The Path to Defeat Donald Trump (Ep. 1) | Crooked Media
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May 26, 2024
The Wilderness
The Path to Defeat Donald Trump (Ep. 1)

In This Episode

Welcome back to The Wilderness. Jon talks about what it will take to rebuild 2020’s anti-Trump coalition with political analyst Ron Brownstein, political scientist Lynn Vavreck, Democratic strategist Addisu Demissie, Democratic strategist Jen Palmieri, and Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg. They’ll talk about the risks of a second Trump term and how you can help prevent it. It may be a challenging road ahead, but by taking the time to persuade the persuadables in your life it’s possible to finally break Trump’s stranglehold on our politics.

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

[AD BREAK]

 

[clip of unnamed speaker] Donald Trump is the next president of the United States. 

 

[clip of Jeffrey Goldberg] This time he is coming bent on revenge. He knows how government works. He knows how he was thwarted the last time. 

 

[clip of Donald Trump] I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear. 

 

[clip of Jeffrey Goldberg] No more people keeping him in check. 

 

[clip of Donald Trump] That I will faithfully execute the office of president. 

 

[clip of Rachel Maddow] That would deploy the U.S. military domestically under the Insurrection Act. 

 

[clip of people chanting] Not my president! Not my president!

 

[clip of Donald Trump] And will, to the best of my ability. 

 

[clip of Chris Hayes] Ending birthright citizenship, purging the federal government of tens of thousands of civil servants. 

 

[clip of Donald Trump] Preserve, protect and defend–

 

[clip of Joe Scarborough] Terminate the Constitution. 

 

[clip of Donald Trump] –the Constitution. 

 

[clip of Joe Scarborough] Jail political opponents. Execute generals who are insufficiently loyal. Create mass internment camps to send immigrants there. 

 

[clip of Donald Trump] So help me God. 

 

[clip of Jake Tapper] This might be the last presidential election uh in our lifetimes. He is just president until his death. 

 

Jon Favreau: Okay, I realize that may have been a tough listen, but I can promise you it’ll be even tougher to live through if Donald Trump wins this election. And I don’t think most voters are sufficiently alarmed about the likelihood of that outcome. So here we are with another season of The Wilderness. Not to panic you, but to empower you, to give you insights from voters and advice from experts that can help you persuade as many people as possible to be part of the anti MAGA majority that defeated Trump four years ago. Yes, this is primarily the job of Joe Biden, his campaign, and the thousands of Democratic candidates, strategists and organizers who do politics for a living. But they need our help. They can’t win this alone. Trust me, I’ve been there. A campaign is much more likely to succeed when its voters become its volunteers. And that’s truer today than it’s ever been. Because even if many news outlets actually believed it was their job to help defend democracy, they simply don’t have the power to reach or persuade as many Americans as they once did. There’s too little trust, too many choices, too many different realities, and too many people who’ve decided to tune out altogether. That leaves us, the people who are paying attention and who are absolutely certain that Donald Trump must not return to power. If you love Joe Biden, that’s great. If you don’t, if you aren’t happy with everything he’s done, or even if you’re pissed at him, but you know that he’s the better option, that’s okay too. In fact, you may be even more persuasive to voters who feel like you do, but haven’t yet landed in the same place. It’s sometimes hard to remember that voting isn’t primarily about rewarding or punishing Joe Biden or Donald Trump. It’s about much, much more than those two men. It’s about us. It’s a choice between two very different futures for America. And no matter who you are or where you live, I promise you it’ll be nearly impossible to escape the consequences of what Trump has planned for a second term. 

 

Ron Brownstein: You know, Trump is in two respects, talking about using federal force to impose kind of the red state vision on blue America. 

 

Jon Favreau: That’s Ron Brownstein, a political analyst at The Atlantic and CNN, who’s done some of the most extensive reporting on what a second Trump term would look like. 

