NDN Blog

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.

Protecting America - NDN's Statement After Gilroy, El Paso, And Dayton

Protecting America

"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 domestic terrorism, gun violence, and foreign and domestic manipulation of our elections and discourse. The Republican Party’s refusal to tackle these threats has left our democracy weakened and our fellow citizens dead in malls, parking lots, churches, and schools.  It is long past time to for us to act like patriots not partisans and come together to protect America by tackling these threats head on. 

It was extremely disappointing to see the President this morning tying immigration so directly to domestic violence here in the US – that was the goal of course of the El Paso terrorist.  It was a terrible misstep in the early hours of our response to these cascading tragedies and just another sign of how unfit he is to lead this great nation."

- Simon Rosenberg, Monday, August 4th, 2019

On Friday, before the horrors of El Paso and Dayton, Simon posted a thread which did a deep dive on the President's open embrace and encouragement of domestic extremism.  It began with:

"Alarm bells about Trump's open support of domestic terrorism, political violence have to be ringing loudly now. QAnon was on stage last night w/the President, and his choice for DNI, Rep. Ratcliffe, openly voiced support for a deep state conspiracy similar to QAnon last week."

The thread also reminded us that the President's support of domestic terrorism in the US has come not just through words but with direct Presidential action. He has weakened DHS's ability to counter this domestic threat, and pardoned two right wing extremists who had been convicted of domestic terrorism and were serving time in jail.  He personally intervened to have two domestic terrorists released from jail - what more could this movement want?

NDN also notes that the threat to our democracy posed by manipulation and disinformation are no longer just a foreign threat.  In what is an ominous development, it appears that the Trump campaign and the GOP more broadly have begun to adopt Russian style disinformation tactics in their own day to day politics. 

Trump's Trade War With China Has Failed Spectacularly, And It Now Might Bring Down The Global Economy

Over the past week, the reality of the trade war's failure to achieve any of its goals in reforming the Chinese economy has become clear to Trump. After meeting with their Chinese counterparts in Shanghai, Lighthizer and Mnuchin informed the President that China was unwilling to make any of the structural reforms that they sought on intellectual property, forced technology transfers, and state subsidies to exporters. Even worse, China had largely backtracked on their "promise" at the G20 to increase purchases of US agricultural exports that Trump had touted as a major victory. After 18 months of the trade war and the resulting decimation of US agriculture, sharply reduced American exports, and rapidly slowing manufacturing growth, what does Trump have to show for his efforts? Nothing at all. 

The question now is how does Trump respond to this failure, and will he be willing to take the American and global economies to the brink of recession in an attempt to keep one of his signature campaign promises. Last Thursday, Trump went against the advice of all of his economic advisers when he announced the imposition of new tariffs of 10% on $300 billion of Chinese exports, a move which has sent the S&P 500 down almost 5% over the past 5 days. He has also continued to threaten to raise these new tariffs from 10% to 25%, a move that Morgan Stanley forecasts would lead to a global recession within 9 months. And with China on Sunday moving to devalue their currency and end all purchases of US agricultural exports, it is very possible that Trump could retaliate in a way that leads to global economic chaos.

Weekly Notes On The Economy is a weekly column that NDN writes on the most recent economic news, policy, and data.

Americans Under 45 Are Breaking Hard Toward The Democrats — And For Good Reason

This anaysis was written by Simon Rosenberg and Chris Taylor, and originally appeared on Medium.

Let’s say you were born in 1974 and are 45 years old today. You were 14 when George H.W. Bush was elected to office and during your teenage years, those when political understandings first form and begin to harden, the economy fell into recession, the deficit exploded, an era of deep military engagement in the Middle East began, and Bush became one of only three Presidents in the post-war period to lose re-election. But then in your twenties this all changed, as Bill Clinton was elected President and the economy boomed, the Internet age began, deficits became surpluses, and median income climbed by over $7,000 per household. The US spent its time in these years fashioning a new post-Cold War order through diplomacy and trade agreements, rather than through military conflict.

This era of economic prosperity and peace came to a halt in your late-twenties and early-thirties with a second Bush, 9/11, failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the worst economic and financial crisis in 75 years. Millions of jobs were lost, median income fell by almost 10%, and the stock market collapsed. But then in your mid-thirties Obama, and all that he represented, was elected President. The economy recovered, uninsured rates plummeted, the deficit came down, and global cooperation on things like climate and trade once again took precedence over military conflict.

Then came the shock and the ugliness of the Trump Presidency, starting with Russia’s extraordinary intervention on his behalf, and continuing with his giving trillions in tax cuts to those who needed it the least, threatening health care for tens of millions, subjecting women and kids to inhumane conditions at the border, and tearing at the country’s broader social fabric though his relentless attacks on women and people of color.

Source: Federal Reserve, Compiled by NDN Staff

Note — Change in the deficit refers to the difference in the annual fiscal deficit between each President’s first and last year in office

It is no wonder that if this is your lived experience, you would lean towards the Democrats today. The two Democratic presidents in your lifetime produced long economic booms, vast improvements in healthcare, and global cooperation and respect, while the three Republican presidents brought recession, rising deficits, disastrous adventurism abroad, and well, Trump. Furthermore, if you are under 45, your life has been shaped by the rise of a truly global economy, an interconnected world enabled by the Internet, a far more diverse population here at home, and important steps towards greater equality for all. This is the world you know — and it is almost as if Trump and the current GOP have risen to roll back and reject all that you understand America to be.

