President Biden’s first two years with a narrow Democratic Congress brought big ambitions and substantial new policy. As we now shift to a Republican House, how should we put Biden’s first two years in context? To help, Matt Grossmann talks with Casey Dominguez of the University of San Diego, who has wide ranging expertise on presidents, Congress, and the political parties. Her work has covered presidential honeymoonsjudging presidents on their own terms, and how parties decide primary elections. She’s a big picture thinker about the state of each political party and the role of political science in understanding current events.

Guest: Casey Dominguez, University of San Diego

Studies: Hyperpartisanship and the First Hundred DaysAssessing the Trump Presidency on Its Own Terms


Matt Grossmann: Judging Biden and Congress this week on The Science of Politics. For the Niskanen Center, I’m Matt Grossmann. President Biden’s first two years with a narrow democratic Congress brought big ambitions and substantial new policy. As we now shift to a Republican house, how should we put Biden’s first two years in context and how should that impact our look ahead to policymaking under divided government?

What does this moment say about the state of the Democratic and Republican parties? This week I talked to Casey Dominguez at the University of San Diego. Her work has covered presidential honeymoons, judging presidents on their own terms and how parties decide primary elections. She’s a big picture thinker about the state of each political party and the role of political science and understanding current events.

I think you’ll enjoy our wide ranging conversation. So the Biden presidency began with this kind of high level of expectation where people were talking even about FDR comparisons with the new democratic majority. Then kind of last year at this time, Build Back Better had failed.

And so people were talking about it being a huge lost opportunity. And now we’re back almost to the high point of expectations where people are saying a whole lot was accomplished in two years. So how typical is that pattern of expectations and reaction and how should we be judging the Biden presidency thus far?

Casey Dominguez: So I’ll give my favorite usual caveat here, and that is that what often gets sort of written down as presidential achievements are actually joint achievements by the President and the Congress and Biden. To the degree that we can call his presidency a successful legislative presidency, we probably have to think about the Democratic party and how the Democratic Party has been able to be pretty unified about a broad range of issues. And that’s more or less the successes that Biden’s been able to achieve in office or that people get attribute to Biden.

And looking back over two years, I think you can say that those were a very two, it was a very productive Congress. And not productive in terms of the number of pieces of legislation, but really in terms of the scale of the legislation that got passed and the harmony between that legislation and what Biden laid out in his inaugural address and in his State of the Union, his first message to Congress. If you think about the moment that he was inaugurated and in his first couple of months, it’s the depth of the pandemic.

It’s right after January 6th. In his inaugural address, he talks about lowering the partisan temperature in Washington, getting through the pandemic, dealing with systemic racism and climate change. That’s kind of what he mentioned in the inaugural address.

And then when he gave his first address to Congress, he talked about other goals that were basically infrastructure, increasing taxes on corporations in order to pay for funding preschool and community college and childcare, protecting various important minority groups in the Democratic Party, including LGBTQ Americans, Asian Americans, violence against women, gun reforms, immigration reform, voting rights, increasing competition with China. He talked about ending the war in Afghanistan.

When political scientists sit down to look at what did a president achieve, we kind of look at, well, what did he say his priorities were? And a lot of those got passed into law. A lot of those things that he mentioned in those first couple of months, Congress did pass, they did pass laws that increased, that set up a bunch of spending to help deal with climate change.

They did do some, at least some modest actions about prescription drug costs that he had mentioned. And of course there were things that didn’t get into those bills, were not able to pass. The Voting Rights Act was not passed. Immigration reform was not passed.

Childcare subsidies, free community college, criminal justice reform did not get passed by Congress. And so it was a very successful couple of years. Everything that the Democrats have on their agenda did not get passed into law. But that’s an unreasonable expectation for two years with a narrow partisan majority. But I would say that the Democrats and Biden worked all very well together.

