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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Seniors Against Trump

Who Are the Key Voters Turning Against Trump?

They’re senior voters, and they could be Joe Biden’s secret weapon.

By Ruy Teixeira in The New York Times
Read the Article.

Stan Greenberg in The American Prospect

The Tea Party’s Last Stand

The legions that swept over the Republican Party in 2010 aren’t ascendant today—and they’ve scared a lot of other Republicans away.


Read the Article.

Democrats – Get Ready for the Inevitable Republican Counterattack

It’s coming, and we should be prepared.
By Andrew Levison

Read the Strategy Memo.

Seniors Against Trump

Key Voters Turning Against Trump?

They’re senior voters, and they could be Joe Biden’s secret weapon.

By Ruy Teixeira in The New York Times
Read the Article.

Stan Greenberg in The American Prospect

Tea Party’s Last Stand

The legions that swept over the Republican Party in 2010 aren’t ascendant today—and they’ve scared a lot of other Republicans away.


Read the Article.

The Daily Strategist

October 24, 2020

The Kennedy Dynasty Didn’t Fall in One Night

Given the reaction — and arguably over-reaction — to Joseph Kennedy’s III primary loss to Ed Markey in a Massachusetts primary, I offered some ruminations about earlier setbacks to the famous political dynasty at New York:

Coverage of Joseph Kennedy III’s failed primary challenge to Senator Ed Markey has been described as signaling the end of the family dynasty he young Joe often seemed uncomfortable representing. That feels unfair, since the Kennedy clan’s reputation for political invincibility began to slowly unravel many years ago.

It’s true that Joe III’s campaign broke a long Kennedy winning streak in Massachusetts, as the Boston Globe noted:

It was also the first Kennedy loss in 13 U.S. Senate races (two by JFK, one by RFK, and nine by Ted Kennedy). But it was hardly the first big family disappointment.

Joe’s grandfather Bobby suffered the first Kennedy loss in any electoral contest over a half-century ago in 1968, when he lost an Oregon presidential primary to Eugene McCarthy a week before posting a comeback win in California — but was then assassinated after his victory speech.

Four years later, former Peace Corps director Sargent Shriver, a Kennedy by marriage, agreed to become the replacement for vice-presidential nominee Tom Eagleton (who was pushed off the ticket after the media discovered his history of drunk-driving arrests and shock treatments) on the horrifically unsuccessful presidential slate of George McGovern, which lost 49 states. McGovern had actually been the stand-in for RFK at the 1968 convention.

In 1980, Ted Kennedy’s presidential challenge to Jimmy Carter got off to a disastrous start, as he lost 12 of the first 13 primaries and caucuses, winning only Massachusetts. Though he later rallied with some big wins, it was all too little, too late, and Ted never ran for president again.

The next generation of Kennedy pols had a lot of problems. Joseph Kennedy II, the most recent candidate’s dad, chose to retire from the U.S. House in 1998 after an embarrassing scandal over his efforts to secure an annulment and marry his secretary. His sister Kathleen Kennedy Townsend served two terms as lieutenant governor of Maryland but then lost the governorship to a Republican in a huge 2002 upset. Cousin Mark Kennedy Shriver served two terms in the Maryland legislature before losing a congressional primary to (now-senator) Chris Van Hollen.

Ted Kennedy’s son Patrick won a congressional seat in Rhode Island in 1994 and made it into the House Democratic leadership, but in 2010 he gave up his seat and his electoral career after struggling with mental illness and drug addiction. Until Joe III won a Massachusetts congressional seat in 2012, there was a brief moment when no Kennedy was serving in elected office. JFK’s famous daughter, Caroline Kennedy, briefly considered a Senate bid in New York when Hillary Clinton became secretary of State, but she withdrew from consideration. Yet another RFK child, Chris Kennedy, ran for governor of Illinois in 2018 but finished third in the Democratic primary.

That’s a lot of family trial and error that should not be laid at the doorstep of Joe Kennedy III. As the Globe notes, it’s entirely possible the dynasty could make a comeback:

“There are other, younger Kennedys who could enter the political arena — Jack Schlossberg, JFK’s grandson, appeared in a video with his mother, Caroline, at the Democratic National Convention, quickly sparking memes about his resemblance to his handsome uncle, the late John Kennedy Jr. And Ted Kennedy’s grandson, Edward Kennedy III, has expressed an interest in politics. Amy Kennedy, who married Ted Kennedy’s son Patrick, recently won a Democratic House primary in New Jersey.”

And the latest Kennedy candidate is himself awfully young to retire from politics. Perhaps next time around, he can run as just “Joe.”

Dems Face Challenges in the Largest Swing State

Early September seems like a good time to take a look at the challenges Democrats face in the largest swing state. Dexter Filkins obliges in his New Yorker article, “Who Gets to Vote in Florida? With the election hanging in the balance, Republican leaders continue a long fight over voting rights.” As Filkins sets the stage:

For candidates in the coming Presidential election, Florida presents a singular opportunity and a vexing challenge. While other big states, such as Texas and California, reliably go to Republicans or Democrats, Florida is unpredictable. Polling suggests that Joe Biden could plausibly lose there and win the election, though the state’s twenty-nine electoral votes would surely make a victory easier; Trump, by most analyses, cannot win without them.

