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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: October 2011

The Gingrich Campaign’s Strange Indian Summer

This item is cross-posted from The New Republic.
In a famously flawed Republican presidential field, Newt Gingrich somehow manages to combine all his rivals’ shortcomings. Like Herman Cain, he seems more interested in selling books than in running for president. Like Mitt Romney, he struggles to connect with real people. Like Rick Perry, he has offended conservatives with a major policy heresy. Like Michele Bachmann, he often comes across as a theocratic crank. Like Ron Paul, he is a pedant who doesn’t know when to go away. Like Rick Santorum, he is a has-been who would disappear if not for televised debates. And on top of everything, the former Speaker is one of the country’s best known politicians at a time when politicians are barely more credible than bankers, and he has enough personal baggage to sink a battleship.
Yet Gingrich’s strange campaign is undergoing something of a slow renaissance in recent weeks. So completely written off that nobody has much bothered to criticize him, Gingrich has silently ascended into the double-digit range in a number of national and early-state polls, running ahead of Rick Perry in the most recent national surveys from Fox, CBS/NYT, Rasmussen, and PPP. He’s raised enough money to keep the creditors at bay and once again hire staff in Iowa and New Hampshire. Moreover, the immediate causes of his campaign’s implosion back in the spring–his dismissal of Paul Ryan’s budget as too radical, and his decision to take a Mediterranean cruise with his wife instead of trudging across Iowa–have all but been lost in the static of the intervening months. But what explains Newt’s revival in the hearts of conservatives?
It’s tempting to say that Gingrich has survived and even thrived primarily as a function of the other candidates’ shortcomings. How hard is it, after all, to come across as a figure of great experience and gravitas in this company? Indeed, one of the remarkable aspects of the current GOP field has been its inability to coalesce into a firm hierarchy of candidates in which someone like Newt can be consigned completely to the dustbin of discarded ambitions. The dramatic rise and fall of Pawlenty, Bachmann, and Perry has made this one of the more turbulent invisible primaries in recent memory. Just a month ago Herman Cain was in no better position than Rick Santorum is today. At a time when the front-runner (Romney) seems to have hit some invisible ceiling of support and his supposed main challenger (Perry) strides into the race as a swaggering colossus and then almost immediately takes a nose dive in most polls, it’s nearly impossible to draw a firm line between viable and unviable candidates.
But this judgment probably underrates Newt’s shrewd exploitation of his circumstances. As one recent report on his “comeback” attests, Gingrich has been deliberately parsimonious in his media appearances and press releases, as well as his personal campaigning, in order to maintain the image of being a statesman instead of just another news-cycle-focused, vote-grubbing pol. And in the Republican debates, he has pursued the consistent, crowd-pleasing strategy of confining his criticism to Obama and to the debate moderators (as symbols, even when they work for Fox News, of the hated, biased “liberal media”). It’s an excellent formula for avoiding the candidate crossfire while inducing admiring comments from conservative pundits who view the panelists Newt pounds with a mixture of disdain and envy. Said conservative blogger Ed Morrissey:

Newt Gingrich may have a spot on the debate stage long after he runs out of gas otherwise if he keeps attacking the media rather than the frontrunners.

Moreover, Gingrich has some enduring characteristics that keep him relevant within his own party. His posturing as an eminence grise in the GOP should not obscure the fact that he remains a hardened conservative ideological warrior in a party currently gripped by a conservative ideological fervor. He’s the candidate who routinely describes the opposition party as “the secular socialist machine”; who made the ludicrous phantom menace of Sharia law an early signature theme; who revived the “death panels” smear about Obamacare during the last candidate debate. Much as they mistrust him as a corrupted and co-opted Beltway figure, hard-core conservatives also revere Gingrich as someone who in his day hunted the hated RINO as avidly as they do now, and whose election as Speaker represented the conquest of the GOP by the conservative movement and the conquest of Washington (however temporarily) by the GOP.
So it’s entirely appropriate that in this field of dubious characters, shooting stars, and falling meteors, Gingrich has carved out a solid place for himself and will doubtless continue to strut his stuff in the 14 remaining televised candidate debates, not to mention his latest vanity project: a “Lincoln-Douglas style” one-on-one tilt with Herman Cain in Texas. And while it would still take a miracle or some apocalyptic development for him to win the nomination, there’s no denying that Newt has survived the earlier disasters of his campaign, just as his spokesman Rick Tyler predicted in a press release for the ages back in the dark and stormy nights of May:

A lesser person could not have survived the first few minutes of the onslaught. But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won’t be intimated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.

