Democrats

A Very Good Week for Bernie Sanders; Our Creaky Democracy

The unpredictable 2016 race gave us some new twists and turns last week as Bernie Sanders won 6 of 7 contests by shockingly wide margins – 82/18, 79/20, 78/21, 73/27, 70/30, 69/31 (incl Democrats Abroad). As many of these states were small and did not award many delegates, the essential trajectory of the race hasn’t changed – Clinton still holds a commanding lead. To date she has won 56% of the delegates allocated through voting, and retains a strong lead over Sanders in most national polls. But these convincing wins give Sanders and his team a powerful rationale to soldier on through what will be a busy April: 

April 5 – Wisconsin

April 9 - Wyoming

April 19 – New York

April 26 – Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island

The nature of the April schedule is going to be very consequential to both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns. Sanders has done far better on days when fewer people were voting, using the power of his campaign/message to make significant gains (think MI on 3/8 or these last round of states) against the natural name ID advantage Clinton has wielded effectively, particularly on the two Super Tuesdays, March 1st and 15th. The first three April states are one on one contests, which have historically played to Sander’s advantage. New York, however, is a closed primary (no independents), and the Clinton brand remains awfully strong in the Big Apple. But it is the final batch of states on April 26th which may indeed be Bernie’s last stand. He has not performed well on these big Tuesdays, and if Clinton can come close to replicating her previous Super Tuesday performances it could end the race once and for all.

Alternatively, if Bernie can surprise in Wisconsin and New York, April 26th could be a day of enormous opportunity for the spirited Sanders effort.

Given Bernie’s need for name ID in these large contests in late April, it should be no surprise now that the two campaigns have now begun to squabble about the previously agreed upon April debate. Debates matter in American politics, and one should not underestimate the power of debates to help insurgents gain recognition and support. A far superior GOP debate schedule has yielded 186m viewers, and helped power a telegenic insurgent, Trump, into a commanding lead. On the Democratic side, a late and poorly designed debate approach has yielded just 66m viewers, denying the Democrats’ plucky insurgent national air time that could have made a difference for him, particularly in those Super Tuesday states where he just did not have the time or money to compete in so many states simultaneously. So watch this week for news on this new round of debate over debates, and be sure to see our report on the debate audiences so far. 

As for Trump, it is belief he is going to win the Republican nomination. I will spend more time on Trump next week, but at this point I just don’t see how Trump isn’t the GOP nominee.

Our Creaky Democracy – We’ve seen it all these last few months – no paper ballots in Iowa, preventing a recount in an historically close election; 5 hour waits for voting, and far too many people leaving lines because they couldn’t wait any more; voters denied the ability to vote due to new draconian “Voter ID” laws being implemented for the first time; and the absurdity of “caucuses,” which guarantee a very low turnout even in a Presidential campaign. We are long overdue for a big national conversation about how to update our democracy for a new century – look for more from us on this in the coming days. The US must be an exemplar for the very best election practices, and we have a lot of work to do to get there in the years ahead.

More on the 2016 Election - Be sure to review our deep dive on the 2016 map and the opportunities it offers Democrats; our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP.  

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the London-based progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.

Tuesday May Be The Last Day to Stop Clinton, Trump

Consequential Voting Tomorrow – Both parties face meaningful elections tomorrow, the second “Super” Tuesday of the 2016 race for President. 5 big states vote – Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio. The polls are close in enough states that we really don’t know what is going to happen. And after polls missed so badly last Tuesday in Michigan, it would be wise to question whether inexpensive polls of large states can accurately capture a volatile and unpredictable election every time.

Having said that, the likely outcome tomorrow is Trump and Clinton win enough delegates to keep the march to their nominations on track. The big questions tomorrow: can Sanders replicate his big Michigan win, and prevail in the Midwestern states of IL, MO and OH to offset Clinton’s likely wins in FL and NC? And can anyone defeat Trump outside of Ohio? A lot of the spin tomorrow night will depend on many states Clinton and Trump win, and whether it appears they are weathering their challenges, or being weakened by them.

As we gather tomorrow night to watch the results come in, keep two stats from Sanders’ Michigan win in mind: he won the white vote 57/42, and received 30% of the African-American vote. If he can keep those margins in the coming states, he will do well tomorrow night. If not, will be a good night for Secretary Clinton. 

Successful Insurgents - Regardless of what happens tomorrow night, we have to take a moment to reflect on the success of the three insurgent newcomers to the national political stage – Cruz, Sanders and Trump. Running for President is no easy thing, and for the three of them – with very limited national political experience – to get this far against experienced and talented opponents has been remarkable to see. To me it speaks to the power of the “system is broken” narrative each of them are carrying in their own way this election, a narrative so powerful that it is propelling these candidates far beyond where anyone believed they would go. I’ve discussed the need for Hillary Clinton to adopt a more direct narrative around this sentiment in previous columns, and have several quotes addressing the issue in Ryan Lizza’s thoughtful new piece in the New Yorker.

The loss of faith in "establishment politics" here in the US is very similar to what we are seeing in Europe today. Is it a crisis of the "West" itself: an end to 20th century politics here and in Europe?; something passing, something grave? Commentators here and in Europe should be spending more time exploring the similarities of what we are experiencing today, as indeed the challenges appear to be similar in scope and scale. A new piece by the very able Alex Seitz-Wald of MSNBC reminds us that none of the remaining 4 leading candidates for US President support the Trans-Pacific Parternship, an ominous sign for the global order indeed.  