Stretching eight hundred miles from end to end, Florida encompasses the Deep South counties of the panhandle and the urban centers of Miami, Palm Beach, and Fort Lauderdale, where Jewish and Latino voters predominate. There are growing Puerto Rican enclaves around Orlando, and main-line Republican areas in Naples and Tampa, linked demographically and culturally with the Midwest. This mixture creates an almost perfectly divided electorate. Statewide races are often decided by a few thousand votes, out of millions cast.

Even though Florida is closely split, Republican leaders dominate state politics; since 1999, they have controlled both houses of the legislature and the governor’s mansion. One key to their success has been restricting access to the polls. Lower turnout, particularly among Black voters, has usually favored their side. “Older and more affluent voters tend to be more conservative, and they tend to vote more often,” Daniel Smith, a professor of politics at the University of Florida, told me. That fact has motivated a relentless campaign to tamp down voter turnout. The most overt efforts were hindered by the Voting Rights Act, which until 2013 obligated places with a history of racial discrimination to get Justice Department approval before making major changes in electoral laws. But the less conspicuous efforts have had momentous effects. In 2000, they arguably helped decide the race for the Presidency.

Filkins goes on the flesh out the sordid history of voter suppression in the Sunshine State, where as little sunshine as possible is cast by Republicans on their ballot-counting and voter-verification processes. Looking toward the 2020 presidential election, Filkins notes,

This November marks the first Presidential election since 1980 in which the Republican National Committee will not be bound by a court decree that has tightly limited its activities around voting sites. The decree arose from a Democratic lawsuit charging that, in a New Jersey governor’s race, off-duty police officers, some carrying guns and wearing armbands that read “National Ballot Security Task Force,” had intimidated Black voters. “We fully expect Trump volunteers to be at every polling place in the state on Election Day,” Peñalosa said.

Polling averages show Biden leading Trump in Florida at this point, and with no voter suppression and an honest count, there would be every reason to bet on Biden winning a popular majority in the state, and an Electoral College majority. As it is, however, Democrats have to bring their ‘A game’ over the next 8 weeks to check these twin threats.

Political Strategy Notes

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will visit Kenosha Wisconsin today. According to Eric Bradner’s CNN Politics report, “Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, “will hold a community meeting in Kenosha to bring together Americans to heal and address the challenges we face,” his campaign said Wednesday…Biden also will meet with Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr., and other Blake family members during the visit, according to a family spokesperson and campaign official…The trip comes two days after President Donald Trump visited Kenosha, ignoring the objections of local leaders, including Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who said in a letter to Trump that he was “concerned your presence will only hinder our healing.”…Biden told reporters Wednesday that he has received “overwhelming requests” from Democratic leaders that he travel to Wisconsin…”What we want to do is — we’ve got to heal. We’ve got to put things together. Bring people together,” Biden said…The shooting of Blake — which left him paralyzed from the waist down, his family says — has moved police brutality, racial injustice and the looting and property damage that have followed some protests to the forefront in one of the nation’s most important swing states in November’s general election.”

Ezra Klein shares some disturbing insights at Vox: “If you had told me, a year ago, that a pandemic virus would overrun the country, that 200,000 Americans would die and case numbers would dwarf Europe, that the economy would go into deep freeze and the federal government prove utterly feckless, I would’ve thought that’s the kind of systemic shock that could crack into public opinion. I’m not saying I would’ve predicted Trump falling to 20 percent, but I would’ve predicted movement…The stability unnerves me because it undermines the basic theory of responsive democracy. If our political divisions cut so deep that even 200,000 deaths and 10.2 percent unemployment and a president musing about bleach injections can’t shake us, then what can? And if the answer is nothing, then that means the crucial form of accountability in American politics has collapsed. Yes, many of us are partisans, with a hard lean one way or the other. But the assumption has long been that beneath that, we are Americans, and we want the country governed with some bare level of competence, that we care more for our safety and our paychecks than our parties.”

Klein also notes, “My view, to be clear, is that Trump’s response to the coronavirus will stand as one of the great governance failures in American history. We are doing far worse than peer nations in controlling case rates and saving lives. Analyses suggest that upward of 70 percent of America’s coronavirus deaths could’ve been prevented by a faster, more capable response along the lines Australia, South Korea, Germany, and Singapore. And to write all this is to still give the White House too much credit — they have largely offered no response at all, shunting this crisis to the states and refusing to release a plan of their own or even follow their own guidelines…Moreover, Trump has, himself, been a model of personal irresponsibility, fueling a culture war over face masks and packing supporters into arenas and the White House lawn. As a result, while 93 percent of Americans who strongly disapprove of Trump say face masks are effective, only 65 percent of those who strongly approve of Trump say the same. It is not, then, simply that Trump has done a poor job managing the federal government’s mobilization. Rather, he has been an active hindrance to the governors and mayors trying to fill the void he’s left.”

But Klein sees some hope for Dems in one key demographic group trend in the largest swing state: “If there is one group Trump is leaking support from, it is older white people in Florida,” says Marc Hetherington, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina. “At least that is how I read the data coming out of Florida. The Covid-19 response is actually killing older people there. As this goes on, more and more of them actually know someone who has been affected in some serious way. According to our data, that appears to have the power to blunt partisanship. Republicans follow their leaders when they are not afraid of getting sick. They don’t follow those cues when they are afraid of getting sick.” Biden now leads by more than 4 points in Florida, up from a dead heat in April.”

