Swing State Pres

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

BTRTN: Suburban Snapshot...One Republican's Reason for Backing Trump Spells Trouble -- for Trump


Steve had a chance opportunity to have a prolonged, civil, wide-ranging conversation about politics, social issues, and the economy with a Trump supporter. Wow. 

The death of dialog: just one more example of the societal carnage caused by our radically polarized politics.

Sure, few hosts or hostesses in the history of suburbia ever wanted to see guests square off in a heated political debate in the middle of a pleasant summer cocktail party. But then again, we did not used to recoil in terror that a chance conversation with a casual acquaintance at the gym might suddenly reveal political biases that would turn the encounter radioactive. Somehow we are all just happier never going near the topic of whether that nice young couple down at the club are Trump supporters.

As recently as 2012, a spirited discussion of Presidential politics was a fair way to pass time when the Jets were losing by three touchdowns. I have a memory of one such conversation, which concluded with my comment that “hey, if Mitt Romney is elected President, it’s not the end of the world. He’s a smart guy, a sharp businessman, and a decent human being who has integrity. I’m not going to jump out a window if he wins.”

I miss such conversations, in large part because I ache to understand why so many people who voted for Trump plan on doing so again in 2020. 

I had a few conversations with Republicans right after Trump was elected. People were more than forthcoming then, owning their vote by declaring that Trump was simply the less bad of two lousy options. They would explain that they were willing to take a bet that Trump would rise to the task. But now, two and a half years into an administration that is soaked to the bone in corruption, criminality, deceit, race baiting, misogyny, xenophobia, assault on our Constitution, and scientific ignorance, I ache to understand. Why again? Now that you know all that you know, why?

Finally last week, I had one such conversation. Not just an uncomfortable five-minute exchange before an awkward segue to safer topics. A real conversation: a candid, forthcoming exchange of perspectives on a wide range of topics that lasted two hours.

It was remarkable. Eye-opening, to be sure. Concerning, in many regards. And a cautionary tale -- for Donald Trump, that is. 

It was a conversation with the exact cohort of Republican that I find to be very troubling… the citizens in pleasant and affluent suburban towns that breathe and thrive off the a bustling business metropolis a train ride away.

For the past two and a half years, I have noted the deafening silence of the majority in such well-to-do communities. These are not the people who seethe with angry victimhood about losing the family breadwinner’s manufacturing job to China or Mexico.  These are not people who dismiss climate science, particularly as they pay tutors to help their children ace AP Bio, gilding applications to top-notch colleges. These are not people who would stand silent if a local town official ogled, spoke crudely about, or molested their daughters. These are neither religious extremists who care only about trashing Roe v. Wade, nor are they gun fanatics who care only about the NRA’s interpretation of the Second Amendment. They are most certainly not the undereducated people who are entertained and manipulated by a charlatan who lies at the pace of a Gatling gun. These people are far, far more likely to be found at an Ivy League reunion than a Trump rally.

Back in the days when the likes of Jeb Bush and John McCain roamed the political savannah, people described an underlying bifurcation in the Republican Party between the “Tea Party” extremists and “Rockefeller” or “centrist” Republicans. It is believed that the latter disappeared from the face of the earth shortly after a meteor crashed into the Yucatán Peninsula.
  
A more accurate characterization of the schism in the Republican Party is the rift between economic Republicans and Tea Party Republicans. The reason this is a more useful distinction is because the term “centrist” implies a certain degree of reasonableness, open-mindedness, and willingness to compromise to achieve common objectives. That’s the problem with this term, and the reason “centrists” appear to have disappeared: there is no compromise in today’s Republican Party. We know the emotional intensity of the single issue voters on abortion, second amendment issues, and xenophobic anti-immigration measures. The question is not whether certain Republicans are willing to compromise, it is only on what issue any given Republican is uncompromising about.

And, in these discussions, we often overlook what may be the most consequential and influential Republican voting bloc: the upscale economic Republicans.

That’s who I spoke with last week when I finally had the rare opportunity to engage in a civil, respectful, sustained, and animated-though-never-angry conversation with a woman who had voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and “would do so again if the Democrats nominate one of those progressives.” Hardly a shock: this attractive, sporty, fifty-something mom was a resident of a town in which 68% of voters who have registered as a member of a political party are Republicans. I found myself in her company when a friend of mine was passing through town, and invited the only two people she knew in these parts to join her for drinks.

