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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

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.


Political Strategy Notes

Elliot Hannon’s “Today Was the Worst Day Yet” at slate.com documents the damage Trump did with executive orders and other actions yesterday. It’s clear already that Trump’s grand strategy is to pile on so much that the media, Democrats and progressives will not have time to respond effectively — before the next headline-grabbing outrage is launched. Very similar to his campaign strategy. Hannon writes, “On Wednesday, the president of the United States made historic moves to recast the country as an angry, insular nation, one that recoils from the world around it and casts suspicion on those within and without. This is the America Donald Trump envisoned; this is the America he campaigned on; this is the country he’s delivering.” Progressive social change groups will have to step up their game to respond effectively to the Trump (Bannon) rapid-fire, ‘shock and awe’ strategy.

In his Politico post “Democrats launch scorched-earth strategy against Trump,” Gabriel Debenedetti writes, “According to interviews with roughly two dozen party leaders and elected officeholders, the internal debate over whether to take the conciliatory path — to pursue a high-road approach as a contrast to Trump’s deeply polarizing and norm-violating style — is largely settled, cemented in place by a transition and first week in office that has confirmed the left’s worst fears about Trump’s temperament. …“They were entitled to a grace period, but it was midnight the night of the inauguration to 8 o’clock the next morning, when the administration sent out people to lie about numerous significant things. And the damage to the credibility of the presidency has already been profound,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. “They were entitled to a grace period and they blew it. It’s been worse than I could have imagined, the first few days.”

In the same post, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a candidate for California governor,  offers this cogent strategic insight: “Focusing too much on what he says — every absurdity, every misrepresentation of fact, every lie that comes out of his mouth or his tweets — makes no sense to me…The best way to fight Trump is to chart what represents the values, the priorities that we’re for. I don’t think it makes sense to spend all of our time responding to every tweet, I think that will just reinforce a notion that many people have in our country that we put party before country.”

Behind the Democratic strategy on confronting Trump’s cabinet nominees, according to Leigh Ann  Caldwell at nbcnews.com: “Democrats in the Senate are in the minority and don’t have enough members to block a nominee. However, if they slow down the process, it not only gives the party more time to negatively influence public opinion of the GOP agenda, but it also stalls what Republicans hoped would be an aggressive legislative agenda that includes the repeal of the Affordable Care Act…Senate rules allow for up to 30 hours of debate on each nominee. Thirty hours of clock time could take days. Multiply that by a dozen cabinet nominees — not to mention the dozens of lower-level nominees that will come before the Senate — and it leaves much less time to achieve legislative wins….Republicans continue to argue that President Barack Obama had seven members of his cabinet confirmed on his first day. Instead, Trump has the fewest number of nominees confirmed on his first day of any president since Jimmy Carter in 1978…”The more we learn about these nominees, the clearer it becomes that Trump’s plan is to break his campaign promises, and the more the public gets fired up for a thunderous fight to stop him,” said Ben Wikler, president of the progressive grassroots group MoveOn.”

Here’s a couple of polls that help show why public school-basher Betsy Devos is an extremely out-of-touch pick for Secretary of Education: Alexa Welch Edlund of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, “…A poll from Virginia Commonwealth University…released this week, found that 69 percent of Virginians are willing to pay more in taxes to maintain state funding at current levels…54 percent, said they would be willing to pay more to increase funding for public schools.” At The New Mexican Staci Medlock adds “New Mexico residents want to preserve state funding for schools and raise taxes instead of shoring up state revenues, according to a poll released Wednesday. Some 72 percent of 402 registered voters surveyed statewide said they oppose further cuts to public education, according to the poll, conducted by Research & Polling Inc. for the nonprofit New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.”

This may explain why Ted Cruz groveled so shamelessly to Trump, who suggested and never retracted his belief that Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination. Trump got Cruz’s grovel in exchange for nothing, similar to the way Trump played the equally-gullible Mitt Romney.

As Trump prepares to unveil his real Supreme Court nominee (the short list does not include Ted Cruz), Senate Democrats are shaping their resistance strategy, albeit with limited options. Meanwhile, the role and future of the fillbuster tactic is very much at issue, Carl Hulse reports at The New York Times.