It’s only one poll. But here’s a couple of nuggets from “CNN Poll: Biden’s lead persists post-conventions” by Jennifer Agiesta: “Joe Biden continues to hold a wide advantage among women (57% to 37%), voters ages 65 or older (57% to 40%), people of color (59% to 31%) and White college graduates (56% to 40%). His support among suburban women (56% Biden to 41% Trump) mirrors his lead among women generally, despite the Trump campaign’s focus on shrinking that edge…Men have been a somewhat volatile group in CNN’s surveys in the last few months. As of now, Trump holds 48% support to Biden’s 44%, while in August, Trump held a far wider advantage, 56% to 40%…Trump continues to hold a wide lead among White men (53% to 42% for Biden), and especially White non-college educated men (61% to 33%). White non-college educated women, however, currently break toward Biden (54% to 42%).”

It appears that Republican Sen. Joni Ernst has decided her best chance for re-election is to swig the Kool-Aid. As Joan McCarter reports in “Joni Ernst goes QAnon, suggests Iowa healthcare workers are bilking the system with COVID-19 at Daily Koz: “Maybe Joni Ernst got some backlash from Team Trump for “running on local issues”and trying to avoid the Trump racist conspiracy theory trap. To prove her bizarro bona fides, she decided to go QAnon and accuse Iowa’s medical community of falsifying COVID-19 data for the money…Ernst told a gathering of about 100 supporters that she’s “so skeptical” of the official death count from coronavirus. “They’re thinking there may be 10,000 or less deaths that were actually singularly COVID-19,” Ernst said. “I’m just really curious. It would be interesting to know that.” Uh-huh. “They’re” thinking. They being the whack-job QAnon proponents who’ve found a side-line from Democratic pedophiliac pizza parlors in COVID-19 trutherism. She went even beyond that, though, to skate up to the line of accusing Iowa’s medical community of fraud. “These health care providers and others are reimbursed at a higher rate if COVID is tied to it, so what do you think they’re doing?” she questioned the crowd. That’ll sure boost her standing with Iowa’s front-line medical community, which is right now dealing with the nation’s second-highest rate of virus spread.”

In “States of Play: North Carolina,”This year, the North Carolina contest is one of just three Senate races that the Crystal Ball considers a Toss-up…Overall, no other state appears to have as many important and competitive races this year as does North Carolina. It is the only big state to feature competitive races for president, Senate, and governor. It also has new congressional and state legislative maps, which will allow Democrats to net at least two new U.S. House seats and could threaten GOP majorities in the state legislature.” Further, “After President Obama’s narrow win there in 2008, light red North Carolina has proved elusive for Democrats — but it remains a target for both sides…North Carolina’s politics are increasingly shaped by its growing bloc of unaffiliated voters…Over the past decade, North Carolina’s traditional east-west divide has evolved into more of an urban-rural split — a pattern seen in many other states…In a state known for volatile Senate races, 2020’s contest should be true to form,  and further down the ballot, voters will weigh in on several statewide races.”

Coleman and Stillerman provide a map to show how the political demographics of NC is changing:

Here’s a jolly riff from Andy Borowitz’s “Trump Claims That Sleepy Person With No Energy Will Somehow Be Peppy Enough to Destroy Entire Country” at The New Yorker: “Donald Trump claimed on Wednesday that Joe Biden is “incredibly sleepy” and has “zero energy,” yet somehow is peppy enough to destroy life in the United States as we know it…Speaking to Sean Hannity on Fox News, Trump attempted to explain the apparent contradiction between a person being barely sentient yet capable of singlehandedly dismantling a global superpower…“Sleepy Joe is practically unconscious and almost doesn’t have a pulse,” Trump said. “But that’s because he has put his entire body into hibernation, like a bear.”…Trump went on to say that he had seen a documentary about bears on Animal Planet “that was so scary, every voter needs to see it.”…“This bear hibernated all winter, but then, when he woke up, he had enough energy to rip a hiker’s face off,” he said. “Just you watch. Joe Biden is conserving his energy right now, but, as sure as you’re sitting there, the minute he takes office he will rip this country’s face off.”…Trump said that, in November, the American people face a stark choice. “It’s between me, their favorite President, and an angry bear who hasn’t eaten in months,” he said.”

Look Out For the “Red Mirage”

Some new data on a scary 2020 scenario has popped up, and I wrote about it at New York:

For a good while now, a number of us political obsessives have been playing Paul Revere in warning of an Election Night phenomenon that could lead to a contested presidential election and perhaps a constitutional crisis. The issue is an unprecedented number of mail ballots (thanks to COVID-19 fears and the polling-place chaos we saw in many primaries this spring and summer) accompanied by a big partisan split in willingness to vote by mail, mostly created by the president’s interminable attacks on that method of voting. Since, for the most part, Election Day in-person ballots will be counted before mail ballots, Trump and other Republicans may assume an early lead on Election Night that will inevitably be reduced and in many cases erased as mail ballots drift in. Trump being Trump, it doesn’t take much imagination to envision him claiming victory on Election Night and then attacking subsequent Democratic-leaning mail ballots as fraudulent.

