Convert Trump disapproval into Democratic votes

That’s assuming Trump disapproval ratings remain high. But the pattern so far suggests they will. So if you want to know which Democratic candidate is the most “electable”, ask yourself this question: Which candidate is likely to be the most effective at turning Trump disapproval into Democratic votes?


Political Strategy Notes

Nathaniel Rakich’s “Foreign Policy Doesn’t Usually Affect Elections. Could Iran Be Different?” at FiveThirty Eight explores the political fallout of Trump’s Iran mess, and notes, “First, most political science research has found that foreign policy doesn’t significantly affect people’s votes. But this isn’t always the case. For example, foreign policy can have more of an impact when it’s a big part of the national conversation and when the two parties have clearly contrasting positions on it — two conditions that this Iran episode could meet.” Rakich adds, “it’s rare for a primary candidate to be experienced in foreign policy. But this year, we have such a candidate in former Vice President Joe Biden. And two recent polls say that Democratic primary voters do trust him the most on foreign policy.”

In Adition, Rakich notes, “According to CNN, nearly half (48 percent) of Democrats and Democratic leaners said they thought Biden could best handle foreign policy; Sen. Bernie Sanders came in second place with just 14 percent. And in a poll taken immediately after the strike that killed Soleimani, HuffPost/YouGov found that 62 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners trust Biden on Iran, although Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren weren’t too far behind, with 47 percent trusting each of them (respondents were allowed to select multiple candidates they trusted).” However, “Someone like Sanders, who has been critical of Biden’s vote to go to war with Iraq, could seize the upper hand if the primary becomes a question of who is the most anti-war.”

As for which party is perceived as more qualified to address foreign policy crises, Rakich writes, “The GOP has long been seen as better than Democrats at protecting the country from external threats, according to Gallup polling. However, the gap has narrowed during the Trump era (as of 2019, 50 percent trusted Republicans, and 44 percent trusted Democrats), and other polls suggest Trump himself is not very well trusted on foreign policy…factors like the seriousness of the event, whether the country is already fatigued by war, the president’s approval rating before the event, and the level of media coverage of the event can all influence the size of the rally-around-the-flag effect, or even whether there is one at all…But if elite opinion splits along partisan lines — as it is doing so far on Iran — then so will public opinion.”

Even though Mitch McConnell is reportedly setting up highly-partisan impeachment trial rules and procedures, “There is one bright spot for Democrats: Their position is currently more popular than McConnell’s,” Amelia Thomson-Deveaux writes at FiveThirtyEight. “According to our recent poll with Ipsos, a majority of Americans think it would be better if the upcoming trial included new witnesses who could potentially shed light on Trump’s conduct, while only 39 percent said it would be better to keep the focus solely on the evidence introduced in the House hearings, without calling new witnesses…Binder said Democrats can try to force votes on whether to call witnesses as the process moves forward, too, which could keep the spotlight on the issue. But ultimately, once the articles of impeachment are transmitted to the Senate, disputes over fairness in the impeachment trial will mostly be decided by majority rule. That might not be the kind of trial most people are used to — but it’s the one the Constitution mandates. And it means even after the trial starts, the debate over how rules and witnesses will likely be far from over.”

Democratic candidates may find some useful talking points in “Trump got suckered by Iran and North Korea: He’s pushed Iran closer to going nuclear — and spurred an arms race in North Korea, Russia, and China” by disarmament expert Jeffrey Lewis at Vox. As Lewis notes, Trump’s foreign policy is “not a strategy, in the sense of a plan that matches resources to objectives, or even a philosophical outlook…It’s ultimately a pose — one that can be struck at a rally with thousands of screaming fans or posted on an Instagram account for the Department of Swagger…It is remarkable that, across the board, Trump’s strategies of pressure and bullying have resulted in no tangible agreements — no deal with Kim Jong Un, no meeting with Iran’s leaders, and no arms control deals with either the Russians or the Chinese…Trump will undoubtedly claim that all is going well — he is a master of creating a crisis and then claiming victory when he cleans up his own mess. He has already claimed to have solved the North Korean nuclear problem, and, no doubt, he will crow over the killing of Iran’s Soleimani. But each of these situations has gotten worse while he has been in office, not better. His supporters can rationalize his methods, but they can’t invent results that don’t exist.”

