NDN Blog

Trump Needs To Re-Open The FEC Right Now

This analysis was updated on the afternoon of October 9th, a few hours after it was posted. 

While it is hard to keep track of the flood of malevolence flowing from the White House these days, I want to draw folks' attention to one action from Trump world that looks increasingly sinister - the shuttering of the Federal Election Commission, an independent regulatory body which enforces American election law. 

The FEC has six commissioners, with no more than three from one party. This past summer the Commission was already in a depleted state, as the White House and Senator McConnell had left the FEC with only four Commissioners, three of whom were already serving past the expiration of their term.  On August 26th, one of the two remaining Republican commissioners abruptly resigned, giving just five days notice before his departure, a highly unusual move in this process obsessed town.  This left the FEC with only three commissioners (again all serving past their terms), not enough to achieve a quorum.  More than a month later neither the White House nor Senator McConnell have announced plans to re-open nominations or bring to a vote any new nominee.  The FEC appears to have been taken off line permanently by Trump and McConnell just as the 2020 campaign ramps up. 

For some perspective, here is how the New York Times covered the departure of the 4th FEC commissioner in its August 26th edition:

The resignation of Vice Chairman Matthew S. Petersen, announced on Monday and scheduled for the end of August, will effectively freeze the F.E.C.’s governance, leaving it one person short of a quorum and thus unable to take on some of its most basic actions, including holding board meetings, starting audits, making new rules and levying fines for campaign finance violations.

“Voters should be extremely concerned,” said Ann M. Ravel, a Democrat and former F.E.C. chairwoman who stepped down in 2017 and who has not been replaced. “If you do not have the ability to do any kind of enforcement, then there isn’t any kind of respect for the law.”

It is course scandalous that the White House would allow our election watchdog agency to be taken offline given Russia's successful undermining of our elections in 2016 and judgments from all, including the new Senate Intel Committee report, that these activities haven't ceased and that our elections are in danger again this time.  But a review of new reporting and a timeline of recent events suggests something more venal and permicious about the timing of the FEC's shuttering - for the FEC was shut down on the very same day that the White House learned that credible allegations the President broke felony level election laws here in the US would become public, and just 12 days after a criminal referral of the President was made to the DOJ by the CIA's general counsel.  Let's review:

July 26 - Original whistleblower memo written, quotes US official who had been on the Trump-Zelensky call this way - "the official stated that there was already a conversation underway with White House lawyers about how to handle the discussion because, in the official's view, the President had clearly committed a criminal act by urging a foreign power to investigate a U.S. person for the purposes of advancing his own reelection bid in 2020."

Aug 12 – Ukraine whistleblower complaint filed with the Intelligence Community Inspector General.

Aug 14 – CIA General Counsel makes criminal referral to Department of Justice about the President’s actions based on the whistleblower report.  Among possible laws broken include election laws.  How the White House and DOJ became aware of the potential legal problems for the President and other senior Administration staff. One would assume significant efforts to mitigate potential damages began on this date. 

Aug 22 - In a somewhat suprising turn of events, the President announces he will force a debate at the upcoming G7 about lifting sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.  Demonstrates how front of mind Ukraine is to the President at this moment, and how extensive the explicit and implicit threats to Zelensky were during this period.  Indeed the G7 meeting which runs from Aug 24-26 features a very public and spirited debate about forgiving Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. 

Aug 26 – DNI Maguire officially notified of "credible" and "urgent" whistleblower complaint by the IC Inspector General.  Initiates process which guarentees that at some point the complaint will become public. 

Aug 26 – Also on this day, the FEC is hastily taken off line by the unanticipated resignation of Commissioner Petersen.

Sept 26 - Whistleblower complaint released, first time we learn of Attorney General Barr's direct involvement in the scandal.  DOJ admits they reviewed whether the President broke any laws, and importantly, cleared him of breaking US election law (NDN believes this argument, like so many legal arguments emenating from the WH and DOJ these days is absurd on its face, and any official public or private who pressured Ukraine for information on Biden committed felony level election law violations).

Reviewing the timeline, WH/DOJ learn on Aug 14th of potential election law violations by the President and other senior advisors, including potentially the Attorney General himself.  DOJ, after an unserious review of the charges, rules the President broke no laws.  However, in the interim, the independent regulatory body overseeing US election law is hastily taken off line in a move that can now only be understood as preventing any kind of investigation into these charges outside the control of the President's compliant DOJ. 

