washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

February 16: No Slam Dunk for Republicans in PA-18 After All

Perusing the polls this week, some good news for Democrats popped up. I wrote about it at New York.

Democrats have been going through a sort of Poll Panic of late, agonizing over the apparent loss of a big advantage in the congressional generic ballot, and also small but steady improvements in the president’s job approval ratings.

Today, it’s Republicans’ turn to look at poll numbers and freak.

A rare public poll (from Monmouth) of the special congressional election race in the 18th Congressional District of Pennsylvania shows Democrat Conor Lamb within the margin of error of the lead of Republican Rick Saccone. The lead for Saccone ranges from five points (50/45) in a low-turnout scenario, to four points (48/44) in a very-high-turnout scenario, to just three points (49/46) in a scenario based on the turnout patterns in 2017 special elections.

That’s newsworthy because this is a race where the Republican should be far ahead. PA-18 is both strongly Republican and strongly pro-Trump. The GOP congressman (Tim Murphy) whose sex-scandal-driven resignation forced this special election faced no Democratic opponent in 2016 or 2014; even in the Democratic landslide years of 2006 and 2008 he won with 58 percent and 64 percent of the vote, respectively. There is not, moreover, any reason to expect an anti-Trump backlash to demoralize Republican voters: Trump carried the 18th by 20 points (as compared to his one-point margin in Georgia’s Sixth District, the historically Republican district that was the site of last year’s hottest House special election).

Some observers of the race have noted that Lamb, a young former prosecutor with deep roots in Pittsburgh politics, is a more attractive figure than Saccone. But the Republican has been given every bit of help money and power can arrange. Trump is scheduled to make his second appearance with Saccone next week. Mike Pence has been thumping the tubs for him as well.

For poll skeptics, Monmouth has a very good reputation, and it’s not some routinely pro-Democratic outfit (indeed, a January Monmouth poll showing the Democratic congressional generic ballot lead dropping to two points probably started the current Poll Panic among members of the Donkey Party). And for the record, it used the same variable-turnout-model approach in the run-up to December’s Alabama general election, and its 2017 special election model showed a dead heat, even as most pollsters predicted a Moore win.

If Lamb does pull the upset, or even gets close, it will provide fresh evidence that 2018 could be a big year for House Democrats — and that Trump Country territory like southwest Pennsylvania isn’t safe.


No Slam Dunk for Republicans in PA-18 After All

Perusing the polls this week, some good news for Democrats popped up. I wrote about it at New York.

Democrats have been going through a sort of Poll Panic of late, agonizing over the apparent loss of a big advantage in the congressional generic ballot, and also small but steady improvements in the president’s job approval ratings.

Today, it’s Republicans’ turn to look at poll numbers and freak.

A rare public poll (from Monmouth) of the special congressional election race in the 18th Congressional District of Pennsylvania shows Democrat Conor Lamb within the margin of error of the lead of Republican Rick Saccone. The lead for Saccone ranges from five points (50/45) in a low-turnout scenario, to four points (48/44) in a very-high-turnout scenario, to just three points (49/46) in a scenario based on the turnout patterns in 2017 special elections.

That’s newsworthy because this is a race where the Republican should be far ahead. PA-18 is both strongly Republican and strongly pro-Trump. The GOP congressman (Tim Murphy) whose sex-scandal-driven resignation forced this special election faced no Democratic opponent in 2016 or 2014; even in the Democratic landslide years of 2006 and 2008 he won with 58 percent and 64 percent of the vote, respectively. There is not, moreover, any reason to expect an anti-Trump backlash to demoralize Republican voters: Trump carried the 18th by 20 points (as compared to his one-point margin in Georgia’s Sixth District, the historically Republican district that was the site of last year’s hottest House special election).

Some observers of the race have noted that Lamb, a young former prosecutor with deep roots in Pittsburgh politics, is a more attractive figure than Saccone. But the Republican has been given every bit of help money and power can arrange. Trump is scheduled to make his second appearance with Saccone next week. Mike Pence has been thumping the tubs for him as well.