At Vox Seth Maskett sketches a credible scenario for a Democratic comeback in 2018. It largely depends on an economic slowdown and declining popularity of Trump, both of which are quite possible, even likely. Plus historical patterns in the midterms have not been kind to the party in the White House. But Maskett disses factors Democrats can influence, like “recruitment, canvassing, advertising, and innovative strategies by new party leaders,” without justification. It’s like saying there’s not much Democrats can do to improve their prospects for the upcoming midterm elections. If so, why bother preparing for 2018?

In his article “How The Democratic Party Can Get Back Into The Game,” pollster John Zogby has an easier-said-than-done quintet of suggestions, at Forbes, no less. One of his better ideas comes under the subtopic “Building a bench, recruiting candidates,” in which Zogby offers “I would closely look at two new sources of candidates and policymakers—mayors and community college presidents. These are men and women who must establish vision, communicate to a wide range of leaders, balance budgets, create initiatives with limited resources, be nimble enough to spot trends and act upon them rapidly, welcome newcomers, enable economic development, and suffer daily the narrow minds and whiny voices of the jaded. These are the people to learn from and welcome.” Fair enough, but it would be good if Democrats also made an extra effort to recruit women and some working-class leaders, perhaps from the labor movement. And do make sure that those college presidents don’t sound too much like academicians. Democrats need more candidates and office-holders who talk like regular people and would never use words like “deplorables” in the battle to win hearts and minds.


Moody: Democrats 2016 Collapse Long in the Making

At the lefty Jacobin, Kim Moody has a tough critique of Democratic mistakes and misguided strategy, beginning long before 2016. Moody, a co-founder of Labor Notes and author of “In Solidarity: Working-Class Organization and Strategy in the United States,” writes:

…Upper-income groups were overrepresented in the voting electorate as a whole, and both candidates drew a disproportionate part of their vote from the well-to-do, with Trump a bit more reliant on high-income voters. This in itself doesn’t rule out a working-class shift to Trump, but the media’s version of this is based on a problematic definition.

Among other problems, a large majority of those without a college degree don’t vote at all. Furthermore, people who don’t vote are generally to the left of those who do on economic issues and the role of government. Of the 135.5 million white Americans without degrees, about a fifth voted for Trump — a minority that doesn’t represent this degree-less demographic very well.

Another problem is that there are only about 18.5 million white, blue-collar production workers — the prototype of the defecting white industrial worker. If we double this to account for adult spouses to make it just under 40 million, and assume that none of them have degrees, it still only accounts for a little more than a third of those white adults lacking the allegedly class-defining degree…There are another fourteen million or so white service workers who are working class, but even if we include them and their spouses we still account for only about half of the huge 70 percent of white adults in the United States who lack a college degree.

Moody adds that 86 percent of small business owners are white, have an average income of $112K, are twice as likely to be Republicans and 92 percent of them say they ‘regularly vote.’ They and their spouses, writes Moody, “could more than account for all the twenty-nine million of those lacking a college degree who voted for Trump.” Further,

The relatively high income levels of much of Trump’s vote point toward a majority petty-bourgeois and middle-class base for Trump, something the Economist concluded in its earlier survey of Trump primary voters when they wrote, “But the idea that it is the mostly poor, less-educated voters who are drawn to Mr. Trump is a bit of a myth.”…Trump’s victory was disproportionately a middle-class, upper-income phenomenon.

Moody presents an interesting chart on union household voting, based on data from Roper and CNN exit polls, which suggets that Trump’s support from the working-class has been overstated.

moody

As Moody notes, “about 40 percent of union members and their families have been voting Republican in presidential elections for a long time, with the Democrats winning a little under 60 percent of the union household vote for the last four decades.” He adds “a relatively small number shifted to Trump from 40 percent for the Republican in 2012 to 43 percent in 2016. These 3 percentage points represent a shift of just under eight hundred thousand union household voters across the entire country.” In addition,

Trump’s shift of union household voters is actually less dramatic than the swing from 1976 to 1980 for Reagan, and even less so than the 14 point desertion of union household voters from Carter in 1980, half of which went to independent John Anderson rather than Reagan, in an election when union householders composed 26 percent of all voters.

In other words, Trump attracted both a smaller proportion and number of these voters than Reagan or Anderson. These same voters have swung for some time between Democrats, Republicans, and high-profile third-party candidates such as Anderson, Ross Perot who got 21 percent of union household voters in 1992, and Ralph Nader, who got 3 percent in 2000. The meaning of the 2016 shift was more sinister to be sure, but it was also long in the making as the Democrats moved to the right.

