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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 article, “When He Goes Low, They Go … Where? Democrats Mull How to Confront Trump,” Jonathan Martin writes, “Democrats, here and in Washington, say it is folly to engage him on his preferred terrain of insults and bombast. They suggest that one of Hillary Clinton’s mistakes was to try to isolate him from the Republican Party by portraying him as an aberrant figure…The more effective course, Democrats say, is to focus on policy and assail Mr. Trump for not living up to his populist promises as he installs a largely wealthy cabinet and begins rolling back the Affordable Care Act…But, despite all predictions in the Republican primary contests and then in the general election, Mr. Trump’s succession of perceived missteps never proved fatal. It turned out that waiting for his inevitable collapse based on his behavior amounted to a grave miscalculation of what the electorate cared most about.”

Democrats must come up with a credible, explainable plan for addressing the job losses caused by automation. In her New York Times article, “A Darker Theme in Obama’s Farewell: Automation Can Divide Us,” Clair Kane Miller writes, “The next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas,” Mr. Obama said. “It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete…The inequality caused by automation is a main driver of cynicism and political polarization, Mr. Obama said. He connected it to the racial and geographic divides that have cleaved the country post-election…Fifty-one percent of all the activities Americans do at work involve predictable physical work, data collection and data processing. These are all tasks that are highly susceptible to being automated, according to a report McKinsey published in July using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and O*Net to analyze the tasks that constitute 800 jobs…Twenty-eight percent of work activities involve tasks that are less susceptible to automation but are still at risk, like unpredictable physical work or interacting with people. Just 21 percent are considered safe for now, because they require applying expertise to make decisions, do something creative or manage people.”

Here’s some surprisign bipartisanship: At The Washington Post Republican strategist Ed Rogers explains why “Comey should resign“: “No matter what the inspector general report shows — after what will undoubtedly be a very lengthy investigation — there will always be a lingering suspicion that something went wrong with the FBI’s involvement. There will always be a sense that something wasn’t quite right at the top…too much toothpaste has left the tube. The FBI won’t be thought of as being at its best, and the agency’s investigations and actions won’t be met with complete trust, unless there is a change at the very top.” Sen. Bernie Sanders agrees.

From The New York Times Editorial Board tribute to President Obama: “Americans will miss Mr. Obama’s negotiating skills on tough issues and the dignity and character that he and his family brought to the White House. Beyond that, they will also miss an impassioned speaker whose eloquence ranks with that of Abraham Lincoln. The way he has defended the founding precepts of the United States while also arguing that those precepts have to be broadened to achieve a new inclusiveness has been especially striking, as have his remarks delivered at moments of national tragedy.”

Some Democrats believe the question of Putin’s influence on Trump is a distraction from the concerns progressives should keep front and center.  As David Weigel reports at The Washington Post, “In a July essay for the left-wing journal Current Affairs, Nathan J. Robinson arguedthat Democrats were “red-baiting” by accusing people who benefited from the hacks of being Russian pawns. Last week Robinson wrote a follow-up admitting that the hacks had mattered — but chastising Democrats for their seeming obsession…Every moment spent talking about Putin is a moment not spent talking about mass incarceration, policing, Social Security, Medicaid, public schooling, Chelsea Manning, gun violence, climate change and war,” wrote Robinson. “Trump is giving press conferences in front of factories whose jobs he has supposedly preserved, while Democrats are frantically calling Trump a Kremlin agent. Who is speaking most to people’s real life material interests?”

The Los Angeles Review of Books has “Reimagining the Working Class: A Roundtable on Economic and Racial Justice in the Age of Trump” by Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado, Sue J. Kim, Keona K. Ervin, Andrew Hoberek, Min Hyoung Song and Curtis Marez.Among the insights, is this nugget from Ervin: “…invocations of the white working class often ignore the ways in which the economic resentments of white working-class people are conceptualized and expressed through race. Moving from the assumption that invoking class automatically means that race isn’t at work, commentators who cited white voters’ support for Obama in the 2008 and 2012 elections as evidence that white working-class voters for Trump weren’t motivated by racism, for instance, missed how race, as George Lipsitz says, “takes place” or finds expression through economic entitlement and possession. Trump supporters’ racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and support of mass deportations, a wall along the US–Mexico border, and a Muslim registry are inextricably bound up with their economic resentment.”

Michael Tomasky has some salient observations on political clock management in his Daily Beast post, “GOP’s Rush to Rubber-Stamp Trump Nominees: Destroy What We Can, While We Can.” Tomasky observes, “A clock is ticking on the walls of leading Republicans and conservative organizations. They have 80 years of history to undo. Workplace regulations, environmental regulations, workers’ protections, social safety-net provisions, various minority-group protections, non-discrimination laws, and most of all business and corporate regulations—all of these and more have to be, uh, reexamined these next four years. Every day counts…That’s the only way to understand congressional Republicans’ solidarity with Trump: They’ll let him have his Twitter tirades and little victory dances in Elkhart, Indiana, over 700 jobs, as long as he lets them take apart the New Deal. That’s what explains McConnell’s hurry to fill Trump’s Cabinet.”

Paul Rosenberg’s “Don’t think of a rampaging elephant: Linguist George Lakoff explains how the Democrats helped elect Trump: Democrats played into Trump’s hands, Lakoff says — and they won’t win until they learn how to frame the debate” at Salon.com provides some painful insights. Lakoff explains in the interview, “The Clinton campaign decided that the best way to defeat Trump was to use his own words against him. So they showed these clips of Trump saying outrageous things. Now what Trump was doing in those clips was saying out loud things that upset liberals, and that’s exactly what his followers liked about him. So of course they were showing what actually was helping Trump with his supporters…Another problem was the assumption that all you have to do is look at issues, and give the facts about issues, and the facts about the issues supposedly show up in polls, and then they apply demographics. So there was this assumption, for example, that educated women in the Philadelphia suburbs were naturally going to vote for Hillary, because they were highly educated. They turned out also to be Republican, and what made them Republican was Republican views, like Republican views about the Supreme Court, abortion, things like that. So they didn’t all go out and vote for Hillary.”

From “The Rust Belt whips and snaps after eight years of Obama,” a Washington Post op-ed by novelist Justin Torres: “I disagreed with a number of Obama’s policy decisions, but always unforgettably admirable will be the way he took kindness with a mortal seriousness. The great work of my adulthood has been to find more and more compassion, to be honest about the grace and beauty I knew alongside the racism and homophobia and spite. First, I had to tease out the complexity, the love and failure, in my own troubled family, and I’ve been working on solidarity, on teasing out the love and failure of that place as well, the place I am from — it has seemed essential to do this work. Today I am bitter, smarting, hunched. I taste once again the rust in my mouth, metallic, bloodlike, as if I’ve been dragged backward across time to a place, a town, I left for good. I can and will be bitter; I can and will resist; I won’t be made unkind.”

Political Strategy Notes

At Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik surveys the upcoming Governor’s races for 2017 and 2018 and observes, “More than four-fifths of all Americans live in states holding gubernatorial elections over the next two years. Two states, New Jersey and Virginia, will elect governors in 2017, and 36 other states will hold their elections next year. That includes nine of the 10 most populous states…the 2017-2018 slate of governors provides many opportunities for Democrats. Republicans currently control 33 of 50 governorships, while Democrats hold only 16 (there’s one independent, Bill Walker of Alaska). Of the 38 governorships being contested over the next two years, Republicans already hold 27 and Democrats control 10 (Walker is also up for reelection). Additionally, and here’s where the statistics about the power of gubernatorial incumbency come into play, many of these governorships will be open-seat races. Neither New Jersey nor Virginia will have an incumbent on the ballot in November, and next year roughly half or slightly more of the gubernatorial races will be open seats (a few incumbents are still deciding whether to run again)…As we head into the Trump era, history tells us that the president’s party often loses ground up and down the ballot over the course of his term. That extends to state-level offices: Every post-World War II president, starting with Harry Truman, saw his party lose net governorships from when he took office to when he left office. The average loss during the postwar presidencies is 11. It seems likely, though far from guaranteed, that Republicans will lose net governorships during Trump’s presidency: That’s partially because of history and partially because the Republicans already control a lofty 33 governorships, their highest total in the postwar era.”

