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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Re Elizabeth Warren’s statement that “I am not running for president,” note that she did not say “I will not run for president.” She probably means that she won’t run, but there may be some wiggle room in there way down the road. Either way. all a candidate who has dropped out of a race has to do, after a suitable period of time, is say that things have changed, and something like “I want to provide a voice that is missing from the current field of candidates.” The record suggests that voters don’t penalize candidates much for changing their minds about running. Warren’s dropping out nonetheless comes as a bit of a disappointment, because she has an impressive ability to articulate the need for financial reforms and economic justice, and seems more alert to class issues than the previous Democratic nominee. Assuming Bernie Sanders runs for the 2020 Democratic nomination, there will still be a strong progressive voice for economic justice in the campaign. But a double-barrelled megaphone for economic reforms would be even better. Warren will no doubt continue to speak out on economic issues, but the cameras and microphones will increasingly follow the candidates in 2020.

Warren has also made news with her blast against Senators — including 16 Democrats — who are supporting legislation to weaken Dodd-Frank. As Alexander Bolton reports at the Hill: “Liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is calling out fellow Democrats by name for backing what she is panning as the “Bank Lobbyist Act” and it’s not sitting well with colleagues up for reelection in November…They find it galling that Warren is blowing the whistle on a vote they took this week to begin debate on legislation rolling back part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act…Lawmakers find it especially annoying that Warren called them out in a fundraising email circulated among the liberal base…“Saying Democrats are helping roll back rules on big banks doesn’t make me the most popular kid on the team,” she acknowledged. “But Massachusetts didn’t send me here to fight for big banks.”

Alex Shephard also has some harsh words for the Democrats in his New Republic article, “Everything Wrong With the Democrats, in One Bill: The bipartisan push to roll back parts of Dodd-Frank reveals a minority party that can’t get it right on the policy or the politic.” As Shephard explains, “What’s so bewildering about all this is that blocking this bill would be politically valuable for Democrats…In the right hands, it could show just how beholden Republicans are to moneyed interests. After passing a $1.5 trillion tax cut package for corporations and the wealthy, Republicans are making it easier for banks to take on the kinds of risks that nearly destroyed the financial system. This bill could be a neat encapsulation of a corrupt administration and an out-of-touch Republican Party. Instead, it has become a totem of a feckless and incompetent Democratic Party.” Shephard does note, however, that “The 17 Democrats who voted for the bill to proceed on Tuesday are either centrists or facing reelection in states that Donald Trump won in 2016. They have defended the bill on the merits, arguing that it will free up credit in rural areas and that it’s an overdue fix for Dodd-Frank’s flaws. There is also a sense among Democrats that this may very well be the best deal they can get on Dodd-Frank reform.”

Alexander Nazaryan explores some answers to the question, “Can Donald Trump, the Most Unpopular President Ever, Save Republicans from a Massive Defeat in 2018?” at Newsweek, and notes: “Back when Trump’s approval ratings were languishing in the 30s, there was little for Republicans to like, and even less to take. Now, the president has climbed back to the safer zone of the 40s. The generic ballot—which simply asks voters if they prefer Democrats or Republicans— saw a 13-point Democratic lead shrink in half (it has since risen to 6.9). Brian Walsh, a Republican consultant who runs a pro-Trump super PAC, says a generic battle that continued to favor Democrats by only 5 points would portend only a “bumpy night” for Republicans, whereas anything like a 12-point advantage on the generic would be “devastating.” Because partisan redistricting conducted in 2011 heavily favored Republicans, explains veteran University of Virginia pollster Larry Sabato, “Democrats must win a clear majority of the popular vote by 5 to 6 percent nationally to have a good chance to take the House.” (Pennsylvania has just redrawn its congressional district map to undo the effects of Republican gerrymandering; that will likely lead to Democratic gains in the House and, even more importantly, could signal a broader push away from district maps that favor the GOP.)..Democrats have now won 36 state legislature special elections since Trump’s inauguration, many in districts that he won. Republicans have won only four.”

At Brookings, Elaine Kamarck provides some early findings from the Brookings Primary Project: “Let’s start with the lay of the land. At this point, as the following chart indicates, Republican incumbents stand to face more competition than their Democratic counterparts from two key sources. First, many more Republican incumbents are being primaried (i.e., challenged) by well-funded opponents from their own party. Second, in a telling measure, there are many more competitive Democratic primaries in Republican-held districts than competitive Republican primaries in Democrat-held districts. Competitive elections can both stem from and generate the entry of higher-quality candidates. They also attract media attention. This means that more Republican incumbents will have to deal with well-funded primary challenges and well-funded, battle-tested general election foes who can make news—prospects incumbents tend to dread. In addition, there are over twice as many Republican retirements as Democratic retirements in the House—usually an indication that the exiting members think it’s going to be a bad year for their party.”

