Sunday, April 14, 2019

How the Primaries Align With Candidates

Given the giant field of Democratic candidates, the idea of guessing which will emerge seems like a mug's game, but a lot is evident when you look at the primary calendar. Because Super Tuesday is so stacked, because Iowa and NH are so white, I suspect the effect of the first four contests will have far less predictive powers than in past years. There are 155 delegates at stake in those four, and 1237 at stake on March third’s Super Tuesday.

The second feature is that the Super Tuesday states are disproportionately high-minority states. Of the ten states up for grabs, six have nonwhite populations over 30%—and in the south, that means the Democratic electorates we overwhelmingly nonwhite. (South Carolina is the only state for which I could find demographics on Dems specifically, but it’s instructive. The Black population in S.C. is 27%, but the percentage of Black Dem primary voters is 60%.) 
The final thing to note is that the primary process allots proportionate amounts of delegates to candidates who reach a 15% threshold in each contest. That's a big detail. Because of the huge field, a lot of candidates will fail to reach the delegate threshold, and could bump along through a few states earning no delegates at all. Meanwhile, it's possible other candidates will clear the threshold in many states while winning few, positioning themselves to survive into the post-Super Tuesday scrum.

Here are some of the details. (Analysis to follow.)

Iowa (41 delegates): Borders MN. Total pop is 91% white
NH (24): Borders VT and MA. Total pop is 94% white. 
Nevada (36): Borders CA. Total pop is 29% Latino, 10% Black 
South Carolina (54): Dem electorate is 60% Black (37% Black women)

Alabama (52): Total pop 27% Black, 4% Latino
California (416): Kamala Harris’ home state.  Total pop 39% Latino, 15% Asian, 7% Black
Georgia (105): Total pop 32% Black, 10% Latino
Massachusetts (91): Elizabeth Warren’s home state. Latino 12%, Black 9%, Asian 7%
North Carolina (110): 22% Black, 10% Latino
Oklahoma (37): Elizabeth Warren’s birth state. 11% Latino, 8% Black
Tennessee (64): 17% Black, 6% Latino
Texas (228): Beto O’Rourke’s home state. 39% Latino, 13% Black, 5% Asian
Vermont (16): Bernie Sanders’ home state. 93% white
Virginia (99): 20% Black, 10% Latino, 7% Asian 

How might all this play out? Let’s look at the candidates and see where they are looking to pick up states.

Kamala. The calendar sets up extremely well for Harris. She’s going to try to win SC, make noise in neighboring state NV, and then take as much of the south as she can. She could easily win half these states, including her home state of CA and have a massive delegate lead over whomever comes in #2. She will be battling Cory Booker for these same states, and the contest could break for either one of them, might split the Black vote and allow other candidates to sweep in, or could deliver a knockout blow for one candidate. Kamala currently seems stronger.

Bernie. Now the front-runner, which should help in close races. However, the states don't set up well for him. He should make a good showing in Iowa, will likely win NH (though Warren has a shot), will win VT. His only other possible pickup I see is OK, where the Dem electorate is surprising liberal. Bernie’s path is complicated by Warren’s candidacy and vice-versa. His plan is to get wins in the first two states, play well in NV, and hope the momentum will allow him to outperform on Super Tuesday and possibly pick up states where Booker and Harris split the Black vote.

Warren. Her path looks much like Bernie’s. She’ll try to compete in Iowa, will try to win NH outright, and will carry MA. She should also carry her birth state of OK. NV might be a decent long shot reach. Warren has underperformed in polling and fundraising, but she remains the most poised and polished candidate aside from Sanders, and is building her campaign for the long haul.

Booker. Booker’s plan mirrors Harris’, and his plan is to pick off some of the South. It will probably all come down to S.C. for him, because he doesn’t have a giant home state like she does as padding. If he loses S.C. to Kamala, it will bode badly in the other southern states. If he wins there, he could complicate things for Harris and give him an opening to crack open the contest.

Beto. His candidacy rests on inning Iowa or performing well there, making noise in NV, and then trying to compete in the South among moderate Dems, grabbing Oklahoma and of course winning his home state of TX.

Biden. I’m not really taking his candidacy that seriously. He’s running as the great white hope in a calendar where the whiter states are mostly home states of other candidates. Even before the #metoo problems, his plusses seemed far outweighed by minuses. I'm not taking his polling numbers seriously, because they're as high in SC as they are nationally--but by the time we get to SC, the Obama halo will be long, long gone. He could win Iowa but I don’t even like his chances there, with Klobuchar and Buttigieg more interesting candidates to Hawkeyes. If he runs, Joe is going to flame out just as he has the two previous runs. He's just bad at this.

