Sanders is a refreshing change from the careerists who infest American as well as British politics.

So though he presents himself as anti-Trump, he has something in common with him. And there could, astonishingly, be a future for socialism in America.

Where We Go From Here: Two Years in the Resistance by Bernie Sanders

Books by serving politicians in which they purport to describe their beliefs and vision of the future are seldom of any value. The author is in a rush, and imagines that words which elicit applause when spoken at a rally of the faithful can be transferred without further effort to the printed page.

Bernie Sanders, who ran for the Democratic nomination in 2016 and is contemplating another run in 2020, is as lazy a writer as the rest of them. His book reads at times like a parody: “I have said it a million times, but I think it bears repeating. The campaign that I ran for president was never about me.”

Here is another grave problem with the campaign book as a genre. It is all about me, but the candidate is anxious to demonstrate how ordinary and unassuming and decent he is, so he (or she, though still most often he, for this kind of vanity comes more easily to men than to women) advertises his homespun humility, while also reminding us at frequent intervals that he is morally superior to the other side.

Sanders dismisses Donald Trump as “the most dishonest and reactionary president in the history of the Republic”: a formula which makes one wonder how much American history he knows. But it is true that the really disgraceful presidents are often passed over in silent embarrassment by the historians.

And then we are into the campaign rhetoric:

“Our job, for the sake of our kids and grandchildren, is to bring our people together around a progressive agenda.

“Are the majority of people in our country deeply concerned about the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality that we are experiencing? You bet they are. Do they believe that our campaign finance system is corrupt and enables the rich to buy elections? Overwhelmingly so.

“Do they want to raise the minimum wage to a living wage and provide pay equity for women? Yes they do. Do they think the very rich and large corporations should pay more in taxes so that all of our kids can have free tuition at public colleges and universities? Yup. Do they believe that the United States should join every other major country and guarantee health care as a right? Yes, again. Do they believe climate change is real? You’ve got to be kidding.”

To dismiss this because of the style would be a mistake. In Britain, Conservatives thought it was sufficient to be contemptuous of Jeremy Corbyn, and failed to foresee that in the 2017 general election he would be rather good at persuading people to vote for a socialist.

In the United States, Sanders, who is eight years older than Corbyn, was likewise dismissed as an out-of-date Leftie whose socialism could have no popular appeal.

But Sanders was in many ways a more attractive candidate than Hillary Clinton, who inspired even in her most devoted supporters deep misgivings, and who managed to beat him only because she had the Democratic machine behind her.

Sanders actually appeared to believe what he was saying, for with eccentric obduracy, or if one prefers admirable independence of mind, he had stuck to it even for long periods when he might with advantage have modified his views.

It was obvious to most people that however much Clinton claimed to have the interests of the struggling poor at heart, she had come to feel more at home in the Hamptons.

She herself was beaten in 2008 by Barack Obama, a candidate with a better ear, and a more plausible claim to be in touch with the wider public. His campaign book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, is in a different league to Sanders’ effort.

And Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father, written ten years before he became well-known, so when he still had time to write a proper book, is better still.

In The Audacity of Hope, Obama describes a conversation he had over lunch in late September 2001 with a media consultant who was encouraging him to run for office:

“‘You realise, don’t you, that the political dynamics have changed,’ he said as he picked at his salad.

“‘What do you mean?’ I asked, knowing full well what he meant. We both looked down at the newspaper beside him. There, on the front page, was Osama bin Laden.

“‘Hell of a thing, isn’t it?’ he said, shaking his head. ‘Really bad luck. You can’t change your name, of course. Voters are suspicious of that kind of thing. Maybe if you were at the start of your career, you know, you could use a nickname or something. But now…’ His voice trailed off and he shrugged apologetically before signalling the waiter to bring us the check.”

As it happened, Obama with his strange name possessed the touch of implausibility which Americans sometimes warm to in a presidential candidate. So, in his unbelievably boorish way, did Trump.

For either of them to get to the White House was amazing, and in that sense a dream come true. They were outsiders who knew, in quite different ways, how to appeal to anti-Washington sentiment, which is generally the prevailing sentiment in the United States.

Clinton, as the wife of a former President and a woman who had come to enjoy the company of the rich, could not run an anti-Establishment campaign, and looked hypocritical when she pretended to do so.

