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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Manchin Will Vote against H.R. 1
      •  Biden Rejects Latest GOP Offer
      •  McGahn Finally Testified
      •  Trump is Now Synonymous with "Cheap"
      •  Lara Trump Won't Run
      •  Republican Jumps into Senate Race against Warnock
      •  Kemp Survived
      •  NRA Drops Lawsuit against Letitia James
      •  Political Advertising Is All Wrong

Manchin Will Vote against H.R. 1

The big news yesterday was the op-ed Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) wrote for the Charleston Gazette-Mail in which he said he will oppose weakening the filibuster and will vote against H.R. 1, the Democrats' bill that would prevent states from making it harder for people, especially minorities and students, from voting. This is the first time he has come out point blank against H.R. 1. If he really means it, the Democrats have a big problem, as every Republican-controlled state will go to town doing everything it can to make voting harder, just short of saying that only property-owning rich white men can vote—the way it was back in the good old days when America was Great.

Manchin wrote:

Unfortunately, we now are witnessing that the fundamental right to vote has itself become overtly politicized. Today's debate about how to best protect our right to vote and to hold elections, however, is not about finding common ground, but seeking partisan advantage. Whether it is state laws that seek to needlessly restrict voting or politicians who ignore the need to secure our elections, partisan policymaking won't instill confidence in our democracy—it will destroy it.

Manchin's point is true and well taken. The voting laws shouldn't be partisan, but he doesn't explain what to do to achieve bipartisanship when one party is hell-bent on rigging voting to favor itself and refuses to compromise at all on this because it sees rigging elections as essential to its survival as a party. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is no doubt going to talk to Manchin and say: "I'm all for bipartisanship and I hereby appoint you as the head of our delegation to make a deal with the Republicans. Pick your team, make a deal with them, and report back what you achieved."

Of course, the Republicans will just claim they are for election integrity, so it is necessary to require photo ID and have everyone vote in person on Election Day, with students voting in their home towns, not where they go to college, and former felons who have served their time not voting at all. In other words, they will just parrot the reasons all the Republican states have used to justify restricting the franchise. If Manchin agrees, then he can say he made a deal. All the other Democrats will say that making a deal is easy if you just capitulate to the other side.

Manchin did say that he would support H.R. 4, which would reinstate the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But that can't be passed unless Manchin agrees to reform the filibuster, so de facto, that too is dead.

We can't for the life of us understand what game Manchin is playing. Here are some wild-eyed theories, though:

  • He believes it: Maybe Manchin really believes he can make a deal. We don't doubt that he would like that, which would all but guarantee his reelection in 2024 in West Virginia. But he has been in politics for 35 years. He's not stupid. Still, perhaps his true desire to be a bipartisan hero has so clouded his vision that he really thinks he can make a deal here.

  • It's a ploy: Maybe he knows that no deal is possible and he wants to have been on the record saying I really, really tried. I did everything to make a deal. No stone was left unturned. But they simply wouldn't compromise. I was forced to vote to make them read the Alabama phone book all night long and was dragged kicking and screaming against my will into voting for H.R. 1.

  • He wants more pork: Without his vote on H.R. 1, Democrats will have a hard time winning elections going forward in states Republicans control, including Georgia, Arizona, and Florida. Schumer & Co. will move heaven and earth to get him to change his mind. How about $50 billion for broadband Internet in West Virginia, $50 billion for cleaning up toxic abandoned coal mines, $10 billion for building the biggest solar panel factory in the world in Charleston, $10 billion for building the biggest wind turbine factory in the world in Huntington, and making you chairman of any three Senate committees you want to chair, just as an opening bid?

  • He wants to rewrite H.R. 1: Could it be that he finds H.R. 1 unacceptable in its current form, but if he could gut some of the provisions and keep the rest, he would be satisfied? Of course, as everyone else knows, it is inconceivable that 10 Republican senators will vote for any bill that restricts the states from making voting harder in any way. Maybe a few, like Lisa Murkowski (AK), but not 10. We can imagine that if he were allowed to rewrite the bill, he could shape it in such a way that he could vote for it, but if he is truly unwilling to reform the filibuster, the "Joe Manchin Act" still couldn't pass the Senate.