For poll skeptics, Monmouth has a very good reputation, and it’s not some routinely pro-Democratic outfit (indeed, a January Monmouth poll showing the Democratic congressional generic ballot lead dropping to two points probably started the current Poll Panic among members of the Donkey Party). And for the record, it used the same variable-turnout-model approach in the run-up to December’s Alabama general election, and its 2017 special election model showed a dead heat, even as most pollsters predicted a Moore win.

If Lamb does pull the upset, or even gets close, it will provide fresh evidence that 2018 could be a big year for House Democrats — and that Trump Country territory like southwest Pennsylvania isn’t safe.


February 15: “Pocahontas” Fights Back

Sen. Elizabeth Warren made a major speech this week that not only affects her political career, but is an instructive example of how to deal with Republican racial slurs. I wrote about it at New York.

The president’s inveterate use of the name “Pocahontas” in mockingly referring to U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren is a bit more than an example of Trumpian boorishness or of his habit of giving people derogatory nicknames. He’s picking up on a slur that certain Massachusetts opponents of Warren have been using since 2012, when the conservative Boston Herald found out Warren had self-identified as having a Native American background in a Harvard faculty directory back in the 1990s. Subsequent digging by various unfriendly and neutral sources discovered that Warren had no formal ties or right to identify with the Cherokee tribe she had been told was prominent in her mother’s Oklahoma background — but also that there was no evidence the highly regarded law professor had ever benefited from a Native connection.

Still, attacks on Warren for exaggerating her Native background struck a conservative chord by raising the familiar targets of diversity, affirmative action, and “political correctness,” then and now. Staff of her 2012 Senate opponent Scott Brown were caught on camera doing various pseudo-Native war chants at a campaign rally. By 2016, one of the most aggressive weaponizers of the “Pocahontas” slur, the hammerheaded Boston radio personality Howie Carr, introduced Donald Trump at a campaign rally with similar war whoops.

This nonsense has created a dilemma for Warren. Does she go out of her way to publicly confess her extremely minor misconduct in the faculty-directory listing, thus fanning the “scandal?” Does she ignore it entirely? Or does she find an effective way to fire back?

A Warren speech today to the National Congress of American Indians showed she has decisively settled on firing back.

For one thing, she’s insisting that Cherokee heritage was indeed part of her family’s life, even as she acknowledges that only tribes themselves can establish Native status.

“[M]y mother’s family was part Native American. And my daddy’s parents were bitterly opposed to their relationship. So, in 1932, when Mother was 19 and Daddy had just turned 20, they eloped …

“They’re gone, but the love they shared, the struggles they endured, the family they built, and the story they lived will always be a part of me. And no one — not even the president of the United States — will ever take that part of me away …

“I’m here today to make a promise: Every time someone brings up my family’s story, I’m going to use it to lift up the story of your families and your communities.”

At the same time, Warren ripped into Trump’s derisive references to her — which at one point he irrelevantly repeated during an Oval Office ceremony honoring Native military veterans — as an example of age-old racist distortions of Native history. After briefly recounting the actual tale of the actual Pocahontas, Warren offered this indirect jab:

“Indigenous people have been telling the story of Pocahontas — the real Pocahontas — for four centuries. A story of heroism. And bravery. And pain.

“And, for almost as long, her story has been taken away by powerful people who twisted it to serve their own purposes.”

Including you-know-who.

Warren later took a more explicit shot at Trump and at his favorite predecessor:

“It is deeply offensive that this president keeps a portrait of Andrew Jackson hanging in the Oval Office, honoring a man who did his best to wipe out Native people.”

And she linked advocacy for Native Americans to the more standard liberal causes she has embraced, including opposition to Big Oil profiteering from Native lands, the fight against GOP-supported safety-net cuts that disproportionately affect minorities, and even banking reform (“[I]t’s about 12 miles on average from the center of tribal reservations to the nearest bank branch.”)

It’s reasonable to assume that Warren will hearken back to this speech whenever Trump or anyone else calls her “Pocahontas” in the future, ensuring that the nastier aspects of the slur will not go unnoticed.That’s morally necessary and politically smart.


