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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: March 2011

Brave New Race for Mitt

This item is cross-posted from The New Republic.
The obvious way to think about Mitt Romney’s chances in 2012 is to revisit his 2008 campaign–what went well, what went poorly, and so on. But circumstances haven’t just changed for Romney since 2008–they’ve more or less inverted. Back then, running against “maverick” John McCain, social-issues heretic Rudy Giuliani, and economic-issues dissenter Mike Huckabee, Romney was essentially the movement conservative candidate in the race. Today, with likely opponents ranging from Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum to Michele Bachmann to Tim Pawlenty to Haley Barbour, Romney seems destined to be the GOP’s most moderate contender. It’s not that Romney himself has “moved to the center” since 2008; it’s more that the Republican Party moved significantly and very self-consciously to the right, and Mitt didn’t quite keep up. The upshot is that his chances in 2012 will be shaped by a very different set of circumstances from the ones he faced last time–for better or, more likely, for worse.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Romney’s new political situation could help him. If Iowa is won by a candidate unacceptable to the party as a whole–say, Michele Bachmann–then his status as the most mainstream candidate in the race could certainly start to look appealing.
But it seems much more likely that Romney’s position as the race’s moderate will greatly reduce his chances. For one thing, there is the matter of endorsements. In 2008, Romney’s status as the only true conservative in the race garnered him a victory in the CPAC straw poll, and endorsements from Jim DeMint, Paul Weyrich, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Robert Bork, Rick Santorum, and the editors of National Review–all people whose opinions carry weight with the Republican base. It’s hard to imagine him winning support from any of those people in 2012.
The bigger problem for Romney, however, is that the mood in the Republican Party at the moment is triumphalist. Movement conservatives believe they have finally conquered the GOP and will soon conquer the country–if they are not sold out by the hated GOP establishment. As Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen observed after reviewing the sharp upward trend in conservative self-identification among Republican voters, “The ideological composition of the GOP at this point is such that it’s probably just flat impossible for someone perceived as a moderate to be their nominee.”
Romney is in a particularly bad position in Iowa, where evangelical voters remain wary of his Mormonism and he suffers from the perception that he tried to buy the caucuses last time around. Indeed, there are signs that he might be planning to skip out on the contest altogether. But if he does, he’ll have to then avoid upsets in New Hampshire and Nevada, and find some way to survive South Carolina and Florida, potentially against a candidate from the South like Gingrich or Barbour. That’s the point at which his inability to run as the “true conservative,” and the doubts about his work on extending health care in Massachusetts, could take a major toll.
At this point Romney just doesn’t have the qualities that would make hundreds of thousands of conservative ideologues excited about his candidacy or trust in his leadership. They know they’ll have to carefully watch him, during the campaign and in office, to keep him from joining the long list of Republican presidents who have betrayed the cause. That’s not what they’ve bargained for in 2012, when the forces of righteousness are due to smite the hated foe and occupy the seats of power.
Many party elites, to be sure, still back Romney for the very reason that, in this new field, he suddenly appears the most “electable” candidate–and serious conservatives will accept him if they must. But given half a chance, they’ll reject him without a moment’s regret, and that’s a handicap few presidential candidates can overcome.

TDS Co-Editor William Galston: Obama’s Best Move

This item by TDS Co-Editor William Galston is cross-posted from The New Republic.
Dear Mr. President,
I write as a supporter who understands how full your plate is right now. Three foreign wars, a fragile recovery from the deepest recession in many decades, and stubbornly high unemployment would be enough for any president. Regrettably, some issues present themselves, unbidden and unwelcome, and refuse to go away, leaving presidents no choice but to address them. In my judgment, which is increasingly widely shared–in the U.S. Senate, by the public, and now by a group of former White House economic advisers–our fiscal condition is one such issue.
I hope that you have been briefed on the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of your FY2012 budget proposal. If so, you will have learned that the situation is surprisingly grim: Your proposal would leave the deficit at or above 4 percent for the next decade and double the debt held by the public from $10.4 trillion to $20.8 trillion, fully 87 percent of our anticipated Gross Domestic Product. Nearly two years ago, you labeled our fiscal trajectory “unsustainable.” You were right, and it still is.
I can understand why you declined to embrace a specific solution for this problem, either in your budget or in your 2011 State of the Union address. Numerous surveys have shown that while the people are alarmed about debt and want reduced spending in principle, they reject most of the specific cuts that would make a difference in practice. A divided Congress still tied up in knots about appropriations for the fiscal year already half over seems in no condition to address much larger long-term issues.
But that said, there are signs that the political context is shifting in ways that create an opening for the adult conversation our country needs. No doubt you are aware that 64 senators–32 Democrats, 32 Republicans–sent you a letter urging you to “engage in a broader discussion about a comprehensive deficit reduction package,” which they defined in terms resembling those of your own fiscal commission’s December 2010 report.
Just last week, a similarly bipartisan group of former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA), including your own, Christina Romer, released an open letter calling on you and the Congress to adopt the Bowles-Simpson report as the point of departure for “active” and “intense” negotiations across party lines. Their letter reads, in part:

There are many issues on which we don’t agree. Yet we find ourselves in remarkable unanimity about the long-term budget deficit: It is a severe threat that calls for serious and prompt attention.

They warn that if this doesn’t happen, “At some point bond markets are likely to turn on the United States–leading to a crisis that could dwarf 2008.”
There are even signs that the American people are more focused on this issue than they have been since at least 1992, when Ross Perot received an astounding 19 percent of the popular vote after a campaign focused almost exclusively on deficits and debt. A recent Gallup survey showed that while the economy remains the top public concern, the budget deficit is in second place and rising fast. A report out last week from Third Way, which I hope your team is analyzing carefully, summarizes a substantial body of survey research pointing in the same direction.

Why the Anti-Choicers Trust T-Paw

One of the reasons Tim Pawlenty has become something of the insider’s front-runner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination is that he enjoys an unusual amount of trust from the anti-abortion lobby, a powerful faction with veto powers over the ticket.
Sure, he’s got the standard-brand down-the-line “Pro-Life” issues positions, and as governor, has had the opportunity to sign plenty of legislation aimed at chipping away at abortion rights and harassing abortion providers and women seeking abortions. But all the putative candidates (unless you consider Rudy Giuliani a real candidate) have similar positions and records, with the only suspects being Mitch Daniels for his infamous recommendation of a “truce” on cultural issues (which has infuriated the Christian Right), and maybe Haley Barbour for once telling Republicans they needed to include pro-choice candidates in their ranks.
So why is Pawlenty considered so solid by these famously untrusting folk? There’s an fascinating hint in a National Review piece by LifeNews CEO Steven Ertelt, which, after summarizing T-Paw’s record and mentioning his appointment of a RTLer to the state Supreme Court, makes this point:

Pawlenty’s strength on judges also comes by way of his wife Mary, who is a former judge herself. Although pro-life voters appreciated the pro-life actions of presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and George W. Bush, their wives did not share their pro-life perspective. Mary Pawlenty, an evangelical who attended Bethel College, is a heartfelt pro-life advocate who combines a passion for the unborn with an acute political and legal mind.

So unlike Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Laura Bush, T-Paw’s wife isn’t going to be whispering any feminist sedition into her husband’s ear, or suggesting that maybe women know best on reproductive issues.


