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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Political Strategy Notes


In his New York Times op-ed, “What the Shutdown Says About the Future of the Democrats,” Michael Tomasky comments on why Democrats are right to hold the line on a fair immigration policy: “For now, liberals should cheer this unreservedly. For one thing, the cause of these young undocumented Americans is a good one. But more broadly, the Republicans have been playing this way for years. If Democrats won’t, they’ll just lose. You can’t bring a squirt gun to the O.K. Corral.” It’s a good point. Dems have a lot to gain by standing up for a fair immigration policy, despite the GOP blame machine’s dubious efforts to spin the fault away from their own weak leadership. Not only does public opinion strongly support “the Democratic position that they be permitted to stay and given a path to citizenship,” as Tomasky points out; As FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten shows just below, a healthy majority places the blame for the shutdown at the feet of the Republicans.

At FiveThirtyEight, Harry Enten explores the political reverberations of shutdown blame: “… We don’t have divided government. During those previous shutdowns, Democrats controlled the White House and the GOP controlled Congress. But Republicans control everything right now. So maybe the public will pin even more of the blame on Republicans this time than in past shutdowns. An ABC News/Washington Post poll taken before the shutdown started found that 48 percent of Americans believe President Trump and congressional Republicans would be more to blame for a shutdown, while just 28 percent said congressional Democrats… A CNN poll, like the ABC News/Washington Post poll, found that most people would blame Trump or congressional Republicans for a shutdown…All that said, and even if there is quick shutdown effect in the polls, the midterm elections are not until November. With Trump in the White House, it’s difficult for any story to stay at the top of the news cycle for more than a few days. With that in mind, it’s easy to see one side picking up political support in the immediate aftermath of the shutdown, only for that bump to fade with time.”

“Faced with intra-party discord and malevolent prevarication from Republicans, what are Democrats to do about DACA?,” asks Mark Joseph Stern in his article, “Democrats Are Doing the Right Thing” at slate.com. “Rely on more easily broken promises from Ryan, McConnell, and the White House? Go along with the lie that Dreamers can wait until March for relief? Surrender altogether to the whims of a Republican Party dominated by serial fibbers? Of course not. The first DREAM Act was introduced in 2001. Republicans have foiled its passage for 17 years. At some point, Democrats had to draw a line in the sand. That moment arrived on Friday…A government shutdown is an awful thing. It’s a humiliation for the nation that disrupts hundreds of thousands of lives, and it may well provoke backlash against progressives. But Democrats had no other choice. Republicans cannot be trusted to protect Dreamers from a crisis of the GOP’s own making. To capitulate on DACA would be an abdication of the Democratic Party’s moral responsibilities. Dreamers belong in this country, and Democrats should use every bit of leverage they have to keep them here.”

Matthew Yglesias has a good summation of the current impasse on immigration reform and the shutdown at Vox: “Instead of negotiating positions, [immigration] hawks have put forth a comprehensive wish list for entirely transforming the American immigration system. They say they want billions of dollars in new border security funding plus the full RAISE Act vision of cutting legal immigration in halfwhile ending family and diversity visas in favor of an exclusive focus on job offers and educational attainment….There’s just no way Democrats are going to agree to these changes as the price to pay for helping the DREAMers. There’s a total disproportion between the scale of the asks and the significance of the DACA issue. To get sweeping changes in the immigration system enacted, conservatives would need to come to the table with some kind of help for the entirepopulation of long-settled undocumented immigrants — precisely the kind of comprehensive immigration reform they’ve been eschewing for years.”

As for ther price tag of government shutdowns, Danny Vinik writes at Politico, “Quantifying the exact cost to the government is difficult, in part because every shutdown is different. Between November 1995 and January 1996, the government shut down twice for a total of 27 days as Democrats and Republicans clashed over Medicare funding, among other issues. A subsequent analysis conducted by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget estimated that both shutdowns together cost the government $1.4 billion—more than $2 billion today after adjusting for inflation…Of that $1.4 billion, roughly $1.1 billion was salary paid to federal workers who stayed home and didn’t work. The remaining $300 million came from other sources, such as the lost revenue from the closure of national parks and public museums.”

Best quote of the day goes to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, as reported in Jennifer Rubin’s WaPo column “Shutdown agreement! Trump is to blame.” As Rubin writes, ” On the floor of the Senate on Saturday, Schumer sounded exasperated. He first reviewed the sequence of events. “The bottom line is simple: President Trump just can’t take yes for an answer. He’s rejected not one but two viable bipartisan deals, including one in which I put his most prominent campaign pledge on the table,” he said. “What’s even more frustrating than President Trump’s intransigence is the way he seems amenable to these compromises before completely switching positions and backing off. Negotiating with President Trump is like negotiating with Jell-O.”

At NBC News Politics First Read, Dante Chini writes, “There are 142 congressional districts that have Hispanic populations greater than the national average, about 18 percent, and 52 of those districts are currently held by Republicans. Among those 52 GOP-held districts, 18 are already rated as competitive by the Cook Political Report. (In 21 Republican-held House districts, the Hispanic population tops 30 percent.)…A Republican failure to fix DACA could drive up turnout among Hispanic and swing voters in those districts. Hispanic Americans already lean strongly against Republican control of Congress. This week’s NBC/WSJ poll found that 64 percent of Hispanics preferred the Democrats control the Congress, compared to 19 percent who favor Republican control…And the most important number of all in 2018 may be 24: the number of seats the Democrats would need to net in November to take back the House. If the Democrats are actually going to win that many seats this fall, these GOP-held districts with large Hispanic populations are an important target for them.”

Who can devise—and pursue—wedge strategies to help Democrats broaden their coalition?…Not the party. It recognizes, correctly, that its full focus has to be on turning out its Base Vote. Midterm elections bring that into sharp relief; drop-off within the Democratic base is usually greater than the GOP’s…Nor can the party, even if it does much better than it’s done before, maximize its Base Vote by itself. Not only are its resources too few, but it has less credibility than entities on the independent side, both local and national….The Alabama special election proved the indispensability of independent efforts; it took every effort of the candidate, the party, and independent groups to produce the mammoth base vote turnout that propelled Doug Jones to the Senate…There is much to be learned from a granular examination of the suburban swing to Jones, identifying which suburban moderates swung and which did not…So little effort has been devoted to wedge strategies by Democrats that we have no hard evidence of what might work among—to cite a few possibilities—veterans, seniors, suburban moderates, small town/rural/exurban (STREX) voters, or evangelical Christians. Even the Latino realignment has been under-resourced; though resources have been made available for the issue fight around immigration and for civic engagement in election cycles, they have not produced a self-sustaining mass-membership organization, which could enroll millions.”– From Paul Booth’s “Building an Enduring Democratic Majority,” his final article for The American Prospect.

Political Strategy Notes

William A. Galston argues at Brookings that “Data point to a new wave of female political activism that could shift the course of US politics.” Noting a new Gallup report “documenting a substantial rise in Americans’ discontent with the position of women in U.S. society. 37 percent espoused this sentiment in 2018, compared to 26 percent in 2008…All of the change occurred among Democrats. 43 percent of Democratic men were unhappy about the status of women, compared to 29 percent a decade earlier. Discontent among Democratic women moved even more, soaring from 38 percent to 62 percent. Meanwhile, sentiment among Republicans did not budge: 15 percent of men and 18 percent of women expressed discontent in both 2008 and 2018…Taken together with the MTV/PRRI survey, these findings suggest that Democratic women are poised to become the leading edge of calls for fundamental change in the treatment of women in U.S. society. The political effects of their mobilization in the 2018 midterms and beyond will be one of the major story-lines for analysts during the next few years.”

Thomas B. Edsall’s New York Times op-ed, “Will Women Lead the Democrats to Victory?” reviews additional data and adds more evidence to the argument, including this observation by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake: “In an email, Lake argued that the issue of sexual harassment will motivate young and unmarried women to vote, that it has already helped restore Democratic loyalty among college-educated women and that it will improve prospects for women running for office….For many women, according to Lake, “there is a continuum from sexual assault to sexual harassment to bad social and dating behavior,” all of which can help motivate female voters.”