I cannot quite reconstruct how the superficial chit-chat at the start of cocktail hour suddenly and completely morphed into a full-blown conversation about politics, but my new companion for cocktails was not shy. She told us she voted for Trump in 2016, but  intimated that she might consider voting for Joe Biden 2020. However, she was bothered by how Biden performed poorly in the debates, and worried that he was too old, and perhaps no longer mentally up to the job. She did not mention any other Democratic candidate that she was considering, leaving us to infer that just about every other Democratic candidate was "too progressive" for her.

For the next two hours, I swam in the petri dish I had long sought: the opportunity to engage in a polite, respectful, measured, probing, wide-ranging conversation that would shed light on why a bright, educated, successful, charming, and pleasant middle-aged person would continue to support Donald Trump in spite of, well, everything.

Now, let’s acknowledge: I had a decidedly unfair advantage in this conversation. Somebody who spends a good part of a decade writing blog essays about politics certainly should be expected to have a firmer grasp of issues and details than a person who is not engaged in that type of activity.

Still and all, I must confess to having been startled by the degree to which our companion for cocktails was uninformed or misinformed about the major issues of our day. Repeatedly in our conversation, she would make casual comments about the actions and intentions of the Trump administration, only to be startled and thrown off when presented with a thoroughly-supported rebuttal.

She was unaware of the power Mitch McConnell yields in refusing to allow legislation to even reach the Senate floor. Unaware that McConnell has and will block any and all gun legislation. She seemed to believe that Donald Trump sincerely wanted to do something to fix our immigration crisis, and yet she was unaware of actual bipartisan legislation that Donald Trump appeared ready to endorse until Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham intimidated him into retreat. She felt quite certain that Donald Trump was not a racist. When presented with an array of examples – from “shithole countries” to Charlottesville to chants of “send them back” and points between, she clutched her hands to her chest in a gesture of earnestness, and declared that she “just felt that Trump was not a racist,” and that he only “wants the best for everyone.”

As I noted in my caveat, she was at a disadvantage, as there were a number of times when I would remind her of an event, a quote, an incident, and I would see a flicker of recognition and a glimmer of acknowledgement.

Yet nothing in my arsenal of, oh, let’s call it reality -- factual input, reminders about specific events, and detailed explanations of incidents – appeared to sway the impassive certainty of her faith in Trump. Indeed, she readily conceded that Trump says many awful things, but she waved much of it off with a dismissive “that’s just who he is” gesture intended to convey that it should not be taken so seriously or literally. The old “that’s just Donald Trump being Donald Trump” defense is fair when applied to four year-olds, for whom lack of impulse control is a reasonable explanation. It doesn't work for adults.

The third party in our conversation -- my friend who had originally invited us for drinks -- is a feisty, spirited liberal, and at one point she jumped in, challenging her Republican friend to defend her support of Trump on what she viewed to be the most fundamental issue of all. “Ok, fine… forget everything else. I just want to hear how you can support this man given his position on the most important issue of our time. How,” she asked, “can you support a man who is ignoring the science of climate change? How can you stand by and let him imperil the lives of our grandchildren?” 

At this point, my new Republican friend leaned in to her liberal chum. “Susie, I hear you on that.” This was pretty much all we got, leaving us to infer that the proper functioning of her aural faculties might somehow limit greenhouse gases. Out here in the polite ‘burbs, the phrase “I hear you” appears to mean, “I don’t have an answer to that, so I’m going to freeze until we introduce a new topic.”

As the conversation continued, it appeared that her infirm grip on the social policy issues of the Trump presidency -- and her efforts to minimize or excuse his handling of each – could have all been simply because these issues were not what truly mattered to her. Perhaps she consciously or even unconsciously feigned a certain degree of ignorance because that enabled her to distance herself from accepting responsibility for horrific policies like separating children from their parents. Perhaps she simply had to proclaim a belief that Trump was not a racist so that she could justify continuing to support him. Perhaps she had to turn a blind eye to a litany of social policies in order to focus clearly on the one issue that mattered to her.

The mood shifted when the discussion turned to the economy. Suddenly, she became more animated in her defense of Trump. She was convinced that Donald Trump’s stewardship of the economy was infinitely better than what would occur with any of the progressive Democratic candidates. 

She was so certain, in fact, that she was essentially admitting to being a single issue candidate on the issue of the economy. Her statement that “if one of those progressives gets nominated, I will probably vote for Trump,” was specifically targeted at the economic proposals of those candidates: healthcare, tax policy, and -- in her view -- the intent of turning the United States into a more “socialist” state. The larger point was clear: the issue of the economy was where she centered her defense and advocacy of Trump.
 