No One Should Be Surprised By The Rise of Trump – Over the past few months, I’ve written a lot about the rise of Trump, even predicting this summer he would win the GOP nomination. I share two recent excerpts from my weekly column which help explain why no one should be surprised by the power of the Trump candidacy with Republicans:

GOP in full freak out over Trump (3/7/16) – While the GOP’s attacks on Trump escalated this past week, most notably in Mitt Romney’s high profile speech, I find these protestations a bit hard to take. Where exactly does Trump differ from the current GOP “establishment?” He is for large unfunded tax cuts which would drive up deficits and harm the economy; repealing Obama’s health care plan; a militaristic foreign policy; and for getting the 11m undocumented immigrants to leave. Even on trade, hard to argue that he is all that different right now from the Washington Republicans refusing to vote on the President’s hard fought TPP deal. The differences between the Romney and Trump approaches are far more about style and biography, and far less about their governing agenda. Donald Trump is very much a creation of modern Republican politics, and one can understand how worrisome that is to so many on the right.

But let’s be clear about one thing – if you don’t think exploitation of racial fear hasn’t been at the center of Republican politics for 50 years now, you just haven’t being paying attention. So Trump’s new found dominance in the GOP, particularly when his two remaining opponents, are, dare we say it – Hispanic! – should be no great surprise to anyone.

Strength of Reactionary Forces in GOP Not News (2/24/16) – Hard to know the exact date when reactionary forces began to truly assert themselves in the modern GOP. You could argue these sentiments were there from the beginning, congealing around Nixon’s Southern Strategy and its response to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. We could look to Bush’s “Willie Horton” ads in the 1988 Presidential campaign, which put a black man who had raped and murdered at the center of the national debate. You could point to 2005 and the emergence of the Minutemen, and the GOP House’s passing of the Sensenbrenner Bill, which called for the arrest and forced deportation of all 11m undocumented immigrants in the US. Perhaps it was in Barack Obama’s ascent to the Presidency in 2009 and the rise of the Tea Party. Or in 2015 with the forced abdication (self-deportation?) of Speaker Boehner just months after he gave the GOP their biggest House majority in 80 years. As I wrote in my long form magazine article in Letras Libres in late 2012, whatever date you cite you could see this descent of the modern GOP into a reactionary, angry mess coming for years now. What it lacked was a charismatic leader to pull it altogether from an inchoate jumble of grievances into a coherent, compelling argument and movement. Well, in 2015 that leader emerged. Donald Trump.

More on the 2016 Election - Our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; why it is time to take Trump seriously; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP.  

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the U.K. progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee. 

Heading into Super Tuesday, Trump and Clinton Remain in the Driver’s Seat

This week’s Monday Musings memo finds Trump and Clinton still in the driver’s seat, with each appearing to have a very commanding lead in their Party’s fight for the nomination.  Both are doing well in the Super Tuesday states, and while neither may win every state it is hard to see how their current path to victory gets dramatically altered tomorrow.   Let's drill down a bit: 

Democrats – The most important polling we’ve seen these last few days is in Massachusetts, where two different polls in this Sanders must-win state show Clinton ahead.  If Clinton denies Sanders in CO, MA, MN and OK tomorrow very hard to see a path for victory for him, despite what is shaping up to be a record setting fundraising month for his spirited campaign.  Clinton continues to improve and grow on the stump, becoming ever more comfortable in the language and terrain of this challenging campaign in an unsettled time. 

An issue we’ve been raising for months – the enthusiasm gap – has gotten a bit more attention this week.  See this piece from Zach Carter in the Huffington Post, and this from Rachel Maddow.  Our latest debate audience tally has the GOP now at 158m for their ten debates, and the Dems at 55m for six.  The difference remains vast, and worrisome.    

Republicans – I move on this morning to the general election for a bit of a reality check on the Trump insurgency.   Using the 2012 Obama map as a guide, it shows how challenging it will be for Mr. Trump to win.  Assuming NY, NJ/New England and all the southwestern heavily Hispanic states remain out of reach for him (and that is without Arizona, which could be in play for Dems this time), he has to take 63 electoral college votes from either the 83 in IA, MI, OH, PA, VA, WI or the 112 if Florida is in play.  Of these states if Dems hold PA and FL, they only need to win one other of the five remaining states to win.  In some of these states there are 2016 specific winds blowing the Democrats’ way: in Michigan, the Flint water scandal has weakened the Governor and his party; in Wisconsin, the incumbent Senator Ron Johnson is being routed by his opponent Russ Feingold, and Scott Walker is no longer the same strong governor after his washout Presidential bid; in Pennsylvania, the Democrats were able to reclaim the governorship in 2014 and will have their convention there; and in Virginia, one knows that the current governor, Terry McAuliffe, one of Hillary Clinton’s closest allies, will move heaven, earth and maybe more to get Hillary elected (and there may be a Virginian on the ticket).  The path for Mr. Trump is challenging indeed.

It should also come as no surprise that when the choice for Republicans narrowed these three – a nationalistic Anglo and two Hispanics with recent immigrant roots – we discovered that the Hispanic candidates had a very low ceiling and the Anglo started grabbing most of the remaining outstanding votes.   Was just too much of a leap for a party that could produce Trump to end up going for Cruz, or Rubio, who has, so closely identified with his Hispanic immigrant roots. 

