washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Political Strategy Notes

From “41 Democratic Senators Can Stop Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Pick” a HuffPo article by Richard Greene: “…It is not a certainty that Republicans will, indeed, “nuke” the filibuster. They need 50 of their 52 Senate members and it is unlikely that experienced members like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski and Trump critics like Jeff Flake or Ben Sasse will go along with the destruction of historic minority rights in The Senate.  They understand that “what goes around comes around” and that, one day, they will again be in the minority.  This hard reality kept 53 Democrats from eliminating the filibuster for Supreme Court Justices when they voted to reform the procedure in 2013.” Republicans have shown impressive discipline recently, but it’s hard to see much of a downside for Dems in forcing their hand, and a successful fillibuster could slow Trump’s agenda.

The Center for American Progress has an article, “States of Change: Demographic Change, Representation Gaps, and Challenges to Democracy, 1980–2060” by Rob Griffin, William H. Frey, and Ruy Teixeira, which deploys simulations to show that the best way to reduce “future representation gaps lies in equalizing registration and turnout rates across races.” In one section the authors write, “The assumption that all newly registered voters would turn out at the same rate as currently registered voters is probably very unrealistic. Those who have registered without benefit of reform are likely more motivated and attuned to politics than those who have not and, therefore, are more likely to actually cast a ballot than those who are newly registered due to a reform process…This view is supported by recent results from Oregon’s new system of “opt-out” voter registration, where those who interact with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles are automatically registered and then have to actively respond to a postcard notification to opt out of being registered. If they do nothing, they remain registered. In 2016, those registered by this method in Oregon turned out at a rate that was roughly half of those registered by conventional means…So, in this scenario, we still assume that registration reform will be hugely successful at elevating and equalizing registration rates, but we also assume that these new registrants will turn out at only half the current rate for registrants in their state, race, age, and gender group…”

At salon.com Sean McElwee’s “Automatic voter registration isn’t a sexy topic — but it’s crucial to Democrats and progressives regaining power:  Data from New York, a blue state with regressive voting laws, shows how easier registration could change everything” ought to be required reading for every Democrat. From the concluding paragraph: “Evidence is still coming in on the impact of AVR, but early evidence is positive. Oregon automatically registered 225,000 people through the state Department of Motor Vehicles, and 43 percent voted in the 2016 election. Other reforms, like same-day registration and looser voting registration deadlines, are shown to bolster turnout. In New York and other states where Democrats have power, progressives should push for the implementation of automatic voter registration, same-day registration and early voting, as well as other reforms to ease access. Of the six states in which Democrats  have a trifecta, meaning they control the governor’s office and both legislative chambers, four still don’t have automatic voter registration. In states where they don’t have full power, progressives should put automatic voter registration on the ballot. (Alaska, a heavily Republican state, recently passed automatic voter registration by referendum.) Automatic voter registration can ensure that all Americans are represented in the voting booth, and progressives should embrace it.”

An eye-opening statistic from “Tracking the fortunes of the white working-class” at The Economist: “…The gap in wage levels between all workers and WWCM [white working-class males] has widened from an average of 3.7% in 1990-92 to 6.9% over the past two years.”

Katie Zezima has an interesting report, “‘California is a nation, not a state’: A fringe movement wants a break from the U.S.” at The Washington Post. California pulling out of the U.S. would be like Scotland becoming independent of the U.K. in that it would provide a green light for an extreme right takeover of   the rest of the country. The movement is not likely to prevail, but it provides another reminder that Trump may be the most divisive president in U.S. history.

Here’s a question that is surely on the minds of millions.

In his NYT column, “How Can We Get Rid of Trump?,” Nicholas Kristoff observes, “One poll from Public Policy Polling found that as many Americans — 46 percent — favor impeachment of President Trump as oppose it. Ladbrokes, the betting website, offers even odds that Trump will resign or leave office through impeachment before his term ends…Sky Bet, another site, is taking wagers on whether Trump will be out of office by July.” Kristoff says, “My take is that unless things get much worse, removal may be a liberal fantasy…If I were betting, I’d say we’re stuck with Trump for four years.” However, Kristoff adds, “And what does it say about a presidency that, just one month into it, we’re already discussing whether it can be ended early?”

A quote from Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) in “Democrats Aim to Reclaim the Working-Class Vote” by Mori Rothman and Yasmeen Qureshi at npr.org: ” I really believe our party is at its best when we’re the Robert Kennedy coalition, that we are the party of blue collar workers, of all races, of all backgrounds, that we are the party of those who were left out and deeply believe in the American dream and want to achieve it. That is who the Democratic Party is in our soul, that is the best to win elections, but it’s also the best to govern. If we’re going to achieve progress in these areas, we need to it needs to be everyone and that includes white working class voters.”

Do acquaint yourself with a couple of groups working to elect Democrats at the state and local legislative levels and click around on their website links to see what works for you. “The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is the permanent authority and central headquarters for Democratic state legislative leaders and races nationwide. The DLCC is the only Democratic organization led by progressive champions in state legislatures around the country. Our board and partners are all legislators on the front lines of fighting back against the Trump agenda.” The second group is “Flipable,” described by Mashable’s Jason Abbruzzese as “an organization focused on identifying local political positions that could turn from Republican to Democratic, and figuring out how to provide the resources to flip them.”


Political Strategy Notes

At TPM’s Edblog Josh Marshall makes the case “Flynn Doesn’t Matter. This Is About Trump,” and notes, “Through the course of the campaign, transition and presidency, three top Trump advisors and staffers have had to resign because of issues tied to Russia. Paul Manafort, Carter Page and now Michael Flynn. Page might arguably be termed a secondary figure. Manafort ran Trump’s campaign and Flynn was his top foreign policy advisor for a year. The one common denominator between all these events, all these men is one person: Donald Trump…Is it even remotely credible that with everything that led up to it, Michael Flynn initiated and conducted this back channel on his own? Hardly.” Adele M. Stan also has some interesting observations in her post “What Does Flynn Know About Trump?” at The American Prospect.

The Flynn debacle will likely dominate today’s news, but Democrats can be forgiven quick high-fives for forcing, along with a handfull of Republicans, the poorly-vetted Andrew F. Puzder’s withdrawall from consideration as Secretary of Labor. it’s a small consolation prize for the hair’s breadth confirmation of Betsy DeVos at Education and the failure to rally enough votes to stop Tom Price from running Health and Human Services. But no one should expect Trump to now nominate a moderate for the Department of Labor. Still, anything that slows Trump’s extremist agenda is a welcome victory. Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said, quoted in Alan Rappeport’s New York Times report, “I think when you have to put all this energy into an unreasonable nominations process, it takes away the energy that could better be used for other things.” ‘Unreasonable’ — That’s Republican for anything more rigorous than a rubber stamp. But Blunt is right about wasted Republican energy, and that’s a good thing.

Rappeport notes also that “Mr. Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is facing a revolt by E.P.A. employees scrambling to block him. Ms. Collins declared her opposition to him Wednesday.” In addition, “The Senate must still vote on the nomination of Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina to be Mr. Trump’s budget director, over the loud objection of Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who took to the Senate floor again Wednesday to accuse Mr. Mulvaney, a hard-line conservative, of being anti-military.” That vote could come today.