However, the discussion of Trump’s economic policies would not prove to be robust as I would have wished. A major reason for her confidence in Trump’s economic policy was the very strong position on this topic taken by her partner, a man with considerable expertise in a highly specialized area in the financial markets. Fine, I suppose, for her to defer to what she believed was her husband's greater expertise in this area, but disappointing to not be able to debate this -- her most important reason for continuing to support Trump -- in substantive detail.

Sure, nobody wants a weak economy. The real issues are how to keep the economy strong, and how to ensure that a strong economy is a rising tide that raises all boats. What I did not hear in this conversation is advocacy that Donald Trump's economic policies were designed to benefit all citizens. I did not hear an argument that Trump had a coherent, comprehensive approach to managing the economy that was smart, fair to all, and sound in the long term. All I heard were deep concerns about Democrats who are too "progressive" on economic issues, and who advocated policies that would change course from the Trump administration. The implication was clear: this economic Republican did not want to see any policy changes, be it in taxation, regulatory policy, or trade.
For an hour and a half, our friend pleasantly bobbed and weaved to evade or excuse some of the loathsome social policies of the Trump administration, never having allowed any of it to dislodge her grip on the only issue that mattered.  On so many of the social issues, she was less passionate. She tended to overlook, explain away, dismiss, forget, or diminish the significance of the actual words, deeds, and intent of the Trump administration. What we heard about climate, race, and immigration was so just so much white noise relative to what mattered more. On the economic issues, she was passionate and certain. She is a single-issue voter. 

Perhaps the entire two hour conversation provides some context for the fact that Donald Trump's approval rating never budges from its fixed position in the low forties. No matter what affront to our sensibilities is in the daily headlines, Republicans will find a way to ignore it, minimize it, rationalize it, and move past it... as long as Trump is delivering what matters most to them personally. This statement applies across a broad swath of Republican voters... the economic Republicans, as well as the people whose entire world view is funneled through the a single issue, be it Roe v. Wade, the Second Amendment, or immigration.

I need to pause in this assessment and praise our conversation companion on one vitally important point: that she engaged in the conversation at all, and stayed with it for nearly two hours. At the top of this article, I bemoaned the death of dialog, as we all have experienced the discomfort of a direct encounter with an emotionally turbo-charged opposing political view. Sometimes we take the debate head on and lead with our anger. Sometimes we simply cut off a conversation before it has a chance to do damage. More often we duck and cover to avoid it entirely. But my companion for cocktails stayed in this dialog and we actually did exchange perspectives. We did not agree, but we did not disrespect each other. Maybe we both even learned something. I sure did.

At the end of the conversation, I made a point of thanking this woman sincerely, perhaps even a bit profusely. I explained to her how much I have wanted to have a sustained, respectful conversation with someone who supported Donald Trump and is considering doing so again.

It would be folly to extrapolate that all or even most of the suburban Republicans who continue to support Donald Trump have the same perspective as our sporty friend. But we can say this: if even a small chunk of Donald Trump’s base thinks the way this person does, it is actually very bad news for Donald Trump.
 
Because the lady we spoke with was essentially saying to Donald Trump that as long as the economy is good for her, she’s good with Donald Trump. 

That is a very different dynamic than what governs the Christian right’s allegiance to Trump. All Donald Trump needs to do for the Christian Right is never change his position on abortion, and their support is rock-solid. Ditto the gun enthusiasts. As long as Trump never changes his position on the Second Amendment, this cohort will be glued to him.

But Donald Trump is not able to promise that the economy will always be strong. 

Indeed, the recent inverted yield curve no doubt sent shock waves rippling through the pleasant cul-de-sacs in wealthy suburban towns that ring major cities. News that the national debt is ballooning is evidence that yet another round of "trickle down" tax cuts for the rich failed to trickle. And in recent days, Trump's screeching, impulsive, and wildly careening proclamations on tariffs must have disciplined, cautious economic Republicans guzzling Dramamine for motion sickness.

Suddenly, those economic Republicans – the Republicans who believe in math, science, and inverted yield curves – may be feeling sucker-punched with the realization that Donald Trump’s erratic economic policies are contributing to global economic destabilization and triggering a downturn.

If the economy tanks, and Donald Trump cannot fix it, his support among the “single issue” Republican voters who care only about the economy will suddenly be in play. 