Now, the digital data firm Hawkfish has come up with an empirically solid scenario of how this “red mirage” (as they call it) might unfold. An extensive survey conducted by the firm confirmed the partisan split in voting methodologies, and its significance. They explained, via email:

“Over 40% of voters intend to vote by mail, nearly double the number who voted by mail in 2016.

“Far more Democrats than Republicans intend to vote by mail. Over 50% of Biden’s supporters intend to vote by mail, compared to less than 20% of Trump’s supporters.

“The partisan divide in voting method is greater in most battleground states. Over two thirds of Biden supporters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, and Arizona intend to vote by mail; less than one quarter of Trump supporters in these states intend to exercise that same option.”

Using the baseline of the 9.3 percent national Biden lead (and a 334–204 advantage in the Electoral College) shown by FiveThirtyEight in August, and information on vote counts in the recent past, Hawkfish shows that an ultimate nine-point Biden national popular vote win could look like a four-point Trump lead (and a 339–199 electoral vote lead) on Election Night:

“[I]f by election night all polling place ballots and 40% of vote-by-mail ballots (in states where vote-by-mail will surge high above historical levels) are counted, Trump will temporarily lead in even safelyblue states. Given his history of false claims and dismissal of vote-by-mail, Trump may exploit this Red Mirage to claim victory and dispute any subsequent change to the electoral map.”

Needless to say, if the presidential race tightens (and Biden’s lead in the FiveThirtyEight polling averages is already down to 7.1 percent), Trump’s Election Night lead could be even larger, even if he’s doomed to defeat. And according to Hawkfish’s estimates, Biden might not take the lead until 75 percent of mail ballots have been counted, which could take several days.

Trump’s ability to throw sand in everyone’s eyes on Election Night depends on some combination of media impatience and public ignorance about how the vote count will proceed. If media outlets refute a Trump victory claim as premature, and if the public understands the election results may take several days to congeal, the red mirage may fade pretty quickly. But a new survey from Axios shows a majority of voters still expect a relatively quick result:

“One in three Americans thinks we’ll know who won the presidential election on the night of Nov. 3, and six in 10 expect the winner to be announced within a couple of days, our new poll finds …

“While so many opinions around the elections are heavily influenced by party ID, so far this question is not.

“A slightly smaller share of Democrats than Republicans say we’ll have same-night results (32% versus 37%). There’s even less of a gap by party among those who say we’ll know within a couple of days. More Republicans than Democrats think it could take longer than a month, but the difference is just 5 percentage points.”

There is no time like the present to begin educating everyone on the red mirage and its sources.

Why Trump’s Racist Pandering May Not Help Him Much in 2020

University of Pennsylvania poly sci professor Dan Hopkins explains “Why Trump’s Racist Appeals Might Be Less Effective In 2020 Than They Were In 2016” at FiveThirtyEight:

Looking at that panel survey I used in the Political Behavior study, we can see how the relationship between white respondents’ prejudice and their presidential intentions has changed. In the January 2020 survey wave, the poll included a question about a potential Trump-Biden general election match-up. And respondents who reported especially high levels of prejudice back in 2012 were roughly as firmly with Trump as of this January as they had been in fall 2016.4

But notice the histogram at the bottom, which show how many respondents registered each level of prejudice: The high-prejudice portion of the white electorate where Trump was clearly outperforming Romney accounts for roughly a quarter of all white respondents (to say nothing of nonwhite voters or voters too young to appear in a 12-year-old panel). Further activating this group is likely to have diminishing returns for Trump because there aren’t many of them and they are already strongly behind the president. By contrast, white voters with lower levels of prejudice are far more numerous, and also less likely to be with Trump than in 2016. In other words, Trump has far more room to increase his support among the larger number of white Americans with lower levels of prejudice.

Remember, this wave of the panel was conducted in January — before COVID-19 and, crucially, before the protests following the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the shooting of Jacob Blake. The protests may have changed the relationship between racial attitudes and voting in ways not detected in this survey. But the evidence to date suggests that, if anything, the protests may have continued to push white Americans’ racial attitudes in a liberal direction. And as Tesler contends, Democrats are now arguably more unified on race-related issues than Republicans, meaning that relative to 2016, there are fewer voters with the mix of attitudes that might make them responsive to racial appeals. Other issues, like the coronavirus and the government’s response, have also crowded the political agenda, limiting Trump’s ability to change the subject.

True, Grimmer and Marble disagree with Sides, Tesler and Vavreck on the role racial attitudes played in 2016. But when looking ahead to 2020, the researchers are more in agreement. In an email, Grimmer offered a conclusion similar to Tesler’s, noting that “in 2016, Trump was already winning almost all of the declining fraction of voters who are highest in racial resentment. So he has a lot more room for growth among those in the middle of the racial resentment scale, both in terms of turning out and choosing him over Biden.”

It’s surely too soon to count Trump out. But if Trump does win reelection in November, it’s very likely to be due to gains with white voters lower in prejudice or with nonwhite voters. Using racist appeals and racialized wedge issues won him support most clearly in the 2016 GOP primary. But there are key differences between that contest and the 2020 general election — differences that may make racial appeals less impactful this year. And judging from the RNC’s periodic efforts to counter the charge that Trump is racially divisive, some of its planners seem to agree.

