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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Vote Blue! No Matter Who.


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.


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

June 3, 2020

Teixeira: How Is Biden Running in the Battleground States?

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

As all sentient humans know, simply winning the popular vote will not be enough for Biden since it is quite possible to do that and still lose the electoral college vote.

So, even though Biden has a solid lead nationally, how is he doing in the battleground states that will likely decide the election? Polls specifically targeted at battleground states mostly say he is doing quite well, though there is some disagreement between the polls.

Here are some recent ones:

1. Democracy Corps/Greenberg Research

Biden + 5 across 16 states: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia,

Wisconsin (Clinton performance in same states in 2016: -1)

2. Democracy for All 2021/Hart Research

Biden +9 across 6 states: AZ, CO, IA, ME, MT, NC (Clinton performance in same states in 2016 -2 (self-reported))

3. :Avalanche Strategies

Biden +6 across 7 states (AZ, FL, Mi, NV, NC, PA, WI)

4. CNBC/Change Research

Biden -2 across 6 states (AZ, FL, MI, NC, PA, WI)

Somewhat related, here is some recent commentary from G. Elliott Morris, the Economist’s US political data guy:

“Mentioned this the other day, but national and state polls disagree in a big way right now about the state of the 2020 race. National surveys put the contest around Biden +6 nationally, but state-level polls suggest he’s up by 8 or so.”….(Query from reader: “Is it possible that Biden is basically just replicating Clinton ‘16 in some big blue states (CA? NY? MA?) but running ahead of her elsewhere?”….(Morris answer: “Yep, this is what the polls are suggesting”)

Political Strategy Notes

“Most people have already made up their minds,” novelist Joseph O’Neill writes in “Brand New Dems” in The New York Review of Books.  “But even in a time of partisan polarization, there persists a small demographic of persuadables—the low-information, temperamentally apolitical, ideologically squishy voters who are responsible for fluctuations in presidential approval polls. The perceptions of these voters is the subject of an intense public relations battle between Democrats and Republicans.” Noting the economic collapse and Trump’s botched pandemic policies, O’Neill adds, “Surely the chickens will come home to roost. The problem is that they won’t, unless they’re rounded up and forced into their coop. Republicans have long been better at this kind of work than Democrats. This is because Democrats are terrible at “messaging…Biden, to the extent that he is visible at all, is terrible at campaign messaging. He doesn’t connect well with his supporters, many of whom minimize their exposure to him for fear of demoralization. Nor does he connect well with persuadable independents…In April he devoted two of his biggest ads to defending himself against Trump’s accusations that he is dangerously soft on China and its role in the pandemic. Republican strategists, terrified of substantive electioneering, have decided that Trump’s best bet is precisely to lure Biden into an esoteric, anachronistic, and xenophobic fight about who will stand up to China. Biden has taken the bait. Even by the standards of easily rattled Democratic politicians, his is a remarkably rapid surrender of rhetorical ground.”

O’Neill continues, “Trump was able to spook Biden in part because of the second kind of messaging—party branding. This kind of messaging occurs day-in, day-out, regardless of whether there’s an election imminent, and it never stops. Its aim is to make party designation a durable asset for candidates—not only for presidential elections but for the countless other elections that color the political map red or blue. Republicans are good at party branding. Democrats are not, to put it mildly, and thereby cede deep structural advantages to the GOP…there are no branding handbooks for political operatives in the way there are for businesspeople. There are books about effective political language—for example, the GOP consultant Frank Luntz’s Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear (2007)—but these largely focus on messaging for campaigns, not on the question of how to build a lasting party brand. Corporations have long understood the importance of managing the social and cultural meaning of their products. They don’t think of a brand as an analytic tool but as an actual thing—an intangible asset, capable of being valued by accountants, that can make or break a company’s fortunes. The stakes are no different for political parties.”

“What are Democrats doing about this?,” O’Neill adds. “Very little, so far as one can tell. For years, their party-branding strategy, to the extent that one existed at all, has been to rely on the personal qualities of the president, or the quadrennial presidential nominee, to confer brand value on the party’s other candidates: the “coattails” effect. Even someone as charismatic and competent as President Obama couldn’t make that work after the 2008 election. When the White House is occupied by a Republican, Democratic branding is left even more to chance. A miscellany of liberal personages (the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, John Lewis) serve as the faces of the party while they pursue their differing political and messaging agendas. From the point of view of branding, the Democratic Party is a mess…Republicans, by contrast, understand the importance of party branding. They understand that favorable generic perceptions are crucial to the success of their candidates. As a result they are highly disciplined and highly aggressive communicators who notoriously stick to their partisan “talking points.””

O’Neill ventures a strategy for Dems: “The challenge, for the Democratic Party, is to turn the (D) designation into a resilient asset and the (R) designation into a resilient liability. What can Democrats do to make something like that happen?…A winning Democratic Party brand strategy would have two parts: a strategy for increasing trust in the party, and a strategy for diminishing trust in the GOP…The current Republican “product” is historically terrible. At this moment of liberal outrage and GOP brand instability, Democrats have an extraordinary opportunity to cement in the minds of Americans that Democrats can be trusted to govern and Republicans cannot…We’re talking, as always, about winning at the margins and winning for years. Democrats want marginal Republican voters to feel that they can’t trust the Republican Party—not anymore. There’s something off about those guys…There’s your master narrative, by the way: Republicans can’t be trusted anymore. “Anymore” is important, because your audience may have a history or culture of trusting them. The nature of your audience also dictates that your messaging can’t consist of trashing the other side. That would backfire. Your messaging goal is simply to make your audience feel uncomfortable about what (R) now stands for.”