Buttigieg. Hard to know how seriously to take Buttigieg. He's got a lot of competition on the win-Iowa strategy, but also has one of the best chances to do so. His campaign has a Jimmy Carter feel about it, and it's possible to see him catching fire and completely scrambling the calculus--but he could also wash out almost immediately. If he demonstrates a capacity to win whites and millennials, that could be attractive in the South. His whole plan is to win Iowa and kindle a fire from there. He has real political talent, and I'm not underestimating him.

Klobuchar. Win Iowa and hope for the best. I don’t really see a path here. She’s running as a moderate in a year when no one is interested in that. Perhaps she imagines she the moderates in each state will exceed the total of the liberal votes when dispersed across many candidates—that’s really her only shot. 

Gillibrand. I don’t see a path here, either. She’s going all-in on the female vote, but I don’t see how that translates to winning states. I suppose she hopes to survive Super Tuesday with a delegate count that suggests strength even in the absence of winning states, but that seems like a fool’s errand. She was an early favorite of mine, but her campaign is crashing fast.

Castro. Win NV and TX. Do well among CA Latinos. That’s what his advisors are telling him, and it would work if he were a stronger candidate. He’s not. 
Inslee and Hickenlooper. The former is running to put an issue on the table (the environement), and needs to do some work just to get into the conversation so he can do that. The latter is another moderate like Klobuchar, but he's also a white dude. Maybe that makes him more plausible to some voters, but he seems to have no chance in the world. He'll camp out in Iowa, hope to win it, and then try to figure out what comes next. 

Events will intercede and we’ll know more after Thanksgiving—but the math isn’t going to change. Despite trailing the Bs in the polls (Biden, Bernie, Beto) Kamala Harris clearly has the pole position because of the way the states line up. She could do something to screw that up, but based on the information we have now, before serious campaigning, she's got some big advantages.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Democratic Power Rankings, Januar 2019

Time for round two of the Democratic power rankings for 2020. This is my own idiosyncratic sense of who has the best chance to actually win the nomination. For example, Joe Biden has great name recognition and has dominated early polling, but he’s a terrible candidate and I don’t see much of a path for him to win the nomination. I’m thinking of all the usual factors: charisma, name recognition, resume, policy positions, primary calendar alignment, ability to raise funds.

Many of the names here have their fortunes tied to other names. For example, there’s a lane for a crusty old dude who will appeal to older, rural working-class whites. If Biden opts in, Landrieu will opt out and Brown’s position will weaken. In the happy warrior lane, Beto will damage the likes of Hickenlooper. Merkley may be waiting to see what Bernie does in the far-left lane. So there are a number of contingent names on this list who won’t end up running, and we’ll just have to wait and see. There won’t be 16 credible candidates a year from now when the primaries start—though there may be a decent flock. 

Elizabeth Warren still has the pole position, partly because she’s gotten out early and I think a woman will have a great opportunity this year. (It will, as always, be harder for a woman to win the presidency, but we’re talking the Dem nom here). Her announcement bid was also pitch-perfect. From there, this just reflects relative power as the candidates position themselves in the early days of the campaign.

This list has shrunk from 20 names as some folks have opted out (or in the case of Seth Moulton, spent the last two months disqualifying himself). Finally, I’m leaving Stacey Abrams on the list until she says she’s not running. If we think Beto is a credible candidate because he finished close in TX, surely we must acknowledge that an incandescent talent like Abrams, who almost certainly had the vote stolen in GA, should also be considered.

First Tier
1. Elizabeth Warren (previously 1)*
2. Beto O’Rourke (8)
3. Kamala Harris (3)
4. Cory Booker (2)
5. Bernie Sanders (4)

Second Tier
6. Sherrod Brown (5)
7. Amy Klobuchar (10)
8. John Hickenlooper (6)
9. Joe Biden (11)
10. Kirsten Gillibrand (12)

Dark Horses
11. Jeff Merkley (16)
12. Eric Garcetti (14)
13. Jay Inslee (17)*
14. Julián Castro (15)
15. Mitch Landrieu (7)
16. Stacey Abrams (20)

Not Ranked
Eric Holder, Michael Bloomberg, Steve Bullock, Terry McAuliffe, Howard Schultz, Tom Steyer, John Delaney*, Tulsi Gabbard, Tim Ryan, John Kerry

*Announced they’re running

[Full disclosure: The candidates I’m most excited about include Gillibrand, Warren, Brown, Merkley, and Abrams, but I’m cool with anyone on this list—even (barely) Joe Biden.]