Some revealing statistics from Sue Sturgis at Facing South: “According to a Harvard Medical School study, number of North Carolinians who are dying each year because of the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid: 1,100Number of Americans who stand to lose health care coverage if ACA’s Medicaid expansion provision is scrapped: 11 millionProportion of Americans who support allowing states to expand Medicaid under ACA: 8 in 10Proportion of Trump voters who do: 2/3.”

WaPo’s Aaron Blake reports on new polling data: “Quinnipiac is the first high-quality pollster to poll on Trump twice since the election. And while its poll in late November showed his favorable rating rising from 34 percent to 44 percent, that number has dropped back to 37 percent, which is about where it stood for much of the campaign. That’s tied for Trump’s worst favorable rating in a poll since his election. And a majority – 51 percent – now have an unfavorable view of him…While 41 percent thought he would be a better leader than President Obama, it’s now 34 percent. While 52 percent thought he would help the nation’s economy, it’s now 47 percent. While 40 percent thought his policies would help their personal financial situation, it’s now 27 percent. While 53 percent thought he’d take the country in the right direction, it’s now 45 percent.”

For a revealing round-up of the effects of voter suppresion in the 2016 election, check out Gabrielle Gurley’s American Prospect post, “Voter Suppression Works Too Well: The Republicans’ quest for a permanent political majority culminated in mammoth voter suppression in 2016. The 2018 midterm election promises both to embolden these efforts and energize resistance.” But also read Greg Palast’s “The Election was Stolen – Here’s How…” for an informative look at “Crosscheck,” the GOP’s voter purge operation, which Palast and others believe to be the most effective disenfranchisement strategy. 

Heather Digby Parton’s salon.com post, “Donald Trump’s new Russian scandal: We don’t know how much is true — but we know James Comey behaved shamefully” underscores an important point. After Sen Ron Wyden asked Comey in a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee “Has the FBI investigated these reported relationships, and, if so, what are the agency’s findings?,” Parton reports “Comey responded by saying, “I would never comment on investigations, whether we have one or not, in an open forum like this. So I really can’t answer it one way or another.” Considering his notorious behavior with respect to the Hillary Clinton email server investigation, this naturally elicited some incredulous reactions, notably from Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who followed up quickly by asking if Comey planned to answer Wyden’s question. And when Comey repeated his statement, King archly replied, “The irony of your making that statement here — I cannot avoid.” Parton adds, “Then Comey attempted to cover his gaffe by saying that he is known to be “politically tone-deaf” and then patted himself on the back, saying that was “how it should be.” But he has given the appearance of a blatant double standard on this ever since it was revealed that the FBI knew about alleged Russian interference and Comey refused to divulge it prior to the election, citing ethics rules barring the FBI from interfering in elections.” It looks like there will be no legal or political accountability for Comey. But he has certainly earned the shame of his name being forever tainted as a betrayer of the nonpartisan integrity that should be a pillar of law enforcement in America.

4 pieces of evidence showing FBI Director James Comey cost Clinton the election.” While many factors should be taken into account in analysing Clinton’s Electoral College defeat and what Democrats must to to improve their chances in the next election, the authors make the most compelling case yet, based on polling data, that Comey’s  statement was pivotal.

At The Week, Ryan Cooper faults Democrats, with the exception of Al Franken, for wimping out on their responsibility to be tough and relentless at the hearings on Jeff Session’s nomination to be Attorney General. As Cooper arguees, “When facing someone like Sessions, the objective should not be to graciously allow him to defend his long record. It should be to attack, to undermine, and to humiliate. Find the most embarrassing parts of his record, and hammer him on them, with the objective of producing the most hilarious and cringeworthy soundbites, as Trump did to Jeb Bush.”

It really does seem that Democrats have to be more assertive and project more quotable soundbites to prevent Trump from dominating the news in a way that shrinks Dems’ image down to a litter of yapping  Chihuahuas nipping at the heals of a Great Dane. Paul Kane’s “Democrats still grappling with how to navigate the new normal of a Trump news cycle” at PowerPost explores the problem further: “In almost any other political orbit, Wednesday would have been a great day for Democrats. Republican nominees to be secretary of state and attorney general were under fire, other Cabinet nominees’ hearings were delayed and no one could explain when exactly the Republican-controlled Congress or incoming administration would repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act…While Trump did not completely blot out a busy news day on Capitol Hill, he became the sun, the moon and the stars. He consumed the news, and he made it all about himself…That didn’t make it a good 24-hour news cycle for Republicans. But it didn’t quite feel like Democrats were in control, either…Democrats have spent much of their time after their election defeat focusing on how to plot a new course on messaging — how to sell their ideas in the media and to the broader general public. That gets difficult when Trump goes full Trump — not just wandering into treacherous areas that few political figures like to go, but then seemingly enjoying the street fight with his opponents and the media that typically ensues.”

It can be done, but Nathaniel Rakich explains why “It’s Really Hard To Block A Cabinet Nominee” at FiveThirtyEight, and notes, “Cabinet nominations tend only to fail when dragged down by scandal or impropriety.”

McConnell’s Hypocrisy, Trump’s Cruelty Sour Inaugural Environment

Ten days out from the 2017 presidential inauguration, the president-elect still can’t find a bona fide A-list star to add a little lustre to the inaugural festivities. Meryl Streep probably narrowed his options with her speech at the Golden Globe Awards, citing Trump’s horrific mockery of a disabled reporter, which re-sparked storms of outrage using the Trump video in both traditional and social media (plus over 2 million Google citations this morning).

Trump’s inaugural committee will probably find a Hollywood Republican or two to glitz up the procedings. But, to put it generously, January 20th is not shaping up as a joyful outpouring of national unity and bipartisan goodwill like President Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

Kellyanne Conway and the GOP spin machine are working overtime to pin the blame for the utter lack of national unity on Democrats and the media. It’s a tough sell when your client lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots cast and the country is genuinely divided on many issues. But you would think Trump’s PR wizards would persuade him that a little grace and outreach to the opposition, or maybe selecting a moderate or two among the cabinet picks could at least open the door to the possibility of a less divisive political environment on the eve of the inauguration. You might think so. But, alas, you would be wrong.

Moreover, leaders of the Donkey Party are not the ones who have been tweeting rancid insults and winking at hate groups for more than a year now. Nor did Democrats create the scorched-earth, no-quarter, no-compromise, politics-as-total-war environment that characterizes American politics on the eve of the 2017 inauguration. For that, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can serve as poster boy, as well as anyone.

In his Esquire post, “Noted Grown-Up Mitch McConnell Wants Democrats to ‘Grow Up and Get Past’ Trump’s Win,” Charles P. Pierce puts the Trump and McConnell contributions to the souring mood of the U.S. in perspective. Here’s a taste:

Apparently, we must begin with the lovely and talented Ms. Meryl Streep, who took the opportunity at Sunday’s night’s Golden Globe Awards to express her disapproval of the president-elect, and the campaign he ran to become president-elect, and all his pomps and all his allures, besides. Naturally, this set off the expected Category Five tweetstorm from the president-elect, who really should have better things to do, and who also called some poor New York Times grunt in the middle of the night to lie once again about mocking a disabled reporter…

It was Charlatan Sunday on the The Sunday Showz. For an awfully long time, I thought Tom DeLay was the most mendacious, odious public servant the country ever saw, at least in the modern era, at any rate. I hereby apologize to Mr. DeLay. He was a rank amateur compared to Mitch McConnell, who isn’t even a very good liar, and apparently doesn’t care to learn how to be a better one. After several days in which everyone from the ethics offices of the various branches of government, to people who unearthed e-mails from 2009 in which McConnell argued from a point 180 degrees different from the one from which he’s arguing now, McConnell went on with John Dickerson and, right there in front of the chair once occupied by former Seleucid military correspondent Bob Schieffer, lied even more clumsily than he had previously.

