washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

Democrats Need to Be the Party of and for Working People—of All Races

And they can’t retake Congress unless they win over more white workers.
by Robert Griffin, John Halpin & Ruy Teixeira

Read the article…

Matt Morrison

Rebuilding a Progressive Majority by Winning Back White Working-Class Moderates

From the findings of Working America, the AFL-CIO’s outreach program to non-union working people.
by Matt Morrison

Read the article…

The Daily Strategist

September 25, 2017

Political Strategy Notes

Democrats can rest assured that they have a healthy majority favoring the Affordable Care Act over the Graham-Cassidy alternative, according to a major opinion poll, Amber Phillips reports at The Fix. “A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that more than half of Americans (56 percent) prefer Obamacare to the latest GOP plan. Only 33 percent prefer the bill that Senate Republicans, panicked by a month back home with their base and no Obamacare repeal to show, abruptly put on the table this month…Worse for Republicans: Roughly twice as many people strongly prefer the current law to the Republicans’ plan, 42 to 22 percent…These aren’t necessarily gut reflexes, either. The Post-ABC poll described three aspects of the Cassidy-Graham proposal to voters before asking what they prefer: its elimination of the requirement for nearly all Americans to have health insurance, the phasing out of federal funds to help lower- and moderate-income people buy health insurance, and letting states replace federal rules on health coverage with their own rules.”

From Jonathan Easeley’a post, “Poll: Majority supports single-payer health care“at the Hill: “A slim majority of Americans support a single-payer health-care system that is funded and administrated by the government and eliminates private insurers, according to a new poll…The latest Harvard-Harris Poll survey found 52 percent favor a single-payer system against 48 who oppose it. A strong majority of Democrats — 69 percent — back the idea. Republicans oppose single-payer, 65-35, and independents are split, with 51 percent opposing and 49 supporting…The best-polling aspect of single-payer is the public’s belief that it will cover more people. Sixty-nine percent said it would provide more coverage, including 54 percent of Republicans…Fifty-two percent said a government-run system would save the health-care system money, while 48 said it would be more expensive.  Fifty-two percent said single-payer will improve the efficiency of the health-care system, and 53 percent said they believe they’d be able to keep their current doctor.”

“The so-called health-care industry, which amounts to roughly one-sixth of the U.S. economy, is not an industry at all. It is a chaotic crossroads of many different industries and professions, often in fierce competition, each adapted to its own culture and pursuing its own business model,” David Von Drehle writes in “The real reason health care in America is a mess” at The Washington Post. “Insuring patients is a very different business from treating patients; both are distinct from the business of discovering new medicines and inventing new devices. The pharmacy business is different from the fitness business; suing for malpractice is unlike diagnostic testing…A patient needs the endurance of Shackleton, the determination of Tubman and the organizational skills of Eisenhower planning D-Day.” Von Drehle writes that Graham-Cassidy “strikes me as an awful lot of costly disruption in service of a largely symbolic repeal,” serving its supporters as a “fig leaf to wear at town-hall meetings” and urges”Rather than chase the chimera of repeal, Congress should dig deep into the results of the Affordable Care Act. Adjust, revise, reboot or double down as each target demands.”

In a new Gallup Poll, “Overall, just 22 percent of Americans describe Trump as prepared; 25 percent said he’s consistent; 28 percent said he’s inspiring; and only 32 percent feel he’s courageous,” John Haltiwanger writes at Newsweek. “But 84 percent said he’s competitive; 73 percent feel he’s intense; and 53 percent describe Trump as enthusiastic.”

Writing at CNN Politics, Jennifer Agiesta reports on a new CNN/SSRS poll and notes, “Although President Donald Trump insists otherwise, most Americans say it’s likely that Russian-backed content on social media did affect the outcome of the 2016 election, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS…Overall, 54% say it’s very or somewhat likely that such Russian-backed content on Facebook or other social media affected the 2016 presidential vote, 43% say that’s not too or not at all likely. More appear to see this social media effort as having affected the outcome of the election than said so about information released due to Russian hacking. According to a CNN poll back in January, just 40% said that information was significant enough to change the outcome of the election.”

Watch the ad below for Democratic candidate for Iowa Governor Cathy Glasson. As Taylor Gipple writes at HuffPo, “If the Democratic Party wants to win back working class voters, Glasson is laying the groundwork as an ideal progressive candidate to model.” Glasson has embraced single-payer health care reform, tuittion-free community college, action to stop pollution in Iowa, a $15 minimum wage and a restoration of union membership for Iowa workers. I like how Glasson is shown intensely listening to diverse constituents:

In his Washington Post article, “The mysterious group that’s picking Breitbart apart, one tweet at a time,” Paul Farhi spotlights an innovative economic withdrawall strategy being deployed to check right-wing media: “Sleeping Giants’ basic approach is to make Breitbart’s advertisers aware that they are, in fact, Breitbart advertisers. Many apparently don’t know this, given that Web ads are often bought through third-party brokers, such as Google and Facebook. The brokers then distribute them to a network of websites according to algorithms that seek a specific target audience (say, young men) or a set number of impressions…As a result of such “programmatic” buying, advertisers often are in the dark about where their ads end up. Advertisers can opt out of certain sites, of course, but only if they affirmatively place them on a blacklist of sites….So when an ad appears on Breitbart, Sleeping Giants or one of its 109,000 Twitter followers and 35,000 Facebook followers flag the advertiser, often accompanied by an image of the sponsors’ ad next to a Breitbart story.” Farhi points out that Breitbart isn’t going away as a result of Sleeping Ginats campaign, since it is largely funded by right-wing sugar-daddy Robert Mercer. But more such campaigns to encourage corporate accountability for their support of extremist media would be a welcome trend.