Not surprisingly, all of this has led to what is becoming a truly consequential divide in American politics — voters under 45 have become overwhelmingly Democratic. While these voters had been trending more Democratic in recent years, in 2018 there was an unprecedented and consequential shift among them. In the elections from 2000 to 2016, the Democrats beat the Republicans among under 45s by an average of 6 points, with Republicans even besting the Dems in 2000, 2002, and 2004. In the 2010 and 2014 midterms, the Dem margin was just 2 and 5 points, and in the 2016 general election it was 14 points. In 2018, however, the Democratic advantage in this group exploded to 25 points, 58–33. Over 45s were 50–49 for the Republicans, so these younger Americans were responsible for the entire margin in the Democratic 9 point win last year.

Source: CNN/NYT Exit Polls Compiled by NDN Staff

This rejection of the GOP by younger Americans has continued into 2019 with significant implications for the 2020 elections. The most recent Civiqs tracking poll has Trump’s approval with voters under 50 at -25 (36–61), while Quinnipiac’s July poll has his approval with under 50s at -20 (37–57). Politico’s most recent poll which had Trump’s overall approval at -10, similar to where he was on election day in 2018, has Trump’s approval with under 45s at -21 (37–58). Civiqs has similar numbers in the battleground of AZ, MI, NC, PA, and WI. This trend has also begun to show up in early Trump vs Biden head to head polling. In the Quinnipiac poll, which Biden leads 53–40, under 50 voters support Biden by a 21 point margin (56–35), while in the Politico poll, which has Biden leading by 11 points overall, under 45s are for Biden by 21 points (48–27).

The data above also confirms an important part of our analysis about the importance of lived experience in shaping the views of younger Americans. If what we assert is true, we would expect to find those closer to the positive memory of Reagan to be more Republican, and those more distant from that memory and more influenced by the experience since 1989 of good Dems/not so good Rs to be more Democratic. We see that again and again in the data above but also in the 2018 national numbers. Voters 40–49 went Democratic by 6 points, 30–39 by 22 points, 25–29 by 33 points, and 18–24 by 37 points. Under 45s averaged 6 points net Democratic from 2000 to 2016, and were plus 25 in 2018. Voters aged 18–29 averaged 15 points net Democratic in those same 2000 to 2016 elections, and ended up plus 35 Dem in 2018. These are huge and unusual shifts in such large age cohorts in our electorate. Part of the reason this is happening is that each year the number of people under 45 who have a positive view of Republicans dwindles as they age out, which means that if current trends hold the under 45 vote will be increasingly Democratic in the coming years.

Source: CNN Exit Polls Compiled by NDN Staff

Just consider what happens now if these enormous and unprecedented margins among voters who could be as much as 45% of the electorate in 2020 lock in and hold over the coming decades. Because of the contrast of good Democratic presidents and bad Republican ones over a 30 year period, the country could continue to shift profoundly towards the Democrats, as it did in the 1930s through the 1960s. Democrats have already won more votes in 6 of the past 7 Presidential elections with much smaller margins with younger voters. If these current trends continue we are looking at a completely different political landscape in the coming decades, one which is likely to leave the Democrats in a very dominant position.

For Democrats what this means is they must continue to re-orient their politics around younger Americans. This means shifting more official and campaign resources to engaging these voters, learning about their world view and priorities, advancing younger leaders to positions of authority and power, and embracing the post-TV/social media landscape they inhabit. As a strategist with the DCCC last cycle, I can tell you we did this as a matter of national strategy, and not only did we see the best results with young people of any election in recent history, their turnout went up too. Looking at the chart below one would imagine top 2020 Dem strategists are researching ways to get under 45 turnout up into the high 40s and low 50s — a shift that would have a profound and lasting impact on American politics.

Source: Census Bureau

As for the Republicans, what is there to say? States with large numbers of young people, like CA and TX, have seen dramatic shifts away from Republicans in recent years. These trends represent an existential threat to the Republican Party as we know it today. We’ve already seen one possible future for the GOP — California, home of two powerful recent GOP Presidents Nixon and Reagan, has seen the Republican Party essentially disappear.

We will be debating Donald Trump’s legacy for generations. But it is clear now that handing the keys to power to the Democrats for decades to come may be the part of his legacy with the greatest domestic political consequence.

New Study Shows America Embracing Free Trade, Rejecting America First

We and others have been arguing that Trump’s "America First" policies have failed, from both a governing and political standpoint. A new study from Pew released today reinforces this view and shows another dramatic rejection of Trump’s fundamental argument about America and the world. When asked their view of trade, Americans overall said that free trade agreements between the US and other countries were a good thing for the US by a resounding 43 percentage points (65-22). This represents a dramatic shift from 2017, when Americans supported free trade agreements by just 2 points (45-43), and illustrates how the public as a whole has now rejected the protectionism of the Trump administration.

This repudiation of Trump's trade policies has occurred across party lines, with Republicans even supporting free trade by a 30 point margin today (59-29) after opposing it by 34 points (29-63) in 2017. Democrats in particular have become a fundamentally pro-trade party, saying that free trade agreements are good for the US by a 58 point margin (73-15), itself a significant increase from two years ago when Democrats were in favor of free trade by 30 points (59-29).

