After that long 2024 candidate interlude, we are back to regularly scheduled programming. Let’s get to work.
Campaign Quick Hits
Empire State of Mind: Let’s start things off with the freshest news hot off the political presses: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced earlier today he would resign from office after an independent investigation substantiated multiple allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation against him. Word was that he desperately wanted the fourth term his father never got after he lost to Republican George Pataki in 1994; instead, Cuomo-the-Younger’s tenure will end two weeks from today, in the middle of his third term. Once his resignation becomes effective, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will take over, becoming New York’s first female governor. That will also put her in the catbird seat as the incumbent with a year’s worth of publicity along the way. New York has had just six governors since 1975 (and that includes Eliot Spitzer who served for just over one year and David Patterson who finished Spitzer’s term), meaning that there are a lot of ambitious people who have been waiting for their chance. Potential pols that are reportedly mulling a 2022 run over include soon-to-be former NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and even Hillary Clinton. Not to mention Attorney General Letitia James, who published the report that took down Cuomo in the first place.
Vaccine Campaign Mandate: The campaign for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe announced this week that they would be requiring all campaign staff to be vaccinated as a condition of employment. A smart, no downside move for them. McAuliffe’s Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, inevitably gets asked if he’s following suit. This leaves him with two choices. He could follow suit, alienating some potential supporters in the anti-vax-mandate MAGA base and failing to distinguish himself from McAuliffe. Or he could explain to suburban DC voters why he doesn’t think his staff that is out interacting with people all day should be vaccinated—voters that he desperately needs to do well with to have any chance of beating McAuliffe. So which one did Youngkin go with?
From the Youngkin campaign: “If Terry McAuliffe gets the chance, he will shut down our economy, close small businesses, and deny Virginians the right to make their own health care decisions. As Glenn has said, he made the choice to get vaccinated himself and he encourages people to get the vaccine, but it should be left to the individual to make the decision.”
Tim Scott, Fundraising Animal: You may not think it, but Tim Scott is a fundraising machine. According to Politico’s Alex Isenstadt, “Scott’s campaign committee … has raised $11.7 million, more than any incumbent from either party up for reelection next year.” And his super PAC, the Opportunity Matters Fund, has raised more than $13 million. That’s an enormous war chest for someone who is unlikely to face any serious challenge in 2022. Money doesn’t win presidential elections—as Team Jeb(!) can tell you—but the ability to raise that kind of money says something about the type of campaign Scott can afford and the type of Republicans he can appeal to.
Texas Democrats Headed Home? The Texas legislature has its own form of the filibuster. In the U.S. Senate, 60 out of 100 votes are needed to move forward on most types of legislation. In the Texas legislature, two thirds of members must be present to conduct business. It’s basically the same rule, but instead of just voting no, tradition dictates that a Texas legislator has to leave the state, or the Texas Governor can simply go nab the various legislators, bring them to the capitol, and lock the door.
But while that “arrest rule” has been the practice going back to at least the 1979 Killer Bees episode, a judge just said that the governor doesn’t have the power to arrest the legislators after all. The Texas Constitution in fact states that “Senators and Representatives shall, except in cases of treason, felony, or breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during the session of the Legislature, and in going to and returning from the same.”
Does that mean that the Democrats win? Maybe. First, this ruling will be appealed, and we’ll get briefing from the other side as to why they think that constitutional provision shouldn’t apply. Second, like the filibuster, the quorum rule can be changed, and if the Texas legislature can no longer conduct business if one third of the members decide to wait it out at the Starbucks around the corner, then that rule isn’t going to survive long. But the real answer will be at the ballot box in November 2022. I don’t care what polls say (and in fact I haven’t seen any)—we won’t know how voters actually feel about this until Election Night.
The Polling Known Unknown: “it’s hard to prove beyond a certainty what happened,” said Josh Clinton, the chair of the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s 2020 election task force. But at least they agree something happened. According to their report, “The 2020 polls featured polling error of an unusual magnitude: It was the highest in 40 years for the national popular vote and the highest in at least 20 years for state-level estimates of the vote in presidential, senatorial, and gubernatorial contests.” Those errors were “much more likely to favor Biden over Trump,” to the tune of 4.3 percentage points in statewide presidential polls.
They may not know what did happen, but they’ve got a helpful list of what they can rule out. The polling errors were not caused by “late-deciding voters voting for Republican candidates,” “a failure to weight by education,” “ incorrect assumptions about the composition of the electorate in terms of age, race, ethnicity, gender, or education level,” or Trump voters’ “reluctance to tell interviewers they supported Trump.”