Trump did win 10 million union household votes, while Clinton got 12 million. But many didn’t vote at all, and that non-voting constituency may be more ready to vote Democratic after a few years of the Trump Administration’s chaos. Overall, however, “while there was a swing among white, blue-collar and union household voters to Trump, it was significantly smaller than the overall drop in Democratic voters.”

Moody blames a reduction in “direct door-to-door human contact with lower-income voters in favor of purchased forms of campaigning, from TV ads to the new digitized methods of targeting likely voters” as one of the culprits in weaker voter turnouts. He sees a class bias in high-tech voter targeting, which leads to less direct contact with working-class potential voters.

Democrats purport to be the party that champions improved living standards for working people, but they have been unable to deliver in recent years, owing increasingly to the Republican’s strategy of all-out obstruction. Moody concludes by arguing that “centrist liberalism” is a doomed philosophical foundation for Democrats because it is associated with the Party’s failure to produce the needed economic reforms.

Democrats are going to need a much bolder economic strategy that acknowledges the failures of the past and points the way to a more robust economic agenda like that which empowered the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders. Democrats should not allow the Trump Administration ownership of a massive investment in infrastructure upgrades and twist it into another corporate raid on the federal treasury. Instead, revitalizing America’s crumbling infrastructure should be the signature project of the Democratic party, with or without Trump’s support. For Dems, protecting the integrity of it is the central challenge of the next few years.


Progressives Trying to Replace Centrist Dem Office-holders Should Not Purge Moderates from Rank and File

At The Washington Post, Dave Weigel reports on a new initiative to ‘primary’ current Democrats who have voted with Republicans, and elect progressives in their stead:

Cenk Uygur, founder of the Young Turks video network that has become virally popular among progressive voters, is launching a project called Justice Democrats to defeat members of the Democratic Party who have cast votes seen as unacceptable.

“The aim in 2018 is to put a significant number of Justice Democrats in the Congress. The aim for 2020 is to more significantly take over the Democratic Party,” Uygur said. “If they’re going to continue to be corporate Democrats, that’s doomed for failure for the rest of time.”

There’s nothing wrong with organizing primary challengers to defeat moderate or conservative Democrats and elect more progressive replacements. The rhetoric will get hot, but vigorous internal debate is a sign of a healthy party. And Uygur is surely right that Democrats should be more progressive and less corporate to build a stable majority. I like their platform, as Weigel describes it:

The Justice Democrats platform mirrors much of what Sanders ran on, some of which had been adopted into the 2016 Democratic platform. Where Sanders called for renegotiating trade deals, the platform doubles down. Democrats have called for infrastructure spending; the platform calls for the party to “invest billions in rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, schools, levees, airports etc.” It goes even further than Sanders, however, in asking candidates to ban foreign aid to human rights violators.

But after the primaries are done, and regardless of the outcome, Dems must unify behind the party nominees, from the court house to the White House. In an electorate as evenly divided as ours, purging those whose views are a little more corporate would be a huge gift to Republicans. Lets not forget that a one vote margin in the U.S. Senate secured the Affordable Care Act.

‘Justice Democrats’ gets a big bump from Dems who were angered by “the 13 Democratic senators who opposed a Sanders-backed measure to make it easier to import prescription drugs from Canada.” That was a moment that made progressive Democrats, including this one, wince with disgust.

Paul Blest joins the call for electing more progressive Democrats in his unfortunately-titled “Democrats need to start fighting — with each other” at The Week:

…Moderate Democrats have rarely faced the same challenges from their left flank. In more conservative states, the excuse is usually that moderates like Mark Pryor (Arkansas) or Mary Landrieu (Louisiana) are the best the Democrats could possibly do, given the circumstances. In liberal states, like New Jersey — which has one senator who opposed the Iran deal and another who sat on the board of directors for the Alliance for School Choice with Betsy DeVos — the excuse is often a lawmaker’s close proximity to an industry that requires “pro-business” policies.

Enough is enough.

If Democrats want to regain national power, they must stop cynically and brazenly triangulating. They can no longer just quietly lament their centrist leaders. Progressives must fight back. They have to take on moderate, establishment-backed Democrats in primaries — even, in some cases, incumbents — who don’t embody the core ideals of a progressive movement positioning itself to be a real alternative to the GOP.