Rachel Maddow brings up a little matter that requires some explanation on the part of the DCCC.  “Democrats, you are not moving forward right now. You are losing ground,” says Maddow. Before he was confirmed HHS Secretary Tom Price repped this large, increasingly-diverse, suburban Atlanta district, which Trump won by just 1.5 percent in November. To cede it to Republicans would be political malpractice. Here’s the candidates line-up to date.

But Ed Kilgore notes at New York Magazine, “The biggest problem is that Democratic turnout in Georgia special elections — and really any sort of runoff — has been abysmal. That’s likely why local political analysts do not seem remotely as bullish as their national counterparts on the donkey’s odds of swiping the 6th…Having said that, if the Trump administration’s next two months are anything like its first, the prospect of an early “referendum on Trump” to smite the 45th president could generate enough money and other resources to break the mold, and enough attention to get Democrats to the polls who would otherwise never show up. But for right now, it’s the GOP’s race to lose.”

The DNC chair race is getting most of the buzz, but, for clues about Democratic strategy to win back a House majority next year, check out Simone Pathe’s “DCCC Announces 2018 Leadership Team: Expanded team includes returning members and some fresh faces” at Roll Call.

The 2018 Senate races are far more problematic for Dems. As Kyle Kondik explains at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “Because independent Sens. Angus King (ME) and Bernie Sanders (VT) caucus with the Democrats, they are effectively defending 25 seats next year, while Republicans are only defending nine…There are conflicting forces at play in 2018. On one hand, the party that does not hold the White House often benefits from the midterm environment. History suggests that the Republicans’ dream of netting eight seats next year, thus creating a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority, is unlikely, even though they have many credible targets. On the other hand, the Senate map is so daunting for Democrats that just not losing any seats will require an enormous amount of effort and luck.”

Democrats can draw some encouragement from Jennifer Steinhauer’s New York Times article, “G.O.P.’s Grand Visions for Congress Now Look Like a Mirage,” which reviews the toll taken by Democratic resistance to Trump’s agenda and growing disenchantment with it among Republicans. In stark contrast, notes Steinhauer, “At this point in Barack Obama’s presidency, when Democrats controlled Washington, Congress had passed a stimulus bill totaling nearly $1 trillion to address the financial crisis, approved a measure preventing pay discrimination, expanded a children’s health insurance program, and begun laying the groundwork for major health care and financial regulation bills.”

In his Washington Post op-ed, “Just resisting Trump won’t do enough for Democrats,” Democracy Alliance founder Rob Stein makes some notable a points, including “Republicans and their allies — most notably the network of wealthy donors organized by the Koch brothers — have created formidable political operations that execute these functions with great skill and precision in more than 30 states. Democrats have permanent, well-managed and well-financed electoral capacity in less than a handful of states…This dire political imbalance contributed to the Trump victory last year. He did not need his own “ground game” in 2016. He rode to power on the voter mobilization coattails of the Republican right’s multistate political juggernaut, which maximized Republican voter turnout in every key battleground state.”


Political Strategy Notes

Some insights from Frank Bruni’s NYT column, “Are Democrats Falling Into Trump’s Trap?“: “..The party has problems, underscored by its general inability to be as succinct and blunt as Trump is…Yelling has an impact, but it takes you only so far if you don’t choose your battles, marshal your fiercest energy for ones that can yield concrete results, and buckle down to the nitty-gritty of electing legislators who can actually vote against Trump’s worst initiatives in numbers that exceed those of his abettors…Practicality is crucial. Proportionality, too. When you treat every last tweet of Trump’s as if it’s the botched operation in Yemen, voters lose sight of the botched operation in Yemen. Trump provokes ire by the minute, but the response needs to be fashioned by the day or even week, lest everything blur. Resistance is a dish best served with discernment. Too much salt and you can’t taste the food itself…Opposition to him crowded out support for anything else. Every negative moment came at the expense of a positive one.”

“The outlines of a meaningful blueprint for resisting Trump are now taking shape,” writes Greg Sargent at The Plum Line.” Sargent offer five components of the blueprint. Here is #3: “Fight hard in the Senate with all available procedural weapons. Congressional scholar Sarah Binder has a good piece Friday that details all the procedural tools that Senate Democrats can use to “focus attention on controversial parts of the president’s agenda and force Republicans to cast potentially unpopular votes.” They can also “offer unrelated amendments to bills under debate, affording Democrats the chance to create discord among Republicans and between Republican senators and the White House.” Democrats will lose a lot of legislative battles, but they have all kinds of means at their disposal to try to throw the actual GOP agenda into sharper relief in the eyes of the public.”

“If there is one silver bullet that could fix American democracy, it’s getting rid of gerrymandering – the now commonplace practice of drawing electoral districts in a distorted way for partisan gain. It’s also one of a dwindling number of issues that principled citizens – Democrat and Republican – should be able to agree on. Indeed, polls confirm that an overwhelming majority of Americans of all stripes oppose gerrymandering…Last year, only 17 seats out of 435 races were decided by a margin of 5 percent or less. Just 33 seats in total were decided by a margin of 10 percent or less. In other words, more than 9 out of 10 House races were landslides where the campaign was a foregone conclusion before ballots were even cast. In 2016, there were no truly competitive Congressional races in 42 of the 50 states…While no party is innocent when it comes to gerrymandering, a Washington Post analysis in 2014 found that eight of the ten most gerrymandered districts in the United States were drawn by Republicans.” — from “Gerrymandering is the biggest obstacle to genuine democracy in the United States. So why is no one protesting?”  by Brian Klaas, author of The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding & Abetting the Decline of Democracy.

E. J. Dionne, Jr. previews “The Next GOP Assasault on Voting Rights.” Dionne writes, ““Justice [John] Roberts, then-Judge Roberts, assured us he would call balls and strikes,” Schumer said. “He gets in office, and his court does Citizens United, a huge break with precedent that ruins, ruins the politics of America. He repeals, basically, the Voting Rights Act by eliminating Section 5 . . . and I am very worried that Judge Gorsuch is similar…The court’s action on voting rights made it far harder to police abuses, while Citizens United undercut the regulation of big money in politics. So if you wonder why there is skepticism among liberals about Gorsuch, consider what conservative Supreme Court justices have already done. Think also about what it would mean to have a Supreme Court, an attorney general and a Congress all prepared to gut what had long been the basic rules of democracy. Bill Keating is not alone in his nightmares.”

In his Daily Beast post, “To Bork or Not to Bork? The Old Fight That Shows Democrats Why, and How, to Stop Gorsuch,” Julian Zelizer argues that Democrats who want to defeat the Gorsuch nomination have a real chance — if they study the leadership and tactics Sen. Edward Kennedy leveraged in the successful 1987 battle against the Bord nomination(which Coretta Scotrt King also supported).

In his AFL-CIO Now post, “Did Someone Just Say ‘Industrial Policy’?,” Stan Sorscher presents a range of interesting measures, which could give Democrats soem needed credibility. A couple of examples: “Large companies can entice states into bidding wars for a new facility. Instead of bidding wars, states could establish economic development funds. Washington State and California have billion-dollar initiatives targeted at biotech. Washington’s fund solicits bids from all companies for a portion of the development fund. Each bid is scored according to measures of public good, such as the number of family-wage jobs with benefits, or investment in plant and equipment. We could also require a commitment (subject to clawbacks) to maintain employment for a minimum period of time. This industrial policy reverses the power relationship between states and companies. Now, states have a scarce resource—access to the fund—and companies bid against each other for the scarce public resource…Companies should state in their annual tax filings how many workers they employ in the U.S. and how many in other countries.”

