Democratic preview: 10 things Hillary Clinton needs to accomplish in Philadelphia

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The Veep pick got good reviews. But the convention is even more important to Hillary Clinton’s future.

Donald Trump is the most disliked presidential nominee in the history of scientific polling. But most national polls still show him barely trailing in his unconventional outsider bid for the presidency. The combination of those two facts creates an uncomfortable reality for Hillary Clinton as she prepares for the first Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia since 1948. She has work to do.

Here are 10 things I think Clinton needs to accomplish in Philly to make her week a success.

1. Lower her negative ratings.

Clinton’s high unfavorable ratings would be lethal in a normal year. But this is not a normal year. True, she’s the most unpopular Democratic nominee in modern times. Her opponent, however, is even more widely loathed. Still, Trump is hanging tough in most national polls conducted the week of the Republican National Convention. In the next four days, Clinton has to convince at least a few of the anti-Trump, anti-Clinton undecided voters that she’s acceptable. Or, as Barack Obama said infamously in the 2008 New Hampshire primary debate, “likable enough.”

2. Connect with working-class whites.

That’s one of the reason she picked a running mate with a blue-collar family background, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. But she has to convince displaced white workers in the industrial heartland that she understands why they feel dispossessed and angry at the system. A tall order, but that’s what national conventions are for. (Right, Donald?)

3. Convince Democratic liberals to get on her bandwagon.

Clinton is doing better than Trump at winning back supporters of her primary opponent(s). But that’s a low bar. She needs 95 percent of Bernie Sanders’ supporters to back her, not just 80 percent. And if she can’t persuade them not to vote for Jill Stein, she needs to at least make sure they don’t vote for Trump. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (and the Russian hackers who released the scurrilous, embarrassing Democratic National Committee emails the weekend before the convention) didn’t do the nominee any favors. Eight years ago, I covered an event featuring “NObama” activists who had backed Clinton during their bitter primary battle. By the end of the week, they were on the Obama team.

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Memo to Hillary: Don’t do this kind of stuff.

4. Keep the convention on the issues and avoid personal attacks on Trump.

Undecided voters don’t need to hear jokes about Donald Trump’s combover or his gold-plated chairs. They don’t like Trump already. No need to remind them. Democrats would be better served by dissecting Trump on issues, from foreign policy and national defense and outsourcing jobs to tax cuts and family leave and stiffing small businesses. There’s plenty of meat there for Democrats to devour.  And they can make the case that her judgment and temperament are more presidential than Trump’s. If we hear jokes about his hand size or bald spot, it’s a bad sign.

5. Increase her margin among Latinos — and the turnout.

For at least two decades, I’ve seen Latinos described as “the sleeping giant of American politics.” It’s a tiresome cliche, but it’s still being used because the turnout rate of Hispanic Americans remains significantly lower than African Americans, Asian Americans, and non-Hispanic whites. Clinton is crushing Trump among Democratic and independent Latinos. She has a huge lead among the wealthiest Latinos — about 50 percentage points, according to my analysis of Reuters presidential polling data. But 40 percent of this Republican-leaning group remains undecided. Clinton needs to convince them to vote for her, not to vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson or stay home. A Latino wave could drown Trump in Florida, Nevada, Colorado and even Arizona, making it all but impossible for him to win, even if he takes Pennsylvania and Ohio.

6. Match Barack Obama in the African American vote.

For the past two presidential elections, African American turnout has been higher than non-Hispanic white turnout. Many political journalists attribute that to the historic Obama candidacy. Can Clinton maintain that level of support and enthusiasm? Support: undoubtedly. Two state polls in Ohio and Pennsylvania showed Trump registered zero percent of the African American vote. Can’t do much worse than that. But Clinton needs to mobilize African Americans who are either enthusiastic about her agenda or scared of Donald Trump’s vision for America (or his backing among white supremacists like David Duke).