— a well-stated talking point for more progressive Democrats. Further, adds Blest,

…While Republican-controlled seats should unquestionably be the focus, it’s also true that no Democrat — no senator, no member of Congress, no governor, and no state legislator — should be able to take their own renomination in 2018 for granted if they cosign any part of the right’s agenda to privatize everything, install the extremely wealthy in the halls of government, and roll back decades worth of social progress.

There is a real need for fresh blood in the Democratic Party; not just in districts that could be flipped from Republican hands, but in safe seats occupied by Democrats who came to prominence through aligning themselves with the Third Way. After all, this is the faction of the party that ultimately negotiated the public option out of the Affordable Care Act,which arguably contributed to the law’s pending doom.

The trick is to do all of this without alienating a large number of rank and file voters and making them feel excluded. Screwing this up is how you create non-voters and defectors to the GOP.

Now that the inaugural hoopla and escitement about the Womens March are fading, attention is turning to the confirmation of Trump’s cabinet nominees, nearly all of whom merit unified and vigorous  Democratic opposition. There will be some differences among Democrats on the nominees, but we can hope they will unify against the worst ones.

Perhaps even more importantly, Ed O’Keefe and Steven Mufson report “Senate Democrats set to unveil a Trump-size infrastructure plan.” This is the mother of all Democratic issues, the one that should unify all Democrats because it requires direct public investment in massive job-creation. Any Democrat that hesitates on this reform is a DINO, and should probably switch parties. O’Keefe and Mufson explain:

The Democrats said their infrastructure plan would rely on direct federal spending and would span a range of projects including not only roads and bridges, but also the nation’s broadband network, hospitals run by the Department of Veterans Affairs and schools.

Eager to drive a wedge between the new president and congressional Republicans, Democrats consider talk of infrastructure projects as a way to piggyback on Trump’s frequent vows to repair the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges and persuade him to adopt ideas that would put him at odds with GOP leaders, who have done little to embrace what would amount to a major new government spending program.

Advisers to Trump have said they would rely on federal tax credits and public-private partnerships rather than federal spending to pay for a new infrastructure program.

Democrats will have their hands full preventing Republicans and Trump from turning the infrastructure program into a giant pork barrell for the GOP’s contributors, the way they did with U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dems must be unified on the infrastructure to win the issue and prevent the Republicans from perverting it into a boondoggle for their contributors that creates few jobs.

Campaigning to replace moderate/conservative Democrats with more progressives is not the same thing as “purging” less liberal Democrats from the party. Clinton’s inability to win over some Sanders supporters is likely matched by Sanders’s failure to win over her supporters. There are very real divisions among rank and file Democrats, and it’s unclear what proportion of Democrats are economic progressives and what percentage are ‘corporate’ Democrats. But both groups are large subsets of the Democratic party and there is considerable overlap on different issues.

The Democratic Party would be strengthened with more progressives in the Senate, House and state legislatures and governor’s mansions. But it would be a shame if the centrists were replaced by Republicans because of weak Democratic solidarity. Post-primary solidarity should be a bedrock principle of a healthy Democratic Party.


Political Strategy Notes

Robert Kuttner’s “Q&A: A New 50-State Strategy” at The American Prospect features an interview with  Former DNC Chair Howard Dean on the DNC leadership contest and, more importantly, his ideas for rebuilding the Democratic Party. Among Dean’s observations: “We need a partnership between the DNC with the state parties, to get more Democrats elected to state legislatures. Republicans have been incredibly effective with that. They’ve creamed us, and that’s a really big problem..,And we need a national database. You’ve got to support the state parties with technology…We need two things: we need a 50-state strategy, and a 50-year strategy…[The] generation elected Barack Obama. 2008 was the only election in my lifetime where more people under 35 voted than over 65. This year is a wake-up call for that generation, which is really grief-stricken by Trump’s vote, because it was a repudiation of all their values. I think they’re ready to consider getting involved again.”

For an uplifting antidote to the downer images of the inauguration, check out “Pictures From Women’s Marches on Every Continent” in The New York Times. Will Trump be influenced by the demonstrations that drew an estimated on million protesters in the U.S.? Probably not, and certainly not in a good way, as his recent comments suggest. May it please be followed by more women candidates and a voter registration campaign of unprecedented size and energy. Washington Post reporters notes that “David Axelrod, one of Obama’s closest advisers and an architect of his campaign strategies, said it is incumbent upon Trump’s opponents to do more than march…“This is an impressive display today. But if it isn’t channeled into organizing in a focused way, then it is cathartic but not in the long run meaningful,” he said. “That’s the challenge for the progressive community.”

Put slightly differently, Edward-Isaac Dovere and Elana Schor ask in Politico “Will the women’s march be another Occupy, or a Democratic Tea Party? Organizers and participants want it to be a movement that can do what Trump did in his presidential campaign—only in reverse.” “Now they have to figure out what to do next to channel the raw energy of the marches into political action,” wite the authors. “And what is it that they’re about: Women’s equality? Reproductive Rights? Race? Climate change? Stopping Trump from putting someone they don’t want on the Supreme Court? Making him release his taxes? All of the above? Signs (and costumes) for all of that and more were all over the place on Saturday.”

In his Washington Post column, E. J. Dionne, Jr. explains, “The politics of the next few months and years will depend a great deal on whether the energy displayed on Saturday is sustained through the hard work of political activism. I can imagine skeptics reading this and saying one day of protests will be very easy for Trump and the Republican Party to absorb (even if one can imagine Trump’s fury at not getting even a day’s peace)…there is reason to believe this was not a one-off. First, there was not a single march in Washington but demonstrations all over the country. As the tea party showed, change comes from local actions coordinated nationally. There is clearly a large national base of opposition, community by community.”

The Post’s Philip RuckerJohn Wagner and Greg Miller do a good job of describing Trump’s splenetic over-reaction to the massive demonstrations in compared to the turnout at his inauguration, noting “President Trump used his first full day in office to wage war on the media, accusing news organizations of lying about the size of his inauguration crowd as Saturday’s huge protests served notice that a vocal and resolute opposition would be a hallmark of his presidency…With Americans taking to the streets in red and blue states alike to emphatically decry a president they consider reprehensible and, even, illegitimate, Trump visited the Central Intelligence Agency for a stream-of-consciousness airing of grievances — including against journalists, whom he called “the most dishonest human beings on Earth…“Former CIA Director Brennan is deeply saddened and angered at Donald Trump’s despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of CIA’s Memorial Wall of Agency heroes,” Nick Shapiro, a former deputy chief of staff to Brennan, said in a statement. “Brennan says that Trump should be ashamed of himself.”

Still wondering what happened in Wisconsin?  Political consultant and educator Brandon Savage has a  provocative op-ed in Urban Milaukee entitled “Democrats Must Change Strategy: Stop bashing Walker and start addressing issues like taxes.” Savage writes “First, Democrats need to stop saying, “You’re voting wrong” to people who support Republicans. A vote is a calculation made by an individual based on what he or she feels is best for family, pocketbook and community. It’s a reflection of that individual’s values. Imagine someone telling you that your values are wrong. It’s an easy way to have a door slammed in your face. A voter like that will wonder, “What do they know about my values?” Don’t do it. Ever….Second, Democrats in the state Legislature have to get to work. They’re in a deep minority, but it’s not impossible to produce results. Democratic state Rep. Evan Goyke of Milwaukee was first elected in 2012, but he’s already authored nearly 30 pieces of legislation based on criminal justice reform alone while having other bipartisan initiatives signed into law. He does it all without ever saying the words “Scott Walker.”…Third, it’s time to get real about the issues that matter. That means Democrats have to start supporting tax reform and address the burden of property taxes while creating real incentives for small businesses and farmers, aka, “Main Street.” Democrats can’t concede this issue because it’s a “Republican issue.” That’s a lazy excuse. It’s time Democrats get tough and talk about the issues that matter most in the small towns and rural communities where they need to win…Democrats can stand up for labor, public education and all the values they hold dear while still delivering a message and results that will make voters think, “They speak for me.”

Some words of wisdom for Democrats from former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, via RealClearPolitics: “…Democrats must diligently seek to establish countervailing power – stronger trade unions, community banks, more incentives for employee ownership and small businesses, and electoral reforms that get big money out of politics and expand the right to vote…The Party must change from being a giant fundraising machine to a movement. It needs to unite the poor, working class, and middle class, black and white – who haven’t had a raise in 30 years, and who feel angry, powerless, and disenfranchised.”

It looks like salon.com screwed up the headline (‘repeal,’ not ‘appeal’?), but Margaret Greenwood-Ericksen, National Clinician Scholar, Clinical Lecturer, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, University of Michigan and Mahshid Abir, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan, have some research underscoring the dangers of the GOP’s reckless campaign to repeal the Affordable Care Act. As Abir and Greenwood-Ericksen write, “To improve rural health, it is critical to maintain the expansion of Medicaid. We must find a way to expand coverage for the rest of rural America – two-thirds of uninsured people in rural areas live in nonexpansion states…we are facing a rural hospital closure crisis. The cause of this is complex, but over 70 percent of the closures have occurred in states that did not expand Medicaid – which appears to be linked to improved finances, as hospitals in expansion states have experienced less uncompensated care….An immediate repeal of Medicaid expansion and the private marketplaces without a thoughtful transition and comprehensive plan to maintain health insurance coverage will result in catastrophic consequences for rural health…It will result in a sudden decrease of the insured rates, leading to a dramatic increase in uncompensated care which will likely drive further rural hospital closures. This will result in a crisis of access to emergency care and harm rural economies, condemning rural Americans to an unbreakable cycle of poor health and poverty. American identity is steeped in a desire to protect our most vulnerable – but we need to act now to save our heartland.”

Any bets on how long the petition urging the federal government to release Trump’s tax returns will last on the White House web pages?


Political Strategy Notes

In the states Working America canvassed, a surprising number of white working-class voters who had backed Barack Obama chose Trump over Hillary Clinton, helping flip those states to the GOP. So after the election, [Working America director Karen] Nussbaum’s team went back into the field, surveying over 2,300 voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania to make sense of what had happened. Their conclusion, provided exclusively to The Nation today: Many Trump voters “are as up for grabs [to Democrats] now as they were before the election,” Nussbaum said. That may be of little comfort, two days before the inauguration, but it should remind Democrats that the defection of some of their voters to Trump wasn’t a lasting shift based on policy but a bad choice these voters nonetheless perceived as best for them. — from Joan Walsh’s article, “Post-Election Survey: Democrats Can Still Reach Trump Voters: The study by Working America, shared exclusively with The Nation, finds that many Trump voters are up for grabs—but also points to a lack of progressive infrastructure” in The Nation.

At The Washington Post Elise Viebeck reports that “More than 60 Democratic lawmakers now skipping Trump’s inauguration.” Actually it’s 65 and growing. “The number rose sharply after Trump tweeted Saturday that Lewis (D) is “all talk, talk, talk” and should “finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities.” One Democratic House member, Karen Bass, twitter-polled her constituents, and 84 percent of 12, 704 respondents urged her not to attend.

Jane C. Timm has a round-up at NBCnews.com, “Here’s Why Democrats Say They’re Skipping Trump’s Inauguration,” with short explainations, including “Because “Respect, like Pennsylvania Avenue, is a two-way street” (New York Rep. Lloyd Doggett); “Because “a real president doesn’t insult and bully celebrities or everyday Americans because they disagree with him,” (Rep. Raul Ruiz); “Trump is a unique threat to the Constitution and our country” (Pennsylvania’s Rep. Brendan Boyle); and “To keep a clear conscience” (Texas Rep. G.K. ButterfieldTexas Rep. Al Green).

From “An Emerging, and Very Pointed Democratic Resistance” by Benjamin Wallce-Wells at The New Yorker: “Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, had allowed each senator only five minutes to question [Trump Education Secretary-nomine Betsy] DeVos. In these short exchanges, the committee’s Democratic members did remarkable damage. Under questioning from Senator Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, DeVos not only refused to say that guns had no place in schools but also advanced the ludicrous position that they might be needed to protect against “potential grizzlies.” Bernie Sanders got the nominee to admit that her family had spent as much as two hundred million dollars to elect Republicans. Elizabeth Warren’s prodding revealed that DeVos had little to say about the problem of student debt. Under Tim Kaine’s questioning, she repeatedly declined to say that she would hold charter or private schools to the same accountability standards as public schools. Maggie Hassan’s questioning showed that DeVos did not understand the federal government’s legal responsibility to protect students with disabilities. “I may have confused it,” DeVos said.”