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

2020 Power Rankings

Now that the midterms have clarified somewhat, the post-Trump electorate has come into focus for Democrats. Traditional voting blocs remain intact, but some grew. Black support was back to Obama-level excitement and Latinos came out in the largest number ever. Those were incremental changes compared to women, who became an enormous bloc in the party in 2018. The key voter in 2020 isn’t going to be a sour middle-aged white dude in the sticks, but a college-educated mom (not necessarily white) in the suburbs. The entire election will be fought over this voter, which until 2016 leaned enough toward Republicans (based on married, particularly religious, women) for them to hang onto tiny margins of victory in key districts. If those voters swing toward Dems, they solidify former Trump states in the upper Midwest and put sun-belt states in play.

The winning Dem nominee will need to appeal to a diverse electorate and particularly suburban women. Young voters may play an outsize role in the primaries, and their issues overlap substantially with suburban women (gun control, health care, civil liberties). Leftward-tilting candidates will do better than centrists, but only those who make these issues seem normal, not radical. There will be so many candidates that charisma and experience will matter. Trump will dominate everything, but among Dems the winner will need to articulate a strong vision for the future (in a way Hillary did not). I suspect the candidate who signals stable normalcy along with inspiring, forward-looking policy ideas will win.

And with that, my own power rankings in the first week after the midterms. This is the order in which I think things would play out if the election were held today. The top tier are so close as to be tied. The second tier are very competitive but have one barrier (name recognition, age, etc) to address. Third tier could be strong candidates but have something even more substantial to overcome. I think the chances Hillary runs are less than 5% and she would almost certainly lose, but her machine, fundraising, and name-recognition can’t be overlooked. Biden is similar, but he’s older, has the Anita Hill baggage, and is his usual gaffe-machine. It will be fun to see how this list changes.

First Tier
1. Elizabeth Warren
2. Cory Booker
3. Kamala Harris

Second Tier
4. Bernie Sanders
5. Sherrod Brown
6. John Hickenlooper

Third Tier
7. Mitch Landrieu
8. Beto O’Rourke
9. Martin O’Malley
10. Amy Klobuchar
11. Joe Biden
12. Kirsten Gillibrand
13. Deval Patrick

Dark Horses
14. Eric Garcetti
15. Julián Castro
16. Jeff Merkley
17. Jay Inslee
18. Joe Kennedy
19. Seth Moulton
20. Stacey Abrams

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

About the Midterms

The Democrats had a very good night last night and I am feeling elated this morning. Forget the inane media horse-race coverage: if you look at the number of votes, this was a historic landslide. Republicans have spent the better part of a decade rigging and suppressing and gerrymandering elections, and it protected them from big losses. But they’re getting more unpopular and were repudiated by actual voters. Consider:
  • The popular vote margin in the House was somewhere north of 8% (we’ll have a better idea later). Previous “wave” elections had lower margins: 1994: R+7.1%, 2006: D+8.0%, 2010: R+7.2%, 2014: R+5.7%. 
  • Dems picked up seven governorships. 
  • Three red states voted to expand Medicare. 
  • Women and nonwhites had a great night. More women will serve in the House than ever (~100). 
  • Florida passed an initiative that will allow felons to vote in future elections. There are 1.5 million of them. 
  • Finally, in the metaphor of the night, Dems had a 10-million vote margin in the Senate while losing more seats.
That last point is key. Democracy has been far more badly damaged in the US than almost anyone is willing to admit (or report). In order to make incremental gains in representation, they must win vast majorities in the popular vote. This is a depressing reality, but far more depressing would be a defeated electorate that refused to turn out. Instead, a record turnout illustrates Americans are willing to fight to claw power from an entrenched minority. This is very, very good news. The biggest metric was not the number of seats they could win in this rigged environment, but how many would vote. Because the only way a minority party can win long term is by suppressing the vote. More democracy is the way to fix democracy. Last night we got it.

Other notes. Losing the house is not good for Trump. This is a talking point we’re hearing a lot this morning. It will give him “something to run against.” This is absurd. For two years Democrats did not have a way of dictating the conversation in America—one of the biggest disadvantages they suffered. Now they can pass bills that will be deeply uncomfortable and divisive for Republicans. They can put healthcare on the agenda in a real way. Drug prices. Infrastructure. Minimum wage. Progressive tax law. The deficit. Most of the GOP’s policy goals are unpopular, some wildly so. Dems now have a mechanism for highlighting this fact.

Keep in mind that Nancy Pelosi will be orchestrating these moves, and she is probably the canniest politician in the country. Everyone’s screaming about “Democratic overreach!” Don’t believe it. Pelosi is smart and very strategic (much of Obama’s success belongs at least substantially to Pelosi), and she will use this power skillfully. The GOP know this, which is why she’s their boogeyman.

