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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

At In These Times, Daniel Moraff makes a tight case that socialists and others on the left should not run as third party candidates, and their best prospects for winning elections remain inside the Democratic Party. Among Moraff’s many well-argued points: “Thanks to the Sanders campaign, the case for left challenges within the Democratic Party has never been stronger…He received over 43% of the total primary vote…We all just participated in the most interesting (and certainly the biggest) socialist electoral project ever to take place in the United States…Thousands of local left-to-progressive formations are springing up or growing, from DSA to Indivisible to the Working Families Party. Many of them will, in 2018, have the ability to draft and run candidates for office…Outside of extraordinary cases, a good left third-party candidate gets 15-20% of the vote in a partisan race without a Democrat whereas they attain 3-5% in a race with one. A Democratic primary challenger can sleepwalk to 20%. Local activists need to understand this, and take a hard look at what can and cannot be done outside the primary.”

We’re already hearing concerns from policy-holders about myriad problems with the Republican “replacement” health care bill. Now “Doctors, hospitals and insurers oppose Republican health plan,” write Juliet Eilperin and Mike DeBonis in the Washington Post: “We cannot support the AHCA as drafted because of the expected decline in health insurance coverage and the potential harm it would cause to vulnerable patient populations,” James L. Madara, chief executive of the American Medical Association and a doctor, wrote in a letter to committee leaders overseeing work on the bill…Richard Pollack, CEO of the American Hospital Association, voiced similar fears, saying efforts to “restructure the Medicaid program” by shifting it from an entitlement program to one based on a per capita allocation “will have the effect of making significant reductions in a program that provides services for our most vulnerable populations and already pays providers significantly less than the cost of providing care.”…America’s Health Insurance Plans, the insurance industry’s largest trade association, sent a letter Wednesday saying that while it appreciated several of the proposed changes, the changes to Medicaid “could result in unnecessary disruptions in the coverage and care beneficiaries depend on.”

It’s ‘Trumpcare’ now, since “The White House announced that Trump is preparing to launch a “full-court press” on behalf of the bill, including stakeholder meetings, local media interviews and travel by officials in his administration,” reports Elise Viebeck at PowerPost. So much for Trump’s promise that he was going to provide leadership for a fresh approach that provides coverage for everyone, instead of just rubber-stamping whatever congressional Republicans came up with. What shall Democrats call it, “Trumpcare” or “Obamacare Lite”? Both terms make a point, but neither one seems adequate for  capturing the hardship this legislation would create for millions of Americans, if enacted.

Heidi Pryzybyla reports at USA Today that “Democratic lawmakers in at least 30 U.S. states are either unveiling or highlighting legislation this week aimed at President Trump’s working-class voters, in a nationwide coordinated rebuttal to the agenda the president will outline in his first joint address to Congress on Feb. 28…It’s an attempt to form the legislative spine of a state-level resistance to Trump’s policies, Nick Rathod, executive director of State Innovation Exchange Action [SiX Action], which is overseeing the initiative…The timing creates a juxtaposition between Democratic economic security prescriptions for workers, such as raising the minimum wage and paid family leave, and Trump tax reform and federal budget policies that, Democrats say, are at odds with his populist campaign oath to prioritize “forgotten” Americans from the factory floors of the Rust Belt to the sawmills of the Mountain West.”…Rathod said in an interview previewing the legislative “Week of Action” that will spotlight more than 130 bills in states from Oklahoma to Alaska….SiX Action, a nonprofit trying to help Democrats regain power at the state level, marshaled 40 different left-leaning organizations to help coordinate the effort. It includes bill introduction ceremonies to draw media attention even in states where the legislative packages face an uphill battle because Republicans control both chambers.”

The Atlantic’s Michelle Cottle has a reality check for those who keep saying Democrats should not be so negative and should emphasize their vision, constructive policies and ideas. Particularly in the midterm elections, writes Cottle, that is emphatically not the way to win. “Obama-era Republicans offered a master class in the political efficacy of being “anti…Democrats busted their humps trying to make Republicans pay for their gridlocking. But, for all voters’ grousing about congressional dysfunction, they rarely bother punishing lawmakers for not playing nicely. Indeed, the quickest way for a GOP legislator to get booted under Obama was to be labeled a compromising squish…“One thing we can take from the past several elections is that political obstructionism does not have the political price many people thought it did,” observed a Democratic Senate aide…In early 2005, a freshly reelected George W. Bush was hot to overhaul Social Security. Republicans held the White House and both chambers of Congress. They had the vision. They had the numbers. What could possibly go wrong? Everything. Even thinking about messing with entitlements is politically fraught, and Pelosi decided to make Bush bleed for it. For months, she kept her troops focused on beating the bejesus out of Bush’s proposal, driving public support for it down, down, down. By spring, Bush’s plan was deader than disco—and stayed dead despite his efforts to revive it, which ran right through the 2006 midterms. That November, Democrats retook both chambers of Congress in a wave election that startled pretty much everyone…In midterm politics, as in pain relief, rule No. 1 is to destroy the other guy’s credibility. You can sort the rest out later.”

