Ratfucking the Democratic Primaries?

There's a campaign to encourage anti-Trump Republicans and independents to vote in New Hampshire.

Bill Kristol is trying to persuade #NeverTrump Republicans to vote in the New Hampshire primary. NH Journal, a subsidiary of InsideSources, reports:

GOP-leaning independent voters in New Hampshire are receiving phone calls and texts from anti-Trump Republicans urging them to cross the aisle and vote in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, NHJournal has learned. The message is for these unaffiliated voters, who can vote in either party’s primary, to vote for a “responsible and electable” Democratic alternative to Donald Trump.

National #NeverTrump leader Bill Kristol, founder of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine, confirmed to NHJournal that he is part of the effort, which involves tens of thousands of New Hampshire voter contacts and a six-figure budget.

“Yup. I’m happy to have joined with some others to help remind New Hampshire independents, who might be accustomed to voting in the Republican primary, that this year, they may be able to make more of a difference by voting for a responsible and electable candidate in the Democratic primary,” Kristol said.

The calls don’t mention any candidates by name or endorse any specific Democrats, instead making a case for supporting centrists in the all-important First in the Nation primary, as opposed to self-described democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders. The latest RealClearPolitics poll average gives Sanders a six-point lead in the Granite State.

While the competitive, multi-candidate Democratic primary is getting the vast majority of media attention, there is a GOP primary on Tuesday as well. Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld is currently campaigning in New Hampshire, while former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh has suspended his candidacy in the wake of a disappointing performance in the Iowa Caucus.

“I admire what Bill Weld is doing, and hope he gets as many Republican votes in the New Hampshire primary as possible,” Kristol said. “But if you’re a New Hampshire independent, and if you don’t want the nation to be subject to a Trump/Sanders choice, I suspect you can make the most difference by voting for a reasonable Democrat of your choice in the Democratic primary.”

InsideSources was founded in 2014 by Shawn McCoy, the former Iowa Communications Director for the Romney Campaign, and is considered a reliable if center-right-leaning source.

I gave my first take on Twitter:

Leaving aside the grammatical error* I think it the correct view of the situation and worth brief exposition.

As to my first point, to the extent a party primary is supposed to be an expression of the preferences of that party’s nominating electorate, there’s something less-than-savory about encouraging independents, much less adherents of the other major party, to vote there.

One could quibble as to whether what Kristol is doing qualifies as “ratfucking.” According to Wikipedia,

Ratfucking is an American slang term for political sabotage or dirty tricks. It was brought to public attention by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their non-fiction book All the President’s Men (1974).

Woodward and Bernstein’s exposé reports that many staffers who had attended the University of Southern California (“USC”)—such as Donald Segretti, White House aide Tim Elbourne, Ronald Louis Ziegler, H. R. Haldeman, and Dwight Chapin—had participated in the highly competitive student elections there. UPI reporter Karlyn Barker sent Woodward and Bernstein a memo, “Notes On the USC Crowd”, that outlined the connection. Fraternities, sororities, and underground fraternal coordinating organizations—such as Theta Nu Epsilon and their splintered rival “Trojans for Representative Government”—engaged in creative tricks and underhanded tactics to win student elections.

Officially, control over minor funding and decision-making on campus life was at stake, but the positions also gave bragging rights and prestige. The tactics were either promoted by or garnered the interest of major political figures on the USC board of trustees, such as Dean Rusk and John A. McCone. It was here that the term ratfucking had its origin.

It would be one thing for the Trump campaign or his ardent supporters to vote in the Democratic primaries with the intention of selecting the candidate least likely to win. Or even pouring money into, say, the Tulsi Gabbard campaign to keep her candidacy alive with hopes of damaging the eventual nominee.

I don’t think Kristol is doing that. Rather, he’s trying to get the Democrats to nominate a candidate for which independents and anti-Trump Republicans could be persuaded to vote.

Still, were I a staunch Democrat supporting, say, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, I would very much resent prominent Republicans trying to defeat my candidate in favor of a “Republican Lite.”

As to my second point, it would be perfectly reasonable for anti-Trump Republicans who still support the party’s traditional agenda—and think that, despite his many flaws, Trump has done that with respect to important issues like judicial appointments and tax cuts—to believe that the proper approach is to contest Trump in the primaries. While I agree with Kristol that doing so is a fool’s errand, the proper course for a Republican loyalist should be to support Weld or another Republican alternative to Trump rather than The Least Objectional Democrat.

