Be warned about two things addressed in this post. First, there are serious concerns that we are fielding a slate of candidates that are too left of center to beat Trump. However, there are ways to achieve top-level progressive goals and still remain competitive. Second, there is a real possibility, maybe even a non-zero probability, that Donald Trump will be reelected in 2020. The successful Democratic campaign will need to learn from what was not done in 2016 to secure those electorally wobbly states.
(1) What is needed to beat Trump
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman asks ‘Trump’s Going to Get Re-elected, Isn’t He?’ and answers: Voters have reason to worry. (h/t Sherry Moreau)
I’m struck at how many people have come up to me recently and said, “Trump’s going to get re-elected, isn’t he?” And in each case, when I drilled down to ask why, I bumped into the Democratic presidential debates in June. I think a lot of Americans were shocked by some of the things they heard there. I was.
I was shocked that so many candidates in the party whose nominee I was planning to support want to get rid of the private health insurance covering some 250 million Americans and have “Medicare for all” instead. I think we should strengthen Obamacare and eventually add a public option.
[Scriber: the progressive goal here is to achieve universal health coverage. The public option is a method. So is “Medicare for all.” Stay flexible out there.]
I was shocked that so many were ready to decriminalize illegal entry into our country. I think people should have to ring the doorbell before they enter my house or my country.
I was shocked at all those hands raised in support of providing comprehensive health coverage to undocumented immigrants. I think promises we’ve made to our fellow Americans should take priority, like to veterans in need of better health care.
And I was shocked by how feeble was front-runner Joe Biden’s response to the attack from Kamala Harris — and to the more extreme ideas promoted by those to his left.
So, I wasn’t surprised to hear so many people expressing fear that the racist, divisive, climate-change-denying, woman-abusing jerk who is our president was going to get re-elected, and was even seeing his poll numbers rise.
Dear Democrats: This is not complicated! Just nominate a decent, sane person, one committed to reunifying the country and creating more good jobs, a person who can gain the support of the independents, moderate Republicans and suburban women who abandoned Donald Trump in the midterms and thus swung the House of Representatives to the Democrats and could do the same for the presidency. And that candidate can win!
But please, spare me the revolution! It can wait. Win the presidency, hold the House and narrow the spread in the Senate, and a lot of good things still can be accomplished. “No,” you say, “the left wants a revolution now!” O.K., I’ll give the left a revolution now: four more years of Donald Trump.
If the fear of that doesn’t motivate the Democratic Party’s base, then shame on those people. Not all elections are equal. Some elections are a vote for great changes — like the Great Society. Others are a vote to save the country. This election is the latter.
That doesn’t mean a Democratic candidate should stand for nothing, just keep it simple: Focus on building national unity and good jobs.
I say national unity because many Americans are terrified and troubled by how bitterly divided, and therefore paralyzed, the country has become. There is an opening for a unifier.
And I say good jobs because when the wealth of the top 1 percent equals that of the bottom 90 percent, we do have to redivide the pie. I favor raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans to subsidize universal pre-K education and to reduce the burden of student loans. Let’s give kids a head start and college grads a fresh start.
The winning message is to double down on redividing the pie in ways that give everyone an opportunity for a slice while also growing the pie sustainably.
Trump is growing the pie by cannibalizing the future. He is creating a growth spurt by building up enormous financial and carbon debts that our kids will pay for.
Democrats should focus on how we create sustainable wealth and good jobs, which is the American public-private partnership model: Government enriches the soil and entrepreneurs grow the companies.
So there you have it - an outline for how to beat Trump, remaining true to progressive goals and staying flexible on how to do it.
But throughout my reading of and presentation of Friedman’s centrist pleas, I experienced a nagging sense of guilt. Something didn’t set quite right. You may have noticed the source of my discontent - a glaring error in Friedman’s thinking: “moderate Republicans”. Only four in the House were critical of Trump’s racism. No GOP senators were directly critical. Friedman’s call requires congressmen and congresswomen to exhibit good character and take on Trump. But, unfortunately, the GOP has become the cult of Trump.