  • He's going to jump ship: Very unlikely, but maybe he is planning to leave the Democratic Party and join the Republicans. Blocking all of Joe Biden's plans would make him a hero with Republicans. The only problem is that on some issues, such as unions, he is actually a fairly normal Democrat. But on many issues, he is with the Republicans. The main hitch here is that voters don't like turncoats and he would surely face a real Republican in the 2024 primary. Given a choice between one or more real Republicans and someone who was a Democrat for 35 years and suddenly saw the light, Republican voters are likely to pick a real Republican.

  • Right back at you, Joe: This theory is also in the "performance" category. Recall that last week, Biden fired a smallish shot across Manchin's bow, vaguely alluding in his Tulsa speech to two Democratic senators who seem to vote with the Republicans an awful lot. Possibly Manchin is returning fire here, and reminding the President that two can play the air-our-laundry-in-public game.

We don't see how this move really increases Manchin's leverage. It would make sense to us if he just hemmed and hawed and said: "Well, I haven't decided yet, but if you make the bill more reasonable, maybe I could vote for it. And by the way, although West Virginia doesn't have many pig farms, I do like pork quite a bit." But committing so aggressively—offering up something in the ballpark of the Full Sherman—reduces how flexible the Senator can be. And recall that even if he does flip parties, the Republicans can't give him anything, at least not until 2023. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could promise the moon and the stars, but other than committee assignments, anything else would have to be approved by the Democratic-controlled House.

Ultimately, a lot of the blame goes to two people who are rarely mentioned: Sara Gideon and Steve Bullock. Gideon was speaker of the House in Maine. She had more money than Croesus in a blue and cheap state and still lost. If she had beaten Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Manchin would be a footnote. Bullock was a popular moderate two-term governor in a state that frequently votes for Democrats in statewide elections, except presidential elections. He had more money than Uncle Scrooge and still lost to a backbencher who hasn't done much for Montana. Jaime Harrison never had a real chance in South Carolina, no matter how much money he raised from out-of-staters, and Theresa Greenfield always had a tough fight against Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), the best hog castrator in the history of the Senate. But Gideon and Bullock could have won, didn't, and now Manchin is King of the Democrats. Oh, and let's also give a nod to Cal Cunningham's zipper. If he could have just kept it in the upright and locked position for six months, he might well have knocked off the not-too-popular Thom Tillis (R).

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) is another Democrat who is sort of against reining in the filibuster, but her situation is different. Manchin is the only Democrat who can get elected to the Senate in West Virginia, so the party has to humor him. If they beat him in a primary, they will probably get either coal billionaire Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV) or coal billionaire Don Blankenship (R) as the new senator. There are at least two or three Arizona Democrats who could beat Sinema in a primary and win statewide, so she has to be a lot more careful than Manchin. In principle she is dispensable, whereas he is not. (V & Z)

Biden Rejects Latest GOP Offer

The Senate Republicans raised their offer on the infrastructure bill by $50 billion in the most recent round of negotiations. That leaves them a couple of weeks late and $2 trillion short. Joe Biden rejected the offer out of hand, but said he was eager to continue negotiating. Maybe he is telling the truth, maybe not. Our take is that he would genuinely like a bipartisan bill, but if all the Republicans offer is peanuts, it's not going to happen. Put another way, the President places some value on bipartisanship, but not $1 trillion worth of value. He originally asked for $2.2 trillion in new spending on roads, bridges, tunnels, harbors, airports, and other "hard" infrastructure. The Republicans countered with a proposal of about $550 billion—but they want to count $300 billion from the earlier COVID-19 relief bill as part of that. So they were willing to spend only $250 billion in new money, about 11% of what Biden was asking for.

