No One Else.
1. Veteran political analyst Tom Edsall had a typically interesting column last week that included the following paragraph (slightly reworked by me):
Katherine Cramer, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, summed up the discontent among rural voters (in the 2016 general election) as follows: “It had three elements: (1) a belief that rural areas are ignored by decision makers, including policymakers, (2) a perception that rural areas do not get their fair share of resources and (3) a sense that rural folks have fundamentally distinct values and lifestyles, which are misunderstood and disrespected by city folks.”
Element #1 and #2 went parabolic in the wake of the Great Financial Crisis, for obvious reasons. The fact that rural voters had little say about the bailouts that followed, that the financial community was rescued while everyone else suffered the consequences of its reckless endangerment and that no one (okay: one guy) went to jail, led to an anger and alienation that led, inexorably, to Donald Trump. It did not lead them to Trump the person, or candidate, or some Trumpian “ideology.” Paraphrasing Charles Murray, rural voters rallied to Trump because he was their “murder weapon.”
“Murder weapon” doesn’t get it exactly right. Trump was more hand grenade than handgun. Pulling the pin and throwing him into the halls of power in Washington, into the mainstream media, into “Republican establishment” living rooms, into the woke elite’s precious “culture,” was (and remains) a source of deep satisfaction for many rural and exurban voters.
The better people were finally getting the disrespect they deserved. Rural and exurban voters knew and know a lot about disrespect. They were, after all, “the deplorables.” They admired and appreciated Trump for talking back; making their disdain heard, loud and clear.
Much of the last three months of political journalism has been a series of Trump “pre-bits” — obituaries for a man who hasn’t died yet. You’ve read and heard it all: Trump is fading fast, DeSantis is surging, Fox has abandoned Trump, Trump no longer seems relevant, Trump has lost his mojo, on and on (and on).
True or not?
No and yes.
Three new (national) polls show Trump running well ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis among GOP primary voters and caucus-attenders. Here they are:
- Trump: 55%
- DeSantis: 29%
- Former Vice President Mike Pence: 6%
- Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley: 3%
- Trump: 49%
- DeSantis: 30%
- Pence: 7%
- Haley: 3%
- Trump: 48%
- DeSantis: 28%
- Pence 7%
- Florida Sen. Marco Rubio: 3%
- Haley: 3% (Source: axios.com)
Rule of thumb in the early going: “top-line” numbers aren’t particularly useful. Some of what they describe is simply name recognition. Many if not most voters aren’t really paying attention. And there is no “national” GOP (or Democratic Party) primary. Primaries and caucuses are held over a number of months, in individual states, narrowing the field as they fall.
Polling results from some of the early (on the calendar) primary states vary from the national numbers cited above. The most recent poll of GOP primary voters in New Hampshire, for instance, finds Florida Gov. DeSantis “leading” Trump by a statistically significant margin.
So: conflicting data.
What is meaningful can be found in the cross-tabulations of the national polls cited above. Specifically, is Trump maintaining the spine of his support in rural and exurban counties? When someone — anyone — starts to cut into Trump’s support among the voters in those precincts, that’s when we’ll know that Trump is “losing his mojo.” Those voters are his mojo.
So far, those voters are standing by their man. It will not be easy to get them to leave Trump behind. Loyalty is a core value in rural and exurban America. No man left behind is a guiding principle.
2. You can look at this video one of two ways: (1) President Biden was momentarily confused, or (2) President Biden is too old to run for re-election, much less serve another term.
I think the second statement is “correct,” not that it matters. What matters is that roughly two-thirds of the electorate think so too.
How bad is it? In New Hampshire, in a hypothetical 2024 Democratic presidential primary match-up, a Granite State Poll had Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg leading President Biden by 5 percentage points. Biden garnered 18% of the hypothetical vote. Eighty percent wanted someone else. The poll was taken two weeks ago, not last summer, when Biden’s approval rating was beyond dreadful.
Way back in the day, Democratic pollster Pat Caddell conducted a survey of California voters for his then-client, Senator Alan Cranston (D). The poll revealed that voters couldn’t think of a single thing they liked about Sen. Cranston. Caddell’s advice was simple: make the opponent even less attractive.
There followed a now legendary negative advertising campaign that re-elected Alan Cranston. Campaign consultants of both parties took note and negative advertising is now the central feature of virtually every American political campaign for federal and statewide office.