“You know, what this is about, John, the Democrats are really frustrated that they lost the election. I was in Senator Schumer’s position eight years ago. I know how it feels when you’re coming into a new situation, that the other guys won the election. What did we do? We confirmed seven cabinet appointments the day President Obama was sworn in. We didn’t like most of them either. But he won the election. So all of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustration at having not only lost the White House, but having lost the Senate. I understand that. But we need to, sort of, grow up here and get past that.”

(Ed Note: “Little procedural complaints” is a nice touch.)

And, out on the veranda in Bimini, Merrick Garland hurls his mai tai through the TV screen and orders up two more from room service. God, what a perfectly formed hack McConnell is.

Even before the Trump-Streep dust-up and McConnell’s latest hypocritical outburst, Trump’s inauguration was going to be greeted by massive protest demonstrations, not only in the nation’s capitol, but in cities across the U.S. With McConnell and Trump feeding the animosity on a daily basis, it can only get worse.

The irony is that the Republicans could have gotten most, if not nearly all, of what they wanted without doubling down on the polarizing tactics and rhetoric. Trump and, yes McConnell, could have made a significant contribution to dismantling the partisan gridlock that now paralyzes congress. But they simply lack the maturity, grace and goodwill that empowers reconciliation, and Trump has surrounded himself with people who don’t even understand the concept.

The Republicans have set the stage for four years of bitter political conflict, beginning with what is shaping up to be the most divisive presidential inauguration in memory. They have only themselves to blame for the consequences.

Political Strategy Notes

It looks like neither Democrats nor the Office of Government Ethics are going to be hustled by the Team Trump/Mitch McConnell strategy of stampeding a bunch of his cabinet nominations through the confirmation process all at once without the traditional ethics review before the hearings. Now, Walter M. Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, has released a statement saying that the rushed confirmation timetable is “of great concern to me” because of the attempt to skip the ethics review. Apparently, the Republicans don’t yet get that pretending they have a big popular vote mandate like Reagan 1980 is not quite the same thing as actually having one. Ed O’Keefe and Sean Sullivan report on the controversy at the Washington Post, noting “Ethics experts from both political parties expressed dismay at the possibility that confirmation hearings would proceed before the OGE reviews are completed.” While it seems likely that nearly all of Trump’s nominees will eventualy be confirmed, Republicans are clearly concerned that many, if not most of them, have some potentially embarassing ethical issues, and they would like to minimize the damage.

Will Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, who was denied a federal judgeship decades ago because of his awful record on civil rights, get an easy ride through the confirmation process because he gets along well with fellow senators — despite his continued opposition to civil rights reforms? As Paul Kane notes at The Washington Post, Session’s supporters are playing the ‘collegiality’ card in hopes of distracting attention from his problematic track record. It’s up to Senate Democrats to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King writes in his column, “It was no small moment when NAACP protesters, led by their national president, Cornell W. Brooks, staged a sit-in and got arrested Tuesday at Sessions’s Mobile, Ala., office. Or when more than 1,100 professors from 170 law schools in 48 states wrote to urge the Senate to reject Sessions…Charging that Sessions can’t be trusted to be the nation’s chief law enforcement officer for voting rights, Brooks said, “We have an attorney general nominee who does not acknowledge the reality of voter suppression while mouthing faith in the myth of voter fraud…Entrust Jeff Sessions to fairly, openly and impartially administer justice and protect the rights of all Americans? Not if his own public record is any guide.”

Post columnist and former Bush II speechwriter Michael Gerson does a nice job of describing the hypocrisy of noted Republican leaders on Julian Assange. “Donald Trump’s, Sarah Palin’s and Sean Hannity’s embrace of Julian Assange — who has made a career of illegally obtaining and releasing documents damaging to U.S. interests — is not just a puzzling policy shift. It is the triumph of political tribalism over, well, every other principle or commitment…All three leaders of right-wing populism once saw the risk. Not long ago, Trump recommended the death penalty for Assange. Now he publicly sides with him against U.S. intelligence services. Palin urged the United States to go after Assange “with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda.” Now, we have seen her abject pleading: “Julian, I apologize.” Hannity once called for Assange’s “arrest.” Now he provides a sympathetic platform for Assange’s (and thus Vladimir Putin’s) views…Let’s be clear about what this means. The president-elect of the United States is elevating a man whom the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., holds responsible for putting the lives of operatives in direct danger. The 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee is bowing and scraping to the man who materially aided the Taliban. Fox News is now an outlet for the Russian version of events…It does not require Aristotle to understand that this is a child’s view of ethics. The enemy of my enemy may be my friend. Or he may be an international fugitive who effectively exposed intelligence sources and methods and gave advantages to America’s enemies.”

Why It Will Be Hard to Repeal Obamacare” by NYT’s Haeyoun Park and Troy Griggs visually dissects the provisions of the ACA, which can be eliminated by either 60 or 51 votes in the U.S. Senate.

In his salon.com post “What went wrong with the Democratic Party? Three big failures that led to the current debacle,” Sean McElwee faults the Democratic party for failing “to run viable candidates” and he presents a worrisome litany to make his point: “It’s not just one cycle. There was the trucker with no political experience who ran for governor of Mississippi in 2015, or the unemployed army vet facing obscenity charges for showing pornography to a college student who ran against Nikki Haley in South Carolina in 2010. In 2016 Jeff Stein documented some of the more egregious Democratic recruiting failures in potentially competitive House seats. Candidates included Frederick Lavergne, whose website was “filled with amazingly bizarre rants in Latin” and “a little-known county commissioner who has barely raised any money” (with a broken website). In one Texas district that Hillary Clinton carried, Democrats failed to even put forward a candidate. In a Virginia district that went narrowly for Trump, Democrats didn’t have a primary because only one candidate filed, a woman who “has run for the Newport News City Council four times and has lost each time; most recently in 2010 when she finished in fourth place, out of four candidates…As Roll Call reported last year, “More than a year from Election Day, Democrats are without top-tier recruits in five of the 11 races rated Tossups by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call.” Democrats may claim these races are “unwinnable,” but Republicans have recently won gubernatorial elections in deep blue states like Vermont, Maryland and Massachusetts. Ironically, Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, a state Hillary Clinton won by 26 points, is now considered by some Democrats to be “unbeatable.”

McElwee continues with another equally troubling insight: “In a recent piece, Andrew Prokop noted that the current Democratic situation looks much like the one Republicans faced in 2008. Yet on second consideration, this is deeply troubling. For one, Republicans were coming off a historically unpopular president (Bush had a 24 percent approval rating) while Obama has an approval rating of 58 percent. In addition, Republicans had just presided over the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, while Democrats are running on an economy with sturdy income growth and an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent. Finally, while Republicans were looking at a favorable electoral map in the 2010 midterms, Democrats are looking at an abysmal map in 2018. Their best chance to pick up Senate seats was squandered in 2016, when they were hoping to gain six to eight seats and instead picked up only two…These mistakes are more obvious in retrospect and many choices, at the time, seemed reasonable. The party in power often struggles down-ballot, and Democrats typically perform worse in low-turnout non-presidential elections. Furthermore, it’s difficult to recruit strong candidates when they don’t think they can win. But these defeats were not inevitable, and Democrats have shown only some signs they understand the depths of their plight.”

