NDN Blog

The Case for Optimism: Rejecting Trump’s Poisonous Pessimism

This piece was originally published on Medium on June 2nd, 2017. 

So, imagine if you lived in America at a time when:

· Incomes of everyday people are at an all-time high, have been rising for at least four years now and saw their largest annual increase in recorded US history just a year ago.

· The unemployment rate is 4.3%, about at what economists consider “full employment.” This rate is historically low — over the past 70 years (821 months), the rate has only been lower in 130 of those months or just 16% of this 70 year stretch. A reminder that the unemployment rate never dipped below 5.3% during the entire Reagan Presidency.

· More people have health insurance and access to quality than any time in American history. A recently implemented health care law has materially improved the lives of tens of millions Americans in a very short period of time.

· The US stock market is at an all-time high, and 33% percent higher than any sustained high in US history and between 5 and 10 times higher than where it has been most of last 50 years. So really high.

· The high school graduation rate is the highest ever recorded.

· Violent crime rates are half of what they were a generation ago, and cities across the US are blossoming, seeing growth, investment and people once again living “downtown.”

· Teenage pregnancy rates are plummeting, and now are at all-time low.

· There has not been a foreign fighter terror attack on US soil in 16 years, few American troops are dying overseas and the US faces no true existential threat from a foreign power.

· Due to smart policies and years of investment, the flow of undocumented immigrants into the US has dramatically slowed, seeing no net increase for a decade now.

· The US is taking control of its energy future, seeing a sharp decrease in foreign oil imports and sharp, even historic, increases in the production of renewable energy.

Would that America sound like a good America to you? I think so. And of course this list describes the America of today, early June, 2017. America is not without its problems, of course. Despite our economic success, we are still leaving too many behind. Growing levels of inequality are corrosive to the social fabric and bad for the economy too. We have too much public and private debt. Tribalism, racial strife and social coherence remain daunting challenges. Mass incarceration too. The opioid epidemic is tragic, and needs far more attention and action. Too few people vote in America, and our civic life needs renewal on many fronts…..

For a 70 year old alive today, the unemployment rate has been higher than 4.3% for 59 of her 70 years. Line is current level of unemployment.

But it is the premise of this essay that while America has very real challenges, somehow the positive side of the nation’s balance sheet — and there is a lot there — has been recklessly ignored in our national discourse. It is my contention that contrary to the claims of our President, America hasn’t lost its greatness, and that by many historical measures there has never been a better time in all of America history to be alive. Certainly better than the Great Depression, or when we held millions of slaves in cruel bondage, or when kids worked and didn’t go to school, or before there was a minimum wage or a social safety net, or when little black kids and little white kids couldn’t drink from the same water fountain, or when hundreds of thousands were dying in Vietnam, or a Cold War could lead to nuclear annihilation at any moment? Or when sky high interest rates prevented us from buying homes, or women couldn’t vote or work or pursue their dreams, or when OPEC decided to punish America, forcing us to wait in lines for hours just to buy gas? Or especially, my Republican friends, when Ronald Reagan was President and the unemployment rate never dipped below 5.3?

Incomes recovering after years of stagnation, decline. Note difference of GOP (red) and Democratic (blue) Presidencies.

Which brings us to Trump. So much of what he is doing flows from the argument that America isn’t managing this new age of globalization well but being defeated by it. It is the rationale behind stripping health care from tens of millions, dismantling common sense environmental regulations, and getting out of the Paris climate deal and TPP; behind his harsh new immigration enforcement and criminal justice policies; behind his dancing with dictators and distancing himself from democracies. And of course, the data above suggests that this argument — the entire rationale for Trump’s Presidency — just isn’t true. Not even close. Things are far better than he says, or perhaps, understands.

Dow Jones Average 1900–2017. Today, far far above historic norms.