The failure of America First has also shown up in recent polling on immigration, as a rising number of Americans say that immigration and immigrants are good for the nation.  A recent example comes in this week’s Quinnipiac poll, which found that Americans think immigration has been good for the country by an astonishing 53 point margin (70-17).

You can find more from us challenging the President’s misguided trade policies in this series of essays; and more from us challenging the President’s immigration policies in this backgrounder

Friday's GDP Report Illuminates Trump's Broken Promises On The Economy

Last Friday's Q2 GDP report probably did more to expose the failures of Trump's economic agenda than any other piece of economic data in his Presidency. First, growth for the quarter came in at 2.1%, far below the White House's annual projections of 3%. To hit 3% for 2019, growth in the second half of this year will have to average around 3.4%, something extremely implausible given current estimates are at just 2%. Second, economic growth in 2018 was revised significantly downward, from 3% to 2.5%. As a result, the economy last year never came close to hitting Trump's promise of 3% growth, even with a $1.8 trillion tax cut for the rich. Finally, business investment came in negative for the second quarter, and was revised significantly lower for 2018, further dismantling Trump's promise that the tax cut would spur a surge in investment. Instead, the trend in business investment has actually fallen since the tax cut went into force in early 2018. 

What has been the long-term result, then, of Trump's economic agenda of tax cuts, tariffs, and deregulation that was promised to lead to 3% annual growth every year into 2028? Quite simply, nothing. Growth has averaged 2.1% over the past 3 quarters, and is projected by the Fed to be 2.1% for 2019 as a whole and 2% for 2020, a little bit slower than the 2.3% annual average during Obama's second term. The only difference is that Trump has ballooned the budget deficit, from $580 billion in 2016 to over $1 trillion projected for this year, to give handouts to the rich all the while trying to strip healthcare and food stamps from the poor. 

Weekly Notes On The Economy is a weekly column that NDN writes on the most recent economic news, policy, and data.

GOP Bringing "Moscow Rules" on Disinformation to American Politics

A series of events over the past several months raises questions about whether using Russian style disinformation tactics has become a core part of the GOP’s electoral strategy for the 2020 elections.

Let’s review what we’ve seen so far. In June, the Trump campaign used foreign-shot stock footage to manufacture fake people who were then used in ads run on Facebook. A top Trump campaign consultant built a series of websites falsely purporting to be the official sites of Democratic Presidential candidates. The President tweeted out a video of Nancy Pelosi he knew had been altered, and also one morning retweeted dozens of accounts almost all of which were certainly — and obviously — fake. A new set of Trump campaign Facebook ads include one which lies about the Vice President and other Democratic candidates supporting single payer health care, falsely using an image from a different question from the most recent Democratic debate.

 

This morning, the Chairwoman of the RNC, Ronna McDaniel, retweeted a tweet by Senator Marco Rubio which featured selectively and misleadingly edited remarks by Rep. Ilan Omar. That the video was misleading and grossly misrepresented what she said had already been established. Yet the GOP Chair shared it anyway.

And of course there is the relentless, grinding flood of disinformation coming from the vast network of right wing bots and trolls. We’ve put together a list of some of the top right wing “amplifiers” here so as to better understand this critical part of the right’s disinfo dystopia. 

While we shouldn’t be surprised that the American political party which so enthusiastically embraced and amplified Russian active measures and disinformation in 2016 would be at it again, it does not mean that responsible Americans should accept these tactics as normal and routine. They aren’t. They are outside of what should be permissible in a mature democracy; and that we are seeing them emerge in this election should challenge all of us to do something concrete about it. Here are some ideas on what can and should be done:

Name and shame — First, we have to begin openly talking about what is going on here; condemn it when it happens; and be prepared to rebut and respond to these false attacks when they come. This tweet from the DNC’s War Room this morning is a good example.

 

Next, the social media platforms should be notified and encouraged to take down blatantly false material. Someday we may have to find a way to more formally regulate all this, as my friend Amb. Karen Kornbluh has recommended. But in the short term pressure should be applied to the platforms to be as aggressive as they can be to not knowingly spread false information.

Finally, the mainstream media should be judicious in how they cover these moments so they don’t end up just promoting false and misleading videos, statements and attacks. The role of the traditional media is particularly important here. The day the President took to Twitter and tweeted out dozens of accounts purporting to be firefighters who supported him, the Washington Post ran a story whose headline read “Trump retweets dozens of people taking issue with a firefighters union’s endorsement of Biden.” The problem of course is that The Post had no idea if these accounts were real people. Reviewing them, very few looked real. So what would be more accurate would have been “Trump retweets dozens of accounts taking issues with a firefighters union’s endorsement of Biden.” There has to be consciousness now in all stories going forward that there is a possibility these accounts are fake and that the entire episode was “disinformation” — the use of fake accounts and other means to create an impression about something which is not true.

It is my hope that all news organizations are having internal conversations now about how they are going to deal with these kinds of moments in the coming months. Have they trained their reporters and editors about common disinformation tactics? Is there a special editor assigned to officiate when questions about authenticity and whether something is disinformation are raised? Do internal practices need to be reviewed and updated to the moment? I hope all these things are happening now inside all news organizations as we get deeper into the 2020 election. For not understanding, or being surprised, can no longer be a legitimate excuse for anyone in the information or media business.