 

Ron Brownstein: So one track in all of this is basically using control of the federal government to force blue states to live under the rights rollbacks that have proliferated in red states. Whether it’s, you know, ban on gender affirming care for minors, national voter ID, and national bans on voting by mail. Um a national don’t say gay bill, national conceal carry legislation, and of course, kind of the, you know, the pinnacle here would be some kind of national abortion ban. [music break]

 

[clip of Chris Matthews] Do you believe in–

 

[clip of Donald Trump] No but but you’re you’re– 

 

[clip of Chris Matthews] Do you believe in punishment for abortion? Yes or no, as a principle? 

 

[clip of Donald Trump] The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment. 

 

[clip of Chris Matthews] For the woman? 

 

[clip of Donald Trump] Yeah, there has to be some form. 

 

[clip of David Muir] Donald Trump’s new comments on abortion, saying that some states might choose to monitor women’s pregnancies to possibly prosecute women who violate abortion bans. 

 

[clip of Jon Delano] Do you support any restrictions on a person’s right to contraception? 

 

[clip of Donald Trump] Well, we’re looking at that, and I’m going to have a policy on that very shortly. 

 

Ron Brownstein: The other track is probably even more uh explosive, because Trump, in a whole series of ways, is talking about using federal force in blue cities to advance his agenda. He’s talked about sending federal forces into blue cities to round up the homeless. He’s talked about sending the National Guard into blue cities just to fight crime. 

 

[clip of Donald Trump] And in cities where there’s been a complete breakdown of public safety, I will send in federal assets, including the National Guard, until law and order is restored. 

 

Ron Brownstein: And then, uh maybe the most expansive of all of these ideas is him talking about massive federal forces executing a deportation drive unprecedented in American history. 

 

[clip of Stephen Miller] You go to the red state governors and you say, give us your National Guard. We will deputize them as immigration enforcement officers. They know their states, they know their communities, they know their cities. 

 

Jon Favreau: That’s Stephen Miller, who may become Trump’s White House chief of staff on The Charlie Kirk Show last November. 

 

[clip of Stephen Miller] And if you’re going to go into an unfriendly state like Maryland, well it’ll just be Virginia doing the arrests in Maryland, right? They’re very close, very nearby. 

 

Ron Brownstein: I think that all of this can get really out of control, myself. What does happen if a red state governor really agrees to send their National Guard into a neighboring blue state? I mean, is that really going to end well? You know, I do think that if they do, even a portion of this, we are going to face situations that we just have not confronted in this country since, you know, really the Civil War. 

 

Jon Favreau: Some of you might think this sounds a little far fetched. I get it. I’m always worried about freaking people out too much, especially if it ultimately turns out to be unnecessary. And I suppose there’s a chance that Trump could spend his next presidency raging on Truth Social and figuring out all the ways he can abuse the office to make himself rich. It’s possible. But if Trump decides to go ahead with even a fraction of the things he says he’ll do. Ask yourself, who will stop a vengeful two term president who will never have to face voters again? The courts he stacked with right wing judges? The government he plans to purge of nonpartisan public servants and replace with MAGA loyalists? A military that reports to Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Flynn? Not great. 

 

[clip of Jen Palmieri] Could we ride out one term? Maybe. But I don’t think we can ride out two terms. You can’t overcome the erosion of norms. You can’t overcome the sort of civil protections that kept in place and the federal government the first time around, like it just won’t be there the second time around. 

 

Jon Favreau: That’s Jen Palmieri, who was Hillary Clinton’s 2016 communications director before doing the same job in the Obama White House. 

 

[clip of Jen Palmieri] It just seems like that that whole bureaucracy could just barrel out of control, and courts will try to rein him in, but he will continue to act in the vacuum of decisions that are final and enforceable. 

 

Jon Favreau: Jen’s point about not being able to count on the courts was echoed by someone with very different politics, who I talked to on Pod Save America a few months ago, Liz Cheney. [background music starting] What scares you most about a second Trump term? 

 

[clip of Liz Cheney] Um. The extent to which we know that as president, he will refuse to enforce the rulings of our courts. We’re only a nation of laws, if the president enforces the rulings of the courts. And to have someone like Donald Trump, who we we know won’t do that, presents an existential threat. 