In the most recent proposal, the Republicans have upped the new spending to $350 billion, or about 14% of what Biden asked for. This is not what serious negotiators do when they want a deal, especially when the other side holds all the cards and can pass the bill using the budget reconciliation process without any Republican votes. It's all about telling their voters how they tried so hard, but Biden kept saying no. It is increasingly clear that the Republicans' end game is making the Democrats go it alone and them lambasting them for not being bipartisan.

Biden made a major concession to the Republicans by agreeing not to dismantle any part of the 2017 tax bill—a bill they concocted in the dark of night and then rammed through the Senate using the reconciliation process without even bothering to consult with the Democrats at all. Biden's latest offer is to leave the 2017 tax-cut law intact but to create a 15% minimum tax for corporations and eliminate the loopholes that let many of them escape American (and often worldwide) taxes altogether. Republicans immediately rejected this. It is clear that they will never sign on to any bill that increases taxes on corporations and rich people in any form, even though large majorities of voters, including Republican voters, see this as a selling point. Given a choice between what their donors want and what their voters want, the score is donors 1, voters 0.

Increasingly, many Democrats are tired of this game. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is well aware that the Republicans used the budget reconciliation process to pass their tax-cut bill in 2017. He said: "Please don't tell me we can't use the same tools to help working people." Sooner or later it is going to come down to that. Biden knows this, of course, but feels that since he promised the voters to work with the Republicans, he needs to show them that he really, really tried, but they were negotiating in bad faith so he was forced to ask the Democrats to go it alone.

Now about that bipartisanship shtick. FiveThirtyEight has an article entitled: "How Much Do Americans Really Care About Bipartisanship?" It first notes that Biden is trying to redefine bipartisanship into meaning: "Doing what most Democratic voters and most Republican voters want, regardless of what the politicians want." That doesn't fly. A Morning Consult poll shows that only 10% of the voters buy that. In contrast, 32% said it means getting the leaders of both parties to agree and 43% said it means getting both the voters and the leaders to agree.

However, 53% of the respondents said that Biden is trying to be bipartisan and 34% disagreed. This means that when the talks ultimately collapse, Biden will get credit for trying. That's what he wants. Surely some Republicans are following the polling and know that their tactics won't work, but given that they absolutely do not want to give Biden a victory he can crow about, they are doomed to continue negotiating in bad faith to prevent a deal and then to let the chips fall where they may. The poll also found that 85% of voters would prefer the parties to work together.

That said, earlier polls show an interesting pattern. Most voters think that the way to get bipartisanship is for the other party to compromise. So Democrats think that the way to achieve it is for Republicans to give in and Republicans think that the way to achieve it is for Democrats to give in. As a consequence, when the talks fail, most people will blame the other party. If voters really liked bipartisanship, they would say both parties have to give ground, and that is not what they are saying. Biden's conclusion from these kinds of polls is that his best option is to maintain the illusion of bipartisanship as long as he can, then finally go it alone while saying: "I tried." He won't lose any Democratic votes that way and wasn't going to get any Republican votes unless he was basically willing to junk all his proposals. But, of course, that would make Democratic voters say: "Why did we vote for this guy?" And it still probably wouldn't get him enough Republican votes to overcome the filibuster. So the play goes on. But probably not for long, since Biden has said he wants to sign a bill this summer. Implicit in that is that if the Democrats have to use reconciliation as a last resort, so be it. (V)

McGahn Finally Testified

Remember Robert Mueller? The guy who investigated whether the Russians interfered with the 2016 election and also what role Donald Trump and his aides played in that interference? Trump didn't especially care for Mueller and wanted him fired. He told then-White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller, but McGahn refused, saying he would resign rather than carry out the order. He told other administration officials that Trump had ordered him to "do crazy sh*t." In the end, McGahn didn't carry out Trump's directions, didn't quit on the spot, and wasn't fired.

Rather the opposite. McGahn provided Mueller with hours of damaging testimony about Trump's attempt to block Mueller, the legal term for which is "obstruction of justice." Democrats have long wanted to have a chat with McGahn about the matter, but Trump blocked McGahn from testifying before the House. Now Trump is not in position to block McGahn and Joe Biden has no interest in doing so, so on Friday, McGahn testified before the House Judiciary Committee behind closed doors. His testimony will be transcribed and released this week. One advantage of a closed hearing is that the representatives tend to grandstand less when there are no cameras rolling.