Non-proliferation — If we view disinformation and fraudulent representations as a societal “harm,” something dangerous and improper, then Democrats and other responsible actors in the political system should commit to not use these illicit tactics in their own operations. Vice President Biden has made such a commitment, and the 50 state Democratic Parties have called on the national party to seek such a commitment from all Democrats at all levels of government across the country. My hope is that other organizations in the day-to-day scrum of national politics — trade associations, advocacy groups, lobbying campaigns — also make similar commitments. Using these kind of Russian inspired disinformation tactics should be seen as something that is not just wrong, but unpatriotic, a betrayal of our democracy. Knowingly misleading your fellow citizens using fraudulent means can just never ever become okay.

Of course the fakery and fraud we discuss here is of a very conventional kind. We all expect artificial intelligence enhanced “deep fakes” to be deployed in this election. As you can see in this presentation, the ability to determine something which looks so real could be made up is going to very hard for our system and the American people, still struggling to handle the fraudulent representation described above, to manage.

After what we’ve seen already these last few months, the relentless daily lying by the President, and Mitch McConnell’s years of blocking legislation to protect our democracy and discourse, it is perhaps unreasonable to expect the Republican Party here in the US to do anything other than play by Moscow Rules in 2020. But the rest of us cannot be naive and unprepared this time. We need to condemn it, counter it, combat it and ultimately ensure that these kind of illicit tactics have no place in a democracy like ours.

This essay was originally published on the Medium website on Friday, July 26th, 2019. 

Our Mad King, Desperate and Dangerous - Notes on 2020

On Mondays NDN publishes our weekly newsletter, NDN News.  It is chock full of timely analysis including items like you see below.  To get NDN News in your inbox each Monday visit here - and thanks for being part of our extended family. 

Nov 4th/Ukraine Scandal Is Enormous - While the House is attempting to keep the Impeachment investigation focused and narrow on Trump’s shakedown of Ukraine, the more we learn the more difficult this is proving to be.  Three points: 1) As new documents revealed this weekend, Trump’s attempt to blame Ukraine for Russia’s interference in the 2016 election began with top campaign aide Paul Manafort before the 2016 election; on Friday David Ignatius reported that Trump’s first shake down of Ukraine occurred in 2017, and was done to get Manafort out of trouble over there.  Taken together, we now know that this ongoing Trump/Putin/Ukraine play began more than 3 years ago, and we will come to view the Mueller probe as an early chapter in this single ongoing mega scandal.  2) The current iteration of the Ukraine scandal involves most of the US govt’s senior leadership – Pence, Pompeo, Barr, Mulvaney, Maguire, Sondland, Volker, and dozens more in WH/State/DOJ.  Does the House have any choice other than to pursue their impeachment or prosecution? 3) As Manafort’s longtime business partner Roger Stone’s trial begins today in DC, it is a reminder of the Olympian level of criminality around Trump.  Top campaign aide, personal aide, national security advisor, political advisor, deputy campaign manager, and now Parnas/Fruman all indicted or in jail.  In just 2 ½ years, much of his Cabinet has resigned in scandal, already.  Not going to be easy to get all that down to two or three articles of Impeachment and a short Senate trial my friends. 

On the Dem side, it is now looking like a four way race with Mayor Pete and Senator Warren showing well these past few weeks.  Our initial read on Warren’s single payer plan is that legit questions about the accuracy of her estimates both on the spend and income sides are a huge problem for her, for it raises broader questions about her intellectual integrity – the very core of her brand.  We also wonder why there isn’t more of a conversation about the role of Trump’s illicit and conventional attacks on Biden in helping to cause some of the VP’s recent rough polling numbers in the early states (particularly considering that he received a boost in several national polls this weekend).  For if the Trump effort is indeed impacting Biden, then we need to describe the Trump effort to use Ukraine to interfere in our elections as something live and ongoing, and not in any way “an attempt” or speculative. 

Finally, ACA sign-up period began last week. As NDN has written before, politicians on both sides of the aisle should use this period to advocate to their constituents to get signed up, and Democrats should stress the integral role of the Affordable Care Act in increasing access to healthcare across the country. 

OCt 28th/Countering the Trump-Putin Alliance - In the crush of daily news, we shouldn't lose sight of two important moments in the past week.  First, we learned that Russia had resumed its efforts to undermine our democracy and had launched a major social media campaign to denigrate Vice President Biden.  It still boggles the mind that this reprise of 2016 has happened without much comment, or action, from the US government; and rather than condemning Russia for the resumption of these active measures, on Wednesday Trump rewarded Putin with Syria, an entire country.  The second moment came in Trump’s presser yesterday when he jaw-droppingly thanked Russia far more profusely for helping capture Baghdadi than those who actually helped the US - the Kurds of Syria and Iraq. 

Wherever one looks now one sees the US aligned or partnering with Russia, almost always against what had been stated US interests – Syria, Ukraine, Iran, Brexit, EU/NATO, climate change, Venezuela, Cuba, Open Skies and INF treaties, interfering in US elections, and Trump’s broader campaign to normalize authoritarianism here and abroad (did we forget something?) It is as if Putin and Trump have forged a secret alliance, and that Speaker Pelosi was right to share her concern that all of Trump’s roads seem to lead to Putin. 

