Ground Rules for Politics Nerds

It used to be that no one who wasn’t a politician focused on a presidential election until the year of the election. It used to be that many voters didn’t pay much attention to presidential elections until the party conventions. Of course, it also used to be that once an election was over, people grumbled for a few weeks if their candidate lost but then moved on. Now, it appears a lot of people aren’t done processing 2016, and at the same time people on the same side are already unfriending each in squabbles over who the Democratic nominee should be in 2020. In the last election we didn’t get nearly this crazy until the fall of 2015, not bleeping January.

I would like to propose some ground rules for political discussions to keep things sane. I don’t expect anyone to follow them, but what the heck. In no particular order:

Rule: The most important thing to demand right now is a fair, open and transparent nomination process. A lot of people are not going to get their first choice for the nomination, but if the process is seen as fair I believe most will acccept the result.

If, however, it appears there’s a thumb on a scale somewhere, or that the elites are manipulating the process to get their favored candidate, or if some candidates don’t get equal time in the debates or in media, the Democrats can forget about unity. See Chris Smith, “Democrats Don’t Like to Be Told Who to Vote For.”

Rule: Bringing up — factually — a politician’s voting record or positions on issues is not out of bounds and is not “attacking” that politician. We’ve already seen a blowup in media because David Sirota brought up Beto O’Rourke’s record of accepting donations from the fossil fuel sector. This was greeted up a bunch of headlines screaming that Bernie Sanders was trying to “kneecap” O’Rourke. One, Bernie Sanders had nothing to do with any of this; and two, since when is a politican’s actual record out of bounds? See Luke Darby, “No Democrat Deserves a Free Pass Just Because They’re Not Trump.”

Rule:  “Better than Trump” is too low a bar. Who we nominate matters, because even if the Democrat wins, a disappointing administration will just allow the Crazy Right to make a comeback. This puts together the two rules above. Stifling legitimate criticism of a potential — bleeping O’Rourke hasn’t even declared yet — candidate because he might be the nominee is a recipe for ultimate failure. As Luke Darby wrote (link above),

Even when the pragmatic, centrist choice defeats the hardline right-winger, that’s not necessarily a long term win. Look at Emmanuel Macron in France: his victory over the racist Marine Le Pen of the borderline fascist Front National party was seen as a huge stumble for a string of far right victories in Europe. But Macron’s policies have only exacerbated deep problems in France, and national protests have rocked the country since his administration decided, among other things, to cut taxes on the wealthy and raise them for everyone else by implementing a new gas tax. Macron is now so unpopular that many in France are calling for him to resign instead of finish his term.

If the Democratic establishment insists on trying to crown another favorite candidate, like it did Clinton in 2016, then no one should be surprised if we see a repeat of 2016 on Election Day. And as embarrassing as that will be for the Party, it’ll be much worse for the rest of us.

Martin Longman argues in “Winning Is Everything But Still Not Enough” (which is a response to a Paul Glastris feature, “Winning Is Not Enough”) that Democrats must put an end to the pattern of losing majorities as soon as they gain them; think the gains of 2006 and 2008 followed by the 2010 midterms. Think of eight years of Barack Obama in the White House (during which time the Democratic Party lost a net total of 13 governorships and 816 state legislative seats, and Democrats lost 12 and 64 seats in the U.S. Senate and House, respectively), followed by the election of Donald Trump and Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Winning is not enough.

If the Dems take back Congress and the White House in 2020, how do they build “robust and sustainable majorities like the ones they enjoyed in the 1930s and 1940s”? The answer, seems to me, is for the party to aggressively promote policies that will make people’s lives tangibly better. No more incrementalism or “pragmatism,” which is code for not doing shit. No more negotiating with ourselves to placate the Right. No more running on appeals to loyalty, or personality, or bromides and vague promises to “fight for you.” Candidates, tell us what you want to do, and if you are elected, bleeping do it or at least get bloodied and bruised trying.

With that in mind, right now we’re months away — probably more than a year away — from the time that most of the electorate will start to focus on the 2020 presidential election.  This is exactly the time for activists and politics nerds to bring up the records of people who are considered possibilities and discuss, rationally and factually, if this is someone we want to be president some day. Yes, they are all better than Trump, but so is a can of soup. The candidate’s record will come out some day; better now than later. Let’s not nominate a pig in a poke.

Rule: Please, never, ever go around demanding “vote blue no matter who.” And this time, let us get through the primaries and choose a nominee before calling for everybody to unite behind whatever candidate you think should be nominated.  Assume that nobody owns the nomination until he or she actually has it.