7. Appeal to young Americans.

The major party candidates have the oldest combined age of any nominees in American history. Young voters overwhelming reject Trump. But young Democrats overwhelming rejected Clinton for the even-older Bernie Sanders. So that means it’s not about age, but ideas and outlook. Clinton must describe her ideas that can improve the lives of the Millennial Generation. College-loan debt, equal pay for women, paid family leave and an improved environment for job creation would be good places to start.

8. Make the convention about the future and not the past.

Yes, yes, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and Joe Biden will be speaking. But this convention is not about the glories of past Democratic victories. It’s about what’s yet to come. Donald Trump wants to return America to its past greatness.
Nostalgia is not a winning formula in an increasingly young, diverse America. Today’s 18-year-old voters were 2 years old when Hillary Clinton was elected to the Senate and 14 when she stepped down as Secretary of State. Yes, old accomplishments are fine. But they are old. What will you do for us tomorrow?

9. Avoid a cheesesteak blunder.

As a native Philadelphian, I cringed when John Kerry, then running for president, ordered a cheesesteak with swiss cheese in 2004. That’s a cultural faux pas. If you’re trying to appeal to “average folks,” it’s best not to act like an out-of-touch politician. Please don’t play the theme to Rocky — or even talk about Apollo Creed and his son. It doesn’t fit. Authenticity matters. I know that’s going to be tough, but be yourself. Whatever that is.

10. No plagiarism.

Right, Michelle Obama?

>> Catch my daily analysis of ongoings at the Democratic convention, right here on


16 bold predictions for 2016 (including ‘Cruz schlongs Trump’)

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The bromance is headed for a rocky break-up in 2016.

The pundits were soooooo wrong in 2015 that it seems silly for anyone to pull out the crystal ball again. Especially in the midst of the most unpredictable Republican presidential nominating process in … what, four years? (President Gingrich, President Santorum, President Perry, we hardly knew ye.)

But since so many pundits make good salaries predicting things that don’t come true, I’m going to let you in on some things that are as solid as Sears. (OK, if you’re under 50 years old, you probably don’t understand that line.)

Here are my 16 bold predictions for 2016:

      1. The New York Daily News headline on Feb. 2, 2016 (the day after the Iowa caucuses): CRUZ SCHLONGS TRUMP
      2. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the winner of the 2008 Iowa Republican caucuses, drops out of the 2016 race on Feb. 3 after finishing eighth in the previous evening’s Iowa caucuses. Nobody outside of the Huckabee family notices.
      3. Donald Trump continues his slide from frontrunner status on Feb. 23 with a stinging defeat in the Nevada caucuses when fellow gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson pulls out all the stops in support of [Editor’s note: He hasn’t yet decided which non-Trump candidate he will support]. Front page editorials in the Adelson family’s Las Vegas Review-Journal strongly support [candidate to be decided upon later]. Adelson tells close friends that Trump eliminated himself from contention when he didn’t know he was supposed to say that Jerusalem is and always will be the indivisible capital of Israel — and then canceled his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu in a fit of pique after Adelson buddy Bibi bashed Trump for saying he’d bar all non-citizen Muslims from the U.S. — and then used “schlong” as a verb.

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        Larry David got more attention from the mainstream media when he played Bernie Sanders on Saturday Night Live than the real candidate got when playing himself on the campaign trail.

      4. Bernie Sanders will be the Mo Udall of 2016. Without the wicked sense of humor. Favorite of the liberal liberals. String of second-place finishes. His last stand will be in the Vermont primary on March 1. But while Bernie battles for his home state’s 15 delegates chosen in the primary, Hillary Clinton will take something like 207 of the 208 Texas delegates up for grabs that day.
      5. The Republican Party in the United States will remain the only conservative party in the entire world to dispute the fact that humans contribute to climate change. Not a good strategy to win the support of young Americans, who wonder why so many old fogies can’t accept global scientific consensus.

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        Just saying no.