Turning to the Democratic Brand, O’Neill writes, “A brand strategy for the Democratic Party must reckon with three audiences: squishy Republicans and squishy Democrats; the party base; and those on the left, often younger voters, who vote (D) reluctantly or not at all…The most obvious way for the Democrats to successfully position themselves, across their many audiences, would be by passing a universally popular piece of legislation that is strongly and durably associated with the party, as Social Security once was. This would require a transformative initiative—on health care, say, or on green energy—that not only comes to fruition but is touted in partisan and popularizing terms. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was flawed on both of these counts: it didn’t contain the public option, which disappointed a lot of people; and, calamitously, Democratic politicians were embarrassed, fearful, and apologetic about a policy initiative that Republicans loudly objected to. This was irrational as well as spineless. Republicans loudly object to anything Democrats do…The Democratic Party, at its strongest, has stood for ordinary people. There would be no more powerful, effective, and lasting way to restore trust in the party than to align its core identity with its practices. You do that by branding the party as the grassroots party, and you authenticate the brand by placing at the core of the party’s operations the technical, financial, and moral support of diverse grassroots organizing groups. You don’t interfere in primaries.You do support regionalism, variation, and an ethos of mutual respect. Montana Democrats, after all, may think differently from their counterparts in Massachusetts. In effect, the party ethos would be to validate, elevate, and sustain the passionate activism that represents its best bet for winning year after year…It might be said that the party would lose control of its brand. The answer is that the party doesn’t control its brand anyway, nor should it. This isn’t a conceptual argument; it’s a concrete one. It’s based on the actual political landscape, populated by citizen-consumers who demand a meaningful political product. If the Democratic Party wants to be viewed as the party of ordinary Americans, it must embody that vision. The DNCwebsite currently proclaims, “The Democratic Party elects leaders who fight for equality, justice, and opportunity for all.” That should read, “Democrats are Americans who fight for equality, justice, and opportunity for all. The Democratic Party exists to give them power.””

In his Washington Post column, “Why the GOP may lose everything,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes, “Having disastrously bungled the pandemic, Trump is not only falling well behind former vice president Joe Biden in the polls; he could also be creating a tidal wave that would give Democrats unified control of the federal government’s elected branches…My conversations with four of the top Senate challengers suggested that the coronavirus crisis has reinforced core arguments that helped the Democrats win the House in 2018, particularly around access to health care, while also increasing the saliency of inequality — in both economic and health outcomes — as a mainstream concern…At the same time, Trump’s brutal belligerence has turned Democratic candidates into missionaries of concord. This allows them to be implicitly critical of the president and reach out to his one-time supporters at the same time…If the GOP does lose everything, it will be because the Trumpian circus-plus-horror-show is entirely off-key for an electorate that has so much to be serious about.”

“Biden’s pick matters more in terms of where the party is heading over the next few years than in terms of who wins this year,” Charlie Cook argues in “Biden’s VP Pick Charts the Future Course for the Democratic Party” in The Cook Political Report. ” Cook notes that “Five of the last 13 vice presidents (Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George H.W. Bush) have gone on to become president. Two assumed the highest post after the death of a president (Truman and Johnson), one assumed office after a resignation (Ford), one was elected at the end of eight years as vice president (Bush), and another was elected eight years after leaving the No. 2 post (Nixon). As Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns pointed out in The New York Times on Sunday, “The ramifications of Mr. Biden’s choice will be profound. Even if he loses in November, his decision will all but anoint a woman as the party’s next front-runner, and potentially shape its agenda for the next decade, depending on if she is a centrist or someone more progressive.”

Also at The Cook Political Report, Amy Walter observes, “In national polling, however, Biden’s favorable ratings look a little less impressive. The folks at fivethirtyeight.com found Biden’s average favorable/unfavorable rating at 45 percent to 46 percent (-1). That’s significantly lower than where then-Sen. Barack Obama was in the month after he became the presumptive nominee (+20), but 14 points higher than where Hillary Clinton was at the end of the 2016 primary(-15). The good news for Biden is that he starts the race as already well-known (91 percent can rate him), meaning it’s going to be harder to try and shape opinions of him than it was for candidates who had higher favorable ratings but were also not as well known (like Michael Dukakis or John Kerry). That doesn’t mean that Biden is immune to attacks. But, it also requires a level of discipline on Trump’s part to keep the spotlight on Biden instead of himself. The president has rarely if ever, shown that level of discipline.”

Walter continues, “More important, Trump had the luxury in 2016 of running as the outsider. This year, of course, it is his administration that is in charge. And, as we’ve seen in two recent interviews, one with Fox’s Bret Baier and the other with ABC News’ David Muir, Trump isn’t keen on having his administration’s handling of the pandemic be the focal point of the 2020 campaign. When asked by Muir on Tuesday if he’d be comfortable with the election as a referendum on his handling of the crisis, Trump replied, “Well I am and I’m not.” His response to a similar question from Baier met with a similar reply: “No, but it’s gonna be a factor.” In both interviews, the president was also nostalgic for the world that existed pre-COVID. A world where the economy was “the greatest” thanks to his leadership. Even now, as you can see in these polls, Trump’s job approval rating on the economy remains pretty solid. But, with the economy unlikely to recover anytime soon, it will be hard for those positive numbers to hold. As such, we should all be prepared for the Trump campaign to try and make the race a referendum on Biden’s fitness to be president rather than on Trump’s handling of this crisis.”

Democrats Should Prioritize the Judiciary Just Like Republicans Have

Something happened in Congress this week that reflects some important partisan dynamics, as I explained at New York:

At the beginning of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearing for DC Court of Appeals nominee Justin Walker, Democrats suggested it said a lot about Republican priorities that the Senate was called back into session during a pandemic to speed the ascent to the higher ranks of the federal judiciary this 37-year-old Brett Kavanaugh protégé from Mitch McConnell’s home state, CNN reports:

“During opening statements, Democrats on the committee also blasted McConnell for focusing on the nomination amid the pandemic, with Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois laying out a ‘lengthy’ list of things he said the panel could be doing instead to address the crisis.

“’We’re in the middle of one of the greatest public health crisis in the history our nation. We’re sitting in a committee with jurisdiction in so many critical areas when it comes to this crisis and instead Sen. McConnell is unwilling to set aside his wish list fulfilling the courts,’ Durbin said.”