So, are you one of those progressives who is convinced the White House and Democratic congressional leaders are busy getting ready to sell out “the base” on a deal to avoid a government shutdown? If so, you might want to look at what one influential conservative is saying on the heels of reports that House Republicans are talking actively to Democrats as a hedge against conservative defections (and also to anticipate Senate Democratic positions). Here’s RedState’s Erick Erickson crying betrayal:

This is really amazing.
In other words, the House Republicans have decided to reject defunding Obamacare and reject defunding Planned Parenthood and reject defunding NPR. Instead, they will get House Democrats together and marginalize conservatives.
Because the House GOP is desperately afraid of a government shutdown.
With no spine, the GOP will fold and show no leadership. This is precisely what leadership by fear does. So fearful of a shutdown, the GOP will sell its soul, betray its base, and out negotiate itself all because it is scared of its own shadow.
Game over.

Erickson’s post is remarkable in part because it deploys every cliche known to humankind to convey the belief that ideological heterodoxy is necessarily a matter of cowardice, not some different strategic or tactical approach. Beyond that, though, it’s a reasonably faithful mirror image of what we are hearing from a decent number of progressives who are similiarly convinced Democrats are wandering the battlefield looking for someone to whom to surrender.

DCorps: GOP Budget Cuts Backfiring in Swing Districts

A new Democracy Corps strategy and research paper, “The Budget Battle in the Republican-Obama Battleground,” based on a survey of likely voters in 50 ‘battleground districts’ conducted 3/13-17, spells trouble for House Republicans occupying swing districts. From the Overview:
The Republicans’ proposed budget cuts are in trouble in the 50 most competitive Republican-held Congressional districts – nearly all of which gave a majority to Obama in the last presidential election. Support drops dramatically after respondents hear balanced information and messages, and incumbents in these battleground seats find themselves even more endangered.
These battleground voters are currently split on the Republican plan to cut domestic programs by $61 billion, with 46 percent in favor and 46 percent opposed. This would be a dramatic decline in support from January when Democracy Corps found 60 percent support for the Republicans’ budget cuts.
And after a balanced debate on the issue, support for the Republican budget plan drops sharply, to 41 percent, with a 52 percent majority opposed. The more voters hear from the Republicans on this issue, the less they like. In fact, after hearing the budget debate, 53 percent agree, the more they hear from Republicans like their incumbent, “the less I like.” Just 39 percent say the more they hear, “the more I like.” And this is reflected in the vote, as it moves a net of 5 points towards the Democrats, giving them a 47 to 44 percent lead on the ballot.
Much of the shift up to this point has come among Democrats and Democratic base groups, with independents still holding back from Democrats on budget issues. But it is independents that move in response to the messages and attacks tested in this survey.
Democrats and progressives have a strong case to make against the Republicans by focusing on their budget priorities: specifically, the Republicans’ plan to protect wasteful special-interest subsidies for oil companies and tax breaks for millionaires, while cutting support for veterans, education and Medicare and Social Security. Other critiques are weaker, but progressives clearly can win this debate – even in the battleground of Republican seats.
Key Message Recommendations
* Throughout this poll, the strongest framework and attacks center on the priorities and choices Republicans are making, not the severity of the cuts. Democrats strongly defeat the Republican arguments in the former framework, but not within the latter.
* The Democrats’ strongest thematic attack again is grounded in an attack on priorities – raising serious doubts for over 60 percent of respondents and driving voters away from the Republican budget in our regression modeling.
* Republican cuts to funding for homeless veterans, their support for oil subsidies, their support for privatizing Medicare and Social Security, and their cuts to Head Start and anti-poverty programs are their biggest specific vulnerabilities.
* The most popular Democratic proposals for addressing the deficit are “eliminating subsidies for oil and gas companies” and “instituting a surtax on families making over one million dollars a year” – which is totally consistent with the priorities framework.
[1] Based on a survey of 1,000 likely voters in 50 battleground congressional districts conducted March 13-17, 2011. This battleground was split into two tiers of 25 districts each. These districts include 44 that were won by President Obama in 2008 and were chosen based on the 2008 presidential margin, the 2010 congressional margin and race ratings from Charlie Cook and others. The margin of error for the entire sample is +/- 3.1%. In each tier it is +/- 4.5%. Please see our memo and attached graphs, which explore the political situation in these districts.

