How to Survive the Next 72 Weeks: Advice for Progressives from an Exhausted Political Scientist

Angie Maxwell

72 weeks. 504 days. That’s how long the road is to Election night 2020. In 505 days, it will be the “morning after.” Most folks vividly remember the “morning after” last go-around. Shock has a way of searing the brain.

This time will be different, not necessarily because of the outcome (no one knows this yet), but because the angst won’t come after the election — or it least not solely. If we toiled last campaign season in excited oblivion, this time around we will be wringing our hands. The first Democratic debate begins in 9 days, and the angst beats steady in us now. Its tempo will only quicken as the next 72 weeks ticks by.

The very idea makes me tired, and like so many of you, I am already exhausted — physically and emotionally.

My research team conducts a major national post-election poll. We aren’t in the business of predicting winners and losers. We try to figure out why Americans voted the way they did. The folks who know that I do this and even strangers (upon finding out that I’m a political scientist) beg me to tell them what will happen in 2020.

They don’t ask out of a general curiosity. These aren’t casual conversations, even with strangers. These are desperate pleas.

“Who can win?” “Who is the Democrats’ best bet?” [I’ll tell you my top three candidates at the end of this piece]

The truth is we don’t know.

The game has changed so drastically, so quickly. We’ve got multiple women candidates, a former Vice-President, social-media influencer candidates, veterans, governors, and mayors all running. And we have an incumbent President who is unpredictable, defiant, rash, racist, sexist, and who plays by no rules — or laws for that matter.

But here is what I do know. There is no chance of beating Trump if Democrats aren’t unified.

2016 election results also show that in 13 states and 1 district in Nebraska, the margin of victory was smaller than the percent of folks in that state who voted third-party. I know. I wish we had a multi-party system too. But we don’t, and 28% of the electoral college votes could have been altered if folks did not vote third-party (for more details, see my thread on this subject:

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Third-Party Vote Totals & Margin of GOP Victory, by State, 2016 Presidential Election

Compare that to the 2000 election (Bush v. Gore, hanging chads, etc.), when the third-party vote was greater than the margin of victory in only 10 states representing 16.4% of the Electoral College vote total.

Armed with that information, here is what I’m doing to survive these 72 weeks. It is the only thing I’ve said to others that seemed to quiet their desperation, even to the slightest degree.

Take a look at the 24 Democratic candidates. Decide which one you LEAST want to get the nomination. Who would it make you sick to vote for? Who would disappoint you the most? Maybe you have a couple of those folks. I do.

And then get your head wrapped around voting for that person if, from your perspective, the very worst happens. If you need help doing that — I did — then let me tell you what the light bulb moment was for me. It’s not a story I’m proud of.

After the 2008 Democratic Convention, I came into my new office (a.k.a. the old copy-room) feeling deeply frustrated. I had just started a temporary gig as a Visiting Assistant Professor. My colleague, Dr. Pearl Ford Dowe, in the office next door asked me if I had woken up on the wrong side of the bed (to this day she can read me like that).

I told her I thought Obama was okay, that I would vote for him, of course, that he gave good speeches and seemed like a good guy (I didn’t know what a remarkable person he already was — I hadn’t paid enough attention to his campaign at that point). BUT, I confessed that I was still disappointed and frustrated that HRC didn’t get the nomination.

Dr. Dowe, who is an African American woman specializing in African American politics, said to me: “Do you know how many years my community has been disappointed in the nominee? It’s never who we want or who our first choice would be.”

She was right, of course, and I had been blind to that even though I know African American women are the most loyal and reliable block in the Democratic Party. Doug Jones would never have been elected in Alabama without African American women. Was he their dream candidate?

Here’s the thing: with 24 Democrats running, the odds of your first choice being the nominee are slim. Some candidates will pick up steam and then crash. Others will fade quietly. There will be surprises, gaffes, too many memes, and epic speeches along the way. Only one will win.

Make your peace with that and then fight like hell for the person you like the MOST between now and the primary. Look for who will be the best at GOVERNING, not campaigning; they aren’t even remotely the same thing.

But try, if you can, to resist transferring your desperation onto your first choice and risking potential feelings of alienation from the party and disappointment to the degree that leads you to consider not voting in the general or casting a third-party protest vote.

If your top pick doesn’t win the primary, don’t stop fighting for the issues that made you love that candidate. Push the nominee on those issues. Hold them accountable (y’all got Biden to flip on Hyde in less than 24 hours). Be a lobby for what you care about. Just don’t disengage. Resist. Persist.

So much of what has happened in this administration is destructive if not criminal — Trump’s racist revisionist history, his public support for Putin, emoluments, obstruction of justice, the destabilization of our international alliances, the denial and de-funding of climate change research, and the death of children in detention centers separated from their desperate parents. The list goes on and on in this country of ours.

But here is what I deal with and what I have encountered ever since the 2016 “morning after” when 26 women called me. I mention it only in the hope that it doesn’t get buried in the ashes of our current political dumpster fire. Imagine what it did to so many of us to see this country elect someone who said what he said about women — about assaulting women. If you think being “triggered” is just an expression, then you are one of the lucky ones who hasn’t experienced it.

“Grab ’em by the pussy” and “Lock her up” remain “indelible” in our “hippocampus.”

So I need your protest vote, should you feel the need to cast one, to be AGAINST this administration and FOR the Democratic nominee, whomever it may be. I need you to do this because I’m worried about the desperation and angst I see out there. My phone has not stopped ringing.

Now to my promise that I would tell you my three favorite Democratic candidates thus far… the ones who I think have the very best shot of winning 72 weeks from now:

My favorite candidates are (in rank order): (1) Whoever gets the nomination, (2) Whoever gets the nomination, and (3) Whoever gets the nomination.

Whether I’m celebrating as I pull that lever or sick to my stomach, I am making my peace with doing it by remembering that others have done the same for generations. And because no matter how strong my negative feelings about any one candidate on the Democratic side may be — my concern for your life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness is stronger.

#WhoeverGetsTheNomination #WGTN

*views here are mine only* Diane Blair Chair in Southern Studies; Assc Prof PLSC; AMST PhD UT-Austin; Truman Scholar; author, The Long Southern Strategy 7/15

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