Thirty-eight years after his first, failed run for Congress, the ever-talkative former history professor isn’t going anywhere–and against all odds, a new generation of Republicans is eating it up.

Another Reason Dems Should Join Credit Unions

Feeling frustrated with your bank or disgusted with megabanks in general? Danielle Douglas has an alternative to consider in her WaPo article “Credit Unions Pounce After Banks Raise Fees.”
Douglas quotes from an ad placed by a Kensington, MD credit union: “There’s no reason to pay your bank, when we’re here to pay you, with: no-fee checking and debit card, no minimum balance requirements . . . dividends paid quarterly.”
Douglas explains further,

In the past month, the National Association of Federal Credit Unions recorded a 350 percent increase in Web traffic to its online credit union locator, CUlookup.com. The portal matches visitors with institutions they might be eligible to join based on affiliations, such as school, employer or church.
A Facebook group has designated Nov. 5 “Bank Transfer Day,” calling on customers to move their money into credit unions to avoid soaring fees. The event has gained momentum in the blogosphere and spilled into the mainstream media, drawing attention to an often-ignored sector of the financial industry.

Douglas may have overstated the case in saying that credit unions lack extensive ATMs. Many credit unions, for example, are part of the no-fee CO-OP ATM network, which has more than 28,000 CO-OP ATMs nation-wide, more than any major bank. Bank of America, for example, reportedly has an estimated 18,000 ATMs.
Rank and file Dems may be interested to know how banks spend their depositors’ money on politics. According to Opensecrets.org’s most recent analysis of FEC data for the 2012 election cycle, so far Bank of America has given 69 percent of its political donations to Republicans and Wells Fargo has doled out 65 percent of its political contributions to GOP candidates. The American Bankers Association has distributed 73 percent of its political donations to Republicans this cycle, while The Credit Union National Association has so far given 55 percent of its political contributions for this cycle to Republicans (but gave more to Dems in ’08 and ’10).
Good stats for Dems to keep in mind, leading up to Nov. 5, “Bank Transfer Day.”

TDS Co-Editor Ruy Teixeira: Public Wants Fair Economy

New public opinion data indicates that Americans want more just economic polices, and they know where economic injustice is coming from. As TDS Co-Editor Ruy Teixeira explains in his current ‘Public Opinion Snapshot’:

In the latest CBS/New York Times poll, by an overwhelming 40-point margin, the public endorses the idea that money and wealth in the country should be more fairly distributed (66 percent) over the idea that the current distribution is fair (26 percent).

And the public is quite clear about who is and is not responsible for economic policies favoring the rich:

These different priorities are not likely to escape public notice. In the same poll, just 28 percent said the Obama administration favored the rich, while 23 percent said it favored the middle class, 17 percent thought it favored the poor, and 21 percent thought all classes were treated equally.
That starkly contrasts with public assessments of conservatives in Congress. Almost 7 in 10 (69 percent) thought congressional Republicans favored the rich, compared to just 9 percent who thought they favored the middle class, 2 percent who thought they favored the poor, and a mere 15 percent who thought they treated all classes equally.

This opinion data helps to explain why conservatives and Republicans are adamantly opposed to the OWS demonstrations. As Teixeira concludes, “…That’s the real reason they don’t like Occupy Wall Street. The movement reminds the public of some very real things they don’t like about our economy–and the role of conservatives in stopping any real change.”

Warren’s Senate Bid Taps Populist Tide

Elizabeth Warren’s Massachusetts candidacy for U.S. Senate is an easy sell for progressive Democrats, but WaPo’s Dana Milbank does a solid job of summarizing her appeal in broader terms. Milbank’s post is a good short-read, clip and share for Warren’s supporters looking to win swing voters. From Milbank’s article:

…Elizabeth Warren, the former adviser to President Obama who is now trying to unseat Republican Sen. Scott Brown, is no mere professor, or candidate. She is a phenomenon.
The source of the ardor is no mystery: Warren’s unapologetic populism and her fervent belief that corporations should be held to account for the economic collapse. Part Pat Moynihan, part Erin Brockovich, she has revived the energy of the left in a way no other Democrat has, including President Obama.

