Rachel Bitecofer

Post-Sedition Politics and Pandemic Policies

Air Date: February 1, 2021

Political scientist Rachel “The Doc” Bitecofer discusses nationalizing the argument for democracy and economic relief.


HEFFNER: I’m Alexander Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. I’m delighted to welcome to today’s broadcast Rachel Bitecofer, the professor, the doctor, the senior advisor to the Lincoln Project and the election whisperer herself, whose negative partisanship model was vindicated not only in 2018, but of course again in 2020. Welcome Rachel.


BITECOFER: Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.


HEFFNER: It’s good to discuss these matters, but let’s just acknowledge that what this country has experienced in these last weeks is unprecedented: an act of sedition an insurrection. And I think that all those people who existed in a vacuum and thought, you know, Trump’s tweets were just independent from reality and what it could foment you know, shame on those people. Those people don’t understand the repercussions of their inaction. I just wanted to give you a chance to reflect on, you know, these evolving events.


BITECOFER: I mean, of course, right, we’re time bound and, at some point you have to record a podcast and we happen to be recording ours while the Capitol building’s under siege under Trump’s directions. And, you know, for once it didn’t come out under Twitter, it came out of them verbally and in front of the crowd on Pennsylvania Avenue where he told them to go down to the Capitol and go go go, go to the Capitol. And now they’ve broken in, and we’ve got our members of Congress who are sheltered in place throughout the building. You know, the protestors entered without going through the metal detectors. So, we, you know, are all just praying for their safety. And this is going to be a nightmare that America will watch together that could have been completely avoided.


HEFFNER: Right. I mean, it’s further evidence Rachel, that the Republican Party is no more.



HEFFNER: It was hijacked by an authoritarian and autocrat. And, you know, I would even say what we’ve experienced is nothing short of domestic terrorism. And so, one of the two major political parties had given, you know, credit to all the elements of that domestic terrorism, but it never claimed ownership of it and had to see the effect of it until these recent weeks.


BITECOFER: Yeah. I mean, what we’re seeing has definitely got elements of domestic terror, right? And we’re talking about, think about what their goal is, right? The goal is, and it’s all based on utter fabrication, right? Donald Trump’s claims about the election is that there was massive fraud if we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of ballots in Pennsylvania and Michigan, especially, the more narrow margins in Georgia and Arizona, Wisconsin, but especially in Michigan and Pennsylvania, we’re talking about huge margins. And they are, you know, these are claims that they cannot utter in court because they would lose their law licenses, but in public, you can say whatever you want. And so, they’ve created these big atrocious claims and, and it’s easy for them to do because they actually lay the groundwork. That’s the most terrible part about it is that they actually laid the groundwork in advanced call to claim electoral fraud if they lost. And so they prohibited Michigan and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin from counting ballots that arrived there by mail before the election to create the red mirage, right. They wanted to create a, at least a time window in which Donald Trump appeared to be winning the race. And that was on election night. So, by law, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin could not open the mail ballots, which everyone knew would be disproportionately in favor of Biden. And then at midnight, they were finally able to cast, you know, crack those ballots open. So, when you listen to these Trump supporters, a lot of them will say, well, I just don’t understand, you know, at 11 o’clock I went to bed and Trump was up a hundred thousand votes in Pennsylvania. And then I get up in the next morning and suddenly Biden wins. So obviously something is wrong, right? Well, yeah, that’s something is that 40 percent of the vote was being counted at 11:00 PM. And then once the Vote By Mail ballots were allowed to enter the bloodstream of the process, you know, they were so disproportionately for Biden, disproportionately from the city areas that they you know, had the effect of not only swinging the election to Biden, but robustly doing so. And so, you know, you’ll hear a Ted Cruz or, you know, Josh Lee, Senator Lankford say, well, I have to do this because my voters, they are committed to this idea that there’s fraud. Well, they’re committed to an idea that there’s fraud because the president created that doubt in their mind, right? There’s not, it’s not because there’s fraud that they believe there’s fraud. It’s because the president made them believe that there’s fraud, right? There’s nothing more disingenuous than trying to just you know, disenfranchise 83 million voters, and then pretending that that process is actually the sage ethical, you know, protection of voting rights at the same time. It’s not only seditious, it’s nauseating,