Today, well-to-do Republicans may simply view Trump the way Putin does: as a “useful idiot” who delivers sloppy wet kisses to the one percent in the form of tax policy. But if Trump screws up this economy, he will no longer will be viewed as “useful,” but merely as an idiot. As Trump continues to issue erratic and unsound tariff policies via tweet that knock huge chunks off the Dow like ice sheets breaking off glaciers in his beloved Greenland, it is not hard to imagine sotto voce conversations among the masters of the universe on Wall Street wondering whether the idiot is not only no longer useful, but downright dangerous. 

My companion in our political conversation may suddenly start to hear that Donald Trump is damaging our economy. That he is doing nothing to fix the problems he has caused, and probably does not know how.  That his crazy trade war with China is what is triggering stock market decline. Suburban Republicans may not get as angry as I would wish about Trump's racism, misogyny, xenophobia,  divisiveness, cruelty, and his attempts to undermine our rule of law… but knock back their net worth by twenty percent, and watch what happens then.

Were the economy to deteriorate to such a degree, some economic Republicans might consider voting for a Democrat in 2020.  

More likely: they would look for a different Republican.

Sure, Trump has a seemingly unmovable 90% approval rating among Republicans. But knock 25% off the DJIA, and you may finally see real erosion in that approval rating.

There are already a number of Republicans who are lining up to primary Trump. So far, these are not threatening candidacies.  Bill Weld? May as well be a Democrat. Former Illinois U.S. House Representative Joe Walsh? Hardly a known brand. Mark Sanford? Heavily damaged goods…but, interestingly, he is not basing his challenge to Trump on social issues.  He is going 100% on the idea that Trump has abandoned traditional Republican dogma about taxation, deficits, and government spending.

None of Weld, Walsh, or Sanford have current positions that would be jeopardized by opposing Trump. All are indulging in a flyer with little to lose.

But a sudden downturn in the economy could cause other Republicans to ruminate. Call it the “Inverted Weld Curve.” If the "inverted yield curve" predicts a recession, the "inverted Weld curve" is when a souring of the economy predicts the entry of primary challengers to an incumbent President. 

That’s exactly what happened to Jimmy Carter in 1980.

It is exactly what happened to George H.W. Bush in 1992. 

They were – not coincidentally -- the only elected Presidents voted out of office after one term in the past eighty years. They lost not only because of the perception that they were managing the economy poorly, but because they were both badly bruised by the internecine attacks from formidable primary challengers in their own party... Ted Kennedy and Pat Buchanan.

What if a serious, well-known Republican who was not terrified of the wrath of Trump’s supporters decided to make a run at it, purely on the grounds of being better qualified to manage an economy in crisis?

A Republican who is not running for re-election to the House or Senate in 2020?  

A Republican with broad-based name awareness, and a world-class pedigree in the financial markets?

A Republican who is a smart person, a sharp businessman, and a decent human being with high integrity?

A Republican who does not force "economic Republicans" to suck it in and defend the embarrassment of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia? 

That’s right. What if the Dow had lost a full 25% by November and was sinking daily, and even the economists on Fox News had to acknowledge that the ugly bloodbath could be traced to stupid trade wars with China, a failure to invest in middle class jobs (an infrastructure program, or smart tax policy to encourage growth in renewable energy) and a tax cut for the rich and corporations that did nothing to stimulate growth, but only added billions to the national debt?

When Trump’s approval rating loses the upscale economic Republicans, how far does it drop?

Enough for, say, Mitt Romney or John Kasich to tell their party that it is time to cut bait with an albatross whose candidacy will cause the party to lose not only the White House, but perhaps the Senate as well?

Who knows? Perhaps, then, economic Republicans will finally start complaining about what a racist Trump is. Maybe then they will condemn his treatment of women. Possibly they will express outrage at his racist tropes and vent about his cruelty on our southern border. Maybe they will, if only so people won’t think that the only reason they are abandoning Trump is because they only thing they really care about is protecting their wealth. 

But when they turn on Trump, he will hear it. And it won't be just so much white noise.





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Monday, August 19, 2019

BTRTN 2020 Vision: Are We Headed Toward a Biden-Warren Showdown?

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

THE LEAD

The main headlines from the 2020 presidential campaign in the last month, since mid-July, are as follows:
Image result for 2020 vision
·        Joe Biden remains at the head of the field, nationally and in each of the four “early” states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina), and his support levels have stabilized.  Elizabeth Warren continued her upward progress and pulled even with Bernie Sanders, while the momentum of Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg stalled.  None of the remaining candidates surged into the “top tier” and one, John Hickenlooper, exited.