Sanders is not open to that charge of hypocrisy. He genuinely believes that billionaires (his favourite target) should pay more tax, the pharmaceutical industry should charge less for essential medicines, assault rifles should not be on sale to the mentally ill, and they in turn should receive proper medical treatment at public expense rather than being incarcerated in America’s shamefully extensive prison system.

In this book, one starts to feel that Sanders, though not immune to the charge of senatorial self-importance (he has been one of Vermont’s senators since 2007, and was before that in the House of Representatives), is a refreshing change from the careerists who infest American as well as British politics.

The new and younger version of Sanders is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. According to Sanders,

“Progressive ideas are now mainstream in America. That’s what the people want, especially Democrats… When there is political excitement in the air, when ordinary people sense hope for the future, they will come out and vote, and Democrats will win. The simple truth is that ‘moderates’ or ‘centrists’ do not generate that level of excitement.”

We shall see. Lord Ashcroft has pointed out that a candidate who makes Democrat activists feel good might “drive uncommitted voters back into the arms of Donald Trump”.

But Trump is enough to give plutocracy a bad name, and Sanders here mounts a fierce attack on the in his view undeserving rich.

Once one has adjusted to his manner of speaking, one finds he is lucid and sincere in his account of where America has gone wrong and what a bad deal many hard-working Americans get. His opponents as well as his fans should pay attention.

Lord Ashcroft: Trump, his opponents, and the voters – halfway through his (first?) term

As a woman in Iowa told us: “It’s like the CEO of the company I work for. I don’t care if you’re the nicest guy in the world. I care that I’m going to have a job from day to day.”

Yesterday was the second anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President. Other things being equal, the next such ceremony will take place on 20 January 2021. In other words, we are now into the second half of Trump’s term – or should that be his current term? Since the 2016 election campaign, my Ashcroft in America project has helped explain how Trump came to be elected, the hopes and fears of his supporters and opponents, and what they make of the unfolding story of his presidency and its seemingly endless controversies.

My new book, Half-Time! American Public Opinion Midway Through Trump’s (First?) Term – and the Race to 2020 brings together two years of research with new polling conducted since last November’s midterms to explore how different parts of the electorate see the President and his agenda, and how they are lining up for next year’s showdown. Here are five of the big points.

Trump’s supporters are (mostly) still with him

Those who voted for Trump give him high marks on most issues, and overwhelmingly say that they approve of his overall performance. They largely give him the credit for America’s recent economic success, citing his tax cuts and rolling back of regulations. They also strongly approve of his appointment of two conservative judges to the Supreme Court – a particularly important point for Republican voters who had their doubts about Trump at the election. His tough line on immigration, which they closely associate with national security, has also gone down well with the base, as has his willingness to take on international partners over trade deals and defence spending, and his continued determination to say exactly what he thinks.

But this is not uniform across the board – those who chose Trump as the lesser of two evils, or switched to him having previously backed Barack Obama, give him lower (though still positive) scores compared to those who were enthusiasts from the outset. They are more open than Trump voters in general to be willing to consider an alternative at the next election.

Many separate his personal behaviour from what he does as President

This is not to say that Trump’s voters like everything about him. Many are doubtful about his personal ethics, and want him to be a bit more presidential, cut out the name-calling and generally calm down, especially on Twitter. But even his more reluctant voters generally like what he is doing as President, even though fewer approve of his character. Whatever their qualms on this score, they decided at the election that other things mattered more, and this still holds true. Many of the criticisms of Trump have focused on his conduct, but his voters are more focused on delivery. As a woman in Iowa told us shortly before the midterm elections: “It’s like the CEO of the company I work for. I don’t care if you’re the nicest guy in the world. I care that we’re going to be successful and I’m going to have a job from day to day.”

We can expect to hear a lot more about immigration and healthcare

During the 2016 campaign we asked Americans about their greatest fears. Republicans’ biggest worry was the immigration system letting in individuals who would threaten their community. For Democrats, and for voters overall, it was being unable to pay for treatment if they or their family were to have a serious illness. Two years later, these two issues topped the list when we asked about the most important issues in the midterm elections.

As of today, the federal government remains shut down because of the continuing standoff between Trump and the Congressional Democrats over funding for a Mexican border wall. Trump continues to invoke the migrant caravan making its way north towards the frontier. The most committed Republicans have the most negative views about the effects of immigration, and Democrats regard the now-abandoned policy of separating the children of illegal immigrants (which made even some Trump supporters uneasy) as among the most deplorable aspects of the Trump presidency.

Meanwhile, the controversy over healthcare has not gone away since the administration’s failure to push reform through Congress, and Democrats are not alone in worrying about it: Republicans too raise it as a concern and most want to keep the requirement for insurers to cover pre-existing conditions. The two issues look set to play a big part in the next two years and the 2020 campaign itself.

The investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign – potentially the most explosive of all, and which could in theory explode his presidency – is not one that actually moves many votes: whether you think Trump is bang to rights or the probe is a politically motivated witch hunt essentially depends on whether you voted for him in the first place.

The electorate is shifting – especially on the left

During the run-up to the 2016 election, we asked 30,000 Americans about their background, ethnicity, education, work, religion, level of political interest and sources of news – among other things – as well as their attitudes to social and cultural issues. We analysed the results to identify ten distinct segments within the electorate, which fell into four clusters: the Democrat Core, Centrist Voters, Republican Partisans, and a more disengaged but dissatisfied group we called the Trump Targets.

In a similar study two years on, we find some small declines in the centrist and disengaged groups and a minor uptick in the Republican-supporting segments. But the biggest change has been on the Left.

As before, a third of the population falls into one of the three segments of the Democrat Core – but while two of these groups (the Mainstream Liberals and more working class and socially conservative Blue-Collar Democrats) have shrunk, the most left-leaning segment has doubled in size. This shift is a telling part of the movement’s response to the Trump presidency. We have heard focus group participants explain how they once considered themselves moderates, but have felt themselves driven leftwards in reaction to his words and deeds.

We can also see changes in their broader political outlook. In the most liberal groups, we can see dramatic falls over the last two years in the numbers thinking life in America is better than it was 30 years ago, that life for today’s American children will be better than it was for their parents, and that it is possible to succeed in America whatever your background.

His opponents’ reaction to him could work to Trump’s advantage

Not surprisingly, asked what kind of candidate they would like to see take on Trump in 2020, Cosmopolitan Activists prefer the idea of a progressive liberal to a moderate centrist by a huge majority – bigger than that among Democrats more generally, let alone uncommitted voters in the middle. People most likely to be in play on the other side – Obama-Trump voters, lesser-of-two evils Trump voters who couldn’t stand the idea of President Hillary Clinton, and moderate Republicans open to an alternative to the incumbent – seem unlikely to flock to such an individual.

But as well as being the furthest to the left on the political spectrum, the young, educated and affluent Cosmopolitan Activists are also by far the most likely of all the segments of the electorate to donate to campaigns, work for candidates, attend political events and, crucially, vote in the Democratic primaries. Will their horror at Trump and all his works drive them to choose the candidate most likely to hand a second term to their nemesis?

Half-Time! American Public Opinion Midway Through Trump’s (First?) Term – and the Race to 2020 is published this week by Biteback.

Ben Roback: From Presidents 41 to 45 – different backgrounds, different manners, different beliefs, and a different Republian Party

The older Bush was a man of free markets, small government, global engagement…and good manners.

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

The death of George Herbert Walkr Bush had the rarest of knock-on effects in the current political climate: it united Washington and bridged the political divides that have hang over today’s political and social culture. Regardless of one’s politics, it was impossible to look beyond a lifetime of military and political service that came to an end after 94 years.

The most memorable image was that of President Bush’s service dog, Sully, laying beside a flag-draped casket. Sully will return to America’s VetDogs, a charity that provides companions for former veterans and, in no time at all, America will return to a more combative politics. Bush senior is the first President to lie in state since the death of President Ford in 2006. Only 32 people have ever lain in state in the Rotunda, including John McCain who died earlier this year.

Donald Trump visited the Rotunda to pay his respects, having clashed in the past with the former President. To say their relationship was uneasy is something of an understatement. In Mark Updegrove’s The Last Republicans, the author reports that Bush voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, and called Trump a “blowhard”. The New York Times reported that ‘“at the mere mention of Trump’s name, 41 made a face. ‘He’s an ass,’ he snapped.”’

Whilst the visit was clearest manifestation of an uneasy peace, Trump’s attitude and approach to the living presidents that came before him paint a clearer picture of his attitudes to presidential predecessors.

The “Former Presidents Club” is one of the most exclusive groupings in the world. It has also traditionally been a rich resource for the sitting president to call on the expertise and experience of his predecessors. Not so for Trump, who tends to view those who came before him as adversaries who must to be sparred with. According to CNN, Trump has only spoken to George W Bush a handful of times, and has not engaged with Barack Obama directly since they parted ways in front of the Capitol building two years ago. Indirectly, of course, Trump finds reasons to attack Obama on Twitter with effortless frequency.

The current President has also found flaws with the non-presidential members of the Bush family. Trump decried Jeb Bush, a competitor in the 2016 Republican primary, as being “low energy”, while Bush in turn painted Donald Trump as a friend of Hillary Clinton. Trump has never been a fan of the Bush family legacy, and has said: “We need another Bush in office about as much as we need Obama to have a 3rd term. No more Bushes!”  During the heat of the 2016 campaign, Barbara Bush, the matriarch of the family, described Trump as a “comedian” and a “showman”. It was perhaps telling that after her death, the White House announced that Trump would not attend her funeral. It remains open to debate whether that was by choice or due to the lack of an invitation.

The former President was undoubtedly different from his successor, and not just in personality and temperament. In many ways, 41’s death could be seen to symbolise the death of what the Republican Party once was. Bush was a man of free markets and the emergence of the “small government” doctrine which (until Trump) has been the foundation of the mainstream GOP. On the global stage, the Bush presidency saw the emergence of the United States as the unchallenged power in a post-Cold War world. With it came a renewed commitment to American interventionism, and the firm belief that the US should seek to mould the “New World Order” – a phrase coined by Bush in a speech to the UN. This vision is at total odds with Trump’s pre-World War Two-style American isolationism and his ‘America First’ doctrine.

To the credit of the President and the White House, the memorial events of this week have been attended with respect. But, even then, the temptation of Twitter is only a smartphone away – and so, during a week of solemn reflection in Washington, we have had tweets about the Paris climate agreement, Robert Mueller, the wall…the list goes on. It was a fresh reminder of the new normal in American politics – that civility is a rarity and combativeness is a permanent requirement.

Political anger suits both sides in a country in which party loyalty is rewarded and bipartisanship punished. The likes of George H.W Bush and Senator John McCain, both of whom died this year, have become the exception and not the rule. Their approach to politics is that of a dying breed, replaced by new ways that waste no time worrying about national unity. With our own nation divided by Brexit, it is a desperate reminder to our political leaders to maintain a level of cooperation and class even when others around them are lowering the bar.

Ben Roback. America’s mid-terms. Not so much a blue wave as a blue ripple.

The Republicans made gains in the Senate, the Democrats won back the House – but that’s not enough to give them the stranglehold on Trump that they wanted.

What we know so far

The midterm elections promised high drama and did not disappoint. They offered cause or celebration for both Democrats and Republicans, and whilst Donald Trump’s tweet celebrating “tremendous success” might have been a little wide of the mark, it is the Republicans who are breathing the biggest sigh of relief.

The significant headline is that the Democrats have won back the majority of the House, whilst the Republicans not only retained but made gains in the Senate. A record number of women and minority candidates have been elected, including the first Muslim congresswoman, first openly gay man elected governor, and the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

The Democrats win back the House

In the House of Representatives, Democrats will now be able to flex their muscles and be a true check on the power of the president. Their majority means they can launch subpoena-powered investigations into issues that have fired up their base – such as alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and ethics scandals within the White House.

Above all, the new House will almost certainly try to force the president to publish his infamously private tax returns. So worried were Republicans in August at the prospect of the White House becoming a living legal nightmare that they collated a spreadsheet of potential investigations that the Democrats might launch if they won back the House.  It was long then and will have got longer since.

On the more prosaic matter of legislation, the Democratic majority means that the president no longer has a unified legislature on Capitol Hill. Republican legislation will therefore only make its way to the president’s desk if it has Democratic support – a prospect that seems highly unlikely given the ultra-partisan nature of Washington politics right now.

One potential solution for the president is to recast himself as a champion of bipartisan politics and working across the aisle, a delicate act that Bill Clinton famously mastered. For Democrats, whose base were motivated to vote in support of core progressive policies such as healthcare protection as much as a protest vote against the president, there seems to be little incentive whatsoever to give Trump’s legislative agenda a helping hand. Therefore, short of a potential bill on infrastructure spending, we are probably heading into two years of legislative gridlock on Capitol Hill.

With their regained power comes a challenge in expectation management for the Democratic House leadership, namely Nancy Pelosi. The prospect of impeachment looms large, and the Democrats now at least have control of the right infrastructure to initiate it. But whilst the “I” word hangs over Washington, last year only 58 Democrats voted to support even debating Trump’s impeachment, and there is little evidence of that number growing significantly.

And even with impeachment proceedings initiated in the House, it would require a two-thirds majority in the Senate to impeach the president. With an increased Republican majority in the upper chamber, that prospect seems impossible. Therefore, much like the challenge Nicola Sturgeon faces in calming her base down in their demands for a second Independence Referendum, Pelosi may find that the ability to initiate impeachment proceedings is both a blessing and a curse.

Republicans buoyed by gains in the Senate

Despite talk of a ‘blue wave’, Democrats were facing a difficulty-drawn electoral map for them in their doomed attempt to win back the majority in the Senate.

It is worth remembering that 26 of the 35 seats up for election were held by Democrats going into the midterms. Nevertheless, whilst Republicans were confident of holding onto the Senate, the addition of two further seats represents a hugely welcome boost.

There was the jubilation of winning back North Dakota, where Heidi Heitkamp became the second Democrat of the night to lose re-election in what was long considered the most vulnerable incumbency of this cycle. Elation at this victory combined with relief in Texas, where Ted Cruz held off an unlikely Democratic insurgency led by Beto O’Rourke.

With more Republicans in the upper chamber, Trump will try to force through as many of his judicial nominees and political appointees as possible. With a relatively clear run for the next two years, the president will begin early preparation for the 2020 general election by delivering those appointees for his base whilst painting Democrats in the House as obstructionists hellbent on getting in his way.

The candidates that have emerged for 2020

Given the iron grip that Trump has secured over the GOP, there is little point wasting time considering Republican primary challengers to the president for 2020. It is close to impossible to foresee a serious challenge being mounted to a president who has an 88 per cent approval rating amongst Republicans (via Gallup).

For Democrats, the story is different, and the 2020 field is wide open. The darling of the progressives, Beto O’Rourke, became the breakout star of the 2018 campaign and has that rare ability in politics to be recognised only by his first name (think Donald, Boris and Jeremy). The Democrat raised an eye-watering $70 million, and only narrowly lost in a state that Democrats have not won state-wide in for 24 years.

Nevertheless, elections are binary and Beto failed to defeat Ted Cruz in the Texas senate race, but that is not expected to limit his ambitions in 2020.

A less obvious name to watch, Sherrod Brown, the Governor of Ohio, easily defeated his Republican challenger and immediately referenced a “blueprint for our nation in 2020”. He is clearly a man with presidential ambitions, in a party that has still not healed the wounds of the divide between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Analysis – Five final thoughts

  • Blue ripple: Democrats had allowed themselves to get excited by the idea of a ‘blue wave’, but the result was more mixed. Democrats were expected to regain the majority in the House: the President’s party has lost House seats in 35 out of the 39 midterm elections since 1862. Republicans will be relieved to have retained control of the Senate, but ecstatic about making gains: the President’s party has only previously picked up Senate seats in 12 out of the 39 midterms since 1862 (here).
  • The Trump effect: In the final week before the election, Trump held 11 rallies in eight states, focusing on tight races for Senate and governor places. Of the candidates he called onstage to speak at those events, his record in the races decided so far is seven victories to two losses.
  • Obama-Trump voters. There are 21 districts that were won by both Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. So far, Democrats have either won or are winning two-thirds of those. Democrats will be pleased to have made gains, since a lot of these places that had slipped away from them — such as the North-East, especially Upstate New York, Staten Island and suburban New Jersey, as well as parts of the Midwest.
  • The Pelosi effect: Pelosi is the new House Majority Leader and will lead the Democratic charge against the president on the Hill. With a Democratic majority, the president will face almost constant gridlock in Washington and struggle to pursue any kind of legislative agenda for the next two years. Both Trump and Pelosi are unpopular (with a 53 per cent unfavourable rating with Real Clear Politics), and the president will make her a leading feature of his campaign for re-election in 2020. Meanwhile, Pelosi and Democrats on House Committees will work hard to probe the Trump family, most likely demanding he publishes his tax returns.
  • Turnout: Record turnout is expected for the midterm elections. In the early vote, voters age 50+ saw their electorate share drop from 2014 by 7.4 points, replaced by a surge in younger voters, driven primarily by voters under the age of 30 (via Target Smart).

