Swing State Pres

Thursday, March 28, 2019

BTRTN: How to Break Out from the Crowded Pack of Candidates? Find "The Most Important Thing"


Robert Mueller and William Barr’s epic buzz kill is bad enough, but the implications are terrifying: Trump’s 2020 campaign just got turbo-charged. Steve delivers a wake-up call to a field of lackluster Democratic candidates.

Suck it in and accept it: Donald Trump just ascended to the apex at the top of the summit that rises to the peak right at the pinnacle of the luckiest jerks in known world history.

The investigation that appeared to have so much evidence of collusion sitting in plain sight managed to find insufficient evidence to bring charges. After two years of work, the special prosecutor allegedly still couldn’t decide whether he should accuse nor to exonerate the President on obstruction of justice. The report many thought would bring Trump to his knees didn't even stub his toes. At least, that's all we heard from the made-to-order Attorney General, who may have forever obscured whatever the report actually said by taking all of 24 hours to dash off a radically simplified version of the findings. Barr's crib notes gave an impression of total innocence that may not be borne out if and when the actual report is issued, but by then -- weeks or months from now -- the cement will be dry. Barr enabled the White House to package the Mueller Report as a “total exoneration,” and race it out to the thermonuclear launchpad so that Trump can use it to incinerate Democratic opposition. 

It was a good week to be Donald Trump. Who knows horrific fate awaits him in his next incarnation, but for now, karma just bounces off this guy like a slow-pitch nerf ball.

We’ve always viewed it as part of our mission here at BTRTN to fortify our progressive friends as tidal waves of despair borne of this Presidency crash over their psyches.
  
Here goes. 

Yes, there is a silver lining in the Mueller report.

It is this: Democrats finally know that the only way they can get Donald Trump out of office is at the ballot box. Now they can stop wasting time dreaming about impeachment and focus on the 2020 Presidential election.

More pointedly: Democrats who assumed that Donald Trump would be so soiled by scandal and accusation that he would be very beatable in 2020 just got a monster of a wake-up call. It’s quite the opposite: Trump now has a blunt instrument that he can use to bludgeon Democrats… that he was right all along, noooooooo ko-luuuuge-shun! Witch Hunt! Fake News! Deep State! The failing New York Times is out to get me, the greatest President ever!!

Rise and shine, Democratic candidates. Donald Trump is not going to cooperate by bumbling away the presidency. You are going to have to pry it away from him, and he was just given a brand new vise. You may think the 2020 election is far, far away. But William Barr was kind enough to point out that you are going to need every waking minute to beat this president. 

And here are my two cents: most of you candidates are off to milquetoast starts.

Right now the candidate who is scoring highest on the charisma meter is a self-effacing, earnest, well-spoken 37-year-old mayor of a minor mid-western city. Who knows? Pete Buttigieg may well prove to be a latter day Jimmy Carter, storming out of nowhere to win on the promise that he will clean up the stench from an administration even more corrupt Nixon's. 

But if Buttigieg can outshine six U.S. Senators, a current and former governor, and a few members of the House on his very first whirlwind tour of the talk shows, then the other declared Democrats are not cutting it. And that, even this early in the game, is cause for concern. 

For that matter, the single most dynamic and charismatic voice in the Democratic Party right now is too young to even run for President. Go type the letters “A-L-E-X” into Google – just those four letters – and tell me who the real star of this party is right now.
 
Many of the announced candidates are already on the defensive. Me Too allegations have hurt Gillibrand and Sanders. Klobuchar is reeling from allegations of cruelty to her staff. Warren has her heritage baggage. The biggest headlines Cory Booker has generated are about Rosario Dawson. Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke are charismatic darlings and fundraising mega-stars who are being too-gently chided for lacking a clear message and policy specifics. The rest of the announced candidates are struggling to drive their brand awareness above the one percent mark. 

Sure, it’s early, but nobody is breaking through.

Which brings us back, once again, to Donald Trump. Democratic candidates could actually learn a lesson from Trump. You can loathe him, diss him, curse him, and belittle him, but if you want to know how to break out from an over-crowded field of candidates, just take a look at his playbook. He showed sixteen reasonably impressive 2016 Republican presidential contenders what a long-shot candidate must do to seize the momentum.