Our new President is the first in our history to be under investigation for treason while in office. Whether he has in fact betrayed our nation to a hostile foreign power (and I think he did) will be determined soon. But to me the greater betrayal of this remarkable nation and its hundreds of millions of decent, hardworking people is the President’s denigration of our collective accomplishments over the past generation. Despite the many headwinds of the modern world America has made true, substantial progress. We are a better and more prosperous nation than we were a generation ago. Our companies lead the world in just about every possible sector, and the innovation and creativity in our private sector remains the envy of the world. Our military has no near peer, and remains the greatest fighting force ever assembled. We are taking control of our energy future, and making great strides against climate change. We are working through our unique challenges with race and tribalism, and while Trump is an obvious setback we just saw a man of color lead our nation successfully for the first time in history. Millions of new Americans are starting businesses, building families and making their mark. Our universities are the best in the world, and our public schools are getting better. I could go on and on and on.

But the bottom line is by selling us short Trump betrays both the greatness of our country and the goodness of the American people every day of his Presidency.

And this is the key. To defeat Trumpism we must be optimists, patriots, pragmatists now. To defeat the man, we must defeat his fallacious arguments about America and what we have become. While he talks down America, we must talk it up. We should be proud stewards of a great nation, but steely-eyed and resolute about tackling the real challenges that remain. In many ways, even in these nasty early days of Trump, I have never been more proud of my country, more in touch with what it means to be an American. For it remains the greatest country on Earth, the inspiration for so many — and it will reclaim that role in the days after Trump if we can together not just defeat the man, but defeat the dark pessimism his brand of politics has unleashed into America and the rest of the world.

Can we do it? In the words of another who came before, there is no doubt in my mind that “Yes, we can.”

Who Won The Hill Election Prediction Contest?

Friends, a few of you have asked who won The Hill election prediction contest.  In reviewing the various submissions, with the late movement towards the Dems in Arizona and other places, it appears I won, or Maria Cardona did, or both of us. 

Of the three who could win Armstrong Williams had it Senate GOP plus 5, and Dems winning 30 in the House.  Maria and I had Rs keeping the Senate/Dems plus 1, and I had the House at 40 and she had it at 35-40. 

Where we stand today is Rs plus nothing (they are still at 51), which is far closer to where Maria and I have it than Armstrong (he is off 5, we are off 1).  If Rs win both FL and MS in the coming weeks and get it up to plus 2 then Armstrong, Maria and I will be off by 3 seats each, tying.  But Maria and I are closer in the House as it looks like Dems will come in 38-40. 

Still waiting for the Hill to make their call but sure does look like it will be some combo of me and Maria, and Maria as many of you know is a former NDNer.  Will update when we know more.  

In All Important Florida, Democrats Lose Ground With Hispanic Voters

In an election where Democrats had one of their best years ever with Hispanic voters across the country, Florida Democrats saw their Hispanic numbers decline.  Nationally, Democrats went from 62-36 (26 pts) in 2014 to 69-29 (40 pts) this election. In Florida, Democrats went from 58-38 (20 pts) in 2014 to 54-44 (10 pts) this year.  If both Gillum and Nelson end up losing, this significant underperformance with Hispanic voters will have played a major role. 

The growth of the Hispanic share of the electorate from 2014 to 2018 from 13% to 15% can be attributed entirely to registration growth, not better turnout operations.  And we know from registration data that very few of these new potential voters registered as Republicans.  So this growth we saw should have made the Hispanic electorate more Democratic, not less. 

Finally, think about what Trump has done in the last 2 years.  He has relentlessly attacked immigrants and Hispanics in particular.  He grossly mismanaged the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, sending hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans fleeing to central Florida.  He revoked the temporary status of many immigrants in Florida.  Given all this one would have imagined the environment for Democrats to make gains among Hispanics was present in Florida this year, gains which were made elsewhere.  Yet we fell back.

I don't know what happened but there needs to be a big conversation about the Democratic Hispanic campaign in Florida with this year.  Figuring out what went wrong and correcting it may hold the key to the Presidency in 2020.

PS - am very aware that Florida Hispanic electorate very different from rest of US.  I oversaw a $3m ad campaign in Spanish in Florida in 2004 which ran three different sets of ads - one to Pueto Ricans in central Florida, one to Cubans in South Florida, and one to Colombians also in South Florida.  Well aware of the differences, and is clear now Mexican American voters rejected the GOP in record numbers this election but something  very different happened in Florida.  Need to understand why.  

