washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Paul Krugman quote

Trump Will Betray the Interests of the White Working-Class

Everything we’ve seen so far says that Mr. Trump is going to utterly betray the interests of the white working-class voters who were his most enthusiastic supporters, stripping them of health care and retirement security, and this betrayal should be highlighted.”
–Paul Krugman

E. J. Dionne Jr

E.J. Dionne Speaks Out

Donald Trump cast himself as the champion of a besieged American working class and a defender of its interests. His early decisions tell us something very different: This could be the most anti-worker, anti-union crowd to run our government since the Gilded Age.
–E.J. Dionne Jr.

Ed Kilgore

Trump Will Betray His White Working-Class Base

What Democrats should keep in mind, however, is that whichever way he goes he is very likely going to betray his white working-class base — the people who put him into office — sooner or later. The “later” part is the most certain. Donald Trump does not have the power to bring back the Industrial Era economy he has so avidly embraced. He will not be able to reopen the coal mines, rebuild the manufacturing sector, or repeal the international economic trends that would exist with or without NAFTA or TPP. And for that matter, he has little ability to reverse the demographic and cultural trends most of his voters dislike.
–Ed Kilgore

Mike Tomasky speaks

Mike Tomasky on the Meaning of Trump

I remember when I started reading history seriously when I was 17, 18 that I was astonished that people could not recognize in the moment the enormity of the events they were living. No one in the United States today has any excuse, any reason not to understand that this is a clarifying moment. Let us all act with the clarity the moment demands.

The Daily Strategist

February 20, 2017

Political Strategy Notes

From “41 Democratic Senators Can Stop Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Pick” a HuffPo article by Richard Greene: “…It is not a certainty that Republicans will, indeed, “nuke” the filibuster. They need 50 of their 52 Senate members and it is unlikely that experienced members like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski and Trump critics like Jeff Flake or Ben Sasse will go along with the destruction of historic minority rights in The Senate.  They understand that “what goes around comes around” and that, one day, they will again be in the minority.  This hard reality kept 53 Democrats from eliminating the filibuster for Supreme Court Justices when they voted to reform the procedure in 2013.” Republicans have shown impressive discipline recently, but it’s hard to see much of a downside for Dems in forcing their hand, and a successful fillibuster could slow Trump’s agenda.

The Center for American Progress has an article, “States of Change: Demographic Change, Representation Gaps, and Challenges to Democracy, 1980–2060” by Rob Griffin, William H. Frey, and Ruy Teixeira, which deploys simulations to show that the best way to reduce “future representation gaps lies in equalizing registration and turnout rates across races.” In one section the authors write, “The assumption that all newly registered voters would turn out at the same rate as currently registered voters is probably very unrealistic. Those who have registered without benefit of reform are likely more motivated and attuned to politics than those who have not and, therefore, are more likely to actually cast a ballot than those who are newly registered due to a reform process…This view is supported by recent results from Oregon’s new system of “opt-out” voter registration, where those who interact with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles are automatically registered and then have to actively respond to a postcard notification to opt out of being registered. If they do nothing, they remain registered. In 2016, those registered by this method in Oregon turned out at a rate that was roughly half of those registered by conventional means…So, in this scenario, we still assume that registration reform will be hugely successful at elevating and equalizing registration rates, but we also assume that these new registrants will turn out at only half the current rate for registrants in their state, race, age, and gender group…”

At salon.com Sean McElwee’s “Automatic voter registration isn’t a sexy topic — but it’s crucial to Democrats and progressives regaining power:  Data from New York, a blue state with regressive voting laws, shows how easier registration could change everything” ought to be required reading for every Democrat. From the concluding paragraph: “Evidence is still coming in on the impact of AVR, but early evidence is positive. Oregon automatically registered 225,000 people through the state Department of Motor Vehicles, and 43 percent voted in the 2016 election. Other reforms, like same-day registration and looser voting registration deadlines, are shown to bolster turnout. In New York and other states where Democrats have power, progressives should push for the implementation of automatic voter registration, same-day registration and early voting, as well as other reforms to ease access. Of the six states in which Democrats  have a trifecta, meaning they control the governor’s office and both legislative chambers, four still don’t have automatic voter registration. In states where they don’t have full power, progressives should put automatic voter registration on the ballot. (Alaska, a heavily Republican state, recently passed automatic voter registration by referendum.) Automatic voter registration can ensure that all Americans are represented in the voting booth, and progressives should embrace it.”

An eye-opening statistic from “Tracking the fortunes of the white working-class” at The Economist: “…The gap in wage levels between all workers and WWCM [white working-class males] has widened from an average of 3.7% in 1990-92 to 6.9% over the past two years.”

Katie Zezima has an interesting report, “‘California is a nation, not a state’: A fringe movement wants a break from the U.S.” at The Washington Post. California pulling out of the U.S. would be like Scotland becoming independent of the U.K. in that it would provide a green light for an extreme right takeover of   the rest of the country. The movement is not likely to prevail, but it provides another reminder that Trump may be the most divisive president in U.S. history.

Here’s a question that is surely on the minds of millions.

In his NYT column, “How Can We Get Rid of Trump?,” Nicholas Kristoff observes, “One poll from Public Policy Polling found that as many Americans — 46 percent — favor impeachment of President Trump as oppose it. Ladbrokes, the betting website, offers even odds that Trump will resign or leave office through impeachment before his term ends…Sky Bet, another site, is taking wagers on whether Trump will be out of office by July.” Kristoff says, “My take is that unless things get much worse, removal may be a liberal fantasy…If I were betting, I’d say we’re stuck with Trump for four years.” However, Kristoff adds, “And what does it say about a presidency that, just one month into it, we’re already discussing whether it can be ended early?”