·        The second round of Democratic debates largely involved sharp attacks on frontrunner Biden.  The former VP was hardly a dynamo in his responses, but he did punch back aggressively, and the polls were utterly unchanged pre- to post-debate.

·        The Dayton and El Paso shootings thrust gun control to the top of the national agenda, and provided an opportunity for Beto O’Rourke, who is from El Paso, to re-boot his flagging campaign.

·       The economic slowdown in a number of global markets, the inverted yield curve, and the China trade talk stalemate all signaled difficult economic times ahead, a huge threat to the primary rationale for a Trump reelection.


THE FIELD

This past month marked the first time the Democratic field has actually contracted.  John Hickenlooper dropped out, narrowing the field, if one may use that term with a straight face, from 24 to 23 candidates.  Hickenlooper’s candidacy never took off, despite his excellent record as Mayor of Denver and Governor of Colorado.  There are 18 other candidates in the field whose candidacies have also not “taken off” and their polling numbers remain in the 2% or less range.  But they persist, trudging on through Iowa’s 99 counties, one after another.  One wonders when the trickle of departures (Eric Swalwell and Hickenlooper so far) will become a flood.  There is simply no rationale at this point for most of these candidacies; the pretenders have been on the stump for months now and have ample evidence that they are simply not connecting.

At the end of this article we have reprised our chart of the entire field, which still looks like an eye chart, with the candidates ranked by the standing in the national polls for the last month, from mid-July to mid-August. If you want to amuse yourself, take a second to write down the names of as many candidates as you can think of and see how close you come to naming the entire field.


THE MONTH

The last month was dominated by the July 30/31 debates, the second round that featured 20 of the candidates.  Steve Bullock replacing the departed Eric Swalwell on the stage, joining the 19 holdovers.  This was the “Joe Versus the Volcano” debate, as Joe Biden took incoming from, it seemed, almost every other candidate, each hoping to replicate the “Kamala Bump” from the first debate, to drive their own fortunes and knock Uncle Joe down closer to the pack.   

But Biden, while hardly compelling, was at least combative, and seemingly satisfied his supporters.  And his contenders clearly overreached by attacking Biden for his Vice Presidential record, which was tantamount to attacking the revered Barack Obama.  This is truly an insane approach for any Democrat, and the also-rans were heavily criticized for it.  Biden has enough baggage from his Senate years to pick apart, and it makes no sense to trash the popular former president, whose landmark presidency was generally successful in terms of economic recovery, diplomatic initiatives, and social progress.

When all was said and done, the second round of debates had absolutely no impact on the race, which was a sure win for Biden.

On the GOP side, former Governor Mark Sanford of North Carolina made some noise about joining former Massachusetts Governor William Weld in officially challenging Trump for the nomination, but neither candidacy has been or will be taken seriously by the RNC and result in a face-to-face debate.  That type of challenge can only be mounted by a Mitt Romney or a John Kasich, and neither has uttered a peep, though both have been occasionally critical of Trump.

The national and international news continued to shape the campaign dynamics.  The El Paso and Dayton shootings in back-to-back days resulted in enough carnage to propel gun violence to the front page.  This is a weak issue for Trump and the GOP, and with each shooting their go-to messaging on mental health sounds even more off key.  With Congress out of session, Mitch McConnell was able to defer discussion on potential legislation until September, time enough to see if the issue loses steam.  McConnell and Trump both paid lip service to consideration of universal background checks, which has almost universal appeal among Americans of any party.  Whether this goes any further remains to be seen; you can be sure Trump will want something in return.

Beto O’Rourke seized the spotlight in the aftermath of the El Paso tragedy, in his hometown, and he skewered Trump and the GOP in no uncertain terms (and those terms included some choice expletives).  Whether O’Rourke can translate this platform into renewed momentum for his flagging campaign remains to be seen, but his rage provided the best moments of what has so far been a desultory run.

Trump’s campaign communications strategy may rest on his race-baiting and fear-mongering, and his efforts to make "The Squad" the face of the “socialist” Dems, but the backbone rationale for his reelection is his stewardship of the economy.  The U.S. economy's olid economic performance may owe little to Trump (or be in spite of his volatility-inducing policies), but the record is undeniable.  

Having said that, the drumbeat of a potential recession has never rung louder thus far in his presidency, with that pesky inverted yield curve that has foreshadowed a recession each of the last five times the nasty shape has occurred.