Finally, there’s now a mechanism to investigate the President. This is important because it is not a witch hunt. The GOP is deeply corrupt. Indeed, two Republican reps won last night who are under indictment and may go to prison (!). Surfacing actual corruption isn’t fundamentally political, so long as actual wrongdoing is revealed. Dems will need to do this skillfully, but they know this. Pelosi really knows this. What it guarantees is two years of unearthing Trump’s corruption—along with his administration and a few members of congress along the way. Of course this is not going to flip hardcore supporters—but it’s literally unbelievable to think it won’t damage this party politically. This won’t be a series of trumped-up Benghazi hearings, these will focus on real corruption.

Going into last night Dems needed to win at the state level in advance of the 2020 census and redistricting, and they needed to win the house. (The Senate would have been great, but it was nearly impossible.) They did that, and there will be important short-, mid-, and long-term consequences. It was a good night.

Update. The margin of Democratic support last night was very close to the landslide of 2008. See Sam Wang. All of this also happened with the unemployment rate at 3.7%. The last time this happened at a midterm (1998), the incumbent party gained seats.

If last night's House results were converted to a Presidential election,
this is what they'd look like

Monday, August 27, 2018

What the McCain Eulogies Say About Us

The response to John McCain has been absolutely fascinating. It says a lot more about where we are as a country in the age of Trump than it does about McCain. We seem to be hungering for a hero who reflects the America we wish we had, someone whose heroism brings us reflective glory, someone who personifies public service, dedication to country, not party, a truth-teller and a statesman. There aren’t many examples of such a person in politics right now, and so McCain has been elevated. A sampling of headlines:

  •  John McCain, 2008 Presidential Nominee Who Was Driven By Code of Honor, Dies at 81 (WaPo)
  • John McCain and the Lost Art of Decency (The Atlantic) 
  • Great-Heart is Gone (The Atlantic)
  • John McCain, independent voice of the GOP establishment, dies at 81 (NBC)
  • John McCain, Last Lion of the Senate (NYT)
  • John McCain, towering senator and GOP ‘maverick,’ dies (Politico)
McCain served his country much of his life, was a 5-year POW, and GOP candidate for President. He deserves honor for these things, and even veneration for the way he handled his time as a POW. (It’s amazing that he was able to function at all when he got out.)

But he was in so many other ways a flawed vehicle for the title of “hero.” After Vietnam, he had a number of affairs and ultimately divorced his wife of 15 years to marry one of his mistresses. He was a member of the Keating Five, and even he admitted this corruption acted as “my asterisk.” During the 80s he supported Reagan’s backing of the Contras and famously met with Pinochet. This was characteristic of his approach to foreign policy, where he pursued maximal intervention. He always felt Vietnam could have been won, and was the staunchest supporter of the Iraq war (2003), wanting as late as 2008 to send many more troops there, believing the war was winnable.

He was continually wrong about intervention and foreign policy, and yet even today the Wall Street Journal wrote, amazingly: “As a third-generation naval officer and his detention in Vietnam, Mr. McCain had the moral authority and stature to question the executive branch, the Pentagon and its top military officers in a way few others are able or willing to do.”

He carefully cultivated the image as an independent (brilliantly branded as a “maverick”) and did have a couple issues of disagreement with his party (immigration, campaign finance). Yet he was a reliable conservative and almost always supported his party, particularly GOP presidents. And, when his campaign was in trouble in 2008, he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, a figure who made Donald Trump a more plausible candidate eight years later.

Every politician who serves for decades will have important wins to go along with missteps. I don’t mean to suggest McCain should be overly criticized. His service should be honored. But he was a flawed man who got much wrong as a politician. (In his autobiography this year, he admitted Iraq was a mistake.) In writing these over-the-top eulogies, Americans are telling themselves a comforting story: honor and bravery still exists among our leaders; there are still those who serve the constitution first and put politics second.

It’s not a terrible instinct and I can see why McCain is the focal point for this lionizing. (Ted Kennedy, another flawed person, got quite a bit of positive coverage after his death.) But it’s telling that we need a hero so badly right now.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Impeachment is on everyone’s mind, and I have been hearing a lot of talk that Dems will move that direction if they take the House. If Nancy Pelosi is Speaker, I find this highly implausible. Because, while the House could vote to impeach, there is absolute zero chance the Senate will scare up 67 votes to convict. That would make the impeachment look like an empty political gesture—as when the House voted 973 times to repeal Obamacare—and lower the bar for future Houses to impeach as a political tactic. Pelosi knows politics better than any Democrat in the country and she will see what a loser this is.

