Wednesday, November 6, 2019
Tuesday, November 5, 2019
A new round of head-to-head polling from the swing states came in yesterday and the results are somewhat encouraging for Republicans. While Donald Trump trails the leading Democrats in national polling, many of the swing state races are too close to call.
Due to the large number of candidates and states to examine, for clarity, I will present each state separately and give Trump’s net poll rating with each candidate based on the Real Clear Politics average. A negative rating means that Trump is behind and a positive rating means that he is ahead. For reference, I’m also including the latest state-level Trump approval numbers from Morning Consult, which were taken as the Ukraine whistleblower scandal was breaking in late September.
Trump vs. Biden -10
Trump vs. Warren -7.3
Trump vs. Sanders -7.9
Trump vs. Buttigieg -4.5
Trump vs. Harris -5.3
Trump approval -13
Trump vs. Biden -1.7
Trump vs. Warren 0.7
Trump vs. Biden -2.0
Trump vs. Warren 0.3
Trump approval -2
Trump vs. Biden 1.5
Trump vs. Warren 4.5
Trump approval -14
Trump vs. Biden -7.7
Trump vs. Warren -3.0
Trump vs. Sanders -7.3
Trump approval -10
Trump vs. Biden -5.4
Trump vs. Warren 0.2
Trump vs. Sanders -2.4
Trump approval -3
Ohio (no recent polling)
Trump vs. Biden -7.0
Trump vs. Warren -1.5
Trump vs. Sanders -5.0
Trump approval -5
Trump vs. Biden -7.3
Trump vs. Warren 1.7
Trump approval -8
Trump vs. Biden -5.7
Trump vs. Warren -1.0
Trump vs. Sanders -2.7
Trump approval -11
There are a couple of important takeaways from this polling, even though the election is still a year away. The first is that Joe Biden is a stronger candidate in the swing states than Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. In six of the seven swing states with recent head-to-head polling, Biden leads Donald Trump. Warren fares worst of the three top-tier Democrats, but Bernie Sanders is not much better.
Second, Trump approval is a pretty good proxy for how he stacks up in a head-to-head matchup in most cases, although this is dependent on individual candidates as well and the numbers don’t match up exactly. In only one of the states examined, Iowa, does Trump have a negative approval rating but leads in polling.
Finally, as we saw in 2016, it isn’t enough for the Democrats to win the popular vote and expect that to translate into an Electoral College victory. The Democrats must give Donald Trump a 5-10 point shellacking in the popular vote to be assured of winning enough swing states to secure the White House. This is especially true due to the difficulties of state-level polling in swing states.
Based on the current polling presented above (while assuming Ohio stays red), Joe Biden would win the Electoral College by 333-205 and Bernie Sanders would eke out a 273-265 victory. Elizabeth Warren would lose by 258-280, but many states are actually too close to project in a Warren-Trump matchup. Neither side could be confident of victory at this point, although Warren does seem to represent Trump’s best chance at reelection.
The election is a long way away and a lot can happen. In the current cycle, that is even more true than most years due to the breaking Ukraine scandal, impeachment, the slowing economy, and a number of other factors. While the swing states are not looking good for Donald Trump, they are looking much better than the national average, but that’s why they call them battleground states.
While many of the state-level races are not polled frequently, it will be important to watch them for trends over the next year. Significant movement in one direction or the other could represent a changing dynamic within the election.
If you just read the polling headlines, you would think that Joe Biden is effectively out of the presidential race. However, for those who read beyond the top line to look at the nuts and bolts of the polling and follow polling trends, the picture is much different. In today’s polling update, there is both good news and bad for Team Biden.
First, the bad news. As we reported last week, Biden is slumping in Iowa. In the current Real Clear Politics average of polls, Biden is in a statistical tie for third with Bernie Sanders. The pair trails Elizabeth Warren by seven points and the second-place Pete Buttigieg by two. The rankings are far from set in stone with both Warren and Biden trending down.
As a result of the vice president’s disappointing performance with Hawkeye State Democrats, the Biden campaign is working to lower expectations for the first-in-the-nation caucuses. Biden campaign manager Greg Schultz recently told the Wall Street Journal, “I think we’re the only ones who don’t have to win Iowa, honestly, because our strength is the fact that we have a broad and diverse coalition.”
Schultz went on to point out that, if the current polling trend holds, the results would be a muddled finish with no clear winner as the four candidates all earn delegates.