Another worry for the Republicans this fall is the unusual campaign Trump has run.  As he hasn’t raised money, put folks on the ground and bought television ads, he and his team will not have had the experience of working through all this in the primaries as most campaigns do.  It means that he if begins to put on the trappings of a traditional campaign, which one will assume he will need to do against the Democrats this fall, he will be doing it all for the first time, reducing his chances of doing it well.   Perhaps he can muscle through the general as he has the primary, but the Democratic Presidential machine has won more votes than the GOP 5 of the last 6 elections, is very modern and sophisticated, and has a built in electorate college advantage.  Trump's refusal to learn and build a traditional campaign apparatus means he will have fewer tools at his disposal in what will be a tough election this fall.  

Rubio and the "children of Reagan - In a 2014 post-election memo, I discussed the significance of the rise of the "children of Reagan" to national prominence in the GOP.  Marco Rubio has started using this phrase in his campaign, and even cut an ad with it last week.  Learn more about the idea behind the phrase here.  

A note on the coming “GOP crackup”- Last week I wrote about why the rise Trump should be no great surprise.  But I want to add one more observation to what is certainly one of the bigger stories in the campaign this year. 

Looking back over the past generation of American politics, perhaps the starkest difference between the two parties is that Democrats have produced two successful Presidents, and the GOP have given us what were in essence two failed Bush presidencies (we cover this in a different memo here).   There simply is far more reason for Republican voters to be angry at their establishment, for it has been almost 30 years since GOP voters have had a leader who they could be truly proud of; and in that time, the analysis goes, the failures of the GOP allowed the Democrats to bring far too much lasting change to the nation.   It is literally astonishing that in the past year the House Republicans deposed a Speaker who had given them their largest majority in almost 80 years, and that the three remaining Republicans in the Presidential have all run explicitly against a failed GOP establishment.  The “crack up” is much bigger than Trump, and where it goes and what it means very hard to tell right now.

Frankly, the nominees of both parties this time are going to have a harder time putting it all back together again than is typical in US politics. 

More on the2016 Map - The emerging 2016 map makes the Dems choice of Philadelphia for their convention look more prescient now, while strengthening the case for Senators Cory Booker and Tim Kaine for Vice President.  On the GOP side, the map suggests a northern Rustbelt or Florida VP strategy for Mr. Trump, putting Governors Christie, Kasich and Walker at the top of the list, with Senator Rubio perhaps a bit of a long shot.   Will be talking about this more in the months ahead. 

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You can find previous columns here.   It also appears each week on the U.K. progressive site,Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign.  I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.  

Rubio and the "The Children of Reagan"

In my 2014 post-election memo, "A Wake Up Call for Democrats," I wrote about the emergence of the "children of Reagan," a powerful new generation of elected officials rising on the right. Here is the excerpt:

"the scale of Republican success in recent years outside the Presidency has altered the balance between the two parties now, and may even leave the GOP a stronger national party than the Democrats over the next decade.

By power I mean all that comes with politics – strength of candidates, bench, staff and consultant talent, fundraising capacity, use of technology and of course control over government and policy. Part of what we are witnessing is the coming to power of the children of Reagan – forty something Gen Xers who came of age during the Reagan era. This age cohort is the most Republican of any age cohort in the US, meaning there are lots of them and they have a great deal of generational support for their politics. This generation of politicians is young, gaining in experience, and will be a force to be reckoned with in national and state politics for a generation to come. To regain power Democrats will have to take on and defeat this increasingly successful and energetic generation of politicians over the next decade, perhaps starting with the Presidential race in 2016 (Christie, Cruz, Paul, Rubio, Ryan, Walker)."

I've have discussed this idea, an extension of the generational theory work NDN has been involved with for more than a decade, many times in public, on TV and most recently in this interview with conservative author Matt Lewis.   So it was a bit of a surprise to hear one of the leaders of this new generation, Senator Marco Rubio, explicitly use this term this week, and even feature it in a new ad central to this next phase of the Presidential campaign.

To be fair, in cruising around the Internet I found a 2006 book by Hans Zeiger, "Reagan's Children," which may have first introduced this concept (trust me, never heard of it!). But however this phrase worked its way all the way to Marco Rubio's team, these "children of Reagan" have begun to make their mark in US politics and are primed to do so for decades to come.

Taking Trump Seriously

2/26/16 - The Washington Post's Greg Sargent refers to this memo in his very smart new piece on Christie's endorsement of Trump today.  It is very much worth a read. 

Some hastily tossed together observations the morning after Trump’s huge win in Nevada:

Strength of Reactionary Forces in GOP Not News – Hard to know the exact date when reactionary forces began to truly assert themselves in the modern GOP. You could argue these sentiments were there from the beginning, congealing around Nixon’s Southern Strategy and its response to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. You could point to 2005 and the emergence of the Minutemen, and the GOP House’s passing of the Sensenbrenner Bill, which called for the arrest and forced deportation of all 11m undocumented immigrants in the US. Perhaps it was in Barack Obama’s ascent to the Presidency in 2009 and the rise of the Tea Party. Or in 2015 with the forced abdication (self-deportation?) of Speaker Boehner just months after he gave the GOP their biggest House majority in 80 years. As I wrote in my long form magazine article in Letras Libres in late 2012, whatever date you cite you could see this descent of the modern GOP into a reactionary, angry mess coming for years now. What it lacked was a charismatic leader to pull it altogether from an inchoate jumble of grievances into a coherent, compelling argument and movement. Well in 2015 that leader emerged. Donald Trump.