 

Jon Favreau: I know. Real nightmare fuel from someone who isn’t exactly a liberal alarmist. And that’s to say nothing of all the very legal power that any president has to make war, control immigration, deploy law enforcement, order surveillance, and respond to crises, real or manufactured. A second Trump term would almost certainly be worse than the first Trump term, and that one ended with an attempted coup after he lost the election because he mismanaged a pandemic that killed a million Americans. But hey, maybe it’ll be fine. And even though this time around, no one’s really asking if it’s possible for Trump to win. A lot of us want to believe it’s likely that he won’t. I want to believe that. I want to believe that Joe Biden actually has a stable five point lead over Donald Trump in all of the battleground states he needs to get to 270. And maybe the polling will finally show that lead in the fall. Or maybe we’ll just have to wait until the election results. But let’s just set all the polling aside for a moment, because even if we didn’t see another poll from now until Election Day, the safest bet you could make about the outcome of the Biden Trump rematch is how close it’s likely to be. We’ll tell you why after the break. [music break]

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Jon Favreau: Welcome back to The Wilderness. Let’s get right back into it. So we know this election is going to be very close. And here’s why. In 2020, Joe Biden won more votes than any presidential candidate in history in an election where 155 million people cast their ballots, the highest turnout in the 21st century. But thanks to the Electoral College, Donald Trump still came within just 43,000 votes of winning. 43,000 votes, and that razor thin margin wasn’t unique to the 2020 election. 

 

[clip of Lynn Vavreck] If you look county by county across the country and you look at the Democratic Party’s share of the two party vote in 2016, and then you say, how did the Democratic Party do in that county in 2020? On average, across all the counties, the absolute shift in the Democratic vote share was about a point and a half. 

 

Jon Favreau: That’s Lynn Vavreck, a UCLA political scientist who’s done years of research on the American electorate. Enough to know that these tiny margins we’re seeing weren’t always the case. 

 

[clip of Lynn Vavreck] In the ’70s and the ’80s, some of those elections, votes were really changing. But now these elections are replays of one another. 

 

Jon Favreau: According to Lynn. It’s not just that usual suspect, polarization, that’s keeping voters from shifting their votes. It’s more than that. Something she calls calcification. 

 

[clip of Lynn Vavreck] Calcification. We think about it as polarization plus. Calcification has four drivers, and the first two are probably very familiar to people. That is an increasing distance between the two political parties. So they want to build very different worlds, possibly more different than in our lifetimes. The second driver of calcification, an increasing homogeneity or a sameness within each political party. So Democrats are more like one another. Republicans are more like one another now then again, in the in the recent and not so recent past. Third is a shift in what we’re fighting over. So for most of my lifetime, we’ve been fighting over New Deal issues, the role and size of government, the tax rate. And in 2016, that really shifted. And we started talking about identity inflected issues. Immigration, abortion’s always been important, but more important now than maybe in the recent past. Um. Things like a muslim ban or a religious test to enter the country, same sex marriage. These issues are different from New Deal issues, they’re harder to compromise on. And then the last driver of calcification is we just happen to be at a moment where we’re in rough balance in the electorate between people who call themselves Democrats and people who call themselves Republicans. Each side either wins or almost wins every election, presidential elections. And so that really means when you lose, there’s no incentive to go back to the drawing board and think about, boy, people aren’t really buying what we’re selling. So we better change what we’re selling, all of that kind of mashes up together and it makes politics feel stuck. It’s like calcification in the bones. It’s rigid. 

 

Jon Favreau: Lynn’s theory makes a lot of sense when you think about the results of every national election in the Trump era. The margins have been very tight, usually tighter than the polls suggested they’d be. So far, 2024 doesn’t seem like it’ll be any different. And the Democratic strategists whose job it is to reelect Joe Biden basically agree. 

 

[clip of Addisu Demissie] This is going to be a close race. Like I don’t know which states it’s going to be. I don’t know how many votes it’s going to be, but like, you can write it down in ink, like, I think this thing is going to be decided by a few thousand votes in a couple swing states. 

 

Jon Favreau: Addisu Demissie is a senior advisor to Future Forward USA, the primary superPAC supporting President Biden’s reelection campaign. Before that, he ran successful campaigns for Democrats like New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and California Governor Gavin Newsom. He’s confident that Biden can pull this out, but he’s not pretending it’ll be easy. 

