The Sweep: When to Jump

Plus: The GOP launches a class-warfare midterms strategy.

Campaign Quick Hits

Nikki Haley Is Definitely Not Not Running: “I would not run if President Trump ran, and I would talk to him about it,” Haley said this week. “That’s something that we’ll have a conversation about, at some point, if that decision is something that has to be made,” said the former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador under Trump. I have no idea what she was trying to say after the “she won’t run against Trump” part. But this is the clearest indication yet that the Republican field will narrow very quickly if Trump decides to run again in 2024. And that would-be leaders in the Republican Party have no doubt that Trump still controls the vast majority of GOP primary voters.  

And just how much power do they think he has? Trump has endorsed Sens. Ron Johnson, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. Johnson, remember, hasn’t even said he’s running again. On the other end of the spectrum, Sen. John Thune also hasn’t said whether he will run again, but he’s in a much different boat—one with a Trump-sized hole in it. In December, Thune remarked that GOP House efforts to overturn the election results “would go down like a shot dog” in the Senate. As a result of that accurate statement, Trump threatened that Thune would be “primaried in 2022, political career over” and referred to him as “Mitch’s boy.” You’ll be shocked to learn that wasn’t a compliment: Just this week, Trump referred to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the highest-ranking elected Republican, as a “dumb son of a b----.” Thune has been on the defensive ever since, saying that “being afraid of a fight or somebody coming after me is not something that's going to influence” his decision on whether to run for reelection.

The message to the GOP: The Trump era is far from over.

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Good for Business: Need more proof? Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley raised $3 million during the first three months of the year, which is “more than 10 times what some of his colleagues have raised at a similar point in their terms.” And $600,000 of that came in the days after the January 6 riot, as video rocketed around the internet showing Hawley pumping his fist as the crowd gathered outside the Capitol that afternoon. During the same three months in 2019, he raised only $43,000. Of course, one of his colleagues across the rotunda outraised him this quarter: Marjorie Taylor Greene reported $3.2 million. 

That is the power of earned media. Every headline, every provocative tweet, every outraged segment on cable news equals money in the campaign coffers.

Bad News for 2022 Republicans: Gallup reported the highest party affiliation gap favoring Democrats in nearly a decade. Thirty percent of Americans “identified as Democrats and 19% were Democratic-leaning independents, while 25% were Republican identifiers and 15% Republican-leaning independents.” That’s a 9-point deficit for Republicans. But some things to bear in mind. First, Republicans usually have a deficit in this poll. Second, the 11 percent of independents who don’t lean toward either party is more than enough to sway any electoral outcome. And third, the last time party affiliation favored Democrats this much was in 2012—and two years later, Republicans shellacked them anyway, picking up 13 House seats and nine Senate seats. So maybe it’s not really bad news for Republicans after all.

Worth Your Time: If you are interested in a deep dive from one of the best polling outfits in the country on why they think their 2016 and 2020 polls underestimated support for Donald Trump and what they plan to do about it, this report from the Pew Research Center is a must read. The question they try to answer: whether Pew “is in any way underrepresenting Republicans, either by recruiting too few into the panel or by losing Republicans at a higher rate.”

It is a rare and detailed writeup of how polling works. For example, participants in the Pew surveys are “recruited offline via random national sampling of residential addresses.” But prior to 2018, Pew used telephone-based recruitment. Could that account for why they had a 7 percent drop off in recruits identifying as Republican or leaning Republican from 2014 to 2020? The problem for a pollster is that a dropoff could be caused by some sort of oversight in recruitment efforts that gets the sample out of whack. But it could also reflect “real-world change in participation (i.e., Republicans are increasingly resistant to polling) or real-world change in party affiliation (i.e., that there is a decline in the share of the public identifying as Republican).” It’s fascinating and definitely worth your time.

When to Jump

One of the first decisions a candidate and his team has to make is when to jump into the race. Is it better to get in as soon as possible to start raising money and hitting the pavement? Is it better to wait until other candidates lose that new car smell with voters, then come in late to offer them a bright and shiny alternative? 

We have our first Republican entrant into the 2022 Georgia Senate race, which follows Sen. Raphael Warnock winning the special election in January. Bloomberg reports that Kelvin King “was an outspoken Black supporter of former President Donald Trump in Georgia,” and his wife was the deputy state director of the Georgia Republican Party. King is a relatively unknown candidate in Georgia. One of his biggest hurdles will be to get any attention at all. Announcing before his rivals gives him headlines locally and nationally as the “first” to jump in. But given that it’s one of the best pickup opportunities for the Republicans, we should expect to see some higher profile candidates enter the field soon—and King will be hard-pressed to keep up the momentum without a robust earned media strategy.  

Moving up the coast to North Carolina, the very idea that Lara Trump might enter the Senate race to replace Richard Burr has frozen the field. She’s got near-universal name ID, would be instantly endorsed by her father-in-law, and can tap into a national donor base as soon as she’s ready. The filing deadline is not until December, and with her public stature there’s very little upside to getting in early. Why give your potential opponents—or reporters—the chance to take their shot at you? Even if other candidates do get tired of the wait-and-see game, she can wait until the last minute and still be the front runner by the next day.

In Arkansas, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge had both announced that they would be running for the Republican nomination for the governor’s race in Arkansas (also known as … the governor’s race in Arkansas, given Democrats’ lack of competitiveness in the state). And then in January, Sarah Huckabee Sanders—the daughter of longtime Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, more recently known as former press secretary for President Trump—announced that she was joining the race. Trump endorsed her that night. Within days, Griffin had dropped out to run for Attorney General instead and Rutledge, who has won statewide election twice and supported the Texas lawsuit to challenge the election results, was hounded with questions about whether she would do the same (she insists she won’t). That’s the power of a well-timed entrance.  

Getting into a race late is a sign of strength, because it’s the privilege of candidates with high name ID who don’t need to worry about raising money. Watch the timing as more Senate candidates start to jump into these top tier races. But wait too long—or overestimate your sway with the voters—and the race moves on without you. Deval Patrick and Mike Bloomberg announced their campaigns for president in November 2019; Andrew Yang announced his candidacy in November 2017.

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More to come on this, but let’s see what Christopher William Logan Stirewalt is thinking about this week … 

Big Business Can’t Fire the GOP, They Quit 

The leaden lump of conventional wisdom on the left these days looks like this: Republicans made it possible for corporations to get into politics by filling the Supreme Court with conservatives who struck down restrictions on political action. But now that corporations are getting political in ways Republican don’t like, the GOP is aghast and trying to push companies back in the political closet.

Here’s the New York Times chugging a beer bong’s worth of schadenfreude over Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s lamentations at Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, Major League Baseball and other private-sector powerhouses pushing back against Georgia’s new Republican-backed voting law. The paper arches one eyebrow to point out that McConnell “was one of the leading opponents of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that restricted spending by corporations and unions.” In other words, “nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah.”