“Pocahontas” Fights Back

Sen. Elizabeth Warren made a major speech this week that not only affects her political career, but is an instructive example of how to deal with Republican racial slurs. I wrote about it at New York.

The president’s inveterate use of the name “Pocahontas” in mockingly referring to U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren is a bit more than an example of Trumpian boorishness or of his habit of giving people derogatory nicknames. He’s picking up on a slur that certain Massachusetts opponents of Warren have been using since 2012, when the conservative Boston Herald found out Warren had self-identified as having a Native American background in a Harvard faculty directory back in the 1990s. Subsequent digging by various unfriendly and neutral sources discovered that Warren had no formal ties or right to identify with the Cherokee tribe she had been told was prominent in her mother’s Oklahoma background — but also that there was no evidence the highly regarded law professor had ever benefited from a Native connection.

Still, attacks on Warren for exaggerating her Native background struck a conservative chord by raising the familiar targets of diversity, affirmative action, and “political correctness,” then and now. Staff of her 2012 Senate opponent Scott Brown were caught on camera doing various pseudo-Native war chants at a campaign rally. By 2016, one of the most aggressive weaponizers of the “Pocahontas” slur, the hammerheaded Boston radio personality Howie Carr, introduced Donald Trump at a campaign rally with similar war whoops.

This nonsense has created a dilemma for Warren. Does she go out of her way to publicly confess her extremely minor misconduct in the faculty-directory listing, thus fanning the “scandal?” Does she ignore it entirely? Or does she find an effective way to fire back?

A Warren speech today to the National Congress of American Indians showed she has decisively settled on firing back.

For one thing, she’s insisting that Cherokee heritage was indeed part of her family’s life, even as she acknowledges that only tribes themselves can establish Native status.

“[M]y mother’s family was part Native American. And my daddy’s parents were bitterly opposed to their relationship. So, in 1932, when Mother was 19 and Daddy had just turned 20, they eloped …

“They’re gone, but the love they shared, the struggles they endured, the family they built, and the story they lived will always be a part of me. And no one — not even the president of the United States — will ever take that part of me away …

“I’m here today to make a promise: Every time someone brings up my family’s story, I’m going to use it to lift up the story of your families and your communities.”

At the same time, Warren ripped into Trump’s derisive references to her — which at one point he irrelevantly repeated during an Oval Office ceremony honoring Native military veterans — as an example of age-old racist distortions of Native history. After briefly recounting the actual tale of the actual Pocahontas, Warren offered this indirect jab:

“Indigenous people have been telling the story of Pocahontas — the real Pocahontas — for four centuries. A story of heroism. And bravery. And pain.

“And, for almost as long, her story has been taken away by powerful people who twisted it to serve their own purposes.”

Including you-know-who.

Warren later took a more explicit shot at Trump and at his favorite predecessor:

“It is deeply offensive that this president keeps a portrait of Andrew Jackson hanging in the Oval Office, honoring a man who did his best to wipe out Native people.”

And she linked advocacy for Native Americans to the more standard liberal causes she has embraced, including opposition to Big Oil profiteering from Native lands, the fight against GOP-supported safety-net cuts that disproportionately affect minorities, and even banking reform (“[I]t’s about 12 miles on average from the center of tribal reservations to the nearest bank branch.”)

It’s reasonable to assume that Warren will hearken back to this speech whenever Trump or anyone else calls her “Pocahontas” in the future, ensuring that the nastier aspects of the slur will not go unnoticed.That’s morally necessary and politically smart.


February 9: California GOP Poised to Miss Senate and Gubernatorial Special Elections

I ran across a poll finding from California and realized the press accounts were missing something big. So I explained it at New York.

[S]hortly before Senator Dianne Feinstein announced she was indeed running for another term, the Public Policy Institute of California released a poll showing that half of the state’s likely voters wanted her to retire.