In his ABC News post, “Analysis: Republican strategists say Democrats virtually certain to win House in 2018,” Jonathan Karl reports, “Prominent Republicans are now saying privately that Democrats are virtually certain to win control of the House of Representatives…As one senior Republican on Capitol Hilltold ABC News, “If the election were held today, the House would be gone. Fortunately, the election is not today.” Another prominent Republican strategist working on the midterm elections went further, telling ABC News point-blank that Republicans will lose the House and that this prospect unlikely to change.“The only question is whether Democrats win narrowly by picking up 25 seats or whether it is a blowout of more than 35 seats,” the strategist told me.”

At New York Magazine Ed Kilgore comments on the political reverberation’s of Trump’s environmental policies in California: “Aside from the tax bill’s unique unpopularity in California, Trump has definitely damaged his and his party’s brand in the state with the Interior Department’s recent announcement that the state’s coasts will probably be reopened to offshore drilling in federally controlled waters. There haven’t been any new federal leases for offshore drilling in California since 1984, and the very idea tends to produce strong bipartisan opposition. Inadequate or tardy federal response to California’s horrific wildfires by the Trump administration or the Republican Congress is another big potential problem for the GOP.”

Despite’s Trump’s destructive and racist comments about U.S. immigration policy, it’s encouraging that Sens “Graham, Durbin introduce bipartisan immigration bill despite setbacks,” as Tal Kopan and Daniella Diaz report at CNN Politics. “Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, introduced their bill Wednesday afternoon with Sens. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, putting the bill close to having enough votes to pass the Senate, assuming unanimous Democratic support, but not quite to the 60-vote threshold needed to advance legislation…The bill appeared to be the same that was presented to President Donald Trump last week, when the President, using vulgar terms, rejected the pitch, according to sources familiar with that meeting.” Although the bill has little chance of enactment at present, it does highlight Trump’s incompetence bipartisan consensus, as well as his bigotry.

WaPo conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin explains “How the Republicans are blowing their blame game,” noting, “The Republican gambit to blame Democrats — who control neither the House, Senate nor White House — for failure to keep the government running was always a long shot. They are, as they keep reminding us, in charge and have the majorities to keep the government funded. Nevertheless, they’ve tried to convince dubious voters that Democrats are creating a shutdown because of that party’s desire to protect “dreamers” under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. That’s daft since, once again, a majority of Republicans are available to vote for a spending bill with no DACA fix…What is apparent for all to see is that Democrats have no responsibility to concoct a solution to address the Republicans’ abject incompetence. When a majority party cannot decide what it wants, and cannot find the votes, they are admitting they cannot govern. There is a solution to that: putting the other party in charge.”

Philip Bump of Post Politics brings the bad news about net neutrality — that “the effort by Senate Democrats to push back on the FCC’s move is, barring a political miracle, a nonstarter.” However, notes Bump, “Democrats see that this is an issue that energizes their base, so they do everything they can to change the FCC decision. This isn’t much, mind you, but it’s all they’ve got. And by checking this box, they can argue on the campaign trail that they need more Democrats in the House and Senate — though, by the time November rolls around, it will be too late to use the CRA, and even if they could, there’s still the issue of Trump. In 2020, it can be used as a rationale for the election of a Democrat as president…What’s more, it can be framed as threatening freedom of speech on the Internet, which, in the Trump era, has been a closely-watched concern.”

“Looking ahead, we think it’s fair to say that in order for Democrats to net the 24 seats they need to win the House, they likely need to net at least a half-dozen seats from the group of open seats,” writes Kyle Kondik at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “As it stands now, we think they’re outright favored to win four open GOP seats, and they have roughly even odds in an additional three…Let’s say Democrats do meet our standard and net a half-dozen seats or so out of the open seats. That means Democrats would need to defeat about 15-20 House Republican incumbents to win the House, when combined with their net gains from open seats…That may sound like a lot, but historically it’s not a very high bar. Going back to 1954, there have been 16 midterms. In nine of those elections, the non-presidential party defeated 15 or more presidential party incumbents, according to Vital Statistics on Congress (the presidential party never did this in any of those midterms).”

Roll Call’s Stuart Rothenberg takes an insider look at key U.S. Senate races and explains why “It’s a Blue House Wave, but Not Yet a Senate One: Rural, Trump-friendly states make for a formidable map for Democrats.”  “For Senate Democrats, the problem is clear — increased Democratic enthusiasm among younger voters, minorities and highly educated suburbanites will help their nominees nationally but not in states like West Virginia, North Dakota or Montana…So, while the House of Representatives is increasingly at risk in November, the Republican Party’s Senate majority still looks very formidable. At some point this cycle, that chamber may well be “in play.” But it is not there yet.”

Political Strategy Notes

As America commemorates the 32nd MLK holiday, Barbara Arnwine and John Nichols report at The Nation that “a new National Commission for Voter Justice has been constituted at the urging of the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., leaders of the National Bar Association and scholars and activists from across the country. This nonpartisan commission, which will launch this week in Washington, begins with the premise that Americans need reliable information about threats to voting rights, and that the information can and should be employed not merely to address those threats but to establish a voter justice ethic that says every community and every state should be striving for the highest level of voter participation in every election…The commission, which expects to conduct its work from January 2018, through December 2019, will hold at least 18 regional and special hearings, sponsor national training events and publish at least eight briefing papers, advisories and reports.”

“President Trump’s vulgar comments disparaging Haiti, El Salvador and African countries reverberated across the country Friday — including in one immigrant-rich state central to the GOP’s political fortunes where the party was already facing head winds: Florida,” write Sean Sullivan and Lori Rozsa in “Republicans in immigrant-rich Fla. scramble in wake of Trump’s remarks” at PowerPost. “Trump’s reference to “shithole countries” in an Oval Office meeting with lawmakers Thursday sent Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a close ally the president is courting to run for the U.S. Senate, scrambling to distance himself from the controversy. Republican lawmakers issued strongly worded statements condemning what the leader of their party said. And GOP strategists and activists worried about the fallout in a battleground that is home to one of the country’s largest populations of Latin Americans…According to a 2010 Census publication, of the estimated 830,000 people in the United States in 2009 with Haitian ancestry, about two-thirds lived in Florida…”

James Fallows ponders at The Atlantic the great good that could come, if just two Republican Senators came from the shadows of shame to take action in response to Trump’s latest indecency: “If only two of those senators would stand up against Donald Trump, with their votes rather than just their tweets or concerned statements, they would constitute an effective majority…With the 49 Democratic and independent senators, these two would make 51 votes, which in turn would be enough to authorize real investigations. They could pass a formal resolution of censure. They could call for tax returns and financial disclosure. They could begin hearings, on the model of the nationally televised Watergate hearings of 45 years ago…They could behave as if they took seriously their duties to hold the executive branch accountable. They could make a choice they know will be to their credit when this era enters history — as did the Republicans who finally turned against their own party’s President Nixon during the Watergate drama, as did the Democrats who finally turned against their own party’s President Johnson over the Vietnam war, as did the Republicans who finally turned against their own poisonous Senator McCarthy in the episode that gave rise to “Have you no sense of decency?” more than 60 years ago. They could spare themselves the shame that history attaches to people who did the wrong thing, or nothing, or kept looking the other way during those decisive periods.” Two, just two…for America.

