The Bankruptcy Of The Conservative Democrat-- Alternative Title: Rachel Bitecofer Is Brilliant

Saturday night, Status Quo Joe was doing the kind of campaigning he does, talking to well-off people at a fundraiser. This was was on Cape Cod. "There’s an awful lot of really good Republicans out there," he told his base. "I get in trouble for saying that with Democrats, but... every time we ever got in trouble with our administration, remember who got sent up to Capitol Hill to fix it? Me. Because they know I respect the other team. I do. They’re decent people. They ran because they care about things, but they’re intimidated right now."

I noticed that Republican Party communications strategist Kevin Madden tweeted exactly what Team Biden was probably thinking: "Now the test: holding his ground on this sentiment against the most vocal activists on the Left." It was quintessential Biden and reminds me of when he told Mitch McConnell in front of a roomful of politicians that "we"-- meaning the Obama administration-- was rooting for Biden to win his reelection bid. THat's what anyone with nickname like Status Quo Joe would say, wouldn't he.

The other day, we saw how "Women of color, especially black women are potent forces in progressive politics, both in office and as organizers who mobilize voters. It seems that liberals take this for granted, but conservatives tacitly recognize the political power of women of color when they try to discredit them through ridicule and harassment... At moments like this, people most directly impacted best understand the urgency for change and action. In 2018 women of color showed America what that urgency means in terms of political engagement."

Biden and the people around him have no understanding of the urgency for change and action, at least in part, because they are least directly impacted by Trump's horrific agenda. The new poll from NBC and the Wall Street Journal shows how Biden's faux-popularity has started to crumble and disintegrate as voters begin to see who and what he is. "Biden has seen his popularity among all adults come down to earth-- from 54 percent positive and 22 percent negative in January 2018 (+32), to 34 percent positive, 38 percent negative now (-4)."

Over the weekend, Paul Rosenberg turned to Rachel Bitecofer-- who predicted the 2018 midterms far more accurately than any of the idiots usually called "nationally acclaimed pundits and prognosticators." Rosenberg asserts that "so long as Trump is in office, negative partisanship gives Democrats an edge, as electoral realignment continues. Rather than fearing Trump’s ability to repeat his 2016 upset, on July 1 of this year Bitecofer released her 2020 projection, which shows Democrats winning 278 electoral votes versus 197 for Trump, with several swing states too close to call. Bitecofer also isn't worried about the Democrats losing their House majority. On Aug. 6, Bitecofer released a preliminary list of 18 House seats the Democrats could flip in 2020, nine of them in Texas. The most significant threats that concern Democrats are actually golden opportunities, according to her model.

Rosenberg asked her some questions that fly in the face of DCCC doctrine and that are crucial for congressional Democrats to grasp. The Progressive Caucus should hire her to talk to their members. And once the DCCC is reconstituted and running again, they should bring Bitecofer in as a consultant. Let's start with the most important one of all:

Rosenberg: When made your initial prediction of a 42-seat wave, other analysts weren’t even sure there would be any blue wave at all, and everybody had toss-ups where you are saying these will flip or are likely to flip. You were proven right, but the common-sense explanation that Democrats won over moderate Republicans by campaigning on health care was very much at odds with your explanation. You had this very prescient insight, and then everyone else catches up, but they sort of drop your insight. So how did you know, and how is that explanation mistaken?

Bitecofer: I'm really glad to hear you frame it that way. I haven't heard it framed that way, even in my own brain, but you're exactly right. I am way ahead of everybody, they finally catch up as we move into the final two months before Election Day-- certainly that last month-- and then the election happens and it happens exactly that way, and then they abandoned my explanation. Now I’m out there trying to fight to get the explanation accepted.

The explanation, of course, is that it was this giant turnout of core constituencies, that either are Democrats or favor Democrats-- they’re independents who favor Democrats-- and they have a huge turnout explosion. So it's not the same pool of voters changing their minds and voting Democrat after voting Republican because of the issue of health care. It's a whole different pool of voters.

