NDN Blog

Trump Needs To Re-Open The FEC Right Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NDN Statement On Trump's Threatened European Tariffs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Democrats Must Make The Case Against Trump Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Materials

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

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

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

This essay originally appeared on the website Medium. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Notes On 2020 - The National Political Landscape Is Changing

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

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

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

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

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. 

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.

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. 

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.” 

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