HEFFNER: A bright spot is John Fetterman. We both have a great deal of affection and admiration for John Fetterman, the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, the former Mayor of Braddock. We hosted him several years ago. We were doing a series of interviews with small town Rustbelt mayors. It’s not just the domestic terrorism, it is the kind of political assassination of reality and it was born and bred really in Pennsylvania where the conspiracy theorists originated. And now as a result, they’re refusing to seat one of the elected Democrats. And so, I’m thinking about this and just the reality and the consequence of the dissension or sedition. But for anyone to say that it is only the protestors turn terrorist, it’s not, it’s legislators who were denying reality and who were refusing to see it in Pennsylvania legitimately elected people, right?


BITECOFER: Yes. Yeah. And, you know, think, I mean, think about how extreme this is, right. I mean, this is a country that is teetering on collapse, or we are already looking at institutions that could no longer function. And then, you know a system of government that can’t create policy is not a very useful system of government. And we’d had one of those for quite a long time now, about a decade, we’ve had a system of government that can’t create policy, at least in, along the negative or the normal policy making channels at the federal level anyway. We got Obamacare made, which was almost completely along the regular making channels, but at the end, when the Republicans finally gave up the charade of pretending to cooperate, Democrats had to turn to special techniques and maneuvers to get that legislation through. When we look at the Republican tax overhaul that they did in 2017, that did not pass through a regular order at all, either they used you know, special tweaks to the tax code rather than new clean legislation to do that. We are a country that’s been you know, basically paralyzed legislatively for about a decade, but now what we’re talking about is full on institutional collapse, right? And a party that’s pushing for it. I mean, Mitch McConnell, we think about his speech today. And aside from his, you know, never ending tendency to do the “both side” false equivalence, which he always has to mar whatever moment he’s engaged in by doing that. If you just put that aside and you think about, here’s a man who obviously at some point over the weekend, looked his grandchildren or pictures of his grandchildren on his desk and he had to make a decision, you know, and it, you know, think about from his perspective, he’s coming from one of the richest families in Kentucky, with his wife’s you know, dynasty to consider. And he’s looking at his grandchildren who would not be adversely affected at least not right away by a movement to a one-party state. And he had a decision to make, you know, should I allow the U.S. to move towards an authoritarian dictatorship? And yes, it would be under a madman, you know, to start. But, you know, you got to believe that a man, like McConnell believes he can outmaneuver Trump in the long-run or should we stick with democracy? And thank God, Mitch McConnell is, has got a fond spot in his heart for democracy, or is so, you know, it’s concerned that Trump can’t be trusted. Like if you’re going to have a one-party system and one person in charge of it to knock off the, to start it off with you wouldn’t choose that guy, right, so you know, he stood up for democracy, but if he did not do that, I just really can’t stress enough for people to understand because it’s America, so people don’t want their NFL football playoff to be interrupted or their college football or whatever it is. They want to just have their lattes and their sushi and their college football. And they want to do their thing. We were really looking at a Hong Kong moment here in the U.S. where democracy was going to end institutionally. And they, you may not notice a difference the next day. Like you could wake up and do your job, go to the grocery store and go to your kids, whatever. But legally, speaking at that moment, decay would set it.




BITECOFER: Right. Yeah. That’s a pretty big deal.


HEFFNER: Right, well said, extremely eloquent, Rachel. We do have a second shot with Biden being duly elected and inaugurated. You were arguing for many months that Senate Democrats around the country who were challenging incumbents were running against largely Republican and Trump loyalists should have been using the Ossoff and Warnock playbook in Georgia, which was relief, monetary assistance amid the pandemic. And I see you taking a big side there too, you know, because you should get credit for really being one of the first people to express the Georgia playbook. Monetary support amid the pandemic for families and democracy and, and standing up for these democratic values, which are under attack now. And so, do you think that the Democrats just didn’t play game that in Maine and Montana and in the states where they did not win prior to the Georgia runoffs?