But let’s be clear about one thing – if you don’t think exploitation of racial fear hasn’t been at the center of Republican politics for 50 years now, you just haven’t being paying attention. So Trump’s new found dominance in the GOP, particularly when his two remaining opponents, are, dare we say it – Hispanic! – should be no great surprise to anyone.

The Risks of Trump - The risks for the GOP in embracing Trump are most easily found in the new voter registration numbers in California. Twenty years after Pete Wilson took on the immigrants in California, the Republican Party is on its way to minor party status. Dems hold all statewide offices in California now and large majorities in both houses. By 2020 unaffiliated voters will outnumber Republicans, and for all intents and purposes the GOP will cease to exist in California. That this could be replicated across the country is of course the GOP’s nightmare scenario.

Will McConnell and Ryan Act Before the Trump Storm Hits? Will be interesting to see if GOP Congressional leaders move on a few important priorities for them - tax reform and TPP come to mind - prior to Trump assuming total control of the party this summer.

But Can He Win The General? – It is my belief that Democrats should be more worried than they are about Trump. The Rs are putting up big numbers with their debates and with turnout in the early states, indicating their voters are very excited and engaged. Democratic turnout and debate audiences so far are off their 2008 pace, and are trailing the Rs now. While early and not predictive, these are not good signs for Democrats.  

Will be possible perhaps for the Democrats to really motivate Hispanic, African-American, women and progressive voters scared of Trump this cycle, and if Obama plays the role Bill Clinton played in 2012, perhaps Millennials too. The Hispanic opening could cause the Democrats to go all out in Arizona and even Texas, and will be interesting to see how Florida breaks given Trump’s long presence there (and that many Hispanics there are not of Mexican descent and do not immigrate to the US). But the real demographic question is whether Trump can break through in the Rustbelt states that have been so critical to recent Dem Presidential victories but which have trended significantly towards the GOP in recent years. An early sign of this comes in the new Quinnipiac poll of bellwether Ohio which finds Trump, Rubio, Cruz and Kasich all ahead of Hillary Clinton even while she holds a 15 point lead over Sanders in the Democratic Primary. My assumption is Trump will try to get a Kasich or Walker on the ticket with him, bringing on a well regarded Midwestern/Rustbelt GOP governor to double down on this regional approach, help with managing the government itself while reaching out to the more establishment parts of the GOP (who knows if any reasonable person will take the job).

The Broken System -  There are many different things going on with Trump, which is one of the reasons he is growing as he plows through the GOP primary.  Trump is no single issue candidate, and his "Make America Great Again" slogan is powerful and artfully integrated into his narrative. One strain of Trump that I think Democrats have to really come to understand better is his basic argument about he has gotten things done in the real world; that political elites are ineffective, corrupt and have left the nation down; and the system is so broken it needs an outsider "do guy" like him to come in and fix it.   Democrats should not underestimate the appeal of this argument, and it is one reason I've been so vocal about the Clinton campaign developing a more compelling narrative around how she is going to bring fundamental change to Washington.. The last three Democrats to get to the White House - Obama, Clinton and Carter - all ran against the system.  She will have to at some point too (and this does not mean distancing herself from Obama who is still in the high 40s and holding his own).  

Put me in the don’t keep underestimating Trump camp. My assumption is that he will make a very formidable candidate in the general election, and the demographic impact of his candidacy is not yet well understood. This thing could be a blowout for the Dems, and he could become the Pete Wilson of the national GOP. But sure would be a mistake to assume weakness now from him and not political acumen and strength. Could be that this time it is the Rs are who “fired up and ready to go.” For Democrats in 2016, it is far better to plan for the worst rather than hope for the best. Time to take Trump seriously. 

Apology to Sanders folks - I've written this piece as if Clinton will become the nominee.  I promise to write a new version with Sanders as the nominee after Super Tuesday if he can put up good numbers in CO, MA, MN and OK.  

My previous columns on 2016 can be found here. 

Trump and Clinton In The Driver's Seat

For this week's Monday Musings on 2016 column some initial thoughts on Saturday's contests in South Carolina and Nevada:

The Republicans – After strong wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Trump appears to be in control of the GOP race now. Yes, lots could happen, and Rubio continues to gain strength as the mainstream alternative, but Trump has emerged from this huge GOP scrum in better shape than anyone else. Compare his vote totals and shares at this point to the last two GOP nominees:

McCain '08: 251,840 (31.5% of total)

Romney '12: 294,616 (30.5% of total)

Trump '16: 385,684 (31.9% of total)

Yes, Trump has 50% more votes at this point than McCain did in 2008.

We have another GOP debate this Thursday, which will be one of the most intense yet. Everyone will be gunning for the Donald, and with fewer candidates on the stage more time will be spent on him.  It will be one of his most important tests to date.  Watch for how his opponents play his attacks on George W. Bush for not keeping us safe, an issue that I assume with continue to resonate and disrupt the GOP conversation even after Jeb's hasty departure from the race.

As for the departure of Jeb!, it was always a mystery to me how he thought he could overcome the legacy of his father and brother. Both in their own ways were failed Presidents, and certainly many Republicans saw them as unworthy successors to Ronald Reagan. Despite raising and spending extraordinary sums of money, the Bush dynasty failed to re-assert control over the GOP, for now (there is another – George P. Bush is rising in Texas and is worth watching). The epic Bush crash in some ways makes Hillary’s early success even that much more impressive, while being a reminder that unlike Bush, Clinton has been part of two successful Presidencies. 