Now, as I have stated multiple times in previous posts and comment section discussions, I intend to vote in the Democratic primary in Virginia on Super Tuesday. I’ll vote for whichever of the moderate candidates I deem best and viable at that point. But I do so, as I did in every Republican primary in which I voted except 2016,** with the full intention of voting for whomever the party nominee is in November.

And, as I’ve also stated in the past, while I don’t consider myself a Democrat, that fact—especially combined with the fact that I voted for the party’s nominees in 2016 and in every subsequent elections—makes me, for all intents and purposes, functionally a Democrat.

Indeed, the only difference between me and most people who will vote in the primary with me is that I still hope for a day when the Republican Party will start nominating candidates who I can vote for again. There is, alas, no sign that that will happen any time soon.

_____________________

*I was going to say “the #NeverTrumpers” and changed it to say “we #NeverTrumpers” without removing the “the”)

**The nomination was not yet decided when I voted for John Kasich. But it was by then apparent that Trump was the likely nominee and I had long since made it clear I would not vote for him. The only question at that point was whether I could stomach voting for Hillary Clinton in November.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2020, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Liberal Capitalist says:

    From their current perspective… Why not?

    Liberal Tears, stick it to the libs, etc… it is what passes now for GOP Platform.

    After all, they were successful in tying up the Iowa reporting phone lines, helping to throw the results in disarray… so why not some voter fraud that “legally” isn’t voter fraud.

    Looks like the GOP learned from Russia in 2016.

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  2. Liberal Capitalist says:

    … by the way, would make a great bumper sticker:

    Trump’s GOP:
    Ratfucking America

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  3. de stijl says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    Imagine how many R staffers and aides and campaign workers were College Republicans?

    It’s baked in to their developmental process – what passes for their soul. It was encouraged by their mentors.

    Ratfucking is second nature. Win at any cost.

    It’s heartbreakingly sad, but it is.

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  4. James Joyner says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: It’s honestly not clear whether the effort in Iowa was orchestrated in some way by the Republican establishment or simply a bunch of yahoos on Reddit/4chan having some lulz. Neither would surprise me but the latter is where the evidence I’ve seen thus far points.

    @de stijl: Granting the it was 30-plus years ago, but our College Republican chapter was pretty earnest. It was listening to people talk about their preferred candidate in the 1988 primaries and working for candidates, including George H.W. Bush. I don’t recall any mention of trying to harm the Dukakis campaign.

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  5. Gustopher says:

    It’s an open primary, and the Democrats are a big tent party so… I’m ok with this.

    I don’t think a primary challenge to Trump has any chance of being effective — but also, the Republican Party IS the Party of Trump. These are people who don’t belong in the Trumpist small tent party, so they wander into the big tent party, at least for a while.

    Totally not ratfucking, even if some rodents get a little bit pregnant.

    I’m actually surprised that Trump hasn’t tweeted out that Republicans should vote for Bernie Sanders or something.

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  6. Moosebreath says:

    “It would be one thing for the Trump campaign or his ardent supporters to vote in the Democratic primaries with the intention of selecting the candidate least likely to win. Or even pouring money into, say, the Tulsi Gabbard campaign to keep her candidacy alive with hopes of damaging the eventual nominee.

    I don’t think Kristol is doing that. Rather, he’s trying to get the Democrats to nominate a candidate for which independents and anti-Trump Republicans could be persuaded to vote.”

    I think this is the critical point. Kristol is being open about what he’s trying to do, and it’s to get a Democratic nominee he can support. That’s not ratfncking.

    Now, one can (and I do) also argue that if Kristol wants to influence the choice of Democratic nominee, he should actually register as a Democrat, and that independents should not have a vote in either party’s NH primary. Unfortunately, New Hampshire voters disagree with me on this point.

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  7. Scott says:

    We have open primaries in Texas so I don’t think of this as unusual. However, we also do not have party registration either which is apparently different from New Hampshire. I just vote in the primary which is most interesting at the time. In the case of a runoff, you have to stay in the primary you voted.