Thomas B. Edsall has a heads up warning for Dems in his NYT column, “Trump Wants Law and Order Front and Center: The president and his allies are trying to make Democratic plans to reform law enforcement a potent campaign issue.” As Edsall writes, “Unexpectedly, the 2020 presidential campaign is drilling down on petty crime and homelessness. Donald Trump and his Republican allies are reviving law-and-order themes similar to those used effectively by Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in the late 1960s and early 1970s to demonize racial minorities…Turning the decarceration movement into a 2020 campaign issue fits into Trump’s go-to strategy of inflaming divisive conflicts, especially those involving disputed rights — particularly those benefiting minorities — in order to activate racial resentment, to mobilize his core voters and to goad swing voters into lining up against the Democratic Party.” However, Edsall writes, “While Trump’s strategy was successful in 2016, it is by no means clear that this strategy will work as well in 2020.”

In “Republican Edge in Electoral College Tie Endures,” Kyle Kondik writes at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “If no candidate gets to 270 Electoral College votes, the U.S. House of Representatives would pick the next president…The House has not had to pick a president in nearly two centuries. In the event of such a tiebreaking vote, each state’s U.S. House delegation would get to cast a single vote. The eventual president would need to win a majority of the 50 state delegations…Republicans control 26 delegations and Democrats control 23, with one tie (Pennsylvania). That is a slight improvement for Democrats from this time last year, although that improvement is based on a fluke and may not endure…The GOP remains favored to control a majority of House delegations following this November’s House election.”

Majority Froward may have found the issue that can rid the U.S. Senate of Susan Collins. As Simone Pathe reports at Roll Call, “Majority Forward, the nonprofit arm of the Senate Majority PAC, which is aligned with Senate Democratic leadership, is hitting Collins over prescription drug costs with a statewide six-figure TV and digital ad campaign beginning Tuesday…While Majority Forward’s first Maine ad hit Collins for not holding town hall meetings, this one goes after her for taking $1.4 million from the drug and insurance industries, citing data from the Center for Responsive Politics…“Thousands of Mainers are forced to cut their medications in half just to get by,” the narrator says in the ad, which launches Tuesday, as viewers watch an elderly man use a knife to saw his pills in two. “But Susan Collins voted against measures that would have lowered the cost of prescription drugs…”“Collins should work for Mainers, not donors,” the ad says.”

At The Hill, Brent Budowsky shares an idea that will warm the hearts of progressives, coast to coast: “Bloomberg should give $1 billion to Democrats.” As Budowsky elaborates, “Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg should take one of the greatest pro-democracy actions in the history of democracy and donate $1 billion to register Democratic voters, protect voting rights of minorities, mobilize young people and women, support Democratic campaign committees, and back Democratic candidates for the House, Senate and critical statewide offices…Such an enormous donation would give an additional boost to candidate recruiting. With control of both houses of Congress so vital to the future of the nation, party leaders and activists should go all-out to draft candidates such as Steve Bullock in Montana and Stacey Abrams in Georgia to run in vital and winnable Senate elections…Such an enormous donation will dramatize the great urgency and high stakes of this election. It could inspire more super-wealthy Democrats such as Tom Steyer and others to make dramatic donations. It could inspire prominent leading Democrats, such as former President Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, to do dramatically more to elect Democrats than they are doing today.”


Strategies for Democratic Unity

As the New Year began, I mulled a perennial topic of Democratic strategy in a piece for New York:

As the voting phase of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary gets underway next month, fears about conflicts between candidates (and their supporters) weakening the party will begin to multiply. So aside from perpetual (and, in some respects, futile) efforts to assess each candidate’s “electability,” it makes sense to begin examining the most viable candidates in terms of their ability to unite Democratic voters for the mega-intense drive to November. Here are some strategies to consider.

Determine Which Groups Need to Come Together

The first step for any candidate hoping to unify the party is determining which factions are most essential for a 2020 win. Is it average voters? Certain demographic groups? Some combination of activists, opinion leaders, donors, and elected officials?

At this point, most Democratic primary voters don’t seem terribly inclined toward internecine conflict. An Economist-YouGov survey taken at the end of 2019 asks registered voters who say they plan to participate in Democratic primaries or caucuses: “Are there any presidential candidates that you would be disappointed if they became the Democratic nominee?” Multiple answers are allowed. Ex-Republican Mike Bloomberg attracted the most “disappointment,” at 34 percent, with Joe Biden coming in at 23 percent, Bernie Sanders at 20 percent, Andrew Yang at 18 percent, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar at 17 percent, and Elizabeth Warren at 14 percent. Some findings don’t exactly match what you’d expect. Buttigieg is thought by some to have fatally alienated African-American voters. Yet in this survey, only 14 percent of black voters say they’d be disappointed if Mayor Pete is the nominee, less than the 17 percent who said the same of Sanders, whose African-American support levels (mostly among young black voters) are notably stronger this year than in 2016.