Here’s Washington Post columnist Michele Norris: “Under the old arrangement, corporate America would reliably deliver huge sums of money to GOP campaigns and causes, and Republicans would deliver lower taxes on income and capital gains in return. If big companies did not endorse everything the party stood for, they remained mostly silent in service of their bottom line. But after a brief period of experimenting with big-tent politics during the first and second Bush presidencies, the Republican Party has lurched dramatically rightward since the election of Barack Obama.”

This is … questionable. First, big corporations have long lavished both parties with “huge sums of money.” The contributions certainly seek to support the things companies want—lower taxes, more spending, contracts, changes to regulations—but are mostly aimed at gaining access and avoiding sanctions. The political action committees for AT&T, Comcast, Raytheon and other major companies in highly regulated fields or that do lots of business with the government donate heavily to both parties. It’s every bit as much of a shakedown as it is payola. Also, you have to love that someone is walking around this world believing that the Republican Party prior to 1988 had been a hard-right, small-tent affair. Indeed, what corporate America usually really wants is big government—more spending and more power to protect favored firms from competition.

But that misunderstanding—that corporations that used to be Republican are becoming Democratic and that the GOP is throwing a tantrum—has already hardened into narrative. That some Democratic businesspeople, like former Obama adviser and American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault, are hitting Republicans for voting restrictions is accordingly being treated like some sort of sea change when it’s really just more of the same. A better way to understand what’s happening is as a perceived change in incentives for Republicans who sense opportunity in attacking big business as part of a new emphasis on culture and class warfare. 

The problem confronting McConnell is not about having created a monster in the form of politically active companies who have now turned on him and his party. McConnell’s problem is that going into the 2022 midterms big chunks of his party are going full nationalist/populist and intentionally trying to alienate the very voters on whom the GOP will rely to defend Senate seats in five or six swing states.  

On the House side, the GOP is already leaning hard into a plan for the midterms that is explicit class warfare. It’s the kind of delusional claptrap that only a congressman representing a district with a 30-point partisan spread could possibly offer. If you thought Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, and “defund the police” blew up on Democrats in the suburbs in 2020, wait until you get a load of Rep. Jim Banks and the brigade who are proud to have “refused to cave to [corporations’] demands on January 6” by trying to steal another term for Donald Trump. If Banks thinks persuadable voters in places like the adjacent 5th District with plenty of Indianapolis suburbanites will pick crackpot Trump idolatry over Eli Lilly, which employs some 11,000 in the state, he may be the one suffering side effects.

That approach is coming to the Senate side, too. Republican misconceptions that they can just dump upscale voters and compensate with the working-class voters they now idolize are opening the door to strong anti-business sentiments. Listen to J.D. Vance, a potential candidate for the open Senate seat in Ohio, tell Tucker Carlson what he says to those who point out that Google is a private company: “I just don’t care.” Google, he says, is just too powerful and needs to be brought to heel by the government, private property or not. The message put forward by Vance and sitting senators, particularly Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley, is the same approach used by progressive Republicans 100 years ago. These new nationalists may be aiming at blue collar voters, but their anger and class resentment will likely further alienate the same voters who have been turning away from the GOP in droves since 2016.

It’s not big business that’s changing its tune. It’s Republicans. And until the party can understand that it takes both affluent and working-class voters to win, they’re in for plenty more unhappy days.

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Correction, April 13, 2021: An earlier version of this newsletter misspelled the name of Arkansas’s lieutenant governor as “Tim Griffith.”

The Sweep: Red Meat and Baseball

Plus: A look at VA GOP gubernatorial hopeful Pete Snyder.

Campaign Quick Hits

A Paid Press Release: On Monday, the Democratic National Committee announced that it has leased billboards for one month in 20 states “to thank Biden and Democratic senators for approving $1,400 stimulus checks” and “remind motorists that their GOP senators opposed the payments to 127 million Americans.” 

Billboards don’t cost a lot of money and I’ll bet they sent that press release to every local newspaper, television, and radio station in each of those states. Technically, earned media is what you get for free—your candidate says something crazy to get attention. A paid press release is when you spend a little bit of money—a clever ad that only runs on television one time, for example—and try to make news out of it. 

This, my friends, is a great example of a paid press release. 

Check Your 6: Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper belongs to a dying breed of dog—the Blue Dog. Justice Democrats, a group devoted to electing candidates with a “bold, progressive” worldview, has announced that Cooper is the next incumbent in their sights to primary with a more progressive left-winger. And they have quite a few high-profile notches on their belts: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Marie Newman and Ayanna Pressley were all Justice Democrat-backed and all took down sitting Democratic members. 

Primary challenges scare incumbents in purple districts for a reason. They are costly affairs and every dollar (ok, nearly every dollar) comes out of your general election fund. This means that if you want to keep your seat through a bruising primary and a tough general, you’ve got to think about the marginal value of every dollar and whether to spend it on this fight or wait for the next fight. The national committees will kick in some if you can keep it close, but if you get too far underwater, they sometimes leave you for dead. (Not that they’re always perfect judges of who the lost causes are—just ask Sen. Ron Johnson.) 

General elections by and large aren’t preventable, but primaries are. And that’s why pressure from the flank can be so successful at pushing politicians out toward the extremes. “If I just vote this way a few times or sound a little more aggressive about this, I can avoid a primary fight and focus on the general.” Except—as so many former members of congress can tell you—it’s rarely enough. And that’s why we may be putting Blue Dogs next to the Dodo Birds in our kids’ textbooks.

Speaking of Primaries: Do you know who benefits the most from an, umm, distracted Matt Gaetz? Liz Cheney. Remember it was just a couple months ago that Gaetz spoke at a rally in her home state of Wyoming saying, “How can you call yourself a representative when you don't represent the will of the people? That's what all the neocons ask about the Arab dictators. I figure maybe we ought to ask the same question of a beltway bureaucrat turned fake cowgirl that supported an impeachment that is deeply unpopular in the state of Wyoming.” 

In addition to having one of her loudest enemies busy with an FBI investigation, the Wyoming legislature also rejected a proposal to adopt runoff primary elections a couple weeks ago, which may even be a bigger win for her. She is facing a crowded field in the primary, which is a good thing for her: It means her opponents split the “not Liz Cheney” vote. The bill, which was endorsed by Donald Trump, Jr., would have required Cheney to get above 50 percent or face the second-highest vote-getter one-on-one. That’s when challengers are most likely to take out the incumbent—when the anti-status quo folks unite behind a single choice. 

Indeed, that’s how Ted Cruz became a senator despite initially getting 150,000 votes (10 points) fewer than David Dewhurst. 

2024 Watch, Continued: Mike Pompeo got all the headlines last week for his trip to Iowa for “Midwest comfort food.” But he also did an interview with one of New Hampshire’s most highly regarded political shows. Add in a healthy dose of Fox News and a tweet that just said “1,327”—the number of days until the 2024 election—and I think it’s fair to say: He’s running. But he’s not the only one testing the waters. Former Vice President Mike Pence is “joining conservative organizations, writing op-eds, delivering speeches and launching an advocacy group that will focus on promoting the Trump administration’s accomplishments.” 