A quote from Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) in “Democrats Aim to Reclaim the Working-Class Vote” by Mori Rothman and Yasmeen Qureshi at npr.org: ” I really believe our party is at its best when we’re the Robert Kennedy coalition, that we are the party of blue collar workers, of all races, of all backgrounds, that we are the party of those who were left out and deeply believe in the American dream and want to achieve it. That is who the Democratic Party is in our soul, that is the best to win elections, but it’s also the best to govern. If we’re going to achieve progress in these areas, we need to it needs to be everyone and that includes white working class voters.”

Do acquaint yourself with a couple of groups working to elect Democrats at the state and local legislative levels and click around on their website links to see what works for you. “The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is the permanent authority and central headquarters for Democratic state legislative leaders and races nationwide. The DLCC is the only Democratic organization led by progressive champions in state legislatures around the country. Our board and partners are all legislators on the front lines of fighting back against the Trump agenda.” The second group is “Flipable,” described by Mashable’s Jason Abbruzzese as “an organization focused on identifying local political positions that could turn from Republican to Democratic, and figuring out how to provide the resources to flip them.”


Trump Kills the Traditional Presidential Presser

Like most political observers, I watched Donald Trump’s Thursday press conference–if that’s what you want to call it–with a mixture of fascination and horror. On reflection, I wrote these observations for New York:

Donald Trump’s impromptu 80-minute press conference today was by all accounts an unprecedented event. To journalists accustomed to the traditional presidential press conference, it was an interminable violation of all the rules — not just of presidential-media relations, but of grammar, logic, decorum, and even political common sense. Trump brought up, unbidden, his own past mistakes in order to fulminate about how they were covered months ago. He changed subjects constantly and unpredictably, beginning with the fact that the whole thing began as an announcement of his new Labor Secretary nominee, Alexander Acosta, but soon went far, far afield and never returned. He insulted members of the working press before, during, and after their questions; he suggested one African-American reporter set up a meeting for him with the Congressional Black Caucus because he assumed they were probably “your friends.” And just when one outrage concluded, another began, world without end.

Here was Politico’s take:

“It was an extraordinary scene in the White House, which Trump essentially turned into a venue for a campaign rally, trashed the country’s most influential news outlets, cited approval polls and spread misinformation. It came two days before Trump will hit the road for a campaign rally in Florida, where he said the crowds would be ‘massive.'”

What seems plain in retrospect is that Trump has no intention, at least at present, to use presidential press conferences the way his predecessors have employed them: to convey information to the American people via the media, sometimes despite the media’s efforts to impose an uncongenial interpretation on the intended “message.” Presidents have varied in their skill at this game; some, most famously Richard Nixon, descended into an openly antagonistic relationship with journalists; virtually all the others have on occasion played favorites or “punished” disfavored reporters or outlets by denying access. But nobody until now has used a press conference to send one basic message over and over: With a few exceptions the people in this room are all lying scoundrels and you should not believe a word they say. Because that was Trump’s message: Every grievance he could dredge up, dating back to the ups and downs of the campaign trail, found its way into his tongue-lashing of the media today.

And that is why he by no means came across as the fearful Nixonian pol grudgingly giving his media enemies as little time as possible for questioning after his opening remarks, and then getting out of the room with as little damage as possible. As Trump said, he was enjoying the whole spectacle, and extended it again and again. And why not? If his goal was to convince his supporters that the media is their, as well as his, sworn enemy, then the longer he baited reporters and the longer they responded with obvious chagrin and efforts to pin him down, the more he succeeded. Had it gone on all day, it would have just reinforced the vast gap between his world and that of the people his senior counsel Stephen Bannon calls “the opposition party.”

“Tomorrow, they will say, ‘Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.’ I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people. But — but I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I’m having a good time doing it….”

Working journalists are, of course, left wondering how to deal with the role Trump has assigned them as cartoon villains who deploy “facts” and “logic” to try to trip up the man who is just too wily to play their malicious game. It is hard to change the behavior of a politician who craves media criticism —the more the better — the way a wino craves cheap muscatel. The fact that he acts genuinely aggrieved at such criticism even as he courts it — and for all we know, his alleged pain may even be genuine — makes it all the harder to treat him normally.

Perhaps the most important thing to happen at today’s press conference is that respectable Republicans in Washington and elsewhere had to be at least disturbed a bit by the spectacle, which no one could imagine any prior Republican president since Nixon, and probably not even the Tricky One, producing. At some point they will have to ask themselves exactly how much damage to traditional politics and government they are willing to accept in exchange for cutting taxes, criminalizing abortion, or giving the people who own most of the country relief from regulations.


Drum: Behind Harward’s Decline of Trump’s NSA Offer

President Trump settled on a widely-respected national security expert to replace Michael Flynn as  National Security Advisor, retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward. Unfortunately, Harward turned Trump’s offer down. Kevin Drum’s Mother Jones post “K.T. McFarland Is Too Much to Swallow, So Robert Harward Turns Down NSA Position” cuts through the fog and explains why Trump bungled it:

After Michael Flynn resigned/was fired as National Security Advisor, everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the top prospect to replace him turned out to be Retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward. He’s well respected by both Democrats and Republicans and would have brought some needed experience and sobriety to the White House.

Unfortunately, Harward turned down the job. It all hinged on whether he would be allowed to choose his own team. Here is CBS News:

“Two sources close to the situation confirm Harward demanded his own team, and the White House resisted. Specifically, Mr. Trump told Deputy National Security Adviser K. T. McFarland that she could retain her post, even after the ouster of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Harward refused to keep McFarland as his deputy, and after a day of negotiations over this and other staffing matters, Harward declined to serve as Flynn’s replacement.”

McFarland hasn’t held a government position for over 30 years, but she has appeared regularly on Fox News as a standard-issue hardline pundit for the past decade. In Trump’s eyes, this qualifies her to be the #2 person on the National Security Council. Apparently Harward didn’t agree…

It sounds a lot like Harward didn’t want to put up with lightweight ideologues meddling about the all-important business of the National Security Council. As Drum puts it,

Basically, Harward is a serious guy who wanted the National Security Council to be staffed with national security experts, not Fox News hacks and political operators. That was a bridge too far for the Trump team, so Harward pulled out…That’s all bad enough, but it raises another question: now that this is all public knowledge, will anyone serious be willing to take this position? How could they?

That’s a very tough question, and it’s a shame that America has been denied the leadership of a top expert with Harward’s impressive credentials — yet another indication that the President is getting some very bad advice, and worse, taking it.


Political Strategy Notes

At TPM’s Edblog Josh Marshall makes the case “Flynn Doesn’t Matter. This Is About Trump,” and notes, “Through the course of the campaign, transition and presidency, three top Trump advisors and staffers have had to resign because of issues tied to Russia. Paul Manafort, Carter Page and now Michael Flynn. Page might arguably be termed a secondary figure. Manafort ran Trump’s campaign and Flynn was his top foreign policy advisor for a year. The one common denominator between all these events, all these men is one person: Donald Trump…Is it even remotely credible that with everything that led up to it, Michael Flynn initiated and conducted this back channel on his own? Hardly.” Adele M. Stan also has some interesting observations in her post “What Does Flynn Know About Trump?” at The American Prospect.

The Flynn debacle will likely dominate today’s news, but Democrats can be forgiven quick high-fives for forcing, along with a handfull of Republicans, the poorly-vetted Andrew F. Puzder’s withdrawall from consideration as Secretary of Labor. it’s a small consolation prize for the hair’s breadth confirmation of Betsy DeVos at Education and the failure to rally enough votes to stop Tom Price from running Health and Human Services. But no one should expect Trump to now nominate a moderate for the Department of Labor. Still, anything that slows Trump’s extremist agenda is a welcome victory. Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said, quoted in Alan Rappeport’s New York Times report, “I think when you have to put all this energy into an unreasonable nominations process, it takes away the energy that could better be used for other things.” ‘Unreasonable’ — That’s Republican for anything more rigorous than a rubber stamp. But Blunt is right about wasted Republican energy, and that’s a good thing.

Rappeport notes also that “Mr. Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is facing a revolt by E.P.A. employees scrambling to block him. Ms. Collins declared her opposition to him Wednesday.” In addition, “The Senate must still vote on the nomination of Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina to be Mr. Trump’s budget director, over the loud objection of Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who took to the Senate floor again Wednesday to accuse Mr. Mulvaney, a hard-line conservative, of being anti-military.” That vote could come today.

Rachel Maddow brings up a little matter that requires some explanation on the part of the DCCC.  “Democrats, you are not moving forward right now. You are losing ground,” says Maddow. Before he was confirmed HHS Secretary Tom Price repped this large, increasingly-diverse, suburban Atlanta district, which Trump won by just 1.5 percent in November. To cede it to Republicans would be political malpractice. Here’s the candidates line-up to date.

But Ed Kilgore notes at New York Magazine, “The biggest problem is that Democratic turnout in Georgia special elections — and really any sort of runoff — has been abysmal. That’s likely why local political analysts do not seem remotely as bullish as their national counterparts on the donkey’s odds of swiping the 6th…Having said that, if the Trump administration’s next two months are anything like its first, the prospect of an early “referendum on Trump” to smite the 45th president could generate enough money and other resources to break the mold, and enough attention to get Democrats to the polls who would otherwise never show up. But for right now, it’s the GOP’s race to lose.”

The DNC chair race is getting most of the buzz, but, for clues about Democratic strategy to win back a House majority next year, check out Simone Pathe’s “DCCC Announces 2018 Leadership Team: Expanded team includes returning members and some fresh faces” at Roll Call.

The 2018 Senate races are far more problematic for Dems. As Kyle Kondik explains at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “Because independent Sens. Angus King (ME) and Bernie Sanders (VT) caucus with the Democrats, they are effectively defending 25 seats next year, while Republicans are only defending nine…There are conflicting forces at play in 2018. On one hand, the party that does not hold the White House often benefits from the midterm environment. History suggests that the Republicans’ dream of netting eight seats next year, thus creating a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority, is unlikely, even though they have many credible targets. On the other hand, the Senate map is so daunting for Democrats that just not losing any seats will require an enormous amount of effort and luck.”

Democrats can draw some encouragement from Jennifer Steinhauer’s New York Times article, “G.O.P.’s Grand Visions for Congress Now Look Like a Mirage,” which reviews the toll taken by Democratic resistance to Trump’s agenda and growing disenchantment with it among Republicans. In stark contrast, notes Steinhauer, “At this point in Barack Obama’s presidency, when Democrats controlled Washington, Congress had passed a stimulus bill totaling nearly $1 trillion to address the financial crisis, approved a measure preventing pay discrimination, expanded a children’s health insurance program, and begun laying the groundwork for major health care and financial regulation bills.”

In his Washington Post op-ed, “Just resisting Trump won’t do enough for Democrats,” Democracy Alliance founder Rob Stein makes some notable a points, including “Republicans and their allies — most notably the network of wealthy donors organized by the Koch brothers — have created formidable political operations that execute these functions with great skill and precision in more than 30 states. Democrats have permanent, well-managed and well-financed electoral capacity in less than a handful of states…This dire political imbalance contributed to the Trump victory last year. He did not need his own “ground game” in 2016. He rode to power on the voter mobilization coattails of the Republican right’s multistate political juggernaut, which maximized Republican voter turnout in every key battleground state.”