Durbin was right. McConnell could not have cared less about the criticism. And therein lies an important partisan difference these days.

McConnell’s judicial “wish list” really is central to his conception of what he is in Washington to do. And it is the iron cord that binds him to Donald Trump and to the Republican Party: moving the judiciary — particularly the Supreme Court, but lower courts, too (and the DC Circuit is considered the top rung of the latter of “lower courts”) — in a sharply ideological direction.

It was not universally understood at the time, but arguably the turning point in Trump’s improbable 2016 campaign, creating unquestionably the one promise he has kept as president, occurred in March of 2016, as Time reported then:

It was a crucial step in reconciling conservatives to his candidacy, and his presidency, as I noted at the time:

“[S]omebody is giving him good advice about how to address the concerns of conservatives about his ideological reliability.

“Of all the things they fear about a President Trump, the most urgent is that he will throw away a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape SCOTUS and constitutional law. And of all the temptations they have to hold their noses and support the man despite all of his heresies and erratic behavior, the most powerful would be the confident belief that at least he would position the Court to overrule Roe v. Wade, protect Citizens United, overturn Obama’s executive orders, eviscerate regulation of businesses, inoculate religion-based discrimination, and maybe even introduce a new Lochner era of constitutionally enshrined property rights. This would be a legacy that might well outweigh the risks associated with a Trump presidency.”

He ultimately released his SCOTUS list in May of 2016, with, we now know, Leonard Leo, executive vice-president of that guild of right-wing legal beagles, the Federalist Society, being the principal vetter. He amplified his list in September of 2016 (an act that brought around conservative holdout Ted Cruz, among others) and among the new prospects were Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. The Federalist Society’s involvement brought directly into Trump’s judicial selection process an organization that had been building a pipeline to the judiciary since its founding in 1982. And it provided a simple and essential litmus test for Trump with conservatives — particularly the conservative Evangelicals devoted to the goal of reversing crucial liberal precedents creating a right to abortion and to same-sex marriage — he would either pass or fail. Exit polls showed that over a fourth of Trump voters called his impact on SCOTUS the single most important reason they voted as they did.

He passed with the appointments of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh to SCOTUS, and is burnishing his report card with lower-court appointments. In all cases, he is choosing judges who are relatively young (Gorsuch was 49, Kavanaugh 53 upon appointment; the average age of the pre-Trump SCOTUS justices on the court is now 71; the average age of his Court of Appeals appointees is 48, well under the average for recent presidents) and thoroughly vetted. No significant effort is being made to appoint judges with bipartisan support. But then those who relied on Trump’s promises didn’t want or need such efforts.

If Trump has bonded with conservatives by his judicial appoointments, Mitch McConnell has bonded with Trump by confirming them as efficiently as he can. The suspension of Senate proceedings due to the coronavirus pandemic interrupted this crucial process. So starting it back up as quickly as possible made perfect sense from the Republican point of view. In case any Republicans are tempted to stray from the party harness in November, they will be reminded as regularly as possible that on this one measure of success that lives on for decades, Trump and his party have delivered and will continue to do so for the next four years.

Do Democrats care as much about the judiciary? Some do, particularly women, LGBTQ folks, and members of groups in danger of losing their voting rights. But Democrats did not “weaponize” judicial appointments in 2016 anywhere near the extent Republicans have, and while Trump and McConnell have won test after test of their resolve, Democrats lost theirs by failing to find a way to force the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland for the last 11 months of the Obama presidency.

As Republicans cheered the progress of their child-judge Walker to the DC Circuit, Democrats were praying for the health of 87-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who participated by phone in oral arguments from a hospital bed where she was recovering from a flare-up of a chronic gallbladder ailment. It was a grim reflection of each party’s long-term positioning in the effort to shape the judiciary and, through it, constitutional law.

Teixeira: Why Trump Should Probably Lose

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

I get it: you’re terrified the Orange One will somehow overcome all his problems and replicate his Electoral College win/popular vote loss performance of 2016. And you won’t stop being terrified until Biden gets the 270th electoral vote allocated to him on election night or next morning. I get that too.

But really….it is quite striking how big a hole Trump is currently in. Yes, maybe he’ll somehow climb out and come roaring into the November election with the wind at this back. But right now, that’s looking like a very tough assignment, for several reasons.

1. Approval ratings

Jonathan Bernstein:

“Trump’s current number ranks seventh out of the polling-era presidents through 1,202 days. What’s more telling is that there are clear historical patterns for presidents seeking a second term.

Trump’s net approval is -8.1 (that is, 43.2 approval minus 51.3 disapproval). The three recent presidents who were easily re-elected had solid positive net approval at this point: Richard Nixon at +17.7, Bill Clinton at +16.1 and Ronald Reagan at +15.3. The two most recent presidents both won somewhat narrowly; at this point, Barack Obama was at +1.7 and George W. Bush at -0.3. And then there were the two most recent losers. George H.W. Bush had fallen from a then-record approval down to -6.8. Jimmy Carter was only at -2.7, but that was probably just a quirk of the data, since he had recently been at -10 and would soon sink even further underwater.

Both Carter and the first Bush dipped lower by Election Day; the three easy winners all improved further. That suggests there’s still time for Trump to either rise to a level where he could win re-election — or to plunge low enough for former Vice President Joe Biden to win something around 400 electoral votes.

The truth is that if voters react to the current recession the way they typically do in an election year, Trump will lose, and lose badly.”

2. The economy

Incumbents with recessions on their watch close to the election–indeed within 2 years of the election–typically lose. And what a recession we are having; the Q2 (negative) growth projections are dire (-12 percent) and many swing state counties will be very hard hit (see graphic below from the FT). And no, better Q3 growth performance does not seem to help incumbents much.