So how will that work for the guy whom Donald Trump now pretends doesn’t exist? Friend of The Sweep Alice Stewart summed it up nicely: “Anybody who can pull off an endorsement of Ted Cruz and become Donald Trump’s vice presidential nominee should not be counted out. He has a way of splitting hairs and threading the needle that has paid off in the past.”

Mike Pence wants to be the guy to “merge the traditional conservative movement with Trumpism,” but right now it doesn’t seem like either side is interested in merging. And that leaves Mike Pence like the farmer’s cheese: standing alone.

Chris has thoughts about primaries. Well, one primary in particular: Mike Lee’s Utah Senate race. Let’s see what he’s got to say about that ...

Mike Lee, Blooper Enthusiast  

What the heck is Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, doing sticking his fungo bat into the fight over the location of this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game? Maybe he just was dying to see some low-stakes, no-hustle baseball played in a stadium named for a regional bank. Maybe he loves the Braves mascot, Blooper, a disturbingly pallid  flesh-colored version of the Phillie Phanatic.

Or maybe it has a lot more to do with a different contest altogether: Next year’s Utah Senate primary.  

First, let’s set the roster. Georgia Republicans this month pushed through an elections law that is purportedly aimed at preventing voter fraud. Maybe so, but it seems more like a vehicle for Gov. Brian Kemp and others who got into trouble with the GOP base for not helping Donald Trump steal the 2020 election to show their MAGA bona fides. 

On the other side, Democrats’ reaction to a bill that most notably shortens the absentee voting period and further empowers state officials to intervene in local counting issues was to liken the legislation to Jim Crow. There’s not much Democrats can actually do in answer to the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement. But Democrats can use a bill aimed at pandering to the Republican base to pander to their own. Plus, it’s a ready-made registration and turnout engine for the already revved up Stacey Abrams.

But the political addicts in the rest of the country were feeling left out of the shabby show in Atlanta. They too wanted the tingle of sweet outrage on their lips. And who should want a taste but big-league baseball, which was set to hold its all-star game at Atlanta’s Truist Park this July? More specifically, the league was concerned about giving the honor of hosting four hours of the worst baseball this side of little league to a state that President Biden said was ushering in the return of Jim Crow. The demographics of baseball are changing and there is increasing pressure on the teams to embrace the kinds of social justice programs already common in the NFL and pro basketball. Shunning Georgia is an easy way to score some woke points. Plus, with the danger of pressures on sponsors, etc., skipping out on Atlanta looked like a good move.

And that brings us back to the senior senator from Utah. Lee is running for a third term next year and has already drawn plenty of potential primary opponents, most of whom are hitting Lee for being too partisan and too divisive. Utah is as far from Georgia politically as it is geographically. Utahans, driven by their large, observant population of Mormons, tend to shun the kind of political bloodsport that voters in states like Georgia demand. It is the land of the Romney Republicans. Lee is certainly embracing victim status for his fundraising appeals, though the idea that former Republican Steve Schmidt could do any better for himself than he did for the Lincoln Project in his adopted home state is pretty funny. If Utah Republicans need someone who can burn through cash like the Hindenburg ablaze and still lose, they already have former Gov. Jon Huntsman.

But it doesn’t seem like that’s the side of the party that Lee is really concerned about. At least that’s what I can surmise based on his apoplectic response to MLB’s decision. He and the fastest clickbait clicker this side of Brazos, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have vowed to punish baseball for its insult to Georgia Republicans’ honor by seeking to bring the league under antitrust laws. The dispute here doesn’t have anything to do with baseball’s exemption from antitrust provisions, and certainly antitrust law doesn’t have anything to do with punishing organizations for partisan behavior, things he already knows as a former Supreme Court clerk and son of the former solicitor general of the United States.

Lee won his Senate seat in 2010 by beating longtime incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett in the state’s convoluted hybrid convention-primary system. Back then, Lee said the problem was that government was getting involved in things it had no business doing. Lee said he was “committed to the daunting but essential task of returning the federal government to its proper, limited role" as laid out in the Constitution. Of course, Lee also said back then that senators should only serve two terms, so, whatevs...

The point here is that while the anti-Trump right is salivating over the chance to take on Lee, Lee apparently thinks his problem is on the nationalist right. Otherwise, why this pointless pandering? If Lee can keep the populist culture warriors who are more interested in winning the umbrage Olympics than the goodie-goodie talk about limited government, he can then let the anti-Trump right split up the vote against him and safely win another term. Plus, he can dish out red meat on this subject without any fear of actual results and still have plenty of time to tack toward the Utah establishment before next year.

With five weeks until the Virginia GOP convention that will decide who gets the nod for the race against presumed Democrat nominee Terry McAuliffe, Audrey is coming in hot this week with a dive into the campaign of gubernatorial candidate Pete Snyder. Like so many non-politician candidates these days, it’s hard to sum up who Pete Snyder is in a quick and tidy bullet point. He’s the guy who worked for former Rudy Giuliani’s 1997 New York City mayoral campaign. He’s also the guy who founded a social media agency that he sold for $30 million before his 40th birthday. 

I’m including some of Audrey’s profile here, but to get all the flavor, sights, and smells—read the full piece here

The Snyder Cut

No Republican has won a statewide race since former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s 2009 victory. What was once a reliable GOP state has since flipped blue, in part due to the rise of college educated voters, increasingly wealthy and diverse Northern Virginia suburbs, and thriving metropolitan cities across the state. Snyder is hopeful he can change that.

“I've had a pretty successful business career,”  Snyder, 48, told The Dispatch last month. “I rang the bell on Wall Street, I've been able to negotiate eight or nine figure deals, but I've also been able to make the time to care ... to show up to my local unit meeting, to participate in helping get conservatives elected for the past 25 years because it matters. What we do in the movement matters, and anyone that says that you can't do both is wrong.”

And so Snyder is optimistic about Republicans’ chances in 2021. “I think that while this is going to be a horrible, horrible year for America and for Virginia, it will be an amazing political year for conservatives,” he said, later adding that Democrats in both in Washington and Richmond have been focused on “getting rid of balloons and Styrofoam and legalizing pot and making it a misdemeanor to assault the police officer, not on opening up our schools and helping to save small business in our economy or really protecting the rights of law abiding citizens.” 

“I truly believe we have the tremors of an earthquake starting, and it’s starting in Northern Virginia and sweeping all across Virginia.” He mentioned Fairfax County, Prince William County, Loudoun County, Arlington, and even Alexandria as possible bright spots for GOP candidates this election cycle. “We have an opportunity as Republicans to talk to people who haven't given us the time of day in 10 years—and that’s independents and lean Democrat.”