 

[clip of Addisu Demissie] I am not somebody who is, uh tries to convince people the sky is green when the sky is blue. Like [laugh] things are tough out there for people. Joe Biden is 82 years old. It is what it is. 

 

Jon Favreau: Addisu thinks that in addition to the evenly divided electorate Lynn talked about, there are a few other factors that are likely to make this race so uncomfortably close. 

 

[clip of Addisu Demissie] I think what 2020 proved and and why it was so close, is that Donald Trump is a strong political figure. He has a strong base that is going to show up. He motivates the hell out of them. And because of the way that the Republican electorate is just distributed, like by population in battleground states, it gives Donald Trump an advantage in the Electoral College. 

 

Jon Favreau: So we should absolutely plan for the MAGA base turning out in the states that will decide the election. But Addisu points out that there’s also another factor that’s making this race even tougher for Joe Biden. 

 

[clip of Addisu Demissie] When you are the sitting president, you have a bully pulpit, and you also have at least the perceived responsibility for the state of the country. And, you know, and some actual responsibility. Sure. So Joe Biden is the is the incumbent president. Donald Trump was the incumbent president last time. Um. And that is a significantly different dynamic. 

 

Jon Favreau: Addisu’s pointing out something that I think has been underappreciated. The political advantage that was once associated with being an incumbent president has almost disappeared. In fact, the last time an incumbent president won his second term with a bigger margin than the first was 20 years ago when George W. Bush beat John Kerry. One reason incumbent presidents don’t have the advantage they once did is because most voters have become disillusioned with politics and unhappy with the state of the country, no matter who’s in charge. As Jen Palmieri points out, Trump is uniquely suited to benefit from the fact that he’s now a challenger who’s also a former incumbent. 

 

[clip of Jen Palmieri] You can talk about like, oh, I delivered a lot. I did get a lot of stuff done when I was president. Um. And you’re able to say like and and if and if I was president again, everything would be magically fixed. You don’t have to own what’s happening now. And I do think that he has the benefits of incumbency, but also the benefits, uh the sort of freedom and dreamscape that comes with being a challenger. 

 

Jon Favreau: Basically, Trump gets to pretend he has the experience to come back and fix everything people have been angry about during the four years that Joe Biden has been president. Now, you might be wondering, why have people been so unhappy over the last four years? Here’s what Lynn Vavreck told me. 

 

[clip of Lynn Vavreck] I looked the other day at this time series. The General Social Survey has been asking since 1972. The question goes something like this. Taken all together, how would you say things are these days? And this is not about the economy. This comes in a battery of questions where they’re asking people about their personal lives. So this is really meant to be a question about how happy are you. And man, this thing is like steady. Since 1970 like there’s not a lot that makes huge changes, but the difference between 2019 and 2021 is the biggest difference that there’s ever been, and people are less happy after, I’m going to say Covid, significantly less happy with how things are these days than they were at any point since 1972. You know, I just think that that Covid year and a half was really, really hard. And, you know, people might not be able to articulate that they’re still in this Covid malaise. So let’s complain about these guys are uninspiring and the election is uninteresting. And I’m so sick of it. And I and I think a lot of that is this moment in time. 

 

Jon Favreau: I’ve thought for a while now that the post-Covid malaise Lynn talks about might explain a lot about the country’s grumpy mood. Then you layer on all the other issues that voters say they’re very worried or upset about. High prices, high interest rates, immigration, abortion, Gaza, democracy itself. It would be a hard political environment for any incumbent president, no matter how much they accomplished or what kind of political talents they had. In fact, incumbents all over the world are quite unpopular right now, and that’s true across the political spectrum. And yet, despite how dreary and challenging this political environment is, despite how much more difficult the path to victory appears than it did in 2020, that path absolutely exists. In fact, Joe Biden and the Democratic Party go into this race with some fairly significant advantages of their own. 