NDN's 2018 Election Analysis

NDN has produced a new series that takes an in-depth look at the 2018 election results and provides analysis as to what the election means for policymaking over the next two years, the changing demographics of voters, and the 2020 presidential election.

A Good Night For Democrats - 2018 Post-Election Analysis - 11/8/18 - 2018 was a very good election for the Democratic Party.  Next year Democrats will have far more power, Republicans far less.  Important new leaders emerged, GOP saw its position erode in key 2020 battlegrounds, and young voters and Hispanics swung hard for Democrats.

Among "New Coalition" Voters, Democrats Have Their Best Performance Ever - 11/9/18 - In the 2018 elections Democrats had their best showing ever with 18-29s, 18-44s, and Asian-Americans, and their 2nd best with Hispanics.  Bodes well for 2020 and many elections to come.

2018 Was A Very Good Election For Democrats, And An Even Better One For Their Future - 11/16/18 -  In 2018, Democrats had their largest popular vote margin over Republicans since 2006, and their highest percentage support since 1986. Alongside historic gains among all of the growing demographic groups, this election shows the strength of the emerging Democratic coalition.

$38 Million For Beto, And Why It Matters - 10/30/18 - Democrats have been raising a lot of money this cycle.  This is not just about fear of Trump - it is about the broad adoption of a more authentic people based politics suited for the digital age championed by Dean, Obama, and yes even Trump himself. 

A New And Exciting Democratic Party Is Emerging - 11/8/18 - Some thoughts on the rise of a new generation of political leaders and how they are going to change the Democratic Party. 

Some Thoughts About The Caravan - 10/24/18 - The Caravan, composed of 3,000 poor, unarmed, mostly Honduran migrants, poses no threat to the US, and illegal border crossings continue to be way down. Some thoughts on what Democrats should do to respond to Trump's farcical attacks and inane policies.

Iowa, Trump, and the Politics of Globalization/Tariffs - 10/12/18 - Trump’s trade policies are hurting the Iowa economy. His tariffs are unpopular there, and his party is performing badly in the fall elections. Some thoughts on what this means for the Democratic presidential race starting soon. 

In All Important Florida, Democrats Lost Ground With Hispanic Voters - 11/9/18 - In a year when Democrats made gains with Hispanics across the nation, Florida Democrats saw their performance with Hispanics decline.  Work has to be done to figure out why. 

Some Notes On The Decline Of TV, Rise Of Social Media In American Politics - 4/27/18 - Some recent data from Pew Research suggests pace of erosion of TV, rise of digital is picking up, and 2018 likely to be first election more folks get their news online than from TV. Big implications for US politics.

Among "New Coalition" Voters, Democrats Have Best Performance Ever

According to the exit polls the 2018 election saw the Democrats returning to an historically strong position with critical emerging parts of the American electorate — young voters, Hispanics and Asian-Americans. Let’s drill down a bit:

Hispanics — Democrats won the Hispanic vote 69–29, a 40 point spread. This is the best party wide showing since Obama’s 71–27 2012 total, and its second best since Hispanics start becoming a significant share of the electorate. Hispanics also voted in high numbers in a high turnout year, clocking in at 11% of the electorate, equal to 2016 and far exceeding the 8% share we saw in the last three midterms, 2014, 2010 and 2006.

 

 

Young People — 18–29 year olds voted Democratic by 35 points, 67–32, the best showing ever for Dems with this demographic. 18–29 year olds made up 13% of the electorate, the same share as the last two midterms, no small thing in a high turnout election. CIRCLE at Tufts University estimates their turnout rate was 31%, up from 21% in 2014, and the highest in over 2 decades.

 

 

Under 45s — Voters under 45 preferred Democrats by a whopping 25 points, 61–35. This is the biggest spread ever with this demo, 2nd most was Obama’s 16 point spread in 2008. In 2016 the spread was 14, and in 2014 5. So this is a huge and consequential shift. The “age gap” is now bigger than its more famous cousin, the “gender gap,” and is perhaps the most overlooked demographic in American politics today.