Trump’s racial fear-mongering may or may not gain him some support from voters with lower levels of racial resentment. Yet his support from this group may be limited further by the number of voters who are not willing to overlook his failure to address the pandemic and it’s disastrous effect on their economic well-being.

Teixeira: Yes, Democrats Really Do Need the White Working Class

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

As I have repeatedly noted, the primary driver of Biden’s relatively large lead in the polls and in battleground states is Biden’s improved performance relative to Clinton ’16 among white working class voters. If the race tightens–I mean, really tightens, not the modest changes we’re seeing right now–it will likely be because Biden’s relatively good performance among these voters erodes.

If that’s not enough to convince you how important these voters are I commend to you my friend Andy Levison’s terrific new piece on Does The Democratic Coalition Really Need the White Working Class? Read the whole thing. He makes a very compelling case for a Democratic “big tent” strategy that includes these voters. Here’s the conclusion of his essay:

“The political arguments for the urgent need to build a broad or commanding “big tent” Democratic majority are well known:

a. Without winning the Senate and State Legislatures as well as the presidency Democrats will not be able to prevent more attacks on democratic institutions or advance an agenda that can win them enduring popular support.

b. With Trump’s demagogic claims that the election will be stolen, even a very solid Democratic victory in the popular vote and the electoral college will be rejected by many Trump supporters. To gain legitimacy, a Democratic victory will have to be so clear and decisive that it convinces even Trump’s supporters that it is valid.

But beyond this, there is a deeper sociological reason why a big tent coalition is indispensable. At the present time America is deeply divided between educated, diverse people living in urban, metropolitan areas on the one hand and overwhelmingly white working class people, many living in Red States, rural areas and small towns.

This deep separation creates the sociological foundation for political extremism. When people live in the same areas and communities and share schools, sporting events, parks and streets they tend to see each other as neighbors. When a deep social distance divides them, they can easily come to see each other as aliens and strangers.

So long as the Democratic and Republican parties shared a fairly wide degree of consensus, as they did in the post-World War II era, people saw members of the opposite party as “normal” people who were their friends and neighbors and with whom they socialized in daily life—at PTA meetings, Little League games and a host of other shared activities.

As the social and demographic character of Democrats and Republicans began to diverge in the 1970’s and 1980’s, on the other hand, it became easier for right wing demagogues in the GOP to portray Democrats as subversive, sinister and even evil rather than as fellow Americans with whom one just happens to somewhat disagree.

Each successive stage of this evolution has been more grotesque than the last. In the 1990’s Fox News, Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh began the process of demonizing the Democrats, but the resulting militia movement remained a fringe phenomenon, especially after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1998. After Obama’s election new and more extreme demagogues like Glen Beck and Breitbart provided the ideology for the much larger Tea Party movement. Now Trump has legitimized the worst extremism ever seen in America, ranging from the conspiracy theories of Q-anon to the proud and open neo-fascists marching in Charlottesville and his own paranoid fantasies.

In this context, increasing the presence of culturally traditional Democrats in white working class and Red State districts across America is crucial for reducing extremism. Right now in many districts Republicans win 70 or 80% of the vote, making Democrats essentially invisible. Reducing the Republican advantage to 60 or 65% may seem irrelevant in purely electoral terms but in sociological terms the effect would be profound. If your next door neighbor or the captain of the baseball team is a Democrat, it becomes harder to believe conspiracy theories that claim Democrats are secret degenerates running child sex slave rings.

As a result, winning a sector of the more moderate culturally traditional white working class voters to the Democratic Party would profoundly undermine the social foundation of the current GOP extremism. This is the most important reason why a “big tent” and commanding Democratic majority is vital not only for Democrats but for the future of America.”

Amen. The big tent strategy is not just a good idea; it’s a necessity.

Teixeira: How Biden Could Lose

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

How Biden Could Lose

I’m not saying it will happen or even that it’s likely it will happen. But we can begin to see the outlines of how it might happen. George Packer:

“If Donald Trump wins, in a trustworthy vote, what’s happening this week in Kenosha, Wisconsin, will be one reason. Maybe the reason. And yet Joe Biden has it in his power to spare the country a second Trump term….

[O]n Monday, the Republicans began their remote convention. The simultaneous mayhem in Kenosha seemed like part of the script, as it played into their main theme: that Biden is a tool of radical leftists who hate America, who want to bring the chaos of the cities they govern out to the suburbs where the real Americans live. The Republicans won’t let such an opportunity go to waste. “Law and order are on the ballot,” Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday night. Other speakers were harsher.

It’s no use dismissing their words as partisan talking points. They are effective ones, backed up by certain facts. Trump will bang this loud, ugly drum until Election Day. He knows that Kenosha has placed Democrats in a trap. They’ve embraced the protests and the causes that drive them. The third night of the Democratic convention was consumed with the language and imagery of protest—as if all Americans watching were activists.

On Monday, the day after Blake’s shooting, Biden and his vice-presidential nominee, Senator Kamala Harris, released statements expressing outrage. The next day, Biden’s spokesperson released a statement opposing “burning down communities and needless destruction.” And on Wednesday, Biden, after speaking with the Blake family, condemned both the initial incident and the subsequent destruction. “Burning down communities is not protest,” he pleaded in a video. “It’s needless violence.” He said the same after George Floyd’s killing.

