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Quick Hit Friday: The Rare “Third Term”

(“Quick Hit Fridays”: Where short posts about dumb topics remain unread.)

When it comes to the presidency, Americans have a curious relationship with change. On the one hand, there are built-in incumbency advantages for sitting presidents. By my count, presidents seeking re-election are 22-9, winning 11 of the last 13 times times and now three in a row. These numbers suggest an American electorate that prefers stability over disruption.

This tendency, however, does not extend to trust in the president’s party, despite this party’s likelihood of continuing much of the president’s policies. When the incumbent doesn’t stand for re-election, his successor as party nominee is what I call the “non-incumbent incumbent.” He — and now she — has searched for what’s often dubbed, sometimes inaccurately, a “third term.” But unlike actual presidents standing for another term, the non-incumbent incumbents fail more often than not — only 10 wins in 23 attempts.

Since Hillary Clinton, like last week’s trend, is again pushing back against historical patterns, let’s take a deeper look at the ten rare successes to see if she can learn from them.

Elections of 1808 and 1816
Incumbent Presidents: Thomas Jefferson (1808), James Madison (1816)
Incumbent Party: Democratic-Republican
Successors: James Madison (1808), James Monroe (1816)
Circumstances: Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe were our third, fourth, and fifth presidents. All were Democratic-Republicans. All hailed from Virginia, the first American colony and the most populous American state. Each served as Secretary of State to a Virginian president. With George Washington and a host of cabinet officials, these men were part of the hallowed Virginia Dynasty, which controlled the executive branch for 32 of our Constitution’s first 36 years. (Second president, Massachusetts resident, and PPFA idol John Adams provided the only gap.) Madison became our first “third term” president; by Monroe’s re-election, it was up to six terms. (Only FDR and Truman, who gave us five straight terms from one party, have since come close.) This unusual circumstance offers us no insight into modern presidential politics.

Election of 1824
Incumbent President: James Monroe
Incumbent Party: Democratic-Republican
Successor: John Quincy Adams
Circumstances: By James Monroe’s presidency, the Democratic-Republicans were so nationally popular, and the American people so united behind them, that no other national party competed. In the Election of 1824, all four major candidates called themselves Democratic-Republicans. Cheap win here for the incumbent party.

Election of 1836
Incumbent President: Andrew Jackson
Incumbent Party: Democrat
Successor: Martin Van Buren
Circumstances: Seventh President Jackson followed the precedent set by Washington — and followed by Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe — by retiring after two terms. During his divisive presidency, the Democratic-Republicans split into pro-Jackson Democrats, which retained most of the party machinery, and anti-Jackson Whigs, a new party which cobbled together smaller factions united in their hatred of the President. Jackson’s Secretary of State turned VP, Martin Van Buren (the later inspiration for the fearsome Van Buren Boys), ran to succeed him and had Jackson’s endorsement. The Whigs, meanwhile, weren’t yet organized and their electoral votes split between four men. Van Buren won comfortably, though with barely 50 percent of the vote; non-incumbent incumbents were beginning to face a resistant electorate.

Election of 1856
Incumbent President: Franklin Pierce
Incumbent Party: Democrat
Successor: James Buchanan
Circumstances: Pierce is the only case where the sitting president was defeated at the party’s convention. Universally considered among our worst presidents, this ignominious distinction was well earned. Buchanan went on to win the general election with only 45.3 percent of the vote over the Republican and Know Nothing nominees, the high-water mark of his career considering seven states seceded by the end of it.

Election of 1876
Incumbent President: Ulysses S. Grant
Incumbent Party: Republican
Successor: Rutherford B. Hayes
Circumstances: Democrat Samuel Tilden actually won the popular vote in a disputed result that made Bush v. Gore look like a bipartisan rendition of Kumbaya. The Electoral College finished with its tightest margin ever, 185-184 in favor of Hayes, but only after 20 disputed electoral votes all went to him. Tilden and the Democrats (band name, called it) relented to Hayes only after the Republicans agreed to remove soldiers from the post-Civil War south, ending Reconstruction.

Election of 1880
Incumbent President: Rutherford B. Hayes
Incumbent Party: Republican
Successor: James Garfield
Circumstances: Hayes promised to be a one-term president, giving us an open contest four years after his controversial victory. However, reminiscent of 1876, when the results of the Electoral College were the closest in history, 1880 gave us the closest popular vote in presidential history, 48.27 to 48.25 percent. Results vary, but the two candidates were probably separated by less than 10,000 votes, and perhaps as few as 1,900. Garfield led this Republican defense of the White House, and he was rewarded with an assassin’s bullet three months after his inauguration.

Election of 1908
Incumbent President: Theodore Roosevelt
Incumbent Party: Republican
Successor: William Howard Taft
Circumstances: Hugely popular President Roosevelt championed Taft, his friend and Secretary of War, as his successor. That was enough for the American people, especially against two-(and then three-)time loser William Jennings Bryan. Taft won with only 51.57 percent of the vote, more than enough against Bryan’s 43 percent. (Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs peeled off 2.83 percent of the vote, the strongest showing for a Socialist until Barack Hussein Obama exactly one hundred years later.)

Election of 1928
Incumbent President: Calvin Coolidge
Incumbent Party: Republican
Successor: Herbert Hoover
Circumstances: A booming economy helped the Republicans hold the White House in a landslide with Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover. The history books vindicate the American people’s decision, as Hoover ushered in many minutes of economic stability all the way until his ninth month in office.

Election of 1988
Incumbent President: Ronald Reagan
Incumbent Party: Republican
Successor: George HW Bush
Circumstances: Vice-President Bush won big on the coattails of popular President Reagan. Still, summer polling had Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis ahead big. Bush ultimately became the fourth and so far final sitting vice-president to win the presidency — the first since Van Buren.

General Thoughts

1) The non-incumbent incumbent’s limited success is boosted by early American history. The first four efforts won by a candidate of the sitting party (1808, 1816, 1824, 1836) took place before one of them lost (1844, when James K. Polk’s Democrats swept into power against the Whig’s Henry Clay). Since the first four, they have only 6 victories in the last 19 attempts. Moreover, dating back almost 90 years, the non-incumbent incumbent has just one win in seven tries (Bush in ’88). Not good for Clinton!

2) Few of these elections give us normal circumstances to help us with 2016.

  • 1808 and 1816 were Virginian forefathers of the revolutionary generation batting away challengers like tennis balls.
  • 1824 was a one-party election.
  • 1836 and 1856 had one united party against multiple major challengers.
  • 1876 and 1880 were tight as tight can be.

It’s worth noting, of course, that every election has quirks that make them an event we can’t perfectly apply to future elections. The same goes for learning from this one. In 50 years, when a non-incumbent incumbent is running for office and Hillary Clinton is an example of someone who did it successfully, Future PPFA will say, “Yeah, but her opponent was Donald Trump.” Fair enough, FPPFA. Fair enough.

3) Nevertheless, that leaves us just three elections where the non-incumbent incumbent has won under normal circumstances (and even 1908 had nearly half of the voting public asking for someone other than the president’s party). Therefore, as I said at the top of this column, I can’t help but get the impression that Americans like change if the neither candidate is already president.

4) So what must Clinton do to fight against history? What did the elections of 1908, 1928, and 1988 have in common? Well, it might be out of her hands. The first and last had all time popular presidents, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan; candidates Taft and Bush had the best possible surrogates in their quests to succeed them. In 1928, as noted, the economy economy was in flush, if vulnerable, economic times. Of course the people would stick with the party in charge.