GOP Struggling To Escape Self-Imposed Trap on Obamacare

The agony of congressional Republicans as they try to figure out how to keep various promises on repealing and replacing Obamacare is becoming fascinating to watch. I tried to explain their plight this week at New York:

[T]he GOP congressional leadership seem[s] to be coalescing around a strategy sometimes called “repeal-plus”— using the pending budget-reconciliation bill they authorized last month to repeal the non-regulatory portions of the Affordable Care Act and at the same time enact those elements of a replacement plan on which most Republicans can agree.

But the strategy must somehow thread the needle between the desire of the public (reinforced by Donald Trump’s promises) for maintaining Obamacare levels of health coverage, and conservative pressure to get rid of as much of the socialist abomination as is possible. This latter pressure point is gaining strength as House conservatives threaten to vote against anything that’s not a straight repeal of Obamacare, while the venerable tea party group FreedomWorks plans to mobilize grassroots support for the least Obamacare-like alternative out there, Rand Paul’s let-’em-eat-markets approach.

As Politico reports, as many as 50 House Republicans are prepared to demand a vote on the “dry run” Obamacare repeal legislation Congress sent to Barack Obama for a certain veto early last year. It was a straight repeal without replacement provisions, and, for dessert, also included defunding Planned Parenthood. This is the same bill, it should be remembered, that the Congressional Budget Office recently estimated would cost 18 million Americans their health coverage almost immediately (and 32 million within ten years), while boosting individual insurance-policy premiums by more than 20 percent.

The odds of such legislation getting through the Senate are vanishingly small, even though (a) no Democratic votes would be necessary and (b) all non-freshman Senate Republicans voted for it last year, when of course they knew it would not become law. This latter factor means that Mitch McConnell would use all his leverage with Paul Ryan to avoid such a bill coming over from the House and showing up GOP senators as having something less than the courage of their alleged convictions.

Everybody understands these dynamics, so it’s likely the real purpose of the House conservative gambit in pushing a politically disastrous repeal-without-replace plan — aside from signaling impatience about inaction — is to keep GOP leaders from going too far in the direction of continuing the very Obamacare policies the public (and presumably fearful Republican senators) would like them to continue. Provisions that might lead to a full-scale conservative revolt range from maintenance of the taxes that financed Obamacare coverage (and that would be supremely useful in paying for a GOP replacement), to too-generous subsidies for private insurance purchases, to excessive generosity to states that accepted the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, to inadequate “freedom” for insurers to discriminate against the old and the sick.

That could leave Republicans with not much more in the way of “replacement” items as such hardy GOP perennials as subsidies for Health Savings Accounts, authorization of interstate insurance sales, and sharp reductions in mandatory benefits for those receiving subsidies. As Ron Brownstein pointed out recently, all these ancient conservative health-policy ideas would erode coverage for the older Americans who happen to be most likely to vote Republican, while boosting out-of-pocket costs for the white-working-class voters who think costs are too high under Obamacare.

These cross-pressures to avoid anything that looks like Obamacare Lite but at the same time to avoid disruption of existing coverage are why Republicans are in such disarray on the subject to begin with. Just punting tough decisions down the road with a repeal-and-delay strategy that maintains Obamacare for years no longer seems like a viable option; conservatives hate it and it creates too much uncertainty in markets. But doing a mini-replacement (which is where “repeal-plus” seems headed) in the current budget-reconciliation vehicle means that any further replacement elements will require 60 Senate votes, meaning at least eight Democrats would have to go along.

As budget expert Stan Collender notes, that brilliant GOP plan for a legislative blitzkrieg this year that would repeal and replace Obamacare, slash taxes, and “reform” the welfare state, all through budget vehicles that made Democrats irrelevant, is looking mighty iffy now. Congressional Republicans cannot put off decisions about Obamacare much longer without imperiling the timetable for everything else they need to do. And there is always the possibility they will be caught by some random Trump tweet and forced to change direction. You have to figure Republican discussions on the legislative agenda, which were supposed to be resolved at a GOP retreat nearly three weeks ago, are in danger of descending into sweaty white-knuckled madness.

It would almost be fun to watch, if it did not affect health coverage for tens of millions of Americans.


Dems Call for Follow-Up Action on ‘Flynnghazi’

Following Michael Flynn’s resignation as the Trump Administration’s National Security Advisor, Democratic leaders are calling for further congressional action to address unanswered questions surrounding Flynn’s contact with Russian leaders.

In his CQPolitics Roll Call post “Democrats Want Probe of ‘Unfit’ Flynn’s Russia Ties,” John T. Bennett reports that “House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for an “bipartisan, independent, outside commission” to investigate President Donald Trump’s and his administration’s connections with Russia.”

Bennett notes also that the top-ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Adam Schiff (CA) said Flynn “was always a poor choice” for national security adviser, suggesting the former general lacked the needed skills as a “consensus builder” and did not “possess sobriety and steady judgment.” Further, notes Bennett

“It is certainly no role for someone who plays fast and loose with the truth,” Schiff said. “But Flynn’s departure does not end questions over his contacts with the Russians. … These alleged contacts and any others the Trump campaign may have had with the Kremlin are the subject of the House Intelligence Committee’s ongoing investigation.”

Schiff also questioned whether Flynn’s conversations with Russian officials, which could have violated a law pertaining to private citizens negotiating on behalf of the federal government, came at the behest of Trump.

Bennett adds that other Democrats are calling for more investigation and information:

Rep. John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich., ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., ranking member on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, released a joint statement urging Justice Department and FBI officials to come to Capitol Hill this week with answers about Flynn’s Russia ties.

“The reality is Gen. Flynn was unfit to be the National Security Advisor, and should have been dismissed three weeks ago,” Cummings and Conyers said. “Now, we in Congress need to know who authorized his actions, permitted them, and continued to let him have access to our most sensitive national security information despite knowing these risks. We need to know who else within the White House is a current and ongoing risk to our national security.”

The two lawmakers said they will ask FBI and Justice officials to brief members this week, before both chambers adjourn for a week-long Presidents’ Day recess.

And Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., House Foreign Affairs ranking member said in a statement that “far too many questions remain unanswered about this Administration’s ties to Russia.” He called for a “thorough, bipartisan investigation to get the complete picture of Russia’s interference in our election.”

House leaders are thus far opposing any further investigations. As Tara Golshan reports at Vox, “House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Jason Chaffetz said his committee will not investigate Flynn’s contact with the Russian government, or the extent of his communications with White House officials”:

“It’s taking care of itself,” Chaffetz told reporters Tuesday, according to Politico’s Kyle Cheney, adding that further investigation would be up to the House Intelligence Committee.

But Republican House Intelligence Committee Chair David Nunes said Tuesday that his committee won’t look into conversations between Trump and Flynn, according to CNN’s Manu Raju. Nunes cited executive privilege — a privilege typically claimed by the president for withholding information in the public interest.

If Republican leaders continue to stonewall against further investigaton, it’s only a matter of time before reporters who believe in doing their job force Trump to explain, on camera, in his own words, what Flynn did wrong. This is too big a story to just whither away without the most important questions being answered. The politics of distraction aren’t going to help much with this one.

All of which recalls Flynn’s speech to the GOP convention, in which he parroted the “Lock her up!” chant targeting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, citing “her careless use of a private email server.” He may not be the last member of Trump’s inner circle to ‘resign’ under a cloud of concern about compromised national security, but he is the first one.


Lux: Dems, Don’t Get Suckered by ‘Base vs. Working-Class’ False Choice

The following article by Democratic strategist Mike Lux, author of  The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be, is cross-posted fromHuffPo:

When a political party loses a big election (especially an election they clearly should have won), and finds itself out of power at every level of government, a debate needs to be had about the future of that party. The Democratic party is having such a debate, but when the frame of the debate is as twisted up as it currently is, we aren’t going to make much headway in terms of finding the best answers.

Debate framing, bad definitions, and false questions are popular in Washington, DC. For years, I have been bemused by the inside the beltway definition of “centrism”, which consists mostly of being pro-trade deals that benefit big business, pro-cutting Social Security and Medicare, and in favor of helping the big banks on Wall Street soften the few regulations that hold them back. None of these positions have any popularity with the actual centrist swing voters that helped decide this election- or any in the last couple of decades- but in DC circles, this kind of “centrism” has for years been all the rage.

The same pundits who define centrism in this manner are now trying to frame the debate over the future of the Democratic party as a debate over whether the party should become more progressive or whether we should reach out to swing voters. The problem with this frame is that the message and issues that have the best chance of appealing to the working class swing voters Democrats lost in 2016 (and 3 of the last 4 elections) is the same one that fires up the Democratic base of young people, people of color, and unmarried women: the economic populism of Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Bernie Sanders, and Keith Ellison. Those kinds of progressive populist politicians, the Democratic base, and swing working class voters all believe that the system is rigged in favor of the wealthy and big business special interests; they all believe Social Security should be expanded and Medicare should be preserved and strengthened; they all believe in trade and other economic policies that will bring back good paying manufacturing jobs to this country; they all believe in spending a lot more money on infrastructure, creating jobs building and rebuilding roads, bridges, schools, airports, electric grids, as well as adding new jobs in solar and wind energy; they all believe in getting tougher on Wall St, including prosecuting those in the financial industry who commit crimes and breaking up the Too Big To Fail banks; they all believe in taxing the wealthiest Americans and reining in CEO power; they all believe in a higher minimum wage and more rights for workers.

And you know what else (speaking of a false debate): progressive leaders and our fired up Democratic base are all pro-business, too. According to the Washington Post and other traditional media sources, the Democrats are at war with progressives on one side and the “business-friendly” wing of the party on the other. But here’s the deal: progressives strongly support all kinds of business-friendly policies. We want for small business and start-ups to be able to compete with corporate conglomerates trying to corner the market, and so we favor vigorous enforcement of anti-trust law; we encourage people to sign up for community based banks and credit unions; we have pushed hard to develop solar, wind, and other energy sources that do not contribute to climate change; we worked with retailers to fight Wall St on swipe fees, and are working with them now on attacking this crazy Border Adjustment Tax idea in the Ryan budget because it is essentially a sales tax that mostly working class and poor people will pay; we are fighting to defend hospitals, especially rural hospitals, from the Medicaid cuts Republicans are trying to do in repealing the ACA; we are working alongside the taxi and hotel industries to keep Uber and Airbnb from destroying millions of jobs, creating major problems in housing markets in big cities, and violating people’s ADA and civil rights; and we are standing with family farmers and ranchers as they fight the big food and pipeline companies that are trying to take away their ability to make a good living.

Just because progressives oppose big business from getting sweetheart deals and tax loopholes from government, just because we want to stop overheating the planet with climate change, just because we want highly profitable businesses to pay their fair share of taxes and pay their workers decent wages and benefits, just because we want to safeguard the main street economy from irresponsible speculation by Too Big To Fail banks: none of that makes progressive Democrats “anti-business”. Quite the opposite: we are for promoting businesses that are good members of their community, and want to do everything in our power to help them.

Here’s another example of a false debate: having to choose betweenwhite working class voters in rural and small town America and the urban Democratic base. For starters, note the issues I mentioned in the 3rd paragraph above: as I said, the base and rural voters have very similar views on most of those issues. While there are enough differences and disagreements on some issues to keep Democrats from getting a majority of rural votes anytime soon, there’s a big difference between losing them 62-38 as the ultimate urbanite Barack Obama did in 2012 and losing them 71-29 as Hillary Clinton did in 2016. Those Democrats who are arguing we should walk away from rural voters and rural districts because we haven’t done well there the last couple of cycles are essentially dooming us to permanent minority status given how rural voters and states are favored disproportionately in terms of their relative power in the House, Senate, and electoral college. And we have plenty of issues we can make a stand on in rural America, including saving rural hospitals from an ACA repeal, saving rural schools from Betsy DeVos’ obsession with urban charter and voucher schools, stopping the Border Adjustment Tax which will be a heavier tax on people in rural areas than in urban areas, and making sure roads and highways and schools are built in rural America as well as urban America.

It is worth noting, by the way, that the stereotype of rural areas being all white and conservative is wrong: there are a ton of Democratic base voters and people of color living in rural America. Bernie Sanders did very well in rural America, winning most of the small states outside of the South. Native American reservations are 100% in rural areas. And throughout the Midwest and Southwest are rapidly growing numbers of Latinos in rural America. One example: my home state of Nebraska is now over 10% Latino, with small towns like Scottsbluff, Grand Island, and Lexington being over 25-50% Latino. The percentage of these rural Latinos and Native Americans who did not vote in 2016 was astronomical compared to most other demographic groups, as the Democratic party and Clinton campaign did not spend much money targeting them. I am a big advocate of Democrats doing more to reach out to working class rural swing voters on a populist economic platform, but if all we did was focus on turning out our base voters in rural America, we could cut the margins we lost there dramatically.

Democrats need to stop listening to the beltway pundits telling them they need to make false choices. We don’t have to decide between base voters and working class voters: in fact, most of our base are working class people who have been as hard hit by this economy’s heavy tilt to the top 1% as anyone, and populist economic messages work for both base and swing voters. We don’t have to choose between being populists and being pro-business: progressive populism is very much aligned with the small businesses, start-ups, green energy companies, and good neighbor companies that we ought to be helping. We don’t have to choose between rural and urban America, as progressive policies on energy, health care, Wall St, farming, anti-trust, education, the minimum wage, and health care are major assets in both big cities and small towns. Democrats need to stop playing either/or politics and stop having debates between ourselves that don’t make any sense.


Political Strategy Notes

Some insights from Frank Bruni’s NYT column, “Are Democrats Falling Into Trump’s Trap?“: “..The party has problems, underscored by its general inability to be as succinct and blunt as Trump is…Yelling has an impact, but it takes you only so far if you don’t choose your battles, marshal your fiercest energy for ones that can yield concrete results, and buckle down to the nitty-gritty of electing legislators who can actually vote against Trump’s worst initiatives in numbers that exceed those of his abettors…Practicality is crucial. Proportionality, too. When you treat every last tweet of Trump’s as if it’s the botched operation in Yemen, voters lose sight of the botched operation in Yemen. Trump provokes ire by the minute, but the response needs to be fashioned by the day or even week, lest everything blur. Resistance is a dish best served with discernment. Too much salt and you can’t taste the food itself…Opposition to him crowded out support for anything else. Every negative moment came at the expense of a positive one.”

“The outlines of a meaningful blueprint for resisting Trump are now taking shape,” writes Greg Sargent at The Plum Line.” Sargent offer five components of the blueprint. Here is #3: “Fight hard in the Senate with all available procedural weapons. Congressional scholar Sarah Binder has a good piece Friday that details all the procedural tools that Senate Democrats can use to “focus attention on controversial parts of the president’s agenda and force Republicans to cast potentially unpopular votes.” They can also “offer unrelated amendments to bills under debate, affording Democrats the chance to create discord among Republicans and between Republican senators and the White House.” Democrats will lose a lot of legislative battles, but they have all kinds of means at their disposal to try to throw the actual GOP agenda into sharper relief in the eyes of the public.”

“If there is one silver bullet that could fix American democracy, it’s getting rid of gerrymandering – the now commonplace practice of drawing electoral districts in a distorted way for partisan gain. It’s also one of a dwindling number of issues that principled citizens – Democrat and Republican – should be able to agree on. Indeed, polls confirm that an overwhelming majority of Americans of all stripes oppose gerrymandering…Last year, only 17 seats out of 435 races were decided by a margin of 5 percent or less. Just 33 seats in total were decided by a margin of 10 percent or less. In other words, more than 9 out of 10 House races were landslides where the campaign was a foregone conclusion before ballots were even cast. In 2016, there were no truly competitive Congressional races in 42 of the 50 states…While no party is innocent when it comes to gerrymandering, a Washington Post analysis in 2014 found that eight of the ten most gerrymandered districts in the United States were drawn by Republicans.” — from “Gerrymandering is the biggest obstacle to genuine democracy in the United States. So why is no one protesting?”  by Brian Klaas, author of The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding & Abetting the Decline of Democracy.

E. J. Dionne, Jr. previews “The Next GOP Assasault on Voting Rights.” Dionne writes, ““Justice [John] Roberts, then-Judge Roberts, assured us he would call balls and strikes,” Schumer said. “He gets in office, and his court does Citizens United, a huge break with precedent that ruins, ruins the politics of America. He repeals, basically, the Voting Rights Act by eliminating Section 5 . . . and I am very worried that Judge Gorsuch is similar…The court’s action on voting rights made it far harder to police abuses, while Citizens United undercut the regulation of big money in politics. So if you wonder why there is skepticism among liberals about Gorsuch, consider what conservative Supreme Court justices have already done. Think also about what it would mean to have a Supreme Court, an attorney general and a Congress all prepared to gut what had long been the basic rules of democracy. Bill Keating is not alone in his nightmares.”

In his Daily Beast post, “To Bork or Not to Bork? The Old Fight That Shows Democrats Why, and How, to Stop Gorsuch,” Julian Zelizer argues that Democrats who want to defeat the Gorsuch nomination have a real chance — if they study the leadership and tactics Sen. Edward Kennedy leveraged in the successful 1987 battle against the Bord nomination(which Coretta Scotrt King also supported).

In his AFL-CIO Now post, “Did Someone Just Say ‘Industrial Policy’?,” Stan Sorscher presents a range of interesting measures, which could give Democrats soem needed credibility. A couple of examples: “Large companies can entice states into bidding wars for a new facility. Instead of bidding wars, states could establish economic development funds. Washington State and California have billion-dollar initiatives targeted at biotech. Washington’s fund solicits bids from all companies for a portion of the development fund. Each bid is scored according to measures of public good, such as the number of family-wage jobs with benefits, or investment in plant and equipment. We could also require a commitment (subject to clawbacks) to maintain employment for a minimum period of time. This industrial policy reverses the power relationship between states and companies. Now, states have a scarce resource—access to the fund—and companies bid against each other for the scarce public resource…Companies should state in their annual tax filings how many workers they employ in the U.S. and how many in other countries.”

At a Northampton, Massachusetts town hall, Rep. Jim McGovern, who has earned the respect of progressives, urges his fellow Democrats to embrace the ‘big tent’ philosophy that gives the party its diversity and the cedibility that comes with it, reports Mary Serreze at masslive.com. “A young woman stepped to the microphone to say that Washington Democrats are not doing enough. She called for Trump to be impeached, and criticized Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren for her vote in support of Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development secretary…McGovern defended his Democratic colleague. “I don’t know anybody who has fought harder for justice and for holding this administration accountable than Elizabeth Warren,” he said…If we are all fractured, and we have all these tests — like, ‘Oh, if you vote the wrong way once on a nominee, then we’re not going to be with you’ — then eventually, you’re not going to have anybody.”

At The Fix Aaron Blake explains “Why Democrats can’t just obstruct their way back into power,”and notes “there is a difference between doing what feels good and what is strategically sound. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said it well this week: “You’ve got to pick which ones you’re going to fight about; not every pitch has to be swung at…53 percent of House districts are Republican and 60 out of 100 senators hail from red states, according to the 2016 election results (in which the GOP, again, lost the popular vote)…Republicans also have more districts “in the bag,” so to speak. Trump won 186 districts by double digits, compared with 171 for Clinton. And he won 211 districts by five or more points, compared with just 185 for Clinton…If we consider every district decided by less than 10 points in 2016 to be a battleground, Democrats need to win more than 60 percent of them to win the House majority back. And if you define the battleground more narrowly as every district decided by five points or fewer, Democrats need to win 85 percent of them…for Democrats, being completely partisan and playing to their base without expanding the party’s appeal has less upside when it comes to winning House and Senate majorities. That’s not to say they can’t do it — just that the strategic road map Republicans used doesn’t necessarily apply to Democrats.”

Benjamin Ross makes an interesting point about the problem with using education only as a metric for defining the ‘working-class’ in his Dissent article “The Lemming Democrats.” As Ross writes, “The working class is defined by education: Lumping voters together by education is a convenient way to interpret polls, which measure income imperfectly or not at all. But it loses meaning as college attendance rates rise while low pay, high rents, and student loan debt put recent graduates in a financial squeeze. As the Clinton-Sanders primaries showed, college grads are sharply divided along lines of age and income. Issues that appeal to rising Ivy-League professionals may leave the less affluent cold…To create a governing majority, the party must rebuild its coalition around a common program. It must—without lessening its commitment to racial justice and gender equality—make economic inequity its core message, and it must be seen to do so…No current voting constituencies need be written off. The same kitchen-table economic concerns motivate less affluent voters of all races and ethnicities–often more so than appeals to separate group identities. Educated professionals, too, see their retirement savings skimmed by Wall Street predators and their health endangered by for-profit medicine.”


Are Rural Congressional Districts Unwinnable for Dems?

Paul Kane’s PowerPost article “Should House Democrats write off rural congressional districts?” opens up an interesting, but difficult topic for Democrats looking towards 2018 and beyond. Kane takes a look at Rep. Sean Maloney’s data-driven presentation to the Democratic policy retreat in Baltimore yesterday, and observes:

…There are House districts that Democrats have competed in, or even represented for a long time, that have moved so sharply away from Democrats that they need to reassess whether to compete there ever again. Yet there is also an emerging set of districts that have long been held by Republicans that are now bending toward Democrats faster than even the most optimistic strategists envisioned.

The ones now on the table? Longtime Republican districts that are becoming more demographically diverse. Off the table may be rural districts with little diversity, the very places where President Trump did well in 2016.

Rep. Maloney’s argument will not be popular with Democrats who believe in the 435 district, 50-state strategy, which holds that Dems should campaign everywhere. Kane explains Maloney’s analysis:

A lawyer, Maloney is a bit obsessed with data, and he said he believes there are 350 unique characteristics that can be applied to every House race that will indicate which direction it will go.

Some findings are surprising. “Did the unemployment rate matter or not?” he said. “Turns out it doesn’t matter much at all.”

Maloney also wants to abandon the longtime party metric used by operatives known as the Democratic Performance Index, a complicated formula based on presidential and congressional candidate performance in specific House districts. Instead, he said, the three biggest predictors of the partisan bent of a House district are the percentage of it that is rural, how much of its population has received college degrees and how diverse it is.

