NDN Blog

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" to American Politics

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America’s Oldest Network Enables Its Newest One

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With gratitude.

Onward, together -

Simon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump 1.0 Has Failed. What Comes Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tariffs, Trump, and Tyrants

One of the great animating principles which drove the founding of America and the design of our government was the quest to curtail the power of a single person to determine the fate of the nation without reasonable deliberation and what we call checks and balances.   There is perhaps no more quintessentially American idea than this – that the President is not a sovereign, but a partner in governing the nation with Congress and the Judiciary; that he or she serves the people, not themselves; that we are a nation of laws, not men and women.

After more than two years of his Presidency, it just isn’t clear that Donald Trump agrees with this time worn American belief that the power of an executive in a democracy must be limited and checked.  At the core of Bob Mueller’s report to the American people are profound questions about Donald Trump’s willingness to trample democratic norms and laws, even openly working with a hostile foreign power to influence the outcome of an American election.  The President showers authoritarian strongmen like Putin, Kim, and Orban with praise, and denigrates our democratic allies.  In case after case – the unrelenting lying about everything, the refusal to divest from his businesses, the unilateral deployment of the military on US soil, the years of obstruction documented by Mueller and the unprecedented disregard for the oversight responsibilities of Congress, the many times the President’s policies have been stopped by US courts, the granting of security clearances over the objections of professional staff and the intelligence community, the wanton lawlessness of his Cabinet and staff, and the persistent invocation of emergency powers when no emergency exists (either the US economy is the best ever or we are in a national emergency, can’t be both) – the President has refused to abide by the laws and norms essential to making our democracy, or any democracy, work.  In many ways he has become the type of American leader our Founding Fathers tried so hard to prevent from ever occupying the White House. 

It is in this light that we must see, and ultimately challenge, the President’s use of tariffs with Mexico, China, and other nations in the world.  The way he is using them, without consulting Congress and by whimsically announcing and enacting them without public debate or deliberation, is simply outside any reasonable understanding of how our nation should be governed.  They are the actions of a tyrant, or a Mad King, not an American President.  They also, perhaps even more importantly, violate the entire theory of how the post WWII order, designed and built by the United States, was supposed to work.  Whimsical use of tariffs has been essentially outlawed or highly constrained in our global system, in ways similar to how we’ve approached chemical and nuclear weapons.  Their escalating use in the pre-war period led to world war, and leaders from around the world came together and designed a system which sought to eliminate their existence entirely.  The President’s repeated deployment of tariffs to achieve not just economic but political objectives is a clear break from the norms and laws of the modern world. 

What the President has done with his tariffs, Mexican and otherwise, is therefore both a clear betrayal of the American system of government, and of the system we designed and built for the world after WWII.  As many predicted, the tariffs are slowing global economic growth, slowing American growth, creating extraordinary tensions with our largest trading partners and most important geopolitical allies, and weakening the global system America built that has ushered in the most peaceful and prosperous period in all of human history.  Congress has a profound duty to step in now and stop this dangerous abuse of Presidential authority before more harm is done to the United States and the world.  It can begin by advancing a bicameral, bipartisan bill already introduced into Congress that is designed to reign in the President’s abuse of his tariff authorities. 

But Congress has an additional remedy it is considering now – impeachment and removal.  It is my own belief that if Congress does begin the process of removing the President, among the more persuasive arguments which will need to be made is Donald Trump’s historic abandonment of the democratic principles which have inspired the world and made America great.  Refusal to embrace those principles, flirting and encouraging autocratic whimsy rather than democratic deliberation, is perhaps the greatest crime an American President can commit, for it is a betrayal of our nation’s most important contribution to human kind – that it is the people who are sovereign, not Mad Kings and tyrants.  There is perhaps no greater rationale for the removal of a President than failure to maintain fidelity to our democratic system itself. 

For more on why Congress should be challenging the President’s tariffs see this recent series of essays from the NDN team. 

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