How many Americans have heard him? In the crude terms of a presidential campaign, voters know that the Democrat means it when he denounces police brutality, but less so when he denounces riots. To reach the public and convince it otherwise, Biden has to go beyond boilerplate and make it personal, memorable.”

Packer has a suggestion for how to do this which seems eminently sensible to me. In fact, I can’t think of a good reason for Biden not to do it.

“Biden, then, should go immediately to Wisconsin, the crucial state that Hillary Clinton infamously ignored. He should meet the Blake family and give them his support and comfort. He should also meet Kenoshans like the small-business owners quoted in the Times piece, who doubt that Democrats care about the wreckage of their dreams. Then, on the burned-out streets, without a script, from the heart, Biden should speak to the city and the country. He should speak for justice and for safety, for reform and against riots, for the crying need to bring the country together. If he says these things half as well as Julia Jackson did, we might not have to live with four more years of Trump.”

I can, however, think of a bad reason why Biden might not do this. From a good Politico report on the situation in Kenosha and Wisconsin:

“John “Sly” Sylvester, a longtime Democrat and radio personality who has been active in the labor movement, said he feared Democrats have a “blind spot” to rioters and looters.

“I think there are some people on the left who don’t understand the concept of how important public safety is to people,” Sylvester said. “We all saw the shooting and are deeply troubled by it, but that doesn’t negate the need for public safety.”

That’s right: public safety! It’s very,very important to voters and Democrats need to show they’re 100 percent on the right side of this issue. That means denunciations of violence and looting can’t just be an afterthought to support of the current movement against police brutality. It has to be front and center and if that means incurring the wrath of some activists, BLM leaders and Twitter denizens, so be it. This election is too important to be held hostage to the actions of small groups of radicals whose tactics and illiberal ideology are toxic to the progressive cause. Time for Democrats to break out of the trap.

Political Strategy Notes

A lot of Democrats are worried about political backlash in response to protest violence, particularly in Portland, Oregon. At CNN Politics, Paul LeBlanc reports on Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s counter-attack to Trump’s efforts to gin up backlash, and Wheeler’s blistering indictment provides a pretty good messaging template for progressives to tweak as needed: “The Democratic mayor of Portland, Oregon, said Sunday it is President Donald Trump who “created the hate” in an unyielding attack on the White House following a shooting at a protest that left one person dead…Speaking at a news conference, Mayor Ted Wheeler asked, “Do you seriously wonder, Mr. President, why this is the first time in decades that America has seen this level of violence?”…It’s you who have created the hate and the division. It’s you who have not found a way to say the names of Black people killed by police officers even as people in law enforcement have. And it’s you who claimed that White supremacists are good people,” he continued. “Your campaign of fear is as anti-democratic as anything you’ve done to create hate and vitriol in our beautiful country.”

Not bad. But Wheeler brings even more heat, as LeBlanc notes: “Addressing Trump personally, Wheeler lamented that “for four years we’ve had to live with you and your racist attacks on Black people.”…”We learned early about your sexist attitudes toward women. We’ve had to endure clips of you mocking a disabled man. We’ve had to listen to your anti-democratic attacks on journalists. We’ve read your tweets slamming private citizens to the point of receiving death threats, and we’ve listened to your attacks on immigrants,” he said….”We’ve listened to you label Mexicans ‘rapists.’ We’ve heard you say that John McCain wasn’t a hero because he was a prisoner of war. And now, you’re attacking Democratic mayors and the very institutions of Democracy that have served this nation well since its founding.”…”President Trump, you bring no peace. You bring no respect to our Democracy. You, Mr. President, need to do your job as the leader of this nation and I, Mr. President, will do my job as the mayor of this city,” he said…”And we will both be held accountable, as we should.”

We are also seeing some sharp counter-attacks to Trump’s GOP convention whining about how things are gonna get really bad if Biden wins. Wheeler’s inarguable point that “this is the first time in decades that America has seen this level of violence” warrants disciplined repetition from Democrats and progressives. Place the blame where it belongs, on Trump, because if Dems don’t do so, he will win the messaging war. But Democrats must also highlight Trump’s failed economic leadership, including his threats to gut Social Security and Medicare, in clear contrast to Biden’s plan to strengthen these critical programs, as well as Biden’s plan to address the Covid-19 pandemic, put 12 million Americans back to work revitalizing America’s infrastructure and make it possible to re-open schools safely. As Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics puts it, “The goal of the next president will be to get back to full employment as fast as possible…Biden will get there a lot faster than Trump will.”

Nathaniel Rakich reports at FiveThirtyEight that “Biden’s Voters Appear Far More Likely To Vote By Mail Than Trump’s. That Could Make For A Weird Election Night.” As Rakich writes, “amid saturation coverage of problems with the U.S. Postal Service, new polling from CNBC/Change Research suggests that the number of Americans planning to vote by mail has ticked down. In early August, 38 percent of voters in six battleground states1 said they planned to vote by mail. But in the pollster’s just-released Aug. 21-23 poll, the number of voters in those states saying they planned to vote by mail was down to 33 percent. Among all voters nationwide, the share planning to vote by mail went from 36 percent to 33 percent — although that drop was within the poll’s margin of error…Other recent polls agree that about a third of voters intend to vote by mail this year…Democrats are much likelier than Republicans to say they will vote by mail…”

In Other Polling Bites, Rakich notes, “According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.2 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 54.3 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -12.1 points). At this time last week, 41.8 percent approved and 54.2 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -12.4 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 40.2 percent and a disapproval rating of 55.8 percent, for a net approval rating of -15.6 points.”