In 2016, Trump had a vastly superior marketing strategy than his opponents. He drew up an extremely short list of the issues that he calculated were the most important to the most Republicans. He decided to focus only on them, and to do so at a decibel level that could not be ignored. He chose immigration, the loss of manufacturing jobs, and “stupid” treaties and deals that he claimed took advantage of the United States. Then he went after those three issues with a boldness, focus, and gusto that no other candidate matched. As campaign wore on, Trump was able to find a singular theme that encompassed these three issues: “American First.This catchphrase was a unifying message that succinctly summarized his position on all three issues: immigration, trade, and jobs. He created simple, memorable lines that he repeated constantly (“We are going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it!”). He made it easy for voters to understand and remember his positions.

Sure, it was appalling to call Mexicans “rapists,” and yes, he lied as easily and as frequently as most people breathe. He childishly pasted nicknames on his opponents. No one is advocating that the Democrats emulate any of that nonsense. But finding a singular brand message that is important, differentiating, and credible to voters? Dems, do your homework. Study the playbook.

This points to the essential challenge facing the Democrats and their candidates in 2020. There is an astonishing abundance of issues that are of concern to progressives, and most of the candidates are refusing to choose or prioritize the message that will be their singular focus. The result? Their speeches feel like endless shopping lists, and are delivered with all the passion and power that a shopping list will inspire. 

And what a shopping list it is…

Health care, Citizens United, gun control, global warming, corruption in government, decaying infrastructure, immigration reform, repairing our relationships with allies, women’s reproductive rights, income and wealth inequality, LGBTQ rights, defending first amendment rights and free press, voting rights/gerrymandering, rethinking the post-Trump U.S. role in Syria, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, cyber-warfare, racial bias and conflict, societal polarization, prescription drug pricing, fixing public education, addressing biases and inequities in law enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration, gender equality, figuring out how to keep the Middle East from exploding, comprehensive tax reform, dealing with the opioid crisis, balancing the budget, reducing the national debt, job creation, revisiting international trade and security alliances, stopping North Korea from blowing up the world, and going after Donald Trump to the full degree of his legal liability.

Pick three

You heard me, Dems, pick three at the very most. 

Stop trying to be everything to anybody. If you try, you will only succeed in being nothing to everybody.

Pick your short list of the issues that you think are most important to the most people. Develop a clear plan for how you are going to address them. Develop an overarching theme and vision for why you want to be President. Yes, you must be deeply versed and have policy positions on all of these issues, but that’s so that you are fully prepped for the Q&A sessions, town halls, and press interviews. For your stump speech, you have to focus on a handful of critical issues, ideally weaving them together under a single unifying banner.

Let’s stop with the hypothetical theories and talk about concrete ways that some of the undefined Democrats could grab hold of a singular and powerful message. 

A simple idea for a Democratic candidate? Let’s toss this one to Beto. Hey, Beto: why not start every speech you make by praising of few of your competitors in the Democratic field? Talk about how impressed you are by Kamala. Tell your audience about what a great job Bernie has done to focus the party on income inequality. Take a minute to give Kristin Gillibrand kudos for work on the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. Then tell your audience that every single one of the Democrats in the field is infinitely better than Donald Trump. Infinitely

Tell your audience that if you don’t win the nomination, you vow that on the day you drop out you will immediately start to work to elect the Democratic candidate. Because you believe that beating Donald Trump is the single most important thing we must do to save our country, save our democracy, save our institutions, and save our planet. There: you’ve created a singular way to unify all of the issues under a single banner that is the “most important issue.” Plus, it plays to your brand as a good guy, a unifier, and an idealist. Give it a try.

Kamala, here's an idea for you. Perhaps you make your stand on the idea that “the single most important thing we must address is the inherent, pervasive, self-perpetuating inequity in American society.” Use that to talk about everything from wealth and income inequality to healthcare to law enforcement to the opioid epidemic to immigration to Felicity Huffman. Be it grounded in racism, gender, sexual orientation, educational opportunity, tax policy, or a drug epidemic borne of hopelessness, our country is more skewed between “haves” and “have nots” than at any time in our history. Democrats believe that the nation thrives when everyone is afforded opportunity. Republicans think that it is every person for himself. We can only be great as a nation when everyone believes that they have the fair chance to be great. Kamala, pick this singular idea and it will allow you to weave together all the programs and policies that matter to you. 