Milbank, quotes from a Warren speech: “We live in an America that has hammered, chipped and squeezed the middle class,” she told a crowd in Newton, Mass., while the government “has said to large corporations that you don’t have to pay anything in taxes.” From Milbank’s interview with Warren:

Warren has no interest in going to Washington to be “slow and polite,” she told me. She wants to go to fight corporate excess, because “the people who brought us the financial collapse have now doubled down” by resisting attempts to re-regulate business.
“The idea of going to the Senate to be the hundredth least senior person in a nonfunctional organization is not what attracts me,” she said. “I see going to the Senate as an opportunity to expand the platform” and as a way of “leading the charge.”

Clearly Warren’s candidacy provides a long-missing populist voice and vision for Dems. As Milbank observes, Warren’s election could mean that “…Democrats will no longer play by Marquess of Queensbury rules while their opponents disembowel them…what dispirited liberals are looking for is heat — somebody who believes, as Warren often puts it, that “some fights are worth having.””
In the comments following Milbank’s article, ‘Roaxle’ notes that Warren “coined the phrase ‘tricks and traps’ to describe bank policies. We knew we were getting screwed; she put it into the words we didn’t have.” The rising tide of populist resentment of abuse and corruption in the financial services industry being expressed in the Occupy Wall St. demonstrations suggest that Warren’s candidacy is right on time.
As Milbank notes, she is close to even in the polls. But no one should be surprised if her opponent, Sen. Scott Brown, gets blank check support from the financial services industry and its mega-rich right-wing beneficiaries, who are likely to make defeating Warren a priority. Those interested in helping Warren level the odds, should click here and here.

Rick Perry’s Rightward Path to Recovery

This item is cross-posted from The New Republic.
By any conventional standard, Rick Perry’s presidential candidacy should be a bad memory by now. From roughly mid-September to mid-October, he had about as bad a month as a candidate could have. He was consistently hesitant, defensive, and inarticulate in a series of high-profile candidate debates. But more importantly, he gave deep offense to conservatives by continuing to support a Texas program providing in-state college tuition rates for the children of illegal immigrants. His timing was terrible, too: Perry’s slide began soon after his announcement but not long before actual voting begins–i.e., when the Republican rank-and-file in early states begin to focus on the candidate field and form strong impressions. Perry’s decline, of course, can be charted in the national polls, which show him free-falling from a strong frontrunner position to single digits in just over the span of a month.
But Perry may still yet emerge as the Viable Conservative Alternative to Mitt Romney. He might have failed his first audition for that role with the conservative wing of the GOP, but he still has an eminently viable path to recovery, one that he already appears to be employing with zeal: moving even further to the right.
It’s possible to talk about a Perry comeback for three simple reasons. First, he has lots of money, which can cover a multitude of political sins. Second, the presumptive, albeit uninspiring, frontrunner, Mitt Romney, is not about to run away with the race because, to put it bluntly, hard-core conservative voters don’t like or trust him. And third, the other candidates are either damaged goods (Gingrich), classic marginal figures (Bachmann, Santorum and Paul) or Herman Cain, who seems to be trying pretty hard to vindicate predictions that he is a flash-in-the-pan. So Perry will get another look from Republicans. The question is whether he will do a better job this time around at convincing true believers of his unshakable conservative convictions.
His main priority, therefore, has been to ensure that conservatives have something substantive to associate him with other than his terrible positioning on immigration. After initially focusing on his support for massive and unrestrained energy development, which is the closest thing to a short-range “jobs program” today’s conservatives can support, Perry has now laid out a tax-and-spending plan that efficiently pushes an awful lot of right-wing buttons. His “flat tax” proposal is a fraud in that its key features are optional, but for that very reason it is nicely designed to avoid the kind of criticism attracted by Cain’s steadily unraveling 9-9-9 plan. The spending side of Perry’s package, meanwhile–which is heavily focused on the idea of permanently shrinking the federal government via a balanced budget constitutional amendment–is draconian enough to satisfy even the most extreme fiscal conservative. A BBA with spending restrictions also happens to be the pet idea of South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, a key national leader of movement conservatives whose home state could play a critical role in the 2012 nominating process.
Aside from dishing out tasty policy treats to the Right, Perry’s effort to seduce movement conservative support is also clearly going to depend on harsh, overtly ideological attacks on Romney. What better way to show you are the Viable Conservative Alternative to Mitt than to identify yourself with the very criticisms of Romney that make “the base” so restive in the first place? Perry’s campaign has already made a habit of regularly referring to Romney as “Obama Lite.” You can expect a lot more of that in the immediate future, particularly if Romney keeps committing heresies like his decision on Tuesday to stay neutral on Ohio’s red-hot referendum on the labor-bashing Senate Bill 5. And there are even signs that Perry will try to play the ideological commissar against other candidates like Herman Cain, as he did in his contemptuous drive-by reference to the pizza man’s abortion rhetoric as “liberal” during last weekend’s Faith and Freedom Coalition banquet in Iowa. It’s even possible that Perry’s eyebrow-raising gestures towards birtherism in a recent interview were part of a deliberate strategy to position him as far to the right of the rest of the field as possible.
Perry’s rebirth as a right-wing crusader will also require that his image be efficiently conveyed to voters via paid media and organization. It’s no accident, therefore, that Perry’s comeback effort has been accompanied by a shakeup of the Texas-based campaign staff that let him drift into a series of high-profile debates ill-prepared to deal with the most obvious attack-lines. While Bush veteran Joe Allbaugh will apparently take over the reins of the campaign from Perry’s old hand David Carney, the other new hires–pollster Tony Fabrizio and media consultants Nelson Warfield and Curt Anderson–are more interesting, since they represent what Chris Cillizza calls “the strategic core” of the expensive, negative, ideologically savage, and ultimately successful 2010 campaign of Florida Governor Rick Scott. With Perry beginning to run TV ads in Iowa just this week, it probably won’t be long before his campaign (or the Super PAC supporting it) starts flooding the airwaves with attacks on Romney and possibly Cain, as well as a constant portrayal of the Texan as the Tea Party ideologue his original backers expected him to be.
Of course, the “rebooted” Perry campaign is still a long shot. Romney could decide to jump into the Iowa contest with both feet and try to score a quick knockout over a divided conservative field. Cain’s lofty poll numbers might yet convince him to take his own campaign more seriously, avoid unforced errors like his abortion gaffe, and above all start spending more time in the early states. Even if everything breaks his way, bouncing back from the single digits after a disastrous run in the spotlight won’t be easy. But Perry will get another brief callback for the job of saving the GOP from Romney. If nothing else, he won’t go down this time without trying to take everyone else down with him.

TDS Co-Editor William Galston: 2012 Will Be a Referendum on Obama, Whether He Likes It or Not