In an excerpt of their book, “One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported,” E.J. Dionne Jr., Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein explain why “The election of Donald Trump could be one of the best things that ever happened to American democracy.” Among their observations: “The Trump jolt has done more than force the country to a necessary reckoning. It has also called forth a wave of activism, organizing and, perhaps most important, a new engagement by millions of Americans in politics at all levels. Large-scale demonstrations are part of the response, and so are grass-roots efforts by citizens to confront their legislators at town halls and any other venues where politicians can be found….The need to contain Trump has given life to new forms of organization. People of faith, across traditions, have stood up for the most vulnerable in confronting measures that have targeted immigrants and sought to roll back social protections. Lawyers have organized to combat the president’s travel bans, to protect the rights of undocumented individuals and to challenge Trump’s financial conflicts of interest. Public interest groups such as the Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the Project on Government Oversight have expanded their efforts on behalf of political reform, forging new alliances to fight the influence of big money in politics, protect voting rights, end gerrymandering, strengthen anti-corruption statutes and challenge the electoral college.”

Phillip Elliot’s “Divided Democratic Party Debates Its Future as 2020 Looms” at Time provides a fairly conventional “Dems in Disarray” update, along with a plug for two promising Ohio leaders, Congressman Tim Ryan and Senator Sherrod Brown. Taking a step back and looking at the big picture, however, the divisions in question are normal enough for the big tent party, not all that far outside the usual ferment that characterizes the Democrats in years of victory, as well as defeat. But no major media outlet is going to publish a story entitled “Dems Fussing with Each Other, As Usual, But Polls and Record Number of Candidates Indicate They Are in Good Position for 2018 and 2020.” Still, Elliot does shed some light on key challenges Dems face, including:  “A poll from CNN/SSRS in August showed Democrats with an 11-percentage-point advantage over Republicans on a generic congressional ballot….The DNC has been hollowed out, first by Obama’s neglect and then by a Clinton campaign that raided its talent. Now it is trying to play catch-up, sending $10,000 a month to each state party to help add bodies and channel activists’ energy into permanent organizations. But the party is still $3.5 million in the red, and Republicans are outraising it by a margin of roughly 2 to 1…Today only 28% of House Democrats hail from states that don’t touch the Atlantic or Pacific oceans, down from 37% in 2007.”

Trump Goes To Alabama To Acknowledge Luther Strange’s Worship

I watched all 85 minutes of Donald Trump’s speech in Huntsville, Alabama on Friday night, and after a brief period of recovery, I offered these thoughts for New York:

[A]s at all the Trump campaign events before and after his election, a recording of the Rolling Stones’ song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was played. Listening to the familiar tune, it occurred to me that Luther Strange didn’t get what he wanted from Trump’s visit, but he may have gotten what he needed — a last-minute boost from the pol Alabama Republicans adore.

Had the Strange campaign been scripting it all, they could have probably done without Trump’s suggestions that their candidate was on the road to sure defeat until the president’s endorsement, or his confession that intervening in this race represented a big political risk, or his pledge to campaign for opponent Roy Moore if he won. I’m sure they cringed when Trump explained how he came up with the nickname “Big Luther” (he had it long before Trump knew who he was) and also when he asserted that Alabama’s new senator has barely met the Senate Majority Leader (who has arranged for virtually all of Luther’s campaign financing). And Team Strange would have probably preferred a few more references to Strange’s accomplishments beyond the abject sycophancy to the president that Trump mentioned again and again, and that the candidate has been displaying to an embarrassing degree on the campaign trail.

But Trump’s speech, even though it spiraled farther and farther away from any coherent message during the course of 85 minutes, did return regularly to the subject at hand. And if Mitch McConnell’s super-pac wants footage for some last-minute ads showing Trump thumping the tubs for Big Luther or standing with him in his MAGA hat, there’s plenty of material at hand.

Perhaps some people beyond Alabama tuned into the speech to see if the president would visibly freak out over today’s developments in the Senate, where John McCain announced his opposition to the Graham-Cassidy legislation that Trump and other Republicans were pushing as a last-gasp effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. Trump did mention it several times, at first mildly, as though it was a minor setback, but eventually he was bellowing at the GOP (not McCain or anyone else specifically) for once again breaking its promise to repeal Obamacare. Perhaps the oddest moment was when Trump suggested that it’s no time to stop the Obamacare repeal effort when Republicans are so close to 50 votes. Does he not understand the September 30 deadline for qualifying the bill as a budget-reconciliation measure? Does he want to put aside his tax bill to go after health care one more time? It’s not clear, but it makes no less sense than Trump’s constantly repeated claims (and yes, he said it again tonight) that getting rid of the power of Democrats to stop bills with a filibuster would somehow get Republicans the votes of 50 of their own senators.

The longer Trump spoke, the more it became a typical Trump speech, full of rambling boasts and expressions of long-held grievances. He returned to familiar attacks on “Crooked Hillary” and extended chest-beating about the brilliance of his presidential campaign. And he veered off into a condemnation of the namby-pamby nature of contemporary pro football, and of a player whose approval ratings in Alabama are surely worse than Hillary Clinton’s — Colin Kaepernick, whom he called a “son of a bitch” he wished NFL owners would “get off the field.”

If you listened to his speech carefully, it became obvious that Trump’s biggest anxiety about Luther Strange is that a loss by his candidate would be blamed on himself and tarnish his own luster. In this, as in so many respects, Luther Strange can hardly complain about becoming an afterthought in his own campaign. When your campaign message is one of slavish devotion to a narcissist, which aspect of you do you expect the narcissist to praise?

Some Alabama Republicans — the ones most likely to turn out in a special runoff election — are such intense culture warriors that nothing short of the grim theocrat Roy Moore will do as a Senate nominee. But your run-of-the-mill reactionaries will be fine with Luther Strange, and Trump’s appearance (along with a quick swing by Mike Pence the day before Tuesday’s balloting) may be just enough to get enough of them to the polls. For the rest of his career, though, Luther Strange will be reminded on many occasions exactly who saved his bacon.