Amy, we’ll give you the role as the unifier. Your stump speech should begin with the thesis that the biggest problem facing our country is societal polarization. We are so deeply divided by extremist rhetoric that we can’t get anything done. Each new administration just tries to tear down the work, the programs, and the treaties of the prior administration. We can’t solve healthcare by starting over again every four years. We can’t appear to be two different countries to the world every four years. Global warming does not start and stop with each Presidential term. Make your stand for finding common ground, civility, horse-trading, and honest dealing. Make the government work again. 

We like the approach that is being taken by Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who is centering his entire campaign on climate change. Give him credit: he is certainly focusing completely on one issue. The concern is that he is not doing enough to show how many of the issues noted above are related to climate change. In this regard, the “Green New Deal” is better branding. 

Under the singular theme of “the Green New Deal,” AOC is able to talk about global warming, job creation, fundamentally altering our economy, and re-establishing the leadership role the United States must take on the global stage. It is hard to argue with the notion that the “single most important thing” is to save the planet. It also gives the Democrats a razor sharp contrast to the Republicans, who still deny climate science. Wonder why you can find Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with just four letters on Google? She intuitively understands branding, marketing, and communication. More than a few of the candidates are probably happy she is too young to run for President.

Cory, here’s a big one: “The single most important thing is to fix the structural problems in our government that make it no longer work to serve the people.” The argument here? Political polarization in our society has profoundly altered the functioning of our government to the point where it is unrecognizable as the collaborative, deliberative, and representative democracy envisioned by the founding fathers. 

Gerrymandering perverts equal representation and creates a Congress full of extremists who cannot compromise. The Electoral College repeatedly thwarts the will of the majority. Presidents can take the country to war without the approval of Congress, and Presidents can declare national emergencies to circumvent Congress’s budgetary appropriations role.  Senate Majority leaders can stonewall a President from filling Supreme Court vacancies. Supreme Court appointments last for a lifetime, resulting in octogenarians clinging to their seats until a new President is elected. The vast majority of Americans favor steps toward gun control but nothing ever gets done about it. The President controls the very Justice Department that occasionally must investigate him. Presidents don’t have to reveal their taxes or adhere to the emoluments clause of the Constitution. The President of the United States can pardon anyone at any time for any crime. 

Cory, here's your summary: "Citizens, our government no longer works to serve the people. We must fix the structural issues in our government so that we can ensure that all policy decisions going forward are aligned with the will of the people."

Perhaps the candidates at the top of the early polls -- Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren – don’t have the urgent need to hone their messages at this point. But to beat Trump, they will have to beat him not simply on policy, not just on experience, and not just on credentials. They will have to win the communications war, too.  

Dems, find your organizing idea. The big idea that illuminates your campaign. .Find the "single most important thing."

The idea that can pull together a broad array of seemingly disparate messages on a big progressive shopping list, and can be hammered home, over and over again. 

Beto, leaping on the counter and passionately waving your arms won’t do it if your message is a shopping list.

Kamala, you can’t jump from one issue today to another issue tomorrow and hope that your audience is adding it all up and figuring out what you stand for.

Amy, you are squandering a period in which you have little company in the centrist lane. Once Biden declares, he’s going to inhale all the Rust Belt oxygen you are counting on. Get moving!

Cory, you are a dynamic and charismatic leader. But you have to define your candidacy, or someone else will do it for you.

Pete, you are making a big impression. The analogy to Jimmy Carter is striking. What America desperately needed in 1976 was to get as far from the ugliness and corruption in Washington as possible. South Bend, Indiana may be the Plains, Georgia of our time.

The last five days have been devastating to some, alienating to many, and discouraging to the majority of Americans.

But for you, Democratic candidates, they must be galvanizing.

I believe in my heart than this country can survive one term of Donald Trump. 

I don’t know who we become if there are two. 

Those of you that have signed up for the task of saving our democracy, saving our rule of law, saving our country, and yes, saving our planet… you have got to step up your game.

Figure out what’s the most important thing. And then run with it. Yes, it will be a long, hard run.

But for the sake of our country, it must end at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 



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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

BTRTN: A Most Uncivil War... What Will Happen in America When the Mueller Report Drops?

As the nation awaits Robert Mueller’s judgment, Steve wonders what societal mayhem may follow.

There’s been a pattern over the course of the Mueller investigation: indictments come down on Fridays, often after regular business hours.

There has also been the widely-aired conjecture that Robert Mueller will time his final report to coincide with his final indictments. The reasoning? Those indictments may be the final straws, accusing Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner of significant crimes. Mueller is shrewd enough to know that if he indicts family members, Trump will go even more bonkers than this past weekend’s twitter fusillade and demand the firing of the special counsel. So Mueller, the theory has it, will time his final indictments to land only after the final report has already been forwarded to the Department of Justice.