Among party elites, you’d get a different picture. Big donors are famously hostile to both Sanders and, perhaps even more particularly, to the Wall Street–focused Warren, despite her generally high ratings among rank-and-file Democrats. Elected officials are more prone to support Biden, and to fear Sanders, so far. The “Twitter Left” of typically young, typically ideological activists is hostile to Biden, as you might expect, but also arguably even more hostile to Buttigieg, whose combination of youth and centrism seems to annoy millennial progressives in a particularly intense way.

In a piece presenting the argument for Sanders’s nomination, Matthew Yglesias suggests that lefty elites are potentially more troublesome in a general election than their less ideological counterparts, and thus need placating:

“Lots of moderate Democrats … find it annoying that Sanders and some of his followers are so committed to painting mainstream Democrats in such dark hues. And it is annoying! But annoying people won’t stop being annoying if he loses the nomination. If anything, they will be more annoying than ever as some refuse to get enthusiastic about the prospect of beating Trump. But if Sanders wins, partisan Democrats who just want to beat Trump will magically stop finding Bernie superfans annoying — the causes will be aligned, and the vast majority of people who want Trump out of the White House can collaborate in peace.”

If you are focused on the small factors that might make a difference in Democratic esprit de corps in a general election, eliminating the fights between Bernie-or-Bust folk and regular Democrats on social media that persisted in 2016 would make sense. But there is also the possibility that a Sanders (or Warren) nomination could give impetus to some sort of “centrist” third-party campaign like the one Howard Schultz threatened to wage earlier in the cycle, which for all its lack of natural voter appeal could serve as a lightning rod for Democratic-donor unhappiness. In other words, the target of each candidate’s unity effort will depend on identifying which voters are most put off by them.

Find Candidates With the Most “Unity” Potential

There are at least two traditional ways of assessing a candidate’s capacity to unify a potentially divided party that we can apply to the 2020 field: ideological positioning and second-choice support.

On the former point, being perceived as at the center of the party with respect to ideology can be a real asset. A new CBS-YouGov poll of Iowa asks if the various candidates are “too progressive,” “not progressive enough,” or “about right.” The rankings for “about right” are as follows: Buttigieg (65 percent); Biden (63 percent); Klobuchar (54 percent); Warren (44 percent); and Sanders (42 percent). Two candidates are far above average in the “too progressive” column: Sanders (50 percent) and Warren (41 percent). Two others stand out as “not progressive enough”: Klobuchar (35 percent) and Biden (31 percent).

But there are other respects in which candidates may or may not have the kind of broad appeal you’d want heading into a general election. Per the Morning Consult tracking poll, for example, Sanders is vastly more popular among younger voters and struggles toward the higher end of the age spectrum; to a less extreme extent, that is true of Yang as well. Biden and Buttigieg have the opposite problem. Warren displays fairly even levels of support by age. Biden, Sanders, Warren, and Yang have support spread reasonably well among white as well as nonwhite voters, while Buttigieg famously struggles with nonwhite voters.

Morning Consult regularly asks its large tracking-poll sample about second-choice candidates. In the latest poll, Sanders is the top second choice of Biden supporters (at 29 percent), followed by Warren (19 percent), Buttigieg (12 percent), and Bloomberg (11 percent). For Sanders supporters, the second choice is Warren (at 32 percent), followed by Biden (28 percent). Among Warren voters, the second preference is Sanders (33 percent) and Biden (24 percent). The runners-up for Buttigieg backers are Biden (27 percent) and Warren (20 percent).

More than anything else, these findings suggest that Biden and Sanders are both stronger unity figures than you might think. But candidates like Buttigieg, who are perceived as ideologically near the party’s center, have some strengths to build on as well.

Endorsements and Running Mates Can Help

As the nomination contest winds down, candidates will have other opportunities to broaden their appeal. First, they can seek endorsements from defeated candidates. Julián Castro’s endorsement of Warren shortly after he withdrew from the race may not bring her that much tangible help, given his own poor standing in the polls, but if others join him, that could burnish her reputation as a unity candidate. Conversely, in 2016, Sanders’s reluctance to endorse Hillary Clinton as soon as he might have (he waited until mid-July) contributed to a persistent sense of a divided party, even though Sanders energetically campaigned for the nominee later on.

Once a candidate has secured the nomination, they can reach out to disappointed party factions of identity groups via their choice of running mate. It is generally expected that any male nominee in 2020 will seek a woman as a running mate, and vice versa; the days of two white men forming a ticket are probably over for the time being among Democrats. But trans-ideological and multigenerational ticket-making could be a factor as well, if the nomination contest is close and tensions have developed.

