By Ezra Levin, Indivisible Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director
This is a big election year, so I want to try something new. I want to start a conversation about why we’ll win.
We have 43 weeks until the election — and I feel the time ticking. Every week, Leah and I are talking with journalists, visiting with Indivisible group leaders, leading and participating in coalitions, and driving our national campaign strategy (and hanging out with 3-year-old Zeke and 9-month-old Lila, who are, I can tell you, a hoot). This work gives us a fair amount of exposure to the workings of the political world nationally and the state of things on the ground locally.
So periodically (let’s say biweekly-ish), I’m going to send a note like this with three main topics:
- The news: Our take on the currently burning political news with national implications.
- The brag (and ask): I’ll tell you about something cool Indivisibles are doing across the country to help us win, along with a shameless ask for support. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.
- The discussion: An invitation for you to share your thoughts and questions for us to engage in a movement-wide discussion.
We’re all headed to the same place: rebuilding the Democratic trifecta in 10 months so we can codify abortion rights and pass democracy reform next year. I view this discussion series as a way for us to row in the same direction as we get there together.
Let’s try this out.
1. The News
Repeat after me: It’s the extremism, stupid
New in the news this week, I’m picking up rumblings in the national political punditry reviving a debunked idea: that voters just don’t care about democracy. The idea is wrong and distracting, so I’d like to thoroughly put it to rest.
You may remember that in the closing weeks of the 2022 election cycle, Biden and the Democrats centered their campaign on abortion, democracy, and MAGA extremism. (Indivisible spent much of early-to-mid 2022 pleading with and cajoling Democratic leaders to adopt this strategy… If you want the inside story of that strategic messaging fight, read it here.) Prominent political commentators lambasted Biden and called his campaign messaging a “strategic blunder.”
They were wrong. The strategy worked. Democrats turned in one of the best midterm performances for an incumbent president in modern American history.
In the aftermath of that election, The New York Times Daily podcast ran an informative episode on the topic, “How Democrats Defied the Odds.” Nate Cohn and Michael Barbaro discuss in it how abortion, democracy, and MAGA extremism were the big winning issues for Democrats in 2022.
Cohn: If we just zoom out and like start comparing state by state, you get a broader pattern where the more that either democracy or abortion is under threat, the better the Democrats do.
In 2022, where Democrats successfully turned the election into a referendum on MAGA extremism, they usually won.
That was 2022. Flash forward to this week, and the idea that democracy’s a political loser seems to be popping up again.
I’m a fan of The New York Times Daily podcast, so I was listening again this week to the “Biden’s 2024 Playbook” episode, and I was surprised to hear this exchange:
Reid Epstein: [In 2022], any voter who cared about democracy as an issue was already gonna vote for the Democratic candidate.
Sabrina Tavernise: Okay. So democracy is not really a thing for swing voters, not an arrow [Biden] can put in his quiver.
The day after that Daily episode, I saw this same zombie idea parroted by conservative commentator Ramesh Ponnuru in his Washington Post piece, “How Biden wins in 2024.” Voters, he argues, don’t need to be reminded about Trump’s threat to democracy. Focus on the economy instead, he advises.
Now, I take Ponnuru’s punditry with a grain of salt — after all, in 2022, he argued abortion would be a political loser for Democrats. Still, in the space of 24 hours, we have two major papers publishing a political analysis composed of debunked déjà vu from early 2022. This misguided strategy of ignoring Trump’s unique threat to democracy appears to be gaining traction.
This zombie idea doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s true that when you ask voters to list their top issues out of the blue, they rarely put generic “democracy” at the top of the list. We saw the same dynamic headed into 2022 as well — it was why pundits were flipping out about the Biden strategy being a political loser. But what we’ve learned from the 2022 exit polls and election results themselves is that voters are indeed driven by concerns about anti-democratic extremism.
Both the Trump and Biden Campaign managers understand that. Longtime Trump journalist Maggie Haberman explained this week, “Trump and his team know that what Democrats are saying about Trump as a threat to democracy is having some effect in terms of the public.” Trump himself is worried about the efficacy of these democracy attacks!