Nothing short of a Trump-triggered war would damage his campaign more than an ill-timed economic downturn, and the next year will be crucial.  Just check the history of George H.W. Bush, who carried an 89% approval rating in 1991 in the wake of the successful first Gulf War (per Gallup) only to see a flagging economy drive that number to 43% by November, 1992, and to defeat in his reelection campaign, to Bill Clinton.


THE NUMBERS

Nationally, Biden has fallen back to his pre-launch levels, but he has stabilized at the 30% preference level for the last two months.  Elizabeth Warren continues her steady rise and is now even with Bernie Sanders in second place.  Kamala Harris failed to build on her first debate triumph, and Pete Buttigieg is holding at best.  No one else is making a dent.

Average of National Polls
Candidates
Jan 16 - Feb 15
Feb 16 - Mar 15
Mar 16 - Apr 15
Apr 16 - May 15
May 15 - Jun 15
Jun 16-  Jul 15
Jul 16-  Aug 15
Biden
29
29
31
37
34
30
30
Sanders
17
23
23
18
17
16
16
Warren
7
7
6
8
10
13
15
Harris
11
11
9
8
7
11
10
Buttigieg
0
0
3
7
7
6
5
O'Rourke
7
6
8
5
4
3
3
Booker
4
5
4
3
2
2
2
Yang
1
0
1
1
1
1
2
Klobuchar
2
4
2
2
1
1
1
Gabbard
1
1
1
1
0
1
1
Castro
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
Delaney
0
0
1
0
0
0
1
Bullock
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
1
1
Williamson
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
Steyer
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
1
DeBlasio
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
0
1
Bennet
n/a
n/a
n/a
1
1
0
0
Gillibrand
1
1
1
1
1
1
0
Inslee
0
0
1
1
0
0
0
Ryan
n/a
n/a
n/a
1
0
0
0
Messam
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
0
0
0
Moulton
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
0
0
0
Other/NA
20
13
10
9
16
14
9

At this stage, however, the most important polls (and there are far fewer of them) are in Iowa and, to a lesser extent, the other early states.  In Iowa, there has been roughly one major poll each month, which makes trends and conclusions harder to draw.  Biden’s support is lower in Iowa than nationally, which is almost certainly due to the tiny African-American population in the state; that segment of the Democratic Party is extremely loyal to Biden; while he is 30% nationally, he is ~50% among blacks. 

But Biden still leads in Iowa, and he has the support of roughly a quarter of the electorate, and that figure has been stable.  Warren appears to be climbing in Iowa as well, while Bernie Sanders is all over the map, and generally trending down.  Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg are well off their high polling marks here and, again, no one else is making any kind of impact.

Iowa Polls
Candidates
Mar 16 - Apr 15 (2 polls)
DM Reg/CNN Jun 2-5
CBS/YG     May 31-Jun 12
USA/Suff Jun 28 -  Jul 1
CBS      7/9-18
Monmouth 8/1-4
Biden
26
24
30
24
24
28
Warren
9
15
12
13
17
19
Harris
10
7
5
16
16
11
Sanders
20
16
22
9
19
9
Buttigieg
11
14
11
6
7
8
Klobuchar
2
2
4
2
4
3
Steyer
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
2
3
Yang
0
1
0
1
0
2
Gillibrand
0
0
0
0
1
2
Booker
6
1
3
2
3
1
Gabbard
0
1
1
1
0
1
Delaney
0
1
2
1
1
1
O'Rourke
5
2
4
1
0
0
Castro
1
1
0
1
2
0
Bennet
n/a
1
0
1
0
0
Bullock
n/a
0
0
0
0
0
Inslee
1
1
1
0
0
0
Hickenlooper
0
0
0
0
0
0
Williamson
0
0
0
0
0
0
Ryan
n/a
0
0
0
0
0
Messam
n/a
0
0
0
0
0
Moulton
n/a
0
0
0
0
0
DeBlasio
n/a
0
0
0
0
0

After Iowa’s caucus next February will come New Hampshire’s primary, Nevada’s caucus and the South Carolina primary – and then Super Tuesday, now with California.  Biden leads in all of these states, ahead of both Sanders and Warren in their backyards in New Hampshire, leading Sanders in Nevada, and crushing all comers in South Carolina.