 

 

Asian Americans — Asians voted for the Democrats by an astonishing 54 points, 77-23, by far the biggest spread with this demo. In 2016 it was 36 points and in 2014 Republicans won Asian voters by a point. So a remarkable performance.

 

 

Taken together, Democrats performed better with these emerging, growing demographics in 2018 than they have in any other election. Was it Trump? Well run campaigns speaking to everyone not just prime voters? Will leave that discussion for another day. For now I sit amazed at this performance, and what it portends for 2020.

A New and Exciting Democratic Party Is Emerging

I published this a few days before the election and will be returning to it again soon.

Many new Democratic stars have emerged since Trump was elected - Kamala Harris, Andrew Gillum, Beto O'Rourke, Mikie Sherill, Abigail Spanberger, Stacy Abrams....the list goes on and on.  To me what we are seeing emerge is a whole set of leaders who will guide and direct the next Democratic Party, a post Clinton/Obama, a post Trump party.  This is my 14th election day as a Democratic operative and strategist, and I will say I have never seen such a talented and capable crop of candidates running and winning across the country.  The future of the Party feels like it is in very good hands.   

For those of us in DC I think this incoming House freshman class has the opportunity to be an historic class.  The DCCC recruited an extraordinarily accomplished and compelling group this cycle, and it is the deepest and most talented class I've seen since I came to Washington (the 1996 class was pretty great). I discuss the potential of this class in a smart new piece by Ron Brownstein and counsel everyone to be very slow at assigning ideological labels other than pragmatist to many of these new arrivals. 

Having said all that, I think there are three groups arriving in January with the power to shape and influence the direction of the caucus for years to come:

Women - Women brought energy and passion to our politics this cycle, huge number of votes and an historic number of women ran and won/will win their elections.  We will have better numbers in the next few days but expect this new dynamic to be central to everything that happens in the Democratic Party in the House and more broadly across the Party in the coming years.

Patriots/National Security Democrats - Next will be a very large group of veterans and former national security officials. Joining current Members like Seth Moulton, Stephanie Murphy, Conor Lamb and Ruben Gallego, this group could become a deeply consequential one, forging American foreign and security policy for decades to come.  To me this group feels like a the type  of Democrat we haven't seen in a long time - a pre Vietnam War Democrat, a WW II and Cold War Democrats, pragmatic patriots, similar to the class full of veterans which came in 1946 after the war to serve their country again but in another way. 

The reason this new type of Democrat will be with us for some time is just the sheer number of Americans who have served in the war on terror and other military conflicts over the past 17 years.  Many of these young soldiers and security officials have now reached the age and a stage in their life where running for office became an option for them.  This is why I think this a permanent trend at least for the next 10-15 years, and one of those trends which makes the emerging Democratic Party very different from the Party of Clinton and Obama.

NDN has been writing and speaking for some time now about the Democratic Party's very real opportunity to reclaim "patriotism" from the right.  Let us hope this will be the case in the years to come.

The Democratic Socialists - While there is no doubt this new sensibility has resonance in the center-left family, it remains to be seen how powerful it will be next year.  This movement has a compelling, emerging champion in future Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, but there just aren't that many candidates running this cycle with this label as their primary affiliation.  The first two groups we discussed - women and the national secrurity Dems - will likely be much larger in number in the Senate and House next year.  Regardless of numbers, expect this new post-Bernie tribe to be loud and influential. 

While some of these new Members will get absorbed into existing groups like the New Dems, Blue Dogs, Future Forum, Hispanic/Black/AAPI Caucuses, my sense is that this class is going to be so large and its sensibilities new enough that it will itself become a force perhaps equal to any of these existing factions.  Will be fascinating to watch.  And watch this new video which brings together, powerfully, two of these trends - women and national security experience.  Hard to watch this and not sense the emergence of a new post-Clinton, post-Obama Democratic Party.