The best story going around of all? That Mueller did not want to file his final report last Friday, because it was the Ides of March. Only this time Marc Antony actually does intend to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

So maybe, just maybe, this will be the week. Friday, March 22, 2019. Friday Night Lights Out. The Friday Night Massacre.  Or maybe it is Friday, March 29. Who knows. But soon. Possibly. Maybe. Probably...

All I know is that I’ve got Fridays on my mind.

Oh, sure… all that technically happens at first is that Mueller sends his report to the Department of Justice, where the Attorney General will decide its fate and redact passages for national security reasons. But when the U.S. House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution on March 14 by a vote of 420 to 0 demanding public disclosure of the report, it suddenly seemed more likely that the report will be released.

If you thought that the pace of breaking news was already at a fever pitch – Dems in droves announcing their candidacy for the presidency in 2020, government shut-downs, emergency declarations of non-emergencies, more mass murders in tiny, peaceful countries -- then strap in and pull down the oxygen mask. Our country is about to fly into a category five shit storm and let’s just pray that we are not on a 737 Max.

Today we look boldly into the future – maybe all of a couple of days  – and imagine just how large the headline type is going to be on The New York Times when Mueller's final report explodes all over our national consciousness. 

As Donald Trump was bleating hasty re-tweets over the weekend, you get the sense that the President is well past nervous on his journey to panic. He has to be imagining matching indictments for the boys, and the Nixonian “unindicted co-conspirator” for Dad.

Obstruction of justice? Yeah, it’s a fair bet that Mueller’s going to pin that tail on the big ass. The evidence in plain sight is damning, and we have to figure that Mueller knows ten times what we know. Collusion? It is hard to come up for another word for the Trump Tower meeting.

But did the Big Mafia Donald know about any of it? Were his lackeys acting under his directiton? Can Mueller prove it? If so, there is a very real chance that Mueller will file charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States by collaborating with a hostile foreign power against a couple of guys named Donald Trump… Junior gets his in public, and POTUS as an unindicted co-conspirator. 

In just days, Robert Mueller could effectively charge the President of the United States as a participant in crimes that sound one heckuva lot like – gulp! – treason.

Boy, oh, boy. Can you imagine? The frothy explosion of righteous vindication among leftists? The millions – billions – of emails, texts, and phone calls in which that annoying uncle is told in no uncertain terms: “SEE? DO YOU SEE, UNCLE FRED? I WAS RIGHT!” The screams for immediate impeachment?

Ah, but then again, maybe not

Does the investigation die inches from the goal line, its oxygen cut off by blood loyalty, the absence of a taping system or an email trail, and the dangling of pardons to those who serve the code of omerta?

Maybe Robert Mueller decides that he’s got nothing he can take into a court. Having failed to flip Manafort, Mueller could well decide that any testimony about collusion provided by Gates would be viewed as uncorroborated gas from a guy looking to avoid prison. Maybe Mueller decides – with incredibly irony, as it would be identical to Comey about Hillary – that there was a great deal of sloppy behavior, ignorance, arrogance, and deceptiveness – but that no charges can be filed against the President or his family.

It is entirely possible that Mueller renders an opinion that makes the whole thing look like it was a witch hunt, after all. And those Congressional committees carpet bombing Washington with fresh subpoenas? Talk about killing their mojo. If Mueller concludes that he cannot find a crime, then America may decide that prolonging the agony in Congressional oversight committees actually is a witch hunt. Democrats will slink away, terrified of damaging their hopes for the White House if they are perceived to be persecuting Trump with a form of double jeopardy in Congress while the still-active investigations in the Southern District of New York linger on.

The bottom line: Donald Trump, proclaiming to be wholly vindicated, walks free with a fresh head of steam going into 2020.

Does Mueller open Door #1 or Door #2? Treason Trump or Free Trump?

In other words, which half of America is going to explode in anger?

Because no matter what Mueller decides, somewhere between 30% to 50% of the United States is likely to be rip-roaring pissed off.

Light the match, Mr. Mueller. Then pick which bone-dry pile of kindling you are going to toss it on.
  
It seems that everyone is so intently focused on the arrival of the Mueller report that not enough thought is being given to what actually happens after it arrives. 