What all this means for the 2020 debate is that it is vital for Democrats to start articulating what we are going to do to untangle the US from Russia in the coming years, and roll back its spirited insurgency against the West.  There is perhaps no greater foreign (or even domestic) policy challenge now, and all of us should aid our leaders in the months ahead to help them tackle the budding Trump-Putin alliance head on. 

The polling has been very noisy on both sides in the past week. Trump has dropped to one of the lowest places in his Presidency, and Dem polls are showing a lot of movement in various directions suggesting things are changing and evolving there.  On Friday, Simon was quoted in the NYTimes about a clear, recent development on the Dem side – Mayor Pete’s improving position: “How much Buttigieg can grow is one of the most interesting questions in the race right now,” Simon Rosenberg, a Democratic consultant and founder of the centrist New Democrat Network, said in a phone interview. If Mr. Buttigieg finishes strongly in the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Rosenberg added, he could make a play for the center lane of the Democratic electorate, establishing himself as a moderate alternative to Ms. Warren and a more youthful centrist pick than Mr. Biden, who is 76. “What’s important is that he’s demonstrated a capacity to do it already, by getting into clear double digits in Iowa,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “In a place that has to make up their mind first, he has been able to put himself in play.”

Oct 21st/Potemkin President, Buttigieg Appears To Be Making A Move - On Sunday, in the midst of a dangerous moment for the US and the world in the Middle East, the President referred to his Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, as “Esperanto,” and INVENTED a quote from him about what was happening on the ground in Syria which contained false information.  Friends, I'm not sure how much more Republicans need to know to conclude that it is time for Trump to go. 

As we saw Pompeo and Mulvaney get drawn deeper into the Ukraine scandal over these past few days, it was a reminder that the scandal involves a criminal conspiracy of the entire senior leadership of our government, including Trump, Pence, Pompeo, Barr, Maguire, Perry, Mulvaney, and dozens of other staff in the WH, State, and DOJ.  The scale and gravity of the scandal is enormous; and, as we wrote last week, we think that the President’s indefensible abandonment of the Kurds has made his impeachment inevitable.  We also expect far more attention to Trump’s astonishing fealty to Putin in the coming weeks. 

On the Democratic side the big news is clear movement for Buttigieg and some rough days for Warren.  Warren’s refusal to answer direct and simple questions again about her single payer health care plan has raised questions about her intellectual integrity, perhaps the core of her candidacy.  Meanwhile Mayor Pete has had a very good month of polling in Iowa, coming in third now in the last two polls including a new one out this morning from USA Today.  The Dem race seems to be changing a bit now. 

Finally, a series of stories in the last few weeks raises questions about whether the Democrats are entering the 2020 cycle ready to win in the current way campaigns are fought.  We’ve seen smart new stories on whether Dems have fallen behind in the digital realm (here and here), are prepared for this new age of disinformation, should be going after Trump more directly, and risk being dangerously outspent (here and here).  Simon offered this observation in a recent Politico piece:  “A lot of thinking went into not replicating the mistakes of 2016,” said Simon Rosenberg, who acted as a senior advisor to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2018. “I’m not sure as much thinking went into re-imagining the DNC’s communications responsibilities in an age of social media, disinformation, and Trump.”

Oct 15th/Syria Fiasco Makes the Case for Removing Trump Far Stronger - Trump’s reckless decision to surrender Syria to Russia and Turkey has made the case for his removal far stronger.  For we now have clear evidence of the threat posed by leaving this desperate and dangerous man in office for the next 15 months – Russia strengthened, ISIS revived, and America humiliated.   Removing him to prevent further damage - and yes there is much more damage he could do to America and our interests - is now an urgent task, something that cannot wait to the election in 2020. 

That this decision also involved a country where the President has hundreds of opaque investments also gives the House’s quest for greater visibility into his finances more gravity.  As we’ve seen in recent court decisions siding with the House on access to information, and the cooperation of top Trump officials with the Intel Committee, the absurd blockade that Barr, Trump, and the White House have erected has begun to erode.  The scope of the Ukraine scandal remains extraordinary, as it involves not just Trump but Pence, Pompeo, Barr, Perry, Mulvaney, Maguire, Rudy, and dozens of staff.   And as all of this once again involves felony level election law violations, it is time for Congress to force the re-opening of the FEC which was shuttered on August 26th, the same day that the White House learned the Ukraine scandal would become public.

At the Democratic debate tonight we should expect far more attention to urgent foreign policy matters, Syria/Ukraine/Russia, giving both Biden and Buttigieg a chance to better showcase their experience and competency on security issues.  How Biden manages the President’s attacks on him and his family and their work in Ukraine could be one of the primary’s most important moments – and in my mind a huge opportunity for the Vice President.  Trump himself, and impeachment, will also now be front and center – all in all it is likely to be a very different debate in tone and substance than what we’ve seen in the first three gatherings this year.  

Oct 7th/Our Mad King – Part of what made the investigation into Trump and Russia so challenging was its size, complexity, and significance.  The nation is about to face a prolonged look into a far bigger scandal now, one which will soon be understood to be the biggest scandal in all of our history – the Ukraine affair.   It involves not just the President and his family, but his entire government – Pence, Pompeo, Barr, Maguire, Perry, and Mulvaney – and dozens of staffers at the WH, State, and DOJ.  It of course is also directly tied to the still unresolved first big scandal, Trump and Russia, as the President throughout this Ukrainian debacle has seemed far more interested in advancing Russia’s interests than our own. 

