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 8, 2016

Political Strategy Notes

If anyone still harbored hopes that Trump would be a bipartisan maverick, his extremist cabinet picks thus far indicate that we can now let go of any remaining delusions in that regard, or that he gives a damn about unifying Americans. With the nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the E.P.A., it sure looks like Steve Bannon is now the puppet-master pulling Trump’s strings, and Jared Kushner’s role has been reduced to technical support. The nomination of big oil errand boy Pruitt has a nasty, in-your-face quality that points to the hissing ideologues in Trump’s den, including Bannon and Sessions.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out the Romney at State buzz was just a distraction to provide temporary cover for the hard right cabinet set-up, not too dissimilar from the way they just played Al Gore. Alternatively, Romney might serve as a suitably obedient parrot to distract from the rest of Trump’s cabinet picks. If so, that could come soon, to quell rising protest against Pruitt.

And if this keeps up, the comings and goings at the White House could look like outtakes from “Seven Days in May.”

Classy, that “pro” wrestling should serve as an exemplary business in the Trump Administration.

From “Which was the most accurate national poll in the 2016 presidential election?” by John Sides at The Monkey Cage:


From Thomas E. Patterson’s report, “News Coverage of the 2016 General Election: How the Press Failed the Voters” at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, via Erik Wemple’s “Study: Clinton-Trump coverage was a feast of false equivalency” at The Washington Post: “Clinton’s controversies got more attention than Trump’s (19 percent versus 15 percent) and were more focused. Trump wallowed in a cascade of separate controversies. Clinton’s badgering had a laser-like focus. She was alleged to be scandal-prone. Clinton’s alleged scandals accounted for 16 percent of her coverage—four times the amount of press attention paid to Trump’s treatment of women and sixteen times the amount of news coverage given to Clinton’s most heavily covered policy position…There wasn’t much in Clinton’s general election news coverage that worked in her favor….Stories about her personal traits portrayed her as overly cautious and guarded and ran 3-to-1 negative. News reports on her policy positions trended negative by a ratio of 4-to-1. Everything from her position on health care to her position on trade was criticized, often in the form of an attack by Trump or another opponent. Her record of public service, which conceivably should have been a source of positive press, turned out differently. News reports on that topic were 62 percent negative to 38 percent positive, with Trump having a larger voice than she did in defining the meaning of her career. He was widely quoted as saying, “She’s been there 30 years and has nothing to show for it.”

Talk about irony, “According to exit polls, Trump received 81 percent of the white evangelical Christian vote, and Hillary Clinton only 16 percent. Trump did significantly better than the overtly religious Mitt Romney and the overtly evangelical George W. Bush. He likely over-performed among other theologically conservative voters, such as traditionalist Catholics, as well. Not bad for a thrice-married adulterer of no discernible faith…To what can we attribute Trump’s success? The most logical answer is that religious traditionalists felt that their religious liberty was under assault from liberals, and they therefore had to hold their noses and vote for Trump.” — As  reported by David Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy.

At The Fix Aaron Blake rolls out the reasons why gimmicky ploys to place Merrick Garland on the U.S. Supreme Court just before the new Congress is sworn in are Not Gonna Happen. In addition, it’s hard to imagine a staid, respected jurist like Garland offering himself up as the guinea pig for such an unprecedented gambit, and it’s also out of character for President Obama. If there was a workable though controversial way to place Garland on the court, it would be morally justifiable, since the Republicans have shamelessly betrayed America’s ideals by refusing to even hold hearings on Obama’s nominee. But the schemes Blake describes have too many moving parts, and could backfire badly.

Bring it, please bring it.

Chamber Willing to Cut Grand Bargain With Trump

Remember the friction between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Trump during the presidential primaries? It is important to understand why that may not matter now, as I discussed this week at New York:

The steady drift of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce toward becoming a reliable constituency group of the Republican Party has been going on for many years. But it still represented a landmark to learn that in 2016, for the first time, the Chamber abandoned even the slightest fig leaf of bipartisanship. Every dime of the $29 million the group spent on congressional races went to Republican candidates. As recently as 2014, the Chamber was still endorsing a handful of business-friendly Democratic members of Congress.