Greg Sargent’s Plum Line post “Trump’s Obamacare replacement will be a scam. Here’s how Democrats can expose it” reveals the fradulent core of Trump’s ACA ‘replacement’: “While he reiterated that people without money will get coverage, he clarified that he’s considering a mechanism to do this: Medicaid block grants. “We’ll probably have block grants of Medicaid back into the states,” Trump told Fox…Progressives tend to oppose Medicaid block grants because they are all but certain to get cut, and because states would restrict eligibility requirements. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently put it, they “would likely eliminate the guarantee that everyone who’s eligible and applies for its benefits would receive them…this idea — which seems likely to be at the center of the Trump/GOP replacement plan — would dilute the guarantee of coverage that Obamacare is striving to make universal.”

At Social Europe Oxford University professor Bo Rothstein addresses a question of interest not only in the U.S., but in industrialized nations world-wide: “Why Has The White Working Class Abandoned The Left?” Rothstein focuses on an issue that is too-often glossed over — corruption. “In several yearly polls, Gallup has reported that, since 2010, between 73 and 79 percent of Americans agree that “corruption is widespread throughout the government in this country.” These staggering figures are by no means unique but there is considerable variation between countries from Greece 99 percent to 26 percent in Denmark…Corruption is not an easy concept to define and the academic literature is, to say the least, not unified. Empirical research, however, gives a quite surprising answer to what “ordinary people” in general perceive as corruption. What they understand as corruption is much broader than bribes. Instead, it is various forms of favouritism in which money usually is not involved. This can be things like access to good schools, getting a building licence or a public contract where in many cases people feel that the decision has not been impartial and based on clear rules about merit. Instead, political, social or ethnic personal connections dominates who gets what…Instead of focusing on universal programs for all or very broad segments of the population, the Democrats and Clinton came to represent policies seen as favouritism (“corruption”) towards minority groups by the white male working class. Targeted programs are also very vulnerable to suspicion about malpractice in implementation processes because decisions about individual cases are often very complicated (who is eligible and how much preferential treatment is justified). Universal programs, once the hallmark of successful leftist policies, do not suffer from this problem usually.”

David Leonhardt’s NYT column “America’s Great Working-Class Colleges” merits a thoughtful read from all Democrats who are seeking ways to win more support from working-class voters of all races. Leonhardt observes, “Because the elite colleges aren’t fulfilling that responsibility, working-class colleges have become vastly larger engines of social mobility. The new data shows, for example, that the City University of New York system propelled almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all eight Ivy League campuses, plus Duke, M.I.T., Stanford and Chicago, combined.” However, adds Leonhardt, “The share of lower-income students at many public colleges has fallen somewhat over the last 15 years. The reason is clear. State funding for higher education has plummeted. It’s down 19 percent per student, adjusted for inflation, since 2008, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The financial crisis pinched state budgets, and facing a pinch, some states decided education wasn’t a top priority.” If Democrats can brand their party as the sole institutional advocate of broadening the lanes of access to college education for working families, it will not go unappreciated.

In his post at The Upshot, “Trump Shows How to Smother a Scandal: With a Bigger Story,”Brendan Nyhan has a revealing insight on the role of scandals in politics that Democrats better understand, particularly in dealing with the incoming Trump Administration: “Scandals need time and space to develop. When the news cycle is congested, potential scandals are deprived of attention, causing the media to move on to other stories and the political opposition to anticipate that any criticisms will probably have little effect…Many observers suspect that Mr. Trump seeks to exploit this dynamic by distracting the press and the public with stunts like meeting with Kanye West after delaying a news conference on conflicts of interest or tweetingabout Meryl Streep before hearings to consider his nominees on Capitol Hill. It’s impossible to determine his motivations, of course, but the effect is often to divert attention from less flattering issues…In this sense, the continuing reality show that Mr. Trump creates may help protect him from deep damage by any particular scandal. As in the campaign, he makes so much news every day that few stories ever generate sustained controversy. Instead, public attention lurches from one story to the next, never quite focusing on any particular controversy. He may prefer it that way.” Intentional or not, it’s as if Trump’s attention span deficit has become contagious, infecting the media and actually working in his interest by reducing the shelf-life of his ever-percolating scandals. What provoked outrage in years past, now engenders a few chuckles at the breakfast table, then off to work. Republicans were able to manufacture a fake ‘scandal’ regarding Clinton’s emails, without ever addressing specifics, through unrelenting message discipline, while Trump’s tax returns remain hidden on the eve of his inauguration.