Looking forward to the governors races of 2108, Kyle Kondik writes at Sabato’s Crystal Ball that “The Republicans currently hold six of the governorships in the 10 most populous states. The two most populous states, California and Texas, look like easy holds for, respectively, the Democrats and Republicans. New York, now the fourth-largest state, should be an easy hold for Democrats. North Carolina, the ninth-most populous, is the only one not on the ballot this year (Democrats captured it in 2016), while Georgia, the eighth-biggest, is competitive, but the Republicans are favored to hold it…That leaves five others: Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Republicans hold all but the Keystone State right now. Three are Toss-ups, while Republicans start the year with a modest edge in Ohio and Democrats a modest edge in Pennsylvania….Whichever party wins a majority of these five governorships probably will have had the better night in November, particularly because all five governors play a key role in congressional redistricting, which is coming after the 2020 census and will be overseen by the governors elected this year in these (and many other) states…”

At Talking Points Memo, Cameron Joseph explans why “Fears Of A Democratic Midterm Wave Are Already Costing GOP In Key Races,” and cites four factors of a “potential wave election,” including: polling; candidate fund-raising; recent off-year election performance; and “incumbent retirements and candidate recruitment.” Statistical indicators associated with all four factors show a strong advantage for Democrats as the 2018 midterm campaigns begin.

Brett Samuels reports at The Hill: “A CBS News poll, released Sunday, found 48 percent of Americans say the country is doing well economically, compared to 22 percent who say it’s doing poorly. Another 30 percent said it is neither doing well or poorly, according to the poll…Another 49 percent of respondents indicated they believe the U.S. is run for the benefit of a few elites. By comparison, 28 percent said they believe the country is run for the benefit of the people, while 22 percent said neither, according to the poll, which was conducted Jan. 10-12. As for who gets credit for the economy, bith good and bad, Samuels also notes that “A recent Quinnipiac poll showed 49 percent of respondents gave Obama credit for the current economy, compared to 40 percent who gave Trump credit.”

“First, not all digital impressions are created equal. Skippability, viewability, user initiation/auto-play and brand safety all must be considered when evaluating digital inventory, and the cheapest impression often isn’t the most effective choice…Then there the planning and placement to consider…While TV campaigns are typically targeted by media market, digital plans are targeted based on factors like individual vote history and partisanship, demographic data, digital contactability scores and internet usage rates, custom models, the proportion of targets by individual ZIP code and so on…In the past couple cycles, Democrats have fallen behind the GOP on the adoption and execution of robust digital media buys — and it has cost us dearly. Last year was when digital ad spend finally beat TV, according to Magna, the research arm of media buying firm IPG Mediabrands. Let’s make 2018 the year that Democrats build the aggressive, nuanced, forward-thinking campaigns we need to win up and down the ballot. — from “New Year’s Resolution for Democrats: Take Digital Seriously in ’18” by Stephanie Grasmick, partner at Rising Tide Interactive, writing at Campaigns & Elections.

In his post, “Buying Into Medicaid: A Viable Path for Universal Coverage” at The American Prospect, Michael S. Sparer outlines a nuanced case for what he believes to be the most promising route to genuine universal health care in the U.S. A teaser: “Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income populations, offers the best path forward, from both a political and a policy perspective. Medicaid could be an affordable and attractive option for those buying coverage on the ACA exchanges, stabilizing markets that otherwise lack adequate competition and offering a realistic path to an American version of universal coverage…Medicaid is the longstanding heart of the nation’s effort to aid the uninsured, and it remains our most plausible path to universal coverage. We should thus push for a Medicaid buy-in strategy, as a way of providing immediate assistance to some and continuing our incremental path to better coverage for all.”

Political Strategy Notes

At The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein writes about “The Voters Abandoning Donald Trump: According to previously unpublished findings, the blue-collar whites at the core of his coalition have lost faith over his first year in office.” Brownstein observes, “Previously unpublished results from the nonpartisan online-polling firm SurveyMonkey show Trump losing ground over his tumultuous first year not only with the younger voters and white-collar whites who have always been skeptical of him, but also with the blue-collar whites central to his coalition…These findings emerge from a cumulative analysis of 605,172 interviews SurveyMonkey conducted with Americans in 2017 about Trump’s job performance. At my request, Mark Blumenthal, SurveyMonkey’s head of election polling, calculated Trump’s average approval rating over the last year among groups of voters segmented simultaneously by their race, gender, education level, and age. That extra level of detail, not available in conventional polls because their samples are too small, offers a more precise picture of Trump’s coalition…In the 2016 election, exit polls found that Trump’s best group was whites without a four-year college degree; he carried 66 percent of them. But his approval among them in the 2017 SurveyMonkey average slipped to 56 percent. In 2016, whites with at least a four-year college degree gave Trump 48 percent of their votes. But in the 2017 average, just 40 percent approved of Trump’s performance, while a resounding 60 percent disapproved.”

Harry Enten writes at FiveThirtyEight: “Overall, in the 10 midterm elections since 1978, the average Republican turnout advantage has been about 3 percentage points. In other words, the GOP does about 3 points better, on average, among midterm voters compared with whatever their margin is vs. Democrats among all registered voters. In short, Republicans have a midterm turnout advantage…There’s a second important force at work during midterm elections, however. The Republican turnout advantage is either exacerbated or all but canceled out depending on which party controls the White House.”

“A lesson from the Alabama Senate race, where Priorities USA spent $1.5 million on digital advertising, was that basic positive advertising worked. Doug Jones introduced himself to voters, talked about his record and his values, criticized his opponent Roy Moore where necessary. But Jones didn’t make the race about Trump. That took care of itself, because Trump is all anyone can talk about, anyway…It’s a simple formula: Jones took an affirmative, middle-class-focused message to both the Democratic base as well as persuadable voters. [Chief strategist for Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC, Guy] Cecil believes it can be replicated in red states, blue states, state house districts, and city council races. “Democrats have micro-targeted ourselves into oblivion,” he said. “This is not about being efficient. This election should be about expanding the growth map, expanding the races and expanding our way of thinking about communicating to people. When people feel uneasy about the chaos and the ongoing churn of politics, having something that is positive and rooted in your values becomes more important.” — from “Uneasy About the Chaos: As Democrats Prepare for a Bloodbath, A Novel Strategy Emerges:  2018 may be a wave election, but recent races in the south suggest it will take more than anti-Trump mania to run the board.” by Peter Hamby at Vanity Fair.

NYT columnist Paul Krugman argues that Republican opposition to key Medicaid provisions are rooted in sadistic tendencies, more than political considerations. “But is it really about the money? No, it’s about the cruelty. Over the past few years it has become increasingly clear that the suffering imposed by Republican opposition to safety-net programs isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Inflicting pain is the point…Republican foot-dragging on CHIP, like opposition to Medicaid expansion and the demand for work requirements, isn’t about the money, it’s about the cruelty. Making lower-income Americans worse off has become a goal in itself for the modern G.O.P., a goal the party is actually willing to spend money and increase deficits to achieve.” Read the column to see how Krugman supports his case.

At Politico, Mark Oppenheimer explores “How to Turn a Red State Purple (Democrats Not Required),” focusing on the efforts of a small group of young Democratic activists in Alaska. Subtitled “A tiny group of political renegades is transforming one of the reddest states in the country through a surprising strategy: ignoring their own party. Could it work elsewhere?,” Oppenheimer notes the enactment of ” Measure 1, a referendum that passed in November 2016 and which automatically registers all Alaskans to vote when they submit their application for the oil dividend. Since everyone wants their oil dividend, this reform should get Alaska to near 100-percent voter registration in 2018—and the new voters are likely to be relatively poor, more heavily Democratic, and sympathetic to a progressive income tax. Meanwhile, Anchorage’s reputation as a diverse, progressive city, the oil recession, and the state’s coming marijuana economy—pot shops are slowly opening around the state, after a 2014 ballot measure legalized pot sales—are likely to skew the population more liberal.”

“Democrats have opened up a massive 17-point advantage in generic ballot polling for the House ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, according to the latest survey from Quinnipiac University,” reports Jonathan Easley at The Hill. “When voters were asked if they would rather see Republicans or Democrats win control of the House in 2018, 52 percent said Democrats, while 35 percent said Republicans. Thirteen percent were undecided…Those findings give Democrats a greater advantage than most other recent polls. According to the RealClearPolitics average, Democrats have a 12-point advantage in the generic ballot.”