The Biden/Harris team gets it, too — they’ve so far ignored the misguided “ignore democracy” strategic analysis. Just this week, the campaign launched its first TV ad of the year — and it’s entirely focused on Trump’s reckless, willful endangerment of our democracy. Then on Friday, Biden gave his first major speech of the year focused on the January 6th insurrection and the urgent need for all Americans to rally in defense of our democracy. As TIME magazine reported, the campaign media blitz this week is “intended to frame the next election as another turning point in the nation’s democracy.”
Bravo to team Biden/Harris. This is how you learn, internalize, and apply a hard-won political lesson. What’s this election about? It’s the extremism, stupid.
2. The Brag (and ask)
All politics is local, including presidential political strategy
Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of January 6th. Biden put in an able effort to draw public attention to that fact, and remind voters what’s at stake this year.
He wasn’t alone.
Across the country, Indivisible groups were holding attention-grabbing vigils. A sampling from blue, red, and purple districts:
- Indivisible Tucson Action Alliance rallied outside the office of Rep. Ciscomani, a vulnerable, MAGA-supporting member of Congress.
- Indivisible Worcester held an event, “Never Forget, Never Back Down,” with featured speaker Congressman Jim McGovern.
- Indivisible CommonGroundWNC in Sylva, North Carolina, rallied and urged fellow constituents to “join forces to protect democracy and fight for our democratic values in 2024!”
- Indivisible Georgia District 10 in Athens marked the anniversary with a “Democracy Will Prevail” voter registration campaign.
- Indivisible Mendocino held a “Sunset Vigil for Democracy” on the beach and directed participants to bring, among other things, signs, flashlights, hope & determination.
- Indivisible Washington’s 8th District held a march to the City Hall and rally “celebration of our democracy as well as the caution never to forget what happened on January 6.”
National candidates and spokespeople aren’t the only ones who get to shape what this election is about. Biden and his team can lift some, but not all, of the weight. Local media, constituents, and neighbors also look nearby to understand how normal, everyday people are thinking about the election. Local pro-democracy events early in campaign season feed a crucial national narrative for us: This election is a referendum on MAGA extremism and Trump’s menacing of our democracy.
…And you know what costs money? (I told you this was coming.) Running a national grassroots communication and voter contact campaign. Calling through dozens of local TV stations takes staff time. Paying for peer-to-peer texting, phonebanks, and postcards costs money. Preparing to contact millions of voters in key districts and states this year ain’t free! And Indivisible does this, most of all, with grassroots supporters who send in an average of less than $100 each.
My mom shared this silly cartoon with me, and I considered not including it because of how corny it is. But damn it, this silly cartoon is right. Plant a few seeds with a donation to Indivisible now, and we’ll enjoy the flowers together come November.
3. The Discussion
This is going to be a chaotic year in politics. There are a lot of uncertainties and a lot of twists and turns to come. We may not always agree with each other or our endorsed candidates on policy choices or political strategy — we may disagree with them fiercely at times. But here’s what I believe: the simple reason why we’ll win is that elections are about choices.
Election after election since 2017, voters have chosen to reject anti-democratic MAGA extremists. We’re set to run a campaign where we contrast MAGA extremism with our normal, popular accomplishments and ideas for the future. Everyday Americans are rallying in defense of democracy at the same time that the President of the United States is rallying Americans to come to democracy’s defense. That’s why we’ll win. That, and a whole lotta work ahead of us.
Here’s where I want to open it up to you. What did you think of Biden’s first 2024 ad (here) and his Jan 6th memorial speech (here)? What did you like, what didn’t you like, what do you want to see more or less of? You can click here to let us know. I’ll read through all the responses and report back to y’all what I’m hearing. Because we’re in touch with the Biden/Harris campaign, I will also share this feedback with them to let them know how this communications strategy is landing with the grassroots army that they’re depending on to help defeat Trump and MAGA.
I’ll catch you next time.
When I was writing the original Indivisible Guide with Leah back during that dark time in the wake of the 2016 electoral catastrophe, I closed it with a jaunty line: “We will win.” Leah sometimes edits out my rhetorical flourishes (Leah editorial note: and to be fair, often they should be edited out). But not that one. And while Indivisible remains steadfastly dedicated to focusing on the “how” of winning, I’m looking forward to talking about the “why” with you a bit more this year, too.
2024 is gonna to be a big one for our democracy. And one way or another, it’s gonna end with a crescendo. Together, we’ll make sure it’s a high note.