washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Battleground 2016: New Game

Battleground 2016: new game

Donald Trump’s unpopularity, beliefs, values and leadership qualities are forging a new 2016 battleground for the election of the President and U.S. Senate. Trump and Clinton no longer face symmetric image problems. With 60 percent viewing Trump unfavorably and half of presidential year voters saying they will never vote for him, he is losing Republican support to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and college educated voters to Clinton and the Democrats. Trump is helping Clinton consolidate Democrats, unmarried women, and minority voters.

Hilary Clinton

Republicans, Beware: Moderates Could Help Elect Clinton

by Stanley Greenberg

Moderate Republicans will have the last word in this dramatic presidential election year. The GOP establishment and its favored candidates view these voters as illegitimate, which is why they lost the primaries to Donald Trump. Now moderates are poised to play similarly decisive roles in the general election — by helping to elect Democrat Hillary Clinton — and in the battle for the party’s future that will follow it.

Moderates stand out starkly among the groups that make up the Republican base, for two reasons: They are disproportionately college graduates in a white, working-class party, and they are socially liberal. They have been alienated from a party that won’t accept the revolution that has occurred in American social and sexual mores and move on.

Because no candidate this cycle spoke to their issues and grievances, these voters can seem invisible. But according to polling we conducted at Democracy Corps in February, moderates make up a stunning 31 percent of the GOP base. Commentators on the ongoing GOP train wreck pay a lot of attention to the tea party, white working-class voters and rural evangelical Christians, but how much have you heard about the alienation of the moderate third of the party?

Trump and the GOP Crash

The GOP Crash & Historic Moment for Progressives

We are witnessing the crash of the Republican Party as we know it, and progressives should dramatically change their strategy to maximize conservative losses and move the stalled progressive reform agenda in the election’s aftermath.

Rightfully shaken by off-year losses, low base turnout and Trump’s appeal to some union members, progressive strategy has been cramped by worst-case assumptions and by the goal of stopping the GOP from expanding their Electoral College map.


Creating a down-ballot Democratic wave

On Friday, Democracy Corps released our most recent national survey showing Hillary Clinton with an 11-point lead over Donald Trump (48 to 37 percent, with 8 percent for the Libertarian). Importantly, it showed the Democrats with an 8-point lead in the named congressional ballot (49 to 41 percent), something we have not seen since June of 2009 in our polls. It is also the first time we have seen the presidential margin exceed the Democrats’ party identification advantage: in this case, 6 points overall and 8 points without independent leaners.

Level the Playing Field

Progressives Win on Economy vs Trump-Nationalist

The Reagan Era produced a Republican Party trusted on the economy and left conservatives hegemonic on economic ideas and policy – small government, top-rate tax cuts, and deregulation to power growth. Even after trickle-down policies nearly destroyed the economy, this conservative hegemony was left unchallenged by President Obama who made the recovery his main economic project. Indeed, Mitt Romney was more trusted on the economy than Obama in 2012, and even now, the parties stand at parity at best.

But Democracy Corps’ new survey on behalf of the Roosevelt Institute reflects a unique moment and opportunity for progressives. Voters now embrace a “Level the Playing Field” economic framework and a “Rewriting the Rules” policy agenda that allows progressives to dominate in their analysis of what is the problem, what is the cure, and whom to trust on the economy.

The Daily Strategist

July 24, 2016

Progressive Unhappiness With Kaine Understandable, But Should Fade

Immediately after Hillary Clinton’s announcement of Sen. Tim Kaine as her running-mate, I discussed at New York some of the negative sentiment expressed about this option even before it was exercised:

For all the talk of Kaine as a sort of political wallflower, he is actually an estimable man who has won losable campaigns in a state Republicans may need to win this year. He has a reputation as being ethically spotless, which matters a lot this year — any hint of scandal in a running mate could be disastrous for Clinton. As has often been noted, he is fluent in Spanish, which is not only a good weapon in a campaign against Donald “Deport ‘Em All” Trump, but a sop to those who were disappointed that the Veep was not Hispanic.

Despite the pushback from progressive Democrats when Kaine emerged as the front-runner for this gig, he’s by no means some sort of warmed-over Blue Dog. He’s a career civil rights lawyer in what was then a pretty conservative state — let that sink in for a bit. He was also the mayor of a relatively large and diverse city. He was elected governor despite an opponent pounding him relentlessly for a faith-based opposition to capital punishment, and he was smart and agile enough to turn the issue around and make it a positive. These are all good signs of both Democratic orthodoxy and political dexterity.

The one issue on which progressives have asked very legitimate questions about Kaine involves another faith-based position: his “personal opposition” to abortion. He’s been about as clear as possible in recent weeks that he’s firmly and comprehensively pro-choice, as he would absolutely have to be in a Hillary Clinton administration where the president is not exactly going to have to consult him or anyone else on this issue.

So the heartburn from the left that’s undoubtedly being felt tonight almost entirely involves economic issues, and beyond that, the sense that choosing Kaine is an insult to Bernie Sanders’ following, which could also provide an opening for Donald Trump.