Which brings us to what happened late last night – without warning, consultation, or deliberation, and overruling his advisers, the President decided to pull American troops out of Syria altogether, abandoning our allies the Kurds and leaving open the possibility of a resurgence of ISIS.  I will let this early thread from former US Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS Brett McGurk explain it all, but of course this new Syria policy directly benefits Russia and Putin, who’ve wanted the US out of their client state for many years now; and sends a very Russian inspired signal that the US is indeed feckless, unreliable, and weak - a spent force on the global stage.  The gravity of the moment cannot be overstated.  

The President’s recklessness here, and making big calls which do not clearly advance the interests of the United States, is why his removal from office is an urgent national priority now.  There is no version of the Founder’s vision which contemplated a Presidency like this one – it was indeed the very thing they worked so hard to prevent for our young and inspiring nation.  Additionally, the further damage he could do to the US – through ignorance and incompetence, fealty to Putin, and greed and corruption – is just far too great to leave him in office any longer. 

Finally, on the 2020 landscape.  The Dems debate next week – will be important.  Early polls on Trump’s impeachment are far worse for him than any of us could have imagined, and show what a weakened state he’s in.  Fears about Dem overreach appear completely unfounded at this point.  Trump should be removed, and the nation appears ready to see him go. 

Sept 30th/Trump Desperate and Dangerous – For the past few months we’ve been warning that the President’s public behavior was growing more erratic and wild.  With historically low poll numbers, a 2018 wipe out election even in the Rustbelt, and a weakening economy, the President’s 2020 re-election chances seemed to be dimming. Italy’s Salvini, Israel’s Bibi, and the UK’s Boris Johnson, Trump’s ideological fellow travelers, all suffered dramatic setbacks in recent weeks. We argued that a sense of desperation had begun to seep into Trump's daily performance, and we worried that he would do something extraordinary and dangerous to change the trajectory of the race.  We thought it might be war with Iran or Venezuela, but it turned out it was a months-long illegal shakedown of two Ukrainian Administrations to manufacture dirt on Joe Biden, the Democratic front-runner, and a clumsy, illegal cover-up. 

And so impeachment is here, and in a blow to President Trump, it already has the support of the majority of the American people.  House leaders have decided to pursue a quick and focused inquiry, mainly looking at the Ukraine Affair.  While their hope is that it remains narrow, there are two reasons why the inquiry may be more complicated than it first appears: 1) the scandal involves most of Trump’s top aides and the VP – Pence, Pompeo, Barr, Maguire, Mulvaney, and Giuliani – and potentially dozens of staffers in the WH, State, and DOJ.  2)  It also involves Putin and Russia, again.  Trump’s wild behavior this weekend of course strengthens the House’s hand, as it answers the question “why now, why not wait to the election next year?” For the country cannot risk keeping this dangerous, desperate and I believe traitorous man in the White House any longer – the damage he can do could last for generations (and may already have). 

It's way too early to know what this means for 2020.  First, it is time to start treating the GOP side as if they are having a real primary.  On the Dem side, recall that in 1992, a big scandal helped make Bill Clinton the nominee as it denied oxygen to his opponents, making it much harder for them to break through.  A lot of what happens in the Dem primary in the next few months will depend on how Biden’s campaign handles his role in this crazy affair; and so far I’m not terribly impressed.  Trump starting a $10m ad campaign attacking Biden raises some interesting questions about how ready the Dem infrastructure is to handle an early sustained attack on its leading candidates, regardless of the source.  It is an issue I addressed in a recent column about how the US political parties need to re-imagine themselves for the current information and communications landscape.  I think we would all feel better today if the DNC had raised a $100m media fund or organized 2-3m Dems to act as a networked War Room going after Trump, rebutting his false attacks.  It will be fascinating to see how all this plays out at the next Democratic debate in two weeks.  Russia’s attack on the US and the Democratic Party didn’t come up in the first three debates – I assume it will be central this time. 

Sept 25th/Impeachment - So here we are. Impeachment.  A few hastily thrown together points.  1) The read out released by the WH this morning is a smoking gun and devastating to the President, Pence, Barr, Pompeo, Mulvaney, and Giuliani.  And a reminder - undermining our democracy and elections may be the most serious "High Crime" of all.  2) As the 7 Dem freshmen argued in their influential op-ed in the Washington Post on Monday, that Trump was taking steps to disrupt/cheat in the 2020 election required Congress to act (more here on Trump bringing “Moscow Rules to US politics).  3) Dems should view impeachment as a tactic, not an end in of itself.  The end is to educate the public on all the ways the President has betrayed the country and his oath, and to begin to far more effectively draw lines, re-establish right and wrong, and defend the rule of law. Removal will come if we make our case effectively.  

Finally, the closer one looks at Trump and Ukraine, the more one finds Putin and Russia.  Very soon we will once again be discussing Trump’s extraordinary fealty to Putin, and what transpired in 2016 which kept Trump in Putin’s malevolent pocket all these years.