But why won’t Republican senators break with the party?—they did it in 1974 and forced Nixon’s resignation. This is the wishful thinking people engage in, failing to notice how radically the two parties have changed in the past 44 years. The GOP of 2018 is vastly different than the GOP of 1974.
Below are three election maps. They illustrate how politics changed from the post-civil war era, when the Democratic Party was rural and white and dominated by the south and the GOP was coastal and elite. The map will look instantly familiar because mapmaker Dave Leip uses red for Dems and blue for the GOP. It looks eerily like the current maps we’re familiar with, even though the parties are exactly reversed.

Now look at 1968. This was the moment the consequences of the civil rights movement reshuffled the parties. The Democrats have started to morph into that party of the upper Midwest and coasts, but their ancient bulwark in the south has gone full racist and voted Wallace—foreshadowing the realignment that we know today. Finally, we have the famous map from 2000, which forms the terrain of politics we know: the GOP as the party of the South and rural West and the Democratic Party as coastal and urban.

More importantly, the pre-60s parties were politically diverse. Both had liberal and conservative wings. These cleavages account for the famous bipartisanship old timers now wax fondly about. It was possible to work across the aisle because Dem and GOP conservatives formed a bipartisan bloc. As did Dem and GOP liberals. This was the environment in 1974 when the Nixon tapes were released. It was the dam breaking that forced GOP senators to join against Nixon. But that senate comprised many liberal members whose seats would later go to staunchly liberal Dems in very blue states.

In 2018 GOP is factional, not coalitional. There are no liberal Republicans and the members will actually be on net more conservative after the midterms. The GOP has understood since at least the 1990s that solidarity gives them unusual power, and that even as a minority party they can often dictate outcomes over the fractious Democratic Party, which does still maintain a coalition of different groups. They also know that 42% of the public will never abandon Trump for any reason. Those voters are unequally distributed and in many states and districts comprise large majorities of voters.

In 1974, Republican senators jumped ship because their skins depended on it. In 2018, GOP senators will go down with the ship because their skins depend on it. There will be no watershed moment that causes GOP Senators to recalculate their political fortunes and vote to impeach. Politics and the parties have changed. Trump may be forced to resign because of personal legal jeopardy and legal pressure against his family, but he will not be removed from office by the US Senate.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Manafort Found Guilty, Cohen Cuts a Deal

A few thoughts on the state of democracy in the wake of more Trump administration convictions for corruption.

The election of Donald Trump has presented the country with a shock test. What happens when a demagogic, racist autocrat with no interest in democracy or democratic norms becomes president? How well equipped to address this shock are the various components of our democracy—the other branches of government, the media, the voters?

We’ve failed the test. The Republican Party has not just ignored Trump’s corruption, they’ve actively tried to prevent investigation into it. The judiciary is wonderfully personified by the person of Brett Kavanaugh, a judge whose record on the exercise of executive power changes depending on the party of the man in office. The media has extended to both the Trump administration and its GOP abettors an assumption of good faith that is logically torturous. Imagine how the US media would cover the corruption of the Trump administration if he headed, say, Poland or Kenya? They would inform their readers of the self-serving justifications, highlight lies, and not look past race-baiting demagoguery. They would not turn credulously to members of the President’s party for quotes, treating them as neutral, good-faith informants and their comments. 

Finally, the voters are the most disturbing of all. I was given the political education of my lifetime in Nov 2016, when 46% of my country voted for a man whom we knew then was incompetent, corrupt, and racist. It’s no surprise that he has only lost 4% in the polls since then. Americans have supported this man *because* of who he is, not in spite of it. What does he have to do to lose their support? As long as he keeps waking up a white man, that support will hold. As if to emphasize it, Trump held a rally last night in which “lock her up” and “drain the swamp” were regular chants. Angry white voters have signaled they have no interest in democracy or law, just that the raw exercise of power remains in their faction’s hands. All the verbal tics of their rhetoric serve to emphasize it. MAGA, libs.

So yesterday Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort joined the sprawling list of convicted or accused/indicted members of Trump’s inner team (on a day when another GOP congressman was indicted by the DOJ). What has changed? Nothing. The Trump shock test has never been about the law. It has tested how committed to democracy we are. We knew Trump was a crook before these convictions and we know it still. The GOP will continue to support him, install a Supreme Court Justice who will allow Republican presidents—including Trump—to act above the law, and try to hold onto Congress to further protect him. The media will continue to fail to report the actual news of what’s happening, and voters will continue to support Trump.

These convictions are a particularly florid plot twist in this farce of a presidency, but nothing has changed. We continue to fail the test.