This item by TDS Co-Editor William Galston is cross-posted from The New Republic.
By all accounts, the Obama campaign wants to avoid having the 2012 election turn into a referendum on the president’s first term, hoping instead to turn it into a choice between the two major parties’ candidates and visions for the country’s future. But if history is any guide, that will be an uphill battle.
Some presidential elections do consist of a head-to-head comparison of the candidates: They just happen to be the ones involving non-incumbents, candidates whose competence to serve as president can only be predicted. In those instances, each voter’s choice typically reflects an affirmative evaluation of the preferred candidate rather than rejection of the other candidate. In 2008, for example, 77 percent of Obama’s supporters said that they were casting their votes in favor of him, not against McCain, while 64 percent of McCain’s supporters said that they were casting their votes in his favor, not against Obama.
Campaigns involving an incumbent look very different. When a president is running for reelection, the electorate is primarily motivated by its judgment of the incumbent’s job performance. Consider some Pew Research Center data on recent presidential contests.
In the spring of 1992, two-thirds of George H. W. Bush’s supporters said that they would be casting their vote for him rather than against Bill Clinton, while two-thirds of Clinton supporters said their vote reflected opposition to Bush. In the spring of 1996, 60 percent of Clinton’s supporters said they would be voting for him rather than against Bob Dole, while 60 percent of Dole’s supporters said their vote reflected opposition to Clinton. Early in 2004, more than 80 percent of George W. Bush’s supporters were for him rather than against John Kerry, while two-thirds of Kerry’s supporters were motivated by opposition to Bush.
To be sure, these numbers tend to shift during the general election as the contenders become better known. Still, by Election Day in 1996, only 47 percent of Dole’s supporters said that they were casting their vote in his favor rather than against Clinton; by election day in 2004, only 43 percent of Kerry’s supporters said that they were casting an affirmative vote for him.
Now look at the most recent Pew results, which showed Obama in a tie with Mitt Romney. About three-quarters of Obama’s support is for him rather than against Romney, while more than two-thirds of Romney’s supporters say they will cast their votes against Obama rather than for Romney. Try as Obama might to channel populist anger against the economic policies that the eventual Republican nominee is proposing for the future, most Americans are going to make up their minds based on what they think about the policies the president has already enacted over the previous four years.
In a general election contest against an unpopular incumbent (one with an approval level significantly below 50 percent), the main hurdle that the opposition candidate needs to clear is that of competence. In 1980, for example, voters made their decision in two distinct stages. Between late January and mid-April, Jimmy Carter’s approval rating sank from 58 to 39 percent and never exceeded 43 percent for the remainder of the campaign. This represented stage one, in which the voters concluded that they didn’t want to return Jimmy Carter to the Oval Office for a second term–if they had a reasonable and non-threatening alternative. In the second stage, which occurred immediately after the sole presidential debate, they decided that despite their earlier doubts, Ronald Reagan represented such an alternative. Reagan’s humorous and avuncular affect in the debate dispelled fears that he might be the second coming of Barry Goldwater. To filch a phrase from Mike Huckabee, Reagan was clearly a conservative, but he wasn’t angry about it.
That’s why the Republican nominating contest matters–indeed, why it may well determine the outcome of the general election. There’s scant evidence right now that a majority wants to reelect Obama, whose approvals ratings are currently averaging around 44 percent. (I can find no evidence of a successful reelection campaign involving an incumbent president with an approval rating lower than 48 percent on election day.) But if the Republicans insist on choosing a candidate whose self-presentation reinforces a hard-edged conservatism, they may make history and lose anyway.
Granted, Mitt Romney is a flawed candidate whose vulnerabilities can be exploited, especially in intra-party combat. But in a general election, he has a better chance than any other Republican of reassuring persuadable voters that he represents a safe and competent alternative to the incumbent. Unless the economic environment changes a lot during the next twelve months, skepticism about Obama’s performance as president should be enough to propel Romney to victory, if not one of landslide proportions.
Republican primary voters, of course, are free to choose whomever they want to serve as their nominee. Early in 1980, let us recall, many Democrats believed that Reagan would be easier to beat than his principal rival–George H. W. Bush–because his brand of conservatism would alienate swing voters. One might argue that history is repeating itself, with Romney filling the role of Bush 41 and Rick Perry starring as Reagan.
Maybe. But having spent more than two years as Walter Mondale’s issues director during his presidential campaign, I got to size up Reagan’s record and political skills. Rick Perry isn’t his equal as governor, and he certainly isn’t his equal as a candidate. If circumstances are dire enough next November, he might win anyway. But I very much doubt it.
Over the next six months, then, Republicans will decide how much they want to win the 2012 election. Indeed, the party’s fate next November is in its own hands–and to that extent, very much out of President Obama’s.

Why Immigration Won’t Go Away As An Issue in 2012

This item is cross-posted from Salon.
According to the chattering classes, 2012 was supposed to be the election year when the “culture wars” of recent decades faded into unimportant skirmishes, as candidates and voters alike focused exclusively on economic and fiscal issues. But at least one culture war issue, immigration, has already shaken up the Republican presidential contest and is key to Barack Obama’s success in winning the Hispanic votes he desperately needs to get reelected. With Congress missing in action, it is the battle over punitive new state immigration laws, in the legislatures and in the courts, that keeps this issue in the national spotlight.
The enduring potency of the immigration issue has been apparent since Arizona’s Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070 in April of 2010. The measure signaled the intention of conservatives at the state and local levels to protest what they considered lax federal enforcement of immigration laws by inducting regular police officers into the unaccustomed role of harassing, detecting and arresting people without citizenship documents. Though portions of the law were immediately struck down by lower federal courts, the measure became a litmus test issue in 2010 congressional and gubernatorial contests around the country, particularly among Republicans.
Copycat legislation was introduced in a host of states, with Utah, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Alabama enacting harsher laws and experiencing mixed results in court challenges. Alabama’s 2011 law, which goes well beyond the Arizona template by seeking to use school officials to identify “illegals,” has attracted national attention by spurring an exodus of undocumented people from the state and damaging the state’s agriculture industry as unharvested crops rot in the fields (as is also occurring in Georgia).
Until the federal courts sort out the various lawsuits and begin to define a permissible state role in the enforcement of federal immigration laws, the furor will mainly serve to keep pressure on Republican politicians to display their “toughness” on the issue. It will also draw fresh attention to the collapse of Bush-era efforts to enact comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million undocumented people already in the country.
In the crossfire of this controversy are Hispanic Americans, who are alternating between fearful rejection of Republican anti-immigrant rhetoric and deep frustration at the failure of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party to promote comprehensive reform.
The firestorm set off by Arizona showed that the grass-roots conservative rejection of prior Republican support for a “path to citizenship” — known simply and bitterly as “amnesty” on the right — associated with both George W. Bush and Arizona’s own John McCain, has if anything intensified despite the recession, the drop-off in the number of illegals entering the country and stepped-up federal enforcement measures.
If there was any doubt that comprehensive immigration reform had joined other elements of Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” on the dustbin of political history, it should have been laid to rest by the recent experience of one-time GOP presidential front-runner Rick Perry of Texas. Perry’s support for what was once a non-controversial program that enabled undocumented immigrant children graduating from Texas high schools to obtain in-state tuition rates at public colleges destroyed much of his base of support among conservative voters. The fact that Perry’s attempt at a comeback began with a harsh attack on Mitt Romney’s alleged employment of undocumented workers in a landscaping project at his own home shows the Texan’s tardy understanding that the immigration issue was his most important albatross.
This passion play over immigration on the right is occurring in a larger context where Republican efforts to deny Barack Obama reelection may well depend on the size and direction of the Hispanic vote. According to exit polls, Obama won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008, and a record turnout among Hispanics lifted them to 9 percent of the electorate. As is usually the case, the Hispanic share of the midterm electorate dropped significantly, to 6.9 percent in 2010, with the Democratic share dropping to 60 percent. A return to something approaching 2008 levels in both turnout and support levels could be crucial to Obama’s prospects in 2012.
But early measures of Hispanic enthusiasm for voting in 2012 are down significantly. Obama’s job approval rating among Hispanics (according to the latest Gallup weekly tracking poll) is at an anemic 49 percent, not much above Obama’s overall rating of 42 percent Certainly the intensity of support for Obama has declined along with the approval ratings. A recent Latino Decisions survey showed the percentage of Hispanics “strongly approving” of Obama dropping from 41 to 28 percent just between June and August of this year.
With the unemployment rate for Hispanics standing about 2 percentage points above the level for the population at large (with home foreclosure rates a lot higher), some of the unhappiness simply represents the same economic factors that have drained Obama’s support in all elements of the electorate. But aside from the administration’s failure to revive comprehensive immigration reform legislation, its policy of stepped-up enforcement — nearly 400,000 undocumented immigrants were deported in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30 — has drawn fire from Hispanic political activists.

