washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Discussion panel

Understanding voters’ angst in the 2016 election

On September 20, E.J. Dionne hosted two of the nation’s leading pollsters from both sides of the aisle—Stanley Greenberg and Whit Ayres—and Markle Foundation CEO and President Zoë Baird for an illuminating and frank discussion on the conflicting state of American politics. What are the roots of pessimism regarding America’s economic and democratic future, how are demographics influencing this election, and is there a potential path toward unity in its aftermath?

Watch the video.

Stan Greenberg

Stan Greenberg Speaks

“The core problem is the stagnation of incomes over a long period of time… almost permanent. [People are] angry at leaders who have not addressed the problem.”

Watch the Video.

E. J. Dionne

A Non-Partisan Discussion

E. J. Dionne moderates—with sponsorship from from the Markle Foundation—a serious discussion of  voters and their concerns coming into the 2016 presidential election.

Watch the Video.

The Daily Strategist

December 5, 2016

Don’t Forget About Medicaid, Democrats!

I feel like I’ve issued this reminder all too often over the years, but it’s time for it again: Medicare-focused Democrats should not forget about Medicaid! I wrote it up again for New York this week:

Congressional Democrats are gearing up for a big campaign to head off or exploit Republican plans to significantly change the Medicare program. The nomination of Representative Tom Price, the House Budget Committee chair, to serve as HHS Secretary has served as a convenient news hook for these Democratic plans, always kept close at hand ever since Paul Ryan made radical changes in Medicare a key feature of his various budget proposals. Price has long supported Ryan’s schemes to turn Medicare benefits into vouchers used to buy private health insurance, and more to the point, has urged Republicans to tackle Medicare “reform” in 2017.

We still don’t know whether the Trump administration and congressional Republicans will actually risk other elements of their common agenda to go after Medicare. But Democrats aren’t taking any chances. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer is already accusing the newly ascendant GOP of incipient granny-starving: “Between this nomination of an avowed Medicare opponent and Republicans here in Washington threatening to privatize Medicare, it’s clear that Washington Republicans are plotting a war on seniors next year. Every senior, every American should hear this loudly and clearly Democrats will not let them win that fight.”

Schumer and others are comparing this moment to a similar juncture in 2004 when a newly reelected George W. Bush announced he would expend some political capital in seeking a partial privatization of Social Security. It was a big mistake, and aside from failing almost immediately in Congress as a significant number of Republicans headed for the hills, it marked the beginning of a long decline in Bush’s political fortunes punctuated by a Democratic midterm landslide in 2006.

Democrats are hoping for a similar cycle of Republican overreach and voter backlash today — or at least a tactical victory in public opinion forcing Trump (who once promised to protect Medicare benefits), Price, and Ryan to leave Medicare alone.

But there is some risk that by concentrating all their fire on Medicare, Democrats are potentially shirking other health-care safety-net programs, notably Medicaid, the low-income health-care entitlement that has been the object of conservative contempt for decades. Medicaid, after all, is inextricably connected to the Affordable Care Act (and in fact has accounted for a majority of the coverage gains attributable to ACA, despite the Supreme Court decision making Medicaid expansion optional), and if we know one thing for sure about Republican plans, it is that Obamacare repeal (if not replacement) will happen as quickly as possible using budget reconciliation rules that prevent filibusters.

GOP plans for Medicaid are as unclear as those for Medicare. Every Ryan budget has included the conversion of the program into a block grant (or a very similar fixed per capita allotment) whereby the federal contribution would be capped (if not reduced) in exchange for states having more (and perhaps total) flexibility over how to use the money — i.e., they would not have to continue the same benefits for the same population. Trump endorsed the Medicaid block-grant idea during his campaign as well. While there is no question that moving Medicaid over to block grants is intended to massively reduce federal support for low-income health care over time, there are some big questions about how it might play out. The largest is probably what to do about the 31 states that did indeed expand Medicaid under Obamacare. The budget reconciliation bill enacted by Congress last year (and vetoed by Obama) simply canceled the expansion, which would put states in the position of either abandoning new enrollees or footing the bill for their benefits. The House Republicans’ more recent “Better Way” agenda doesn’t cancel the expansion, but does eliminate the elevated federal match rate designed to encourage states to accept it. So it looks like some combination of state budgets and new Medicaid enrollees would take a big hit.

While congressional Democrats aren’t talking much about this threat to Medicaid, it’s a big deal to governors and state legislators — and the 12 Republican governors in states that did accept the Medicaid expansion are probably the biggest obstacles to a slashing federal support. One of them happens to be Mike Pence….

Perhaps Democrats think they can count on Republican governors or their congressional allies to save Medicaid from evisceration, leaving them to concentrate on Medicare. But more likely, Schumer and others are simply obsessed with the political benefits of identifying themselves as defenders of Medicare. And there’s a lot of cynical logic supporting that approach. The seniors who are most concerned about Medicare — and the middle-aged people most affected by a voucher scheme that “grandfathers” current and near-future beneficiaries — vote at much higher rates than young folks and poor folks. They are also a great electoral prize for Democrats, who have been bleeding support among older voters lately. It’s no accident that the last time Democrats had a good midterm election, in 2006, they actually won the senior vote.

There is another factor that makes the self-conscious progressives you would expect to care most about Medicaid beneficiaries instead focus on Medicare. For supporters of a single-payer health-care system, Medicare is the great model of what they want all Americans to enjoy as an entitlement. Meanwhile, Medicaid is the classic “poor people’s program” they would just as soon abandon in favor of universal single payer. In the meantime, many left-bent pols supposedly transfixed by income inequality and its victims may not expend much effort on protecting Medicaid.

But precisely because they are less politically powerful, Medicaid beneficiaries are far more vulnerable to the new Republican regime than the older and wealthier (and for that matter, whiter) population of those on or anticipating Medicare. They are also more likely to feel the hammer come down earlier, either through administrative decisions by the Trump administration or an early budget reconciliation bill that includes an Obamacare “repeal.” It would be nice to hear more about them, particularly from their ostensible champions in the Democratic Party.


What Trump Voters Want Done About Obamacare

The millions of Americans who have benefitted from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have reason to be concerned about President-elect Trump’s intentions regarding the legislation.

It’s not just Trump’s pledge to repeal the legislation and replace it with something “terrific.” Trump’s  nominee for Secretary of Health Education and Welfare Rep. Tom Price is cause for further concern. Price, as New York Times reporter Tom Hulse has noted, is “not only a leading proponent of repealing the Obama-era health care law, but he has embraced Republican efforts to move future Medicare users into private insurance programs and raise the eligibility age.”

At some point, however, Trump will have to reassess at his “mandate,” tempered though it is by Clinton’s popular vote win. More specifically, he should examine what Trump’s 62+ million voters want to do about Obamacare. The most recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, conducted Nov. 15-21, offers some guidance in arriving at a credible answer to what his voters want, regarding the ACA.

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Clearly Trump voters overwhelmingly support the key provisions of Obamacare, with the very significant exception of the individual and employer mandates — even though many of them voice fervent opposition to the legislation by name. If Trump wants to respect his supporters’ wishes, he has to navigate a very difficult course.

One of the trickier questions Trump and the Republicans will face in preserving the ACA’s ban on denying coverage because of prior medical history, is whether insurance companies will be able to charge higher rates to those with a history of medical issues, and if so, how much higher. Seniors are also worried that the Trump regime may force Medicare recipients to pay more out of pocket, and middle-aged voters have reason to be concerned about raising the Medicare eligibility age.

These and other questions almost guarantee that a lot of Trump voters are going to be sorely disappointed. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the 2018 mid-term elections.


The Party of Permanent Voter Suppression

Donald Trump’s tweet this week claiming he would have won the presidential popular vote had not “millions of people…voted illegally” for his opponent is chilling beyond the light it casts on the president-elect’s personality and character. I wrote about the long-term implications for New York.

Trump’s persistence in alleging — without a shred of evidence so far — massive voter fraud even after the election is most unfortunate. It will reinforce the fatal temptation on the political right, extending from non-ideological partisan hacks to the most race-crazed of white nationalists, to declare permanent open season on voting rights. And once universal suffrage stops being a principle to which both major parties subscribe in theory if not always in practice, reestablishing it could become as difficult as it was in the darkest days of the southern struggle for civil rights.

It is bad enough that loose and almost entirely unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud have become routine ammunition in the battle of Republican state lawmakers and elected officials to shave a little bit here (fewer early voting opportunities) and a little bit there (unnecessary and discriminatory voter-ID requirements) from the exercise of the franchise by the young and minority voters most likely to support Democrats. What Trump seems to be buying into is something much more sweeping and ominous: the argument that large-scale voting for Democrats in any particular demographic category is prima facie evidence of fraud because Democrats are offering minority voters — specifically immigrants — inducements no legitimate government should be able to extend, from a path to citizenship to “welfare.”

The idea that the power of “takers not makers” is reaching a tipping point where confiscatory socialism becomes inevitable is an old idea among conservatives, although one they do not often broadcast. It was, after all, the basic point of Mitt Romney’s famous “47 percent” gaffe. In 2016, it was reflected in one of the most pervasive conservative memes: that 2016 could be the “last election” thanks to the success of Democrats in expanding the electorate to achieve a permanent majority based on lawbreakers and dependents. Indeed, some anti-Trump conservatives used this argument to justify voting for the mogul despite all their misgivings about him: It was the “Flight 93 election,” in which hurling oneself suicidally into the fight to deny liberals an electoral victory was the only patriotic course of action. But Trump himself endorsed this meme in September in an interview with Christian right journalist David Brody:

“I think it’s going to be the last election that the Republicans can win. If we don’t win this election, you’ll never see another Republican and you’ll have a whole different church structure. You’re going to have a whole different Supreme Court structure. That has to do a lot with what we’re doing because the Supreme Court, as you know with Justice Scalia gone, I think you could probably have four to five judges picked by the next president. Probably a record number, David, probably a record number of judges. If they pick the super-liberals, probably to a certain extent, people that would make Bernie Sanders happy, you will never have a Supreme Court, we’re going to end up with another Venezuela, large scale version. It would be a disaster for the country.”

If, indeed, the very continuation of constitutional government depends on resisting the enfranchisement of new Democratic voters, then efforts to disenfranchise them are always in order, in good times and bad, and even in victory as well as defeat. I am afraid that is the new reality we are already seeing in Trump’s “voter fraud” tweet.

With the election of a president who embraces the idea that universal suffrage is political suicide for the GOP and demographic suicide for real Americans, we may have already lost the hard-won bipartisan support for the proposition that voting is a right for everyone who has not done something terrible to forfeit the vote. The entity that is charged with protecting the right to vote, moreover, is being entrusted by Trump to Jeff Sessions, a man whose entire career has been devoted to maintaining and restoring the kind of highly ordered traditionalist society the civil-rights and voting-rights revolutions endangered in the 1960s and endanger now. Thanks to a conservative Supreme Court majority (soon to be reestablished and perhaps expanded by Trump) that vitiated the enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Sessions will, if he wishes, be able to pursue a “voter fraud” witch hunt without significant contradictory obligations to defend the right to vote from those who would deny or restrict it.

What this ultimately means is that much of what voting-rights advocates have taken for granted for decades now is again in question. It will take some exceptionally principled Republicans to keep their party from adopting voter suppression as a day-in, day-out political strategy followed in broad daylight rather than the shadows. And the more the GOP fights letting those people vote, the more it will depend on restricting the franchise in the future if its shrinking white voter base is to continue to prevail. In effect, every election will be the “last election” unless voter suppression is not only maintained but intensified to turn back the nonwhite demographic tide.

It is always possible that Donald Trump will decide he’s made America so great in so short a time that his party no longer has to rely on giving disproportionate power to old white people in a sort of truncated quasi-democracy. But if that is where this most unlikely leader of the Party of Lincoln is headed, he is off to a terrible start.


Political Strategy Notes

Some salient observations from Thomas B. Edsall’s New York Times op-ed, “Who Can Tell the Future of the Democratic Party?“: “A random examination of Obama’s speeches during the 2008 campaign reveals his sensitivity to the concerns of the white working class — from which his maternal grandparents, with whom he lived for many years, came. He rarely turned to an explicit “identity politics” strategy…Even when speaking before civil rights and women’s rights groups, Obama took pains to avoid particularistic appeals…Every campaign seeks to mobilize specific constituencies. Identity politics are, and have always been, a fact of life. The issue is what takes precedence: those constituency-specific appeals or a sustained emphasis on a more encompassing appeal to a broad economic class…The tried and true way for a politician to market a coalitional regime amid a cacophony of particularistic demands is to forcefully assert the primacy of the whole. This worked for the Obama insurgency in 2008 because his coalition members were willing to temporarily suspend their immediate demands in favor of a more encompassing victory.”

At The Daily 202 James Hohman rolls out a scenario to explain “How Democrats might be forced to get onboard with replacing Obamacare.” Hohman writes, “Here’s the rub: Republicans actually can repeal Obamacare somewhat easily using the procedure known as reconciliation. It’s the same maneuver that Democrats used to jam through the law in 2010 after Scott Brown unexpectedly won a special election to replace the late Ted Kennedy. Only 51 votes are required. But, under the rules of reconciliation, a replacement of the law cannot be moved through this same process. Sixty votes will be required in the Senate for that, and Republicans only have 52 seats…The emerging Republican stratagem is to create some “transition period,” as McCarthy calls it, setting a firm date on which the law would expire. That would then create a metaphorical cliff that the country would go over unless Congress acts. With the prospect of 20 million Americans losing health insurance coverage, the R’s bet that the D’s will cave and accept something they don’t like rather than nothing at all. As McCarthy put it, “Once it’s repealed, why wouldn’t they be willing to vote for a replacement? Right? You have no other options…It’s a dangerous cycle that could set up an epic game of chicken.”

New York Times reporter Carl Hulse reports that “Democrats See Medicare as Winning Wedge Issue” and note that Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Health Education and Welfare Rep. Tom Price is  “not only a leading proponent of repealing the Obama-era health care law, but he has embraced Republican efforts to move future Medicare users into private insurance programs and raise the eligibility age.” Hulse writes, “Senate Democrats intend to press Mr. Price on this subject during his confirmation hearings. They see a wide opening for political gain, given the 57 million older Americans who rely on Medicare — including many white Midwesterners with financial worries who voted for Mr. Trump…“Good luck to selling that to the voters in Indiana and Ohio that were Democrats and voted for Trump this time,” Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, said about a Medicare revamp.”

Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch has a must-read for Democrats who are concerned about stopping the GOP/corporate takeover of state legislatures and governorships. Bottari reports on the annual meeting of  The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) now underway “to strategize on how to advance a far-right agenda under a Trump presidency.” Bottari reviews the ALEC agenda and spotlights one major item: “It is notable that another ALEC bill under consideration at this week’s meeting “Resolution in Support of Nonprofit Donor Privacy” recommends that the public be kept in the dark when it comes to finding out which millionaires or corporate interests are bankrolling ALEC, because the poor souls might be subject to public criticism or public pressure to drop their ALEC membership.”

In Stuart Rothenberg’s Chicago Tribune op-ed “How the Democratic Party should prepare for 2018 and beyond,” he advises “the makeup of the 2016 Senate class limits Democratic opportunities, but the House of Representatives suddenly became a very different battlefield with a Republican president…Since a midterm is almost always a referendum on the sitting president, the contours of 2018 will depend on President Trump’s success and failures, as well as on Democratic recruiting and fundraising. That makes it fundamentally different from the last five general elections…Like all parties after defeat, Democrats should assess their strengths and weaknesses, their vulnerabilities and their opportunities. But they better not simply prepare to fight the last war again.”

At Organizing Upgrade Bob Wing and Bill Fletcher, Jr. note the racial bias of the Electoral College and how it helps Republicans: “Why is it that, in the 21st century, the Electoral College keeps trumping the popular vote on behalf of Republicans?…The pro-Republican bias of the Electoral College derives from two main dynamics: it overweights the impact of mostly conservative voters in small population states and it negates entirely the mostly progressive votes of nearly half of African American voters, more than half of Native American voters and a major swath of Latino voters.”

Trump has credited Twitter as an invaluable tool for enabling his electoral college win. The New Republic’s senior editor Jeet Heer warns that inflammatory tweets are now more like a way of life for him: “A president-elect is supposed to try and unify the country after a divisive political conflict; relentlessly controversial tweeting stands that old idea on its head. Since his election, Trump has picked a fight with the cast of the musical Hamilton (accusing them in a now-deleted tweet of not just insulting Vice President-elect Mike Pence but, worse, of forgetting their lines). He’s falsely claimed that he won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” He’s argued that anyone who burns the flag should suffer from a “loss of citizenship or year in jail!” Likely as not, Trump is consciously using “incendiary tweets” to distract attention from Clinton’s popular vote win, now at 2.5 million, and the media has taken the bait. As Heer notes, “For a politician who frames himself a populist, losing the popular vote is especially embarrassing. Sticking to campaign mode is in part a response to this failure—a way to refight the election that Trump and his team know they didn’t fully win…Trump’s tweets help get people talking about something other than Trump University, or his conflicts of interest. They manufacture distracting controversies. But they also, crucially, give him a powerful microphone to address the world without the interjection of critical voices. They are a form of press conference without a press, a social media rally with an audience in the millions.”

Hohman also reports on the Romney grovelfest, which may end in making Ted Cruz look like a principled man of his word in comparison. A sampling of Romney’s gush: “I had a wonderful evening with President-elect Trump. We had another discussion about affairs throughout the world and these discussions I’ve had with him have been enlightening, and interesting, and engaging. I’ve enjoyed them very, very much…” It is a sad commentary that, if Trump selects Romney for State, it would add dignity and gravitas to his stable of cabinet picks thus far.

In that regard, hopefully the Sarah Palin at the V.A. buzz is just a pat on the head for her support of Trump. But, yikes, it’s true. Former Veep Dan Quayle has been sighted in Trump Tower.


Dems Will Limit Damage to Obamacare

If reason and rules prevail, the amount of damage Trump and the Republicans do to Obamacare should be limited, according to incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Mr. Schumer vows to block all efforts to kill Obamacare, or gut Dodd-Frank financial regulation. “We’re not going to undo it, period. And I have the votes,” says Schumer, quoted in the New York Times editorial “Can Senate Democrats Save the Party?” The Bipartisan Policy Center concurrs, noting “the Senate is not likely to have the 60 votes needed to pass a wholesale repeal” of Obamacare.

Schumer’s confidence may seem a little cocky in light of the electoral college thrashing Democrats just suffered. But Dems did pick up a couple of senate seats. And Clinton’s historically-unprecedened popular vote win for a presidential candidate who lost the electoral college vote — 2 million plus and counting — should temper the public’s perception of any mandate the Republicans can credibly claim. The Times editorial adds, further:

Much of the burden will fall on Democrats in the closely divided Senate, where arcane rules give the opposition party leverage to shape or block legislation passed by the rigidly conservative, Republican-dominated House. The challenge facing the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, is to determine when to say no and when to compromise on matters of broad economic benefit.

Numerous opinion polls indicate strong support for key provisions of Obamacare, and a healthy share of those who criticise the ACA want a stronger, not a weaker role for government in providing health care. Asked, “Now, please tell me if you favor or oppose having a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance through an expanded, universal form of Medicare-for-all” last December, 58 percent of respondents in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll said they would favor such a reform.

Most Democrats have long been open to “mend it, don’t end it” reforms to make Obamacare better serve the public, with considerable public support. Asked “Which is closer to your view on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare? It is working relatively well, and it needs some fixes to be better. It is fatally flawed and should be repealed and replaced?” in Bloomberg Politics Poll conducted March 19-22,  50 percent of respondents agreed that “it needs some fixes,” while 46 percent said “it should be replaced.”

The Republicans have thus far refused to negotiate in good faith for anything short of an all-out repeal of the measure. The central question going forward is, will Trump eventually settle for reasonable changes to the ACA with bipartisan support?

After meeting with President Obama, Trump reportedly told the Wall Street Journal three days into his transition that he might keep popular Obamacare provisions, including “the prohibition against insurers denying coverage because of patients’ existing conditions, and a provision that allows parents to provide years of additional coverage for children on their insurance policies.” Trump said “I like those very much.”

President Obama has indicated even he might support “replacement” legislation that gives the Republicans some credit, if it preserves the popular provisions of the ACA, even if it’s called something else. If Trump gets to the point where he is willing to support bipartisan reform of Obamacare, he might get some deserved credit for real leadership, instead of parroting the GOP’s childish, triumphalist demand that Obamacare be obliterated and replaced with a vaguely-stated something more to their liking at a later date.

Even with bipartisan reform of the ACA, Trump and GOP leaders can still strut, crow and gush about how they ended Obamacare. But it will be sensibly-calibrated, bipartisan reform, if it’s anything at all. Republicans will likely win some of their favored “reforms,” such as health savings/reimbursement accounts and greater flexibility for the states in administering Medicaid allotments.

No doubt some Republican hard-liners are hoping enough Democratic senators will be so cowed by Trump’s electoral college win and the difficult 2018 senate race landscape Dems face, that they will simply cave and support repeal of Obamacare, with no guarantees of any of the popular provisions being included in some sketchy “replacement bill.” More likely, Democratic senators will insist on responsible reforms, and that they will get some of the credit for it.


Political Strategy Notes

At Politico Gabriel Debenedetti’s “Democrats wrestle with Rust Belt dilemma: Party leaders in fast-growing states warn against obsessing over Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin” cautions against overreacting to Trump’s electoral college win and notes a couple of bright spots for the future. “The Arizona and Georgia margins turned out to be closer than in Ohio and Iowa — two swing states Obama won twice,” notes Debenedetti. “…Reed, the Atlanta mayor, makes the point that Clinton lost North Carolina and its 15 electoral votes — where her team spent tens of millions of dollars — by just roughly one point less than she lost Georgia and its 16 votes…“It would be a mistake to not look at the gains that were made in Georgia,” said Rebecca DeHart, executive director of that state’s Democratic Party, nodding to the looming uncertainty about resources.”

Lynn Vavreck reported in the New York Times that “Only 9 percent of Mrs. Clinton’s appeals in her ads were about jobs or the economy. By contrast, 34 percent of Mr. Trump’s appeals focused on the economy, jobs, taxes and trade.”

In his Daily Beast post, “Dems Can’t Afford to Say Yes to Trump: The few last times Democrats were in the oppositional spotlight, they were excessively accommodating to Republican presidents. The party can’t risk that now,” Michael Tomasky makes a strong case against Dems taking an accommodationist tilt toward Trump. In one graph Tomasky shreds the myth that Dems outspent Republicans leading up to 2016, particularly at the state level: “…It’s the right that spends more. Rob Stein, the founder of the Democracy Alliance, the group of wealthy liberal donors that tries to coordinate investment in a progressive infrastructure, has studied this question for years. He told me: “The right has been building its infrastructure for more than 40 years. Whereas 10 years ago the right’s independent political apparatus was outspending progressives in electorally relevant state-based political mobilization by over two to one, in this cycle that margin appears to have been in excess of four to one.”

You’ve probably seen a fair number of posts disparaging “identity politics” in recent weeks. Most of these articles are talking about pro-liberal demographic groups. But Trump played the identity card with a much heavier hand than did Clinton, and more pundits than you can count attribute his electoral college victory and state upsets to his leveraging white working-class resentments. Laila Lalami’s “The Identity Politics of Whiteness” explores the phenomenon at The New York Times Magazine.

From “Vilsack’s tough message for fellow Democrats: Stop writing off rural America,” by Greg Jaffe at The Washington Post: “Democrats need to talk to rural voters,” Vilsack warned this summer. “They can’t write them off. They can’t ignore them. They actually have to spend a little time talking to them.” There is no question that Democrats do better in towns and counties where they put in the time, as Obama proved in the 2008 Iowa caucuses. For a strongly-stated opposing view, however, read this post.  A possible copromise might be for Dems to campaign more in rural areas in state and local races and during the presidential primary elections and caucuses, but for Democratic presidential candidates hold off on spending much time and resources in rural areas in the 2020 general election presidential race.

Although the 2018 election offers a scary landscape for Democrats campaigning for senate seats, at The Plum Line Greg Sargent points out that Democrats face more encouraging terrain in upcoming races for governorships. Sargent writes that “in 2017 and 2018, there will be a total of 38 gubernatorial contests…Of these races, those that will feature Republicans defending GOP-held seats…will vastly outnumber those that will feature Democrats defending Dem-held seats…The vast majority of these races take place in 2018 (only two, Virginia and New Jersey, take place next year), so we’re really talking about the 2018 map here. It has big transformative potential for Democrats, since many of the states in which Republicans are defending seats are ones Barack Obama (and to a lesser extent Hillary Clinton) won…There has been a great deal of chatter about how Democrats should retool their economic message to win back the working class and middle class whites that Trump overperformed among, but these races provide a chance to actually try to do this in the immediate future.”

Maybe 2016 really was the “facebook election,” though not in a good way, as Jenna Wortham observes, also in the New York Times Magazine: “Social media seemed to promise a way to better connect with people; instead it seems to have made it easier to tune out the people we don’t agree with. But if we can’t pay attention to one another, we might as well not live on the same planet at all.” Despite all of the educational promise of social media, it may be feeding polarization, instead of reducing it. Not only are left and right mostly preaching to their respective choirs on social media, the medium seems to encourage name-calling, insults and ostracism. What might help would be social media forums that  stimulate civil dialogue and consensus-building.

In The NYT Sunday Review Steven Greenhouse previews the tough times ahead for unions under Trump:  “Unions are expecting a series of stinging blows. Even as Mr. Trump talks of spending $1 trillion to improve infrastructure, many Republicans are eager to repeal an 85-year-old law requiring that contractors pay union-level wages on federal projects. Congressional Republicans are likely to take up nationwide “right-to-work” legislation, which would sap union treasuries by barring any requirement that workers pay union dues or fees. And even if Senate Democrats manage to block such a law, Republican gains in Kentucky and Missouri mean those states are likely to enact their own right-to-work laws…Mr. Trump will most likely scrap most of Mr. Obama’s executive orders on labor, including ones requiring federal contractors to disclose labor law violations, provide paid sick leave and pay a $10.10 minimum wage. He may also erase a regulation that lets four million additional workers qualify for overtime pay. (Last Tuesday, a federal judge in Texas suspended that regulation.) And the National Labor Relations Board under Mr. Trump will no doubt overturn numerous union-friendly moves by the Obama board, among them ones speeding up unionization elections and giving graduate research and teaching assistants at private universities the right to unionize.”

At HuffPo Robert Kuttner has an article that puts many of the Democratic-friendly post-mortems in perspective. Kuttner argues, “While posing as a populist, he [Trump] seems inclined to let the Republican establishment have its way, not just with welfare for the poor but with federal programs that Middle America actually values, such as social security and medicare…At some point, even the devout Trump backers may notice that the man is a fraud. And Democrats need to be there with a brand of constructive economic nationalism that actually serves working people…But in the meantime a great deal is at risk — not just the programs going back to Franklin Roosevelt and the civil rights victories going back to LBJ and Martin Luther King but constitutional democracy itself…Now, can the Democrats please suspend their usual ritual of the circular firing squad — and get on with the business of defending what’s decent in America?”


Political Strategy Notes

John A. Farrell’s Politico post, “What Today’s Democrats Can Learn From Tip O’Neill’s Reagan Strategy: In deciding to work with, rather than obstruct, the president, the wily House Speaker came out on top” is certain to generate buzz inside Democratic circles. Among Farrell’s several instructive paragraphs: “And the results of Nov. 8 brought nothing if not a lesson in humility to scribes who draw conclusions from insufficient or misread data. Yet, given the tides of politics and business, Democrats may have the opportunity to saddle Trump with all the ills he railed against—and much of what his white working-class constituency voted against…And the world, they are already discovering, is an unwieldy place. Wall Street banks won’t yield the Treasury Department to right-wing populists. Manufacturers won’t stop seeking low-wage workers because President Trump was elected. Immigrant women won’t stop bearing children. Health care costs won’t plummet. Powerful special interests won’t stop trying to rig the system. Rush Limbaugh and Fox News won’t stop finding cause to complain. Trade wars won’t bring on economic bliss. The planet won’t stop cooling. Tea Party Republicans won’t suddenly become reasonable, nor will Middle Eastern fanatics. American soldiers won’t stop dying. Hurricanes and microbes won’t stop at borders. Roads and bridges won’t repair themselves.”

In his WaPo column “For Democrats, the Road Back,” Conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer accuses Dems of marinating in short-sighted identity/tribal politics at home, while naively embracing universalist values in foreign policy under President Obama. Both accusations are characteristically  overstated, as is often the case with conservative commentators. And, reasonable people can disagree about whether Dems failed to include one of the largest tribes, the white working-class, in their big tent. But there is no question as to whether Trump’s noxious brand of “tribal” politics includes a comfy seat at the head table for white supremacists — and that is completely ignored by the columnist. Krauthammer also takes a shot at  Vladimir Putin, who “thinking tribally, renewed the savage bombing of Aleppo and then moved nuclear-capable missiles into Kaliningrad to remind Europeans of the perils of defying the regional strongman,” while failing to acknowledge that Putin is Trump’s most fervent supporter abroad.

Nora Kelly notes at The Atlantic that five presidents have ben elected with smaller popular vote percentage leads than Clinton’s popular vote lead: James Garfield in 1880: 0.09 percentage points; John F. Kennedy in 1960: 0.17 percentage points; Grover Cleveland in 1884: 0.57 percentage points; Richard Nixon in 1968: 0.7 percentage points; and James Polk in 1844: 1.45 percentage points. Further, adds Kelly, “If the final vote count does, indeed, put her roughly 2 percentage points ahead of Trump, her margin would edge up against those of winning presidential nominees Jimmy Carter in 1976 (2.07 percentage points) and George W. Bush in 2004 (2.47 percentage points). And all this is not to mention the presidents who’ve been elected without winning the popular vote at all. That’s a list that includes Bush in 2000, and will soon include Trump. As my colleague Ronald Brownstein put it, Trump “is on track to lose the popular vote by more than any successfully elected president ever.”

Washington Post opinion writer Charles Lane addresses a question that has preoccupied numerous writers posting at TDS over the years in his article, “What will it take for Democrats to woo the white working class?” Lane sees Democrats caught in a dilemma, and frames it tis way: “The Democrats’ dilemma, then, is this: They can make only limited political gains with an economic pitch to the white working class, unless they adjust on immigration and other issues of identity too, probably…Yet this would require compromising on what the party defined as matters of basic justice and tolerance, and turn off voters from their racially and ethnically diverse “coalition of the ascendant.” Lane does suggest a path forward, though in vague terms: “The alternative, of course, is to appeal to the public on the basis of our common American identity, and aspirations, rather than our overlapping grievances — cultural, racial, economic or otherwise.”

At The Wall St. Journal Democratic activist Ted Van Dyk has an article, “How Democrats Can Win Again: Develop a new vision now, and inspiring leaders to implement it will come later.” van Dyk observes, “The path to Democratic recovery does not lie with ever-shriller denunciation of Republicans as alleged racists, enemies of women, or allies of the wealthy. Democrats must demonstrate ourselves capable of growing a fair economy and keeping the country safe. Today, given our party’s and candidates’ ties to big money and finance, we are not credible as populists or allies of the common man. Millions of voters think we are committed to our own political success but not necessarily to the national welfare…Democrats should not worry about their current shortage of leaders. More will emerge. Better to ask: What are the country’s big problems? What are our plans to address those problems? How can we persuade a majority to support those proposals?”

At The Week Scott Lemieux writes on “The Democrats’ postmortem problem,” comments that “In retrospect, for example, it seems like the campaign made a mistake in making so much of its advertising negative attacks on Donald Trump’s character. Given that Trump always had high personal negatives these attacks had diminishing returns, and Clinton missed an opportunity to highlight economic policy differences where public opinion favored her position. While it was not unreasonable to think Trump’s particular unfitness for office created an opportunity to peel off suburban Republicans, it didn’t work.“… Be wary of assertions that there was One Magic Trick a candidate could have used to win an election, and be doubly wary when this magic bullet is an argument that the candidate advancing the policy ideas the pundit agrees with is also by remarkable coincidence always the best political strategy as well.”

Nobel Prize laureate and NYT columnist Paul Krugman remains skeptical about the media’s commitment to adequately cover political policies of candidates: “Any claim that changed policy positions will win elections assumes that the public will hear about those positions. How is that supposed to happen, when most of the news media simply refuse to cover policy substance? Remember, over the course of the 2016 campaign, the three network news shows devoted a total of 35 minutes combined to policy issues — all policy issues. Meanwhile, they devoted 125 minutes to Mrs. Clinton’s emails…Beyond this, the fact is that Democrats have already been pursuing policies that are much better for the white working class than anything the other party has to offer. Yet this has brought no political reward.”

At Vox Timothy B. Lee explores the Jill Stein recount idea and sheds some interesting light on the process. Lee notes that “someone — likely the Russian government — tried to hack voting infrastructure in Ukraine to change the outcome of the election there. And a skillful attacker could alter the results of a vote without leaving any obvious fingerprints.” Lee explains what could be revealed by one kind of recount technology. But home-grown voter suppression, both “legal” and illegal, may be the more significant factor in the electoral vote outcome.

Yeah, everybody is sick of polls and skeptical about their value as a result of the election. But this one merits thoughtful consideration, because crafting an immigration policy that is just, economically-wise and politically-feasible is an imperaive for the incoming president. The central finding, that 60 percent of respondents “would like to see undocumented immigrants stay in the country and get a chance to become citizens” provides a sobering counerpoint to the cheap-shot immigration-bashing that characterized the GOP primary season.

 


Lakoff on Lessons of the 2016 Election

Those who have an interest in subtextual political messaging and the psycholinguistic underpinnings of political attitudes have an interesting article to read in George Lakoff’s “A Minority President: Why the polls failed, and what the majority can do” at HuffPo. Lakoff, author of “The ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate” and “Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, Third Edition,” writes:

Hillary Clinton won the majority of votes in this year’s presidential election.

The loser, for the majority of voters, will now be a minority president-elect. Don’t let anyone forget it. Keep referring to Trump as the minority president, Mr. Minority and the overall Loser. Constant repetition, with discussion in the media and over social media, questions the legitimacy of the minority president to ignore the values of the majority. The majority, at the very least, needs to keep its values in the public eye and view the minority president’s action through majority American values.

The issue of moral legitimacy is central for Lakoff, and Clinton’s popular vote majority (actually a plurality at this point as commenter Jack Olson notes below) is a useful reminder that Trump has no mandate for eradicating all of the hard-won reforms of recent years. Trump and the Republicans would like the public to forget that he lost the popular vote by 2 million and rising, which could happen. It is the duty of Democrats and progressives to keep this central fact in the forefront of all political discussions that touch on what the voting public actually wants.

Lakoff argues that “the nature of mind is not a mere technical issue for the cognitive and brain sciences, but that it had everything to do with the outcome of the 2016 election,” and he reviews at length the key ideas of his books, and how they applied in the election:

Conscious thought is a small part of thought — estimates by neuroscientists vary between a general “most” to as much as 98 percent, with consciousness as the tip of the mental iceberg. We do know that people tend to make decisions unconsciously before becoming consciously aware of them. How the neural unconscious functions in decision-making is vitally important for politics.

