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The Daily Strategist

January 25, 2015

Galston: SOTU Navigated Tension Between Governing and 2016 Politics



The following article by TDS founding editor William Galson, author of The New Challenge to Market Democracies: The Political and Social Costs of Economic Stagnation, is cross-posted from HuffPo:

As President Obama strode to the podium to deliver his 2015 State of the Union address, he had good reason to feel confident. Helped by a surge of job creation, and probably by lower gas prices as well, public satisfaction with the state of the economy and confidence in its future course had risen substantially during the past three months. Not coincidentally, so had the president's job approval. Seemingly unfazed by his party's rout in the 2014 midterm elections, he responded by going on the offensive with a series of bold executive orders and actions. And the White House's innovative decision to release major policy proposals in advance of the speech garnered public attention, much of it favorable.

Still, as Mr. Obama began speaking, a key uncertainty remained: What balance would he strike between the desire to shape the political terrain for 2016 and the imperatives of governing in 2015? The former required bold initiatives, of a kind likely to evoke sharply negative reactions from Republicans who command majorities in both the House and the Senate. But successful legislating this year will require compromise with those very majorities. Could he thread the needle, making the Democratic political case for next year without undermining the possibility of legislative progress this year?

Mr. Obama delivered a clear, forceful, partisan speech whose substance stood in tension with his closing invocation of One America. In working to shape the political terrain for 2016, he may have weakened whatever prospects there were for meaningful cooperation with the opposition this year on issues other than trade.

The White House apparently believes that Republicans will be able to distinguish between agenda-setting rhetoric and the quieter process of legislation. Republican leaders probably can. Whether their rank-and-file will be able or willing to do the same is another matter. Early in his speech, the president tried to crystallize the changing public mood. We've been through tough times over the part fifteen years, and for many, the tough times remain. "But tonight," he declared, "we turn the page." He dubbed 2014 a "breakthrough year" for the U.S. economy and cited the end of U.S. combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Overall, he affirmed, "The shadow of crisis has passed."

No doubt many Republicans would disagree, especially about the state of the world. And they would have a case. There is an arc of crisis from Europe to North Africa and throughout the Middle East. As the United States has retreated, the forces of oppression and anarchy have advanced. In recent surveys, majorities of Americans have expressed rising fears about terrorism and doubts that Mr. Obama's approach to our adversaries has been tough enough. The president's stated determination to avoid "costly wars that strain our military" may not reassure these skeptics. And his declaration that he would veto new sanctions on Iran while negotiations on its nuclear program continue will only bolster the determination of many legislators in both parties to enact those tougher measures.

Continue reading "Galston: SOTU Navigated Tension Between Governing and 2016 Politics" »


January 23, 2015

GOP Winnowing Begins



The painful process of winnowing down a potentially gigantic Republican president field is now officially underway with two events, one yesterday and one tomorrow.

Yesterday Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush got together in Utah to discuss--well, we don't know exactly what they discussed. But what apparently began as a courtesy call by Bush on the "titular head of the Republican Party" became something else after Romney abruptly put himself back into the Invisible Primary with aggressive moves towards a candidacy. They're now practically stumbling over each other in the pursuit of donors and perhaps campaign staff. Perhaps they divided them up yesterday; perhaps they just agreed neither of them would make any moves that would wind up representing a murder-suicide for the Establishment wing of the GOP. We'll have to wait and see.

Tomorrow's event is public (though it will undoubtedly be accompanied by private meetings and much kissing-of-the-ring of its primary host): the Iowa Freedom Summit being co-hosted by the famous nativist and all-around right-wing bully-boy Rep. Steve King in conjunction with the public-spirited folks at Citizens United. This is the first major "cattle call" of the 2016 cycle, where proto-candidates will give sequential speeches, mixed in with local and national conservative celebrities. The would-be presidents include John Bolton, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Scott Walker. Also there will be Jim DeMint, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, and Iowa's new conservative heartthrob, Joni Ernst. Bush and Romney won't be there because of "scheduling conflicts," which might have been their Utah meet. Rand Paul won't be there because he doesn't do cattle calls (other than actual debates). Others (Pence, Kasich, Graham, Rubio) probably haven't done enough to be counted as being serious about running. I have no idea why Bobby Jindal isn't going to be there, other than it conflicting with his "trade mission" to Europe wherein he's insulting Muslims.

In any event, aside from the speakers the event will include a large crowd of conservative activists and a horde of media folk. Both will be watching for several "stories:" (a) 2008 Iowa Caucus winner Mike Huckabee vs. 2012 winner Rick Santorum for Christian Right leadership; (b) Chris Christie dealing with a rare hostile audience; (c) Rick Perry trying to show his "new" slick persona; (d) Glenn Beck faction favorite Ben Carson with his first real spotlight speaking appearance; (e) Scott Walker trying to dispel the "Next Pawlenty" image by showing some fire; and (f) seeing who will do the most to pander publicly to King's POV on immigration. There's even a remote possibility someone will try to do a "Sister Souljah" gesture towards King and/or Iowa conservatives, though a tropical hurricane hitting Des Moines may be more likely.

But in any event, by Monday someone will have moved up or down--or maybe out--in the 2016 contest.


Political Strategy Notes



At The National Journal Karyn Bruggeman's "Democrats' Attempts to Win Back Working-Class Whites Are Getting an Early Test" reports on the second coming of Jack Conway, this time as Democratic candidate for Governor of Kentucky. "Republican strategist Scott Jennings views Conway a serious candidate, and anticipates Democrats will run a management-style campaign based on Beshear's record, while doing what they can to avoid ideological issues... "I do believe he's a better politician with a better story than Alison Grimes, and he actually has a resume," said Jennings, who ran McConnell's super PAC last year. "He's a tougher candidate and a better candidate than he was in 2010."

"In my state it's working...People are healthier, they're getting their lives back, they're getting work, and that's the reason I'm doing it." - Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich on Obamacare, as reported by Greg Sargent.

Turns out the hog castratrix's family has benefitted handsomely from government subsidies, despite her government-bashing. Jen Hayden has the story at Daily Kos.

The Daily Beast's "How Can Obama Get His Mojo Back In the State of the Union? Study Bill Clinton" by Gil Troy is an interesting read for prospective Democratic candidates, a glimpse into what gives Bill Clinton's political persona its magic. Troy offers this centrist advice for the President: "Obama can copy some Clinton tactics. With unemployment down but GDP up, Obama finally can deliver some of the good news his predecessor was lucky enough to sprinkle throughout his speeches. Obama can flummox Republicans and appeal to the public by seizing the center rather than lurching left, acting as president of all the people, not a partisan leader of the opposition-to-the-opposition. He can mix sweeping big-picture reforms with more easily achieved, small-bore adjustments that improve Americans' quality of life. He might even integrate it all into a coherent, comprehensible, and accessible vision such as Clinton's opportunity-responsibility-community mantra, so Americans have a sense of forward momentum."

Those who believe the Democrats' problem in too much centrism already, however, may prefer Michael Tomasky's Beast post, "Obama Dares GOP to Help the Middle Class in His State of the Union," which makes a case that Obama is now doing fine, honing in on a winning mantra: "People are now willing to start thinking about longer-term economic goals. A quickie CNN poll found that the speech was extremely well-received: 51 percent very positive, 30 percent somewhat positive, only 18 percent negative...That really should worry Republicans, no matter how many seats they have in Congress. Our politics is becoming about one big thing on which the Republicans have nothing to say. Actually, they do have something to say, and it's "No!" They looked ridiculous, sitting on their hands, refusing to applaud simple and obvious things that have 60, 65 percent public support. I have a feeling more such moments await them."

More than 56 million Americans, or about 19 percent, have disabilities, and over 38 million have severe disabilities, according to the U.S. Census. If you thought numbers like that would deter Rand Paul from suggesting that most of them are faking it, you would be wrong.

Way too early for gloating about poll numbers. But this graph in Jeremy Diamond's CNN report may spotlight endurable weaknesses in the campaigns of the two GOP front-runners: "About a quarter of voters said Romney's 2012 run as his party's nominee makes it less likely they will support him in 2016 and 34% of voters said Jeb Bush's legacy status -- with a father and brother who have served as president -- make them less likely to support his presidential ambitions."

Larry J. Sabato explores the role of political slogans over the decades. Despite all of the work that goes into crafting campaign slogans, my hunch is that clever one-liners, sometimes delivered with no premeditation, ("Where's the Beef?") have had more impact in recent years.

Awesome 'toonage.


January 22, 2015

Wrong-Footing the Republicans



I certainly agree with E.J.. Dionne's contention that the president is discarding most of his lingering illusions about Republicans. But just as importantly, he's learning to play them like a violin on occasions. I assessed his ability to flummox Republicans in the State of the Union Address over at TPM Cafe yesterday.

Republicans were very much bystanders last night. Obama did not allude to the midterm elections nor acknowledge the GOP takeover of the Senate. He did not treat Republican attacks on his use of executive authority as some sort of clash of the titans, and briskly bundled most of his veto threats into a single paragraph. His specific economic policy proposals (packaged as "middle class economics") were exceedingly well-tested and very popular, and because Republicans oppose them all, he left them sitting on their hands.

And he managed to diminish recent GOP complaints and demands, dismissing the Keystone XL pipeline as just another infrastructure project, mocking the Cuba policies he is discarding as archaic, and describing his immigration actions as the exasperated expedient of a president tired of Republican divisions. Obama also probably wrong-footed Republicans by giving so little time to the tax proposals that got so much attention in the last few days. There was no hard-edged "populist" appeal to denounce as "class warfare" or "income redistribution."

Sen. Joni Ernst's official "response" to the SOTU Address wasn't quite as disastrous as, say, Bobby Jindal's in 2009. But it was empty and mostly focused on her autobiography, and it played right into Obama's efforts to suggest that the GOP had nothing to "sell" on the economy beyond a controversial pipeline project (a big chunk of Ernst's speech was about the Keystone XL).

What the evening indicated is that the GOP that came out of the November midterms so full of confidence and ready to put Barack Obama in his place continues to be off-balance and divided when it's not simply opposing whatever the president proposes. And as the 2016 Republican presidential nominating process heats up--beginning just a few days from now with Rep. Steve King's candidate vetting exercise in Des Moines, the so-called Iowa Freedom Summit--the vague pieties of King's junior U.S. Senator tonight just won't cut it.

Today the big news is that House Republicans have managed to screw up a one-car funeral by adding provisions to a long-awaited federal ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy that would limit the rape exception. This produced a revolt among House Republican woman and the handful of remaining "moderates" and forced the leadership to yank the bill--intended as a treat for visiting antichoice protesters in Washington for the annual March for Life--and substitute a less base-satisfying reconfirmation of the ban on federal funding for abortions.

No, the 114th Congress is not off to a real good start for the GOP.


Dionne: Obama's SOTU Unveils More Realistic Strategy Toward GOP



In his Washington Post column "Obama ditches his illusions about Republicans," E. J. Dionne, Jr. provides a perceptive analysis of President Obama's State of the Union speech and a preview of the Administration's endgame strategy leading up to 2016. Dionne explains:

"This is good news, people."

With those five words, President Obama made clear that he thinks it's far more important to win a long-term argument with his partisan and ideological opponents than to pretend that they are eager to seize opportunities to work with him. He decided to deal with the Republican Party he has, not the Republican Party he wishes he had.

Those ad-libbed words followed what ranks as one of the more polemical passages ever offered in a State of the Union address. "At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious," he declared, "that we would crush jobs and explode deficits. Instead, we've seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health-care inflation at its lowest rate in 50 years."

Good news, indeed, and in telling the Republicans that all their predictions turned out to be wrong, he reminded his fellow citizens which side, which policies and which president had brought the country back.

His analysis of the nature of his political opposition, in turn, dictated the approach he took in the rest of the speech. There was no point in hedging on his wishes, constraining his hopes or compromising in advance. Earlier in his administration, he might have begun the negotiations by offering his interlocutors their asking price upfront and then moving backward from there. No more.

Dionne notes the specific reforms the President proposed: redistributive tax proposals, guaranteed sick leave for all, expanded child care, tuition-free community college, equal pay for equal work, "laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions," as well as a free trade agreement (which unions oppose).

Dionne concludes, "Obama clearly still believes that the country is less divided than our politics allows us to be. But he is no longer drawn to the illusion that his adversaries in the other party will beat their swords into plowshares anytime soon. He is battling not just for a personal legacy but also on behalf of a perspective that he hopes the country will someday embrace."

Many progressives feel that President Obama took too long to accept that the Republicans had no interest in bipartisan compromises. But Dionne is right that Obama's SOTU ends the era of extending olive branches to a party more interested in destroying his presidency than helping Americans achieve economic and health security.


January 21, 2015

DCorps: Obama on Offense, Gains on Key Issues



The following article is cross-posted from a DCorps e-blast:

Online dial testing with 61 white swing voters across the United States and two follow-up online focus groups - one with white non-college educated men and women and one with unmarried women - show that President Obama's agenda to bring America closer together as a "tight knit family" scored big. The President's speech generated strong, positive reactions to policies ranging from investment in infrastructure and college education to a populist agenda that takes on special interests and the wealthy in order to make sure the middle class gets its fair share.

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"Let's close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top one percent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth. We can use that money to help more families pay for childcare and send their kids to college."

His proposals resulted not only in major gains on crucial traits and issues, but bolstered the President's standing as well. President Obama's personal favorability improved from a neutral rating (44 percent warm, 44 percent cool) to a net +33 (66 percent warm, 33 percent cool), the largest post-State of the Union shift seen for the President in recent years. Tonight's speech clearly inspired our audience of swing voters.

The President comes away from this address with much to celebrate. In focus groups, voters note that the President was stronger, more confident, and more relaxed than they have seen him recently, and that they liked his positive vision, with one participant concluding that the president was "almost the guy that was elected 6 years ago, that [was] going to do a lot for the country."

The President was also successful in crafting an agenda that reached across partisan lines. Despite a deep partisan divide in the November elections and in various issue debates, there was little polarization between Democrats and Republicans throughout the speech, with the Republican dials near or above 50 for most of the President's address.

The President successfully communicated a strong sense of advocacy for middle class Americans, reflected in big gains on impressions of him as a leader, someone who is on voters' side, and someone who understands the challenges facing Americans. Voters also express greater confidence in the President than in Republicans on key issues Obama highlighted in the speech--including growing American industries, jobs and trade, handling issues facing working women and families, finding new ways to get better jobs that pay more, and having good plans for the economy.

Importantly, the President also appealed to key voters he and Democrats need to win--particularly unmarried women and working class voters. However, there is more work to do to convince these swing voters that the President and Congress can come together on issues and actually make progress on this ambitious agenda.

Read the full memo


Obama's Paid Family Leave Proposal Should Win Support from Young Parents, Couples



From Claire Cain Miller's Upshot post, "Obama Says Family Leave Is an Economic Necessity, Not Just a Women's Issue":

The percentage of women in the labor force in the United States is declining, even as it continues to rise in other high-income countries...The United States is the only high-income country not to require paid leave for workers. Britain gives new mothers 52 weeks; Italy gives 22 weeks; and Japan gives 14 weeks. The president said the government would provide $2.2 billion to reimburse states for paid family leave programs, and called for Congress to pass a bill that would enable workers to earn seven paid sick days. His plan also included creating more child care and giving families a child-care tax cut of up to $3,000 per child per year.

At Demos, Sharon Lerner adds:

...Obama's spotlight on paid family leave--or, rather, the lack of paid family leave--is incredibly valuable. Having time off to care for new babies is not just the law in the developed world, it's policy in virtually every other poor country as well. (Yes, Afghanistan, Chad, and Vietnam are ahead of us on this) In the U.S., too, the idea of giving workers time off after having a new baby has wide appeal, though the support is easy to miss--both because proponents have been unsuccessful in getting paid family leave for almost a century, and because opponents tend to frame this as a typical partisan issue, with Democrats on one side and Republicans on another.

Paid family leave isn't a typical partisan issue, though; it is a beloved policy on both on both sides of the aisle--or at least among voters in both parties. Recent polls show 55 percent of Republican women supporting The FAMILY Act, which would provide workers with up to 12 weeks off paid to care for a new baby or deal with their own or a relative's serious illness. And 62 percent of Republicans as well as 70 percent of working men polled in 2009 agreed with the statement that "businesses should be "required to provide paid family and medical leave for every worker who needs it."

Yet, while most Republicans see the value in paid family leave, Republican lawmakers still don't for the most part, putting them in a politically untenable position that they won't want to inhabit for long. By bringing the issue to the fore, Obama is garnering the approval of reasonable folks in both parties and drawing attention to the gulf between these Republican officeholders and their constituents. So when the White House highlights the fact that only 11 percent of workers are covered by formal paid family leave policies, for instance, they're underscoring both the dire need for paid family leave--and the brute insensitivity of those opposing it.

Democrats can expect strong support from women in 2016, not just because of the popularity of our women leaders in recent opinion polls, but also because Republicans oppose nearly every reform that could make life a little easier for working women. What Republicans fear even more about President Obama's paid family leave initiative is that it could give Democrats a strong edge with a constituency of growing importance --- young parents and couples planning to have children.


January 20, 2015

GOP Extremism as Political Guerilla Warfare



A brief note from James Vega:

Since 2009 The Democratic Strategist has insisted on the unprecedented character of the extremism that has come to dominate the GOP, an extremism that incorporates not only extreme positions on issues but also extremist political strategies aimed at sabotaging the basic operations of government.

A current, startling example is the "Regulatory Responsibility Act," passed without fanfare last week by the Republican majority of the House of Representatives and unopposed by any major GOP candidates or leader of the party. Here is a brief description of the legislation:

WASHINGTON -- The House passed a measure Tuesday to dramatically restrict the government's ability to enact any significant new regulations or safety standards, potentially hamstringing the efforts of every federal agency, the entire spectrum of public health and safety, worker health and safety, financial protections and consumer product protections. Opponents dub the measure a "stealth attack" because it targets obscure parts of the regulatory process but has such broad scope that it would affect all agencies, from independent regulators such as the Securities and Exchange Commission to executive branch agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency.

As the mainstream media moves further and further into 2016 campaign coverage and increasingly insists on describing various GOP candidates as representing a "moderate" or "sensible" wing of the party it is important for Democrats to energetically point out "stealth" proposals like this that illustrate the entire GOP's unopposed hard-line extremist strategy of subtly sabotaging the government.

In this regard, a recent column in Time Magazine deserves close attention. Written by David Kaiser, a military historian who taught for 20 years at the Naval War College (as well as at Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, and Williams College) it argues the very startling thesis that the extremist strategy of the GOP is actually surprisingly similar to a classical method of guerilla warfare.

As Kaiser notes:

[The Republican success in the 2014 elections is] a new victory for a long-term strategy with a very surprising analog: the strategy that allowed the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese to win the Vietnam War.

In one of his many books on the Vietnam War, the late historian Douglas Pike described the overarching Communist strategy, called dau tranh, or struggle, [one in which] the political aspects were always more important.

The Viet Cong always had more political workers than soldiers. They conducted motivational propaganda among their own troops, but also infiltrated and did whatever they could to make it impossible for the South Vietnamese government to function effectively. If they could reduce South Vietnamese society to chaos, they reasoned, the well-organized Communist party could easily take over.

Some years ago, I realized that that the Republican Party has been practicing its own kind of dau tranh for more than twenty years. Recently, the strategy has intensified. It has significantly weakened government at all levels and has a good chance of eliminating the remaining vestiges of the New Deal and the Progressive Era.

...Since winning the House of Representatives and taking away the Democrats' 60-vote majority in the Senate in 2010, Republicans have made it impossible for large parts of the federal government to function. The genius of the Republican strategy is that it validates itself. Crippling government tends to prove that government does not work, and allows Republicans to argue that the nation would do better with even less government.

Democratic administrations on the other hand depend on the idea that government can help the people. Starving and immobilizing the government makes it look ineffective, which seems to validate Republican propaganda. Franklin Roosevelt created the modern Democratic Party by convincing every section of the country, from the agricultural south and the resource-rich west to the urban areas of the northeast and Midwest, that the government could help them. Now that belief has nearly disappeared in most of the Red states.

...Some months ago Mitch McConnell told a symposium hosted by the Koch brothers that if the Republicans win the Senate, a Republican Congress will use the budget process to defund every part of the federal government that they do not like...That would be the final triumph of several decades of dau tranh.

Republicans will of course respond that it is completely outrageous for anyone--even a professional military historian--to compare their strategy to that of insurrectionary movements whose objective is the deliberate sabotage of government. On this point Democrats can most heartily agree. It is indeed outrageous and the moment the GOP ceases to engage in such behavior Democrats will with great pleasure cease to draw the comparison.


Why GOP's 'Class Warfare' Meme Will Tank...Again



The Republicans' message du jour buzz term on the eve of President Obama's SOTU is an oldie, but not-so-goodie: "Class Warfare." Steve Benen explains it well at Maddowblog:

...Obama is prepared to focus on the growing wealth gap, economic inequalities, the concentration of wealth at the very top, and the fact that the recovery's prosperity has not been broadly shared. And yes, the predictable, knee-jerk response from the right is to complain about "class warfare." But whether congressional Republicans are comfortable with this or not, it was Mitt Romney who told RNC members last week how concerned he is that "the rich have gotten richer" and "income inequality has gotten worse." It was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who complained about a year ago, "Right now, the top 1 percent in this country, the millionaires and billionaires the president demagogues so much, earn a higher share of our national income than any time since 1928." Is it "class warfare" when a Democrat notices these national challenges, but sound thinking when a Republican notices? Or does it only count as "class warfare" because the president has presented a credible proposal to do something about it?

Good questions. Many a progressive Democrat would welcome a little more class conflict, since the gap between the super-rich and working people has grown alarmingly under Republican tax policies, union-bashing and wage stagnation.

In addition to their hypocrisy on the topic, Republicans have never gotten a lot of traction with the 'class warfare' meme. They hope to win over some small businessmen and women with it, but there is little evidence that 'class warfare' hysteria wins much support with this particular constituency. It's pretty much a preaching-to-the choir ditty, of little interest to persuadable voters who are looking for substantive answers.

It's equally unlikely that working families struggling to pay their bills and get their kids a better education are going to have much sympathy with the GOP meme-mongers 'class warfare' finger-pointing. Odds are they will find President Obama's expected SOTU message calling for tuition-free community college, paid family leave, and a more significant middle class tax cut of considerably more interest.


January 19, 2015

Political Strategy Notes



In this short clip MLK concludes one of his best speeches on the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama at the conclusion of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march for Voting Rights. As we celebrate the 30th Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, the film "Selma" seems to be gathering momentum for a "Best Picture" Oscar, accompanied by debate about LBJ's level of support for the Voting Rights Act. I come down in the middle: It's true that LBJ would not have fought for it and signed it in 1965 without MLK's determination. But give Johnson some credit for coming up with visionary leadership when it counted.

At The Hill Ben Kamisar's "Lawmakers Reflect on 'No' Votes on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday" surveys the current and past attitudes of current Republican members of congress who voted against the MLK holiday at the federal or state level. Three of them, Sens. McCain, Hatch and Isaakson say they regret their vote.

At Latin Post Michael Oleaga reports on his interviews of LULAC and Rock the Vote leaders and discusses "How to Mobilize Latino Millennials After Midterms."

Livia Gershon's "Why Democrats Can't Figure Out White Working-Class Voters" at vice.com marshals a combination of revealing anecdotes and analysis to shed some interesting light on the Democrats' quest for a bigger bite of this elusive demographic. Among Gershon's insights: "Depending on how you define the white working class, you can come to a wide variety of conclusions about voting patterns. But spend too much time thinking about these details, and you miss a major piece of the puzzle: The huge number of white working-class people, and lower-income people of all races, who don't vote at all...Elisabeth Jacobs, the researcher, said that if we want to understand how class affects voting as we look toward 2016, the gap between voters and non-voters is in some ways more important than the party breakdown. "If you're talking about the white working class versus the white working class voters, you're talking about very different universes of people," she said."

Here's great headline that encapsulates a good idea from WLRN, a PBS affiliate in south Florida: "Democrats' Free Tuition Strategy: Unleash Eager Parents Against Reluctant GOP" by Rick Stone.

Looks like conservatives are trying to brand Rep. Chris Van Hollen as "Robin Hood" for his new tax plan which would reallocate some income from the wealthy to the middle class. Maybe that's not such a hot idea, since Robin Hood has been a hero to working people for centuries.

Michael Tomasky's explains in his Daily Beast post, "The Biggest, Most Important 2016 Debate" that "...Wage stagnation is basically a Democratic issue, one that most voters would probably trust the Democrats to do a better job on than Republicans. Although of course, if it comes to be October 2016 and wages are still as flat as they've been since the crash, that could be a problem for the Democrats. So what they need to do is frame wages not as a post-crash, Obama-era problem, but instead to make sure Americans know that this is a deep historical problem, and that the moment to address is right now...The Democratic Party wasn't always much good at articulating a theory of economic growth that could counter the Republicans' trickle-down argument. They're finally finding their voice on this. And so, the real importance of the next election is not the Supreme Court, not climate change, not foreign policy, crucial as all those things are. It's that it could write the obituary of supply-side economics. "

Ohio progressives must now prepare for a brutal battle against Republicans' all-out assault on unions --- and middle-class economic security in the buckeye state.

"Simple"might be a stretch. But Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake present a plausible path for Dems to retake a U.S. Senate majority in 2016.






Editor's Corner

by Ed Kilgore



January 23: GOP Winnowing Begins

The painful process of winnowing down a potentially gigantic Republican president field is now officially underway with two events, one yesterday and one tomorrow.

Yesterday Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush got together in Utah to discuss--well, we don't know exactly what they discussed. But what apparently began as a courtesy call by Bush on the "titular head of the Republican Party" became something else after Romney abruptly put himself back into the Invisible Primary with aggressive moves towards a candidacy. They're now practically stumbling over each other in the pursuit of donors and perhaps campaign staff. Perhaps they divided them up yesterday; perhaps they just agreed neither of them would make any moves that would wind up representing a murder-suicide for the Establishment wing of the GOP. We'll have to wait and see.

Tomorrow's event is public (though it will undoubtedly be accompanied by private meetings and much kissing-of-the-ring of its primary host): the Iowa Freedom Summit being co-hosted by the famous nativist and all-around right-wing bully-boy Rep. Steve King in conjunction with the public-spirited folks at Citizens United. This is the first major "cattle call" of the 2016 cycle, where proto-candidates will give sequential speeches, mixed in with local and national conservative celebrities. The would-be presidents include John Bolton, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Scott Walker. Also there will be Jim DeMint, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, and Iowa's new conservative heartthrob, Joni Ernst. Bush and Romney won't be there because of "scheduling conflicts," which might have been their Utah meet. Rand Paul won't be there because he doesn't do cattle calls (other than actual debates). Others (Pence, Kasich, Graham, Rubio) probably haven't done enough to be counted as being serious about running. I have no idea why Bobby Jindal isn't going to be there, other than it conflicting with his "trade mission" to Europe wherein he's insulting Muslims.

In any event, aside from the speakers the event will include a large crowd of conservative activists and a horde of media folk. Both will be watching for several "stories:" (a) 2008 Iowa Caucus winner Mike Huckabee vs. 2012 winner Rick Santorum for Christian Right leadership; (b) Chris Christie dealing with a rare hostile audience; (c) Rick Perry trying to show his "new" slick persona; (d) Glenn Beck faction favorite Ben Carson with his first real spotlight speaking appearance; (e) Scott Walker trying to dispel the "Next Pawlenty" image by showing some fire; and (f) seeing who will do the most to pander publicly to King's POV on immigration. There's even a remote possibility someone will try to do a "Sister Souljah" gesture towards King and/or Iowa conservatives, though a tropical hurricane hitting Des Moines may be more likely.

But in any event, by Monday someone will have moved up or down--or maybe out--in the 2016 contest.


January 22: Wrong-Footing the Republicans

I certainly agree with E.J.. Dionne's contention that the president is discarding most of his lingering illusions about Republicans. But just as importantly, he's learning to play them like a violin on occasions. I assessed his ability to flummox Republicans in the State of the Union Address over at TPM Cafe yesterday.

Republicans were very much bystanders last night. Obama did not allude to the midterm elections nor acknowledge the GOP takeover of the Senate. He did not treat Republican attacks on his use of executive authority as some sort of clash of the titans, and briskly bundled most of his veto threats into a single paragraph. His specific economic policy proposals (packaged as "middle class economics") were exceedingly well-tested and very popular, and because Republicans oppose them all, he left them sitting on their hands.

And he managed to diminish recent GOP complaints and demands, dismissing the Keystone XL pipeline as just another infrastructure project, mocking the Cuba policies he is discarding as archaic, and describing his immigration actions as the exasperated expedient of a president tired of Republican divisions. Obama also probably wrong-footed Republicans by giving so little time to the tax proposals that got so much attention in the last few days. There was no hard-edged "populist" appeal to denounce as "class warfare" or "income redistribution."

Sen. Joni Ernst's official "response" to the SOTU Address wasn't quite as disastrous as, say, Bobby Jindal's in 2009. But it was empty and mostly focused on her autobiography, and it played right into Obama's efforts to suggest that the GOP had nothing to "sell" on the economy beyond a controversial pipeline project (a big chunk of Ernst's speech was about the Keystone XL).

What the evening indicated is that the GOP that came out of the November midterms so full of confidence and ready to put Barack Obama in his place continues to be off-balance and divided when it's not simply opposing whatever the president proposes. And as the 2016 Republican presidential nominating process heats up--beginning just a few days from now with Rep. Steve King's candidate vetting exercise in Des Moines, the so-called Iowa Freedom Summit--the vague pieties of King's junior U.S. Senator tonight just won't cut it.

Today the big news is that House Republicans have managed to screw up a one-car funeral by adding provisions to a long-awaited federal ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy that would limit the rape exception. This produced a revolt among House Republican woman and the handful of remaining "moderates" and forced the leadership to yank the bill--intended as a treat for visiting antichoice protesters in Washington for the annual March for Life--and substitute a less base-satisfying reconfirmation of the ban on federal funding for abortions.

No, the 114th Congress is not off to a real good start for the GOP.


January 15: Convention Hiatus Ahead

Republicans have announced they will hold their 2016 National Convention from July 18-21 next year. This decision both reflects and creates some significant strategic considerations for both parties, as I discussed at Washington Monthly:

It'll be the earliest national convention since the Democratic confab that nominated Bill Clinton in 1992, and the earliest Republican convention since you-know-who's nomination in Detroit in 1980 (don't imagine we won't hear a lot about that!).

In announcing the dates, RNC chairman Reince Priebus seemed to suggest the main rationale for the relatively early convention was "access to crucial general election funds." It's not clear if he was talking about public matching funds that are only made available once a nominee has been chosen; that seems a bit anachronistic, since both major-party nominees rejected public funding in 2012 and there's no particular reason to think they'll accept them along with spending limits this time around. He could, alternatively, be talking about access to privately-raised hard money that are subject to separate primary and general-election contribution limits. Either way, in this post-Citizens United era, it sounds like a blast from 1996.

When it first arose the idea of an early GOP convention seemed linked to a push by the RNC to compress the entire nominating process. Indeed, the talk then was of a June convention, in conjunction with wrapping up the primaries in April or early May. But here's why June didn't work out, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

[T]he Republican National Committee's selection of Cleveland last July came days before NBA star LeBron James announced that he was returning home to Ohio.

James' Cavaliers play their games at Quicken Loans Arena, which will be the main site for convention programming. His return increased the probability of Cleveland playoff basketball into June -- a prospect that made the arena's pre-convention availability to Republican planners and Secret Service uncertain.

Hah! Can't imagine the business of nominating The Next President of the United States would trump the NBA playoffs!

In any event, the early speculation has been that Democrats will go the other way and once again hold their convention in late August or early September, creating a large hiatus (filled partially by the Olympics) and also giving Ds a chance to stage-manage a "bounce." They could even emulate the Republican gambit in 2008 of announcing the nominee's running-mate well before the convention--say, the day after the GOP confab--to step on any GOP "bounce." Either way, they'll have plenty of time to think about it.

I've always thought forming the party ticket much earlier than the conventions is a good idea, both for strategic purposes and to avoid what happened to the GOP in 2008.


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