In sum, the election could just end up being a referendum on the President. She needs to pray that Obama’s approval rating stays above water and the economy doesn’t take a turn for the worse. Otherwise Donald Trump is waiting as the “change” candidate, or, as he puts it: “what-the-hell-do-you-have-to-lose?” In American history, much to Hillary Clinton’s chagrin, the electorate more often than not says, “Good point.”

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The Biased Media

In the Election of 1796, the first presidential election without George Washington, the two most likely successors — Vice-President John Adams of the budding Federalist Party and former Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson of the Democratic-Republicans — found themselves skewered by segments of the press.

Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson of his namesake, exemplified the charge against Adams with a pro-Jefferson newspaper, Philadelphia’s General Advertiser, later called the Aurora. He gave us our first “Elitist!” argument, charging that Adams “would deprive you of a voice in choosing your president and senate, and make both hereditary.” Bache asked his readers if they wanted, “this champion of kings, ranks, and titles to be your president.” As an example of Adams’s monarchical leanings, Bache warned that if Adams were elected, his son, John Quincy, would become president, too. (Lucky guess.)

The Federalists, however, were not to be outdone. They referred to Jefferson as an atheistic, anarchistic coward. An infamous Federalist description of the Jeffersonians described them as “cut-throats who walk in rags and sleep amidst filth and vermin.” The Gazette of the United States ran a letter that implicated Jefferson in an affair with one of his female slaves. (Another lucky guess?) Media bias in presidential politics was born.

It didn’t die. Four years later, in the rematch between Jefferson and President Adams, the Connecticut Courant warned of a Jefferson presidency in a way that makes you wonder if perhaps Donald Trump was a subscriber:

“Murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will all be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

Republican newspapers aggressively countered. The Richmond Examiner labeled Adams a “repulsive pedant” who was, “in his private life, one of the most egregious fools upon the continent. . . . [He is] that strange compound of ignorance and ferocity, of deceit and weakness,” and a “hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Hermaphroditical character!

Newspapers regularly took sides in this “First Party System,” a product of the famous Hamilton-Jefferson feud in President Washington’s cabinet. Indeed, a biased media was the norm; partisan writings fueled the newspaper business. These media biases continued throughout American history:

  • In 1836, the New York American, which supported the Whig candidate William Henry Harrison, called Democratic candidate Martin Van Buren an “illiterate, sycophant, and politically corrupt” politician. (Foreshadowing this November, the corrupt politician won.)
  • In the rematch four years later, Harrison, in his second attempt at the presidency, became the first candidate to deliver a stump speech. The Democratic Globe did not take kindly to such unbecoming tactics, snorting, “What a prodigy of garrulous egotism!” The Daily Advertiser described him as the “bufoonery of 1840.” (Or perhaps THIS foreshadows 2016: the egotistical buffoon won.)
  • In 1880, Harper’s Weekly described Democratic candidate Winfield Scott Hancock as “loose, aimless, unintelligent, absurd,” while the Nation opined “The General’s talk about [tariffs] is that of a man who knows nothing about it, and who apparently, until he began to talk had never thought about it.” (Sound familiar?)
  • In 1936, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for re-election against Alf Landon (I swear Alf Landon was his real name and he was a real person who was actually a real twentieth century major party nominee for president), dissenting papers accused the President of being flanked by a “Communist entourage.” Specifically, the Chicago Tribune ran a column called “Moscow Orders Reds in U.S. To Back Roosevelt” and it worried that a FDR win would lead to “Moscow in the White House.” The paper had a countdown until the election, warning readers how long they had to “save your country.” (Our country wasn’t saved.)
  • Looking at the 1948 election, Nathan B. Blumberg, in his book “One-Party Press?,” found that 65.2 percent of newspapers (which represented 78.5 percent of circulation) expressed an official editorial preference for Republican challenger Thomas Dewey while only 15.4 percent (which represented only 10 percent of circulation) expressed preference for Democratic President Truman.

Of course, the closer we get to today, these tidbits get less funny and interesting and more frustrating and personal. Still, for the whole of presidential politics, to have a media is to have a biased one.


Is 2016 over the line, though? It’s hard to top “rape, adultery and incest will all be openly taught and practiced,” but we’d be hard-pressed to find an election in modern political history where the media has been more uniformly caustic toward a candidate than it is toward Donald Trump.

Now, there’s two dominant schools of thought regarding the media’s actions. One says that the media shouldn’t pick sides, and that it’s despicable that either the press has gone after Trump as much as it has, or that it’s gone after him more than it has Clinton. This school’s most notable professor is Trump himself.

It’s worth mentioning, here, that accusing the media of having a liberal bent is nothing new. In its entry on media bias, Wikipedia, which gets edited, checked, and rechecked by contributors of all ideologies, walks you through a sizable sampling of such charges, including examples and evidence, before listing a dozen high-profile authors who have taken deep dives into the subject to make their case.

Of course, if you scroll down from that section, you get to the “conservative bias” section, which lists examples of conservative media along with some explanations, counterarguments, and context for the ostensible liberal media bias, not the least of which is that blaming the liberal media is a conservative strategy. Trump is taking this strategy further. If he successfully invalidates the media, then it doesn’t matter what they say about him. He’d have free reign to say whatever he wanted without fear of admonition from a toothless fourth estate. In sum, his “biased media” campaign is extremely self-serving; even better, he gets to collapse it into a larger “rigged” accusation against the entire political system, which has coincidentally made a comeback in recent weeks. (He can’t lose Pennsylvania, a state carried by the Democrat for the last six elections, unless “cheating goes on”? Puh-lease.)

Now, the second school of thought says that Trump has earned nearly every bit of criticism thrown his way, and Hillary Clinton has actually received an appropriate amount of scrutiny. In other words, as The Atlantic writes, it’s his own fault that he continues to get most of the negative attention from the media, and if any presidential candidate behaved the way Trump has, the media would have had a field day just the same.

PPFA’s enrollment in this second school should not be surprising. If memory serves, I never said anything particularly harsh about Republican contenders Rubio, Cruz, Christie, and Kasich. In fact, I recall being mostly complimentary of them.

  • called Rubio the field’s “most qualified foreign policy candidate,” one who was so skilled and energetic that it was like he was “created in a laboratory” to defeat Clinton, the “fossilized also-ran of decades past.”
  • I dedicated this site’s most widely read column to Ted Cruz’s tremendous campaign.
  • I lauded Christie’s efforts to put people ahead of party during his tenure as a Republican governor in a dark blue state.
  • And I went to one of Kasich’s rallies before writing about how I admired him.

If one of them became the nominee, I’m confident this website could have done a relatively straight evaluation of his race against Clinton.

There were two GOP candidates, however, that I had trouble tolerating: Trump and Dr. Ben Carson. They both seemed out of their league. They had skills in their challenging fields, but they knew little of politics and less of policy. It was frustrating to see their rise in the polls against more experienced and knowledgeable candidates that could have given the Republican Party a genuine nominee, one that could not only accurately and fairly represent the nominating party, but also one that could have given the American people a more legitimate prosecution of Hillary Clinton. Their inexperience can be excused, but their ignorance could not. Consequently, throughout the primaries, I was harsh toward Carson and Donald J. Trump, thinking that once they were eliminated, I could hopefully manage some unbiased analysis of the general election.

But then one of them became the nominee. Now I’m here, unable to play it straight, admitting that while I’m no fan of Hillary Clinton, who will almost certainly not earn my vote, “I really, really want to see Donald Trump lose, more than I’ve ever wanted to see a candidate lose, and the bigger the blowout the more gratifying it would be.”


I think the media, which has unquestionably been harsh on Trump, arrived at a similar place, though it began at a different starting point. Early on, it was somewhat inadvertently Trump’s best friend. Just as he hacked disenfranchised Americans across the country and knew how they ticked, he hacked the media, too. He knew his cult of personality led to ratings, and ratings is the primary driver of content. The result was record amounts of free media — nearly $2 billion by Super Tuesday:

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and $4 billion by the end of the Republican Primary. Compare that to what Clinton was receiving as the leader in the Democratic race, and it was no contest between them until we entered into the general election last month:

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What’s more is that this coverage of Trump may not have been as harmful as you may have thought it was. The verbosely titled Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy found that in the primaries’ early stages, “major news outlets covered Donald Trump in a way that was unusual given his low initial polling numbers — a high volume of media coverage preceded Trump’s rise in the polls” and that “Trump’s coverage was positive in tone — he received far more ‘good press’ than ‘bad press.'”

With these conclusions in mind, I think there’s a good chance that the media feels guilty about facilitating Trump’s rise, which might explain some of their negative Trump coverage today. Florida Republican strategist Alex Patton agrees, offering that “What you’re seeing here is an overcorrection by the media in some cases. . . . I think the media realized they created Donald Trump. And when you look at the media bias starting to emerge and how Trump just dominated the media coverage in the primaries, some of this is the media going, ‘Oh damn, we’re responsible for this.'”

And if the fact that the media has been mostly useful for Trump doesn’t blow your mind enough, some argue that it hasn’t been as helpful to Clinton as Trump wants you to believe. Even setting aside biased, wordy, full-throated defenses of Clinton as more aggrieved than Trump at the hands of the media, there is still reason to think Clinton has had it rough. The Harvard Kennedy School found that in 2015, “Hillary Clinton had by far the most negative coverage of any candidate. In 11 of the 12 months, her ‘bad news’ outpaced her ‘good news,’ usually by a wide margin, contributing to the increase in her unfavorable poll ratings in 2015.”

Source: Media Tenor, January 1-December 31, 2015.

The social media analytics company Crimson Hexagon corroborates that surprising conclusion:

This counterintuitive finding will become an increasingly common drum beat from liberals in their media bubble, though it will be a preposterous and quickly dismissed idea for conservatives in theirs.

Also relevant is that it’s not just the liberal media (and PPFA) that has been critical of his campaign. In addition to Republican political defections piling up, tried and true conservative media outlets and personalities have refused to climb on board the Trump Train, even with the possibility of Hillary Clinton, for whom they share no love, waiting as the 45th president.

Leon Wolf of the conservative RedState.com, for example, lambasted Trump earlier this month with his: “Drop The Media Bias Crutch, Put On Your Big Boy Pants, And Do Better.” On the one hand, Wolf acknowledges the liberal bent of the media, but with his other he slaps Trump across the face for thinking it’s the media’s fault he’s doing so poorly. Wolf think that the media has been critical of Clinton, but the reason it can’t focus on her more is that Trump can’t get out of his own way: “The media, including traditionally liberal outlets like CNN have aggressively and openly and repeatedly called Hillary Clinton a liar for her responses to the email scandal. Every time a new revelation comes up, the media dutifully covers it and rakes a Hillary operative over the coals. The reason they don’t stay on these stories is because Trump won’t let them. . . . It isn’t just the email scandal, just look at how aggressively one specific liberal outlet (the Washington Post) has covered a relatively small scandal (for the Clintons), the Clinton Foundation’s ties to a shady Haitian mine deal

“Look, Hillary Clinton did not get to be nearly as unpopular as Donald Trump just by wearing bad pantsuits. She is regarded as untrustworthy because the media has in fact reported many of the ways in which she has been repeatedly dishonest.”

And it goes well beyond RedState.com. The National Review is prominently anti-Trump. So is George Will. So is Glenn Beck. So is Bill Kristol. So is Mike Murphy. So is Joe Scarborough. So is everyone else an increasingly petulant Sean Hannity won’t forgive. These conservative critics are surely inoculated from RINO charges considering they’ve each been Republicans for decades longer than Trump has, including the years where Trump repeatedly praised the Clintons while these detractors denounced them. If people side with Trump over some of those names, they’re signing up for an entirely different set of principles than those of the modern Republican Party.

A Clinton Administration looms, but Republican voters nominated a candidate that many conservatives and Republicans can’t even pretend to like and say they’ll vote for. I think that goes to show you that the scrutiny toward Trump isn’t just liberal propaganda. It’s something quite deserved.

But hey, at least they don’t say he’s a hideous hermaphroditical character.

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Quick Hit Friday: Northeast Democrats

(“Quick Hit Fridays”: Where lame posts about random topics go to quietly die.)

In the century before this election, the Democratic Party nominated a candidate for president 24 times. Of those 24 nominees, just five were from the northeast (a geographic region I consider to be everything from DC to Maine). And of those five, only two became president.

Here’s the list (northeasterners bolded, presidents italicized):

1920: James M. Cox, Ohio
1924: John W. Davis, West Virginia
1928: Al Smith, New York
1932 – 44: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, New York
1948: Harry S. Truman, Missouri
1952 – 56: Adlai Stevenson, Illinois
1960: John F. Kennedy, Massachusetts
1964: Lyndon B. Johnson, Texas
1968: Hubert Humphrey, Minnesota
1972: George McGovern, South Dakota
1976 – 80: Jimmy Carter, Georgia
1984: Walter Mondale, Minnesota
1988: Michael Dukakis, Massachusetts
1992 – 96: Bill Clinton, Arkansas
2000: Al Gore, Tennessee
2004: John Kerry, Massachusetts
2008-12: Barack Obama, Kenya

The two exceptional presidents, we could argue, caught lightning in a bottle. In 1932, FDR went up against President Herbert Hoover, who had just accompanied the country into the Great Depression. A Democratic victory was a sure thing. Then, thanks to his New Deal and World War II, the incumbent President Roosevelt had the job for life. Later, in 1960, Kennedy capitalized on the first televised debate, which, coupled with his jawline, squeaked him out a victory against Richard Nixon. To win, Kennedy needed his running mate, Texan Lyndon Johnson, to deliver southern states, and even then he carried the national popular vote by just .17 percent.

But that’s it. That’s the two. And remember that many more northeast Democrats attempted a run. For every Michael Dukakis there are five Chris Dodds and Milton Shapps. “Who?!” you ask? Exactly.

It’s also worth pointing out that if we focus on just the last half-century, when our two major parties grew into their modern versions, zero northeast Democrats have become president.

What are we to make of this? The northeast is a densely populated area, with one-fifth of Americans hailing from it. Moreover, the region is a Democratic stronghold with more Democratic voters and potential candidates than any other region in the country. So why is it that in the previous 50 years the party has nominated southerners (Johnson, Carter twice, Clinton twice, Gore) three times as often as northeasterners (Dukakis, Kerry)? And then why has it been rarer still to get the northeasterners elected?