…The first thing that is, or should be, taught about political language is not to repeat the language of the other side or negate their framing of the issue…The Clinton campaign consistently violated the lesson of Don’t Think of an Elephant! They used negative campaigning, assuming they could turn Trump’s most outrageous words against him. They kept running ads showing Trump forcefully expressing views that liberals found outrageous. Trump supporters liked him for forcefully saying things that liberals found outrageous. They were ads paid for by the Clinton campaign that raised Trump’s profile with his potential supporters!

…The polls failed because they work by demography, using census data, and other readily accessible data. The census tells us where people live, their age, gender, ethnicity, educational level, marital status, income level, etc. These are objective data, and this kind of data is easy to get and sample. But demographic data leaves out what is most important in elections and in political polling generally: Values! One’s sense of right and wrong. That omission was crucial in this election.

A common observation of contemporary political discussions, from the dining room table to academic forums, is that many low and moderate income people routinely “vote against their own interests.” But economic, or material interests, are not the pivotal principle for many voters, according to Lakoff.

“Everyone likes to think of himself or herself as a good person,” notes Lakoff. “That means that your moral system is a major part of your identity — who you most deeply are. Voting against your moral identity would be a rejection of self. That is why poor conservatives vote against their material interests. They are voting for their moral worldviews to dominate, and for public respect for their values.”

Lakoff has a lot more to say about nurturant family values, the ‘strict father’ paradigm and how such modeling affects political attitudes. Regarding the white working-class, he writes,

Many members of the white working class have strict father morality, even those in unions. Many have their strict father views limited to their home life, but many have them as a major worldview. As conservatives, they believe in individual responsibility, not government “handouts;” they may resent union dues and prefer “right to work” laws; and they may implicitly accept the moral hierarchy and believe they are superior to non-whites, Latinos, non-Christians, and gays and should be in a higher financial and social position. Conservative women may accept their position as inferior to their men, but still see themselves above the rest of the hierarchy. The white working class has been hit hard by income inequality, globalization and outsourcing, computerization, the decline of coal mining, low-wage chain stores driving out small business, and if older, ageism. They are largely uneducated and see themselves as looked down on by the educated “elite” who tell them that everyone should go to college to merit today’s jobs. They also resent “political correctness,” which directs resources to those who need them even more, but are lower on the conservative moral hierarchy. They want the respect of being on the right side of politics, of having their moral views— and hence their deepest identity — confirmed.

It’s not hard to imagine how the need for respect and confirmation played out in the rust belt, where Trump found his treasure trove of voters, who delivered the electoral college victory to him. Lakoff believes, further that the tilt of the Supreme Court became a key consideration for voters who felt their values were disrespected. “All three of these groups — evangelicals, corporatists, and the white working class,” writes Lakoff, “correctly saw the Supreme Court issue as central to upholding their values across the board, on all issues.”

Lakoff cites ten trigger mechanisms to leverage the unconscious thought of voters, among them:

1. Repetition. Words are neurally linked to the circuits that determine their meaning. The more a word is heard, the more the circuit is activated and the stronger it gets, and so the easier it is to fire again. Trump repeats. Win. Win, Win. We’re gonna win so much you’ll get tired of winning.

2. Framing: Crooked Hillary. Framing Hillary as purposely and knowingly committing crimes for her own benefit, which is what a crook does. Repeating makes many people unconsciously think of her that way, even though she has always been found to have been honest and legal by thorough studies by the right-wing Bengazi committee (which found nothing) and the FBI (which found nothing to charge her with.) Yet the framing worked.

There is a common metaphor that Immorality Is Illegality, and that acting against Strict Father Morality (the only kind off morality recognized) is being immoral. Since virtually everything Hillary Clinton has ever done has violated Strict Father Morality, that makes her immoral to strict conservatives. The metaphor makes her actions immoral, which makes her a crook. The chant “Lock her up!” activates this whole line of reasoning.

4. Grammar: Radical Islamic terrorists: “Radical” puts Muslims on a linear scale and “terrorists” imposes a frame on the scale, suggesting that terrorism is built into the religion itself. The grammar suggests that there is something about Islam that has terrorism inherent in it. Imagine calling the Charleston gunman a “radical Republican terrorist.”

Trump is aware of this to at least some extent. As he said to Tony Schwartz, the ghost-writer who wrote The Art of the Deal for him, “I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and it’s a very effective form of promotion.”

“Our neural minds think in certain patterns,” continues Lakoff. “Trump knows how to exploit them. Whatever other limitations on his knowledge, he knows a lot about using your brain against you to acquire and maintain power and money.”

As for the tendency of the media to echo Trump’s messaging, Lakoff observes that “The head of CBS, Leslie Moonves, for example, said that CBS benefitted by giving Trump free airtime during the campaign. “It may not be good for America, but it’s good for CBS,” he said.”

“More than ever we need courage and imagination in the media. It is crucial, for the history of the country and the world, as well as the planet,” says Lakoff. The media can better serve the public interest by doing some soul-seartching regarding the terminology they use, and to consciously avoid being manipulated by right-wing frames and memes.  For example, notes Lakoff,

One possibility is for journalists to use more accurate language. Take government regulations. Their job is to protect the public from harm and fraud composed by unscrupulous corporations. The Trump administration wants to get rid of “regulations.” They are actually getting rid of protection. Can journalists actually say they are getting rid of protections, saying the word “protection,” and reporting on the harm that would be done by not protecting the public.

Can the media report on corporate poisoning of the public — through introducing lead and other cancer-causing agents into the water through fracking and various manufacturing processes, through making food or toiletries that contain poisonous and cancer-causing ingredients, and on and on. The regulations are there for a purpose — protection. Can the media use the words POISON and CANCER? The public needs to know.

Looking toward the future, Lakoff has some thoughts on what can be done to prevent Trump from further manipulating the public and the media with his ‘strict father’ messaging:

There are certain things that strict fathers cannot be: A Loser, Corrupt, and especially not a Betrayer of Trust.

Trump lost the popular vote. To the American majority, he is a Loser, a minority president. It needs to be said and repeated.

Above all, Trump is a Betrayer of Trust. He is acting like a dictator, and is even supporting Putin’s anti-American policies.

He is betraying trust in a direct way, by refusing to put his business interests in a blind trust. By doing so, and by insisting on his children both running the business and getting classified information, he is using the presidency to make himself incredibly wealthy — just as Putin has. This is Corruption of the highest and most blatant level. Can the media say the words: Corruption, Betrayal of Trust? He ran on a promise to end corruption, to “drain the swamp” in Washington. Instead, he has brought a new and much bigger swamp with him — lobbyists put in charge of one government agency after another, using public funds and the power of the government to serve corporate greed. And the biggest crock in the swamp is Trump himself!

The Trump administration will wreak havoc on the very people who voted for him in those small towns — disaster after disaster. It will be a huge betrayal. The $500 billion in infrastructure — roads and bridges, airports, sewers, eliminating lead water pipes — will probably not make it to those thousands of small rural towns with in-group nurturance for the townspeople. How many factories with good-paying jobs can be brought to such towns? Not thousands. Many of those who voted for Trump will inevitably be among the 20 million who will lose their health care. And they will become even further victims of corporate greed — more profits going to the top one percent and more national corporations, say, fast food and big-box stores paying low wages and offering demeaning jobs will continue to wipe out local businesses. Will this be reported? Will it even be said? And if so, how will it be said in a way that doesn’t wind up promoting Trump?

Trump as betrayer is a powerful image that can help limit his ability to fully institutionalize a kleptocratic government that enriches his wealthy associates at the expense of working people and their families. But the protests must also include an alternative, positive vision. As Lakoff concludes,

By fighting against Trump, many protesters are just showcasing Trump, keeping him in the limelight, rather than highlighting the majority’s positive moral view and viewing the problem with Trump from within the majority’s positive worldview frame. To effectively fight for what is right, you have to first say what is right and why.

Trump’s election confounded pollsters, pundits and Democratic activists who placed too much confidence in their data-driven analyses and high-tech GOTV, and not enough focus on how Democratic messaging frames morals and values. If ever there was a time for Democratic leaders to study Lakoff’s ideas more seriously, that moment has arrived.

Criticizing Trump’s corruption with specifics is essential. But, as Lakoff argues, it is even more important that Democratic messaging spell out the moral dimensions of the society progressives want to create, and the more inclusive is the vision, the better. When a substantial portion of the white working class feels like they are included in such a vision, a stable progressive majority can become a reality.


Metzgar: Engaging the ‘Unreachables’

The following article by Jack Metzgar of Chicago Working-Class Studies is cross-posted from Working-Class Perspectives:

Those of us from white working-class families with people we know and love who voted for Trump have a special heartache over this year’s election.  Why do so many good people have such deplorable politics?  I mostly took a pass this election on arguing with family members, because it was convenient to avoid the emotion and hurt feelings that these arguments often generate, even though I know those hurts eventually pass into our stronger lifetime relationships without leaving significant scars.  I also didn’t work this time to help turn out the vote.  Why did I do that and what have I learned from it that might be useful to others going forward?

First, it is self-satisfying in the aftermath to blame Hillary Clinton and her kind of Democrats.  Pushed by us Berniecrats, she actually had a pretty good progressive economic program to run on. It wasn’t big enough to make the kind of transformational political and economic change we need (or to inspire people with a sense of possibility), but it was moving in all the right directions.  What I blame her for is the strategic decision to focus her campaign on Trump’s character vs. her character, his temperament and style vs. hers, rather than on their very different policy positions – especially class issues like the minimum wage and their tax policies, even the wonky class differences between a tax credit and a tax deduction for child care expenses — anything that would have shifted the political “debate” to substance rather than style.  Her ambiguous (and untrustworthy) position on trade and her lack of a larger economic vision or narrative had an impact as well, but I don’t blame her for that in the same way that I don’t blame frogs for being amphibious.  She is who she is, and she is representative of many professional middle-class Democrats whose hearts are in the right place, by my lights.

But, like those Democrats, Clinton’s presumption that “people” vote on character not policy condescendingly underestimates the political and economic intelligence of most voters, and especially “low-information voters.” Instead of “I’m a really good person and you can trust me,” what low-information voters need is well-articulated explanations for policy choices – not just facts or information, but arguments and rationales.

Complicated economic explanations can be challenging for a low-information, “poorly educated” voter to follow in the first instance, but not so much when you repeat and elaborate, as can happen in national political campaigns.  I know from three decades of teaching working-class adults that though you’re not going to convince many of them, you can complicate their thinking (which is the goal in my line of work), and, more relevant to politicians, you can win their respect.  That is, you’ll get some points for character for making the effort to explain and convince.  Engagement, real engagement, in arguing for your view as if convincing people mattered has political benefits beyond getting them to vote for you.  It also puts you in a better position to govern if you are elected, and it advances your political agenda for next time even if you’re not.

Though I knew better, I hoped that Clinton’s running on “Trump is an asshole” would be effective because he was so good at illustrating it, but it also undermined the perception of her character, getting her into a mud fight with a mud wrestler.  The polls, which as a data-driven middle-class professional I put altogether too much faith in, kept reinforcing my complacency.  So, like many of my friends, I also blame Nate Silver!  Clinton couldn’t motivate me, and Silver unintentionally led me to think that was okay this time around.  So, I got my excuses, but it’s on me that I didn’t put in the work.

The other mistake I made is that I overestimated the good sense of that part of the white working class I think I know, the so-called Blue Wall Rust Belt states from Pennsylvania to Iowa.  And I underestimated the necessity and importance of contesting for that good sense.

I didn’t underestimate the long-term, grinding pain of deindustrialization in those states – the social and economic dislocation of increasingly unsteady work at lower and lower wages.  Nor did I miss what Sarah Jaffe calls Clinton Dems’ “colossal misreading of a moment when rage at the establishment (of both parties) was simmering everywhere.”  I even expected the Blue Wall states would not match the relatively high levels of support white workers had given Obama in 2008 and 2012 (with actual majorities in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa in 2008).   But I did not expect the precipitous drops in both voter participation (except in Pennsylvania) and percentage support for Clinton vs. Obama. Clinton garnered from 10 to 21 points less support in these states than Obama had won in 2008.

My gripe with much of the punditry is that they so routinely mistake one part of the white working class for the whole, thereby stereotyping a class of people with whom they have little direct contact or knowledge.  I insist on the value of using a union organizer’s approach when discussing the politics of working-class whites.  Following Andrew Levison’s three-part breakdown, based on opinion research, one part are unreachable conservatives who can never be won over, but you must work to “neutralize” them in order to reduce their influence on others.  Calling them boilerplate names rather than engaging their arguments doesn’t accomplish that, however, and it may actually increase their influence.  Another part consists of solid supporters, and you need to enlist their activity and leadership in persuading “the persuadables,” which is the third part that Levison calls “on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand thinkers.”

By sitting out the 2016 election within my own family, for example, I did not do the work of neutralizing the unreachables, which is who I usually argue with.  It seemed like a reasonable choice; why stir up old feuds if they are unreachable? But by not engaging them as I have in the past, I gave up what influence I might still have among the persuadables who listen in, “putting in their two cents” from time to time, often simply by asking a challenging question.  What’s more, I didn’t help the solid supporters amplify their voices, which they often do by distancing themselves from “the professor” even as they agree with me. In one instance a Hillary supporter mentioned after the election that she had kept largely silent because she didn’t think two of her daughters “would actually vote for that asshole.”  I made the same mistake.

I’m still puzzling over why such large majorities of non-college-educated whites voted for Trump.  But it looks like part of what happened in the Blue Wall States is that hundreds of thousands of white working-class Obama voters from 2008 just didn’t show up in 2016, thereby increasing the relative weight of the unreachables.  Sort of like me, they may have lacked enthusiasm for a flawed candidate executing an even more flawed campaign message.  Or, unlike me, they may have come to the actually very reasonable but terribly misguided conclusion that it really does not matter.


