How Will The Shutdown End?

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): In his first prime-time address to the nation, President Trump told Americans on Tuesday night that the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border was a crisis. He did not declare a national emergency to secure funding for his proposed border wall, but he did suggest that he wouldn’t end the partial government shutdown until funding for the wall was approved.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer made it clear in their rebuttal that congressional Democrats were not prepared to give Trump what he’s asking for. Congressional leaders from both parties are scheduled to meet with Trump today, but at this stage, it doesn’t seem as though the government will reopen anytime soon.

So, I’m curious, where do we go from here? We seem to be at an impasse. And the stakes are such that neither party can back down. Is that accurate? What would happen if one party compromised? And Is there a way out of the shutdown that doesn’t require either party to compromise?

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): Can we start by talking about the television theater of the absurd on Tuesday night?

I thought it was a wildly useless exercise by both the president and the congressional leaders.

It was like a public declaration of impasse.

nrakich (Nathaniel Rakich, elections analyst): I agree, Clare. In general, research has shown that Oval Office speeches and the like don’t really change minds. Reportedly, even Trump was skeptical that the speech would make a difference!

sarahf: It certainly was a departure from how previous presidents have used an address from the Oval Office. But it wasn’t clear to me who exactly Trump was trying to reach?

clare.malone: The public nature of it did, as you say, up the stakes for backing down. And maybe that was the point from Trump’s/the White House’s end?

It almost felt like he was just trying to remind everyone in America that there’s a shutdown and that the White House and Congress are having a slap fight.

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): It felt like Trump was making a kind of Hail Mary. A majority of the public (51 percent) think the president deserves most of the blame for the partial shutdown, according to a Reuters-Ipsos poll that was released Tuesday. But some Republican senators are balking at Trump’s strategy. That said, an address from the Oval Office is a card he can play that no one else can. But, yes, it was unlikely to work — presidential addresses don’t generally change minds, as Nathaniel noted. Plus, opinions on immigration are pretty entrenched, and Trump is fairly unpopular.

clare.malone: One thing that struck me was how much Trump’s speech echoed both his inaugural address (“American carnage”) and his campaign announcement back in 2015.

He talked about rapists and murderers, but from the Oval Office. It was fascinating from a historical perspective, I guess. The usurpation of a formula, that formula being the dignified, seemingly apolitical Oval Office address.

perry: This take from Vox’s Dara Lind hits on that theme, too. The headline of her piece is: “‘Immigrants are coming over the border to kill you’ is the only speech Trump knows how to give.”

sarahf: There’s this idea floating around that one purpose of last night’s address was to convince Americans that there is a crisis at its southern border. How could we measure if Trump succeeded in convincing Americans that was true?

perry: I tend to be skeptical of the kind of insider, access-based reporting through which we learned that Trump didn’t want to give the speech. Yes, I’m sure Trump said this, but it’s not like someone made him give the address. He is the president.

clare.malone: It was definitely meant to bring the crisis to Americans’ living rooms. But it seems like a move that doesn’t come from a position of strength. It feels more like a last ditch move of negotiation — a high-profile attempt to shift blame.

Not sure that will work …

nrakich: Yeah, the calm demeanor (unusual for Trump) plus the inflammatory words was a weird juxtaposition.

perry: My guess is that Trump will increase the number of Republicans who say we have an immigration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. That number is 72 percent, according to the latest Morning Consult poll. I could see that becoming 80 percent or 90 percent. But I doubt that he moved anyone else.

sarahf: So there was talk ahead of the address that Trump would use it to declare a national emergency to go around Congress and move ahead on building the wall. But that didn’t happen. Why?