How DNC, DLCC Are Mobilizing for State Wins

The following article, by Jess O’Connell, CEO of the Democratic National Committee and Jessica Post, Executive Director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, is cross-posted from Time Magazine:

Over the last few months, we’ve seen Democrats united against the attacks on our values. We stopped Republicans’ attempts to take away health care from millions; we’ve pushed back against this administration’s hatred and bigotry; and we’ve kept President Trump from advancing much of his disastrous agenda. But what you may not have noticed is that Democrats have also been notching victories at the ballot box.
There’s no sugarcoating where we found ourselves after November. We didn’t just lose the presidential election; we had been losing elections up and down the ballot for nearly a decade. That’s why we’re changing things. And we’re doing it the right way – from the ground up.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), state legislative leaders and state parties are leading the fight to take back control of state legislatures across the country. With the help of the DLCC, state parties and our progressive partners, state Democrats have won more than 50 percent of state legislative special elections since Trump’s inauguration and have flipped six competitive seats from red to blue – all in districts that went for Trump in 2016.


Republicans Try To Pass the Health Care Buck to the States

After considerable analysis of the Graham-Cassidy health care bill, I discussed its irresponsible essence at New York:

Amateur psychologists everywhere are grappling with the sudden viability of this slapdash piece of legislation that seems to fail so many of the policy tests Republicans set for themselves in earlier debates over how to repeal and replace Obamacare. Most notably, it does not provide for an orderly transition out of the Medicaid expansion (it terminates it abruptly in 2020), and does not offer adequate protections for people with preexisting conditions (states can let insurers charge them crazy-high premiums). If the bill doesn’t meet basic efficacy standards that key lawmakers have already publicly wed themselves to, why does it now seem quite possible that it might pass and throw a multi-trillion-dollar sector of the economy into chaos?

The prevailing explanation is simply that Republicans have run out of time to redeem their incessantly repeated promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and this bill, for all its obvious flaws, is the only available measure that hasn’t already been rejected by the Senate. And that may ultimately be the rationale for heaving this gummy mess across the finish line.

But there’s an equally basic motive that makes this particular bill an ideal vehicle for bringing the frustrating cycle of failed GOP health care legislation to a merciful close: More than past templates, Graham-Cassidy allows members of Congress to shift many real and consequential decisions on health-care policy to the states. CNN’s Lauren Fox sums it up nicely:

“One big advantage of Graham-Cassidy is that the bill outsources many of the toughest decisions about health care – what to prioritize, how to regulate the marketplace and cover health care for the poor – to the states. Graham-Cassidy allows individual senators to imagine health care policy in their own image even if outside groups have warned a number of states – some even led by Republicans – would lose federal dollars if the bill passes.”

Do those mean old health-care policy wonks mock your claims as a conservative lawmaker that we’re wasting taxpayer-financed Medicaid dollars on lazy able-bodied adults who ought to get off their duffs and get jobs? Let the states, the “laboratories of democracy,” put it to the test and see who’s right! Are you caught between insurers’ complaints about having to cover people with expensive chronic health conditions and the empathy so many have for sick people who can’t get health insurance? Why let Jimmy Kimmel beat up on you when you could just point to the nearest state capital as the proper place to sort it all out!

It’s entirely appropriate that one of the chief architects of Graham-Cassidy is former senator Rick Santorum, who is sort of the Johnny Appleseed of block grants, having run for president twice touting his responsibility for the 1996 welfare-reform bill that “solved” that ancient policy problem by handing it off to the states. Sure, states mostly used their new flexibility over cash public-assistance payments to cut eligibility, and “welfare” was a relatively small part of the means whereby poor people somehow made ends meet. But from Washington’s point of view, the problem just went away.

In reality, Graham-Cassidy would create hellish substantive and political difficulties for state policymakers who would have just two years to put together an entirely new system around the new block grants they would receive. As the New York Times’ Margot Sanger-Katz explains, the states would be flying through the air without a net:

“In contrast with an earlier bill from Mr. Cassidy, which offered a default option for uncertain states, there is no backup plan in the bill. The Obamacare coverage programs would disappear everywhere in 2020, and any state unable to make a plan and submit an application would be ineligible for the new grant funding. If a state succeeds in obtaining the funding but doesn’t have a functioning new system on Jan. 1, 2020, consumers and markets would be thrown into chaos.”

That wouldn’t be the U.S. Senate’s problem, though.

The long arc of federal health-care policy since the 1960s has been to create certain national expectations for care and coverage against a backdrop of states with different needs, different fiscal capacities, and different political dynamics. California representative Henry Waxman devoted much of his long career in Congress to incremental and bipartisan efforts to make Medicaid (and the closely associated Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP) a bit less geographically capricious every year. And the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and preemption of the crazy-quilt system of state insurance regulations took the next logical step.

Graham-Cassidy would begin to unravel all those decades of progress toward treating Americans as Americans when it comes to the right to health-care coverage. But much as it would make life more difficult for state policymakers and the people affected by their decisions, it would make life much easier for Republican members of Congress, who would not only “keep their promise” to blow up Obamacare, but would wash their hands of all the devilish complications of health-care policy for years to come. Graham-Cassidy might as well be called the Pontius Pilate Act of 2017.

Political Strategy Notes

At The Fix, Kim Soffen, Amber Phillips and Kevin Schaul have an update on Graham-Cassidy’s prospects, “Republicans are voting to repeal Obamacare, but they might not have enough votes.”  The authors provide a head count, nting that only 14 Republican Senators have announced they support the proposal, 34 are “unknown/unclear,” 3 “have concerns” and 1 Republican senator, Rand Paul has announced his opposition to the bill.

Insurance companies were pretty quiet about previous GOP Obamacare repeal bills. But not so about  the Graham-Cassidy bill. “The two major trade groups for insurers, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans, announced their opposition on Wednesday to the Graham-Cassidy bill. They joined other groups fighting the bill, such as the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, AARP and the lobbying arm of the American Cancer Society,” reports Robert Pear in The New York Times…“The bill contains provisions that would allow states to waive key consumer protections, as well as undermine safeguards for those with pre-existing medical conditions,’’ said Scott P. Serota, the president and chief executive of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. “The legislation reduces funding for many states significantly and would increase uncertainty in the marketplace, making coverage more expensive and jeopardizing Americans’ choice of health plans.”

“Some Democratic leaders think single-payer goes further than voters might want, but a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows the proposal is fairly popular — at least in principle,” notes Steven Shepard at Politico. “Nearly half of voters, 49 percent, say they support “a single-payer health care system, where all Americans would get their health insurance from one government plan” — greater than the 35 percent who oppose such a plan. Seventeen percent of voters have no opinion. Two-thirds of Democratic voters support single-payer, while 18 percent oppose it…A single-payer system is even more popular than the “public option,” described to poll respondents as “a government-run health insurance agency that would compete with other private health insurance companies within the U.S.” Forty-four percent of voters back a public option, compared with 33 percent who oppose it. More voters, 22 percent, have no opinion.”

When a conservative columnist for the Washington Post concludes her latest opinion article about a suppressed bipartisan health care initiative with “McConnell will not change, and so only a change in the Senate and/or House majority will bring about a new approach to governance. Tuesday was a vivid example of why good governance and Republican majorities no longer mix.,” it merits a read. So check out Jennifer Rubin’s “The McConnell mentality keeps the Senate and Congress dysfunctional” at her ‘Right Turn’ perch. Her article will leave readers wondering how Sens. Lamar Alexander and John McCain could possibly be sincere about bipartisanship if they vote for Graham-Cassidy, after McConnell’s put-down.

Here’s another conservative Republican expressing utter disgust with his party’s push for the bill:

Mark Murray reports at nbcnews.com that “President Donald Trump’s approval rating has inched up, and more than 70 percent of Americans support his recent deal with Democratic leaders to provide hurricane relief and keep the government open for 90 days, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll...But the same poll finds that only a third of the public believes Trump has accomplished much as president, and fewer than 30 percent back his handling of health care, race relations and the violent episode in Charlottesville, Va…The ratings of Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have fallen to new lows…By party, 83 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s performance (up from 80 percent in August), compared with 41 percent of independents (up from 32 percent in August) and 10 percent of Democrats (compared to 8 percent in August)…Looking ahead to the 2018 midterms, Democrats enjoy a six-point advantage over Republicans on which party should control Congress, with 48 percent of voters preferring the Democrats and 42 percent the Republicans. That six-point edge is down from the Democrats’ 50 percent-to-42 percent advantage in June, although it’s within the margin of error.”

Stanley Greenberg, author of “America Ascendant: A Revolutionary Nation’s Path to Addressing Its Deepest Problems and Leading the 21st Century,” has an article at The American Prospect entitled “How She lost: The deeper malpractice of Clinton’s campaign was not equivocation on message, but, of all things, technical incompetence” that’s sure to get a lot of attention from the more astute political commentators. A teaser to encourage reading of the entire article: “From my vantage point as lead pollster for the Democratic nominees in 1992 and 2000, part of the closing clutch of pollsters in 2004, and invited noodge in 2016, I have little quarrel with the harshest of these criticisms. Malpractice and arrogance contributed mightily to the election of Donald Trump and its profound threat to our democracy. So did the handling of the email server, paid Wall Street speeches, and the “deplorables” comment. And her unwillingness to challenge the excesses of big money and corporate influence left her exposed to attacks first by Bernie Sanders and then by Donald Trump and unable to offer credible promise of change…Yet the accounts of Hillary Clinton are very incomplete, miss the reasons for her ambivalence, and miss most of the big structural forces at work that made it hard for her to commit to a different path. That is where we learn the most about the progressive debate ahead.”

“The extreme alt-right are benefiting immensely from the energy being produced by a more moderate — but still far-right — faction known as the “alt-light,” notes Jesse Singal in his op-ed “Undercover With the Alt-Right” at The New York Times. “The alt-light promotes a slightly softer set of messages. Its figures — such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson and Mike Cernovich — generally frame their work as part of an effort to defend “the West” or “Western culture” against supposed left-liberal dominance, rather than making explicitly racist appeals. Many of them, in fact, have renounced explicit racism and anti-Semitism, though they will creep up to the line of explicitly racist speech, especially when Islam and immigration are concerned…The alt-light’s dedicated fan base runs into the millions. Mr. Watson has more than a million YouTube followers, for example, while Mr. Yiannopoulos has more than 2.3 million on Facebook. If even a tiny fraction of this base is drafted toward more extreme far-right politics, that would represent a significant influx into hate groups.”

Democrats looking for a succinct soundbite about Trump’s United Nations speech can’t do much better than syndicated columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s comment “And his threat “to totally destroy North Korea” is what you’d expect to hear in a bar conversation from a well-lubricated armchair general, not from the leader of the world’s most powerful military.” Dionne adds, “But the most alarming part of an address that was supposed to be a serious formulation of the president’s grand strategy in the world was the utter incoherence of Trump’s “America first” doctrine….The speech tried to rationalize “America first” as a great principle. But every effort Trump made to build an intellectual structure to support it only underscored that his favored phrase was either a trivial applause line or an argument that, if followed logically, was inimical to the United States’ interests and values.”

Graham-Cassidy ‘Trojan Horse’ Insults Intelligence of Working Americans

The GOP’s Obamacare-repeal obsessives are back. This time they are trying to hustle working families with a classic, though transparent ‘Trojan horse’ scam. From Andrew Prokop’s Vox post, “The bait and switch at the heart of the new Obamacare repeal bill: Graham-Cassidy is being sold as giving states flexibility. But it hugely cuts health care spending.”

Cassidy and Graham like to emphasize that their bill would roll back Obamacare’s spending and regulations and would instead simply send states money in a block grant. States, they say, would be free to figure out how to use that block grant money however they see fit — they’d be able to experiment with their own approaches. Even moderate Republicans are likely tempted by an argument like that.

Here’s the catch: The bill doesn’t just move around Obamacare’s spending. It severely cuts federal spending on health care overall — both for Obamacare and for traditional Medicaid. And since covering people costs money, the result will inevitably be that millions of people will lose coverage…The Graham-Cassidy bill is essentially a Trojan horse for these dramatic cuts on health spending that Republican leaders have been pushing all along.

