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The Daily Strategist

May 5, 2016

Republicans Looking Past November to the Next Election



With Donald Trump clinching the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, a lot of people are closely watching the exact words other Republican pols are saying about their new titular leader. But they may be missing the real reason Cruz and Kasich dropped out so quickly, and why other GOPers don't seem to be sweating the general election. I wrote about their motives at New York:

One of the things you do when you are positioning yourself for a future presidential run is to pose as a party loyalist and then volunteer for down-ballot drudge work. That's how Richard Nixon rehabilitated himself in 1964, and why he had an enormous advantage over Nelson Rockefeller -- who attacked Goldwater supporters at the convention and refused to lift a finger for the ticket in the general election -- in 1968. When Ronald Reagan jumped into the '68 race very late and Nixon was trying to hold the line against the wildly popular Californian among Southern conservatives, his loyalty to Goldwater probably saved the day. That's the context in which we should understand the decisions by Ted Cruz and John Kasich to fold their tents before it was mathematically necessary this year. Why make permanent enemies of Trump supporters? Both these men are almost certainly thinking about giving it another whirl in 2020, after Trump's inevitable defeat. Being the party loyalist who nonetheless offers the party a very different future is the safest course of action.

Anyone who actually joins Trump's ticket or gets too close to the fire of the Donald's rhetoric, on the other hand, is probably not thinking about 2020. The number of pols who find something else to do when Trump's circus comes to their town this fall will likely show how few Republicans are jockeying for spots in a Trump Administration and how many are looking beyond November.

And what will their post-Trump arguments be? We can already anticipate some of them.

For Ted Cruz and the movement conservatives he represents, the argument is easy: Republicans lost in 2008 and 2012 and 2016 because they did not make their campaigns a crusade for True Conservatism, and thus it's now time, finally, to give it a try in 2020.

For John Kasich, the easiest argument will probably be that Republicans need to fix their gazes on general-election polls from the get-go next time around, and make electability their principle litmus test for candidates.

There will be plenty of Republicans arguing for a return to the post-2012 RNC Autopsy Report, and an applications of its lessons -- lessons Trump's nomination implicitly and violently rejected. Whether or not Marco Rubio makes a political comeback in 2018, you can expect his name to be mentioned in conjunction with the easiest route to a GOP recovery among Latinos -- unless George P. Bush wins the governorship of Texas in the interim (I'm at least half-joking). Nikki Haley will get some early mentions as a potential party savior, and maybe before long Joni Ernst will be deemed ready for the Big Time.

And then you can expect a second act from the Reformicons, the intellectuals who typically wanted the GOP to do a better job of representing the views and economic interests of its white-working-class base, but for the most part were as horrified as anyone else by how Trump fit that particular bill. They probably need a more forceful champion than Rubio or Jebbie in 2020, with an agenda more evocative than the odd family tax credit.

There will be other would-be shapers of the post-Trump Republican Party as well, whether it's another White House candidate from the Family Paul, or fresh faces nobody's thinking about. But the great thing about the impending Trump disaster is that none of the survivors will get blamed and everyone can pretend it was a one-off aberration -- a sort of natural disaster -- that need not recur. It will help enormously that 2018 -- like 1966 -- should be a very good year for the GOP. Thanks to fortuitous turnout patterns, midterms are now always elections where Republicans should be better than external circumstances might suggest. The midterm in a third straight Democratic administration should be especially strong for the "out party." The Senate landscape for 2018 is almost impossibly pro-Republican. And on top of everything else, the more down-ballot damage the party suffers this November, the more likely crazy-large gains will be two years later. Indeed, it will be easy for Republicans to point to 2010, 2014, and 2018 and argue that there's nothing wrong with the GOP that the right presidential candidate cannot fix.

And without a doubt, that candidate is looking at him- or herself in the mirror each morning.

Yeah, it's groan-inducing to say this, and not something I want to be true at all. But thanks to the newly minted 2016 Republican presidential nominee, the 2020 Invisible Primary has already begun.


Unprecedented Conservative Melt-Down Threatens GOP



Some recent comments from conservatives about Trump's impending GOP nomination, the future of the Republican Party and, in some cases their intention to vote for some other candidate:

Rep. Scott Rigell [R-VA]: "My love for our country eclipses my loyalty to our party, and to live with a clear conscience I will not support a nominee so lacking in the judgment, temperament and character needed to be our nation's commander-in-chief. Accordingly, if left with no alternative, I will not support Trump in the general election should he become our Republican nominee."

Former Romney staffer Garrett Jackson: "Sorry Mr. Chairman, not happening. I have to put country over party. I cannot support a dangerous phony."

Former top Romney strategist Stuart Stevens: "I think Donald Trump has proven to be unbalanced and uniquely unqualified to be president. I won't support him... Everyone has to make their own choice. I think Trump is despicable and will prove to be a disaster for the party. I'd urge everyone to continue to oppose him.'"

Rep. Carlos Curbelo [R-FL]: "I have already said I will not support Mr. Trump, that is not a political decision that is a moral decision.'"

Sen. Ben Sasse [R-NE]: "Mr. Trump's relentless focus is on dividing Americans, and on tearing down rather than building back up this glorious nation. ... I can't support Donald Trump."

Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes: "This is what political division looks like. Trump's claim to be a unifier is not just specious, it's absurd. This casual dishonesty is a feature of his campaign. And it's one of many reasons so many Republicans and conservatives oppose Trump and will never support his candidacy. I'm one of them."

Former McCain adviser Mark Salter: "The GOP is going to nominate for President a guy who reads the National Enquirer and thinks it's on the level. I'm with her."

RedState editor Ben Howe: "#ImWithHer"

MA Gov. Charlie Baker: "I'm not going to vote for [Donald Trump] in November."

Former RNC Chairman Mel Martinez: "I would not vote for Trump, clearly."

Former VA Senate candidate, Ken Cuccinelli on Trump: "When you've got a guy favorably quoting Mussolini, I don't care what party you're in, I'm not voting for that guy."

Former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman: "Leaders don't need to do research to reject Klan support. #NeverTrump"

Former Bush spokesman Tony Fratto: "For the thick-headed: #NeverTrump means never ever ever ever ever under any circumstances as long as I have breath never Trump. Get it?"

Former Eric Cantor communications director, Rory Cooper: "#NeverTrump means...never. The mission of distinguishing him from Republican positions and conservative values remains critical."

