May 18, 2024

Is The Debate Commission Dead?

Way back in 1987, the two major political parties in the United States agreed on something. I know, it’s hard to imagine—but it really did happen. Both Republicans and Democrats jointly formed the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD)—to sponsor and produce the presidential and vice-presidential debate process. Between 1988 and 2020, the Commission carried out every general election debate, starting with George H.W. Bush vs. Michael Dukakis. 

While the agreement brought a semblance of stability and tradition to what had been a messy process, it also effectively froze out third-party candidates. In fact, the last third-party candidate to participate in a CPD debate was H. Ross Perot in 1992—after meeting the polling threshold for entry.

Now, in 2024, the soon-to-be nominees of the two major parties—President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump—have jointly decided to go around the CPD process and hold two independent debates (one in June and one in September). The President has set down a list of demands that Trump has accepted (airing on the CNN & ABC networks, no audiences, ability to cut-off microphones of interrupting candidates). And, most importantly to both campaigns, no Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to share the stage.

Recent polls have shown Kennedy pulling about evenly between the two main party candidates—so it’s in the interest of both Biden and Trump to keep Kennedy on the sidelines as much as possible. But the price of this Faustian Bargain is the diminishment—and likely demise—of a nearly forty-year tradition that set the debate process on a bi-partisan pedestal that voters could trust. It will be a shame if short-term political considerations kill a useful American institution.

April 26, 2024

The Magnificent Seven (States)

One of the great myths of American politics is that presidential elections are national elections. In fact, the race for the White House is really 50 state elections, cobbled together to form the Electoral College. If a candidate can garner 270 state electoral votes, he or she wins—regardless of who captures the national popular vote.

In 2024, the race will probably be defined by seven key states: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada

In his recent opinion essay in The New York Times, Democratic strategist Doug Sosnik lays out the historical record of these "magnificent seven": "Seven states with close results determined who won both the 2020 and the 2016 presidential elections, and those same seven states will most likely play the same battleground role this fall."

Recent polling shows that Donald Trump is leading Joe Biden is six of the seven—with Michigan leaning very slightly toward Biden. In fact, Michigan may be the key to it all. President Biden has lost ground among several key constituencies in the Great Lakes State—including Arab-American voters and white working-class voters. If Michigan goes "red" in November, Biden may need to capture both Arizona and Nevada to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold. Of course, a 'mix and match' of all seven states could deliver the presidency to either candidate. It will definitely be interesting.

So, on election night, 43 states and the District of Columbia will just be spectators—and the real story will be about the "Magnificent Seven".