Whatever goes down, it is likely to trigger protest. Real protest. Maybe even massive protest, the likes that this country has not seen in decades.

If Trump is spared from criminal charges, perhaps the protest will be relatively orderly marches on Washington and Trump Tower. But don’t kid yourself: the left is plenty capable of screaming, outrage, contempt, and angry, bitter assertions that a corrupt President stole an election and got away with it. The left will interpret such a finding not to be saying that the president is innocent... merely that Mueller was unable to establish iron-clad proof of guilt. The left will seethe as Donald Trump pompously and erroneously claims that he has been wholly vindicated.

The other outcome, however, seems both more likely and more scary. If Trump and/or his family is accused of crime by Mueller, Trump’s base is now well programed to believe that their guy is getting screwed by the Deep State, the patrician Washington establishment, the elites, and the fake news media. The Trump population is likely to feel the rage.  Hard to predict the form that might take, but – turbocharged by Fox and perhaps by the President himself – a dark and ominous force may well be unleashed.

Protesters alone – however vehement – are not a problem. The problems will emerge when counter-protesters assemble… some to gloat, some to deride, and some simply to lance two years of pent-up anxiety, disgust, and antipathy toward the other side. 

Protesters and counter-protestors are tinder looking for a match. Perhaps we should expect angry clashes. But in the fire this time, the confrontations are instantly viral on a zillion iPhones, sparks on gasoline all across the country. What could rapidly ensue: a most uncivil war with no geographic boundaries, only sectarian regions with prevailing influences. We become our own private Iraq, with the potential for violence to explode in communities around the nation. It is not a war of Red States and Blue States. It is Red people and Blue people sharing restaurants, bars, and stadiums, overhearing conversations, feeling cheated, and looking for trouble.

Who is thinking about all that?

Who will be urging calm? Who is going to diffuse the rage?

We sure know who is supposed to be considering all that. Once upon a time, great leaders stepped into times of great turmoil to soothe boiling tempers and outrage. Think of Robert Kennedy’s perfectly-pitched extemporaneous expression of grief and hope in Indianapolis the night that Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. And to be appropriately bi-partisan on this point, George W. Bush was at his very best in the days following the 9/11 attacks, whether speaking with a bullhorn to firefighters at Ground Zero, or making a point of visiting the Islamic Center of Washington to send a clear message that the United States did not hold Muslims or Islam responsible for the acts of terrorists. 

No, it does not appear that the current President of the United States is making– or apparently planning – calming words to the nation about allowing the legal process to work through to completion.

Quite the opposite: he appears to be getting his troops ready to rumble. 

Not enough attention was paid to this quote from Trump, made on Saturday in an interview with Breitbart:

“You know, the left plays a tougher game. It’s very funny. I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don’t play it tougher. O.K.? I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

Say what, Mr. President? Are you actually stoking the cops, the army, and a bunch of motorcycle thugs to spring into “very bad” action at a “certain point?” And does the Mueller report qualify as a "certain point?"

Should we be surprised? Violence is a recurring leitmotif in Donald Trump’s ongoing efforts to arouse his base. Video clips of his stadium shows are filled with his lusty shouts to deal with protestors with violence ("I'd like to punch him in the face!”... "Knock the crap out of him, would you? I promise you, I will pay your legal fees!") Who can forget Trump’s August 9, 2016 campaign rally, when he seemed to blatantly invite gun owners to take matters into their own hands if Hillary Clinton was elected President: “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks… Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”

Trump has long been signaling to his base, giving permission to consider violent action if they believe that dear leader has been wronged.  

Yes, we are idling at the end of a runway, waiting for clearance from the tower, knowing that there is a low cloud ceiling and only the certainty of sustained and potentially terrifying turbulence from the moment of lift-off.

Friends, you might want to find a quiet corner and take some time for a bit of soul-searching. 

How will you respond if Robert Mueller tells you that there are insufficient grounds to bring criminal charges against Donald Trump and his family?

Will you be enraged? Will you vent your anger on Facebook? At Trump Tower?  Will you attempt to discredit the investigation?

Will you say that there must have been a bias? A fix? A political motive?

Will you call it phony, and reject its conclusions?

Will you, in other words, behave functionally identically to how you expect Trump and his base to react if Mueller reaches the opposite conclusion?

Sure, take your time. You can say that you won’t know how you will react until you actually see the specific conclusions Mueller reaches. 

But think very carefully. If we are to live in a democracy that is centered on the rule of law, we must pledge our allegiance to that ideal by respecting Mueller’s conclusions rather than protesting them. 