 

[clip of Simon Rosenberg] The most powerful force in our politics today isn’t disappointment in Joe Biden or discontent of the economy. It’s fear and opposition to MAGA. And if you are already fearful and scared of MAGA in those previous elections, the MAGA that’s on the ballot in 2024 is far more dangerous, far more extreme than it was in earlier iterations. 

 

Jon Favreau: That Simon Rosenberg, a longtime Democratic strategist who got his start in Bill Clinton’s war room back in 1992. Today, he writes a very popular Substack called The Hopium Chronicles, a name that makes sense after you talk to Simon for a few minutes. The guy is more bullish on Democrats’ chances than anyone I’ve talked to, and that includes the actual Biden campaign. 

 

[clip of Simon Rosenberg] I think Trump could collapse this election. I’m just going to be bold and put this out there that I think there’s a 25% chance that this election is a blowout and that Trump collapses because there’s nothing really holding him up. He has no rationale to be president. It’s my view that our aspiration in 2024 should be to win this election by eight to 10 points and to make it a clear repudiation of MAGA, because I think the only way that MAGA starts to leave our bloodstream is if Republicans view it as a political loser. 

 

Jon Favreau: What did I tell you? Straight hopium. Simon’s view doesn’t line up with what everyone else I spoke to is seeing. Another extremely close election in a highly polarized country. But after correctly predicting the Democratic Party’s over performance in the 2022 midterms, it’s worth taking his theory of the case seriously. 

 

[clip of Simon Rosenberg] I don’t think this is 2020. I think there are, you know, at least two major things that have happened to Trump and frankly, more since 2020 that make him a very different candidate. One is the insurrection and the other is Dobbs. And what happened in 2018 and 2020 was amazing, right? We unseated a president. We won the House and the Senate. But what’s happened since Dobbs may be even more remarkable politically because rather than losing power, which is usually what happens for a party in power, we’ve actually gained ground in 2022, 2023, and even in early 2024, we’ve had very impressive performances. 

 

Jon Favreau: Simon is absolutely right that Democrats have had a string of victories and over performances in the last few midterm and special elections. The challenge is that the pool of voters in a presidential election is much, much bigger and more diverse. Just to cite the most recent example, there were about 40 million voters in 2020 who just didn’t show up at all in 2018, and that was the highest midterm turnout in history. We obviously can’t know for sure what all the voters who didn’t show up in 2022 will do in 2024. But just about all the polling we have suggests that they tend to be less favorable toward Joe Biden and the Democratic candidates than the people who voted in the specials and midterms. Those midterm voters are, on average, older, whiter, more college educated and more tuned in to politics. Simon doesn’t really buy this argument. And again, we can’t know for sure until people actually vote in 2024. But he also sees a silver lining to the dynamic where Democrats in the Trump era have gained more of the highly engaged voters who show up in every election. 

 

[clip of Simon Rosenberg] And I think that what’s being under appreciated is that the picking up of these higher educated, higher propensity voters is also creating the most powerful Democratic machine that we’ve ever had. Those people are also funding our campaigns at unprecedented levels. Those unprecedentedly large campaigns have through the money they have and through the volunteers they have, unprecedented tools to reach lower propensity voters and people that we need to reach, both with persuasion and with turnout. And so what we have is we have this extra muscle. 

 

Jon Favreau: You may have already guessed this, but that extra volunteer muscle is you. You probably vote in every election. You’ve hopefully volunteered, maybe even through an incredible organization like Vote Save America, which you should immediately go check out if for some weird reason you haven’t heard of it yet. The point is, you have a huge role to play in this election, and I promise that’s not bullshit. You see the flip side of living through an extremely high stakes election that’s likely to be terrifyingly close is this. 

 

[clip of Lynn Vavreck] Calcification and close elections, it doesn’t mean that, you know, we’re stuck in nothing matters. It means everything could be pivotal. Everything could be pivotal. So people often, oh, is this election going to turn on Dobbs? Is it going to turn on the economy? Is it going to turn on their ages? And my answer is always, well it’s not going to be about any one of those things? But yes, probably all of them will be pivotal. 