Creamer: Fight Cuts in Medicare, Medicaid & Social Security

In his latest HuffPo post, political strategist Robert Creamer sounds the call to arms, urging Dems to resist cuts in three major entitlement programs.

Friday, the Democratic group Third Way published a memo arguing that Democrats should support “entitlement reform” — by which they mean cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. I don’t doubt the sincerity or intentions of their proposal, but I believe that if Democrats took their advice it would result in a moral, economic and political disaster.

Creamer dissects and eviscerates conservative arguments for “entitlement reform,” revealing them as schemes to rip off working people to fatten the already bulging wallets of the uber-wealthy. He then rolls out public opinion data to show how little support there is for conservative “entitlement reform”:

“Entitlement Reform” would spell political disaster for Democrats. The Third Way memo argues that next year’s election will be about “deficits.” That’s just non-sense.
First, a recent CBS News poll found that 51% of Americans say the economy and jobs are the most important problem facing our country today — but just 7% cited the budget deficit.
…The polling shows clearly that the voters oppose cuts in in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
• The public opposes cutting Social Security benefits by 70% to 80%.
• Two-thirds of likely voters oppose raising the retirement age.
• Up to two-thirds support making the Social Security Trust fund solvent for generations by raising the payroll tax to cover income above $107,000 a year.
…A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that a 51% to 46% majority says the government should do more, rather than less…It found that by 54% to 18%, Americans do not believe that cuts in Medicare are necessary to reduce the deficit. Forty-nine to twenty-two percent say cuts in Social Security are not needed.

Creamer points out that elections are not about “issues” per se. Rather elections are about candidates’ credibility as leaders who will protect and advance the interests of the middle class. He explains how this plays out with respect to entitlements:

…if a voter becomes convinced that a candidate actually intends to take something away that they value — to cut their Social Security or Medicare benefits, for instance — they will decide in a nano-second that the candidate advocating that position is not on their side…Most Americans believe that they are owed their Social Security and Medicare benefits since they have paid throughout their working lives into Social Security and Medicare. Voters don’t view Social Security and Medicare just as “government programs.” They view them as “insurance programs.” Americans believe they deserve Social Security and Medicare benefits just as they would the benefits owed under any other insurance contract.

With respect to senior voters, Creamer has a warning:

The Third Way memo argues that seniors rarely break for Democrats anyway. Precisely. President Obama won in 2008 while losing seniors by eight points. Last fall, Democrats lost seniors by 21 points. The President can win re-election while losing seniors by 8 points – but not by 21. The election passes through states with old populations – like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida.
A decent chunk of seniors who voted against Democrats last year have to be convinced that Democratic candidates are on their side in 2012, or Democrats are toast. If they see Democrats bargain away their Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits — or those of their kids — they won’t vote Democratic in November of 2012. It’s that simple.

Creamer says that if Democrats cave and approve proposed entitlement cuts, it will prove to be “a moral, economic and political disaster.” His post merits a read from all Democrats– especially those who want to be re-elected in 2012.

TDS Co-Editor Ruy Teixeira: Gay Marriage Gains Support

The cultural conservatives continue to rail against same-sex marriage. But there is compelling opinion data indicating that their position is losing mainstream support. As TDS Co-Editor Ruy Teixeira reports in this week’s edition of his ‘Public Opinion Snapshot’ at the Center for American Progress web pages:

The first piece of evidence is from the General Social Survey, a long-running academic survey conducted by the University of Chicago. In just-released data from their 2010 survey, we find that 46 percent of Americans now say that same-sex couples should be allowed to get married, compared to 40 percent who are opposed. That compares to 12 percent in favor and 73 percent opposed in 1988 when the question was first asked.
A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll confirms this finding. Fifty-three percent in that poll said it should be legal for gay and lesbian couples to get married compared to 44 percent who thought it should be illegal. This is the first time the poll has found majority support for gay marriage since it started asking the question in 2003.

Teixeira predicts that “We will see more, even stronger findings like these as the months and years go by.” Cultural warriors will undoubtedly continue to fan the flames of animosity towards same-sex marriage. But it appears that this battle is just about over.

Obama on Libya: A Calculus, Not a Doctrine

Those Americans who simply wanted a direct explanation of how, why and when the United States decided to participate in a military intervention in Libya were probably satisfied with the president’s speech last night at the National Defense University. Those who wanted “clarity” about the future, though–the exact fate of Gaddafi and his regime, and the “precedent” set for future situations–were undoubtedly disappointed, and were more than adequately represented in the immediate carping of pundits and Republican flacks.
FWIW, I posted an insta-analysis of the speech at the Daily Beast, emphasizing that there was little or nothing Obama could do to satisfy his GOP critics or assuage those consumed with the need for “clarity” about an impossible-to-predict future. Indeed, Obama’s rejection of the search for an all-size-fits-all “doctrine” struck me as the heart of the speech; he insists humanitarian interventions, and their terms and durations, inherently involve a case-by-case calculus, not the invocation of some binding precedent.
I don’t get the sense that progressive critics of the Libya intervention were much convinced by the speech, even though Obama tried pretty hard to suggest that the U.S. military role in the intervention has now entered a new and radically smaller phase in support of a NATO-led mission. Perhaps the feeling is that we’ve heard similar reassurances from this and previous administrations on other engagements. But even if it lacked certainty, it should be clear the president took a stance that does not create some endless open-ended commitment in Libya or bind the country to similar interventions (or the disappointment of expectations of interventions) in the future.
The trappings and timing of this speech were unusual, and may have also reflected the White House’s desire to make Libya more of a police action than a war. Or maybe something else was going on. Here’s Salon‘s Alex Pareene:

The speech was on not at television prime time, but at a time that generally belongs to network affiliates. While I thought at first that that was because the White House didn’t want to make this look like a proper presidential address about a proper war (it wasn’t from the Oval Office and all that), but apparently that was just because ABC didn’t want them preempting Dancing With the Stars. And the networks immediately cut to their regular programming. For some reason on NBC that involved Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush listening to Kid Rock. It was… weird.

Eve of Destruction

Are you still puzzled by the extremist rhetoric of Republican pols in this era of domination by the Tea Party Movement (a.k.a., the GOP’s radicalized conservative base)?
A new 13-state survey from the University of Washington’s Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Sexuality finds some especially illuminating characteristics of self-identified Tea Party folk that helps explain the unusual heat of their political utterances. Asked if they subscribed to the proposition that “Barack Obama is destroying the country,” 71% of Tea Party Conservatives said “yes” while only 6% of other conservatives agreed.
The 6% represent the kind of conservatives who were until recently typical in the Republican Party–perhaps deeply convinced their opponents were terribly wrong about all sorts of things, but not really believing the whole country was going to hell in a handbasket. This essentially reflects the difference between people who view themselves as part of a democratic conversation over the future direction of America, and people who have adopted a separatist and proto-revolutionary posture.
Never underestimate what the latter group is capable of doing.

RIP Geraldine Ferraro

As you probably know, former congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, the first (and to this day the only Democratic) woman to appear on a major-party presidential ticket, died this weekend. Her renown was limited by the dismal performance of the Mondale-Ferraro ticket in 1984 (which was by no means significantly her fault), by the chronic aroma of scandal that pervaded her husband’s business career, and by several post-1984 political missteps, culminating in her brief role as Fox News’ favorite PUMA in 2008.
You can read all sorts of assessments of Ferraro’s life, career, and significance. But my favorite is Adele Stan’s memoir at TAP of what she meant to a young feminist from a working-class ethnic Catholic background much like Ferraro’s.
The barrier she broke really mattered, and her memory continues to serve as a reproach to the Democratic Party for its failure to nominate a woman to its national ticket since then–or to the top spot, ever.