Friday, April 08, 2016


As a Democrat, I'd feel pretty safe if Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, but I still believe any other GOP candidate would have a shot at winning -- yes, including Ted Cruz. (Please read what Digby writes about Time magazine's willingness to help Cruz repackage himself as a populist for the general election if you dismissed my post about Cruz and Time.) But isn't Cruz almost as unpopular as Trump? Sure, that's what the polls say -- but you don't have to be well liked to beat a Democrat in a presidential election.

We're having the kind of election that's rarely ended well for Democrats: a party establishment favorite is the likely nominee, even though another candidate is generating more excitement. That reminds me of Jimmy Carter beating Ted Kennedy in 1980, Walter Mondale beating Gary Hart in 1984, and Mike Dukakis beating Jesse Jackson in 1988. In all of those years, the general election was a disaster for Democrats. Please note that in 1980 and 1988 that was true even though voters were deeply skeptical of the Republican candidate.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan had terrible poll numbers until March and mediocre poll numbers after that; he'd go on to win a landslide, but he barely cracked 50% of the popular vote. (Carter won 41% and John Anderson 7%.) In the 1988 race, George H.W. Bush's announcement of his candidacy was greeted by that Newsweek "Fighting the 'Wimp Factor'" cover; by July, he was 17 points down in the polls.

These guys weren't loved -- but they won. Richard Nixon wasn't loved in 1972, either -- in early 1972 he was neck-and-neck with Democrat Ed Muskie in the polls. But he beat a candidate who was more progressive than the electorate -- which could happen this year if an underfunded, as-yet-unsmeared Bernie Sanders upends the rules of math and wins the Democratic nomination. If Sanders is the nominee, as I've said, it's likely he'd be attacked most effectively on the subject of the tax increases necessary to pay for his proposals. Remember what happened when Walter Mondale said in 1984, "Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did"? The result was a 49-state landslide for Reagan.

Sanders isn't going to win the nomination. Clinton is, to the great disappointment of many of the voters she'll need in November. In the past, under those circumstances, even little-loved Republicans have won.

I know, I know: There's that emerging Democratic majority people keep talking about. There's the seemingly unchanging partisan map of the states. The Electoral College is wired for the Democrats!

But I think we're being lulled by particular circumstances in recent history. In four of the last six presidential elections, the Democrats had a candidate (Bill Clinton twice, Barack Obama twice) who was young and charismatic and an extremely shrewd electoral tactician fronting a really smart campaign. In 1992 and 2008, Democrats ran as agents of a much-desired change; in 1996 and 2012, they ran as incumbents who'd improved conditions. I know that Democrats came close with candidates who weren't shrewd or charismatic in 2000 and 2004 -- but Al Gore in 2000 ran on peace and prosperity (and still couldn't secure the victory) while John Kerry in 2004 ran against an increasingly unpopular war (and lost outright).

Hillary Clinton doesn't inspire much love; in that way she's like Gore and Kerry. She's not running on peace and prosperity. Her biggest advantage is the likely weakness of her opponent -- but Nixon, Reagan, and Poppy Bush have proved that you don't have to be loved to beat a Democrat.


Paul Canning said...

It's *maths* :]

mlbxxxxxx said...

Gore was so hated he won the popular vote.

I'll agree the dynamics on the D side aren't going to be ideal, but the R side is almost assuredly going to be a disaster with a 1/3 or more of their own base either pissed off at their party because they stole it from Trump or disillusioned because it is Trump. They are in as close to a no-win situation as you can be.

flipyrwhig said...

George H.W. Bush won in 1988 without inspiring love. How? Because of experience, competency, a popular predecessor, and well-tuned campaign tactics. Sound familiar?

Steve M. said...

I thought it was because of the Willie Horton ad and other gutter-level attacks, which even Dukakis says he was too slow to respond to. (That certainly won't Ted Cruz's problem.)

Victor said...

And Kerry's team was too slow to respond to the Swift Boat bullshit!

Clinton's team was on the hound-dog accusations fast.
And Obama's was on top of all of the racist dog-whistle bullshit very fast.

That's why if Hillary is the nominee, she's faced misogynist bullshit for over 25 years. I don't think she and her team will let anything slide.

On the other hand, like I said before, she's running not to lose - which is not the best way to win.
So, ya nevah know...

CH said...