Sitting Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam won’t be seeking reelection given the state’s prohibition on consecutive terms, a rule that paved the way for former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe to run the closest thing Virginia has to an incumbency bid for governor. McAuliffe remains the clear frontrunner leading up to the Democratic Party’s June primary, although he faces challenges from state Delegates Jennifer Carroll Foy and Lee Carter, state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.

To defeat McAuliffe, Snyder would first have to fend off a crowded field of GOP candidates at the state Republican Party’s nominating convention, which is slated to take place on May 8. Only voters who have pre-registered as delegates can vote in the convention, where they will cast their votes in a ranked choice voting system.

The GOP race includes investment executive Glenn Youngkin, former state House speaker Kirk Cox, retired Army officer Sergio de la Peña, former president of the Center for European Policy Analysis Peter Doran, and Republican state Sen. Amanda Chase, who decided to register as an independent. A self-proclaimed “Trump in heels,” Chase has continued to dominate media coverage for repeatedly calling for martial law to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and for recently being censured by a bipartisan coalition of state senators for her “pattern of unacceptable conduct,” including calling those who stormed the Capitol on January 6 “patriots.”

Snyder bills himself as a Trump-aligned candidate, and spoke to The Dispatch about his financial contributions to former President Trump both election cycles. “I was a delegate in 2020 and I’m the only one who who is running who actually supported him in ‘16 and ‘20,” he said. 

Even though Virginia is now widely recognized as a blue state, Snyder is convinced that his Trump alignment won’t alienate moderate Republicans, independents or disaffected Democrats from supporting him in the race. “Not when your schools are closed, you’re paying taxes, have to hover over a computer with three kids. Absolutely not. I think people want change,” he said. “I am focused on three things. I talk about, open the schools, open the economy, restoring people's rights. Those are nonpartisan things.”

The Sweep: The Eyes of Texas Are Upon the 6th District

Plus: Taxing and spending in the leadup to 2022.

To paraphrase David from our Advisory Opinions podcast, we have an action-packed newsletter today, so let’s dive right in!

Campaign Quick Hits

The ‘Defund the Police’ Campaign Narrative Has Problems: One significant narrative from the 2020 election has been that Donald Trump and Republican candidates over-performed expectations because they were able to tie Democrats to the wildly unpopular “Defund the Police” slogan from the summer, leaving middle of the road voters—and especially non-white and Hispanic voters—deeply uncomfortable with the Democratic Party’s lurch to the left at a time when the murder and violent crime rate was skyrocketing in almost every major American city. The argument goes that the “Defund the Police” rallying cry was a counterproductive shorthand that forced Democrats to explain how “defund” didn’t mean “abolish” and allowed Republicans to make ‘law and order’ a key election issue as everyone was stuck at home watching burning businesses on the nightly news.

I think polling stuff like this has its limits, but I’ll share the data anyway as long as you promise only to use it to inform your thinking and not just accept it as gospel. First, lots of polls found that the slogan wasn’t and isn’t popular with voters. (One recent USA Today/Ipsos poll “found that fewer than one in five respondents back efforts to “defund the police,” while 58 percent are against them.”) 

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But people liking or disliking something is one thing, and people making voting decisions based on that thing is another. One Democratic consultant, Matthew Weaver, tried to measure the impact of the slogan on the actual election, and the Democratic Congressional Committee is sharing his findings with their candidates. Politico’s Holly Otterbein got her hands on it too and described it as follows:  

The GOP attack ads accusing Democrats of wanting to strip resources from cops were not any more powerful than other TV spots run by Republicans. On the other hand, Democratic ads that refuted the GOP’s claims that they were looking to defund the police made a difference: Those candidates who aired such spots performed better than President Joe Biden by 1.5 percentage points for every 1,000 gross ratings points—a measure of advertising impact—run.

As I said, it’s an interesting finding. It also sounds right to me. First of all, Republicans’ overall message was that the Democratic Party had lurched left—and “Defund the Police” was only one part of that campaign. And second, Democrats who responded are the ones most likely to have been pushing back with ‘no, I don’t support defunding our police at all and in fact have supported our police in x, y, and z ways.’ 

That doesn’t mean voters are okay with candidates who do support defunding the police—but only that they think it’s such an insane notion that they’re open to believing that nobody else supports it either.

Only 1,316 Days To Go: C-SPAN’s “Road to the White House 2024” coverage began last week. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state, was in Iowa, speaking at a breakfast gathering of the Westside Conservative Club. It was a packed house at the Machine Shed, a well-known local chain that offers “Midwest comfort food” in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale. Pompeo told the crowd, “These elections in 2022 will have a real impact on how 2024 ultimately goes as well, and it’s why I’m out here today.” I bet it is, Mike. 

But leave it to the AP to put it all in context for us: “Believe it or not, C-SPAN has actually begun a presidential campaign cycle even earlier. In February 2005, the network aired speeches by Republican Mitt Romney in South Carolina and Democrat John Edwards in New Hampshire.” 2020 might be the only thing that could make me think about the 2008 Edwards campaign and say to myself “eh, I guess it wasn’t that bad.”

Ron DeSantis Is Riding High On A Wave of Unused Masks: Echelon Insights released its 2024 GOP primary poll, asking Republican voters who they would support if Trump decides not to run. Now, first things first: A poll like this tells you next to nothing about who will get—or even be in the race for—the Republican nomination in three years. But it does tell us something about who Republican voters have heard of and who is top of mind—in other words, getting favorable and consistent coverage in conservative media. 

And so it is no surprise that the person who tops both of those categories—and whose popularity have ticked up almost double digits since they asked this question in February—is the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis. He has become the poster-governor for Republicans who view him as someone who didn’t cave to COVID fearmongering, lifted all restrictions in his state back in September, was pilloried for it in the media—and came out with fewer cases per capita than California. Presidential campaigns have been waged (and won) on far less.

But, of course, if you are actually asked who won this poll with an impressive 35 percent, it is “unsure.”

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With thoughts of San Jacinto and Glorious Alamo

Audrey has a piece up on the website today looking at the special election race heating up in Texas’ 6th Congressional District. 

On May 1, voters in this almost-purple suburban district will head to the polls to pick among 23 candidates. Cue every political pundit in America! Tea leaves are everywhere! 

Here’s a taste of the piece:

Michael Wood voted for Donald Trump in 2020 because of his strong record on deregulation, Israel, the 2017 tax bill, and Supreme Court justices. 

“You line all that up against—in early November 2020—an increasingly radicalized Democratic Party that was talking about packing the Supreme Court, abolishing the filibuster, statehood for Puerto Rico, statehood for DC, Medicare for all,” he said. “So in November 2020, I felt like I didn't really have a choice, which is why I voted for Donald Trump.” 

His tepid support for Trump leading up to November 3 has since evaporated. “Everything since Election Day, including January 6, really shook me to the core,” he said. “The commander in chief of the most powerful military in the history of the world, leaning on local elections officials in Georgia to ‘find’ a few thousand ballots? That’s outrageous. And if a Democratic president had done that, Republicans would be in the streets screaming ‘sic semper tyrannis.’ ”

Wood is one of 23 candidates running in Texas’ 6th Congressional District race to succeed the late Rep. Ron Wright. Wright, who had been battling lung cancer, died in February after testing positive for COVID-19. The race will proceed as a special election: If no candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote on May 1, the top two contenders will compete in a midsummer runoff.

The race includes 11 Republicans, 10 Democrats, one independent, and one Libertarian. Among the list of GOP hopefuls is Susan Wright, Ron Wright’s widow. She is a member of the State Republican Executive Committee and has already racked up a hefty list of endorsements from local Republican officials. 

Other familiar names on the GOP side include former attorney and former WWE wrestler “Big Dan” Rodimer—whose “own the libs” campaign video compares Nancy Pelosi to a bull—and state Rep. Jake Ellzey, who lost to Ron Wright in the district’s 2018 Republican primary by 4.4 percent. Two former Trump officials are also competing for the seat: former assistant administrator for the Small Business Administration Sery Kim and  former chief of staff of the Department of Health and Human Services Brian Harrison.

But Wood is a Trump voter running on an explicitly anti-Trump platform. A former infantry officer in the Marine Corps and small business owner in Fort Worth, he thinks this off-year special election is an opportunity for Texas Republicans to finally move beyond “Donald Trump, QAnon, and conspiracy theories.” 

“If we can pull this off, I really do think that it's going to create a domino effect that will carry into the 2022 midterms,” said Wood, who was endorsed earlier this month by Illinois GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s Country First PAC. He said that winning this race would empower Republican candidates nationwide with a new vocabulary in a post-Trump era. “They can say, ‘I understand why you supported Donald Trump. Maybe I even supported him in years past. But now is the time for the good of everything that we care about to move past him,’ ” Wood said. 

But can an anti-Trump candidate win a Republican primary in Texas? After all, this is the state whose own attorney general, Ken Paxton, filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the election results in four battleground states where Biden won. And let’s not forget that in December, Texas Republican Party chairman Allen West—upon hearing the news of the Supreme Court’s dismissal of Paxton’s lawsuit—issued a statement suggesting that so-called “law-abiding states” should perhaps “bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution.”

Texas’ 6th Congressional District runs from the suburbs between Dallas and Fort Worth to about an hour south of Dallas. “It's the first bellwether, if you will, for what the future of the suburbs in Texas will look like,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a Texas-based GOP consultant working for Wood’s campaign. “The suburbs of Texas now look like the suburbs in many other places in the country, they’re diverse, they’re typically highly educated, high income. So I think now that we don't have Trump on the ticket, it's not about the presidential race.”

“This is the first salvo and the battle for the soul of the Republican Party and the conservative movement going forward,” Steinhauser said.

Read the rest of the piece here, including a lot more from Audrey’s interview with Michael Wood. 

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t also point out this Washington Post profile on Big Dan, who has “no known connection to the 6th District.” This guy ran for Congress in Nevada ... last year … and is now running with an—umm—quite different approach. 

Last up, Chris dives into one of the most salient “pocketbook issues” in any midterm election: taxes.

The Tax Man Cometh

As Democrats regard the coming battle over tax increases, they do so very much with next year’s midterms on their minds. While the members of the blue team agree that the time is right for a tax hike on top earners, they hold the view for different reasons. And those differing motives may dictate the outcome and the political implications of the tax-increase effort. 

If Democrats fail to deliver more stimulus spending, it may dampen their chances for holding onto the Senate and House. On the other hand, if the cost of doing so is either an unpopular tax increase or even more deficit spending, the stimulus victory may prove pyrrhic.

First, we have to understand that tax increases on wealthy Americans appear to be quite politically popular. This survey from the Pew Research Center shows 58 percent of Americans support higher taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year. A plurality of every demographic group—except for those from high-earning households, natch—supported an increase. Twice as many Republicans (44 percent to 21 percent) thought such taxes should be raised rather than lowered.

Like both of his two most recent Democratic predecessors, President Biden wants to raise taxes on the wealthy. And like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Biden says he wants to do so in order for the rich to pay their “fair share” of new spending for programs he says will be beneficial to the middle class and poor. And like Clinton, and to a lesser degree Obama, Biden also says he wants new taxes for the sake of fiscal responsibility and the health of the economy.

Biden this week will be rolling out his proposal for $4 trillion in infrastructure spending and subsidy. But there is growing concern among those in the Clinton/Biden wing of the party that dumping another dose of federal largesse into an already hot economy may produce the same kind of runaway inflation that was triggered by all the guns and butter doled out during the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Larry Summers, grand vizier of center-left economists, is among those loudly warning about inflation, and Wall Street is certainly listening.

Senate Democrats and staffers tell me the Biden administration is making no secret about concerns about too much deficit spending, both for the political optics and the practical considerations about inflation. But the “new Democrats” of the Clinton era are pretty old these days—and thin on the ground. What’s hot now is “equity” and anxiety about income inequality.

Summers’ concerns, sneered at as a “Cassandra-like critique” by the WaPo, get no love from the post-liberal left. By this way of thinking, neither debt nor inflation are worthwhile considerations. This school of thought holds that the Federal Reserve can manipulate the national economy in such a way that there can never be too much spending or borrowing, and the need will never arise to hike interest rates beyond minimal levels to keep things in check. Since it’s been so long since Americans suffered the piteous consequences of inflation, many on the left feel pretty breezy about such things.

The reason the new, new left wants to jack up taxes on the wealthy is for straight income redistribution. To Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others, the problem isn’t just that some people don’t have enough, but that other people have too much. This is how ideas like confiscating personal fortunes, dead since the days of Huey Long, made their way back into the Democratic mainstream.

For Biden, Summers and those of the old left, presumably including Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen, tax increases are a tool that can be used to reduce deficit spending and set a break against inflation. For Warren and economists like Thomas Piketty, the tax hikes are themselves the object. Yes, the revenue they generate for other spending is good, but beside the point. The new left has no evident worry about debt or inflation but lots of worries that the American upper class is pulling away from the pack.

The common ground: Both Biden and Warren & Co. desperately want to spend a great deal of money in the next year or so. Ironically, the people who most adore higher taxes may tend to be less insistent. If Warren could have the new spending with no tax hike or nothing at all, I bet she’d take the money and run. 

There are lots of questions around the coming spending push. Can Democrats figure out a way to do big chunks on 51-vote “budget reconciliation” votes? Can Republicans do what they did on Obamacare and re-define the understanding of the proposed tax increases as being aimed at the middle class? Will a hot economy reduce interest in more spending, especially given inflation concerns? Would Biden cave in and try to jam though an infrastructure plan on credit if the economy stalls?

However those questions are answered, the responses will be read by the light of the looming midterms. 

The Sweep: Biden, the Incumbent

Plus: Why the Colorado beef lobby ain't what it used to be.