What impact will it have on the election next year? Too early to tell. But we do know a few things.  1) Trump is very weak and even a drop of a few points in his standing could cause the Rs to start to abandon him.  He has three credible challengers in the primary, so all eyes are now on the R side of the Iowa caucus.  2) Will these sustained attacks hurt Biden and propel Warren? Perhaps.  But Biden would be smart to lean in more aggressively and turn this to his advantage. This will almost certainly, however, make it far harder for the second tier candidates to get the oxygen they need to grow – we saw that happen in the 1992 Democratic primary. 

Sept 16th/The Landscape Is Changing – In recent weeks we’ve been arguing that the national political landscape was changing, driven by a slowing economy, domestic security concerns, and a more far worrisome and erratic daily performance by the President.   It is our view that three new emergent issues also now have the potential to reshape our national dialogue in the coming weeks – the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities and a potential spike in global oil prices, the President’s increasing alignment of US interests with Russia including on Iran, and the illegal suppression of an intelligence community whistleblower by the White House.  

Every election cycle is unique, with its own contours, opportunities, and challenges.  For the first half of 2019 things felt a lot like 2018, but Presidential years are always different from midterms as the Presidential candidates in each party define the terms of the national debate.  How this cycle will be different is becoming a bit more apparent now.  

A few things which haven’t changed of late – the President remains historically unpopular, and is far more likely to lose next year than win.   And Joe Biden continues to lead the Democratic field, with Elizabeth Warren at this point, in our eyes, his only serious competitor.  In general we thought the last debate was far better for the Democrats than the previous ones, and the talent and depth of the field was on full display.   We found this analysis of the debate by FiveThirtyEight to be helpful and spot on.

Both the general election and Democratic Primary elections have been remarkably stable of late – but, as we suggest above, that could also change in the coming months as the broader landscape itself transforms. 

Sept 9th - In a recent NDN News, we wrote about how the political landscape here in the US is changing, driven by rising concerns about our safety, a worsening economy, and growing worry about the President’s performance and overall fitness to serve.  Even for Trump the last few weeks have been a shocking combination of incompetence, impulsiveness, and general unwillingness to abide by long-held democratic norms and laws.  And we are seeing this sense of decline and drift really impact the GOP now – more House retirements, the Senate looking more and more competitive, and now 3 real primary challengers to the President.  Problems within the Republican Party are getting really serious now. 

The Vice President continues to lead the Democratic pack, though Warren is showing signs of continued strength and energy.  The next Dem debate is this Thursday night (one night only), and it will tell us a great deal - particularly about whether anyone can challenge Biden or Warren for the top tier.  While the race has been really stable, we doubt it will remain that way in the coming weeks and also doubt that Bernie will have the staying power to remain in the top tier – but have to admit that he has checked his erosion, and seems to be hanging in there.  So like everyone else we wait, and watch. 

The recent cancelling of the remote voting system in Iowa and Nevada, and a sustained misinformation campaign against Beto O’Rourke, has put the issues of cyber security and mis/disinformation back on the 2020 front burner.  Simon weighs in with a new piece calling for the parties to re-invent themselves to meet these new challenges; and a new Politico article details the ongoing debate inside the Democratic Party on how to best approach all this.

Don’t miss our recent work on some of the big demographic and geographic developments we are seeing this cycle – the big swing of under 45 voters, 45% or so of the electorate, towards the Democrats; the extraordinary erosion of the GOP in the heavily Mexican American parts of the US; and the dramatic decline of Trump and the GOP in the Rustbelt.  Along with a President far better known and far more disliked, these big developments of the Trump era are critical to understanding the current national political landscape.  As of now, 2020 is looking a lot more like 2018 than 2016.  Nothing better captures the President’s significant decline and his uphill re-election battle than this chart from Axios using Morning Consult data that shows Trump's approval falling significantly in every battleground state since his election.

Aug 22nd/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's polling 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 Ipsos poll 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, and protecting 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. 

Aug 5th - Remarkably, the two Democratic debates have done little to alter the trajectory of the Democratic primary – Biden still maintains a formidable lead, with Warren and Sanders in a next tier, and everyone else fighting to stay in the game.  The horrible events of this past weekend will almost certainly make issues about protecting our homeland far more important in the coming days, creating a new and different landscape than what we saw this summer.  The next Democratic debates are scheduled for Sept 12-13, and will feature a much smaller field.  So far only 8 have qualified – Beto, Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren.   The Democratic race is going to look and feel very different in September.  Though one thing looks like it will be the same – the President is deeply unpopular and hovering about in the same place which brought a 9 point Dem victory last year. 

NDN spent time this week writing about three critical demo/geographic trends we are seeing which will be critical to 2020 – under 45 year old voters are breaking hard towards the Democrats; the GOP brand is going through profound erosion in the heavily Mexican-American parts of the US; and Democrats have already won back the Rustbelt – it is up to Trump not the Ds now to win it back. 

July 22nd - After these last few months, what is there to say? Partying with pedophiles, clear evidence of felony level crimes which helped him win the 2016 election, return of Mueller and Trump-Russia, inhumane/war crime level treatment of kids and families at the border, globally condemned racist attacks against Members of Congress – and yet he persists. 