McGahn's refusal to testify when he was originally subpoenaed has raised a serious constitutional issue that Congress may soon attempt to address: What can Congress do when it subpoenas someone and that person says: "No, thanks, I'm too busy"? Congress actually has a small jail in the basement of the Capitol. Some Democrats want to pass a law saying that if someone ignores a congressional subpoena, Congress can send the sergeant-at-arms to arrest that person and lock him or her up until the person decides to obey the subpoena. That might improve compliance.

Related to this story is the fact that the unexpurgated Mueller report is still not public. AG Merrick Garland could release it at any time by just telling his secretary to post it on the DoJ Website, but so far he hasn't done that, for unknown reasons, although we did engage in some speculation last week. At least in a few days we are likely to know more about what McGahn told Mueller. (V)

Trump is Now Synonymous with "Cheap"

But not in the way you might be thinking. Yes, Donald Trump is a cheapskate; that is well known. But it used to be that apartments and hotel rooms in Trump-branded properties sold at premium prices. People used to be willing to pay extra just to be associated with him. These days, however, his cachet is not what it used to be. Condos in buildings with his name on the outside are now going for a song because nobody wants to live there. Well, maybe not for a song, but still deeply discounted. The AP did a study of what apartments in Trump-branded buildings are going for now and they are off 30% from the good old days when his name wasn't toxic.

The AP reviewed over 4,000 transactions for condos and hotel rooms sold (covering the past 15 years) of 11 Trump-branded buildings in New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Honolulu. The conclusion is that prices in Trump buildings have dropped far more than in similar non-Trump buildings. Some units are now worth hundreds of thousands to a million dollars less than they were a few years ago.

Consequently, there are bargain hunters swooping in to pick up units at depressed prices. One of them, Trump supporter Lane Blue, bought a studio in Trump Tower Las Vegas for $160,500. The previous owner paid $510,500 for it. Blue said this wasn't his first purchase and probably wouldn't be his last. Gail Lissner, managing director at Integra Realty Resources, said that condo prices at Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago dropped 34% during Trump's presidency, compared to a 6% drop at 18 nearby luxury condo buildings. Ondel Hylton of CityRealty in New York said that condos in Trump buildings are now considerably cheaper than condos in non-Trump buildings. He added: "I have never seen buildings plummet so dramatically."

Not all of this downward motion hurts Trump personally. If all the condos and hotel rooms for sale have long been sold, the current market price doesn't affect Trump economically at all. However, in some buildings, not all units have been sold. For those, the lower prices definitely hit Trump smack in the wallet, since they now bring in less money when sold. And that, in turn, increases his motivation to raise money through other means, including his various political grifts. He's already hinting at sedition by claiming he'll be reinstated in August; if his cash flow doesn't improve between now and the time those hundreds of millions of dollars in loans that he personally guaranteed come due, one can only imagine what he might come up with to get the base to part with even more of its hard-earned money. (V)

Lara Trump Won't Run

Every once in a while, a Trump says something that is probably true. Republicans were hoping that Lara Trump, the wife of Eric Trump and a native of North Carolina, would run for the Senate seat that Richard Burr (R-NC) is vacating (largely because he was caught up in an insider trading scandal). Having Donald Trump's daughter-in-law run for a high-profile position in a state that is almost perfectly balanced between Democrats and Republicans would have been quite a sight. But on Saturday, she said: "not for now." She explained that she has two young children. Having seen the Trump 2020 campaign from the inside, she understands that running for office is a full-time job.

We believe she is telling the truth here. She was by no means a shoo-in, not even in the Republican primary, and certainly not in the general election in a state that Trump himself won by only 1.3% in 2020. She would have to campaign pretty much all the time for the next 17 months to have a decent shot at it. That would mean having very little contact with her 1-year-old and her 3-year-old for a year and a half. We can understand that abandoning her very young kids for so long to have a 50-50 shot at becoming a senator was a bridge too far for her.