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  8. eric78 says:

    @Moosebreath:

    I could imagine myself doing this in a hypothetical 2024 primary if Sanders wins the presidency. As a center-left liberal, I would use my vote to help push the Republican Party back to the center-right if the right candidate came forward.

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  9. de stijl says:

    @James Joyner:

    Your chapter was lame.

    The intramural fights are where you make your bones. Those fuckers are viscious!

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  10. mattbernius says:

    @Moosebreath:

    Kristol is being open about what he’s trying to do, and it’s to get a Democratic nominee he can support. That’s not ratfncking.

    Agreed. This is Rush Limbaugh’s “Project Chaos” from 2008. Which gets to:

    @Gustopher:

    It’s an open primary, and the Democrats are a big tent party so… I’m ok with this.

    This! If the Democrats choose to have an open primary, then they need to not clutch at pearls when something like this happens (especially if it’s being done this transparently).

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  11. Sleeping Dog says:

    Yawn, independents have long been able to vote in the party of their choosing and history has shown that those voters, tend to gravitate to the party primary that is most exciting. Some do so vindictively, they are normally loyalist to one party and are looking to mess with the others want simply to vote for who they feel could be the best president of the pack.

    Yeah the Bernie-crats will whine if it is shown that he had victory snatched from him by the independents, but tough

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  12. Daryl D says:

    Not ratfucking at all. Speaking as an independent in New Hampshire, what Bill Kristol is suggesting is the norm. Every primary is an exercise in “where can we express our views best”. The best way to think of it THIS time around is: “If you lean right, please don’t stay home just because the Republican primary is a gimme.”

    Both the Democrats and the Republicans here fully expect those of us who are registered as Independents to choose which primary. Every time. The phone here is ringing off the hook (literally. it’s now off the hook. LOL!) There is a continual parade of candidate helpers coming down the driveway. All because we are independents.

    I hope Bill Kristol’s message is heard loudly and the moderates and independents respond in droves. (They won’t, but it’s a happy thought on a dreary winter afternoon.)

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  13. gVOR08 says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    Looks like the GOP learned from Russia in 2016.

    Rs figured out ratfucking long before Russia entered the game. Knowing that NH has open primaries, and that there’s no reason for Rs to vote in their own primary, the headline and subhead had me worried, until I got to the first two words of the post, “Bill Kristol”.

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  14. mattbernius says:

    @mattbernius:

    This is Rush Limbaugh’s “Project Chaos” from 2008.

    *isn’t*

    Leh sigh.

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  15. Stormy Dragon says:

    Counterpoint:

    An Unsettling New Theory: There Is No Swing Voter

    Elections aren’t about convincing people; they’re purely about turnout. Any “Never Trumper” who needs the “right” Democratic candidate to vote against Trump is not going to vote against Trump for any Democratic candidate. The party should focus more about the enthusiasm of its own voters rather than a foolhardy attempt to convince the unconvincable.

    Now Sanders may still be a bad choice because he seems to demotivate a lot of traditional Democratic constituencies, but that’s more about his personality than his policies, and the solution isn’t a centrist, but rather a more likeable progressive.

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  16. Mister Bluster says:

    @James Joyner:..I don’t recall any mention of trying to harm the Dukakis campaign.

    You didn’t have to.

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  17. Hal_10000 says:

    Considering how the media covered Trump positively right up until he won the nomination; considering that the Clinton campaign, according to the Wikileaks documents, desperately wanted Trump to win the nomination; considering the number of pundits who said Democrats should vote for Trump in the 2016 primary (to the point where Vox said knock it off:

    1) The Democrats don’t really have a leg to stand on here;
    2) The Republicans should be extremely careful about what they wish for; they may get it.

    Ultimately, I don’t think Operation Chaos will do anything, just like the supposed army of Democrats voting for Trump in 2016 did anything. Very few people vote in primaries to begin with. They’re not going to go to the effort to sabotage an opposing primary. This is mostly a media story to fill in the gap before the next primary.

    (And we’re tending to confound two things: Republican trolls encouraging the Dems to nominate the worst candidate and people like Kristol who want them to nominate the better one. I’m mostly addressing the former. The latter isn’t even a problem in my book.)

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  18. BTW: NH is not an open primary, not in the sense that the decision for the ballot is made on election day. The deadline was October 25. This means that Kristol is targeting declared independents.