There was definitely those moments when a couple of Democrats in the Senate stripped out big pieces of the Democrat’s agenda. Right? The childcare portions of the infrastructure bill were not amenable to Joe Manchin. And that’s what didn’t get achieved. And they couldn’t agree to get rid of the filibuster to pass the Voting Rights Act. Beyond that, yeah, it stacks up as a pretty successful first couple of years.

Matt Grossmann: So presidents often have an arc that starts high and gets reduced at some point. And I know you’ve written on the presidential honeymoon, which both corresponds to this very specific presidential approval measure and it starting high and going down after the beginning typically, but also this broader idea that sort of the opening of a presidency is the time to potentially get things done.

I know that that might not have actually been the case for a while, but the actual approval did seem to start lower than most presidencies, but then really take a dive, especially around the Afghanistan withdrawal and never really recover. So how does that kind of compare to other presidencies in its arc? And is that something that we should have just said something was going to reduce it further, or was that really kind of about Afghanistan?

Casey Dominguez: Well, in terms of public approval ratings, the presidents usually do come in with higher levels of public approval ratings. And then as they do things, some of those things are controversial and those ratings go down. The honeymoon has kind of two, it has a very specific connotation. Right?

The idea of the honeymoon is the people who might otherwise oppose you later give you a break because you’re new, because it’s a fresh start. And at least in terms of Congress, that hasn’t been true for a while. And increasingly in terms of the public, that’s not really true either. There was never a moment when Democrats liked Donald Trump, not for a second.

And that was also not exactly the case with Obama, but certainly throughout the latter parts of the Obama administration, Republicans didn’t like anything he did. And that partisan polarization in public opinion is more what we’re seeing it with Biden. Right? He started off having no support from Republicans, some support from independents, and pretty great support from Democrats.

And some of that support from Democrats and independents tailed off as he did things that were perceived to be inappropriate or controversial. And I think the press coverage of the Afghanistan withdrawal, you’re right, was that moment when it was just a sustained period of pretty negative coverage. And the public, I don’t think his public approval ratings have cracked 50% since then, or if so, not for very long.

And so in terms of public opinion, I think what we’re seeing is just what we should expect to see in a more polarized era where people are just going to, there’s a conflation between presidential approval ratings and people’s partisan identity that is pretty hard to break, and it’s those presidential approval ratings aren’t really telling us as much as they used to.

In terms of the honeymoon with Congress, that’s been over for a while. There really used to be such a thing as people in the opposition party giving a new president a little bit of leeway to get started and make some proposals and take a look at those proposals in good faith. And that’s been over in the, certainly in the 21st century. We really haven’t seen much of that.

And so presidents in the 21st century have to rely more on support from their own party in Congress, and that’s what Biden did. And they should expect increasing amounts of opposition from the other party. And that’s what Biden in particular has, sorry, has seen.

Really a lot of opposition even on things that used to be non-controversial, like staffing his own administration, staffing the, putting people into the executive branch used to be something that presidents were just like, “Yeah, Yeah. Whatever.” The Senate opposition let them do that. And there’s been a lot more delay in those kinds of confirmation processes in the Senate than there used to be. And so president, I think presidents aren’t getting much of a honeymoon from anybody these days, and Biden probably is following that pattern.

Matt Grossmann: So as you say, Republican votes have not really been there for Biden in Congress. And even comparing to Obama’s major legislative achievements, the number of Republican votes are going down. But our standards of bipartisanship might be going down with them. So we have these fairly major bipartisan successes, at least bipartisan in the sense that bipartisan senate groups led their development like the infrastructure bill and the CHIPS and Science bill. So how should we judge Biden’s efforts and Republicans efforts to try to find common ground? And what does that mean for the divided government we’re about to see?

Casey Dominguez: So it’s always a little tricky to be able to assess how much of that is Biden. We don’t really know. We haven’t seen all the biographies and the end of the term books and that kind of thing. So we don’t really know how much Biden was on the phones with Republicans and facilitating that bipartisanship. What we can say is that on Democratic party priorities, Republicans wouldn’t give him a single vote. Right?