Prokop continues, noting the three features of the bill that give the game away: 1) The bill dramatically cuts and restructures traditional Medicaid; 2) In turning Obamacare’s spending into a block grant, Cassidy and Graham aren’t just redistributing it — they’re reducing it; and 3) The new block grant ends entirely after 2026, and there is nothing to replace it afterward.

Summarizing the bill, Prokop explains, “So the argument about giving states “flexibility” leaves out a whole lot. Less money would be available to states overall in those newly flexible block grants, and on top of that, traditional Medicaid would be cut — which clearly points toward millions losing coverage overall. And that’s even before the whole system is set to fall off a cliff in 2027.”

There are some formidable obstacles facing Republicans, including the opposition of some skeptical state governors in their party. Then there is the narrowing time window for getting the Graham-Cassidy trojan horse passed. The Republicans only need a senator of two to pass the bill, and once again the outcome may come down to Sen. John McCain, who sounds a little wobbly. The hope is that he won’t cave to party pressures and the pleadings of his closest friend in the Senate, primary sponsor Lindsey Graham.

What is certain is that the coalition that did such a good job of mobilizing against the previous GOP Obamacare repeal bills must turn the heat on again — or risk a health security disaster for millions of Americans.

Needed: Ideas to Increase Midterm Voter Turnout

Philly Trib Washington correspondent Charles D. Ellison cuts to the quest the Democratic Party’s best thinkers should be focused on in his article “Voter turnout still headache for Democrats.” Ellison writes,

Voters who typically support Democratic candidates, in fact, are nearly 60 percent of the “drop-off” voting population, according to the Pew Center, as opposed to less than 40 percent who are Republican supporting voters… On average, Republican voters are 20 percent more likely to participate in a midterm election than Democratic or Democratic-leaning voters.

Such numbers do not bode well for Democrats heading into crucial competitive elections, including high-profile test run cycles this November in places such as Virginia, New Jersey and Philadelphia and major potential comeback Congressional midterms in 2018.

High voter turnout for Democrats will be key, particularly, in 2018 as the party not only seeks to retake lost ground in both the U.S. House and Senate, but also must regain power in numerous state legislatures and Governors mansions. For Democrats, the next two years are key in terms of rebalancing scales in their favor and effectively diminishing the power of the Trump administration and its base.

Making matters more difficult, Ellison notes that Dems have a tough image problem: “Badly enough for Democrats, a summer Washington Post/ABC poll found most Americans believed Democrats “just stand against Trump” as opposed to “stand[ing] for something,” 52 percent to 37 percent. Only 35 percent of registered voters believed the party stands for something.” This despite the fact that Democrats have provided the leadership that secured virtualy all of the reforms that have benefitted Americans over the last half-century.

With repect to the declining voter participation of the nation’s strongest pro-Democratic constituency, African-American voters, Ellison notes,

…Observers are concerned that Democratic Party rank and file are discounting the crucial need to re-energize a weary Black electorate that doesn’t turnout as much as older white voters do during House and Senate midterm cycles. That electorate will also be key in helping Democrats win back gubernatorial seats and state legislatures. Yet, there’s no evidence of a concerted plan to mobilize Black voters in 2017 — despite their needed presence in the Virginia governor’s and General Assembly races — and in 2018.

There are also worries that the Black electorate is fatigued from a constant barrage of controversies and policy attacks, from reversals on affirmative action, the Affordable Care Act, military surplus to police departments and the new Justice Department’s refusal to pursue voting rights cases and police reform…Strategists worry that environment is rapidly eroding any remaining Black electoral faith in the political process, which could lead to massive drop-off voting.

The Pew Center research, in fact, shows Black voters account for nearly 20 percent of all drop off voters in looking at 2012, 2014 and 2016 elections. There are a myriad of reasons for that: from the systemic impact of voter suppression to the emotional “tap out” or lack of enthusiasm which was prevalent among Black millennial voters (a segment that constitutes 35 percent of the Black electorate population).

But it’s not just African-American voters whose participation declines in midterm elections; it’s pretty much all pro-Democratic Demographic groups. What can be done about it? In recent years a number of writers have addressed the challenge of increasing turnout in both midterm and presidential elections in articles in various media, including:

How can we increase voter participation?” by Liz Sablich at Brookings.

5 Ways To Fix America’s Dismal Voter Turnout Problem” by Kira Letner at ThinkProgress.

How to increase voter participation in low-turnout communities: Research brief” by Melissa R. Michaelson at Journalists Resource.

How to Increase US Voter Turnout” by Nancy Meyer at Daily Kos.

The Best Ways to Increase Voter Registration, and Voting” by John A. Tures at HuffPo.

Increasing Voter Turnout for 2018 and Beyond” by Tina Rosenberg at the New York Times.

This Might Be the Best Idea for Turning Out More Voters in U.S. Elections” by Thomas MacMillan at New York Magazine.

4 ways to boost the dismal turnout in local elections” by Keith Wagstaff at The Week.

How Can We Increase Voter Turnout” at FairVote.

Increasing Voter Turnout: What, If Anything, Can Be Done?” by Kelly Born at Stanford Social Innovation Review.

7 Ideas From Other Countries That Could Improve U.S. Elections” by Kate Samuelson at Time.

Simple Ways to Increase Voter Turnout” by Lee Drutman at Pacific Standard.

Ways to Increase the Youth Vote” by Goethe Behr at uspresidentialelectionnews.com.

Want to increase voter turnout? Here’s how” by Thad Kousser at The L.A. Times.

There is a lot of repetition in the above articles, and many of these ideas depend on Democrats having  working majorities in both the House and Senate, as well as state legislatures, to secure the noted reforms — which is quite a stretch at this point.

All of these and other ideas will require that Democrats provide better and more diverse candidates. There is some evidence that Democrats are doing better in this regard in this election cycle, as indicated by the swelling number of Democrats already running for office in 2018.