A Good Night for Democrats - 2018 Post-Election Analysis

This analysis was originally posted on Wed, Nov 7th at 1150am and was last updated on Nov 20th, 8am.  You can find all of NDN's pre and post election analysis here

A Good Night For Democrats – The Democrats now appear to have won between 36 and 39 House seats, the biggest election year gain for House Democrats since 1974, 44 years ago. Democrats also won 7 governorships, close to 400 state legislative seats (5.4% of total), flipped 8 state legislative chambers and ended GOP super majorities in MI, NC and PA.  No question the losses in the US Senate hurt, but national Republicans have to come to terms with what was an extraordinary repudiation of their politics in the 2018 election. The NYT currently estimates that Democrats won the popular vote by 7% and exit polls show a victory of 8%. Both results would put 2018 at the upper end of recent midterms considered waves - 1994: R+7.1% 2006: D+8.0% 2010: R+7.2% 2014: R+5.7%.  It was a very good election for Democrats indeed; and count me in as one those who argued at the time, and believe today, that the President's decision to close with the inflammatory and absurd caravan - particularly after the two domestic terror incidents - rather than a more surburban oriented close was a huge mistake, one which cost him and his party dearly. 

While the Donald Trump and the Republicans still has a great deal of power, they will have far less of it next year. The allocation of political power in the US will more accurately reflect a nation where Democrats consistently win more votes than the Republicans  (6 of 7 last Presidential votes, all time US record).  The House will be Democratic, a majority of Americans will have Democratic governors, wildly gerrymandered GOP supermajorities will have finally been ended, and Democrats will control more state legislative chambers.  What remains remarkable, and perhaps dangerous, that the GOP will have between 51 and 53 seats in the Senate despite losing the popular vote in Senate races in 2016 54%-42% and 57%-42% in 2018. 

GOP Lost Ground in Critical 2020 Battlegrounds – Democrats had strong nights in both the Midwest/Rustbelt and in the Southwest, the regions of the country which will decide the 2020 Presidential election.  Democrats won the MI, MN (2), PA and WI Senate races and MI, MN and PA governors race by very huge margins.  The region's wunderkind Scott Walker was defeated.   Democrats will pick up at least 9 House seats in this region, and while they came up short in the Iowa Governor’s race they now control 3 of the 4 House seats there. Reviewing it all the total collapse of the GOP in MI and PA should be of particular concern to Trump and the GOP

The Southwest, on the other hand, has never been friendly territory for Trump and it got a lot worse this election. As background, the three states which saw the biggest movement towards the Democrats in 2016 were, in order, CA (7pts), TX (6.8pts) and AZ (5.5pts). Last night we saw Beto get within 2 1/2 points in Texas, help Dems win many down ballot races and hold 6 GOP reps to 51% or less (TX-10, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 31).  Rep. Sinema seems to be in process of winning the AZ Senate race and Dems now hold a 5-4 advantage in the AZ Congressional delegation. Democrats had very good/blowout nights in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, so much so that there are questions about whether these will remain in the Presidential battleground in 2020.  Dems are on track to pick up at least 14 House seats in these states including 6 or 7 in California alone, a state where the GOP didn’t even have a Senate candidate on the ballot and where voters with no party preference now outnumber Republicans in registration (and the home of the two most significant GOP Presidents in past 50 years).  We saw intensity too.  AZ, NV and TX saw more people vote early this year than voted in all of 2014, the only 3 states to see that level of increase.

All of this adds up to a night of dangerous erosion for the GOP in this region.  Recall that as recently as 2004 Bush won AZ, CO, NM and NV and Senator Kerry didn't even contest CO that year.  Trump has accelerated the movement of the heavily Mexican-American part of the US from lean R to deep blue and purple now.

Over the last two years there was always this sense that while the President’s thunderous championing of white nationalist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies was hurting him in the heavily Mexican-American parts of the US, it was the key to unlock the Rustbelt and Midwest.  Given the really bad night the GOP had in the northern part of the US that no longer appears to be true  Trump may have used the caravan to win in very red and rural places like Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee, but in the states he needs to win in 2020 Democrats will be far more powerful in just about every state.  Looking at both vote share, and the partisan representation in the state, let's see how the terrain looks for Mr. Trump in 2020: 

Much more Democratic - AZ, CO, MI, MN, NM, NV, PA, VA, WI.  Will be interesting to see if Trump even contests CO, NM, NV and VA in 2020.  AZ now clearly a purple state.