The sense that the 84-year-old Feinstein might be getting a bit too old, combined with long-simmering lefty hostility to her for being insufficiently progressive, helped draw one of California’s rising Democratic stars, State Senate Majority Leader Kevin de León, into a challenge to the incumbent.

A new PPIC poll indicates that Feinstein’s doing pretty well, leading de León by a robust 46 percent to 17 percent margin among likely voters, with significant leads among virtually every subgroup.

Of perhaps even greater significance, there were no Republican Senate candidates with sufficiently viable campaigns for PPIC to even include them in the poll. With less than a month left before the candidate filing deadline for the June 5 nonpartisan primary, that almost certainly means that for the second election year in a row, Republicans won’t have a candidate for the U.S. Senate in the November general election (under the top-two system, the top two finishers, regardless of party or percentage, advance to the general election).

And while California Republicans do have three candidates for governor this year, that could be two too many for the party to place someone in the general election. The new PPIC poll shows Democrats Gavin Newsom (the lieutenant governor and retiring Governor Jerry Brown’s heir apparent) and Antonio Villaraigosa (former mayor of Los Angeles) dominating a large field with 23 percent and 21 percent, respectively. The top-performing Republican, state legislator Travis Allen, is at 8 percent, and it’s not entirely clear his candidacy will survive recently disclosed allegations of sexual harassment in 2013. The other two Republicans in the race hold a combined 10 percent of the vote.

And while Kevin de León, with a virtually assured general election slot, can console himself with the fact that he will have nine months to make a race of it against Feinstein, it’s soon or never for GOP candidates, actual or potential.

If, as appears likely, there are no Republicans at the top of the ballot for the Senate and gubernatorial races in November, it could have a baleful effect on GOP turnout. And that could be a real problem for Republicans trying to hold onto six endangered U.S. House seats.


California GOP Poised To Miss Senate and Gubernatorial General Elections

I ran across a poll finding from California and realized the press accounts were missing something big. So I explained it at New York.

[S]hortly before Senator Dianne Feinstein announced she was indeed running for another term, the Public Policy Institute of California released a poll showing that half of the state’s likely voters wanted her to retire.

The sense that the 84-year-old Feinstein might be getting a bit too old, combined with long-simmering lefty hostility to her for being insufficiently progressive, helped draw one of California’s rising Democratic stars, State Senate Majority Leader Kevin de León, into a challenge to the incumbent.

A new PPIC poll indicates that Feinstein’s doing pretty well, leading de León by a robust 46 percent to 17 percent margin among likely voters, with significant leads among virtually every subgroup.

Of perhaps even greater significance, there were no Republican Senate candidates with sufficiently viable campaigns for PPIC to even include them in the poll. With less than a month left before the candidate filing deadline for the June 5 nonpartisan primary, that almost certainly means that for the second election year in a row, Republicans won’t have a candidate for the U.S. Senate in the November general election (under the top-two system, the top two finishers, regardless of party or percentage, advance to the general election).

And while California Republicans do have three candidates for governor this year, that could be two too many for the party to place someone in the general election. The new PPIC poll shows Democrats Gavin Newsom (the lieutenant governor and retiring Governor Jerry Brown’s heir apparent) and Antonio Villaraigosa (former mayor of Los Angeles) dominating a large field with 23 percent and 21 percent, respectively. The top-performing Republican, state legislator Travis Allen, is at 8 percent, and it’s not entirely clear his candidacy will survive recently disclosed allegations of sexual harassment in 2013. The other two Republicans in the race hold a combined 10 percent of the vote.

And while Kevin de León, with a virtually assured general election slot, can console himself with the fact that he will have nine months to make a race of it against Feinstein, it’s soon or never for GOP candidates, actual or potential.

If, as appears likely, there are no Republicans at the top of the ballot for the Senate and gubernatorial races in November, it could have a baleful effect on GOP turnout. And that could be a real problem for Republicans trying to hold onto six endangered U.S. House seats.


February 8: No Excuses for Trump & GOP If They Lose Pennsylvania Special Election

Looking at the upcoming special congressional election in Pennsylvania, I offered these thoughts at New York.