Well, for me it's simple. Odds against him notwithstanding, I'll keep funneling a few bux to Sanders when I can, because I agree with his positions in general and because I honestly think that he'd be the stronger candidate in the general (I think it's time to start believing that those nat'l polls have meaning at this point). Yes, I know he'd get called everything from Satan to Mao to brain-damaged. But I don't think HRC's character negatives (which first went underwater, best I can tell, simultaneously with her candidacy announcement in '15 and before Sanders had announced, much less had had time to have any effect) are going to improve as the campaign continues into the general, and although no one likes to be reminded of it (including myself), the whole damn private-server imbroglio seems set to keep simmering for a good long time. One of the 2 federal judges involved in the civil suits, Lamberth, you may remember from the Dept of Interior/Native American litigation going back to the 90's - the govt finally ran him off that case, but he's going to be a real prob for HRC et al., I expect. I'm not saying the private-server affair SHOULD be a problem, i.e., that it really amounts to anything - I doubt that it does. But I am pretty sure it will be a problem nonetheless, and one which hits her where she's weakest, trust/credibility.

Swellsman said...

My recollection of the 2000 campaign is that Gore ran on "peace and prosperity" only sotto voce -- he was doing his damnedest to dissociate himself from Bill's prurience and so he really only implied that he was representing continuity. I thought at the time that this was a dumb political move; despite the hyperventilation of the Right, Bill Clinton was still a very popular president and people felt pretty good about the state of things in 2000.

One of the things that I admire about Hillary Clinton's campaign is that she seems to have learned a lesson from Gore's: she has not been shy about hugging Obama and his legacy close to her.

Jeff Ryan said...

No one seems to remember that Gore won, until the Supremes decided they couldn't stand for that. And he had been pilloried by a press that gleefully lied about him at every turn. He was their revenge for Clinton. Couldn't get Bill, so they set out to screw Al any way they could.

This year, desperation will drive the Republicans to destroy Bernie should he get the nomination. Which will be easy: Just run Bernie saying we should be more like Denmark, then hit the voters with the personal income tax rate in Denmark. End of, folks.

James Carville and Paul Begala haven't lost their moves, though, and Hillary will have both to draw on. And it's hard to imagine a fatter hanging slowball than Cruz. They'll tear the cover off that sucker and send it out of the park.

It's rare you get as inept a candidate as Dukakis (who takes a vacation after the convention?), and Bob Shrum (has he ever worked for a winner?) was no match for the Bush machine. Even then, Kerry almost pulled it out. (Bush was convinced he had lost, remember?)

Only one guy beats Hillary: Kasich. And even he will have legions of pissed-off white guys to persuade before he gets out of the gate. And if there's bloodshed in Cleveland? That we are even contemplating such a thing at a Republican convention tells you all you need to know. I fear, though, that Hillary will fare as well as the first Bush. Win a third term for the Democrats, then get booted out in 2000. For all the doom and gloom, this year will be long in the rearview mirror by then, and there will be a Republican Party left after the smoke clears. They're like a horror movie villain. You're sure you killed him, but then he gets up again...

Ms. L.B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cay said...

Something is different about the presumed Dem nominee this time *cough*. "I got this" sounds familiar.

5a48aae6-feb8-11e5-b47c-8b0fbd021ad4 said...

Ch, obviously you don't think that Sanders is too old. As an old myself, he is too old. He 'll be 75 when elected and 79 at at the end of his first term, 2 years older than Reagan was at the end of his 2nd term. Being President is a physically and mentally demanding job. I like him and some of his ideas (although I'll pass on many of his supporters I encounter in the progressive blogger world those here excepted).

I don't think in a general election that he would necessarily be the stronger candidate. And while we are all familiar with the knives used to carve up Hillary, just wait till a different set gets going on Bernie, were he to be the nominee. If Dems win in November it will be largely dependent on what sort of GOTV effort the nominee and the Democratic party puts together. It better be effective for many reasons, not the least of which is to negate the effect of the voter suppression laws that have been put into place since the Obama victories.

Jeff Ryan said...

This is a valid point, and one that's been bothering me as well. No one wants to bring up his age, but it is highly relevant to making a choice.

And young voters don't realize fully just what happens as you age, what you're capable of, what you're not. How many years did Reagan have Alzheimer's before he left office? I wasn't a fan of his, but that's not why I raise the issue. It's just one thing that can happen as you get older. Less dramatically, you lose the stamina you once had, hell, you can lose track of what you were talking about. It just happens, and this is not a job for the weak. And I would have this concern about anyone similarly situated.