They might have many reasons that they cite, and probably this is not the reason they would cite. But what made them enraged and show up is Trump Inc., the negative partisanship. I don't know why Nancy Pelosi, the DCCC or many of these moderate members are convinced that moderate Republicans crossed over and voted for them. I have the data for some of these districts and the data tells a very different, very clear story: If Republicans voted in huge numbers, they voted for Republicans.

Rosenberg: In your look back, you actually said that there was a Republican surge, but it wasn’t a match for the Democratic surge.

Bitecofer: The truth of the matter is Democratic turnout, particularly in midterms, is so bad that with the giant surge the Democrats managed to put together, what they were able to do is come close to matching Republican turnout. Which is good, that's a major victory. But in many districts, especially where the candidates were focusing on being moderate, the Democratic turnout still underperformed its potential, and still underperformed turnout among Republicans, according to this analysis that I'll be releasing after Labor Day.

But the turnout surge among independents-- new independents, not ones who voted in 2014-- was so large combined with that turnout surge of Democrats to flip the district. If Republicans had also voted for Democrats, then these margins by which Democrats won would be much larger.

Rosenberg: Circling back to something you already touched on, you argue that the "midterm effect" is misunderstood and that the old model-- the movement of independents’ support from party to party-- was a mistaken way of thinking about it. What sort of evidence was there for this prior to 2016, and then afterward?

Bifecofer: We have thought of the midterm effect in this way: You have the president, you’ve got two years of performance. For a long time we’ve had a chunk of the electorate that's partisan. Those conditions have just gotten worse, especially the last 20 years in what we call hyper-partisanship. But then we have these independents. The independents must be the referees, basically.

In this theory, they are free of partisanship, they're able to look at a person and see them as they are without these blinders of partisanship and judge their actual abilities and make a referendum upon their performance in office. So there's this idea that in the midterms they look at the incumbent party. And if they're not doing great, like, say, Obama overreached with Obamacare, there's this giant backlash of independents and they have this revolution because, God help us all, Obama modestly tweaked health care!

What I'm saying is no, the Democratic base collapsed, basically, from what it looked like in 2006, which was the last midterm when they had been out of power [and won]. It just literally collapsed among Democrats and because of that, it looks like the electorate has this giant recoil effect, driven primarily by these independent voters who are rejecting the party in power. But what we’re really looking at in much of these elections are the surge and decline of certain voters entering and leaving the electorate.

...Rosenberg: So what about 2020. What does your model say?

My model for 2020 starts off with Democrats at 278 Electoral College votes, and that's a problem for Trump, because of course you need 270 to win. It does that because of my model's prediction, based on turnout and predicted vote share, that Pennsylvania and Michigan will slip back to the Democrats. I'm uncertain about Ohio, but even if Trump wins Ohio, he can't win the other three Midwestern states. Then as you point out I have four tossup states: Arizona, North Carolina, Florida and Iowa. Even if he wins all four of them, the Democrats have already won the election-- and the idea that he would win all four is pretty unlikely.

I will have a much better sense about this once we see the participation rates in the Democratic primary. But I think what we’re going to be looking at is Arizona, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia as states where Trump is forced to play defense to hold on. I think by the time we get into September [of 2020]-- I don't think we’re going to get to the point where Democrats are comfortable in the Midwest. I think we'll see a full-bore campaign and spending press in the Midwest all the way through to Election Day. But I think coming into September and October, they’re also going to be spending resources in the Sun Belt and other states like that.

Rosenberg: You say that if Joe Biden is the nominee, he needs to consider a running mate who will motivate base voters, and that if a progressive is the nominee, there could be a self-reinforcing dynamic of misguided questioning in the media. While neither of those things should cause Democrats to lose, they are concerning, and they reflect a lack of understanding of what your model and analysis provides.