Rule: On the other hand, badmouthing potential candidates because of their personalities or age or campaign style or speaking voice or because you think they are boring needs to be out of bounds now. Those are your biases showing. You are not a bleeping representative sample. Expressing concerns, okay; insults and bashing, no. I hope we still understand the difference.

Rule: Let’s not debate electability. Liz Warren is already being slammed for not being electable. Yeah, people didn’t think Donald Trump was electable, either. And in 2016 Hillary Clinton ran ads in the primaries warning voters that if Bernie Sanders were nominated instead of her, Trump would be president, because she was electable and Sanders wasn’t. Notice how that worked out. We all coalesced around John Kerry in 2004 because we thought his war record would innoculate him from being called soft on terrorism, or whatever we were concerned about. We weren’t thinking in terms of who do I want to be president?

The fact is, the “electability” experts are more often wrong than right (see Matt Taibbi on this point). We are about to go through a messy and dynamic year. None of us knows what will happen. Nobody knows where voters’ heads will be this time next year, never mind in November 2020. It’s a huge mistake to try to choose a nominee based on how marketable we think he or she might be in the general rather than on who we want to be president, because electability is not something we can know.

And please, candidates, after 2016 I hope you will be smart enough to not run for the nomination on the argument that you can beat Trump but your opponents cannot. That’s not something we can know.

If we have a fair and open nomination process on a level playing field, the person who wins will be electable. The vanity candidates and lackluster campaigners will fall away. Let the primary process show us who is electable and who isn’t, not our biases.

Rule: Polls mean absolutely nothing now. Please stop posting polls on social media showing that your favorite candidate can win; these just cause frutless arguments. Please don’t make a bleeping big deal about poll numbers at least until the primaries have started.

Rule: Let go of 2016. This applies to Clinton and Sanders supporters alike.  Clinton will not be a candidate, and former Clinton supporters need to stop tearing the party apart with their incessant badmouthing of Sanders and his supporters. Sanders supporters need to stop expecting that 2020 will be a vindication of the hopes that were dashed in 2016. Sanders might not run, and if he does run he might not do as well as he did in 2016. Nobody knows what will happen. Don’t get too emotionally invested in only one outcome.

Rule: Try to avoid being manipulated. (Note that a lot of the opinion pieces in media about candidate “electability” are nothing but attempts at manipulating your opinion.) Democratic and media elites will be doing their best to jerk our chains to get behind a their candidate. Don’t fall for it. Make up your own mind. Think about what you want in a presidential candidate. You have a right to ask for what you want, especially if it’s not what the elites want to give you.

Okay, that’s my list. What’s yours? Add to the comments.

Harper’s Weekly, 1857, “At the Polls.” We see that politics were so much more genteel when white men ran everything.



33 thoughts on “Ground Rules for Politics Nerds

  1. maha,

    I love your "Rules for Campaigning and Voting in the Future!" Very well thought out.

     I would add only two additional "rules:"

    – Work within your district and state to do what you can to make sure that ALL eligible voters get a chance to vote.

    – Regardless of who the Democratic candidate is, help to GOTV in your area.

    Those are pretty obvious, but I thought were worth mentioning.

  2. In 2007, l was sure Obama was nice but not electable. I disregard that entirely.

    I think Trump will be so damaged by crimes he committed but hasn't yet been convicted of, he won't be electable. My search is for the best candidate to restore the country.

    Agree completely that 'experts' are taking big bucks now to form your perception. Warren was on Maddow for a long interview. Listen to her – not the pundits. Same deal for all other candidates.

  3. I think Trump will be so damaged by crimes he committed but hasn't yet been convicted of, he won't be electable. My search is for the best candidate to restore the country.

     Amen, Doug. I couldn't agree with you more.

  4. I like to see a new rule named "Recent losers need not apply"

    Simply put if you just ran for office and lost than you should sit the next one out? Didn't Politicians in the past at least appear to have some humility and after losing a high profile election they would either get out of politics and or at least wait an election cycle or two to try again? So if you lost in the last presidential election cycle or recently lost in 2018, maybe you should just sit the f#ck down for a couple years!

  5. Can I take a moment to ask, if Bernie and Joe aren't too old to run, and tRUMP isn't either, then why isnt anyone talking about Nancy Pelosi as a candidate for POTUS?

    She's by far the best politician of either party in Congress in 30+ years.  And in all of America's politics in the last 30+ years, only Bill and Barack are the other people even in that conversation.

    Politically, she'd kill, dress, cook, and serve tRUMP like he was a fat orange buck!