      6. The Democratic Party in the United States will continue to argue for protectionism and managed trade. The Tea Party will continue to argue for protectionism and managed trade. The rest of the world will wonder why America continues to have such a robust, resilient economy when its politicians seem to be trying so hard to destroy its competitiveness.
      7. America will make history again — by electing the first female president ever, the first candidate with a Spanish surname and/or the first U.S. president ever born in Canada.
      8. The next vice president’s last name will end in an “o.” Leading possibilities are Castro, Rubio or uh-oh.
      9. Ratings on MSNBC will continue to slip-slide toward oblivion. Morning Joe’s audience will be limited to the DC Beltway, Manhattan and Joe Scarborough’s family’s homes. More than 95 percent of Chris Matthews’ audience will be aged 65 and above.
      10. The Washington Post website, having passed the New York Times in online audience in 2015, will rocket ahead of CNN through a combination of good, solid, old-fashioned reporting and analysis and an understanding of viral-news marketing.
      11. The Huffington Post, having reached the limits of page views through click-bait, rewrites and journalistic trolling, reassesses its business strategy amid general stagnation.
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“Mister Hearst, tear down that wall.”

12. American newspapers continue to reassess the ill-fated paywall fad amid mounting evidence that they are destroying any potential for long-term community-building in a misguided attempt to increase short-term revenues.

13. No pro team from Philadelphia or Austin will make the playoffs in any sport.

14. Dan Snyder will continue to top the lists of “worst sports team owner,” despite his mediocre team’s miraculous 2015 run in the NFC Least division.

15. The Pyongyang Marathon will continue to be the least popular marathon in any nation’s capital. It’s on April 10, if you’re interested in signing up.

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Have you signed up yet? One-way airfare not included.

16. American newspapers and news networks will feature stories about the poisonous air in Beijing with frightening regularity, causing the Chinese government to (a) condemn the negative news coverage and (b) develop a new and improved strategy for dealing with a problem that’s not going away, despite the occasional blasts of fresh air from Siberia.

Happy New Year to all!


Red Alert in Beijing

Toxic White House water might have killed three U.S. presidents — Harrison, Polk and Taylor

Tippecanoe … and Taylor, too?

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As a history major, I’ve always struggled for an explanation for the surprisingly bad string of American presidents who served between 1840 and 1860.

This motley crew was politically inept. Think Millard Fillmore. James Buchanan. Franklin Pierce. Zachary Taylor.

The group also had a very high mortality rate. William Henry Harrison died one month after assuming office in March 1841. James Polk (he of Texas annexation and “Manifest Destiny”) died shortly after leaving office. And Zachary Taylor, the old (and I emphasize old) Mexican War hero died less than a year into his term, leaving Americans saddled with Fillmore, who later unsuccessfully sought to return to the presidency as the nominee of the aptly named Know Nothing Party.

He would have become president. Philadelphia's only vice president, George Mifflin Dallas, one of the subjects of my master's thesis.

He would have become president. Philadelphia’s only vice president, George Mifflin Dallas, one of the subjects of my master’s thesis.

I will claim some academic expertise in this period of history. My master’s thesis at the University of Pennsylvania was on the 1844 Philadelphia economic elite, which included Polk’s vice president, George Mifflin Dallas. The city of Dallas, Texas, is named after this Philadelphian who might — just might — have become the nation’s 12th president if Polk had died a few months earlier, while still in office.

With apologies to Alexis de Tocqueville, the stretch of dysfunctional democracy in America had many causes, including the implacable division between North and South over fundamental social issues, the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment and the triumph of extremism (and mediocrity) on Capitol Hill.

Sound familiar to your 2014 ears?

Historians have written lots about the political debacle in ante-bellum America. But they haven’t written as much about the health debacle in the White House. That’s why the story that appeared in the April 1 edition of the New York Times (it’s no April Fool’s joke) is so important.

The piece outlined speculation about the cause of William Henry Harrison’s death. Conventional wisdom has held (for 173 years) that old Tippecanoe, the oldest man to be sworn in as president until Ronald Reagan, died of pneumonia after catching cold while delivering the longest inaugural address in American history. (I think it may have equalled all four of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speeches combined. He had nothing to fear but pneumonia itself.)