“Does anybody win? Technically, yes, maybe,” Schultz added. “But does that give you clarity on where the heart of the Democratic Party is? I would say, ‘no,’”
Schultz’s claim is backed up by national polling where Biden remains the clear frontrunner. Real Clear Politics currently shows Biden with an average lead of nine points as Elizabeth Warren, who had previously tied Biden for first in the national average, fades like the colors of a cheap shirt. Nationally, Sanders runs third with an average of 16 percent and Buttigieg is still stuck in single-digits. No one else comes close.
There is also good news for Biden in two new polls from Nevada, where the last polling was done in September and showed a near three-way tie between Biden, Sanders, and Warren. The new polls, from the Nevada Independent and Emerson, show Biden jumping ahead in the state, which will be the third state to vote next year. Both polls give Biden an 8-10-point lead with about 30 percent support. Warren and Sanders are running a close race for second at approximately 20 percent each.
For all of the predictions of doom for Joe Biden, he is hanging in there. Despite his age, his gaffes, and his connection to the ongoing Ukraine scandal, Biden is polling today at 29 percent in the national average, exactly the same level from a year ago and prior to his presidential announcement on April 25. He lost much of the bump from his announcement with a poor first debate performance, but his support has been remarkably steady since then. With Warren in decline, it seems that Biden’s most dangerous competitor for the nomination may have missed her chance.
Monday, November 4, 2019
Quite a while back, a wag formulated the stages of Trump scandals. Using the formula that has been proven time and again over the past three years, the Ukraine scandal is now moving into stage three as Republicans begin to acknowledge that President Trump attempted to engage in a quid pro quo arrangement with President Zelensky of Ukraine.
The Trump scandal cycle goes something like this:
1. Denial (“fake news”)
2. Attack the source (“Deep State”)
3. Admit that allegations are true, but say they aren’t serious (“He only attempted a crime unsuccessfully”)
4. Admit that the allegations are serious, but say that Democrats are worse (“What about Hillary”)
Over the past few weeks we have zipped past denials that the whistleblower’s account was false and that it was based on secondhand information. Those claims were shot down by the release of the call summary and corroborating statements and testimony from other members of the Trump Administration. The destruction of the first line of defense led to…
The claim that the whistleblower was a liberal in league with Adam Schiff and that he had a bias toward the Democrats. Unfortunately for Trump’s defenders, claims of bias could not be credibly applied to members of the Trump Administration such as Bill Taylor, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, and the well-known nonliberal John Bolton. When character assassination failed to stop the bleeding, Republicans began to…
Stop denying that there was a quid pro quo and instead argue that it was not illegal. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was one of the first White House insiders to admit to a quid pro quo several weeks ago. However, Mulvaney quickly attempted to walk back his comments to avoid being hung out to dry by the president’s legal team.
Now it seems that Mulvaney was ahead of his time. Yesterday, Trump advisor Kelly Ann Conway told CNN’s Dana Bash, “I don't know whether aid was being held up and for how long” when pressed about whether there was a quid pro quo.
Conway doesn’t seem to be the only Republican unwilling to go very far out on a limb for Donald Trump on the matter. A few Republicans, such as Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, have long acknowledged that Trump’s actions were bad but not impeachable. Now others are more open to the strategy.
The Washington Post reports that Sens. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are among the Republicans who admit that there was a quid pro quo but deny that it was unethical or illegal. Kennedy reportedly argued at a private Republican luncheon that quid pro quos are common in foreign aid while Cruz held that “corrupt intent” must be present to make such an arrangement illegal.
There are several big problems with this line of reasoning. First, is that it is “illegal to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a US election.” That statement is from Ellen Weintraub, chair of the Federal Election Commission in a tweet from June, more than a month before President Trump’s phone call with President Zelensky.
Weintraub’s tweet came a day after Trump openly told reporters that he would accept campaign help from foreigners. The call summary released by the White House confirms that Trump specifically asked Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, which would directly aid Trump’s reelection campaign.
The second problem is that Trump himself undercuts Republican efforts to find a middle ground with his own strategy of denying everything. Over the weekend, Trump said in a tweet, “There is no quid pro quo!” The president doesn’t seem to be willing to give an inch on the issue and continues to insist that the call was “perfect.”
The third problem is that most voters don’t see Trump’s actions as being as innocent as congressional Republicans do. A new Fox News poll found that 49 percent want Trump impeached and removed. While voters said that it was inappropriate to ask foreign leaders to dig up dirt on his political opponents by a 64-27 margin, 56 percent of Republican primary voters thought it was okay to do so. Thirty-two percent of Republicans believe that Trump asked Ukraine to investigate the Bidens compared to 60 percent overall.