More Democratic - GA, IA, NH.  Georgia now likely to be in play in 2020. 

Not much change - FL, NC (Florida is still up in the air).

More Republican - OH. Will be questions about whether OH remains a battleground state.

My broader point is that Trump barely won the election in 2016, and as of today, the map looks even harder for him in 2020 than 2016. 

Young Voters and Hispanics Continue to Show Their Potential For Democrats – Much will be written about the huge and consequential gender gap this year, but I want to drill down a bit on another huge yawning gap – those over and under 45 years old.  The exits found 18-29 year olds going 67%-32% for Democrats last night, under 45s 61%-36% and those over 45 just 49%-50%.  By comparison, 18-44s went 53%-39% for Clinton in 2016, and over 45s went 52-44% for Trump.  But remarkably the share of the electorate for those under 45 dropped from 44% in 2016 to just 35% in 2018.  Imagine the outcome last night if Democrats were able keep the under 45 participation rate in the 40s – would have been an even bigger blow out.  Given the margins we see here, national Democrats must literally become obsessed now with speaking to and maximizing the turnout of voters under 45.  It is simply one of the highest strategic priorities we have.  And to do so we will have to continue to embrace a post-television politics, as this age cohort essentially no longer watches conventional television.  I wrote about the disappearance of television earlier this year, and also why Beto’s campaign helped show us the future with his remarkable people-centered, social media heavy campaign. 

Latino voters went 69%-29% for Democrats in 2018, slightly up from 2016’s 66%-28%.  This 40 point net showing was among the best in recent elections, and reminds us that in the age of Trump investments in speaking to and turning out Latinos will pay enormous dividends. Or as Democrats in Florida may have just been reminded, failure to do so can cost you close elections. 

We just put together a new memo summing up this and other data.  The bottom line - Democrats had their best showing ever with Asian-Americans, 18-29s, 18-44s and their second best showing with Hispanics.  The Democratic Party's "new coalition" is clearly alive and well, and delivering powerfully six years since the last time Barack Obama was on the ballot. 

More - I published a related piece, "The midterms show Trump might not get re-elected in 2020," on Thursday, November 8th on the Al Jazeera website.  You can also find my thinking about the 2018 election in these stories in the AP, The Houston ChronicleUS News, The Washington Post and this new Washington Post frontpager which refers directly to this analysis. 

Simon's 2018 Election Predictions

For years now Simon has been a participant in The Hill's election prediction contest.  He submitted his answers to their questions Monday morning, which you can find below or here on The Hill's website.  A fun fact - Simon and Grover Norquist are the only two-time winners of The Hill's election prediction contest.  So this one really matters. 

Who will win control of the House?

Democrats.

How many House seats with GOP/Dems pick up?

Democrats will pick up 40 seats. 

Who will win control of the Senate?

GOP.

How many Senate seats will GOP/Dems pick up?

Democrats will pick up 1, and on election night will be at 50.  Control of the Senate will come down to the Mississippi 2 runoff which might be more competitive than people realize.  If Beto somehow pulls it out in Texas he could give the Democrats the Senate. 

Who will win the Senate race in Florida?

Nelson.

Who will win the Senate race in Missouri?

McCaskill.

Who will win governor's race in Florida?

Gillum. 

Who will win governor's race in Georgia?

Abrams.  

Who will win the Senate race in Indiana?

Donnelly. 

Who will win the Senate race in Arizona?

Sinema.

Analysis: (Please write 50-100 words on what the takeaway of the elections will be)

With the House flipping, Rs underperforming in 2020 battleground gubernatorial races and a new GOP weakness in the Rustbelt/Midwest emerging, election night 2018 will be a huge blow to an already deeply unpopular President.  Questions about the sustainability of Trumpism will dominate the post-election analysis, encouraging responsible GOP party leaders to challenge him more directly in the days ahead.    

The building of the post-Clinton/Obama Democratic Party will get an enormous boost as Democrats will elect an unusually talented set of new leaders across the country. Watch the House freshman class – will be among most capable and exciting of modern era.   