So for Obama that was, “Oh, we need to spend some money to deal with this great recession and the banking crisis.” And no republicans in the house would give him any votes to deal with that crisis. And similarly, when Biden came in, we were still in the middle of the COVID crisis, and the Democrats wanted to extend unemployment benefits and do some other income supports to help people deal with the prices and also spend on and try to get vaccines in people’s arms.

And the Republicans wouldn’t give them any votes for that. And so on those issues that were sort of what the Democratic Party wanted to do and solve a crisis, Republicans weren’t supportive. On the issues that they did, that there was bipartisanship, I think it’s really interesting that there are issues where Trump was kind of out of line with some Wall Street Republican orthodoxy.

So in terms of being a little bit more protectionist in about manufacturing and not just being sort of free trade all the time, Trump broke with an older Republican norm about that and argued for more domestic manufacturing, America first, that kind of thing. He also was antagonistic toward China, at least in his rhetoric, and he talked about infrastructure a lot.

And so those were three issues where maybe the Trump presidency had opened up, supplied Republicans with some information about issues where policy successes might benefit them. And so those were issues where they were able to work with Democrats. And Democrats did reach across the aisle and let Republicans, they did break up the Build Back Better act.

They did prioritize infrastructure over the Democratic priorities to try to get those bipartisan bills passed. They also, some of the other sort of major bipartisan actions were the electoral count reform act to reform the way that the electoral college works and the way that those votes are counted to prevent another January 6th.

Republicans were on board, at least some of them with reforming that. The respect for marriage act to preserve LGBTQ plus marriages in case the Supreme Court overturns Obergefell. That was a case where the Republicans support it, not that it’s a major, it’s a pretty limited bill, but Republicans also didn’t want to be seen as being anti-gay marriage.

And so they wanted to be able to maybe be able to indicate their support for that bill. And so I think it’s interesting to look at the places where we see bipartisanship as maybe telling us something about cleavages in the Republican party. And that, to the degree that Democrats, that Biden and the Democrats can continue to find some of those places, that might be where we might continue to see some bipartisanship going forward.

Matt Grossmann: Now the last divided government Congress under Trump was actually surprisingly productive by our normal measures. A lot of major laws were passed, but a ton of them were responsive to events. So there were five COVID bills, there were lots of disaster relief and things like that, but they did pass by overwhelming bipartisan margins in divided government. So is there any hope for the upcoming Congress that anything will stimulate major policy or is there anything that that Biden might see as a Republican priority that he wants to advance?

Casey Dominguez: Well, I mean, I think on competition with China, maybe on defense issues, maybe on something like digital privacy or regulating the big tech companies in some way, right? There might be some kinds of avenues for legislation there. But those are, we’ll have to see it. It kind of depends on what the house winds up looking like and how seriously the house is organized around policy.

I mean, I think one of the things that we can see from the past is that during divided government, we tend to see more investigations. Right? And so there’s the house, the incoming house Republican majority has signaled that it’s going to be interested in doing investigations. And history tells us that that happens more during divided government. And so I think we can see that.

And so, and that can be important. Right? Congressional investigations can be important to government oversight. And maybe not just coming from the house, maybe also coming from the Senate. I think Republicans want to oversee the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration Enforcement, but so do Democrats. Right? Democrats and the Senate may also want to look at human rights abuses by the Border Patrol or something like that.

And so we may see Congress paying more attention to the executive branch. And maybe we will have to see if they can agree on any major legislation. I’m a little skeptical that there’s a lot left on the table after what they were able to pass in the first two years. And it really does depend whether the House majority actually has any governing policy priorities that they want to try to pass that are reasonable.

