Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Is Trump’s MAGA ‘Superpower’ Actually His Kryptonite? (Thomas Byrne Edsall, NY Times column).

People, get ready to inform your family, friends and neighbors about the nature of the threat to our democracy from Trumpery, flummery, dupery and nincompoopery.

Footnote: Article quotes my former boss from 1978, Michael Podozrer, later the AFL-CIO political director.  We were both undergraduates, he at Brandeis and me at Georgetown, and we worked on a study by the Consumer Federation of America for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment on the effect of higher energy prices on poor and working people. From The New York Times:


Is Trump’s MAGA ‘Superpower’ Actually His Kryptonite?

A photo illustration of 12 pointing fingers against a velvety red backdrop.
Credit...Photo Illustration by Rachel Stern for The New York Times; photograph by Doug Mills/The New York Times

Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C., on politics, demographics and inequality.

What does President Biden have to do to catch up to Donald Trump?

According to Michael Podhorzer, former political director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., exposing and clarifying Trump’s 2025 agenda will be crucial to Biden’s success or failure:

Donald Trump will lose the election to the extent that voters accurately understand what his plans for a second term would be. Not only are most voters now not paying attention to Trump’s legal troubles, they know next to nothing about what he’s said on the campaign trail about what he will do if elected again, let alone the very specific and chilling agenda Trump allies have assembled in the event Trump wins a second term.

Podhorzer argued in an email:

It is necessary, but far from sufficient, for voters to hear that from Biden and congressional Democrats. Unless the media and other trusted nonpartisan civil society institutions are forthright in affirming that the 2024 election is not a contest between two politicians, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, but a virtual constitutional referendum, Trump could win.

In support of his argument, Podhorzer wrote:

Since 2016, MAGA has lost nearly every important election in which voters understood this, including 23 of the 27 statewide elections in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, while picking up a dozen House seats in California and New York in the midterms when voters did not.

The most recent NBC News poll, conducted at the end of January, has Trump favored over Biden by a substantial 47 percent to 42 percent.

The responses to detailed questions were brutal.

Voters said Trump would do a better job than Biden on immigration and border security (57-22); on the economy (55-33); on crime and violence (50-29); on competence and efficacy (48-38); and on possessing the required mental and physical stamina for the presidency (46-23). Note the 23-point gap on that last one.

A glimmer of hope for Biden emerged toward the end of the survey: “If Donald Trump is found guilty and convicted this year of a felony — with Donald Trump as the Republican candidate and Joe Biden as the Democratic candidate — for whom would you vote?”

In this hypothetical circumstance, Biden pulls ahead of Trump, 45-43.

The damage a conviction might inflict on the Trump campaign was highlighted in a Bloomberg-Morning Consult survey of 4,956 registered voters, conducted on Jan. 16-22 in seven battleground states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Six of these states — all but North Carolina — voted for Biden in 2020. Trump now leads Biden in all seven of them.

But when asked, “How willing would you be to vote for Donald Trump if he is convicted of a crime?” 53 percent of registered voters surveyed said they would be “unwilling” to do so; 46 percent said “very unwilling”; and 7 percent said “somewhat unwilling.”

Bloomberg-Morning Consult asked respondents whether they would be unwilling to vote for Trump if he were “sentenced to prison”: 55 percent said unwilling, 48 percent very unwilling and 7 percent said somewhat unwilling.

Should Trump’s trials be postponed until after the election, Biden could still capitalize on the 91 felony counts in four separate indictments that have been filed against the former president.

In Biden’s favor, a YouGov survey of 1,000 adults, conducted Jan. 30-Feb. 1, found that almost half of all voters are not yet fully aware of the 91 felony counts Trump has been charged with.

YouGov found that 45 percent of respondents were either unaware of or uncertain that Trump had “been charged with falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, a porn star” and that Trump “had been found liable for sexually assaulting and defaming writer E. Jean Carroll.”

It could also possibly work to Biden’s advantage that a Manhattan jury ordered Trump to pay $83.3 million to Carroll, who established in court that he destroyed her reputation as a trustworthy journalist by denying that he sexually assaulted her.

In addition, YouGov found that substantial percentages of voters are unaware, or unsure of whether they know, that federal and state grand juries have charged Trump “with taking highly classified documents from the White House,” that he has “been charged with conspiring to overturn the results of a presidential election” and that he has “been charged with attempting to obstruct the certification of a presidential election.”