The Democrats – Saturday was a big big day in Clinton land. The remarkable Sanders insurgency was halted, but importantly, not ended. After three early contests this long shot and eccentric campaign has earned the same number of pledged delegates as Clinton (51); received at least 47% of the vote in all three states which are also important battlegrounds in the general election; has matured in a serious national political effort capable of matching Clinton in organization and money and outperforming them in media and creativity.  So while Bernie clearly suffered a blow on Saturday, he isn’t done and will go on to the 20 states voting in early March.  But his task is much harder now, and he has little room for error in the days ahead. 

Starting with Hillary's New Hampshire concession speech and picking up over the past week, you could sense that the Clinton campaign had finally begun to rise to the Sanders challenge. After months of unmemorable media, the campaign has produced a series of powerful ads that present their candidate in a far more favorable light (my favorite). Clinton’s own television speeches and appearances have gotten far sharper and better. The campaign is aggressively deploying its many and varied surrogates, allowing them to be in more than one place at a time while reminding voters of the lack of validation and support Bernie has been able to garner (I helped develop and oversee the surrogate program in the 1992 campaign and know how historically important this has been to Clinton land). And clearly a lot went right on the ground in Nevada on Saturday (also see this terrific piece about Senator Harry Reid’s role in Clinton’s victory).

What comes next? Clearly Hillary is in the driver’s seat now. She is likely to win South Carolina and head into the 11 contests on Tuesday, March 1st with a lot of momentum and rising confidence. Bernie will have to perform well that day to stay competitive. Importantly, he has a shot in at least 5 of the 11 – Colorado, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Vermont. Look for the Clinton campaign to ride their advantage with African-American voters in the other 6 states and concentrate on knocking Bernie out in CO, MA, MN and OK. If she runs the table on March 1st the Democratic nomination could come to a rather rapid resolution.  

Not a Fan of the “Single Issue Candidate” Line – One area where I think the Clinton campaign is making a big mistake is in their labeling of Bernie a “single issue” candidate. First, it just isn’t true, and attacks that are not grounded in reality don’t usually work that well over time. Second, it is offensive to both Sanders and his passionate followers, whom Clinton will need by her side if she wins. Bernie is much more than about breaking up the big banks. And that brings me to the third – it suggests that the Clinton campaign still doesn’t really understand what is propelling his candidacy. To me what is driving Bernie, and to some degree Trump, Cruz and Rubio too, is that they represent a break from the current political establishment. There is enormous disquiet in the American people now, and Hillary simply must begin to tap into this sentiment in some way. The answer to this is in part someone who can “get things done,” but it is also someone who is willing to bring fundament change to a system everyone views as terribly broken. I’ve been writing about this for months; why Clinton hasn’t become more of a forceful advocate of the very thoughtful political reform agenda she has already proposed remains another one of the big political mysteries of 2016 for me. 

Turnout/Enthusiasm – I will have more on this in a day or so, but Republicans continue to significantly outperform Democrats in television audiences for debates and townhalls and in turnout. While this gap is not determinative, it is illustrative. Republicans are far more engaged and enthusiastic about this election right now than Democrats. And given that in two of the past three elections Democrats have had enthusiasm and turnout challenges, these numbers continue to be a cause of concern.

But they are not only a concern for the fate of the Democratic Party in th fall.   If HRC does indeed wrap up the nomination by March 1st (an early winner was goal of current Primary schedule), then more than three quarters of Democrats, including ones in very large states like California, Florida and New York, will be able to cast a meaningful vote for their nominee.   As we've written before, the current political system is both making it harder for people to participate, and offering them very few chances to cast a meaningful vote for Federal offices.  We believe this dynamic is contributing to the rising alientation from the political system many feel today, and more perniciously, begs the question whether our system can still convey the consent of the governed as our founders had hoped. 

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You can find previous columns here.   It also appears each week on the U.K. progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign.  

Monday Musings: On to Nevada and South Carolina

On to Nevada and South Carolina - The race changed quite a bit last week with Sanders and Trump scoring significant victories in New Hampshire. The unorthodox nature of the race was captured in two stats: “extremist” Trump won the vote of moderate Republicans, and “extremist” Sanders beat a Clinton in NH (a state long favorable to them) among independents by 3 to 1. Sanders and Trump continue to defy easy ideological classification, and the traditional “left-center-right” way of understanding US politics, long overstated and exaggerated, is proving to be particularly unhelpful this cycle. Discontent with the elites and the DC political class continue to be a significant – if not paramount – sentiment driving 2016 on both sides.

On the Democratic side much comes down to the Nevada Caucus this Saturday. If Sanders prevails in such a diverse state, the Dem contest could go on for some time. If Clinton prevails, given her advantage in South Carolina, it could be the beginning of the end of the spirited Sanders insurgency.  There is, however, a growing body of evidence (here, here and here) that despite the conventional wisdom, Sanders now has a larger, better funded and deeper campaign, something that could become truly significant in the early March states. It sure appears now that the Clinton campaign simply did not contemplate or plan for a competitive Sanders effort, raising over $80m for the DNC and their SuperPAC over the last few months that would not be accessed until after the nomination was settled. That so much effort was expended raising this much money not designed for use in the primary itself will be a decision long debated; but it leaves the Clinton campaign with the very unpleasant reality that they may be out-spent and out-organized over the critical month ahead (though some of Bernie's possible advantage will be mitigated by free media advantage of Clinton's powerful surrogates, including her husband and daughter, allowing them to be in more than one place a time). 