Right? That the Democrats and the Senate and that Joe Biden would actually agree to, or whether they more prefer to pass bills that tell the country how the Republicans are different from Democrats, which is what the House Majority has done in the last decade or so, right? Passing many repeals of Obamacare just to say, “We are against Obamacare.” And those are more symbolic actions than sort of significant attempts at legislation. So it depends on the New House Majority.

Matt Grossmann: So the Democratic congressional caucuses currently look more unified, and yet there has been a lot of changes in the Democratic Voting Coalition, some of which are reflected in their are representatives. It’s obviously quite a bit more racially diverse, more educated younger. And we do have a transition finally in the House leadership on the Democratic side that might reflect those changes. So how should we be thinking about changes in the Democratic coalition and the extent to which those voting changes are reflected in democratic leadership in Congress?

Casey Dominguez: I see the Democratic coalition as not in lockstep with each other, but I think polarization and active coalition building and opposition to Donald Trump really just helped Democrats identify who their allies are. And so people sort of make fun of the yard signs that are in this house, we believe. But that’s a list of things that Democrats are telling themselves and each other that this is what we believe.

Right? We believe in the environment, we believe in Black Lives Matter, we believe in LGBTQ rights, we believe in labor rights. Right? For them, for the whole party to be able to tell themselves, “This is our priority list,” indicates that the, I think the coalition is as strong as I’ve seen it in my lifetime in terms of being able to identify who’s on our team. And I think Trump accelerated that process.

And I think elements of the Democratic party are becoming strengthened right now. Organized labor is having a moment. African Americans have reached some significant levels of representation at the top of the party, the vice president, the minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries, the new mayor of Los Angeles, Supreme Court Justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson.

That doesn’t mean that African Americans are seeing that their policy priorities are being enacted by Congress. Voting rights, criminal justice reform did not pass Congress last time, but they definitely are a prominent, maybe as prominent a part of the face of the Democratic Party as they should be given their loyalty to the party.

And the new congressional leadership does reflect that, right? You’ve got a black man, Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark, a woman, Pete Aguilar, who’s Latino. The Democratic Party understands itself as a diverse coalition and wants to show itself to be a diverse coalition. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re all going to agree about everything.

Right? There’s the socialist, democratic socialist faction of the Democratic Party, and they are not necessarily always going to agree with the moderates. And there definitely are still a lot of moderates in the Democratic Party. But I think what we saw in the last session was that from Joe Manchin to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, they were able to agree on quite a lot. Right?

They got some major priorities passed. Whether the party stays united, kind of depends on the way the Republicans behave. It kind of depends on how important are the suburbs and do sort of the suburban white mom vote, does that become an increasing, do Republicans, McCain Republicans kind of move into the Democratic Party and does that kind of pull the Democratic Party to the right and how does that make the left feel?

There’s all those questions that we just don’t know the answer to. But I would say right now they’re kind of at a high point for unity, and I would expect that they’d continue to support Biden. Maybe not enthusiastically, but to the degree that he reads the party really well and prioritizes what the rest of the party wants, there’s no real reason for them to abandon him.

Matt Grossmann: And then we have the House Republicans, at least, if not the Republican Party as a whole, which still seems to be having a lot of internal fights. This is often attributed to Donald Trump, but the Freedom Caucus and certainly the Tea Party predate Trump.

And many of these folks were involved in this kind of activity in the Obama administration as well. So in some sense, this is kind of a long running series of feuds in the Republican Party. And for now, Trump is on the establishment side of that dispute. So how should we kind of judge the current Republican coalition and the extent to which it was changed or just kind of accelerated by Trump?

Casey Dominguez: So the Republican parties always had a conservative faction, right? There’s been an identifiable conservative faction, or not always, but for decades has had an identifiable conservative faction in a way that the Democrats don’t have that, haven’t always had exactly that kind of factionalism and the Republicans have.