Voters would prefer that Joe Biden not seek re-election. This is a fact, not an opinion. And yet, if Washington “insiders” are correct, Biden will announce his candidacy for re-election sometime in the late spring or early summer. Since people don’t want him to do that, he will need to heed the long-ago advice of the now deceased Pat Caddell: make the alternative less attractive.
The Biden people have no illusions about this. They know how weak their horse is. Their polls aren’t different from the public polls. Reality leaves them with three options.
The first we’ll call Plan A. Plan A posits that Donald Trump will be the 2024 GOP presidential nominee. For Democratic Party voters, the future of humanity depends on Trump’s defeat. A primary challenge to Biden would make defeating Trump more difficult, not less. Therefore, Biden cannot be “primary-ed.” He is the nominee, whether anyone likes it or not. And at some level, Biden must run, since he is seen as (and, incredibly, probably is) the Democrat with the best chance of defeating Trump. The Biden people know how to run that campaign. They did so in 2020. They can do so again. That’s Plan A.
Plan B posits that Donald Trump is not the 2024 GOP presidential nominee. Someone else will be. On paper, at least, this makes Mr. Biden’s re-election much more difficult, since a less polarizing GOP nominee will be harder to defeat.
Assuming that’s true — and it probably is — Plan B requires a different “narrative.” The story cannot be mano a mano — Biden versus the GOP nominee, whoever he or she is — since two-thirds of the electorate would prefer that Biden go away. The story needs to be re-cast as “us” versus “them.”
There’s a way to do this. The vast majority of Americans depend on Social Security and Medicare, either for themselves or their parents and/or grandparents. Both programs are essential to the nation’s commonweal.
Both programs are in dire financial straits. According to The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:
Social Security will be insolvent in as little as a decade. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the combined trust funds’ reserves will be depleted by 2033. The Social Security Trustees have projected the trust funds will run out in 2035. At that point, the program will only be allowed to pay 75 to 80 percent of benefits under the law, meaning all beneficiaries will face a deep across-the-board benefit cut.
Regarding Medicare, The Kaiser Family Foundation reports:
Each year, the Medicare trustees provide an estimate of the year when the HI (Hospital Insurance) trust fund asset level is projected to be fully depleted. In the 2022 Medicare Trustees report, the trustees projected that assets in the Part A trust fund will be depleted in 2028, six years from now. This is a modest improvement from the projection in the 2021 Medicare Trustees report, when the depletion date was projected to be 2026. A recent projection from the Congressional Budget Office estimated depletion of the HI trust fund somewhat further out, in 2030 — but still within the next 10 years.
Plan B derives from those two block quotes. Democrats created and expanded both Social Security and Medicare. Both programs aren’t just popular; for many they are existential. Casting itself as the Great Defender of Social Security and Medicare, the Biden Administration (and Democrats more generally) need only entice the GOP into an argument over how to avert the approaching insolvencies.
One way to march the GOP off a cliff would be to propose a series of “financial transaction taxes” and the elimination of various tax breaks and loopholes that benefit “the 1%” and tax-eliding U.S. corporations.
Republican mega-donors would be predictably enraged, which in turn would produce frenzied denunciations of the dastardly Democrats from Republican elected officials — presidential candidates and members of Congress alike. You can almost hear them now…….socialists, tax and spend, etc. And it would seem to many in the GOP a classic liberal Democratic Party mistake — Democrats can’t help themselves, they must raise taxes.
It wouldn’t be a mistake, it would be a trap; one that would be difficult for the GOP to escape. The Democratic Party counter to the howls of GOP outrage would be simple: Whose side are you on: the people who depend on Medicare and Social Security or the Masters of the Universe who pull the strings of Republican elected officials in Washington and state capitols around the country. If a tax on high-speed trading helps save Social Security, isn’t that a good thing? If the closing of the carried interest loophole helps pay for another year of Medicare Hospital Insurance, isn’t that good tax policy?
Merits aside, the political answer is “yes. it is.” And in that context, even someone as unattractive (to the electorate) as President Biden becomes a lot more attractive. You’re not re-electing the president, you’re voting to save Social Security and Medicare. That’s a vote Democrats can win.
Plan C is to find someone else to be the Democratic Party’s 2024 presidential nominee.
The problem with Plan C is this: There is no one else.