Campaign Quick Hits

Win Some, Newsom: It’s all but assured now that there will be a recall election for California’s governor. Recall proponents needed to submit 1.5 valid signatures. The state has already confirmed 1.2 million valid signatures and still has 660,000 signatures left to process. Given that the current signature validity rate is 82 percent, it’s hard to imagine they won’t be able to hit 50 percent with more than half a million left. So what happens now?

Comparing Biden’s 2020 turnout to Newsom’s 2018 election as governor, Biden overperformed Newsom in 57 of California’s 58 counties. And that has opened the door for an obvious strategy for Team Newsom: Blame Trump. Newsom has described the effort as “a partisan, Republican recall—backed by the [Republican National Committee], anti-mask and anti-vax extremists, and pro-Trump forces who want to overturn the last election and have opposed much of what we have done to fight the pandemic.”

And the pro-recall folks certainly want Trump to keep his distance. “I think the less he’s involved in the recall, the better it will be for the recall,” said one organizer. Regardless, recall proponents face an uphill battle. Of the 2 million signatures that were gathered, organizers report that 65 percent were from Republicans and 25 percent were from independents. Only 9 percent were from Democrats. To boot Newsom, they’ll need more than the roughly 24 percent of registered California voters who are Republicans—a number that has been decreasing in recent years.

Polling shows a close-ish race. Emerson reported that 42 percent would vote to keep Newsom and 38 percent would vote to recall him. Not surprisingly, there was a “heavy split along party lines … but 39 percent of independents favored a recall, indicating that the big fight for both camps will probably be for voters who aren’t registered with either party.”

Endorse This: Trump senior advisor Jason Miller told reporter Tom LoBianco the former President has been bombarded with “more than 20 senators and 50 House members calling or traveling to Mar-a-Lago just since January to seek his support.” But those around him are trying to establish order amidst the chaos, with 2020 Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien and Donald Trump Jr. advising the former president “to delay jumping into competitive races, particularly in states such as Ohio, where multiple Trump supporters are vying to win the Republican Party nomination for US Senate.” 

In fact, three of the candidates—former Ohio Republican Party chairwoman Jane Timken, former Ohio state treasurer Josh Mandel, and Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance—are all headed down to Mar-a-Lago this week for an early audition that may feel a little like a new season of The Bachelor

And the next episode may feature the race to replace retiring Alabama Senator Richard Shelby. Rep. Mo Brooks spoke at the rally on Jan. 6 and will be endorsed by former White House adviser Stephen Miller this week. But Lynda Blanchard, who was Trump’s ambassador to Slovenia, held a fund-raiser last week at Mar-a-Lago. 

Trump’s endorsement may be the only primary that counts on the Republican side. “If Trump makes it clear that he anoints a particular candidate, it’s going to be difficult to defeat that candidate in a Republican primary,” Jess Brown, professor emeritus at Athens State University, told Bloomberg.

Pennsylvania and North Carolina will have their own ring-kissing ceremonies soon enough. But to whom will the former President give his red rose when he has to pick?

You’re So Money: You can always tell when a campaign or committee knows they’ve won the money race, because they send out a press release seconds after the filing deadline instead of waiting for the report to become public a couple weeks later. Lo and behold, the Democratic National Committee must have been feeling pretty good this week, reporting that it “raised the most it ever has in January and February at $18.4 million.” Winning two Senate races in Georgia was no doubt good for business, but the numbers are also a big coup for newly elected DNC chair Jaime Harrison, the Democrats’ candidate in South Carolina who raised a mind-blowing $131 million before losing by 10 points to Lindsay Graham. But the most important number to come out of their press release was that “the committee has $43 million in cash on hand, twice any previous high point at this stage in the year.” On the flip side, no word from the RNC yet. 

The Trump Bump: Trump giveth and Trump taketh away. The New York Times more than doubled and the Washington Post tripled their number of digital subscribers during The Donald’s term in office. But the Post now reports that their number of unique visitors fell 26 percent in February compared to January. CNN lost 45 percent of its prime-time audience, MSNBC lost 26 percent, and the Times lost 17 percent. Fox, on the other hand, only lost 6 percent. 

In the meantime, Edelman, a global communications firm, released their annual poll on institutional trust, which found that “an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world” has “driven trust in all news sources to record lows.” The organization found social media (35 percent) and owned media (41 percent) to be the least trusted sources, while “traditional media (53 percent) saw the largest drop in trust at eight points globally.”

As media critic Andrew Tyndall told the Post, the question for legacy media outlets is, “at heart, do they think of themselves as authoritative or tabloid? Joe Biden will not offer them the same get-out-of-jail-free card that allowed them to fudge the difference.”

C.W.L. Stirewalt (feel free to take your middle name guesses to the comments section) is channeling the nascent re-elect campaign this week to think about what they are seeing and how confident they are heading into 2024:

A Sweep Deal: Try a 30-Day Free Trial

Biden 2024: The Bidening

So how is Joe Biden doing, really?

Here I don’t mean how he is doing from your ideological view or even really at the fundamentals of being president, but rather how well Americans believe he is doing. Presidential job approval tends to have a pretty low correlation to actual job performance outside of times of crisis, but it has a very high correlation to the presidents chances of re-election. The three presidents who have sought reelection this century have ended up with shares of the national vote within a whisker of their pre-election job approval ratings.

Gallup is the gold standard on presidential approval not just because the firm uses the right methods, but because Gallup has been tracking the metric since Harry Truman took office 76 years ago. While some survey questions, e.g. right-track/wrong-track numbers, have lost their savor in our era of slavish partisanship, presidential approval remains salient.  The independent voters who decide every election may not be inclined to dive in on other estimations, but nearly every potential voter has an opinion on the way the president is doing his job. Just like presidential elections themselves, the question draws in lower-propensity voters who tend to be less ideological.

Before the 2004 election, George W. Bush scored a 48 percent approval rating before winning a bit more than 50 percent of the vote. In 2012, Barack Obama had a 52 percent approval rating and got 51 percent of the vote. In 2020, Donald Trump had a 45 percent approval rating and got just short of 47 percent of the vote.

Biden seems an unlikely candidate for a second term given how old he’ll be on Election Day 2024 (83)—but then again, his age made him an unlikely choice in 2020. Like the fellow running from the bear said to his friend, Biden doesn’t need to be an empirically good candidate, he just needs to outrun the other guy. Given the massive, stupid civil war Republicans seem intent on having and the degree to which Democrats are so far willing to ride the rails with Amtrak Joe, at the very least we cannot rule out the possibility. And it’s undeniable that public perceptions of Biden’s success or failure will have a direct impact on how likely he is to get his increasingly ambitious agenda passed.

At this point in his presidency, Donald Trump was lugging a 40 percent approval rating after a bleak inauguration and a chaotic start. Obama was very much still in his honeymoon at this point in 2009, with 63 percent of adults approving of the way he was handling the job. It is Bush whose first springtime in office seems the most like Biden’s. Bush was at 58 percent in the first half of March 2001. Biden is riding 54 percent this time. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Both ran on the message of bipartisan cooperation and a restoration of the office of the presidency and were rewarded by voters exhausted by scandal, corruption and constant drama.