At Truthdig, Mandy Velez documents “Surprising Ways Voter Suppression Hurts Women,” including: caregivers; Women who are poor or work hourly wage jobs; women who are abused; students; and disabled and older women. Further, “Voter ID laws alone account for an estimated 34 percent of women who could be turned away from the polls for not having the right documents, according to the National Organization of Women. Because 90 percent of women change their names when they get married, they often have different names on their identification documents.”

“It’s not that I’m pessimistic about the Democrats’ overall position next year,” writes Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight. “On the contrary, I think most political observers had, until recently, been slow to recognize just how bad things had gotten for Republicans. But the Senate map is really tough for Democrats, with 26 Democratic seats in play next year (including a newly opened seat in Minnesota after Al Franken announced his intention to retire) as compared to just eight Republican ones. Moreover, five of the Democratic-held seats — the ones in West Virginia, North Dakota, Montana, Missouri and Indiana — are in states that President Trump won by 18 percentage points or more…Just how bad is this map for Democrats? It’s bad enough that it may be the worst Senate map that any party has faced ever, or at least since direct election of senators began in 1913. It’s bad enough that Democrats could conceivably gain 35 or 40 seats in the House … and not pick up the two seats they need in the Senate…Don’t believe me? Check out the race-by-race ratings put forward by independent groups such as the Cook Political Report, Inside Elections1 and Sabato’s Crystal Ball. They suggest that Democrats are more likely to loseSenate seats next year than to gain them — and that while there’s a plausible path to a Democratic majority, it’s a fairly unlikely one.”

At Vox, Matthew Yglesias has a revealing update on Arizone politics in 2018, which includes this encouraging assessment: “Arizona Democrats suddenly find themselves with a plausible shot at picking up a Senate seat, a House seat, and the governor’s mansion in what’s historically been a solidly red state…Republicans currently have 51 Senate seats, with Dean Heller’s race in Nevada almost certainly Democrats’ best chance to pick one up and the Flake seat in Arizona coming second. The race could, thus, very literally be the pivot point on which control of the Senate (and thus Trump’s ability to continue stocking the judiciary with Republicans) hinges — though, of course, to pull it off, Democrats need to defend a lot of incumbent Democrats in red states…Arizona is at the center of the shifting sands of American politics. In the face of a large and growing Latino population, the state’s Republican Party appears to be shifting away from the Flake/McCain tradition of immigrant-friendly Republicanism and toward the Arpaio/Trump brand of white grievance politics.”

Will Sessions War on Pot Help Sink GOP in Midterms?

Regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to reverse President Obama’s directive preventing the federal government from enforcing its marijuana laws in pot-friendly states, it’s hard to see any benefit for Republicans in terms of winning over younger voters in the 2018 midterm elections. For one thing it’s likely that voters who like the Sessions directive were already going to vote for Republicans. There is just no value added for the GOP in the Sessions policy. In addition, recent polling shows overwhelming support for liberalization of marijuana laws. As Ryan Struyk reports at CNN Politics:

A broad 64% of Americans say they support the legalization of marijuana, according to a Gallup poll in October — the highest mark in more than four decades of polling…The poll shows legalization has support from 72% of Democrats — up from 61% over the last three years — and even a slim majority, 51%, of Republicans — up from just 34% in the same time span.

Medical marijuana, for its part, has nearly universal support in the United States, according to an August poll from Quinnipiac University. An overwhelming 94% of adults — including 96% of independents, 95% of Democrats and 90% of Republicans — support it.
A broad three in four Americans, 75%, say they oppose enforcing federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized medical or recreational use of the drug, according to the same poll. Republicans are most likely to back enforcing federal laws anyway — but that number is still just one in three…The latest numbers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse show that 44% of Americans over the age of 12 have used marijuana at least once in their lifetime. A majority, 52%, of people ages 18 to 25 have used it in their lifeline, including 33% in just the last 12 months.
It’s not hard to envision a major downside for Republicans in the Sessions initiative, particularly in reefer-friendly states. As Sarah Jones writes in The New Republic,
With California poised to become the world’s largest market for legal marijuana, it seems unlikely that a government-helmed war on pot will help the GOP’s chances…It could, however, be an opportunity for Democrats. In California, the law that legalized pot drew most of its support from two factions of the party’s traditional base: Young voters and black voters. For a party whose midterm chances rest significantly on its ability to turn out voters in greater numbers than usual, pushing for legal marijuana could make a difference.

As Struyk notes, at present eight states, including Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, along with the District of Columbia, permit recreational sales of marijuana,  22 other states “allow only some form of medical marijuana and 15 allow a lesser medical marijuana extract.” Given such legislative and public opinion trends, it’s likely that the Sessions initiative will provoke numerous legal challenges, and squander millions of taxpayer dollars on a doomed policy. Such litigation could go on for years, as more and more states liberalize their marijuana laws.

So why is Sessions doing this? Snopes has discredited the notion that he hopes to personally profit from his initiative. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t motivated by hopes for big contributions to Republicans from the profiteers of the prison industrial complex. Nor would I discount the possibility that he is basically an old hippie-hater working through some sort of twisted revenge fantasy. Or maybe it’s just another expression of ‘Obama derangement syndrome,’ accommodating Trump’s obsession with reversing all of Obama’s initiatives.

In any event it’s a gift to Democrats, in the form of re-branding the Republicans as fuddy-duddies, who are devoted to making life harder for young people and others who support liberalization of marijuana laws. But I doubt many mainstream Republican midterm candidates are going to enthusiastically join in the Sessions war on pot, outside of a few hard-core prudes. Tim Dickinson reports at Rolling Stone that some Republicans,  including libertarian Sen. Rand Paul, along with pot-state Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Cory Gardner, oppose the policy.

The polls on pot legalization could get even worse for Republicans as the consequencs of Sessions’s policy become clear in the months ahead. There are Democratic midterm candidates who are looking forward to the outcome in November.

Political Strategy Notes

President Trump suddenly issued an executive order dissolving the White House commission he had charged with investigating voter fraud, which was operating since May 11 of last year. “Mr. Trump did not acknowledge the commission’s inability to find evidence of fraud, but cast the closing as a result of continuing legal challenges,” report Michael Tagget and Michael Wines at The New York Times. Trump noted that “many states have refused to provide the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity with basic information relevant to its inquiry.” Trump said he “asked the Department of Homeland Security to review these issues and determine next courses of action.” Kris Kolbach, who conceived the abandoned commission and served its ‘vice chair,’ tried to put a little lpstick on the pig in arguing that “the Department of Homeland Security is going to be able to move faster and more efficiently than a presidential advisory commission.” One major concern is that moving the voter fraud fraud to Homeland Security will streamline Republican access to immigration records to facilitate suppression of Latino and other voters who are citizens or applying for citizenship.

Then there is the latest chapter in the Trump-Bannon soap opera, in which the prez blasts his former Rasputin. As Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman report at The Times, “The rupture came after Mr. Bannon was quoted in a new book disparaging the president’s children, asserting that Donald Trump Jr. had been “treasonous” in meeting with Russians and calling Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick.” Mr. Trump, described by his spokeswoman as “furious, disgusted,” fired back by saying that Mr. Bannon had “lost his mind.” It will be instructive to see if the dust-up deepens divisions between the pro-Trump and pro-Bannon factions of psuedo-populist conservatives.

Wapo’s Tony Newmyer explains why “Trump spat with Steve Bannon threatens the populist economic agenda,” and observes: “…There’s no question the Trump officials whom Bannon derided as globalists, namely Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, are ascendant in his absence. Per Axios, the two are trying to contain the president’s protectionist instincts as he confronts a slew of decisions on trade matters and tariffs.” Globalists 1, Bannon zilch. Newmyer also discusses how the split between Republican factions may affect support for Trump’s infrastructure initiative.

At The Daily 202, James Hohman writes that “The break with Bannon is a huge win for the Republican establishment, which blames Bannon for Roy Moore becoming the GOP nominee in Alabama and the party losing what should have been an easy race in a ruby red state. This will likely neutralize him in several 2018 primaries where he could have played a huge role in boosting insurgents, from Nevada and Arizona to West Virginia and Wisconsin.” Who would be shocked, however, if they were back together in a few months, after Bannon does a suitably humiliating Ted Cruz grovel to get back into Trump’s good graces. As Hohman notes, “Bannon is already trying to make amends with Trump, suggesting that he might not stay off the reservation. On his Sirius XM radio show last night, he said that he remains a strong supporter of Trump. “The president of the United States is a great man,” he said. “You know I support him day in and day out.”

The New York Times Editorial “Florida’s 1.5 Million Missing Voters” notes that “Felon disenfranchisement is a destructive, pointless policy that hurts not only individuals barred from the ballot box, but American democracy at large. Its post-Civil War versions are explicitly racist, and its modern-day rationales are thin to nonexistent. It can make all the difference in places like Florida, which didn’t stop being competitive in 2000; the state remains a major presidential battleground, and victories for both parties in state and local elections are often narrow…That could all change if a proposed constitutional amendment gets enough signatures to be placed on the ballot in November and wins enough support. The initiative would automatically restore voting rights to the vast majority of Floridians who have completed their sentence for a felony conviction, including any term of parole or probation.”

A nugget from Theo Anderson’s post “Move Over, Corporate Democrats, A New Wave of Left Populists Is on the Rise” at In These Times: “People’s Action, a network of progressive and community organizing groups, has recently begun offering support and trainings for political candidates. As of November 2017, 70 of its members planned to run for office at all levels in 2018. People’s Action is particularly focused on increasing the progressive cohorts in 14 statehouses. Brand New Congress (BNC) and Justice Democrats (JD), both founded in the past two years and devoted to federal races, have recruited and are training and supporting dozens of candidates for the House and Senate. Like the other organizations that make up this infrastructure, JD and BNC are intentional about cultivating a diverse slate…JD and BNC are distinguished from the other groups by their exclusive focus on Congress. They envision their work in terms of building a unified bloc of progressive votes that will transform the institution in a relatively short timeframe. Both will likely endorse between 30 and 50 candidates in the 2018 cycle (many of them cross-endorsed).”

Josh Nanberg, president of Ampersand Strategies, offers a preview of this year’s elections in his article,Consultant Predictions 2018” at Campaigns & Elections: “First, Democrats will reject the idea that we need a ‘national message,’ and instead build majorities one district at a time. Candidates who fit their districts and run to represent their constituents will see successes in surprising places by being true to their values and focusing on issues that resonate locally. Those who focus their campaigns exclusively on President Trump’s tweets, the Russia investigation, or other issues that don’t address voters’ real concerns about their families, their finances and their futures will have trouble breaking through the noise…Second, our candidates are going to look different this year. They’ll have different cultural and professional backgrounds. They’ll be new to politics.”

 Paul Starr advocates “A New Strategy for Health Care” at The American Prospect: “Repairing whatever is left of the ACA, if anything is left, will be important but insufficient. Although the ACA has gained in popularity since Trump’s election, the law’s limitations have also become increasingly apparent. A new Democratic administration should focus on one or two signature health-care proposals that advance the long-term objectives of universal coverage and cost control and respond to people who have insurance but still face financial stress from medical bills. Two ideas could meet these criteria: making available a new Medicare plan for people aged 50 to 64—a program I call “Midlife Medicare”—and directly attacking America’s excessive health-care prices. Although the two ideas are independent, they’re closely related, since attacking prices also involves an extension of Medicare, in this case the extension of Medicare rates to out-of-network providers in private insurance.”

Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall shares some salient “Thoughts on 2018,” including “Inevitably, people interested in politics and ideology and strategy think mostly in those terms. What’s the right strategy? What’s the right ideological posture? Who on the left side of the aisle gets the run with the ball? But a lot more of it is simply people waking up, becoming activated. Those other things matter of course. But it’s people getting energized, people who were spectators deciding they need to run for office or launch new organizations. Everything is important but ideology, strategy and the rest tends to grow out of, get refined and figured out or coalesce in response to activism and activation, not the other way around. For all these reasons I think 2018 will be a different kind of year.”

Political Strategy Notes

In his Houston Chronicle article, “Beto O’Rourke carries Texas Democrats’ hopes in 2018 run against Ted Cruz,” Kevin Diaz takes the measure of Rep. O’Rourke’s U.S. Senate campaign and observes, “Cruz’s evident ambition – seen in his first trip to Iowa, within months of being sworn in as a senator – will be central to O’Rourke’s case as he crisscrosses Texas trying to rally long-marginalized Democrats, independents, first-time voters, Latinos, the anti-Trump “resistance,” and anyone else who might have grown weary of post-Trump Republicanism…Strategists on both sides know that the backdrop for the U.S. Senate race in Texas – possibly one of the marquee races of the 2018 midterm elections – will be the push or pull of Trump, who bested Hillary Clinton in Texas by 9 percentage points…For O’Rourke, a Spanish nicknamed, fourth-generation Irish-American from El Paso, that is a source of hope. But first, the 45-year-old ex-punk-rocker with the toothy, Kennedyesque smile will have to prove it can be done – even as he eschews polls, Beltway consultants and, most importantly, political action committee money…O’Rourke could boast of 7,000 more individual donors than Cruz through the end of September, when their last financial reports were filed. But from a modern campaign perspective he will be fighting with one hand behind his back: Though he’s accepted campaign contributions from political action committees in the past, O’Rourke has sworn off PAC money in the race against Cruz.” Democrats can contribute to O’Rourke’s campaign at his ActBlue page right here.

This could be a good issue for Democratic candidates running in Appalachia: “The working class still carries the burden for American wars,” writes Jacob Stump at the Bristol Herald. “Michael Zweig, professor of economics and director of the Center for Study of Working Class Life at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, conducted a study of the nearly 1,800 combat deaths in Afghanistan from 2001-2010. Zweig shows that while 62 percent of Americans are working class, 78 percent of the war casualties have come from working-class families. Overwhelmingly, those who fought and died in Afghanistan were working-class Americans…The main reason that working class youth from Appalachia and the South are over-represented in war fatalities has to do with economics. Poor and working class young men and women flee economically depressed areas and dead-end jobs in what critics like Joe Bageant call “economic conscription.” With no real prospects, a modest $1,300 per month salary, along with free room and board, skills and training, and the prospects of money for college make the U.S. military seem like a better future than one at home…The men and woman of Congress who authorize war are much-less likely to have served in the military and are much-more likely to come from upper-income families…The issue of working-class Appalachians and Americans carrying the burden of U.S. war-making is an important matter to consider, especially in light of the saber rattling with North Korea.”

It looks increasingly like the tax bill gives Democratic candidates from New York and New Jersey some added leverage in the upcomming elections for seats in the House of Reps. As Nicole Guadiano writes at USA Today, “If there’s going to be a Democratic wave in the 2018 midterm elections, look for it to wash ashore in New York and New Jersey. House Democrats have targeted all but one Republican — Rep. Chris Smith in New Jersey’s reliably conservative fourth district — in the two states, where former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton beat President Trump in 2016. They need a strong showing there and in other states, such as California, to win back the House majority – a prospect that, while difficult, increasingly looks possible…Based on 2017’s election results, the question for New York and New Jersey will be whether Democrats see a surge in turnout and defections among higher-educated, white-collar Republicans, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. Another factor could be the recently passed GOP tax bill, which could hurt high-tax states like New York and New Jersey by limiting deductions for state and local taxes.”