Conservative blogger Erick Erickson: "Reporters writing about the "Stop Trump" effort get it wrong. It's 'Never Trump' as in come hell or high water we will never vote for Trump"

Fox News' Steve Deace: "Apparently @secupp has a #NeverTrump list to see who keeps their word to the end. You can sign my name in blood."

Republican strategist Patrick Ruffini: "I will never vote for @realDonaldTrump. Join me and add your name athttp://NeverTrump.com . #NeverTrump"

America Rising co-founder and former Jeb Bush communications director Tim Miller: "Never ever ever Trump. Simple as that."

Former Rep. J.C. Watts [R-OK] said he'd write-in someone before voting for Mr. Trump in November.

Former Director Of NV and MS GOP Cory Adair: "You'll come around," say supporters who just got done saying their candidate doesn't need me. Nah. I won't. #NeverTrump

Townhall editor Guy Benson: "Much to my deep chagrin (& astonishment ~8 months ago), for the 1st time in my life, I will not support the GOP nominee for president."

DailyWire editor Ben Shapiro: "Really? #Nevertrump. Pretty easy."

Wisconsin conservative radio host Charles Sykes: "I suppose I should clarify: #NeverTrump means I will nevereverunderanycircusmtances vote for @realDonaldTrump"

Editor at RedState, Dan McLaughlin: "For the first time since turning 18, I will not vote for the Republican candidate for President."

Conservative columnist George Will: "If Trump is nominated, Republicans working to purge him and his manner from public life will reap the considerable satisfaction of preserving the identity of their 162-year-old party while working to see that they forgo only four years of the enjoyment of executive power."

Redstate contributor Leon Wolf: "I will never vote for Donald Trump. I will not vote for him in the general election against Hillary, and I would not vote for him in a race for dogcatcher. Heck, I would not even vote for him on a reality television show."

Former Romney adviser Kevin Madden: "I'm prepared to write somebody in so that I have a clear conscience."

Pete Wehner, former speechwriter for George W. Bush: "I will not vote for Donald Trump if he wins the Republican nomination."

Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard: "Donald Trump should not be president of the United States. The Wall Street Journal cannot bring itself to say that. We can say it, we do say it, and we are proud to act accordingly."

Undersecretary of State under George W. Bush, Eliot Cohen: "I will oppose Trump as nominee. Won't support & won't work for him for more reasons than a Tweet can bear."

Former Jeb Bush digital director Elliott Schwartz: "In case there is confusion about #NeverTrump."

Doug Heye, Former RNC communications director: "I cannot support Donald Trump were he to win the Republican nomination."

Former IL GOP Chairman Pat Brady said he'd back a third-party candidate or "just stay home" if Mr. Trump is the nominee.

Washington Examiner's Phillip Klein: "I have officially de-registered as a Republican."

Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson: "I registered Republican when I was 18 because I thought free markets and liberty were important. Not sure what "Republican" means today."

The way things are going, don't be surprised if this list doubles every couple of days. More on the great conservative Exodus, right here.


Political Strategy Notes



In his column, "Please don't mainstream Trump," E. J. Dionne, Jr. warns of the threat of media complaisancy in the months ahead: "Many forces will be at work in the coming weeks to normalize Trump -- and, yes, the media will play a big role in this. On both the right and the left, there will be strong temptations to go along...There will be much commentary on Trump's political brilliance. But this should not blind us to the degree that Trumpism is very much a minority movement in our country. He has won some 10.6 million votes, but this amounts to less than a quarter of the votes cast in the primaries this year. It's fewer than Clinton's 12.4 million votes and not many more than the 9.3 million Bernie Sanders has received."

All of a sudden, Red State loves them some Merrick Garland.

Senior editor Jeet Heer explains at The New Republic why "Bernie Sanders Owes It to His Supporters to Keep Fighting," and notes, "The fact that Sanders, this late in the race, can draw a majority of voters in Indiana means his revolution has yet to run its course. He owes it to his supporters in California and other late states to give them a chance to vote. Nor is a vote for Sanders meaningless, even if his loss is foreordained. The delegates he continues to rack up will give him a greater voice in the convention and allow his supporters to shape the party platform...57 percent of Democrats say they want Sanders to stay in the race. The party base, if not the party elite, appreciates what Sanders is doing by continuing his fight. He has every reason to listen to them.."

At Politico Ann Karni ponders "Clinton's dilemma: To punch or not to punch: Brooklyn operatives are studying how Trump's GOP rivals fought and failed against the unscripted mogul." Karni quotes Cl;inton Spokesman Brian Fallon: "She will not be passive, like we saw from so many of the Republicans he vanquished...But she will also not follow him into the gutter. She can challenge him in the way the Republicans wouldn't -- on the issues and on his hateful rhetoric."

Associated Press reports "In the Year of Trump, Democrats Are Fielding a Near-Record Number of Female Senate Candidates." As AP notes, "Democrats will have female Senate candidates on the ballot in nine states in November, a near-record...Donald Trump, whose commanding win in Indiana cemented his improbable status as the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee, is viewed unfavorably by 70% of women, according to Gallup...Women vote in higher numbers than men--in 2012, 10 million more women cast ballots than men--and vote more heavily Democratic. This year, strategists in both parties expect those trends to be magnified given Trump's unpopularity with women, Clinton's historic candidacy (though she herself faces high negative ratings), and the large number of women running for Senate."

Roll Call's Walter Shapiro provides a plausible take on the GOP's mess in his "Republicans "Couldn't Muster the Honor to Fight Trump: Demands of party unity recall Vietnam War excuses." Shapiro warns, echoing Dionne, "Nervous Republicans and bored journalists will have a shared interest in creating a story line about how the real-estate baron has grown in stature as a candidate. A week without crude insults and Trump will seem like a modern-day statesman. A few cordial meetings with GOP leaders and Trump will be hailed for embracing conservative principles."

At Salon.com, via Alternet.org, Conor Lynch has a provocative post, "What the Left Can Learn From Donald Trump: Winning the Working Class Means Fixing Your Sales Pitch: Trump's policies are a nightmare, and his message is full of hate. But the Left must learn to connect like he does." Lynch urges, "If progressives hope to restore democracy and economic justice in America, they must rail against the economic elite as forcefully as Trump has railed against the liberal elite."

Just to show yas how fair-minded we are, congratulations to Georgia's Republican Governor Nathan Deal for having the mettle to veto two wingnut bills, the transgender bathroom bill and now the 'campus carry' bill passed by gun nuts in the state legislature. We stop short of recommending a 'Profiles in Courage' Award just yet, at least until Deal OKs Medicaid expansion, the lack of which has already proven to be life-threatening for too many Georgians. Still, the Governor's recent boldness is commendable, especialy at a time when his party is collapsing under the weight of Trumpmania.