In a way, McElwee’s report provides at least a partial rebuttal to the meme that President Obama is at fault for the Democratic Party’s defeats during his administration. Jonathan Cohn writes in HuffPo that “…In an interview that aired Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” the outgoing chief executive said he recognizes that the Democratic Party has lost a lot of power during his watch, and wishes he had done more to strengthen it….“I take some responsibility on that,” Obama said…The president was responding to a question from host George Stephanopoulos about the losses Democrats have suffered in Congress, where they have relinquished majorities in both parties, and in state legislatures, where they have lost more than 900 seats. As Obama said in the interview, “We did not begin what I think needs to happen over the long haul, and that is rebuild the Democratic Party at the ground level.” Obama probably could have campaigned more for Democratic Senate and House candidates, where it could have helpted. And perhaps he could have been more of a “take charge” head of the Party, raising more funds for Democratic candidates and playing a louder “cheerleader” role in general. But McElwee demonstrates that the Democratic Party’s structure, projects and institutions, as well as the party’s other leaders, were woefully unprepared for party-building — in stark contrast to the GOP.

It seems only fair to comend state Democratic Parties in those instances when they do a good job of making room for exciting new leaders. In that regard, Brian Eason’s “Working-class mind-set fueled Duran’s historic rise to House Speaker” at The Denver Post profiles an impressive young elected official, Crisanta Duran, who at age 36 ascends to the speakership of the legislature of a pivotal swing state. The first Latina speaker of the Colorado state House, Duran, who addressed the Democratic National Convention last year, checks an array of demographic boxes, including Mexican, Indian and French ancestry and she is the daughter of a labor union leader and granddaughter of a steelworker, served as a union staff attorney herself, and enthusiastically champions a working-class agenda. She is described in the article as an “incredibly strategic,” skilled negotiator, as well as a “warrior.” Dems should more pro-actively do whatever is necessary to encourage more such young and dynamic leaders to emerge in the states.

Political Strategy Notes

At Vox Theda Skocpol’s “A guide to rebuilding the Democratic Party, from the ground up: Organizationally, the US right is light years ahead of the left. A leading political scientist explains what Democrats should do to change that” takes a sobering look at the Democratic Party’s structural deficiencies and how they might be fixed. Skocpol, a Harvard political scientist and director of the Scholars Strategy Network, writes that “the key priority should be strengthening the Democratic Party at state and local levels, even as liberals also build a mass movement to demand universal voter access and devise new formats for unions and other dues-based popular associations.” Skocpol makes a case that “America is actually a federated polity where electoral geography matters more than ethnic or class aggregates…Trump won because he rang up unusually high margins (although not unusually high turnouts) among voters across all social strata in suburban, small-city, and semi-rural counties, especially in the Midwest. In many of those places, Democrats are not an organized presence at all…The cross-state federated networks of the NRA, the Christian right, and the centerpiece Koch organization, Americans for Prosperity…reached into most states and localities and helped Republicans bring conservative voters home and rack up commanding suburban and rural vote margins…Democrats tend to organize across the entire country only temporarily for presidential campaigns…The Democratic Party itself has to be beefed up and redirected into a year-round organizing operation — right now. A new head of the DNC will soon be chosen, and he or she has to be a nuts-and-bolts reformer, not just a show horse or protest organizer…the key to electoral and policy victories for America’s future lies in a robust, nationwide Democratic Party built to engage citizens everywhere in election and policy campaigns year round, every year.”

Greg Sargent explains at The Plum Line why “Democrats must do everything possible to resist Trump’s excesses. Here’s what that might look like.”  Sargent focuses on Democratic opposition to Trump’s proposed ‘Muslim registry,’ and supports pro-active legislative measures to prevent any “registry that is based on religion, national origin, nationality, or other classifications.” While most Republican members of congress are expected to oppose such measures, they have the virtue of forcing them to take a clear position. “Congressional Democrats will have to roll out concrete proposals wherever possible which, while doomed, will at least stand as alternatives,” writes Sargent. “One big question is whether they’ll find allies among constitutional conservatives and libertarians who are horrified by Trumpism’s threatened excesses — and one way to test that will be with proposals such as this one.”

NPR’s Meg Anderson shares this critique of Clinton’s campaign strategy from Sen. Bernie Sanders: “Look, you can’t simply go around to wealthy people’s homes raising money and expect to win elections,” the Vermont senator, who gave Clinton a surprisingly strong run for the Democratic nomination, told NPR’s David Greene in an interview airing on Morning Edition. “You’ve got to go out and mix it up and be with ordinary people.”

We’re about to find out how much of Trump’s meddling in America’s intelligence agencies the top Republican leaders are going to accept. According to “Donald Trump Plans Revamp of Top U.S. Spy Agency” by Damian Paletta and Julian E. Barnes of the Wall St. Journal, the President-elect’s plans to upend the U.S. intelligence superstructure, apparently to make it more Putin-friendly, are already drawing hostile reviews. As Paletta and Barnes report, quoting Sen. Lindsey Graham on Trump’s parroting comments by Julian Assange: “We have two choices: some guy living in an embassy on the run from the law…who has a history of undermining American democracy and releasing classified information to put our troops at risk, or the 17 intelligence agencies sworn to defend us…I’m going with them.”

While most Americans are aware that Hillary Clinton received nearly three million more votes for President than did Donald Trump, Kos shares a less well-known but even more striking statistic: “In the Senate, the 48 Democratic senators received a combined 78.4 million votes, to the 54.9 million votes earned by the 52 Republican senators. We don’t live in a real democracy, and Republicans have been able to game the system to their advantage.”

Here’s a very disturbing report at The Hill, explaining how the “GOP aims to rein in liberal cities.” As Reid Wilson explains, “After consolidating power in Washington, D.C., and state capitals under President-elect Donald Trump, Republicans are moving to prevent large cities dominated by Democrats from enacting sweeping liberal agendas…Republican state legislatures are planning so-called preemption laws, which prevent cities and counties from passing new measures governing everything from taxes to environmental regulations and social issues…The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council has offered five sample preemption bills on everything from local minimum wage hikes to rules governing genetically modified food and other agriculture products.” At stake are city laws addressing soda taxes, smoking bans, gun control, broadband access and a ranges of other concerns.

At Democracy Now Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh interview NAACP President Cornell William Brooks who was just arrested in a sit-in at the offices of Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for Attorney General. Brooks and other NAACP members were protesting the nomination because of Sessions’s “opposition to the Voting Rights Act, support for anti-immigration legislation and history of making racist comments.” In the interview Brooks explains, “…Not only has he not stood against voter suppression in his own state, not acknowledged the reality of voter suppression as recognized by federal courts, the one instance where he has appeared in court in terms of voting rights, it was to prosecute three civil rights activists, which it took a jury less than three hours to find innocent…We stand in opposition with over a thousand law professors, with Governor Deval Patrick, with organizations not only on the progressive left, but I might also note there are any number of conservatives who take strong exception to the fact that Senator Sessions is—stands against whistleblowers. He stands against civil liberties.”

After reading Dave Weigel’s “Democrats stumble toward a Supreme Court strategy” at The Washington Post, it’s hard to avoid concluding that Democrats don’t have much of a strategy, because they don’t have any promising options. Senate Majority Leader McConnel took a gamble and got lucky with Trump’s Electoral College win, and now the Republicans hold all of the cards. Sure, Democrats and progressives can and should raise hell when Trump nominates a reactionary to complete the High Court. But the hope that Trump will suddenly send a bipartisn olive branch in the form of a moderate Supreme Court nominee appears unlikely, given the pattern of his cabinet picks. True, 2018 looks like a really bad year for Democratic Senate candidates, but Dems must put up a fierce fight for the best possible outcome.

From Jen Hayden at Daily Kos: “Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (TN-07) thought she’d take the temperature of her constituents regarding the Affordable Care Act and it didn’t quite go as Blackburn planned. Turns out, people like having health insurance.” Blackburn tweeted “Do you support the repeal of Obamacare? RT if you do, and share what you want to see as the replacement.” The result from almost 8,000 responses: 84 percent said “No,” and 16 percent said “Yes.”

Obamacare Repeal Follies Showcase GOP’s Moral, Intellectual Bankruptcy

As the big GOP push for Obamacare repeal begins, many Republicans in congress are begining to realize that “Hot damn, we got rid of Obamacare” is probably not going to play all that well with constituents who have their health care coverage eliminated, diminished or made more expensive.

The privatization enthusiasts in the GOP, at least those who believe that the private sector can do no wrong, haven’t quite gotten it yet. For them, unleashing the ‘magic of the market’ as a sacred principle of conservatism is reason enough to trash the Affordable Care Act. Whether they get away with it or not depends on the economic demographics and ideology of their district electorates.

At New York Magazine Jonathan Chait describes the Republicans’ predicament:

After the election unexpectedly put them in full control of government, I predicted they would follow a “repeal and delay” plan, because it is the only way to keep the lie going. The closer they get to taking action, the more clear it becomes to Republicans that their own propaganda has trapped them and given them no escape. Railing against Obamacare was easy, but the responsibilities of power have taken all the fun out of denying medical care to the poor and sick.

…In a free-market system, tens of millions of Americans will not be able to afford medical care because the cost of their treatment exceeds their income, either because they’re too poor, or because they’re too sick. A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds that 52 million Americans under the age of 65 have preexisting conditions that would make it impossible for them to purchase health insurance in the individual market that existed before Obamacare. An insurance-industry study from 2008 found that 13 percent of people who applied for coverage in the individual market were rejected — a figure that doesn’t even count the 34 percent of people who had to buy policies that excluded coverage of treatments for their preexisting conditions, let alone those who didn’t even bother applying because they knew they couldn’t afford it.

Covering people who can’t afford to pay for their own medical care means making other people pay for it. You can do that through direct tax-and-spend transfers, or through indirect regulatory methods (like making insurance companies overcharge healthy people and undercharge sick ones). Republicans oppose these methods because they oppose redistribution in general. And yet politics requires them to promise a plan that does not deprive Americans of access to treatment. This is the reason none of their plans has advanced beyond the white-paper concept phase —either they contain too much redistribution to be acceptable to the GOP, or too little coverage to be acceptable to the public, or both.

Chait adds an important insight Repubicans don’t want to face, and one which Democrats must embrace as a central principle of health care reform: “The health-care plans people like are ones such as Medicare, or employer-sponsored insurance — plans in which all customers pay the same rates regardless of age or preexisting conditions, and which don’t put them at risk of paying out huge costs if they get sick.”

Instead, argues Chait, the Republicans are wedded to “threadbare, catastrophic coverage with enormous deductibles.” They know this is a tough sell, and the “replace” part of “repeal and replace” promises to give Republicans in competitive districts an exended migraine headache for months, if not years, to come.

Chait likens the proposed GOP strategy of peacemeal replacement bills to an episode of The Simpsons, in which Homer, faced with certain failure in a test, says “I’ve been working on a plan. During the exam, I’ll hide under some coats, and hope that somehow everything will work out.”

“Repeal-and-delay,” adds Chait “is the ultimate backhand acknowledgement that the party has no answers. Their wan hope is that by repealing the law, they can satisfy the blood lust of conservative activists. The repeal won’t take place for years. Then they can hide under some coats and hope it all works out.”

As you might imagine, health insurance companies are not eagerly looking forward to such a scenario —  yet another example of the political party that purports to be the champion of pro-business policies introducing new chaos and uncertainty into the markets.

As for emerging scenarios, Chait sees one coming into focus:

The most likely answer is that Republicans never craft a replacement. They repeal Obamacare, but delay the effective date of the repeal, and then Obamacare becomes a “cliff” that Congress votes to keep extending. There is no majority in Congress behind any one specific plan to replace Obamacare, but there is probably a majority against blowing it up immediately. That will likely become the new status quo. There’s no transition to a new plan. The transition is the plan. Or, at least, it will be…The most likely outcome is that Republicans keep extending the law until Democrats have the presidency again, at which point they’ll no longer have an incentive to prevent mass suffering, and can go back to opposing anything Democrats try to do to make the system work. Republicans just need to keep the system from collapsing on their watch.

Paul Krugman writes in his latest New York Times column,

In a way, Democrats should hope that Republicans follow through on their promises to repeal health reform. After all, they don’t have a replacement, and never will. They’ve spent seven years promising something very different from yet better than Obamacare, but keep failing to deliver, because they can’t; the logic of broad coverage, especially for those with pre-existing conditions, requires either an Obamacare-like system or single-payer, which Republicans like even less. That won’t change.

As a result, repeal would have devastating effects, with people who voted Trump among the biggest losers. Independent estimates suggest that Republican plans would cause 30 million Americans to lose coverage, with about half the losers coming from the Trump-supporting white working class. At least some of those Trump supporters would probably conclude that they were the victims of a political scam — which they were.

Republican congressional leaders like Paul Ryan nonetheless seem eager to push ahead with repeal. In fact, they seem to be in a great rush, probably because they’re afraid that if they don’t unravel health reform in the very first weeks of the Trump era, rank-and-file members of Congress will start hearing from constituents who really, really don’t want to lose their insurance.

Krugman notes also that Republican Obamacare repeal mania is fueled in part by the GOP’s opposition to the higher taxes on the wealthy needed to fund the ACA and, not incidently, because the latest enrollment figures are “running ahead of their levels a year ago,” a strong indication that Obamacare is working.

So the charade continues at the taxpayers expense. The scary part is that the likely scenarios sketched by Chait and Krugman are the optimistic outcomes. If lunacy prevails over their normal economic mismanagement, and the Republicans go ‘The Full Monte’ on privatization, it could get a lot worse.

It’s regrettable that Democrats have to spend so much time defending the only major health care reform to benefit millions of Americans since the days of LBJ. But if the experience clarifies the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Republicans and their equivocating candidates, Dems might get some electoral benefit as early as 2018.

Political Strategy Notes – Obamacare Repeal Edition

NYT’s Robert Pear reports on the latest GOP schemes to repeal Obamacare, or at least the latest timetable, beginning this week: “Within hours of the new Congress convening on Tuesday, the House plans to adopt a package of rules to clear the way for repealing the health care law and replacing it with as-yet-unspecified measures meant to help people obtain insurance coverage…Then, in the week of Jan. 9, according to a likely timetable sketched out by Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, the House will vote on a budget blueprint, which is expected to call for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act…Later, in the week starting Jan. 30, said Mr. Walden, incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the panel will act on legislation to carry out what is in the blueprint. That bill would be the vehicle for repealing major provisions of the health care law, including the expansion of Medicaid.” No one seems to know just what the particulars will be, but Pear also notes, “The law also saves hundreds of billions of dollars by reducing the growth of Medicare payments to hospitals, nursing homes, health maintenance organizations and other health care providers. Repealing the law would eliminate those savings and thus increase federal spending, the Congressional Budget Office says.”