The good news for Hillary is that she is a vastly improved candidate.  In my mind she bested a tired Sanders in the debate last Thursday and in general is putting in strong performances when it really matters now.   She has also found what may be her first successful and durable attack on Sanders - that she will be far more effective at building on the Obama legacy (i will have more on both the pros and cons of this argument in a later post).   I am less convinced the "single issue" attack will work, as Sanders has been anything but a single issue candidate in the election so far.   There is a difference from having a powerful overarching narrative (rigged economy, corrupt political system) and being a single issue candidate. 

Given that over 50 percent of eligible voters will vote in the two weeks from March 1st through March 15th momentum and organizational strength really matters now. If Clinton wins both Nevada and South Carolina, she will a big advantage heading into our March Madness. If they split, given Bernie’s apparent organizational advantage, expect this period to be very competitive and potentially dangerous for the Clinton candidacy.

On the Republican side, it is a different story. Trump has once again become a powerful and capable frontrunner, and he question of whether any of the next four – Bush, Cruz, Kasich and Rubio – can emerge to go one on one is the big one on the GOP side. As long as the anti-Trump vote remains split, he remains the front runner. The sad truth for Republicans is that just isn’t clear that any of their remaining four challengers is strong or capable enough to defeat Trump. And all of these candidates are going to start having money problems soon, and may not even make it to the all important March window. The unprecedented compression of the primary season into this extraordinary March run benefits candidates like Trump and Clinton with strong name ID and money. Sanders appears to be the only other one with enough of both to seriously challenge after Nevada and South Carolina.

What’s Next – On Thursday, the Democrats have one of their television “townhalls,” this one with MSNBC and Telemundo. On Saturday, the Democrats caucus in Nevada and the Republicans have a traditional primary in South Carolina. Another big week ahead!

GOP Silliness on the Supreme Court – The Republican argument on the next Supreme Court justice boils down to “we don’t want to do it.” Isn’t any more to it than that. And of course that just is not good enough.  Yes this is a big new development in 2016.  More on this next week. 

GOP’s debates continue to outperform the Dems – We have updated our report on Presidential primary debate audiences to include the latest debates. Summary: GOP on track to 5x their 2008 debate totals, Dems will just barely top theirs. So far the R debates have generated 143 viewers, the D debates 55m. It is a large and consequential difference.

Showing Up In the Press - You can find some of my recent 2016 media appearances and quotes here, and have fun with my segments on Bernie and Hillary and Trump and the Supreme Court from yesterday's MediaBuzz show on Fox News.  

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You can find previous columns here.   Full disclosure: I will vote for Hillary Clinton in the DC Democratic primary, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign.  

After Iowa, A Different Race for President

On Wednesday, February 3rd, this version was revised, and corrected, from the original.  See note below.

Those pesky voters did their thing last night and created a brand new Presidential race in both parties. Cruz, Rubio and Sanders all outperformed expectations, and head into New Hampshire with renewed vigor. Trump disappointed, though one would assume he will do better in a primary state where organization matters a bit less (if he doesn’t collapse). Hillary Clinton retains a huge structural advantage in the Democratic race, but received a very real warning that she will need to continue to improve, grow and respond to current circumstances or face a far more serious challenge than her team has seemed prepared for (see this recent Greg Sargent piece in the Washington Post for more on this).

What happens next? As I wrote last week, we all have to more humility in our projections about this race, as it is volatile and uncertain. Conventional wisdom has Trump and Sanders winning New Hampshire next week, but we have a week of campaigning, town halls, debates and other things that could once again toss the CW of 2016 on its head. Remember that in both 1992 and 2008 New Hampshire was very very good to the Clintons, and could be again. I have no real thoughts about the race post New Hampshire at this point though my assumption is that Sanders will close the gap with Clinton nationally and in most states, and raise enough money to allow him to compete with Clinton head to head for as the election moves beyond the four state early window.

A few additional observations on the Tuesday after Iowa:

The Democratic debates – Last week the Clinton campaign advocated for a debate to be added this week in New Hampshire, the Sanders campaign agreed but only if they and the DNC could agree to three more debates. The issue of a new debate schedule remains unresolved as of this morning, and of course all debates and forums for the Democrats going forward will only be Clinton and Sanders now. For the DNC this negotiation is an opportunity to erase the impression of favoritism they have clearly showed in the debate schedule to this point; or reinforce it. The outcome of the talks could have a huge impact on 2016.

Enthusiasm – Democrats should remain worried about enthusiasm. As we’ve documented elsewhere, the GOP debates are getting far larger audiences than the Democrats. Compared to 2008, the Rs debates are generating 5 times the viewership while the Dem debates are only up twofold. Similarly, the 2016 Iowa caucuses saw a 50% increase in turnout for the Rs from 2008 (120,000 to 180,000), while the Democratic turnout number was off by 40% from 2008 (240,000 to 171,000). While these numbers are not predictive of outcomes this fall, and the two primaries are of course very different, given the enthusiasm problem Democrats have experienced in 2010 and 2014 any evidence of an enthusiasm gap in 2016 has to be worrisome to party leaders.