It’s a great question because there is a lot of overlap between the people that would’ve called themselves Tea Partiers and the people that would’ve called themselves Gingrich Republicans and the people who would call themselves Trump Republicans. But I would say that there’s a, what we’re seen in the House leadership fight in 2023 is that there really is a difference between old line conservatives like McCarthy and Scalise and the Lauren Boebert’s and Paul Gosar’s of the party at the moment.

I think that the new, the Trump wing of the party is, they’re more committed to conservative identity issues like being very pro-gun and being committed to issues that Trump champions, especially election denialism. And I think one of the big question for the next two years or the next decade is how does the Republican Party manage its factions and how does it set priorities and what role does it give?

Does it give into the demands of the Trumpist wing of the party to have a prominent place? Does it try to marginalize them? These are questions that we can’t know the answer to because they’re choices that the individuals who are in leadership are going to have to make. So I don’t know that we know, and I think that’s the big question. I think that’s the big thing to watch over the next couple years.

Matt Grossmann: So this will all be taking place in the context of the presidential election, which we were given a one-week break and started immediately with Donald Trump’s announcement that they barely held him off from announcing before the election. So on the other hand, I think it has not gone quite as well as people would’ve expected.

He’s sort of been out of the news. He get kind of a coronation of any sort, and he has at least one clear competitor in Ron DeSantis from Florida so far. What signs should we look for that Trump is really losing steam, that DeSantis has emerged as the key alternative or not? And where do we stand in kind of this role of money versus endorsements versus media coverage versus polling in thinking about internal party coalition fights?

Casey Dominguez: Well, thinking about presidential nominations, right? Those are the variables that we look at. One of the things that, one pattern that has been pretty robustly observed since the 1980s at least, is that the candidate that you, very often the party kind of rallies around a presidential candidate and they do it before the primaries have really even gotten started.

And the person who is able to raise the most money and get the most endorsements from party insiders tends to also be the person who gets the most positive media coverage and tends to be the person who also leads in the polls. And that person tends to go on to win the presidential nomination. And that’s been a pretty robust pattern.

But the big exception to that, one of the big exceptions, so that was Donald Trump who only led in polling and had no, virtually no support in any of the other categories. He didn’t raise the most money, didn’t raise much money at all, didn’t get any endorsements at all before the primaries began. Although he did get the lions share of the news media coverage. That’s the other thing that he had.

And that’s because he was a media star and he was really good at getting attention, and he was good at getting attention by saying things that were super controversial and that the mainstream news media felt like they had to pay attention to. And it is, the rest of the Republican field has had an opportunity to look at that playbook.

Right? I think if you look at the way Ron DeSantis behaves, he tries to use that strategy of saying things that are super controversial so that he can get media attention. And so one of the questions. And because, I think the other thing about the Republican Party is because they have, there is a right wing media environment.

And a lot of that, it is true that many sort of Republican voters are kind of committed to getting their information within that media environment, including Fox News, but also including right wing websites and other sort of online media sources.

So I think we have to watch how conservative media treats the candidates, certainly how the mainstream media treats all the candidates and how much time and attention they give them and the way they cover them and how much the right wing media, how they treat Trump versus the other candidates. Money may or may not be an indicator going to tell us something. The rise of candidate specific Super PACs makes it easier for candidates to have access to money they need to run campaigns.

Endorsements, Republicans didn’t have any success in rallying with their endorsements to one person in 2016. Whether they do that again is definitely something that political scientists will be watching. And of course the polls, I think we did, the political scientists especially did not pay as much attention to the polling in 2016 as they should have, as we should have.

That we were looking at these other indicators and we’re like, “No. Those indicators are going to lead the way.” But the fact of the matter was between Trump’s media coverage and his pretty good, he was always riding around 30, 40 percent in the Republican primary polls in a crowded field, and that was enough. And those are things that we should continue to watch. Those are the variables we have. Those are the ones that have been important to us in the past.

So those are what we should look at. But this is also a really novel situation. Right? It’s a former president, he was impeached twice, led an insurrection, and he’s running again. And there may or may not be a field of other Republican candidates who choose to run against him. We don’t really know how any of that’s going to play out. But this is the main show for 2023 is the invisible primary for the Republican nomination for 2024.