The Guardian explains various Obamacare repeal scenarios with “How Obamacare could be dismantled by Republicans” by Jessica Glenza and Nadja Popovich. The authors provide a “how it works/how it could go” analysis (with some polling data) concerning 11 key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including: the individual and employer mandates; pre-existing conditions; the Medicare payroll tax; insurance exchanges; health plan subsidies; Medicaid Expansion; Donut Hole and 39 rule; free preventative seervices; converage for young adults; and the ban on coverage limits. There is not much here that supporters of strengthening Obamacare will find encouraging.

What seems likely as not when all of the dust settles, is that the Republicans will make a big flashy show of repealing Obamacare, keep much of it, but call it something else, screw around with funding mechanisms and leave a hideous mess for government accountants, the health care industry and millions of Americans with weakened health security to sort out, and then loudly proclaim a great victory. In her preview of the upcoming week’s repealapalooza festivities, HuffPo’s congressional reporter Laura Barron-Lopez writes “The GOP’s current plan is to move swiftly on repeal legislation and then spend up to four years developing a consensus on a new set of health care reforms ― an achievement that has otherwise eluded the party for years. But Republicans are already split over how long they’ll spend creating that replacement. Party leaders expect it to take years, but some conservatives are pushing for a replacement to be finished within one year…Democratic leaders have been defiant about Republicans’ chances of pulling off this effort. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) predicted that Republicans would not repeal Obamacare once they realized how difficult it would be to replace…“They’re not going to repeal it,” Pelosi said earlier this month. “I don’t think they’re going to repeal the Affordable Care Act.”

At New York Magazine Ed Kilgore explains “The Latest ‘Repeal and Delay’ Idea for Obamacare: Grandfathering!,” noting that “Now comes the American Enterprise Institute’s conservative health wonk James Capretta with an idea that cuts to the chase: Why not just “grandfather” all the people currently receiving benefits via the ACA and make whatever the new “replacement” system turns out to be prospective for new people seeking assistance?” Kilgore acknowledges that “the idea has the advantage of being relatively simple and predictable,” but adds “Until the GOP can pass something that garners bipartisan support and solves the Obamacare problems it has identified, it should do nothing. That’s the ultimate “grandfathering” — leave the system in place. That is the only real solution politically or policy-wise that doesn’t create a raft of victims. The sooner the GOP figures this out, the better.”

Sean Williams reports at Fox Business, no less, that “In an Ironic Twist, Obamacare Enrollment Hits an All-Time High.” Williams writes, “Yet in spite of its perceived demise, Obamacare enrollment is currently proceeding at a record pace, at least according to the Department of Health and Human Services. According to the HHS, roughly 6.4 million people had enrolled via HealthCare.gov, the federally run website that runs the online marketplace exchange for more than three dozen states, between Nov. 1 and Dec. 19. This represents an increase of nearly 7% year over year, or about 400,000 enrollees…The data midway through 2016 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the uninsured rate had fallen to 8.9% from 16% in the quarter immediately preceding Obamacare’s implementation on the individual market. If the early enrollment data is any indication, the uninsured rate could fall even further in 2017.”

Vox will be running an live-streamed interview with President Obama on Friday, January 6th on the topic of Obamacare repeal prospects, with an audience of Obamacare enrollees who are also members of the Vox Facebook community. Meanwhile Sarah Kliff and Ezra Klein write at Vox that “the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces have struggled to attract health insurers who want to sell coverage” and “about half of Obamacare enrollees say that they’re unsatisfied with the high costs of premiums and deductibles… That’s what we want to talk to the president about: the lessons he has learned from six years of implementing the biggest health coverage expansion in decades, his thoughts on its political vulnerability now, and the challenges Republicans may confront as they embark on a similar task.” Kliff and Klein note that “Economists, however, are skeptical that Republican plans will cover as many people as Obamacare currently does. Estimates predict that the plans the GOP has offered so far will lead to anywhere from 3 to 21 million Americans losing health coverage, depending on which plan Republicans pick.”

At Forbes, Duke University/American Enterprise Institute scholar Chris Conover mulls over “How The Patient CARE Act Would Repeal And Replace Obamacare” and observes that “this plan would result in very modest reductions in coverage, accompanied by massive federal tax savings (to the tune of more than one half trillion over ten years!).” I’m guessing that Conover’s health security will not be adversely affected by the “modest reductions in coverage” he envisions for others.

However, at Vox Sarah Kliff explains some of the effects of The Patient CARE Act in less than glowing terms: “There are two economic analyses of CARE Act available at this point. One, from the RAND Corporation, estimates that it would cause 9 million Americans to lose coverage by 2026. Another, from Parente’s Center for Health Economy, estimates that 4 million would lose insurance the same year… In addition, the Patient Care Act suffers from the same major flaw as all of the republican proposals,” making insurance cheaper for young people and more expensive for old people.” Further, “Eibner has done economic modeling of the CARE Act (although not Better Way yet) and is able to show who benefits and who loses under the proposal…She finds that under the CARE Act, only 85 percent of 21-year-olds would see their premiums either stay the same or decline compared with Obamacare. But 100 percent of 50- and 60-year-old enrollees would see their premiums increase under CARE Act.” Thus many seniors who are surviving on Social Security can expect a health care premium hike under this plan.

What is so frustratingly childish about all of the Republican Obamacare repeal talk, is that they all know that none of the health care reforms they now claim to support would ever have gotten a fair hearing, much less enacted, without Obamacare. The GOP has always been content to let health insurers and ritzy physician groups gouge and impoverish consumers who face major illnesses. With the exception the Medicare prescription drug benefit Bush II signed, the Republican Party has never provided leadership for broadening health care security for Americans. Instead they have resisted significant reforms, from Medicare and Medicaid on down to the Affordable Care Act. When you take a look at the most recent polling on Obamacare, you find more respondents saying they “disapprove” than “approve” of the ACA. But when the question is framed in terms of should it be repealed or expanded, the most recent Pew Research poll, conducted Oct. 20-25, found that 53 percent of respondents say “expand it” or “leave it as it is.” No matter what happens to Obamacare, President Obama can always be proud that his leadership has saved countless lives and improved the health securitry of millions of Americans. Thanks to him, the Republicans can no longer hide from public demand for affordable health care.

Hey Trump, is that all there is?

It can be argued that in 2008, President-elect Obama’s victory included a significant element of luck, including the timing of the economic meltdown and John McCain’s disastrous veep pick. So too, it can be argued that Trump’s Electoral College win/popular vote loss in 2016 threaded a lucky path through the rust belt.

President Obama did a good job of making the most of his short-lived congressional majorities and produced one historic reform, the Affordable Care Act, which provided health security for additional millions of Americans, and he was able to enact a few other well-received legislative accomplishments, including the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Looking forward to Trump’s presidency and his congressional majorities, it’s hard to see any positive reforms on the horizon. So far all of the Republican talk, and all of Trump’s appointments, have been about undoing Obama’s legislative accomplishments, as if that alone was somehow a great achievement.

Despite Trump’s bloated reputation as a “builder,” no one expects him to actually build much, since he is now waffling on the infrastructure upgrades. No one in GOP Land can identify any concrete plans to better prepare Americans for a new era of prosperity. There are no job-training measures in the Republican legislative hopper, for example, no projects or proposals for innovation that anyone can get excited about.

Instead, it’s all about, “boy, we can’t wait to undo Obama’s reforms.” Trump and the Republicans can only milk that tired cow for so long, before their voters start wondering, like Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?” At that point, Trump and his fellow Republicans become an awfully inviting target for disgruntled voters who expected something…more.

At slate.com Jamelle Bouie points out that Trump and the GOP are not really in good shape to weather such growing doubts, despite all of the pundit crowing about Republican strength in the House and state houses. As Bouie writes,

…Neither Trump nor congressional Republicans are as strong as they appear. Both enter the field with severe disadvantages, and both risk overplaying the hands that they have. Democrats are on the defensive, but the conditions are there for pushback and resurgence.

Consider Trump’s favorability rating. On Election Day, just 38 percent of Americans had a positive view of Trump, against 60 percent with a negative view. Now, with the glow of victory, his average favorable rating stands at 43 percent, while 49 percent view him unfavorably. For comparison’s sake, Barack Obama entered office in 2009 with a 68 percent favorable rating versus 21 percent unfavorable, while George W. Bush—the victor in a contentious election decided by the Electoral College—entered office with a 50 percent favorable rating. Trump is historically unpopular for an incoming president and shows no signs of improving. This, coupled with his substantial loss in the national popular vote, is a potent vulnerability. Democrats can credibly say that Trump lacks the “will of the people.” They can rebuff charges of obstructionism, and they can say, with little exaggeration, that the public is on their side.

To Trump’s personal unpopularity, you have to add the unpopularity of the Republican policy agenda. Citing Trump’s win as a victory for conservative governance, House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Republican majority are prepping a sweeping small-government agenda, including tax cuts and repeal of the Affordable Care Act. But there’s a problem. The 2016 election wasn’t fought over policy; it was a battle over values and priorities (it’s likely Hillary Clinton made a fatal strategic mistake in not making this a fight over policy). And throughout, Trump showed little interest in conservative policymaking or conservative ideas. He promised help for his supporters and “better deals” for the country, not a Ryan-esque agenda of lower spending and upper-income tax cuts. That agenda is hugely unpopular: Substantial majorities support greater taxes on high-earners, while a smaller majority backs a more active government role in reducing income inequality. And although Americans still disagree about the Affordable Care Act, most of them still reject repeal.

Intoxicated and emboldened by their near-miraculous victory, Republicans are rushing into the new year with a divisive and unpopular agenda, led by a divisive and unpopular president. Indeed, with no apparent plans for increasing manufacturing jobs or improving veterans’ health care, Trump shows few signs of delivering on his substantive promises. In all likelihood, he’ll offer rhetoric and scapegoats and stunts, while delivering little in the way of tangible gains. And all of this will exist against a backdrop of corruption and influence-peddling, as Trump refuses to disentangle himself or his children from their opaque and sprawling web of business interests.

Ultimately, good government has to be about something more than shrinking itself. Ronald Reagan was as eloquent a messenger for tax and budget cuts as the Republicans have ever had. Trump does not have his skill-set, and can only offer a much cruder politics of distraction that is not likely to play well for very long. He can’t count on his November luck hanging around.

The thing about smaller government, budget cuts and austerity is that they are not very inspiring. There is no stirring vision, no uplifting challenge you can hang on shrunken government. FDR, JFK and Obama, were able to generate excitement because they could talk about mobilizing American resources, human and economic, in service to a new era of broadly-shared progress. That message option is not available to Trump, Ryan and McConnell. But I can hear Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders and maybe a half-dozen other Democrats working it well enough.

In 2016, Democrats lacked the message discipline needed to hold the white house and make substantial gains in congress and the states. By the end of 2017, it should be crystal clear which party has no vision whatsoever for moving America forward.

Political Strategy Notes

“If Mr. Trump’s strategy to keep jobs in America relies on busting unions, keeping wages down, deregulating everything in sight and cutting taxes for the wealthy, he’ll certainly fail…If President-elect Trump is serious about building a high-productivity, high-wage economy, he needs to put a moratorium on flawed trade agreements and crack down on unfair trade practices, and he must work to end all tax subsidies for offshoring and put those and other revenues toward funding quality education, skills and infrastructure investment….” – from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s NYT op-ed, “Don’t Let Trump Speak for Workers.”

At The Atlantic, Alana Semuels argues “It’s Not About the Economy: In an increasingly polarized country, even economic progress can’t get voters to abandon their partisan allegiance.” As Semuels observes, “…in an increasingly polarized country, an improving economy is not enough to get Republicans to vote for Democrats, in part because they don’t give Democrats any credit for fixing the economy. Gallup, for instance, found that while just 16 percent of Republicans said they thought the economy was getting better in the week leading up to the election, 49 percent said they thought it was getting better in the week after the election…These biases are only increasing as the country becomes increasingly polarized. As people become increasingly loyal to their parties, they are unlikely to give leaders from the other party credit for much of anything positive. Both sides are instead more likely to believe narratives that suggest that the other party has only made things worse.”

At The Observer’s opinion page, Robert Lehrman, a former speechwriter for Al Gore and author of The Political Speechwriter’s Companion, writes “Democrats, let’s not be shy about admitting the truth: we want a one-term President. Denying we feel that way is as believable as the way we pretended shock at McConnell’s candor six years ago. Democrats will almost certainly lose Senate seats in 2018. But done right, a steady, unyielding McConnell-like campaign, leavened with compromise as they did, can win back voters we should have captured this time…Let them call us obstructionists. We don’t have to agree with Mitch McConnell’s views. We just have to learn from his example.”

Emma Green explains why “Democrats Have a Religion Problem” in her interview at The Atlantic with Michael Wear, a former Obama White House staffer, on the topic of “the party’s illiteracy on and hostility toward faith.” Charlie Cook also addresses the subject in his interview with ‘Meet the Press Daily,’ noting, “Democrats don’t know how to talk to a lot of these people that go to church, people of value. The Democratic party has become a secular party.”

At New York Magazine Ed Kilgore explains “Here’s How Obama Could Go Nuclear on Trump and the GOP Before Leaving Office” by making ‘recess appointments of scores of federal judges up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court seat vacated by deceased Justice Scalia. There are reasons why it is unlikely to happen, including Obama’s temperament. But it’s not like the Republicans can credibly attack  Democrats for bucking bipartisan comity and playing hardball. As Kilgore concludes, “..I wouldn’t rule it out entirely before the new Congress is gaveled in.”

Sam Wang’s “Constitutional Hardball: Can Senate Democrats Confirm Merrick Garland on January 3rd?” explores the idea further at The Princeton Election Consortium. Calling it a “long shot,” Wang says “A bigger hurdle is whether Democrats have the boldness to attempt such a move. To some extent, party members adopt their tone from their leaders. Senate Democrats might have to push back on President Obama, who has made it clear that he seeks to make an orderly transition to the Trump Administration. But the roughness of the Presidential transition may give him second thoughts. Democrats may be bolstered by the fact that Obama’s net approval is quite high, while Trump’s net approval rating is the lowest of any incoming President on record.”

It seems possible, at least, that Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham is going to raise some serious hell about Putin’s meddling in U.S. politics. As Theodore Schleifer reports at CNN, quoting Graham, “There are 100 United States senators. Amy Klobuchar is on this trip with us. She’s a Democrat from Minnesota. I would say that 99 of us believe the Russians did this and we’re going to do something about it,” said Graham, who is planning a hearing with McCain on Russia’s interference with US elections. “We’re going to put sanctions together that hit Putin as an individual and his inner circle for interfering in our election, and they’re doing it all over the world — not just in the United States.”

Josh Katz has a fun post up at NYT’ The Upshot, “‘Duck Dynasty’ vs. ‘Modern Family’:50 Maps of the U.S. Cultural Divide.” It’s also an excellent resource for political ad buyers, because it indicates exactly where such TV shows and many others are popular. A lot of the popularity maps are predictable enough, but you might be surprised to learn that “The Walking Dead” is very big along the Texas-Mexico border, while “Game of Thrones” doesn’t do very well outside of narrowly-defined cities and “The Tonight Show’s” largest area of popularity is in north-central Utah. In PA, you would book some ads on “Dancing with the Stars,” “NCIS” and “Law and Order: SVU.” On the Pine Ridge reservation in SD, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” rules and “Saturday Night Live’s” strongest southern metro area is Nashville.