    If age really is a concern, sure, "Nancy SMASH!!!" might be a few years older than tRUMP, Bernie, or Joe, but women live longer!


  6. I think we need a rule that says "We are not trying to select a Republican to run against the Republicans in order to get Republican votes."


  7. Gulag: " Nancy Pelosi as a candidate for POTUS? "

    Well she hasn't lost an election in over 30 years so she’s not violating my rule, though I think she'll do the most good where she is. I'm hoping she will be a "transitional leader" as she hinted at. I still think we need new leadership, but all and all I'm happy to see her back with the gavel, if nothing else it really pisses off the tea-tards!

  8. That's a good question, gulag. There's no substitute for experience, but after watching Orrin Hatch and that other cantankerous prune from Iowa during the Kavanaugh hearings, I'm of the belief that at some point we have to pull the plug on those who don't have enough discretion to know that their time has come. Has been's.

     Funny thing..years ago when I was just starting out in the trades I worked with a cocky young guy who used to say to older tradesmen …"Die old man,and make way for the young".

  9. Regarding brining up facts about candidtates, Nancy was featured years ago on a 60 Minutes piece about politicians getting riche(er) while in office, something Nancy has mastered. Oddly enough, one politician who has NOT gotten rich while doing decades in Congress is Joe Biden. A politican's net worth, particularly the change in net worth isn't the sole barometer of their sincerity, but I haven't found a better one. That doesn't change the fact that Nancy is very effective against Trump, but as a matter of opinion, I like Warren better than Pelosi.

  10. Doug, I prefer Warren, too.

    My only point was that while ageism in politics seems to be receding, sexism is still strong.

    And that if my choices were Bernie, Joe, or Nancy, I'd easily take her!

  11. Btw – I should have specified that I meant ageism is receding when it comes to men.


    Uhm…  Not so much.

  12. The process of campaigning for president establishes if a person has the health and stamina – or not. I've participated in discussions about the issue of ageism and decided to let the pace a candidate can (or can't) maintain demonstrate their capacity to keep up.

    An alert mind may continue well into a persons 70's or later. (RBG, anyone?) If (and that's a big two-letter word) if a president can draw and select talented people and delegate properly, the Office of the President becomes very much administrative – supervising briliance.  That means an older president wouldn’t try to micromanage but would depend on his picks for cabinet posts.

  13. Rule: On the other hand, badmouthing potential candidates because of their personalities or age or campaign style or speaking voice or because you think they are boring needs to be out of bounds now. Those are your biases showing. You are not a bleeping representative sample. Expressing concerns, okay; insults and bashing, no. I hope we still understand the difference.

    That's not going to be an easy rule to follow. Sometimes their intellect is so closely integrated with their personality that they would be granted immunity from any criticism if that rule were to be implemented. Not that he's a candidate or even will be, but think Louie Gomert to get the jist of what I'm saying.. he reeks of moron, and his demeanor and speech patterns are in direct correlation to his intellect. No bias in that observation…just honest analytics.

  14. A rule for the candidates:  Don't assume that you're going to be running against Trump.  A lot can happen.  He can be impeached.  He can resign.  The party can refuse to nominate him.  You could end up running against Mitt Romney or John Kasich, or someone else that the media think is a "sane Republican".  And if that happens, all best are off.  CNN and MSNBC will switch to bashing the Democratic nominee so fast it'll make our head swim.  Be ready for it.

  15. "Electability" in domestic politics is like "credibility" in foreign affairs; both are automatically false claims. The pundits say that a candidate has 'electability' only if that candidate is unpopular and cannot win; and they say that a policy is needed for 'credibility' only if it is absurd and cannot be believed.

  16. Anything that encourages the debate to be about policy and not personality. We desperately need new and good ideas.

    Try not to join the media in its favorite pastime of classifying candidates as radical, leftist, central, any of those useless terms.

    There was a great article at The Root today.  A newly elected prosecutor implemented policy in his first week in office that ended bail requirements for misdemeanors, along with a half dozen other worthy innovations. Not one word in the article about his being a radical leftist.  Because common sense is not radical leftism.

    One of the biggest implements to solutions is pigeon holing candidates. We should all try to resist it.

  17. Don't be afraid of passion.  Republicans for decades have been allowed to cry, scream and bluster their way through life while Dems are supposed to be all decorum and logic.  Screw that!  Some of the new Dem women recently elected seem to get this.