 

Jon Favreau: Everything matters. Every issue, every ad, every voter and every person who gets involved. So what does that mean for you? We’ll get into it after the break. [music break]

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Jon Favreau: Welcome back to The Wilderness. Years ago it wasn’t all that hard for campaigns and White Houses to communicate with most voters. Jen Palmieri remembers that time well. 

 

[clip of Jen Palmieri] Imagine this, in the Clinton White House we’d be like, okay, let’s just make sure we get the president’s message event of the day done by 2:15 so it can be on the network news. [laughing] Got to be done by two, so it can make the network news at 6:30 that night. And the Post and the Times and the AP will write about it, and we’ll do some radio feeds to the local news and we’re done. And we did a fantastic job. And like it was super easy to communicate. And it is, you know, that is just the hardest thing, right? It is why all the disinformation can flourish and why no one knows anything Biden has done is because there’s not a good channel that reaches everyone. 

 

Jon Favreau: I’m sure this doesn’t come as a surprise to you. It’s been decades since most of the country got its news from a few different newspapers and television networks. Now we consume whatever our own personalized algorithms fire into our brains all day long, which is obviously super healthy for everyone. It’s also very challenging for candidates and campaigns to actually communicate with the voters they need. And that, dear listeners, is where you come in. Most voters aren’t consuming a lot of political news. Most aren’t consuming the same political news, and an increasingly high percentage of voters don’t trust a lot of the news they’re getting, some for good reason. But you know who voters do trust? The people they know, Addisu Demissie explains. 

 

[clip of Addisu Demissie] Because of the fracturing of the media environment, I think the importance of peer to peer contact is maybe even more important. Meaning, like people, you know, not just like people from your neighborhood or people from your community or people who look like you, but like literally people you know, [laughing] we all get those spam texts from politicians that I write stop to every, every day. But like if my friend texts me about something, I might read it. 

 

Jon Favreau: What Addisu just described is something called relational organizing. 

 

[clip of Addisu Demissie] Relational organizing is essentially instead of using a voter list, um which is what, you know, traditionally we did and send maybe people from your neighborhood, maybe people not from your neighborhood to knock doors or make phone calls to voters you’re actually using, you know, your contacts list on Apple or Android to, like, contact voters, your own people that you already know. 

 

[clip of Eitan Hersh] Your audience for real politics should be pretty freaking narrow, like the people on your block, the people in your neighborhood. 

 

Jon Favreau: Eitan Hirsch teaches political science at Tufts University and specializes in US elections and civic participation. He’s clearly a big fan of relational organizing. He also believes in another strategy that campaigns and organizers are now using to persuade voters. A practice called deep canvassing. 

 

[clip of Eitan Hersh] You basically focus on building empathy in a 15, 20 minute, 30 minute kind of conversation with this person, understanding what their view is, trying to express what your view is and where you come from on the issue, you know, and it’s all like a very kind of vulnerable conversation where the person on the other side gets to see you as a real person, and what’s motivating you deeply about the issue. And by the way, you also get that from them. And so sometimes the conversations just end like, oh, we understand each other better. That’s helpful. And sometimes the person on the other end is like, you know what, I have never have really given this issue much thought, but now that you’ve told me how you see it and why it’s important to you and you seem like a nice person, like I’m with you, it’s a really inefficient way to to think about politics, like one 20 minute conversation at a time. But it works and works in a much more durable way than, you know, a postcard or a or a letter or something like that. 

 

Jon Favreau: It’s more durable. And according to the research, more effective. It’s also the perfect antidote to a problem called political hobbyism that Hersh wrote an entire book about. Hobbyism is when you follow politics, talk about politics, maybe post and argue about politics online, but aren’t engaged all that much in the real work of politics, which involves building power by actually persuading other people to see things your way. 

 

[clip of Eitan Hersh] Yeah. So when I was looking at this, I asked people about how they spend their time, you know, a third of the country or something like that is spending an hour or two hours a day on political consumption. But this is the group that is not checked out. Okay. So let’s just look at the people who care. They say they care. They know a lot of facts. They learning stuff. What percent of them are doing any kind of volunteer political activity and it’s like 5%. So of the group of people who are cognitively engaged in politics, it’s only a very small fraction that engage in any kind of volunteerism. 