3. The coronavirus and the handling thereof

Harry Enten:

“We’ve only seen a few elections since polling began where the incumbent was eligible to run for reelection and the economy wasn’t clearly the most important issue, but these elections tell a consistent and worrisome message for President Donald Trump. Whoever is most trusted most on the non-economic issue is likely to win the election.

Right now, voters trust former Vice President Joe Biden over Trump on the coronavirus. In a new Marist College poll, Biden is more favored among voters on handling the coronavirus by a 56% to 40% margin. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from earlier in April had Biden favored by 9 points.

The advantage Biden has on leading the effort against the virus comes at the same time his swing state polling has improved. He’s up in key swing states like Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Trump probably wishes he had the type of polling Franklin Roosevelt had going into the 1944 election. By a 42-point margin in a National Opinion Research Center poll, Americans thought Roosevelt was better equipped to win World War II than Republican rival Thomas Dewey. Roosevelt would go on to win an unprecedented fourth term.

Trump likely would settle for the numbers George W. Bush had ahead of his successful 2004 re-election effort. Bush was more trusted than Democrat John Kerry on the Iraq war and terrorism. The final Fox News poll, for example, found that Bush was more trusted on Iraq by 6 points. The same poll had Bush up by 12 points on who would do a better job on terrorism.

You’d have to go back 40 years to find an incumbent president who lost on the big non-economic issue of the day. In 1980, Republican Ronald Reagan was ahead of Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter by an average of 4 points on who was best to handle the Iranian hostage crisis. Remember these pre-election polls tended to underestimate Reagan’s overall support, so the true margin on this issue was likely higher. Combined with job losses, this all proved too much for Carter to overcome.

Right now, the economy is shrinking. That Marist poll is one of the first I’ve seen where Biden led Trump on who would better handle the economy. Trump is very likely to get blown out if he loses to Biden on both the economy and the coronavirus pandemic.”

If all that seems like a lot to overcome, that’s because it is. Remember: Trump is a politician, not a magician. If Democrats play smart, tough politics, they should win this one.

Teixeira: Senate Majority Prospects Brighten for Dems

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

Are Democrats Favorites To Take Back the Senate?

It seems strange to even write this since, not so long ago, that seemed pretty far-fetched. But now we have had much more public polling and the contours of a 2020 election where Trump is on the ballot and every Republican candidate is tied to him have become clearer. As things stand, that’s not a good look for endangered Republican candidates.

Ron Brownstein:

“Public polls have shown a huge overlap between voter attitudes in the presidential race between Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden and their preferences in the Senate contest between Kelly and McSally, who lost her Senate bid in 2018 but was then appointed to fill the term of the late GOP Sen. John McCain. Every recent public survey in Arizona has found both Trump and McSally trailing Biden and Kelly, with the Democrat usually leading by even slightly more in the Senate contest than in the presidential race.

“McSally’s and Trump’s numbers are almost identical,” said Mike Noble, a former Republican consultant who now polls for nonpartisan clients in Arizona. “They are so tied together.”

These patterns in Arizona are just one measure of a larger trend: Senate elections are becoming more about the party and less about the individual candidates….All signals indicate that “this will be another election in which what people think about Trump determines almost everybody’s vote” in Senate contests, says Gary Jacobson, a University of California at San Diego political scientist who specializes in congressional races. “Elections are much more nationalized and partisan.”

One high-ranking GOP strategist, who asked for anonymity to discuss changes in the strategic landscape, agreed that very few Senate candidates may be strong enough to swim against the tide of a presidential defeat for their party in their state.”

For more info, see the detailed Crystal Ball assessment and Harry Enten’s take.

Are Never Trumpers Now a Democratic Faction?

The Democratic Party is a constantly evolving coalition, so I looked at a potential new element for New York:

[T]here’s nothing that annoys politically informed people more than overestimating the impact of the Never Trump Republicans (or ex-Republicans) who are already overrepresented in the punditocracy, including such key precincts as cable TV and the op-ed pages of the New York Times. But four years after Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party, it is probably a good time to get some perspective on Never Trumpers and their significance. Perry Bacon Jr. gives us a good start at FiveThirtyEight:

“Anti-Donald Trump activism among conservatives — known informally as the “#NeverTrump” movement — started in early 2016 as a way to stop the businessman from winning the GOP nomination. It failed.

“Even by the slightly broader standard of influencing Republican politics, #NeverTrump has been largely unsuccessful …

“But ‘Never Trumpers’ are increasingly involved in the Democratic Party and have gradually shifted their tactics in that direction — effectively becoming a ‘Never Trump’ and ‘Never Bernie Sanders’ coalition. And they appear to be having more success shaping their new party than the one that many of them had been associated with for much of their lives.”

So Bacon does not treat this high-profile tribe (whose membership includes media figures Joe Scarborough, Bill Kristol, Max Boot, Jennifer Rubin, David Brooks, George Will, and many others) as they were once widely regarded, as representatives of a sort of permanent conservative aristocracy that would outlive Trumpism and rise again in some future — perhaps near future — GOP. Recognizing that the Republican Party’s heart, soul, and membership now belong to POTUS, Bacon regards Never Trumpers as having largely made the transition from one party to the other. And in that respect, they represent not the small number of GOP holdouts quietly resisting Trump, but the voters who have defected as Trump replaced George W. Bush and Mitt Romney as the definer of Republican (and conservative movement) orthodoxy. And whether or not their numbers justify the heavy presence of Never Trumpers in the commentariat, these defectors are a real phenomenon:

“[I]t is possible that 5 to 10 percent of the people who will vote for Biden in November backed either Romney in 2012 or Trump in 2016 and at some point identified as conservative or Republican. So while “Never Trump” conservatives are a smaller and less formal constituency in the Democratic Party than black voters, for example, some of them feel exiled from a Republican Party dominated by Trump, backed Democrats in the 2018 midterms and participated in the 2020 Democratic primaries. Michael Halle, a strategist on Buttigieg’s campaign, said about 50 of the campaign’s county precinct captains in Iowa were former Republicans who changed their party registration to become Democrats so they could participate in the caucuses and back the former mayor.”