The all-in-on-the-GOP decision-making at the Chamber is all the more remarkable because of the recent trends within the Republican Party that have discomfited its business allies. Most notably, the Chamber frowned upon the tea-party movement that threatened to take over the GOP after the 2010 midterms — mostly because said movement threatened to do terrible things like forcing a national debt default, but also because the tea people tended to oppose Chamber priorities like immigration reform, trade agreements, educational testing, and infrastructure spending. Yes, the Chamber reasserted its power in the GOP in the 2014 primaries, but many of the very things that upset business interests about the tea party were subsequently championed in a big, violent way by Donald Trump. The Chamber’s longtime president, Tom Donahue, got into a brief but intense war of words with Trump during the primaries over trade and immigration policy, and the hatchet was never really buried.

So why did the Chamber go so deep-red in its political spending? It’s pretty simple: Like most knowledgeable observers at the beginning of the general election campaign, Donahue and company figured Trump was going to be a stone loser, dragging Republican control of the Senate and maybe even the House right down to the bottom of hell alongside his bizarre garbage-fire of a campaign. So it became more important than ever to anti-Trump Republicans to invest heavily in the rest of the party. And they did, from the Chamber to the Koch network and back again.

But now this particular chicken has come home to roost: The Chamber and other Republican interests originally hostile to Trump undoubtedly helped him win by boosting Republican turnout, and have now given him a Republican Congress that could wind up rubber-stamping his agenda.

No wonder there is a new wariness in Chamber pronouncements about the new administration:

“Mr. President-elect, our country needs a strong president to help ensure peace, security, and prosperity at home and abroad. In the days ahead, we will agree on many issues and we may disagree on a few—but we share your commitment to this country and we stand ready to work with you and the new Congress to unleash a new era of growth and opportunity.”

Translation: If you give us most of what we want, we’ll look the other way when you insist on things we don’t like.

And so the Chamber’s relationship with Trump is one of those many phenomena that will depend very strictly on how the new administration gets along with congressional Republicans.

If GOPers at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue can agree on a common agenda of big tax cuts, regulatory “relief,” attacks on unions and pro-union policies, and a general rollback of the New Deal and Great Society programs to the extent that is politically possible, then the Chamber probably won’t get too upset if its trade and immigration preferences are ignored.

In this respect the Chamber’s transactional relationship with Donald Trump is a microcosm of the GOP’s. Many Republicans for have a price for fully supporting the Trump administration. But it may not be as high as you might imagine.

Dems Call Trump’s Bluff on Outsourcing

Donald Trump’s campaign shrewdly leveraged working-class anger about outsourcing jobs as a cornerstone of his Electoral College victory. But it was always more noise than substance, and now a group of Democratic U.S. Senators are calling his bluff by urging a bipartisan war on outsourcing. As Mike Debonis writes in his PowerPost article, “Citing Trump, Rust Belt Democrats demand crackdown on outsourcers“:

Six Democratic senators from Rust Belt states won by President-elect Donald Trump called Tuesday for a swift congressional crackdown on U.S. companies that send manufacturing jobs abroad, claiming common cause with Trump’s crusade against outsourcing.

…The Democratic senators from Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin stopped short of calling for a protectionist tariff regime. But in a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday, they applauded “the recent attention President-elect Trump has brought to the issue of outsourcing and its impact on middle-class families” and called for legislation that would penalize companies that send jobs abroad.

…Those penalties, they say, should include taking into consideration any history of outsourcing while awarding federal contracts and potentially keeping outsourcers from receiving tax breaks and other federal incentives, and “clawing back” those incentives if companies later ship jobs out of the country.

The Democratic senators include Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-In), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Their challenge is part of a Democratic effort to reclaim credibility as the party most strongly against job-killing outsourcing and “off-shoring.” For decades Democratic have tried to enact legislation to stop “runaway plants,” but were frequently blocked by a coalition of Republicans and some Democrats, who wanted to protect unfettered corporate autonomy and “free” trade.

The proposed Democratic reforms are not as flashy as Trump’s Sunday threat that “any business that leaves our country for another country, fires its employees, builds a new factory or plant in the other country, and then thinks it will sell its product back into the U.S. without retribution or consequence, is WRONG!” Trump also threatened to impose a 35 percent tariff on those companies, knowing full-well that it is an empty threat because his fellow Republicans won’t let that happen. No matter, it’s the noise that counts.

But Trump’s tweet does show that he intends to double down on keeping his identity as the leader most opposed to unfair trade, verbally at least. A letter alone isn’t going to enable Democrats to get their fair share of the credit. Democrats are going to need a full-court media press just to keep up with Trump’s noise machine on the trade issue. But they have a real chance of reclaiming the mantle of fair trade, if they propose and more energetically promote realistic legislation to restrict outsourcing and offshoring, coupled with job-training programs to help American workers prepare for both the short and long-term future.

How the Message Discipline Gap Sank Clinton

As Ed Kilgore has pointed out, an argument blaming any one factor exclusively for an election outcome is generally a dicey proposition. There may be rare exceptions but, election upsets, in particular, are usually a function of a combination of events, gaffes, demographic trends, voting laws, media bias, approval ratings, turn-out mobilization and even the weather, to name just some of the most commonly-cited factors.

You can blame the F.B.I. director’s partisan meddling, as did the Clinton campaign, for the 2016 outcome. But you can also blame younger voters, white working-class anger and racially-driven voter suppression. And it’s possible to marshall compelling statistics for all of these arguments. If any one of them can explain Trump’s electoral college victory, however, then it can’t be only one of them.

But if you held me hostage, twisted my arm and threatened to take away my beer for a year unless I came up with a single cause of Clinton’s Electoral College defeat, I would have to go with distracted messaging.

Compare for a moment the respective slogans of the Trump and Clinton campaigns, “Make America Great Again” and “Stronger Together.” Both are yawners, to some extent, in that neither has any rhetorical music to it. But Trump’s message at least articulates a clearly-stated goal, and one that resonates if you live in a declining Rust Belt community. “Stronger Together” — not much of a goal or direction there, just a nod to some vague vision of unity in pursuit of…something.

Nor did the Clinton campaign’s “I’m with her” buttons win any hearts and minds. Anyone who wore that button was going to vote for Clinton anyway, zero value added. Worse, some fence-sitters may have read it as “I’m with her…and you’re not,” a counter-productive message of exclusion.

Slogans aren’t everything. The candidate is the ultimate messenger and what she or he projects on the stump, in interviews, comments, photo-ops, tweets and ads are even more important than the slogans. Here again the Clinton campaign was bested. Much of the reason is shallow media coverage. With few exceptions, the press amplified everything Trump said, and pretty much smothered Clinton’s statements and policy positions with her opponent’s outrages du jour. Trump played the media like a fiddle.

Let’s never forget, however, that Clinton actually won the popular vote by 2.5 million, and she banked  more total votes than any other presidential candidate in history. Nitpicking about messaging in light of that reality seems a little unfair. It’s faulting her for not winning by 3 million votes, instead of a measley 2.5. But the presidenial election is really 10 or 12 different elections, thanks to the Electoral College, and that’s where the Clinton campaign was outfoxed. Somebody in the Trump campaign, perhaps Bannon, saw the path through the Rust Belt and the power of sleeper issues, like offshoring jobs.

Credit the Trump campaign also with relentless branding of Clinton as elitist, even though she has been a tireless supporter of disadvantaged people and progressive reforms all of her life. Trump’s bio-narrative, on the other hand, defines the lifestyle of the self-serving billionaire who never performed an act of public service.