The challenge is made more difficult by Trump’s ability to manipulate the media and distract coverage from popular policy reforms, which remain the strongest advantage of Democrats. New ideas to facilitate meeting this challenge are more than welcome.

Political Strategy Notes

Despite the limitation of two choices at a time, “The Best Health Care System in the World: Which One Would You Pick?” by Aaron E. Carroll and Austin Frakt at NYT’s The Upshot provides some insightful analysis by top public health/economic experts.

Paul Krugman offers a succinct, sobering critique of the Graham-Cassidy health care bill: “In reality, Graham-Cassidy is the opposite of moderate. It contains, in exaggerated and almost caricature form, all the elements that made previous Republican proposals so cruel and destructive. It would eliminate the individual mandate, undermine if not effectively eliminate protection for people with pre-existing conditions, and slash funding for subsidies and Medicaid. There are a few additional twists, but they’re all bad — notably, a funding formula that would penalize states that are actually successful in reducing the number of uninsured…Many progressives have already begun taking Obamacare’s achievements for granted, and are moving on from protest against right-wing schemes to dreams of single-payer. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the kind of environment in which swing senators, no longer in the spotlight, might be bribed or bullied into voting for a truly terrible bill.

Syndicated columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. adds this important observation to the criticism of Graham-Cassidy: “The latest repeal bill is an offering from Republican Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (La.) that would tear apart the existing system and replace it with block grants to the states. Block grants — flows of money for broad purposes with few strings attached — are a patented way to evade hard policy choices. All the tough decisions are kicked down to state capitals, usually with too little money to achieve the ends the block grant is supposed to realize…Oh, yes, and the [the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities] report also noted, with italicized emphasis, that as currently written, the block grant “would disappear altogether after 2026.” What happens then? The bottom line, said Jacob Leibenluft, a senior adviser at the center, is that Graham-Cassidy “punts all the problems to governors while giving them insufficient tools and resources to address them.”]report also noted, with italicized emphasis, that as currently written, the block grant “would disappear altogether after 2026.” What happens then? The bottom line, said Jacob Leibenluft, a senior adviser at the center, is that Graham-Cassidy “punts all the problems to governors while giving them insufficient tools and resources to address them.”

At FiveThirtyEight Harry Enten reports that “Trump’s Popularity Has Dipped Most In Red States,” and notes ” In states where Trump won by at least 10 points, his net approval rating is down 18 percentage points, on average, compared to his margin last November. In states that were decided by 10 points or less in November, it’s down only 13 points. And it’s down 8 points in states Clinton carried by at least 10 points…If red state voters who dislike Trump but voted for him in 2016 abandon the Republican Party in 2018, it could lead to some unexpected electoral results. It’s another reason that Democrats, if they want to maximize their chances of winning back the House, should compete in a wide variety of districts.”

William Greider makes a strong argument at The Nation that Democrats need primary challengers to reinvigorate the party’s prospects, particularly with respect to Dems who have gotten too cozy with corporate lobbyists. As Greider suggests, “Rebellion may be required within the Democratic Party. It has to turn away from the bankers and the multinationals and restore the multi-hued party of workers and imaginative reformers. Refreshing the field of battle with new faces and original ideas risks losing the next election or two, but intramural contests can energize skeptical voters and redefine fundamental principles…The rebels within the ranks may be a minority, but as the GOP discovered in previous decades, a purposeful minority can agitate and educate and change party direction in fundamental ways. Party elders might have more campaign money, but Democratic challengers can employ a device that worked wonderfully for right-wing, anti-tax Republicans: Ask primary candidates to take the “pledge,” then target those establishment incumbents who refuse to do so. For Democrats, the pledge would be a promise to fight any measure that cuts taxes for corporate dodgers as well as any measure that refuses to support expansion of Social Security or Medicare. Politicians who try to cheat on their pledge should be targeted and taken down. After incumbents see a few supposedly safe colleagues get wiped, they will get the message.”

From the Economic Policy Institute’s post “How today’s unions help working people“:

“While we lost at the top of the ticket, the untold story of the election was the dramatic increase in Latino participation rates that allowed for a record number of Latinos to be elected to office,” said Cristobal Alex, president of the Latino Victory Project, an outreach group backed by Democratic activists, and the national deputy director of voter outreach and mobilization for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “There are bright spots…And 2018 represents another opportunity: Latinos make up more than 20 percent of the eligible voters in 10 out of 62 House races deemed competitive by Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzales, according to a Roll Call analysis.” — from Stephanie Akin’s “Record Gains by Latinos Contradict Narrative” at Roll Call.

Despite Trump’s media image as an outlier in the GOP projected by David Brooks, Chris Cillizza and others, Robert Borosage has a reminder at OurFuture.org (cross-posted from The Nation) that Trump’s views, though often more crudely-stated, are nothing new for the Republicans. As Borosage notes, “Trump’s actions and words are particularly noxious, but no one should be misled: Trump’s race-bait politics are an expression of the modern Republican Party, not a deviation from it. The battle for its soul has long since been decided…Trump’s election tally wasn’t an outlier, either. He gained about the same share of the white vote as Romney (58-37 for Trump and 59-39 for Romney) and he was rejected by black and Latino voters by similar margins as well.”

Political Strategy Notes

Salena Zito takes a retrospective look at “The day that destroyed the working class and sowed the seeds of Trump,” at The New York Post. The day in Zito’s article is September 19, 1977, which “would be known as Black Monday in the Steel Valley, which stretches from Mahoning and Trumbull counties in Ohio eastward toward Pittsburgh. It is the date when Youngstown Sheet and Tube abruptly furloughed 5,000 workers all in one day. The bleeding never stopped.” Zito’s article should be read as a cautionary tale, more than a lament, because, amazingly enough, Democrats still have failed to brand their party as the champion of keeping jobs in America and renewing the economic vitality of the rust belt. In the four decades that have passed since then, Democratic leaders have proposed legislation to penalize “runaway plants” and job-export, but none of them got much traction. Yes, a few  Democrats obstructed these reforms, but always it was the Republicans who 0verwhelmingly opposed them. For Dems, it’s been more a failure of branding than one of inaction. Dems have paid a heavy price for their lack of a profile as job-protectors, as Republicans escaped blame by laying low, very low. Into the void came psuedo-maverick Trump. Hard to blame workers in these communities for thinking “what the hell, let’s try something different. At least he talks about us.”