There are myriad reasons, to be sure, but among them is Middle America’s skepticism of the northeast liberal’s reputation — he (and now she) who makes decisions from his (and now her) steel and ivory tower, lining their own pockets in the process. Opponents have successfully used that narrative to derail many-a-campaign. (Interestingly, that strategy — beware the rich northeast liberal who profits on the backs of the working class — is exactly what Ted Cruz belatedly, and miserably, attempted in his quest to take down Donald Trump in the Republican Primary.)

Ultimately, Hillary Clinton (and Donald Trump?) is trying to become just the third northeast liberal to be president since the end of World War I. This is just one long-term trend against which she’s fighting. There are others. Perhaps they’ll get their own posts some day. (And I promise none of them will have to do with being a woman.)

Have a great weekend. Catch you on Monday.

OGKuHeE

A PPFA Endorsement … Kind Of

Fifteen percent. That’s the level of national support it would take for a third voice to be heard from this fall’s debate stages. (Granted, it might only be a second voice if Donald Trump finds an excuse to not debate.) A third audible voice has long been missing in American politics. This fall, Presidential Politics of America is hoping that Gary Johnson will be that voice.

What follows is not an endorsement of him or the libertarian ideology. It is not a suggestion of who to vote for in November, particularly if you disagree with libertarianism. But if a pollster calls you between now and the end of September, when the first presidential debate is scheduled, PPFA is making a formal request that you say you’re leaning toward supporting Johnson. Today’s post is an explanation why.


Did you ever notice that whenever something bad happens, our two parties and their cohorts in the media are really quick to blame the other side for it? It’s always spun as more evidence that one side has been right and should be listened to, while the other side is wrong and we can’t believe anyone still listens to them. It’s always done with such incredulity, as if anyone could see it any other way, like our better judgement makes us superior to those who see things differently. (The Onion‘s most recent take on this phenomena: “When Will The Idiots On The Other End Of The Political Spectrum Wake Up And Have Every One Of My Life Circumstances, Daily Interactions, And Upbringing?”) American tragedy should bring togetherness, but we can’t embrace when we’re at each other’s throats.

Ultimately, the blame game is the most predictable post-story process in politics. But who do we blame for all the blaming?

The two-party system. (Clearly, PPFA is not immune to the blame game. Apologies.) When news breaks, members of both parties instinctively cling to their group. Strength in numbers. Forward the talking points. Check up on favorite websites and talking heads so they can help crystallize opinions. Most importantly, find a reason the other side is wrong.

Four years ago, in a piece for Construction Literary Magazine, I suggested that one way to calm the stormy partisan waters that drench our nation was to make voting mandatory. My premise was that since candidates and parties win elections by mobilizing the base (rather than recruiting Independents), they do what it takes to rally that base: throw red meat, make unrealistic ideological promises, take advantage of voters’ fears and biases about the other side, and so on. As a result, they maintain their two-party dominance while we’re coaxed by clans and poisoned by prejudice. This process turns off moderates and acts as a disincentive for the disinterested to pay attention, allowing the perpetuation of the party’s desired zero-sum battle; whatever is bad for your opponent is good for yourself, and in politics it’s a lot easier to make someone hate your opponent than to sell them on your own virtue. (Here we are, four years later, and the main reason to vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump seems to be blocking the other from becoming president. Mission accomplished!) Under the current system, one party doesn’t modulate its voice because it knows they’ve done such a good job demonizing the other side that few on their own side will defect.

I hoped that forcing the middle to vote, which curtails the voting power of the bases, would birth a viable, centrist third party that might actually induce some defections. This development could convince the two parties to soften their tone and work together instead of spending most of their efforts demonizing their mirror images. If all of a sudden voters’ choices aren’t binary, then the parties will necessarily need to take a more nuanced stance on the issues or fear being outnumbered by two dissenting groups. The mere existence of a third viable voice could do what all the two-way, self-serving cacophony has been unwilling to, and I thought compelling the center to show up on Election Day would get that third voice.

Perhaps, however, the 2016 election has removed the middle man. We didn’t need compulsory voting to get a bump in third party interest. Instead, the two major parties nominated the two most hated politicians they could find, and that has left about a fifth of the country refusing to pick between the two, with many clamoring for an alternative.

But don’t forget: we already have other choices. One of these choices is Gary Johnson and the Libertarians, and they give us our best chance to find a badly needed third competitive party.


I should first discuss another contender for that third option. I respect the Green Party’s efforts. I agree with their distrust and impatience with both major parties, their frustration that corporations and interest groups control those parties, and that we shouldn’t let the duopoly continue to put its own needs ahead of the needs of voters.

However, the Libertarians offer something the Greens do not, and I don’t just mean healthier polling nationally (though at 8.3 points to 3, the Libertarians’ Johnson polls nearly three times better than the Green Party’s Jill Stein, and this factor should be considered if trying to get a breakthrough third candidate this fall). The beauty of the American Libertarian movement — grounded in Constitutionalism, fiscal restraint, and social liberalism — is that it siphons positions from both major parties. Instead of voters thinking they need to walk in lockstep on one of the two major party platforms, the Libertarian ticket thinks that just because you are pro-X does not mean you also have to be pro-Y, because so many of the issues are unrelated. Maybe you want lower, simplified taxes for wealthy job creators and you don’t think marijuana should be any more illegal than alcohol is. Maybe you think debt control is important but so is defending the right of any two consenting adults to get married. And maybe, just maybe, as long as you’re not hurting your neighbor and he’s not hurting you, it doesn’t matter that you two disagree on political issues just as long as you let each other live.

The Greens, on the other hand, are basically Democrats, just more honest and hopped up on steroids. Greens think the Democratic Party, as a result of compromise and/or corruption, falls woefully short of its stated principles, and they want to root out the leftist movement’s ideological impurities. (Indeed, when Bernie Sanders said he’d do everything in his power to get Clinton elected, the progressive fringes turned on him.) Centrist and moderate they are not. They know what’s right for you and your neighbor, and they’ll let both of you know about it.

I don’t think, even in an election with two unpopular major party nominees, that the Greens’ message will capture much more than a few percent of the country: residual Nader voters and a handful of disaffected, purist Sanders supporters either too proud or too wounded to come around to she who vanquished him. The fact that Stein’s numbers have fallen since Sanders dropped out show not only that the Greens have a pretty low ceiling, but also that they’ve done a pretty lousy job of recruiting. It would behoove them for a third party — any third party — to first break through.

Ultimately, to capitalize on the fifth of the country that is so aghast at the two major nominees that they might vote for neither, it’s the Libertarians, which pull popular positions from both the Democrats and GOP, that has the best chance at siphoning disaffected partisans to make a run at 15 percent.


But can their nominee get to the magic number before the debates? Today, Johnson is attempting a big push with the numerical themed #15for15: he wants people to donate $15 on August 15 so he can earn $1.5 million to help propel him to 15 percent in the polls. (Is Herman Cain his campaign manager?) So far, Johnson is at 8.3 and climbing:

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But he’s not climbing fast enough. Since June 1, his Real Clear Politics average has risen about four points in ten weeks, leaving him seven points short with just six weeks until the polling window, when he’ll need to get 15 points or higher in five different polls to make the September 26 debate. Put simply, he’s just not on track to get there barring a shot in the arm.