BITECOFER: Yeah, there’s two fundamental issues for I mean, the disparity between the presidential outcomes, which did exactly as they should have done, right, you know, really robust victories for Joe Biden in the Midwest plus some realigning states and, you know, frankly, I thought Arizona had enough juice for sure to flip, and I was always really bullish on it. And I looked at Georgia and said maybe, but you know, and I had told you know, Lauren Groh-Wargo who runs Fair Fight, when I first released the very first rankings for president, which was 16 months ago now, 17 months, I guess, you know why I had not rated Georgia as initially as a toss-up, it was a lead Republican state. I said, listen, I believe Georgia’s a toss-up, 100 percent, but the problem is getting the party to understand that and investing the resources into the state, because without that investment, then it cannot be a toss-up, you see what I’m saying, like you have to have the money to spend on it. And if I start to see that money move, then I can move my rating. But, you know, I’ve got, I’ve got to be all, all I have all these guys who were coming after me, and then ultimately, you know, I have to be right about a race rating, but if this was a different context, I’d be talking about Georgia as a toss-up, right. So, I do end up moving Georgia pretty early in the cycle to a toss-up and keeping a close eye on it. But I was not sure that it could, I won’t profess at all to say that I was sure Biden could win it. I thought, just as I did for this special election, everything is there for him to do it. The early vote performed in a way that will allow him to win, but I don’t know that it can happen, right, and then as I was watching Election Day voting in November for Georgia, you know, without see, I didn’t see those big lines appear and at first, I was like, oh gosh, that’s not good. I don’t know that they can flip Georgia without these big lines. So, it was really nice yesterday because I had told Morning Joe’s, I believe, hey, we don’t even need to see big lines and it can still live because that’s what happened in November. So, if we don’t see like really big lines of metro Atlanta, don’t freak out because we saw that in November and Biden still carried the state. Right. so, but yeah, I mean, as you point out, I was definitely one of the very first people to see the Georgia model and what that is really is a modernized campaign approach from Democrats and that modernized campaign, or from just really just what Republicans have been doing all this time to elect their candidates. We’re on two candidates that are, you know, they fit the district of course, but, you know, they fit the state or the district, but they are running as their own party’s candidates and are not embarrassed to be, know, a Democrat or a liberal, they’re running towards their party, not from it in other words. And, you know, really in terms of the campaign strategy, you want to be running a nationalized, stakes brained message, which tells voters this race that you’re not so into because most voters really only care about the Presidential election, what the people in the electorate anyway, that are going to make you, or break you in a race like a Georgia runoff, aren’t you and me, right, they are those floater of voters out there, and they may not even know who the senator is from the state, right, so the message for them, you have to convince them, this thing that they don’t really know much about, they don’t care much about is very important and the way to do it, generally speaking isn’t policy, because if it was, they would be like you and me, right, they would already care about politics at a heightened level. So, GOP for years has done it as in like, okay, control matters because they’ll come and take your guns away, you know, and this seat will give us control or this seat protects control, even if it doesn’t really in the case of Georgia, it was very true and direct that it would give them control. And so, with Stacey and Beto O’Rourke, when they both emerged in 2018, I said this in my first write-up, which people can see on the Internet, I said, as I am talking about this theory, people should know I’m talking about it, but two candidates have just coincidentally emerged into the world that are running it, and that is Beto O’Rourke in Texas and Stacey Abrams in Georgia. So, the thing that I’m talking about they are doing, and you know, it has been wonderful to see Stacey vindicated. You know, Stacey has been adamant about two things. This is how you win in competitive elections. Now she would say in the South, I would say anywhere, in you know, any competitive election, Wisconsin, Colorado, Arizona, Georgia run in to being a Democrat, not from it, become affirmative about why it’s important for Democrats to hold office, why Democratic positions are better you know, come after the GOP’s record on economics, it’s dismal, right? Those are things that are super important to winning a bigger sloth of a white electorate, which is really what we’re fighting for overall. But it’s also important because, you know, if you don’t do those things, if you’re not doing those things and doing them broadly speaking, then the GOP is going to come in and they’re going to define your, your coalition for you. And it’s going to be about, oh, the Democrats are socialists, right? And because the electorate doesn’t have a lot of interest in politics, they don’t have a lot of base knowledge, those are very nice simple explainers. So we saw like Latinos in Florida pickup it very easy. Like why, you know, why aren’t you voting for Joe Biden, well, he’s a socialist, right? They, they don’t need a lot of information. So, if you don’t fill in something positive for Latino voters in South Florida, they’re going to get it from the Republican Party and it’s not going to be accurate. It’s not going to be fair, but it’s going to be something. And so, you really want to be there to define your own party, positively; define the opposition party negatively and you know, bring the voters into your coalition in a way that’s, I don’t want to say aggressive. I’d maybe affirmative is the better word, a posture of affirmation, which Democrats just really haven’t done for the last 20 years. So, like the super PAC that I’m launching is, you know, one-part messaging, one-part branding, one-part candidate training. It’s going to be really exciting work.