Now it seems prophetic:


May 4, 2016

Silver: Trump's Working-Class Support Overstated



Nate Silver offers some interesting data and analysis of Donald Trump' "base" in his latest post, "The Mythology Of Trump's 'Working Class' Support: His voters are better off economically compared with most Americans," at FiveThirtyEight.com. An excerpt:

...The definition of "working class" and similar terms is fuzzy, and narratives like these risk obscuring an important and perhaps counterintuitive fact about Trump's voters: As compared with most Americans, Trump's voters are better off. The median household income of a Trump voter so far in the primaries is about $72,000, based on estimates derived from exit polls and Census Bureau data. That's lower than the $91,000 median for Kasich voters. But it's well above the national median household income of about $56,000. It's also higher than the median income for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, which is around $61,000 for both.

Silver explains his methodology, which draws on exit polls, and adds that "Trump voters' median income exceeded the overall statewide median in all 23 states, sometimes narrowly (as in New Hampshire or Missouri) but sometimes substantially. In Florida, for instance, the median household income for Trump voters was about $70,000, compared with $48,000 for the state as a whole." Further, says Silver,

...There's no sign of a particularly heavy turnout among "working-class" or lower-income Republicans. On average in states where exit polls were conducted both this year and in the Republican campaign four years ago, 29 percent of GOP voters have had household incomes below $50,000 this year, compared with 31 percent in 2012.

When you factor in race, to focus on white working-class voters, says Silver, "The median household income for non-Hispanic whites is about $62,000, still a fair bit lower than the $72,000 median for Trump voters." In addition, "although about 44 percent of Trump supporters have college degrees, according to exit polls -- lower than the 50 percent for Cruz supporters or 64 percent for Kasich supporters -- that's still higher than the 33 percent of non-Hispanic white adults, or the 29 percent of American adults overall, who have at least a bachelor's degree."

Trump voters do display a hgh level of discontent about the economy, concludes Silver. "But that anxiety doesn't necessarily reflect their personal economic circumstances, which for many Trump voters, at least in a relative sense, are reasonably good."

Clearly, plenty of white working-class voters are still quite leery of Trump, though many agree with his views on trade. There is a solid argument that Democrats can get a larger share of this demographic group with well-targeted policies and outreach.


May 3, 2016

Democratic Brand Needs Focus



NPR political blogger Danielle Kurtzleben has a post up which will make Democrats wince and and Republicans cringe: "Democrats' Brand Is Bad, But Republicans' Is Way Worse."

Kurtzleben explains that the Democratic Party's "net favorability rating has fallen off steeply in the last few years, and it's been negative or near-negative since 2010, according to multiple polls." However,

The Republican Party is viewed more negatively than at any time in a generation. According to the Pew Research Center, the GOP currently has its lowest net-favorability rating since 1992, the farthest back that Pew has data on this question. (Net favorability is the share who see the party favorably minus the share who see it unfavorably.)

It's not just Pew. CBS News in March also found the GOP's unfavorability rating at 66 percent -- the highest since the first time they asked that question, in 1984. Right now in that poll, the GOP is at negative-38 net favorability compared to Democrats' negative-2.

NBC News has Republicans at negative-24 (27 percent positive, 51 percent negative) to Democrats' negative-3 (38-41). (The GOP score is only a few points off from the party's all-time low of 22-53 in the poll.)

Gallup likewise finds a similar pattern -- plummeting GOP favorability which, while not at record lows, is currently mostly sticking below the Democrats' numbers.

Kurtzleblen adds that the low favorability/approval figures cling to the candidates, as well. It's difficult to determine whether the candidates or their parties are the collateral damage here, but it is an inextricable relationship.

On a positive note, one key difference is that Democrats are having a healthy internal debate, which holds the potential for improving the 'brand.' Sen. Sanders has elevated key issues, including Wall. St. reform, restoring unions and reducing the role of money in politics, as Democratic policy priorities.

Despite the GOP's more severe image meltdown, Democratic Party leaders are understandably frustrated by their inability to sustain positive favorability and approval ratings for the party -- even though they are the only party which has provided majority support for reforms that actually serve the needs of middle-class and low-income families.

Might one reason be that Democrats don't really toot their own horn? Dems are pretty good at blasting the Republicans and their candidates in social media forums, but less effective on television, where the GOP seems to have more impact.

Having an entire network helps the Republicans, no doubt. As more and more Americans cut the cord, however, isn't there an opportunity for Dems to create a heavilly-publicized streaming network that tells their story and explains, not just the historical achievements, but also the more recent accomplishments of Democratic leadership? These include private sector job-creation, deficit management, expansion of health care coverage, environmental protection and other needed reforms.

Dems might also benefit from a national ad campaign, not promoting candidates directly, but rolling out the legislative accomplishments -- and proposals -- of the party. Republicans, with their roots sunk deep in the advertising industry, have long understood that you have to assertively sell the product, regardless of its quality. It's time for Dems to get that clue.

Dems don't have to worry much about an improvement in the GOP's bickering image, at least in 2016. But Dems do need a robust messaging program to improve their image, if the victories of 2016 are not rendered inconsequential by the next midterm elections.


May 2, 2016

Political Strategy Notes



If you are concerned about voter suppression in the upcomming election, consider joining "Video the Vote," a national coalition of citizens who are committed to using their cell phone video camera widget to make sure abuses of voting rights they witness are documented and posted on the internet. Here's a video introduction to the project (and more print background on the project right here):

At The Plum Line Greg Sargent reveals Trump's "glass jaw" -- his tendency to conflate the voters he is talking to in the primaries with those in the general election.

Wow: "In losing disastrously, Trump probably would create down-ballot carnage sufficient to end even Republican control of the House. Ticket splitting is becoming rare in polarized America: In 2012, only 5.7 percent of voters supported a presidential candidate and a congressional candidate of opposite parties...Were he to be nominated, conservatives would have two tasks. One would be to help him lose 50 states -- condign punishment for his comprehensive disdain for conservative essentials, including the manners and grace that should lubricate the nation's civic life. Second, conservatives can try to save from the anti-Trump undertow as many senators, representatives, governors and state legislators as possible.' -- from influential conservative columnist George F. Will.

