Many Democrats Are Worried Trump Will Beat Biden. This One Isn’t.

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Simon Rosenberg was right about the congressional elections of 2022. All the conventional wisdom — the polls, the punditry, the fretting by fellow Democrats — revolved around the expectation of a big red wave and a Democratic wipeout.

He disagreed. Democrats would surprise everyone, he said again and again: There would be no red wave. He was correct, of course, as he is quick to remind anyone listening.

These days, Mr. Rosenberg, 60, a Democratic strategist and consultant who dates his first involvement in presidential campaigns to Michael Dukakis, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1988, is again pushing back against the polls and punditry and the Democratic doom and gloom. This time, he is predicting that President Biden will defeat Donald J. Trump in November.

In a world of Democratic bed-wetters, to reprise the phrase used by David Plouffe, a senior political adviser to Barack Obama, to describe Democratic fretters, Mr. Rosenberg is the voice of — well, whatever the opposite of bed-wetter is these days. He even has a Substack newsletter offering insights and daily reassurance to his worried readers — “Hopium Chronicles,” the name taken from what the pollster Nate Silver suggested he was ingesting back in 2022.

I talked to Mr. Rosenberg about what it feels like to be an outlier in his own party, and why he sleeps so well at night while so many of his fellow Democrats are plotting their moves to Paris after November. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length, and because Mr. Rosenberg — God love him — likes to talk about this subject. A lot.

Good morning, Simon. And, first things first, thank you for doing this.

Any opportunity I have to talk about the good works of Joe Biden and the Democrats — how could I turn that down?

The idea of this interview is that, at a time when there is so much fretting in the Democratic world, you are not — and have never been — a bed-wetter. Can you explain why? This goes back to the midterm congressional elections in 2022, as I recall?

Yes. The argument I made then was threefold. One was that the Republicans did something unusual in 2022. Usually when a party loses elections, they run away from the politics that caused them to lose. And Republicans were running toward it. They were becoming ever more MAGA, even though MAGA had lost in 2018 and 2020.

Second, that Biden was actually a good president, and we’d have a strong case to make. And third, there’s been this huge increase in citizen engagement in the Democratic Party. We’ve been raising crazy amounts of money and have an unprecedented number of volunteers because of the fear of MAGA.

We were stronger and better than was the conventional wisdom. The constant mistake everyone’s been making since the spring of 2022 has been the overestimating of their strength and the underestimating of ours. We went into Election Day with there being this huge belief that the Democrats were going to get killed. I believed those three things were going to allow us to do better than people expected in 2022. And I have that basic view now about 2024.

But this seems like a different time for Democrats, or certainly for Biden.

Here we are almost two years later, and a lot of the same kinds of things are still happening — and Trump is a far weaker candidate in this election than he was in 2016. He’s more dangerous. He’s more extreme. His performance on the stump is far more erratic and disturbing. I’m just giving you my rap here.

How critical to your case — to your rap — is the Supreme Court decision on abortion rights?

I think the election changed a lot with Dobbs, and it hasn’t really changed very much since. There’s one party that just keeps winning all over the country, and every type of election going back now two years — the same basic dynamic, which is, we keep winning, they keep struggling. Why would it be different in November? My view is that it won’t be, because there’s a structural thing happening underneath all of this, which is that Dobbs broke the Republican Party and that a big chunk of the Republican Party has become loosened from MAGA. It’s costing them in elections and costing them a lot of donors — and money.

But poll after poll shows Americans have unfavorable views of Biden and are distressed about the direction of the country. A Wall Street Journal poll released this week found Mr. Biden trailing Mr. Trump in six of seven swing states. That seems like rocket fuel for the worrying class.

I’m not really surprised by anything we’re seeing. But I will tell you that we were told in 2022 that Biden’s low approval rating meant that Democrats were going to get crushed in the elections. And that’s why I think that centering your understanding of this election around Biden’s approval rating or around the public polling is risky business.

Polling can only tell us where things are today. Those of us who’ve been in the business understand how these things evolve and that polling is very soft this far out. We’re asking polling, in my view, to do too much when we have all this other information and data that’s available to us to augment our understanding. And to me, that additional data suggests that we’re going to have a good election. But we’ve got a long way to go.

Now, on the issue of the nervousness? Yeah, I mean, look, I mean, the media tells us, The New York Times tells us, MSNBC tells us, that we should be looking at this election largely through the prism of current polling. That’s the polling industrial complex asserting itself in a very aggressive way in the daily understanding of our elections. I think those of us who have a more holistic understanding of the health of candidates and parties, we have to keep making our case that there’s a lot of other things we should be looking at.

Is there evidence already that polls that suggest Biden is in trouble are misleading?

Well, the evidence is that Trump has underperformed in these early primary states and underperformed in public polling in every one of these states, except for North Carolina. Second is that we know from polling in these early states that somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of the Republican coalition is open to not supporting Trump.

OK, but is there anything that keeps you up at night, that worries you in terms of Biden winning re-election?

I wish we had more time. I think the campaign got a late start, and we have a lot of work to do to win this thing. But we are where we are now, and just have to put our heads down and go to work.

Would you list the backlash against Mr. Biden for Gaza as a problem?

Building and maintaining a winning coalition in a presidential election is always hard, and will be for Biden-Harris in 2024. We are going to have challenges along the way — debates, discussions, even disagreements. But the Democratic Party is very unified right now. There is no one holding back endorsements, or saying they won’t support Biden, as Trump is now facing on the Republican side. Gaza is today a challenge to be managed by Biden, not a threat.

OK, but is anyone on your side of the house listening to you on this? Do you feel like an outlier in your own party — or rather, why are you such an outlier in your own party?

Because polling.

But also, Democrats tend to gravitate to the negative right?

Yes. There is that. And also because there’s a sense that, in the Democratic Party, if we stumble in an election, our democracy could go away. The worry that people have is warranted.

But I’m looking at a lot more than just polling.

The other factor, I would argue, is that Democrats still remember what happened in 2016, when Trump beat Hillary Clinton after polls told them to expect an easy Clinton victory.

Yeah. There’s trauma from 2016 about the election. The most important thing I can say, however you put this in, is that it isn’t like Democrats are sitting around in their houses twiddling their thumbs and throwing things at the television.

Does this mean you are not worried about Biden’s age as a factor in this election?

I am. I know Biden’s age is an issue. But I think Biden assuaged a lot of the concerns that people had with a strong performance at the State of the Union. But also you have to write, in my view, you have to be honest and fair-minded: there’s a strong argument that Biden’s age is also an asset for him, that, in a time of an enormous challenge for the country, having the guy who’s the most experienced person to ever be in the Oval Office may have been a blessing for us. I think we can make that case without sounding like, you know, we’re pushing the envelope on truth.

Are there any other Democrats who would be — would have been — stronger against Trump in this election?

I don’t think that’s even worthy of — no, no, I mean, Joe Biden’s the nominee. I mean, it’s not worthy of speculation, right? Look, we just had a primary. People could have challenged him. They didn’t because they didn’t think they could beat him. And the two candidates who did challenge him got crushed.

We are quietly confident. In the grand scope of things, we can handle this; we can win the election. The big thing that people got wrong in 2022 was that they thought the Democratic Party wasn’t going to bring it, that we weren’t hungry and we weren’t energized. And it turned out that we were.


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