At Blue Virginia lowkell notes that, “A sure applause line for Virginia Democrats is to rail against gerrymandering, blame it for most/all of our problems in the Virginia House Delegates, and vow to do something about it. Yet for years, I’ve argued that a FAR bigger problem than gerrymandering is that Democratic voter “dropoff” from presidential years to “odd-year” Virginia elections is far, far greater than Republican voter “dropoff.”…The two key takeaways here are: 1) Democratic “voter retention” went from a pathetic 57.82% in 2013 to a MUCH more impressive 72.59% in 2017 — an increase of 15 percentage points, corresponding to a huge increase in the number of Democratic voters (~1.4 million in 2017 vs. ~1.1 million in 2013); 2) Republican “voter retention” actually increased a bit between 2013 and 2017, but only a bit, from 64.51% in 2013 to 68.63% in 2017; 3) the massive increase in Democratic voters in 2017 vs. 2013 completely overwhelmed the much smaller increase in GOP turnout, both at the statewide level and also in the House of Delegates districts.”

Conor Lynch’s Salon post, “Republicans are waging class war: It’s time for the left to fight back” lays down the challenge for Democrats in 2018: “Under the leadership of Trump, the Republican Party is no longer even attempting to hide the fact that it is waging a class war on behalf of the 1 percent. Republican leaders either believe that American voters are too stupid and uninformed to realize whats going on in Washington, or too deeply immersed in the culture wars to care about economic issues (which has often been the case over the past few decades)…It will ultimately be up to the left to make sure that class and the economy are at the front and center of the debate in 2018 and 2020, and to highlight the Republican assault on poor and middle-class families. For decades, Republicans have employed a populist-toned rhetoric that focuses almost exclusively on cultural and social issues, while enacting a pro-corporate agenda behind closed doors. Over this same period, Democrats more or less abandoned class politics and embraced a moderate form of neoliberalism themselves (especially during the Bill Clinton years). This turn away from class politics on the left enabled Republicans to portray themselves as populists — a trend that culminated with the election of Trump…According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, only 24 percent of Americans support lowering corporate tax rates (as the Republican tax bill does), while 52 percent support raising them…The new tax bill is a gift to the richest of Americans, but it is also an opportunity for the left to start playing offense in the class war that is currently being waged by the richest and most powerful people in our society.”

Elizabeth Kolbert New Yorker ‘splains “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds: New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason,” and shares this insight: “Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown, and Philip Fernbach, a professor at the University of Colorado, are also cognitive scientists. They, too, believe sociability is the key to how the human mind functions or, perhaps more pertinently, malfunctions…People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people…“As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration.”

Among the reasons for Democratic optimism cited by Fenit Nirappil in “Democrats eye state legislatures in 2018 after stunning gains in Virginia”  at The Post: “Democrats say their gains in the Virginia House were all the more impressive given that Republicans drew the playing field more specifically, they drew the legislative map in the last round of redistricting, in 2011…“We beat a gerrymandered map,” said Jessica Post, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the party’s main organ for state legislative races. “Everything is on the table.”…Post said the DLCC thinks that it can flip as many as 10 legislative chambers — including in Colorado, Minnesota, Maine, Michigan, Arizona and Iowa.”

Dem prospects are also looking better in the great swing state of North Carolina, as AP’s Gary D. Robertson reports: “Eager to reassert their longtime influence on North Carolina politics, the Democrats already have already fielded an unusually large pool of candidates for 100 seats in the 170-member bicameral legislature…With the GOP holding a 75-45 majority in the North Carolina House and 35-15 Senate advantage, Democrats would need to flip 16 House seats and 11 Senate seats in November to take back the General Assembly. Ending veto-proof majorities, which would force Republicans to negotiate with Cooper and some Democrats on some issues, would require only four House seats or six Senate seats. All legislators serve two-year terms…Rep. Graig Meyer of Orange County said the party is well on its way to fielding candidates for all 120 House seats. “Recruitments definitely got easier after Virginia,” said Meyer, who is helping to recruit candidates like LeGrand through the state party’s new “Pipeline Project.” Meyer and others have highlighted new female and LGBT candidates.

At The Atlantic, Clare Foran previews the next big House of Reps election: “The next closely-watched special election is set to take place in a conservative Pennsylvania House district that will test the Democratic Party’s appeal with white, working-class voters who now reliably vote Republican…Democrat Conor Lamb will face off against Republican state Representative Rick Saccone on March 13 in a race to replace former Republican Representative Tim Murphy, a pro-life congressman who resigned earlier this year after reports surfaced that he had allegedly asked a woman with whom he had an affair to get an abortion…Democrats have not yet shown they can win congressional seats in the Rust Belt and industrial midwest states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, which flipped from blue to red in the last presidential election…“This gives Democrats an opportunity to go to the blue-collar, white voters that Trump won in 2016 and say, ‘Trump betrayed you. He said he was going to be a populist president, and fight for you, but all he’s done so far is favors for corporate America,’” said Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist and president of Bannon Communications Research, a Washington, D.C.-based political consulting firm.”

Political Strategy Notes

In sore loser/sour grapes news, “Roy Moore files lawsuit to block Alabama Senate result,” reports AP’s Kim Chandler. “Moore’s attorney wrote in the complaint filed late Wednesday that he believed there were irregularities during the election and said there should be a fraud investigation and eventually a new election.”…Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told The Associated Press Wednesday evening that he has no intention of delaying the canvassing board meeting…“It is not going to delay certification and Doug Jones will be certified (Thursday) at 1 p.m. and he will be sworn in by Vice President Pence on the third of January,” Merrill said.” It’s not hard to envision Alabama Democrats and Republican moderates hoisting their tankards on New Year’s Eve to the bitter end of this once powerful politican, but now ineffectual loser.

In Trump’s latest betrayal of a former highly-praised associate news, WaPo’s Carol Leonnig reports that “Trump legal team readies attack on Flynn’s credibility. “President Trump’s legal team plans to cast former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn as a liar seeking to protect himself if he accuses the president or his senior aides of any wrongdoing, according to three people familiar with the strategy…The approach would mark a sharp break from Trump’s previously sympathetic posture toward Flynn, whom he called a “wonderful man” when Flynn was ousted from the White House in February. Earlier this month, the president did not rule out a possible pardon for Flynn, who is cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.”

In unintentional consequences news, Robert Pear outs a delicious irony befalling Republican political strategy in his NYT article, “Years of Attack Leave Obamacare a More Government-Focused Health Law.” As Pear notes, “The Affordable Care Act was conceived as a mix of publicly funded health care and privately purchased insurance, but Republican attacks, culminating this month in the death of a mandate that most Americans have insurance, are shifting the balance, giving the government a larger role than Democrats ever anticipated…And while President Trump insisted again on Tuesday that the health law was “essentially” being repealed, what remains of it appears relatively stable and increasingly government-funded.”

At The Monkey Cage, Sarah Binder and Mark Spindel, co-authors of The Myth of Independence: How Congress Governs the Federal Reserve, share “5 lessons from a Republican year of governing dangerously,” which include ‘1. Congress veered to the right; 2. A strong economy cannot heal partisan divisions; 3. Internal divisions narrowed the GOP agenda; 4. Republicans bent and broke rules where needed; and 5. GOP played a strong game of kick the can.’ In their conclusion, Binder and Spindel note, “Congress may find moderate solutions to fund children’s health care and protect the Dreamers. Bipartisan efforts could roll back some banking regulations and upgrade the nation’s infrastructure. Accomplishing these would require Trump and Republicans to set aside internal disagreements and tack to the center, engaging Democrats under the Senate’s normal, supermajority rules…But can Republicans manage that to convince voters they can govern — without further demotivating their partisan base — before the midterm elections next fall? Republicans’ year-end gift to taxpayers should give the economy one more boost before lawmakers face the voters, but it will be hard to run on a signature legislative achievement that is so disliked.”

A couple of juicy nuggets from columnist Robert Samuelson’s “The top 10 stats of 2017” at The Washington Post: ‘7. Americans make up 4.4 percent of the world’s population — and own 42 percent of the guns. 8. Ninety-one percent of Trump’s nominees to federal courts are white, and 81 percent are male, according to an Associated Press analysis.’