In a vaccum Kaine’s unfortunately timed expressions of support for less regulation of regional banks, and for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, aren’t necessarily deal-breakers for a Veep. The first issue does not involve the biggest banks that are the target of progressive ire, and the second, after all, aligns him with the Democratic President of the United States, whose popularity throughout the party remains high despite occasional lefty grumbling.

But Kaine’s economic heresies highlight the fact that Sanders supporters (and even some more ideologically liberal supporters of her own) expected Clinton to move towards rather than away from them in choosing a running-mate. Given the Clinton family reputation for taking the Left for granted or even triangulating against it, raising Kaine to the ticket plays some bad old tapes in the minds of many progressives. And it’s not like the Virginian has the sort of inspirational personal story that’s going to appeal to the young Sanders voters whose November turnout levels are in doubt. With the Republican nominee posturing as an anti-Wall Street, anti-status quo candidate, there may even be fears that Kaine will expose the ticket to further erosion of white working class support.

You have to figure Hillary Clinton is counting on Bernie Sanders (with a supporting cast of other progressives, including passe-over Veep prospects Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown) to put a halt to any serious revolt against the Kaine selection when he speaks in Philadelphia. Endorsements aside, the most important thing the Clinton-Kaine ticket has going for it in avoiding disunity is the alternative, made so plain in Cleveland this last week. As a progressive acquaintance of mine put it earlier this week when Kaine started looking inevitable: “On one side of the scales you’ve got a ticket made up of two people with troubling attitudes towards the financial sector. On the other side, you’ve got maybe fascism. They are not even remotely of the same weight.”

In that sense, the Clinton-Kaine ticket is “safe” in a more fundamental sense, and even “boring” is not so bad when compared to the bellowing bully-boy who was nominated in Cleveland.

Mr. Big

After giving some thought overnight to Donald Trump’s big and nasty speech in Cleveland, I offered these observations at New York:

Donald Trump’s law-and-order thematics in his acceptance speech Thursday night offered little documentation for his claim that the country is ablaze with violent crime. Yes, he mentioned a spike in homicides in selected cities, and that’s real, though the experts tell us it’s unclear at this point whether it reflects a general increase in violent crime after decades of steady declines or just a blip.

But you know what? Trump doesn’t care. That there is a perception of a “crime wave” is enough to create a demand for a “law and order” politician, and that posture fits in so beautifully with his overall persona and message that it’s not surprising he chose it as central to his campaign.

For the same reasons, Trump feels no particular need to offer solutions to the quasi-problem of crime he has highlighted. As Matt Yglesias notes today, the president of the United States has but a limited role in dealing with street crime, but has some tools — yet Trump didn’t mention any last night (or in other recent pronouncements) other than the determination to appoint tough prosecutors and law-enforcement officials (and that was probably thrown into the speech as an allusion to the FBI’s decision not to ask for criminal charges against Hillary Clinton rather than having anything to do with violent crime).

But the lack of specific policy ideas is hardly a new thing for Trump. Yglesias attributes it to laziness and limited staffing. While that could be part of the rationale for vagueness on crime and many other issues, an even simpler explanation is that Trump’s whole platform is himself, a strongman in the ancient tradition of tribal chieftains whose very presence is a guarantor of safety and prosperity. Whatever the problem is, he’ll “fix it,” and that’s particularly true of challenges where “strength” is, in theory, of inherent value, such as maintaining a credible deterrent to foreign aggression, negotiating trade agreements, or in general threatening law breakers with violence. Adopting policies like other politicians actually undercuts this message, so Trump doesn’t bother with them. The convention managers last night might as well have emblazoned on the screen behind him Pontius Pilate’s words in presenting Jesus to the people of Jerusalem: Ecce homo! Behold the man!

Yes, strongman politics reassures some people and frightens others, and that’s fundamentally why Trump is such a polarizing figure, and also why his supporters thought his speech last night was a home run, while his detractors thought it was straight out of the Mussolini playbook in length, tone, and substance. When Trump and other speakers last night spoke of “making American one again,” it was clear the rapturous delegates in the hall really did think a strong father figure could somehow quell dissent. To the rest of us, the unity talk sounded like a threat to all of the “others” in this country to shut up or risk the silence of the grave.

Choice Responses to Trump’s Acceptance Rant

At Daily Kos Greg Dworkin rounded up some insightful and funny tweets responding to Trump’s 75-minute GOP convention speech, including:

James Fallows @JamesFallowsHalf this speech is same old fear and mistrust. But some little part, as delivered, is first glimmer of The Pivot. HRC, pay attention.
Michael Gerson @MJGerson: He is summoning primal forces of anger/fear, displaying leadership without moral guardrails, religious principles or civic responsibility.

Josh Barro @jbarroWhen I read the text, I thought it would play. But since he’s shouted the whole thing, I think he’s coming off as alarming in the wrong way.

Garry Kasparov @Kasparov63I’ve heard this sort of speech a lot in the last 15 years and trust me, it doesn’t sound any better in Russian. 11:15 PM – 21 Jul 2016

Norman Ornstein @NormOrnstein: If Leni Riefenstahl were alive, Trump would hire her to film this speech. Then not pay her. 10:23 PM – 21 Jul 2016.

Dworkin also shares quotes and comments from the non-twitter universe, including:
David Brooks: “Donald Trump is dismantling the Republican Party and replacing it with a personality cult. The G.O.P. is not dividing; it’s ceasing to exist as a coherent institution…It’s going to end catastrophically, in November or beyond, with the party infrastructure in tatters, with every mealy mouthed pseudo-Trump accommodationist permanently stained…Some rich children are careless that way; they break things and other people have to clean up the mess.”
Ezra Klein: “He pairs terrible ideas with an alarming temperament; he’s a racist, a sexist, and a demagogue, but he’s also a narcissist, a bully, and a dilettante. He lies so constantly and so fluently that it’s hard to know if he even realizes he’s lying. He delights in schoolyard taunts and luxuriates in backlash….He has not become more responsible or more sober, more decent or more generous, more considered or more informed, more careful or more kind. He has continued to retweet white supremacists, make racist comments, pick unnecessary fights, contradict himself on the stump, and show an almost gleeful disinterest in building a real campaign or learning about policy.”
At the Daily Beast Jonathan Alter observed “The ugliness at the core of the Trump candidacy—perfumed by his attractive children—came through in his Mussolini delivery…,” while Timothy Egan wrote in his NYT column that “The man who couldn’t manage his own convention, the creator of a “university” built on fraud, bet his shot at the top job in the world on a panicked public and collective amnesia of his serial misdeeds…And the instigator of four corporate bankruptcies, the man who stiffed plumbers and carpenters, the failed casino owner, promised to use his dark arts to “make our country rich again.”
The New York Times editorial noted, “Given a chance to replace the empty sloganeering and self-aggrandizement of his primary campaign with solid proposals worthy of Americans’ trust, Mr. Trump made clear that he instead intends to terrify voters into supporting him, who will protect them from violence, a word that occurs over and over in his remarks…He is a poisonous messenger for a legitimate demand: that an ossified party dedicate itself to improving working people’s lives, instead of serving the elite.”
Harold Myerson described the speech this way at The American Prospect, “..What made Trump’s speech truly ominous and without precedent in American politics was the role he assigned himself—and the rest of us. We are mute and defenseless. He is our voice. He alone can fix our problems. That doesn’t really leave much for the other 300 million-plus citizens of our democracy to do. It doesn’t leave much for other elected lawmakers to do, either…I don’t think most Americans will agree with him that it’s Midnight in America,…that Trump is their voice, and that he alone can fix our problems—not if the Democrats sufficiently highlight the implications of these unsettling claims.”
Trump’s speech concluded with the usual gathering of the ticket’s families on stage, clapping, waving and giving the tumbs up sign to the crowd, but also an ironic choice of songs, “You Can’t Always get What You Want” by the Stones. I imagine millions of Americans found that appropriate, though not in the way the organizers intended. The George Harrison estate took exception to the GOP convention playing “Here Comes the Sun: and called it “offensive,” but also tweeted “If it had been Beware of Darkness, then we MAY have approved.”

GOP’s Day Three: Cruz Diss Dominates Headlines

No matter how much lipstick Trump’s spin doctors put on the pig, there’s no denying that Ted Cruz’s non-endorsement stole the show — and the headlines — describing day 3 of the GOP convention.

Cruz Speech Exposes Cracks in G.O.P.,” got the big headline type on the front page of the Thursday morning edition of the New York Times.

The Washington Post lead with “Attempt for unity falls short as Cruz upstages Pence.”

The  Los Angeles Times went with “Day 3 of the GOP convention restarts the war over conservatism.”

Ted Cruz Snubs Donald Trump: Vote Your Conscience” blared the headline at the Chicago Sun-Times.

At the host city’s portal, cleveland.com, it was “Ted Cruz gets booed, but he also gets the better of Donald Trump: Wednesday’s RNC takeaways.”

In his Thursday New York Times column, Frank Bruni summed it up,

…Cruz had made his point and done his damage, providing the latest (and most vivid) illustration of how little control Trump has been able to exert over his own coronation, how much rancor he has failed to exorcise, how few bridges he has succeeded in repairing, how far short he has fallen in making these four days in Cleveland as dazzling and exciting as he’d long promised they would be.

In other words, yet another day of botched opportunities and convention mismanagement under the stewardship of a candidate whose claim to fame is his business acumen.

Trump can’t be very happy with the way Cruz’s diss played out. He tried to spin-tweet it as an indication of his tolerance for free speech, since he claims he expected it. He may have been hoping for a last minute gesture of support from Cruz, despite the fact that Trump never apologized for implying that Cruz’s father was somehow involved in the Kennedy assassination, insulting Cruz’s wife or calling Cruz “Lying Ted.”

Veep nominee Pence nonetheless showed he has some public speaking chops and did a competent job of introducing himself and larding out unmerited praise of his running-mate. However, as Ed Kilgore noted at New York Magazine, “once again, Trump has lost control of his own convention. Pity poor Mike Pence, the ostensible headliner of the evening, whose introduction to the convention was already under the cloud of the Trump-Cruz confrontation — the only thing that people will be talking about in the hours after this session.”

Not much else was newsworthy on Day 3. Scott Walker was predictably ineffectual, while wingnut radio yakker Laura Ingraham generated some excitement, though she may want to work on her hand gestures.

Despite the mismanagement of the convention so far, tonight Trump delivers the most important speech of his political career. The suspense will be in how much he reads from the teleprompter script vs. going off on an extemporaneous rant. Trump is not very good at working the teleprompter, as was the GOP’s sainted Ronald Reagan. If the convention substance so far is any indication, his addresss will be long on Obama/Clinton-bashing, but very short on ideas.

Meanwhile, Clinton and her fellow Democrats can only be encouraged by President Obama’s improving approval rates, a pretty reliable indicator of the success of the party in the White House in upcoming elections.

Convention Works ‘Nice Guy’ Theme as GOP Senate Candidates Lay Low

For those who couldn’t bear to watch another day of the GOP convention after the opening night mess, The New York Times offers “Republican Convention Day 2: Analysis,” a roundtable featuring real time commentary by their team of political reporters, including Nick Confessore, Maggie Haberman, Adam Nagourney and Alan Rappeport.

Their overall consensus is that Day 2 was a comparatively tame affair, with the exception of Chris “Bridgegate” Christie’s Hillary-bashing, even though Christie himself still faces a federal investigation. Ed Kilgore probes the weird and poorly stage-managed strategy behind the formal nomination of Trump on Day 2. Other than that, there were a couple of yawners by McConnell and Ryan, an endless parade of no-namers, along with “my dad is a nice guy” speeches by Trump’s children, who the NYT panel says did well enough.

The ‘Trump is a nice guy’ meme, which was painstakingly inserted into Monday night speeches as well, seems to be an ongoing concern of his image gurus, probably because Democrats have banked plenty of videos indicating otherwise (This one will do for exhibit “A”). No presidential candidate in history has been more thoroughly exposed on video as mean-spirited at the core, and projecting him as a ‘nice guy’ is going to be a very tough sell.

That’s the short explanation why so many Republican Senate candidates are keeping their distance. Not that they care all that much about Trump’s lack of compassion and decency; they just don’t want to be his  collateral damage on election day. In his post, “Is distance from Trump a good reelection strategy for GOP senators?” at The Monitor, Aidan Quigley explains:

As Republicans from across the country gather in Cleveland for the party’s convention, several vulnerable Republican senate incumbents have decided to sit out the convention in an effort to distance themselves from presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump.

As Democrats try to tie these incumbents to their party’s standard-bearer, Republican senators are staying in their home states to campaign instead of making the trip to Cleveland. Four of the seven Republican senators running for reelection in states that President Obama won twice are staying home..

“For the ones who are running in swing states or Democratic leaning states, it’s a necessary strategy to survive,” Alan Abramowitz, a professor of political science at Emory University, tells The Christian Science Monitor.

Increases in polarization, partisanship and straight-ticket voting make it difficult for Senate incumbents to escape the “downdraft” from Trump at the top of the ticket, he says. He expects Trump to lose in most of the Senate battleground “swing states”, which will force the incumbents to try to gain votes from voters who vote for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for president. This is a very difficult challenge, he says.

“Pretty much all of them, to varying degrees, are trying to distance themselves from Trump to run on their own record and separate themselves as much as possible, to try to localize the election,” he says. “The problem is that voters increasingly see these choices they’re making in Senate and House elections as not just choices about who they want to represent them in their own state, or their own district, but as which party do they want to control the House or Senate.”

Quigley explains the art of Trump avoidance, as practiced by Republican Sens. McCain, Toomey, Portman, Rubio and Ayotte. Quigley closes with a salient observation by Abramowitz: “Republican candidates will try to separate themselves from Trump as much as possible, and try to localize the races. Democrats are going to try to nationalize the races,” he says. “In recent elections, the side that tries to nationalize the race has generally been more successful.”

For Democratic strategists, the hope is that Republicans will over-invest in doomed Senate candidates, while under-investing in endangered House seats. If that scenario unfolds in a blue wave election, the Republican legislative blockade will crumble into memory.

GOP Bilefest Sets Bitter Tone for Trump Campaign

If the Republican Convention’s opening day is an indication of the acrid tone Trump’s campaign will pursue leading up to the election, Hillary Clinton will have no trouble projecting herself as the only presidential candidate with a positive vision for America’s future.

Speaker after splenetic speaker at the convention attacked the Democratic nominee-apparent, and several of them called for her imprisonment to the cheers of delegates on the floor, some of whom could fairly be likened to near-rabid Salem witch-hunters. Some speakers vented their outrage against African Americans protesting against police brutality and illegal immigrants, blaming Hillary Clinton/President Obama even for tragic accidents that occurred during the Obama Administration.

Paul Begala observed at cnn,.com, “The first night of Donald Trump’s convention was as messy, undisciplined and undignified as Trump himself. If Donald Trump’s hairdo held a convention it would look like this.” Begala credits Melania Trump with the only grace notes of the evening, but adds that some of her best lines were plagiarized directly from Michelle Obama. “I do not blame Mrs. Trump for this,” said Begala. “She is a political neophyte. But her husband and his team should have been especially sensitive after The New York Times reported on Trump Institute’s plagiarism a few weeks ago.

Tonight, it would be hard for the Republicans to match the orgy of sulphurous contempt that defined their opening night. But some will surely try. Tonight’s speakers include Tiffany Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker Paul Ryan, N.J. Gov. Chris Christie and Dana White. Trump will officially become the nominee tonight, and “each state will ceremoniously announce how their delegation will vote, and since Trump has secured enough delegates through the primaries and caucuses…He’ll be the man in the general election starting Tuesday night,” reports Eliza Collins at USA Today.

When the GOP presidential campaign kicked off last year, no one could have imagined that the 2016 Republican convention would be boycotted by both Bush presidents, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, John McCain and John Kasich and that the GOP nominee would be disparaged by nearly every conservative pundit. These politicians and pundits now look wise in comparison to the Trump puppets who have now  seized control of the Republican Party.

Political Strategy Notes

TDS managing editor Ed Kilgore previews the GOP convention in his Daily Intelligencer post at New York Magazine: “The general feeling here in Cleveland a day before the formal opening of the 2016 Republican National Convention is that any drama is most likely to occur outside the arena, in some configuration of a three-cornered battle involving pro- and anti-Trump protesters and the Cleveland police…It’s the general disorder in the planning of this convention that sustains some speculation about the possibility of the unexpected occurring inside the arena…But in terms of efforts to loosen the grip of Trump and the RNC over the convention’s rules and platform, it’s probably all over but the shouting…”

In his syndicated column “GOP, RIP?” E. J. Dionne, Jr. has an eloquent take on the coarsening of the Republican Party as they begin the Trump convention. “…Republicans who are not in the least progressive have reason to mourn what is likely to come to pass this week: the transformation of the Party of Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower into the Party of Trump. Some are bravely resisting this outcome to the end — and good luck to them. A fair number of leading Republicans have stated flatly that they will never vote for Trump. Their devotion to principle and integrity will be remembered.” Citing Trump’s “politics of flippant brutality,” Dionne adds, “hypocrisy really is the tribute vice pays to virtue and so it does mark a decline in simple decency that Trump has shouted out his prejudices openly…He substitutes bullying for choosing, bluster for strength…”

In terms of issues and themes, expect increasingly shrill calls for “law and order” to dominate the GOP quadrennial convention, in the wake of the shootings of police in Louisiana and Dallas. As Alexander Burns reports at The New York Times, “Mr. Trump has campaigned on the theme of “law and order” since the assassination this month of five police officers in Dallas, and he is likely to amplify that message in the coming days…While Republicans often run on law-and-order themes, an indelicate approach could carry considerable danger at a moment of such unusual political instability…But some local officials have expressed concern about the possibility of violence owing to Ohio’s open-carry gun laws. Though demonstrators and others in the convention district have been barred from possessing a range of items, including gas masks, there was no prohibition on the brandishing of firearms…On Sunday, the president of Cleveland’s police union called for additional measures to protect the security of the event, and urged Mr. Kasich to suspend open-carry gun rights.” Kasich, thus far, has refused to do so.

At Post Politics John Wagner’s, “As GOP convenes, Clinton plans to launch major voter mobilization drive” observes “Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton plans to announce a major voter mobilization effort on Monday that will aim to add more than 3 million people to rolls by November to bolster her odds against Republican Donald Trump…Aides to Clinton said they intend to make voter registration a major focus at every level of the campaign, including among coordinated Democratic drives in key states. This week alone, they said, more than 500 registration-themed events will take place across the country.”

Meanwhile, from The Brennan Center for Justice: “Today, senior congressional lawmakers introduced the Automatic Voter Registration Act of 2016, a transformative bill that would add up to 50 million new voters by automatically registering eligible citizens to vote…In the past 16 months, five states, several with bipartisan support, have adopted automatic registration, through the department of motor vehicles. Oregon, the first state to fully implement the plan, is now a national leader in voter registration rates, and has quadrupled its rate of new registrations at the DMV compared to previous years.”

“Democratic strategists are now talking up not only Illinois and Wisconsin but also Indiana as easy wins, a scenario which leaves Democrats just one seat short of Senate control if Clinton beats Trump. Republicans fear their party could be letting one go if it doesn’t respond to Bayh and the $10 million he already had sitting in his old campaign account when he announced his new run last week. — from “Vulnerable Senate Republicans outpolling Trump” by Burgess Everett and Kevin Robillard at Politico.

In her Los Angeles Times op-ed “The Democrats’ demographic firewall is under attack,” Emory University professor Carol Anderson writes: “A recent study by political scientists at UC San Diego found that in elections held between 2008 to 2012 in states with strict voter ID laws “turnout among Democrats in general elections dropped an estimated 7.7 percentage points, while Republican turnout dropped 4.6 percentage points.” Even more telling, strong liberals’ voter turnout rates plummeted 10.7 percentage points, whereas the decline for strong conservatives was only 2.8%…Four of seven key swing states in the upcoming election, as well as North Carolina, Indiana and Wisconsin, which were crucial in either 2008 or 2012, have Republican-sponsored disenfranchisement statutes in place. We’ve already seen a dress rehearsal for what might happen in November. The midterm 2014 gubernatorial and U.S. Senate elections in Texas, North Carolina, Virginia and Alabama were all decided in favor of Republicans by a margin smaller than the number of disenfranchised voters in each state.”

Greg Allen explains why “Which Way Florida Goes Hinges On Puerto Rican Voters.” Allen notes, “According to the Pew Research Center, Puerto Ricans make up 27 percent of eligible Hispanic voters in the state, rivaling the 31 percent of eligible Hispanics who are Cuban-Americans…”This year is one of the tests of how strong the Puerto Rican vote has gotten,” says Esteban Garces, with the voter education group Mi Familia Vota. “Eventually, Puerto Ricans, if this trend continues, may outnumber the number of Cubans we have in this state.”…State Sen. Darren Soto represents the area in the legislature. He says Puerto Ricans have been a key swing vote in the state’s most important swing region — central Florida’s Interstate 4 corridor — since at least 2008. “We helped put President Barack Obama on top and helped him win his re-election,” Soto says. “At the end of the day, it’s no secret that the candidate that wins the I-4 corridor, so goes Florida.

For those who were wondering about the cultural/entertainment offerings of the GOP convention, read “Scrambling, Planners of the Republican Convention Put ‘Showbiz’ Off to the Wings” by NYT’s Jonathan Martin and Jeremy W. Peters. The authors report that Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson is the headliner, and “actors from “The Young and the Restless,” “General Hospital” and “Charles in Charge” will also participate. Martin and Peters also quote Tommy Valentine, a delegate from Virginia, who dryly observes “This is not what I’d call A-list.” Trump has reportedly caved on his insistance that boxing promoter Don King address the convention, after “Reince Priebus, the Republican national chairman, firmly explained to Mr. Trump why Mr. King should not be invited: He once stomped a man to death and was convicted of manslaughter,” which might not go so well with the expected calls for “law and order.” At The Daily Beast Betsy Woodruff profiles this charmer, who has reportedly been given a speaking slot at the convention. But whatever levity can be, ahem, goosed out of the looming potential for disaster the GOP convention provides will likely be found at The Late Show, where Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will riff on the proceedings. As Frank Zappa once observed, “Politics is the entertainment division of the military industrial complex.”

False Equivalence Still Reigns Inside Beltway

From Erik Wemple’s “Top Beltway journalists cling to heinous assertion of Trump-Clinton false equivalence” at The Washington Post:

When top Beltway journalists Carol Lee of the Wall Street Journal and Jeff Mason of Reuters made the case in a USA Today op-ed that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump posed similar threats to a free and independent press, they weren’t suffering a momentary lapse of judgment. Or writing imprecisely in a rush to meet a deadline. Or some other such innocent explanation.

They meant it.

In a statement to the Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone, Lee and Mason — the outgoing and incoming presidents, respectively, of the White House Correspondents’ Association — explain what they were explaining:

“The White House Correspondents’ Association defends the First Amendment in the context of the presidency, and, as such, speaks up when a presumptive nominee from either party falls short. Our op-ed laid out legitimate and different concerns that we have about each candidate with regard to the press. We did not render a verdict on which candidate poses more of a problem; people can draw their own conclusions about that. To suggest that we were somehow presenting a “false equivalency” misses our point.

This is not about comparing one candidate with the other; it is about scrutinizing how the candidates would conduct themselves in the White House in relation to the press. We were clear in our op-ed about what concerns we have with Hillary Clinton and with Donald Trump on that specific point. We will advocate strongly for the winner in November to respect a free press based on the principles of the First Amendment, not on a scale shaped by his or her rival.”

That statement lacks one thing, which is the ring of truth.

The offending USA Today op-ed by Lee and Mason actually compared “one candidate with the other”; it actually presented “false equivalency”; it actually blurred and steamrolled the significant differences between the candidates. It’s all in these two paragraphs:

The public’s right to know is infringed if certain reporters are banned from a candidate’s events because the candidate doesn’t like a story they have written or broadcast, as Donald Trump has done.

Similarly, refusing to regularly answer questions from reporters in a press conference, as Hillary Clinton has, deprives the American people of hearing from their potential commander-in-chief in a format that is critical to ensuring he or she is accountable for policy positions and official acts.

Bolding added to highlight the smoking gun of false equivalency: that the anti-media policies of these two candidates are similar. The headline helps level the playing field, too: “Trump, Clinton both threaten free press.” As does the piece’s kicker: “Both Clinton and Trump can do better.”

The beauty of journalism is that once you’ve written a piece, you may retain the byline or even the copyright, but you don’t own the interpretations. That’s the prerogative of readers. Here, the message is clear — Clinton and Trump are co-threats to a free press in the United States. There was no effort to contextualize this message, no qualifiers, no reality check. That Lee and Mason chose to recommit themselves to a deeply flawed piece says a great deal about the catechism of “fairness” in old-line media organizations. They’re all bad, equally bad, goes the apparent thinking.

And let’s directly attack the common and facile fallback line that “people can draw their own conclusions.” Oh, no they cannot, Lee and Mason, because you two didn’t provide a comprehensive list of Trump’s and Clinton’s transgressions. You abridged the list to facilitate false equivalency. This is awful.

To recap the imbalance between Trump’s and Clinton’s approaches to the media, we’ll re-run the list of offenses cataloged in this blog’s initial post on this absurdity:

Trump campaign:

• Bashing outlet after outlet after outlet in his speeches, often using descriptors like “disgusting” and even calling one reporter a “sleaze” on national television;

• Singling out camera operators at his rallies for failing to pan the crowd. “Look at the guy in the middle. Why aren’t you turning the camera? Terrible. So terrible. Look at him, he doesn’t turn the camera. He doesn’t turn the camera,” said Trump;

• Promising to “open up” the country’s libel laws to make it easier to sue media organizations;

• Denying press credentials to various news organizations based on unfavorable coverage. They include the The Post, Politico, the Daily Beast, Univision, Fusion, the Des Moines Register and the Huffington Post;

• Expressing frustration with the media for investigating his record of charitable donations;

Suing a former campaign aide for violating a confidentiality agreement by speaking with the media;

• Hassling reporters for not staying in their designated pen at rallies;

• Boycotting a Fox News debate over vague concerns about one of its hosts;

Grabbing and pushing reporters;

• Hyping a bogus National Enquirer story that spun conspiracy theories about the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.);

• Failing to condemn the anti-Semitic backlash against a reporter who’d written about Trump’s wife, Melania Trump.

Clinton campaign:

• Herding media reps into a roped-off area at a New Hampshire event in 2015;

• Failing to make herself available to reporters on the campaign trail and in news-conference settings.

An alert Twitter user added to the lopsidedness:

This is a good piece, but you left “mocked a reporter’s medical condition” off the Trump list. https://twitter.com/ErikWemple/status/753680754580807680 

Some insightful comments from readers follow at the end of Wemple’s post.

Mike Pence: The Whole Is Less Than the Sum Of His Parts

I’ve been watching Indiana Gov. Mike Pence for a while, and so was prepared when his name finally emerged as Donald Trump’s running-mate. Here are some observations I made at New York:

The more you look at Pence’s recent career…the more he looks like a running mate who checks all the boxes for Trump, but very faintly.

Most notably, this supposed Republican-unity figure has been struggling in his gubernatorial reelection campaign. You get the distinct sense Hoosier Republicans are pleased to hand him off to Trump so that they can put a better candidate into the race to succeed him. That’s not a very good sign.

From the beginning of his tenure in Indianapolis, Pence has looked diminished by the long shadow of his Republican predecessor, Mitch Daniels, generally rated as a successful chief executive even by Democrats. His meh reputation turned toxic in 2015 when by virtually all accounts he bungled an effort to enact a “religious liberty” law, only to backtrack when his state became the target for high-profile boycott threats from businesses, the NCAA, and even churches. His “fix” of the law to make it less egregiously hostile to the basic rights of LGBT folk left no one satisfied.

The fallout hasn’t really dissipated. Pence’s reputation as an unshakable social conservative is supposedly one of the qualities he brings to Trump, whose own standing with Christian conservatives is as fragile as that “little cracker” (as he calls it) he consumes on occasion at church communion celebrations. So it must be unsettling to Team Trump to hear Christian Right warhorse Tony Perkins pause during his largely successful efforts to ride herd on the Republican platform committee to diss the Indiana governor:

“Family Research Council head Tony Perkins told NBC News’ Leigh Ann Caldwell at the RNC’s Platform Committee meeting today that he believes Trump ‘can do better,’ citing Pence’s wavering support for the religious freedom bill he signed into law. ‘I think he can do better with someone who has not capitulated on something as fundamental as religious freedom,’ Perkins said.”

Pence also has a reputation as a rock-ribbed economic conservative. But it’s not clear it would survive the upcoming flip-flops over trade and other economic issues he’d have to execute as Trump’s running mate. A video of him praising NAFTA and other past and future trade agreements on the House floor is already circulating.

Speaking of the House, Pence did not sponsor a single enacted law in 12 years as a congressman. He used to get credit from conservative activists for a two-year chairmanship of the House Republican Study Committee, for decades the conservative group that acted as an ideological commissar monitoring the eternally suspect House Republican leadership. Shortly after Pence’s departure, though, the RSC was impatiently pushed aside by what became the House Freedom Caucus, whose members denounced the RSC as false-flag RINO defenders of the leadership. Another line on Pence’s résumé began to fade.

More generally, this man once considered presidential timber has shown himself to be a tad slow on his feet. You have to wonder how he would fare in a debate against a sharp-witted Democrat like Elizabeth Warren or really any of the figures on Clinton’s short list for veep.