The spin wars over the results of the special and off-year elections in the Trump era have been as intense as the races themselves. Democrats can rightly point to a regular pattern of over-performance in congressional and state legislative special elections once you look at the jurisdictions involved. At the congressional level, the playing field was heavily tilted to the GOP by the fact that most of the vacancies involved were produced by Trump lifting incumbents into his administration. So the most common GOP rationalization for obvious Democratic gains in dark-red territory was: “We won, didn’t we?”

The big regular off-year elections in New Jersey and Virginia were Democratic routs by any measure, and produced new excuses for failure: Trump blamed Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie for not running a cookie-cutter campaign based on his own, and Republicans could blame the New Jersey debacle on Chris Christie’s profound unpopularity.

Now, though, a special election is approaching on March 13 in Pennsylvania that will leave no excuses for Trump or for Republicans if the GOP loses. The district itself is both strongly Republican (its Cook Political Report PVI is R+11, which means it has recently voted more Republican in presidential elections than the nation as a whole by 11 percent) and unlike, say, Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District (that district’s PVI is R+8, but Trump only won it by one point), strongly pro-Trump as well (the president carried it by 20 points).

This district is also, not to put too fine a point on it, in perhaps the most stereotypical Trump Country segment of the United States: southwest Pennsylvania, whose bars and living rooms are regularly trawled by conservative journalists like Salena Zito for validation of Trump’s appeal. And the GOP candidate to succeed disgraced GOP congressman Tim Murphy (who had no Democratic opponent in 2014 or 2016), state legislator Rick Saccone, might as well be campaigning in a Trump mask. The fiery conservative likes to boast that he was “Trump before Trump was Trump.”

Raising the profile of this race still more as a potential 2018 bellwether is that the Democratic candidate, former local prosecutor Conor Lamb, is regularly described as being “straight out of central casting” — a 33-year-old Marine veteran with deep roots in the district and a moderate issues profile and style.

Unsurprisingly, reports Politico, the national GOP and the Trump administration are taking no chances in this race. Trump himself and Vice-President Mike Pence have already appeared in the district with Saccone, and are prepared to do so again, with Cabinet members also on call to take the short trip up to Pittsburgh. Saccone is not a particularly good fundraiser, so the GOP and outside groups are already making up for that abundantly; at the moment, “Republicans [are] outspending Democrats on TV by nearly 5-1,” with more money on the way.

All this national and conservative-movement activity is occurring at a time when their huge built-in advantages in the district are potentially being strengthened by an abatement — perhaps temporary, perhaps not — in the intensity of the Democratic “wave” that was so evident at the end of 2017. The Democratic advantage in the congressional generic ballot — a regular measurement of national party strength in a midterm election — has by most accounts shrunk by more than half since its peak just before Christmas.

There’s more than a month to go before voters in Pennsylvania’s 18th District go to the polls, and a lot could happen in the interim. But it’s pretty clear this is the GOP’s race to lose.


No Excuses for Trump & GOP If They Lose PA Special Election

Looking at the upcoming special congressional election in Pennsylvania, I offered these thoughts at New York.

The spin wars over the results of the special and off-year elections in the Trump era have been as intense as the races themselves. Democrats can rightly point to a regular pattern of over-performance in congressional and state legislative special elections once you look at the jurisdictions involved. At the congressional level, the playing field was heavily tilted to the GOP by the fact that most of the vacancies involved were produced by Trump lifting incumbents into his administration. So the most common GOP rationalization for obvious Democratic gains in dark-red territory was: “We won, didn’t we?”

The big regular off-year elections in New Jersey and Virginia were Democratic routs by any measure, and produced new excuses for failure: Trump blamed Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie for not running a cookie-cutter campaign based on his own, and Republicans could blame the New Jersey debacle on Chris Christie’s profound unpopularity.

Now, though, a special election is approaching on March 13 in Pennsylvania that will leave no excuses for Trump or for Republicans if the GOP loses. The district itself is both strongly Republican (its Cook Political Report PVI is R+11, which means it has recently voted more Republican in presidential elections than the nation as a whole by 11 percent) and unlike, say, Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District (that district’s PVI is R+8, but Trump only won it by one point), strongly pro-Trump as well (the president carried it by 20 points).