HEFFNER: Rachel, do you have a name for it yet?


BITECOFER: I do. But you know what, it’s getting announced first to my subscribers to The Cycle, my new Substack media venture, and then it’s going to be, I’ll get public, but that’s coming very soon. We have our very first ad in production. People are going to absolutely love it. And that’s going to announce the super PAC, its name, its purpose, and, and it will be, go to the races from there.


HEFFNER: Excellent. So, let me ask you specifically with respect to Georgia, was it an equal combination of galvanizing black and Hispanic voters that won the runoffs? There were probably voters who voted for Donald Trump, to reelect Donald Trump, to reelect Purdue and decided in the aftermath of this fierce assault on democracy, there probably a few voters. And maybe you can correct me if it’s just a few and not more than a few, who would have voted for Trump and maybe even to re-elect Trump and reelect Purdue, and then voted after being disgusted with what we’ve observed in these last weeks, the kind of people who would say Rachel, I’m conservative, I voted Republican, but at the end of the day, there are winners and losers and Trump lost. Like there, there still exists that voter or no?


BITECOFER: I don’t know about that voter, but I can tell you this, like in terms of the first election, there is a subset of voters who are independents and they lean Republican. So that means they’re in effect, you know, closet Republicans and they go into the voting booth, they’re young, they’ve only voted a few times and they’ve gone in there and they have, they’ve grown up in a Republican household, so, they believe that the Republicans, but if you ask them on issue preferences, they probably are fairly liberal because they’re into cool music, they’re into cool into Hollywood and celeb stuff. And, you know, they are people that you would run into at the bar, right, but their parents grew up, raised them as Republicans and they’re, they think of themselves as Republicans and they’re just becoming politically cognizant and are doing so in the Trump era. And so, they’re like, ooh, I don’t like this Trump guy. Right. And so, 2020 comes and they finally have a chance to vote and they’re going to vote against Trump, but it is tied back to your question, right? If, if the election had been, because frankly Ossoff and Warnock do it in the runoff, but in that first election, they did not do so much of this, tying Purdue and Loeffler to Trump the first time, they didn’t do so much of that. So, like, if these voters might have not voted for Loeffler and pretty the first time, if they saw them as equal to Trump, right? So, when I talk about nationalized elections, the way the GOP runs against everybody is, whoever it is, no matter how absurd the argument is, this person is best friends of AOC and Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi. They’re a San Francisco liberal. And they’re going to turn America and do a socialist hellhole. They’re going to melt all your guns and make gay states. I can’t remember what that guy said, but anyway yeah, everybody gets that treatment, right. And it’s, it’s stupid. It’s silly. It hurts our politics. It’s not a good thing for our politics, but it’s literally the playbook for the Republican Party. So, when I say we’re going to take the GOP playbook and we’re going to flip it around. What I say, what I’m saying is, we are literally in 2022 and in 2021in Virginia, we are going to take Marjorie Taylor Greene. And some of these like nutty 2020, you know, QAnon people that got picked up and we’re going to do exactly the same thing. We’re going to say, you know Linkford, who’s running up in the Senate or Portman who is actually nuts, right, in Wisconsin. He is, you know, best friends of Marjorie Taylor Greene, he’s a member of QAnon and Marjorie Taylor Greene, both believe that there should be a government that all members of the press should get rounded up and put in concentration camps. They do. I mean, that’s what QAnon believes in, right? And we’re going to make them sound as radical and extreme as possible. And the real frame is going to be that the GOP can’t have governing power because they’re incapable of governing. You need, America COVID economic relief, COVID other, you know, we need a vaccine, right. We could not get the vaccine distributed because the government is incompetent. Why is the government incompetent? Because the GOP is so extreme, it cannot run the government, right, see how that that messaging is going to work and it’s just going to be like what they’ve done to us. And it’s going to be unfair to some people, right? I mean, there’s, but we’re not talking about nearly the level of unfairness that gets unleashed on the Democrats, because we’re trying, you know what I mean, a lot of these were, there’s not very many innocent Republicans right now in that caucus. I’ll tell you.