Political Strategy Notes

Brian Beutler’s data-driven analysis at Talking Points Memo guts libertarian ideologue Rep. Paul Ryan’s claims about upward mobility in the U.S., compared to other industrialized nations.
Good news for Dems in Ohio: “October 25, 2011 – Opposition To Ohio’s SB 5 Grows, Quinnipiac University Poll Finds; Women, Union Members Push Kasich Deeper In Hole.”
Ronald Brownstein has “Eight Takeaways From Early-State Presidential Primary Polls” at National Journal’s Hotline on Call. Brownstein’s nuanced analysis should provoke high fives in the Romney campaign.
Ditto for Steven Shepard’s “New Polls Show Romney Ahead in First Four States,” also at Hotline. “Taken collectively, the polls show that — despite Cain’s slight lead over Romney in some recent national polling — Romney has the advantage in the four states that will most determine the direction of the GOP nominating process:”
But Cain isn’t over quite yet, according to Charles Franklin’s wonky charts at his new website Pollsandvotes.com.
Dems can hope that past isn’t necessarily prologue, especially in this unprecedented political climate. But Harry Enten’s “History of Presidential Coattails Points to Republicans Keeping the House” at Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball is worrisome nonetheless.
DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (D-NY) is more optimistic, as Joshua Miller reports in Roll Call: “Under what he said was his most pessimistic take on the race for the House, Israel did the math to get to 25 Democratic victories in districts across the country. He saw 10 pickups in GOP-held seats won by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004 and by Obama in 2008, along with 15 pickups in GOP-held Obama districts that President George W. Bush won in 2004. But, in what he called his pessimistic scenario, he said most Democratic Members would have to hold on to their seats. “It means we don’t have a margin of error with our incumbents,” Israel said.”
Black Voters’ Support for Obama Is Steady and Strong,” reports Helene Cooper in the New York Times. “In a recent Pew Research Center poll, black voters preferred Mr. Obama 95 percent to 3 percent over Mitt Romney, “which is at least the margin he got in 2008,” said Michael Dimock, associate director for research at Pew.” The challenge is all about turnout.
Gene Lyons has a Salon.com post, “The Real Reason OWS Terrifies Conservatives,” exploring the possibility that Occupy Wall St. could draw some support from the tea party.
Sarah Kliff’s “How many Americans will gain insurance under health reform? Good question” at Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog has some pertinent insights for Dems charged with defending health care reform during the next year.
Democratic upper of the day has to be Jed Lewison’s “AZ-Pres: President Obama leads Mitt Romney by 5 points” at Daily Kos. Says Lewison, “Taking Arizona would be a big deal: Not only does it represent one of the very few states that could flip to Obama (John McCain won it in 2008), it has a sizable 11 electoral votes, up from 10 in 2008. Including D.C., the average state has 10.5 electoral votes, but because there are a lot of of smaller states, Arizona ranks in the top 20 by electoral vote.”

Wake up, commentators. The most dangerous group of “right-wing extremists” today is not the grass-roots tea party. It is the financial and ideological leaders in the Republican coalition who have embraced the extremist philosophy of “politics as warfare.”