This district is also, not to put too fine a point on it, in perhaps the most stereotypical Trump Country segment of the United States: southwest Pennsylvania, whose bars and living rooms are regularly trawled by conservative journalists like Salena Zito for validation of Trump’s appeal. And the GOP candidate to succeed disgraced GOP congressman Tim Murphy (who had no Democratic opponent in 2014 or 2016), state legislator Rick Saccone, might as well be campaigning in a Trump mask. The fiery conservative likes to boast that he was “Trump before Trump was Trump.”

Raising the profile of this race still more as a potential 2018 bellwether is that the Democratic candidate, former local prosecutor Conor Lamb, is regularly described as being “straight out of central casting” — a 33-year-old Marine veteran with deep roots in the district and a moderate issues profile and style.

Unsurprisingly, reports Politico, the national GOP and the Trump administration are taking no chances in this race. Trump himself and Vice-President Mike Pence have already appeared in the district with Saccone, and are prepared to do so again, with Cabinet members also on call to take the short trip up to Pittsburgh. Saccone is not a particularly good fundraiser, so the GOP and outside groups are already making up for that abundantly; at the moment, “Republicans [are] outspending Democrats on TV by nearly 5-1,” with more money on the way.

All this national and conservative-movement activity is occurring at a time when their huge built-in advantages in the district are potentially being strengthened by an abatement — perhaps temporary, perhaps not — in the intensity of the Democratic “wave” that was so evident at the end of 2017. The Democratic advantage in the congressional generic ballot — a regular measurement of national party strength in a midterm election — has by most accounts shrunk by more than half since its peak just before Christmas.

There’s more than a month to go before voters in Pennsylvania’s 18th District go to the polls, and a lot could happen in the interim. But it’s pretty clear this is the GOP’s race to lose.


February 4: Ryan Discovers Job Training As a Way to Cut Safety Net Benefits

For anyone concerned about safety net programs, Ayn Rand disciple Paul Ryan bears close watching. I noted a fresh example of his bad and deceptive intentions at New York last week:

House Speaker Paul Ryan is a very frustrated man. His great passion in public life seems to be the destruction of the federal safety net created by the New Deal and the Great Society. But political reality keeps getting in the way. His long-standing support for partial privatization of Social Security is a nonstarter since George W. Bush got burned for broaching it back in 2005. His plans to voucherize Medicare benefits have been rubber-stamped by GOP members of Congress when they were in no position to actually implement them; they’ve gone nowhere after Republicans took over the entire federal government last year.

Ryan’s best shot yet at “entitlement reform” went down in flames with the failed effort to repeal and replace Obamacare — and permanently cap Medicaid spending. And when he raised the trial balloon late last year of coming at entitlements under the rubric of “welfare reform,” that hardy race-inflected favorite of conservatives everywhere, Mitch McConnell shut him down almost instantly.

But ever ingenious, at the GOP congressional retreat this week, Ryan tried one more gambit, as Politico reported:

“[T]he Wisconsin Republican is back at it again, repackaging his proposals in hopes of gaining traction on welfare reform.

“During a GOP retreat here in Appalachia, Ryan urged congressional Republicans to tackle ‘workforce development.’ He messaged the somewhat amorphous phrase as a matter of ‘helping people’— not a budget-cutting excursive.”

What Ryan is deploying is a massive bait and switch: Get people talking about beefing up job-training resources for the able-bodied but unemployed or underemployed poor, and then drop the hammer on the entitlement benefits they currently receive. Phase one of that hammer dropping, of course, would be work requirements:

“[A]t least a half-dozen Republicans told POLITICO that Ryan’s proposal could include work requirements for welfare beneficiaries, which could repel senators. Indeed, at least two Senate Republicans said Thursday that they liked the idea in theory — but weren’t sure the upper chamber would ever take it up.”