    This is hardly a dirty trick.

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  19. Hal_10000 says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I saw that story and I’m having trouble buying it. The “fundamentals” models predicted a 5 or 6 point Trump win in 2016. This story is getting a lot of attention for correctly predicting one whole election, which most people predicted correctly anyway. The only reason it’s getting any attention is because she’s predicting a Dem Victory.

    Also, this:

    In 2016, the pollsters had the race largely wrong, but the academic forecasters got it mostly right,

    Is completely wrong. The pollsters had it mostly right. Nate Silver had it mostly right. It was the academics at places like Princeton who insisted Clinton was a 99% lock.

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  20. Kurtz says:

    Not so angry about this, except that people like Kristol are exactly the reason Trump ended up the nominee in the first place.

    Kristol and others cultivated the resentments Trump exploited to win elections. Their policy-making didn’t reflect their rhetoric, so those radicals they created over decades supported an insurgent.

    Yes, I think they should get their own house in order. But I would settle for a mea culpa from that asshole.

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  21. de stijl says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    There is a pic of Trump essentially going “vroom vroom” in a big ass truck. Playing like a kid with a Tonka toy.

    The Dukakis pic was defining and deemed emasculating. The Trump pic was laughed off as Trump being dumb-ass Trump.

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  22. Kurtz says:

    @Hal_10000:

    Silver had it mostly right, yes. But I disagree with how you are characterizing Bitecofer’s approach. The fundamental models from academia tend to place a huge premium on the economy and basic stats like party-ID.

    Party-ID is misleading. Her claim that true independents are only around 7% of the electorate is backed up by Pew. The vast majority of self-identified independents are actually partisans who don’t want to admit it. (Self-awareness is difficult.)

    Bitecofer uses that last point as the basis of her model. She’s not doing the same thing that other academic modelers do. Her model is an attempt to figure out how the ‘closet partisans’ decide whether to vote or not. Because that group of self-identified independents is much larger than the true swing voter, they would be more predictive of electoral outcomes.

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  23. Gustopher says:

    @de stijl: There are lower expectations for someone who is a buffoon. Boris Johnson’s career has been based on this. Hell, my career has been based on this…

    Also, that’s one of the few photos of Trump having fun. No one looks at Dukakis in that photo and thinks he’s having fun.

    The best photos of Buttigieg are from county fairs when he was a mere mayor. Dig way back on his Instagram stream. He seems to have a genuine fondness for being photographed with llamas and alpacas, and it really humanizes him (or simulates genuine human enjoyment)

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  24. de stijl says:

    @Gustopher:

    I like Pete’s genuine dorkiness.

    It appeals to me.

    I like alpacas. They are tiny, fuzzy, camels. Not that tiny; middlin’ sized. Arguably best wool, fuck you sheep!

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  25. Andy says:

    Like others, I don’t see what the big deal is. Strategic voting in primaries is not new or anything special. And considering one of the leading candidates for the nomination isn’t even a member of the party, I don’t think there is any cause to complain about non-Democrats voting in the primary.

    As for me, I’ll be voting in the Colorado Democratic primary and then for the general election I will do what I always do, which is vote for the best candidate who meets my minimum qualifications, regardless of party.

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  26. Andy says:

    Like others, I don’t see what the big deal is. Strategic voting in primaries is not new or anything special. And considering one of the leading candidates for the nomination isn’t even a member of the party, I don’t think there is any cause to complain about non-Democrats voting in the primary.

    As for me, I’ll be voting in the Colorado Democratic primary and then for the general election I will do what I always do, which is vote for the best candidate who meets my minimum qualifications, regardless of party.

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  27. Hal_10000 says:

    @Kurtz:

    That’s a fair point. I think 7% might be a little low but it’s closer than a third.

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  28. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Scott: It’s the same in South Carolina. In 2008, I voted in the Democratic primary; in 2012 and 2016, I voted in the GOP primary. Alas, in the general election, the one thing I couldn’t do was to write in a preferred candidate.

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  29. Jen says:

    It’s an open primary, but if you are registered as a Republican, you cannot change your status to independent/undeclared, you have to pull a Republican ballot.

    If, like 40+ percent of NH voters you are already registered as an independent, you can pull either ballot. This isn’t a secret.