Do we think it might still happen?

clare.malone: That’s an interesting question. It feels like a Rubicon to cross.

nrakich: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders says it’s still on the table:

perry: I really think that’s still on the table. The move is legally questionable. There would be lawsuits. It would be seen as another violation of norms by Trump — inflating an emergency to get done what he can’t get done through Congress. But it’s also the easiest way out of this mess for Trump. Democratic lawmakers are very opposed to the wall, and some Republicans in Congress are not that excited about it either. Trump needs a way out of the shutdown without losing the fight, and declaring an emergency might be the cleanest approach. Yet, it’s also not clean at all, of course.

nrakich: Yeah, Jim Acosta of CNN tweeted that Trump has been seeking advice on it but is hearing that it would be on shaky legal ground.

clare.malone: Once again, the Trump era is a great era for lawyers’ billable hours.

nrakich: Question for you, Perry: Is there any way that this ends with Congress overriding a Trump veto on a funding bill?

It feels like there would be enough Republicans who don’t care about the wall to get to two-thirds of each chamber. We’re already seeing members who are up for re-election in 2020, like Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, backing away from the wall and calling for an end to the shutdown.

sarahf: GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Cory Gardner of Colorado have called for an end to the shutdown, too.

perry: I really don’t see that. I don’t think we are in a place yet where Republican senators or House members will buck Trump like that. It’s more likely that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell passes a bill that has, say, $4 billion in border security funding, including $750 million or so for the wall. Maybe that can pass the House and Trump can sign it.

I think McConnell is a potentially big player here. A bipartisan bill passed in the Senate (and it must have 60 votes to pass the Senate, so it would have to be bipartisan) complicates the strategy for both Pelosi and Trump I think.

nrakich: Yeah, it’s almost always the president who “wins” in a government shutdown. Or at least this has been the case in previous shutdowns, but most of those times, presidents won only by making some sort of concession to their congressional agitators.

sarahf: We’ve also written that government shutdowns don’t typically have lasting negative repercussions for the party considered “responsible.” I do wonder, though, whether that could change in this situation, because the fight is over immigration, which is an issue that has become deeply symbolic for both parties — build the wall, don’t build the wall.

To some extent, doesn’t what’s happening now force Democrats to talk about immigration in 2020?

perry: I don’t think anyone will remember this shutdown by the time people are voting next, which is in almost two years, so I’m skeptical that this has much real electoral impact.

nrakich: I’m open to arguments that the political fallout from a record-long shutdown will also last a record-long amount of time, but, yeah, I agree with Perry — not two years.

clare.malone: I think it’s certainly a gauntlet being laid at the beginning of divided government in Washington, as they say.

It’s tone-setting, from both sides.

sarahf: Tell me more, Clare.

clare.malone: I think that neither side wants to lose face right now with their base. Trump obviously reverts to wall talk, but Schumer and Pelosi would be pilloried if they immediately conceded. So they are demonstrating that they now have a foothold of power in government.

It marks an obvious change in tone from the past couple of years. They’re on the offensive a bit more.

perry: Yeah, one unique aspect of this shutdown is that the Democrats now have a “don’t compromise wing,” too. In previous shutdowns, it was the GOP that had to deal with talk radio and Fox News telling them to fight. But now Democrats have groups like Indivisible that will attack Pelosi and Schumer pretty aggressively if they offer wall funding to Trump.

clare.malone: Everyone’s feisty right now.

sarahf: That’s what’s so interesting about this — to some extent, both parties want border security. Democrats were willing to pass $1.3 billion in funding, but because of Trump’s focus on the wall, it has taken on a life of its own that doesn’t leave much room for compromise.

I don’t see how this ends without one of the parties getting egg on their face.

perry: Yeah, if the wall is a monument to Trump or racism or both, as it’s becoming defined on the left, it’s difficult to see a situation where there’s support to give even $1 for it.

sarahf: What are some ways the shutdown impasse could end? Because it has to end relatively soon, right?

perry: I’m not sure it has to end quickly.

I do think that’s one advantage for Trump, in fact. It seems like he thrives on disruption. He doesn’t want to lose, and he views compromise as a sign of weakness. He also thinks federal workers are basically all Democrats, which is wrong. But the fact that he has said that gives you some sense of how Trump views those affected by the shutdown.

But Democrats are the party that tends to be more pro-government, and while I can’t prove this, I suspect that congressional Democrats are uncomfortable with shutdowns in general. So I don’t know how long they can sustain this shutdown posture.

clare.malone: If this shutdown continues, I’m curious about whether the plight of low-wage federal workers will become a real headline and perhaps a motivating facet of public opinion.

That might not happen, but for some people who have low-paying government jobs, this is a devastating few weeks.

nrakich: Apparently there has been a spike in TSA workers (who are about to miss a paycheck) calling in sick.

If there’s a perception that airport security is compromised, or if we start to see serious delays at airports because of understaffing, that could end this thing quick.

clare.malone: Blue flu

perry: How the shutdown could end: 1) Trump folds, and a bill passes with more border security money but no wall funding. 2) Trump declares a national emergency, which he uses for wall funding, and a government funding bill passes without any wall funding. 3) McConnell figures out some kind of compromise bill, it passes the Senate and both Pelosi and Trump accept. I’m assuming Nos. 2 and 3 are more likely than No. 1, but who knows?

clare.malone: Can I make some facile analysis?

I think Trump would want to declare a national emergency more than he’d want McConnell to figure out a compromise. It’s the option with more “boom” to it.

perry: That seems right to me and not facile at all.

clare.malone: Boom. Boom. (Shout-out to Nate Silver’s college band.)

perry: Liberal groups will say an emergency declaration is a breach of power. Trump keeps losing in court — and I think he might lose here, too, although courts do often give deference to a president citing national security as a rationale for his actions. Remember, the Supreme Court upheld the administration’s travel ban.

clare.malone: Yeaahhhh.

Conservative judges do seem aware of preserving executive powers in real ways.

But I have no legal expertise to say whether an emergency declaration would be a bridge too far, even for the executive power people.

sarahf: To Perry’s point on how this government shutdown might end — I’m not sure how something like option No. 3, in which the parties reach a compromise, pans out. I don’t see a clear path for either party to negotiate, and I’m not sure how this will play out in the court of public opinion.

Up until this point, the American public has largely blamed Trump for the government shutdown, but I do wonder as it drags on how public opinion will shift.

nrakich: More Americans are coming to see the shutdown as a “very serious” problem, according to HuffPost polling.

But I still agree with what was said above: that the shutdown’s effect on public opinion will wear off eventually, as has happened with past shutdowns.

perry: I don’t think public opinion will shift at all. Most people will blame Trump, but that will be Democrats and independents. Republican voters overall will remain committed to the wall. I think the questions are: How long will Republicans in Congress sustain the strategy of shutting down the government over a border wall? And what strategies will they develop to end the shutdown that Trump will accept?

That’s the interesting thing here: Republicans in Congress don’t really care about the wall — if they did, I think they would have pushed really hard to pass it when they had control of Congress in 2017 and 2018. But I think they do care about preserving their relationship with Trump.

sarahf: It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, as I don’t think the issue of immigration is going anywhere anytime soon.

Can You Stave Off A Cold With Willpower?

cwick (Chadwick Matlin, deputy editor): :sniffle: Maggie, Anna and Christie, I’ve gathered you all to discuss the kind of question that could change EVERYTHING (and one well-timed for flu season): When I know it’s really important for me not to be sick for a day or two (say, if there’s an election coming), can I stop myself from feeling sick? Does my mind really have power over my matter? Is my brain that dope?

You’re not doctors, but in my book, you’re close enough: journalists who talk to doctors. So tell me: Do I have the power???

slackbot: I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well. There is Advil and Tylenol in the cabinet in front of Nate’s office/Vanessa’s desk.

cwick: Readers, that’s an auto-response triggered every time one of us says “sick” anywhere in our chat app. But if you ever need an Advil in the FiveThirtyEight office, now you know where to find it.

christie (Christie Aschwanden, lead writer for science): Hi, Chad! I love it when an editor sends writers off to get an answer to his personal medical problem.

maggiekb (Maggie Koerth-Baker, senior science writer): I get where he’s coming from, though. This is a pretty common belief. I mean, my super skeptic engineer husband is convinced that he saved all his illnesses for the end of the semester in college. Last test done. And then the deluge.

cwick: I suffered through a 102-degree fever the day after my wedding. I don’t think anything you say will convince me that I WASN’T holding it at bay the whole weekend.

christie: Because I like you, Chad, I asked a few experts. I have a few pet theories myself. But first, the expert opinion: “Sorry. No evidence of the willpower effect!” That’s according to Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

anna (Anna Maria Barry-Jester, senior reporter): Was that a “no evidence for or against” the willpower effect, Christie?

christie: I think he meant there was no evidence that there is a willpower effect.

And Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at Harvard, said the same thing that several others did: “I don’t know of any research one way or another about these things.”

anna: (Thank you for that prescient answer to my at-that-point unasked question, Mr. Lipsitch.)

christie: One of my theories: It’s all about attention and focus. When you’re stressed about something else or hyperfocused on getting through finals week or meeting a deadline or getting out a grant proposal, all of your attention is going to that other task. When you get through it, you have more attention to pay to your symptoms, and you can kind of bask in them. So it’s not that you’re not sick (while you’re supposedly holding it off), it’s just that you’re in denial or you’re ignoring the symptoms.

anna: I can buy that (though I assume you’re talking about mild colds here).

christie: Yeah, I’m talking about the usual winter crud. Not the kind of illness that you can’t possibly ignore, like a heart attack.

anna: The one interesting thing I found was some research about colds and placebo. But before we get to that, there seems to be very little research on warding off illness altogether or delaying it and a lot more on reducing symptoms or shortening how long you are sick. Part of the problem there is that mild colds come and go, making them difficult to study.

christie: Good point, Anna. And that’s also what makes placebos so good at treating them.

anna: But a study from 2011 really intrigued me. It’s one study and it’s small … It looked at echinacea, an herbaceous flower commonly used to treat colds (the National Institutes of Health says some preparations may potentially treat colds, but the evidence is weak). The study essentially found that people who believed in the power of echinacea and were given a placebo pill had shorter colds (by a lot, 2.5 days!) than those who didn’t believe. Placebo: It’s a hell of a drug.

christie: If you take the placebo when you are feeling your worst, which is usually the low point no matter what, then what is really just the illness’s natural course appears like an effective treatment. (When it’s at its worst, it can only get better.)

anna: What about my favorite cold placebo, vitamins in the form of a fizzy additive to water? I take that before I get on a plane. Or ride the NYC subway.

christie: Oh, the fizzy vitamin water? People love those! And they’re a great placebo. But … a Cochrane review found that vitamin C did not reduce the incidence of colds and that “trials of high doses of vitamin C administered therapeutically, starting after the onset of symptoms, showed no consistent effect on the duration or severity of common cold symptoms.”

anna: Oh, I know that there isn’t particularly convincing evidence about the effect of vitamin C on colds. It is literally my favorite placebo, not pharmaceutical. The placebo effect is real.

christie: I wonder how they measured the duration of the cold in the echinacea study. Because if it’s derived from a self-reported “how do you feel?” question, there’s a lot of wiggle room. If you expect to feel better, you might in fact rate yourself as feeling better. Because how you feel is a rating of your experience. It’s open to suggestion.

anna: “Duration was defined as total time elapsed from enrollment until the last time answering yes to the question, ‘Do you think you still have a cold?’” I think that’s part of why that study intrigued me, Christie. Because it suggested that how people felt depended on whether they thought the treatment could work. I don’t see why that couldn’t in theory translate to keeping a cold at bay, as well.

christie: Agree, Anna. How we actually feel is a conglomeration of a lot of things, which include how we expect to feel.

cwick: So are we really talking about two different questions: Can I stop myself from feeling sick for a bit? (No, you dummy.) Can I make myself feel better once I am sick? (Maybe if you truly believe.)

maggiekb: I’m going to add one more question here, Chad. Instead of asking whether you can hold off your illness until your stressful life events are done, what about the question of whether stressful life events make you sick. And the answer to that, kind of surprisingly, is … well … maybe … yeah.

There’s a line of research — enough individual research papers to make a meta-analysis — that suggests stressful life events can make you more susceptible to things like the common cold.

christie: That’s a good point, Maggie. And that leads me to another theory: When you’re stressed about that thing in your life, you may be more susceptible to illnesses. You may be skimping on sleep, not eating well, drinking too much, skipping exercise, etc. The illness just catches up to you.

maggiekb: The studies on this are super interesting because they actually involve getting these sample groups of people, doing inventories about their stressful life events, and then exposing them all to cold virus intentionally. So for instance, in one 2012 study, the people who reported stress and stressful life events were twice as likely to get sick.

cwick: Wait, what does purposeful exposure to cold virus look like? Do I get misted? Do I get slobbered on? Does someone wipe their snotty hand on my face?

anna: In the nose, Chad.

cwick: 👃!!!!

christie: In one study, Chad, they gave nasal drops containing rhinovirus. Turns out, people who were sleep deprived were most likely to get sick.

maggiekb: Misting in some of these studies. Swabbing in others.

cwick: My nose is twitching just thinking about it.

anna: Which is to say, don’t pick your nose after riding the subway.

christie: And don’t touch your nose, eyes or mouth ever during flu season if you want to stay well. Seriously, good hygiene practices are your very best defense. Wash your hands with soap and water. Don’t cough on people (or get coughed on).

maggiekb: It’s not just cold/flu, either. There are some papers that show connections between stress and worse outcomes for HIV/AIDS. Including higher levels of virus in the bloodstream, an increased risk of picking up other infections, and increased risk of death.

I’m kind of fascinated now by this researcher at Carnegie Mellon who has basically made it his life’s work to figure out WHY stress is able to increase your risk of contracting a communicable disease. And you guys are going to love this … he’s the American Psychosomatic Society’s 2018 distinguished scientist.

christie: Wow, there’s an American Psychosomatic Society?

anna: Pardon, what?

cwick: Cheap joke: They dreamed it into reality

maggiekb: Anyway, his theory is that the receptors that bind to stress hormones can become resistant to those hormones. The more resistance, the worse your body is at suppressing inflammation. The more chronic inflammation, the worse things work … in terms of preventing illness.

anna: Chad, you really just want to know if you can will yourself into not getting sick, right? Do you care at all about what you can do to make that sickness … shorter, less … sick?

cwick: IDK, once I am sick, I sort of revel in complaining about it. If you shorten my colds, what would I have to talk about?

christie: Go ahead and joke, Chad, but I think we should be careful about stigmatizing the connection between mind and body health.

maggiekb: It’s not hokum. At least not completely.

christie: The mind is a crucial part of the body, so it’s not surprising that one’s psychological state of being can affect physical symptoms. Instead of joking that it’s “all in their heads,” we might be better off trying to harness this connection.

anna: Related: A recent New York Times magazine story delves into the new science of placebo and after reading it, it’s hard not to feel like a whole new era of treatment could be upon us. But it means completely revamping how we think about things like placebo.

christie: You know where this is leading, right, Chad? To my perpetual mantra: It’s complicated, and science is hard.

cwick: When will science get easier?

christie: Never! Sorry.

cwick: Lame.

Will The Midterms Decide Who Runs In 2020?

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): It is now 21 DAYS UNTIL THE MIDTERMS!! And while voters will mainly be deciding who controls Congress, they’ll also maybe be deciding what kind of Democrat should run in 2020. For instance, if Democrats don’t take back the House, does that mean a Joe Biden run in the 2020 Democratic primary is more likely? Or if there is a blue wave and Democrats gain 60+ seats, does that make the road easier for a more progressive Democrat like Sen. Kamala Harris?