$38 Million for Beto, and Why It Matters

The big dollars we are seeing Dems raise this cycle isn’t just about anti-Trump sentiment, it is about Dems succeeding in a new, always on media and information landscape.   This election cycle will be the first where more Americans got their news from the Internet than television.  And whereas the broadcast era of politics was about raising money to put on tv in the last few weeks of a race, the new politics of the digital age requires candidates to be generating interest/making connections every day all year long. Beto was not a likely candidate to raise all this money.  He was unknown, from a small and distant Texas media market, and has never led in the polls.  But what he has created is perpetual, compelling values-driven digital media – viral videos, social media checkins; and he has used the rally format Trump used to build his lists and grow a powerful support network. It is a model all Democrats should study and learn from. 

While not at the same scale, the DCCC made a commitment early in 2017 to ensure its candidates used modern internet based fundraising techniques – think Dean, Obama – to give them a shot to tap into the energy out there.  And as this story in the Washington Monthly suggests, it worked.   The Democrat’s well funded candidates have been instrumental in giving the Democrats a real shot at winning the House; but by expanding the battlefield to twice as many races as the Democrats competed in in 2016, it has also lessened the extraordinary GOP fundraising advantage this cycle.  See this new tweet from Nate Silver for more data on just how extraordinarily successful this strategy has been. 

I will have more to say in the coming days about the struggle Democrats have had in transitioning to an "always on" post-television media era, an era of Trump, social media and a 24/7/365 debate about our future. But one area I've grown concerned about is whose job is it exactly in the center-left ecosystem to take on Trump directly, both in the final days of the election and next year? Imagine if $50m had been directed against him in recent months.....do we really believe he would be at 42% approval given what is known? And would have it made a difference in the coming elections? Of course it would have.  No candidate in modern American history has developed a more powerful set of negatives to be used against them as Donald Trump has.  Time now for voters to be reminded of them.  It's the basic blocking and tackling of politics, something I address in this new thread.  The new WSJ/NBC poll out on Sunday has a lot of good news for Democrats except this - Trump is now at 47/49 approval, his best showing in many many months in this poll. 

This issue of the Democratic Party's understanding (or lack of) of the modern media landscape was at the core of debate over the debates in 2015-2016.  At the end of the day a badly designed debate schedule allowed the GOP candidates to be seen by 100 million peple than the Democratic candidates.  In the fall of 2015 I wrote: "Regardless of the virtue of the original DNC debate strategy, the RNC has produced a far better approach that will guarantee their candidates hundreds of millions of more impressions.  This gap is so large that it could sway the outcome of a very close race, and the DNC should take steps to close this gap in the weeks ahead."  Something it never really did. 

The Washington Post's Michael Scherer quotes this portion of my analysis in a new story about the RNC and its 2019 strategy. 

Some Thoughts About The Caravan

This essay was originally published on the website Medium.

Looking back, everyone involved in this Caravan story has to wonder how it led to the President declaring a national security emergency. It is about 7,000 poor, unarmed, mostly Honduran Central Americans desperately attempting to escape worsening economic and political conditions. It includes about 2,000 kids. As of today, October 23rd, the caravan is about 1,000 miles away from the closest part of the US, and at current rates will make it to the US border in early to mid-December. That is if somehow they can keep themselves fed, clothed, housed, and safe during this grueling trek north. No one is funding this journey, and recent news reports suggest many are tired and close to giving up. But what keeps them going of course is that in their minds they can’t go home, and have nowhere else to go.

A terrific Daily Beast story today details how this all started. Desperate conditions at home, and mistaken news reports that there was funding to send a caravan north. It would allow people to avoid paying $7,000 for a coyote, and there would be physical safety in numbers. Perhaps we will learn that some more nefarious plot was behind this unusual event but as someone who has studied these matters for a long time, this is all very believable. So today what has been described as a dangerous mob in right-wing media here in the US may very soon become a tragic humanitarian disaster as they run out of food and shelter far away from home.

