NDN Blog

Are Trump’s Mounting Legal Problems Making It Impossible for Him to Be President?

This essay was originally published on the website Medium.

Imagine if a CEO of a publicly traded company, or a university president, or the principal of your local high school, or even a Congressman or Governor, did half of what Donald Trump has done. Would they still have their jobs? The obvious answer is no, and in fact in just the last few months many chief executives and elected officials have had to resign or have been fired due to unethical or criminal behavior.

What is true of our democracy, and most institutions in the United States, is that no one person is bigger than the institution they serve. There are mechanisms in place to ensure the executive performs and behaves with honor. Boards can remove a CEO or university Presidents. Congress can expel corrupt Members. Governors can be recalled, and in parliamentary democracies, governments can fall and new elections called. In our system, there are two “boards” that oversee the President: 1) voters, in midterm and Presidential elections 2) Congress, both in its oversight and impeachment/removal authorities. Voters may act this fall, or in 2020; and of course Congress has done virtually nothing to reign in Trump even though the case for doing so is long and serious. Let’s review some of the reasons other boards would have acted against a chief executive like Trump by now:

1) epic levels of personnel turnover, difficulty finding qualified help, repeated promotional of unqualified candidates, nepotism, verbal abuse of staff in public and private 2) daily instances of lying, attempts to mislead the public 3) intemperate public remarks, erosion of common civility, attacks of perceived opponents some of which could quality as defamation and slander 4) serial adultery and extraordinary efforts to conceal the affairs 5) exploding outside legal problems, involving a wide array of potential charges including treason, tax fraud, public corruption, campaign finance violations, money laundering, sexual harassment, incitement to riot 6) an unprecedented number of high level public scandals with senior officials in the government, suggesting deeply lax internal ethical controls 7) indictment of core staff close to the leader, including top political and policy staff, and now his own personal attorney and longtime business partner has had his records seized and is facing imminent criminal charges 8) clear abuse of the power of his office through his attempts to discredit an investigation into his team, the firing of prominent officials including the acting Attorney General and Director of the FBI and intimidation of those opposing him 9) appeasement of a hostile foreign power in ways inconsistent with the American national interest, including a refusal to condemn them for unprecedented attacks on the homeland of the United States.

Okay, okay some Republicans say. Not a perfect guy, but he is doing a good job as President and deserves a pass. Really? America’s standing in the world has taken an historic hit. There is far more chaos on the global stage today than before, and no clear progress of any of our most vexing problems. The economy is no better than when Trump took office and is by many measures worse — job growth is slower this year, inflation fears are rising, the deficit is exploding, and the Dow is trailing similar marks in both the Obama and Clinton Presidencies. The opioid crisis continues to worsen, health care premiums are rising as is the uninsured rate, and energy prices seem to be on an upward slope. I’m sorry, the country is not demonstrably better off today due to Trump’s Presidency — so no Mad Men like performance exemption for the legal and ethical rot we’ve had to endure.

So while I don’t have hope Congress will take meaningful action against Trump due to his outrageous behavior, there is another reason Congress may be forced to act this year — Trump’s mounting legal problems are making it hard for him to do the already impossible job of President. Just look at the last week. Despite all that is going on in the world, the overwhelming majority of Trump’s tweets have been about Mueller, Comey and Stormy. The RNC’s big new initiative is to attack Comey, not sell the President’s agenda. The President took the time to pardon Scooter Libby last Friday, an event the Administration made front and center in the hours leading up to their late Friday strike on Syria. There has been public confusion and mixed signals about critical issues facing the nation — stay/go in Syria, implementation of new Russian sanctions and whether to rejoin TPP. He cancelled his participation in a really important regional gathering of leaders in Latin America at the last minute. The President’s choice for Secretary of State, after firing the previous one on Twitter, doesn’t have the votes to get confirmed in the Senate. A new story out this morning has Republicans blaming the President’s erratic behavior in recent weeks for a steep decline in the standing of their signature 2018 issue, their tax cut. And the resignations in the Administration and retirements in Congress continue at rates perhaps never seen before in all of US history. He may be an ethical nightmare, but in recent weeks his government has also become a dangerously dysfunctional mess.

Yesterday the Washington Post reported on the President’s response to the latest grave new legal challenge, the raid on his consigliere’s home and office: “Trump was so upset, in fact, that he had trouble concentrating on plans that were laid out for him that day by his national security team about potential options for targeted missile strikes on Syria.” And, as the story reports, the President is spending a great deal of time just trying to find legal counsel to represent him in all these matters as the lawyers he had quit, or in the case of Cohen, are themselves facing imminent criminal charges. One of the reasons Trump is so overwhelmed right now is no lawyer will actually go work for him — a shocking turn of events.

