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(Don't) Be Careful What You Wish For
Can Donald Trump win in 2024? Sure. But that doesn't mean it's likely. Plus why seeing Trump on TV shouldn't scare Democrats; and a few thoughts on failure.
I’m Michael A. Cohen, and this is Truth and Consequences: A no-holds-barred look at the absurdities, ’ absurdities, hypocrisies, and surreality. If you were sent this email or are a free subscriber and would like to become a paid subscriber, you can sign up here.
A quick housekeeping note: things have been rather busy at Truth and Consequences World Headquarters … so apologies for the radio silence over the past week. Today’s post is an extra long one, with more to come this week!
[Insert Your 2024 Prediction Here]
David Frum thinks Joe Biden is going to romp in 2024.
It’s early in the election cycle, of course, but not too early to wonder: Are we watching a Republican electoral disaster in the making?
Biden’s poll numbers are only so-so. But a presidential election offers a stark and binary choice: This or that? Biden may fall short of some voters’ imagined ideal of a president, but in 2024, voters won’t be comparing the Democrat with that ideal. They will be comparing him with the Republican alternative …
If Trump secures the GOP nomination to run for a second term in 2024, the conditions are all in place to transfer the title of “worst popular-vote loser of the century” from the great Arizona senator to the putsch-plotting ex-president. Trump’s own party is doing its part to deliver this debacle. Soon enough, all Americans will have the opportunity to do theirs.
Eric Levitz thinks Trump could “definitely win.”
But that doesn’t mean Trump’s coronation would ensure Biden’s reelection. To the contrary, there is reason to believe Trump’s odds of victory in 2024 would be at least as good as his odds in 2020, when he came within 45,000 well-placed votes of winning.
Levitz argues that Biden is relatively unpopular, a recession could undermine his chances, and Trump did better in 2020 than people realize, so much so that if he replicates that performance, he could win in 2024.
I disagree with both of these takes.
First, as odd as it might sound, Trump’s 2020 performance was probably his high water mark — bolstered by incumbency and conservative anger over COVID restrictions and Black Lives Matter protests. His image has been diminished since then and will likely fall further if he faces multiple felony indictments. As I’ve argued for a while, going back to late 2019, Trump never led Biden in a head-to-head poll. I struggle to buy the argument that his perennially lousy approval numbers will markedly improve between now and Election Day 2024.
There’s also the problem of the electoral map.
In 2016, Trump pulled an inside straight and won a host of states that had long been in the Democratic column (Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin). Those first two have been solidly blue since 2016, particularly in Michigan, where every statewide office — and both houses of the state legislature — is held by a Democrat. I suppose it’s possible that Trump could prevail there, but considering recent Democratic strength and the hollow shell that is the Michigan Republican Party, I doubt it. Pennslyvania falls into a similar bucket. Trump’s 2016 win is the outlier. It’s hard for Republicans to win there, and when they do, it’s usually by the narrowest of margins. With a popular Democratic Senator on the ballot next year (Bob Casey), the Keystone State will be an uphill climb for Trump.
If Democrats can win those two states, they only need one of three other states to hold the White House — Wisconsin, Arizona, or Georgia (for the sake of argument, I’m assuming that New Hampshire and Nevada will likely remain blue). I could imagine a scenario in which Biden loses all three states, but as of now, I’d give a slight edge to the incumbent. The Wisconsin Democratic Party is one of the more effective state parties in the country (as we saw in the recent election for a Supreme Court justice). The overall shift of suburban communities to the Democrats has had a pronounced negative effect on Republicans, who have long relied on the so-called WOW suburbs around Milwaukee for statewide wins (on the other hand, the low number of black voters and large swaths of rural voters gives the GOP a fighting chance).
Arizona has seen a pronounced shift toward the Democrats, with Dems taking both Senate seats and the governorship. While Democrats are struggling with Hispanic voters elsewhere, that hasn’t really been the case in Arizona. Georgia is probably the toughest nut to crack. Still, as we saw in the recent Senate runoff there, the Democrats’ ability to mobilize their coalition gives them a significant advantage, and considering the GOP in-fighting between Trump and Governor Brian Kemp, it feels like the one red-leaning state where Trump’s support might not be as iron-clad.
Trump’s problem is that he almost certainly needs to win all three of these states to win the White House (or score a major upset in Michigan or Pennsylvania) — and that feels like a very tall ask.
Of the states Trump won in 2020, North Carolina is the likeliest to be in play next year. Biden narrowly lost there in 2020, and the state’s continued demographic shift should favor Democrats. Beyond the Tarheel State, I don’t see much opportunity for Biden to make inroads in red-state America, which is why I don’t buy Frum’s argument either. He’s right that Trump is a lousy candidate for 2024, but while the former president hurts Republicans in blue and purple states, he’s a boon in red-state America (there’s a reason so many House and Senate Republicans in safe seats are endorsing him for president).
My best estimate for 2024 (and take it with a grain of salt) is that Biden is plus or minus 20 from his 2020 total of 306 electoral votes. I’ll grant you this is a pretty boring prediction — and a lot can change in the next 18 months — but in a highly polarized political environment, it also feels like the most realistic.
Referendum on Trump
Last week I wrote a piece for MSNBC arguing that if the Biden campaign has its way, the 2024 election will be a referendum on Donald Trump.
For all of Biden’s accomplishments in his first term, it’s clear that what motivates Democratic voters most is not a litany of policy achievements but rather the specter of what might happen if the other guy wins. The same dynamic is largely true of Republicans. We are living in an era of extreme polarization in which fear, not hope, is the greater driver of electoral outcomes …
In our moment of extreme political polarization, hostility toward one’s political rivals (negative partisanship) is the key driver of our national politics. According to an Pew Research Center poll in August, “72% of Republicans regard Democrats as more immoral, and 63% of Democrats say the same about Republicans.” In 2016, the numbers were 47% and 35%. There’s been a similar dynamic in the share of voters who view members of the other party as dishonest, less intelligent and more close-minded.