Lord Ashcroft: “I was like, we must pick one of these? But I’m pleasantly surprised.” My pre-election focus groups from California.

Despite his dominance of the national scene, Trump was hardly a consideration for most of our participants when it came to deciding how to vote this week.

The final round of our American research tour takes us to two districts in California, one in prosperous Orange County and another further north around the city of Fresno. This is usually thought of as a heavily Democratic state, but the Republicans are defending crucial districts here that could decide whether they keep control of Congress this week. These include districts which elected Republican Congressmen two years ago, but chose Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump for President. How they choose this time will help determine the balance of power in Washington.

The migrant caravan making its way to the US from Honduras continues to loom large in voters’ minds as they began to make their minds up. Our groups’ reaction was a combination of sympathy for the families leaving their countries in search of a better life, and resolve that America’s borders – including California’s – had the be protected and the law enforced: “For me it’s really a hard story, because I understand how difficult their lives are in the country they’re coming from, because their government doesn’t protect them. There aren’t jobs, they are in fear for their children’s lives, and so I have compassion for them. But at the same time there are people all over the world who don’t have that access. They don’t have that border to cross.”

“I’m an immigrant. I came here the legal way, and I worked my way to college education to be where I’m standing. It’s really heartbreaking. You hate to see people suffer, but laws have to be upheld.”

“I think the idea that anybody can come here without any legalities really undermines our foundation as a country.”

Though most supported the President’s decision to deploy troops to the border, many were uneasy about the potential consequences: “they’re going to try to hold them so they don’t cross, and something’s going to happen and there will be physical violence;”

“I do think we need to have some sort of protection, but it’s just I feel like it’s going to get out of hand.”

– – – – – – – – – –

By the nature of the districts we visited, many of our participants leaned Republican but had voted only very reluctantly for Trump, if they had done so at all (“I always thought he was kind of a pompous ass… But there really wasn’t anyone else and we were kind of stuck.”

Most had been put off by his antics rather than anything to do with policy – but while no-one liked his behaviour any more than they did two years ago, several felt he has turned out to be a more effective President than they had feared.

“I was like, really, we have to pick between these two? Oh gosh. But honestly, I’m kind of pleasantly surprised. His mouth needs some work, we knew that. That may even be worse than what I thought it would be. But as far as what he’s actually doing, I’m pleased.”

“I think it’s good that the Koreas are starting to talk. They’ve always been separate since I could remember because the Korean war predates me and I’m old, so that’s nice. That’s something I thought we’d never see.”

Those who had been pleasantly surprised often mentioned the economy: “I got to be honest about it. I had no intention of voting for him because I thought he was a joke. But being a blue collar worker, being a construction worker, for commercial drivers the work has tripled for me since he’s been in office. So for me, OK maybe Trump is immature and he’s definitely not a politician, he’s a businessman. Maybe that’s what we needed.”

“It’s his administration. The government doesn’t create jobs unless they’re building new departments and things of that nature. But it’s obvious that our business sector is fairly comfortable with the climate that is currently within the United States, and they are the ones that are putting jobs in place there.”

Not everyone was impressed, however: “Disrespecting the German woman. I mean she’s a woman, and I’m sure he doesn’t like the fact that she’s in power. Our U.K. allies, they’ve been our allies forever and he’s completely disrespectful of the Queen and the parliament. And it’s just mind-boggling to me that there’s no respect for anything, he just thinks he’s better than everyone.”