So what was it? They’ve got some ideas, including the continued decline in how many people respond to pollsters and the failure to accurately capture some of the people who registered to vote for the first time in 2020. But overall, the 106-page report felt a lot like a very wordy shrug emoji that puts pollsters in a weird place headed in 2022 and 2024.
Graphic of the Week: The Washington Post’s David Byler did a deep dive on how and why Latino voters turned out for Trump in 2020. The data “suggest, at best, that Republicans can adapt to demographic change—and, at worst, that Democrats’ fabled emerging majority might not arrive.” And it even includes a road map for GOP candidates moving forward: “Latinos who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 but held conservative positions on crime and policing were more likely to support Trump in 2020.”
Chris has some thoughts on why the media became obsessed with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the height of the pandemic and why political reporters are usually pretty bad at gauging the viability of candidates in general.
The Cuomo Debacle and Campaign Hype
We’ve had a lot of useful examples lately about the disconnect between the political press and actual voters. The 2020 Democratic primaries, for example, proved to be a barnyard full of rakes for campaign reporters to step on. If every fawning story had been worth a delegate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren would have won by acclamation. But flesh-and-blood voters found her about as interesting as a test pattern. Kamala Harris went from media-made frontrunner to flame-out while her cackle still hung in the air. Joe Biden, on the other hand, was mostly treated as an anachronism and some kind of hopeless case, right up until he started crushing the competition.
But never have I ever seen a miss of the magnitude of the collective pants-wetting over New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. As he flails about looking for a way to avoid removal from office for being a dirty old man, you should seal this moment in your minds so we can recall it the next time you hear campaign reporters assessing the relative merits of one candidate or another.
I’ve certainly had my share of misses. I was too bullish on Sen. Marco Rubio’s chances in 2016, for example. And I regret not being more skeptical about Harris’s gifts. Judging political horseflesh is no more of an exact science than picking real quadrupeds while they’re still in the paddock. And unlike a real horserace, the coverage itself has a role to play in the outcome. Donald Trump would never have been president if my peers left, right, and center hadn’t developed an insatiable appetite for all things Trumpy. He’s clickbait in corporeal form, and they’re still obsessed.
But anyone would have to say that the 45th president is legitimately fascinating. Whether he seems to you like an interstate-closing car wreck, a horror movie come to life, or a MAGA messiah, it’s not surprising that Trump gets a great deal of attention. But Andrew Cuomo? C’mon, people.
We should first acknowledge the role New York played in this phenomenon. If two of America’s three biggest newspapers and every television network news operation were headquartered in Manhattan, Kansas instead of the Borough of Manhattan, we wouldn’t have had to be subjected to the coverage of the rise and fall of Mario Cuomo’s eldest son. We have 50 governors in this great nation, and you can bet that some of them are always either “having a moment” or facing a potentially career-ending scandal. But just like Americans living where it never gets below freezing have to watch days of national news coverage every time a nor’easter socks in the Acela Corridor, when the press gets snowed by a local politician, the whole country gets subjected to it as well.
But Cuomo is so obviously dim, boorish, and hacky, it took more than just proximity to create an environment in which he could sincerely be discussed, heaven help me, as a potential replacement for Biden as the Democratic presidential nominee last year. Part of this can be explained by the media’s underestimation of Biden, as discussed above. The now-president never had the sizzle political reporters wanted, especially compared to Trump, who is 99 percent sizzle, 1 percent steak. But another part can be understood as a byproduct of our partisan press. When the right-wing media sees a story that looks bad for Democrats, they go all in—just as the left-wing does when the roles are reversed. This motivated analysis feeds into the fight on the other side and adds interest in the story. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Another gust helping to inflate the Cuomo coverage balloon was the desire for something against which to juxtapose Trump’s bungling coronavirus communications. Because of the aforementioned factors of proximity and partisanship, the anti-Trump darling wasn’t likely to be Republican Mike DeWine in Ohio or some other flyover-country chief executive who was thriving under pandemic pressure. Cuomo’s interminable, self-centered daily briefings were available at the flick of a remote for thousands of home-bound journalists in New York. No surprise then that the idea of Trump facing his former governor in November 2020 would have had immediate appeal. It would all be understandable, but for this: Cuomo is not a good politician. He got into office as a legacy and has been mostly undistinguished in his career. His governance in New York has been objectively poor and as a communicator he is the pits.
That’s all just to remind you that as the 2022 midterms and the 2024 pre-primaries heave into view, keep the salt shaker handy when political reporters start their predictable—and predictably wrong—rhapsodies.*
*Note from Sarah: This, of course, never applies to our analysis in The Sweep, which is always 100 percent guaranteed fresh squeezed and perfectly predictive of all future events.