Alex Roarty's "EMILY's List Strategy Questioned After Big Losses" at Roll Call probes the reasons why EMILY's List-endorsed candidates lost 4 of 5 key races. Although Kate McGinty won the Democratic U.S. Senate primary in PA, List endorsee Donna Edwards lost the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in MD, as did two other congressional candidates for MD 4 and 8, and a candidate for the PA-8 congressional district. Roarty discusses speculation that Emily's List contributions were provided too early in the Edwards-Van Hollen race, and perhaps there was too much spending on other safely-Democratic seats.

Salon.com Dave Masciotra explains why "We must shame dumb Trump fans: The white working class are not victims: It's not smug liberalism to point out Trump backers are low-educated. What's dangerous is to sympathize with them." Wiser, I would say, to save the ridicule for candidates, instead of voters.

Andrew Ross Sorkin's "President Obama Weighs His Economic Legacy" in The New York Times Magazine provides plenty of statistics, talking points and soundbites Democratic candidates and campaigns will find useful, not only in defending the Obama Administration's record, but also for promoting progressive values as cost-effective in the real world. Here's one of many revealing quotes and insights from the President during his interview with the author: "If you ask the average person on the streets, 'Have deficits gone down or up under Obama?' probably 70 percent would say they've gone up," Obama said, with some justifiable exasperation -- the deficit has in fact declined (by roughly three-quarters) since he took office, and polls do show that a large majority of Americans believe the opposite."

At The Daily Beast, Will Marshall notes "A new PPI poll provides fresh evidence that the pragmatic center's demise has been greatly exaggerated. Swing voters still exist, and they likely will play a decisive role in determining which party wins control of the White House and Senate in November...The PPI survey examined four presidential battleground states that also feature competitive Senate and House races this year: Florida, Ohio, Colorado, and Nevada. We found that just over 20 percent of electorate in these swing states is made up of voters who lend their support equally to Democrats and Republicans, do not strongly identify with either party, and did not vote for the same party in the last two elections." Marshall argues further that a more centrist mix of economic policies is the key to winning these voters, even if it means alienating voters with more strongly-held populist beliefs.

Kyle Kondik presents a stunning chart in his Crystal Ball post, "Incumbency Still Powerful in Primaries," indicating that, since 1946, only 1.6 percent of House of Reps members lost their battles for renomination.

Paul Waldman has a perceptive American Prospect post on "The real Stakes in the Veeptakes," noting that "...the choice of a running mate matters very little for the final tally on Election Day, but can be critical to the administration's success." Waldman makes a strong case that Biden has been one of the most impressive Vice Presidents in U.S. history, and he offers some insights about the current names being bandied about as possible Democratic running mates. He also shares some funny quotes about the Vice Presidency, including "Daniel Webster would turn down the office by saying, "I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead."


April 29, 2016

"Tea Party of the Left" a Bad Idea



As someone semi-obsessed with the need to find ways to mobilize Democratic-leaning voters--especially young people--to participate in midterm elections, I was initially enthused about an initiative launched by former Bernie Sanders organizers focused on 2018. But then I saw the details, and reacted appropriately at New York:

[T]he closer you get to the Sandernistas' Brand New Congress initiative -- the new project by recently laid-off Bernie staffers to create a revolution in Congress beginning with the 2018 elections -- the less it looks like the instrument for a difficult but achievable task and the more it looks like the product of a very strange set of beliefs about American politics. It's not focused on boosting progressive turnout in general elections, but on recruiting and running candidates in Republican as well as Democratic primaries who meet a rigid set of policy litmus tests. The idea is very explicitly that people alive with the Bern can literally elect a "brand-new Congress" in one election cycle to turn public policy 180 degrees. Or so says key organizer Zack Exley:
"We want a supermajority in Congress that is fighting for jobs, criminal justice reform and the environment," Exley said. "Most Americans actually want that, and I think we get it by running Dems in blue areas, Republicans in deep red areas, and by running independents wherever we didn't defeat incumbents."

Republicans, too?

Corbin Trent, another former Sanders staffer, said bringing Republicans on board is "the key to it being a successful idea" and there's enough overlap between Sanders' platform and tea party conservatives to make the PAC's goals feasible.

Reality television star Donald Trump's current status as the Republican front-runner demonstrates that GOP voters are eager for candidates who, like Trump, criticize the corrupting influence of money in politics and the impact of free trade deals on American workers, Trent said.

"This will allow Republicans to say 'Yeah, I'm a Republican, but I believe climate change is real and I don't believe all Muslims are terrorists," he said. "It will allow people to think differently in the Republican Party if they want to pull away from the hate-based ideology."

Yes, that was what I feared: The discredited notion that lefties and the tea party can make common cause in something other than hating on the Clintons and Barack Obama is back with a vengeance. And worse yet, Donald Trump -- Donald Trump -- is being touted as an example of a Republican capable of progressive impulses because he shares the old right-wing mercantilist hostility to free trade and has enough money to scorn lobbyists. Does your average Trump supporter really "believe climate change is real" and disbelieve that "all Muslims are terrorists"? Do Obamacare-hating tea-partiers secretly favor single-payer health care? Do the people in tricorn hats who favor elimination of labor unions deep down want a national $15-an-hour minimum wage? And do the very activists who brought the Citizens United case and think it's central to the preservation of the First Amendment actually want to overturn it?

It's this last delusion that's the most remarkable. If there is any one belief held most vociferously by tea-party activists, it's that anything vaguely approaching campaign-finance reform is a socialist, perhaps even a satanic, conspiracy. These are the people who don't think donors to their political activities should be disclosed because Lois Lerner will use that information to launch income-tax audits and persecute Christians. The tea folk are much closer to the Koch brothers in their basic attitudes toward politics than they are to conventional Republicans.

But there persists a sort of "tea envy" in progressive circles. Here's Salon staff writer Sean Illing in a piece celebrating Brand New Congress:

Real change in this country will require a sustained national mobilization, what I've called a counter-Tea Party movement. While their agenda was nihilistic and obstructionist, the Tea Party was a massive success by any measure. And they succeeded because they systematically altered the Congressional landscape.

Well, you could say that, or you could say the tea party's excesses cost Republicans control of the Senate in 2012, and produced an environment that's made Donald Trump and Ted Cruz the GOP's only two options for this year's presidential nomination. Indeed, you can probably thank the tea party for the likelihood of a very good Democratic general election this November.

But that will again produce excellent conditions for another Republican-dominated midterm in 2018. It sure would make sense for progressives to focus on how to minimize the damage in the next midterm and begin to change adverse long-term turnout patterns. Expending time, money, and energy on scouring the earth looking for Republican primary candidates willing to run on a democratic-socialist agenda will not be helpful.



