E.J. Dionne Jr.

Washington, D.C.

 E.J. Dionne writes about politics in a twice-weekly column for The Washington Post. He is also a government professor at Georgetown University, a visiting professor at Harvard University, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and a frequent commentator on politics for National Public Radio and MSNBC. Before joining The Post in 1990 as a political reporter, Dionne spent 14 years at the New York Times, where he covered politics and reported from Albany, Washington, Paris, Rome and Beirut. His coverage of the Vatican was described by the Los Angeles Times as the best in two decades. In 2014-2015, Dionne was the vice president of the American Political Science Association. He is the author of seven books. His most recent are “One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported” (co-authored with Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, 2017) and "Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism – From Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond" (2016). Dionne is the editor of seven additional volumes, including “We Are the Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama” (2017), co-edited with MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid, and “What’s God Got to Do with the American Experiment” (2000), co-edited with John J. DiIulio. He grew up in Fall River, Mass., attended Harvard College and was a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford. He lives in Bethesda, Md., with his wife, Mary Boyle. They have three children, James, Julia and Margot. 
Honors & Awards:
  • Named among the 25 most influential Washington journalists by the National Journal
  • Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • American Political Science Association’s Carey McWilliams Award, 1996
  • Empathy Award from the Volunteers of America, 2002
  • National Human Services Assembly’s Award for Excellence by a Member of the Media, 2004
  • Hillman Award for Career Achievement from the Sidney Hillman Foundation, 2011
Books by E.J. Dionne Jr.:  

One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported (co-authored with Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann)

Buy it from Amazon

Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism – From Goldwater to Trump and Beyond

Buy it from Amazon

Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent

Buy it from Amazon

Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith & Politics After the Religious Right

Buy it from Amazon

Stand Up Fight Back: Republican Toughs, Democratic Wimps, and the Politics of Revenge

Buy it from Amazon

They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate The Next Political Era

Buy it from Amazon

Why Americans Hate Politics

Buy it from Amazon

We Are the Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama (co-editor)

Buy it from Amazon

One Electorate Under God?: A Dialogue on Religion & American Politics (co-editor)

Buy it from Amazon

United We Serve: National Service and the Future of Citizenship (co-editor)

Buy it from Amazon

Sacred Places, Civic Purposes: Should Government Help Faith-Based Charity? (co-editor)

Buy it from Amazon

Bush v. Gore: The Court Cases and the Commentary (co-editor)

Buy it from Amazon

What’s God Got To Do With the American Experiment? (co-editor)

Buy it from Amazon

Community Works: The Revival of Civil Society in America (co-editor)

Buy it from Amazon
Recent Articles

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE. Normally advance for Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, and thereafter.)

(For Dionne clients only)

By E.J. DIONNE JR.

WASHINGTON -- After spending the first half-hour of Thursday's debate tearing each other apart over health care -- which happens to be their party's strongest issue -- the Democratic presidential candidates realized that their opponent is Donald Trump and acted accordingly.

As a result, despite jabs and disagreements throughout a three-hour marathon, they offered a far less divisive performance than they (and an additional 10 contenders) turned in during the first two debates.

Having often been critical of Barack Obama's policies during the summer, they fell all over each other to praise the last Democratic president's many virtues. Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke was the beneficiary of a remarkable display of comradely cheerleading, as one rival after another praised his response to last month's mass shooting in O'Rourke's hometown of El Paso. And they underscored the degree to which they broadly agree on issues ranging from gun control, climate change, immigration -- and even, despite their fierce disputes on Medicare-for-all, on the need to guarantee health insurance to all Americans.

Thursday's debate seems likely to have a paradoxical political effect. On the one hand, nothing obvious happened to disturb the current advantages of the three leaders in the contest, Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. On the other hand, several candidates running further back in the polls made their presence felt in ways that will keep them in the minds of voters as plausible alternatives should the leaders falter.

Biden had his strongest performance in the debates so far. He showed moments of spark and fluency, and generally avoided the gaffes and awkward pauses that hurt him in the June debate. But he did get a bit lost on an answer about Afghanistan and offered a rather dated reference to a "record player."

Warren was energetic and forceful throughout, returning again and again to her themes of battling corruption, inequality and corporate power, even when discussing gun control. Sanders was his uncompromising and combative self, which, no doubt, reinforced the loyalty of his base.

But it was potentially a breakthrough evening for California Sen. Kamala Harris, who has slipped in recent polling. Viewers saw what might be called "Harris Unplugged." She was far looser, leavened her arguments with humor, and largely kept her focus on Trump. Her opening statement was directed to the president and ended with the words: "And now, President Trump, you can go back to watching Fox News." New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker showed passion throughout, assuming the role of preacher in describing "a crisis of empathy in our nation."

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar unapologetically cast herself as the moderate in the race. "If you feel stuck in the middle of the extremes in our politics and you are tired of the noise and the nonsense," she said, "you've got a home with me, because I don't want to be the president for half of America. I want to be the president for all of America." South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg continued to display moments of eloquence, notably in telling the story of his coming out as gay.

Biden came in for a variety of gibes, as one would expect for the front-runner, but only former HUD Secretary Julián Castro launched attacks with gusto, and even a touch of meanness. When Biden denied that his health-care plan required poor people to buy in, Castro argued that Biden was contradicting himself, and seemed to reference the former vice president's age by asking, "Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?" The crowd booed.

The relative comity did not mean that Democratic divisions went unmentioned. There were clear ideological divides -- particularly on health care.

Making arguments Republicans are certain to echo, Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar hit hard against Medicare-for-all plans that they said would require higher taxes and force Americans to give up private insurance. Warren and Sanders defended them as guaranteeing universality and taking insurance company profits out of the system.

It was the best debate so far, partly because the ABC News moderators did not focus quite as much as earlier questioners did on inspiring conflict. They also covered a broader range of issues, particularly on matters related to race and racism. Only political junkies were likely to have stuck with the ordeal to the end. Those who did were likely the most loyal Democrats who, on the whole, heard more of what they wanted to hear about Trump's shortcomings and a bit less about divisions in their own ranks that could haunt them next fall.

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

(Advance for Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Dionne clients only)

WRITETHRU: In 3rd graf, final sentence, fixes typo so that it now reads: Armageddon-inflected (sted inflicted)

By E.J. DIONNE JR.

WASHINGTON -- President Trump's tweeting of a "Trump 2024" meme should concentrate the minds of his opponents. So should the results of North Carolina's special congressional elections on Tuesday.

Perhaps it's a mistake to take the first too seriously. But it does underscore the utterly abnormal, chaotic, norm-breaking, and corrupt nature of this administration. We have a leader who, like some of his dictator friends abroad, would love to be president for life. This means he will do everything he can to divide the country by sowing anxiety and inter-group hatred, something he did with gusto on the eve of the Tar Heel state's balloting.

The North Carolina results are the occasion for a useful thought experiment. If Democrat Dan McCready had defeated Republican Dan Bishop rather than lose to him by about 2 percentage points, we would be in the midst of Armageddon-inflected political punditry.

Combined with a spate of new polls showing Trump's disapproval ratings in the 55% to 57% range, such an outcome would have created Democratic "Trump is toast" euphoria. And, it could have sparked a panic among Republicans about the costs of allying with a president who plays fast and loose with intelligence, seems to profit personally from Defense Department outlays and encourages reprimands of scientists who simply want to tell the truth.

Instead, we have learned from North Carolina and the new polls that: (1) divisions between rural and metropolitan voters are deepening; (2) Republicans will have great trouble winning any suburban-dominated district, which will make it very hard to win back the House; (3) the vast majority of incumbent House Republicans represent very pro-Trump seats and have no political interest in breaking with him; (4) life will stay complicated for vulnerable Republican senators up for reelection in swing states because they need turnout from voters turned on by Trump but also suburban crossover voters turned off by Trump; (5) division, distraction and fear will always be Trump's play; and (6) a large majority of the American electorate would like to throw Trump out of the White House, but Democrats will have to make it easy for them to do so. There will be no miraculous solution to the Trump problem.

The good news for Republicans in North Carolina's 9th district is that they held the seat -- not a trivial matter. McCready came even closer to winning in the 2018 midterm elections than he did in the new race, forced by voter-fraud charges against the Republicans. The good news for Democrats is that while Trump carried the district by 12 points in 2016, McCready lost by only two. A comparable pro-Democratic swing in 2020 would move the state to the Democratic presidential nominee against Trump and be highly troublesome for incumbent Republican Sen. Thom Tillis.

But the makeup of Tuesday's vote is also revealing. The Democrat ran better than he did last year in the Charlotte suburbs of Mecklenburg County and also, according to McCready's pollster Kevin Akins, in the precincts closest to Charlotte in Republican-heavy Union County. But McCready ran behind his 2018 showing in the rest of the district, particularly in rural areas.

As a result, suburban Democratic first-termers can feel hopeful about next year, but their colleagues in more rural seats should take notice and "be realistic about how elastic any heavily rural congressional district can be," Akins said in an interview.

"The country got a snapshot reminder of the realignment that's occurring all around us," he added.

Molly Murphy, another McCready strategist, said national Democrats could usefully take note of how effective the health care issue was for McCready, particularly his focus on Bishop's votes as a state senator putting him on the side of the pharmaceutical companies.

Especially in the district-rural areas, Trump's campaigning the day before the election almost certainly had an impact in boosting GOP base turnout. And Trump gave a preview of 2020 with incendiary fearmongering, accusing McCready of favoring the release of "thousands of dangerous criminal aliens into your communities" who were guilty of "sexual assault, robbery, drug crimes, kidnapping, and homicide." And the Democrats, in Trump's rendition, became "the socialist Democrat Party."

Trump knows he can't win by offering a sunny rendition of his time in office. He has to turn his opponents into ghouls. The polls make clear he will lose if 2020 is a referendum on him. He can only win if he makes it a referendum on the Democrats. Their job is to make that as difficult as possible.

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

(Advance for Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Dionne clients only)

By E.J. DIONNE JR.

WASHINGTON -- It has become a habit to scold Democratic voters who say that electability is their standard in deciding whom to support for their party's presidential nomination. Forecasts made hours before Election Day three years ago went spectacularly awry, so who can know what will happen in November 2020?

Yet like it or not, the most important watchers of the Democratic debate on Thursday will be electability voters, who happen to constitute a majority of the party. And they are right to believe that the priority in 2020 is defeating President Trump. A man who invents the trajectory of a hurricane is not exactly someone whom we should entrust with four more years of power.

Still if the question of who can win is a constant, the dynamic going into this encounter is very different from that of July's faceoffs -- and not just because 10 candidates who were there before will be missing. Rather quickly, the Democratic presidential race has come down to three candidates, and then everyone else.

The battle for supremacy is between former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders holding on to his loyalists but having trouble reaching beyond them. The seven others will have to decide which of these three they most want to bring down.

Warren has had by far the best year of anyone. This makes her a target in a way she wasn't before. She profited from not sharing the stage with Biden in the first two debate rounds, insulating her from the fractiousness that was directed initially toward the front-runner but eventually engulfed nearly everyone in the vicinity. Warren thus had the freedom to highlight her impressive list of policy proposals and to look -- to use another much-debated word -- "presidential."

Warren's supporters have been the sharpest critics of the electability test because it is often used against her. The doubts about whether she can beat Trump are sometimes expressed in ideological terms ("she's too left") and, much more guardedly, about who she is. Can a Harvard professor win Pennsylvania or Wisconsin? Could the sexism that helped undermine Hillary Clinton also undercut Warren?

Please hold your fire. I know that bringing up the issue of sexism risks engaging in it. There are multiple reasons Clinton lost, and putting all women candidates in the same category (BEG ITAL)is(END ITAL) sexism. Nonetheless, anyone who has discussed the campaign with Democratic voters knows they are asking this question, almost always guiltily.