    I pulled a Republican ballot in the 2016 primary and voted for Kasich, because I thought Trump was a real threat–more of a threat than Bernie was to Clinton, and I thought Kasich would be a reasonable president, even if I ended up voting for Clinton in the general.

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  30. Teve says:

    I’m not the biggest Mike Bloomberg fan, but check out this ad.

    Trump’s words vs other presidents’

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  31. Pat Curley says:

    Kristol and the rest of the Never-Trumpers are terrified that Bernie is going to leave them with no viable options.

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  32. Kurtz says:

    @Hal_10000:

    Yeah, I’m just going by the Pew study I read.

    Not sure if that’s where Bitcofer got her number or if she did her own research. I know Silver talks about that aspect of self-identified independents a lot, but I don’t recall if they ever examined it rigorously.

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  33. Kari Q says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The only thing I find “unsettling” about this theory is that people find it unsettling. Maybe people were actually swing voters once upon a time, but post-Gingrich, and especially post-W, the parties have been very sharply defined and are only getting more so. Honestly, I thought we all knew this by now.

    @Hal_10000:

    That’s a fair point. I think 7% might be a little low but it’s closer than a third.

    Invariably when anyone makes this point, one of those unicorns speaks up and insists they are legion. I don’t question their independence and willingness to cross party lines, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t unicorns.

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  34. de stijl says:

    Under the rules, NH R leaning I’s can vote. It’s allowed. Is is ethical? No.

    Will they? Yes. Ratfucking is fun sport.

    My spellcheck wants to change ratfucking to trafficking which is so amusing. Moving addictive substances to willing buyers.

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  35. @de stijl:

    Under the rules, NH R leaning I’s can vote. It’s allowed. Is is ethical? No.

    I honestly do not understand why this would be unethical.

    The rules allow voters to remain independent and to, therefore, choose on election day. How is this unethical?

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  36. Daryl D says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “How is this unethical”

    Indeed. I cannot agree more. In fact, I’ll go further and point out that NH is one of the few places where Independents are actually encouraged to remain independent; to be free thinkers as well as non-partisan voters.

    A good thing, no matter which way one looks at it. But to see it, I suspect one would need to be non-partisan as well. :-o.

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  37. @Daryl D: Quite frankly, I am not sure why one wouldn’t just register as Independent regardless of one’s prevalent preference.

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  38. Andy says:

    #nevertrumpers are not trying to dork up the Democratic nomination to help the GoP win. They are essentially acting as a Democratic faction by influencing the nomination to get the best candidate from their point of view. So they want to vote Democratic.

    I’ll just reiterate a point made in other threads, that this is an opportunity for Democrats. There are a lot of erstwhile Republicans who don’t have a home in the GOP anymore and therefore want a Democratic nominee they can support. Some Democrats seem bound and determine to reject them in service of ideological purity. I think that’s a mistake, and that Democrats should try to compete for every available voter.

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  39. Andy says:

    #nevertrumpers are not trying to dork up the Democratic nomination to help the GoP win. They are essentially acting as a Democratic faction by influencing the nomination to get the best candidate from their point of view. So they want to vote Democratic.

    I’ll just reiterate a point made in other threads, that this is an opportunity for Democrats. There are a lot of erstwhile Republicans who don’t have a home in the GOP anymore and therefore want a Democratic nominee they can support. Some Democrats seem bound and determine to reject them in service of ideological purity. I think that’s a mistake, and that Democrats should try to compete for every available voter.

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  40. A lot of this hits on things I have written about concerning independents in the past.

    In a given election what matters?

    1. How I cast my ballot?
    2. What partisan ID have in my heart?

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  41. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    In a given election what matters?

    1. How I cast my ballot?
    2. What partisan ID have in my heart?

    Clearly, 1 matters more.

    But, of course, 2 is a large factor in 1. People who are strong partisans are much more likely to get out and vote for a given party’s candidate than weak partisans, leaners, or true independents. And, for those who are Meh on the candidates—as many voters were in 2016—party ID is likely a deciding factor. Indeed, I’m sure there were a signficant number of #NeverTrump Republicans who simply couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a Democrat and therefore either sat it out or voted for a protest candidate.

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  42. Kurtz says:

    @Andy:

    Well, this was something I was going to say to a week or two ago. But the calculation isn’t as simple as that, especially in the long term.

