NDN Blog

GOP Bringing "Moscow Rules" 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. 

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. 

"Amplifiers" - High Volume Pro-Trump Accounts on Twitter

In the course of doing research on the right wing social media ecosystem, we keep coming across accounts who have tweeted hundreds of thousands of times.  We are fascinated by these accounts.  We share some of them with you here.  They are very high volume accounts, tweeting hundreds and thousands of times a day, day after day, and in many cases also “liking” posts at very high volume.  They seem to be set up just to amplify and thus we like to refer to them as “amplifiers.”  Yes they are all probably technically “bots,” but what matters more to us is their relentless flooding of the zone day in and day out.

Think about this.  If an account @JulieReichwein1 tweets 500 times a day, and you have let’s say 100 of those accounts, you can be tweeting 50,000 times a day every day.  50,000 tweets with 100 accounts. A few weeks ago Twitter took down a network of 5,000 pro-Trump which had up until recently working in Arabic in Saudi Arabia.  At a similar level of tweeting those 5,000 accounts could have been delivering 2.5m tweets a day.

The point of these accounts are amplification.  They take a meme and help explode it across the Twitterverse, similar to purchasing a TV ad.  But it’s free.  And importantly, regular people see this kind of high volume tweeting by accounts who appear real and have key identifiers - #MAGA, 3 star emojis to support Michael Flynn, #KAG, and QAnon references - as a sign that something must be true.  And once real people, not amplifiers or bots, but millions of real Republicans become persuaded and they start retweeting/amplifying, the meme or image truly spreads.  And that is the whole point of this kind of amplification – it is not just about reach, it is about creating permission structure for regular people to believe and become amplifiers themselves.

As we go deeper into our research we will keep sharing accounts like these as we find them.  The big question – how many are there? Dozens, hundreds, thousands, more? Let’s try to find out, together.

Innovative Thinking, Making A Difference - Giving to NDN This Year

In a time of great national challenge, we are proud of the timeliness, breadth, and thoughtfulness of our work these past few months.  We’ve covered a wide spectrum of issues – challenging Trump’s misguided trade and tariff policies, offering ongoing analyses of the President’s tax cut and the weakening US/global economies, trying to find a way past the current failed Trump approach to the border and immigration, and aggressively mapping out vital new terrain in protecting our discourse and elections from foreign manipulation.   We’ve also offered our usual complement of insights about the broader political landscape, and the changing politics inside both political parties.  We’ve followed and interpreted Europe’s recent elections, argued the path forward for the center-left is through patriotism and optimism, and raised the alarm again and again about Trump’s admiration for despots and his own outrageous abandonment of the rules, norms, and laws which make democracies work and thrive. 

And our work is reaching key policy makers here in DC.  We’ve been featured in dozens of articles in the top newspapers, magazines, and websites in the US.  We’ve been on CNN and MSNBC, and were even featured in podcasts as diverse as the one hosted by Univision anchor Leon Krauze and the one hosted by Dick Clarke, the highly respected national security thought leader.  Our social media presence, particularly on Twitter, is garnering millions of impressions each month.  Our team is connecting with those on the Hill most days, and we even collaborated recently with the 50 state Democratic Parties on an important resolution advancing election security.  So once again we are not just howling into the wind of history, but successfully working to forge a better path in a deeply tumultuous time. 

Our fundraising has gone well this year but as with every organization there is always more money to raise - we need to raise about another $50,000 to make our 2019 target.  Can you give something today - $25, $50, $100 or more – to help us reach our goal?  Every little bit helps – as each contribution is itself a “like” and affirmation of our work. 

Finally, as I look back at my 27 years in Washington, and 23 years leading NDN, what I am most proud of us is that this organization, in different forms, over a long period of time, has continued to provide cutting edge thought leadership even as the issues we debate, the challenges we face, and the leaders here who lead us have changed, dramatically.  We’ve only been able to do that because of you, your inspiration, your financial support, your partnership.  We cannot rest for despite of all our accomplishments, our hardest and most important work still lies ahead.

With gratitude.