At a Northampton, Massachusetts town hall, Rep. Jim McGovern, who has earned the respect of progressives, urges his fellow Democrats to embrace the ‘big tent’ philosophy that gives the party its diversity and the cedibility that comes with it, reports Mary Serreze at masslive.com. “A young woman stepped to the microphone to say that Washington Democrats are not doing enough. She called for Trump to be impeached, and criticized Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren for her vote in support of Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development secretary…McGovern defended his Democratic colleague. “I don’t know anybody who has fought harder for justice and for holding this administration accountable than Elizabeth Warren,” he said…If we are all fractured, and we have all these tests — like, ‘Oh, if you vote the wrong way once on a nominee, then we’re not going to be with you’ — then eventually, you’re not going to have anybody.”

At The Fix Aaron Blake explains “Why Democrats can’t just obstruct their way back into power,”and notes “there is a difference between doing what feels good and what is strategically sound. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said it well this week: “You’ve got to pick which ones you’re going to fight about; not every pitch has to be swung at…53 percent of House districts are Republican and 60 out of 100 senators hail from red states, according to the 2016 election results (in which the GOP, again, lost the popular vote)…Republicans also have more districts “in the bag,” so to speak. Trump won 186 districts by double digits, compared with 171 for Clinton. And he won 211 districts by five or more points, compared with just 185 for Clinton…If we consider every district decided by less than 10 points in 2016 to be a battleground, Democrats need to win more than 60 percent of them to win the House majority back. And if you define the battleground more narrowly as every district decided by five points or fewer, Democrats need to win 85 percent of them…for Democrats, being completely partisan and playing to their base without expanding the party’s appeal has less upside when it comes to winning House and Senate majorities. That’s not to say they can’t do it — just that the strategic road map Republicans used doesn’t necessarily apply to Democrats.”

Benjamin Ross makes an interesting point about the problem with using education only as a metric for defining the ‘working-class’ in his Dissent article “The Lemming Democrats.” As Ross writes, “The working class is defined by education: Lumping voters together by education is a convenient way to interpret polls, which measure income imperfectly or not at all. But it loses meaning as college attendance rates rise while low pay, high rents, and student loan debt put recent graduates in a financial squeeze. As the Clinton-Sanders primaries showed, college grads are sharply divided along lines of age and income. Issues that appeal to rising Ivy-League professionals may leave the less affluent cold…To create a governing majority, the party must rebuild its coalition around a common program. It must—without lessening its commitment to racial justice and gender equality—make economic inequity its core message, and it must be seen to do so…No current voting constituencies need be written off. The same kitchen-table economic concerns motivate less affluent voters of all races and ethnicities–often more so than appeals to separate group identities. Educated professionals, too, see their retirement savings skimmed by Wall Street predators and their health endangered by for-profit medicine.”


Political Strategy Notes

At The Atlantic Megan Garber writes “‘Nevertheless, She Persisted’ and the Age of the Weaponized Meme: Mitch McConnell silenced Elizabeth Warren in the Senate chamber. That only made her voice louder.” Even though Sessions was confirmed, Mitch has clearly stepped in it, branding himself as America’s free speech suppressor-in-chief, as well as the new poster boy for men who think they can make women shut up. He probably multiplied the number of people who read Mrs. King’s testimony against Sessions exponentially and gave Warren’s rep as the Senate’s toughest-talking Democrat a big boost. As Garber explains, “it hit something else, too: all the notes that allow shared words to swell into shared emotion. You couldn’t have designed better fodder for a meme had you tried. “Nevertheless, she persisted” has, on the one hand, the impish irony of a powerful person’s words being used against him. It has, on the other, words that are elegant in their brevity, making them especially fit for tweets and slogans and mugs. And it has, too, words that are particularly poetic, rendered in near-iambic pentameter, with the key verb of their accusation—“persisted”—neatly rhyming with that other key verb: “resisted.” The whole thing was, for Warren, a perfect storm. It was, for McConnell, a decidedly imperfect one.”

But it would be unfair to blame the entire disaster on Mitch the Muzzler. As Pema Levy notes at Mother Jones, “Republicans, who control the chamber, provided 49 votes to rule her out of order, and Warren was forbidden to speak for the rest of the debate.”

While the media was yammering about the latest Trump/Bannon/Conway/McConnell outrages, “House Republicans Just Voted to Eliminate the Only Federal Agency That Makes Sure Voting Machines Can’t Be Hacked: Republicans would make it easier to steal an election by killing the Election Assistance Commission,” reports Ari Berman at The Nation. Berman writes, “Thirty-eight pro-democracy groups, including the NAACP and Common Cause, denounced the vote. “The EAC is the only federal agency which has as its central mission the improvement of election administration, and it undertakes essential activities that no other institution is equipped to address,” says the Brennan Center for Justice.”

In Heather Caygle’s Politico post, “House Democrats seize on anti-Trump strategy,” she writes: “House Democrats’ strategy is basically this: They’ll publicly goad Trump on subjects he’s clearly sensitive about, like insinuating he’s being blackmailed by Russian President Vladimir Putin; and on other issues, like Obamacare and tax reform, they’ll get out of the way and let Trump and House Republicans fall on their face…House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairwoman Linda Sánchez of California on Wednesday summed up the strategy this way: “kicking a little ass for the working class.” All well and good, but Dems also need a strategy to improve their image.

At Roll Call Simone Pathe’s “NRCC Goes After Blue-Collar Districts in 2018” identifies the 36 House districts where the GOP will be allocating most of its resources.

The New York Times has a ‘Room for Debate’ feature, entitled “When Do Consumer Boycotts Work?‘ The discussion suffers from having just two pro-corporate presenters for a topic that merits a much more intensive and diverse exploration, particularly at a time when many progressives are looking for new forms of activism that are beyond the reach of politicians.  One of the more interesting insights in the feature comes from Judith Samuelson’s comment, “The power and speed of social media has allowed campaigns to evolve from focusing on the consequences of a product — like the legendary Nestlé infant formula boycott in the 1970s — to labor-related issues that are within the control of the corporation. From there, they have spread to include more complex global concerns like child labor and climate change. Boycotts over an issue like deforestation could require a radical kind of agency from a company if it had to disrupt its entire supply chain to make real progress.” Might social media improve prospects for boycotts of companies like AT&T,  ExxonMobile or State Farm, which are active Board Members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that specializes in providing ‘template bills’ for state laws favoring voter suppression, deregulation, protecting polluting companies and weakening unions?

Apparently it wasn’t enough that President Obama saved the world economy, oversaw the longest stretch of private sector job growth in U.S. history, passed the first major health care reforms since LBJ and provided a matchless example of dignity and scandal-free government. Now come the finger-pointers to fault him for Democratic seat losses in the House, Senate, Governorships and state legislatures during his Administration, as if it was all his fault. With benefit of hindsight, sure he could have stumped more for Democratic candidates, raised more dough for Democrats and paid more attention to party-building projects. But let’s not blame him for the glaring weaknesses of the Democratic Party, which were present  long before his political career began. Gabriel Debenedetti’s Politico post “Obama’s party-building legacy splits Democrats” explores the issue and possible future contributions from President Obama, whose example continues to brighten in stark comparison to the current White House occupant.