Single-payer advocates may want to take a gander at “The Leap to Single-Payer: What Taiwan Can Teach: How one nation transformed a health care system. Can America do big things anymore?” by public health experts Aaron E. Carroll and Austin Frakt, who explain, “Less than 25 years ago, Taiwan had a patchwork system that included insurance provided for those who worked privately or for the government, or for trade associations involving farmers or fishermen. Out-of-pocket payments were high, and physicians practiced independently. In March 1995, all that changed…Taiwan chose to adopt a single-payer system like that found in Medicare or in Canada, not a government-run system like Britain’s…The health insurance Taiwan provides is comprehensive. Both inpatient and outpatient care are covered, as well as dental care, over-the-counter drugs and traditional Chinese medicine. It’s much more thorough than Medicare is in the United States…Access is also quite impressive. Patients can choose from pretty much any provider or therapy. Wait times are short, and patients can go straight to specialty care without a referral…Premiums are paid for by the government, employers and employees. The share paid by each depends on income, with the poor paying a much smaller percentage than the wealthy.” There were pitfalls and problems aplenty on Taiwan’s road to successs, but “Taiwan’s ambition showed what’s possible. It took five years of planning and two years of legislative efforts to accomplish its transformation. That’s less time than the United States has spent fighting over the Affordable Care Act, with much less to show for it.”

Political Strategy Notes

J. Oliver Conroy profiles “Mark Lilla: the liberal who counts more enemies on the left than the right” at The Guardian. Lilla, a former neo-conservative, now self-styled progressive rooted in the white working-class, has emerged as a oft-cited commentator in the debate about identity politics vs. a more class-based progressivism. As Conroy quotes Lilla: “American liberalism,” he wrote, “has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.” Conroy notes further, “Working-class white voters are “doing a kind of expressive voting”, Lilla said. “It’s all about symbols, and an assertion of what they are in the face of what they deem to be a hostile culture … People who don’t make it in this country are going to feel bad about themselves, and when they feel bad they get defensive…When people are in that kind of psychological position, you need to talk them down from the ledge and show them where their real interests lie.”

Sometimes observers from other countries illuminate American culture and politics in a fresh, revealing way. At The Nation, contributing editor Jon Weiner interviews Gary Younge, a black and British columnist, who has written eloquent articles for the The Guardian, as well as The Nation. Younge is touring the U.S., focusing on exploring the attitudes of America’s white working-class. At one point, Younge notes the views of a white worker who voted for both Obama and Trump: “There’s a guy who’d voted for Obama. He had liked Obama’s jingle. He said, “I voted for hope. And then the jobs didn’t come. And then Trump said he’s going to make America great again. And I voted for that.” I said, “Okay. They see.” It’s the Democrats’ failure to deliver that to a large extent can explain some of these people switching sides. And why even more of them just stayed at home—they felt “there’s nothing out there for me.” Younge also notes, “I did say to this one guy, Jeff, “Trump looks like the guy that closed your factory—not the guy that was in the picket line with you.” And he said, “Yeah, but he looks like maybe he’d be the guy who might start another factory up.” It’s important to remember in all of this that Trump’s base was the white and wealthy and they will be the primary beneficiaries of his tenure. The white working class was a decisive but junior partner in the electoral coalition. The question is what was in it for them. I think in the absence of an appealing alternative, they thought, “Screw it. I’ll give this guy a go.” For those who bothered to vote, it was, “Let’s try this.”

“Bill Galston, a senior fellow of governance studies at Brookings Institution, who served as a policy adviser to former President Clinton during his administration, said Democrats will use the bill to argue that Trump is not putting into place the populist policies he promised. One vulnerability for the president is that the bill does little to change the favorable tax treatment for wealthy investment managers…“No doubt Democrats will be combing the bill for little nuggets, particular provisions that do embody highly targeted policies that will look like giveaways,” he said. “And if Democrats want to make an issue of the president, they can use it to weaken any populist credentials he may have…“They just have to find effective ways of saying what the majority of the public already believes,” he said.” — From “Dems see tax bill as giving them midterm advantage” by Amy Parnes at The Hill.

In his FiveThirtyeight article, “The Democrats’ Wave Could Turn Into A Flood,” Harry Enten writes, “A new CNN survey released this week showed Democrats leading Republicans by an astounding 56 percent to 38 percent on the generic congressional ballot. That’s an 18 percentage point lead among registered voters — a record-breaking result. No other survey taken in November or December in the year before a midterm has found the majority party in the House down by that much since at least the 1938 cycle (as far back as I have data)…And while the CNN poll is a bit of an outlier, the Democratic advantage in the FiveThirtyEight generic ballot aggregate is up to about 12 points, 49.6 percent to 37.4 percent. That average, like the CNN poll, also shows Republicans in worse shape right now than any other majority party at this point in the midterm cycle1 since at least the 1938 election…When the generic ballot is showing this large of a lead for one party, the playing field of competitive races also tends to be correspondingly huge.”

At The Hill, Ben Kamisar spotlights “Seven primary races to watch in 2018,” featuring updates for “closely-contested” races for both Republicans and Democrats in: IL-3, KY-6, NC-9, TX-7, MN-1, VA-10 and FL-27. Meanwhile Margaret Kadifa explains why “Democrats’ Hopes of Taking Back the House Could Hinge on Two Districts—in Texas” at mother Jones, and notes that “Thanks to the state’s infamously gerrymandered districts, Democrats have few places where they can realistically pick off incumbent Republicans, even with the kind of increased African American turnout that propelled Doug Jones to his surprise Senate win in Alabama. That’s why Texas Democrats are focusing on two solidly Republican districts that Hillary Clinton flipped in 2016: Rep. John Culberson’s District 7, near Houston, and Rep. Pete Sessions’ District 32, around Dallas…“Trump will represent a millstone around both Culberson and Sessions’ necks,” said Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute. “The lower his approval rating, the worse Culberson and Sessions will do.”

For a sobering read, I suggest “How Citizens United Changed Politics and Shaped the Tax Bill” by Lawrence Norden, Shyamala Ramakrishna, Sidni Frederick at The Brennan Center for Justice. Among insights shared by the authors: “Perhaps even more striking is the brazenness with which donors themselves are admitting they have threatened members of Congress. Conservative donor Doug Deason of Texas explicitly said the “Dallas piggy bank” was closed until tax and health bills were passed. “Get Obamacare repealed and replaced, get tax reform passed…You control the Senate. You control the House. You have the presidency. There’s no reason you can’t get this done. Get it done and we’ll open it back up,” Deason told Republican leaders…Deason refused to host fundraisers for Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). “I said, ‘No I’m not going to because we’re closing the checkbook until you get some things done.”…The real impact of an unregulated campaign finance is on policy, and the proof is in this year’s tax bill.”

Lawrence P. Glickman says it well in  his article “Forgotten Men: The Long Road from FDR to Trump” at The Boston Review: “Trump’s forgotten men and women are the descendants of Lowndes and other conservatives, who used this class to frame a compelling political narrative. In their vision, the welfare state and social movements to expand it were not efforts designed to help the less fortunate but rather a multi-pronged assault on the pocketbooks and dignity of white, middle-class Americans. Theirs was a language that mythologized white people living above the poverty line as a group that paid more than their fair share—that “seldom goes to extremes about anything,” in Upton’s words—and yet were being pushed into protest by the combination of economic exploitation and humiliation that they faced. Such a discourse, emergent as Donald Trump inherited his first millions, gave children of privilege sanction to understand themselves as victims…The conservative forgotten-man rhetoric fundamentally shaped Trump’s worldview and politics. He won the support of a cross-class coalition of whites who, whatever their position in society, felt ignored, exploited, and disrespected. Moreover, it allowed Trump and his followers, a group that has benefited disproportionately from a racialized welfare state, to weaponize resentment toward the less fortunate, to express cruelty toward racial others at home and abroad, and to view diversity as weakness.”