    Over the past couple decades, Dem voters, of all age cohorts and self-ID have grown more liberal. But the coalition is still unwieldly, and adding Republicans like Frum will just make it more impossible to manage.

    It presents three problems:

    First, it only makes sense long-term if Trumpism and adjacent ideologies continue to be the driving force behind the platform. I see that as unlikely.

    Second, given that liberal to very liberal Dems are 47% of the coalition, you cannot scoop exiled GOPers without alienating some of those people. Better to tell them to clean up the mess their party made.

    Third, this is not the election to play it safe. This is the election that you go Left, because Trump is a unique President who turns off many voters. Playing it safe will allow the Republicans to continue to set the center in American politics.

    Until the center is actually a modern conception of middle-ground, Dems moving toward the right will only allow fringe right-wing elements to effectively control one of the two major parties.

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  43. @James Joyner:

    People who are strong partisans are much more likely to get out and vote for a given party’s candidate than weak partisans, leaners, or true independents. And, for those who are Meh on the candidates—as many voters were in 2016—party ID is likely a deciding factor. Indeed, I’m sure there were a signficant number of #NeverTrump Republicans who simply couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a Democrat and therefore either sat it out or voted for a protest candidate.

    All true.

    But, to me at least, the choice to vote under the rules is not unethical and really strikes me as nowhere near ratfucking.

    I just think are creating constructs that are not real in any substantial way, at least at it pertains to the rules of the NH primary and the behavior of voters tomorrow.

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  44. @Kurtz: All of which is an illustration of why we need multiple parties. But, also an illustration of the pressure building giving the ways the rules really constrain new party formation.

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  45. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @mattbernius: I didn’t catch the error at first because I had forgotten that Rush’s activities guaranteed Hillary win in the primaries and that it was the disappointing performance of President Mc… wait…

    As I say, I don’t see an error.

    ETA:@de stijl: Sadly, the picture also caused Dukakis to resemble Alfred E. Neuman (from Mad Magazine). Especially the shadow making it look like there was a diastema between his 2 front teeth. It was a bad look over all.

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  46. Andy says:

    @Kurtz:

    Over the past couple decades, Dem voters, of all age cohorts and self-ID have grown more liberal. But the coalition is still unwieldly, and adding Republicans like Frum will just make it more impossible to manage.

    Sure, and the party also doesn’t have much in the way of central direction, so what leadership there isn’t really can’t decide such things.

    First, it only makes sense long-term if Trumpism and adjacent ideologies continue to be the driving force behind the platform. I see that as unlikely.

    That’s true, we don’t know what the future holds. But if Democrats want to make Trump a one-term president then it makes strategic and tactical sense to avoid alienating potential voters.

    Second, given that liberal to very liberal Dems are 47% of the coalition, you cannot scoop exiled GOPers without alienating some of those people. Better to tell them to clean up the mess their party made.

    Yet very liberal Democrats are only about 20% of the total population. And sure, in any coalition, there will have to compromise but the reality is that if Democrats aren’t willing to do what is necessary to get enough votes to win, then pleasing the liberal base doesn’t accomplish much.

    And you can contrast this with the GOP. You don’t hear Republicans telling working-class former Democrats to go fix their own party, they’ve welcomed them and their votes.

    Third, this is not the election to play it safe. This is the election that you go Left, because Trump is a unique President who turns off many voters. Playing it safe will allow the Republicans to continue to set the center in American politics.

    I think that analysis is wrong because it relies on the assumption that moderates will inevitably vote for a progressive Democrat because Trump is unpopular. And moving to the left doesn’t set the center of American politics or take it away from Republicans, it abandons the center and gives it to the Republicans.

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  47. de stijl says:

    It’s unethical because because it is intended to disrupt and harm.

    Can you, yes.

    Should you?

    I would not mess with the R voting process and results if I was afforded the opportunity. It would be a wrong action.

    Activists cramming the phone lines of the Iowa caucus result process was a definite wrong act.

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  48. @de stijl: I don’t see exercising the right to participate and to register one’s preferences in an open competition to be disruptive nor harmful.

    (And the degree to which some kind of coordinated effort to be purposefully disruptive is limited at best).

    Activists cramming the phone lines of the Iowa caucus result process was a definite wrong act.