Any other executive of any other American venture, facing the same set of serious legal challenges, would be forced to either take a leave of absence to deal with the matters or would be forced to resign or be fired. For the reality is that any leader facing the kind of serious legal problems Trump is facing now would have a hard time finding time to do their normal job. Trump is no different. His performance these last few weeks makes it clear that the government of the United States is suffering, and that is something that Congress cannot ignore much longer.

Of course there is another way for the President to remove the legal pressure on him right now — he can move aggressively to shut it all down. Which is why Mitch McConnell needs to get behind the new bi-partisan bill that would wall off the Mueller investigation from any future Trump interference. It is my own sense from watching Trump these last few weeks that he is at a breaking point, and can no longer both be President and defend himself. So something has to give. And of course what would be best is for Trump to give, and not our democracy.

If the President’s legal problems continue to mount, and his performance continues to degrade, it will be time for his “board” to get off their rear ends and put the interests of nation and its 330 million people over the interests of this one terribly flawed man. It is how our democracy and broader civil society has been designed and functioned for many years now, and what has made us perhaps the most successful political project in the history of the world. Absent any significant change in coming weeks, it is time to start talking publicly about whether our President, for the good of the nation, needs to resign in order to allow him to spend the time required to address the grave legal matters facing him and his family.

Young Voters A Huge Opportunity for Democrats in 2018

This essay was originally published on the website Medium.

The Pew Research Center recently released some new data about younger voters in the US that was eye popping. It is long been known that younger voters lean towards the Democrats. But there is a post Trump shift manifesting among younger Americans in these midterms that should be scaring the Rs, and causing Democrats to be thinking about how to best to take advantage.

Let’s look at a few graphs from the new Pew study. First, Congressional vote intent. In 2014, Dems led this age cohort 50–41, 9 points. In 2018, it is 62–29, 33 points. Yes, 33 points.

Next, the total number of Millennials and Post-Millennials eligible to vote has increased from 60m in 2014 to at least 76–77m this year.

Let’s do a little math here. In 2014, the 60m eligible Millennials broke 50/41 D/R, yielding 30m Dem eligible voters and 24.6m Rs. In 2018, the 77m eligible Millennials and Post-Millennials are breaking 62/39 D to R, yielding a 48m to 22.3m Dem advantage. The net Dem advantage among eligible voters of this age cohort has grown from 5.4m to in 2014 to a whopping 25.7m this year.

Even at a 30% to 40% turnout rate that is an awful lot of new voters available for Democrats this cycle. At 40% turnout it is a net gain of 8m new voters, at 33% it is 6.6m, at 20% it is still 5m. Importantly Pew isn’t picking up as big a difference in vote intent this time between younger and older voters, so the Millennial/Post-Millennial turnout is likely to be closer to the historical midterm average of 40% for all voters.

In the 2014 and 2016 elections the GOP received about 5 million more votes for the House each time, so this net pick up of between 5m and 8m votes for Democrats among this age cohort is no small matter.

Seem extreme to you? It did to me at first, but these large spreads for younger voters also appeared in recent elections in Virginia, Alabama and PA-18. According to the 2016 and 2017 exit polls in Virginia, there was a very big shift of younger voters in the 2017 Governor’s race. In 2016 Clinton won 18–44s 54%–38% (16 points) and 18–29s 54%–36% (18 points). In 2017 Northam won 18–44s 64%-34% (30 points) and 18–29s 69%-30% (39 points). This is a huge shift.

There aren’t such easy apples to apples comparisons in AL and PA-18, but we did see similar spreads. In Alabama, according to the exit poll, Senator Doug Jones won 18–44 year olds, 61%-38%, 23 points. It was 60%-38% with 18–29s and 61%-30% with 30–44s. The final independent poll taken in PA-18 race had Lamb winning 18–49 year olds 68%-30%, though the poll was a little more Lamb than the final tally. So let’s say it was a 33–35 point spread, not 38; but factoring out the Gen Xers here could easily have had under 37 year olds in the high 30s in a plus 11 GOP House district.

So, yes, if these numbers hold there are 20 million more eligible voters under the age of 37 this year who consider themselves Democrats than in the 2014 midterms. 20 million. For context, 20 million is 6% of the total population of the US. If 8m of these 20m vote in 2018, they would be equal to 11% of the 75m who voted for House candidates in 2014; at 5m 6%. So no matter how you measure it, the movement of young voters this cycle appears to be shaping up to be a consequential political and cultural development.