 

Jon Favreau: Now, obviously, I realize this doesn’t describe the habits of anyone listening to this podcast, one of many episodes that our progressive media company has released just this week, along with countless pieces of content we hope you’ll engage with. I’m sure you’re much more like me, an occasional news consumer who spends most of my time deep canvassing and organizing my neighborhood. But really, I don’t think any of us should feel bad about listening, scrolling, and posting to our heart’s content. I do think we should feel bad if that’s all we do to stop Trump from winning. If Joe Biden loses in November, we can all fight about why. And we can all blame him for mistakes he made in the White House and on the campaign trail. But we will all have to live with the consequences, as well as the knowledge that each of us could have done more to avoid them. So in this season of The Wilderness, we’re going to focus on the messaging that actually persuades, in conversations I hope you have with friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and perfect strangers who aren’t yet certain that they’ll vote for Joe Biden. Not diehard fans of Trump or RFK Jr or other third party candidates, not Biden stans or Democrats who already vote blue, no matter who. I’m talking about the group of people who still aren’t sure what they’re going to do in November. 

 

[clip of Lynn Vavreck] Typically, an undecided voter is a little less interested in politics. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have policy preferences, that they don’t know what kind of world they want to live in, and they’re just less interested in it. 

 

Jon Favreau: I asked political scientist Lynn Vavreck what percentage of the electorate is usually made up of undecided voters, and she said that while it varies– 

 

[clip of Lynn Vavreck] It’s not going to be more than 25%. You know and but it’s not going to be five. And so all of these undecided voters, they could have lots of cross positions between the Democrats and the Republicans. Very, very few people are 100% liberal or 100% conservative. There’s a big, big, big chunk of the electorate in the middle. And so those people have to decide which of these things that I have positions on are the most important to me. 

 

Jon Favreau: It doesn’t mean these voters are centrist. It doesn’t mean that they’re only choosing between Democrats and Republicans. Some may stay home, some may vote third party, some may vote for all Democratic candidates and one Republican candidate, or vice versa. And because 2024 is a rematch of a race that Biden won by only 43,000 votes, a lot of these voters will be people who supported the president in 2020. Every single one of these voters matter, whether they’re excited about Joe Biden in this election or not. 

 

[clip of Addisu Demissie] There’s a lot of people who are coming to grips with the choice that they have, and looking around for options that may not even be there right, including third party options that, like, might not even be on their ballot. And that includes some base Democratic voters. That includes some base Republican voters who are just, you know, disaffected with Trump. It’s young people who are, you know, a base of the Democratic Party. But like when the election is going to be decided by 50,000 votes, like they matter. Black folks, if they defect a little bit, they matter. Latino folks if they defect a little bit, they matter. If swing voters defect a little bit, they matter. So we kind of have this thing where we got to plug a lot of holes in that sense, since we won last time. 

 

Jon Favreau: Addisu’s job, which is also the Biden campaign’s job and our job is to figure out who these voters are and what might persuade them to make up their minds. And that, my friends, is the real reason that polls and focus groups are actually useful. Maybe the only reason. 

 

[clip of Addisu Demissie] It’s not that I don’t. I love polls like I I read polls for a living, but when I read a poll, I don’t read it to take stock of what the state of the horse race is seven months before an election. [laugh] I read it to see what do voters care about? How are they thinking? Um. You know, what is actually moving their opinions of people? And that’s how private polling and practitioners look at it. 

 

Jon Favreau: That’s also how I hope all of you look at it throughout this season. As always on The Wilderness, we’re going to let you hear what’s on the minds of undecided voters from all walks of life. But unlike past seasons, we’re not conducting our own focus groups. Instead, we’re turning to the people who do them for a living. In each episode, I’ll have a conversation with political strategists and campaign pollsters about research and focus groups they’ve conducted with different groups of voters who are up for grabs. I’ll also talk to on the ground organizers about what they’re hearing from these same kinds of voters. The purpose of diving into this focus group content is not to help you predict the outcome of the election. They’re not meant to help you figure out who’s ahead right now. They’re not meant to confirm your own political beliefs, or settle any debates about the direction of the Democratic Party or the country. That’s what the election is for. The purpose of hearing from these strategists, pollsters, organizers, and voters is so that you can have access to some of the same information and insights that the campaigns do. One of my great frustrations with democratic politics is the huge gap between what campaigns know about voters, and what volunteers know about voters. Strategists and pollsters talk to literally thousands of voters every day. Every week they write really smart memos and give presentations about what undecided voters are thinking and what’s most likely to persuade them. And very little of that knowledge makes its way to the volunteers, whose conversations with voters will ultimately decide the race. So we’re going to try to bridge that gap. 