Warren therefore has one big, if amorphous, task: to persuade doubters that she can beat Trump. How do we know this? A fascinating poll in June by the Democratic data firm Avalanche found Biden ahead with 29% to 17% for Sanders and 16% for Warren. But when the same voters were asked who they would make president with a "magic wand," 21% picked Warren, with Biden and Sanders getting 19% each. The bottom line: If Democrats think she can win next November, she can win primary and caucus contests in February and March.

Biden's 10-point gap on these two questions underscores why he needs a commanding performance this week. His key assets are the fact that he continues to enjoy the biggest leads in polling matchups with Trump and the sense that he is well-placed to carry Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. But Biden's less-than-stellar debate outings (particularly in June) and various missteps that inevitably get a lot of media attention have raised questions about his general-election prospects. Easing those doubts is his one and only job.

For Sanders, the question is whether he can break out beyond his seemingly rock-solid base of loyalists. A "New Bernie" is both an impossibility and a bad idea for his brand as a conviction politician. But he won't win unless he can expand his market share, a phrase I use with apologies to all democratic socialists.

The take I have offered leaves out "everyone else," which is in one sense unfair. California Sen. Kamala Harris and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg are within striking distance of getting into the top three, and someone among Thursday's remaining five could catch a break if one of the current leaders falters.

But that is the point: For now, nearly two-thirds of Democrats support one of the three leaders. And things are likely to stay that way if Sanders' devoted band keeps the faith -- and if Biden and Warren persuade Democrats that they can, indeed, throw the world's most inept meteorologist out of the White House.

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

About
E.J. Dionne writes about politics in a twice-weekly column for The Washington Post. He is also a government professor at Georgetown University, a visiting professor at Harvard University, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and a frequent commentator on politics for National Public Radio and MSNBC. Before joining The Post in 1990 as a political reporter, Dionne spent 14 years at the New York Times, where he covered politics and reported from Albany, Washington, Paris, Rome and Beirut. His coverage of the Vatican was described by the Los Angeles Times as the best in two decades. In 2014-2015, Dionne was the vice president of the American Political Science Association. He is the author of seven books. His most recent are “One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported” (co-authored with Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, 2017) and "Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism – From Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond" (2016). Dionne is the editor of seven additional volumes, including “We Are the Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama” (2017), co-edited with MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid, and “What’s God Got to Do with the American Experiment” (2000), co-edited with John J. DiIulio. He grew up in Fall River, Mass., attended Harvard College and was a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford. He lives in Bethesda, Md., with his wife, Mary Boyle. They have three children, James, Julia and Margot.
Books
  • One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported (co-authored with Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann)
  • Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism – From Goldwater to Trump and Beyond
  • Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent
  • Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith & Politics After the Religious Right
  • Stand Up Fight Back: Republican Toughs, Democratic Wimps, and the Politics of Revenge
  • They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate The Next Political Era
  • Why Americans Hate Politics
  • We Are the Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama (co-editor)
  • One Electorate Under God?: A Dialogue on Religion & American Politics (co-editor)
  • United We Serve: National Service and the Future of Citizenship (co-editor)
  • Sacred Places, Civic Purposes: Should Government Help Faith-Based Charity? (co-editor)
  • Bush v. Gore: The Court Cases and the Commentary (co-editor)
  • What’s God Got To Do With the American Experiment? (co-editor)
  • Community Works: The Revival of Civil Society in America (co-editor)
Awards
  • Named among the 25 most influential Washington journalists by the National Journal
  • Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • American Political Science Association’s Carey McWilliams Award, 1996
  • Empathy Award from the Volunteers of America, 2002
  • National Human Services Assembly’s Award for Excellence by a Member of the Media, 2004
  • Hillman Award for Career Achievement from the Sidney Hillman Foundation, 2011
Reviews
“We honor Mr. Dionne as one of Washington’s finest journalistic thinkers and for his insightful daily contributions to the political discourse of our nation. ... His tireless efforts uplift the public ... in a time that cries for reasoned debate, not more negative ads, rumor or simplistic sound bites.” --American Political Science Association when presenting the Carey McWilliams Award to honor a major journalistic contribution to the understanding of politics
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