Matt Grossmann: So a part of Trump’s reason for running the whole time seems to be that he feels that it’s important for his legacy. He is unable to accept his defeat in 2020. And we do now have a little bit more hindsight to assess the Trump presidency.

I know that you have written that we should have, although it is important to assess its impact on democracy and policy and everything like that, we also should assess it based on its own terms, based on what Trump was trying to achieve and whether he was able to do that. So where does that stand? How successful was the Trump presidency from a Trumpist point of view?

Casey Dominguez: So I think there’s a couple different ways to think about that. From the Republican Party point of view, was Trump’s presidency successful? I mean, there’s some yes, and there’s some no. From the Republican Party perspective, the tax bills that they wanted passed got passed and he signed them. He nominated justices to all levels of the federal judges, through all levels of the federal judiciary right off of the Federalist Society’s list of names.

And so they are, the conservative Republican policy agenda advanced during the Trump years. From Trump’s own personal priorities, from what he said, from policy perspective that he cared about, he cared about building a wall and he didn’t get a wall. Right? He had one thing that he talked about and he didn’t get it.

And in another way, he also, he and some very conservative folks in the Republican establishment also tried to remake the presidency to be more, the one way to think about it is to be a more successful unitary presidency. Right? Trump didn’t really care about doing things that were popular really. He didn’t care about being the president for everyone.

He wanted to be a president very narrowly for the people that he considered to be loyal real Americans, which were the people who supported him. And he wanted the presidency to be a unitarian effective tool to be able to create policy. And there were several attempts to really extend that more autocratic presidency, including by repealing most civil service protections for the bureaucracy or for many more levels of the bureaucracy to make it more possible for presidents to enact, to change the way that laws are enforced in ways that run up against maybe just enacting laws unilaterally.

And that was not, that executive order that he issued about that it was issued very late, there was pushback and it was not, and Biden overturned it immediately. And so that full achievement of a more authoritarian type of presidency also was kind of a failure.

That doesn’t mean that it’s gone away as a possibility for presidents in his mold, but I would say from Trump, from what Trump wanted to achieve, he was not successful. And in addition to being impeached twice. But from the Republican Party’s perspective, they were able to get what they wanted for the most part from his administration, although they may be reaping some consequences of the unpopularity of his style of politics.

Matt Grossmann: So the Democratic Party has also had some contentious presidential races lately. And even though would normally rallying behind the President who had just done better than expected in a midterm is still kind of open for people not being satisfied with Biden, maybe primarily because of his age, but maybe for other reasons as well.

In 2024, it looks like Biden’s running again. And one of the things, on of the signals is that the Democrats are changing their primary process for the first time in a while, really downgrading Iowa and New Hampshire. But the surprise was to upgrade South Carolina, at least for now.

So that certainly looks like a pro Biden move, but I guess, it does signal some potential change. So how much should we expect that process to change going forward, and how much does it matter. If we’ve traditionally said most of this occurs before people start voting, does that mean that this kind of early state sequence doesn’t matter as much as people think?

Casey Dominguez: Mostly, as you say, mostly the field is set by all those other variables that we talked about, but that doesn’t mean that the early states don’t matter. Right? And I think the fact that Biden wants to make South Carolina the first state points to the fact that his victory in South Carolina was super important for him consolidating the Democratic Party behind him in 2020.

Especially because the sort of other person who was standing was Bernie Sanders and the Democrats were not willing to nominate Bernie Sanders against Donald Trump in 2020. I think in terms of the primary contests, the issues with Iowa and New Hampshire are deeper than just Biden’s preferences. The party is pulled toward representativeness and inclusion by its diverse coalition.