It should be noted that a new poll just released by Harvard’s Institute of Politics has very similar findings, including 30 plus net advantage for Democrats and dramatically elevated 2018 vote intent.

A few thoughts on what all this means for the 2018 election:

Democrats Need to Lean Into This Opportunity — Democrats should be having a big and loud conversation about what this big shift means for their 2018 strategy, and how to begin to remake the Party for a rising new generation in earnest. This movement obviously won’t play out the same in every state or district, but Millennial heavy places like California and Texas and even some mid-Western cities are looking at a very different electoral landscape than in 2014 or 2016. These newly available voters need to be brought into the polling and modeling of the campaigns, and campaign resources — adspend, candidate time, turnout targets — need to be adjusted to make sure these voters are being touched and asked to vote. Democrats can increase the turnout of these voters by designing campaigns crafted to speak to them, and in the process also accelerate the transformation of these new and irregular voters to more regular and reliable members of the emergent Democratic coalition.

Recent reports by CIRCLE at Tufts University’s Tisch College provide interesting insights into both places where the youth vote could make the biggest difference in 2018, and the chronic underinvestment made in reaching these voters in recent elections.

As these voters are less accessible by traditional television advertising, other ways of targeting them, including both paid and organic digital content (think Beto O’Rourke) will have to be more widely deployed. And efforts should be made to put younger, compelling political and cultural leaders out in front this cycle (Joe Kennedy III for example). If the movement begun by the courageous Parkland students is still going strong this fall it too could really matter, as younger voters will see their direct contemporaries taking bold action and encouraging voting in ways we’ve haven’t seen in the Millennial era; and every high school and college will be in session at the time of the November election, making mass school based mobilization easier.

Republicans See This Data Too, Will Not Let These Gains Go Uncontested — Democrats should also expect very aggressive traditional and digital campaigns coming from the Rs this cycle, designed to disqualify their candidates with this age cohort. It is likely to come not just from the GOP campaigns themselves, but the many dark money groups out there and whatever it is that Trump and his new campaign manager Brad Parscale are cooking up (#ArmyofTrump). While Cambridge Analytica may not be a player in 2018, the Republicans and their allies, here and abroad, learned a lot about how to damage Democratic politicians using these new digital tools in 2016. We should expect many locally tailored, copycat digital efforts in 2018, ones that will feed into a localized right wing media ecosystem that not only includes millions of dollars of dark/independent television ads, long established local talk radio show hosts, but now dozens of new Sinclair television stations too.

For all the talk of the Trump base and Obama-Trump voters, there are also signs of backlash to Trump out there this year. I’ve written about the erosion of the GOP brand in the Southwest Border region, and clearly women are driving a great deal of the big shift in US politics these days. But the scale of the rejection by younger Americans of Trump’s GOP is huge by any measure, and will impact not just 2018 but American politics for years to come.

(A note on the data in this post — see here for how Pew defines Millennial, which is a bit different than others. For 2018 Pew has Gen Xers 38–53 years old, Millennial 22–37, Post-Millennials 18–21. In this post, we treat Post-Millennials as Millennials as there is not a lot of data about their political views out there, and initial evidence is that they are tracking Millennials in political orientation).

Going Forward, Not Back – Support NDN in 2018

Dear Friends,

As is our tradition, we come to you with asks for support only a few times a year, and only when it matters.  We are aware of how critical it is that our collective political capital stays focused on the upcoming elections, which are perhaps the most important in my many years in politics.  So we are not asking to divert too much of your limited capital today towards NDN – just enough to keep us doing the important work we do to get ahead, tackle the next challenge, define the terms of coming debate – the work we’ve been doing for more than a decade now.

To meet that work is more important than ever because whatever Trump represents he has jumbled the issue and political landscape of the country.  Everything is different now, and many long held assumptions need to be rethought completely.  For the center-left to succeed in the coming years, we will need a comprehensive response to Trump, and one that cannot be about restoration but more about reinvention and innovation – going forward, not back. 

Going forward, not back – that is what this organization has been about in its many forms for many years now.  We have always been guided by a simple belief that the world was changing – globalization and the “rise of the rest,” advances in tech, large changes in our demography and our media – and these changes required new and compelling responses.  We may have to add another disruption – the Trump presidency itself – to that list of disruptions if we are to be successful in the coming years.  Which is why we keep doing our work, offering data-driven thoughtful analyses to help guide our leaders through these turbulent times. 