The late-septuagenarians Biden and Sanders could have a particularly rich opportunity to promote unity in their veep selection, as either might be limited to a single term. Running with a younger, perhaps ideologically distinctive veep could essentially signal to Democrats jittery about them that their nomination wouldn’t necessarily represent some sort of definitive settlement on the party’s direction.

One unity tool that has never been tried by a Democrat (though Ronald Reagan briefly and unsuccessfully attempted it in 1976) is the choice of a coalition-building running mate before the nomination is secured. Hints were dropped by Biden’s campaign that he might try that gambit in 2020, with former Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams being the putative veep whose name was most mentioned. Abrams ruled it out for the time being, but not for good, and Biden (or some other candidate) could come back around to the idea between now and the convention.

Surviving Contested Conventions and Other Late Threats to Solidarity

The need for party unity could skyrocket if certain events threaten to further divide Democrats. A contested convention is unlikely but possible, and would certainly make unity gestures very important in restoring normalcy before the sprint to November began. Or if the primaries produce a nominee (Sanders? Biden? Buttigieg?) who provokes threats of defections to a third-party candidate or to the living-room couch on Election Day, then deploying opinion leaders with credibility among disaffected voters would be important. In general, the closer the ultimate contest looks, the more essential it will be to convey the impression that all hands must be on deck.

There Could Be Several “Unity Candidates”

A unified Democratic Party is within the grasp of any nominee, mostly thanks to the Great Unifier in the Oval Office, whose sins make those of any competitor pale by comparison, and whose second term could represent a veritable hellscape for the party and the country. But the need for unity should cross the minds of eager Democrats every time they speak to a reporter or post on Twitter about the unacceptable characteristics of candidates other than their own. It’s not just that the infernal forces of MAGA will repeat, amplify, and exaggerate any such negative talk no matter how hypocritical it may be to do so; it’s also that it may not take much to convince low-information voters that “they’re all just lying politicians” — so why not stay home, or vote for the devil that you know?


Teixeira: Trump’s Hill Gets a Little Steeper in 2020

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

States of Change data featured in the Wall Street Journal in an excellent article on Trump’s demographic challenge by Aaron Zitner and Dante Chinni. Nice graphic (see below)

“President Trump’s 2020 election strategy relies largely on the white, working-class base that he excited in 2016. But he faces a demographic challenge: The electorate has changed since he was last on the ballot in ways likely to benefit Democrats.

Working-class, white voters are projected to decline by 2.3 percentage points nationally as a share of eligible voters, compared with the last election, because they are older and therefore dying at a faster rate than are Democratic groups. As those voters pass on, they are most likely to be replaced by those from minority groups or young, white voters with college degrees—groups that lean Democratic.

That means Mr. Trump will have to coax more votes from a shrinking base—or else find more votes in other parts of the electorate.

“Trump has a certain hill to climb, and this suggests that the hill gets a little steeper,’’ said Ruy Teixeira, a demographer with the States of Change project, which provided assessments of the 2020 electorate….

Projections by Mr. Teixeira and his colleagues find that the declining presence of working-class whites as eligible voters, if considered in isolation from other factors, would be enough to tip Michigan and Pennsylvania from narrow Trump wins into narrow Democratic wins, while producing the barest of margins in favor of Democrats in Wisconsin. Mr. Trump won each state by less than 1 percentage point, or a combined 77,000 votes.

Projected changes in the eligible electorate, holding other factors the same as in the last election, also narrow Mr. Trump’s winning 2016 margin in three swing states in the Sunbelt analyzed by States of Change: Arizona, Florida and North Carolina.

“Demographic change is making all six of these states closer,’’ Mr. Teixeira said.

If he were to rely on working-class, white voters to make up the ground he loses to demographic change, Mr. Trump would need to raise turnout among that group by 3 percentage points in Pennsylvania and Michigan and one point in Wisconsin, a Wall Street Journal analysis of the States of Change projections finds.”

Note that their analysis assumes no other group’s turnout increases from 2016 levels, which is of course unlikely. This is really telling you that white working class turnout in these states has to outrun turnout increases among the rest of the electorate in these states. Possible but definitely a challenge.