Onward, together -

Simon

Simon In Richard Clarke's Future State Podcast On "The Future Of Hacking Democracy"

We’re very excited to share with you that Simon’s discussion with former National Security Council Special Advisor Richard Clarke, titled The Future of Hacking Democracy, is now available for your listening pleasure.  Drawing from his experience running a countering disinformation operation for the DCCC in the 2018 election cycle, Simon talks about what Russia did in 2016, new trends and threats we've seen in the past few years, and what steps we should be taking now to prevent foreign governments and domestic actors from manipulating our elections and discourse.  Big thanks to Richard for being a gracious host. You can listen to the discussion on “The Future State” podcast here (please select Episode 20). 

ASDC Resolution on Protecting our Elections from Foreign Manipulation

The following is the text of a Association of State Democratic Committees (ASDC) resolution that passed unanimously on June 15th in Santa Fe.  A PDF of the official resolution is below. 

Resolution on Protecting Our Elections from Foreign Manipulation

Whereas in 2016 the Russian government launched an extensive attack on America’s democracy and the Democratic Party and its leadership in particular;

Whereas the current Administration has not taken sufficient steps in these past 2 ½ years to protect our elections, our candidates, our political parties and our discourse; and

Whereas America’s intelligence services have warned that Russia and other nations are likely to attempt to manipulate our elections and discourse once again in this current election cycle; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, that the Association of State Democratic Committees (ASDC):

  1. Urges the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to establish a new party-wide framework which would discourage and prevent the use of the kind of illicit campaign tactics used by Russia against our party in 2016 in the 2020 elections; 
  2. Recommends this framework seek to discourage and prevent hacking and the use of hacked or stolen materials; discourage and prevent the use of disinformation tactics including, but not limited to, the use of fake social media accounts, fake websites, bots, trolls, troll farms, deep fakes and any use of falsified images, video or audio;
  3. Endorses efforts by Senator Ron Wyden and FEC Chairwomen Ellen Weintraub to protect our elections from cyber-attacks, including by allowing national party committees to use monies from the Party’s building funds to provide cybersecurity assistance to campaigns and state parties;
  4. Encourages a new party wide commitment regarding the reporting of illicit activity discovered from any source to the proper authorities, the social media platforms and the DNC; and to discourage the use of these tactics by supporters, allied groups and institutions and consultants.

Mover: Tina Podlodowski, Chair, Washington State Democratic Party

Seconder: Raymond Buckley, Chair, New Hampshire Democratic Party

Biden, Democratic State Parties Embrace Call to Forgo Illicit Campaign Tactics

Over the past few days, we’ve seen dramatic progress on efforts to prevent the continued proliferation of the kind of illicit campaign tactics Russia used in the 2016 election.  On Friday, Vice President Biden made his own very public and aggressive pledge (and see this companion video), expanding on his public commitment to the idea prior to him becoming a candidate.  And on Saturday, the Democratic States Parties passed a resolution calling on the DNC to encourage Democratic candidates to adopt such a pledge, and forgo the use of these tactics against one another in the Democratic Presidential Primary.  At NDN we are very proud to see an idea which we’ve arguably been the principal champion of making so much headway.  You can read more about these exciting developments in stories from Natasha Korecki in Politico and Amy Wang in the Washington Post.

We first called for a pledge like this in an op-ed published on Dec 18th, 2018 on the NBC News website: “The DCCC also made an unprecedented public pledge to combat these new malicious tactics by committing to never use hacked materials in the election, as was done against us in 2016. We think future pledges like this one should include promises not to hack, use hacked materials or use fake accounts, bots, troll farms or “deep fakes.” Whether the parties themselves can agree to a common approach remains to be seen — it didn’t work this time — but the DNC and sister committees should lead by example and get every Democratic presidential campaign to sign on to some set of practices similar to the pledge released by the DCCC in 2018.  Everyone in US politics, regardless of party, should follow our lead and commit to not use the tools the Russians used — and continue to use — against us and other democracies in our own work.”  

And we expanded on this idea in a series of essays, twitter threads, and television appearances in the months since. 

Where is all this going? Our hope is that these steps to create new norms, to make clear what is right and what is wrong in a democracy, will be adopted by all candidates and parties in the US, Democratic and Republican. These are common sense practices and should be the norm here and in democracies throughout the world.  In the days after the recent, horrific shooting in New Zealand we saw another step in this direction when a dozen nations came together with the major social media platforms in Paris to form the Christchurch Call, which is a broad commitment to rid the Internet of extremist speech.  Eventually we hope these incremental steps forward build over time into some kind of global set of norms, frameworks and understandings.  It just cannot be that the wanton interference in the domestic politics of other nations becomes commonplace, particularly as a tool of authoritarian governments to weaken the global democratic challenge to their unjust rule.  We have to draw the line now, brightly. And the courageous steps Vice President Biden and the Democratic State Chairs have taken in recent days should encourage all of us that we’ve begun to develop a coherent societal response to this particular pernicious manifestation of the digital age. 