If you want to keep supporting our important work, please do so today.  Any amount matters – $25, $50 or more.  Our goal is to raise $25,000 from our community in the coming weeks, and if we can do so we can make our budget targets for the spring and keep contributing to the national debate in ways that add value, and move things forward.  Join with us in any way you can, today, and thanks again for your interest and support of our work.

Best, Simon

Moving on From Discourse

As some of you may know, I’ve been working for the past several months outside of NDN to get a new company off the ground in the info/disinfo space.  Called Discourse Intelligence, it did good work in both the Virginia and Alabama races last year, and is gearing up to play a major role in 2018.  The company grew out of research NDN commissioned last year from our long-time friend and collaborator, Tim Chambers.  You can read his compelling paper here

Unfortunately, due to unresolvable disagreements among the founders about direction and strategy, this week I decided to leave this promising company.  These things happen in startups, and I felt it best to walk away before these disagreements became even more debilitating to the company and its important mission. 

I have learned a lot about the new media ecosystem in working with the talented team at Discourse over the last few months, and intend to apply it aggressively in my work with NDN and others in the days ahead.  

All of us have to do our part in the coming days to make our democracy and our discourse far healthier.  With your help, we here at NDN will continue to try to lead the way.  

Best, Simon

Rebutting Trump’s Ridiculous Arguments on Immigration, Crime and Jobs

This essay was originally published on the website Medium.

For the last few months Donald Trump has continually attacked his political opponents as being weak on the border/immigration and crime, and bad for the economy. He did so again today in this intemperate tweet about “Chuck and Nancy.” The problem with these attacks, of course, is that during the Presidency of the last Democrat, Barack Obama, crime and the flow of undocumented immigrants into the country plummeted, and the economy grew — tens of millions of jobs were created, incomes went up, the stock market boomed and the annual deficit came way down. Today the President repeated a new version of his attack on Democrats — that they want to raise taxes. Not only have the Democrats not embraced a plan that would do so, that the GOP plan will raise taxes on tens of millions of Americans is the central Democratic critique of the awful GOP proposal stumbling through the Senate this week. The level of dishonesty being exhibited by our President is literally jaw-dropping, and deserves a forceful rebuttal.

Let’s look a few graphs which tell a very different story about what happens on these matters when Democrats are in power:

Flow of undocumented immigrants slowed way down after many years of rapid growth, and was actually net negative under Obama:

In 2016 there were almost a million fewer undocumented immigrants in the US than in 2007.

Dramatic drop in crime America has experienced over the past generation continued under Obama:

In this new age of globalization the US economy has done far better under Democratic Presidents than their GOP counterparts. Let’s look at the job creation record (not even a close call):

Incomes grew under Clinton and Obama, fell under both Bushes:

Stock market has performed far better under Democratic Presidents, including Trump:

And while Republicans have caused the annual deficit to rise, Democrats have brought it down:

So spare us the desperate attacks Mr. President. The Democratic Party you describe is one that exists only in your mind. The one you are facing everyday and will face next year in the elections is one that has governed responsibly when in power, and left the country far better than they found it. It is impossible for us to imagine saying the same thing about your time in office, as short as it may be.

TrumpRussia and the Weakening of American Democracy

As the gravity of Trump's historic betrayal of our nation weighs further upon us this week, NDN firmly plants itself in the camp that believes those of us in the center-left should be making the issues around Trump and the GOP’s degradation of our democracy front and center in American politics. Whether it is Trump Russia, the attacks on a free press, unprecedented official corruption and malicious lying, restricting people’s ability to vote, illegal gerrymandering and racial discrimination, the stealing of a Supreme Court seat or Congress’s unwillingness to hold hearings, use CBO scores, conduct de minimus oversight or other abuses of their power the issue of the modern GOP’s abandonment of its commitment to democratic norms is a grave threat to our understanding of what a democracy is and should be.

Proud patriots here in the US will be working to renew and repair our democracy for years if not decades to come. This will become one of the central responsibilities of those who will serve in elected office, and we should begin this conversation with the American people today. It borders on recklessness to leave these tasks to Robert Mueller and the courts, as history has shown that even in strong democracies like ours there is no guarantee these institutions can withstand a sustained assault from an autocrat and his enablers in the legislature.

Still have doubts that Trump colluded, coordinated, conspired, partnered with Russia in 2016? Read this thread. It is no longer in doubt. 

For more on NDN’s views on these matters be sure to check out our vertical, Renewing Our Democracy.

- Simon Rosenberg, Nov 2017

Under 45 Year Olds Swing Hard to Dems in VA

While we all plow through the data over the next few days (Prince William 61-38!), we focus today on the dramatic movement in the under 45 vote in Virginia last night. Using the 2016 and 2017 exits, we know that in 2016 the vote split this way:

• Under 45s - Clinton 54 Trump 38 (plus 16)
• 45s and over - 51 Trump 47 Clinton (plus 4)

Last night in VA it was:

• Under 45s - 64 Northam 34 Gillespie (plus 30)
• 45s and over - Gillespie 51 Northam 49 (plus 2)

For 18-29 years olds it went from 54-36 Clinton/Trump to 69-30 Northam/Gillespie; from plus 18 to plus 39. This is a lot of movement, and not a great deal of movement with people 45 and over.

It is our belief here at NDN that Americans under 45, all of whom came of age after the Reagan Presidency and in this new age of globalization which began in 1989, are a key demographic to watch in the years ahead. They went 53-39 for Clinton in 2016 (45s and over went 52-44 for Trump). And in their political lifetime what they have known are two failed Republican Presidents, 2 relatively successful Democratic ones and now Trump. This age cohort is approaching high 40s of the electorate now, and swings like the one we saw last night if replicated in 2018 spell big trouble for Republicans, particularly in parts of the country with many younger voters, places like CA, FL, TX.

More on this soon.

Release: Can't Be for Tackling Opioids While Cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Sabatoging Individual Market

Washington, DC – “While the President’s diving into the opioid crisis is welcome, the President’s efforts cannot be successful if he simultaneously takes hundreds of billions of dollars out of the US health care system through aggressive cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, and sabotages the individual market which is raising costs for tens of millions of people and causing many millions to lose their insurance and access to basic care.

Today the President will be promising to be give the American people more tools to tackle the opioid crisis. He is in fact giving them far less."

-Simon Rosenberg, NDN 

Column: Make ACA Sign-Ups an Annual Civic Ritual

Today, US News published Simon's latest column, “Make ACA Sign-Ups an Annual Civic Ritual.”  An excerpt –

.....Somewhere around 1 in 12 Americans of any age – about 25 million people – get their health insurance and health care through provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The annual period to sign up for insurance starts on Nov. 1, and it is critical that responsible members of both political parties – but particularly Democrats – commit time and resources to help people sign up this year.

Why is this so important? Because, remarkably, President Donald Trump's administration has taken a series of dramatic steps to make it harder for his fellow citizens to sign up under the health care law this year. It has cut the enrollment window to sign up from 12 to just six weeks, and is spending far less money marketing the enrollment period to the public (TV ad spending is dropping from $100 million to $10 million). Regional directors in the Department of Health and Human Services were told not to participate in outreach events and administrators will take down healthcare.gov on most Sunday mornings during the already shortened enrollment period. It is likely that without a significant push by office holders, community leaders, health care providers and regular citizens, millions of Americans could miss the deadline this year and end up without insurance. It is hard to believe that our government is taking such aggressive steps to make it harder for American citizens to get affordable care – but it is so. And those of us who believe in the ACA, as the law is known for short, should do something about it.

To continue reading, please refer to the US News link. You can Simon's previous US News columns here.

A Primer on Social Media Bots And Their Malicious Use In U.S. Politics

This full paper is in PDF format, and can be found through the links in the text below or at the bottom of the page. 

Tens of millions of malicious bots – automated accounts programmed to tweet or post in a manner masquerading as humans – infest our social media platforms, and many are being used deceptively for political purposes. These “computational propaganda” accounts fake petition signatures, skew poll results, sow discord and spread falsehoods. In doing so, they pose a serious danger to democracy.

They’ve been deployed by Russia and others to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Brexit vote, the 2017 French election and more. As America approaches the 2018 and 2020 election seasons, the threat will only grow – weaponized social bots will become more convincing and harder to detect.

To help those in the political arena better understand this new phenomenon, NDN is proud to release a new paper, "A Primer on Social Media Bots and Their Malicious Use in US Politics." Written by our long time collaborator Tim Chambers, this paper lays out in plain, simple English what bots are, how they are being used, and some ways we can together combat their impact in the days ahead.

Especially as we approach the 2018 and 2020 elections, it is critical that we understand and counteract this threat now, or we will lose this new form of information war. We must develop more and better technological defenses. We must demand that our social networks build for the good of the countries they act in, not just for their own profits. And we must adopt laws and policies that protect our democracy while safeguarding social media’s enormous potential to enhance the democratic process. This compelling new paper offers some early thinking on how we may want to approach taking on the bots. Please let us know what you think of it, and feel free to share with others you think might be interested.

Update: Since publication of the paper, Simon and Tim were quoted in this Yahoo Finance piece, "Maybe Facebook and Twitter should be regulated like TV".

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