Rachel Bitecofer: The Democratic leadership-- the way they’ve chosen to navigate the Trump impeachment stuff, and certainly the way they talk about their House victories and how to maintain their House majority, it tells me that they’re still living in a understanding of the data that is outdated. If you don't understand how you won, and what the concurrent political data environment is telling you, that is concerning. So I do see a lot of evidence that Democrats don't get this. I'm not sure why.

I do know there is an increasing voice within Democratic politics that is leaning toward seeing the environment through my lens, and we saw that play out in 2018, in the campaign strategies of Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams. What they were able to do in terms of their contests in both those deep red states was absolutely remarkable, and it speaks to the efficacy of a turnout-based approach, a strategic approach.

In Texas and Georgia, O'Rourke and Abrams both carried the votes of independents, whereas in Missouri and Indiana, where [incumbent senators] Claire McCaskill and Joe Donnelly positioned themselves much more in the Blue Dog camp in terms of issues positions, both of them lost independents.

So you might think, "Why is that? If one group of candidates took more liberal issue positions, why did they win over independents?"  It seems counterfactual, and the reason is what mattered was turnout. O’Rourke and Abrams carried independents because turnout surged, with different independents showing up to vote, motivated by the  targeting strategy deployed by those campaigns, which were run under my suggested model rather than the old playbook that used to work back in the '90s and '80s.

Rosenberg: Democrats remain very worried about their freshman class, based largely on the notion of a static electorate, rather than one that's still realigning. But you recently released 2020  projections citing 18 Republican-held House seats as top targets, nine of them in Texas. What are you seeing here that others are overlooking, and what will it take to realize that potential?

Bitecofer: I see a couple of things. No. 1, I want to point out that these are possible targets. It's not my official 2020 House forecast, because I don't include all house races. It's just 18 targets for pickup opportunities. And you're right, because the realignment is still in progress, conditions are improving for Democrats. My model identified many districts Democrats did not even weaponize as competitive because they are still operating under this assumption that what makes an election competitive is a candidate like Amy McGrath [who is running against Mitch McConnell in Kentucky].

I'm arguing, no, it's conditions like the suburban areas with a lot of college-educated voters. No matter how great a candidate, if you put them in the wrong electoral condition, no matter how much money you throw at them, they're not to be able to overcome those conditions.

So here's the other thing that both parties’ leaders should come to understand. In these swing areas, your power time is limited, so you should probably use the power when you have it, because the idea that you're going to hold it indefinitely is totally wrong. Under my research assumptions, under my model, Democrats win the White House in 2020, and then in 2022 they're going to have a very tough electoral cycle, because turnout for Democrats will go back to normal.

And because Democrats have poor electoral strategy, they’re going to compound that problem, probably by not appealing to Democrats to get them to the polls. So no matter how moderate you keep your Blue Dogs' legislation, they’re all going to get wiped out anyway. So use your power where you have it. No. 2, there are ways to keep them in office, but the ways they’re choosing are not the ways to do it.

Rosenberg: Turning to the Democratic primary campaign, on Twitter you been repeatedly warning that name recognition is the primary thing the polls are measuring this far out. How can folks be more realistic about thinking about the 20 candidates in the race right now?

Bitecofer: People reading your article, people following me on Twitter-- we forget how atypical we are, even in terms of those who are going to vote in the Democratic primary. Primary voters are already more active and aware and more typically engaged than average Americans, but still not like us. They’re not paying attention at all, not watching the debates, they're not reading news stories, they're not on political Twitter, reading political news sites, but they will vote.

So multiple blue-check reporters on my feed have said, "Oh it's interesting that Bernie Sanders voters choose Biden for their second choice." No, that's not interesting at all. That's the only other person that voters have ever heard of. So the problem is the proliferation of analysis that's happened that's completely analyzing shit that's totally wrong. It’s in the data, okay? But it’s being driven by this name ID problem.

I’ve said a million times that we are living in the golden age of data. We just have to understand its limitations. And the sad truth of the matter is that the only way I’ve been able to figure out for people to do that is by following me and reading my research, because there’s no one else talking about it.

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