At The Daily 202, James Hohman discusses the growing doubts about the wisdom of Obamacare repeal  shared by Republican leaders, as well as their constituents, and notes, “Many Republican politicians are speaking pretty openly about the political danger of scaling back coverage. Lawmakers are getting  nervous about facing the kind of contentious town halls that their Democratic counterparts faced in 2009. Several members have already faced  big crowds of angry activists back home. “I’m not sure you’re going to have anyone in Washington with the courage to repeal the ACA,” Maine Gov. Paul LePage said at a town hall meeting last week.”

Here’s an interesting idea for government workers who can’t in good conscience enforce Trump’s executive orders. Call it ‘The Bartelby Strategy,” as does Judith Levine in The Boston Review. Levine quotes from a Facebook post by Chapo Trap House podcast cohost Will Menaker: “Every one of these objectively monstrous, cowardly and evil executive orders issued this week depend on the acquiescence of thousands of federal employees and bureaucrats to carry them out. They, and all of us, must get used to monkey wrenching all of this. If the Democratic leadership wanted to really be “The Resistance” they would hold a press conference and encourage all federal employees to passively resist or openly sabotage their new bosses.” That or a slow-down.


Skocpol: Helping Protests Become a Movement with Political Clout

At Democracy: a Journal of Ideas editor Michael Tomasky interviews Theda Skocpol, co-author with Vanessa Williamson of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism and many other works on social policy. Some excerpts from Skocpol’s comments on the best focus and organizational strategy to empower Democrats to win elections going forward:

…I think these women’s marches were a promising start but people have to realize that this is a marathon not a sprint, and they really do need to organize where they are. And I’ve been thinking a lot—people wrote to me after I published my piece in Vox about the Democratic Party and they said well, what can I do, I live in a blue state, I live in a blue district. And there, I think there needs to be some creativity. People need to sit themselves down and think: Well, who do I know who lives somewhere else? We all do—we have relatives, we have friends, we have coworkers—and establish an ongoing dialogue with them in which you’re providing them some kind of perspective on what may be unfolding on health care, or do you know people in your community with green cards who are frightened?

Get the stories out lots of places and maybe encourage and help people you know elsewhere to do their thing with their representatives, their local community. And the other thing is I think liberal cities, instead of forming a tie to some place in Latin America, should form a partnership, if you’ve got a local Democratic Party committee, form a partnership with a Democratic Party committee somewhere else. Have a partnership, get to know them, help them with resources, listen to what they say about the issues playing out in their area, because I think there is a liberal bubble and I am very worried, I am quite certain that Steve Bannon knows this and he’s going to try to get the left to go crazy…In other words, Cambridge, Mass’s Democratic Committee should be working with one in Iowa or one in Georgia. Or, for that matter, in western Massachusetts. You know, in a lot of these states like Pennsylvania, the Trump people are all over the place.

…The meetings were usually organized around some speaker that came in to talk. There wasn’t as much kind of honest discussion as you’re going to see in any center-left setting. Just because of the nature of the people, etc. But they kind of tried to familiarize themselves with certain kinds of issues and then they disseminated to their networks very specific and very powerful information about whose on what committees, when you would want to contact people in your state legislature or in Congress.

We were just bowled over, we said this in the Tea Party book, about how much these people knew, not about the content of politics—they were watching Fox News, and they had completely false ideas about what government was doing, etc. But they had really rich and specific information about the local Republican Party rules and how you could go and change that or which committees their state representatives as well as their Congress people were on and when you needed to contact them. They knew the nuts and bolts of local and state politics, as well as congressional politics. They were not simply focused on sending messages to presidents or presidential candidates, which is what Democrats tend to be. Democrats are obsessed with Washington, D.C. and presidential politics

…The Women’s March was very hopeful, and it was hopeful precisely because it was spread out. I have some faith that women, probably not just Democrats or progressives, self-stylized, but women just who are upset at various things are going to be good at networking and forming some kind of oppositional groups and, you know, some of the things that are happening…There are certain issues that I think need to be front and center. Understanding exactly the implications of the huge transformations in health insurance that these people are proposing is a great one because it cuts across many kinds of districts and will involve many kinds of people. The immigration one is good in the sense that you can tell stories about affected families everywhere given the bungling focus. And I think that’s where the focus should be; the focus should be on telling the stories of actual people. Women may be good at that…

I don’t want to hear anything more about electoral college reform, getting money out of politics. All these procedural fixes that the wealthy on the left are fixated on…The horse has left the barn; it’s too late. Unless there’s electoral turn-around starting in 2017 and ’18, in which Democrats are winning, this thing could lock in.

So the number one thing has to be signing up people to vote and getting them out to vote. Assuming that the courts are going to fix the voting system: Forget it. I mean they’re not, not on the timescale that’s needed…I’m talking to wealthy progressives and trying to convince them to stop giving all their money to this or that procedural fix…I was disappointed that Barack Obama framed it as gerrymandering reform. I hope you’re aware that the best studies show that only half of the problem of the mismatch between Democratic numbers and Democratic legislative results would be solved by gerrymandering reform if it happened universally and perfectly. Half of the problem is the concentration of Democratic constituencies in big cities.

There’s quite a lot for Democrats to debate about here. But Skocpol is surely right that what Democrats must immediately agree to act on is mobilizing voter registration and turnout.

For some new data which shows which states excelled in voter turnout in 2016 and which ones failed, click here.


Political Strategy Notes

For an indication of the power of Facebook in building opposition to the nomination of Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education, read “Social Media Playing Important Role in Democrats’ Strategy” by Natalie Andrews at The Wall St. Journal: “After Ms. DeVos’s confirmation hearing on Jan. 17, Senate Democrats posted short clips online of some of the comments she made under questioning. Two clips posted on Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Facebook page picked up more than 34 million views…Liberal groups started targeting two Republican senators who they believed might be swayed to oppose Ms. DeVos, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Memes spread on Facebook with their phone numbers…A petition on progressive group CREDO’s site picked up more than 1.4 million signatures, besting the record set by a petition opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline…Ms. Murkowski said she’d heard from thousands of Alaskans about the Gorsuch nomination.”

In this short NPR interview Sen. Chris Van Hollen, chair of the Senate Democrats Campaign Committee,  puts needed emphasis on the anti-worker track record of Trump Supreme Court nominee  Neil Gorsuch. “I can tell you my early investigation leads to some troubling conclusions about him siding with corporate interests over working people and consumers,” says Van Hollen, regarded as a potential 2020 presidential candidate. Asked by interviewer Scott Simon if he anticipates strong opposition to Gorsuch in the hearings, Van Hollen replied, “Well, it’s not going to be moved along if people determine that this judge is outside the mainstream and is effectively going to harm working people at the expense of – and support big corporate interests. Look, I think, Scott, the American public understands that Senate Democrats are the last line of defense between the Donald Trump administration and a lot of bad things happening, including the effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act without a replacement, including the effort to turn the keys of the economy back over to Wall Street.”

At The New Yorker John Cassidy asks “Have the Democrats Got the Right Supreme Court Strategy” and reports that key Democrats are focusing on Gorsuch’s rulings to disempower workers, as well as his problematice record omn womens rights and the environment: “While Merkley concentrated on the larger picture, his frequent ally Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, took Gorsuch and his record to task. “As a judge, he has twisted himself into a pretzel to make sure the rules favor giant companies over workers and individual Americans,” Warren said in a statement.“He has sided with employers who deny wages, improperly fire workers, or retaliate against whistleblowers for misconduct. He has ruled against workers in all manner of discrimination cases…As Schumer and Warren indicated, he has frequently ruled in favor of businesses.”

While nearly all Democrats are expected to vote against the Gorsuch nomination, Dems have some divisions about whether to allow hearings or filibuster and obstruct the nomination at every juncture of the process. Most of the nine Senate Dems in 2016 red states tend to favor the hearings, while those with ‘safer’ seats want to give Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a taste of his obstructionist medicine. Burgess Everett and John Bresnahan report at Politico on Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s efforts to juggle the concerns of the two camps and mount the most effective opposition to Gorsuch. They note one key strategic concern: Democrats are worried, multiple aides said, about Republicans having an excuse to kill the filibuster on the Supreme Court now, and later use it to ram through an even more conservative nominee if there is another vacancy during Trump’s presidency…Senate Democrats are “creating a totally unnecessary rift with the base and inviting primary challenges for many members who don’t deserve them,” said one leader of a progressive group, worried over Democrats’ being perceived as centrists for considering Trump’s nominee.”

Eric Bradner’s CNN Politics post, “Is anti-Trump furor papering over Democrats’ working-class woes?” includes this warning against spending too much time worrying about the white working-class: “Those working-class white voters aren’t the future of the party,” said Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the liberal blog DailyKos.com, which has already raised $400,000 for a Democratic candidate in the expected runoff for the US House seat in Georgia soon to be vacated by Tom Price, Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary…They’re lost. It’s a waste of time to try and win them back when there are so many core-Democratic-base who didn’t register or vote last cycle. Almost half the country didn’t vote, and the bulk of the non-voters were liberal-leaning people many of them now marching in the streets…So instead of trying to chase people trapped by Breitbart and its cohorts in conservative media, give them a reason to get excited about rallying around Democrats”…Moulitsas said red-state Democrats should forget using those votes to try to prove themselves as moderates…”The best chance they have to win in their tough states will be by riding this incredible wave of energy. It may not be enough, but pissing off the base certainly isn’t the better bet. You either ride in with the people who brought you, or go down fighting honorably,” Moulitsas said. “Pretending to be a ‘Republican, but a little less bad’ has never inspired a dramatic re-election victory.”

In his salon.com post, “As Democrats turn their attention to 2018, getting “marginal voters” to turn out will be crucial,” Sean McElwee takes an in-depth look at a critical constiuency for Democrats, “people who voted in the 2012 presidential election, but failed to turn out to vote in 2014,” and argues, “How can Democrats maximize their chances? First, they need to get the basics right. They should target widely because it’s impossible to know where the floor is for Trump. They don’t want to be in a situation where new terrain opens up and they’re unprepared. They need to start winning back state-level and county-level positions that feed into higher office. They’ll need money and an aggressive recruitment strategy to get good candidates to run. But, ultimately, the 2018 election, like all others, will be determined by who shows up. The Democratic Party must make a concerted effort to target the voters who have voted in presidential elections but stay home during the midterms…In the end, 76 percent of registered Democrats voted in the 2014 election, compared to 84 percent of registered Republicans. If Democrats want to seize on Trump’s unpopularity, they need to find a way to get these presidential voters to turn out in the off-cycle election. Donald Trump will probably help.”

Amber Phillips notes at The Fix, “Progressive ballot initiatives have had fantastic success over the years, even in Republican states. Over the past two decades, initiatives to raise the minimum wage has rarely lost when put to the voter. This past November was no exception; minimum wage ballot measures in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington passed by a larger margin than the winning presidential candidate, according to The Fairness Project, which advocates for higher minimum wage laws…Voters in eight of nine states voted to ease restrictions on marijuana and three of four states voted to put in place gun restrictions.”

“Democrats need to stop the bleeding with working-class whites. But that’s only a small piece of the equation. To confront demagoguery and “populist” conservatism, Democrats should create a coalition that combines a diverse electorate with increased margins among college-educated voters. This approach could solve the party’s geographic problems and lead to victory in future elections…Running up the score with college-educated voters could help Democrats win Rust Belt states that were pivotal in 2016…Let’s compare two counties in the Detroit suburbs: Macomb, where only 23% of the population has a bachelor’s degree, and Oakland, where 44% of the population does. Hillary Clinton maintained Barack Obama’s 8% margin in Oakland County, a historically Republican suburb, while Macomb went from a 4% edge for Obama to a 12% advantage for Trump. Post-mortems of the presidential campaign focused on the drift away from Democrats in Macomb. But about a decade ago, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg pointed out that the future for Democrats lies in Oakland. Because the county is far more populous than Macomb, a mere 2% increase in Clinton’s margin there would have erased her 10,704 statewide deficit, and put Michigan in her column.” — from “The best way forward for Democrats: Target well-educated voters” by Matthew Rey, a partner at Red Horse Strategies in the Los Angeles Times.

This may not be the most dignified protest demonstration designed to urge Trump to release his tax forms like all other modern era presidents have done. But credit the organizers with a creative idea for a photo-op and a catchy slogan.


Political Strategy Notes

NYT columnist Charles M. Blow has some elegantly-put observations about the Gorsuch nomination, which Dems can mine for sound-bitable comments: “This nominee is the fruit of a poison tree and no amount of educational pedigree or persuasive elocution can cleanse him of that contamination…If Trump can impose a Muslim ban until we “figure out what the hell is going on” with national security threats, we can withhold approval of his Supreme Court nominee until we “figure out what the hell is going on” with threats to our national elections…As for the “brilliant” rollout, let’s be clear: It was a solid rollout, but the bar for Trump has been set so low that merely behaving like an adult, deferring to counsel, not stepping on your own message with idiocy and building support makes a blathering half-wit look like he’s had a stroke of genius…As for Gorsuch himself, he’s a rather standard right-of-center, religiously deferential judge…Democrats must oppose Gorsuch on principle. Democrats have grown too soft. They are still trying to fight a gentleman’s war in the middle of a guerrilla war. Their efforts to reach across the aisle keep being met by hands wielding machetes; their overwhelming impulse to take the high road ignores the fact that Republicans have already blown up the bridge on the high road.”

The usually wrong-headed National Review does have an interesting paragraph in Jonathan S. Tobin’s take on the Gorsuch nomination: “Based on “President-elect Trump and His Possible Justices,” a study by Washington University in St. Louis, the Times chart analyzes Gorsuch’s legal history as being to the right of every justice on the current court with the exception of Justice Clarence Thomas. Indeed, it asserted that he was more conservative in his opinions than Justice Scalia. The Times quoted the study’s authors as predicting that Trump’s nominee, if confirmed, would seek to “limit gay rights, uphold restrictions on abortion and invalidate affirmative action programs.” Those are fighting words for the Left and enough to ensure that even red-state Democrats up for reelection in 2018 should fear the reaction from their party’s grassroots if they were inclined to oppose a filibuster, let alone vote to confirm Gorsuch.”