In his article, “Many Are Afraid To Say It, but This Is Not a Close Race,” Charlie Cook of The Cook Political Report calls out “political analysts, pollsters, and pundits who refuse to state publicly what the data plainly show: that it is very, very unlikely Trump will win 270 electoral votes and the election…Go through the top-line results of high-quality polls such as those from ABC News/Washington PostCNNFox News, and NBC News/Wall Street Journal, to name just four, and you’ll find that majorities of voters do not like Trump personally, they do not approve of his handling of the job overall, and they disapprove of his entire approach to the coronavirus. When asked about personal attributes, Trump fares poorly in most surveys and trails Biden in most of the categories when the two are compared. He trails Biden by about 10 percentage points nationally in the higher-quality surveys and is behind by at least 5 points in all 20 states that Hillary Clinton carried (plus D.C.), as well as Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Those states alone total 307 electoral votes.”

Cook concedes, “Yes, there are things that could tilt this race: shenanigans at the Postal Service, voter confusion about how to vote, states’ inability to process and count ballots on time, to name a few. But the race has to get much closer before these can possibly make a difference in a few key states…Trump was the candidate of change in 2016. Now, Americans are very unhappy with where the country is and how he has handled his tenure. How does an incumbent prevail in the face of this? I just don’t see how the reasons why Trump was underestimated then still apply now. This shoe is on a different foot. So I am going to be like the kid saying that the emperor has no clothes…A focused and disciplined incumbent president could climb out of this hole. But not one who too often seems to be his own worst enemy.”

However, Washington Post syndicated columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. warns, “Don’t let Trump’s distractions bury his record,” and writes, “The post-2016 language about liberals, Democrats, “elites” and the media “not understanding” the “values” of White working- and middle-class class Americans in the Midwest is back in force. The disorder in Kenosha after the police shooting of Jacob Blake and now the killing in Portland over the weekend are assumed to be helpful to Trump, even though Biden pointed out, rather logically, that this mayhem is happening on Trump’s watch…On Sunday, Biden unequivocally condemned “violence of every kind by anyone, whether on the left or the right,” and also denounced Trump for “fanning the flames of hate and division in our society and using the politics of fear to whip up his supporters…

Dionne adds, “The Biden camp needs to show persuadable Trump voters in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania just how little the president has achieved for them. (A good start: a Biden ad that aired during the last night of the GOP convention showing Trump in the gold-gilded cage of one of his properties.) There should be more focus on issues that appeal across racial lines: jobs, wages, mobility, education and dignity…Of course, Biden has some careful lines to walk on the ongoing violence. But his strong statement over the weekend showed that this is something he doesn’t need to be told…What he can’t do is give in to narratives that cast advocates of civil rights as being on the defensive, which would force him to run a campaign on Trump’s turf. Right now, it’s Trump who looks exhausted by his job, over his head, and scrambling for excuses and diversions. Biden must keep things that way.”

Brownstein: Dems Gain from Trump’s Shrinking Coalition

At CNN Politics, Ronald Brownstein writes that ” Trump has imposed a distinctive bet on the GOP. He’s increased its reliance on the people and places least touched by — and most resistant to — the seismic demographic, cultural and economic changes remaking America, while accelerating the party’s retreat in the places, and among the people, that most welcome those changes. Evidence is growing that in November, the GOP could be pushed back further into its strongholds and lose more ground in diverse, growing metropolitan America, even if Trump finds a way to overcome his persistent deficits in national polls to Democratic nominee Joe Biden.” Brownstein notes, further,

In 2016, Trump won very few of the states with the most immigrants, the most college graduates or the fewest White Christians, and polls show he could lose several of the small number he did carry in each category. House Republicans, while still strong in rural areas, are also at high risk for even further losses in the big metropolitan areas that keyed the Democratic surge in 2018. That same demographic and geographic realignment threatens embattled GOP senators in Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Maine and potentially Iowa, Georgia and conceivably even Texas.

The conundrum facing the GOP will be visible in the passionate support for the President on display this week. As the previously Republican-leaning voters who can’t abide Trump’s definition drift away from the party — a dynamic that Democrats highlighted last week by featuring so many prominent Republicans at their own convention — what’s left are those most bonded to Trump’s polarizing approach. That will make it difficult to build a coalition for changing direction if Trump loses this fall, even if he takes down the GOP Senate majority with him.

Brownstein adds that “all signs suggest that Trump and the GOP this year will become even more reliant on support from his narrow coalition of core groups: Whites who live in rural areas, lack college degrees or identify as evangelical Christians. Polls conducted just before the national conventions showed that while Trump generally is not quite matching his extraordinary 2016 levels of support from those groups, he remains very strong with them.”