Winning Back Obama to Trump Voters at No Cost

In a New York Times opinion piece, Sean McElwee and How Democrats Can Win Back Obama-Trump Defectors” and argue that “They don’t have to lose their souls to do it. Just the opposite.” It’s a familiar theme for TDS readers, but McElwee and Schaffner make a fresh case for it:

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory, analysts fiercely debated the role of the approximately six million voters who supported President Barack Obama in 2012 but shifted their support to Mr. Trump in 2016. Democratic strategists also had to worry about their future behavior: Was 2016 a temporary blip or were these voters gone forever? With newly available data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study survey, the largest publicly-available election survey, we can now analyze what happened with these Obama-Trump voters in 2018 and what that might portend for Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign.

To understand the potential ramifications of Obama-Trump voters in 2020, it’s worth understanding how they voted in 2018. Among those who voted, three-quarters stuck with the Republican Party. But Democrats did win back about one-fifth of the Obama-Trump group in 2018, which would amount to a net swing of about 1.5 million votes. While the idiosyncratic governing style of Mr. Trump may have been one key factor in bringing Obama-Trump voters back into the Democratic fold, it wasn’t the only reason. It’s true that most Obama-Trump voters who stuck with the Republican Party in 2018 strongly approved of the job Mr. Trump was doing as president, but interestingly even half of those who flipped back to the Democratic side at least somewhat approved of Mr. Trump. Democrats won back a significant share of Obama-Trump voters not because those voters disliked Mr. Trump, but in spite of the fact that many actually approved of him.

Instead, these voters appeared to be drawn back toward the Democrats by some of the party’s bread-and butter-issues, and in spite of others. On issues like gun control, health care and the environment, these voters look remarkably like the Democratic Party’s base — those who voted for Obama in 2012, Hillary Clinton in 2016 and a Democratic House candidate in 2018. Eighty-four percent of Obama-Trump voters who voted for Democratic House candidates in 2018 want to ban assault rifles, compared to 92 percent of the Democratic base. By contrast, 57 percent of Obama-Trump voters who stayed with Republicans in 2018 support an assault weapons ban (which has far less support among the Republican base).

McElwee and Schaffner have some welcome poll numbers for Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in particular, noting that “Medicare for all is surprisingly popular among all Obama-Trump voters…especially those who voted for Democrats in 2018.” Further, “Eighty-three percent of those who switched back to the Democratic Party in 2018 support Medicare for all…”

Environmentalist Democratic candidates will be gladdened to note that “Seventy-three percent of Obama-Trump voters who came back to the Democratic Party in 2018 oppose the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.”

With respect to immigration reform, however, a majority of the Democratic 2018 returnees “support building a border wall and Mr. Trump’s ban on immigration from predominantly Muslim countries.” But “two-thirds of these voters support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to receive deferred action on deportation.”

With respect to racial injustice, “less than half of these voters agree that whites have advantages because of the color of their skin.” In terms of gender justice, “an even smaller share think that feminists are making reasonable demands of men.”

McElwee and Schaffner say, “These are your classic cross-pressured voters, aligned with Democrats on many policies that are part of the progressive wish list but likely to be turned off by the party’s rhetoric on identity politics.” This is not to argue that Democrats should avoid racial and gender justice concerns and immigration reform — just that the best time to address them is after winning the 2020  elections.

The authors also address the problem of 2012 Obama voters who didn’t vote in 2016, and note, “In 2018, Democrats regained some support among this group as well. About one-third turned out for the 2018 election, and Democrats won them 4 to 1.” In addition,

Half of the remobilized Obama-nonvoters are people of color and more than 70 percent are women. Unlike the Obama-Trump voters who supported Democrats in 2018, the Obama-nonvoters appear to have been remobilized by their dislike of Trump — more than 80 percent reported that they strongly disapproved of the job he was doing as president. Strong disapproval of Mr. Trump was a strong predictor of Obama-nonvoters coming back into the electorate to vote for Democrats in 2018.

The story of Democratic success in winning back the House in 2018 seems to be driven by two patterns — the ability to win back some cross-pressured members of the Obama coalition who voted for Trump in 2016, while also remobilizing former Obama voters who failed to show up at the polls two years earlier. Progressive economic and climate views unite these two coalitions, while the groups are more divided when it comes to racial justice and gender equity. Both Obama-nonvoter-Democrats (92 percent) and Obama-Trump-Democrats (88 percent) support a $12 minimum wage and a millionaire’s tax (92 percent and 79 percent).

McElwee and Schaffner note that Clinton’s 2016 campaign “aired fewer issue-based ads than any other presidential candidate since they started collecting the data in 2000,” while “In 2018 the Wesleyan researchers found that Democratic campaign ads were “laser focused” on issues, especially health care, which was the focus of more than half of the advertisements run by Democratic candidates.”