Young People – According to the entrance polls last night Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton by 70 points with voters under 30, 84-14.. 70 points!. Will be important to watch if this gap begins to show up with voters of color in the coming states, mitigating Clinton’s much noted early advantage with nonwhites (particularly in higher turnout primary states). I will have more on issue later, as it is emerging as perhaps the most significant demographic story to watch on the Democratic side.

Political Reform/Changing the Clinton Narrative I made the case last week that Clinton’s refusal to take up the political reform mantle has been a bit inexplicable. She can run as both an experienced hand who can make the system work better, and argue that those who know the system best are most able to change it. But the agenda she offers on reform has to be real, meaningful, biting and persuasive. My piece from last week offers some ideas on what that agenda could be but it has to start with a commitment to close the Clinton Foundation and have family members forgo all speaking fees while she is President.

David Axelrod had a great related insight last night on CNN.  Paraprhasing, he said that when you run on "experience" the campaign is all about you, not about the country, the voters, an agenda.   Bernie has made it all about us, the future, the country.   As a Clinton 1992 guy I remember, deeply, about how we made our entire campaign about his argument, about the future, about the US.  Perhaps it is time for Clinton to invert her campaign, and make her pitch about us and her compelling agenda for the future, and not so much about her and her complicated family.

Note 2/3- In the original version of this memo, I mistakenly attributed the difference between Sanders and Clinton in the Iowa Caucus to coin tosses in six precincts.  While there were coin tosses, I misunderstood what type of delegate they were awarding.  As this good piece from Media Matters explains, those six delegates awarded by the coin tosses due to the arcane system used in Iowa would have not have been enough to wipe away Hillary Clinton's 3.77 delegate lead as of yesterday afternoon.  So I stand corrected, and have removed the incorrect passage from the current draft of the memo.  

This column takes the place of my regular "Monday Musings" column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You can find previous columns here

Full disclosure: I will vote for Hillary Clinton in the DC Democratic primary, and given the maximum contribution to her campaign.  

Monday Musings: Trump Rising, Dems Battle, Thoughts on Political Reform/Dem Bench

The trend lines we discussed last week continued into this one: Trump appears to be in the process of besting Cruz in Iowa and everywhere else; and the Democratic race remained too close to call in Iowa and New Hampshire. Some observations:

Humility About What Comes Next – Given the poll mistakes/errors of recent years, the challenges with getting an accurate likely voter screen rate, lots of political volatility, rapidly changing demographics, voters having far more access to political information than before, it is important that all of us have a bit of humility about predicting outcomes this election season. I’ve tried to stick with poll aggregates and trends, which while not predictive, are instructive. Doing a deep dive on the numbers this morning it sure seems as if Trump is in a very strong position to win the GOP nomination, while the Democratic race is too close to call. If Sanders wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, I have far less faith in the Clinton “fire wall” than others. Wins in those early states along with a very strong grassroots money machine and organization could make Sanders a significant threat to Clinton as the map gets bigger. But if Hillary wins Iowa she will re-assert a degree of control over the race she doesn’t have right now.

Likewise, I am not convinced at this point that Trump ends up being a disaster for the Rs in the general. Possible, but so is a long transformation into a more conventional figure enhanced by extraordinary Trumpian media instincts and skills. Folks have been underestimating him from the get go, and it would be unwise to write him off in the fall.

Returning to the Democrats, it is also important to remember that the last three Democrats to get to the White House ran against the “establishment” and beat the conventional wisdom of their time. Democrats are just not in the coronation business. Along these lines be sure to review Greg Sargent’s recent piece which explains why the Sanders challenge is important for Clinton. What happens now with the Democrats? All comes down to strategy and execution. A great window into this final week is the new Sanders and Clinton “closing” ads. And be sure to watch the CNN “town hall” tonight at 9pm - will matter!

Clinton and Political Reform – One of the more puzzling elements of the 2016 campaign is why Hillary Clinton hasn’t run more aggressively on her very ambitious and thoughtful political reform agenda. I think there is an obvious way to turn her experience and understanding of the dark side of politics into a broader argument that it takes an insider to fix the system from the inside. She can not only run on her articulated plans, but could commit to suspending the foundation if she were to become the nominee and closing it if elected, leading a government wide effort to modernize the treatment of data and email in a new cyber age, tying Congressional pay to getting budgets done on time (no budget no pay), creating a minimum number of days Congress must be in session each cycle, etc. The reforms she could offer to change the system have to be biting, real, and bring about real change. While I think she is smart to hug Obama and offer continuity as a matter of core strategy, this is one area she should offer a sharper break with him. Trump, Sanders and Cruz all are offering some version of a radical overhaul of the system. She needs to join this chorus in her own way, recognizing that part of her argument – first women President – is unlikely to be sufficient.

Reflections on the Democratic Bench – The strong reviews Senator Cory Booker received this weekend while stumping for Hillary Clinton brought to mind the ongoing debate about the strength of the Democratic bench. My own take on this debate is that the high end of the next generation of Democrats is very strong, and can match the Ryan, Rubio, Cruz cohort – Booker, Newsom, Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Patrick Murphy, Castro, Cuomo, Kaine, O’Malley. If Democrats didn’t have such an usual election this time we may have seen many of these candidates take a run and audition on the national stage the way the Rs have done this time. Part of what is holding back this next generation of Democrats is the success of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and their larger than life allies – Gore, Hillary, Kerry, Biden, Reid, Pelosi – who occupy a space that has no equivalent on the Republican side. There is only so much space in the political universe, and the Democrats have a highly successful aging boomer cohort that is just not leaving a lot of room for the next generation. The next gen Rs – a group I call the “children of Reagan” – have no successful set of Presidents and allies to crowd their progress. So the “lack of a Democratic bench” insight is actually the result of a good problem to have, one the Rs don’t have – the presence of two living successful Democratic Presidents and Administrations (filling the Cabinet over 16 years also took many potential Senators and Governors out of electoral play). 