But it turns out that pneumonia may not have caused Harrison’s death. The Times article casts a credible finger of blame at the potentially toxic supply of drinking water consumed by American presidents during the time before indoor plumbing:

In those days the nation’s capital had no sewer system. Until 1850, some sewage simply flowed onto public grounds a short distance from the White House, where it stagnated and formed a marsh; the White House water supply was just seven blocks downstream of a depository for “night soil,” hauled there each day at government expense.

That field of human excrement would have been a breeding ground for two deadly bacteria, Salmonella typhi and S. paratyphi, the causes of typhoid and paratyphoid fever — also known as enteric fever, for their devastating effect on the gastrointestinal system.

According to the Times piece, Harrison’s eventual case of pneumonia is consistent with enteric fever and may just have been one of the manifestations of acute poisoning.

“As he lay dying, Harrison had a sinking pulse and cold, blue extremities, two classic manifestations of septic shock,” Jane McHugh and Philip A. Mackowiak wrote in the Times. “Given the character and course of his fatal illness, his untimely death is best explained by enteric fever.”

Harrison was the first of three U.S. presidents to die in office (or shortly after leaving office) within a span of only nine years. I’d say that’s reason for some serious “cold case” sleuthing.

Mackowiak, a scholar-in-residence at the University of Maryland and author of “Diagnosing Giants: Solving the Medical Mysteries of Thirteen Patients Who Changed the World,” took up the challenge,  joined by San Antonio writer McHugh.

They made a strong case for tainted water as being the cause of Harrison’s death, and suggested that Polk and Taylor may have been its victims, too. They noted that the 11th and 12th presidents “developed severe gastroenteritis while living in the White House. Taylor died, while Polk recovered, only to be killed by what is thought to have been cholera a mere three months after leaving office.”

There’s further evidence to suspect that Mackowiak and McHugh are onto something. The president’s quarters on the second floor of the White House did not get running water until 1853 — Fillmore is given credit by some history books for this major technological advance. After Millard’s move, no president contracted gastroenteritis or died of natural causes. (We’ll leave the mysterious 1923 death of Warren Harding to another blog post.)

So we can’t blame the failure of Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan on tainted water. Just tainted politics.

Ten things I really miss living in China — and ten I definitely do not

Birthday barbecue: Plates of tasty food at Home Plate BBQ in Beijing (with Troy Hernandez, Agnes Kreitz, Sara Balajthy, Caroline Ward and Mengfei Chen)

Birthday barbecue: Plates of tasty food and chocolate cake at Home Plate BBQ in Beijing (with Troy Hernandez, Agnes Kneitz, Sara Balajthy, Caroline Ward and Mengfei Chen)

It’s been nearly three months since I arrived in Beijing, and I’ve finally had my first attack of homesickness.

It started two weeks ago with a trip to a local Western market to pick up the fixings for macaroni and cheese (the real thing, not the Kraft version). It was followed by my birthday dinner of Texas BBQ and chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting. Then I broke down completely yesterday and went to Jenny Loo’s supermarket with my friend Eunice. My haul — a rare taste of Americana — included fresh bagels (“Montreal style”), feta cheese, olives, canned diced tomatoes for pasta sauce, fresh tortillas, tortillas chips, salsa, peanut butter and a Woody Allen movie.

A pretty pricey splurge, all told, except for the Woody Allen movie (“Midnight in Paris”), which cost 13 yuan, or $2.16.

I’m whipping up my famous linguini tonight with some of my big food purchase. But before I do, here’s a quick list of ten things I really miss after 11 weeks in China — and some that I decidedly do not.

What I miss:

1. My wife and family

2. The National Press Club

3. Live NHL hockey

4. Hummus

5. My good friends back home

6. Weekend trips to Philadelphia or New York

7. Trader Joe’s

8. Gossiping with my Texas political sources

9. Good wine at good prices

10. Target

What I Don’t Miss:

1. CNN

2. American cable news in general

3. The newspaper world I left behind

4. Cable TV

5. Congress

6. Driving

7. Texas BBQ (I’ve been surprised by the fine barbecue here.)

8. The Washington football team with the racist name

9. Rush Limbaugh and the vast right wing conspiracy

10. U.S. media coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination