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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

Democrats Need to Be the Party of and for Working People—of All Races

And they can’t retake Congress unless they win over more white workers.
by Robert Griffin, John Halpin & Ruy Teixeira

Read the article…

Matt Morrison

Rebuilding a Progressive Majority by Winning Back White Working-Class Moderates

From the findings of Working America, the AFL-CIO’s outreach program to non-union working people.
by Matt Morrison

Read the article…

The Daily Strategist

January 16, 2018

Teixeira: Where Does Trumpism Come From?

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

That is the $64,000 question in American politics. Thomas Edsall has an excellent and important take on the question in his latest New York Times column titled “Robots Can’t Vote But They Helped Elect Donald Trump“. Here are some choice excerpts but please read the whole article:

When you look across America to see where jobs and wages have been lost to robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence and automation, it is the middle of the country that stands apart from the rest….

“My take is that grievances, both racial and against cosmopolitan, liberal elites, have played an important role,” [economist Daron] Acemoglu wrote me in an email:

“But economic hardships, as they often do, made these fault lines more salient. Dormant grievances have become more alive.”

Acemoglu argues that recent technological developments have helped drive voters to the right:

“The swing to Republicans between 2008 and 2016 is quite a bit stronger in commuting zones most affected by industrial robots. You don’t see much of the impact of robots in prior presidential elections. So it’s really a post 2008 phenomenon.”….

In a September 2017 paper, “Importing Political Polarization? The Electoral Consequences of Rising Trade Exposure,” David Autor, who is also an economist at M.I.T., and three of his colleagues, dug further into the demographics of those suffering the economic costs of trade with China.

Autor and his co-authors found that:

“Trade exposure catalyzed strong movements towards conservative Republicans between 2002 and 2010 in counties with majority non-Hispanic white populations.”….

Their analysis resonates, they suggest:

“with the themes of recent literature on the political economy of right-wing populism, in which economic shocks to dominant population groups engender a political response that sharpens group identities and enhances support for conservative politicians. This pattern is evident in our finding that the impact of trade shocks on political polarization appears largely attributable to increases in foreign competition facing manufacturing industries that are intensive in the employment of non-Hispanic white males.”

Acemoglu, Autor and their colleagues provide a synthesis between the economic and the sociocultural explanations of the rise of the populist right. In doing so, they provide a corrective to the recent tendency in segments of the liberal media to downplay economic factors and to focus instead on racial resentment and cultural dislocation as the primary forces motivating Trump voters.

The point here is that the two generalized explanatory realms — the one focused on race and the other on economic shock — overlap. It is not either/or but both that gave us President Trump.

Still, explanations tend to become monocausal.

Take, for example, the Dec. 15, 2017 headline at the Vox website: “The past year of research has made it very clear: Trump won because of racial resentment.” According to German Lopez, the article’s author, “employment and income were not significantly related to that sense of white vulnerability.” What was? “Racial resentment.”

A May 9, 2017 story in The Atlantic asserted that

“fear of societal change, not economic pressure, motivated votes for the president among non-salaried workers without college degrees.”

Those stories were by no means alone. Salon: “Liberals were right: Racism played a larger role in Trump’s win than income and authoritarianism”; The Nation: “Economic Anxiety Didn’t Make People Vote Trump, Racism Did.”…

Trump’s strongest support in the primaries and in the general election came disproportionately from the least well educated whites — those who, as Acemoglu and Autor argue, are most vulnerable to the economic dislocation resulting from automation, the rise of a robot work force, global trade and outsourcing.

In an email, Autor describes how the two explanatory models dovetail. He starts with a question:

“Do you think non-college, non-urban whites would feel so dislocated if their job prospects were strong and their wages rising?”

He then goes on to point out that

“all of these observations — authoritarianism, racism, cultural dislocation — have relevance. The only claim that’s irrelevant because it’s already been disproved is that economic factors were unimportant to Trump’s victory.”

I agree strongly with Edsall, Acemoglu and Autor. It has always been my view that  it should not be surprising that voting for an anti-immigrant, racially resentful candidate is predicted by, well, being anti-immigrant and racially resentful. But why now and why so much support for a candidate with those views? That is a much more difficult and arguably more important question.

Consider the following. Over time, the most striking thing about anti-immigrant sentiment and racial resentment is that they have been trending steadily downward. Take the basic question of whether immigration should be increased, decreased or stay the same. We are now at levels of “decrease” that have not been this low since the 1960’s. In particular, there has been a huge drop in “decreased” since around the time of Pat Buchanan’s nativist candidacy for the Republican nomination in 1992, reflecting dramatic changes in the views of white Americans. Yet Buchanan was not successful but Trump was.

Similarly, there has been considerable change in basic views about immigration and whether it’s a good or bad thing for America—and it’s positive not negative change, even if one confines the data to white Americans. According to Gallup data, that very much includes in the recent period, when Trump has risen to prominence. Indeed, after the “good thing” response was as low as 51 percent in the early 2000’s, it has been around 70 percent in the last two years.

Nor on racial resentment do we see any kind of spike in negative racial attitudes in the recent period. Negative racial attitudes, according to General Social Survey (GSS) data analyzed by 538, were far higher in the early 1990’s than they have been in recent years among both white Democrats and Republicans.

Of course, it is possible that there has been a spike in negative attitudes on race and immigration but it has been confined to, say, the group most likely to support Trump—white working class or noncollege men. But that does not appear to be the case either. According to GSS data, there has been essentially no change in the incidence of these attitudes among white working class men in recent years.

So the question then becomes, in a sense; what set them off? Why did a substantial group of white working class voters, whose views on race and immigration were likely of long standing, rather than recently acquired, make a strong move toward right populism today rather than years ago? It’s a puzzle.

One prime suspect for solving this puzzle is the material circumstances and economic trajectory of white working class Americans– especially white working class men–and their communities in the last 25 years or so since Pat Buchanan first raised his pitchfork high at the Republican national convention. It’s not controversial to say that that trajectory has been quite poor. Earnings declines have been the rule for white noncollege male workers, with those in the bottom quarter of the earnings distribution down by almost half, but even those in the middle of the distribution have seen their earnings decline by over a fifth. And most of this decline has taken place since the turn of the century, with a particularly sharp decline in the Great Recession years.

This is the story told by cross-sectional data. But surely white noncollege men made at least some gains as they aged and their careers progressed? A Sentier Research study indicates that these gains have been very modest indeed, as measured over ages 25-26 to ages 43-44, especially as compared to white college men ($6,000 vs. $54,000). For white noncollege men, that’s an 18 year period with glacial progress.

Of course, there’s more to the material situation of white noncollege workers than annual earnings, though this is surely important. Other important dimensions might include job availability, opportunities for upward occupational mobility, the state of their local communities and health and mortality concerns. But, by all accounts, serious problems have emerged in these areas as well.

So perhaps these changes, especially as exacerbated by the sharp economic decline of the Great Recession, were enough to set off that still-considerable sector of the white working class that harbors negative attitudes around race and immigration. That would be consistent with the “deep story” uncovered by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in her study of white working class communities in Louisiana. This is the story these individuals tell themselves to make sense of their world:

You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are black—beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare. Some are career-driven women pushing into jobs they never had before. Then you see immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, the Syrian refugees yet to come. As you wait in this unmoving line, you’re being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for? Then you see President Barack Hussein Obama waving the line-cutters forward. He’s on their side. In fact, isn’t he a line-cutter too? How did this fatherless black guy pay for Harvard? As you wait your turn, Obama is using the money in your pocket to help the line-cutters. He and his liberal backers have removed the shame from taking. The government has become an instrument for redistributing your money to the undeserving. It’s not your government anymore; it’s theirs.

A toxic interaction between economic change and cultural reaction would also be consistent with the historical record on the rise of right populisms. As political scientists Manuel Funke, Moritz Schularick and Christopher Trebesch have shown in an influential paper, “Going to Extremes: Politics after Financial Crisis, 1870-2014”, covering 140 years, 800 general elections and 20 countries, far right populist parties driven heavily by xenophobia towards immigrants and minorities typically experience a surge in support in the aftermaths of large and lingering crises. And, as economist Claudia Goldin noted in her study of immigration policy debates in the US in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, “Almost all serious calls for the literacy test [to stem the flow immigrants] were preceded by economic downturns. … and few economic downturns of the era were not accompanied by a call for [immigration] restriction in the halls of Congress.”

To conclude, it seems foolish to try to understand Trumpism without taking into account the material conditions, trajectories and aspirations of Trump supporters and their considerable shortcomings in recent decades—their economic pessimism and fear of the future have real roots, as economists have copiously documented.

Of course, it would also not be credible to analyze Trumpism without a very prominent role for the racial and cultural lens through which Trump’s supporters interpret the world and the problems they face. There are likely some very complicated interactions between the material frustrations of white noncollege voters, particularly men, and a sense of racial “status anxiety” that may have always been there to some degree, but has come out in full force in the aftermath of a great economic crisis. This is what we should seek to understand instead of condemning vast swathes of our fellow Americans as simple racists.

Political Strategy Notes

As America commemorates the 32nd MLK holiday, Barbara Arnwine and John Nichols report at The Nation that “a new National Commission for Voter Justice has been constituted at the urging of the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., leaders of the National Bar Association and scholars and activists from across the country. This nonpartisan commission, which will launch this week in Washington, begins with the premise that Americans need reliable information about threats to voting rights, and that the information can and should be employed not merely to address those threats but to establish a voter justice ethic that says every community and every state should be striving for the highest level of voter participation in every election…The commission, which expects to conduct its work from January 2018, through December 2019, will hold at least 18 regional and special hearings, sponsor national training events and publish at least eight briefing papers, advisories and reports.”

“President Trump’s vulgar comments disparaging Haiti, El Salvador and African countries reverberated across the country Friday — including in one immigrant-rich state central to the GOP’s political fortunes where the party was already facing head winds: Florida,” write Sean Sullivan and Lori Rozsa in “Republicans in immigrant-rich Fla. scramble in wake of Trump’s remarks” at PowerPost. “Trump’s reference to “shithole countries” in an Oval Office meeting with lawmakers Thursday sent Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a close ally the president is courting to run for the U.S. Senate, scrambling to distance himself from the controversy. Republican lawmakers issued strongly worded statements condemning what the leader of their party said. And GOP strategists and activists worried about the fallout in a battleground that is home to one of the country’s largest populations of Latin Americans…According to a 2010 Census publication, of the estimated 830,000 people in the United States in 2009 with Haitian ancestry, about two-thirds lived in Florida…”

James Fallows ponders at The Atlantic the great good that could come, if just two Republican Senators came from the shadows of shame to take action in response to Trump’s latest indecency: “If only two of those senators would stand up against Donald Trump, with their votes rather than just their tweets or concerned statements, they would constitute an effective majority…With the 49 Democratic and independent senators, these two would make 51 votes, which in turn would be enough to authorize real investigations. They could pass a formal resolution of censure. They could call for tax returns and financial disclosure. They could begin hearings, on the model of the nationally televised Watergate hearings of 45 years ago…They could behave as if they took seriously their duties to hold the executive branch accountable. They could make a choice they know will be to their credit when this era enters history — as did the Republicans who finally turned against their own party’s President Nixon during the Watergate drama, as did the Democrats who finally turned against their own party’s President Johnson over the Vietnam war, as did the Republicans who finally turned against their own poisonous Senator McCarthy in the episode that gave rise to “Have you no sense of decency?” more than 60 years ago. They could spare themselves the shame that history attaches to people who did the wrong thing, or nothing, or kept looking the other way during those decisive periods.” Two, just two…for America.

Looking forward to the governors races of 2108, Kyle Kondik writes at Sabato’s Crystal Ball that “The Republicans currently hold six of the governorships in the 10 most populous states. The two most populous states, California and Texas, look like easy holds for, respectively, the Democrats and Republicans. New York, now the fourth-largest state, should be an easy hold for Democrats. North Carolina, the ninth-most populous, is the only one not on the ballot this year (Democrats captured it in 2016), while Georgia, the eighth-biggest, is competitive, but the Republicans are favored to hold it…That leaves five others: Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Republicans hold all but the Keystone State right now. Three are Toss-ups, while Republicans start the year with a modest edge in Ohio and Democrats a modest edge in Pennsylvania….Whichever party wins a majority of these five governorships probably will have had the better night in November, particularly because all five governors play a key role in congressional redistricting, which is coming after the 2020 census and will be overseen by the governors elected this year in these (and many other) states…”

At Talking Points Memo, Cameron Joseph explans why “Fears Of A Democratic Midterm Wave Are Already Costing GOP In Key Races,” and cites four factors of a “potential wave election,” including: polling; candidate fund-raising; recent off-year election performance; and “incumbent retirements and candidate recruitment.” Statistical indicators associated with all four factors show a strong advantage for Democrats as the 2018 midterm campaigns begin.

Brett Samuels reports at The Hill: “A CBS News poll, released Sunday, found 48 percent of Americans say the country is doing well economically, compared to 22 percent who say it’s doing poorly. Another 30 percent said it is neither doing well or poorly, according to the poll…Another 49 percent of respondents indicated they believe the U.S. is run for the benefit of a few elites. By comparison, 28 percent said they believe the country is run for the benefit of the people, while 22 percent said neither, according to the poll, which was conducted Jan. 10-12. As for who gets credit for the economy, bith good and bad, Samuels also notes that “A recent Quinnipiac poll showed 49 percent of respondents gave Obama credit for the current economy, compared to 40 percent who gave Trump credit.”

“First, not all digital impressions are created equal. Skippability, viewability, user initiation/auto-play and brand safety all must be considered when evaluating digital inventory, and the cheapest impression often isn’t the most effective choice…Then there the planning and placement to consider…While TV campaigns are typically targeted by media market, digital plans are targeted based on factors like individual vote history and partisanship, demographic data, digital contactability scores and internet usage rates, custom models, the proportion of targets by individual ZIP code and so on…In the past couple cycles, Democrats have fallen behind the GOP on the adoption and execution of robust digital media buys — and it has cost us dearly. Last year was when digital ad spend finally beat TV, according to Magna, the research arm of media buying firm IPG Mediabrands. Let’s make 2018 the year that Democrats build the aggressive, nuanced, forward-thinking campaigns we need to win up and down the ballot. — from “New Year’s Resolution for Democrats: Take Digital Seriously in ’18” by Stephanie Grasmick, partner at Rising Tide Interactive, writing at Campaigns & Elections.

In his post, “Buying Into Medicaid: A Viable Path for Universal Coverage” at The American Prospect, Michael S. Sparer outlines a nuanced case for what he believes to be the most promising route to genuine universal health care in the U.S. A teaser: “Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income populations, offers the best path forward, from both a political and a policy perspective. Medicaid could be an affordable and attractive option for those buying coverage on the ACA exchanges, stabilizing markets that otherwise lack adequate competition and offering a realistic path to an American version of universal coverage…Medicaid is the longstanding heart of the nation’s effort to aid the uninsured, and it remains our most plausible path to universal coverage. We should thus push for a Medicaid buy-in strategy, as a way of providing immediate assistance to some and continuing our incremental path to better coverage for all.”

Political Strategy Notes

At The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein writes about “The Voters Abandoning Donald Trump: According to previously unpublished findings, the blue-collar whites at the core of his coalition have lost faith over his first year in office.” Brownstein observes, “Previously unpublished results from the nonpartisan online-polling firm SurveyMonkey show Trump losing ground over his tumultuous first year not only with the younger voters and white-collar whites who have always been skeptical of him, but also with the blue-collar whites central to his coalition…These findings emerge from a cumulative analysis of 605,172 interviews SurveyMonkey conducted with Americans in 2017 about Trump’s job performance. At my request, Mark Blumenthal, SurveyMonkey’s head of election polling, calculated Trump’s average approval rating over the last year among groups of voters segmented simultaneously by their race, gender, education level, and age. That extra level of detail, not available in conventional polls because their samples are too small, offers a more precise picture of Trump’s coalition…In the 2016 election, exit polls found that Trump’s best group was whites without a four-year college degree; he carried 66 percent of them. But his approval among them in the 2017 SurveyMonkey average slipped to 56 percent. In 2016, whites with at least a four-year college degree gave Trump 48 percent of their votes. But in the 2017 average, just 40 percent approved of Trump’s performance, while a resounding 60 percent disapproved.”

Harry Enten writes at FiveThirtyEight: “Overall, in the 10 midterm elections since 1978, the average Republican turnout advantage has been about 3 percentage points. In other words, the GOP does about 3 points better, on average, among midterm voters compared with whatever their margin is vs. Democrats among all registered voters. In short, Republicans have a midterm turnout advantage…There’s a second important force at work during midterm elections, however. The Republican turnout advantage is either exacerbated or all but canceled out depending on which party controls the White House.”

“A lesson from the Alabama Senate race, where Priorities USA spent $1.5 million on digital advertising, was that basic positive advertising worked. Doug Jones introduced himself to voters, talked about his record and his values, criticized his opponent Roy Moore where necessary. But Jones didn’t make the race about Trump. That took care of itself, because Trump is all anyone can talk about, anyway…It’s a simple formula: Jones took an affirmative, middle-class-focused message to both the Democratic base as well as persuadable voters. [Chief strategist for Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC, Guy] Cecil believes it can be replicated in red states, blue states, state house districts, and city council races. “Democrats have micro-targeted ourselves into oblivion,” he said. “This is not about being efficient. This election should be about expanding the growth map, expanding the races and expanding our way of thinking about communicating to people. When people feel uneasy about the chaos and the ongoing churn of politics, having something that is positive and rooted in your values becomes more important.” — from “Uneasy About the Chaos: As Democrats Prepare for a Bloodbath, A Novel Strategy Emerges:  2018 may be a wave election, but recent races in the south suggest it will take more than anti-Trump mania to run the board.” by Peter Hamby at Vanity Fair.

NYT columnist Paul Krugman argues that Republican opposition to key Medicaid provisions are rooted in sadistic tendencies, more than political considerations. “But is it really about the money? No, it’s about the cruelty. Over the past few years it has become increasingly clear that the suffering imposed by Republican opposition to safety-net programs isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Inflicting pain is the point…Republican foot-dragging on CHIP, like opposition to Medicaid expansion and the demand for work requirements, isn’t about the money, it’s about the cruelty. Making lower-income Americans worse off has become a goal in itself for the modern G.O.P., a goal the party is actually willing to spend money and increase deficits to achieve.” Read the column to see how Krugman supports his case.

At Politico, Mark Oppenheimer explores “How to Turn a Red State Purple (Democrats Not Required),” focusing on the efforts of a small group of young Democratic activists in Alaska. Subtitled “A tiny group of political renegades is transforming one of the reddest states in the country through a surprising strategy: ignoring their own party. Could it work elsewhere?,” Oppenheimer notes the enactment of ” Measure 1, a referendum that passed in November 2016 and which automatically registers all Alaskans to vote when they submit their application for the oil dividend. Since everyone wants their oil dividend, this reform should get Alaska to near 100-percent voter registration in 2018—and the new voters are likely to be relatively poor, more heavily Democratic, and sympathetic to a progressive income tax. Meanwhile, Anchorage’s reputation as a diverse, progressive city, the oil recession, and the state’s coming marijuana economy—pot shops are slowly opening around the state, after a 2014 ballot measure legalized pot sales—are likely to skew the population more liberal.”

“Democrats have opened up a massive 17-point advantage in generic ballot polling for the House ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, according to the latest survey from Quinnipiac University,” reports Jonathan Easley at The Hill. “When voters were asked if they would rather see Republicans or Democrats win control of the House in 2018, 52 percent said Democrats, while 35 percent said Republicans. Thirteen percent were undecided…Those findings give Democrats a greater advantage than most other recent polls. According to the RealClearPolitics average, Democrats have a 12-point advantage in the generic ballot.”

At Truthdig, Mandy Velez documents “Surprising Ways Voter Suppression Hurts Women,” including: caregivers; Women who are poor or work hourly wage jobs; women who are abused; students; and disabled and older women. Further, “Voter ID laws alone account for an estimated 34 percent of women who could be turned away from the polls for not having the right documents, according to the National Organization of Women. Because 90 percent of women change their names when they get married, they often have different names on their identification documents.”

“It’s not that I’m pessimistic about the Democrats’ overall position next year,” writes Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight. “On the contrary, I think most political observers had, until recently, been slow to recognize just how bad things had gotten for Republicans. But the Senate map is really tough for Democrats, with 26 Democratic seats in play next year (including a newly opened seat in Minnesota after Al Franken announced his intention to retire) as compared to just eight Republican ones. Moreover, five of the Democratic-held seats — the ones in West Virginia, North Dakota, Montana, Missouri and Indiana — are in states that President Trump won by 18 percentage points or more…Just how bad is this map for Democrats? It’s bad enough that it may be the worst Senate map that any party has faced ever, or at least since direct election of senators began in 1913. It’s bad enough that Democrats could conceivably gain 35 or 40 seats in the House … and not pick up the two seats they need in the Senate…Don’t believe me? Check out the race-by-race ratings put forward by independent groups such as the Cook Political Report, Inside Elections1 and Sabato’s Crystal Ball. They suggest that Democrats are more likely to loseSenate seats next year than to gain them — and that while there’s a plausible path to a Democratic majority, it’s a fairly unlikely one.”

At Vox, Matthew Yglesias has a revealing update on Arizone politics in 2018, which includes this encouraging assessment: “Arizona Democrats suddenly find themselves with a plausible shot at picking up a Senate seat, a House seat, and the governor’s mansion in what’s historically been a solidly red state…Republicans currently have 51 Senate seats, with Dean Heller’s race in Nevada almost certainly Democrats’ best chance to pick one up and the Flake seat in Arizona coming second. The race could, thus, very literally be the pivot point on which control of the Senate (and thus Trump’s ability to continue stocking the judiciary with Republicans) hinges — though, of course, to pull it off, Democrats need to defend a lot of incumbent Democrats in red states…Arizona is at the center of the shifting sands of American politics. In the face of a large and growing Latino population, the state’s Republican Party appears to be shifting away from the Flake/McCain tradition of immigrant-friendly Republicanism and toward the Arpaio/Trump brand of white grievance politics.”

Teixeira: Governors’ and Legislative Elections May Prove More Important Than Congressional and Senate Races

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Sure,  control of the House is very important and the Democrats have an excellent chance to get that back in 2018. More difficult, but not out of the question, would be the Senate.

But let’s face it, 2018, even with very favorable results in the House and the Senate, is not going to be the start of a new progressive era. No, that is really a 2020’s thing when President Trump is defeated and Democrats have enough strength in the states to dominate the next round of redistricting, thereby allowing them to translate their underlying political support into actual political victories.

That’s why the most significant results of the 2018 election may well be those for state, not federal, offices. Here’s what’s at stake:

  • 36 governors’ races, 26 of which are currently in Republican hands. And of the 26 Republican-held seats, 13 are in states that Obama won in at least one of his Presidential victories (pictured above).
  • At least half of state Senate seats in 42 states (in 15 of these states, the entire Senate is up).
  • Every state House seat in the overwhelming majority of states.
These results will set the playing field for state elections in 2020 and the redistricting thereafter. Procedures in states vary but the typical setup is for the state legislature to be in charge of the actual redistricting with the governor having veto power. In 34 states, the governor who will be in office for the upcoming redistricting will be elected this year (two were elected last year, which the Democrats bagged) and in 30 states half or more of state senators who will preside over the process will be elected this year.
Of course, 2020 will be important too, but the revolution, so to speak, starts this year. So if you’re wondering where to put your energy and/or money, you could do worse than throwing it at competitive legislative and govenors’ elections in key states. And in case you want some hard data on state legislative districts, the Presidential results in a given Republican-held district always provide useful information about the potential competitiveness of the district.
Historical and model-based results suggest this could be a very good year indeed for the Democrats at the state level. Let’s make it happen.

Trump Declares War on the Coasts With More Offshore Drilling, Less Safety

It’s been a week of red meat for Trump’s base, but this item is upsetting many Republicans, as I discussed at New York:

[Today] the administration announced plans to reverse decades of restrictions on offshore oil and gas drilling at both ends of the country.

Worse yet, this drill-baby-drill directive coincides with separate administration efforts to get rid of regulations tightly mandating safety measures for oil rigs, including those adopted after the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

The policy change announcement by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was the first step in a review process mandated by Trump in an April 2017 executive order aimed at overturning an Obama administration five-year plan for coastal waters. “After taking public comments on the proposal, officials must revise it and put out a new proposal and then finalize it, a process that could take more than a year,” noted The Hill.

But the initial plan is sweeping in its scope, as the Los Angeles Times reports:

“Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the draft five-year leasing plan would commit 90 percent of the nation’s offshore reserves to leasing, with 47 lease sales proposed in 25 of 26 areas off the nation’s coastlines between 2019 and 2024.”

Opposition from Atlantic states that would be affected by the new policies has been sharp and bipartisan. The Washington Post quotes Republican governors Larry Hogan of Maryland, Henry McMaster of South Carolina, and Rick Scott of Florida as joining Democratic governors John Carney of Delaware and Roy Cooper of North Carolina in opposing offshore drilling in the waters near their states. And the senator that Rick Scott may oppose this November, Bill Nelson, is planning to introduce a resolution to block the administration’s drilling-safety deregulation, using the same Congressional Review Act procedure that Republicans deployed to undo some of Obama’s final regulatory acts.

If the administration is serious about reopening wide-scale offshore drilling in California, this could represent a big political headache for Golden State Republicans who are struggling for survival. The leases Zinke is proposing would be the first for the California coast since 1984. And Trump’s original executive order, which didn’t mention California specifically, aroused all sorts of anger. According to the L.A. Times:

“Even the faintest possibility of new oil operations prompted an immediate backlash in the state as environmentalists feared ecological disaster, surfers warned of soiled beaches and politicians promised new measures to block any development.”

Don’t expect the president’s approval ratings to rise in coastal states any time soon, so long as this plan is in place.

Will Sessions War on Pot Help Sink GOP in Midterms?

Regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to reverse President Obama’s directive preventing the federal government from enforcing its marijuana laws in pot-friendly states, it’s hard to see any benefit for Republicans in terms of winning over younger voters in the 2018 midterm elections. For one thing it’s likely that voters who like the Sessions directive were already going to vote for Republicans. There is just no value added for the GOP in the Sessions policy. In addition, recent polling shows overwhelming support for liberalization of marijuana laws. As Ryan Struyk reports at CNN Politics:

A broad 64% of Americans say they support the legalization of marijuana, according to a Gallup poll in October — the highest mark in more than four decades of polling…The poll shows legalization has support from 72% of Democrats — up from 61% over the last three years — and even a slim majority, 51%, of Republicans — up from just 34% in the same time span.

Medical marijuana, for its part, has nearly universal support in the United States, according to an August poll from Quinnipiac University. An overwhelming 94% of adults — including 96% of independents, 95% of Democrats and 90% of Republicans — support it.
A broad three in four Americans, 75%, say they oppose enforcing federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized medical or recreational use of the drug, according to the same poll. Republicans are most likely to back enforcing federal laws anyway — but that number is still just one in three…The latest numbers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse show that 44% of Americans over the age of 12 have used marijuana at least once in their lifetime. A majority, 52%, of people ages 18 to 25 have used it in their lifeline, including 33% in just the last 12 months.
It’s not hard to envision a major downside for Republicans in the Sessions initiative, particularly in reefer-friendly states. As Sarah Jones writes in The New Republic,
With California poised to become the world’s largest market for legal marijuana, it seems unlikely that a government-helmed war on pot will help the GOP’s chances…It could, however, be an opportunity for Democrats. In California, the law that legalized pot drew most of its support from two factions of the party’s traditional base: Young voters and black voters. For a party whose midterm chances rest significantly on its ability to turn out voters in greater numbers than usual, pushing for legal marijuana could make a difference.

As Struyk notes, at present eight states, including Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, along with the District of Columbia, permit recreational sales of marijuana,  22 other states “allow only some form of medical marijuana and 15 allow a lesser medical marijuana extract.” Given such legislative and public opinion trends, it’s likely that the Sessions initiative will provoke numerous legal challenges, and squander millions of taxpayer dollars on a doomed policy. Such litigation could go on for years, as more and more states liberalize their marijuana laws.

So why is Sessions doing this? Snopes has discredited the notion that he hopes to personally profit from his initiative. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t motivated by hopes for big contributions to Republicans from the profiteers of the prison industrial complex. Nor would I discount the possibility that he is basically an old hippie-hater working through some sort of twisted revenge fantasy. Or maybe it’s just another expression of ‘Obama derangement syndrome,’ accommodating Trump’s obsession with reversing all of Obama’s initiatives.

In any event it’s a gift to Democrats, in the form of re-branding the Republicans as fuddy-duddies, who are devoted to making life harder for young people and others who support liberalization of marijuana laws. But I doubt many mainstream Republican midterm candidates are going to enthusiastically join in the Sessions war on pot, outside of a few hard-core prudes. Tim Dickinson reports at Rolling Stone that some Republicans,  including libertarian Sen. Rand Paul, along with pot-state Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Cory Gardner, oppose the policy.

The polls on pot legalization could get even worse for Republicans as the consequencs of Sessions’s policy become clear in the months ahead. There are Democratic midterm candidates who are looking forward to the outcome in November.

Political Strategy Notes

President Trump suddenly issued an executive order dissolving the White House commission he had charged with investigating voter fraud, which was operating since May 11 of last year. “Mr. Trump did not acknowledge the commission’s inability to find evidence of fraud, but cast the closing as a result of continuing legal challenges,” report Michael Tagget and Michael Wines at The New York Times. Trump noted that “many states have refused to provide the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity with basic information relevant to its inquiry.” Trump said he “asked the Department of Homeland Security to review these issues and determine next courses of action.” Kris Kolbach, who conceived the abandoned commission and served its ‘vice chair,’ tried to put a little lpstick on the pig in arguing that “the Department of Homeland Security is going to be able to move faster and more efficiently than a presidential advisory commission.” One major concern is that moving the voter fraud fraud to Homeland Security will streamline Republican access to immigration records to facilitate suppression of Latino and other voters who are citizens or applying for citizenship.

Then there is the latest chapter in the Trump-Bannon soap opera, in which the prez blasts his former Rasputin. As Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman report at The Times, “The rupture came after Mr. Bannon was quoted in a new book disparaging the president’s children, asserting that Donald Trump Jr. had been “treasonous” in meeting with Russians and calling Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick.” Mr. Trump, described by his spokeswoman as “furious, disgusted,” fired back by saying that Mr. Bannon had “lost his mind.” It will be instructive to see if the dust-up deepens divisions between the pro-Trump and pro-Bannon factions of psuedo-populist conservatives.

Wapo’s Tony Newmyer explains why “Trump spat with Steve Bannon threatens the populist economic agenda,” and observes: “…There’s no question the Trump officials whom Bannon derided as globalists, namely Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, are ascendant in his absence. Per Axios, the two are trying to contain the president’s protectionist instincts as he confronts a slew of decisions on trade matters and tariffs.” Globalists 1, Bannon zilch. Newmyer also discusses how the split between Republican factions may affect support for Trump’s infrastructure initiative.

At The Daily 202, James Hohman writes that “The break with Bannon is a huge win for the Republican establishment, which blames Bannon for Roy Moore becoming the GOP nominee in Alabama and the party losing what should have been an easy race in a ruby red state. This will likely neutralize him in several 2018 primaries where he could have played a huge role in boosting insurgents, from Nevada and Arizona to West Virginia and Wisconsin.” Who would be shocked, however, if they were back together in a few months, after Bannon does a suitably humiliating Ted Cruz grovel to get back into Trump’s good graces. As Hohman notes, “Bannon is already trying to make amends with Trump, suggesting that he might not stay off the reservation. On his Sirius XM radio show last night, he said that he remains a strong supporter of Trump. “The president of the United States is a great man,” he said. “You know I support him day in and day out.”

The New York Times Editorial “Florida’s 1.5 Million Missing Voters” notes that “Felon disenfranchisement is a destructive, pointless policy that hurts not only individuals barred from the ballot box, but American democracy at large. Its post-Civil War versions are explicitly racist, and its modern-day rationales are thin to nonexistent. It can make all the difference in places like Florida, which didn’t stop being competitive in 2000; the state remains a major presidential battleground, and victories for both parties in state and local elections are often narrow…That could all change if a proposed constitutional amendment gets enough signatures to be placed on the ballot in November and wins enough support. The initiative would automatically restore voting rights to the vast majority of Floridians who have completed their sentence for a felony conviction, including any term of parole or probation.”

A nugget from Theo Anderson’s post “Move Over, Corporate Democrats, A New Wave of Left Populists Is on the Rise” at In These Times: “People’s Action, a network of progressive and community organizing groups, has recently begun offering support and trainings for political candidates. As of November 2017, 70 of its members planned to run for office at all levels in 2018. People’s Action is particularly focused on increasing the progressive cohorts in 14 statehouses. Brand New Congress (BNC) and Justice Democrats (JD), both founded in the past two years and devoted to federal races, have recruited and are training and supporting dozens of candidates for the House and Senate. Like the other organizations that make up this infrastructure, JD and BNC are intentional about cultivating a diverse slate…JD and BNC are distinguished from the other groups by their exclusive focus on Congress. They envision their work in terms of building a unified bloc of progressive votes that will transform the institution in a relatively short timeframe. Both will likely endorse between 30 and 50 candidates in the 2018 cycle (many of them cross-endorsed).”

Josh Nanberg, president of Ampersand Strategies, offers a preview of this year’s elections in his article,Consultant Predictions 2018” at Campaigns & Elections: “First, Democrats will reject the idea that we need a ‘national message,’ and instead build majorities one district at a time. Candidates who fit their districts and run to represent their constituents will see successes in surprising places by being true to their values and focusing on issues that resonate locally. Those who focus their campaigns exclusively on President Trump’s tweets, the Russia investigation, or other issues that don’t address voters’ real concerns about their families, their finances and their futures will have trouble breaking through the noise…Second, our candidates are going to look different this year. They’ll have different cultural and professional backgrounds. They’ll be new to politics.”

 Paul Starr advocates “A New Strategy for Health Care” at The American Prospect: “Repairing whatever is left of the ACA, if anything is left, will be important but insufficient. Although the ACA has gained in popularity since Trump’s election, the law’s limitations have also become increasingly apparent. A new Democratic administration should focus on one or two signature health-care proposals that advance the long-term objectives of universal coverage and cost control and respond to people who have insurance but still face financial stress from medical bills. Two ideas could meet these criteria: making available a new Medicare plan for people aged 50 to 64—a program I call “Midlife Medicare”—and directly attacking America’s excessive health-care prices. Although the two ideas are independent, they’re closely related, since attacking prices also involves an extension of Medicare, in this case the extension of Medicare rates to out-of-network providers in private insurance.”

Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall shares some salient “Thoughts on 2018,” including “Inevitably, people interested in politics and ideology and strategy think mostly in those terms. What’s the right strategy? What’s the right ideological posture? Who on the left side of the aisle gets the run with the ball? But a lot more of it is simply people waking up, becoming activated. Those other things matter of course. But it’s people getting energized, people who were spectators deciding they need to run for office or launch new organizations. Everything is important but ideology, strategy and the rest tends to grow out of, get refined and figured out or coalesce in response to activism and activation, not the other way around. For all these reasons I think 2018 will be a different kind of year.”

Doug Jones Will Be a Regular Democrat, Not a DINO

Reading a lot of the speculation about newly elected senator Doug Jones and the faction of the Democratic Party he might join, I decided to weigh in at New York:

[Alabama’s] unlikely new Democratic senator, Doug Jones, will finally be sworn into office on Wednesday. He didn’t arrive in time to play a role in any year-end legislative drama. But there will be considerable speculation about the role he might play in a Senate where Republicans now have a spare two-vote margin.

Conservative media seem confident in projecting that Jones will be one of those “moderate Democratic” swing voters in the Senate. But in the Trump era it’s not clear what that will mean, since other Democrats from conservative states who make bipartisan noises just like Jones have regularly voted with their party on important floor actions (other than judicial confirmations). It’s worth noting that when Jones himself talks about working with Republicans, it’s on issues conservatives mostly disdain, and even then he sets conditions:

“‘Infrastructure is the perfect opportunity for both the parties to try to show to the American public that you can work together’ Mr. Jones said. But he declined to say whether he could support the sort of public-private partnerships that could be central to Mr. Trump’s plans.”

This distinguishes him from pretty much zero Senate Democrats. The same could be said of this stance from Jones:

“[S]iding with congressional Democrats, Jones made clear he wants to help devise safeguards for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, but without funding for a border wall.”

Jones’s initial staff hires have also drawn attention for providing clues to his likely positioning. His chief of staff, Dana Gresham, once had the same position with centrist Alabama congressman Artur Davis. But he followed up that stint with a position in the Obama administration, and will become the only African-American chief of staff in the Senate — which is appropriate given the central nature of African-American turnout and support levels to Jones’s win. Legislative director Mark Libell held the same job with standard-brand Democratic senator Jay Rockefeller. His deputy, Katie Campbell, was policy director for the House Blue Dogs. But what she and the other two hires have in common is that they are Alabama Democrats who know this could be their only chance to work for a Democratic senator from their state.

You’d have to figure one of his most important priorities is to fight for the right to vote for the minority voters who largely lifted him to the Senate.

All in all, it seems that Jones meant what he said about himself:

“‘I’m going to consider anything,’ said Jones, explaining that he doesn’t plan on labeling himself a progressive or a conservative Democrat but a ‘Doug Jones Democrat.'”

That should be good enough for most Democrats everywhere.

How the Midterm Elections Can Change U.S. Politics

There is already a fair amount of horse race coverage speculating on who will win which midterm elections in 2018. But those who want some insight as to how the midterm elections outcome could affect life in America should check out Andrew Prokop’s Vox post, “5 ways the 2018 midterms could change American politics: What’s really at stake in this year’s elections,” which notes,

Depending on how well Democrats do, the party could kill the Republican legislative agenda in Congress, gain new powers to investigate the Trump administration, get the ability to block Trump’s nominees from being confirmed, pass new liberal state laws in many parts of the country, and win many offices with power over the 2021 redistricting process.

Prokop discusses how the elections could help Dems or lead to further gridlock. But he also sketches a scary worst case scenario, and fleshes out each of his five points. He provides a good intro to the importance of the miderm elections, which could be used to help motivate Democratic campaign workers and voters, particularly the young ones whose hopes for a good life could be profoundly affected by the outcome of the midterms. As Prokop asks, “Do conservatives get more chances to enact their dream laws in 2019 and 2020 — laws that could have consequences for decades to come — or do they get stopped in their tracks?”

Prokop could have added a sixth point, that the very survival of American democracy may be at stake. If the Republicans somehow enhance their majorities, who is going to prevent further Russian meddling in our elections? Who is going to check the acceleration of income inequality? Who will prevent the gutting  of Social Security and Medicare, or the rape of the environment? “The stakes are high,” concludes Prokop, “and the consequences will be felt for a very long while indeed.

As Ed Kilgore has noted, Democrats are in very good shape to prevent all of this as 2018 begins, and the signs are in place for a broad ‘wave election’ favoring Dems. But the danger of political apathy and midterm voter drop-off are continuing concerns, and it’s going to take a great effort to build on the impressive electoral gains of 2017 to make it happen.

Teixeira: The Formula for a Blue Texas

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

A formula you say? There’s a formula for a blue Texas? Well, sort of. I mean this in the sense that a sober quantitative accounting of the challenge Democrats face in Texas provides a useful guide to how the blue Texas goal can actually be attained. More useful I think than the countless breathless accounts of grassroots Democratic organizing in Texas (here’s a recent example), which make little effort to explain which groups have to move and by how much to be successful.

So here’s the “formula”. In 2016, Clinton improved over Obama in Texas, reducing his 16 point deficit in the state to 9 points in 2012. How did she do this? The dataset developed at CAP for our Voter Trends in 2016 report indicates that Clinton improved over Obama among both white non-college-educated and college-educated voters. The Democrats’ deficit among Texas’s white non-college-educated voters fell from 60 points in 2012 to 55 points in 2016. The shift toward Clinton among white college graduates in the state was even larger—from a 30-68 percent deficit in 2012 to 37-57 percent in 2016, a margin improvement of 18 points. The white college-educated improvement cut Clinton’s deficit in the state by about 4.5 points and the white noncollege improvement moved things in her direction by about 1.5 points, for a total shift of 6 points toward Clinton from better performance among whites. The rest of Clinton’s gains relative to Obama were accounted for by improvements in Latino turnout and support.

This suggests that the correct formula for a blue Texas is not to rely on demographic change and better mobilization of existing pro-Democratic constituencies, which often appears to be the default strategy. That is not likely to be enough to cut the additional 9 points off of Democrats’s statewide deficit anytime soon. Instead, while demographic change will continue to provide a boost to Democratic prospects and mobilization efforts should continue, the key question is how to keep the trends evident in 2016 going. Rough calculations indicate that if Democrats can cut their white noncollege deficit to 45 points and their white college deficit to 10 points, while continuing positive, if unspectacular, Latino trends (getting Latino turnout of eligibles to around 40 percent, while improving Latino vote margin to around +30D), that should be enough to flip the state or come very close.

Note: I’m not saying this would be easy to do! But I do believe the formula would work and builds plausibly on current trends.