However, in his article, “The Minuscule Importance of Manufacturing in Far-Right Politics,” Jonathan Rothwell, senior economist at Gallup, notes puzzling polling data which conveys a different impression: “In fact, Gallup survey data from August shows that American adults who approve of the way Mr. Trump is handling the presidency are actually less worried than other Americans about how trade competition will affect their job. Just 6 percent of employed adults who approve of Mr. Trump say they are worried about their job going overseas, compared with 11 percent who disapprove…Exposure to trade competition played no apparent role in persuading Obama voters to switch to Mr. Trump. People who voted for President Obama in 2012 accounted for about 12 percent of all Trump voters, but again, these voters were not disproportionately involved in the manufacturing sector, either nationally or in swing states. Around 8.7 percent of Trump voters who also voted for Mr. Obama in 2012 work in manufacturing, compared with 9.5 percent of Trump voters who voted for Mitt Romney.”

On an optimistic note, Ronald Brownstein observes at the Atlantic: “…Demographic trends offer some guarded reasons for hope that the United States is living through peak years of discord over its growing racial and ethnic diversity—even if the temperature isn’t likely to lower very quickly. That sliver of good news is embedded in an otherwise sobering new study from PolicyLink and the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California.” The study found that “The country today is simultaneously diversifying, especially among young people, and aging. While kids of color are expected to become a majority of the under-18 population by around 2020 (and already constitute most public-school students), nearly four-fifths of today’s senior population is white…Looking forward, the Census Bureau projects that minorities will increase their share of the youth population somewhat more slowly and steadily age into a growing portion of the elderly. The result, as the study observes, is that the racial generation gap already likely peaked around 2013, and will decline, albeit slowly, in years ahead…”

But John B. Judis, author of The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics, writes at The New Republic about why he is now more skeptical about demographic change favoring the Democratic Party. But Judis does see a way for Democrats to win broader support in the near future. As Judis explains, “If Democrats try to win future elections by relying on narrow racial-ethnic targeting, they will not only enable the Republicans to play wedge politics, they will also miss the opportunity to make a broader economic argument…This thinking runs contrary to the “race-conscious” strategy touted by Democrats who believe that a majority-minority nation is a guarantee of victory. Sorry to say, but it’s not going to happen. The best way for Democrats to build a lasting majority is to fight for an agenda of shared prosperity that has the power to unite, rather than divide, their natural constituencies. There is no need, in short, for Democrats to choose between appealing to white workers and courting people of color. By making a strong and effective case for economic justice, they can do both at the same time.”

Casey Tolan of the Bay Area News Group outlines “Progressive Democrats’ counter-argument to Trump tax plan: a $1.4 trillion tax credit for the working class,” and explains: “As Congress starts to debate President Donald Trump’s plan to overhaul the tax code and cut corporate rates, a Silicon Valley Democrat is putting forward a radically different tax proposal. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Santa Clara, will introduce a bill Wednesday that would give low-income and working-class taxpayers a big tax credit — and have a massive price tag.  …The plan would drastically expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps people at the bottom end of the salary range. Low-income taxpayers without dependent children would see their credit rise from a maximum of $510 to $3,000, and families would see their maximum credit rise from $6,318 to $12,131, depending on their income and number of children. Economists say the increased credit would help compensate for the fact that working-class salaries have stagnated in recent decades even as the U.S. economy has continued to grow. While the proposal isn’t likely to gain traction in the Republican-dominated Congress, Khanna hopes it will become a Democratic rallying cry…“I think it’s going to be our party’s answer to Donald Trump on taxes,” Khanna said. “While he’s proposing tax cuts for the investor class, we’re proposing support for the working and middle class.”Khanna is introducing the bill alongside progressive Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who is widely seen as a potential 2020 presidential candidate.”

Amid worries about what Trump and the Republicans will eventually do about DACA and the Dreamers, William A. Galston writes at Brookings that a recent “A Politico/Morning Consult survey “found that 58 percent of Americans want the Dreamers to be allowed to stay in the United States and become citizens if they meet certain requirements. An additional 18 percent think the Dreamers should be allowed to become legal residents but not citizens. Only 15 percent think they should be removed or deported….The breakdown of the 76 percent who want the Dreamers to remain either as citizens or permanent legal residents is revealing. It includes 84 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Independents, 69 percent of Republicans—and two-thirds of self-identified Trump voters. 60 percent of the voters who “strongly approve” of Mr. Trump’s performance as president want the Dreamers to be allowed to stay, compared to 33 percent who want them to be deported…So this episode could turn into a win both for the president, who kept faith with his supporters by cancelling DACA, and for Congress—but only if Congress passes, and the president signs, a bill allowing the Dreamers to remain in the country legally and permanently…If Congress takes its bearings from the sentiments of the American people as a whole, it will send the president a bill that enshrines protections for the Dreamers into law, an action to which even Mr. Trump’s base is unlikely to object.”

Ed Kilgore warms at New York Magazine that “The GOP Is Throwing a Hail Mary on Obamacare Repeal” and warns “With velocity one would not expect of a zombie, the last-chance GOP bill aimed at partially repealing and replacing Obamacare, the Graham-Cassidy proposal, is suddenly being taken seriously by friends and foes alike. The main agent of propulsion was a Senate GOP luncheon yesterday after which Mitch McConnell expressed support for the measure and his deputy John Cornyn offered to get a whip count in place. Lindsey Graham says the bill if voted on right now would get “47, 48 votes,” which is of course dangerously close to the 50 needed to rescue the debacle of GOP health-care efforts…The key reason for guarded GOP optimism is the close friendship between Lindsey Graham and John McCain, who administered the coup de grâce for the July health-care push…if Graham-Cassidy is going to be passed, it will happen very quickly (the current plan is for a vote during the week of September 25, or in other words, at the very last minute)…There remains a very small but real possibility that the biggest regrets will be felt by congressional Democrats who cleared the Senate decks for Graham-Cassidy by cutting a fiscal deal with the White House.”