“Polls consistently show him drawing support from only about 30% of adults younger than 30,” notes Brownstein, “and unlike 2016, when many of those younger voters splintered off to third-party candidates, several surveys suggest that Biden could consolidate as many as two-thirds of them, far more than Hillary Clinton did in 2016…Trump is at risk of the weakest performance for any Republican presidential nominee in the history of modern polling, tracing back to 1952, among White voters with a college education; a flurry of recent surveys, including those from CNN, NBC/Wall Street Journal, Pew and ABC/Washington Post, all showed Biden winning at least 57% of them, an unprecedented number for a Democrat.”

As Brownstein observes, “The groups he runs best with are almost all shrinking as a share of American society, while the groups that he’s alienated are growing.” He quots Republican pollster Whit Ayers, who explains, “The trends of 2016-17 and ’18 are continuing apace, with continuing weakness of the Republican brand in suburban areas that had traditionally voted Republican coupled with strengthening of the Republican brand in rural areas that had traditionally voted Democrat…The problem, of course, is that the Republicans are trading larger, faster-growing areas for smaller slower-growing areas, and the math does not work out in the long run with that sort of trade.”

Brownstein cites the “rejection of the Trump-defined GOP in suburbia,” which has “pointedly demonstrated the limits of the combative political vision the President is celebrating at this week’s convention.” He concludes with a quote from Republican Rep  Charlie Dent (PA) who has endorsed Biden: “If the President loses reelection and the Senate were to flip, then I believe there will be a reckoning and the need for a very real conversation…There will be no need for another ‘autopsy.’ We will know who killed the patient here.”

Pence Expels Democrats From America As We’ve Known It

Vice President Mike Pence’s RNC speech achieved new lows, as I noted at New York:

For a while the third night of the Republican National Convention was a relatively bland evening of conservative ideological boilerplate (I lost count of how many times “school choice,” never once defined, was touted). But then Vice-President Mike Pence had his big moment as “keynote speaker” from a superpatriotic setting at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. And as you might expect from the sycophant-in-chief, Pence carried the message of this convention to its logical end in this remarkable passage:

“Last week, Joe Biden said democracy is on the ballot but the truth is … our economic recovery is on the ballot, law and order is on the ballot. But so are things far more fundamental and foundational to our country.

“It’s whether we will leave to our children and our grandchildren a country grounded in our highest ideals of freedom, free markets, and the unalienable right to life and liberty — or whether we will leave to our children and grandchildren a country that is fundamentally transformed into something else.”

In other words, America can’t be America without Donald Trump. Even Trump himself has never made that sweeping a claim tying his identity to the essence of the nation, though you can bet he will now. Given a campaign strategy based on claims of wild success for the Trump administration combined with demonization of Democrats as enemies of the country bent on disbanding police departments and turning loose Black rioters to sack and pillage the suburbs, it was a short step to denying them and their candidate any legitimate role in national life. Pence went there without missing a breath, though it took away mine.

Earlier in his address, Pence did a rather humdrum job of what I thought would be a major focus of his address: defending the administration’s record on managing COVID-19. He did pull off a nice trick of playing on the religious sensibilities of his fellow conservative Evangelicals by expressing confidence in the “miracle” of an early, American-developed vaccine. But the real tell was that the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force spoke to a crowd of over a hundred people, few of them masked and indifferently separated, who cheered and chanted in what was probably a small dress rehearsal for Trump’s speech on the White House lawn tomorrow night. These people still don’t take their own alleged advice on the pandemic that will have killed close to a quarter million Americans by Election Day — though at least it was all outside.

But Pence’s real focus was making it abundantly clear that in the turmoil over police killings and the battle for racial justice, Republicans stand unambiguously for the Heroes in Blue and the good taxpaying citizens who expect them to provide protection against those people:

“We will have law and order on the streets of America.

“President Trump and I know the men and women that put on the uniform of law enforcement are the best of us. They put their lives on the line every day …

“The hard truth is … you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America. Under President Trump, we will stand with those who stand on the Thin Blue Line, and we’re not going to defund the police — not now, not ever.”

Given the timing of this address, Pence seemed to be identifying with the officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, who shot and paralyzed Jacob Blake, if not the 17-year-old Trump fan suspected to have murdered two protesters against that act of police brutality. But beyond that dog whistle, Pence was roughly the 20th speaker at this convention to repeat the lie that Biden (who has been very clear in opposing any “defunding of the police”) or Democrats (whose congressional caucuses unanimously embraced a police-reform bill that rejected “defunding” as even an option) want to disband the police and exult in anarchy. But the lie was key to his final judgment about Biden:

“When you consider their agenda it’s clear: Joe Biden would be nothing more than a Trojan horse for a radical left.”

You know, the “radical left” that supports reproductive rights that have been the law of the land for 47 years; that wants to restore voting rights first established in 1965; that supports a perspective toward immigrants shared by George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan; that doesn’t want to repeal Obamacare or privatize Medicare or raid Social Security.

Republicans are entirely within their rights to treat the November election as an ideological choice between liberalism and conservatism, and also as a choice of leadership styles between a chronic norm-breaker and an apostle of boring normalcy. But claiming patriotism, goodwill, and Americanism itself as the exclusive property of his own party and president, as Mike Pence did at Fort McHenry, is just beyond the pale, and a disgrace to the spirit of community that is patriotism’s essence. It’s a sign of his party’s desperation that it goes this far in reinforcing Donald Trump’s dangerous belief that without him, his country is a bunch of losers.