Looking towards the November election, the authors conclude, “if Democrats continue to learn from these elections, they will focus this year’s campaign on their plans to address issues like health care, wages and the environment” — these are the leading priorities that will give Dems real traction in 2020.


Political Strategy Notes

Some data for Dems about U.S. military spending and costs in the Middle East, as reported by Jake Thomas at The Intellectualist in November: “A new study on military spending in the post-9/11 era found that American taxpayers have shelled out $6.4 trillion on wars in the Middle East and Asia, according to CNBC…Published by the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University, the report also found “that more than 801,000 people have died as a direct result of fighting — with more than 335,000 being civilian deaths. A further “21 million people have been displaced due to violence.”…The figure cited in the report — which CNBC noted is $2 trillion more than the entirety of the federal government’s spending in 2019 — “reflects the cost across the U.S. federal government since the price of America’s wars is not borne by the Defense Department alone.”…“Even if the United States withdraws completely from the major war zones by the end of FY2020 and halts its other Global War on Terror operations, in the Philippines and Africa for example, the total budgetary burden of the post-9/11 wars will continue to rise as the U.S. pays the on-going costs of veterans’ care and for interest on borrowing to pay for the wars,” Crawford wrote.”

Democrats looking for soundbite-sized comments on Trump’s latest disaster should give Sen. Chris Murphy’s comment a read:

From “It’s not just the polls that show Biden and Sanders leading the primary” by Harry Enten at CNN Politics: “We have less than a month until the primary season, and it’s becoming more apparent that former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont are the candidates to beat. It’s not just that they are Nos. 1 and 2 in the national polling. It’s that each holds a lead on the two most important metrics beyond the polling: fundraising and endorsements…Sanders reportedly pulled in about $34.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, which makes for a total sum of nearly $100 million over the 2020 campaign. No one else is even close. His nearest competitor (former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg) is closer to $75 million for the year, according to self-reports…Those who lead in fundraising at this point often win. In primaries in which an incumbent is not running in the given primary, 9 of 14 leaders at this point have gone on to win the nomination. Even when a candidate is trailing in the national polls (like Sanders), the leader has won 3 out of 5 times. This includes candidates like Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992 and Republican Mitt Romney in 2012…Dating back to 1980, endorsement leaders at this point have a strong track record of winning primaries. They’ve gone on to win the nomination 10 of 14 times. When a candidate like Biden leads in the polls and endorsements, they’ve won 7 of 9 nominations…And as I have stressed over and over again, early polling actually does a fairly good job of predicting winners and losers. Biden is clearly ahead there, with Sanders a bit behind.”

“If polarization helps Trump,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in his Washington Post syndicated column, “then the opposite follows for progressives. They win only with coalitions that cross the lines of race, place and faith. Democratic candidates need strong support and turnout from African Americans, Latinos and city dwellers. But they cannot prevail in swing states without help from blue-collar and non-college-educated whites…It’s thus a big mistake for progressives to think that their own form of “base politics” is sufficient, and one politician who firmly grasps this is Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). He has a lot to teach this year’s Democratic presidential candidates, and he gathered his thoughts in his delightful book, “Desk 88,” published last year.”

FiveThirtyEight has a well-deserved rep for poll analysis. Here’s their update, by Amelia Thomson-Deveaux and Laura Bronner, on the latest polling data on impeachment: “…According to our impeachment and removal polling trackers, there isn’t broad public support for that either — just 47 percent of Americans favor removing Trump…But in the latest installment of our survey with Ipsos, where we use Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel to poll the same group of respondents every two weeks, a majority (57 percent) of Americans said they think Trump committed an impeachable offense. Fifty-two percent said they think Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine or his refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry constitute enough evidence to remove him from office…Consistent with previous rounds of our survey, we found that about 15 percent of Americans think that there is enough evidence to remove Trump from office on matters related to Ukraine or his attempts to stymie the impeachment inquiry, but also think his fate should be decided by voters in the 2020 election, not Congress.”

Thomson-Deveaux and Bronner add, “According to the survey, 57 percent of Americans think it would be better if the upcoming trial included new witnesses who could potentially shed light on Trump’s conduct, while 39 percent said it would be better to keep the focus solely on the evidence introduced in the House hearings and included in the articles of impeachment, without calling new witnesses. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 65 percent of Democrats support calling new witnesses in the Senate trial. But 48 percent of Republicans also support calling new witnesses — although about the same number still want the trial to proceed with only the evidence introduced in the House hearings (50 percent)…The survey also found that Americans are divided on House Democrats’ current strategy of refusing to transmit the articles of impeachment until their concerns around a fair trial have been addressed. Roughly half of Americans say the Democrats should not wait to deliver the articles of impeachment, compared with 45 percent who say they should withhold the articles”