And Iowa and New Hampshire are not diverse. And caucuses have a certain small [inaudible 00:35:21] democratic appeal, but they’re also really hard for people to get to and they result in low turnout. And I think the Democratic Party, given its emphasis on inclusion and voting rights and access to voting, those caucus states were on the way out anyway. Iowa’s caucus were going to be a mark against it even before they couldn’t count the votes in 2020.

And both Iowa and New Hampshire are more rural than the Democratic Party and more white than the Democratic Party. And so it doesn’t surprise me at all to see changes moving toward. To the degree that the order of the states matters and the early states matter, Democrats want the voices that are heard in those early states to be representative of the party and the country, and that’s a priority for the party.

And so I think that those changes are probably happening no matter what Biden wants, although he’s certainly helping to accelerate those changes. And then whether the Republicans follow suit is a different question. Right? Do they want to put Michigan first? It’s also a swing state. That’ll be a question for. And do they even want to have open primary processes at all, is a question that Republicans are going to have to figure out also as they look toward 2024.

Matt Grossmann: So you and others have shown that these coordination dynamics within the parties apply at least as much in congressional elections. And historically, parties have rallied around their incumbents who have rarely lost, and even in open primary races have typically found a clear party favorite.

To what extent is that is changing, are we just focused on a few high profile examples where incumbents either lost or there did seem to be a very open debate between the establishment and the insurgents? And what role is kind of Trump playing in this? In the last election it did seem that at least among the Senate candidates, even if the party coordinated support, it was often kind of in response to Trump’s selection. So I guess, how much are those traditional dynamics of party coordination still applying in congressional races?

Casey Dominguez: Well, I think the dynamics still apply, right? Primaries are low information elections, and so the signals that, and the people who are more likely to vote in primaries are going to be more committed partisans. And so those folks are looking for signals about who to support because. Everybody’s in the same party, has nominally the same issue positions.

And so how to distinguish among those candidates, any clear signals from elites of various kinds can help voters make decisions in primaries. And we have seen in the past that when, that especially in races that the party really wants to win, they can rally around a primary candidate and that can provide a really important signal to voters. And one thing that has been a little bit more ambiguous is whose voice count? Who’s an elite, right?

Who’s a party elite? And that may be subject to local dynamics, it may be subject to shifts in a party coalition. And so the emergence of Donald Trump as the President of the United States would, and to the degree that he’s going to reach down and take a position in a low level Secretary of State race that nobody else is particularly following or a state legislative race, we would expect that to be a clear signal to voters who might be looking for some kind of information.

On the other hand, a lot of the folks that he, some of the prominent folks that he supported in the last cycle lost the general election because they were taking positions about election integrity and that kind of thing that were very out of step with the mainstream. And so I would say that who counts as a party elite is kind of fluid.

And there’s no question that however you define it, a former President of the United States is going to count as a party elite. Whether he’s a decisive factor in primaries or not is an evolving question. Right? And it may vary from place to place and it may vary by how, whether there’s any other signals in that race or is a Trump candidate and somebody else candidate, the governor get backing someone different? So that’s the way to think through those dynamics.

And Trump’s popularity over time may have something. If he becomes the Republican nominee or becomes the President again, we would expect that he should probably be someone that Republican voters support and they’re listening to. But to the degree that he gets maybe marginalized or pushed out or ceases to be the Republican nominee, he doesn’t win the Republican nomination, then I think we would expect that to his influence in party primaries to probably tail off a little bit. So I guess, that’s the way I would think about that.

Matt Grossmann: So you were also host of a, or co-host of a podcast where you discussed current events with a political science lens called A Few Reasonable Words that isn’t with us anymore. But I know that it was part of the mission of that to be part of this kind of impact of political science in the public conversation about current events, obviously that I share.

But we are kind of at a moment where the Monkey Cage is leaving the Washington Post, Twitter is having whatever Twitter is having under Elon Musk and is losing some political scientists. So I guess, where should we assess? On the other hand, political science does seem to be regularly referenced in news articles and by some practitioners compared to what it was when we were in graduate school together. So what is the current state of the kind of the role of political science and public discourse, and what’s the kind of pro case for what influence we’ve had?