    Stand for something.  The night of the 2016 election I lay in bed unable to sleep and thinking about what went wrong.  Finally I found myself running through the issues Trump and Clinton ran on.  I was able to easily list a number of Donnie's issues but it took me over an hour to name one thing I remembered Hillary standing for: a $12.50 minimum wage.  Yes, she ran on multiple issues but NOT ONE stood out.  So pick 3-5 issues and make them the center of your candidacy and make sure everyone know what they are (Hope and Change won't cut it).  I already know the central issue for both Warren and Inslee. 

    When your opponent lies, about you or anything else, call them a liar.  To their face would be nice.  

    Don't go on Fox and try to dance with the rabid right-wingers.  Their viewers are brainwashed (I know because my mother was one) and you aren't going to get their votes, don't bother trying.     

    And the next time Dems hold all the power in Washington don't invite the Repubs to negotiate after they've told you that their ONLY JOB is to make you a one-term Prez. 



  18. "Try to avoid being manipulated" is an excellent one, and I hope that it gets spread around.

    I'll suggest one more rule: The 2020 election is about a lot more than the Presidential one, and don't get manipulated by the MSM into thinking otherwise. Devote some of your attention and energy to the Senate, governorships, state legislatures, etc. It's because of our neglect of these races that the Repugnikans control so many levers of power.

  19. Look at their history to gauge their sincerity. It's their heart that is most important to me in getting behind any candidate. All other qualities in a candidate can be compensated for by surrounding themselves with good counsel, but nothing can replace a spirit of service and dedication to others. Are they in politics for themselves or are they a true public servant?

  20. Sorry, I lied when I wrote "one more rule". Here's another one: don't get sidetracked with celebrity candidates. We expect plumbers and electricians to serve apprenticeships, and should expect no less of candidates for (at least what used to be) the most powerful job on the planet. Say to Oprah, Dwayne Johnson, Michael Avenatti, Tom Steyer, and anyone else who comes along: "you want to be POTUS? Great. Get back to us when you've served some time as a Congressperson, governor of a state, or mayor of a major city."

  21. The states can make a couple of qualifications to be eligible to be put on the ballot.  Each individual state could make it a requirement that the candidate would have already released copies of their taxes for the last ten years, and then the candidate would have to pass  a written test on the constitution and the results would be made public.  Passing a test on campaign and election laws  would be nice, too.

  22. Robert Broughton, yeah, I was astonished earlier this year when I ran into some people on social media who were wildly enthusiastic about Michael Avenatti's presidential prospects. This is the political equivalent of following strangers with candy.

  23. This is the political equivalent of following strangers with candy.


    All that glitters is not gold?

  24. This may fall under “Try to avoid being manipulated”, but we need to be constantly vigilant about how the 1% does their thing, to sway the 99% against their own best-interests. 

    Astroturfing, gerrymandering, Cambridge Analytica, popularizing snappy little ‘common wisdoms’ like “job creators”, Russian troll farms, wealth sponsored punditry…  The 1% owns advertising and marketing and understands every possible means of manipulating the mobs hope, fear, tribalism…  Keep trying with logic to penetrate the sheeple conditioning.

    I’d violate any rules against mockery, in instances of irrational faith-based reasoning.  Since you can’t rationally reason with faith-based reasoning, mocking can inspire blind faithers to either retreat back to their nonsensical echo chamber, or to do some actual fact-based homework.

  25. State legislatures are critical. 2020 is a census and redistricting year, and will determine congressional districts for a decade. 

  26. why isnt anyone talking about Nancy Pelosi as a candidate for POTUS?

    She’s perfect where she’s at, great at being a formidable General in the House, but unfortunately, like Bernie (or I would argue Joe Biden (for different reasons)), her age is catching up with her.

    I watched Pelosi on Charlie Rose a few years ago, full hour interview. She was magnificent. I now hear a slight wavering in her voice – still a sharp mind and great leader, but her next goal should be retirement. Unfortunately.

  27. FWIW, my ideas for any national party:

    1) Be national. Have a 50 state, 1000 dogcatcher strategy. Don't write any citizens off.

    2) Get out the vote. Register everybody you can. Make voting day a national holiday.

    3) Reduce the influence of plutocrats. Forget this bullshit of having members of Congress spend time they could be working, calling up rich donors and asking for their money and opinions. If they call up anybody and ask their opinions, let it be regular citizens. Also, see 1).

    4) Always Be Communicating. That is, always be spreading your messages everywhere. See 1) and 3).

    5) For the presidential nomination, have a national primary, perhaps including July 4th (national holiday). Staggered primaries make the nomination process depend upon doing well early so as to raise money. (See 3)). Maybe hold 6 televised debates, starting in January, one each month before the national primary. Candidates would not have to raise money to participate in the debates.

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