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): Man, if the Democrats lose the House, I think there will be some straight-up PANIC.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): There would be, although one could ask whether it was warranted or not.

clare.malone: I don’t think Joe Biden needs them to lose the House to prove he’s a good candidate. He could just point to Democratic Senate losses, maybe?

Assuming that Democrats lose in a couple of red states, a candidate like Biden could say, “Look, I will make inroads in a place like that.”

But I’m interested in Nate’s House take.

natesilver: I mean, to a first approximation I think a lot of this stuff is silly.

Here’s why:

As David says, there isn’t much of a pattern for how midterms affect the next presidential election.

Certainly. it will affect Democrats’ attitude, but how much that attitudinal change affects 2020, and whether that is helpful or hurtful to Democrats, is pretty up in the air, IMO.

clare.malone: Right — I mean was just about to say, proof aside (proof! facts!), I think candidates and party apparatchiks always use a loss to motivate their constituents.

That attitudinal thing can be pretty powerful in a primary campaign. See: Bernie Sanders.

natesilver: I’m skeptical that Biden could use Senate losses to justify the need for more conservative candidates … if Democrats also win the House.

We’ll see, though. There are some pretty wacky scenarios that are within the realm of possibility, like Democrats winning 35 House seats but losing four Senate seats.

clare.malone: I think people’s minds are on the Senate right now, though. And the Republican majority there does lie in smaller states and regions that Democrats have gradually lost over the past couple of decades.

It’s not an absurd argument to make in 2019.

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): I think Biden has to decide if he wants to run or not. He was kind of confused about whether to run in 2016. And based on what he’s been saying, he doesn’t seem to know now either. I think a really strong push to draft him might encourage him to get in the running. And I think Democrats not winning the House (assuming that they lose the Senate too) will get more people to encourage him to run. Biden would be an important figure if he got in the race, in large part because others in this more “centrist” lane might not run if he is in.

clare.malone: I don’t think Biden is a Mario Cuomo: I think he’ll get in the race. I’m not sure how much he’ll toy with people up until the very end.

natesilver: Are people’s expectations that Democrats will win the Senate? If so, people aren’t paying much attention (certainly not paying much attention to our forecast).

clare.malone: I don’t know. I don’t think people expect that. I guess you hear “blue wave” bandied about and you could make assumptions.

sarahf: And it wasn’t always so dire in the Senate either — it wasn’t until early October that Democrats’ odds worsened dramatically.

But OK, let’s set aside what could happen in the Senate for a moment and assume that there is a huge blue wave in the House and even in some key gubernatorial races like Stacey Abrams’s, in Georgia, and Andrew Gillum’s, in Florida.

It doesn’t mean Democrats win in 2020, but doesn’t it change the playing field of candidates in the Democratic primary? Or would Sens. Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker run no matter what?

clare.malone: I think Gillum or Abrams wins would be huge. It would challenge some norms about what sorts of candidates win in states where you need to win over moderates or Republican-leaning independents.

natesilver: Gov. Scott Walker losing his re-election bid in Wisconsin might have some interesting narrative implications too, although not in the same way that Gillum and Abrams do.

perry: I’m interested in Abrams’s and Gillum’s gubernatorial bids and Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s Texas Senate run because they are all making the case that it is a better strategy to try to amp up the base to get greater minority and youth turnout rather than trying to win over swing voters. If they do significantly better in their states than more moderate candidates from previous years, I think that would buttress Democrats like Warren and Harris, who are more likely to run more decidedly liberal campaigns.

But the Midwest is interesting, as Nate is hinting at. The Democrats are doing well in the Midwest with a bunch of candidates who are kind of bland and fairly centrist-friendly. The South and the Midwest are, of course, very different regions, too.

natesilver: I guess I’ve just never dealt with an election before where you’d get the sort of split verdict like the one we’re predicting, where Democrats win the House and do pretty darn well in gubernatorial races but fall short –– and possibly even lose seats –– in the Senate. And some of the high-profile toss-up races could also go in different directions. Maybe Gillum wins in Florida but Abrams loses in Georgia, for example.