How Sanders Message Can Help Dems Win



Yamiche Alcindor's New York Times article, "Bernie Sanders, Shifting Tone, Takes On Democratic Party" signals a new stage in the Vermont senator's campaign. No one should expect Sanders to fold his campaign anytime soon, and he already has more than enough delegates secured to be a force at the Democratic convention. But his comments at his speech yesterday in Springfield, Oregon do indicate that the Democratic presidential campaign -- and the Democratic party's efforts to win down-ballot -- are entering a delicate, potentially transformative phase. As Alcindor explains:

Senator Bernie Sanders spent Thursday afternoon laying out in more detail than usual his views for shaping the Democratic Party's agenda and the need for elected officials to focus on achieving progressive political goals.

The change in his campaign tone -- focusing less on attacking Hillary Clinton -- comes as the Vermont senator lays off staff members after several tough losses on Tuesday. Though Mr. Sanders remains adamant that he wants to win the Democratic presidential nomination, his shift hints that the senator is looking past the nominating fight and toward a future role in shaping the party.

Sanders made one of the best statements thus far about what the central message of the Democratic Party ought to be, if it is to win not just the white house, but majorities in the Senate, House and make gains in the state legislatures. As Alcindor quotes Sanders:

"The Democratic Party has to reach a fundamental conclusion: Are we on the side of working people or big-money interests?" Mr. Sanders asked the crowd. "Do we stand with the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor? Or do we stand with Wall Street speculators and the drug companies and the insurance companies? Now our job is not just to revitalize the Democratic Party, not only to open the doors to young people and working people -- our job is to revitalize American democracy."

That's about the clearest short statement of what the Democratic Party must decide that has been made so far. If Democratic leaders can rise to Sanders' challenge, and unify to make that the party's clear brand, this could be a pivot towards a new era of progressive change.

Sanders' comments included a sobering assessment of why Democrats have booted numerous electoral opportunities in recent years:

"The problem we are having now is not, in my view, that the Republicans are winning elections," Mr. Sanders said. "The problem is that the Democrats are losing elections. In November of 2014, the midterm elections, 63 percent of the American people did not vote; 80 percent of young people and low-income people did not vote. And I think the reason for that is the Democratic Party up to now has not been clear about which side they are on on the major issues facing this country."

This is why the Repubicans are so nervous about Sanders, even though he is not the front-runner. It's the fact that Sanders understands the importance of a strong, simply-stated message identifying the Democratic Party as the best hope for America's middle-class, as well as low-income families. Yesterday, Donald Trump even tweeted encouragement for Sanders to run as an Independent, even though Sanders has made it crystal clear that's not going to happen.

It can be argued that Hillary Clinton has done well-enough as it is, having received over 3 million more votes than has Sanders (and 2 million more than Trump) in the primaries thus far. But Clinton is winning more because of her impressive record of experience and her effective campaign strategy and management than her message, which remains a little too ambivalent for many progressive Democrats. The worst mistake would be for her to miss the opportunity Sanders his presenting: to keep doing what she has been doing to win, but also refocus the Democratic message in a direction that is more appealing to progressives and working-class voters.

Sanders is really talking about the swing voters she is in danger of leaving on the table, and who can make a difference between a narrow victory and a Democratic landslide. These voters may well stay home, or worse, vote for Trump, if down-ballot Dems, as well as Clinton, fail to leverage the unifying message Sanders presents.

Win or lose, Sanders will be bringing over 1500 delegates ot the Democratic convention, more than enough to earn serious respect for his views about refocusing the Democratic message. Everything depends on how well he and Clinton respect and treat each other in the months ahead, and the quality of their working relationship to secure the broadest possible Democratic victory on November 8th.


April 28, 2016

Political Strategy Notes



At the Washington Post Abby Phillip and Sean Sullivan report on Democatic preparations for November in three key swing states: "In Virginia, Ohio and Florida -- the three biggest swing states in the last election -- the Clinton campaign is teaming up with state and national Democratic organizations to build voter files, organize thousands of volunteers, register tens of thousands of voters and raise the funds necessary to compete against a Republican opponent." Philip and Sullivan provide encouraging breakdowns of Democratic preparations in the three states, but note that Republicans are also registering voters in impressive numbers, due to interest in their primaries.

Alice Ollstein warns at ThinkProgress that "North Carolina's 'Monster' Voter Suppression Law Could Swing The Election."

William Barber II, president of the North Carolina N.A.A.C.P., is a founder of the "Moral Monday" movement has a New York Times op-ed on voter suppression in the south, and why it is critical that congress pass The Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the protections ripped away by the Supreme Court.

Ed Kilgore's "Cruz Names Fiorina As Veep Pick -- Smooth Move or Last Gasp?" provides an insightful take on the latest GOP gambit to prevent Trump from winning the GOP presidential nomination. At this stage, says Kilgore, it's a long shot to stop Trump in the pivotal states of IN and CA, made even less likely by Fiorina's unimpressive track record in both politics and business. Cruz supporters nonetheless hope that the Fiorina ploy will persuade enough voters that she brings added value to the potential GOP alternative ticket, as an attack dog targeting Clinton.

At The Fix Amber Phillips erxplains why "Why Tuesday was a very good night for Senate Democrats," spotlighting the victories of Katie McGinty and Chris Van Hollen in their respective PA and MD senate primaries, as Democratic establishment-favored candidates.

Not a shocker, but the new Pew Research Center study indicates that, since 1994, "something changed. College-educated Americans became increasingly persuaded to agree with the typically left-leaning position on a whole range of questions, and the percentage of "consistently liberal" college grads skyrocketed from 5 percent to 24 percent in two decades, according to Pew's study...Over that same period of time, those with lower education levels also moved to the left -- but by only by a little bit. Of Americans who only finished high school, the percentage who hold "consistently liberal" beliefs only rose from 1 percent to 5 percent...Highly educated adults -- particularly those who have attended graduate school -- are far more likely than those with less education to take predominantly liberal positions across a range of political values," Pew's report says. "And these differences have increased over the past two decades.," reports Jeff Stein at Vox.

Alan I. Abramowitz, Senior Columnist, Sabato's Crystal Ball unveils the latest findings from his Democratic Forecasting Model, which has thus far proved more accurate overall than the polls.