That’s where we come in. Can we get Gary Johnson the fabled and inestimable “PPFA bump”? Can we talk ourselves and others into Gary Johnson as deserving of being on the stage with Clinton and Trump? I say we can! Maybe these talking points can help:

  • At their CNN Town Hall, running mate Bill Weld used a line that’s so straight forward that it’s hard not to love: “We want the government out of your pocketbook and out of your bedroom.” That’s the Libertarians in a nutshell.
  • It’s the year of the outsider, which attracts many Independents. Johnson brings many of the qualities we want in an outsider, but he’s not anchored by what worries us about them.
    • A two-term governor of New Mexico, he never spent a day as a Washington politician.
    • But, like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan before him, he has valuable executive political experience.
    • Plus, what could be more outsider than being the guy most effectively pushing back against the ultimate insiders: the two major parties and their nominees, each of whom has, for decades, rubbed elbows with the most powerful politicians in the country.
  • There’s a lot to like in Johnson’s two terms as New Mexico governor, not the least of which is that he actually governed, unlike Trump, Clinton, and Stein. Consider that:
    • “My overriding philosophy,” he said, “is the common-sense business approach to state government, period. Best product, best service, lowest price.”
    • His accomplishments include “no tax increases in six years, a major road building program, shifting Medicaid to managed care,” and much more.
    • The think tank CATO Institute, which evaluates the fiscal responsibility of America’s governors, favorably evaluated his tenure, awarding him a B and praising his fiscal restraint.
    • Most impressively is that he did this all with a 60 percent Democratic legislature (and CATO noted that this legislature is the reason he didn’t score better than a B). PPFA loves it when governors have experience dealing with a state congress dominated by the opposing party, because that’s likely a situation they’ll be facing in a federal government before too long.
  • The dude climbed Mount Everest.
  • In a year where the two nominees have egos the size of the defense budget and seem relentlessly prone to lying, Johnson and Weld have come across a particularly humble pair. At their Town Hall, Johnson used language like “maybe I am wrong” and “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.”
  • If you run up against a Democrat who thinks he’s too conservative, point to his foreign policy, which is much more in line with Bernie Sanders’s non-interventionism than what some call Clinton’s neoconservatism.
  • If you run up against a Republican who thinks he’s too liberal, remind them that Donald Trump cuts against the Republican grain on many important issues, particularly on trade, American military leadership, eminent domain, Citizens United, affirmative action, and bedroom/bathroom issues. (This was not an exhaustive list.)
  • Like #FeelTheBern, we could potentially have a new great hashtag: the even more brilliant #FeelTheJohnson.

Most important, we’d get a third voice. What’s the harm in letting him debate? You can still vote for Clinton or Trump (or Stein) in November, but can we get just 15 percent of Americans — just one in seven would do it — to want to open up the process beyond these two unpopular nominees? Can we get him the PPFA bump?? I sure hope so.

Let’s make it happen.

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Electoral Math: Three Months Out

(Author’s note: My last check-in with electoral math occurred at the six-month mark. Here are Parts 1 and 2 of that edition, which introduced some of the concepts of electoral math calculations. Read them if I lose you below.)

Three months ago, Presidential Politics for America projected a 276 to 262 result in the Electoral College in favor of Hillary Clinton. The distance to Election Day has since been halved — an appropriate fraction considering that this interminable election cycle feels like it might qualify for one of Zeno’s Paradoxes. In the meantime, things have quite obviously taken a favorable turn for the Democratic nominee. In most national polls, she’s opened up her widest margins of the summer. Donald Trump now looks up at a polling mountain so high and treacherous that even the best sherpas might describe it as an impossible ascent.

Still, we can never forget that national polls don’t matter. It’s the Electoral College that elects a president. Is Trump looking any better in those projections? Today, we find out.

I’m not taking any stones away from the Blue and Red walls, despite polls suggesting some traditionally reliable states are remarkably competitive: Oregon for the Democrats and Utah (and Georgia) (and Missouri) (and Arizona) for the Republicans. I’ll need to see those polls remain tight into the fall in order to believe those numbers are anything more than mirages in underpolled states largely ignored by the campaigns.

However, I do want to add a state to each of the walls: Indiana and Virginia. They were already trending toward their respective parties as it was; now they have the running mates, Mike Pence of Indiana and Tim Kaine of Virginia. (Boy, I almost fell asleep just writing those names.) Each state is now solid.

As a result, in the race to 270, we now start with Clinton 235, Trump 191. The remaining Presidential Politics for America Purple Playing Field (or PPFA PPF) consists of nine states worth a combined 112 electoral votes:

The Purple Playing Field: Florida (29), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), North Carolina (15), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), Iowa (6), New Mexico (5), New Hampshire (4).


Florida (29 electoral votes)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Republican
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 46.5, Trump 42.2 (Clinton +4.3)
Three Months Out polling average: Clinton 44.7, Trump 42 (Clinton +2.7). (For each of today’s polling averages I’ll only use two-way polling unless a three- or four-way with Gary Johnson and Jill Stein provides a sizable discrepancy. The reason is because there are more two-ways available, as there was in May, which reduces the margin of error. Since Clinton and Trump lose a similar amount of points in three- and four-way polling, I think this is the better method when projecting the Electoral College.)
Miscellaneous: Trump was looking great until the last poll, which had Clinton up six points. In the four previous polls, Trump won two and there was a tie in another. Still, those four polls came before the conventions. The only post-convention poll shows Clinton in control.
Current edge: Clinton
Running tally (which started at 235 – 191, Democrats): 264-191, Democrats. What a great reminder about Florida’s importance. If Clinton takes the state, she’s up to 264 and one state from victory. But if Trump had won it, we’d be sitting at a tight 235 to 220.

Pennsylvania (20)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Democratic
2000: Democratic
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 45.8, Trump 38.8 (Clinton +7.0)
Current polling average: Clinton 49.3, Trump 41.3 (Clinton +8.0)
Miscellaneous: There was a Quinnipiac poll in early July that had Democrats freaking out — Trump was leading in Pennsylvania. Considering it’s the only PPFA PPF state to vote one way in each of the last four elections, a Trump win there would really scramble the map. Many expected Trump to make this state his number one target, and if you were to tell me that Trump wins Pennsylvania in November, I’d assume he won the election. Since that Quinnipiac poll, however, Clinton has boasted margins of 9, 4, and then 11 in the last three polls. She’s widening her lead in Pennsylvania, just as she is across the country.
Running tally: 284-191, Democrats. No drama today.

Ohio (18)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Republican
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 45.5, Trump 42.5 (Clinton +3)
Current polling average: Clinton 42.6, Trump 41.8 (Clinton +0.8)
Miscellaneous: Incredibly, four of the last five polls show a TIE. If we get a competitive Electoral College, will this state be like 2004 all over again?
Current edge: Four polls show a tie, the RCP average shows it’s within one point… but no polling has been done since the Democratic National Convention. This near tie goes to the candidate with momentum: Clinton.
Running tally: 302-191, Democrats. The Clinton Campaign goes in for the kill.