Joe Trippi, a Democratic operative who managed Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid and Doug Jones’s two Senate campaigns in Alabama, told me in a phone interview that his major concern is that the Biden campaign should take the threats posed by third-party candidates “more seriously.”

“If Trump wins in November, it will be because of third parties getting a significant number of people,” Trippi argued. “No one who is a MAGA Trump supporter is going to vote for a third party. Most of it comes off Joe Biden.”

Polling supports Trippi on this score.

In the RealClearPolitics compilation of recent polls pitting Trump against Biden, Trump led by 2.1 points, 46.7 percent to 44.6 percent.

In the RealClearPolitics compilation of polls that add Robert Kennedy Jr., Cornel West and Jill Stein to the mix, Trump’s lead over Biden more than doubles, to 4.8 points, 41.6 to 36.8 percent. Kennedy gets 13 percent, and West and Stein each get 2.1 percent.

Along with the threat posed by third-party candidates, two major crises — immigration and the Israeli assault on Hamas in Gaza — have become significant liabilities for the Biden campaign.

Voters, as I mentioned earlier, overwhelmingly favor Trump over Biden to handle immigration and the southern border. Biden’s backing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prosecution of the war against Hamas in Gaza has weakened Democratic support, especially among young voters who were crucial to Biden’s 2020 victory.

The Dec. 10-14 New York Times/Siena poll found that young voters, aged 18 to 29, favored Trump over Biden 49-43. These voters said they trusted Trump over Biden “to do a better job on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” 49-30. In the 2020 election, Biden beat Trump among 18-to-29-year-old voters by 24 points, 60-36, according to exit polls, by far his biggest margin in all age groups.

Even so, Biden has the potential to regain ground on both immigration and the Gaza war.

In the case of immigration, Biden has endorsed a hard-line, bipartisan border security bill — backed by most Democrats and some Republicans — that may be voted on in the Senate later this week, emphasis on “may.”

Many of the provisions of the act have been endorsed by conservative Republicans in the past, but the bipartisan measure is opposed by Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson, on explicitly political grounds. They want to keep public anxiety over immigration festering through Election Day and they do not want to give Biden a victory on the issue.

“A Border Deal now would be another Gift to the Radical Left Democrats,” Trump declared in a post on Jan. 25 on Truth Social. “They need it politically, but don’t care about our Border.”

Trump and his allies have provided Biden the opportunity to counter the Trump-Johnson strategy by portraying himself as a proponent of vigorous border enforcement and Trump as a politically motivated politician who doesn’t actually care about the border.

While the odds may not favor this strategy, Biden is going all in. “If you believe, as I do, that we must secure the border now, doing nothing is not an option,” Biden said on Feb. 4:

Working with my administration, the United States Senate has done the hard work it takes to reach a bipartisan agreement. Now, House Republicans have to decide. Do they want to solve the problem? Or do they want to keep playing politics with the border? I’ve made my decision. I’m ready to solve the problem. I’m ready to secure the border. And so are the American people. I know we have our divisions at home but we cannot let partisan politics get in the way of our responsibilities as a great nation.

Biden’s stance has received support from some unexpected sources.

Noah Rothman, writing on Feb. 5 in National Review, “A Hawkish Bill Meets a Dovish G.O.P.,” contends that “Republican opposition to the Senate border deal is bad politics and bad policy,” adding that for Republicans, “Border security was the sine qua non upon which any broader immigration legislation must be based. The compromise legislation released last night appears to fit that bill.”

At the same time, the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing 18,000 border agents and support personnel, announced its support of the Biden-backed Senate bill on Feb. 5, declaring that the measure is “far better than the status quo.”

In 2020, the border guards’ union endorsed Trump. Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, was a sharp critic of Biden, commenting at the time of the Trump endorsement:

In Joe Biden’s America, control of U.S. immigration law will be ceded to multinational criminal cartels. In Joe Biden’s America, U.S. borders will become nothing more than an imaginary line in which crossing it illegally carries no penalty, where lawlessness will reign, and where enforcement of laws will become a pastime.

According to Jonathan Cowan, a co-founder of Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, Biden’s current strategy on immigration is a step in the right direction.

“To win in 2024, Biden will need to convince voters that he is still the proud moderate they voted for in 2020,” Cowan wrote by email. “He has a lot of evidence on his side, but he still has a lot of convincing to do.”

The opening to win over swing voters, in Cowan’s view, “is there, including the blocs of soft Republicans and gettable independents we saw looking for someone else other than Trump in the New Hampshire G.O.P. primary.”