Average of NH Polls
Nevada Polls
Average of S. Carolina Polls
Candidates
Apr/  May/ Jun
Jul/  Aug
Candidates
Candidates
May/  Jun
Jul/  Aug
Biden
26
22
Biden
36
29
Biden
43
37
Sanders
19
17
Sanders
13
23
Sanders
14
14
Warren
9
16
Warren
19
12
Harris
9
12
Harris
6
11
Harris
6
11
Warren
11
11
Buttigieg
11
9
Buttigieg
7
6
Buttigieg
8
4
Gabbard
1
2
O'Rourke
2
3
Booker
4
3
Yang
1
2
Yang
2
3
Steyer
n/a
1
Steyer
n/a
2
Booker
2
3
O'Rourke
3
1
Klobuchar
2
2
Castro
1
2
Delaney
0
1
O'Rourke
4
1
Klobuchar
1
1
Klobuchar
1
1
Booker
3
1
Steyer
n/a
1
Yang
2
1
Castro
0
1
Gabbard
0
1
Gillibrand
1
1
Ryan
0
1


WHERE MIGHT THIS RACE GO?

The last two times a large group of candidates faced off for a major party nomination followed startlingly different results.  In 2012, a field of eight vied for the GOP nomination, in a topsy-turvy process that saw many contenders lead the field (Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum) before Mitt Romney finally secured the nomination.  In 2016, on the other hand, Donald Trump led almost wire-to-wire in taming a field of 16 GOP contenders.

Which kind of race will the Democrats emulate? 

Thus far, this race is similar to both in that the early frontrunner, Joe Biden, is the establishment darling, much like Romney in 2012 and Jeb Bush in 2016.  Both of them faltered, but Romney recovered after the various flavors of the month were tasted and discarded, while Bush was gone for good after Trump took control.   

But from there?  It is way too early to forecast an outcome.  But we will offer some sense of the future purely based on intuition, which could, of course, be completely wrong.  This race seems poised to follow a different pattern than either 2012 with its flavors or 2016 with Trump dominating.  We could instead be very well be headed – ultimately -- for a one-on-one showdown between Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, a classic confrontation between the centrist and progressive wings of the party, more like Hillary versus Bernie in 2016. The key assumptions that inform that intuition are:

·        Biden seems to have solid support in the centrist wing of the party and there is no clear centrist alternative.  While hardly an ideal candidate, Biden has a core 30% support level that has survived his slow-footedness during the debates and gaffes on the campaign trial.  There is much to like about Biden:  his centrist positioning; his deep experience; his authenticity and likeability; and his standing versus Trump, whom he routinely trounces in head-to-head polls.  And Biden faces no strong rival in the centrist lane; the only ones who truly embrace this “lane” are a rather boring group of white men from the West, who show no sign of rising.  Biden has the look of a survivor.  And even if he falters a bit in lily white Iowa and/or New Hampshire, his firewall is South Carolina, with its heavy African-American presence, the core group supporting Biden.

·        Warren seeming to be cruising by Sanders in the battle for the progressive wing in the party.  Warren has displayed the full trifecta: she has been a superb debater, has inspired on the campaign trail, and is a policy wonk’s wonk with her “I have a plan for that” positioning.  She has caught up to Bernie in the polls and shows no sign of slowing up, while every day Bernie looks more like yesterday’s news.  Bernie may have brought the progressive agenda to the fore in 2016, but Warren has the beef that gives it substance.

·        No one else will emerge.  Both Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, the other two top tier contenders, are showing signs of being a bit past their peak.  While each earned an early pop – Pete in getting on the map at all, the only unknown to break through, and Kamala with her first debate TKO of Biden – neither has continued their ascent and each has even fallen back just a bit.  None of the rest of the field have popped even once.  Only three of the other candidates appear to be capable of a jump:  O’Rourke given the visibility he received from the El Paso shootings; Tom Steyer as a new candidate with his unlimited resources; and Andrew Yang, who generates interest with his non-political background and “$1,000 a month minimum guaranteed income” platform.

IS THERE AN ALTERNATIVE?

Many Dems are disappointed with this field, or even view it with alarm.  These Democrats believe that each top tier candidate has an obvious flaw (or two):  Biden is viewed by some as too old, past his prime, and/or too out of touch to inspire massive turnout; Warren and Sanders are seen as too progressive; Harris, a black woman, and Buttigieg, a gay man who is only 37, are feared to be too different.   If Biden cannot survive the marathon, then none of the others are viewed as acceptable to swing voters in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, and other electoral paths that they might navigate (through Florida, North Carolina and Arizona, for example) are unproven and risky.

Are the Democrats willing to play out this hand and go with the winner, or is there a pining for another candidate to emerge and truly electrify the field?  If this same dynamic is still in place in December – or if Biden fades – will some old Dem hands begin to make some frantic calls?

There are four, and only four, potential candidates would could enter the race as late as December and immediately become a factor.  Four candidates with the visibility and stature to offer a different, credible option.
Can you name them?  Think about it, and then read on.