Clinton had by far the more credible economic policies, in terms of helping blue collar and middle class voters. But she couldn’t get any coverage or traction for them. I don’t place much stock in the argument that Clinton couldn’t sell her progressive policies because she got big speaking fees from the likes of Goldman-Sachs. If most voters cared about that, why wouldn’t they care about Trump’s routine stiffing of his subcontractors in his business and his ridiculously gilded lifestyle, while he masqueraded as a champion of working people?

The Trump campaign’s media exploitation and message discipline were impressive. They milked the power of sheer repetition to the fullest and stayed on their message. Clinton had to respond to Trump’s outrageous statements and revelations about his abuse of women. As the first female candidate, she couldn’t just ignore it. There was so much of it that her economic messages were dwarfed and got scant coverage. Her campaign could have focused more on economic messaging in her ads, however.

The next Democratic presidential candidate must not get distracted from projecting a message and vision of broadly-shared economic opportunity. A rigorous, disciplined, all-inclusive message supporting economic progress for working families of all races is the path to victory for the next Democratic president, and down-ballot Dems ought to embrace it as well.

Political Strategy Notes

“The problem for the Democratic Party is not that its policies aren’t progressive or populist enough,” writes Fareed Zakaria in a Washington Post op-ed. “They are already progressive and are substantially more populist than the Republican Party’s on almost every dimension. And yet, over the past decade, Republicans have swept through statehouses, governors’ mansions, Congress and now the White House. Democrats need to understand not just the Trump victory but that broader wave…Hillary Clinton’s campaign, for instance, should have been centered around one simple theme: that she grew up in a town outside Chicago and lived in Arkansas for two decades. The subliminal message to working-class whites would have been “I know you. I am you.” It was the theme of her husband’s speech introducing her at the Democratic convention, and Bill Clinton’s success has a lot to do with the fact that, brilliant as he is, he can always remind those voters that he knows them. Once reassured, they are then open to his policy ideas.”

In his salon.com post, “Want to win the working-class vote? Try progressive economic policies, Democrats,” Sean McElwee notes “Clinton’s campaign erred by not running more ads criticizing Trump’s predatory behavior toward workers and touting the Obama administration’s auto-industry bailout. (Research suggests that in battleground states only 6 percent of Clinton’s campaign ads mentioned “jobs,” while 43 percent of Trump’s did.)…At this point, the key limitation to progressive economic policies isn’t message but mobilization. There are numerous opportunities to run progressive candidates in races and states that Democrats have ignored. As the data suggest, economic progressivism is popular. Now let’s get the people who benefit from it mobilized. Let’s get candidates who can run on those platforms and win…”

Podcaster Lincoln Mitchell’s “Six Things Democrats Can Do Now To Combat Trumpism” has some provocative talking points, including these three: Spend time in working class white communities; Don’t talk about public service and sacrifice (“Every time a Democratic politician uses this language-and Hillary Clinton did a lot-it is a reminder of the elitism of the Party, and the candidate.”); and Don’t be afraid to tweet.

At The New Yorker Jeffrey Toobin pinpoints “THE REAL VOTING SCANDAL OF 2016: Jill Stein can’t call for the recount of uncast votes, but there were clearly thousands of them as a result of voter-suppression measures.” Noting that recounts “almost never result in a change of more than five hundred votes,” Toobin writes,  “This was the first Presidential election since the Supreme Court’s notorious Shelby County v. Holder decision, which gutted the Voting Rights Act. Several Republican-controlled states took the Court’s decision as an invitation to rewrite their election laws, purportedly to address the (nonexistent) problem of voter fraud but in fact to limit the opportunities for Democrats and minorities (overlapping groups, of course) to cast their ballots…In 2014, according to a Wisconsin federal court, three hundred thousand registered voters in that state lacked the forms of identification that Republican legislators deemed necessary to cast their ballots…In Milwaukee County, which has a large African-American population, sixty thousand fewer votes were cast in 2016 than in 2012. To put it another way, Clinton received forty-three thousand fewer votes in that county than Barack Obama did—a number that is nearly double Trump’s margin of victory in all of Wisconsin. The North Carolina Republican Party actually sent out a press release boasting about how its efforts drove down African-American turnout in this election.”