We cannot allow any pre-determined certainty that we are right cause us to attack Mueller and accuse him of being wrong.

When your ends start to justify your means, that means you're near the end... of your ideals, your aspirations, and your values. 

Let’s take a moment now and listen to the voice of our better angels. 

Then, buckle your seat belt.



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Saturday, March 16, 2019

BTRTN 2020 Vision: Biden and Bernie Set the Pace in the Polls, and Define the Ideological Spectrum

Tom with our BTRTN monthly feature on the 2020 Elections, with all the latest numbers.

The 2020 Democratic presidential field is nearing its final form, awaiting the all-but-certain entry of Joe Biden to join a group that now numbers 15.  Another candidate or two may surface, but those persons will enter on the fringe; all the big names have announced except for Biden.  Said another way, it is highly likely that the eventual nominee will be either Biden or one of the announced candidates, and whoever that person is, at this very early stage of the proceedings, he or she is the odds-on favorite to be the next President of the United States.

Image result for 2020 visionNo new Republicans have ventured into the field to challenge Donald Trump in the last month, thus leaving former Massachusetts Governor William Weld as Trump’s only GOP opponent at this point.  But others could become emboldened by a blazing Mueller report, or a sharp (and unlikely) downturn in Trump’s approval rating within the GOP. 


THE FIELD

The Democratic field was clarified in a busy month that saw the entry of Senator Bernie Sanders, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, and most recently, Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke, as well announcements by a number of potential candidates that they had decided to pass, including Michael Bloomberg, Sherrod Brown, and Jeff Merkley.

The four newest entrants joined eleven others who entered the race in January and early February: Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kristen Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker,  Representatives Tulsi Gabbard and John Delaney, former HUD secretary Julian Castro, Mayor (of South Bend, Indiana) Pete Buttigeig, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, and New Age lecturer Marianne Williamson.

Who else could enter?  Perhaps Montana Governor Steve Bullock, former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, Ohio Congressman Steve Ryan, and even one or two others.  But the rationale for low visibility players to make a go of it lessens everyday – what unique story can they tell, or positioning can they find, in this bloated field?

The GOP side has far more time flexibility for the few others that might challenge Trump, a group that includes Mitt Romney, former Ohio governor John Kasich, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake.  But with Weld in the race to rough up Trump a bit, they might all take a pass.

And Starbucks mogul Howard Schultz should decide soon on his threatened independent run.


THE NUMBERS

The Democratic race is in three tiers now, with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in the top group, well ahead of the field.  They are followed by tier two, largely comprised of the senators in the race, Harris, Warren, Booker and Klobuchar, plus Beto O’Rourke.  The last group is made up of those mired in the “asterisk” zone, that is, barely registering at all in the polls at this point.  Senator Gillibrand is in this group, along with the governors, reps and the non-politicians.

This three-group tiering is true both nationally and in Iowa.  It is conventional to say that Biden and Sanders are being carried mostly by name recognition, but time is running out for that statement to really hold.  For one thing, that may make sense nationally, but these candidates (with the exception of Beto) have been crisscrossing Iowa for some time now, and have made their launch blitzes, to little effect.  It may be early, but Biden has yet to launch, which could give him a bump.  Those second tier candidates have to start some upward movement at some point.

Tiers
Candidates*
Average of Naional Polls

Iowa Polls
Tiers
Jan 1-15
Jan 16 - Feb 15
Feb 16 - Mar 15

DM Reg Dec 10-13, 2018
Emers. Jan 31 - Feb 2
DM Reg Mar 3-6
Tier 1
Biden
28
29
29