Donald Trump immediately reacted to the public announcement by endorsing the Trumpiest Republican currently in the race, Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC). Budd will certainly be helped in the primary by the endorsement, but his victory is far from a sure thing. Two other Republicans are also in the race: former representative Mark Walker and former governor Pat McCrory, he of "bathroom bill" fame. Even with Trump's endorsement, Budd is not nearly as well known outside of his district as McCrory is, so it will be a nasty primary.

Trump made his endorsement at the annual North Carolina GOP convention. However, while on stage, Trump didn't spend all his time praising Budd. Instead, he spent his time praising...Donald Trump. Not to mention relitigating the 2020 election and attacking Anthony Fauci, saying: "He's been wrong on almost every issue." Bet you didn't see any of that coming, since it is so totally out of character for the former president. If Trump is going to campaign for Budd by praising himself and attacking Fauci, we wonder how effective he will be at helping Budd get the nomination. Also, so far, Trump's endorsement hasn't been magic everywhere. When he has endorsed candidates who were already shoo-ins, which is what he generally does, the candidates won. But in close races, especially primaries in purple states, his endorsement hasn't always done the job. For example, in the high-profile NC-11 Republican primary in 2020, he endorsed Lynda Bennett, who lost to now-Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) in the runoff by 32 points.

Fortunately for the Republicans, the Democrats don't have a candidate yet. Five people have filed so far and more might yet file. The best-known candidates are (1) former state senator Erica Smith, who is a Black progressive who lost the 2020 senatorial primary and (2) Cheri Beasley, who is also Black, and who was formerly the chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. However, the percentage of Black voters in North Carolina is only 22%, much less than the 32% in Georgia, which elected a Black senator in January. (V)

Republican Jumps into Senate Race against Warnock

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) is up for reelection for a full term in 2022. Currently he is just filling out the remainder of the term to which Johnny Isakson was elected in 2016. The Senator will be one of the Republicans' biggest targets next year. The Republican field is sort of frozen right now because Donald Trump is urging NFL football player Herschel Walker to enter the race, and Walker hasn't made a decision yet. Walker probably understands that being good at running on the football field doesn't mean you are automatically also good at running for senator.

However, some Republican politicians are getting tired of waiting for Godot. For example, Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black (R) has had it with biding his time and is launching his Senate campaign anyway. Two other Republicans have already entered the race, but neither has ever held public office, let alone statewide office in Georgia.

If Walker ultimately says no, Black will have a head start over the many other Republicans who will then jump in. And even if Walker does jump in, that doesn't mean he will win easily. Remember, he will be running in the Republican primary, not the Democratic primary. While Walker is Black, Black is white. Republican primary voters are overwhelmingly white, so it is not obvious they will all prefer a very famous Black guy over a less famous, but still well-known, white guy. And, of course—not that it matters one whit to many voters—Black actually understands something about government as a result of his three terms as Ag Commissioner, while Walker knows nothing about governing at all. On the other hand, lack of governing experience didn't prevent former football coach Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) from winning the Alabama Republican primary and then coasting to victory in the general election.

Sometimes the story is the dog that didn't bark, or the candidate that didn't run. Former senator David Perdue, who lost to Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) in 2020, has said he will not run in 2022. Similarly, right-wing firebrand Doug Collins, who lost a nasty primary to appointed senator Kelly Loeffler, has also passed on 2022. On the other hand, Loeffler hasn't announced what she plans to do in 2022.

A complicating factor in Georgia in 2022 is that Donald Trump has sworn that he will do everything to defeat both Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). Suppose that either or both of them win their respective primaries. What will Trump do in the general election after spending months calling both of them scoundrels and worse? Will he instruct Republican voters to stay home? If so, that could certainly affect the Senate race. (V)

Kemp Survived

Sometimes there is huge pressure on a politician and the politician gives in and slinks off, tail between legs. Think of former vice president Spiro Agnew, former senator Al Franken, former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey, and former representatives John Conyers and Katie Hill.