Political Strategy Notes

At New York Magazine Jonathan Chait’s “Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi Have a Plan to Make President Trump Popular” makes a strong case against Democrats cooperating much with Trump’s infrastructure “plan,” such as it is: “How and where to cooperate with Trump presents many dilemmas for the opposition, pitting the Democrats’ self-interest against the need to safeguard the welfare of the country’s political institutions. There are certainly venues where Americans alarmed by the incoming president ought to consider working with him for the sake of preserving the welfare of the country. But infrastructure is not one of those dilemmas. Supporting a Trumpian infrastructure bill would be to cooperate with the subversion of American government and an act of political self-sabotage. It is an idea so insanely bad it disturbingly suggests the party utterly fails to grasp the challenge before it, or the way out…For Democrats to cooperate unconditionally with this strategy is to institutionalize a political order in which Democratic presidents must be punished with contractionary policy while Republicans are rewarded with expansionary policy. Reasonable people can disagree about what level of national debt can be sustained, but the figure is finite. The political system seems to passively accept that America’s long-term debt should be allocated toward the goal of maximizing growth exclusively during Republican administrations. Why Democrats would find this system good for their country, let alone their party, is difficult to understand…Trump is actually proposing to invite unprecedented levels of corruption into government. Trump’s high potential for corruption involves the interplay of two different rejections of political norms. First, unlike every other presidential candidate in modern history, he has refused to disclose his tax returns, so his financial interests remain opaque. Second, he will continue to hold his interests in office rather than retreat into passive investment.”

In “Should Democrats Work With Donald Trump? Only under the following extremely stringent conditions,” Jim Newell writes at slate.com, “Since Election Day, Democrats of all stripes have signaled a willingness to work with the president-elect on issues of common concern. Specifically, they’ve broadcast their interest in helping Donald Trump follow through on his vow to fix the nation’s ailing roads, bridges, and grids….Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat representing Phoenix, said that Trump’s “infrastructure plan is really a privatization scheme, rife with graft and corruption, whose real purpose is to enrich the Trump family and his supporters.”…To whatever extent Democratic senators work with Trump on these proposals, they should work extra hard to block the rest of his agenda. They should fight mass deportations, hard. They should fight appointments, like Jeff Sessions’ for attorney general, hard. They should walk out of Congress if Trump moves forward with a “Muslim registry.” They should use all the leverage they can possibly muster in the appropriations process to block rollbacks of the social safety net. If they do it right, they can show that they’ll work with Trump on areas where he meets their interests, on their terms, while also making it known that they’re not, in any way, interested in seeing this president serve a second term.”

Here’s how political commentator Julian Zelizer addresses the question “Should Democrats cooperate with Trump?” at CNN Politics: “Right now there is no reason for Democrats to believe that Donald Trump will refrain from pursuing a fairly radical political agenda. With united government and a rightward GOP, he will be under intense pressure to move forward with the most radical elements of his agenda: a draconian immigration crackdown, rolling back regulations on climate change, regressive tax cuts, deregulating the financial sector, harsh national security measures targeting Muslims and more. As Politico reported, bankers are pretty optimistic from what they are seeing in the transition that this White House will be extremely friendly to them. House Speaker Paul Ryan is planning to move forward with plans to privatize Medicare…The obstructionist and confrontational approach might be less palatable; it certainly does not sound as good in public and will put Democrats in the uncomfortable position of doing exactly what they didn’t think Republicans should do…M ore importantly, the party needs to make a decision about entering into any kind of an alliance with a politician whose ideas and arguments were so antithetical to every ideal that the party has been fighting for over the past few decades. While some Democrats might worry about how this would “look” to the public, they should remember that it didn’t look good for Republicans to be obstructionists and they now have control of the White House, Congress, and 34 state legislative bodies.”

“…For the past generation, the Democratic Party has been dominated by leaders and funders who supported shipping jobs overseas. And those same leaders largely supported the monopolization that has jacked up prices and driven down wages at the jobs that remain here. That must now end…Democrats should stand for roads and bridges, for broadband and clean water infrastructure, for the Erie Canal spirit that we can and must build a future together. Democrats must also stand against all unfair or dangerous concentrations of private power, in every sector of our political economy.” – Zephyr Teachout, “The Price of Failed Thinking” in the Washington Post

“We need first to acknowledge the root of this election’s pain — on Election Day, economic fears trumped social values. And while a clear majority of Americans agree with us on social values — that government should stay out of our bedrooms and marriages, that there is no place in America for racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia — these messages get lost if we aren’t helping Americans reduce their debt, buy a house and grow our economy for everybody.” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, “The Root of the Pain” in the Washington Post.

From Robert Reich’s “The Democratic Party Lost Its Soul. It’s Time to Win it Back” at HufPo: “…What we now have is a Democratic party that has been repudiated at the polls, headed by a Democratic National Committee that has become irrelevant at best, run part-time by a series of insider politicians. It has no deep or broad-based grass-roots, no capacity for mobilizing vast numbers of people to take any action other than donate money, no visibility between elections, no ongoing activism…If it is to be relevant to the future, the Democratic party must be capable of organizing and mobilizing Americans in opposition to Donald Trump’s Republican party – turning millions of people into an activist army to peacefully resist what is about to happen by providing them with daily explanations of what is occurring in Trump’s administration, along with tasks that individuals and groups can do to stop or mitigate their harmful effects.”

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley observe at Sabato’s Crystal Ball that “the Democratic bench has taken an unprecedented hit during President Obama’s time in office. The numbers have worsened slightly following Obama’s final election as a part of the political environment. With most 2016 results in (adding projections for some uncalled races based on who is ahead at this point), the damage is as follows: a net loss of 13 governorships, nine Senate seats, 63 House seats, 949 seats in state legislatures, and 29 state legislative chambers. Some other modern presidents lost more governorships, Senate seats, and state legislative chambers, but none has lost more net House seats and — especially — state legislative seats.” This is not to blame President Obama, who has faced an unprecedented level of GOP obstruction and an extremely well-organized, corporate-financed effort to defeat Democrats in state electoral politics. Clearly it’s time for the state Democratic parties to step up their game or go under.

In his RealClear Politics post, “The God that Failed,” Sean Trende notes “…Trump received more votes from white evangelicals than Clinton received from African-Americans and Hispanics combined.  This single group very nearly cancels the Democrats’ advantage among non-whites completely.  This isn’t a one-off; it was true in 2012, 2008 and 2004…You may wonder why this group voted in historic numbers for a man like Trump.  Perhaps, as some have suggested, they are hypocrites. Perhaps they are merely partisans.  But I will make a further suggestion: They are scared…the sneering condescension of the Samantha Bees and John Olivers of the world may be warranted, but it also probably cost liberals their best chance in a generation to take control of the Supreme Court.”

Here’s some salient points to put Trump’s “mandate” in perspective, from “The voters gave Democrats a mandate to fight Trump’s extremist agenda” by Laurence Lewis at Daily Kos” “In last week’s election, Hillary Clinton received more votes for president than any candidate not named Obama ever. Hillary Clinton received more votes for president than any Republican candidate ever. Hillary Clinton received more votes for president than any white male candidate ever. Hillary Clinton received over 1.5 million more votes than Donald Trump, and that number continues to rise. She lost the election because of the arcane and undemocratic Electoral College—and while the rules are the rules, her margin of defeat under those arcane and undemocratic rules was miniscule…This was no mandate for Trump. Mandate winners have coattails, sweeping their parties to gains in both the House and Senate. Not only did Trump fail to have coattails, but it was Clinton, the national popular vote winner, whose party picked up seats in both the House and Senate.”