At the elite level, Bacon’s right in observing the active role Never Trumpers played in warning Democrats to eschew Bernie Sanders. It’s less clear that they spoke for a sizable body of swing voters who were prepared to vote for anybody but Bernie against Trump. There is some evidence that a lot of the upscale suburban voters who gave Democrats some of their most notable 2018 gains joined African-Americans in the coalition Joe Biden put together to beat Sanders on Super Tuesday and subsequent primaries. So perhaps Never Trumpers do represent, as Bacon suggests, a new Democratic Party faction serving as a not-so-heavy counterweight to the better known progressive tendency. More likely they are simply merging into the Donkey Party’s preexisting moderate wing.

By and large, these people, at both the elite and grassroots level, resemble the neoconservatives of the 1970s and 1980s. Before “neoconservatism” became associated with a specific GOP foreign-policy school of the early-21st century (mostly identified with the failed military enterprise in Iraq), it referred to a group of disgruntled Democratic thinkers and movers who gradually abandoned their party over an assortment of cultural and foreign-policy grievances. The classic definition was offered by Bill Kristol’s father, Irving, a former leftist who quipped that a neoconservative was “a liberal mugged by reality.” The classic neoconservative leader was Jean Kirkpatrick, an adviser to old-school liberal Democratic presidential candidates Hubert Humphrey and Scoop Jackson, who gradually left the Democratic Party during the Carter administration and eventually became a key figure (as ambassador to the United Nations, and as 1984 Republican Convention keynote speaker) in the Reagan administration.

As Anthony Elghossain explained recently, the original neocons weren’t just hawkish conservatives:

“Remaining relatively liberal on social and economic issues and rejecting conservatives’ isolationist impulses, these neocons — and some younger, internationalist hawks such as Richard Perle — spent the 1970s in a space occupied by Senator Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson. They wanted to engage the world, not ‘come home.’ They wanted to confront, not contain or compromise with, communists. And they wanted to apply American power to pursue interests and ideals abroad.”

Like the Never Trumpers, the neocons represented an actual body of voters — particularly strongly anti-communist Catholics and white Southerners — drifting from the Democratic to the Republican Party. Like the Never Trumpers, they had some associates (notably Daniel Patrick Moynihan) who could not bring themselves to abandon the Old Faith. And there’s some tangible links between the older band of heretics and the new (e.g., Max Boot and the Kristol family).

Perhaps Never Trumpers will, like the neocons did, melt into their new party and eventually lose their identity, if not their history. Even in the short term, a narrative of 2020 that emphasizes such discrete developments as migrations between parties is likely to be swept away in the tide of pandemic and depression. But at the moment, Never Trumpers do offer some fresh impetus to the nonprogressive Democrats who are, for the moment, in charge of the urgent task of ridding the nation of Donald Trump. If they succeed, there will be many new questions about the future direction of both parties.

Political Strategy Notes

From Alex Daugherty’s “‘A huge missed opportunity.’ Democrats fail to challenge Miami’s only House Republican” at mcclatchydc.com: “When South Florida Democrats couldn’t find a candidate to challenge Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a nine-term Cuban-American congressman from a prominent political family, they ensured that Miami’s only Republican will remain in Congress until 2023 — even though his district only went for President Donald Trump by a slim two-point margin…That could prove to be a costly mistake, Democrats and others now say. If Trump’s support continues to sag in swing states including Florida, Democrats would have been in a position to capitalize on a potential blue wave in November that could carry even little-known, down-ballot candidates — the kind they might have fielded against Diaz-Balart — to unexpected wins…“There’s a huge missed opportunity now because of what you’re seeing at the national level … depending on how this presidential election turns out,” said David Perez, a Democrat who unsuccessfully sought a state Senate seat in 2018 that overlaps with Diaz-Balart’s district.” After all the excuses have been made, a two-point margin ought to insure a well-funded Democratic challenger anywhere in the U.S.

Ruy Teixeira shares some good news from the mountain west, riffing on a poll cited in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle: “Montana is a Great State Even With One Democratic Senator; Imagine If They Had Two!..It could happen! I thought when Steve Bullock entered the race, he had a terrific shot at the Senate seat. The new Montana Statue University poll has him up 7 on incumbent Steve Daines (R). And as governor, he has a 70 percent approval rating on handling the coronavirus…Polling of course is thin in the state but this is a good sign. The more seats that are in play in November, the better for Democratic odds of picking up control of the Senate. Not a bad pick to send money to if you’re inclined to contribute to a reach Senate seat beyond the big four or AZ, CO, ME and NC.”

For a piercing critique of the major media’s coverage of coronavirus politics, read Eric Alterman’s “The Press Is Amplifying a Dangerous Know-Nothing Ideology: The anti-lockdown protests aren’t the first time the media has been swindled into cheerleading an extremist faux libertarianism” at The Nation. As Alterman obseerves, “Encouraged by near-saturation media coverage, the right-wing protests against commonsense social-distancing measures are getting out of hand. While the absolute numbers involved in the protests are tiny, their effect—when amplified by the credulous, cheerleading tone of the coverage—is massive and dangerous. On April 30 in Michigan, rifle-touting, Confederate-flag-waving, Trump-supporting militia types attempted to intimidate the legislature (to predictably sympathetic tweets from the president). These anti-lockdown rallies are popping up everywhere, often with nearly as many reporters covering them as there are protesters in attendancThe right to not only infect oneself with a potentially life-threatening disease but also to infect others and worsen the crisis that threatens the world’s public health and economy has become a symbol of the extremist libertarian right wing, whose members make up a significant segment of Trump’s political base. Governors—such as those in Georgia and Florida—who identify with Trump’s brand of faux libertarianism are embracing the right to infect, no matter the cost to their constituents, their country, and the world at large.”