    That is a wholly different issue.

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  49. Kurtz says:

    @Andy:

    Sure, and the party also doesn’t have much in the way of central direction, so what leadership there isn’t really can’t decide such things.

    To the extent that this is true, though I dont think it necessarily is, is more a reflection of trying to keep your ideological voters happy while bending ovrler backwards to keep centrists who are more ideologically aligned with the center-right.

    It’s kind of tough when your voters are moving one way and you’re desperately trying to hold onto weakly aligned centrists.

    Yet very liberal Democrats are only about 20% of the total population. And sure, in any coalition, there will have to compromise but the reality is that if Democrats aren’t willing to do what is necessary to get enough votes to win, then pleasing the liberal base doesn’t accomplish much.

    Two flaws here:

    1.) Core Conservatives are about 13% of the population, but manage to control the agenda of the GOP.

    2.) Clinton was at direct odds with the direction of the core liberal constituency. She held onto some of them, but in an election as close as 2016, losing any significant percentage of those who backed Bernie made all the difference between a win and a loss.

    And you can contrast this with the GOP. You don’t hear Republicans telling working-class former Democrats to go fix their own party, they’ve welcomed them and their votes.

    This would only be true if the former Democrats were actual liberals. The former Democrats that are now GOP loyalists were bona fide conservatives–the last re-alignment still had not completed until relatively recently.

    Plus there are a few weird states–West Virginia comes to mind–that have in-state coalitions that vary wildly from the national party.

    Finally, those former Dems have done nothing to change the overall direction of the GOP, as it is still way more right wing than it has been in a long time. In fact, as recently as 2013, Pew found that a majority of the voters wanted to move in a more conservative direction. My guess? They didn’t find Romney conservative enough. It was possibly a reaction to the official ‘autopsy report’ after the loss in 2012–it specifically advocated of reaching out to hispanic voters.

    I think that analysis is wrong because it relies on the assumption that moderates will inevitably vote for a progressive Democrat because Trump is unpopular. And moving to the left doesn’t set the center of American politics or take it away from Republicans, it abandons the center and gives it to the Republicans.

    I didn’t make my point clear enough. For whatever the reasons, GOP voters have rallied around a guy who has lived his life in a manner that is anathema to their stated moral worldview.

    IF there is ever a time to nominate a solid progressive, it is now, before there is a less divisive Republican opponent who won’t alienate as many members of their own party.

    I’m less worried about Trump corrupting the office than most people here are–he already has. Our institutions have held up pretty well so far. On principle, he should have been removed. But he wasn’t and will not ever be.

    And, please don’t take this the wrong way, as I respect you and your mind. You know that. I’ve expressed the same genuine respect for Steven, Doug, and James. But taking Joyner as an example, he will only vote Dem until his party decides to rediscover its principles. What good would having you all in the fold do? Win one election? No thanks.

    Most of the people who are expressing a willingness to vote Dem right now will never be aligned ideologically with the majority of the Democratic party. Any potential voter gains would be short term.

    I’m not into cramming a progressive agenda down the throats of an unwilling populace. But most of the major progressive programs enjoy solid support.

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  50. Andy says:

    @Kurtz:

    It’s kind of tough when your voters are moving one way and you’re desperately trying to hold onto weakly aligned centrists.

    The problem is one of math – self-identified liberals make up less about 1/4 of the population while moderates and conservatives are about 35% each. If the Democrats want to be a liberal party, then they are unlikely to do well electorally.

    Clinton was at direct odds with the direction of the core liberal constituency. She held onto some of them, but in an election as close as 2016, losing any significant percentage of those who backed Bernie made all the difference between a win and a loss.

    Clinton had many problems but I don’t see how a more liberal Clinton, all else being equal, would have won her the midwestern states she needed to get the Presidency. 5-6 million voters switched from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. That didn’t happen because Clinton was insufficiently liberal.

    This would only be true if the former Democrats were actual liberals. The former Democrats that are now GOP loyalists were bona fide conservatives–the last re-alignment still had not completed until relatively recently.

    Again, if the Democrats want to be the party of only liberals, then it will be a minority party. If there’s no room for people that may hold conservative values on some issues in the party, then that will drive them to the GoP since we exist in a de facto binary choice world. Tactically, that just doesn’t seem very smart. Democrats can’t win with liberal votes alone.