Wyden Cyber Bill - The resolution passed by the State Chairs also endorsed an effort to make it easier to provide and pay for cybersecurity tools for federal campaigns and state parties.  Current law makes this hard, and recently Senator Wyden introduced a bill which would allow the party committees to use their building fund accounts to pay for cyber security tools and services.  This effort has also been backed by the Chair of the FEC, Ellen Weintraub, and other organizations including the Campaign Legal Center and R Street.  A version of the Wyden Bill will soon by introduced in the House.  More on that when it happens. 

Trump 1.0 Has Failed. What Comes Next?

Trumpism Is Failing – Two and a half years in and Trumpism is increasingly looking like a failed governing and political project.  No other President in the history of polling has been as unpopular as Trump in their first term; the 2018 elections were a significant repudiation of his politics and leadership; the economy is clearly slowing as the badly designed stimulus/tax plan starts to run out of gas and his trade policies wreck havoc on the US and global economies; his immigration approach is among the biggest policy failures modern America has seen; America's standing in the world has taken a huge hit; after years of dramatic decline, the uninusred rate has begun to rise again; perhaps no President has been less faithful to the promises they made during their campaign; and then there is the relentless crazy Twitter feed, wild policy swings, venal corruption, denigration of democracy and its rules, and the ongoing dance with despots and oligarchs.   It is just a huge ugly failure, a political bankruptcy, a tired TV show which has lost its magic.

Recent polls capture just how bad it is for Trump. Fox News has him losing nationally by 10 points to Joe Biden. Quinnipiac has him down by 13, Ipsos by 11, and Morning Consult by 11. Trump has now spent over 730 days with a net approval rating of -10 or worse. At this point in their Presidencies, all other Presidents since 1953 combined have been at -10 or worse for just 100 days.  He also trails Biden by 11 points in recent polls in MI and PA, showing that it is he and not Democrats who have to win back voters in the Rust Belt. New polls also have him down in AZ, NC, and even TX, 3 states which have not been part of the Dems' Blue Wall.  If the election were held today Trump would lose badly, McGovern/Mondale territory.  And as his recent retreat over Mexican tariffs demonstrates, he knows it.

As he kicks off his re-election, Trump has two options now.  Retool, reboot, move on to Trump 2.0.  Seems unlikely at this point, but could happen.  The other option is that he does something dramatic and dangerous to fundamentally alter the current political landscape which is so unfavorable to him now – war with Iran, trade wars with everyone, despotic attacks on his domestic opposition.  What our political system has to come to terms with in the short term is that the volatility we are seeing in the White House these days could get far worse, as nothing he is doing is working to improve his poor standing; the economy is going to get worse; and his legal troubles will worsen too.  Where might this take us? Nowhere good we fear. But where we are likely not headed is a second term for this accidential and awful President. 

NDN's Chris Taylor made significant contributions to this analysis.

Historically Low Poll Numbers, Slowing Economy Endangering Trump’s Re-Election

This piece was originally published on Medium.

A year and a half before the Presidential election, Trump’s electoral position looks precarious to say the least. According to FiveThirtyEight, Trump currently stands at a net approval rate of -11.6, and he hasn’t been better than -8 since March of 2017. Of the 12 Presidents in office since 1945, only 1 has had a negative net approval rate at this point in their first term — Jimmy Carter — and we know how that turned out. By contrast, Obama was at +1.5 in May of 2011, and he went on to win in 2012 by the still relatively modest margin of 3.9 percentage points.

Crucially, and even worse for Trump, this extremely poor level of approval has taken place while the economy has been strong. By the 1980 election in which Carter lost by 8.3 percentage points, the economy had entered a recession and unemployment was near 8%. By contrast, Trump inherited an economy with 4.8% unemployment and job creation of over 210k/month, and that strength has largely continued to this point. What this means for Trump, however, is that he is probably getting the largest boost from the economy to his approval rate that he will get — that is to say, he is at his high water mark in the polls right now. Furthermore, as the economy weakens, it is likely that voters who approved of him primarily because of the economy will grow more likely to oppose him. It could be devastating to his electoral chances in 2020, therefore, that the economy seems to have begun a sharp deceleration over the past several months (something that the conventional wisdom is only now beginning to acknowledge).