Alterman cites several big media, including examples from The Times, Post, Politico and CNN. He concludes, “Chris Cillizza, a reporter at The Washington Post (later recruited by CNN), explained it thus: “My job is to assess not the rightness of each argument but to deal in the real world of campaign politics in which perception often (if not always) trumps reality. I deal in the world as voters believe it is, not as I (or anyone else) thinks it should be.”…One could hardly ask for a better an example of what New York University professor Jay Rosen’s diagnosed in 2011 as the “cult of the savvy,” which he defined as the quality “of being shrewd, practical, hyper-informed, perceptive, ironic, ‘with it,’ and unsentimental in all things political.” Rosen wrote, “Nothing is more characteristic of the savvy style than statements like ‘in politics, perception is reality.’” Of course, as Rosen notes, perception is not reality: “Reality is reality!”…So it’s no surprise that the miscreants demanding the right to infect themselves and others have no trouble receiving the loving attention of the uncritical mainstream media. It’s as if we’ve been in training for this death march for decades.”

Check out Greg Bluestein’s article, “Georgia’s Democratic U.S. Senate hopefuls make virus response top issue” at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for a peek at some of the messaging Democratic U.S. Senate candidates are using to wrestle away not one, but two Republican-held seats in the state. Of course, GA’s two do-nothing Senators are catching hell for the GOP’s dangerous coronavirus strategy. But the issue of corruption is now front and center, since both GA Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler have been accused on profiteering from the crisis. As Bluestein notes, “Each of the Democrats is also pressing to link Perdue with Loeffler, who is trying to tamp down an uproar over her stock transactions during the pandemic. At another recent virtual forum, the trio repeatedly mentioned Perdue and Loeffler in the same breath as they accused both of profiting from the disease…Loeffler has attracted most of the national attention for trades dating from Jan. 24, the day she and other senators attended a private briefing on the illness. She said financial advisers made those decisions without her input, and she announced she’ll no longer invest in individual stocks…Perdue’s opponents have highlighted a spate of trading from the month of March and purchases of stock from DuPont and other firms that are involved in the coronavirus response. Echoing her rivals, Amico accused Perdue of “blatantly profiting off of a pandemic.”

Brad Adgate discusses “The Impact COVID-19 Is Having On Political Ad Spending And Messaging” at Forbes and notes, “Expect political ads mentioning the pandemic to continue for the time being. Advertising Analytics says while it’s difficult to project messaging trends out too far, given how quickly the political landscape shifts, it seems that COVID-19 will be the largest topic of ads in 2020. Not   all of the ads will be on this topic, however. We’re already seeing the curve of ads mentioning COVID-19 smooth out at around 40-45% of political ads. However, this could easily increase or decrease depending on if there is a second wave or a vaccine or some other drastic event. For the week of March 10, in local broadcast, candidates spent $467,000 on ads that mentioned COVID-19. In the most recent available data (week of April 28), it had risen to $3.2 million.”

Adgate continues, “Looking ahead, Mark Lieberman, the President and CEO of Viamedia, believes the 2020 campaign with no rallies will be similar to the 19th century, when Presidential candidates relied on supporters acting as surrogates to reach voters. In 2020, these surrogates will be the media, especially television and digital. As Lieberman states, “Television with its sight, sound and motion remains the best medium to build awareness while digital media allows candidates to shake the virtual hands of voters. Bloomberg’s cross-platform media strategy of spending heavy on television combined with digital media with their superior targeting capabilities and memes, could be copied by Biden.”

Lest anyone get carried away with fantasies about a bipartisan response to the coronavirus pandemic, Charles P. Pierce writes that “Ohio Governor Mike DeWine Reminds Us That Without Fail, Republicans Gonna Republican” at Esquire: “Governor Mike DeWine, Republican of Ohio, was the recipient of a great deal of praise for leading his state’s response to the pandemic. He was the latest Republican cited as one of The Good Ones. But, as we all have come to realize, if you wait long enough, Republicans gonna Republican and, as the Great Reopening has begun, and as the national government has surrendered to the virus, DeWine is reverting to the mean…and we do mean mean…First, here’s the form with which Ohioans can nark on their friends who choose not to risk their lives by heading back to the widget plant in the middle of a pandemic when the governor and their bosses tell them to come in. If you don’t go back to your cubicle-shaped petri dish, and the guy from HR finks on you to the state, you lose your unemployment benefits. I was just saying the other day that what the American response to the pandemic was missing was just a little dab of East Germany…Second, DeWine announced on Tuesday that, in response to the economic impact of the pandemic, it’s time for another round of Austerity Follies in which Medicaid and public education get whacked and Ohio’s “rainy day” fund is left untouched, presumably for a rainier day than the one were soaking in now…”

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich chimes in with a similar warning regarding the Sunshine state’s Repubican rulers:

Will ‘Never Trumpers’ Vote for Dems Down-Ballot?

Perry Bacon, Jr. has a post up at FiveThirtyEight, discussing “How ‘Never Trumpers’ Crashed The Democratic Party.” Bacon covers a lot of ground about the   segment of Republicans who have become disillusioned with the head of their party, as well as the ones who were against him from the outset of his 2016 campaign. One of the more interesting questions about the ‘Never Trumpers” is, will most of them vote for Democratic candidates down-ballot – expecially for the U.S. Senate – in November?

Some Never Trumpers have pointed out that Republicans can oppose Trump and still vote for Republicans down-ballot. They want the Republicans to hold a Senate majority, so they can continue to shape the Supreme, federal, state and local courts in a conservative direction. For that goal, they are willing to endure another term for Mitch McConnell as Majority Leader.

Others, including Steve Schmidt, have argued that the GOP needs a thorough ass-whupping in November, in order to regain its senses and rebuild into a semblance of its more dignified and genuinely conservative identity of the not too distant past. It’s not hard to understand why many genuine conservative are embarrassed by Trump’s failed leadership and crass behavior. For good reason, they see McConnell as Trump’s enabler in chief, who should be defeated, even if Trump is re-elected. Without McConnell’s support, they believe Trump could be contained by the saner leaders of his party.