But sometimes the politician digs his heels in, the storm passes, and all is (mostly) well. Think: Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY). And now add Brian Kemp to that list. Donald Trump wants his head on a pike, but recent events suggest that the worst is over for Kemp and he survived a near-death experience.

Specifically, at the state convention on Saturday, Kemp was booed, but he wasn't formally censured. In contrast, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was formally censured. Politico interviewed over 30 party officials, strategists, and activists there and asked: "How come?" The answer was that Raffensperger was not willing to put his thumb (or foot) on the scales to help the Republicans whereas Kemp gleefully signed a bill that would make it harder for people, especially minorities, to vote in the future. That is something that the delegates really appreciated. Also, everyone there knew that Stacey Abrams (D) is going to run again against Kemp in 2022, and she was a formidable opponent in 2018 and will be just as formidable in 2022, if not more so now that Democratic voters know that Democrats can win in Georgia. Taking Kemp down a couple of pegs would simply help Abrams. In contrast, Raffensperger is expendable because Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) is running against him in the GOP primary, more-or-less promising to use the office to "help" Republicans win elections.

Kemp has gotten credibility with rank-and-file Republicans because he pushed back hard when Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines said they didn't like the new voting law. Also when he excoriated Major League Baseball for taking the All-Star game out of Atlanta in response to that law. In addition, he latched onto some wedge issues, like saying that "critical race theory" has no place in Georgia classrooms, "defund the police" is nonsense, and "cancel culture" has to stop. This is red meat to Georgia conservatives. Raffensperger was closer to the election count and hasn't thrown out so much red meat. Still, if Trump really follows through and pounds Kemp during the heat of the campaign, it can't be helpful to the Governor and could result in some Republicans abstaining from voting in the gubernatorial general election or voting for a third party. (V)

NRA Drops Lawsuit against Letitia James

The NRA was chartered in New York after the Civil War. The goal was to improve the population's marksmanship skills because many of the Union soldiers couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. The Union side fired 1,000 bullets for every Confederate soldier hit. Because it was chartered in New York, New York Attorney General Letitia James has the authority to prosecute it for financial mismanagement and she is actively doing so. In particular, she has charged that the organization's leaders have spent tens of millions of dollars on lavish lifestyles for themselves.

The NRA responded by suing her. The suit said that James violated the group's constitutional rights to free speech because she and the Democrats don't like what it stands for.

On Friday, the NRA dropped its lawsuit, almost certainly because its lawyers told the leadership that the suit had no chance at all and would just cost them a lot of money.

The lawsuit isn't the only thing the NRA has done to try to get out from under James. It tried to file for bankruptcy, but a federal judge ruled that an organization with millions of dollars in the bank and few debts was not bankrupt. It also tried to reorganize itself under Texas law, but that gimmick failed as well.

Now it looks like the NRA is going to have to face the music in New York. Financial crimes, like management spending money for personal items, and directing spending to vendors with ties to management, tend to leave substantial paper trails, which James can easily find. That's probably doubly true for Wayne LaPierre, who worked as a lobbyist before becoming chief executive at the NRA. It is doubtful that he has the skills to create layer upon layer of shell companies in Bermuda, Panama, and the Cayman Islands to cover his tracks.

The case is likely to go to a jury sooner or later. The problem for LaPierre is that he will be accused of spending the organization's money on fancy dinners for himself and his friends, travel not related to the organization's charter, and things like that. Trying to defend stealing from the NRA by citing the Second Amendment or his constitutional right to arm bears, or whatever, is probably not going to work well against a charge of "you stole money from the NRA." James's ultimate goal is to dissolve the organization for being fundamentally corrupt.

If James does bring the NRA down, and is also party to sending Donald Trump to the hoosegow, she will become an immediate rock star for the Democrats, and at a time when Black candidates appear to be ascendant. The governor's mansion would be James' for the asking, but she could also take a shot at Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-NY) seat in 2024, or maybe an office even higher than that in 2024 or 2028. (V)

Political Advertising Is All Wrong

Studies have shown that political ads have almost no effect. Some are clever or even memorable, but they don't change any minds. A review of 49 field experiments shows that ads don't work. What's a politician to do?