Biden is certainly in the pink compared to his immediate predecessor, but like Bush, Biden lacks a mandate for sweeping change. Democrats may be excited about the possibility of a double-barreled spending package of about $3 trillion Biden is now pushing, but that looks far out of the reach of a caretaker president with approval ratings in the mid-50s. However, Biden is more of a gambler than Bush was at this point.

If public satisfaction with Biden’s response to the coronavirus and the economy continues to rise, who knows what might be possible by the end of this year? At the very least, Republicans had better take seriously the chance that they may be battling a popular president over whether or not to give Americans more “free” money—an issue on which their own party seems increasingly divided. 

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A Beef Over Beef

On a slow day, I read roughly 250 headlines, three dozen or so full news stories, 5 newsletters, and a zillion tweets. I love longform journalism—and I read a lot of it—but it’s rare that I find a political longform that immerses me into a world I didn’t already know. Tim Alberta does it regularly, as does McKay Coppins, and obviously there’s our own Declan Garvey. But otherwise political longforms are usually just long interviews with a candidate that is at best faux candid.

But last week, I stumbled across a piece that is bound to be one of the best longforms of 2021. “Red Meat. It’s What’s for Dinner in Colorado Politics” was written by Nick Bowlin, a Colorado-based correspondent for High Country News who published this piece for Politico Magazine. The story is ostensibly about a “MeatOut” proclamation from Democratic Governor Jared Polis, declaring that Coloradoans should avoid eating meat on March 20. As Bowlin noted, this proclamation “was symbolic, containing no policy authority.” 

But “MeatOut” was about much more than a simple proclamation. It was about what happens on the ground when a purple state goes blue.

Colorado voted for George W. Bush—the guy who explicitly ran against gay marriage—twice. And now it has a gay, Democratic governor with a vegan First Gentleman. But the state still has 13,000 beef cattle producers that process over 2 million cattle and close to $4 billion in sales each year.

But this isn’t really a beef over beef. It’s about grey wolves being reintroduced by a ballot measure “with two-thirds majorities in Denver and Boulder, while the counties in Western Colorado where the wolves will be reintroduced rejected it soundly.” It’s about an influx of new voters from neighboring states who are “educated, wealthier, drawn to Denver’s fast-growing tech, finance, cannabis and aerospace sectors.” And it’s about a Colorado Democratic Party that doesn’t need cattle ranchers anymore to win statewide.

Polis is up for reelection in 2022. I’ll be watching to see whether he even fields a real opponent given the trends in the state. And longer term, I’ll be watching to see what happens when a previously powerful group of swing state voters realize they aren’t swingers anymore. 

The Sweep: Was Trump Good for the GOP?

Plus, the off-off-year gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia.

Campaign Quick Hits

Redistricting Reality Bites: Republicans need only five seats to flip the House of Representatives. And the results of the census are expected to create 10 new congressional seats. Of the 10, eight will most likely be in GOP-controlled states—one in North Carolina, Arizona, and Montana, two in Florida, and three in Texas. With some decent map-drawing that isn’t enjoined by a court, Republicans could pick up five or six seats just for showing up. On the other hand, “six of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump are from states expected to lose congressional seats.” And the former president is taking the opportunity to lobby for those districts to be cannibalized by neighboring Trump-loyal Republicans or even Democrats, resulting in a net loss of six GOP-held seats. If the former president gets his way, it could make reapportionment a wash (or even a net loss) for Republicans and it will also mean six fewer Trump-skeptical voices in the GOP House caucus.

Ohio Is For Lovers: After Sen. Rob Portman announced his retirement in January, the next class of Senate wannabes wasted no time staking out their turf. The first to jump in the race was Josh Mandel, the former state treasurer, who first ran for Senate in 2012 and lost by 6 points to the incumbent, Sherrod Brown. In his first fundraising email he touted that he was “President Trump’s #1 ally in Ohio,” promises to keep “fighting RINO’s and establishment politicians,” and that he is “AGAINST the radical Left’s attempts to destroy our nation.” Most recently, he confirmed on Twitter that “America was founded & grew strong on a bedrock of Judeo-Christian values Flag of United States; Not radical Muslim values.” Some are quick to point out when the word “ambition” is used as a weapon against female candidates (and it is!), but I would wager that it is a word that will be included in every profile of Mandel. The big money on the right, however, has a different horse: This week, former Trump-backers—tech billionaire Peter Thiel and the Mercer family—donated millions to a super PAC supporting Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in the race.

How to Lose a Governor’s Race in 10 Months: Y’all, I try to keep an unbiased, non-partisan voice in this newsletter but I cannot contain my excitement at the prospect of Matthew McConaughey throwing his 10-gallon hat into the Texas gubernatorial race. On the one hand, we have a perfectly respectable history of sending actors to governors’ mansions (Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, even …  Jesse Ventura!) but this is the post-Trump era and the whole tenor of celebrity-as-politician has changed. Megan Markle, the erstwhile Duchess of Sussex, is supposedly (note: The sourcing on this could charitably be described as ‘thin’) considering a run for presiden t… of America. And Dwayne Johnson said last month that he “would consider a presidential run in the future if that’s what the people wanted.” But back to that guy from the Lincoln car commercials: He has a lot of history with the state. At the moment, it’s hard to say whether his current toe-dipping is more about getting some free publicity for his “We’re Texas” virtual concert and fundraiser on March 21, which will feature lots of other great Texans like Willie Nelson, Don Henley, Gary Clark Jr., Miranda Lambert, Lyle Lovett, George Strait, Leon Bridges, Kelly Clarkson, and Texas-raised Post Malone. Or whether he just wants to find a new use for his famous tagline and run against the “alt-right, alt-right, alt-right.”

2024 Watch—Rubio Edition: While GOP Sens. Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley have been dominating the 2024 headlines, Sen. Marco Rubio is trying to find a lane of his very own. Last week, Rubio made “wait, Republicans are in favor of what now?” headlines when he “voiced his support for a union-organizing drive at an Inc. warehouse in Alabama, accusing the e-commerce giant of waging a culture war that hurts its workers and the economy.” Republicans as the party of union workers fits quite comfortably with the rhetoric of the post-Trump GOP but quite uncomfortably with the decades of right-to-work legislation that Republicans have been pushing at the state level and conservative legal groups that have been chipping away at union rights.  (Some of these folks are literally arguing another case at the Supreme Court next week.)

David, Row Your Boat a Shor

New York Magazine had this incredible interview with David Shor, who worked on the 2012 Obama campaign and does data science at a progressive nonprofit. I recommend reading the whole thing both because he makes an intriguing argument and because the journalist interviewing him is clearly astounded by what he is being told, which fits in perfectly with Shor’s whole point and adds a layer of humor that surely no one intended. 