As Republicans George T. Conway III, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver and  wrote in their New York Times article, “We Are Republicans, and We Want Trump Defeated,”:

The 2020 general election, by every indication, will be about persuasion, with turnout expected to be at record highs. Our efforts are aimed at persuading enough disaffected conservatives, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in swing states and districts to help ensure a victory in the Electoral College, and congressional majorities that don’t enable or abet Mr. Trump’s violations of the Constitution, even if that means Democratic control of the Senate and an expanded Democratic majority in the House.

Bacon mines some data and notes.

“Trump won around 90 percentof self-identified Republican voters in 2016, similar to past GOP presidential nominees. About 90 percent of Republicans have approved of Trump throughout his first term, similar to George W. Bush’s standing in his first four years in office. And with Trump as the face of the party, Republican congressional candidates won around 90 percent of the GOP vote in the 2018 midterms, just as in recent midterm elections. There is really only one anti-Trump figure among the 249 Republicans on Capitol Hill: Sen. Mitt Romney…Polls also suggest most Republicans will be strongly behind Trump this November too — he is getting about 90 percent of the Republican vote in head-to-head match-ups with the presumptive Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden.

…Conservatives who really hate Trump probably no longer identify as Republicans — 11 percent of Republicans switched their party affiliation between December 2015 and March 2017, according to Pew. But surveys suggest that the share of Democrats switching affiliation in that same period is about the same. It’s hard to be precise about this: Data suggests at most 10 percent of American voters overall are anti-Trump but generally lean Republican.1 That’s not nothing, but between 40 and 50 percent of Americans are likely to vote for Trump in November.

Never Trumpers played a role in Democratic victories in the 2018 midterms, although the extent of their contribution is unclear. as Bacon notes:

It’s hard to quantify exactly how many anti-Trump conservatives backed Democrats in 2018 and how big a role they played in Democrats taking the House and winning many key governor’s races. But that temporary alliance between “Never Trump” Republicans and Democrats was strengthened in 2019 for two reasons. First, “Never Trump” Republicans found there was little appetite in the GOP for a primary challenge to Trump — another illustration of their declining influence within the party. And second, in a final blow for some of them, Republicans largely stood by Trump even as details emerged about his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

The third possibility is that Never Trumpers will vote for the most genuinely moderate candidates down-ballot, or not vote, or vote for a third party candidate when the choice is between an unnaceptable liberal or a Trump enabler. In every race, Democratic senate candidates in competitive races would be wise to pay close attention to the down-ballot views of Never Trumpers in their districts.

Teixeira: The White Noncollege Difference

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

The Economist has published some very interesting numbers on Biden’s performance relative to Clinton among various demographic groups (presumably, the number-crunching was done by G. Elliott Morris, who is their US politics data guy), The standout difference here is among white noncollege voters. As the chart below shows, the more white nonocollege the state is, the more Biden’s performance is superior Clinton’s in 2016.

That is a very beneficial pattern for Biden in terms of electoral college results. The article notes:

“Currently our model estimates that 41% of whites who cast ballots would vote for Mr Biden if the election were held today, whereas 51% say they will cast their lot for Mr Trump—a ten-percentage-point margin. In 2016 Mrs Clinton lost this group by 15 points. Mr Biden has improved his standing both among whites who have college degrees and the ever-watched group of those who do not. He polls four and six percentage points better than Mrs Clinton did among each group, respectively. Mr Biden is currently polling 11 points better than Mrs Clinton in states where working-class white voters make up the largest share of the electorate, and he is performing roughly six points worse in those states where they are the lowest share (see chart).

That improvement has a disproportionate effect on Mr Biden’s chances of victory. Whereas Mrs Clinton lost the election by small margins in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, we find Mr Biden with a slight lead in all three. He is also likely to beat Mrs Clinton’s margin in Arizona, which is likelier than any of the midwestern battlegrounds to tip the election.”

The article also notes some underperformance by Biden among nonwhites and young voters relative to Clinton but this pattern appears to be less salient to electoral college results in their analysis. In the Nationscape data (80,000 cases since the beginning of the year), I find less of underperformance among these groups, but confirm the general pattern of Biden overperformance among noncollege whites with similar positive effects on Biden’s electoral college results.

If this pattern continues, Biden is in very good shape.

Political Strategy Notes

Perry Bacon, Jr. reports at FiveThirtyEight that “Several polling firms released surveys of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in April. Former President Barack Obama carried all four states in 2012. Trump flipped all four in 2016 (as well as Ohio and Iowa, neither of which has much recent polling.) And Biden appears to lead in all four now. (North Carolina, which has gone Republican in both of the last two cycles, was also polled pretty often in April, with Trump and Biden looking basically tied there.)…at the moment, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are very close to the national tipping point — so they’re likely to be among the more determinative states this November.” However, noes Bacon, “Trump is likely to look stronger when pollsters start limiting their results to “likely voters.” Most of the April surveys in these four states were conducted among registered voters or all adults, two groups that include some people who may not vote in November…Fox News, Ipsos and Public Policy Polling all recently polled several swing states. All three found Biden had a larger lead in Michigan and Pennsylvania than in other swing states they surveyed (Florida for Fox, North Carolina and Wisconsin for PPP, Wisconsin for Ipsos.)”

Ruy Teixeira notes on his Facebook page, “Texas? Georgia?…Well, I wouldn’t get too frisky here. But there are two new polls out of TX and GA; the former shows Biden ahead of Trump by 1, while the latter has Biden only behind Trump by a point. No internals on the GA poll, so not much to comment on there, other than I’d have to see a lot more similar polling before I’d see GA as truly being on the edge between Trump and Biden. The TX poll has some internals available and encouragingly they show Biden with a much larger margin among Hispanics than Hillary had in the state in 2016 (47 vs. 26 points). However, Biden’s deficit among whites is basically the same as Clinton’s, about 40 points. I find it hard to believe that Biden can take the state or even make it very close without compressing that deficit…That said, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on both these states as we move forward.”