At this point, the evidence is that Donald Trump either acted corruptly or incompetently. If the president was ignorant of the fact that asking a foreign government for help in an election is illegal after years of the Russian investigation, Weintraub’s statement to the contrary, and what must have been numerous discussions by White House lawyers, it must have been a case of willful ignorance. Even more than for an average citizen, to a president who should have known better, ignorance of the law is no excuse.
There is also the possibility that yet another smoking gun will emerge that undercuts the Republican defense that Trump did not have a “culpable state of mind,” as Sen. Kennedy put it. With news breaking quickly and damaging testimonies coming at an alarming pace, it isn’t impossible that Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton or others could testify to Trump’s “corrupt intent,” either purposefully or accidentally.
At that point, the script of the Trump defenders will likely shift to read, “Sure, he broke the law, but he’s still better than [insert Democrat here].” The Trump base will buy that argument but what about the rest of the country?
Friday, November 1, 2019
As the impeachment inquiry heats up, congressional Republicans are finding themselves between a rock and a hard place in terms of whether to stand by the president or to cross over support his impeachment and removal. With the public sharply divided on impeachment, there are pitfalls for Republicans that associated with either choice.
While the polling shows that a slight majority favors Trump’s impeachment, Republicans still overwhelmingly support the president. The conundrum for Republicans is similar to that of 2018 when they needed to be staunchly pro-Trump to win their primaries but then faced an electorate in the general election that was sour on the president.
On one side is the rock-hard support that Republican primary voters have for Donald Trump. If Republican officeholders abandon Trump and vote for impeachment, then they will likely find themselves in the shoes of Francis Rooney, a Florida Republican congressman who recently said that he was “still thinking about” whether the president had committed an impeachable offense. The day after he made that comment, Rooney announced his retirement.
On the other hand, the hard place represents an electoral disaster in 2020 as moderates are driven from the GOP. A number of polls over the past few months have shown that more than half of the voting public say that they will not vote for Donald Trump. If this Never Trump contingent actually turns out next year, its coattails may sweep more Republicans out of Congress. More recent revelations show that the GOP hold on the Senate may be in danger as seats previously thought safe in Colorado, Iowa, and North Carolina suddenly look vulnerable.
Many Republicans fail to appreciate the extent of the 2018 blue wave since many races were not decided until after Election Day. The Republican gain of two seats in the Senate also obscures the fact that many red-state Senate races were won by razor-thin margins. In the final analysis, Democrats picked up 41 House seats and seven governorships. The rout of House Republicans in suburban districts included a wipeout in the former Republican stronghold of Orange County, California.
In 2018, Democrats had an eight-point advantage in the House popular vote. If this margin is repeated in 2020, it would almost certainly preclude a repeat of Trump’s Electoral College victory and popular vote loss from 2016. Much has been said about the Republican gender gap with female voters, but exit polls from 2018 show that Republicans also suffer from an age gap, a race gap, an education gap, and an income gap. All have gotten worse under Donald Trump.
Moving Trump aside, whether through forced removal or a voluntary resignation or decision not to run for reelection, to make way for a Pence candidacy is no panacea either. Many of Trump’s core supporters might not vote Republican if Trump is not on the ticket. Further, the party would still suffer residual damage to its brand from its association with Trump over the past three years. Even after Republicans finally decided to push Richard Nixon to resign in 1974, the party lost 49 seats in the House and 4 in the Senate.
By default, most Republican incumbents will batten down the hatches and hope to weather the storm by doing and saying as little as possible. The first obstacle to re-election is the primary and the way to win the primary in a red district is to stand by Trump. Candidates who have won several terms will gamble on their knowledge of their districts and their local popularity to trump what may evolve into another blue wave.
The problem with that strategy is that Donald Trump makes it difficult to stay in the shadows and not attract attention. The president seems intent on one-upping his increasingly erratic behavior on an almost daily basis. In a few short weeks, we have gone from revelations of abuses of presidential power to an unpopular Syria policy that seems to change with every presidential tweet to calling political opponents “human scum.” If Trump’s behavior is defensible today, it may not be tomorrow.
And beyond tomorrow may represent the biggest threat for the GOP. While it looks like the safer bet for 2020 may be to stand by Trump, Republicans up for reelection in 2022 may have more to worry about. The odds are pretty good that, three years from now, Trump’s hold on the Republican Party will be much weaker. Fealty to Trump may soon be seen as a liability rather than an asset. The flip side is that voters tend to have short memories.
At this point, both supporting Trump and dumping him look like losing propositions for Republicans. The party will drive away moderates if it defends the president and it will alienate the president’s MAGA base if it turns away from him. Both options look bad for next year’s elections. At this point, keeping to the current course seems to be the least-worse option, but that could change tomorrow.