First, the economy in the first quarter of this year was never close to as strong as was commonly assumed. This misconception was based upon two very strong headline reports (3.1% GDP growth and 3.6% unemployment) whose underlying data was actually quite poor. The headline GDP number came in strong because two temporary, one-off factors (inventories and net exports) gave big boosts to the economy in Q1. However, these boosts will not happen again for the rest of the year, and the fact that they were large in Q1 will actually cause them to subtract from growth in Q2-Q4 (as businesses reduce their inventories after a big build-up for example). In fact, the core components of GDP — consumption and business investment — grew at their slowest rate since 2013, illustrating that the fundamentals of the economy were weak. Similarly, the unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in 60 years in April not because more people were employed, but because 490,000 people dropped out of the labor force. According to the household survey that is used to calculate the unemployment rate, 103,000 fewer people were employed in April than in March, and 300,000 fewer people were employed in April than in December 2018.

Second, the deceleration in the economy has become very clear with the release of new economic data for April and May. Three key reports that look at the fundamentals of the economy — retail sales, industrial production, and business investment — all came in very weak in April. Retail sales, a good proxy for consumer spending, fell for the 3rd time in the past 5 months while industrial production grew at its slowest rate since February 2017. Capital spending, a good measurement of the level of investment by businesses, declined to its lowest overall level since June 2018. And this data was all compiled before Trump increased tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods from 10% to 25%, and threatened tariffs of 5% on all Mexican imports. This rapid escalation of Trump’s trade wars with China and Mexico starting in mid-May has clearly affected the economy, and has turned already weak April numbers into extremely poor May ones. For May as a whole, services activity fell to its lowest level since early 2016 while manufacturing activity cratered to levels not seen since 2009. Furthermore, job growth fell significantly, expanding by only 75,000 jobs in May compared to the 2014–18 average of 215,000 jobs per month. Finally, consumer confidence took a sharply negative u-turn after the imposition of the tariffs in mid-May, which will likely weaken consumer spending in the weeks ahead.

Overall, then, the economy has clearly taken a dramatic turn for the worse over the past few months, something that is now starting to be reflected by the conventional wisdom in the markets and media. The Atlanta Fed and New York Fed now project Q2 GDP growth to be an average of only 1.2%, while Goldman SachsJP Morgan, and Morgan Stanley see an average of just 0.9% growth. Similarly, the Fed’s preferred metric for forecasting recessions — the yield curve — is now at its flattest point (meaning the highest probability of recession) since 2007. And the economy is likely to only get worse in the coming weeks. The most important risk factor for a further deceleration is Trump’s trade wars, and conflicts with China, Mexico, and Europe all look unlikely to abate anytime soon. With China, negotiations have come to a complete standstill and Chinese state media has become far more hostile to the US in recent weeks, meaning that the chance of a deal is extremely unlikely. Furthermore, as of this morning the White House has said that Trump still intends to impose the 5% tariffs on Mexican imports, and the complete lack of progress in trade talks with the EU means that the chance of a 25% tariff on auto imports from the bloc is increasingly likely. As these conflicts continue unabated, the risk of a full-blown recession only increases. Indeed, Morgan Stanley’s economists last week forecast a global recession if Trump escalates his trade wars any further.

What does this mean for Trump and his chances of re-election in 2020? Very simply, it could mean that the President suffers a major defeat in 2020, if not an early primary challenge late this year. According to Ipsos polling from mid-May, Trump has a positive approval rate on just 2 out of 14 policy areas — his handling of the US economy (+5) and employment and jobs (+12). His average approval on the other 12 areas is -13, including -12 on healthcare, -12 on trade, -13 on taxation, and -11 on foreign policy. If the economy falters and his approval on those metrics falls in line with his broader popularity, the GOP could face a landslide defeat next year. As it is right now, Trump is the most unpopular first-term President in the postwar period, but depending upon his actions towards China, Mexico, and Europe over the next few months, things for him could get a whole lot worse.