In that case, there would be a sort of battle-of-narrative-interpretations over the midterms.

sarahf: As our colleague Geoffrey Skelley wrote, the last time the Senate and House moved in opposite directions during a midterm was in 1982, during under Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Part of that was because Reagan had a pretty bad approval rating, in the low 40s … which isn’t too far off from where President Trump’s sits now.

natesilver: And I guess 1982 was interpreted as being pretty bad for Reagan? I was 4 years old then, so I don’t remember. 😉

sarahf: But we could get a really weird coalition of Democrats with competing priorities in 2019 if they do take back the House.

And that could make finding a general-election candidate that appeals to both the more moderate and more progressive wings of the party … challenging.

clare.malone: I guess this is why so many people in the post-2016 party were enamored of the Sanders economic message.

It gets to the progressive heart of things while trying to avoid the touchy culture stuff.

But, of course, Democrats have to figure out the Trump factor. Trump will inevitably drag culture wars stuff into a campaign.

perry: Sens. Tammy Baldwin, Sherrod Brown, Bob Casey and Amy Klobuchar are likely to win in the Midwest, an important region of the country for Democrats electorally — and some of that group could win easily. Post-election, we will be able to see the counties in Minnesota where Trump won in 2016 but that Klobuchar carried in 2018 — and I think there may be a lot of them. Plus, that’s the kind of thing she could talk about if she decides to run for president.

clare.malone: Right. But none of those senators have the buzz factor in this shadow primary that we’re in right now.

Nor the fundraising.

But that could change post-November.

sarahf: Speaking of fundraising …

What do we make of all the 💰💰💰 pouring into O’Rourke’s campaign?

Why aren’t more Democratic supporters funding races where the Democratic candidate actually stands a chance of winning?

natesilver: Oh no, you’re going to trigger me, Sarah.

The O’Rourke fundraising narrative is so fucking dumb.

Democrats are raising huge amounts of money EVERYWHERE.

EVERYWHERE.

clare.malone: We spend a lot of time here on numbers, but I always think of people reacting to politicians they really like in almost pheromone-tinged ways. People are irrational actors when it comes to politics — it’s why they vote by party even when the party positions do a 180 (see, ahem, the post-2016 GOP on trade, Russia, and so on.)

perry: In terms of O’Rourke, I was surprised the majority of the money came from Texas, according to his campaign. So it was not just coastal elites who liked seeing a white man delivering Black Lives Matter talking points. Houston, Austin and Dallas all have plenty of Democrats, but they are not Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., or New York. That also pushes back on the idea that he is somehow taking money away from other close races around the country.

clare.malone: Democrats see inspirational stuff in O’Rourke’s response to the NFL kneeling issue and the incident where a black man was shot and killed in his own home.

They like that he’s saying this stuff in Texas.

They also really dislike Ted Cruz.

perry: I think this kind of small-dollar fundraising is a real talent and shows real political appeal. It is what made Howard Dean, Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders such viable candidates.

clare.malone: O’Rourke’s also gotten a lot of media buzz, so people know his name, unlike, say, Sen. Joe Donnelly (running for re-election in Indiana) or former Gov. Phil Bredesen (running for Senate in Tennessee).

So they send O’Rourke money!

natesilver: Texas is also a big state with a lot of wealth, and Democrats there haven’t had a lot to donate to in a while.

perry: I can’t tell if O’Rourke should run for president if he loses the Senate race. But he should definitely think about it.

Hard.

clare.malone: I mean, the thing about O’Rourke running in 2020 is that he’s proved he can fundraise and he’s still young(-ish), but he’s been in Congress awhile, which is an asset. People can’t call him too inexperienced the way they could with, say, failed Missouri Senate candidate Jason Kander.

perry: But I’m not sure how the midterms affect the political outsiders like lawyer Michael Avenatti, billionaire Tom Steyer and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That is the one group I’m probably the most curious about. I feel like I know who the main established candidates are — the senator and governor types like Warren, Booker or Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. I suspect the more it seems like Democrats are in crisis, the more these outsiders have a rationale to run.

sarahf: Bloomberg did just re-register as a Democrat.

clare.malone: Real question: Does Avenatti actually want to run or does he just like the attention?