Calls for the re-opening of the Federal Election Commission should be very loud now.  It is bad enough Trump and McConnell have blocked several common sense bills which would have made our elections far more secure.  But it cannot be that they get away with taking the FEC offline this cycle, particularly as the issue of whether there was a huge criminal conspiracy to violate US election laws by Trump, his Administration, and his advisors has already become central to the 2020 campaign; and Russia, Iran, and other nations are likely to attack our democracy once again. 

As I wrote in this essay a few months ago, crimes which undermine our elections and our democracy more broadly are the gravest "high crimes" a President can commit while in office, and need to be understood that way. 

NDN Statement On Trump's Threatened European Tariffs

In light of this week’s WTO ruling on European subsidies to Airbus and the Administration’s announcement of new tariffs on $7.5 billion of EU imports effective October 18th, NDN President Simon Rosenberg has released the following statement:

“NDN welcomes this week’s WTO ruling against illegal state aid to Airbus, and hopes that this decision can help bring an end to the decades-long Airbus/Boeing conflict. However, NDN is very concerned by the Administration’s announcement of new tariffs on the EU, and urges the Administration to drop the tariff threat before new escalation occurs between the US and the Europeans.

The US also provides illegal state aid to Boeing, a case that will be ruled upon by the WTO in coming months, and the WTO in this week’s ruling strongly hinted that they would deliver the same result to the US, stating that: “The WTO has already found that the US failed to address illegal subsidies causing harm to Airbus. This will provide the EU with ground to claim countermeasures on US products at a level that could exceed US sanctions.”

As a result, NDN hopes that the Trump administration will now forgo its announced tariffs and enter direct negotiations with the EU to reduce state subsidies to both Airbus and Boeing. Anything less can only be seen as a reckless escalation of trade tensions by President Trump that isn’t intended to solve the Airbus/Boeing conflict. With the global economy already suffering immensely from trade tensions, and US manufacturing contracting at its worst level since 2009, a new trade war between the US and EU will only cause greater economic pain both at home and abroad.

Finally, Speaker Pelosi should make clear to the President that advancing the trade pact with Mexico and Canada will be far easier if the Administration lessens trade tensions with Europe and China.  Congress cannot appear to be looking the other way when it comes to the President’s reckless trade policies.  An escalating trade war with Europe will make it much harder to sell the propriety of the President’s trade policies to the public, and to wavering Democrats.”

New Polls Show Impeachment Moving Into Dangerous Territory For Trump

When Nancy Pelosi announced the beginning of an impeachment inquiry against President Trump on September 24th, all eyes turned towards the move’s impact on public opinion. While Trump has been the consistently least popular first-term President in the postwar era, Americans have in fact largely opposed impeachment proceedings, something which undoubtedly played a role in Democrats’ hesitation to fully embrace impeachment. However, over the past week, public opinion has dramatically changed, and it is now very likely that more Americans support both an impeachment inquiry and impeaching the President than oppose them.

First, support for starting an impeachment inquiry has significantly increased over the past week. Five polls – CNBC, CBS, Politico, The Hill, and Monmouth – asked this question both in August/early September and this past week. Averaging those five polls together, just 38.8% of Americans supported the inquiry in August/early September, compared to 50% who opposed it (net -11.2 percentage points). Over this past week, however, those same polls found that 47.6% of Americans supported the inquiry, compared to just 44% who opposed it (net +3.6pp). In a matter of days, support for the inquiry increased by a net 14.8pp, a very significant development given that new information involving the Ukraine scandal and others continues to surface daily.

Net Support For An Impeachment Inquiry

Second, and potentially more surprising, support for the outright impeachment of Trump has now risen to a plurality of Americans. Five polls – Quinnipiac, CNN, Ipsos, Civiqs, and Monmouth – have asked this question in August/early September and this past week (some of these polls specify impeachment and removal, while others just say impeachment). Averaging those five polls together, only 39% of Americans supported impeaching Trump in August/early September, compared to 52% who opposed it (net -13pp). Over this past week, however, support for impeachment surged to 46.4%, compared to 46.2% who opposed it, meaning that a slightly larger number of Americans want Trump impeached now versus those who do not.

