Couple Thoughts on What’s Next

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In one of the DC newsletters this morning, Mike Allen largely streamed the Trump campaign’s inner monologue about the “brutal attack” they plan to unleash on Kamala Harris if and when she becomes the nominee (and I really think it’s very likely when, not if). Meanwhile, he writes, Republicans are asking why they weren’t told about the Biden situation. Voters will ask. Democrats will ask! I really hope people won’t be stage managed like this, or led into dramas of self-doubt and self-wraithing. One thing that Trump is good at, really good at, is the cadence and roll out of public drama, maintaining the tempo and initiative, the mix of threats and bombast.

There’s a tableful of taunts and attacks just waiting there for Harris or another Democratic nominee to pick up. Obviously this isn’t where Democrats wanted or expected to be. But if they are here or will be here soon they should see and jump on all the opportunities it opens up. And there are a lot.

Trump’s campaign has spent three years thinking it was running against Joe Biden. Well — if this set of events transpires — he’s not. He’s running against someone young and vital. His entire plan of battle goes out the window. It’s hard to overestimate how important that is. But that’s not the case for Democrats. They’re still running against a deeply unpopular candidate, who outlawed Roe v Wade, who staged a coup against the state, who’s a convicted felon, who most Americans don’t want to see as President again. The whole two-very-old-very-unpopular-candidates model, well, that’s out the window. Harris at the top of the ticket pushes abortion even higher into salience. Republicans will try to shift things back to questions about Joe Biden. Why this? Why that? Harris has a perfect, taunting rejoinder every time: “Focus, Donald. You’re not running against Joe Biden anymore. You’re running against me, Kamala Harris.”

There’s a ton for Democrats to lean into here. And I hope they will.

Let me discuss one issue about incumbency. There are two or three reasons why I’ve been so against replacing President Biden as the 2024 nominee. The single biggest reason is incumbency. It is one of the most consistent factors predicting electoral success for the presidency literally going back centuries. There are many reasons for this. One is an innate psychology of not wanting to switch presidents. Presidents are imbued with all sorts of power that makes them seem more powerful. There’s also the simple fact that the incumbent by definition (except for a few cases) won the nomination of his or her party and then went on to win the presidency. So they have a track record of winning that the new person by definition doesn’t have.

As you can see, there are a whole bundle of structural reasons for the incumbent advantage combined with reasons that are somewhat circular. But the pattern speaks for itself. And if Biden withdraws, Democrats are giving that up. Over the course of this week I’ve had to increasingly ask myself what and how much that advantage amounts to under these very, very extreme conditions. The best I can say is that I think we’re about to find out. And Democrats must — if this chain of events comes to pass — throw themselves into all the advantages. And they’re substantial.

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