With every Supreme Court nomination, most of the print and video coverage deals the nominee’s views on abortion, gun control, and other ‘social issues,’ while the critical concern of economic justice usually goes all but ignored. But, in his Washington Post column, “It’s time to make Republicans pay for their supreme hypocrisy,” E, J, Dionne, Jr. makes a case for opposing the Gorsuch nomination based on  the nominee’s economic philosophy: “Let this nomination also be the end of any talk of Trump as a pro-worker “populist.” Gorsuch is neither. Trump could have made things harder for Democrats and progressives by nominating a genuine moderate. Gorsuch may be nice and smart, but “moderate” he isn’t.” Also, notes Dionne, “The Rubicon was crossed with Garland. Conservatives complain about the treatment of Robert Bork when he was nominated to the court in 1987, and they turned the word “Borked” into a battle cry. But Bork got a hearing and a vote on the Senate floor, which he lost. To be “Merricked” is to be denied even a chance to make your case.” Dionne also provides quotes from Republican Senators Cruz, McCain and Burr saying that the Supreme Court can function just fine with only 8 justices. “If that argument was good in 2016, why isn’t it valid in 2017?,” asks Dionne.

Casey Quinlan reports at ThinkProgress that “Betsy DeVos is one ‘no’ vote away from defeat: Two Republican defections mean that Trump’s education pick is in serious jeopardy.” You can call any U.S. senator at 404-224-3121.

At The Atlantic, Russell Berman probes “How Progressives Are Forcing Senate Democrats Into Action: Lawmakers wanted to choose their battles against Trump’s Cabinet nominees carefully, but activists have a different plan: Fight them all.” While Democrats will be lucky to actually prevent any of the nomines from being confirmed, there is merit in delaying the confirmations, educating the public about the track records of the nominees and what is at stake and improving the Democratic Party’s image with progressive voters who are needed for Dems to win in 2018.

Lynn Vavreck observes at The Upshot “… For more than six decades, party identification has been shaping the vote. Political scientists have long held that party labels do more than just summarize people’s views on issues and policies. They are expressions of an identity. This trait, like many others, may be learned in the laps of our parents and in our neighborhoods when we are young, the same way we learn about our ethnicities or religions…There have been very few deviations from this pattern over the last two decades. Roughly 90 percent of partisans voted for the candidate from their party in every year since 2000…For all of its unexpected moments, 2016 looks an awful lot like all the other years: There was no meaningful shift in the pattern of intraparty voting.”

Kyle Kondik of Sabato’s Crystal Ball discusses 37 U.S. House districts in which “seats with Republican incumbents where Hillary Clinton performed at least five percentage points better than Obama in 2012, Donald Trump underperformed Mitt Romney’s 2012 share by at five points, or both,” along with districts in which Republicans did better. Kondik notes that the Democraic Congressional Campaign Committee has only targeted 17 of these 37 seats so far. Democrats must pick up 25 seats to regain the House majority and the speakership.

Frequent TDS contributor John Russo explains “Why Democrats Lose in Ohio” at The American Prospect and suggests a path forward for the state’s Democrats: “The party should have done a better job of recruiting stronger candidates, developing political strategies, and building local support..The state party’s general cluelessness should be cueing up an insurrection within the ODP, just as the establishment’s inability to change and win has done in other states…No challenges have been mounted to the Democratic leadership in this former battleground state, where Sanders received almost as many votes as Clinton…The most productive tack the Democrats could take would be to begin organizing ballot initiatives to roll back unpopular GOP legislation, such as the bill prohibiting cities from raising the minimum wage, or to enact progressive reforms, such as raising the minimum wage statewide, developing a new formula for school funding, or improving the electoral system (by using mail ballots, for example). All these direct-democracy initiatives have public support and that of Ohio Democrats’ most successful office-holders, Senator Brown and Representative Tim Ryan. Such initiatives could strengthen the party and give Democratic candidates statewide an attractive platform to run on.”

Ten writers, inbcluding Thomas E. Mann, Gavin Newsome, Rev. William J. Barber and Rep. John Lewis, offer “10 Ways to Take on Trump: What We Can Do from Congress to the Streets” at The New Republic. Here’s a sample from U.C. Berkeley linguist Geoffrey Numberg, which makes a potentially useful distinction”…Resistance calls for a broader linguistic strategy. You want to build solidarity among your partisans, but you have to reach the voters you lost in November, the people who know that Trump is an asshole but voted for him anyway out of frustration or dislike of the Clintons—as opposed to the people who voted for Trump becausehe’s an asshole, who are really a minority of his supporters.”


Dems Embracing the ‘Hardball’ Option?

Democrats concerned about their party’s future should read Adam Jentleson’s Washington Post article, “Senate Democrats have the power to stop Trump. All they have to do is use it.” Jentleson, senior strategic adviser at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and a former deputy chief of staff to Sen. Harry Reid, writes:

As a Democratic Senate aide for the past seven years, I had a front-row seat to an impressive show of obstruction. Republicans, under then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, decided they would oppose President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at every turn to limit their power. And it worked: They extorted concessions from Democrats with threats of shutdowns, fiscal cliffs and financial chaos.

McConnell is arguably the most effective obstructionist in the history of the U.S. Senate, and that is no small achievement. No living U.S. Senator has done more to thwart legislation and appointments favored by strong majorities of Americans in poll after poll.

But now, Jentelson writes, “Republicans’ unified control of government means that the most effective tool for popular resistance lies in the Senate — the elite, byzantine institution envisioned by the founders as the saucer that cools the teacup of popular opinion.” Further,

Senate Democrats have a powerful tool at their disposal, if they choose to use it, for resisting a president who has no mandate and cannot claim to embody the popular will. That tool lies in the simple but fitting act of withholding consent. An organized effort to do so on the Senate floor can bring the body to its knees and block or severely slow down the agenda of a president who does not represent the majority of Americans.

Jentleson explains how it can work:

The procedure for withholding consent is straightforward, but deploying it is tricky. For the Senate to move in a timely fashion on any order of business, it must obtain unanimous support from its members. But if a single senator objects to a consent agreement, McConnell, now majority leader, will be forced to resort to time-consuming procedural steps through the cloture process, which takes four days to confirm nominees and seven days to advance any piece of legislation — and that’s without amendment votes, each of which can be subjected to a several-day cloture process as well.

McConnell can ask for consent at any time, and if no objection is heard, the Senate assumes that consent is granted. So the 48 senators in the Democratic caucus must work together — along with any Republicans who aren’t afraid of being targeted by an angry tweet — to ensure that there is always a senator on the floor to withhold consent…Because every Senate action requires the unanimous consent of members from all parties, everything it does is a leverage point for Democrats. For instance, each of the 1,000-plus nominees requiring Senate confirmation — including President Trump’s Cabinet choices — can be delayed for four days each.

The moral justification for Democrats taking a turn at weilding the obstructionist cudgel should be obvious. As Jentleson puts it, “by nominating a poorly qualified and ethically challenged Cabinet, Trump forfeited his right to a speedy confirmation process, and Democrats should therefore slow it down to facilitate the adequate vetting that Trump and Senate Republicans are determined to avoid by rushing the process before all the questionnaires and filings are submitted.” Jentleson adds,

Democrats can also withhold their consent from every piece of objectionable legislation McConnell tries to advance. With 48 senators in their caucus, they have the votes to block most bills. But even when Democrats don’t have the votes, they can force McConnell to spend time jumping through procedural hoops. This is the insight McConnell deployed against Reid to manufacture the appearance of gridlock, forcing him to use the cloture process more than 600 times.