Much of the problem is that they are all focused on the wrong thing: winning the next election, usually by smearing the opponent of the candidate running the ad. A new study shows that ads can be made to work, but they have to take a long-range view. What the researchers discovered is that trying to get Democrats to vote for a Republican or Republicans to vote for a Democrat is pointless. But what does work in the long run is getting people who don't identify with either party to do so. The effect isn't huge, but it does exist. Nearly 10 million voters under 30 claim to be independents. Running ads to try to get them to become partisans could bring payoffs for years after the next election.

About $8.5 billion was spent on TV and digital ads in the 2020 election, but nearly all of it was spent praising or attacking candidates or policy positions. The study showed that it would be far more effective to try to bind more people to a party, rather than to just sling mud at some particular opponent.

Companies have long understood this. Many ads for beverages, for example, don't even bother to talk about the product. They try to get people to associate the brand with being happy. That's what political parties need to do. The authors of the study worked with two Democratic firms and asked them to craft ads where the goal was to get people to identify with the Democratic Party, rather than vote for or against some candidate. Each ad was designed to focus on one of the four major theories of why people identify with a party. The theories are as follows:

  • It's the economy: This is the "it's the economy, stupid" theory. It says that when people feel that their party is in power, things will be better for them economically. So they vote for their economic self interest. If this is true, it is in a party's interest to talk about taxes and government programs and who gets taxed and who benefits. This cuts both ways, of course.

  • It's the issues: This theory says that voters are motivated by broad agreement with a political party on issues like climate change, immigration, guns, abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, and other important issues. To the extent this is true, it is in a party's interest to locate voters who agree with them on the issues and convince them that the party will work to achieve their goals on these issues.

  • It's the charisma: This theory says that people are attracted to a party because it has a charismatic leader. Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, and, yes, Donald Trump were very charismatic. Many people admired them. Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and Mitt Romney were not charismatic. While some people supported them due to the issues, they didn't get anywhere near the kind of hero worship that Reagan, Obama, and Trump got from their fans.

  • It's our tribe: For some people, "those are my people" is what counts. In other words, identity politics. Whether it is Black urban dwellers who identify as Democrats or rural white folks who identify as Republicans, politics is about tribes, not economics, issues, or leaders. Either you belong to the tribe or you don't.

After the ads were made, 18,000 people were contacted online to find their party identification. Then they were exposed to an ad focusing on one of the theories. Two weeks later they were contacted again to see which party they identified with. Then they were contacted a year later to see which party they identified with. Here are two of the ads trying to sell the Democratic Party as a product, rather than get a vote for some Democrat running for office.

An "it's the economy, stupid" ad:

An "issues" ad:

The important thing to notice here is that there is no mention of any candidates or elections. The commercials are all about selling the Party. The researchers discovered that showing one ad had little effect, but if someone saw three to six different ads, there was a measurable effect compared to the control group. Some subjects even changed who they were planning to vote for.

However, there is a catch: The effects faded with time. After a year, partisanship snapped back to where it had been before the first ad. The conclusion is that the parties should produce ads to sell themselves, not their candidates, and air them continuously, even when there is no election in sight. If you can convince someone that they are really a Democrat (or Republican) at heart, you don't have to work nearly so hard at election time. It's such a different approach that the agencies who were asked to make the ads didn't at first understand what the ads were supposed to do or why anyone would want them. But the evidence suggests that exposing young independents to this kind of ad can make some of them partisans.

While the ads in the experiment were for the Democratic Party, it is easy to envision ads the Republican Party could make as well. They might show a cowboy riding out on the range with voiceovers about how the Republican Party cherishes freedom. Or maybe one with factories humming along, with the voiceover talking about how only one party supports free markets, which raise everyone's standard of living, etc. Given that many studies have shown that sharp negative ads don't actually move the needle, maybe it is time for something else. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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