But, Cowan continued, “to ensure he is perceived as the same moderate who voters picked in 2020, he and his team will have to politely but firmly resist the election-season demands and pressure of the far left and their interest groups.” Instead, Biden’s showing “middle- and working-class voters that he understands their values and takes seriously their concerns around crime, immigration and the economy — which, as polling makes clear, are often dramatically different and far more mainstream and centrist than those of college-educated elites who staff much of Washington — is the only way to win.”

Moving from the U.S.-Mexican border to Gaza, there is a path for Biden to mute, if not minimize, the damage to his campaign resulting from the war between Israel and Hamas.

In a column on Jan. 31, “A Biden Doctrine for the Middle East Is Forming. And It’s Big,” my colleague Thomas L. Friedman argued that “we are about to see a new Biden administration strategy unfold to address this multi-front war involving Gaza, Iran, Israel and the region — what I hope will be a ‘Biden Doctrine’ that meets the seriousness and complexity of this dangerous moment.”

A key element of this doctrine, Friedman wrote,

would be an unprecedented U.S. diplomatic initiative to promote a Palestinian state — NOW. It would involve some form of U.S. recognition of a demilitarized Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that would come into being only once Palestinians had developed a set of defined, credible institutions and security capabilities to ensure that this state was viable and that it could never threaten Israel. Biden administration officials have been consulting experts inside and outside the U.S. government about different forms this recognition of Palestinian statehood might take.

According to Friedman, “If the administration can pull this together — a huge if — a Biden Doctrine could become the biggest strategic realignment in the region since the 1979 Camp David treaty,” what amounts to “a strategy that could force a reckoning inside Iranian politics, inside Palestinian politics and inside Israeli politics” — not to mention inside American politics.

There are some further developments working to Biden’s advantage.

While bitterly criticized by many liberals, the Supreme Court decision last year to ban affirmative action in public and private colleges will in fact reduce the salience of an issue that has historically worked to build support for Republicans.

Just before the court released its decision, a June 2023 Pew surveyfound that 50 percent of voters disapprove of “selective colleges and universities taking race and ethnicity into account in admissions decisions in order to increase the racial and ethnic diversity as the school,” while 33 percent “approve.”

The court’s decision does not fully eliminate the issue of racial preferences as a campaign issue, but it helps defuse it, which can only work to the advantage of Democrats.

Another factor that might be useful to Biden is Nikki Haley’s sustained assault on Trump as the Republican primary contest continues. On Jan. 25, Haley publicly derided Trump, calling him “totally unhinged” after a failed attempt by one of his allies to push the Republican National Committee to declare him the party’s presumptive nominee. Haley has escalated her attacks on Trump’s mental acuity, describing him as a politician who “throws an absolute temper tantrum, talking about revenge.”

“Rightly or wrongly,” Haley added, “chaos follows him.”

Virtually all of Haley’s comments are on videotape, a gold mine for Biden strategists putting together television commercials designed to shift the burden of aging from Biden to Trump.

On that score, Biden’s biggest ally in defusing the age issue, along with a host of other issues, is Trump himself. Trump, on camera, has confused Nancy Pelosi with Nikki Haley, claimed to have beaten Barack Obama and suggested that Biden would lead us into “World War II, very quickly.”

While pessimism has characterized much of the analysis of the Biden campaign in the media, the tenor has, to a degree, changed of late.

Douglas Schoen, a center-right Democratic operative and frequent critic of his own party, wrote in the Feb. 2 edition of The Hill that “evidence is beginning to emerge that Biden has at the very least, stabilized the race and that the ‘Trump surge’ has cooled off.”

Schoen concluded: “As for Biden’s chances one month into this election year, there is a lot of work to be done. However, if I were the Biden campaign, I’d be more pleased with the road ahead than just a few months ago.”

Michael Meehan, a longtime Democratic campaigner who now runs Squared Communications, a public relations, political consulting and media firm, succinctly voiced his optimism in an email:

Trump plays the grand master grievance piano like a full symphony all by himself. No one better at that game. Yet his superpower with the MAGA base is his kryptonite with the independents and reasonable Republicans. The Biden campaign will just need to keep their foot on his head while he drowns with these voters.

The biggest danger facing the Biden campaign is the possibility that Trump reins himself in. The chances of that happening, however, are virtually nil.

1 comment:

Marcus said...

He's toast. He will get even less votes this time. Ho ho ho merry Christmas for whoever the Dem nominee will be. Rather have Biden in a coma than Orange Hitler..who has sworn revenge on everyone else over his own crime spree