 

[clip of Jen Palmieri] You know, it’s funny to get a report on a focus group where you’re like, well, we sat with Hispanic men who voted for Biden age 25 to 28, and they didn’t know a single thing Biden did, uh has accomplished. And they’re unenthusiastic and they think he’s old. And you’re like, oh shit, uh that’s terrible. And then you actually watch a focus group and you’re like, give me three minutes of those guys. I can convince them to vote for Biden. 

 

Jon Favreau: That’s what I’m talking about. I want you to feel like Jen Palmieri feels after hearing from a focus group. Like you’re ready to go convince those voters to back Biden. 

 

[clip of Jen Palmieri] It’s so much easier to get people to come back to Biden. People who voted for him before to come back to him. When there is a record of accomplishment, we’re not asking them to come back to something that didn’t work. It’s a much easier endeavor than it is to convince people who didn’t vote for him last time to vote for him this time, which is what Trump needs to do. 

 

[clip of Addisu Demissie] I have seen enough research to know that, you know, Black folks, young Black folks included, um they might be upset with the state of the country. They might be disappointed that that things haven’t changed as much under Joe Biden as they wanted when they voted for him in 2020. But it’s not like they love Donald Trump. [laugh] You know, they uh, in fact, they might dislike him more. Um. And they’re just kind of coming to grips with the fact that these are the choices and they may not have to vote for somebody they’re not necessarily enthusiastic about. And I think we can move a lot of those folks who might right now be waffling there over the course of the campaign. 

 

Ron Brownstein: There is more for Biden to squeeze out in white collar white America, I think, than in 2020. Those voters are frustrated by inflation like everyone else, and a lot of them think Biden is too old to run again like everyone else. But they are the most receptive to the argument that Trump is a threat to democracy. Uh. And they are also the most pro-choice, but also the most likely to prioritize that issue. 

 

Jon Favreau: This is going to be a tough one. It’s going to be a close one. But that was always going to be the case because America in the Trump era is a place with an evenly divided, calcified electorate. The good news is that there’s absolutely a path to win and finally break Trump’s stranglehold on our politics. The votes are there and each of us has the ability to go get them. 

 

[clip of Simon Rosenberg] Because this is not about you and me and Joe Biden at the end of the day. It’s about the people of the United States deciding that this is this country’s not going down on their watch. Those grassroots warriors, the people who are writing their postcards and and giving ten bucks and fighting with everything they got and leaving it all on the playing field for America and our democracy and our liberties and our freedoms. And at the end of the day, when you ask me why I’m so optimistic is because of all of them, and I think it’s why we have this extra superpower, this extra gear, this extra muscle that is going to carry us through and help make sure that we win. 

 

Jon Favreau: A hopeful note to end on from Simon. Now it’s on us to make it a reality. So let’s get into it. [music break] The Wilderness is a production of Crooked Media. It’s written and hosted by me, Jon Favreau. Our senior producer and editor is Andrea B. Scott. Austin Fisher is our producer and Farrah Safari is our associate producer. Sound design by Vasilis Fotopoulos, music by Marty Fowler. Charlotte Landes and Jordan Cantor sound engineered the show. Thanks to Katie Long, Reid Cherlin, Matt DeGroot, and Madeleine Haeringer for production support. And to our video team Rachel Gaewski, Joseph Dutra, Chris Russell, Molly Lobell, and David Toles, who filmed and edited the show. If The Wilderness has inspired you to get involved, head on over to VoteSaveAmerica.com to sign up and find a volunteer shift near you. 

 

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