In recent days the mainstream media has been rapidly converging on a new common wisdom — a set of clichés that they will use to frame the rest of the campaign for the Republican nomination and the election of 2012. This new common wisdom portrays the intra-Republican struggle as one between more moderate and extreme wings of the party, with “pragmatic” Republican elites seeking a candidate who can beat Obama in opposition to the more “extremist” fringe elements and candidates of the grass-roots Tea Party.
It is inevitable that the mainstream media will find this image utterly irresistible. It not only serves their personal and professional needs but also reinforces their ideological preconceptions.
The image of “Republican elites as pragmatic, the tea party fringe as extreme” suits commentators’ personal and professional needs because it allows them to be publically disdainful of “extremism” without ever having to actually use the term to describe any powerful and significant figure in the Republican coalition who might be in a position to retaliate. A suggestion of “extremism” directed against anyone in this latter group is a social – and possibly career-damaging – faux pas that mainstream journalists will take every imaginable step to avoid.
At the same time, the “Elites as pragmatic, grass roots as extreme” image also validates mainstream commentators’ essentially condescending view of political life, in which “extremists” are always scruffy, largely disreputable individuals on the lower rungs of society – the kind of people who live in trailer parks and rant incoherently about the second amendment. Wealthy, powerful and influential “movers and shakers” within the Republican world, on the other hand, regardless of their actual views, are still invariably accorded respect as essentially serious and sensible individuals.
There is nothing new about this pattern of behavior among the mainstream media. It follows the same pattern as the “both sides are equally to blame” clichés about partisan gridlock and “dysfunctional government.” Writers and commentators who, in private, will cheerfully concede that, of course, the crisis is fundamentally the fault of Republican intransigence will then fall back on “both sides are equally to blame” clichés in their public writing — not only to avoid charges of liberal bias but also to portray themselves as impartial and intellectually superior observers of all career politicians.
There is, unfortunately, one major problem with this “elites as pragmatic, fringe as extreme” view: it is deeply, profoundly and fundamentally wrong. The most dangerous group of political extremists today is not the grass roots supporters of the Tea Party. It is the major sector of the Republican financial and ideological elite who have embraced the philosophy of “politics as warfare.”
To see why this is so, it is necessary to very clearly distinguish between two entirely distinct meanings of the term “extremism.” On the one hand, it is possible for a person or political party to hold a wide variety of very “extreme” opinions on issues. These views may be crackpot (e.g. “abolish paper money) or repugnant (“deny non-insured children medical care”). But as long as the individual or political party that holds these views conducts itself within the norms and rules of a democratic society, this, in itself, does not lead such groups or individuals to be described as “political extremists” by the media or society in general.
Libertarians and the Libertarian Party offer the best illustration. Vast numbers of Americans consider many libertarian views “extreme.” But, because the libertarians conduct themselves within the norms and rules of a democratic society, they are virtually never described by the media as “political extremists.”
The alternative definition of the term “political extremists” refers to political parties or individuals who do not accept the norms, rules and constraints of democratic society. They embrace a view of “politics as warfare” and of political opponents as literal “enemies” who must be crushed. Extremist political parties based on the politics as warfare philosophy emerged on both the political left and right at various times in the 20th century in many different countries and circumstances.
Despite their ideological diversity, extremist political parties share a large number of common characteristics, one critical trait being a radically different conception of the role and purpose of the political party itself in a democratic society.
In the politics as warfare perspective a political party’s objective is defined as the conquest and seizure of power and not sincere collaboration in democratic governance. The party is viewed as a combat organization whose goal is to defeat an enemy, not a governing organization whose job is to faithfully represent the people who voted for it. Political debate and legislative maneuvering are seen not as the means to achieve ultimate compromise, but as forms of combat whose objective is total victory.
This basic conception of the role of political parties leads to the justification and use of two profoundly anti-democratic strategies.

Time for OWS to Switch Tactics?

We can be sure that Republican leaders are watching the arrests and evictions of Occupy Wall St. protesters in several cities, hopeful that things will turn ugly, and law-abiding citizens will turn against the protesters, then progressives and eventually, Democrats.
For now, polls indicate that a healthy plurality of the public approves of the protests, which have been highly successful in focusing media coverage and public attention on the injustices perpetrated by the banking and financial sector. It’s not such an unbridgeable leap from there to awakening growing working-class solidarity among all races, which is a nightmare scenario shared by Rove, Rollins, Luntz, Norquist and all GOP political strategists.
The GOP dream scenario, on the other hand, would be for the heretofore nonviolent protests morph into police-demonstrator violence. Call me paranoid, but no one should be shocked if it is later revealed that agents-provocateur are already engaged in planning disruptions toward that end. Dems should never forget “the Brooks Brothers Riot” nor the covert ops shenanigans of James O’Keefe and his ilk.
No one asked me, but I’m thinking that OWS should now consider a new tactical emphasis, or at least mix tactics. Armies of occupation have limited utility and significant vulnerability in protracted nonviolent conflict, as well as in war. After a certain point, the law of diminishing returns kicks in, winning fewer hearts and minds until a point is reached when adverse effects take root. There may be a little more favorable leverage to be gained in the OWS protests. But it can’t last forever.
OWS has served a great purpose in refocusing public attention on corporate/banking abuses. Organizers should now begin planning nation-wide campaigns of economic withdrawal and voter registration, as well. That’s the hardball the banking/financial sector fears far more than occupations with no mass economic action.
Imagine, for example, what could happen if thousands of depositors began taking their cash out of megabanks and put it into credit unions every week. As I noted on October 13, this is beginning to happen here and there. Perhaps target a different city each week, with a goal of ten thousand depositor transfers to community credit unions, and 10 thousand newly registered voters. After losing a few hundred thousand depositors, Big Banks just might begin to show more concern for investing in American jobs and other reforms. If they won’t meet the challenge, community credit unions are already programmed to do so.
The night before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr. urged his supporters “Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal,” and he compelled historic reforms with that commitment. It’s just possible that King’s challenge has even more resonance for our times.