Dems Have Already Won Back Voters In The Rust Belt. It's Trump Who Needs To Win Them Back Now

Perhaps the most persistent myth in American politics today is that the President has some magical hold on voters in the Rust Belt, and that his anti-immigrant and protectionist policies would make it difficult for a Democrat to win there in 2020.  There has been enough polling now for us to conclude that at this point in the 2020 race, it is Trump not the Democrats who faces an uphill climb in the Rust Belt next year.  Let’s look at some numbers:

Michigan – A new Detroit News poll has Biden up over Trump 53-41, and other Democrats are posting strong numbers there as well.

Pennsylvania – A recent Quinnipiac University poll had Biden up over Trump by a similar spread, 53-42.  

Morning Consult has Trump’s approval in these states down 17-19 points net since early 2017.   This morning Axios reported that “Internal Trump polls have Biden substantially ahead in the Rust Belt." And there are even recent polls showing Biden leading Trump 48-44 in Texas, 49-44 in Arizona and 53-41 in North Carolina.

While it is still early in the Presidential race, a few observations about these numbers:

1) Trump’s trade and immigration policies are not working for him even in the Rust Belt, and we know they have caused him and the GOP brand significant harm in the heavily Mexican-American parts of the country.   Trump has had the worst poll numbers of any President at this point in their Presidency in the history of polling.  It's getting hard to avoid the conclusion that Trump as a political project is failing.

2) There is evidence now that Trumpism/illiberalism is causing voters to rethink important issues, and what might be considered a “backlash” is emerging here and in Europe.  When Trump and the GOP attacked the ACA in 2017, we saw a 23 plus jump in its standing (from 38-49 in April 2016 to 50-38 today), as if voters realized they had something valuable once someone threatened to take it away.  The same may be happening with the openness of our societies here and in Europe and the UK.  In 2018, the US handed Trump one of the worst midterm defeats of the past few decades, and the GOP’s losses in MI and PA were among the worst of any state in the nation.  In the 2019 European elections, the party which gained the most ground were the Liberals, a party associated with open trade and immigration and the European project.  Liberals saw similar gains in the UK.  The Greens, a party which also could be considered to be in direct opposition to Trump’s politics, also made important gains in Europe and the UK.  Here, in early 2019 polls the candidate most identified with “liberal internationalism,” Joe Biden, has large leads in both Democratic Primary and general election polls. 

It is also important to note that in Europe the combined forces of both the center-right and far right actually lost seats in the European Parliament, as did the far left.  We’ve also seen significant declines in the standing of Bernie Sanders here in the US, and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, political leaders on the left who’ve historically been more skeptical of the global liberal order. 

3) Democrats are currently very pro-free trade and anti-tariff.  The notion of the Democratic Party as a protectionist party is not now and has never been true.  The current global order was imagined and championed by FDR and Truman.  NAFTA, the Uruguay Round, China’s ascension into the WTO, and the TPP were all advanced by Democratic Presidents.  Current Democratic voters are overwhelmingly in support of openness and America’s leadership in the world, and even specifically pro-free trade by very large margins (67-19 in favor of free trade, 77-15 against tariffs).

4) It is our hope that in coming days Democrats see trade as an opportunity and lean in, as we’ve argued they should be doing on immigration too.  The nation and the Democratic coalition is in favor of the openness of the modern world, but we need to make our case, not let Trump define the terms of the debate.   Dems should begin by far more forcefully rallying against the President’s dangerous tariffs, and then perhaps advocate for the US to rejoin TPP if we are able, and be open to the new NAFTA if improvements can be made.  But most importantly, Democrats should tie our advocacy for an open world, perhaps our Party’s most important legacy, with far greater investments in everyday people and their prospects.   Ideas like expanding the ACA, raising the minimum wage, hastening the transition to a post carbon world, creating a new Department of Jobs, Skills, and Economic Development should all be considered in tandem with modernizations of the global trade system.   Many good ideas are coming from the Democratic Presidential debate.  What that would mean in the short term for example would be to condition Dem support for the USMCA to a rollback of Trump's policies weakening the ACA, as the ACA is one of the most successful programs ever put into place to help workers navigate the challenges of a more competitive global economy; or tax hikes and full funding of a national infrastructure plan; or passing comprehensive immigration reform.  

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