HEFFNER: That’s right. That’s right. Final question, is UBI or monetary assistance to families, the new tax cuts, is it something that can work in the pandemic and maybe even beyond the pandemic as both politically, and policy-wise just smart?


BITECOFER: Yeah. What you want to know, Alexander is can it be a wedge issue, right, because that’s what I want to know. And I don’t know, because I’ve never gotten to poll it myself, so I’ve had to rely on other people’s efforts to poll it and that’s not, they haven’t allowed me to test it in the way that I want to test it. So, when the super PAC is rolling and hopefully it can get the money that it needs to do, the things it needs to do, that’s going to be dependent on my ability to convince people who are listening to this pod and other, you know, bigger name donors that it’s a worthy investment for them to invest in the, in the super PAC’s ventures, because one of the things that I would like to do is test that issue as a capability of a wedge issue. Can I use UBI, not only in a positive way as something that I can push Democrats to do, but can I push them to do it because I can actually show them, look, not only can we do this public policy that’s going to help and improve the lives of millions of Americans, I can also help you get reelected more and elect more Democrats using this issue.


HEFFNER: So, to be determined. We saw the mayor of Stockton, California, go down on it on a local level and be perceived as out of touch with the adoption of the policy there.




HEFFNER: Nationally, or at least when it comes to Georgia, it seems to have worked.


BITECOFER: So, yeah, know, again, one of the things that I drive that drives people, that’s not like, you know, regular people, but I had to give other analysts is that I, and I’m not alone, like I know political scientists, like if you were in a room of conference scientists, like I would not be such an outlier, right? But there are very few things that move opinion, right, so like UBI had a very non-existent role in this election. What mattered was Donald Trump, Donald Trump and Donald Trump. Okay. In this Senate race, going forward, it’s, you know, going to be a real question of the Republican Party has figured out how to artificially inflate negative partisanship and keep their voters engaged. My big fear is that if we lose this new engaged coalition for Democrats, and this is Democrats and independents too, that they will win, like they will win big time in the 2022 midterms because people are now starting to understand, and the Georgia election was so great for this, that it’s turnout, who is voting matters, right, so I, you know, one of the works of the PAC will be trying to keep this surplus part of the electorate that engaged when Donald Trump came on the scene and started to destabilize everything here with us, because if we lose them, then 2022 is a wash, right?


HEFFNER: Thank you. Thank you for the work you’re doing. And we will alert, we’ll alert our viewers to your launch.


BITECOFER: Thanks so much.


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