John Nichols has a welcome spirit-lifter at The Nation, “The 2016 Progressive Honor Roll: Yes, it’s been an awful year. But the untold story is that grassroots activists have actually frequently prevailed.”

Political Strategy Notes

At NPR Linda Wertheimer interviews Nick Rathod, executive director of the State Innovation Exchange (SIX), which fights for progressive causes and candidates in state houses across America. Rathod notes that”one of the things that progressives have done…is that we try to pass big pieces of legislation here in D.C. and then educate everyone on the back end where conservatives have developed policies that are tailored to local communities and then have the conversation and build narratives around what that means for people. I mean, I grew up in Nebraska, and when I talk with my conservative friends there, we’re pretty close on a lot of the issues. But the thing is that we just haven’t ever really sat down and talked to people about what it – what equal pay actually means. You know, do you care whether your daughter gets paid the same as your son? I think most people would say yeah. Do you care that people have a living wage, that people who are playing by the rules, working hard, I think people would say yes to that. Let’s have those conversations locally, and let’s shake out who is actually fighting for those things.”

Here is some good post-election news for progressives, as reported by Joanna Walters at The Guardian:  “From smaller local organizations to household names such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, nonprofit organizations across the US reported fundraising tallies many magnitudes higher than in previous years as they approached their end-of-year donation drives…Progressive causes in the US saw a spike in donations immediately after the election on 8 November from voters dismayed, outraged or even frightened by the outcome. In the weeks since, this wave of strategic giving has compounded. Planned Parenthood has received more than 300,000 donations in the six weeks since the election, 40 times its normal rate. Around half the donors were millennials and 70% had never given to the family planning organization before, a spokesman told the Guardian.”

Gene B. Sperling, director of the National Economic Council from 1996 to 2001 and from 2011 until 2014, has a New York Times op-ed, “The Quiet War on Medicaid,” focusing on a looming crisis Ed Kilgore flagged at New York Magazone back on December 1st. As Sperling writes, “if Democrats focus too much of their attention on Medicare, they may inadvertently assist the quieter war on Medicaid — one that could deny health benefits to millions of children, seniors, working families and people with disabilities…Of the two battles, the Republican effort to dismantle Medicaid is more certain. Neither Mr. Trump nor Senate Republicans may have the stomach to fully own the political risks of Medicare privatization. But not only have Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Tom Price, Mr. Trump’s choice for secretary of health and human services, made proposals to deeply cut Medicaid through arbitrary block grants or “per capita caps,” during the campaign, Mr. Trump has also proposed block grants.”

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich discusses Donad Trump’s “7 Techniques to Control the Media” in a ‘Democracy Now’ interview with Amy Goodman. Discussing one of the points, Reich observes, “Donald Trump has, almost from the beginning of his campaign, and certainly in the—and he’s continued it—in the post-election period, to denigrate and berate the media. He holds rallies, and he talks about the dishonest media. He uses adjectives like “scum” and “scoundrel” to describe the media. He picks out individual members of the press who have criticized him, and talks about them in very critical terms or mocks them. This is not the habit of a democratic—democratically elected president…We’ve never before had a president or president-elect who has taken the media on so directly and so negatively and tried to plant in the public’s mind—and I think this is the real danger, Amy—trying to plant in the public’s mind the notion that the press is the enemy itself.” Video of entire interview here.

The debate about the substance of the best Democratic message will continue on through the next few elections. As for the best message vehicle, here’s a clue: “So what medium really is a primary news source for the largest number of Americans? We can find an answer to that in a different Pew Research report, this one from June, titled, “The Modern News Consumer.” It compares the percentage of U.S. adults who “often” get news from various platforms. By this metric, television remains the dominant medium by a significant margin, at 57 percent. A distant second is “online,” at 38 percent. This combines the 18 percent who get news often from social media with an overlapping 28 percent who get it often from “news websites/apps.” Third on the list is radio at 25 percent, followed by print newspapers at 20 percent.” from “How Many People Really Get Their News From Facebook?” by Will Oremus at slate.com.

Michael Moore’s assertion that Trump was going to “get us all killed” seems a little less of an overstatement in the wake of Trump’s tweet last week that that the U.S. should “greatly strengthen and expand” its nuclear capability.” In their syndicated column on “The chaos theory of Donald Trump: Washington Post analysis,” John Wagnern and Abby Phillip share a chilling quote about it by a foreign policy expert: “We’re just operating in this world where you cannot believe the things he says,” said Eliot Cohen, a foreign policy expert and former George W. Bush administration official at the State Department. “It will have large consequences for our allies and our adversaries, and it’s going to greatly magnify the danger of miscalculation by all kinds of people.” It’s one thing for Trump to be a ‘bomb-thrower’ in his domestic policy tweets, without regard for the consequences. But loose talk about escalating the nuclear arms race is a much more dangerous kind of foolishness. The top foreign policy pros should ask for a meeting with Trump at the earliest opportunity, to at least try to get him to stop tweeting about the arms race.

Greg Sargent adds to this concern in his Plum Line post, “Could Trump help unleash nuclear catastrophe with a single tweet?,” noting “Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear non-proliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, points out that in peacetime, any belligerent Trump Tweet about nuclear weapons might not appear as alarming, simply because “confirmation bias” might lead key actors not to interpret it in its most frightening light at that moment. Amid rising international tensions, though, that confirmation bias might work in the other direction, he says…“Imagine we’re in a crisis — if he recklessly Tweets, people could read these things in the worst possible light,” Lewis tells me. “The North Koreans have a plan to use nuclear weapons very early in a conflict. They’re not going to wait around. If they think we are going, they’re going to use nuclear weapons against South Korea and Japan.””

Nate Cohn shares some revealing data at The Upshot: “The exit polls also show all of the signs that Mr. Trump was winning over Obama voters. Perhaps most strikingly, Mr. Trump won 19 percent of white voters without a degree who approved of Mr. Obama’s performance, including 8 percent of those who “strongly” approved of Mr. Obama’s performance and 10 percent of white working-class voters who wanted to continue Mr. Obama’s policies…Mr. Trump won 20 percent of self-identified liberal white working-class voters, according to the exit polls, and 38 percent of those who wanted policies that were more liberal than Mr. Obama’s…Taken together, Mr. Trump’s views on immigration, trade, China, crime, guns and Islam all had considerable appeal to white working-class Democratic voters, according to Pew Research data. It was a far more appealing message than old Republican messages about abortion, same-sex marriage and the social safety net.”

At The Jacobin Seth Ackerman’s “A Blueprint for a New Party” includes a critique of the Democratic Party, arguing in essence that it is neither Democratic, nor a Party. Ackerman is not interested in improving the Democratic Party. But he offers several interesting observations, among them: “It’s true that a number of sincere, committed leftists, or at least progressives, run for office on the Democratic ballot line at all levels of American politics. Sometimes they even win. And all else equal, we’re better off with such politicians in office than without them…But electing individual progressives does little to change the broad dynamics of American politics or American capitalism. In fact, it can create a kind of placebo effect: sustaining the illusion of forward motion while obscuring the fact that neither party is structurally built to reflect working-class interests. “Working within the Democratic Party” has been the prevailing model of progressive political action for decades now, and it suffers from a fundamental limitation: it cedes all real agency to professional politicians. The liberal office-seeker becomes the indispensable actor to whom all others, including progressives, must respond…In this “party-less” model of politics, it’s the Democratic politician who goes about trying to recruit a base, rather than the other way around. The politician’s platform and message are devised by her and her alone…Start with the most fundamental fact about the Democratic Party: it has no members…fundraising letters aside, there are no real members of the Democratic Party: “Unlike these [British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand] democracies, where members join a political party through a process of application to the party itself, party membership in the United States has been described as ‘a fiction created by primary registration laws.”