At the San Francisco Chronicle John Wildermuth and Joe Garofoli explore a question that will interest politically-engaged Dems, "Will young Sanders backers stay and steer Democrats leftward?" The authors quote Ben Wikler, Washington, D.C., director of the progressive hub MoveOn, which endorsed Sanders: "If Secretary (Hillary) Clinton is the nominee, then she has to make it crystal clear that the message of the resurgent progressive grassroots has been taken to heart...And if the Democratic convention reflects the values and boldness of the ideas that we've seen in the primary -- and not a tack back to the center -- then I think (Sanders') people will be on board." Further, write Wildemuth and Garofoli, "That surge of young, enthusiastic and progressive support for a longtime independent congressman and senator who wasn't even registered as a Democrat until last year should be a loud wake-up call for the party, said Simon Rosenberg, founder of NDN, a center-left think tank..."This presents Democrats with an enormous opportunity to make their case" to many young people who are more identified with Sanders and his progressive ideals than with any particular party, said Rosenberg, a veteran of former President Bill Clinton's campaigns. "The question of whether these folks become Democrats is up to the Democratic Party itself."

Paul Krugman explains why Trump is the last guy voters should want to answer "The 8 A.M. Call" telling the President that "financial markets will melt down as soon as they open."


April 27, 2016

When Hillary Meets Bernie in Philadelphia



Like most political analysts, I've felt for a good while--certainly since her big win in New York last week--that Hillary Clinton had the Democratic presidential race well in hand, and is increasingly the prohibitive favorite. From a Democratic Party unity point of view, I've been looking ahead at how the two candidates and their followers reconcile in Philadelphia. Most analyses of this challenge approach it from Sanders' perspective, discussing which demands he ought to make for endorsing his vanquisher. I wrote an analysis from Clinton's point of view for New York yesterday, before the five-state northeastern primaries results came in (they confirmed Clinton's standing by adding to her pledged delegate lead).

[T]he strategic question for Clinton of how to achieve a "soft landing" in Philadelphia with a united party and Sanders and his devotees fully onboard will [soon] grow sharper.

There is little question that Sanders himself is preparing to make his enthusiastic support at the convention and in a general-election campaign conditional on substantive and political concessions; he's been telegraphing his determination to place his stamp on the party as a consolation prize for some time now. At Monday night's MSNBC "town hall" event, he took the clever tack of projecting his disgruntlement onto his supporters rather than personalizing it:

If we end up losing, and I hope we do not, and Secretary Clinton wins, it is incumbent upon her to tell millions of people who right now do not believe in establishment politics or establishment economics, who have serious misgivings about a candidate who has received millions of dollars from Wall Street and other special interests, she has got to go out to you and to millions of other people and say, you know, "I think the United States should join the rest of the industrialized world and take on the private insurance companies and the greed of the drug companies and pass a Medicare for all."

As noted by the Washington Post's Greg Sargent, Clinton's response to Sanders's apparent lack of interest in achieving party unity without major concessions was basically to shame him via the example she set in 2008:

"Then-Senator Obama and I ran a really hard race; it was so much closer than the race right now between me and Senator Sanders," Clinton said, adding that this time around she is far ahead of Sanders in the delegate count and total number of votes. "We got to the end in June, and I did not put down conditions. I didn't say, 'You know what, if Senator Obama does X, Y and Z, maybe I'll support him. I said, 'I am supporting Senator Obama because no matter what our differences might be, they pale in comparison to the differences between us and the Republicans.' That's what I did."

At the time, Clinton said, 40 percent of her supporters said they wouldn't support Obama.

The trouble with this analogy is that her campaign had few, if any, substantive arguments with Obama's, and no particular demands for procedural changes in the nominating process either. The implied sexism many Clinton supporters saw in the eagerness of elites to get behind Obama was a grievance that could, and could only, be mitigated by tokens of respect for the vanquished candidate and for women, not by platform planks or process reforms.

The crusade for a "revolution" in the Democratic Party represented by the Sanders campaign is another thing entirely, and thus the kind of unconditional surrender she offered to Obama was never really on the table. If Clinton wants a peaceful convention, some concessions are probably in order. Selecting which to make and which to reject will be a delicate process. Where doubling down on shared positions to make them more of a priority is an option -- as it is on, say, overturning Citizens United or pointed rhetoric on income equality -- Clinton should have an easy time "caving" to Sanders's demands. Even on some more detailed policy positions, hedging is entirely possible, as shown by Clinton's recent willingness to concede that a carbon tax is one possible way to deal with greenhouse-gas emissions, or her contention that breaking up big banks may now be justified under Dodd-Frank. On the "political reform" front, it wouldn't be that hard for Clinton & Co. to punt the idea of universally open primaries to some post-convention commission, which is generally how Democrats have always dealt with such matters.

But if Sanders and his supporters decide to go to the mats on "Medicare for all," it will be more difficult for Clinton to surrender inconspicuously, especially if the planted axiom is that opposition to a single-payer system can only be explained by whorish submission to private health insurance and pharmaceutical interests, as Sanders generally insists.

The ultimate calculation Team Hillary must make is how much Sandernista unhappiness it is safe to accept, and within that calculation, whether the prime objective is a happy convention or minimizing possible defections in November.

Since presidential politics is ultimately about winning the general election, Clinton could probably afford to honk off Bernie and his devotees to some extent in Philadelphia if she is reasonably certain they'll turn out for the Democratic ticket in November. And that's where she and other Establishment Democrats have really caught a break from Republicans this year.

Experts may differ on the exact value of negative versus positive mobilization strategies, but there is not much question that either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz -- at present the overwhelming favorites for the GOP nomination -- would offer a virtual laboratory experiment in maximizing negative mobilization for Democrats. There are few if any Bernie Sanders policy priorities on which Cruz does not hold a near-opposite position. That's also true to a considerable extent of Trump, with the added ingredient of an implied extra-constitutional threat to civil liberties that makes the word fascism spring easily to the lips of precisely the kind of people most likely to feel the Bern. To put it another way, if Hillary Clinton has to make policy concessions to convince liberal and "very liberal" voters to turn out to smite Cruz or Trump, then the general election may already be lost.

So in the final analysis, convention optics may be the central consideration for the Clinton campaign in figuring out exactly how much kowtowing to Sanders and his fans is in order, recognizing that too many concessions could convey a weakness that would offset the gains from early party unity. If Clinton makes it clear early and often that there are limits to the gestures she is willing to make, then Sanders's leverage over her will accordingly be diminished.

All Clinton has to do in the meantime is actually win the nomination without bruising any more feelings than is necessary.