North Carolina (15)
2012: Republican
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Republican
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 45.8, Trump 42.5 (Clinton +3.3)
Current polling average: Clinton 44.0, Trump 43.5 (Clinton +0.5)
Miscellaneous: Trump has closed the gap, and he even won the only post-DNC poll by four points.
Current edge: Trump has held on. It’s worth noting that if Clinton wins in North Carolina, a Romney state, she’s almost certainly winning this election. It is to her as Pennsylvania is to Trump. (Now that I’ve said this, she’ll win North Carolina and Trump Pennsylvania.)
Running tally: 302-206, Democrats

Colorado (9)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Republican
Six Months Out polling average: We had no relevant polling (only a November one).
Current polling average: Clinton 45.0, Trump 35.5 (Clinton +9.5). After that dearth of Colorado polling, we had five in July alone. The two most recent show double-digit leads for the Democrat.
Miscellaneous: Pot smokers and Latinos.
Current edge: Clinton
Running tally: 311-206, Democrats

Nevada (6)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Republican
Six Months Out polling average: None.
Current polling average: Clinton 43.0, Trump 40.7 (Clinton +2.3)
Miscellaneous: Three polls give us our average here. The first was conducted in early July and had Clinton up four. The second was conducted late in July after the conventions, and it had Clinton’s lead down to one. Then CBS released one from last week, and Clinton’s lead was still only two. In other words, since the convention, Trump has lingered in Nevada. Once the DNC bump fades for Clinton, he should overtake her.
Current edge: Trump gets his first flipped state from three months ago.
Running tally: 311-212, Democrats

Iowa (6)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Democratic
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 45, Trump 41 (Clinton +4)
Current polling average: Clinton 41.3, Trump 40.8 (Clinton +0.5)
Other factors: Trump has almost totally eaten into Clinton’s lead here. It’s one reason why Clinton considered putting its former governor, Tom Vilsack, on the ticket. It doesn’t feel like rural America is with Hillary Clinton and the Democrats this time around.
Current edge: Another Trump flip
Running tally: 311-218

New Mexico (5)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Democratic
Six Months Out polling average: None
Current polling average: Just one May poll, which has Clinton ahead, 41 to 33. (That’s with and without former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson.)
Other factors: High confidence in New Mexico, nearly half Latino, sticking with the Democrats. It’s a contender for the Blue Wall once we see post-Kaine and -DNC polling.
Current edge: Clinton
Running tally: 316 – 218, Democrats

New Hampshire (4)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Democratic
2000: Republican
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 44.8, Trump 35 (Clinton +9.8)
Current polling average: Clinton 45.0, Trump 38.0 (Clinton +7)
Other factors: Trump has shaved Clinton’s average lead, but now Sanders is on board, and it’s still New England. Plus, the only post-DNC poll conducted in the Granite State showed Clinton with a 17-point lead. It’s another Blue Wall contender.
Current edge: Clinton.
Running tally: 320-218, Democrats win.


General Thoughts

1) Don’t forget: I already answered, “What If It’s a Tie?

2) However, with electoral projections like today’s, it looks like I wasted my time analyzing a tie scenario. If this 320 to 218 result holds up, Clinton would fall jut short of President Obama’s 332 to 206 2012 re-election.

3) But don’t count out Trump just yet! When things go poorly for a campaign, the press likes to pounce. Small gaffes turn into big gaffes, and big gaffes chew up 48 hours or more of the media’s attention. Since the media and Trump already had an antagonistic (if often symbiotic) relationship, this negative coverage has been exacerbated, resulting in Trump’s worst two weeks since Wisconsin.

It’s times like these, however, that we can find value in taking one deep breath and two steps back. We should remind ourselves that Trump came this far with no election experience, hardly any staff, pathetic state and local organization, remarkably few ads, and among the emptiest campaign treasuries in modern electoral history:

And despite all his incompetence, he had a polling lead on the country’s most connected political family as recently as two weeks ago. Just last week his campaign revealed a huge breakthrough in July fundraising, netting $80 million, only $10 million short of the much more organized Clinton Campaign. If he can start converting those dollars into effective battleground ads — and he’s just starting to attempt those — we could be back to an even ballgame in September. Remember, after he lost Wisconsin, he ran the table. To write him off is to invite karma, doom, and, I assume, locusts.

4) It’s also worth nothing that if we compare Trump’s deficit to my electoral math of three months ago, he’s still, even though he lost more states than May’s projection, trimming leads in the big picture. To illustrate, check out this exclusive PPFA table, which charts how each candidate’s polling average changed from May 8 to August 8. From those numbers we can calculate who has had more relative improvement.

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To clarify, let’s look at Florida. I gave it to Clinton today, but her numbers faded a bit, while Trump’s almost stayed even. Even though Trump fell by 0.2 points, he had a 1.6 improvement relative to Clinton. In fact, Trump has gained in five of the six states where we had acceptable May polling. In four of those states, Clinton’s average has fallen, and each of them by at least 1.7 points. Trump, meanwhile, only had numbers fall in three states, and each of those were by 0.7 or less, smaller drop-offs than all of Clinton’s. In other words, over these three months, Clinton regressed and Trump improved.

The national polls dating back to March show a similar picture:

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Clinton held an 11.4 point lead on March 23, and now it’s down to just 7. Moreover, Trump has twice come back from numbers worse than he has now. Clinton should have pulled away, but alas, the country’s aversion to her continues.

In short, this isn’t over. There’s plenty of time to reverse each candidate’s momentum. Indeed, there are still an infinite number of halfway points between now and November 8. Zeno could have told you that.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., pauses while speaking at a campaign event Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Independence, Iowa. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Perishability of Revolutionary Time

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking, “Wait a minute. After a convention that nominated Hillary Clinton for president — the first female nominee of a major party in our country’s history — you’re giving us a Bernie Sanders post? This is why practically nobody reads you, PPFA.”

First of all: harsh. Second, this isn’t about Bernie Sanders as much as his movement, his effect on the Democratic Party, and the legacy of each.


Sanders’s evolution has been hard to watch. To his most passionate supporters, he was downright Herculean, regularly tackling impossible tasks, from legitimately competing against the strongest family in politics to filling stadiums of once disinterested citizens. He was idolized, fawned over, and passionately defended by the left wing of the American political spectrum.

Now, however, with Sanders’s support of Hillary Clinton, some of his once ardent supporters are left reeling. Their Hercules turned into Charon, ferrying dead Democratic souls to Clinton’s corrupted, watered down, center-left underworld. The man whose judgement they thought was so superior ultimately judged Clinton as the best option this November. In wrestling, this is called a heel turn. So, at the Democratic National Convention, he was booed by his own (former) supporters.

I must say, these abandonment issues are a bit too dramatic for my taste. I appreciate not mindlessly consolidating into two parties; indeed, I’ve been a life-long third party voter for the presidency. I also understand that Clinton is far from a perfect candidate, that charges of corruption, lying, foreign interventionism, and political weather-vaning are grounded in some political reality. I also get that Sanders was seen as perfect until he wasn’t, and if former Sanders supporters demand a candidate that perfectly aligns with their own ideology, the Green Party is waiting for them.

But I’m having a hard time understanding these progressives’ motives in knocking down Hillary Clinton on their way out. The dominant theme seems to be that Clinton is “the same” as Trump, a laughable juxtaposition with which I’m sure both sides of the aisle would agree. In temperament, tactics, ideology, and vocalized intentions, they’re wildly divergent. The Democrats and Republicans have put forward two different options for us this November; you don’t have to pick one, but at least acknowledge the distinction.

To be sure, former Sanders holdouts who focus on bashing Clinton might indeed see the difference and actually prefer Trump. The two men overlap, forcing Clinton to stand by herself, in several important ways: both condemn the influence of corporations and big donors over our politicians; both promote protectionist trade policies over freer ones; and both are critical of recent American military expenditures and actions in faraway places. Those things considered, one can understand why some that were #FeelintheBern are just fine letting Trump into the Oval Office instead of Clinton.