So sure, he’s less perilous than Gingrich or Christie, and not in any danger of upstaging the Boss (unless it’s with a gaffe). He ostensibly helps to mend fences with anti-Trump conservatives, but it’s worth keeping in mind #NeverTrump conservative leader Erick Erickson’s sardonic reaction to reports of Pence’s selection:

“This will be both fun to watch and vicariously humiliating for so many who for so long backed Pence.”

If I had to guess, I’d figure that Pence will soon fade into the background and give Trump what he probably wanted all along: a ticket of Trump looking into a mirror.

So yeah, this is an underwhelming decision.


Religion’s Influence in Politics Growing More Complex

Christopher Ingraham’s Wonkblog post, “The non-religious are now the country’s largest religious voting bloc” provides a number of interesting observations about the role of religion in U.S. politics. It’s an evolving role, made more complicated by demographic transformations underway in particular states. But there are a couple of overriding points of interest, including:

More American voters than ever say they are not religious, making the religiously unaffiliated the nation’s biggest voting bloc by faith for the first time in a presidential election year. This marks a dramatic shift from just eight years ago, when the non-religious were roundly outnumbered by Catholics, white mainline Protestants and white evangelical Protestants.

These numbers come from a new Pew Research Center survey, which finds that “religious ‘nones,’ who have been growing rapidly as a share of the U.S. population, now constitute one-fifth of all registered voters and more than a quarter of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters.” That represents a 50 percent increase in the proportion of non-religious voters compared with eight years ago, when they made up just 14 percent of the overall electorate.

My hunch is that it is a mistake to call the religiously unaffiliated a “voting bloc,” at least in the sense that they are not monolithic supporters of Democrats, Republicans or any other party. Indeed, as the above quote notes, only about one out of seven of them actually vote. It’s also a mistake to think of them as heathens, in that many will tell you they are believers, but they distrust “organized religion.” So it’s not like all of those who bother to vote are casting ballots that reflect atheistic convictions.

Nor are the religiously-affiliated paragons of high voter turnout. (I kid you not, in an interesting coincidence a few mintues ago, I was interrupted by the knock on the door by a member of  Jehova’s Witnesses, who do not vote at all as a matter of principle.) Ingraham shares the following Pew Research Center chart indicating the voter registration trends of the religiously affiliated subgroups and unaffiliated since 2008:

religious voting

So the misnamed non-religious Americans are now 21 percent of registered voters, a 50 percent uptick from 2008, while “other religions” have increased their share of RVs from 9 to 11 percent and Catholics, white evangelical protestants and white mainline protestants have seen a decline in their share of the nation’s RVs.

Ingraham adds further,

The growth of the non-religious — about 54 percent of whom are Democrats or lean Democratic, compared with 23 percent at least leaning Republican — could provide a political counterweight to white evangelical Protestants, a historically powerful voting bloc for Republicans. In 2016, 35 percent of Republican voters identify as white evangelicals, while 28 percent of Democratic voters say they have no religion at all.

It doesn’t seem like this alone will force much change at the ballot box, especially in the context of 2016 politics. Trump, for example, is doing well with white evangelicals at the moment. But it’s not hard to imagine a significant decline in their support for him once the ad campaigns hit high gear and media coverage makes voters more aware of the Trump’s lifestyle and their minimal religious involvement.

Ingraham cites the “underperformance of the non-religious” at the ballot box as a key factor. But that should be a washout for the two parties, neither one reaping much advantage because of it. There is not much that can be done to target them as a group, outside of crafting political ads, even if their politics were monolithic, which is not the case.

But Dems should keep an eye on Latino Christian voters, many of whom may be inspired by Pope Francis’s commitment to social activism, coupled with Trump’s animosity towards their aspirations. Latino organizations are important, but it would be a mistake to assume they alone can increase voter turnout and ignore the Hispanic churches.

Even more consequential, however, are the votes of African American Christians, who tend to cast their ballots favoring Democrats by as much as a 9 to 1 ratio. The ‘Souls to the Polls’ movement could be influential this year, particularly in states that have not enacted voter supression measures to squeeze early voting opportunities and registration deadlines. The Republicans fear the ‘Souls to the Polls’ movement as much as any religious trend in America, and there is not much they won’t do to obstruct it, legal and otherwise.

There has been speculation recently that even Georgia could be in play in 2016 in terms of electoral votes, owing to the accelerating demographic transformation favoring Democrats in recent years. I will be surprised if that happens. But if it does, credit ‘Souls to the Polls’ and Black church activism in Georgia.

The late Rev. James Orange, one of the AFL-CIO’s star union organizers, once told me that the first thing he does when he begins a labor campaign anywhere in the south is visit the most influential preachers in town and make an appointment to meet with their congregations. No doubt the same should be true for Democratic political candidates. Clinton should work every major African American church in NC, FL and GA, and really in all of the swing states.

The Clintons have thus far done an excellent job of leveraging the power of the African American electorate in this campaign. For the remainder of the campaign, however, an even more energetic outreach to Black and Latino congregations can lead the way to victory in November.