Net Support For Impeachment

Finally, this rapid change in support for impeachment proceedings has been paralleled by a large drop in Trump’s approval rating over just the past week. On September 24th, the day that Pelosi launched the inquiry, Trump’s net approval stood at -9.8 according to FiveThirtyEight’s polling aggregate. In just seven days, it has fallen to -12.1. This decline of 2.3pp is especially notable because, over the 20 months from January 2018 to the present, the total range of Trump’s net approval has been just 7.8pp (from a low of -16.7 to a high of -8.9). As a result, this decline in just 7 days represents almost 1/3 of the entire movement in Trump’s approval over the past two years.

Overall, then, this first round of polling since the Ukraine scandal and the beginning of the impeachment inquiry represents very dangerous territory for the President. Larger numbers of Americans want him impeached than not, and this is before the House of Representatives conducts new impeachment hearings and likely even more leaks from the White House, two events that could increase support for impeachment even further.  

Questions Of Putin’s Influence Over Trump Will Soon Become Central To Ukraine Affair

In a new Twitter thread, Simon argues that any in depth investigation into the Ukraine Affair will inevitably lead to another examination of Putin’s extraordinary influence over the American President. 

Democrats Must Make The Case Against Trump Now

The President is a desperate man.  He is the most unpopular first term President in the modern era.  He lost the 2018 election badly, and is more unpopular today than he was last fall.  He trails VP Biden by double digits in the polling averages, and is way behind even in MI, PA, and WI.  The economy is slowing down, the deficit is exploding, and his economic plan did not deliver what he promised.  His experiment with protectionism is failing.  His management of the border is an historic fiasco.  His ideological fellow travelers – Bibi, Italy’s Salvini, Boris Johnson – have suffered dramatic setbacks in recent weeks. 

Desperate men do dangerous things.  And that brings us to the Ukraine affair – the President has done a series of dangerous and reckless things to weaken his most threatening domestic opponent.  He has broken a series of laws – election laws, bribery, extortion, who knows what else.  He is already breaking laws, again, by trying to cover it up.  And the inevitable disinformation campaign, one which would make Putin proud, has begun.  He is doing everything he can to make Moscow Rules the norm in US politics. 

The details matter here.  Trump put pressure on a small nation at war with Russia to do his illicit bidding, or face what – a US-backed Russian invasion of the rest of Ukraine?  Team Trump has been on the wrong side of the Ukraine issue for the past 3 years – it would not be a leap for the President to align the US with Russia’s interests here, as he has in just about every other part of the world in recent months.  The threat the President and his team, including the Vice President, delivered, from a geopolitical perspective, was an extraordinary one. 

That the President has once again sought illicit foreign help against the leading Democratic candidate and then attempted to illegally cover it up of course confirms our worst fears about what happened in 2016 and afterwards.  TrumpRussia was no hoax – it was how he won a very close election.  And if it worked then, and in his mind he got away with it, why not do it again?

The Ukraine affair is changing the political calculus on Trump for Democrats.  As Adam Schiff says in this interview from over the weekend, we have a remedy for removing a terrible President – elections.  But what we are now faced with is something far more menacing than a bad President.  Our President is a serial criminal, committing crimes in real time in front of all of us; and that he was willing to use the national security apparatus for his own partisan political advantage makes him not just a bad President but a dangerous one.  Imagine if he gets away with this one – what else could he do in his remaining 16 months in office?  And that is why Democrats can’t wait until next year’s election – Trump has made it clear he will put his interests above ours, making him incapable any longer of being trusted to act in the national interest of the United States and its people. 

So what now? I think what comes next is less about impeachment than about Democrats coming to understand that, in a year in which Trump is on the ballot, there is no safe place to go where they can talk about “kitchen table” issues and duck making the case against Trump.  Just as 2018 wasn't 2016, 2020 is no longer 2018 any more. Impeachment in my mind is a tactic, not an end in itself.  The strategy here is to use the Congress to make the case against the President, to expose his lawlessness, corruption, contempt for democracy, fealty to Russia – all that.  The case against him is a powerful one, but we need to make it.  Impeachment and potential removal will come only if we lean in and make the case, recognizing along the way that at some point reticence and restraint becomes cowardice. 

Finally, we have to stop being scared of the Trump propaganda machine.  There is a bit of the Wizard of Oz here.  The case for the ACA was always strong, and when Democrats leaned into it in 2017 it turned into a potent issue critical to the big gains of 2018.  Trump has attacked immigrants, and America is more pro-immigrant today than it has been in decades.  The President attacked the global trade system and trade is more popular than it’s been in decades.  His track record of winning arguments on the big issues just isn’t strong. 

Talking to the American people about Trump’s denigration of his office is our obligation now.  And if done with integrity and love of country, a proud patriotism not partisanship, Democrats can bring the American people along; but more importantly, it is what must be done now.  Our President has become desperate, and dangerous to the national interest.  It is time to act. 

Related Materials

Protecting America - NDN's Statement After Gilroy, El Paso, And Dayton - Simon Rosenberg - Responsible leaders of both parties need to act with great moral clarity now and spend this fall confronting three grave threats to our homeland – deadly right wing terrorism, gun violence and foreign manipulation of our elections and discourse.  

Tariffs, Trump, And Tyrants - Simon Rosenberg - More Mad King than President, Trump's refusal to honor the laws, rules, and norms which make democracies work is the greatest High Crime of all. His ill-considered, whimsical tariffs are just the latest example, and should be forcefully challenged by Congress.

America’s Experiment With Protectionism Is Failing

Starting in March 2018, the United States has undertaken its largest experiment with protectionism since the end of the Second World War. The average tariff on all imported goods today sits at 6.1%, its highest level since 1947 and compared to just 1.5% in 2017. For decades, large segments of the political arena on both the left and right have argued that greater protectionism is necessary to protect American wages, jobs, and manufacturing. As a result, the effects of this experiment are critical not just to the Trump presidency, but to the ongoing bipartisan debate over free trade and tariffs. A year and a half into its implementation, however, the experiment appears to be failing. Jobs have not come back to the United States, domestic manufacturing has been weakened, the average household has lost over $1,000, and growth has slowed.

The Trade Deficit Has Continued To Rise, And Manufacturing Hasn’t Returned

The most important argument made by the President in defense of his protectionist strategy was that the tariffs would lead to a reduction in imports of manufactured goods and a closing of the trade deficit, thus spurring a revival of domestic manufacturing, jobs, and wages. Importantly, however, this import substitution has simply not happened. From January 2018 to July 2019, the US trade deficit has actually expanded by $2 billion/month (an increase of about 3.5%) in spite of the tariffs. While the trade deficit with China has fallen by $3 billion/month (a decline of 8.5%), those imports have simply been replaced by ones from other trading partners rather than by production in the US. The trade deficit has expanded by $6.6 billion with the EU (+49%), $3.5 billion with Mexico (+77%), $2 billion with Vietnam (+71%), and $0.7 billion with Japan (+13%), more than making up for the reduction with China.

As a result, there has been no re-shoring of manufacturing production that was previously “lost” to foreign imports, something that was critical to Trump’s argument that he would revive jobs and wages. It is important to note that this central argument is of course nonsense, because the trade deficit is a function of domestic national savings and investment, not trade policy, so a structural reduction in the trade deficit would also necessarily either increase the savings rate (thus reducing consumer spending) or reduce investment, both of which would harm jobs and wage growth. However, even if we take Trump’s argument at face value, it has not succeeded.

What has happened instead is that the tariffs have cut off US access to important export markets, increased the costs of inputs for businesses, and increased the prices faced by all American consumers. As a result, on every metric that Trump promised to improve – exports, manufacturing, economic growth, jobs, and incomes – his protectionist strategy has instead created a slowdown if not outright contraction.

Export Growth Has Collapsed

First, foreign retaliation to Trump’s trade wars has led to a closing off of key export markets for US firms and workers. As a result, export growth has slowed significantly since the trade war began, from an average of +9.1%/year in 2016 and 2017 to just +0.1%/year in the first half of 2019. In particular, farmer bankruptcies have hit a 6-year high as prices for soybeans and other products have collapsed in the face of weaker foreign demand.

Manufacturing Has Weakened

Second, US manufacturing – the industry that Trump based his campaign upon helping more than anything else – has seen an enormous slow-down since early 2018 as a result of weakened foreign demand for manufactured goods and higher input costs for factories. In August 2019, the manufacturing sector contracted for the first time in three years, and manufacturing job growth has ground to an almost complete halt this year – through the first eight months of the year job growth in manufacturing was just 5.5k/month compared to 15.8k/month in 2017.

Economic Growth Has Slowed

Third, overall economic growth has been severely impacted by the trade war. New research from the Federal Reserve estimates that the trade war will reduce US GDP growth by 0.8 percentage points in 2019 and more than 1.0pp in 2020, while Goldman Sachs projects the tariffs will reduce 2019 growth by 0.6pp. Furthermore, the IMF now projects that the trade war will reduce global growth by 0.8pp in 2020. Rather than increase growth to a sustainable 3%/year level as promised by the President, growth has instead rapidly decelerated since the tariffs were first implemented.

Job Growth Has Fallen

Fourth, job growth has weakened considerably as firms have fewer export opportunities and higher input costs and consumers are faced with lower disposable income. Moody’s Analytics estimates that the trade war with China has already destroyed 300,000 jobs, and projects that 450,000 jobs will be lost in total by the end of 2019 and 900,000 by the end of 2020 if the trade war continues. As can be seen below, both overall job growth and manufacturing job growth have declined significantly since March 2018.

Income Growth Has Reversed

And finally, real income growth has now begun to slow sharply after remaining relatively steady in 2017 and 2018 (although at lower levels than in 2015 and 2016). JP Morgan estimates that the average household will lose $1,000 by the end of 2019 as a result of the tariffs, while reduced hiring by firms has put pressure on nominal wage growth. As can be seen below, the slight increase in nominal earnings growth in 2018 has stopped and begun to roll-back in 2019 as the trade war has escalated, and nominal earnings growth is today slower than at the start of 2018.

Overall, then, what has the trade war gotten us? To be sure, Trump’s goals of reducing the trade deficit and thus bringing manufacturing production and jobs back to the US have not happened. Instead, this great experiment in protectionism has weakened essentially every economic metric that we measure. Over 300,000 workers have lost their jobs, middle class households are $1,000 poorer, and the country as a whole will have lost at least $100 billion in economic output by the end of the year. While much of the American political establishment is still enthralled with protectionism, the American people have largely come around to this reality. Poll after poll finds a wide majority of voters in favor of free trade and opposed to Trump’s tariffs – for example, a new Pew poll from July finds that Americans say free trade agreements are a good thing by 65% to 22%, with Democrats in particular in favor by a 73% to 15% margin. It is time now for Congress, and the 2020 Presidential candidates, to step up and end this disastrous experiment with protectionism.

Analysis: Trump Is The Least Popular First-Term President Since WW2

This piece was originally published on May 1st, 2019 and was updated with the latest polling data on September 11th, 2019.

Since the midterm elections last November, perceptions of Trump's popularity have swung rapidly as highly visible controversies such as the government shutdown and the release of the Mueller Report and Barr Summary have unfolded. Over the next few weeks, I'll take a look at some interesting developments in the polling, including Trump's popularity, the Democratic presidential primary, and the general election in 2020, and will comment on important take-aways from the data.

To start, how popular is Trump right now? While much of the conventional wisdom still portrays the President as a strong figure, the reality is that he continues to be by far the most unpopular first-term President in the modern era. According to FiveThirtyEight, Trump today sits at a -12.9 net approval rate. How does this compare to previous Presidents? Firstly, the lowest net approval rate that either Obama or George W. Bush hit during the entirety of their first 2.5 years in office was -8.6, so Trump is significantly lower than his immediate predecessors. Secondly, looking at all 11 Presidents since 1953, net approval at this point in their first term averaged +16.8, so Trump is almost 30 net points worse than his predecessors (and this average isn't skewed by potential problems with polling several decades ago - the average net approval of just Obama, Clinton, and both Bushes at this point in their terms was +14.5).

Finally, let's look at how often Presidents over the past 60 years have experienced the type of heightened disapproval that Trump sees today. From Eisenhower until Obama, looking only at the first 2.5 years of each President's first term, Presidential net approval has been at -10 or worse for a total of 196 days (or just 1.7% of the time). By contrast, Trump has been under -10 net approval for 800 days (or 82.9% of the time).

In the 2018 midterm elections, this dramatic level of disapproval (-10.4 net on November 8, 2018 compared to -12.9 today) led to Democrats winning the popular vote by the largest margin of any midterm since 1986. Also within that midterm victory was a significant rejection of Trump by almost all of the emerging demographic groups that will form an increasingly large share of the US electorate in years to come, especially non-white and young voters. This trend has only accelerated since election day. According to Civiqs polling data, Trump today has a -38 net approval rate among voters under age 35, and is -51 among Latino voters. Similarly, the Republican Party currently has a net favorability rate of -43 among under 35s and -53 among Latinos, whereas the Democratic Party is -1 among under 35s and +21 among Latinos. This represents an enormous decline since 2004, when George W. Bush actually won voters under 45 and lost Latino voters by only 9 points. 

While much of the media continues to hold up Trump as a powerful political figure who can conjure up electoral victories out of nothing, in fact he continues to be the most unpopular first-term president in over six decades and is leading Republicans down the path of the California GOP by ignoring those demographic groups that will over the next decade become more and more critical to winning elections.  Indeed, the future for Republicans in critical battleground states looks grim, with voters under 35 disapproving of Trump by a net 35 points in Pennsylvania and 27 points in Florida. Even in solid red states, Trump is losing the argument with the next generation of voters, with net approval among under 35s at -25 in Texas and -19 in Mississippi.

Re-imagining the Parties In An Age of Hacking, Disinformation

This essay originally appeared on the website Medium. 

Two events in the past week highlight the struggle our domestic politics is having with a vastly more challenging post 2016/Russia cyber and digital landscape.

First, driven by cybersecurity concerns, the DNC took the extraordinary step of recommending the elimination of a remote voting program in two early caucus states just months before voting begins. Then, a few days later, the campaign of Beto O’Rourke raised the alarm that even a well-run, modern Presidential campaign wasn’t capable of adequately responding to a targeted and aggressive misinformation campaign which falsely tied the former Congressman to a recent mass shooter.

As someone who has worked in national politics since before the advent of the Internet, I can tell you that those on the front lines of our politics today — the national party committees, candidates, and staff — are facing unprecedented challenges. Who before has had to worry about all elements of our system — from voting machines to one’s phone — getting hacked by hostile foreign powers? Or those same hostile foreign powers, or largely anonymous actors here in the US, spreading demonstrably false information with such speed and reach? The answer is no one. No one has had to face what those in US politics are facing this election cycle.

As hard as the environment is now, it has been made far worse by the President’s refusal to allow any kind of coherent response by the government or Congress to these new challenges; and of course, by the Republican Party’s institutional embrace of these illicit tactics in their own politics. It is not an overstatement to say that the campaigns and party committees, but particularly Democrats, are essentially on their own to manage this world. From a national security policy perspective, three years after Russia successfully attacked Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, it is just unbelievable that this is where American politics finds itself. But here we are.

From a practical standpoint, this means that the Chairs of the six national party committees have become front line actors in the battle to preserve our democracy. I don’t think they, or Congressional leaders overseeing our security, or officials at DHS/FBI, have really come to terms with just how central the party committees are now to the national security of the United States. It is likely to eventually lead to the formation of the “Big Six,” a grouping of the party chairs similar to the “Gang of Eight” who oversee sensitive security and intelligence matters for Congress. If established either formally or informally, the Big Six would meet regularly with the US government and Congress to keep lines of communication open and where possible, strategies aligned.

Far-fetched one might argue. But it isn’t practical for DHS and US intelligence agencies to ever work with hundreds of campaigns directly, many of whom don’t have IT staff let alone sophisticated cyber or disinformation staff. The government is going to need the efficiency and standardization that working with just six large entities brings. And similarly, Congress must not only conduct routine oversight of what the party committees are doing to protect our democracy, but should view the party committees and their leadership as vital partners in developing successful strategies to protect our democracy in the coming years. An early example of this kind of approach is a recent bill introduced by Senator Ron Wyden to help make it easier for the party committees to pay for cybersecurity tools for campaigns and state parties. Endorsed by FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub, the idea for this bill came directly out of the experience some of us had working on these issues at the DCCC in 2018. It is a great example of the kind of collaboration that needs to happen to make sure what we do is effective in the years ahead, not just well intentioned.

Of course the most significant culture change or re-imagination will have to come in the party committees themselves. They will have to come to understand themselves as cogs in our national security apparatus, not just organizations designed to win elections. This means huge changes in staffing, leadership, operations, and budgets. It should involve the hiring of a high-level, cybersecurity experienced Chief Security Officer with a security clearance at all six committees who reports directly to the Chair or executive director (the DNC has brought on the very able Bob Lord in such a position). It can also involve appointing Vice Chairs for Cybersecurity and Disinformation at the committees to institutionalize greater knowledge and experience. It will require setting up significant cybersecurity and countering disinformation teams to help train and equip the campaigns and state parties with the knowledge and tools to navigate this world, and to support them when issues arise. As Beto O’Rourke’s campaign manager has repeatedly said this week, it is unreasonable to believe that even a large Presidential campaign like theirs can handle this new world on their own — and she is right. The only place that can realistically be expected to help them and other campaigns manage all this is the DNC or its House and Senate counterparts.

My back of the envelope estimate is that this is all going to cost at least $60–75 million dollars every two years. As discussed earlier, there are real issues with current campaign finance law which will have to be addressed to allow all this to happen right. Some have even suggested having the US government provide grants to the committees to cover the costs given the importance of the work. It may be that given the crush of spending for campaigns this is really the only way to guarantee the party committees are able to afford what is required of them — but I realize this is not a simple matter.

Making all of this work in the months ahead will continue to require new, innovative, out of the box thinking and risk taking. We saw that with the DNC’s hard call to cancel the remote voting programs in Iowa and Nevada. Thinking about how to counter fast moving misinformation and disinformation campaigns, can the DNC and the other committees begin to think about connecting their “War Rooms” to their databases of supporters, and ask them to become digital disinformation fighters? Do we need to reimagine the War Room concept, one I helped develop 27 years ago, from young staff in a room to millions of people wired together each day correcting the record, and advancing the party’s agenda and candidates? I’m not sure of the right course here but yes what we are talking about at its core is the re-invention of American political parties themselves in the coming years to enable them to meet the challenges of this new political era.

 

Finally, it is my hope that all six party committees heed the call of European political leaders, Vice President Biden, and the 50 state Democratic parties and agree to forgo the use of the kind of illicit tactics we saw in 2016 in our politics going forward. It just cannot be that the use of fake accounts, altered video and audio, “deepfakes,” hacking, and other things not yet imagined become commonplace in our politics. It is my belief that we must take a firm stand, draw a clear line of right and wrong here, and as Democrats commit to not use these tactics against one another or Republicans next year. Given the Trump campaign’s and RNC’s early embrace of these tactics this cycle, it may be only Democrats who make this commitment, but to me that’s okay. It is a start, new norms, a smart response to a daunting new challenge.

Whatever the long term solution is to these new post 2016 digital challenges, there are thousands of candidates and staff who have to face them in this election, right now. The leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties really have no choice but to step up and do all that they can to support their candidates and allies, giving them the very best set of tools and understandings to mitigate and counter the attacks to come. They are going to have to learn now to do new things, including working cooperatively with DHS/FBI and Congress. And for the rest of us, we too have to step up and do everything we can to support them in this vital task, and work to provide them with the resources and strategic counsel required for them to succeed. The health of our democracy demands no less.

Simon Rosenberg helped oversee an operation to counter disinformation at the DCCC in the 2018 election cycle. You can learn more about this work in this NBC News article, and in this Future State podcast with Richard Clarke.

Notes On 2020 - The National Political Landscape Is Changing

When Congress returns in a few weeks and Democrats debate again in mid-September, our conversations will be happening in a rapidly changing political landscape.  Fears arising from domestic terror and gun violence, a slowing economy and talk of a recession, and an ever more weakened President will make the fall different from even where we left things at the end of the recent Democratic debate. 

From a polling standpoint, the President has taken a big hit in the last few weeks, dropping almost 3 points, from 42.8/52.5 (-9.7) on July 30th to 41.5/53.9 (-12.4) today (we use FiveThirtyEight'spolling aggregator).   All the major polls this month have found the President declining, some by way more than 3 points.  What has to be the most alarming to the White House is the President’s precipitous drop on his handling of the economy. The NBC News/WSJ poll released last weekend found Trump's approval rate on the economy falling from +10 in May to +3 now, while the Ipsospoll released yesterday saw a similar decline from +10 in July to +3 now. This represents an especially steep drop from last summer, when NBC News/WSJ had Trump at +16 and Ipsos had him at +18 on his handling of the economy.