32
29
27
Tier 1
Sanders
15
17
23

19
15
25
Tier 2
Harris
4
11
11

5
18
7
Tier 2
Warren
6
7
7

8
11
9
O'Rourke
8
7
6

11
6
5
Booker
2
4
5

4
4
3
Klobuchar
2
2
4

3
3
3
Tier 3
Castro
1
1
1

1
2
1
Tier 3
Gillibrand
1
1
1

0
1
0
Hickenlooper
0
1
1

0
0
0
Gabbard
1
1
1

0
0
0
Buttigeig
0
0
0

0
0
0
Inslee
0
0
0

0
0
1
Delaney
0
0
0

0
0
0
Williamson
0
0
0

0
0
0
Yang
0
1
0

0
0
0

Other/NA
33
18
11

17
11
19

* Chart excludes all non-announced candidates except Joe Biden


Apart from their extremely high national profiles, Biden from his VP years and Bernie for his 2016 run, the two represent the competing ideologies dominating Democratic debate.  Biden is the trusted centrist, the moderate, the let’s-reclaim-the-Midwest, win-over-the-independents, get-back-to-Obama older wing of the party.  Bernie, despite his age, is the darling of the young progressives, the voice of the future, of the AOC acolytes, the big, bold ideas, the get-our-base-excited wing.  Biden and Bernie are fighting for the soul of the party, and until one of the younger crowd figures out how to muscle into that conversation, those two may simply duke it out through June of 2020.  And they have been, with a few notable exceptions, mighty timid about defining themselves along the ideological spectrum.

Sanders certainly got a nice bump from his launch, both nationally and in Iowa, enough to pull within shouting distance of Biden.  Elizabeth Warren is in the mix in the second tier, but Bernie dominates her space as of now, despite the fact that she has been in the public eye for quite some time.  The other second tier candidates are all trying to define themselves, or deal with their weaknesses.  Klobuchar, in particular, is having difficulty shedding the “tough boss” story, with the indelible image of her eating salad with a comb trailing her every move.  (A staffer had failed to provide plastic utensils, and got reamed out for it, with the comb being the substitute, which the aide was forced to wash after the salad was consumed.)

Booker is trying to run a positive campaign in these horrendously negative times, and each of Harris, Booker and O’Rourke are resisting specifics and labels.  The anti-labeling frenzy reached a new low when Hickenlooper, a businessperson-turned-politician, in a launch interview with Joe Scarborough, refused to say he was a capitalist not once, but three times, looking sillier each time.  This simply may not be the race to try to be all things to all people, when the Democrats are thrashing out what their party stands for – and frontrunners Biden and Bernie are the pillars of the polar positions on the spectrum.

Among the second and third tier candidates, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigeig are perhaps making the most concerted effort to develop defining ideas.  Warren brought up the notion of breaking up the big tech monoliths, and Buttigeig has been talking up a “court packing” proposal, that is, adding justices to the Supreme Court to regain a liberal majority.  There is no faint-heartedness in these views.

Gillibrand is perhaps on the thinnest ice right now.  Her failure to launch effectively was already an issue; she then ran into an epic snafu in her own Senate office’s handling of a sexual assault charge. Gillibrand was, of course, a central player in the #MeToo movement, the first to call for Al Franken’s resignation, and the loudest voice for reform to clean up in the halls of Congress.  Essentially, her signature issue, already a bit of a burden with Franken backlash, blew up on her.

But Beto is the new kid on the block, and his entry, along with the any-day-now Biden announcement, could shake up a race that has not moved much since it began to take shape.


WHO CAN BEAT TRUMP? 


For some Democrats, there is only one important criterion in their nominee choice:  who has the best chance of beating Trump?   The most recent national poll, by Emerson, almost a month ago, is fascinating, in that Biden, not surprisingly, is the leader at +10 head-to-head versus Trump – but Bernie is not #2.  Sanders, in fact, barely top Trump, by +2, within the margin of error.  One can only conclude that Trump’s strategy to portray the Dems as a bunch of “socialists” is a wise one, and Bernie’s self-description as a “Democratic socialist” is not helping him at all.

Emerson 2/16/2019
Dem
Trump
Margin
Biden
55
45
10
Warren
53
47
6
O'Rourke
53
47
6
Booker
47
42
5
Harris
52
48
4
Sanders
51
49
2
Booker
51
49
2
Klobuchar
51
49
2

And for those of you wondering about Howard Schultz’s possible impact on the race, should he run as an independent, these two charts provide some crude guidance.  Schultz pulls more or less equally from Biden and Trump, perhaps a shade more from Biden – but Schultz destroys Kamala Harris, turning her +4 head-to-head lead over Trump into a -2 with Schultz in the race.  Schultz’ sources fully 9 of his 12 points from Harris, and only 3 from Trump.  The Dems are wise to fear a Schultz entry.

Emerson 2/16/2019
Biden
Trump
Schultz
w/o Schuttz
55
45
n/a
w/ Schultz
51
42
7
HS Impact
-4
-3

Emerson 2/16/2019
Harris
Trump
Schultz
w/o Schuttz
52
48
n/a
w/ Schultz
43
45
12
HS Impact
-9
-3


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