Casey Dominguez: Well, it’s a good question what kind of influence we’ve had. I don’t know that I can necessarily assess that, aside from noting that there are more prominent journalists that I think more regularly are, or maybe more aware that political scientists might have something interesting to tell them. And that’s a good thing because I’m a partisan of political science.

I think that it does help us understand the world. Political scientists think systematically about how politics works, and it lets us, that lens lets us take all of the events that happen every day and put them into classes and say, “Well, this is an example of another kind, of a group of other similar events, and this is what we know about how those events play out.”

And it lets us sort out, I think a little bit, things that are really important from things that may be just like, “Yeah, this is just how things work. This is routine.” And I think that that ability to prioritize is sometimes lost by journalists who have a different obligation to talk about what’s new every day. And what’s new may not be what’s important. It may not be, and the event that’s taking place may be an example of something that they’re not even thinking of. So I think political scientists have a lot to talk about, especially as democracy is challenged.

We’ve looked at how democracy works in the world, other places in the world, in the past, in the United States. And we’ve looked at those patterns and I think we’ve got a lot to offer. And I hope even with the folks are, if there are some prominent places where those interactions were taking place, I hope we can find other ways to do public facing work and have public facing conversations, because I think that that’s an important contribution of our scholarship.

Matt Grossmann: Is there a negative case? I know that one of the poster child’s for our influence, not being good, was the party decides narrative around the 2016 presidential election that we’ve talked about. And you sort of mentioned as a potential error in our thinking.

But the, I guess, the idea there was maybe that we were too quick to assume that the regularities from the last few decades were kind of approaching a kind of a law-like status or to kind of generalize from a smaller number of cases. So I guess, what should we be afraid of in kind of translating our work to these public conversations or what blind spots do we have?

Casey Dominguez: Well, we can only, we look at the past, right? I mean, we’re not historians, but when we try to understand politics, we can only look at what has happened in the past. And so when new developments occur, we may be as blindsided as anybody else by things that are genuinely new in the political world.

And I think we should, I think after that example of 2016, but also as we look at the fragility of American democracy in the current era, in the Trump era, and how that kind of differs with the very stable patterns that emerged and sort of described textbook American democracy from at least since the Voting Rights Act. I think we should be a little bit more circumspect and a little bit more humble about how we talk about events that haven’t happened yet.

And I think political scientists generally have taken that to heart. I certainly have. Try to be more willing to say we don’t know and more willing to, and maybe a little bit less willing to rely on the past to tell us about the future. It’s all we have and our systematic study of it is better than a lot of people’s hunches. And I still think it’s, we’ve got a lot to offer. But that doesn’t mean it’s a crystal ball and we shouldn’t treat it as such.

Matt Grossmann: Anything else we didn’t get to that you wanted to include or anything you want to tout about what you’re doing next?

Casey Dominguez: Well, I’m again the co-editor of The Making of the Presidential Candidates with Jonathan Bernstein. And so we’ve got an edited volume about the presidential nomination process with a bunch of great contributors that’s hopefully coming out later this year with Rowman & Littlefield. One of these days, my book about the evolution of presidential war powers will also be available, but that’s still a little bit more in the work in progress stage.

Matt Grossmann: There’s a lot more to learn. The Science of Politics is available biweekly for the Niskanen Center, I’m your host, Matt Grossman. If you like this discussion, here are the episodes you should check out next, all linked on our website, The Future of The Biden Agenda in Congress, Congressional Primaries, How The Parties Fight Insurgents, Are Divided Governments The Cause of Delays And Shutdowns, Compromise Still Works in Congress and With Voters, and Are The Democratic or Republican Parties Becoming More Similar or Different? Thanks to Casey Dominguez for joining me, and please listen in next time.

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