Make no mistake – Trump is a very weakened figure in US politics.  All of this stuff, firing offense after firing offense in any other executive job in America, has hurt him.  He remains about where he was on Election Day 2018, a 9 point wipeout election, and is underwater now in the most important battleground states – AZ, FL, GA, MI, NC, PA, and WI.  As Simon argues in this recent podcast and essay, it is essential now for the ultimate Dem indictment of Trump to get bigger and try to capture just how fundamentally unfit Trump is for this job, President of the United States.  Has to be way more than “obstruction.”

Two big events in the next two weeks – Mueller’s testimony Wednesday, and the Dem debates next week. Most significant dynamic in the Dem race is Biden righting the ship, for now.  His post debate slide has stopped and he has even recovered a few points in a few polls.  We remain convinced – see this thread - that Biden more than any other Dem candidate is successfully tapping into what we believe is the most powerful sentiment out there right now – fear of Trump, desire for strong leadership, pragmatism, and steady progress, not another four years of upheaval and conflict. 

July 8th/Parade Of Trumpian Horribles – While Trump’s poll numbers ticked up a bit, and the Democratic race became far more competitive and real, it is hard to escape this morning the big story of the past few weeks – what we will call for lack of better words Trump’s relentless parade of horribles.

Think about what we’ve seen – inhumane conditions for adults and children at the border; an epically embarrassing performance at the G20 which included repeated warm embraces of the world’s worst leaders, tough words for our allies, and another “no biggie” for Putin for Russia’s critical support of Trump’s campaign in 2016; whatever it is the US is doing in the Middle East; the new, ugly effort to circumvent the Supreme Court's rout of the President’s attempt to rig the census; the corrupt tax payer funded July 4th campaign rally on the Mall; news his campaign is already using completely fake images and people to grossly mislead voters; his dissing of the US Women’s soccer team during their historic and inspiring World Cup run; another credible account of rape; and his direct involvement in the Epstein scandal, whose toxic combination of wealth and abuse of power may come to symbolize the moral failings of the elites of this era in ways we don’t quite yet understand.

Underneath all this Trumpian sludge, there is an overwhelming sense of “can’t we do better? Aren’t we better than this? How did we get here?” with this President.  And to us here at NDN, this is the big challenge for the Democrats now: how can they make the case against Trump - with or without impeachment – that gets at the enormity of the failings of his Presidency and the elites who have propped it up? The abandonment of the America creed by many elites we’ve seen in recent years goes far beyond Trump, and is why one of the themes we hope Democrats can take up in coming days is something along the lines of “a return to virtue.” 

America’s Oldest Network Enables Its Newest One

One of the more fascinating parts of the digital revolution here in the US is how one of our oldest institutions — the Post Office — has become so essential to the success of the digital economy. As someone who often writes from home, I see it with my own eyes when a traditional postal letter carrier drops both our mail and packages we ordered online, together. The packages come from dozens of online companies and arrive in that final delivery on a postal truck and in the hands of a postal employee. This mix of the very old and very new captivates me every time.

 

By opening up its unique and ubiquitous delivery network to package shipments the leaders of the postal service saved this ancient institution imagined and brought to life in the 18th century by Benjamin Franklin. Email may have supplanted traditional letters, but enabling competition in package delivery (and thus lower prices) to every home in America has been great for consumers looking to save time and money and small start up businesses looking to reach national audiences on line. As a father of three I can attest that ordering on line has given hours and hours back to our family which would been be spent at malls or other retail stores. So for us modern on line retail has been an extraordinary blessing.

And this last part is important — the Postal Service delivers everywhere in the US. We know from experience that providing modern services to less populated areas has proven hard. It is why we set up the universal service fund for the telephone, electric co-ops to bring electricity to hard to serve areas and the gas tax has helped fund a truly national road network. Today we are struggling to bring high speed Internet to these same rural areas, and to ensure they also have access to modern health care. What we are not struggling with is mail and package delivery to these places because of the Postal Service.

Imagine if changes in the way packages are delivered made it harder for these rural areas to send and receive packages easily and inexpensively. It would hurt small business which thrive on sales beyond their region, and millions of consumers who might have to travel or pay far more to receive packages. It would be a form of economic and social isolation that would make it even harder for these already struggling areas to compete.

It is why the President’s intemperate calls for the Postal Service to just raise its prices on packages are so potentially dangerous for the majority of states with substantial rural populations. These communities need comprehensive strategies to help them take advantage of the all the modern world offers — broadband, health care, global export markets for agricultural products — not to further cut them off. The President’s own commission looking at these tough issues didn’t agree with him, and offered a host of other ways to assure the Postal Service survives in a very different economic landscape.

I can understand why private carriers like UPS and FedEx are lobbying hard to force the Postal Service to increase prices for its delivery services to shippers and small businesses. It would be good for their businesses. But if, in whatever form postal reform comes, and there are many good ideas out there, we end up damaging these low cost and ubiquitous shipping options we will be putting tens of millions of Americans in what are often struggling communities at risk for the benefit of a few companies; and weakening an institution, the Postal Service, which has been a great American success story for hundreds of years now.

It is why Congress must be smart here as it proceeds to modernize the Postal Service and put it on a far firmer economic footing. Rural areas need the current low cost and ubiquitous options the Postal Service provide; and families like mine all across the country not only save money but gain what is perhaps the most precious thing of all — more time with one another.

This is the first in a new series of essays I plan to write about living and governing in the digital age.  They will be irregular, at least once a month.  Am still searching for a good name for the series - feel free to make a suggestion. 

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