Also at FiveThirtyEight, Geoffrey Skelley explores “What Decades Of Primary Polls Tell Us About The 2020 Democratic Presidential Race,” and concludes “But having examined all the national polls from the last six months of 2019, the bottom line is that, at this point, Biden remains the favorite to win the Democratic nomination. That said, his grasp on the lead is tenuous. For instance, when thinking about Biden’s odds, it’s important to remember that the historical data suggests that the rest of the Democratic field combined has a larger chance of winning than Biden does on his own — 44 percent for all of the other candidates still in the race compared with Biden’s 35 percent shot.2 And this uncertainty around Biden as the front-runner lines up with what else we know about the race — Biden, Buttigieg and Sanders are fighting for the lead in Iowa while Biden and Sanders are neck-and-neck in New Hampshire, and Biden raised less money than either Sanders or Buttigieg in the final quarter of 2019. So as we jump into the new year and brace ourselves for the first two nominating contests, remember that Biden has the best chance of winning his party’s nomination, but it’s also quite possible that someone else will be facing off against President Trump this November.”

At The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein writes, “”On the whole, polls suggest that the 2020 election will closely track 2016, with small changes among key groups potentially tipping the result. Democrats hope that revulsion at Trump’s behavior will help them make gains with traditionally Republican-leaning blue-collar white women and college-educated white men, and further boost their margins with college-educated white women, who have left the GOP in droves. Republicans believe that the strong economy and Trump’s swaggering style will lead them to make small gains with Hispanic and African American men, suppress any defections from the working-class white women who backed him in 2016, and prompt greater turnout among the party’s base….”Trump’s persistently low approval rating—he is the only president in the history of Gallup polling never to crack 50 percent at any point in his tenure—means he faces an uphill climb to win the popular vote. But he could still squeeze out another Electoral College victory without it. Like in 2016, the election will likely hinge on just a few states that could be decided by very small margins: Pennsylvania and Michigan, which both polls and the 2018 election results suggest lean slightly toward the Democrats; Florida and North Carolina, which lean toward Trump; and Wisconsin and Arizona, which sit precariously at the absolute tipping point between both parties…Republicans think they cansqueeze out larger margins from shrinking groups; as a long-term strategy, that’s a dicey proposition. But it could prevail in the near term, especially since both the Electoral College and the Senate benefit small states that remain mostly white and Christian.”

In his article, “Have Democrats Found Their ALEC? The party has long pined for a nationwide network for state-level legislation. One group is finally succeeding where so many others have failed” at The New Republic Alan Greenblatt reports on a pro-Democratic group that is primed to help Dems win back control of state legislatures: Former Obama staffer Nick Rathod accepted the challenge and “built SiX out of the ashes of three prior progressive groups. “There’s a reason the right has been able to define policy,” he told me. “They’ve been doing it at the state level for so long.” (Jessie Ulibarri, a former Colorado state senator, took over the reins in 2018.)…As it has grown, SiX has honed its approach by embedding much of its staff in individual states and focusing on a limited number of issue areas, such as reproductive health and voting rights. Even where progressives can’t write the laws, SiX helps them gather data in an effort to shape policies in areas that don’t always capture headlines, such as maternal mortality rates. “Its mission really did fill a void,” said Ohio state Representative Stephanie Howse. “There is no basic school in how to be a legislator, in making policies, and even how to build a network.”…SiX’s materials now go out to more than 3,000 legislators or staffers, while its own staff has grown from 10 in 2017 to 27 today. The group has a $6.5 million budget, dwarfing the size of earlier groups that have fallen by the wayside—but still short of ALEC’s $10 million in annual revenue.”…“One of my biggest fears is that if we do take the presidency, and hopefully we do, things go back to the status quo: ‘Let’s just forget about the states again,’” Rathod said. “If the left is serious about long-term power-building and having political power in the country, they better not do that.”


No Telling Where Trump Will Go If Iran Chooses War

Trump’s sudden announcement that the U.S. has “taken out’ a revered Iranian military commander led me to this observation for New York:

The president who has endlessly and redundantly attacked open-ended military commitments and expensive and extended conventional warfare has taken an action that many experts think will push Iran to launch a full-on regional war, perhaps even involving interested bystanders like Israel and Saudi Arabia. It could be the mother of all quagmires. So how did this happen and what will Trump do if the sudden strike he authorized sparks significant retaliatory measures from Iran?