“We need to get out of the past. Our tools need to get out of the past,” Maloney said.

This means that Democrats made mistakes in places such as Iowa’s 1st Congressional District and Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District, seats that in the summer of 2016 Democrats expected to win. But both are very rural and are not diverse. Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) won reelection by nearly eight percentage points in a district that swung from twice voting for Barack Obama for president to supporting Donald Trump, and Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.) won his first election despite a long career of controversial statements as a radio talk-show host.

Demographic profiles of congressional districts can change very fast, and it’s important that the party address the dynamics in its campaign resource allocations. But Maloney’s analysis is not just about which districts to write off; he is equally-vigilant about working those districts that have demographics trending in a more favorable direction for Democrats:

Two highlights for Democrats came in highly educated suburban districts: in northern New Jersey, where Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D) ousted a seven-term Republican; and outside Orlando, where Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D) knocked off a 23-year incumbent.

Some of this won’t be news to [Democratic Congressional Campaign Chairman, Rep. Ben Ray] Luján and senior DCCC staff, because they have already launched a “Majority Project” in these emerging districts. In private they admit they realized too late that Trump was speeding up the shift of well-educated suburbanites toward the Democrats, leaving too many Republicans facing inferior opponents last year in potentially competitive races.

Kane points out that Democrats lost some suburban districts they should have won, based on demographic changes, because of exceptionally-strong Republican candidates and/or weak Democratic candidates. As Maloney observes, “Candidates still matter.”

Great candidates remain the wild card that can deliver victory where all logic and statistics say otherwise.  Few would disagree that one of the most glaring weaknesses of the Democratic Party is the failure to identify, recruit, train and fund enough promising candidates to be competitive in suburban, let alone rural, districts. If Dems want to be more competitive everywhere, they must invest more thought, money and action in meeting this challenge. A study that takes an in-depth look at Democratic elected officials who have beat the odds to win in districts they should have lost might yield some useful insights.


February 9: Democrats Must Resist Trump’s Authoritarian Tendencies More Quickly Than They Resisted W.’s

As unprecedented as the Trump administration seems, it is very important to look to history to see how to deal with him, as I argued this week at New York:

Efforts to put Donald Trump’s authoritarian tendencies into a historical context usually begin with the simultaneously troubling and reassuring precedent of Richard M. Nixon. Like Trump, Nixon was a mistrustful and self-conscious “outsider” who hated the news media and compulsively focused on “enemies.” As we fear Trump will do, Nixon harnessed government resources to harass those enemies, ordered widespread law-breaking, expanded presidential powers to the breaking point, and tried to hide his more nefarious activities from scrutiny. But despite his power and a reelection landslide victory that makes a mockery of Trump’s pretensions of popularity, Nixon was brought to heel and eventually forced to resign. A potential authoritarian threat to democracy was repulsed.

Nixon was not, however, unique in succumbing to the temptations of an imperial presidency. As Jonathan Rauch reminds us in an important new analysis of how to contain Trump if he goes off the rails, all presidents cross lines and seek to expand their powers. And in fact, the most relevant precedent may be a relatively recent one:

“For a good example, one need look back no further than the presidency of George W. Bush. After the 9/11 attacks, Bush claimed alarmingly broad presidential powers. He said he could define the entire world as a battlefield in the War on Terror, designate noncitizens and citizens alike as enemy combatants, and then seize and detain them indefinitely, without judicial interference or congressional approval or the oversight called for by the Geneva Conventions.”

It’s initially hard to think of the sometimes-comical and often self-deprecating W. as resembling the volatile narcissist in the White House today; when Bush call himself “the decider,” more people laughed than cowered. But whatever the 43rd president lacked in bully-boy arrogance the people around him — most notably his vice-president — supplied abundantly. And there is no getting around the fact that the Bush team deliberately exploited the national emergency of 9/11 to do all sorts of things it had no real popular mandate to do, most notably the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and to intimidate opponents with the charge of anti-Americanism. It is very easy to imagine Team Trump doing the same thing. The president’s charge that he would hold “the court system” responsible for any future terrorist attacks is a credible threat that like Bush he might convert a national-security failure into a warrant for near-total power.

As Rauch notes, however, Bush was, like Nixon, eventually brought to heel as well, without the trauma of a threatened impeachment and a resignation. He quotes one-time Bush administration Justice Department official Jack Goldsmith as describing a “giant distributed networks of lawyers, investigators, and auditors, both inside and outside the executive branch” that reined in a potentially authoritarian regime….

Eventually Congress and the courts joined this effort, and in 2006, so did the American electorate, in a midterm buffeting of the president’s party that ruined Karl Rove’s painstaking efforts to build a durable GOP majority based on a combination of national-security fearmongering and carefully targeted domestic initiatives. But it was a near thing.

The good news is that many of the same forces that helped rein in Bush are at hand today, and Trump’s open contempt for norms has put them on high alert. But as Trump’s election showed, the old norms don’t have the power they had in the past — even the most recent past.

It should be relatively apparent that the first step toward making sure the Trump administration doesn’t lurch down the path to authoritarian abuse of power via a national-security “emergency” is to deny it the sort of government-of-national-salvation status Bush and his team enjoyed in the wake of 9/11. If that means Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans (the few who are left, anyway) have to run the risk of being attacked for insufficient patriotism, so be it. It is their patriotic duty to do so. And as the example of George W. Bush shows, the sooner the president is denied imperial powers, the sooner his imperial pretensions can be exposed as mere power-grabs.

With luck, there will not be an incident like 9/11 — or the Iraq War — during the Trump presidency. But if there is, does anyone doubt he will exploit it to the hilt? That’s the authoritarian emergency for which we must all prepare.