…If Democrats withhold consent from everything the Senate does until such a process is established, they can stall Trump’s agenda and confirmation of his nominees indefinitely. Sen. Richard Durbin has been a leader in demanding an independent investigation. But unless Democrats back their calls with the threat of action, McConnell will steamroll them and never look back.

It’s regrettable that Republicans have normalized obstruction of progress as a cornerstone principle of their identity. By reaching out to Democrats with appointments of political moderates and appealing to Dems to join him in a genuine bipartisan infrastructure project that really would restore America’s greatness in a tangible, visible way, Trump has a unique opportunity to bust the politics of knee-jerk obstructionism. He could end the gridlock by offering a bold, bipartisan spirit.

So far, he has done the opposite. His appointments and executive orders are not only  extremist; they are designed, not merely to accomplish political goals, but also to rub his power in the faces of moderates and progressives. Puppeteer Bannon has apparently convinced Trump that unleashing his inner jr. high school bully in all of his actions is a good image to project. Instead, it has earned Trump global ridicule.

Coming after McConnell’s roadblock of Obama’s nomination of the moderate Judge Merrick Garland, Trump’s nomination of right-wing Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court only adds to the toxic polarization of our politics. Democrats ought to use whatever leverage they can muster to delay Gorsuch’s confirmation, if not deny it. The Trump/Republican agenda has become so extreme that doing otherwise is capitulation to the bullying spirit that is ruining our democracy.

Senate Democrats are already showing signs of meeting the challenge limned by Jentleson. At Mother Jones, David Corn notes that “Schumer has not yet embraced such a strategy of resistance. But Senate Dems said on Monday that they will wage a filibuster to block Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.” Corn adds that Schumer will, however, oppose five Trump nominations: Rep. Tom Price to head Helath and Human Services, Rep. Mick Mulvaney for budget director, Steve Mnuchin for treasury secretary, Scott Pruitt for Environmental Protection Agency chief, and Andy Puzder for labor secretary.

Ed O’Keefe, Sean Sullivan and Kelsey Snell reported at The Post that “Democrats boycotted a Senate committee scheduled to take two votes, one on Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Trump’s nominee for secretary of health and human services, and the other on Steve Mnuchin, his choice to lead the treasury… Democrats boycotted that meeting entirely, denying Republicans a necessary quorum and forcing them to reschedule both votes…Then, they blocked a vote on Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Trump’s nominee for attorney general.”

It may not be too late for Trump to reverse the damage done to himself, as well as our national interest. But time is running out. As Jentleson concludes, “If Trump wants to put their concerns about his legitimacy to rest, he can reach out with consensus nominees and policies…Until then, Democrats can stand up for America by withholding their consent.”


Political Strategy Notes

It sure looks like Steve Bannon is pulling the Trump puppet strings these days, which is cause for particular concern with respect to national security issues, where expertise, experience and gravitas should be valued over ideological excess. As Karen DeYoung notes at The Post, “Bannon has no job experience in foreign policy…Bannon cemented his role as a champion of the alt-right, an anti-globalism movement that has attracted support from white supremacists and helped power Trump’s populist White House victory.”

The ‘Great Wall of Hate,’ or ‘Wall of Shame‘ and now ‘Wall of Ignorance.’ Looks like Trump is losing the image battle surrounding the branding of his biggest idea, and progressives are working it effectively. But the ‘Wall of Ignorance’ Paul Krugman is really writing about is more concerned with Trump’s ragged, backfiring trade pronouncements, most recently reflected in his spopkesman Sean Spicer’s declaration that the wall will be paid for by a 20 percent border tatariif on  Mexican exports to the U.S. “America is part of a system of agreements, ” writes Krugman, “a system we built — that sets rules for trade policy, and one of the key rules is that you can’t just unilaterally hike tariffs that were reduced in previous negotiations….The risk wouldn’t so much be one of retaliation — although that, too — as of emulation: If we treat the rules with contempt, so will everyone else. The whole trading system would start to unravel, with hugely disruptive effects everywhere, very much including U.S. manufacturing…So let’s sum it up: The White House press secretary created a diplomatic crisis while trying to protect the president from ridicule over his foolish boasting. In the process he demonstrated that nobody in authority understands basic economics. Then he tried to walk the whole thing back…All of this should be placed in the larger context of America’s quickly collapsing credibility.”

Don’t be surprised if  “chaos” increasingly dominates the ‘word cloud’ describing the Trump Administration’s policies, statements and actions. That’s certainly the case regarding Trump’s travel ban targeting predominantly Muslim countries, which appears to exempt nations where he has business interests, as Nancy Leung, Tim Langmaid and Deanna Hackney explain in their CNN Politics post “A travel ban that descended into chaos, protests: What we know.”

Democrats have mounted an energetic and comprehensive attack against Trump’s immigration measures, report Dave Weigel and Ed O’Keefe in their Power Post article,  “Democrats launch a full-scale opposition push against Trump’s executive order.” Their article describes an encouraging array of legislative, legal and citizen actions to stop Trump’s assault on immigrants, who he has ruthlessly exploited in his business practices, if the number of lawsuits from his contractors is any indication.

Miles Mogulescu’s HuffPo article “How Senate Democrats Can Muck Up the Trumpublican Blitzkrieg and The Resistance Can Make Them” offers this insight into the progressive strategy: “…If Senate Democrats filibuster all of Trump’s remaining Cabinet picks and most of his other appointments, they can block the Republican-controlled Senate from passing much other legislation for many months…Delay can mean victory for the majority of Americans who did not vote for Trump… Trumpublicans are trying to use the “Shock Doctrine” to roll back much of the New Deal and Great Society. As Naomi Klein pointed out in her book of the same title, only in times of economic or political crisis can oligarchic forces push through otherwise unpopular “free” market and neoliberal reforms—including massive cuts in the social safety net, tax cuts for the elites, privatization, and deregulation. In more normal times, their unpopularity make such measures unachievable…Moreover, by speaking out on the Senate floor against the anti-worker, anti-middle class agenda of Trump’s nominees, they can convince many of the “forgotten people” that Trump is a con artist who’s acting in the interests of the economic elites, not of ordinary Americans.”

You will have no trouble finding friends, as well as pundits, who make disparaging, even sneering remarks about the efficacy of marches, rallies and other forms of protest, even among self-described liberals. As Roderick M. Hills writes in his post, “Do Public Protests Matter in a Democracy? The “outside strategy” as a signal of support to judges and bureaucrats,” at Just Security, “In authoritarian regimes, “the Street” is a substitute for elections.  In a functioning electoral democracy, however, one might argue that the only march that counts is the march to the polling booth. Put more generally, what is the political value of mobilizing large numbers of protestors to parade around a city, apart from making the marchers feel good about themselves?” I would disagree in that many legislative reforms, including the transformative Civil Rights reforms of the 1960s, were  profoundly influenced by mass protest demonstrations. Hills does agree that mass protest helps secure reforms in the courts and governmewnt offices. “By throwing millions of demonstrators on the street, organizers of mass protests might be stiffening the spines of those unelected officials who may otherwise fear the pressure and vengeance of elected incumbents…Large demonstrations might send a message to judges and bureaucrats that a critical mass of voters have their back, because politicians will not have a strong stomach for a protracted showdown with the third and fourth branches….he recent legal victories in Massachusetts and New York, where judges Allison D. Burroughs, Judith G. Dein, and Ann Donnelly have, for now, put a stop to parts of Trump’s refugee and immigration bans, are the very type of decisions that public demonstrations help support.”