However, I would urge caution for a true Bernie Sanders progressive. Consider that Trump splits with his party in all three of those areas, which would almost totally block his ability to affect those issues. Republicans are just as beholden as Democrats to big money donors; Republicans are for freer trade than Democrats; and the modern GOP embodies a more hawkish foreign policy, particularly from its neoconservative wing. Of course, the Democrats will also be of no help to President Trump, since they will be sure to emulate the Republicans’ anti-Obama obstructionism. In other words, Trump will have few Congressional allies to advance the Trump-Sanders crossover issues.


For Sanders progressives, the choice of who they’d rather see in the White House should be a no-brainer. (It’s worth noting here that if you’re not a Sanders progressive, or progressivism is not that important to you, then none of what follows herein applies to you. Thanks for checking in, though. You’re a pal.) They should not just ponder the Democratic talking points — the fate of the Supreme Court for the next three decades; a potentially 50-50 Senate that would tip in favor of the next vice president’s party; or the merits of Donald Trump as the face of our nation. While the impact of each of those factors could have serious ramifications for millions of Americans and should at least be partially considered, there might be a better reason for quixotic liberals to curb their insistence on a purer candidate.

These Sanders holdouts should mostly ruminate on the legacy of that for which they stood: they moved the Democratic platform left. At the DNC, Sanders noted that “the two campaigns . . . produced, by far, the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party.” This is exactly what compromise looks like. If Clinton and the Democrats hadn’t made their platform more progressive, then Sanders progressives should understandably balk. However, because this platform is not progressive enough, some in the left wing are willing to sabotage the whole thing, sacrificing the good in a likely futile attempt at the perfect.

And what happens if the saboteurs are successful? With a Hillary Clinton loss this November, this platform — “the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party” — would lose with her. In its place would be the platform of Donald Trump and the RNC, which is exceedingly conservative. Though Trump himself can be rather centrist, his party is not. Nor is his vice-presidential nominee, to whom Trump has reportedly said he would delegate unprecedented authority, meaning a Trump-Pence Administration can build its wall while also promoting the social conservative agenda.

I have a guess at what some ticked off ex-Sanders supporters are thinking here: “Fine, let the Democrats sink, ‘most progressive platform ever’ be damned. Then they’ll learn that if they want our votes, they need to nominate our kind of candidate.”

That’s certainly one way to look at it, but perhaps more objective heads would suggest for every vote picked up on the left, one — or more — in the center would be lost. (The polls that showed Sanders ahead in hypothetical match-ups with Trump could never weigh what would happen to those numbers when Republicans started treating him like they do Clinton.) Also possible in four years is a Democratic Party, desperate to beat Trump, nominating a more moderate candidate than Hillary Clinton. Moreover, this nominee might not be standing on the most liberal platform in party history.

And that’s the crux of the thing. Bernie-or-Busters are hoping that a principled take-down of Clinton is ultimately a wager that will pay off down the road. It’s a risky play. In the meantime, a Trump/Pence Administration can considerably curtail and outright reverse recent liberal successes, and there’s no guarantee anything positive will come of it in the long-term for Sanders progressives.


Historian David Brion Davis, when pondering the sluggish pace of slavery’s abolition in the United States, felt that the best moment to have done it was immediately following the birth of the country, either during or right after the American War of Independence. It was then that the revolutionary zeal of the young country was at its most fervent, and thus its national character the most moldable. Were “all men are created equal” or weren’t they?

As time went on, however, the size of the Revolution in our rear-view mirror was directly proportional to abolition’s likelihood. The issue was taken up in 1790, at the outset of the Constitutional period, but not again for decades. There just wasn’t the political will to risk disunion in an effort to eradicate the nation’s most abominable moral disease.

Davis called this process the “perishability of revolutionary time.” One must strike while the proverbial iron is hot. Great change happens in isolated pockets of history, but often following them is a shift back to the center, sometimes lazily but other times quite radically, like a jerk of the wheel. Trump might be that jerk.

There’s a chance this historically progressive Democratic platform will not see the daylight again for some time. Successful revolutions — that is, revolutions that implement great change fairly permanently — must not only be accepted by large swaths of the population, but their ideas, like in our Constitution, must be codified. Codification is exactly what a party platform does.

But beware the perishability of revolutionary time. It’s impossible to know what’s waiting after four years of an unpredictable Republican president. My advice to Sanders holdouts, therefore, is to advance the football. Just pick up the first down this year, and then try for a fracking ban and carbon tax in four years time. A Hail Mary is ill-advised.

You don’t have to like her, Berners. You don’t have to think she’s perfect. You don’t have to think she’s not cozy with Wall Street or too close with the DNC. But torpedoing her in favor of Trump is a bad wager. Cash in your chips, get up from the table, and walk out of the casino. Your ride is waiting, and you don’t want Donald Trump behind the wheel.

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The Dempire Strikes Back

Click for opening Crawl

(Sorry, I’ve wanted to do another Star Wars crawl since the Indiana Primary.)

The weary get no rest in this propulsive presidential election. Republican Convention delegates had barely checked out of their Cleveland hotel rooms when news broke that Hillary Clinton picked Tim Kaine as her running mate. (Wait, I was right?!) And now, though we’ve barely had time to unpack that choice, the Democrats are in Philadelphia for a convention of their own.

As I expected last Monday, the Republican Party took important steps toward unity while Donald Trump made gains. (I don’t think the week’s most dramatic moment — Ted Cruz’s endorsement of everyone’s conscience — will affect anything other than Ted Cruz.) Frank Luntz’s focus group of undecided voters heavily shifted toward Trump. Early indications were that Trump earned a convention polling bump, and this morning a CNN poll confirmed a major Trump bounce. Essentially, if you’re mad as hell these days, he showed you’re not alone. It does feel like Trump is turning the corner with #NeverTrumpers, though it remains to be seen if lurking around the corner is a hole out of which it might take years to climb.


I’ll merge my RNC review with my DNC preview below. Here’s the schedule, limited to just the headline speakers, as determined by the DNC.

Monday, July 25: Theme: “United Together”

  • First Lady Michelle Obama
  • U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont
  • DREAMer activist Astrid Silva

Tuesday, July 26: Theme: “A Lifetime of Fighting for Children and Families”

  • Former President Bill Clinton
  • The Mothers of the Movement

Wednesday, July 27: Theme: “Working Together”

  • President Barack Obama
  • Vice President Joe Biden

Thursday, July 28: Theme: “Stronger Together”

  • Chelsea Clinton
  • Presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton

PPFA Thoughts

1) Hillary Clinton’s most important task is threading a narrow needle in her rebuttal against Trump’s chaos theory. As I wrote here in May, Trump wants this to be an election about security. Since he’s running as the “Daddy” who protects us from bad people, his best chances at winning lie with a scared electorate. He has since crystallized himself as the “law and order” candidate, an on-the-nose phrase he used leading up to the convention and then four times in his acceptance speech. Thursday’s oratorio on the falling sky was a predictable and seemingly effective tune.

In an effort to limit Trump’s appeal, Clinton’s response, on one hand, will need to convince Americans that there isn’t as much lawlessness as Trump suggests. These FBI statistics show violent and property crime on distinct downward trends over the last decade:

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Still, on the heals of Director James Comey’s biting exoneration of Secretary Clinton, one can choose to distrust the FBI’s reporting, as advised by the conspiracy watchdog Trump Campaign. Still, even those gullible enough to trust the Bureau can see that the above statistics, like most crime stats the liberal media has rammed down our esophagi, stop at 2014. What of more recent history?