I don’t think he really wants to run.

natesilver: I think Avenatti’s chances are overrated because people are overcompensating for their failure to see Trump last time.

natesilver: He massively, massively, massively fucked up in the Kavanaugh thing.

He’s polling at 1 percent.

I don’t think his chances are zero … I just think he’s one from a long list of long shot possibilities.

clare.malone: POLLS!

Bloomberg’s flirtations feel so off for this political moment with the Democrats.

perry: I think Avenatti, Bloomberg and Steyer would love to be president, so if there is demand for their candidacies, they will be more than eager to jump in. But whether there’s demand for their candidacies is going to depend on whether Democrats need a savior.

sarahf: I guess what I’m trying to wrap my head around is: Under what scenario does it make sense for these outsider candidates to run?

perry: If Democrats lose the House and Senate.

natesilver: Make sense for them or make sense for Democrats?

perry: It makes sense for them.

natesilver: If Avenatti thinks it will help to sell more books and put him on TV even more, he’ll run.

If he thinks it will damage his brand in the long term, maybe not.

perry: Yes, Avenatti may just want the fame.

clare.malone: Right.

Steyer and Bloomberg are more interesting because they actually have $$$$.

perry: Bloomberg endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. Maybe he feels like he should just run.

He tried to be a team player, and it didn’t work.

sarahf: No matter the national environment for Democrats?

clare.malone: E G O

perry: I think a lot of these candidates are more responsive to, say, “Morning Joe” than FiveThirtyEight.

I will be watching what “Morning Joe” says the day after the election.

sarahf: OK, so, what happens in 2018 means nothing for 2020 … but in a world where they are related, what are you looking for on election night to give you clues about 2020?

perry: I’m looking for results that will create narratives that make it easier for people to run — or not run. I assume Klobuchar wants to be president. Does she win her Senate election by so much that she convinces herself (and others) that she is the electable candidate Democrats want?

Or do Democrats do poorly enough in swing states that people who are too centrist for the party’s activist crowd (e.g., Biden, Bloomberg or Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper) convince themselves and others that they are the solution?

Maybe O’Rourke, Abrams and Gillum do so well that it’s clear Democrats should try to grow the base and focus on swing voters less. Or they do terribly — and the message is that Democrats should be thinking about the center more.

natesilver: Again, it depends a lot on what happens (obviously). If Democrats sweep both chambers, or lose both chambers, there are some pretty clear takeaways. Otherwise, I’m not sure that the midterms will affect people’s behavior that much. I do think the Abrams and Gillum gubernatorial races are important, though. Plus, there’s the fact that Democrats have nominated an awful lot of women. And if women do well, it could (perhaps quite correctly!) lead to a narrative that Democratic candidates should look more like the party they’re representing, which is to say diverse and mostly female.

perry: I think I might view the 2018 election results less as telling us important information about 2020 and more as data points that will be spun by self-interested people into rationales for what they already wanted to do anyway.

clare.malone: I guess I’m mostly focusing on what kinds of women turn out to vote for Democrats in this election. I want to see whether there’s elevated turnout in communities we don’t usually see elevated turnout in, particularly with women. There are a huge number of female candidates potentially on the Democratic docket for 2020, and Warren, for example, has already made an interesting ad about running as an angry women in the age of Trump. What I’m saying here is that I’m eager to see what the zeigtgeisty take away from Nov. 6 will be, in addition to what stories “Good Morning America” is running vs. “Morning Joe” (as a proxy for what Americans who aren’t microscopically interested in politics will take away from the election).

sarahf: Indeed. And I’ll be looking for FiveThirtyEight’s 🔥 takes as well.