I hope Sen. Franken is here referring to something more comprehensive than the clock management thing, which is smart and interesting. But Franken’s assurance that “We have real discipline” indicates a needed change is underway.

At The New Yorker James Surowiecki explains “Why Trump’s Conflicts of Interest Won’t Hurt Him,” andnotes, “Likewise, Trump’s base, as the pollster Stanley Greenberg has written, believes that “politics has been corrupted and government has failed.” It’s not that they approve of self-dealing per se—a poll during the campaign found that ninety-nine per cent of Trump supporters cited corruption as a key issue of concern. But they’re less bothered by individual instances than by the sense that the whole system is rigged to favor élites. Trump’s apparent willingness to blow up the system matters far more to them than the possibility that he might feather his nest along the way…Furthermore, though voters claim that they worry about corruption, a lot depends on context. Partisanship plays a big role: Republicans cared a lot about the Clinton Foundation but gave Trump a pass. Besides, issues that the press and government reformers take very seriously often matter less to ordinary voters. A recent study of Berlusconi supporters found that the constant barrage of scandals simply increased their tolerance for corruption. The political scientist Arnold Heidenheimer draws a distinction between “black corruption”—things that just about everyone thinks are unacceptable, like outright bribery—and “gray corruption,” which appalls élites but elicits only shrugs from ordinary voters. Absent a clear quid pro quo, conflict of interest seems like a classic example of gray corruption.”

David Byler, elections analyst for RealClearPolitics, makes the case that a presidential candidate with  the better qualities of former Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards could provide the first real test of a candidate prepared to leverage the demographic dynamics of our times. An attractive, youthful and eloquent Democratic presidential candidate with a working-class background and an inclusive, progressive economic commitment could do well in presidential politics, argues Byler, — provided he or she remained squeeky-clean and refused to get distracted or off-message.


Follow-Up Notes for America’s Students on ‘The Politics of Cowardice’

New York Times columnist David Brooks’s “The politics of Cowardice,” which he “directed at high school and college students,” includes a few distortions, as well as an excellent, though disturbing psychological portrait of President Trump.

From Brooks’s perceptive take on Trump:

Consider the tenor of Trump’s first week in office. It’s all about threat perception. He has made moves to build a wall against the Mexican threat, to build barriers against the Muslim threat, to end a trade deal with Asia to fight the foreign economic threat, to build black site torture chambers against the terrorist threat.

Trump is on his political honeymoon, which should be a moment of joy and promise. But he seems to suffer from an angry form of anhedonia, the inability to experience happiness. Instead of savoring the moment, he’s spent the week in a series of nasty squabbles about his ratings and crowd sizes.

If Reagan’s dominant emotional note was optimism, Trump’s is fear. If Reagan’s optimism was expansive, Trump’s fear propels him to close in: Pull in from Asian entanglements through rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Pull in from European entanglements by disparaging NATO. It’s not a cowering, timid fear; it’s more a dark, resentful porcupine fear.

We have a word for people who are dominated by fear. We call them cowards. Trump was not a coward in the business or campaign worlds. He could take on enormous debt and had the audacity to appear at televised national debates with no clue what he was talking about. But as president his is a policy of cowardice. On every front, he wants to shrink the country into a shell.

…Desperate to be liked, Trump adopts a combative attitude that makes him unlikable. Terrified of Mexican criminals, he wants to build a wall that will actually lock in more undocumented aliens than it will keep out. Terrified of Muslim terrorists, he embraces the torture policies guaranteed to mobilize terrorists. Terrified that American business can’t compete with Asian business, he closes off a trade deal that would have boosted annual real incomes in the United States by $131 billion, or 0.5 percent of G.D.P. Terrified of Mexican competition, he considers slapping a 20 percent tariff on Mexican goods, even though U.S. exports to Mexico have increased 97 percent since 2005.

Trump has changed the way the Republican Party sees the world. Republicans used to have a basic faith in the dynamism and openness of the free market. Now the party fears openness and competition.

Here Brooks provides one of the most insightful descriptions of what is eating Trump. But Brooks does have his blind spots. He suffers, as do most conservative columnists, from romaticized  delusions about Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Brooks and other conservatives often describe the Reagan years as a  sort of golden age, and they tend to give him nearly all of the credit for the end of the Cold War and its nuclear arms race

Mr. Brooks does mention Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as a partner in this effort. In reality, most of the post-World War II American presidents took part in the arms race with the Soviet Union, and Gorbachev deserves most of the praise for the winding down of the Cold War. He was the  visionary realist who took the bold action for disarmament, economic and political reforms needed to spark this historic transformation. Reagan does merit some credit for not screwing up disarmament, but the Republican tendency to glorify Reagan’s contribution is one of the more grotesque exaggerations of recent history.

The other thing students should note about Reagan is that Republicans and conservative writers have also distorted his record on economic progress. As Robert Borosage wrote of the effects of Reagan’s economic policies,

…Reagan opened the campaign against government domestic spending that leaves us with an aged infrastructure that is dangerous to our health, schools that put children at risk, and record numbers struggling simply to feed their families. Poverty levels began rising under Reagan and have remained high, other than in the couple years of the Clinton presidency when full employment began to lift all boats

…Free trade was the label affixed to a trade policy defined by and for multinational companies and banks. Under Reagan, America began shipping jobs rather than goods abroad. When Reagan fired the PATCO strikers, he signaled to corporate America that it was open season on unions. The combination was lethal for America’s manufacturing base — and for the family wage that was the signature of America’s broad middle class.

Deregulation gutted consumer protection, environmental protection, workplace safety and the right to organize under Reagan. It led to many scandals that made his administration one of the most corrupt in history, with a record 138 officials investigated, indicted or convicted. But the biggest change was deregulation of banking, which led to successive financial wildings and crashes that have cost taxpayers literally trillions. The first was the Savings and Loan debacle that followed on Reagan’s reforms that empowered banksters to gamble with other people’s money, with their losses guaranteed by the federal government.

America’s students can find a Republican President who actually deserves more praise in President Eisenhower, who, unlike Reagan, actually built important stuff, like the interstate highway system, which laid the infrastructure foundation for the nation’s post-war prosperity. Eisenhower was also one of the nation’s greatest military leaders, and he merits further admiration for his warning about the corrupting power of militarism. Eisenhower, like Reagan, would be horrified by Trump’s undignified leadership.

Note also that President Reagan had a cynical side, as well as the  “sunny faith” in America cited by Brooks. Reagan, more than most post-war presidents actively obstructed civil and human rights in America, often in ugly ways and comments conservative writers rarely acknowledge. As Sidney Blumenthal wrote in The Guardian,

Reagan opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (calling it “humiliating to the South”), and ran for governor of California in 1966 promising to wipe the Fair Housing Act off the books. “If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house,” he said, “he has a right to do so.” After the Republican convention in 1980, Reagan traveled to the county fair in Neshoba, Mississippi, where, in 1964, three Freedom Riders had been slain by the Ku Klux Klan. Before an all-white crowd of tens of thousands, Reagan declared: “I believe in states’ rights.

Reagan’s awful civil rights and economic policies notwithstanding, he did actually negotiate in good faith with Democrats, unlike Trump, McConnell and Ryan. Credit Reagan also for upholding the basic dignity of his office — a quality, we have learned can no longer be taken for granted.