True enough, most charted data cuts off two years ago, but the Brennan Center for Justice recently concluded its study for 2015. It shows mixed results, as crime popped a bit in Los Angeles (up 25 percent), Baltimore (19), and Charlotte (16). Still, it also reminds us that “Nationally, crime remains at all-time lows.” Factcheck.org, like the FBI and BCJ, notes an overall plunge of crime in recent decades, noting that most types of crime, including violent crime, peaked about 25 years ago and have steadily fallen since, though it also notes the same cities that saw increases in 2015.

On the other hand, statistics never did much to convince our basest anxieties. When things feel chaotic, no pencil-pusher at the FBI can alleviate fears that our families are vulnerable. Indeed, even during that steady post-1992 fall in crime, Gallup found that the percent of people who think crime is on the rise has annually been a majority for over a decade.

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I needed an extra second with this one, so let me help: Look at 2010. Even though crime had fallen to an all-time low, 66 percent of people thought crime was on the rise.

So is 2016 actually worse? Gallup’s findings suggest it’s hard to say for certain while in the moment. But whether things are actually more chaotic or they just feel that way, in politics, it doesn’t matter. Hillary Clinton needs to speak to these anxious times and explain why she can keep us safer than Donald Trump can, while she also needs to own the Obama legacy and his reliance on cold data.

In sum, she’ll have the unenviable task of walking a razor thin tightrope, one that will be vigorously rattled at both ends by the Republican Party and its new leader.

2) There’s a case to be made that we have two centrist Democrats running against each other. We know the argument for Clinton’s middling location; Bernie Sanders and his righteous crew continually reminded us (as many still do) that she falls short of the leftist litmus test.

As for Trump’s Democratic centrism, we’re familiar with the Cruz conservatives who point to his years of liberal beliefs, donations to and praise of the Clintons, and his, you know, history as a registered Democrat. More recently, the Trump-as-Democrat argument was articulated by the conservative National Review, a stubbornly #NeverTrump publication, through staff writer David French (he of the embarrassing third-party run promoted by Bill Kristol). Despite his hardline position on illegal immigration, the Republican Primary and national convention saw him lay claim to the center on other important issues: he broke with economic conservatives on free trade, foreign policy neoconservatives on American leadership, and social conservatives on the importance of traditional values and bathrooms. (And did Ivanka build on those defections with expensive, big-government, Democratic positions on child care and women’s issues?)

Nevertheless, with the RNC behind us, we see that Republican animosity toward Hillary Clinton is through the roof, and that unifies them, regardless of Trump’s heterodoxy. Trump’s claim of the center, therefore, was a prudent political move.

3) Which explains Clinton’s Tim Kaine pick. We knew that Clinton’s VP dilemma was: Should she attempt the placation of Bernie Sanders supporters by picking a touted progressive like Elizabeth Warren, Tom Perez, or Sanders himself? OR, just as Trump counts on conservatives to vote against Clinton, should she count on progressives’ hatred toward Trump to drive them to the polls in order to support the Democrat?

We have our answer. Kaine’s center-leftism redoubles Clinton’s effort to be the the pragmatic candidate that can both hold off Trump’s charge in November and then govern in January. However, the selection predictably irked many on the far left. If Sanders’s supporters ultimately abandon the Democratic ticket in favor of a third party or staying home, we will point to the VP selection as the biggest mistake of her terminated political career.

4) Hillary Clinton must have control of the ego argument and her tone. Trump’s best moment from his speech occurred near the end (transcript):

“My opponent asks her supporters to recite a three-word loyalty pledge. It reads: ‘I’m With Her.’ I choose to recite a different pledge. My pledge reads: ‘I’M WITH YOU’ – THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. I am your voice.”

That’s good stuff! At once it slams Clinton’s slogan while transcending it with a far better one. It effectively reminds voters, “She’s running because she dreams of the power. I’m running because I want to serve the people.” It’s perfect. If he really makes that his slogan, Clinton has to — HAS TO — drop hers. The contrast would be damning.

That being said, it wouldn’t be a shot of Trump brilliance if it wasn’t paired with a bullet in his own foot. It’s Donald Trump we’re talking about here — we could write a book about his opportunistic career. But even if we couldn’t, the reveal of this slogan came in the same speech as: “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.

“I alone can fix it”! At Senator Obama’s worst Messianic moments in 2008, he never unleashed such a line. And if he had, Republicans would have spent the last eight years reminding us about it. “Remember when he said ‘I alone can fix it’? What a self-absorbed lunatic. He should have stuck to community-organizing.”

It’s not for me to tell Trump what he should have stuck to (wrestling?), but I can’t help but think how this remark undermined his superb sloganeering. “I alone can fix it,” as David French also noted, smacks of pretty un-conservative principles: “Trump understands what Democrats have long understood: The disconnected and vulnerable often feel that they have nowhere to turn but to government. They feel helpless and look for a champion.” In Trump, they’ve found him, but selfless he has never shown to be.

And that wasn’t all. There are campaign promises, big campaign promises, and then things like: “Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored. . . . the day after I take the oath of office, Americans will finally wake up in a country where the laws of the United States are enforced.” These claims mirror the magical, empty campaign promises for which Republican skewered Obama.

Of course, both these candidates have egos the size of their home state. Nevertheless, Trump calling out “I’m with her” forces her to repel this new charge.

As for her tone, she can kiss the election goodbye if she tries to match Trump’s red-faced diatribe. Trump surely set a record for volume, if not ratings, for a national convention, but his supporters, and many undecideds, needed that from him. Unfortunately for Clinton, a country that needs passion from its candidates puts her in an uncomfortable situation. It’s too bad, but in politics many voters seem to measure a loud male in decibels but a loud woman in pitch. She must convey her passion to lead, protect, and unite in relentlessly composed tonality.

No one can out-shout Donald Trump, but she shouldn’t even try.

5) Speakers of the Night:

  • Monday: Bernie Sanders — He’s in a situation similar to what Ted Cruz faced. Both represented the wings of their party. Both argued against the watered down positions of their opponent and eventual nominee. And both, on the virtue of finishing with the second most delegates, earned the opportunity to address the convention. We know what Cruz did with it, but I doubt Sanders will follow suit, considering he’s already endorsed Clinton. Even with the recent Wikileak of the DNC working against Sanders in the Democratic Primary (coupled with an oh-so-pathetic rebuttal from the Clinton Campaign essentially saying, “Yeah, but it was the Russians that leaked it, so.”), I expect this pacifist to be a good soldier and emphasize that his movement turned this Democratic platform into the most progressive in modern history.
  • Tuesday: President Bill Clinton — If his wife loses, it’ll be the last political speech of his life. He’s probably wrestling with the dilemma of leaving it all out on the table versus overshadowing Hillary. I’m eager to see which one he chooses.
  • Wednesday: President Barack Obama — Eight years ago, President Bush was so unpopular that he did not attend the RNC (under the cover of hurricane preparations) for fear of being an albatross around Senator McCain. This year, the President is seen as imperative for his party’s victory. Expect some fireworks — and “four more years” chants — in this one.
  • Thursday: The Empress herself. The Dempire Strikes Back this week, and it better be good, because we all know the third movie is kind of a let down.