Hobbyists, senate races, and my plan for a second Biden term
Folks, the impossible has happened and it looks like real estate entrepreneur turned reality television impresario Donald Trump — yes, that Donald Trump — has won the New Hampshire primary and is likely to be the GOP’s nominee in the 2024 presidential election. Crazy stuff.
In other, better, news here’s a really cool geothermal project in Iceland and an equally cool — though less practical — story about NASA uncovering some asteroid dust that’s billions of years old. Turkey has agreed to approve Sweden’s membership in NATO. And perhaps most impressive of all, new gene therapy techniques cured an eleven year-old kid’s deafness. Science!
Finally, congrats to research assistant Maya on publishing her first piece as a Harvard Crimson columnist this week.
Max S: How do you think about the average American's level of political engagement over their life course? And to what extent do you think the far left and far right are comprised of A) a roughly stable set of people who remain engaged for long periods / all of their lives, or B) a continuous cycling through of people who stay engaged for 2-4 years and then moderate or disengage from politics entirely?
My suspicion is that the internet, and the rise of social media in particular, has really changed this.
The pre-internet natural order of things that politically engagement was really tedious and unrewarding. A lot of young people would get involved in politics for various reasons, occasionally in a pretty extreme way, but they’d either become disengaged as they got older — staying extreme in their views but becoming less active as they realized they weren’t making much progress — or else they’d stay involved by moderating and becoming more pragmatic to get ahead. That’s how Bill and Hillary Clinton go from being McGovern organizers to New Democrats.
But social media really encourages what Eitan Hersh calls “political hobbyism” — you can have a good time posting and arguing with people and collecting little hearts and RTs. And to do that, you don’t really need to find ways to obtain electoral majorities or build legislative coalitions. The United States is big country, and the world contains tons of English-speakers who know at least a little bit about American politics, so it’s easy to find an audience of tens of thousands of people for all kinds of marginal takes.
If you’re smart, you can wield real influence this way. And even if you’re not smart or influential, you still have something to do to pass the time.
Personally, I sympathize with that impulse. I read “Ender’s Game” when I was a kid and loved it, and then I found out that you could argue about politics on Prodigy message boards just like Demosthenes and Locke and I thought it was the greatest thing ever. I eventually moved onto the “real internet” from Prodigy. And I went to a high school that had a school intranet thing called the Forum where you could argue about politics, I argued about politics on the dorm listserv in college, and of course I started a blog. To me, arguing about politics with strangers on the internet is one of life’s great pleasures.
Another thing I remember from when I was a kid was listening to AM sports radio (WFAN in New York). I started listening because I wanted to hear Mets and Knicks games at night when I was going to sleep. But when there was no game, they would do talk shows. And the talk shows would have callers who would phone in to sound off. I liked listening to sports radio but never had the impulse to call in. Some people had a lot of fun with that, though.
A lot of internet politics is basically the same thing. Except because it’s the internet, it’s much more accessible to many more people than sports radio call-in shows ever were. And of course another difference is that what people said on those shows really had no bearing on the management of the teams. The fans have their opinions, obviously. But what fans want at the end of the day is to win. If the owner and the GM make a bunch of decisions the fans hate and the team wins, they are happy. If they make decisions the fans love and the team loses, they are miserable. But in politics the fans end up wielding real influence — via media coverage, via donations, via primary votes, and so undisciplined fandom can generate real harms.
MB: Conditional on Trump losing in 24, what do you think the odds are he runs again in 2028? If he did, how likely do you think he would be to win the nomination or the Presidency?
I have to think that if Trump lost twice in a row, his stock would plummet in conservative circles. But time will tell! Or not, if he wins.
DJ Hammond: Given the current political coalitions for the Democrats and Republicans, do you think it is even possible Democrats will ever have a comfortable majority in the senate in the future (minimum 55 senators)? In 2024 it appears more likely than not that the Democrats lose West Virginia, Montana and Ohio. Maybe they could pickup a seat in Maine or Wisconsin during the next couple of election cycles, but it seems like there are not enough purple states for the Dem's to ever have a comfortable majority again.
I think we should distinguish between two questions:
Is there any path for the currently constituted Democratic Party to secure a 55+ seat senate majority?
Will Democrats secure a 55+ seat senate majority at any point in the near future?
The answer to (1) is clearly no.