Here they are:

·        Hillary Clinton.  You think it could never happen?  Guess again.  Can’t you just see Hillary and Bill hopscotching through the Midwest, yes, even Wisconsin this time, to rescue the Dems from certain defeat?  I’m sure there is a detailed strategy sitting in John Podesta’s top drawer right now, and a copy has been hand-delivered (not emailed, though) to Chappaqua.

·        Michelle Obama.  Ah, the ultimate silver bullet!   Michelle Obama is, hands down, the most popular American alive, the epitome of dignity, graciousness, warmth – the best of us personified.  If Michelle ever decided to run, the Dems would hand over the nomination in a heartbeat.  Might she ride in at the eleventh hour?  All signals point to “no way: and she would personally rip up any memo outlining such a plan – but might appeals to her based on the fate of her country change her mind?

·        Oprah Winfrey.  What more needs to be said?  Oprah has more charisma than the entire Democratic field, and if business moxie is a qualifier, who has more?  And she has the big bucks to fund a run.

·        Michael Bloomberg.  It’s always been hard to envision Mike chowing down corn dogs in Iowa, or slogging from Keeme to Dixville Notch and back in January, just like any other candidate.  But if he strode on the stage alone in December, as a white knight, that we could see.  And who better to straighten out the Democrats than the ultimate fixer, a man who exudes competence and post-partisan gravitas?  Plus he too can bankroll his whole run.

These scenarios seem wildly unlikely, but these are desperate times, and Democrats are a notoriously skittish bunch.  If the Democrats never fall in love with anyone, and remain unconvinced that the top tier candidates can win, who knows what could happen.

WHO CAN BEAT TRUMP?

Democrats have indicated in polling that they are more likely to back the candidate they think is most likely to beat Trump, rather than the one that best matches their own views, by roughly a two-to-one margin.  And thus the head-to-head polls of leading Democrats versus Trump bear a close watch.


And Joe Biden remains a clear winner here, and Bernie Sanders as well.  Warren and Harris afre reasonably well, and differ in the order of magnitude in comparing the two polls.  Pete Buttigieg was included in only one of the two polls and trailed Trump.


Survey USA
FOX News
Trump Versus:
Aug 1-5
Aug 13-15
Biden
Biden + 8
Biden + 12
Sanders
Sanders + 8
Sanders + 9
Warren
Warren + 2
Warren + 7
Harris
Harris + 1
Harris + 6
Buttigieg
Trump + 2
n/a



****************************

As promised, here is the entire Democratic field as of today.

Candidates
Age
Announcement  Date
Credentials
Latest national polls (Jul 16 to Aug 15)
Joe Biden
76
4/25/2019
Ex-VP and Ex-Senator, Delaware
30%
Bernie Sanders
77
2/19/2019
Senator, Vermont
16%
Elizabeth Warren
69
12/31/2018
Senator, Massachusetts
15%
Kamala Harris
54
1/18/2019
Senator, California
10%
Pete Buttigieg
36
1/22/2019
Mayor, South Bend, Indiana
5%
Beto O'Rourke
46
3/14/2019
Ex-Representative, Texas
3%
Cory Booker
49
2/1/2019
Senator, New Jersey
2%
Andrew Yang
43
11/6/2017
Entrepreneur
2%
Amy Klobuchar
58
2/10/2019
Senator, Minnesota
1%
Julian Castro
44
1/10/2019
Ex-Secretary, HUD
1%
Tulsi Gabbard
37
1/11/2019
Representative, Hawaii
1%
Steve Bullock
52
5/14/2019
Governor, Montana
1%
John Delaney
55
7/28/2017
Representative, Maryland
1%
Marianne Williamson
66
1/28/2019
Self-help author
1%
Bill de Blasio
58
5/14/2019
Mayor, New York City
1%
Tom Steyer
62
7/9/2019
Billionaire hedge fund manager
1%
Kirsten Gillibrand
51
1/15/2019
Senator, New York
0%
Michael Bennet
54
5/2/2019
Senator, Colorado
0%
Jay Inslee
67
3/1/2019
Governor, Washington
0%
Tim Ryan
45
4/4/2019
Representative, Ohio
0%
Wayne Messam
44
3/28/2019
Mayor, Miramar, Florida
0%
Seth Moulton
40
4/22/2019
Representative, Massachusetts
0%
Joe Sestak
67
6/23/2019
Ex-Representative, Pennsylvania
0%

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