Jennifer Berkshire interviews Joan Williams, author of “The White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America” at Alternet on the “limits of college for all.” Williams observes, “…There are a lot of very concrete reasons why working-class kids, by which I mean the true middle class, might not want to go to college. It’s  economically very risky to go to college right now. It’s very expensive and a lot of people end up starting college and not finishing. They end up paying many thousands of dollars in debt while they’re earning the wages of a high school graduate. Middle and working-class kids are very well aware of that. It’s also literally harder for them to get into college with the same credentials than it is for kids of professional classes…What we really need is a new education to employment system where local community colleges or companies identify the specific skills that employers are going to need as we transition to an economy where 60 percent of jobs will require interaction with robots. People are going to need technical skills not necessarily a four year degree.”

“…If the resistance energy engendered by Trump and the Republicans continues to fuel efforts at democracy reform, and the results of the 2018 elections are as the tea leaves of 2017 suggest, then regardless of the outcome of the Gill case, the possibilities for reform will jump dramatically in 2019, and the district-drawing of 2021 could look a whole lot different and more promising than 2011. At the very least, progressives and people who care about our democracy should not assume that redistricting reform is a hopeless cause, and should get to work at organizing for real reforms, and working on legislative elections, as a major part of a pro-democracy strategy.” — from “Prospects Brightening for Redistricting Reform” by Miles Rapoport at The American Prospect.

Political Strategy Notes

At New York Magazine, Frank Rich explains “How Democrats Can Win the Spin War Over the Trump Tax Cuts,” and notes “Already, the GOP’s biggest donors, the bill’s biggest beneficiaries, have been pouring money into campaigns to sell it to voters. It’s up to Democrats to get into the trenches with tough and clever counter-messaging that will explain in concrete and un-wonky terms why the bill is a disaster for most Americans. Mere scare words (eg., Nancy Pelosi’s invocation of “Armageddon”) will not reach those turned-off-by-Trump suburbanites who have been defecting from the GOP in special elections this year, from Virginia to Alabama…The midterms could well be a wave election but not if Democrats fail to make their case and instead repeat the Clinton campaign error of expecting anti-Trumpism to do most of the work for them. In that regard, I have to confess to being baffled by the prevailing liberal political spot on television these days — the ad in which the Democratic billionaire Tom Steyer calls for Trump’s impeachment. David Axelrod was exactly right when he called it “more of a vanity project than a call for action.” What is the ad’s point after all? As long as Congress remains in GOP hands, there will be no impeachment. Period. What anti-Trump voter (now nearly two-thirds of the country) needs to be reminded that this president is unfit for the White House? This ad amounts to little more than a masturbatory diversion, wasting time, energy, and money that could instead be poured into the blistering economic argument required to flip one or both chambers to the Democrats.”

In his article, “The Double-Edged Sword of a Party-Line Victory” at The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein writes that “The tax bill likewise failed to win support from even a single Democrat. By historical standards, that’s even more striking than the ACA’s partisan shutout. In 1981, Ronald Reagan’s sweeping tax cuts drew support from 25 Democrats in the Senate and 113 in the House. George W. Bush appealed more narrowly with his 2001 tax cut, but even then, 28 House Democrats and 12 Democratic senators voted yes. But not even the 12 House Democrats in districts that supported Trump last year nor the 10 Democratic senators facing 2018 races in states he carried felt compelled to support this latest measure…To pass their bill, Republicans ignored the hostile polls, the unified Democratic opposition, and a succession of independent analyses showing the plan would massively increase the federal debt while generating minimal additional growth.”

From David Weigel’s article, “Democrats ready year-long assault against tax cut package” at PowerPost: “Democrats, routed but unified against the tax bill, plan to make it the centerpiece of a midterm campaign — one that may play out in a growing economy where the worst predictions about the tax cuts fall flat…Democrats are raring to point out the difference between what Republicans ran on and what they passed. The most memorable visual symbol of the tax-cut push, a hypothetical postcard to demonstrate the simplicity of the GOP’s tax plan, disappeared as Republicans put together a compromise that expanded the number of tax brackets and left many loopholes intact…The idea of the bill as a corporate giveaway was key to Democrats’ final pre-vote messaging, including a moment in the Senate debate when Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) flung open  one of the Senate’s doors and pointed to McConnell’s office to dramatize the influence of lobbyists…It will also be a key part of a 2018 campaign by the #NotOnePenny coalition, formed by progressives to oppose the tax cut. Next year, the coalition will up its media buy from $5 million to $10 million, hold 100 days of anti-tax cut events, and rally on April 15 in Washington “against tax policy that further rigs the economy in favor of the wealthy.”

Bryce Covert’s NYT op-ed “The Trojan Horse in the Tax Bill,” outs the Republicans’s long-term strategy: “…Now that they’ve succeeded in passing a tax package that will reduce government revenues so much, the ensuing cost will serve as the excuse to get everything else they want. They’ll count on our short memories to forget who created larger deficits in the first place. Those deficits will serve as the motivation to enact cuts they’ve sought all along. The tax bill isn’t just a regressive giveaway to corporations and the rich. It’s a Trojan horse with deep government reductions stuffed inside.”

“At least four senators are urging Al Franken to reconsider resigning, including two who issued statements calling for the resignation two weeks ago and said they now feel remorse over what they feel was a rush to judgment,” Edward-Isaac Dovere writes at Politico. “Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who urged Franken not to step down to begin with — at least not before he went through an Ethics Committee investigation — said the Minnesota senator was railroaded by fellow Democrats.” It’s not impossible that Franken could still retract his resignation. But it looks like it would be a sloppy mess, since his replacement, MN Lt. Governor Tina Smith, has already been named, spoke at a press conference about it and is working with Franken to facilitate a smooth transition, reports Dovere. The Washington Post reports that Franken will resign on January 2nd. But it appears that Democratic leaders and rank and file will remain divided about whether Franken was treated fairly.

At The New Republic, Jeet Heer’s “The Democrats’ Risky Pursuit of Suburban Republicans” includes this skeptical observation: “There’s one very compelling reason to be wary of this pursuit of disaffected suburban Republicans: Hillary Clinton tried it last year….The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reportedly found that in the 2014 and 2016 elections, suburban voters were “inching away from Republicans, but too slowly to flip many seats.”…Suburban ex-Republicans are worth pursuing, but not at the risk of diluting liberal policy commitments. While opposition to Trump is helping to swell Democratic ranks, the truth remains that excessive centrism will dishearten core voters. Watering down the party’s identity only ensures more defeats further down the road, when Trump won’t be around to scare up an ad hoc Democratic coalition.”

At The Nation, Anna Heyward spotlights one of the largest organized groups supporting Democratic candidates and policies, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and notes that “24,000 people—70 to 80 percent of them under 35—who have joined DSA since November 2016.” Further, Heyward writes that “DSA is now frequently referred to as “the largest socialist organization in the United States,” with 32,000 dues-paying members…Today, the median age of DSA’s membership is 33, down from 68 in 2013…There are now more than 300 local groups—are experimenting with doing their own electoral campaigns, some with running local candidates. In the state and municipal elections across the country on November 7, 15 DSA members won their races, bringing the total number of DSA members in elective office to around 35, as high as it’s ever been.” Founder Michael Harrington’s slogan, “the left wing of the possible,” still serves as a sort of unifying principle. Most current members strongly supported the presidential candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders and generally share a commitment to vote Democratic. But there is a sizable faction that is open to forming or supporting a third, more leftist political party.

Rachel Maddow reports on a promising way to fight against gerrymandering:

Democracy: A Journal of ideas is running a symposium, featuring six articles on the topic, “What Is Red-State Liberalism?” Here’s a teaser on the “importance of red-state liberals” from the introduction by the editors: “First, they’re trying to uphold our values in some places where doing that isn’t easy…Second, their liberalism, while rock-solid, is nevertheless a little different from yours. Mostly, these differences aren’t about issue positions but come down to questions of sensibility and lifestyle. How does it affect a person to be in the decided minority, to have many conservative friends, to live outside the blue bubbles many of us inhabit?…We’re delighted that the package includes an important piece by Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor and agriculture secretary under President Obama. Vilsack offers up smart and specific steps progressives need to take to reconnect to rural voters and their concerns.”