Bill Scher’s Politico post, “The Resistance Will Be … Underwritten By Corporations: A grassroots fundraising strategy isn’t enough. Democrats need the big money” will surely piss off advocates of a small donor-driven financial strategy for winning elections. But Scher does present some sobering numbers: “Consider the cost of the last midterm election in 2014. The dollar figures were staggering. Both parties (including money from party-allied independent groups) combined spent $3.77 billion in 435 U.S. House and 36 Senate campaigns. Another $2.2 billion was raised at the state level, including candidates in 36 gubernatorial and more than 6,000 state legislative races, with additional $284 million coming from outside groups. Total midterm election cost: approximately $6.25 billion, with at least $2.7 billion spent by Democrats… Among gubernatorial candidates, Republicans trounced Democrats $493.7 to $357.7 million. And Republican state legislative candidates topped their Democratic rivals $487.1 to $438.2 million. (The GOP’s state legislative edge was partly due to its larger roster of candidates: 4,845 to 4,665. But that speaks to a Democratic weakness in candidate recruitment, which is exacerbated by its comparatively weaker fundraising.)..The lower down you go on the ballot, the more major donors matter, because there is less free media available to level the playing field and attract small donors. In 2014, 82 percent of the U.S. Senate winners were the candidates that spent the most, compared to a near-perfect 94 percentof U.S. House winners…To maximize resistance to Donald Trump, Democrats need to win as many 2018 midterm election races as possible. And they can’t do it on $27 checks alone.”

A new CNN/ORC poll conducted March 1-4 found that 79 percent of U.S. adults support increased spending on infrastructure and 61 percent disapprove of taxpayers funding a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Further, “a majority of Americans, 58 percent, also oppose increasing military spending by cutting funding for the State Department, Environmental Protection Agency or other nondefense agencies.”– From “Majority supports increased infrastructure spending, opposes border wall funding” by Rebecca Savransky at The Hill.

Also at The Atlantic, Clare Foran conducts an interview with Ruy Teixeira. Here’s an excerpt from Teixeira’s comments: “In The Emerging Democratic Majority, I think we correctly diagnosed how the overall country is changing, and how some states were likely to change, but I think we didn’t pay enough attention to some of the structural obstacles that Democrats must now confront, including the concentration of Democratic-leaning voters in urban areas, and how that might interact with gerrymandering. Those dynamics have turned out to be quite important. The lesson I take from that is that the left needs to be more competitive in a lot of places and can’t just rely on changing demographics. Democrats need to get into a position where they can de-gerrymander congressional districts, and to get to that point the party will need to be more competitive in parts of the country that aren’t necessarily liberal-leaning. They cannot just cede that to the Republican Party.”

Thomas B. Edsall dissects “Donald Trump’s Political Stew” in his New York Times column and shares doubts of some political commentators and scholars about the the ability of Democrats to hold on to majorities of major electoral components. Edsall notes, “Trump won college-educated whites by four points and non-college whites by a record-setting 39 points, a larger margin than Ronald Reagan, the previous record-holder at 29 points. Put another way, insofar as Trump voters define the contemporary Republican electorate, non-college whites are the majority, 55.1 percent, with college-educated whites becoming the minority at 44.9 percent.” In another section, Edsall quotes University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato: “The key constituency, Sabato said, is the “slice of non-college-educated white blue-collar workers from cities and older suburbs” who are the “Obama-Trump voters.” In 2016, 209 of the 676 counties that cast majorities for Obama in both 2008 and 2012 backed Trump, many in the Midwest. Sabato noted that it was these voters who “put Trump over the top in Michigan and possibly Wisconsin and Pennsylvania…If Trump produces, they’ll reward him with a second term. If he doesn’t — and he needs to create lots of high-paying jobs in the face of automation and a global economy moving in other directions — then they’ll be ripe for a return to their former home, the Democratic Party — if Democrats give them an appealing nominee.”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Stephen Cataldo on

    Democrats are facing a conundrum that I don’t think many people notice before they are deep in the wonk, it certainly took me a long time: money corrupts; congressional candidates [so far] are not in the spotlight and so don’t get enough air time to win without corporate money; presidential candidates (who are in the spotlight) who take that kind of money get less value from it and more problems. Clinton needed to be cleaner, the next presidential candidate needs to be cleaner, but demanding that the party as a whole completely clean up before the Republicans do is not possible without big changes first.

    At the balance between idealism and Machiavelli, the Dems need to clean up the part of their party that is most in the spotlight. There would be some real idealism here: the banking people that Obama gave too much power were a mistake in every way; Hillary Clinton could likely have won by being much cleaner than her accusers especially near Wall Street… at the presidential level the pragmatic Machiavellian compromises are anything but pragmatic.

    How do the Dems bring people up through the money system where people are too inattentive for idealism to work, and then have presidential candidates who are clean in the spotlight? Can we create a balance somewhere between the establishment and progressives, that calls for more idealism in both safe-seat districts and presidential candidates, while neither defunding nor fighting with the need to keep up with Republicans in competitive seats?

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