In Bridget Bowman’s “Can Unions Push Conor Lamb to an Unlikely Victory in Pennsylvania?” at cqpolitics.com she writes about the Democratic candidate’s campaign to filp PA-18: “Lamb has attempted to appeal to union workers by embracing labor groups, which have deep roots in southwestern Pennsylvania.” She notes that Tuesday’s election could “test the political power of organized labor — and whether union leaders can rally members around a Democrat at a time when predominantly white, blue-collar workers have been fleeing the party…Over the past month, unions have been heavily targeting 30,000 of their members by phone, in their neighborhoods and at their work sites, arguing that Lamb will fight for organized labor…Union leaders say Saccone’s record in the state House will hurt him with their members. He was endorsed by Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Work Committee in 2014 and he voted against a bill that expanded access to unemployment compensation…Both Lamb and Saccone signaled support for the proposed tariffs during a debate Saturday night.”

“The legitimacy of an election is only as good as the reliability of the machines that count the votes,” according to The New York Times editorial board. “And yet 43 states use voting machines that are no longer being made, and are at or near the end of their useful life. Many states still manage their voter-registration rolls using software programs from the 1990s. It’s no surprise that this sort of infrastructure failure hits poorer and minority areas harder, often creating hourslong lines at the polls and discouraging many voters from coming out at all. Upgrading these machines nationwide would cost at least $1 billion, maybe much more, and Congress has consistently failed to provide anything close to sufficient funding to speed along the process…Elections are hard to run with aging voting technology, but at least those problems aren’t intentional. Hacking and other types of interference are. In 2016, Russian hackers were able to breach voter registration systems in Illinois and several other states, and targeted dozens more. They are interfering again in advance of the 2018 midterms, according to intelligence officials, who are demanding better cybersecurity measures.”

Economist Jared Bernstein, author of The Reconnection Agenda: Reuniting Growth and Prosperity, floats a good idea in his article, “Fixing the tax bill: How Democrats should use some rare leverage,” at PostEverything: “Republicans need Senate Democrats to help them fix their tax bill, which, as documented in this New York Times piece, was jammed through with a bunch of drafting mistakes that are now posing real problems for farmers, small businesses and even multinational corporations…For example, based on a mistake that significantly hurts certain grain sellers, one executive from Oklahoma, an avowed Republican, said he’d be “receptive to selling our business” if the “grain glitch” isn’t fixed. In words that cannot be resonating well with Republican leadership, he said he longed to go back to the old code. Another grain operator claimed that unless the glitch is fixed, it would “drive investments in rural America away. We can’t compete.”…These rural farmers are not alone. Retailers, restaurateurs and U.S. companies with foreign operations are all calling for quick fixes to the sweeping bill….Here’s the crucial point: Republicans can’t fix most of these drafting mistakes without votes from Senate Democrats. That gives Democrats the leverage they lacked in the original tax debate, which was passed using a procedural method that required only a majority in the Senate, as opposed to 60 votes…Bernstein also provides a list of reforms Dems should insist on for their votes on the corrected tax bill, and concludes ‘The key to the whole strategy, of course, is stiff Democratic spines across the caucus.'”…in this case, forget “they go low, we go high.” Instead, go with this: In their rush to transfer billions to their funder base, they screwed up; here’s the cost of the fix. Take it, or leave it.

Is Country music just a conservative platform? Joseph P. Williams wrote in U.S. News that “A 2004 Gallup survey found nearly 60 percent of country fans identify more strongly with Republicans, compared with 11 percent who identify as liberal and around 30 percent who say they’re political moderates.” Jon Bernstein noted in his 2016 Guardian article, “Country Music Has Become Apolitical: Why Acts Have Kept Quiet on the Election,” that “A recent informal survey conducted by the trade publication Country Aircheck showed that 46% of the industry professionals who participated favored Trump compared to 41% who supported Clinton, with 13% supporting Gary Johnson.” An NPR report “A Political History of Country Music” explores the conservative and liberal (New Deal) roots of the genre, as does the WNYC (an NPR affiliate) program on “Class Politics, Country Music and Hillbilly Humanism,” which looks at the complex political attitudes of country music fans, the music and artists. Merle Haggard, who scored big with “Okie from Muscogee,” also recorded “Irma Jackson,” a heartfelt song about being in love with a Black woman. We could add moments like the defiant Dixie Chicks dissing Bush II, Johnny Cash performing with Pete Seeger on his popular TV show and Appalachian music icon Ralph Stanley’s endorsement of Obama. Alt-country’ artists, like  Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris and Iris Dement, along with mainstream country artists, such as Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers and newer artists, prefer to express progressive values in lyrics instead of public statements. It’s more about using the music to win hearts and minds.

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Victor on

    The list of senators backing the bank bill is practically the same as the list of senators from swing states. It is pretty clear this isn’t about policy or messaging but about bank campaign contributions.


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