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



May 5: Republicans Looking Past November to the Next Election

With Donald Trump clinching the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, a lot of people are closely watching the exact words other Republican pols are saying about their new titular leader. But they may be missing the real reason Cruz and Kasich dropped out so quickly, and why other GOPers don't seem to be sweating the general election. I wrote about their motives at New York:

One of the things you do when you are positioning yourself for a future presidential run is to pose as a party loyalist and then volunteer for down-ballot drudge work. That's how Richard Nixon rehabilitated himself in 1964, and why he had an enormous advantage over Nelson Rockefeller -- who attacked Goldwater supporters at the convention and refused to lift a finger for the ticket in the general election -- in 1968. When Ronald Reagan jumped into the '68 race very late and Nixon was trying to hold the line against the wildly popular Californian among Southern conservatives, his loyalty to Goldwater probably saved the day. That's the context in which we should understand the decisions by Ted Cruz and John Kasich to fold their tents before it was mathematically necessary this year. Why make permanent enemies of Trump supporters? Both these men are almost certainly thinking about giving it another whirl in 2020, after Trump's inevitable defeat. Being the party loyalist who nonetheless offers the party a very different future is the safest course of action.

Anyone who actually joins Trump's ticket or gets too close to the fire of the Donald's rhetoric, on the other hand, is probably not thinking about 2020. The number of pols who find something else to do when Trump's circus comes to their town this fall will likely show how few Republicans are jockeying for spots in a Trump Administration and how many are looking beyond November.

And what will their post-Trump arguments be? We can already anticipate some of them.

For Ted Cruz and the movement conservatives he represents, the argument is easy: Republicans lost in 2008 and 2012 and 2016 because they did not make their campaigns a crusade for True Conservatism, and thus it's now time, finally, to give it a try in 2020.

For John Kasich, the easiest argument will probably be that Republicans need to fix their gazes on general-election polls from the get-go next time around, and make electability their principle litmus test for candidates.

There will be plenty of Republicans arguing for a return to the post-2012 RNC Autopsy Report, and an applications of its lessons -- lessons Trump's nomination implicitly and violently rejected. Whether or not Marco Rubio makes a political comeback in 2018, you can expect his name to be mentioned in conjunction with the easiest route to a GOP recovery among Latinos -- unless George P. Bush wins the governorship of Texas in the interim (I'm at least half-joking). Nikki Haley will get some early mentions as a potential party savior, and maybe before long Joni Ernst will be deemed ready for the Big Time.

And then you can expect a second act from the Reformicons, the intellectuals who typically wanted the GOP to do a better job of representing the views and economic interests of its white-working-class base, but for the most part were as horrified as anyone else by how Trump fit that particular bill. They probably need a more forceful champion than Rubio or Jebbie in 2020, with an agenda more evocative than the odd family tax credit.

There will be other would-be shapers of the post-Trump Republican Party as well, whether it's another White House candidate from the Family Paul, or fresh faces nobody's thinking about. But the great thing about the impending Trump disaster is that none of the survivors will get blamed and everyone can pretend it was a one-off aberration -- a sort of natural disaster -- that need not recur. It will help enormously that 2018 -- like 1966 -- should be a very good year for the GOP. Thanks to fortuitous turnout patterns, midterms are now always elections where Republicans should be better than external circumstances might suggest. The midterm in a third straight Democratic administration should be especially strong for the "out party." The Senate landscape for 2018 is almost impossibly pro-Republican. And on top of everything else, the more down-ballot damage the party suffers this November, the more likely crazy-large gains will be two years later. Indeed, it will be easy for Republicans to point to 2010, 2014, and 2018 and argue that there's nothing wrong with the GOP that the right presidential candidate cannot fix.

And without a doubt, that candidate is looking at him- or herself in the mirror each morning.

Yeah, it's groan-inducing to say this, and not something I want to be true at all. But thanks to the newly minted 2016 Republican presidential nominee, the 2020 Invisible Primary has already begun.


April 29: "Tea Party of the Left" a Bad Idea

As someone semi-obsessed with the need to find ways to mobilize Democratic-leaning voters--especially young people--to participate in midterm elections, I was initially enthused about an initiative launched by former Bernie Sanders organizers focused on 2018. But then I saw the details, and reacted appropriately at New York:

[T]he closer you get to the Sandernistas' Brand New Congress initiative -- the new project by recently laid-off Bernie staffers to create a revolution in Congress beginning with the 2018 elections -- the less it looks like the instrument for a difficult but achievable task and the more it looks like the product of a very strange set of beliefs about American politics. It's not focused on boosting progressive turnout in general elections, but on recruiting and running candidates in Republican as well as Democratic primaries who meet a rigid set of policy litmus tests. The idea is very explicitly that people alive with the Bern can literally elect a "brand-new Congress" in one election cycle to turn public policy 180 degrees. Or so says key organizer Zack Exley:
"We want a supermajority in Congress that is fighting for jobs, criminal justice reform and the environment," Exley said. "Most Americans actually want that, and I think we get it by running Dems in blue areas, Republicans in deep red areas, and by running independents wherever we didn't defeat incumbents."

Republicans, too?

Corbin Trent, another former Sanders staffer, said bringing Republicans on board is "the key to it being a successful idea" and there's enough overlap between Sanders' platform and tea party conservatives to make the PAC's goals feasible.

Reality television star Donald Trump's current status as the Republican front-runner demonstrates that GOP voters are eager for candidates who, like Trump, criticize the corrupting influence of money in politics and the impact of free trade deals on American workers, Trent said.

"This will allow Republicans to say 'Yeah, I'm a Republican, but I believe climate change is real and I don't believe all Muslims are terrorists," he said. "It will allow people to think differently in the Republican Party if they want to pull away from the hate-based ideology."

Yes, that was what I feared: The discredited notion that lefties and the tea party can make common cause in something other than hating on the Clintons and Barack Obama is back with a vengeance. And worse yet, Donald Trump -- Donald Trump -- is being touted as an example of a Republican capable of progressive impulses because he shares the old right-wing mercantilist hostility to free trade and has enough money to scorn lobbyists. Does your average Trump supporter really "believe climate change is real" and disbelieve that "all Muslims are terrorists"? Do Obamacare-hating tea-partiers secretly favor single-payer health care? Do the people in tricorn hats who favor elimination of labor unions deep down want a national $15-an-hour minimum wage? And do the very activists who brought the Citizens United case and think it's central to the preservation of the First Amendment actually want to overturn it?