While this upper end of next gen Democrats can hold its own with the upper end of the Rs, the problem for the Democrats is what comes underneath this talented tier. This is where the enormous GOP advantage in the state legislatures and governor’s mansions will, over time, become an enormous structural problem for the national Democratic Party. The pipeline the Rs have now will allow them to produce far more higher and medium tier politicians capable of winning elections and exercising power. Add to this the exposure a more open party is giving to Ryan, Rubio, Cruz, Christie etc and you can imagine the Rs being able to maintain a degree of political power in Washington and in the states for a decade or more, even as the nation as a whole moves closer to the Democrats. My analogy is the Democrats have a better product but the Rs have a better management team right now. No Democrat should be optimistic about how this competition is likely to play out in the short and medium term.

Tuesday morning update - The Dem Town Hall.  I thought all three candidates performed well, continuing to show growth and improvement on the trail (why you have these things on TV).  Sanders was probably seen by the most people by going first, and did well, adding more information to people still wanting to learn more about him.   Hillary was unusually animated and effective last night too, showing her experience and facility on a wide range of issues.   I don't know if the Town Hall was seen be enough people to be a difference maker, and was hard to see how last night could have swayed people one way or the other (and Clinton did get dinged up a bit).  But Clinton and her campaign have clearly begun to rise to the serious Sanders challenge now, and are throwing everything they got into this final week in Iowa.  

"Monday Musings" is a new column looking at the national political landscape published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You can find previous columns here

Full disclosure - I will vote for Hillary Clinton in the DC Democratic primary.

Mondays Musings: With Two Weeks To Go Till Iowa, A Close Race

What a political week. 2 debates, a State of the Union, dramatic events in/with Iran. Where do things stand?

The Democrats – Polls suggest that Sanders and Clinton head into the all important February window with Iowa a tossup and Sanders slightly ahead in New Hampshire. If Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire, he will then be able to mount a very serious challenge to Secretary Clinton as he has the resources and organization to compete even as the map gets bigger.  I am not sold, like many, that the “Clinton firewall” survives losses in Iowa and New Hampshire so what happens in Iowa in two weeks is shaping up to be very consequential.

My take on the Sunday night debate was all three candidates did well, and there was no “winner.” Sanders held his own in what was a very tough debate for him. O’Malley impressed, again. But Clinton may have had the best night, strategically, as she opened up an attack on Sanders (his distance from Obama) that I think over time will be very troublesome for the Vermont Senator. Yesterday the President hit 51% approval in the Gallup daily track, his best showing since early 2013 and a very respectable number this late in his Administration. It has long been my contention that Democrats must defend the Obama Presidency in 2016, for if we cannot convince the public our team can do a good job when in the White House why elect more of us? So I think this argument will be central to both the primary and the general, and it was artfully argued by Secretary Clinton on Sunday night.

And of course hats off to the President for a terrific SOTU speech, and for what will be increasingly seen as a successful two terms in the White House.

The Republicans – They also face the prospect of an outsider candidate winning both Iowa and New Hampshire – Trump in this case. Two weeks out Iowa appears to be a tossup between him and Cruz, with Trump holding big leads everywhere else. If Trump wins Iowa sure feels it will be hard to stop him from winning the nomination at that point. There is evidence that the various attacks on Cruz – Goldman loan, eligibility, Ethanol opposition – are beginning to take their toll on him. How much so? We will find out in two weeks. Unlike the Ds, the Rs have another debate before Iowa/NH, coming on Jan 28th. This one will really matter.

Debate viewership tally so far: 6 GOP debates, 102m viewers (17m per debate), 4 Dem debates, 43m viewers, (10.75m per debate). At this rate the 12 GOP debates will be seen by about 204m viewers, the 6 Democratic debates 64m At 10.2m viewers, NBC's 4th Democratic debate was the second most watched Democratic debate, but still came in lower than any of the 6 GOP debates so far, including their two on a little watched cable network, Fox Business (updated 1/18/16).

Over the next 10 weeks the Republicans will have 6 more debates, the Democrats 2. Of those 2 Democratic debates one will be in Spanish. Despite the prospect of the Democratic race going into the late spring, the last English language debate the DNC has scheduled is on Feb 11th.

In 2008, the 17 Democratic debates which had ratings were seen by at least 75m viewers. So even though the Democratic debates this cycle have received more viewers per debate, the total viewership of the 6 debates will come in about 10m less than what the Democratic debates achieved in 2008, and only a third of what the Rs are getting this cycle with their better debate approach. Very hard to spin any of this as positive for Democrats, or "maximizing" opportunities. 

See here for more on the "debate debate."   

"Monday Musings" is a new column looking at the national political landscape published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You find previous columns here.  And yes this one came out on a Tuesday. 

Full disclosure - I will vote for Hillary Clinton in the DC Democratic primary.

Syndicate content