(2) The electoral college is worrisome.
No, it’s worse. Nate Cohn reports that Trump’s Electoral College Edge Could Grow in 2020, Rewarding Polarizing Campaign for the New York Times’ “Upshot”. Re-election looks plausible even with a bigger loss in the national popular vote. In the email preview, the Times said “Our analysis of polls and election results suggests that President Trump’s Electoral College advantage may be even larger than it was in 2016.” (h/t Sherry Moreau)
Here is the introduction.
President Trump’s approval ratings are under water in national polls. His position for re-election, on the other hand, might not be quite so bleak.
His advantage in the Electoral College, relative to the national popular vote, may be even larger than it was in 2016, according to an Upshot analysis of election results and polling data.
That persistent edge leaves him closer to re-election than one would think based on national polls, and it might blunt any electoral cost of actions like his recent tweets attacking four minority congresswomen.
For now, the mostly white working-class Rust Belt states, decisive in the 2016 election, remain at the center of the electoral map, based on our estimates. The Democrats have few obviously promising alternative paths to win without these battleground states. The president’s approval ratings remain higher in the Sun Belt battlegrounds than in the Rust Belt, despite Democratic hopes of a breakthrough.
The president’s views on immigration and trade play relatively well in the Northern battlegrounds, including among the pivotal Obama-Trump voters.
There are signs that some of these voters have soured on his presidency, based on recent polling. There is also reason to think that white working-class voters who supported Mr. Trump were relatively likely to stay home in last November’s midterm elections.
A strategy rooted in racial polarization could at once energize parts of the president’s base and rebuild support among wavering white working-class voters. Many of these voters backed Mr. Trump in the first place in part because of his views on hot-button issues, including on immigration and race.
Here’s a sample of the kind of data Cohn cited. The data show that “Obama-Trump Voters a Lot Like Trump on Immigration” suggesting that those 2016 voters who swung for Trump will likely do it again in 2020.
Those voters who said immigration issue of “very high importance”: Trump=73%, Clinton=24%, and Obama-Trump=58%.
Those voters who support deporting undocumented immigrants: Trump=71%, Clinton=20%, Obama-Trump=65%.
Those voters who support banning Muslim immigration: Trump=46%, Clinton=5%, Obama-Trump=40%.
So, for each issue Obama-Trump voters are more like Trump voters than like Clinton voters.
… Mr. Trump’s approval rating has been stable even after seemingly big missteps. And if it improves by a modest amount — not unusual for incumbents with a strong economy — he could have a distinct chance to win re-election while losing the popular vote by more than he did in 2016, when he lost it by 2.1 percentage points.
The president’s relative advantage in the Electoral College could grow even further in a high-turnout election, which could pad Democratic margins nationwide while doing little to help them in the Northern battleground states.
It is even possible that Mr. Trump could win while losing the national vote by as much as five percentage points.
There’s lots more analysis, some state-by-state, in Cohn’s report. For example, in 2016 Wisconsin was the tipping-point state. From Wikipedia: (In United States presidential elections, the tipping-point state is the closest state that gives the winning candidate 270 or more electoral votes, thereby securing their victory in the Electoral College, when all states are arranged in order of their vote margin. The concept was first popularized by FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver.)
In this kind of high-turnout [70%] presidential election, by our estimates, the tipping-point state would drift to the right as people who voted in 2016 but not in 2018 return to the electorate and nudge states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin toward the president. At the same time, the Sun Belt would drift left. Arizona could overtake Wisconsin as the tipping-point state. But even in this hypothetical high-turnout election, the president’s approval rating in Arizona would be higher than it was in 2018 in Wisconsin. It becomes harder for the Democrats to win the presidency.
… the campaign season has barely begun. The election could wind up being a simple referendum on the president, and his approval ratings suggest he could lose, perhaps even decisively. But his relative advantage in the Electoral College could ensure his political survival.