We may not know for years, if ever, exactly what transpired in the White House, but the two relevant things to remember about the commander-in-chief are (a) he is by nature a bully, whose creed has always been winning by intimidation with superior force (or in business, via ruinous lawsuits) and (b) to the extent he thinks about war and peace he’s a total throwback to Andrew Jackson and represents Old Hickory’s peculiar combination of non-interventionism and violent militarism. I explained this latter characteristic when he launched an attack on Syria back in 2017:

“Trump [is] a self-consciously ‘Jacksonian’ president who simultaneously reveres military force while despising the ‘globalist’ ideologies that have both justified and restrained its use so often in U.S. history. ‘Jacksonians’ typically oppose entangling alliances and international nation-building exercises, but not only accept but welcome massive violence when America is ‘crossed.’ For Trump in particular, intimidation of enemies is as important to international affairs as it is to business life. That is why Trump constantly attacked Barack Obama for failing to back up his ‘red line’ threats against Syria’s use of chemical weapons (an attack he repeated before launching the cruise missiles last night) even as Trump himself denied any interest in ‘taking sides’ in that country’s messy civil war …

“Trump’s decision to act without consulting, much less asking authorization from, Congress makes perfect sense. For one thing, the ‘strategy’ or ‘comprehensive plan’ that so many senators asked for in their own initial reactions to the attacks on Syria last night may very well not exist. If the missiles were simply intended to put things right after Obama’s ‘cowardice’ and send a message to the world, then there is not and will never be a ‘strategy’ or ‘plan’ with respect to Syria; the violence was an end in itself.”

It’s very likely that is the case today, too. And projecting his own taste for high-stakes gamesmanship onto the Iranians, he may well believe one show of righteous and lethal American power will make them back down.

You don’t reason with these people, he seems to believe: You just have to show ‘em Uncle Sam is the boss.

But what if Trump has miscalculated by assassinating a figure so central to Iran’s national and religious sensibilities that their own sense of honor demands they do not back down? Or what if they believe they can bully the bully thanks to his well-known distaste for getting tied down into an extended military conflict?

Clearly Trump hopes this is a one-off game that he’s already won. In his brief remarks today from Mar-a-Lago, he treated the assassination of Soleimani as a preventive act that interrupted “sinister attacks” on U.S. personnel. And he pointedly said: “We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.” But it might not be entirely up to him.

It’s at this juncture that things could get really scary. Even if Trump somehow erroneously thinks a conventional war with Iran would ensure his reelection, he is unlikely to want to burden his second term with the kind of endless no-win commitment that sank the despised George W. Bush, in Trump’s own contemptuous estimation. So in the Jacksonian tradition, the most appropriate response to any serious Iranian escalation toward all-out war would be a counter-escalation of great ferocity, which would deliberately ignore any sense of proportion or calibration and display America’s might at its fullest. And if that is Trump’s inclination, it’s unclear whether any of the people around him — or his Republican allies in Congress — who have mostly been frothing for war with Iran for years, would restrain him. It’s certainly doubtful that two of Trump’s favorite allies this side of Russia, Saudi Arabia and Israel, would object to the U.S. getting medieval on their ancient enemy.

Given Trump’s combined taste for violence and distaste for messy conventional warfare, and his limited concern for the lives of non-Americans, you have to assume the worst is possible. Remember this comment (per Alex Ward) he made last summer about Afghanistan?

“Ahead of a Monday meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Trump told reporters at the White House that he could win the war in Afghanistan in just one week if he really, really wanted to. But Trump says he won’t do that because he doesn’t want millions to die.

“’I don’t want to kill 10 million people,’ he said. ‘I have plans on Afghanistan that if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth, it would be gone, it would be over in literally 10 days.’”

If Trump has plans to nuke Afghanistan, he most definitely has plans to nuke Iran, particularly given global worries about Tehran’s own nuclear program. I’m not predicting he’d do anything quite that insane, but the Jacksonian logic of sudden and terrifying force as a first and last resort means nothing lethal is going to be off the table. Lord have mercy on us all.


Teixeira: Biden Ahead in Florida – But No One Else

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Mason Dixon has released a new Florida poll that has trial heat numbers plus broad crosstabs for Trump vs. Biden, Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg. Biden has a slim lead of 2 points, while the others lose to trump by 9, 5 and 4 points, respectively.

The internal comparisons are interesting (graphic below). Biden has Obama-level support among blacks (92-4) while Warren’s numbers look very similar to Clinton’s 2016 black support 87-8. And, while Biden leads Trump by 61-32 among Hispanics, Warren has a more modest 54-35 lead among this demographic–again, similar to Clinton’s performance in 2016.