Harry Enten explains why “Democrats are slight favorites for Senate control” at CNN Politics: “To gain Senate control from Republicans in November’s elections, Democrats will need a net gain of three seats (if former Vice President Joe Biden holds onto his lead over President Donald Trump and claims victory) or four seats (if Trump wins)…An early look at the data finds that Democrats are the slightest of favorites to take back the Senate. The chance Democrats net gain at least 3 seats is about 3-in-5 (60%), while the chance they net gain at least 4 seats is about 1-in-2 (50%)…The Democrats are doing fairly well not because they’re overwhelming favorites in any one or a select number of seats. Rather, it’s that they have a non-negligible to good chance in a lot of seats. Although Democrats only hold 12 of the 35 seats up, they have at least a 1-in-20 (5%) shot in 25 seats…They hold about an 8-point lead on the generic ballot. That’s about the same as it was in 2018, when it was 7 points, and about double what it was in 2016. Based on past trends, this large advantage suggests that races that may look like tossups right now are forecasted to move toward the Democrats over the course of the year.”

Enten continues: “Right now, Democrats are clear favorites in three seats Republicans currently hold: Arizona (Sen. Martha McSally), Colorado (Sen. Cory Gardner) and Maine (Sen. Susan Collins). They’re favored to defeat incumbents between about 2-in-3 times (65%) to three in four times (75%) in these states. All three are in states that were decided by 5 points or less in the 2016 presidential election, and where the national environment is helping the Democrats. The limited polling in Arizona and Maine also point to Democrats being ahead by a small margin.” However, ” Republicans are heavily favored in Alabama. Democratic Sen. Doug Jones won a shocking victory in a 2017 special Senate election. The polling and strong Republican tilt of the state indicate that Republicans should win this race about 6-in-7 in seven times (85%)…If Democrats are going to net gain three seats while losing in Alabama, their best shot to get that additional pickup is in North Carolina. This is another state that was determined by less than 5 points in the 2016 presidential election, and where Republican Sen. Thom Tillis has actually been running slightly behind Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham in an average of polling. Cunningham wins a little bit north of half the time (55%), though it’s best to regard this one as a tossup…The lack of Republican pickup opportunities again point why Democrats have a real shot of wrestling control: Democrats simply have a wider playing field.”

As former Vice President Biden ponders his choices for a running mate, a new group called The Committee to Draft Michelle Obama is making a case for the former First Lady, who was the “most admired woman in the world” in a YouGov poll taken less than a year ago. Supporters hope that there may be some wiggle-room in her statement, “I’ll say it here directly: I have no intention of running for office, ever,” as  she wrote in her best-selling memoir, “Becoming.” The group believes it would be hard for her decline if asked to join the ticket by Biden, who is a close friend of the Obamas. Biden has stated that his running mate will be a woman, and he is also being urged to select an African American woman. Only two Democratic women have 8 years of experience living in the White House and Mrs. Obama would also bring a younger, energetic feel to the ticket, as well as some bipartisan credibility. In addition, she has been thoroughly vetted. Asked if he thought Mrs. Obama would be a good running mate, Biden said, “I’d do that in a heartbeat if I thought there was any chance.”

“What should bring moderates and progressives together is an idea put forward long ago by the late social thinker Michael Harrington: “visionary gradualism,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in his opinion essay, “Progressives and moderates: Don’t destroy each other” in the Washington Post. “The phrase captures an insight from each side of their debate: Progressives are right that reforms unhinged from larger purposes are typically ephemeral. But a vision disconnected from first steps and early successes can shrivel up and die. Vision and incremental change are not opposites. In our nation’s history, the two have reinforced each other — for example, in protecting the environment, achieving social security for the elderly and assistance to the unemployed, protecting civil rights, and expanding health insurance coverage. This lesson will apply for any new Democratic president, no matter which wing of the party she or he represents.”

Dionne continues, “A vibrant left has always been a central component of any successful era of social reform. By offering plans and proposals on what Harrington called “the left wing of the possible,” socialists, social democrats and left-liberals have redefined the political playing field…Moderates who think of themselves as problem solvers should welcome the left’s initiatives as part of a process of legitimizing the very act of public problem solving. Only when this happens can a real contest begin over how fast and how far we can move at any given moment.”

“The main reason crises don’t produce lasting change in social policy seems to be that people quickly forget or turn their attention elsewhere, so their beliefs and preferences snap back to where they were before the emergency.,” Lane Kenworthy argues in Foreign Affairs. Kenworthy, author of Social Democratic Capitalism, writes “Examining public opinion data going back to the early 1970s, the sociologist Lindsay Owens and I have found that recessions tend to have only temporary effects on Americans’ attitudes on a wide range of economic, social, and political issues. In addition, economic downturns cause some people to worry about their own financial well-being rather than the welfare of others, as the political scientist Ronald Inglehart has documented. And welfare state opponents and deficit hawks invariably warn against new public spending, arguing that the country can’t afford to take on additional debt.” Is Kenworthy underestimating the shelf-life of the fear factor in the current economic crisis as a force for lasting health care reform, or the relationship between public opinion and the actions of congress?

Kenworthy continues, “Temporary expansions of the safety net thus rarely become permanent. Time and again during downturns, the federal government has intervened to help people who lose their jobs and to rejuvenate the economy—by extending access to unemployment benefits, making stimulus payments, and declaring payroll tax holidays, loan payment delays, and more. But these temporary measures nearly always end once the economy recovers…When public social programs have been enlarged for good, it has tended to happen via the ballot box: progressive parties in government, not crises, make lasting social policy…Unless a new Democratic majority in the Senate is willing to do away with the filibuster, new social spending likely would have to be passed via the reconciliation procedure, which per Senate rules can be used only once a year…If the pandemic pushes us closer to social democracy, it will be because it boosts the electoral fortunes of the political party currently out of power, which happens to be one that’s already inclined to expand the social safety net.”