– – – – – – – – – –

Despite his dominance of the national political scene, Trump himself was hardly a consideration for most of our participants when it came to deciding how to vote this week. For one thing, most did not see him and the Republican party as the same thing: “He’s just his own kind of guy. I wouldn’t put a bad name to the whole Republican party just because of one person.”

Though who will control Congress is a consideration, the bigger one for our groups is the quality of their local candidates, and how they stand on the issues that mattered to them: “I’m looking for who seems to be the best person for the position, whether that be Republican or Democrat. I just want somebody – the most honest person, I know that sounds insane when we’re talking about politics but, you know, I have a certain way that I live my life with morals and standards. And I kind of expect the same out of my politicians to some degree.”

“I’m one of these people that is a registered Republican, but I like to base it on whoever is the candidate, rather than Democrat or Republican. I mean I really hate it when you say: are you going to go blue or red?”

“If I was voting on a generic ballot I would vote one way. Does Trump influence that generic ballot? Yes. But my actual vote in this congressional race – I have problems with both candidates.”

Most expected stalemate in the event that the Democrats take the House, rather than any real change. Politicians seemed to have lost the art of getting together to work things out: “Just like we’re doing right here, this roundtable were doing here. That’s what they need to do over there. You need to take this podcast and show it to them and say: “this is the way you to do things, so you guys can collaborate and get your ideas together. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? Well, it is rocket science to some people unfortunately.”

– – – – – – – – – –

Since I was in the area, I dropped in on the legendary Democratic campaign strategist Bob Shrum, at the University of Southern California where he is now Professor of Practical Politics. Did he think there was any risk that a good result for his party this November would make them complacent for the bigger contest in 2020?

“I don’t think after 2016 that there is the slightest chance that Democrats will ever again assume a presidential election is in the bag – at least those who were alive in 2016. I was on a show here on showtime called The Circus with Mike Murphy, who is my co-director here at the Centre for the Political Future – a Republican strategist, a longtime friend of mine, we campaigned against each other but we like each other. And I said, and he concurred, that no way no how, in no universe, not this one or an alternative one, could Trump be President the United States. I don’t think people are ever going to get that complacent again.”

Hillary Clinton could have won, he thinks, if she had chosen a different nominee for Vice President: “If she had picked Bernie Sanders – look at the three states we’re talking about, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania – she won Pennsylvania, she lost Michigan, she lost Wisconsin to him in the primaries. She might very well have won. So I think that there were a lot of things that went wrong in that campaign.”

“But most fundamentally Trump won the message war. You can have all the bells and whistles in the world, you can have all the data analytics in the world, you can have all the targeting and organisation in the world. But if you lose the message war you’re likely to lose the election. And Trump had a very simple message: “Make America Great Again – we’re not great now”. And the problem is immigration and I’m going to stop the immigrants. And the problem is foreign trade, and I’m going to take care of that too. And everybody knew it. You know Hillary Clinton’s slogan, “Stronger Together”, was not about her. It was actually a hidden negative critique or a coded negative critique of him. So she didn’t have a real economic message that got conveyed to voters.”

What direction would the party be taking – are Democrats yearning to go in a more liberal direction? “My own sense is that Democrats are going to be pretty pragmatic in 2020, that they’re going to ask a fundamental question, and that fundamental question is going to be: who has the best chance to beat Trump? And I think that’s where the party will ultimately settle in terms of a nominee.

But when you’re looking at 20, 22, 23 people who want to run forPpresident, you’re looking at a process that could be quite unique. I mean, the Republicans had to divide their debates into two parts. Last time, they had the big people’s debate and then they had the kids table. That could happen with Democrats too.”

Even so, if one candidate picked up early momentum it could be over sooner than people expect: “The other thing that will be interesting is to see whether or not one candidate can win both Iowa and New Hampshire. That’s only happened twice. When it happens, the process tends to collapse toward that candidate… It’s possible that everybody’s going to run around saying “oh my God, there are so many candidates, this process is going to take so long, it’s going to be so expensive, it’s so draining…. But it’s possible, just barely possible, that it could get over pretty fast.”

Listen to Lord Ashcroft’s interviews with Bob Shrum, John Kasich and others – as well as extracts and analysis from his pre-election focus groups, on the Ashcroft in America podcast.