It's this last delusion that's the most remarkable. If there is any one belief held most vociferously by tea-party activists, it's that anything vaguely approaching campaign-finance reform is a socialist, perhaps even a satanic, conspiracy. These are the people who don't think donors to their political activities should be disclosed because Lois Lerner will use that information to launch income-tax audits and persecute Christians. The tea folk are much closer to the Koch brothers in their basic attitudes toward politics than they are to conventional Republicans.

But there persists a sort of "tea envy" in progressive circles. Here's Salon staff writer Sean Illing in a piece celebrating Brand New Congress:

Real change in this country will require a sustained national mobilization, what I've called a counter-Tea Party movement. While their agenda was nihilistic and obstructionist, the Tea Party was a massive success by any measure. And they succeeded because they systematically altered the Congressional landscape.

Well, you could say that, or you could say the tea party's excesses cost Republicans control of the Senate in 2012, and produced an environment that's made Donald Trump and Ted Cruz the GOP's only two options for this year's presidential nomination. Indeed, you can probably thank the tea party for the likelihood of a very good Democratic general election this November.

But that will again produce excellent conditions for another Republican-dominated midterm in 2018. It sure would make sense for progressives to focus on how to minimize the damage in the next midterm and begin to change adverse long-term turnout patterns. Expending time, money, and energy on scouring the earth looking for Republican primary candidates willing to run on a democratic-socialist agenda will not be helpful.


April 27: When Hillary Meets Bernie in Philadelphia

Like most political analysts, I've felt for a good while--certainly since her big win in New York last week--that Hillary Clinton had the Democratic presidential race well in hand, and is increasingly the prohibitive favorite. From a Democratic Party unity point of view, I've been looking ahead at how the two candidates and their followers reconcile in Philadelphia. Most analyses of this challenge approach it from Sanders' perspective, discussing which demands he ought to make for endorsing his vanquisher. I wrote an analysis from Clinton's point of view for New York yesterday, before the five-state northeastern primaries results came in (they confirmed Clinton's standing by adding to her pledged delegate lead).

[T]he strategic question for Clinton of how to achieve a "soft landing" in Philadelphia with a united party and Sanders and his devotees fully onboard will [soon] grow sharper.

There is little question that Sanders himself is preparing to make his enthusiastic support at the convention and in a general-election campaign conditional on substantive and political concessions; he's been telegraphing his determination to place his stamp on the party as a consolation prize for some time now. At Monday night's MSNBC "town hall" event, he took the clever tack of projecting his disgruntlement onto his supporters rather than personalizing it:

If we end up losing, and I hope we do not, and Secretary Clinton wins, it is incumbent upon her to tell millions of people who right now do not believe in establishment politics or establishment economics, who have serious misgivings about a candidate who has received millions of dollars from Wall Street and other special interests, she has got to go out to you and to millions of other people and say, you know, "I think the United States should join the rest of the industrialized world and take on the private insurance companies and the greed of the drug companies and pass a Medicare for all."

As noted by the Washington Post's Greg Sargent, Clinton's response to Sanders's apparent lack of interest in achieving party unity without major concessions was basically to shame him via the example she set in 2008:

"Then-Senator Obama and I ran a really hard race; it was so much closer than the race right now between me and Senator Sanders," Clinton said, adding that this time around she is far ahead of Sanders in the delegate count and total number of votes. "We got to the end in June, and I did not put down conditions. I didn't say, 'You know what, if Senator Obama does X, Y and Z, maybe I'll support him. I said, 'I am supporting Senator Obama because no matter what our differences might be, they pale in comparison to the differences between us and the Republicans.' That's what I did."

At the time, Clinton said, 40 percent of her supporters said they wouldn't support Obama.

The trouble with this analogy is that her campaign had few, if any, substantive arguments with Obama's, and no particular demands for procedural changes in the nominating process either. The implied sexism many Clinton supporters saw in the eagerness of elites to get behind Obama was a grievance that could, and could only, be mitigated by tokens of respect for the vanquished candidate and for women, not by platform planks or process reforms.

The crusade for a "revolution" in the Democratic Party represented by the Sanders campaign is another thing entirely, and thus the kind of unconditional surrender she offered to Obama was never really on the table. If Clinton wants a peaceful convention, some concessions are probably in order. Selecting which to make and which to reject will be a delicate process. Where doubling down on shared positions to make them more of a priority is an option -- as it is on, say, overturning Citizens United or pointed rhetoric on income equality -- Clinton should have an easy time "caving" to Sanders's demands. Even on some more detailed policy positions, hedging is entirely possible, as shown by Clinton's recent willingness to concede that a carbon tax is one possible way to deal with greenhouse-gas emissions, or her contention that breaking up big banks may now be justified under Dodd-Frank. On the "political reform" front, it wouldn't be that hard for Clinton & Co. to punt the idea of universally open primaries to some post-convention commission, which is generally how Democrats have always dealt with such matters.

But if Sanders and his supporters decide to go to the mats on "Medicare for all," it will be more difficult for Clinton to surrender inconspicuously, especially if the planted axiom is that opposition to a single-payer system can only be explained by whorish submission to private health insurance and pharmaceutical interests, as Sanders generally insists.

The ultimate calculation Team Hillary must make is how much Sandernista unhappiness it is safe to accept, and within that calculation, whether the prime objective is a happy convention or minimizing possible defections in November.

Since presidential politics is ultimately about winning the general election, Clinton could probably afford to honk off Bernie and his devotees to some extent in Philadelphia if she is reasonably certain they'll turn out for the Democratic ticket in November. And that's where she and other Establishment Democrats have really caught a break from Republicans this year.

Experts may differ on the exact value of negative versus positive mobilization strategies, but there is not much question that either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz -- at present the overwhelming favorites for the GOP nomination -- would offer a virtual laboratory experiment in maximizing negative mobilization for Democrats. There are few if any Bernie Sanders policy priorities on which Cruz does not hold a near-opposite position. That's also true to a considerable extent of Trump, with the added ingredient of an implied extra-constitutional threat to civil liberties that makes the word fascism spring easily to the lips of precisely the kind of people most likely to feel the Bern. To put it another way, if Hillary Clinton has to make policy concessions to convince liberal and "very liberal" voters to turn out to smite Cruz or Trump, then the general election may already be lost.

So in the final analysis, convention optics may be the central consideration for the Clinton campaign in figuring out exactly how much kowtowing to Sanders and his fans is in order, recognizing that too many concessions could convey a weakness that would offset the gains from early party unity. If Clinton makes it clear early and often that there are limits to the gestures she is willing to make, then Sanders's leverage over her will accordingly be diminished.

All Clinton has to do in the meantime is actually win the nomination without bruising any more feelings than is necessary.


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