Donald Trump hasn’t released his tax returns — but Democrats want to force his Cabinet picks to do so,” reports Ed O’Keefe at The Washington Post. “Currently, just three Senate committees — the Budget, Finance, and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panels — have the authority to require Cabinet picks to release their tax returns. The others do not…Democrats see an opportunity to call attention to Trump’s refusal to release tax information despite public opinion polls showing that most Americans believe he should.” The move would also underscore the reality of heavy Wall St. influence in Trump’s cabinet picks.

In the latest installment of the Blame Game, Aaron Blake’s post, “Yes, you can blame millennials for Hillary Clinton’s loss” at The Fix should have had a subhead “Along with most other groups.” Blake is dead right that younger voters ditched Clinton in significantly disproportionate and damaging numbers. But they had plenty of company. As John Judis noted in a November 11th Post op-ed, however, “According to national exit polls, among Latino voters she fell six points from President Obama’s numbers in 2012; she dropped five points each among 18-to-29-year-olds, unmarried women and African Americans. Together, these groups made up the same percentage of the electorate in 2016 as they had in 2012. Some of the battleground-state figures are even more striking. In Ohio, Clinton was 13 points behind Obama among 18-to-29-year-olds. In New Mexico, she fell 11 points among Latinos.”

At CNN Politics Eugene Scott probes the damage done by Hillary Clinton’s “Deplorables” gaffe, and notes, “On a special assignment from the Clinton campaign, Diane Hessan studied how undecided voters were responding to the campaign…She wrote an op-ed in the Boston Globe sharing reflections from her study, which showed the reaction to the “deplorables” was stronger than when FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to Congress saying they were probing to see if additional emails on the laptop of one her top aides could have an impact on a closed investigation to Clinton’s use of a primary email server.” I believe it. There’s no data to back it up, but google “deplorables t-shirt,” then click on the “images” tab,  and you will get about 200 designs to chose from.

You’ve probably heard about the daunting political landscape Democrats will be facing in the 2018 mid term elections, when Dems will be defending 25 seats, compared to 8 for Republicans. But shouldn’t Dems expect some pick-ups in the House, where all incumbents are running and Republicans will have the presidency? Not exactly, writes Charlie Cook at The Cook Political Report: “In the House there seems to be very little volat­il­ity in 2018. Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port House Ed­it­or Dav­id Wasser­man es­tim­ates that there are about ten Re­pub­lic­ans sit­ting in dis­tricts car­ried by Hil­lary Clin­ton and just eight Demo­crats in dis­tricts won by Don­ald Trump. The party hold­ing the White House usu­ally loses House seats in midterm elec­tions, but that might not hap­pen this time. First, the House of­ten ex­per­i­ences a surge and de­cline phe­nomen­on in which a party picks up a bunch of seats with its White House vic­tory only to lose many of those seats in the next mid-term elec­tion. But this year Re­pub­lic­ans won the Pres­id­ency while los­ing House seats, so they aren’t go­ing in­to the midterm with a lot of new seats to de­fend. Second, Demo­crats de­pend on young­er and minor­ity voters, who are most likely to sit out midterm elec­tion years.”

“It was the party’s neoliberalism that did it in,” writes Jeff Faux at The American Prospect. “…Organized labor, for all its flaws, kept the white working class in the Democratic Party, and was a firewall against white racism. This was especially true for industrial unions…as industrial unions declined, the right wing punched through that firewall, firing up anger towards elites, whose definition of diversity and equality did not seem to include white “losers…The Democrats’ task ahead, therefore, is to return to their own roots as the party of the new working class, whose anxieties about the future are spilling over the walls that separate people of different colors, genders, sexual preferences—and even educations.”

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.


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.