Home 2020 Elections CNU Professor Rachel Bitecofer Is Really Having a Moment. And That’s a...

CNU Professor Rachel Bitecofer Is Really Having a Moment. And That’s a Very Good Thing. [UPDATED with Thoughts on VP]

She's hard to miss in the media these days.

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If you’ve watched “Real Time with Bill Maher,” “Morning Joe,” CBS News, etc. recently, or if you’re read the Washington Post, or Politico, Slate, etc., or…basically, if you haven’t been living under a rock in a cave, lol, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if you happened across CNU Professor Rachel Bitecofer – now also a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center (a ” think tank that advocates environmentalism, immigration reform, civil liberties, and a national defense policy based on market principles”) in Washington, D.C. – discussing her views on U.S. politics, the 2020 elections, Virginia politics, etc. Basically, Professor Bitecofer is everywhere these days, or to put it another way, she’s really an “it girl” who’s “having a moment.” Should she be? We’ll discuss that; but first, here are just a few links to recent Bitecofer sightings.

In short, Bitecofer’s thesis – as she explained on Real Time with Bill Maher – is that:

  • “…we’re living in with hyper-polarization, and all the extreme partisanship that we have has really changed electoral behavior
  • “What I was expecting to see as a massive backlash to Donald Trump getting elected. Luckily for me, I had 2017 in Virginia to kind of pilot my theory…and in that election everyone thought it was gonna be this competitive race between the Democrat and the Republican, and I was telling the whole state, oh it’s gonna be this blowout , you’re gonna see this demographic muscle for the first time really flex in Northern Virginia, it’s gonna transform the state, and that’s exactly what happened.”
  • “It’s absolutely Trump hate…if I had James Carville sitting here I would grab him by the shoulders and say, ‘it’s Trump stupid right,’ it’s not the economy.”
  • “Democrats like to send their voters like these big thick policy briefs…nobody gives a shit about it.”
  • As Bill Maher explained, Bitecofer’s theory is “It’s not about who’s the candidate, it’s who’s voting…you’re really appealing to the base.” Bitecofer clarified: “It’s not so much the base, it’s the coalition…I’m talking about Latinos and African Americans, women, college-educated women, young people…getting them to show up and vote, which is really critical, because ultimately in the polarized era if a competitive election’s playing out, what’s going to determine the party that wins it is the partisan composition of the electorate on Election Day.”
  • “We’re having these conversations on Morning Joe and on Chuck Todd’s show, and it’s like like Trump’s election never happened, like it was some normal thing that America would elect somebody like Donald Trump. Trump broke every metric of electability of what a president should be able to meet in terms of holding and winning that office...people recognized that was weird and then they just moved on and decided to normalize it. But clearly, we are not in a normal time period, because we see our institutions failing, we see the Trump presidency in the way it’s stretching out institutional norms…”
  • Bottom line: are Democrats going to win the election in November? “Yes. So my forecast…I had said that only Bernie Sanders would be a risk to my model, and the reason is because you know, going from I’m running as a fiscal conservative Democrat, which is a bad way to run, it’s a weakness run, doesn’t mean you should rip off all your clothes, coat your body and glitter and go naked skinny-dipping with a socialist, there’s gray area in between. I think what would have happened under a Sanders nomination is that the Republicans would have been able to trick Democrats into running against their own party nominee, and then that upsets my model, because the model is a boat that’s rowing in one direction.”

So…that’s the Bitecofer worldview, in a nutshell. Does this ring true? Does Bitecofer deserve to be “having a moment” right now? Overall, I’d argue strongly that yes, she absolutely does. First of all, she’s done a lot of research on this stuff. Second, her “negative partisanship” theory has generally nailed it since Trump’s election. Third, as you can see from the Bill Maher video, she is *very* good – highly entertaining, I’d argue – at explaining stuff that by all rights should be dry and boring. She doesn’t “dumb it down,” but she explains “negative partisanship” in a way that’s easy to understand.

And, in my view, what Bitecofer’s talking about rings true, particularly after what we saw here in Virginia in 2017 (Democrats sweeping the statewide races, picking up 15 seats in the House of Delegates), in 2018 (Democrats flipping three U.S. House seats and winning by a huge margin in the U.S. Senate race), and in 2019 (picking up another six House of Delegates seats, control of the State Senate and a bunch of local offices), as well as across the country in 2018. Some of Bitecofer’s other insights also jibe with research, such as in the great 2017 book “Democracy for Realists,” which is that: a) voters are strongly “tribalistic,” with “deep-seated social identities and group affiliations motivat[ing] political action far more than individual rationality does.”; b) voters do NOT vote based on a careful analysis of policy positions, reading lengthy policy papers or correctly assigning credit/blame to the party in power (or even knowing which party’s in power); c) the entire “folk theory of democracy in which politicians obtain mandates from rational voters,” is false.

As far as I can tell, Bitecofer is very much in sync with “Democracy for Realists,” as am I as well, particularly given what we’ve seen the past few decades (e.g., Newt Gingrich, the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the Republican/”Tea Party” reaction to President Obama, the election of Donald Trump, the hyperpartisan and increasingly extreme/unhinged behavior of the Republican Party in general). So that’s refreshing, certainly in contrast to the drooling pablum and stale/wrong “conventional wisdom” we get from the Chuck Todds and Chris Cillizzas of the world. It’s also, frankly, great to see a *woman* gaining a major following in the wonky, male-dominated world of political analysis and prognostications, especially given how much of the backlash against the Misogynist-in-Chief has been led by *women* (cases in point here in Virginia: Abigail Spanberger, Elaine Luria, Jennifer Wexton, Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, House Majority Leader Cherniele Herring, President Pro Tempore of the Senate Louise Lucas, etc, etc.).

Anyway…the bottom line for me is that I largely agree with Bitecofer’s analysis; find her way of presenting it to be persuasive, informative and enjoyable; and believe that her world view really fits the moment, in stark contrast to the many other TV “pundits” who *still* haven’t adjusted to the Brave New World of social media, negative partisanship, echo chambers, “fake news,” and of course the smouldering dumpster fire known as the “Trump presidency.” So…you go, Professor Bitecofer, and congratulations on your success!

P.S. Oh, and I also agree with Bitecofer that Democrats *should* win the November elections, based on everything discussed above, plus of course now coronavirus and the real risk of an economic downturn in the next few months…

P.P.S. I also agree with Bitecofer on the VP pick: 1) “the most important olive branch is to pick a liberal Dem as a running mate. Not a squad member, but it can’t be a Blue Dog either”; 2) “VP pick- no doubt the dinosaur consultants think @amyklobuchar is ideal. In terms of flipping the Senate & gaining more House seats, she’s not. Ticket needs ideological/racial/gender balance to max turnout”; and 3) “[turnout] would increase more under Harris or Abrams, while the % of mod ex-Rs and right leaning Indies willing to not vote for Trump is fixed.”