Shor’s basic thesis is that my “everything is turnout” theory ahead of 2020 was dead wrong. His take: “Trump didn’t exceed expectations by inspiring higher-than-anticipated Republican turnout. He exceeded them mostly through persuasion. A lot of voters changed their minds between 2016 and 2020.” 

There’s nothing I love more than being proven wrong with great data. So I tucked into the rest of the piece with gusto. Here’s his case (and it’s not crazy):

So when you look at self-reported ideology — just asking people, “Do you identify as liberal, moderate, or conservative” — you find that there aren’t very big racial divides. Roughly the same proportion of African American, Hispanic, and white voters identify as conservative. But white voters are polarized on ideology, while nonwhite voters haven’t been. Something like 80 percent of white conservatives vote for Republicans. But historically, Democrats have won nonwhite conservatives, often by very large margins. What happened in 2020 is that nonwhite conservatives voted for Republicans at higher rates; they started voting more like white conservatives.

His organization, OpenLabs, did some post-election surveys specifically digging into the “Hillary 2016- Trump 2020” voters to see what made them tick. And what he found won’t surprise anyone who was paying attention over the summer. A Hillary-Trump voter who had self-described conservative views on crime, policing, and public safety “was more predictive of switching from Clinton to Trump than having conservative views on any other issue-set was.”

But here’s the quiet part that operatives on the left aren’t supposed to say out loud:

So as Democrats have traded non-college-educated voters for college-educated ones, white liberals’ share of voice and clout in the Democratic Party has gone up. And since white voters are sorting on ideology more than nonwhite voters, we’ve ended up in a situation where white liberals are more left wing than Black and Hispanic Democrats on pretty much every issue: taxes, health care, policing, and even on racial issues or various measures of “racial resentment.” So as white liberals increasingly define the party’s image and messaging, that’s going to turn off nonwhite conservative Democrats and push them against us.

His best example of this is on immigration issues during the 2020 campaign. They found that “asking voters whether they lean[ed] toward Biden and Trump, and then emphasizing the Democratic position on immigration, often caused Biden’s share of support among Latino respondents to decline.” This nugget, in particular, seemed to stun Shor’s interviewer.

I tend to agree with Shor’s big picture assessment of the foundational cracks in the Democratic Party’s coalition. And if the Democratic Party were up against a coherent and stable opposition, that could be dicey. But they aren’t. The Republicans have no standard bearer and are struggling to define themselves on some pretty basic issues—see, e.g., my union point in the quick hits. 

And so he loses me when he says “the Trump era has been very good for the Republican Party … [b]ecause if these coalition changes are durable, the GOP has very rosy long-term prospects for dominating America’s federal institutions.” Sure, his side is losing some ground, but so is the other side! That’s what happens when we have a massive and sudden party realignment. It’s only doom and gloom for one side if the other side stays constant,  which it most certainly will not in this case.

But here’s his bottom line message to Democrats: “Most voters are not liberals. If we polarize the electorate on ideology — or if nationally prominent Democrats raise the salience of issues that polarize the electorate on ideology — we’re going to lose a lot of votes.” Fair enough. But—paging Dr. Seuss—ditto Republicans.

From The Stirewalt Files

NORFOLK, Virginia—For those individuals who have developed unhealthy levels of political fascination, the statewide elections in Virginia and New Jersey in the years following presidential elections are the equivalent of problem gamblers with scratch-off lottery tickets. It's not quite the real thing, but it sure gives you that feeling. So let's get scratching!

As you, my fellow political obsessives, already know, there has historically been a decently high correlation between the results of the gubernatorial and legislative elections in the Garden State and the Old Dominion and the outcomes of the following year's midterms. The successes of Republicans Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie in Virginia and New Jersey of 2009 were harbingers of the 2010 anti-Obama wave. The thrashings Democrats Ralph Northam and Phil Murphy delivered in 2017 foretold the blue hue of 2018 and so on.

It matters because Virginia and New Jersey may be blue states, but they have loads and loads of swing voters. No one expects to see Republicans triumph in 2024 in either place—especially Republicans in their current mode of Jacobin populist bloodlust— but given their high concentrations of affluent, educated suburban voters neither place is likely to become a deep-blue woketopia.

The kinds of voters who drive outcomes in both states are the same kinds of voters who get to decide every midterm. Because of the pressure from both primary electorates toward radicalism, neither party spends much time reaching out to these voters until the closing months of general elections. New Jersey and Virginia rank sixth and seventh respectively in the percentage of adults with college degrees. New Jersey has the second-highest median household income. Virginia is 10th.

The value of the two states as predictors is further enhanced by the fact that because the elections are off-off-year affairs, party cohesion and base motivation matters a great deal. The only way Republicans can win nationally is the same as it is in New Jersey and Virginia: Persuade a bare majority of swing voters and then get their core voters to storm the polls.

At least since Bill Clinton's win in 1992, the party of each first-term president has lost the gubernatorial elections in both states in the subsequent years. Even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Republicans lost both races in 2001. But so far this year, Democrats seem positioned to possibly break the streak after nearly three decades.

New Jersey will be more challenging for the blue team. Republicans seem bound to nominate former state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, the runner-up in the party's 2017 primary. Ciattarelli is already focused on the general election and targeting incumbent Murphy's greatest weakness: his uneven response to the coronavirus pandemic, especially the high death toll in the state’s nursing homes. No politician in America is more deeply invested in the successful distribution of vaccines and the lifting of pandemic restrictions than Murphy. A good rule of thumb here will be to watch President Biden's national job approval numbers as we approach November. If Biden is experiencing a bounce related to good performance on the virus and the economy, he might carry Murphy with him.

It is here in Virginia, though, that Republicans will have the hardest time. The state party is a shambles and locked an utterly cockamamie system for nominating a candidate. Republicans will hold a—not kidding—drive-thru convention at 37 locations throughout the commonwealth on May 8. This is not really a convention since it does not feature delegates negotiating or even gathering. It will really function like an ultra-low turnout primary in which only those fervent enough to go sit in their cars for hours on a spring Saturday will participate.

Four years ago, Ed Gillespie managed to defeat strident culture warrior Corey Stewart in an ugly primary vote. The kinds of candidates who might appeal to the aforementioned suburban voters will no doubt struggle in this carhop arrangement. What you can expect is a repeat of the scene in 2020 when Rep. Denver Riggleman was, ahem, driven from office by a culture war challenger in a similar arrangement.

Making things worse for Republicans in Virginia is the fact the Democrats seem determined to avoid the kinds of problems inflicting their party in other places. Not only are they having a traditional primary, but popular, moderate former Gov. Terry McAuliffe looks like a shoo-in. He also doesn't have to run with the coronavirus baggage that term-limited incumbent Northam has piled up, especially on schools.

These 2021 contests may not be baccarat at the Casino Royale, but they will scratch the itch until the real thing comes along.

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