Ryan is likely counting on support from the White House, given the administration’s cautious moves toward letting states impose work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries. But more generally pushing people out of entitlement benefits and into jobs that may or may not exist requires more cover. And that’s where Ryan’s sudden enthusiasm for upgrading the workforce’s skills comes in.

“He emphasized the ‘jobs’ piece of the equation, pointing out that there are 6.6 million people on unemployment and more than 5.8 million open jobs. That skills gap, he said, could be filled by the unemployed population if the government provided the facilities to link the two.”

Here’s the trouble, though: Lawmakers from both parties and at every level of government have struggled for decades to come up with a successful system for job training. The Manpower Training and Development Act of 1962, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973, the Job Training Partnership Act of 1982, and the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, have all, according to nearly every assessment, largely failed to address the enormous problems for workers caused by automation and globalization.

If Ryan has some brilliant ideas for overhauling this system, we’d all like to hear them. But if talk about job training is just a pretext for cutting benefits, then it’s just the same old same old from the inveterate enemy of the welfare state.


Ryan Discovers Job Training As a Way To Cut Safety Net Benefits

For anyone concerned about safety net programs, Ayn Rand disciple Paul Ryan bears close watching. I noted a fresh example of his bad and deceptive intentions at New York last week:

House Speaker Paul Ryan is a very frustrated man. His great passion in public life seems to be the destruction of the federal safety net created by the New Deal and the Great Society. But political reality keeps getting in the way. His long-standing support for partial privatization of Social Security is a nonstarter since George W. Bush got burned for broaching it back in 2005. His plans to voucherize Medicare benefits have been rubber-stamped by GOP members of Congress when they were in no position to actually implement them; they’ve gone nowhere after Republicans took over the entire federal government last year.

Ryan’s best shot yet at “entitlement reform” went down in flames with the failed effort to repeal and replace Obamacare — and permanently cap Medicaid spending. And when he raised the trial balloon late last year of coming at entitlements under the rubric of “welfare reform,” that hardy race-inflected favorite of conservatives everywhere, Mitch McConnell shut him down almost instantly.

But ever ingenious, at the GOP congressional retreat this week, Ryan tried one more gambit, as Politico reported:

“[T]he Wisconsin Republican is back at it again, repackaging his proposals in hopes of gaining traction on welfare reform.

“During a GOP retreat here in Appalachia, Ryan urged congressional Republicans to tackle ‘workforce development.’ He messaged the somewhat amorphous phrase as a matter of ‘helping people’— not a budget-cutting excursive.”

What Ryan is deploying is a massive bait and switch: Get people talking about beefing up job-training resources for the able-bodied but unemployed or underemployed poor, and then drop the hammer on the entitlement benefits they currently receive. Phase one of that hammer dropping, of course, would be work requirements:

“[A]t least a half-dozen Republicans told POLITICO that Ryan’s proposal could include work requirements for welfare beneficiaries, which could repel senators. Indeed, at least two Senate Republicans said Thursday that they liked the idea in theory — but weren’t sure the upper chamber would ever take it up.”

Ryan is likely counting on support from the White House, given the administration’s cautious moves toward letting states impose work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries. But more generally pushing people out of entitlement benefits and into jobs that may or may not exist requires more cover. And that’s where Ryan’s sudden enthusiasm for upgrading the workforce’s skills comes in.

“He emphasized the ‘jobs’ piece of the equation, pointing out that there are 6.6 million people on unemployment and more than 5.8 million open jobs. That skills gap, he said, could be filled by the unemployed population if the government provided the facilities to link the two.”

Here’s the trouble, though: Lawmakers from both parties and at every level of government have struggled for decades to come up with a successful system for job training. The Manpower Training and Development Act of 1962, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973, the Job Training Partnership Act of 1982, and the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, have all, according to nearly every assessment, largely failed to address the enormous problems for workers caused by automation and globalization.

If Ryan has some brilliant ideas for overhauling this system, we’d all like to hear them. But if talk about job training is just a pretext for cutting benefits, then it’s just the same old same old from the inveterate enemy of the welfare state.