For those who have wondered why America’s 57 million citizens with disabilities are not more of a unified political force, Jay Ruckelshaus’s New York Times op-ed explores “The Non-Politics of Disability,” and offers this provocative idea: “…I believe there is great potential for a new disability politics to provide a positive blueprint for dealing with our partisan divide and other identity issues that goes beyond the unhelpful political correctness frame. Thinking seriously about precisely why disability maintains a moral consensus might allow us to harness any advantages (e.g. a common moral vocabulary) while discarding what’s unhelpful. What if we could construct a model of politicization that doesn’t entail bitter partisanship, and rescue authentic disagreement from stultifying consensus? The resulting practices and mentalities could be revolutionary for disability politics, and for democracy itself.”

 


Democratic State Attorneys General Prep to Fight Trump, GOP Agenda

Despite the problematic political landscape facing Democrats, the party does have a potent resource, 21 state attorneys general, many of whom are tough advocates of progressive values and reforms, and they are ready to rumble. As Alan Greenblatt writes in his post, “To Battle Trump, Democrats Will Use GOP’s Own Tactics” at Governing the States and Localities:

“Democratic attorneys general are going to be very active, suing a number of regulatory agencies,” says Paul Nolette, a political scientist at Marquette University. “They will be prepared to use a kitchen sink strategy against everything coming out of the EPA.”

…Democrats are preparing to fight the new administration with lawsuit after lawsuit. But can Democratic AGs make a difference with their diminished numbers?……The number of Democratic attorneys general has ticked down with recent Republican successes at the state level. But there are still 21 of them — more than the number of Democratic governors or legislatures. Many are already accustomed to working closely on litigation with liberal groups such as the Sierra Club.

As you can see from the wikipedia map below, many of the Republican A.G.s are in smaller population states.

State AGs

And, as Greenblatt notes,”it isn’t really the number of Democratic AGs that matters. A single activist attorney general such as Eric Schneiderman of New York or Xavier Becerra of California can command a small army of lawyers.”

Republicans will surely whine and howl about the Demcoratic state A.G.s doing their job. But they are on very shaky ground expressing any moral outrage about it. As Greenblatt notes,

In his book Federalism on Trial, Nolette found that recent Republican AGs such as Pruitt were far more likely to file lawsuits than earlier generations of attorneys general. By his count, Republican AGs filed a total of five partisan briefs with the Supreme Court during the Clinton administration, compared with 97 during the first seven years of the Obama presidency. Now that the partisan shoe is on the other foot, Democrats will try their best to block much of what they don’t like coming out of the new Washington.

Looking forward, Greenblatt envisions an era of energetic activism on the part of Democratic state attorneys general:

When fighting the administration on labor, immigration and health, Democrats are likely to borrow from the GOP playbook in seeking to block new federal rules through every step of the process. In addition, they’ll try to do something Republicans generally won’t — use their leverage to win multistate court settlements that increase regulation of targeted industries. They could be especially active in areas where Republicans in Washington might be inclined to let corporations off the hook, such as banking and securities.

President-elect Donald Trump is also uniquely-positioned to draw a barrage of legal chalenges from state A.G.s. As Greenblatt explains,

“I won’t hesitate to take Donald Trump to court if he carries out his unconstitutional campaign promises,” Massachusetts AG Maura Healey pledged in a fundraising pitch last year.

…Trump doesn’t come to office with a clean slate when it comes to relations with attorneys general. Schneiderman helped negotiate a $25 million settlement immediately after the election regarding allegations of fraud involving Trump University. He’s still looking into the question of whether Trump’s foundation violated New York law, notably with a $25,000 campaign donation to Florida AG Pam Bondi.

“Donald Trump, citizen, not Donald Trump, president, enters the world of AGs on a watch list,” says James Tierney, a former Maine attorney general who now teaches at Harvard University. “He ran a routine, garden-variety fraud — Trump University — and he was caught. Every attorney general I’ve talked to has had complainants in his state. Everybody opened files. When somebody’s a fraudster, they get on everybody’s agenda. It changes the way you look at him or her.”

Republicans will soon have control of the three branches of government and a healthy majority of the state legislatures and governorships. But, Democratic state attorneys general have a full agenda of their own, and they are set to leverage their authority to keep the Trump administration in check.