On the Democratic side, Vice President Biden continues to have a clear lead.  Elizabeth Warren has a lot of energy and momentum now, and the rest of the field is fighting to keep up and stay in the game with her and the VP.  The winnowing of the field, in theory, should give some of those in the second tier desperate for exposure renewed chances to shake up the race.  These next few debates will really matter. 

We believe Congressional Democrats should make the fall about keeping America and its people safe, and offer a big bold agenda which includes gun safety, countering domestic extremism, andprotecting our elections at the very least.  On the economy it is critical that we explain just how much of a failure the President’s economic policies have been, so as we discuss remedies to a slowing economy we don’t make some of the same huge mistakes he’s made in the last few years.   We also have to note that if we do tip into a recession that this will make the third consecutive GOP President to have brought a downturn, reminding us just how dramatically better the Democrats have been in managing the American economy since the global economy was born in 1989.

New Data Highlights That Trump’s “Greatest Economy Ever” Wasn’t Actually So Great In 2018

This piece was originally published on Medium.

The performance of the economy in 2018 has been a critical benchmark for Trump’s repeated claims that he has brought the American economic engine to its highest levels in decades. Both of Trump’s signature policies on the economy, the tax cut and the protectionist trade policy, were implemented at the start of the year (the tax cut in January and the trade policy in March), so how the economy did in that period is crucial to the President’s economic legacy heading into the 2020 elections.

And at first, the data did appear to show the economy performing quite well in 2018. Unrevised data from the Census Bureau showed 3% GDP growth from Q4 2017 to Q4 2018, hitting the Administration’s target and quite a bit higher than the 2.5% growth from Q4 2016 to Q4 2017. Similarly, unrevised data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed a significant increase in employment, with monthly job growth averaging 223,000 per month in 2018 compared to 179,000 per month in 2017. And while the economy under Obama hit a 3%+ year-over-year growth rate in 4 different quarters and jobs growth in 2014–16 averaged 224,000 jobs, the numbers under Trump were still a real achievement. Finally, business investment (excluding energy) also seemed to pick up its rate of expansion, with annualized growth of 4.8% in 2017–19 compared to 4.5% in 2013–16. All in all, it had seemed like three major indicators of economic health had improved to some extent in 2018 under the Trump administration.

But then came the revisions. Over the past month, the Census Bureau and BLS have completed their annual revisions to the previous year’s data, and the result has been an across-the-board cut to the performance of the economy according to each of these metrics. First, the Census Bureau revised GDP growth in 2018 down significantly to 2.5%, meaning that not only did 2018 growth come in way below Trump’s 3% target but it also actually declined compared to 2017 (which was revised up slightly to 2.8%). Second, the BLS reported that actual job growth from March 2018 to March 2019 was a whopping 501,000 jobs weaker than previously reported. As a result, rather than creating an average of 223,000 per month in 2018, the economy actually saw job growth of just 185,000 per month, barely above the 2017 average of 179,000 per month. Finally, annualized business investment (excluding energy) in 2017–19 was revised down a very large 0.6 percentage points (from 4.8% to 4.2%), meaning that business investment was actually slower in 2017–19 than in 2013–16 when it averaged an annualized 4.6% (slightly revised up from 4.5%).

Taken together, this updated data paints a devastating picture of the failed promises of the Trump economy. The tax cut and protectionist trade policy, through reduced taxes on corporations and tariff-based incentives to produce in the US respectively, were supposed to create a surge in business investment which would then ignite both economic and jobs growth. Instead, there is little evidence that business investment outside of the energy sector picked up at all in 2018, and both economic growth and jobs growth either declined or remained constant from 2017 to 2018.

What has changed though? The escalating costs of these Trump policies. The CBO now estimates that the deficit will hit $960 billion in 2019, an astounding 64% increase over the $585 billion deficit in 2016 that Trump inherited. Furthermore, the CBO projects that the deficit will grow to an average of $1.2 trillion over the next decade.

As the 2020 election grows near, Trump has continuously touted the “greatest economy ever” as the result of his tax cut and trade policies. However, what we know now is that the trend of economic, jobs, and investment growth was really no stronger in 2018 than in 2017, before these policies were enacted. Instead, those very policies have created serious risks to future growth, including a rapidly slowing manufacturing sector, decelerating global growth, and an unprecedented fiscal deficit.

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