What has been most extraordinary about this unfolding tragedy is the reaction of the President of the United States. Egged on by hysterical right-wing media, the President himself became hysterical and declared this far-away march of some of the hemisphere’s poorest people a national security emergency for the United States of America. To make it all the more threatening, the President claimed, without evidence, that terrorists and violent gang members had joined the caravan and were intending to use it to sneak into the United States (today he admitted he made up the Middle Easterner thing). The President threatened to cut off aid to the countries of the region if this Caravan kept going. The aid he was referring to largely goes to prevent further erosion of regional security so the President was essentially threatening to force the region into even greater chaos and weakening our own security along the way. Remarkably the Secretary of State and the Vice President echoed these claims in the last 24 hours. And there we had it — the most powerful nation in the world, the winners of World Wars and Cold Wars, was now officially terrified and mobilizing its military, financial, diplomatic, and homeland security resources to repel an “invasion” of a few thousand ragged, unarmed Central Americans far away from the US homeland and weeks away from arriving at the border itself. It has felt far more Monty Python than John Wayne.

Flows of authorized immigrants into US fraction of what it was — system has capacity to manage surges

For context, it has to be noted that the flow of unauthorized immigrants into the United States is a fraction of what it was 10–15 years ago, and even this year’s flow has been within recent norms. The President had already declared a national emergency earlier this year and added National Guard troops and military judges to the border region to help provide additional capacity to manage what was in fact a small and not historically significant increase in border arrivals. So the boy had cried wolf once, and when the flow didn’t decrease, the Administration moved on to its infamous “zero tolerance,” kids in cages strategy; a strategy voided by federal courts a few months ago. Not a whole lot of winning for the President on his immigration strategy these last two years.

2018 inline with previous years — not a crisis

So while this whole Caravan thing both feels and is absurd, it is now part of the political discourse in these closing days of the 2018 elections and Democrats need to make clear where they stand. As an old Clinton War Room guy I firmly believe that any attack must be challenged or it sticks. Democrats are being attacked daily by the President for something they have not done, and need to challenge both the President’s inaccurate story about immigration and its impact on America, and the President’s misguided policies to address an “immigration crisis” which never existed. So, in short, I think Democratic leaders should do three things:

Address Worsening Conditions in Central America — Democrats should make clear they know that the worsening economic and security situation in Central America is a problem which needs to be addressed by the next Congress. Unauthorized flows like the Caravan are wrong, and we need to find a way to keep people at home and to honor the legal immigration system in place today. Whatever plan we come up with will have be developed with our Southern neighbors and both parties and chambers in Congress. It will take work over many months to do something lasting and effective. Fox fueled fiats from an ill-informed President are making finding lasting solutions far harder, not easier.

Put Comprehensive Immigration Reform back on the table — Democrats should reaffirm their commitment to the bi-partisan and thoughtful McCain/Kennedy, Gang of 8 framework and offer to enter into talks with the President and the Republicans about a bi-partisan reform package. They should be open to reducing the # of green cards issued for a time if we can legalize millions of undocumented immigrants already living and working here.

Offer Ideas for Smart, Effective and Humane Reform Of Our Immigration Enforcement System — At a rhetorical and policy level, Democrats have to be more forceful in talking about how to make border and immigration enforcement better, more effective, and more humane. In our book President Obama did a far better job at managing our border and domestic enforcement system than many have given him credit for. DHS and ICE can certainly be improved, but talks of abolishing it are silly and should be rejected by responsible leaders in the days ahead. Creating a path for legalization — and I hope citizenship — for the 11m already here require a big rethink of our entire enforcement system.

So even if the Caravan disperses in the coming days, and this “urgent threat” is removed from the political debate, the underlying issues raised by the Caravan remain. The immigration status quo is unacceptable, and has been for a long time. Democrats have been trying to improve and modernize our approach to immigration, and address many of the problems that have surfaced here, for 13 years. We passed smart bi-partisan bills through the Senate twice, only to have them blocked each time by a reactionary Republican House leadership. If the Democrats control the House next year we will have the opportunity to do something truly meaningful on immigration; something which can grow our economy, cut a spiraling deficit, and humanely resolve one of the most contentious political issues in the nation today. The President sure does seem to want to do something — let’s challenge him to use his vaunted deal making skills and do right by the American people and our close neighbors to the South. It is time now.

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