Furthermore, what has pushed Democratic voters to the polls in the past three election cycles is fear of Donald Trump. And there’s little doubt that it has been a successful strategy — in 2018 Democrats picked up 40 seats in the House, in 2020 they won back the White House and the Senate, and in 2022 they dramatically overperformed many expectations, even picking up seats in the Senate. It’s small wonder that Biden is trying to replicate it for his re-election bid.
The thing is, this shouldn’t even be a controversial argument. Trump is incredibly unpopular and has been for years. While every presidential candidate has a chance of winning an election, the path for Trump will (as noted above) be incredibly hard to navigate. And yet, when CNN announced yesterday that they will host a town hall from New Hampshire with Donald Trump next week, liberals were predictably up in arms about this development. Many accused the news outlet of replicating the same mistakes they made in 2016 when Trump received tons of free air time.
This argument is tiresome, frustrating, and wrong — and the people making it are living in the past.
We can debate how much CNN and other cable news outlets helped Trump in 2016 (I tend to think the impact is largely overrated). But if there’s one obvious truism of American politics over the past six years, it is that Trump repels voters far more than he attracts them. Unlike in 2016, most Americans have strong opinions about Trump. They’ve seen him in office; they watched him as president … and they don’t like him. He is a largely discredited and despised figure, and the more voters see Trump, the worse it is for him politically — and the worse it is for the GOP because it only enhances the point that Trump is the face of the party.
Moreover, Trump is the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Like any media organization, CNN has no choice but to cover him. There is simply no way around this. One can certainly argue that this doesn’t mean CNN should give him a platform like a town hall — and if CNN political reporters are not prepared to push back on his lies, then it would be reason for concern. But I seriously doubt that will happen. Again, unlike in 2016, news outlets have largely figured out that they need to call out Trump’s lies — usually in real time.
There’s a reason, after all, that the Biden campaign, armed with reams of public opinion data, is preparing to run against Trump in 2024 instead of running on their record. Liberals need to get out of the mindset born in 2016 that Trump is always advantaged by having a media platform. It simply isn’t true.
Failure is Your Friend
A lot is going on in the world these days, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this clip of Giannis Antetokounmpo talking about failure after his number-one-seeded Milwaukee Bucks lost to the Miami Heat in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
One of my theories about what separates pro athletes from mere mortals is their ability to accept and compartmentalize failure. Think about it in the context of baseball. If you make an out seven out of ten times you come to the plate, you’re probably an all-star. Even the best team will lose 30 to 40 percent of their games — maybe more. You’re a great player in basketball if you make more than half your shots. For many of us, if we kept missing buckets in a crucial game, we might be afraid to shoot, but not pro athletes (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse). The ability to accept failure is not only a crucial part of their job, but it might also be the most essential skill for long-term success.
That’s probably why I’ve watched this video about a dozen times — because I don’t remember ever hearing an athlete describe this phenomenon and the centrality of failure to athletics, as well as Giannis has here. The fact is, even if you compete to the best of your abilities, sometimes the other team is just better, and in a short series, things don’t go your way. If the Bucks played the Heat one hundred times, they’d probably win the majority of times. They are simply the better team. But sometimes, the better team loses, which is precisely what happened in this series. That doesn’t make the endeavor a failure; it doesn’t make the season a failure, and it doesn’t make the journey a failure. As Giannis wisely points out, every “failure” brings with it knowledge — hard-earned knowledge but knowledge nonetheless. But to Giannis’s point, if we never fail and experience heartbreak, we never succeed. They sting, but those “failures” are the character-building moments that make us better people.
Of course, anyone who has surveyed the self-help aisle of a bookstore knows this. I am not breaking any new ground by saying these words. But in a binary sports culture in which there are clear winners and losers — and not much in between — it’s incredibly refreshing to hear it from an athlete as accomplished and maniacally competitive as Giannis.
I showed this video to my kids because I think it’s such a wonderful message for young people, particularly youth athletes. Even though his season is over, Giannis is the best basketball player in the world — and it’s not just because of what he does on the court.
What’s Going On
Read Hayes Brown on Republicans seeking to silence the only trans member of the Montana state legislature.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says the US is going to run out of money by June 1 if the debt limit is not raised … and with Republicans emboldened by their recent passage of spending cuts connected to increasing the debt limit, I think the chances of a debt default are in the 70 to 80 percent range. I don’t see how this gets resolved. If Biden isn’t winning to mint the coin or simply ignore the limit and keep borrowing, we’re going over the default cliff.
I’m not sure why Vivek Ramaswamy is running for president (or who he even is), but there is absolutely to take him seriously as a presidential candidate.
Ron DeSantis is not ready for prime time Volume 3,498
Musical Interlude/This Week In Taylor Swift
My oldest daughter is a Swiftie (which, for the uninitiated, means that she loves Taylor Swift). So to show solidarity with her musical obsession, I spent part of last week doing a deep dive into the Taylor Swift catalog, and I’ll be honest … it’s not really my thing. She is clearly very talented, but I find her music overly produced and not geared to the musical palate of a 52-year-old. But when it comes to music, I pride myself in trying to be open to everything … and I really liked Swift’s song “Cardigan,” which is also my daughter’s favorite. Hope you like it too!
My kids turned me on to this song, “Hell N Back” by Bakar, which is insanely catchy. It’s not a new song but any time I’m into the same music as my kids; it’s worthy of note — and inclusion on the newsletter!