    IF there is ever a time to nominate a solid progressive, it is now, before there is a less divisive Republican opponent who won’t alienate as many members of their own party.

    Certainly, opposition to Trump is going to get the Democrats some “free” votes. I’m skeptical it will be enough to win, especially if the nominee is Sanders or Warren and the economy remains as it is.

    But taking Joyner as an example, he will only vote Dem until his party decides to rediscover its principles. What good would having you all in the fold do? Win one election? No thanks.

    Well, that’s a valid tactical decision, but it doesn’t make sense to me, especially if one believes that defeating Trump is the most important priority for Democrats, which seems to what most Democrats want. But it does also seem like a non-trivial number of Democrats believe that promoting the progressive movement in the party is more important. I don’t think you can have it both ways.

    Most of the people who are expressing a willingness to vote Dem right now will never be aligned ideologically with the majority of the Democratic party. Any potential voter gains would be short term.

    Maybe, maybe not. I would not assume that Democrats cannot keep those voters.

    But I think that argument is irrelevant. The purpose of political parties is to win elections and wield power. Refusing to do that in order to maintain some arbitrary standard of ideological purity is de facto surrendering the field to the other party with all the resultant consequences.

    I think it’s much smarter to compete for the votes or, at the very least, do one’s best not to insult those who are looking for a viable alternative to voting for the GOP.

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  51. Kurtz says:

    @Andy:

    I’m going to skip the line by line, as we may be close to stalemate. But I should point out that your position makes more sense conventionally.

    -But I would like to bend your ear a bit on a couple specific points.

    My take on Obama-Trump voters is that they aren’t ideological–they are only interested in shocking the system. Meaning, if you change the matchups, they would vote for whoever the less coneventional candidate is. And a conventional-conventional matchup would lead to many not voting at all or voting third party. I recall that in one recent poll, the second choice for a few Sanders supporters was… Bloomberg.

    Given the above, Clinton moving to the left would not have captured many if any of those voters.

    But I also surmise that plenty of Bernie people either stayed home or voted third party. Many may not have trusted a Clinton move to the left either. So I don’t know. I do think if she had made an effort at capturing more progressive enthusiasm, she would have had a better chance.

    -where I think you are definitively not ahead is the question of how a smaller group to those identifying as liberal–core conservatives–can control one party’s agenda, yet it’s somehow the progressive coaliton’s job to be malleable enough to be welcoming to people who are conservative.

    That, among a couple points you may not have seen me make, is where the “get your own house in order” position comes from.

    Not speaking about anyone here, because I don’t see the writers here as overly ideological. Really I was thinking of Bill Kristol begging Dems to nominate a moderate. But even sticking with Joyner as an example, I don’t see him staying a Dem once the GOP makes its inevitable move toward reality.

    -The other part that I don’t think you have an answer for is that the biggest progressive priorities–M4A/public option and increasing taxes on the wealthy–poll extremely well. In fact, they both consistently poll with outright majorities.

    I’m just curious how you would analyze the disconnect between self-identification and support for specific policy proposals.

    -Your grouping of moderates and conservatives vs. liberals is disingenuous for two reasons.

    The first is pretty straightforward, grouping it that way includes an assumption that moderates tend to lean conservative.

    The second reason is a little more nuanced:

    IIRC, in one of Taleb’s books, he makes the point that medium risk investments should be avoided, because an assessment that results in “medium” is meaningless. There are too many unknowns to pin the risk as high or low. To me, that means that it would more accurately be described as risk unknown, rather than medium.

    My point with that example is that moderates are more or less undefinable as a group.

    A moderate position on sexual orientation would be no on SSM, but otherwise be okay with measures to reduce discrimination against gay persons.

    But when we shift from looking at a single issue to multiple preferences, “moderate” doesn’t mean the same thing at all. A moderate may actually hold extreme positions relative to center, but on different sides of the spectrum. They, for example, may be for M4A, but think that gun rights should include completely unfettered access to any weapon one can afford.

    Anyway, thanks for the discussion. I know you don’t get a lot of time to read and post, so you lending your mind is much appreciated.

    P. S. I’m not really into purity tests–that is how we ended up with the current state of the GOP. But there is a limit to how big a tent either party can be without both parties being somewhat heterodox.

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