Progressives concerned that single-payer health care reform attempts to0 much too soon can take some comfort from Margaret Sanger-Katz’s post at NYT’s The Upshot, “Buried Inside Bernie Sanders’s Bill: A Fallback Plan,” which notes, “The provisions are tucked into Title X of the bill and describe the four-year transition between current policy and the Sanders bill’s goal of a Medicare-for-all system. During that interim, some younger Americans would be able to buy access to the traditional Medicare program, which is now mainly for those 65 and up. The provisions would also establish an option for Americans to buy access to a Medicare-like government plan that would be sold on the Obamacare exchanges…The Medicare buy-in section comes from Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who has introduced the provision as a stand-alone bill…The public option section was written by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a longtime proponent of the idea. As part of the Sanders bill, she said, a public option would help the government prepare to administer a full-fledged Medicare-for-all program.”

At Politico Edward-Isaac Dovere writes, “Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Gerstein Bocian Agne Strategies conducted online polling of 1,000 Democrats and 1,000 swing voters across 52 swing districts for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Their advice to candidates afterward: Drop the talk of free college. Instead, the firms urged Democrats to emphasize making college more affordable and reducing debt, as well as job skills training, according to an internal DCCC memo…“When Democrats go and talk to working-class voters, we think talking to them about how we can help their children go to college, they have a better life, is great,” said Ali Lapp, executive director of House Majority PAC, which supports Democratic House candidates. “They are not interested. … It’s a problem when you have a growing bloc in the electorate think that college is not good, and they actually disdain folks that go to college.”

The Risk of Fighting the Last War

After reading some of the initial commentary on Hillary Clinton’s new book, What Happened, which despite her candor and self-criticism has subjected her to a whole new round of criticism, it occurred to me that the 2016 “hangover” for Democrats is becoming a real problem. I wrote about this at some length for New York:

[J]ust like anyone else, the most recent Democratic nominee is entitled to a take….But worthwhile as all these assessments are, at some point Democrats will need to close the book on 2016 and fight the tendency to assume that the next presidential election will be a do-over.

The reality, as Clinton’s own self-examination illustrates all over again, is that the 2016 presidential election was so close — and the popular-vote loser winning the Electoral College by insanely close margins in three states is about as close as it gets this side of Florida 2000 — that there are multiple credible explanations. Using a “but for” test, Clinton lost because of gender bias and the email “scandal” and excessively vague messaging and media bias and James Comey and dangerous dependence on election modeling and bitter-end Sanders supporters and the Wall Street speeches and accumulated resentments against her husband and Russian hacking and fake-news dissemination and third- and fourth-party votes and GOP hypocrisy and the Trump campaign being forced by its narrow path to victory to better target resources and … on and on.

The understandable but dangerous temptation for frustrated Democrats is to throw up their hands and blame the whole mess on their centrist woman nominee, resolving right now to go with her polar opposite. That would be a left-leaning man.

As it happens, there is a left-leaning man available who nearly derailed Clinton in the 2016 primaries, and who is thought by many of his supporters to have been a sure winner against Donald Trump.

Like many counterfactuals, there is no way to prove or disprove the “Bernie woulda won” assumption. Yes, there were polls showing him enjoying significantly better approval ratings than Trump or Clinton, and there’s an argument that he would have done better than HRC in precisely the Rust Belt states that decided it all. But we’ll never know what might have happened if the vast infrastructure of the GOP, conservative media, and the MSM had devoted a billion dollars or so to exposing and attacking Sanders vulnerabilities that primary voters did not care about or that Clinton chose not to bring up. These range from his favorable rhetoric about Cuba and Venezuela to his agreement to serve as a presidential elector for the Marxist-Leninist Socialist Workers Party to his so-called “Soviet Honeymoon” with his wife, Jane (Trump’s Russian friends would have had some rich, ironic fun with that chestnut), and might have also extended to the tax increases his various policy proposals, most notably single-payer health care, could have required. Maybe none of this would have mattered in the end, particularly as compared to the vast damage to HRC’s image decades of attacks had wrought. But there is no good-faith case to be made that Clinton was the worst of all possible Democratic nominees.

As it happens, we have a very good recent example of the folly involved in excessive retrospection about a presidential defeat: the post-2012 Republicans. In the famous “autopsy report” authorized by the Republican National Committee in 2013, and much praised at the time, some very smart people reverse-engineered Mitt Romney’s nearly successful campaign and made a series of recommendations based on addressing his weaknesses. They mostly involved outreach to young and minority voters, and especially emphasized unqualified support for comprehensive immigration reform. The winning candidate and message Republicans actually took into battle just over three years later could not have been more distant from what party leaders set out to produce.

Democratic primary voters, not backward-looking pundits and activists, will ultimately decide what kind of candidate and campaign to send up against (presumably) Donald Trump in 2020. Bernie Sanders has a lot of tangible assets to take into a 2020 candidacy, as do Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. They will also be 77, 78, and 72, respectively, in 2020, making their health and durability unavoidable issues and perhaps, if they so choose, reasons not to throw their hats in the ring. Democrats also don’t know for sure if Trump will run again, and if not, whether his “brand,” for good or ill, will be passed on to his successor as Republican nominee. Depending on the condition of the country and the blame or credit born by the GOP administration, the dynamics of 2020 may or may not resemble those of 2016. The more you think through it all, there are many, many things we don’t know about the next presidential contest. That’s all the more reason for Democrats to stop fighting the last war. They’ll have plenty of options once the midterm cycle is over and things get serious, but none of them should involve a systematic effort to avoid the missteps and bad luck endured by Hillary Clinton. Praise the Lord, we will never again see a presidential election just like 2016.